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Deportation to the Camps

On 5 May Dawid writes “there are rumors of a raid on the Jews tonight.” On the following day he remarks: “A terrible day!” Jewish and Polish policemen came knocking on the door in the middle of the night: “They rummaged about a bit, found no one, however, only they took the two from Płock.” Michael Zelon recalls this moment of terror: “This was in the middle of May 1942 […] at night there were Germans coming in and Polish Police—front door, back door—and caught us, myself and my brother and we tried to struggle with the Polish police man, we pushed him but there was another one, and they loaded us on trucks. And […] without saying good-bye to my people, we couldn’t have a chance even to say … to get a second change; whatever [clothes] I had this was it. They drove us to Skarżysko-Kamienna, and there were prepared barracks for us, and this was Hasag Company […] but we didn’t start working in the ammunitions factory.”

David Dantus also refers to this raid: “5 May 1942, early in the morning they took all young people. They came to take us from the houses and put us in the barn belonging to the fire brigade. We were locked in and later on German trucks came to get us. We were going to a labor camp…”

That same “terrible day” Dawid finds out that his father has also been arrested and will be taken away on one of those trucks.

© Bodzentyn.net | Illustrator: Simon Jannerland.

In 1942, with rumors of the liquidations of ghettos spreading, Jewish men and women of German occupied territories became increasingly aware of the fact that obtaining a work card might postpone their deportation to the unknown. We know now that the deportations were to camps of extermination. Irene Szachter recounts: “They sent them to some place, and nobody would believe they were sent for extermination […] Nobody came back to tell the story.” Henry Krystal also recalls that there were words spread about labor camps, from which some came back, and then there were rumors going around about being sent “East”: “That was kind of a mysterious word,” he says. “If you were sent ‘East’, you don’t come back.”

The perception that life would be easier in a small town during the German occupation was reversed in the spring and summer of 1942. The Sztarkman family sought means to leave trying to obtain work cards where such could be offered. Eva Sztarkman recalls: “Until we heard, ‘they’re taking the Jews to Treblinka then we knew [there] was no way to survive if we would continue to live in this little town. Then we tried to escape to a bigger town, where [there] were factories or something, and then we tried to escape when they came closer to us, when they talked about they are going to take the people, the Jews, from our little town. We were running away to different towns and we hoped that [there was] going to be a miracle—until they come to this town the war would be over.”

The escapees fled by foot, through the forest, taking off their Star of David armband and some even dressed themselves in outfits that would make them appear less Jewish and resemble someone from the local Polish population. Through trusted people arrangements were made for worker’s documents and one by one, whole families who could manage their escape left Bodzentyn. Members of the family for whom working cards had not been obtained faced the selection when the liquidation of the ghetto took place. Such was the situation in of Wierzbnik-Starachowice where Eva Sztarkman and her sister Sonja had fled. They were selected for work while other members of their family were forced on the trains to the extermination camp at Treblinka.

Seemingly, in the early summer of 1942, workers were either recruited to volunteer or forced to the labor camps. At least 17 transports of Jews whether forced laborers or volunteers, were brought to Skarżysko-Kamienna between March and July from Bodzentyn and other places. The possibility for forced laborers to exchange letters with family members, who remained in the ghetto, as Dawid did with his father, may have been arranged to make Jews believe that the Hasag was willing to accept volunteers in an attempt to gain control of Jewish labor. On 31 May Dawid writes: “Today a notice was put up that the workers in Skarżysko are to be exchanged, and on 4th June 60 persons are to report to the Council; those who report get cards […] The 60 persons will only be going for a week.” Shlomo Fish recalls an SS representative from Starachowice who came to Bodzentyn and asked if anyone would like to work at the ammunitions factory. He also declared that anyone who would pay could come. “I had the money and paid for me, my parents and brothers,” Shlomo says. Also Henry Krystal seized such an opportunity—a seat on a truck—just a few days before the liquidation of Bodzentyn, as he remembers it, making his escape to a labor camp: “Well, then it became clear that they were liquidating the ghettos and then that they were coming closer and closer to us [...] the idea that they were killing them was, was talked about a lot […] It was just a matter of when they were coming […] There [was] a number of labor camps around in that vicinity because that was [a] central Polish industrial area […] they started coming with trucks. They just did it on two different days, taking people [to Starachowice]. And the first day I didn’t go […] because I didn’t want to leave my mother. But I had a very good friend there, whose name was Chaim and he encouraged me to go […] the second day I did go and Chaim went with me and some cousins were on the same truck […]. [As] we were leaving I was looking down and my mother was standing there just dissolving in tears, knowing that this is a goodbye, you know, forever.”

We know from Dawid’s own account that he and his family were lodged at 13 Kielce Street with his cousins. Apparently his uncle, Dawid Cisłowski, the tailor, had previously earned a living in Krajno, but at the time of the Nazi German occupation he and his family were residing in Bodzentyn.
© Simon Jannerland | Bodzentyn.net

The possibility of making an escape was talked about in the house where Dawid Rubinowicz lived. As a matter of fact the majority of the members of the Cisłowski family fled to Wierzbnik-Starachowice before the liquidation of the ghetto, as did their closest neighbor, the Sztarkman family. Their names are to be found in the list of slave laborers of Starachowice.

Ruchla Roza Cisłowska Zilberberg seemingly brought it to the family’s attention that Dawid might try to hide. Having blue eyes and light hair he may have seen fit to pass as a Gentile. Dawid’s father Josek was not in favor of such a scheme, firmly believing that “one cannot escape one’s destiny”. On 28 February 1942, prior to the deportation to Bodzentyn, Dawid writes something that resembles his father’s fatalistic frame of mind: “We’ve put ourselves in God’s hand and are ready for anything.”

The day of liquidation came suddenly to many Jews and before they could follow through on any plans of escape. Rachel Saphir-Einesman had arranged for her little boy to be taken into care of a Polish man she trusted from her hometown of Bodzentyn. In the early hours of the following morning she found out that it was too late, the ghetto of Wierzbnik-Starachowice, where she had fled previously, was already being liquidated, and she herself was selected for work in the camps.

The mother of Henry Krystal tried to make it out from Bodzentyn but there was no time: “My mother, I was told, was trying to smuggle herself out and to walk to join me where I was [in Starachowice] […] She couldn’t have gone to the camp to work and she couldn’t have joined me or anything. But she tried and they caught her and put her in jail, but they released her on the day that they took all the Jewish population...”

Four Jews, however, are known to have made their escape when the ghetto was liquidated and found shelter with the assistance of a Polish family in the vicinity of Bodzentyn, and one man is known to have been sheltered by another Polish family in town from 1943 until the end of the war.

The “Diary” breaks off abruptly with one final entry on 1 June 1942 leaving many questions never to be answered. We simply do not know what Dawid’s last days were like.

The ghetto’s liquidation took place on 21/22 September. The German gendarmerie motored into town, doors were banged on, all of the Jewish men, women and children were rushed to the lower market square. With the assistance of peasants and their horse-drawn wagons the entire Jewish community was taken to Suchedniów, and there they were loaded on trains that took them to the extermination camp at Treblinka. Afterwards goods were collected, and hideouts discovered and emptied — everything and everyone was delivered to the executioners.

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