Chapter 27: Conditions in Wloszczowa
The situation for the residents of Wloszczowa, Jews and Christians alike, deteriorated every day. Since the police officer, Julek Erdman, had murdered the Jewish trader, he had killed two more people in broad daylight.
In the first incident, he had entered the store owned by a Christian, and had begun ranting and throwing merchandise off the shelves. Just as he was leaving, he shot the shopkeeper dead for no apparent reason.
In the second incident he had fired into a group of Jewish refugees who had just come from Poznan. The bullet hit a baby being held by his mother, killing him instantly and seriously wounding the mother. He was feared by all, mainly the Jewish residents, and he became known as “blood-thirsty Julek.”
One day, Lilly received a letter from her good friend Fela Goslawska from Warsaw. From the postmark she saw that the letter had actually been mailed three months ago.
Lilly sat on her bed with tears of excitement in her eyes, and read the letter.
My dear friend Lilly,
Not a day goes by that I do not think about you.
I see what is happening with the Jews in Warsaw and my heart bleeds from pain.
The barbaric conquerors have turned professors, engineers, writers, doctors, cultural figures, etc., into walking corpses. They have removed their desire to live, humiliated them before the eyes of all, reduced their pride to dust and trampled them with their merciless claws.
Why do there have to be differences between one race and the other? Between one religion and the other? The answer is because they have no God, as they are not human and are worse than beasts in the jungle, Carnivorous animals devour other animals because they are hungry, while these savages kill other human beings out of spite, hatred and jealousy. They are jealous of the achievements of the Jewish people, their knowledge and capabilities.
Lilly, do not despair, this witch hunt will hopefully end soon.
How I miss you. I really want to see you, but I know that these are difficult and dangerous times. It is therefore impossible for me to come to visit you.
I hope that your family is well and that David is in a safe place.
You will see that in the end, when all this hostility ceases, we will once again meet.
My parents also send their regards.
Lilly noticed that the letter did not have the name or address of the sender and figured out that Fela feared that if the letter were to be opened by the German censors she would be in grave trouble.
In early July 1940, a proclamation was posted all over the town of Wloszczowa, that by the tenth of the month all Jews must leave their homes and move into the ghetto. Ida decided to take some of precious belongings to her neighbor Zosia for safekeeping, because she knew that as soon as she left her house the Germans, or local Christians, would steal everything left behind.
Herman helped her pack her belongings into a large sack. In it she put her guitar, a portrait of Grandma Paulina, Lilly’s photo album, and a small painted wooden box which contained a thin silver chain with a heart locket hanging from it which Lilly had worn as a baby. She also put into it some family heirlooms that had sentimental value and a satchel with important documents from Wolf’s office which included a list of business owners who owed him money and the camera that Aunt Isabella from Istanbul had given Lilly as a gift.
They rushed the sack to Zosia’s house and placed it in a wooden cabinet that was in the attic, that was only accessible by climbing a ladder.
Herman gave each family member a small amount of money and what was left he gave to Zosia. She had promised that if they needed more money she would bring it to them.
“What would we do without you?” Ida said as she cried and bade Zosia and her daughter Eva farewell while hugging them tightly. Lilly also hugged Zosia and Eva tightly for a long time and said, “Who would have thought that this day would ever come.” They all cried bitterly.
Zosia also took Balbina, Lilly’s beloved dog. When Zosia lifted Balbina, it began shaking frantically as it realized something bad was happening. It began by whining softly, sounding like a baby crying in need of its mother, which eventually turned to wrenching cries that made everybody cry.
As the families began leaving their homes and walking the short distance to the ghetto, their Christian neighbors came out and stood in disgrace??? The pharmacist Stanislaw Bitoft, Lolek’s father, came out of his pharmacy and watched as the small groups of Jewish families walked towards the ghetto. He knew them all, and some like Lilly, he had known since they were born.
When they reached the building of their allotted room, they met Rosa, who had come alone, carrying a large bag full of her personal belongings. Grandma Pauline was silent the entire time. Ever since the death of her son Wolf, she had not cared about anything and hardly ate. Ida had to persuade her to put some food in her mouth.
The ghetto bordered Rynek Square, starting at Gorky Street, and included Przedborskiej, Śliskiej, Gęsiej, Mleczarskiej and Stodolnej streets.
The Society for the Protection of Jewish Health in Poland (TOZ) sent medicines to the ghetto and all who arrived were immediately vaccinated against typhus. There was a great danger of an outbreak of an epidemic due to poor hygienic conditions, lack of septic tanks and a lack of hot water for washing.
The JDC (Joint Distribution Committee) of Warsaw sent 2,500 zlotys to the Jews of Wloszczowa, along with nearly a ton of flour and various other foods. The Jews established a fund and were able to procure coal for heating, potatoes, beets, onions, a bit of meat, some eggs and soap for bathing.
Four thousand people were packed into the small ghetto area, in extremely crowded conditions; but at least they all had food and shelter.
All the possessions of the Jews of Wloszczowa were confiscated and taken from the homes, warehouses and stores that they owned. It was all stolen by the Germans, who began abusing the ghetto residents, especially the orthodox ones. They would forcibly cut off their payot, side curls, and knock their black hats off their heads. Some were publicly whipped. The worst of them all was “blood-thirsty” Julek. When he appeared in the streets of the ghetto, everyone knew that very shortly there would be another victim.
It did not take long for it to happen.
The next morning, Julek, all neat and tidy with his shiny boots, walked about with a smile on his face as his devilish eyes scanned the streets looking for his next victim.
He spotted a pregnant woman walking quickly down the street with a boy no more than five years old running behind her. Julek yelled to her ”halt,” and she froze in her footsteps. When he was an arm’s length away from her, he lifted his leg and with all his might he kicked her in her lower abdomen. She let out a loud wail and fell on her back to the ground. Blood was flowing from between the woman’s legs, for due to the kick the fetus had become detached from the womb. Julek just started at her with contempt.
The boy, who was still holding his mother’s hand, finally let go and began screaming in panic. At that moment, the barbarian Julek pulled out his gun and shot the little boy in the head as he fell on top of his mother who was crying in agony.
Julek was very upset that he did not have an audience for his barbaric act, since all the residents of the ghetto were hiding in their rooms and nobody was in the street. At the top of his lungs he growled and screamed, “Stick your swine heads out and take a look.”
The only sound that could be heard in the street was the moaning and groaning of the poor woman who did not even realize that her dead son was lying beside her. Julek approached her and at point blank range shot her in the head.
“I freed you from your misery,” he said.
Some German soldiers entered the street when they heard the gunshots. They looked at the shocking sight in disgust. Julek looked at them and with his arrogant laugh said to them, “They have to be disciplined. They think that they are in kindergarten on the banks of the Pilica River.”
No-one dared to go outside until the next morning, when two orthodox Jews came with a handcart used to transport the dead and carted away the bodies. They had permission to inter the dead in an area specially designated for the burial of Jews.
Zosia came almost every day to the ghetto in order to see a family member. From time to time she would notice Lilly as she was going from the hospital where she worked as a nurse to her room next to the hospital. Their eyes met and Zosia waved her hand. Lily looked at her blankly and tried to smile, but she was emotionally devastated and could not bring herself to smile.
Every day the Germans would come and take between twenty or thirty men out for hard labor. Half of them returned battered and wounded from the lashes and beatings they had received, while many came back with broken bones.
Ida hardly ever came out of her room. Berta and Roza worked in the community kitchen and helped in the children’s school.
One day Zosia brought a package with clothes to the ghetto, and asked the soldiers if they could please make sure that the family received it. The soldier in charge took the package and said he would give it to the management of Judenrat who would take it to the family.
As she turned to go, another soldier appeared and inquired what was happening and wanted to open the package. Zosia tried to explain to him that the package contained personal items and that he should please not open it. Suddenly he turned around and knocked her in the head with the butt of his rifle. She fainted and fell to the ground, hitting her head on the curb. Some passersby, who knew her, lifted her off the ground, took her home and immediately summoned Eva from work. When Eva arrived home, she found her mother in very serious condition and transferred her to the hospital. Zosia had suffered brain injury and lost her ability to speak. She was released from the hospital two weeks later, but it took her months to recover. She never fully recovered as she was never able to speak again.
One day the Germans closed down all the schools in Wloszczowa and forbade the Christian population from engaging in any sort of learning, even in improvised schools or in private homes. Some teachers, such as Wincenty Adamczyk, held classes in hiding, every time in a different location. He was caught after somebody informed on him and was arrested and sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp.
The new refugees, who arrived from the Lodz ghetto to Wloszczowa, related that in the Lodz ghetto the head of the Judenrat, a Jew named Romkowski, who wanted to look good in the eyes of the Germans, forced the people to work extremely hard day and night. He punished some twenty thousand Jews who were unfit for work by sending them to their deaths in the Chelmno death camp. He expelled an additional fifty thousand Jews and scattered them among various camps, where for the most part they were immediately put to death.
One day an order came from the German high command to provide 20,000 children. Everybody knew that it was a death sentence as no-one ever returned. Romkowski turned to the ghetto residents and announced, “Fathers and mothers, hand over your children.” He was convinced that it was their only chance for survival. Many parents who were forced to give up their children committed suicide.