Belchatow Holocaust Chronology
· A number of Jews from Belchatow flee the city, but those who were not able to get far enough way return soon after the Germans take the city on September 3, 1939.
· a group of Jews of Belchatow escape in 1939 to Bialystok; some of them join the partisans.
· German soldiers and ethnic Germans plunder Jewish possessions on the pretext of looking for weapons.
· Jews are forced to march around the town, dressed in tallaitim, dancing and singing, and shouting slogan such as "We, the Jews, are guilty of the war, and now may Moshe Rabbeinu save us."
· Jews who pray in secret in their homes during the Days of Awe are dragged from their homes and forced to do work such as cleaning toilets.
· The synagogue and Torah scrolls are burned, and Jews are ordered to burn more Torah scrolls and holy books on a giant bonfire
· The Nazis forced Dayan S.S. Shilet to throw his books into the flames and watch them burn.
· Elderly Jews are forced to eat non-kosher army food.
· The Germans shave the beards of Jewish with their bayonets.
· The Nazis take photographs of many of their worst abuses.
· Some elderly ethnic Germans protest the abuse of the Jews.
· The Germans appoint the first Judenrat.
· In the first three months after the occupation about 1,000 Jews migrate to the larger cities, Lodz and Piotrkow.
· The younger Jews flee to Soviet-held territory.
· Nearly 1,000 refugees come into the town.
1939 and the beginning of 1940
· Jews from large cities - Lodz and Pabianice - come to Belchatow, thinking that it will be easier to spend the war in a small town.
· A large number of Jews escape from Belchatow to Piotrkow, hoping that they will find better treatment under the authority of the General gouvernement protectorat.
· Ethnic Germans from Baltics and Volhyn settle in the town.
· The Belchatow ghetto is established, putting an end to legal emigration and immigration of Jews. The ghetto is not fenced in, but is demarcated geographically.
· Although illegal, trade outside the ghetto and exchange of goods for food continues.
· Many Jews work for the Germans. The Germans confiscated Dzialowski's weaving factory and 182 Jews are put to work there. The number of workers reaches 650 to 700, but a significant part of them are not even tailors, but protektzioners (those with some sort of protection from persecution). The factory makes clothing and other goods for the army. The workers were given meager salaries for their work.
· Six Jews are arrested in the field around the village of Dobrzelow. They were trying to cross the border into the General gouvernement protectorat with 497 meters of cloth, cotton and sheets, 8 rolls of cotton thread, 22 packets of cigarettes and 16 packets of tobacco each of 50 grams. They were sentenced to one and a half year imprisonment with hard labor (meaning, death). Some other Jews are shot when they try to escape.
· Illegal commerce continues despite the threat of severe punishment and death.
· The local authorities begin to discuss ways to annihilate various groups in the Jewish population of Belchatow (such as those unfit for physical labor and the unemployed).
· The plans include "the hospitalization" of Jews who are, for example, lame, deaf, blind, mentally ill and intellectually impaired so that they can receive "treatment in special institutions"; the Judenrat is ordered to draw up a list of people who fit into these categories.
· A list of all the Jews in Belchatow indicates that 3,425 are "sick and unemployed." On the list, craftsmen and the other workshop laborers on the list have blue marks beside their names; men and women who are not employed and the elderly are marked in red. Jews who are not marked by either color, 1,597 in number, are identified as sick "and could be sent out immediately." According to Belchatow's mayor, it is not possible to identify the children under the age of eight on the list because that would "reveal to the Jews more than what they should know."
· Jews from Belchatow begin to be sent to work camps. On August 19, Jewish males age 18 to 45 are ordered to assemble and undergo medical examinations. Nearly 2,000 males were gathered. Jewish policemen and Germans stood watch at the gate and the fence. On August 21, 250 Jewish males are sent out to forced labor camps in the Poznan region.
· Meetings of the Bund, the Communists, Po'alei Agudat Yisra'el and the group of Bais Ya'akov that have continued to meet in secret -- along with the Bund and Communist schools, courses run by the Po'alei Agudat Yisra'el, a cheder and small lending libraries -- stop after the first hunt for forced labor.
· Another call-up is announced three weeks later, but this time, in an attempt to evade deportation, few Jews present themselves. The German police carry out a house-to-house search and end up deporting between 450 and 700 males, leaving families without any source of sustenance. The Judenrat tries to pay the families a small stipend, but has very few financial resources to do so.
· Attempts to ransom the males in the camps fail.
· Jews from Belchatow and the villages of Kleszczow, Dobrzelow, Belchatowek, Chabielice, Grocholice and Szczercow are concentrated in the now-overcrowded Belchatow ghetto without a nearby source of water because of broken pumps, without a hospital and a population of about 6,000 served by only two doctors.
· The Judenrat sets up two or three public kitchens, which distribute about 1,200 free meals each day to the poor and workshop laborers.
· Official rations for the Jewish population are limited to 250-300 grams of bread per person per day.
· Heating materials are supplied only to public institutions.
· A workshop is in operation under the administration of Itche Winter, a professional carpenter, who has extensive connections with the Germans. He was called the King of the Ghetto and is also part of the Judenrat. He transmits orders from the mayor to the Jewish workers.
· There is also a workshop for shoemaking, with about 50 workers, and a workshop for products made out of straw. There were more than 1,000 engaged in work in the various workshops.
· The mayor permitted a specific number of craftsmen to work in their own workshops, mainly in tailoring. The Judenrat requested licenses for 64 craftsmen; the authorities granted only 32. In the course of time the number of licenses increased to 47.
· The city authorities allow private customers to order work from the craftsmen and charge an amount over and above what the workers receive. The city administration takes half of the amount for itself and gives the rest to the Judenrat, which in turn takes 10 or 20 percent for the needs of the community. However, most of the workers worked secretly, in addition to their official work.
· Official employment was given also to a group of Jewish accountants, who administer the accounts of the German and Polish factories.
· Round-ups for forced labor intensify as demands on the Judenrat for labor -- from every municipal office, police station and German administrative office -- increases.
· The mayor orders Jewish workers to be supplied for streets cleaning and snow removal. Jewish work crews from Belchatow are also sent to nearby communities.
· The relationship between the authorities and the Jews in Belchatow worsens, along with Jewish living conditions.
· The authorities begin to expel Jews from buildings in which the majority of residents are Poles or Germans, and Aryans from buildings in which the majority of residents are Jews.
· German orders for products from the sewing workshops begin to decrease.
· More and more Jews are randomly killed by the Nazis in Belchatow.
· Cases of typhus prompt the mayor to bring in another doctor.
March 18, 1942
· During Purim, ten Jews are publicly hanged in the market square by order of the Gestapo, supposedly as a warning to smugglers.
· At machine-gun point, German police force the entire Jewish population of Belchatow to watch.
· The head of the Judenrat, Shlomo Hirsh Topolowicz, is compelled to read out the sentence and the reasons for the punishment - sabotaging and harming Germany's wartime economy through forbidden commerce, smuggling and speculating on prices.
· A Jew, Avraham Alter Goldberg, is forced to act as hangman.
· By order of the authorities, the bodies are left hanging until nightfall.
Eve of Passover, 1942
· The terror in the Jewish quarter continues with house-tohouse searches, deadly beatings, manhunts and deportations.
· One manhunt, on the eve of Passover, continues for three days with Jewish men terrified to sleep in their own homes.
· Immediately after Passover, the Germans place an absolute curfew on the Jews for three days and surround the entire town. The Jews assume that deportation is imminent and prepare bundles for the journey.
· After three days, the curfew is cancelled and the deportation does not materialize.
· On the first day of this operation, the head of the Judenrat tries to escape with his family to Piotrkow, but is delivered into the hands of the police by his German driver. They are sent to the Radogoszcz camp, where the entire family is killed.
· There is another call-up for forced labor. As before, all males are ordered to present themselves, but past experience has taught the men not to show up; most of them try to hide. Another house-to-house search ensues, during which some men are discovered and arrested and others are killed. Twenty Jewish women are taken to the German work office as hostages, ordered to take off all their clothes and beaten with sticks and whips.
· 115 Jews are taken from Belchatow to the ghetto in Lodz, among them the sick and elderly.
August 11, 1942
· The final liquidation of the Jewish community of Belchatow begins.
· Shortly before this, the last head of the Judenrat is arrested and shot.
· The German police surrounded the entire town so that none of the Jews living on the outskirts can escape to the fields.
· Of those who do attempt to escape, several are shot; a few do succeed in escaping, mainly to Piotrkow.
· The Jews living on the outskirts of town are dragged from their beds in the middle of the night and brought, halfnaked, to the synagogue courtyard.
· In the morning, they are joined by the residents of Belchatow's Jewish quarter.
· A little later in the day, Jewish forced-labor workers are also brought from the workshops to join the crowd in the courtyard.
· The Jewish police are ordered to assemble all the elderly, the children and the sick on the road; they are herded onto trucks and taken to the Chelmno death camp
· In the synagogue, the German administrator of the Lodz ghetto and the Gestapo carry out their deadly selection process.
· 852 people with work permits and licenses to work in private workshops are told to stand on one side; that very day they are driven to the Lodz ghetto, where they arrive with nothing.
· A group of 150 to 200 strong men are separated from the main group in the synagogue courtyard and sent to clean the now-empty Jewish quarter.
· The remaining Jews are crowded into the synagogue, where they are imprisoned for three days without food and water. At the end of the three days, they, along with any other Jews who have been captured in the meantime, are driven in trucks to Chelmno for extermination.
· The Jews who had been chosen to clean up the Jewish quarter and collect the Jews' belongings are returned to the synagogue each evening, stripped naked and searched. When the work is finished, on August 15, 79 of the men are sent to the Lodz ghetto.
· The rest of the Jews are either sent to labor camps or exterminated.
· The Belchatow Jews who were taken to the Lodz ghetto are either sent from there to work camps or find work in the ghetto workshops.
1943 to 1946
· Only about 400 of the 5,500 to 6,000 Jews who had lived in Belchatow when the war broke out survive.
· Some of the Jews of Belchatow are active with the partisans during the occupation.
· After the war, Jews do not return there to settle in Belchatow.
· In 1945-46 the walls of the synagogue are still intact, but the interior has been destroyed; even the window frames have taken out. After the destruction of the Jewish community, the synagogue is used as a storage depot for straw and foodstuffs. In 1944, it is turned into a gymnasium for the Germans.
· The cemetery has been destroyed and the gravestones uprooted and used either to pave streets and pathways or to build several small bridges.
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