Polish Fortnightly Review Slaughter of the Jews in Poland

Protocol A


Statement by a Jewish Woman


AGONY OF THE PEOPLE CONDEMNED TO DEATH

The day the war began I was in Katowice, one of the first towns to fall to the German conquest. In the first few days of the war my parents were left homeless. Flight proved useless, for Sosnowiec, to which we escaped, was also besieged by the Germans. My parents took with them a large sum of money and jewellery, which enabled them to support their family.

When the Germans proclaimed that Sosnowiec was 'incorporated' with the Reich and began to persecute the Jews, my father went to Bendzin, where we remained until the middle of 1940. Meantime my father heard from his cousin at the little spa of Busk, that the situation there was not too bad and it would be worthwhile shifting to that place. In order to get there we had to cross the newly formed frontier line between the Reich and the General Gouvernement. My father found a German acquaintance who for 1,000 zlotys (£40) conveyed us all, together with our belongings and jewellery, across the frontier in a military car flying a swastika flag. Naturally, nobody at the frontier ventured to look inside the car. Thus with my children I arrived at Busk.

busk envelope264


Busk - Envelope (Chris Webb Private Archive)


We lived in Busk until June 1942, when the Germans began their terrible persecution of the Jews. But for the time being the situation was tolerable. Our worst experiences were being pillaged by German soldiers and members of the Gestapo and the forced labour instituted for the Jews. But the Jews managed to get through, one way or another. Several of them found ways and means of bribing German officials with presents and money.

Everybody in the town knew that every German took bribes. The representative of the Jewish population was the former chairman of the town's Jewish community. He was given the position of Hauptmann and became the director of all the Jewish councils in the entire district of Busk - in Chmielnik, Dzialoszyce, Pinczow, Wislica, Pacanow, Nowy Czorsztyn, Staszew, Stopnica and other places. He had a special office in Busk, where he was visited by the members of the various Jewish councils, and he acted as the intermediary to settle all questions with the Landrat and his assistants. I remember him one day, feverishly searching for a woman's caracul coat, which one of the German officials wanted to take with him when he went on holiday to Germany.

The Landrat did not intervene at all in Jewish questions. A special department of the Gestapo, and the Sonderdienst, which consisted of SS men, issued all regulations concerning forced labour. The regulations came to the Jewish Council, at the head of which was the grey-haired shopkeeper J.Tr. The Council consisted of twelve members. We knew three Gestapo officials: Lieutenant Weiss, Dietrich and another whose Christian name was Hans - I can't recall his surname. This last man was the greatest rogue of all the three.

In addition, the head of the Sonderdienst was the gendarme Schwenker. The Gestapo-men and gendarmes I have mentioned were regularly engaged in despoiling the Jews, usually accompanying their acts with a ruthless flogging. Every Jewish craftsmen was forced to carry out work to all kinds of German orders. I knew a boot-maker who was famous in the district as a good craftsman. Although there were good Christian boot-makers in Busk, the Gestapo-men always made the Jewish cobbler do their boots. They did not pay for the work, but the Jewish Council settled their accounts. The Germans were delighted with the man's work and were liberal in their praise. When once he failed to get an order finished in time, one of his German clients beat him with his riding whip till the blood came. For a long time after, the cobbler lay in bed, unable to work. 

Every Jew was obliged to report for forced labour. Before the war there were 3,000 Jews in Busk. As the Germans had opened a large military hospital in the town, no refugees were allowed to enter it. Only a few Jewish families from Lodz got into the town illegally. Throughout the entire period there was no ghetto in Busk. The Jews were only turned out of two streets in the centre of the town, and noticeboards were set up in these streets: 'Jews strictly forbidden to pass through.'

Often it was necessary to take a roundabout route of nearly a mile in order to avoid these streets, which were renamed after Hitler and Goering. Only the Jewish militia and Jews going to forced labour had special passes authorising them to enter these streets. At first the Gestapo-men themselves organised round-ups of Jews, seizing them for forced labour. But Hauptmann T. endeavored to arrange for the Jewish Council itself to provide the necessary number of people each day for labour. Every Jew had to present him or her self for labour at least once a week. The rule applied equally to men and women. At first 300 persons were taken each day, but later, when many Jews were sent to camps in Wislica and Biala Podlaska, the quota was increased to 600. In the winter-time they were employed in sweeping away the snow, in the summer they worked in the fields and gardens. A special squad was sent to clean the closets in the villas occupied by German civil and military officials. Jewish girls were sent to wash the floors and clean the villas. In the hospital, where there were several thousand wounded from the Russian front. Jews were used for all the heavy work. Jewish militia-men were entrusted with the maintenance of order. It was difficult to get this position.

Struggle for Life

The Jews greatest anxieties consisted in the problems of earning their living and of living at all. There were several smugglers, who bribed the German gendarmerie and made large sums. People who were legally free to engage in trade and to move freely were given one profession: trading in second hand goods. These people did not even wear the 'Jewish badge' on their arm, but had a green band with an inscription. One such second-hand goods dealer came to Busk from Chmielnik. The Germans even allowed him to keep his long beard.

The only means of getting food was by getting into contact with the Polish peasants in one of the neighbouring villages. These peasants secretly sold food to the Jews. As I had little children, I had more trouble than others in order to get food. One Polish woman helped me all through my stay there, and I have to thank her for the fact that my children did not suffer hunger. This woman brought me milk, butter and eggs from the villages, and I repaid her with several dresses and other small articles. One day she found me in despair. I told her I had nothing left with which to pay for the milk. She was greatly moved, and asked me to go to her in the village, where I would get everything I needed for the children without having to pay for it.

The Jews were strictly forbidden to leave the town. But, faced with the prospect of my children starving, I paid no attention to the prohibition. My acquaintance from the village gave me a kerchief and took me with her on her cart. The larger villages in the neighbourhood of Busk are Lagiewniki, Branina, and Zarki. Food was smuggled from these places into the town. My friend lived in a distant village, and on the road we had to stop at a smith's to get a horse-shoe fixed. One of the smith's assistants recognised that I was a Jewess and ran to get the German gendarme. I saw that there was no help for it, and confessed all the truth to the German. To which he replied that I had committed a double crime: I had traveled outside the town and I was not wearing a yellow band on my arm, the Schandeband , as the Germans called it.

The Christian people present began to plead with the German to have mercy on me, because I had little children, but it was of no help. I was surprised to hear that this Gestapo-man could talk good Polish, and so I specially began to talk to him in German. It transpired that I could talk German better than he. He was put to shame, and admitted he was a Silesian and a member of the Volksdeutsche. And because I could speak German so well, this newly made German let me go free. When we reached the village all the peasants welcomed me very warmly. They expressed their sympathy for me. They bought me presents, including the most valuable articles of food. Never in all my life shall I forget the noble character of these people.

My husband gave lectures in Hebrew, and we thus managed to exist somehow. He was paid from two to five zlotys a lesson, and in addition I had help from the Jewish Council. The Jews generally helped one another to an extraordinary extent. In Busk a soup kitchen was started for two hundred persons. In the winter-time coal and clothing were distributed to the poor. Shortly before I left Busk I saw Dr. W. who had arrived as a controller from the Central Jewish Self-Help organisation in Cracow. Long preparations were made for his arrival. It was considered that he was a persona grata, and it was said that he was one of six Jews in all Poland who were allowed to travel on the railways. A magnificent reception was organised for him. Our guest did not stay long. He went over the kitchen and promised further help. At that time Busk was one of the most fortunate towns for Jews. We listened in horror to what was happening in other towns, and how terribly the Jews were being persecuted. 

In Busk there were only two cases of Jews being killed by the Germans. The first victim was a poor fifteen-year old lad, the son of a fishmonger. Thanks to bribes, the Gestapo men closed their eyes to the fact that from time to time the slaughterer in Busk illegally killed a fowl or even at times cattle. In other towns the slaughterers had long since been exterminated by the Gestapo-men. But with us it was not so. One day a gendarme named Schwenker noticed a girl in the street carrying in a basket a chicken freshly killed by the slaughterer. The girl was so terrified that, without waiting for the Gendarme to ask, she cried, 'I killed it myself.' But the Gendarmes knew very well the kosher method of killing a chicken, and so they went at once to the slaughterer's house. Hauptmann T, who by chance happened to be in the slaughterer's house, was at once informed.

The Hauptmann invited the Gendarme to his office and there 'settled' the matter. As the Gendarme Schwenker left the office and went into the street, he exclaimed that he must slaughter a Jew that day. At that moment he met a Jewish lad without the prescribed armband. The boy realised that he had forgotten his band, and ran swiftly into a gateway. Two Gendarmes ran after him, opening fire. The emergency ambulance which functioned at all times, at once picked up the lad, who was seriously wounded. All night he fought for his life. Late in the night the second Gendarme, Schwenker's comrade, went to the hospital to find out how the boy was, and he declared that he was very sorry he had fired at the lad. While he was standing by the bed, the boy died, suffering terribly. 'I shall never have peace again,' the German said. This older man was in the nature of an exception among the German Gendarmes.

The second murder was of the baker B. a few days before Easter in 1942. The Council in Busk received special permission to bake a small quantity of matzos, about two dekagrammes for each person. It was a matter of seeing that the Jews did not forget the Passover and had at least one matzos each. While the baker B. was occupied in the baking of these matzos, a band of SS and Sonderdienst men burst into the bakery. 'So you still intend to keep your feast?' they shouted, and began to beat the baker with his own baker's shovels, until he fell dead in the bakery.

That Passover will remain long in my memory. We were living, but burdened with anxieties, half-starving doing forced labour, and always suffering. The murder of the baker showed that the Jewish Council had no influence whatever, and that the higher German officials were not in command of the situation.

Evidently the Gestapo leaders had received new instructions, for difficult times began for the Jews. News came from neighbouring towns that everywhere the Gestapo had found some victim during the holiday. This was so in Staszewo, in Stopnica and elsewhere. Hauptmann T tried to intervene, but the Germans laughed at him.

Days of Terror

A few weeks after the holiday the order came that at least 1,000 Jews were to leave Busk. As we were not permanent residents in the town we had to be among the first to leave, and to transfer to the neighbouring little town of Wislica, where there were already 2,000 Jews living. The local Jewish Council welcomed all the new arrivals with open arms. Each refugee family was given a living room with one of the local residents. We were also helped in regard to food and medical help was given us. But immediately afterward the news came that preparations were being made to drive the Jews out of the entire district.

One dead of night - it was in July 1942, two months after our arrival at Wislica, several hundred Jews arrived in the town as refugees from the town of Dzialoszyce, some twenty miles from Busk. Before the war Dzialoszyce had 8,000 Jews, but in the early days of the war many refugees arrived there from various localities, but especially from Silesia and the Dombrowa coal district. Now some 12,000 to 14,000 Jews were living there. What these refugees told us made our faces blench. The order had been given that all Jews, men, women, and children, were to assemble one morning in the local market-place for the purpose of a check-up. The Jews already knew that if a mobilisation was announced, then terrible things were in preparation.

Several hundred Jews of Dzialoszyce decided not to obey the Gestapo order, and fled during the night to the neighbouring forest. Some of them took their children with them. They wandered several days in the forest. It was summer time and it was possible to spend the night in the forest. Some peasants brought water and food for the children. Some of these refugees made their way through the forest to Wislica.

Somehow the new arrivals were provided for and hidden from the Gestapo. I myself, who had only recently arrived as a refugee, took one Dzialoszyce family, consisting of ten people into my room. Thus fourteen people were living in the one room. We slept on the floor, and only the children had beds. I helped them as much as i could. They wept all day, day after day, for they had left their father in Dzialoszyce, as he could not escape with them. After some days they sent a peasant to Dzialoszyce for news. When he returned he crossed himself continually in his horror at what he had seen in Dzialoszyce.

Dzialoszyce had been completely emptied of Jews. No one could say where they had been sent to. All the Jewish children up to the age of ten had been murdered on the spot. The inhabitants of the town, Christians, eye-witnesses, told of this. The Jews had been forced to dig several narrow and long graves in the cemeteries. Single boards were laid across the graves. Each child was ordered to kneel one by one on the board. The gendarmes fired, and the dead bodies fell into the grave.

The peasant added that Poles in Dzialoszyce, acquiantances of his, had sworn that they saw the newly filled-in graves of the children. Many children were buried alive. On the graves numerous crosses were visible, but he did not know whether they had been put there by the Germans or the Poles. He brought the news to my companions in my room that the father had been shot in his room by the Germans, like all the other Jews who could not go to the assembly point. The Gestapo-men had found them when they went through the Jewish houses.

Similiar news of the fate of the Dzialoszyce Jews came from other sources also. One of the militia men, who came on official business to Wislica, said that the Gestapo had been particularly harsh in their treatment of the Jews in Dzialoszyce because many of them had fled. The families of the Council members and the militia had also been punished for this, being ordered to go with the other Jews. The members of the Council and the militia had been spared because several hundred Jewish craftsmen had been left in Dzialoszyce, as they could be useful to the Germans.

This news caused a general panic in Wislica. We saw death ahead of us. It was said that the Judenvernichter (Jew- destroyers) were going from town to town, and not leaving a single Jew alive. During the feast of Succoth, one of the lower German officials let out the information that before long it would be the turn of the Jews in Wislica. When Rabbi H. heard this news he ordered a three day penance during Succoth. He ordered all Jews, young and old, to go out to the cemetery and say prayers. Let the mothers take with them their children at the breast, he ordered, in order to arouse the compassion of the dead. I was the most happy of all, for a telegram had come from Berlin, saying that as foreign citizens I, my husband and children had a good chance of escaping.

I went with my children to the cemetery. I cannot find words to describe what happened there. The cemetery was bare of all monuments and tombstones, for the Germans had ordered them to be removed to provide stone for road-making. The people lay down where the traces of graves were left. All three days the rabbi remained at the cemetery, and some Jews fasted for the entire period. They rent their garments, the Shofar was sounded. Misfortune came even sooner than was expected.

Exile

On Saturday, October 3rd, at six in the morning, there was the sound of shooting in the streets, and shouts were heard, 'The angels of death have arrived.'

The Jewish militia-men ran from house to house to notify us that punctually at seven a.m. all Jews were to assemble in the market square, now called Adolf Hitler Square, where normally Jews were not allowed to go. Anyone who failed to turn up would be killed. Several lads of my neighbours attempted to escape from the town. Soon they returned with the news, 'We're lost. The town's surrounded.'

I did not know what to do. My four-year old son was ill with dysentery. My husband ran to the Jewish branch to ask whether, as we were foreign citizens, we had also to go to the square. My brother advised us to go to the assembly point, because when the Gestapo-men searched the houses they shot everybody at once. My husband put on two sets of underwear and two suits, and we ran out of the house, leaving everything else behind. The streets were deserted. Evidently an order had been given for all Poles to remain in their houses. Nor was it permitted to look through the window.

On Hitler Square I saw about ten gendarmes in steel helmets. At every street entrance to the square were machine-guns. The Germans present were strangers, no one knew any of them. They shouted in savage voices and made the Jews fall in ranks, six in each rank. So far as possible families stood together. There were 3,000 Jews. A party of some twenty to thirty youngsters with spades in their hands appeared in the square. It looked as though they had come to bury us alive. When I saw them I almost fainted. My father gave me a few drops of Valerian. He himself was in a terrible state with fear, and all but fell down. The members of the Council were ordered by the Gendarmes to see that all the Jews handed over the keys to their homes. A card was attached to each key, with the name and address of the owner of the home. The militia-men distributed the cards, which had to be filled up. Then the Gendarmes collected all the keys in a basket.

At the very last moment the rabbi of Wislica, H. who was allowed to wear his beard, came into the square. Seeing him, one of the Gestapo-men ran up to him and began to beat him with his whip. One of the Jews took a pair of scissors from his own pocket in order to cut the rabbi's beard and save him from the blows. The Gestapo-man burst into a laugh and stopped beating the old man. He stood watching as the beard was cut off.

After waiting for some hours we saw several hundred peasants carts drive into the square. The Germans declared that not one Jew would be left in Wislica. We were all put on the carts and were driven off. The Gendarmes and youngsters guarded the carts. We arrived at Pinczow on Saturday night.

At Pinczow we were taken to the Fire Brigade ground. The peasant carts drove off, we lay down on the ground. I stood by my children, who lay on the damp earth, and watched to see that no one trod on them. I had nothing whatever to give them to eat. My sick son was crying, other children were crying too. It was cold at night. I had nothing with which to cover the sick child, so my husband put his own coat over him.

Later a policeman set to guard the Jews came up and demanded that I should give him the coat with which I had covered the child, as he, the policeman, was cold too, and had not brought his overcoat with him. I tried to arouse some compassion in him for the sick child, but in vain. At that moment I saw my brother, who was acting in some official capacity among the refugees. My brother proposed to the policeman that they should go together to the Jewish Council, where he would get a warm overcoat. Next morning the Jews of Pinczow were to be 'checked over,' so they were not short of clothing to give. The policeman went off, and later returned in a Jewish coat and asked my pardon. Then he brought several boards so that the children shouldn't sleep on the bare ground.

Mass Slaughter of the Jews

Early in the morning we heard the Jews of Pinczow being assembled. They were expecting it, and each turned up with a bundle. Everywhere shots were to be heard. People running and falling. Shouts of 'Schme Izroel.' When the Pinczow Jews were assembled on the square with us, Ukrainian Juden-Vernichter arrived. They ran up shouting and making such a noise that the Jews began to recite the prayers for the dying. Each of them pushed to the middle, to avoid being the first victim. Children went into convulsions. The Juden-Vernichter roared with laughter, began to talk to the Jews, and showed the hungry people the tasty food they had with them.

My brother turned up again and told me to report myself to the SS commander who had come to the square, informing him that I was a citizen of a foreign country, for that was my only way of saving our lives. I stepped out of the ranks and showed the commander our foreign passports and the telegram from Berlin. He noted down something , said he would check up on my story, and that for the time being I must go with the others.

Immediately we all had to march on foot to Jedrzejow, some 20 miles from Pinczow. Though it was difficult to walk with children in our arms, we reached Jedrzejow on Sunday evening. We spent another terrible night night in the open field outside the town. waiting for the dawn. Jews from Busk and Nowy Karczyn were already there. Jedrzejow was already free of Jews. They had been driven out two weeks before, and only 200 young Jews were left in the labour camp.

Next morning the German gendarmes with the Ukrainian Juden-Vernichter intended to send the entire mass of ten thousand Jews by trucks from Jedrzejow station. Jews were still being driven in from the district; some of them barefoot, and had the faces of people who had come back from the next world - these were Jews who had been under arrest. Two Jewish militiamen from Wislica were also brought along. They had been kept behind in order to show where the rich Jews' houses were.

What those two Jewish militiamen told us surpassed all human imagination. The Gestapo-men had brought police dogs to Wislica, in order to track down the Jews hidden in the cellars. The Germans used this method elsewhere too. With these dogs they also discovered any valuables buried. In Wislica the dogs had a good hunt. Many Jewish families had hidden in walled-up cellars, prepared beforehand for this purpose. They reckoned that as soon as the Juden -Vernichter had finished their work and departed they would be able to escape with the aid of Christian neighbours. Over 100 persons, men, women, and children, fell victim to the dogs. They were shot on the spot, in the cellars. Ten paralyzed and sick Jews who could not attend the assembly point were killed in their homes. The militiamen said that the day after we had been driven out a whole horde of Gestapo-men arrived in Wislica in order to pillage the houses. When the militiamen had finished their job and pointed out the richer Jews houses, they too were condemned to the same fate as the rest.

The Hope of Escape

At the last moment before we were to be driven from Jedrzejow several cars armed with machine-guns drove up. The newly arrived Germans also wanted their fun, and began to fire over the heads of the mass of assembled Jews. The machine-guns were aimed lower and lower, and the Germans shouted: 'Down you get, down you get.' We had to bow right down to the ground to avoid the bullets which were flying about our ears. Only when we were all lying bowed on the ground did the Germans stop firing. I regarded myself as lost. I had not seen again the SS commander whom I had shown my documents in Pinczow, and no-one else wanted to listen to me. 'We shall get rid of all the Jews,' they told us, 'foreign citizens and Polish citizens with the rest.' I looked at my little children, and my heart broke with misery. A dog ran past us in the field. How envious I felt of him, because he was free to live. At all costs I wanted to live.

We had been drawn up in ranks in order to continue the march, when suddenly a small car drove up, with several SS men in it. The Jewish militia-men began to shout my name. The SS men ordered me and my husband and children to step out of the ranks. I recognised the SS commander from Pinczow. He said instructions had arrived to withdraw foreign citizens from the exiles. I almost lost consciousness again. I was to be saved, but my dearest ones, my parents and family were condemned to death. I asked to be allowed to say goodbye to my parents . The commander grew very angry and ordered the Polish police to take us at once to the prison in Kielce. So I left the square, not knowing whether my parents, of whom I heard no more, had even learnt that I and my children were saved.

Once more the Jews were driven on. One of the Polish police told me that they were to be driven to Jedrzejow station, where trains were already waiting to carry them away to be 'finished off.'

In the Kielce prison one Jewish family consisting of eight persons, all of them also foreign citizens, were put in our cell. It transpired that they were a rabbi and all his numerous family. By a miracle, some two weeks before the Jews were deported the rabbi received his documents sent him by his daughter living abroad. The Germans released the whole family at the very last moment. But his older daughter was still in despair because of her husband, who had not received permission for release. She told me her husband was a rabbi of unusual ability, a graduate of the Lublin Rabbinical school. As he had not got a foreign passport it was decided to hide him; a walled-up niche was prepared for him, with an opening for water and food to be passed through. Although I myself in despair over my parents, the despair of that young woman finally broke me down. In her despair she reproached her father with not allowing her to remain, she cried that she preferred to share the fate of other Jews rather than leave her husband behind. Finally her father paid a large sum to a Polish policeman to go to Pinczow and find out whether he was still alive. It transpired that a Christian neighbour had undertaken to look after the young rabbi but then, afraid of being denounced, the neighbour had advised him to flee from his hiding place, dressed as a peasant. All trace of him was lost.

We were treated decently in the Kielce prison. The Polish police brought us food supplied by the Jewish Council, and we considered that we were finally safe.