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The Nazi German Occupation

Poland became a target for the Nazi regime 1 September 1939. From the beginning of the occupation, the German authorities issued all kinds of decrees discriminating against the civilian population, in particular the Jews. For one, in October 1939 Jews in Polish territories occupied by the Germans were ordered to wear a Star of David when in public, either as a white armband with a blue, six-pointed Jewish star, or in the shape of a yellow star to be sewn on their outer garment. Not wearing this was punishable – initially with a beating, later with a fine or imprisonment, and from 15th October 1941 with the death penalty. Also ritual slaughter was forbidden, as was Jewish public worship, Jewish children were not permitted in public schools, and their families were not allowed to own radios.

German policemen are making inquiries at a market in Poland, May 1941. The woman is wearing a Star of David on her arm, such a one that all Jews were forced to have on their clothes in Nazi- occupied territories. (Note that this photo was taken in Poland but not in Bodzentyn.)
© Bodzentyn, courtesy of Yad Vashem.

The first ghetto in Poland was formed in the autumn of 1939. In the beginning of 1942 there were hundreds of them to bee seen all over Poland and Eastern Europe. Not only did the Germans bring Jews to these ghettos from the immediate surroundings, Jews were also brought by way of deportation from other places, even Germany and Austria. This was the case also in Bodzentyn. In the fall of 1940 the Jewish Community, consisting of approximately 300 families, were faced with the responsibility to absorb a great number of impoverished Jews from the city of Płock. In the spring of 1941 all of them were confined in the ghetto of Bodzentyn with strict orders not to move in or out of the village.

As in other places the Nazis ordered the Jewish Council (Judenrat in German) in Bodzentyn to produce a group of Jewish males fit for work and present them on a given day. The council was an administrative body, formed in each ghetto by order of the Germans.

Jews were brought to perform slave labor all over Nazi- occupied Poland. In the nearby of the ghetto, further away from home and in special camps. (Note that this photo was taken in Poland but not in Bodzentyn.)
© Bodzentyn.net, courtesy of Yad Vashem.

Most of the time no one knew were the slave laborers would be taken that particular day. At times the boys and men would go and perform different kinds of work in the nearby and then get back in the evening, other days they would be transported further away. The Jews from Bodzentyn were brought as slave laborers to Starachowice-Wierzbnik and Skarżysko Kamienna, among other places.

The vast majority of the Jewish population had been excluded from economic life and needed support by the community. A report from Bodzentyn related that out of the 1 400 Jews in the ghetto 50 percent were in need of relief.

In the ghetto the Germans would demand for gold and valuables. All Jews had to hand in their furs. Their property was confiscated. Basically no Jew had any way to earn a livelihood any more. They were squeezed in, constantly in danger of being punished if they would go places, living in fear of being caught doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, and always at the risk of being selected to slave labor, or worse – shot dead in cold blood for no reason at all.

The history of the Jewish community in Krajno and Bodzentyn during the Nazi German occupation can be studied in part from the perspective of the diary of Dawid Rubinowicz. Holocaust survivors also recount those times.

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