Krasnystaw - German Troops
Krasnystaw lies 33 miles southeast of Lublin and in August 1939, there were approximately 10,000 inhabitants which included about 2,500 Jews. The Germans occupied Krasnystaw after a skirmish with Polish troops on 18 September 1939. Seven Jews were blamed for this resistance and hanged. When the Poles renewed hostilities the next day, the German military commander placed 40 Jewish hostages on the German front line – thirteen were killed, many more were wounded. Around the 26 September 1939, the Germans ceded Krasnystaw to the Soviet forces, as part of the Molotov- Ribbentrop Pact. After a border demarcation returned the town to the Germans, almost 1,000 Jews joined the Soviet military evacuation. Before the last Soviet troops crossed the Bug River on 7-8 October 1939, the Germans had re-occupied Krasnystaw.
Krasnystaw became the centre of the German civilian administration for ‘Kreis Krasnystaw’. From October 1939, Hartmut Gerstenhauer was the Kreishauptmann. In October 1940, Hennig von Winterfeld succeeded him, then Claus Volkmann in April 1941, and Adolf Schmidt in August 1941. In November 1940, 13,500 to 14,500 Jews resided in the Kreis. The Krasnystaw Jewish community numbering 1,200 to 1,500, was the third or fourth largest, behind Izbica (5,000 to 6,000), Turobin (2,600), and Zolkiewka (1,400).
In January 1940, Gerstenhauer ordered that a Jewish Council (Judenrat) should be established. Lipa Rajchman and Dawid Zylbercan served as the chairman and deputy chairman of the Krasnystaw Judenrat. The Judenrat organised forced labour conscription, and collected contributions demanded by the German authorities. Gerstenhauer also ordered Jews throughout the Kreis to Germanise their surnames. In a 10 September 1940, situation report, he explained to Hans Frank, the General Governor, that the change, made to simplify record keeping, did not jeopardise German interests, for ‘when they go to Madagascar after the war, the Jews can get themselves Madagascan names there.’
On 9 August 1940, Gerstenhauer gave the Jews three days to report to a ghetto located in the Grobla neighbourhood.. Known for its small wooden homes and absence of electricity and plumbing, it was the poorest Jewish neighbourhood in Krasnystaw. Gerstenhauer limited the items the Jews could bring to small quantities of clothing and bedding. The un-fenced, or open, one-street ghetto was among the earliest established in the ‘Distrikt Lublin.’ It was more isolated than most, because the Wieprz River separated Grobla from the rest of the town. Gerstenhauer gradually restricted the Jews to the ghetto. In the aforementioned situation report, the Kreishauptmann explained he had banned Jews from his offices, because the German administration was besieged.... with the Jews naturally excited about the relocation of the Jews to the ghetto.’ Gerstenhauer soon prohibited Jews from entering central Krasnystaw, except for work.
There was not enough residences in the ghetto to accommodate all the Jews. The homeless crowded into the synagogue or slept outside. No place existed for the Judenrat to re-establish its medical clinic. The Jews were conscripted for forced labour, clearing the devastation caused by the war, re-built burned-out buildings and rebuilt a bridge over the Wieprz River. Dawid Zylbercan, the deputy chairman of the Judenrat, admitted that more than half the Jews did not have a crumb of bread to eat. Rather than establish welfare institutions, the Judenrat from October 1940 protested and delayed, until late April 1941, the appointment of Michal Szolsohn, a popular Talmud Torah activist, to head the Krasnystaw branch of the Jewish Social Self-Help (JSS) organisation.
Generally, German authorities in the Lublin district were required to provide Jews in ghettos limited rations. From 2 December 1940, they also could exclude Jews from the ration pool. Gerstenhauer and his successors chose the second option for the unemployed. Only from November 1941, when Jews throughout the General Gouvernement were confined, on pain of death, to their places of registration, did the Kreishauptmannschaft permit the 15,078 unemployed Jews – out of an expanded population of 18,493 – to purchase potatoes and very small amounts of bread or flour and sugar from cheaper government stores.
Kreishauptmann Claus Volkmann permitted only a few Jews, probably craftsmen, to live in some buildings on May 3rd Square and just outside the ghetto on Mostowa and Kolejowa Streets. The Jews probably provided services to the local population and to Wehrmacht troops, concentrated in Krasnystaw before the 22 June 1941, invasion of the Soviet Union. On 6 May 1941, Volkmann ordered between 950 to1,250 ghetto inhabitants to be resettled in 15 villages in the Zakrzew municipality, located on the south-western border of the Kreis, some 29 miles from Krasnystaw. Attacks on Jews by German soldiers and the burning of the synagogue probably provided the rationale for the expulsions. By mid-June 1941, just 300 Jews lived in Krasnystaw.
The Krasnystaw JSS provided services to the wider community, known as Zakrzew – Krasnystaw. Discovering subsistence difficulties in Zakrzew, a municipality hitherto home to 30 Jews, the Krasnystaw expellees almost all departed just before the November 1941 orders permanently consigned Jews to their place of registration. About a fourth moved to Wysokie, whilst the rest settled closer to home, mainly in Krasniczyn and Gorzkow. By March 1942, just half the 200 Jews in the Zakrzew municipality were from Krasnystaw.
By February 1942, 800 Jews were living in Krasnystaw. The fact they received almost no charity assistance suggests only the employed were permitted to reside with their immediate families in the ghetto. Some Jews worked for the municipal administration, whilst others worked at a munitions depot the Wehrmacht established outside of Krasnystaw in the Borek Woods.
On 12 April 1942, as many as 600 Jews living in Krasnystaw ghetto were expelled to Izbica together with Jews from nearby communities, such as the Siennica Rozana municipality, the Rybczeice municipality and Krasniczyn. On 16 April 1942, Szalomon Griffen, head of the JSS in Fajslawice, reported the 220 Jews in his municipality, half of them employed at a German estate, were unscathed by the deportation, which had impacted on Jews in every town and settlement in the Kreis and in the neighbouring Lopiennik Gorny and Rybczewice municipalities. The deportees were probably marched directly to the Izbica railway station and then sent to be gassed at the Belzec death camp.
SS Major Hofle who was a leading figure in Aktion Reinhardt, in March 1942, to use Izbica, to resettle Jews from the Reich and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. This helps explain the early timing of the Krasnystaw deportations and perhaps why Jews in some places, such as Krasnystaw and Krasniczyn, were nearly all murdered by April 1942. To overcome Schmidt’s protests, le at least initially responded to Schmidt’s concerns about overcrowding in Izbica by ordering thousands of the first Reich and Protectorate arrivals to several locations in the Lublin district, where most native Jews had already been sent to their deaths.
After the April 1942 expulsions, 150 to 200 Jews remained in Krasnystaw and at this time the ghetto and the Wehrmacht’s munitions depot were fenced with barbed wire. The latter was designated as a Jewish labour camp. In late April 1942, the Germans ordered 23 Jews from the Reich who had been resettled to Izbica to transfer to Krasnystaw. On 28 April 1942, a transport of 853 to 1,000 Jews from the Reich, officially destined for Izbica, arrived in Krasnystaw. The passengers – Jews from Bamberg, Furth, Nuremberg, Schweinfurt and Wurzburg – were resettled instead in Krasniczyn. On 3 May 1942, another Krasnystaw transport of 1,000 Jews from the Reich was ordered to Krasniczyn. In late April 1942, 250 German Jews deported from the Reich, some from Breslau, were transferred from Izbica to Krasniczyn. They joined 500 Czech Jews from a transport from the Theresienstadt fortress ghetto on 13 March 1942, which was meant for Izbica, but went to Krasniczyn on 18 March 1942. Some 400 Czech Jews were imprisoned at the Wehrmacht camp outside of Krasnystaw. On 7 May 1942, Schmidt ordered the Krasnystaw JSS to establish a kitchen for workers, including 40 Jews deported from the Reich. Before 12 May 1942, the Gestapo established a fenced collection or transit ghetto in Krasnystaw. Abutting the Grobla ghetto, the collection ghetto included an unfinished school and barracks for railway workers.
On 13 May 1942, the Gestapo, Ukrainian SS auxiliaries, Polish police and civilian guards, local Jewish Police and Czech Jewish Police reinforcements, probably from Izbica transferred most of the Jews from the southern part of the Kreis to the collection ghetto. Sobibor death camp survivor Dov Freiberg, among 2,000 deportees from Turobin, recalls first marching to Wysokie to collect the 800 or so people, then onto Zolkiewka, where some 1,300 Jews were added to the column. Among the latter were the remaining approximately 200 Jews from Rybczewice, who were ordered to Zolkiewka on 7 May 1942. In Gorzkow, 1,000 Jews were added to the march. Some 248 Jews from the Rudnik municipality, 200 from the Zakrzew municipality including 100 Krasnystaw expellees, and all the Jews in the Lopiennik Gorny municipality also were expelled to the ghetto. Almost all the 5,800 Jews imprisoned in the collection ghetto slept outside. The next day, 14 May 1942, the Gestapo approximately 700 inmates for deportation to the Lublin concentration camp, whilst the remaining circa 5,200 Jews were sent to be gassed at the Sobibor death camp on 14 -15 May 1942.
Among the 15 May 1942, deportees were Michal Szolsohn and his wife, added to the fifth Sobibor transport in an act of ‘personal retribution.’ Szolsohn’s son defied the Germans and sent two telegrams that day, appealing to JSS leaders in Krakow to obtain his parents release. The JSS could do little, as the Szolsohn’s were gassed on arrival. Postal officials in Krasnystaw, moreover, sent the second telegram, in which Sobibor was listed as the couple’s destination, only on 31 May 1942. The telegram, nonetheless, is historically significant as it is the first time Sobibor was named as the place of deportation for the Krasnystaw Jews. After the Jews were sent to their deaths, the SS consolidated in the collection ghetto almost all the Jews from Krasniczyn. Several hundred Jews were retained for work at an estate in Boncza; 300 deportees from the Reich and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia were interned at the Augustowka labour camp, actually located in Surhow and Malochwiej Duzy. Some 1,000 Czechoslovakian Jews transferred from Izbica to Gorzkow in mid-March 1942, were included in the expulsion. Thus approximately 3,000 to 4,000 Jews were sent to their deaths at Sobibor death camp.
On 18 June 1942, Michal Szolsohn’s deputy reported to JSS leaders in Krakow that no Jews that no Jews remained in Krasniczyn, Wysokie, and Rudnik or in the Lopiennik, Rybczewice, and Zakrzew municipalities. Of the 8,000 Jews held back from the deportations residing outside of the labour camps, 45 percent were from the Reich or the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. In Krasnystaw, Turobin, Zolkiewka, and Gorzkow, only remnant native communities remained. The 221 Jews in the Fajslawice municipality were untouched by the ‘Aktions.’ Some Jews remained in the Siennica Rozana municipality, thus 4,500 surviving Jews were employed. Following the deportation, the Jews in Krasnystaw were employed mainly in clearing possessions from the ghetto. Some of the clearing squad was sent to the Trawniki labour camp, probably in late August 1942, when at the same time agricultural workers were sent to the Sobibor death camp.
In October 1942, the Krasnystaw ghetto was liquidated. All Jews living in the Kreis living outside of labour camps were ordered to the Izbica ghetto. From there, the Jews were sent to be gassed mainly at Belzec death camp but also at Sobibor death camp. A small group, including former Judenrat members Leon Feldhendler from Zolkiewka and Moszek Merensztajn from Gorzkow, were selected for work in Sobibor death camp, and they both survived the prisoner revolt there on 14 October 1943. A handful of Jews survived the Krasnystaw ghetto, almost all of the Grobla survivors were spring 1941 deportees who never reported to the Krasnystaw collection ghetto. The survivors of the Krasnystaw collection ghetto mainly were men, such as Dov Freiberg who was among the Jewish prisoners who escaped during the Sobibor death camp revolt on 14 October 1943.
The Encyclopaedia of Camps and Ghettos 1933-1945, USHMM, Indianna University Press Bloomington and Indianapolis 2012
Y. Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka – The Aktion Reinhard Death Camps, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 1987
Photograph – Chris Webb Archive
© Holocaust Historical Society 2014