One Man's Story
I do not come from Chmielnik or Stopnica. In 1941 I was forcefully evacuated
with my family to Chmielnik and lived there if you can call it as living in
" grojse tsores". The evacuation to Chmielnik was for us the 2nd time
round. The first was in 1939 from Dobrzyn on the Drvenz in Polish Pomerania to
Plock and in 1941 from Plock to Chmielnik. I was 15 years old at the time. I
must tell you (a bit only) about it so that you understand what went on in those
days. Because we were all starving from hunger and living in the Ghetto (it did
not have a fence around it) but ordered to live only there. If caught outside
the boundaries of the Ghetto the penalties were very severe and usually they put
the poor victim against the wall and shot him. Twice a week Chmielnik had a
"jahrmakt" a sort of market day were the farmers from around the area
came to town to sell some eggs, butter, and such items, and buy in turn some
articles that they needed. As a boy I was watching some of the horse drawn carts
of the farmers whilst they attended the market place and in turn got a piece of
bread for it. After a few times of doing that I was offered by one of the
farmers a job on the farm. The village was called KARGOW and it was about half
way between Chmielnik and Stopnica. It was not a good situation on the farm for
me. A Jewish boy amongst goyim, not used to such work and the ill treatment and
abuse that one had to swallow was not the ideal situation, but it was a lot
better then in the Ghetto. At least I did get some food.
In Chmielnik the situation for the Jews was getting worse daily. I used to get home once a month when I got one day off. One day the "SOLTYS" (sheriff) came to the farmer to tell him to get rid of me and send me back to the Ghetto as I was not allowed to be in the village. The next day I had to leave for Chmielnik. On the way (on foot) I met up with another Jewish man returning to the Ghetto. The distance from KARGOW to Chmielnik was about 15km. It was a market day and on the outskirts of the town a lot of farmers gathered with their goods for sale in the market. None of the farmers that wanted to get into town were allowed in, as the evacuation of the Chmielnik Jews was taken place. The cries, the yelling, the dogs barking you could hear clearly. Me and my "met up friend" tried to get through the cordon of Ukrainian and Polish police and get into the Ghetto to be with our families. We now know that this was the day that the Ghetto was liquidated and all the Jews were transported to Treblinka. The guards turned their guns on us and shot my "met up friend" through the arm. We pulled back into the crowd of farmers and split up. I returned back to the farmer. It was already late at night and I slept in the hay barn. Someone must have seen me returning during the night. In the morning the sheriff came again and arrested me. He took me to his house and threw me into a little shed under the house and in the afternoon took me to the higher authorities in the Burrogh (Tuczepy). There I was put in a proper jail and locked up. I was told that the next stop for me was the Gestapo and what I could expect. During the night the door of the jail opened and the secretary of the Burrogh (he was one of the farmers that I used to watch over his horse and cart) and said, run son, my Jesus Christ be with you. I took of like a hare. .
It was late at night (curfew time) and nobody was allowed out at that time of the night. I laid down under a tree a few kilometres from the Burrogh jail and as soon as dawn arrived I moved on. I found out that there are still Jews in Stopnica. So I headed in that direction. When I got there I was looking for somewhere or someone to take shelter with. I found some people from my own town (Dobrzyn) that lived in the "Beth Hamidrash" with many other Jews. They found a corner for me and I became the hero of the Ghetto. Nobody was moving out of the Ghetto to anywhere. The fear was so great.
In the yard where the Beth Hamidrash was, a few Jewish families lived around it. I am mentioning this especially so if there are a few people from Stopnica and remember the town they will know exactly the place I am referring to. In that yard lived the "Judenalteste" the Jewish leader elected by the Germans into this position. As soon as they've found out that I've come into the Ghetto, I was approached by the Jewish police with a proposal. Seeing that I knew the back roads very well, would I be prepared to take a group of women and some children, to Chmielnik, during the night. I was offered some money which for a boy that had nothing, destitute, and hungry, was a fortune. I grabbed that idea and made arrangements to meet in the evening. The Jewish police knew or had some knowledge of what was happening during the deportation to the surrounding little towns around them. They knew that usually after a deportation, that most of the Jewish police and some tradesman that were engaged in making riding boots and fur coats for the Germans, were left behind to finish the work that was in progress for the Germans and additionally to clean up the Ghetto. They were left there for a few weeks and this prompted some of the Jewish people that were hiding during the deportation to return to the few buildings in the Ghetto left especially for the clean up group. From the Ghetto a smaller Ghetto was created with only a few buildings as a Ghetto. This was also a trap setup, practiced by the Germans, to leave a small group of Jews after a liquidation to entice as many hidden Jews back to a place were they can grab them again, whenever they were ready, to include them into a deportation from a neighbouring town. What was happening during the deportation the Jewish police knew. What followed later they did not know. So the thinking was to take the wives and children to a safe place where the deportation has already taken place and bring them back to Stopnica when the deportation was over
We now know the next chapter of what happened after a deportation. A false feeling of security grew over the few remaining Jews left after such an action. The talk was that the devil has had his fill, so he will leave us now in peace for us to do his jobs that he needs done. And it was like that for a few days or a few weeks. Little did they know that after a deportation, that within a short time, they will also be deported. They probably did not know of the final destination. We were always told that we are being resettled to the East. I found out much later where the final destination was.
We gathered in the evening as arranged and I led the group out of the Ghetto and stopped on the outskirts of town. A Jewish policeman was with us. The women had some food with them for the children and themselves. Some bread was given to me and a little money. A photograph was cut on an angle, with a signature on the back of the photo and signed by someone. Half the photograph was left behind with the policeman, to pass on and to remain in care of by the "Judenalteste". The other half of the photograph was given to one of the women in the group. I had to bring the other half of the photo back with me and if it would match up with the half left behind, I would get the balance of the money. We arrived safely in Chmielnik early in the morning and the remainder of the clean up group accepted them into the small remaining Ghetto. The women knew some of the people or some of the families that lived in Chmielnik. They lived in close city neighbourhood all their life. Some had relatives in Chmielnik and asked about their whereabouts, to be told that they have been evacuated. (Another term the Germans used for deportation) I was the outsider coming from Dobrzyn, from a different area altogether. I collected half of the photograph and the chief of the Chmielnik clean up group gave me a sealed letter to the "Judenalteste" in Stopnica. They must've known one another. I returned to Stopnica with half of the photo and the letter and became the hero again. I was terribly frightened doing what I did. But for a kid to do what I did, it was great stuff. I was given the balance of the money and everyone seemed satisfied. Within the letter that I brought back with me, was the description of the deportation that has already taken place in Chmielnik and what to expect from the Germans during the deportation. The advise given in the letter and planned among the elders of the Ghetto was, that after the deportation in Stopnica a group of them will be left behind and mainly the Jewish police. After the action they would bring their wives and children back from Chmielnik to Stopnica as previously planned.
Being the hero and everyone pointing at me, that it was me that took the women across to Chmielnik gave me also a kick of achievement. I did not go to sleep as I should've after 2 nights of very little sleep but paraded around in the Ghetto. The same day about lunchtime, I was caught together with another 9 Jews by the Germans for work. The job consisted of unloading 2 trailers of wheat drawn by a tractor at the railway station that was about 40 Km away. Stopnica was not on the railway track.
I am writing this with all the gory details that I remember. Amongst the 10 of us was one man that pleaded with the German to let him go, because his mother died and he wanted to bring her to "Keiver Uvos". His pleading did not help and as soon as the tractor moved he jumped of and fell unfortunately under the wheel of the trailer. Needless to say that there must've been two burials together, of mother and son. The German stopped the tractor and with his whip he layed into the poor man wriggling on the ground. The poor fellow’s wife was standing on the other corner of the street screaming. Her crying and long wailing yells, I remember to this day. I repeat again that I must tell you all the details, in case there is a survivor from the Ghetto in Stopnica and remembers some of the incidents that I tell you now
The tractor with the trailers went on with us on them to the railway station. We went through a little town called Nowy-Korczyn. The town was empty of people. A strange feeling went through us. The people that were with me were from Stopnica. They knew the area and felt like me very disturbed. When we got to the railway station that was a few km on, we could not drive into the station. All the Jews from Nowy-Korczyn were there waiting to be transported to their final destination. It was getting dark and the guards that surrounded the people lit carbide lamps to keep the people together and make sure that nobody escapes. What we saw there was the cruelest treatment that I ever experienced. The tractor was about 50 metres away from the people. The screams, the shouting we could clearly hear. The guards called for the "oberjude". They made them all sing. All that time the guards kept on shooting, stirring even greater terror and panic among the trapped Jews. Many many shots were fired, cries, screams and finally the train arrived and the loading took place. This picture stands before my eyes continually. I don't think that apart from the Germans and Ukrainians that carried out these barbarous jobs of deportations, that there ever was another eyewitness during the physical loadings of the Jews, destined for the gas chambers. That night there were 9 eyewitnesses. As soon as the first wagon was closed up the pleadings and the screams for water was continuous. The whippings, the barking of the dogs, the savageness and cruelty, that these poor Jews from Nowy-Korczyn had to endure, I am unable to put it into words. Finally the train with the unfortunate cargo left the siding and the German driver of the tractor returned very drunk and with some girls. While all this was going on, he was in the railway station entertaining the girls. He pulled the trailers up on to the ramp, where a railway wagon was waiting for us to offload the wheat. He unhooked the tractor, switched on the headlights and gathered with the girls some of the parcels the unfortunate Jews left behind. He went back to continue his drinking and we started our offloading. We couldn't help but notice some of the people that were shot during the action. We took from the bodies the "Kenkarte" identity cards and when we finished the unloading of the trailers, we pleaded with the German to let us take the bodies home with us for burial. He refused, so they were left there. Late in the morning we returned to Stopnica. Very soon the Ghetto knew what we witnessed. We were arrested by the Jewish police and belted by them for causing panic in the town.
We were eventually released and it did not take very long, that I was
awakened whilst sleeping in the "Beth Hamidrash" to listen to the
distant noise. Some suggested that " the big hero" should go and have
a look what's going on.
Only G-d knows how frightened I was. I went to the market place, to see that the women and children together with some other Jews from Chmielnik, were brought back by horses and carts to Stopnica. By the time I returned to the "Beth Hamidrash" to tell them what was going on, the Germans together with the Jewish police were screaming "Juden raus" I hid in a little shed under the "Judenaltestes" house on the side of the "Beth Hamidrash". I don't know what made me hide in that little shed. I suppose that after what I saw at the railway station, the loading of the Nowy-Korczyn Jews, did have the desired affect on me, not to go to the market square for the deportation. I had a terrible cold and lying in the shed I was afraid to cough in case someone hears me. The shed was just on the boundary of the Ghetto and the town. The guards after the deportation of the Jews were returning back exactly alongside the shed I was in. I was practically choking, holding back the cough. That night I slept in a Jewish house in the courtyard of the "Beth Hamidrash". I knew that I had to get up before daylight. Nobody, by order of the Germans was allowed into the area of the Ghetto. If caught within this area one risked being shot. I slept like never before and woke up late in the morning. It was a beautiful sunny day. I looked around the house and found a little bag of flour and another one of grits. I jumped out through the window that bordered on to the open space that did not belong into the area of the Ghetto. I was too afraid to walk anywhere inside the Ghetto boundary. The jumping out of the window seemed to me a lot safer. I walked to the nearest village and could smell bread being baked. I walked into the house and offered my bit of flour and grits for some bread. The farmer’s wife did the deal. She did not suspect that I was Jewish, as I spoke perfect Polish with a farming accent. During the deal and the conversation that took place, I was told that some Jews are still left in the Ghetto I went back to Stopnica and being an outsider not from Stopnica I was not accepted. Local people that somehow hid during the liquidation of the Ghetto returned to be with the local Jews. Again, the same trap as in Chmielnik, was set for the Jews in Stopnica that saved themselves from the deportation. I did not have to leave and could have stayed. The people were so frightened and made it so unpleasant for me that I decided to leave not knowing where I was going. I finished up back in Chmielnik where 6 Jewish tradesman (bootmakers and tailors) were still working for the Germans finishing of their boots and clothing. Within one day we were all bundled of to the Kielce Hasag and from one camp into another finishing up in Buchenwald and segregated into the children’s block 66 were I stayed until I was liberated on the 11th April 1945.
This is all I can tell you about the 2 towns that are of interest to you. It was a horrific experience and I've decided to write to you, so that you can pass on this chapter of ones life to the generations that will follow you. It's a history of a people that are no longer here. All this happened in this century and not some hundreds of years back, and during our lifetime.
There was another incident that comes to mind whilst I am writing this. Prior to the liquidation of the Ghetto in Stopnica, the Germans wanted some young people for work. I was in the market square and made myself available for that operation. Some people were taken away by trucks to Skarzysko. There were not enough trucks and in the evening after the carbide lights were lit by the Germans, the order was given to disperse and shooting took place. We all ran for our lives. I ran into a double story house and the people were so frightened and nobody would let me in. I slept on the staircase. I mention this incident specifically, because amongst your people in Canada, maybe someone that was there during this particular operation, or survived the Skarzysko Werk A, B and C, with that experience and remembers this particular event.
Regarding your personal questions within your E-mail. I do not remember any
of the names from Chmielnik or Stopnica. I was there only very briefly during
the war. There may be some people here in Australia from the 2 places. I don't
know. Your family could even be in touch with some of them here in Australia. If
so, it would be nice to know who they are.
I can write to you in Polish if you like, but it's a lot easier for me to express myself now in English after such a long time in an English speaking country
Note. This Email was a response to someone looking for answers.