|The behavior of the Jewish police at the gate—the searches and the beatings—made them and their commander, [Meir] Levas, the most hated group among the Jews of the ghetto. These blows and searches were inflicted directly by the policemen themselves, and became the rule when Murer or another German was on the spot. Many Jews saw the Jewish gatemen as the oppressors who prevented them from bringing in food. The gate police more than once exceeded the necessary norm and abused their position to impound food for their own consumption and enrichment.393
Internal rivalries and jealousy led to acrimonious quarrels among Jews involved in illicit trade. On occasion they even denounced each other to the German authorities, as was the case in Głowno near Łódź.
Kosher butchers would bring cattle for slaughter through the ghetto gate or cut a hole in the fence to get them in. There was a constant war between the butchers and the Jewish Police, whom the butchers refused to bribe. The butchers also fought among themselves, denouncing each other to the [German] Gendarmerie.394
Polish farmers who traded with Jews could also get up in the struggle, as was the case in Izbica near Zamość, where a Jewish trader summoned the authorities to complain about a rival Jewish trader. Luckily, the Polish “Blue” police responded and the farmer was let off with a warning after paying a bribe. Had the German authorities intervened, however, harsh reprisals would have ensued.395
There were Jews who smuggled other Jews out of ghettos for hefty sums, and numerous Jewish black-marketeers who bought up Jewish goods for a pittance only to resell them outside the ghetto for considerably more and who made huge profits from the sale of goods smuggled into the ghetto.396 A Jewish survivor from Borysław recalled:
Several dozen people, mainly young boys, went to the forest near Borysław and built underground bunkers there. Later they would come to the Lager [camp] and take people to the bunkers for a fee (several thousand złotys).397
It was not only Jews, however, who were forced to sell their belongings to survive, and Jewish black-marketeers were eager to take advantage of Poles, as well as Jews. Jews from Warsaw recalled:
… more and more people were selling their valuables, their possessions, even their clothes. The Wolavka [Wałówka], the used goods market [located outside the ghetto], was full of people and getting bigger every day. People from all classes, people who had never set foot there, one and all were selling their possessions—valuable sets of dishes, sets of silver, clothing, bed clothes, and even more modest objects—everything was being offered for sale. The Poles bought; Jewish merchants also bought cheaply from people who wanted to sell as quickly as possible, and then they sold the merchandise to the Poles at a profit. When a Pole came to the market expecting to sell something expensive at its worth, people would laugh at him. After standing in the market for an hour, which seemed like a year, the seller would set his price lower and lower; if he had come to sell something, that meant that he needed money, and quickly.398
I remember going to the nearby market to sell our silverware. I told a vendor that I wanted $100 for it. The shrewd vendor offered me $45. I then went from vendor to vendor, trying to sell it for more. When I could not and went back to the first vendor for the $45 he had offered me, he now said that he would give me only $25, and not a cent more. I was stuck—I had no choice.399
Jan Kott, a convert of Jewish origin who was residing in Lwów, recalled:
I went into business with three specimens of a new subcategory: “merchants of war.” They came to buy furs and rugs but most of all goods and diamonds. They knew that not only the Jews but also the Poles had to get rid of everything. Although honest in business in their own way, they were uninhibitedly voracious. …
The circle of my activities expanded. Henceforth I traded mainly in dollars and gold. To say “traded in” is an exaggeration: I simply got from Mr. Lindenfeld, who was my “banker,” dollars and sometimes rings and took them to my Warsaw speculators, who came once every two weeks to Lvov [Lwów] to trade, or rather to smuggle them back. Mr. Lindenfled was a prewar merchant; he had had, as he told me one day, a magnificent jewelry shop on the main square of Stanisławów. Before the [Soviet] deportations, he had liquidated the whole business and taken refuge in Lvov.400
Kott took up similar activities when he moved to Warsaw where he traded in currency and gold in partnership with left-wing Polish literati.401
Criminal elements in the ghettos also preyed on fellow Jews. According to one source, there was an Unterwelt (underworld) in Łódź made up of “thieves, prostitutes, and so on, and, in the ghetto reality, those people dominated. It was a regression to primitivism.”402 In Ożarów, a gang composed, unusually, of Jews and Poles robbed ghetto homes at night.403 Robberies and muggings were a frequent occurrence in the Lwów ghetto.404 Jewish informers in Lwów found well-appointed apartments of well-to-do Jews for German officials,405 and extorted large sums of money from Jews in hiding in exchange for not being denounced.406 A Jew from Silesia named Hans and his German partner arranged to transport Jews from Lwów to Warsaw for payment and then betrayed them to the Germans. The father of Danuta Lis (then Schmerler) made arrangements with Hans to take his daughter to Warsaw in May 1943. Then only 13 years old, Danuta was sexually abused in Warsaw by Hans, who also stole her money.407
After being denounced to the German authorities by his Jewish neighbours, Dr. Edward Reicher decided to move his family to another apartment in the Warsaw ghetto:
Moving was a risk because of the “grabbers” and thieves …
So I was extremely cautious. I concealed all our gold, jewelry, and gold watches in [my daughter] Elzunia’a favorite toy, a brown teddy bear. I packed the dollar bills in a condom that I carried on my person. With everything well hidden, we took a rickshaw to our new apartment on Nowolipki Street. Elzunia carried the precious bear.
When the driver stopped outside the front door of our new building, I began to help them unload our possessions into the house. My daughter started to play on the street with a small boy who was perhaps eight years old. Before I came back downstairs, the boy suddenly wrenched the bear from her and ran away. … That yellow bear contained almost all our possessions—and money often spelled the difference between life and death. I was in despair. I tore off to look for the boy.
On the street I ran into a patient of mine who was a smuggler. I told him what had happened, and he advised me to go to a known underworld hangout, a café on Smocza Street. I ran all the way there, asking passersby as I went where the café was. Many of them mocked my desperate question: “Where’s the thieves’ café?” People looked at me as if I were out of my mind. Suddenly an elderly man with a broken nose and an unkempt beard appeared before me.
“Follow me,” he said. “I’m a go-between.” He had a strange way of constantly smacking his lips. We came to a dirty bar, the like of which I had only ever seen in crime movies. Behind the bar stood a fat bartender … I ordered tea and the middleman went from table to table, chatting up various people. A moment later he returned to my table with a suspicious-looking middle-aged man in a worn suit with a garish scarf around his neck. This turned out to be the father of the eight-year-old boy who had snatched Elzunia’s bear.
“What can I do for you?” the thief asked.
“I would like my things back. I will give you cash worth part of the value of the stolen items.”
“We shall see.” The three of us left the café and headed to Krochmalna Street. A wooden staircase on the far side of the courtyard led up outside of the building. … I was led into a room. The stench was overpowering. … A woman was nursing twins. The little thief was there too.
The bear was retrieved from inside the sofa; it had already been professionally gutted. And there were its contents: a dozen twenty-dollar gold coins, two diamond rings, one loose diamond, my 75-gram gold watch (a wedding present from my wife’s grandfather), and a woman’s watch with a gold chain. Nothing was missing. An appraisal was begun. The middleman’s valuations were not very high. The value was established in dollars. We also agreed on the percentage for the thief—almost half.
“Do you have enough money on you to pay us?” the middleman asked.
“Very well. It will cost you nine hundred dollars. And I get fifty dollars as the go-between.”408
Jews from the Wilno ghetto also fell victim to fellow Jews who agreed to transport them to other, presumably safer localities, for large sums of money, but abandoned them outside the city.409 Conditions inside ghettos were often unsafe because of gangs of criminals. In Wilno,
there was a murder in the ghetto in June 1942. The motive was robbery. The underworld gang of 5 who committed the murder consisted of two brothers, Isaac and Eliahu Geiwusz, Leib Grodzenski, Yankel Polianski and Hirsz Wituchowski. They attacked a former Yeshiva student, Josef Gersztein, with the object of robbing him of money … They lured him into a cellar … and there murdered him.
Later it turned out that this same gang had also killed a ghetto Jew by the name of Herzl Lides with the aim of robbing him. They buried him in a cellar …
According to a verdict issued by a ghetto court another name was added to the five gangsters. It was the name of Jankel Avidon. He was confined to the ghetto jail for an attempt to stab Jankel Grienfeld, a ghetto policeman. This Avidon was a squealer to the Gestapo and worked behind the backs of the Jewish police. Therefore, the Jewish police wanted to get rid of him.410
Looting, a hazard of war and civil strife, was carried out by members of all national and religious groups when the Germans and Soviets entered Poland in September 1939.411 When the Germans set up temporary holding camps for Jews in 1939–1940, there was no shortage of scavengers. Emanuel Ringelblum recorded that Polish Jews were quick to appropriate valuables which German Jews had discarded because the latter were afraid that their possession might lead to serious repercussions at the hands of the Germans.412 Looting was a common occurrence in the Warsaw ghetto, especially when the size of the ghetto was reduced due to population attrition. Being blackmailed for not complying with German orders was also a pervasive worry.
… every once in a while, the district was made smaller, and 15,000 to 20,000 persons were shifted to the overcrowded remaining area. … The fact that the Jewish mob stole mercilessly from their fellow men during such shifts only magnified the feeling of contempt for those who were perishing. There were many of those shifts …
At one time they needed fur coats for German soldiers … many turned their furs over because they had been seen wearing them and they feared blackmail from their fellow Jews.413
Later on, after the Great Deportation in the Warsaw ghetto in the summer of 1942, the Jews who remained in the ghetto looted property left behind by the Jews who had been expelled from the ghetto.414 Jews who remained behind in the Warsaw ghetto and worked in the workshops continued to face selections for deportation, in which the Jewish police stood guard, and denunciations by Jewish work guards.415
Much has been written, in recent years, on such Polish conduct as looting Jews, denouncing Jews for financial gain, housing fugitive Jews only as long as they could pay, etc. Josef Zelkowicz, a resident of Łódź, relates Jewish misconduct in relation to its Polish counterpart. He comments, “Major felonies were committed in the ghetto, where accepted human rules did not apply. … Furthermore, we know, things are no different among the Jews than among the Gentiles...”416 This had started long before the Nazis began systematically exterminating Jews anywhere in German-occupied Poland. Consider the matter of Polish “greed” in the acquisition of Jewish properties, including previously respectable and not-greatly-needy Poles engaging in this conduct. Zelkowicz describes the same among Jews, as he writes,
Grave crimes were committed in the ghetto. The gravest of them was the transformation of people who had worked for decades to maintain their culture and ways, the fruits of millennia of effort, into predatory beasts after half a year of life under inhuman conditions. Overnight they were stripped of every sense of morality and shame. Ghetto inhabitants pilfered and stole at every opportunity, whether they needed the booty or not. …
They stole from the community chest, of all places. They stole from the stocks of food for which people had paid in toil, blood and sweat—from the food warehouses that were supposed to feed, equally, all the inmates of this concentration camp that they call a ghetto.417
When Jews from Western Europe were deported to the Łódź ghetto, they
found themselves helpless. Swindled and exploited, they soon sank from relative affluence to a subhuman existence. A large percentage of them were over 50 years old and unable to work. They had to write to relatives to help them, simply to buy food and other essentials. Those who didn’t have relative [sic] began to sell off their finery to get daily bread. As a result, ghetto prices skyrocketed creating resentment among the ghetto dwellers that perceived these newcomers, parasites.418
Jews also known to turn on one another after the Germans invaded Poland, a phenomenon that is not widely publicized. Jewish informers were particularly valuable when the Germans came to plunder Jewish property.419 Jewish eyewitnesses from Warsaw report the following occurrences:
The local mob usually guided the Germans to the rich Jewish houses and stores. With the deepest shame I must admit that there were some Jews among the scum. The fact that a Mojsze Zylberszejn had hidden some cloth, gold or jewels was usually known to another Jew, either his friend or relation. Prompted by greed or vindictiveness they would betray the person to a German who then robbed the victim of everything. Such things were done not only by a professional ‘Muser’ (blackmailer) but, unfortunately, also by an embittered wife or mistress, a quarrelling business partner, dissatisfied employee or competitor in trade.
A ‘poem’ was even composed to this effect:
Mummy, Daddy, listen do
With a German the Gestapo came two by two
What shame, what a disgrace
The first was a Pole, the second a Jew!
Mummy, Daddy, listen do
Here come the Gestapo, do you know who?
What a shame, the worst disgrace
The first is a Jew, and the second is too!420
The issue of closure inside the ghetto evolved into other problems … Enormous movement was noted amongst the Jews. They were buying huge amounts of foodstuffs, and stocking up especially on flour, sugar and oil. The wealthy bought whole sacks of products. … However, storing large amounts of food at home was not a simple matter. The Nazis conducted frequent searches in Jews’ homes. The plight of a Jew maintaining a large store of food at home was no light matter. The Nazis not only confiscated the lot, but turned the owner over to the Gestapo, where his fate was sealed.
How did the Germans detect the goods? Rumor had it that among the Jews were corrupt types who worked for the Gestapo and informed on their brothers who had hidden goods, foodstuffs and furniture. The Nazis would suddenly show up with trucks, enter the apartment and remove the hidden stock. A man could become a pauper in a matter of seconds. It was heartwrenching to witness robbery facilitated by Jewish informants.421
Many highly-placed occupation authorities … were officially and unofficially involved in looting. So were some Jewish criminals who tipped Germans off about the best places to plunder, or threatened Jews that they would do so in order to blackmail them.422
Along with the [German] looters came porters from among our Jewish brethren; these are regular porters who serve the Nazis regularly for pay. … [the Germans] take regularly hired porters who ride from place to place together with the robbers.423
Jews also engaged in gratuitous denunciations of fellow Jews. They wrote numerous letters to the German authorities, mostly anonymous, to report Jews who had disobeyed German orders by remaining outside the ghettos, by engaging in smuggling, by manufacturing bogus documents, and for various other reasons. Reports about such activities in Warsaw are abundant, but there also cases from Mława, Żelechów, and other places.424 This state of affairs prompted the author Jehoszua Perle, a Warsaw ghetto resident, to aver (perhaps too harshly): “The ghetto exposed the sordid underbelly of the Jewish populace. The kind of denunciation that we see in the ghetto certainly doesn’t exist among the Poles. I don’t believe that any other nation who has preserved their national pride could fall so low. The worst elements have floated to the surface.”425
The Germans employed Jewish agents in the Warsaw ghetto to inform about the location of hideouts, the identity of smugglers and black marketers, and the location of valuables. Shop owners sometimes cooperated with the SS or helped in the round-up of those who had no work permits. The Jewish police extorted bribes. Emanuel Ringelblum wrote, in April 1941: “There is a terrible moral breakdown between even the closest [people in the ghetto]. There are times when [the authorities] come to confiscate a particular picture, or because they know there is foreign currency or gold hidden on the premises.”426 A Jewish refugee from Łódź recalled:
One Sunday, I was surprised to see a German SS officer come into the courtyard, whistle and shout, “Max!” A window opened from that same apartment on the third floor. And a young man looked out—he was one of the children who used to play in the yard. He answered in German, “I'll be right down!” A few minutes later, the young man appeared appeared in the yard and left with the German, the two of them laughing. Afterward, I found out that he was one of the most dangerous informers in the neighborhood and that everyone was afraid of him. In Lodz, I had heard stories of Jewish informers who worked for the Germans, but now, when I actualy saw a young Jewish man collaborating with a German—it was said that he helped the Germans plan their robberies—I was in a state of shock. I couldn’t understand how his family could let him cooperate with the Germans. Every time I saw him after that, I used to pray that he would be killed.427
Rabbi Shimon Huberband wrote about the widespread phenomenon of informing in the Warsaw ghetto, often concerning hiding places for valuables. He goes on to explain that although the phenomenon was tied to the starvation and suffering that was the ghetto population’s lot. “Buit that is no excuse,” he says. Jewish communities always had their traitors, Huberband explains, “But nothing is comparable to what is happening in the ghetto.”
The Jewish ghetto is flooded with a huge number of informers, collaborators, blackmailers, and thieves. Admittedly, the major causes of all these crimes are the famine, poverty, and epidemics which are prevalent in such horrible forms in the concentration camp which is called the sealed Jewish ghetto. But that is no excuse.
The problem of denunciations is extremely widespread in the ghetto. Jews have always suffered from informers. … But nothing is comparable to the current goings-on in the ghetto.
The porters were the first Jewish informers in Warsaw. They were the ones who showed the Germans where the wealthy Jews lived and where Jews hid their merchandise. Later on the porters went a step further. Whenever they noticed a Jew carrying even the smallest package, they approached him and ordered him to pay them money. If a Jew refused, they called over a German, a Polish policeman, a street agent, or a simple goy. [It is difficult to appreciate how an ordinary goy could be of any assistance to a burly Jewish porter.—M.P.] This is their practice until this very day.
The porters received regular payments from the clandestine milk producers, the illegal slaughterhouses, and other businesses. Otherwise, the businesses would immediately be denounced to the authorities. In many cases, the porters informed on them because they could not reach an agreement with the owners concerning the size of the weekly payment.
In addition to the sums which the porters received from the Germans and Poles [the identity of these Poles is rather baffling—M.P.] to reward them for their denunciations, the porters also stole a large amount of textiles, leather, and other items while carrying them down from homes and loading them into trucks. …
Besides porters, there were also artisans who served as informers. In many cases, Jews called upon their close, good friends who were craftsmen, carpenters, bricklayers, and oven masons, and seeking to secure their jewelry, asked them to conceal their valuables inside a wall, floor, or ceiling. In many cases, Jews asked that their jewelry be built into their ovens or stoves. The artisans were well paid for such work. But in many cases they informed on the wealthy Jews. The Germans would then enter the Jews’ homes and head straight for the “hiding place.” It was thus patently clear that the craftsmen had informed. In many cases, the artisan even came along with them.428
Informing often resulted in death. Huberband told of a Jewish craftsman who, in 1940, informed on the person who commissioned his services, a wealthy Jew who wanted a hiding place for his valuables. The Germans came to the building but went to the neighboring apartment, belonging to the Kaddishson family, by accident and began breaking down the door. When the lady of the house went to open the door, she was shot and killed. “They stormed into the house over her corpse, turned it inside out, especially the area where the ‘treasure’ was supposed to be, but found nothing. Later on, they discovered that they had the wrong address.”429
Another incident occurred to a well-off Jewish family who were banished from their village near Warsaw and were now living in a small apartment on Gęsia Street in the Warsaw ghetto. They called in a Jewish plasterer to remove a brick from the oven and hammer a nail in the recess, so they could hang up a purse containing jewelry. The next day—as quick as that!—several German policemen arrived, walked over to the oven, and began pulling out bricks, but could not find the right one. “They got very angry, beat everyone cruelly. They threw heavy Talmud volumes at the head of one tenant, Mrs. Yudkowsky, until she was covered in blood.”430
In July 1941, on the eve of the Jewish holiday the Ninth of Av, a fast day and a day of mourning for the destruction of the Second Temple, Huberband was abducted and forced to work in furniture removal from Jewish homes. He was pushed into a truck, along with other kidnapped victims. Next to the German driver sat a young man wearing a Star of David armband. Huberband was convinced he was a German pretender, but in any case, the young man had a list with addresses of Jewish households—information passed on by other Jews. The truck drove from stop to stop, while Huberband and his comrades were forced to take furniture down from the apartments.431