Remains of the gravestones at the Kielce Cemetery in Kielce, Poland
History of the Jewish Community during the occupation 1939 - 1945
This personal testimony and deposition was given by Yiedel Bekerman (Judka Bekierman) on April 4, 1945, Lodz Poland, and recorded by Mr. Bakalem and signed by the President and Secretary of the Jewish Committee in Kielce. A copy of this deposition was recently obtained from the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw and was translated from Polish by Dr. M. Nowakowski.
Last & First Name Yiedel Bekerman
Date & Place of Birth 11/26/13 in Bialogon, near Kielce
Education Primary School
Occupation before the war Tanner, Factory Worker
Present Organizes a Jewish Tanners’ cooperative
Family status Single
Domicile before the war Kielce
Domicile during the war Kielce, Tarfe, Bialogon near Kielce
Before the war there were 26,000 in Kielce. A small part emigrated to Russia. 1,000 persons arrived from Lodz, 1,000 persons from Vienna. Later several hundred people left Kielce for small towns, there was no ghetto. 3,000 – 4,000 persons died of typhus or other epidemic diseases. There was no prohibition of births, but there were few births.
In the first days of the occupation, Jews were caught in the street for public works. The attitude of the Wehrmacht and Austrian Germans towards Jews was bearable. But the SS already in the first weeks showed a lot of sadism and cruelty. All scenes with Jews were photographed. The attitude of the Germans towards Jews caused an increased anti-semitism among Poles, who were pointing and jeering at the Jews walking by.
The first repressions were felt in January 1940, when the order came to put on the right arm the “star of David”, a sign of shame 10 cm width and 10 cm length. Compulsory work was instituted for Jews from 14 to 60 years of age. The newly formed Judenrat in 1939 with the President, Dr. Pelc, had to present the required number of people, furniture, clothing, and valuables before a set date.
In October 1939, the Jewish population had to pay a one million contribution. Before the money was received, hostages were taken. Dr. Pelc had been a Captain in the Austrian Army from 1914 – 1918. He was from Vienna and knew German well. He was elected because it was thought that he would have influence on the Germans. He was a proud man. The Germans called him “der stolce Jude”. He did a lot of good for the Jews. In many cases, he opposed the German authorities. This is why later he was sent to Aushwitz together with Dr. Harkawi, an ophthalmologist. Soon after, a death certificate arrived, stating that both died of natural causes. The Gestapo took everything from their apartments.
Forced labor took place in the town at the munitions factory, at the steelworks “Ludwik”, at the stone works, the railway, the lye factory, and the public works.
In 1940, Jewish workers were caught and sent to munitions factories in Skarzysko-Kamienna. They were sent to a meeting place in Lublin, from where people were sent to other camps near the Bug River. Approximately 1,500 – 2,000 people were sent. SIPO sent them under guard, but in Kielce they started to be beaten, deprived of food, etc. All Jewish stores were given over to “treuhendlers” – Poles or Germans. In time, Jews were removed from the stores. Jews were not allowed to receive money into their accounts, so that great sums in the banks were confiscated. Aside from official looting, there was looting taking place unofficially. They would go into Jewish homes, order the occupants to leave the apartment in 10 minutes, and take everything.
The Ghetto was established in Kielce on 4/7/41. Seven days earlier, it was announced that Jews were to move into designated areas. The word “ghetto” was not to be used. They were allowed to take all their possessions. Poles were ordered to leave from the Jewish area within four days. The Aryan population was told that nobody was allowed to enter the Jewish area, because it was a “forbidden zone” (anstegungs gebit). People starved for six weeks because nothing could be obtained outside the ghetto. Housing conditions were not so terrible because Dr. Pelc especially devoted himself to medical care and became the director of the Jewish hospital in the ghetto, where appropriate medical care was organized. Thanks to him the epidemic of typhus in the ghetto was decreased.
After Dr. Pelc’s removal, Herman Lewi, a Jew from Kielce, was named the President of the Judenrat, and a Jewish Order Force was created. It’s obligation was to guard the ghetto, send workers to various German work sites, and to maintain order in the ghetto.
There was a post office, employment office, approvisation office, sanitary office, housing office and tax office. Later there was even an office for religious matters. The German administration seemed fair to the Judenrat. It seemed that they did not want to destroy us, but only to utilize our labor force. The Jews were treated as workers without cruelty as had been practiced at the beginning.
The attitude of the Jews toward the Judenrat became less trusting when Lewi became the president. He fulfilled all German demands 100%. He feared the end that happened to Dr. Pelc, and that is why he never intervened on behalf of the Jews.
There were various manufacturing places in the ghetto, such as woodworking, attached to military offices, and Herman was a partner in these enterprises and supposedly had income from these enterprises. There were shops for tailors, shoemakers, shoe repairmen and furriers. People worked at the stone works and 2,000 people were employed at the munitions factory.
It was not possible to survive from the work. Jews received 20% less then Aryan workers. Besides that, Jewish workers were sent to work where it was hard to earn anything. That is why everyone sold everything they could for food. A Jewish trader who started on the black market could survive somehow, but workers were dying of hunger. Jewish artisans such as tailors, shoemakers, furriers, earned money when Germans placed private orders and paid in produce. Officially, one received 750 grams of bread, but the Judenrat gave the bread only to the poor. The well-off population did not receive any bread.
The Jewish police that fulfilled German demands was hated by the Jewish population. Of the Jewish intelligentsia working in their professions, there were only hospital workers, a few clerical workers and others were employed at the employment office, as the lowest level workers. The Judenrat collected various taxes from the Jews, as well as donations which were used for the Jews as assistance for the Winter. There was also Jewish Social Self-Help, which also assisted poorer Jews. Some help also arrived from abroad, chiefly from America.
There were no schools. There was also no social assistance for children. Schooling was taking place in secret. There were a few concerts, with money going to the poor. There were also sports games.
There were no political parties. There was a desire to contact Polish political parties, but there were none. There was the AK (Home Army) and other political organizations that had such an anti-Jewish character that it was impossible to even think of contact with any of them. There was no prostitution. Clubs were rare. There were some cases of blackmail and informing, but the culprits were sent to Aushwitz on recommendation by the Judenrat.
Religious ceremonies were conducted secretly. People prayed in private houses. There were illegal cheders (schools). There were mikvahs with bathrooms in good condition. Religious attitude was changing and people were losing hope and faith. It was the common belief that Hitler will lose the war, but the people were afraid that they would starve to death. Nobody believed that they would be destroyed by gas. Poles sometimes whispered that we would be finished off, but it was not taken seriously.
It was not quiet before the start of the war with Russia on 6/22/41. The Gestapo came to the ghetto at night and arrested and shot on the spot many Jewish physicians, along with those who were in the military and Jewish communists. That is when my sister, Fela Bekerman, who participated in political movements before the war, was executed.
The Jewish population thought that the Germans wanted to exterminate Jewish intelligentsia and Jewish social activists, but not the entire community. It was thought that the ordinary person was not endangered. Sometime later, Jewish butchers were arrested and the shechting (Kosher butchering) of cattle was punished by death.
In September of 1941, a regulation came out that leaving the ghetto without a permit is punishable by death. Jews however risked leaving the ghetto to buy produce. German-Polish criminal police often caught these people and executed them. There were a number of mass executions conducted at the Jewish cemetery, where a number of Jews were buried alive. It was Jews who were forced to bury the victims. Those still alive were heard to cry out to the Jews “save us! save us!” But still Jews believed that they will survive.
The Jews did not leave the ghetto anymore. People died of hunger, primarily the middle class and the poor. Everything was sold and everyone waited for liberation. Nobody believed in mass extermination of our people.
The first news of transports out of Lublin frightened the Jewish population. It was not known where they were being sent. A small number of workers were housed at Majdanek-Tatarski. People began to calm down when the exodus from Lublin was explained by the fact that many Russian agents hid in the ghetto. Several months were quiet in the area of the General Government until the end of December 1941. Later on, partial transports started from Warsaw, Radom and Kielce.
8/20/42. At night a German police brigade arrived in Kielce and surrounded the ghetto. Along with the brigade, arrived Ukranians, Szupo, gendarmes, as well as Jewish Police. Gejar, the chief of Szupo, and Tomas, the chief of the Gestapo, came to the ghetto that night. They called the Jewish police and announced that a transport will take place. They demanded loyal service from the police promising them that their wives and children will not be harmed.
Jewish police entered homes and ordered that the occupants prepare 10 kg. of food and clothing and to come to the square. Two-thirds of the ghetto was left in peace for the time being, although their homes were under guard. All the rest came outside on Jasna Street. There, six hundred workers were selected to stand near a barrack. Six thousand people remained standing outside the entire day without allowing anyone any water. Only in the evening were they forced into railway freight cars and sent to an unknown destination.
On 8/22/42 the same was done with those Jews who remained. The elderly from the Old People’s Home and the children from the orphanage were shot on the spot. The remaining six thousand Jews were again put into freight cars and sent away to a destination unknown to us. A few hundred workers were left behind.
On 8/24/42, the final removal of the third part of the Jewish population took place. Jewish police with their wives and children along with a few hundred workers were left behind. 1,500 Jews remained. During the capturing of Jews for the deportation, 1,500 Jews were killed in the process. In the ghetto, at Nowy Swiat, near the Lilnica River, three great holes were dug. Five hundred people were forced into each hole. Jewish workers had to take the clothing off the dead, as well as pull out any gold teeth and remove any rings. The naked corpses were placed in layers and covered with lye. If the hole was not full, a few Jewish workers were taken and executed. This was how the empty spaces were filled.
Note from Manny Bekier (son of Yiedel Bekierman)
In this emotionally detached deposition, my late father did not mention the deportation of his parents and family, along with his first wife on the train that took them to their death in Treblinka. Nor did he mention anything about his son, David, who was killed during the deportation process. I only learned the details about my father’s son, many years after my father died, from an eyewitness in the Kielce ghetto that I interviewed, as part of my responsibility as an interviewer for the Shoah Foundation Visual History Project. My father’s son, according to survivor, Jonas Chase, was mauled to death by German guard dogs, in his attempt to run away from the horror. This episode, I imagine, was far too traumatic for my father to recount to me. Although my father had the photo of his first son in his possession, I was never told who this boy was.
The remaining Jews were herded into a few streets and a labor camp was established. Jews had to collect and store former Jewish property. When this work was completed, the remaining Jews were sent to work in other locations. We had no idea what happened to those Jews that were sent away.
After three – four months, a Jewish boy named Waser, escaped from Treblinka and said that Jews were being exterminated in Treblinka. Nobody believed him because he did not witness this himself. Six weeks later, my brother, Dawid Bekerman and my cousin Mojsze Pozycki managed to come to me. They were on the same transport as my parents. They told me that in Malkinia, near the Bug Railway, ten freight cars were detached from the train and went to the square. At the square, everyone was told to get off. The square was surrounded by Ukranians with machine guns. Men were separated from women. The men were ordered to sit on the ground, while women were told to undress. Then they were told to line up in pairs. The Jewish workers were told that they were going to the baths. Two hundred of the more physically fit men were selected. Among them were Dawid Bekerman and Mojsze Pozycki, who managed to escape. Later the men were ordered to undress and were executed. In this manner, a transport of Jews from ten freight cars were executed. The two worked there for two weeks before deciding to make their escape. Several men escaped with them, but were shot dead. We learned from them what happened to the Kielce Jews in Treblinka.
I worked with 1,500 workers. We decided to make contact with Polish workers. We hoped to join partisan groups. We did not succeed in establishing contact because the Poles had no interest in doing so. Five of us decided to escape. They were: Yiedel Bekerman, my brother Dawid Bekerman, my brother-in-law Mojsze-Meir Bojn, his brother Yiedel Bojn, and our cousin Mojsze Pozycki.
Note from Manny Bekier
Details of the escape and being hidden in the cellar of Jozef Walczynski (a Polish man who worked for my grandfather in his tannery before the German occupation) until the liberation of Kielce, I believe, has been purposely omitted from this deposition. I assume, to protect Jozef Walczynski from the potential angry response of his Polish neighbors for harboring Jews. Research and interviews with surviving Jews validate this premise. This deposition was taken one year and four months prior to the pogrom that erupted in Kielce. One of the five men, Dawid Bekerman, was murdered by Poles upon his return to Kielce in 1946, prior to the pogrom. My father, along with three of the five men who escaped with him and hid together in the Walczynski home were able to get together 20 years later and celebrate with their wives in Paris.
I will not forget one incident. After the actions, there were three children left. A few Gestapo men wanted to shoot them. Then one said “not worth the bullet”. He then approached the children and killed them with a stick and stomped on them with his feet.
From the orphanage, children were led out with their teacher. They were led to the square “Nowy Swiat” and made to stand near the three pits. The teacher was ordered to undress the children. She refused. They then undressed the children themselves and shot them. They wanted to send the teacher to a concentration camp. But she, being of noble character, told them to kill her, and let her lie next to her children. This was her last request.
Copy completed by Z. Talecznik
Note from Manny Bekier
Monuments to the last 45 Jewish children who were murdered May 23, 1943 by the Germans were placed at the New Montefiore Cemetery in New York and the Jewish Cemetery in Kielce. The children ranged in age from 15 months to 13 years.