The Nazis invaded Cracow in September 1939. On Yom Kippur, they dragged all the Jewish men, including you, out to do hard labor. What happened when you made it back home after Yom Tov was over?
After Yom Tov, my brother Mottel and I decided we were going to return to our hometown, Kishanev, to see what had happened there. We were shocked to find that the Germans were arresting Jews in the street and sending them to work units. We hid in a cellar for many hours. When we came out, we saw there were trucks filled with merchandise that had been stolen from Jewish stores.
My brother wanted to escape to Russia. Our father begged him not to leave the family but Mottel, who was 17 years old at the time, insisted that he had heard about the German atrocities and he could not remain in Cracow. Our father took his gold watch and gave it to Mottel. He said, “Take this with you, for you might need it on the way.”
When Mottel approached the Russian border, he was stopped by a Russian soldier who wanted a bribe before he’d allow him to cross. He asked Mottel for a watch. My brother gave it to the soldier and the soldier let him enter Russia.
In January 1940, every Jew was ordered to wear on his left arm a white band with a star. The Germans organized a Judenrat with its headquarters in Sosnowiec. The head of the Judenrat was Moniek Marin. He organized a Jewish police force from the lowest class of people, men who did not hesitate to do the German’s bidding.
All men between the ages of 15 to 55 had to report to work. We were assigned jobs such as cleaning streets, shoveling snow and washing floors in the Germans’ offices. We also worked outside the city, building new roads and drying out ditches. The Polish guards did not hesitate to beat us.
Were you ever forced to live in a ghetto?
Around Pesach 1940, we were commanded to leave our houses behind and forced into a ghetto. Two or three families were crowded into each dwelling. The ghetto was formed around the marketplace and a few surrounding streets. We were only allowed out of the ghetto between 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m.
For Yom Tov, the Judenrat distributed 1 kilogram (about 2 pounds) of matzah per person. My mother had some non-Jewish friends from her school days with whom she traded a few of her precious belongings for some potatoes so that we could have food for Yom Tov.
That Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Germans allowed us to daven in three different shuls: Chevra Anshei Chayil, Chevra Tehillim and Mizrachi. On Chol Hamoed Sukkos, the Judenrat was ordered by the main command in Sosnowiec to gather 300 men to be sent to Germany for work purposes. Moniek Marin personally came from Sosnowiec to make the selections. After he chose the 300, myself included, he ordered us to report to the main school on Miczkewicza Street at 8:00 a.m. on the morning of Simchas Torah. We were told to bring along a bag of clothing.
On Motzoei Yom Tov, in the middle of the night, one of the Jewish policemen came and called out a few names. I heard my name. We were taken into a separate room. About 6:00 a.m., a transport of about 300 men left for Germany, but 12 other boys and I were sent home. When I returned to my family, my father told me that he had bribed a German police chief with 300 U.S. dollars. He had bought my freedom, for the time being.
After Sukkos, new edicts came. All Jewish store owners had to give their shops to the Germans and work for them. The Germans took over all Jewish homes and collected rent from their true owners. After Chanukah, a new law was passed that all Jews must wear a yellow star.
After Pesach, even worse, indescribable torments began. One of the heads of the S.S., a man named Lindner, arrived in the city. He would drive in a black car down the streets and, whenever he would spot a Jew outside, he would have him arrested and sent to Auschwitz. Two of these unfortunate victims were my uncle, Yisroel Shlome Langer, and my cousin, a young man of 18, Shlomo Weinberg. Four weeks after Shlomo was sent to Auschwitz, his parents received a container filled with ashes. A paper inside read, “Died in work camp.”
To be continued.
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.