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 First Killing 'Action'
The real tragedy started to develop on the 18th April, 1942 (11 Iyar 5702). From then on not a day passed without new afflictions or killings. On the night of the 28th April, the Germans perpetrated the first killing 'action', shooting to death and sending off to Auschwitz. A special S.S.-Straffkommando arrived in town and accompanied by the local S.S., headed by Peter Brune, they started raiding the Jewish homes, selecting the inhabitants and either killing them by shots or arresting them. The inhabitants of the Stodolna Street were shot dead in the Ilzycka Street, those of Ilzycka Street were shot dead in Sienkiewicza, and those living in Sienkiewicza were shot dead in the market place. Thus was the Jewish blood streaming all over Ostrowiec. The victims lay strewn in the streets for hours, until an order came to clear the bodies off the streets. The toll of the killing 'action' was 36 Jews dead and 72 transported to Auschwitz. The S.S. men argued that the murders came because the victims were communists…the justification being not less terrible than the acts themselves, since among the victims was also Shaul Metmacher, a great erudite and God-fearing man, who spent his life reading the Holy Scriptures day and night. The long patriarchal beard was a good proof that he was far removed from being a communist. The assassins have also shot dead the former chairman of the community, lawyer Seidel, who was well-known as an anti-communist. Killed was also the dentist, Wacholder, generally known as a Zionist. It should be noted that a couple of weeks earlier the Jew-killer Peter had his golden teeth made by Wacholder, and on that occasion Wacholder was promised Peter's 'eternal gratitude'. This was exact – Peter killed Wacholder with his own gun. Also Yitzhak Kudelowicz was killed, who was 60 years old. Likewise the 50-year old wife of Yechiel Zukerfein was murdered, and Alter Grinberg, Hayim Stamm, Yehoshua Minzberg, Shlomo Katzennellenbogen, and others whose names I have long forgotten. Amongst the deported there was also a 'communist' like Alter Perus – a young man who did not go out on account of his long side locks which would draw everybody's attention…
The panic caused by all this is impossible to tell. Fright and panic reigned in the Jewish town. For some time there would arrive telegrams from some of the 72 deported to Auschwitz, to their next of kin, to tell of Jews who died of pneumonia in the camp. The blood marks of the murdered victims remained smeared in the streets of Ostrowiec for a long time.
Shots were heard daily, aimed at the trespassers, who crossed the border of the Jewish living quarters. Various orders were published for transportation of Jews from small towns to bigger ones, with the aim of concentrating them in a few centers.
Jews Seek Working Places
Shortly after all this, news came of the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto and of the deportation of the Radom Jewry, and so on. All this strengthened the belief that hard times were facing the town of Ostrowiec. In order to secure their lives, all have started to look for so-called 'posts' (placowki) of work, it being common belief that such posts were the only salvation. Jews volunteered to work at the Ostrowtzer factory. The Jeger Works, which employed many workers at their Kilinski Street brick factory, took over the fishery, which till then belonged to Berl Lederman. The work at the pools, at a distance of 5 kilometers from the town, was a very hard one, involving 10 km. walking time from home to work and back. It was on a contractual basis which mean that each had to transport a certain number of cart-loads of sand to specific places, or to excavate a certain number of square meters, during a working day. The Jews had a lot to suffer on account of the Polish engineers who were work-overseers. In addition to the Jeger Works, there existed other firms, like Baeumer and Lesh, whose job it was to repair roads and bridges, as well as other employers, for whom the Jews toiled and sweated in order to save themselves from death.
In the beginning it was easy to get some work, but later on connections to the Judenrat or to the Labour Office were necessary, in order to obtain any work at all. Later still, the Jews would offer much money as bribe for a place to work. The catching 'actions' which would take place in the streets, at one of which 150 young men and women were apprehended and sent off to the Skarzisk Camp, made it obvious for everyone that, cost what it may, they had to find work in town, in order not to be isolated from the family and not to be exiled to a distant labour camp.
The Judenrat has also established workshops for a considerable number of people who brought 2000 zloty each to the Judenrat. Unfortunately, those workshops were not approved as official 'war enterprises'. The despair grew daily. The Jews started to sell out whatever they still had in their homes, leaving only the indispensable things. Everyone was embittered by the sudden appearance of police caps on the heads of some of the Judenrat members. But all understood the serious state of affairs and the meaning of the change. A new order was then published by the chief of the German Labour Office, Kredel, who limited the employment at the Ostrowiec Factory to workers up to the age of 35. The meaning of this order for elder people was clear enough, and it caused great anxiety. But luckily, a new workshop was opened right then by the Viennese firm Elin which manufactured electric appliances in Bodziechow, and had the right to employ 200 Jews. The leader of the Jewish workers became Abraham Itzie Kerbel. Almost all the employees were over 35 years of age, thrown out of the Ostrowtzer Factories.