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1939-1945

The Shoah in Mielec: 1939-1945 [Photos]

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

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.


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…]

last page of the August 1940 Judenrat Census
last page of the August 1940 Judenrat Census. Note ‘official’ stamp of the Judenrat and signed attestation on the bottom [source: Rzeszów branch of Polish State Archives via szukajwarchiwach.pl]

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. This was later named

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.

This is a newspaper clipping from January 1942 about the Judenrat:

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.


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

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.


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: 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

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.

In particular, the following Poles were recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations for their selfless acts of heroism to help Jews from the Mielec powiat:

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 is here:

  • 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)
  • 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

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


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.