Once again the adult members of the family met. They discussed the pros and cons of breaking the law. After much debate and heart wrenching soul searching the family decided that they must choose life regardless of the the possible fatal consequences.
As my father explained step four, I asked myself, "[w]hich brother worked on the removal seal?" Then I remembered that when I was a boy my father once used steam to reopen a letter that he had accidentally sealed. As he worked on the letter he said to me that he was an expert in these things. So assumed that my father was one that removed the seal but just to make sure I asked my father, was he the brother that removed the seal. He responded with the look of pride on his face that he removed the seal.
|Barracks of German occupation forces in Radziejow. Sign above the doorway|
indicates that the forces were controlled by the motorized and transport branch of the Wehrmacht
The Najmans employed a Jewish shoemaker who specialized as a top maker of shoes. He moved in with the family and with his expertise and a combined effort of all the family members on the production line they soon were able to manufacture men, women and children shoes. This proved to be highly successful. Notwithstanding the bad experience with friendly shoemakers, the Najman still continued to sell leather and findings to trusted Polish shoemakers.
|Radziejow Ghetto Jews standing on Jewish Street in the heart of the|
Ghetto in front of the closed Shul, Beit Rachel
|German Occupation Forces attend an unknown ceremony in Market Square|
|German occupation soldier standing in store front,|
possibly the "Pacher"
It began when the Jews were ordered to line up. Then the Overyeuda, a member of the Judenrat, would call off each name from the the official list of Jews living in Radziejow. When the name was called that person was required to shout out that he was present. This was taking place whether the weather was good or bad, sunny or raining, warm or cold, snowing or hailing. After going through the hundreds of names, the Overyeuda would turn to the German officer in charge and certify to him that all the Jews in the town were present.
The board member knew that this certification was a lie. For all the Jews in Radziejow knew that some of their friends and relatives were not present. A perfect example to the untruthfulness of the board member’s certification was my grandfather, Shimon. He never attended even though everyone knew he lived in the town. The board member would never even contemplate the thought of turning Shimon in to save his own hide. He did this even though it was no secret to the Germans that Shimon lived in the town. Shimon's name was on the Jewish List that was compiled in April of 1940. What is even more interesting that although his name was on this list it is not clear whether Shimon was still alive at the time of the list's creation. In any event, the Germans never learned that from day one Shimon was not present at the daily roll call.
Regardless, whether one was young or old this activity was demeaning. Next the Jews were told to do random calisthenics such as push ups, jumping jacks or running in place. As the German in charge racked his brain to come up with new ways of demeaning the Jews the Polish spectators watched in fascination. Sometimes they would laugh as they watched the Jews suffer some new form of abuse. After more than an hour of continued debasement the Jews the entraining ended. The Jews were then ordered to go to their respective work assignments.
|Market Square - Pre World War II photo highlighting the Statute of Kazejesko|
A monument stood proudly in Market Square of the legendary Polish war hero Kazejeskow. In an official ceremony the Germans tore down the statue as the Poles watched in horror. Then the Nazis mounted on the same marble pedestal a toilet.
The Volksdeutche, like the Jews, were a minority group living in Poland and sometimes suffered prejudice against them by Poles. During the period leading up to the German invasion, some Poles targeted the Volksdeutche with malicious acts justifying their bad behavior as needed punishment for Volkseutch fifth columnists. During the invasion over five thousand Volksdeutche were killed as a result of this kind of persecution with another forty-five thousand listed as missing. ( Generalgouvernement, Internal Security in the Eastern Occupied Polish Territories, 1939-1945, by Antonio J. Munoz, p 19).
"One day we went to pick up some flour for the bakery. I went to a Polish man who owned a mill. Driving back home we passed a German Volksdeutsche a German national who was living in Poland, who also owned a flour mill. He reported me to the Gestapo because I had conducted business with the Pole instead of him." p.23.
In another similar incident of Volksdeutsche abuse she tells that a “Volksdeutsche came to her store, selected merchandise and told us to deliver it to their home without paying for it! The Germans now felt that everything that the Jews of Poland possessed belonged to them." p.23-24.
Binem was aware that the Nazis had installed in other Jewish communities Jews that were criminals before the War. The abuses by these criminals as well as the plethora of Nazi atrocities in towns across Poland spread from mouth to mouth, even reaching the isolated community of Radziejow..
My father said that he was told that in other towns “the foremen and policemen were Jewish bums and Jewish criminals.”
Thus, those appointed to the Judenrat took their jobs seriously as being servants to the people. They did so with the perspective that it was up to them to bring stability to their fellow Jews from the evil maelstrom created the the Nazi devils. They succeeded in this impossible task for nearly two years. They were able to ease the burden of their fellow Jews as each member of the community tried to survive an additional day.
|Radziejow Ghetto Jews lined up for unknown reason|
Each passing day brought new indignities to the Jews of Radziejow. One day an order was issued from the authorities in Pozen in which the occupying forces was to begin "aktion campaign". Among the earliest aktions was the destruction of all synagogues located within the boundaries of the Watheland. Jews in town after town watched in horror as their beloved houses of worship went up in flames. German soldiers became arsonist sanctioned by law as they burned synagogues in Piotrkow, Aleksandrow, Zgierz, Bielsko and Bydgoszcz all villages and towns near Radziejow.
|Destroyed Radziejow Synagogue, Beit Rachel|
Among the first to succumb was my grandfather, Shimon. Just a few months later, my Great-Grandmother, Miriam, also died of natural causes. When the Jews of Radziejow discussed this rash of deaths among the pious, no one actually stated what many had thought in silence that was their deaths actually G-d's way, in his infinite mercy, not turn his face away from the pious. Rather, G-d brought them to him without waiting for the real horror of the Holocaust that was about to take place. Instead most of the Jews of Radziejow just accepted that it was a coincidence that they all died at the same time of old age.
When one of his son’s sheepishly asked why, he replied, "I suddenly realized that the location was too close to the outhouse."
He answered impatiently, "[y]our worrying about books! Books can be replaced. You should worry about the Jewish people. The people cannot be replaced."
Binem knew that the doctor was forbidden to treat Jews. For a moment Binem contemplated his brother's demand. Binem thought that from all indications the doctor appeared to be a well meaning person. For sure he never degraded Binem like the other Germans. So despite this obvious violation of the Doctor's protocols, Binem thought that perhaps the doctor may be open to the idea of making exception for me.
Binem replied, "I'll give it a try."
|Radziejow Jewish Cemetery - Shimon was|
most likely buried next to his wife's grave, Hinda,
tall marker near back right
"[w]hat does that mean?"
Its hard for us today to gauge such a reaction. Perhaps these attendees were musing about their own future or perhaps they were jealous, in a good way, of Shimon because he cheated the German devils. Most likely they were purely joyful that Shimon died in such an honorable manner. Whatever the motivation for the comment, the words alone reveal then spoken truth that plagued the Jews of Radziejow. That truth was the knowledge of impending doom. These voices understood that when their time comes as it had for Shimon, only then will they be put out of their daily torment. However they understood that there will be little chance that they will be given a proper burial
Shimon was laid to rest at age 69 surrounded by his sons, daughters, relatives, and the Jewish community. The funeral service concluded with the Mourner’s Kaddish. The sons recited the prayer, “[m]ay His great Name grow exalted and sanctified.” Despite all the suffering of the Jewish community under the Nazis the entire Jewish community that was standing around graveside responded to the sons by saying Amen, meaning that is the truth.
|German Troops in Radziejow's Market Square|
The Najman's building was not within the Ghetto area. Therefore the family had no alternative but to make arrangement for living quarters inside the Ghetto area. By using their connections the Najmans created their own luck. They were able to bribe a Polish couple that was living within the Ghetto to turn their house over to the Najmans. The house itself was much smaller than Najman building. But that fact did not much matter. According to the Nazi order the Poles living within the area designated as the Jewish ghetto were permitted to take all their belongings with them when relocating. On the other hand, Jews relocating to the Ghetto were restricted to bringing only those possessions that they could physically carry on their person. Thus the Najmans could not bring with them even basic furniture and other essential household goods. Thus there was plenty of room for them in the small Polish house.
The Najmans continued to sell leather and findings to trusted Polish shoemakers. These shoemakers were always poor but honest. Once the bad ones were weeded out, the remaining shoemakers never took advantage of the weak position that the Jews had found themselves in.
|Official Radziejow list of all Jews residing in the Ghetto, dated 1940.|
Miriam could have avoided the the Holocaust altogether. When her husband died after much cajoling by her children she moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin . There a number of her children and grandchildren resided.. After two years of being pampered and spoiled in Milwaukee she shocked her family when she told them, in no uncertain words, that she was returning to Radziejow. Her family was dumbfounded. They knew the dangers facing Jews in Poland at the time. When they tried to convince her to stay she responded by saying that she had three reasons for returning. First, America was not kosher enough for her. Second, she wanted to help her granddaughter in Radziejow that was having a difficult time raising her children. Finally, she stated that she wanted to buried next to her husband in the Radziejow Jewish Cemetery. Once Miriam made up her mind there was no dissuading her. She moved back to Poland and experienced the German invasion and the persecution of the Jews of Radziejow. When she died,at the same time other pious Jews of Radziejow also passed away, she was buried alongside her husband, Baer Pocziwy.
|Radziejow Jews being sent out on a work detail led by 2 mounted German Gendarmaries|
Survivor George Gronjnowski remembers the morning he was sent to to the Arbitserzienungslager Lojewo. It was located twenty miles northwest of Radziejow in Inwroclaw County. He was then a boy of only thirteen. Still, like the adults, he was ordered by the Germans to report to Market Square so he could “volunteer” to engage in slave labor. Against the advice of his parents, George went to Market Square willingly. His father who was also ordered to report had already went into hiding. When George arrived at Market Square he then understood the gravity of the situation. Security was very tight. Armed German soldiers were checking the identity papers of the Jews that reported. Many of the Jews were accompanied by their wives, mothers, fathers and children. Several of the women and children were crying. Some of the men had the look of impending doom on their faces. After registering, George knew that he had made a huge mistake. So he decided to run away. He went directly to the dwelling of a polish family that were friends of his family. There he hid.
When the Germans finished their paperwork, the Jews were separated into three groups. When the groups were ready for departure, disaster struck. The German police officer assigned to George's group notice that his group was short one worker. That worker was George. The German cussed at the group stating that they would just have to stand in place until the missing Jew was found.
Binem joked with his friends, "[i]f we live over the War it was a good lesson. We now know how to do things for ourselves. Before the War we would hire gentiles to do manual labor tasks. Now we can do it ourselves."
The boy received 25 brutal lashes from the whip. Then, each in turn, the other four boys were unmercifully whipped in the same manner.
The precious pass allowed Binem to travel both outside the camp and outside Ghetto. So, before entering the Ghetto, Binem would regularly sneak back into the unoccupied Najman building and dig up one of the smaller caches of leather goods still hidden under the basement dirt floor. With the leather concealed under his clothes he would pass through the Ghetto's entrance without incident.
He would go directly to the Najman's assigned house. There he would be greeted by his brothers Shmiel, Azriel, and Macho and his sisters, Malka and Masha. He would remove the leather goods and give them to his brothers so they could barter for food and other needed items. The system worked so well that often the Najmans had so much food that Binem was able to bring some back with him to the lager.
The period following the German invasion of Poland through the period of the Radziejow Ghetto could only be described as a nightmarish existence for the Jews. Life was literally like living in a real house of horror. Even more bizarre was that the Jewish psyche was able to adapt quickly which protected the sanity of the Jews trying to survive this insane normalcy. The average Jew clung to the hope that if this is as bad as it gets then it is possible to survive. So for many of the Ghetto Jews these terrible hardships became a passable existence.
|Identity Card of Binem Najman|
Issued by German Authority in 1942
States that Binem is a Jew.
His occupation is a maker of uppers for shoes
The Nazis had a solution to the crowding problem. That was roundups. The Najmans immediately joined there fellow Jews as prey for the daily German roundups. The Najmans were mere numbers to the besieged Judenrat to fill the daily roundup quotas. The Najmans quickly realized there they were now cornered in a death trap where there was no possibility of escape.
Additionally, most accounts of the Radziejow final aktion are from second hand sources since most of the Jews present at the time of the liquidation of the Radziejow Ghetto were sent to the Chelmo Extermination Camp. Of those sent to Chelmo there were only two or three survivors of the hundreds of thousands of Jews sent there. Just about all were murdered.
What remains are the memories of Poles and Jews that either escaped prior to the transport, or their retelling of unreliable hearsay. Some of the memories they purport are not comple memories but rather a jigsaw collection of partial recollections that over the space of time that formed into a narrative of the witness.
Holocaust Survivor Jack Marcus was with Binem at Lowjewo starting in June 1941. He returned to Radzieow two months before to the liquidation of the Ghetto. He remembered that a volksdeutche told several Jews just prior to the liquidation of the Radziejow Ghetto that "the whole city" was to be "taken away". Later, the Nazi occupiers hinted that something big was about to occur. They told the Jews that the time will soon come when the Ghetto will be closed. The Nazi assured the Jews that they will be able to "take with you whatever you want, the best you have, and we will resettle you to a different part of the country."
Upon hearing these pronouncement Jack's mother knew that the Nazis were planning to kill all of them. She told Jack to run away. He did so and made his way back to Lojewo and was there with Binem until August of 1943.
|Joyce Wagner speaking of her experiences during the Holocaust|
Joyce Wagner in her autobiography wrote a stirring heart wrenching account of what happened the day of the Nazi Aktion in the Radziejow Ghetto.
|Photograph Taken Just Prior to theAktion that Liquidated the Radziejow Ghetto|
|Photograph sent to my Blog|
stating that this was taken when
the Radziejow Ghetto was liquidated
There the Jews awaited their fate. The conditions inside the Church was deplorable. It was stifling, near impossible to breathe. There was no food and water. The depressing sound of hundreds of people moaning was amplified by the accustics inside the Church. The next day the Jews were forced out of the church and ordered to climb onto trucks. The Jews were then transported to the Chelmo Extermination Camp. There they were processed then murdered by carbon monoxide gas. Joyce Wagner estimated that there were over six hundred victims.
During Lenny's interview of Gronjnowski he learned from him that the Jews were taken from the Church along with Polish criminals that were incarcerated in the town jail and all were loaded onto death trucks. Once all were packed inside the trucks, they were murdered by carbon monoxide poisoning. The bodies were buried between Kolo and Sluko in a large forest. Marcus and Gronjowski later made a kind of pilgrimage to the large Holocaust memorial located in the very forest where the Jews of the Radziejow Ghetto were buried. The center of the memorial is a large concrete edifice that is surrounded by a garden. Buried beneath the garden and the surrounding area are the remains of hundreds of thousand murdered Jewish victims of the Nazis.
The Germans looked to find more efficient ways in exterminating "undesirables". In the beginning Jews were murdered with conventional weapons such as handguns, rifles and machine guns. This method was considered inefficient for the purpose of killing extremely large numbers of Jews. In fact, some of the German executioners were having psychological problems that resulted from them being "too involved" in the actual murder. So the Germans turned to experimenting with more detached methods of killing. One of the first of these experiments was the use of explosives in simply blowing up large numbers of Jews at one time. The trials were most dissapointing to the Nazi inventors trying to perfect mass murder. Explosives only killed some of the victims with the majority only maimed.
The Germans then turned to poison gas. The idea for gas vans originated with SS Brigadefuhrer Arthur Nebe, commander of Einsatgruppen B. Nebe was a former leader of the Reich's Criminal Police Department (Kripo) where he became familiar with the euthanasia program that utilized poison gas that was being implemented against the mentally handicapped of Germany. Nebe and a Dr. Widman in Mogilev conducted an experiment with thirty mentally disabled placed into a sealed room. Two cars operated simultaneously pumped its exhaust fumes into the room. After a few minutes the thirty were dead. A proposal was brought before Heydrich to use this method to kill Jews. Heydrich adopted it. As a result, SS Obersturmbannfuhrer Walter Rauff, of the Reich Security Main office, designed a vehicle to utilize exhaust fumes to kill Jews. The vehicle was made to resemble an ambulance or refrigerator truck. The back cabin was sealed. The exhaust pipe was channeled into the sealed back cabin. "The gassing process took between fifteen and thirty minutes. During this time the van was driven from the loading site to prepared graves. The vans came in tow sizes. The larger one could kill between 130 and 150 Jews, the smaller van killed between 80 and 100 Jews.(Internet, Jewish Virtual Library, Einsatgruppen.)
Interestingly, Hitler had first hand of the terrible death that resulted from the inhalation. During his World War I poison gas was used extensively by both sides. During that War Hitler one of the most dangerous duties, he was a messenger. He was responsible for carrying messages between the trenches. Messenger were often killed by snipers when the messenger left the protection of cover in one set of trenches to deliver the message to another set of trenches. During one of these runs Hitler was subjected to a poison gas attack that killed many of his fellow soldiers while he himself was severely injured. So when Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhart Heydrich, head of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich's Main Security Office) advocated for the use of poison gas, it is no surprise that Hitler gave his approval to its use.
Chelmo was built just a few months before the Wanessee Conference that took place on January 20, 1942. Fifteen high ranking Germans attended this secreet conference that took place in a large villa located in a Berlin suburb. The topic was how to implement the final solution for the Jews. Which actually meant the drafting of the plan of action for for the total destruction of European Jewry.
|Chelmo is located approximately 40 miles south of Radziejow.|
The Jewish slaves were so overworked that they had little time to ponder their fate. As they worked they were constantly terrorized by the guards. For example, it was common for a German guard to torment the Jewish workers by picking one out and shooting him. The other Jews took no solace in the fact that they were spared for all knew that their fate was to soon join him.
I utilized two resources in researching Chelmo. One a recently written book, and the second a commission report. The First was a scholarly book written by historian Patrick Montague, entitled Chelmo and the Holocaust. The author stated that there were no more than three survivors of the killing machine known as Chelmo. Two managed to escape in the forest. As a result of the escape, all Jews working there were subsequently forced to do the already impossible backbreaking work now further tortured by painful leg irons.
The author reviewed eye witness testimony given by Heinz May who was a civilian German employed as a consultant to the Chelmo Extermination camp. He never entered the main facility of the camp processing center. Rather he worked in the forest where the victims were buried. May was a German forester. His employment overlapped the transport of the the Jews from Radziejow. He was tasked in the concealment of the mass graves. The decomposing bodies emitted a terrible sickening odor. The stench permeated the air for miles. That odor threatened to expose the extermination process. The solution was the planting of trees to mask the smell. During May's time working in the forest outside of the Chelmo Extermination Camp he was told by by the unit commander the Chelmo Sonderkommandos, SS Captain Hans Bothmann, that as of May 1942 there were nearly 250,000 corpses were buried in the forest where Heinz May worked. Bothmann was new. He recently took command, replacing SS Captain Herbert Lange, in April of 1942.
|Granary located a few miles from Chelmo. Jews were held in this building waiting transportation to the Chelmo Extermination Camp.|
Chelmo itself was completely off limits to all Germans and Poles, save the actual staff. The camp was located in a small park that already had two structures, a manor house and a granary. The Germans added a few wooden huts. The entire area, approximately 5 acres, was enclosed by a high wooden fence. The forest surrounding Chelmo is called the Rzuchow Forest. To maximize secrecy, he nearest town to Chelmo underwent a complete evacuation by the Germans. (Extermination Camp Chelmo (Kulmhof), Central Commision for Investigation of German Crimes in Poland, (Warsaw 1946, 1947).
Only known photograph of Chelmo victims waiting
in courtyard in front of processing building
The gas that entered the truck came to the cargo area by way of a screened floorboard. The Jews now packed into the small confines of the cabin most likely didn't even notice the gas seeping into the near pitch dark van. “Because carbon monoxide is odorless and otherwise undetectable to the human senses, people may not know that they are being exposed. The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning start with headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness. The high levels of carbon monoxide result in progressively more severe symptoms including: mental confusion, vomiting, loss of muscular coordination, loss of consciousness, and then ultimately death.” Internet, Consumer Product Safety Commission.
To conclude, if the administrators of Chelmo had planned to close down operations until the crematoria became operational then it would seem logical that all three gas vans were actually sent to Radziejow for transport and murder of the Jews of Radziejow. Therefore, the Jews of Radziejow were taken directly to the forest, stripped of their valuables and gold teeth then buried in the mass grave.
Klingbaum remembered that during Pesach the only kosher food available was potatoes. Although the corner of the kitchen that her family occupied was cramped it was livable. Then the Germans forced the Jews out the building and relocated them to a part of the Ghetto that Klingbaum described as three times worse.
Those that were "lucky" to "pass" selection were conscripted as slave labor. These Jews were relocated into the small ghetto located next to the large ghetto that was in the process of total evacuation and liquidation of the Jews living there. The small ghetto's living conditions were slightly more bearable than the hellish conditions of the large ghetto, mainly because there was no longer the constant cries of the starving homeless. These Jews selected to live a little longer than those being sent to an extermination camp were now forced to do back breaking labor that included working in the boiler factory and welding. The food rations for these workers although better than when they lived in the large ghetto were still meager. The workers were quite aware that there days were numbered.
|Czetochowa Aktion - Jews being rounded up for deportation to extermination camps|
Binem decided that no matter how dangerous he must save his older brother. Shmiel, his older brother, took over as the de-facto family leader when Shimon retired. He was the most capable to run the family business. Up until this letter, Binem always went to Shmiel whenever he needed help. Now the roles were reversed, Shmiel was turning to his little brother for salvation. Binem, he himself helpless, felt he must find a solution. His mind was tormented, “[h]ow could he save his only remaining brother?” Binem was well aware that he had absolutely no connections with the authorities at Lowjewo. He was to them a mere slave. After racking his brain for some time he developed an angle. Binem figured that he had nothing to lose to try this ideas since for some time he had been contemplating his own demise as the Nazi’s implemented their nefarious plans against the Jews.
So he boldly decided to approach his lager supervisor, a German national. Binem had never personally spoken to him. In public, at least from a distance, he did not seem too unreasonable.
I asked my father, "[d]id you ask Shmiel know how his brothers and sisters were killed?"
He answered, "Azriel was out during a curfew and he was arrested. The Germans killed him."
I asked, "[w]hat about Machal and your sisters?"
He replied, Shmiel said that they seized during the rounded ups and transported to, what he feared, to certain death."
After researching the matter I determined that the majority of Jews that were rounded up in Czestochowa were sent to the Treblinka Extermination Camp. According to the historians at Israel's main Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, between September 22, 1942 and October 8 1942, a total of 39,000 Jews from Czestochowa were sent to the Treblinka extermination camp." (internet, Yad Vashem). Estimates reveal that during the years of operation, around 800,000 Jews were murdered at Treblinka. (internet).
Indeed, several tried. Most of them were almost immediately caught and killed. Observing these failures to escape caused the remaining Jews in the Lager, still awaiting transport to Auschwitz, to be now even less inclined to make a mad dash for freedom. Many justified their inaction by saying that even if one successfully escaped then the escapee would face the insurmountable reality of "what comes next?”
Binem approached him and asked "[w]hat should we do? Then Binem spontaneously blurted out, "[l]ets run."
He continued, "I told Shmiel, I don't want to go."
My Father's tears and feeling of helplessness bore witness that the same emotions still haunt his psyche to this very day.
As Binem made his way to the perimeter of the camp he kept repeating to himself, "[i]t doesn't matter, I'm going to be killed anyway."
He thought, "did they think that no one would be that stupid to escape through the main gate?"
There is no logical explanation why Binem was not stop. In my mind, a miracle took place. Binem, like the famous Shadow of radio lore, invisibly passed guards that were in the process of capturing and killing escaping Jews like himself.
Binem now had second thoughts about his "success". He regretted leaving his brother. He thought, “If I stayed, we could have met our fate together." [m]aybe I would have been better off going to Auschwitz, at least I would have a roof over my head. Here, I am like a dog living in the streets."
The area was crawling with uniformed soldiers and plainclothes Gestapo agents all hard at work looking for the escapees. He watched with trepidation as the German police and soldiers searched. Binem became extremely frightened when he felt the vibrations of the soldiers' footsteps as they walked above him. His fear turned to complete panic as he overheard the soldiers brag to one another about the number of Jews they caught. Also, Binem cringed as he heard only a short distance away the sounds of shouts, gunfire and screams.
|Binem Najman's Identity Pamphlet - See Top - Juden (Jew)|
See line four - Scheftenmacher (maker of shoe uppers)
As twilight set in Binem decided to evaluate his situation. He took an inventory of what he possessed. The mental list included the clothes on his back, a pair of work shoes, a belt, a shaving soap bar and a German issued identification card. The card was issued in 1942. It indicated that he lived in Radziejow. The card stated that his religion was “Jude:” (Jewish). It listed his profession as sheftenmacher ( a maker of the tops of shoes, uppers). Interestingly, that card remained in my Father’s possession throughout the War. His retention of the card throughout the War remains a mystery. Unfortunately, I never asked him why he would keep such an item that identified him as a Jew. The only plausible explanation was that hoped that by having proof of a profession it might somehow help him in the event he would be captured. Another question is why did have an identification card dated 1942 list his residence as being Radziejow when for the past two years he lived in the Lejewo Lager.
Ledjewo was not the only labor camp being liquidated. In fact the Nazi murderers had already been in the process of executing a plan to kill all the Jews of Poland. In the seminal book on the War by Martin Gilbert entitled World War II he states that on March 23, 1943 Richard Korherr a German statistician for Hitler stated in his report that 145, 301 Jews in Watheland had already been killed. Gilbert added that "[t]he remnants of Jewish communities throughout Poland, most of whom had been deported to their deaths six months or a year earlier were now being searched out, or taken from the labor camps to which they had been sent in 1942, and killed.(Second World War, 414-415).
Binem’s quickly learned that darkness was his ally. As soon as darkness set in the Germans ceased their aggressive searching for Jews. Binem knew he could not stay under the bridge. He felt that it was only because of sheer luck that he was not discovered. Binem assumed that there may be soldiers laying in ambush in the fields surrrounding the culvert. Still, if he was ever going to get away, the time was now.
This area, like much of Poland, the terrain is mainly flat that consists of fields, villages, farms and forests. Much of the land around Lowjewo was cultivated.After two years living in the lager Binem knew that the beautiful landscape of August would soon transform into the lifeless wasteland of winter.
Binem walked for several hours. During that time he did not see either Pole nor Nazi. Binem began to realize that as long as it remained dark there was little chance that he would be discovered.
He had relatives in a women’s lager not to far away. He thought that perhaps he could warn them. So, despite the danger, he made up his mind to go there. He knew the general direction of their camp and estimated it was about seven kilometers away. He thought that by warning these helpless Jewish women that they were going to be sent to an extermination camp his escape would have some value.
As he walked through the fields, he continuously repeated in his mind, "[w]hoever runs away will have a chance to live over the War."
He quickly came to the conclusion that this camp had already been completely liquidated. Binem knew that meant the women were on their way to Auschwitz. And everyone knew that death awaited Jews at Auschwitz.
He had no tools so he searched the barn and found a piece of metal on the barn's floor. Using it as a makeshift crowbar he managed to pry the frame completely off from the wall. He did this without making too much noise. When he was done he calculated that the hole in the wall was just big enough for him to crawl through. So Binem boosted himself up and made his way through the hole unnoticed by the guards.
He said to himself, "I can't believe it, They are actually looking for me."
For Binem knew that the Nazi murderers would eventually catch him. "When they catch me, they catch me, so what. Am I any better than other Jews?"
Then after a second thought he became remembered his own problems. “I'm so sorry but you cannot stay here. I only have one room and an attic. Every day Germans are constantly coming into my house to have their shoes and boots repaired."
Binem was boarded in the attic with Kaminski daughters. They were very nice and polite. During the day Binem would hear customers speaking German going in and out of the shoemaker's shop. Binem understood from his broken German that they were either ordering shoes to be made or bringing shoes in to be repaired. He eavesdropped on conversations between German soldiers. More often then not they would discuss the War. By and large the Germans constantly boasted to one another that they were victorious in just about every battle.
After eating breakfast, Binem spent much of the day reading different German newspapers. Kaminski provided these newspapers to him from soldiers that would leave them in his shop. In the evening Kaminski would replace the ladder to the attic for the daughters returning from their jobs. When it was night, Binem could descend the ladder in order to relieve himself.
He then added, "[a]s bad as things look to you, there are some nice people around. You only find them."
That night Binem for the last time descended from the attic, till now his only refuge of safety since September, 1939. He left the village with great uncertainty. He had no idea in what direction he should walk let alone where he should go.
He continued his train of thought, "I have learned a valuable lesson. Now all I have to do is be more careful.”
He was probably thinking I would be completely helpless if I was forced to survive in nature.
I asked my Father, "[w]ere you afraid of moving around in the dark?"
When Binem returned to enter the farmer’s barn the farmer confronted Binem. "You cannot continue doing this. If you would be caught by the Germans then my entire family would be killed!"
Binem apologized and immediately left.
Binem was surprised that even suffering from the cold did not suppress his growing belief that he would survive. For Binem has grown true to the adage that if it doesn't kill you then it will make you stronger. He reason that since there was no alternative that he must overcome all obstacles in his path.
So he travelled from village to village in a repeating loop. This cycle of hiding and waiting to the point of his stomach demanding to be fed followed by a quest for a benefactor repeated itself time and time again. This was not by any stretch of the imagination that his survival be construed as heroic behavior. The truth was that he had no noble cause other than to stay alive. He had no concrete plans of violence against these Nazi Amalekites, seeking to kill every Jew in the world. Instead his behavior was was in itself an act of rebellion against these Nazi monsters. Binem limited his hatred of this enemy to cursing them in his mind ad-nausea.
Thus, Binem slowly learned to admire this downtrodden lower class of Polish society. There simplicity was their greatest attribute. For the most part there was no issue that he was the same Jew that many of the Catholic Churches preached hatred. Those theological issues were irrelevant when it came down to the basic need of nourishment. The peasant knew that Binem, the human being standing before them was begging for assistance, and few peasants faced with this decision was going to deny Binem. Those who helped him taught Binem that even in the darkest hour of humanity many downtrodden humans possessed the capacity to overcome their own interests and understand and offer a helping hand to the plight of fellow humans that were even worse off.
Not that Binem became a great lover of all Poles. In his mind the Polish peasants and farmers were different, a cut above, then the many Poles that remained hard core anti-Semitic during and even after the War. These Poles were in so many ways no different to the Jews than the Nazi oppressors. For many believed after the War that Hitler did the Poles a favor in ridding the land of Jews.
On a nightly outing in search of food Binem fell into some good luck when he knocked on the door of a poor single woman. Binem immediately sensed that this middle aged peasant had a good soul. As Binem gave his routine short version of his plight, it appeared to him that she honestly felt sorry for him. When he was finished she not only fed him but she also invited Binem into her house. That night he slept in warm surroundings. The next day she allowed him to stay with her. Binem felt that he finally found a secure place. This arrangement continued for about a week.
Binem parted with the farmer and pressed on. A few hours later he found a barn located near a small hamlet. Binem entered the barn using his recently developed locksmith-like skills that enabled him to enter any barn without a trace of evidence that the lock was tampered with. He got his bearings inside the light starved barn and finally settled in a hay pile located near the back and started to fall asleep. About a half hour after he awoke to the sound of someone jimmying the barn door. Binem's eyes now accustomed to the dark was able to track the shadowy figure as he closed the barn door. Binem was surprise that he was able to latch the outside door lock using the the very same technique that Binem thought he invented! Binem continued to observe the the man as he dug himself into to the straw right next to Binem.
Binem immediately recognized the voice. It was none other than his favorite neighbor from Radziejow, Moshe Frankenberg. Although Moshe was now in his sixties, Binem remembered him in heroic terms as the toughest and strongest Jew that on one occasion saved Binem's family. In fact, Frankenberg was a legend among all the Jews in Radziejow. He was known as a man who never shied away from the use of force when it came to standing up against Polish ruffians.
"[s]urely Mr. Frankenberg will save us."
That caused Binem to race back in the direction of the Najman’s store. He went directly to Moshe's house. Moshe was preparing to go to sleep when Binem frantically pounded on the door.
He then explained the family’s dire straits in a shrill voice that one would expect from a small boy who felt the weight of responsibility to save his loved ones.
In a broken voice he said, "[l]ook at you. You are young, you can take it. I cannot take it anymore."
"Don't worry, maybe not too long from now we will both be free."
During that interview I asked my father, "[w]as Moshe Frankenberg was religious?"
As events would soon transpire he would learn that he could not have been more wrong. For Binem didn’t realize that when he entered the pitch black barn his movements upset a certain order. The farmer had placed tobacco leaves to dry in a neat arrangement on top of the very straw where Binem dug himself in. Binem couldn't see them and since the leaves were along the top he didn't feel them when he burrowed into the pile. Thus, without knowing, Binem's movements scattered the leaves. In the morning the farmer entered the barn. As soon as he entered he was perplexed as to wny his tobacco leaves were scattered and damaged.. At first the farmer thought that perhaps a large animal had entered the barn that night. He quickly dismissed the thought knowing that the barn was in good condition and locked. The farmer then called out to his wife to come to the barn. He confronted her and irrationally blamed her saying that she was in the barn last night and destroyed his leaves. She adamantly denied it. The farmer chose not to believe her pleas of innocence. The farmer, known for his violent temper, shouted at her calling her a liar. He then beat her mercilessly. This lasted for quite a number of minutes. He declared that he would only stop if she confessed. In anguish she tearfully maintained her innocence.
He shouted out, "[s]omeone broke into my shed!"
One of the men replied, "[w]hat happened?"
The mayor then added the magic words, "[t]ell her I sent you."
She said to Binem, "[h]ere you can stay."
Binem thought it almost laughable that what she proposed is that she room with these tref (unkosher)pigs. He thought of what his father might have said if he was alive. Still it was something. So having no other recourse Binem gratefully accepted the modest accommodations.
There was a small barn next to the house and Binem entered it undetected. He spent the day sleeping under some straw.
When evening arrived Binem left the barn and knocked on the flimsy farmhouse door. After a short delay a disheveled groggy peasant opened it.
The peasant was not done. He searched through his meager belongings and found a warm pair of black pants and a thick wool jacket. He said, “[p]ut them on it is cold outside.”
Along his trek he happened to pass an obviously rich farm. Binem had a standing rule to steer clear of the larger farms because there was a better than even chance that it was owned by either Polish volksdeutche or a German settler. Binem took a chance. He decided after some bad experiences with his "furcocked of rules" (useless rules) to create a new rule. The rule stated that he did not necessarily have to abide by his rule when by following them it would result in too great an inconvenience. Unfortunately this was the time when he should have followed his rules. For unbeknownst to him, the owner of the farm had set up an ambush in the field. He was armed with a powerful shotgun and he was primed to use it.
Binem knew exactly what that meant; the farmer was going to turn him over to the Gestapo. Binem knew he had to try something now or he was doomed. Binem couldn't comprehend why this German farmer was hunting for Jews. With that question in mind, he boldly spoke up.
The German couldn’t believe that this thief would address him like he was innocent so he replied with a tone of disgust. "I was waiting for the guy who has been stealing my pigs."
The German then responded, "[y]ou can't be a Jew, that's impossible. I heard that for a long time there were no Jews around here."
Binem knew that he was condemning himself to death by asserting a defense to theft by admitting a status that required the death penalty. But Binem had a plan. As the farmer looked confused, Binem decided that now was the time to spring a bluff on this farmer.
This German was among the first settlers that were sent to set up farms in the Russian territories. Later, the German government transferred him to Poland. The Nazis confiscated this farm from Poles and put it under his control. The farmer knew from personal experience in Russia what partisans were capable of doing. So he became frightened. Not knowing what to do he asked Binem nicely to wait for him while he went into his house, Binem watched him as he conversed with his wife near an open window.
Binem thought to himself, "[w]hy would this German believe he was partisan when there was no partisan activity in this annexed area of Poland.
Binem spotted a small hamlet so he returned to the reality of immediate survival techniques. As per his standing rule, Binem positioned himself so as to enter the hamlet with the wind to his face. He surveyed the area and noted that there were only about a dozen dwellings, all in ramshackle condition. As a result of this evaluation Binem surmised that it didn't matter which house was better to approach. So Binem knocked on the first front door he came upon. To Binem's surprise the woman that answered was an old neighbor from Radziejow.
He stayed with her for two weeks. The woman told all her neighbors about the nice young man from Radziejow that was now staying with her. She did not hide the fact that he was a Jew. The neighbors were likewise very hospitable and all wanted to help him out. So each night Binem was invited by a different neighbor for dinner. Binem could not believe that his mazel (luck) had changed so quickly and completely for the good. He truly he felt that this small village was a safe place to stay.
Another couple days passed and nothing happened. Binem began to think that the danger was over. Then, that evening it was Binem’s turn to have his dinner at the widow’s house. No word was mentioned by the widow concerning the rumor. So Binem didn't think it was appropriate to bring up the subject. In the middle of the main course there was a knock on the door. Binem stood up and from a hidden position glanced out the window. He spotted three men in uniforms. He promptly fled out the back and found a hiding place near the side of the house. The widow then answered the door. Binem could hear shouting as the police overpowered the widow’s son and placed him under arrest. Binem watched in terror when the Gendarmeries dragged him out the front door beating him senselessly while his mother was watched mortified.
The kindly women then advised, "[s]o you better not go back to that woman's house.”
So with the kindly woman's words he left her house to return to the house of his neighbor from Radziejow. He told her all that transpired and told her that he must go. She understood and sadly said goodbye.
He would repeat to himself optimistically. "I’m still alive. I just have to keep it up."
As he was walking he found himself returning to the weakening thought that no matter what he would do he could never find a better arrangement than he had in that small village. Eventually he came upon another hamlet. He found a barn just outside the town, jimmied the lock, and set up temporary residence in a pile of hay.
The next evening he set out to beg for food. He took a wind reading by holding up his hand. He then approached the village as dictated by the wind direction, that being with the wind blowing into his face. He spotted a modest house. Binem knocked on the flimsy window. Upon hearing the knock a young women opened the front door. "Who are you?"
Finally it dawned on her, "I know you."
Binem scrutinized her face and then replied, "I know you, too. We went to the same school."
It seemed to Binem that her answer was too specific for someone to just blurt out. He thought that perhaps her family had once discussed the theoretical situation on how they would respond to a Jew asking for help.
Late that night he left. As he searched for a hiding place he concluded that his friend’s plan was just words and wasn't practicable. Still he had a sliver of hope. He thought to himself why would she say such a thing if she didn't think it was possible. Since he had no better option, he decided that he would return to her house the following evening and hope for the best. He eventually found a barn some distance from the hamlet.
My father remembered his thought, "[t]his offer was concrete, not pie in the sky."
So the next night Binem returned in a hopeful mood. When he almost immediately got the sense that something had gone wrong. The look on his former classmate's crestfallen face told it all. After explaining to him that there were some problems that needed to resolved, she told him to come back in another couple days.
She answered in a kind voice. "The reason I want to do this is because I have two sons close to your age. Sadly, one is dead. His room is now empty and I feel it would be only right to use it to do some good."
As he agreed he thought to herself, “[h]er German husband would either shoot me or turn me in to the Nazis.”
In the background Binem heard the sound of a carriage wheels approaching Wanda's house. It sounded as if it stopped near the front door. He glanced out thru a small pane of glass that was the essential part making up a poor excuse for a window and saw a magnificent large ornately decorated coach. When Wanda opened the front door she pointed to the driver and told Binem that he was her brother. She explained that he had a very important position on the Austensaken Estate. He was the watchman.
About an hour later they arrived at the entrance of a sprawling estate. It took an additional fifteen minutes to arrive at the destination, that being the mansion. During the ride Binemm was struck by the staggering size of the estate. He played with the idea that the Princess and husband must be the wealthiest people in Poland. The mansion was enormous. It was surrounded by now winter dormant gardens along with a large number of other structures including bunk houses, granaries, and barns.
When the carriage finally came to stop the Princess instructed Binem as to where he was to go. She pointed to a window located near the massive wooden front door of the mansion. She said that the window was unlatched. Binem exited the carriage and made his way to the window. He opened it and climbed inside finding himself in a foyer that was three stories in height.
As his eyes adjusted he realized that he was actually standing in an opulent palace. Never in his life has he ever witnessed such luxury. He noted that even the temperature of the room was perfect. The lighting in the room was such that it was relaxing to the eye. He could see that each room connected to the foyer had at least one magnificent crystal chandelier and a fireplace the size of which he had never seen. He thought to himself that one could set up a room inside the fireplace.
He next noticed that the furniture be it a sofa, table, or chair was not normal furniture that he experienced in his life but rather each piece looked like a piece of art of remarkable craftsmanship. His eyes then focused on the rich wooden floors. The wood was of kind he had never seen. The floors were polished to such a shine that the light from the fireplaces reflected off the floor. If that lavishness was not enough to impress, parts of the floor were covered with obviously handmade wool carpets adorned the polished wood. Each of these carpet was a work of art, magnificent in size and appropriate patterns in colors. Binem thought that the carpets were individually woven to match the room surroundings. Binem was so overwhelmed by the mansion that he felt that he was transitioning from the bleakness of Hell and stepping into nothing less than the beautiful Garden of Eden.
Binem felt completely out of his environment as he ascended the grand staircase. He thought to himself that before entering the mansion the most grand staircase he ever ascended was that in the living quarters located in the back half of the Najman building in Radziejow. Eventually he made it to the top floor where the stairs ended. There he was told would be the attic.
His first impression was the word attic did not describe this floor. First, the “attic” was not an attic but another floor that could hardly be distinguished from the other floors of this mansion. It was similarly decorated with paintings on the wall and hand made carpets on parts of the rich grain wood floors. He proceeded until he reached a set of double doors. The princess told him that behind those doors he would live in her deceased son's bedroom. When he opened the doors he was astonished to see that this was not any bedroom that he had ever even imagined but rather he could only describe it as a museum with as much space as the largest house in Radziejow. According to the princess this room was the bedroom of the son that drowned a few weeks before the outbreak of the War. He fondly remembered “that the room was so fixed up it was like in a fairy tale."
He said to himself, "[i]mpossible! Too good to be true. Either I am dreaming or this won't last very long!"
He decided to enjoy the moment and then face the absolutely predictable inevitable downfall. He glanced at the magnificent bed and his eyes focused on the arrangement of clothes and pajamas. He assumed that these were left for him. Since he was sleepy he decided to don one exceptionally luxuriously soft pair of pajamas. He literally had to peal off of his body the clothing he had been wearing for ever so long. His tattered clothes were so impregnated with dirt that he could not distinguish the cloth from the filth. When he was done undressing, he placed them on a large cushioned chair next to the bed. He then carefully put on the pajamas. He joked with himself saying that with these pajamas I am truely a new man (Naijman).
With the preliminaries now completed he decided to stretch out on the bed that was the size of a boat. He observed that the bed was not only ornate but more importantly it was soft and comfortable to the extreme. Binem had been sleeping on the ground or on top of hay for some time. Before that he slept in a bunk with a thin mattress. But before the Nazis he had a comfortable bed that shared for many years with his murdered brother, Azriel.
Binem said to himself, "[w]hat fun Azriel and I could have had playing games in this bed. Why it is big enough to play football in it."
He glanced around the room absorbing from his prone position a room that had an almost mystical aura of peace and tranquility that could be only be explained by understanding that the room designed was carefully planed by loving parents. He watched the crackle of the burning logs on the large fireplace located near the bed. The warmth it gave off was a true pleasure. Finally he took account of the extensive library only a few feet from the stool of the bed. He saw books of all kinds, fiction and non fiction, novels, science and math, etc... .
Binem again thought that this new found situation could not possibly be real. His only explanation was that he must be dreaming in one of his forsaken haystacks. He just couldn't accept the reality that after all he had experienced in the last three years that such a situation could possibly exist in Poland.
As he thought about possible answers he fell asleep.
He would try to figure out what there occupations were.Sometimes he would marvel that he was watching a world which from all appearances seemed to be exempt from the hatred and fighting of World War II. For brief moments he felt that he was in a safe zone and the War for him was now over. He envisioned that one day he would be able to step out of the confines of this safe haven when the time finally arrives when the forces of good subdue the Nazis and their allies.
Then his depression would return. He knew none of his machinations mattered. For no matter what the situation was still everyone he knew was now probably dead or about to be murdered. His world of Radziejow and the beautiful community that he grew up in will never return. He was truly alone. He knew that no matter what his future might bring he would always be haunted by the terrible memories.
He would say to himself, “How can I think that I should survive when both Nazis and some Poles had looked me in the face and said that because I am a Jew I am an evil that needs to be destroyed for the sake of mankind.”
Sometimes Binem’s thoughts would drift into the realm of curiosity. He was puzzled that he never saw the husband of the Princess. "Why hasn’t anyone but the Princess even approach the door? " These questions triggered Binem’s internal survival warning signs. “It is too good here. It couldn’t be that all the Jews are suffering is going on around me and I am safe living in luxury."