Transports from Slovakia


Rejowiec 2004 (Paul Denton)

On 27 May 1942 our transport of around a thousand Jews went from Sabinov via Zilna and Cadon straight to Poland. At the border we had to line up at the station to be counted by the German Sicherheitsdienst (SD). The women were counted inside the wagons. We continued our journey for two or three days, until we arrived at Rejowiec / Lubelski in the Lublin district, where we had to get out of the wagons. We were dying of thirst throughout the journey. Twice we were given water but no food at all. But we had taken adequate provisions. In Rejowiec we were received by engineer Holzheimer from the water company at Chelm, and the SA Kreishauptmann. Nine members of the Jewish Order Service (OD) were also there at Rejowiec, and their commander Kessler from Brno, who were very helpful to us.

The next day two transports the same size as ours arrived from Stropkov, followed by one from Humenne, so then there were 3,000 of us Slovakian Jews gathered there. The Jews at Rejowiec had been resettled during the immediate days of Passover, so that there were only 300 of the original Jewish population left by the time we arrived at the ghetto. There were another 60 Jews from the Protectorate, and a few women from Nitra. We were allocated a share of what had previously been Jewish houses, but there was very little space, which meant we had to share a room of 3 by 4 metres with 20 to 25 people. For eight days no one paid any attention to us. There was no supervision; it was a terrible chaos. No food was provided. The provisions given to us at Zilna were stored in the school building, after we had to relinquish the valuable foods to the men of the SA.

We only got them back after fifteen days, all inedible. After a while the 3,000 Slovakian Jews were called upon to volunteer for work on draining the swamps. Only young, strong men were considered for these jobs. Fathers heading a family of more than three children were refused. In total 450 men were put to work. Each day they received 250 grams of bread, a watery soup in the afternoon, and black coffee in the evening. Another 500 or 600 young people, irrespective of their family commitments, were taken to other camps in the area such as Sawin, Sajozice and the SA squadron at Chelm. They were selected for the Jewish Order Service, who accepted bribes and were corruptible. It should be noted here that the Jewish Council, which was still functioning, contained various elements. A special mention should go to the self-sacrificing help given by the women from Nitra. The same could not be said of others. No one else ever cared about the remaining 2,000 Jews from Slovakia.

After three or four weeks the Jewish Council at Chelm opened a community kitchen, where, for 50 groschen, you could get a bowl of soup. A respected man named Fraenkel was in charge; he was later shot along with all his family. The scarcity of food and appalling sanitary conditions caused many cases of typhoid, diarrhoea and other ailments. Many elderly people died.

One evening a drunken Polish policeman appeared on the doorstep of the physician Doctor Grossman, from Sabinov, who had just returned from a house call. The policeman ordered the doctor to hand over his wristwatch, and they started arguing. The policeman threatened the doctor with his weapon, and the doctor defended himself, and they ended up fighting. The Jewish OD and the Jews from the surrounding houses were called in to help. When the policeman got his gun back, he fired three shots into the air. Immediately after that, the Polish police turned up and arrested everyone in Doctor Grosman’s house, as well as another 24 inhabitants from neighbouring houses, including five men of the OD. Grossman himself tried to get away, but was fatally wounded. The 24 who were arrested were executed the next day for instigating a ‘communist uprising’. Five members of the OD from Brno were among them.

On 9 August 1942 the gendarmerie suddenly ordered the entire Jewish population from the ghetto and the labour camp – about 2,700 people – to assemble in the square in front of the school. Those who were too ill or weak to comply were shot inside their homes. The patients of the ‘Jewish Hospital’ suffered the same fate, including Doctor Sebok from Sabinov, who had been struck down with typhoid. At about 10.a.m. the elderly who had sat down on top of their luggage, because they were getting tired, were shot in the neck by the SS. And so 30 or 40 people died: Then we got our marching orders, women in front, the men following behind. Doctor Borkenfeld was the last one. I advised him to walk up front, because the back rows were too dangerous. He replied it was his duty as a physician. After only 30 or 40 metres, they started firing at us from the left with rifles and machine-pistols. The group thinned out dramatically. Later in Krychow I was told by a one-time member of the Jewish Council of Rejowiec, a Polish Jew by the name of Holzblatt, that 700 Jews had been killed in this incident. In Rejowiec only a few stayed behind to work at the nearby sugar factory. Later I heard they were taken to Trawniki to dig peat (Dorohucza).

At Rejowiec station we were received by the so-called ‘Black Ukrainians’. We were pushed inside cattle wagons, 120 or 130 of us to a wagon, without any kind of registration. The doors were closed. We stood there until 8 p.m. Twenty –five men were taken out again to collect the luggage that had been left behind and load it into the wagons. While they were doing this the ‘Black Ukrainians’ were harassing and assaulting them. It was unbelievably hot in the wagon – it was August – we were given no water, we were gasping for air. The women were ripping their clothes off. We were like sardines, even the slightest movement was impossible. One hundred and fifty people died of suffocation, twenty in my wagon, young, strong people among them.

At about half past midnight we arrived at Sobibor, where we were received by the SS with whips. We were finally given a little water, but still no food. We were taken to a fir-lined path, where the women had to go to the right and the men to the left. Twenty-five men were selected to remove the dead and the luggage from the train. We never saw them again. The next morning we saw most of the women walking in rows of four to a place farther away from us. At eight o’clock an SS lieutenant appeared and ordered everyone who had previously done any drainage work to step forward. To the 100 men and 50 women who volunteered he said cryptically, “You are born again’. From the remaining group, technicians, blacksmiths, and watchmakers were selected, while the rest of the transport had to join the women in the field.

We left for Osowa and stayed the night there. The 500 German and Czech Jews made us very welcome and fed us. The next morning we went to Kyrchow escorted by Jewish policemen. We went past the Hansk country estate and met about a hundred Jewish girls who were busy threshing. They were in relatively good shape. Krychow is a penal camp in a swamp area, established by the previous Polish government. The area has now been considerably drained by the Jews. When we arrived, there were about 1,200 people, including 400 Czechs, 200 Slovakians and all the rest Poles. Living conditions were incredibly bad. Two hundred of us, we were put up in barracks measuring 60 by 4 metres.

There was neither straw nor blankets and no place to wash, everything was really dirty and bugs everywhere. We were so riddled with lice they literally covered our bodies. We had nothing to help us against them. Our rations consisted of 150 grams of bread, one serving of soup made from cabbage leaves, without fat or salt. And black coffee. We knew from experience that one could die of starvation within six weeks on that kind of diet. Most people ended up with swollen feet and cheeks, and typhoid and dysentery were also rife. Most of us had typhoid. We counted at least twelve dead each day. Out of the 155 people, 60 died.

The work itself was not demanding but we were too weak to cope with it. The physician was not allowed to say we were ill. Even with a fever of 39 degree C one still had to work. And if one did end up in hospital after all, the only treatment was being able to lie down. There was no medication, no special food. If you survived – fine, if you did not – fine as well. You could buy medicine for a lot of money, but most people lacked the means.

On 16 October 1942 we were told that some of our group would be sent on to the ‘Judenstadt’ Wlodawa on the River Bug, 25 kilometres from Krychow. The elderly and sick who could hardly work were picked for this resettlement. The hospital was also cleared out, and all patients sent to Wlodawa. These people were sent off without shoes, without luggage, because the rubber boots worn whilst at work were camp property, and they were not allowed to collect their own shoes. Four days later the entire Wlodawa population were deported to Sobibor.

At some stage, prisoners from the camps at Ujazdow and Hansk were transferred to ours for the winter. This made living conditions worse, unbearable even. On 9 December it was suddenly announced that a complete ‘resettlement’ would take place. Apart from 100 people who were selected to stay, to whom another 10 were added, all the rest were taken away. Some women and girls from Nitra and some other Czech women and girls stayed behind. As for the men, I was the only Slovakian, and there were two others from Bohemia. The rest were all Polish Jews. The group owes a lot to Piroska Taussig from Nitra, who had earned herself a special position in the office and helped us wherever possible. We owe it to her that so many girls escaped further deportation.

In the spring of 1943 more people arrived in the camp, Polish Jews this time. In June 1943 the camps at Osowa, Sawin, Sajozice and Luta were liquidated, and the rest were sent to us, increasing our number to 533. In Hansk there were still 100-110 women and 5 men.

The situation at Krychow improved considerably from the start of 1943. After 9 December 1942 we received a daily bread ration of 400 or 500 grams, and thick potato soup for a midday meal. We were given decent iron beds; the sanitary facilities improved and we could wash ourselves. The health situation improved as well; after this we had only three deaths among the 110 originally held back. Three further people were shot at the behest of the deputy commandant, while the camp commandant was on leave.

In March, when the camp got fuller again, the food situation got worse. Bread rations went back down to 150 grams per day; our midday meal went back to vegetable soup without any fat. In April 1943 rumours were going around that Dutch and Belgian Jews would be arriving, and this was confirmed by the camp leadership. But they never came. A railway worker told me what happened to them. The transports from Holland and Belgium arrived in very good shape. Unlike us, they had been transported in second class (passenger) wagons and were given food and white bread at the larger stations. But they were all taken to Sobibor. A few elderly and weak people were sent back to their country with the message that only those fit to work were required. That would suppress the Dutch and Belgian population’s resistance against deportations, because the Jews were supposedly only put to ‘work’. To begin with, some of the Jews were actually put to work, as were the Jews from other countries, but the SD wouldn’t have it. At Sobibor they were all put to death.

In the neighbourhood of Sobibor, at night, one can always see fire and smell the stench from burning hair for miles around. There are indications (and people are saying it anyhow) that the bodies, having been killed with electricity and gas and later buried, are now being dug up and burnt to remove all traces.

If anyone managed to escape back in 1942, those who were left behind were severely punished. Most of the escapees were Polish Jews who were familiar with local conditions. They formed groups in the forest and survived by robbing. Later on, the only ones who were punished after an escape attempt were those who had actually tried to escape, if they were recaptured.

Doctor Sobel from Pecovska Nova Ves and Feinerl both escaped from Sawin, when there was still a camp there. Both were recaptured. Sobel was executed and the other taken back to Sawin, but escaped again. He has not been heard of since. Lajos Klein from Michalowce escaped too. His fate is also unknown.

To my knowledge, about 8,000 Jews, in striped outfits, were working on drainage and construction projects at Lublin.

The following SS and SA officials were particularly ruthless towards the Jews:

SS- Scharführer Haschendorf in Chelm; SA –Scharführer Johann Loffler in Krychow, came from somewhere near Chemnitz; SA –Scharführer Hilvert in Osowa; SA –Scharführer Bayko in Osowa; SA –Scharführer Ondyke in Sawin, had been a butcher ; Holzheimer, an engineer in charge of the Water Board at Chelm, was particularly responsible.

Slovakia, 17 August 1943


Yad Vashem Archive M2/ 236

Jules Schelvis, Sobibor A History of a Nazi Death Camp, Berg, Oxford, New York 2007

Photograph: Paul Denton

Copyright: Holocaust Historical Society, October 12, 2021