Eyewitness in Mielec

mielec flugzeugweke

German Troops at the Mielec Flugzeugwerke

i am indebted to Rochelle Saidel's excellent book Mielec, Poland for the eyewitness accounts of the persecution of the Jews of Mielec during the Nazi occupation. I am also very grateful for Damian Betlej who provided me with a series of photographs from Flugzeugwerke Mielec.

Yeruchum Apfel a teenager from Mielec recalled:

No pogroms or anything like that. Then the Jews began to leave their houses and even opened stores Monday. Tuesday it really looked calm; some were still afraid but most of the Jews were on the streets and there was the feeling that things were not as bad as expected. That led to this disaster - this quiet - so on Wednesday, the eve of Rosh Hashana, they brought the bathhouse keeper to open it up and urged the ritual slaughterers to come and slaughter the chickens, so it would be possible to celebrate Rosh Hashana. I assume that they all thought that they would be going to the synagogue to pray. I don't know. But I assume that in light of all that was happening, it appeared that way, there was no fear.

i went out, the bathhouse was not full and a few came to the bathhouse and I was among the few. I was lucky and left about two or three minutes before the Germans surrounded the slaughterhouse and the bathhouse - they were adjacent to each other . The slaughterhouse was filled with women with chickens, geese and ducks, all that. Two ritual slaughterers stood and worked inside.

When I left the bathhouse I was not able to get very far to get to an alley where I then could not see. I got close to the beit midrash (small synagogue) . It was like a triangle - the big synagogue, two other synagogues. When I was on my way home, the Germans appeared next to the beit midrash, both with motorcycles and jeeps, and they surrounded the two buildings. There were three buildings next to each other (in addition to the three synagogues) - the bathhouse, the guesthouse, and poorhouse and they made the shape of the Hebrew letter het. There was the slaughterhouse for fowl. The slaughterhouse for larger animals was located elsewhere.

First they closed in on the slaughterhouse; the first thing - I was still standing and saw how they beat the women, the chickens fled. Suddenly it was a festival of fowl - roosters, hens, geese and ducks and all that. There was this large field there and the noise was overwhelming. This combined with the screaming of the women that the Germans were beating. They only chased away the women. I was still standing and watching. I did not understand what was about to happen and did not believe that what happened would have happened. But afterward, I saw that they pulled out naked Jews from the bathhouse and shoved them into the slaughterhouse. Then I knew something bad was about to take place and I fled home.

I heard very well; I heard the shots and then the shouts. I did not see the fire directly, but we heard the shouts since they put - and I have the testimony of my friend , someone of my own age, the only one who managed to escape from there - at the time they went out, they forced them all into the slaughterhouse. They made them lie down and shot them, but did not kill them, they wounded them.

There were some thirty-nine men and the ritual slaughterers, all of them, he (my friend) said, they -the Germans - then went to get some flammable liquid, gasoline or something like that. Then he (my friend) seized the opportunity to jump out of a window next to the storeroom for wood and from there managed to hide and escape. From him I heard these details, everything that they did there. But afterwards we heard the screams and we smelled the burning flesh and all that.

By way of the backyard we ran away from our house. We were near the synagogue . I know that they assembled a very large number of Jews and made them stand across from the synagogue there. It was not clear to me whether they intended to shoot them or not. In any event they kept them there for some time and then they said that some officer came and gave the order to release them. But they burned down the bathhouse, the slaughterhouse, and the guesthouse, and all the synagogues, the rabbi's house and then the section nearby; they burned many Jewish homes, not only public buildings.

Dr Apolinari Frank, who was the mayor of Mielec during part of the German occupation provided a testimony to Bertha Lichtig on June 10,1946, and he told her:

On September 8, 1939, Germans entered the town. People were frightened when they heard explosions from different sides and saw the Polish army escaping. People tried to hide themselves and shut their houses and went into cellars and attics. The Germans entered proud and arrogant. Assured of victory they rode through the town, filled out all the streets, checked out important locations and met the towns officials. After people didn't hear any more shooting (which they feared the most) slowly one by one they left their houses. They started to do their errands, Jews started to prepare for Rosh Hashana. They went to the ritual slaughterers. Men and women went there, carrying chickens, ducks and other fowl, waiting for the slaughterers.

When they refused to come, a whole delegation of Jews went to their houses. The ritual slaughterers were Josef Beck and Chaim Kurz. Others went peacefully to the mikveh. Meanwhile a group of Germans came back from their rounds. They were Germans with skulls insignias and they were going everywhere like crazy, checking everything in the town. They also went to the ritual slaughterhouse and mikveh, which were next to each other. They saw Jews bathing themselves and killing chickens and they became angry. 'We are fighting and struggling and you want to eat and take a bath,' the Nazis said.

They threw a woman out of the slaughterhouse. They rounded up the naked Jews from the mikveh and threw them into an enclosure where there were other Jews. They brought kerosene and set fire to the slaughterhouse. When shochet Beck's son-in-law - a ritual slaughterer named Weinreb from Borova, near Mielec- heard what was going on, he ran to save his father-in-law . But the Germans grabbed him and threw him alive into that fire.

The Germans gave an order to bring kerosene and gasoline and threw it on the synagogue. They also got some Polish companions to help them identify Jewish houses. Wherever they found Jews they took them and shoved them alive into the fire. One Jew managed to almost escape through the window of the synagogue, but the Germans noticed and they shot him. He fell from the window. His long Hasidic coat got stuck as he was falling and he was hanging and waving back and forth over the Jews in flames. On that day twenty-seven Jews were murdered. The fire in the synagogue burned for two days. 

Yeruchum Apfel explained how forced labour worked in Mielec:

The Judenrat provided forced laborers for the Germans, services to the German army, German institutions. And every day according to this list , they had to report to the rynek, the square, Jews for forced labor. That means you did not get paid for it. All this . I, from the standpoint of my age, was not required to do forced labor. I was fifteen. But I was strong and we had to survive. There were Jews who had money but were not very strong; they had never worked a day in their lives and did not know how to work. So I went to work every day filling in for them and earning a living. My brothers also did the same thing.

At first, I worked in a different place each time. I was very successful at work. At the end, there was a great number of places for forced labor. Only the people moved around, since each person was required to do forced labor one or two times a week. Then there was the worst place to work, there were Poles there, the supervisors, but they hated the Jews and would beat them mercilessly. They had batons of wood... they would beat you with them and there was great fear there.

Without realising it, I came to work there and was very successful. They were very impressed that a Jew was able to work so well. After all I was young, I was well-liked by them, the Polish foremen and afterwards this became my regular workplace and there I got paid the most. That was because if someone was assigned to work there, even if he only had a little money, he would be willing to pay someone to take his place. I was the exception, for me it was very good.

There were two kinds of work - digging ditches to lay sewage pipes and laying stone for sidewalks and roads. It was manual labour, hard, and I quickly caught on what had to be done. These murderers, absolutely brutal - me they liked and it was fine for me there, and I earned a lot of money working there.

Naturally, the large stores had a German trustee who was in charge of the store. The Jews worked there and the merchandise was not theirs, but they did the selling and received a wage. The business was as though it were in German hands. Everyone had to work, we did not have anything like a ghetto. Someone who did not work were sent to the Pustkow work camp.

Apfel continued by explaining he worked for the Brom Bavaria Company (BBC) in the forest six kilometers away from Mielec:

And in 1941, the war with Russia broke out. But the Germans already began preparations in 1940. Then I worked for the BBC Company (Brom Bavaria Company) in the army camp. They built a huge camp in the middle of the forest and from outside of the forest you could not see a single thing. Everything was between the trees. This was also a fairly good period for me, and I worked there with German civilians and ate the army food with them there. i would walk with these Germans and there were two Germans that I later became friends with, with one in particular Paul, who became a friend of the family and even came to our house. He would even bring food for my mother to cook for him.

mielec envelope429

Mielec Envelope (Chris Webb Private Archive)

The German deportation took place on March 9, 1942, Dr Apolinari Frank recalled the Aktion after the Second World War ended:

On the day of the deportation there were sixty people murdered in the town, and among this number were Lejzor Symson and both Stemplers and Granovie. There were 650 men taken to Pustkow. There were 750 people murdered in Berdechow, and there were 200 people sent to PZL (the Heinkel Plant).

In the hangar where the rest of the men and women and children were sent, 75 people were shot to death. Some mostly elderly people died of natural causes. Some babies also died. A few women went crazy.

Miriam Gutman was among those who survived the 'aktion' on March 9, 1942, and she testified after the war:

There were all kinds of notices pasted on the walls. They came from the Judenrat. I remember the day it was the 8th of March 1942, people walked about as though they were drugged. They did not know. One whispered to the next, something is going to happen here. I don't know what time the order came out, maybe it was broadcast on loudspeakers, that the Jews had to bring all of their possessions to the Judenrat, including gold, silver, things of value, furs, all kinds of things.

We also packed all that there was -all kinds of gold rings, chains, all kinds of things my parents had that were passed down in the family from generation to generation. My mother had two very nice fur coats, we had a large beautiful rug, all my father took, along with me- I walked with my father- and we brought it to the Judenrat. There were many Jews there, and so many things both inside and outside. And we went home.

My mother was very sad. She asked, 'What will happen now? We don't have anything, we turned everything in. Maybe we will need something of value to get food for a child or something.' My father said, 'Don't worry. Now they are saying that everything will be okay, that they wont do anything to us. We turned everything over to them. That's what the Germans wanted.' And we went to sleep.

Miriam recalled what happened on that fateful day:

It was winter in Poland. Very cold, snow, everything frozen. In the middle of the night - I don't remember exactly if it was three or four in the morning- they banged on the door, but very hard banging, Jude raus, Jude raus. My father opened the door; as he opened it , he moved farther in, because he saw two Germans standing at the door and he was a bit alarmed, so he came farther in. As he did so, one of the Germans hit him with his rifle. A blow with the butt of the rifle, and said, 'Hurry up and get dressed and get outside.'

Miriam described the round-up and the incarceration in the airplane hangers:

We left our house and went to the road. All the Jews. There was great confusion, really something. We stood in groups of four, each one with four women. We walked to Berdechow, which was a forest. A forest in Berdechow, that's what they called it. We got there and the march was very difficult. It was winter, snow, cold, and we arrived.

There were hangers there - they parked the airplanes in them. Not far away was an airfield. The hangers were in the middle of a forest. They were enormous and they had doors and glass all around. There was a very large opening and a smaller one. We began to enter one of the hangers through the small door.

At the entrance two Germans stood at each side and anyone who was a little sick or weak, or they saw a kerchief covering over a face injury, or anything they didn't like, they immediately moved them to the side. They also moved old people to the side. These people did not enter the hangar. They made us go inside. It was very cold and we sat in the corner there. At night - it may have already been night, in any event it was dark - they called on the loudspeakers that the men were to report to the gate. My father also went. All night we did not know what happened to him, where they took him. We were very worried.Before dawn my father returned with other Jews. He whispered to my mother that they buried all the people that the Nazis had killed in the forest.

I don't know the numbers.... Certainly in the hundreds, since he said it included all the old people and the others. Also among them was my father's mother. And they buried - my father buried - that's the way it was all night. We were in that hangar for eight days. Every night they removed people. I don't know where they took them. Some came back and some didn't, and we were there.

Yerechum Apfel recalled the Aktion on March 9, 1942:

Then banging on the door, breaking it down and entering and 'Raus Juden.' It was a special unit of Germans, just for the purpose. Mielec was the first town in Poland whose inhabitants were expelled in this fashion. It just happened. The first in Poland that were expelled - in the morning you get up, force everyone out of their homes to be expelled.

First they concentrated all the Jews in the marketplace square. I left the house without looking- but being beaten.Then I ran outside- not with my father, not with my mother, and not with my brothers. Thus I got to the marketplace square and saw what was happening. I saw that on the side, on the sidewalk , gentiles were standing. I quickly took off my armband with the star and I just stood. I was wearing my factory uniform with the number on it, so no one realized that I was a Jew. In this way i could see what was happening.

There was chaos, mothers were searching for their children and children were searching for their mothers. Everyone was coming in the same way that I had fled our house. Certainly the same thing had happened in other houses. They got there and they could not find each other - crying, screaming and hysteria.

At a certain point, they started to move the Jews from the marketplace square in the direction of the main street. At the exit to the main square SS guards stood and made the first selection. The young people were directed to the right and all the rest to the left. They separated some 800 young people, including my brothers and my friends. They were sent to the Pustkow camp.

I still accompanied them, walking on the sidewalk, searching for my parents and brothers. I understood that my brothers would be there. I crossed the barrier that was on the sidewalk. Nobody stopped me and I could continue to walk. Then, suddenly, I saw my female cousin, and her sisters and her mother. They had bundles. We were very poor , but my aunt was much wealthier and they had what to take with them. She saw me and I saw here. Then I joined in the march and picked up one of the bundles. I helped them carry them. They led us along the Berdechow road and again there was another selection. They separated all the old people.

Berdechow was the village we passed through. In reality the hangar and all the tragedies that took place afterwards , all the murders and all that belong to the area of the village . In the middle of the camp , then an airport in the village of Berdechow - thats where they took you to kill you , but they did not tell you that they were taking you there to murder you, but that they were taking you to Berdechow. Their intention was clear. The old people they murdered on the spot and they buried them.

Apfel remembered the hangar was large, and the Nazis gathered everyone there:

When everyone was inside, representatives from the factory appeared and they removed close to eighty people who had worked at the factory and kept them there. I was among them. Again the young people, in reality they took all the young people, who managed to hide from the forced labor selection, and took them out. Some eighty remained in the factory and the rest were sent to Pustkow from the hangar.

Eda Fiszer Lichtman and her husband had fled to Mielec and were living in a house belonging to the Leidner family in the market square, not only did she survive the brutal deportation, she also survived the Sobibor death camp and she recalled the lead up to the deportation aktion and the brutal aktion itself:

The officers received the ransom, and said they were very pleased and there would not be an uprooting. The Jews felt relaxed , they were kissing on the street from joy, that it wont happen and they kept repeating the Germans words that there wont be an uprooting. The night was calm. In the early morning of March 9, we heard shots. A special German division surrounded Mielec. All the streets were closed. The Germans with guns got into the Jewish houses and screamed 'Raus.' They expelled the Jews from their apartments, putting them in the market square.

The people left their homes as they were, some half naked, others with their belongings on their backs, others with luggage, bags, mothers with children. The sick, old, crippled were shot on the spot. On the market square they made a selection, one group of the young men, the other of women, children, and older men. They formed a line. On both sides of the streets the Germans were escorting us, using very thick ropes. It was a nightmare. All the time there was shooting into the crowd, they were beating people's heads until blood was visible; they took children from their mothers. The road was full of dead bodies. We were not allowed to evade them. 

It was freezing. On both sides of the streets there was white snow shining as it reflected the sun, and under our feet on the road the snow was mixed with mud and Jewish blood. The Poles went out of their houses, many shook their heads, sighed and said, 'Yes, today you- tomorrow us.' Some were smiling, others offered their service. But this couldn't help. We were dragged to Berdechow.

In the evening, despite the low temperature, we were sweaty and tired. They led us into a huge hangar. They put almost eight thousand people inside. The terrible night started. The families couldn't find their relatives. We were exhausted, thirsty. People who managed to get some fresh snow without being noticed were happy. Many people died.

A woman stood beside me with a crying baby. Because of all she went through she no longer had any milk. She paid me with a ring for a piece of snow, put it in a bottle , warmed it up between her breasts, and tried to calm the baby. All the time they put more and more groups of Jews into the hangar, from different towns and villages. Mielec and the surroundings became Judenrein.

Late at night, when they stopped bringing the uprooted people, the Germans closed the iron door and turned on the lights. They put tables in one corner and chose a few girls to bring the bread in sacks. The bread was cut into pieces. We were brought in groups to the tables with bread, and when we approached them, the Germans were shooting at us and dispelled us. And again, they lined us up. This game was repeated several times. Only a few people got a piece of bread. The Germans had a great laugh. At mid-night suddenly they put the lights out and told us to be absolutely quiet.

Eda Lichtmann continued her narrative:

In the morning they opened the door. The freezing air flew into the smoky air, dirty with the exhalations and excretions of the few thousand people in the hangar. The Germans told all the men to shave. Again they put us in lines and closed the wide door, leaving only the narrow one. They told us to go out as fast as possible, and they beat us, chased after us. Everybody ran into the exit, trampling one another, in order to get out as fast as possible, not knowing what for.

Outside it was cold, the snow whitened everything around and covered the fields with a thick layer. The Germans put an electric device at the door. We were put in threes and looking into everyone's eyes, watching every move, they let us back in. The sick and the tired they left on the side, beating them and shooting at them. The bodies were trembling and falling, the blood was spilling and changed the colour of the snow.

At the entrance to the hangar, I noticed a strange looking device, resembling a microphone with electric lights. The wires going out from the building, were connected to the machine, and I noticed that the lights went on and off when we passed by them. At the same time the Germans stood at the entrance and made a selection, who will die and who will live. I cannot say for sure what the connection was between the device and the selection, but we all agreed that apparently the machine sensed the lameness or another weakness of a person who passed between these wires.

Among the selected people there was one of the famous social workers of Mielec, the judge Pohoryles. He was with his wife and a son. In flowing German he said to the perpetrators that they shouldn't be so cruel to the defenseless people. A few Germans came with whips and asked, 'Who are you to stick your nose into something that's not your business?' They started to beat him on the face. The judge grabbed one whip and returned the blow. The furious Germans started to beat his head so much that they killed him on the spot. His wife and son tried to defend him, but they also were beaten, and then shot.

After another selection, one group was sent to clear the bodies from the field and the other, to work in the airplane factory. After a few days we were put into the train carriages. Some people were sent to Miedzyrzec, some to Biala Podlaska, and we were sent to Dubienka, over the River Bug.

Jack Sittsamer, who lived in Mielec and was approximately thirteen years of age, at the time of the deportation 'aktion' recalled:

On March 9, 1942, the Germans gathered all the Jews in my town, and we all assembled in the marketplace, and the selection began. Some people were selected and taken away, but I was pretty lucky and the whole family stayed together, and we started marching toward the airport hangars. Both sides of the road were lined with SS Storm-troopers and big German Shepard s.

About halfway towards the hangars, the Germans took all of the older people out and shot them then and there. That was the last time I saw my father Moshe. When we finally got to the airport, they separated us into groups. They took my mother, my younger brother and my two sisters, and they put them on a train. My brother Yisroel and I were still together. After another selection, they separated me from my brother. They took him away to a place called Pustkow, Poland.

I found out that my mother was taken to Miedzyrzec, Poland. For a short while, I received postcards from her. They took me to an airplane factory named the Flugzeugwerke (the Heinkel factory), which is near Mielec.

Moshe Bram recalled that fateful day of March 9, 1942:

It was the 9th of March 1942. On Sunday in the morning (it was Monday morning, or the night between Sunday and Monday) in the middle, men came, Polish police with Germans and they told everyone to congregate in the marketplace, that is the central place in the city. Everyone was allowed to take a small suitcase with some personal effects and gather in the central square, the marketplace- everyone. I must point out just by chance on that particular night , it was just me, my younger brother, and my mother. My older brother, by chance- there had been rumours that something was brewing at that time, we did not know what or from where- so he was not at home. So they did not catch him at the time, all of us were going to the central marketplace.

Naturally, as we were on our way to the marketplace, my mother, my brother, and myself , we already saw masses of Jews- old people, babies, and immediately they began segregating the people; selecting - all the young men were requested to move to one spot, all the older people including women, elderly and children were directed to a different spot. Then we suddenly saw in one second the Germans beat, pushed and shot randomly in order to install fear. We began to see a really horrible scene, how they behaved toward people.

Then they had us all stand in lines; one large group of all the young people who were there, all the older people, the elderly, the babies and women in one place. We stood for several hours, then we began to see that this large group started to move- about ten times the size of the group of younger people, from the age of sixteen to forty or fifty. Anyone with a beard, an adult, they did not take at all (into the group of younger men).

They began to move. It was like they said to us that they were going to the train station and they were sending them to Wlodawa in the Lublin district. We never knew that such a place existed but evidently it did. We were not allowed to move and slowly the group disappeared from our sight, when we began to move.

We were arranged in two large groups of people, and our group began, what shall I say, to annoy the Germans - I went out of the group because I did not have shoes there. Then they saw, came and fired on somebody and gave me his shoes. We saw immediately, with that kind of behaviour, where we were headed.

Our group, I would guess, numbered about 800 or so. Another group of 300 to 400 went in two different directions. We started walking to who knows where and walked twenty-four kilometers from Mielec to Debica, to the Pustkow camp.

Dr Irene Geminder Eber wrote about a visit from the Germans on March 8, 1942, when her mother's typewriter was confiscated:

Heavy pounding boots are heard on the staircase. They approach our tiny, crowded room, the door flies open, and suddenly huge, gray-coated men seem to fill every inch of space in that little room. Their brutal red faces tower above us, among them that of the hated Rudi Zimmermanm, an old family friend, who was now a Volksdeutscher, a member of the Gestapo, and a killer.

She described the chaos in the hangar on the day of the Aktion on March 9, 1942:

People were packed tightly in the huge hangar, as far as the eye could see, sitting or standing in the dim recesses. Families were camped out on the floor, as if for a macabre picnic. Parents hugged their children, old men prayed, infants cried, mothers shrilly called to older children, others simply stared vacantly, or wrinkled their brows in concentration, as if trying to figure out where they were, or how they got to be in this place.

Long ditches had been dug next to the hangar and boards had been put up on two stands, one at each end of the ditches. These were the toilets. Men and women sat under the watchful eyes of the guards, exchanging information and conjectures about our ultimate fate.

 Miriam Gutman described the horrifying experience of being disinfected:

A week later they took out all of them who were still in the hangar. They took us , we walked a bit of a way and there were the trains. They forced us onto them and began to shout very quickly to get on a particular car. In the first car they ordered us to undress and leave our clothing and to get into the second car. We were completely naked. Inside , they told us to stand in two lines and between them the Germans walked with their rifles looking at each person. They made us turn around, raised our heads... and afterward they carried out disinfection. It was suffocating. It was awful.

After the disinfection they told us to get out quickly and get dressed. We got out and simply did not know what was happening to us. We were confused from the disinfection. They said that we were the largest number there. All week long they took people to various places. I think to Ludowa, a camp- I don't know. Then to Miedzyrzec, Podlaski, and Dubienka. Those were the three places where they took the Jews of Mielec.

Dr Irene Geminder Eber also recalled the transfer from the hangar to the trains, headed for the Lublin district: :

One day, a train was brought to a siding nearby - it was a steaming locomotive with a long row of cattle cars - and with much shouting and many beatings (even they no longer seemed extraordinary) most of the hangar dwellers were loaded onto the train. Packed tightly into the cattle cars, with not enough room for everyone to sit, we held on to the little food we had left. The small window afforded only a smidgen of light and air. Now the hangar seemed like paradise lost.


Rochelle G. Saidel, Mielec, Poland- The Shtell That Became a Nazi Concentration Camp, Geffen Publishing House, Jerusalem 2012

Photograph : Damian Betlej

Envelope: (Chris Webb Private Archive)  

Holocaust Historical Society August 6, 2022