Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team
Introduction to the Ghettos of the Holocaust
The Bochnia Ghetto
Located 45 km east of Krakow, the town of Bochnia was the site of one of the most important salt mining resources in Poland. Jews had lived in the town since the earliest days of its establishment, deriving their livelihood from trade and the distribution of salt, a vital commodity. Indeed, under German occupation, between 1939 and 1945 the town was known as Salzberg. In 1605 Jews were expelled from Bochnia, the majority of them relocating to the nearby town of Nowy Wisnicz.
Bochnia was declared a restricted zone for Jewish dwellers (de non tolerandis Judaeis), a restriction that remained in place until 1867 with the granting of the right to citizenship for the Jews of Galicia. Following the first partition of Poland in 1772, the province of Galicia had formed part of the Habsburg Empire, of which it remained a region until 1918 and the re-creation of the modern Polish state.
In the autumn of 1939 a Jewish Committee was formed on the initiative of Samuel Freudenhheim. On 1 December 1939, the edict requiring Jews to wear a white armband bearing a blue Star of David had been introduced, and in May 1940 an enormous “fine” of 3 million zloty was demanded from the Jewish population. 200-300 young Jews were sent to the Pustkow labour camp, near Debica, in mid 1940, and at the end of that year deportation of young Jewish men to the labour camp at Klaj, 12 km west of Bochnia, began.
In December 1940, the Jewish Committee was transformed into a Judenrat with Symcha Weiss, the owner of a shoe store, as its chairman. At about the same time, a Jewish Police Force (Ordnungsdienst) was created, headed by Dr Szymon Rosen, a lawyer. Both the Judenrat and the Ordnungsdienst had their quarters at 13 Niecala Street.
In 1941, a closed ghetto, surrounded by a wooden fence, was established in Bochnia. At the beginning of April 1941, all “Aryan” inhabitants of the future ghetto area were resettled, and in July 1941 Jews were prohibited from leaving the ghetto without a special permit. From October 1941, by order of Hans Frank, to do so was punishable by death. For this crime, prior to the “big Aktion” at least 300 Jews were executed at Krzeczkow Jewish cemetery in Bochnia.
The so called "Jewish district" included Kowalska, Bracka, Niecala, Sw. Leonarda, Solna Gora, and other neighbouring streets as far as Krzeczowska. Few of the buildings in the ghetto consisted of more than a single storey; sanitary facilities were virtually non-existent, and the Germans disconnected the electrical supply to the area.
At the end of 1941, a Jewish hospital with 45 beds was established, located on Solna Gora. Various workshops were also set up, employing some 2,000 people. The largest of these, located on Floris Street in the “red brick building”, produced uniforms for the German Army, while other workshops manufactured underwear, shoes, and brushes. There were also locksmiths, box-makers, and carpenters, among other trades. The workshops were headed by a German, Wettermann, and supervised by a Jew, Salomon Greiwer. These enterprises were sufficiently successful for production to be expanded into the neighbouring ghetto in Wieliczka and to the Jewish community of Wisnicz.
Following the order of 18 May 1940 concerning the expulsion of Krakow Jews, a large group from this city settled in Bochnia. In March 1941, 500 Jews from Krzeszowice arrived, and in spring 1942 a further large group from Mielec.
The first deportation from the Bochnia Ghetto took place on 16 April 1942, when 204 Jews were taken to a labour camp. For this deportation the Judenrat was charged the sum of 7,000 zlotys.
On 21 August 1942, all of the Jews of the Bochnia district were rounded up and on the following morning were transferred to the town of Bochnia itself. The entire Wisnicz Jewish community (1,500 people) were transferred to the ghetto in Bochnia, together along with Jews from the village of Breshnow (Brzeznica), Kopaliny, and from other villages with smaller Jewish communities – Bogucice, Lipnica Murowana, Lapanow, Nowy Wisnicz, Rzezawa, Targowisko, Trzciana, Uscie Solne and Zabierzow.
The large scale relocation of Jews into Bochnia by the Nazi authorities caused panic in the ghetto. Concentration of all the Jews of a district into the central ghetto was almost always the sign of a forthcoming large scale expulsion.
The first Aktion in Bochnia took place between 25 and 27 August 1942. It was supervised by Josef Müller, Wilhelm Kunde, Herman Heinrich, Schömburg and Liebmann. Prior to the Aktion, all of the ghetto residents not intended for deportation had to obtain a special stamp on their Ausweis (identity card), allowing them to remain in the ghetto.
All others, representing the majority, had to report to the Kaserne (military barracks) by 8o’clock on 24 August 1942.
Selection at the Kaserne was completely random. Even Jews with permits permitting them to stay in the ghetto were taken away. The shortage of deportees was so severe that policemen had to bring their own parents, wives and children to fill the deportation quota. An estimated 600 old and sick people were shot during the search conducted in the ghetto by the Gestapo.
At the Umschlagplatz, a further selection took place. A group consisting of mainly elderly people, women, and children were taken by trucks to the nearby village of Baczkow, together with all of the patients of the Jewish hospital. Upon arrival all 1,200 people were shot. Their bodies were thrown into a large pit that had been pre-prepared for that purpose. Among those taken to Baczkow a few victims were recognized: Mendel Nabel, Helena Reich, Mortko Satler and Kenengüser.
Dr Stefan Korenhauser recorded:
“During the first liquidation in August 1942 the Germans proclaimed that all Jews who failed to obtain a special validity stamp on their work certificate had to report at the military base in Bochnia. They specified that the hospital was exempt and as a result many Jews who wanted to avoid deportation were admitted to the hospital as patients… Obviously the Germans did not keep their promise. On the day of the Aktion they took all the patients from the hospital. These patients were not taken to the military base but to a nearby forest where they were all shot to death. All the hospital staff obtained the validity stamp on their work certificate allowing them to remain in the ghetto. In spite of that the people with the validated documents were told to report to the military base. There a selection was carried out and 50% of them were added to the transport… Some Jews were hung after the Aktion when they were identified as escapees from other towns.”
The remaining 2,000 deportees were marched to a waiting train, crammed into freight cars, and transported to the Belzec death camp on the following day, at 2 pm. Among those killed in this action was Rabbi Isaiah Halbersztam (the son of Rabbi Asher Majer Halberstam). In total, an estimated 14,000 Jews were transported to Belzec from towns in the Krakow District, including Bochnia, during the period between 25 and 30 August 1942.
Virtually the entire Judenrat was sent to Belzec in the last transport of the first Aktion. Officially, there were about 1,000 Jews left in the ghetto, with a further estimated 400 “unofficials” in hiding. Believing that the Aktion in Bochnia was over, thousands of Jews from the vicinity came out of hiding and began to arrive at the ghetto.
The chief Gestapo officer in Bochnia, Schömburg, published a special permit for all of the Jews who had concealed themselves, allowing them to live in the Bochnia Ghetto. All of the workshops were reopened. The number of Jews residing in Bochnia grew to 8,000, with the number of Jews employed in the workshops swelling to 3,000. The status of the Bochnia Ghetto was changed to that of a labour camp, with SS-Obersturmführer Müller as the new Lagerführer.
On 24 September 1942 the Germans conducted a round-up in the ghetto. Able-bodied men unable to produce worker's permits were arrested. A group of 100 men were sent to the Rakowice (Rakowitz) labour camp (near Krakow), a heavily guarded military airfield surrounded by a barbed-wire fence. During the winter of 1942, after the work assigned for the camp's inmates was completed, the camp was liquidated and all Jewish prisoners were sent for extermination, possibly to Auschwitz. The second Aktion in Bochnia took place on 10 November 1942, in the course of which 70 people were killed in the ghetto itself or at the communal cemetery at Solna Street and approximately 500 were deported to Belzec. After this Aktion the Germans demanded 20,000 zlotys in return for the ammunition used.
Shortly after the second Aktion the population of the Bochnia Ghetto grew again to about 5,000 as Jews fled to the town, or were deported from the surrounding area. The ghetto was now divided into two sections: "Ghetto A” consisted of Kowalska, Niecala, Kraszewska, and Bracka, while "Ghetto B" was made up of Piotra Galasa, Pod Lipka, Sw. Leonarda, and part of Krzeczowska Streets.
A fence divided the two sections. Those with workers' permits were located in "Ghetto A" and the non-able bodied, elderly, disabled, children, and all people without a worker’s permit were housed in "Ghetto B". The meaning of this division was clear. Residence in "Ghetto A" gave hope for survival, while the residents of "Ghetto B" were doomed. Desperate people used their last money to pay enormous sums in order to acquire the right to work. The labour force was organized into three divisions: Wehrmacht (the armed forces), Rüstung (weapons industry), and Zwangsarbeit (forced labour).
In addition to their Jewish identification armband on the right arm, the workers bore a white worker patch on their left arm carrying either the letter "W", "R" or "Z".
A rumour began to circulate in the ghetto in July 1943 that people who were able to prove their foreign citizenship would be given the opportunity of emigrating to the USA. The “lucky” applicants had to pay a substantial fee to the Nazis to join the transport. Many individuals purchased false documentation in order to qualify. On the appointed day, about 100 people gathered with their luggage, and were loaded onto waiting trucks. They were taken to the Montelupich Prison in Krakow, before being transferred to Plaszow, where all but two of them were shot.
In winter 1942/43, the Jewish Fighting Organisation was formed in Krakow by young people (including the famous couple Szymon and Gusta Dränger, as well as Hilel Wodzislawski and Jozef Wulf, among others) from the Akiba movement.
The Organisation began to edit the underground weekly publication HeChaluc HaLochem in Kopaliny kibbutz near Bochnia in May 1942. There were at least 33 editions of the newspaper published until October 1943. The attempt of the movement to organize the mass escape of Jews from the Bochnia Ghetto, during the "September Aktion", failed.
On 1 September 1943, the final liquidation of the Bochnia Ghetto began. At the Umschlagplatz on Kowalska St., the SS officer in charge, SS-Haupsturmführer Hasse, with help of Schömborg and Müller, divided the Jews into two groups. The largest, some 4,000 people, consisting of all children, the elderly and most residents of "Ghetto B”, were transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau for extermination.
Again, approximately 60 people were shot at the communal cemetery at Solna Gora and their bodies cremated. The remainder, consisting of about 1,000 younger people were transferred to the camp at Szebnie. Few of them were to survive.
One survivor, Dov Landau, described the Szebnie camp:
150 Jews were left in Bochnia to clear the ghetto area. After six weeks, 100 of this group were taken to the Szebnie camp. The remainder continued working until December, when they were transferred to KL Plaszow. In the weeks following the liquidation of the ghetto, approximately 500 Jews who had been in hiding in the town were discovered. They were immediately taken to the Jewish cemetery and shot.
About 90 Jews from Bochnia survived the war, either in hiding, in camps or in the Soviet Union. Most of them immigrated to the USA, Belgium, and Israel.
|Copyright SJ, LB H.E.A.R.T 2007|
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