Gora Kalwaria

Gora Kalwaria village life640

Gora Kalwaria - Village Life Under the Germans

Gora Kalwaria is located 20 miles south –southeast of Warsaw and on the eve of the Second World War the population of Gora Kalwaria was 7,000 people, including approximately 3,300 Jews. However, since the Ger rabbi Abraham Mordecai Alter, resided in Gora Kalwaria, the number of Jews generally increased to double this number between Rosh Hashanah and the Shavout holiday each year. The town was a major centre of prayer and study for the Ger Hasidim. With the outbreak of the Second World War on 1 September 1939, the Ger rabbi left six days after war was declared and the following day, a large proportion of the Jews fled the town without their possessions, some went to Warsaw, whilst others crossed the River Vistula. Gora Kalwaria was not severely damaged during the German onslaught. On 8 September 1939, the Germans marched into Gora Kalwaria and immediately started plundering Jewish property and soon they arrested the Jewish and Christian young men who remained for forced labour in Germany and they were not released for a couple of months. After a short time, Jews who had returned to the town found their homes standing but their possessions stolen. The Germans required that between 200 and 400 Jews reported for forced labour every day. One Jew, Yankl Czarnaczapka , a tailor by trade, was instructed to organise these labour details for the Germans. He claimed to be protecting the Jews from random seizures from the streets, but it soon became clear that ‘he protected and looked out only for his own interests.’ German regulations soon forbade the Jews from carrying out most forms of business, although a new business smuggling food and life-sustaining needs from Warsaw flourished.

The Jewish Council (Judenrat) was established on the orders of the first Kreishauptmann, Regierungsrat Dr Klein on 15 January 1940. The Judenrat consisted of six former members of the Kehillah and six new members, including the chairman Mr. M.K. Skrzypek. The Judenrat took over the organisation of the forced labourers who were engaged in agricultural work and road construction. In the same month January 1940, the Jews were assembled at the magistrate’s office and were issued with numbers. The Jews were ordered to sew the numbers onto their armbands, which they had to carry with them at all times or face punishments. The numbers were used by the Judenrat to assist in assigning people for forced labour. Excluding the sick, all Jews were required to work two or three days per week. Work on some details was paid, whilst others remained unpaid, causing considerable resentment that threatened to undermine the Judenrat’s system of labour assignments, as many Jews sought to get transferred to those details that were paid. The Judenrat was also responsible for collecting funds needed to cover its expenses of some 5,000 zloty per month. Collecting this money became increasingly more difficult over time and the Judenrat employed the Jewish Police, led by Yankl Czarnaczapka, to impose sanctions on those unwilling to pay. To assist the many needy Jews in Gora Kalwaria, contact was established with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC) in Warsaw. By March 1940, with support received from the AJDC, a soup kitchen had been opened, organised under the supervision of the Judenrat. The kitchen provided up to 1,200 meals daily at a price of 10 groszy each. Those without means received the food for free. At Passover, monetary aid and matzot were supplied to needy Jews with the aid of some 15,000 zloty from the AJDC. The soup kitchen continued its operation until June 1940, when the AJDC ceased providing its support. In the summer of 1940, to meet a quota of 170 people assigned by the Judenrat for the Kreis based in Grojec, the Jewish Police and the German Gendarmes rounded up 40 Jewish youths and sent them away to work in labour camps in Kreis Hrubieszow and in the Lublin district. Conditions in the camps were appalling, and a number of the young people died from illness or were shot by the guards. Those who survived returned home during the winter of 1940-41, severely weakened by their ordeal. Due to concerns about the spread of typhus among both Christians and Jews within the town, the local health authorities instructed the Jews to build a bathhouse and an isolation ward.

 A wall was constructed in the Bet Midrash to isolate the contagious. The work went on for a number of weeks and had to be paid for by additional taxes on the Jews. Ultimately, not all of the required construction projects were completed, as they were interrupted by the expulsion of the Jews from Gora Kalwaria. At the end of 1940, the Jews of Gora Kalwaria were confined to certain streets in the town, which included Czorny-Dwor Street, thus establishing an open ghetto. According to one survivor, Jerry Lista, the relocation was announced in the newpapers and on loudspeakers, and the Jews were given only two to three days to move into the designated area. The Jews were allowed to take with them only the most necessary items. The Polish residents were removed from this area. Apartments were hard to come by, and the living quarters were very cramped indeed, with approximately 10 people sharing one room. Jews were forbidden to leave the ghetto and Christians were not allowed to enter. As a consequence, smuggling almost completely stopped, cramped living conditions and poor hygiene caused disease to spread among the ghetto inhabitants. In early 1941, the Judenrat reported that approximately 300 Jews had been recently resettled to Gora Kalwaria from nearby communities. In addition approximately 100 Jewish refugees, mostly from towns in the Warthegau, had settled in Gora Kalwaria, and were living with families there.

On 21 January 1941, the Kreishauptmann in Grojec, Landrat Werner Zimmermann, issued the order that all Jews living outside the towns of Bledow, Mogielnica, Tarczyn, Warka, Grojec and Gora Kalwaria were to transfer immediately to the nearest big town, all of which were to be considered ghettos. The heads of the respective settlements were made personally responsible for ensuring that by 27 January 1941, no Jews were still residing on their territory. The order also stipulated that any Jew caught outside these ghettos after that date, would face the death penalty. As rumours spread of the transfer of Jews to the Warsaw ghetto, Jews began to sell off their last possessions for whatever they could get. To prevent this, in early February 1941, the Kreishauptmann forbade the Jews from selling their furniture to non-Jews and declared invalid all such sales after 1 February 1941. The police were instructed to prevent all attempts to transport furniture out of the ghettos within the Kreis. On 25 -26 February 1941, the Jews of Gora Kalwaria were transferred to the Warsaw ghetto. As there was some warning, a few hundred managed to escape in time to other towns. Starting at six in the morning, the Jews were assembled at a meeting point next to the magistrate’s office under armed guard. Each family could only take with them no more than 30 kilograms of luggage. They were escorted out of Gora Kalwaria to the railway station as the local Polish inhabitants watched them leave. From here they were transported in overcrowded carriages by rail to the Warsaw ghetto, being forced to change trains in Piaseczno on the way. On arrival in the Warsaw ghetto they were required to shower and then placed the next day in quarters prepared for refugees, which included a synagogue and a disused hospital. In total some 3,000 Jews were transferred from Gora Kalwaria to the Warsaw ghetto. The Judenrat remained in the town for another eight days in order to try and retrieve property items that had been requisitioned by the German Gendarmarie. They also attempted to transport remaining food supplies to the Warsaw ghetto, but they were only partially successful, salvaging only 50 out of 400 cubic metres of potatoes, as the Polish Red Cross obstructed them. Appalling conditions of poverty and hunger faced the Jews expelled from Gora Kalwaria in the Warsaw ghetto. Whatever, they brought with them was stolen. Hundreds died in the first few months and many more every day after that. Most of those that survived this initial period were deported to the Treblinka death camp in the summer of 1942, where they were murdered in  the gas chambers.   


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

Photograph - Chris Webb Archive

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