Kutno after the Liberation
Zwi LASMAN, Givataym
Translated from the Hebrew by Thia Persoff
The war is over, and I was left in the land of the living. Even today, after many years, I do not know from whence I have derived the physical and emotional strength to withstand all the tribulations, the diseases, the hunger, the agonies, and the endless persecutions, which accompanied me during those days of horror.
At the end of the fighting, I decided that I must visit the places where my family lived. First, I went to Łódź where I met my friend Majtek Vajkselfisz who was an officer in the Polish army at that time, and another friend, Jakob Szwarc with his wife Fruma. He told that now he saves Jews by smuggling them to Israel. In addition to Jakob Szwarc who was in the HaShomer HaTzair youth movement with me, I met more friends who were in this movement with me, and Cipora Zandelewicz and Azriel, Reuven and Myriam Mroz.
From there I went to Kutno, arriving there on August 15, 1945. I stood in the train station that reminded me the horrific sights that I witnessed when I worked here with other Jews as porters and carters under the supervision of the German murderers. Mournful and depressed, I continued in my way through the streets of my town. In Sienkiewicza Street, I met Janek the hunchback, who suggested I went to the Opoczinski family where I found my friends Balzamowicz and Jakubowicz. When we saw each other, we all started to cry bitterly, for the terrible suffering that had befallen us and the joy in the renewed meeting. Each of us told what happened to him during those years of horror, of his suffering, his distress, and of his being saved. We all remembered our dear ones, and family members, who are with us no more.
Next morning I went to the house of Dr. Finkelsztajn and his assistant Tola Stuczynska (may she rest in peace). The doctor gave me the most terrible news; that no one of my family nor of my wife's, was saved, and that all of them were sent to the Chelmno death camp where they were burned alive by the Nazi wild beasts of prey. I went down to the doctor's yard, where the HaShomer HaTzair club-house used to be the youth movement to which I owe so much, the one full of life and noise by Jewish youth. In my mind's eye, came to life pictures and scenes of Jewish youth thirsty for life, full of hope to build its future in Israel. After all, in this yard I spent days and evenings the best years of my life; around me were houses of Jews, houses in which just yesterday sounds of
children were heard, boys and girls whose whole future was ahead of them, houses that were witnesses to Jewish life, rich in culture and tradition of many generations, to grief and happiness, to sadness and to joy. Now I am surrounded by a large cemetery of Jewish life. A statue of a Russian soldier stands in the centre of the street, but all signs of Jewish life were erased completely. It is as if Jews had never been in Kutno!
I continue to wander through the streets of my town. My heart seams to stop beating, only endless of people's images are moving in front of my mind's eyes: Here I see my father is standing across of me, selling his wares, and here are the Kozak family, and ŁŁczycki, Lajchman, Kotlarz, Ajzyk Szapszewicz, Blank, and many more. All of a sudden, my eyes are covered in mist, I do not see anything any more but red flames of fire and furious streams of blood attack me from all directions; Kutno my town is flooded in the blood of my family, your family the descendants of Abraham, Icchak and Jakob I reached the house where my brother Dawid Lasman and his family had lived. I asked the new tenants if by any chance, they found photos of my brother and his family, but they answered me that all of them were deported to ghetto Konstancja, and not one of them was left alive. Indeed, he and his family will never return, but his house is still standing, with the furniture and all the household items within it. The new tenants have taken over everything. However, my brother is no more.
I could not stand the sight of the new Kutno anymore, the non-Jewish, the murderer. However, the faint hope was still flickering within me, perhaps some other family members were left alive; my sisters Chaja and Brana and my brother Efraim, who lived in Żychlin. Therefore, I went to that town. There I only found the brother-in-law of my brother Idel Kirsztajn and his friend Tamara Kowalski. They told me that my sisters and brothers were sent to Chelmno camp, where they were burned alive like many of their Jewish brethren. I returned to Łódź, but that city was like a cemetery of Jewish life that used to be so lively, full of energy, enterprising and industrious. From there I continued my way to Berlin, the city that is cursed for eternity, but here I saw a bit of revenge for what the Nazi beast of prey had done to us.
I went towards the death-camp of Bergen-Belsen. With me were my wife Laja Blank and my little daughter who was born during the war. I am standing by the ovens that swallowed thousands and tens of thousands of innocent Jews, and around me are scattered clothes and shoes of young, old, women, and children. And common graves that fill the whole area of the camp.
I spent two years in Bergen-Belsen hoping to immigrate to Israel, towards a new life in liberated Israel that renews the nation of Israel in the land of Israel, for eternity.
[Page 402 Yiddish] [Page 405 Hebrew]
by Efraim WAJKSELFISZ, Tel-Aviv
Translated from the Hebrew by Thia Persoff
The day of Kutno's liberation, by the Red Army and the Polish army, was a day of joy and victory for me. The town of my birth was liberated! In those days, I was staying in Warsaw, where I was attached to the Polish Army headquarters. Suddenly I received an order to leave for Łódź where I was appointed city officer. On my way to Łódź, I made a short visit in my town Kutno. I knew what I might expect there, after the murdering Nazis' rule, but the shock of seeing it was much worse!
All around was only waste, destruction, and ruins, death was still in the air. My childhood's streets, where I played and grew up, where I took my first steps on the Polish soil were full of ruins, grief, and mourning. My childhood world erased without a trace, the world of Jews who lived on the land generation after generation nothing was left of it. A stone will cry out from the wall! Silence all around, but the walls are still soaked with indescribable sorrow, agony, and suffering, such was the lot of the Jewish population.
Now Kutno was left without her Jews, but death has not left her. She is still full of Jewish mothers and fathers moaning, trying to shield their children.
Kutno without Jews!
When I passed by Bromberg's house, where the Skiernewice Chassids' synagogue was, I stopped, and in my imagination I waited for the Jews to come out after prayers. One more moment, the first of the men will be seen, their prayer shawls under their arms, in their black garb, walking two by two, continuing the discussion they started in the synagogue. But in vain! Jews will not be praying in Kutno any more. The gates of heaven have been locked against the voices of their prayers. Their prayers were not accepted, only their sighs are still floating in the air of our town. The bell in the town hall was ringing at that time, its ring sounds as if it is mourning for the slaughter and horrible death that befell the Jews of my home town. Although, seemingly, nothing has changed in my town. In Królewska Street the Jewish shops are open just like they always were. Here are the stores of Rabe, of Walter and the others. The tables are standing in their places, the shelves are hanging on the walls, the stores are full of cloth as in the days of their Jewish owners, but those owners do not exist anymore! They were murdered, burned, and their property stolen by others. No! In Królewska Street, the street where we lived for many years, there are no more Jews. In my parents' store not a thing is changed, all is as it was before the slaughter. However, my parents are no more. It is the same in all the Jewish streets, in all the Jewish houses, the Jewish stores, and so it is in all of Jewish Kutno! As I roamed in my town I arrived in Stary Rinek [Old Market], there I discovered a hair-raising sight; the market plaza and its streets were paved with the gravestones from the Jewish cemetery! The engraving facing up, and the names of the deceased can still be read! And people and animals walk on them. Indeed, there is no limit to the villainy of the Goyim! Another grain of salt on our bleeding sores.
I arrived at the house of our house janitor. I wanted to hear from her some details about Jewish families, or individuals that were saved from the slaughter. At my question why she did not hide the daughter of Abraham Mroz and the daughters of the Kuper family, those whose father was Ari, she replied that after all the Jews were deported to a ghetto, Jozef Żawicki hid Ita Mroz during the war, but towards its end he himself handed her over to the Gestapo. After the liberation, the Polish police had sentenced him to death.
With the Jews, the Grim Reaper did not miss out their houses of worship. A synagogue was turned into a parking place for farmers' wagons, when they came to town on market days. The house of religious studies, a place for Torah studies of the town's rabbis, lead by Reb Jehosze'le Kutner, was turned into the firefighter's station and all its contents went up in smoke together with the students.
My last stop was in Konstancja the famous ghetto of the Kutno Jews. Before the First World War, a sugar factory was standing there, but it stopped functioning at the start of the war and only ruined buildings stood there, roofless, without windows and doors. The Nazis, after fencing the area, concentrated all the town's Jews in it and turned it into a ghetto. The living conditions here were most horrible; the crowding was terrible, beyond all that the human imagination could describe for itself. There was nothing left for me but to photograph the place of the suffering and sorrow of Kutno's Jews, and with aching, weeping heart I left this hell.
My second visit in Kutno was made on the occasion of bringing the ashes of our town's martyrs, who were burned and murdered in Chelmno camp, to be buried. We wanted to erect a memorial on the grave of the ashes, but to the Polish anti-Semites even this last kindness was like barbs in their eyes. Upon my return to Łódź, I received a notice that the erected memorial was destroyed by them. After some time I received a notice from the national police of Kutno, according to it, they blamed the destruction of the monument on a Russian army unit that passed by, but the Russian town-major put the blame for this act of vandalism on the Polish fascists
The repatriates from Kutno
Out of 360 Jewish families from Kutno that are now in Israel, some had arrived before the Second World War. Most of them were conscientious Zionists. The others arrived in the country after the establishment of the state, many of them were
not Zionists, and even opposed the Zionist solution to the Jewish problem. However, after the war they realized that to live as Jews, they could do so only in Israel. As a result, they accepted the validity of the Zionist idea and immigrated to Israel. In Poland, which became a graveyard, they could not live, nor did they want to anymore. Then, after their wandering, passing through Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Germany, they arrived at a haven of safety in Israel. The second wave of immigration to arrive in Israel came after the political changes which took place in Poland, when Gomulka became the leader in 1956.
Those immigrants were helped greatly by our town's people who had settled in the country long ago, with additional help from the county's government, as it does for all new immigrants. The assistance from the families of A. Sz. Elberg, M. Wigdorowicz and Nordberg should be noted; they received all the immigrants with open arms and helped them as much as they could, so that their town's people would be able to rebuild their homes in the land of Israel.
There was once a Jewish town named Kutno
Before the war, Kutno had twentyfive thousand inhabitants. The number of Jews was over a third of the general urban population. Kutno was one of the oldest Jewish communities in Poland. The cemetery, which stands ruined and desolate, is already over 400 years old. The old school dates back five centuries.
In Kutno, a fullblooded Jewish life flourished and flourished in all areas. Now it is swept away.
On ancestral graves
It's a sunny Sunday morning. Kutno was joined by the surviving Kutner Jews, who now live in various cities across the country in Warsaw, Łódź, and Wrocław, those who had recently returned from the Soviet Union. All of them took part in the mourning celebration on the 4th anniversary of the Holocaust in their hometown.
I am tossed across the streets of former Jewish Kutno, it is quiet, the gables are still closed, the shutters are still closed. The streets are cleared. It reminds of the Sabbath restpeace in a Jewish town. I look at the gates of the courts and think maybe the soulsurpassing Jews will show up; the Jews, who have been hailed in literature by the Kutner Szalom Asz.
Yes, Szalom Asz's town remained intact (Kutno suffered little from the war operations), but no Shlomo Nagid, Ezekiel Gombiner. Kutno is without Jews.
We pass the twostory red brick building. Here lived the great genius and scholar R 'Yehoshua Kutner, who brought so much glory to the city. Shows us: here was his courtroom, his bedroom, the yeshiva…
We are moving forward. Here is Holcman's palace. A wealthy Jew. And here was Szlajfer's mill. The Germans burned it. And here lived Rabbi Shabtai, here Chaim David, Moshe Ein and so on and on. This heart becomes torn from worry and woe. Where are the Jews?
On area of ghetto
On a ruined site in the corner of town, opposite the railway ramp we were informed was the Kutno ghetto. On June 16, 1940, the Germans forbade the Polish population to leave their homes. On that day the transfer of the Jews took place. All the Jews were driven into a secluded place where the Konstancja sugar factory was once located. Here, in the halfdestroyed sugar factory facilities and in the neighboring four buildings, lived 8,000 Jews!
At the end of March 1942, the liquidation of the Kutno Jews began. Hundreds of men were taken out every day to Chelmno. There they were paraded. The action lasted until the end of April.
The small hall of the Jewish community on Mickiewicza Street is crowded with people several hundred Jews, this is the remnant of the city of Kutno and its environs. Jews from the neighboring towns of Krośniewice, Żychlin, Ozorków, Konin, and Włocławek also attended the mourning ceremony.
In the middle of the room, on a catapult lined with black, lies the urn with ashes, brought from the Chelmno death camp, where the Jews of Kutno perished. Around burning candles. The chairman of the committee, Dr. Finkelstein, reads the programs of Holocaust Kutno. Afterwards, speeches will be given by the Staroste, the ViceChairman of the Municipal National Council and a representative of the military garrison. They sympathize, they know what Hitlerism has brought with it. Even today, Hitler's spirit still works among us… It needs to be burned to the ground. Then, in a depressed mood, another Kutner Jew speaks, G. Fogel. He tells what happened once … The cantor chants El Maleh Rachamim…
It forms itself a mourning procession, a funeral. The urn with
ashes is carried on a catafalque. The procession is led by the Polish Military Chief Rabbi Dr. D. Kahana, and the chairman of the Łódź religious community, Joseph Atlas, who especially came to participate in the ceremony.
The funeral procession stops in the empty space of the synagogue, which the Germans burned and left no trace of. A speech by Rabbi Kahana was given to the assembled urban population.
The urn containing the ashes of the Kutno martyrs was buried in a Jewish cemetery. A tombstone was placed on the tomb with the inscription: A monument to the holy community of Kutno that was destroyed and eradicated by the German murderers.
In front of the open tomb is a touching, mourning Joseph Atlas. Rabbi Kahana says the Kaddish. The crowd breaks out into a large wailing.
The cemetery in Kutno also did not escape the fate of the Holocaust. The tombs were desecrated and the tombstones were torn down. The tombs of R 'Yehoshele Kutner, of R' Mosze Gostyner, and of other good Jews
with whom Kutno was heard, were desecrated. The cemetery also contains mass graves of people who died in the ghetto and those who died in the killings, which the Germans made in the city itself. There is a mass grave of fifty abused Jewish girls, who were tortured to death by the Gestapo chief. And when the same German murderer came back in a couple of days asking for more Jewish girls, supposedly for taking them to work, the president of the Judenrat, Bernard Holcman refused to give any. As long as the first fifty girls do not come back, no one will come to you for work! he explained.
For this bold speech, Holcman, like his neighbor Sender Falc, paid dearly: the Gestapo took them to a cemetery, forced them to dig a grave for themselves, and buried them alive…
Such and similar stories of Jewish pain were told on the graves of Kutno Cemetery…
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