THE PAIN AND DESTRUCTION OF THE JEWISH POPULATION
Source: Pincas Nowy-Dwor (Memorial Book), 1965
Article by: A. Goldbrach and W. Szlamowicz
Translation by: Morton Knecht (translator's notes in italics)
German troops entered Nowy-Dwor on the second day of Sukkoth. The next day, the Gestapo arrived and immediately started destroying Jewish houses and property. This destruction continued for a few days, during which time the Gestapo shot two Jews, while a third miraculously survived and suffered only a severe beating. The Gestapo's actions had a huge effect on the Jewish population. They began to abandon the town in great numbers and fled to the devastated city of Warsaw, which was already packed with refugees from surrounding towns, including Nowy-Dwor. The number of Jews remaining dwindled to a very few.
The inhumanities continued. Shortly thereafter, at the end of November, 1939, forty Jews were arrested, including Chaim ABRAMCHZK, Chaim Gorecki and Israel Jacob Balak. The appointed city mayor, a local Folksdeutsche (an ethnic German-resident of pre-war Poland) and former gangster, Wendt, brought them from nearby Modlin, where they had tried to hide. They were interned in the local prison. During the days that followed, the prisoners endured merciless beatings and many different methods of torture, such as having fingernails and hair torn out, being forced to drink quantities of castor oil and to eat their own excrement. In addition to all these terrible deeds, the German Authorities imposed and collected a stiff "contribution" (ransom) of fifty thousand zlotys from the Jewish Community before releasing the prisoners (A high annual income for a Jewish worker in Nowy-Dwor in 1939 was approximately 1,000 zlotys). Chaim Abramczyk died soon after as a result of this mistreatment.
A short time later, the Gestapo ordered that the Torah Scrolls and all other Holy Scriptures from the Synagogue be removed and placed in a pile. A religious Jew was forced to set them on fire. The burning "ceremony" took place in the middle of the Town Square. The Jews, including the Bookbinder Alman and other overwhelmed elderly Jews, were forced to dance around this unholy fire.
Not long after this, the order was given that all Jews must obtain German Identification papers. When the Jews arrived at the Magistrat (City Hall) to acquire the documents, the Folksdeutsch Police arrested a few. They were taken to the Police Station, where they were tortured and forced to drink castor oil and eat spoiled and rotten food. The police amused themselves by watching the unfortunate Jews complain of stomach cramps and soiling themselves. Eventually, they were beaten some more and thrown out. Among these victims were Mayer Kleister and Szmeieh Puterman.
After this incident, Jews, including those who in the meantime had returned from an unwanted and horrific exile, started leaving for Warsaw again. A few of the Jews who left managed to cross the border illegally into parts of Poland occupied by the Soviet Union; (among these were the families of Iser and Szymon Knecht, Hershel Wajs with his son Sholem, and daughter, Cesia.)
Because of the horrible conditions that prevailed in Warsaw, where hundreds of Jews died in the streets from hunger and disease, the unfortunate runaways began to return to Nowy-Dwor. It did not take long for the Gestapo to notice the change. The Jews received orders to register with them. The Gestapo Headquarters occupied the house of Myer Muntlak, not far from the Polish Cemetery. In this place, the most horrific acts of torture were performed. The Gestapo selected 41 of the Jews who had returned from Warsaw. These people were then sent to an unknown destination and were never heard from again. Among these unfortunates were the families of Chaim Bur, Jankiel Kleister, Moshe-Aaron Eidelsberg, Dawid Itkowicz and Jacob, the husband of Hanah Tyk.
During 1940, all Jews were compelled to make themselves available for forced labour on a daily basis. The Germans were not satisfied only with imposing extremely hard work: beatings and torture also occurred daily.
At the beginning of 1941, the Germans established the Nowy-Dwor Ghetto in the poor part of town, known as the Piaskies. The Ghetto was enclosed with a barbed wire fence,with only one guarded gate for traffic in and out. On orders from the Gestapo, the Ghetto inmates elected a Judenrat (Jewish Council). Rothstein (the power station cashier) became the head of this institution. A Jewish Ghetto Police was also established under the control and orders of the Gestapo. The Judenrat was ordered to supply 400 Jews daily to work in Modlin, where their primary work was to carry heavy bundles of barbed wire and they were often beaten for slowing down even slightly or for not completing the exaggerated quota requirements. For their efforts, they were fed a piece of coarse black bread (100 grams=1/4 lb) and a bowl of watery soup once a day.
The hunger in the Ghetto and the overall tragedy of the situation compelled the head of the Judenrat, Rothstein, to resign. He was replaced by Josek Garszon (the Nieszkieles son) and his assistants: Herman Abramowicz, Israel Tiszler (Skrobak), Nachman Reichman (Ktuntis), Jankiel Baranek (the new Police Chief), Szlomo Saszynski (Hershel Mordas' youngest son) and Chaim Dachfan (Jacek). These men began working and co- operating with the German Gestapo to the fullest extent.
The ration cards distributed by the Judenrat for minimal amounts of food did not alleviate the prevailing hunger in the Ghetto. The Ghetto population was forced to seek ways o smuggling in supplies from the outside. This smuggling involved sneaking in and out through holes in the barbed wire and putting one's life in danger. During one of many such attempts, eight Jews who had been motivated by hunger were captured and hanged in the Ghetto on the same day. Ghetto Jews had to act as executioners in the presence of the entire population of the Ghetto. For three whole days, the unfortunate martyrs remained on the gallows. Among those captured was the oldest son of Jehoshua Weiskopf (the Grobe Rachel's grandson). The mother of the young man decided to save her son by substituting her youngest son for him. She was convinced that they would free a minor. This was to no avail: the youngster was hanged with the others.
Shortly after this incident, six more Ghetto residents managed to get out under the barbed wire, with the aim of obtaining food. Two were caught and immediately shot dead: the two grandsons of Moishe Henech Gerber (Abraham and Boruch Goodkind). A few weeks later, a man by the name of Kirsztein (possibly the son of Hershel Kirsztein) was shot under similar circumstances. Quite often, the Ghetto would be randomly riddled with bullets by members of theGestapo. This "game" always resulted in many deaths and injuries.
In May, 1941, the Gestapo decided that there were too many Jews living in the Ghetto and began a new set of horrific acts. By decree, all Jews had to abandon their homes and assemble with all their belongings for disinfection against lice. Nude women and men were forced to march, like cattle, to the Wistula River and were kept there until late in the evening. Their clothing was disinfected and returned to them before they were chased home, but all other belongings were pilfered.
On the same night, at approximately 2:00 a.m., the Ghetto's residents were awakened by the sound of sirens and gunfire and all were forced to leave the Ghetto. They had to leave through the only gate, where they had to pass through a gauntlet consisting of two rows of Gestapo agents who "greeted" them by mercilessly beating them. About 4,000 Jews were assembled in the City Square. Some 750 of them were selected for work and those remaining were sent to Pomiechow (about 5 km from Nowy-Dwor, on the other side of the Narew River).
The camp in Pomiechow was known to be one of the so-called Farnichterungs Lagern (Death Camps) for Jews. The [surrounding] area is dotted with many underground bunkers (storage facilities for the old Modlin Fortress) that were hastily converted for this purpose. The German Sturm Abteilung ("S.A.") troops packed the maximum number of men, women and children into the bunkers, hardly leaving room to move. The S.A. entertained themselves by selecting the youngest and prettiest girls from the defenceless Jews, raping them and then silencing them with a bullet.
The main chore of the inmates in the Pomiechow Camp was to dig mass graves for themselves. Permission to bring food from the Ghetto was given only about two weeks later. When the field kitchen arrived in the camp with hot soup, all the starving Jews rushed it and, while pushing and shoving to get some, overturned the pot. The spilled soup formed a muddy puddle. This did not stop some of the hungry prisoners who threw themselves on the ground and eagerly licked the dirty mixture. Similar incidents occurred every time they brought water or other nourishment. Many Jews were trampled to death, including one of Szymanowicz' grandchildren. The German guards enjoyed watching these scenes caused by hunger and thirst and laughed as if they were watching a comedy.
As a result of these brutal conditions, illness started spreading throughout the camp. Typhoid affected almost everyone. Instead of providing medical help, the Gestapo used to shoot 50 of the weak and sick every day. Once, when the Gestapo made a mistake and killed only 48, they quickly took two more, Leibish Soszynski (Pepek), from Nowy-Dwor and Nison Mirabel, from the town of Zakroczym.
After these shootings, not only the dead, but even those who had only been wounded were hastily buried. This could usually be verified the next day by the inmates who had to dig fresh graves for those just killed. These inmates used to say that the old and barely- covered graves were often disturbed and the top layers [of soil] scattered in the struggle to escape made by those victims who had been buried alive. It is said that among those who managed to escape the grave were Jankiel Karasz (Batzalel the glazier's son) Mendel Korenstein (Szwieger), Abraham Szymznowicz (Abraham Pinies' grandson) and his wife Rivka, Abraham Hersh Gothelf (the barber) and Moshe Kirstein (Moshe Lepek).
When anyone from the Nowy-Dwor Ghetto was captured trying to bring some food to less-fortunate relatives in Pomiechow, he or she would be shot on the spot. Among many such cases, the case of Zelig Top (Szczerb), a 12-year-old boy shot to death while trying to help a close relative, stands out. After he was shot, his parents were forced to bury him. A great number of Nowy-Dwor Jews perished in the Pomiechow Camp under these conditions.
Soon after the typhoid epidemic spread and affected the S.A. Guards, an order arrived to liquidate the Pomiechow Camp. The liquidation proceeded as follows: first, the sick were murdered; the healthy inmates were placed in freight cars and, to increase their misery during transport, were given poisoned sausage. The transport occurred at night and the destination was the town of Legionowo (Jablonna, located half-way between Nowy-Dwor and Warsaw). The S.A. prepared a big "reception" for the inmates: a burning fire through which the Jews had to run. This caused many deaths, including those of Balcia Tarnegol (Itsze Bekers' daughter) and Sara Gladomosc (Moshe Mordchai's wife). Many had died on the way, mostly from the effects of the poisoned sausage. Only a very small number of inmates managed to make their way to the Warsaw Ghetto. This concluded the tragic and bloody events at the Pomiechow Camp.
Meanwhile, in the Nowy-Dwor Ghetto, the death-machine continued working in its evil way and was not idle for one minute. The 750 Jews selected for work who returned from the City Market Square to the Ghetto found a pile of dead bodies, the result of the attack and shootings during the earlier forced assembly in the Square. Twenty-eight bodies with gunshot and knife wounds lay in front of homes and in the streets. Among these were the whole Garszon family (Nieskilech), Ichill Prag and Aaron Sztoltzman and his brother-in- law. During the burial of the 28 bodies, an S.S. man approached the burial party and asked the aged Aaron-Leib Knecht, "How many dead are there?" When he replied, "28", the S.S. man, without blinking an eye, added, "Then you make it 29", and shot him.
A decree was issued that the population of the Nowy-Dwor Ghetto could not exceed 750 Jews; anyone above that number was to be shot immediately. Responsibility for adhering to this decree was placed on the Judenrat. The decree was reversed not too many weeks later and the Ghetto was enlarged to absorb the surviving Jews of the ghettos of Wisniegrad, Czerwinsk, Zakrczym and other small ghettos in the surrounding area that had already been liquidated. The Nowy-Dwor Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto exploited this "opportunity" to smuggle themselves into their home ghetto.
The sudden influx of so many new arrivals led to horrendous chaos and indescribable hunger. People had to sleep in the streets for lack of housing and a raging typhoid epidemic led to an exceedingly high death rate. With complete disregard for all that was happening, the Gestapo insisted on doubling the number of daily workers for the Modlin Fortress.
The year 1942 began with a new cruelty: now women also had to report for forced labour. They were all sent to Modlin, where they had to handle and load bundles of barbed wire The number of Jews required for this task increased daily; many were forced to report for work in Modlin only hours after completing a full day's work in some other place. On one occasion, 42 Jews were taken away in one such work group. These skeleton-like [people], shadows of their former selves, were forced to strip naked and carry out their chores with the barbed wire as usual. One very discouraged Jew from Zacroczym, by the name of Gosh, couldn't take it any longer: he jumped into the Narew River and drowned. The remaining 41 had to finish the assigned task. Afterward, they were made to dig a large hole in the ground. Twenty-nine of them were shot immediately and unceremoniously thrown into the freshly-prepared hole, including Mordchai Matuszak, Szaje-Moshe Olszynka and a son-in-law of Mordchai Joskowicz. Eleven survivors managed to hide. Led by Chaskiel Szwarc, they sneaked back into the Ghetto during the night, completely nude. This latest news spread quickly through the Ghetto. The surviving relatives [of the victims] became hysterical, their screams and cries echoing through the Ghetto.
Shortly thereafter, the liquidation of the Nowy-Dwor Ghetto began in earnest and proceeded at a rapid rate.
November, 1941 - The first evacuation. The German S.A. surrounded the Ghetto and stopped any contact with the outside world. The order of the day was for all those unable to work, the sick and the very young to assemble in the Ghetto Centre. All those assembled were immediately taken to the train station, loaded into closed cattle-cars and taken to Auschwitz.
A week later - The second evacuation. The Judenrat was ordered by the Gestapo immediately to assemble all families with more than two children, as well as widows and orphans, in the Ghetto Centre. The final outcome [for these people] was the same as for the first group: a journey to Auschwitz.
The day of the final solution (liquidation) of the Nowy-Dwor Ghetto came on December 12, 1942.
At seven o'clock in the morning, the Ghetto was overrun by a large number of Schutz Polizei (Defense Police) and S.A. troops, all shooting rifles and handguns to panic the residents. The remaining Jews were gathered in the Ghetto Centre where they were grouped in rows of five. Money and any valuables had to be surrendered under threat of
death. Complying to this request did not stop the Germans from engaging in various deadly games. "I am one of many", co-author Abraham Goldberg writes, "who gets dragged away to a house on a side street and completely stripped. The guard presses his revolver to my head and threatens to kill me. By a miracle, I am not shot." After enduring many acts of cruelty, they were marched to the railroad station, packed into cattle-cars and sent to the Auschwitz Death Camp.
December 14, 1942 - the transport with the remaining Jews of the Nowy-Dwor Ghetto
arrived in Auschwitz. As soon as the approximately 2,000 disoriented Jews were disembarked, things started happening. Six hundred of the strongest-looking ones were selected for work in Auschwitz. Those remaining, men, women and children, were taken to the Farnichterungs Lager (Extermination Camp) in Brzezynka. The six hundred new inmates in Auschwitz immediately learned the fate of the previous Nowy-Dwor transports from the old inmates. They had been liquidated: no survivors. The horrible realisation of what awaited the rest of their kin, friends and loved ones in Brzezinka set in.
At this time, Auschwitz did not have any crematoriums, only large gas-chambers, made to look like public showers. Every gas-chamber would be densely packed with two hundred people, each of them given a piece of soap and a towel to give the impression that they were going to bathe.
The moment they were packed in and the doors were closed, another group of two hundred was prepared. The bodies of those gassed were thrown into open pits, doused with gasoline, set on fire and burned in the open. So went one group after another. Those assembled and waiting could see the smoke and smell the stench of burning bodies. They realised what awaited them. Panic and hysteria would break out, people screamed, tried to run and went crazy. We witnessed all these horrible occurrences with our own eyes. This was the "final solution" practised at the time in Auschwitz. This was the way our loved and dear ones lost their lives in inhumane and brutal ways in the Brzezinka- Auschwitz Camp and in similar ways in other German Death Camps.
The first thing that happened to the six hundred who were selected for work in the Auschwitz Camp was an exchange of clothing. All civilian clothing and other possessions were exchanged for camp uniforms (Heftlinger-Kleidung), striped pyjamas-like outfits and wooden clogs like those worn in Holland in the old days. Inmates were forced to march and conduct various exercises in these uncomfortable and foreign sandals, giving the guards numerous opportunities to hand out physical punishments. The S.S. Guards used every opportunity to threaten that they would get rid of all the Jews; meanwhile the Jews had to obey [them] and work hard. Ignoring the sub-zero winter conditions and indescribable hunger, the prisoners, under threat of death, were forced to perform hard work from sunrise to sundown. Many inmates died daily as a result of the inhuman conditions in the Camp, as well as torture.
By 1943, there were four working crematoriums in Auschwitz. All work there was carried out by Jewish prisoners, under constant threat of death. Included in this group of workers, known as the Death Commandos (Sonder-Commando), were the following residents of Nowy-Dwor: Gutman, Bronstein, Chaskiel Gutkind, Josef Szydlo, Sholom Cudiker, Jehoshua Baranek,< Josef Shul, Nachmen Helfenbain, Matis Szlamowicz, the brothers Guzik, Abrahm (the brother-in-law of Moshe Lokiec) and his brother Efroim, and Szepsel Grossman (the only survivor of the aforementioned inmates). They continued this work until 1944.
The crematorium workers were kept in complete isolation from other camp inmates and constantly watched. This did not prevent them from trying to organise and to carry out acts of rebellion in camp. The first such attempt to organise ended in failure and death. Soon afterward, the Death Commandos organised and revolted in the crematorium area.
In the utmost secrecy, they managed to arrange explosives around the ovens. Before setting off the explosion, they got rid of the Capos (Foremen) by throwing them into the burning ovens. They then proceeded to set the explosives and destroy the crematorium.
After the destruction of one of the crematoriums, the Death Commandos managed to cut the electrically-charged wire fences using improvised electrician's-type pliers, and to escape to freedom. The surprised guards in the towers surrounding the Camp immediately opened fire, sounded the alarm and started to pursue the escapees. German reinforcements arrived almost immediately and a grave battle was fought at a cost of some two hundred lives including the Nowy-Dwor contingent.
Those captured were returned to the Camp, the electrified barbed wire repaired and the number of guards manning the watch-towers increased.
We were kept in Auschwitz until January 18, 1945. During the two years of 1944-45, we continued to suffer inhumane conditions, but the memory of the uprising was always fresh in our minds and helped us to stay alive. We found out some time later that the explosives used to destroy the crematorium had been smuggled in by the women inmates who worked outside the camp. They managed to contact the men of the Death Commandos secretly. Four of the women prisoners accused were hanged as conspirators.
On January 18, 1945, [in order to escape the approaching Soviet Army, the Germans] began the liquidation of various camps in Poland and the eastern part of Germany, including Auschwitz. Many were killed during the evacuation because they were unable to keep up with the forced march or for disobedience. The majority of the Nowy-Dwor Jews who, against all odds, had managed to hang on to the last thread of life in Auschwitz did not survive the liquidation.