YIDN IN PLOTSK - JEWS IN PLOCK

by

Sol Greenspan

 NYC, 1960

Translated from the Yiddish "Yiden in Plotsk" by Morris Gradel
Editing and proofreading by Ada Holtzman, 10.1.2000


Part III

The Holocaust in Plock


 
 

A melancholy choked in tears,
A hatred in itself not understood -
And repeated, as it must, in just one word - murder!
In the fire burns my father's white beard
And a curse quivers between his teeth.
My sister's eyes weep and indulge in
A silent complaint - why did they allow it?
The curse and the complaint I drink up like poison.
Useless your ingratiation: Germanic, dull, naïve,
With your sweet Schubert melody: "Comrade, Note!
You have heard "a babbling brook", I a sea
Of blood and tears, fire and poison -
At your regrets I can only spit".

Itzik Manger: Before a Mourner

Arrival of the Plock deportees at the Chmielnik raidroad station

 The Agony of Plock Under the Germans.

When the Germans entered Plock misfortune at once began. The Jewish population was herded into a ghetto consisting of Breite Gass (Szeroka Street), Gildene and a few smaller streets.

There was an S. S. post in the Malichowinka, where the Jews were forced to work. The Germans were very inventive at finding ways of torturing them. For example, they pressed ten Jews into a crate and then nailed it shut. Among the ten Jews was Muszkat at whom they dealt murderous blows and who had to be taken to the Jewish hospital. (During the first few weeks of the occupation the Jewish hospital was left in Jewish hands). Arrested Jews, whom the Nazis had put into the Seminarium building, were forced to kiss the picture of the "Holy Mary".

The first large group of arrested Jews was driven by the S.S. into the courtyard of "Hotel Plotski", where they were beaten till the blood flowed. From there they were taken to and detained in the military barracks for a few days. Before their arrest their homes had been plundered. When Szczyg was at home and being beaten by the Germans his son watched in horror and asked the murderer: "why are you beating my daddy?"

At the Zilberberg's on Nayem Mark, when the Germans came into the house, they had violently awoken the daughter. There was screaming and sobbing, and the daughter Ziara ran away. The Germans completely demolished the dwelling.

At the Holzmann's in their house on Szenkawisze Street a fire broke out and the Germans accused the Jews of starting it. A Bedzanow Jew who stood there weeping tried to pull a few things out of the fire, whereupon the Germans beat him to death.

Michael Koval, who was doing forced labour, was at the normal mealtime eating together with all the others. An S.S. man went up to him and placed before him a large pot of food with the order: Eat! When Koval, could not eat any more, the food turning his stomach, the German took a spoon and violently rammed the food into his mouth.

An order was issued that all Jews had to shave off their beards. Some went around with their faces wrapped in a scarf - clinging to it as if suffering from toothache, while their beards were hidden in the scarf. When the devout Moshe Mendelssohn was caught in the street with a beard he was beaten and his beard torn off. The same happened to Moshe Henech Margolieson, whose beard and skin were ripped off.

Yaakov Mendelson worked as a bookkeeper for Peters, who was a prominent German official. From him Mendelson sometimes used to hear about a forthcoming decree, which he reported to the responsible people in the Judenrat, and this helped to avoid future trouble.. Mendelson and his wife (a Bachanek) died later from typhus in Zaronow, near Piotrekow.

When the Nazis entered Plock the members of "Poalei-Zion" tore down the sign of the association of shop employees that hung outside Gradzka 9, and burnt all the books and documents. The same was done with the party archives and documents. The banners of the party and "Freiheit" were buried in the cemetery. This was done to remove any clues which might lead to the arrest of members by the Nazis.

The "Hazamir" Library was closed down. Inspection of the library was in the hands of the Nazi in charge of Jewish affairs. A group of "Hazamir" leaders decided to remove secretely, and thus preserve, the more valuable books. It was thought that when the war ended and the world would be free the library would be opened again. They got in through a window and bit by bit took out about 500 valuable books, mainly from the A.M. old section. Later on, the Nazi official for Jewish affairs got to hear about this action, and this spelt danger for many Jews. The matter was kept secret by giving him a sum of money.

The German persecutions and torments were without end. In a letter Szlomo Kaliszer writes from Russia: "at the time of the bombardments many people had run away to Gombin, but the bombs had also hit Gombin, so there many people from Plock were killed. Amongst them Kuba Tilmann, his wife, child and father-in-law, Tilmann's daughter, Manczuk and his wife, Yankel Warszawiak, Ben-Zion Ferbe, and many others. The real troubles began when the Germans entered Plock. It is impossible to count all the tribulations they inflicted upon us. I was in prison for three days and there they dealt me murderous blows. I decided to flee to Russia. I fled to Bialystok and from there I was sent into the depths of Russia."

The Nazis deported some Jews to Radziejow and there buried them in the ground up to the neck. When the Germans had done their heinous work and gone away, local peasants dug the Jews out and saved their lives.

Some Jews, aware of what the morrow could bring, had sewn a talith under their coat , wanting to die as Jews. Others had sewn money into their clothes, hoping this would get them a piece of bread in an hour of need.

The Germans ordered the old cemetery to be turned into a park. The gravestones were used to pave the streets. When the decree to demolish the old cemetery was issued, a group of religious Jews, among them the sons of Michael Rubinstein and Leibel Geliebter, and a few from Hevra Kadisha (the Burial Society) quietly dug up in the old cemetery the grave of the saintly Rabbi Zisha Plocker, who had died 103 years earlier. They wrapped the remains of the tsaddik in a talith, put them in a coffin and buried them in the new cemetery. They also buried there Sifrei Torah that had been desecrated by the Nazis.

Mordechai Flarek recounts that when his father Moshe, the tailor from Szeroka, went to pray at Shavuot, the Nazis captured him and other elderly Jews and packed them off together with Jews from the old- age home to Dzialdowo. It was discovered later that all these deported Jews had been the first experimental victims in a gas-oven the Germans had installed there.

Nachum Szmiga recounts that he saw the Germans seize a large group of Jews and send them to work in the seminarium building. Amongst them were Segal, Kredit, Berman and others. Those arrested were beaten and afterwards Shields of David were carved on their backs with razors.The Jews were then put into barrels and the barrels thrown down the stairs.

A terrible picture presented itself when the Germans entered the old-age home and beat the old people, amongst whom was also blind Grabowski.

Germans spread the rumour that Jews had murdered two German soldiers. In revenge a number of soldiers entered the ghetto and brought out ten Jews, whom they took to the rear of the town, where they forced them to dig their own graves. Amongst the victims were: the butcher Yakov Yosef Bergson, David Szpecketcki and his son, Hirsch Reuven Zilberberg, Kredit (a boy from the orphanage who had staged resistance to the Germans), and Sadzawka Avraham Leib, who ten years earlier had returned to Plock from America.The last one, while digging the brotherly grave, broke down and went out of his mind.

Rabbi L. Geliebter relates: it happened once that a number of S.S. men came into the congregation and took from it the secretary Benjamin Jagoda - he had at once to produce ten young people for forced labour in the Malachawanka. This demand was immediately met. "I was also among the ten youngsters taken away. First they searched us and thus and rained murderous blows on us. Then I was arrested a second time together with my father.Having been woken out of our sleep in the middle of the night, the commandant demanded of me, in my capacity as a bank official, the names of rich Jews. He gave me one minute to answer, otherwise he would shoot me. I decided not to answer - better self to suffer than to betray a Jew. Finally, as I did not answer they took me and beat me brutally. They stood me against the wall and threatened to shoot me. I uttered the confessional prayer. Miraculously, they let me go. I lay in bed for six weeks. Dr. Feinberg came to treat me and when he saw my condition tears streamed from his eyes".

Nachum and Herszel Szmiga, walking in the street, saw two S.S. soldiers approaching. In order to avoid them they ran into Gombinski's house and hid there. The soldiers ran after them and demanded of the inhabitants that they give up the two persons, otherwise all the residents of the house would be shot. Nachum and Herszel surrendered themselves in order to avert a greater calamity. The two troopers then beat them violently with their rifles and left them in a pool of blood.

A number of Jews were ordered by the Germans to leave Plock. Among them was also Leibusz Kilbert, who went to Warsaw, where he died of hunger and privation.

Praying in public was forbidden. During a razzia at nr. 3, Grodzka the S.S. found a score of Jews praying in the house of Rabbi Meir Cohen, the treasurer of the Gur prayer-house. They ordered everyone to go into the street in their talith and tefillin and ordered them to march about the slippery icy streets with a sefer torah.

It often happened that a Jew passed him in the street and did not salute a German soldier and the latter went up to him and slapped him. "Next time you had better salute a German soldier, you filthy Jew". It also happened that things went wrong when a Jew, wanting to avoid trouble, greeted a German soldier by raising his hat, in accordance with the orders of the German authority - and the German went up to him and slapped him, crying : "Why do you greet me, what am I, your friend, you filthy Jew?" If only everything had ended with a slap it would have been fine.

Every Jew had to wear the yellow patch - one on the front and one on the back. If it was not sufficiently visible danger threatened.

The Germans set up a Judenrat which consisted of Dr. Bromberger as Chairman, Szatan Samek vice-chairman, Szperling, Szechtman, Szenwitz and others. They were responsible for implementing the orders issued by the Germans.

In the town there was an increasing number of refugees from the surrounding villages. The Plock community received them well and did what was possible to help these unfortunates. To begin with they found room for them in the religious schools (batei-midrashim) and later lodged them in private homes.

The crowding in the ghetto became terrible, with ten or more people to a room. There was a scarcity of food and medicine to help the large number of sick persons. In the winter there was nothing with which to heat the rooms and doors were torn off to heat the ovens.

In the Maccabi Hall the Germans installed a workshop with new machines to produce for the German army. They transformed the beautiful synagogue into a warehouse. The vault under the beit-midrash was used as an assembly point from where Jews were sent off to forced labour.

Every day Jews aged from 16 to 60 were subject to hard labour - loading coal, chopping wood, washing floors, and doing building work outside in the bitter cold.

Once, during a violent rainstorm, the Nazis picked out the oldest Jews in the town, Sender Kmiel and Meir Kohn, who, wearing talith and tefillin, were led about the streets and ordered to kneel.

The confiscation of Jewish assets proceeded in accordance with a preconceived plan.The confiscated goods from all the businesses and houses were divided according to branch under direction of a German. Whole houses were taken over to store goods, and a number of Jews were employed here, as the Germans needed their labour for a short time.

Thousands suffered physical torture and bestial torments in Plock. What we are recalling here are just the notes of a few victims, witnesses of that horrible period.A terrible destiny was the lot of everyone. Our notes are merely a drop in an ocean of suffering.

The Expulsion.


 
Last letter from a Plocker deportee in Zarki (translated by Ada, Yizkor book page 516)

Zarki, 2.3.41

I write to you after our arrival from the road. I am here in Zarki, Radomsk Region, 40 k"m from Czestochowa. I am here with my mother, without lodging, without clothing, without money. I appeal to all Plockers to extend any possible aid to us because we are dying of hunger and starvation.

I ask for help!!!
We were expelled In the morning of February 20th. 1941. In Dzialdowo we stayed 6 days. To this place we arrived on February 28th. We are in a wretched situation, We are dying. Please help us as soon as possible!!!

Szpilman Itzhak and his mother.


 

The Germans brought the Jews of Plock to their last journey. All reported terrible things. When they heard the tramp of soldiers' feet in the night their blood froze with fright. The order to leave home came suddenly and in the middle of the night. Many obeyed and sat on their baggage, ready to move. Out of fear they had run out into the street, without waiting for the order. With a feeling of terror they had lined up along the whole length of Szeroka, looking for the last time at their homes, where they and their parents and grandparents had been born, had lived and had also survived many enemies. Would they also survive the German enemy? Would they return to their homes, to their Plock? - This thought was present in all. It was indeed difficult to imagine that this was the last stage of life; that the Germans would drive them to their death; that there was no other way out for many thousands of Jews; that they would meet a horrible and cruel death.

In that last tragic hour of the Jews of Plock the Germans displayed their wild and bestial instincts. A terrible scene unfolded itself in Szeroka in the hour of expulsion.

The night of February 20th was cold. In the middle of the night everyone was ordered to go into the street and not take anything with them. Those who had taken parcels with them had to lay them on the street. The Germans later stole them all. There among the crowd stood old Kleinfeld, the grain-merchant. Overwhelmed with pain and fright, he suffered a stroke and fell down. Among the Germans guarding the Jews was an S.S. man who, seeing the frightful scene, had tears in his eyes. Then a higher-ranking officer went up to him and screamingly asked him why he was standing there in astonishment. The same S.S. man ordered a few Jews to drag the half-dead Kleinfeld into Zaidman's shop, leave him on the ground to die and lock the vault. The German "tears" were still to be seen in his eyes ...

The elderly Frau Szwartz, who did not carry out the order of a Nazi-murderer punctually enough was beaten till the blood flowed and thrown up onto a lorry. Dr. Bressler was taken out of a house, his head and body drenched in blood. The same happened to several others. S.S. men stood on the roofs and took pictures of these dreadful scenes.

The Nazis wanted to have a bit of "fun". They took a crippled, three-year-old child, ruffled his hair and placed him in a position with his hands spread half-wild and took pictures of him. This photograph was later published in "Der Streimer" to show how wild Jewish children looked.

Szlomo Sochaczewski was a young man. From a group of deportees a Nazi officer was taken with him - or rather - took him to be his slave. He had to do all sorts of jobs for him, from cleaning the house to polishing the Nazi's boots. The German liked the boy and wanted to keep him longer. When the final selection took place and the last remaining Jews of Plock were put on the lorries to the death-camps - this officer made it clear to Szlomo that he would keep him and would prevent him from going to the concentration camwhiwas a death camp. Szlomo asked the officer to let his mother stay behind with him - as he did not want her to be separated from him. "This I cannot do", the officer said to him. "Then I will go where my mother goes. Her fate is my fate", answered Szlomo. Next morning both of them - mother and son - were taken away. Together they shared death with thousands of other Jews.

All over Szeroka the Jews of the town were lined up. Dragged out of their homes, ready to be sent away to hellish death. Men and women, the old and the young, were assembled under the watchful eyes of the bloodthirsty German criminals. After the expulsion from their homes of the last Jewish families, their goods and possessions were left to the lawlessness of the German robbers.

On the corner of Gyldener and Breite, Reb Ber Taub was taken from his house.. An elderly Jew, filled with fear but also with a feeling of safety. He took his place in the row with other Jews to be taken away to the unknown. A German soldier noticed that the Jew was holding something under his coat. He ran up to him and brutally tore off his coat and a sefer-torah fell from it. Reb Ber tried to pick up the sefer-torah, but the German soldier pushed him aside and began to beat him until the Jew fell down exhausted. Mockingly, the German fired his weapon over the heads of thosee waiting in the street and with military step marched like a conqueror over the crumpled sefer-torah.

Shortly afterwards lorries took away the Jews in different directions on the way to torture, suffering and death. Together with others, Reb Ber was stuffed onto a lorry. A profound anxiety had driven him to take the sefer-torah with him. Whatever the next hour might bring he would have it with him. They had been together for a whole lifetime - and he would bear it still, even through fire and sword, That is what Reb Ber had resolved.- On the emptied, Jew-free street the desecrated sefer-torah still lay spread out with the commandment "Thou shall not kill" facing the sky.

In the row to be herded onto a lorry also stood Zalman David Rubinsztejn. When his wife and children under a rain of blows were pushed onto the lorry, he lost his self-control and, ignoring the danger to his life, he called upon the Jews to resist. He raised his voice, crying that they were being led like sheep to the slaughter and of what were the innocent children guilty? The Germans did not understand what he was saying and continued to beat those clambering onto the lorry. The S.S. stood on other side of the lorry and with truncheons and rifles struck at the heads of everyone, old and young, children and mothers. Weak and old people suffered most, as they were not quick enough in getting onto the vehicle. Tens of people who did not obey orders promptly enough were beaten mercilesly.

At Yitzchak Rawiczki's house in the Szeroka street, there had been living with him since the war began, a brother from Germany and his wife. As with other German Jews originally from Poland, they had also been driven out of Germany. He and his wife had come to Plock to live with his brother. When the S.S. ordered the Jews to leave the house and line up in the street, his ailing wife did not want to leave the room. She was shot dead on the spot. In addition, Israel Rawiczki and his sister were brutally beaten.

When being deported David Mendelson's wife took with her a year-old child in a cradle. Seeing this, a German overturned the cradle and the baby.

Horrible scenes took place when the Jews were being driven onto the lorries like animals. The trucks were stuffed full to the point of suffocation. And some of the people indeed suffocated from the crush and were taken down dead. And so the lorries went off with the first deportation of the Jews of Plock on their way to Dzialdowo.

In the Death Camps.

We are just trying here to present eye-witness accounts of some four or five victims in the camps. Thousands of Plock Jews ended their lives in the death-camps. What a few people relate is just a drop in the ocean of suffering that the death-camps were.

In Dzialdowo blows were again rained on them as they descended from the trucks. Those who had suffocated were taken off. Hersz Natan Asz' children took his body from the truck and placed it in a hut where the dead lay. Even the dead were not left in peace. Local gentiles also robbed the bodies and stripped them of their clothes.

In Dzialdowo everyone was driven into dark stables, full of horse manure. The sick and the feeble dragged themselves along screaming, and no help was possible. Many died and were buried under the filth. The roughly 5,000 people in the stables also prayed for death in order not to suffer the inhuman horrors that the Germans were inflicting on them. In these conditions a woman from Plock gave birth to a child. Dr. Winter's wife, a midwife, delivered the child.

From Dzialdowo transports were sent off to various villages and camps, some to Suchedni¢w and some to Starachowice. As they were driven from the lorries people trod in panic on each other, eager to avoid the murderous blows of the German rifles.

The feeble and the old, who were not agile enough, were the first victims.

In Starachowice there was a sawmill, where Kursztejn and others worked.The Germans found 60 zlotys sewn into his clothes and therefore shot him. The same happened to Fuersztenberg, who also worked there. Out of fear many inmates threw away the money they had brought with them.

There was the case of a woman who had tied her child to her back - this did not please an S.S. man, who shot the woman and her child. An elderly Jew tried to take his grandchild with him when the youngster was selected for a different transport - and the old man was beaten mercilessly by the S.S.

One is reminded of a verse from the famous poem "The Song of the Murdered Jewish People" by the unforgettable Icchak Kacanelson:

I looked and I saw: they removed a sack from the meagre back of a Jew;
In the sack there arose a sound of crying ... a child! A Jewish child! The desecrator rages.
He seeks the father ... cries to the child: recognize him!
The child looks at his father astonished,
He looks at him and does not cry ... he looks at him, at his own father, and does not recognize him!

In the sawmill in Starachowice the work, for a drop of watery soup, was hard. Many fell ill from the hard conditions, including four cases of typhus. Icchak Asz was also among the sick, just recently out of danger and on his way to recovery. His brother Chaim who was with him helped him all he could. Suddenly an order was issued that the four patients be taken to hospital. Chaim constructed some stretchers from wood and canvas. The four sick persons were laid on them and borne away. A brother carried a brother, and a father carried his typhus-stricken son. Thus were the four sick ones taken away. They were sure they were on their way to the hospital. On the way the Nazi guard ordered them to go to the Jewish cemetery, where the four sick persons were rolled onto the ground. They were then shot in cold blood and orders given to bury them.

Back in the hut Chaim Asz walked up and down, now without a brother, and the father without a son. And similarly with the others. Inside the hut the brain was as if paralyzed, unable to grasp what had happened. Somehow it was all one whether one lived or died.

Sorrow removed the faculty of thought and bereavement. Everything was as if blunted inside a human being. Now he thought he had a brother and suddenly everything is emptied. Now the father had a son and now this son had been wiped off the earth. The murderer acts so quietly, calculatedly. It is as if the feelings of the murderer and the victim have been agreed upon. For the surviving victim the horrors that take place day in and day out stultify the feeling of protest, the shock, leaving only a silent, nagging pain. One cannot think about it for long, as new calamities and torments come along. They are permanent. One experiences and waits for what the morrow will bring. One thinks: will tomorrow bring its everyday hell, or will the comiday brin- death?

The daring ones who tried to run away quickly realised that there was no escape - only death could liberate them. Marchiing one day like soldiers to their work, they passed three people with bowed heads seated on chairs. These had been shot sitting down, their hands resting on their spades so their bodies would not fall down. They had been propped up in this position as a warning to those still alive that this was the end of those who tried to escape.

In Suchedni¢w the Jews there did not receive the arriving Jews from Plock kindly. No help was given to them as there had been to Jews elsewhere. The Plock Jews were forced to scrounge for bread. Some tried to find a little work in the village to earn food. The Germans quickly stopped this, forbidding entry to the village, with the warning that anyone caught there would be shot.

About 800 Jews were sent to Chmielnik, where the local Jews helped the arrivals from Plock to the best of their ability. The Plock Jews set up among themselves a committee to give all possible help to those in distress in those difficult conditions. An active member of this committee was Kielek Fliederblum.

In October 1942 the deportation from Chmielnik took place. From there the Plock and the Chmielnik Jews were sent to Treblinka, all the way on foot to Kielce under guard by armed Germans and Polish overseers. The weak who lagged behind were shot. When Globus bent down to tie up his shoe he received a bullet in the back. Old Rotman was shot and thrown into a ditch by the road. The Jews had left Chmielnik early in the morning, and in the evening they arrived at the village of Morawiec, where they were ordered to stay the night. Some ill persons who had been transported in carts were told to stay in them, and these would take them back. Gerszon Mendelson tried with a gold coin to bribe one of the Polish overseers to take him back to Chmielnik. He intended from there to escape in another direction. The Pole took the money, but did not want to take him along. He approached another Pole, who took him back and demanded no money of him.

Motek Glawinski had run away when deportation was about to take place, and had joined his brother, who had been sent to a camp at Podlesie. No sooner reunited with his brother, they were both sent to a gas-chamber.

The expelled Plock Jews in Czestochowa were cordially received by the Jews of that town. They were given a place to sleep and special food was prepared for them. Despite this, this camp too was unbearable. Food ran out and the Jews began to beg in the streets in order to still their hunger. Old men stood in the street and begged for a piece of bread. Many from Plock died there from typhus. The Zionist leader Sperling died a week after the death of one of his townsmen.

At the time of the deportation to Czestochowa many Plock Jews were sent to the death camps. During the "action" Dawid Mendelson tried to get across to the Aryan side, but was shot on the way over.

The starving Jews were driven into the camps. Eating bread to still their hunger was all they thought about. When that was achieved the Germans were welcome to shoot them. Until January 1945 the Plock Jews stayed in the hell of the Czestochowa ghetto.

In Buchenwald were to be found the four brothers Lichtman, amongst them Reuven, the Secretary of the "Poalei-Zion" Party in Plock. One died of hunger. The inmates were given 15 deca bread a day and half a litre of "soup", consisting mainly of water. When liberated, one of them weighed 90 pounds.

There were also in Warsaw many Jews from Plock who shared the burden of suffering. Hasenszprung was active in the Warsaw community, and had often stood in for Adam Czerniakow as Chairman of the Judenrat.

Chaim Asz relates:
"Four crematoria burned in Auschwitz, day and night, and the stench of burning bodies was indescribable. In a neighbouring block to ours there were 6,000 gypsies from Germany proper. In the course of a few hours all of them were burnt in the crematoria. We reckoned that the next in line would be our block, but we were spared.

In the camp behind Landsberg were found some Plock Jews, among them also Mene. The thought struck him that all the torment was not worthwhile, that it could not be endured. With this fixed idea, without an iota of courage and hope, he fell ill to the point of death. He was taken away to a camp of no return, and there he died.

In the same camp a group was told to take a wagon with some corpses to burial. Amongst them lay some still half-alive victims. Some of the waggoners wore broken shoes or shoes with holes in them, and they removed the shoes of the corpses.

When they took us away from Starachowice to another camp, Niuniek Kurstein hid in a coal-cellar. One of the Germans' dogs found him and some others, and the Germans shot him.

When the Americans approached we were transported to the Tyrol. The Americans had bombarded German positions in the nearby villages. The S.S. who were guarding us were scared by the American bombardments, and fearing for their fate, they suddenly became more friendly.

When they had taken us away to Alach, beyond Munich, they warned us that those who could not walk should stay behind, as those who would want to stop on the way would be shot. The camp at Alach to which we had come was jammed full of people from various camps.

We were freed by the Americans on the 1st of May. The joy of being freed was mixed with grief at our being all that was left of our families, of our Plock and of our Jews of Poland."

Tiber Rachel of Szeroka street had experienced the whole bitter period of the Nazi camps. Edna Krig left for Italy, hoping from there to reach the shores of Eretz Israel. She sailed on one of the illegal immigrant ships. In the black of night, a few hundred yards from the shore, the immigrants were lowered onto tiny boats, while others swam to the shore, eager to reach their Eretz-Israel after years of deadly torment. The English began to shoot at the Jews in the water. Rachel Tiber, who was a good swimmer, had almost reached the shore - but she did not reach the land of Israel. An English bullet struck her and ended her life and her goal.

A strange capital of suffering was experienced by those who escaped to Russia, where the angel of death appeared in the form of hunger, illness and cold. Many Jews from Plock died there. We will quote here a letter that arrived on the first day the Jews of Plock began to cross the Russian frontier. Simcha Minc (who died later in Russia) writes:
"We travelled by train to the border, and from there went on foot by night through woods and streams. But not everyone succeeded in this way. Some lay on the so-called "Neutral Mountain Pass" on the open plain for two weeks, without a roof over their heads and in extreme frost and snow. All were swollen with cold and many died on the plain. They could not go any further. Neither forward nor back. On the one side: Jew, go back! On the other side: Stoopai ! Nazad ! Biaszenzas! (go back bloody Jews). Also in Bialystok, where the Russians called us "biaszenzas" the words rang in our ears just like "filthy Jews"!

Many Plock Jews, together with a large number of other Jews, were sent to far places in Siberia. In those horrible conditions, without bread to still their hunger, in terrible freezing weather, and without medicinal help, people died like flies. The Russians did not kill any Jews. They just let them perish from hunger or cold. Many Jews from Plock found their graves there.

After the war Plock Jews began to return from Russia, but the number of survivors was small.

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This does not pretend to be a full chronicle of torment and pain - this is simply impossible. We are just trying to describe some of the experiences that only a few Plock Jews had gone through in their struggle to stay alive.

The Role of Plock Jews in the Treblinka Uprising.

A Plock Jew who took part in an uprising in the Treblinka Camp and remained a witness who lived to tell the tale - was Flatkewicz, who had a pseudonym "Kartoffelasch".

He recounts that in a train arriving at the camp with Jwas the PlocJewish driver Adolf. Sensing what was going to happen with the newly-arrived Jews, he seized the opportunity to throw a hand-grenade he had brought with him, and killed 12 Germans. The S.S. killed him on the spot with spades and sticks.

A group of Jews, seeing from the conditions in the camp that they had nothing to lose, decided to take revenge on the Germans by rising against them, and perhaps thus save their own lives. Placing themselves at the head of this group was a nephew of the former Czech President Masaryk and the Jewish Captain Galewski. The first action of the uprising was carried out by the Plock Jew Stoliar Gutman and Tik from Nowy Dvor, who killed the first German in the workshop.

Galewski's order was to get arms from the armoury. To this end an impress of the key was made in bread by the Nowy Dvor Jew Budnik. The first one to enter the armoury was the Plock youngster Rosenberg, with his father Katzel, who together smuggled the arms out. They went to work, hiding the weapons under their clothes. Those who worked with the rags, the so-called Lumpiasches, possessed more than a hundred revolvers and hand-grenades.

Then at precisely 6 in the evening, according to an excellent description by Galewski, the riot broke out. The Plock hero Rudek Lubraniecki and a Czech Jew ignited five petrol tanks, and the others destroyed the gas-chambers. The Germans ran to the armoury for weapons but were fired upon there by the Plock Jews Perlegritz Motek, Gutmann ("Puptsik") and Rudek Lubraniecki.

The rioters destroyed the watchtowers where the guards stood, climbed the wire fence and ran towards the woods. They then had to break through the outer German ring. A group of Plockers and others fled in the direction of Kielce. Others were attacked by S.S. and Poles and killed. Some succeeded in hiding and later joined the partisans. The Plocker Flatkewicz succeeded in joining the partisans and stayed alive.

According to the evidence of a camp survivor, Stanislav Kin, about the uprising of revenge in Treblinka by desperate Jews on August 12th, 1943 (see "Yediot Beit Lochamei Hagitaot" , pp. 535-538) - among the active participants mentioned was Rudek from Plock. Rudek Lubraniecki was born in Plock in 1918. He was a locksmith by profession and worked at Margolis's factory. He was active in the "Maccabi" sports organisation in Plock, and was an outstanding sportsman, achieving distinction in various sports contests. Among others, he had distinguished himself in a sailing race on the Vistula, from Plock to the Baltic. He was a member of "Beitar". His mother and sister live in Tel-Aviv.

Rivka Glantz was born in Kanina in 1915. She was a member of "Freiheit". As a member of the Plock Kibbutz she distinguished herself by her diligence, comradely attitude, and concern for the kibbutz. Later on, she took part in a seminar of the "Hechalutz" movement.

During the war she was called upon by the "Hechalutz" Central Office to carry out underground activities for the pioneering movement. She was sent to Czestochowa, where several hundred Plock families had been sent. There she organised in Nadzszaczne Street a pioneering collective, which was active in the ghetto.

She led a clandestine resistance movement in the ghetto, carrying on an armed struggle against the Germans. At the same time many Jews fled to the woods and attacked neighbouring villages for food to stay alive. When a peasant refused to give them food they shot him. They also carried out acts of sabotage against the Germans, who were reluctant to engage them in the woods.

Once, as a result of information given by a despicable Jewish policeman, the Germans found a number of weapons hidden in the ghetto. Many Jews were then killed by the revengeful Germans.

One of Rivka Glantz's fellow members of "Hechalutz" writes about her in "Benidudim Uvamachteret" (In Wanderings and in the Underground"): "During the final period she was the mother of the Jews of Czestochowa (among whom were also deported Plockers). When she wished to leave, they begged her to stay. Those remaining in the ghetto maintained that as long as Rivka was with them they felt resolute and strong."

On the 26th of June 1942 she led a group of 40 armed Jews, who attempted to break out of the besieged ghetto. In the fight all were killed, Rivka Glantz among them. She died a heroine, weapon in hand.

Plock Jews Who Have Written Books about the Holocaust.

1) Raizel Korczak, or, as she was called, "Roszka", was born in Plock in 1921. She was educated at the Government School in Plock. After her schooldays she joined "Hashomer Hatsair". Her parents were poor - her father, a worker, belonged to the Transport Union.

When the war broke out she went through all the horrors and torments of the Nazi occupation. She fled from place to place towards the frontier until she reached Vilna, where she met up with comrades from "Hashomer Hatsair" and threw herself wholeheartedly into the underground struggle. She showed great courage, often risking her life in carrying out her missions, making contact with partisan fighters, and committing acts of sabotage. At the same time, her practised eye absorbed what was happening in the Vilna Ghetto, which she described with a sorrowing heart. The frightful life in the ghetto and the heroic underground struggle is depicted by her in her book "Lehavot Beafar" ("Flames in the Dust"), which was published in 1946 by Hashomer Hatsair in Eretz-Israel. It was translated into Hebrew from the handwritten Polish text.

"Lehavot Beafar" paints a broad canvas of life in the Vilna ghetto - the torments endured by the Jews of Vilna, the systematic extermination by the Germans, the fight for life in the ghetto, its annihilation, and the heroic struggle of the underground movement. Her description, backed by statistics, is moreover a profound picture of the daily horror of life in the ghetto until its destruction. Her documentary book presents a whole gallery of heroic fighters from various youth organisations, mainly pioneering, to which she devoted her life. She describes in her book the suffering and the joy in the ghetto, the songs of grief and hope, and history written on the wall by Jews on the threshold of their last journey.

Marching to her work in serried ranks, she heard a conversation between the writer Z. Kalmanowicz and a YIVO-colleague of Dr. Gordon, who was in the row in front of hers:
Z. Kalmanowitch cried to Gordon: "And I say I am not afraid of them".
Gordon asks him in surprise: "What do you mean, Kalmanowicz?"
And Kalmanowitch answers: "No! Their bloody hand cannot reach me! I have a son in Eretz-Israel!"

Roszka Korczak was the central figure behind the partisan fighter organisation. She was one of the few leaders of the organisation of Vilna ghetto fighters who had carried out many acts of sabotage against the Germans. She was the leader of the Jewish Partisan Legion "Nekama" (Revenge) in the Vilna district. The burning ghettos, the cry of the innocent dead, the heroic and human struggle for Jewish honour, sealed Roszka's bond with the fate of the Jewish people and with the State of Israel.

Soon after the defeat of the Nazis she helped pave the way for aliyah to Israel of the refugee remnants, At the national conference of the Histadrut she aroused the Jewish public in Israel and everywhere with her account of those horrible days under the Nazis and of the fight the pioneering remnants had fought in the ghettos and in the forests.


2) Chaja Dorembus and her husband Israel had a shop for ladies' wear on Kalegialne Street. When the war broke out, they fled with their two-year-old daugher, little Tamar, to Warsaw. During one of the actions in the ghetto the Germans had beaten Chaja's mother and a child till the blood flowed, and they died during deportation.

Chaja and her husband got to Warsaw on the Aryan side and hid in the house of a brother of their neighbour in Plock, a Christian. This Pole, Stach, not only kept them hidden but did everything possible to others from theneighbourhood. Chaja Dorembus has described her survival in a book "Oyf der Arische Zeit" (On the Aryan Side). This book is written in simple words. Daily events weave themselves into a horrifying pattern. Only through superhuman bravery could a Jew survive that period on the Aryan side. It was the life of a beast in continual danger of being devoured by a stronger animal.

We see pictures of horror and of human sublimeness, a struggle for life and a question of whether it was worth it? She depicts scenes in the Warsaw ghetto which she was accustomed to see on her way to help relatives find a hiding-place. We find there descriptions of the heroic fight in the Warsaw ghetto, from its very beginning. The Poles too were surprised at the Jewish resistance. The Germans had taken the whole of Poland in the course of a few days, whereas the Warsaw ghetto held out for weeks. Poles, looking at the burning ghetto, complained "why hadn't the Jews been gathered together like maize and the gold, furniture and wares left to us" (p.217). That was the thought pattern of a whole Polish nation with Jesus on its lips.

There were exceptions among the Poles, as recognized by those like the Dorembuses who were saved. But they were so scandalously few in numbers. The Poles, themselves oppressed beneath the lash of the Nazis, were more taken up with the annihilation of the Jews than the German enemy.

A non-Jew from the underground movement, who had been in contact with the Dorembuses, ingratiated himself with them: "how can it be - he complained - that the Jews had nnot offered any resistance? Whole sacks of money they had dragged with them instead of hand-grenades. Why hadn't they set the workshops on fire? Why hadn't they thrown themselves at the murderers with sticks and their bare hands?"

He did not understand the tragic situation, that in the annihilation of the Jews the Poles had the biggest share. The Germans would not have found hidden Jews had they not been betrayed for a reward. The Germans could only have produced a Treblinka in a country like Poland. In the silent walk to death of hundreds of thousands, of millions, there was also heroism! - a cruel, silent protest of a slaughtered people. The mark of shame is borne by the strong - they abandoned Israel.

Chaja Dorembus had not previously been a writer. She possesses powers of observation and a talent for expressing thoughts and feelings that come from her very depths. The artistry of the book is its simplicity and profound humanity that wells up from the author. That horrifying period, so quietly presented, makes a strong impression. It stretches like a thread of dreams from the past, the quiet Jewish life, the nightmare of what might befall the children, and the approach of the finger of death.

The fateful expression - Jews, despair not - lay deep in these Chaja Dorembus's pages. A human being had to be made of iron to live through each day and each hour, moments when a rustle, a strange footstep, an unknown voice, could mean the coming of the angel of death. "We live like hares. It seems to me that even in sleep I keep one eye open. At the slightest sound an icy feeling runs through my body" (p. 79).

Dorembus felt that she would never be as she once was. She says that inside her the most important fundamentals that illuminate human beings have died: their faith, their dreams, their love of others, their hope - all is dead. In truth, in those terrible days, Chaja Dorembus had in her a sea of love for her fellow humans. This feeling permeates her whole book. Without it, it would have been difficult for her to overcome that nerve-wracking hell. While aware of her own salvation, she energetically saved the lives of others, often putting her own life at risk.

We read of scenes of horror that even Satan could not achieve. Heroism was demanded to be able to winess the torments and suffering, the murder of Jews in cold blood, and o be unable to scream at the pain and have to go on with life. "It often seems to me that my heart is non-Jewish, congealed, that if I can live I am of no value, I am an animal!" (p. 204).

The writer expressed it thus to an acquaintance, before going to the market-place: I would like to get to heaven faster, to be able from on high to look down on the whole world.

When the Russians entered Warsaw Chaja noticed an acquaintance in the street.
"Chana! Chana!", she calls to her.
"Where do you get the idea that my name is Chana?"
"I thought that you were an acquaintance. I made a mistake. Pardon me."
The stranger calls to her:
"And maybe my name really is Chana? I have forgotten my proper name. I have had so many names, stamped by so many parishes, have had so many mothers and fathers. In truth, I have nobody! Maybe you can tell me where I come from, what I'm called, where should I go? I have lost hope and cannot seek God, who for me died in the ghetto. They no doubt sent him to Treblinka, together with my children. Now I may cry out in Yiddish: A disaster has struck me! "

When Chaja Dorembus was in Plock after the war she found her house overtaken by a Polish shoemaker family. "The shoemaker's wife asked me what I wanted; she did not know that I was the owner of the dwelling. Uncertainly, shamefully, I tell her this. She keeps calm. With a sly smile she declares that I will certainly get another dwelling. She doesn't even ask me to sit down. I ask her if she will allow me to take a look at my old bedroom. "Prosze" (please) - she points towards it - "but quietly; my daughter has a cold and is in bed". I remain standing on the threshold. In my broad bed lies a young blonde gentile girl. Two blue eyes look saucily and complainingly at me. Above the girl's head on the wall, grinning mockingly, is the painting of my beloved palm, by the well-known Plock artist Stzszalka. He worked on that tree for a long time until it looked quite alive. Now the palm tree is faded, weakened, miserable. Below the palm painting hang photographs, holy pictures, boot lasts, measurement gauges, even an old pair of trousers.
...There by the window stood my little Tamar's bed. There again - the rug , and over there - the toilet with the mirror. I stand with bowed head and cannot reconcile myself ... I am silent and my mind far away. Quietly, I leave my former home. A brief wave of fear, like an echo from a deep sigh, runs through me. To flee from there, to flee from there as quickly as possible!"

This book, "On the Aryan Side" , is written from a soul of deep feeling. It reveals her artistic talent of being able with simple words to create appalling images and to recount her survival on the Aryan side in Warsaw. After reading this book pictures of the Aryan side remain with one for a long time - like a nightmare difficult to shake off. It is an everlasting document of a terrible period for our people.


3) Pinchas Szwartz began his writing activity in the "Socialistische Jugends-Stimme" ; he worked later for the Bund journal "Folkzeitung" in Warsaw. He reported the daily sessions of the Polish parliament. He was Vice-Chairman of the Journalists' Union, and active in the Bund Movement. In Warsaw he published a book called "Pilsudski and the Jewish Problem".

When the war broke out , together with other writers and social leaders, he left Warsaw to avoid the approaching Nazis. His experiences in wandering from town to town in Poland 'with walking-stick in hand' he recounts in his book "Dos is Geven der Anhoib" (This was the Beginning), published by the Workers' Ring in New York in 1943.

Together with other social leaders, he was brought to America during the war, with the help of the "Jewish Workers' Committee".
 
 

4) Wladyslaw Broniewski.

Wladyslaw Broniewski, the poet

It is extremely rare that a non-Jewish Pole influential in public life has openly exhibited friendship towards Jews. Even after the enormous calamity of the Polish Jews it has been extremely rare to hear from a Pole any word of sympathy or regret for the horrible murders in which the Poles were accomplices.

Amongst the anti-semitic Polish natiothere have been a merehandful who have expressed compassion for the greatest tragedy of the Jewish people. One of them was the prominent poet Wladyslaw Broniewski, who came from Plock. He is a proletarian poet. In contemporary Poland he may well be regarded as a national poet.

At the time of the war and the destruction of Polish Jewry he composed verses singing of Jewish heroism and of the terrible Jewish tragedy in Poland. In the poetry anthology "Jews in Polish Poetry", published by Poles in Paris, Broniewski contributes poems with Jewish themes. In the poem "The Polish Jew" , dedicated to the memory of S. Ziegelbaum, Broniewski venerates the heroism of the Warsaw ghetto fighters: "They are as Maccabees, who have risen to battle without hope of victory".

The poet ends his ode with the words:
"There should forever be engraved in stone, on the Polish memory:
a common home has been destroyed, and the forgotten blood unites us;
binding us are the execution walls of Dachau and of Auschwitz;
binding us is every nameless grave and every prison cell.

A bright heaven for all of us will arise over the ruins of Warsaw,
if at last in unison we will set the seal on our bloody victory.
Everyone will have freedom, bread and justice.
A new race will arise - the highest of all - of righteous men."

It may be that Broniewski is sincere in his poem. He forgets, however, the bloodstained role in the murder of Jews played by the Poles. He exaggerates when he talks of the "common home" of Jews and Poles. This "common home" the Poles joyfully helped to raze to the ground. As thoroughly untrue is also his claim that "the forgotten blood unites us".

In another poem, "Ballads and Romances", the poet writes of a child - Rivka, who runs naked and barefoot through the town that lies in ruins and where death and annihilation reign. The 13-year-old Rivka runs alone over the ruins and the Polish passers-by throw her a morsel of bread or a grush. She wants to take this piece of bread to her father in Majdanek and to her mother, who has hidden beneath the ruins. And "Lord Jesus" too enters the ghetto. And both of them, little Rivka and Jesus, lead the S.S. men onto the road and together they shoot the Germans. "They were Jews" ...

Broniewski wrote down these Jewish motifs during the war, when he was out of Poland.

An interesting story appears in the journal "Heimisch" (September 1959): when Broniewski was in Israel and in a Kibbutz reciting one of his poems, the electric lighting gave out and he could not continue his reading - a girl from the kibbutz remembered onee of his poems by heart; and she continued to declaim it in the dark.


A memorial for Wladyslaw Broniewski
Source: Liber Taub's photographs collection

Jews in Plock after the War.

When the war ended a number of Jews from Plock returned to the town, believing they could continue their lives there. Polish hatred of the Jews had by no means diminished, despite the government's fight against anti-semitism. The tiny number of Jews in the town seemed to Polish eyes to be still too big.

During Pesach in 1946 a Polish child disappeared in Plock. Soon the rumour spread throughout the town that the Jews had killed the child for ritual purposes. The atmosphere was disturbing. The Jewish remnant lived in fear of a pogrom. Among the Poles a smear campaign was set in motion that the Jews Hitler had missed should be murdered. Thanks to the former P.P.S. leader Kempczinski. who led the "Ozszand Ovizpietszalny" steps were taken to avert a bloody pogrom. A day later the child was found alive.

This was the first blood-libel recorded in Plock, and took place after the murder of 95% of the Jewish population such a short time before.

The newspaper "Al Hamishmar" in Israel, reporting on anti-semitism in the Polish "People's Republic", tells about a characteristic letter a Jewish inhabitant of Plock had written to "Tribuna Lodo", the organ of the Polish Workers' Party. The Jew, Alfred Bernstein, complains that local anti-semitism had seriously affected his family. In its reply the newspaper states that his case will be submitted to the office dealing with such matters.

An ITA announcement from Warsaw says that 20 sifrei-torah and 200 books have been found hidden in the attic of the synagogue in Plock and these had been distributed to a number of congregations in Poland.

"The New Life" of Lodz reported that Polish workers during sewage work had found the flag of "Maccabi" Plock. This was the flag "Maccabi" had acquired on its 18th anniversary. It was handed over to the Jewish Committee. This committee was also given, after much difficulty, a cymbal that was covered over with parchment from a sefer-torah.

In the first year after the establishment of the State of Israel, when Russia's attitude was amicable, a campaign was carried out under the auspices of the Jewish Committee in Plock to give blood to wounded soldiers of the Israeli army.

---

On October 26th 1946 there took place the exhumation of 25 Jewish victims in Plock, who had been murdered by the Nazis in 1941. Their bullet-ridden bodies were transferred from Imielnica, a village near Plock, to the Jewish cemetery and buried there with full honours. Taking part in the funeral were the remaining Jews of Plock, a number of Jewish delegations from Warsaw and district, and also representatives of the Polish authorities. The funeral procession began from the house at 27 Szenkewisze, where the Jewish Committee had its office. At the open grave speeches were made by the official Polish representative, Alfred Blei from the Jewish Committee, the judge Michael Koenigsberg from Plock, and others. Alfred Blei read out the names of the first brutally shot Jewish victims of Plock:

BLUMERT Haim Yosef
BOGACZ Reuven
BURSTEIN Abram
BURSTEIN Ezra Hersz
FAIKA Efraim
FLAKS Abram
FLAKS Pinchas, Abram's son
GOLDBERG Kamzel
GRAUBARD Efraim
GREENSPAN Moshe
HERKOVICZ Zadok
KREDIT Marek
KURSTEIN Maniek
PEFIERTSZIK Fiszel
PLOCKER Hersz
PSZECHODSKI Dawid
PSZECHODSKI Abram
ROTBLAT Simcha Leib
SEGAL Alter
SODZAWKA Moshe
SZHMIDT Aron Laizer
SZWARTZ Maniek
ZILBERBERG Hersz

 

There also spoke at the open grave Michael Koenigsberg (destined to be a District Judge and Judge of the Polish Supreme Court ). He mentioned the generations of Jews in Plock who had disappeared for ever, but had left behind a monument in many creative areas of life. He spoke of the Plock that was, which Plockers everywhere remembered with longing, and of the 9,000 dead victims. He went on to talk of the brothers and sisters from Plock who had arrived five years later, after the gruesome execution of the 25 victims, paid tribute to them, who were buried with full honours, and who thus also represented all the many thousands who had brutally perished at the hands of the Nazis.

At the open grave the prayer "El Malei Rachamim" was rendered.
The 25 victims were in a group of Jews destined for Dzialdowo. From these the Germans picked them out at random - men and boys aged from 17 to 63 - and took them away to Imielnicza, where they were shot in groups of five at a time. After each round the surviving groups had to bury the dead. The Judenrat was forced to witness the execution and ordered to bury the last batch, before leaving the town.

In the court at Plock there took place the trial of Yakov Pohl, the executioner of the Gostynin Jews. In 1939, as an S.S. Gruppenfuhrer, he arrested hundreds of Jews and inflicted sadistic torture on them. He took many of them to a nearby wood and murdered them there. Amongst those killed were four members of the Rat (Committee). He later robbed many more Jews and ordered them killed. From Poland Hitler sent him to France, where he continued his bloody deeds. After Hitler's defeat he settled in West Germany. He was later unmasked and handed over to the Polish authorities, and the Polish Court condemned this bloodstained German to death.

One of the items on the agenda of the Jewish Committee was what to do with the synagogue. During the occupation the Germans had polluted the beautiful building, tit into a warehouse and destroyed the interior. To restore the building as a place of worship was not feasible. The question for the number of Jewwho had returned was how to retain the last symbol of Jewish Plock, so that it would not vanish from the earth. A plan was put forward by one of those present, Lownik Burstein, to turn the synagogue into a memorial for the martyrs of Plock and the surrounding region.

The approximately 100 jews who had returned to Plock could not carry out this project. They had believed they could so with help from Plockers and from America. However, the position of the Ministry of Culture, under whose jurisdiction the matter belonged, was not clear.

---------

To preserve the memory of the annihilated Jewish population of Plock there was on the 23rd of October 1949 unveiled a memorial designed by the Plock architect Benjamin Perlmuter. It was placed in the cemetery, and consists of a white building with broad steps, leading to a porch. Above is written in large letters: Al eile ani boche (On These I Weep). On the wall are engraved the names of martyrs.

Active in the construction of this memorial was Alfred Blei. He was already an old Jew, who saw no future in his desolate Poland. He had been a passionate Polish patriot all his life and was an assimilated Jew. He had always been active in Jewish community life and he decided after the war to stay in Plock, where he still believed Jewish life would be revived. Although after the war he looked with pride upon the rise of the State of Israel, he felt that his age he could not begin again. And in his eternally beloved Plock he continued to work for the remnant of Jews. When there were almost none left, he went to Warsaw, where he died.

---------

In May 1957 there were only 44 Jews in Plock. These consisted of 28 families: 23 men, 21 women, and 40 children. Their occupations were as follows: in cooperatives 18; in government employment 5; in private business 1; in private agriculture 1; in private workshops 3; dentists 2; house owners 12; and ailing 2.

From these almost all emigrated to Israel, and in 1959 there were but three Jews in Plock.
 
 

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