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 Limited Ghetto
A fortnight after the above described happenings, there was established on the left side of the Ilzycka street a ghetto for the remaining Jews of our town. Each working place was allocated a house or two, depending on the number of workers employed, the big factories receiving a building for each department, and every worker had to sleep in the house allocated to his working place. The result of this new order was that related persons, for instance, parents and their children, or brothers and sisters, could not meet each other for longer periods of time. The sanitary facilities were unbearable. In the entire ghetto there was only one well, and one could obtain water only in certain hours. For heating purposes we would get timber only from the unoccupied, old wooden huts and fences. This was later prohibited.
The Jewish police was supervising the order in the ghetto and at the same time it also had to execute orders of the S.S. men and sometimes also those of the workshop owners. The police committee consisted of four men: Baer Blumenfeld, Yizhak Rubinstein, Moshe Putszic and David Diamant. There also existed a Jewish Bureau, which dealt with the work in the factory. The Jewish administrators of the factory were Efraim Shafir and Abraham Seifman, who were also in charge of the order in the factory. At night searches were undertaken by the Jewish Police to check if the homes did not contain more people than were permitted to live there.
To and from work, the Jews were conducted by the Ukrainians. The Jewish police was charged with supervision of order in all our working places and had therefore the right to leave the ghetto confines.
Living in ghetto was costly, as everything was much more expensive inside than outside of it. The hunger facing those of the survivors who were left penniless made them sometime perpetrate what was nicknamed 'wyskoki', in other words they would smuggle themselves out of the ghetto although this was dangerous to life. The aim of such a 'smuggling out' was to visit one's old home on the other side, where some money lay hidden, or goods or other valuable things, and smuggle it into the ghetto. Out of this dangerous exploit, the Jewish police used to extort half of the booty for themselves, sometimes they would even take away everything the poor Jew managed to bring over. This cruel behavior of the Jewish Police prevented the Jews for sometime from undertaking the 'smuggling'. Later this activity was made possible in that the Jewish policeman selected was promised half of the booty. In more removed streets, like, for instance the 3rd May Avenue, we would enlist the help of a 'Shupo' or an S.S. man, who would then take over half of the remaining possessions.
The Bitter Fate of the Non–Employed
While the life of the employed Jews was hard, it bore no comparison with the fate of those who were not employed and who returned from their hiding places back into the ghetto.
The return into the ghetto involved payment of considerable amounts of money to the Poles, who undertook to transport the Jews into the ghetto and hide them from the eyes of the S.S. men or the gendarmes. Some of the Jewish policemen, who had the right to leave the ghetto, would also help to smuggle–in the returning Jews, but of course, for considerable payments.
On their return to the ghetto, their real tragedy started, as they were ‘illegal’ and had not obtained sleeping places; it was also prohibited to sleep at their relatives' places, not even at their own children's place, or brother's or sister's places, and so on, especially in view of the frequent night raids. From day to day the number of such ‘illegals’ was growing; they were reduced to wandering in the streets and their next of kin did not dare to take them into their homes. On a certain day all the illegals were assembled in one house, which stood in the courtyard of the cemetery; the Jewish Police guarded and slept there and watched that none could come near them. They could only enjoy fresh air one hour a day. For a long time they were kept isolated like that, until one day, due to the intervention of the then commander of the police, the S.S. had freed them and even allocated to them sleeping quarters; later on they even arranged working places for themselves, –– unfortunately this had little importance in view of the coming ‘actions’.
Meanwhile many victims fell in the ghetto owing to the S.S. murderers: some were killed while trying to escape from the ghetto, others were shot dead when found inside their bunkers. In some cases, the S.S. ordered the Jewish police to arrest several Jews on suspicion that they were partisans. They were all shot afterwards at the wall of the cemetery, on the side of the Henek Rosenman's yard, and they were at once buried on the spot. Many fell also at the pools, at the Elin Works in Bodzechow, and at the Jeger Brickworks, while at work – they were then all buried in the workshop.
The Second Deportation
In December, 1942, an order was issued by Frank to establish 4 Jewish towns for the non–employed Jews. The Jews of our town were allocated to Tsosmir. In the beginning people were glad thinking that the order means an improvement in the situation of the non–employed. Jews have started assembling in Tsosmir from all around. Many had even left their work and went together with their unemployed relatives to the newly established center. Also the Rabbi of Ostrowiec, Yehezkel Halevy Halstock, left Ostrowiec and went to Tsosmir (Sandomierz). Immediately after his arrival in Tsosmir, he was shot dead by the murderer, Peter.
The S.S. men went also to Bodzechow and have selected from amongst the working Jews of the Elin Works a few hundred whom they have chased on foot all the way to Tsosmir, under the close guard of the Polish policemen. Hard and bitter was their way. It was very frosty outside and they had to walk on and on without any possibility of getting some rest and catching their breath. Out of an extreme exhaustion they had no choice but to leave all their possessions on their way and throw away their parcels. On their arrival at Tsosmir, they were reduced to camping around in the streets in the open, without a place of refuge where they would be able to warm their tired and worn out limbs.
The Jewish commander of the Elin Works ran from one office to another, and he finally succeeded in obtaining permission for the employed ones to be brought back to the factory at Bodzechow. He immediately took a suitable number of cars and brought the people, to their great joy, back to their factory.
Also, at the same time, about hundred people were ‘freed’ from work at the Ostrowiec factory in accordance with an order of the Stabskapitan Zwierzyna – an order which understandably enough caused a lot of anxiety and fear amidst the ghetto inhabitants, who saw in it a sign of an impending peril; but, officially, the ‘liberation’ from work was justified and becalmed by giving as a reason for it's the establishment of the Jew–town. Still, no one had much confidence in the calming explanations. Life was again full of tension like shortly before the deportation on 11th October, 1942.
As it transpired, the fear was not in vain, and shortly thereafter a new catastrophe befell us, demanding several thousand victims, from amongst those who by miracle survived the first ‘action’. On the 10thJanuary, 1943, the ghetto was surrounded by the S.S., the gendarmerie, the Polish police, and the Ukrainians – and all Jews who were not employed by the Ostrowiec Factory or by the Jeger Works, were at once deported. In accordance with a list have all the working ones been separated from their families, who were surrounded from all sides, while all mansards were searched, as well as all cellars, and if a Jew was found hiding, he was shot dead on the spot. In this way about hundred victims were murdered. At the same time some Jews were deported also from the Bodzechow factory. Thus were deported to Treblinka on that day about two thousand Jews, and the same kind of ‘action’ was perpetrated also in the so–called free Jew–Town Tsosmir, where all the Jews, with the exception of a small number of those employed in the local Lyceum, were deported. At the railway station these miserable deportees were badly beaten up, and in spite of the strong belongings and even deprived of all their belongings and even their shoes were torn off their feet. Some were courageous enough to jump off the train wagons which carried them to Treblinka, and they reached the ghetto.
After the second deportation, the ghetto become much smaller, and the considerable and lively Jewish population of the pre–war times in Ostrowiec shrank presently to one thousand Jews: 600 employed by the Ostrowiec factory, 300 –by the Jeger Works, 30 – by the Room–command, whose task it was to clear the Jewish apartments of all the possessions, and the rest were the Jewish police and their families. In the ghetto there were also a small number of hidden Jews who stayed in various bunkers, and escaped the second deportation. Everybody felt that soon the small ghetto would also be liquidated and they consequently lived in a permanent fear of the impending death. Awful news spread about the Strachowice and Skarzysko camps, where people literally died of starvation, or were shot dead without knowing what for and for whom.