Chief Degenhardt learned that Jews were hiding in bunkers, in attics and cellars and he declared an “amnesty” for all who would come out of their hiding places by themselves by a certain deadline and they would be able to return to their houses.
Jewish policemen accompanied by gendarmes and Ukrainians went into all of the courtyards and shouted: “Jews, We have come to save you from death! Come out from your holes and nothing will happen!”
Many emerged from their hiding places. They were in terrible condition. Starving, faint and neglected. They had surrendered everything that they had of value. Then they were allowed into their houses, which had not yet gone through the aktsias.
However, there were also others who had good bunkers and food that would suffice for several weeks. These did not listen to the beautiful words of the Jewish policemen and remained in the hiding places.
When the period of the “amnesty” passed, the gendarmes began to energetically search for those hiding. The Jewish policemen, who had their gendarme acquaintances with whom they would carry out various businesses in partnership, went through the courtyards with the gendarmes and searched for the bunkers of Jews. They shouted in Yiddish that if those hidden would emerge by themselves, they would still be saved. They shouted into cellars and up to attics, until they reached people who were already tired of lying in the hiding places and they came out. When the people were outside, they were first asked to surrender everything they possessed. The Jewish policemen were apparently comforting. They would try to persuade the gendarmes to spare their lives, if they surrendered everything. When they had everything of the victims, the gendarmes shot them on the spot. The Jewish policemen would receive a certain percent of the stolen items.966
As elsewhere, the Germans had a retinue of Jewish helpers in Częstochowa who searched for bunkers where Jews hid and misappropriated Jewish property. When members of the underground began to gather arms, they were betrayed by a Jewish policeman; he furnished the Germans with a list of plotters and the location of their bunkers. In June 1943, Dr. Adam Wolberg, the leader of the resistance group “Fighting Group 66” (based on 66 Nadrzeczna Street) was denounced to the Gestapo and killed. A young Jew caught with underground documents outside the ghetto also betrayed members of the underground.967 During the liquidation of the ghetto, a Jewish informer fingered 35 people in a line-up, who were taken away and promptly shot.968 The Częstochowa ghetto had a thriving underworld and there was no shortage of luxuries for the well-to-do. These ghetto leeches led their high life at the expense of fellow Jews. The ghetto was plagued by crime: theft, burglary, seizure of other people’s property, brawls, assaults. Jewish “informers and secret agents all waited for opportunities … either for bribery or seizing the [illegally traded] goods.”969 Jews were employed by Germans to stand in the railroad station and spot Jews who wanted to escape from Częstochowa so the Germans could arrest them.970
The Jewish underground in Kraków established contact with the Polish underground and was thus able to procure weapons, yet there too the possibility of revolt was thwarted. Shlomo Schein explains the obstacle they faced:
Our boys were falling into the hands of the Gestapo one by one … The Jewish policemen sniffed after us, fearing that they would be blamed for aiding the fighters … and also in order to buy themselves time before they themselves would be annihilated. One day, one of our boys was arrested. The Gestapo arrested his father as well, and by threats and promises to free his father got his cooperation. Several friends were arrested following his revelation, myself among them.
When a group of five members of an underground organization that included two Poles attempted to get out of the city to the forest, they were apprehended and killed except for Mietek Bierger, who was taken by the Gestapo. Under torture, he revealed secrets of the organization including the hiding place of Hershek Bauminger. Following these disclosures, the weapon caches on Bonarka Street (in Podgórze) and Słowacki Avenue were found and captured, and the underground printing press was seized.971
According to historian Eliyahu Yones, one of the critical reasons for the “scanty” Jewish underground organization Lwów was that
The Jewish “order police” in Lvov [Lwów] collaborated with the Germans, thwarting any possibility of illegal organization and uprising in the ghetto. “Any action would have required total secrecy. The ghetto swarmed with informers and Gestapo agents who believed they could save their lives by denouncing their brethren,” an eyewitness wrote. Furthermore, one of the Jewish police units (the Sonderdienst) was specifically tasked with dealing with “political” problems, including manhunts for members of leftist circles and Soviet sympathizers. Any attempt to organize resistance actions or flight to the forest was, as stated, perceived as an expression of pro-Soviet sympathies, and the policemen conscientiously reported suspects to the Gestapo.972
Before any uprising could take place in the ghetto the most important task for the Jewish underground was to eliminate particularly corrupt policemen and Jews who acted as agents and informers for the Gestapo. This was accomplished effectively in the case of Białystok,973 where there was a group of Gestapo agents headed by Grysza Zelikowicz. Among the collaborators eliminated were the Judkowski brothers, Ćwiklicz, Zbar, Fenigstein, and many others.974
The negative perception of the Jewish police was due not only to its behavior [in rounding up 5,000 unskilled, poor and sick Jews in the Białystok ghetto in September 1941] during the Pruzhany [Prużana] deportation but also to corruption. Policemen in the Gestapo’s pay instilled fear in the hearts of the ghetto residents and Judenrat as well. Only after the purging of the police force on June 16 and 17, 1942, during which time more than twenty corrupt policemen were sent to labor camps, did [Judenrat acting Chairman Ephraim] Barash [who oversaw the deportations to Prużana] confess at the Judenrat session of June 20, 1942, that criminal gangs operating under police protection had almost undermined the Judenrat and jeopardized its existence.
In the same session, Barash reported on the activities of Grisha Zelikowicz, [police force chief superintendent Yitzhak] Marcus’s right-hand man and the most notorious Gestapo agent, who had a network of men working for him and supporters inside the Judenrat itself. … Barash said of Zelikowicz and his men that they “sent some policemen to the house of a Jew. The policemen stayed there for three days and three nights, until they extorted from him the sum of 10,000 Marks. … Zelikowicz’s gang also stripped Dr. Szacki and his wife of all their valuables and silver, claiming they were ordered to do so by the authorities, but taking everything for themselves.”
In her book, Haika Grosman revealed facts about Zelikowicz that were not public knowledge:
When a Jew dealt in smuggling cattle Zelikovich [sic] would inform on him, and then ransom him for money which he shared with his German confederates. He occupied himself with extortion and his house was filed with valuable objects. … He worked against Barash, spied on him and frustrated many of his plans. When Barash bribed a German of one of the institutions Zelikovich would inform another institution about it. He stirred up trouble and served everybody in turn. … When “illegal refugees” who, according to German plans, had been supposed to die like their brothers in Vilna [Wilno] or Slonim [Słonim] or Volkovysk [Wołkowysk] arrived, Zelikovich considered it his duty to betray them to the authorities.
Klementinowsky related how everyone in the ghetto—particularly smugglers and black-marketeers—were petrified of Zelikowicz and his gang: “When he [Zelikowicz] discovered that someone was doing business in the ghetto, he or one of his accessories came and demanded protection money. If anyone refused his demand, he had no compunction about denouncing him to the Gestapo. He also extorted money and jewels, by threatening to inform the authorities that his victims were Communist activists.” …
The Zelikowicz affair was not the first of its kind: Pfenigstein, a police superintendent, was discovered to be extorting money from the ghetto Jews and collaborating with the Gestapo. In the end, his German bosses discovered that Pfenigstein was deceiving them, too, and he was arrested and executed in one of the Gestapo’s cellars. …
Barash felt it was safest to hand over Zelikowicz to the authorities, and let them deal with him, to avoid complications. Zelikowicz was duly arrested with the help of Yitzhak Engelman, Barash’s assistant. A thorough search of Zelikowicz’s house revealed large sums of foreign currency, gold, diamonds, twenty women’s fur coats, suits, expensive fabrics, hides, and many other valuables. The loot was loaded on a large truck and handed over to the Germans. Zelikowicz himself was marched with his hands raised through the streets of the ghetto to Gestapo headquarters, where he was tortured. In the end, he died in the local prison. … Zelikowicz’s wife, too, was arrested, after forged papers were discovered indicating that Zelikowicz had intended to escape with his family to Switzerland. On the same day—June 21, 1942—after the assembly, Barash called a meeting of the Jewish police in the Linat Hazedek hall, to discuss the purge …975
For the most part, planned revolts did not materialize in the ghettos because of internal rather than external factors. A revolt in the Złoczów ghetto was stifled from within, even though arms had been procured with the assistance of Poles: “In spite of the secrecy and precaution, there had been somebody spying on the planners who betrayed the five leaders on the eve of the enterprise. The informer was a boy from Lwow [Lwów] … The five leaders were arrested.”976 A similar situation transpired in Mir where a planned escape of Jews to the forest was foiled
by a Jew from the Mir zamek [castle] ghetto named Stanislawski. … If [Oswald] Rufeisen had not been betrayed [by him] … Our ambush would have been a unique event … Perhaps the life of the Mir ghetto itself could have been prolonged by wiping out the gendarmerie stationed in the town. But instead, the traitor Stanislawski brought ruin upon himself and the entire ghetto.977
A Jew named Stanislavski [Stanisławski] worked with horses at the gendarmerie. The chief promised to let him live and give him special privileges if he informed him from where the Jews had gotten the guns, and who told them about the planned roundup. Stanislavski, believing he could save himself through this betrayal, agreed to the Kommandant’s conditions. He told him he heard say “Oswald” [Rufeisen] had given the guns to the Jews and had planned their dispersal with them.978
The Germans became aware of the existence of an underground in the ghetto in Baranowicze and “were employing Jewish spies to acquire information about it.” The planned revolt in the ghetto was foiled even though a huge amount of weapons was amassed.979 In many cases, as in Krasne near Mołodeczno, it was the Jewish Council who dispatched the Jewish police to investigate and break up an underground organization that smuggled men and arms to the forest.980 In Kurzeniec, the Judenrat warned the parents of underground members who were collecting weapons of the threat these activities posed to all of the town’s Jews. “When we heard about it,” one Jew recalled, “we stormed into the meeting with two drawn guns. We threatened to kill whoever threaten [sic] our families.”981 A similar situation existed in Iwie (Iwje) where the Judenrat warned the brother of an underground member who started to procure arms that this “activity was liable to bring about the handing over [of] my family to the gendarme.”982 Boris Rubizhewski used to steal into the ghetto in Dworzec and urge the youth to escape and joing his fighting group: “The last time he was apprehended by the Jewish Ghetto Police and beaten for going back and forth; they thought this wold bring the ghetto’s downfall if th Germans found out. These Jewish police even threatened to hang him in a cellar…”983 When a Jewish partisan, Abraham Zaretski, sneaked into the ghetto in Stołpce with the aim of leading out a group of Jews to join a partisan detachment in the forest, he was betrayed to the Germans by the head of the Jewish council and killed by them, as the chairman feared the consequences of such an escape for those Jews who remained.984
In Głębokie, after some Jews managed to procure weapons from Poles outside the ghetto,
In the Jewish police it was decided to quietly confiscate the weapons and to, somehow, get rid of us … Once, while my brother was sleeping, two Jewish policemen came, took him to the Judenrat cellar, beat him and demanded he give the weapons. … I was called to present myself. I let it be known that I would not come and that if, indeed, they tried to arrest me, I have in my possession a hand grenade … The Judenrat men were scared the Germans would find out about the weapons and backed off. So, except for the Germans, the Judenrat and the Jewish police also became our enemies. They interfered and threatened at any attempt to revolt or escape from the ghetto.985
Of the Jews who had escaped to the forests from the ghetto in Głębokie we learn: “When the deceitful call came from the Judenrat, that the remnant of survivors come to the Gluboke Ghetto, most of the Jews obeyed.”986
In Grodno, when a small group of refugees from a nearby town (where the ghetto had already been liquidated) detected signs of an eventual massacre of the ghetto population, they were accused of spreading rumours to create panic and of being Communists, who deserved to be punished by the Germans. They were ordered by the Judenrat to be silent or face being turned over to the Germans.987 Jewish partisans conducted a trial of a Jewish informer, a certain Motl Sh. from Mishnitz, who used to inform the Gestapo about everything that was going on in the ghettos in Łomża and Zambrów. Motl was sentenced to death by the partisan tribunal and executed.988 In Kopyczyńce, near Tarnopol, a Jew informed the authorities about the contacts Mrs. Katz, the wife of a local lawyer, had with an underground organization. The entire Katz family was tortured and murdered by the Gestapo.989 Jewish agents and informers of the Gestapo also presented a danger in Radzyń Podlaski,990 and virtually every other ghetto.
Warsaw was infested with Jews in the service of the Gestapo and German Criminal Police. Some of their exploits are detailed by Jonas Turkow (Turkov), who refers to this as one of the most “shameful” episodes of the history of the Warsaw ghetto.991 Collaborators of various ilk were plentiful both inside and outside the ghetto, though their precise number is difficult, if not impossible, to specify. Emanuel Ringelblum, in his chronicle entry for May 18, 1942, speaks of an estimated 400 Gestapo informers in the Warsaw ghetto alone. Some estimates run as high as 800.992 One source places the number of Jewish Gestapo agents at more than one thousand.993 At one point, the Delegatura, the Delegate’s Office of the Polish government-in-exile, compiled an incomplete list of 1,378 Jewish Gestapo collaborators.994 An archival source indicates that the Sonderkommando AS, which worked closely with the German Abwehr (intelligence service), employed some 820 Jewish agents in the Generalgouvernement.995 The honorary counsel of Chile in Warsaw, Samson Mikiciński, turned out to be working secretly for German intelligence, informing them of the activities of the Polish underground and its contacts abroad. (He was eventually lured to Palestine, interrogated and executed by the Polish underground in January 1941.)996 The szmalcownik Jefim Pironer was also believed to have ties to German intelligence.997 Jewish Gestapo agents even organized a birthday celebration in honour of Hitler at a restaurant on Leszno Street in February 1941. The chief of the German police was reportedly invited to this festivity, but declined to attend.998
A survivor from the Warsaw ghetto recorded the following occurrences, including the so-called “night courts” in the spring of 1942, when the Gestapo targeted those suspected of smuggling and being underground activists, based on lists prepared with the assistance of Jewish informers.999
Two SS men entered the building and broke into the apartment of our neighbors, the Orensteins… It seemed that a Jewish collaborator had reported to the Gestapo that her husband still had in his apartment some leather from his store. … one of the SS men shot Mr. Orenstein and [his 8-year-old] child from the balcony. …
That night, for the first time, the German ‘death car’ had made the rounds of the ghetto streets. The ‘death car’ was a shiny black limousine with a skull and crossbones painted on the door. … The Gestapo had compiled a list of names and addresses of Jews in the Warsaw ghetto [obviously with the help of Jewish informers] who had been wealthy or socially prominent before the war.
Between four and five o’clock each morning, the ‘death car’ would pull up at addresses chosen at random from this Gestapo list. The heads of the wanted families would be pulled from their beds and, still in their night clothes, would be dragged out into the street. There in front of their apartment buildings, they would be shot in the back of the head at such close range that they were mutilated beyond recognition.
…a Jewish informer who was known in the ghetto as Yossele Kapote [Erlich]. … Yossele was a big shot, proudly sporting an official-looking cap adorned with four stars. …everyone knew that Yossele Kapote had become very popular with the Gestapo. … Yossele lived on our street with a Jewish prostitute whom he had taken as his mistress. He had made a good living as a Gestapo stool pigeon, but at the same time, rumor had it, he could be persuaded to use his privileged status to help get Jews out of trouble—provided it brought him enough cash.
… Yossele was not in, but his girl friend was there, lunching on such delicacies as scrambled eggs, sardines, chocolate milk and cake. While decent, innocent people round about her were starving to death, this scum, this traitor to her own people, was living off the fat of the land.1000
There are numerous accounts of Jews acting as agents and informers for the Gestapo and German police outside the ghetto. They relentlessly tracked down and betrayed countless Jews in hiding. They also luered Jews out of their hiding places on false promises of escape. In July 1942, wealthy Jews in Warsaw were promised safety in Lublin, where an Aktion had just taken place. A Jew who claimed to have connections with the Gestapo, charged exhorbitant sums of money (60,000 złoty from one group) to take some 50 Jews to Lublin. Upon arriving in Lublin, the Jews were stripped of the valuables and belongings and sent to camps.1001 In the so-called Hotel Polski affair the following year, some 2,500 to 3,000 well-to-do Jews on the “Aryan” side in Warsaw were lured out of hiding by Jewish Gestapo agents, among them Adam Żurawin, on false promises of passage out of Nazi Europe on foreign passports.1002 Jewish Gestapo agents were also involved in other schemes to extract money from fellow Jews and spread false hopes, as the following report (from November 1943) of the Bund’s Central Committee in Warsaw describes:
Unfortunately, the power of illusion has continued to hold sway over the Jews even after the mass tragedies of the Jews themselves. A glaring example is the question of the camps for foreign Jews in Vitelle, or in Hannover. Many of the letters sent by the Paraguayan consulate in Switzerland to Jews living in the ghettos in Poland under German occupation, letters containing the promise of granting them Paraguayan citizenship, did not reach the addresses because they had been executed during the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto. These letters have thus entered the black market, the matter being in the hands of those wicked people among the Jews who work for the Gestapo, who demand and obtain vast sums for the letters. In certain incorrigible Jewish circles these letters were treated as a way to liberation, as a means of rescue from mortal danger, and as a writ of safe conduct. … The psychosis spreading among the despairing and doomed Jews was deliberately fostered by the Jewish informers of the Gestapo.1003
Moreover, ghettos had to contend with common criminals and criminal gangs that also undermined Jewish survival and resistance. There are numerous memoirs that attest to the widespread practice of corruption, extortion and common thievery inside the Warsaw ghetto, often by Jews who exercised positions of influence.1004 The manufacture and sale of bread was a thoroughly corrupt enterprise, with rampant ingredient substitutions.1005 A group that became notorious in the ghetto was the so-called Pinkert group, gravediggers employed by the Pinkert funeral service other such establishments in the ghetto. They had amassed considerable wealth and, allegedly, some of them had collaborated with the Germans. Working hand in glove with the Jewish ghetto police, they were essentially graveyard hyenas. They would dig up bodies recently buried in the Jewish cemetery and extract gold crowns and fillings and steal jewels and burial shrouds.1006 Yitzhak Zuckerman states that they “also made money by roaming around the streets and abandoned buildings … even during the first days of the Uprising.”1007 After their escape from the ghetto, the Pinkert group became notorious for robbing and terrorizing the local population in the vicinity of Wyszków. According to Communist documents, the gravediggers so aroused the enmity of their fellow Jews that the latter wanted “to get rid of them at any price and to liquidate them.” Likely, they were eliminated by a joint action of the Communist People’s Guard and Jewish partisans in their rank from the Warsaw ghetto’s Jewish Fighting Organization.1008 However, the Pinkerts were not the only grave robbers in the ghetto. Groups of teenagers, among others, also engaged in that lucrative activity. A memoir of a participant recalled how these youngsters descended on Warsaw’s burial grounds and used ploers and knives to extract gold teeth, crowns and bridges from the mouths of corpses.1009
There are also many descriptions of extortion from recalcitrant, wealthy Jews of “contributions” for arms acquisitions by the Jewish underground,1010 described by one historian as follows:
Compulsory levies—called “Exxes” (“Expropriations”)—were sometimes collected in combat-like operations, whereby a group of fighters would take over a building and demand that the tax be paid on the spot. The Ż.O.B. [Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa (Jewish Fighting Organzation)] even maintained improvised prisons where the relatives of those who refused to pay could be held until the account had been settled.1011