Rejowiec - July 2004
Rejowiec lies 32 miles east-south-east of Lublin. In August 1939 the population included approximately 2,600 Jews. In the second half of September 1939, Rejowiec was initially occupied for about one week by the Soviet Red Army, before these forces withdrew and the town passed into German hands. Some Jews took the opportunity to retreat eastward with the Soviets. During the first 21 months of the German occupation until June 1941, the Germans conducted only small scale ‘Aktions’ against the Jewish population. They demanded contributions, seized people for forced labour, or came into town and shot a few Jews. Only about 10 Jews were murdered during this period. Jews who were well off were able to pay for substitutes to perform their forced labour.
The Jews of Rejowiec received ration cards, but very little food could be obtained with these pieces of paper. Instead most Jews traded with local peasants who lived in the surrounding countryside and people generally did not suffer from hunger. Between the end of 1939 and May 1941, more than 1,000 Jewish refugees, mostly expelled from Lublin in March 1941 and also from Krakow, reportedly arrived in Rejowiec, increasing the pressure on the local Jewish social welfare institutions. Some of these refugees moved on or were deported to forced labour camps, as in August 1941, there were 2,345 Jews living in Rejowiec. The first large scale ‘Aktion’ against the Jews of Rejowiec took place on 7 April 1942, when a large number of German police suddenly arrived in the town, creating a very tense atmosphere. After several hours the Judenrat instructed all Jews to assemble at the marketplace. Approximately 80 percent of the Jews obeyed these instructions, whilst the rest hid in various places. Once assembled, the Jews were surrounded by German police, and after separating out the Judenrat chairman, the remaining Jews were herded away towards the railroad station, to be deported to the Sobibor death camp. Anyone who fell behind the column was shot. Babies were seized from their mothers and killed. Altogether approximately 200 of the Jews were murdered on the way, and the rest were loaded onto the cattle wagons. Probably this was the first mass transport of Jews to the Sobibor death camp. It should be noted that some sources state this transport went to the Belzec death camp.
The next day, the Germans scoured the town for those Jews in hiding. Approximately 200 Jews were discovered and after being beaten they were sent to the labour camp at Krychow, including members of the Judenrat. Many of these people were subsequently killed at the Sobibor death camp. A few days later the Polish Community Council in Rejowiec spread the word that all remaining Jews must register immediately, or they would be shot on the spot. In response, approximately 140 Jews left their hiding places. According to a report in the Ringelblum Archives, these Jews were imprisoned for six days and then sent on carts to Chelm where they were released. A ghetto was established that encompassed Niecala Street and Zacisze Street and an area in the western part of the market place between M. Reja and Zwierznskiego Street. According to post war testimony, given to a German court in Verden, at some time in the summer of 1942, the ghetto was surrounded by barbed wire.
On 25 April 1942, the Judenrat in the Rejowiec ghetto wrote to the aid committee in Krakow concerning around 1,800 Jews in extreme need, who had recently arrived from Slovakia and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. The first transport from Slovakia arrived on 17 April 1942. The Jews were unloaded in Lublin and the men and women were separated. All the women were sent to Rejowiec, but the men and the luggage went to Lublin concentration camp. The transport from the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was segregated in Rejowiec; youths capable of work were sent to labour likes such as Krychow, and only those incapable of work – the women, children and the elderly – remained behind. The Judenrat appealed urgently for aid, in the form of food, money, bedding, and medication to assist the refugees who were suffering from starvation. Children had to sleep on the bare ground. Tools were also needed to repair the buildings in which the Jews were accommodated.
Around the 20 April 1942, a newly constituted Judenrat, headed by a man named Blatt, containing both Polish Jews and some recently arrived Jews was formed, which was subordinated to Majer Frenkiel, the head of the ‘Kreis Judenrat’ in Chelm. It is estimated that at least 5,000 Jews from Slovakia and Bohemia and Moravia passed through the Rejowiec ghetto, 1,040 Slovak Jews from Nitra, 1,000 Czech Jews from the fortress ghetto of Theresienstadt and from Sabinov,Presov, Stropkow,Bardejov and Poprad. The Jewish Social Self –Help (JSS) records do not confirm the arrival of all these transports, however, the arrival of the third and fourth transports to arrive in Rejowiec are confirmed in a report dated 8 May 1942. The new leader of the JSS delegation in Rejowiec, Elzbieta Friedmann, described the terrible conditions for the Jewish deportees in Rejowiec and she received 300 zloty in cash to buy medicine from the ‘Kreis JSS’ in Chelm. The Rejowiec ghetto served for many of the Slovak and Czech Jews only as a transit ghetto, where they were held for a short time, before being deported to the Belzec and Sobibor death camps of Aktion Reinhardt, or at nearby Jewish forced labour camps, at Hansk, Sawin, Ossowa and Krychof.It should be noted at this time the Jewish police force consisted mainly of Slovak and Czech Jews. In the summer of 1942, there was a confrontation between the Jewish Police and the Polish Police, known as the ‘Blues’ because of the colour of their uniforms, who denounced their Jewish counterparts to the Germans . 24 of the Jewish Police were executed by the Germans as being alleged Communists, by being locked in their houses, and killed with grenades. According to a report of the JSS for ‘Kreis’ Chelm on a 18 June 1942 visit, the Jewish population of Rejowiec numbered 2,449 people, including 830 children under the age of 14 and 409 men and 1,210 women over that age. Of these people, 185 men and 233 women were working for the Water Administration Office (Wasserwirtschafttsamt),for which they received full rations and payment in cash. A public kitchen was serving 1,300 people a breakfast of coffee and a lunch consisting of soup every day – bread was not distributed. There was a division within the Judenrat between local Polish Jews and the recently arrived Slovak members, which was further complicating the administration of the JSS branch in Rejowiec.
On 9 August 1942, approximately 2,000 – mostly Slovak Jews were rounded up for deportation, of which some 700 were killed in and around the town, the rest were deported to the Sobibor death camp by train. Of these about 100 men and 50 women were selected for the Krychow forced labour camp on arrival at Sobibor, whilst the other deportees were gassed. Probably around 300 Jews remained in the Rejowiec ghetto after the ‘Aktion.’ A number of Jews from the Rejowiec ghetto worked daily at the Budny estate, also known as the Ossolinski Palace, approximately half a mile outside the town. The estate was used by a Remonteamt (horse procurement office) of the Waffen-SS, composed of about 50 -100 men, commanded by SS- Major Herbert Schonfeldt. Jews were collected every day from the ghetto and escorted to the Budny estate. Other Jews worked in Rejowiec at the distillery or on road construction. The Jews were also employed on dismantling the towns’ synagogue. In the autumn of 1942, a Jewish woman with the surname of Fuhrer was shot by an SS man named Gustav Jeske, known by the Jews in the ghetto as the ‘commandant of the ghetto.’ Jeske shot her for leaving the ghetto to obtain food to barter for her sick sister. Jeske was often responsible for overseeing the daily convoy of Jewish workers from the ghetto to the Budny estate. He was succeeded in this position by another SS man, called Ostapeter. In the period from the summer of 1942 until the spring of 1943, a number of Jews who had escaped from the Chelm ghetto and other nearby locations, made their way to the transit ghetto in Rejowiec. The Jews of the town were scared to let them in, as Jeske sometimes combed the ghetto, looking for strangers to kill. On 10 October 1942, 2,400 Jews were sent to the Sobibor death camp, via Chelm., in cattle wagons. This transport consisted mainly of Slovak Jews and a month later, the local JSS officials reported there were 290 Jews in Rejowiec working at various German labour sites and another 385 were assigned to forced labour camps in the vicinity of the town. In the spring of 1943, most of the remaining Jews were working at the Budny estate, and the SS surrounded the Jews and informed them that they would be taken to the Trawniki labour camp. This was not the case,however, they were rounded up and taken to the Lublin concentration camp. In 1972, Gustav Jeske was tried by a German court in Verden, for the alleged shooting of two Jews in Rejowiec in 1942, but he was acquitted due to insufficient evidence.
The Encyclopaedia of Camps and Ghettos 1933-1945, USHMM , Indianna University Press Bloomington and Indianapolis 2012Y. Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka – The Aktion Reinhard Death Camps, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 1987
R.O’Neil, Belzec – Stepping Stone to Genocide, JewishGen Inc. New York, 2008R.Kuwalek, From Lublin to Belzec, AD Rem, Lublin, 2006
Photograph – Tall Trees Archive
© Holocaust Historical Society 2016