Testimonial Account of the Shoah
Printed in Echoes (“Hedim”, a monthly magazine published in Tel- Aviv, Israel in the Hebrew language, about 1000 copies, by people who lived in Piotrekow and Tryb, Poland before the second World War, who survived and later on settled in Israel.)
This is a witness account of Moshe Bromberg – Bar–Am, who was born in Pitrekow, Poland. In this account he describes the organizing of the physical resistance to the German occupiers and their local collaborators in Pitrokow Jewish Gettho and the secret meetings of young Jewish men in the Catacombs under the ancient citadel of Poltz Zamkombi.
When the war broke out in 1939 I was a student at the fine art academy in Krakow. When the initial attack on the city subsided, the Nazis occupied the city and at the end of the summer I and other Jewish persons and professionals were taken by the Gestapo and were sent to a small work camp in the forest near Lublin.
Most of the work we had to perform consisted of cutting forest wood in order to supply the raw material for construction wooden buildings for another concentration camp called Mydanek, which later on became synonymous with terrible extermination related to the Polish Jewish population.
The camp we were kept in was relatively small without walls, it was only surrounded by barbs wires which separated the prisoners from the surrounding forest. Most of the guard duties were carried out by an S. S team at nights. During the days we worked in the forest. One person with a dog guarded our team.
From the first moment of my getting into this camp I was determined to escape in spite of the terrible winter conditions during that period. Since we were not dressed warmly, I got a cold as soon as I arrived to this camp, I suffered from high fever and temperature. During my conversation with one of my friends in this camp, we planed to escape during the day, when the guarding was not as strict and during a strong pouring rain.
Our past training and knowledge we accumulated during our scouts days in our teenagers years help us a lot. We learnt that it would be difficult on the part of the chasing team and their dogs to discover our footsteps, which would be erased by the rain.
Our escape succeeded and I was heading to my birth town called Pitrekow-Tryb, where I was hoping to find my parents in my grand parents home, who lived all their lives in Piotrekow. I reached the conclusion that it would be useless to return to Krakow as I originally arrested on the account that my name appeared on special list, which the Gestapo possessed, which also included the Jewish intelligentsia. From that point I was considered ’burnt out’.
I reached Pioterkow after a very arduous and adventurous journey. To describe these experiences would require many written pages, most of the details escaped my memory as I was suffering from the flue, except one incident that I could not forget which took place crossing uncharted paths in Lublin forests.
This incident took place when my friend and myself wanted to get some rest and warm our bodies inside a bundle of hay in an old barn. While getting into the hay we discovered a small collection of firearms which also included army gear and uniform of the Polish army. This was possibly a hide out of a Polish army unit who could then disperse and while in their respective homes assuming a short German occupation of Poland.
I also remember that we were wondering at the amount of rust that had accumulated on the rifles and other arms, we concluded that this cache of arms was hidden there for a long time. This discovery, which we had forgotten for a while and later on we recalled it in details. This incident brought on the tragic death of my young uncle Yedel Bromberg.
When I reached Piotekow I was completely exhausted. The town we returned to, did not look like the town I used to visit frequently on my holidays as a student. I vividly remembered the town as a beautiful and full of life, with historical gems, such as the antique Synagogue with its beautiful ornaments and the romantic citadel, which also served as a tourist attraction, in addition to the pretty botanical garden.
Most of the town inhabitants were observant Jews, who carried out a very busy and active lives. When I got to town this time, the Getho already existed but to my surprise it was not fenced and gated but just marked with signs. This was in contrast to other Gethos I passed through in other cities and towns, which were all enclosed.
When I arrived at my grand parents house, I was told that my young uncle, Yedel with his brother Rueben had managed to escape to ‘the other side’, to the part of Poland that was occupied by the Soviets and he also managed to return from that area within a month. They realized that the Soviets, instead of accepting them and their friends as additional fighters and Communists, they arrested my uncle’s friends and sent them to a camp in Siberia on account of being saboteurs and provocateurs.
I knew that my uncle sympathized with the Communists in Poland and he even spent some time in jail for his activities and believes. After he came back from ‘the other side’ he was wiser. Our renewed first meeting did not last long since I got very sick with pneumonia and my health also deteriorated due to the terrible conditions in the Getho, my illness developed into early stages of T. B.
At one stage, when I felt a bit better, I managed to talk with my uncle and his miserable adventure to the Soviet side and back and the stories about crossing the border illegally. When I told him about the cache of arms we found in a barn, his eyes sparkled with excitement and he kept asking me to recall the precise details and to these arm location. In spite of attempts to minimize the importance of this incident, as it was all rusty army equipment, he kept asking about it a few more times and I could not understand the reasoning for his persistence until he shared his secret with me.
His intention was to organize a secret organization, anti Nazis, for self defense purposes. In that period of time, the German carried out their extermination project ‘with silk gloves’, they avoided pogroms in the streets and preferred to send victims to Ausvitz instead. Another method the German employed for example was carried out the renowned hangman James and his dog, who gathered Jews into the forest and shot them to death.
One day, my uncle took me to a secret meeting inside the ‘catacombs’. These were dark underground caves and hideout under the basement of the ancient citadel. It seemed that all the young men that participated in this meeting, whom I had not met before hand, belong to different streams of the Zionist youth movement. My uncle introduced them as men ‘that can be trusted’ and told them that I knew of a hidden and respectful size of army firearms.
During this meeting it was concluded that the main difficulty in obtaining fire arms was our remote location in the country and the fact that Jews were forbidden from travelling on public roads while carrying arms even more of a problem. This was an extraordinay and unique meeting in terms of our discussion and the whole occasion. It was declared that we were ready to sacrifice our lives in order to fight the Germans and not give in to them, so they can take us as sheep to a slaughter. We planed to form a defense force to protect the Getho in Pioterkow and many other subjects such as preparing a hide out for our weapons, which was small in quantity and not too significant. It was mostly made up of non-firearms.
One suggestion was to make a contact with the Polish partizans who were active around Piotrekow and Chestechov. These Partisans managed to activate a land mine under a German army train, which passed over it. As revenge the German rounded up at least 50 persons who lived along this railway tracks and eventually hang them.
There was another suggestion in this meeting and it was to establish a Jewish Partisan unit in the forests. But when it was realized that my uncle had contacts with the ‘left’ stream of the Partisans, it was eventually decided he would find out the possibility of joining part of the assembled men as a Jewish Partisans within the Polish partisan group.
As a barraging chip, my uncle brought the ‘possibility that in case the cache of arms we found in the barn would be useable, then we maybe accepted to the existing Polish Partisans. For that purpose we prepared hiding places in the catacombs with electric power supply and even an oven for cooking purposes, so we could survive through a prolong time underground. The emphasis was given to the fact that we needed arms as a first priority, without which our chances of joining the Polish Partisans were slim. After initiating the first contact with the Partisans communication officer, my uncle advice was to get out of the Getho, with a strong possibility that we would be captured and taken to a slave work camp in Bugai, and from there, we would individually get out and join the rest of the Parisians.
All these plans were based on successfully getting the hidden weapons. In one of the later meeting, we discussed the problems that developed in the Getho on a daily basis, especially as a result of the Gestapo member by the name of Puchalo. He was not satisfied in stealing anything that he came across when entering a Jewish home. He garbed silver ware, gold jewelry, carpets etc. he was also a sadistic murderer. He even shot to death any Jew who unfortunately crossed his way in the street. Another murderer that was discussed was a Polish man by the name of Linechok. These secret meetings came to an early end. In one of the last meetings, a sudden appearance of one of the Judenrat, by the name of Vorshevski, who discovered our secret meeting place. He told us that he knew of our plans to the German and Polish murderers, mentioned earlier and asked us ‘to stop this childish planning’, otherwise there would be terrible repercussion on the Jewish congregation of Piotrekow. He added that as a result of carrying our plans, the German was capable of sending thousands of Jews to the concentration camps. Later on we realized his plan was to use these underground catacombs and caves in the basement as hiding places of the congregation survivors. While speaking to us, he did not use a threatening voice, but a convincing manner, it was clear to us that carrying out our plans could bring catastrophic results on innocent people, as the German would use it as a pretext to exterminate all Piotrekows Jews. The fact that he suddenly appeared in our meeting and his knowledge of our plans, we lost our organization secret anonymity and therefore we decided to listen to his advice and especially his last remarks that it is better to get out and join the Polish Partisans, especially if we were so determined as to resist forcefully in anyway we could.
We promised to leave Piotrekow quietly without causing any disturbance. The regular meetings stopped and each one of us found his destiny separately, whether in slave labour camp or a concentration camp.
The faith of my uncle was revealed to me at a later stage, while I was in Bugai slave labour camp.
He was among the first few who joined the Polish Partisans, who eventually found the hidden weapons, but in spite of their promise to accept my uncle and his friends to their fighting cause, they executed him.
Today, about thirty five years after all these occurrences took place, I would like to point my intention in front of the new young generation of our nation, that all Jews who survived accepted their faith to be slaughtered as a sheep, but there were occasional revolt and resistance in other places besides Warsaw getho uprising. It is necessary to emphasize again and again that the young men and women that could resist physically, did all they could to get organize and resist their extermination.
With this testimony I would like to correct the injustice done to many youngsters from Piotrekow, that in spite their unsuccessful attempt at carrying their violent revolt plans, they still managed to get organized and show attempts and some initiatives.
Written by Moshe Bromberg Bar-Am, Israel, April 1978
(Translated from Hebrew by Eddie Bromberg)
Moshe Bromberg Bar-Am
Protest and Heroism Painter
By A. Pershkar
Moshe Bromberg Bar-Am belongs to that great artist group who carries inside them a human drama, which torments them and bothers them endlessly. It does not leave him peacefully and occasionally it bursts a flurry of artistic creation that also carries a message.
With Moshe Bar-Am it is a national and human tragedy of his nation, of all of us-the destruction of European Jewry. He had experienced the holocaust hell with his body and soul, and was a witness to the satanic resurrection in human beings the most brutal and dirty means possible. He dedicates his artistic creations to a horrible “I accuse” in its strength and sincerity.
“Holocaust painter’, ‘a painter who draws hell’ some newspaper heading give him these titles. But it is more correct to state that Bar-Am in whole his might is a fighting artist. An artist of protest and heroism.