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[Pages 41-64]

CHAPTER II

World War II in Zmigrod

With the outbreak of World War II, some Jews left town for Eastern Galicia, which was soon occupied by the Soviet army. Many Jews returned to Zmigrod with the end of the hostilities. Those who remained in the Soviet–controlled areas were soon shipped to Siberian camps in Russia where many died of starvation, notably Rabbi Sinai Halbershtam, former rabbi of Zmigrod.

The Germans soon imposed travel restrictions and the wearing of armbands. Searches were conducted frequently under any pretext. Once, the Germans searched for weapons and ordered all Jewish males to report to the market. While the men were standing in the square, their homes were being looted and ransacked by the soldiers. The search finished, the young Jews were forced to board trucks that took them away. The old people were sent home. Of course, no weapons were found.

According to Shimon Lang, son of Pinkas and Raizl Lang, a native of Zmigrod who survived the Shoah, he was at the synagogue on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, September 14, 1939, when German soldiers burst in through the doors and mercilessly beat the congregants who barely managed to escape with their lives. They continued to search for Jews and assigned them to all kinds of work details. No one dared to appear for prayers the next day of Rosh Hashanah. The synagogue was empty as though in mourning, and so it would remain until torched by the Germans at the end of the Sukkot holiday. Some Jews were hiding while other Jews worked for the Germans. No young Jew was safe and patrols constantly looked for Jews. Military order was established and even the Poles felt it.

A few days after the Germans entered the hamlet, the Poles thought of staging a small pogrom to display their feelings toward their Jewish neighbors. The Poles, however, forgot to notify the Germans of their intentions and when the German soldiers saw masses of Poles with sticks and pitchforks marching to Zmigrod, they thought it was an uprising and opened fire. A few Poles were killed and others were wounded. The crowd immediately dispersed. The dead were loaded on a horse–driven cart and buried. The town crier was told to announce that the uprising was over.

The policy of terror and intimidation of the Jewish population continued unabated. According to Potocki, about 150 Jews were caught hiding and were killed at the Jewish cemetery in Zmigrod in 1940. Then Germans created a Judenrat headed by Hersh Eisenberg. The other members were Yekel Bronfeld, Moshe Haim Birenbaum, Shia Wahl, Hersh Duvid Zilber, Shia Bobker, Shia Zilber, Shmiel Weinstein, Yekel Diamant and Nute Parness.

The influential Jewish families in Zmigrod were the Wymishler, Eisenberg, Sheinwetter and Fisher families. Hersh Eisenberg was ordered to conduct a census of the Jewish population in the city. The report was handed to the Gestapo in Jaslo. According to Rywka Klein, a native of Zmigrod, the Germans never had a permanent office in Zmigrod. They never remained in the hamlet beyond the day and returned to Jaslo, the administrative city of the region.

Based on the census, the Germans were constantly demanding more workers. The latter were hardly fed, mistreated and overworked. Some sustained serious injuries since they lacked the skills, tools or motivation. They worked on roads, bridges and even on farms. The Judenrat paid them meager salaries that were collected from the Jews of Zmigrod. The taxes also paid for the absorption of Jewish refugees from nearby Krosno and from the distant cities of Krakow and Lodz.

A ghetto was created in Zmigrod to absorb all the refugees who were deprived of everything. A free soup kitchen was organized that provided lunches for the needy regardless of their length of residence in Zmigrod. But the stream of refugees kept coming and taxed the community beyond its means. The local Jewish community was already pauperized by the harsh German economic extortion policies.

Aid arrived in the form of financial assistance from the J.S.S., or Jewish Self–help Service, in Krakow. The J.S.S. organization, under the leadership of Dr. Weihart, borrowed money from various Jewish organizations, notably the Joint Distribution Committee, and distributed the funds throughout the Jewish communities.

Each community established a J.S.S. to help the Jewish community. Zmigrod was no exception and the local chapter was headed by Hersh Rab, who would pay dearly for running the office. Hersh Rab was the president of the local J.S.S., which also included Hersh Sheinwetter, Shia Zimmet, Getzil Shiff, Haim Shia Birnhan, Miriam Fessler, Idesen's son–in–law and David Leizer. They provided for the social, nutritional and sanitary needs of the poor Jews in town regardless of their length of residence. They established a public kitchen that distributed each day 350 breakfasts and lunches. Money was obtained from various sources including weekly contributions from the well–established families in town. The latter also maintained the Judenrat. The office worked as well as conditions enabled it to function. Cases that refused to cooperate with J.S.S. were referred to the office of the Judenrat that handled these situations

In the spring of 1942, the Germans transferred all the Jews from the village of Osiek Jasielski to Zmigrod. Presently, the entire area was clear of Jews except for Zmigrod, which now had a population of about 2,800 Jews. The conditions were appalling; people lived on top of each other with limited sanitary facilities. Hunger was everywhere.

The Judenrat and the local chapter of the J.S.S. did their best to create jobs, especially outside the ghetto. This provided contact with the outside world and enabled food to come in to the ghetto. These workers reported that terrible things were happening to nearby Jewish communities. Eyewitnesses said they saw heavy earth digging equipment on the road outside Zmigrod. Soon, orders were posted throughout Zmigrod that all the Jews must report to the marketplace on Tuesday, July 7, 1942, at 7 A.M. Anyone disobeying the order would be shot.

Monday, July 6, 1942, was declared a day of fasting and prayer. Tuesday July 7, 1942, was a beautiful summer day. The 22nd day in Tamuz, Tashab or 5702, presented no hope for the Jewish community. Jews began to congregate in the marketplace until most of the Jewish population was present. Some Jews hid in prepared shelters. Then, the heads of the Judenrat came out of their office and led the community to Bal's meadow as ordered by the Germans. The area was already surrounded by German, Polish and Ukrainian police units.

According to Shimon Lang, “The Gestapo chief ordered the Jews to line up in several rows. He then ordered all Jews of age 40 and above to move to another section of the park. Many Jews assumed that this group would be sent home and decided to join the group. A line was drawn between the two groups. You could always join the so–called elderly group but you could not leave it to return to the original group.” According to the German charge sheet of 1972 against Dr. Walter Gentz, “kreishauptman” or district leader of Jaslo district that included Zmigrod during World War II, “He personally selected Jews of Zmigrod to be sent to Halbow and killed.”

Gentz then ordered the head of the Judenrat, Hersh Eisenberg, to appear and beat him mercilessly with his big stick. Eisenberg was bleeding profusely and Gentz told him, “You will watch the entire proceedings.” A table was then placed in front of the original group. The Gestapo chief sat himself down at the table and began to call each person to approach the table. Those who failed the test were ordered to join the elderly group. The young and strong he sent to another section of the place and stamped their paper identity cards. This selection process went on most of the day. At the end of the day, Shimon Lang and the other young people were forced to leave the area and return home.

The pleas of the women, children, old and sick people were hopeless. Most of the Gestapo and policeman were highly intoxicated, having consumed large amounts of alcohol during the day. The various police units surrounded the Jews and kept them in place. Trucks soon began to appear and were loaded with the Jews who remained in the park. The latter were pushed, shoved or thrown into trucks that transported them to a place called Halbow, a wooded area near Zmigrod, where large pits had been dug by forced Polish workers the previous days. On arrival at Halbow, the Jews were lined up, ordered to undress and led to the lip of the pit and bullets hit them from the back. Their bodies then fell into the pit. Some of the people were still alive or lightly wounded but more and more bodies fell and crushed the bodies under them. Since there were few trucks, the condemned had to wait

 

now046.jpg
The Halbow forest where the Zmigroder Jews were shot.
The fence was erected after the war by Pincas Wohlmuth in Zmigrod.

 

their turn.

The head of the Judenrat, Hersh Eisenberg, who was mercilessly beaten, had to observe the entire selection. He was sent to Halbow with the last truck, as was the head of the local J.S.S. chapter, Rab and his family. According to the Polish researcher of the area Andzej Potocki, it is estimated that about 1,257 Jews were killed that day at Halbow, including Rabbi Aaron Halbershtam and his family, but nobody knows the exact number. During the next few days, the Germans had Polish workers spread lime, sand and gravel over the pit. p>

 

now047.jpg
The Polish inscription reads:
Here are buried 1,250 Jews, murdered on July 7, 1942, by the henchmen of Hitler. The monument was erected by the Polish authorities and is located in the forest of Halbow near Zmigrod.

 

Forest vegetation soon reclaimed the entire area. The same day of the action, about 40 Jews were caught hiding; they were led to the Jewish cemetery in Zmigrod and shot.

The Jews who returned home from the meadow were traumatized beyond belief; most of them had just lost most of their relatives. They looked at the walls and searched for the familiar faces but there were none. Some took inventory of the situation and began to think of escaping or hiding. Some tried to contact Poles they knew and asked them for hiding places; others began to plan hiding places and some even decided to leave for the forest.

On Sunday July 12, 1942, most of the surviving Jews were led back to the selection site and about 500 able–bodied Jews were ordered to immediately mount awaiting trucks that left Zmigrod. The rest of the Jewish population in Zmigrod was ordered to return home. The transport went to Jaslo and then to Plaszow, near Krakow. Plaszow was then a work camp; later it would become a concentration camp, but conditions were appalling.

 

A partial list of Jews of Zmigrod that were sent to the labor camp in Plaszow

Last name First name Birth date Birth place
BARACHAN Moses   Brzezyni
BARACHAN Mendel    
BLEDER Saul    
BLEDER Henri    
BLAUGRUND Leib    
BRZEGOWSKI Elias    
CZIESZANOWER Naftali    
CZIESZANOWER Jakob    
DERDZEWIC Mozes    
EINHORN Josef    
EISENBERG Moses    
ERREICH Aaron    
ERREICH Noam    
ERREICH Mordech    
ERREICH Salomon   Zmigrod
FEDER Chaim    
FEIER Isak   Osiek
FELD Salomon    
FINDLING Jakub    
FINDLING Yehuda 06/12/1919  
GELB Alter   Halbo
GELB Hersz    
GETTENBERG Eisik    
GETZLET Itzhak    
GLASSER Roman   Krakow
GOLDBERG Ita    
GOLDFARB Sz.    
GRUBER Leib    
GRUBER Nuchem    
GRUBER Leib    
GRUNIS Henryk   Kalisz
GUTWEIN Isak 10/06/1924  
HEREN Izydor    
HIRSCHBERG Adolph    
HIRSCHBERG Natan 22/06/1934 Zmigrod
HIRSCHBERG Leon    
JUST Josef    
KALB Jozef    
KALINSKI Mozes    
KAMPF Chaskel    
KANNER Naftatali    
KELLER Jozef    
KESERLAUF Salomon    
KOHN Abraham    
KOHN Hersch    
KOLBER Jakob    
KOLBER Jdel    
KOLBER Josef   Zmigrod
KOLLBAUER Leiser    
KREBS Pinkas    
KAMER Salomon   Zmigrod
KRIEGER Jakob    
KURSCHNER Mendel    
LANG Michael    
LANG Szymon   Zmigrod
LANG Pinkas    
LEIBNER Szymon   Zmigrod
LEIBNER Moses    
LEISER Necha    
LEIZER David    
LERMAN Chaim    
LERMAN Markus    
LERMAN Mendel    
LERMAN Szymon    
LERMAN Cila    
LESLAU Jakub   Lodz
LIBERMAN Benjamin    
LIBERMAN Moses    
LIBERMAN Leon    
LIEDERBAUM Dawid    
MARGULES Leib    
NAUMAN Natan    
NEUGER Nutek    
NEUMAN      
ORGLER Dawid    
PEILLER Josef    
PELLER Chaim    
PELLER Izak    
PELLER Nuchem    
POSTRENK Lezer    
RAB Chaskel    
REGLICH Schulem   Lodz
RETFELD Szulem    
RICHMAN Naftali    
ROSENHAN Chaim Leiser    
ROSENHAN Hersh Leib    
ROSENHAN Markus Dawid    
ROSENHAN Szymon    
ROSNER Moses Dawid    
SCHMIER Leiser    
SCHMIER Jakub   Zmigrod
SCHMIER Natan    
SCHREINER Elias    
SEIDLINGER Naftali    
SEIDLINGER Izak    
SCHUMAN Mozes    
SILBER Hersz    
SILBER Salomon    
SMETANA Izak 18/03/1898 Lodz
SMIETANA Israel    
SOMMER Isak 10/12/1898 Osiek
STRYCHARZ Elias    
STADTFELD Pinkas    
WASSERLAUF Noe    
WASSERLAUF Jacob    
WEINSTEIN Isak   Zmigrod
WEINSTEIN Zygmunt    
WEINSTEIN Isak    
WEINTRAUB Bernard   Zmigrod
WEINTRAUB Leib    
WIELICZKER Berl    
WISTREICH Hersz    
WOHLMUT Dawud    
WOHLMUT Pinkas    
WOHLMUT Jakub    
WROBEL Moses   Lodz
ZAKON Abraham    
ZAKON Moses    
ZIMET Osias    
ZIMET Shia    
ZIMET Leib    
ZWASS Hersz    
ZWASS Moses    
ZWASS Samuel    
ZWASS Abraham    

The list contains 128 names that we were able to collect from the existing documents.
These were the people who were sent to Plaszow from Zmigrod on July 12, 1942

 

In Plaszow, people worked long hours with little food. Shimon Lang was building railroad tracks and barely received food. The attrition rate was enormous but the Germans did not care; the Jews were expendable. The Jews of Zmigrod in Plaszow sent letters back home pleading for help. The newly established Judenrat (the members of the old Judenrat had been killed at Halbow) decided to revive the J.S.S. chapter in Zmigrod. This office collected food and clothing among the survivors of the first selection and began to send packages to the Zmigroder inmates in Plaszow.

Below is a letter dated August 7, 1942, from the J.S.S. office in Zmigrod to the office in Plaszow where the inmates of Zmigrod are informed that 700 kilograms of packages were sent to the camp to be distributed among them. The letter also informs the inmates that they did not manage to obtain bread from the Judenrat due to the lack of time. The J.S.S. office promised to send bread in the next shipment.

 

Below is the Polish letter from the J.S.S. in Zmigrod to the Plaszow office
in Krakow concerning the packages for the Zmigroder Jews

now052.jpg

 

now053.jpg

 

now04.jpg
List of Zmigroder Jews in Plaszow who received packages. Middle column are the senders and the right column is the weight of each package

 

On August 15, 1942, the Germans sent skilled Jewish workers to the Zaslav labor camp. Nobody survived. According to Leo Rosner, most of the Jews of Zmigrod became very apprehensive and expected the appearance of the Gestapo any day to round up the remaining Jews. The latter began to build hiding places, contact Polish friends to seek help or left home for the forest. Rosner and his family decided to use the attic of the house as a shelter. It was a good hiding place and nobody could detect it from outside or inside the house. Preparations were made and some food stored. They expected the action every day and then the new Judenrat announced that all Jews of Zmigrod were to assemble in the square with their luggage on September 3, 1942. A warning was added that anyone hiding would be shot on discovery.

Rosner, his family and some relatives went to the attic on the particular day as did some other Jews of Zmigrod. Some Jews left the hamlet and went to the forest or to pre–arranged hiding places. Most of the hopeless and hapless Jews went to the meeting place. The Germans realized that many Jews were hiding and began to search homes. On discovery, some Jews were led to the meeting place while others were shot on the spot. Finally, all Jews mounted trucks and headed to the nearest railway station. The transport headed to Przemysl, Galicia, where some young able–bodied Jews were removed from the train. The remainder, including Mina Zimet, the wife of Shia Zimet, and her family continued to the death camp of Belzec where they all perished.

The Rosners' hiding place was not discovered but they could not stay in the tiny attic forever. Food and water were needed and had to be provided in spite of the constant lurking dangers of being spotted by Poles and reported to the police. Days passed and the food situation was getting more

 

now056.jpg
Zmigrod prison where hidden Jews were kept in the cellar following their discovery after all the Jews were killed at Halbow or deported from Zmigrod from the hamlet. Leo Rosner visits the prison where the Poles kept him following the war

 

difficult. The Polish police also checked the area for hidden Jews and eventually the residents of the Rosner attic were discovered, arrested and taken to prison in Zmigrod. The prison consisted of a cellar in a building. The Polish police brutalized and tortured them, looking for hidden cash or valuables. Finally the Gestapo came and took the Jews to the Jaslo prison. Similar instances occurred throughout Zmigrod and vicinity. The hidden Jews were starving, isolated and helplessly exposed to unfriendly eyes. Slowly but steadily, the Jews of Zmigrod were caught and shot or sent to Jaslo prison where they were shot or sent to the death camps.

Prior, during and after the big selection, several dozen young Jews escaped to the forest. The group soon reached 60–70 people, according to Shmuel Rosenhan from Osiek. The group was constantly on the move. They lacked weapons and were hunted by the Germans, local Polish police and villagers. Shmuel Rosenhan describes in his testimony how he joined a partisan group of Zmigroder Jews, as well as his capture by the Polish police. During the battles between the partisan group and the German and Polish police units, Jews were killed; others were captured, tortured and then sent to the Jaslo prison.

Most of the Jewish prisoners were then taken to the outskirts of Jaslo, in the forest of Warzyce, and shot. Slowly the partisan group was eliminated. The Germans and Polish police units continued to hunt Jews in Zmigrod and vicinity. As late as March 1944, six Jews were caught in Faliszowica near Zmigrod and killed together with the Polish woman, Wladyslawa Krysztiniaka, who hid them. Thus, Zmigrod became free of Jews; a span of hundreds of years of Jewish existence was erased. Zmigrod became “Judenfrei,” or free of Jews.

The Jews who found hiding places among the local population were in constant danger of being kicked out of their hiding place, being discovered by informers, or both. Some of the Poles kicked out the Jews that they were hiding once the money payments ended. Such expulsion meant a death sentence for the lonely Jew in a hostile environment.

This is a case of hidden Jews as told by the late Jakob Leibner. Following the war, Jakob Leibner visited Zmigrod and Halbow, where he recited Kadish for his parents, sisters and their families as well as for the entire Jewish community that was murdered here. On leaving Halbow, he returned to Zmigrod to visit Pinkas Wohlmut, a native of Zmigrod who had survived the Shoah but lost his entire family. Pinkas was the only Jew who lived in the entire area. He refused to abandon his ancestors and decided to live a lonely, isolated life in Zmigrod. This is what Pinkas told Jakob Leibner regarding Jakob's father Ephraim and his mother Shprince Leibner and his sister Sara Leibner–Gross. They were all killed at Halbow. Jakob's brothers, Moshe and Shimon, and sister Reisel Leibner survived the selection and were sent home. Moshe and Shimon Leibner were sent to Plaszow with the other surviving able–bodied Jews. The late Shimon Lang confirmed their presence in Plaszow. Both

 

now059.jpg
Szymon (Shimon) Leibner is listed on the scrap sheet of a labor gang in Plaszow headed by S. Silber

 

brothers managed to bribe the guards at the camp and disappeared. Slowly they made their way back home to Zmigrod. They avoided Zmigrod and headed directly to a farmer who they knew in Brezew, near Zmigrod. He provided them with shelter and food for payment. They paid American dollars that they had from home and also told the farmer that they had clothing buried in a cave.

The family had a clothing store and hid most of the clothing with the outbreak of the war. The farmer kept his deal and kept the brothers hidden for a short period of time and then apparently discovered their hidden treasure. He decided to kill both brothers by using the pretext that they had to be moved individually to another safe hiding place. During the transfer he managed to kill each brother separately by hacking them to death. He then took possession of their hidden belongings.

Sometime later the farmer attended a party, drank too much and began to brag a bit. Someone called the Gestapo office in Jaslo and reported the conversation. The Gestapo arrived in Zmigrod, took an interpreter and headed to the farm in Brezew. They arrested the farmer and beat him mercilessly until he revealed the entire story, including the whereabouts of the clothing that he removed from the hiding place. The Germans removed all the hidden clothing and anything extra that looked good and placed it in their cars. They took the farmer into the woods and shot him and dumped his body in a pit. To this day, his body has not been found. The Germans were furious at the farmer, not for killing a Jew, but for doing it without their permission. Furthermore he had violated the order that called for reporting Jews to the police.

 

now061.jpg
Reisel Leibner as group leader of the Zionist Akiva youth group in Zmigrod

 

The Germans left the farm, dropped off the interpreter in Zmigrod and headed to Jaslo. The interpreter slowly revealed the story among his neighbors. Of course, no one knows the whereabouts of the grave of Moshe and Shimon Leibner. The fate of Reisel Leibner is totally unknown.

Nobody saw or heard of her following the first selection, which she had survived. Jakob Leibner said good–bye to Pinkas Wohlmut and left Zmigrod for Krosno, where he took the train to Walbrzych or Waldenburg, Silesia, Poland. He returned home a changed person. Jacob Leibner saw no hope for Jewish life in Poland and decided to leave the country by any means. He was joined by thousands of other Polish Jews who streamed to the borders of Czechoslovakia and onward to the D.P. (Displaced Persons) camps of Germany, Austria and Italy.

 

now062.jpg
Polish Jews crossing the Polish–Czech border in broad daylight.

 

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