JASLO: THE BIRTH AND DEATH OF
A JEWISH COMMUNITY IN POLAND
FROM ITS BEGINNINGS TO THE HOLOCAUST
By Dr. Jakub Herzig
Translated by Rabbi Leila Berner, Ph.D.
Edited by Adam H. Herzig, Jack Herzig, and Heather Shay-Herzig
© 2004 Adam & Jack Herzig. All right reserved.
For questions or comments, please e-mail us at
JASLO’S FIRST JEWISH CITIZENS
On Polish soil which was a part of Austrian Galicia, there were two towns in which Jews were not allowed to live: Zywiec (German: Saybusch) and Jaslo. A large number of Jews lived in the surrounding villages: Kolaczyce, Brzostek, Biecz, Zmigrod, Frysztak, and Jedlicze. With the adoption of Austria’s new constitution in 1867, guaranteeing equality to all citizens under the law and permitting freedom of movement as well as domicile, Jews began to move to Jaslo.
The first Jewish family which moved to Jaslo from Zmigrod was the Steinhaus family, headed by Ch. Steinhaus. He had two sons, Ignacy and Boguslaw. Ignacy was a prominent lawyer and for a number of years served as a member of the Austrian parliament. Later, after Poland acquired its independence, Ignacy was elected to the Polish Sejm.
Boguslaw Steinhaus was a very successful businessman and the owner of a number of buildings in Jaslo. He was also the founder of Jaslo’s stock exchange which was known for the fact that it had only Catholics as members. Both Ignacy and Boguslaw severed all connections with their Jewish roots; their families increased the ranks of Polish converts.
At the beginning of the Second World War, of the entire Steinhaus family, only one Jew remained: Hugo Steinhaus, professor of mathematics at the University of Lwow. The Steinhaus family took no interest in the Jewish life of Jaslo.
ISAAC JUDAH RUBEL
The first Jewish landowner in the county of Jaslo (or one of the first ones) was Isaac Judah Rubel. His estates were located in Sobniow and Laski, but he lived primarily in Sobniow which bordered Jaslo. Isaac Judah Rubel was a pious and devoted Jew who very generously supported all Jewish institutions and provided the building which housed the community’s Talmud Torah. He was also very active in all aspects of Jewish life in Jaslo. On the Sobniow estate, in addition to the large farming area, he had a distillery and brick factory. He employed Jews in all management positions.
Isaac Judah Rubel had four sons and three daughters. His sons-in-law were intelligent and well versed in Hebrew; they were Jewish nationalists and model Polish citizens. As landowners, they were known for their upstanding characters. People used to say that Isaac Judah Rubel’s sons-in-law were three pearls. By a strange coincidence, each of them died of typhoid at the age of 51.
Isaac Judah Rubel’s eldest daughter Chaya married Abraham Goldman, owner of an estate near Brzezany, called Kalne. He was known for his generosity and his modesty and it was said that he had a heart of gold.
The second daughter, Gina, was married to Solomon Bezner. He was an owner of an estate in Buchowina and was a very respected man. Their son, Dr. Isaac Bezner, settled in Palestine before the Second World War and, following the creation of the state of Israel, became an outstanding government official. As a head of the Department of Finance, he was selected to attend a special conference in Germany on reparations in 1952. His plane, on landing in Frankfurt, exploded and he was killed.
The third daughter Anna was married to Marcus Karpf. He was the only one of Isaac Judah Rubel’s sons-in-law who lived permanently in Jaslo. He had wide intellectual horizons and was considered one of Jaslo’s most respected citizens. Marcus fell ill for two weeks following a trip to eastern Poland. He passed away in April 1925 in my arms while a physician attempted to give him an injection. His funeral was one of the largest funerals in Jaslo and was attended by thousands of Jews and Catholics. In the midst of a criminal court case, the head of the Court of Appeals requested that the lawyers limit their arguments because he did not want to be late for the funeral.
All the descendants of Isaac Judah Rubel were proud Jews and Zionists. Of those members of his family who survived the Holocaust, the majority moved to Palestine.
THE JEWISH INSTITUTIONS AND ORGANIZATIONS IN JASLO
The Jewish community in Jaslo grew rapidly. At the outset of the Second World War, the Jewish community numbered some 3,400 souls, who represented about 22% of the total population. Those Jews who distanced themselves from the Jewish community were very few in number; indeed, almost all of Jaslo’s Jews had a deep sense of belonging to the Jewish community.
In 1939, the following Jewish institutions and organizations existed in Jaslo:
► the architecturally stunning synagogue with its large Beit Hamidrash, adjoining a large home for the rabbi;
► the steam bath, the only one in the city, which was used by Jews and Catholics;
► the Talmud Torah school, which was the home of Beit Yaakov School;
► the Jewish Center with a very large theater hall, which was the center of Jewish cultural life;
► the Kahal, the body responsible for administering Jewish affairs, which had its own separate building.
The Jewish community owned a large cemetery which they enlarged before the Second World War; it was under the control of the Chevra Kadisha.
The strongest Zionist organization was Yeshurun, created in the early ‘20s due to the initiative of one of the first pioneers of Zionism, Dr. Kornhauser. The second major organization was Mizrahi. Next came Poalei Zion, and finally, the Revisionist organization. In addition, some Hasidim were members of Aguda. Few Jews were communists. Young people belonged to Hashomer Hatzair and other Jewish youth organizations. Zebulun organization was created in 1937 and had a large following. Maccabe, the Jewish sports organization was also very popular.
The following other organizations were also active:
► Bikkur Hollim,
► Hachnusat Kallah,
► Society for Helping Jewish orphans,
► G’millut Hassidim,
► the artisans’ Yad Halutzim.
The largest hall in Jaslo was in a building owned by the antisemitic organization Sokol. Because of the size of this hall, Jews had no alternative but to use it for all major events. Of course, its owners always charged excessive amounts for its use. I discussed this matter with a few acquaintances. Later, I wrote the bylaws for the creation of a Jewish Center while serving as chairman of the committee set up for that purpose. Subsequently, as chairman of Jaslo’s Jewish Center, I officially opened the Center on January 22, 1930, in the presence of the Jewish community and the authorities.
The building was purchased, renovated, and expanded, solely through donations from Jaslo’s Jewish community. The director of the refinery, Wolf Goldschlag, donated 500 U.S. dollars to help purchase the building and continued to support the institution financially for many years thereafter. When it was completed, the Jewish center had a large theater hall and a number of offices. The renovations were all planned and executed by Mr. Winkler, an engineer who refused any compensation for his work. A few years later, he emigrated to Palestine.
Not all institutions functioned perfectly. The Jewish bank, Bank Ludowy, did not always fulfil its mission. The Jewish library in Jaslo had thousands of books of excellent quality and was used not only by Jews but also by the town’s other inhabitants. The library was run in a highly professional manner; nevertheless, even though it bore the name “Jewish Library,” there was not one Jewish or Hebrew book to be found on its shelves.
Between the two World Wars, a number of young Jews from Jaslo emigrated to Palestine.
JASLO’S JEWISH PROFESSIONALS
Before World War II, Jaslo’s Jewish professionals included eight physicians, seventeen lawyers, three dentists, and one engineer in the petroleum refinery of Gartenberg & Schreier in Nieglowice, bordering Jaslo where a number of Jews were employed in high and middle management. Jaslo had a Jewish judge, the Honorable Filip Wachtel, who sat in the district court. Judge Wachtel was very well respected for his excellent understanding of the law. In addition, a number of local Jews sat as lay judges. There were four physicians affiliated with Jaslo’s hospital, two of whom were Jewish: Dr. Ezriel Kornmehl and Dr. Klementyna Welfeld. Two very well known mathematics professors came from Jaslo: Hugo Steinhaus, who has already been mentioned, and Cecilia Dunaj, nee Krieger, mathematics professor at the University of Toronto.
In Jaslo there were also a few who left the Jewish fold. Judge Ignac Weiss, who later became a notary, converted to Catholicism about 1924. His brother-in-law was Dr. Herman Stein, a Zionist and a member of many Jewish committees. Dr. Stein was elected from the Zionist slate to the office of city councillor, but in 1936 or 1937 the Zionists did not put him on their list for the city hall. He thereupon declared that he was leaving the Zionist party and joined the government-sponsored block, the BBWR -- but, to his disappointment, the BBWR also did not put him on their slate as a candidate. Very soon afterwards, his daughter converted to Catholicism and married another convert.
Dr. Stein’s friend, Dr. Jozef Schoenborn, told me that Dr. Stein converted to Catholicism with his wife just before September 1939. He survived WWII and moved to Krakow after the war. I met him a few times in 1945 in Krakow, where he practiced law under the name of Dr. Kaminski. A few years later, when I was in Paris, I was told that he had lost his first wife and had married a Catholic woman.
In 1938 the daughter of the Jewish engineer from the petroleum refinery changed her faith and married a Catholic son of a veterinarian from Jaslo.
RELATIONS BETWEEN JEWS AND CATHOLICS
Relations between Jaslo’s Jews and Jaslo’s General Population
Relations between Jews and Catholics were generally positive. Jews and non-Jews cooperated in businesses and factories. The soap factory was owned by two Jews and one Catholic. A printing company was owned by a Jew and a Catholic. Another printing company was owned exclusively by Jews. The owners of Jaslo’s broom factory were Jews. The glass factory was leased to a Jew who, in turn, employed a number of Jews in this company. In Jewish-owned businesses and factories, Jews and non-Jews worked side by side without incident.
Jaslo’s shops were run almost entirely by its Jews. After Prime Minister Slawoj-Skladkowski uttered his famous slogan “Walka ekonomiczna owszem” (Economic War, Yes!) two stores were opened in Jaslo by Catholics from near Poznan, but they were not very successful. When university students, back from their vacations, promoted the popular slogan “Swoj do swego” (Support your own), which advocated the boycott of Jewish businesses, this also failed to have any effect. I heard from a number of Catholics that the idea of showing one’s patriotism by paying much higher prices in Catholic stores was simply ludicrous.
Jaslo had two high schools: a public high school for boys and a second, private one, for girls. Until 1929, the girls’ school was located in a building owned by a Jewish proprietor, Lipe Propper. Afterwards, it moved to more spacious quarters. In the boys’ high school, the Jewish students felt no antisemitism; however, this was not the case in the girls’ high school where antisemitism began to spread in the years preceding the war.
Jaslo’s Jews were involved in public service. The City council always had a few Jews as members. In 1933 a commission for the help and rehabilitation of prisoners was created under the name Patronat. The following people were appointed to the committee: the chairman and vice-chairman of the district court, the chairman of the criminal law section, public prosecutors, a prison physician, and a few lay people. I was appointed to this committee at its inception, along with Dr. Zucker, a prison physician.
Collection of tolls on bridges was leased to a Jew.
The management of the district hospital always had a few Jews on its board of directors. I was, for a number of years, Chairman of the Legal Committee, as well as legal counsel to this hospital. After Jaslo’s hospital was merged under the same authority with Gorlice’s hospital, I continued in my position as legal counsel for both the Jaslo and Gorlice hospitals.
Two co-chairmen of the district court were Lopatiner and Bojdecki, known for their friendliness toward Jews. A number of judges were known anti-Semites, but this was only in their private lives. In their offices they were faithful servants of the law. One exception was the vice-chairman of the court, who also served as the chairman of the antisemitic organization Sokol. He retired in 1931 and opened a law firm in Nowy Sacz. In Nowy Sacz, his antisemitism did not go so far as to preclude him from accepting Jewish clients.
Jaslo had a “casino” where people used to come to play cards on a weekly basis. A Jewish counterpart to this club was created a few years before the war. Both these clubs were attended by Jews and Catholics.
Before the war, some Jews purchased a farm on the outskirts of Jaslo for the purpose of providing young Jews with professional training in agriculture. One of the founders of this enterprise was Mr. Solomon Wistreich, who was a very well known civic leader, renowned businessman, and member of the city council. Many of the school’s graduates left for Palestine. A number of Catholic peasants were also trained there and were most appreciative of the education they received. The school was highly professional and fostered positive relations with Jaslo’s Catholic population.
On the other hand, Jaslo received a certain notoriety before the war, because it supplied Poland’s universities with leaders of antisemitic organizations and instigators against the Jews. Coming back to Jaslo for their university vacations, these students often brought their like-minded friends; together they often pitted themselves not only against Jaslo’s Jews, but against the government authorities as well. From time to time, they instigated verbal confrontations as well as physical violence against the Jewish population. During the Second World War many of these former students joined the underground and a large number of them died at the hands of the Nazis.
I remember a conference in the district office that took place one Saturday a few years before the war, which was convened to discuss an urgent matter. I was invited to attend in my capacity as President of the Jewish Center. One of the district commissioners explained the reason for the meeting: in a few days Jaslo’s university students were to arrive for their Easter vacation and the district had received confidential information that they were preparing antisemitic activities against Jews. He stressed that the police authorities received clear instructions to put down any disorder and added that if any legal problems should arise, he would send the matters to the courts. He requested that Jaslo’s Jewish population maintain calm and refrain from any “provocations.” This last word met strong protests from Leib Werner, who, at eighty years old, was the oldest Jew present.
After he spoke, I took the floor and stated that the term “provocation” was often used as a pretext for antisemitic excesses and it was impossible to find in Jaslo any instance of this sort of behavior on the part of its Jewish population.
I added that I was gratified to hear that the district had adopted a new position with regard to these young Endeks. I noted that a few months previously, ten university students on their university break had walked outside the Jewish Center, screamed antisemitic slogans and broken a few windows while a Jewish group was in the midst of a meeting inside the building. A young Jew, not even 20 years of age, ran from the building and confronted the students. Addressing them very harshly, he ordered them not to move and told them that if they did, he would shoot. He was unarmed, but these cowards were suddenly afraid. They fell into line as ordered by the young man and accompanied him to the police headquarters. The police took down the information and sent it to the state prosecutor. Although an investigation was started, the authorities subsequently let the matter drop. Because the suspects were sons of local community leaders, no steps were taken against them.
After I finished speaking, a friend of mine, a lawyer and a Jew who maintained positive relations with the Catholic intelligentsia, declared that there was no need to discuss the matter because a meeting had taken place on this matter involving the court officials and some of Jaslo’s Jews in which the charges against the Polish students were waived. I answered that such an agreement would clearly be illegal, but that I was satisfied by today’s official statement.
A few days later the young people from the universities came back to Jaslo for their vacations and nothing happened
Besides minor incidents with this young group of students, which took place only infrequently, relations between Jews and non-Jews in Jaslo were largely positive before September 1, 1939. From that time onwards Jews had to apologize for their very existence. When the war was over, out of a total of six millions Jewish victims to Naziism, three million came from Poland. They all perished Al Kiddush Hashem, in sanctification of the Divine Name.
In 1934 a new principal of the girl’s high school arrived from northwest Poland. She was elderly, antisemitic, and altogether reprehensible. When referring to Jewish students, she used the term “foreigners.” When she arrived in Jaslo, the German language in the girl’s high school was taught by Rose Bleiberg, a Jewish woman from Brzezany. One of the principal’s first steps was to fire Ms. Bleiberg and replace her with a young German woman, Fraulein Loewenberg.
Ms. Loewenberg taught German from a handbook in which the poem of the Jewish poet, Heine, “Lorelei,” was attributed to “an unknown author.” This book had a detailed description of burning Jews alive in Germany a few hundred years before, as well as their torture and the torching of their belongings. She taught the girls to sing by heart the patriotic German hymn, “Die Wacht am Rhein.” The only thing that was missing from this performance was the obligatory “Heil Hitler” salute.
Ms. Loewenberg received visits from different “cousins” from Germany on a regular basis and every few months or so she would have a new fiancé. She and her guests always spent their time visiting different sites of the region. In fact, she and her friends were German spies. She was arrested by Polish authorities a few days before the beginning of the war.
Another spy was Alma von Dittel, the daughter of the Viennese physician and sister of two WWII German generals. She was a co-owner of an oil well near Krosno and had constant public disagreements with her former partner, Roth. The fact was that both Von Dittel and Roth were German spies came to light at the beginning of the war when Roth, in the uniform of a German major, paraded through the streets of Jaslo with his Polish mistress by his side.
One of their close friends was the superintendent of the Polish police, Pitulej. A few years before 1939, Pitulej retired and became president of a company which explored the possibility of finding coal mines near Jaslo. In reality the trio was preparing the groundwork for future German headquarters near the village of Wisniowa.
When Germans entered Lwow in 1941, the German authorities appointed Pitulej as commanding officer of the Ukrainian militia for the district of Lwow.
None of this threesome showed any antisemitic leanings before the war; on the contrary, they were very friendly toward Jews. Von Dittel was my client for 26 months, coming every few days for legal advice. She was vociferous in criticizing Hitler and the Nazi system. Only afterwards did I understand that this had all been a facade.
BEGINNING OF THE TRAGEDY
Those who lived in Poland on September 1, 1939, remember the surprise they felt at the war’s outbreak, even though they had all been expecting it. The total lack of readiness on the part of the Polish government and its failure to provide any meaningful instructions to its army and its civilians created sheer chaos. (This was the same government which, only two years previously, had signed an agreement with Hitler under which Poland would receive a portion of Czechoslovakia).
The Jews of Jaslo believed that the Polish army would be able to stem the German advance and, therefore, imagined that they would find safe havens by fleeing eastward. Because Jaslo’s Jews feared for the fate of their men, in the first days of war large numbers of Jewish men fled Jaslo toward the east. However, within a short period of time, the German army occupied those areas as well. Unable to escape, many of those men drifted back to Jaslo.
The Jews feared that life would be difficult under Nazi rule. None imagined, even in their worst fears, what terrible tragedies were about to unfold
The harvest of death started very early for Jaslo’s Jews. On September 10, 1939, a small group of Jews who had decided to return home were near the city of Sambor. In order to return to Jaslo, they had to pass by Sanok. It was still not clear at the time that because they were Jews, they were outside the law’s protection. Coming back on horse-drawn carriages near Sanok, they were asked by the Germans to disembark from their carriages. When they complied, they were killed on the spot. These were Jaslo’s first victims. Among those killed were:
► Meilech Krischer;
► his brother Elimelech;
► Mr. Sommer (husband of Regina Margulies).
After the first set of killings, others swiftly followed. Again in the area around Sanok, a few young men were returning to Jaslo on foot. They were stopped by German soldiers and were asked to empty their pockets. It is impossible to confirm the following details, but it appears that one of the men possessed a small piece of paper showing a portrait of a swine, and that when the paper was opened, inside was a caricature of Hitler. Without asking any questions, the soldiers killed
► the two sons of the restaurant owner, Max Koegl;
► two brothers, university students, by the name of Leiser.
Also near Sanok a Jew from Poland, possibly by the name of Schulman, was stopped on his way back to Jaslo. German soldiers shot his two sons in his presence. Then they threw the father off a cliff. He miraculously survived, but returned to Jaslo, shattered physically and emotionally. Later, he moved to Lwow when it was under Russian occupation.
Also, among the war’s first victims were:
► Dr. Spirer, a lawyer, who left Jaslo before the start of the war for his hometown in eastern Poland. (It seems that it was Kopyczyniec.) He was killed by German bombs in the very first days of the war. His family was subsequently killed by the Nazis;
► Mr. Margulies, an engineer, who, on his way to Lwow, had a heart attack and passed away.
THE DESTRUCTION OF JASLO’S SYNAGOGUE
Just a few days after the start of the war, on Friday, September 15, 1939, the Germans attempted to set fire to Jaslo’s beautiful synagogue. The Polish authorities were not yet familiar with Nazi methods and immediately sent their fire fighters to the scene. The fire fighters succeeded in extinguishing the blaze.
Two days later the Germans ordered all the Jews to assemble at the marketplace. There it was announced that some Jews had set fire to the synagogue and had attempted to place the blame on the Germans. They requested that the Jews responsible come forward. Of course, no one did.
Five days later the Nazis ordered Jaslo’s fire fighters to burn the synagogue to the ground. This order was carefully carried out. The fire fighters set the blaze and then waited until the synagogue had been entirely consumed by flames.
The pride of Jaslo’s Jewish community, its imposing synagogue, was in ruins. When I returned to Jaslo toward the end of September, all that was left of this once majestic structure were its foundation and a pile of rubble. They stood in silent testimony against the barbarians who had ravaged it.
RANSOM OF JASLO’S JEWISH LEADERS
Two days before Yom Kippur on September 20, the Nazis put up posters informing Jaslo’s Jewish population that they had three days’ time to hand over 40,000 zlotys to the German authorities. For the Jews of Jaslo, the day of Atonement had arrived too soon.
To ensure that their demands would be met, German soldiers entered the houses of Jaslo’s most respected Jews and held them as hostages. One hundred and fifty were incarcerated in one prison cell. When this prison was built in Austrian times, it was built for seven prisoners per cell. In inter-war Poland, the government had enlarged the number to fourteen or fifteen inmates per cell. But under Nazi rule, there were now ten times that number. The prisoners could hardly breathe. The oldest one was the 86-year-old Mr. Leib Werner. The youngest one was Dr. Abraham Menasse who was then 57 years old.
While the Jewish leaders were being held in prison, the Jewish community did everything they could to collect the ransom. Everyone gave as much as they could. The majority who gave were Jewish women, since many Jewish men were out of town, in hiding, or under arrest. Mrs. Dab, the widow of Edmund Dab, gave a particularly large donation.
In their attempts to raise the money, some of the Jewish collectors resorted to threats. Two young men came to my wife to collect money. One was an active communist before the war and the second was unknown to her. They asked her to donate a large sum amount of money. When my wife said that she didn’t have that amount on her, one of them answered: “We know well where your husband is hiding. When we go with the Gestapo, you will find the money we’re after.” Our Catholic friend, Mrs. Kosiba, happened to be there and scolded them for their conduct. They accepted a few hundred zlotys and left.
In the end the ransom was paid and the hostages were released on September 25.
OUTSIDE THE BOUNDARIES OF THE LAW
From the window of my apartment, which was just opposite the municipal park and the court building, I saw the following: A Jew was leaving the courthouse. Behind him walked a German policeman. A few seconds later the policeman fired twice. The Jew fell dead on the sidewalk. The policeman passed by him as if nothing had occurred.
I learned later that this policeman had brought the Jew to trial on criminal charges stemming from an event near Krosno. The Jew was found innocent. The verdict was not to the policeman’s liking, so he shot him dead.
This vile deed was possible only because the killing of a Jew carried with it no legal consequences. Under Nazi rule Jews were regarded as outside the boundaries of the law and, therefore, beyond its protection.
In the first few days of October 1939, a young Jew of about 17 by the name of Janek Peller was sitting on a bench in the park. He was a tall and handsome lad. A few members of the Gestapo were passing by and decided to beat him up. He passed away a few days later as a result of his injuries.
CATHOLIC FRIENDS AND CLIENTS
While we were in Jaslo, our gentile friend Mrs. Helena Kosiba provided us with food. My former client, Schmidt, of German descent, came a few times and gave us gifts of canned food and marmalade.
When the Germans reopened the tax office and requested payment for all income taxes in the same amounts as in the year before the occupation, my wife went to the tax office whose manager was the former tax inspector in Jaslo; his assistant was a man named Mazur. They received my wife very warmly and very courteously. She explained to them that I was not working and asked for a postponement. They expressed their sorrow at our situation and told her not to worry about the notice. They added that my wife should let them know if we ever needed their advice or their help. Both of them survived the war and passed away in the late 1940s.
Just a short time before the war, I obtained a very good settlement for two sisters by the name of Kotulakow for about 2,000 zlotys. I immediately secured this by posting a lien on the property. In October one of the sisters came to me, asking me for her the lien. I told her that the document was not in my possession; I had registered it with the court. She responded that next time she would come with a member of the Gestapo and that when she did, I would swiftly retrieve it. Before the war, Kotulakow was a maid in a Jewish household and did very well for herself. But she quickly understood that now it was possible to play hardball with the Jews.
A second client of mine, Mrs. Kaminska, then in her forties, was a well-to-do lady. She owned her own house and a piece of land which she farmed. Her late husband had been a post office employee. In the course of his duties, he had defrauded the Post Office of 1,000 zlotys, falsified the signature of his wife on payment notes for another few thousand zlotys, and later committed suicide. After a number of meetings with the Post Office director, she promised to pay restitution for the amounts owed the government over an extended period. She also had a court case with regard to the promissory notes which her husband had signed in her name. I won these cases for her and succeeded in obtaining reimbursement for all our legal costs. In addition I was able to secure for her a pension as a widow of a government employee. As a result, before the start of the war, she had publicly declared her lifetime gratitude for my services.
In the middle of October, while I was still in hiding, Mrs. Kaminska came to my wife and asked her for a large loan. My wife refused, stating that because I was not in Jaslo, she didn’t have cash on her. Mrs. Kaminska answered that she knew that I was in Jaslo, because Mrs. Wagschal told her so. (I had in fact slept one night at the Wagschals’ home). She threatened to go to the Gestapo unless the money was forthcoming. This was clearly blackmail for, had the Gestapo known of my whereabouts, I would have been arrested. In addition to my position within the Jewish community, I was an outspoken critic of Hitler and had publicly spoken out against the Nazi dictator on numerous occasions the last in mid-August, just a few weeks before.
THE GERM OF NAZIISM SPREADS
The germ of Naziism swiftly infected the lowest elements of the population and soon antisemitic behavior became a daily fact of life. German soldiers, with a few local collaborators, would walk to Jewish stores and steal goods at will. Mrs. Kalb’s fabric store and Mr. David Berger’s pastry shop were completely looted. Those responsible were generally German soldiers in transit. When the deed was done, they divided their loot with their collaborators. In the meantime the Gestapo entered private dwellings at will and plundered the Jews’ belongings.
Some Jews placed their hope in the Soviet Army. In accordance with Stalin’s agreement with Hitler, the Soviet Army took over eastern Poland. A friend of ours, one of the daughters of Lipe Propper, visited us every day. She told us that local communists had a small radio receiver and had heard that the Soviet Army would not only reach Jaslo, but go as far as Nowy Sacz. I did not share these expectations. In October 1939 the Soviet Army stopped fifty miles from Jaslo.
A VISIT BY GERMAN SOLDIERS TO OUR HOME
One day in the middle of October, we heard someone ringing our doorbell. My wife opened the door; there stood a German captain who told her that he had been authorized to sleep in our home with a few other officers. My wife told him that, unfortunately, we didn’t have much space in our apartment. However, she pointed out that just across the hall, there was my empty office, empty, she explained, because I was out of town. The captain went to inspect my office. He was very satisfied with the arrangement and told my wife that instead of a few officers, he would bring a detail of soldiers.
When I heard the news, I went to my office and went over it with a fine-toothed comb. The office contained three large rooms and also a kitchen. When I had left Jaslo on September 1, I had asked my employees to clean and organize the office during my absence. I had not entered my office since then. When I opened the door, I could see that my employees had worked on one part of the office and had placed unnecessary files in the kitchen.
In the kitchen I noticed a number of papers and a big pile of newspapers which had been placed in a large wooden box. I opened the box and saw that it contained anti-Nazi literature, including copies of Gerechtigkeit [Justice], a magazine in German and Polish, edited by Irena Harand.
I immediately realized what would happen to all of us if the soldiers should discover the box’s contents. During the next few hours, I placed in the kitchen stove writings that meant so very much to me and burnt them all. The irony was that the next morning the German soldiers thanked my wife not only for the sleeping accommodations, but for the fact that the apartment had been so well heated!
After discussions with my wife, we decided that it would be hazardous for me to stay in Jaslo any longer. Accordingly, on October 21, 1939, I left Jaslo with my fifteen-year-old son. A few days later, my wife followed along with our eighteen-year-old daughter. We left for Lwow, which was then under Soviet occupation.
THE CREATION OF THE JEWISH GHETTO AND THE RISE OF THE JUDENRAT
Soon after my departure, the Germans compelled Jews to wear a white armband with a blue Star of David. They also organized a Judenrat [Jewish council]. This was followed by an order compelling Jews to leave their homes and apartments and move to a district called Targowice, which was then the worst area in Jaslo. It was soon transformed into the town’s Jewish district and then the town’s ghetto.
The Jews were under tremendous stress. Their possessions were taken from them and killings of Jews became a daily occurrence. While the Jews were being reduced to poverty, some members of the Judenrat enriched themselves at their co-religionists’ expense. The man who became the head of Jaslo’s Judenrat was unknown and very poor before the war. As the President of the Judenrat, he lived a charmed life. While Jews went hungry, he had big receptions at his home. A number of other members of the Judenrat acted similarly. One of them had been a law clerk with a very nice wife, but upon being made a member of the Judenrat, he took himself a mistress, giving her expensive fur coats and many other gifts.
A minority of the Judenrat’s members had decent values; unfortunately, however, they lacked power. One of them was a fine young man, Schild, who had been a high school teacher of the Jewish religion.
I am writing about the Jaslo Judenrat in sorrow; these are painful facts, but I feel obliged to record this in the name of the historical truth that this manuscript is supposed to serve. I omit the names of those members who acted wrongly because they have already met with God’s justice -- all the members of Jaslo’s Judenrat are now dead.
My family and I returned to Jaslo from Brzezany during the Christmas of 1941. We arrived with the help of Jan and Helena Kosiba. When we arrived, we were hidden by the Kosibas in their hotel. After a few days, we realized how dangerous it would be for the Kosibas, and for us, if we stayed any longer. We moved under the cover of darkness to the ghetto to the apartment of my wife’s uncle Chune Rubel. The next day we attempted to register at the Judenrat, but were refused. The Judenrat knew by then that we were back and staying with the Rubels. A few days later a new regulation was announced: anyone housing non-registered Jews would be killed together with those who were unregistered. Every day the Judenrat police were entering apartments to check on the inhabitants. We realized that we could not continue to remain in the ghetto.
Professor Kazimierz Breitmeier, his wife, Alfreda, a girl school principal, and professor Jozef Mordawski and his wife gave us shelter outside the ghetto walls despite the fact that had they been discovered, they would have perished along with us. It was very painful for us to expose them to such danger, but in these terrible times, despite the vastness of our physical world, it was difficult for Jews to find a place to hide. My wife and I stayed in the apartment of the Breitmeiers. Next to their bedroom, one room was occupied by a German police officer. My son and daughter stayed with the Mordawskis. Next to the room where they slept, another German police officer was stationed. However, we were lucky and so were our faithful friends.
During this entire period of time our devoted friend Helena Kosiba supplied us with large quantities of food. When we received false identification cards, we were able to leave Jaslo with her help.
After our liberation, we were told that my dear school colleague and friend, Professor Kazimierz Breitmeier, had passed away during the war and the only son of this fine couple, a promising twenty-six-year-old geographer, had perished in Auschwitz.
THE JEWS RETURN FROM EASTERN POLAND
Less than two years after the start of the war, Germany attacked Russia and soon occupied the western section of Poland, which had been under Soviet rule. In October 1941, the Nazi government of occupied Galicia permitted the return of Polish refugees to their hometowns in eastern Poland. To effectuate their return, these refugees had to obtain special authorizations. When they sought to obtain these authorizations, they soon realized that none could be obtained without substantial bribes. Once they had bribed the Nazi officials, the refugees next had to pay small fortunes to the German drivers who arrived with their empty trucks from the eastern front. These transactions took place with the full knowledge of the Gestapo, which chose, in this case, to look the other way. However, quite often at the last moment, just before the trucks were to depart, the Gestapo and the German police would arrive. Under the pretext of saying that they had to inspect the refugees belongings, they would steal the refugees’ money and jewelry.
The Nazis never failed to grasp any opportunity to blackmail, steal and rob whenever the opportunity arose. Both military authorities and civil authorities tried to outdo each other in this regard. There was a small minority of Germans in occupied Poland who did not agree with what was going on, but their voices were not heard.
DR. MARIA MENASSE ZUCKER
When the German army entered into Jaslo, Dr. Maria Menasse Zucker, a Jew, and Dr. Ziemnowicz, a Catholic, were on duty in the local hospital. The Germans permitted Dr. Zucker to remain at her home outside the ghetto on account of her outstanding work treating wounded German soldiers while she was on duty in Jaslo’s hospital. Later on, from time to time, she would meet with German officials in her home. Her practice continued as it had before the war.
Her husband, Dr. Emanuel Zucker, also a physician, left Jaslo in early September 1939 and during the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland he lived in Przemyslany and later in Lwow, where he worked for the mental health institute in Kulparkow. As soon as he heard that he could return to Jaslo, he obtained authorization to return. Upon his arrival in Jaslo, the Judenrat refused to register him. He was forced to go to the town of Krosno which was approximately 15 miles away. There he was officially registered and given a document from the Krosno Judenrat authorizing him to have temporary residence in Jaslo. Upon his return to Jaslo, he was immediately arrested.
Dr. Maria Menasse Zucker was an eternal optimist. In October 1939 when we were ready to leave Jaslo, she tried to persuade my wife that there was no reason to flee and that we should remain. She also offered to help us should the need arise. Despite her assurances, we left. In this particular situation, her optimism proved to be unjustified.
Trusting in her good relations with the German authorities, she believed that she would have enough influence to have her husband released. In January 1942 she received a visit from a member of the Gestapo whose name, it seems, was Matus. She begged him to have her husband released. In pleading for her husband, she made the unfortunate comment that in any case, the war was unnecessary and nobody knew what the end would be; perhaps one day she could help him if he ever needed it.
Matus went straight to the German mayor, who had her arrested. She was taken to the Jewish cemetery and executed. The cemetery watchman who witnessed this said later that before she was killed, she was screaming at her killers, calling them scum and prophesying that they would lose the war.
Following this scene, two members of the Gestapo went to her home, arrested her two daughters, Renata (age 21) and Roma (age 19), ordered them to get into the Gestapo car and drove toward Nieglowice. A few minutes later, near the wood mill of Goldfluss, the officers stopped the car, claiming they had a problem with the engine. They asked the girls to go behind the car and to push it. When the girls complied, one of the officers shot them in the back of their heads. The officers then dumped their bodies into a nearby ditch. One died immediately; the second was wounded severely, but alive. She begged passers-by to put her out of her misery; nobody obliged. A few hours later, she passed away.
THE DETERIORATION IN THE STATUS OF THE JEWS
Until December 20, 1941, life in the Jewish district was severe, but not impossible, for its inhabitants. Jews lived in the district and were allowed during the day to go out and to purchase food from the outside. However, the situation sharply deteriorated right before Christmas with the announcement by the German authorities that the Jewish district in Jaslo was now a closed ghetto.
The first taste of things to come was a tragedy involving a young man by the name of Lambik, who had attempted to leave the ghetto to buy bread. He was arrested and incarcerated in the City Hall jail. After Christmas, he was released. As soon as he left the building, a local policeman shot him in the back.
A few days after Christmas, Germans gave an order that all fur coats owned by Jews were to be turned in for the purpose of supplying German soldiers at the front. Those who failed to turn over their coats paid with their lives. In one such case, the Germans started a search in one of the Jewish households. Under the mattresses, they discovered two fur coats. The Jewish family was killed on the spot. That was the Nazi war code. Before the war criminals had to pay for their crimes; during the war, the criminals imposed the fines and penalties.
A WAVE OF TERROR ENGULFS JASLO’S JEWS
Worse was yet to come. A wave of pogroms started in Jaslo, connected with the return of Jews from eastern Poland. The Nazis had given permission for those Jews who had fled to eastern Poland to return to their domiciles in the west. When the refugees arrived, they met their deaths. In one day, the Germans took 56 Jews who had returned from eastern Poland to the prison courtyard and had them executed. Among them was Dr. Zucker, the husband of Dr. Maria Menasse Zucker.
There seemed to be no limit to the killings. Among the victims that day were the lawyer Smulowicz and his wife, Rose Heppert, who was also a lawyer and originally from Krakow. Before the war they lived in Brzostek. At the beginning of the war, they moved to Drohobycze. In December 1941 they came back to Jaslo where Dr. Smulowicz’s parents lived. His wife was in the late days of her pregnancy at the time of her execution. The Gestapo told her that she could go free on account of her pregnancy; she refused, saying that she would accept only if her husband were freed as well. As a result, they both met their death on the same day. In the Song of Songs, it is written, “Ki Aza Kamavet Ahavah.” Love is stronger than death. Rose Heppert Smulowicz was a hero whose death revealed the truth of that Biblical verse.
Another victim who perished that day was Safier, a businessman, who had just arrived from Brzezany.
N. Cyna and Samuel Kinsler came back to Jaslo during this period. Quickly realizing their precarious situation, they paid a high sum to rent a car to take them to another location. The Gestapo followed them. Near Rymanow they caught up with them, brought them back to Jaslo, and had them executed.
The wife of Adolf Margulies had gone eastward and then came back west, returning to Bochnia. She, too, was killed upon her arrival.
In 1937, a pharmacist named Mensch moved to Jaslo from Turka on Stryj. During the war his mother-in-law, Mrs. Dawidowa, traveled from eastern Poland and stayed with them in Jaslo. While Mr. Mensch was not home, a member of the Gestapo came to arrest Mrs. Dawidowa. Mr. Mensch’s wife and her daughter tried to prevent the arrest. When it was clear that their efforts were of no avail, they decided to accompany Mrs. Dawidowa to the Gestapo headquarters. All three of them were killed.
Dr. Berger moved from Nowy Sacz to Jaslo, where he got married. He told me that in October 1939, a number of German soldiers asked him whether there might be a means to contract pneumonia or develop kidney stones, gall stones, and so on, so that they could avoid military service. He examined them without giving them advice.
During the war, Dr. Berger was in Jaslo and one the board of Jewish physicians for the Judenrat. One afternoon in 1942, he was walking with two Jewish policemen on a bridge leading to Ulaszowice. There they were met by two German officers who ordered them to return to Jaslo. The officers took Dr. Berger with them. After a while, they stopped in a restaurant. The officers sat for dinner and ordered Dr. Berger to sit under the table. All through dinner, they kicked him with their boots. After they were tired of this game and filled with food, they told him to get up. He was badly injured and had lost an eye. Then they took him outside and killed him.
Beati Mortui: Blessed are the dead. This is a Catholic, not a Jewish hymn, yet during this period many Jews believed that the dead were more fortunate than the living.
The following Jews died through natural causes:
► the lawyer Dr. Abraham Kornhauser, the most senior of Jewish lawyers and Zionists in Jaslo and, for many years, a member of city council;
► Szymon Schauder;
► Judge Filip Wachtel and his wife. Judge Wachtel, in addition to his judicial duties, was, prior to the war, the owner of a building in which the tax office was located. Once well-to-do, he passed away from hunger and exhaustion.
Near Jaslo was the Szebnie concentration camp where many of Jaslo’s Jews were exterminated. In addition to Szebnie, some Jews were taken to the surrounding villages of Kolaczyce and Bierowka where they were put to death by firing squads. The deportations became more and more frequent. In one of these transports was the very respected elderly gentleman Mendel Meller. Just before he was forced to enter the truck that would take them to their deaths, he stood up and spoke to the crowd. He waved goodbye. A warm smile appeared on his face and he joyfully said: “Jews, be still! The future will be good. Don’t be afraid.” This was an act of real heroism.
INFORMERS AND HEROES
In 1943 the remnants of Jaslo’s Jewish population were taken to the death camps, but Jaslo’s rabbi was in a secure hiding place with his family. A citizen of Jaslo was able to find out where the rabbi was hidden and went to the German authorities with this information. The Germans apprehended the rabbi and his family who were thin and weak from hunger. The rabbi and his family were marched outside the city and were killed
Maryla Margulies was the sister of Mrs. Kaczkowski, wife of a well-known lawyer. At the beginning of the war, she left Jaslo and fled to Brzezany. In Brzezany she passed herself off as a Catholic and had papers to that effect. She was also denounced by an informer and killed.
Non-Jews were also frequent victims of denunciation and there were many informers during the war in Poland. After the war Solomon Schmidt from Frystak told me that in Januszkowice, not far from Jaslo, a farmer kept a dozen Jews hidden in his cellar. One day his neighbor was arrested for illegally slaughtering a pig. On his way to Jaslo, he told the German police: “What do you want from me? If you free me, I will show you something that will be worth your while.” They accepted his offer. He went to his neighbor’s property and revealed where the Jews were hidden. The Jews were killed along with the farmer who had tried to save them. During those days, many Cains roamed the earth.
Mrs. Bogdanowicz, the daughter of a very respected carpenter, Wronski, and the wife of an assistant prosecutor, hid Miss Diller, her friend from school days, in her apartment. She was accused of hiding a Jew in her home and was subsequently killed. Miss Diller was able to escape and survived the war.
Henryk Bermer was a Jewish bookstore owner. He left Jaslo at the beginning of the war with his son. His son returned to Jaslo where he was hidden by Professor Krol. The young man was discovered and executed. Professor Krol and one member of his wife’s family (Dutkiewicz) were arrested. After a lengthy interrogation, they were released. Before the young man’s death, the Nazis confiscated his notebook. In it he had written the names of several Catholics from Jaslo with whom he was in contact. The Gestapo interrogated them all.
The Madejewskis were a highly cultured family and great patriots. They were involved in a major escape of Polish prisoners held by the Nazis. During the change of the night shift of the prison guards, four men dressed in German officer uniforms entered the prison and declared that they had orders to transfer ninety prisoners, the majority of them accused of political crimes. But instead of being transferred to another prison, all ninety men were liberated. The Germans were unable to determine the identity of these Polish heros responsible for this daring escape. A few weeks later, the engineer Madejewski along with his wife and two sons were arrested for the crime and executed. They had been denounced by their Polish washer woman. They never imagined that she would denounce them.
During these difficult times, only a few Catholics helped save Jews. One of them was Bagan, a history professor with the look of a Roman senator. He was a Ukrainian originally from Stryj and he taught in both of Jaslo’s high schools and was very highly regarded. Another one was a deputy prison superintendent who came from Poznan. He was always smiling and always willing to help those in need. He spoke German better than Polish and had a very interesting background. He was a student of Theology, but had run away from the seminary just before being ordained. He then joined the army, where he became a Polish officer. Later, he became a deputy superintendent of Jaslo’s prison. He was always a great friend of the Jews.
THE FATE OF JEWS FROM JASLO WHO LEFT THE CITY
Jews who Escaped to Lwow
During the war a number of Jews from Jaslo took residence in Lwow.
At the end of 1939, Golda Kahane Rubel, wife of Leon, passed away in Lwow. Before moving to Jaslo, she and her husband had lived for a number of years in Rzeszow. She was very well- known for her philanthropic work within the community.
Mrs. Kaczkowski, the wife of a lawyer from Jaslo, and the attorney Klinghoffer also passed away owing to natural causes.
The son and daughter of Michal Goldfluss, the wood mill owner, illegally traveled from time to time from Lwow to Jaslo, while spending the majority of their time in Lwow. Unfortunately, they were trapped in Jaslo and were killed with their parents.
In June 1940 while they were still in control of eastern Poland, Soviet authorities arrested and transported Poles from western Poland to Siberia, including some Jews from Jaslo. Following these deportations, life stabilized for the Jews in Lwow. Those who remained considered themselves lucky for not being deported to Siberia under the Soviets. When the Germans arrived in Lwow on June 29, 1941, these Jews realized how terribly mistaken they were.
Robert Rubel’s brother, Leon Rubel, was in Lwow during the Soviet occupation. Leon, his married daughter Helena, and her eight-year-old son had been scheduled by the Soviets to be deported to Siberia, but at the last minute, Leon’s son Maurycy had them released. They escaped Siberia only to die in Lwow’s ghetto. Before his death, Leon’s grandson had shown much promise.
Leon Rubel’s daughter, Franciszka, was married to the young surgeon Dr. Frederick Gross. They, along with Dr. Gross’ mother, Celina, nee Grabschrift, were also ordered to be deported to Siberia. At the last moment Franciszka gave their NKVD escort a gold watch, and he released them from the transport. They subsequently met their deaths at the hands of the Nazis.
Many Jews were killed by Ukrainians a few days after the German arrival. Among those killed was Leszek Menasse, the son of the lawyer, Dr. Abraham Menasse.
The last chairman of the Jewish Kahal prior to September 1939 was Israel Silberstein, a young man who was from Krakow before moving to Jaslo. He was a successful businessman whose tremendous energy was channeled into Jewish and Zionist causes. For the Jews of Jaslo, he was a real role model. He met his death in Lwow with his wife and two children.
Among those who perished during this time were the following:
► Benjamin Kramer, a well-known industrialist, along with his wife;
► Dr. Karp, son-in-law of Benjamin Kramer, along with his wife and son;
► Dr. Gotlieb;
► Dr. Oberlender;
► The engineer Oczered, his wife and son;
► Leon Rubel’s son Maurycy who worked as a factory manager in the Ukraine. He died of typhoid. His wife, Malwina, was killed by the Germans in Lwow.
Jews who were Deported to Siberia
As mentioned above Soviet authorities transported many Poles from Western Poland to Siberia in the summer of 1940. Many of the deportees survived, living in Siberia or other Soviet regions. Many perished there, too. The slogan there was: “Get used to it or die!” I do not have a complete list of those who perished in the Soviet Union. I know only some of their names. Among them was the son of the lawyer Dr. Gotlieb, who passed away from hunger, and Herman Grabschrift, a dentist, who passed away from typhoid. Also among the many people who perished were:
► Mrs. Welfeld, wife of attorney Welfeld;
► the lawyer, Dr. Naftali Menasse, and his son;
► Jarem Schwarzman, my law clerk for many years, and later a bank employee;
► Henryk Schauder, lawyer;
► Leopold Schochet, co-owner of a printing company;
► Gustaw Kaczkowski;
► two brothers named Springer;
► the lawyer, Dr. Zuckerman, who was the son-in-law of Henryk Rubel. Before the war he lived in Bochnia. In 1939, he went to eastern Poland and was deported by the Soviets to Siberia, where he passed away.
Mr. Appel, an attorney, was taken to Siberia with his parents. When the Soviet authorities permitted Polish exiles to return, he was not among those who made it back. For unknown reason, he was in prison. Then again, in those days it did not take very much to wind up in a communist prison.
Jews who Perished Elsewhere
In Brzezany on October 1, 1941, a large number of Jewish professionals and businesspeople were killed. Among them were a number of Jaslo’s Jews, including:
► Abraham Einhorn;
► Rachmil Tewel;
► Markus Morgenstern.
During the same period, a very well-known and pious Rabbi from Jaslo, known as the Dukler Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Halpern, was also killed. He had left Jaslo at the very beginning of the war and stayed in Brzezany. Later he moved to Kozowa. He was burned alive, together with a dozen members of his family.
Colonel Rembski moved from Jaslo to Kolomyja at the beginning of the war. I knew him from his days as a young lieutenant of the Austrian army. When I met him for the first time, he was stationed in Dembica with his unit; his name was then Aszkenazy. I met him again many years later. By that time, he had changed his name from the Jewish name Aszkenazy to the Polish Rembski and was now a commanding officer of the PKU. I do not know whether he converted to Catholicism. He died of starvation in Kolomyja’s Jewish hospital.
The lawyer Stanislaw Horowitz, son-in-law of the attorney Kaczkowski, was killed in Stanislaw.
Dr. Abraham Menasse’s wife was killed with her daughter in Kolomyja.
Many Jaslo Jews were killed in Kolomyja, including Robert Rubel, the well-known philanthropist, his wife, Karolina Rubel, nee Hirsch, and Robert’s sister, Gina Bezner nee Rubel, and her daughter Fryderyka Bezner. Leon Rubel, Robert’s son, was killed with his wife in Sambor Robert Rubel’s brother Henryk and Henryk’s wife were killed in Stryj.
Fryderyka Murgulies, nee Hirsch, wife of Adolf, was in Lwow until the end of 1941 when she returned to Bochnia. She was killed with her mother, the wife of a physician.
The son of Markus Karpf, Michal Karpf, was a chemist and owner of a drugstore in Krakow. He was also killed by the Nazis.
Attorney Dr. Schnepf was killed in Truskawce.
The Tannenbaum family, with two children, and Mrs. Dornstrauch and her child were killed in Drohobycze.
Rosenbluth, with his wife and child, were apparently murdered in Stryj.
Niusia, the daughter of Henryk Rubel, was married to Karp and before the war lived in Vienna. She was killed in one of the concentration camps.
The list of Jews from Jaslo who perished in the Holocaust is long and will never be complete. Nevertheless, I would like to provide two more names of Jewish victims from Jaslo.
Mr. Menasse was a Jew from Jaslo and an engineer. He worked for ten years as a representative of the Dutch government in Java before retiring in the mid 1930's to Vienna. After the Anschluss, he moved to Holland, but he was unable to escape the Nazis’ web. He was sent to Auschwitz with his wife and daughter where they perished.
A Jaslo physician, Dr. Langer, spent the war with his wife in Chelm. Chelm was liberated on 22 July 1944, but the Langer family did not survive for long. Four months after the liberation, they were killed by Polish peasants from the outlying area.
These are only a few of the many victims from Jaslo who perished. Unfortunately, there were many, many more.
THE FATE OF NON-JEWISH DESCENDANTS OF JEWS
The lawyer Jozef Schoenborn and his family met a tragic end. He was not Jewish, since his father was a Catholic and he confided in me that his mother had already converted to Catholicism before the wedding. Before and during the war, he very often helped Jews. He took a residence in Lwow during the war. From his features people assumed that he was Jewish. He had many problems with the Nazis. He was imprisoned and then released. A few weeks later, he was again arrested and tortured. His torturers broke him. Subsequently, he was sent to a mental institute in Kulparkow near Lwow, where he raved incessantly: Ich bin Jude ! [I am a Jew!]. He passed away shortly afterwards. Dr. Schoenborn’s wife was Catholic, but also assumed to be Jewish and was killed by the Nazis.
They had two daughters. The younger one, Zosia, was very beautiful and well educated. She always had a great affection for Jews. In 1945, following our liberation, she visited us and I told her that our daughter had just gotten engaged. Her first question was: “Is he Jewish?” When I replied that the fiancé was indeed a Jew, Zosia was overjoyed and exclaimed, “That’s great news!” She was killed two months later in Krakow in April 1945. She was working for a Jewish man who had returned to Krakow and was able to reclaim his family business. The two of them were returning from work in a horse-drawn carriage when they were attacked and killed by members of the Armia Krajowa dressed in Polish army uniforms.
Rose Rybak, nee Yeschiwa, was killed in Krakow in 1943 because of her Jewish origins. Her father was a senior official of the district Post Office in Bielsko. Her mother was a very well-known Zionist and philanthropist. Before the war she joined her daughter in Jaslo, where she was killed by the Nazis. Rose had a brother who was killed in 1919 in Pilsudksi’s legion.
Rose was a fine human being. She had converted to Catholicism to marry Mr. Rybak from Jaslo and suffered a lot of inner turmoil for her decision to renounce her Jewish faith. The last two days of our stay in Jaslo, in January 1942, we spent hidden in their apartment. On February 28, 1946, there was a mass funeral in Krakow for 30 Polish women who were killed on the same day by the Nazis. On one of the caskets was the name Rose Rybak. Her husband and two children were not in Krakow then. Large numbers of her husband’s family lived in Krakow and knew the date of this mass funeral. No one from her family was there to follow her casket. The only person to do so was a Jew -- me.
THE END OF THE JEWISH COMMUNITY AND THE DESTRUCTION OF JASLO
The final chapter of Jaslo’s Jewish population took place in the fall of 1943. The remnants of the city’s Jews, now weak and hungry, were paraded like cattle throughout the city on the way to the railroad station. There they were transported to the Rzeszow ghetto where they all perished.
The Soviet offensive reached Poland’s 1939 border in January 1944. We were liberated in Jaroslaw on July 21, 1944, and from there we moved to Rzeszow. There I worked for the provincial authority. In late September, I was sitting with Dr. Franciszek Jedlinski, a former lawyer and then head of the provincial authority, when we were informed that Jaslo was free. We decided then that we would go to Jaslo to help reestablish Polish rule. But the rumors were false; the Soviet offensive stopped just ten miles before Jaslo’s frontiers.
By that time, the Germans had ordered the entire population to leave Jaslo and started a methodical destruction of the city. The Germans established Stoerkomando headquarters in the village of Ulaczowice, specializing in demolition work. Members of this commando unit went from home to home, took out everything that was of value, and then put dynamite under the houses and blew them up. Whatever survived the force of the explosion was set on fire.
On January 12, 1945, the Soviets began their final offensive. On January 22, our home in Rzeszow began to shake. I heard the sounds of cannons and told my family that the katyushas had began their assault on Jaslo. It later turned out that I had been correct.
Three weeks later, in February 1945, I was in Jaslo in the company of an engineer. When I drove through the city, I wanted to cry at the sad sight before me. Jaslo lay in ruins. Walls, bricks and stones lay scattered everywhere. Three weeks after the liberation, many streets remained impassable and the houses were uninhabitable, skeletons of their former glory. The very beautiful building once owned by Robert Rubel had been demolished and its ruins lay upon the street along with many others.
Only a few homes survived. Surprisingly, two of them were homes of my friends, Mordawski and Breitmeier, who had sheltered us during the war. Henryk Rubel’s villa still stood, as did the building built by his father, Isaac Judah Rubel, which had housed the Talmud Torah. Also left standing was the house of Krzyzanowski, a notary in the city.
The city resembled a ghost town. The only living beings I encountered were a few former residents of Jaslo wandering homeless among the ruins, and some stray dogs. The courthouse, the prison, the city hall, and hundreds of buildings and homes no longer existed.
Not one Jew remained. The only Jews still in Jaslo found their eternal rest in their cemetery. Some tombstones remained, but the majority had been taken in 1940 to pave the city sidewalks. My brother, Herman Herzig, had been a tax inspector and was buried there in 1924 at the age of 39. On his tombstone was written: “He had a golden heart, which stopped beating, alas too soon.” As I walked through this dead city, these words came back to me.
The heart of the Jewish community which had once beaten so vibrantly had ceased forever.
THE WAR’S AFTERMATH
The war took its toll on the survivors. After the war, the following Jews from Jaslo died in Poland:
► Dr. Ezriel Kornmehl, a very able physician, who was sent to Siberia in 1940. He survived the war and opened his office in Wroclaw. A year and a half later, he passed away from a heart attack.
► The lawyer Dr. Fiszel Welfeld survived the war in Siberia, where he had been exiled. He passed away in Warsaw a few years after the end of the war.
► The lawyer Dr. Adolf Kaczkowski survived in Lwow. He passed away after the war in the town of Wisla in Silesia.
The story of the Jewish community of Jaslo is now closed as it is for tens of thousands of Jewish communities throughout Europe. The spark of Jewish life in Eastern Europe has been extinguished forever. The Jewish victims of this tragedy perished in terrible agony as a result of unspeakable horrors. Their deaths bring shame to our century. It is altogether shocking that the crimes of the recent past are gradually being forgotten and those who perpetrated these crimes roam free. This is a history written not with ink, but with the blood of a pained and wounded heart.
December 14, 1954.
A Note About the Author
Jakub O. Herzig was born in Austria and received his law degree from the University of Lwow in 1910. During World War I, he served in the Austrian Army, chiefly in the military court. From 1919 to 1939, he practiced law in Poland and was a well-known criminal lawyer and dedicated community leader.
Profoundly concerned with human rights, he was appalled at the rise of Hitler and the means he used to attain power. Early in 1939 he wrote a motion picture script against Hitler which was scheduled to begin production in the Fall. The events of September of that fateful year made it impossible.
He survived the Holocaust in Poland.
In 1946 he emigrated to Paris, France, and from there, in 1951, to Montreal, Canada. In Paris and Montreal he devoted his time entirely to writing. He wrote books, dramas, short stories and articles which appeared in French and Canadian newspapers and periodicals. Among his dramas and books were the following:
The Wrecked Life, Paris 1947
Nous ne somme pas des heros, Paris, 1947
With Honor, Paris, 1950
Macewot, Paris, 1949-1950
Jaslo, Montreal, 1954
My Wanderings in the War, Montreal, 1955
He found the writing of his memoirs of the war extremely exhausting, because, as he said, “It was written not with ink, but with my blood.” When he finished writing his memoirs, he sent them, together with Jaslo, to the Yad Vashem contest. He died shortly afterwards in 1956. One year after his death a letter arrived announcing he had received the award of “Special Distinction” for the two pieces he had submitted.
Jakub Herzig was a prominent defender of justice, a proud Jew and Zionist, and a true humanist. He wrote about those who had suffered and died during the Holocaust, in the hope that by commemorating their lives, he might prevent future wrongs.
Index of Names Found in Jaslo
Mr. Appel (22)
Aszkenazy (a.k.a. Rembski) (23)
Gina Rubel Bezner (2)
David Berger (13)
Dr. Berger (18)
Henryk Bermer (20)
Frederyka Bezner (23)
Gina Rubel Bezner (23)
Dr. Isaac Bezner (2)
Solomon Bezner (2)
Rose Bleiburg (7)
Kazmierz Breitmeier (15, 26)
N. Cyna (18)
Mrs. Edmund Dab (11)
Mrs. Dornstrauch (24)
Dukler Rebbe (Menahem Mendel Halpern) (23)
Celia Kreiger Dunaj (4)
Abraham Einhorn (23)
Michael Goldfuss (21)
Abraham Goldman (1-2)
Chaya Goldman (1)
Wolf Goldschlag (3, 4 n.1)
Dr. Gotlieb (22)
Celina Grabschift Gross (21)
Frederick Gross (21)
Franciszka Rubel Gross (21)
Menachem Mendel Halpern (23)
Rose Heppert (18)
Herman Herzig (26)
Stanislaw Horowitz (23)
Dr. Adolf Kaczkowski (26)
Mrs. Kaczkowski (19, 21)
Gustaw Kaczkowski (22)
Mrs. Kalb (13)
Dr. and Mrs. Karp (22)
Niusia Rubel Karp (24)
Markus Karpf (2, 23)
Michal Karpf (23)
Samuel Kinsler (18)
Max Koegel (9)
Dr. Abraham Kornhauser (3, 19, 21)
Dr. Ezriel Kornmehl (4, 26)
Jan and Helena Kosiba (11, 12, 14, 27 n. 16)
Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Kramer (22)
Elimelech Krischer (9)
Meilech Krischer (9)
Dr. Langer (24)
Madejewski family (20)
Federyka Hirsch Margulies (18, 23)
Maryla Margulies (19)
Meilech Meller (27)
Mendel Meller (19)
Mr. Menasse (24)
Dr. Abraham Menasse (10, 21)
Mrs. Abraham Menasse (23)
Leszek Menasse (21)
Dr. Naftali Menasse (22)
Jozef Mordawski (15, 26)
Markus Morgenstern (23)
Dr. Oberlender (22)
Mr. and Mrs. Oczered (22)
Lipe Propper (5, 27 n. 16)
Janek Peller (11)
Colonel Rembski (a.k.a. Aszkenazy) (23)
Rosenbluth family (24)
Anna Rubel (2)
Chaya Rubel (2)
Chune Rubel (14, 27 n. 16)
Franciszka Rubel (21)
Gina Rubel (2, 23)
Golda Kahane Rubel (21)
Helena Rubel (21)
Mr. and Mrs. Henryk Rubel (23, 24, 26)
Isaac Judah Rubel (1, 26)
Karolina Hirsch Rubel (23)
Leon Rubel (21)
Malwina Rubel (22)
Maurcy Rubel (21, 22)
Robert Rubel (23, 26)
Rose Yeschiwa Rybak (25)
Solomon Schmidt (19)
Henryk Schauder (22)
Szymon Schauder (19)
Dr. Schnepf (23)
Leopold Schochet (22)
Dr. Jozef Schoenborn (4, 24)
Zosia Schoenborn (24)
Jarem Schwarzman (22)
Israel Silberstein (22)
Rose Helpert Smulowicz (18)
Dr. Springer (22)
Dr. Herman Stein (a.k.a. Kaminski) (4)
Boguslaw Steinhaus (1)
Ch. Steinhaus (1)
Dr. Hugo Steinhaus (1, 4)
Ignacy Steinhaus (1)
Rachmil Tewel (23)
Filip Wachtel (4, 19)
Dr. Fiszel Welfeld (26)
Klementyna Welfeld (4)
Mrs. Welfeld (22)
Ignace Weiss (4)
Leib Werner (6, 10)
Solomon Wistreich (6)
Yeschiwa family (25)
Dr. Emmanuel Zucker (5, 16, 17, 18)
Dr. Maria Menasse Zucker (16)
Renata Zucker (16-17, 27 n.16)
Roma Zucker (16-17)
Dr. Zuckerman (22)