2021 marks the 80th anniversary of the liquidation of the ghetto in Płock by the Germans…
In Płock before the war
Before the outbreak of World War II, the town of Płock had a population of approximately 33,000, including almost 10,000 Jews.
The Jews of Płock were mostly petty traders and craftsmen. Tailors and shoemakers dominated among the owners of craft workshops. Craftsmen related to the food industry, as well as turners, locksmiths, carpenters, bookbinders, jewelers and watchmakers were a slightly smaller group. The Jews dominated the trade in cattle, wood, grain, horses and poultry. They also owned most of the fabric and haberdashery shops. Jewish stores also specialized in selling colonial items, furniture, dairy products, seeds and artificial fertilizers. Jews also provided transport and hotel services. They owned factories of agricultural tools, wire products, soap, thread, vinegar, mineral waters, vodka, oil and grain mills. Banks owned by Jews operated in Płock, including the Commercial Cooperative Bank [Bank Kupiecki Spółdzielczy] and the Loan Cooperative Bank [Bank Pożyczkowo-Spółdzielczy]. They also performed freelance professions related to, among others, medicine and law.
There were numerous Jewish associations and unions operating in the town, including the Jewish Evening Courses Society, the Hazomir Płock Jewish Music, Literary and Dramatic Society, Tarbut Cultural and Educational Association, Society of Jewish Secondary Schools in Płock, Freiheit Cultural and Educational Association, Auxilium Academicum Iudaicum, Bieker Chajlim Funeral Association or the Makabi Jewish Gymnastic and Sports Association.
The largest Jewish charity organization was the Jewish Charity Society, a section of which was the Drop of Milk Society for the Care of Poor Mothers and Their Children. In Płock, there was also the Society for the Care of Jewish Children, Day Protection for Jewish Children with a dormitory and the Ezras Chojłym Society for Providing Medical Assistance and Nursing to Poor Sick Jews.
Jewish trade union organizations operated in the town: the Jewish Craftsmen Union in Płock, the Hatykwah Grocers ‘Association, the Future Workers’ Union, the Trade Union of Jews Merchants of the town of Płock and the Płock poviat, the Union of Leather Workers in Płock, the Union of Trade Union of Dressmakers and Related Professions, Trade Union of Polish Transport Workers, Central Trade Union of Traders, Employees and Private Officials and Trade Union of Teachers of Jewish Secondary Schools, the department of Płock.
Numerous political groups were active in Płock, including a branch of the Central Organization of Orthodox Jews in Poland, “Peace to Faithful Israelites”, the Zionist Bureau and the Mizrachi Orthodox Zionist Organization.
There was a thriving Jewish artistic, literary and scientific society in the town. The following painters were associated with Płock: Maksymilian Eljowicz, Fiszel Zylberberg, Feliks and Devi Tuszyński, Natan, Izrael and Hersz Korzeń, Abram Skórnik and Erna Gutkind, sculptor Alfred Jesion, writers: Herman Kruk, Lew and Abraham Ostrower, Mieczysław Themerson and his son Stefan, the poets Zysze Landau and Mosze Warsze. The Hazomir Jewish Library and the Jewish Library named after Sz. Anski operated here as well.
There was a well-developed Jewish education system in Płock. Children attended two seven-grade elementary schools, number 4 and number 8. At 28 Kolegialna Street, there was a Jewish Co-educational Humanistic Middle School. There were three religious schools in the town: Talmud Torah, Mizrachi, and the Orthodox Zemehem.
The Jewish community in Płock had religious competences (it included, among others, maintaining the synagogue, prayer houses, ritual baths, cemeteries and supplying kosher meat), and provided help to poor Jews. The Jewish community in Płock was managed by the board and the council. The council had legislative and control powers, while the management board had executive powers. The main source of income for the community was the membership fee and religious services (circumcision, weddings, funerals, ritual slaughter). From this income, the commune paid for the services of, among others, the rabbi and ritual slaughters. Before the war, the property of the Jewish community in Płock were the houses located at 16 Sienkiewicza Street (the mikvah), 8 Dobrzyńska Street, 7 Szeroka Street (small synagogue with an outbuilding and a workshop), 6 3 Maja Street, 14 Synagogalna Street (building of the Great Synagogue), 27 Sienkiewicza Street, 3 Sportowa Street and 5 Zduńska Street.
The heart of the Jewish district in Płock was Józefa Kwiatka Street (formerly Szeroka Street). There was a Jewish school on this street, private houses of prayer, cheders, seats of the Jewish Funeral Association Bieker Chajlim, the Makabi Jewish Gymnastic and Sports Society and the “Jutrznia” Association of Workers’ Physical Education. Jews also lived at Jerozolimska, Synagogalna, Tylna and Niecała Streets.
The outbreak of World War II
The outbreak of World War II meant that the world of Płock Jews, who had been involved in the history of the town for over 700 years, ceased to exist.
The radio announced the beginning of the war. Fear engulfed all citizens, but the Jewish part of Polish society had particular reasons to fear for its future. However, it never occurred to anyone that on that day a death sentence was announced against three million Polish Jews…
On September 1, 1939, several strong bomb detonations in the morning woke up the peacefully sleeping residents of Płock. Initially, the people of Płock thought that it was a trial exercise of the Air and Gas Defense League, but soon there was no doubt that the war had broken out. 10 people died as a result of the first raid. During the day, the raids were repeated and their targets were the bridges over the Vistula and the power plant. Anyone who could, tried to flee the town, hide in the villages and towns on the left bank of the Vistula. The more affluent Jews left Płock on September 2 and 3, heading for the other side of the Vistula River and for Warsaw. On September 6, there was a mass exodus of Jewish people.
On September 6, we left our apartment open and set off in carts full of ammunition across the bridge over the Vistula River to Łącko. An air raid surprised us while riding across the bridge. The bombs fell into the Vistula, but the Nazi pilots dived and fired machine guns at the dense crowd of refugees. Several people were killed then, but we managed to pass. Hitting our cart, loaded with ammunition, would cause an explosion, a break in the bridge and death of the crowd of refugees. This bridge was our pride as the people of Płock. It was put into operation shortly before the war. It was beautiful, we loved it. Then – on September 6 – its only defenders was a unit of scouts, teenage boys who fired rifles at bombing planes.
At the same time, groups of several hundred Jews from towns near the Polish-German border started arriving in Płock.
The first victim of warfare among Płock Jews was Gutek Flajszer – a member of the Makabi Jewish Gymnastic and Sports Society, who from the first days of September was on duty at an observation point warning the town’s inhabitants about approaching German planes.
His mental toughness continued to weaken, and news of bacteria infections and the poisoning of products and water by German spies brought him to a state of breakdown. It got to the point that Gutek completely lost control of his nerves and was overcome by a persecution mania. He left his post and, running through the streets, shouted that poisoned flies had been dropped on the town. It happened shortly before the Germans entered Płock. The situation was extremely tense at the time. The retreating Polish army was very suspicious of anyone who behaved strangely, seeing him as a potential spy. When Gutek was close to home (he lived on Tumska Street, in Szałański’s house, where the famous pastry shop was located), the patrol, seeing the young man running, called him to stop. “Stop! Stop! Stop!” – shouted the soldiers. Gutek has already run to the gate. There were just a few soldiers standing there who, seeing the whole scene, thought that Gutek was escaping from the patrol, so they tried to stop him. But he, deaf to all calls, having lost all sense of reality, ran on. When he reached the stairs – the last warning was heard: “Stop, I’m shooting!” Gutek did not stop. He was fatally shot. People ran out of the apartments to see what was happening and then they recognized their neighbor. It was too late to explain that Gutek lives in this house and is not a spy. The unconscious and heavily bleeding man was brought into the apartment to the horror and despair of his parents. Any medical assistance was ineffective…
One of the first victims was also Josek Ber Lichtensztejn (born 1862), who, after the German occupiers entered Płock, hanged himself in his house at 5 Józefa Kwiatka Street.
The Jews of Płock tried to find shelter, among others, in Gąbin. As a result of the bombing of the town on September 10, many of them were killed, including Mendel Bzura (born 1868), Róża Libson (born 1902), Zelman (Salomon) Libson (born 1878), Elia Mańczyk (born 1874), Kazriel Kursztejn (born 1883), Szlama Mendel Mańczyk (born 1906) ), Tyla Fuks (born 1879), Ryfka Fuks (born 1865) and Beniamin Fuks (born 1877).
We were approaching Gąbin. We saw from afar that the sky over Gąbin was black. I thought they were rain clouds. We rode closer and suddenly the clouds started to seem a bit strange to me. People were coming from the other side, so the railwayman asked what was on fire in Gąbin. The Nazis set fire to the synagogue, cordoned it up and did not let anyone be saved. The Jews who were in the synagogue were burned alive. The people who told us this were fleeing the town. A spasm choked my throat. I sat petrified and couldn’t take my eyes off that black cloud and the sky purple from the fire. I don’t know how we went on. I didn’t care anymore. I was numb with pain, horror, despair.
On September 9, Płock was taken over by the German army. Jews began to gradually return to the town, to their homes and workshops. Initially, the military officers treated the Jewish population rather gently, but soon harassment began.
Almost every hour brought something new: some new restrictions, new repressions. Jews were afraid to go out to earn money, they closed their shops, but under pressure from the authorities, they had to open them. Several Jews who had been employed in municipal institutions for a long time were dismissed without any compensation.
On October 8, Płock was incorporated into the Ciechanów District. On October 26, a civil administration was established in the town. From that time on, a new page in the history of the Jews of Płock began, a period of repression by the Nazi occupiers. There were beatings in the streets, humiliation and persecution. Street round-ups were organized. The detained Jews were directed to public works and to work in nearby German farms.
Jews were forced to bow to uniformed Germans and to walk in the middle of the street. I felt this ordinance the hard way in the first days. Once I forgot about this obligation. The SS man called me back, threw my cap down into mud, and punched me in the face so that blood spurted from my nose. He told me to pick up my cap, go down the street and walk by once more, bowing humbly. Others also had such accidents very often…
The Germans imposed a contribution of 1,000,000 zlotys on Płock – allegedly, for the entire town, as the posters proclaimed, but they took only Jews as their hostages: the twelve most important citizens. A Jewish Committee was set up to collect contributions and obtain the release of hostages. We went to Jewish houses to collect money and jewelry for this purpose. The men carried the collected property to the starost’s building, where the town commander, Wehrmacht captain Buze, was in office. At first everything went smooth. The commander, hauptman Buze, accepted the collected money and valuables, the delegates returned home. Soon, however, the Gestapo men interfered with it and began to detain the men – for the time being for a night or two. Then two women were included in the delegation: a young dentist who studied in Berlin and knew German fluently, and me. There I met hauptman Buze and started visiting him with various interventions. He ordered the gradual release of the hostages and even gave me permission to visit them in prison. My visits were very uplifting to these people in despair. At the beginning of November, everyone was back at their homes.
One of the arrested was Alfred Blay – a merchant and socialist activist, co-founder of the University for All in Płock, activist of the Płock department of the Polish Culture Society, the Committee for Bringing Help to Jews in Płock, the Jewish Merchants’ Union and the Jewish Charity Society. Released, he soon fled the town and hid in Warsaw until the end of the war. After the war, he returned to Płock, and in 1946 he became the chairman of the Jewish Committee.
One of the moments of terror by the German invader against Płock Jews in that period was the one night raid on the sleeping population in the Jewish district, combined with the robbery of property and taking the men to the courtyard of the Warszawski Hotel, where they were mistreated, and threatened with being thrown out of the town and shot.
At six in the morning there was a knock on the kitchen door. A maid answered. A few Jewish women came in with a lamentation: the Gestapo at night performed a round-up on Szeroka Street, inhabited almost exclusively by Jews. They drove up in large, covered trucks, entered every apartment and took whatever they could get their hands on. Some beggar even lost the pennies collected that day. Someone else – the only pair of new stockings, because they couldn’t find anything else. They took the men with them when they left. Old and sick, dragged out of bed. The women sobbed and begged me to save their fathers, husbands, brothers… I promised that at ten o’clock I would go to the commandant. In the meantime, it got light and new women came with the news that the men were standing in the courtyard of the Warszawski Hotel, all together, surrounded by soldiers. It was Saturday. At nine o’clock I was at the hauptman’s office. He reassured me that he was in power for the time being and that all the men would return home. I went to this courtyard from his office. A mass of terrified people, blue with cold. One old man was lying on the ground. Around them, indifferent soldiers, not brutal, just obeying orders. Quiet women in despair, unable to help or even cry, waiting silently. I told them that the men were in no danger, that the order had already been given to let them go. Everyone will definitely come back, let them go home to the children. Some left, some stayed – the silent crowd of women facing the packed crowd of men.
From the beginning of the town’s occupation by the Germans, the religious life of the Jews declined. The religious community was dissolved, Rabbi Mordechaj Dawid Ejdelberg was persecuted, which resulted in his departure to the Eastern Borderlands. Rodals from the small and great synagogues were taken by individual private persons. Over time, the authorities decided to demolish several dozen houses in the Jewish district, on Synagogalna, Niecała, Tylna Streets and a fragment of Bielska Street. The synagogue was left without buildings in the street and turned into a car garage. Next to the synagogue there was the so-called “small synagogue” – the Dancygier school, whose centenary was celebrated several years before the war – this building was also demolished. Only the synagogue on Szeroka Street remained in the town, but prayers were forbidden there. It was used as a place for the assembly of workers going to forced labor and for the guardhouse for the Jewish Order Service.
On October 30, 1939, the following ordinance was issued:
Jews are forbidden to engage in any kind of trade with immediate effect. They are not allowed to run businesses, hire employees, or supply goods to third parties. They are forbidden to perform legal activities for third parties, as well as any kind of intermediation. The Jews will be expelled from their enterprises by designated persons. Jews are allowed to acquire as much food, articles of all kinds as they need for their own maintenance. The population is called to cooperate in excluding the Jewish moneylenders and to submit reports to the Town Council about the violation of this ordinance by Jews. According to my ordinance, all people of Jewish origin are considered Jews, regardless of their actual religion.
All Jewish commercial, industrial and craft enterprises, without exception, were handed over with their goods to the German and Polish people. These companies were temporarily closed by the authorities for the purpose of making inventories, and yellow posters with the words “Jude geschlossen” were stuck to the front door.
Jews were forbidden to perform legal activities and any kind of intermediation. They were forbidden from entering parks, restaurants, pastry shops and markets. Jews working in the town and local administration were dismissed.
On November 20, 1939, an order was issued concerning the marking of the Jewish population:
All Jews of both sexes, irrespective of their religion, aged 10 years and over, who are within the town of Płock, are ordered to place the following signs on the upper part of their clothes: on the back a triangle made of yellow fabric, 15 cm base and 5 cm high, on the upper right side triangle breasts, 5 cm base and 2 cm high. The above ordinance comes into effect on November 24, 1939. Jews met in public without the above signs will be arrested and punished.
The repressions grew increasingly severe. At the end of November, all Jews were obliged to wear the “yellow patch” in the form of the Star of David (on the back and on the left breast), and the residents of Płock were issued with identification cards with a fingerprint (for example, to distinguish Poles from Jews). After the operation was over, the gendarmes checked whether all had a new document. One day the Germans organized a manhunt and arrested anyone who did not have an identification card with them. When they entered our apartment, I handed them my mother’s document by mistake. The gendarmes did not even ask for an explanation, they pushed me to the exit and, punching and kicking me, took me with them. In the street, they included me in a larger group of people who did not have their card and led me to prison. It is difficult to describe the fear of a fourteen-year-old boy thrown into a cell: it was the first time that I saw a prison from the inside…
In December 1939, the Jewish Council – Judenrat was established in place of the dissolved Jewish community.
In order to fully establish the number of Jews in Płock, the Jewish Community Council was elected. This council receives individual ordinances intended for Jews, which will be displayed in the old synagogue. An order of this kind is to be treated in the same way as an order issued directly by the German administration. All Jews must obey them unconditionally and punctually.
The seat of the Judenrat was located in the building of the former synagogue at 7 Kwiatka Street. The president of the Judenrat was Salomon Bromberger – a pre-war Jewish activist, social activist, member of the board of the Jewish Community in Płock.
The first task of the Jewish Council was to organize workers for the institutions and militia for the Jewish population. The establishment of paid military posts became the first and new source of income for the Jewish population, as, apart from that, Jews were forbidden to do any other work. The task of the Jewish Council was to organize the life of the Jewish population as far as possible.
On December 9, 1939, with the permission of the authorities, a kitchen was opened, allegedly for workers employed in institutions. In the beginning, 250 meals a day were served. With time, however, due to the pauperization of the population, the number of consumers increased to 1,500 a day. The attitude of the authorities towards the kitchen was positive. It was constantly visited by representatives of the authorities. It was also subsidized by the Joint and a representative of the Jewish Council was allowed to go to Warsaw in order to receive financial benefits, but he had to provide a return guarantee. Once the president of the Jewish Council went to Warsaw and for this purpose, he had to submit to the authorities a diploma of his wife – a dentist.
A major task of the Jewish Council was to regulate the housing issue for the Jewish population, in connection with the eviction of Jews from apartments in the town center and with the constantly flowing Jews from nearby towns. The housing problem took its toll as the Jewish population was increasingly constricted in a limited area. Each apartment was inhabited by several families. The Jewish Council did not provide economic aid as it did not have larger funds at its disposal. Apart from the kitchen, there were no Jewish self-help institutions in the town, as all of them were closed with the outbreak of the war.
In addition to the above-mentioned attributes of the Jewish Council, it provided legal assistance. The tasks of the Jewish Council also included taking care of the elderly, orphans and the sick. Despite the war, the old Jewish hospital, the Home for the Elderly and the Orphanage remained in the town. Funds for the maintenance of these institutions were mainly obtained by the Jewish Council from the wages of workers employed in the institutions and from subsidies from the Joint and the Centos.
One of the most important acts of the Jewish Council was the creation of craft and training cooperatives, as well as basic necessities stores, as Jews were forbidden to go to the market square and Aryan shops and buy directly from village locals. Thanks to these institutions, a significant part of the Jewish population found employment. The young people, on the other hand, were eager to learn the craft at cooperative courses, and thus were free from forced labor.
Apart from the Jewish Council, the Aid Committee to help the poorest people illegally operated in the Jewish district from the end of 1940. The increasing poverty among the Jewish population caused that several former social activists, councilors and other people of good will, deserving of trust among the Jewish population, established the Aid Committee. The Jewish Council knew about the existence and work of this institution, because apart from running a kitchen, it was not able to provide charity. The Aid Committee, from the minimum contributions collected on each day, provided support to the poorest people in accordance with the principle: what was collected – was also distributed. The attitude of the Jewish Council to the Aid Committee was loyal, and the population treated the Aid Committee with great trust, without even controlling its activities. The Aid Committee existed until the Jews were expelled from the town.
One of the most important departments of the Jewish Council was the Labor Department. The Jewish Council was obliged to provide more Jews for forced labor every day. Every unemployed Jew – both man and woman – was obliged to work for free for the authorities a few days a week.
In addition, there were also paid workers, whose earnings were deducted about 50% for the benefit of the Town Hall and the Jewish Council. Completely skilled workers and craftsmen found employment in the aforementioned cooperatives, working mostly for the authorities. Individual work in all branches was forbidden for Jews.
As the Jewish district was closed, the Jewish Council opened its own pharmacy next to the hospital, an infirmary for an outpatient clinic and a branch of the German post office for the receipt and delivery of letters and money orders.
On February 15, 1940, a new ordinance was issued regarding the marking of Jews:
The existing badges for Jews in the town of Płock – the yellow triangle on the chest and back – are changing as follows: on the back and left side of the chest a round yellow disc with a diameter of 10 cm. These badges are available for purchase in the Jewish community, Breitestrasse No. 7. This ordinance comes into force on February 20, 1940. Jews appearing in public without such a badge will be severely punished.
It was getting more and more dangerous to walk the streets. SS men invented various “games” with Jews, and the most painful one was cutting and setting on fire the beards of Orthodox Jews. A bearded man was rarely seen on the street, and those who had to go out tied their faces with scarves so that their beard was not visible. Once upon a time I witnessed such a “game”. The SS men recognized the idea of hiding one’s face and when they noticed an old man with a hidden beard, they tore off his scarf. Then a real orgy began: they called another Jew and ordered him to cut the old man’s beard with scissors. However, this was not enough for them and at one point they set their beard on fire with a match. The poor Jew tried to extinguish his burning hair by hitting his face with his hands. The other Jew was not allowed by the sadists to come to the aid of the victim. Now the barbarians were completely satisfied: they laughed and enjoyed the sight of the suffering man.
The establishment of the ghetto
On September 1, 1940, the Germans established a ghetto, which included Kwiatka, Tylna, Synagogalna, Jerozolimska, Niecała and a fragment of Bielska Street. The ghetto was open. The passage gates were guarded by German guards. Jews were not allowed to leave the ghetto without special permits. At the end of 1940, about 10,000 Jews lived there. In November and December 1940, the Germans conducted a census of the population and movable property of Płock. Its results allowed the German occupier to find out about the town’s demographic situation, which made it possible to carry out deportations, preceded by numerous executions.
Until then, Jews communicated with the Polish population, even throughout the war, Jews were allowed to visit all parts of the town, wearing naturally – from the end of November 1939 – a yellow patch on their back and chest and having to bow to every passing military person. But life became completely onerous after the ghetto was established.
All Jews had to live on three streets, they were not allowed to leave the ghetto. Contact with any civil or military authority was impossible, unless a member of the Jewish Council was specifically summoned.
In the ghetto, Jews lived their lives, everything focused around the Jewish Council, which provided the Jewish population with basic necessities. The Jewish Council ran its own bakery, had several distribution stores, selling meat, vegetables, fuel etc.
There was no social life or any cultural institutions in the ghetto. Living a dozen or so families in one house, the Jewish population had the opportunity to gather in the evening hours and tell one another about the events of the whole day.
The life of Jews before and after the introduction of the ghetto was quite often disturbed. From time to time, the Germans had fun, breaking into the apartments of defenseless Jewish people during the night, plundering and robbing things of value.
On May 1, 1940, a group caught 10 Jews in the town, who were especially abused: they had pieces of flesh cut out with razor blades, they were locked in crates, and then thrown down from the first floor. Several of these Jews were brutally mauled and taken to the hospital. The military authorities were notified of the fact, the victims were subjected to a medical examination, an investigation was carried out, and the perpetrators of these gruesome scenes were reportedly punished.
In the winter of 1940, a game was organized with the Jews. They were ordered to collect a lot of snow and bury themselves in it. On another occasion, when a group of Jews went to work, the leading Jews were ordered to put on tallit and sing Jewish songs. They abused the Jews in different ways. One time they took priests’ habits and church accessories from the Catholic church, and Jews were ordered to put them on and march through the town.
It should also be noted that the Jewish Council had to arrange a comfortable brothel at its expense.
The Germans decided to arrange a brothel for military personnel in one of the tenement houses on Szeroka Street. They did it probably to make life even more difficult for Jews and to humiliate them. All residents of that tenement house were ordered to remove themselves and the Judenrat had to move them to other, already overcrowded premises. In addition, the Jews were required to furnish this brothel, that is to equip it with furniture, sheets and beds. On the day the place was opened, the situation in the ghetto got even worse. Now, not only during the day we were victims of the German pranks and sadism, but also at night. The neighboring tenement houses were particularly vulnerable to attacks by drunk soldiers who smashed windows and doors of Jewish apartments. They were not satisfied with prostitutes, they also raped Jewish women.
One of the significant atrocities of the Germans towards the Jewish population was the liquidation of the Flatau Home for the Elderly and Disabled – an institution operating in Płock for several dozen years, in which 35-40 residents, mostly elderly, and a few terminally ill people found permanent shelter. One day in the fall of 1940, all of its Jewish residents were taken to an unknown destination, probably to Działdowo or the forest in Brwilno, and murdered. Soon after that, the Jewish Council received an order from the authorities to present a list of mentally ill and terminally ill people who were not in social institutions. After receiving the list, the Germans took them all to the forest and shot them.
The culmination of barbarism in relation to the Jewish population was the following fact:
One night in January 1941 a soldier came to the ghetto looking for the brothel in the alleys. He went to a house on Niecała Street and, being drunk, he slipped and fell in front of the house. A passing gendarmerie patrol noticed it. When asked about the cause of the accident, the soldier replied that the Jews had attacked and beaten him. A few hours after that, on that very night, the police came and took some of the men from that unfortunate house. In the morning, however, the rest of the adult men and women, who were permanently or accidentally in the house, were taken and put in prison. The apartments of the whole house were locked, leaving only lonely children in them. Only the next day, the commissioner for Jewish affairs personally released the locked children […] The above fact finally decided the fate of the Jewish population in Płock. Many times over the Jews of Płock there was a threat of deportation, they spent more than one night on their traveling backpacks awaiting the sentence, but each time the matter was alleviated thanks to gifts offered to local dignitaries by the Jewish Council. The issue of deportation became a fact.
A few days before the planned deportation of the Jews, the Germans closed all gates and passages leading from the ghetto to the Aryan side. German guards stood everywhere to prevent escape. At that time, about 7,600 Płock Jews and 3,000 Jewish refugees from other places were in the ghetto. On the night of February 20-21, 1941, the Jewish district was surrounded by armed police patrols from the 13th German battalion.
Liquidation of the ghetto
Before the arrival of the SS unit, it was forbidden to leave the house or apartment to go to the assembly site. A patrol was to be expected, and they were beating everyone and throwing them down the stairs to the assembly site. The poor men had to run, their heads bared. There were a lot of SS men. They were placed everywhere: in houses and streets, on the assembly square. All of them, without exception, were beating and rushing Jews, forcing the elderly and children, women with babies in their arms to run. Lamps were on in the street, it was still before dawn. The sight was gruesome. Backpacks were not allowed to be taken, they did not even allow to take food. Not a single Jew was left in Płock, even the pregnant women were taken away.
Bolesław Zdoliński (Weinberg)
On February 21, 1941, in the early morning hours, the Jewish district was surrounded and the SS members residing in the seminary began to drive Jews out of their homes by beating them. I watched the first deportation phase from the window of our apartment. Jews expelled from their homes were beaten terribly and driven to trucks. Many people with no signs of life lay in the streets. The truck hatches were not lowered, and SS men with truncheons were standing on both sides of the truck, hitting the people getting on, so that a natural entrance made of human bodies was created in front of the truck. All our luggage was taken from us before boarding the trucks. I remember that it was freezing cold on the day of my deportation and many people on the trucks were wearing only their underwear. There were about 35-40 people on each truck, crammed like sardines. The trucks were uncovered. When we were driven out of our apartment, even a water bottle was knocked out of my mother’s hand. She took it because she had heart problems very often.
In the early morning of February 21, 1941, the ghetto was surrounded. We were awakened at dawn by some unusual movement. When we looked out the window, we saw trucks entering Szeroka Street and Germans, with rifles in their hands, blocking all the streets leading to the main street of the ghetto. We realized that the day had come to leave our beloved town, into which we had been rooted for centuries. We didn’t know what awaited us, where they would take us and what they would do with us. Our backpacks and suitcases were already prepared, with a few changes of underwear, some family photos and basic necessities. Before the war, I usually wore my older brother’s clothes. Before the deportation, however, people gave good clothes to relatives, neighbors or friends, because they could not take everything anyway. In this way, ironically, I got a new coat from the Kowadło family who used to have a clothing store, and from my uncle Adam Goldkind – a suit. Some families still had some pre-war resources, but we no longer had any valuable silver or gold items, or valuables and money. We were aware that poverty was inevitable. We waited in nervousness when the turn of our house would come. Meanwhile, the sounds of screams of the Germans and the crying of their victims began to come from the street. A sudden pounding on the door interrupted our waiting and several gendarmes burst into the apartment. “Raus! Raus! Los! Los!” – the Nazis yelled and hit us with truncheons and rifle butts. The beatings I got didn’t hurt me as badly as the sight of the punches falling on my dear mommy and daddy. My dexterity helped me avoid being hit or shield myself from being hit with my hands. The parents did not have this skill, so rifle butts, clubs, fists and kicks fell on them accurately. Tears choked my throat – not from pain, but from helplessness that I could not help them or prevent their suffering. Hurriedly, we ran to the middle of the street. There, our torturers, constantly beating us, loaded everyone onto trucks. There were already piles of suitcases on both sides of the street. They were torn from the hands of deported persons or simply abandoned because they made it difficult to quickly jump on trucks, and who could not get on quickly, received a more severe beating. So the elderly suffered the most, and the children were not spared as well. However, there were some old people or sick people who could not climb onto the trucks at all – they were shot on the spot. My brother and I helped my parents to climb on the truck, and then we jumped after them ourselves. The cars started amid the screams, crying and prayers of Płock Jews, being taken away into the unknown. Jews were leaving Płock forever. the town where their ancestors put down their roots over 700 years ago. Płock, together with Kalisz and Poznań, was the oldest center of Jews in Poland. Throughout all these years, the Jews experienced different periods – good and bad. Historical documents prove that they made a great contribution to the economic and cultural life of this beautiful town. All these achievements, worked out over hundreds of years, have been destroyed, burned and forgotten.
One of the mothers, not having managed to quickly get onto the truck with the baby, left the stroller with the baby in front of the car. Noticing this, one of the torturers ran up and, seizing the baby threw it to its mother so hard that it was immediately killed. More people were crammed onto the trucks than they could hold. Hence, a few people were strangled to death and thrown on the road as a result of the crowding. Only a part of the population could fit on cars, so the rest were ordered to return to their homes. The cars and the deported people went to the camp in Działdowo.
They took everyone. They kept screaming “Juden raus!”, “Juden raus!” One February morning, we heard their screams. They guarded the entrances the ghetto so that no one could escape. They gathered Jews on the street and then sent us to a camp […] Trucks were coming in and we all had to get in. And the people who came with the children … I remember there was a family that had a newborn baby. His father made a baby carrier out of the sheet. They ripped them apart. They took babies away from people and threw them out of windows. Or they grabbed their feet and hit their heads against trees, not allowing the children to be taken. We were crowded in these trucks, people were choking to death on the way to the camp where we were sent from our hometown. There was no room, so there was not enough air. The crowding was terrible…
During the first deportation to the camp in Działdowo, about 4,000 Jews from Płock were deported.
Shortly before the second deportation, 25 men aged 17-65 were arrested. On February 28, they were taken to a ravine in the village of Imielnica, where they were murdered by the Gestapo with a shot to the back of the head. The bodies of the murdered were buried in a mass grave. On the same day, members of the Płock Judenrat were arrested.
In the blink of an eye, the street became filled with people. After half of the district’s population had been deported the previous week, it seemed uninhabited, and suddenly it was swarming with people again. The mass shone with yellow stars. People were again divided into groups, counted, then counted again. But why so many dogs, so many SS men and policemen with truncheons watching us with a bloodthirsty expression? Their eyes alone caused something to break within us.
In the melting snow, we had to wait until late afternoon. Our hearts were bleeding, but the expressions on our faces remained unchanged and hard, neither showing the slightest bit of surrender. People held back tears, complaints, and sighs. Crowded tightly against each other, brother to brother, friend to friend, neighbor to the neighbor, they stoically endured blows and humiliations. If hatred could destroy the world, then the hatred burning in their eyes would turn everything to dust.
When the overcrowded trucks left, about a thousand people remained on the street. Night had fallen, the air was damp, the water from the melting snow softened the shoes. The children were crying, the old men could barely stand on their feet. Finally, the order was given for us to go home.
The last deportation of Płock Jews to Działdowo took place on March 1, 1941. In total, about 10,000 Jews were deported to Działdowo.
The camp in Działdowo (in German: Soldau) – a German Nazi camp that existed during the Nazi occupation in Działdowo in the years 1939–1945. Over 30,000 people passed through the camp in Działdowo, and 12-15,000 were killed there. The Działdowo camp was also a transit stage for many prisoners.
Seven thousand Jews from Płock were transported on trucks, totally cramped, to the concentration camp in Działdowo, where everyone was greeted by beating with sticks, making no difference between sex and age. Many old people as well as some younger ones were beaten. After a few days in Działdowo, we were taken, robbed of everything, to the province of Kielce and were placed in various ghettos for demise.
Bolesław Zdoliński (Weinberg)
When we got there, the Germans pushed people off the trucks, many fell and broke their legs or arms. The Germans shouted “schnell, schnell”, “fast, fast”. And they beat us terribly. They formed a line and beat us with truncheons. We had to walk between them to even enter the camp. They beat everyone who entered the camp on their heads. Then we had to wait sitting on the floor, I don’t remember if and how much food we got. I just remember that they finally put us on the trains and took us to the part of Poland where I later lived, to all those Jewish towns. They brought one transport to one place, another they brought to another, and the local Jewish communities had to accept these people somehow. Most of them had to sleep on the synagogue floor, there was an epidemic of typhus and many other diseases.
Finally, we arrived in Działdowo and the column was stopped in front of a complex of barrack-like blocks. Single cars were unloaded on the street and each person had to pass through the line of Schutzpolizei officers, about 100 meters long. Each policeman was armed with a large truncheon, which was used to beat the passing people […]. The camp was probably former barracks and consisted of three parts: the first for Jews before selection, the second for those after the selection, and the third for the deported Poles. The selection and post-selection camp were separated from each other by a dense barbed wire barrier. There were about 2,000 to 3,000 of us in the first camp. Many people were seriously injured, many corpses were buried, the gendarmes started to take shoes away from us, especially with uppers and galoshes, which they immediately put on themselves. The next day we walked individually through the administration building on the border of the two camps. Personal data was recorded there and each was given a number on a cardboard. The final stage was a room with many chests full of valuables. It was ordered to put all valuables and money into these chests. […] From this room, everyone was directed to the second camp and placed there in a huge coach house. […] We were in this camp for several days…
When the line of trucks left Płock, we did not know where they were taking us. The cars were so crowded that not only was it impossible to sit down, but even to stand. On each truck, we were watched by two Germans with rifles ready to fire, so there was no way we could escape. After a few hours’ journey in terrible conditions, we came to a town – it turned out that it was Działdowo. The unloading took place within the former military barracks. As when loading us in Płock, we were beaten too, and the hardest beating was received by those who could not jump down quickly and run between the line of Nazis armed with truncheons and whips, with which they beat their victims. They all had to pass through the guardhouse. There we were ordered to return all valuables and money. Some people hid their last resources kept for a rainy day. If something was found on someone during the search, they were beaten mercilessly, and of course what was found was taken away. Panic fear seized the deported, because we were threatened that whoever did not return valuable items would be shot. My parents and my brother and I had nothing, but we were nevertheless afraid of a search, which was usually accompanied by beatings. However, there were those who, despite threats and beatings, tried to hide their valuables. After passing the guardhouse, we were herded into huge stables where military horses were once kept. The currently empty stables were to be our shelter for the next few days. They looked awful. There was only a little straw here and there on the wet concrete. These rooms quickly filled with people. Whoever shook off the first impression and beating sooner began to scoop up the leftover straw and make a ”bed”. The less enterprising had to settle for a piece of wet concrete, and soon there were arguments even about it. Everyone wanted to take more space for their aching bones. At night the place was awfully crowded and it was difficult to pass without hitting someone. […] Nobody knew what they would do with us, whether we would stay here or they would send us elsewhere. The conditions in which we found ourselves meant that we were here only temporarily, but how long it was supposed to last – was a mystery to us. Meanwhile, each day felt like 100 years. There was nowhere to wash, there was nothing to eat, everyone was sore from beatings. […] The Jews of Płock filled all camp rooms to the maximum, so further transports were temporarily suspended.
In Działdowo died, among others, the residents of Płock: Roman Lewensztajn (born 1873), Abram Lipa Frankensztajn (born 1865), Pessa Nyrenberg (born 1906), Abram Nyrenberg (born 1900), Jochewet Edelsztejn (born 1882) and Sura Jerozolimska (born 1864) . The Jews of Płock died as a result of severe beatings during the deportation and after arriving at the camp, and due to the omnipresent hunger. At the end of February and at the beginning of March 1941, the Jews of Płock were deported from Działdowo to various towns in the Radom district. They were directed, among others to Busko, Drzewica, Przysucha, Białaczew, Gielniów, Żarnów, Paradyż, Słupia Nowa, Koniecpol, Janów, Żarek, Wierzbica, Bliżyn. They were quartered with other families or placed in synagogues. There was a high population density everywhere, diseases (typhus, dysentery) were spreading. The material situation was catastrophic.
Soon the news spread that we were being sent further from Działdowo. It was necessary to make room for the next wave of deported people. And this time, when loading us into the railway cars, the torturers did not miss any opportunity to beat us. After many hours of travel, we arrived at the station in Jędrzejów, and there we were transferred to open freight cars of the narrow-gauge railway. It should be remembered that this happened in February and it was freezing. The Germans were so cruel that they took advantage of even the weather conditions to abuse Jews. Many of us have frostbitten our ears, arms and legs. I don’t know how long we could go on such a trip before we freeze to death? The second and last deportation from Płock took place on March 1, 1941. The Jews of Płock were sent to small towns and cities in the Kielce province. Our transport stopped in Chmielnik. Here we were to spend the next stage of the cruel German occupation – for the majority, the last one before the final extermination. Only a few were able to survive this period, and I was happily among them.
The Germans established a ghetto in Bodzentyn in 1940. Both Jews from Bodzentyn and people deported from Łódź, Kielce and Płock were held there. In 1941, 3,700 people stayed here.
Bodzentyn is a small town, surrounded by mountains, forests, extremely beautiful landscapes, and terrible mud. Before our arrival, there were about 800 Jews here. They are very good people, they welcomed us very warmly, ie the first transport of 350 people, as well as the second and third transport. Over 1,150 people. There are also about 1500 residents of Płock in Bodzentyn. The people here live in very cramped and miserable locations, so that despite their best will, they cannot accommodate such a large number of people. Over 400 people are in the synagogue, in an awful mess and terrible conditions. […] In general, the condition of the deported people is tragic, because all of them came without money, clothes and underwear, etc. There is no possibility to earn anything…
Beniamin NN, letter of March 14, 1941 to Eliasz Zylberberg
The town of Bodzentyn has about 200 Jewish families, which is 900 souls. The first two transports of people deported from Płock, arriving in Bodzentyn, consisted of 700 souls who were accommodated with their families in rather primitive conditions. Last week, the transport from Płock, numbering 1,000 people, which had already been allocated and accommodated in Wierzbnik, was also deported to Bodzentyn in the number of 800 people, so that together there are 1,500 people deported from Płock, which constitutes 25% of the Jewish population of Płock.
In view of the large number of deported persons and the lack of residential space, it is impossible to accommodate all of them in the apartments, because they are small wooden houses, there are 10-17 people in a small room, so that about 500 people remained in the synagogue, where there is no room for that number of people. . Half of this number is forced to spend the night in the open air… […] The local commune has organized a kitchen for the displaced people, which serves 1500 dinners a day and bread rations from 15-20 dkg, where lunches are payable from 10-20 groszy. […] Let us mention that the residents of Płock were deported without luggage, shoes, clothes and with no cash. Already now, a significant percentage of Płock residents are not able to pay this minimum fee and therefore are deprived of this only hot meal, which has a disastrous effect on the already exhausted health of hundreds of mothers, children and elderly people who, unfortunately, have to starve and create more and more mortality. The number of deaths among the deported residents of Płock amounts to 50 people. The deported are the poorest part of our population in Bodzentyn…
Committee of the inhabitants of Płock in Bodzentyn, letter of March 16, 1941 to the Committee of Płock citizens in Warsaw
In Bodzentyn, the following people died, among others: Icek Luidor, Ryfka Brana Fuks née Altman, Majer Wolf Altman, Icek Altman (born 1895), Moszek Majer Altman (born 1886), Cwyja Altman (born 1900), Bajla Altman ( born 1906), Rywen Altman (born 1902), Ita Wasserman née Nordenberg (born 1891), Efroim Dawid Elberg, Sura Ryfka Elberg née Holender, Icek Hersz Szechtman and Chawa Jesion née Szechtman (born 1892).
On September 19, 1942, during the liquidation of the ghetto, all Jews were driven to the railway station in Suchedniów and from there taken to the extermination camp in Treblinka.
The ghetto in Chmielnik was established in the first half of 1941. About 13,000 people were held there, both from Chmielnik and those deported from Płock, Radom, Łódź and the Busko poviat.
We are not able to control the desperate situation of our fellow people […]. Diseases are spreading among our residents of Płock in an alarming manner. There is a lot of deaths…
Committee of Płock citizens in Chmielnik, letter of May 29, 1941 to the Committee of Płock citizens in Warsaw
In the Chmielnik ghetto, the following people died, among others: Sura Nadułek née Przewoźnik, Abram Majlech Niedźwiedz (born 1878), Maria Łaja Nejman (born 1868), Abram Izrael Rotman, Maria Gitla Zylber née Strykowska (born 1872) and Chaja Iska Spektor (born 1898).
The liquidation of the ghetto began on October 6, 1942. At that time, the Germans killed about 200 people, over 9,000 were transported to the Treblinka extermination camp. The second deportation, which involved about 700 people, took place on November 16, 1942, and the third – on December 10 of that year. About 200 Jews were deported then.
The ghetto in Częstochowa was established by the Germans on April 9, 1941. It covered the eastern area of the city center, coinciding with the area of the former Jewish district. Jews from Częstochowa and nearby towns (Krzepice, Mstów, Przyrów, Janów) and people deported from the areas incorporated into the Reich were kept in the ghetto. In March 1941, about 1,200 Jews from Płock were brought to the ghetto. In April this year, over 35,000 people stayed here.
In the ghetto in Częstochowa, the following people lost their lives: Leon Widawski (born 1928), Chaim Mojsie Wesołek (born 1885), Gitla Wesołek née Zylbersztajn, Ides Malowanczyk née Chanachowicz (born 1906), Tyla Chanachowicz (born 1899), Ajdla Frajdla Chanachowicz (born 1903), Chaja Chanachowicz (born 1900), Sura Chanachowicz (born 1917), Herszon Mordka Cypryjan (born 1873), Abram Moszek Sztern (born 1907), Blima Sztern née Cypryjan (born 1908), Rojza Liba Fuks (born 1910), Frymeta Fuks (born 1908), Gołda Łaja Szpigiel née Sztern, Ryfka Brana Frankensztajn née Altman (born 1911), Gedalje and Ruchla Grynbaum, Estera Sztern (born 1937), Liba Ruchla Ejzenberg (born 1884), Szaja Jojne Ejzenberg (born 1880), Chaskiel Nachman vel Nachmanowicz (born 1877), Juda Ber Kenigsberg (born 1877), Estera Małka Zander née Altman (born 1906), Szmul Altman, Chaim Altman, Szajna Przygoda née Altman, Słuwa Szklarek née Altman, Ryfka Tauba Raciążer née Altman, Bajla Zylbersztejn née Bursztyn (b. 1888), Fałek Zylbersztejn (b. 1883), Gołda Łaja Sztern née Lederman (b. 1855), Chaim Bresler (born 1899), Blima Lidzbarska (born 1902), Syne Praszkier (born 1872), Jakub Nyrenberg (born 1876), Hersz Frankensztajn (born 1895), Nusen Wajnsztok (born 1901), Dyna Ryfka Widawska and Abram Moszek Widawski.
The liquidation of the ghetto began on September 22, 1942 and was completed on the night of October 7-8. 40,000 Jews were deported to the extermination camp in Treblinka. 2,000 people were murdered on the spot. The survivors were placed in the so-called “small ghetto”. They worked in the Hasag armaments factories and in craft workshops. The “small ghetto” ceased to exist at the end of June 1943.
The ghetto in Radom was established by the Germans in the spring of 1941. The so-called large ghetto included the traditional Jewish district (streets: Szwarlikowska, Esterki, Brudna, Żytnia, Limanowskiego, Zgodna, Plac Stare Miasto, Fredry, Przechodnia, Asnyka, Krakowska, Kanałowa, Anielewicza, Bóżniczna, Wałowa, Lekarska and Podwalna), the small ghetto was established in the Glinice district (streets: Graniczna, Błotna, Wrześniowskiego, Kośna, Kwiatkowskiego, Blata, Pusta, Placowa, Konopnicka, Niemcewicza, Inwalidów Wojennych, Złota, Kinowa, Prosta, Dąbrowskiego and Lubońskiego). At the end of November 1941, 25,658 people were living there.
The ghetto was liquidated on August 4-5 and August 16-18, 1942. About 30,000 Jews were transported to the extermination camp in Treblinka and murdered.
In August 1942, a labor camp was established in Radom, the first prisoners of which were about 3,000 Jews. They were hired, among others in tailoring, shoemaking and metal workshops as well as in Radom factories. From March 1943 to January 1944, the workshops were subordinated to the “Ostindustrie” company. In January 1944, the Radom camp became a branch of the Lublin concentration camp. At the end of July 1944, the liquidation of the camp began, and the prisoners were sent to Oświęcim.
The ghetto in Daleszyce was established by the Germans in the spring of 1941. In March, 308 Płock Jews were brought here from Kielce.
You probably know that most of the Jews from Płock are now in the vicinity of Kielce. Also in Daleszyce (a settlement 20 km from Kielce) there are about 300 people from our town. There are 35 families here of permanent Jewish residents, poor, ruined people and they are unable to provide us with any material, or especially moral help. We came here on March 3 this year, a large part is in a ruined synagogue, and the rest in private “flats”, up to 10 people per room, almost all of us sleep on straw on the floor, we cover ourselves with our own light coats, the remains of our belongings…
NN’s letter to the Płock People’s Committee in Warsaw of June 18, 1941
In the fall of 1942, all the Jews from Daleszyce were deported to the extermination camp in Treblinka.
About 250 Jews from Płock were brought from Działdowo to the town of Żarki. In total, about 3,200 Jews lived there.
I am writing this letter two days after arriving. I am located in Żarki, district of Radomsko, 40 km from Częstochowa. I’m here with my mother. No shelter, no clothes and no money. Please tell the Płock people, so that they will give us some help immediately, because we are dying of hunger and cold. Please help!!!!! We were deported on February 20. We stayed in the camp in Działdowo for 6 days. We arrived on February 28. We are in an awful condition. We are dying. SEND HELP IMMEDIATELY!!!!!!
Icek Szpilman with his mother, letter of March 2, 1941 to NN
On October 6, 1942, Jews from Żarki were deported to the extermination camp in Treblinka. During the liquidation of the ghetto, the Germans murdered 300 disabled people. In November 1942, a small group of Jews was transported to the ghetto in Radomsko.
The town of Starachowice-Wierzbnik was seized by the Germans on September 9, 1939. In February 1941, they established a ghetto to which Jews were deported from various towns, including Łódź and Płock. The ghetto was liquidated on October 27, 1942. On the spot, the Germans murdered about 200 people. About 4,000 people were transported to the death camp in Treblinka. 1,200 men and 400 women were placed in a nearby labor camp. Jews were forced to work e.g. in the arms factory, which was subordinated to the Hermann Göring Werke concern. Many of them died due to the typhus epidemic or were shot as a result of selections made by the Germans. The labor camp was closed in July 1944. About 1,500 Jews were transported to the Auschwitz camp.
Dear Eliasz! According to a letter received from Ms Ewa Majzels from Warsaw (residing at 34/38 Chłodna Street), we found that a Committee from Płock was established in Warsaw, led by you and Fliderblum, to help the deported from our town. We would like to inform you that out of all the deported transports, we managed to keep about 300 of our people in Wierzbnik, who are without any material resources, as well as without clothes, underwear and bedding. We came here from Działdowo with only the things we were wearing. Therefore, we would like to inform you that we have created a temporary committee on-site to establish contact with you in order to rationally distribute the help received from you. In view of the above, we expect you to immediately send us the funds collected so far and things such as: blankets, mattresses, bedding, which we need, because the local society and the commune are poor and are unable to help us.
The Committee of Płock residents in Wierzbnik to the Committee of Płock residents in Warsaw, letter of March 14, 1941
From there we went to the camp in Starachowice. And from this camp we marched to work every day, to Herman Göring Werke, as they called it […] We walked like that every morning, never on the sidewalk, they always forced us to walk in the middle of the road. Rarely did anyone have shoes. We were walking on ice in the cold […] We usually wrapped some papers around our feet. They wanted to finish us off in this way, but before that happened, we could still serve them as cheap labor. They used people until the last moment, until they died. My sister also worked in a factory […] We marched in groups every morning to work in the ammunition factory and sometimes we could see lights in the houses and apartments where Poles lived. I remember that it crossed my mind that if I could just turn into a broom and stand in some warm corner, it would be wonderful. I couldn’t believe that there were still people there, that they were sitting in their apartments, that it was warm there. And I also thought that I would never be allowed to walk along the sidewalk again. That I would always have to walk in the middle of the street…
The ghetto in Skarżysko-Kamienna was established in the spring of 1941. It housed Jews from Skarżysko-Kamienna and Płock, among others. The ghetto was liquidated in October 1942. About 3,000 Jews were divided into three groups: some were murdered on the spot, 500 were placed in a forced labor camp at the HASAG factory, the remaining majority were transported to the extermination camp in Treblinka.
I experienced many tragic moments until the end of the war and more than once I had death before my eyes, but no impression was as strong as the first moments of my stay in Hasag. I will not forget the moment of entering the factory for the rest of my life and I consider it one of the most terrible. Huge factory halls with huge presses and machines and their terrible noise; furnaces from which red-hot missiles flew, caught in flight by half-naked, skinny and sweaty workers, looking like dwarfs against the background of these furnaces. The sight, supplemented by the blows of truncheons and the screams of the SS and Werkschutz, stunned me and led to a complete mental depression. I could not imagine how you could survive even a week or even a day in this hell […] A friend I met by chance, who had been in this camp for several months, gave me some advice and explained the organization of the camp, divided into three parts, called “werks”. Werk A – the largest, where you can get lighter work on a rifle or automatic machines, Werk B – where the work was maybe a little harder, but the hygienic conditions were slightly better, and finally the Werk C – masked in the forest, hidden from the human eye, where Jewish prisoners worked in terrible conditions with picric acid and TNT, exposed to explosions and poisoning, with a constant threat of death […] In the camp conditions, if at least one person in the barrack had lice, everyone else, sooner or later, also had to have lice. The bunk beds stood tightly next to each other, the campers lay close to each other, the straw in the mattresses was not changed, so when combing, dressing, etc., the lice had unlimited freedom to move from host to host […] These persistent parasites caused me a lot of pain and nervousness, and worst of all, constituted an epidemiological threat, because they transmitted typhus, and this disease in the camp usually meant death. I was also afraid of that the most […] After the Germans, my greatest enemy was hunger. I was fighting for every extra spoon of soup. I tried to be a favourite of the cleaners who, after the meals had been served, gave their protégés a cauldron to lick the rest of food off. When you got such a pot after the soup, there was always some food left on its walls – you could pick it up with your finger in your mouth and thus consume another portion.
205 Płock Jews were deported to the town of Białaczew, 260 to the Żarnów ghetto, 80 to Gielniów, 78 to Paradyż, 220 to Przysucha, around 1,200 to the town of Końskie, and 200 to Drzewica.
From August 5 to November 7, 1942, Jews were deported from the Radom district to extermination camps. Those who escaped deportation remained as labor in the arms factories. In all ghettos, deportations were carried out in a similar way: the ghetto was surrounded by German gendarmes, SS men and the “blue” police, at night or in the morning a deportation group consisting of SS men and Gestapo men entered the district. The Jewish police then drove people out of their homes to the assembly point where selections were made. Jews prepared for deportation were led to a railway siding and loaded into freight wagons, poured with lime. About 7,000 Jews from Płock were deported from the Radom district to the camp in Treblinka. Groups of Jews from Płock were also deported to Oświęcim-Brzezinka, individuals were sent to Sobibór, Majdanek and camps in the German Reich.
At the beginning of the Nazi occupation, many Jews from Płock fled to Warsaw. Some of them, like Alfred Blay, hid thanks to “Aryan” papers, others stayed in the ghetto. The Committee of Płock Jews operated here, directed by Fiszel Fliderblum, and his deputy Eliasz Zylberberg. The Committee helped Jews from Płock who were deported to camps in the Radom district by sending them parcels with food, medicines, blankets and clothes.
In the Warsaw ghetto died, among others, the following residents of Płock: Fajga Brucha Szechtman (born 1895), Sura Bromberger, Doba Frajda Kilbert (born 1885), Chana Rachela Pszenica née Perelgryc (born 1903), Marjem Lipszyc, Tauba Kon, Szlama Kon, Dacia Fliderblum née Bruzda (born 1890), Sura Cyprys nee Fogel (born 1880), Rojza Szechtman (born 1897), Bina Pantofel née Sztrumpf (born 1870), Moszek Rozensztejn (born 1878), Hersz Rozensztejn (born 1906), Dawid Edelsztejn (born 1899), Szmul Tyński (born 1899), Tobiasz Tyński (born 1869), Hinda Lidzbarska (born 1900), Estera Małka Rozen née Zylberberg (born 1891), Ryfka Lidzbarska, Szyja Lichtensztajn (born 1895), Chil Majer Lichtensztajn (born 1894), Michał Józef Fliderblum (born 1883), Berta (Barbara) Fliderblum (born 1927), Pinches Eliasz Fliderblum (born 1881), Moszek Bruzda (born 1887), Maria Wolrat nee Strzałka (b. 1885), Marjem Lipszyc née Szejnwald (b. 1887) and Chana Ryfka Gelibter.
From July 22, 1942 to September 13, 1942, mass deportations of Jews from the Warsaw ghetto took place. Over 300,000 people were transported to the extermination camp in Treblinka.
The German Nazi extermination camp operated from July 1942 to November 1943. It was created as part of Operation Reinhardt. The extermination of the Jewish population was carried out there. Victims were killed in stationary gas chambers using exhaust gases. The following people were murdered in Treblinka: Dobra Kadysz née Kenigsberg (born 1901), Fajga Rogozik née Kenigsberg (born 1904), Kiwa Kenigsberg (born 1910), Jakub Ber Rogozik (born 1877), Lejzor Brygart (born . 1893), Dwojra Ides Brygart née Bomzon (born 1889), Blima Firstenberg (born 1884), Chaskiel Ber and Srul Jakub Sztern.
On August 2, 1943, an uprising of Jewish prisoners broke out in Treblinka. There were over 800 Jews in the camp at that time. The signal to start the uprising was the explosion of a grenade thrown on the guards’ barrack and setting fire to the fuel tank. The insurgents, armed with rifles taken from the guards and the tools they used during forestry work, set fire to some of the buildings. However, they failed to destroy the gas chambers and cut the telephone line. After a fight that lasted several dozen minutes, ca. 300 people escaped from the camp. Nearly 100 of them made it to Warsaw. The rest were caught and murdered.
The participants of the armed uprising in Treblinka were also people from Płock, including Motel Perelgryc (born 1911) and Rubin (Rudek) Lubraniecki (born 1916). They both died a heroic death in the Treblinka II camp.
In the largest of all Nazi death camps, murdered were, among others: Lejbusz Pszenica (born 1897), Szmul Dawid Pszenica (born 1862), Chana Ryfka Głowińska née Żychlińska (born 1888), Azriel Szlama Pszenica (born 1894), Dwojra Gitla Pszenica (born 1902), Estera Tauba Pszenica (born 1904), Gnanczy Pszenica (born 1904), Abram Hersz Pszenica (born 1899), Bina Pszenica (born 1906), Małka Pszenica (born 1920), Beniamin Hersz Niedźwiedź (born 1909), Naftali Markus Frendler (born in 1887), Hinda Frajdla Grynbaum (born in 1898) and Szmul Majer Luszyński (born in 1890).
Aid to the Jews
Helping Jews during World War II was strictly forbidden. It was threatened with sanctions, ranging from beatings or confiscation of property, through imprisonment, sentencing to forced labor or concentration camps, to the death penalty. Despite this, many Poles gave shelter to Jews, often selflessly and for a long time.
During World War II, the family of Mojżesz Krakowski (born 1881) – the owner of a training farm for Jewish Zionist youth, from Miłodróż, located near Płock, was hidden in the house of Stefan Sochocki.
During World War II, my great-grandfather Stefan was arrested in 1941 by the German police. The reason for the arrest of my great-grandfather was that he was hiding a Jewish family. They were the Krakowski family, owners of the Miłodróż estate. The family consisted of three people: parents and daughter. When the gendarmes broke into my great-grandfather’s house one evening, Mr. Krakowski was conducting secret education for young people. Gendarme Schmuk from the police station in Biała, shouting: “Those sufferers are still alive?”, hit Krakowski in the back of the head with his truncheon. Flooded with blood, Krakowski fell to the floor. The boys who were in secret teaching were badly beaten. The Krakowski family was transported under the escort of gendarmes to Biała Stara, and great-grandfather Stefan had to run by the cart carrying these people to the gendarmerie station. The Gestapo troops transported my great-grandfather to Płock, then to Działdowo, Sieradz, and finally to the concentration camp in Oświęcim…
Help for persecuted Jews during the Nazi occupation was provided by the Mariavite religious community.
I knew Mr. Guterman from Płock. I also lived there before the war. Guterman owned a sweater manufacture, and I also made sweaters, hence our contact. Mr. Guterman was a very good man. During the occupation, he moved to Żyrardów. Upon learning that I was in Warsaw, he wrote me a card. I went to see him with another sister, Janina Wiśniewska. Guterman noted our address in Warsaw. When things started to get dangerous in Żyrardów, Guterman escaped. He spent two days in the forest and then he came to us. Just 5 minutes before his arrival, one Polish woman was with us and told us what the Germans do to the Poles who are hiding Jews. So we were terrified when Guterman showed up. He stated that we could hand him over to the police, that he didn’t care, that he had nowhere to go. I felt so sorry for him, because I knew Mr. Guterman well. He spent one night in our place, but people kept coming to see us all the time. I didn’t know what to do. In the end, we decided to hide him in the basement. A few sisters stood on the stairs and watched if no one was coming, so we took him to the basement. But we were afraid again that the people from the tenement house would find him there. So we gave him a work apron and told him to stand by the machine. In case someone came, he was supposed to be a mechanic. We then got him documents with the name of Pawłowski. We registered him at Wronia Street. There he slept in the apartment of a certain woman who did not know who she was hiding. He came to us at dawn, he left in the evening. During the day he worked for us making sweaters. This is how he spent a year with us.
Mariavite Sister Weronika Białkowska
Symcha Guterman’s son, Jakub, found refuge in a rural convent of the Mariavite nuns at the Mariavite parish in Pogorzel (Osieck commune, Garwolin district).
Jews of Płock in combat
Since the beginning of World War II, the Jews of Płock took part in an armed struggle against the German occupier.
Jan Oberfeld (1896-1942) – took part in defensive fights in Warsaw during the September campaign. He was active in the resistance movement. At the end of 1942, he was arrested by the Gestapo, imprisoned in Pawiak and murdered there.
Rajzla Korczak (1921-1988) – during the occupation, a member of the anti-fascist underground and a partisan fighter. After the outbreak of the war, she fled to Vilnius. After the city was occupied by the Germans and the ghetto was created, she joined the United Partisan Organization. As part of it, she smuggled weapons and food to the ghetto, and smugglers of the organization to the Rudnicka Forest. After the ghetto was liquidated, she joined the Jewish partisan unit called “Nekama” of Aba Kowner. She became one of the squad leaders. She distinguished herself in sabotage actions, also dealt with logistics and provisioning of the squad.
Tobka Beatus – during the Nazi occupation she was transported to the camp in Działdowo, then to the Radom district. She was a liaison officer in the Hashomer Hatzair organization and took part in military actions in the Radom district. She died during partisan fights near Chmielnik.
Rywa Glanc (1915-1943) – one of the main organizers of the uprising in the ghetto in Częstochowa on June 25, 1943. The first fights against the Germans in the ghetto took place in January 1943. The Nazis surrounded the ghetto in order to organize the deportation to Treblinka, then the Jewish fighters opened fire on them. 27 fighters died in the fight. In connection with the liquidation of the so-called “small ghetto” and the deportation of Jews to the extermination camps, the final self-defense of the ghetto population took place. About 80 people died during the fighting.
Symcha Guterman (1903-1944) – participant in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, soldier of the Home Army. He died in the Warsaw Uprising on August 1, 1944.
The Jews of Płock also fought in the ranks of the Soviet army. One of them was Stefan Zylbersztajn (born 1921), who managed to survive the war in the east. He worked in mines in Donbas, then he stopped in Rivne. In mid-1941 he joined the Red Army.
Return to Płock
Only a few of Płock Jews survived World War II and managed to obtain “Aryan” papers or found shelter in forests or in hideouts. Those who managed to survive the mayhem of war returned to their former hometown in May and June 1945. Later, Jews who fled to Russia at the beginning of the war joined them. In total, 300 people returned to Płock.
In 1945, the District Jewish Committee was established in Płock, which was a branch of the Provincial Warsaw Committee. The seat of the Jewish Committee was at 7 Kwiatka Street in the building of the former synagogue. The aim of the organization, the activities of which covered the Płock, Sierpc and Gostynin poviats, was to care for the Jewish population. Thanks to the committee’s efforts, in 1945 three men’s tailor’s workshops, a women’s clothing and dresses workshop, a hairdressing salon, a bakery, a carpentry and tinsmith workshop, as well as a laundry and a mangle were opened, which employed a total of 36 people. The committee also ran a common room, a reading room and a library. In 1947, courses in tailoring were organized, and in 1949 – the Gershon Dua Clothing Workshop Cooperative.
In the fall of 1946, the Jewish Committee organized the exhumation of the bodies of Płock Jews murdered in the Imielnica ravine. The bodies were moved to the Jewish cemetery at Mickiewicza Street.
On October 23, 1949, the ceremony of unveiling the monument commemorating the Jews of Płock murdered during the war, designed by an engineer from Płock, Arie Lejba Perelmuter.
The Civic Committee for the Construction of the Monument has the task of erecting a monument on the grave of the first 25 victims of Nazi barbarism. The memory of these martyrs is especially dear to us and we wish to commemorate it by building a monumental tomb which, in terms of ideology and art, will stand at a height and will testify to the martyrdom and tragic fate of all Płock Jews.
Despite the efforts of Jewish activists, including Izrael Gerszon Bursztyn, to renovate the building of the Great Synagogue, devastated by the Nazis, and to create a memorial room for Płock Jews, the synagogue was demolished due to lack of funds.
We returned from wandering to the ruins. However, we are not disheartened. We believe in the vitality of a nation that will fully revive again and never disappear from the globe…
The exhibition uses fragments of testimonies from the collections of:
the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, Yad Vashem and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
as well as the following publications:
“Leaves from fire” by Simcha Guterman, “Struggle for Life During The Nazi Occupation of Poland” by Adam Neuman-Nowicki, “W szczęściu byliby to ludzie dobrzy” [“In happier times they would have been good people”] by Róża Czerwińska (Holcman), “Tema. Wspomnienia z czasów Zagłady” [“Tema. Memories from the time of the Holocaust”] by Tema Lichtensztajn and Joshua Newman and “Żydzi płoccy. Dzieje i martyrologia 1939-1945” [“Jews of Płock. History and martyrdom”] by Jan Przedpełski.
Photographs and documents are used courtesy of following people:
Sandra Brygart Rodriguez, Yaakov Guterman, Halina Hylander-Tureniec, Anat Alperin, Adam Neuman-Nowicki, Arie Fuks, Hedva Segal and Guy Shapira,
the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum, Arolsen Archives, the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Oświęcim, the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, Yad Vashem, the National Digital Archives, the National Library (Polona), the Płock Scientific Society, the State Archives in Płock, the State Archives in Radom.