Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team
Introduction to the Ghettos of the Holocaust
Lubartow is located 30 kilometres north of Lublin, Southern Poland, a Jewish community had existed in the town since the 16th Century. Most of the Jews lived in the centre of the town, where they came to dominate local trade and craft. Before the outbreak of the Second World War the Jews owned the majority of the 130 shops in Lubartow, the Jewish community supported three synagogues and two cemeteries.
The old cemetery was located in the centre of the town but was not used after the 19th Century. The new cemetery was in a suburb of the town. The Jewish population in Lubartow was typical compared with other provincial towns within the Lublin region. Most of the Jews were both Orthodox and conservative, and it was only the younger generation who were active in modern Jewish political and cultural life.
In the years just before the Second World War the Jewish population numbered 3,411 out of a total population of 8121. The German army entered Lubartow on 19 September 1939, most of the Jews remained in the town, hoping that the Soviet Army rather than the German Army would capture the town. A number of young people organised the escapes from Lubartow to Soviet occupied Poland, but this was limited in scale and very hazardous.
The first mass persecution of the Jews and the major plunder of Jewish property took place on 12 October 1939. The Jewish population was ordered to gather on the main square. German soldiers armed with machine guns, surrounded them, whilst other German soldiers entered Jewish shops and apartments, removing all valuables, that which could not be taken was destroyed.
At the beginning of November 1939, shortly after the October “action”, the Jewish community in Lubartow were ordered to leave the town, apart from 818 people who worked for the Germans, the others were deported to neighbouring towns such as Firlej, Ostrow Lubelski and Kamionka.
Those who were expelled were only allowed to take with them personal possessions and small amounts of money. The Lubartow Jews were exiled until September 1940, at which time they received permission to return to their former town. Only by bribing the Germans were a few people able to return earlier than the main group of deportees.
As survivors wrote in their testimonies, until shortly before the deportation to the death camps, the Judenrat members consisted mainly of people who cooperated with the Germans. The members of the last Judenrat in Lubartow were:
Working with the Judenrat the Germans established a unit of Jewish police, numbering eleven members. The Lubartow ghetto was not closed, Jews were allowed to live in the centre of the town, mainly around the two market squares. After most of the local Jews had returned to Lubartow, the Judenrat had to organise a community kitchen, as there were many very poor families.
On January 1940 a group of former soldiers in the Polish Army, 880 Jews in all were taken from the prisoner –of-war camp in Lublin and told that they were to be marched to the Soviet border where, as Jews born east of the new Nazi- Soviet demarcation line, they would be transferred to Soviet authority.
The 880 prisoners were escorted on the march by SS men armed with rifles and machine guns. Just before the town of Lubartow, the SS men opened fire and more than one hundred of the prisoners-of –war were killed. The invalids were the first to be shot at, one of the prisoners –of – war Avraham Buchman, later recalled, “because they were too weak to walk – there was one man who was shot in the lung.”
The prisoners –of-war thought seriously of rebelling – there were only thirteen guards, albeit armed, but as Ringelblum later learned, the guards told them that if any tried to escape “that would be a great catastrophe for all the Jews of Poland.” Some twenty prisoners of war managed to escape – but the retaliation was immediate – three men were killed with one bullet, while the cruellest of the guards “wantonly killed people walking along the road.”
That night the prisoners-of-war were locked in an abandoned stable and in the local synagogue. On the following day, between Lubartow and Parczew, a second massacre took place – only 400 out of the original 880 reached the outskirts of Parczew alive. There Arieh Helfgott, one of the survivors, later recalled, “ a delegation of Jews came out to meet us in order to conduct negotiations with our murderers. We were astonished at their courage, as they could quite easily have died together with us.”
Apart from the local poverty-stricken Jews, 1,000 Jews were sent to Lubartow at the end of 1940 from Ciechanow. At the beginning of 1941, a large number of Jews from Lublin were resettled in Lubartow – most of them were very poor.
The SS organised the first deportations from Lubartow on 9 April 1942, the last day of Passover. All the Jews were gathered in the courtyard of the synagogue where the SS men undertook a selection. 800 people who did not possess work – cards were sent to the railway station for deportation to the Belzec death camp.
A Polish inhabitant of Lubartow described how the Slovakian Jews had to live in the former German stable which stood on Legiony Street:
The Poles from Lubartow as well as the local Jews were very interested in them, and the Jewish policemen, armed with sticks and quite often brutal towards the Lubartow Jews, lost self-assurance when meeting with the Slovakian Jews. The inhabitants of the barrack on Legiony Street – the Jews from Slovakia – were not in Lubartow for very long. Suddenly they disappeared.”
After several days in Lubartow, the Slovakian Jews were resettled to Kamionka, Firlej and Ostrow Lubelski. The final deportation from Lubartow was organised on 11 October 1942 – on that day all of the remaining Jews in Lubartow were gathered together with those from Kamionka, Tarlo, Firlej and Ostrow Lubelski.
In total, this group numbered about 10,000 people – after a selection, a small group of men was sent to KL Majdanek. All the others were deported to the Treblinka death camp.
“The people were placed in columns of four on Lubelska Street and were led to the train. This procession of Jews, arranged as if in an army, extended from the market square to the railway station. People were thrown into cattle cars, on the floors of which fresh lime had been scattered so that they suffocated.
When the cattle cars were so overcrowded that no space remained, the Germans shot at the victims standing on the steps of the train and on the platform. Only a few people were hidden or managed to escape during the march to the railway station.”
Among the Jews from Ostrow Lubelski who were deported that day from Lubartow to Treblinka, was the Treblinka survivor Yechiel Reichman. Those Jews who tried to hide were shot, either where they were discovered or at the new Jewish cemetery, where about 300 Jews were executed.
Some Jews who decided to hide survived the “action” were arrested during the next few days were sent to the Piaski ghetto. Together with their families, the members of the Judenrat were resettled to the Leczna ghetto, where most of them were shot in November 1942.
Officially, only a few Jews who worked for the German gendarmerie remained in Lubartow, but on 29 January 1943, they were executed at the Jewish cemetery. After the last deportation the German’s destroyed the towns synagogues and Jewish cemeteries, Jewish tombstones were used as material for paving the courtyard of the school on Cicha Street, where German Army soldiers were stationed.
Only forty Jews from Lubartow survived the war, five of them were hidden in Lubartow itself, others hid out in the forests surrounding the town. Together with her father and uncle, Raya Weberman was hidden in Lubartow by a Polish farmer, Adam Butrin.
“For two years we wore the same clothes. When liberation came in the summer of 1944, Butrin joyously told us the good news. Afterwards he returned and announced sadly, the Russians hate Jews too," she recalled.
Only one Jew stayed in Lubartow and died there at the beginning of 1990.
Churban Lewartow, ed by B. Czubinski. Paris 1947.
Martyrologia ludno?ci Lubartowa w latach okupacji hitlerowskiej (Martyrdom of the Inhabitants of Lubartow in the Years of Nazi Occupation). Lubartow and Ziemia, by J. Kielbon - Lubartowska 1993.
Lata wojny i okupacji 1939 -1944 ( Years of the War and Occupation 1939-1944). (in:) Lubartow – z dziejow miasta i regionu (Lubartow – from the History of the Town and Region), by Z.J Hirsz and Ed by S. Tworek. Lublin 1977.
Z dziejow spolecznosci zydowskiej w Lubartowie. (From the History of the Jewish Community in Lubartow). Lubartow i Ziemia, by R.Kuwalek and P. Sygowski, Lubartowska 2000.
Gilbert, Martin: The Holocaust – The Jewish Tragedy, by Sir Martin Gilbert, published by William Collins Sons & Co. Limited, London, 1986
Copyright H.E.A.R.T 2007