The city of Bochnia is located 45 km east of Krakow, Poland. The city was established around 1200 AC and was closely linked to the discovery of salt deposits in the area. From the 14th Century the town of Bochnia became one of the major salt mining sources of Poland. In parallel to the development of the mines, other industries like textile started to develop. By the end of the 19th century Bochnia faced an economical regression. The first World War and a few natural disasters like flood and major fires in the mines had a severe impact on the local economy. The livelihood of the miners, merchants and industry workers was threatened.
Jewish settlement in Bochnia is traced to the initial stage of its establishment. As the Jewish population increased, its impact on the local economy became more noticeable. Jews were dealing with trade and were leasing the rights for salt distribution. The local Polish population did whatever they could to limit the Jewish economical activities and were pushing towards their expulsion from the area. In 1445 a few Jews were burnt at the stake. In 1605 AC the Bochnia town council decided to expel the Jews after accusing them with desecration of the host. Most of the Jews relocated to the nearby town of Nowy Wisnicz. The Polish king of that time, declared Bochnia a restricted zone for Jewish dwelling. The town of Bochnia was practically restricted for Jews until 1867. Only after the Jews of Galisia were given citizen rights did the Jews come back and reside in Bochnia. A Jewish community was formed and Jews were allowed to purchase land and to build houses. A synagogue was built in Bochnia and Jewish charity organizations were formed. After the renewal of the local Jewish community, rabbis from the Halbershtam dynasty were serving in Bochnia. From 1910 rabbi Meir Shalom was nominated as the head rabbi of Bochnia. A few rabbis from his family that were serving in Bochnia at the break of the Second World War perished in the Holocaust.
After the First World War the Jewish community in Bochnia was faced with economical hardship. Different Jewish support organizations were established. In 1926 a Jewish bank was formed and a cooperative bank supported by the Joint was active as well. Professional associations were established to better represent the workers in front of the authorities. Different charity organizations affiliated with the Kehila were active at that time. In Bochnia operated a clinic with a physician on staff, supported by the Joint. The clinic provided medical services for the needy. Some organizations were providing money to the poor, others gave coal for heating, clothes, feeding programs at schools and so on.
From 1900 AC the activity of political and Zionist movements was apparent in Bochnia. The Zionist association and the Mizrachi (Jewish religious party) formed branches in town around 1911. The political activity was slowed down during the First World War and was renewed a short time after that. Socialist Zionist movements were active in Bochnia at that time as well but the most prominent political movement was the General Zionist party with its local Akiba youth organization branch. This organization was sending its members to Hachshara centers
|and even formed a Hachshara center of its own. A few members of
Akiba managed to immigrate to Palestine before the outbreak of the war. In
the elections for the Zionist congress the General Zionist party obtained
close to 50% of the votes and the Mizrachi obtained about 30%. Organizations
which promoted the teaching of the Hebrew language were active in Bochnia.
Acquiring the knowledge of the Hebrew language became common among the Jewish
youth and a Jewish library existed in Bochnia as well.
In 1918 anti-Jewish riots took place in the vicinity of Bochnia. Jews from small communities around town escaped to Bochnia seeking refuge. The local Jewish community was saved from a similar fate due to the firm stand of the local garrison commander. The mentioned riots involved: robbery of Jewish property, distraction of homes and shops and desecration of Torah books. The gangs of peasants which included some army deserters were armed and attempted to invade Bochnia as well but the local army force pushed them back. Anti Jewish riots took place near Bochnia in 1930. In 1934 and 1936 anti-Jewish leaflets were spread in town. In 1937 the anti-Semites tried to boycott Jewish business but they were faced by resistance of the leftist worker union and the police acted against their picket lines. However, in 1939 when Endiks activists were blocking the access to Jewish stores the police was completely passive.(PHV3-64to68 /EJV4-1157,1158 )
In August 1939 the tension in West Galicia was noticeable due to the anticipated war. Many Jews deserted their homes and fled to the East. On September 1st 1939 the Germans attack Poland. The fleeing Polish soldiers were reporting of German atrocities and Jewish soldiers who served in the Polish army confirmed it (DTS-37). The rumor of Germans killing all the Jews on their advancement caused panic among the Jews. Many more Jews joined the refugees on their escape route. The Jews of Bochnia could not ignore the constant stream of refugees passing through their town and many of the local Jews joined their brothers on their escape to the East (TST5-1/TST6-1). One must understand that all this huge migration of refugees from all over West Galicia was taking place on foot. The Germans bombed Poland from the air and the train system was not functional. The refugees had to share their escape route with the retreating Polish army. Even at that stressful time, faced by the Polish population as a whole, the refugees had to endure on the way the hostility of the peasants and the hatred of the retreating soldiers (DTS-40). Some of the refugees returned a short time after to Bochnia and some relocated to East Galicia. East Galicia was annexed by Russia a few weeks later and the refugees there faced hardship. Some of them were deported deep into the USSR. The town of Bochnia fell into German hands on September the 3rd, 1939.
in Bochnia Under German Rule
|stores were broken into and Jewish workers had to provide Germans
with services free of charge. At the break of the War many Jewish store owners
were fleeing from the advancing German forces. During the first few days
it was a sort of vacuum with non-operational Polish police while the Germans
were not yet in control. Local Poles took advantage of the situation and
broke into stores and homes of the wealthy Jews (TST5-2/TST6-2).
In the fall of 1939 the local Judenrat was formed1 . The head of the Judenrat was Symcha Weiss and Gutfreund was the vice president. Other members in the Judenrat were: Samuel Feder, Gedalie Richter, Yehiel Weinberg, Issac Greiber, Eitche Jacobowitz, Rosenowa2 and others. Dr. Rosen was the chief of the Jewish Police, the Yiddish Ordnungsdienst3 , and Horowitz was his deputy chief. The members of the Judenrat were not picked from the previous Jewish counsel (the Kehila) but nominated by the Germans as they saw fit. Symcha Weiss was a shoe store owner and Dr. Rosen was a lawyer in his profession. The Judenrat was providing Jewish manpower for forced labor purposes. Before the German military occupied the kasserna (the Polish military base) they used local Jews to clean the stables and prepare the base (TST5-3). Homes of German officers were cleaned regularly by Jews and Jews use to do their gardening as well. Arbeit kommandos (labor details) of Jews were removing the snow from the city streets. Already at the beginning of 1940 the Germans took 100 Jews for forced labor in salt mines near Mielitz (TST6-2).
In the summer of 1940 the Germans started to improve the
roads through West Galicia and installed telephone lines as a preparation
for the German offensive against Russia which took place on June 22, 1941.
A construction company named "Wolferst and Gable" was building a
2 - In my discussion with Mr. K. Pincus (see TST6) he confirmed the Mrs. Rosenowa was Dr. Rosens wife and she was active in the Judenrat.
3 - The law enforcement in the internal ghetto hierarchy was the responsibility of the Jewish police force (the Ordnungsdienst). By decree of Governor - General Frank these kinds of law enforcement bodies were established in every ghetto. The Jewish police was subordinate to the Judenrat but in reality it received its orders straight from the SS. The main duty of the Jewish police was the enforcement of all the decrees imposed by the German authorities. The members of the force had to participate in all the raids and expulsion Aktions initiated by the Gestapo. They also assumed all the internal guarding duties within the ghettos boundaries and were in charge on maintaining the peace inside the ghetto. The Jewish policemen were issued special uniforms and were armed with rubber clubs. Notwithstanding their vast range of responsibilities, the SS did not trust the police members with fire arms. They had to wear the Jewish identification armband like all the other Jews in the ghetto. Due to Bochnias location in the Krakow district, the Bochnia Jewish police force was controlled by the Jewish Police of Krakow and its chief of police Simchah Shapiro.
|highway all the way east. All along the "Strassen Bowm"4
line, Jewish forced labor was utilized. The Jewish laborers constructed the
roads and dug big holes in which they put up telephone posts. Every Jewish
community had to supply workers for this project. The local workers were
employed within a 50 km radius of their town. The responsibility beyond these
boundaries was put on other localities. It was hard work and the Germans
used to pay a very small salary for it. The workers were supervised by civilian
German guards. Every morning they were taken by trucks to the construction
sight and every evening they were transported back into Bochnia. This work
continued through the winter and when it was snowing heavily the workers
were occupied in snow shoveling (TST5-3/ TST6-3).
In the winter of 1940 the Jews of Bochnia were ordered to put on an armband identifying them as Jews. The armband was white with a blue star of David 3" high by 3" wide. This identification method persisted until the liquidation of ghetto Bochnia in 1943 (TST5-4). In about the middle of 1940 the Germans ordered all the young able-bodied people in Bochnia to gather in a movie theater. They did not provide any reason for this action. Once the people had assembled in the building the Germans blocked the exits and loaded 200 to 300 of them on trucks and shipped them to Pustkov labor camp near Lancut (TST5-3,4). Pustkov labor camp was known as a place were the inmates were treated very harshly. It was even called a concentration camp (DTS-79). The exploitation of Jewish labor persisted through 1940 to 1943. At the end of 1940 the Germans started to send young Jewish men, 14 to 25 years of age, to the klaj labor camp. See also appendix Forced Jewish Labor.
The town of Klaj is located 12 km West of Bochnia. At klaj was located a large ammunition camp which existed prior to the Second World War (the fifth largest ammunition deposit of Poland) . The camp was located in a wooded area near the railroad tracks connecting Krakow to Bochnia and Tarnow. About a year after Poland had fallen in their hands, the Germans decided to reactivate this camp. This move was part of the German preparation to invade Russia in 1941. Bochnia was one of the closest towns with a large Jewish population and naturally its Judenrat was instructed to supply workers for this operation.
The German headquarters of the camp, which was run by
the Wehrmacht, was located near the railroad station. The ammunition warehouses
were spread deep in the forest. There were 32 warehouses and each warehouse
had railroad tracks leading to it. Eight huge warehouses that were about
one hundred meters long and thirty five meters wide, were transformed by
the Germans into ammunition and mine factories. These buildings had a ramp
all along the side for loading and unloading from rail cars. 300 wagons of
rail cars were loaded and unloaded per day. The klaj railway station was
located about 2000 meters from there.
|The klaj camp was built among 25 meter tall pine trees and was well
hidden. It was surrounded by an electrified barb-wire fence and observation
towers with permanent guards. It was run by 500 German soldiers and technicians
experts in ammunition. On staff were 150 Jewish men and 10 women. The women
were looking after the kitchen and cleaning the Jewish laborers' living quarters
(located inside the forest about 600 meters from the factory). In addition
to the permanent staff, there were 5,500 to 6,000 Jewish workers from nearby
towns who used to come in the morning and leave in the evening. They used
to get a small monthly salary. At the initial stage the Jewish workers were
occupied with cleaning the passage rails to the warehouses, cutting trees
and constructing buildings to accommodate German personnel. Later on when
the ammunition production was in operation and the offensive over Russia
was taking place, the workers were loading and unloading ammunition cars
continuously. Some Jewish work battalions were busy draining swampland in
the forest in order to enable its utilization by the Wehrmacht for their
purposes. The Jewish workers had special passbooks to enable them to travel
by train to and from work. The head commander of klaj labor camp was Lieutenant
Colonel Hoffman. He was an honest person and gave his Jewish workers descent
of Ghetto Bochnia
Ghetto Bochnia was formed between March to April 19415 . A certain section of down town Bochnia, near the railway station, was designated for Jewish dwelling. The so called "Jewish district" included Kowalska St. Solna Gora, Niecala, Leonarda St. and other neighboring streets all the way to Krzeczowska St. Most of the buildings within the ghetto were one floor houses. There were only a few two or even three floor buildings. The two floor Judenrat building, was located on Niecala at the Kowalska intersection. The Jews who resided outside the designated area had to move into the ghetto and Poles who resided in the designated ghetto area had to move out. To comply with the new rules Jews who owned homes in the "Aryan"6 section of Bochnia and had to move into the ghetto, exchanged houses with Poles who were trying to get out. Other Jewish families were entirely depended on the Judenrat (Jewish community council nominated by the Germans) for their accommodation arrangements. At the set time for the Jews to concentrate in the ghetto, the Germans drafted the peasants from the nearby villages. The peasants came with their horse-pulled wagons and transferred the Jews with their belongings into the ghetto (TST5-6).
The local Judenrat decided who would reside in which location
and with whom. A few families were put in single apartments, typically one
family per room. A house with two bedrooms and a kitchen accommodated at
least three or more families. As more and more Jewish refugees came to Bochnia
from other towns and cities, people took into their houses relatives and
friends and now all basements were utilized and typically more than one family
per room was the norm. The sanitary conditions were poor. There were no toilets
in the apartments and people had to use outside facilities. For washing and
bathing the ghetto residents used public bathhouses. From the start the "Jewish
district" was surrounded by a wooden fence and Polish police were guarding
the gates. The fence was 7 feet high made out of wooden boards. The boards
were mounted on the fence about three quarters of an inch apart so the people
of the ghetto were able to see through the openings (TST5-6). After the Jews
moved into the designated area the Germans disconnected the electrical power
to the ghetto(TST1-5).
6 - Aryan district - any part of Bochnia outside the Jewish ghetto was considered an Aryan area in spite of the fact that the Poles are Slavic in their roots.
|From the moment that the Jews were isolated from the Polish society
and were surrounded by a fence, their food distribution was totally controlled
by the Germans. A strict food rationing was in affect. A working person was
given food rationing that was sufficient barely for one person. In order
to feed the sick and the old, they were put on the list of the producing
people and their relatives had to cover for them by working even longer hours
and producing a larger quota ( TST3-7). The quantity of allocated food was
insufficient and many basic food items were non existent in the ghetto. Poles
used to come to the fence of the ghetto and sell flour, bread, butter, milk
and other food products. They traded food for articles like sheets, coats
or blouses (articles which were very hard to obtain during the war) and were
not very keen on money. Some people risked their lives by smuggling meat
and other food items into the ghetto. They used to leave the ghetto at night
and went to Polish farmers. There they bought a cow, slaughtered it and brought
the meat back into the ghetto. This activity was very risky and those who
were caught were executed on the spot. These ventures were costly since the
Polish guards had to be paid off as well. The meat was sold in the black
market for an exuberant price. Only the rich people could afford to purchase
their food in the black market. Jewish laborers who were working outside
the ghetto (like road construction battalions) used to buy food items from
farmers near their work sights. They used to bring necessary food into the
ghetto as well. Until August 1942 it was relatively easy to buy food in the
ghetto. People with economical means had everything they needed. The economical
situation in general was bad, however with money you could get all the
necessities. Food, soap, candles and even luxury items like champagne were
available for money. One day a week people were allowed to bring their own
dough to the bakery and had loaves of bread baked for them and their families
for the whole week. People in the ghetto used to hire local Poles in different
capacities for domestic help. It was possible due to the fact that there
were no access restrictions to or from the ghetto for non-Jews until August
To overcome the lack of electrical power which made life in the ghetto unbearable, the Jewish community of Bochnia had to resort to innovations. The urgent necessity forced the people to try and experiment until some solutions to burning issues were found. Coal or fuel for heating was not available but sawdust (wood shavings) was inexpensive and in abundance (wood shavings from the carpentry workshop). A sawdust stove was manufactured in the ghetto and it was used for heat as well as cooking. The illumination of the ghetto dwelling was solved by the use of carbide crystals. Carbide fumes produced from the crystals (the carbide crystals were put in a tin can and produced fumes when water was pored on it), were lighted and gave a nice illumination for the whole room. Although these homemade inventions made life in the ghetto a lot easier, it was very hard to operate and caused numerous explosions.
At the end of 1941 a Jewish hospital was established.
The hospital was located on Solna Gora St. within the ghetto boundaries.
The hospital accommodated 45 beds and its director was Dr. Anatol Gutfreund,
the brother of the Judenrat's vice president. On staff were Dr. Korenhauser,
seven nurses and a cook. There was no surgeon on staff and there was no surgery
room or surgery tools. In emergencies a Polish surgeon was brought in and
he operated on an office desk in primitive conditions. Medications were supplied
by the Joint through Krakow. Until a
|short time prior to the first aktion of 1942 the hospital was serving
Bochnia as a whole and many non-Jewish patients from outside the ghetto were
treated there. Later on it served strictly the Jewish population
The Jews of Bochnia did whatever they could to maintain a normal life within the ghetto boundaries. They established an elementary school, Talmud Torah, for small children. There was a bais midrash yeshiva (small, about twenty young men who studied Torah continuously) whose members survived on collections. All signs of educational activities ceased to exist after August 1942, everything vanished with the first expulsion. In spite of the fact that the Germans officially defined the area as a Jewish district in which the Jews could maintain their normal lives safely, they forbid Jewish women from getting pregnant and bearing children. Any child birth, that took place in the ghetto, had to be performed secretly without the knowledge of the Nazis (TST7-1).
myth of security
The main goal behind the workshops establishment had been
achieved. The existence of the Jewish community in Bochnia became vital for
the German war efforts. The workshops employed about 2,000 Jewish workers
and consisted of several departments. The largest department was designated
for tailoring and produced uniforms for the German army. Other departments
dealt with underwear manufacturing, shoemaking, brushes, locksmiths, box-makers,
carpentry, handkerchiefs, toys, motor cars and electrical apparatus. Raw
materials were supplied to Bochnia by German firms and the manufactured goods
were shipped out to the army or the civilian market by the truck loads. This
enterprise was so successful that the production expanded into the neighboring
ghetto in Wieliczka and to the Jewish community of Wisnicz. Behind the Jewish
works stood strong advocators like the district governor of Krakow and the
chairman of the economic department of the Government-General. All of them
were benefited economically from the process. It seemed that the future of
the Jewish community in Bochnia was secure. Unfortunately the strongest player
in the arena, the Gestapo, was not a part of this picture. (TBB-190 to 194)
|Not every able-bodied person in the ghetto was given a job in the
new enterprise. There were 2,000 Job openings in Grayver's workshops but
the number of Jews seeking employment in this industrial facility was much
greater. Due to the steep competition the only people that were accepted
were those with personal ties to the management or the Jews that were willing
to pay a large sum of money for the privilege (DTS-138,148). One must understand
that employment in the workshops meant better chances of survival and the
modest salary earned by the employee was just an added benefit. The thousands
of people that were not accepted into Grayver's workshops had to struggle
finding their income elsewhere. Grayver's workshops were not the only workshops
operating in Bochnia. Other German-run workshops were operating there as
well, but on a much smaller scale (TST7-2). Some people joined work battalions
maintaining the city streets, pruning trees, doing gardening and more. Others
had to open their own small businesses or resort to illegal trade practice
like trade in currency (life risking trade for a Jew). Economical self support
for the Jewish population become harder and harder as the Germans took over
most of the Jewish businesses and outlawed many other occupations for Jews.
Periodically the head of the labor department in Bochnia used to draft hundreds
of people for labor camp duties as the German authorities found fit.
In the spring and summer of 1942 the mood in ghetto Bochnia
was very tense. Mass expulsions of Jews took place all through Galicia (see
details above). From the month of May 1942 The Einsatzgruppen8
became very active in the Krakow region. Reports of extermination squads
murdering entire communities turned into a daily event. It became apparent
that the Jewish community of Bochnia was heading toward a similar tragic
fate. Sala Grayver kept assuring his workers that the ghetto residence will
know no harm. Nevertheless many residence of ghetto Bochnia started to construct
bunkers for themselves and their families. These hiding places had to provide
shelter for a stay of a few days (a typical time length of an Aktion). The
location or even the very existence of the bunker had to be kept secret.
The more people aware of the bunker the greater the risk of it being discovered
during the Aktion. A few days before the big Aktion the Germans, through
the Judenrat, demanded payment of a 250,000 zlotys (an enormous amount of
money at that time) from the Jews of Bochnia assuring them that by paying
this ransom their lives will be spared. It was only a ploy to take the last
money that the Jews had managed to hide during that war, however every one
contributed into the Judenrat's coffers realizing the severity of the threat
to their lives. (DTS-154)