Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, Israel.
Testimony # 03/3571
Archives # 3172/197-R
Name: Richter (Shofet) Eliahu
Date of Birth: 1912 in Niepolomice, Poland
Present address: Yesodot near Rehovot, Israel
Interviewer: I. Alperovitz
Date of testimony: February 1971
Testimony's language of origin: Jewish (Yiddish).
Translation and commentary by: I. Zelinkovsky
The following is the testimony of a Holocaust survivor - Mr. Richter (Shofet) Eliahu. In this testimony the witness tells about the life of the Jewish community in Niepolomice until the break of World War II. Nomination of the leaders of the kehila1 as members of the Judenrat. Transfer of Jews from Kalisz and from Krakow to Niepolomice in summer 1940. Liquidation of the local Jewish community in September 1942. Executions of part of the aged Jewish population in Grodkowice and transportation of the rest to Belzec death camp. The transfer of the witness with other young Jews to work in an ammunition workshop in Stalowa-Wola. Mr. Richter tells how he managed to enter ghetto Bochnia with the help of Jewish laborers and how he stayed there for a year. He describes an excavation of a large bunker by the underground movement of Akiba. His transfer together with Jews from Bochnia to Szebnie labor camp. An attempt by one of the inmates to kill the camp commander Grzymek and the public hanging of that Jew together with the exection of 10 more people as a retaliation. The murder of 45 young female inmates in October 1943. The liquidation of Szebnie in November 1943 and the transfer of the witness with other Jews to Pustkow camp and from there to Gliwice 3 in July 1944. Evacuation of the camp in January 1945 when the Russian forces were approaching and his short stay in Blechhammer camp. The witness tells about his liberation in January 25, 1945 and his immigration to Israel.
My name is Eliahu Richter, now I changed my name to Shofet. I was born
on October 28, 1912 in Niepolomice which is a town near Wieliczka and near
Bochnia, 20 km from Krakow. In this town resided many Gentiles. Only a few
Jews resided there, about 100 families and the Gentile population was 5000.
I finished public school in Niepolomice. Later I learned a little in a Baith
Midrash2 since father did not want to send me to a
Yeshiva3 with daily feeding arrangements4 . My father
was a tailor. He had a tailoring workshop and a confection5 business.
My older brother Shlomo, worked in confection. I studied and also helped
in supporting the family. We barely maintained ourselves
|economically. In the whole town there were hardly any wealthy persons.
People lived with difficulties, in poverty but with self respect. People
had to be satisfied with what they had. They had to do with whatever they
got. They even contributed to the poorer people in town.
Question: What can you tell us about the life of the Jews in town between the two World Wars?
In this town we did not have special excellence with outstanding people, like Agnon6 or Bialik7 for example. There were only simple Jews, all were religious. Some were more religious and some were less religious but most of them were simple Jews. In our town we had an old rabbi, Yosef Teitelbaum, bless his soul. He was the great-grandson of Baal Yismach Moshe8 . He even had his tefillin9 . These tefillin were very big. I never saw tefillin that big. But this rabbi had it and it was very holy. He would not even permit anybody to inspect them. He used to say that even if it would have been defective he would not permit anybody to read it. He handled it with respect and holiness. He was the first rabbi of Niepolomice. There were other Jews, (religion) teachers. Jews that did not have any (official) position. They were simply capable learners, they were judges (in religious court).
Question: Did you have a kehila organization in your town?
Yes. The president (of the kehila). Naturally there was. Like in all towns, the richest person, he had a nice little belly. He considered himself to be the most clever man. The first president that I remember was named Reb Efraim Mamas. Later there was a new star, even richer than Reb Efraim and also his relative, Reb Haim Mamas. Our kehila organization was well known, I do not know why. Like the organization of Bikur Holim10 that the kehila was known for. The duty of Bikur Holim was to help, like it is being called today Ezra Hadadit11 , helping poor sick people, that did not have anybody to look after them. Once a year the representative had to be elected together with the head of the kehila that was specially known as the head of the Bikur Holim organization.
Question: Did you have in your town typical Jewish trades?
We had merchants that later on became busy with confection. Not every
trade was desired by Jews. Not every profession was considered respectable
for a Jew. Even if he was the poorest person, he would not become a mechanic.
The most popular in our town was to have a textile business and with that
came confection and custom tailoring.
|We had in our town one Baith-Midrash which was named the big
Baith-Midrash. The town's Baith-Midrash existed for hundreds of years. This
town existed for many years. In the area there was a large forest. Woods
that extended for hundreds of kilometers. The Polish kings from the Piast
family used to come there and hunt. There were all kinds of animals. They
erected there a large castle, a palace with a gate two meters wide. The building
was wide at the bottom and narrow at the top. It was a structure with underground
corridors and hundreds of rooms. This building is still standing. From this
residence they used to go hunting. The castle was located in the middle of
the forest. During my time this castle stood in the middle of the town. I
do not know when the Jews started to live in this town. The name of Kazimierz
Wielki (the Polish king Kazimierz the Great) was linked to this place. Since
he was known as a great supporter of the Jewish community it was understood
that the local Jews could maintain their livelihood.
About that time period I can tell whatever I remember as a child and from what I heard from my parents. Also the first rabbi was Reb Yosef Teitelbaum, he was the son-in-law of the rabbi of Wieliczka Reb Baruch Taps. He was a talmid chacham12 , but nothing exceptional. He wrote books but unfortunately nobody lived to see these books. It was not printed and it all got lost during the war. He had two sons. One was named Reb Haim and the other one was named Reb Moshe. Reb Haim become a religious judge in Krakow and Moshe resided in Hungary. When this rabbi passed away he was replaced by his grandson, the son of Reb Haim. His name was Nahum Teitelbaum, a young man, a capable talmid chaham, but also not exceptional. The known Baith Midrash was made out of wood, people said that it existed from the period of Kazimierz. Later on they built, naturally two minianim13 of Jews had two baith midrash. The religious people made an extra baith midrash in which people simply prayed on Sabbath. My grandfather, may he rest in peace, had a baith midrash where people conducted the Sabbath service. Only family, relatives and neighbors. It was hard for him to walk, therefore he partitioned a room and they were praying there.
Question: Were you active in a (political) party? What kind of parties were there?
Until the time that the anti-Semitism became so strong there were no
political parties. Later their conscience was awakened, people wanted to
go to Israel but they could not do it. They did not allow it. So they formed
Hachshara14 centers to be able to obtain the immigration permits.
People started to form organizations but they were like mushrooms after the
rain, in a short time they ceased to exist. The one (party) that I remember
was Benai-Akiba (Akiba)15 some of them went to Israel and now
they are residing here. There was Hapoel-Mizrachi, Aguda16 . But
they all were like mushrooms after the rain - rose and fell. The majority
claimed that any kind of organization should not exist. Because they did
not tolerate it the organizations came to be in spite of it. The majority
was quiet and asleep.
|Question: How was the relationship between Jews and Polaks
The relationship between Jews and Polaks was, as they say, correct. It was not intimate but they did not show any hate toward Jews. The Polaks were false, if there was even a Jew hater he still greeted them with a nice good morning. The Jew understood, each one took off his hat (as a form of greeting) and he went on with his business.
Question: What kind of other organizations existed in town?
15 years before the war Kupat Gemilat Hasadim17 was established. They collected money, each one gave whatever he could. They organized a fund and I believe that the Joint18 also contributed. People could have gotten an interest free loan up to 200 zloti. We had a very nice city hall, a converted Jew had build it. He had a brick manufacturing plant. It was one of the first brick manufacturing plants in Poland. The clay they had was also good for shingle production. They used to export their products abroad. His name was Dianer, he was a Jew supporter and he built outstanding things.
Question: Did representatives from the Kehila organization participate in the city hall?
Naturally out of 15 members there were two Jews, it was understood that the head of the Kehila was the first representative. Later on the Joint helped a lot by giving employment to people. The Wisla river was passing through our town. They began to explore the possibility of woven basket making by Jews and farming rabbits for angora wool manufacturing. After a short time came the war and nothing came out of it.
Question: What kind of landmarks existed in your town?
Yes, beside the palace, the castle that I mentioned before, the Polish kings built also a church, extraordinary, beautiful old thing. There were no Jewish landmarks at all. There was not even a Jewish cemetery and we had to bury (our dead) in Klasno near Wieliczka. Later on there was already a Jewish cemetery in town.
Before the war you could have felt the anti-Semitism and everybody wanted
to leave the country and especially to Israel. People were looking at all
kinds of possibilities. The young ones still had a way out, since they could
have become pioneers. But only a small percent (of them). People became envious
because they (the young pioneers) obtained happiness.
|Question: Upon the break of the war between Poland and Germany,
what kind of changes did you have to face in the town, and what kind of decrees
did the Germans proclaim against the Jews during the initial time period
and later in the following period?
They handled us in the same way they behaved in other occupied places. We did not have any special regulations. From the start a decree was proclaimed that people had to wear a strip with the star of David. It started in Tarnow and later on we had to wear it as well. The people that did not wear it got beaten by the police or had to pay a large fine. In our place there were only very few Germans since it was a small community. There was a group of Germans, foresters, they were walking around town watching that the people would not steal. The commander in town was a Polish man, the same person who held this position prior to the war. I forgot his name. They made a Judenrat, they were the same people who served before in the Kehila organization. They were very nice people. In the same way that they behaved before they kept behaving till the very end. They did whatever they could to make life a little better. At the beginning there was still some trade going on, people were still able to travel by train. People used to take meat from us and deliver it to the larger towns where animal slaughter was already forbidden. It was a profitable business for the smugglers.
Question: What kind of other changes took place in the behavior of the Polish public towards the Jews?
A very interesting thing happened. The people that were anti-Semitic before the war, especially they become sympathetic towards the Jews. On the other hand the lower class, the non educated, for one kilogram of sugar they would have become the greatest informers.
Question: Did the Polish public collaborate with the Germans?
Yes, not all, but in general they did. There was a policeman that was a renouned Jew hater, his name was Gawel and he caused great troubles. There was only one good thing about him, that he could have been bribed. But he was an evil man and it was understood that he was looking for ways to extort more money. For the smallest thing he demanded money.
Question: Did the Germans forbid Jews from walking on sidewalks at the initial period?
No. At the first period the Jews had the same rights (like the Poles)
except the arm band (that they had to wear). There was forced labor. In this
aspect the Poles did exploit the Jews. Every office took Jews for this kind
of work. Young girls and young boys had to do cleaning and other kinds of
work. Initially the work was not organized; they simply grabbed people, the
police or the Germans. Later on the Judenrat arranged that it would be done
in an organized fashion. When they needed 10 people they sent 10 people,
when they needed 20 people they sent 20 people. Due to that it become more
|Question: What was done about the problem of food
From the beginning there was no problem. People stood in line for bread and other things. Later on people were given coupons, they (the Jews) were given the same coupons as the Poles. The Judenrat established a public kitchen (a soup kitchen), which helped greatly the people that had virtually nothing. It helped even people that in the past used to be well off. This food, understandably, was not of the best quality, on the other hand during the winter a little warm food helped a great deal. Two groups of refugees came to our town. One group, I believe, came in the middle of 1940 they were deported from what they called Wartego, of the Kalisz area. Germans who came from Russia settled there, and every Jew was sent into our area. To Niepolomice came at that time 30 families. I have to say that we treated them very well. Every local family gave accommodation to a Jewish refugee and they even fed them as well. People helped them as if they were their brothers. They felt very good. Later in time they did not want to live on charity. Slowly they helped each other in finding jobs for their own survival. They became workers, merchants, whatever they were capable of. They did whatever they could to support themselves. That is how it was until the Aussiedlung19 , until the liquidation of 1942. The second group came from Krakow. When they established the ghetto in Krakow, Governor Frank wanted to make it easier, he wanted to reduce the Jewish population. He arranged for deportation of Jews. We also received a nice portion (of deportees). These people were not poor, because they came from a big city and they brought with them whatever they could. They too felt very good (in their new environment)
At the beginning (of the war) the policing was still not organized. One thing they (the Poles) learned from the Germans, whatever need they had, they took the Jews to fill the gap. They organized a town (civilian) guard in order to prevent theft during the night. Every night there was another Polish man (on duty) and he had 10 young Jewish men to assist him. There was not any kind of weapon at that time. Once, I still remember, when I was on guard duty, they said that there were robbers in town. We came and we saw Polish people walking around, suspicious characters. What could have we done? We were armed only with sticks. What would have happened if they were armed with weapons or knives and they would have liked to kill us? One of us came with an idea and he ran fast to the city hall. In there was a special place designated for fire fighters with an alarm machine. People had to pump it with their feet and it made a loud alarm sound. He sounded the alarm and the whole town thought that there was a fire, and the robbers escaped.
I was not in town when the Germans came in, I escaped and later on I
came back. My father told me that a special commando unit came in right from
the beginning, they gathered all the Jews and started to curse and shout
that the war is the Jews' fault, and that they should be shot. They cut their
beards, half a beard they cut and half a beard they pulled. (During that
time) they told them to sing and dance. According to my understanding they
did it for the Polish people, to show them what they could do and to satisfy
their evil instinct, their hate for Jews. It lasted a couple of hours and
later they order them to
|run and they shot in the air. With that they ended their deed. However
on the same day they took a young Jewish guy and they ordered him to set
fire to the Baith-Midrash. What kind of choice did he have? He did it. This
young man's name was Israel Lowfer. He is not among the living.
There was no ghetto in our town, until September 1942 the town was completely open. Everyone kept residing in their own place. In 1942 came an order by the head of the Gestapo in Krakow, named Klindeman, that all the Jews had to gather in (relocate to) Wieliczka. They brought wagons and everybody could take with them whatever they wanted. The furniture they had to leave behind, and they had to come to a gathering place. The young people were taken to Stalowa-Wola there was a large ammunition factory. The older ones they sent straight to Belzec but I did not go. Instead of going to Belzec, I told my father: I do not like it, I do not want to go to where they planned, I want to go to another place. I knew that in ghetto Bochnia there was a large kehila (Jewish population). They established workshops for the Germans. I preferred to connect there. I went to the forest of Grodkowice, there were working people from Bochnia and I joined them. This is how I managed to enter ghetto Bochnia.
At the same time that the aktion took place in Wieliczka there was also an aktion in progress in Bochnia. They took out from there the people who did not have any work (the non productive people). More than half of the population was sent out to Belzec. So anyhow there was enough vacancy for the few who managed to come into the ghetto.
I had what to live off. I had taken with me a little gold and dollars which I had, and there were people who were willing to buy. I was working out of town so I had enough bread. People used to take from the ghetto things for sale or exchange. Besides, the Germans used to give a bigger portion for workers. They did not give any money but they gave more bread. There was a kitchen in Bochnia, also by the Judenrat, and those who worked (the productive people) had the opportunity to eat there. I remained in Bochnia from September 1942 to September 1943. In Bochnia the Jews had a good name. There was one person, the head of the Gestapo Schumburg, and this man was very friendly with the Jews. He did whatever he could to enable the Jews to live in the ghetto. I also believe that people paid him handsomely. People believed that the ones who worked for the Germans stood a better chance to stay alive. That was the general perception in the (Jewish) public. Food, more or less, people had. The Judenrat helped a little, exceptional hunger did not exist.
Question: Did you have there casualties, people who were shot by the Germans?
There was a rule that people were not allowed to leave their work place,
non compliance resulted with death. If someone got caught they finished him.
There were a kind of people who were looking for the opportunity to do some
trade. They used to go out occasionally. In case that they were caught or
it become known, they were finished. There were two policemen Bogus and Byk,
they shot many Jews. Some Jews in Bochnia heard that the Jews in Hungary
are living in peace and quiet and they escaped to Hungary. They had different
handlers and smugglers that took them over. In case that they got caught,
possibly due to the work of a Jewish informer, they were taken straight to
the graveyard, they had to dig a grave and then they got shot. However, in
general nobody got shot.
|Question: Did you find out what was the fate of your family
who was transported to Belzec?
There were pessimists and optimists. There were people who said that the people were sent to work in the Ukraine and they are alive, while others just did not have a clue. They claimed that if they were not needed the Germans would have shot them on the spot. I had forgotten to mention that during the aktion in Wieliczka they drove about ten transport trucks to Grodkowice. There was a workers' group who dug a few days earlier a grave. They told the people to undress and then they shot them in the grave. Later, after liberation, they erected there a nice monument. People thought that they were shot in this way but the others, the younger people remained alive. This is how they talk amongst themselves. Another story said that it is not true, that it is a lie. Even the people who worked they would keep as long as they were able. The truth is that no Jew would stay alive. There was a rumor in the ghetto that the dead in the graves were saying that Hitler does not want to keep even one Jew among the living.
In Bochnia there were ghetto "A" and ghetto "B". Ghetto "A" was for the people who had work, they had documents and special marks ZL (Zwangm- Lager)20 and the people who did not work resided in ghetto "B". From there they took more than a few people and transported them away. The whole ghetto was liquidated in September.
How did the liquidation take place? There was a pediatrician, a calm
looking man, he talked so nice and so kindly to the public. He said in the
gathering place that they should not worry since they were being sent to
the right place. This particular doctor was a German, an SS man but he was
talking like a father. He told them that they would not be short of anything.
Of course they would not be short of anything (they would be dead). Everybody
became calm, people did not escape, and they did not rebel. Out of 5000 workers
they picked out 1000, the younger and the best (the most fit), and they sent
them away to Szebnie near Jaslo. We arrived there on September the 3rd 1943.
Before we came there the Szebnie camp was a Russian camp. There were held
Russian war prisoners and they were eliminated by means of killing and hunger.
Later on they brought into that place Jews from different ghettos. Bochnia
become one of the last ghettos in Galicia that they liquidated. There were
Jews from ghetto Bochnia, ghetto Przemysl and Rzeszow - but not the entire
Jewish population, they made a selection and the young ones they brought
in. In Szebnie there were all kinds of workshops of tailoring, shoe making,
they produced for the Germans shoes from straw, so they will not freeze.
It was not a camp in which they planned to keep the people. Their aim was
also to eliminate them. In there was a Jew hater, an SS man named Grzymek,
he was a volksdeutsche 21 . People said that he is the one who
liquidated the Lublin ghetto. He used to look for people to kill. Whenever
he met a person walking by he ordered him to lie down and then he shot
|There was a Jew who came with our transport from Bochnia. Grzymek
ordered him to lie down on the ground. He knew what it meant, a bullet in
the head. This Jew become wild, he jumped at him, grabbed him by the throat
and told him: "What do you think, that the Germans will always be victorious?
Our brothers will come and will take revenge on you! You would look worse
than us (Your fate will be worse than ours). And he started to strangle him.
The German started to scream, immediately came the Judenrat (the Jewish police)
and took him away. They did not shoot him on the spot, instead they prepared
such a hanging, they tied his hands and hung him by the hands. In this way
he was hung for the whole day. He begged, he pleaded to be killed since he
could not take it any longer. Before night, they gathered us in the roll
call square and gave us a speech. "You should know, that in this first such
occasion we will execute this man and ten more people. In the event that
it will happened again, the whole (all the prisoners in the) camp will be
After that there were several more aktions. At first there was an aktion in which they demanded money. The Jews had a lot of money and they ordered to surrender that money. The inmates that possessed money were as good as dead. Some people surrendered their money and some did not. What did Grzymek do? He called a Jew inside a house and he said: This man did not give up all his money, and he shot him in front of the public. Now, he said, I want you to know that anybody that would be found with anything would be shot. After this deed it was raining with bullets. There were three wooden crates, they all got filled with money, jewelry, diamonds, dollars and gold watches. I saw myself two to three wooden crates. In Szebnie I was working in a tailoring workshop. It existed for two to three more months. In November they liquidated this entire camp.
I forgot to mention that there was a case in which one person managed to escape. They shot ten people. There was a woman who helped that person to escape, and they shot her in the Appellplatz22 . I wanted to indicate that Grzymek was a profound Jew hater. He had a helper named Kelerman who opposite to the Hoift23 -Lager-Fuhrer was sympathetic to the Jews. At present he lives in Belgium. He saved a Jewish girl and married her. After the war Grzymek was found. A person from the camp identified him in Silesia (Schlesien). His trial took place in Krakow and they sentence him to death.
In Szebnie there were 5000 Jews. They resided in stables. The same kind of barracks existed in Auschwitz. People used to sleep on three tiered bunks. It was dirty and infested with lice. I can not say that there was hunger there since people used to work outside and they had money. We could help ourselves. They bought and smuggled whatever they could get.
There was another aktion in Szebnie, mainly of girls. From a work commando
of 50 only 3 to 4 girls left. They took them out of town on trucks. The girls
went singing, With Hatikva. They knew to were they were being taken. It was
in October 1943. There were a couple of hundred girls. They took people to
burn their bodies, and later they shot these men too.
|Question: Did the Jews in Szebnie try to organize in order
to save themselves?
It was impossible to do anything because there was powerful Ukrainian guards and the fence was tall. There were no opportunities. Also those who worked in the exterior work commandos, these Jews had responsibility. Since they heard that they will shoot ten people in place of every one (escapee) - they did not have a clear conscious, even when they were able to save themselves, once a person did it, ten other people had to suffer due to him.
The Szebnie camp existed for two more months. After that they said to make a list of ten people who would be sent to Pustkow. My name was on that list. My fiancee was not on that list. I did not want to go because I did not want to be separated from her. Later I saw how they gathered all the people in the appellplatz and they pulled out their weapons (It was on November the 3rd 1943)I realized that there I would stand a better chance to stay alive, so I did not pursue my objection any farther. They put us inside a barrack which was designated for the people for Pustkow. The others were taken to the appellplatz. They stayed there until night time. It was dark, snowing, the people were very cold. They even did not let them go to relieve themselves, they had to make right on that place. At night they put on projectors to ensure that the people would not escape. They drove them to the station in the middle of the night, heavily guarded, and those who could not keep in pace were shot. There were some who did manage to escape. They jumped from the trucks (I found out about it after the war). Someone told me after the war that he was standing near a guard. He jumped on that guard and fell down together with him. He made sure that they would not shoot at him any more. This is how he managed to save himself. The others were driven in cattle wagons. They ordered them to undress up to their underwear, men and women. People did not escape, otherwise they would have frozen to death.
We remained in that barrack and organized the clothes of these people. I found my fiancée coat and it become apparent to me that they shot her. I become very disturbed but people were already used to it: today it is their turn and tomorrow it would be ours. What their fate was we did not know, until we met in Auschwitz some people from that transport. The people were taken to Auschwitz where Mengale sorted them again. Only very few survived, many passed away in the wagons. There was also typhoid in Auschwitz, so from the few thousands of people survived very few. Somehow my fiancée survived it too.
After that they took us to Pustkow. There it was a different life. In
there were only Jewish inmates while in Szebnie it was not strictly Jewish.
At the beginning there were Polaks and Jews held together. Later on they
segregated. It was understood that the men and women were separated as well.
In Pustkow remained only a male population, about 400 men. They had only
workshops in there. There they were engaged in productive work, because it
was a transition point for the SS (possibly the Wehrmacht) from where they
were sent to the military front. In there they made sure that people got
fully equipped with whatever they needed. They used to bring their clothes
stained with blood and we had to fix it, patch it, we did whatever we could.
In there were stationed also hundreds of SS men and we had to produce for
them as well. I used to work there as a hat maker.
|It was a large camp that went through many transitions. This camp
was erected before Auschwitz. From a certain place the Judenrat had to send
here a few people. They sent poor people (Jews). They paid them and they
went. At the beginning they had very good living conditions. They were able
to go home, they kept friendly relations with the SS. They had practically
a golden life. But later when the liquidations took place they liquidated
there as well. From the thousands of people survived very few. Many people
were shot or perished out of suffering, it become very bad. But the few that
survived, the 400 people, they were not touched. The people received sufficient
proper food and lived in barracks in humane conditions. In the winter we
were able to keep warm. The people there were respected by the SS and they
were cooperating. The leader of the camp was called Faldi Waldman, a German
Jew. (last year he passed away in Tel-Aviv). He used to hit, for the smallest
thing he used to slap. He used to say that it is better if he will be keeping
the order instead of involving the Germans. But as far as saving lives, he
did everything possible to save a Jew. He claimed to be a Zionist. By the
way there is a book written in German called "The angel was with me". There
was a boy from Pustkow, who was lying in a hospital in Jerusalem. In this
hospital there was a German, I do not know if he was a Jew or a Christian.
In that hospital they both had time, and that German was a writer. He wrote
down what the boy told him and it turned to be a very interesting book. He
wrote about Pustkow, the whole thing from the beginning until liberation.
He was in Gliwice and all other camps.
I remained in Pustkow until July 1944. During the time that I was in this camp there was a case in which somebody stole an incoming merchandise, a leather from craftsman, and he wanted to sell it to a guard. It was reported by other people or just become known. They took this young man and put him in a bunker, underground. From there nobody ever came back alive. They simply put him standing there, he could not lie down, he could not turn around, and they also did not give him any food. In there was prepared a hanging structure so he would be able to hang himself. The young man was worried that they would start to interrogate him and he would be forced to reveal the envolvement of other people as well. He took a razor blade and he cut his veins. And this is how the story ended.
Question: When did they transport you from Pustkow to Auschwitz?
It was like this: The Russian forces came close, people could hear the
shelling. They packed everything, it was on the 27th of July 1944, and they
told us that we are being transferred to another place deep in Germany. We
were driven in wagons for a couple of days, they gave each one a peace of
bread. The people were very hungry and especially thirsty but nothing helped
they kept driving us on. But we made the trip alive. We came to Auschwitz,
they opened the wagons' doors and took us inside a barrack. There was no
selection. They wanted to take us into the ovens. They brought us practically
to the gate of the oven. But our Lager-Fuhrer24 came with us,
his name was Ruf. He was an SS man, a polite man. He said that we were a
good labor force and they let us go. They gave us numbers. Later on came
two more SS men, they told us to undress and they performed a selection.
From our whole group they took only two people into the gas chambers. My
number was 18279.
|In Auschwitz I remained only for a couple of days. They gave us
clothes. They shaved us and after taking a shower we dressed with plain clothes.
The Kapos25 simply wanted to kill us. They said: We can hear the
Russians shelling and you are being brought here. They should have killed
you. They became revengeful. After shaving they poured lysol on us. It gave
us a burning sensation, like a fire. We stayed there only for a few days,
and later they transfered us to Gliwice III. One part of our group was sent
to Gliwice and the other part was sent to Buna, I went to Gliwice. There
was a time that Gliwice III was called Stara Huta26 . In there
was a Jew who had a hat made of iron. This Jew, it was understood, had been
sent away from there. In there was a large building and near by stood small
buildings. Into this place they (the Germans) transported the Zieleniowski's
machinery, it was a large industry near Sanok, during the war they manufactured
products for military purposes. As the Russians came close they liquidated
this industry and reconstructed it in Gliwice. Therefore we had enough work
digging the foundations, pulling the machines, loading the wagons. We started
to produce sea mines in that place. They brought there a big transport (of
Jewish prisoners) from the Teresenshtat ghetto. Altogether we were there
around 500 people. But I have to say that the conditions there were quite
humane. In there they practically did not kill anybody.
Question: Were you aware of the establishment of an underground organization in Gliwice?
Yes, I personally was a member of that organization. I tried to discuss it with a few of my friends. We had made a mistake by coming there. We escaped from the Russians, our liberators, and we went to where the Germans took us. I said that we had to organize, a group, and we had to prepare some tools. In the event that they would like to transport us farther, we would have the ability to escape. Because we could not stand against them. We had to have saws, we had to be able to cause a short circuit in the guard house. The electrical power of the fence should be cut. In this way we had to do everything possible to save ourselves, to escape. If they killed half of us the other half would survive, but it had to be done. We organized in cells of five people. But the camp leader Feldi was a little German (a man with extreme obedience). He was worried that the camp commander would become involved. It looks like somebody informed him. On a nice morning he told me: You be careful, do not play with fire. In short it was not pursued any further. We had a plan to cause chaos, to give a whistle, to make a signal. We decided among our friends that one will be at the bottom (of the building?) and one would be in the middle, and the whole group would make a loud noise. But we realized that they had found out (about us).
Question: When did they relocate you?
They moved us on foot to Silesia. It was in January 1945. On the way
we carried the sick people but they did not harm us. People possibly could
have escaped on the way, but we did not have a place to run to. Something
interesting occurred, I do not know what happened but when we came to Blechhammer
there were no guards, they told us to proceed and we went. Blechhammer was
located in the woods. It was a camp of many nationalities and there were
also prisoners of war. Russians, English, everybody was working there. There
were thousands of people with hundreds of barracks. Our camp
|was surrounded by a brick wall, four meters high. When we came in
we realized that it was our end. From there even a needle could not come
out. We were there for a few days. But the Russians came close and we were
anxious to get out of this camp. The SS commander of Blechhammer was named
Czapla, by the way he was prosecuted, he asked them to take us away. We all
waited until they would take us out. They announced with the bullhorns: the
people from Pustkow had to stand up. People started to push each other on
the way through the gate. People were shoving us so hard that I thought that
I would be squashed to death. Everybody wanted to be the first. People were
afraid that they would take only 100 out of the group of 500. They simply
could not keep the people in line. At the end we stood in line and we waited
for order. But there was no one there to lead us. People were looking here
and there but no one came with us. By ourselves we could not go. I said:
people, do you know what I am going to say? This is the moment we were waiting
for. I believe that we have to escape. In this way most of the people ran
in all directions. Some went back into the camp.
We went in the forest and we found there an empty barrack. We were a group of five people, and there were Polish men among us. We put on different clothes and we sat down and waited. Later we realized that the Russians are not coming and that the Germans are coming back. It was as bitter as gall. We went up to the attic of the barrack and there we waited until the situation would clear up. There was a group (another group) that kept themselves in order, and went on the way to Gliwice. In the event that they would meet Germans they would look like a group heading to work. It is all written in that book.
I was up in the attic with a few Polish people and we were waiting. From the attic we heard that some people were walking around, they were Ukrainian people. One of us understood Ukrainian, he told us that they were saying that the Russians were pushed back and that they would come back no more.
We were there for a day and we could not move, we were afraid that they would inform the authorities about us. By the way we heard them saying that the SS went into the camp and shot many people. We also heard SS men who came and inquired if anybody saw Jews from the camp in hiding. We realize that the situation is not that good. We stayed there for a few days until we saw that we could not take it any longer. People had to move, had to cough, and we were scared. At night we opened a small window, we heard the Ukrainians moving around. We sent to them the person who could speak Ukrainian and he told them about us. They got scared. I saw how one of them was leaving and I said: friends it is not good, we have to run away from here. He went to report us to the Germans. And that was what we did. At night we went away to another place, in another barrack. There we did not meet anybody, not upstairs and not downstairs. We put on different clothes, like Polish workers. And then the Russian came. When we greeted a Russian the first time we knew that we could leave. It happened on January the 25, 1945.
After liberation we started to head home. Maybe there some members of
our family would be found? maybe somebody survived? From the wagon we saw
German refugees and our hearts were filled with happiness to see that they
themselves had to face hardship. They themselves had to escape from the Russians.
We became hungry, me and my friend, so we entered a house and went to the
cellar, and we
|found there an abundance of food. Pig meat, conserves and a lot
of good things. We found a back-sac and we packed it all in the bag. We found
a sled and we went ahead. Later on we saw a Russian truck which took hitchhikers.
We climbed on and we took a ride to Czestochowa. I discovered there a far
relative. From Czestochowa we took a ride to Krakow. In Krakow there were
already a few Jews. One named Wakselboum, with whom I maintain good relations
until today, he gave us a place to stay. He and I were like two brothers.
The Jewish community did not exist. The whole (Jewish) cemetery was demolished,
only one tombstone was intact. We started to do some trade. I was one day
in Niepolomice and I saw that the anti-Semitism there was strong. I heard
that many Polish people killed the Jews that returned after the war. They
were worried that the surviving Jews would take back the property that was
rightfully theirs. They wanted to eliminate the last heir. I figure out that
they could do to me the same thing. I stayed there for one night and I came
back to Krakow.
I wanted to go to Israel. Aliah "B"27 was already organized. People said that there were different possibilities to go to Israel. I did not want more money and did not want to go on trading, I wanted freedom. I had enough from the Germans. The Germans did not managed to kill me and I did not want to be killed by the Poles. I came to know a young woman who used to lead transports to Romania so they took us on a transport to Romania. In Romania it was very good, the Joint also helped us. People could trade and earn an income. There was a Jewish community. I led there almost the same life that I had in Poland before the war. The difference was that there they did not have such a hate for Jews. They sympathized with the Jews.
We were there for a few months and they told us that people could register
to go to Israel. There I found out that my fiancée is alive. I sent
her some money and she came, and there we had our wedding. We were given
Greek documents, and from there we went to Budapest. In Budapest we were
in a synagogue together with thousands of people- all those who wanted to
proceed to Israel. From there we went to Gratz, it was in Austria in the
English zone. There also, Jews were earning money, trading. There were
organizations of Kibbutzim, each one had his own organization. We had a kosher
kitchen, the Joint gave us food. From there they took us to Italy. In Italy
we were near Milan in a religious Kibbutz. I belonged to Poaley
Aguda28 . After a couple of months the Jewish brigade put us in
a convoy, with motorcycles in the front and motorcycles in the rear. We were
driven in covered trucks. We heard the Hebrew language spoken and our hearts
were filled with joy, that our own brothers were helping us. We set sail
with the maapilim29 boat "Wingate"30 . We landed at
Tel-Aviv and the British caught us. The hagana31 wanted to release
us by force, than a Jewish young women named Bracha Pold was killed. From
there they took us to Atlit, the British took us by force. In Atlit we rested
a little and we felt back to normal, and each one went to his own place.
I came to Yesodot, where I am residing until today. I have two sons and two
daughters. Both sons are married and one daughter will be married
|I would like to give a few details, which came to my mind. During
the first aktion, when they made Niepolomice Judenrein32 and the
people had to go together to Wieliczka, I went with my father to Grodkowice.
We were hiding there in a forest for a couple of days. There worked Jewish
laborers from Bochnia. They were casting concrete by the railroad. We wanted
to join the Jews but they said, that in Bochnia there is also an aktion in
progress so it would be worthwhile to wait. We were hidden in a young forest.
There they brought a few transports of older people, women, as I was telling
before, the bau-dienst33 had dug a pit for them, and prepared
their grave. As they were brought by the tracks they were told to take off
their cloths, and there stood a firing squad that shot them. Personally I
did not see it but I heard the voices. The sound of the shooting I heard
as well. We were crying and felt for the people. Later on we joined the group
of Jews from Bochnia. With us worked also non Jewish laborers. They told
us that there was a case in which a woman did not want to get undressed.
An SS man came and cut her stomach open.
I also want to say something about ghetto Bochnia. There they had ghetto "A" and ghetto "B". In ghetto "A" there were laborers and in ghetto "B" resided the people that did not work, older people. There (in ghetto "B") it was open, people could go in. My father used to live there and every day after work I used to go and visit him. Later on they sealed it and people could not get in. I want to give here an important detail. There was an underground organization called "Benay Akiba" (Akiba). Some of them are alive today. There was sister Lawfer from Niepolomice, Shriber also from Niepolomice, Shribtopel, and also if I am not mistaken the historian Wolf. From the beginning they did not want to look for work positions, they only sat there. They also had contacts with the Polish underground. My father was also residing in the same building and I used to come there very often. I used to help them in digging an underground bunker. They had a plan to dig a tunnel, so they could go out from their house to the Aryan side (of the city). They figured that in case of an aktion they would be able to hide there. It was camouflaged very well. I do not know the details since I did not belong to their organization. I used to come to my father and I helped them to dig because I wanted my father to be able to hide there as well. It was winter. The earth that they dug out in the summer they spread in different places. There was a hidden small door, through which a person could hardly get in. There were wooden bunks (or benches). They invested a lot of work in it. It was all nice and well. Once a Polak came to the ghetto. I do not know if someone informed about it or it just happened, they were discovered. They took them to the Gestapo. We were sure that they were shot. My father was at that time in Baith hamidrash so they did not take him away. Later on they told that in the Gestapo they were punished severely. After that they sent them to Auschwitz and they even had special privileges that they should not be taken in any round-up. They had to stay alive. A few of them are residing in Haifa.
Later they sent me to Szebnie. It is worthwhile to mention a few things
regarding Szebnie. I had told about the case of the Jew who attacked the
Gestapo man, the one who wanted to choke him. But there was a nice type of
Jews, who wanted to help as much as they could. One was called Ditman, people
said that he was from Zywiec. He was a German Jew, a very warm Jew. He
practically risked his life for the other people. There was a form of punishment,
where for the smallest thing they used to hang the
|accused by his hands. Not once did he run to the Lager Fuhrer, Kelerman
trying to save people. And on many occasions he was successful. Grzymek had
disagreements with Kelerman , but Kelerman helped the Jews a lot. We can
testify for that. He saved a lot of people from death and Ditman became their
messenger, their advocate. However nothing helped, since Grzymek had higher
authority and they later killed Ditman as well.
Among the last transports from the ghettos of Galicia, from Rzeszow, Przemysl, Bochnia, we met a Jew named Matitiahu Mizish, he was a known historian, who wrote for the Haint (possibly Heute - today in German) newspaper and other newspapers. He used to walk around but his mind was not there (he lost his mind). A few days later came the SS and took him away. What they did with him I do not know. Some did say that they took him to Germany, there he recorded the Jewish antiques that they had taken.
I would like to add, that Grzymek, may his name be cursed, used to talk at the beginning very nicely to us. He used to say that we should feel good, we should maintain discipline and work well. He said that the Fuhrer designated a land for us, where we would be sent (to settle) after the war.
When they liquidated ghetto Bochnia, many women smuggled their children with them. Beside the point that they ordered every child to be surrendered, the mothers and fathers had put their children in packages and smuggled them in. There were about 15 children, who resided in camp with their parents. They kept it a secret. Grzymek found out about it and he said that he would establish a kindergarten, it would be good for the children. People had to give away their children. Some of the people believed him and some did not. However those who did not believe, were controlled by the Ordnung-dienst34 and were found, and they took all the children to that so called kindergarten. They kept them there for a short time. There was even a kindergarten teacher. The food they were given was not bad. People thought that it would remain like that. But when they had an aktion in which they took the old people and the sick from the hospital, they also took the children and they killed them.
There was a case in which a girl wanted to go with her mother during that aktion. The SS officer did not know what to do and he asked Grzymek. Grzymek said to let her go with her mother. Later the mother started to cry "go back!" Then Grzymek said no. She should not come back. If she wanted to go with her mother, let her go with her mother.
After the war we organized the people from Niepolomice. Every year we
have a memorial ceremony. Our organization members erected a monument in
Kiriat Shaul, they brought some ashes from Grodkowice. We keep this day holy,
this is the 11th day of the month of Elul. I also belong to the organization
of the Pustkow survivors. We gather together once a year and it is actually
a happy occasion for us. We remind ourselves of the days of the camp. May
we all live from now on in peace.
Mr. Richter's testimony is very detailed in its coverage of the life in Niepolomice before and at the beginning of the war. He described the massacre of the elderly Jews in the woods and was hiding in the near vicinity to the execution ground so he could hear this whole horrible event. Although his testimony covers the murder of the Jewish community of Wieliczka it should reveal the method of execution and the level of brutality that existed during the parallel aktion in Bochnia. We should not neglect the fact that the Jewish communities of Bochnia and Wieliczka were liquidated simultaneously by the order of the same regional Nazi commander in Krakow. It is very likely that the liquidation orders were executed in identical fashion. Another important point in this testimony is the identifying of the location of the Akiba's bunker in ghetto "B" and the description of its details. Mr. Richter provided us also with a detailed description of the life in the Szebnie labor camp that was not covered in other testimonies.