Zwolen Occupied - September 1939
The town of Zwolen is located 19 miles east-southeast of Radom. In 1921, there were 3,787 Jews living there, which was just over 51% of the total population. By 1939, Zwolen had some 4,500 Jewish residents. A large part of the town was destroyed during the course of the German onslaught in September 1939, forcing many Jewish families to move into temporary huts.
Once Zwolen was occupied by the Nazis, the authorities immediately instituted a regime of forced labour and extortion, including demands for monetary contributions. Jewish hostages around 300 in number were taken to Radom and Kielce; all of them were released and allowed to return home after one month. The Jews living in Zwolen were at first rounded up at random for work; later the Jewish Council (Judenrat) was charged with delivering the expected quota of workers. This work included clearing snow off roads and attending to the needs of the German Army and working at the Gendarmerie post.
Nuchim Wolman chaired the Jewish Council; its secretary was Huberman. By September 1940, W. Kirszenberg had replaced Wolman. At the end of 1939, the Germans razed to the ground the synagogue, and the Jewish cemetery was levelled in 1942. By June 1940, it was estimated that 3,000 Jews lived in Zwolen.
In June 1941, a typhus epidemic broke out. Two hospital attendants, Jakob Breslauer and Kofman Ropoport, treated the sick in a Jewish hospital that had opened during August 1941, which was outfitted with twenty beds. By May 1942, when the epidemic was contained and the hospital was closed, a total of 389 Jews had been treated for the disease. Ropoport, serving also as the chief of the sanitation committee in Zwolen, reported that many Jews were suffering from skin diseases, such as scabies and sores. In August 1941, there were 1,034 Jewish minors living in Zwolen, within this number there were 439 children between the ages of 7 to 14 and there was no organised help for them.
According to survivor Lejwa Fuks, the first round-up of males for transfer to labour camps took place in August 1941. One night the entire Judenrat was arrested, only to be released the next morning by the Gendarmerie. As a result 36 men were sent to the Pustkow labour camp. Married men were soon released, while some others escaped; the 2 workers who remained in the camp were later released due to ill health.
In October 1941, a branch of the Jewish Social Self -Help (JSS) was established to take over from the Judenrat the organisation of the welfare. Following its launch, the local soup kitchen served over 600 meals to poor Jews daily and 250 breakfasts to children. Mordka Blajchman the pre-war chairman of the Jewish community was appointed as the JSS chairman; Lewi Izrael and Josek Kirszenberg were also included on the committee. During the first six months of the kitchen's existence , 328 impoverished families received 116,376 meals. For over 85,000 meals, the JSS charged 30 groszy; the remainder of the meals were distributed free of charge. Again according to Lejwa Fuks, at some point during 1941, Zwolen's Jews were forbidden to walk on the main street and the market square. Fuks also dated the organisation of the Jewish Police force under the command of Mendel Weintraub in the same year, 1941.
On January 2, 1942, the Jews of Zwolen reported to the JSS in Krakow, that based on the orders of the Kreishauptmann in Radom issued on December 22, 1941, a ghetto had already been established , and Jews from the vicinity were being transferred there. The Zwolen ghetto was not fenced in, but its residents were forbidden to leave the limits of the town. This ban prevented Jewish traders and peddlers, as well as those offering day-labour services, from making a living. The ghetto encompassed approximately 2 square kilometres; it was centrally located in a quarter populated by Jews before the war. The local Gendarmerie post was in charge of the ghetto's affairs.
Apart from those Jews who already lived within the ghetto area, 50 families from Zwolen's peripheries such as Praga and Szosa Pulawska and also Jews from surrounding communities were transferred into the ghetto. The latter included Klwatka, Lucin, Podgora, Janow, Sobale, Ulianow and one family from each of the following settlements: Helenowka, Grabow, Sucha, Strykowice, Bartodzeje and Zielonka. Among the new ghetto residents were also 115 Jews who were transferred from the town of Przytyk, which had been cleared of Jews, as early as March 1941.
The JSS inquired about the possibilities of organising youth training and growing vegetables on the 5 acres of land within the ghetto perimeter, of which 1.5 acres consisted of adjacent garden plots. The 5 acres, however, were taken away from the Jewish owner and given to a 'Christian deportee.' The local JSS estimated that at the time of the ghetto's creation in January 1942, there were 400 to 500 Jews from the city of Warsaw and other places within the Warsaw District, living in Zwolen illegally. In time their situation grew more serious, as Jews unable to present their Kennkarte - Identity Cards were subject to severe retributions. Such was the case for many refugees from Lodz and Luck, who were unable to obtain Kennkarte's, due to severed postal connections or the destruction of archives in their native towns.
In March 1942, the JSS estimated that there were 150 Jewish workshops in Zwolen, of which only a few received significant production orders from the Germans. Most of the workshops were for cobblers and tailors. Many ghetto residents worked in drainage and the regulation of the River Zwolenka. In April 1942, the ghetto population stood at 4,500, there were 239 houses in the ghetto, consisting of 676 inhabited rooms, and on average 7 people shared a room.
Between January and June 1942, the German authorities reduced the area of the ghetto on two occasions. Following the second reduction in June, the JSS reported that 'hundreds of families are under a naked sky, soaked through for four days. There is no hope of finding accommodation for them, because the streets in the ghetto are mostly not built up.' The JSS planned to build barracks for the homeless at an estimated cost of 30,000 zloty.
According to Fuks, 200 men were sent to the Skarzysko-Kamienna labour camp in July 1942. On August 1, 1942, another 130 men and 10 women were also sent to Skarzysko, 35 men were despatched to Deblin, and 40 went to Kurow. Another survivor Perec Szapiro, stated that 200 men were sent to Deblin in August 1942, to build a railroad for the Schultz Company and another 100 to the Stawy village, where a labour camp was established on the grounds of an ammunition magazine.
In the summer of 1942, Zwolen became one of the centres for the concentration of Jews in Kreis Radom-Land, before their deportation to the Treblinka death camp. On August 3, 1942, 1,200 Jews from the Janowiec nad Wisla ghetto arrived in Zwolen. On August 20, 1942, 488 Jews from the liquidated Pionki ghetto was likewise transferred. Furthermore, on September 18, 1942, Jews from the ghettos of Jedlnia Koscielna and Garbatka- Letnisko were also concentrated there.
The Zwolen ghetto was liquidated on September 29, 1942. According to another survivor Isaac Engel, the deportation from Zwolen was announced several days in advance. A siren signalled that the Jews had to gather in the market place. From there, in batches of 500 people in each, they were escorted by Ukrainian auxiliary forces to a barbed -wire enclosure that had been established at the Garbatka- Letnisko train station, some 17 kilometres from Zwolen. All those gathered there were despatched to the Treblinka death camp. An estimated 200 Jews were murdered during the course of the 'aktion' and were buried at the Jewish cemetery. Some time later, in 1943, or 1944, a German detachment destroyed the bodies using 'unknown chemicals.' A small clean-up Kommando of approximately 90 people, including the chief of the Jewish Police, was left in Zwolen to sort out the Jewish belongings, and when this was completed the Kommando was sent to Skarzysko-Kamienna.
The Yad Vashem Encylopiedia of the Ghettos During the Holocaust Volume 2, Yad Vashem, 2009.
Photograph - Chris Webb Archive
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