The Gruesome Bartholomew Night

by Yisroel Aaron Friedental, of blessed memory

Translated by Pamela Russ

(page 323 Yizkor Book 1971)

[ ] translator's remarks


The Germans in Ostrowiec decided to greet spring of 1942 with a huge blood bath that would surpass and pale against the murders until now. They approached the slaughter with their complete German precision.

On the night of April 28, the demoralized Jewish residents suddenly heard shooting that grew steadily.

We did not give much attention to the first volley of shooting. We knew that the German “culture bearers” enjoyed themselves and lived normally with these attacks of shootings and murder. We were anguished for every Jewish life that was ended with each shot. Who knew, whose life was ending – we sighed quietly.

But the increased shooting said that something other than one death was happening. We felt something instinctively, that this was the onset of a great tragedy. Because of that, everyone got out of bed, and quickly ran to hide: some in an attic, some in a cellar, or somewhere else.

It happened that I and some other Jewish neighbors lay in the attic. We pushed away the ladders to erase any trace of where we were. The scene that we saw through a hole in the roof froze the blood in our veins. Before our eyes went the Gestapo, fully armed, with guns pointed outward held in their hands. They were chasing Jews, and shot some on the spot. In front of our eyes, in their very underwear, Hersh Dovid Pantzer and his three sons were shot. A second group of gendarmes was chasing Avrohom Bainerman, all bloodied up and also in his underwear, in the direction of the cemetery.

With sadistically refined torture, the murderers evoked the final minutes of their victims' lives.

The killing activities, meanwhile, buzzed incessantly in the Jewish homes. We, in hiding, had no idea what the Germans were doing outside with this. All we saw were wild murderers who were running from house to house and cutting off people's lives. No one could even imagine the unexpected outbreak of killing. We lay in terror, afraid of death, trembling and shaking at every small rustle. Every noise was an indicator that they were coming after us.

At around seven in the morning, as if on signal, the murder orgy stopped. We were able to see this from our observation point – the hole in the roof. We saw terrified Jewish faces, Jewish women with broken hands. Soon, we also saw the Jewish police. We came out of our hiding place to find out about the horrible tragedies of the night.

When we came out into the street, we first saw the total destruction, the murders committed on that terrifying night.

At each step lay Jews who were shot in the head, facing down into the ground. This is how the German “culture bearers” profaned the martyrs after their death.

The sidewalks were flooding with spilled Jewish blood. Those murdered were all types of Jews and this complicated figuring out the reasoning behind this terrible mass murder. We started searching for a rationale.

The psychology of the human being dictated those who survived had to figure out some hidden motive. Foolishly, we wanted to calm ourselves by convincing ourselves that this was not the beginning of a killing spree against the Jews, but it was only a punishment against certain Jews who had sinned [or committed a crime].

Some interpreted this as a punishment against illegal merchants – a proof of this was these killed businesspeople. The slaughter was attributed to a second group, the Jewish communists – a sign of that was the murdered Eli Bainerman, Shimon Fishman and his son. A third interpretation of this was that this was a battle against the Jewish intellectuals – pointing to the dead advocate Tseisel and Dr. Wocholder. The tragic reality, however, indicated the bitter truth – that this was the beginning of the total annihilation of the Jews which had its gruesome beginnings in the “General Government” [German occupied Polish region] in the spring of 1942 and ended in January 1943. The Jews realized the bitter truth, that Jewish life was lost.

Among the martyrs of that killing spree were Yisroel Melamed, Shaul Mutzmacher, and others who did not belong to those above-mentioned groups. People stopped having illusions. They were certain that all the Jews were headed to their death. The total destruction was now inevitable.


The Mystery of the List

The tragic outcome did not allow for any rest. The terrifying knowledge that we were the walking dead tortured us day and night. Parents quietly mourned their children who slept in their beds. A life of darkness and pain took over. The living were worse off than the dead. “And I praise all the dead…” and the heavy judgement of the dead – was felt by the Jews on their own skin.

But with all this, we still dug for answers. We could not figure out the list, the secret of what was hidden. The city was comprised of 17,000 Jews, but the murderers went to specific addresses from one end of the city to the other, and dragged out 81 victims from their homes and murdered them.

Who had given this type of list? Who had signed in these specific 81 names from among the 17,000 Jews? These questions grated on the Jewish minds. We wanted to find the hand that had ordered these killing actions.


The Gruesome Fate

After lengthy calculations, searches, and judgements through all kinds of means and methods, the horrible truth was established:

With their own refined killing machine, those murderers had designed this fate. It [the list] was set up in this manner:

In each Judenrat, there were details about the Jewish population, with material about the Jewish residents of the relevant city, and even their exact addresses.

The Gestapo murderers came to the Judenrat, to the information unit, and threw out all the official workers. When they were alone, they began the fated-death game, as they wrenched out from the catalogues a number of cards matching to their numbers for their killing spree.

As they recorded the addresses, they easily found their unknown and innocent victims. This is how the selection for murder was explained.

After that, the Jews already knew that after a visit from the Gestapo to the information unit of the Judenrat, you had to hide as best as possible. But where? We could not know who would fall under this horrible fate.

There were incidents where the Gestapo did not find these people who were sentenced to death, at home. They may have been at a neighbor's home, and in that case, were actually saved from certain death.

These occurrences actually took place very often. Those who were saved by chance were no longer being hunted down. After ending their bloody actions, the murderers tore up the cards as those of the dead, and no longer looked for them again.

That's how the Germans' gruesome fate [game] killed masses of Jews in Ostrowiec.