Zeev Kibel’s Wartime Memoirs
Zeew Kibel wrote a book about his experiences in the German Concentration and death camps:
הסנה איננו אכל
נכתב וצולם ע"י ר' זאב קיבל הי"ו
"הלא זה אוד מוצל מאש" (זכריה ג:2)
י"ז אלול תרצ"ט - י"ז אלול תשמ"ט
לזכר חמישים שנה מהכרזת מלחמת העולם השניה
ותחילת השמדת ששה מליון יהודים
כל הזכויות שמורות ©
הפלוגה הדתית 4
בני ברק 51389
In Fire and Blood - The Bush Was Not Consumed
Is not This a Brand Plucked Out of The Fire? (Zechariah (III:2)
50 Years after the Outbreak of WWII
Jerusalem: Ma’arekhet Mekon Zekher Naftali, 1989. 2 volumes.
Zeew Kibel was deported from Turek in July 1941 and sent to the Eichwald Labour Camp near Posen. After Posen he was in the Lodz ghetto. Bronia saw him in Auschwitz as he arrived. He survived Auschwitz, Dachau and Sachsenhausen...
He returned to Turek in 1990 and I believe the book has a section about his visit there when he was searching for Torah commentaries by R' Pinchas Weiss, the last rabbi of Turek. He did not locate them. He said somewhere in the book that he owed his life to God and his sister Brucha.
Zeev Kibel’s Wartime Memoirs
Translated from Hebrew by M. Shubinsky-August 2006-08-17. Edited by Susan Pentlin PhD.
This is dedicated to Bronia of Kansas City - a truly remarkable woman.
Life in Eichenwald
Working in the Camp
Sunday Incidents at the “Stadium” Camp
Saturdays and Holidays in the Valley of Death
Fifth of Shevat
Sending Gifts on Purim
Typhus in the Camp
Tefillin in the Camp
The "Conspiracy" and Its Bitter End
The Tragic End Of Rabbi Feiwel Rosenberg
From Eichenwald to Remo Camp
Remo Camp Work Schedules
Daily Routine In The Camp
Eating the Flesh of Dogs
10.12.42 -the Burns that Led Me to the Lodz Ghetto
Inside the Lodz Ghetto
Working Arrangements in the Lodz Ghetto
Judaism in the Ghetto - against the Nazi Satan
Horrible Life in the Ghetto
Life in Eichenwald
The morning of the first day in camp, a new week had begun, “new” life...”a new page opens...” German screams woke us suddenly from our short sleep and we had to fall out on parade. The commandant, an SS man greeted us with a sour “good morning” and immediately informed us that we are Jews no more! Each of us will receive a number, attached to his clothing and that will be his name!
We soon fell into groups and us, the Gur group trying to keep together; succeeded and got a number-24. The Germans distributed notes on which the identifying number was printed and attached to our clothing.
The camp, number 10, was a labour camp surrounded by barbed wire. The commandant, a tough and cruel Gestapo man, who received us when we arrived, tormented us along the way. On the first day, he appointed some Polish guards for every group, who patrolled the camp, clubs in hand. The beatings they gave were like a tonic to them... Beating without any rhyme or reason went on but, why worry about a reason? The guards were under the supervision of the SS who did not give a damn when an innocent Jewish prisoner was beaten to death.
As “morning exercises” we were ordered to walk bent over and to collect rubbish off the floor. I could not bend over as my back was still very sore from the beating I received the night before but I had no choice. Early in the morning we were roused out of our bunks at 3am, moving into the shower room for an ice cold wash which was not compulsory but we had to clean the eating utensils, which we used to carry the food to our workplace and to cook our food in, when we managed to obtain some potatoes. We even used it to wash our clothes in and to urinate in at night, making sure we washed it in the morning.
After the morning shower we had to fall out on parade, regardless of the weather, which was now well below freezing. The head of each group was responsible for the quota which had to be filled but often was not and why? Each day, prisoners were being killed by the Nazi thugs and sometimes people were missing for medical reasons but they had to have a medical certificate and if they did not possess one, they were severely beaten.
We left for work at 3am after receiving a cup of coffee but without any food and we had to take our utensils with us which we tied to our bodies as if we left them behind, they would not be there when we got back and woe betides anybody who lost his utensils.
We had to walk 8-10km to get to our place of work and all the way there we tried to recite scriptures. At the same time, prisoners from another camp 15km from us came to work by our camp. Working up to 10 hours a day, the work was hard –digging ditches for the German war effort. All the while, we were guarded by an elderly German who revelled in beating us while telling us “If your nose is streaming and you wipe it, then you must care about your cold”, meaning “you can work well but if you do not care about anything, you are finished”
A short half and hour break was provided at lunchtime. We received a small portion of warm water loosely described as soup in which, sometimes we could find a few vegetables or 2-3 pieces of potato. We used the break to put on our Teffilin passing them from one to the other, saying our prayers as quickly as we could. We did that because it was dark when we left for work and Tefillin cannot be worn in the dark.
Keeping kosher was problematic for obvious reasons and we refused to eat anything but bread and water, as well as the occasional package we had from home which contained 2-4kg of bread. As a result of this totally inadequate nutrition and the hard physical labour, I fell ill with dysentery and had a bad case of diarrhoea.
Lucky for me I received a letter from our Turek rabbi, Pinkhas Weiss who ordered us to eat all the food in order to survive. As for the Sabbath, the Rabbi said: do not put yourself in harm’s way, there is no choice, you have to break the Sabbath-it is a commandment. It was better to break one Sabbath by working rather than breaking many Sabbaths by not surviving. And so we followed this ruling.
At the same time, a doctor arrived at the camp and made a list of the sick. He told us that the sick will be sent home but I was too weak to walk to the infirmary and shouted from my bed that he must register me as well. A German officer heard me and asked that I be registered but for some reason the doctor did not. As it turned out the almighty must have been looking out for me, because a few days later all the sick were sent away...And never seen again, and I was lucky to stay alive.
One day we found out that one of our numbers was taken to work in the kitchens and he saw to it that one of the soup pots would not have any meat in it so that we could eat without fear but that did not last long…Around 5pm, we finished work and had a short parade to check if we were all present, suffice to say, every day the number going to work was larger than that of returning from work…We then marched off in threes and marched back into the camp while being watched by the Poles who shouted at us-“you wanted this and you deserve this!”. From time to time they would throw us packs of Barley or mouldy bread or spoilt food and then started their devilish laugh as they saw us scrambling for this “find”. They just wanted to see us humiliated and defeated, god forbid.
Arriving back at the camp, we received a litre of water (food...) and were then dismissed to our barracks. At 9pm, a Kg. of bread was given to every four men, and how did we divide this? We prepared a weight made out of boot polish tins and used this to weigh the bread so that each of us will have a fair share.
Other prisoners did not follow our example as they were too hungry to care about their fellows and rushed to take the bread for themselves, but we the Hassidic group tried to take care of each other and not to steal from others. We divided the bread equally and correctly by weight just as it was written: “in measure, in weight and in fair rations” or more correctly as it was said in the law: “Exchange your bread by weight and you shall eat and not be full”
Working in the Camp
There were people in the camp who were lucky to have easy work and those who had nothing but hard labour, as if it was decreed by the heavens! I, found favour in the camp commandant who lived near our place of work and he appointed me to labour in his house cleaning the cow sheds, looking after his pigs and his cows. This was not especially difficult work as I managed to obtain, from time to time potatoes from the pig’s food and so I held on. I also managed to steal some food for my friends who were not as “lucky” as me.
My “boss” was always sure that a Jew will never try to escape from the camp as the whole area was hostile territory and the local Poles used to turn in any Jew who did manage to escape and so, he did not watch me too carefully.
One day, it was my bad luck to steal some potatoes while cleaning the pigsty, when the commandant entered and saw me in the act...
How did I feel? It is difficult to describe. At first he did not realise what was happening and his face showed terrible anger and then he turned on me, beat me hard and dragged me towards my friends and shouted “Jewish pig, now I know why my pigs lost weight, you ate all their food, all that I work so hard to give them, you eat!
You will pay for this dearly! I kept you and you demolished all the content of the sty! You Jewish dog!”
My friends were too stunned to say anything and the German turned to his dog, stroked its fur and called “come here man and savage this Jewish dog!” The dog, obedient as ever to his master, jumped on me and bit me all over and then let me go. The German sent me off to wash the blood from my body and said “from now you will work just like the others, no more soft duties” and in spite of my great pain, I had to join the others and go to work.
An hour later the main camp commandant called me and was horrified to see me in my injured state. “Who did this to you?” he asked as if surprised. But I knew it was just a ruse that the Germans used to do as if I was to tell him the truth, my days will be numbered…and if I were to say “a prisoner did this” he would be severely beaten and so I said-“I fell over and injured myself” the commandant of course accepted this explanation.
Returning to the camp, I went to see the first aider who dressed my wounds as well as he could but refused to give me permission to rest as a “sick” man. Suddenly the work commandant called me and I hurried with trepidation to see him. “I hope you learnt your lesson” he said “you saw how we deal with undisciplined prisoners. I hope you will learn from this for a long time to come but in the meantime you will carry on working in my farm as before but, if I catch you stealing again, you will not come out alive!, be warned!”.
And so I stayed at that place for a while, I could have helped my brothers who were getting weaker working hard and I also had more food then most prisoners but I was wary of raising suspicion. Sometimes I managed to hide something for them but was terrified of being caught again by my “boss” as I was warned not to provoke the devil’s anger.
Sunday Incidents at the “Stadium” Camp
Towards the end of August, shortly after our arrival in the camp, the Germans had a new devilish idea-setting up a new camp called “Stadium camp”, which was built for a specific purpose. Before the war the site was a football stadium and now it was set up for “terrible plays” to be witnessed by selected prisoners, 50 from each camp.
What was it set up for? On a Sunday afternoon, German soldiers arrived with their wives and children, took their seats and waited. From one of the entrances some SS men came driving before them four Jews shackled in handcuffs. The judge stood in the middle and hit the desk with his gavel and the play started.
“These Jews” he thundered,” tried to escape from their camp and now they will be punished! It will be a good example for all those who might think about escaping in the future!”
The prisoners were given injections to sedate them and then a Jewish policeman placed the rope around their necks and hop! They were hanged and left twitching between life and death and all the while the cry of “hear o Israel” was on their lips as they gave their pure souls to their maker.
We, the Jews had to watch the grisly spectacle which took place every Sunday at 3pm. Sometimes two Jews were killed, or ten or more on other occasions, may their souls rest in peace. In spite of all that the Germans were taken by this spectacle and brought along cameramen to film the occasion for posterity. “May god revenge the blood of the dead”.
Saturdays and Holidays in the Valley of Death
We, of the Hassidic group, tried to support each other as much as we could there in the valley of death and on the first of each month celebrated with “feasts”, we supped from just one bowl and tried as much as we could to avoid using foul language.
Each Thursday we used to complain to the paramedic that we had all manner of aches and pains but he insisted that we took our temperature but, we knew that by rubbing the thermometer we could make it register a higher temperature and if the medic thought we had a fever, we could be excused work for three days and this lucky person can than be free of work on a Sabbath.
On Saturdays and holidays we tried to organise a minyan and on the New Year we prayed from memory. One of our number, Rabbi Abram Lentitzki even blew the shofar that he had hidden in his clothing.
On Yom Kippur, some of the veterans arranged a release from work with the supervisor and when I heard this, I knew I had to follow suit and so I hid myself and when everybody went to work, made my way into the hidden prayer room, and there, together we prayed in that filthy unholy place, under the noses of our tormentors.
A Polish Gendarme suddenly appeared and we were caught! Not only had we not fallen out for work, (this in spite of the arrangement the veterans had with the supervisor, but who care about such arrangements in this evil place?). We were guilty of conducting a religious ceremony! A severe offence!
Trembling with fear, we managed to placate him-he beat us hard but we got off with a warning that if we got caught again, we will pay the price. And so the Gendarme left us and we could say that the holy day passed peacefully.
Fifth of Shevat
The fifth of Shevat1) , the feast of Meran, the followers of the great Rabbi, the holder of the “language of truth”-(Sephat Emet)
To be honest, I would not exaggerate if I said that this feast deserves a whole book and more… It was our last Memorial Day meal together and all of my friends who were present, perished apart from me who survived, thank god. I will therefore try and condense the essence of the story and maybe I could tell you some more of the story of this feast. At that time we still received some packages from the Ghetto containing 2-4kg of bread. We saved this bread, and with some potatoes and a bit of butter (a rare commodity in the camp), we cooked a giant porridge and the meal was ready.
We the dwellers of the third floor (in the bunk beds), placed everything in a single bowl, as was the custom in the Hassidic Shtible, and sat for the meal. But, before describing the meal itself, let me describe the people there: rabbi Moshe Hirsch Brandt, Moshe David Wojdesslawski, Hirsch Mordechai Sterkman, Feible Abramovitch,Mendel Setner (the grandson of Rabbi Gabriel Kohler who was a well known Hassid in Kock), Kalman Margalit and his brother Eliezer, Meir Makowal, Rabbi Feibel Rosenberg, Eli Eliezer Levi, Meir Baum, my cousin, Avram Moshe Kibel, Shmuel Meir Yaschomb, Shmuel Hendelsman, Rabbi Avram Lentitzki from Izbice, Rabbi Kalman Mengeles, and my humble self, the only one to survive, the diminutive Wolf Kibel.
Each of us told the story of how his community celebrated the fifth of Shevat (it was a well known festival in the small Hassidic communities and the candles shone in the windows). We reinforced each other and decided that we will each recite Torah saying what we could remember.
To be honest I cannot remember how we avoided work that day, perhaps it was a German holiday and the following day, on the fifth of Shevat, we did not go out to work.
Some of the young men in our group got fed up with the situation and asked “what is the point of living?” I was shocked when I heard this and shouted “why are we alive? For the grace of god, if the heavens decided to try us like this, it was because they know we could prevail! Let us do god’s will and live and keep the commandments as well as we can, rest on the Sabbath even for five minutes-it will be sufficient… eat the non kosher food as little as possible. Even that is a commandment. We must nurture the tree and keep it alive.”
We were talking with a great deal of enthusiasm well into the night and prayed: ”May our entire requests be accepted, and may all we say here be to our credit and the Messiah will come soon!” With tears in our eyes, we came off our bunks and danced like crazy men singing for the Messiah to come in Yiddish. The other prisoners woke up, certain we were out of our minds and crazy but we did not care and carried on dancing with unprecedented enthusiasm. I do not remember such a Shevat as this. My friends who did not survive danced and were merry regardless of the harsh conditions we were in. Describing this memorable event was in part in response to a request made by Kalman Margalit who asked after the meal “if any of us remains alive after all this, please tell them about this meal and what was said and done here and please write it down and mention our names.” And so I am fulfilling his wishes as I am the only one left alive from that group of fine righteous men.
Sending Gifts on Purim
On the feast of Purim, we once again managed to organise a festival feast which we celebrated together, we tried to follow the Halacha on this last Purim and how?
One of us had a Humash, from which we read the scroll of Ester. The meal we made from the few potatoes we managed to gather, with a Quaker porridge but sending gifts? How could we give up such an important commandment? Well, we passed slices of bread to each other, as gifts and any of us who could add anything to this (if they had any); we had two types in the “gift” as was required.
The joy of Purim in our little hut, is difficult to describe, we descended from the beds without caring what the others would say and danced and singing with all our strength: “The rose of Jacob was joyous... may Haman be dammed and bless Mordechai...” This was a real Purim joy in the midst of the Nazi Satan!
Typhus in the Camp
About a week before Pesach, a typhoid epidemic broke in the camp. It spread like wildfire and, in a few days almost 90% of the inmates were sick. I too succumbed and had a 104 deg. Fever and felt terrible. I was told to get my belongings (as little as I had), and move to one side with all the sick. We were all placed in the shower block, were we had to wash ourselves with cold water, while our clothing was taken away for disinfection. We were then placed in the “sick room” which was on the edge of the camp.
This room was full of the sick, lying on the floor on a bed of straw. I was placed by the newly sick in a line with my head next to another person’s feet and so on. That way the sick occupied a minimum of space.
Most of the sick died within a day or two, but how did they take the dead out? The fit prisoners were afraid to enter the room thinking they will become sick and so they tied a rope to a dead person’s foot and so dragged him out.
And speaking of “hospital”, it is well understood that such a place has to be staffed by doctors... but not here, all we had was just one Jewish medic from Germany who was afraid to approach the sick and all he did was to administer aspirin from time to time as well as taking the temperature in the morning-things that did not help in treating this terrible disease.
We, the sick could not eat, and our rations consisted of a weak porridge and water, but some of us resorted to drinking their own urine thinking it will make them better and reduce their fever. Our moral situation deteriorated further until on one occasion, one of the prisoners stole another’s prisoner’s urine and that man shouted in his agony: “why are you taking my life away? God forgive me!”
On the first night of Passover, (the Seder night) my fever increased to new heights and I was almost suffocated, I tried to sit but could not, I lay down and cried, I felt that I was wrestling with death. Suddenly I remembered that I had some aspirin tablets that I acquired from somewhere. I opened my bag and swallowed 10 pills at once. I felt stronger, got up and run into the corridor where I fell down in a faint.
As I lay on the floor, a medical orderly passed by and called for the doctor (the Jew from Germany), and asked him if he could give me anything. The doctor poured water over me, gave me an injection to strengthen my heart. With the morning, I woke up and my fever started to go down and I started to get better.
All that time, with an epidemic raging, the camp was in quarantine and, as a result, food supplies dwindled, as the Germans were afraid to allow their horses into the camp thinking they will catch the disease. Our boys had to walk out of the camp to the food wagon and bring the food into the camp. I was finally getting better and managed to crawl on all fours. A few days passed and I could walk with a stick... the hospital management saw that I was recovering and sent me back in to the main camp. Returning to the camp I was despondent. All my friends were already dead and there I was with my friend Feibel Rosenberg, may he rest in peace-more on the later.
I was a broken man-physically and mentally. There was no one to lift my spirits, to say a good word. My parents managed to send a package of bread from time to time, in which they hid some coins, which we used to buy a few things from the “canteen” (the camp commissary). The few prisoners who did not get sick, seeing me in my broken state felt sorry for me and bought me a few bottles of black beer in the camp canteen although I was not capable of eating but had to eat something to get stronger again. This beer was cooked with some sugar and give to me to bring my strength back. They cooked me a weak porridge as well, which I could hardly swallow, but I managed to get better slowly and regain my strength.
Tefillin in the Camp
All my time in the camp was dedicated to trying to keep the commandments and serve god and I remember how I managed to acquit the many by obeying the commandment to lay Tefillin and it was a difficult operation!
Usually we left for work so early, it was still dark and I could not lay the Tefillin-I hid them in a special place and while working tried not to raise the German’s suspicions, and using the half hour lunch break-for the lunch meal, I took with me some of my group and we lay the Tefillin, each of us taking a few minutes to do so in turn. We said the Shemah and took them off immediately. There were prisoners who said: “we do not keep the Sabbath or eat kosher and do not fast on Yom Kippur, so why should we bother with the Tefillin?” but my answer was “If we cannot keep the Sabbath, it s a sign that it is so desired by the heavens, but because of that we should not lay the Tefillin? What you can do, you must carry out!”
And so I redeemed all those people by carrying out this great commandment. I also think of what was said in “Masecht Avot” : “it s better to have just one hour of good deeds and repentance than not at all”, this related to the time we stood every day and lay the Tefillin in spite of all the dangers, in great dedication.
The "Conspiracy" and Its Bitter End
A month after Pesach, a terrible event took place in the camp: the chief of the Jewish policemen in the camp, Yitzhak Angel and some other policemen bribed the Polish driver working for all the Poznan camps to bring them some letters from the Ghetto, as well as food and so on. Yitzhak Angel was a rich Jew before the war and knew the driver who agreed without any hesitation. One day while the driver’s car was being searched, some smuggled documents and other items were discovered and on the day, dozens of SS soldiers surrounded the camp, entered it and took ten Jewish policemen with Angel amongst them (the money in the car was destined for him).
They were told to stand outside and a German officer told them to turn in any documents, money or other contraband or valuables that they might have and if, when searched anything else was found, there will be hell to pay! The condemned men had no option but to take everything out fearing for their lives and so a small pile of documents was deposited on the side, incriminating their owners. The task completed, the condemned men mounted a truck and were taken away. To where? We could not answer that question and dispersed to our huts while praying for their safety.
The following Sunday, a new command came out; we all had to fall out and were taken to the Stadium camp. When we got there we looked in horror to the stage where the ten men were standing, pale, worn out and shaking with fear with their feet and legs shackled. The trial started. The judge declared: “these prisoners tried to organise a mutiny against the Germans Reich and so they has to be condemned immediately to death by hanging!”
And so the judicial part was over and the prisoners were called by name and mounted the hanging stools. Yitzhak Angel started pleading for his life crying bitterly:” Dear Gentlemen please take pity on me I am a father to children and all my life gave employment to Poles and Germans in my factory, they were very well treated and I never harassed them please let me go!”
But the stone hearted Gestapo man hit him a few times and shouted: “quiet! Shut your mouth! Do not plead! Not another word!” But Yitzhak did not go quietly and shouted to us “Jews, revenge!!!” and with the call of “Shemah Israel” on his lips, gave out his soul. The other nine men were hung after him, may god revenge their blood.
The Tragic End Of Rabbi Feiwel Rosenberg
The Typhoid epidemic that had killed so many in our camp, killed many in other camps and when it finally abated, the Germans decided to consolidate the camps into one large one. The Eichenwald camp broke up, some of the inmate, I amongst them, were transferred to the “Remó” camp, about 100 yards from the Stadium and my friend, Rabbi Feibel Rosenberg was taken to “Lantzig”, also near Posnan. Up till then, he was working mostly indoors and that enabled him to help many inmates but now, he was not known and had to undertake heavy manual labour such as digging trenches for the Germans and all that after walking for 8 Km just to get to work.
Rabbi Feibel was alone, weak for physical labour and broken in spirit and that made him decide to do what he did! I think it may also be due to the fact he had nobody to talk to and to draw strength from and perhaps he had some money with him from smuggling or some jewellery as he was from a very rich family. As all his family was still in the Ghetto, he decided to escape from the camp and make his way back to the ghetto on foot. On Saturday, when the workers came back to camp, a roll call was made and his absence was discovered. After a short enquiry he was identified as missing and the Polish Police was alerted. He was found in a few hours and he was returned to camp and then came the bitter end…
The German sadist who was charged with his care was glad and ordered that he be kept under strict confinement. On the next day, Sunday morning at 8, during the routine roll call, the commandant ordered that the condemned man, Rabbi Feibel Shohet, a rich Jew and a pious gentleman, be taken out into the square. He was already injured, bloodied and pale with fear. The German guard was happy and ordered the Jewish head of the camp to attend. “This Jew” he said, was not happy in the camp, “he decided to escape, and he was obviously not thinking well of us, so what shall we do with him?” This leader of the camp could have saved him or reduce his punishment but he just said “As you wish sir!”
The German was at a loss to decide what to do now, he had to think of something that he would enjoy. After all, not every day gave him such an opportunity to punish a Jew in such a way! Before continuing, let me stress a few points so that you can understand what happened next: The Germans had a machine which was used to disinfect prisoner’s clothing. It consisted of a long barrel 5m long and 2-3 m high, with a container underneath holding sulphur which was heated and the fumes passed into the barrel with a pipe. The prisoner’s clothing was placed in the barrel which was hermetically sealed to prevent the fumes from escaping when the sulphur was heated. Other chemicals were also placed in the barrel to facilitate the disinfection process.
This machine was used in all the camps once a month to disinfect all the prisoner’s clothing. It was the Rabbi’s bad luck that the Lantzig camp had that machine on that Sunday, and so, when the German guard saw the machine, he was happy, clapping his hands in glee. “Make the fire as big as possible!” he shouted and when this was done, he tied the Rabbi tight and threw him into the barrel and closed it. For 5 or 10 minutes his screams were heard- “I am burning, help me!” and them a loud “Shema Israel!” and all was quiet.
Two hours passed, the machine was cooled and opened and from within a lump of charred flesh was removed, a small as a baby and when it was handled it just fell apart into a pile of ash... the holy ash of Rabbi Feibel Rosenberg, may he rest in peace and god will avenge his blood.
From Eichenwald to Remo Camp
Following the Shavuot festival, I was transferred to the Remo camp after all the huts in Eichenwald were torched by the Germans to prevent another typhoid epidemic. All the remnants from the Eichenwald camp, tried to acclimatise to the new camp. And we knew that we would not have an easy time here. We did not know anybody from this camp, not the inmates, the guards or the commandant, so that we could not ask for any favours from them as we had before.
My fate in that camp was nothing but trouble, one after the other. I was the only remnant of my group and had nobody to talk to to support me, to give me a few kind words. I was alone! To add to all my woes, one day I learnt that the Turek ghetto was finally liquidated! I felt, for a long time that the Ghetto’s end was near, as I did not receive any letters or parcels, only some very brief cards but now? I tore my clothes as if in mourning and from them on considered myself as an orphan with only my maker to rely on!
I was alone, a helpless orphan, without support but just at that time, I remembered the saying coined by the holy man of Katzk-“God gave the torah on Mount Sinai in the desert and why in the desert? To teach us that although a man can be alone in the desert without any other being around him; he can still carry on keeping the commandments and following the way of god without fear”. And what about the food in the Remo camp? It was the most important thing there but, compared to Eichenwald, it was terrible, and Eichenwald was a charming place compared to Remo as we were constantly hungry.
One day, I was noticed by a Jewish kitchen worker, a religious man, according to him and he told me to come in every day after work and help him to peel potatoes. And so I had a bit of extra food and could carry on surviving.
I was still limping though, after my brush with typhoid and looked unwell, I tried not to draw attention to myself and to avoid coming into contact with the camp commandant, because anyone who did, had no chance to live!
Remo Camp Work Schedules
The Remo camp had all kinds of jobs-pulling wooden boards and iron rods, loading railway wagons with earth or stoking the locomotives pulling the wagons.
The work was as orderly as expected from the methodical Germans... The wagons were filled with earth, the locomotives took them to a place where the earth was piled high.
At the end of the line of wagons, a fat German stood and if he did not think it was filled correctly, he had no hesitation in overturning the load and punishing the group responsible for filling the wagon by beating them up severely in a stick he had ready for such use! In such a sadistic way this German liquidated several people every day!
I tried as well as I could to be employed as a stoker and had to split logs all day to place in the firing compartment but I was not always successful. And, if you ask how I worked on Saturdays? Well for every kind of work I set myself a fence and a limit for keeping the Sabbath... If I had to drag wood and iron rods, I tried every 4 feet (as I did not want to exceed that measure), to stop, even for a split second and just a second! So that the Germans would not notice.
If I had to load earth on the wagons, I tried to shovel less earth than was determined by the Germans and if I was chopping wood for the firebox on the locomotive, I tried to cut the wood with as few blows as possible-no more than the number of days in the week. For me it was “Oneg Sabbath”.
I always tried to keep working so as not to incur the wrath of the Germans and to keep the Sabbath in some way, as instructed by the Rabbi of our town, Pinhas Weiss, may he rest in peace.
Daily Routine In The Camp
Waking up at dawn, we had to fall out to receive a cup of “coffee” and immediately go out to work, lasting till the evening. During that time we had a half hour break for lunch when we received half a litre of dirty water containing some vegetable peelings and sometimes a few potatoes. The Germans called it “soup” and we had some of that when we came back from work in the evening.
At 10 at night when we retired to our bunks we had 1kg of bread for every 4 persons who bunked in one tier. (They called it Pritz). Darkness fell at 4 in the afternoon during the winter months but our work day did not finish till 6 and so we had to return to camp in total darkness. I always tried to leave something from the Thursday bread ration for the Sabbath. I wrapped the bread in rags and hid it and it was hard to starving people like us to do that. Some of us grabbed the bread as soon as we received it and ate it immediately. And so it was difficult for me to hide a piece and why did I do that?
Every Friday, when we returned to camp the Sabbath already started, and so, on our way back I prayed “Kabalat Sabbath” and evening prayers, as much as I could remember by heart and sanctified the bread. The Sabbath meal was the soup we had when we go back to camp. The bread, I did not touch and wrapped it in rags as I did not have any water for washing my hands. Water? Why has it? But then I felt I was living for a higher purpose and that encouraged me.
What can I tell you, life in the camp deteriorated daily, yesterday I met a friend, thin, shrunken, all skin and bones with loose skin... we called such a man “klapsadra” meaning “death notice”... but really meaning a man who is half way between life and death. In the evening he walks around as such a klapsadra but in the morning he swells up and turns into a bloated corpse from hunger. Then, a few days later his remaining part that is still in this world goes to the next and as it was written he became “swollen with hunger”.
These musselmans were placed in a special room where their clothing was taken and their bodies piled up and taken to a place of burning to be disposed of.
I must point out that when I went to Poland recently, visiting Posen, I went to that place of burning, called Zabitkow, about 12 km from Poznan. A small crematorium was constructed there with two metal ovens and a large container 10m by 5m where the bodies were burnt. Sometimes small groups of Jews would be disposed of there.
At dawn we left for work, it was dark and frosty outside and we passed through the main streets of Poznan led by a Kapo with a Polish gendarme behind us. We happened to pass by a German army restaurant when the trash was taken out and we, the starving prisoners, attacked the trash as if it was gold dust with every one of us desperately seeking some morsels of leftover food. The Kapo and the Gendarme used to enjoy the spectacle and stood there laughing until they came to their senses and started beating us until we fell back into line and continued on our way.
In time the Kapo and the Gendarme decided that it was not fair that we were enjoying the food so much on our way to work and started taking us on roundabout routes to avoid the restaurant but when they wanted to have some fun they led us there again.
About two years ago I sat for the Seder night meal with my family with the table laden with goods with six god fearing men around it. While we read the Hagadah, when we reached the verse “my origin is from dust and from the gutter a poor man will be lifted”, I told my family what that meant to me as I was there in the gutter when we were looking for food just like wild alley cats and now, thank god, I managed to make a wonderful family in the land of Israel.
And so “from the gutter a poor man will be lifted” to “let me sit with the rich and the just of my people” with my own children. Thank God that allowed me to get there.
Eating the Flesh of Dogs
Meat - we managed to have some in the Remo camp and how? The commandant was a sadistic German called Brusheit. He used to punish inmates severely-for every transgression-no matter how small, even if done without intention...
He used to patrol the camp with his soul mate, his dog and when he approached one of the huts (then danger was imminent), any inmate who saw him would call out the prearranged password “six” to say six legs were approaching-four for the dog and two for his master.. The dog was used as a whipping stick and was let loose on anybody his master thought deserved punishment. And any inmate that was savaged by the dog did not come out alive!
But where did we get meat? Well, one clear day the German saw a person walking with a handsome dog, he took that dog and led his old dog outside the camp where he shot him dead. This cheered us up and we all tried with sticks and rods to retrieve the dead dog from behind the fence. When we succeeded all the prisoners attacked the corpse and tried to rip some flesh off it... which they cooked and ate but as a result of eating this flesh, many inmates suffered food poisoning and died.
The commandant enjoyed the spectacle as all his men did... he also enjoyed other acts of cruelty. Often catching a Jew strolling innocently in the camp, stopping him and asking angrily: “Why did you steal?” (What did he steal? the commandant did not know but…), and immediately ordered that he be given 50 lashes. His henchmen carried out the task with loyalty; they placed the condemned man on a special stool and carried out the beating until his lungs burst.
With the coming of winter, in December, the camps were reduced to a third of their original size and the number of prisoners fell dramatically from weakness and hunger or from the punishments which, in most cases those wretched prisoners did not deserve.
10.12.42 -the Burns that Led Me to the Lodz Ghetto
The winter of 1942 was especially severe. The temperature came down to 20 celsius below zero or more. On the tenth of December we left for work as usual, at three in the morning. The frost hung heavy in the air, and we could not work. Everything we touched, stuck to our hands. The sadist Hitlerites could not stand the cold and made themselves some fires to warm up and told us they had never experienced a cold such as this. Needless to say, we the Jews were not allowed to make fires or to approach the German fires so we started to huddle to each other and rubbed our hands together just to try and generate some heat. The German saw that and realised we could not work as normal and told us to break the ice in a small stream flowing nearby “so that it would flow better” he taunted us.
It was dangerous work as we could slide and fall into the stream which, although not very deep, was thoroughly frozen. Suddenly I tripped and fell into the water which were not deep but reached my middle and from then on I could not work. Some of the others also shared the same fate and as the Germans allowed us to approach the fire; they must have known the consequences…
I stood by the fire trying to warm up but the result was bitter... going from severe cold to high heat was too much and my flesh simply fell away from my fingers and toes. My suffering increased to the delight of the Germans.
At noon, it was decided that we must go back to the camp and I just managed to drag myself back and went to see the medic. He could not assist me much; he just placed some cream on my wounds and wrapped them in rags. I added to these some paper as bandages but I could not wear my shoes at all.
Slowly my wounds became infected and filled with puss as the treatment was inappropriate and it was not possible to clean my wounds. The puss started to rot and all the help I received was just a change of bandages. I was suffering and was placed on the unfit to work list.
For three months I did my best to get better as I was fearful of the epidemic sweeping through the Posnan camps, but our camp was somehow spared but I still knew our turn will come and that is why I was terrified of the “Selection”-as all the sick and the musslemans were sent to a place of no return.
One day in March a delegation arrived consisting of German officers and senior doctors whose purpose was to select a quota of prisoners for “Schmaltz” (death). I, as unfit to work was ordered to join the death group. The condemned men were collected from other camps as well and numbered over a thousand. We were destined for Chelmno - the death camp but for some reason by the grace of god, this transport was taken not to Chelmno but to the Lodz Ghetto.
Inside the Lodz Ghetto
The train carrying our transport stopped at Radoswicz station and we, the refuse of Poznan labour camps were led towards the Lodz Ghetto, arriving at the Ghetto which was as large as Bnei Brak (near Tel Aviv), we were locked up in a place called Tzarchkago which served as a prison before the war and was surrounded by a high fence. A small scale camp spread over a relatively large area and was used to house transports and was guarded by Jewish policemen.
The Ghetto management committee did not know what to do with us-we were sick and our fate hung in the balance, they had no wish to receive 1000 unfit men-“do we not have enough musselmans in our Ghetto already that we have more from Posnan?”. But they had to have us until such time that the “Kripo” (the German administration) told them otherwise.
First a list was made by the Ghetto administration and they asked each of us as to their personal details and if they had any relatives in the ghetto. That was how they prepared themselves in case they have to send us away-each to wherever a place was available.
The Ghetto dwellers, hearing about this transport, stood outside the fence to see if there were anybody they knew and that way I discovered four of my cousins living in the Ghetto and they gave me their address-this I passed to the Ghetto administrators when they asked about my relatives and I was allowed to visit them once.
After four days, Haim Rumkowski arrived. He was an especially cruel Jew who runs the Ghetto together with two Germans-Bibow and his deputy Fuschs... They looked us over from head to toe while we stood on parade and said-“why did they bring this rubbish here?” Rumkowski immediately ordered that we be locked up in one room and were not to be let out to visit friends.
The room we were locked in was small and cramped, and only a bucket was provided for toilet. The food was brought by Jewish policemen who locked the doors as soon as it was delivered. Once a day we could see the light for half an hour, when we received our lunch as we stood in the yard to receive our soup.
I felt things just could not go on like this and that something is bound to happen and then, while standing in the soup queue one day I heard a child calling “Zeev!”, I turned my head and saw a small girl, a neighbour from Turek standing by the fence (it was the granddaughter of Rabbi Mendel, the father of Rabbi Gezel Golomb may he rest in peace who moved with her family to Lodz before the war). She asked me to come near and this I did –feeling that she was sent by god and was one of the people sent by the almighty during the war to save my life.
Approaching her, she whispered to me: “Zeev, somebody will do something, please do not despair, but do the right thing” and she run off immediately.
And what actually happened? One of the prisoners organised an escape with his brother who was in the Ghetto as a free man. This brother bribed the Jewish policemen to turn a blind eye to a specific place in the fence. On the allotted time, he loosened the board on the fence and let his brother out. Everybody was dumbstruck and I took my chances and run after the escaped prisoner and trough the hole in the fence before the policemen had a chance to close the break. I run with the escaped prisoner and his brother into a hiding place prepared beforehand in a house in Marsynzki Street and closed the door. We lay there till four in the afternoon waiting for the searches to stop, when the others came back from work the brother opened the door and told us that they were not looking for us at all anymore.
I left and went to my cousin’s place, a small room where they all lived while working as tailors. I begged them to take me in spite of the lack of space as I was the only one remaining out of my family and they agreed although I was still ill with my frost injuries. They agreed and made room for me in the small room. In the morning at seven, all the legal workers had to leave for work and I remained in the room alone with the door locked from the outside. I was afraid I will be found out as I gave that address as my relative’s place.
This was the first time since the beginning of the war that I has a proper quilt to cover myself with and I decided to make up all that I missed –in the hours when my relations were at work by covering myself with all the blankets in the room, I slept-every day-until they returned from work. I slept at night as well. And so I managed to get up to 12 hours sleep a day and that helped me to finally recover from my injuries.
A week passed and I found out that all the transport from Poznan was sent away to another place after a few dozens managed to escape and I could not stop thanking god for giving me the courage to run away when I did. The following day rumours started circulating that all those who escaped the transport must report at 3 pm in the Tzerzenkago offices where they will be given ration cards and a place of work will be found for them, As it was the rule that with no work-no food : there was no option but to work.
I kept the appointment at the right time and many came with me. In a room, around a table some of the Ghetto elite were seating-all Jews! The head of food supplies, the head of work assignments etc. They asked for details of all those who reported-what occupations they had and what experience so they could find them appropriate work.
When I entered the room, I was still limping somewhat and the delegation looked at me and suddenly burst out laughing until I thought I was in a madhouse.-“how did this Klapsadra remain alive?” wondered one of them when he stopped laughing-“are we short of such people in the Ghetto?!”
At that moment I felt I was fighting for my life and so I answered: “I the klapsadra, a remnant from the fire, the sole survivor of my family, can start a new branch again! You will not determine the future! How can you not be ashamed as Jews to talk like this? What if you will come to my position (as eventually happened,), what do you know about what there is behind you? Is this Jewish!” I shouted loudly.
The members of the delegation were stunned; they did not hear anything like that from any other prisoner. And then one of them asked me-“what do you intend to do?” I remembered that I had a relative in a factory making “Zatlerim” (Zatler in German Zoitel in Yiddish. In Hebrew it means the sewing of the harnesses for horses and this was done with two needles so that the stitching will be good, and the work was called “Koza”), so I replied : “Zatlerim..”
When the delegation heard this they laughed out loud but to test me if I knew about harness making, one of them asked me-“how many needles would you need for this work?” and me, without knowing anything about the work answered: “with two needles!” (I did not know that Koza meant the sewing of the bridle, as I always thought that Koza was a goat walking on all fours...). “So, you are an expert Zatler!” he said and immediately gave me a permit to work in the harness workshop with a food card and all, by the grace of heaven, under individual supervision.
Working Arrangements in the Lodz Ghetto
Morning, from now on I am legitimate in the Ghetto, going out to work as everybody else, no more hiding and shivering with fear under the pile of blankets that helped me so… Arriving at the “Zaitler” workshop in Kravitska 19, where1000 harness makers worked. The supervisor noticed me and said: “what made you think you are a Zaitler?” I was not afraid and answered: “Please Pan Pdolski (that was his name) please give me any work here”
He agreed and asked me about the camps in Poznan but as I was not fit, as well as not knowing about harness making, he arranged for me to work as an “errands boy” and to register as a special worker and so receive extra rations. Every morning the supervisor stamped my card and sent me on an errand with a certificate to confirm I was on duty and turned a blind eye to my leaving in the morning and coming back at lunch time.
One day, while walking through the Ghetto streets, as part of my “work”, I found out that a fifth cousin of mine, by the name of Kopelevitch, was appointed as a supervisor in a clothing workshop, where uniforms were made for the German Army. I approached him and he arranged for me to help him in the kitchen while I was out from my other work. As payment I could receive some food. At the end of the day I came back to scrape some food remnants from the pans I scrubbed earlier.
You may ask-why did various people arrange relatively good working conditions for me in the ghetto? As a result of most of the Ghetto inhabitants not being labour camp survivor as I was, they felt pity for me and my condition as I was not “properly healed as yet”.
The Passover was approaching and I managed to save some potatoes from those I received in the kitchen and some Kohlrabi as well. But, how did they distribute food in the Ghetto? Well, every Sunday 2kg of bread were distributed for the rest of the week, and those who did not save it for each day were starving by the middle of the week. It was possible before Passover to exchange the bread for Matzos but they were not filling as bread and so people who were not interested in Matzos, retained their bread. Additional items were also distributed such as: 100gr oil, 150gr sugar-once every two weeks and once a month 2kg of potatoes and 2-3kg Kohlrabi. There were also special places where coal was distributed once a month for heating and cooking.
As was said before, I managed to save some vegetables and substituted the bread for Matzos and so I prepared myself for Passover. I also tried to influence the chef in the kitchen where I worked-a religious Jew, to try and avoid breaking the Passover rules and as the Germans added to every portion of soup 150gr potatoes and 30gr of flour, I persuaded him to fry the flour in the pan until it burnt and only then to place it in the boiling soup and so this flour will not be considered hametz for Passover,
I could not have the Seder with my cousins, who were not anti religious but did not keep Kosher and so I had it with some Hassidic Jews who arrived in the Ghetto from our town of Turek-they were together and with them I learnt a lesson every day.
While making the Seder, I tried to contribute to the Jewish atmosphere as well as I could and we drunk “wine” we made from some beetroot beforehand and so we sat till late in the night and in the morning of the next day-the first day of Passover, we went to work as usual.
I tried to keep as kosher as possible where I worked, and kept the Sabbath when possible in the kitchen as well. For example, every Friday, as soon as I could I cut the coals into small pieces so that the stoker will not have to do that during the Sabbath.
I tried to have a burning stick of wood in the oven at all times so that the fire will be kept up without breaking the Sabbath. The meat we had once a month was not chicken but horsemeat from dead German horses, this was kosherised by salting by the chef although I told him he was wasting his time as it was not kosher anyway, being the meat of horses and dead animals.
The power of faith! My staying power and belief in my religion gave me the strength and the energy to overcome many hardships and this enabled me to survive.
I remember a story I heard in the name of the famous Rabbi (Baal Shem Tov), who was walking with his students when he suddenly stopped and pointed out a stone and said: “he who does not believe that this stone was meant to be in this place is a heretic!” and this was my motto and my faith “All is from heaven! And all is under the supervision and so it is for the good!”
Judaism in the Ghetto - against the Nazi Satan
In spite of all the terrible conditions in the Lodz ghetto, spiritual life for Jews continued unabated all over the Ghetto and here are a few words about Judaism-in face of the devil.
164 thousand Jews were placed in the Lodz Ghetto (perhaps even 200,000). Hunger was everywhere and whole families perished from it, as they could not provide food for their family members.
Haim Rumkowski (mentioned earlier), was the head of the Ghetto administration and was called the Ghetto commandant. Thoroughly secular, he runs an orphanage before the war. Arriving at the Ghetto, he set up a committee of 30 people and established several offices such as Labour, Food, etc and arranged for everything in the Ghetto to go through those departments. This made him think of himself as a king in charge of his regiments and it was difficult to approach him or them and talk things over. Especially with Haim Rumkowski who was known as a cruel man although he was Jewish.
The committee members were not satisfied with that and appointed managers under them-all of whom were secular and cruel who made the life for religious Jews hell in the Ghetto.
Each and every one of the Ghetto dwellers had to work, without work there was no food and the work was carried out on Saturdays, on holy days and on Yom Kippur-without exception and if one of the German’s horses died we all “won” some horse meat. For lunch. Hunger was terrible in the Ghetto, everyday hundreds died from it and from overcrowding so that chaos reigned. In September 1942 the Germans brought over many more people from the nearby towns, the pressure for space increased even more.
Weeks passed, many towns in the Wartegau region (between Warsaw and Poznan) were liquidated by the Germans, the inhabitants sent to the “Chelmno” extermination camp.
At that point, the Germans decided to liquidate the Lodz Ghetto, imposing a blockade-no one was to leave of enter and then took up to 65,000 people were taken out of the Ghetto and sent them to their deaths in Chelmno.
With the end of this “cleansing”, the Ghetto settled down somewhat and the pressure was reduced but the hunger was still great. All this did not stop the Jewish houses from keeping the way of the Torah and Judaism. The religious Jews kept kosher as well they could. The non kosher meat, they used to exchange for kosher when they could.
The adults, who were married, succeeded in keeping their faith with the help of Baruch Parshker, who was a committee member. He was a rich Jew who owned factories and as such he employed religious Jews who managed, thanks to him as he employed them, to have Saturdays off and more than that he used to take food from Rumkowski and share out as “Haluka” to Ghetto Jews. This was called “Talon” and consisted of 1kg of potatoes, half a kg of bread and 150gr of sugar.
As for the young men of the Ghetto, they were not registered to work anywhere but they were not afraid of anything! They carried on dressed as religious Jews with the beard and side locks, while covering their faces with a scarf. They did not care about anything else except their god. Some places had schools for the study of the Torah (Shtibles), such as the one in Marchiner Street where many dozens of young men were engaged in the study day and night in the face of the Nazi Satan. Another one was in “Paper Gas” and there were more elsewhere.
The boys lived in the Ghetto in holiness and purity, even weddings took place there and all the while they mocked the German troops at every step. It was difficult to describe the spiritual lives and the Yiddishkeit those young men had-they did not even have food coupons, as if they did not need earthly food. They survived on spiritual food. From the Torah, from prayer from righteousness from god fearing and good deeds. The voice of the torah was heard from a number of Shtible filled with boys who had very little to do with this world and all their being say-“Let god not be by himself”. They were elevated from this earth and all their food was spiritual-Torah, prayers and Hassidic deeds in spite of the appalling conditions in the Ghetto.
Those boys kept the commandments without any deviations! When they entered a Shtible, where the Sabbath or kosher was not kept, he would not pray there of sing before the Ark. They kept their Judaism in all its force!
Small children were not allowed to enter the Shtibles; children who were orphans were taken in and taught by the boys to say “Kadish”. When I arrived at one of the Shtibles I felt as if nothing had changed, everything was as before the war as in normal years but then we did have something to fear from the German troops who could put a stop to everything at their whim. The boys were not afraid of death, they looked it in the eye every day but they were afraid to lose their spirituality and so guards were posted to warn of the approach of the Kripo (Kriminal Polizei appointed by the Ghetto management). One of those, a Volksdeutcher by the name of Sitrin was acting as a Sabbath Goy in Aleksandrow but here he was known as a cruel vicious man who with his policemen used to torture Jews terrible by closing doors on their fingers (this he did in the “Red House”-as it was called), but anyone who survived these was lucky to be alive.
This Sitrin used to catch rich Jews and ask them to look for money in the Cemetery as the Jews were known for hiding a third of their money in the ground. There was also a Jewish investigating bureau in the Ghetto who used to apprehend religious Jews in the Ghetto and the Jewish police was renowned for its brutality towards Jews.
But, in spite of all that fear the Shtibles continued to exist during all hours of the day and I joined a group of Hassidic people who came from our town and we had our Shtible in Zosia 17 street, this was a small place where every Saturday, and the first of each month we stayed. Amongst us were Noah Bahrir, and Shlomo Abramovitch, who was the leader of the group. We used his house for meals and for studying and so we elevated ourselves in the ways of the Torah as much as we could.
To be honest I could not always join these people as I was working hard but I tried as much as I could to join this group, as well as that I sat with in “Holding”-(a prison as I will recount later). On many occasions I was unable to join them but I tried. But, speaking of the Ghetto-it was not just a place with barbed wire around it-it was a complete kingdom, with hospitals, Zonder Politzei, firemen, many doctors, post office etc. all that under the supervision of the Germans and all arranged with Teutonic efficiency. But this did not stop the Hassidic boys from forgetting the cares of this world and giving their souls to God. They used to learn the daily page every day without fail while hungry and thirsty-the Gemara was as spiritual food for them. It was enough!
On Bzeziner Street number 7, in one of the overcrowded places of the Ghetto, a secret Hassidic house was set up inside the house of Rabbi Yehiel a Gur Hasid where dozens of young men had a refuge when in trouble. Late in the evening when hunger tormented them they used to escape there for spiritual nourishment and there from 9 till 11 at night they learned the daily page. Talks were given about morality by Rabbi Zalman Meir, one of the Habad Hassid and so they could forget the terrible world outside.
All of us knew that every day thousands of Jews were being sent on their last journey to Chelmno but these boys carried on in their way! They continued their deliberation of the torah day and nigh in spite of the German harassment and the evil Sitrin and so they sanctified the holy being right up to the last moment when many of them were sent to their deaths.
Horrible Life in the Ghetto
I arrived in the Lodz Ghetto in the middle of 1943, but the Ghetto itself was already in existence for two years previous to that. In the Ghetto there were approx. 164,000 Jews (perhaps 200,000) who were under the control of a Jewish administration. All the administration was Jewish.
Haim Rumkowski was the general manger and chairman of the management committee. He was a low evil man who was as a king of the Ghetto and was unapproachable. It was said that it was easier to speak to the king of India than to Haim. He and all his henchmen-all secular Jews who did not keep the commandments tried to please the Germans as much as they could and fulfilled all their orders.
The Kripo-Ghetto police had many eyes and ears that moved around like mice and spied on people they thought were breaking the rules. They felt good about themselves and moved around with truncheons. Anyone they caught was listed, to be sent away when the Germans wanted people deported. There was no such term as “not working” in the Ghetto. As he who did not work did not survive and each of us had a locked box where food was kept when it was received at regular intervals. This was more precious than gold as all of us kept the keys close to us and a child could not even trust his father to leave him with the keys.
I then heard of terrible deed, emphasising the sorrow and misery of the Ghetto, from a Jew by the name of Rabbi David. It happened in 1943 in the Ghetto, when David was working as a vegetable distributor and earned some vegetable on the side as they were rotten. And so he told me-a rich family of six good looking children, lived near me before the war-the family was so impressive that people used to stare at them in the street when the father, Rabbi Leibl was walking with his “troop”. I, said Rabbi David, had no contact with Rabbi Leibl. One day, one of the children came to my door and asked me to come to their house-“mother is asking” he said.
I think, said Rabbi David that at that time I had not seen this rich family for over two years and what I saw shocked me. The children sat on boxes near a table made from rough boards, which is all they had. “Where is Rabbi Leibl?” I asked. “Don’t you know?” said the mother. “In 1942 with the start of the deportations he was snatched with three of the children and sent who knows where...” she did not add a word but there was no need. Her face and the bareness of the room said it all.
One of the children lay on a broken easy chair serving as a bed, he was ill with TB, and spat blood into a bowl. “Rabbi David”, he cried –“it is the night of my Bar Mitzvah, please help me lay Tefillin, for the first time in my life I want to accept the burden of the kingdom of heaven with the Tefillin..” He could say no more but his eyes begged me and then slowly closed forever... and so Rabbi David ended his story. Shocking! But I knew this was happening every day in the Ghetto.
The hunger was now so bad that one time I remember when I brought a pan with some burnt food from the scraping of the bottom of the caldroun, the Rebtsen of Dobra and the wife of Rabbi Pinitche argued amongst themselves about the miserable content of this pan. I told them that it was for all of them. As hunger was so prevalent it was all people could think about and, I remember: one of the days I sat with my cousins who were secular and discussed what we wanted to do on liberation? One said that he would make a “Babka Kugel” and how? Anyone who worked well got a prize half a Kg. of potatoes peelings, these he would mix with some coffee made from burnt barley (when this was drunk the stomach burnt), with some saccharine for taste and this made a Kugel to which some Jam was added if available.
As I said one of my cousins said he will have that on liberation and all the Ghetto people would eat it as if it was a delicacy. Another said he would eat a whole “watch” (a round bread weighing 2Kg. which was called a watch in the Ghetto). The third said he would eat whole bread but with a thick layer of margarine and the fourth added that he would eat whole bread with margarine and drink a bowl full of milk. I stood there thinking-what are they talking about when liberation comes-just food and I just wanted to make a new family so help me god as I was missing mine so much, and return to normal life!
But please do not think it was so easy in the Ghetto, as all we could think about was food so much so that when a cat was spotted entering our yard, everybody started running after it with blankets trying to catch and eat it.
It was dark, seven o’clock, had passed a while ago (in Poland it was already night time). I left the kitchen holding a pan with some remnants of burnt food scraped from the bottom of the cooking pots when suddenly two Jewish Policemen (Zund-a special Ghetto police), caught me and asked “what are you holding?, where did you steal this?” They tried to take me to the police station for registration and I begged them not to as I would be deported in the next action. But, they started marching me to the station. Halfway there they decided to have a hair cut and paid for it with some of the food in the pan. They kicked me and sent me on my way-I was not registered!
I stayed in the Ghetto till the holidays-1943 and slowly recovered from my injuries sustained in the Remo camp when I fell in the ice. New flesh covered my fingers and till this day one can notice the new flesh on my hands…One day two policemen knocked on my door “is this where we can find Zeev Kibel?” they asked and when answered in the affirmative they told me to pack my belongings and join them. On the way walking towards the “Cherchenkago” I asked for the reason and they replies “we were ordered to arrest 1,000 people and you are one of them as we were told you escaped from prison over six months ago, is that true?” I answered yes.
During the night hundreds of people were rounded up and in the morning some “Gstapoptsim” (a derogatory term for Gestapo people), appeared and made a selection. They chose 100 men, good and fit and me amongst them. We all understood that we had been selected for work and the others will be released but no! They were taken to another room and turned them over to the Germans. This was done on the orders of Fuschs who was Bibow’s deputy.
From 100 people selected, the Germans took a number each week for work in the Chelmno forest-so I found out later from letters arriving from there and we knew that they were doomed as we heard buses during the night taking people away and heard the cries of fathers and children and so we understood that our friends were sent away for good. Towards the final solution in the Chelmno camp. We were, in the meantime, employed in a shoe factory and some of us were taken from time to time.
I am sure I was due to go there too but was saved and how? One day I was asked to fetch coals for the Cherchenkago commandant Kohl. He lived with his wife and child in a large luxurious villa at the edge of the compound and his wife asked me to clean her house. I did as she asked and she must have liked my work as she asked her husband to fetch me every day and so he did, I cleaned the house, polished the shoes and did whatever was required. Kohl must have liked me as he arranged for me to work half a day in his house and half a day in the prison kitchen. I did for six months, I had a better room than other prisoners and was not deported! As Kohl asked for me not to be placed on the lists of those sent to their deaths where none of them survived. In the end, only five people remained from the 100 and myself amongst them I am sure the hand of god was keeping me and making sure I stayed alive so that I can be witness to the others who died.
One day, I received my discharge and returned to the Ghetto; there I resumed my previous routine.
Liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto
August came and rumours started circulating that the Ghetto was about to be liquidated. One day the commandant Bibow, responsible for all the Ghettoes in our part of the country arrived in Lodz and told the assembled Jews of the Ghetto-“As you know the Russians are approaching this area but as you are hard workers the Reich decided to transfer you to Germany with all your equipment where you will continue to work in much better conditions as you had here”
People were happy to hear that and every day 8,000-7000 willingly arrived for transport to “German work” but, in reality they were all sent to Oswiecim and only a tenth survived after the cruel selection of Dr. Mengele. The rest were sent directly to their death in the gas chambers. I left in the penultimate transport and with me were the Jewish policemen and the firemen. After us, in a separate transport, the Ghetto committee and their families were deported and they, who helped the Germans so much and had an easy time of it so far-were led to their deaths in the crematoriums of Oswiecim!
Even before the final evacuation of the Ghetto, Bibow, who was in charge of all the Wartegau area Ghettos sent sealed envelopes to the heads of the Judenrat organisations and told them to only open those in case of emergency as these will save them and their families. Rabbi Herschel Zimnovoda (head of the Judenrat) received one such envelope, but he and all the other envelope holders were transported to Oswiecim, where they were taken on a “tour” of the Gas chambers the Crematoriums the torture chambers and other facilities. The Kapos of that camp laughed at them and tormented them until they were all burnt alive.
For now only 300-400 people remained in the Ghetto tasked with clearing up and sending any possessions to Germany. The Germans watched those people closely to make sure they could not steal anything. One clear day a rumour surfaced that the Russians were only a few dozens Km away and they were ordered by Bibow to dig holes in the ground, thinking that when they did so he will shoot them dead but it was not to be. The Russians forestalled him and took the city and so all those Jews were saved.
The Russians, on entering decided to take revenge for what was done to the Jews and grabbed all the Germans they could find and promptly hanged them. The bodies were left to swing until they rotted and only then did the Russians let them be buried in disgrace and amongst them was Bibow the head of the Gestapo may he be cursed forever.
So will all you enemies perish oh lord!
Note: at this point Zeev tells the story of his arrival at the Oswiecim camp and how his life was saved by Bronia, his sister and this is dedicated to her, may she be amongst us for ever
1) Translator note: The feast of fifth of Shevat is to commemorate the Rabbi Yehuda Arieh Leib Alter who was a Gerer (GUR) hassidic scholar in Poland at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century - as Zeev Kibel is a Gur hassid he celebrated his memory in the camp.
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Last updated November 22nd, 2007