Szczerców 1939-1945

Caught Up In The Defence of Poland

Szczerców was strategic to the initial stages of the defence of Poland. The Polish defence plan provided a second line of defence along the edge of the River Widawka. Szczerców’s residents actively participated in building fortifications. Before the outbreak of the war, the 82nd regiment was attached to the Polish 30th Infantry Division commanded by Brigadier General Leopold Cehak. It was secretly mobilised between March 23 and March 27, 1939, and moved to Szczerców where it formed the defensive line at the Widawka River.1 After the outbreak of war ( September 1, 1939 ), all the civilian residents evacuated and, after heavy fighting, on 4 September German troops marched into Szczerców . As a result of shelling of the village it was almost completely destroyed (the synagogue was reduced to rubble and only the church tower and side walls were extant (see picture below).2
Compiled by Martin Davis © 2016
Sources 1. Wikepedia article 2. Outline of the History of Szczerców - 1332-1945 by Zbigniew M. Glab publish at 3. Zelów - A Report by Andrzej Selerowicz Szczerców: The Encyclopaedia of Jewish Communities, Poland, (Pinkas Hakehillot Polin) Volume I, pages 88-89 -  published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem. Translation by Morris Wirth

Extermination of the Jewish population


The commencement of hostilities and the rapid destruction of Szczerców, in the first day's of the war, forced its Jewish population to flee the village. They, along with the Jewish community of Widawa, were among the first to arrive in the village of Zelów as refugees in early September 1939. Among them was Tobi Komornik whose story is told by her daughter. The Nazis repression of the Jewish population in Zelów started on the first days of their occupation. Jewish people were stripped of all their rights and required to wear armbands or yellow stars. The occupiers created a ghetto in the centre of the town; expelling the Jewish population  from their homes, shops, and working places and requiring them to be concentrated in this prison. According to the German census from December 1939, 3,714 Jews lived in the ghetto, mainly from Zelów, but also from the surrounding villages or towns like Dabrowa Rusiecka, Dzialoszyn, Szczerców, Warta, Widawa, and Wielun. By 1941 it is stated that there were almost 6,000 people and observed that "....the area was so small it is hard to imagine how so many people could live in such a small space".
The Szczerców area was in the ‘Wartegau’ region; which was the region which bordered the River Warta - most of what is today central Poland. This was the region intended for complete incorporation into the German State (Reich). In consequence the area would only be for the exclusive use of Germans or people of German origin (Volksdeutsche).   The implementation of the planned ‘Aryanization’ saw the arrest and deportation of Polish Jews and Christians. The first days of the occupation also saw the closure of the local school and the arrest and deportation of  members of the local Polish ‘intelligentsia’2. The Jewish population first made their way to an assortment of refuges or were sent to the ghetto prisons of Zelów and Belchatów. Many of the Polish Christians were sent to the ‘General Government’ (non-Aryan designated area) or to work as slave labour in Germany (approximately 130 people).
To terrorise the Jewish captives, the Nazis staged an execution of ten male Jews, who were hanged publicly in the winter of 1942 (probably on 19th or 20th March). The victims were chosen by the Judenrat. The gallows were brought from Belchatów - where a similar atrocity had taken place. The whole Jewish population had to watch the execution, even the children of the victims. The noose was put on by other Jews, among them Abram Siwek (according to the report of the priest Ciosek), probably the only one who managed to survive the war. After the execution, a dinner for invited Nazi officers from Zelów and Belchatów took place for which the Judenrat (the Nazi imposed Jewish Council) was obliged to deliver food and drinks.2 The ghetto - along with similar prisons in other towns in the region was liquidated between June and September 1942 with the majority of the population being sent to their deaths at  Chelmno [Extermination Camp] with a very few being sent as slave labour to the Łódź Ghetto. It was reported that about 30 Jews managed to hide and survived the liquidation. According to the German statistics of November 1942 no Jews were any longer present in Zelów.


The Nazis declared Belchatów a Jewish town. It became an “open” ghetto prison - that is that it existed within a series of streets in the centre of the town and was bounded by restrictive barriers. In the autumn of 1941 the ghetto was filled with Jews from nearby communities, specifically from the villages and hamlets of Kleszczow, Wodzierady, Przyrownica, Dobrzelow, Belchatowek, Chabielice, Grocholice and Szczerców. As well as the general mistreatment of the Jewish population there was random brutality and, as mentioned above, a mass public execution in March 1942. In August 1941 the deportations to labour camps began. In 1942, along with Zelów most of the remaining Jews were sent to their deaths in Chelmno extermination camp, with a smaller number sent to the Łódź Ghetto to be used for slave labour.
Szczerców soon after the German invasion of September 1939
“The first day of the start of the war we had to leave our native town of Szczerców as the whole town was in flames.” *
* Szczerców Church - a photograph taken by a Wermacht soldier in 1939 - courtesy of Tomek Wisniewski
A photograph of the memorial to the Jewish victims of the Shoah from the Lodz region of Poland - including Szczerców, Zelów and Belchatów - in the Yad Vashem memorial park, Jerusalem, Israel.
A    photograph    of    the    memorial    to    the    Jewish victims    of    the    Shoah    from    the    Lodz    region    of Poland     -     including     Szczerców,     Zelów     and Belchatów   -   in   the   Yad   Vashem   memorial   park, Jerusalem, Israel.
Click to enlarge image
Click to enlarge image
19th century matzevot (memorial stones) are some of the few remaining matzevot in the Jewish cemetery of Szczerców, which is located near to village of Brzezie. The cemetery was effectively destroyed during WWII. Photograph courtesy of  Marcin Wygocki. More details can be found at the International Jewish Cemetery Project.
Szczerców Matzevot  
Szczerców Matzevot - some of the few remaining Jewish gravestones The relocation of Jews to the prison ghetto in Belchatów1941  - photograph United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Instytut Pamieci Narodowej.
The relocation of Jews to the prison ghetto in Belchatów1941  - photograph United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Instytut Pamieci Narodowej.  

Belchatów 1941

 *In a letter from Toby Komornik to her relatives dated October 1945 - after her liberation from Ravensbrück concentration camp