(Under the leadership of Mosze Meryn)
by M. Parasol
Donated by Dr. Ann Kirschner
When the Germans entered Sosnowiec, they took all the men in the first aktsia [usually refers to round-ups of people for deportation] and placed them in Szein's factory without food or drink.
The city-president [mayor] intervened, thanks to the intercession of the families. The Germans wanted to designate a liaison officer between the Jews and the military authorities. Mosze Meryn, small and thin, quarreled and shouted that he was the president of the [Jewish] community. The Germans ignored him. Then he thought of a plan.
The president of the community, Szlomo Lajzerowicz, was the director of an insurance society and a distinguished community worker. He had escaped two days before the outbreak of the war.
Meryn took advantage of the situation and took the porter's councilman, Szalom
Pilc (others would not have done this), up to the abandoned [Jewish] community
premises, took out the stamp of the [Jewish] community president, Lajzerowicz,
and wrote out authorization for himself, Meryn, as acting president during
[Lajzerowicz's] absence. Meryn forged Lajzerowicz's signature. He used Szalom
Pilc, the porter, and the Mizrachi representative, Dawid Lewartowski, as
He went to the city-president at the city hall with the false papers, impersonating a confident representative of the Jewish community in Sosnowiec. The authorization was dated two weeks before the war.
Thus Moniek Meryn began his reign in the Jewish city of Sosnowiec.
To my great shame, he, alas, belonged to my family. He took as an assistant Dawid Lewartowski, a person with an inferiority complex, who earlier had been unable to earn a living, was a failure and now, with Moniek Meryn's help, he could give orders.
After receiving the consent of city hall, Moniek Meryn, together with Dawid Lewartowski and Grynblat, contacted Kahn, the attorney, who knew the German language, and a certain Krumer and they created a committee. Understand, he declared himself as chairman.
His first job was to carry out a registration and, in the house of the Mizrachi shul at Modrzejowska 18, to organize the office of the [Jewish] community. All of the professionals and bookkeepers were ordered to submit to the work of registering the Jewish population, so that they could receive food from city hall.
I did not obey the order. However, Moniek knew of my office abilities and he had need of such people. So, through my brother-in-law, also a Mizrachi councilman and his friend, he warned that it would cost me dearly if I did not appear for work.
Out of necessity, I appeared for work.
The initial result of the registration was a head tax of 10 marks for each person. At the distribution of the bread and food, Moniek Meryn showed immediately that he did not care about anyone except for his guards. They distributed the bread at their own discretion. They took half for themselves. Therefore, half of the population slipped into hunger right from the start.
I could not witness the injustice and made Moniek aware of this. He answered me:
Do not look at what you do not have to and you won't see it. Your place is in the office and not controlling whoever.
The answer convinced me that he knew very well about everything. I then tried to turn to his assistant, Dawid Lewartowski, my former friend. Here, too, I received the same answer.
Dawid Lewartowski took the collected money and did not give any receipts. There was no accounting for the funds. Every day, new edicts were given out to collect the head tax.
The discontent grew from day to day. However, this absolutely did not bother the rulers.
Until once, when a certain German commandant, Dr. Schneidermann, who wanted it to be quiet in his district, was present in city hall and a delegation of German refugees with Jakob Schreiber, a German intellectual refugee, at its head, called upon him and described the situation. The commandant requested a list of people so that he could inform the managing committee. The group communicated with me and presented a list of responsible community workers.
The German commandant described this to the Polish city-president. The latter was a personal friend of attorney Kahn. And the attorney was in the hands of Moniek Meryn. Through the attorney, Moniek conducted business with the president. The president placed his commissar in the [Jewish] community office, according to Moniek's advice, to watch over the finances. The commissar and his assistant, Poliak, received good salaries and permitted Moniek to rule as he wished. Moniek's entire retinue remained at work, too. They were certain that no one would disturb them.
Thus, everything remained the same.
Shortly after, the Germans ordered several streets to be emptied. The Jews began to be pushed into an even narrower ghetto and the neighborhood was made judenrein [free of Jews]. Mrs. Siwek and I were told to create a housing office and provide the accursed with apartments.
The office grew quickly, because the Germans constantly cleared entire streets of Jews. Moniek appointed Chaim Dawid Kajzer and Ignac Mak as directors of the housing office, which meant they were employed.
A new hardship came after the edict. The Obersturmführer [SS Lieutenant]
Lindner rounded up young people in the streets to send away to work. Moniek
immediately volunteered that he would attend to the contingent, and even more.
He created a work office headed by Wulkan and Smigrod. Moniek recruited his
people from among the assimilated circles because they were very compliant.
The National-Zionist youth resented this, particularly those from Hanoar Hatzioni to which Moniek had once belonged. They came to him to protest his sole use of the assimilated, who had no earlier connection with Jewish concerns, and requested that he provide them with positions. The young people consisted of a good intellectual group: Mrs. Fanja Czarna, Guta Czarni, Josef Brzeski, the Kozuch brothers, Wolf Smietana, and so on.
Moniek gave into them because the Judenrat had grown. Mrs. Fanja Czarna was appointed as chief secretary. She worked reliably. Little by little, the former social workers who had fled and hidden themselves returned. Among them were also the former chairman Lajzerowicz, Moritz Rajcher, Zinger, Ignac Rajner, Motek Birman. They were appointed as experts in various fields.
The refugee kitchen was a [Jewish] community kitchen. Everyone who registered to eat in the poor kitchen came from the list of those who had paid the head tax. This was a trap. Moniek sent them away from the city first, ostensibly to work.
Moniek made good deals for himself. He succeeded in convincing the emissary of the German regime not to seize [the Jews]. He, Moniek, would provide the appropriate number of Jews to send to the work camps, actually concentration camps. He made good deals removing from the list those who could pay. He assured the Germans that he had registered all of the Jews and no one would evade him.
In 1941, all of the cities on the German border were annexed to the Third Reich. This gave Moniek the opportunity to advance as a leader of the head office, the Central [Translator's note: Zentrale der Jüdischen Ältestenräte in Oberschlesien / Central Office of the Jewish Councils of Elders in Upper Silesia] with control of all the surrounding cities. This he received as a reward for useful work. Because he had the confidence of the Gestapo, he ruled with a heavy hand together with his secretary, Fanja Czarna, who had mastered the German language.
An order came from the Gestapo before Passover 1941 to make Oswiecim judenrein. They built the gas chambers there. My office was very busy with finding housing for the Oswiecimer Jews. Oswiecim had to be clear in five days. Everyone had to move to Sosnowiec. Death was the penalty for not carrying out the order. Moniek threw me into this office against my will and made me responsible for carrying out the order. I did not have a choice, because the order was an order from the Gestapo.
Here, too, the [Jewish] community, that is, Moniek made deals. As all the residents were placed at his disposition, several people were freed, if the influential people were rewarded as usual.
The Germans constantly demanded people to send to the camps. First of all, Moniek had the opportunity to get rid of his opposition. He gave notice through posters that everyone had to present themselves to the special emissary on Deblinska Street. There, he carried out a check with the help of Fanja Czarna and Dawid Lewartowski. A number were chosen to be sent away. Many of the prominent people were freed in exchange for money. Therefore, the number was smaller. However, the Gestapo requested the proper number. There were three hundred people missing from the transport. In the course of two hours, Moniek, with the help of his police, conducted a police raid on Targowa and Kollataja Street, taking entire families from their residences and under the watch of the Germans and Gestapo, led them to the transport.
Rabbi Englard and his family were in the transport of the seized; also my sister and her family.
After sending off the transport, Moniek and Fanja called a meeting in the [Jewish] communty, at Targowa 12 in the Radomsker Rebbe's house, and declared that the people had been sent to work in Theresienstadt [Terezín]. The old men would be in an old-folks' home. Later, we learned through German officials that the transport was gassed at Auschwitz.
Thus, Moniek and the Judenrat helped the Germans exterminate the Jews and this threw fear into everyone.
In August 1942, Moniek decreed that the party representatives should give
speeches in the largest hall in the city, and make clear to the convened Jewish
population that all of the Jews had to put on their best clothing and come to
the playing field in old Sosnowiec to register. He did the same thing in
Będzin, Zawiercie, Dąbrowa [Dąbrowa Görnicza] – cities that were placed under
Rabbi Englard, Baruch Saciemski and Icchak Sztajnfeld declined to do so. [Translator's note: There is an inconsistency in the narrative: Rabbi Englard is described above as having been in a transport to Auschwitz.] However, under the threat that he immediately would give them to the Gestapo, Moniek forced them to speak. With tears in their eyes, they told the assembled Jews that Moniek Meryn had told them to call for the Jews to appear at the said point and there they would receive a German pass. Whoever did not possess such a pass would be arrested and sent away on an unknown path.
Seventy thousand people presented themselves in the surrounding cities. About forty thousand were sent away. Some were sent to a concentration camp, to a slow death; some immediately went on their last road. The victims were selected by Moniek Meryn, Fanja Czarna, Dawid Lewartowski and Smietana.
Then the people being transported from the Srodula and Kamionka ghettos arrived. The Jews who had been deported from Chrzanöw, Jaworzno, Auschwitz, Zawiercie, Trzebinia, Krzepice, Strzemieszyce, Olkusz, Slawköw, Zabkowice, Myszköw, Janöw, Praszka and other settlements were then found in Sosnowiec-Będzin.
The Jews who found themselves in a particularly difficult situation were under the so-called General Government. They were threatened with the death penalty for crossing the borders of the Reich. They were labeled with the sign A. K., that is Arbeitskommando [work commando]. According to the order from the Gestapo Chief Feinkert, they were placed in the custody of the Gestapo. At that time, being singled out and special was for the worst.
The Jews of Sosnowiec were deported to the Srodula ghetto. The Jews from Będzin and Dąbrowa were concentrated in the Kamionka ghetto. Here, too, the comrade tried to make deals. A rumor was circulated that in addition to the ghetto in Srodula, there would also be a ghetto in Old Sosnowiec. The richer people wanted to remain in Old Sosnowiec and not be driven to the faraway village of Srodula and they paid bribes so that they would be left.
Moniek divided his kingdom among his own. Behm was president in Sosnowiec. He was a capable person and often did not want to carry out Moniek's orders. Moniek had him transplanted to Będzin and rendered harmless. The previous president of Będzin, his brother, Chaim Meryn went to Sosnowiec. Chaim Meryn was previously in Lodz or, as it was now called, Litzmannstadt, and tried to prepare the ground so that Moniek could include Litzmannstadt under his Central, where he was the director. Lodz belonged to the German Reich. Understand, Rumkowski had already seen to it that Moniek's plans would be fruitless. The representatives of the president of Sosnowiec were Motek Birman and Dawid Lewartowski.
On the eve of the deportation to Srodula, the Judenrat carried out a collection of fur coats and, later, gold. The trusted men for the aktsia were Dawid Lewartowski and Motek Birman. Whoever did not have any gold was appraised and ordered to bring money.
The director of the housing office was Chaim Dawid Kajzer, with whom I quarreled because of his immoral actions. Not needing any money, he used his position to seduce beautiful young women. Understand, he did this at the expense of those people who did not find favor with him Therefore, I convinced them that I should be transferred to the economic office where S. Lajzerowicz was the director.
At the same time, Josef Brzeski, the Kozuch brothers and Abram Dancygier resigned. The latter had worked as a statistician. Earlier, Brzeski had already found a private position with the Germans. He even boldly refused to carry out an order by Moniek to present a list of young men and women and threw the paper in his face.
The above-mentioned four young people undertook a campaign abroad with the help of a German intermediary to secure exit permits as ostensible citizens of Chile, Bolivia, Sweden and Norway. Such a list, mostly filled with the names of young Jewish nationalists, was sent to the appropriate German office. Each person was provided the right to take along his wife. This had to be very secretive. The first list consisted of 100 names.
The city police president sent the list to the Judenrat with the request to
submit the exact paperwork in order to receive the passports for travel abroad.
When Moniek Meryn and Fanja Czarna unexpectedly saw the list, they summoned the
manager and suggested a division of the exit permits with them. They wanted to
add their family members and friends. There was dealing. Moniek wanted to give
twenty-five percent and later fifty percent.
The foreign committee in Switzerland saw delays, and asked why they were again sending a list of names and not sending their citizens. The police president took the matter very seriously and immediately ordered the Central to send back the requested paperwork.
Moniek and Fanja apologized properly and presented a list with only appropriate data With fifty percent different people. The police president compared the lists and finding the deception, he sent for Meryn and Czarna to report to his office. Simultaneously, he sent secret police to remove the books from the offices of the Central and the ghetto. They also took Chaim Meryn and Dr. Lewensztajn, who ran the office with them. Among the voluminous papers they found the original list from abroad, which matched completely the copy that was sent later.
The police president immediately arrested the four people for deception and sent them to Myslowice. The Gestapo, Moniek's protector, learned of the matter from Aszer Klajnberg (Moniek's intermediary with the police) and made an effort to remove the four from the police presidium and take them under its custody. However, the police president insisted that this was his jurisdiction and would not give in.
The four never came back.
The designated people received their passports from the police presidium and also permission to leave. However, in Vienna, they were probably detained because of being observed too much and checked too carefully as a result of the deception and nothing more is known about them.
In 1942 the entire Jewish population of Sosnowiec was deported to the small village of Srodula. The Jews of Będzin and Dąbrowa were sent to Kamionka.
After getting rid of Moniek and his helpers, the [Jewish] community was led by the same unit. Kahn the attorney became the provisional president.
The Srodula ghetto was packed, but, not for long. The Germans immediately proceeded to empty the ghetto. For them there was little, it was too slow, the great mortality from hunger and illness. They carried out large raids for people to send away to work in the concentration camps.
Two large deportations took place. The first: the 22nd of June 1943 and the second: end of August 1943. The Gestapo Chief Dreier led the aktsia. His representative was Freitag. Kuszynski, the Sonderbeauftragter [special representative], also helped to sort the people for work. They well remembered the help that Moniek Meryn, Fanja Czarna, Dawid Lewartowski, Wolf Smietana and Aszer Klajnberg had given them. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Gestapo later tried to save Meryn.
There were many lesser helpers. However, they did not have any influence on the course of the aktsia and could not do anything.
What about the Jewish militia? In truth, there were scoundrels among them who made money from the misfortune of others. They helped Moniek carry out his deals and they were not badly rewarded.
However, to be truthful, I must say that there were such Jewish militiamen, and the number was not small, who warned secretly about a raid that was being prepared. Eventually, in the last calculation, many did not do this because during a search a required number was needed. However, the action was humane on the part of the militiamen who, incidentally, took a risk with their good position.
Thus was the case with Szlomo Nachum Langer. When he was the police commissar, within the boundaries of the opportunities, he dealt humanely like a Jew. Therefore, Moniek did not like him and, at the first opportunity, filled his post with another person.
In addition to the negative side, the Judenrat also had a positive side, such as arranging work for Jews in Zagłębie itself. This gave the assurance of not being taken away to a work camp or extermination camp.
Held's shop was such a workplace in Sosnowiec that manufactured linen and clothing for the Held firm in Berlin; a shoe shop where straw shoes were manufactured for the German military; a large construction enterprise that worked mostly for the Germans. Hundreds of Jews were employed in the above-mentioned places.
The Judenrat also created schools for children which were headed by Dr. F.
Widerman, as well as craft school for adults.
In Będzin, the above-mentioned Braun's shop [Translator's note: there is no mention of Braun's shop previously] was created with hundreds of Jews employed who searched for a rescue from the deportations. There was also a group of distinguished community leaders from before the war who were employed in the Judenrat, who were only involved with helping the needy Jews. They had no connection to the negative activities.
They were: the former elected heads of the Jewish community, Lajzerowicz, Baruch Saciemski, Baruch Szepkowicz, Icchak Sztajnfeld, Aron Zinger, Moritz Rajcher, Director Ignac Majtlis, Gerszon Stawski, Attorney Kahn and so on.
All of those listed above shared the fate of the entire Zagłębie Jewry.
August 1943. In this month, the last terrible deportations of the Zagłębie
Jewry took place. From then on, Zagłębie was judenrein.
(The Judenrat in Zagłębie)
by Pinchas Orbach
Donated by Dr. Ann Kirschner
The matter of the Judenrat under the Nazi rule in Poland has not yet received its definitive evaluation in our Holocaust literature.
In general, the deeds of the leaders of the Judenrat were very harshly criticized by the survivors. Writers and ghetto historians refer to them with the lowest names and consider them as traitors and enemies of the Jewish people.
This is completely understandable when one takes into consideration that these are Jews who went through the gehenim [hell] and closely observed how a messianic complex developed among the leaders of the Judenrat. These complexes brought about grievous results.
Such a messianic complex particularly developed with Mosze (Moniek) Meryn, the leader of the Zagłębie Judenrat.
The writer of these lines had the opportunity to watch the rise and fall of Mosze, the false messiah, and from this to extract a picture of the moral state of the ruler of the Jews in such a cruel time.
The larger cities Sosnowiec, Będzin, Dąbrowa [Dąbrowa Górnicza] and the surrounding communities numbered about 100,000 Jews.
The Germans entered Sosnowiec on the 4th of September 1939. They immediately brought all of the Jews together in two places: the city hall on Pieracki Street and in Dietel's Palace. The Jews were tortured there through frightful and savage methods during the course of a few days. A number were shot. After a few days of bullying the wretched, the door opened and a German military man asked who was here from the gemeinde [community] managing committee? The chairman, Lajzerowicz, who was there, kept silent, fearing to speak up. The German asked again a few times, not receiving an answer. Then, a young mentshele [Translator's note: literally, a small man, but the usage is derogatory], short and thin, Moniek Meryn, stepped forward. The Germans first honored him with blows and, later, appointed him as representative of the Jews, or, more accurately, the liaison person between the Jews and the Gestapo. And here began the rise of Mosze Meryn.
Who was Mosze Meryn?
He was a person in his thirties with the appearance of 25. His movements were fast, nervous, with a pair of darting sharp eyes; he was very thin and small. During the First World War, his father was a representative of the Jews to the Germans. Moniek did not master the German language. Moniek was a fancy goods merchant before the Second World War. However, he spent most of his time in the coffee houses and card clubs. There, he lost his money. He divorced his wife and led the life of a free young man. He did not have a good name in the business world. He very much loved to play politics. However, he did not succeed very well in this realm either.
There is the following description in E. Ringelblum's diary of the 26th-27th of
April 1940: I have heard an interesting characterization of Meryn the
King. Before the war, he was a political drifter, that is, at first he was a
member of the right P.Z. [Poalei Zion], afterwards, a member of Tzioni Klali
[General Zionist Party], for a time, he was a supporter of Comrade Hager of
blessed memory and just before the war, he was a member of the Revisionist
movement, and also, a member of the Jewish community. Politics was his beloved
game. (To this point, E. Ringelblum).
There is nothing to write about his service during the first weeks of his activity as an intermediary between the German regime and the Jews. However, at the end of October 1939, Sosnowiec was joined to the Third Reich and the German city council organs were organized. Then Moniek's career began.
A Judenrat was organized according to the pattern of the kehiles [organized Jewish communities] in Germany. Moniek Meryn was placed at the head. After a few weeks, the Germans organized a central Judenrat for all of the Jews in Upper Silesia (which was called the Central, (Zentrale der Jüdischen Ältestenräte in Oberschlesien [Central Office of the Jewish Councils of Elders in Upper Silesia] with its seat in Sosnowiec). Twenty-seven kehiles with a population of over a hundred thousand souls belonged to the Central.
Meryn was a source of energy and a great organizer. Of course, he did not possess any traces of a democrat. It was only necessary to see how he appointed people for various functions. He drained money and gold from the smaller Jewish communities for the Central and for the Gestapo. He also chose the people who had to work in the labor camps. The Jews who quickly learned what it meant to be sent to the camps paid bribes as ransom to Meryn.
The Central made very skillful use of the Jews' fear and constantly placed the largest levies for money on them. Whoever did not pay was sent away.
A Jewish police force and system were needed for such activity. They were created allegedly to keep order. Meryn led as a dictator with unlimited powers. He opened a school for small children. However, after a time, it was necessary to close it by order of the Germans.
The Central worked with rare efficiency. Around 1,500 people were employed. He organized a higher council of the highest officials and the chairmen of the various Judenratn. Understand that all were appointed. The chief secretary was Fanja, who was a secretary in the Jewish gymnazie in Sosnowiec before the war. She traveled with Moniek on all of his trips and conferences with the German regime organs as interpreter. She had perfectly mastered the German language.
It is not comprehensible how in such a time Moniek was able to create ties with certain Jewish communities in Switzerland and elsewhere. It is an established fact that Meryn could travel by railroad in any direction he wished. He carried on negotiations with the Jewish community in Prague and Mährisch Ostrau [Moravska Ostrava] about their joining the Central and traveled there. It is even said that in Berlin he conferred with Adolf Eichmann, yimakh shemo [may his name be erased], about the Jewish question. In Poland, he visited Warsaw, Krakow and Lodz. In August 1940 he asked the Lodz Jewish community to give him 100,000 dollars from the Joint monies [money donated by the Joint Distribution Committee] and on their account he would obtain certain German concessions.
He also received money from the American Ezra [Aid] Committee for the Jews in Upper Silesia under his protectorate. No Jews in Poland and in Germany had the right to move around as he did, free as a bird.
What was the purpose of Mosze Meryn's frequent trips?
The historian of the Sosnowiec ghetto and the biographer of Moniek Meryn, Dr. Widerman, describes in his book that in the middle of 1942, Meryn said the following to his secretary, Fanja:
Until me, no man has had such power over the Jews in this county. I wanted to expand my power to cover all of the Jews in Europe. However, there are small mentshelekh [Translator's note: little people, a derogatory reference] who have obstructed my way because of their personal arrogance and, by this, doomed themselves to tragedy. Those guilty of this are the following: Dr. Hirsch of Berlin, Bibersztajn of Krakow, Rumkowski of Lodz and Czerniakow of Warsaw.
It is difficult to say if Widerman heard the exact words he had written. However, it matches Moniek Meryn's own statement before his council of leaders and officials in 1942, when he gave a report of his trip to various places. And these were Meryn's words:
You have certainly heard, gentlemen, that I visited almost all of the
Jewish settlements together with Fanja and I know exactly what is happening
there. We were in Berlin, Prague and what did we see? Depression and lack of a
strong hand that could control the situation.
The German and Czech Jewish leaders have lost their heads. I reminded them that when I visited them last time, I ordered them to create one Central for all of the Jewish settlements under German control. At that time they did not want to hear any details. I believe that they did not want to give up any power from their hands and in their hearts thought: We, German Jews will not be able to work together with the Polish Jews. And also: If the Central will be in Sosnowiec, all of the power will go to me
Here a question arises: did Meryn believe in the possibility of creating such a powerful Central? Did he not understand that the Germans would in no way agree to such a unification? However, as it turns out, he believed so blindly in his mission that no means were improper. He was in Warsaw a few times. There he was received royally. Of course, his former brother-in-law, A. Gancwajch, who was the leader of the famous Dreitzentel [Translator's note: 30 percent referring to the Jewish power brokers in the Warsaw ghetto] and had power through the Gestapo in the Warsaw ghetto.
In Warsaw, he declared that he would receive 20,000 certificates. Of course, this did not happen. However, from another side, he showed that the Jews in Zagłębie were living better than those in all of the other ghettos. There were rumors that he would take over Krakow and Lodz.
Meryn created a form of redemptive philosophy. Clear signs of this could be heard in his speeches. Late at night in a private room, I myself heard: Jews have always been a stiff-necked people, as Moshe Rabenu [Moses our teacher] would call them. They never wanted to listen to their leaders. I am the only one who substantiated this so that my community would hear me. An internal voice tells me: 'You, Mosze, are the man who will take the Jews out of the Hitler slavery as Moshe Rabenu took the Jews out of Egypt.' We, the witnesses, sat quietly, stunned by this outburst.
In such a horrible time, when the dictatorial rule of an individual dominates, there is never a shortage of followers, flatterers and toadies, as well as the ordinary naïve people, who become controlled by the madness and openly support it in public. The position of the leader automatically becomes stronger.
The same thing happened with Moniek Meryn in Sosnowiec. Meryn called a mass meeting before the large deportations in 1942 and told the youth leaders that they particularly should not disturb the work of the deportations. His gave as his reason that he intended it only as a favor to the community. The rest who remained would be saved. Other officials of the Central spoke in the same style. One religious leader, who wanted to make a better impression with the leader, Moniek, began his speech with the following verse from the Torah: The Jews did not listen to Moshe in the desert because they were impatient, adding, Mosze Meryn is today like Moshe Rabenu in his time; he shows us the way and we must follow him. p> It is no wonder that after such words about his address, his fantasy played and he went more into his redemptive delusions. Again citing Dr. Widerman as authentic there was no limit to his dreams and impudence.
In a conversation with his secretary, Fanja, he is supposed to have said: I will not back away from giving away 50,000 Jews to death, in order to save another 50,000. After the war, my name will be famous in the Jewish world, in our new land, Eretz-Yisroel; I will be received as a conqueror. My abilities as a leader, as well as an organizer, will find their place there. I will build an army armed with the most modern weapons that will be a source of pride and the support in our international policies.
There is here a boundary between greatness and the ridiculous. The words of a person who crosses this boundary become excessive and ridiculous. Moniek Meryn did not feel that he had crossed this boundary with his words. A few of his friends from before, his closest co-workers, began to consider his messianic dreams as nonsense and they quietly laughed at him.
The quiet criticism was openly expressed when Meryn sent out 2,500
invitations to Jews in Sosnowiec to voluntarily appear for work in
the German labor camps. Immediately in the morning, an appeal was signed by all
of the youth organizations against the voluntary appearance and countering with
the statement that this will lead to death and not to work. In the end, instead
of 2,500 people, only a few dozen people appeared. Meryn was furious and he
immediately called the Germans and the Jewish police and half of Targowa Street
was closed. All of the inhabitants were taken out of the houses, lined up in
rows and marched to the waiting train on Towarowa Street.
I will never forget this picture of the march of the Jews. (I was then in the Central building. This was the most secure place.) The Rabbi, Iszajahu Englard, of blessed memory, (an old enemy of Meryn from before the war) went at the head of the train. Near him, Abram Rybnicki, of blessed memory, the father of my friends Wolf, of blessed memory, and Icchak, of blessed memory, went with slow steps. A deadly silence reigned in the street. Only the pounding of the German boots and quiet groans of the approximately 2,000 Jewish who were being led was heard.
Then, Moniek Meryn, himself, delivered the transport to the Germans without the help of his generals.
However, the beast desired more to eat. He asked his generals to take part when a second transport had to be prepared. This lasted from May 1942 to the 15th of June 1942. There was not only a Sosnowiecer deportation; Będzin and other Silesian shtetlekh were cleansed, too. Altogether, more than 15,000 Jews were sent away in an unknown direction from which they did not return.
Opposition to King Meryn and his ways began to appear openly. At first, it was a series of high officials who dealt with certain cities.
I remember well Jakób Erlich, a Poale Zionist, who was the chairman of the Będzin Jewish community. He resigned from his office not wanting to be a blind instrument in Meryn's hands. We saw Benjamin Graubart, a son of the famous Będzin Rabbi Graubart, of blessed memory, in his place for a short time. He, too, resigned. In his place, Moniek appointed his own brother, Chaim. Whispering began that Moniek was filling the offices with his family. Meryn deposed his brother and appointed Chaim Molczacki, his devoted follower. Chaim Meryn became the chief inspector over the small Jewish communities.
If an important official was openly in opposition, Moniek Meryn drastically eliminated the person. This happened in Chrzanów. Becalel Cuker, an intelligent Jew, distinguished and a personality with a strong will, was the chairman there. On a clear day, Becalel Cuker was arrested by the Gestapo. It was whispered in the city that this was Meryn's work. In Sosnowiec, it was Wladek Behm, Moniek's close co-worker, but not a compliant servant. He was also deposed from his office.
Being a co-worker in the Jewish community was very important for everyone and insured, temporarily, the life of the given person and his family. It was believed that only the Central with its co-workers was more safe in every case than others. Therefore, it was necessary to have a great deal of courage to decline to work in the Jewish community. Nevertheless, there were cases where people did this, unable to play a part in Meryn's policies.
A very interesting and courageous departure was the case of Meryn's close friend from before the war, one of his first co-workers, Majer Brzeski. He was the first representative of the youth and the chairman of the workers' operation. Mosze Meryn said that if the young were sent away to the German labor camps, that would satisfy the Germans and their need for people to work for the war machine and because of this, it would be possible to save the rest of the older people. Majer Brzeski saw the matter in a different light, more realistically. He argued that it is the young that should be saved. He did not believe in the slow steps of Meryn's way, and it came to a sharp dispute between them. Majer Brzeski threw back the identification papers of his office. The city talked about his courageous gesture for a long time.
It is worthwhile to record a second case in order to clearly characterize Moniek Meryn's dictatorial leadership. Hendl Altman, Moniek's close friend from before the war and a member of the Zionist council, openly criticized Moniek's actions and policies. As a punishment, Moniek had him sent away to a German labor camp. Altman became ill there and his friends tried to persuade Moniek that he should bring him back from the camp. Moniek agreed after long negotiations on the condition that Altman would write a letter of remorse and publish it. The courageous Altman refused to do this and died in the camp.
The youth organizations in Zagłębie were strongly organized and disciplined.
Moniek, who was himself a Zionist worker before the war, understood and valued
their strength and wanted to win them to his side. He followed with interest
how they were doing. He even made an effort in the case of those critical of
him not to suppress, but first of all, to look for a way to persuade them.
Once a secret youth meeting took place in the orphans' home. There was harsh talk against Meryn and his Judenrat. The informers instantly told Moniek. Moniek immediately called a meeting of Hanoar Hatzioni and declared that he was ready to help them. He would support them in organizing Hebrew courses and the like. The representatives of Hanoar Hatzioni turned down his help. Meryn did not give up and summoned the representatives of the young a second time. No one wanted to have any dealings with him.
Meryn, himself, set up a youth council in the Judenrat with representatives from all youth organizations. Dr. Liberman was appointed as chairman. However, after a few meetings, Dr. Liberman resigned. The next four chairmen who were nominated did the same thing. The last chairman was, as I remember, Josef Kozuch, a leader of the united youth organizations in the ghetto and also a high official in the Central. When he was convinced that his assignment was to persuade and coax the young that they should go voluntarily to the German labor camps, he did not like it. The break came when Moniek sent him to Klobuck to deport the Jews there. Then he resigned from both offices. Moniek had to liquidate the youth council because he could not find a volunteer for the office of chairman.
Due to the situation, the youth organizations had to carry out their work underground. Their work was not confined only to opposition to the Judenrat and its policies, but they carried out resistance work against the German regime. Appeals were distributed. The Jewish workers who worked in the German factories were organized so that they would sabotage the work and that they would put appeals to the German soldiers in the clothing or shoes that they were sewing.
Preparations were also made for ghetto resistance. Weapons were collected and they were also provided with passes and documents in order to be able to move around on the outside of the edge of the ghetto. Young girls with Aryan papers were sent to stay in contact with other ghettos (Fela Kac, etc.). People were also smuggled across the Hungarian and Slovak borders. A vast, intensive and deadly work was carried out.
This was all done without the help of the adults. Understand, the Judenrat could not know of it.
When the representatives of the Warsaw youth organizations came secretly to Sosnowiec in order to help and instruct the local groups, it was without the knowledge of the Judenrat, which would have sharply reacted against it.
A. Geler, of Gordnonia, came several times at the end of 1942; he met with Moniek Meryn who received him warmly. However, Geler proposed to him a plan to save a few dozen young people with Aryan appearance by giving them Aryan papers and sending them to Italy and Germany as Aryans. Meryn strongly opposed this and prohibited Geler's appearance in Zagłębie, threatening him that he would turn him over to the German regime. It was also said that Mordechai Anielewicz of Hanoar Hatzioni, the later commandant of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, spent two weeks in Sosnowiec, but he did not see Moniek Meryn.
As a matter of course, the relations between Meryn and the youth organizations were greatly aggravated. Moniek could not bear that organized strength, particularly such that acts independently, could be found under his rule. He requested of the youth leaders that they work through the Central. He also requested that the letters that arrived secretly from Switzerland should be addressed to him. Understand that no one agreed to this. Therefore, he began to strongly torment the active people. He began to arrest and to exile them. A decision was made to murder Meryn. Cwi Dunski, a leader of Hanoar Hatzioni in Sosnowiec, received the assignment to carry this out. The attack did not succeed because Moniek sensed the danger and was always surrounded by a strong guard.
For a short time, the Zagłębie ghetto was better than the other ghettos. There
was more freedom and also more to eat and the clothing was better, relatively
speaking. The community began to think that perhaps Meryn was correct, that his
policies of giving a little and saving a little were the right way.
However, in August 1942 came the end of the illusion. The Germans decreed that the Central gather all of the Jews of Sosnowiec, Będzin and Dąbrowa in three places. There, the Jews who could remain in the cities would be chosen and the other would be sent away to work.
There is not space here to describe the scene and savagery. 75 percent of the 50,000 Jews gathered were sent away to their death. The remaining survivors immediately saw the worth of Moniek's empty dreams. They saw that their own future was frightening and dark. Everyone was desperate and broken.
However, not Meryn.
A few days after the great catastrophe, he gave a speech to his high officials and told them: I am not broken like you. I feel like a ship's captain whose ship is sinking and only by throwing over the largest part of his ballast, even the most dear, will we be able to save the rest and travel to a safe harbor.
Meryn meant the small Srodula Ghetto that the Germans had given him to organize as the safe harbor about which he had spoken. This was a Christian suburb of Sosnowiec with four or five little streets. Christians had lived there earlier, very poor workers in decayed little houses, without sanitary services and in this Srodula, the survivors of the large deportation had to settle and weather the war.
Chased and tormented, we clung to the hope that, perhaps, after all we could survive until the end of the war. Everyone worried during the first months about how to settle down. Superficially, it seemed the people were following Moniek's reasoning. However, this was a great mistake. No longer did they believe things remained the same.
Every Jew built an underground bunker in his new dwelling. The young were particularly skillful. They kept on with alerts: Escape and save yourself whoever can and will! There is no hope here!
Moniek was strongly insulted by this, that he was not believed; only the young hot heads were being listened to. There were still notes from his messianic fantasies in his last speech that I heard in the courtyard of the Srodula committee, however, already mixed with introspection and doubt. Here, these were his words:
I know all about the preparations by the young people who are attempting to get false Swiss visas from the neutral nations. I warn you! I stand in a cage with a savage tiger and push meat in his mouth, human flesh, meat from my brothers and sisters. Why? Because I want to restrain the tiger in the gangway, so that he will not get out and eat us all up at one time. I will not do the same as Czerniakow of Warsaw who took his own life. I will further satisfy the animal in the cage with the flesh of my brothers and sisters. And God grant that the day will come when you will judge me. And if I live until the day that the Jews of Zagłębie lead me to the gallows, I will call out with the ropes on my chest: Sheh'heh'cheh'yanu v'kiymanu v'higi'yanu lazman hazeh [Who has granted us life and sustained us and brought us to this moment.]. But, for now remember, I will not retreat from my way! I will fight with all possible means! And let history come and judge me!
Today, when I listen to the words again which still ring in my ears, I think: how low we must have already been then in minds and how fallen we already were in our courage that we, after all of this, again accepted the empty dreams of such a false prophet and did not murder him on the spot.
Moniek Meryn did not live to be led to the gallows and to make the Sheh'heh'cheh'yanu [blessing].
A short time after the above mentioned speech, I was caught in Srodula and sent to a concentration camp.
I later heard that in the middle of June 1943 Moniek Meryn and his adjutants (Chaim Meryn, Fanja, Dr. Lewensztajn, Borensztajn) were invited to Katowice for an urgent meeting by the chief of the Gestapo, Dreier.
They did not return. As it turns out, they were sent to Auschwitz and there
they were shot. This was the German way of taking care of and executing their
The German regime sent no official announcement about their absence. There was only a handover [of the office] to Moniek Meryn's deputy Smietana a little letter, a short little letter from Moniek, in which he writes only a few words, that everything is in order and he asks that the work go on normally.
The ugly end of Meryn was a giant blow for all. Some believed that if Meryn was still here, perhaps there would still be a bit of hope.
However, now everyone saw that the final end was near.
And so it was.
On the first of August 1943, the final liquidation of the remaining Jews began. All traces
of the great Jewish settlement of Zagłębie were erased.
by Janka Abrami-Lustig (Australia)
Donated by Dr. Ann Kirschner
Future historians who describe the history of Zagłębie will definitely designate the night of the 9th of September as the beginning of the Holocaust. On this night the first acts of the tragedy that is called the Zagłębie Holocaust were played out in Zagłębie and, mainly in Będzin. Even the greatest pessimists until then could not imagine that such a thing could happen.
Who could have imagined that a soul could exist who could burn people and children alive and, looking at them, laugh? Who then would have been able to believe that people could be shot at random as a joke and their agony of death laughed at? The night of the 9th of September was the evidence of what the Hitler beast was capable.
The night is etched with bloody letters in Będzin history and is etched in the memory of the Jewish population as the beginning of terrible experiences. Six days after this, as we saw the Nazi murders and heard the pounding of their boots for the first time, we first understood completely the tragic conditions.
Although no one expected anything good from the Nazis, the events of the tragic night shook up everyone and showed the sadism of the brown animal.
The brutality and bestiality that the murderers showed by blowing up and burning the Będzin synagogue and the surrounding houses, the burning and shooting of innocent people and children shocked and crushed the population.
That dreadful Shabbos night, the assassins ran around the city and shot into various houses at random. Here and there they burst into a house and dragged out, beating and shooting whoever onto the street. The experiences of the suffering families were terrible. One of the worst affected was the family of our friend Ewa Stryjer. Ewa, who lost her father in the war, lived with her mother, a younger brother and an old grandmother on the small street, Zaulek, that led to the mountain, Zamkowa Gora.
When we found Ewa a few days after the tragic night, she looked old and broken. Her beautiful and blossoming face was gray and older; her dark burning eyes were red and swollen.
Shaking with her entire body, she described to us her savage experiences during the tragic night with the following words:
We had a strange premonition that something would happen on this night. We confined ourselves to the house just as it started to get dark. We even brought our cow into the kitchen so she would not be stolen. My mother, my brother and I did not even get undressed, but sat shaking on the bed, listening to the silence outside and to the breathing of our old grandmother, who tired, fell asleep.
Suddenly, we heard a tumult and screaming from outside. Booted steps
pounded on the cobblestones and the German voices thundered. Someone knocked a
rifle on our door and called: 'Raus, alle Juden raus.' Shooting was heard and
again a knock on the door. Frightened, we did not know what to do.
My brother changed into women's clothing with a sheitl [wig worn by pious married women] on his head and we began to leave the house.
However, my grandmother decided to remain in the house and wait for our return.
We slowly opened the door and carefully went out into the street, leaving our grandmother in the house.
Armed Germans pushed all of the Jews together, who, frightened, had come out into the street. They steered all of us with the help of rifle butts and large dogs to the old market that was already filled with Jews shaking from fear and cold. The crying and screaming of children was heart rending.
Suddenly, we heard several explosions and, astounded, we saw that our houses were burning. Both the small houses and the large houses were enclosed in flames. After a few minutes, a deadly silence enveloped everyone. The crackling of the fire was still heard. The masses instinctively began to run to the burning houses. The Germans stopped us with a few shots and ordered the men to separate from the women. The screaming and crying wives were torn away from their husbands with rifle butts and blows. The assassins took the men together, young and old, and told them to run to the mountain, Zamkowa Góra. 'Run Juden, save your doggish lives,' they called with ridicule. And laughing, they shot at the men running in panic. The way up was a difficult one and many of the Jews fell on the way.
At the same time, another group of murderers drove us women in the opposite direction.
My brother, changed into women's clothing with a wig on his head, remained with us women. The murderers forced us to Podwale Street. On the way, a suspicious German pulled my brother out of the line and taking off the wig from his head, laughed spasmodically. My brother still had time to look at my mother when the German murderer shot him. The German drove us further until we fell dead tired on the stones in the street.
It became quiet around us; the crackling from the burning houses could still be heard and the fire dreadfully lit the blood splattered streets.
The German assassins left when day began.
I left my broken, wretched mother with other Jews and went to look for my brother, hoping that, perhaps, he still lived and I could save him. On Zamkowa Góra, dead, bloodied bodies lay thrown together like piles of garbage. I went around among the dead and looked for my brother. Finally, I found the body of my brother among the trees, not far from the old cemetery.
I sat near the body for a long time until someone drove me from there. Confused and half crazed, I went to our house.
It was already noon when I saw the remains of our home.
The walls on the inside still stood and the remnants still smoldered. The entire house looked like a skeleton.
A German who stood there on watch warned me in a friendly way not to go inside because something could happen to me. I tore myself away from him and ran inside the house.
There, among the smoldering remnants of furniture, bedding and clothing I
found the burnt body of my grandmother. Not far from my old grandmother, burned
alive, lay the body of our cow.
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