The Shoah in Mielec: 1939-1945

The Mielec Synagogue after being burned down on Erev Rosh Hashanah 1939 — photo credit Fotopolska.eu
The Mielec Synagogue after being burned down on Erev Rosh Hashanah 1939 — photo credit Fotopolska.eu

The Shoah for Mielec Jews started very early and, by the end of the war, reduced the Jewish population to almost zero. Numbers vary but to give you a sense of how complete the extermination was, out of the 2100 Jews listed on the Judenrat census on August 15, 1940 (see below), only 47 of them were still alive as of May 15, 1945.

Below is a small timeline of events, starting with the horrific torching of the synagogue on Erev Rosh Hashanah 1939. If you wish to see photos, please click the button below.

Timeline

September 13, 1939: The Burning of the Mielec Synagogue on Erev Rosh Hashanah

The German Army invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. Less than two weeks later, the Germans occupied Mielec – over 700km from Berlin. Why? Most research indicates it was due to its military strategic importance – it had an airfield and hangers due to Mielec’s unique aircraft manufacturing plant (PZL Mielec). Regardless of the reasons, it is clear that the German Army occupied Mielec very early on in the war.

Erev Rosh Hashanah 1939 was of course 29 Elul 5699, or September 13, 1939 in the Gregorian calendar. While the Jewish community was preparing for this holiday, German soldiers went to the Jewish slaughterhouse and shot the two butchers, Rabbi Chaim Kurtz and Rabbi Joseph (Yoshe) Beck, who were slaughtering chickens for eager Jewish families at the time. Then they locked a large number of people inside the Mielec Synagogue across the street and burned the building down – burning alive all Jews locked inside1. They also destroyed the mikveh (ritual bathhouse) in the same evening. Reports vary widely on the number of Jews killed that evening. It is safe to assume that it was in the hundreds.

The Mielec Synagogue circa 1902 — photo courtesy Muzeum Historii Fotografii “Jadernowka”
The Mielec Synagogue after being burned down on Erev Rosh Hashanah 1939 — photo credit Fotopolska.eu

October 1939: Zbaszyn Refugee Camp

There were several Mielec Jews who were outside of Mielec when the war broke out in September 1939. One month into the war, some were sent to the Zbaszyn Refugee Camp from their current location and recorded there on October 3, 1939:

  1. Braun, Mojzesz (Moses), born in Mielec, and 3 other family members. Lists Anny (Amy?) Goldschmidt in Brooklyn, NY as relative in the USA.
  2. Gewürz, Max, born in Mielec, and 2 other family members. He lists a man named Jos. C. Gewirtz, 703 East 5th St., New York, NY and Gewiertz c/o Gewirtz u. Berger, 917 DeKalb St., Brooklyn, NY as relatives.
  3. Goldberg, Feiwel (Feivish), born in Mielec. Says he is by himself with relative Rubin Goldberg, 22 Riverside Dr., New York, NY in the USA.
  4. Gross, Baruch, born 27 July 1901 in Radomyśl Wielki. Prior residences were Berlin (Kaiser-Wilhelm Str. 32) and Kraków (Dietla 17). Left behind wife Chaja (Chaya) and one son in Kraków. Lists relative D. Gross, 489 Springfield Ave., Newark, NJ in the USA.
  5. Issler, Jakob, born in Radomyśl Wielki. Lists Berl Mandelbaum, 211 Peschin Ave., Newark, NJ and Julius Cronland, 60 Jereal St., Clifton, NJ as relatives in the USA.
  6. Korn, Israel, born in Mielec. Says he is by himself with no relatives in the USA.
  7. Leitner, Israel, born in Mielec. Says he is by himself with no relatives in the USA.
  8. Leitner, Baruch, born in Mielec. Says he is by himself and lists Max Waldmann, 1515 East 7th St., Brooklyn, NY and H.R. Steinberg, 450 Colwin, Buffalo, NY as relatives in the USA.
  9. Pomeranz, Wiktor (Avigdor?), born in Mielec, and 3 other family members. No relatives in the USA.
  10. Weg, Szymon (Simon), born 5 May 1898 in Radomyśl Wielki. Prior residences were Frankfurt am Mein (Kleiner Wohlgraben No. 7) and Kraków (Asnyka Dr. Beck). Left behind wife Ester and 4 children in Kraków. Lists relative M. Bard, 18 Columbia St., Brooklyn, NY in the USA.
  11. Wigdor, Meilech, born in Radomyśl Wielki, and 3 other family members. Lists Jakob Perl, 1029-55th St., Brooklyn, NY as family member in the USA.
Image of the Zbaszyn Refugee Camp — photo courtesy U.S. Holocaust Museum

November 1939: The Judenrat

In November 1939 the German Army ordered that the Jews organized a 12-member Judenrat [Jewish Council] to assist the Germans in organizing forced labor and other edicts. The members of the Judenrat were:

  • Dr. Joseph David Fink, Chairman (Mielec lawyer; born in Borysław pow. Lviv, Ukraine on September 3. 1895 – killed in a German Aktion in Bochnia on September 3, 1943)
  • Dr. Alexander Atlas (Mielec lawyer; born in Bukowsko pow. Sanok on November 27, 1892 – killed in Shoah before May 1945)
  • Isaac Freiberg (carpenter and Shoah survivor; born October 27, 1894 – immigrated to Israel in 1965)
  • Isaac Kaplan (shoemaker; born ?? – killed sometime near the end of the war when “the Russians were close to Mielec”2)
  • Reuven Kurtz (grocery shop owner on ul. Sandomierska; born May 24, 1900 – died of starvation in 1945 at the Flossenbürg Concentration Camp in Germany)
  • Elchanon (Chanine) Storch (merchant; born 1888 – killed on forced march from Mielec to Cyranka on March 9, 1942)
  • Dr. Jacob Tafler (Mielec lawyer; born May 4, 1880 – killed on forced march from Mielec to Cyranka on March 9, 1942)
  • [missing five more…]

An newspaper clipping from January 1942 about the Judenrat is on the right with an English translation below.

                                Mielec

(L. F.) Two years of the Jewish Council in Mielec. On January 10, 1942, two years have passed since the establishment of the Jewish Council in Mielec under the leadership of Dr. Józef Fink. At the time of the creation of the Council, the most pressing issues were the provision of workers and social services. The exemplary Labor Department and Social Welfare Department worked until the establishment of the Labor Office or the creation of the Delegation of S. S., which were taken over. It should be noted here that Ż S. S. receives subsidies from the Council on a regular basis. During the activities of the Social Care department, the allowance was distributed for a total amount of PLN 100,000 and the Winter and Christmas Assistance campaign was carried out.

During this period, the Housing Office of the Jewish Council allocated flats to about 100 displaced families.

Organized in the manner of other cities, the Jewish Order Service kept the streets in order and provided instructions to the population. Jew. The Order Service is currently undergoing reorganization and the number of its members is to be increased.

There is an outpatient clinic at the council, which provides free advice to poor people, and the Sanitary Commission at the Jewish Council is currently inspecting Jewish apartments, and the town has been divided into 6 sanitary areas.

Nazi stamp of the City Government of Mielec seen on a document dated March 5, 1942

August 1940: The Judenrat Census

In August 1940, the German Army ordered the Judenrat to create a census of all Jews living in the town. The census resulted in 2106 names on 98 pages, handwritten as shown on the right. It was preserved after the war and is currently held in the Rzeszów branch of the Polish State Archives [ref: 59/752/0/3.2/117]. Scans of the original document can be viewed via their online website here and a searchable index is part of the All Galicia Database via Gesher Galicia3.

To the best of my knowledge, out of the 2106 names on the Judenrat census, 46 survived the war and 525 have been confirmed killed/died in the Shoah. The remaining 1700+ are unaccounted for as of January 2021.

Last page of the 1940 Mielec Judenrat census — photo courtesy Polish State Archives, Rzeszów Branch

March 9, 1942: Forced March to Cyranka

On March 9, 1942, the Jews in Mielec who had not already been transported to other labor camps were marched at gunpoint to the aircraft factory on the outskirts of the city where they were then impounded. Any sick, elderly, injured, weak or prominent figures were shot and buried in a mass grave. [Wikipedia] This aircraft factory became the Mielec Forced Labor Camp (KL Mielec).

After March 9, 1942, Mielec was declared ‘Judenfrei‘ (free of Jews) from then until the Germans left Mielec in 1945.

More photos of March 9, 1942 can be found here.

Photo of the deportation of Jews from Mielec by a German soldier. Photo source: Bundesarchiv B-162-Bild-00426
Photo of the deportation of Jews from Mielec by a German soldier. Photo source: Bundesarchiv B-162-Bild-00426

July 18-19, 1942 – Liquidation of Jews from Radomyśl Wielki

The following is an excerpt from POLIN Virtual Shtetl’s page on the history of Radomyśl Wielki. Footnote hyperlinks are kept intact and primarily refer to Jan Ziobroń’s definitive book on the history of Jews from Radomyśl Wielki: Dzieje Gminy Żydowskiej w Radomyślu Wielkim (2009).

On Saturday morning of 18 July 1942, as Eisig Leibowicz recalls[1.39], “Gestapo officers came to the Judenrat and demanded an enormous sum of money if they were not to displace the Jews. People started to collect money... A doctor and engineer Klimo from Mielec came at about 10 a.m. The recruitment [transportation] of young people started. Those who were able [to work] were crammed into waiting trucks. I was in the first of them. We said good bye to our families and the town at about 2 p.m. and left for Mielec. Another truck arrived in the evening. Leaving the town they saw the Germans and the police surrounding Radomyśl”. It was only on the next Monday that young inhabitants of Radomyśl sent to Mielec found out what had happened on Sunday (19th July 1942)[1.40], when they came to work there. “On that fatal Sunday the Schutzstaffel and blue policemen units surrounded the town. All Jews were told to appear in the market square at 7 a.m. with all their valuables. The elderly, the ill and children were separated to be shot. Others who were able to work were crammed onto carts and taken to the ghetto in Dębica. Earlier that morning six Jews had been told to dig two large pits for people who were to be executed in the Jewish cemetery. (…) After the selection in the market square during which several people were killed, about 500 Jews crammed into 20 rack waggons were taken to the cemetery.” Jan Ziobroń recalled that the waggons weaved their way as if they wanted to mislead the Jews. “Once they got undressed, the victims went in fives towards the grave, knelt in front of it and Gestapo officers who were the closest shot them in the back of their heads”[1.41]. Among those taken to the cemetery was Appel Brandowa, a pharmacy owner. When ordered to take off her clothes and give all money and jewelry, she tore the notes away and strewed the valuables around the grass. As a result, she was stripped by force and beaten until unconscious. Later that afternoon the police commander Rudolf Zimmerman accompanied by his wife came to the place of execution and “got interested” in Appel Brandowa’s fate. After his subordinate gave him a report on what had happened, Zimmerman took a gun and shot her dead claiming it was an act of mercy[1.42]. The Jews that were sent to the ghetto in Dębica were murdered there (e.g. the members of Judenrat). Only several of them, together with Jews from Ropczyce and Sędziszów, were transported to the camp in Bełżec or other camps. Even before the extermination in summer 1942, a small group of Jews from Radomyśl was taken to the labour camp in Mielec where they assembled planes. When the front was approaching, they were transported to concentration camps, for example, in Germany[1.43].

Direct source: POLIN: Museum of the History of Polish Jews, https://sztetl.org.pl/en/towns/r/148-radomysl-wielki/99-history/137923-history-of-community

1942 to 1945: Concentration Camps

It is extremely difficult to determine who, where, and when Mielec Jews were killed in a German Concentration or Labor Camp during the Shoah. Records are scarce, and family-reported testimonies in Yad Vashem are often contradictory. That said, this gives some idea of where Mielec Jews were relocated and often were killed:

Concentration or Labor CampInformation
Auschwitz/Berkenau259+ died/killed
Belzec166+ died/killed
Treblinka75+ died/killed
Majdanek41+ died/killed
Unknown37+ died/killed
Pustków31+ died/killed
Berdechów/Cyranka (KL Mielec)29+ died/killed
Mauthausen/Gusen29+ died/killed
Sobibór22+ died/killed
Flossenbürg16+ died/killed
Plaszów13+ died/killed
Buchenwald11+ died/killed
others68+ died/killed
TOTAL797+ died/killed
Photo of Chaim Nussen (born September 17, 1890 in Mielec) taken in Auschwitz Concentration Camp before being killed on March 2, 1942. Photo source: U.S. Holocaust Museum

1942 to 1945: In Hiding

According to expert Tom Frydel at the University of Toronto, many Jews from the Mielec powiat attempted to hide from the German Army during the war. Some hid in forests, and others hid with the assistance of Polish families.

Photo of a Jewish hiding place at the home of Marii and Stefan Piechotów in Czajkowa

In particular, the following Poles have been recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations for their selfless acts of heroism:

In addition, Wiktor Jaderny, Leon Wanatowicz, and Eugeniusz Szyfner of Mielec risked their lives to help protect Jews during the Shoah. All three were honored with the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta by Polish President Andrzej Duda on March 17, 2016.

A partial list of other righteous Polish families identified by Dr. Frydel and others but not yet recognized by either Yad Vashem or another organization is below.

  • Józef Balczeniuk – helped the Rosenblatt family
  • Józefa Bogusz – helped the Korzennik family
  • Karol Broniek – helped the Birnbaum, Lischer, Gralitzer, Grun, Jachymowicz, and Gawendo families
  • Commander Michał Burkiewicz – helped the Hill family
  • The Catholic Sisters of Trzęsówka – helped Rachel N. aka Zofia Dąbrowska
  • N. Dubiel – helped the Ladner family
  • The Dudek family – helped the Siegfried family
  • Maria Fedor – helped the Hill family
  • Władysław Górski – helped the Kirschenbaum family
  • Jan Indyk – helped the Finger family
  • Maria Kosiorowska + her husband – helped the Messing and Rothbart families
  • Mieczyslaw Kowalik, for helping the Wusch family
  • Jan Kusak – helped the Rosenbluth family
  • Tadeusz Maziarz – helped the Balsam family
  • Wojciech Moździerz’s father – helped the Feit family
  • Leokadia and Stanisław Orłowscy – helped Irene Geminder (Eber)
  • Marii and Stefan Piechotów of Czajkowa – helped an unnamed family (one woman was named Ryfcia)
  • Zdzisław Piolkowski – helped the Ladner family
  • Stanisław Walczak – helped the Lind and Rosenzweig families
  • Pan Walęga of Zdziarzec – helped the Hirsch family
  • Michał Wątrobski – helped the Dershowicz family
  • Bronisław Wilk + his wife – helped the Orgiel, Wachtel, and Pflaker families
  • Stanisław Wojtusiak of Gliny Wielkie – helped the Horn family
  • Jan Ziętek – helped Zofia Wróblewska (fake Aryan name; Jewish name unknown)
  • Władysław Zioło – helped the Gottdenker family

August 1944: Soviet Troops approach Mielec

From Andrzej Krempa’s book “Mielec 1939-1945”:

What was the day of August 6, 1944 in Mielec?

The Soviet army approaching Mielec did not give the impression of a modern victorious army. Irena Michałowska, the daughter of the sister of the owner of the manor, Malina, describes the army as follows: “We were driving along side roads and only at the height of Tuszów with great difficulty we managed to get to the other side of the road, which was filled to the horizon with armored cars and tanks. On both sides of the road, beside the moving column of troops, there were countless swarms of soldiers, advancing across the fields. They walked in complete disarray, tired, dirty with nothing resembling a victorious army. There were plenty of them in Tuszów, they wandered around the courtyards in search of water and accommodation, some of them were already sleeping under the trees on trunks spread out, others were sitting in the ditches, drying their clothes and shoes on sticks.”

However, the encroaching Soviet troops were greeted enthusiastically in Mielec. Julian Woźniak, a witness to those events, recalls it this way: “… people were coming out of the cellars…. On the street we could hear louder and louder buzz. The melody of the Russian speech echoed pleasantly. There was great joy. The inhabitants of Mielec exchanged handshakes and kisses with the liberators, they took what they had, offered them… ”. The entering Soviet troops to Mielec was accompanied by one of the platoons of the "Hejnał" unit under the command of Władysław Kałoń, pseud. "Tomciu". With the participation of this platoon, a modest ceremony was organized on T. Kościuszki Street next to the magistrate on the occasion of the conquest of the city and the assumption of power in it. The highlight of the ceremony was the speech of the Soviet colonel. During the speech, the city was constantly attacked by German artillery and shells fell and detonations were heard in the vicinity of the participants of the ceremony. On this occasion, the flags of Poland, the USSR, England, France and the USA were displayed on the balcony of the town hall. After the artillery had calmed down for a while, Władysław Kałoń's unit headed towards the factory blocks, where they were given a spontaneous greeting. On the next day, the rest of the "Hejnał" unit, headed by the commander of the Mielec AK District, Konstanty Łubieński, pseud. "Ignac", Piotr Pazdro, ps. "Rolnik" and Jan Mazur pseud. "Steel". The entrance of the unit to the housing estate was quite picturesque. A tractor with a trailer was seized somewhere, on which several dozen partisans were riding, and the rest of them were on bicycles. It was as if some huge tank stuck with people was driving into the city.

After May 1945: Survivors and their Testimonies

There were at least 290 Shoah survivors who were born in or near Mielec. The most up-to-date list can be found here.

painting by Yochanan Amsterdam
painting by Yochanan Amsterdam who survived the war hiding in the Dulecki forest: “[the painting shows my] memory of my life in the forests, how we prepared food, woman washing, drying laundry”

Many Mielec Shoah survivors recorded their experienced either in written or video form:

  • Joseph Blumenkehl (born November 15, 1916 in Padew Narodowa – died January 13, 2009 in Fairlawn, NJ) was interviewed in Fairlawn, NJ on July 1, 1997 as part of USC Shoah Visual History Archive (login required)
  • Eda (Esther) Lichtman née Fisch (born January 1, 1915 in Jarosław – ) wrote Narrative: “From Mielec to Sobibór” (original was in Hebrew in 1965; it was translated into English in 1995 via the assistance of Judy Cohen & Ada Holtzman)
  • Lore Smith née Geminder (born January 5, 1926 in Halle, Germany – died November 23, 2012 in Santa Ana, CA) was interviewed in Hawthorne, NJ on April 27, 1998 as part of USC Shoah Visual History Archive (online via YouTube)
Mark Verstandig’s memoir “I rest my case”
  • Mark Verstandig (born February 27, 1912 – died June 30, 2002 in Australia):
    • wrote a book titled I Rest My Case. Northwestern University Press, 2002.
    • was interviewed in Melbourne, Australia on April 28, 1997 as part of USC Shoah Visual History Archive. Videos are on YouTube: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

After May 1945: Reparations and Memorials

There are a few memorials in Mielec that were erected after the Shoah. They are:


Notes

1. There are several reports of people who were able to escape both the burning synagogue and the German soldiers firing on these escapees through broken windows etc… The number of escapees will likely never be known; it was a small fraction of the total number of people locked inside. There were no other survivors.

2. Verstandig, Mark. I Rest My Case. Northwestern University Press, 2002.

3. There appears to be a discrepancy between the number of names that appear on the scans at PSA Rzeszów and the number of names that are in the Gesher Galicia database index. The latter has 2250 names, vs. 2106 names on the scans. It is unclear as to the cause of this.