Warthbrucken - Synagogue
Kolo is located about 45 miles northwest of Lodz, and in September 1939, there were 4,560 Jews among a total population of 13,000 residents in Kolo. The German Army arrived in Kolo on 19 September 1939, and immediately the Jews of Kolo were subjected to abuse, looting, forced labour and murder. The Germans renamed Kolo as Warthbruken, and in December 1940, a ghetto was established in the town and it was located primarily in the area of the central market square, and one of its borders was the Warta River. The administration of the Jewish residential area was under the supervision of the Mayor of the town, Willi Schönert, whose energetic actions against the Jewish population was highly regarded by the regional government in Hohensalza.
On the orders of the German authorities a Jewish Council (Judenrat) was established and Pinkus Brenner served as the head of this institution. The Judenrat created a labour department under the supervision of Wron, Neuman, Borkowski, Borenztajn, Lissek, and Frenkiel. The main task of this department was to organise the number of Jewish workers demanded by the German authorities every day. The ghetto area was supervised and guarded by various police units, including Gendarmerie, the Security Police and local ethnic Germans. The nearest main headquarters of the Gestapo was located in Konin. The Jewish Police force in the ghetto consisted of 15 people. The Jews still had the possibility to contact and trade with the immediate Polish population, which helped to ease the harsh living conditions in the ghetto. On 2 October 1940, a total of 150 families were transferred to Bugaj and Nowiny Brdowskie. An unknown number of Jews managed to escape from Kolo, mostly in the direction of Zychlin. At the end of 1940, out of a total population of 11,228 in Kolo, there were still 2,640 Jews. In June 1941, approximately 300 Jews were transferred to forced labour camps in the surrounding area. First, those collected were herded into the synagogue, where they had to wait for three days without any food or water. Dr Franz Sieburg, a representative from the health department of the city of Poznan (Posen), was responsible for the selection of Jews, who were deemed fit for work. In addition, engineer Fritz Neumann and the head of the construction department in Poznan, was also present. During their transport to the camps, the Jews were not given any food or water, and the guards ill-treated them. In August 1941, approximately 100 Jewish girls were transferred to a forced labour camp near Wroclaw (Breslau).
From the beginning of 1941, the Jews were strictly forbidden to leave the Kolo ghetto. The Judenrat sent a delegation to the Mayor of the town, attempting to revoke this order. The result of the negotiations was a ransom demand by the German authorities, which was officially known as a ‘poll tax’ of 4 Reichsmark (RM) for every person in the ghetto. The German authorities stated that they required the money to pay for the transfer of the Jews to the nearby ghettos in the General Gouvernement.
On 8 December 1941, the liquidation of the Kolo ghetto started. The Jews were deported to the death camp in Chelmno. The liquidation ‘Aktion’ lasted three days until 10 December 1941. Before their departure, the Jews were gathered in the building of the Judenrat and in the synagogue. They were allowed to take with them only one piece of hand luggage. During this ‘Aktion’ the town was surrounded by armed SS, police and Gendarmerie units. The Jews were loaded into trucks. During this procedure, one SS man per truck listed the name of every person on their truck; one of the SS men doing this was SS- Hauptsturmfuhrer Böhm. The German authorities tried to make the Jews believe that they were being transferred to labour camps in the east, where they would work on farms and on construction projects. The sick people were transported in cars, and were even given a chauffeur for their ‘security.’ During the organisation of this transport the former owner of a sawmill in Kolo, a man named Goldberg, held negotiations with the head of the Judenrat, about his possible succession to the position of ‘Jewish Elder’ after the deportation of the ghetto inhabitants. He even sent his application for this position to the German authorities. During the liquidation of the Kolo ghetto, many Jews were shot, including Lajzer Feldman, Josef Brandt, Estera Brandt, Chaja Piotrowska, Dawid Zilber, Ela Zilber, and Reisze Zilberberg. The death camp in Chelmno (Kulmhof) was located only nine miles from Kolo. On the first day of the liquidation of the Kolo ghetto, about 800 Jews were transferred to Chelmno in groups of several dozen by truck. During this ‘Aktion’ between 2,000 and 2,300 Jews from Kolo were murdered in Chelmno. The Jews of Kolo were the first victims of this death camp. In addition, many of the Jews from Kolo who had been deported earlier to Bugaj and Nowiny Brdowskie were also sent to Chelmno on 13 January 1942. Efforts were made by the Jews in nearby towns to discover the fate of the Jews from Kolo, Dabie, for example, sent two separate missions to Kolo, to gather information about this first set of deportations. After the war, a total of 27 Jews returned to Kolo, one of this number included Michal Podhlebnik, who managed to escape from the Chelmno death camp. He was born and raised in Kolo and he gave a statement on 9 June 1948, to the Polish Commission for the Investigation of German Crimes against the Polish Nation. He testified about the liquidation of the Kolo ghetto and the mass murder committed in the Chelmno death camp. At his post-war trial in Poznan, Fritz Neumann was accused of herding the victims to the transfer point in Kolo and being responsible for their deaths; he was convicted and sentenced to death on 18 November 1948, and he was executed on 13 May 1949.
The Encyclopaedia of Camps and Ghettos 1933-1945, USHMM, Indiana University Press Bloomington and Indianapolis 2012The Yad Vashem Encylopiedia of the Ghettos During the Holocaust Volume 1, Yad Vashem, 2009.
Photograph - Chris Webb Archive
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