Radomsko - German column September 1939
Radomsko is a town in Central Poland on the Radomko River, situated mid-way between Czestochowa and Piotrkow Trybunalski. On the eve of the Second World War in September 1939, some 6,500 Jews lived in Radomsko, which comprised one-third of the town’s population. Most were manufacturers, merchants, or artisans. All Jewish parties and youth movements in interwar Poland had chapters in the town. The community boasted Jewish professional organisations as well as two savings –and loan associations. Jewish young people attended two Jewish primary schools, a Jewish high school, and schools run by the Mirzachi organisation and Agudath Israel. The Germans occupied Radomsko on 3 September 1939, and immediately began looting Jewish property at once. In a pogrom on 12 September 1939, known locally by the Jews as ‘Black Tuesday,’ the Germans seized several hundred Jewish men, beat them and photographed staged scenes for propaganda purposes. The Germans attacked Jewish religious life by desecrating the synagogue and Jewish cemetery, forbidding public worship, and tormenting the town’s rabbis.
From the beginning of the Nazi occupation, Jews were ordered to perform forced labour under harsh conditions. The Judenrat, headed by the chairman of the community, Moshe Berger, drew up a list of work groups and raised donations from wealthy Jews to pay wages to at least some of the forced labourers. The Judenrat also took care of the many refugees who arrived in Radomsko, including Polish refugees from the Poznan area. The Judenrat also was responsible for paying harsh fines to the Germans, which fostered ill-feeling, which led to several demonstrations and in 1940, an abortive uprising. A Jewish Order Service was also established in Radomsko, at its head was Dr. Markovich. In late 1939, the Jews of Radomsko discovered that their town was shortly to be declared free of Jews (Judenrein). On 20 December 1939, a small area of the town was designated as a ghetto, which was one of the first to be established in the Generalgouvernement. The ghetto was established on the following streets: Szkolna, Stodolna, Joselwica, Strzalowska, Fabianiego and Mickiewicza. The Germans speedily and brutally established the ghetto, and a sign in German and Polish posted at the ghetto’s gate prohibited Jews from leaving and ‘Aryans’ from entering. Many Jews in Radomsko ghetto engaged in smuggling, despite the death penalty for doing so. Meanwhile, hundreds of Jewish refugees continued to pour into Radomsko, bringing the ghetto population to approximately 7,000 by May 1940, with the residents living in severely crowded conditions. The Jews supported themselves mainly by selling their belongings, whilst artisans continued to work for ‘Aryan’ customers, despite prohibitions. Other Jews retained their employment in factories, even when the plants had been transferred to the Germans. To combat starvation, the Judenrat established a public soup kitchen in January 1940. The Judenrat set up several departments including a postal service, a court of law that adjudicated petty disputes. It also ran a health department, but when a typhus epidemic broke out in the winter of 1939/40, despite its best efforts the Judenrat and municipal authorities failed due to the appalling sanitary and overcrowding conditions. Only in April 1940 were the Jews given preventive medication. Another epidemic erupted in the winter of 1940/41. This time though, the Judenrat was able to bring Dr Mieczyslaw Sachs from the Warsaw ghetto. He was joined by another doctor, Dr Hirsh Aba Rozevich, who returned to his hometown of Radomsko and a 100-bed hospital was set up with donations from Czestochowa and Radomsko. The hospital staff were given a crash course, and the epidemic was beaten. The Germans sent Jews from the ghetto to labour camps and other forced labour projects and on 13 July 1940, the Gestapo rounded up forty Jews whom they alleged were Communists and sent them to Auschwitz concentration camp, that had since June 1940 begun receiving political prisoners. Some 400 Jews were transferred from Radomsko to labour camps in the Lublin area. In August 1941, 200 Jews were sent to the Cracow area and approximately 400 Jews were sent to the Gidle labour camp in the Radomsko area. In May 1941, the chairman of the Judenrat, Moshe Berger, was replaced by Viktor Gutstadt and the following month the ghetto was reduced in size, which worsened the living conditions of its residents significantly. The population tried another attempt to overthrow the Judenrat, but this failed. An orphanage was established in January 1942, with drama groups producing two plays and the proceeds they donated to the orphanage. Some of the ghetto residents were involved in clandestine political activity. Members of Dror and Po’alei Zion – Right met from time to time and maintained contact with the Warsaw ghetto, through women couriers who acted as liaisons. Members of Hano’ar Hatziyyoni youth movement ran a training commune. When reports about the mass deportation of Jews from Warsaw in July 1942, reached the Radomsko ghetto, the Jews there sensed their lives were in danger, particularly the unemployed feared that without work permits they would be the first to be deported, frantically searched for work, sometimes resorting to paying for jobs.
On 8 October 1942, Jews from the Gidle labour camp were returned to the ghetto and that night the ghetto was surrounded by German and Ukrainian-SS forces. The following day the Judenrat was advised by telephone, that an ‘Aktion’ was imminent, and the ghetto was to be liquidated. The same day, more than 4,000 Jews from Przedborz arrived in the town, following the liquidation of their ghetto. All the Jews were ordered to assemble in front of the Judenrat building. Elderly Jews, and those too ill to leave were shot on the spot, and the same fate was endured by hospital patients, who were murdered in their beds. The Germans in charge of the ‘Aktion’ were Adolf Feucht and Kempenik. Members of the Jewish Order Service were forced to dig a mass grave in the Jewish cemetery. A selection was carried out among all those assembled in front of the Judenrat building, and a small group of 350 Jews, including members of the Judenrat, the Jewish Order Service, doctors and a few artisans were allowed to stay in the ghetto and were incarcerated in the Judenrat building. Approximately 5,000 of those assembled were deported to the Treblinka death camp immediately. The remaining 9,000 were held in various synagogues, and then also deported to the Treblinka death camp, this also included some 29 Jews selected from the group of Jews held in the ghetto. Thus in 2 days some 14,000 Jews went to their deaths in Treblinka. The 321 Jews were held in four houses on Mickiewcza Street. Two weeks after the mass deportation, another selection took place and 175 Jews were sent to the Hasag labour camp at Skarzysko- Kamienna. The remaining Jews were employed on cleaning out the Jews former homes and collecting their belongings. On 14 November 1942, another ghetto was established in Radomsko for all the remaining Jews in the area. The ghetto was initially not fenced in, warning notices were the only evidence of its boundaries. Gradually, about 4,500 Jews arrived from nearby towns, and other Jews who had emerged from their hiding places. Living conditions were grim, with an average of fifteen to twenty people living in one room. Unsurprisingly, diseases spread, but not a single doctor was available. The Jews were employed at various jobs, mainly sorting out the belongings of the deportees. The Judenrat distributed meagre rations. In late 1942, the German authorities announced that they were registering all the ghetto inhabitants, with the aim of exchanging them for German prisoners of war. The Jews hastened to register, but there was no exchange. Upon learning that the Germans had ordered fifty railroad cars, several of the Jews fled, including Viktor Gutstadt, the Judenrat chairman. The ghetto was finally liquidated on 6 January 1943, two hundred and fifty young people were sent to the Hasag labour camp, whilst 260 were murdered on the spot, 4,000 Jews were deported to the Treblinka death camp.
Sources:The Yad Vashem Encyclopaedia of the Ghettos During the Holocaust Volume 1, Yad Vashem, 2009.
Y. Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka – The Aktion Reinhard Death Camps, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 1987
D. Czech, Auschwitz Chronicle, Henry Holt and Company, New York1989
Photograph - Tall Trees Archive
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