Maharshal – Rabbi Shelomo (Solomon) ben Yechiel Luria Maharshal = Morenu HaRav Shelomo Luria / Neta Avidar
After twenty years of digging through microfilmed vital records of my Lublin ancestors, I have now actually “flown through” Lublin and taken a virtual walk around my ancient “family homestead” even though it was demolished in 1939. It’s all thanks to the creative genius of the geo-modelers at Brama Grodzka/TeatrNN in Lublin, the far-reaching data of Jewish Records Indexing – Poland, and visualization tools of Google Earth. And with a little know-how, you can visit your Lublin family’s home too!
The Brama Grodzka (“City Gate”) building dates back to the 14th century when the original medieval structure housed a drawbridge and at night separated the Lublin Jewish community from the gated Christian city center. Nicknamed “The Jewish Gate”, the original Brama Grodzka witnessed the signing of the famous “Treaty of Lublin” that created the Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania in 1569. Rebuilt in 1785, the Brama Grodzka now serves as an interactive civic museum bringing to life the multicultural Lublin of the pre-war past, and they are setting the standard for glimpsing the past and visiting our heritage.
While creating a searchable index of the Lublin vital records for JRI-Poland (see http://www.jri-poland.org), I began to notice that my large Lublin family was often cited as living at House #434 on Ulicy Ruska. People died and babies were born at this house, some being recorded as early as 1813. A couple born in the 1780’s who married around 1800 seemed to come from large families related to me (CYGIELMAN and ROSZGOLD) each citing that same address and stating the occupation of “cygielnik” (brickman) over and over in the records. One individual was described by each of these surnames within the same record, so I began to theorize that several families related by marriage and/or business had lived in a large building of apartment flats rather than a single family “house”. Along with these theories, my curiosity about the size and shape of the building at this old address grew and grew.
By 2001, I was able to briefly visit Lublin in person with my guide, Krzysztof Malczewski. “Chris” and I met with Robert Kuwalek, a scholar and historian at the Majdanek Museum, who suggested that we visit TeatrNN and view their models of Old Lublin. Robert gave me a matrix known as a “taryfa” which was published in 1899 in the local Russian newspaper. It described all the properties in Old Town Lublin (“Stare Miasto”) by land registry number, old and new house numbers, and even included the property owners’ names at that moment in time. From this taryfa, I learned that House #434 had been renumbered “8 Ulicy Ruska”. It was assigned land registry #286, a permanent number allowing tracking despite name changes over time. The property owner was identified as “Melzak,” a name which was disappointingly unfamiliar to me. We drove to Ruska Street guided by Mr. Roman Litman, the current head of the Lublin Jewish Community, but together we could not locate the address. Mr. Litman told us that the street had been bulldozed by the Germans in 1939 and had been slightly reengineered later when it was eventually rebuilt. Since everything including the layout of the street had changed, it was impossible to see exactly where my family homestead had been.
At TeatrNN, my English-speaking guides, Marta and Beata, showed us an impressive cardboard model, approximately 17 feet long that resembled an HO-scale model railroad. They said it had been a gift of Rishon LeTzion, one of Lublin’s sister cities. Beata invited me to crouch down and view the model from “street level” or “eye level”. She helped me estimate where House #434 had been just below St. Mikolya’s Church. We couldn’t identify the exact location on the model, so I photographed the entire block and for the next ten years, this photo was the closest I could come to visiting our ancient family home.
In May 2010, I returned to Lublin with my 19 year-old son, Joshua, and our translator and guide, Chris Malczewski. We revisited TeatrNN and learned from Tadeusz Przystojecki, a trained archivist and redactor in the TeatrNN History Department, that there are at least four surviving taryfas for the City of Lublin. They date from the 1899 publication I was familiar with, up to 1915. Skimming these publications in Tadeusz’s office, I learned that the 1903 taryfa showed land registry #286 to have not just one, but three separate buildings on it, labeled “434”, “434a” and “434b”. At that time, the owner of #434 was a Josef Melzak, the same surname I had discovered on the 1899 taryfa. 434b belonged to an Abraham Klainberg – another name that meant nothing to me. But, lo and behold, building 434b was owned by “Cygielman & …”, my family! Ninety years after a Cygielman/Roszgold baby had been born at #434, the building was apparently still owned by family members. House #434 seemed more real than ever, even if it could only be pictured in my vivid imagination!
In March of this year, I received an email from Tadeusz, saying that their project to document a view of all the pre-war buildings of Lublin was now live on TeatrNN’s website using Google Earth technology. He sent me the URL (http://teatrnn.pl/makieta/makieta.html ), instructing me that it requires the installation of the Google Earth version 6 plug-in and cautioning me that the website was still in Polish only. It will eventually be translated into English. There are already “place mark balloons” to identify all street addresses, and these balloons will eventually be expanded to include historical information about the inhabitants of those dwellings and the businesses located there in the selected 1930’s time period. Some of the balloons already include hotlinks to web pages about the particular building. TeatrNN is busy collecting additional materials to recreate the information needed to “populate” the old buildings, and their objective is to provide virtual geo-models of Lublin showcasing the town in several significant historical time periods. We’ll eventually be able to visit the city throughout its glorious and turbulent history. Remarkable!
The 3-D Lublin model can also be initiated directly from TeatrNN’s newest homepage (www.teatrnn.pl). From that homepage, if one clicks on the photo of the 3-D model and downloads the Google Earth plug in, the view automatically “flies in” using the interactive virtual globe. Entering Lublin, the flat Google street map rapidly changes to 3-dimensional “pop-ups” of the old city that take a minute or two to load. The resulting 3-D panoramic view is centered on the Old Rynek, the ancient market square of Lublin. Coincidently, the opening view includes Rynek #5, the former site of my Cygielman family’s cork factory which was located in the center of the town. Low, in front in the right corner of the panorama lies St. Jana’s Cathedral, where most of our Lublin ancestors registered their life-cycle events between the years 1810 and 1825. By the way, today St. Jana’s Cathedral sits exactly next door to the ultramodern Lublin branch of the Polish State Archives, which houses the original Jewish vital registers for at least 88 separate towns in the Lublin area. (www.archiwa.gov.pl )
Clicking on the button at the top left of the screen labeled “Pokaz informacje o budynkach” reveals the place mark balloons showing street addresses. Eventually, these balloons will describe the Jewish inhabitants and shops located at the address and provide hotlinks to backup pages describing each building in detail. A second click on that button makes the balloons disappear. The right hand button labeled “O makiecie” reveals Polish language instructions for using the site.
Like Google Earth, the tools to the right of the screen enable the viewer to select views, zoom in, and maneuver around selected neighborhoods. I explored most of the available map, locating the house where my grandmother grew up at # 2 Lubartowska Street, and even experimenting with “diving below” the 1930’s overlay. I wanted to see what the flat photo below looked like while looking for the two Lublin Jewish cemeteries which will hopefully be added to the model in a future phase. Picture visiting the Old Jewish Cemetery on Kalinowszczyzna Street, the oldest surviving Jewish Cemetery in Poland, and viewing what it looked like before the Nazis used most of the matzevot (tombstones) for gravel at the Majdanek death camp. Or, visualize, if you will, exploring inside the fabled 16th century MaHaRaShaL Shul, also cruelly destroyed during the war, and tracing Lublin families through the seating assignments. The main synagogue’s seating registers from the 1870’s still survive in the Jewish Community collections of the Polish State Archives. The possible uses of this amazing technology are endless!
And you can imagine the grin on my face when I discovered that I could “walk around” house number 8a Ulicy Ruska (Old #434a) and get a feel for the size, shape and relative location of this ancient building. I could see it had been a multi-story apartment building with storefronts and side sheds. I learned that it was not on the block directly below St. Mikolya’s church as we had supposed ten years earlier; instead, it had been situated one block to the left/west of the hill. TeatrNN’s model has left only the people, colors, and sounds for my imagination to fill in!
The level of intimacy we can share with our history and heritage is greatly enhanced with a virtual reality encounter like this. Once the center of the Jewish experience in Poland, Lublin has been hailed as the “Jewish Oxford” and the “Polish Jerusalem” for it was the predominant educational, religious and market center during the Golden Age of Polish Jewry. Today, Lublin is an economically-challenged university town, but with the brilliance and foresight of TeatrNN at the Brama Grodzka, “Virtual Lublin” is now casting our eye back to the chivalrous Lublin past. Under their adopted logo of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, they are allowing us to see virtual windmills where once we could only imagine them.
The first time I ever heard the name “Viktor Kremin” was when I read the testimony left by my dad’s cousin, Esther Arenzon, born Halberstadt. I always considered her as my aunt and we used to call her Estusha. Every summer she came from Tel-Aviv to us in Paris, and we used to spend the holidays together.
Estusha’s testimony was found at her home after she died. Nobody knew that she had been interviewed by Yad Vashem, and for me, finding out about her life during the war was a great surprise. She never told anyone how she had managed to survive, first in the Lublin ghetto and then, hidden somewhere in Warsaw.
Her testimony starts in the spring of 1942. At the time she was living in the Lublin ghetto, never sleeping in the same place, constantly on the move. One night, she received a letter from her father asking her to leave the ghetto as soon as she could, and to take refuge in the tannery factory owned by her uncle Waks in the suburb of Lublin. (It was my grandfather, Haim Eleasar Waks’ factory). Unfortunately, once she got there, no one let her in, but her cousin (I could not identify who this cousin was.) took her to one of the factory’s Polish workmen where she spent the night. The following day, a messenger, sent by her uncle Waks arrived to take her to Warsaw where most of the Waks family had been staying for a few months. She would never see her father again, as he was deported that very same day from the Lublin ghetto – probably to Belzec.
In Warsaw, she stayed with the Waks family and incredibly, even managed to get a job in the Toebbens’ factory as a dressmaker. But as daily selections for deportation among the workers intensified, led by the factory director Toebbens himself, she made the bold decision to go back to Lublin, where her husband, Mojzesz Tycochinski was still living.
She took the train alone, and once in Lublin, managed to sneak under the barbed wire and enter the Majdan Tatarski ghetto. This ghetto had been established after the liquidation of the Lublin ghetto in April 1942 with about 4,000 remaining Jewish workers. She stayed there for two nights, but as she did not have any identity papers, she realised that she would never get away from the constant threat led by a Nazi called Bomb who would visit the ghetto everyday with his dog to flush out all “illegal” Jews. As she had no other option, she decided to run away from the ghetto and get to the Kremin factory on Florianska Street where her husband still worked.
What was this factory that she mentioned in her testimony? And who was this Kremin?
Viktor Kremin was one of the “Treuhanders”, who (similar to Toebbens or Schindler) followed the German army’s advance and took over the Jewish companies and assets in the General Government. There, they would force Jewish prisoners, considered slaves, to work in those factories. As Jews were considered to “belong” to the SS, the Treuhanders, as corporate managers had to pay a fee for each Jew the SS would give them. The Jews who worked in the factories would receive a bowl of soup and a piece of bread every day. It is obvious that the profit made by those industries were huge. Expropriations were carried by an agency attached to the General Government led by Hans Frank .
Before the war, Viktor Kremin had owned a company in Berlin. His name is mentioned on a list established by the law firm, Cohen & Milstein, who brought legal action against several German companies for illegal litigation, slavery and forced labour after WWII. Kremin’s name is also listed in the directory of places of detention and forced labor the in the Bundesarchives, the German State Archives.
Viktor Kremin’s company expropriated the Jewish companies in the districts of Radom, Lublin and Galicia that specialized in the collection of glass, iron, paper and rags. He had a monopoly on the recycling of all this industrial waste. He kept the former Jewish owners and their workers in place, in order to benefit from their knowledge and experience in the recycling process. As a result, numerous workers were temporarily saved from deportation.
According to Irena Gewerc-Gottlieb’s testimony, Kremin managed 3 recycling and reuse factories in the Lublin area. The first one was located on Kalinowszczyzna Street and processed used textiles and clothing. The second, on Pierswego Maja Street, was the iron recycling factory owned by Irena Gewerc’s father and the third one, in Zamocs, specialized in glass recycling. We also need to add the factory on Florianska Street mentioned in Esther Arenzon’s testimony.
Viktor Kremin also went to Lwow after the Germans occupied the town in June 1941.
Sophie Kimelman-Rosen, another survivor, testified that during the spring of 1942, she and her parents registered to work in a recycling plant owned by Viktor Kremin in Lwow. They received a work permit, stipulating that they were “Workers Vital for Economy”. She and her father, together with other girls of her age worked there. She escaped deportation and several SS raids in August 1942 thanks to this permit. She worked there until the spring of 1943. One day, warned about the liquidation to come, she left the ghetto as she always did, thanks to her work permit, but instead of heading to work, she took off her armband with the Jewish star and went back to her former apartment and hid in a hiding place they had prepared with the help of a Wehrmacht officer to whom they had “given” their apartment.
Alicia Melamed Adams, another survivor, testified that she and her parents had survived until July 24, 1943 in a small camp in Drohobycz in Galicia where they worked for Viktor Kremin in a factory specializing in the collection of iron and rags. One day, the Gestapo held a raid on the factory and took all the Jews to a local prison. From there, as they were loaded onto a lorry to be taken and shot dead in the Bronica Woods, a young man, the son of a tailor working for the Gestapo intervened and saved her. She was sent to work with this young man and his parents for the Gestapo.
The prisoners of another camp in Brzezany in Galicia worked for Viktor Kremin’s firm from January 1943 until June 12, 1943, according to the Erinnerung Verantwortung Zukunft foundation’s directory of places of detention.
It is impossible to evaluate the number of persons who worked in Kremin’s various factories. In the Lublin archives one can find a few lists of the workers – such as the one included in this article. Among the 37 names on this workers list, under the numbers 27, 28, 29, and 30, the Tycochinski family name appears, including Mojzesz Tycochinski who was my aunt Esther Arenzon’s first husband.
I know nothing about Viktor Kremin’s life before the war and what kind of a man he was.
All I know is how he has been described by Esther Arenzon in her testimony. Let us listen to her.
…”Where did I go? I went to Florianska Street to the Kremin factory, where my husband worked. I didn’t want to put him in danger and so, I stayed away from him – at that time, I had no other choice.”
…“I got a job at Kremin’s factory and was allowed to stay there. It was an enormous bit of luck. My job was to wash the rags saturated with sweat and coagulated blood. We lived in barracks. The Jews who worked for Kremin were objects of general envy. Kremin himself said from time to time that “his” Jews would survive and stay alive. To tell the truth, that German never betrayed anyone and did everything he could to save us. More than once he warned us about a selection to come.”…
Irena Gewerc-Gottlib tells a similar story in her testimony:
… ”Kremin, the commissionaire who had taken our factory, employed my father. He was a very good man. He helped many of us. With this work, my father received a work permit (J-Ausweiss). We too were hired in the factory and granted a J-Ausweiss.…. We lived in the ghetto, Majdan Tatarski, near Lublin where the Germans organized frequent selections for death. Kremin, with whom we worked, was a friend of the chief of police and SS Globocnik. He informed us each time a selection was about to take place in Majdan Tatarski. He also warned us that the Germans would liquidate all the Jews of Lublin in 1943 and told us to escape. We, my father, my sister and my aunt, escaped in May 1943 to Warsaw.”…
Robert Kuwalek, in his book “Lublin Jews in the Concentration Camp of Majdanek“, mentions Ida Rapaport-Glickstein’s testimony which expresses the same sentiments:
…”Kremin was a German commissionaire of Jewish enterprises who dealt with waste recycling. Groups of Jewish slaves worked for him for long periods. They were considered privileged, safe from actions. A large number of people from these groups could escape in emergency and survived”…
…”Kremin was considered someone apart, a friend of SS Globocnik , and thus very well informed of the SS’s plans in Lublin. People testified that he warned the Jews of the selections to come in the ghetto and that he even obtained the liberation of prisoners already in Majdanek. It can be useful to mention this because this man, being a German, helped a number of persons and saved them”…
Let us go back to Esther Arenzon’s testimony, as she worked in the factory on Florianska Street :
…”We were led to believe that Kremin’s factory was essential for the Germans and would never be liquidated. Our illusions were frustrated after the Majdan Tatarski ghetto was liquidated in November 1942. Some workers were still working in Lublin’s jail, at a labor camp on Lipowa Street # 7 and we at Kremin’s “…
…”The factory was reduced and liquidated. All the time one SS named Kalich came and demanded new lists of people to be deported. Kremin always warned people that he had placed on the list ahead of time and alluded that they should try to save themselves. But where to go? How to save oneself? When we asked for advice, Kremin shrugged his shoulders. He could not help us and we understood him”…
…”One day, he warned us that Kalich was coming and read aloud to us the names on the list. I heard my name. I fell on my knees crying: ”I want to live!” I cried and kissed his hands. What to do? I could not go out because the first German or Pole I would meet would bring me straight to the Gestapo”…
…”Suddenly I noticed a worker named Grun putting a ladder close to the wall where a cockloft was and helping his parents reach it. I ran to them but some others did. Everybody started pushing each other in order to get there… somehow I pushed myself up into the cockloft. There were about 30 men and women there…
…Soon Kalich came with some Gestapo and Ukrainian men. Kremin told everybody to gather in the courtyard… First there was an order for all Jews to lie down on the ground with their faces down and hands behind their back. Then we heard shootings, the cries and groans of the wounded. Then screams: “raus,raus los!”… the sound of trucks, the blows of rifle butts, and then a silence. We all were laying down holding our breath… After a moment we heard Kalich together with Kremin in our building right under us. ”Ist jemand da?” he cried. Kremin assured him that nobody else was there, that nobody could hide himself there”…
…”Kalich fired a couple of shots into the ceiling on which we were laying, but it didn’t perforate the beams and nobody was hurt… At the end, a boy came to the factory, calling the name of his mother, who was hiding among us. At this point, we answered and went down from the cockloft… Mr Grun survived the war as well as Steigel… and Mrs Feldman” …
…”I left the cockloft almost fainting, dusty, dirty, unlike myself. My husband’s name had not been on the list and he was saved. He said: “Go away, you can’t stay here” … I cried, ”I have nowhere to go”… At the end, he pushed me out of the gate of the factory, and in the last moment threw a handbag into my hands in which later on I found some clothes and money… I was left all alone on the empty streets ”…
That is how Esther Arenzon finishes her account about her stay at Kremin’s factory.
It seems obvious according this that Viktor Kremin saved her life as well as a few others.
My aunt succeeded to survive after many other dramatic episodes showing an incredible courage. She fought for her life and was helped by a few other human beings who, by doing so also risked their own lives.
As for Viktor Kremin, he survived the war and according to my aunt, was jailed in Lodz in 1946 for collaboration with the Germans. During the trial he was set free because many Jews testified in his favor and said that he cared as much as he could for the Jews who worked for him.
Esther came to visit him after the war; they embraced each other, and Kremin told her that all the Jews had been taken from the factory to Majdanek.
Viktor Kremin did not go as far as Oscar Schindler who had succeeded in saving “his” Jews.
Schindler is a unique case of a man who risked his life, spent his last penny bribing the SS, buying the life of “his” Jews, moving his factory and changing the production, only in order to save his workers. He was jailed twice, but always succeeded in being released thanks to his contacts with high-ranking officials. It was proven that he spent over 4 million marks to keep “his” Jews alive. In 1962, Schindler was honored by Israel as a righteous among the nations.
Even if Victor Kremin cannot compete with this, still I think that I have to pay tribute to his human attitude toward his workers which saved my aunt.
It is neither easy to read nor write about the events of 1942 and 1943 in Lublin. The scale is too massive, the brutality too extreme, and the results are beyond tragic. It is an effort to not get lost in the numbers or in the confusion that reigned. While it is true that the scope of the evil that transpired is in itself a reason to remember, we, as witnesses, family, friends, and descendents of the Jewish people of Lublin, have an additional responsibility. The numbers that are in the tens and hundreds of thousands are but one person by one person by one. As we learn and remember what happened during this horrific era, let us go beyond the facts and the historical records and remember that each person truly did have a name.
March 16-17 to April 14, 1942 – Deportations from Lublin
It was late in the evening in Lublin on March 16, 1942, when the heads of the Jewish Council (Judenrat) were called to the Offices of the SS. Upon arrival at SS headquarters, the Nazis announced the beginning of the deportations – to begin immediately.
Hermann Hofle (head of the "Central Office of Operation Reinhardt”), together with employees of the Office of the Commander of the Security Police and the SD in Lublin presented the Jewish Council representatives with the “Directive on the Question of Resettlement” (otherwise known as the “Deportation Order”).
Thus, without warning, the deportations to Belzec began. The next day, March 17, 1942, a plenary meeting of the Jewish Council was convened with 22 members present. The Deportation Order was read to those in attendance.
Deportation Order March 17 1942 – Excerpts
“In the city of Lublin there will remain only those Jews who have a stamp of the Security Police on their work permits. They will remain with their wives and children.
Those who are to be deported may take with them one handbag weighing 15 kg, all their money and valuables
They should be prepared to walk about 3 km on foot; from then on, there will be transport.
The epidemic hospital with its patients and staff will remain.
About 1,400 people will be deported everyday. The deportation will start from the hill, from Unicka Street.
Those Jews who remain after the departure in the empty flats will be shot…”
Details of the deportation described in the Pinkas Hakehilot – Lublin give us some sense of the chaos and fear of the time.
“The ghetto was surrounded by S.S. troops and German and Ukrainian police.
Before dawn the inhabitants of Unicka Street and the adjacent area, in the northern part of the ghetto, were ordered to assemble outside with their families, to have their work permits examined. (Note: just prior to the beginning of the deportations, the ghetto had been divided into section A for workers and B for non-workers.)
Tables had been set up in the street, and German officials examined the permits. Jews from Ghetto A, who held valid permits, were transferred to Ghetto B, which was slightly extended, while those from Ghetto B without such documents were moved to Ghetto A.
Every day the Germans assembled some 1,400 men, women and children in the Maharshal Synagogue in Ghetto A, led them to goods wagons in a siding, near the municipal slaughterhouse, and from there sent them to Belzec.
At first the transports left at night, but after a while they took place also in the daytime.
Among those destined for extermination were also holders of valid work permits who had been rounded up by chance. The confused Jews wandered from street to street in the hope that they might be able to avoid deportation and gain another day of life.
Some sought hiding-places, but the Germans combed the ghetto thoroughly, house by house, street by street. The sick and the weak were killed on the spot.
As each part of the ghetto was emptied the Germans returned and combed it again and again to make sure that no one remained there. Anyone then found was liquidated at once. Only when they were quite sure that the locality was quite free of Jews did the Germans close it and post sentries.
In the shelter in Jatechny Street the Germans murdered 70 old people in their beds; they took 80-100 children from the orphanage, transported them in lorries to outside the town, and there slaughtered them all. A similar fate awaited patients in the ghetto hospitals as well as members of the staff (some of the doctors and nurses were, however, spared).”
A group of SS men, who participated the deportations in Lublin, offer an additional perspective. This testimony was given in Weisbaden Germany, at their trial:
“The fenced-off ghetto was surrounded from the outside by forces of the Order Police and Ukrainian auxiliaries (Trawniki men). Inside the ghetto, along Lubartowska Street, the expulsion commandos operated in accordance with their orders: small units of Trawniki men, under the command of the Germans, woke up the sleeping inhabitants with shouting and ordered them to leave their apartments without delay and to congregate in the street; otherwise they would be shot…
The Aktion was carried out with cruelty. In their surprise, the people would become panic-stricken. The drunken Ukrainians used their weapons indiscriminately, and many were killed on the spot.
No selection was held at this deportation. The people, with no distinction of age or sex, were lined up in marching columns and led under escort to the synagogue. There they had to remain until dawn, when they were taken on foot to the Umschlagplatz (transfer station) near the slaughterhouse, where they embarked for Belzec.”
The deportations lasted 4 weeks. For those who remained alive in Lublin, most of their community had disappeared. For them, the expulsions had occurred to some unknown place “in the east”. There was no thought to the possibility that their entire community had been murdered. David Silberklang, the historian, has drawn the conclusion that… It is clear that the Jews of Lublin had no premonitions of their fate and were taken by surprise by the deportations.
On March 19 1942, Dr. I. Siegfried, a Deputy to Dr. Alten in the Jewish Council reported:
“The “action” proceeds as usual. There is no official news. It appears that the evacuees are being sent to Belzec, District of Zamosc. I have not been able to have this confirmed.”
In a subsequent report, this time on April 25, 1942, the Chairman of the Jewish Council, Dr Alten reported:
“Out of the 37,000 Jews who had lived in Lublin there remained 4,000 and that nobody knew where the others were.
(Here it should be noted that on October 25 1939, the Jewish population in Lublin was counted by order of the Germans. This registration showed that 37,054 Jews lived in the town.)”
It is estimated that from March 17, 1942 to April 14, 1942:
26,000 to 30,000 of Lublin`s Jews were sent to Belzec.
2,000 to 2,500 people were killed on the spot, in Lublin.
200 children from the Jewish Orphanage and their teachers were executed
in a suburb of Lublin.
Several hundred patients with some of the doctors and nurses from the hospitals were shot 15 km. from Lublin, in Niemce forest.
March 31, 1942 – Jewish Council, J Ausweiss
In the midst of the deportations to Belzec, on March 31, 1942, the Germans set the stage for the next phase of their extermination campaign. For those Jews still in Lublin, one can only imagine the additional panic that set in, coupled with their fear and anxiety over those who had already been deported.
The German authorities ordered the members of the Jewish Council to assemble at 14:00 on March 31, 1942. The SS then gave the following orders:
“The evacuation of the Jewish population will continue in future with the difference that the valid document permitting a person to remain in Lublin will no longer be the Arbeitsausweis (work card) with the stamp of the Sipo (Security Police), but the J.[uden] Ausweis. Those in possession of the J.-Ausweis are entitled to remain in Lublin, all others will be evacuated.
(Note, just several weeks prior to this in early March, there had been another change that required the Jewish workers to get their work permits stamped at the offices of the Security Police.)
The Jewish population is to be informed that those in possession of a J.-Ausweis are required to make certain that in their apartments in the ghetto, which have been inspected or will still be inspected, no persons without a J.-Ausweis are in hiding, as otherwise those who are in possession of a J.-Ausweis will also be evacuated.
As only a small percentage of the former Jewish population will remain in Lublin, the Judenrat will be reduced from 24 to 12 members. (Note, this was based upon the Nazi determination that the number of Jews who remained in the ghetto at that time was less than 10,000.)
Those members of the former Judenrat who were not included in the Judenrat appointed today will be evacuated together with their families and will leave Lublin today together with the first transport.
Those members of the former Judenrat who live outside the ghetto will go to their apartments accompanied by officials of the Sipo, and after they have taken belongings needed for their move, the apartments will be closed and sealed.
The former members of the Judenrat Engineer Bekker and Dr. Siegfried will be given administrative positions in the Judenrat and the JSS (Jewish Social Service agency) in their new place of residence as persons with experience in these fields.”
After the former members of the Judenrat had left the hall, SS Unterstrumfeurer Sturm announced the composition and areas of responsibility for the new Jewish Council.
Majdan Tatarski – April 1942
The consequences of the March 31, 1942 announcement proved severe. As one can imagine, the combination of the deportations, new work cards, and residency moves in the large ghetto, must have exacerbated the panic of the already stricken community.
Seeking a place to hide became an ever more potent option. Toward the end of the deportations, the SS believed that there were about 7,000 to 8,000 Jews hiding in the ghetto. At the end of April 1942 they ordered that all Jews must move to the newly created small ghetto, Majdan Tatarski – which was located on the outskirts of the city about 1 ½ km from Majdanek.
The transfer of the Jews from the large ghetto to Majdan Tatarski, involved thousands of Jews moving into an area that had previously housed 1,500 Poles. It was clear that housing was inadequate, and many people spent the first night on the streets and in the courtyards. Many of the Jews did not possess the J-Ausweiss.
Then, the SS announced a registration of all of the Jews in Majdan Tatarski.
On April 22, 1942, about 2,500 to 3,000 people, mainly women and children, who did not possess the J-Ausweiss, were deported from Majdan Tatarski to Majdanek. From Majdanek, the Jews were taken 15 km south of Lublin to the Krepiec forest where they were shot.
Upon arrival of the 2,500 to 3,000 Jews taken to Majdanek, a selection was conducted, and 200 to 300, mostly young men, were sent back to Majdan Tatarski.
“In addition to the selected young men, at very last moment a small group of women and children was given permission to leave Majdanek. The president of the Lublin Judenrat, Dr Marek Alten negotiated with Hermann Worthoff, who agreed to free several women together with their children. The women were mainly those whose husbands were employed by the Judenrat or who worked for the German administration.”
After this expulsion, Majdan Tatarski was sealed. It was surrounded by barbed wire and was operated as a closed ghetto. Jacob Frank, who was appointed head tailor at the Lipowa work camp, mentions how this affected him:
“After the liquidation of the [large] ghetto, and the establishment of Majdan Tatarski, “we could no more go to our houses in the evening. The men what was working stayed in the camp, and their families stayed in the small ghetto.”
Approximately 4,600 Jews remained Majdan Tatarski.
Prelude to Belzec
In the summer and fall of 1941, the German hierarchy was rife with competing agendas regarding the Jews. While one may view these opposing interests as offering various outcomes regarding the fate of the Jews, one must recognize the single factor that mattered. That is, all of these options were but interim arrangements; some designed to appease, some designed as mere subterfuge, and some for glory and gain. By the summer of 1941, however, there was but one constant certain outcome for the Jews of Europe, and that was death.
In September 1941 Hitler had made the decision to allow the deportation of Germany’s Jews to the General Government. This exacerbated the chaos already created by the massive expulsion of Poles from the territory of western Poland (which had been annexed to Germany) to the General Government. The crisis caused severe overcrowding and was compounded by a poor harvest, food shortages, and disease.
Of particular significance was the slow pace of the campaign against the Soviet forces. This had reduced the ability of the Germans to use Soviet resources to sustain them during the war. The military setbacks created shortages, both in raw materials and agricultural products. It also eliminated the possibility of sending all Jews into the Soviet Union.
Reinhardt Heydrich had been Hitler’s point man for planning and executing the anti-Jewish policies of the Third Reich. The June 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union brought with it his brutal killing machine, the Einsatzgruppen which he commanded. From then on, the outright killing of Jews became normative. Operation Reinhardt was given its name after-the-fact when on May 27 1942, Reinhardt was assassinated in Czechoslovakia.
Operation Reinhardt was initiated and planning commenced in October 1941. The decision was made to construct 3 death camps; Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka. Odilio Globocnik was appointed SS and Police leader of the Lublin District by Himmler. He was given the responsibility to head the program. which had 4 primary objectives:
The extermination of Polish Jewry
The exploitation of manpower – forced labor and slave labor
The seizure of immovable property from the liquidated Jews
The seizure of hidden valuables and moveable property
Globocnik was given a cadre of staff. It’s lead personnel were 92 men from the earlier T-4 Euthanasia program in Germany. There were 20 to 30 Germans assigned to each camp, together with 90 to 130 Ukrainian auxiliaries trained at Trawniki.
Globocnik was not in charge of many of the resources necessary to complete his mission. The German civilian authorities throughout the General Government, as well as SS and Police from outside the Lublin District were also instrumental in carrying out the aims of the operation, although with many rampant conflicts between the organizations.
Belzec March 17, 1942 to April 14, 1942
The first transport of Jews from Lublin arrived at Belzec on March 17, 1942. This date marks the onset of Operation Reinhardt. The deportations continued until April 14, 1942. Approximately 26,000 of the Jews of Lublin were murdered in Belzec during this time.
The Lublin Jews were the first large community in the General Government to be annihilated.
Belzec was a small town in the southeast of the district of Lublin, close to the border of the district of Lvov and on the Lublin- Zamosc-Rawa Ruska-Lvov railroad line. The area specified for the camp was a railroad siding half a kilometer from the Belzec railroad station.
Work began on the camp on November 1, 1941 with a group of local Poles, and followed by a group of Ukrainians who had been recruited from German POW camps and trained at the SS camp Trawniki. On December 22, 1941 Jewish workers were brought in from Lubzcza and Mosty Male. In February 1942, these 150 Jewish construction workers were killed in the first test of the gas chambers.
In late December 1941 Christian Wirth was appointed Camp Commandant of Belzec. Wirth developed his own ideas on the methods of killing based upon his prior experience in the "T4 Euthanasia" program. In developing the extermination methods at Belzec, he was concerned, not only with the effectiveness of the process, but with the necessity for secrecy and security. In general, he considered that using readily available local supplies would reduce suspicion of the activities in the camp. Thus, in regards to the actual means of killing, he decided to supply the fixed gas chambers with readily available gasoline and diesel as fuel to produce the gas for use in the internal-combustion engine of a motorcar.
After the death of the Jewish construction workers in February 1942, Wirth departed the camp and returned in March 1942 with a camp commando, composed almost entirely of former T4-Euthanasia personnel.
In less than 5 months (October 1941 to March 1942) Belzec, the death camp, had become a reality and the first trains from Lublin arrived. The Jewish Virtual Library offers a description:
“When the train entered Belzec station, its 40-60 freight cars were rearranged into several separate transports because the reception capacity inside the camp was 20 cars at the most. Only after a set of cars had been unloaded and sent back empty was another section of the transport driven into the camp. The accompanying security guards as well as the German and Polish railroad personnel were forbidden to enter the camp. The train was brought into the camp by a specially selected and reliable team of railroad workers.
The camp looked "peaceful." The victims were unable to discern either graves, ditches or gas chambers. They were led to believe that they had arrived at a transit camp. An SS-man strengthened this belief by announcing that they were to undress and go to the baths in order to wash and be disinfected. They were also told that afterwards they would receive clean clothes and be sent on to a work camp.
Separation of the sexes, undressing, and even the cropping of the women's hair could not but reinforce the impression that they were on their way to the baths. First the men were led into the gas chambers, before they were able to guess what was going on; then it was the turn of the women and children.
The gas chambers resembled baths. A group of young and strong Jews, a few dozen, occasionally even a hundred, was usually selected during the unloading of a transport. Most of them were taken to Camp II. They were forced to drag the corpses from the gas chambers and to carry them to the open ditches. Several prisoners were employed in collecting the victims' clothes and belongings and carrying them to the sorting point. Others had to remove from the train those who had died during the transport and to take those unable to walk to the ditches in Camp II. These Jews were organized into work teams with their own Capos. They did this work for a few days or weeks. Each day some of them were killed and replaced by new arrivals.”
SS Karl Alfred Schluch, a former “Euthanasia” worker, who was at Belzec from the beginning offered some additional details of what happened next:
“After the unloading, those Jews able to walk had to make their way to the assembly site. During the unloading, the Jews were told that they had come for resettlement but that first they had to be bathed and disinfected. The address was given by Wirth
Immediately after this, the Jews were led to the undressing huts. In one hut the men had to undress and in the other the women and children. After they had stripped, the Jews, the men having been separated from the women and children, were led through the tube. I cannot recall with certainty who supervised the undressing huts… Since I was never on duty there I am unable to provide precise details about the stripping process. I just seem to remember that in the undressing hut some articles of clothing had to be left in one place, others in a different one, and in a third place valuables had to be handed over…
My location in the tube was in the immediate vicinity of the undressing hut. Wirth had stationed me there because he thought me capable of having a calming effect on the Jews. After the Jews left the undressing hut I had to direct them to the gas chamber. I believe that I eased the way there for the Jews because they must have been convinced by my words or gestures that they really were going to be bathed.
After the Jews had entered the gas chambers the doors were securely locked by Hackenholt himself or by the Ukrainians assigned to him. Thereupon Hackenholt started the engine with which the gassing was carried out. After 5 – 7 minutes — and I merely estimate this interval of time — someone looked through a peephole into the gas chamber to ascertain whether death had overtaken them all. Only then were the outside gates opened and the gas chambers aired.
The corpses were pulled out of the chambers and immediately examined by a dentist. The dentist removed rings and extracted gold teeth when there were any. He threw the objects of value obtained in this manner into a cardboard box which stood there. After this procedure the corpses were thrown into the large graves there.”
The Reich Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbles, kept a diary during the war.
On March 27, 1942, only 10 days after the beginning of Operation Reinhardt, he wrote:
“Beginning with Lublin, the Jews in the GG are now being evacuated eastward. The procedures is a pretty barbaric one and not to be described here more definitively. Not much will remain of the Jews…”
The deportation of the Jews of Lublin to Belzec ceased on April 14, 1942, 4 weeks after they began. However, this was not the end of the killing operations in Belzec.
It is estimated that a total of 600,000 Jews were murdered at Belzec, as well as thousands of Gypsies. The extermination operations lasted 9 months. It began on March 17, 1942 and ceased in mid-December 1942.
Belzec – Removing the Traces – “Sonderaktion 1005”
By March of 1942, the Germans recognized the need to remove of all traces of the mass murders. One can attribute this to a number of possibilities; the Germans were aware that the Allies had obtained information about the exterminations; in light of the military setbacks, they were less convinced of their winning the war and sought to eliminate the nature of their regime; the pits in which the victims of the mass killings had been buried were creating health issues; and the desire to protect the perpetrators by eliminating evidence.
Yitzhak Arad provides information on this aspect of the extermination – “Sonderaktion 1005”:
“In March 1942 Heydrich met with SS Stasndartenfuher Paul Blobel, the former commander of Einsatzkommando 4a, who had carried out the killings in Kiev and other places in the Ukraine. Heydrich discussed with Blobel the matter of his appointment to lead the operation of erasing all traces of the mass murders and the ways it would be implemented.
Blobel’s appointment was postponed for 3 months after the assassination of Heydrich, but in June 1942, Heinrich Muller, the head of the Gestapo formally appointed Blobel the task of covering up the traces of the mass executions carried out by the Einsatzgruppen in the east. This task was Top Secret and Blobel was instructed that no written correspondence should appear on the subject. The operation was given the code name “Sonderaktion 1005”. Blobel’s duty was to find the proper technical means and system for destroying the victim’s bodies, to coordinate and supervise the entire operation and to issue the verbal orders for its implementation.
The opening of the mass graves in Belzec and the cremating the corpses removed from them began in mid December 1942. At that time there were about 600,000 corpses in the pits of the camp.”
SS Scharfuher Heinrich Gley, who served at that time in Belzec testified:
“From the beginning of August 1942 until the camp was closed in September 1943 I was in Belzec… As I remember, the gassing stopped at the end of 1942, when snow was already falling. Then the unearthing and cremation of the corpses began. It lasted from November 1942 until March 1943. The cremation was conducted day and night, without interruption.
After the camp buildings were dismantled and the German and Ukrainian staff had left, people from the neighboring villages and townships started digging in the area of the camp, searching for gold and valuables”.
A Pole, Edward Lucynski, who lived in Belzec, testified:
“After leveling and cleaning the area of the extermination camp, the Germans planted the area with small pines and left. At that moment, the whole area was plucked to pieces by the neighboring population, who were searching for gold and valuables. That’s why the whole surface of the camp was covered with human bones, hair, ashes from cremated corpses, dentures, pots, and other objects.
However, these diggings and searches endangered the German intent to erase the traces of their crimes and hide the very fact of the existence of a death camp in Belzec. Germans and Ukrainians from Sobibor and Treblinka were sent back to Belzec to prevent further diggings and to restore the “peaceful-looking” character of the place. To prevent future searches and digging, Operation Reinhardt authorities decided to keep a permanent guard on the spot. A farm was built for a Ukrainian guard who would live there with his family.”
In Belzec, when the cremation of the victims was completed in March of 1943, the Jews performing this work were sent to Sobibor where they were killed.
July to November 1942
While on a visit to Operation Reinhardt Headquarters in Lublin on July 19, 1942, Himmler issued the order that the deportation of Jews to the extermination camps must be completed by December 31, 1942. It is likely that this December 31, 1942 deadline was the impetus for increasing the killing capacity of Belzec during the summer of 1942.
The text of the order contains both the euphemisms for murder, i.e. “resettlement”, as well as the antisemitic images and descriptions that became so familiar during the Nazi era:
“Resettlement” Order – July 19, 1942.
I hereby order that the resettlement of the entire Jewish population of the general government be carried out and completed by December 31 1942.
From December 31 1942, no persons of Jewish origin may remain within the GG, unless they are in the collection camps in Warsaw, Krakow, Czestochowa, Radom and Lublin. All other work on which Jewish labor is employed must be finished by that date, or in the event that this is not possible, it must be transferred to one of the collection camps.
These measures are required with a view to the necessary ethnic division of races and peoples for the New Order in Europe, and also in the interests of security and cleanliness of the German Reich and its sphere of interest. Every breach of this regulation spells a danger to quiet and order in the entire German sphere of interest, a point of application for the resistance movement and a source of moral and physical pestilence…”
Although the December 31, 1942 death warrant for the Jews was the primary objective of the July 1942 order, the second objective is also significant. Himmler’s intent had been to speed up the process of the extermination of the Jews in the General Government by eliminating their exploitation as workers. This however, caused complaints by the military. At the time the military claimed that out of the 1 million workers employed in its factories in the General Government, 300,000 were Jews and, of those, 1/3, or 100,000 were skilled craftsmen.
Himmler wanted to avoid any serious objections to his overall extermination goals and, in particular did not want any repercussions or interference from the military who, until that time found the exploitation of Jewish forced laborers advantageous. So, after a number of months, Himmler offered a compromise. This compromise was issued on October 9 1942 to General Kurt von Gienanth, the Commander of the Military District of the General Government. It essentially allowed the continuation of the use of Jewish forced labor, but in SS controlled camps (rather than private industrial facilities) and for specified military efforts. Only a few Jews were to be allowed to remain, whose retention was necessary for the war effort, and these would be held in special work camps in Warsaw, Krakow, Czestochowa, Radom and Lublin.
On November 10, 1942, Fredrich Kruger, the Supreme SS- and Police Chief of the General Government, decreed the places where the employed Jews and their families were to remain in the ghettoes and camps. The text of the compromise reads as follows:
“I have given orders that all so-called armament workers who are actually employed solely in tailoring, furrier, and shoemaking workshops be collected in concentration camps on the spot, i.e., in Warsaw and Lublin, under direction of SS Obergruppenfurer [Fredrich] Kruger and SS Obergruppenfurer [Oswold] Pohl. The Wehrmacht will send its orders to us, and we guarantee the continuous delivery of items of clothing required. I have issued instructions, however, that ruthless steps be taken against all those who consider they should oppose this move in the alleged interest of armaments needs, but in reality only seek to support the Jews and their own businesses.
Jews in real war industries, i.e. armament workshops, vehicle workshops, etc., are to be withdrawn step by step.
Our endeavor will then be to replace this Jewish labor force with Poles and to consolidate most of these Jewish concentration-camp enterprises into a small number of large Jewish concentration camp enterprises – in the eastern part of the GG, if possible. But there, too, in accordance with the wish of the Fuhrer, the Jews are some day to disappear.”
As a result of these decisions, the murderous aims of the Nazis in Lublin continued.
On September 2 1942 a selection was made in Majdan Tatarski and about 2,000 Jews were sent to Majdanek.
August to September 1942 – Krepiec Forest
Action Reinhardt Camps source provides the background to the Krepiec forest executions:
“A typhus epidemic broke out during August and September 1942 in Majdanek. The SS doctors in the camp selected prisoners who were sick or unable to work. Because there were not yet gas chambers at Majdanek, the selected prisoners were loaded onto trucks and transported to the Krepiec forest where SS-men executed them.”
On September 24, 1942 about 1,000 Jews from Majdan Tatarski were deported to the ghetto in Piaski near Lublin.
On October 24, 1942 a selection of Jews from Majdan Tatarski was taken to Majdanek. Included in this selection were the officials of the ghetto Arbeitsamt and workers from the Victor Kremin’s company who had previously been exempt from deportations and selections.
Liquidation of Majdan Tatarski – November 9 1942
With the July 1942 order of Himmler to eliminate all of the Jews of the General Government by December 31, 1942, the fate of the Jews remaining in Majdan Tatarski was doomed.
On November 9th 1942, the last group of 2,000 to 3,000 Jews from Majdan Tatarski was deported to Majdanek. It was the first time that a selection of entire families was sent to Majdanek.
About 180 people were shot in the streets of the small ghetto – most of them were children and people who tried to hide in the cellars.
A very small number of Jews were left in Majdan Tatarski after November 9, 1942. After a few days, they were transferred to several workcamps in Lublin including; Lipowa, the Flugplatz and the Sportzplatz where they worked for the SS.
A few additional Jews who worked for the Gestapo also remained and were transferred to the Gestapo prison in the Zamek / Castle. There they worked as Hofjuden, doing private jobs for the officers of the Lublin Gestapo and their families.
Jacob Frank tells of his wife, Dora, and young son, Numyek, who were hiding in a cellar:
“Majdan Tatarski was burning. Frank managed an arrangement for a Gestapo man to bring them out. They were brought to the house of this man, but he had already left Lublin that day and failed to tell his replacement that there was also a little boy there. The replacement prepared to send Numyek to Majdanek. Dora choose to remain with her son, and they went together.
Subsequently Frank managed to get a POW uniform (from Roman Fisher) and under the guise of a POW work group that daily went to Majdanek from Lipowa, he managed to see her. He was able to throw her a package, but was shot in the arm by a Ukrainine guard – who was stopped from shooting him by an SS man who yelled that he was the master tailor in Lipowa and he was returned to Lipowa.”
1943 – The Last Remnants
Labor, that is, forced labor, was a driving need for Germany throughout much of the war. Competing goals, i.e., the extermination of the Jews versus their exploitation for labor, created conflicts between Himmler’s SS, Gestapo and Police empire, and the civilian / private industrial sector, as well as with the military. Himmler, early in 1941 (and as clearly stated by Heydrich at Wansee in January 1941), supported the “destruction through labor” policy, as it assuredly led to the ultimate aim, death. As Christopher Browning, the historian states; “The official SS vision for the use of Jewish labor was therefore quite clear. Jews capable of labor were to work productively and die in the process.”
During the war, there were times and circumstances, where Jewish productivity did in fact sustain them in life – but always only temporarily. This became especially true after the Soviet counter-offensive began in December 5, 1941 (and the attack upon Pearl Harbor as well). As Poles were removed to the Reich as forced laborers (in addition to the many Soviet POWs already there), Jewish labor became increasingly attractive to some in the General Government. Christopher Browning provides this relevant example:
“On March 9, 1942 the first planned act of substitution took place in the course of the expulsion of the Jews from Mielec to the Lublin district. Those Jews capable of work were sent to a nearby airplane factory. The military deemed this a success, so much so that in early May 1942, the Armaments Inspectorate endorsed employment of a further 100,000 skilled Jewish workers, this freeing Polish and Ukrainian workers to be sent to the Reich.”
In March of 1943, it is estimated that 300,000 Jews remained in the General Government. In Lublin, Globocnik had claimed that that there were 45,000 Jews working throughout his enterprises. By that time, most of these Jews were not originally from Lublin. There were many from Warsaw. By the summer of 1943, Lublin was considered by Himmler and Globocnik as the location where the remnants of the Jews would be employed in the SS controlled labor camps. On a visit to Lublin in March 1943, Himmler made the decision to close the death camps of Operation Reinhardt.
Himmler was becoming impatient with the lack of progress on closing the ghettos. He considered that increasingly, German employers were utilizing Jewish forced labor for their own benefit, rather than for simply serving the needs of the military. With the revolts and escapes in Warsaw, Sobibor, and Treblinka, security matters also increasingly became a concern. Christopher Browning cites several examples reflecting these issues of concern:
“In January 1943, on a visit to Warsaw, Himmler was furious to learn that no further progress had been made in shifting Jewish workers out of the [Warsaw] ghetto to SS camps. Himmler ordered that under Globocnik’s supervision, the work Jews were to be transferred to SS camps in Lublin, after which the ghetto was to be torn down completely.
In a fit of pique, Himmler also ordered that the factory proprietors who had allegedly arrived in Poland without anything and had made themselves wealthy on “cheap Jewish labor” be sent to the front.
On May 10 1943 Himmler discussed police reinforcements to the General Government and particularly the use of SS units. “I will not slow down the evacuation of the rest of the some 300,000 Jews in the General Government, but rather carry them out with the greatest urgency.
After a meeting on June 19 1943, Himmler stated: “To my presentation on the Jewish question, the Fuherer spoke further, that the evacuation of the Jews was to be carried out radically and had to be seen through, despite the unrest that would thereby arise in the next 3-4 months”.
Between March and the autumn of 1943, Himmler’s wave of exterminations in the General Government accelerated. The thinly disguised shield of “safety” for the remnant of the working Jews was torn away. By the end of October 1943 many of the remaining labor camps, including those in Krakow and Galicia, had vanished. The stage was set for the last assault upon the Jews in Lublin.
Erntefest – November 3 1943
In late October 1943, Himmler made the decision to liquidate the last of the Jewish labor camp workers in Lublin. At the time 42,000 to 45,000 Jewish forced laborers remained in the Lublin District. The operation was named Erntefest (Harvest Festival). Erntefest is considered the largest single Nazi killing operation against the Jews.
1943 had seen a number of revolts and resistance actions; Sobibor (October), Treblinka (July), Warsaw (April) and Bialystok (August). With the decision to complete the extermination of the Jews in the labor camps of Lublin, the Nazis recognized the potential for similar resistance. They decided that maximum secrecy, surprise and overpowering force would be needed. The Jews in the camps would be eliminated in one single, massive operation.
At the time there were about 8,000 Jewish prisoners in Majdanek. SS Oberscharfuher Erich Musfelt gave the following statement to Polish Authorities on August 16, 1947:
“One day late in October 1943, the excavation of pits was begun in Majdanek behind Compounds V and VI, approximately 50 meters behind the structure of the new Crematorium. 300 inmates were put to this work. They dug without interruption for 3 days and nights, in 2 shifts of 150 each. In the course of these 3 days, 3 pits were excavated; they were more than 2 meters deep, zigzag shaped and each about 100 meters long. [Note, this was done in order to fool the workers that the trenches were to be used as anti-tank measures.]
During these days, special commandos from the concentration camp Auschwitz as well as SS and Police commandos from Krakow, Warsaw, Radom, Lwow and Lublin gathered in Majdanek. Altogether some 100 SS men arrived from the cities I mentioned, and these SS men made up the special commando. On the fourth day – it may have been November 3 – reveille was sounded at 5AM.
Therefore I went to the part of the camp where I usually stayed. The entire camp was surrounded by the Police. I would estimate that there were about 500 Policemen. They stood guard with their weapons at the ready. They were armed with heavy and light submachine guns as well as with other automatic weapons”.
In Majdanek, the roll call was held early that morning. It was short. The Jewish prisoners, who were intermingled in line with the others were ordered to step out of line. Yitzhak Arad continues:
“They were brought to sub-camp V, which was close to the shooting site, and from there they were taken in groups of 100 to a barrack and forced to undress.
A passage was cut in the fences of sub-camp V and through it, naked Jews were driven to the shooting site in separate groups. They were forced to lie down in the trenches and were shot by SS men standing on the edge of the pit. After the first groups were shot, the bottom of the trenches were full and all the others were forced to lie on top of those who had already been shot before.”
Action Reinhardt Camps source continues:
“Whilst columns of thousands of people marched to their death, loud music was played from two loud-speaker cars, marches and waltzes by Johann Strauss. The music was used to drown the noise of the shots and screams of the murdered people.
This day at Majdanek became known as "Black Wednesday" and was described by non-Jewish prisoners who were in the camp at that time. Although the music was played, Polish prisoners heard the shots and screams. Also people who lived within a short distance of around 3-4 km from the camp on the eastern suburb of Lublin, heard the music, shots and screams.”
At the same time that the shootings were occurring within in Majdanek, thousands of more Jews were being forced marched from their camps in Lublin to Majdanek.
Lipowa Camp, Alter Flugplatz (Old Airfield Camp) and the Sportzplatz
On November 3, 1943, the prisoners of the work camps in Lublin were brought to Majdanek. The 3 main camps were Lipowa, the Flugplatz and the Sportzplatz. However, Jewish workers from other smaller workshops throughout the city were also collected and brought to Majdanek.
The Old Airfield Camp in Lublin had been the primary camp for sorting the clothing and valuables taken from Operation Reinhardt victims.
By the early morning, the Alter Flugplatz (Old Airfield) had been cordoned off by SS and Police Forces, including Police Regiment 25 and the infamous Police Battalion 101.
Additionally, the police stood guard, 5 meters apart, on both sides of the streets that led from the main road to the entrance of Majdanek. Women guards on bicycles escorted the 5,000 to 6,000 women prisoners on their march to Majdanek.
Although earlier in the war, the Lipowa Camp had housed many specialized workshops, by the fall of 1943, the camp primarily contained about 2,500 Jewish POWs (Prisoners of War). As in the other camps in Lublin, on November 3 1943, it was surrounded by SS, and the prisoners marched to Majdanek.
In the midst all the horror and confusion, there was an act of resistance. When the women prisoners being held in Majdanek’s Barrack V recognized the Jewish POWs arriving at Majdanek, they began to scream. Simultaneously the Jewish POWS began fighting with their escorts. Three of the SS were injured or killed. The Jewish POWs who resisted were shot on the way to the pits.
After 1942 the Sportzplatz camp was converted into a special storehouse and distribution center for medication, surgical supplies, artificial limbs, and cosmetics taken from the victims of Operation Reinhardt. Some of the material was transferred to the German hospital in Lublin, a portion was sent to the Reich.
There is minimal information relating to the numbers of Jews that were taken from the Sportzplatz.
After the completion of the executions at Majdanek, a selection of women and men was made, and they were transferred to Barrack IV.
The women were assigned to sort the belongings of the Erntefest victims. This was completed in March 1944, after which they were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
The men were assigned to the Sondercommando and ordered to cremate the bodies of the victims. After this was completed in Majdanek, they were sent to other mass gravesites where they had to exhume and cremate the bodies as well.
The number of Jews killed at Majdanek on November 3, 1943 was between 16,000 and 18,000.
In 1942, a brush factory, located in the Miedzyrzec Podlaski Ghetto, was transferred, together with its workforce to Trawniki. In 1943, the Fritz Schultz factory in Warsaw had also been brought to Trawniki with its 10,000 workers. The transferred factory consisted of workshops for tailors, furriers and broom makers. In 1943, the production of uniforms became important in the camp as well as earth-moving and peat mining operations outside of the camp.
The camp also had another important function. It was the training location for former Ukrainian Soviet Army prisoners and local Ukrainians from West Ukraine who volunteered for service in Operation Reinhardt. Approximately 2,000 – 3,000 guardsmen were trained in the camp. One or two companies (about 200 to 400 men) were stationed permanently in Lublin performing security duties. The remaining Trawnikis (or Askiris as they were called by the local population) carried out guard duties in various institutions and labor camps throughout the Lublin District. In addition, each Operation Reinhardt camp had 90 to 130 Trawnikis assigned.
On November 3, 1943, 10,000 Jews were taken out of the camp and nearby Dorohucza, and executed in pits that had been dug previously.
A small Jewish labor detachment remained at Trawniki until the transfer of its approximately 50 prisoners to Majdanek in May 1944.
At the time of Erntefest, there were about 15,000 Jews, including women and children in the Poniatowa labor camp. Scharfuher Heinrich Gley testified to the events of that day:
“I was called to Hering [the Commandant]. When I entered the room, there were 2 Police Offices with him…The officers informed Hering that the whole camp was surrounded by a police unit… This police unit was under orders to liquidate all the Jews in the camp, without exception… according to my estimate the strength of the police unit was between 1000 to 1500 men”. In the meantime all the Jews were ordered to concentrate in some specified places… From my room I could see how the Jews, entirely nude, were taken from the hall to the trench. This trench was zig zag. It was about 300-500 meters from the main hall.
In the Poniatowa camp there was a Jewish Underground group that had even succeeded in obtaining a few weapons. In the afternoon when the killing action was approaching its end, a group of Jews closed in on the barracks, members of the Underground group resisted being taken to the trenches and opened fire on the SS men. They burned some of the nearby barracks that contained clothing. But the Germans set the barrack with the resisting Jews on fire, and all of them were burned alive. Polish firemen from the town of Opola Lubelski arrived to put out the fire in the clothing barracks, and some of these firemen testified that wounded Jews were also thrown into the burning barracks,
About 150 Jews were left to clean the area and cremate the corpses of the killed. 50 Jews who succeeded in hiding themselves during the shooting joined them. But 2 days after the massacre these 200 Jews were shot because they refused to cremate the corpses. In their place 120 Jews were brought from other camps to carry out this
The Zamek (Castle) in Lublin held about 300 skilled Jewish craftsmen working for high-ranking German officials. These Jews remained in the Zamek until July 23 or 24, 1944, the days just before the Soviets entered Lublin, when all but 13 were executed.
Jacob Frank relates how, on that day, he was taken out of the Zamek, together with 12 other Jews, put on a truck and brought to Radom. He remembers seeing the remaining Jews on the lot, crowded and tied together by wire. As he was being driven away he heard the unmistakable shots. Jacob Frank survived the war.
In a final ironic twist of events, the Jewish labor camps that were associated with the Luftwaffe or in the building of airfields were not included in the Erntefest Operation. Ultimately though, these Jews were also murdered.
Budzyn was a camp housing a Heinkel aircraft parts factory. The 3,000 Jews avoided death on November 3, 1943 but by May 1944, the last 1,000 of them were transferred to sent to Majdanek.
Krasnik was a small camp holding about 300 Jews. Its prisoners were transferred to Majdanek in March 1944.
Pulawy was evacuated in July 1944; the fate of its small Jewish labor detachment is not known.
In 3 towns, Deblin, Biala Podliaska, and Malaszewicze, Jewish forced laborers working for the Luftwaffe in several camps in these 3 towns survived until the end.
Erntefest – the Tally
42,000 Jews were executed in the Lublin District during the 2 days of Operation Erntefest. Out of the 45,000 Jews who had remained alive in March 1943, 9 months later only about 2,000 to 3,000 remained.
Within the entire General Government, out of the 300,000 Jews in the spring of 1943, only about 25,000 Jews remained alive.
In total, approximately 1,700,000 Jews were killed in Operation Reinhardt. An unknown number of Poles, Gypsies and Soviet Prisoners of War were also annihilated. In this article, which is a recounting of the major events, I have tried to give as accurate and complete an accounting as possible. Many aspects of what happened were not included; the greed, the plunder, what happened to the perpetrators, what the world knew, and resistance, for example. As much as readily available, individual accounts and witness testimonies were used to cut through the fog of numbers and incomprehensible acts.
There are a limited number of words that one can use to express “extermination”. This repetition of words can desensitize us, and the difficult-to-fathom numbers can soon blur the pain and horror of those years. On the other side, through this litany of telling, we gain a sense of the endless despair of the time. The never-ending years of terror and the fragility of existence were their reality. Let us remember them with reverence.
Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka
Nachman Blumenthal, Documents from the Holocaust
Christopher Browning, Ordinary Men, The Path to Genicide
Mark Lewis, Jacob Frank – Himmler’s Jewish Taylor
Robert Kuwalek, The Ghetto Lublin
Robin O’Neal, Belzec, The Forgotten Camp
Joseph Poprzeczny, Hitler’s Man in the East – Odilio Globocnic
David Silberklang, The Holocaust in the Lublin District of Poland
Mark Roseman. The Wansee and the Final Solution
Encyclopedia of the Holocaust
U.S. Holocaust memorial Museum
Simon Wiesenthal Center – web source
The Jewish Virtual Library – web source
Action Reinhardt Camps – web source
HEART (Holocaust Education Archive Research Team) – web source
Pinkas Hakehilot, Lublin
Jewishgen – web source
The condominium at Probostwo 19 in Lublin was founded between 1928 and 1930. From all aspects it was modern and unusual.
In what ways was it unique?
The condominium was a complex of several four floors joined buildings. Grasses, gardens and shading trees filled the open spaces between the buildings.
It was a modern house. According to the new architectural style which emerged in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, the house had a functional simple "no ornaments" cubic form.
Property' ownership: Commonhold
It was a commonhold. The residents owned the apartments they had lived in, and they had the right to use the public spaces of the apartment house. That was a totally new concept in Poland of those days.
Forty Jewish families had lived in the condominium. Even the porter was Jewish.
The house as an autonomic environment
The house was much more than apartments for dwelling. It had various functions which created the conditions for social life of its residents.
There was a culture club in the house. In the club there was a radio, a telephone and a ping-pong table. The residents were gathering in the club, discussing politics or hearing lectures.
The Spoldom had its own beth midrash. A good cantor was hired for the High Holy Days (Yamim Noraim). Jews from other streets also came to the Spoldom's beth midrash and attended the prays.
At the Spoldom's big plot children played football – not only the Spoldom's children, but also other Jewish children who were looking for a safe place to play in it.
Mothers with their babies, also those who were not inhabitants of the house, came to the Spoldom's garden in order to take a walk safely.
Within the hostile Polish environment of those days, the Spoldom was a little Jewish autonomy. It was an independent unit which enabled a common social activity of the inhabitants.
Who is who in the Spoldom?
The initiators and leading figures at the Spoldom cinstruction process were the architect Eng. Henryk Bekker, Leib Gelibter and Moshe Gradel.
The founders of the house and the owners of the apartments were Lublin's intelligence at its best. That was the cultural and political elite of Lublin: political leaders, economists and culture people. Opinion differences didn't influence the friendship relations they had with each other. Spoldom inhabitants, their wives and children lived together in fraternity as one big family.
We will mention few of the figures who were related to the Spoldom.
Eng. Henryk Bekker
Following his professional and political views, Eng. Henryk Bekker was one of the initiators of building condominiums for Jews. After building the Spoldom at Probostwo 19, he founded a second house at Wieniewska 6. In 1936 he was a member of the committee for building the Jewish Cultural Center, the I. L. Perec House.
Henryk Bekker was one of the leaders of Folkspartaj (People's Party) in Lublin.
Folkspartaj was a non-Zionist Jewish party. The Folkists wanted to preserve Jewish nationalism in Europe by having autonomy – cultural, spiritual and legal. Their actions were aimed for getting equal rights for Jews in the countries they were living in.
Henryk Bekker was the party's representative in Lublin's Jewish Community Council and a member of the Lublin City Council.
When the Nazis conquered Lublin, he became head of the Lublin Judenrat.
On 31 March 1942 he was deported together with his wife to the death camp in Belzec. He knew about the fate of the deportees; without any suitcases he went to the Umschlagplatz in Lublin, wearing his Talith.
A merchant and an owner of a large cloths store. He was one of the main figures at the Zionist Organization in Lublin. Gelibter was leader of the Revisionists in the town; Ze'ev Jabotinsky was staying at his home in times he visited Lublin.
Gelibter was one of the founders of The Humanistics Gymnasium in Lublin, as well as one of the founders of Tarbuth School branch in town. He was among the founders of The Craftsmen and Petty Merchants' Bank and served as the President of the Bank.
Establishing the housing cooperative Spoldom was one of his great enterprises.
He was one of the Spoldom founders and a tenant in the house.
Moshe Gradel was the manager of The Craftsmen and Petty Merchants' Bank. He was among the establishers of Folkspartaj in Lublin.
Gradel did a lot of things in economic, social and political life in Lublin, but the most dominant field which was connected to his name was the culture area.
Already in 1908 he was among the establishers of 'Hazamir' (The Nightingale), a Jewish national institute in Lublin which had the aim of fostering the love of Hebrew singing and literature. He was among the founders of CJSO (The Central Organization of Yiddish Schools between the Two World Wars) in Lublin, a member of The Humanistics Gymnasium management and the establisher of a big Yiddish library.
The coping-stone of its activity: He and his fellow member of the Folkspartaj, Israel Katznelbogen, established Lublin's daily newspaper – 'Lubliner Tagblatt'.
In the Holocaust Moshe Gradel eas perished together with his wife and daughter.
Yaakov (Jacob) Kantor
Together with Leib Gelibter he established the Spoldom, the first Jewish condominium in Lublin, and also dwelled in it.
Yaakov Kantor was a brilliant and fascinating figure: a rabbi, a teacher and a lawyer; one of the leaders of 'The Mizrachi' organization in Lublin; one of the founders of Tarbuth School (Hebrew-language school) in Lublin; and of the 'Yavneh' religious-Zionist school in Lublin.
Kantor was a great orator. He was known for his polemical debates with 'Agudat Yisrael' party from one hand, with Jewish Labor 'Bund' party from the other hand, and with 'Folkists' from a third hand…
During the Second World War he was a member in the Judenrat.
Yaakov Kantor was executed by the Nazis on March 1942.
And what is happening today?
The house at at Probostwo 19 in Lublin stands there till today.
It is a fine house even today.
The changing times brought parking lots instead of the green gardens.
The eye wanders over the front entrance and suddenly meets a memorial plaque connected to the wall.
The sign was set on the wall in 1998 by Lublin City Council. And these are the things which are written there:
In memory of
The Poles who served the homeland and patriotism
And were murdered by the communists.
This building was a detention house of NKVD.
Does anyone of our readers know about this chapter in the history of the house? Can he tell us about it?
Summary and translation to English: Shmulik Avidar
English edition: Esther Mandelay
A Rabbi, one of the leading interpreters of the Talmud and decisors of Jewish Law during the past 500 years.
A member of a family with distinguished lineage, he was born in Brest-Litovsk
circa 1510 and died in 1573. He was the Rabbi of Lublin and the surrounding area and
the head of its Rabbinical Academy.
Maharshal was a rarely encountered ideal prototype of the Polish rabbinate of his
time. He possessed a strong and independent personality, prolific creative ability and a
highly developed critical sense. In his legal works, he renders his decisions with
authority, unafraid to challenge the rulings of other sages.
In 1555, Maharshal was called to Lublin to serve as the Head of the Yeshiva
which had been founded by Rabbi Jacob Pollack and whose students included such
scholars as Rabbi Shalom Schachne and his son, Rabbi Israel Schachne. Their mode of
study was Pilpul– a search for distinctions among Talmudic principles and texts which
could result in conclusions with little bearing on the actual meaning of the text.
Maharshal opposed this approach and established a new Yeshiva of his own. His
exegetical method was logical and clear, based on well-grounded proofs.
What were the intellectual underpinnings of the Maharshal’s halachic rulings?
His judicial point of departure was that the Talmud is the sole source for determining
authentic Halacha. Therefore, no rabbis, when asked to pronounce judgment
regarding an issue or a dispute, regardless of erudition and brilliance, possess the
authority to issue rulings that contravene the explications and conclusions of the Talmud.
Confident in his system, strong-willed in his opinions, he did not yield to the authority of
others – regardless of reputation. He did not hesitate to offer daring critiques of major
rabbinic scholars, e.g. Maimonides, Rabbi Joseph Karo (author of the Shulchan Aruch)
and Rabbi Moses Isserles, (author of notes on the Shulchan Aruch reflecting Ashkenazi
practice), who was his brother-in-law, close friend and confidant.
An example of an independent, critical ruling of Maharshal: Wearing a kipah is not obligatory
Rabbi Karo, had ruled that a Jewish male should always wear a head covering.
Luria, on the other hand ruled that wearing a kipah is not obligatory since there is no
clear mandate for it in Biblical or Talmudic sources. (See Responsum 72 in Machon
His Major Works
Yam Shel Shelomo (Sea of Solomon) – commentary on the Talmud
Chochmat Shelomo (Wisdom of Solomon) – glosses on the Talmud text with brief commentary
Maharshal wrote glosses on the early Venice printing of the Talmud. He
compared this text of the Talmud and the commentaries of Rashi and the Tosafists with
older extant manuscript versions. Many of his notes were incorporated in the text of
subsequent printed editions of the Talmud.
Responsa (She’elot uTeshuvot)
In addition to their halachic significance, these Responsa are a prime source for
Information regarding the social and cultural milieu of the Jewish communities of Greater
Poland and Lithuania in the 16th century – the period of its greatest brilliance – and of the
status of the rabbinate at that time and its high ethical standards.
Rabbi Nachman Shemen wrote concerning the Maharshal: “The Yeshiva of
Lublin under the leadership of the Maharshal gained a world-wide reputation for its high
quality. The Maharshal and the Rama (Isserles) were the two leading rabbis of the
sixteenth century whose impact on the Jewish community has endured to our own times.”
Mordechai Margolioth, Entzyklopedia leToledot Gedolei Yisrael, s.v. Luria, Shelomo
haEntzyklopedia haIvrit, s.v. Luria, Shelomo
Entzyklopedia shel Galuyot, Volume 5, Lublin
Encyclopedia Judaica, s.v. Luria, Solomon
Translated to English by Rabbi Albert Hollander
The Maharshal Synagogue was considered the most magnificent of all of the Jewish houses of worship in Lublin. It was the most beautiful, as well as being the largest and was able to seat more than 3,000 people who gathered there during Jewish holidays and festivals. Many famous cantors were drawn to this Synagogue and served there. There was even a children’s choir which accompanied the Cantors. It was the pride of the community for several hundred years. Tragically, today only photographs remain.
The history of the Maharshal Synagogue is entwined with the history of Lublin’s Jewish community.
Yitzhak Maj, a physician, was one of the first Jewish inhabitants of Lublin. He was able to buy a large plot of land on Jateczna Street which he donated for the building of the synagogue in 1567. The name, Maharshal, represents the Hebrew acronym of the preeminent rabbi, “Morenu [our Teacher] HaRav Shelomo Luria”. It was during this time period that Lublin was a major spiritual center for Jews, a golden era, and as a consequence also the location where the Council of Four Lands (i.e. Va’ad Arba’ Aratzot) held their great annual sessions.
In 1656 the Synagogue was destroyed by the Cossacks who were rampaging across Russia and Poland. The Cossacks set fire to the Jewish Quarter and slaughtered the inhabitants. The Synagogue was rebuilt as part of the renewal of the Jewish Community.
In 1856 the ceiling of the synagogue collapsed. The Jewish community was again mobilized to rebuild it. The reconstruction took many years and was only completed in 1864.
Exterior – The Synagogue was a square building with two roofs. Its corners were rounded and its windows were arched giving both a strong and graceful appearance. The walls were built very thick as fortification to protect the Jews in times of trouble.
Attached to the Maharshal and sharing the same roof was another synagogue, the Maharam. It was named after Rabbi Meir ben Gedalia of Lublin (1558-1616) and was an acronym of his title, “Morenu Harav Rabbi Meir”.
Interior – The prayer hall was spacious and square. The Bima [raised pulpit] was large and located in the center. At the time, the importance of the Bima in the religious rituals was significant and this new central location reflected this. This architectural design subsequently influenced the structures of other synagogues in Poland and Germany.
In September 1939 Lublin was conquered by the Nazis. All religious activity in the Marharshal Synagogue was prohibited, prayers were silenced. The Synagogue was converted for use as the People’s Kitchen for Poor Jews. Later it also became a shelter for the many refugees and deportees who had been sent to the Lublin ghetto from other places.
On March 17, 1942, the Nazis designated the Maharshal Synagogue as an assembly point for the Jews who were being deported to the Belzec death camp. These deportations ended on April 14,1942 with the destruction of the Jewish community of Lublin and their deaths in Belzec. With the perishing of the community, the sounds of praying and crying ceased and the synagogue was desolated.
After the demise of the community, the Nazis blew up the empty houses in the Jewish Quarter and demolished the Synagogue.
After the war, a broad grassy park was planted over the ruins of the Jewish Quarter which had encircled the Lublin castle (the Zamek). A major roadway, the Aleja Tysiaclecia, was constructed directly over the ruins.
Two modest memorial plaques mark the place on Jateczna Street where the Maharshal Synagogue stood. The plaques were funded by the Lublin City Hall and by the organization of former Lublin residents who now live in Israel.
A Recent Discovery
Until recently, it was thought that nothing remained from the Synagogue. Suddenly, there was a discovery!
In January 2008, the Parochet [curtain which had covered the Torah Ark] at the Maharshal Synagogue in Lublin was found in a synagogue in the town of Bielsko-Biala.
The Parochet was found accidentally by the Polish historian, Jacek Proszyk. He found it while inventorying the property of the local synagogue. It was determined that the curtain was brought to Bielsko-Biala in 1945. However, as of now, there is no information about how, why and by whom, the curtain was brought there.
In 2007 a virtual model in 3-demensions of the Maharshal Synagogue was created by
Christopher Mucha of the Servodata Elektronik company with the assistance of representatives from TeatrNN – Brama Grodzka Gate. The model enables us to take an interactive tour of the synagogue and its surrounding area. (It is anticipated that ultimately TeatrNN, together with a member of our Lubliner organization, will be able to create a virtual reality of the entire pre-WWII Jewish Quarter.)
Encyclopedia of the Jewish Diaspora (Lublin – pages 127-134) (Maharshal Synagogue by D. Davidovich, english), edited by Nachman Blumenthal and Meir Korzen and published Jerusalem and Tel Aviv 1957
Synagoga Maharszala w Lublinie (nieistniejaca)) http://tnn.pl/pm,350.html
Translation of Polish sources: Sara Barnea
Summary and translation to English: Shmulik Avidar
Edited (English): Esther Mandelay
This was not an ancient yeshiva.
On the contrary, it was inaugurated only nine years before World War 2.
Why was it so famous? Why was it unique?
In 1923 Rabbi Maier Shapira conceived the idea of creating a new modern Yeshiva with an attached dormitory.
A yeshiva in which only the top echelon of students will attend, in which only the best scholars will teach, and one in which only the best conditions will prevail.
The stringent academic entrance requirements and high standard of study made the yeshiva one of the most remarkable of Poland's yeshivas – a university of Jewish religion studies.
To be accepted a candidate was required to know 200 pages of Gemara. However,
there was the possibility of attending a two year study program to prepare for the
stringent entrance examinations.
Once accepted the Yeshiva Bocher (student) was faced with studies spread over 6 years:
The first period – two years of studies and success in examinations entitled the student to a certificate of "Tzurba Derabanan" (a wise student – talmid khaham).
The second period – an additional 2 years of studies and success in examinations entitled the student to a certificate of "Smikcha" (teaching permit).
After successfully completing the third and final two years of studies and examinations, the graduate became qualified to practice as an ordained Rabbi.
Two hundred students studied at the yeshiva.
So that no worthy candidate was excluded, poor students were exempt from paying fees.
Why in Lublin?
The Rabbi wanted to renew the magnificent tradition of Lublin as the Jewish Theological center of Hakhmei Lublin (the sages of Lublin).
Opposition to open a big yeshiva in Lublin
This suggestion of Rabbi Maier Shapira was received with great enthusiasm but there was criticism from different directions:
The great Rabbi's and heads of the Lithuanian yeshivas pleaded with Rabbi Maier, saying: "Instead of first beginning to teach students and only afterwards build the building, you are first building a huge building and only afterwards will you place students there".
The heads of the Zionist Movement in Lublin, Bela Dobrzynska and Dawid Dawidson, came to Rabbi Maier Shapira and Rabbi Moshe Eisenberg and tried to convince them to: "Build the big yeshiva, but not here in the Diaspora, only there in Palestine, in Eretz Israel!"
The socialist 'Bund' Party fearing that this undertaking will strengthen the religious party under the leadership of Rabbi Shapira opposed this great undertaking,
The Yeshiva as a Lubliner undertaking
Rabbi Shapira invested much mental and physical effort in his fund-raising expeditions all over the world, but the undertaking of the Lubliner Jewery was not less. The bricks for the building were donated by Hersz Jona Zylber, the chairman of the Vaad Hakehila and other building materials were donated also by another Lubliner, Shmuel Brodet. The most important contribution of all, the plot on which the building was erected was donated by Reb Shmuel Eichenboim.
The cornerstone of the yeshiva was laid in1924 and it was inaugurated on the 26th June 1930.
The big magnificent building was 6 floors high. There was a large synagogue and a 'mikveh' (ritual bath), spacious study halls, dormitories for the students, a modern kitchen that included a bakery and dining room, a laundry, an infirmary, a reading hall and an extensive library with 20,000 books and 10,000 booklets. On the ground floor there was a model of the temple (Beith Hamikdash), the work of the artist Hanokh Weintraub.
At the first graduation ceremony in 1934, fifty graduated as teachers. Rabbi Maier Shapira did not live to see this gracious moment. He passed away on the 5th of November 1933.
The beginning of the war
The Nazis confiscated the Yeshiva. The students were scattered, most of them killed.
The German Military Police was housed in the yeshiva. The books were publicly burnt by the Nazis in the market place.
After the war
During the communist regime the building was passed to the Medical Academy "Collegium Mayus".
According to the new law in Poland, the building was officially returned to Jewish hands in 2004. But to whom it will be given back? Into which hands?
Where are the Jews of Lublin?! In Belzec, in Majdanek.
The responsibility of the building was passed to the Jewish Community in Warsaw. The synagogue of the Yeshiva was rebuilt and it was inaugurated in February 2007. The future destiny of the building is unclear although there is a plan to convert it into a Hassidic museum.
According to unknown sources, Bela Shapiro was born in 1891 to a Hassidic religious family which its roots in a famous rabbis family. Her father was born in Pulawi and moved to Lublin after getting a large inheritance. In Lublin he had a writing materials store and a printing press. He wasn't very rich, but had managed to make a living and had a known Hassidic ascription.
As mentioned, the house was religious. The only son was educated in a Cheder and a Yeshiva. In their childhood the three daughters (Bela was the older among them) learned at home with a Melamed, but they had continued to learn in secondary school and university. Bela's sisters had completed their studies and taught in the Jewish-Polish secondary school in Lublin. Bela was a distinguished student in schools and loved to read books. After finishing her studies in secondary school, her parents had wedded her. It was a match, as common in religious families. The groom's and the bride's parents agreed their children would marry to each other, so Bela didn't know and didn't see the chosen until their marriage. She was eighteen years old.
The groom was the son a building owner and had no ascription. After their marriage he learned, and Bela worked in her farher's store. Two sons were born to the couple. There was a major problem: Bela believed in a progressive ideology, while her husband demanded she would stay at home. The two were divorced, and Bela stayed with her two sons. She left her work in the store and started working as a bookkeeper.
Bela was very connected to her mother. During the First World War Bela's father had died, and she returned with her sons to the mother's house. Their warm and loving connection continued also when Bela was recognizes as a leader of the Bund party in Lublin; even then she accompanied her mother to the synagogue during the High Holidays.
In November 1918 Bela joined the Bund party and found there a lot of room for diverse activities. Soon she showed her great ability in the cultural field (lecturing about it and teaching the youth), in the political and social fields, as human relations with all people who surrounded her.
In 1919 Bela was a candidate for the Lublin town council. She was elected and became a council member. She focused in social and welfare matters and was appreciated by the council members, though some of them hated Jews and were anti-Semites. At the same time she paved her way to the Bund leadership in Lublin.
In November 1919 the first elementary school for workers' children, which the educating language in it was Yiddish, was opened in Lublin. Shortly after also the Poale Zion Zionistic party opened in Lublin their own elementary school. Since on one hand the authorities didn't like the idea, and on the other hand the children's parents were not sure about these schools and had no money to finance those studies, in 1924 was established a Jewish Education Center (JEC) by the three political movements which were behind the various education centers in town: Bund, Poale Zion Left and The People's Party. The lessons' language at JEC schools was Yiddish. A committee was elected among these movements' members; the popular Bela Shapiro was elected as the chairman of this committee. Members of the committee collected money from Lublin people, Jewish organizations from other towns in Poland and even from philanthropists in America. Bela was the heart and soul of the school. She knew how to carry away the staff, and the pupils loved her. She had tried to fulfill her promise to build a new house for the school. Finally, thanks to donations Bela had managed to get, Y.L. Perec School was built. Unfortunately, the children and their parents had not entered it and couldn’t enjoy from the Culture House that was to serve them: at its planned housewarming at September 1st, 1939' the Second World War had started. During the war it was endorsed into a hospital for contagious sicknesses. After the war it served the medical school and the respectable agriculture faculty.
Bela's devoted and various activities in social and welfare matters had strengthened Bund's power. In 1927 it got 8 of the 16 seats for Jews in the town council; in 1938, when the situation of Jews was very sensitive, it got 8 of the 10 seats for Jews.
After the war in Poland began, Bund leaders in Lublin decided that if the Germans conquer Lublin, they would leave the town with their families and move to Eastern Poland which was under the Soviet occupation. And indeed, together with her second husband (Jacob Nissenbaum, the editor of Lubliner Shtime [Voice of Lublin]) and older son, Bela had left Lublin by foot in September 17th' 1939. Several weeks afterwards, after realizing how the Soviets treat political prisoners, they returned to the town. Right after returning to Lublin they began to try helping the many refugees in town. Bund messengers risked their lives in the dangerous travels.
In 1941 the Gestapo began looking for Bela. She managed to hide. The Germans arrested her husband, tortured him, but couldn't break him. He had managed to get free and was again active at the Lublin community. Finally he was shot in the street by the Gestapo with other Jewish workers.
Bela was probably connected to the Polish resistance group, AK (Armia Krajowa, Country's Army), which was active in Radom. Exposing this Radom group and the connection woman to Lublin led the Gestapo to Bela. She was caught in 1941 and was arrested in Lublin's castle prison. From there she was transferred to Radom, and from Radom to Ravensbruck in Germany. There she was killed in 1942.
Few words about the Bund
written by the Hebrew translator Shosh Grosbard-Orgad:
It was a secular social movement. Her aim was to improve the economic status of the Jewish workers in the little workshops and factories, and to spread among them general education. In the time between the two world wars Bund members struggled for the recognition in Yiddish as the only national language; they aided working class people; established school which the teaching language in it was Yiddish; published books and newspapers; wanted to establish a secular national committee and to reject the religious tradition. We should remember that Jewish Lublin had an established religious community, and many opposed the following ideological views of the Bund (mainly after the Second World War):
– Solution of the Jewish problem by local Jewish autonomy, not necessarily in Israel. The Jewish worker should fight his survival war in the place he lives at.
– Opposing Zionism, because it might arouse national feelings and damage the socialistic activity.
– They were not against natural assimilation of Jews.
All of these contributed to the public debate among the Jews in Poland and the Diaspora regarding the Bund's activity.
Synopsis and translation to English: Shmulik Avidar
An entire generation of promising young scholars lost their lives in the tragic events of 1939-1945, and together with them the fruit of their loving and patient toil has been doomed to oblivion.
It is our object to rescue some small part of Bella Mandelsberg-Schildkraut's scholarly treasure – actually a mere fraction of the work of a gifted and idealistic scholar, who in spite of her many other responsibilities still found the time and energy to devote herself to basic research in the history of Lublin Jewry. She was already in the last stages of her work on a magnum opus, and was almost ready to publish it when the holocaust which overtook European Jewry came and swept everything before it.
Nevertheless, some few remnants of her work have by chance weathered the terrible storm. We still have those of her articles which had been published in various periodicals before the war, and the manuscript of her thesis presented to the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Warsaw – though this was of course written at the very beginning of her career as a scholar.
Bella Mandelsberg, sister of Regina and Samuel [Shmuel], was born in Lublin in 1901 to a well-to-do and public spirited Jewish family. Her aunt, Bella Brengurn, donated her house at 8 Reinek Street to the Lublin Jewish community. It served as the Community Hall till the very end (April 1942).
She completed elementary and secondary school in Lublin, and then enrolled in the University of Warsaw where she received her Master's degree in History in 1928.
While at the University she was an active member in the Left Poalei-Zion movement, a group which also numbered among its members the late Dr. E. Ringelblum and Dr. Raphael Mahler, historians who later earned renown in their field.
Though from 1928/9 till the outbreak of World War II she taught history in the Lublin Jewish secondary schools, she did not for a moment lessen her efforts to further her political ideas, in spite of the professional difficulties that this activity engendered.
In lectures which she delivered in Yiddish to the general public on historical subjects, she frequently could not restrain herself from touching upon current political matters. Many of these lectures were delivered under the auspices of the People's Evening University of the Left Poalei-Zion movement. Though the school authorities forced her to give up these public lectures, she remained a loyal and active member of the party till the very end.
Her politico-social views couldn't help but be reflected in her lessons at school, and since the youth of the time was naturally attracted to current political activities and were aware of Bella's views, she was forced to display an unusual degree of wisdom ant tact in order to remain faithful to the demands of the school authorities on the one hand and to satisfy her students and her conscience on the other.
Bella was also active in communal affairs. She was a member of the governing board of the Lublin branch of "ZISHO" [Central Jewish School Organization]. She was of the initiators of the Lublin branch of YIVO [Institute for Jewish Research]. She was one of the charter members of the local branch of the Jewish Geographical Society which was founded in February 1931, and perhaps the only one to conduct guided tours of places of Jewish interest in the city – which she made particularly interested with the wealth of her historical knowledge about sites of specifically Jewish interest. She had planned to publish a guide in Polish and Yiddish, but though the work was almost ready for print, due to the difficult times it did not reach fruition.
In 1935 she married Mr. Meir Schildkraut, who shared her socio-political views. With the outbreak of the war her husband fled to Russia and Bella was left with her sick sister who also had two small children, without any material support as she was not permitted to teach during the occupation. From this time on she worked on the Committee for Mutual Assistance on a voluntary basis.
In April 1942 she was transported together with the remnants of the Lublin ghetto to the ghetto in Maidan-Tatarski, from which in November 1942 she was transferred to Maidanek. On April 4th of the following year she was murdered.
(N. Blumenthal, R. Mahler and N. Korn, On The History of Lublin Jewry, Tel-Aviv 1965, pp. 5-7)