Ghetto of Nowy Sacz under German Occupation


Mordechai ( Markus) Lustig (Kannengisser)

a native of Nowy Sacz, Poland


The city of Nowy Sacz is situated in southern Poland near the Slovakian border. It was established in 1292 and the first mention of a Jew there dates to 1469. The Swedes captured the city in 1655 and were driven out of it in December of 1655. The Cossacks under the leadership of Prince Rakutchi captured the city in 1657. A few years later in 1665, a terrible epidemic spread throughout the city. With the division of Poland in 1772, the city of Nowy Sacz fell under the jurisdiction of the Austrian Empire and remained part of it until the end of World War I.


Poland regained its independence in 1918 and the city of Nowy Sacz began to grow in all spheres of life. The Jewish community also played a vital role in this expansion for most of the commercial and industrial activities were Jewish owned. Religious Jewry was well represented in the city mainly by the followers of Bobow, Grybow, Sianiver, Gerer, Sadigora and Satmar Hassidim. There were also Zionist organizations, namely Poalei Zion on the left and on the right, Mizrahi, Aguda and Revizionits. The city. also, had a number of Jewish communists and Bundists. Jews were represented in all sectors of life. There were Jewish doctors, lawyers, tailors, shoemakers, water carriers, coachmen, bakers, carpenters, plasterers, builders, electricians, plumbers etc.. The city had a few factories. The city population reached 36,000 inhabitants in 1939, including 12,000 Jews.


The Germans entered the city in the early hours of Wednesday, the 6th of  September, 1939. We emerged from one of the cellars in the eastern part of the city center where we had spent the night. We witnessed German tank, artillery, and infantry units streaming east. Every lot became a parking center for the German army. A nearby lot was an assembly area for Polish prisoners of war where they were disarmed.


The first day of occupation passed uneventfully, but troubles soon began. There were shortages of bread and the daily lines extended very far. Frequently, there was no bread on reaching the counter. While standing on these lines, we soon saw the harassment of Jews by Poles of German origin, who had swastikas on their armbands. They called themselves “Folksdeutche” and lived in Nowy Sacz and vicinity for generations. Many of them were familiar with the Jewish population and exposed Jews standing on lines.


The German army began to round up Jews for all kinds of work details - namely to assemble copper, metal and iron scraps in the city. They also used them to clean their barracks, which had previously been Polish army barracks. They were also used to clean the horses and to unload bundles of hay for the horses. These bundles were heavy and had to be stacked 8 meters high. These and other work force details continued until the Judenrat was formed in October. Meanwhile all synagogues, study centers and little shuls were closed. Praying was forbidden and the assembly to pray was also forbidden.


In November of 1939, Jews from Lodz and Sieradz arrived to Nowy Sacz. The Judenrat headed by Yaakov Marin helped with their absorption. The head of the Gestapo, a man named Shultze, was replaced in December of 1939 with untershturfuhrer Heinrich Haman who was to supervise the destruction of the Jewish community of Nowy Sacz and vicinity.


The anti-Jewish ordinances began to appear very rapidly in the city. All Jews were forced to wear an armband with the Star of David on the right arm. Jews were forbidden to leave the city without permission. Most Jewish stores were “ Aryanized” or handed over to Germans. Jews were forbidden to walk or reside along certain streets in Nowy Sacz.


In 1940, all Jews that lived in proximity of the Slovakian border were ordered to leave their homes and move to the city or immediate vicinity. The first day of Chanukah, the Germans seized a group of Orthodox Jews, led them to the center of the city and made fun of them, while the Christian population stood by. The German army decided to search every Jewish home for weapons meanwhile the soldiers stole everything that could fit into their pockets. Jewish commercial activities plummeted, the daily needs for survival became scarce especially food products. Hunger became a reality and with it came along various diseases.


The Gestapo ordered the Judenrat to establish a Jewish police and a sanitation department headed by Fulkman. The most important job of the police was to catch Jews in order to send them to labor camps outside the city of Nowy Sacz. The sanitation unit was primarily busy with collecting corpses of Jews that were shot by the Gestapo. This occurred randomly when the Germans felt like killing Jews. The sanitation department also dug the graves at the Jewish cemetery.


A labor camp was established about 30 kilometers from the city. The camp was called Lipie. Conditions were horrible and a 1,000 young Jews were squeezed into this camp without the least sanitary provisions. The laborers were building a new road. There was also a German employment office in the city headed by a German named Swaboda and two Jews named Grin and Puper. Frequently, the Gestapo demanded from the Judenrat big money contributions.


In October of 1940, the head of the Gestapo sent the head of the Judenrat to Auschwitz. Word reached the Gestapo that there was infighting within the council. The Gestapo chief, Haman sent him with 120 other Jews from Nowy Sacz to Auschwitz where they all perished.


During the years 1940, 1941 and 1943, Nowy Sacz kept receiving Jewish refugees mainly from Krakow and Lodz. Jews also came from the vicinity of the city. Living conditions for Jews became intolerable in the city. The Jewish hospital was located on Krosiewskiego and received some assistance from richer Jewish communities like the one of Krakow.


In March of 1941, the Jewish community appealed to the Slovakian Jewish community to send the city 2,500 kilogram of matzot for Passover. Next month, two freight cars with matzot arrived in Nowy Sacz. In June of 1941, the Judenrat opened a public kitchen that distributed 250 hot lunches daily to the needy. Towards the end of the summer of 1941, the Gestapo organized a manhunt for rabbis. The operation called “Kaputan Action”, led to the arrest of 10 rabbis that were sent to Auschwitz. This action was soon followed by the rounding up of Jews, who had fled to the eastern part of Poland earlier and had now returned to the city. About 30 Jews were shot in this action. 1941 ended with a typhus epidemic in the area of the ghetto.


There were two ghettos in Nowy Sacz. The so-called open ghetto was located in the Piekla area and relatively unguarded. The second one generally closed and became sealed with the building of the walls around it in December and January of 1942. There was also the fur collecting operation in January whereby Jews had to surrender all their furs to the Germans. Then there was the cigarette action. The selling and buying of cigarettes was illegal. There were two groups that controlled the black market of cigarettes. One group consisted of 30 people and another one consisted of 40 people. Both groups were rounded up and shot at the old Jewish cemetery. There was another action called the apartment operation that resulted in the killing of more Jews in the cemetery. There were also days when the Jewish police was looking for workers and seized Jews that were sent to labor camps like Pustkow or Rabka from where they did not return.


On Tuesday, April 28th, 1942 at 5.00 A.M. the ghetto was surrounded by S.S. units and the Jewish police.  The Jewish policemen proceeded to arrest Jews that were on their lists. About 300 Jews were arrested and locked up in prison. Throughout the evening and night, the Germans played music for them and forced the prisoners to dance the so-called death dance.


Next day, April 29th, 1942, at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, there was a commotion in the area. Our house was located between Piarska and Nowa Street while the prison was on Piarska Street. I climbed the steps to the attic of our house where there was a window with a view of the area. I saw a large group of Jews that was being led in our direction. I descended the stairs to our apartment to get a better view and saw the Jews being led by S.S. men. The latter were armed with their weapons on the ready and bayonets mounted. This procession was led by Haman. About 300 Jews were being led to the cemetery.


A large grave was dug at the Jewish cemetery for the intended victims. They had to undress, fold their clothing neatly, and lay on the ground face down. There was absolute silence, when suddenly Rabbi Yossef Moshe Zehman (he was a religious judge) stood up and spoke to the Jews. He told them to have faith and we suffer for all the sins of Israel and the day of deliverance is not far away. To the Germans he said that their day will come. Then a young woman named Goldberg cursed the Germans and told them that their end is in sight. She was instantly killed by a bullet. Shooting was now widespread until all prisoners were killed.  We all heard in the ghetto the shooting that seemed to continue forever. Then absolute silence followed.


The German frenzy knew no bounds. They started drinking heavily and became intoxicated. The Germans soon stormed the Jewish Street and began a killing spree. This street was densely inhabited by Jews.  The Germans smashed through doors and windows and entered rooms and shot everybody in sight. They entered our housing complex situated along Nowa Zelazno and Piarska Street number 34. Our apartment was on the first floor. Below us lived the Hertzberg family that consisted of a husband named Moshe, his wife and daughters. The Germans entered the apartment and began to shoot. We heard the shots and were terrified. The screams and shouts could be heard throughout the houses.


Soon they reached our two room apartment. My younger brother and I slept in one room where we shared a bed. Our heads were in opposite directions. Suddenly, we heard the Germans enter the flat opposite ours and began shooting. Then they burst into our place and entered my parents’ room. They asked my father what he did for a living.  He replied that he was a bookbinder. They shot him; they shot my crying mother and my crying sister, Rachel, who was sleeping in their room. They then entered our room where I was sleeping with my younger brother, Moshe. I heard one of the killers say, “leave the kid”. But, someone else fired the pistol and shot my brother right in the head. I froze. I was under the same blanket, but my head was in the opposite direction and completely covered by the blanket. I felt his blood dripping on my legs, but was paralyzed with fear. The killers then left the room and said sarcastically good night in Polish. More firing took place along the stairs in the hallway, but I remained under the blanket, until it was absolutely quiet. I then left my bed and saw my brother dead. I then entered my parents’ room and saw the disaster - blood on the floor and goose feathers from the pillows and blankets all over the place. Of course, my parents and sister were dead. I ascended the steps to the attic and found some survivors from the building hiding there.


The next day, the Judenrat sent around several horse-drawn carriages to collect the dead bodies and bury them at the Jewish cemetery. About 100 murdered Jews were buried in a mass grave near the executed 300 Jews from the previous day. In one evening I lost my entire immediate family. Rumors began to circulate in the ghetto that these actions were a prelude to something big. People began to seek ways of getting jobs that were connected with German firms. Most of these places were in the first ghetto near Piekla. Here were all the workshops, repair shops and small industry namely; carpentry, broom making, fur and mechanical workshops etc…  All workers had permits that provided them with a certain amount of security against being arrested on the street and sent to the death camps. Therefore Jews tried to obtain these permits and even offered bribes, if they had the money in order to get such permit. I was in luck, my uncle Moshe secured me a permit, as a locksmith that saved me from being sent to the death camp of Belzec. Instead I was sent to work at the Roznow dam that was being built in the region on the Dunajec River.


In July of 1942, the Germans began to liquidate the Jewish population of Nowy Sacz. All sick and elderly Jews were moved to the closed ghetto. Jews from the surrounding townships of Limanow, Grybow, and Old Sacz were moved to the ghettos of Nowy Sacz and the Jewish population now reached 14,000 people.


On August 21st 1942, Haman assembled all Jewish officials and notified them that the expulsion of Jews would begin on Sunday, August 23rd, 1942..On that day all the Jews of Nowy Sacz were assembled at 5 A.M. in the morning next to the Dunajec River between the Railway and the Helena bridges. He ordered them to inform the Jews to dress up for the occasion and to take the keys of their apartments with them. The keys were tagged with the name and address of the party. Every person was instructed to take along 10 kilos of food and 15 kilos of personal luggage. Most Jews were under the impression that they were being resettled in Ukraine to work in the fields.


On Saturday, August 22nd, 1942, the Germans detained about 200 Jews and took them to the Jewish cemetery where all Jewish tombstones were destroyed in order to erase all Jewish presence in the city. Very late that evening, Jews began to assemble along the Dunajec River. At 6A.M. in the morning on August 23rd ,   1942, Haman appeared with the head of the employment office Swoboda and all the German district officials and Gestapo officers. A unit of the Polish police was also present. The place was surrounded by armed guards, sharpshooters and two armored cars. At precisely 9 A.M. in the morning Haman began the selection, those to the death camp of Belzec or to the labor details. I was brought from Roznow to the selection site and presented my work permit that put me into a special category. About a 1,000 young people were selected for various work details. I was now sent to a sawmill in Ritro.


Those that were not selected remained standing in the area and Haman taunted them with the saying that they will soon join the “Himmel Commando”, in other words they will soon die. Some work places did not send their representatives to pick up the selected Jewish workers - about 200 people, so, Haman ordered them to join the crowd of Jews. About 800 young Jews were selected for work details. The rest of the Jews were now pushed into the closed ghetto. The overcrowding was beyond description, but the situation changed very rapidly, when three transports of Jews were sent to the death camp of Belzec. The first one left on Tuesday, August 25th  1942 and the last transport left on Friday the 28th of August 1942. Each car contained about 140 people. The Germans also spread on the floor of each car lime that choked the people until they reached the death camp of Belzec.


So ended tragically Jewish life in Nowy Sacz where I was born. Approximately 25,000 Jews from Nowy Sacz and vicinity perished in the shoa. A few Jews from Nowy Sacz managed to save themselves during WWII - notably 4 brothers of the Holtzer family. The Shteinlauf family managed  to escape from the open ghetto a day before the selection and returned to their native village of Krasne Potockie.  The parents, a son and three daughters remained hidden in an attic of one of their neighbors. A few other Jews also survived. Other families were caught namely the Saphir family. This was a well-to-do family, who had built a hiding place within their lumberyard. A Polish informer revealed the hiding place after the ghetto was liquidated and they were shot. Another family named Rigelhaupt that was originally from the village of Wojowska in the Zaklycz district was also saved. Regina Rigelhaupt was pregnant and did not appear at the selection site. She, her brother and one other person escaped the ghetto and went to the village of Stainkowa where they hid amongst Poles. Regina gave birth in September of 1942 to a baby girl and named her Anna. In another instance, Stefan Mazur hid a Jewish girl named Berta Korenman in the municipal building atop the clock tower for ten days. The hiding place was a nightmare and finally Stefan managed to smuggle her out of the place and they left to the country. There they were apprehended and sent to work in Germany. They returned to the city of Lublin in Poland after the war where Berta gave birth to a boy and a girl. Presently, the mother passed away. Back in Nowy Sacz, the Gestapo continued to search for hidden Jews way after the ghetto was eliminated. Indeed. the city and vicinity became “Judenrein”.


There is a copper plaque in the synagogue of the city of Nowy Sacz to memorialize all the Jews of the city and vicinity.  The monument was erected by the association of former residents of Nowy Sacz and vicinity.


May their memory be everlasting!


This testimony was written in Hebrew by Mordechai (Markus) Lustig ( Kanengisser) , a native of Nowy Sacz, Poland  - June, 2006


This material was translated by William Leibner, Israel


(to see plaque mentioned above, go to:  “Remember the Community of Sanz”)