Concordia University MIGS

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Part 1




Not God, not man, but the devil

Many people still didn't believe that war was so imminent. Many still comforted themselves with the thought that in the very last moment a catastrophe would be avoided; that it is merely a political struggle which would somehow be settled before the world would become immersed in war. Nevertheless, the tension could be felt in the air. The danger was almost palpable. Hitler was making fiery hate speeches, threatening total war if he would not be granted his desires. The Polish Chief of the Army, Rydz-Smigly, fiercely proclaimed that "even a button from my uniform I will not relinquish," that he is ready for the struggle to defend his homeland. The raving of hundreds of thousands of aroused followers of the F¸hrer could be loudly heard shouting ceaselessly: Sieg Heil!

During the last days of August, 1939, it was already felt that war is unavoidable. Every day the newspapers announced alarming news with large headlines across the front page that a storm is approaching. Hitler's voice could be heard thundering on radio, threatening to annihilate anyone who would oppose him as he marched on his way to reach his aim. All diplomatic intervention, such as that of Chamberlain of England and Daladier of France, did not help. It appeared that the lion had freed himself from the chain and could no longer be held in check.

The Polish army mobilized all its troops, calling up all its reservists to organize the opposition. Young people with knapsacks could be seen everywhere, gathering at assembly points. At night blackouts were rehearsed. The city was enveloped in darkness. Commandos of the Air Force came around, checking if everyone was following the blackout instructions. Reflectors lit up the sky, searching for enemy planes over Polish territory. The youth were amused by this spectacle. The August nights were mild. In the air was the scent of ripe fruit and abundant fields. Boys and girls went about in the streets laughing, without worry and amused themselves in the darkness and alarm drills. They cast their eyes upwards to listen to the roar of the steel birds which patrolled the sky. It all appeared like a joke. It was called alarm preparedness for any eventuality, though it would not be needed.



Jews, who are generally very aware of danger, immediately felt the danger of the moment. Trouble could be sensed. Wealthy Jews immediately acquired passports. Others sent money out of the country so that they would have means to survive, should they have to wander. The poor tried to console themselves that these were only idle threats to scare the masses; that at the last moment a miracle would occur. There were also "strategists" who calculated that Hitler was incapable of waging war because he is unprepared; that the whole world would oppose him; that his tanks and cannons are made of plastic; that it was all swindle and bluff. In the cafÈs, discussions took place amidst joking and laughter throughout the crowd.

I escape from the border

During the last years before World War II, I lived and worked in Sosnowiec, an industrial city in Poland, a mere seven kilometers from Katowice, the capital of Oberschlesien. We were very close to the German border where Hitler had mobilized his troops, so it was expected that the first battle would take place here. Whoever had the possibility ran away to the hinterland in order to be as far away as possible from the line of fire. Even those who did not believe that there would be a war also wanted to be as far as possible from the border until the threat would pass. I myself also entertained this idea for two reasons: First of all, I wanted to be as far away as possible from the German border because even if the chance of only minor incidents occurring existed, it was wiser to be farther away. Secondly, at such a critical time I wanted to be near my mother who was living by herself in Ostrowiec. True, she was living with her family--her mother, a brother and nieces and other relatives, but none of her children were with her, so I, who was at that time unmarried, should be at my mother's side at such a critical time. As soon as I made my decision, I went to the station, purchased a ticket, and Wednesday, August 30, 1939, departed by train from Sosnowiec to Kielce and from there with another train to Ostrowiec. As I later discovered, that was the last civilian train to leave Sosnowiec. Already, at the train station, I felt the high tension in the air. Nervous military men were around, reservists, recruits and nurses who were hurrying to their garrisons. The speedy train passed by various stations very quickly, not pausing, as though there was no time. Everywhere one beheld the same scenes. Confused people were running back and forth, shoving one another, hurrying. Everyone had fear in their eyes. In Skarzysko, where I had to transfer, I could only manage with great difficulty to get into a regular coach train because it was full of army personnel. I squeezed in amongst the sweaty bodies. One could smell the strong odours of sweat and whisky. Many drunken voices could be heard all around singing some sort of military songs but without any rhythm. These were a variety of compositions, some of which were melancholic, full of longing. All this blended with the noise of the wheels and the steaming of the engine which wended its way through the thick Polish forests and endless plains. The train continued on its way urgently through the sunken-in-sleep villages, leaving an echo of military marches and the unsettling whistle of the locomotive which the wind carried through the neighbouring fields and forests.

Late at night I arrived at the Ostrowiec station. I could barely manage to squeeze my way out with my valise. In the darkness of night the coachman, Yosel Kabaleh, recognized me. He grabbed the valise from me, pushed me into a packed wagon and brought me to the sleeping city. My mother, frightened and trembling, hearing my voice, opened the door and rejoiced at the sight of me, as though God Himself had sent an angel to her. She would at least have one child beside her so that she would not feel so lonely during such dreadful days. I felt that I had instilled a new spirit in my mother. I recalled that long ago, when I was a young child, I would cuddle up in this way, with my mother, seeking her protection when there would be thunder and lightening outside.




My first contact with the shtetl

When, on the following day, Thursday, people saw me in the village, they looked at me wonderingly. I used to come sometimes to the shtetl for Passover and sometimes for the High Holidays, but they could not understand what I was doing there on an ordinary Thursday. What had happened? They started to interrogate me, to question me: "Is it true that there is already fear at the border?" Since I just came from the border, they assumed that I must know. When I went out in the street I could see, in the distance, how my mother was explaining my sudden appearance to the neighbours.

My first visit was to the Jewish cemetery to the grave of my father, of blessed memory. This was beside the home of the Ostrowiec rebbe, Reb Maier Yechiel Halevi, of blessed memory. While I was praying at the grave site, a cool wind blew and the branches of the trees swayed religiously as though they were saying prayers together with me. I exited the cemetery comforted, feeling as though I had fulfilled a holy obligation upon which my destiny depended.

Outside, Jews came to greet me, to say Shalom Aleichem, as though wanting to prove that I am truly present. The news of my sudden arrival spread quickly throughout the shtetl and was discussed in every home. My arrival had instilled fear and anxiety in everyone's heart, but the Jews didn't have to wait long for confirmation. The very next day, Friday, September l, at dawn, the German air force bombed the hinterland of Ostrowiec, in the part called "The Security Triangle." This was supposed to be the security zone. In government circles it had been preplanned that, should the enemy attack border positions and start attacking the capital, Warsaw, the government should then be transferred to this "Triangle" which was situated between Congressional Poland and Galicia. The German air force, however, was swift, overtaking the skies, and already in the initial hours of the war, bombed the district. This caused great panic in the shtetl, as it did throughout the land. This was totally unexpected. There were already victims. The ambulances sped back and forth and there was chaos. This was a warning to the Polish government. You have no place to run to because we will always precede you. There was no longer any planned strategy. There wasn't even time to organize the regiments because immediately in the first hours of the war everything fell apart like a pack of cards, as though the enemy was blocking the plans, simultaneously attacking the border and hinterland, not allowing for a method of concentrating the forces and establishing counter-offence positions.

We sat by the radio listening to the dramatic reports of the war correspondents. We also heard the German Rundfunk, which triumphantly, to the accompaniment of military marches, announced the speedy advance of the German motorized forces. The airspace was totally overrun by German planes. Nowhere was a Polish plane seen. Soon reports arrived that the German forces were in Krakow, in Kielce, in Radom and that they are already on the march towards Warsaw. On Sunday, alarming reports arrived that the Germans are already approaching Ostrowiec, that they are a mere 10 kilometers from the city. At the same time, gruesome reports were being reported about horrible murders of Jews by German troops. Panic prevailed in the city. People scuttled about like poisoned mice, not knowing where to run, nor where to hide in face of the looming danger. Our neighbours, Jews and Christians, left the city during the night. My mother, pale and frightened, came running with the news, wringing her hands and asking in a quivering voice: "Maybe you also should escape from the city? My heart is fearful. I will remain because I don't have the strength to run and wander. I'm too old for that. But as for you… What do you say?" So it was that we decided that the very next day, at dawn, I would be on my way toward Solc in the direction of the Vistula, because there was speculation that there the Polish Army would post themselves and prevent the advance of German troops.



People on the run

Before dawn my mother saw me on my way out of the house. She accompanied me, with tears in her eyes and a prayer softly spoken, as far as the outskirts of the city. In her moist eyes I saw the whole tragedy. People were running from all streets and intersections, many on wagons, others on bicycles and many on foot. The former prefect of the city also ran with me. He was a neighbour of ours, Kazik Bushko. We ran as though someone was already chasing us. Since it was impossible to hire a wagon at any price, we ran on foot. When the sun arose it also started to follow us with its strong rays and the running became even more difficult. The sweat started to pour down and my shirt started to cling to my skin. I went into a village hut and left my jacket there, as well as some other things which I was no longer able to carry. I asked the peasant woman to keep my things for me until I would return.

It became harder and harder to run because my legs became more and more tired and the sweat kept pouring down. People were already running back from the river, refugees who were reporting that it is hell there. All the people on the run, civilians and military, were a sure target for the German planes which were dropping bombs and shooting with machine-guns. Already hundreds had been killed. Above us also the German planes were flying. They continuously descended to observe the refugees. As soon as they spotted military uniformed men they started to shower them with bullets from their machine-guns. We were already encountering dead bodies on our way, in puddles of blood. They had just been killed. There was no need for them to run any further. We, therefore, avoided the main road so that we would not find ourselves close to the military divisions and did not run in large groups. After the terrible news of the situation by the river, we decided not to run in that direction any longer but to look for a place of refuge nearby. I recalled that in this vicinity there should be a village called Baltev, from whence Jewish villagers used to come to us. This village is some distance from the main road, and has no importance for the German air force, so we started on our way there. It was already dusk when, tired and exhausted, we arrived at that village. The sun had just set in the west, leaving behind a fiery red sky which quickly vanished with nightfall. When we arrived at the Jewish estate we weren't the only ones who had come. There was already a full house of refugees.

We collapsed like dead ones, totally exhausted, and quickly fell asleep on the straw which was spread out on the floor. Here we did not hear the shooting nor feel the panic of the refugees who sought to save their lives. Here we met the odd Polish soldiers who had abandoned their units in order to hide. They were quickly provided with civilian clothes so that they could discard their military uniforms. From the distance we could hear the echo of the rumbling tanks, machine fire and the detonation of bombs. Fortunately there was no railway to the village, to which the access was through Polish roads, so we were cut off from the world. This was our good fortune and our salvation.

We lived here like on an island. We ate, drank, swam and went for walks. From the city terrifying news reached us. We heard that when the Germans entered they killed everyone they encountered. Later on they dragged out the most important individuals and shot them in the middle of the street. This they did to frighten the civilians and warn them against sabotage. Upon hearing this news we stayed put. Furthermore, there was no place to run to because the Germans had already advanced. But, how long could we remain this way in the village? Here we were cut off from the whole outside world. Rosh Hashana was approaching. One longed for one's relatives and friends. Every day we received news from peasants from home relating what was happening in the city and on the roads. Comforting news reached us that the disturbances had ceased; people were no longer being murdered and life was returning to normal.

Tuesday, September 12, I decided to return to the city. Wednesday it was already Rosh Hashana. I changed into peasant clothes and together with other peasants I set out for the market place in Ostrowiec. When I reached the main railway station I met German patrolmen for the first time. They searched our wagon to make sure that we were not hiding weapons. The Germans shouted, cursed, and in German asked if we had hidden anything. The peasants motioned with their hands that they do not understand so I imitated them. That's how I arrived safely in the city.




The first Rosh Hashana under German occupation

The Rosh Hashana of 1939, I shall never forget. The synagogues and smaller gathering placed for communal worship were closed, so we gathered in private homes for the Days of Awe. All our neighbours organized a quorum (minyan) in my mother's house. The curtains were drawn, the doors and gates locked, and just as in the time of the Marranos, we conducted the Yom Kippur prayers. We worshipped quietly but with deep sighs and tears in our eyes. Not only women, but men also wiped their eyes because we felt that our life no longer had any value. We stood in the corner and told of the gruesome events, particulars of the first murders when the most noble individuals of the city were taken out of their homes and shot like dogs for no reason at all. We felt that our life was worthless and that the enemy could do with us whatever they willed. Some tried to encourage us, saying that Poles were also murdered, that in every war there are victims, bringing examples from World War I. There were those who also tried to raise the morale, saying that some Jews were doing business with the Germans; that the devil is not as black as he is being portrayed, but we were merely trying to fool ourselves with false illusions. We already saw and felt that we are in the lion's mouth and that we need great mercy in order not to be devoured.

In the middle of worship, someone came running with an alarm. They are on the march! Germans! We Jews quickly removed our prayer shawls and hid in any hole we could find. Later it turned out that this was a false alarm because they merely passed by. I observed the faces of the worshippers. They were all pale, with fear in their eyes, like those sentenced to death. When anyone let out a loud cry or when the cantor struck too high a note everyone became alarmed and started to call out: "Sha... Sha!" (Quiet, Quiet!). From the street newcomers kept arriving. They told how Jews were being dragged to do slave labour. If they "discovered" a minyan they led all the men, with their prayer shawls, to clean the streets and decorate the military vehicles. My mother stood in the corner with her Korben Minchah (the women's prayer book), and sobbed bitterly. She would raise her eyes to me and begin to cry, trembling with her whole body. She looked at me like at one who had been sentenced and whom she desperately wanted to save from death by means of her sincere tears.

Yom Kippur was even more tragic. I am almost certain that that Yom Kippur all Jews fasted, even children and sick persons. The worshipping was like the final prayer before death (vidui). We felt as though the Angel of Death was hovering over our heads with his sword. Jews beat their chests with their fists when asking for forgiveness for their sins, attempting through such means to redeem themselves from sins that they had not even committed. They distributed charity with an open hand and were very warm and friendly to the poor who went about like very special ones. Although they themselves were also in danger, they were consoled by the fact that the wealthy and prominent were in the same situation and that all lives now had equal value. Everyone was suffering and crying bitterly. Quite often people could no longer hold back their tears and started to thrash about as though in a convulsion, as though the overabundance of tears had overflowed all troughs. The Torah Scrolls were regarded prayerfully, wrapped, as they were, in sheets and prayer shawls. After prayers each one slid into their own home with fear in their hearts, awaiting whatever fate was in store for them.




Getting used to the Tzores (Troubles)

The shtetl started to acclimatize itself to the new regime and fresh decrees.

It became clear that this was not a short-term condition because the German army continued to advance, overcoming all opposition. All of Poland was already occupied. The Poles made no effort to oppose the Germans because at the least sign of opposition the Germans punished not only the guilty ones, but the whole city, dragging the most prominent citizens to a place from whence they never returned. Trade started to take place more in secrecy than in the open in spite of the severe punishment at the hands of the conquerors. Goods started to disappear from stores because the Germans, with the help of Poles, robbed everything. German war equipment and black market articles started to appear. Every day new demands were made and fresh limitations arose. For the first time I was seized for forced labour when a young Pole pointed me out: "Jude!" so I was taken to clean military transport trucks. I started to get tired of not having something better do. Also, I wanted to return to Sosnowiec to see what happened to my business which I had abandoned. It was very difficult for me, though, to part from my aged mother under such circumstances. I couldn't allow myself to leave her alone in such a stormy and dangerous time. The mere thought of my leaving sent a shudder through her. She wasn't as much afraid for herself as she was for me setting out on distant roads fraught with danger, but after two months of going around nervous and distraught, my mother agreed that I should return and see what happened to my property. She stipulated, however, that after I saw, I should immediately return.

The trains weren't operating normally yet because many of the tracks had been bombed. I somehow managed to squeeze into a freight train which traveled for two days and two nights. En route I saw many destroyed cities and villages, destroyed bridges and twisted railway tracks. People were running around confused, like birds that have lost their nests and were looking for a place to start building a nest all over again. November l, 1939, we passed through the station in Yendrzejow. That was "All Saints' Day" when people go to the graves of their fathers and say prayers for the souls of the dead. At the station there were a few new graves of killed Poles who had died fighting the German invaders. Candles were burning beside the graves and women in black kneeled and prayed there. Children clung to their mothers with tears and fear in their eyes.

Everywhere one came upon masses of frightened people, refugees in whose eyes one could see the fear and desperation.

They were running in panic, with packs and satchels. They looked like lost souls who could not find their way back home. When our train appeared at a station, hordes of people approached. The first thing they did was throw in their packs, afterwards themselves, over the heads of others who were yelling, cursing and protesting. It was of no help to them though: on the contrary. They were asked, "What do you think, you're travelling first class or in sleeping coaches? If you're looking for convenience stay at home."

With much difficulty we reached Sosnowiec on November 2. Tired and exhausted, I started to look for my house, friends and acquaintances.





I could hardly recognize the city. Many stores were closed, others pillaged and many people had run away from the city. This was one of the most important Polish industrial cities. Immediately after breaking through the border point, the German Sturm Kommandos reached the city in a matter of minutes. At once I was told of the first killings. Many of my best friends were shot on the very first day. Moishe Merin, a short thin male, with mousy eyes, one who was known as an idler, as a professional card-player and always looked for assistance, money which he would not have to return, was nominated by the Germans as the "Jewish Elder." He himself applied for this position. This happened in the first two days when all the Jews in the city were locked up in the cellars of the city hall on Pieratzkega. There was such crowding here that there was a lack of fresh air to breathe. After so much fear, and enduring so much, the thousands of Jews had to suffocate in such airless premises, with a shortage of water. People were ready to open up the canal system so that they would drown, just so that they could wet their tongues with a bit of moisture. At night a chief storm trooper came and demanded that the Rebbe of the city be brought forth, if not he would immediately shoot ten Jews. Since the Rebbe was not amongst those locked up, and in order to save ten Jews from death, the 65-year-old Avraham Shtiglitz volunteered, saying that he was the Rebbe. The Germans grabbed him, tore out half his beard, beat him, kicked him and afterwards threw him back into the cellar, all bloodied, demanding that he, together with all the Jews, should say their last confession. The Jews, in one voice, called out: "Shma Yisroel!" because they believed that their end had come. The German beasts delighted at the fact that they had scared the terrorized Jews to death. Later an order was given that they should sing.

The following day the Jews were led out of the cellars, arranged in rows and given a command: "Run!" Confusion reigned. Jews started to run to the accompaniment of beastly shouts, insults, beatings and shots from the Germans until they were driven into the factory of the Shine Brothers. Afterwards it was announced that whoever is a barber should step forward. A few barbers stepped forward. They were given a command that in ten minutes they should return with their work tools, otherwise they would be shot. Returning more dead than alive, with sweat pouring from them, they were commanded to cut off everyone's hair and beard.

When the German beasts tired of this spectacle they commanded that the leaders of the Jewish community should step forward. Nobody stepped forward. When he saw that nobody was stepping forth, Moishe Merin saw a chance to become a somebody. The Germans looked at the pathetic one, small, thin, just a bundle of bones, so they thought: Is this the leader of the Jewish community of Sosnowiec? But, since nobody else stepped forward, they first of all honoured him with a beating and took him to work. He was no fool. He also had nothing to lose so he went for whatever it would be worth.

The Jews were kept for three days and three nights in the cellar of the factory. Later they started letting people out. First those with a trade. The others were taken to jail on Toverova Street. A large number of Jews were afterwards bought out with bribes and the remainder were shot a few days later.

On the ninth of September the synagogue on De Kerta Street was set on fire. The Jews of the neighbouring houses were not allowed out nor was it permitted to rescue the Torah Scrolls. Everyone who approached the synagogue was shot. The following day the Jews were made to clean up the damage and sweep the street. Germans like order.




Terror and evil decrees start

A wave of acts of terror started, shootings and mass executions. This was done in order to terrorize the people. For the slightest pretense, for as little as a mere suspicion of sabotage or uprising, whole streets of people were led out and shot like dogs. There was no rest. One decree followed another, one command followed another, so that the people should be in constant fear, should not have time to think, to organize and to look for solutions, because they had to constantly look for means to stay alive. First they decided to separate the Jews from the rest of the population. Jewish businesses and workshops had to have Germans as commissioners in order to be able to confiscate Jewish property and these immediately became the new owners of the businesses. Jewish homes and factories were taken over by German management. Jews were also denied mobility. They were not allowed to travel by train nor autobus and were not allowed to leave the ghetto. Whole quarters were emptied of Jews who were forced into crowded quarters where two or three families were confined to small living quarters in the ghetto. They had to leave everything there. They were only allowed to take hand baggage. Jews had to wear white arm bands with a blue star of David on their right arm. Later this was changed to a yellow patch with the word "Jude." On the way between Sosnowiec, Bedzin, and Dabrowa there was only one train car for Jews in the beginning. This was hitched into a tramway operating on the line. The Germans would constantly attack the train cars, looking for wrong-doings amongst the Jews and for the most trivial reasons they would take them away never to be seen again. On one they found some money, on another food, and on a third, documents. All this was punishable so that Jews avoided being seen in the streets of the ghetto. They were even less inclined to travel in the Jewish train because they wanted to avoid the controls and searches. The Germans, however, also made their way into Jewish dwellings, stealing everything they could lay their hands on and, in addition, taking victims with them. Jews were not allowed to purchase from non-Jews or in non-Jewish stores. They could only receive rations from Jewish communal sources. Every Jew was allowed 200 grams of bread per day, 100 grams of margarine, 100 grams of sugar and 100 grams of marmalade per week. It was not enough to keep anyone alive, so everyone sought to buy something on the side in order to stay alive. It was, therefore, obvious that everyone was always suspect and in danger of falling into the hands of the German bandits. Jews weren't allowed to go to any theatre or cinema. Jewish children were not allowed to attend a government school and the Jewish schools were closed. In the evenings Jews were not permitted to show themselves in the street, so after six o'clock everyone was confined to the indoors. Radios were also confiscated from the Jews. German broadcasts were not allowed to be heard, and neither, of course, were foreign broadcasts. If a radio was found in any house everyone living there was arrested. There was, therefore, nothing else to do but stay indoors or visit neighbours where one attempted to pass the night.




The refined tricks of the Nazis

The Nazi machine worked with total Nazi precision, according to a prescribed plan. They operated with refined trickery to confuse the people and disorient them so that it could never be discerned what they were aiming at and so as not to stir up any general rage or feeling of desperation which could lead to a revolt. They sought to fool the Jews, to awaken in them the illusion that they can still save themselves. They always issued decrees for one part of the population, creating, in this way, privileged classes in which they hoped to plant hope that it was not them who were meant; that if one segment would be sacrificed, the remaining ones would have a better chance of staying alive as a useful element, and in order for them to be saved, the Nazis required cooperation in helping them carry out their plans concerning the fated ones. Many Jews did, indeed, let themselves get drawn into the net. For this purpose the Nazis established the Judenrat and the Jewish militia who would be instruments in their hands, who would help them carry out their bestial plans for the liquidation. First they demanded that contingents of young people be turned over to them for their slave labour camps. Their intention was to teach a lesson to the young element who would eventually be able to rebel against their plans. The reasoning was that if the young people would be sent to labour in the German factories, the older ones, in return, would remain in the city and live through the war. Afterwards they commanded that the older folks should give themselves up, as well as the children and the sick. This was an unnecessary and unproductive element for them, which they could not permit themselves to sustain in such a difficult war. It was too much of a burden for them. Later they liquidated everyone else. For all this they had the help of the Judenrat and the Jewish militia. The argument of the Elder of the Jews, Moishe Merin, was that if the Judenrat wouldn't do this, the Nazis themselves would do this in a much faster and radical way. When the Germans come to us with their demands, Merin asserted, we still have some control, drag out the decree, bargain a bit and rescue a few. In the meantime we leave the best, most useful element for as long as possible, until it may be possible to save a portion of the population from the annihilation process.

This, however, was a false reckoning. It only meant fooling oneself and fooling others. The intention of the Judenrat was, it is true, to postpone, to serve the Germans in order to save themselves and their relatives, allowing them to be the last ones to be liquidated. Perhaps a miracle would happen meanwhile and they would remain alive. But the Nazis were much smarter and more sophisticated than they were. They thought to themselves: Why do we ourselves have to do this dirty work when the Jews themselves can do it? In fact, they can help rather than hinder for the price of false illusions that they will be able to save themselves. Let the Jews destroy themselves. Later they will complete their work and we will snuff them out. They will not escape from us. In the meantime they are supplying us with everything we ask of them--people, gold, silver and furs. They have established an apparatus, a Judenrat and a militia who are helping us carry out our plans for the foolish price of remaining the last ones, so it was worth their while.




The Judenrat

As already stated, the leader of the Judenrat in Zaglebie was Moishe (Manyek) Merin, who quickly found a language with which to speak to the Nazi functionaries and SS, supplying them with everything they ordered. In return they supported him and gave him all kinds of privileges that it was possible to grant a Jew. In addition to the fact that he carried out all their orders and requests, he showered them all with personal gifts and bribe money. This did not prevent the continuation of the brutal procedures and decrees, but they would, at least, be carried out with the knowledge and help of the Judenrat. He had the opportunity to gain certain small privileges for his relatives and friends and give them protection. Merin attributed to his own achievements and personal influence the establishment, in Sosnowiec and Bedzin, handicraft shops where a few thousand Jews were employed. The Jews gladly got an Arbeits Karte from the Sonderbeauftragten as an employee of Arbeits Einsatz. This helped them remain where they were and not be sent to forced labour camps. The German owners of the shops made a fortune thereby. First, they had all kinds of experienced craftsmen for cheap-as-dirt prices. Secondly, they got considerable sums of bribe money and expensive gifts for constructing such large and small shops and taking in unskilled elements who were looking for protection so that they would not be transported. The craftsmen protected themselves and were able to get work cards for 200 Jews. People paid large sums for this privilege. This money was used to bribe the Gestapo officers, the owners of the shops and the inspectors also had thereby a great advantage because they were not sent to the front since they were engaged in essential war work which supplied the Wehrmacht with uniforms, clothing, boots, shoes and other necessities.

This success gave Merin the courage and chutzpah to want to become the head of all the Jewish Judenr”te in the inner half of the German Reich and in the conquered territories. He rode, with permission from the Gestapo, to Berlin, Prague, Warsaw, Lodz, Krakow and other cities where he advised Jewish communities to unite under one organization with a central committee, putting forth his name as the candidate for the position of president of the Central Committee, because of his good connections and experience in dealing with such groups, giving as an example the Judenrat of Zaglambia under his leadership. He preached to the local Jewish leaders, pointing out their flaws, promising to give them true orientation if they will allow him to lead them. It seems that local leaders regarded him with skepticism. Above all, his stature did not induce confidence for he was a small man, with mousy eyes and a distrustful smile. It could immediately be seen that he projected the image of a cheap careerist, a product of Jewish suffering and Jewish destruction. Dr. Feivl Viderman, a Jewish intellectual survivor and community leader from Bedzin, tells in his book Di Blonde Bestia about a meeting that took place in the Judenrat under the chairmanship of Moishe Merin where the latter reported on his visits to a number of Jewish centres and their liquidation. At that time he said, "You have heard that I and Frau Charney (who was his secretary and right hand person) have visited the largest Jewish centres so that we know exactly what is happening there. We have even been to Berlin and Prague and what we saw there can only be described as desperation. There is lacking a strong hand which can be effective in the difficult situation. The leaders of the German and Czech Jews lost their heads. The Jews there do not have any influence regarding the deportations. When I was there I reminded the leaders of their negative stand to my suggestion of a half year ago that we should establish one central body for all the Jewish communities in Germany and the annexed territories but they did not want to hear of it, all because of their dislike of Polish Jews. Today also they are against the establishment of a union of all communal bodies, fearing that the influence will fall into my hands, the hands of a Moishe Merin, a Polish Jew who does not have a good command of the German language, not trusting me to deal in their name with the Germans." Furthermore, he declared triumphantly, "Because of their faults, the German and Czech Jews are suffering so badly today. Today we need energetic, courageous new leaders because the former diplomacy has gone bankrupt and that explains my great success." He continued with a further argument saying, "That's how it is on the Western front, but it's no better in the East. There too, helplessness and desperation prevails. I foresee that in the near future all Jewish communities will be wiped out, and no sign of them will remain. That, meine Herren, is the result of false politics which the heads of the communities are practising: Rumkofsky in Lodz and Czerniakow in Warsaw with whom I can't come to terms. At a meeting with them, during my talk which lasted three hours, I could not convince them of the falsity of their approach and in the correctness of my politics. They did not want, or simply were not capable of understanding me. Because of this the sad consequences won't be long in coming."

This gives a clear picture of the general situation and the role of Moishe Merin which he took upon himself to play during the destruction of European Jewry. He tried to play the role of a "King of the Jews", as the Germans ironically called him. He wanted to go down in Jewish history as the chief liquidator of European Jewry. Moishe Merin behaved like a dictator. He did have a Judenrat which consisted of a few figures, but he didn't consider their opinions very much. He himself made all the decisions and they were merely his upholders, his servants who had to carry out all his decisions.

In the hands of Moishe Merin rested the fate of approximately 100,000 Jews of Zaglebie. He sent to death whomever he wanted to and whomever he wanted to, he temporarily let live. He was granted this privilege by his German patrons, for the price of serving them to liquidate the Jewish communities in Zaglebie. Everyone feared him and sought to please him and to play up to him. At one of the mass meetings which took place in the "Rialto" where he appealed to the population to come forward for the selection which was scheduled to take place at the city's sports stadium, one of the rabbis who was present called out, either because of wanting to find grace or because of stupidity, that we are fortunate that the Almighty sent us such a leader because "Since Moshe until Moshe there has not been one like Moishe."

Moishe Merin chose co-workers from various classes who were prepared to do whatever he commanded and with them he established the Judenrat. Mainly he sought people of a certain communal reputation and who were intellectuals, for the price of not being liquidated. He also had a number of spetzn (informers) who knew the city very well. They knew who had money, valuables and hidden goods. There were others who had connections with communal circles to bring him information about what was taking place in the city and in the underground movements. There was a young man from Bedzin who had a good position with him, a very handsome fellow who was very popular with women. This one was his "Officer of the Women". He brought for the "King of the Jews," the most beautiful women because what woman didn't need a small favour? One needed a place to live. Another needed a place to work. A third needed food items. A fourth wanted her dearest ones to be spared from deportation, so they were at the mercy of the "King of the Jews" and that got them favour with him. In cases where the woman happened to have a husband who stood in the way, he was quickly dispatched with the next group to forced labour.




The problem of shelter in the ghetto

The problem of living quarters was very acute. After the ghetto had been established and its area more and more reduced, Jews were thrown out of their living quarters and were packed into small places where two, three and more families lived in the quarters where formerly only one family lived in the ghetto. Sanitary conditions were abhorrent. The aristocratic families were most affected because they were used to the greatest comfort. The one in charge of living quarters was, actually, a traditional Jew, Hersh Dovid Caiser. When he would be out on the street tens of people would run after him, pleading for a roof over their head or to move them elsewhere because they could not tolerate their neighbours. He was the one who could satisfy them through the grace of Merin or his closest co-workers. As a result, anyone who didn't have money or other means of bribing was in dire straits. When I had to give up my place on Mashtitzkiego right opposite the Agrudek, the city park, where the air was nice and fresh, I had a bitter taste in my mouth. It's true, I didn't have very much because I was a bachelor so I was a renter by the Grytzers. After much intervention I managed to get a bed in quarters with another bachelor, a young fellow, Schlesinger, whose family was liquidated a few weeks previously. The whole apartment of four rooms and a salon belonged to the Schlesinger family but after the family had been sent away the son was allowed only one room and the remainder was given to prominent people because it was centrally located on Targova Street not far from the Judenrat. In one room lived the chief of the Jewish police, Kleiner. In another room a red-haired tall girl, an appointee of the Judenrat, together with her family, and in the remaining room I lived with the bachelor. We all shared a corridor.

I pitied the young fellow. He was very young, seventeen perhaps, and left completely alone in the world. He suffered terribly. The sadness was spelled out in his face. He felt abandoned and endangered. He feared that he would also be sent off. He worked night shift in a shop and slept during the day. With each day he became thinner and paler. I tried to befriend him and boost his morale but he no longer trusted anyone. Once he came to me and asked for advice. Acquaintances, friends of his family, with pull, had arranged a position for him as a Jewish militia man. He asked me if he should accept the position. He placed me in a very difficult situation because I didn't know what to answer him. I, personally, felt that a Jew should not accept any position with the Germans and their Jewish servants. But, at the same time I could not take it upon myself to tell him to refuse because such advice might cause him to be sent away to his death. I, therefore, answered him that it is a personal matter, a matter of conscience which each one has to decide for himself.

The young fellow would not give up. He shoved me to the wall and asked me, "And if you had the opportunity would you accept such an offer?" This put me on the spot because I had already had such an opportunity and I categorically refused. I worked in my own shop where plate glass was made. There I was a stock keeper. The offices of the shop were on the same Targova Street at number 11. As a large shop which dealt with wagons of glass, dispatching wagons all the way to Russia, "a trusted one " I managed this shop. First it was a German from the neighbouring shtetl Swietochlowice, by the name of Poshled. Before the war, he was our customer who was a friend of mine. Later, when he became the commissioner of my shop he treated me with a certain politeness and respect. It was he who made the effort to make me the stock keeper and he provided me with a work card. Later he was replaced by another German of the area who came from Riga, a certain Palatzer. This one looked at me askew and wanted to get rid of me. When he discovered that I was the former owner of the shop he started to get scared, fearing that the war might possibly end quickly, with a defeat for the Germans, and that I would take the shop back from him. He had already invested capital in it. At first he didn't dare to do me wrong because I had once been the proprietor and now I was a poorly paid hired worker of minor importance, but afterward he decided that it was not a good idea for me to work there. I, naturally tried to please him, to be quick and conscientious. I also did the work of three hired ones because I had experience in this field. His glances started to cut me as with knives. I confided to my relatives and friends regarding my situation and sought their advice. I had a cousin in Sosnowiec whose mother, a sister of my mother, lived with her husband in Olkush, a shtetl approximately 80 kilometres from Sosnowiec. Their eldest son had married a girl whose sister was the wife of the Jewish police commissar. One day my uncle came to me with a suggestion that I should accept the position of Jewish militia man. He would use his influence, speak to his relative, the police commandant, to take me into the police work. I, upon hearing this suggestion, froze. I, a militia man! I would have to seize Jewish victims and supply them for the transports. I would be assisting the Germans and their Jewish servants. No way would I do that! My uncle, my aunt and their friends argued with me for hours, putting forth all kinds of suggestions. First of all, they said, I would be protected so that I wouldn't be sent away with the transports. The militiamen would be the last ones to be deported. Secondly, I would have food to eat and I would not starve from hunger. "Your present commissar will see to it," they continued, "that you be sent to be liquidated because you do not let him rest in peace, so why wait until it will be too late? Assure yourself of a safe position." Saying this, my aunt began to cry. Her own blood, a child of her eldest sister, how could she allow me to be deported with the transport to Auschwitz? I stood firm and said that I don't want to face such a trial, to have to force Jews to the transports and watch that they should not run away, only to save myself. I did not want to become a cruel Jew. But they tried to make me change my mind, arguing that a militia man does not have to be mean or cruel. It is possible to be a good militia man, they argued, one who helps people, helps them in their need and saves people. They worked on me for a whole week, but I did not allow myself to change my mind, so when the Schlesinger fellow asked me how I would behave in such a circumstance I concealed from him my experience and circumvented giving him a clear answer. The end was that he did accept the position and one day he appeared in a blue and white police hat with a stiff brim. The hat did not suit his face. His face was refined, pale, with a subtle smile which is in direct contrast to a law enforcer and chapper (grabber). To this day I do not know what happened to him because I was sometime later sent away with a transport and he remained in Sosnowiec.




A Jewish cafÈ in the ghetto

As paradoxical as it may appear, a Jewish cafÈ did exist in the Sosnowiec ghetto on Mandzever Street. It belonged to two partners, Yechiel Landau and the wife of the Jewish police Commandant, Kleiner. They were personal good friends of Merin. Outside, people were starving for lack of a crust of bread but here one could get daily fresh baked goods, coffee and fresh tea. This was the gathering place for high functionaries of the Judenrat, the fathers and mothers of the prominent ones such as smugglers, ones with influence and snitchers. Here, all kinds of shady deals took place. Articles of value were bought and sold, foreign currency exchanged, work cards were bought which delayed being transported. German police rarely showed up in this place, nor did the SS troopers. The cafÈ was under the protection of the Judenrat, which had the consent of the Gestapo. It was probably worth their while to have such a meeting point where illegal business and all kinds of other transactions could be carried out. In that cafÈ one also found out all the latest news about all decrees and gossip. All those who came in there were not above board because the mere fact of sitting there during work hours and partaking of such delicious food which was outside of the rations, was in itself treif (non-kosher). But, they were not convicted because there was probably a wink from above that they were not to be hindered. Every night something out of the ordinary took place in the ghetto. One night a whole block of people would be taken out and sent away the following day with the transport. Elsewhere people were arrested because they were found to have some produce for which they had no ration cards. In one case the SS broke into a house and took away some youngsters who belonged to the underground. Elsewhere a whole family had poisoned themselves.

The following day, there was talk about all this in the Jewish cafÈ. Here, also, news about the fronts was conveyed. There were always some people who had information through their contact with the Germans. There, it was also known what deportations would take place in the future and about new decrees that were to be announced in the near future. Merin himself used to frequent this cafÈ, particularly when he had a guest from another community in Germany or a government official, in order to show how the Jews were living under his command because of his connections with the Gestapo. Merin actually had connections with the Gestapo and with the leaders of the slave labour camps, the SS men, Linker, Muchinsky, Knoll and Ludwig, because he did everything they demanded. He also succeeded in saving a few people, putting off their deportation for another time. For this the SS received valuable gifts and large sums of money. The Germans thought: This business pays since the Jews are ours anyhow. Nobody will grab them away from us. Let him buy time for a few more Jews for fantastic prices and we'll get them later or... Meanwhile they gave Merin prestige amongst the Jews where it was believed that he was accomplishing a lot, enabling him to continue to serve as a loyal servant of the Germans. Moishe Merin knew that the small advantages he gets from the Germans are at the price of helping them, because the day that he will no longer be able to help them, not be able to hand over the required number of victims, he himself would be liquidated. It was a good deal for the Germans. Why should they themselves have to do all this work when it can be done by Jewish hands. Let them liquidate themselves. If Merin thinks that he will outsmart us, he is making a grave error because he will not escape from our hands, they reasoned.





Efficiently, according to the preciseness of the German method of operating, the Nazis carried out their liquidation process of European Jewry, destroying one community after another. The method was always the same: confining the Jews in ghettos, removing from them all methods of earning a livelihood; eliminating any possibility of their mobility, extracting from them all their money and valuables and step by step decreasing the population through transporting them and degrading them; by bringing those capable of work to concentration camps where they were put to work under the most difficult conditions at least until the end of the war, and liquidating the remainder in gas chambers and crematoriums. Sosnowiec was one of the oldest Jewish communities in Poland. It numbered, before the war, approximately 30,000 Jews, 21.5 per cent of the total population. During the war, during the liquidation and suffering of the smaller Jewish communities in Zaglebie, the Jewish population grew to 45,000.

The liquidations actually started in 1939 when, in October, 300 young men were sent away to slave labour camps. The intention of the Germans was to eliminate the strength of this youthful element which could lead a revolt. This would make it easier to finish off the elders. The Judenrat organized the transports. It was made to appear that, being at war, Germany needed workers for its factories to replace the mobilized German workers. Merin said that if we would send the young ones to work camps the elders would be able to remain in the city. What later became known was that the transports, together with the contingents from Katowitce and Konigshutte were sent to the Soviet border to Niskah. They were forced to cross the Soviet border under the threat of being shot if they resisted. At the same time, transports of Jews were brought to Sosnowiec from Czechoslovakia and were put to work in the factories of the Shine Brothers on May 1 Street. Every morning they were led to work under the watch of SS in black uniforms. From them it became known that they were registered to be dispatched out of the country. With exit visas in their pockets they were sent, instead of out of the country, to slave labour camp. The Jews of Sosnowiec helped them as much as they could but their condition was difficult. In July, l940, they were transported to somewhere unknown.

Meanwhile, the constant liquidation of smaller communities was taking place, such as Katowice, Konigshutte, Oswiecin, and others. A large portion of the population in these places was murdered on the spot. Pits were dug, and the bodies of those murdered en masse were thrown into the pits. They were forced to dig their own graves. A portion were sent to slave labour camps and some were brought to Sosnowiec and Bedzin. These were all methods of confusing people and disorienting them in order that they should not suspect the devilish plans for the complete annihilation. They did not want the situation to lead to complete hopelessness in the face of an unpreventable destruction, but instead always wanted to keep a spark of hope in sight that somehow they will be able to save themselves if the useless elements will be done away with. Until the liquidation camps in Auschwitz and elsewhere, people still stubbornly believed that "Arbeit Macht Frei."

The factories and shops were forcibly turned over to Aryan commissars, mainly Volksdeutsche, the so-called treuh”ndler (trustworthy ones). The houses were given over to the authority of the German administration. They also had to take over all property, gold, silver and jewelry. Jews found in possession of any of these things after the term were shot right on the spot. The Judenrat and the Jewish militia made sure that this was strictly done. With the help of the Judenrat the Nazis stole from the Jews everything they possessed. Had the Germans themselves carried out this order, they would not have gotten even a half, because Jews would have buried, burnt, or destroyed what they owned just so as not to hand it over to the bloody enemy. Moishe Merin convinced the Jews that if they will voluntarily hand over their possessions they would not be harmed, but would be allowed to live in peace. Jews, therefore, sought to buy their freedom because what need was there for anything when their very lives were in danger. They paid a great price for their peace which they never got. This was the aim of the Germans, that the Jews should willingly forfeit everything of value. Merin helped them reach their goal without any difficulty. For this they let him live and grow, playing his opportunistic role of "King of the Jews."




Labour camps

According to instructions from the Gestapo, the Judenrat set up a labour camp, supplying daily, a contingent of slave labourers. These people worked at cleaning the streets, the trains, loading and unloading shipments, and planning work outside the city. The Judenrat got the Germans to agree not to grab people in the streets, but, instead, to depend on them to provide the necessary daily number. In this way the wealthy were able to avoid being taken while the poor were sent to work. A worker was paid fifteen marks for two weeks of work. A loaf of bread on the black market cost twenty-five marks and a kilo of meat seventy marks. This was a great source of income for the Judenrat. In order not to have to go to work wintertime on the trains, Jews paid any price. For this money, the workers were supplied with a meagre ration. Bribes and gifts were given to the Gestapo and there still remained something for those in charge to pocket.

The poor actually went willingly to work because in this way they got a piece of bread and some soup. For this purpose the Judenrat had a fund to maintain a large hired staff numbering as many as 1500 functionaries. Amongst these functionaries were a great number of men who had special duties of guarding and spying to make sure that no underground revolt would break out. There were also girls who were chosen in a beauty contest whose task was to satisfy the sexual needs.

The Judenrat was constantly perfecting their apparatus, always giving exact information about the Jewish population, for which it got food ration from the German masters. Every Jew had to be registered, otherwise he would not receive the food ration. With the support of the well organized militia, which got full backing from the "CROUP' (Criminal Police) and Gestapo, with the stipulation that they would conscientiously carry out all their commands, the Judenrat could do with the Jews whatever they pleased. And, since the Judenrat was merely the organ that carried out the instructions of Merin, it meant that everyone's life depended on the capriciousness of one individual who was himself a bit of a psychopath. His secretary and assistant was his wife, Fanny Charney, who knew how to speak and write German. She was a simple, decent woman, but she was not particularly good looking. However, here she got caught up in a machine which faithfully carried out the order of its patron. The Judenrat was installed at 12 Targova Street in one of the houses of the Radomsk rebbe, after all his various departments were strewn about. The militia was on the same street, exactly opposite the Judenrat.

In 1941, a new phase of Jewish troubles and anti-Semitic decrees started. The forced labour unit (Arbeitseinsatz) was established, with the purpose of reducing the Jewish population through selections and transportations. The Arbeitseinsatz was under the supervision of the Zagder Beauftragte, General Heinrich Shmelt, his representative, the chief inspector, Henchel, installed a Dienst Stelle (Placement Office) in Sosnowiec with the purpose of selecting healthy, young, and work-capable people to be sent to German forced labour camps in Huttes, as well as to pave roads. Henchel organized a group of his helpers, murderers and sadists namely: Henrich Linker, Bruno Ludwig Kuchinsky, Messner and Knoll. They were in charge of gathering and preparing the contingents for transportation to the slave camps. The Judenrat immediately put itself at the service of this group and promised to supply the demanded contingents of slave labourers. Working in the bureau of the Dienst Stelle were Jewish boys and girls supplied by the Judenrat. When the Dienst-Stelle gave an order to the Judenrat to supply a few thousand slave labourers they immediately prepared a list of names and ordered the young people to join the forced work force. Those who did not present themselves, the Jewish militia sought out and forcefully brought to the transport. No resistance movement was allowed to be formed, nor would underground organizations be allowed to stir people up to revolt. Thus the Germans no longer had any hard work because the Jews themselves carried out their functions. When, however, the contingents didn't appear on time, the Germans themselves set out in the streets to grab their victims amongst anyone who happened to appear.

As an assembly point for the transports, the building of what used to be the Hebrew Gymnasium at 5 Scladova Street was used. Here, the en route station (Dulag) was located. Here, people were registered and sent off on the transports. Some could rescue themselves for huge sums.

This probably ended up in the pockets of the SS and Gestapo. It did not matter to them since the people were theirs anyhow. If they let one out they grabbed three in his place. Here they also kept all those who did anything that was suspected of any secret activity. From here they were sent away with the first transports. Opposite the Dulag there was a small building called Tvilag (a waiting place). Here the Ersatz were kept. If anyone failed to show up for work or at the Arbeits Einsatz and could not be located, the members of his family, parents, wife, brothers, children were taken and they were kept there as long as the missing one did not show up.

As soon as the first transports started to depart for Germany, filled with Jewish slave labourers, the Judenrat, with Moishe Merin at the head, started to indoctrinate that young people should volunteer for work assuring them that in six weeks they would return and thus their families would be protected from humiliation. This, also, was a German trick because they people never returned. After the young people were sent away the families were liquidated. They were sent off with the next transport. Afterwards, it became known that these people worked under the most difficult conditions for twelve to fourteen hours a day, suffering from hunger. Those who got sick or became exhausted from work were selected and sent to the Himmel Kommando, meaning Auschwitz.

In 1942, the situation of the Jews in the ghetto became even more desperate. No longer were young and healthy men sought because such were no longer to be found. Everyone, young and old, women and children, was sent to the concentration camps. There they were categorically selected. The young and able were sent to slave labour camps. Older ones, women and children, were led to the gas chambers and crematoriums. Jews were dragged out of private places where they had, up to then, been employed as craftsmen. Those Jews who were employed in their own shops and factories as labourers had to leave their posts. Strict inspections were also conducted in Jewish homes and wherever anything illegal was found, outside of the legal rations, the people were also removed and nobody knew what happened to them. What Jew could exist on the 200 grams of bread and 100 grams of margarine per week? So every Jew helped himself as much as possible in order not to die of hunger. Everything that still remained was sold in order, first of all, to quiet one's hunger. As a result the captures increased. In March of 1942, exactly at Purim, Jews had to witness the execution of the Jews, Marek Lieberman and Mangel, who were hanged in a garden on Mandzeger 32. They were accused of falsifying documents. On the same spot, a few days later, another four Jews were hanged: Nachum Lon and his son, Yehudah Vorman and Feffer, for illegal trading. The Judenrat itself had to prepare the gallows. In the Jewish homes candles were lit at night in sorrowful memory of the dead.




The first transfer

In April 1942, the Judenrat let out an announcement to the Jewish population to prepare suitcases, blankets, underwear and field cots which would be necessary for the transfer for a portion of the Jewish population. The name of the place to which the people would be transferred was even announced--Theresienstadt. The Judenrat even prepared a registration list of those who were employed and those who were not. It was made to appear that every unmarried working man would be able to protect his parents. The women and children of men who had been sent to forced labour were considered unproductive. This was a new trick of the Gestapo to fool and confuse Jewish minds. Indeed, a transport of the "unproductive element" was immediately sent to Auschwitz.

By now all the tricks of the Nazis started to become apparent and people started to understand that one by one, according to a plan, the whole Jewish population was going to be liquidated. The secret organization of the youth, consisting of the pioneer groups of Poale Zion, Hashomer Hatzair, Dror, Hanoar Hatzioni and Bund spread leaflets throughout all Jewish homes calling for an uprising. When the Judenrat, in 1942 , sent out an order to 5,000 Jews to assemble on May 10 at 10 o'clock in the morning at 10 Demblinski Street, in the building of the former Jewish school, with 10 kilos of baggage, in order to be transferred, only a small number of people showed up. The Judenrat was no longer believed because it was already clear that they were misleading the people and that the Judenrat was merely a toy in the hands of the Gestapo.

At this point an exceptionally difficult situation arose. Moishe Merin saw that he was losing his influence over the masses, that he was causing a situation where a revolt was imminent and that his life is in danger--on the one hand from the Jewish underground and on the other, from the Gestapo which can blame him for the failure of the plan. Should he no longer be able to provide the persons and not be able to prevent a mood of revolt, what do they need him for? He would immediately be liquidated. We understood that the matter would not pass smoothly but that a very serious reaction is forthcoming. The consequences didn't require a long wait.

On the same day, in the evening of May 10, 1942, it happened. As soon as night descended and the homes were locked, the whole ghetto was surrounded with police of the military, with machine guns, reflectors and police dogs and Jews were chased out of their houses into the yards or open spaces. I was living, at that time, with a Jewish family at 2 Targova and Malachovskiyego. Beside me there lived an elderly couple, Nachemyas, with a daughter and son-in-law, Kaplovich, and a grandchild, a three-year old blonde girl. We were all sitting around the table talking, discussing the events of the day. Suddenly, we heard wild knocks and shouts at the door, "Alle Juden Heraus!" (All Jews out!) "Schnell! Schnell!" (Hurry! Hurry!) "Ihr Schweinehunde!!!" (You swine). Like wild animals they roared into the house with machine guns in their hands as well as gleaming bayonets, striking us over our heads with whips and guns, accompanied by wild shouts: "Heraus, sofort heraus!!!" (Out, immediately out!!!).

We all exited almost completely naked. I did not even manage to grab my jacket which was in my room with all my documents. The young woman grabbed her naked child from the bed and we quickly went out, slid down all the stairs into the yard. The yard, a pie shaped area, was already full of Jews who were trembling fearfully. There were old men and women, young women with children, all with fear in their eyes. The whole yard was lit up by reflectors and filming apparatus. I was standing in the front row with my neighbours. The child was in dreaded fear. She was trembling like a blown leaf. In the same row the Rebbe of Sosnowiec was also standing. Rebbe Yeshiah Engelhart, with his long black beard and splendorous face. All around were SS men, Gestapo, criminal police and with outstretched arms holding their machine guns, runners racing back and forth. Orders could be heard as the whole building was searched. Shots could also be heard, an indication that someone had been found hiding indoors. They were shot on the spot. People became scared out of their wits, doubling over out of fear and panic. Many were in pajamas, and women in nightgowns. The reflectors that were installed on the roofs and ledges of the buildings lit up the whole area so that each one could clearly be seen. It was a dreary night, grey and cold. The sky was cloudy, as though shut off from the world. It did not take long and lightening and thunder started and immediately after this a pouring rain came down in torrents. I looked at the face of Rebbe Engelhart, which looked like a bronze mask. The rainwater was streaming down his face and beard. I stood near my neighbour, the young woman and her child in her arms. The child, half-naked, was shivering. Instinctively she felt the danger and feared to cry. She choked her tears but her heart was fluttering like a rolling wave. A few meters away I saw a familiar German watchman, an older German from the Wehrmacht, who used to come amongst Jews, encouraging them, and sometimes supplying them with food items. I knew him as a decent liberal man who was far from the Nazi ideology and an opponent of the Nuremberg laws. I used to engage in conversation with him quite often quite openly about all kinds of issues. He regretted and criticized the Nazi methods and their treatment of Jews. Now he was serving with a helmet on his head and a machine gun in his hand. Looking at the child, I was seized with great compassion and I tried to intervene with this familiar watchman. Slowly, I approached him and asked him to either let me go upstairs in the house, or else for him to go up and bring down something with which to cover the child who was shivering from the cold and soaking wet from the rain. At that moment it was as though I had dropped a bomb which exploded. He was not at all the same good-natured person. He was transformed to a wild beast. His eyes lit up like torches. He lifted up his fist and started to scream madly: "Mach das du weg kommst, sonst erschiess ich dich wie einen Hund!" (Get away from here or I shall shoot you like a dog!).

That is how the "good Germans" appeared when they were serving.


In this fashion we were detained until midnight if not later under heavy watch, then led to the lobby of the cinema "Rialto" on Varshavski Street. In front of me the Rebbe walked, all bent over and degraded, his eyes cast down, as though they would want to disappear into their sockets. From his beard flowed a stream of water mixed with tears. His lips quietly muttered something.

This same night the Gestapo, with the help of the Jewish militia and Judenrat, led by Moishe Merin himself, attacked the heavily populated blocks and large yard at 32 Mondzever, Dekerta 14, Targova 2 and 3, taking away all the Jewish residents, men, women and children. They were gathering in cinema "Rialto" and in the people's Volksk¸che on Yasneh Street. At 5 in the morning, the leader of the Dienst Stelle appeared, the SS man Kuchinsky, with his gang of murderers, who started to examine everyone's papers. My documents, the Kennkarte and working papers were unfortunately in my coat which I did not manage to take when I rushed out of the house so I was in great danger, but a miracle happened. A neighbour and friend with a good Sonderkarte went out amongst the first freed ones so I asked him to save me, to go to my house and bring me my documents. That is what he did. It did not take long and he brought me the papers and I managed to go out free at the very last moment. Afterwards it turned out that after counting up the held ones, there were still a number missing for the transport so they ran out to grab people in the street. I happened to be at work around 11 in the morning when I saw the complete Jewish militia, accompanied by Gestapo and police dogs, running away, as though pursued by whips. Once more they surrounded the same houses and dragged out all the people found there, even those who were employed and those who were working for the Judenrat. They were all packed into wagons and sent away with the transport. Approximately 1500 were sent to Auschwitz that day with the transport. In that same transport Rebbe Yeshayeh Engelhart and his family, all of blessed memory, were also sent off.

Moishe Merin, not wanting to lose his influence, nor his head, thought up a lie this time also, saying that the people were taken to work. A rumour was even spread that the transport had returned. People ran to the train station with the hope of seeing their relatives and friends once more. They quickly returned though, disappointed and embittered. People tried to keep their hopes alive with illusions. It was clear enough that the people were not being led to work since old folks, sick people and children were being taken. It was only later that it became known, through a train worker, that the transport was taken to Auschwitz. The majority of the people were led right to the gas chambers and crematoriums. A terrible mood descended on the ghetto. There was not a single family who had not lost, in this action, someone near and dear, members of their family. A terrible hopelessness and bitterness enveloped those left in the ghetto; they felt that their end was near. It could clearly be seen that the fate of the Jews was sealed. One after the other we would all have the same end.

The Germans tried again to deter the watchfulness of the Jewish population through all kinds of tricks and manufactured lies. Through the loyal servants of the Judenrat they let it be known that a portion of the population, particularly the unemployed and unproductive, had to be evacuated in order that the others, the useful and productive ones, should be able to remain where they were and work peacefully and undisturbed for the German army.

Merin once more promised that what had happened would not be repeated. He and his team, he assured, themselves had to help with the action in order to be able to save the rest, otherwise everyone's fate would have been sealed, but this soon proved to be another lie because already, in the first days of June, with the help of the Judenrat and Jewish militia, the Jewish community of Olkush, a shtetl approximately 80 kilometers from Sosnowiec, was liquidated. Nearly everybody was sent to Auschwitz. Only a few, the relatives and friends of the Judenrat, were saved and brought to Sosnowiec. This bone the Nazi murders allowed their loyal servants. But, already in the second half of June, the second transfer from Sosnowiec was to take place.




The second transfer

In the second half of July, 1942, the second large transfer of the Jews out of Sosnowiec took place. At night the Gestapo, with the help of the militia, encircled Panskeh and Ostroguski Streets and dragged out nearly all the inhabitants from the district. In this area there lived mainly poor folk, hard-working people who struggled all their lives to earn a living. Now, it appeared, the Judenrat, with the "King of the Jews" at their head, decided to throw to the insatiably cruel Nazi beast this sacrifice--the poor, who partially became a burden to the Judenrat. But, from these circles, the Judenrat always had the reserve of labourers when the Germans demanded a working force for all sorts of work on the spot. The rich bought their way out with money or valuables and, instead of them, these poor working class who were always used to hard work and were thankful to God that they were given a bit of sustenance and some warm soup, were taken. The wealthy Jews sat in the cafÈs discussing politics and the poor went to work in their place. But, since the German devil needed more victims, they found them amongst the poor and defenseless people. Men, women and children were dragged out and led away directly to the wagons. That same night, the Jewish hospital was also encircled and all the sick were removed. The sick who could still move about tried to save themselves, to run away over the fences. They were caught, though, like mice, by the SS and their Jewish helpers. If anyone still had doubts about the destination of these transports it then became very clear what awaited them. The sick were thrown onto the platform like sacks, one on top of the other. Those who could not move were thrown into the train cars like garbage. This work was also done, to our great disgrace, by Merin's Jewish militia. At a distance stood the Gestapo officer, Freitag, and enjoyed the spectacle of the Jews carrying out his commands. He rushed them up a bit so that it would go faster: "Macht, Jungens macht es schneller!" (Rush it up, young guys, hurry up!). "Bewegt euch!!!" (Get moving!!!). Around 80 children from the children's home were also loaded on the transport, children who were still of nursing age up to the age of five years, children with frightened eyes, dark, blonde and light-haired heads. Some cried. Other tried to tear themselves away and some looked on with fright in their raised eyes as though asking: "What do they want from us here?!" Approximately two thousand people were loaded onto the transport train that day and sent to Auschwitz to the gas chambers.

When the transport left, the Jews saw that their fate was sealed. There were no more reserves. There were no other substitutes so their turn is next. The desperation was so intense that all eyes revealed the fear of death. Up to that point, the Nazi beast was fed with the poor and helpless victims. The poor masses, the sick, the mentally ill, the orphan children, the unemployed had all been removed, now it was their own skin that was in danger. For the remaining ones there were no more offerings for the German devil who was still looking for new victims. In Landau's cafÈ, the "prominent" Jews were still sitting sipping their coffee and eating some pastry. These were officials, "relatives of the king." But now their hearts were bitter and disturbed. They already saw themselves as candidates for the next transport. There were no more illusions. The sick from the hospital and the children from the orphanage left such a heavy cloud that it was hard to breath. Every ray of hope to save oneself vanished. It was clearly seen that one was in a trap from which there is no escape. People felt that they were on a sinking ship from which there is no rescue. A hopelessness pressed on everyone's heart. Cases of suicide started to increase. People wanted to escape from life in order not to fall into the claws of the murderers. Any of the young who could possibly do so, ran away from the ghetto to the forests to join the partisan groups. Even though they were putting themselves in great danger, each one wanted to at least die fighting and not be trapped like a mouse. The officials of the Judenrat and the privileged Jews started to behave as though this was their end. They sold everything, bought themselves liquor and started to act wild. All limits of morality and ethics were done away with. They gathered in private houses and started to perform orgies. The women lost all their shame and behaved like prostitutes, surrendering to every man in front of everyone's eyes. Each one thought that their fate was sealed, if not today, then tomorrow, they would be put to death so they reasoned why not enjoy whatever was possible. Everything holy became sacrilegious. Everything moral was spat upon. Ethics disappeared. The law of the jungle started to be the norm. Whoever was stronger and had more to offer, that one gained everything. Life became random, so the few days or months that remained had to be taken advantage of to the maximum, not limiting oneself by any moral standards. One sought to drown out everything in order not to feel the despair and fear of losing one's life. Each one felt as though judgment day had arrived and they were destined to be killed and merely waiting to be executed. It is only a matter of days and perhaps hours. It was only yesterday that one enjoyed oneself, spent time with a friend or relatives and today they are no longer around. Auschwitz swallowed them up. Nobody was interested in hearing words of encouragement any longer nor be given false hopes by illusions. All belief in the world was gone. There was nobody who could save them because the disappointment and bitterness was too great. Neither was there any desire to listen to news on the underground radio. Ever since the Nazis seized the Polish territory there were those who became specialists in the field of news which consisted mainly of concoctions. There were some people who risked listening to foreign stations. If someone like this with a radio, which was strictly forbidden was caught, that person was shot on the spot together with his relatives because they did not denounce him. Even the neighbours were sent to the death camp. However, since people have fantasies they imagined news and brought it as the latest information of the BBC or the Voice of America. People told one another fantastic stories, unfounded news about the allied forces, speeches of famous personalities; about the defeat of the German troops, etc. Possibly, this accomplished two things. First of all, for once in their lives they were important as the contact with the outside world for getting the latest news from there. Secondly, they might have wanted to give courage to themselves and others to sustain themselves through all the terror. Mainly, this news was about encouraging speeches from great statesmen who encouraged and gave hope that freedom would quickly arrive. The news was called "Yivo" (Yidden Villen Azoi). In the ghetto there circulated a characteristic joke. The Lodz ghetto is already liquidated. There are no longer any Jews in that great Jewish city. The last two Jews were caught and were being led to the execution. After reading the judgment and putting the noose around their neck, one Jew turns to the other and whispers in his ear: "Did you hear, Berl, yesterday Churchill made a speech in which he said that it won't be long and any minute now we'll be free."

But this time, when anyone came to the Jewish cafÈ and attempted to tell the latest news from the secret sources, nobody wanted to listen. They were chased away with bitterness, these weavers of falsehoods.




The third mass transfer

The 12th of August, 1942, will go down in history as the most diabolic day in the process of the liquidation and destruction of the Zaglembier Jews. Moishe Merin, the "King of the Jews," of the Zaglembie Jews, felt already that he had lost all trust of the Jewish masses who still remained in the ghetto. Nobody trusted him any longer and he was regarded as the faithful servant of the Gestapo and as the liquidator of Zaglembier Jews. It was clearly known where all the transports were ending up and what is happening to everyone. The gas chambers and crematoriums were well known facts. After the sick, old and children were sent away nobody had illusions any more.

It was already understood that Moishe Merin had decided to hand over all Jews to the Nazi devil, so long as he could, or so he believed, save his own life and the life of his own relatives, so nobody believed him any more. The underground resistance movement also did everything in its power to clarify for the population the aim of the transports and about the liquidation of the various Jews. As a result, nobody voluntarily went to the transports. On the contrary, a mood started to spread to join the underground movement and run away to the forests so when the Gestapo came and demanded another contingent to be transported, Merin got scared that no way would he be able to supply this transport for which he had been made responsible. This would mean that he had lost all influence over his Jews, that the time had come to liquidate him.

The Gestapo would then gather the transport themselves with Merin at the head of the Judenrat and the Jewish militia. So it was that the Judenrat decided to organize clarification meetings. The speakers at the meetings appealed for volunteers to come forward to the prescribed gathering point on August 12, saying that this would merely be a re-registration of the working Jews whose documents would be re-stamped.

Merin himself, and a whole group of "prominents," led the meeting in the cinema "Rialto" on Varshavsky Street, and explained that the Jews should willingly come to the gathering location at the city stadium where all would get their legal document and will be able to live and work legally within the ghetto borders. Assurance was given that nothing would happen to anyone, that they were only instructing for everyone's benefit so that they would no longer be bothered or hounded. At the same time Merin spoke of his accomplishments, about his efforts in "high places" to save the remaining Jews of Zaglebie who are useful elements for the German Wehrmacht. As useful elements they would be protected by the law as a necessary element for the important war industries. As an example, he pointed out the "shops" that had been set up in the ghetto as a result of his intervention and effort, so that Jews shouldn't have to be sent to other unknown places because they have their work here.

He ended with the words: "Come, all of you, men, women and children in your festive clothes, as to a joyous occasion, because at the gathering place you will get your legitimization and be protected from the actions and transports. One of the Rebbes who was present and later spoke to add force to the words of Merin, called out enthusiastically that Moishe Merin is our saviour, our leader.

Merin also appealed to the German leaders in the shops to let the workers have August 12 off from work so that they can be present at the assembly place for re-registration. They also pasted announcements in the streets for the Jewish population to appear at the assigned spot on the appointed day, and, in order to confuse the people, the Gestapo had, in July carried out such a procedure in three small Jewish communities in the neighbouring Czelodz, Mondrzew and Strzemieszyce, where the documents were indeed stamped and then the people were sent home. It was a good omen for the people of Sosnowiec.

On August 12, the Gestapo gathered, in the sports arena, approximately 60,000 Jews, including the Jews of Bedzin and Dabrowa where Jewish masses lived. The announcement sheets which the underground had distributed in the cities had very little effect in preventing the Jews from arriving at the gathering places, though they pointed out therein that the Judenrat and the Jewish militia were fooling them and selling the Jewish masses to the Nazi murderers. Jews went en masse with their wives and children to the assembly points. That day, it was permitted to walk through all the streets, even to exit the ghetto which, up to then, had been strictly forbidden. From pre-dawn Jews were already hurrying to the sports arena of the Unya in order to grab a good spot as though for a football game. Even the sick were brought so that they also would be legally registered.

In Sosnowiec alone approximately 26,000 Jews assembled voluntarily. Only a very small insignificant number didn't volunteer. The Jews came in their holiday clothes, as to a celebration. The older women dyed their hair in order to appear younger and capable of working. The men also tried to look younger than their actual years in order to make the impression of being a good work element. When all the Jews were already assembled in the sports arena, the Gestapo, SS battalion and security police, armed with light and heavy machine guns, encircled the area and didn't allow anyone to leave. The sun was burning and exhausting everyone. Everyone had to remain seated. Nobody was allowed to stand up. If anyone did, they were immediately shot. It was only in the afternoon that SS officers appeared, as well as leaders of the Arbeits Einsatz, accompanied by leaders of the Judenrat. Tables were set up and an inspection of the documents started. The commission that examined the documents divided the Jews into four categories. The first category consisted of those who were working at vital war work. These had no children or old folks in their family. They were released as soon as their documents were stamped. Group number two consisted of those who were young but with no specific jobs or those who were engaged in private businesses. They were designated for slave labour and were immediately sent to the Dulag. Number three consisted of those who were employed but had jobless ones in their family, or older parents or children. This meant that their situation had to be reassessed. If he was an important skilled worker who was essential, the other "unnecessary" people had to be taken away from him because there was no use for them. They were merely a burden who needed to be provided for by the working member of the family, so he wasn't such an important cog in the machine. He was, therefore, sent away with his family to the transport. Number four consisted of all the unproductive elements: old people, children, the unemployed, those employed in private businesses who were not essential for the war effort. This group was assigned for shipment to Auschwitz for liquidation. The leaders of the Judenrat had some say regarding the parents because those who chose were their "friends" who received expensive gifts, so they first saved their relatives and friends. After that they saved the wealthy ones who bought their way out with large sums. The Gestapo and officials of the Arbeits Einsatz, drunk, simply made a game out of the faith of the people, as though they were garbage.

It was a hot day and the air was heavy. People were agitated, wild as beasts. Sweat and tears poured down from them. Faces were aflame and eyes desperate. People lost their nerve. They became hysterical, wild and insane from anger. Those who remained on the spot of the categories three and four tried to save themselves, to run away, so the Gestapo started to shoot and there were immediately dead ones. In the evening a downpour started. The people remained under the open sky, all day under the burning sun, in perpetual suspense. Children cried as they clung to their parents but their parents could not help them in any way. The fate of their children tore at their hearts. Old folks succumbed and fell to the ground like excess baggage. That's how the people remained all night in puddles of water, awaiting death as a saviour.

The grey wet morning of August 13, 1942, found on the sport grounds of the Unya two masses of people like two piles of soaked garbage. There lay twelve to fifteen thousand people, men, women and children, who belonged to the doomed categories three and four. From group three some still had a chance to save themselves. All night long bargaining was taking place with souls being bought and sold. Whoever had the means of paying their way out had a chance of being let out and whoever did not could say farewell to the world. Group four, however, was fated for death. There was no way they could save themselves. They simply had to wait for the transport to take them to Auschwitz's gas chambers. After the arduous day of basking in the sun, and after the bitter night of all night long rain, everyone was nearly half dead anyhow. Many actually could not raise themselves any more and remained dead on the ground. The living envied the dead. Thursday, August l3, the people were still standing or lying on the spot in terrible suffering.

A few families from group three were saved at the very last moment. The remainder were taken away in the middle of the night under the heavy watch of the Gestapo and SS, accompanied by dogs and search lights. Thousands of people were packed into the houses that had been emptied specifically for this purpose from the blocks on Colontayia Street numbers 4 and 6. Those houses were locked and heavily guarded by the Gestapo, SS and Shupo (the security police). Looking at the faces of the victims, one could see the shadow of death. They were smeared with mud and were dehumanized by bitterness and despair. They went, dragging themselves as though it was all the same to them, as long as they would, all the sooner, be freed from the dog-like life. In the houses where the people were locked up terrible scenes took place. They all knew that their fate was sealed so some started to jump from the upper floors in order to end their suffering all the sooner. Some attempted to get out through the attics and roofs. Some tried to dig a tunnel from Targova 8 to Kondzever l6 through which a few saved themselves. There were also cases where some got out by paying huge sums and a few were smuggled out, dressed as sanitation workers, as militiamen and even as dead ones, being taken out on carts, but many went out of their minds and tore the clothes off their bodies. A few still managed to be saved at the last moment in exchange of large sums. Thus, the Gestapo itself, the Judenrat and the Jewish militia earned a lot of money. The dealing with human lives continued until August 18. The remainder, over 8,000 Jews approximately, were loaded up in Sosnowiec in the train cars and taken to the Auschwitz chambers and crematoria.




The mournful mood in the ghetto

The mood in the ghetto after the action was a frightening one. There was not one house nor family where there wasn't mourning going on for family and friends. The empty houses cast a dread with their emptiness. The breath of those who had just been taken away to the death camps could still be felt. It seemed that within the walls one could hear the choked-up cries and wails. Even where no persons were to be found the emptiness lamented. It was as though the cupboards, the beds, the bookshelves and the empty vessels were crying, mourning the terrible destruction like mourners, they remained and longed for a human breath, a word, a sound or a cry of a child.

The SS did not let houses remain empty for long though. The remaining people were shoved into more crowded spaces than before, exactly the way refuse is piled together after a sweeping. The circle was made smaller and the remaining Jews were enclosed in an even smaller area. The main aim of the Nazi brutes was to narrow down and make the noose as tight as possible until everyone would be liquidated. This they did with a precise plan, step by step. After the last action the criminals assured, through their servants, the Judenrat, that now it would be calm and that the remaining Jews would not be harmed but will be allowed to work and be useful for the German war machine. They manufactured clothing, footwear, furs and underwear for the German army. Their rations were even increased as an indication of the normalization of the situation. This, however, was only a new trick of the Gestapo meant to put the people off guard and to lessen the hatred for them on the part of the remaining Jews, to pretend that they had been saved and, therefore, they shouldn't rebel, nor venture on any escape plans and endanger their lives which are now safe. For a while there were no transports, but from time to time someone would be caught in the street and sent to Auschwitz. Every week a train car of people, and in order to make it worthwhile, they sought out "passengers" to fill all the space. For the slightest excuse people would be taken away and they no longer saw the light of day. These were called "serious law-breakers", even when they had done nothing wrong. Nevertheless, as such, they were sent to the death camp. The Judenrat had to sign the act, stating that they were criminals who are damaging for the community.

At this point, a chase started for young people who were caught and sent to forced labour camps. First they took those who worked for commercial firms. Afterwards the manufacturing places were sized down and the unqualified workers were taken away. Later the shops were completely liquidated if they weren't essential for war needs and the youth were sent to the ArbeitseinsatzEinsatz. Each time there were new orders and new decrees in order to reduce the Jewish ghetto population.

In January 1943, a new decree was announced, that all the remaining Jews must leave the city, including those from the ghetto, and must be transferred to a smaller ghetto in the area where the poorest Jews lived, in the suburb of Shradula. All remaining Jews were put in a few small houses. Thereby they were assured that here, in the small ghetto, the rest of the Jews would remain. The true intention of the Nazi regime, though, was to gather and concentrate the Jews in an ever smaller area in order to keep them under a watchful eye and to be able to liquidate them quickly. The underground movement warned the Jews that their end is drawing near, that the ring is getting smaller, in order to liquidate them in the same way that the Jews of the smaller communities which were left Judenrein (free of Jews) were liquidated. Now, came the turn of the last two concentrations of the Jews of Zaglebie, namely Sosnowiec and Bedzin. People, however, did not want to listen to such talk. They were still fed new illusions and perhaps they did not have the strength to get up and go to the forests. They still tried to convince themselves that it is not they who are meant. The Judenrat did everything in order to still the watchfulness of the Jews because their own destiny was tied to the destiny of the remaining Jews. They convinced the Jews that here, in this small ghetto of Shradula they will remain until the end of the war. In the beginning they also left a few isolated streets in old Sosnowiec, such as Viyeska Street, Chasna Street and smaller streets than these, but afterwards these streets were also cut off, cleansed of Jews. Only Shradula remained. The Jewish homes were handed over to the Poles and the Jews were put into the smaller crowded area, which bordered with the same reduced-in-size ghetto in Bedzin. Before transferring the Jews to Shradula they all had to appear before a commission where they had to undergo a physical examination by a doctor. Here they all got new registration cards. The blue cards also had the letter "T" or "O" which indicated "Daily" or "Not daily." Those who got the blue card with the letter "O" were destined for Shradula. All the others went to the isolated streets of old Sosnowiec which meant, for the next liquidation. The Jews who were designated for old Sosnowiec understood very well that they were the next candidates for Auschwitz. The wealthier ones still tried to buy their way out for huge sums or jewelry which they still possessed, in order to get into the Shradula "Paradise". Many committed suicide, putting an end to their dog-like existence.




The turn comes to liquidate the shops

The turn also came for the shops in which the Jews worked for starving wages, to be liquidated. In November, 1942, the Germans suddenly encircled the shops of Helden on Madzever 20, Sadova Street and Pulsutzkiega 70, grabbing a lot of workers from there and sending them to forced labour camps. This was the first sign that the shops also were slated for liquidation and that those who are employed there are not protected any longer. All along Merin was very proud of the shops, taking credit for his own success. Due to his personal good relations with the "ones in high places," he had convinced them of the necessity of erecting such work places on location where the skills of the work force could be used for the German war machine. German entrepreneurs jumped at the idea for various reasons. First of all, they got access to good and cheap workers who produced vital war products such as steel, uniforms, furs and underwear through which they could gain a neat profit. Secondly, these entrepreneurs and superintendents of the shops were considered by the Germans as free from being sent to the front because they were involved in essential war efforts. Thirdly, they earned piles of gold. They bought all the best things that the Jews owned for mere pennies: furs, underwear, jewelry and gold articles. They also got great sums in order to enlarge and expand the shops with the aim of being able to absorb more Jewish workers. In addition, they were paid for each Jew who wanted to get in there. The Judenrat was the intervener in these transactions. Merin gave assurance that the shops are the best zogder (refuge) because the Jews would never be bothered, remaining there until the end of the war. The Jews, therefore, were ready to pay any price to get in. The entrepreneurs, in turn, bribed whoever it was necessary, to be allowed to set up shop and that contingents of Jews should be provided for their undertakings.

However, this illusion, also collapsed. The turn of the shops also came. In November 1942, the shops started to be liquidated. The "Iron Bridge" started to collapse. Four months later, in March 1943, strong forces of the SS and Gestapo surrounded the shops of Helden, Garetzki, Shvedler and Express, taking away all the workers of the first and second class and sending them to Germany. Only a few specially skilled workers were left, enabling the orders to be filled. The majority of the forced workers were transported to slave labour camps in March, 1943 (I, also, amongst them).

The final safety plank collapsed. There was no longer anywhere to hide, nobody left to offer protection. Nobody was needed now. Hitler kept his word. According to a plan, his devilish project to destroy all the Jews had been carried out. The liquidators of the shops, the angels of destruction, Peikert, Dreier and Cott were in charge of the action. As it appeared, the Germans had decided to rush the liquidation of the Jewish ghettos. The situation at the front was deteriorating for them from day to day. They could no longer celebrate and brag about continued victories and advances. In Stalingrad they suffered the first major defeat. To Africa, also, the allies dispatched large forces, launching a major offensive, starting to force the German "heroes" to retreat, causing them heavy losses. The Russian forces also courageously started to attack, bombarding the Germans on all fronts. The winter of 1942/43 was a difficult one that affected the German soldiers catastrophically, since they were not accustomed to such a climate. The German soldiers lost their belief in a victory, lost their morale, lost their courage and broke down. It started to become clear to them that they had lost the war, that nothing further could save them. This had a depressive effect on the morale of the German soldiers and SS bandits who sought to let out their anger and bitterness on the defenseless Jews wanting, at least by this means, to show their "bravery". Secondly, the SS brutes had to show their "bravery" and accomplishments so that they would not be sent to the front because how could they be removed from such important work? If, previously, a lot of the bandits willingly went to the front, in order to be able to triumphantly march into various cities and countries, they now defended themselves from going to the front because this meant risking one's life, or in the best possibility, freeze to death or become a prisoner of the Russians. They, therefore, let loose on the helpless Jews in order not to allow any witnesses of their crimes.




The last action

The end of the terrible tragedy approached for the Zaglemby Jewry, the end of a thousand year old proud history of a hard core and spiritual Jewish community which had written one of the most glorious chapter of Jewish history in the diaspora. Here, there were learned Jews, great religious scholars, Jewish artists in all fields, known throughout the world, Jewish industrialists, Jewish intellectuals and scientists, but everything was and is no more. Hitler, may his name be blotted out, and his Nazi bandits destroyed them all and cut off one of the most beautiful and colourful Jewish communities in Poland. The last few remaining Jews of the hard- core Jewish communities who remained after all the other had perished completed the final orders of the Wehrmacht, plus a few Jews with the necessary connections, relatives or close friends of the Judenrat and a few "amusing" women and girls who were supposed to raise the morale of the Judenrat and their associates.

On March 10 the final transfer of Jews in the closed ghetto took place. From here nobody was permitted to go out, except to work in the shops. The Judenrat and the Jewish militia were also installed in Shradula. The crowding was horrible. Ten to twenty persons were packed into the living space of one apartment. People took turns sleeping. When some workers arose to go to work others would go to sleep, having just returned from work. The hygienic conditions were horrible. People lay in the streets, in the yards, like dead bodies. Merin's last action, together with his servants, was to collect all the gold and silver which still remained in the hands of some Jews. Merin appealed to the Jews to forfeit this willingly in order to avoid yet another deportation. He himself placed on the table his gold cigarette holder, his gold watch and ring, wanting thereby to serve as an example for the rest. Jews brought their jewelry, silver articles, candelabras and chanukias which were packed in cases and sent to the Gestapo. Anyhow, the Jews had nothing to lose so they handed everything over, thinking that thereby they saved their skins. Merin also probably now saw that his last protective support was undermined. He felt that the water had risen to his throat.




The liquidation of the Judenrat

Some Jews who still had hidden valuables, foreign bank accounts and connections in "higher places," tried to get papers from foreigners. For huge sums it was possible to get such documents from Switzerland or from Latin American countries such as Paraguay, Bolivia and others. The "foreign citizens" were concentrated in a special camp called Ulag (internment camp). In June 1943 a number of Jews, including a group of young people from Hanoar Hatzioni got an order from the police praesidium that they are recognized as foreigners and they should report to the police for the purpose of being sent to the Ulag where they will have to wait for a transport to take them out of the country. The "fortunate ones" rejoiced, said good-bye to their relatives and friends and went to the police with their packs. Everyone envied them for being able to save themselves.

The same day the police telephoned to the Judenrat instructing them to stand on watch while the foreigners were transferred to the internment camp. Not being at all suspicious, because this was a routine procedure for the Jewish elder ones to be present when a transport took place, Moishe Merin himself arrived to say farewell to the foreigners as well as his secretary, Fanny Charny, his brother Chayim Merin, Berenstein and Levenstein. But, as it later turned out, this was one of the mean tricks of the Nazi criminals to fool the victims with the purpose of liquidating them. They never returned from this journey. Later it was discovered, through a Polish worker who was working in Auschwitz, that he saw an automobile arrive from Sosnowiec with twenty people, so it was understood that these were the leaders of the Judenrat, together with the "foreigners" who were taken directly to Auschwitz. Seemingly, Merin and his servants had done everything that was required of them, there was nothing more to offer, so the Germans had no further need of them. They had become unnecessary and disturbing so it was decided to liquidate them. The rest of the Jews who were fooled in the group to Shradula were already firmly in their hands and did not present a problem as far as grabbing them and destroying them. The Judenrat had done their job, had served the Gestapo faithfully, carrying out all their wishes and commands. Now had come their turn to be destroyed in thanks for their worthy contribution.

The following day when the Gestapo chief of train transports, Dryer, came into the ghetto he pretended not to know and asked for Merin. However, he immediately appointed a replacement in his place, a new servant.

With the liquidation of Merin and his cohorts, the Jews realized that their last hour had struck. The Germans surrounded the ghetto with barbed wire. In the shops the Jewish workers were replaced by Poles. One could sense that the last act in the drama was drawing to a close. Indeed, in June 1943 the SS carried out a new deportation in the ghetto from Shradula and from the neighbouring Bedzin ghetto--to Shradula and Camyonka. This time the SS themselves hurried through the streets and dragged the Jews out of the houses. The Gestapo chief, Dryer himself, carried out the action and gathered the transport. That day 4,000 Jews were sent to Auschwitz.

After this deportation there was a black mood in the ghetto. Suicides increased. The Jews felt that they had been cornered and nobody could save themselves. Beside the fact that the ghetto was surrounded with barbed wire, even if a Jew could get out, the police would catch him and turn him over to the Gestapo. But the Nazis were so cynical and cruel that they tried to calm the Jews and convince them anew that now they would be left in peace--they would work in the shops and live to see the end of the war. There was even an attempt to transfer some of the shops to Shradula. In this manner they tried to calm and assuage the despondent Jews.




The completion of the liquidation

On August l, 1943, the last and final phase of the liquidation of the Zaglebie Jews took place. In the middle of the night, the ghettos of Sosnowiec and Bedin were encircled. Storm troops of the SS entered, security Police and Ukrainian bands of murderers started to shoot left and right. Many Jews had hidden in bunkers which they had previously prepared in the event of a final liquidation. The Gestapo called forth the new heads of the Jews and warned them that the Jews who would hide in bunkers would be shot on the spot. The remaining Jews would be transferred, with their belongings, to Birkenau where they will be able to work unhindered.

At daybreak, the SS Kommandos and military units forcefully entered the houses and dragged out every living thing. The liquidation lasted a whole week. Many bunkers were dynamited. Every hole was searched. From every hiding place Jews were pulled out and shot on the spot. The streets were full of dead bodies. The German murderers shot children who were trying to save themselves. The wounded and sick were thrown, like garbage, into the freight cars, and driven to Auschwitz. The Nazi murderers carried on until they had cleared out and liquidated the last Jew. The last 1,000 Jews were taken to the gas chambers and crematoriums in Auschwitz. This is how the last bloody horrible act of the tragic Sosnowiec Jewry of 28,000 played itself out. Together with the Jews of Bedzin, Dombroveh and the surrounding area, around 80,000 Jews were murdered by the Nazi bandits.

In the Shradula ghetto there still remained, after the last deportation, a few hundred Jews who were meanwhile left to live and work until January l3, 1944, when they also were cruelly liquidated. With that the total liquidation of Zaglebie Jewry was ended at the hands of the Nazi murderers and their Polish and Ukrainian helpers.

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