|However, that practice opened an opportunity for
deception and embezzlement also flourish. Armed gangsters still operate in the Ghetto. They, too, visit apartments ostensibly to collect money for the resistance, but the money they steal goes into their own pockets. They burgle at night and take all the clothes first—knowing that the Ghetto Jews usually sew money and valuables into their clothes to conceal them from the Nazis.1012
According to another source:
At first it was necessary to make [well-to-do] people pay up the point of a gun and even keep them locked up in one of the organization’s secret detention cells in the ghetto or in the factory area. … There were even times when the Z.Z.W. [Żydowski Związek Walki (Jewish Military Union)] had more money than it could immediately use to buy arms. …
Once the underground organizations’ fund-raising activities became common knowledge in the ghetto, various gangs of tricksters began resorting to similar methods of obtaining money under false pretences …1013
Members of the Jewish underground also posed as Christians when carrying out expropriations in the ghetto, and thus Poles are often blamed for these deeds in Jewish memoirs. Simha “Kazik” Rotem (Ratajzer) recalls:
At Hanoch’s order, we went on “exes” (short for expropriations) to “raise” money from rich Jews. We kept watch at the home of one man, collected information, and set a date for the operation. The apartment was on the second floor. One of us knocked on the door and when it opened we burst in, identified the man of the house, stood facing him in a “persuasive” movement, and announced, “We’ve come to get your contribution for the ZOB.” The Jew refused. I put the barrel of my revolver near him; he froze and didn’t utter a sound. Then Hanoch ordered, “Kazik, kill him!” When he called me “Kazik,” I was to understand that I had to appear as Kazik, that is, as a Pole. I assumed a strange expression, rolled my eyes, puffed up my chest, grabbed the Jew by the collar, and dragged him into a corner of the room. “Listen, with me you don’t play games!” I told him. When he heard the name “Kazik,” he understood he was dealing with a Gentile, and you didn’t get smart with a Gentile, especially not in those days. He broke down, asked for a brief delay, went to a hiding place, pulled out some money, and reluctantly gave us his “contribution.” …
The “sniffers”—our intelligence people—identified a very rich Jew in the Brushmakers’ Area. We considered how to get money out of him after he refused to contribute willingly. At headquarters it was decided to take his beautiful daughter hostage. … We took the girl to a locked room in an attic in the Brushmakers’ Area. … This girl was to write a letter to her father, which we dictated to her and delivered to her house by messenger. … Once again I played a Christian, a representative of the Polish Underground, supposedly cooperating with the ZOB in the Ghetto.
Soon after, the father was brought to the jailhouse. … after the man was brought into the locked room, the three of us had to try to squeeze out of him a sum of money which, according to our information, he was capable of paying. He was a real character. Despite our threats of execution, he claimed he couldn’t give us such a large sum. In fact, at first he demanded that we release him and his daughter for nothing. This went on for two or three days. …
As a last resort, my commanders decided to include me in an attempt to “convince” him, so he would know he wasn’t dealing with “compassionate Jews” but with real Gentiles, for whom killing a man, not to mention a Jew, was not a problem to hesitate about. … we had agreed from the start that, at a certain stage, we’d begin to play the role of “murderer,” that is, we’d put him up against the wall, cock our weapons, count to three, according to all the rules of executions, hoping the man would finally break. Hence, when I didn’t succeed in convincing him with the carrot, I was forced to use the stick of execution. I cocked the weapon in my hand. My finger was on the trigger. I said, “I’ll shoot you if you don’t respond.” The man broke down and for the first time started negotiating the amount. … The man believed a Gentile was standing in front of him, a pure Aryan.1014
The Germans sponsored an organization of collaborators known cryptically as Żagiew (“Die Fackel”—“The Torch”), the so-called Jewish Freedom Guard or Żydowska Gwardia Wolności, whose task it was to infiltrate all aspects of life in the Warsaw ghetto. Not only did they spy on, track down and hand fellow Jews over to the Germans, but they also carefully monitored the sources of outside assistance for the ghetto in order to expose Polish conspiratorial organizations. (The counterintelligence of the Home Army Chief Command eventually cracked this organization.1015) Less visible, but quite harmful, were censors at the post office building at 5 Leszno Street, such as the rabbis Blumenfeld and Glincensztajn, who collaborated with the Germans.1016
The Warsaw ghetto was plagued by the existence of a large number of informers. The most notorious concentration of Jewish collaborators in Warsaw was “The Thirteen” (Trzynastka—or “number thirteen”),1017 a name derived from their premises on 13 Leszno Street. This was the Office for Combatting Usury and Profiteering (Preisüberwachungsstelle), was established by the Kripo (Criminal Police) shortly after the creation of the ghetto in November 1940, ostensibly to combat profiteering and speculation, that is, the black market. Its staff comprised about 300–400 persons (perhaps even as many as 500, according to Raul Hilberg). “The Thirteen” furnished information to the Security Police (Sipo) while also providing a range of welfare services. In this way, it aimed to supplant both the Jewish police and even the Judenrat itself. It provided to the Germans detailed reports about the internal life of the ghetto, especially the underground and illegal activities. The tentacles of that organization reached every aspect of ghetto life and it even achieved a certain degree of popularity because of its promotion of Jewish culture and other aspects of Jewish life. “The Thirteen” created an atmosphere that encouraged informant activity, which became the scourge of the ghetto. Some historians even called them “The Jewish Gestapo.”
“The Thirteen” was headed by Abraham Gancwajch (Ganzweich), a former teacher and Zionist journalist who became a gangster-like figure with close contacts with the Germans. He oversaw the operation of various shady institutions in the ghetto. He entertained rabbis, artists and the culturally prominent at lavish feasts, while at the same time engaging in a wide array of extortion inside the ghetto. “The Thirteen” began extorting more and more money. Its agents blackmailed and denounced ghetto inhabitants, including bullying people in paying fines and extorting payments from people involved in smuggling and illegal trade. In December 1941, Ringelblum noted that they had begun taking a 25 percent cut of the goods stored in underground warehouses, plus 25 percent for soup kitchens, leaving the owners with the remaining 50 percent. A few days later, Ringelblum wrote that in confiscating Jewish property, on the Aryan side of Warsaw, “The Thirteen” took one-third for itself, handed one-third to the Germans, and left only one-third with the owners. By March 1941, their corruption was entirely out in the open, sending people out to bakeries to forcibly take bread for themselves and standing at the ghetto’s exit points and taking bribes. Gancwajch was also an ideological ally of the Nazis who called on Jews to cooperate, as the Germans were going to win the war. Gancwajch collected hefty sums in exchange for promising to lobby for releasing Jews from prison (although his success rate was moderate), obtaining permits and other favours. He lived a privileged life; the ghetto buzzed with talk about his son’s lavish bar mitzvah in May 1941, held during Shavuot (the Feast of Weeks) when other Jewish children lay starving in the streets. On the other hand, he handed out free bread to the poor and supported cultural and literary activities.
“The Thirteen” formed their own 300 to 400 member strong police, headed by Dawid Sternfeld, formerly of the Łódź underworld, whose activities were separate from those of the Ordnungsdienst. Sternfeld’s closest associate was Gojcherman. Those policemen, says Jonas Turkow, “Were fat fellows, debauched, mostly from the lowest low of the underworld.” In return for a sizable amount of money, policemen cast a blind eye toward smugglers, and at times even cooperated with them. If other smugglers were arrested, these policemen would charge a fee—often thousands of złoty—for not handing them over to the Germans. They extorted hush money from various ghetto craftsmen. They arrested Jews and released them in return for thousands of złoty in ransom money. The upper echelons of “The Thirteen” and its police force were patrons of expensive restaurants and coffee-houses of the ghetto. Ringelblum related:
At the “Britania” hotel at 18 Nowolipie Street they’ve opened a club in the basement that is little more than a whorehouse. It’s open until 7:00 in the morning, and the owners are Leszno 13 folks. They make merry there without limits. On Sunday, they took in 10,000 złoty, on Monday—2,000. A kilo of grapes costs 25 złotys. They write out bills for 500 złoty and more.
“The Thirteen” would often appear with Germans and Jewish policemen, who were partners in their transactions. One Jewish policeman, who was on friendly terms with both “The Thirteen” and SS, frequented their parties in the ghetto:
I remember walking with Jędruś in the street once, when a fellow waved at him and said: “Hello, Jędruś!” “Hello, Jaś,” Jędruś replied. “Who was it?” I asked because I was intrigued that they greeted each other like friends. “Oh, it’s an SS man I know, but in plain clothes.” …
It’s interesting that at those parties of theirs—so I was told by Jędruś—occasionally SS men appeared as acquaintances of the young people. They socialized with the Jewish youths.1018
In addition, Gancwajch also set up a smaller but equally suspect “Ambulance Service” (First Aid Station). Headed by Cantor Gershon Sirota and his doctor son, it too became a tool for “The Thirteen’s” corrupt employees, who used the ambulances (called “Marys” after Gancwajch’s wife) for smuggling goods. In mid-1941, there was a split in “The Thirteen’s” leadership. Gancwajch’s partners, Morris (Moryc) Kohn and Zelig (Zelik) Heller, broke with him in a battle for control and financial competition and established another agency at 14 Leszno Street. Kohn and Heller, both traders from Łódź who had come to Warsaw along with Gancwajch, were considered by all to be German agents. They soon exceeded their “teacher” Gancwajch in terms of ostentatious wastefulness. The two owned most of the carriages that carried both people and property within the ghetto. By July 1941, the Germans had tired of “The Thirteen” and closed down its office. Half of its police force was incorporated into the Ordnungsdienst, while Gancwajch and his comrades co-opted the Ambulance Service, which from then on was little more than a front for their smuggling activities. “The Thirteen” was later reopened, only to be shut down permanently in April 1942, when the Gestapo systematically eliminated its heads and employees, and even Jewish Gestapo agents. Gancwajch and Sternfeld (the commander of “The Thirteen’s” police force), who apparently received an early warning, managed to escape and live on the Aryan side under false identities. Rumor has it that during the mass deportation of August 1942, Gancwajch suddenly surfaced as an informer. After that, he tried rebuilding his power base in the ghetto. What became of him and what was his end is unknown.1019
Gancwajch’s closest collaborators were the aforementioned Moryc Kohn and Zelik Heller from Łódź; Zachariasz and B. Szymonowicz, from Radomsko; the lawyer Herbert Stahrer from Gdańsk (Danzig), who acted as Grancwajch’s legal advisor and secretary general; and the writer Jehuda Warszawiak, his press secretary. Other collaborators of “The Thirteen,” which included many Jews from Łódź and some from Germany, included: Gonsiorowicz, from Radomsko; Stanisław Boraks, a lawyer from Warsaw; Lewin, a lawyer from Wilno; Lewin, a lawyer from Warsaw; Mandel, an engineer; Margules, a sock manufacturer from Łódź; Gurwicz (Górowicz), from Wilno; Koenigl (Kenigl), from Lwów; Reichman (Rajchman), from Łódź; the Prużański (Próżański) brothers, from Warsaw; Leon Skosowski, from Łódź; Hendel; Kaner; the Erlich brothers; Wolf Szymonowicz, from Radomsko; Stroter, a lawyer; M. Lejzerowicz; Dr. Feldszuh; Kleinweksler, a lawyer; Bramson, a lawyer; Reszal, a lawyer; Dr. Sirota; Katz; Bialer. According to historian Adam Rutkowski, there were “many, many others.”1020
As mentioned, many of these people maintained close contacts with the Gestapo, and were in fact its agents. The agents Kohn and Heller, for instance, did not hesitate to draw up lists of people to be eliminated by the Gestapo. Both Gancwajch and Dawid Szternfeld are believed to have blackmailed and betrayed Jews hiding on the “Aryan” side.1021 As Jonas Turkow points out, “The Thirteen” targeted both Jews and Poles:
Leon Skosowski and Kenigl were very officially collaborators of the SD [Sicherheitsdienst, i.e., the security service unit of the SS] and were more often on the ‘Aryan’ side than in the ghetto. Their task consisted in denouncing Jews who found themselves on the ‘Aryan’ side and denouncing Poles who engaged in political [underground] activities.1022
Skosowski was one of fourteen Gestapo agents liquidated by the Home Army in November 1943.1023 (An earlier attempt undertaken jointly with the Jewish Military Union had failed.) Interestingly, he as well as other Jewish Gestapo agents reportedly maintained links with the Communist underground, perhaps as a safeguard in the event of a change in the political situation. The Communist People’s Guard (Gwardia Ludowa) also prided itself on eliminating Jewish Gestapo agents, among them a ghetto resident named Neuman and three Jews who lived on Chmielna Street in the Aryan part of Warsaw.1024
The Germans cultivated other spies in the ghetto. Bernard Goldstein, a Bund leader and political activist in the ghetto, described the constant fear of Jewish collaborators that ordinary ghetto dwellers, but particularly political activists, faced in their day-to-day lives. Things came to a head on April 17, 1942, when the Germans staged a large-scale raid on the Warsaw ghetto, accompanied by Jewish police who led them to their targeted destinations.
Soon after the organization of the Jewish police, a new figure appeared in the ghetto, a man named Ganzweich, a journalist and one-time Zionist, originally from Lodz [Łódź]. …
After the Germans announced the formation of the ghetto, Ganzweich set up a bureau for distributing favors and concessions like jobs as house janitors or rent collectors. He seemed to have great influence with the authorities. People stood in line at his office, bribe in hand, hoping to enlist Ganzweich’s aid to free an arrested member of the family, to get a better apartment, to procure a vital legal document. His carefully constructed network of connections and acquaintances kept his finger on every pulse of ghetto life, supplying him with information invaluable to the occupation authorities. …
Everyone knew that this creature was working for the Germans; that it was for them he was organizing this supposed campaign against exorbitant prices and smuggling. Nevertheless people joined his group for the same reason that others had joined the Jewish police. His “anti-profiteering” police numbered several hundred. Because their headquarters were at 13 Leshno [Leszno] Street, they soon became known as the “Thirteeners.” They wore the same uniform as the other Jewish police.
The Thirteeners spread fear throughout the ghetto. They conducted raids, descending on entire blocks of houses, supposedly hunting for smuggled goods, speculators, and black marketeers. Actually they were on the scent of political material, illegal literature, and active workers in the underground. They fulfilled the function of the Gestapo in the ghetto. In time, Ganzweich and his Thirteeners became the authority on Jewish matters for the Gestapo and had its complete confidence. Before the rupture of the Stalin-Hitler pact, Ganzweich even enlisted Jews from the Warsaw ghetto to filter into the Russian zone to bring back information for the German authorities.
At first the Judenrat carried on a quiet fight against Ganzweich. … But all efforts to eliminate Ganzweich as competition for police control in the ghetto failed. His connections with the Gestapo were too strong. His Thirteeners continued to function as a police unit, parallel to the Judenrat police but more closely identified with the specific features of Gestapo policy toward the Jews.
Aside from Ganzweich’s Thirteeners, the Gestapo included some Jews in its own apparatus. One of them, Kokosoffsky, had been before the war a leader of the Maccabee, a Jewish sport organization, in Pabyanitza [Pabianice]. Another agent, Andes by name, had previously been a boxer in the Zionist Maccabee. He now specialized in searching out illegal flour mills. Later he was sent by the Germans to the Oswiecim [Oświęcim—Auschwitz] camp. Rumor had it that the millers paid substantial bribes to engineer this coup. At least one Jewish woman was on the Gestapo payroll-Madame Machno, a former Warsaw actress and dancer.
Through the hands of these creatures flowed tremendous sums as bribes for the Gestapo. They used to “arrange” passes for the ghetto gates, business licenses, exemptions from forced labor, and other privileges. A travel permit between Warsaw and Lodz cost thousands of zlotys; exemption from forced labor, tens of thousands. The scale of prices varied with the importance of the service.
These leeches attached themselves firmly and sucked, for themselves and the Gestapo, the last drop of blood from the Jewish population, spreading what they bred upon—complete demoralization and licentiousness without limit.
The Jewish police found their strongest and most capable opponent in Morizi Orzech.
Orzech’s hatred of the Jewish police once led him into serious difficulty. Encountering a police captain attempting to arrest an old Jewish woman for illegally selling vegetables in the street, he intervened. In the course of the argument, he struck the officer. Orzech was arrested to be handed over to the Germans. It took a lot of work and money to save him …1025
One morning the janitor of 12 Novolipya [Nowolipie] burst in to tell me that he had just been visited by two Gestapo agents, apparently Jews, who had gone through his registry book. They had paid particular attention to the G’s. He was sure that they were after me. …
Ten minutes later a Gestapo car pulled up in front of 12 Novolipya, and agents swarmed into the building. They ransacked my apartment, questioned my family and neighbors. They left a written order that I must report the following morning at the headquarters of the Gestapo at Allee Shucha [Szucha].
The following day they returned to find out why I had not appeared. My brother was not at home, so they took young Jacob as a hostage. …
Jacob was a Bundist and, living in my apartment, had seem comrades come and go on underground business. The Gestapo tortured him in an attempt to get information, but they were finally defeated when death brought an end to his agonies.1026
Dark as usual was the spring night of April 17, 1942. … During that night, the Gestapo had visited scores of houses in various parts of the ghetto, had dragged people out and shot them on the spot. The bodies were left where they fell. Jewish police had accompanied the SS and Gestapo men, carrying a list of names and addresses, and leading he murderers directly to their victims.
In the morning, under order from the police, the bodies were cleaned off the streets by wagons of the Chesed Shel Emmeth Burial Society and by other undertakers. The police drove the neighbors of the murdered men into the streets and forced them to wash away the blood.
That night we lost, among others, the following comrades: …
Especially tragic was the death of our comrade, Moishe Sklar, a typesetter. He had been a member of the executive committee of the Printers’ Union, and continued his Bund activity in the ghetto. He was arrested that night but not shot immediately as were the others. For two weeks he was held in Paviak [Pawiak] prison and horribly tortured. He was asked for the names of those active in printing illegal literature. He knew them all, but he endured the terrible pain and said nothing. At five o’clock in the morning, two weeks after his arrest, he was taken to the corner of Djelna [Dzielna] and Motcha [Smocza], where he was shot.
Neighbors heard the shots and ran out. They saw a man lying in a pool of blood and a Jewish policeman leaning over the corpse, removing its shoes. … Later we identified the Jewish policeman who had done the ghoulish looting. He was dealt with appropriately.1027
Now the terror in the ghetto entered a new and bloodier phase. Almost every night the Nazis would break into a tenement, drag scores of people into the street, and shoort them. People were brought into the ghetto from the Aryan side at night and shot. We did not know who they were or why they were murdered.1028
The feeling of expectancy, of nervous waiting for an unknown but certain catastrophe, grew when the Germans began a new campaign of terror. From time to time in the past they had seized people on the streets and shipped them away into forced labor. After April 17, , such abductions took place much more often and with much greater ferocity. The Jewish police, led by SS men and [German] gendarmes, would descend on a ghetto area like a band of wild animals, grabbing every adult man and throwing him into a circle of armed guards in the center of the street. Ringed by the police, numbed by fear and bewilderment, the condemned would huddle there, waiting to be escorted to the nearest police commissariat and then to the freight cars for forced labor. …
From the window of my hiding place at 13 Gensha [Gęsia] I once witnessed a horrifying scene. A Jewish policeman held a thin young man, with matted black hair, who fought with insane fury to break loose from his captor’s grasp. There was a mad look in the victim’s eyes as he punched and kicked and pulled. With a rubber truncheon the policeman beat his hands, his legs, his entire body and then half pushed, half dragged him toward the square where the armed ring was waiting.1029
On the night of Friday, April 17 , trucks crammed with German soldiers and SS officers stormed the Warsaw Ghetto. They poured through several gates simultaneously, fanning out through the locked-down district, which was dark and silent, no lights or movement being permitted after curfew. Within minutes the deserted cobblestone streets echoes with the clatter of jackboots, while portable searchlights scanned buildings and doors were hammered down with rifle butts. Shots rang out, along the occasional staccato of machine gun fire.
One of the tenements targeted during the raids was Isaac Zuckerman’s Valiant [Dzielna] Street headquarters. His startled janitor-lookout barely had time to pull the makeshift alarm before Gestapo agents were pounding up the stairs. On the third floor, in the Young Pioneer clubhouse, panic erupted and there was a mad dash for the attic, where an emergency exit had been cut through the wall into an adjacent building. In the ensuing scramble one of Isaac’s most trusted deputies, Tuvia Borzykowski, was shot in the leg, but he still managed to escape. Two other Pioneers were not so fortunate. They were dragged to the ground-floor courtyard, and, with all the residents looking on in horror, each was shot in the head.