Escape from Auschwitz

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Four Poles, Kazimierz Piechowski, Stanislaw Gustaw Jaster, Józef Lempart, and Eugeniusz Bendera, escaped on June 20, 1942 after breaking into an SS storeroom and stealing uniforms and weapons. In disguise, they drove away in a vehicle that they stole from the SS motor pool, and reached the General Government. Jaster carried a report that Witold Pilecki had written for AK headquarters.

On the Saturday morning of 20 June 1942, exactly two years after his arrival, Piechowski escaped from Auschwitz I along with two other Poles, Stanisław Gustaw Jaster ,

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veteran of Invasion of Poland in rank of first lieutenant from Warsaw; Józef Lempart ,a priest from Wadowice; and Eugeniusz Bendera , a car mechanic from Czortków, now Ukraine. Piechowski had the best knowledge of the German language within the group, and held the command of the party.

They left through the main Auschwitz camp through the Arbeit Macht Frei gate. They had taken a cart and passed themselves off as a Rollwagenkommando—”haulage detail”—a work group which consisted of between four and twelve inmates pulling a freight cart instead of horses.

Bendera went to the motorpool; Piechowski, Lempart, and Jaster went to the warehouse in which the uniforms and weapons were stored. They entered via a coal bunker which Piechowski had helped fill. He had removed a bolt from the lid so it wouldn’t self latch when closed.

Once in the building they broke into the room containing the uniforms and weapons, arming themselves with four machine-guns and eight grenades. Bendera arrived in a Steyr 220 sedan (saloon) car belonging to SS-Hauptsturmführer Paul Kreuzmann, As a mechanic he was often allowed to test drive cars around the camp.

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He entered the building and changed into SS uniform like the others. They then all entered the car: Bendera driving; Piechowski in the front passenger seat; Lempart and Jaster in the back. Bendera drove toward the main gate. Jaster carried a report that Witold Pilecki (deliberately imprisoned in Auschwitz to prepare intelligence about the Holocaust and who would not escape until 1943) had written for Armia Krajowa’s headquarters.

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https://dirkdeklein.net/2016/03/30/forgotten-history-witold-pitecki-the-man-who-sneaked-into-and-out-of-auschwitz/

When they approached the gate they became nervous as it had not opened. Lempart hit Piechowski in the back and told him to do something. With the car stopped, he opened the door and leaned out enough for the guard to see his rank insignia and yelled at him to open the gate. The gate opened and the four drove off.

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Keeping away from the main roads to evade capture, they drove on forest roads for two hours, heading for the town of Wadowice. There they abandoned the Steyr and continued on foot, sleeping in the forest and taking turns to keep watch. . Kazimierz Piechowski eventually made his way to Ukraine, but was unable to find refuge there due to anti-Polish sentiment.

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Forging documents and a false name, he returned to Poland to live in Tczew, where he had been captured. He soon found work doing manual labor on a nearby farm, where he made contact with the Home Army and took up arms against the Nazis within the units of 2nd Lt. Adam Kusz nom de guerre Garbaty (one of the so-called “Cursed soldiers”).

His parents were arrested by the Nazis in reprisal for his escape, and died in Auschwitz; the policy of tattooing prisoners was also allegedly introduced in response to his escape. Piechowski learned after the War from his boy-scout friend Alfons Kiprowski, who remained a prisoner at Auschwitz for some three more months after his escape, that a special investigative commission arrived at Auschwitz from Berlin to answer—independently of the camp’s administration—the question as to how an escape as audacious as Piechowski’s and his companions’ was at all possible.

When Poland became a communist state in 1947, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for joining the Home Army, serving seven.

 

 

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Alone in Warsaw-Władysław Szpilman & Wilm Hosenfeld

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Before Germany invaded Poland, more than a million people lived in Warsaw. When the city was liberated in January of 1945 – just four months after the Nazis crushed the city during the Warsaw Uprising – only 153,000 starving citizens had survived. Wladyslaw Szpilman was one of them.

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The pianist, whose hands would once more provide his livelihood if he survived the war, was always at risk.

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Sometimes he used his hands to cling to a roof, trying to avoid the streams of German bullets. Sometimes the people who helped him stay alive could not safely deliver meager supplies. And he was always completely alone:

“I was alone: alone not just in a single building or even a single part of a city, but alone in a whole city that only two months ago had had a population of a million and a half and was one of the richer cities of Europe”

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As Warsaw began its final winter as a German-occupied city, Szpilman had a rare chance to see himself in a makeshift mirror:

“At first I could not believe that the dreadful sight I saw was really myself: my hair had not been cut for months, and I was unshaven and unwashed. The hair on my head was thickly matted, my face was almost covered with a growth of dark beard, quite heavy by now, and where the beard did not cover it my skin was almost black. My eyelids were reddened, and I had a crusted rash on my forehead. “

When German soldiers finally discovered his hiding place, Wladyslaw was forced to look elsewhere again. He thought he had found a safe spot in an unfamiliar building. Intently searching for food, he was shocked to hear a German voice:

“What are you doing here? Don’t you know the staff of the Warsaw fortress commando unit is moving into this building any time now? “

Szpilman had come face to face with a German Wehrmacht officer named Wilm Hosenfeld.But this was a German soldier who had helped other Jews. This was a former teacher who had grown ashamed of what his country was doing.

Wladyslaw had met the man who would save his life.

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To Szpilman’s surprise, the officer did not arrest or kill him; after discovering that the emaciated Szpilman was a pianist, Hosenfeld asked him to play something. (A piano was on the ground floor.) Szpilman played Chopin’s Nocturne in C# Minor.

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After that, the officer showed Szpilman a better place to hide and brought him bread and jam on numerous occasions. He also offered Szpilman one of his coats to keep warm in the freezing temperatures. Szpilman did not know the name of the German officer until 1951. Despite the efforts of Szpilman and the Poles to rescue Hosenfeld, he died in a Soviet prisoner of war camp in 1952.

In 1950, Szpilman learned the name of the German officer who had offered him assistance. After much soul searching, Szpilman sought the intercession of a man whom he privately considered “a bastard,” – Jakub Berman, the head of the Polish secret police.

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Several days later, Berman paid a visit to the Szpilman’s home and said that there was nothing he could do. He added, If your German were still in Poland, then we could get him out. But our comrades in the Soviet Union won’t let him go. They say your officer belonged to a detachment involved in spying – so there is nothing we can do about it as Poles, and I am powerless.

Szpilman never believed Berman’s claims of powerlessness. In an interview with Wolf Biermann, Szpilman described Berman as “all powerful by the grace of Stalin,” and lamented, “So I approached the worst rogue of the lot, and it did no good.”

Captain Wilm Hosenfeld died in a Soviet concentration camp on 13 August 1952, shortly before 10:00 in the evening, from a rupture of the thoracic aorta, possibly sustained during torture.

(letters Hosenfeld sent to his wife from the soviet camp}

Szpilman’s son, Andrzej Szpilman, had long called for Yad Vashem to recognize Wilm Hosenfeld as a Righteous Among the Nations,non-Jews who risked their lives to rescue Jew.

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In June 2009, Hosenfeld was posthumously recognized in Yad Vashem (Israel’s official memorial to the victims of The Holocaust) as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.

 

The “P” batch-The Nazi apartheid regime for Polish labourers

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The “P” badge was introduced on 8 March 1940 by the Nazi German government with relation to the requirement that Polish workers (Zivilarbeiter) used during World War II as forced laborers in Germany (following the German invasion and occupation of Poland) display a visible symbol marking their ethnic origin. The symbol was introduced with the intent to be used as a cloth patch, which indeed was the most common form, but also reproduced on documents (through stamps) and posters. The badge was humiliating, and like the  Jewish  yellow star , was meant to be a badge of shame.

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Zivilarbeiter (German for civilian worker) refers primarily to ethnic Polish residents from the General Government (Nazi-occupied central Poland), used as forced laborers in the Third Reich. The residents of occupied Poland were conscripted on the basis of the so-called Polish decrees (Polenerlasse), and were subject to discriminatory regulation.

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Compared to German workers or foreign workers from neutral and German-allied countries (Gastarbeitnehmer), Polish Zivilarbeiters received lower wages and were not allowed to use public conveniences (such as public transport) or visit many public spaces and businesses (for example they were not allowed to attend German church services, visit swimming pools or restaurants); they had to work longer hours than Germans; they received smaller food rations; they were subject to a curfew; they often were denied holidays and had to work seven days a week; could not enter a marriage without permission; possess money or objects of value. Bicycles, cameras and even lighters were forbidden. They were required to wear a sign – the “Polish-P” – attached to their clothing.

 

In late 1939 there were about 300,000 prisoners from Poland working in Germany;By autumn of 1944 their number swelled to about 2.8 million (approximately 10% of General government workforce). Poles from territories taken over after the German invasion of the Soviet Union and not included in the General Government were treated as Ostarbeiters.(the designation for foreign slave workers gathered from occupied Central and Eastern Europe to perform forced labor in Germany during World War II)

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The history of Polish Zivilarbeiters dates back to October 1939, when German authorities issued a decree, which introduced mandatory work system for all residents aged 18 to 60. In December 1939, the system also covered those aged 14 to 18, with severe punishments for law breakers. The people who did not work were called by the local authorities, and sent to work in Germany. Since the Third Reich suffered from shortage of workers, as time went by also those Poles who had permanent employment, but were not regarded as necessary for the economy, were sent to Germany. Other methods were also used, such as the infamous roundups, called “łapanka”. Those who did not present a certificate of employment were automatically sent to Germany.

 

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Most Polish Zivilarbeiters worked in agriculture, forestry, gardening, fishing, also in transport and industry. Some were employed as housekeepers. None signed any contracts, and their working hours were determined by the employers.

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In January 1945 the Central Office for Reich Security proposed a new design for a Polish badge, a yellow ear of corn on a red and white label, but it was never implemented

 

 

 

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Czeslawa Kwoka, the 14-year-old”political” prisoner of Auschwitz

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Czesława Kwoka (15 August 1928 Wólka Złojecka – 12 March 1943 Auschwitz) was a Polish Catholic child who died in the Auschwitz concentration camp at the age of 14. She was one of the thousands of child victims of German World War II crimes against Poles. She died at Auschwitz-Birkenau in German-occupied Poland, and is among those memorialized in the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum indoor exhibit called ‘Block no. 6: Exhibition: The Life of the Prisoners”

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Czeslawa was a Polish Catholic girl, from Wolka Zlojecka, Poland, who was sent to Auschwitz with her mother in December of 1942. She was deemed a political prisoner for living in Zamosc, the location of a future German colony. The cut on her lip in picture two came from being struck by a female Kapo for not speaking German which she did not know. (Speaking Polish was outlawed in 1939.)

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Czesɫawa, was only in camp three months before she perished, less than one month after her mother, Katarzyna Kwoka (prisoner number 26946) did, due to unknown circumstances (there is speculation that lethal injection was used). Both of their names can be found on a list of deceased female prisoners who were thought to be associated with the camp resistance.

The rod in the first picture was used to keep the subject still and at right distance from the camera. Those kind of devices were widely used in early days of photography when the photographic plates weren’t so sensitive and long exposures had to be used.

The pictures were taken by Wilhelm Brasse while, a Polish professional photographer and a prisoner in Auschwitz, working in the photography department at the death camp.

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WWII refugee camps in Iran

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Nowadays Iran is often referred to as an axis of evil and this piece is not meant to agree or disagree with that, it is meant to show that it hasn’t always been that way. In a similar fashion it is often believed that the Soviet army were the good guys during WWII, that wasn’t always the case either.

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Following the Soviet invasion of Poland at the onset of World War II in accordance with the Nazi-Soviet Pact against Poland, the Soviet Union acquired over half of the territory of the Second Polish Republic. Within months, in order to de-Polonize annexed lands, the Soviet NKVD rounded up and deported between 320,000 and 1 million Polish nationals to the eastern parts of the USSR, the Urals, and Siberia. There were four waves of deportations of entire families with children, women and elderly aboard freight trains from 1940 until 1941.

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These civilians included civil servants, local government officials, judges, members of the police force, forest workers, settlers, small farmers, tradesmen, refugees from western Poland, children from summer camps and orphanages, family members of anyone previously arrested, and family members of anyone who escaped abroad or went missing.

Their fate was completely changed in June 1941 when Germany unexpectedly attacked Soviet Union. In need of as many allies it could find, the Soviets agreed to release all the Polish citizens it held in captivity. Released in August 1941 from Moscow’s infamous Lubyanka Prison, Polish general Wladyslaw Anders began to mobilize the Polish Armed Forces in the East (commonly known as the Anders Army) to fight against the Nazis..

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Forming the new Polish Army was not easy, however. Many Polish prisoners of war had died in the labor camps in the Soviet Union. Many of those who survived were very weak from the conditions in the camps and from malnourishment. Because the Soviets were at war with Germany, there was little food or provisions available for the Polish Army. Thus, following the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran in 1941, the Soviets agreed to evacuate part of the Polish formation to Iran. Non-military refugees, mostly women and children, were also transferred across the Caspian Sea to Iran.

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Starting in 1942, the port city of Pahlevi (now known as Anzali) became the main landing point for Polish refugees coming into Iran from the Soviet Union, receiving up to 2,500 refugees per day. General Anders evacuated 74,000 Polish troops, including approximately 41,000 civilians, many of them children, to Iran. In total, over 116,000 refugees were relocated to Iran.

Despite these difficulties, Iranians openly received the Polish refugees, and the Iranian government facilitated their entry to the country and supplied them with provisions. Polish schools, cultural and educational organizations, shops, bakeries, businesses, and press were established to make the Poles feel more at home.

 

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The refugees were weakened by two years of maltreatment and starvation, and many suffered from malaria, typhus, fevers, respiratory illnesses, and diseases caused by starvation. Desperate for food after starving for so long, refugees ate as much as they could, leading to disastrous consequences. Several hundred Poles, mostly children, died shortly after arriving in Iran from acute dysentery caused by overeating.

Thousands of the children who came to Iran came from orphanages in the Soviet Union, either because their parents had died or they were separated during deportations from Poland. Most of these children were eventually sent to live in orphanages in Isfahan, which had an agreeable climate and plentiful resources, allowing the children to recover from the many illnesses they contracted in the poorly managed and supplied orphanages in the Soviet Union.

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Between 1942–1945, approximately 2,000 children passed through Isfahan, so many that it was briefly called the “City of Polish Children”. Numerous schools were set up to teach the children the Polish language, math, science, and other standard subjects. In some schools, Persian was also taught, along with both Polish and Iranian history and geography.

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Because Iran could not permanently care for the large influx of refugees, other British-colonized countries began receiving Poles from Iran in the summer of 1942. By 1944, Iran was already emptying of Poles. They were leaving for other camps in places such as Tanganyika, Mexico, India, New Zealand and Britain.

While most signs of Polish life in Iran have faded, a few have remained. As writer Ryszard Antolak noted in Pars Times, “The deepest imprint of the Polish sojourn in Iran can be found in the memoirs and narratives of those who lived through it. The debt and gratitude felt by the exiles towards their host country echoes warmly throughout all literature. The kindness and sympathy of the ordinary Iranian population towards the Poles is everywhere spoken of”.

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The Poles took away with them a lasting memory of freedom and friendliness, something most of them would not know again for a very long time. For few of the evacuees who passed through Iran during the years 1942 1945 would ever to see their homeland again. By a cruel twist of fate, their political destiny was sealed in Tehran in 1943. In November of that year, the leaders of Russia, Britain and the USA met in the Iranian capital to decide the fate of Post-war Europe. During their discussions (which were held in secret), it was decided to assign Poland to the zone of influence of the Soviet Union after the war

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Anguish, defiance, stoicism, acceptance and fear.

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Bloody Sunday was a series of killings of members of the German minority that took place at the beginning of World War II. On September 3, 1939, two days after the beginning of the German invasion of Poland, highly controversial killings occurred in and around Bydgoszcz (German: Bromberg), a Polish city with a sizable German minority. The number of casualties and other details of the incident are disputed among historians.

The sequence started with an attack of German Selbstschutz snipers on retreating Polish troops and then was followed by a Polish reaction and then the final retaliatory execution of Polish hostages by the Wehrmacht and Selbstschutz, after the fall of the city. All these events resulted in the deaths of both German and Polish civilians. The Polish Institute of National Remembrance found and confirmed 254 Lutheran victims, assumed to be German victims, and 86 Catholic victims, assumed to be Polish civilians, as well as 20 Polish soldiers. Approximately 600–800 Polish hostages were shot in a mass execution in the aftermath of the fall of the city.

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The Nazis exploited the deaths as grounds for a massacre of Polish inhabitants after the Wehrmacht captured the town. In an act of retaliation for the killings on Bloody Sunday, a number of Polish civilians were executed by German military units of the Einsatzgruppen, Waffen SS, and Wehrmacht.

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According to German historian Christian Raitz von Frentz, 876 Poles were tried by German tribunal for involvement in the events of Bloody Sunday before the end of 1939. 87 men and 13 women were sentenced without the right to appeal. Polish historian Czesław Madajczyk notes 120 executions in relation to Bloody Sunday, and the execution of 20 hostages after a German soldier was allegedly attacked by a Polish sniper.

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One picture of the executions gives the whole range of attitudes and emotions that went through the minds of those facing the firing squad. It’s interesting to see the range of emotions displayed by these men. Anguish, defiance, stoicism, acceptance and fear, the third one from the left is even smiling.

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The tragic death of Szmul Zygielbojm-The man who exposed the Holocaust to the allies.

Szmul-Zygielbojm-1023x946My heart was broken when I heard about this Hero. If the allies just would have listened to him and taken him serious so many lives including his own could have been saved. What make this even more tragic and poignant that he did not die by direct Nazi violence but by his own hand due to grieve and frustration.

When Szmul Zygielbojm stood up and denounced ‘the greatest crime in history’ in 1942 the Polish politician was revealing to the world for the first time the full horror of the unfolding Holocaust.

Three years before the liberation of the death camps, Zygielbojm issued his clarion call but also sowed the seeds of his own destruction warning it would ‘be a shame to go on living’ if nothing were done.

Szmul Zygielbojm (February 21, 1895 – May 11, 1943) was a Jewish-Polish socialist politician, leader of the Bund, and a member of the National Council of the Polish government in exile.

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He committed suicide to protest the indifference of the Allied governments in the face of the Holocaust.

When the Nazis ordered Jewish leaders to help with the creation of a ghetto in the Polish capital, Zygielbojm publicly opposed the command – and was subsequently smuggled out of the city.

After travelling to Belgium, France and the US, where he spoke at a series of meetings to raise awareness about the plight of Jews, he eventually found himself in London in March 1942 to join the National Council of the Polish government in exile.

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Realising that he was dealing with a sceptical non-Jewish public, Zygielbojm used British newspapers and the BBC to pass on detailed information he was being supplied with from occupied Europe.

In June 1942, The Daily Telegraph headline read ‘Germans murder 700,000 Jews in Poland’ and readers were told it was ‘the greatest massacre in the world’s history

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In April 1943, the US and UK governments met in Bermuda, supposedly to come up with answers to the unfolding plight of Jews in occupied Europe.

Ironically this happened just as the Jewish resistance rose up the Warsaw Ghetto despite facing overwhelming numbers of well armed Nazi troops.

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An estimated 13,000 Jews died during the uprising and the 50,000 or so survivors were immediately shipped to extermination camps.

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In May, Zygielbojm realised that the Allies were not going to act and then, to compound his despair, he learnt that his wife Manya and son Tuvla had died in Warsaw.

On the 12th of May he took an overdose of sodium amytal at his home in west London and left a long and detailed suicide note, explaining his decision to take his own life.

In a long, detailed “suicide letter”, addressed to Polish president Władysław Raczkiewicz and prime minister Władysław Sikorski, Zygielbojm stated that while the Nazis were responsible for the murder of the Polish Jews, the Allies were also culpable:

The responsibility for the crime of the murder of the whole Jewish nationality in Poland rests first of all on those who are carrying it out, but indirectly it falls also upon the whole of humanity, on the peoples of the Allied nations and on their governments, who up to this day have not taken any real steps to halt this crime. By looking on passively upon this murder of defenseless millions tortured children, women and men they have become partners to the responsibility.

I am obliged to state that although the Polish Government contributed largely to the arousing of public opinion in the world, it still did not do enough. It did not do anything that was not routine, that might have been appropriate to the dimensions of the tragedy taking place in Poland….

I cannot continue to live and to be silent while the remnants of Polish Jewry, whose representative I am, are being murdered. My comrades in the Warsaw ghetto fell with arms in their hands in the last heroic battle. I was not permitted to fall like them, together with them, but I belong with them, to their mass grave.

By my death, I wish to give expression to my most profound protest against the inaction in which the world watches and permits the destruction of the Jewish people.

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He wished his letter to be known not only by the Polish President and prime minister in exile. He wrote: “I am certain that the President and the Prime Minister will send out these words of mine to all those to whom they are addressed, and that the Polish Government will embark immediately on diplomatic action and explanation of the situation, in order to save the living remnant of the Polish Jews from destruction.”

After his death, Zygielbojm’s seat in the Polish exile parliament was taken over by Emanuel Scherer.

Zygielbojm’s younger son, Joseph, survived the Ghetto’s destruction. After taking a leadership role in the Polish resistance during the war, he immigrated to the United States, where he became a scientist at NASA. He died in 1995, survived by his sons, Arthur and Paul.

Rutka Laskier’s teenage account of the Holocaust.

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Rutka was 14 years old when she was murdered in the gas chambers at Auschwitz. In the months before her death, Rutka, like Anne Frank in Amsterdam, kept a detailed diary documenting her deepest thoughts and fears. When she and her family – younger brother Henius, mother Dorka and father Yaakov ,were moved by the Nazis from their home in the Polish town of Bedzin to a closed ghetto, she believed she would not survive and hid the notebook under a floorboard, telling only her friend Stanislawa Sapinska of its existence.

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From 19 January to 24 April 1943, without her family’s knowledge, Laskier kept a diary in an ordinary school notebook, writing in both ink and pencil, making entries sporadically. In it, she discussed atrocities she witnessed committed by the Nazis, and described daily life in the ghetto, as well as innocent teenage love interests. She also wrote about the gas chambers at the concentration camps, indicating that the horrors of the camps had filtered back to those still living in the ghettos.

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Below are some of her Diary entries.

January 19, 1943

“I cannot grasp that it is already 1943, four years since this hell began.”

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January 27, 1943

I had my photo taken. Although usually I don’t look pretty in photographs, in reality I am very beautiful. I’m tall, thin, with nice legs, a thin waist, elongated hands but ugly fingernails. I have big black eyes, thick brown eyebrows and long eyelashes. Black hair, trimmed short and combed back, a pug nose, nicely outlined lips, snow-white teeth. I would like to pour out all the turmoil I am feeling inside, but I’m incapable. Sometimes I’m so depressed, that when I open my mouth it’s only to sting someone.

February 5, 1943

The rope around us is getting tighter. Next month there should be a ghetto, a real one, surrounded by walls.

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In the summer it will be unbearable. To sit in a grey locked cage, without being able to see fields and flowers. I can’t believe that one day I’ll be able to leave the house without the yellow star.

 

The little faith I had has been shattered. If God existed, He would not have permitted that human beings be thrown alive into furnaces, and the heads of little toddlers be smashed with butt of guns or be shoved into sacks and gassed to death… Those who haven’t seen this would never believe it. But it’s the truth.

February 6, 1943.

Something has broken in me. When I pass by a German, everything shrinks in me. I don’t know whether it’s out of fear or hatred. Today, I recalled in detail the day of August 12, 1942 the mass round-up of Bedzin’s Jews for deportation.

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We got up at 4am. There were thousands of people on the road. I looked beyond the fence and saw soldiers with machine guns aimed at the square in case someone tried to escape. People fainted, children cried. Judgment Day. It was terribly hot. Then, all of a sudden, it started pouring. The rain didn’t stop. At 3pm the selection started. 1. meant returning home, 1a. going to labour, 2. meant going for further inspection and 3. deportation, in other words death. Mom, Dad and my brother were sent to group 1. I was sent to 1a. I was stunned. Salek, Linka and Niania already sat there. The weirdest thing was that we didn’t cry AT ALL. Little children were lying on the wet grass. The policemen beat them ferociously and shot them.

 

I sat there until 1am. Then I ran away. I jumped out of a window from the first floor of a small building, and nothing happened to me. My lips were bitten so bad that they bled. Oh, I forgot the most important thing. I saw how a soldier tore a baby, who was only a few months old, out of its mother’s hands and bashed his head against an electric pylon. The baby’s brain splashed on the wood. The mother went crazy. I’m 14, and I haven’t seen much in my life, and I’m already so indifferent. Janek came by this afternoon. He blurted out he’d like it very much if he could kiss me. I said “maybe”. But I won’t let him. I’m afraid it would destroy something beautiful, pure. I’m also afraid that I’ll be very disappointed.

February 20, 1943…
I have a feeling that I’m writing for the last time. There is an Aktion “resettlement” of Jews. This is hell. I try to escape from thoughts of the next day, but they haunt me like nagging flies.

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I was foolish about Janek. My eyes have been opened. The only thing that matters to him is that his pants are ironed, how many cakes he ate at Frontag’s coffee house and girls’ legs.
March 8, 1943…
I must pull myself together and not wet my pillow with tears. I am sick and tired of the steady fear seen in everybody’s faces. This fear clutches on to everyone and doesn’t let go.
April 24, 1943…
The sun is shining so brightly. Outside the windows apple trees and lilacs are blooming, and you have to sit in this suffocating and stinking room. The entire day I’m walking around the room, I have nothing to do.

Rutka was deported from the ghetto and was believed to have died in a gas chamber, age 14, along with her mother and brother, upon arrival with her family at the Auschwitz concentration camp in August 1943.Although there are reports she may have died later.

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While writing the diary, Laskier shared it with Stanisława Sapińska (21 years old, at that time), whom she had befriended after Laskier’s family moved into a home owned by Sapińska’s Roman Catholic family, which had been confiscated by the Nazis so that it could be included in the ghetto.Laskier gradually came to realise she would not survive, and, realizing the importance of her diary as a document of what had happened to the Jewish population of Będzin, asked Sapińska to help her hide the diary. Sapińska showed Laskier how to hide the diary in her house under the double flooring in a staircase, between the first and second floors.

After the ghetto was evacuated and all its inhabitants sent to the death camp, Sapińska returned to the house and retrieved the diary. She kept it in her home library for 63 years and did not share it with anyone but members of her immediate family. In 2005, Adam Szydłowski, the chairman of the Center of Jewish Culture of the Zagłębie Region of Poland, was told by one of Sapińska’s nieces about the existence of the diary

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With help from Sapińska’s nephew, he obtained a photocopy of the diary and was instrumental in the publishing of its Polish-language edition. Its publication by Yad Vashem Publications was commemorated with a ceremony in Jerusalem by Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority), Israel’s Holocaust museum, on 4 June 2007, in which Zahava Scherz took part. At this ceremony, Sapińska also donated the original diary to Yad Vashem, in violation of Polish law.

The diary, which has been authenticated by Holocaust scholars and survivors, has been compared to the diary of Anne Frank, the best known Holocaust-era diary. The two girls were approximately the same age when they wrote their respective diaries (Laskier at age 14 and Frank between the ages of 13 and 15), and, in both cases, of their entire families, only their fathers survived the war.

Janowska concentration camp and Lvov

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Awful atrocities were carried out at the Janowska concentration camp and surrounding Lvov(aka Lwow and Lviv) by the Nazis, Soviet troops and Ukrainian nationalists. To an extend it reminds me of the current situation in Aleppo where the population is being subjected by violence from all sides.

In September 1941, the Germans set up a factory on Janowska Street in the northwestern suburbs of Lvov, in southeastern Poland(today Lviv in Ukraine). This factory became part of a network of factories, the German Armament Works, owned and operated by the SS. Jews were used as forced laborers, mainly in carpentry and metalwork. In October 1941, the Germans established a camp housing the forced laborers next to the factory.

After the Nazi-Soviet invasion of Poland at the beginning of World War II, the city of Lwów in the Second Polish Republic(now Lviv, Ukraine) was occupied in September 1939 by the Soviet Union under the terms of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact.

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At that time, there were over 330,000 Jews residing in Lwów, including over 90,000 Jewish children and infants. Over 150,000 of them were refugees from the German-occupied western part of the Poland. In June 1941, the German Army took over Lvov in the course of the initially successful attack on the Soviet positions in eastern Poland, known as Operation Barbarossa. Almost no Jews of Lvov were alive at the end of the war, many being horrifically tormented and tortured before they were murdered.

The retreating Soviets killed about 7,000 Polish and Ukrainian civilians in June during the NKVD prisoner massacres in Lvov.

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The invading Germans blamed the NKVD massacre on the Soviet Jews in the NKVD ranks, and used the atrocity as propaganda tool to incite the first pogrom in which over 4,000 Polish Jews were killed between 30 June and 2 July 1941 by Ukrainian nationalists.

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The arrival of the Nazis let loose a wave of antisemitic feelings. Encouraged by German forces, local Ukrainian nationalists murdered additional 5,500 Jews during the second Lviv pogrom in 25–27 July 1941. It was known as the “Petliura Days”, named for the nationalist leader Symon Petliura. For three straight days, Ukrainian militants went on a murderous rampage through the Jewish districts of Lwów. Groups of Jews were herded out to the Jewish cemetery and to the prison on Łąckiego street where they were killed. More than 2,000 Jews died and thousands more were injured.

In early November 1941, the Nazis closed-off northern portions of the city of Lwów thus forming a ghetto.German police shot and killed thousands of elderly and sick Jews as they crossed under the rail bridge on Pełtewna Street (which was called bridge of death by Jews), while they were on their way to the ghetto. In March 1942, the Nazis began to deport Jews from the ghetto to the Belzec extermination camp. By August 1942, more than 65,000 Jews had been deported from Lwów and killed. In early June 1943, the Germans destroyed and liquidated the ghetto

In addition to the Lwów ghetto, in September 1941, the Germans set up a D.A.W. (Deutsche Ausrüstungswerke – the German Armament Works) workshop in prewar Steinhaus’ mill machines factory on 134 Janowska Street, in northwestern suburbs of Lwów (at that time in German-occupied southeastern Poland, now in western Ukraine). This factory became a part of a network of factories, owned and operated by the SS. The commandant of the camp was SS-Haupsturmführer Fritz Gebauer. Jews who worked at this factory were used as forced laborers, mainly working in carpentry and metalwork.

In October 1941, the Nazis established a concentration camp beside the factory, which housed the forced laborers along with the rest of the prisoners. Thousands of Jews from the Lwów ghetto were forced to work as slave laborers in this camp. When the Lwów ghetto was liquidated by the Nazis, the ghetto’s inhabitants who were fit for work were sent to the Janowska camp; the rest were deported to the Belzec for extermination. The concentration camp was guarded by a Sonderdienst battalion of the SS-trained Hiwi police guards known as “Trawniki men”.

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In addition to being a forced-labor camp for Jews, Janowska was a transit camp during the mass deportations of Polish Jews to the killing centers in 1942. Jews underwent a selection process in Janowska camp similar to that used at Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek extermination camps. Those classified as fit to work remained at Janowska for forced labor. The majority, rejected as unfit for work, were deported to Belzec and killed, or else were shot at the Piaski ravine, located just north of the camp. In the summer and fall of 1942, thousands of Jews (mainly from the Lwów ghetto) were deported to Janowska and killed in the Piaski ravine.

The Nazis occasionally allowed small groups of Jews to go to town for daylong leaves of absence. They would use this temporary freedom to dig up Torahs that had been hidden in Lwów’s Jewish cemetery.The Torahs were then cut into pieces which were hidden under their clothes and smuggled back into the camp. After the war the various pieces were assembled into a single scroll, the Yanov torah, which is currently in California.

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Ahead of the Soviet advance, in November 1943 the new camp commandant SS-Hauptsturmführer Friedrich Warzok was put in charge of the evacuation of the Janowska inmates to Przemyśl.

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The Germans attempted to destroy the traces of mass murder during Sonderaktion 1005.

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Prisoners were forced to open the mass graves in Lesienicki forest and burn the bodies. On November 19, 1943, the Sonderkommando inmates staged a revolt against the Nazis and attempted a mass escape. A few succeeded, but most were recaptured and killed. The SS and their local auxiliaries murdered at least 6,000 Jews who had survived the uprising killings at Janowska, as well as Jews in other forced labor camps in Galicia, at the time of the camps’ liquidation.

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One of the inmates and a survivor of the Janowska Concentration camp was Simon Wiesenthal.

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In late 1941, Wiesenthal and his wife were transferred to Janowska concentration camp and forced to work at the Eastern Railway Repair Works. He painted swastikas and other inscriptions on captured Soviet railway engines, and Cyla was put to work polishing the brass and nickel. In exchange for providing details about the railways, Wiesenthal obtained false identity papers for his wife from a member of the Armia Krajowa, a Polish underground organisation.

She travelled to Warsaw, where she was put to work in a German radio factory. She spent time in two different labour camps as well. Conditions were harsh and her health was permanently damaged, but she survived the war. The couple was reunited in 1945, and their daughter Paulinka was born the following year.

 

 

Sonderaktion Krakau-the raid on Polish scholars.

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On November 6, 1939, Obersturmbannführer SS Bruno Müller ordered the the faculty of the University of Krakow to assemble for a special lecture to present the Nazis’ vision for Poland.

Upon arrival the faculty found themselves among the first casualties of the systematic deconstruction of the country. Codenamed the Sonderaktion Krakau, the professors were all taken into custody and deported to the concentration camps of Sachsenhausen and Dachau.

A little over two months after the German Invasion of Poland, the Gestapo chief in Kraków SS-Obersturmbannführer Bruno Müller,bruno_muller_ss-obersturmbannfuhrer

commanded Jagiellonian University rector Professor Tadeusz Lehr-Spławiński to require all professors to attend his lecture about German plans for Polish education.

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The rector agreed and sent an invitation throughout the university for a meeting scheduled at the administrative centre building in the Collegium Novum . On November 6, 1939 at the lecture room no. 56 (or 66, sources vary) at noon, all academics and their guests gathered; among them, 105 professors and 33 lecturers from Jagiellonian University (UJ), 34 professors and doctors from University of Technology (AGH) some of whom attended a meeting in a different room, 4 from University of Economics (AE) and 4 from Lublin and Wilno.

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The academics filled the hall but no lecture on education was conducted. Instead, they were told by Müller that the university did not have permission to start a new academic year , and that Poles are hostile toward German science, and act in bad faith. They were arrested on the spot by armed police, frisked and escorted out. Some senior professors were kicked, slapped in the face and hit with rifle butts. Additional 13–15 university employees and students who were onsite were also arrested, as well as the President of Kraków, Dr Stanisław Klimecki who was apprehended at home that afternoon.

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All of them, 184 persons in total, were transported first to prison at Montelupich street, then to barracks at Mazowiecka, and – three days later – to a detention center in Breslau, Germany (now Wrocław, Poland), where they spent 18 days split between two prison facilities: the detention centre (Untersuchungsgefängnis, at the Świebodzka 1 Street), and the Strafgefängnis penal complex at Kleczkowska 35. The Gestapo were unprepared for such a large transfer of prisoners, and awaited permission to send them to Buchenwald concentration camp which was filled to capacity. As a result, on November 27, 1939 at night, they were loaded onto a train to Sachsenhausen concentration camp located on the other side of Berlin, and in March 1940, sent further to Dachau concentration camp near Munich after a new batch of younger academics taken prisoner arrived.

Following loud international protest by prominent Italians including Benito Mussolini and the Vatican,101 professors who were older than 40 were released from Sachsenhausen on February 8, 1940. Additional academics were released later. Many elderly professors did not survive the roll-calls held twice a day in snow and rain, and the grim living conditions in the camp where dysentery was common and warm clothes were rare. Twelve died in the camp within three months, and another five within days of release. Among the notable professors who died in the camp were Ignacy Chrzanowski (UJ; Jan 19, 1940), Stanisław Estreicher (UJ; Dec 29, 1939), Kazimierz Kostanecki ( Jan 11, 1940), Antoni Meyer (AGH; Dec 24, 1939), and Michał Siedlecki (Jan 11, 1940, after roll-call). In March 1940 the able prisoners from Kraków who remained alive were sent to Dachau concentration camp and most of them, but not all, released in January 1941 on intervention.

Many of those who went through Sonderaktion Krakau and the internment, in 1942 formed an underground university in defiance of the German punitive edicts. Among the 800 students of their underground college was Karol Wojtyła, the future Pope John Paul II, taught by prof. Tadeusz Lehr-Spławiński among others.

John-Paul Ii In Zaire In August, 1985.

Today there is a plaque commemorating the events of Sonderaktion Krakau in front of Collegium Novum in Kraków. Every November 6, black flags are hung outside all Jagiellonian University buildings, and the Rector of the University lays wreaths to honor those who suffered.

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