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[Page 195]

The Holocaust

The Destruction and the Holocaust

by Yehuda Greenbel

Translated by Selwyn Rose

Summer 1939. It seemed like all the summers that had preceded it but the atmosphere seemed more stifling than usual and a strange feeling of oppression descended upon the world and especially on the town. From day to day the atmosphere became more electrified and the situation more dissociated from reality. The various newspapers are publishing varying opinions and information and it is impossible to discern where events will lead. Will Nazi Germany really attack Poland? Didn't the allies of this anti–Semitic Poland declare that they will come to her aid? How is it possible that the Nazi beasts were not deterred by such a declaration? And didn't Poland herself – so proud of her “courageous heart” and her corrupt government, right from the beginning, guarantee that she would never capitulate; that not one inch of her territory would be ceded to Germany and that blood would be shed if they made any attempt to do so by force of arms? Indeed, a real confusion of the senses and meantime, in spite of the internal woes, the Andak party continues to add its Satanic propaganda against the Jews in the form of stationing “sentries” outside Jewish shops lest Poles who choose to shop there should try to enter. There were also many anti–Semitic slogans to be seen and heard recently like: “Jews, go to Palestine,” and “Jews! Hitler is coming after you!” All the absurdity of the last comment failed to awaken in those Poles who voiced it the awareness that it was likely to continue and include them also. The Jews in the town were more perturbed and were it not for their concern for their families and businesses would have picked themselves up and gone to other places. But where? And thus, day followed day and there was no escape from the tangled situation. It was already mid–August. The wheat in the field was ripe and the fruit on the trees juicy and ready for picking but who had a head clear of worries and nerves of steel to wander abroad in the fields and orchards in these darkening days?

The first signs of Polish mobilization began to appear in town and established themselves all over, even in the club–house of the “Hashomer Ha–Dati” in the “Community Council” offices who brought out mattresses for them. Lines of communication were established and the overtones of war were felt. The L.O.P.P. [1] and the Strzelec [2] and other similar organizations woke up and began to act and spur–on the townspeople to take steps to defend themselves. Defensive trenches were dug around the town and bunkers for cover in the event of aerial attacks; The Jewish population voluntarily took part in all this work and proved their loyalty to the State by doing so and perhaps also calmed themselves that they had done everything they could to save themselves. The mobilization of volunteer began in earnest. Notices were stuck on the walls of houses and the residents clustered round to read them and tried to absorb their implication. They said “The Reserves” are called to report for duty – but where, when and how remained a puzzle for everyone. It simply increased and multiplied the confusion and bewilderment of everyone which in any case spread throughout the country. It contributed to the wandering of the population throughout Silesia.

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The towns close to the German border began to empty of its residents and that was in answer to the influence upon them by German spies whose sole purpose was to empty the areas of its Polish and Jewish populations ahead of its annexation into the “Greater German Reich”. And indeed they achieved almost complete success by inducing panic among the masses and caused everyone who cared for their own and their dear ones' safety to flee from the clutches of the German forces.

The Jewish people among the refugees found shelter among acquaintances and some among their Jewish brethren. The Poles, in contrast, found little succour among their countrymen who turned them away and slammed the doors in their faces. The town was full of people. Families with small children on their last legs, baggage on their shoulders, managed to proceed “eastwards” only with great difficulty. There were some lucky ones who managed to acquire a horse and cart but even so their journey were slow because of poor roads and the many people forced to go on foot. In the evenings the town became shrouded in darkness and only here and there a faint light twinkled only to be quickly extinguished. Groups of people congregated together in the town square – “The Rink” and discuss the events of the day and when the time came for the news they crowded round the few available radios owned by the wealthier of the people – the Polish residents, still optimistic and certain that victory would be theirs – but not for long.

1st September 1939 towards morning. A German bomber, black like a crow, with swastikas on its wings flies over the rooftops; he circles in the air without interference as if enjoying himself and without any sense of being in enemy skies. Indeed it is a sign that the war has begun and there is no longer room for self–delusion.

Erev Shabbat. The town is humming with refugees and more are arriving together with the first of the retreating Polish Army falling back under pressure from the German forces. Machine–guns have been hauled up and installed on the roof–tops of “The Rink” to scare off the German aircraft that have begun to reconnoitre the area at will in order to track the movements of the Polish army. The Municipality has no advice to give and in order to make some impression publish a few lines of instructions and orders totally devoid of significance. The Jews – apparently resigned to the situation make preparations for whatever comes next. They share their food with their brethren among the refugees but their supplies are small because no attempt has been made to stock up earlier in anticipation of hard times. The prayers in the synagogue and the Steibls are hurried because everyone is anxious to be at home together with his family.

Sunday 3rd September. The radio broadcasts warnings repeating and repeating and also reports on the retreat of the army. That can be clearly seen by the stream of defeated soldiers passing through the town in flight. The last of the municipality representatives who have held firm until now have joined the flight and for those who are left there is nothing to be done other than to form some kind of local militia whose only purpose is to hunt down German spies who have infiltrated among the incoming refugees – and liquidate them.

Complete chaos reigns throughout and rumours about the approach of the Germans are rife and increasing and there can be no doubt left when the last remaining Polish soldiers leave the town and, indeed, that same day the first of the German soldiers appeared in Miechów

Quite quickly two German soldiers entered our house with rifles and fixed bayonets, ordered us to raise our arms and searched the whole house looking for Polish soldiers who may be hiding there.

Later, we came to know that most of the houses had been searched and that several hostages had been taken, Poles and Jews, who were held for a couple of days in the church and there was some concern for their lives. Apart from a few shots that were fired to frighten us when the Germans entered town, the day passed in relative quiet. The people closed themselves in their homes and rarely ventured out. The German garrison wasted no time and set about its work;

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the Communications Platoon climbed the telephone poles – the exchange building was next to our house – and repaired the disconnected lines while the military command published various emergency orders while fighting was still going on outside the city limits. The accursed Fascism already began to give signs of its presence in town, first of all in the figure of Polish “Patriotism” – well–known to us for a long time – non–other than Dr. Lech, the head–teacher of the town's gymnasium.

Already during the days of reform he was known as an “Andak” man and now, with the fleeing of the legal Mayor, Marczewski, – he claimed for himself the chair of the Mayor and among his first acts was to oblige all Jewish shops to display a large, visible “Star of David” in the shop–front window with the word “Jew” written underneath. His days in power were brief, however and with the return of the legal Mayor a short while later, the posters were removed. Essential foodstuffs in the shops were sold quickly for as long as supplies lasted and everyone tried to stock–up with as much as possible. White flour was confiscated by the Germans and the bakers were forced to use a lower grade that turned the bread into something poor–tasting and glutinous. In addition, the bread was sold only on production of vouchers and it was necessary to get up at dawn and stand in line at the baker in order to get the inadequate ration.

Other foodstuffs were in any case virtually unobtainable and were available only on the “black market” and the prices rose alarmingly from day to day. In the beginning the Germans did not noticeably interfere in daily life because they were mainly engaged in clearing the conquered territory and with their siege on Warsaw. We saw their destructive armor passing through Miechów en route to Kraków and Warsaw for that purpose. Terrifying fear struck us at the sight.

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah an armored column pulled up and stopped in “The Rink” and a hunt immediately began for bearded Jews. When caught they were forced to clean the German tanks and trucks just for the sake of abusing them. That same afternoon a number of SS men stopped in front of the locked synagogue door and began striking it with their rifle–butts trying unsuccessfully to break in. Unable to give up with nothing achieved, they smashed some of the windows in the basement and threw in some incendiaries not leaving until they were certain that the place was burning. Our house quickly filled with thick smoke since it was right next door and we were concerned for our lives.

In the meantime the soldiers left and the town's fire–brigade chief Czeczinski(?), whose house was also threatened, arrived and managed to put out the blaze before it did any real damage. The fire encouraged us to leave our home immediately and we moved to Rabbi Shmuel Fogel's house. That transfer would come back to haunt us later when the ghetto was established.

With the entry into town of the German forces the elected officials of the Jewish Community who had ceased their routine public activities now began to function again albeit somewhat hesitantly. They were concerned that the control of the community would pass to the hands of a refugee by the name of Applebaum who had settled in Miechów and even in the first days of the conquest had displayed considerable initiative in keeping close to the rulers. His ambitions were quickly realized and he was nominated Mayor, while the legitimate members of the council were “second fiddles” and their activities now curtailed to executing the orders of the Germans. Their first one was that all Jews of fifteen and over must wear a white arm–band with a “Star of David” on it. The order went into effect in December 1939 and the “Council” had to provide for sale the necessary cloth for the Jewish residents. It was the first sign of discrimination and the white arm–bands on the sleeves coincided with the snow that fell at the same time.

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It is worth mentioning that there was still an air of optimism among the people at the time, in spite of the fact that the conquest of Poland and its division between Russia in the east and Germany in the west, was already an established fact; there was great hope of an early counter–attack by the great powers of France and Great Britain. It was that hope that breathed the spirit of life and faith into the people that the miracle would shortly come to pass.

Because of the confiscation of radios and the prohibition of receiving information from abroad the population was fed with information from the Germans and that was obviously one–sided although it was, in general accurate. The sources gave food to the thought that the information being passed by word of mouth was just a rumor that someone was thinking up. Nevertheless it found a strong echo among the people and had a great influence on them A few of the residents, Jew and non–Jew alike, who had fled eastward to Russia at the outbreak of war, returned with greetings from friends and acquaintances they had met on the Russian side of the border and who had decided to remain there until they could safely return home to a liberated Poland. There were divided opinions about the fundamental nature of Russia's regime in the eastern region and her attitude towards the Jews in particular was unclear. A little comfort was taken by the optimists from the fact that Jews were serving in the Red Army and even achieving high officer–rank, and “there” at least, people were not bothered simply for being Jews. Hearing these stories and others, a number of people stole across the River San – the border – to the “Paradise” of the other side.

To this day we have no idea how many succeeded in making it safely. It is worth pointing out that until 1941 for as long as the 1939 German/Russian Pact remained valid, the postal services between the two states operated normally between the residents of both sides and even within our own family we sent and received regular letters from an uncle who had immigrated to Siberia and from my sister who had got stuck in the town of Stolin not far from Baranovich.

Winter 1939/1940 passed without serious disturbances apart from those instances of the “kidnapped Jews” for urgent forced labor such as snow–clearing and so on. At 8 o'clock in the evening, the curfew began and no Jew was to be found on the street.

With the thaw and the coming of spring a German company named “Klei–Jäger” arrived in town and made preparations to pave the highway between Kraków and Warsaw (which crossed the town) to facilitate the movement of German military transport. Obviously in order to execute a project of such a scale the company would require a large, cheap work–force and that was to be found in the “Jew” who could be forced into labor without even paying him. The German “Labor Department”, to which the Company turned, ordered the Jüdenrat to supply as many workers as possible and as quickly as possible. The wealthy, who had never in their lives done any physical labor, anticipated being beaten severely by the German overseers and in their place paid poorer men to work for them; this was seen as something of a “life–saver”, as a way of earning some extra rations at a high cost. There were also incidents of “privilege” which caused anger among those who saw themselves as perpetual “victims” for all hard work. It is worth remembering that the Jewish population in town was not large and the number of young men was correspondingly low. For every German demand to supply a work–force the Jüdenrat would mobilize virtually the same men who were forced to present themselves for work and if they failed to show they could expect some form of unknown punishment…

At this same time the local government recalled that it needed to control the river flowing at the edge of town, a project that was now made possible because of the availability of the supply of Jewish labor – an inexhaustible supply. Even the municipal road–works department didn't hesitate to make its demands of the Jüdenrat to supply laborers, in short, anyone who wanted to could impose upon the Jew bitterness and abuse as much as he wished.

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I still need to mention the heavy and arduous work we were forced to do by the Luftwaffe, in loading ammunition onto railroad trucks in the Chodówka Forest, accompanied by crippling beatings with sticks to keep up the pace for 24 hours.

At the end of the summer of 1941 The Jews were ordered to congregate in the area designated to be the ghetto that included Mickiewicza Street, Słowczikiego(?) Street and Joselewicza Street. The small number of Christians living in those streets were required to evacuate their homes and move to the now–vacated Jewish homes scattered throughout the town. The above streets, which even before this were densely populated, were now forced to absorb the whole Jewish population of the town; overcrowding reached epic proportions.

Immediately after the move the streets were closed and brick–built walls erected with narrow, locked gates in each wall guarded by the Jüdischer Ordnungsdienst [3]. From now on we were as if in a narrow cage and the German hunters' search was made significantly easier. Indeed the soldiers would come about every two weeks. In the beginning – sending younger men for forced labor camps and later – total extermination.

At the end of June 1942 they locked us in from all directions and the “kidnappings” began. About 50 young men, among them my brother (Z”L) and I, were taken to the Great Synagogue and held there for a night and a day without knowing what would happen to us and where we were going. The parents of these young men ran around and turned to the heads of the Jüdenrat and pleaded for their children's lives but in vain. The following morning we were transported to the Kraków suburb of Bonarka and there we were put to work in a brick–making factory (that had belonged to a Jew and confiscated by the Germans who put a Volksdeutsche from Silesia in his place). In spite of the grueling labor and meagre rations, we managed to keep our spirits up. Our consolation came from the knowledge that we still had a “home” in Miechów and from time to time, especially on Sunday, it was even possible – but dangerous – to get home to see the family if only for a couple of hours. That consolation didn't last long.

While passing through the streets of the ghetto I was struck by the feeling of suffocation and that a ghost of some sort was chasing me. Stares of despair looked out from the eyes of the passersby I saw and it was difficult to talk to them. Even at home, in the bosom of my family the tension was evident and that was in spite of the fact that no one knew what awaited them in the next few days. Early Monday morning, when it was time for me to return to Bonarka to work, my mother (Z”L), accompanied me to the gate of the ghetto where the truck was waiting to take us to work. Before I climbed aboard my mother fell upon me crying bitterly. When I recall that moment my heart aches remembering that last separation in which a mother's heart sensed a bitter and tragic end. Indeed, no more than a few days passed and the terrible news arrived in Kraków that hundreds of Jews from town – among them my grandfather and parents (Z”L) – had been transported to some marshy dunghill in Słomniki where the murderers collected together Jews from the surrounding towns and from there transported them by train to extermination centers.

Operations of this nature were undertaken in most of the towns, mostly on the Sabbath.

From witnesses who were present and saw and heard, we learned that on that black Sabbath day, my grandfather (Z”L), Rabbi Yisroel David – ritual slaughterer and inspector –who was loved by everyone in town, wrapped himself in his prayer–shawl and after finishing his Sabbath prayers, went out with his stick, knocked on the doors of the synagogue and called out to the Master of the Universe: “Master of the Universe! All my life I have served Thee with love and perfect faith and never transgressed Your commandments and now that sentence of death has been decreed why have You forced me desecrate Thy Holy Sabbath by riding on a wagon? Why has my soul been deprived of its purity?” All who heard him stood crying bitterly but there was no salvation…in the words of Jeremiah: “…behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me…” [4] The decree has fallen upon the Jewish people of the town and we among them are the orphans and the mourners. Everyone who was directly touched by that “Aktsia”, wrapped himself up in the corner, crying and uniting with the memory with his loved ones who only days before they saw them. Who could imagine to themselves that the end was so close?

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Less than a week later the ghetto was again surrounded by the special platoons of the SS, the Gendarmes and others. All the remaining Jews in the ghetto, women and children, were gathered together in “The Rink” and immediately separated into two groups: one – men in the full vigor of their strength, and the second – the elderly, the women and the children.

They were all taken to the railroad station and there crammed into cattle–wagons closed and crowded. The men selected as a work–force were loaded separately and were transported not far and arrived at Prokoczym camp, remembered in infamy by all who were there. But not so the others; the appalling conditions in the wagons meant that many died on the journey before even arriving at the crematoria. Only one sole surviving woman lived to tell the story of that transport of death who managed by a miracle to jump from the train and survive to hide among farmers who took pity on her – K. Pawlowicz, living today in Canada.

The ghetto remained empty and forlorn and around it wandered the Nazi beasts as if seeking prey. When we heard at work the news that some of the people from Miechów were in Prokoczym only some few kilometers from us, we took the risk and went there to try to glean some information from them concerning the fate of our families and indeed, their own situation and any help that we perhaps can give them. Even though our own conditions at work were far from good, we bribed some of the overseers there and managed to secrete a number of people and bring them back to be among us. For those, it was a real life–saver for them after tasting just a few days of the hell of Prokoczym. It seemed that now the terrible tragedy that fell upon the Jews of Miechów and its surroundings had come to an end but fate continued to add to its cruel treatment of Miechów's Jews. A few weeks after the liquidation of the ghetto a number of escapes took place from the various work– and concentration–camps in the area of Kraków and the ghetto of Miechów began to show signs of life again with some of its earlier residents and also with Jews from other towns in the area. The homes that had been empty now absorbed the few who had returned to them thinking that life was again in tranquil waters.

The Germans thought otherwise. When they saw the movement of the Jews who dared to return to the destroyed ghetto they burned with anger. They seemed to accept the fact that the ghetto was again “crawling with Jews” and full of life but at the same time they tightened the encirclement lest this time the “birds escape”. It was not long before “the hunt” began. The town's residents beyond the ghetto's walls even took pleasure in helping the Germans as much as they could. The victims were taken to the Chodówka Forest where they were shot and thrown into a mass grave that had been dug by the farmers and their sons.

Those who succeeded in hiding during the hunt later came out of their hiding–places thinking that the Germans' anger had subsided and that they were safe. They had failed to learn that their fate had been sealed earlier and continued to live in the closed “cage” just like before.

On 18th January 1943, during the morning hours, the Germans burst into the ghetto while an increased guard surrounded it on the outside, and commenced slaughtering on the streets the remaining Jews that had escaped the earlier round–up. Only a very few isolated individuals managed to escape this time while the majority fell into the hands of the cruel murderers and died. The corpses were collected by Poles and brought for burial in a large common grave in the Jewish cemetery which today has disappeared and left no sign because the tombstones were removed and the ground plowed over.

Our town was gone – destroyed – and with it our world and there is no mourner to cry over our immense tragedy.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. State Air Defence League Return
  2. Snipers Return
  3. The ghettos' Jewish police service Return
  4. The Lamentations of Jeremiah 1:xii Return


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The Struggle for Life

by Pesach Bezerdki

Translated by Selwyn Rose

In the Warsaw Ghetto

I walk homewards to my wife and children with my brain gnawing the whole time on the question – What next? And for how long will I be able to hang on in this struggle for life that has no chance of success?

On the way I hear the rumor spreading like lightning that war had broken out this morning against Russia. From minute to minute the confusion increases, the price of bread rose from 18 złoty to 30 złoty, potatoes – from 5 to 10 złoty a kilo and are difficult to obtain for money even so. People run, alarmed and frightened, hither and thither. There in front of my eyes I see a shocking sight: A Jew is walking along the street eating a slice of bread. Suddenly another Jew comes along and tries forcibly to take it from him. An argument breaks out between them and in the midst of grappling they both end up eating the bread together; and here are two children rolling on the ground searching for the crumbs and swallowing them. Depressed by the sight I arrive home and spoke to my wife about what I had seen. She comforts me and says: “We'll find a way out of our rickety situation, try to find a better job.”

How can I find a better job – I ask her – at the same time that the Germans don't let us go outside the ghetto? And while I am talking I have a sudden idea and I say to her in a decisive tone: “Tuvia, We'll take the children and go to your sister in Miechów!” Hearing that she looks at me angrily and says with finality: “Have you gone crazy Pesach? You seem to have forgotten – Jews that are found outside the ghetto are shot on sight!”

When I saw couldn't persuade her I told her resolutely that if she refuses to go I'll go alone, with the children. Then she began to insist: “Pesach! Think of what you're doing to us; they'll kill us like dogs.” – “In any case death awaits us from all sides,” I said to her – “and we have to take a chance in order to survive.” I added that I would prefer to die from a bullet rather than a slow death from starvation, and in the end she agreed to come.

I had a cousin in Warsaw – Melach Rosenberg – who, like me, also worked in the printing trade, who managed to join a smuggling ring. They had casualties every day but he had developed a special sense to perceive danger before it arrived and survived every situation unscathed until he became known as “the ‘King’ of Smugglers”. I asked him to arrange our escape to Miechów for me, my wife and children, with his Aryan friends.

He tried to dissuade me from what was indeed a perilous undertaking and also very expensive in bribes demanded by the smugglers. When he saw that I wasn't deterred we agreed that we would all meet at a certain place the following day at five o'clock ready for the journey but entirely without baggage. We were scheduled to travel by train at 6 o'clock, travelling in complete darkness to avoid attacks from the air.

I went home and sent for my brother–in–law, Yossel Groman to hear his opinion. We decided that he and my sister–in–law, Hanna, will take our apartment and their son, Meir would come with us to Miechów.

We didn't sleep a wink all night; I lay awake in bed and watched as my wife went from room to room, touching and fondling all the articles, talking to them as if they were living beings that she was seeing for the last time, beloved treasures that we had used all our lives. Thus she parted from our furniture and clothes, bed linen and kitchen–utensils. In the morning we parted from our friends and acquaintances. When I parted from my good friend Motel Bornstein he said: “Pesach! I am amazed at your courage and convinced that you will all arrive safely.”

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At exactly 5 o'clock we arrived at the meeting–place where my cousin Melach was already waiting. At a quarter to six the signal came from the Aryan side and we began to cross over. At first they took us through a bombed–out house on Sienna Street, from there we arrived at a hidden tunnel where we were met by 4 scary–looking but strong Christian men who led us through a cellar and out on to the Aryan side in Złota Street.

We continued on the street in the direction of the railroad station with two of the men in front of us and two behind, hearing from passers–by whispers of: “Jews walking.” But no one harmed us or interfered with us because of our escorts. At the entrance to the main rail station another of the gang's men came to us and gave us five rail tickets with four platform tickets for our escorts – and disappeared.

The moment we entered the railroad–car – we began to move and we were on our way. During the ride none of us spoke a word. We prayed anxiously that it would get dark quickly so that no one – G–d forbid – could identify us. Very slowly it began to get dark and when we arrived in Radom we were wrapped in complete darkness. We travelled the whole night and with dawn arrived at Miechów.

 

Miechów

We get off the train and I glance round the station and can see that it is small and being cautious we walk along the path at the side rather than along the platform until we reach the road.

Around us an eerie silence, no one to see only the tweeting of birds can be heard and the fresh scented air stops the breath; my impression is as if we have been confronted with another world; a world without locked gates and corpses lying in the streets. We continue along the street and the town appearing in front of us, until we reach the home of my sister–in–law at Number One, Ratzlewiczke Street. As we crossed the threshold of the house joy and happiness burst forth; everyone jumped from their beds and came downstairs and began to clean, cook and bake for Shabbat as if there were no war going on in the world.

My daughter, Malka, asked me: “Daddy! Are they getting ready for a wedding here?” My sister–in–law didn't join in the laughter together with everyone and I wasn't at all certain she was entirely happy about us coming. (Later she complained about their extreme poverty and I reassured her and promised her that our stay with her would be at no cost to her and entirely at my expense).

After that pleasant greeting I went out for a stroll to get to know the place. I stood somewhat stunned with wonderment at the scene before my eyes. Jews are busy buying and selling and bartering with the farmers. Buying butter, cheese, eggs chickens and even fish for Shabbat as if the Germans didn't exist in the world.

From the market square I walk to the Jüdenrat, to my nephew Shlomo, who works there as a clerk in the Labor Department and ask him to find me a job as a replacement for someone who doesn't want to work. He tries to dissuade me but sees that I am determined and gives me a replacement authorization for someone called Posluszny – in the City Park, where Jews were working preparing for a swimming pool for the Germans using forced labor. After a long search I found the park and next to the entrance was a large notice: “Jews and dogs not allowed.” I am impressed by the beauty of the park, by its lakes and the deer enclosures. From a distance I can see our brethren the Children of Israel working. As I draw closer I hear them whispering: “Hey, Yehudi! It's good here.” A swarthy–skinned man comes striding towards me and introduces himself as the group–leader, Tscharwonogoda(?). I present him with my work–pass from

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Poslushny and he assigns me to my place among the rest of the Jews. In the blink of an eye I am surrounded by Jews sticking out their hands to shake mine and welcome me asking: “Where are you from?” “I'm from Warsaw; I'm Yossel Bornstein's brother–in–law,” I reply. They treat me as if we were all of one family and ask me to tell them about myself. I describe at length the terrible destruction of Jewish life taking place in Warsaw. They listen silently in sadness but were unable to believe me and considered it an exaggeration.

I walk to lunch accompanied by the team–leader, the swarthy seminary student. He tries to urge me not to return to work in the afternoon but to rest from the fatigue of travelling. Back at home my sister–in–law begins to prepare lunch. She lays the table and places a plate of soup with pasta in front of me that awakens my appetite while I push it to one side and state: “I don't want to be a burden to you.”

My sister–in–law begins to cry and says “In this gloomy war we have lost the image of humanity and the fear of hunger overshadows our opinion and be sure – if you don't eat it I'll kill myself! I sat down and ate the meal and afterwards lay down to rest and immediately fell asleep.

In my sleep I had a dream: I am in a cemetery digging graves. All around me are piles of dead bodies for burial I am the only one here and I can't do all the work. I feel that I am using the last of my strength while there are still a lot of corpses. Suddenly I stop and throw away the shovel and start to walk round the cemetery wall looking for a way of escape. But I can't find one. While I am still standing there disappointed an idea blossoms in my mind. I start to pull out the tombstones, drag them along and build steps with them up the wall until I get to the top, jump down to the other side and fall…and fall…until I wake up covered in perspiration.

The dream had a great influence on my future life even at moments of crisis, and was a source of encouragement.

As payment for my work as a replacement I received 10 złotys a day. After my bitter experience in Warsaw I began to feel out and investigate whether Jews are sent for labor and paid in foodstuffs and I discovered that in Miechów there was a cooperative run by agriculturalists that was supplying to the Germans in the county various foodstuffs at a fixed quota – items such as cereal, wheat, barley, oats, potatoes, eggs and even honey. In return, the farmers received from the Germans sugar and hard liquor. Imagine to yourselves my amazement when I heard that the Jewish men didn't want to work there. A Jew who received a work–authorization to work in the cooperative – saw only a black world in front of him. According to his perception the work there was too hard – carrying heavy sacks with no opportunity to rest and chat during work. From Jews like that I demanded double pay. I soon became known the king–pin, that it was possible to rely on me to complete the work efficiently. I exploited the opportunity and brought to my sister–in–law's home sacks of potatoes, coal, flour and even liquors.

Thus I wrote to my sister–in–law in Warsaw:

“To my dear Sister–in–law, Hanna!

Forgive me for waiting so long to write to you. I knew you would be anxious and curious but I wanted to wait a while here in order to tell you everything.

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First of all, know that Miechów is a virtual Paradise! Even better than that for a Jew that only recently came from the nearby Warsaw ghetto. Food! While hundreds and thousands die of starvation food here is all over the place; A kilogram of bread can be bought for three Złotys and a sack of potatoes for 40 Złotys.

I am sending you two small parcels to two different addresses; otherwise the post–office will refuse to accept them. As soon as I hear from you that they have arrived – I'll continue to send them every week. In addition I need to tell you that Malk'eleh is learning together with the neighbor's daughters and can already read and write a bit. Avigdor is also growing, learned to smoke cigarettes and plays cards with his friends.”

She replied:

“Dear Brother–in–law,

I have received your letter and thank you for the food parcels that arrived safely. You have no idea how valuable they are for us; without them we would die of hunger together with my child so I wish that you live forever. For now, my dear brother–in–law I have to describe the destruction of my family. My brother–in–law, Hanoch with his wife and children all died of hunger, the whole house is destroyed, Yutke's Avigdor also died. My husband and brother–in–law, Yossel were sent for forced labor to Treblinka and I know news about them. The only comfort and consolation I have is that you at least are alive and are not suffering from hunger. When I read Malk'eleh's handwriting tears of happiness came to my eyes…”

In the Miechów community my “fame” grew. When there was a need for a hard worker in one of the store–houses, the store men would come to the community and look for the “Warsaw–man”. And look what happened: on one occasion the Works Department manager, Shmuel Kleiner, appeared at my house and asked for my help. “The work in Warshawski's flour–mill is very hard,” he said, “and every day the workers run away. As a result I received a warning from the County Governorship that if there should be another incident he would send half the town to Płaszów camp. I urge you to organize a group of six strong men to work as a team for as long as is necessary to supply the necessary products and for this the Jüdenrat will pay you well.”

That same evening I scoured the town and found five good workers for the team: 3 wagon–masters, two horse–thieves and I was the sixth. I convinced them it was good deal: 1) we will get good money from the Jüdenrat. 2) Every day we can smuggle a little produce and if the store–man catches us we'll include him as a partner – and that's how it was. We began working energetically and by noon we had managed to sack, weigh and dispatch to the railroad wagons 40 tons of wheat. The store–man was satisfied with our work and said: “You certainly are well–suited to this work.”

That same day we also managed to smuggle out part of the produce but the store–man caught us. We tried to convince him that we didn't earn a fair wage for the hard work we perform and that heavy workers need to eat. He replied: “I will try to get the management to give you the same pay as the Christians – 4 złotys and a loaf of bread each day.” “Do you think we can survive on those wages doing this hard work,” we asked. “It's hard for me on my wages as well, but I manage,” he replied.

[Page 205]

In the end he became convinced and agreed to my suggestion – to sell for him the extra produce he put aside from the farmers' produce.

Immediately on the following day, when we transferred the wheat to the railroad, we transferred a wagon with 18 tons of wheat from Ruszecki's flour–mill and sold it for hard cash. Thus I became a businessman in Miechów, although that operation ended badly because of an informer. The Police knew of the smuggling and from time–to–time confiscated the goods and distribute them among their colleagues for money.

Not long after a flood of edicts descended upon the Jews of Miechów, one after the other: Jews are forbidden to live outside the ghetto, whoever wants to go to the Aryan side of the town must possess a special pass and anyone found without the document would be shot on the spot.

The local police were removed and in their place a new police force was brought in all of them wickedly evil and bad. One of them demonstrated unprecedented sadistic cruelty. Not a day passed without victims falling prey to his brutality. He was a butcher by trade and boasted that it was easier to hang a Jew than to slaughter a pig.

On hearing that the “Pig–butcher” was in the ghetto the Jews hid themselves away in panic. Even I was caught up in the situation: the house in which I lived with my sister–in–law in Ratzlewiczke Street was outside the ghetto. After much trouble and influence my sister–in–law managed somehow to get an apartment inside the ghetto and we all moved there.

After all the Jews had crowded themselves into the already small confined area of the ghetto the authorities suddenly became aware that there were too many Jews in Miechów. Then the troubles really began. The Germans, with the help of the Jüdenrat began organizing transports: the younger people to the Płaszów concentration camp, the old and the children to Działoszyce. Thus the Jewish population of Miechów was reduced by half.

Winter passed and spring arrived and with it the festival of the Exodus from Egypt – Passover. But how feeble the sufferings of those days seem compared with the horrors caused us by today's “Pharaoh” – Hitler.

In spite of that every Jew in Miechów prepared himself for the festival: matzos, fish, meat and even raisin–wine for the four glasses. In that respect I was a little remiss – I was so busy on the Eve of Passover that I forgot to bring home some meat. On the other hand I remembered to take two parcels of food to the mail to send to my sister–in–law Hanna in Warsaw but to my real sorrow I was forced to take them home with me because they told me that according to a new regulation it was forbidden to send parcels. I arrived home broken–hearted and sent a letter to Hanna.

Dear Sister–in–law,

My only consolation is that I left you my apartment with all its contents and I grant you the right to sell them. Do you hear me, Hanna? Don't have any regrets about anything; if we survive and come through this alive we'll buy everything we need – and if not, then we won't need anything.

We hope you are well and send you and your child kisses –

All the family in Miechów.

Dear Brother–in–law,

Don't apologize about the parcels of food; I still have plenty in reserve that in any case I will not be using. You should know, the Warsaw ghetto is being liquidated step–by–step and these are the last days of my life. They are already eliminating Nowolipie Street and every minute I expect to be sent to Treblinka. Perhaps it is better this way rather than the torture of helplessness – have done with it! Do you hear me Pesach? This is my last letter to you! Be healthy and live forever.

Yours,

Hanna.

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With the reading of that letter, we became very melancholy, crying in sadness and torment.

That same day towards evening I received from Warsaw one more letter – from an acquaintance, my friend Motel Bornstein: “My beloved friend Pesach! The beginning of the end of the destruction we expected is here; we are now face–to–face with the reality. The Warsaw ghetto is being liquidated. The Jews of Warsaw have at last rid themselves of all the illusions they cherished concerning their fate whose only aim is the destruction of Judaism. That awareness has caused a certain solidarity among some of the remaining Jewish refugees to formulate a definite plan and who are determined to go down fighting and die as martyrs: in other words a rebellion against the Nazi beasts; if we are to die then let it be with honor.

With that in view a fighting organization has been formed in which are quite a few people from our “Union of Printing–house Workers” with Lazar Sklar as Chairman. I advise you all in Miechów to do the same. It is possible that at the moment you can't because the Jews there have not yet reached the same stage of awareness. Other news is that Czerniaków lost his mind.

One fine day we received the information from a contact outside the ghetto what the German murderers were planning to do to the Jews of Warsaw. We decided to sabotage their plans. When Czerniaków returned from the Gestapo to the Jüdenrat offices three of us, armed with pistols walked into his office. We locked the door and drew our pistols and told him: “We know you have just returned from the Gestapo and that you received orders to send ten–thousand Jews to the Umschlagplatz [1] every day for extermination in Treblinka.

We are here to tell you and warn you: either you refuse to carry out their orders or we will shoot you ourselves, here and now. After thinking for a few moments he asked for time until tomorrow to think about it. His answer was clear!!! The following day the information was relayed to us that he had committed suicide. In connection with the death of Czerniaków certain elements wanted to turn him into a national hero but we know that Czerniaków and heroism are two diametrically opposed concepts. Yes, he was a hero compared to those Jews who went like sheep to the slaughter but he was a collaborator and faithful servant of the Germans.

It is possible that in his last moments he became aware of his bitter mistake and perhaps understood, although too late, that after fulfilling the orders his fate would be the same as that of his fellow–Jews.”

We received news in Miechów that the town of Słomniki was being liquidated. The rumor hit us like a thunder–clap on a clear day. In the wink of an eye the information flashed across the Jews in the ghetto and a state of mourning descended on every house because nearly everyone had family there. All of a sudden a panic–ridden Jew who had escaped from there by a miracle came running with more news: They want to evacuate three–quarters of the Słomniki Jews leaving just a quarter of them there temporarily. All those destined for removal have been closed inside the synagogue and they have already been shut up there for two days with no food. Today they are being evacuated. While I am still standing there listening, Kleiner from the Jüdenrat came and asked me to help him unload some furniture. We went to the warehouse and immediately began working. We unloaded from the truck good furniture belonging to a rich family from Słomniki. Among the items that we unloaded was a bag of phylacteries with the name of an honoured resident of the town embroidered on the bag.

My heart ached carrying the belongings of the victims, as if I carried a double weight, a weight drenched in the blood and tears of the murdered Jewish people! When I returned home after this sad work I see that I am in the ghetto surrounded by Jews and one of them is talking: “A girl came to me today, the daughter of a relative in Kraków. She managed to escape from the camp at Belzhetz and she told me that there is a gigantic oven there and they are burning alive all the Jews who are brought there; every day trains are arriving full of Jews and the same day they are incinerated.”

On hearing this story the crowd got angry and began shouting at the speaker: “What are you coming with these fabrications? You believe them? You rely on the stories of this stupid girl? It's true that the Germans are cruel – but that they would never do, they would just simply send the Jews to Russia. Go home and stop telling ‘fairy stories' – scare–monger!”

[Page 207]

I stood there stunned beyond belief at the reaction of the Jews and their insistence on ignoring the sad reality. My friends take me aside and ask my opinion. I explain to them that to my sorrow the story is true and instead of deceiving ourselves we must arm ourselves as best we can and at the appropriate moment resist and not walk like sheep to the slaughter.

A few friends hurriedly left as soon as I finished talking and those who remained said: “Pesach – it's ‘healthier' not to talk like that – the Jüdenrat has spies everywhere. If these ideas get to the Gestapo – we're finished, liquidated.” “Aren't we done for in any case?” I asked. There was no reply.

The Jews have already been evacuated from all the surrounding counties around Miechów. Now it was the turn of Miechów. A mood and atmosphere of depression spreads throughout the ghetto. The impression arises that everyone wants to escape but doesn't know how.

Broken–hearted and depressed I leave town in order to clear my mind and try find a life–saving plan for myself. I am careless of the death awaiting me on every side and stroll through the fields. On either side of my path, in the glaring sun stand the sheaves of golden wheat. There is a good harvest this year! But we, the Jews, have no right to live. Suddenly I stop in the middle of the field with a heavy aching heart, my eyes streaming tears down my face and I raise my voice: I shout! To the sheaves of wheat, to the fields, the earth, heavens to all creation! Why??? Why is the world silent? – As if nothing is happening, I sit tired, weary on the log of a hewn tree and try to find a way out of the tangle web for me, my wife and child. I am unable to find a solution. All the routes are blocked and enemies ambush us everywhere.

No way is open to me other than to hide in the attic in the house on Ratzlewiczke Street where we lived before the ghetto was forced on us. I knew it was no solution but when a man is drowning he will grasp at any straw in order to save himself.

(Translated from the Yiddish by Moshe Spiegel).


Translator's Footnote

  1. The central square from whence “Transports” to the various extermination centers departed. Return


Our Family in Miechów

by Eliezer Dresner

Translated by Selwyn Rose

During the summer months of 1939, the citizens of Poland lived under the mistaken illusion that in the end war will be prevented. The development of events in Europe from the entry of Hitler into the Saar region until the Munich Agreement only strengthened the illusion. No one could imagine that Hitler would dare to challenge the Western Powers who had signed a defense treaty with Poland, but above all – that Poland's fate would be sealed within a matter of days.

The rapid collapse of the State stunned and depressed everyone. Before we had a chance to recover from the confusion there came the information of the invasion of eastern Poland by the Soviet Army. A short period later and we, the Jewish population of Miechów felt the full force of suffering and torture throughout our entire beings – body and soul. Our family was a typical Jewish family in Miechów. My father, Pinchas Ben Eliezer Dresner, was a G–d–fearing Jew and businessman of respect and standing in the town. He had been a fervent Zionist for many years, to which he remained faithful both in his relationships with the town and also in his dealings in larger cities.

[Page 208]

Our family tree included extensive branches and was well– and deeply–rooted in the life of the town. I remember my grandfather, Elimelech and the four brothers of my father (Z”L) – Herschel, Mordecai, Meir and Bezalel and his two sisters – Hanna and Baltshe.

My father's main businesses, from which he basically subsisted, were a storehouse for the sale of coal and various wood–products and from this he supported his family honorably. The measure of his loyalty to Zionist ideals can be measured by the fact that already in 1936 he travelled to Palestine to discover first–hand what was going on there. Already at that time – without knowing what awaited him in the future – he began planning the immigration of his family to Palestine but the Second World War put an end to all his plans.

 

mie208.jpg
Płaszów camp

 

My sister, Sela (Z”L) and I were my parents' only children. I learned Hebrew, Torah and Judaism at the “Yavneh” school. They were beautiful days full of a child's dreams and when I recall them hot tears well–up in my eyes.

With the outbreak of World War Two Our situation was no different from others. When the first “Selektsia” was carried out we were included. My parents went to the local “Jüdenrat” and asked not to be separated. But to our sorrow their request was not granted and the first attempt to separate us ended with us escaping and hiding with Christians in the nearby villages.

Day followed day. The “chosen” among the Jews of Miechów were already gathered together waiting for the “transport” but were still held in town. When the time arranged for their evacuation passed, we returned to Miechów and continued to live in a difficult atmosphere of fear of the future.

We later travelled to Kraków where a large group of Miechów Jews were living and working. We were interested in intermingling with them. Our thought was quite simply that whatever happens to those Jews will happen to us as well. That – and more: it was very likely that as long as they kept working under forced–labor their chances were that much better than the others.

[Page 209]

After a short while we were separated: my father and I remained in town while my mother and sister were transferred to the vicinity of the local airfield. After some time we were all together in Jarosławska, near Bła┼╝owa. It was a large work–camp, created after the liquidation of the Kraków ghetto. We were one of the very few families in that camp that had remained united. In the midst of the days of fear and terror the fact of us remaining together was some sort of consolation and we thought – for no good reason – that we would remain together in the future. But here also the cruel hand of fate reached out and separated us without mercy and pity. My sister was taken from our mother and sent somewhere, my mother also was sent to another place while my father and I remained together. For us the hardest days of the Holocaust began in earnest. Our fate included being transferred from place to place endlessly, staying at fifteen different concentration and labor camps and to experience all the tortures and horrors until I arrived, together with my father at Bergen–Belsen, that same death–camp where thousands of our people were tortured and exterminated and among them the last of our own flesh and blood. Words have not been invented to describe the dreadful scenes that were played out before my eyes in that awful place.

I stayed in the camp with my father (Z”L) for a long time; again, we had no doubts that our fate was sealed and that we would perish during one or other of the “Aktsias”. We were sure of it because virtually every evening we saw the skies would turn red with the reflection of the fires from the chimneys of the crematoria.

Everyone who could possibly hold on with what little strength he still had would do so, but in my father's case it was not to be. My personal tragedy attained a new dimension when just 5 days before the liberation of the camp my father returned his soul to his Creator. On the horizon we actually saw the parachutes of the first British forces landing in the vicinity. My father, who was even then utterly exhausted, asked me to fetch him a drink of water. I ran to the “Blockältester[1] and asked him if I could get some water to save my father and his rough answer was: “He's already dead and in another hour it will be your turn.”

When I returned to my father in our own hut I found him without any sign of life. He was taken to a huge pile of human skeleton–like bodies and thrown together with them like an empty vessel having no value. Thus my father's life came to an end – 5 days before the camp of Bergen–Belsen was liberated.

My sister Sela, who was then a young 14–year old girl, breathed her last one month before the end of the war in a concentration camp near Leipzig.

From my entire family I was the only one who survived together with my mother Yocheved – May she be spared for a long life – who was sent to different camps the last of which was Theresienstadt. In that camp she underwent indescribable horrors and there she stayed until the liberation.

The images of these dear ones stand before my eyes to this day and through the fog of the Holocaust period project sharply before my eyes the town of Miechów, the town of my childhood. Each and every one of its streets, every character whom I knew is etched on my memory and deep in my heart and was a part of me. And my pain is increased seven–fold when I recall that all that what was – is no more.


Translator's Footnote

  1. Barracks “overseer” Return


[Page 210]

The Transport

by Natan Rosenkrantz

Translated by Selwyn Rose

In 1942, two weeks before Rosh Hashanah, the men of the SS surrounded our ghetto Friday morning. The order was given to go outside and form into ranks of five. It was 9 o'clock. Everything that had been prepared for Shabbat was left behind us. It all seemed like a nightmare that would disappear when we awoke. We arranged ourselves as ordered and were made to march holding hands. We were dumfounded and didn't know how to cope or react. We arrived at the railroad station. We waited throughout the whole day until evening. It was an extremely hot day – as if cruel fate had decreed it so to trouble us. They forbad us to move from the place and of course there was no food or water to be had.

The previous day the Jews from Działoszyce had been held there and we had supplied them with food and water. We had not dreamed to ourselves that the following day it would be our turn. In the evening there was a “Selektsia”. The younger ones – to one train and the older ones to a second, the last with my family among them were sent to Majdanek from whence they never returned.

I, my brother–in–law and nephew Moshe were taken by the work–train to Prokoczyn. I was the only one who survived.

 

The Jarosławska Camp 1942

Two young women were hanged; I couldn't stand any more. I waited for the opportunity to escape and in 1943 I kept fleeing from camp to camp until I found myself in Grünberg Camp in Germany. From there I was transferred to Kittlitztreben, (near Berlin) and from there I escaped to the forests. I learned to understand that during the years that I was pursued and that I must escape – always escape, escape. To where, I knew not. The aim was to stay alive. And that seemed to me to be the only way to stay alive – and so it was.


Miechów 1939–1943

by Yitzhak Weinreb

Translated by Selwyn Rose

Already on the first day of the Nazi conquest of Miechów we felt the presence of the of the oppressor's arm. They assembled all the male Jews in town, in a church. Fear and tension spread through the town but after a few days all were released.

Not long after the Nazis created the “Jüdenrat” which was responsible for supplying labourers for different types of forced arduous labor such as snow–clearing in winter, caring for the German toilets, road–works and so on. Young men were also sent to work in other counties like Dębica.

During that same period there was an outbreak of Typhus that felled many of the Jewish population of town. In 1941, after the outbreak of hostilities against Russia the Jews were dispossessed of their homes and ordered to confine themselves to the ghetto under awful conditions of overcrowding. A wall was built surrounding the ghetto and the Jews were forbidden to cross it. The situation worsened more and more and the enclosed Jews had great difficulties in obtaining adequate supplies of food.

[Page 211]

That same winter the first Jewish victim fell – a tailor who was senselessly charged of a crime devoid of all reason: hiding a fur in his home after the Nazis had issued an edict ordering all furs to be surrendered to the authorities.

The bitter day arrived. It was the day in which all the elderly of the ghetto were ordered to pack their few belongings and report for evacuation from the town of Miechów and from all the local area. I remember my grandfather Michael Skowron who shouted out with courage while being led from the ghetto: “Down with Hitler!” All the Jews of Miechów were taken to Słomniki where they were cruelly exterminated.

A few days later the ghetto came to an end. The ghetto of Miechów was surrounded by the Nazis and their aides. All the Jews were ordered out of their homes onto the street and were marched to a field near to the railroad station…

This was the so–called “Aussiedlung[1] and here I want to mention Shlomo Bornstein, among the finest young men of the town who tried to resist the evacuation with all his strength and refused to go. He was shot to death in his home.

When the Jews arrived at the railroad station they found they were not alone. There were many Jews concentrated there from all over the local area. (Only the previous day the residents of Miechów did all they could to supply food and water to those who had been brought there from the surroundings!).

Men who were fit for work were separated from their women and children, bitter cries and wailing split the air. But even in that tragic moment the Jews of Miechów had no idea and could not for a moment imagine just what was to befall them. They fed them on stories about evacuation to the east and promises of life and work.

About fifty Jewish men were left behind, by the Nazis, in Miechów, for various tasks and also as a trap for those Jews who had somehow managed to hide and evade the evacuation, among them my uncle Haim Cziner Laki and his family. Indeed in a very short while about two hundred Jews who had been in hiding close by emerged and joined them and all of them were taken to the Chodów forest near Charsznica and murdered. Here, too, there was an example of valor: during the liquidation one of the Jews (it was said afterwards he was the brother of Yosef Stern from Miechów), attacked one of the Germans and seriously injured him.

A few weeks later, about fifty Jews – women and small children – were murdered in the Jewish cemetery and buried there in a common mass grave by the residual permanent residents of the ghetto.

On 15th January 1943 the ghetto of Miechów was finally liquidated. The Germans, together with their Ukrainian collaborators burst into the ghetto slaughtering everyone they found. About twenty Jews managed to hide and most of them survived. The gentle, noble–souled Ya'acov Kornfeld, a teacher in Miechów, managed to hide for a couple of days but was soon exposed by the Poles to the Germans, who shot him.

It was on the 16th January 1945 and a few days before we had heard the sound of explosions and learned that the Russians had launched a massive attack against the German army. My father, Yehezkiel Weinrib, my uncle Skowron and myself lived in a hideout with a Polish farmer for two years. That night we heard voices, the echo of marching feet, a motor–vehicle, the barking of dogs and a general commotion. We had no idea what was happening. Fear and trembling took hold of us. Perhaps the Germans were again taking vengeance on the village as they had done so often before?

We were tense. Suddenly we heard voices speaking in Russian and it was as if we were dreaming. Had the long–awaited moment arrived? Were we again free? Had the end come to our suffering? We couldn't believe it. My father could no longer wait and wanted to go outside but we restrained him forcibly. Only after the farmer came and told us that it was indeed the Russians who had arrived we left our hiding place for the unknown.


Translator's Footnote

  1. “Relocation” Return


[Page 212]

The War Years 1939-1945

by Arya (Leib) Sosnowski

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

In September 1939 a panic began in the city with the outcry that the Germans were coming. We began to run without purpose. There was great confusion. No one told another where he was going because they were afraid that the other one would run ahead on the road. I ran with the Fintshe Zalcberg's family, Harsh (Hirsh) Leib Brener, Ahron Brener. Alas, Ahron Brener fell in Zaklikow as a result of the bombs. We went by horse and wagon, but we had not put anything in the wagons. We sent a wounded Harsh Leib back to Miechow and we traveled further. Arriving in Sandomierz, we met Wolf Ber Warszowski and we were happy as it were and we took him into our group. Before Sandomierz we noticed a small light in a house and we left for it, hungry, thirsty and tired. We had money with us, but there was nothing to buy. We asked the old gentile woman if she would give us a glass of tea, to pay for it. Leaving, we met a large caravan of wagons traveling in the opposite direction; a nobleman stood on one of them, shone a reflector into our eyes and asked where we were traveling. We were afraid to speak with him, but we spoke a little bit with him. He advised us not to go further because the bridge to Sandomierz was burning. Therefore, he advised us to go back, avoiding the city and to travel to Zawiszów. The nobleman showed us a map and we traveled back according to it [the map], turning with various back roads and arriving in Zawiszów. On the way we had to buy another horse because the road became more difficult.

A rumor again spread in Zawiszów that the Germans were coming from another direction. It was eight days before Rosh Hashanah. Suddenly, all of the roads were blocked by the German military. We became confused, not knowing where to go. We arrived in Lublin after wandering for a long time.

In Lublin we began to look for a place to lay our tired heads. You can imagine how tired and beaten up we were. We were taken to a certain Szreibman, who owned a brickyard and was also a relative of Avraham Cercaz and as Wolf Ber Warszawski, also a relative of Cercaz, was with us, he took us in.

Arriving in the brickyard we found about 100 people who also had looked for a place of refuge in which to lay their bones. We did not receive any food, nor any water to drink. When we felt faint from not eating, we dug out a few potatoes in the field and from these we nourished ourselves

[Page 213]

The great rich man, Wolf Ber, received nothing for his money and delighted himself with us with a bit of raw potatoes with a little water.

We sat in this place until erev [the eve of] Rosh Hashanah in the evening in such inhuman conditions. Suddenly we saw that Lublin was on fire from the German bombardments. We again began to run, not knowing where.

I saw that the German ran faster than us because he was motorized.

We ran toward Luboml. The Vistula [River] flows near the shtetl and the gentiles took 1,000 zlotes from us for taking us across by horse and wagon on a raft. We went to a Jew who stood ready to escape on the other side of the river. He gave us something to eat and joined us in our wandering.

At night we finally arrived in Luboml. There we found a wall of Jews because Jews left all of the shtetlekh and villages with the purpose of reaching the Russians.

A heavy rain fell, actually a flood and it was impossible to move from the spot. I asked a small boy to show us a place where we could place the horses. The young boy led us to a shop that was locked and told us that the owners of the shop had escaped. Therefore, “Tear off the lock and take the shop.” We arranged the horses in the courtyard and we entered the shop. We lay down on the floor, wet and tired, in our clothing and fell asleep immediately.

Waking up in the morning, we went out into the street and sniffed out what was happening. We noticed a sea of people and all were looking for a way to escape.

We spent several days in Luboml not knowing what awaited us.

On a clear day, we heard that the Germans were entering Luboml; the question arose for everyone, what should we do?

People arrived from Lemberg [Lviv] and told us the sad news from there, that they were dying of hunger and thirst there.

We learned that there was a great rabbi present in the city. We decided to visit him and ask his advice.

We gathered several Jews and went to the rabbi; we found a room full of Jews. We barely reached the rabbi. We said to him that we were not from there and we did not know what to do; should we go to Lemberg or not?

The rabbi answered us with great sorrow and tears in his eyes – the Name be Blessed [God] would help and we would survive the enemy, but he did not directly say where we should go. “The only few words I can tell you – that the city of Luboml has a great privilege and all the Jews located in this shtetl will

[Page 214]

come through everything in peace.” It was night and all of a sudden we heard the bombardment of the nearby area.

It did not take long for the Germans to enter the city. We lay on the floor until it grew quiet. We immediately heard the noise of the tanks. It became quiet all around. No people were seen in the street. We were afraid to stick our heads outside. An order was given immediately. “Alle raus! Juden raus! [Everyone out! Jews out!] Open the shops! Everyone out to marketplace!” Military vehicles arrived and threw packs of food at us for the hungry masses.

They erected a tall tower and a German climbed it and he gave the following speech:

“Jews! Do not be afraid. We are not murderers. The Russians are coming here in about three days and whoever wants to can go home and everyone can move freely and do what he wants. Whoever wants to remain can do so.” There was enough food and there was an uproar. We did not know what to decide. The next day we noticed that preparations were being made to welcome the Russians. The Germans gave us complete freedom and the ordinary people did not know what to think.

We finally decided to return home. We arrived in Miechow motzei Simkhas Torah [at the conclusion of Simkhas Torah – the holiday commemorating the completion of the yearly reading of the Torah and the start of the reading for the new year] after traveling for a long time and we found everything in better order. We found the wives and children, the entire family at home. Everyone was in his place and they lacked for nothing.

Several days passed and an order arrived that all men should gather in one place. There were two rows of German murderers and we passed through the middle. They asked everyone about their occupation. I said I was a grain trader. He said: “Yes, yes, we need such people.” Everyone was sent into the church. We spent the night there. We were freed early the next morning. A Jewish community council with Hirshl Edelist at the head and a few more Jews from Sosnowiec, such as Minc, Aplbaum, and so on, was created a few days later. At the same time, a Jewish militia to help the Judenrat [Jewish council] was created. They began to rule over the few Jews in the city. They looked for new edicts with which to serve the German rulers.

The Germans immediately placed two Jewish haircutters, Feibl Danciger and Adolf Rozenbaum-Tarnowski, in jail under the pretense that they were communists. They were held for several days and then they [the Germans] informed the Judenrat that two dead bodies were in the jail and they should remove them and bury them.

At that moment we felt that a black cloud was moving over Polish Jewry.

They provided new orders every day, that jewelry, furs, bed linens should be brought to the commandant for the German soldiers. In

[Page 215]

short: our houses began to be emptied slowly and they became very empty.

On a beautifully clear day, a German named Kozak appeared – a murderer. He entered the house of the blind Sura's son, a tailor, Dovid Chmielowski, and found that he had a small piece of fur. He [Kosak] shot him [Dovid] on the spot. They began to take us to forced labor. The young people were sent to the lotsniska [airfield] to Krakow. We remained in the city at various public works.

With others I was taken by horse and wagon to remove the snow from the train station. When I stood with the whip in my hand – a German approached me and called out: “Why are you standing? You accursed Jew.” He slapped me twice and went further. Then I understood plainly and clearly that our lives no longer had any value.

I sold the horse and wagon and thought that I would do nothing from now on and I would be a man equal to everyone.

I was taken to work on the Krakow-Kielce highway, paving the highway outside Slomniki.

The Germans supervised us and the work ended quickly.

I worked for a certain time until the ghetto was created. We left our apartments and we all were squeezed into the narrow ghetto.

We were in the ghetto from 1940 to 1942 in need, hunger, poverty and persecutions.

With an embittered heart and with blood, I write these lines about my bitter fate, which I went through with my dear family – father, mother, sisters, brothers, wife and children. Alas, all died kiddish haShem [in sanctification of God's name – as martyrs]; annihilated and burned in the gas ovens. In 1942 a small number of Jews were living in the city, along with our Rabbi, Reb Henokh Szajnfrucht, may his memory be blessed. It was the only time we came together with him for Minkhah-Maariv [afternoon and evening prayers]. We always heard good promises from him, that God would help, would not forget us. This was a Monday night, when all of the Jews were brought from Ksiaz, and early Tuesday the Jews from Dzialoszyce. Everyone was at the Ridzewski field. The sun burned during the day and at night they froze from the cold. Dear Jews! As much as was possible, we helped them; we brought them food and drinks. This lasted until Thursday. Thursday at night, we were sitting with the rabbi after praying. We were talking about our calamity. It was late, the community dispersed to go home and I remained alone with the rabbi. Suddenly, I heard the rabbi say to me: “Arya, hide me with you because I am not confident that my mind is working well!” I stood amazed: the holy tzadek [righteous man] remained silent and did not say anything more. I noticed a great sadness in his eyes. Suddenly he raised his head and said to me: “I will go with all of the Jews, Arya! You will remain with me in my house.” I said “good night” to the rabbi and went home.

[Page 216]

These were his last words. The next day, early Friday at six, the ghetto was surrounded by S.S. men. Everyone had to leave their house; everyone in great haste dragged a small pack not knowing for what. The Jews from Ksiaz, Dzialoszyce, and Miechow marched with the Rabbi, Reb Henokh, may his memory be a blessing, at the head. The Germans arranged women and children on one side and men on the other side. The picture was cruel and heart-rending. We felt as if everyone was going to a certain death.


Reflections of a Miechow Concentration Camp Survivor during the Commemoration of the Dead during the Days of Awe

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

It seems absurd that everyone remembers for themselves their closest perished martyrs, such as parents, brothers, sisters, the innocent children. Almost every family all over the world had mourned dozens of their family who perished and were murdered in an inhuman manner by German killers. We need to remember six million souls who perished. It is easy to say six million martyrs, but when we consider the true number, it is almost beyond comprehension. A number larger than we now have residents in the country [possibly Israel].

During the commemoration of the dead, I first see the hundreds of thousands of perished children; the small souls fill the prayer house, then the hundreds of thousands of souls of the young Jews who perished and, finally, the millions of other souls. Despite the fact that they are only souls, they cannot enter the prayer house because of the great crush [of their numbers]. The walls collapse because of the great crush and only an empty spot with six million souls – martyrs – and in my heart remains an emptiness, which it so difficult to bear.


[Page 217]

In the Ghetto and Camps

by Doba Lewin-Abramowicz[1]

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

The ghetto in Miechow was created in 1940; the ghetto took in the Synagogue Alley from the post office to Krakower Street and all of the side alleys. The crowdedness was great because several families lived in one room! A Jewish militia was created and the German regime organs began to force us, the young and even the old people, to work.

The ghetto existed until 1942. But I left for a brick factory in Podgórze near Krakow. I worked there for half a year. Then I escaped and returned to the Miechow ghetto. The first deportation took place at the beginning of 1942. The Germans sent away 600 Jews to the Bełżec annihilation camp. With the help of a Polish police commissar, our family succeeded in hiding in the old building of the church, where the commissar lived. We, my father, my sister, Genya, and I were there for six to seven days. When we left, Miechow was Juden-rein [cleared of Jews]. Only the Judenrat [German-created Jewish council] and the Jewish militia remained. All of the Jews had been sent to Bełżec.

We were afraid to move around the ghetto. My three sisters and I left the city and went to the Camp Lotniska [airfield location] in Krakow. We worked there under the supervision of the Wehrmacht [unified German forces] and we only had to be obedient. We were there for four to five months. Then the Gestapo removed us from the camp and sent us to Plaszow. This was a more severe forced labor camp. In 1944 the camp was transformed into a katset, concentration camp. My father, Yehiel Shmuel Abramowicz, later came here and worked here until the selection, when the Jews were sent to Auschwitz.

And my sister Rayzl and I later arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau. We were there approximately nine months and tried to work despite all of the difficulties and illnesses. At the beginning of 1945, we went along with the evacuation and after wandering for a long time, we arrived in Bergen-Belsen, a camp in Germany, where around 50,000 concentration camp inmates were tormented until the English soldiers liberated us on the 15th of April 1945.


Translator's Footnote

  1. The name of the author of this article is given as “Doba Lewin-Abramowicz” in Yiddish. In English, it would be “Doba Abramowicz-Lewin.” Return


[Page 218]

Episodes from the Time of War

by Yonah Fridrich, may his memory be blessed

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Mrs. Rafalowicz

[She was] a widow for many years, who always lived with her children. Her youngest daughter married Zelik Mulsztajn. Mrs. Rafalowicz was one of the older people who were chosen for deportation by the Juden–Rat [Jewish council] during the first resettlement. Saying goodbye with Zelik Mulsztajn and with her daughter, going down the steps in the first house in the ghetto on the first floor where she lived, I heard her words:

“My dear children. I know that I am going to my death and my only prayer to God is that I will be a redemption for you.”

I cried very hard. We did not, in general, know then what the fate of the deported people would be. It was said that a Jewish refuge was being created in the Lublin area, where the Jews would be able to live among only themselves. However, it appeared that Mrs. Rafalowicz was a truly clever woman and foresaw why the Jews were being resettled.

At this opportunity, it is worthwhile to remember something that happened to Zelik Mulsztajn at the Auschwitz camp. God forbid, this should not be taken as a good word for the German murderers, but a fact remains a fact. Zelik Mulsztajn worked with the “transport commando” at Auschwitz and once when unloading a large crate, the crate fell on his jaw and the [bones in the] entire area were broken. The murderers took him to a dentist and he [the dentist] repaired the jaw and placed braces and everything healed after a few months. During the time when the braces were in place, he could not open his mouth, he could not speak and he had to take his nourishment from clear liquids. His closest comrades` created liquid for him

Zelik Mulsztajn now lives in Australia.

 

Liba Lawcze

Liba née Lawcze lived with her husband and children in the cellar of the synagogue with many other Jewish families because of the great crowdedness in the ghetto. As revenge because Liba did not want to devote herself to the Jewish ghetto commissar, he [the commissar] came with two German murderers. One of them was known in the shtetl [town] because when a Jew needed to be shot, he did it. He was called “Cossack.” All three stood opposite the synagogue and one could observe the Jewish commissar whispering something in the ear of the German murderer and Liba and her husband were immediately led out of the cellar and the murderous Cossack shot them on the spot. Those

[Page 219]

shot had to remain lying in the middle of the street until evening and all of the Jews in the ghetto had to march past and look at them.

 

The Testament of Avraham Sercasz

Avraham Sercasz was one of the founders of the Zionist party in the shtetl and was a true Zionist, a very smart and intelligent man of the older generation. When he was hidden with a Christian with his family in a village, simply in a hole near the latrine, he wrote his testament on toilet paper because he had no other kind; he wrote it and placed the testament in a bottle and sealed it well and threw the bottle into the latrine. In such conditions, Avraham Sercasz did not forget to record a part of his worth to be given to the Keren Kayemet L'Yisroel [Jewish National Fund].

After the war, the Christian, with whom the Sercaszes were hidden, found the bottle with the testament when he was cleaning the latrine and gave it to Mrs. Sala Sercasz who now lives in the land [Israel].

Avraham Sercasz perished in a tragic manner. During an experiment in a concentration camp by the German murderers of how long a person could last without food and drink and without light, several hundred Jews were confined in an isolated barracks. They all perished in a frightful death. One wanted to devour another out of hunger and thirst. The screams from the barracks were inhuman and I am sure that in cleaning the barracks after a month's time, an image was seen of what the human imagination cannot conceive.

 

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