The Annihilation of a Jewish Community
Detailed Ostrowiec history of the Holocaust years by Leibush Milstein
excerpted from Yizkor Book of Ostrowiec Editor: Gershon Silberberg, Meir Shimon Geshuri, 1971
The Ostrovtser Camp
Shortly also the place for an Ostrovtser camp was fixed; it was to be placed near the Czenstowice Sugar Factory – the same place which served as the point of assembly for the first deportation. Suddenly, feverish work began for the construction of the barracks, and we could imagine that the camp would be ready very soon. The Jews started looking for ways to join the partisans in the woods, in order to escape the imprisonment in a camp. For this purpose they got in touch with the Polish underground movement. The sad fate willed it that the contact was made with the murderous Armja Krojowa (A.K. = Land Army). The first group of 20 which joined them, lost immediately 12 people, shot dead by the A.K., and the others wounded. In a terrible state have the wounded come back to the ghetto. Naturally, nobody tried to reach the forest from now on. Instead some have gone to Warsaw, or to other bigger cities, but unfortunately the Arian papers were difficult to get, and many who tried to escape thus were handed over to the Gestapo by blackmailers whom they trusted. Some went in hiding with Christian friends in their cellars and even in dug–outs, a few of these have even somehow managed to survive there till the end of the war. But those who did not have the financial means necessary, have met the fate awaiting them in the camp.
In the end of February, or in the beginning of March, 1943, the Bedzechow Camp was closed down and the remaining internees were sent to the Strachowice Camp. Only the Jewish camp leader Kierbel, and a few more persons, who learned about the dissolution of their camp a few hours ahead of time, managed to escape. The fact shook all the remaining inhabitants of the Ostrowiec ghetto, especially those who had relatives in Bodzechow. They all understood that a similar fate was in stock for them in the coming days.
Soon thereafter we learned that the day for the deportation to the camp is fixed – the 1st of April. On that day a torrential rain fell and when the Jews were closed–in in the camp, it seemed to the last Ostrovtzer Jews that the skies were crying with them…
It is noteworthy that when we were still in the ghetto, a registration was performed of ‘specialists’ not aware of the purpose.
On the day of removal to the camp, 150 of the registered specialists were deported to the Belzec concentration camp, and most of them were killed. The removal to camps went on under the supervision of the Ukrainians, who also immediately manned all the 4 watchtowers, which were specially built to spy on us day and night. In the camp we were faced with the Werkschutz–Fuehrer, Goldsitz, whom we have well known from before. He ordered us to call loudly ‘Hoch’ when we heard ‘Achtung!’ and as soon as we saw him; and also that we have to remain standing as long as the report is being made. He allocated sleeping places to each of us accompanying this with beating with his rubber whip.
The Jewish Bureau, which was in charge of order in the camp, like, for instance, check that everybody should come to work, take care of the provisions, clothes, linen, and also be in contact with the German authority in the factory, i.e. with the Stabskapitan Zwierzyna and Wehrschutz–Fuehrer, Goldsitz. At the head of the Jewish Bureau were Efraim Shafir and his second–in–command, –– Abraham Seifman. The next authority was the Jewish Police, who had to transport the people to and from work. The police also supervised the sanitary conditions of the camp, and executed the orders of the Jewish Bureau to arrest or beat the non-conformists; also they executed the orders of the German authority as to delivering to them people wanted by them. The commander of the Jewish Police was Ber Blumenfeld and his second–in–command, –– Moshe Puczyc.
In the beginning the life in the camp was not quite as bad as anticipated. The Ukrainians were not allowed to enter the camp and no revisions were undertaken. Everybody got 300 gr. Bread and a liter soup daily. Those who were employed at the Jeger Works in town, used to bring with them into the camp all the good things, even live chicken. In short, those who had money did not suffer hunger. Those who had no money, used to deal in food, or worked for others as their replacements and earned thereby 20 to 30 zloty per day. The factory work was easier than at Jeger's, because the working day only lasted 8 hours. But at Jeger's there were other advantages, since work in town enabled one to meet the Christians with whom the Jews left some things prior to the deportation. This also offered an opportunity to buy and sell various things.
In the camp there was a hospital, directed by Dr. Picker from Vienna while Nachman Alman was the ‘feldsher’ (an assistant doctor, not fully qualified, who provides medical treatment in rural areas – translator's note) – there was also a bathroom there, in a rather good state of repair.
Efraim Shafir and Ber Blumenfeld took care of the order in the camp and were on good terms with the German leaders of the factory.
The good news of life in the camp reached also those on the Aryan side who lived in a permanent state of panic. Many of them came back to Ostrowiec and into the camp; they were immediately given work and registered, in view of lack of man power.
Giving Help in the Camp
In June 1943, 150 Jews were brought into the camp from Piotrkow and some from Strachowice. In autumn 540 Jews were brought – this time from Plaszow. Along with the growing population in the camp, the situation of the inmates became much worse, also the sanitary conditions worsened. The newcomers were naked and barefooted and did not have a shirt to call their own.
Shortly after the arrival of the Plaszow Jews (whom we called ‘the Krakowiaks’), an epidemic of typhoid broke out. A committee was created to help the poor with bread and food cards of those who did not need the food of the general kitchen. The committee was established by Moshe Arnstein and Leibl Blumenfeld. They succeeded in getting from the camp store underwear and winter coasts and thereby help the needy. Most difficult was the shoe problem; shoes wee unobtainable regardless of price, and the newcomers must walk in the heavy snows of the winter in wooden clogs, without socks and even without a rag to their feet. At that time also a number of Radom Jews arrived, amongst whom was Dr. Kleinberger, who at once took over the management of the hospital.
The Situation Worsens
Later on, the Werkschutz-Fuehrer, Goldsitz, was removed from office, and in his stead came Radie, who then was put in charge of the entire camp and who played a very sad role in our future fate. His coming signaled tragic days for the camp, in which many victims fell.
Frequently the camp had visitors: they were the Chief of the S.S. of Radom and the two Jew-haters Peter and Brune from Ostrowiec. They used to select many people amidst the employed ones, and sent them away, without any reason.
In the end of 1943, 38 people – who were not at work – were deported from the camp to Pirlej, near Radom, where they were gassed. The original number was 60, but after an intervention was reduced to 38.
A most depressing act for the camp people was the detention of the 2 camp leaders Shafir and Blumenfeld, who were in contact with the factory management. Eight days after their arrest, it became known that they were shot dead. Together with them some other people were deported. The post of Shafir was given to Abraham Seifman; Blumenfeld's place took Moshe Puczyc.
Soon thereafter the situation in the camp worsened considerably. Various intrigues began to be carried on between the two new camp managers and the German authority. They have limited the activity of the other employees. The kitchen was deprived of the right to give additional bread rations without a special permission of the Jewish Bureau. They also prohibited the allocation of even the tiniest thing from the clothes store without a note from the Bureau; while in order to reach the two 'important personalities' one had to line up for hours on end.
The Werkschutz-Fuehrer resumed the raids on the return from the Jeger workshops, and he took away whatever he found. The work itself got harder too.
One day the order came not to go to work. The Stabskapitan arranged for a thorough revision of all of us, and we were also required to surrender our money, foreign currency, jewels and all valuables. Also the bunks on which we slept wee thoroughly searched. When they found in the bunks of the brothers Israel-Leib and Yeremiah Zachcinski 75 dollars, Zwierzyna ordered them shot. The two brothers fell to their knees asking for pity and for their lives, but the beastly murderer shot them dead in front of all the people present. Later a song was written about this tragic day.
A few days later Brune arrested his best friend Finschel Hofman who was the go-between of the Jews and the S.S. He explained that Hofman was about to escape, and he conducted him to the Jewish cemetery and shot him dead there.