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 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.