by Yechezkel Mandel
Translated by Libby Raichman
Thirty years have passed since the murderous German Hitler-boots penetrated Polish land and conquered it in 15 days.
On the first day of the war, German planes were already flying over Ostrowiec, dropping down low and shooting helpless and unarmed people with machine guns and killing a few of them. Immediately, on the first day of the war, the German revealed his murderous face, and let each person know, Jew or Gentile, what he is capable of doing.
The poem that was written by the young Hebrew poet Moshe Gutman, of Ostrowiec, in the first days of the war, is interesting. Tens of thousands of people, young and old, fled their towns on the roads that led to Warsaw, and lost their homes and their possessions. Thousands fell on their way, killed by the German aeroplanes all this cruelty was described in the poem by Moshe Gutman, who was a student at the Hebrew Seminar in Warsaw.
When Moshe Gutman, who was my close friend, returned to Ostrowiec, he read his poem to us, a poem that excelled in its graphic portrayal of the cruel occurrences in those days.
Moshe Gutman was already known then, known as a young Hebrew writer. The only daily Hebrew newspaper in Poland before the war, B'derech [On the Way], published many of his short stories and poems. He was literally active, particularly in the period of the Ostrowiec ghetto, and together with the task that he undertook to teach the Jewish orphans that gathered in the town, he would also read aloud to us, his poems of those days.
Moshe Gutman was shot together with other young people, when the Germans conducted a search for money and valuable items. This is how we lost one of the greatest intellectual talents in the Ostrowiec ghetto.
The First Decrees
The Germans took Ostrowiec without firing one shot and despite that, Jewish victims immediately began to fall. The Germans devised various means of suppressing the Jewish population. They imposed heavy taxes right away and created the Yiddenrat, [a Jewish Council] that had to carry out the orders of the German authorities and transfer Jewish assets to them.
|Standing second from right Moshe Gutman
Destruction and Annihilation
A Jewish police division was created by the Yiddenrat, whose task it was, to maintain order in the ghetto. A sanitary division was also created under the leadership of the beloved leader, teacher and poet, who was a man with a big Jewish heart, who stood at the head of the Hebrew Culture School. He excelled as an organiser and offered assistance to the suffering children in the ghetto. The task of the Sanitary committee was to guard the cleanliness in the ghetto, carrying out disinfections among the poor masses, taking them to the bathhouse and steaming their clothes, to prevent a Typhus epidemic in the crowded ghetto.
Ostrowiec Experiences with Refugees
On a certain day, news spread in the ghetto, that hundreds of people from Konin and the surrounding areas, were in carriages at the train station, as well as Jews from Vienna. Hundreds of Jews from Ostrowiec, with the help of the Yiddenrat police and people from the sanitary division, went to the station with buckets of water, pots of food, bread and medications. With the intervention of the Yiddenrat, it was permitted to transfer the refugees to the town and organize them there. There were many orphans among the refugees who had lost their parents on their way. The Ostrowiec Jews shared a morsel of bread with the refugees, and particularly with the orphans, and when the size of the ghetto was reduced, they shared their dwellings too, so that the new-comers would have a place to lie down. The prayer houses were full of beds, where the refugees slept at night.
The Typhus Epidemic
In 1941, a huge Typhus epidemic broke out. Hundreds of Jews died daily. The synagogue was converted to a hospital under the leadership of Dr. Meir Abramovicz, and the pharmacist Mrs. Dichter, who is now in Israel. She saved many Jewish lives, assisted by voluntary, warm-hearted sisters.
During the epidemic, the sanitary group specifically, excelled. They worked incessantly, day and night, disinfecting the houses where Typhus cases were discovered. Those houses were hermetically sealed for 24 hours and the healthy occupants of the house were taken to steam and to bathe. Those who excelled specifically were, Shlaymele Bierman, now in Canada, Hirsh Goldfinger of blessed memory, who was murdered by the Germans, also Nata Kuperman who devoted himself to managing the disinfection oven.
One of the victims during the epidemic was the leader of the sanitary division, the generally loved poet. The news of his death upset all the Jews, young and old. They cried when escorting his body to the Yudenrat, and while in the synagogue. His brother-in-law, Kulinner, took his position and devoted body and soul, to the task.
The S. S. Begins to Rage
In 1941, on a beautiful summer's day, a special division of the S. S. arrived and went from house to house and beat young and old with whips, until their victims were unrecognizable. The Yiddenrat was forced to provide Jews to serve these thugs and carry out various functions for them. Jews were often grabbed in the streets, put into trucks, and taken in an unknown direction, from which they did not return.
On Bartholomew Night, on the 28th April 1942, the S. S. murderers came with prepared lists in their hands, attacked Jewish homes, removed the finest and most distinguished Jews in the ghetto, and shot them at the entrances to their houses. On that same night, they crammed people into two trucks, among them my brother Shimshon Mandel, and took them to Auschwitz. Two weeks later, we received a package containing my brother's clothes, with a note informing us that he was no longer alive. My parents were terribly affected by the incident. My brother Shimshon left behind a wife, Chavelle, and a 3½ month old child, Natan. They live in New York today.
The Youth in the Ghetto
Before the war, Otrowiecz had distinguished itself with its large, organized youth who belonged to organizations like, the Zionist Youth, Ha'shomer Ha'tza'ir, Betar, Mizrachi, Ha'shomer Ha'dati, Dror, He'chalutz, left and right Po'alei Tzion, sport clubs of different kinds, Yiddish schools like a Talmud Torah, Yavneh schools of Mizrachi, and many cheders [small religious schools for boys] of various groupings. Reb Nechemya Demsky of blessed memory, was a very progressive teacher, who expected every student to know a chapter of the Bible, by heart; he also taught Hebrew and grammar.
During the war, in the time of the Nazi decrees, when a substantial amount of voluntary social activity was necessary to lighten the situation of the Jewish residents, the youth, with their education, took upon themselves that important task.
The organized Jewish youth, particularly, the Zionist Youth, took upon themselves the task of teaching, clothing, and feeding Jewish children, and opened premises for this purpose. This was no easy task because the crowded conditions in the ghetto were indescribable, and they could not find a room. Secondly, the Germans prohibited the teaching of Jewish children. However, the youth ignored the dangers that threatened, and many members took to teaching Jewish children in the ghetto. Among the most active were, Moshe Gutman of blessed memory, Yosef Vineberg, now in Israel, Shmuel Yechezkel Mandel (Toronto), Berel Rozentzweig of blessed memory, Pola Arenshtein of blessed memory, Shoshana Eidelman of blessed memory, Yekutiel Goldblum (Brazil), Sarah Rozentzweig of blessed memory, Salke Macharubska of blessed memory, Shlomo Rubinshtein (Israel), Miller, the advocates daughter (is alive), Chanah Horovicz (Canada), my brother Avraham Mandel of blessed memory, Yisroel Neidik of blessed memory.
There were other members of our organization that participated in the sacred work of educating Jewish children in the spirit of Judaism, and also teaching them general studies, like, Moshe Peffer
(shot, when he was caught with Aryan documents), his sister Sheindl Peffer (in Israel), Rina Nisker (Israel), Batya Halbershtadt (Israel) and many others whose names I cannot recall now. During learning time, we set up a special patrol to warn us, in case the S. S. or the German police were approaching. More than once, we were forced to jump through the window of the zshlobek, as we called the premises. We believed that only by educating the children in the spirit of Judaism, would we be able to give them the strength to endure the terrible time.
The group managed to obtain special food from the Yudenrat that was brought from the folk kitchen in a big pot, and the soup was shared among the children. The same applied to clothing that we obtained for them. It was heart-rending to hear the children, with their big eyes, asking us, why such great hardship was being inflicted on our people, and we had no answer for them. We felt responsible for the innocent children, for their tragic situation. There were moments when one wanted finally, to put an end to all of this . . . .
When rumours reached about an impending raid, we asked the question, what to do with the dear, unfortunate children. We had already heard of the heroic act of the great educator Yanush Kortshak of Warsaw, who refused to be saved in exchange for handing over the Jewish children in his educational institution, to the Germans. As a protest against the bestial Germans, he walked ahead of the children, with one child in his arms, to the transport to Auschwitz where he was gassed and burned together with them.
At dusk on the Sabbath, several S. S. men came to the office of the Yudenrat, and began to shoot, first
|Women working voluntarily in the children's home
at the light, and later also at the people who had gathered there. The next day, 11th October, 2 3 hours before daybreak, the Germans, assisted by the Lithuanians, Ukrainians, and the Polish police, surrounded the Jewish ghetto. The Jewish police went around to the Jewish houses, knocked on the doors, told the residents to dress and assemble at the [Rynek] marketplace, near the City Hall. A few Jews, who did not want to leave their homes, put on prayer shawls and Tefillin, began to recite psalms and waited to be shot, as martyrs. This is how Yenkele Hertzig of blessed memory, died, and many others.
My brother Avraham Mandel was hit by the first bullet of the wild murderers when he wanted to rescue the 5-month-old daughter of our sister Beiltshe. He wanted to give the child to Polish neighbours who had already received much money for wanting to take the child to them. As he was wounded in his neck, he retreated to the ghetto and managed to be allocated to his work in the sawmill. After three days of hiding wounded, in the sawmill, he disappeared without a trace. Since that day, I did not see my dear parents and my dear sister Beile, because they went to their deaths with 17,000 other Jews from Ostrowiec. I do not know if it was luck or a misfortune that I remained alive, because I was allocated to work in the metal factory, with 1,500 other Jews.
This is how our activity in the children's home ended, and this is how our dearest and closest were cruelly wrenched away from us, together the many children who avidly learned Jewish history, to understand their specific Jewish destiny. We will never forget your last song zogt nit keinmol az ir geit dem letzten veg. Thanks to the spirit of martyrdom that lives in our youth, we reached the realization of our ancient dream in the form of the State of Israel and the return to Zion.
|A group of Ostrowiec youth, most of whom were annihilated
The square in the photograph reads: The unforgettable memorial 1938
by Rokhel Guthaltz-Kempinski, New York
Translated by Pamela Russ
It was a dark Friday, a typical, overcast, Polish, autumn day. Already at dawn, the skies were cloudy. You could feel in the air that a tragedy in town was approaching.
We lived near the cemetery. That morning, we were awoken by hysterical cries of mothers holding small children in their arms, those who had come to the ohel [tent; monumental tomb] of our Rebbe [rabbinic leader], not to ask, but to plead that nothing bad should happen to our city. There was activity in the cemetery as there used to be on the eve of Yom Kippur.
I was also carried away by the atmosphere and went to the ohel as well. Tens of memorial candles were burning, and the ohel was crowded. The women's cries went all the to the heart of the heavens. Our mothers sensed the horrible tragedy that was approaching the city. Their cries were able to open not only the seven gates of the heavens, but also thousands of heavens, if only they could have listened. Women cried in otherworldly voices: Rebbi, this is your city. This cannot happen here! Tear open the gates of the heavenly courts, just as we are tearing your gravesite. We have nowhere else to turn. You are our father! Sadly, no voice came out of the grave
The Ostrowiec Jews shared the same fate as the rest of the Polish Jews. There were no Shabbath preparations in the Jewish homes. People were going around as if intoxicated. What should we do? This question lay on everyone's lips. Some prepared bunkers, which, in Polish, we called a schran.
At that time, there was a hachshara kibbutz [training farm] of Hechalutz [youth movement training for agricultural settlement in Israel], which was run by a young man from Slonim, Beryl Broide. I would go there often. The kibbutz had connections with Warsaw. Often, I would find messengers from Warsaw with nice (non-Jewish) faces.
Also, a group of young people would come into the group: Bashe and Sarah Sulman, Leibel and Avraham Eiger (these were all the Lublin Rebbe's grandchildren), Yisrolik Hermalin, Dovid Shulman, Franie Biatus (from Konin), and others.
At the Sulman's house on Ilzetska Street, the youth, following Beryl Broide's instructions, built a schran [hideout]. They cordoned off a room and walled it off with a door. There was a secret entrance through the roof in the attic. When I came there with Beryl on Shabbath, and they told me to try and find the entrance, there was no way I could do that because it was simply hidden. After that, I never went out of there. That same night, there were rumors that an Aktzia evacuation was about to start.
The schran was made up of a large room. We were about thirty people. First, the entire kibbutz all strangers. Not from Ostrowiec. And then, residents of the city, whose names I still remember:
Rokhel Sulman and her grandchildren Bashe, Sarah, and Yosele; the son of the Lublin Rebbe, and a few daughters-in-law and some grandchildren; and his daughter Mrs. Rubin from Bielsk, and her little boy Bobush, an exceptionally beautiful child, who stands before my eyes to this day: a head of dark locks, and two Jewish eyes that reflected all our pain. The child understood the seriousness of the situation even though he was so young. It is noteworthy that he did not cry the entire time, and did not even speak. From time to time, the beautiful Mrs. Rubin turned to her father with a puzzling question: Tatteshe [dear father], the child! But the grandfather had nothing to say, and silently just shook his head.
We Watch the Aktzia [Evacuation]
Beryl Broide distributed Molotov cocktails to all of us youths. The older people did not know about this. He would raise up a bottle and say: They will not take Bobush alive from us!
In the schran [hideout] there was also Yisrolik Hermal and his little sister Sonia and a little brother; there was also the Mendelevitch family from Kielce; Yisrolik Shulman from Szeroka Street; Yecheskel Krongold and his wife.
In the evening, all the young men who worked in the factory left the schran. We stayed behind and waited. At dawn we heard the orders of the SS and we understood that the Aktzia had begun.
The schran was located on the second floor and it had small windows, so-called dimnikes [chimneys]. We covered up the windowpanes, and through the cracks we were able to see what was going on outside. From time to time, we heard shooting, and people's dying cries. We had prepared provisions, but who could think of eating.
After a few days we found out that they were amassing groups of Jews in the courtyard where we were hiding. This allowed us to go out from time to time and mix with other people, get food, and water from the well that was in the courtyard. I want to mention here the warmhearted Jew Mendelevitch from Kielce, who risked his life and went to buy bread for everyone, and brought water for everyone and distributed it.
We were there for almost two weeks. During that time, the Germans searched for hiding places in the house. We heard the German boots and their shouts. They discovered a few hiding places in the house at that time but did not find our schran.
A Group Went to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
The group that had prepared to go to Warsaw in order to join the Warsaw ghetto uprising consisted of, at the head, Beryl Broide, then Bashe and Sarah Sulman, Leibel Eiger, Franie Beiatus (who served as a courier and went back and forth to Warsaw), Yisrolik Shulman, Yisrolik Hermalin. If I have forgotten someone, please forgive me.
Once, Bashe Sulman went into the street during the day. Her appearance was that of a Christian. They grabbed her up, as well as other Christian girls, and sent them to work in Germany. But she escaped the transport and returned to the schran where she told everyone what had happened. Her grandmother, Rokhel Sulman, admonished her strongly as to why she had run away from working, where she could have saved herself. But Bashe replied: Bubbe, I don't want to die with Christ the king on my lips!
I want to mention another important event that took place in the schran.
Once, Beryl Broide came in breathless, and said: Everyone, I promise you that whoever will survive should not forget this: The vice-commandant of the Jewish police put me on the transport with his own hands, but I escaped!
I think it is my holy obligation to my friend Beryl to fulfill his wish. I am the only surviving person of the schran. The rebels [putschists] knew about the activities of Beryl Broide.
Then, they divided up the entire house where we were for the factory workers, so that once again we were left in the street. By chance, I met Shmuel Zhabner in the courtyard, a policeman who lived with his mother in the ghetto, in our house. He told me that our family was hiding in our attic in a schran. I told my friends and soon we all went up into the hiding place, and meanwhile, the entire group went to Warsaw. The last two who left were Leibel Rappaport and Dovid Shulman.
The whole group died in the Warsaw ghetto, and we of Ostrowiec also contributed to the bravery and heroism in the Warsaw ghetto uprising. The first one to die was Sarah Sulman, with a weapon in her hand. The day of the resistance uprising is holy for me.
I want to relate an event that is etched in my memory: Leibel Rappaport, 18 years old, Sarah Silman, 17 years old, and Dovid Shulman, 17 years old, went out on a rainy, dark night, to set fire to the marketplace. They took along with them combustible material. They went into Fridlewski's house on Szeroka Market, set fire to the roof,
hoping that the wind would blow up the fire. Sadly, the rain put out the fire.
I remember how they came into the schran soaked from the rain, and they called out: Beryl, we lit it up! How much courage they must have needed to carry out this act.
In the final days, several other bunkers were discovered in the nearby areas. More people came to us. Our place became too popular and would not be able to last much longer. The police became aware of the house. Two policemen came and they chased all of us out. Some were sent off to Treblinka. I remained with the group from the kibbutz. We had another hiding place. Better said, a living grave in the house of Franie Beiatus, the one from Konin. The entrance was through a bureau. The drawer in the front was sealed shut, unable to be opened. Inside, there was a masked board which could be removed, and that was the entry point to the schran. The cabinet looked regular from the outside. When it was opened, it was filled with linens and clothing.
It is also an honor for me to mention Chan'tche Grinblat from Szeroka Street. Holding her child in her arms, she went at the head of all the children of Ostrowiec who were sent to Treblinka. Let it be said here that our Janos Korczak was Chan'tche Grinblat from Szeroka Street.
|Jewish children are transported to Treblinka
Translated by Libby Raichman
The youth of Ostrowiec participated in relatively large numbers in the heroic fight of the Warsaw ghetto in 1943. Here is a list of those from Ostrowiec who fell in combat in the ghetto uprising against the Nazi oppressors.
He was a member of Dror in Ostrowiec and arrived in Warsaw from his hometown in autumn 1942. He was a member of a closed group, under the leadership of Berel Broido, and participated in the fight under the command of Chanoch Gutman in the area of the brush factory. He fell at the age of 20.
She was born in Kanin, a member of Dror, a liaison officer with the Aryan side, arrived in Warsaw at the end of 1942 as a member of the Jewish combat organization. At the time of the uprising in April 1943, she maintained free telephone contact from her room inside the ghetto. She took part in the underground newspaper of the fighters. On the 12th May 1943, after her involvement in a few rescue operations, she committed suicide in unknown circumstances, at the age of 17.
Ya'akov Meir Aleksandrowicz
The son of a timber merchant in Ostrowiec, a member of Ha'shomer Ha'tza'ír, and one of the best marksmen. His underground name was Kloster Meir. He fell on the fourth day of the uprising in the ghetto, at the age of 18.
Berel Braude (Brojde)
Born in Slonim, a member of Dror, went on Hachsharah in Lodz, and then went to Warsaw. In 1942 he transferred a whole combat division from Ostrowiec to Warsaw. On the 17th January 1943, he was caught and sent to Treblinka. As the train came close to the death-camp, he jumped from the train and returned to the Warsaw ghetto. As leader of the combat group of Dror, he was responsible for the front-line sector on Mila-Zamenhof streets. On the 8th May 1943, he was in the bunker at 18 Mila street. When the Germans surrounded the bunker, he committed suicide to avoid falling into the hands of the Nazis.
He was the son of a sugar merchant in Ostrowiec and a student of the Yavne school, a member of the combat organization of Ha'shomer Ha''tza'ir in the Warsaw ghetto. He fell in the fight at the Többens-Schultz factory, at the age of 19.
The son of a food merchant in Ostrowiec, and a student of the Yavne school. He fell in the fight in the ghetto on 18th January 1943.
Yitzchak (Itzik) Morgenlender
The secretary of Ha'shomer Ha'tza'ir, in Ostrowiec, and active member of the combat organization. He participated in the April fighting in the Warsaw ghetto. Afterwards, he crossed to the Aryan side and joined the group of Binyomin Wald. He was burnt alive in the bunker of the Jewish combat organization on Prague street, on the 11th November, together with all the members who were there.
Bashe and Sarah (Suya) Sulman
Two sisters, granddaughters of the Ostrowiec Chassidic Rabbi, members of Dror. They joined the combat group of Dror and went to Warsaw to take part in the uprising in the ghetto. During the uprising, their mother was on the Aryan side and found a way of taking her daughters out of the ghetto. But they refused to be rescued. They participated in all the battles from the 18th to the 21st January 1943. Sarah (Suya) fell in the January battles at the age of 17. Bashe fell in the month of May, at the age of 18.
by Bella Schribner
Translated from the Polish by Ychezkel Ar'eili (Erlich)
Translated by Yechezkel Anis
When the German army entered Lodz in 1939, I relocated to Ostrowiec.
During the first months of the Nazi occupation, the Jews of Ostrowiec still resided in their homes, but refrained from going out into the streets. The German SS officers would ambush Jews so as to conscript them into various labors. In the process, they were brutal towards them and even murdered some.
Four to five months into the occupation of the town, the commander Motschar issued an order, posted on the town's homes, forbidding the Jews to keep more than 150 zloty in their possession. The remaining money, gold, and jewelry were to be deposited into the S.D.W. Anyone violating the order would be subject to the death penalty.
In the Jewish Council
A Jewish council (Judenrat) was established in Ostrowiec, its first head being Mr. Rubensztajn. The orders issued by the Germans were conveyed to the Jewish council, which punctiliously carried them out in their entirety.
The Jews had no trust in the Jewish council when they saw that its members were merely an instrument intended to help the Germans execute their orders.
A labor office was organized alongside the council, its head being Mr. Szafir. This office established places of work for the people. It would dispatch work certificates to homes, specifying the date and place for reporting.
Around the same time an order was published requiring every Jew over the age of ten to wear a white armband with a blue Star of David on their right arm. Whoever was caught without the armband would be shot on the spot.
In August of 1940, SS officers, with the assistance of the gendarmerie and the Polish police, carried out a hunt for Jews. Those arrested were sent to a hard labor camp outside of Lublin. An announcement posted by the Jewish council ordered all the Jews to gather in the council square so as to hear a speech from the German commander. When the Jews assembled, the Germans surrounded the square and gathered the young men and women. When they discovered that they were still short of the quota they had set for themselves, people were simply seized in the streets or taken out of their homes, cellars, or bunkers. Six hundred Jews were apprehended in this action and the entire transport was loaded on to trucks and driven away. It was later learned that they were all brought to a concentration camp next to Lublin. It was around that time that the Germans posted an order requiring the Jews to hand over their furs. Whoever did not obey the order by the given date was liable to be punished by death and a number of Jews met their death under those circumstances.
Erecting the Jewish ghetto
At the beginning of 1941, the Jewish neighborhood (the ghetto) was established. A notice was posted by the town commandant threatening anyone found leaving the ghetto with death. The notice specified which streets were to be included within the ghetto. They were: Tylna, the marketplace, Koniwska, half of Szininska street, Stodolna, Dzuzhista, Ailzshetska, Szeroka, the odd-numbered side of Kuszczilna, and Malinska.
An extension of five days was given for moving one's residence into the ghetto. People were permitted to bring all their possessions with them. Some 16,000 Jews entered the ghetto, including refugees from outside locales such as Konin, Lodz, and other cities inside the Third Reich.
The crowding within the ghetto was horrible. Jews lived in attics and cellars. Although the ghetto wasn't fenced in, it was surrounded by Polish and Jewish police.
Exiting the ghetto was only possible with a transit-pass signed by the labor office and approved by special permission of the SS. Some hundreds of Jews worked in various workplaces inside and outside of the town.
The Jewish police
With the establishment of the ghetto, the head of police ordered the Judenrat to create a Jewish police force. This force, which numbered 50 men, was headed by Blumenfeld.
It happened a number of times that Jews in the ghetto were taken from their homes at night, brought outside the town, and shot to death. After the killings, the Judenrat was informed that they should collect the bodies and bring them to burial.
On the night of April 28, 1941, men from the SS and SD staged a hunt for members of the Jewish intelligentsia according to a list that they possessed. Out of 61 doctors, lawyers, engineers, and industrialists who were arrested, thirty-six, among them four women, were killed outside their homes. The next morning, when the Jews and Poles left for work, they discovered the bodies strewn along their way. The remaining prisoners were transferred to Auschwitz. Three months later, an official notice was received stating that they had all died in the camp.
Jews were denied the right to conduct commerce and any Jew caught in the city
without a transit-pass was murdered on the spot. Jews were forbidden any and all contact with Poles, even exchanging a word with them in a shared work camp.
On Sunday, October 10, 1942, the first expulsion took place. An order was posted requiring all unemployed Jews to congregate in the market square. Those with work certificates were to congregate in the square of the labor office. Anyone found hiding was to be shot on the spot. Those assembled in the market square were transported by SS men to a fenced-in site that was called the stalag a vacant prisoner-of-war camp. Those assembled there were divided into three groups. The first group was sent off on that same day, the second group on Tuesday, and the third group on Friday of that week. That entire week the Jews were forced to lie under the open sky without food or water. An unbearable heat took hold on the first day as people begged for a drop of water, prepared even to pay 1,000 zloty or more for a bottle of water. The Germans, in all their barbarity, denied them their request. On the ensuing days, the unfortunate Jews had to suffer torrential rains that chilled their dry bones. During the course of these days, some 1,200 Jews were shot after being found in hiding places or bunkers. Their bodies were buried by those Jews who still remained in the square of the German labor office.
The expelled Jews were loaded onto freight cars, one hundred in each car, after which the cars were sealed shut. In the process, the expelled Jews were robbed of any clothes or shoes fancied by the German officers who oversaw the operation. The expelled were told that they were being sent to labor camps in Ukraine. It subsequently became clear that all three transports were sent to Treblinka where they all died in the gas chambers.
This was discovered through a young man named Gutman who succeeded in jumping the train while it stopped at Kurow, five kilometers from Treblinka, leaving his entire family behind on the train.
The young man recounted how the Ukrainians and Lithuanians who escorted the train would shoot into the cars along the way. Aside from those killed by the bullets, many choked to death from the crowding, thirst and suffocation.
That first night, on the 10th of October, all those Jews with work certificates were brought by the Ukrainians to a special block on Ailzshetska street. The next day a new registration was conducted and people were sent as usual to their labors escorted by the Ukrainians.
After the aktzia, some Jews who managed to hide in bunkers found their way to the block. They were welcomed by the existing occupants, but were obviously unable to go out with them to work. One day the SD commander Petr appeared in the block to conduct a roll-call and found some forty Jewish children who had come out of hiding. He murdered them all on the spot without the slightest compunction. A certain yeshivah head refused to hand over his child, hiding him in the folds of his coat. The butcher Petr found him and murdered them both.
Four weeks after the first expulsion, the district head and official mayor announced that four towns had been designated for those Jews who had remained in the surrounding towns and villages: Sandomierz (Tzuzmir), Szydlowiec, Ujazd, and Radomsk. The Jews were told that they could freely, without the need for a transit-pass, make their way to one of these towns and live there. Together with this announcement, there was an apparent improvement in the Germans' attitude toward the Jews. This was a subterfuge for the purpose of herding a large number of Jews into one of these towns. Jews from the outlying area were also brought into the block on Ailzshetska street. This was undoubtedly a trap.
At the end of December 1942, the second expulsion took place. In Sandomierz at the time there were some 8.000 Jews, many of them from Ostrowiec. Leading them was the town's rabbi, Rabbi Yechezkel Halsztok, who also left for Sandomierz. Rabbi Yechezkel was murdered by the town commandant Koeltz after being summoned and brought to him by the Jewish police who would have been punished by death had they not obeyed the order.
In the second expulsion, all the Jews congregated in the above four towns were deported. They were loaded on freight cars and upon passing through Ostrowiec, the 2,000 Jews from the workers' block joined the transport. Only one thousand Jews were left in the town, those still carrying out important jobs for the Germans. The transport eventually made its way to Treblinka. In April 1943, the SS from the Radom district established a concentration camp in Blizyn, outside of Skarzysko. There were 110 Ostrowiecr Jews in the first transport to this camp and I was among them.
In the labor camp
Around one month earlier, the Germans drew up a list of people with vocations. They chose from among us the most urgently needed and loaded us into hermetically sealed freight cars fifty-five of us in each and so we were transported for an entire day without any food whatsoever.
The first few months we lived there under the most unbearable conditions. We received 200 grams of bread and a liter of watery cabbage soup for lunch. During that entire time, we didn't receive any clean underwear. However, after we were organized into various work groups for tailoring, cobbling, woodworking, welding, etc. the conditions improved somewhat. The bread rations were gradually doubled to 500 grams.
We slept the entire time on wooden planks without mattresses. In the meantime, large transports of Jews arrived at the camp from Radom, Kielce, Bialystok, and Smolensk. Their numbers amounted to 3,000 men. Twice a day there were reviews of the inmates that went on for a long hour. Prisoners were beaten to a pulp by the SS officers, and sometimes even murdered in cold blood, for the slightest infraction, such as smoking, possessing money, or changing one's underwear. Our camp contained thirteen blocks ten for the men and three
for the women. The block's veterans were Jews. They treated us [newcomers] well, being as in practice they enjoyed no special rank and thus preferred to protect their status. Jews also worked in the kitchen. There were 350 Poles, as well, who dwelled in a separate block surrounded by a fence. All contact with them was forbidden. They worked digging trenches and quarrying stone. Their food rations were similar to ours, but on Saturdays they would also receive packages from home.
We were still dressed in civilian clothes. There were a few escape attempts but those caught attempting to escape were shot on the spot. In the event someone succeeded in escaping, the camp commandant would pull the weaker Jews out of roll-call and execute them in place of those missing. In one instance, the camp commandant noticed a Jew dozing during the afternoon break and killed him on the spot. The bodies of 1,200 Jews who died of hunger or were killed by the SS were buried in the Blizyn forest, six kilometers from Skarzysko.
One Saturday morning in June of 1944, during the morning roll call, we were surrounded by SS officers while the camp commandant informed us that we were being transferred to Auschwitz. He ordered us to hand over our clothes and in their place we were given striped uniforms. We weren't allowed to return to our block, but rather were loaded immediately into freight cars sixty men in each with the doors bolted behind us. We each received 140 grams of bread and 10 grams of margarine for the way. The journey lasted three days, all that time without water. Upon arriving at Auschwitz, the SS men and kapos separated the men from the women and then sent us to the showers. We were forced there to hand over everything as we received other clothes. The women's heads were shaved. After showering, we were led by kapos to an internment block, while the sick and the weak were led to another block.
There were 400-600 men in each block. The block elder, the house elder and the kapo treated the prisoners very cruelly. Each had his own method of torturing us, and were even permitted to kill Jews without having to submit any account. Aktzias were carried out on a daily basis. The crematorium was located 5 kilometers from Auschwitz, in Birkenau. There were six furnaces and four gas chambers where Jews were asphyxiated in order to be cremated afterwards in the furnaces. From our blocks we could see the flames of the furnaces and smell the smoke from the incinerators. German prisoners serving long sentences for acts of murder were the ones who were primarily put to work alongside the crematoria.
Fearing that my turn in the crematorium was approaching, I tried to be sent for work duty to Landzyn. After three months in Auschwitz, I was indeed sent to that locale. I worked there for five months digging mines. Six hundred Jews worked in Landzyn, among them 200 from Lodz and from all over Europe. The conditions there were better than in Auschwitz. We lived in three blocks, each housing 200 men. In spite of the relatively better conditions, forty-percent of them were still Muselmanner, a term for those too sick to continue working. They were sent to the crematoria in Auschwitz. We received 500 grams of bread, 20 grams of margarine, and twice a day some watery soup. The work was unbearable. Kapos and German prisoners oversaw us.
We slept on wooden bunks, three stories high, with mattresses and blankets. The cold was intense. Even with some heating, we suffered greatly from the difficult winter. It was forbidden to sleep in one's clothes or wrap oneself in a jacket.
Three months in to my stay in Landzyn, I had an accident: while pushing a freight car, I broke my foot. Everyone in the camp bewailed my bitter fate, for they were sure that I'd be sent to perish. I was carried to the infirmary where the head doctor, who was a Jew, placed my foot in a cast. Due to his efforts, I was hidden for ten weeks. Whenever the chief physician from Auschwitz came to inspect, the doctor would record me under a different name so that each time I would appear on the list as a new patient.
In January 1945, the camp was evacuated and we were marched to Gliwice. Whoever faltered along the way due to exhaustion was shot by the SS men who escorted us on wagons together with their baggage.
The trek to Gliwice lasted two full days without stop. We stayed there for 24 hours without food or water. The next day we were loaded on to coal cars amidst terrible crowding with no ability to move. One person died while still standing and we were not allowed to remove him from the car. After traveling two kilometers from the town, we entered a forest where we remained in the cars for a complete day, freezing from the cold. After standing for 24 hours, the cars were opened and, arranged in groups of five, we were led in the direction of Breslau. After marching for five kilometers, the SS directed us into a forest where we were showered with machine-gun fire and hand grenades. This was ten days after I was released from the infirmary and, still unable to walk on my feet, I was being dragged along by friends. Once the Germans opened fire, everyone fled in all
directions so as to save their lives. I fell among the dead and feigned my own death till nightfall. SS officers checked the dead to see if there were any wounded among them and when they found someone still breathing, they completed their murderous work. One of the SS men kicked me, but I showed no sign of life. They continued shooting and that's how many of those fleeing met their death.
That night, as soon as I was certain that there were no more SS men in the forest, I got up and tried to extract myself from the pile of dead. A heavy darkness enveloped the place and I had no idea in which direction to turn. I imagined that I heard footsteps following me.
When I exited the forest, I encountered a car with German civilians traveling in the direction of Agersfeld. Thinking I was a Polish POW, they took me with them. Once in Agersfeld, I got out of the car at dark and hid myself by a German farmer whose wife was Polish. I told her that I was a Pole who had jumped camp and she hid me without revealing a word to her husband.
I stayed in the stable where the woman had hidden me until the Red Army arrived.
With the Soviets' arrival, I was arrested under suspicion of being a German. But when they saw the tattooed number on my arm, they released me. I told them about the brutal massacre carried out in the Agersfeld forest and they traveled there together with me. We found there another six bodies that had not been brought to burial. A Soviet general and captain photographed the forest and the site of the massacre, Afterwards, they brought me close to Lodz.
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