GLIMPSES OF SAVAGE DAYS
"THE FINAL SOLUTION"
On September 22, 1942, it was my
Mother who first spotted the German soldiers surrounding the
still sleeping Town. It was about 2 A.M.. The cordon of soldiers was not
very tight, but they were within sight of each other. They
were regular army troops but the reason for their presence
was clear: it would be the day of the "Final solution of the Jewish
Problem” 40 in our town. The Jewish quarter in Wegrow was greatly overpopulated - swollen by thousands of re-settled Jews from other towns - but it was not enclosed. That is why they surrounded the whole town. Our house was just beyond the town limits and therefore outside the line of soldiers.
About half a kilometer farther, and facing the same highway, was a large flour mill once owned by a Jewish family named Frydman. Though now dispossessed and reduced to worker status, they were however permitted to live in an adjacent house. Their youngest son, Abram, was a friend of mine. I had also worked at the mill for a while. That memorable morning I woke them up as soon as I could get there, and the whole family, three men and women, managed to flee towards the river. They had a hiding place at some backwoods farm.
In the meantime a large Sondercommando * consisting of German gendarmes and the Latvian renegades surrounded the Jewish quarter, and forced about eight thousand people to assemble in the town market-square. About sixty people were shot dead during that round-up including Mendel Holland - once an alderman of our Town - who started to address the crowd and accused the Germans of mass murder. A horrible carnage followed. By early afternoon the half crazed and mostly drunk Latvians started shooting in all directions in a killing frenzy, to be finally disarmed by their masters for their own safety. The marching column was formed with all the brutality the gendarmes were capable of, and the condemned thousands were escorted to the town of Sokolow, seventeen kilometers away. Those who could not walk were shot and left by the roadside... In Sokolow they were loaded on the train, shipped to Treblinka, and gassed the same day....
And the carnage did not end there. For many weeks the teams of gendarmes with specially trained dogs were searching the abandoned Jewish Quarter for secret hideouts in cellars and in between double walls. Anyone found was escorted to the nearby Jewish cemetery and shot. There was a teenage son of one of the commanding officers of the detachment of gendarmerie. While visiting his father, and wearing the Hitlerjugend uniform, he excelled in killing several people with a single bullet. His father was, no doubt, proud of him.
In the surrounding countryside the routine was a little different. Many people who managed to escape from the town, not having a specific place to hide and being unfamiliar with the countryside, tended to re-main in close proximity of town, hiding in bushes and marshes along the river. At night they sought food from suburban Christians. There was hope of safety in the not so distant forests, but only very few of these town folks ever reached there. They were an easy target for the gendarmes and their dogs. When caught they were shot immediately and loaded on a horse drawn "meat wagon" which could be seen, topped with dozens of bodies moving slowly through the streets. Any Christian caught helping Jews was also executed with all members of his family and shared the same wagon.
The last Jew that I saw alive that year was the one who knocked on our window late at night on Christmas Eve, bundled in rugs and barely capable of a whisper. My Mother filled his small bag with food, and he melted into the snowy night... Over two thousand Jews were murdered in that way in Wegrow alone. Nearly three hundred Christians lost their lives in our administrative district for help-ing them.
About a year later, when the Eastern Front
was getting closer, the Germans decided to erase the evidence of their
atrocities. They forced a group of Jewish prisoners awaiting extermination
to build a temporary crematorium on the yard of a sequestered school. Several
times a day, for about four weeks a covered truck brought the exhumed bodies
from the Jewish cemetery to be turned to ashes. The stench was unbearable..
It was the spring of 1943, the April
sun shining over Warsaw was at times obscured by thick smoke
from hundreds of burning buildings. These were the last days of the Warsaw
Ghetto Uprising. A small island of greenery flourished bravely
near a large plaza. Across the square stood a high wall with chopped glass
embedded atop the masonry. And behind the wall... the Holocaust....
Here and there some desperate defender would appear in the window or on
the balcony of the burning house gasping for air, only to be shot by ever
watchful SS-men positioned in the square. On the other side of the
green, next to a busy street, a battery of field artillery
was shelling the burning inferno. Not far away a couple of seemingly care-free
street kids enjoyed a nearby swing.
ON THE BALCONY
I was about to pick up some clandestine short wave radio receivers at a private apartment at Franciszkanska street in Warsaw. It was early in the morning and I had to ring quite a few times before the door was opened. The individual standing there gave me my consignment of radios together with some instructions on how to use them. Eng. Dziatlik happened to be one of the geniuses of the Underground. He manufactured his radios right there in his apartment: small sheet metal boxes with a few knobs and long range capability. He looked very much like the legendary magician Faust from Goethe's drama with his gray hair ruffled and some wisps of down from his bedding caught in it, wearing a bathrobe and steel rimmed glasses on the tip of his nose. His apartment was in a bombed out house which gave the impression of being abandoned.
Outside, with my sizable parcel wrapped in gray paper I was trying to catch a passing rickshaw, but only a hackney coach came up at that early hour. On the way to my next destination we passed along a street called Leszno which had on its right side a wall separating the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto from the rest of the city. There was no life left there any more, but strangely as we progressed, there seemed to be no people either on that normally busy street... Then the driver, without turning back, just slightly moved his head and said: “Look mister"... The skeletons of burned out buildings; two long balconies on the second floor just on the other side of the wall... Swinging gently in the light breeze were twenty seven bodies of teen aged boys hanging by the necks from the balcony railings, thirteen from one, fourteen from the other...
All the hanged boys were from the orphanage
and were arrested for "activities against the Third Reich".
It was the fall of 1943. Down one of the busy streets of Warsaw came a sudden uproar of accelerating engines as half a dozen or so hooded police trucks full of heavily armed German gendarmes passed by at high speed. A fleeting relief that the street raid would not be here was shattered as with a screaming of brakes the menacing column came to a halt... At least a hundred green clad gendarmes rushed to clear passers by and vehicles from a section of the street and formed armed road blocks at each end. That done, they dragged maybe twenty civilian prisoners out of the trucks, their hands tied in the back and their mouths full of hardened gypsum, lined them against the wall of an apartment building and shot them with their submachine guns. Then a small group of other prisoners threw the dead bodies of their comrades back on the trucks and the whole cavalcade departed as fast as it arrived... The complete operation did not take more than ten minutes and only pools of blood on the sidewalk and fragments of brain and bullet marks on the wall testified to what had just happened.
But then.... In a matter of minutes, seemingly out of nowhere, there were lighted candles and bouquets of flowers and passers by would stop for prayer as on holy ground. And the next morning the huge red placards signed by the Commandant of SS and Police, displayed the names of the prisoners assassinated and the ones to be shot if Poles would not stop their resistance.
The street executions were almost a daily
happening in Warsaw and other cities and towns in Poland. In Warsaw there
were at times two or three a day for weeks and months in a row, and up
to a hundred people had been shot at one time in line with the new policy
of terror designed and executed by the new bright star of the SS,
General Kutschera. The aim was to antagonize the population against
the Resistance movement. It did not work. And when our countermeasures
(such as killing high Gestapo officials known for extra cruelty, and blowing
up military personnel trains) did not stop the mass executions, SS and
Police General Kutschera was executed by the Underground on February first
1944 on the way to his office, in full view of hundreds of his henchmen
.. The mass executions on the streets and the red placards stopped. The
daughter of H. Himmler who was about to marry Kutschera chose to marry
the corpse in gruesome ceremony.
40 The title of Hitler's
secret directive ordering extermination of the Jewish People also called
the Wansee Document from the name of the suburb of Berlin where it was