Testimony of Zygmunt Reich


The first page of Zygmunt Reich’s testimont [source: Żydowski Institut Historyczny (Jewish Historical Institute) Syg. 301/1428]

Zygmunt Reich, born August 5, 1927 in Kraków, grew up in Antwerp and moved to Kraków when he was 7 years old. When the war broke out in 1939, he and his family ended up in the Kraków Ghetto before fleeing to his mother’s home town of Radomyśl Wielki. From there he volunteered to go to the Mielec Labor Camp (KL Mielec) in Cyranka where he spent most of the war in the factory manufacturing parts for Messerschmidt airplanes. He eventually ended up in Dachau and fled to Switzerland in late April 1945.

Below is a translation of his testimony that was typed soon afterwards in mid-1945. The original text is from Żydowski Institut Historyczny (Jewish Historical Institute) Syg. 301/1428.


reference number 301/1428

REICH Zygmunt, birth. 5/8/1927. in Kraków, son of Chana née Wieder-Eder and Jozef Reich.

At the age of 2, I went with my parents to Antwerp, where my father worked as a white leather tanner [białoskornik]. We lived there with my uncle and his family, but in 1934 we returned to Poland at the request of my grandparents. I'm an only child. After returning to Krakow, my father got a job as a white leather tanner. Although it is only a seasonal job, my father earned enough for a modest living, as he was a skilled worker abroad. In the last years before the war, he was employed at the Kawar factory (Steinhaus) company in Zablocie. My mother also worked, most recently in the Dermos factory in Krakow, testing light bulbs. We lived at ul. Skaleczna 3. My parents sent me to a Polish school on ul. Dietla, where mostly Jews attended.

Krakow from the moment of occupation by the Germans until deportation:

My father fled right after the Germans entered the East. It was not until mid-1940 that the first message from him came from Lviv, where he set up with his brother Jakob Landau (a tailor, previously residing in Krakow, ul. Starowislna 68) and he was doing well in Lviv, he worked in some cooperative and he applied for permission to come for us. However, until the outbreak of the war between Germany and Russia, he was unable to do so. I do not know what happened to my father after the Germans entered Lviv, the last letter we wrote to him at the address of ul. Karol Leszczyński returned with the note "he left", so I have some hope that he managed to escape to Russia.

When my father's income from paid work was scarce at home, and our school closed in the fall of 1939, I started looking for a job at the age of 12 to help my mother, in poverty. For the first few months I worked as a sales assistant. In January or February, I received a better paid job: During this period (early 1940), JUDENRAT was established in Krakow (headed by Mr. Biberstein) and a certain number of people had to be assigned to work in the city every day. For each Jew, a certain number of days' wages were earned for cleaning the city or the German barracks. Wealthy Jews looked for replacements and paid 10 to 15 zlotys a day. There were many like me who were looking for a "replacement" for snow sweeping etc. and I always had classes a few days a week. My mother and I lived constantly together on ul. Skaleczna, her mother worked as a factory worker, and a little later as a sales assistant. From time to time, she managed to trade something "on the side" and that was how we had the most important things in life. In the spring of 1940, I took up work again at the freight station in Krakow. At that time, the "Judenrat" had to provide people not only for the day's work, but also for permanent work. The Germans paid the Jewish workers nothing, only the Judenrat paid us 2 1/2 to 3 zlotys a day. This work lasted 7 hours a day and when I did not encounter a particularly harsh or malicious German janitor, the work was not (at least for me) related to ill-treatment or humiliation. In the summer of 1940, I presented the Judenrat with a certificate of admission to work for a tailor, and on this basis I was dismissed from working on the railroads. I was at the tailor's (ul. Poselska, originally a Ukrainian neighborhood) as a student until November 1940, when the order to leave Krakow was issued. There were a few journeymen who were not well disposed towards Jews in general, but because I spoke Polish well, everyone liked me in the shop.

From the period up to November 1940, I can say the following about the situation of a Jewish worker in Krakow: the Germans undertook a lot of road and construction works in Krakow and its vicinity, and every Jew who applied to the Judenrat was provided with employment. The earnings, however, were extremely low in relation to the prices of that time (a kilo of bread was 5 zlotys on the black market). Treatment by the Germans was completely dependent on the circumstances of work and supervision. Sometimes there was a strict overseer, sometimes even Germans gave us food, while they treated us in general with other non-Jewish workers. The Jewish population of Krakow was greatly increased by the arrival of refugees from other areas, mainly from the areas attached to the Reich. The refugees were drawn to work in the first row, many of the newcomers, e.g. from Lodz, were of the working class, and those who did not have the resources were forced to work. About 20,000 Jews who worked under these conditions until the end of 1940 were calculated. The mixing relations on the Jewish street were much worse than before the war. The "Judenrat" allocated rooms to the arriving refugees, either with Jewish families, or in communal premises, synagogues, etc. In the Jewish community there was an official kitchen, which served the poor twice a day (bread and soup). The ration of food for cards was very small (150 grams of bread), so it was necessary to resort to buying on the black market. The worker, however, could not afford it, so he had to resort to looking for other income in time or after finishing work. Black market trade was so widespread among the Jewish and Polish population that everyone could earn something in this way, depending on the personal skills and knowledge of Poles and Germans. There were even those who made good money on it.

Even though wealthy Jews had the obligation to work - as I mentioned - they could, however, buy a substitute's job. However, when the Germans needed additional workers, they would take their cars to the streets and catch every Jew who was on their way. Jews were identified by their armbands, introduced at the beginning of 1940, and round-ups took place almost constantly.

Order to leave Krakow

Somewhere in October-November 1940, an order was issued for all Jews who would not receive special permits to leave Krakow. My mother asked to stay because of her old parents, but we were refused. I estimate that about 25,000 to 30,000 Jews had to leave the city then. The wealthier were allowed to stay more easily. We were lucky to get on a passenger train when we left, many of them had to travel by freight cars. Before we left, we sold our furniture for 200 zloty to a Polish peasant. During this period, local farmers bought a large part of furniture, etc. from Jews who were leaving, because high prices of products significantly improved their situation, while Jews were forced to travel at extremely low prices.


So in November 1940 we came with our mother to Radomyśl (32 km from Tarnów, 17 km from Mielec) we chose this town because we had distant relatives there. We moved in with a relative named Izak Muszel. My mother immediately got a job as a cook in the communal Jewish kitchen for the poor. Out of about 2,000 Jewish people, about 200 ate from this kitchen (the food was relatively good there). I got a job for the Germans, digging ditches on the road. I was appointed to work at the Arbeitsamt in Tarnów and I did not receive any pay. I lived on what my mother could bring from the communal kitchen, we also sold the rest of the movable property, brought from Krakow.

In July 1942 it was known that the deportation from Radomyśl would take place. It was not known that "displacement" meant something different than the previous compulsory departure from Krakow, but everyone tried to stay in Radomyśl. Mr. Leibowicz was the head of the Judenrat in Radomyśl. The Germans announced that men who volunteered to work in the aircraft factory in Mielec would not be displaced and the family could stay in Radomyśl. The Judenrat appointed me to work in a workshop in Mielec and I was pleased with it, hoping that my mother would stay with the same people. At the moment when the deportation from Radomyśl took place, I had been working in a factory in Mielec for 2 weeks and I do not know the circumstances of this action from my own observations. I only know that my mother was deported, against the promise she had received. I haven't heard from her since then.

At the airplane factory in Mielec, July 1942 to September 1944.

When we arrived at this labor camp (at the beginning there were 200 to 300 Jews), the Jews of Mielec had already been deported and there were very few Jews left in Mielec, because our camp was distant from Mielec and it was not in the town itself. Mielec was the first town fully evacuated in this area, then it was Dąbrowa, Radomyśl and finally Bochnia. Our job was workshop work on airplane fuselages (there was a German airport in the vicinity) and some people worked in the field (the grounds in and around the camp were considered by the Germans as their own and they were cultivated by Jewish workers). At work, we were under the control of Werkszutzow, while the camp itself was under the supervision of the Gestapo. I was working on the workshops all the time. The food in this camp was very bad all the time. We received 150 gr. bread a day and watery soup. To maintain my strength, I resorted to various means: sometimes I stole vegetables from the mounds in the square in front of the factory, sometimes I worked in the kitchen at night to get some food. There was one more way to improve my fate, a way that was also forbidden the most severely: doing the so-called fuchy, i.e. making items from factory-made material. These metal items, such as forks, spoons, knives, lighters, cigarette cases, rings, were taken by Poles who worked with us as free workers and sold them to the public, bringing us food for it. Objects made by Jews from factory steel were so beautifully and precisely made and polished that, for example, rings looked completely like silver. There were Jews among us, who still managed to bring money and valuables, and of course they could exchange them for food. It also happened that some of them were sent by friends or relatives from outside the parcel, and these Poles received, of course, remuneration for each such payment. The factory employed 7,000 to 10,000 people constantly, so that it was always possible to get in touch with a Polish worker who had an advantage. Of course, the Polish workers worked on different terms, they worked 8 to 10 hours a day, while we had no quota at all. We had to work as long as the foreman liked it. Basically, we were supposed to work 12 hours, but most of the time we worked 15 hours, and recently even day and night. Did the Polish workers help us? For money, all Polish workers brought us food, but they earned it 2 to 4 times. It happened that a Pole worker gave his breakfast to a Jew, when he did a lot with himself, but in my hall for 500 Poles there were perhaps a dozen or so. However, it was very rare for a Pole to bring a Jew food and give it to him from the heart for free, I knew 2 of them in my hall. Polish workers often blamed a fellow Jew for negligence in their work, and we often got beaten for such cases.

As for the treatment of us: Both the Werkschutze and the technical foremen, who were the supervision at work, and even more so, the SS and Ukrainian militiamen, who supervised us in the camp, beat us for the slightest offense at work or outside work, and even for no reason whatsoever, when the soldier liked it. We were left to the grace and disgrace of all workers. When someone was put on the "black list" he was almost doomed to death. It was known that there was an order to constantly reduce our number when someone became unable to work or for even minor offenses. The "Berdychowski" forest near our factory was the site of the executions and our people dug mass graves. "Berdychow" meant executions in our camp and the Germans did not hide it. When somebody was taken down and sent to the "ward" and the disease turned out to be more serious, he did not return to the camp any more, because they were sent up from there to "Berdychow". My friends died in the Mielec factory: Leib Muszel (age 46, merchant), brother Izak Muszel (age 50, Jewish teacher), both from Radomyśl, sroka age 23 from Tarnów, Metzendorf, about 60 years old, tinsmith from Krakow (ul. Wawrzyńca) , Zughaft Mordeha, age 50, vegetable merchant from Krakow or Zakopane.

Names of the Germans who bullied us in the factory in Mielec: Stein (Werkschutzleilter) Weck (factory foreman) Lang (foreman) Karge (manager of aircraft repair workshops) Selman (fuselage separation), Ojweke (mechanical foreman) Walter (workshop and parts warehouse manager aircraft). The head of the SS was Oberscharfuhrer Hering and Schwanenberg, moreover, a certain Falerowski from Tarnów, who made a great fortune from Jewish workers, harassed Jews and entered them into the "black list".

Despite the constant exploitation of Jews as a result of diseases and executions, our number continued to grow as a result of being sent to our camp in 1942. Jews from Stary and Nowy Sącz, and in 1944 from several camps that were liquidated near Tarnów, from Budzyn near Lublin and Huta Komorowska. At the time of the liquidation of the Jewish camp, there were about 3,000 Jews in the factory in Mielec.

Liquidation of the labor camp in the workshops in Mielec.

In September 1944, all Jewish workers were recognized as "Häftlingow". The management changed and the Landesdorfer became our commander, Obersturmführer seems to be (he came to Mielec from the Płaszów camp). At that time, our camp was surrounded by wire with electric voltage, whereas until now there was only barbed wire. We were given striped clothes and each was tattooed with the letters KL on our hands.

At the end of September 1944, all the Jews were suddenly sent to the camp in Wieliczka, where they were supposed to open a mechanical workshop in the salt mine. However, the factory was impossible there and after 2 weeks we were sent on. The purpose of the trip was, of course, unknown to us. Our train stopped in Płaszów, later in Oświęcim [Auschwitz], but here we were not brought into the camp and even no selection was carried out. It seems because all our transport was considered the property of HEINKEL and we were supposed to go to Germany as workers of this company. In Mielec, there were still 100 Jewish women with us, who worked in the camp in the fields, but what happened to them later, because they were in a separate car, they were probably left in Plastów or Oświęcim. After three days of travel from Oświęcim, we arrived at the camp:

FLOSSENBURG near Vienna (on the border of the Sudetenland) October 1944.-March 45.

Our transport was the first transport of Jews to arrive in Flossenburg. It was only in 1940 that larger transports of Hungarian, Italian, Dutch, French and Belgian Jews began arriving there. Our group of about 3,000 people was divided into different blocks of 700/800 people. There were 15 to 20,000 people in Flossenburg, mostly Russians. Stronger workshops on construction sites in the area and less strong ones in the workshops in the camp itself, i.e. in the Messerschmidt aircraft factory, where I was also employed. From our group, the vast majority, maybe 2,500 people, were assigned to various Kommando at construction sites in the area, of which the Herzberg kommando was known to be particularly difficult due to the extremely hard work and very much treated. In Herzberg, the chance of dying as a result of disease and being shot was very high. Of the group of people who stayed with me in Flossenburg in the workshops, maybe about 500 of us survived by March 1945. At most, half. Namely, diseases spread in the camp this winter so much that every day there were 10 corpses in the barracks, apart from those who died in the "rewirze". Typhus and dysentery prevailed, moreover, when someone injured himself during work, the wound did not heal, but suppurated. I, too, had a wound from an accident at work and it faded for several months. I did not go to the clinic, because everyone was afraid to go, because it rarely happened that someone would come back alive, unless it was a disease that was cured quickly. We were told that the sick were given injections in the hospital, after which they would die within a few hours. The dead were burned in a small camp crematorium, but while I was in the camp, there were so many dead that they were not cremated, but were piled up.

The food in Flossenburg was 200 gr. bread daily, morning and evening coffee and 3/4 liter of watery soup at lunch and sometimes we were given margarine or jelly. There was no question of getting something to eat from outside the camp, at most you could steal potatoes or two when there was almost a transport from the railroad. A worker who worked a lot in Flossenburg was given the so-called "Premien-Scheiny" values ​​of 1 mark and they circulated only in the camp. They could buy beer, sometimes vegetables, sometimes tobacco in the canteen. My friend, Moses Betheil died in Flossenburg (owner of shoemakers in Krakow, ul. Boga Ciała) Naftali Malc from Radomyśl, 23 years old, (father Izak Malc spent 50 years in the camp in Mielec, and his other brother Leon Lajbisz Malc died 12/4/45 in Dachau). During the work in Flossenburg I was not beaten, because my Viennese kapo was a relatively good man, but there were cases of beatings, but there were no cases of executions or ill-treatment.

KAMENTZ labor camp near Dresden, March-April 1945.

In March 1945 I left with a group of people (about 750, about 50 Polish Jews) to Kamentz. We worked there for 1 1/2 months at workshops, and at the end of April, the barracks were dismantled. Before our arrival in Kamentz, there were 180 people (French and Belgians) and from this group of 930 people only 550 remained after 1 1/2 months, the rest died of dysentery and typhus, we were so hungry in this camp that we ate rotten garbage. 20 of the group of Polish Jews died in Kamentz.


In April 1945, the camp in Kamentz was evacuated to Dachau in the face of the approaching Russian offensive. We were placed in quarantine in block 29. In Dachau, Mr. Artman from Warsaw (owned by the fruit store) died in Dachau, his brother was also with me in Flossenburg. Edmund Kleinman from Krakow (owned a hairdresser shop on ul. Dietla, his brother was a dentist). A man from Toruń also died.

In Dachau, I found out that the following people lived in camps in Germany at that time and I can tell you about them from that period: Dolek Zuckerbrot from Mielec born in 1920, Henek Friedman born in around 1895 from Krakow (brother of Josek Friedman, owner of a fish shop at Dietla Street.)

We left Dachau by transport April 26 '45 in the direction of Tyrol, the following colleagues were with us: Efroim Leisten (born 1927 from Tyczyna near Rzeszów), Izak Eisen (from Kalwarja born 1924), Jozef Eisen (from Rzeszów born approx. 1921). Berek Landau (from Nowy Sacz, born around 1928.)

I arrived in Switzerland on May 1, 1945 with 8 colleagues. We managed to escape from the transport from Dachau on the night of April 28-29. One of my friends died on the way to Switzerland, which we did on foot.

the end.