In the description of the Nazi wrought destruction in Poland, the various recollections, witnesses testimony and other documents relate the behavior of the Polish population during the Nazi murders of the Jews. Not only did the Poles behave in a passive manner toward the Nazi atrocities, but they were often active participants in the awful acts perpetrated against the Jews. Not only did they often serve as denouncers in towns and villages, pointing out the Jews to the Germans, but frequently handed over Jews who were hidden and actually participated in robbing Jews during "actions" and "resettlements", and ultimately becoming inheritors of the robbed goods and possessions.
Those who remember or know what the Poles did during the "honey times" at the creation of the independent Poland, after World War I, will not be surprised by the behavior of the Polish population, at least by its majority. When the Polish country took its first steps at the birth of the new "Zhetchpospolita", the Jews experienced pain and paid in blood at the creation of the new country.
This is not the place to discuss the wave of pogroms that took place in the years 1918-1919. Specific details, materials and documents are recorded in several publications. The classic work by the known activist of Poali-Zion. Leon Khazanovich, describes the facts, the documents, the pogroms and the excesses in 105 towns and villages in Poland in November-December 1918. [L. Khazanovich: The Jewish pogroms in November and December 1918. Acts and Documents. Stockholm, 1918.]
Two particularly horrible massacres carried out by the Polish military, the extermination In Lemberg of that time, and the shootings in Pinsk in Nisan of 1919 are described in special publications. [Joseph Bendoov: "The Lemberg Jewish Pogrom" (November 1918 - January 1919), Vienna. About Pinsk: Abraham-Asher Feinstein -"Story of a Catastrophe", Tel-Aviv, 1929.] Here we are discussing a second wave of anti-Jewish actions which came at the time of the communist invasion. At that time an anti-Jewish conspiracy developed in Poland. Circles of official military leaders, starting with orders from the general staff and down to the Polish underworld propagated a libel that Jews collaborated with Bolshevik "Revcoms", and that Jews spied for the Red Army, and shot at Polish military units, etc.
At that time in Poland there was already some Jewish representation in the form of the Jewish National Board, whose members were elected representatives in the Polish Seim (parliament). The National Board began to collect facts about the horrible actions; send their representatives to a series of places where pogroms or other misdeeds against Jews took place; published a series of materials; and brought into the Seim various presentations, etc.
The materials about this bloody period was published by the Jewish parliament faction in a series of issues where authentic facts were presented about the executions of hundreds in little towns. [Two articles under the name "Invasion by the Bolsheviks and the Jews" issued by the National Club of Jewish representatives in Parliament for the Temporary Jewish National Advisory Board. Both appeared in Warsaw in 1921.] In the first collection there was material about an urgent presentation, entered on September 1920 in the Polish parliament by Jewish deputies: Greenbaum, Farbstein, Hartglas and others about the politics of Jewish persecution led by the Polish government. The presentation tells about pogroms in tens of little towns and hundreds of robberies and destruction incidents that were carried out by the Polish military in cooperation with local Polish groups (official and civil).
Among the documents that were presented, two were from Vishkov. We present these documents here translated into Yiddish. Such publications are a rarity, therefore it is important that this chapter not be missed in the "Book of Vishkov". The first document describes the protocol delivered by Joseph Gravitzky who was sent by the Jewish deputies group in the Polish parliament to Vishkov, in order to establish exactly what happened. The second document is a declaration obtained from some of the arrested Jews.
Actually I bring here three declarations attached to the documents which
I succeeded in obtaining from one of the three Jews that signed document
On the 11th of this month, in the afternoon, the Bolshevik military came into Vishkov. The military behaved reasonably peacefully. The Bolshevik commissar created a group of police to keep order in town. The police consisted of Christians and Jews. On the evening of the 18th of this month the police left town as a result of the Polish counteroffensive. Before leaving town the Bolshevik soldiers, particularly the rear guard (the group withdrawing last), robbed the stores and houses, particularly those belonging to Jews.
The same evening when the Polish military moved in, there were already occasional cases of robbery. The following morning words spread among the military by the Polish population that shots were fired from Jewish homes at Polish military personnel. Based on these declarations all inhabitants of the Reichman house were taken out to be shot.
Chaim-David Goldwasser, 60 years old, his wife and
Leo Zrenchi, 32 years old.
Samual-Leo Holland, 26 years old, with his wife and children. Haikal Hiller, 40 years old, with his wife.
Abraham Reichman, 65 years old, with his wife.
Moishe Barak, 32 years old, with his wife.
Eisik-Meyer Krishtol, 50 years old, with his wife.
Ytzkhak-Hersh Bialistok (the blind), 60 years old, and his wife. And other inhabitants of the house.
All above mentioned were lined up in the yard, and were told that they are to be shot. The entire house was searched and money, clothing, and other valuables were taken. Thanks to a declaration by Polish neighbors that the rumors about shots having been fired from windows of this house have not been confirmed, the people were released.
Before the Bolsheviks left the town of Vishkov, several hundred Jews who feared possible war action, left town on the 17th of the month for Ostrov. Two days after their arrival in Ostrov, Polish soldiers entered the town. The Vishkov Jews turned to the military commander of Ostrov and the local mayor with a request for travel documents to Vishkov. They also asked for a police escort. They were afraid to go by themselves because the roads were full of military convoys. The mayor assigned to them 4 policemen, for which they paid 7300 marks.
Tuesday, the 24th in the morning they arrived in Vishkov. In the village Komisarka (7 miles from Vishkov) the Vishkov police already waited for them and together with the Ostrov policemen accompanied them into town. The Jews were brought into the firemen's hall. Immediately, a civilian Pole by the name of Liskevich showed up and declared that they will be shot because they are Bolsheviks. One half hour later they were transferred from the firemen's hall to the so called "senators garden".
In the garden were already assembled several hundred Polish inhabitants of the town, actually the worst element, mostly young. About 200 Jews were lined up four in a row and terribly beaten in the process. The police requested that the youths find Bolsheviks among the Jews, and at the same time they called the town's Christian citizens to bring forth their grievances against the Jewish Bolsheviks, among whom there were also old people.
Those identified as Bolsheviks were taken out of formation and beaten with whips, sticks and wires to which they attached stones, as well as with rifle butts.
From the magistrate's office were brought tables. At one table sat down the secretary of the regional court, Voevudski and two senior military officers. From the point where the Jews were lined up to the tables were stationed two rows of civilian Poles and soldiers. Every Jew who passed through between the rows of men to the table was beaten harshly from both sides with sticks, wires, whips, rifle butts and even with bayonets. Anyone who approached a table was searched, undressed and left wearing a shirt only. During the searches everything was taken from the Jews and they were asked to get up on a table. While standing on a table they were asked to shout "long live Poland, and death to the rabbi". They also had to ask the crowd: "does anyone have a request? Have I ever done anyone an evil deed?".
Meanwhile they were beaten without interruption. Naturally, some people from the crowd would speak up and say that someone was a Bolshevik or that he harmed someone. Later the Jew was thrown off the table in such a way that the table landed on him, making it impossible to get up. When they ultimately got up, they had to return through the lineup and the beating was repeated once again. During the beatings some Jews lost their consciousness.
During my visit I personally saw Jews with bleeding wounds. I also saw wounded women who were beaten when they tried to approach their brothers or fathers.
The action lasted from 9 in the morning till 3-4 in the afternoon and caused great anxiety among the Jewish population and among some Poles, causing the soldiers and policemen to shoot several times in the air to scare and "pacify" the crowd. I was told that prior to the commencement of the action, soldiers and policemen visited houses and invited the Polish population to gather in the garden for a "game". During the "game" I determined that the following were present: the town's mayor -Stanislaw Pavlovski, the town's physician - Ribka, the military physician -Sharkevich, two priests and many of the local intellectuals.
After the action was over, the wounded and bloody Jews were brought to the town's jail and on the way were beaten again. The same happened inside the jail.
Now the Jews are in jail. While I was in Vishkov a temporary investigation was started and a few Jews were set free. In the coming days a larger number will be freed.
The arrested Jews are taken to work every day near the bridge over the river Bug. At work they are still beaten. They started to feed them one day before my arrival - Friday the 27th of this month. The citizen militia, composed of Christians only (among them are those who were policemen at the time of the Bolshevik invasion) are guarding the arrested. I determined that they let into the jail any passing soldiers who beat the inmates and are allowed to enjoy themselves.
The current town's commander has forbidden such behavior, and in the last couple of days such incidents were not repeated.
The Jewish population in town live under very difficult conditions. The beating of Jews and cutting of their beards by passing soldiers is a very frequent occurrence.
Warsaw, the 29th August 1920.
Tuesday the 17th of the month (August) we went to Ostrov. We were
there 2 days, after that Polish soldiers came into Ostrov. Together
with the other refugees from Vishkov, we went to the military commander
of Ostrov, the mayor of this town and asked that he assign a policeman
to take us to Vishkov. We were fearful to go without protection because
the roads were teeming with soldiers. The mayor agreed to honor our
request and assigned 4 policemen, for which we paid 7300 marks. Monday
the 23rd of the month, the policemen took us to Vishkov.
Tuesday the 24th of the month in the morning we arrived in Vishkov. In the village of Komisarka (7 miles from Vishkov) 5 policemen from Vishkov waited for us. Together with Ostrov's policemen they brought us into town. While walking through the town nobody was allowed to come close to us, not even to look through a window at us. Shots were fired to scare those who attempted to contact us. We were brought to the firehouse where the civilian Pole Liskevich declared that we are Bolsheviks and therefore we will be shot. A half hour later we were taken to the "senator park". In the park we were aligned four in a row and were beaten without mercy. There were present many soldiers, policemen as well as civilian inhabitants of the town. The police asked the Polish youth to identify Bolsheviks among the detainees. The youths carried out the order. At the same time they called the town's Christians to voice their grievances against the Jews.
Among us were also old people. Those pointed out by the youths (as being Bolsheviks) were taken out of the rows and beaten with sticks, whips, wires to which stones were attached and so forth. These people were positioned separately. Then a table was brought and the secretary of the regional court, Voevudski, and two senior military man sat down. From the point where the rows of Jews (the so called Bolsheviks) were lined up and up to the table were stationed rows of civilians and soldiers. Every one of us who came through between the rows was cruelly beaten with sticks, whips and wires. When we approached the table we were searched and undressed and left standing wearing a shirt only. We were robbed of all our possessions. Then they asked us to get up on the table, from where we had to shout: "long live Poland and death to the rabbi". Naturally, the crowd voiced demands from every one of us for the presumed misdeeds we inflicted upon them.
Later we were thrown off the table by turning it upside down and landing the table on us. We were not allowed to get up, and while laying on the ground we were again beaten with whips and sticks. When we ultimately got up and went back through the rows we were beaten once again.
After this action, we returned bloodied (many of us lost consciousness)
to our rows and were beaten again.
This action continued from 9 in the morning till 3 in the afternoon. At 4 o'clock we were put under the town's arrest. In the jail yard we were told to sit down like "Turks" - that is bend our legs under our bodies. Those who could not do it were beaten with rifle butts. We set like that (like "Turks") until 7 o'clock. Then we were taken into the garden for the night.
During the action in the garden, there were shouts in town from mothers, sisters and others. To quiet the crowd rifle shots were fired to scare the people.
During the action the following were present: the town's mayor Stanislaw Povlovski, the town's physician Ribka, Dr. Sharkevich, a military physician, the priest,and the so called intellectuals. We were beaten by the town's police, headed by commissar Stazinski.
Now we are under arrest. We are 200 locked up Jews. Soldiers are constantly allowed to come in to beat and humiliate us.
Itzik Barab, Shloima Rosenberg, Itzek Neuman.
Firstly, there is a question as to how did hundreds of Vishkov's Jews come to Ostrov. After the Bolsheviks were expelled, not only Vishkov's, but youths from many Polish towns and villages, found themselves outside their own towns. This happened not because Jews were Bolsheviks and retreated together with the Red Army (there were some, but a small minority) but because they were scared due to warning from the Poles that when "our people" (meaning Poles) will come, we will get even with the Jews for their service to the Bolsheviks. Actually, during the Bolshevik reign the "Revcoms" (Revolutionary Committees), the police (or militia) as well as other positions were to a large extent occupied by Poles from the general population. Generally, against such Poles no repressive measures were taken.
Many Jews (Itzkhak Barab among them), were hidden during the Polish reign because they did not want to serve in the Polish Army. At that time "patriotism" vis a vis the army was non-existent because of its extreme animosity toward Jews. Some were hidden outside their villages. When the Polish reign stabilized, some began coming back to their villages. Actually, for those who were hidden an amnesty was proclaimed absolving them from being deserters, provided they would report to the military commission.
Hundreds of Vishkov's Jews who were in Ostrov as refugees, were generally far from being politically active and particularly from being Bolshevik sympathizers. These were young and old from business backgrounds who suffered from "red" confiscation of their business goods (or where business goods were not confiscated, they were simply "bought" for worthless rubles). Many of them were known for their Zionist sympathies, among them were some real Zionist activists.
The group which appealed to the Ostrov mayor to provide an escort to Vishkov consisted of about 100 men. The local Zionist activist Shultz was helpful in obtaining the required permission. The 7300 marks that was paid to the mayor was collected from the refugees. The people who signed the affidavit from jail were also (besides Itzkhak Barab who was mentioned above) the following: Shloima Rosenberg, then a bachelor; his father Itzkhak-Ber Rosenberg was a clever Vorker Hasid who owned a yard goods store. Shloima himself was a Zionist who later married Malka, Shmuel Elbein's daughter and lived in Warsaw where he had a leather business. He was killed together with his family and all other Warsaw Jews.
Itzkhak Neuman, his father a Gerer Hasid, had a wholesale business of salt, herring and oil. He was then a bachelor. Later married the daughter of Mendel Shkariat; after the wedding had a flour wholesale business. During the Nazi offensive of 1939 escaped with many other Jews to Bialistok. Itzkhak Barab actually met him in Bialistok together with his wife and 2 children. Neuman evidently took a Soviet passport and stayed in the Soviet occupied parts of Poland, and was killed together with his family by the Germans.
And now a few words about the people mentioned in the report by Joseph Gravitzky.
Chaim-David Goldwasser, a Gerer Hasid, had the whiskey monopoly. Evidently died before the World War II.
Samuel-Leo Holland, was a horse trader. Killed with his family during the Nazi reign, apparently in Yadeve, whereto he escaped from Vishkov.
Haykal Hiller, representative of Warsaw Jewish newspapers. He and his wife were killed. Some of his children may be in Israel.
Abraham Reichman, a tailor by trade. He owned a house from where the people were taken. He was a short time in America, where he made "a few dollars" and then returned and bought the house.
Moishe Barak, it should be Barab, brother of Itzkhak Barab, son of Motel Shokhet. He was a watch repairman. Killed with his family in the Warsaw ghetto.
Eizik-Meyer Krishtol. Had a tobacco store. Perished.
Moishe-Mendel Greenberg had a hardware business. The last years lived in Ostrolenko.
Itzkhak-Hersh Bialistok, who was blind, was killed with his wife in Vishkov, before the start of the general murder campaign. It ought to be added that Vishkov's sacrifices included two additional Jewish youths who were shot under the pretense of being "deserters". Abraham-Itzkhak the tailor, Frieda's son. The name of the second youth will perhaps be recalled by other Vishkov residents. This became known about a week or two after the above described "games" took place. The town's commandant called upon the chief rabbi Mendel Bressler to administer the death prayer for the two who were sentenced to death. They were shot beyond the confines of the town. Actually, many Poles had committed the sin of "desertion" but were never convicted for these offenses.
As a conclusion, a few additional details about Joseph Gravitzky who wrote the report about the story of Vishkov, according to the "Lexicon of the New Jewish Literature", Volume 2, New York 1958.
Born in Warsaw on November 8, 1900, died in Israel in December 1955. Lately went by the name of Joseph Rogav. Received a Jewish and general upbringing.
Graduated from Krinski's gymnasium (high school) in Warsaw and studied
government science in Vienna. Was a member of the Zionist movement
from his early youth. Was the founder and general secretary of the
Zeiri-Zion in Poland. In the years 1921-1932 was a member of the
central committee and general secretary of the Zionist organization in
Poland. In those years was a delegate to all Zionist congresses.
In the years 1928-1932 was a member of the community council in Warsaw.
In 1932 emigrated to Israel. Was active in the Jewish Agency.
From 1948 until his death was director of the press service of the Israeli
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