ALEXANDER KIMEL - HOLOCAUST UNDERSTANDING & PREVENTION
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MY WORLD COLLAPSES
In 1937 new startling developments took place on the world arena. In Germany Hitler rose to power and the persecution of the Jews started. Soon afterwards the first wave of German refugees hit the shores of Poland and the town felt deep anxieties about the approaching war.
In Poland, after the death of Marshall Pilsudski in 1935, a clique of incompetent colonels grabbed power and created a semi-fascist government, modeled on the Fascist regimes. They started inept efforts of modernizing the backward country.
Poland created its own concentration camp - Bereza Kartuska, where Communists and members of other opposition groups were interred without a court order. Next the Colonels began to solve the Jewish Question. "Poland had to many Jews, 10% of the population is much too much," declared the Colonels. Small scale pogroms like the one in Przytyk, were organized to push the Jews toward emigration. Soon a total ban on ritual slaying of animals was hotly debated in the Polish Parliament. The welfare of the slaughtered animals suddenly became the most important issue facing the governing clique.
The Colonels' line of thinking was simple and clear. You deny the Jews kosher meat and they will have to leave the country. Without kosher meat a Jew can't survive a single day.
The ruling clique accepted the dire poverty of the population but was concerned
with the welfare of the slaughtered animals. "The ritual slaughter is inhuman"
cried the colonels. In reality the opposite is true. In ancient Rome suicide was
committed by cutting the veins, causing a painless death. The Jewish ritual
slaughter of animals is based on a similar method - cutting the aorta of the animal
with an extremely sharp knife. The ritual laws forbid the use a knife with a smallest
nick in the steel blade. I remember scenes when a slaughtered chicken walked a
few yards trying to pick up some grain before throwing up the wings, turning the
head toward the sun and peacefully collapsing.
In Poland 90% of the population owned only 10% of the land; the other 90% of the land was owned by the Polish gentry. What the society needed were land reforms and not pogroms and anti-Semitic hysteria. The Jews were used a scapegoats to divert the attention from the dire poverty of the population.
A few years before the war hate spreading anti-Semitic newspapers became
popular. The most hateful was the paper "Polska bez Zydow" - Poland without
Jews. It was modeled on the Nazi paper the "Sturmer", and featured caricatures of
Jews with crooked nose and blood dripping hands. The Jews were blamed for all
the ills of the societies going back 2000 years, starting with the crucifixion.
Next, the clique called "Sanacja," or Cleaners turned their attention to the exterior looks of the towns. Again their thinking was simple and clear. To be prosperous a country has to look prosperous. The Prime Minister, Slavoj Skladkowski, decreed that all that all storefronts are to be painted in a gray color, all fences whitewashed, and the outhouses painted in deep camouflaging green color. "My green outhouse with the round opening in the door looks like a bunker. I think that the minister wants to the Germans to think that Podhaitse is a fortress defended a network of green painted bunkers - a new Maginot line," joked Reb Shlojme, the town joker.
In one week Poland consumed more paint than in its all history. Even the peasants had to drop the harvesting to paint the outhouses. Soon a uniform coat of paint covered all the economic ills of the country.
Having achieved a high prosperity level by painting the outhouses, the Colonels started a campaign to get colonies. "Yes, Poland being first rate military power deserves colonies. England has colonies, France has colonies, even Italy got Ethiopia. Why not Poland?" How do you get colonies? Simply, by organizing rallies. Podhaitse saw its biggest political rally. A thousand of people marching around the marketplace with big red and white banners. "We want colonies. We deserve Colonies." Chanted the Polish patriots including Bibryk, the town's fool.
A "Polish Colonial League" was organized to impress the world with the injustice
done to the Polish people. As Tomasiewicz, the half-blind town crier put it
"Poland was the bulwark of Christianity for ages. We deserve colonies." His
nephew, the commander of the horse driven fire engine, agreed with him. "We
Poles are ferocious fighters. If France and England want our help in stopping
fascism and communism they have to cede us some colonies."
The Polish Army was projecting an image of might. Each officer with his hand tailored suit, shining boots and silver braids could easily walk in on any stage to play the role of a prince in Lehar's operetta. The soldiers were tough and rugged; they did not use socks, just long green bandages called "Onuce" that were easy to wash but hard to put on.
Then the military clique started also a program of intensive armaments. The school
children had do without lunches and contribute to the militaristic race. For the
collected 150 zlotys a new rifle was purchased and presented to the Polish Army.
A special Army detachment from the 55 Infantry Brigade of Brzezany was sent to
accept the riffle and a big ceremony was held in the marketplace. In his acceptance
speech a brave Lieutenant held up to the children the vision of a Poland a great
Power with borders extending from Sea to Sea, from the Baltic to the Black Sea -
"Polska od Morza do Morza". "Yes. We Poles should rule the Ukraine, not Russia.
" Echoed Tomasiewicz the Fireman.
Poland did not get the Madagascar as a colony, but the big armaments paid off. In 1938 Poland helped Hitler to dismember Czechoslovakia and was rewarded with a small strip of Czech territory called Zaolzie. The Polish cavalry proudly marched into Czechoslovakian territory and linked up with the German tank columns. The Colonels made their first kill, and Bibryk had a chance to welcome the return of Zaolzie to the motherland. Poland was on her way to become a first rate military power.
The summer of 1939 the anxiety level hit the ceiling. Even our forlorn town started
to feel the anxieties caused by the gathering of the dark clouds, the warlike threats
of Nazi Germany. The Jews were scared and uneasy, the romantic Poles looked
toward the repeating the glory of World War II. The Ukrainians, stirred by the
German emissaries, looked forward to future looting and settling the accounts with
the Jews and Poles, and talked loudly about an Independent Ukraine.
A month before the outbreak of World War II the pace of life changed rapidly; a
complete blackout was enforced, the windows were taped to protect them against
bomb blast; cellars used for storage of cheese and pickles were converted into
bomb shelters. The leisurely pace of life was interrupted with countless air raids
alarms that sent people into the pickle-filled flimsy cellars.
The summer of 1939 was exceptionally beautiful and the harvest was plentiful, but everybody was talking about the war. On such a warm sunny day the blind Town Crier started to deliver the ominous white call-up slips. Mothers of young boys fainted on his sight.
Soon, the town experienced the first war panic. The loudspeaker announced a
coded message "Nadchodzi Roma" or Roma is coming. The piercing whining of
the sirens created an unbelievable havoc. Stores were hastily shut, children cried,
mothers were desperately searching for their children, the town took on an
appearance of a ghost town. It was ingenious code that sent people to the
improvised shelters in a 200 mile radius from a single German plane. The so-called
LOP the civil defense organization, did more damage to the country that the
A week later, two German planes did arrive to face the fire from an improvised
machine gun. A brave Polish lieutenant showed remarkable control and ingenuity.
Wanting to impress the German pilot with modern technology, he collected his
platoon and ordered them to shoot in sequence to mimic a machine gun operation.
When by design or mistake the German plane left, the Lieutenant Gorki declared
himself a military genius. "My ingenuity saved Podhaitse from destruction," he
Soon the town was flooded with the masses of the disorganized units of the Polish Army, running toward the Rumanian border. The narrow streets and dirt roads were clogged with a mass of people, horse driven wagons, artillery pieces and field kitchens. Afterwards, the chaos was increased tenfold when a large cavalry unit tried to move into the opposite direction. Those were the crack units of the Polish cavalry ordered to slow down the advance of the German tanks with suicidal attacks. It looked like a Hollywood production of the "Charge of the Light Brigade." Only the corpses and the spilled blood were more realistic.
The Polish Army had a few motor vehicles, the infantry was self-propelled and the
transport units used horses for drawing the supply wagons, field kitchens and
artillery pieces. The higher Army echelon had their private cars, but there was a
shortage of gasoline, so the inventive Polish officers used real horse power to pull
their small cars. It was quite a sight to see a husky orderly sitting on the hood of a
small car trying to steer two scared white horses . He was driving the colonel to the
safety of the Rumanian border.
The day I witnessed the first execution, and it shook me to the bone. A brave lieutenant, saw a civilian wearing military boots walking in the opposite direction than the disorganized army. Suspecting that the man is a deserter he approached him swiftly and pulled off his hat. Recognizing the military crew cut he pulled out his revolver and shot the hapless deserter. I was shocked. Human life was so cheap, no curt martial, no inquiry and a young life was terminated so needlessly.
A few days later when the collapse of Poland became obvious, the town's people
started to supply civilian clothes to the deserters and their green uniforms and
weapons were stored away in the synagogue, under the platform used for reading
the Torah, the Belamer.
My father bought a pair of horses and a buggy, loaded the whole family and left for
the Rumanian border, to be stacked about 10 miles from our town.
As the story goes, the main road was clogged and congested with the retreating Polish Army units so they took some dirt roads. The first stop we made in a minuscule town of Wisniowczyki.
The town comprised of a Post Office, four stores and unbelievable swarms of flies. They used to say that Wisniowczyki are the Flies Capital of the World. There was not even a single radio in the town, no newspapers, and the people lived in complete oblivion to the war.
The appearance of refugees on the eve of the High Holidays created a stir and panic. Here the Jews dressed in holiday garb, black caftans and hats with the foxes tail were congregating in the synagogue. "You can't desecrate the holidays, wait two days, and later you will proceed," they argued. My mother felt guilty that she left her parents behind and influenced father to wait a few days in Wisniowczyki. Two days later . . . it was too late. The Russians were already on the move, the escape route was blocked and the family returned to Podhaitse.
Soon I witnessed the entrance of the Red Army. A horse mounted Russian disarmed the last Polish policemen, Schmidt. For me it was a sad scene. I felt that my childhood came to an abrupt end. I was full of apprehension and very sad.