taken in the Refugee Home in Bucarest, Calea Mosiler 128, on 14 May 1945.
Mr WILF, Samuel Isak,
Confectioner, born 16 November 1896 in Mikolajow / D
living in Rzeszow since the year 1917
who testifies as follows:
At the start of the war between Germany and Poland a large Jewish community existed in Rzeszow. Approximately 12,000 Jews lived in the town out of a total of 50,000 inhabitants. Another 15,000 Jews lived in the surrounding area. 60% of the Jews were Orthodox, 40% belonged to the Progressive community. There was a beautiful library, Jewish community homes, foundations etc. The rabbi was Dr Aron Lewin, who was also a Member of Parliament. He was very famous. After war broke out, about 20% of the Jews fled eastward; Dr Lewin fled to Lvov and subsequently went from there to Lithuania. I am told that he was later shot dead by the Germans.
Following the German invasion, by the end of September 1939 Hitler’s laws had been imposed - compulsory labour, distinguishing marks, etc. "Contributions" were only demanded later. Commissioners were introduced for Jewish businesses and the legitimate owners pushed aside. In the beginning the proprietors received several hundred zloty for their businesses; later this was reduced to nothing. A Jewish Council was also installed. The Chairman was a lawyer, Dr Kleinmann, who was shot by the Gestapo in 1943. His deputy, Dr Bernhard Kahane, was shot in 1943 at the action in Krakow. At this time I was not in Rzeszow myself, as I only arrived on 15 February 1940, but I have been told about it in full detail. After the daily initial imposition of new rules, life did not change very much. Only once in a while there were arrests and chicanery, but as a whole things went on relatively calmly.
The ghetto was not established until 10 January 1942. Posters appeared, stating that within 3 to 5 days all Jews had to move into the houses reserved for the ghetto. At that time only the Jews from Rzeszow lived in the ghetto, plus about 2,000 refugees from Lodz etc. The Jews from the surrounding area were left in peace for the time being. Originally the ghetto was big, containing about 20% of the town. Nevertheless, some houses were really crowded, with up to 20 persons in one room. Within the wooden fence around the ghetto 3 gateways were set, guarded by Jewish and Polish police. Only those with a job outside the ghetto were entitled to leave. However […] could bring in some food, so that at first we did not starve.
In the middle of March 1942 the first special actions took place. One night the Gestapo at 11 o’clock dragged 5 Jews to the basement of their own house, where they were beaten to death. One of the Gestapo-men in charge was called Pottenbaum. I do not know the other names. Again on 20 March 1942, 4 Gestapo-men forced their way into the house at Virjinka [Wierzynka St. – ed.] No.1 where they assaulted the owner BERL LOW and shot him whilst he was in his bed. In the same house Jakub Osias UNGER, a woman and two other refugees were also shot dead. During this action a man named THALER jumped over the fence, after which the Gestapo threatened his wife with the bayonets fixed to their guns, ordered her to call him back immediately, and forced her to drink the contents of her children’s chamber pot. On 30 April 1942 there was another action against “Kanaanistan”. At 5 o’clock in the morning there was shooting in every street of the ghetto. Approximately 30 Jews were dragged from their beds and shot in the back yards. Among them were 2 communists. The same day something similar happened in the surrounding area.
Afterwards the compulsory labour regulations were tightened up. Most Jews were forced to work. Around the same time came the "contributions". First 2, then another 3, then a further 7 million zlotys, and finally the delivery of all money. The Jews had to pay all tax arrears. Aryans who held claims against Jews were entitled to get paid without delay. Eventually the order came that all Jews from the surrounding area had to move into the town of Rzeszow. Many fled into the forests, but some 11,000 obeyed, so that the ghetto suddenly had some 24,000 inhabitants.
In mid-summer 1942 (I do not remember the exact date) the Jewish Council received an order to meet at the District Commander’s office at 4 p.m. [2 or 3 - ?] members of the Council (the best) were shot there immediately; the others returned at 7 p.m. That was the beginning of a larger action that lasted several days. The ghetto was surrounded by the SS and the police and notices were distributed which mentioned that the next day at 7 a.m., all Jews from certain streets in the ghetto who had no stamp in their ID card had to go to the gathering place. That evening no one was allowed outside after 8 p.m. The SS fired at the few people who were not yet in their homes by that time, […] some people were killed. When on the next day the Jews gathered at 7 a.m., the empty houses were searched, and when they were found, those hiding in the houses were shot dead on the spot. Approximately 6,000 Jews assembled on the gathering place, where their money and all luggage was taken from them. The old people were ordered to one side, transported to the Glogow forest by […] and shot dead. Mass graves had already been prepared there for 8 days. By 4 or 5 p.m. the remainder had been transported to the railway station of Staroniwa. On the way there, many were shot or beaten to death. In total some 250 Jews were murdered at the gathering place or on the way to the station. At the station the Jews were driven into wagons by guards of the Jewish Police, 100 to 120 persons per wagon. The wagons went to the extermination camp of Belzec.
The Jewish guards had to gather the dead bodies along the road and bring them to the Jewish cemetery, but it was only 2 or 3 days later that permission was granted to bury the corpses.
The next day the Jewish Police were ordered to gather together all Jews who had stayed behind in hiding and were without a stamp in their ID card, and move them into a barrack. Together with 36 other Jews I hid myself in a cellar, because I did not have an ID card. However the Jewish Police discovered us. I knew many of them and tried to persuade them that they could easily leave us in peace, but it was useless. Then we tried to bribe a member of the Jewish Police with $200, which he took, but a young Jew warned a German policeman who said: “Children, how can I help you when even your own people don’t help you?” We were driven into the barrack. (The young Jew who called the German was named RESCHKOWITZ. Accused of theft, he was shot in 1943). However I escaped that same day from the barrack, because a friend of mine who was with the Jewish Police lent me his coat and hat, so that I could disguise myself.
The next day a new action occurred, in which another 6,000 Jews were deported to Belzec. An interesting fact is that there were less people mistreated on the way to the station because of protests from Germans. Three days later a further 6,000 Jews were deported to Belzec. So in total approximately 18,000 Jews were deported. There were some 6,000 people left in the ghetto. Afterwards the ghetto was reduced in size and consisted of only a few streets. I had to hide all of the time because I did not have a stamped ID card.
In August 1942 my brother-in-law, who worked at the railway station, saw how a Jew, Martin KRÄMER, who wanted to give water to a Jewish transport, was shot for that reason by an SS man. He gave me his [KRÄMER's - ?] stamped ID card so that I could work again under a false name. I worked in the same coal-shed where I had been forced to work earlier under my own name. The Germans saw me and recognized me but did not do anything.
Around this time another action was planned. The Jewish employment agency had summoned all unemployed women and children unfit for work to be registered. A complete company of German police had been hiding in the agency. The women and children were rounded up immediately, their property was taken from them and they were deported to Belzec. There were also 4 men among these people, three of whom were elderly and one a younger man named HOLOSCHECK, who subsequently sent us a note from Belzec in which he wrote that he was working in hell. At first we did not understand the message, but afterwards we heard that his job was to assist at the burning of corpses. We also heard that some of the women had to work on farms. Later we no longer received any messages. Probably all of these people were killed.
On 15 November 1942 another big transport was dispatched, in which were included my brother with his 2 children. I had been able to watch this transport from the coal-shed. I tried to speak to them but did not get the opportunity to do so. There were some 3,500 people left in the ghetto and it was reduced in size once more. I did not live in the ghetto, because the workers were housed in barracks near the Wehrmacht camp. There were 200 of us, 80 working in the coal-shed and 120 working for German companies on the maintenance of roads and waterways. After seven and a half months we were taken back to the ghetto, as we were replaced by Muslims from Russia. That was in spring 1943. In the ghetto a big cooperative was then formed. Half the people were working in different work- shops, the others were busy pulling down Jewish houses. The plan for the demolitions had been worked out by Poles, but they did not include their own homes, although the intention was to make the town more beautiful. The initiative for this was taken by Poles of the National-Democratic Party.
In mid-summer the ghetto inhabitants were rounded up by the SS and all Jews had to go to the gathering place once more. 1,500 strong and young people were selected and sent to the camp of Czebne [Szebnie – ed.]. The others were sent to Auschwitz. Around that time my brother, together with the lawyer Dr REICH (who is now president of the Jewish community in Rzeszow) had joined the Jewish Police to protect us against chicanery so far as was possible. With their help, I was selected as part of a group of 250 men that stayed in Rzeszow to clear the ghetto. After 4 weeks we became uneasy that complete liquidation was in the offing. Action was taken to help anybody who wanted to flee from the ghetto. As a night watchman, my brother held the key to a gate, and he let people out. Almost 60 people escaped that way. Then several reprisals were carried out and 14 Jews were shot dead on the streets.
On 28 October 1943 I escaped, together with two brothers named LANGSAM. We hid on a farm. We were told there that 700 people had been shot in Czebnie [Szebnie – ed.] and were buried in the forest. Then we heard that 3,000 people, mostly women, were driven to the railway station of Moderowka, where they had to take off all their clothes before entering the wagons that would take them away, naked in the middle of the winter. This transport was bound for Auschwitz.
In February 1944 the entire ghetto was liquidated. Some Jews were sent to work at the aircraft motor factory in Rzeszow, others to the plant in Stalowa Wola. 50 - 60 people who tried to hide in a bunker were discovered after two weeks; most of them were shot, some others escaped. This is how Rzeszow became free of Jews. Every single day we were told of Jews being discovered somewhere and shot. A young boy who had hidden in a church was found there and had cut his throat with a razor. Our hiding place was not discovered. We were ten and a half months in a room 2m high, and 2 x 1.40m big. For the first 7 months, when we still had money, the Pole who hid us gave us good food, but for the final 3 months we only received half a loaf of bread and some water each day to be shared between the three of us.
Once we were in danger when the whole street where we were hiding had to be cleared completely for military reasons (that was at the beginning of the big Russian attack in mid Galicia), but after 3 days we succeeded in getting the house back for the Pole, so that we could return to our hiding place.
Then the Russians came and liberated us.
Only 51 of the Jews that lived in Rzeszow are still alive. The list of those I know, I have handed over separately. Approximately 150 Jews from the vicinity had been hiding in the surroundings or survived the times of persecution with an Aryan ID card. After 3-4 weeks their number rose to 900. At the moment there are no more than 500 remaining, because many people left.