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
People Start Running Away
A new order was issued according to which no one was entitled to own more than one shirt or other clothes, except for what he wore on his body, and the Jewish police paid attention that the order should be observed carefully, removing everything found during the frequent searches undertaken by them. Every day the fear grew of what the next day would bring. Everybody understood that – sooner or later – the camp would be liquidated, especially as rumors reached us of the big Russian offensives. Many started running away from the camp into different directions. The Stabskapitan assembled all the internees and tried to calm them saying he saw no reason for the people to worry. He warned them and threatened them against trying to escape. The calming words could not any more influence the poor Jews, who searched for more opportunities to escape, especially those from the Jeger working place, who had a better possibility therefore.
After some of the internees managed to escape, an order was issued by Puczyc that at ten o'clock all must be in their bunks. Should more escape, the responsibility therefore would fall on the neighbors and relatives of the escapees.
One day, brothers Kopel and Moshe Stein (the sons of Berish Stein) ran away from the camp. Their foreman, Blumenstock, noticed it and immediately reported to the chief. The Schutzpolizei at once went chasing them and had caught them. The whole day they underwent terrible tortures and in the evening, they were shot dead in front of all the internees.
After this occurrence, the Jewish police would not let go to work all those who were suspected of attempting an escape, and all valuable things were taken away from them. Thus life went on full of deadly fear, till the 25th July, 1944 came when the Russians approached the River Vistula.
On that day an order was issued that all work would cease. This caused a great panic. Three days after having been closed up we began suffering hunger, as no provisions reached the camp any more, as they used to be brought by the Jeger workshop employees. On the fifth day the camp leader Abraham Seifman and his 2 brothers Leibush and Motl, escaped, and this caused an even greater panic amongst the internees.
On the morrow of Seifman's escape, the Stabskapitaen, Zwierzyna, came into the camp and tried to calm the internees with the story that in order not to let us fall into the Bolshevik hands, we must be transported to another factory in Germany or Czechoslovakia, or even near the German frontier. There we can resume work for the benefit of the German Reich like up to now. On this occasion he expressed us his gratitude for our fruitful work hitherto. He also promised we would not anymore be separated from our relatives who are at present in the camp and that on the trip men, women, children and elderly people, brothers and sisters will all be together. In short – Messiah's times. Obviously, nobody had any confidence in the golden promises, as we already knew very well the true face of the German criminals. Soon after the speech, the desire to escape became even more pronounced. People crawled under the wires and also dealt with the Ukrainians to obtain help from them in leaving the camp – against dollar payments. But they demanded gold. The price for smuggling out one person from the ghetto was 20 gold dollars. It ended so that they took the money, got the poor man out of the camp into the street and shot him there, taking away all the possessions which they had found on his body. Frequently they shot the miserable internees at the very wire fence of the camp.
Several Jews, whom the news of cease work reached while on a night shift in the factory (on the 24th July), did not go back to the camp and hid inside the factory. They were later detected there by the Polish and Ukrainian police and murdered in a beastly manner. The victims of the Jeger Works were buried in the brick works, where they used to work.
When it became clear that escape is the only way to save life, also the Jewish police, which hitherto used to interfere with the escapees, have begun to run away. This created an ire amidst the remaining internees and an anarchy broke out in the camp. The hungry men attacked the food stores and the kitchen to still their hunger. 'Civil militia' was established to keep order in camp, and to stand watch at the exit to prevent people from leaving. At the head of the militia stood Hersch Meir Rabinovitz (the son-in-law of Pinhas Lederman) who himself ran away in the end, leaving a brother in the camp. Puczyc got a permit to go daily to town to purchase food for the camp. At that time there was no food left in town and a loaf of bread cost 500 zloty.
9 Av 1944
The Tragic 9th of Ab
On the ninth day of the month of Ab, three people crawled under the wires, among them Moshe Gutholz (a son of the red-haired Asher of Bodzechow). Several meters outside the camp they were detected and brought back to the camp. The Werkschutz-leader Rade ordered them shot at once. Moshe Gutholz asked for pity of the Werkschutz-leader, and that his life be spared. When the cruel man pushed him away, Gutholz caught him at his throat and cried: “murderer, why do you want to kill me!” With much skill he caught Rade's gun and wanted to shoot him. The Werkschutz leader shouted and the Ukrainians who were standing around, started shooting into the crowd and into the barracks, as they could not shoot Gutholz who fought with his murderer and rolled with him on the floor. Then they started beating Gutholz with the gun barrels on his head till he lost consciousness, and only then could they remove the revolver from his hand, and shoot him. During the shooting into the crowd and into the barracks, six more people were killed, amongst whom was a boy of 17, Aizik Seifman – and several were badly wounded. All the victims were buried on Cementow Square near the camp. During the riots, the other two escapees who were brought back, managed to flee again. Thus we lived through a many faced ninth of Ab.
10 August 1944
A few days after the riot, on the 10th of August, 1944, the camp was liquidated. We were loaded, 65 persons in every railway car, along with provisions consisting of lots of bread, eggs and sugar, and we went, not knowing where, escorted by the S.S. men from Ostrowiec. 24 hours later we knew where we were going: -- to Auschwitz! Of course, we already knew the meaning of that camp, and despair took hold of all of us.
As luck would have it, no 'selection' was undertaken on our group, as they did to the Lodz ghetto transports. We were led directly to the bath and after being washed, we were clothed in all kinds of wear with red stripes. We were then transported to the gypsy camp and allocated two blocks – 600 men in each block. There we were sorted out like wormy peas: specialists and non-specialists, every profession separately. Then they started to se4nd us away with other transports, never telling what the destination was. During the High Holidays, our New Year and the Atonement Day, two selections were arranged, while on Hoshana Raba (seventh day of the Feast of Tabernacles) the third selection took place – the selections took a heavy toll of Ostrowiec Jews lives. Those who stayed alive, attempted very hard to get registered for transportation away from the place where they had to watch the fire escaping from the crematoria ovens. Thus the last of the Ostrowiec Jews were separated one from the other. The liquidation of the Ostrowiec camp put an end to the local Jewish problem. Ostrowiec became 'Judenrein', and the dream of the Hitlerites and the anti-Semitic Polaks came true.
The Jewless Ostrowiec
While we were in the camp, all the Jewish houses in the town have undergone dismantling, accompanied with search for valuables and goods. The Poles were not too shy to use the brick of the destroyed houses; also the 'Schul' was entirely demolished, the Beth Hamidrash and half of the houses on both sides of the market place. Not a single sign remained of the Tylna and Zatylna streets and of many other Jewish streets. The cemetery likewise was entirely demolished, and the tombstones employed in paving the street walks.