szczebrzeszyn 1939143

Szczebrzeszyn 1939 - (Chris Webb - Private Archive) 

Szczebrzeszyn is located 53 miles south-southeast of Lublin. In August 1939, there were 7,496 inhabitants of which circa 3,200 were Jews. German forces occupied Szczebrzeszyn between September 13-26, 1939, before relinquishing to Soviet forces as part of the Molotov -Ribbentrop pact. Following a border renegotiation returned Szczebrzeszyn to the German sphere of influence. Some 500 to 800 Jews joined the Soviet military evacuation, which took place on October 5 -6, 1939. The German's re-occupied Szczebrzeszyn on October 8, 1939.

On October 14, 1939, Major von Bassewitz- Behr, military commander of Szczebrzeszyn for 10 days, appointed a local collaborationist administration. He named 60 Poles as members of an auxiliary police force (Hilfspolizei). A civilian Gendarmerie post was established shortly before Szczebrzeszyn's transfer on March 16, 1940, from Kreis Zamosc to Kreis Bilgoraj.

On November 15, 1939, German soldiers set fire to the synagogue and set fire to Jewish residences. The Jews themselves were blamed for the arson attacks and the Jewish community were fined 20,000 zloty.

A council of Jewish elders, established during the fires, was transformed into a Jewish Council (Judenrat) during April 1940. Cudyk Mejler became its chairman. The Judenrat raised contributions demanded by the authorities and organised forced labour conscription. From the spring of 1940, it ordered more than 500 men to labour camps, including some 300 to Belzec in mid-August.

Approximately 300 local Jews displaced by war devastation in Frampol, Bilgoraj, and Janow Lubelskie moved to Szczebrzeszyn. In December 1939, 210 Jews arrived from Wloclawek and Lodz. On January 15, 1940, 120 men originally from Wloclawek, imprisoned in Zamosc were expelled to Szczebrzeszyn. By September 1940, 2,800 Jews, including 400 refugees and deportees were residing in Szczebrzeszyn.

From late August 1940, a ghetto gradually emerged in the so-called Zatylny neighbourhood. It began at the rear cellar apartments of the buildings fronting the market square on Zamosc Street and stretched back to Targowa Street and the Wieprz River. The need to house 1,000 Polish-Christian deportees from Gostynin, in the Warthegau, expelled to Szczebrzeszyn in late July 1940, likely sparked the first consolidation of Jews in the future ghetto. On August 22, Jews were expelled from the front-facing apartments on Zamosc Street. On August 29, Jewish businesses were auctioned. As Mejler explained to the American Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC) officials in Warsaw in September, while most Jewish men were interned in labour camps, the authorities had expropriated their businesses, ordered their families to move to residences on rear streets and permitted the new Polish business owners to take over the evicted Jews' homes.

Halina Witting, a Polish-Christian expelled from Posen, recalled the ghetto was established after she arrived in Szczebrzeszyn in the winter of 1940- 1941. The Kawerszbok family, required to report to the ghetto, offered Witting their fabric store, 1 of 35 Jewish shops still open, in exchange for promises of material assistance. The timings suggest preparations for the German invasion of the Soviet Union, which took place on June 22, 1941, and the garrisoning of Luftwaffe troops in Szczebrzeszyn on April 3, may have contributed to the ghetto's formation.

The Polish physician Zygmunt Klukowski, director of the Szczebrzeszyn hospital, first used the word ghetto in his diary on July 8, noting a German airman had shot dead a 21-year-old Jewish woman in the ghetto. Before Witting's arrest for underground activities in the summer of 1941, a wall was erected on one side of the ghetto.

Required in September 1941, to report on ghettos in Kreis Bilgoraj, the Kreishauptmann Werner Ansel excluded Szczebrzeszyn from the list. Survivor Dworja Flajszer mentions a small number of Jews who continued to live outside the ghetto mainly on Zielona Street and in a few buildings fronting the square by the church. These Jews included families of medical personnel, such as dentists Natan Bronsztein and his wife and some of the 109 Jewish craftsmen permitted to operate 94 workshops to provide services to the non-Jewish population.

From October 1940, several hundred Jews worked for the Luftwaffe at airfield construction sites in Klemensow and Mokre, earning 3 to 4 zloty a day. Determined to finish the projects the Luftwaffe from May 1941, conscripted daily from the Szczebrzeszyn, Sulow, and Radecznica gminy some 4,000 Jews and Christians at Klemensow. During the summer, Jews from Szczebrzeszyn were interned at a Water Regulation Authority camp in Bortatycze.

Barracks were erected in the ghetto for the homeless. Poor sanitation contributed to typhus epidemics in October 1941, and January 1942. Permitted to leave the ghetto during the day, the Jews had relatively ready access to food. From October 1941, when Jews throughout the Generalgouvernement were subject to the death penalty for leaving their places of residence, villagers arrived to barter with the Jews.

Witting remembered the Jews permitting Poles wanted by the German authorities to hide in ghetto bunkers. By the spring of 1942, Klukowski noted Poles cultivated relationships with Jews mainly for material gain. On March 25, he reported villagers came to Szczebrzeszyn to sell food specifically to Jews, because the restrictions on Jewish movement meant they would pay exorbitant prices. In April, the Jewish Social Self-Help (JSS) organisation provided a daily meal to 340 impoverished Jews at a community kitchen.

Anti- Jewish violence intensified from late December 1941. By February 18, 1942, Jews had been killed for refusing to surrender furs, leaving the town, not wearing armbands and smuggling livestock into the ghetto. On April 8, paid informants, probably Polish railwaymen confirmed rumours circulating from March 26, that Jews from Lublin and Izbica (nad Wieprzem) had been gassed at the Belzec death camp.

Shortly thereafter, a more formal ghetto was established on Targowa Street. It probably was created circa April 12, 1942, the day Klukowski noted local anti-Semites descended on Szczebrzeszyn in anticipation of a deportation . When this did not materialise, they plundered abandoned Jewish residences.

On April 22, 1942, the Judenrat organised an eight-member Jewish police force, probably to meet increased forced labour conscription quotas. On April 24, 1942, just 63 of 350 conscripts reported for a Wasserwirtschaftsinspektion camp in Kulikow. With the quota not achieved, the Gestapo on May 7, 1942, ordered 13 prominent Jews arrested. On May 8, 1942, Bronsztein, his father and 5 other prisoners were shot dead fleeing a transport carrying them to Zwierzyniec for execution. That afternoon, the Gestapo gave the Judenrat one hour to locate 100 conscripts for Kulikow. Before the deadline had passed, the Gestapo and Gendarmes began rounding up and shooting circa 100 Jews. The next morning 60 conscripts for Kulikow reported for labour camp duties. The Gestapo required the Jews to pay 2,000 zloty and 3 kilograms of coffee for the ammunition used in the massacre. On June 22, 1942, the Gestapo marched conscripts to a labour camp at the Klemensow airfield and then returned to arrest 53 additional Jews. A day later on June 23, 1942, Gendarmes shot 20 to 26 of the oldest prisoners at a vacant lot on Frampol Street.

In early August 1942, the Judenrat was required to submit a list of 2,000 people for deportation supposedly to the Reichskommissariat Ukraine. From 1:00 a.m. on August 8, 1942, the Gestapo, Gendarmes, Sonderdienst, Polish Blue Police and Jewish Police members began arresting the Jews on the list and incarcerating them in the trading hall on the square. Most evaded arrest, German police shot 13 others. At 8:00 p.m. 280 deportees were marched to the train station, locked into wagons with 170 Jews from Zwierzyniec, and sent the next day to the Belzec death camp.

To root out fugitives, the Gestapo prohibited Christians from sheltering Jews, or selling them food. As the police rounded up and shot Jewish fugitives, the Jews officially retained for labour soon hovered on the brink of starvation. On September 29, 1942, 400 Jews from the Radecznica gmina were expelled to Szczebrzeszyn.

On October 21, 1942, from 6:00 a.m. SS, Ukrainian -SS auxiliaries Gendarmes and Sonderdienst, and Polish police began expelling Jews from the ghetto. Ordered to search for fugitives . Judenrat member Hersz Gercel Hochbaum committed suicide.. Some 500 Jews were killed during this Aktion. Mayor Andreas Kraus reported that 934 Szczebrzeszyn. Jews, imprisoned overnight at the Alwa (Waligora) factory in Brody Male, were sent together with Zwierzyniec deportees to the Belzec death camp on October 22, 1942.

Over the next two weeks, 1,000 Jews from Szczebrzeszyn, all fugitives from the deportation Aktion, were hunted down by police and Polish civilian volunteers, such as Jan and Wladyslaw Malysz. Most were shot at the Jewish cemetery by Gendarmes, including Gendarme Sering and Polish auxiliary policemen including, Stanislaw Hajduczak, and Jan, Tadeusz and Michal Golebiowski. Gestapo assistant Stanislaw Majewski, a Pole from Bilgoraj, Szczebrzeszyn Gendarmerie commander Frymer and Polish police commander Marunowski oversaw the executions.

Sering was sentenced to death by a post-war Polish court was hanged in Zamosc in 1945. The aforementioned Polish policemen (except Majewski) and civilians were also put on trial. Majewski for signing the Volksliste and taking part in actions, including murder, harmful to Polish citizens and for extricating Jews from hiding places.

Released from Pawiak prison in Warsaw in the summer of 1942, Witting settled in Otwock. There, she and her husband sheltered Maria, Aleksandra and Ryszard Spielrein. In 1987, Yad Vashem recognised the couple as 'Righteous Among the Nations.'


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

Photograph: Chris Webb Private Archive

Holocaust Historical Society March 8, 2021