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Zmigrod: The Final Chapter

by Shia Tzimet, as translated by William Leibner, July 25th 2000 Jerusalem, Israel

This Yizkor translation is dedicated to the memory of my late brother, Yehudah Leibner who died suddenly in the hills of Ein Gedi overlooking the Dead Sea in Israel. He was a student of history, especially Jewish History. He studied the Shoa and came in contact with many survivors, especially from the Zmigrod-Krosno area in Galicia, Poland. At one of these meetings the author, a survivor of Zmigrod, presented my brother with a hand written document in Yiddish that described the destruction of the Jewish community of Zmigrod where our parents and grand-parents were born. The document was written after the war on scrap sheets. It was written at the request of Nafthali Bromfeld who survived the war in Russia. He wanted to write a book about Zmigrod and asked Yeshua, or Shia, Tzimet to write the final chapter since he survived the selections at Zmigrod. Nafthali Bromfeld and Shia Tzimet were close friends and talmudic students. We don't know what happened to the book on Zmigrod but Shia Tzimet wrote an excellent final chapter on Zmigrod.

May the memory of the Jewish community of Zmigrod be remembered forever

First a poem:

Jews of Zmigrod Memorialized

Bluma (Tzimet) Engelhardt was kind to send us a copy of the memorial poem that Yehoshua Tzimet, a Zmigroder shoa survivor, wrote in memory of the Jews of Zmigrod that were murdered and buried in the mass grave of Halbow near Zmigrod, close to Jaslo, Galicia, Poland. The murderous event took place on July 7th 1942 when about 1200 Jews were killed. Yehoshua Tzimet, a relative of Bluma, composed and delivered a memorial poem written in classical Yiddish at the mass grave site in 1946. With him were a few of the Zmigroder survivors that were still in Poland at the time. The poem is barely legible and I took the liberty of rewriting it. I then loosely translate to English.

To the 4th memorial day (Joahrtzeit) of the slaughter of the Jews of Zmigrod Tuesday, July 7th, 1942

“In life and death the Jews of Zmigrod were never separate”
(Biblical quotation referring to the friendship of Jonathan and David)

With a broken heart and an injured soul,
head bowed,
I memorialize today the 1200
Saintly Jews from our township
that were so cruelly murdered by the killers.

Before my eyes appears the picture
of my little hamlet;
the synagogue, the study center,
the precious children with their shining black eyes,
their curled side curls.

In my ears ring the sweet little voices
And from the Eastern wall (in the synagogue, we hear)
“Amen, May his Great Name…”
(A line from the Kaddish repeated by the congregation)

From all this nothing remains but a heap of dearth
on top of the big family grave
on the hill of Halbow
Where the book (of History) of Zmigroder Jews is located.

. . . .

. . . .

TUTSHE, [Term of endearment for Naphtali Bromfeld who was a dear friend of Yeshua Tzimet]

I will try to participate in your work dedicated to our lovely little town that was so dear to me. It is very difficult for me to write this material since I have to relive this tragic period of my live as well as those that were so dear to me. I will try to tell the story in a chronological time sequence as far as my memory permits.

The German Army entered Zmigrod {near Jaslo} shortly after the war started on September 1,1939. Their arrival was uneventful. As a former Austrian Imperial soldier [Zmigrod was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire] who had participated in the war under the command of the German general von Mackensen in World War I, I took the initiative and crossed the market place. I was going from my father's house to the place where I lived. My house was a tall country home, which I feared might be shelled by rifle or artillery fire since it was prominently situated and was visible in the distance. To the south one could see the Slovakian border, to the east the cities of Dukla and Sanok, to the west the Jaslo-Tarnow-Krakow highway from one side and to Gorlitz and Nowy-Sacz from the other side .

I crossed the market still wearing my beard but somewhat trimmed in a modern fashion. I must also mention that a group of about twenty young Jews had been working for the last few days cleaning the market place under the supervision of an Austrian soldier. As a matter of fact, most of the German troops that entered Zmigrod were Austrian and their behavior was much milder than their replacements that were primarily German. Still the Austrian supervisor decided to have some fun with the beards of these Jews and did not expect to hear a complaint from them, certainly not in German. I took the opportunity to present myself as a former Austrian Imperial soldier who was a candidate for chaplain and explained the meaning of the beard. I must have made an impression on him because he paid me an indirect compliment by pulling the beard of a young Jew and pointing to my beard, and saying that he should tend to his beard as I tend to mine.

I continued to cross in the direction of the house. The place was full of canons and heavy field guns stretched out in all directions, ready to swallow everything in their midst under God's creation. On the rooftops were anti-aircraft canons ready to fire at the skies. One such a anti-aircraft canon could be seen distinctly on the roof of the pharmacy and the other one on Shprincza's [the hunchback's, nickname by which people were frequently referred to without having anything to do with the particular noun or disability] roof. I walked and my heart raced, fearful of everything. I noticed the way in which the soldiers exchanged glances amongst each other as if thinking about me. As soon as I had crossed the market, suddenly, a commotion began, the soldiers blocked all the exits of the market and rounded everybody up, Jew and Gentile. All the arrested were led to the courthouse and kept there for about two days. Then all of them, about 150 people were released except for one Gentile who was shot for having part of a bullet in his possession. So ended one of the first Fridays of occupation.

On Sunday, the first day of Selichot [days prior to the Jewish New Year when special services are held and the shofar is blown in anticipation of the High Holidays], the Germans began to impose their rule. Indeed they were the masters in town. Searches began all over town under the pretext that weapons were being concealed. The soldiers zealously carried out their activities and turned everything up side down. Things began to disappear as tough they never existed. Items were trampled and kicked about as if they were pieces of garbage. Finally, the search for weapons ended and ordinances began to appear. Each day new orders were posted on the walls. Slowly the Germans were tying a rope around our neck and we were not even aware of it. Slowly the knot began tightening and we began to experience breathing difficulties. A few days later, an order was posted on the walls ordering all Jews, young and old, to assemble within 15 minutes in the market place or face death. Simultaneously, as if on cue, German soldiers began to force their way into Jewish homes and forced all males into the street. Jews were driven like cattle to the market. Before the pharmacy were placed three small tables and behind each of them sat an official who issued everybody a piece of paper that would serve as an identity card. On it were written the name, the date, and the stamp of the military commander. The elder people were sent home immediately. The younger ones were placed on trucks. Hands above their heads, and taken away. Moshe Kalman, Shia[Yehoshua] Buksbaum's grandson, who was on one of these trucks returned by miracle six months later and told us the horrors that they experienced, but this somewhat later.

The troubles of the day and the fears of the night became a regular feature of our life. We already knew that we couldn't undress for the night since we might have to seek shelter in the cellar or in the attic. Sometimes we had to leave the house and run alongside the market place down the mountain towards the villages of Samokleski, Brezew and others. On other occasions, we ran in the opposite direction that led straight into the fields where the running water covered our tracks. Even in the distance we could hear the rifle fire directed at shadows trying to find shelter. A few days later, these nightly escapes were no longer possible since no one was permitted to leave town. Anyone caught beyond the town signs delineating Zmigrod could be and was shot on the spot, as was David, the dumb, or the few refugees from the village of Podzer who wanted to get some potatoes from the farmers in order to subsist. Food presented a serious problem and would get worse with time but I shall return to the food situation in the following pages.

Rosh Hashanah [the Jewish New Year] was on September 14 and 15,1939. On the first day of the holiday the Jews assembled at the synagogue and services began. My father, may he rest in peace, in his customary traditional New Year intonation [each holiday has a traditional intonation that is used by cantors in conducting services], led the congregation in reciting the opening prayer of Adon Olam [Master of the World] with great fervor. He barely finished the first lines when a band of German soldiers burst into the place and began to beat mercilessly anyone in their way. The worshipers dispersed in every direction and considered themselves lucky that the incident had ended in such manner, since in other places such as Dynow, a small hamlet near Zmigrod, the Germans shot all the worshippers at the Rosh Hashanah service. Amongst those shot were a few Jews from Zmigrod who sought refuge there and were never permitted to leave the place after the Germans arrived. They were Moshe Shia Tzanger and his son from the village of Fristik and Israel Gross's son, Hozek. Thus we spent the first day of Rosh Hashanah in Zmigrod.

Yom Kippur was on the 23d of September, 1939. On the eve of the holiday, some neighbors came and begged me to hold services in my place. I had ample space and a main gate that could be closed and watched. However the danger was there and I knew what to expect in case of trouble. But it was the eve of Yom Kippur, the holiest night in the Jewish year and Jews everywhere would be reciting the Kol Nidrei prayers [special prayers for the eve of Yom Kippur]. I was still debating the question when my wife, may she rest in peace, entered the discussion and said that perhaps the recital of these prayers under these circumstances would have the desired effect and all evil decrees against the Jews will be overturned. I was swayed by the argument since I too wanted to pray and open my heart to the Almighty and relieve the heavy pressure that had built up inside me. I gave my consent and we prepared ourselves to pray and open our hearts to the Almighty, especially, at the Kol Nidrei service.

Towards evening the worshippers began to filter in. Some women and children also came and entered a separate room. The doors were closed, the curtains were shut and the gate was bolted. My wife lit the candles [candles are lit on the eve of Sabbath and all the holidays]. As I recall this moment it throbs my heart, the tears swell my throat and I feel that I could cry at any moment. I will never be able to forget these moments in my life. The congregation began to recite the Tefilah Zake [individual prayer recited before the Kol Nidrei service]. Now we needed a cantor to lead the congregation in prayer. We looked around, unfortunately, no experienced or professional cantor was available. The congregation demanded that I conduct the service and despite all my protestations, I had to accept the job. I approached the task with trepidation since I had to pray not only for my family, and myself but also for an entire congregation, and at a critical time. Still I began to intone quietly the traditional Kol Nidrei chant intermingled with the tears and sobs that I could barely control. At any moment, the entire congregation would begin to cry and as we continued our prayers, indeed we heard the crying of the women and children for our suffering had exceeded all imagination. Thus the service continued, each person pleading with the Almighty to alleviate our pain and suffering and I began to recite the prayer Yaale Tachnouneinou, accept our begging, our lamentations, our prayers for forgiveness, please accept them, if not for our sake then for the sake of the small children. So we prayed and cried and eventually finished the service. We all considered ourselves lucky that the service had ended without incident and all the worshippers left the place. Yom Kippur morning services couldn't be held as the Germans were grabbing Jews for work so everyone was trying to hide. Thus we spent the holiest day of the year in Zmigrod.

Succoth [the holiday of booths in memory of the Jews wandering through the desert on their way to Israel] soon arrived. Most Jewish homes used to have a sukkah in which they would partake of their meals, study and even sleep during the 8 days of the holiday. Now, one could only see them hidden in courtyards or behind walls since no one wanted to attract attention. People that did not have a sukkah did not think of going to a neighbor for fear of attracting attention or violating the evening curfew. The latter began at 7 p.m. and any Jew found in the street beyond this hour was shot. Jews tried to efface themselves. On the last days of Succoth or to be exact, the night of the Simhat Beit Hashoeva [the ancient festival of drawing water for the Temple], the synagogue of Zmigrod began to burn. Since the incident of Rosh Hashanah, services were not conducted in the big synagogue and it was completely empty. Zmigród: the Old
        Synagogue Nevertheless the fire started and then spread to the study center. Both buildings were huge places, [the synagogue was an old historical building with a circular dome and thick walls that gave it the appearance of a Moorish structure. It also had encrusted the Polish eagle, a rare event in Polish synagogues, and nobody knew the reason. The structure was declared a national historical building by the Polish government after WWI]. The study center was built of metal and cement and was a more recent building. It had huge 12 meter running beams of steel to support the roof. The study center was also used for services since the synagogue was unable to accommodate all the worshippers. Both buildings burned throughout the night. Apparently, special squads placed dynamite and other inflammable materials into these edifices in order to create infernos of this nature. These units seemed to specialize in the destruction of synagogues and Jewish study centers. Of course, no one could approach the fire since it was after curfew. Nevertheless, the only buildings to burn were these two buildings. The surrounding buildings were not affected although they were close by. On one side of the synagogue was the house of Tuvia Ginsberg and on other side was the one of Yudel Tzanger. Amazingly, the huge flames didn't affect anything but these holy places.

The fire having raged for some time, the Germans then ordered the neighboring Jews to start extinguishing the fires. The Jews were told to use buckets and to put out the fire, which was by now raging beyond control. The Germans pushed the Jews to run with their buckets into the synagogue and some of them caught fire, as was the case with Shalom Pepper, who barely escaped being burned

Since I did not live close by I did not have a front seat but I saw the sky and it was like a sheet of flames. The crying and shouting could be heard throughout the township, but we couldn't help as the curfew was in force and we lived a distance from the fire. We spent the night in fear, panic and terror. In the morning we all filtered our way to the synagogue and the study center and saw for ourselves the destruction of our third temple. The Germans of course acted dumb and asked everybody questions about the fire in the hope that a Jew would point the finger at them and this would give them an excuse to stage a riot directed at the Jews.

The Spiritual Auto-DA-Fe: the burning of Jewish books in the middle of the market. All good things in Zmigrod seemed to start on Tuesday, the day that G-d saw only beauty in his creation and continued with his celestial endeavors. The day began as a beautiful morning appeared on the horizon. I do not remember the date [probably, November 20th,1939]. The sun was already spreading its rays in all directions and awakening the earthly creatures from their nightly slumber. Nobody anticipated a thing. Suddenly a unit of about 80 Germans appeared out of nowhere and claimed that they had been sent as a punishment detail for an infraction that the city committed against the occupants. They surrounded the town, dressed in battle gear and ready for action but nobody knew what form it would take. The Jewish population was resigned. The puzzle was soon solved as they began to seize Jews in the street and from their homes to do their dirty work for them. The Germans now had a work detail of about 50-60 Jews to carry out their orders. They distributed these people amongst the various search parties that began to search individual Jewish homes. The search meant turning each household upside down and inside out so to speak. Everything from food to furniture was confiscated and carried out into the street. One Jew, Zalman Tzanger, omitted an old bed spread. He was badly beaten-up and only several hours later managed to be carried to his house. Reuven Eisenberg was amongst these workers. The people from Zmigrod knew him well, for he was a Talmudic scholar and well versed in its literature. He continued his studies and was very observant. The search continued until Friday. People aged before their time due to fear and panic. Some developed heart conditions and others had seizures. The scenes were beyond description and yet continued until everything had been taken from the Jews. As soon as the searches stopped, the Germans began their assault on the Jewish spirit. The most priceless possessions of the Jewish home were now destined to be burned. Every Jew had to bring all Jewish books regardless of language to the pharmacy in the market place. They also had to bring the religious articles in their possession. Tefilin [phylacteries used in daily payers after the bar mitzva],talitot [prayer shawls worn by married men during the morning service], Jewish religious artifacts and of course all Jewish religious books had to be carried to the market place. All these items were collected into a huge pile, dosed with gasoline and ignited with a match. All this work had to be done by the Jews themselves.

At this point, I would like a few moments to describe my father's library which was also dear to me. Who in Zmigrod did not know my father's library where we spent so much time studying the books of Sender Tzimmet. You [ Bromfeld ] were certainly familiar with the library where you spent so much time. The books were indeed beautiful both in appearance and content. It is not easy to describe their significance, especially the Talmud set that was printed in Wilno [one of the printing center of religious books in Eastern Europe]. Each volume had its own name, and stories abounded about them, especially about the Talmud set. Many legends were spun about the manner in which these volumes had been acquired, and hand written comments were added in some of the margins. My father loved these books and cared for them so that they were in good condition. The bindings displayed a variety of colors ranging from copper to gold, which could be seen through the glass windows, for the books were all enclosed in six huge library closets. It was a rich Jewish library that contained

You are probably curious to know what happened to the library. The search party did not miss my father's house; but the Germans planned it so that it would be last house to be searched. Indeed, 10 Germans soon burst into the house followed by about 30 Jews. Books were found in the attic, the cellar and the pantry. The Germans were very happy with the booty and ordered the Jews to carry out the books to the front of the house. The work lasted two hours. They then lined up the Jewish workers and any other Jew found in the area into a single line. Now they insisted that the owner of the books present himself to the chief of the search party or they would look for him throughout Zmigrod. My father was hidden but overheard the German demand and feared the forthcoming search. He surrendered and presented himself to the Germans. Their leader signaled for the show to begin. They took my father to the head of the column and put his large Turkish Sabbath talit [many religious Jews prayed on Sabbath and holidays in a special talit and had another one for regular weekly services. The material for these talitot came originally from the Orient, hence the name] with its large silver embroidery and placed it on his head as though as he was about to pray. They then called two of his grand-daughters, one aged 20 and the other one 22,and told them to support his arms. They stretched out his arms as far as they could reach and placed the heaviest volumes on them. The two young ladies supported the arms since the books were heavy. Now the order was given to all the Jews to pick up as many books as they could carry and to line up in an orderly fashion behind the old man. One is reminded of the old traditional procession in Zmigrod which was called Green Thursday when the local priest was led under a canopy to the services in the church. So they led my father to burn his books. The people took another three trips to carry all the books while my father stood and watched as his library was being turned into a pile of rubble. Then the order was given to toss all these books into the burning fire and my father was told to place his volumes on top of the hip and cover them with his talit. The flames soon devoured the beautiful library as well as all the Jewish books in Zmigrod. The Jews were then ordered to go home. Imagine, the joy of some of our hateful neighbors on seeing the destruction of our spiritual and cultural heritage in Zmigrod.

Sometimes later, I became the head of the social services of the Jewish Community. The old established organizational framework within the kehilla [Jews in Eastern Europe were always organized into a communal framework that provided essential services such as education, charity, health, mutual support and burial facilities] had ceased to exist. Each person tried to distance himself from responsibility and from the community. People tried to be invisible, this was much healthier and safer. But some people had no choice. One nasty Wednesday in Heshvan [Jewish month],or November, the mayor of our town, Mr.Radweinski entered the store. He was never known to be friendly to Jews, on the contrary, he was quite anti-Semitic. But he seemed a bit sentimental and I inquired as to the nature of his visit. He then informed me in Polish that he just received a call from the German district official in Jaslo [main administrative center in the area] who told him that Zmigrod would be receiving about 40 Jewish destitute families. The Polish secretary also informed him that a large transport of Jews just arrived in Jaslo. These Jews came from Lodz and would be dispersed throughout the area. They were stripped of everything of value and faced starvation. He then walked out of the store.

The information left me speechless and I relayed the story to my wife who had just entered the store. She insisted that I tackle the situation and my wife can be very demanding at times. After all, she is the daughter of Pinhas and Lea Dworah Lang who were great benefactors of charity and saw to it that poor people were assisted in town. The news awakened in her the call to action. She already imagined seeing the poor, naked and hungry children standing about in this cold weather at the Jaslo railway station. She began to plead and to cry. The tears did it for I loved my wife and had to take action in order to avoid more tears and sermons. I too was aware of the cruel times when entire Jewish families were uprooted from their homes, fathers were sent to Krosno [a small town in the area], mothers perished, some of the children were sent to Gorlitz [small town in the area] others were sent to Zmigrod. They were robbed of their belongings and would be arriving like paupers to the new places and would depend for everything on the poor local Jews.

Yesterday's manufacturer from Lodz is today's street cleaner or sewer worker. Yesterday's affluent woman is today's potato peeler. The student from last week is today's street cleaner or coach cleaner. I was carried away with this notion of help and left the store. I went to the market and entered Heinech Berger's store and told him the story. He was an old activist and a well known community Zmigród figure. I also spoke to Moshe Shtrenger who was also well known in the community. The three of us met and set in motion a plan to receive the Jews of Lodz. We also enlisted the aid of some women to organize a welcoming committee. It was headed by Mrs.Baile Krebs and Mrs.Golda Kanner. Our group was soon joined by other young men and women that helped us assemble clothing and blankets which we sent to Jaslo for the refugees so that they didn't freeze on their way to our township. Simultaneously, preparations were made to receive the destitute families. Food, clothing and bedding items were donated without second thoughts. Indeed, these were the first Jewish families to be so brutally uprooted from their homes and sent to Zmigrod.

About 200 people arrived in town. The transport contained young, old, children and families. Each brought with him his problems and his needs. A hot meal was prepared for them which consisted of potato soup and hot tea. I would summarize their reception by saying that all the people were lodged as best as possible, given the little time and the few resources that we had at our disposal. Our activities were soon overtaken by the official Jewish Social Self-Help Organization known as the J.S.S. which had branches in many Jewish communities in Poland, [all Jewish social and welfare organizations were ordered to work within the framework of the J.S.S. or the Judische Sociale Selbsthilfe. This organization was placed under the leadership of Dr. Michael Weichert with headquarters in Krakow].The branch in Zmigrod was founded by a former native son who returned to Zmigrod, namely Hersh Rab. He and his family would pay dearly for his activities but this somewhat later.

It seemed that the Germans wanted to make their job easier and decided to let the Jews do their dirty work, such as rounding up workers, assembling furniture, clothing, coffee, soles for shoes and anything that was not bolted down. They gave an order that a Judenrat be established consisting of 12 men which would carry out German orders. Hence no need to involve oneself in executing orders, [the actual order came from the office of Heidrich in his famous Schnelbrief dated 21/9/1939 affecting all recent occupied areas as a general policy and had nothing to do with the individual Gestapo or police chief in the local township]. .Negotiations and dealings started amongst the Jews of Zmigrod as to who should be a member of this Judenrat until it was finally selected. None of the members of this office lived long enough to make it to the concentration camps [which would be the next stop for some of the Jews of Zmigrod]. People such as Hersh Eisenberg, young and strong, could have possibly survived the camps, yet he was beaten mercilessly by the German district chief. He did not even want to use a bullet and kill him. Instead, he just beat him, struck his head repeatedly with his riding whip. He was the head of the Judenrat. The others members were: Yekel Bronfeld, Moshe Haim Birenbaum, Shia Wahl, Hersh Duvid Zilber, Shia Bobker, Shia Zilber, Shmiel Weinstein, Yekel Diamant and Nute Parness [I am not certain about his membership] and still other members whose names I do not recall.

The Judenrat was given offices and began to function under the direct orders of the Gestapo office in Jaslo. The later office would send officials to Zmigrod several times a week as the need arose. These officers would present their orders to the Judenrat. This body would then have to implement the orders or face the consequences. Life began to flow under this arrangement. Occasionally, 15-20 trucks would pull into town and search parties would begin. Everything of value was confiscated. Many items disappeared into the pockets of the searching soldiers and the rest was loaded onto the trucks. When the pickings began to decline, they would compensate themselves by grabbing young Jews and pushing them in to the trucks. These people would be sent to heavy construction sites and after a few months would be released. Most of them returned as ghosts since they were never fed or equipped for these heavy jobs. Another popular sport was to seize a Jew and to shoot him in front of people as in the case of Haim Itzik Freund. He was killed as a joke, supposedly his son Kalman Mendel Freund sold some cigarettes. Such events occurred frequently and when they ended with one victim the township considered itself lucky. When there were no victims we were all very happy. We were condemned people and above our heads hung the death sentence. We got accustomed to the searches and the German shows for we had nothing more to give. Life however continued in spite of the daily horrors, miseries and fears.

I have to shorten the story since it is affecting me. I will concentrate on the activities of the local J.S.S. where Hersh Rab and his family ended their life in tragedy. He received his death sentence the same day that the rest of the Jewish community was killed in Yosh, [ reference to the killing site of the Jews in the town ]. Hersh Rab was the president of the local J.S.S. which also included Hersh Sheinwetter, myself [Shia Tzimmet], Getzil Shiff, Haim Shia Birnhan, Miriam Fessler, Idesen's son-in-law and David Leizer. We provided the social, nutritional and sanitary needs of the poor Jews in town regardless of length of residence. We established a public kitchen that distributed each day 350 breakfasts and lunches. Money was obtained from various sources including weekly contributions from the well-established families in town. The latter also maintained the Judenrat. Our office worked as well as conditions enabled us to function and we tried to be helpful. Cases that refused to cooperate with us were referred to the office of the Judenrat and they handled these situations.

One day, 5 truckloads of Jews from Krakow arrived in town. The police escort informed us that more Jews were on their way to Zmigrod. We were stunned for we were incapable of receiving more refugees since our resources; financial and physical, were already stretched to the limits. We decided to appeal for help to Jaslo. Hersh Rab turned officially to the J.S.S. district office in Jaslo and asked for material and financial help. He also asked the office to use their connections to stop sending refugees to Zmigrod since the town had no more facilities. Jaslo did not reply, so Hersh Rab decided to send a telegram to one of the main offices of J.S.S. in Krakow where he explained the town's situation. The presiding officer, Dr. Titham Gleich, [there seems to be an error here, the head of the organisation was Dr. Michael Weichert] received the cable and intervened in Jaslo. The complaint was recorded and the German district official in Jaslo took it as a personal act against him. Next day, Hersh Rab received an order to appear in his office and to bring with him his correspondence with the J.S.S. office in Krakow. We, the members of the local committee were unaware of the telegram. Finally, we were shown the document and became aware of the gravity of the situation. We decided to intervene on his behalf by offering a heavy bribe to the food commissioner who extricated Rab from the district henchmen. The latter, however, never forgave him for the telegram, he merely postponed his vengeance for a later day.

That day indeed soon arrived when all the Jews were assembled in Bals place and waited. The district chief arrived in a cab and on leaving it, called for Rab. The latter stepped forth whereupon the German slapped him across the face and told him: "now you will also impose on me Mr. Gleich"? Where is your family? Fearfully, his wife, Fridka, and children, Yumek and Shmerek, took a few steps in the direction of the German. I do not have to describe the painful scene and to say that every Jew of Zmigrod wanted to be as far away as possible from this place. As soon as the family reached the German, they were told to climb onto one of the standing trucks that came to take away the crowd of Jews to the forest of Halbow.

Here I will describe the day that ended Jewish life in Zmigrod. For on this day, our dearest and nearest ceased to exist. Killed in the most brutal manner yet invented by the human mind. This day is chiseled in my mind and inscribed in my heart with bloody letters. This is the bloody Tuesday in Zmigrod, July the 7th 1942 [22 days in Tammuz, Tasha`b ].

A few days before this tragic date, we discovered what happened to the Jews in the nearby hamlet of Fristik [Frysztak], to be exact five days earlier. The Germans assembled about 800 Jews: young and old, men and women, boys and girls. They were taken to the woods and there they were killed. Having traveled a great deal with Hersh Rab since we worked in the J.S.S. office together and we were familiar with the surroundings which enabled us to carry out our job to the best of our ability. We didn't think that we can let things go as far as they did in Fristik. We thought that we could avoid the destruction of the Jewish community by reaching an agreement with the German district chief, Dr. Genz. He was tall, had a lanky body, and limped as he walked. He looked at you with two blue steeled German eyes, always had a riding whip in his hand and an angelic smile. He received us and we talked to him while he paced the room. We were convinced that we had an agreement when he assured us not to worry and insisted that the matter was settled. Also the chief of the Gestapo, Mr. Rashwitz, gave the same assurances. We had to put up a 24 hour collateral of 100,000 zlotys [Polish currency] to show good bargaining faith. This sum was huge given the financial situation of the Jewish community in Zmigrod and the limited time available to collect the sum. Help was asked from some of the Gentile neighbors such as the local notary and a few others. The sum was at last raised and presented to the district chief. It was accepted with the usual smile but it soon transpired that all the plans were implemented as though there was no agreement. Heavy trucks loaded with digging material soon passed the town. Rumors had it that huge pits were being dug along the Hungarian road, outside Zmigrod. Others rumors also began to circulate. The readers can imagine our thoughts at these moments.

People began to assemble in small groups in the market place , at homes, in well hidden places, tragedy was everywhere. We resorted to the usual Jewish weapons: fasting, reciting psalms and candle lighting. The fast was announced for one day. An entire day was spent in fasting and praying in makeshift praying places and what was left of the study center. At the cemetery, candles were lit everywhere. We hoped that G-d will revoke the impending edict and save us for the sake of the small children. Monday passed and the order was already posted that on Tuesday at 7 a.m. all living Jewish souls will assemble in the square under the bridge. The whole night, no one slept a wink, the darkest thoughts crossed our minds and somehow the night passed. My dear readers, you too will overcome reading these pages, just as you managed to overcome the reading of the painful pages of Spain [reference to the exile of the Jews of Spain and the Inquisition], Chmielnitzky [large scale massacres of Jews throughout the Pale of settlements], etc. However, those that did not witness it in person can not conceive it happening unless they are gifted with creative artistic skills.

Tuesday morning began to appear, a beautiful sun in a blue sky. The majestic rays warmed every free heart but not our Jewish hearts. The birds were chirping their morning tunes and down below the Jewish mothers were awakening their little children from their nightly slumber not knowing what fate awaited them. Soon, Jewish policemen burst into the homes and rushed us to our appointment with death. An order from the Germans was holy to them and had to be carried out to the letter. The crowd in the market grew by the minute. Nobody seemed missing thanks to the effective job done by the Jewish police. Besides, people did not believe in disobeying orders or in hiding, not that it would have helped, most answered the call. The leaders of the Judenrat came out of their office and led the procession towards the square under the bridge. People embraced each other, kissed each other, cried and bemoaned their fate, especially mothers who were supposed to lead their children to the wedding canopy were presently leading them to their death. The people threw their last glances at the town so familiar to them. Never did they imagine that these were their last glimpses of their ancestral homes. The column moved, we passed the destroyed synagogue, the study center, each of us involved in himself, still everybody glanced at these places. Here we used to sit and spin far-fetched dreams. We entered the square with our dark thoughts.

Various police formations; Polish, Ukrainian and German units surrounded the square. All exits were sealed. Everybody stood in fear and faced a dark unknown fate but terror was everywhere. Each person was wrapped up in his inner most thoughts, young mothers were breast feeding their infants, everybody waited. Soon, some empty trucks appeared and they formed a special line which revealed to some people their intention. Now, they were certain that the rumors they heard about the pits were correct. The huge ditch, 20 meters long, 30 meters wide and 3 meters deep was ready. Several private cars arrived, the district chief and the chief of the Gestapo stepped out. The former immediately called for the chief of the Judenrat, Mr. Hersh Eisenberg. The latter handsome, tall as a tree in blossom, was a bit crestfallen due to the beating he received from the German. He took a few steps in the direction of the officials and was ordered to produce tables and benches as well as food and beverages. He was also told that all the gold and jewelry in the possession of the Jews must be handed over instantly. Naturally a collection began on the spot and everything of value was taken. Watches, gold chains, rings, pearls, valuables and cash was seized and placed in a pile on the ground. These items were to be supposedly returned after the assembly. It turned out to be wishful thinking and soon proved fatal.

The tables and benches were set up, as was the buffet. The tables were loaded with food and drinks that consisted of fine liquors, wines and a large assortment of bottles of beer. Hersh Sheinwetter was sent especially home to keep sending beer and cases kept coming. The party finished, the show started. No other word could describe the action that followed. Indeed, it was a regular show for these murderers and it wasn't their first or last act of entertainment. First call, Rab step out, then the next call, all those 60 years of age and over step forth. There were about 1600 Jews presently in Zmigrod: natives, villagers from nearby places such as Oshik [Osiek] and refugees that came since the war from Lodz, Krakow and other places. Several hundred Jews stepped forth and they were told to sit in a special place. They were not permitted to stand. These people were already condemned and surrounded by the police. Now a break was called for.

Indeed, the various police formations began to drink and to eat. They also put some old Jews on benches and made fun of them. The food and beverages finished, the show was over, back to work. Up to this point, families were together. Now it was more systematic, rows of men, women and children were formed. To enforce the formation of rows, an SS man in uniform kept in hand a huge stick with a huge neck that grabbed or collared people into the proper row. Anyone protesting was immediately and brutally beaten with the stick and led to a special place to await death. Presently, all male Jews were disposed off, a new break was called for. The police again began to eat and to drink. They also took some scarred old Jews and mocked them. Time has come for the women and children. Here, brutality was boundless and used mercilessly. Breast feeding children were torn away from their mothers, small infants were plucked from the arms of their mothers, the screams, the shouts and the beatings were endless. The piercing screams of the mothers penetrated every inch of the heart and every cell of the brain. I looked at the sky and at the sun and saw no shame for the sun continued to shine as it did yesterday. Perhaps it was pleased with what was taking place under it's domain? I was certain that the sun will cease to shine and the sky will darken us and the murderers. But I was wrong, the sun did not cease, it continued to shine as it did other days and other times and it also appeared to me as though it was laughing at it all.

I asked G-d where was justice, where was mercy, how can You stand by and look at it all? Do You want to deny Your own Torah? You who have emphasized so much humanity and pity! It is forbidden to remove the young a bird from their nest while their mother flies about, the calf is not to be separated from her mother before the eighth day. All of these things in order not to inflict pain to the mother animal. The cow and her calf can not be slaughtered the same day, yet You watched as infants were torn from their mothers arms. You watched mothers seeing their children led by the murderers to the trucks? What about the commandment of spilling blood? How can You sit by during this blood bath? Is there no more G-d? I feel like I am going to loose my mind and this is very possible here. Let there be an end to it all. But it is not according to my will. The sun shines even brighter now, those rays are piercing our hearts.

It was now about 2 p.m., another break of 15 minutes was called for. The police were served food and drinks and the sorry lot of the scarred Jews provided the entertainment. The marked crowd was sitting on the ground, resigned to its fate. About 1200 people; old men and women, boys, girls, mothers and children. Now began the transfer of people to their assigned place. I am not capable of writing it down on paper, the human mind can not comprehend it, how much cruelty exists in our world and all of it was unleashed right here in Zmigrod. Some of the people did not even make it alive to the trucks. They latter were going back and forth loaded with people. The trucks were crowded which enabled some people to commit suicide while being driven to the slaughter, such as Frumet from the cigarette store and Sral [Israel] Merchower and family. They drank poison which Sheindzele [Sheindel Merchower] prepared in the pharmacy while working there. Children were tossed into the trucks as though they were logs. Over there [at Halbow] was a special unit that was armed with sticks, clubs and firearms. It kept pushing the arriving Jews into the huge pit. The children were pushed into the ditch alive in order to save bullets. When everyone in the ditch was killed, some barrels of lime were scattered above the ditch that was then covered with soil. Thus ended most Jews of Zmigrod their lives.

The rest of us 400 Jews were told to bring 100.000 zlotys within 24 hours or else. We were then ordered to return home and to remain there. The Jews in the holding area were still waiting their turn for the trucks couldn't handle all the people at once. They were told to behave and to keep silent. We left the area and went home with a heavy heart. Some of us still had relatives, while others had none. Some homes had lights while others were totally dark. Nobody returned to these homes. For five days we remained home and then a new order. All males aged 16-45 were to report to the same square. We all obeyed and presented ourselves to the new chief of the Judenrat, [Shmiel Weinstein, for the former one was killed. They selected about 150 people and put them immediately on trucks. They were not even permitted to say good bye to their relatives or friends they were sent to Plaszow [death camp on the outskirts of Krakow]. From these 150 people about 18-20 survived the hell that was our lot, including the one of the writer.

I demand of myself daily why the constant suffering? I will not write about my personal experiences since the suffering of the individual play a small role in the sea of troubles of the world. But I can ask myself whether I would not have been a happier person lying there with these saintly people? Why did I have to go from camp to camp not knowing whether I would survive it?

We started to work in camp. The pace was murder. Slacking was considered sabotage that meant the bullet, death by shooting. After six weeks at the camp. I received news that the remainder of the Jews at Zmigrod were assembled and sent to Belzec [death camp]. Thus ended Jewish life in Zmigrod. I will not describe my personal experiences. Even the testimony is in short version.


Please forgive me for summarizing the story. Some events did not even enter or were hardly mentioned. Believe me that the few things that were written down cost me a great deal of health. Pictures kept rushing into my mind and I began to visualize them. They rekindled the whole past and caused me great suffering and anguish. An entire parade of events kept marching by as though a motion picture was rolling and I did not know which scene to develop. With these lines I am finishing my testimony. I wish you success in your endeavor.

[Signed] May G-d console us.[Traditional religious signature on letters or documents that describe terrible afflictions imposed on the Jewish people.]

Names that appear in the testimony:

The document was written in Yiddish. William Leibner the son of Yaacov and Seril Leibner who were both born in Zmigrod translated it.

signed, Willaim Leibner 25th of July,2000 Jerusalem, Israel .

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Zmigrod Survivors a List compiled by William Leibner, Israel

Compiled by William Leibner, October 2, 2000. Jerusalem Israel Nowy Zmigrod

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Those Who Perished --a List compiled by William Leibner, Israel

The following is an incomplete list of Jews of Zmigrod that were killed during the Shoa. The names were found in the testimonials, witness documents of survivors, witness pages at Yad Vashem and Beth Hatfutzot. Many of the names were provided by Zmigrod survivors or their relatives.

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