Alter Ogień Testimony

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Alter Ogień, born 1910 in Krasnosielc, in 1939 living in Warsaw, Smocza 11, apt. 12.


I encountered the Hitler’s murderers in November 1939 for the first time. I was waiting in line to get some bread. A few Nazi Sturmführers approached us and asked which among us were Jewish. The Polish people who were present pointed out who was Jewish. We got beaten up and thrown out of the line. We left without bread. As I was walking, I could see that they were getting ready to get the work done, beating up Jews for no reason. It was impossible to show oneself in public. After a while, the hunger started in Warsaw; due to the work of the organizations such as Bund, Poale Zion, the Zionists, but most of all Bund, a soup kitchen was organized and it alleviated the hunger a little bit.  I am a tailor, and having no work, I took up trade. Despite the fact that it was a difficult job, since the Germans would beat us up, steal (I traded cosmetics), arrest and trample the merchandise, etc. Oftentimes, German officers would pretend to buy something, but later they would not pay and mock me. I remember how a German soldier with a whip would walk around the Plac Żelaznej Bramy (the Iron Gate Square). Every few minutes, he would summon a Jew and beat him or her mercilessly. In winter, a new series of plagues began, so called steam baths. It was not a cleanliness problem, but a method of harassment. On the coldest days of winter, women, children and the elderly were driven out of the apartments. They were chased to the public baths, and then, wet, they were forced to stand outside, in the cold. A large group was sent to isolation camps, where they were kept with very little food and drink. They slept on hard benches. Slowly, a number of bans were introduced such as separate trams for the Jews and taking one’s hat off when encountering a German soldier. I was once captured after I did not take my hat off while walking past a German soldier. At the police station where I was taken, I met a large number of Jews who were being horribly tortured; for example, they were made to crawl on their bellies for hours and beaten up terribly. I myself, weak, received a ‘light’ punishment—I was supposed to keep bowing down to the soldier for half an hour while repeating “Gut Morgen mein liebster Herr”. Forced labor for Jews was introduced. Thanks to the Judenrat, the work was divided equally; all Jews had to work a few days a week. While working, we were being harassed in various ways. For example, as we were being led to work at the airport, we were forced to run 3 kilometers before work; whoever fell down was beaten up severely. Or else—a weak man was given a heavy cupboard to carry. In March, April 1940, they began to erect the wall around the Warsaw Jewish district; initially, the people did not know why it was happening. Only in November 1940 they told us that a Jewish ghetto was being created and every Jew had to move out of their apartment and into the place made especially for the Jews between October 1 and November 1. On December 1 the ghetto was suddenly closed. Those who did not manage to move would lose everything. In the crowded ghetto, there was terrible hunger, the epidemics of typhus and dysentery. People would drop like flies. There was no time for burial. A man by the name of Pinkiert opened funeral houses on several streets, but people whose loved ones did not even have 20 zlotys to their name to bury the dead, would lie on streets for weeks, covered only with paper. The largest group was buried in mass graves, naked, a few hundred people all at once. Despite that, due to such a huge number of the dead, the Germans ordered to burn the dead. Later, the Germans organized labor camps a few hundred kilometers outside of Warsaw. Those labor camps were the beginning of the extermination of the Jews. Unfortunately, Judenrats with the Jewish police helped, taking people out of bed at night and delivering them to the German authorities. The so-called ‘shops’ were organized in Warsaw, so that craftsmen would not go to the camps. All instruments, tools and machines, etc. were taken away. In those shops the production for the German authorities began. Also here, unfortunately, the German administration, motivated by money, introduced their acquaintances into those shops in place of expelled non-craftsmen. The latter were the first victims of deportation camps, and later also Treblinka, for extermination.

Working at a shop, I grew very weak. I sold everything; I was starved. Not wanting to waste myself completely, I decided to leave Warsaw. I paid the Polish policeman guarding the ghetto, I gave a gendarme 100 zlotys and they allowed me to cross to the other side. As a Pole, without the shameful arm band, I made my way to the train leaving for Lublin. On my way to Puławy, young Poles recognized me and threw me out of the train. Thanks to a coincidence, a Polish ticket inspector whom I gave 50 zlotys, put me on a train to Lublin. Here, in Lublin, I spent two days and I went to Łęczna.

There were approximately 5000 Jews in Łęczna.  There was no ghetto there.  The Jews would be sent to work at a quarry (at the estate). The life was normal until March 1942. At the time, the Jews started to be killed in neighboring towns and villages, such as Dratów, Kaniwola, Rozpłucie, Sowy, Krasne. The gendarmes would come, shoot people on the spot and bury them right there.  Local government would receive their possessions. In our village, Łęczna, the extermination began. One night, a woman, Ms. Lichtensztajn, was taken away with her father and a neighbor and they were shot in a street.  Later it was announced that they were trying to escape while being arrested.  It should be added that Ms. Lichtensztajn was a social activist and she would help many Jews and mediate with the Germans.  After 8 days the rabbi and his son (rabbi Berson) were taken away and thrown into the Wieprz river alive. The rabbi was later found and buried.  After a few day, 21 Jews were captured and arrested. The Judenrat was sent for, but when they did not arrive, those Jews were soon murdered; they heads were smashed with a pole.  After a while, a series of contributions of 100 000 zlotys and other sums imposed on the Jews began. The money was collected with great difficulty but always delivered on time. But that did not help. One time, the town was surrounded by the Germans and Polish police and 3000 Jews were walked out to Piaski, and from there, to various death camps. A certain number of Jews stayed in Łęczna where a labor camp was created. The camp lasted until November 1942. One day the camp was surrounded and 1200 Jews were shot; they were buried in a mass grave by the synagogue. I was in the village at the time. After what happened, approximately 1000-1200 women, children and men who worked in the quarry remained.  It lasted until April 1943. They were later taken to Treblinka and exterminated. My wife, who had been in Łęczna, escaped to join me in the village.  I stayed in the village the entire time, until the liberation. Gendarmes and policemen often searched for me, but one Christian man, Włodarczyk, was keeping me and watching over me.  It helped me a lot that the guerillas burned some neighboring districts and the gendarmes would visit the village very rarely.

I know that there were two Jews (brothers) in the Zywlinska colony. They were murdered by Błaszczak, a farmer. On July 24, 1944, I was liberated alongside my wife by the Soviet army. I arrived in Lublin and began working at the Ślimak’s mill. This is where I am working now.

Alter Ogień