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Refugees from Płock

The Jewish refugees from Płock (Plotzk) who Dawid and his family encounter in the ghetto had already gone through hell prior to their deportation to Bodzentyn in the spring of 1941.

On arrival in Bodzentyn the refugees from Płock were assembled in the synagogue. Later on, when the epidemic of typhoid broke out, the synagogue was converted into a hospital with one doctor only.
© Bodzentyn.net, courtesy of Deutsches Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archive), Photo 101I-001- 0283-39 (the photo shows civilians lodged in a synagogue in Poland 1939).

On their arrival members of the refugee families were separated. The local Jewish citizens took them in, mainly two to a family, Irene Szachter recalls. Michael Zelon remembers that he and his brother were lodged at the house of a “very beautiful couple” who were not rich but gave them “everything”, even their own bed to sleep in. David Dantus however does not recall his reception as being quite so friendly. “They did not want us there,” he says. One should keep in mind that the refugees from Płock suffered terribly in the year to come, and that the local Jewish families could not keep up giving their help for long. From the day that the refugees from Płock arrived to Bodzentyn a local Jewish committee was in charge of baking bread and cooking potatoes or soup in the synagogue for the hungry masses. Nevertheless the depth of poverty was painful to witness: “I was shocked when, for the first time, I saw a Płock Jew drinking the water in which potatoes had been cooked,” Goldie Szachter recalls. The tragedy befalling the Płock Jews was deepening day by day. On 19 April 1942 Dawid writes in his diary about the shortage of food and that almost nothing could be delivered to the refugees. They were “jostling one another […] each one wanting to be first for those two potatoes in water! Today I also saw dinner being doled out in the kitchen. One person said, ‘I’m entitled to dinner for 3 persons, why have I only got it for 2 etc.?’”

The Płock refugees organized a committee in Bodzentyn and an appeal was sent to Warsaw, asking for help. “A letter of May 5th describes the position of the refugees. Epidemic diseases had caused many deaths. ‘We had to bury 100 of our brethren’ communicated another letter. Mortality was high. People wore rags, were hungry and were covered with [sores].”

A Jewish man walks the streets in the nearby provincial capital Kielce in the winter of 1940.
© Bodzentyn.net, courtesy of Deutsches Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archive), Photo 121-0308A.

Another witness accounts: “My family and I were assigned to Bodzentyn. In Bodzentyn the conditions were horrible […] twelve people altogether were living in an empty little store. Children were swollen from hunger and cold, and an epidemic broke out […] Our people died en masse from cold, hunger, and typhoid […] In the little town I could not recognize our people. They were transformed into skeletons. All of them were in rags; they had open sores and they were all begging. Thus appeared our compatriots before the end...”

The influx of the Płocker refugees almost doubled the Jewish population of Bodzentyn. As a result of this an epidemic of typhus broke out. “The Germans would not allow us to have the sick at home,” Rachel Saphir- Einesman recalls. Those who caught the fever were lodged in the former house of prayer. Michael Zelon recalls: “... a lot of people died because […] of the really painful life.” For David Dantus the hardest blow was the death of his father. “I had to bury my father’s corpse. It was hard; there had been a harsh winter. We had to take away the snow and use an axe to dig a hole in the ground. Into one grave we put five corpses, and that we did every day.”

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