Ozorkow

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Ozorkow - Occupied by German Troops -September 1939 (Chris Webb Private Archive)


Ozorkow is located approximately 20 miles northwest of Lodz. At the outbreak of the Second World War, the town had roughly 15,000 inhabitants, including some 5,000 Jews. The remainder of the population were equally split between Poles and Germans. After the town was occupied by German forces in September 1939, the German and Polish population turned openly against the Jews.

Jews from other towns - among them Kalisz and Zgierz, arrived in Ozorkow soon after the occupation began.In the autumn of 1939, a Jewish Council (Judenrat) was established, headed by the lawyer Szymon Barczynski. The members of the Judenrat had been members of the former Jewish Relief Committee in the town. Szymon Barczynski  had also headed this organisation. A Jewish police force was also created, headed by a man named Wartski, during the winter of 1940-1941.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC) in Warsaw distributed some 5,000 Reichsmark of aid to Ozorkow. At this time, the Jewish population in Ozorkow numbered approximately 4,700 people, of whom 200 were refugees. In the spring of 1941, several hundred young Jews between the ages of 17 and 21 were rounded-up and sent to forced labour camps near Gdansk and Posen.

In the summer of 1941, an open ghetto was established, which contained approximately half the Jews in Ozorkow, while the others continued to live elsewhere in the town. Although the concentration of the Jews from the surrounding area had already started at this time, initially only male Jews from various locations in the area, including Piatek and Parczew, were resettled to Ozorkow. By mid-October 1941, the situation of the Jews in Ozorkow had deteriorated so badly that the Amstkommissar considered it 'untenable' and a 'public danger for the rest of the poulation.' 

There are contradictory views as to when the Ozorkow ghetto finally became the only area in the town in which Jews could live. Some sources put the date as November or early in December 1941. Other sources claim the ghetto was only finally established - and enclosed- in the spring of 1942, after all Jews incapable of work had been selected and sent to be exterminated. According to records regarding the liquidation of the ghetto, there were approximately 5,000 Jews living there in early 1942, among this number were German Jews. The ghetto was located in the Wiatraki suburb of Ozorkow along what are now known as Partyzantow, Polna, and Krasicki Streets.

The Jews of the ghetto, including children as young as 10 -years old, were employed cleaning streets, working on fortifications along the River Bzura, and producing uniforms for the Wehrmacht. Work outside of the ghetto provided an opportunity to obtain a little extra food by bartering or scavenging, but most work details were closely guarded, allowing little or no contact with the local non-Jewish population.

Living and sanitary conditions in the ghetto were harsh: food and space were both in short supply. The Judenrat established a soup kitchen that distributed 250 grams of bread and one cup of soup per person per day. Local Poles helped the Jews by providing groceries, especially bread and potatoes. Only limited medical assistance was available, and according to one source, approximately 150 people died, most of them from typhus. Some sources note that typhus cases were transferred to a hospital which had two doctors.

Lenz, an employee of the Ozorkow town administration was in charge of the ghetto, the so-called Ghettokommandant. He was very popular with the Jews of Ozorkow, and after the end of the Second World War, they made statements in his favour to the investigating authorities.

On April 25, 1942, the Germans ordered that 8 or 10 Jews be hanged in public, on the market square, forcing the Jewish Police to participate in the executions. Immediately after the hangings, all the Jews were taken to the 'white school' where they were surrounded by armed Gendarmes and SS men, and they were sorted into two categories, A and B. All the Jews in the 'B' category had to remain in the school, among them mostly young children and adolescents, comprising approximately half of the ghetto population. From here they were deported by truck to be murdered in the Chelmno extermination camp. One source claims that the commander of the German police demanded 2,000 Reichsmark per person to release some of them, but the Judenrat could only ransom 93 women, without their children, claiming that they were specialist workers.

Within the ghetto, only two children remained, in hiding. According to a witness statement, the secretary of the Judenrat Mania Rzepkowicz, that day rejected an offer by the German official in charge of the ghetto to be excluded from 'this resettlement' and instead, together with her child, joined the group that was taken to Chelmno. A report from June 1942, preserved in the Ringelblum Archive, indicates that by then some 2,700 Jews from Ozorkow had been exterminated.

A few weeks after the public hangings and the deportation 'Aktion' during the first half of May 1942, Hans Biebow, the head of the German Ghetto Administration in Litzmannstadt and Chaim Rumkowski - the head of the Judenrat in the Litzmannstadt ghetto arrived in Ozorkow to claim workers to be moved to Litzmannstadt. They selected 1,387 Jews for labouring tasks, who were transferred by tram into the Litzmannstadt ghetto on May 21-22, 1942. In June 1942, the Gestapo in Litzmannstadt reported that around 9,000 Jews had been evacuated recently from Kreis Lentschutz, which was free of Jews (Judenfrei) with the exception of 1,000 in the Ozorkow ghetto, who were urgently needed to complete production orders for the Wehrmacht.

After this large transfer of Jews to Litzmannstadt in May 1942, all Jews remaining in the Ozorkow ghetto had to perform forced labour in the factories and workshops, making uniforms and boots for the Wehrmacht. The workers received monetary payment, which was sufficient to buy a little food at inflated prices. The final selection undertaken by the Germans took place in August 1942. More workers were selected for the Litzmannstadt ghetto, and the remainder were killed. A handful of Jews remained in the ghetto for a few more days to clean it up and prepare the Jewish property for shipping to the Reich.

The names of some of the perpetrators active in the Ozorkow ghetto are known: Max-Karl Heidenreich, the NSDAP -Kreistellenhauptleiter and deputy Landrat of Landkreis Lentschutz, frequently visited the ghetto. On these occasions he insulted and beat Jews, searched apartments and took food from Jews, forced the ghetto inhabitants to perform 'gymnastic exercises,' and destroyed Jewish property. He was tried in Poland and executed on May 17, 1949. A certain man named Freund was accused of having murdered children in the ghetto, however, his fate after the war, remains unknown. August Binneweis was a Gendarme in Ozorkow who participated in the execution of at least eight Jews in April 1942, as well as in the liquidation of the ghetto.

Witnesses also name several officials of the German Criminal Police (Kripo), including Werner Hermann, Bruno Uhle, Eduard Zimmermann, and Stanislaw Przybylek; the commander of the Gendarmes Kar, Schmidt, Land and Arenz - all perpetrators who beat Jews, including children, and participated in deportation 'Aktions.'


Sources

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

Photograph: Chris Webb Private Archive

Holocaust Historical Society, October 27, 2020