Belzyce



belzyce envelope518


 Belzyce Envelope - (Chris Webb Private Archive)  


Belzyce lies 26 kilometers by road, southwest of Lublin. In August 1939, just before the German invasion of Poland, 2100, Jews lived there. A Wehrmacht unit occupied Belzyce on September 16, 1939. Over the next two weeks German soldiers passing through Belzyce on the way to Lublin broke into shops and homes to rob and beat Jews. On Rosh Hashanah - September 21, a German unit arrived in Belzyce to humiliate the Jews. By January 1940, a Jewish Council (Judenrat) was established. 

From late 1939, a growing number of Jewish deportees arrived in Belzyce, among the first group were Jews from Pulawy. In February 1940, 300, deportees arrived from Stettin. In February 1941, 360 deportees arrived from Krakau. Another transport from Krakau on March 3, consisting of 101, Jews brought the number of Jewish deportees in Belzyce to 681. 

Emil Ziegenmeyer, the Kreishauptmann of Lublin-Land, also named Belzyce, Chodel, and Bychawa, the three localities in Kreis Lublin-Land in which to resettle a part of the 15,000 Jews expelled from Lublin, in order to establish a small ghetto in the town on March 27, 1941. On the first day of the 'Aktion' members of the Police Battalion 306, expelled by force some 500, Jews from Lublin to Belzyce. More Jews from Lublin arrived over the following weeks. Even after many of the deportees illegally returned home, the Jewish population in late May 1941, stood at 3,499, including 1,999 deportees, making it the second largest in Kreis Lublin-Land. Only Piaski, which at the same month had 4,803, Jews, which was the largest. 

After the deportees from Stettin arrived in Belzyce, the German authorities ordered the Judenrat to be reconstituted. Physician Adolf Flater, a former synagogue leader in Stettin was named as the Chairman of the Judenrat. Paul Bauchwitz, a distinguished World War One veteran, also from Stettin, was appointed Vice-Chairman of the Judenrat. 

Some native Belzyce Jews - the wealthiest pre-war merchants, including Berek Goldsztejn and timber merchant Szmul Arbus, received seats on the 12-member Jewish Council. Deportees from Stettin filled almost all the Judenrat's administrative positions. Erich Silbermann was the postmaster. His wife Clare taught at the Jewish school. 

Golda Teich, a deportee from Pulawy, recalled that the deportees from Stettin were over-represented within the Jewish Police force. Albert Israel Dombrower, another deportee from Stettin, headed the Jewish Social Self-Help delegation in Belzyce. On June 18, 1941, Stanislaw Szubartowski, the Belzyce head proposed the expanded Jewish population be confined to a closed ghetto, near the Market Square. His superiors, citing material shortages denied the request. 

Belzyce nonetheless appeared on a list of ghettos Ziegenmeyer submitted to the German authorities on September 19, 1941. However, Ziegenmeyer described Belzyce as a Jewish Assembly site, rather than a ghetto. During a second expulsion wave in April, because the list was compiled in response to a Reich Interior Ministry inquiry about available space in the Lublin District for incoming Jews, the three localities already mentioned and Piaski which Ziegenmeyer claimed as the only ghettos in his Kreis were the places the Kreishauptmann envisioned resettling additional Jews. He cautioned that Poles would have to be expelled from the localities to accommodate any Jewish newcomers. 

In Belzyce a formal Jewish quarter or closed ghetto was probably not established. Gold Teich described her brother-in-law living in the pre-war Polish neighbourhood. Jews were banned from walking on the main streets and the market square. A 7 p.m. curfew was imposed. Some Jews were shot for ignoring the restrictions. The first group were eleven men and one woman whom Gendarmes , probably from the post in Bychawa, found these Jews walking on the streets from which they were banned, one day in February 1941. Shortly thereafter the Gendarmes post was moved from Bychawa to Niedrzwica Duza. In November and December 1941, Hans Frank, the Gouvenor for the General Gouvernement ordered all Jews in the General Gouvernement confined, on penalty of death, to the borders of the localities in which they resided.


In the spring of 1941, poor sanitary conditions, the result of overcrowding led to a typhus outbreak, which was declared an epidemic by April 29. The sick filled the 21-bed hospital. Another 46, were quarantined. Though typhus cases initially ebbed, an epidemic was again declared in October 1941. On November 12, 1941, Adolf Flater, the Judenrat Chairman, who was also the head of the Jewish Hospital requested medical supplies from the Jewish Social Self-Help (JSS) organisation in Krakau. Flater himself contracted typhus but he recovered. The epidemic raged until mid-December 1941. By January 1942, 60, deportees from Stettin, of the 462, Jews sent to the Lublin District had died. In April 1942, the JSS had distributed over 1,000 Passover meals. A charity drive also collected used clothing for the needy.

Twice weekly Gendarmes from the Niedrzwica Duza. post visited Belzyce. A deportee from Lublin Roza Mitelman recalled their visits, which always cost some Jews their lives. She reports the Gendarmes used prohibitions on kosher slaughter as a pretext to arrest and kill Jews. Mirka Weiner remembered four members of the Zylbernadel family as among those murdered for the illegal religious slaughter and sale of meat.

By 1942, many Jews worked as agricultural labour on nearby estates, in Jastkow for example. Others worked on local road construction projects. During May 1942, on the Shavuot holidays, SS Ukrainian men assisted by Jewish police members rounded up between 430, and 580, men, under the age of 35, and marched them to the Lublin Concentration Camp. This Aktion was probably to accommodate some 1,200 Jews expelled from Dresden and Leipzig, who arrived in Belzyce on May 12, 1942. 

During 1942, the Nazis began to gradually liquidate the ghetto in Belzyce. The majority of the ghetto was sent to the Sobibor death camp in May 1942. On October 2, 1942, circa 3,000 Jews were also sent to the Sobibor death camp. Jews who were elderly or disabled were murdered in the square in front of the ruined synagogue. Jews were then forced to march to the railway station in Niedrzwica, some 10 km's away, and then transported to the Sobibor death camp. 

A forced labour camp was established in Belzyce near the old synagogue for the 300, Jews who had evaded deportation. Many inmates initially sorted Jewish property from Bychawa. Reinhold Feix the commandant of the nearby Budzyn forced labour camp managed the camp in Belzyce. Day -to -day responsibility for the Jews fell to the private German firm overseeing the road construction project from Belzyce to Niedrzwica, which became the camps main focus. 

In early 1943, the SS sent a part of the Belzyce inmates to Trawniki forced labour camp, probably together with most of the agricultural workers at Jastkow. Those deported included members of the Mossbach family. During May 1943, the Belzyce ghetto was liquidated. SS-Oberscharfuhrer Reinhold Feix, who had served at the Belzec death camp, and was now commandant of the Budzyn forced labour camp from December 1942, until August 1943, oversaw the Aktion. 

At 4:00 a.m. Feix and a group of Ukrainian Trawnikimanner ordered the Jews to assemble. Feix held back for labour at Budzyn some 100, women, and 200, to 300, men. He and the SS-Trawnikimanner shot dead the remaining 500, to 600, inmates, including 100, men, 150, children, and 200, to 300, women. 

From Belzyce few Jews survived the deportations. Golda Teich reported that the deportees to the Lublin Concentration Camp almost all were gassed or had perished in the spring of 1943, during a typhus epidemic. She and her sister are among the only known Belzyce deportees transferred to the labour camp at Blizyn, in the summer of 1943.  

In Budzyn, Oberwachtmeister Mohr who had succeeded Reinhold Feix, hanged Paul Bauchwitz, a member of the Belzyce Judenrat, who hailed from Stettin, supposedly for being too assimilated into German culture, he defied the camps commandant anti-Jewish stereotype. This was witnessed by Ilse Domke. Paul Bauchwitz was her foster father-in-law. 

In May 1944, as the Red Army approached the Lublin region the surviving Budzyn inmates were transferred to a number of camps. Many included Szmuel Arbus, a member of the Belzyce Judenrat perished during the evacuation of the camps. Almost all of the Belzyce survivors which numbered approximately 100, believed to have survived the German occupation were those Jews sent to Budzyn. Only Berek Rycer, and a handful of others were sheltered by local Poles near Belzyce. 


Sources

The Encyclopaedia of Camps and Ghettos 1933-1945, USHMM, Indianna University Press Bloomington and Indianapolis 2012.

Testimony by Ilse Domke - National Archives Kew WO 309/374 

Envelope: Chris Webb Private Archive

Holocaust Historical Society 28 September 2023