In mid-January , the Germans demanded two hundred young men for construction work at an unspecified site. … Soon the Otwock ghetto police went into action and dragged the men from homes, cellars and attics. They were all transported by trucks to a place named Treblinka … For a time, nothing was heard from any of them. Suddenly one from the group returned with the dreadful news that nearly all of the Otwock detainees were beaten to death by the Ukrainian guards soon after their arrival. Only about twelve or fifteen people, mostly good carpenters, plumbers and iron workers, were spared. They all worked together with other prisoners on the construction of a large death camp to which Jews from all over would be brought to their doom. Large pits, he told, were being dug at the edge of the camp for the burning and burial of the bodies gassed in special gas chambers. …
Here [in the ghetto], too, he remained in hiding, afraid he would be snatched by the police and sent back from where he came. However, his story circulated from mouth to mouth, and sowed dread in the hearts of the ghetto inhabitants. Still, there were those who disregarded his report as a tale of a braggart. But more evidence of the truth soon became available. …
Now that the Germans demanded another four hundred men to be sent away, nobody was willing to go. The streets of the main ghetto became empty; young and middle-aged men hid wherever they could. Soon [Bernard] Kronenberg, [the head of the ghetto police], with his ghetto policemen, went into action. They broke into houses by day and night, dragging and beating the men and leading them to a wired enclosure beside the ghetto police station. Outside the station, mothers, wives and children gathered, refusing to leave their dear ones. Their cries and pleadings did not move the policemen, most of them relatives and former friends of the interned. The policemen moved briskly, clicking with their leather boots, giving out orders and cracking jokes.
The quota was filled and the next day several Germans arrived and ordered the assembled to form into columns, four abreast. Surrounded by the ghetto policemen and armed [German] gendarmes, the captives were led outside.
Suddenly several trucks with Ukrainian militia-men entered the ghetto … As they moved, roaring and shouting, rifle shots were heard and cries of the dying and wounded pierced the air. People panicked and ran for shelter into the houses, stores and courtyards. The Ukrainian detachments reached the Judenrat and the ghetto police station. Right away they cordoned off the assembled Jews and led them to the square behind the railway ramp, which had been fenced in with barbed wire some time ago. Groups of Ukrainian soldiers, accompanied by Jewish policemen, began to move into the ghetto streets and lanes, driving out the people from their homes and hiding places. Many of the people came out by themselves, scared and dumbfounded by the shrieking Ukrainians and the whistling ghetto policemen. Although obeyed the orders and marched silently to the gathering place, the soldiers continued to beat mercilessly whomever they could reach with their rifle butts. From time to time they began shooting straight into the crowd.483
When Jankiel Cieszyński briefly returned to the ghetto in Otwock during its liquidation that began on August 19–20, 1942, to search for his mother, he encountered two Jewish policemen who caught him and wanted to take him to the German gendarme. The boy insisted that he was not Jewish and managed to free himself and run away to the Aryan side.484
When the Germans invaded Eastern Poland in the summer of 1941, similar events occurred there. In Bielsk Podlaski,
Because the Jews had transferred to the ghetto a store of supplies looted from Soviet warehouses, most avoided starvation. However, after the Jewish Police reported the whereabouts of these supplies to German authorities, conscripted laborers working outside the ghetto were forced to forage for plants and to barter material possessions for food with the local population. Ghetto informers eroded community solidarity. The Jewish Police operated independently, blackmailing and robbing fellow inmates, in spite of the Jewish Council’s efforts to restrain them.
Some 24 Jews were executed for attempting to escape from the ghetto or for being found illicitly outside its gates. At least 6 others, including 2 Jewish policemen, were executed, based on a denunciation from inside the ghetto.485
Jewish policemen, however, all non-locals, reported on and turned in Jews … Jewish policemen took the Nazis to the hiding places of foodgoods, which had been taken from the abandoned Soviet storehouses and hidden in the ghetto. The goods were confiscated, and the Jews in whose houses they were found, were beaten.486
Jews who tried to survive by trading with Poles outside the ghetto were denounced or thwarted by fellow Jews who were envious of their exploits. Irene Budkowski (then Elster) recalled her experiences in helping her father, who ran a butcher shop in Sokołów Podlaski, by delivering meat to customers outside the ghetto.
“My parents used to send me out and take orders [for meat] from the Polish people,” Irene told us. Then my father would make up the orders. And early in the morning, someone would pull out one board from the [ghetto] gate and push me through [to make deliveries]. The policeman was paid off. But some of the Jewish people in the ghetto were wondering how we were making a living. So they watched and they caught me. They took away my money and started fighting with my Dad, who was such a nice, quiet man. And then I couldn’t go any more to do business. So it got very bad in the ghetto.”487
In a number of localities in Eastern Poland that were previously under Soviet occupation, Jews were denounced as Communists by fellow Jews and were executed by the Germans. A journalist from Kaunas by the name of Caspi-Srebrovitch, a member of the Revisionist Party, was given permission by the Germans to live outside the ghetto and is believed to have identified more than 300 young Communists in Kaunas and Wilno.488 A young Jewish woman, a former komsomol member who returned to the Wilno ghetto in early 1942, was cautioned by her father: “A lot of people think you are in Russia. … Let’s hope that no one informs on you. So many people have already been lost.”489 Jews who ventured outside the ghetto could also find themselves betrayed:
Many Jews, at the risk of their lives, tried to recover the things they had left with the Aryans. … Jews on occasion did help the Germans catch those among us who had illegally left the ghetto to recover their belongings. (I later found out, for example, that Sara Zawadzka one of my fellow students at school, was involved in this.)490
“Irka and her family were killed. They escaped from the peat works to Lida. They got fake documents saying they were ‘Volksdeutsche.’ Their last name ‘Folkman’ fitted in with that, and so did their first names. They worked there, made a good living, and were open about it. Other Jews informed on them—out of envy. … When they came to get them, Arturek, Irka’s little brother, wasn’t home. When he found out that they had carted off his family members, Irka, and her boyfriend Julek, he went to the Gestapo himself. They shot them all.”491
A Jewish policeman by the name of Szmukler who ventured outside the ghetto was apprehended by the Lithuanian police and under torture betrayed the hideout of some 120 Jews in the evacuated ghetto.492
Throughout occupied Poland, the Germans secured the assistance the Jewish councils and informants to provide the names of Jews suspected of being Communists or who were politically active. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Jews so identified were then executed in the Kommunistenaktion in the early part of 1942 in Tarnów, Jasło, Gorlice, Rzeszów, Dąbrowa Tarnowska, Radom, Ostrowiec Świętokrzyski, and many other towns.
… in the first half of 1942, the terror of the Gestapo also intensified. In February 1942, the Security Police shot about 50 Jews in Jasło who had been allowed to return from Eastern Galicia in the fall of 1941. A similar Aktion was conducted in Tarnów a few weeks later. These people were deemed suspect as they had lived under Soviet rule. In the spring of 1942, the Security Police also seized and killed prominent Jewish social and political activists in a number of ghettos in Distrikt Krakau [Kraków], especially any Jews known to be Communists, Socialists, or Zionists. For example, the head of the Gestapo in Nowy Sącz, SS-Obersturmführer Heinrish Hamann, received orders from the Commanding Officer of the Security Police and the SD (KdS) in Kraków to arrest and shoot all Jews in the Kreis known to be Communists or to sympathize with them. In response, Hamann obtained an old membership list for the Poalei Zion (left-wing Zionist) movement and ordered that all those on the list be arrested with the assistance of the Jewish Councils and the Jewish Police. … Similar “anti-Communist” Aktions took place, for example, in Rzeszów and Dąbrowa Tarnowska. The goal was to terrorize Jews and forestall efforts at resistance just prior to the deportations.493
The largest such Aktion [in Radom] took place on April 27–28, 1942, under the direction of SS-Hauptsturmführer Paul Fuchs of the Radom Gestapo. This was part of a centrally coordinated wave of arrests against alleged Jewish Communists and members of the intelligentsia throughout Distrikt Radom. In the city, 70 Jews were arrested, and another 100 were deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp …494
On the night of April 27–28, 1942, members of the Gestapo and the Schupo … entered the Jewish quarter [in Ostrowiec Świętokrzyski] and arrested 68 people according to a list provided by the Judenrat, which was supposed to represent the members of the local leftist parties. Although the Aktion was dubbed a “Kommunistensktion,” among those arrested were also members of the town’s intelligentsia, who had not been targeted at the start of the occupation. Some 36 of the arrested Jews were sent to Auschwitz concentration camp; and 32 were shot on the spot.495
Jewish informants could turn on both Jews and non-Jews. In Buczacz, a Czech Jew by the name of Dr. Bronfeld, who was appointed to head the Judenrat, is believed to have supplied the Germans with the list of intellectuals, among them Poles and Ukrainians, who were murdered in August 1941. During the liquidation of the ghetto, the Germans and Ukrainians, with the aid of the Jewish police, drove out, brutalized, and murdered the Jewish victims: “The Jewish scoundrels did not lag behind the murderers. They pounced on the Jewish hiding places, on Jews hiding in the forests and stripped them naked.”496 During the liquidation of the Buczacz ghetto some Jews, among them a certain Landes, took up the German offer of finding Jews hidden in bunkers in exchange for their lives. Hundreds of Jews were betrayed, but the Germans did not spare the turncoats and shot them too.497 Fearful of being executed by the Germans in a collective act of punishment, a young Jew in Jeziornica near Słonim falsely fingered an older Jew, thereby sparing his own life.498 A group of seven wounded Jews who escaped from an Aktion and took shelter in a Jewish hospital in Słonim were betrayed by a Jewish doctor, after the Germans threatened to burn down the hospital. The victims were driven to the Jewish cemetery and shot.499
In time, cooperation with the Germans became organized and entrenched through the creation of Jewish councils and the Jewish police forces which were established in every ghetto. The Jewish councils were called on, among other things, to compile detailed lists of the ghetto dwellers, which were then used by the German authorities to supply Jews for labour duties as well as for deportations. The Jewish police also ensured that Jews did not leave the ghetto and engage in smuggling, and were used to round up Jews for various tasks and, ultimately, for deportation to the death camps. German orders were, for the most part, dutifully complied with and greatly facilitated the destruction of the Jews.
In Biłgoraj, in early 1942, the German authorities instructed the Jewish council to prepare a list of 1,000 Jews, ostensibly for deportation to a labour camp in the Ukraine. The Jews were later assembled at the town square and taken to the train station in Zwierzyniec, where they were forced onto rail cars and sent to be gassed at the extermination facility in Bełżec.500 Similarly, in Szczebrzeszyn, in early August 1942, the Jewish council submitted a lost of 2,000 people for deportation supposedly to the Ukraine. The Jewish police subsequently assisted German forces in arresting the Jews on the list and imprisoning them.501 When the German authorities ordered the recruitment of 50 Jews from Młynów, Volhynia, for construction work in Równe, Ukrainian and Jewish police went from house to house looking for men, using a list drawn up with the help of the Judenrat. In place of those who had fled, the police took whomever they could find. The Germans murdered all the men once they had finished their work.502 When Ghetto I was being liquidated in Grodno in November 1942, the Jewish council members drew up deportation lists and read out sentencing orders at the public executions. Fearing the personal repercussions of not fulfilling the deportation quota, the Jewish police extricated people from hiding and seized off the streets many of the “useful artisans” and their families, given dispensations from the deportation.503
In Raków near Staszów,
In the summer of 1942, the Gendarmerie arrived suddenly in Raków to arrest young Jews for forced labor … Raków’s youth immediately went into hiding to avoid deportation. Gendarmes, assisted by the Jewish Police under the command of Chairman Zielony, prodded with bayonets the walls and floors of Jewish houses, dragging out all who had hidden. They caught between 30 and 40 young Jews. They locked the up in the synagogue for the night, then loaded them on trucks that headed for Skarżysko the next morning.504
The liquidation of the ghetto in Pińczów was carried out on October 4, 1942, by the SS and German Gendarmes, assisted by the Jewish police. On the following two days, the Jewish police assisted the Germans in searching the empty houses in the ghetto for escapees and goods. Jews who were discovered were shot on the spot.505
Corruption also set in. The Jewish council extorted valuables from the Jews in Sochaczew, supposedly to bribe the German authorities, but much ended up in their own pockets.506 The Jewish police in Sokołów Podlaski established a jail, mainly to incarcerate those who did not pay dues demanded by the Jewish council.507 In Zawichost near Opatów, as in most ghettos, the better-off Jews could avoid labour service by paying money to the Judenrat. Refugees from other towns claimed that only a small fraction of the aid from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in Kraków reached the intended recipents in Zawichost.508 Because local Jews were convinced only the employed would survive another deportation in Dęblin-Irena, they filled the best available jobs, leaving 200 deportees from Slovakia positions as unpaid municipal conscripts. A popular rebellion took place in the Radomsko ghetto because the Jewish council enlisted only the poor and refugees for the labour conscription.509 A crowd of Jewish labourers burst into the Judenrat’s headquarters, demolishing the offices and driving out its members. The Judenrat called for the Gestapo’s help, resulting in a three-day pogrom and looting of the ghetto.510 When thousands of Jewish refugees from Vienna began to arrive in Ostrowiec Święokrzyski, the Judenrat confiscated their belongings and sent them to the nearby villages where they were taken in by Poles who provided them with accommodation and food.511 In the spring of 1942, the Jewish council in Sokołów Podlaski cut supplemental bread rations to 200 grams (7 ounces) and opened a special store only for the council employees. As a result, conscripts assigned to the Szczeglacin labour camp refused to assemble. The Jewish police went from house to house, beating those participating in the protests.512 A testimony from Głowno near Łowicz preserved in the Ringelblum Archive noted: “The Judenrat was hated by the Jewish population.”513 Reports from the ghetto in Urzędów near Kraśnik, where there were ten Jewish policemen, are equally damning.514 A man called Haftke, who was in charge of the Jewish Labour Office in the ghetto in Koźminek, was notorious for his cruelty to his fellow Jews and assisted the Germans to select those who would be sent away.515
The Jewish Council and Jewish police in Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki near Warsaw were typical of many:
Every day the Jewish police broke into Jewish homes, rushed in and forcefully grabbed people for work, because the Judenrat had to provide 350 workers daily. One spring day in the year 1942, when there were only 300 people provided, and they came late, two rows of soldiers lined up at the gate of the ghetto showered us with beatings and screamed: “We'll show you how to be late for work!” Blood ran that day, and the Wehrmacht ran to find another 50 workers. Soon I saw how these were brought out, beaten, looking non-human. They were chased across the barbed wire and the blood ran from their bare feet. Many fell faint, and then many of them were thrown into a cell. By noon it was already known that they would be executed. …
One day, after we had gone to work, we did not receive our quarter of a bread ration. We were told that the Judenrat did not receive their rations of bread from the German government, but we all knew that was a lie. What happened was that the Judenrat staff was selling flour and was becoming rich from that. We went out to work in a mood of despair—even that quarter of a bread was taken away from us.
When we explained to our supervisor, a Folksdeutch [Volksdeutsch], why we were weaker than usual, that they didn’t even give us that quarter of a bread that day, he went over to the mayor Wendt. We heard that after hearing this, Wendt immediately summoned the senior [ghetto foreman] Yisroel Tishler and the worker supplier Nakhman Rajkhan [Rajkhman] and he beat them mercilessly. They bribed him with a new suit, a pair of officer’s boots, and a sealskin coat. All of this was related to us by the people in the ghetto who had come to us to find out what had happened with the bread and with the complaints to the supervisor.
We already understood that we wouldn’t get away with this and that they would get back at us, and that's exactly how it was. At five in the evening, the time we usually returned to the ghetto, the chief of police, Yankel Baranek, was already waiting for us at the gate, and along with him was his devoted assistant Shloime Sosinski (Morde) and a whole band of policemen. They took us immediately to the Judenrat where each of us was interrogated individually, sentenced, and then we had to sign the papers. The entire process was in accordance with the rules of the Gestapo. The secretary Abramowicz wrote an official report.
I was the last one to be interrogated. They asked me who told the mayor about the bread, and I answered that I did not know. They began assaulting me with questions from all sides, but my answer remained the same: I did not know. Soon the real chief of police, Baranek, began attacking me. He led me into a separate “police room,” and began shouting at me hysterically: “What are you thinking, that you'll be able to conduct your Poalei Zionist tricks here like your brother Menashe?” (My deceased brother was once the head of the Poalei Zion in Nowy Dwor [Dwór].) All the policemen began beating me until I collapsed in a faint. They revived me with buckets of water. I was completely beaten and bloody, and two policemen dragged me out of there because I couldn’t walk on my own. They dragged me into the attic where the police arrest happened and then they threw me down like a sack of potatoes.
When I revived, I saw that I was not alone. A boy from Wysogrod [Wyszogród] also lay there, beaten up. They arrested him because he missed a day of work. The following day, they sent the Wysogrod boy to another labor camp near Mlawa [Mława]. This time, my fate was better, since my family pleaded on my behalf and I was able to remain in the ghetto.
After the event with the bread, the Judenrat warned the Jews in the ghetto that “those who will talk too much”—meaning those who will give details about the activities of the Judenrat—will get their due punishment. And the Jews were afraid.516
The following are descriptions from Opoczno:
Mordechai Rosenbaum, the [Jewish Council] chairman’s deputy, became a Jewish informant … He later interceded on behalf of arrested relatives but kept from himself a share of the bribes intended for the Germans.517
In the middle of April 1942, the Opoczno police chief demanded from the Judenrat a complete list of the Jewish population. It is conjectured that the provision of this list is connected to the upsurge of arrests that began in the Ghetto afterwards on April 27, 1942. Arrested were the Zionist activists, Tuvia Zveir, Abraham Goldberg, Yitzhak Belzhitzki, Mottel Mortkovitch, Moshe Vinogrodzki, Schwartsmann, the two Zuker brothers and Hayim Frosh [Frosz], a few communists and a number of people with no past political involvement – together, some 30 men. They were taken to the stream near the community’s slaughterhouse and after three were separated, the rest were shot.
At the end of December 1942, German police came to the Judenrat and said that they wanted a list of all those Jews who had relatives in Eretz Yisrael. The Germans said that these Jews would be sent to a neutral country and would there be exchanged for German prisoners of war who were in Allied hands. The lists were prepared exactingly: questionnaires, the checking of documents, etc. The Jews eagerly reported and those who did not have relatives in Eretz Yisrael forged official documents. Official announcements on this matter, posted on the walls of the city, convinced some of those Jews in hiding or those with Aryan documentation, to come and register. On January 3, 1943, (or perhaps it was January 5), all those who had happily registered, were loaded onto carts that brought them to Kilinski [Kiliński] Square, which was outside the Ghetto. Doubts entered the minds of the Jews when their coats and bundles were taken from them, but they still believed that they were on their way to a neutral country. Only a few guards kept an eye on the travelers, and anyone who wanted to could have escaped. All were taken to Ujazd where a Ghetto was re-established in November 1942, after the series of mass deportations. “Legal Jews” and those who were persuaded to come out from their hiding places were assembled there. The Jews of Opoczno were the last group brought to Ujazd. There they discovered masses of Jews deteriorating in the conditions that prevailed in a transition camp surrounded by barbed wire. Only now, did it become clear to some that the Eretz Yisrael registration was only a cunning plot. In order to make their last hours bearable, others still held the hope that they would indeed be heading for freedom. On January 6, 1943, all the Jews massed in Ujazd were brought to the train station and sent to the Treblinka Death Camp.518