Historical Events from the Holocaust
(Excerpted from Ostrowiec; A Monument on the Ruins of an Annihilated Jewish Community (Ostrowiec Świętokrzyski, Poland, translation of Sefer Ostrovtsah: le-zikaron ule-'edut, Editor: Gershon Silberberg, Meir Shimon Geshuri, Tel Aviv 1971
The Annihilation of a Jewish Community
By Leibush Milstein
Wednesday, the 16 September, 1939, in the afternoon, a terrible panic reigned in Ostrowiec, growing from minute to minute. The news of the Germans having reached the outskirts of the town, caused a desperate mood amongst the Jews. None knew what to do: stay together with the family, or flee alone to the other side of the Vistula. The secretary of the Jewish community, Dr. Leon Beigelman, escaped, as he was afraid of the new Mayor, the Jew-heater Mrozowski, with whom he used to have frequent conflicts while serving on the town council. Many of the Jewish intelligentsia run away together with him; amongst them were Dr. Jelen, Dr. Shiber, and their families, Yehezkel Beigelman, and others.
Except for Dr. Shiber's wife, none ever returned.
The First Jewish Victims
Early in the morning of the 17th September, the Germans entered the town – Saturday at 3 o'clock in the afternoon the first victim fell: it was Israel Rosenberg (Putin) who was shot in the morning; later, during the same day, several more were shot. Those first victims were buried at once; later, the Germans threw the dead into a hole on the Sheroka Street where they lay a couple of days before permission was given to bury them.
Everybody was seized with fear; nobody dared leave the house because of the frequent shooting and also on account of the Jews being caught for compulsory work, often accompanied with beatings and humiliations.
Soon the “Judenrat” was established, with the lawyer Seisel as chairman, Joske Rosenman as vice-chairman, and ten other members. The Judenrat had only one task: to provide man-power for the Germans. At the very outset, the Judenrat was compelled to collect a contribution of a quarter of a million zloty. This amount was then reduced to two hundred thousand, to be delivered by the Jewish inhabitants in two installments. Almost daily the Judenrat was made to fulfill new and more and more difficult tasks, like requisition of furniture and linen, bed sheets, jewels and even furs for the SS-men and the German officers. Mrozowski, the Mayor, also became very demanding, and made it difficult for the Jews to settle their matters at the Municipality. He used to incite the German authorities against the Jews, and he also transferred the marketplace to another part of the town in accordance with his wish of old. The Judenrat found it advisable to apply to the S.S. in order to ease the situation of the Jews and to prevent the anti-Semitic Mayor from having his say. Through bribe and expensive gifts we finally succeeded in getting in touch with the German town authorities and somewhat, somehow, help to ease the situation of the Jews.
The go-between who affected the contact between the Jewry and German authorities was Joske Rosenman. On the 23rd December, 1939, refugees from Knonina and Glin (Posnan region) arrived in our town. The homeless Jews have been carefully received by the Ostrowtzer Jews and a special committee of the Judenrat undertook to settle them in flats and feed them until every one of them found an occupation.
On 18th January, 1940, an order was published that white badges with blue stars of David must be worn on the right arm. A death sentence was the punishment for non-observance of the order. In February, a typhoid epidemic broke out and as a result thereof, the Jewish living quarters were surrounded with wires and it was prohibited to leave the enclosure. Inside the enclosure one could go out only for two morning hours – from 9 to 11 – and during one hour of the afternoon – from 4 to 5; the epidemic having assumed frightening proportions, gaining momentum daily, it took a considerable toll of human lives. A sanitary commission came into being with the aim of fighting the epidemic. The Beth-Midrash places were soon changed into hospitals under the management of Dr. Mayer. The epidemic lasted till April 1940, and all through it the Jews were trapped inside the enclosure, enjoying fresh air only 3 hours per day.
A fortnight before the Passover holidays, the enclosure was widened and life started returning to a degree of normalcy. Amongst the numerous victims of the epidemic was also the vice-chairman of the Judenrat, Joske Rosenman, whose untimely death saddened the whole town. Yitzhak Rubinstein was elected to replace him. HE was a well-known and active Zionist. Sometime later the lawyer Seidel is removed from his office and Yitzhak Rubinstein takes over as chairman of the Judenrat; the vice-chairman from now on is Moshe Alterman.
Jews are Deprived of their Entire Possessions
Meanwhile the S.S.-men became daily more greedy and keep on Jewish money, chattels, objects of art and valuables. The Jews are required to hand over to the Germans the remaining furniture and bedding. They must also pay over monthly taxes to the Judenrat instead of the things which cannot be removed from the homes. The Jews must also feed some S.S.-men and deliver to them every day special lunches. The go-between who connected us with the S.S.-men was Feinshel Hoffman. But in spite of all the gifts, the hate of the S.S.-men towards the Jews did not abate. Many S.S.-men used to leave Hoffman's house loaded with gifts, which did not prevent them from beating up other Jews met in the streets, against whom they also used to incite their dogs.
Outstanding amongst the S.S.-men in their role of killers of Jews were Peter, Brune and Hollwig When they were sighted in the streets, the Jews would all hide in their homes and the streets would be left empty of people. Anyone who fell into their hands knew his life was in great peril. They used to walk with a dog by the name of Churchill. They would call 'Churchill, hate the Jews' – the dog would then tear the poor victim's clothes and he would be left naked as newborn. The clothes would be reduced to a heap of rags.
More Refugees Reach Our Town
On the 14th March 1940, a thousand Vienna Jews came to Ostrowiec. A committee of the Judenrat met them at the train and gave them medicines and food, and sent them to the nearby villages, because the Town Committee did not allow them to settle in Ostrowiec proper, except for a small number who could be settled in the town. The Viennese were almost all elderly people, who were unable to get adapted to the bad conditions of life prevailing in the villages, and many of them died shortly after their arrival.
One summer day in 1940, all men were called to the square in front of the Judenrat, allegedly to listen to a lecture. At once the square was surrounded by the S.S.-men, Sonderpolizei and the Polish police. Out of the present men, 150 young people were chosen, who were immediately sent to Lublin, Majdenek and Belzec in order to work on the fortification of the Russian frontier.
During the 1940 and 1941 years, many refugees arrived in our town from Warsaw, Lodz and other big Jewish centers, annexed to the German 'Reich', raising the number of Jewish inhabitants of Ostrowiec to 16,000.
The Establishment of the Ghetto
In the beginning of 1941, rumors reached us of the setting up of ghettoes in various towns. Of course, this did not omit Ostrowiec. The order that the Jews in town have to be concentrated, was published a fortnight before the Passover holidays, and has created a panic leaving all the Jews at a loss what to do first: to prepare the holidays or to look for a place to live. The Judenrat had its hands full from morning till night: they had to settle those Jews who came from the Arian side and beleaguered the Judenrat building. Due to its energetic work, it was possible to find living quarters for everybody before the holidays, thus completing the 'action' on time. On the 10th of April, the second day of Passover, there were posted at the exit from the Jewish zone Jewish Police, established at that time for the purpose. The commander of the Jewish Police was nominated Ber Blumenfeld, and his replacement was Moshe Putshitz. Gradually, the Jewish Police assumed also other functions, like catching the Jews in the streets to put them to various assignments, or tow send them to various camps, or to arrest some of them for non-payment of taxes, or else to help remove furniture from homes. Often they would beat up their victims on top of all that.
On Shemini Atseret (the last day of Passover), the Jewish Police – on orders of the German Labour Office – spread all over the town and caught 150 for work in the Strachowice Factories.
There were two Polish Policemen in the town – Kaczmarek and Bambel –engaged in flight the black market dealings of the Jews, and they have often raided Jewish homes, the cellars and mansards, knocking on walls in order to detect hidden goods. They used also to check the belongings of travelers and take away all their valuables. In short, they had rendered miserable many a Jew and they could never be prevailed upon to abstain from such raids and checks; during one such raid, which they executed at the home of one Velvel Grinberg (Velvel Szmaciash), his wife got a heart attack and died on the spot.
In those days a new affliction came, that of custodians. Christians would take over Jewish businesses in their capacity as 'custodians'. This caused many troubles. The chief custodian, Harry, a 'Volks-deutscher', caused misery to many Jews, taking many a bribe as he went. Once there occurred an exchange of words between Harry and Moshe Alterman, the vice-chairman of the Judenrat, and soon thereafter Alterman was removed from his office following a demand by the S.S. But a miracle happened and several Jews reported to the SS, that Harry takes bribes – he was apprehended. To replace Moshe Alterman, David Diamant became the vice-chairman of the Judenrat.
On the 20th December 1941, the so-called fur-action takes place: the Jews are compelled to hand over all fur coats, collars and muffs. Non-compliance with this order was punishable by death – and a special commission of the Judenrat together with the Jewish Police undertook to requisition from the Jewish homes everything that could be called 'fur'. During this 'action' the S.S. did not fail in their duties and they shot dead Abraham Baumstein for having hidden his fur coat in a Christian friend's home.
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.
The Destruction Spreads
The despair of the Jews in town rose more and more and all thought of nothing but work. The old people were entirely resigned; some obtained Arian papers and fled to Warsaw, many handed over their children to Christians in order to save their lives. Thus have many valuables passed to the Christians in the hope of recovering some of it in the future. Many had constructed secret bunkers in order to hide there in critical times. The paramount preoccupation of the Jews was: how does one save one's life. But there was little time to plan, alas, the tragic day of the liquidation of the Ostrowiec Jewry had come. It was the 10th October, 1942, 1st of Heshvan 5703.
Two days before the tragic day we all knew that the catastrophe cannot be avoided. Early on Friday all the religious Jews with wives and children, headed by Rabbi Yehezkel Halevy Halstock, went to the tent of the ancient Rabbi of Ostrowiec and prayed and cried and read Psalms. Their cries rose to heaven. The Christian population looked on astounded, as they had never before been witnesses to such an occurrence. In his great despair the Rabbi had even broken the windows. Then they all went and spread bodily on the tombs of their relatives and other righteous people and stayed there through the day. Early on Saturday, a detachment of S.S. men arrived from Radom and demanded from the Judenrat tea, coffee, sugar and other refreshments, not omitting to shoot in the air in the very office of the chairman, Rubinstein, all this in order to intimidate the present members of the Judenrat. Before departing they made public the fate of the Ostrowtzer Jews, which awaited them early the next day.
A song, written by Leibel Fuchs, describes the lament and cries of the Jews at the cemetery on that Friday, and also the tumult which the visitation of the Radom S.S. men and their 'news' had caused in town. On Sabbath night all those who were employed by the Elin Works went to Bodzechow in order to hide there. Many Jews were transported to the factories in accordance with an order issued by the factory management.
The Day of Destruction
Sunday before dark, 1st of Heshvan 5703 (10th October, 1942) the town was surrounded by S.S. men, the Schutzpollizei, the gendarmerie, the Lithuanian and Polish police. The Jewish police went from place to place and compelled everybody to leave their homes; the employed ones were sent to the labour office located on the Florian Square, near the Town Council, while the non-employed were assembled in the market place. Suddenly shots range from all sides. Old people and children were shot on the spot, children shot in front of their parents, and parents in the presence of their children; sick people in the hospital were shot lying in their beds. The able-bodied wee pushed with sticks from place to place. The employed ones could not reach their destination, as on both sides of the street stood S.S. men with whips in hand preventing them from continuing on their errand. The owners of the workshop, accompanied by the Jewish chairman of the firm, brought lists of their workers, and holding the lists in their hands assembled the workers in specially designed rows, where they were left standing the whole evening, to be later transported to their working places.
The non-employed were left standing the whole day on the market place, witnessing their kin and beloved killed and murdered cruelly. Later they were brought to the courtyard of the Polish elementary school in Sienkiewicza Street, and left there in the open till Tuesday without a drop of water or a spoonful of food to sustain them. On Tuesday, in groups of 100-120 persons, they were transported in closed train coaches to Treblinka. While chasing the miserable Jews to the train, their escorts shot at them and murdered many of them. When they were mounting the train, their belongings were taken away from them, and finally event heir shoes were stripped off their feet.
When a count was taken of the exiled and remaining employed Jews, the Germans concluded that most probably a considerable number of Jews were still hiding in various places, which could not be detected. The labour chief Kredel then called the Judenrat chairman, Rubinstein, and told him that he needed a number of workers for a new working place at Strachowice, and those who would volunteer would be spared. Everybody believed his words to be true, and the Jewish policemen who had first advised their own parents to hide, have now advised them to volunteer for the new working places. Some have even brought money to pay their way into the ranks of the happy new workers; that day 200 Jews left their bunkers and hideouts and volunteered for work at the labour office. The same day they were sent to Treblinka. A pedantic search was ordered to detect the bunkers and those who were found hiding were shot dead on the spot. The Polish policemen, Kaczmarek and Bombel, took part in the searches, as they knew the hiding places of the Jews from earlier times, and more than one poor Jew was shot by them in the course of those days.
The toll of the liquidation 'action' was about one thousand victims, buried in the yard of the cemetery in a common grave, layer upon layer, one on top of the other. The mass burial was executed by the Jewish policemen. After the 'action', the S.S. men betook themselves to the Elin Works as they got wind that there in Bodzechow there are more people than there should be – according to the permission given. One hundred Jews with some small children, who hid there, fell into the hands of the S.S. The entire 'action', which lasted almost a fortnight, netted victims to the tune of 80% of the entire Ostrowtzer Jewry.
The situation of the surviving Jews who remained in their working places, was not less tragic. They lost their next of kin and their conscience troubled them. They were closed in their living quarters and lived in inhuman conditions. Their food consisted of two chunks of bread and two bowls of soup daily. During the first two weeks none knew what went on in town. From the Ostrowtzer factory which was situated near the Railway Station, one could see the people being thrown in a beastly way into the arriving trains.
The Suffering of the Survivors
After a week's work at the factory, all the 700 Jews were assembled at the exit gate, everyone with his belongings, as they were ordered to do. At the gate we were received by the notoriously well-known murderers, Peter and Brune, the Factory chief, Stabskapitan Zwierzyna, and several armed Ukrainians, and as soon as we assembled, they started rushing us with shots in the direction of the sugar factory at Czenstoszyce. Those who were unable to run, had thrown their belongings away. Along the way to the factory we were beaten with butt-ends. Once there, the Stabskapitan Zwierzyna ordered us to hand over to him all valuables. All were made to undress entirely and undergo a thorough check of their naked bodies. To avoid any attempt at hiding anything valuable, he shot 3 Jews, justifying the act with the explanation that they tried to hide money, and at the same threatening that he would shoot any Jew who would attempt to hide anything. At once – and not surprisingly – money started to pour from every side. Some have even torn the notes to pieces to prevent them from falling into the murderous hands. But the Ukrainians who saw it all have told that tearing banknotes to pieces is punishable with death. It is difficult to describe the desperate situation of the Jews: everything was taken from them, even their shoes were taken off their feet. This inhuman check-up lasted for the whole afternoon, then we were conducted back to the factory, while the dead were buried on the spot. Exactly the same punctilious control was executed and accompanied by the robbing of valuables at the Elin works and Jeger factory in Bodzechow. The remaining Jewish laborers in all the workshops were left without clothes and without any means of livelihood.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Deportation to Auschwitz
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.
After the Liberation
Ostrowiec was liberated by the Red Army in January, 1945. After the liberation, Jews appeared who had hidden themselves in bunkers in town and outside its periphery. Later arrived the partisans and those who survived on Aryan papers in Warsaw, later still came the Jews from the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Gleiwitz, Buna and Blachmir, and a Jewish congregation started coming into being.
A Jewish Committee was created with Aharon Friedental as its chairman. IT took care of restoring Jewish life in town and providing for the returning people who needed support in making their first steps. The suffering Jews were filled with a new hope that presently new life would start for them in a newly cleared atmosphere.
However, very soon their wings were cut and the Ostrowiec Jews realized their sad mistake. The Polish A.K. (Armja Krajowa) has on the 12th March, 1945 organized a murderous attack on the apartment of Pinhas Lederman in the Starakunowski Street and brutally killed 5 people, who managed to survive the terrible catastrophe, and the awful dangers, wounding badly several others. The murdered ones were: the daughter of Yehezkel Krongold, who all through the war managed to hide and live on Aryan papers; Haya Sheindel Spiegel, the daughter of Naftali Spiegel, also surviving on Aryan documents through the war; Leibl Lustig, the 17 year old grandson of Reuben Spielman. He returned a few days earlier with his father from the Gleiwitz Concentration Camp. The boy implored the murderers to save him and have pity on him and he kept showing them his concentration camp number, but this did not help him. The other victim was a woman from Tshmielow who hid during the entire war with the help of Aryan papers.
Ostrowiec Jewry Exits No More!
After this tragedy, the Jews desired to leave the town, but Friedental influenced them in every possible way not to do it, persuading them to stay, as Ostrowiec was, in his opinion, an important assembly point for all the Jews who passed that way and for those returning from camps. It later transpired that he was right, and Ostrowiec served in fact as a useful refuge for a certain time, for those miserable Jews who could from there set out again on their way in search of a new life.
Due to Friedental's intervention, it became possible to exhume all the Jews murdered during the Nazi occupation and bury them duly in the Jewish cemetery. Thus all those buried on Cementowa Square, in the brickworks, and at Kilinska Street, were duly brought to a Jewish burial. A public kitchen was opened and everybody could get there a free breakfast and a free lunch.
The Jews have little-by-little begun to get settled. Many have recovered their shops and houses, and have gradually restored the Jewish life in town. Many Jews from other destroyed towns, started to concentrate in Ostrowiec hoping to start there a new life.
But the outbreak of the pogrom in Kielce put an end to the Jewish dreams and they have left the town. Thus the wonderful Ostrowiec Jewry ceased to exist.
Today not a single Jew can be found in town. There isn't even the old cemetery: the lovely red wall and the tombstones have been totally demolished.
The only thing we are able to do in memory of the Ostrowiec Jewry is just to say the heartrending prayer: May God remember the names of the holy and innocent of the Ostrowiec town, who were killed, murdered, burnt, massacred and choked in the name of our God and our people Israel…
Let their souls survive amongst the living. Let God perpetuate their blood!