|Conditions outside Warsaw were no better. Denunciations and counter-denunciations flowed freely and resulted in brutal retaliations by the Germans. Twenty-four Jews were hung in the central square of Mława, with many more being shipped to Auschwitz. The extent of retaliations against Poles who engaged in illegal trade with the Jews, and were also denounced, is not known.460
The bulk of operational information from inside the ghettos of the region seems to have been gathered from confidential reports delivered to the police or the Gestapo. … frequent references [in the Gestapo files] stress the importance of “confidential” sources for the investigations. One of the few surviving reports illustrates the sequence of events leading to a brutal repression in Mława in early 1942. On November 20, 1941, Lejzor Perelmutter, miller, merchant, and finally chief of the Mława Jewish Council (Judenrat), sent a letter to the German mayor of the city complaining that some ghetto residents under the leadership of one Szulim Gutman had been subverting German orders, in part by trying to unseat Perelmutter from the Judenrat. Having listed the crimes of those opposing him, Perelmutter added that “if the Gestapo has received any accusations against me, they undoubtedly must have originated with the very same people, who are completely untrustworthy.” Perelmutter asked the mayor to convey his message to the Gestapo.
The Gestapo reacted swiftly. Several prominent Mława Jews were interrogated. Forty-year-old Menachem Davidson, chief of the “Jewish police,” had to answer for the “appalling lack of security in the ghetto.” But Perelmutter was himself arrested, and killed in prison sometime in January 1942. Worse, the Gestapo learned that the Jews were still able to communicate with the outside, in particular buying provisions. Dallüge, the Gestapo official responsible for the investigation, noted, “all these things demonstrate that, despite the [closing of the ghetto] the Jews continue to corrupt Germans through illegal exchange.” Dallüge requested permission to conduct a punitive action … Needless to say, the Berlin head office readily authorized a Sonderaktion against the Mława Jews. In mid-January 1942 several dozen were arrested, to be killed in a subsequent mass execution.461
The Mlawa [Mława] ghetto was well organized. There was food and clothing. The “Judenrat” was the contact between the ghetto and the outside world and was also responsible for supplying the needs of the ghetto population. …
The Germans could have starved the ghetto. They asked for volunteers to join the police force. People joined in the hope of saving themselves. There were some who thought it might be a good way to help all the others.
… The “Judenrat” received an order to deliver 100 people to the Germans. They chose 50 young people and 50 old ones. The old people dug the pit and the young ones were shot. I wanted to run away but it was impossible. Still I decided to try, as there was nothing to lose. The moment the German guard turned his back in the yard, I ran. There were bars on the windows and Jewish ghetto guards. … A policeman named Purman who now lives in Israel was on guard. He was married to the daughter of my uncle’s brother. He saw me attempting to escape and looked the other way. Jewish policemen searched for me later, particularly Haskel Alter, who used to live in Israel. I hid until the end of the “action”. …
There was a transport that they brought in from Ciechanow [Ciechanów]. … From there they were sent to Treblinka. A total of five transports left the ghetto. Eliezer Perlmutter was the liaison between the Jews and the Germans. …
Guttman cooperated with the Germans and gossip had it that he had abandoned his own wife. … Guttman was unemployed most of the time, and his wife supported the family by making hats. He was a butcher by trade but did not own a butcher shop. In the ghetto they lived well. Guttman was feared almost like the Gestapo. After his son was hanged, he became a monster, even delivering his wife into the hands of the Germans. He had another son and daughter who were later deported to extermination camps. His son ran the only cafeteria in the ghetto. Guttman knew he would not be able to save his son, and the moment he knew that his son’s time was up he no longer cared for anything.462
At that time, the head of the Jewish police in the Mlawa [Mława] Ghetto was Shalom Gutman. He was known as “the informer”, and his treachery was known to all. Anyone who was concerned about their life would flee when they saw this man of iniquity.
Shalom Gutman found out that my mother and sister had snuck into the ghetto, and he informed the German police about this. The police along with Shalom Gutman came to search for them in our house. When they found them, they brought them to the police yard, and all trace of them was lost. As far as I know, they were shot to death there.463
Sometimes the greedy Nazis conspire with some worthless Jew. They share one pocket; both lie in wait for the loot of innocents and for their blood; both fill their houses with the wealth they have stolen and robbed. But robbing doesn’t last forever, and when the partnership breaks up it is not convenient for the thieving Nazi to have a Jew know his secrets. The remedy for this is to get rid of him. …
Thus Perlmutter, the president of the Judenrat of Mlawa [Mława], was killed by his German overseer, whose hand had never left his while both of them looted and robbed and grew rich.464
A Jewish eyewitness from Działoszyce, a small town northeast of Kraków, recalled that soon after the Germans arrived,
Some Jews, unfortunately, became collaborators with the Germans. They pointed out where Jews had hidden goods or farm animals, which remained the only source for feeding their families. Initially, these people were given coats the same color as German uniforms, but once all the secrets had been revealed, the coats were taken away and the traitors were shot.465
Shlomek Leszman, the owner of several houses of ill repute in Brazil who was forced to return to Poland because of his various misdeeds, worked with Gestapo confidante Moshke. Their job was to uncover where Jews were hiding their valuables, and then deliver these confiscated valuables to the Germans after taking their cut. Moshke, in turn, worked with Kowalski, the Polish chief of the Miechów secret police. Moshke identified the secret hiding places, of the Jewish valuables in Działoszyce, and relayed them to Kowalski, who arranged for the hiding places to be torn open and the wealth confiscated. Moshke then bought the valuables from Kowalski for a fraction of its value.466
Another eyewitness from Działoszyce, whose family of shopkeepers carefully hid away goods with Jews in various places in town, recalled: “When informers told the Germans where our merchandise was hidden, it was carted away.”467 With time conditions only got worse:
As conditions worsened, people took bigger risks to survive, and ethical standards deteriorated. …
There was Moshke with his jaundiced thoughts, one of three or four informers from our town who denounced people to the Nazis and who exposed anyone who did things forbidden by German decree. Moshke must have been paid or received some benefit for his treachery. Unfortunately, we were not careful enough to keep all our secrets because we could not imagine anything as disgraceful as Jewish collaborators.
Another bad person was Mottel Platkiewicz (not a close relative), who was having an affair with a non-Jewish prostitute. Together, they denounced Jews and Poles. The Germans ensured the anonymity of the informers—at least while they were still useful. Once their utility expired, the Germans shot them and dumped their bodies on the outskirts of town. Then rumors would circulate about who the informers were. …
One small act of deceit I witnessed haunts me to this day. We had hidden a few rolls of bulky material behind a closet at Reb Moshe Chiel’s house. When we needed to sell the fabric, I went to collect it, but the rabbi, who had been held in high regard, said he did not remember whether we had put goods there. After his first lie, he tried to convince me that I had already taken the merchandise and forgotten that I did. I knew for sure that neither I nor anyone else from my family had retrieved it. Reb Moshe Chiel never returned the fabric.
How could a trustworthy, virtuous person with a reputation for being a pious Jew act in such a way? The rabbi lied, committed theft, and cast aspersions on my family and me. …
One day during the war, my father noticed two peddlers selling suits, shawls, and kerchiefs in the marketplace that looked just like the merchandise we had hidden in Black Laya’s attic. Slowly, quietly, we investigated the matter without making any accusations. The two men selling the merchandise were Hartzke and Herskowitz (who used to be called “Einlatch”). They were selling our stock gradually, two suits one day, another suit the next. We checked with the customers and established that their merchandise was definitely ours. Somehow, it had been stolen and was now being sold. We suspected that Black Laya’s son was helping himself to our suits and that these two were his fences.
My parents decided to open the secret attic to check whether any of their merchandise was missing. When they tried to arrange an inspection, they were told that Black Laya’s son was sick. The family had all kinds of excuses to prevent a visit: it is dangerous; the doctor forbids it; we would now need permission from the man next door, who owned the second floor leading to the attic; and so on. Lie followed lie. One moytzei Shabes a short time later, we learned that the Germans came to Black Laya’s house with a truck, broke into the hiding place, and with the forced help of some Jews, took whatever was left of our merchandise and carted it away. By delaying our visit, Black Laya’s son got word to informers, who were rewarded for the information. He had engineered a tidy little operation to get himself out of his tight spot at our expense.
Hershel Ries, an awkward, cynical loner, who was an underworld figure of sorts in our town, publicly announced that if he “had known that Zisme Tenenbaum had hidden merchandise, [he] would have gone through the roof and taken some of it [himself].” Ries was a well-known thief and used to brag about crimes he could have committed to make himself rich. “Why did they have to tell the Germans, so that the Germans would end up with the goods? Why wasn’t I informed instead?” asked Ries. …
Informers also guided Nazis to our house to search for hidden valuables. I was at home, sick, when Nazis led by the Stadtkommandant (city commander) barged in and violently opened the book closets and searched between the pages of our holy books for paper currency. These antisemites hated Jewish books in the process threw the books to the floor. … Our house was searched from the attic to the basement, but the Nazis found nothing.468
When some Jews from Pińczów arrived in Działoszyce to avoid deportation to Treblinka,
the family hid in a crawlspace at the house of a cousin who himself had lost his wife and children at camp Plaszow [Płaszów]. It was not long until someone informed on them. The Jewish police forced David’s family out of their hiding place and beat them. David recalls that the Jewish police “were ugly, as ugly as anyone else.” … David particularly remembers one Jewish policeman named Bialobroda [Białobroda], who wore black boots and often walked through the town with an SS officer and his German shepherd.469
… the Germans had surrounded Dzialoszyce [Działoszyce] to deport all of the Jews. While David and his family hid in their apartment, a Jewish woman came and asked them, “You have money, don’t you?” After agreeing on a price, the woman led them through the sewage system to the outskirts of the town where her husband stood waiting for them with a horse and wagon.
… the Jewish woman and her husband, a cattle dealer, had conspired with some farmers to kill rich Jews and take their money. … David’s family made a deal to pay the couple in return for sparing their lives, even as they realized that the couple would now start looking for another Jewish family to kill.470
In his memoir, another Jew from Działoszyce described the activities of the Chairman of the Słomniki Judenrat, Bialabrode [Białobroda], who regularly fraternized with the Nazi Bayerlein, the newly-appointed chief of the Security Service in nearby Miechów SD. The Nazis gave Bialabrode an automobile for his use. The author adds that, “He [Bialabrode] carried a leather whip with him all the time and struck innocent Jews no differently from a Gestapo agent. … During the deportations in the Miechow district, Bialabrode was granted an extraordinary level of authority by Bayerlein.”471 The author described the infamous Jewish police, the as follows:
Its men pandered to their German masters and distinguished themselves by implementing every decree and ordinance with the sort of cruelty exhibited by newly trained Gestapo officers. Indeed, during the Dzialoszyce [Działoszyce] expulsion raid, they did not sit with folded hands. If ever there will arise a Jewish historian who will record the events of these days, his face will turn red with shame when he reaches the disgraceful chapter of the Ordnungsdienst.472
The tendency of the Judenrat to try to ransom the Jews was predicated on their authority to collect money from the community, and this had untoward consequences: “On more than one occasion, the Judenrat took advantage of an opportunity to help the town by extorting money for their own purposes.”473
The above events, or the role of the Jewish police in the liquidation of the ghetto, are not mentioned in the Działoszyce Memmorial Book, with the exception of one testimony:
In 1940 … The Germans conducted searches in merchants’ shops and took away wagons full of goods. … There were also many Jews who bought the goods that had been taken from the merchants. Everyone’s life was in danger, but they did not realize it.
In 1941, the situation became much worse. Every morning, upon arising, we heard bad news. On a certain day, the Germans killed four butchers. They caught them slaughtering a calf. On the following day, they shot two Jews—Hilel Skopicki, z”l, and Szulim Aszer Zelikowicz, z”l, who had had business dealings with the commissar in charge of Jewish property.
It also happened that some Jews were afraid to keep their goods in their own possession and thus passed them over to others. The informers had their work cut out for them, and the Germans immediately performed searches. Afterward, a commando group from Kazimierz came and began to search private houses. One time they searched the house of our rabbi, Reb Eliezer Epsztajn, zts”l [of blessed righteous memory], and found a bag of silver. They forced the rabbi to walk to the market square with the bag on his back and stand there all day, until the community was able to get him released from his punishment. Thus they humiliated everyone. Each day brought new problems.474
Characteristically, Moshe Bejski, who is consumed with railing against Poles, conceals the involvement of Jewish informants in Działoszyce:
Every Monday and Thursday, thorough searches were conducted for merchandise that was restricted, and the fact was that the gendarmerie would sooner or later find each and every hiding place and take out everything if value and confiscate it. So they found many goods belonging to various merchants, among them Icek Majer Waga, Alter Spokojny, Dula, Gałązka, Szulimowicz, Płatkiewicz, and others. Most of the time these discoveries were accompanied by jail time, fines, and, in some instances, even by a worse fate.475
The following testimony is from Kolbuszowa:
Enemies there were also within our own ranks—not many, mind you, but … betrayal by fellow Jews was all the more devastating. … Two of them were not originally from Kolbuszowa, and the third, though a longtime resident, had always been a disreputable and marginal character. …
Naturally the Germans were willing to listen to him, interested in whatever information he might have to pass on. And when we saw him speaking to German police and going in and out of military headquarters, we understood that he enjoyed a privileged position. Naturally he was not shy about playing it to his advantage. He would look the other way, he said, when Jews violated German instructions—for a price. When, for example, the ritual slaughterers in defiance of orders continued to provide kosher meat to Jews in town, they had first to satisfy this man’s demands for fear he would report their activities to the authorities.
When bribes had to be given to German officials he served willingly as an intermediary, taking a portion of the money as his “share.” He warned of upcoming raids on our houses and seizures of property and persons, but suggested how, for a sum of money, all might be averted. We paid him, suspecting that most of the time no such raids were planned, that such talk was merely a device to line his own pockets. …
Regarding a second informer in town, Shmul Czolik, no one was likely to be surprised at his actions. Czolik was one of those itinerants who traveled from town to town begging. … It so happened that he met and married a girl from Kolbuszowa. Yet he remained a professional beggar, now supporting himself and his wife with the money given him. But Czolik’s fortunes improved noticeably when the Germans came to town; however it happened, we soon discovered that he enjoyed close contacts with them. He wore no Jewish armband, and we could see him entering and leaving police headquarters on a regular basis. What a change for Czolik now, from a person who was barely tolerated to one who was suddenly courted, treated with respect. …
Czolik was a threat, and he knew it full well. With his access to the Germans, something practically no one else had, he enjoyed the upper hand. Often he arrived with confidential information, he said, about how the Germans were about to seize a certain person or confiscate a business. But he usually assured people that “something can be done.” No one misunderstood his meaning. Money put into Czolik’s hands usually meant an end to that “threat.” He would then return and assure the intended victims, “It’s settled.” I don’t know how many times he spoke of imminent “threats,” but few dared question his inside information. That he terrorized the town for a time is certainly no understatement.
Then there was Pearlman, a thoroughly contemptible creature who also joined the ranks of the informers in town. Like Czolik, Pearlman came from some other place, but unlike him he dressed most stylishly and spoke only German; though Jewish, he identified his fortunes with those of the Germans. Many a time the story of how Pearlman exulted in public when the Germans conquered France: “Good news! We took Paris without firing a shot!”
The success enjoyed by all three informers was fortunately cut short when they overstepped boundaries and their bribe-taking and bribe-giving was uncovered by the Gestapo. … Each of the three was at some point caught in a compromising position. Their past services to the Germans counted for little, could not save them from being executed. Their deaths freed us from a form of terror we had come to despise; but with all the other horrors about, their elimination brought no dramatic change in our condition.476
In the town of Łask near Zduńska Wola, after hearing from some Jewish informers that Rabbi Eisenberg had hidden a horde of valuables, including silver artifacts from the synagogue, the Germans summoned him and demanded he reveal the hiding place, beating him cruelly.477 Another report states:
The Germans had ordered the Jews in Lask [Łask] to depart from their gold and money in “Valuta” [currency], their jewels and precious stones … (The Christian population was not spared either from that decree.) … There were in Lask, some “Jews” who helped the Germans to check the list [to ensure that] the ‘Robbery’ was done lawfully. Those informers knew how to point [to] many of the rich people in town who were missing from the list of the “Robbery”, or had not given enough from their fortune. The informers also pointed at Rabbi Leibel, saying that he had also hidden a part of his fortune and of the holy Kelims of the synagogue.478
In Szczebrzeszyn, “The Gestapo arrived from Zamość with its Jewish helpers who led them [the Gestapo] to the homes of rich Jews demanding money and that they turn over their gold.”479
In Chrzanów, Jews accompanied and assisted German soldiers in removing goods from the few Polish commercial establishments in that town in September 1939.480 A Jew in Rzeszów was easily duped into believing that the German invaders were potential benefactors. According to one Jew witness:
I recall to this day how one of our neighbors, Bielfeld, came to our home and told us with excitement how good the Germans are, in that they distribute sugar and other such products, which we had not been able to obtain for some time. He explained how they honored him with a meal fit for a king—in return for some small matter, such as the giving of information about the address of the Jewish communal organization and other such organizations.
The same Biefeld appeared the next day embarrassed and crushed, with half of his beard and one of his payos shaved off.481
A Jewish woman who tried to escape to the Soviet zone in December 1939 recalled:
Crossing from the German side [near Przemyśl] was nerve-wracking because gimlet-eyed soldiers scrutinised every traveller, searching for Jews who might be travelling without armbands or carrying money or valuables. Any pretext was sufficient to beat, arrest or shoot. … A small group of Jews just ahead of her were taking a long time to go through. The guards were examining documents and shaking their heads, finally they motioned for them to step aside. … Just as my mother stepped resolutely towards the sentry, a voice shouted ‘Jude! Jude!’ It was the man who’d been stopped from crossing; he must have realised that she was Jewish and was trying to stop her out of spite.482
In many ghettos the Jewish police waged a lucrative war against individual smugglers before becoming tools for the liquidation of the ghettos themselves. In Otwock outside Warsaw, the Jewish police became the scourge of Jews who tried to eke out a living by engaging in trade with the local population. They also carried out with model efficiency and rigour all German orders to round up Jews for various tasks, including deportation to the death camps.
The members and staff of the Judenrat, too, were among the privileged; they were provided with higher bread rations and other necessities. And above all were the Jewish policemen, around a hundred young men, who became the real rulers in the ghetto. They robbed the single smugglers of their products, took bribes from the organized smuggling gangs, and allowed the rich to buy themselves out from being sent away to work camps. Instead, they dragged the young men from the poor homes and families, often beating them mercilessly with the rubber batos they wielded. …
After Passover I continued to venture outside the ghetto, to the same and other villages, and thus I earned my livelihood and even helped feed my sister’s family. …
Worse than these were the Jewish ghetto policemen who sniffed out and chased after the smugglers to rob them of their hard-won products or demand from them a hefty share. Several times I had to pay them off, and once I was brought to the police station where I was beaten and threatened to be sent to a labour camp. …