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[Page 46 – English]

Surviving Child of Hitler's Regime

There is a wound in my hear
No medicine can heal it.
With bitterness in the past
And hunting memories for the future.
No one in the world can be the judge
For six million people, and the rest living?
Half dead!
May this book remind the world
And generations to come
That God is, but one
And human power is none!
Eva (Cukier) Singer


[Page 47 – English]

The Annihilation of a Jewish Community

By Leibush Milstein

Wednesday, the 16 September, 1939, in the afternoon, a terrible panic reigned in Ostrowiec, growing from minute to minute. The news of the Germans having reached the outskirts of the town, caused a desperate mood amongst the Jews. None knew what to do: stay together with the family, or flee alone to the other side of the Vistula. The secretary of the Jewish community, Dr. Leon Beigelman, escaped, as he was afraid of the new Mayor, the Jew-heater Mrozowski, with whom he used to have frequent conflicts while serving on the town council. Many of the Jewish intelligentsia run away together with him; amongst them were Dr. Jelen, Dr. Shiber, and their families, Yehezkel Beigelman, and others.

Except for Dr. Shiber's wife, none ever returned.

 

The First Jewish Victims

Early in the morning of the 17th September, the Germans entered the town – Saturday at 3 o'clock in the afternoon the first victim fell: it was Israel Rosenberg

[Page 48 – English]

oste048.jpg
The author of this article, Leibush Milstein

 

(Putin) who was shot in the morning; later, during the same day, several more were shot. Those first victims were buried at once; later, the Germans threw the dead into a hole on the Sheroka Street where they lay a couple of days before permission was given to bury them.

Everybody was seized with fear; nobody dared leave the house because of the frequent shooting and also on account of the Jews being caught for compulsory work, often accompanied with beatings and humiliations.

Soon the “Judenrat” was established, with the lawyer Seisel as chairman, Joske Rosenman as vice-chairman, and ten other members. The Judenrat had only one task: to provide man-power for the Germans. At the very outset, the Judenrat was compelled to collect a contribution of a quarter of a million zloty. This amount was then reduced to two hundred thousand, to be delivered by the Jewish inhabitants in two installments. Almost daily the Judenrat was made to fulfill new and more and more difficult tasks, like requisition of furniture and linen, bed sheets, jewels and even furs for the SS-men and the German officers. Mrozowski, the Mayor, also became very demanding, and made it difficult for the Jews to settle their matters at the Municipality. He used to incite the German authorities against the Jews, and he also transferred the marketplace to another part of the town in accordance with his wish of old. The Judenrat found it advisable to apply to the S.S. in order to ease the situation of the Jews and to prevent the anti-Semitic Mayor from having his say. Through bribe and expensive gifts we finally succeeded in getting in touch with the German town authorities and somewhat, somehow, help to ease the situation of the Jews.

The go-between who affected the contact between the Jewry and German authorities was Joske Rosenman. On the 23rd December, 1939, refugees from Knonina[1] and Gli[1] (Posnan region) arrived in our town. The homeless Jews have been carefully received by the Ostrowtzer Jews and a special committee of the Judenrat

[Page 49 – English]

undertook to settle them in flats and feed them until every one of them found an occupation.

oste049a.jpg

Typhoid Epidemic

On 18th January, 1940, an order was published that white badges with blue stars of David must be worn on the right arm. A death sentence was the punishment for non-observance of the order. In February, a typhoid epidemic broke out and as a result thereof, the Jewish living quarters were surrounded with wires and it was prohibited to leave the enclosure. Inside the enclosure one could go out only for two morning hours – from 9 to 11 – and during one hour of the afternoon – from 4 to 5; the epidemic having assumed frightening proportions, gaining momentum daily, it took a considerable toll of human lives. A sanitary commission came into being with the aim of fighting the epidemic. The Beth-Midrash places were soon changed into hospitals under the management of Dr. Mayer. The epidemic lasted till April 1940, and all through it the Jews were trapped inside the enclosure, enjoying fresh air only 3 hours per day.

oste049b.jpg
The entrance into the ghetto and the sign warning that death penalty
awaits all those who leave the ghetto without permission

A fortnight before the Passover holidays, the enclosure was widened and life started returning to a degree of normalcy. Amongst the numerous victims of the epidemic was also the vice-chairman of the Judenrat, Joske Rosenman, whose untimely death saddened the whole town. Yitzhak Rubinstein was elected to replace him. HE was a well-known and active Zionist. Sometime later the lawyer Seidel is removed from his office and Yitzhak Rubinstein takes over as chairman of the Judenrat; the vice-chairman from now on is Moshe Alterman.

[Page 50 – English]

Jews are Deprived of their Entire Possessions

Meanwhile the S.S.-men became daily more greedy and keep on Jewish money, chattels, objects of art and valuables. The Jews are required to hand over to the Germans the remaining furniture and bedding. They must also pay over monthly taxes to the Judenrat instead of the things which cannot be removed from the homes. The Jews must also feed some S.S.-men and deliver to them every day special lunches. The go-between who connected us with the S.S.-men was Feinshel Hoffman. But in spite of all the gifts, the hate of the S.S.-men towards the Jews did not abate. Many S.S.-men used to leave Hoffman's house loaded with gifts, which did not prevent them from beating up other Jews met in the streets, against whom they also used to incite their dogs.

Outstanding amongst the S.S.-men in their role of killers of Jews were Peter, Brune and Hollwig When they were sighted in the streets, the Jews would all hide in their homes and the streets would be left empty of people. Anyone who fell into their hands knew his life was in great peril. They used to walk with a dog by the name of Churchill. They would call 'Churchill, hate the Jews' – the dog would then tear the poor vic-

[Page 51 – English]

tim's clothes and he would be left naked as newborn. The clothes would be reduced to a heap of rags.

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Sewing Workshop in the ghetto, which worked for the Gestapo

 

More Refugees Reach Our Town

On the 14th March 1940, a thousand Vienna Jews came to Ostrowiec. A committee of the Judenrat met them at the train and gave them medicines and food, and sent them to the nearby villages, because the Town Committee did not allow them to settle in Ostrowiec proper, except for a small number who could be settled in the town. The Viennese were almost all elderly people, who were unable to get adapted to the bad conditions of life prevailing in the villages, and many of them died shortly after their arrival.

One summer day in 1940, all men were called to the square in front of the Judenrat, allegedly to listen to a lecture. At once the square was surrounded by

[Page 52 – English]

oste052.jpg
Women and men being conducted to compulsory work at Ostrowiec

the S.S.-men, Sonderpolizei and the Polish police. Out of the present men, 150 young people were chosen, who were immediately sent to Lublin, Majdenek and Belzec in order to work on the fortification of the Russian frontier.

During the 1940 and 1941 years, many refugees arrived in our town from Warsaw, Lodz and other big Jewish centers, annexed to the German 'Reich', raising the number of Jewish inhabitants of Ostrowiec to 16,000.

[Page 53 – English]

The Establishment of the Ghetto

In the beginning of 1941, rumors reached us of the setting up of ghettoes in various towns. Of course, this did not omit Ostrowiec. The order that the Jews in town have to be concentrated, was published a fortnight before the Passover holidays, and has created a panic leaving all the Jews at a loss what to do first: to prepare the holidays or to look for a place to live. The Judenrat had its hands full from morning till night: they had to settle those Jews who came from the Arian side and beleaguered the Judenrat building. Due to its energetic work, it was possible to find living quarters for everybody before the holidays, thus completing the 'action' on time. On the 10th of April, the second day of Passover, there were posted at the exit from the Jewish zone Jewish Police, established at that time for the purpose. The commander of the Jewish Police was nominated Ber Blumenfeld, and his replacement was Moshe Putshitz. Gradually, the Jewish Police assumed also other functions, like catching the Jews in the streets to put them to various assignments, or tow send them to various camps, or to arrest some of them for non-payment of taxes, or else to help remove furniture from

oste053.jpg
A group of “Ostrowcers” at compulsory work

[Page 54 – English]

homes. Often they would beat up their victims on top of all that.

On Shemini Atseret (the last day of Passover), the Jewish Police – on orders of the German Labour Office – spread all over the town and caught 150 for work in the Strachowice[2] Factories.

There were two Polish Policemen in the town – Kaczmarek and Bambel –engaged in flight the black market dealings of the Jews, and they have often raided Jewish homes, the cellars and mansards, knocking on walls in order to detect hidden goods. They used also to check the belongings of travelers and take away all their valuables. In short, they had rendered miserable many a Jew and they could never be prevailed upon to abstain from such raids and checks; during one such raid, which they executed at the home of one Velvel Grinberg (Velvel Szmaciash), his wife got a heart attack and died on the spot.

In those days a new affliction came, that of custodians. Christians would take over Jewish businesses in their capacity as 'custodians'. This caused many troubles. The chief custodian, Harry, a 'Volks-deutscher', caused misery to many Jews, taking many a bribe as he went. Once

oste054.jpg
Children's crèches at the Ostrowiec ghetto

[Page 55 – English]

oste055.jpg
A group of praying Jews banished by the Germans
from the Beth-Hamidrash of Kudlowicz.
The third from the right is Israel Rosenberg, the sixth – Chaim Majerczik.

there occurred an exchange of words between Harry and Moshe Alterman, the vice-chairman of the Judenrat, and soon thereafter Alterman was removed from his office following a demand by the S.S. But a miracle happened and several Jews reported to the SS, that Harry takes bribes – he was apprehended. To replace Moshe Alterman, David Diamant became the vice-chairman of the Judenrat.

On the 20th December 1941, the so-called fur-action takes place: the Jews are compelled to hand over all fur coats, collars and muffs. Non-compliance with this order was punishable by death – and a special commission of the Judenrat together with the Jewish Police undertook to requisition from the Jewish homes everything that could be called 'fur'. During this 'action' the S.S. did not fail in their duties and they shot dead Abraham Baumstein for having hidden his fur coat in a Christian friend's home.


Notes from Michal Maziarz

  1. “Knonina” should be Konin and “Gnin” is Żnin. Both cities are situated in the region called Wielkopolska, western part of Poland. Return
  2. “Strachowice” should be Starachowice Return

 

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