Tluszcz Railway Station 2005
Tluszcz is located 24 miles northeast of Warsaw and in 1921 the Jewish population stood at 437 out of a total population of 1,102. On 3 September 1939, the German Luftwaffe heavily bombed Tluszcz, as it lay on the main railroad from Warsaw to Bialystok. Many wooden Jewish homes burned down in the air-raids, and several Jews were killed whilst many others fled to surrounding villages. German forces occupied the town on 14 September 1939 and when the Jews celebrated the High Holidays a few days later, many were still staying with acquaintances in the surrounding villages. When they returned the Germans started to harass the Jews, round them up to perform forced labour, cut off their beards, and beat them. They seized Jewish belongings during searches and required ransom payments. In October 1939, the Germans ordered the establishment of a Jewish Council (Judenrat) under the chairmanship of Gutman Popowski. When the civilian administration took over from the military on 26 October 1939, Tluszcz initially became part of Kreis Radzymin in Distrikt Warschau, which was subsequently incorporated within Kreis Warschau-Land.
Within the town, the main German presence was a squad of 12 Gendarmes, which was headed by Wachtmeister Stein. Gutman Popowski tried to ease the burden on the Jews by giving the Gendarmes gifts of boots, watches, silk stockings and diamond rings for their women. In the autumn of 1939, and the ensuing winter a number of Jews fled to the Soviet-occupied zone of Poland, and as a result the Jewish population at this time, including refugees stood at some 740 people. In September 1940, the Germans established a ghetto in Tluszc and the Jews were forced to move out of their homes and were resettled into the homes of Polish peasants located just outside the town. The peasants were moved into the houses vacated by the Jews. There was terrible overcrowding in the ghetto, where the Jews were packed together very tightly and there was no running water, which as a result the Jews had to collect water from outside the ghetto, once at time per day. In January 1941, 685 people living in the Tluszcz ghetto were receiving potato rations through the aid of the local branch of the Jewish Social Self-Help (JSS) organisation. In the summer of 1941, a typhus epidemic broke out in the ghetto, causing the German authorities to seal it off. The Jews were warned that they would be shot if they tried to leave. Since the Jews made a living primarily by selling clothing and other items to Polish peasants in return for food, some of which were resold in the Warsaw ghetto, the new restrictions dealt a serious blow to the Jewish population. To overcome this, Judenrat chairman Popowski paid Wachtmeister Stein 1,000 zloty per week and other bribes for the Gendarmerie to turn a blind eye and permit trading to continue. According to the deal, Jewish craftsmen were permitted to sell their goods to the peasants. Within a short space of time, however, several Jews were caught and shot for being outside the ghetto. In response the Judenrat increased the level of the bribes, but no real security materialised and the risks for smugglers remained high, which also caused black market prices to rise. Since Popowski was the only Jew officially permitted to leave the ghetto, he went one day to collect a sum of money on behalf of a Jewish woman from the town’s post office. When the German official refused to serve him, Popowski complained and he was nearly shot for his pains. Two weeks later he was lured out to the post office on a false pretext and was arrested by the Gestapo. Having handed over the keys and accounts to members of the Judenrat, he was taken to the Pawiak prison in Warsaw. From there he was transferred to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where he died after only a few weeks. Meir Taub succeeded Popowski as Judenrat chairman. Conditions in the Tluszcz ghetto deteriorated further during the winter of 1941 -1942. Jews were dying every day from starvation and disease, and more Jews were shot for leaving the ghetto without permission. Searches conducted inside the ghetto for illegal possession of furs, silk, or leather items resulted in hefty fines or extortionate demands from the Gendarmes. The Polish (Blue) Police also extorted money from the Jews.
By the spring of 1942, rumours spread about the imminent liquidation of the ghetto, following the expulsion of the Jews from other nearby towns, such as Pustelnik and Wawer. The Jews learned that local Poles had appealed to the Landrat in Radzymin for the Jews to be driven out of Tluszcz merely out of spite. On Monday 25 May 1942, a Polish policeman requested that a uniform he had ordered from a Jewish tailor be ready on the same day, as all the Jews were soon to be driven out of Tluszcz. This request spread panic among the Jews. Since an elderly Jew had just died on 26 May 1942, Reb Yaakov Joseph Bruckman and the head of the Jewish Police, Berl Gelbard decided themselves to take the body to be buried in the nearby town of Jadow, to find out if there was any substance behind the rumours. They agreed in advance that if there was no danger, they would both return, but if the rumours appeared to be true, Reb Bruckman would remain in Jadow.
On the night of 26 May 1942, Berl Gelbard returned to Tluszcz alone with news from the Jadow Judenrat that the liquidation of the Tluszcz ghetto was planned for the next day. At 4.00 A.M. the next morning, German Border Police (Grenzpolizei), Polish (Blue) Police and Gendarmerie forces under the command of Oberleutnant Lipsch, who was the Gendarmerie commander in Kreis Warschau-Land, surrounded the ghetto. The Jews were ordered to assemble on the market square, and here a selection took place. The men aged between 16 and 30 were sent to labour camps, including the one at Wilanow. A group of Jews were forced to remove the furniture from the Jewish houses and put it on the square. Most other possessions, including any valuables, were taken from the Jews before their departure, supposedly in payment for their transportation costs. Approximately 70 Jews were shot in Tluszcz at the time of the deportation. Among those killed was a family accused of hiding some leather, many of the Jews who had worked for the Gendarmerie, and a local Jewish woman who was shot by Wachtmeister Stein personally, as he thought that she was too beautiful. The Germans loaded the women and children onto carts, which drove off in the direction of Radzymin. About one hour later the remaining men were sent after the women and children on foot with instructions to run and catch up to them. The Germans shot another 300 or so people on the road to Radzymin, as they failed to keep up with the column. The corpses were buried quickly by Polish auxiliaries wearing red armbands who followed along behind. In Radzymin, the Gendarmerie and Border Police robbed and beat the Jews again, and then loaded the Jews onto railway cars, and then closer to Warsaw, the Jews were loaded onto overcrowded trains and sent to the Warsaw ghetto. On arrival they were disinfected in quarantine at 109 Leszno Street. A note preserved in the files of the JSS in Krakow, recording a message sent by a representative of the JSS for Kreis Warschau-Land, reports that of more than 800 Jews resettled from Tluszcz on 27 May 1942, only 582 people reached the quarantine section of the Warsaw ghetto, without any money or personal property. They arrived in a terrible state, many of the men barefoot. Unofficial information revealed that 65 people were selected at Marki along the way, to perform agricultural work in Wilanow. Another 65 people were reportedly deported from Tluszcz who never arrived in the Warsaw ghetto quarantine section nor were redirected to Wilanow.
On the same day that the Jews were driven out of Tluszcz, Oberleutnant Lipsch went to Jadow and demanded that the Judenrat there hand over Reb Bruckman, or he would kill several members of the Judenrat. On learning of this, the rabbi decided to give himself up. The Gendarmes forced him to dance, beat him up and then shot him. His body was thrown into a deep ditch in the centre of the market.
Sources:The Encyclopaedia of Camps and Ghettos 1933-1945, USHMM, Indiana University Press Bloomington and Indianapolis 2012
The Warsaw Diary of Adam Czerniakow, Elephant Paperbacks, Chicago 1999
Photograph – Chris Webb Archive
© Holocaust Historical Society 2015