Tetimony from Belzec / Chaim Hirszman

The Jewish Historical District Commission                               Lublin, March 19, 1946

in Lublin


Testifying: Hirszman Chaim

Born: October 24, 1912 in Janow Lubelski

Education: Vocational School

Occupation before the war: Mechanic – Metal Worker

Occupation now: works in W.U.B.P. (District Office of Public Security)

Previous to the war: lived in Janow Lubelski and in Stalowa Wola in C.O.P. (Central Industrial Region in the middle of Poland)

During the occupation: lived in Janow

Recording: Irena Szajewicz

In the year 39', when the Germans entered Janow, there were about 4000 Jews there. Most of the houses were destroyed as a result of hostilities. A few Jewish stores which had remained were crushed and robbed.

There were constant street round-ups for labor. I used to escape or hide and never let them take me for labor. They used to beat men at work; once they even killed an elderly Jew.

At the beginning I lived with my parents, brothers and sisters; afterwards I married and lived with my wife.

Jews had to wear armband.

There were several Germans whose treatment was particularly sadistic. Those were: Muller, a Gestapo-man of middle size, blond with evil blue eyes and blond hair; Derband, a tall gendarme, a very handsome brunette with blue eyes and one leg shorter; Zeis, the head of Arbeitsamt, who used to treat in a cruel way Jews that he met on the street.

I worked as a tinner in Engineer Ksiazek Ferdynand (volksdeutsch) building office. When I once didn't appear to work, he reported me to the Arbeitsamt. Zeis called me to his office, and when I arrived he beat me. I never went back to the former firm, but worked in another building office.

The worst devil was Leng, the last subprefect of Janow.

Up to September 42' there was no special "action". Then all the Jews were ordered to leave Janow. They were allowed to go either to Krasnik or to Zaklikow. I went with my family to Zaklikow. In Zaklikow a segregation took place.

Men able to work formed one seperate group; women, children, old men and those considered unable to work formed another group. I was sent to the side of those selected for work. But since my wife and my half-a-year old son were sent to the opposite side, I asked to join them and was permitted to do so.

We were entrained and taken to Belzec. The train entered a small forest. Then the entire crew of the train was changed. SS-men from the death camp replaced the railroad employees. We were not aware of this at that time. The train entered the camp. Other SS-men took us off the train. They led us all together – women, men, children – to a barrack. We were told to undress before we go to the bath. I understood immediately what that meant. After undressing we were told to form two groups, one of men and the other of women with children. An SS-man, with the strike of a horsewhip, sent the men to the right or to the left, to death – to work.

I was selected to death, I didn't know it then. Anyway, I believed that both sides meant the same – death. But when I jumped in the indicated direction, an SS-man called me and said: "Du bist ein Militarmensch, dich konnen wir brauchen" [You look like a military man, exactly what we need]. We, who were selected for work, were told to dress up. I and some other men were appointed to take the people to the kiln. I was sent with the women. The Ukrainian Schmidt, a volksdeutch, was standing at the entrance to the gas chamber and hitting with a knout every entering woman. Before the door was closed, he fired a few shots from his revolver and then the door was closed automatically. 40 minutes later we went in and carried the bodies out to a special (   ). We shaved the hair of the bodies, which were afterwards packed into sacks and taken away by Germans.

The children were not burried on the spot; The Germans waited until more bodies were gathered. So that day we did not bury.

I am managed to observe there were many people in the camp, all of them Jews. There were so-called "clean" barracks and dirty barracks. I was directed to a "clean" one, where the barrack lockmaster gave me a plank bed.

I wrote the protocol down on March 19, 1946 up to this point. Since the witness could not proceed with his testimony that day, he intended to do so the next day.

That same evening he was murdered by 2 or 3 men from N.S.Z. (National Armed Forces). Now his wife, widow, whom he had told during their almost one year of marriage all the details of his stay in Belzec and later his escape, is following-up his testimony.

                       Irena Szajewicz

For my murdered husband Chaim Hirszman

Pola Hirszman

Pola Kaminer was born in Bilgoraj on May 30, 1923. She is deposing what she knows about Belzec from what her husband told her.

I know, from what my husband told me, that the camp in Belzec constituted, together with the barracks for workers (who were recruited from the transports only), one unit. From the outside the camp was surrounded by a small forest, so that nothing could be noticed. There was one barrack into which all the people destined to death were driven, its door closed automatically and people were gased there. Jews-workers took the bodies out and burried them in the beginning, while later on they were burned.

My husband told me of a case when one of the workers was so hungry that while burning the bodies, he ate up a part of a dead man's leg.

One day a transport with children up to 3 years old arrived; I cannot tell their exact number, but I know they were many. The workers were told to dig one big hole into the children were thrown and burried alive. My husband recollected this with horror. He couldn't forget how the earth was rising until the children suffocated.

From what he told me I conclude that there was no krematorium there, the bodies were burned at the stake. The camp was like a town. The streets had even names. The barracks were made of wood, except for the barrack that had contained the gas chamber.

The reveille took place at 4 o'clock at dawn and the prisoners turned out for roll-call. The Germans inspected them and if they did not like someone, or if someone looked sick, he would be selected for the Himmel Kommando [for death]. At the same time the Jews had to sing every day: "mountaineer, don't you regreat…", and then everybody went off to work. I only know there was a place for sorting out things where my husband worked for some time, searching clothes and arranging them. Several times he managed to "pinch" valuables, but he always threw it away in the toilet since it had no value to him: he was ready to die at any moment. Later on he worked for some time as a gardner, finally as a tinner. Once he was repairing the roof of a barrack. The barrack was situated at the very end of the camp and the roof was pitched. My husband was calculating how to slip down the roof without being noticed and get out of the camp. In a distance he saw a farmer's cottage and intended to get through to it. In the meantime the Germans discovered that one of the prisoners, a Czechoslovakian Jew, had been planning an escape. The SS-men ordered to build gallows. They gathered all the prisoners and ordered them to participate in the execution. My husband was told to fetch a rope and to tie the convict up. My husband managed somehow to get out of this, since there was one Jew there who was an expert in tying up and my husband somehow manipulated that Jew to do it also that time. Before he was hanged, the condemned said: "I am perishing, but Hitler will die and the Germans will lose the war".

The prisoners were constantly beaten, and every day many of the workers from the regular staff were killed.

Typhus was prevailing, but one had to avoid admitting the disease. The sick were murdered on the spot. Getting medical treatment or lying down was out of question. Sick with Typhus and with a fever of 40 Celsius degrees my husband worked and somehow managed to conceal his condition from the Germans.

He was one of the oldest prisoners. Nobody there succeeded in lasting out for such a long period like he did. Later on there wasn't even such a great hunger. There was an Ukrainian who used to buy them food for valuables, and everyone in the camp had more than enough oppurtunities to get some valuables. They were also not badly clad, wearing of course the clothes of the dead. Transports arrived every day; Mainly from Poland, but also from other European countries – Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and other. In one of the transports there was an Ukrainian woman. She possessed document that proved she was a genuine Aryan and there was no doubt about it. And yet she went to the gas chamber. Once you crossed the gate to the camp, there was no chance to get out of there alive. Not even any Germans, except for the camp staff, had access to the camp. About one kilometer far from the camp there was the camp office. The commander of the camp also lived in that house. The staff was residing in the camp. I remember only one name of an SS-mam, Feix. It stuck in my memory since he was previously the commander of the camp in Janow Lubelski. He was a tall slender blond, very handsome. In Belzec he was one of the cruelest. I do not know what was his position there.

Two Czechoslovakian Jewsses were working in the camp office. They too had never entered the camp. They even enjoyed a certain freedom of movement. They often went with the SS-men to town to arrange different matters. One day they were told that they would visit the camp. The SS-men showed them the camp around, and in a certain moment they led the women to the gas chamber. When they were inside, the door was closed behind them; they (The Germans) finished with then in spite of the promise that they would live.

The Germans ordered the prisoners to set up a football team and on Sundays games were being played. Jews played with SS-men, the same ones who tortured and murdered them. The SS-men treated this as a matter of sport, and when they lost a game they had no complaints.

There wasn't even one day without a transport. Mainly women and children were being conveyed. The Ukrainains employed in the camp treated people even more sadistically than the Germans. The Jews were planning a revolt and a general escape, but due to treason they had to abandon the plan.

There were also women employed in the camp, but their number was much smaller than the number of men. There were no children at all. Women worked. They were selected from the transports.

One had always to look content, never to look sad; Because if an SS-man didn't like the look on someone's face, he would shoot him or send him to the chimney. At work they used to beat terribly. To turn around was forbidden, they shot for that. My husband was the chief tinner, and I think due to this he held out for such a long time there.

After 9 months of staying in Belzec the Germans liquidated the camp. Prisoners who had been working there were taken away, and all the workshops and the office were liquidated. In the last few weeks the transports stopped completely. The staff and the prisoners were taken by train right from the camp to the camp in Sobibor. The Germans told them they were going to work. But the prisoners, realizing they were being taken in the direction of Chelm, understood where they were going. My husband decided to escape. He agreed upon that with other two companions who were with him in the same car. They took a plank out of the car's floor and then drew lots who was to escape first. The lot fell upon my husband. He slipped out of the hole. First he put out the legs and then he slipped out. He had to lie still until the train passed, and even then he couldn't get up because Germans with automatic guns were sitting on top of the train. The others were supposed to escape right after my husband. They agreed upon a certain place to meet. My husband waited there, but the others didn't show up; they probably failed to escape. My husband was always certain that he was the only one who survived.

During his stay in Belzec, according to his and his companions' estimation, 800,000 Jews were murdered there. After he escaped my husband reached a railway station, where he questioned a railroad worker about the road to Hrubieszow. After a short distance he realized that someone was following him. He understood that the man had reported him. He was actually round-up and was being chased by Ukrainians on bicycles.My husband managed to hide in the rye. From his hiding place he could observe the "black" ones (Ukrainians in black uniforms) searching in the roadside bushes, illuminating the area with reflectors and shooting from their automatic guns. Somehow, in spite of all, he was saved. Then he got to Janow Lubelski, and from there to the forest – where he joined the Partisans of A.L. (People's Army) at district no. 23, brigade (   ) named after W.Z. Grzybowski. He stayed there from March 1944 until the entrance of the Red Army. During that period he killed 29 Germans, which is acknowledged in the order and was awarded the Grunwald Cross.

Pola Hirszman

Irena Szajewicz


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