| Plashow was an industrial Lager and consisted of different
workshops. The main production lines were metalwork, glass, clothing and
brushes. Life conditions of the workers were very harsh and strict regulations
were enforced brutally upon them. Similar to other labor camps, the Germans
formed an internal Jewish police force in the camp and its members (Capomen)
were directly in charge of the Jewish inmates. The Capomen of Plashow were
known for their harsh conduct toward the Jewish prisoners. The inmates were
subjected to high rates of executions resulting from the slightest deviation
in performance and from high mortality due to exhaustion and malnutrition.
In addition to the 25,000 known registered prisoners of Plashow a few thousand
temporary prisoners were brought there as well. These temporary inmates were
designated for execution and were buried in mass graves on the camp site
together with the bodies of the official laborers who were murdered there
daily. The mass executions took place mainly after the Plashow camp became
a concentration camp. During 1944 the Nazis transferred some of the inmates
to Auschwitz and the rest were sent to other labor camps. In January 1945,
600 Jewish prisoners were left in the camp and were occupied in eliminating
the signs of the crimes which took place there. All mass graves were reopened
and more than 9,000 bodies were exhumed and burnt. The camp's head commander,
SS Obersturmfuhrer Goett, was executed for war crimes in Krakow in 1946.
Many laborers at this camp were shot at random. Due to daily massive torture and murders, new replacement workers were needed frequently. The ghettos in the near vicinity were the prime source for the required new recruits and ghetto Bochnia was not spared of this obligation.
Escape From the Ghetto
One method of smuggling people to the boarder was with
the use of bunker trucks. A truck was equipped with a double floor. The escapees
were put between the two floors and a different cargo, like agricultural
crops or construction material, was loaded on the top.
|These trucks could transport up to 15 people at a time. The hidden
passengers had to keep quiet through the whole trip and small children had
to be sedated. Upon arriving at the boarder the passengers were lead by special
guides across the boarder. Another method utilized Polish train line employees
who enabled the disguised Jews to travel all the way to the boarder. Several
attempts for escape took place but only very few made it through the boarder.
Most of the Jews were caught or were betrayed by the people who were supposed
to save them. (TST7-3/DTS-240 /TST5-10,11). see
On the specified day about one hundred people gathered in front of the Sicherheitapolizei (the security police) building with their luggage. A few trucks were waiting for the "American citizens". A short time before their departure Mr. Weininger came and took his brother off the transport. Suddenly the armed German officers forced all the gathering crowd onto the trucks. In the commotion they forced on the trucks also the family members that came to wish their loved ones fair well. The people were taken to the Monteluppich prison for interogation and later were transported to Plaszow concentration camp where they were shot to death. The Gestapo officer in charge of this operation was Heinrich. Only two people managed to escape from the American transport. (TST3-20,21)
|each man had to carry a child. The SS chased them with sticks and
they all had to run to the train (TST6-6,7). The very few children that were
hidden in ghetto "A" and the older people of ghetto "A" together with most
of the ghetto "B" residence, about 4000 people, were taken to Auschwitz.
The group on the right, about one thousand of the younger people aged 13
to 35, stayed over night in ghetto Bochnia and on the next morning (September
3rd) were transferred by train to the concentration camp in Szebnie. At this
point the town of Bochnia was declared Judenrein (free of Jews).
After the Aktion of September 1943, the Gestapo left a Jewish work detail of 150 inmates in Bochnia and some Jewish police force. The task of the workers was to remove all the belongings left behind by the deportees. In reality, the Judenrat caved in to pressure by friends and relatives of its members and allowed 250 people to join this work detail. A short time after the deportation of the group to Szebnie the SS came with dogs and started to search the houses for hiding Jews. With their dogs they sniffed out hundreds of Jews from hiding places in houses and underground bunkers. The unfortunate were lined up against the houses and were executed right in the street. The sound of machine guns could be heard through the whole day of Thursday September the 3rd.
On Friday morning, September the 4th, Hasse made a head count of the remaining Jewish work battalion in Bochnia. When he found a larger number than planned he ordered to pull out 100 of them and they were massacred immediately in front of their family members. The remaining Jews had to pile up the corpses, pour gasoline on them and burn the bodies at the appellplatz. This method of disposal was used towards all the Jews who were executed in Bochnia. The members of the work battalion had to burn the bodies of Jews who were executed after being captured hiding in the ghetto. When the hidden group of Jews was small the Germans took them to the Jewish cemetery and shot them there. The work battalion had to dig their graves.
The remaining 150 Jews were given a single large building equipped with bunks and straw for residence. Their task was to remove all furniture, mattresses clothing and other articles from all the houses. They used to pile everything outside and then they had to load it all on trucks. The Germans took it all away (possibly to Germany). After six weeks 100 people out of this group were taken to Szebnie camp. The other 50 kept working until December and then they were taken to Plaszow (TST6-9).
The Jewish police force was aiding the Germans by guarding the ghetto parameters, by searching for hidden Jews and by supervising the cleaning work in the ghetto. Guarding the vacant ghetto was not a needless task. There were about 500 people hiding in bunkers after the final liquidation. Drawing from their previous experience they waited for signs of life returning to normal before emerging out of hiding. However the signs of normal life never came back to the ghetto. When the survivors realized what had transpired they had to face a grave predicament. None of them was equipped for a long stay in hiding but getting out of the bunkers meant certain death. People with small children found it even harder to remain in hiding for a long term. Muller the Lagerfuhrer pre calculated these odds and therefore did not try very hard to search for survivors. He was waiting for them
|to come out on their own. Only a week later he intensified the search
for hidden bunkers. All the people that were discovered were marched to the
Jewish cemetery and were executed there. Many tried to break out of the ghetto
during the night but only a few actually succeeded in their escape attempt.
Hidden Jews were discovered daily for almost two months after the aktion
(TST6-8). Jews from the work detail knew of their whereabouts and were smuggling
them food whenever possible. However the Germans assisted by sniffing dogs
kept searching for hidden bunkers. With the use of smoke they forced the
Jews out of their hiding places and then they were executed. We know of very
few people that escaped after the final liquidation to the forests and hid
in underground bunkers. Some brought their wives and children with them.
Almost all of them were murdered by the Germans or by Polish extreme
nationalists. Some even managed to escape to Hungary at that time and saved
Szebnie Labor Camp
The commander of the camp Grzymek, a volksdeutsche, was
a profound Jew hater. He used to kill people at random. The second in command
named Kelerman was sympathetic to Jews. Whenever Grzymek met a person walking
by he ordered him to lie down on the ground and then he shot him in the head.
One inmate from Bochnia, who was ordered by Grzymek to lie on the ground,
attacked him and tried to strangle him. This man was hung by his hands which
were tied behind him. He was hanging there all day. The arms started to come
out of their sockets and every time he was touching the ground they dug the
ground a little deeper to prolong his agony. All the camp inmates had to
assemble in the appellplatz and observed this torture. Later on they executed
the man and killed 10 more people as a form of collective punishment. From
that point the camp guards used to execute 10 people for every infraction
of the camp rules. Every escape from Szebnie was retaliated in the same way.
People that had the opportunity to escape while working outside the ghetto
knew that such an action on their part would cost their friends lives. Some
inmates overcame this obstacle by smuggling dead bodies into the camp. Once
the person escaped from camp the guards took him/her for dead.
|During the liquidation of ghetto Bochnia some parents succeeded
in smuggling their small children to Szebnie. They hid them in packages and
took them on the transport. Some parents were caught and executed as a result
but some did succeed. There were about 15 children who resided in camp with
their parents. Grzymek found out about it and ordered to form a "kindergarten".
The children were taken to that nursery and a teacher was assigned to them.
The children were fed well. A short time later though they were taken
During the period of September to November 1943 there were a few aktions in Szebnie. A short time after the Bochnia group arrived in Szebnie, Grzymek issued an order for all inmates to surrender their money. There were three wooden crates in which the people had to put their money and jewelry. Since the response to his decree did not meet his expectations, Grzymek started to execute people. This action was very convincing and in no time the crates were filled with money, jewelry, diamonds, dollars and gold watches. There was another aktion (the time is unknown) in which they took all the older people, the sick from the hospital and the children from "kindergarten" for execution. In October 1943 an aktion took place in Szebnie. In this aktion the Germans eliminated mainly women. About 200 women were transported out of town by trucks. A few people were taken with this group in order to burn their bodies after the execution. Upon completion of their task these men were shot too. (see Szebnie)
Szebnie was liquidated on November 7, 1943. There was a selection in which the non able-bodied were singled out for execution. A group of a few hundreds were taken out and massacred in a nearby forest. The rest were taken to the train station and were ordered to undress. From there they were transported bare naked crowded in a cattle train cars to Auschwitz. Grzymek was tried and executed after the war. (TST10-8,15,16/TST9-5,6,7/TST6-9).
Jewish Children In Bochnia
As the Germans took over Bochnia on September the 3rd 1939 the life of the Jewish children took a turn for the worse. The hard economical reality faced especially by Jews hit the children as well. Their school activity was cancelled and they had to obtain their education in secret with constant watch out for German patrol. In general the parents attempted to cushion the blow and maintain their children's lives undisturbed. All the children 14 years old and up were drafted to forced labor from October 1939 and children from the age of 12 were employed in local duties like the cleaning of the Kasserna with its stables. Some 14 year old children were assigned to labor camp duties in Klaj.
|Upon the establishment of ghetto Bochnia the children were forced
to live in crowded and less hygienic conditions like their parents. From
that point child birth was officially forbidden. Parents, who could afford
it, were still maintaining a "normal" life for their children. We know of
music lessons and private English lessons given to children. All that changed
with the first aktion of August 1942.
During the large aktion of August 1942 the Germans eliminated as many children as possible. A group of 1200 people were executed in the Bochkov forest, most of them were children. Another group of about 5000 people were sent to Belzec death camp. They went with their children to the train station of Bochnia where the Nazis murdered their small children in front of their eyes. Only very few people were allowed to remain in the ghetto and these privileged ones kept their children with them. In addition there were a few hundred Jews that took refuge in hiding and they with their children were saved as well. The juvenile population in Bochnia increased as more and more refugees flocked into ghetto Bochnia from all over west Galisia. After the first aktion ghetto Bochnia was declared a labor camp. This new definition of the ghetto left no room for small children. They had to stay indoors, hidden from German eyes.
In November 1942 the Germans conducted a second aktion
in Bochnia. During this aktion the Germans took many nonproductive people
to Belzec with children among them. However many Bochnia residents hid with
their children and saved their lives. More Jewish refugees kept coming to
Bochnia and the juvenile population of the ghetto increased. A short time
after the second aktion ghetto Bochnia was divided into ghetto "A" and ghetto
"B". In ghetto "A" the Germans accommodated the productive people and it
was quite obvious that the population of ghetto "B" was designated for
extermination. Children were not allowed in ghetto "A" and this rule was
strictly enforced. However the "productive" parents did not want to eliminate
their chance for survival by moving into ghetto "B". The Germans opened a
nursery for small children in ghetto "B" and the parents from ghetto "A"
were instructed to put their children there. Some parents did not comply
with the rule and kept hiding their children in ghetto "A". We know of a
case where the children had to hide all day under the stove. Some people
by paying a large sum of money managed to obtain workers' permits for 12
or even 10 year old children. The children in ghetto "B" did not hide but
had to suffer a worsening hunger like the rest of the ghetto. Keeping small
children in the ghetto presented constant danger to the parents and others.
During aktions many people hid themselves in bunkers while the Germans conducted
house to house searches for them. As the patrol came near, the cry of the
children could have cost all the people in the bunker their lives. Children
were sedated during such an occasion and in many cases adults used to seal
their mouths when the Germans came close. In this way some small children
were choked to death by their family members or other persons who were terrified
of being discovered by the Germans. Some children were kept out of the ghetto
by the auslaenders during aktions. Very few children were smuggled out of
Poland by bunker trucks while under sedation. It was very seldom due to the
steep price for such a venture that not many people could afford.
|Despite all the hardships there were more than a few children in
Bochnia during the liquidation of November 1943. At that time about 100 children
were sent to Auschwitz for extermination together with the older people.
About 15 children were smuggled to Szebnie labor camp in packages by their
parents, but they were murdered a short time after. A few more children were
hidden in bunkers in the ghetto and they were discovered over the next few
weeks and were executed in the Jewish cemetery of Bochnia. We are aware of
only one child that survived the war after she was hidden in a bunker during
the last aktion.
Collaboration with the
The city of Krakow and later ghetto Krakow were infested
with collaborators. Some were approached by the Gestapo and some just offered
their services voluntarily. The chief of the Jewish police in the Krakow
district, Simchah Shapiro, was definitely a collaborator. He distanced himself
from the Jewish community and performed with high dedication to promote the
Germans' interests. He initiated actions aimed at crushing any underground
activities opposing German rule or aiding the escape of Jews from certain
death. He performed some of his gruesome activities in ghetto Bochnia tormenting
and executing some of its residents. Another collaborator, Samuel Brodman,
was working for the Foreign Exchange Control Office in Krakow. His work involved
informing about Jews who traded illegally in currency. Many people, some
of them from Bochnia, lost their lives due to his activities. The worst kind
of collaborations was performed by a Jew named Shimon Spitz. He was working
for the Gestapo headquarters in Krakow and became deeply involved in their
activities. He was trusted by his superiors to the extent that they sent
him to represent the Gestapo in any negotiation with the Judenrat prior to
any Aktion in the Krakow district. He prepared the list of names of the people
to be transported to death camps. Mr. Spits was sent by his superiors to
oversee an aktion aiming for the liquidation of partisan forces and there
he found his death. A large number of informers were located in Krakow. They
informed of every suspicious move of every individual. For that reason the
Jewish underground moved its headquarters outside the ghetto. Later on the
informers kept up their activities even in Plaszow camp informing about the
hidden children who were moved into the camp secretly.
|Collaboration with the Nazis in Bochnia did exist but to a lesser
extent than in the region capital Krakow. A Jew who worked for the Nazis
was strangled to death by a ghetto resident within the ghetto without the
knowledge of the Germans. Another German agent in ghetto Bochnia called Reich
Alfred was shot by the German police after they were bribed by the Judenrat
(TST7-2). Simchah Weiss, the president of the Judenrat and the Chief of the
Jewish police Dr. Rosen, were dealing directly with the German authorities.
Their positions required them to perform many unpopular tasks and according
to some testimonies they went way beyond the call of duty (DTS-205,224).
According to TST6-7, Simchah Weiss defied German instructions in order to
save a few Jewish lives. However the testimonies regarding the blind loyalty
of Dr. Rosen to his German superiors are more consistent. After the war Dr.
Rosen was arrested and was tried for his conduct during the war. It is possible
that his extreme behavior was a result of German blackmail. The arrest of
his wife in the Montelupich prison in Krakow and her release by Schomburg
later on, might have been part of the Nazis' tactic to obtain Dr. Rosen's
loyalty (TST3-14). We do know of Mr. Ferster who kept close contact with
Schomburg (TST3-18) and about Lejzer Landau who was working for the Gestapo
in Krakow (TST3-15) but their contacts were used to help other Jews in the
ghetto and were at most self serving to the participants.
Bochnia After the
From the midst of 1945 there were many incidents of hostility
and violence toward Jews. On May 20, 1945 twenty five survivors of the Holocaust
returned to the town of Dzialoszyce. Four of them were murdered by Polish
anti-Semites in the first week and the rest fled from town. A few days later,
Jews who were on their way back to their home town were pulled from a train
and were murdered by Poles. Some survivors returned to Poland through
Czechoslovakia where they were treated with sympathy. As they crossed the
Polish border at the city of Czestochowa they were captured by Polish police
officers who robbed them of their possessions and murdered them afterwards.
In October, 1945 a group of 8 Jews were killed in Boleslawiec by an underground
Polish group that was still engaged in killing Jews. As well, in December
1945 eleven Jews were murdered by local Poles in a village near the Treblinka
former death camp. Four Jews who traveled as delegates to a Jewish communal
convention in Krakow were murdered in February 1946 on the train from Lodz.
By the end of January 1946 there were reports of 353 Jews who were murdered
by Polish anti-Semites.
| The anti-Semitism which existed for generations in the Polish society
developed to its extreme form with the aid of German anti Jewish propaganda.
After the war, the hostility against Jews remained strong. Jews in Krakow
and Rzeszow were accused with ritual murders of Christian children for religious
purposes. A hospital for Jewish orphans was attacked in the city of Radom.
On February the 5th 1946 four Jews were killed in Parczew. On March 19 in
Lublin, Chaim Hirszman, one of the only two survivors of Belzec, was testifying
about the occurrence in this death camp. He was supposed to continue his
testimony on the next day. But on his way home he was murdered by anti-Semitic
On April 21 1946, five Jewish survivors of death camps were stopped on the highway to Nowy Targ and were murdered by members of the "Armia Krajowa" Polish underground group. On April 24 a public funeral was conducted in Krakow where 5000 Jews came to pay tribute to the victims. The mourners were faced with boisterous laughter of local Poles from windows and balconies along the funeral path. "Where all these Jews came from" they called "we did not know that so many of them are still alive". Seven more Jews were murdered at the same spot a week later. These incidents repeated themselves in every Polish town and city.
The worst act of violence against Jews took place in the town of Kielce. On July 1st 1946, a Polish boy disappeared from his home (he went to his friend's home in a nearby village). Two days later he returned and reported being abducted by Jews who planned to kill him. On July 4 a crowd of Poles attacked the Jewish community building of Kielce. Most of the Jews in that building were shot, stoned to death or killed with axes. Other Jews were killed in their homes on the same day. The toll of the pogrom in Kielce was 42 Jews with children and teenagers among them. Following the pogrom of Kielce more than half of the Holocaust Jewish survivors fled Poland.
The situation in Bochnia after the war resembled the situation in all the other Polish towns and cities. Most of the very few survivors who managed to hide in the woods near Bochnia were killed by local Poles. The Armia Krajowa was hunting for Jews from the beginning of 1944 and continued to murder Jews after the war ended. For their own protection the surviving Jews were transferred from the Bochnia region to the city of Krakow at the end of January 1945 (TST4-15,18). Jews who survived the holocaust returned to Bochnia to see their homes occupied by Poles. The people who took over Jewish homes showed no intentions of giving them back to their rightful owners. I know of a relative of mine (Moses Kant) who was offered a ridiculous sum of money for our grandparents' house. He refused to take the money and later on had to flee from Bochnia since his life was threatened. About thirty people from Bochnia survived the war and sixty more Jews from Bochnia survived this period in the Soviet Union. Most of them immigrated to the USA, Belgium and Israel. The Jewish community of Bochnia was never reestablished. Surprisingly enough the Jewish cemetery in Bochnia was preserved in good condition. In the city of Krakow on the other hand, there was only one tombstone that remained intact from the whole two huge local Jewish cemeteries of Krakow-Padgursz.
cemetery in Bochnia
The Jewish cemeteries in Poland are generally in very poor condition. The Nazis or local anti-Semite groups damaged most of the monuments and typically no one took the responsibility to do anything about it. In addition to that the majority of the tombstones were made out of soft stone which deteriorated in time to the point that no engraved information could be read. At present most Jewish cemeteries are a sight of destruction and neglect. The Polish government did not allocate any money for the maintenance of these cemeteries and since the Jewish population is practically non-existent in most of the towns and villages populated by Jews prior to WWII, there is no one to push for the restoration of these cemeteries.
During the Second World War the Nazis conducted genocide against the Jewish people. In parallel to the elimination of the Jewish population of Europe the Nazis conducted a systematic operation to wipe out any sign of Jewish existence in the past. Jewish synagogues were destroyed and Jewish cemeteries were demolished. The Nazis dismantled Jewish cemeteries by removing the tombstones from the graves and in order to add insult to injury they used these tombstones in road pavement. The Jewish cemetery at the town of Kazimierz Dolny, Poland, was dismantled in this way. After the war at the devastated cemetery a memorial high wall with 600 tombstones and fragments was erected (see link). These tombstones were retrieved from the roads and squares in which the Nazis had used them as pavement material. In small places where the Nazis did not reach the local population joined the action by breaking into pieces the tombstones in their local Jewish cemetery. (Please link to picture of the Jewish cemetery of Krasnik, Poland).
The Jewish cemetery in Bochnia is without a doubt the most preserved cemetery in Poland. The cemetery itself is enclosed by a fence and is cleaned regularly. The tombstones are being maintained and engraved letters are painted for ease of reading. All the information on the tombstones is recorded in alphabetical order, and a visitor may get assistance in locating the graves of their relatives. In this cemetery there is even water for washing upon leaving the cemetery. In this cemetery there is a military section with tombs of Jewish soldiers who fell in W.W.I serving in the Polish army. This military section is possibly the only one in Poland to be preserved. A special monument (set of tombstones) for those who were killed in the holocaust was erected in the cemetery by Jewish survivors.
A person who visits the Jewish cemetery of Bochnia might get the impression that this cemetery was spared by the Nazis. Its mint condition may cause the observer to believe that this cemetery, unlike all the other Jewish cemeteries in Poland, was untouched during WWII. However this impression is deceiving. The famous German precision and consistency are not a myth and the Nazis did not ignore the Jewish cemetery of Bochnia. The local cemetery was destroyed as per their global plan of removing any sign of Jewish existence. The few Jewish survivors who came back to Bochnia after the end of the war found to their dismay a Jewish cemetery without any tombstones. Some of the survivors spent a long time reconstructing this cemetery. They located and retrieved the misplaced tombstones and brought them back to the cemetery. With the help of the cemetery caretaker (a Polish man), who had the graves location recorded, they replaced the headstones to their original location. The survivors built a protective wall around the cemetery and erected the memorial monument for the Jewish war victims of Bochnia and its vicinity. They also erected a memorial monument in the killing field near the village of Bochkov (Please see TST11 &TST4).
At present the Jewish cemetery of Bochnia is being taking care of by the elderly caretaker Leon Gewad. He took it upon himself to care for the cemetery and also to care for the memorial monument near Bochkov. This man is cleaning and maintaining the cemetery. He is doing all the repair jobs necessary as well. Some of his expenses are covered by donations but his presence is essential to the very existence of the local Jewish cemetery. Rabbi Mendel Reichberg the founder of the "American Society For the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries and Historical Objects in Poland" was deeply involved in the preservation of this cemetery. As long as Mr. Gwalb is responsible for the cemetery it might keep its present form. I hate to think about the possibility that he will not be able to care for this cemetery later on. As mentioned before the government is not active in this area and the future existence of the Jewish cemetery in Bochnia is anything but certain.
It will be only appropriate to mention here the name of Mrs. Iwona Zawidzka from the "Muzeum Stanislawa Fischera" in Bochnia. Mrs. Zawidzka spent long time trying to retrieve the information from all the headstones in the Jewish cemetery. Since it was difficult to read the engraved words from the deteriorating stones she even resorted to feeling the letters with her hands. She published the registry of the Jewish cemetery in Bochnia in a special booklet dedicated to the local Jewish community. Mrs. Iwona Zawidzka contributed a lot to the preservation of the history of the Jewish community in Bochnia.
Volume # 4
The Holocaust, The World and the Jews, 1933 - 1945 Seymour Rossel Published by: Behrman House, Inc.
Pinkas Hakehillot Volume # 3
Encyclopedia of the Holocaust
The Holocaust-The Fate of European Jewry, 1932-1945 Leni Yahil Published by: Oxford University Press
Dare to Survive Chaim Shlomo
Apteka W Getcie Krakowskim
Tadeusz Pankiewicz (Hebrew translation from Polish 1985)
The Zionist Philosophy of the Hebrew Youth Society
"Akiba" (collection of articles, letters and speeches)
I Am a Jew (collection of
Justina Diary Gusta Daividson
Published by: Bait Lohamey Hagetaot, Israel The Warring Underground in Krakow
(lectures summery 1984)
Unpublished Materials of the Holocaust Period Testimonies, Record-Group M1E and 0.3 Yad-Vashem Archives, Jerusalem testimonies:
* These testimonies are not part of the Unpublished Materials of Yad-Vashem