"Pinkas Hakehilot" - Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities - Poland; Vol. 4: Warsaw and District, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem 1989

Plock (Plock) (Region: Plock; Province: Warsaw).

Pages 358 - 372

Written by Abrahan Wein
Translated from the Hebrew by Morris Gradel


Devi Tuszynski: Yizkor! Souviens - Toi! Remember!

 During the Second World War

Plock was bombed on the very first day of the war, September 1st 1939, at 6 o’clock in the morning. Normal life ceased immediately and the inhabitants were seized with panic. The more well-to-do Jews fled to the other side of the River Vistula on the second and third day of the war; some fled to Warsaw. On the fourth day the government institutions and their functionaries abandoned the town, as did many of its citizens. The refugees, many of them Jews, travelled in the direction of Warsaw or the towns of Gostinin and Gombin. At the same time many hundreds of Jews from the small towns in the border area sought refuge in the chaos of Plock. In the congestion that reigned on board the boats and ferries carrying the refugees across the river many were trampled to death - among them the clerk Karash, reputed to be the first victim of the Holocaust period in Plock. Many Jews who had sought asylum in Gombin were killed when the Luftwaffe also bombed that town. After the occupation of Gostinin its Jews and those who had fled from Plock experienced a first taste of Nazi rule - they were forced to carry out hard and debasing labour.

Plock itself was occupied by the Germans on September 8th. After a while the Jewish refugees began to return to the town. Several hundred Jewish men on their way to Plock were stopped by the Germans at the approaches to the town, beaten, and deprived of their various personal possessions. Only some days later were they allowed to continue to Plock itself.

A month later, on October 8th , on the orders of Hitler, Plock was incorporated into the Reich as part of West Prussia ("Gau-West-Preussen"), and its name changed to Schertetburg. The transfer of administration from the military to the civil authorities and the Gestapo heralded the beginning of the Germans’ portentous policy towards the Jews. On October 15th 10 leading members of the Jewish community were summoned to the Landesrat (District Governor), and instructed, as representatives of the Jewish population, to guarantee the payment to the Germans of the sum of a million zlotys. Three of these Jews were imprisoned as hostages. They were beaten, starved, humiliated, and subjected to the most brutal treatment. The enormous sum demanded was to be paid within a few hours - and when this was not forthcoming additional hostages were taken and tortured. Finally, the Germans agreed to the payment of 180,000 zlotys in cash and 20,000 in valuables. An additional half-a-million zlotys were pledged in the form of promissory notes from the three Jewish banks. Only after the money (mainly collected from among more established members of the community) had been paid were the hostages released.

The Jews of Plock now experienced daily terror. On a November night 1939 the Germans broke into houses in the Jewish streets. German soldiers, gendarmes, and Volksdeutscher (Poles of German origin) plundered Jewish property and herded hundreds of naked and barefooted men into the courtyard of the "Hotel d’Angleterre", where they were tormented the whole night through before being released. On another occasion some Jews were taken by the Nazis to the village of Jadziwia, where they buried up to the neck and abandoned. Local peasants, however, saved their lives.

Immediately following the occupation the Jews were forbidden to practise religious observance. The rabbi was forced to leave the town as a result of daily recrimination.

The Great Synagogue was turned into a garage, after several dozen of the adjacent houses had been destroyed and the interior of the synagogue dismantled. The Little Synagogue (whose centenary had been marked a few years earlier) was totally destroyed. Only the Bet Midrash in Seroka Street was left, but services in it were forbidden. Public prayer with private minyanim (quora) took place secretly (disclosure could mean death).

At the end of October a decree expropriated all the Jewish industries, businesses and workshops in Plock, and consequently the "ORT" school was closed and all its machinery impounded. All these enterprises were put into the hands of German and Polish "treuhänder" (trustee directors and owners). The Jewish flour mill was set on fire by the Germans, who accused its owners of arson.

The economic situation, worsening from day to day, led to an increased flight of Jews to Warsaw and the Russian-occupied areas of Poland. At the end of November the Jews of Plock were forced to wear yellow patches on the front and back of their coats.

At the end of December 1939 the Germans established the Judenrat (Jewish Committee) in Plock and an auxiliary Jewish police force with 20 policemen. The Judenrat was ordered to supply daily 150 Jewish women aged 16 to 60 for forced labour, and a quota of men demanded by the Germans at their whim. These quotas did not - contrary to the expectations of the Jews and the Judenrat - prevent the Germans from "impromptu" rounding up of Jews for hard and demeaning labour at any time. Particularly horrible was the situation of Jews who worked for the SS and the Gendarmerie - they were constantly beaten and even tortured. The Judenrat organised workshop cooperatives, whose produce was destined mainly for the Germans. The employees received wages below the subsistence level.

Apart from problems of livelihood and security, the Jews of Plock also had to tackle housing problems during the first months of the German occupation. Many houses were destroyed and others, particularly the better and more spacious ones, were expropriated and given to Germans and Poles. At this time too waves of Jews expelled from Dobrzyn, Rypin, Sierpc, Radzanow, and other places, streamed into Plock. They were at first pressed into the "Jewish quarter" (a few streets already crowded with people), and in September the Plock ghetto was established. Into this were pushed 7,600 Jews from Plock and 3,000 refugees. The crowding was terrible - sometimes as many as 10 people living in one room.

At the same time, or shortly before, the Nazis had brutally expelled the 42 residents of the "Plato" Old Age Home. These old people, apart from 12 who managed to escape with their lives, were taken to the concentration camp at Dzialdowo, and there murdered. Shortly after this event the Judenrat was ordered to draw up lists of mentally ill persons, invalids, the incurably ill, and people with tuberculosis. All these, and others picked up at random, were removed by the Germans and all trace of them afterwards lost.

The Plock ghetto existed only a short time (about 6 months), and was terminated in February 1941. While it existed the Judenrat did its best to ameliorate the life of the inhabitants, and to this end a bakery, shops for food (with ration cards), and heating fuel, were established. Instead of the hospital, which had been closed, a clinic was opened to give treatment to the sick with the few medicaments at hand. A people’s kitchen provided food for the destitute. The sanitary committee of the Judenrat did its best to ensure hygiene and cleanliness in the ghetto. The cooperatives, especially those of the tailors, shoemakers and barbers, which had existed before the ghetto was established, continued their activities in it.

In January 1941 the Gestapo broke into Jewish houses and arrested, first 39 men and later some 120 women. These were beaten and tormented. They remained in prison until the deportation of the Jews from Plock (see below), when the men were shot and the women sent off with the other deportees. The Judenrat took the children of the prisoners temporarily under its wing. Some weeks later the Germans ordered the Judenrat to supply them with a list of active Zionists. The Judenrat complied, but included names of deceased persons or of persons who had fled to the Soviet zone. In reprisal the Germans arrested 5 Jewish hotel workers; one was shot dead on the spot and the others were sent to a labour camp. A few days later the Germans seized 30 members of the barbers’ cooperative; some were killed in prison, and the others sent to the concentration camp at Dzialdowo.

Acts of terror against individuals and groups of Jews were intended to intimidate the Jews as a whole and to pave the way for the final deportation of the Jews of Plock planned for February 20th, 1941. A few days before this date and without any explanation 25 men, chosen at random, were arrested, taken to the boundary between the two towns of Imielnica and Podolszyca, and shot in the head.

The Jews of Plock were informed of their deportation on the day it was to take place. Early on that day the13th battalion of the SS (specialists in Jewish deportation) arrived in Plock. The Jewish policemen were summoned to the local Gestapo headquarters, and on the way beaten with truncheons. At 4 a.m. on February 21st SS soldiers broke into the ghetto clinic, and ordered the inmates - ailing old people and derelicts - to leave within 5 minutes. The shocked patients broke down weeping. The reaction of the SS was to lay about them and beat to death nearly half the patients. All the Jews of Plock were ordered to appear at dawn at the assembly point in Szeroka Street. Even before the Jews had awoken from their sleep the voices of the Germans could be heard shouting "Jews - outside". The evacuation went ahead methodically, house by house at breakneck speed. Anyone hesitating was thrown down the stairs and hurried to the assembly place with the help of blows from iron bars, rifle butts, and truncheons. At the place the Jews were lined up in rows of five and kept standing there until noon without food or drink. They were forbidden to sit down or leave their places for natural reasons. Acts of brutality were widespread, many Jews were severely injured, and some died under the rain of blows. Children were trampled to death in the uproar, women and ill people fainted, and some suffered strokes.

More scenes of brutality unfolded themselves as the deportees were hustled onto the lorries. Those who had difficulty in clambering onto them, including the old, the weak and the sick, were beaten unmercifully. Many were killed or suffocated (up to 200 souls were jammed into each lorry). On each lorry there was an armed SS soldier, and acts of violence continued to take place during the journey.

On that day some 4,000 Jews were deported from Plock to the camp at Dzialdowo. The remainder, including the Judenrat, who had been held hostage to ensure that all the Jews turned up at the assembly point, were ordered to return home.

The second and final deportation took place on the evenong of March 1st, 1941. On the previous day, February 28th, the members of the Judenrat had been arrested. Again there were scenes of brutality as with the first deportation. This time the deportees were forced to wait for almost 24 hours in the cold and without food. Note should be made here, however, of the fact that local Poles voluntarily brought warm food to the deportees; and Poles from the villages and small towns threw loaves and other food onto the trucks as they passed on their way to Dzialdowo. Nevertheless, tens of people perished on the tortuous four-hour journey - or were left behind dead in Szeroka Street.

At the camp in Dzialdowo the Germans continued their brutality towards the deportees; their inventiveness in finding new ways to torture them (exercise accompanied by blows, forced running, etc.) knew no bounds. The last remaining possessions of the Jews, and even their clothes, were stolen from them in the camp, which was a living hell. Many perished - while others prayed that their sufferings be quickly brought to an end.

The two deportations to Dzialdowo involved some 7,000 Jews from Plock. After a stay of a week or two there they were sent on to other places, apart from a group (according to different sources, consisting of tens or hundreds) of men. These were kept under strict guard, behind barbed wire. Then they were taken to a nearby spot, where they dug a common grave for themselves before being shot.

The first batch of Jews from Plock were taken to the Radom District and placed in various small camps in Chmielnik, Bodzentyn, Suchedniow, Wierzebnik, Bialaczew, Starachowice, Czestochowa, and other places. One group was sent to Potok Zloty.

Most of the Jews of Plock were, however, sent to the Kielce area. As early as February 25th 990 of them arrived at Busko - all of them without possessions or means of existence. 400 of them went on to Chmielnik, 150 to Wislica, and 150 to Szydlow; whilst groups of 50 were sent to Olesnica and other small towns.

Of the second batch, which arrived at Kielce on March 3rd, 1941, 300 continued to Suchedniow, 300 to Daleszyce, and 300 to Bodzentyn. On March 6th some hundred deportees were directed to Skarzisko Kam., and on the 12th a 1000 or so to Kielce, and from there to Slupia Nowa. On March 11th some 1,500 deportees from Plock arrived at Tomaszow Mazowiecki, and from there distributed to Przysucha, Bialaczew, Gielinow, Zarnow and Paradyz. To this latter place some 750 were sent.

The Jews of Plock shared the fate of the Jews in the areas to which they were sent. When the mass transport of the Jews of Poland to the extermination camp at Treblinka took place the Jews of Plock also went on their last journey. It will be recalled that about a thousand Jews from P fled to Warsaw, where they perished with the other Jews in Poland’s largest ghetto.

Many of the Jews of Plock were active in the resistance movements in the areas to which they were sent, among them - to name but a few - the following: Simcha Guterman fell during the rising in the ghetto of Czestechowa; Rivka Glantz, member of the hachshara kibbutz in Plock, perished in the same riots; Roszka Kortczak was active in the Jewish underground and later as a partisan in the "Nekama" (Revenge) unit in the forests of Rudniki; Tova Biatus was an active member of "Hashomer Hatsair" in the underground movement near Chmielnik, and there died in one of the clashes with the Germans.

Remembered here must also be some of the manifestations of passive resistance revealed by the Jews of Plock. From the end of 1940 and until the deportations there was in the ghetto of Plock an illegal "aid committee", consisting of veteran public figures and former members of the town council. This committee assisted with money and food the most needy of the Jews. There were also "house committees", on the model of those active in the Warsaw ghetto. From the "Hazamir" Library 500 books were smuggled out and were passed from hand to hand, giving spiritual encouragement to their readers. In the attic of the Bet Midrash were hidden 12 Sifrei Torah and some 200 sacred books. As mentioned, after the ban on worship prayer was carried on in private gatherings at great risk. The presence of such worshippers was sometimes divulged to the Nazis, who forced them to walk through the streets in prayer shawls and tefillin. They were beaten and their beards and sidelocks cut off before the eyes of the jubilant rabble. Nevertheless, such prayer meetings did not cease. Some of the pious Jews risked their lives by burying in the cemetery Sifrei Torah that had been desecrated by the Nazis. After the deportations the Nazis eradicated the cemetery and the gravestones were used to pave streets. The cemetery area was turned into a grazing ground.

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