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{Pages 322-325}

During the Nazi occupation

by Klara Ma'ayan Munzberg - Tel Aviv

Translated by Jerrold Landau

From the time that you were laid to rest, destruction shall not come upon us.
(Isaiah 14, 8)

Only a collection of photographs remains… it is so hard to believe that that is all that that is left! How I wish that the exceedingly great multitude would rise up, live, stand on their feet…

Twenty years have now passed, and the heart refuses to believe that of the effervescent and lively community of Rzeszow, there are not even graves remaining …

I gathered these photographs from our comrades who managed to immigrate to Palestine before the inferno[1]. Everyone gave me these photos with great trepidation, as if their only remaining memento of their childhood and youth was being taken from them. All of the people in these photographs were consumed by the Nazi knife. Fathers perished, mothers perished, children, relatives, friends and acquaintances from our childhood, mighty men of Torah and spirituality … To them, the people of my city Rzeszow, I dedicate these pages, written with blood and tears. Oh would it be that our children will find therein examples of bravery, and they will learn about this sad period in the life of this Jewish city, which once was and is no more. May they always retain eternal hatred for those murderers, who destroyed the extensive family life in the cities of the Diaspora.

My first memories of these frightful days take me back to a very beautiful mountainous area - the area of Zakopane[2]. The camp of the directors of “Hanoar Hatzioni” (Zionist Youth) in Sakwa, which is in the inner mountains, was almost finished, and we already felt the first waves of tension, which nevertheless did not prevent us from organizing a hike in the Tatra mountains. On our way to “Kasparowi Wirech” on the mountain train, telegrams arrived from all corners of Poland that war had broken out between Germany and Poland. The young men in our group were drafted into the army, and they had to leave immediately to enlist. Fear and dread overtook us, and we immediately felt that we were caught in the middle of an ocean of enemies. The response of the “Goralim,” the locals, was perplexing. They immediately displayed anti-semitic behavior toward us, and slammed the doors of the trains on us with the pretext that these “trains” were needed for the soldiers. We reached Krakow after walking dozens of kilometers on foot. The city had changed beyond recognition. Excavations and embankments were set up surrounding the city - the honorable residents of the city, women and children, were enlisted to dig defenses. After we had received some money and provisions from the community of Krakow, we continued on our route to Rzeszow -in reality a route to oblivion. We did not recognize the city. Thousands of people wandered around aimlessly with spades and other implements in their hands. I saw the elders of the city, the scholars, the women and children - all of them volunteering to participate in the excavation effort, all of them in reality digging their own graves!

September 1, 1939 - the end of the summer. At noon, the prime minister of Poland announced the outbreak of war. The city rocked with anti-aircraft artillery, which had been manufactured at the factory of Zegelsaki - a factory which was known for manufacture of armaments prior to the war.

When the first German airplanes arrived, the Polish anti-aircraft artillery was put into action with thunderous sound, but to no avail. With great self assurance, the German airplanes took control over the skies of our city, and filled our hearts with fear and trembling. At 4:00 PM on the 6thof September, the first bombs fell on Rzeszow, and destroyed several buildings in the area of the train station. Bombs also fell on Marshalkovska, Ruska-Weicz, and other cities behind the bridge. Houses were destroyed, people were killed, roads were destroyed - but all the damage was repaired almost immediately. One week after the outbreak of the war, the Polish army retreated eastward in a futile retreat - toward Przemysl and and Lwow. The last defenders joined the columns of the fleeing army in its retreat from the enemy. On September 9th, one week after the beginning of the war, the Germans entered our city in an orderly fashion, filled with pride and self-assurance.

The Teutons, whose faces were like the faces of masks, spread out with lightning speed to all areas of the city: the dust of our roadways stuck to the cream which they had spread on their faces to protect their skin. They immediately asked us for vessels of hot water to clean their faces - the faces of the murderers.

In the meantime, the men left their houses. Anyone who was able to fled eastward, in the hope of finding safety.

Long columns of men, women and children carrying bags could be seen - all of them proceeding in an eastward direction.

Until this very day I can see the face of my father, broken and distraught from his troubles. He turned to us children and asked: “What should I do? -- Go or remain?” These were the most difficult moments of my life, when I saw my father, who had always been the authority figure, turn to us in confusion, and leave the fateful decision to us. It was clear to us that we could not leave our dear father in the hands of these beasts of prey. We joined the flight. We attempted to cross the border in the vicinity of Lancut, but we were caught there by the Germans. We were beaten viciously, and turned over, bereft of means and property, to the German forces. Until this very day I can see Nathan Nebenzahl before my eyes, contorted from the cruel beatings. He groaned all night from the hard blows which were inflicted upon him.

The German soldiers spread out all over the city. One would distribute cigarettes, another would distribute candies to the children .. “How good are the Germans! How refined! The rumors of their evil were spread in vain!” I heard such talk for several days, and this caused the eastward stream to stop. Some people even returned, when they discovered that even there they were not licking honey!

I recall to this very day how one of our neighbors, Bielfeld, came to our home and told us with excitement how good the Germans are, in that they distribute sugar and other such products, which we had not been able to obtain for some time. He explained how they honored him with a meal fit for a king -  in return for some small matter, such as the giving of information about the address of the Jewish communal organization and other such organizations.

That same Bielfeld appeared the next day embarrassed and crushed, with half of his beard and one of his payos[3] shaved off. Similar images were rampant. A coach arrived from Tyczyn, and from behind the bridge of the Ruska-Weicz, opposite our window, the passengers disembarked, and all had half their beards and payos shaved off. The masters of life and death stood around, mocking, and laughing in their faces. A thunderous proclamation was made that were required to supply a large sum of money, over and above the bedding and mattresses that we were required to supply to the Germans.

We trembled at the news that the amputated hands and feet of the grandson of Yossel Yam, who lived on the other side of the bridge, were discovered. This ten year-old child did not permit the Germans to seize their new house, which had just been completed a few days prior. The frightful news of the atrocities of the Germans came to us from time to time like the tidings of Job[4]. They commanded Lozerle, one of the Rabbis of the city, to dance half naked atop barrels of wine in the center of the marketplace, in front of the wild crowd.

The Days of Awe, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, were days of even worse disasters. The German soldiers removed the Jews, dressed in their prayer shawls, from the synagogue and chased them in the direction of the Wislok river. The screams of the victims as they drowned reached to the highest heavens. Anyone refused to enter the deep water was beaten to death. The people shut themselves up in their homes, and the synagogues were empty. Every Jewish house turned into a den of horror and fright!

The friendship pact with Russia terminated, and anti-Russian bumper stickers appeared on the German automobiles. “The Russian swine is not satisfied with what is given to it - it always wants more!” It was clear to us that we would again be the scapegoat.

Things took a turn for the worse in December 1939, when Einsler, the first “Landrat”, was replaced by Ehaus the “Kreishauftman” Major S.D., a cruel maniacal man. He took up residence in the towers of Lubomierski, near the street of the chestnut trees. In the darkest days of winter, the Jewish girls were put to work straightening out the high hill that surrounded the mountain. They were forbidden to take a break from their work even for one minute, even to wipe away their sweat. The major looked out of his window to survey how his “army” fulfilled his commands. With a motion of his finger he would signal whether to dish out a beating to someone who was lax in her work, or whether to authorize a short break which would be used for sighing.

One of the victims of the cruel beatings was my sister Mala; however, she paid only in physical suffering. Several of our friends, including Esther Ornlener, Hela Ungar and Reizke Reizner, paid with their lives, and fell as victims to that devouring beast.

The tall and beautiful girls were particularly unfortunate. He would shoot at them at from behind their backs, or directly in their eyes, as they walked. When his car appeared in one of the quarters of the ghetto - we would empty the streets of all people, and the girls would escape from him with the fear of death. In one of these chases, my sister Mala succeeded in escaping via the rooftops, and escaped from the ghetto almost bereft of her breath of life.

Famine took hold of the residents of the ghetto. We stood in long lines to receive potato peels. Some paid with their lives in order to obtain a kilogram of potatoes. My brother Chaim, may G-d avenge his death, was one of these victims. He was a tall eighteen year-old youth. He would go out each day with the group of boys, and he would give them whatever provisions we still had in our home. Each day he would argue about the amount of food that was needed for this undertaking of his. One day, in order to appease our dear mother, he decided to obtain for her a kilogram of potatoes. He entered with one of his friends into the house of a Christian woman, and left his sack there, in order to obtain the potatoes on his route home. To our sorrow, there were informers among the Jews, and this incident became known to the Germans. When he returned home, as he entered the ghetto, we were warned that they were searching for him. We had good neighbors. Mina Kalb (now Zilberman in Nes Ziona) hid us for several days and we were lucky to survive. It happened that as they were searching for several men who were absent from work - a young woman informed them that he was hiding in Mina's house. The Jewish taskmasters seized him and brought him to the Gestapo. Mala, who had up until know been taken for a half-breed, shuddered as she saw her dear brother being brought to a sure death. At the last minute she gave him her picture -  and how frightful it was when several hours later they returned the picture to her splattered with the blood of our dear brother Chaim. The Germans did not even take the time to investigate who he was, and simply shot him on the spot. Five residents of the city fell along with him.

During all these days of tribulations one thing remained: the connection between the members of our movement. Great effort was invested in order to bring us to the Russian side -  eastward, eastward!

An organized group of “Hanoar Hatzioni” members, made up of people from all corners of Poland, dwelt for several days in our house. We made plans to cross the border and to reach the Russian zone. In the meantime the shoemakers worked hard at hiding valuables in the soles of shoes, and the tailors in preparing double linings in coats. Thus everyone busied themselves with preparing the means that we would require when we would succeed in crossing the border.

The long route would take us across the river San. Who can count the victims that drowned in the depths of the river! From amongst those, I remember the name of Regina Muller, the teacher in the “Beit Haam” Hebrew school in our city. As we crossed a very narrow bridge, my foot stumbled and I fell into the water. Since I was carrying a very heavy pack, I could not succeed with my own strength in freeing myself from the waves which covered me, and without the help of my friends Leon Lustig and Dan Goren (both living in Israel now), I would also have been one of the victims.

On June 21, 1941, as we sat in the city garden listening to a concert given by a Soviet Jewish artist, the German bombardment began. The Russians were not prepared at all for this, and their first reaction was simply: “Atu Feirurki Fuskait” (they're simply blowing off the fire) - however immediately thereafter a confusion broke out which lasted for several days. The war between Germany and Russia had begun. The bombardments grew stronger, from time to time German aircraft crossed the skies over the city -  and after a few days the murderers appeared on thee streets of the city, and we again found ourselves in the claws of the mauling beast.

We fled and hid - and as we ran away we tripped over the corpses that were strews along the streets, over body parts of man and beast, and over the remains of destroyed vehicles.

The bombardments reduced the city to mounds of stones and destruction. Thousands of confused, dirty Soviet soldiers fled in disarray. Hungry and in tattered clothing, they streamed eastward along the streets of the city. Several of our friends joined them, and afterward were able to obtain clothing. Many - myself included - attempted to join alongside them in civilian clothing, but the Ukrainian gangs, who tried to block the Jews in their flight, shot at us in the alleys of the city and villages. The disarray in the Red Army was very great, and they were certainly not at all interested in helping us at that moment.

The bombardment lasted for several days. It was impossible to obtain food, the stores were closed, and if any bakery would distribute bread, it was necessary to arise in the middle of the night to obtain a place in the long lineup. Even so, at the end, in the afternoon, one would return empty handed. The Ukrainians, decorated with blue-yellow emblems, appeared alongside the Germans. They were appointed over the civil affairs of the city. The Ukrainians were well known for their hatred of the Jews, and since there was now free license for pillage and murder, they were free to do with us whatever they wished.

{In the middle of the next paragraph, in the lower half of the right column of page 324, there is a photograph entitled “The killers, their assistants -  and their victims”.}

“Petlora Day”, a national holiday for the Ukrainians, was a frightful day. The Ukrainians broke into the Jewish homes and conscripted all of the men for work. They were taken along “Kazimierzovska street to the “Brigiteki” prison. In the courtyard of the prison, horrific events took place. Thousands of Jews stood there stooped over, having been brought there in order remove from the cellars the corpses of the victims from amongst the political prisoners, as well as the cremated ashes of those who had been executed by the N.K.V.D. before the Soviets vacated the city. The Gestapo tortured the Jews with vicious beatings and cries of “the whole world is now mired in blood because of you!”. Here and there could be seen corpses with guts spilling out. The chief Rabbi of Lwow, Dr. Yechezkel Levin, the brother of Rabbi Aaron Levin of Rzeszow, was there as well. The Nazis plucked out the hairs of his beard and shouted for joy as they heard his screams of agony. Wallowing in his blood, Rabbi Yechezkel Levin, may his blood be avenged, died.

On that day extraordinary strength took hold of me, and when the Ukrainians approached our house on Kazimierzovska Street, opposite the “Brigiteki” prison to take out by force all of the men, I protected my husband Artek, who had been discovered in his hiding place. This was a life and death struggle -  the Ukrainians ripped my clothes and left me covered in rags. Nevertheless, I held on to him with all my strength. The Ukrainians kicked us and beat us with sticks, until the Germans standing in the courtyard intervened and told them to stop, thereby saving us from certain death. None of the men returned home that day, all of them fell together with Rabbi Dr. Yechezkel Levin.

Some Jews believed that by being appointed for specific work roles, they would be able to avert the evil decree. A work department was opened, which distributed tasks to the Jews. At the beginning the office concerned itself with the poor and sick, distributed food, and registered all those who were in need of assistance. One day, to our bewilderment, students who had studied in university, together with the poverty stricken, were sent in groups to the German areas. When we inquired as to why the students were being sent along with the paupers, we were answered that it makes sense that those who were well educated would care for the poor and help them economically. After a long while, when we did not hear any news from those who had been deported, we realized that they were dead -- they were among the first from Poland who had been deported to their deaths. Whereas in Lwow the best of the youth had been deported, in other towns and cities there were still Jews who lived in relative freedom. It was only after some time that it became apparent to us that these students were at one time registered as recipients of social assistance in the Lwow community - and therefore they were deported along with the paupers.

We were a large group of “Hanoar Hatzioni” veterans, and we organized underground activities. We had only one concern in our hearts: to save the last survivors at any price. We did not have any weapons. We also did not know how to obtain any. The members of the organization busied themselves with obtaining papers and sending out representatives beyond the borders - to Romania and Hungary to the south, and Vilna and Kovno to the north. This was quite a far- reaching and successful rescue operation. In Vilna we obtained hundreds of passports, and were able to send out our members via Moscow or Turkey to the Land of Israel. Once I accompanied one such train to the central Vilna train station, and when the train set off to the tunes of “Hatikva”, it seemed to us as though we were in a summer's dream. Tears streamed from our eyes as we took leave of our friends who were making Aliya to the Land of Israel. How difficult it was for those that remained! We were seemingly all on the route to Aliya, when suddenly the Russian authorities in Vilna severed the underground connection, and imprisoned hundreds of our friends. I was miraculously saved at the train station when I showed the guards the forged documents that were in my possession. I had no choice but to return in via the snow-covered route to the German hell. In the meantime, our friends in Lwow had obtained “aryan” papers, and with their help we began to transport the survivors in the ghetto to other cities, in particular Warsaw. It is hard to describe the confoundment of our friends, as we removed the Jewish “Magen David” symbol from their arms and they turned for the time being into “goyim” (gentiles) who travel on trains for business matters. We established contact with one of the workers in the silk factory near Warsaw - Milnovek, and from there we received permits for train travel. How? We had a friend who was appointed as director of this factory, and he sent orders from time to time for boxes of silk moths. Each of us would travel to him in order to transmit to him, so to speak, an order and to choose material according to the wishes of the person who commissioned the order. Thus, we were able to transport hundreds of our members, since this travel was, so to speak, permissible. Along with the successes, there were obviously some casualties, mainly due to the fact that some of the Christians were informers.

After I transferred Artek to Warsaw in this manner -  I decided to move there myself. At this time I received notification that my remaining family from Rzeszow, my mother and my sister Mala, who had miraculously been saved, were travelling to me. I decided to wait for them. However in the meantime I was summoned by Artek, who had taken seriously ill in Warsaw. Evidently, he left the ghetto of Lwow already ill with typhus, and after he arrived in Warsaw he took ill with a high fever and fell into a coma for a few days. It was difficult for me to decide whether to travel to him or to wait for my family. Finally, I left instructions with my friends on what to do with my family, and I traveled to Warsaw.

I had just boarded the train when I heard voices: “She was wearing a green coat” -- “She had a second class ticket”. According to all indications, they were referring to me. I sat silently and waited for my verdict. Two Gestapo officers, accompanied by a Christian woman, went from car to car and searched for their victim. I waited in silence for certain death, but when they reached me and asked if this was I - I heard the gentile woman say: “This one had blond hair”. In front of my eyes they removed a very attractive young woman from the second car and shot her at the train station. Clearly, the Christian woman who had informed on her brought her to the train and then later turned her over to the Gestapo …

We arrived in Warsaw at the time of the uprising - and we once again began our underground activities. We established contact with the leaders of the revolt and also with the arms suppliers. We met with representatives, and organized several dangerous missions. In the meantime, most of the members of our group came to Warsaw and its environs - and not a few of them joined the Partisan groups that began to organize in the area. This timeframe, when we were living on “Aryan” papers, can very well be compared to the time of the Marranos[5]. Only someone who believes in the adage “The Glorious One of Israel does not deceive”[6], could survive this timeframe. In the meantime, my dear mother and my sister reached me.

With unusual dedication, my mother lit candles every Sabbath eve, and covered the entire table with a thick blanket, so the light would not be able to penetrate. My mother also kept Kashrut[7] during all the days of tribulation. Not infrequently, the gentile neighbor could not understand why such a small family would cook soup in two pots.

At Passover time - whose date we calculated from festival to festival (and we generally did not err in our calculations)[8], my mother would gather some grains of wheat from the field, grind them by hand and prepare matza[9] - matzot drenched in tears. We distributed them to our friends in commemoration of the festival that was a reminder of the freedom that we hoped for, and that seemed so far off!

Our connection with the groups of Partisans in the forests became closer -  we left Warsaw and moved into the forests. The days of liberation drew near. It is impossible to describe our joy as we noticed one day the disorderly retreat of the Germans. This was indeed our great day!!

{photo at the bottom of page 325}

Caption reads “Remembrance plaques commemorating the Jewish community of Rzeszow and neighboring communities -  in the Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Hall -  Jerusalem. At the right is Klara Ma'ayan”. The Rzeszow plaque reads “In eternal memory of the martyrs of the community of Rzeszow, and in neighboring areas in Galicia. May G-d avenge their deaths. They were victims of the evil Nazi regime. Their blood was spilled in sanctification of G- d's name by the impure hands of the Nazis. Their holy memory will be preserved in the hearts of the survivors of the community and in the hearts of the entire people of Israel. May their souls be bound in the bonds of everlasting life. Memorial date is 19 of Av”.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. The word 'Tofet', translated as inferno, hell, or abomination, is a reference to place in the Valley of Hinnom, outside the present day old city of Jerusalem, where children were burnt in the Molech idolatry-worship rites during various periods in Biblical times. Incidentally, the Valley of Hinnom, in Hebrew Gehennom or Gei Ben Hinnom, became the Hebrew word for Hell or Purgatory. Back

  2. A Polish resort town in the Tatra mountains, southwest of Rzeszow, directly south of Krakow, on the Polish side of the Polish-Slovakian border. Back

  3. Payos are earlocks worn by certain branches of Orthodox Jews, particularly in Chassidic circles. Back

  4. A reference to the Book of Job. In the first 2 chapters of the book, Job receives a series of bad tidings regarding the loss of his property, the death of his children, and finally his own grave illness. Back

  5. Marranos were secret Jews who acted outwardly as Christians during the period of the Spanish Inquisition. Back

  6. A reference from the Book of I Samuel, referring to the fact that G-d assures that the ultimate destiny of the Jewish people will be for the good, even though there might be times of tribulation and setback along the journey through history. Back

  7. The Jewish dietary laws. Among other things, separate dishes are kept for dairy and meat. Back

  8. Obviously, they would not have had a Jewish calendar handy, and they had to calculate the dates of the Jewish festivals based on their knowledge of lengths of months, and the time frame from the preceding festival, according to the rather complex rules of the Jewish calendar. Back

  9. Matza (plural matzot) is the unleavened bread that is mandated by the Torah to be eaten as part of Passover celebrations. There are very complex ritual laws involved in the proper baking of matza. Back

{Page 326}

I Escaped Death

by Dr. Michael Schneeweiss

Translated by Jerrold Landau

{Photo page 326: Dr. Michael Schneeweiss}

Here I am, one of that generation that suffered during the First World War, even though I did not participate in the battles themselves. I was twelve years old at the outbreak of the First World War, and I was going into the third class at the Rzeszow Gymnasium in its new building on Krakowska Street. My childhood was spent in an ordinary civic Jewish environment. My parents were retail merchants and householders.

The invasion of the Russian armies into Galicia in the autumn of 1914 pushed us out of our homes on account of fear of the Cossacks.

It was primarily Jews who fled from Galicia, but a number of Polish noblemen and senior officials who regarded themselves as Austrians did so as well. Part of the stream of refugees headed toward Czechia (i.e. Bohemia) and Moravia, and the other part to Vienna. We arrived in Vienna. This was the first time that I felt for myself what it was like to be a refugee – a fate that was to overtake me several times in my life. At first, no support was given to the refugees by the government. Only the Jewish communities concerned themselves with them, but they were not prepared for such large numbers. The refugees used their own means to provide themselves with the most important necessities – that is, a dwelling place and food. For us gymnasium students, Polish gymnasiums were set up with the language of instruction being Polish. There were sufficient numbers of teachers among the refugees, and the classes took place in the afternoons in the buildings of the German gymnasiums. As far as I recall, there were two or three such gymnasiums. I studied in the gymnasium of region 3 on Sofienbrika Street. When Rzeszow was liberated at the end of May, 1915, my parents returned home. I was left with relatives until the end of the school year. Who imagined then that a few years later, I would return to that same Vienna, no longer “imperial” to continue my studies?

I have no special memories of the fourth and fifth years of the gymnasium. Hashomer Hatzair was organized only in the sixth year. This was an educational sporting organization of the young Jews based on Zionist ideology. The first head of this organization was Moshe Wald (today Dr. Moshe Wald the brother of Meir Yaari, a division head in the Tel Aviv city hall). It seems that during vacation time Meir Wald, then a student of agriculture in the “bodenkultur” of Vienna, also participated in our activities. At first, male students from the second year of the gymnasium were the primary participants in our Hashomer. After some time, they were joined by females from the gymnasiums for girls. During its time of flourishing, the organization consisted of approximately 160 members. Wald was responsible for the ideological education, and Wang of Ruska-Wies was responsible for the scouting education. After Wald, Fredek Elfenbein took responsibility for the ideological leadership. After Wang, I took responsibility for the leadership of the troupe, a position which I occupied for two years, until I took my matriculation examinations. The Zionist education in the organization was insufficient. Aside from several classes each week (among the educators was Mr. Davidson who lives with us in the Land) and some knowledge of the Land of Israel, the primary activity was scouting, hiking, establishment of camps, etc. (Incidentally, the coeducational excursions of durations of two days or longer caused a storm within the Jewish community.) Several assimilationists and several “leftists”, who began in Poale Zion and from there moved over to the extreme left, also participated in our organization[1]. From among these I recall Hirsch the Red and Menik Schneeweiss from Targowica. The latter immigrated to Russia from the Land of Israel, and his tracks were lost. From the first council of Hashomer Hatzair of that time, I recall Dr. Eliezer Riger, Yissachar Reiss, Yosef Weissberg of Przemysl, Shalom Spiegel of Jaroslaw, the Horowitz brother and sister from Rzeszow, Haline Schwier from Krakow and others, many of whom later made aliya to the Land and excelled in various endeavors.

I also recall that in Vienna, older members of Hashomer, which operated under the leadership of Dr. Washitz, came from the seventh and eighth grades of the Polish Gymnasium. We had many enthusiasts from among the Jordonia Jewish academic youth organization. Among others, I remember Yaakov Alter and Yosef Storch (both of them recently died here in Israel). Bardach and Yechezkel Lewin of blessed memory, the son of the rabbi who fell in 1941 in Lwow in a cruel fashion, were friends of the organization even though they were not members of Jordonia. My replacement in the leadership of the troupe was Aharon Wang, who transferred to the Communists after some time and today occupies high positions in Poland. After I left to study in 1920, he took over the leadership of the organization and led it in a leftward direction. After the end of the war in 1918, a group of chalutzim, numbering 22-24 members, was established. They began to prepare to make aliya to the Land. Their preparations were very simple: they went out for several days of harvesting work in the area of Rzeszow. We could not dream about a change of job, for there was no opportunity for such. I did not agree to make aliya immediately, for I claimed that I first had to complete my studies and to learn some sort of trade. From this group of chalutzim, I recall Belka (today Bagniger), Saba and Hala Kramer, Savka Wistreich, Hershtal, Baum, a daughter of the Mintz family, and others. Some returned to Rzeszow, and approximately 7-8 members persevered, and remain in touch with me.

I will now return to the year 1920. I went to Vienna for study. According to the program of that time, I entered as a student for three years in the Hochschule

{Page 327}

Fur Welt Handel (Export Akademie). At that time, I also studied political science at the University of Vienna. I graduated from the Hochschule with the degree of “certified businessman” and from the faculty of political science as a doctor, which had no validity in Poland. Academic life in Vienna in 1920-1922 was not easy. Prices were high, and it was difficult to obtain food. Lunches in the cafeteria were of poor quality. There were a significant number of students from Rzeszow, but we did not have organized Jewish life. I remained in contact with the Hashomer Hatzair organization of Rzeszow, and I would go there a few times a year for the holidays and summer vacation. The member Jaffe also studied with me. The other Rzeszow students were older than me, and my contact with them was quite weak. The others included Meir Wald, Kalman Bierman, Ovadya Eisenberg, Shlomo Toker, and Koretz (later a rabbi in Greece). After Aharon Wang turned the Hashomer Hatzair organization to the leftward direction, the organization continued further in that direction until it reached the point where, two or three years later when I concluded my studies, my “youths” had already lost their common language with me.

I obtained a business position in Katowice. I worked there until 1930, and I was distant from Jewish life in Rzeszow. However, I returned to Rzeszow in 1930 and began to study again, this time law. After I received my degree as Magister of Law, I registered for a practicum with the lawyer Dr. Speizer in Tyczin. At this point I was unable to maintain contact with the “group” as I did during my time at gymnasium, for I had to concern myself with my livelihood. Aside from that, a large portion of the former members, such as Aharon Wang, Janek Garber, and the Wistreich brothers joined the “left”, and even though I was considered to be their good friend, they no longer included me in their group. Thus did I live a peaceful and calm life until the beginning of the war in 1939.

Like many of the Jews of Rzeszow, I also fled eastward out of fear of the Germans. On Thursday, September 7, 1939, I left my home with a sack over my shoulders, as if I was setting out on a two day excursion. Along the way, I met my two brothers-in-law. The primary route of escape was in the direction of Przemysl. We were forced to disperse from time to time due to the appearance of German airplanes. I turned to Tyczyn, and from there I set my direction toward the Carpathians. Along the way I met a small group of youths, and I joined their group, remembering that I had once been the leader of their Shomrim troupe. Thus did we arrive in Sambor after four or five days on foot. There we dispersed, and I met a few acquaintances from Rzeszow, with whom I arrived in Zbaraz on September 15, 1939, the day that the Soviet Army entered the town. I lived for two years, that is until the outbreak of the Soviet-German War on June 21 1941 in Eastern Lesser Poland[2], which had been conquered by the Soviets. I was in Boryslaw at the time of the German conquest. I was present in that city during the Ukrainian pogroms, and after that I remained there for eight months of German occupation. I was miraculously saved from death several times. However, this story does not belong to the annals of Rzeszow.

Due to efforts of my family, at the end of April 1942, a permit to join the camp of Jews returning to their hometowns in the west was sent to me in Boryslaw. I set out for Sanok on a train that was traveling through the foothills of the Carpathians, with the aforementioned permit as well as my armband. There were some black marketeers from among the lowlifes of the Poles and Ukrainians along the way, who were going to obtain food and other provisions. They assisted me and hid me along the way. Nevertheless, I spent two hours in deep fear at the station. There was a cruel military guard on the train, apparently from Vienna, who was especially diligent about capturing Jews who were escaping to Hungary. I was told that among others, Yizik the Blond the son of Henech Weinbach, who had an Aryan appearance, met his death at his hands. I stood after midnight in a large group that was waiting for the train on the railway tracks that were leading from Sanok to Jaslo. To my good fortune, this cruel man did not see me or my armband.

We arrived in Rzeszow at approximately 6:00 a.m. I got off at the central train station with two suitcases in my hand, and I did not know the way to the ghetto. I finally found the entrance to the ghetto, which was close to the Museum movie theatre. I paid the porter and knocked on the gate. A small window opened, and for the first time, I saw a Jewish policeman from the Ordnungsdienst. I did not know who this policeman was, who in any case was not a Rzeszower, and he did not recognize me. I requested that he permit me to enter temporarily so that I would not have to remain on the Aryan side. I explained to him who I was, and that I was a native of Rzeszow, but he did not respond to my request. He finally informed someone from my family, and they obtained an entry permit for me. It is difficult to describe the terrible impression that the ghetto had on me as I set out on my way to my parents' dwelling on Rynek 24. This house was divided into two parts: Aryan, and the Jewish ghetto. The latter portion had an entrance from Kopernika (Mikoszka) Street. Beggars wandered around outside, who literally resembled skeletons. My family members told me what had transpired with them from the day that I had left Rzeszow. They told me that my father was one of the hostages who had been taken by the Germans immediately after they entered. My brothers-in-law had not yet returned. (The eldest, Yitzchak Grinspan, was already no longer alive, but we did not know about this. He had been accused of sabotage in Bolechow, at his workplace in the tannery of his brother-in-law, and he was shot to death without a trial.) I told them that I had succeeded in escaping eastward along with the Russians, but I realized that it was improper for me to save myself alone when the rest of my family remained in Rzeszow. I told them that I had concluded my course of studies in Vienna and that I was fluent in German, and therefore I might be able to assist them. One Jew responded to this: You cannot help them, and you yourself will be lost. At this time I did not believe his words, but he was shortly proven to be correct.

It is hard to describe the impression that the people whom I had left behind in Rzeszow in September 1939 made on me Our dwelling next to the Rynek along with the staircase belonged to the Aryan side of the house and the city. In the rear side of the house, facing (Mikoszka), a new wooden staircase was built. The lobby and the windows of the staircase were opened, and it was possible to look out onto the Aryan side. Thus was I able to see frequent, hateful glances at the Volksdeutschen or the anti-Semitic Poles who collaborated with the Nazis. At times, I was also able to notice a glance of pity. There was a special view of the area across Galezowski Street to the areas behind the houses on Lwowska Street and the other side of Targowica. One had to go up and down through a jungle of cellars and yards, as well as hanging bridges. I will never forget this image.

The Old Synagogue, next to the two wells (“Dwie pompy”) was completely destroyed, but the walls of the synagogue in the New City were still standing. Many small houses were destroyed. The old cemetery next to Kurtz was destroyed. Along with an area of Kurtz' yard, this formed

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a large area that later turned into Sammelplatz[3]. Life in the ghetto was a pretence of a life, commerce was not real, for there were no commodities. The only occupation of the Jews was the selling of the remainder of their belongings for food. Moving objects outside of and inside to the ghetto was fraught was danger. Whoever had no more objects to sell and wished to purchase food wandered like shadows on the few small streets. One could see people bloated from hunger sitting or lying on the street. Jews from Lodz, Kalusz and other places were deported to Rzeszow. These were only permitted to bring with them a small part of their belongings in suitcases. The Judenrat held on to its position only because it complied with all the demands of the Germans, including the provision of workers, so to speak, as needed. In reality, half of the people provided to the Germans were not fit for work. However the Germans did not complain about this, for they were bribed, and they were content to fulfill the demands that came from “on high” in a formal manner if they could enrich themselves thereby.

{Photo page 328: The Old Cemetery – concentration place for deportation.}

The Jews searched out places of work, for at first they thought that the matter of work was serious, and would bring them salvation. The people of the Jewish Arbeitsamt (Work Office) and its taskmasters enriched themselves thereby. The poet Nachum Sternheim literally died of hunger even before I arrived in the ghetto. I saw Grycman the tailor dragging his feet with difficulty due to hunger. The most desperate situation was with those Jews who were already known before 1939 as “low people” who hid their poverty – these people expired without sighing. However even the poor who knew how to shout out died for the most part. After a few days in the ghetto I came to the conclusion that the Russian who advised me not to return was correct. I came home on April 28 or 29, and already on May 1, we had our “long night of knives”. Our house was on the Aryan front and therefore well guarded. The back entrance was covered with oak doors strengthened with heavy iron. The windows in the bakery which were at ground level, were tightly barred. On that night, a small group of drunken Gestapo men wandered around searching for Communists. This was a planned “game” for they had a list of Jews who had been punished in court for the crime of Communism. The Judenrat even added other addresses at their request. They searched for Tuchman, who was over 50, dragged him out of his bed, and shot him to death in the stairwell or the yard. Then they broke into other dwellings and murdered whomever the found there. They attacked the house of the milkman Lew who was in Baldachowka. They seriously injured the young Mrs. Trink (Sala Hofert who worked in the public library), claiming that her husband had been in Russia since 1939. They took Lew out from his dwelling to the hallway, seriously injured him and then murdered him. Nights such as that returned several more times.

The responsibility for this situation rests upon the regional official (Stadthauptmann) named Pavlu, a German from Czechoslovakia, as well as the regional director (Kreishauptmann) Dr. Ehaus of Vienna, who had two doctorate degrees:. in law and in philosophy. He was a monster in a human shape. This Ehaus was seen trampling on top of pregnant women with his boots during the times of the aktions. He was a sadist who used to look on as young women were whipped to the point of bleeding and fainting. When the young woman did not sigh, he would grab the whip from the whipper and start whipping her himself. My wife suffered this type of treatment from his hands, and this fact is well known to me.

I was forced to find some sort of employment, for otherwise I would be “lost”. I succeeded in this manner. There was a German military aircraft enterprise (Bauleitung) in Rzeszow, which employed Jews under the supervision of Weinert, a German from Berlin who had been a soldier during the First World War and was awarded the Iron Cross. Since I was fluent in both oral and written German, a worker who worked for the Bauleitung recommended me to Weinert. Engineer Schultz, the head of this firm, whose premises in Rzeszow were in the

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nail factory of Licht & Leser, agreed to take me on as a trial and give me a permit from the work office (Arbeitsamt). Thus was I saved. This firm worked for the eastern army, and had a branch in Rostov on the Don. For a long period, this firm had permission to free Jews who were expert at these jobs. Thanks to my fluency in the German language and my proficiency in office work, I became the chief assistant to the director after some time. I became friendly with the engineer Schultz. I got to know many other work directors and senior officials of the Todt organization. Some of them knew that I was a Jew. The engineer Schultz issued me a permit, on his own authority, to not wear the armband – something that was fraught with risk to life. One of the Germans who knew that I was Jewish told me once when he was a little drunk, that he indeed respects me very much, but were he to receive a command to shoot me he would do so.

I worked at this firm and possessed an individual transit pass. Later I worked in a group which was taken back and forth by one of the German craftsmen. Finally we received a place in the bunks of the Bauleitung der Luftwaffe in Staroniwa. When there were no longer any Jews at the Bauleitung they returned us to the ghetto. In the interim, the first deportations began in July 1942, and my entire family was included in this deportation. I was among those who were freed by the firm which employed us. We already knew to some degree what was hidden in Belzec. There were some Jews who had the courage to commit suicide by drinking poison, including Dr. Jezower, the lady dentist with her sister, Mrs. Hirschorn, Mrs. Berl, the mother of the physician Dr. Blanka Hirschorn, and my Uncle Yehoshua (Iziasz Schneeweiss) and his wife.

After the first deportations, the ghetto was reduced to several houses on Baldochowka-Krecmara. Later the women and children were deported. To this day I recall the terrified shrieks of the men when they returned home at night to empty walls. A new Selektion took place every few weeks with the aim of reducing the number of Jews. Things continued in this manner until September 1, 1943, when the western ghetto was liquidated completely and when only 150 people remained in the eastern ghetto, including myself (apparently thanks to the intercession of the engineer Schultz).

Once a rumor spread that they were about to liquidate the remaining camp immediately. I succeeded in leaving the camp and escaping to engineer Schultz, who once told me: “Schneeweiss, if the water ever comes up to your neck, come to me”. I lived with him for two or three weeks in the former nail factory, next to his German employees. However the rumor was proved to be false after two weeks, and I got in touch with Mr. Eizenberg who permitted me to return to the camp, with the permission of the head of the Ordnungsdienst (The order preservers of the ghetto). I thought that Schupke the commander of the ghetto, did not know anything about this. I did not think at that time that I would jump away from the camp a few weeks later, from behind the grave, in a literal sense.

As has been stated, 150 people remained in the ghetto in order to preserve order. Someone miraculously disappeared almost every day, for they guarded over us with such diligence that only a bird would be able to cross the gate. A large number of these escapees were later murdered by the Poles who were supposed to assist them, so to speak, to transfer to Hungary. Some of them returned in the morning naked to Schupke. I have arranged to join a group which was about to escape. An identity card and some cash were waiting for me at the home of the engineer Schultz. One morning I was informed that the group escaped without me. I was full of despair. (Later I discovered that this group was murdered by the Poles). I complained about this to the young Geshwind, who belonged to the Ordnungsdienst. I was wondering how this group succeeded in escaping. Geshwind revealed the secret: The office of the Ordnungsdienst was in the home of Zucker the smith on Krecmer Street. The wall on the other side of the house overlooked the Aryan side. Behind the office was a cell, like a prison cell, with a small latticed window. The latticework was sawn around the edges and then replaced. The Jewish policemen had prepared this escape route for themselves in the face of any danger that might come. They would only permit trustworthy people to escape through this route, and only for a large sum of money. Schupke got angry and increased the guard. When the ghetto population decreased from 150 to 114, he threatened that if people continue to escape, he would shoot the rest of them as hostages. A few more people escaped a few days later. One of them returned to the camp in the morning wearing only a shirt and told Schupke everything. His patience then ran out. During the afternoon roll call, he ordered a group of 14 people to go the next day to the station in order to unload a wagon of coal for the Gestapo. In this group he included me and Herman Goldstein, who used to work in the Bar Kochba Sporting club. Since Goldstein was older than I and sickly, I asked Schupke to allow a different youth to go instead of Goldstein. During the evening roll call on November 22, 1943, we suddenly saw that we were surrounded by a large number of S.S. men and Ukrainian guards. A little later an officer and two Gestapo men appeared, Flaschke and Puttenbaum were their names, I think. We understood that something was going to happen. Schupke then told us that those workers who were sent to unload the coal were the hostages who were to be punished in lieu of those who escaped. He called out the names of the workers. Those who were called out entered the guard cell of the Jewish police. I was relatively quiet, but the young person who volunteered in lieu of Goldstein took hold of me with a fierce spasm. I tried to get rid of my watch and money purse. (I thought that it was better that one of us takes it rather than the Germans either “before” or “after”.) With difficulty someone agreed to take them… (These were later returned to me.) There were two Jewish policemen on the list of hostages, Haar and one other, who were called first. I was the third or fourth on the list, and when I entered the cell, I recalled the things that I had heard from Geshwind. In the meantime, the two Jewish policemen whose names were called before mine hastened to remove the latticework, and they jumped through the window to the Aryan side. I jumped after them and started to run forward, without any destination in mind. I ran along Galezowski Street in the direction of the New City. Maybe, subconsciously, I was trying to reach Schultz. But the route to the railway station was dangerous. A Ukrainian pursuer named Ganek, one of the most depraved of them, caught up with me in the New City. He arrested me and two others, but he was not able to take us himself, so he searched for someone around him to help him. In Rzeszow at that time there was a group of Vlasov people – Soviet prisoners, who volunteered for the German army in order to fight against the Soviets. The Ukrainian recognized two Vlasov men and asked them in broken German to help him drag us to the camp. I attempted to explain to them in broken Russian that we were Jews from the camp who had been sentenced to death for no crime. I hoped

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to arouse feelings of mercy in them. However, they did not answer me. They took down their bayonets and joined Ganek. He himself walked behind us with a gun poised to shoot, and the Vlasov men with their bayonets walked on both sides of us. Thus did we march back to the camp with the full knowledge that this time, we were walking to death.

As we neared the “Beggar's Garden” Ganek suddenly saw one of the two physicians of the camp, Dr. Tunis. He called him to join us. Dr. Tunis explained to him that he was not on the list, but this did not help him at all, and he was forced to join the line. Thus did the four of us march onward. We finally approached Galezowski Street, next to the Beggar's Garden (or the Fish field). The entrance to the camp was nearby, not far from the two wells, several hundred paces away. Suddenly an idea came to my mind: In another moment, we would approach the Drucker Passage; If I were to tarry for one pace, the Vlasov man who was marching beside me with the bayonet would be one step in front of me, and I would then be able to jump into the passage behind his back. People were always passing by that place, which would make it difficult for Ganek to shoot me. Thus it was. Ganek was very surprised and did not shoot me, and I continued to run. Behind the passage were rows of two story homes which I had never visited. I ran into one of them and turned to the cellar in order to hide behind a pile of potatoes, coal, broken utensils and the like. The staircase leading to the cellar was missing one step, and I fell and injured my knee. I had no flashlight or matches, so I groped in the dark until the end of the corridor. A wall blocked me, and I fell upon wet earth.

I recall that at that moment I prayed to my mother (who was murdered in Belzec): “Mother! Save me, for my last minute has come.” After a moment I heard the trampling of the iron boots of the pursuers, who were certainly directed there by the Polish passers-by. I was certain that they would descend to the cellar, but they went upstairs. I got up to flee, but I felt a strong pain in my knee, so I returned to the end of the corridor, sat on the ground, and supplicated to my mother once again. Some time passed, and they did not go to the cellar. I moved and attempted to leave. When I reached the entrance gate, I leaned on the lock, and I saw a group of Poles looking in the other direction. Suddenly one said to the other: “See, he is still moving, he is still alive!” From behind the next corner someone jumped and was hit by a bullet. (I later found out that this was Dr. Tunis.) I felt that I must not remain there. I slowly moved through round-about routes and side streets until I reached the nail factory on Jagielonska Street. I succeeded in making contact with Schultz and remained with him for a day until I set out on my journey.

After the liberation I was told that after our escape, Schupke lost his restraint and shot the residents of the ghetto with his own hands, including his barber Berkowicz, and Loel the policeman who defended himself even after he was injured.

I rested in Schultz' cellar for two days. Then I succeeded in making contact with a small group of Jewish women who were hiding in a cellar belonging to elderly Polish women, on Staszic Street. These women included my wife Giza, of the Speizer family from the suburb of Wygnaniec. We remained there until the end of the German occupation on July 31, 1944. On that day, Red Army brigades entered Rzeszow. Before retreating from the city, the Germans left one brigade in order to impede the advance of the Soviets. This brigade dug set itself up in Wygnaniec, and from there shelled Lisia Gora with light cannons, in the direction of the advancing Soviets, who responded with fire. We on Staszic Street were in the path of fire from both sides, and the small, one story house in whose basement we were hiding was hit by a grenade which exploded in the oven in one of the rooms and killed a few residents, including elderly people and refugees who did not want to go into the cellar due to the choking air.

A few days after the entrance of the Soviets we left the hiding place. I settled in one of the apartments in our empty house. Some of the Soviet captains put themselves up in the house on Staszic Street. One of them was a Jew, and he sensed by looking at our pale faces (we had not seen the light of day nor breathed fresh air for over a year) what had transpired with us. He entered into a conversation with us and debated with us about why we had attempted to save ourselves in this manner, and why we had not gone into the forests to fight with the underground. All attempts to explain our situation to him, to bring examples of other nations, and especially to describe the poisoned relationship of the Polish underground to us did not convince him.

Without delay we set out to establish a Jewish committee with the participation of Dr. Taller, Dr. Mahler (today in Australia), and Magister Moshe Reich (today in Haifa). Even though we were wearing tattered and worn out clothes, and all of our belongings had been lost into the hands of those to whom they were given over for “guarding”, we had to offer assistance to those who continued to leave the camps starting from February 1945, or who came out from their hiding places or from the thick forests. A Polish government was set up in Lublin as a dependency of the Soviet government, from which we received a modicum of support – a little bit of money, and some utensils that had remained from the emptied camps, for the Germans had taken everything for themselves or sent them to the bombarded German cities. The Germans also had sent the Jewish furniture to Germany. This assistance was later given by the Polish authorities of the regional office (Wojewodztwo). This office was located in two Jewish houses on Zamkowa Street. We set up proper communication and appropriate relations with this office, thanks to Moshe Reich, who in his time had, as a lawyer, defended Polish Communists in the court houses of the Polish state, some of whom were now leaders in the governing authorities. On the other hand, aside from certain exceptional cases, the Polish population related to us with ill will, for, first of all “we” had brought the Soviets to Poland. Secondly, we demanded that they return our belongings, which in their opinion belonged to them by “right of possession”.

With respect to the unfriendly and at times even inimical relationship of the Polish residents, the reactionary element of the nationalist military powers attempted to organize a pogrom against the Jews in June 1945. They placed the body of a young Christian girl in Trink's cellar on Tanenbaum Street where Jews lived. Rumors were spread that the Jews murdered the young girl in order to produce matzos for Passover. Obviously, they utilized the blood libel as a tried and true means of inciting the masses. It was later proved that the young girl had been violated and murdered, a fact that was confirmed by the pathological investigation. However, it is well known that the reactionaries will use any means to achieve their aims.

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The disturbances began the next morning. A throng of thousands of people who had been trained with Hitlerian education desired to quench their thirst with Jewish blood. The civilian militia immediately began to arrest all of the Jews. They concentrated them in the halls of Café Europa on the Third of May Street. A sergeant of the militia who had come to our house on Rynek 24 to arrest me said to my wife, who had requested that I be permitted to take my coat: “Please, Misses, he will have no more need for the coat”. To our good fortune, one of our friends, Mr.Sprung, hurried in a carriage to Staromiescie, where the N.K.V.D. was headquartered. They immediately got involved in the matter. The militia men later claimed that they concentrated the Jews in one place for their own security and benefit. Lucky is the one who believes them! I had two acquaintances who were engineers and apostates, but a Jewish heart beat inside of them, awakened during the days of Hitler. They then worked in Rzeszow in the offices of the Wojewodztwo. What bothered their hearts was the fact that 90% of the officials – including those with higher education – believed the blood libel that Jews use Christian blood to bake matzos for Passover.

After these things, approximately 90% of the Jews of Rzeszow left in the westward direction. Most of them were not natives of Rzeszow. They traveled by train westward, to Krakow and Wroclaw. We members of the committee transferred the archives to Przemysl and also left Rzeszow. Rozka Nathanson-Weinbach with her husband and son, Leah Teitelbaum, I, my wife and our six week old baby traveled in a Soviet car to Kosice in Slovakia. From there we scattered in various directions. My family and I arrived in Israel in the summer of 1949.

“And on the banks of the Jordan a new morning will dawn.”

Translator's Footnotes

  1. The original text states “also did not participate in our organization”, but I believe from the context that the negation is an error. Back

  2. Lesser Poland is another term for Galicia. Back

  3. This means “Gathering Place” – from the photo caption below, it is clear that this was the place for gathering the Jews prior to deportation. Back

Attempts at Resistance in Rzeszow

by Dov Zucker

Translated by Jerrold Landau

At the beginning of the time of the German occupation, members of the Hashomer chapter decided to protect their organization. Among the people who headed this activity were Sala Moll and Hinda Groll. The chapter headquarters was taken from us and turned into a German hospital. Our library, one of the largest libraries in the city, was taken from us along with it. During the first period, we were very careful with all our steps and we decided to band together in small groups in order to maintain the connection and continue our cultural activities.

Even though the events that took place quickly terrified everyone, we decided to be cautious with our actions and to treat every action and promise of the Germans with suspicion. We were the only ones who did not take any part, even as individuals, in the Jewish police or the Judenrat. Connections with the central institutions of our movement were renewed at the end of 1939 through Leibek Aftergut who came to us from Krakow. He brought circulars from the central leadership in Warsaw as well as newspapers and copies of letters that were sent by Mordechai Oren in Geneva. It is impossible to imagine how encouraging was the fact that we were not the only ones who continued to weave the threads, and in all places the life of the movements was renewing. I remained in contact with Leibek through a young Shomer member named Anka Goldstein. Tosia came to us in spring 1940 and it again was clarified that the idea of continuing the activities was not a high ideal, but rather based on practical deeds that always endanger those who carry them out. Tosia aroused us to a new life. Her words were as follows: “There is no purpose to life as it is, and there is no purpose to death without action”. This became a motto. However we decided that under the current conditions, it would be good to make careful preparations, for if not we would bring disaster upon all of us before we acted on anything. On the other hand, the young people of the chapter were short on patience and they demanded that we, older members and leaders clarify the matter. We gathered in a cellar. The demand of the youths was that we should immediately begin sabotage actions. We had no power and no weapons, and no other flank or underground group stood behind us. There was no Communist group in the city, for the local Communists had moved to Soviet Lvov in the U.S.S.R. prior to the Nazi invasion. Given this situation, we determined that the minimal conditions for beginning any activity were not present, and that we must not thrust ourselves upon the enemy too early. This was decided.

In the interim, we checked out the possibility of helping people leave the place. We received letters from Vilna, and we maintained connections with the chapter in Jaslo. We attempted to take people out to the partisans, but the intermediaries did not arrive, and the groups failed. There were no forests around Rzeszow, and therefore no base for partisan activities. The farmers of the region related with ill will to the Jewish fighters who requested refuge in their fields. They even turned in to the Germans one of our group who was hiding in a haystack. The idea of stealing over the border to Slovakia also did not come to fruition.

The Germans set up groups to collect scraps of metal, bottles, etc. for the use of wartime manufacturing. One of these groups employed Jews, who were furnished with travel permits. I succeeded in receiving such a permit, and I was able to move throughout the entire Krakow region. I thereby maintained connection with people of Krakow, Tarnow, Jaslo, etc. In one of the meetings in Krakow it was decided that the time had come to begin to organize into fighting units. Each group had to acquire its own weapons. The first group of five people was organized among the young group of Rzeszow. This group decided to obtain its first weapons through expropriation. They attacked the civic police in broad daylight, taking advantage of the opportunity when everyone went out for lunch. The fettered guard succeeded in calling for help. They had to flee and leave the captured weapons. Later they were caught and taken out to be killed. Among them were Moshe (Monek) Trom and Avraham Augarten.

There are no living witnesses from the later periods. I was taken to a camp in Germany, and I never found out about the fate and deeds of the members of the movement.

From the book Hashomer Hatzair, Volume I, Published by the Library of Hapoalim. Merchavia. Pages 727-728.

{Pages 332-333}

The last Jews of Reisha

by M. Hoffstetter[1]

Translated by Jerrold Landau

In the frightful days of the summer of 1942, a group of about 100 Jewish youth was sent from the ghetto to work at the “Flug Motoren Vork Reichshof” aircraft motor factory in Rzeszow. This factory had been established by the Polish authorities several years before the outbreak of the war. At first, the Jews worked in various roles, including janitorial services, porting, work in the earth[2], etc. The group left each morning at dawn for work, and returned to the ghetto in the evening. After about a month, a group of several dozen Jews from Dembitz were brought to factory. They lodged in a temporary camp. This group set up the bunks in the camp, where in the final stage more than 600 Jews, mainly youths from Rzeszow, Dembitz, Przemysl, Wolbrom, and Nowy Sacz were encamped. In 1943, as the Russians advanced on the eastern front, a group of about 150 Jews from the Bendzin camp were brought in.

The camp was surrounded by a barbed wire fence. At the beginning, the task of guarding was in the hand of the factory security guards (Vorkshotz), but was later transferred to the S. S. The camp was governed by a committee headed by a young Jew from the Dembitz group, a refugee from Germany named Alfred Izrael. He acted haughtily and cruelly toward the other inmates of the camp, as he was convinced that he would thereby be able to find favor in the eyes of the Germans. Thusly, he was able to retain his position until the liquidation of the camp. His henchman also did not act in a proper manner toward their brethren who were in distress, and it is appropriate to hold them responsible in no small way for the troubles that came our way.

The group from Rzeszow took up residence in the camp in July 1942. This group consisted of various technicians, watchmakers, electricians, radio technologists, and various other technical professionals. As time went on, most of the Jews succeeded in obtaining work with the manufacturing machinery, as they successfully replaced the Polish workers who were sent to work in factories in Germany. The camp was named “Judlager Reichshof”[3], and was considered to be a work camp with a high level of expertise. For this reason, the prisoners in this camp were not required to wear the usual concentration camp garb, but rather, they were able to wear the clothing that they brought with them from home, and later, clothing that was provided by the ghetto. Most of the prisoners had money and items of value that they succeeded in smuggling into the camp, and therefore the economic situation was quite satisfactory. The constant contact that the Jews had with the Polish workers also helped the situation, since, even though their relationship with the Jews was far from good, they never hesitated in doing business with the Jews. Those in the camp of “meager means” also did not starve, since they benefited from the leftover portions of those that were “well off”. Due to this situation, and the relatively good level of cleanliness in the camp, the death rate was quite low.

The connection with the ghetto was sporadic, and primarily consisted of visits of small groups from time to time for the purpose of arranging various economic affairs, for example, the bringing in of medication and clothing, etc. Nevertheless, we knew of the happenings in the ghetto, and we shared their fear, as we heard from the Polish workers in the factory of the terrible happenings that were drawing nearer and nearer. These Polish workers never lost an opportunity to share with us bad news. Due to the fact that the inhabitants of the camp worked 24 hours a day alongside the Polish and German workers, the German authorities were quite concerned about the cleanliness of the camp, and they insured that there would be a general disinfection every two weeks, when we would be able to wash in hot water. The disinfection and showers took place in the barracks of platoon 17 of the pre-war Polish army, near the large bridge at the entrance to Lancut. Our path to the barracks lead by the entrance gate to the ghetto, and we were thereby able to maintain some connection with friends and relatives, who waited for us regularly at the ghetto gate, and were able to 'grab' us for a brief chat and update of our situation. At the period of the beginning of the ghetto, we were considered to be 'unfortunates' since we were separated from the world, and we did not go to work outside, while at the same time the residents of the ghetto maintained communication with the outside world and their physical situation was tolerable. This situation moved many residents of the ghetto to worry about our situation, and to provide us with assistance in the form of care packages, clothing, etc. Matilda Lasar, a graduate of the Jewish Gymnasia, stood out in particular among those who organized this help. From our side, we attempted to provide information that we knew about things that would be taking place in the ghetto, about the situation in other ghettos and concentration camps - news that was provided to us in abundance by the Polish workers in the camp.

The connection with the ghetto lasted until its liquidation in the summer of 1943. The liquidation came without warning, since after the liquidation of the less productive portion of the ghetto, known as West, the remainder, who were now concentrated in the productive East side were convinced that the Germans needed them for vital work in the war effort, and therefore did not realize that they would be dispensable. According to my memory, as we passed the locked gate of the ghetto on Sunday on our way to disinfection, and we did not see the Jewish guards and the other people who would usually wait for us, gloomy whispers passed among us, and our hearts sank at the cite of the city, where the last Jews were being brought out at that time for slaughter. We understood that we were the last survivors of the glorious community, and that our lot would also be for destruction. We did not believe that any of us would be able to escape from the enemy, even though we were aware of the existence of Jewish camps in Stalowa Wola, Mielec, Postikov, and Plashov.

We continued to work in the factory in such a manner for approximately another year. We began to hear encouraging news from the eastern and western fronts, as well as frightening and crushing news from the ghettos and other scattered camps in the Generalgouvernement[4]. At that time, we were convinced that the people of Israel were destroyed in Poland and in the other lands conquered by the Nazis, and that the enemy had effectively succeeded in erasing the memory of the Jews in Europe from under the face of the heavens. This frame of mind encouraged several of the residents of the camp to attempt to escape; however this was without success, since the majority of them were captured by the Poles and tortured to death. It was clear to us without a shadow of doubt that our poisoned relationship with the Poles reduced any chances of a successful escape. Furthermore, even a successful escape would not guarantee the opportunity to hide out for any significant length of time. Therefore, we abandoned for the time being any plans of escape, and instead we took encouragement from the approaching front. At this point it is worthwhile to point out that the last commandant of the camp, Uber-Schurfirer Georg Oster, who was well known for his frightful deeds in the ghetto, tortured to death with great cruelty several Jews who were caught after they escaped. This monster is alive today in the city of Breitenau in Germany, never having being brought to justice for his heinous murder of Jews, even though many people in Israel and in the Diaspora could testify against him.

Crushed and brought low, consumed with endless despair and agony, mourning for those who were already destroyed by the enemy, and certain that we would also be brought to slaughter - we continued to service the German war engines for “lentil soup”[5] for about another year after the liquidation of the Rzeszow ghetto, whose gates were open for pillage by the Polish “inheritors” after the Germans pillaged anything of value that remained and transported it to the Third Reich. We seemingly made peace with the fact that the death sentence that we were under was a “normal” situation in the camp. As in the past, we gathered together in bunk number 2 to sing songs of the Jewish people, which lifted our spirits and allowed us for a short time to have a bit of hope that a miracle might occur, and the hand of the enemy would not catch up with us. A youth from Nowy Sacz, who knew how to sing well, arranged these evenings. There were also hopeful discussions about the situation on the fronts, and Chaim Lieberman of Rzeszow, who is currently living in the U.S.A, would bring us encouraging news which he heard on the London radio station (Lieberman worked as a watchmaker in the electric plant of the factory, and the Germans also gave him radios to fix). On such evenings, we would almost always talk about the Land of Israel, and the independence that we would gain after the war. It is also important to point out that a significant number of the residents of the camp kept the religious commandments, including public prayer on festivals and the High Holydays, the baking of matzot, etc. Even though such activities carried with them a significant danger, nobody was harmed by them.

At the beginning of 1944 it already became clear to us that the outcome of the war had been decided, and that Nazis would not be able to survive the difficult battles that they faced from the Red Army in the east, and the armies in the west, from Africa and Italy. The approaching of the wings of salvation was felt also in the camp, and it lifted our spirits. We felt that the demise of the Third Reich was imminent, and we almost forgot about the great dangers that were awaiting us before the breakup of the fronts. At the time of the conquest columns of retreating German soldiers appeared , tired soldiers, prematurely aged, with flashing armor - distraught refugees from the once proud Wehrmacht, who had been marching eastward for three years in the great “Drang nach osten”. In addition to these, there were many refugees of the German settlers in the east, who were fleeing the approaching Red Army. We rejoiced silently at the sight of primitive wagons laden with Germans, the elderly, women and children, stricken with fear, distraught and covered with dust. The “horen-falk”[6] tasted to a small degree the Holocaust which decimated the Jews of Europe, and other nations. The downfall of our greatest enemy in front of our very eyes was an unforgettable sight, which strengthened us in the most difficult moments of our lives, and inspired us with boundless optimism.
It was therefore easier for us to accept our hopeless situation, and we rejoiced in the knowledge that it would be our lot to “die together with the Philistines.”[7] Suddenly the day of July 20, 1944 arrived, the day of the assassination attempt against the Fuehrer in Berlin. We gained great hope when we heard about this event, and we began to believe that a miracle would occur. The pounding of the advancing front gave us some reason for apprehension, but our spirits did not fail. The Germans in the factory began to show signs of depression. Some of them even began to talk about their good relations with us, and about the evil guards who were guilty for everything. The atmosphere was electric. We heard the footsteps of the approaching redemption, but would we merit to actually see it ourselves?

The storming Red Army began to cross the Wislok. We had been praying silently all along for its full success. In one of the days of the beginning of August the event took place. The Polish workers did not show up for work. The confusion was apparent to all, the S. S., the heads off the factory, the guards, and the German employees. Chaos broke out in the city. The Polish underground attacked the Germans, and there was much bloodshed. We heard the sounds of the battle that was taking place very close to us. The Russians drew near. Would they be able to liberate us? Or perhaps they would line us up in front of the firing squad? We didn't have much time to ponder our fate. They put us to work day and night carrying the machinery of the factory to the trains, which were headed westward. The factory was dismantled.

On the final night, as we were busy carrying out the heavy machinery to the platforms of the waiting trains, the news broke out that a Jew from Przemysl succeeded in leaving his post as a locksmith, and opening one of the gates of the factory; however, only a group of fifteen men succeeded in escaping. The Germans found out about this and called in reinforcements. The security was increased, and it became impossible to approach the gate. Among the escapees were Zygmunt Elion and Rudek Schwarcz from Rzeszow, who were murdered by the Polish fascists before the conquest of the city by the Russians. Also among the escapees were Mordechai Neishtetel and Chaim Lieberman, who survived. The others were from Tyczyn (Pinchas Trotiner and Moshe Laoner), and from other towns. Even the locksmith who opened the door and his brother met their deaths at the hand of the S. S. murderers. The Poles finished the work of the Germans.

This was a night of watching[8] in the camp. We were divided into two opinions-- those who were patient, and those who wanted to take action at all costs. The latter planned to fall upon the guards that night, to remove their arms and to escape into the forest, even though there would surely be many casualties. There would not be anything to lose. However, the patient ones prevailed, so to speak, in that at the last minute they threatened to inform the Germans about the planned attack on the guards, unless the plan were to be called off immediately. This move silenced even the strongest of those that wanted to take action, since without secrecy there would be no chance of success.

Storm tossed and mournful, we were brought the next morning to the train station, from where we were taken on a three-day journey to the Plashov concentration camp. For the first time, we experienced a concentration camp with all its horrors. After about a week, we were sent to the Flossenberg concentration camp, and from there the factory in Orbis, not far from the French city of Mulhouse. With the approach of the Allied armies, we were brought to Sachenhausen, where our “Reichshof” group was broken up and sent to various camps in Germany.

From amongst the 600 Jews who were in the Rzeszow camp, several dozen survived. The rest died from various illnesses or oppressions, or were killed by the Nazis and Poles.

May these modest lines serve to perpetuate their memory for ever.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. “The last Jews of Reisha” is the title as given in the English version of the table of contents; however, to me it seems as if “The final stage of the Jews of Reisha” would be a more accurate translation. Back

  2. Probably means outdoor construction, or digging. Back

  3. Reichshof is the name that the Germans gave to Rzeszow. “Judlager Reichshof” is the “Jewish Labor Camp of Rzeszow”. Back

  4. Generalgouvernement was the name of the German government in occupied Poland. Back

  5. A Biblical reference from the book of Genesis, referring to the lentil soup which Esau requested from Jacob in return for his birthright. It could be translated here as “paltry rations”. Back

  6. Must be a German word for common folk. This is one of several German phrases in this work, enclosed in quotes, which I simply transliterated into English. The German phrase “drong nach osten” that appears a few lines before would translate as “Drive Eastward”, a reference to the eastward march of the German army into the Soviet Union. Back

  7. A Biblical reference from the book of Judges, referring to Samson asking G-d for the strength to pull down the pillars of the house of idolatry, where many thousand of his Philistine enemies had gathered to mock him after he had been blinded. Samson knew he would die together with his enemies, and asked G-d that he be enabled to “die together with the Philistines.” Back

  8. 'Leil Shimurim', a night of watching, is a Biblical reference from Exodus, in reference to the last Passover night of the Jews in Egypt preceding the Exodus the next morning. Back

{Page 334}

Memories of the Occupation

by Lola Weis-Immerglich

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Rzeszow was conquered by Hitler's troops and its name was changed to Reichshof. The Germans appointed a Jewish council (Judenrat) and imposed upon it the duty to fulfill the orders of the German government. The first activity of the Germans was to imprison Jews en masse and to impose a ransom in cash and jewelry. After a brief period, the Jewish businesses were expropriated and given over to Aryans. All of the Jewish stores were given over to directors who were appointed to this task by the German authorities. The Jews were forbidden to leave the bounds of the city. A special permit was required in order to travel on a train. Jews were murdered on a daily basis based on pretexts and false accusations.

In 1940, under order of the Germans, a school was opened for Jewish children, with 1,200 students. I worked as a teacher in this seven-grade school. The language of instruction was Yiddish. The German school supervisor acted with gross cynicism and malice. We continued working under unbearable conditions until the first expulsion in 1942. The purpose of the expulsion and the destination was generally not known to those about to be deported. The first bitter and violent day came, and entire families were deported. The only people remaining were those employed by the Germans or those hiding in bunkers during the time of the deportation. Those who remained were sent to various places of work. I was in a group of 75 Jews who were sent to work in an estate in Milocin. We worked in the field, and returned to Rzeszow on Sundays. Before every aktion, we suspected that we would be included among those being deported to be murdered. Our existence was dependent on various circumstances. The German captain who supervised and oversaw our work imposed upon us various tasks such as knitting woolen mittens, sweaters, and the like. When an order was received from Rzeszow to include us in the deportation, the captain said that he was unable to send us, for we were still required for work. Therefore, at that time we were not sent for extermination because one group who had to sew sweaters had not yet completed their work. Thus, our life was hanging on the whims of the captain.

After the liquidation of our workplace on the estate, our group was transferred to the eastern side of the Rzeszow ghetto, which was designated for working Jews. Jews who were not working were imprisoned on the western side of the ghetto. It is appropriate to note the brave deeds of the youth of Hashomer Hatzair during that time. Armed with Aryan papers, they maintained communication with various places, and transferred weapons and papers to people in the ghetto. Sabina Licht, a fearless girl, excelled among them. She penetrated into many places where Jews worked and offered assistance to all those who dared to escape the ghetto armed with Aryan papers. However, she was turned in to the Gestapo and shot to death. Honor and praise to that brave girl.

The western ghetto was liquidated in 1943. All of the residents of the ghetto, without exception, perished in the gas chambers. The Germans left a group of Jews in the area of the work camp (Arbeits-lager). Of course, people disappeared in small groups, some to hiding places and others to the partisans. Many disappeared without leaving a trace.. Jews with Aryan papers who were caught in the Aryan district, were sent back to the work camp. We lived without any hope of salvation or redemption. In those days, Lotka Goldberg, a girl from Rzeszow, displayed amazing bravery. She succeeded in escaping from the Szebnie Camp, which was notorious throughout the region for the cruel deeds of the German murderers. She arrived in Rzeszow, and after hiding for several days in a bunker in the center of the city, she left it during a time of danger. Thus did she escape from place to place and saved herself from death.

Rzeszow was empty of Jews (Judenrein) in February, 1944. The last of the men were transferred to Stalowa Wola, and the last 18 women were taken to the Plaszow Concentration Camp near Krakow.

{Photocopy page 334: A notice in German and Polish from January 26, 1940 forbidding Jews from traveling on trains.}

{Page 335}

Rzeszow Women in Auschwitz

by Dina Strassberg-Einhorn of Kibbutz Tel Yitzchak

Translated by Jerrold Landau

{Photo page 335: Dina Strassberg-Einhorn}

Twenty years after the war, it is difficult to imagine that the city of Rzeszow exists without Jews.. A city in which work was interwoven with organized cultural and social activities. A city which had vibrant Jewish youth.

I entered the ghetto with my parents and two sisters. My brothers, who escaped to the Russian sector like most of the men, I never saw again. After the war I was informed that my eldest brother died of typhus in a Russian village. To this day I do not know the fate of my younger brother. My older sister and her husband were among the first victims at the beginning of the occupation. The murderers shot them in Kanczuga. My mother and younger sister were sent in a transport of mothers and children, and Father was shot on the way to the railway station. Thus was my family destroyed within a brief period. My sister Yochka and I were sent in a large group to the Szebnie Camp near Jaslo. The conditions in that camp were difficult. The Germans worked us very hard and tortured us. Every day, we had to carry planks and rocks from place to place without any purpose. The guards would shoot people for no reason. The commandant would walk through the rows and remove every tenth person from the row. After the role call they were hauled out to the forest, and nobody ever saw them again. From this camp we were sent to Auschwitz, half naked, without food or drink, in inhuman conditions. For the entire time we did not know where they were taking us. We had heard something about Auschwitz, but even someone with a rich imagination could not imagine the meaning and significance of the word Auschwitz. The train arrived in the camp itself. A deathly silence enveloped everyone. Here and there, the groans of the transported people were heard. Suddenly the doors were open and the people fell out of the wagons to the ground one after the other, due to the cramped conditions of the place in which they were standing. The S.S. men acted wantonly, pushed the people and beat them with the butts of their rifles. Everyone expended great effort to stand up straight on their feet, to walk, and to prove that they were fit to live, for in those moments the fate of life or death was decided. An S.S. man stood next to the group of people. With a wave of his finger, he decided who was to go to the right and who to the left. “Links”, “Rechts” was the decree for life or death. Then the superhuman tragedies began – children were separated from their mothers, sisters from each other, and the last remnants of families were lost. I was among the fortunate ones who succeeded in being sent to the Birkenau Camp along with my sister Yochka, the only one remaining from my family. The march began. They made us run for a long time. We were covered only in rags. We passed through the entire camp until we came to the steam bath where we were to be deloused. There we were disappointed as well, for instead of the warm water and clean clothes that were promised to us, they shaved our hair and dressed us in a striped cloak without any undergarments. It is difficult to describe the scene that unfolded before us. A sister did not recognize her sister, a mother could not recognize her daughter, for our image had been so changed and any identifying symbols of human beings had been erased. We were turned into numbers. They tattooed the numbers on our arms. This was an especially painful and degrading process, performed by the S.S. men with evil sadism. Using many injections, they injected us with a dark liquid. Thus did they recognize us during roll calls, and thus did we wander around other people. Thus was life in Auschwitz, full of nightmares. The angel of death fluttered before our eyes at all times. The hygienic conditions were terrible with hundreds of women living in a single bunk The hunger, lack of clothing and cold tormented us. People fell like flies also during the time of the roll calls that took place every morning. Death was our regular guest. A wagon appeared before the bunks each morning to gather up the bodies that were lying on the benches and wooden beds. The human corpses were loaded upon the wagon like sacks of garbage. Everybody knew that in a few days, their turn would come. Nobody believed that they would have the strength to withstand the suffering and come out from this hell alive.

Typhus epidemics felled hundreds of people. Hunger and lice weakened their bodies and resistance. Many went crazy and many committed suicide out of despair.

There was a large contingent of Rzeszow natives in the transport that came from Szebnie. Only a few remained alive at the end of the war. I recall two sisters, members of the Hanoar Hatzioni movement, Sonia and Roza Tenenbaum. Both went crazy and died of typhus.

My sister Yochka, the only one of my family who remained alive, did not have the strength to struggle with the hellish tortures, and she was felled by typhus. I will never forget the last sight of her stooped head sticking out of the wagon. This was the dear head of my sister on the wagon that removed the bodies from the bunk. I stood next to the gate and looked at her refined, pure face, which enjoyed so little of life. My eyes filled with tears and my heart turned to stone – and the wagon went along its daily journey.

The young wife of Pinek Goldberg who was the son of the owner of the printing press in Rzeszow, was with me. She also could not go on with this hellish life. One morning we found her hanging from the electric barbed wire fence.

The gaping mouth of Auschwitz, which did not know satiation, swallowed myriads of victims, and looked on as the people accepted their fate and were not overtaken by hysteria. Everyone waited quietly for his fate. There was no escape and no means of any action. Everyone sought solitude. What could be worse, since all of our dearest family had already been killed. After losing the dearest family, what more can one be afraid of? There was no person who was not struck by tragedy. Thus was my life that continued in Auschwitz until January 18, 1945, the day that the evacuation of the camp began with the well-known death march. This march broke anyone who still perhaps had some hope of living. I am not graced with the literary talents needed to describe this catastrophic march. Many writers have tried to describe this and have not succeeded. People who could not walk in the column were shot on the spot. For days we were given no food or drink. The snow and cold ate our flesh. None of us had any warm clothing. They made us run for days, and finally loaded us on open train cars. The crowding was unbearable. It was body against body, and perhaps this was the source of some warmth. There were no sanitary facilities, and people attended to their needs on the spot. The stench and lack of air was indescribable. People who fell asleep from weariness were covered with snow. In the morning, it was hard to move our limbs due to the cold. From where did we draw the physical and spiritual strength to stand up, to suffer and believe – that despite all this perhaps we still may live? It is difficult to give an answer. Apparently, this was the will to live that is awakened in a person during moments of terrifying tribulation, when all means are exhausted. It was this ray of hope that instills in man the power to believe in a better future, and helps him get through the frightful days on earth and in the depths of hell.

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