Another major Aktion had taken place, located at the infamous
Henkier Platz. On February 18, 1943, the ghetto had been completely surrounded with German Police and SS units. In this very thorough operation, the Germans had gone from house to house, flushing out their prey
and rounded them up at the Henkier Platz.
In one particular cellar, they had flushed out forty Jews. At this discovery, so incensed were the members of the Master Race
that they wished to shoot these forty on the spot. However, the well-known Moishe Marin, who held considerable sway with the Germans, had intervened at the last moment, strutting up in his self-important manner, and actually proceeded to beg for mercy. As a gesture of clemency the Germans had allowed them to join the other three thousand Jews who were assembled at the Henkier Platz. With what relief they greeted relatives and friends in the crowd!
Moishe Marin intervened on our behalf. They let us go, they let us go.
In any event, it turned out that all they had been spared from, like
mice scurrying back and forth in an intricate maze, was a quick death, in return for one which was mercilessly drawn out.
The end for Chrzanow Jewry, when it had come, had come in so many
differing guises, but from this new vantage point it was possible to see that these were all nothing but variations on a theme. There had been those who, near the beginning, had been sent to Siberia. Here they were dumped, not imprisoned, in the midst of a veritable desert of ice, and told to build their own accommodations. There was nothing for them but to try to fell the huge timbers and construct a shelter of sorts. They soon discovered that for nine months of the year the temperature remained at fifty degrees below zero. They were given further incentives to work well, for they were promised a pair of boots after a year of labor, and after another year, a heavy, waterproof anorak. However, it was necessary for them to survive until that point, on the most meager of rations, and survival without boots and an outer covering was, at any rate, a precarious matter.
Yet another group of five hundred from Chrzanow were taken east and
dressed as railway workers. Under the supervision of the Romanian military command, they were set to work. They were put to sleep in unheated railroard cars and given no water whatsoever. The bread, when it arrived, was frozen and virtually inedible. The work consisted of broadening the gauge of the railway tracks, so that German trains could pass directly to the front. Added to malnutrition and horrendous conditions, typhus then struck. After three months of this treatment, barely one hundred of the original number of healthy young men remained alive.
But the Moloch was insatiable. Contrary to expectations, however,
after many were dispatched east or west to unknown destinations, the demands did not cease but grew ever more outrageous. If one hundred were demanded one day, it was two hundred on the next. If the numbers were not filled, wives were held as hostages for husbands, children for parents.
When on a certain notable occasion, three hundred girls between the ages of 18 and 25 were demanded through the agency of the Judenrat, and only one hundred and fifty showed up, Marin sent in an inspector. Commissar Mayerovitch, acting directly on Moishe Marins orders, attempted to explain to the terrified ghetto dwellers that if orders were not complied with and the girls handed over, entire families would be sent to Auschwitz. The mention of the mysterious name Auschwitz, which until the war broke out had portended nothing more sinister than their neighboring town, was generally sufficient to win the argument. Shmuel Reifers sister was among those on
the list. She had not gone originally, but when her mother was taken in her place and news reached the family that she had been put to work in snow and ice, the daughter, with a profound sigh, being unable to bear the thought of her delicate mother suffering in her place, went herself.
In another instance, eight hundred Chrzanow boys were taken. This had
been near the beginning. They were detained in the schoolhouse for a week, while some, sensing their doom was at hand, attempted to escape. They were taken to a camp called Sakrow, in Upper Silesia. Here they were housed in empty barracks. There was no actual task to complete, but they were placed under the direction of the SA who did all they could to embitter their young lives. After a while, they were put to work felling forests. This was dangerous work for unskilled young men, as one false stroke of the axe could bring about their death.
And so it continued.