Destruction and Holocaust

The Death of the Jewish Population in Czyzewo

by Shimon Kanc

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Czyzewo, a shtetl [town; the plural is shtetlekh] in the Bialystok wojewodshaft [region or province], experienced the same fate as the other shtetlekh in this region. The Hitlerist occupiers also created a separate ghetto here. The life of this ghetto was not different in principle from life in all of the other ghettos of this region which were under Soviet rule until the German attack on the Soviet Union.
The Jews of this shtetl actually lived as if in a ghetto before the war. But despite the fact that, in the first months of the German occupation, Jews came running here from other shtetlekh, the Germans drove the Jews out of their houses, restricting their right to live only in several streets.
The bell that the commissar asked to have made in order to make it easier to call the people together in the middle of the night earns particular attention here. This shows that the regime in the shtetl knew that the ghetto would exist for many days and gave it the character of an interim camp that they could liquidate at any moment at once.

The reason here was not the need of residences for the non-Jewish population because the apartments, half in ruin, burned, long stood empty. Rather it was a result of the system to torture the Jews, humiliate them with inhumane living conditions. After the first aktsia [action – usually a deportation], the ghetto was reduced to five houses. With the return of the escaping Jews, it [the ghetto] was given the opportunity to be used again.
At the beginning, the ghetto was not closed. The residents could move freely, go to the villages to obtain food. The Germans shut their eyes to this. This took the burden of feeding the ghetto from them. The Jews worked for absolutely no pay. After the first aktsia that took place on the 1st of November 1942, the ghetto was fenced in with wire. It appeared that the ghetto lasted longer than the Hitlerists had calculated for unanticipated reasons. It happened because of the necessary work carried out by the Jews.

In the various ghettos in Poland there were often transfers of Jews from one ghetto to another. The Hitlerists used these policies as one of the instruments to annihilate the Jewish population, leading them to a condition of apathy and passivity.

The Germans also looked the other way and pretended not to see the arriving Jews. There was even a case when the commissar sent a special representative to the surrounding shtetlekh recruiting Jews for Czyzewo. The commissar did this because of a shortage of working hands. The representative came back without anything because Czyzewo was well known in the area as the place that was designated to be liquidated more quickly.

Few of the escaping Jews who wandered about on the roads and in the forests and villages decided to return to Czyzewo. Many Czyzewo Jews perished in other shtetlekh, murdered by the Polish gangs and local peasants.
When the war broke out there 3,000 Jewish souls in Czyzewo.

According to the witness testimonies of the survivors, over 1,500 Jews were driven out during the first aktsia. Later, over 2,500 souls were taken to Zembrova[Zambrow]. This shows that there were people from other shtetlekh in Czyzewo who came here during the first days of the war.
Despite the great poverty, the population in Czyzewo ghetto did not experience the typhus and dysentery epidemics. However, they were not spared later when they were in the Zembrower barracks with the thousands of Jews from other shtetlekh.
The plan of the Gestapo to liquidate the Czyzewo Jews was not distinguished by any particular preciseness. As in many other areas they economized on transport for taking them to Auschwitz and other death camps and annihilated them just several kilometers from our city.

The Hitlerists prepared the first and largest mass-aktsia two months before they took over the shtetl. It should be understood that the members of the Judenrat [Jewish council] did not clearly know about the plans for annihilation. They went through the houses and convinced the Jews that they should not escape because, as they were told, it was usual to be recruited for work.

This shows that just as everywhere else, the Germans also placed a great deal of thought here into the assistance of this Jewish administrative body that they installed. The methods of the aktsia itself also were the same. The ghetto was surrounded with a strong cordon of gendarmes, S.S. members and Ukrainian and Polish granatowa policja [Blue Police, popular name of the police organized by the General Government]. Driving those remaining and hidden Jews onto the collection point was first carried out by the Polish police. After them, the German S.S. members entered the residences to verify and finish the work.

The most capable were left for work in the German enterprises. The old and crippled were murdered on the spot. The faces of the Hitlerist criminals were twisted in devilish grimaces, having lost every human expression. The aktsia was carried out in conditions of increased terror, inhuman screams and terrible bellowing from the members of the Gestapo who operated with whips and shot blindly at innocent people, surprised and frightened. There could be no talk of the least resistance. Every thought of overt action was shut off by fear.
In these conditions every initiative to escape was truly heroic. There were many cases in Czyzewo. There still lived in people a strong will to save themselves.

No civilians took part in covering the holes in Szulborze. Evidence of this is that the peasants from the surrounding villages did not clearly know about the mass murder. Rumors went around, accompanied by mysterious superstitions, about devils and specters. It appears the work was done by Polish policemen.

The peasants in the Czyzewo area, who had not lived badly with the Jewish population until the war, were under terrible fear after the second aktsia and, therefore, did not show the appropriate readiness to help the Jews who had escaped from the ghetto. Of the hundreds of Jews who strayed to the villages and forests, not more than several score survived; of them a number perished after the liberation in the pogrom that the Poles carried out during the first weeks of the liberation.
No organized resistance took place in Czyzewo. Only several young people succeeded in reaching the partisans who fought in the Baranowicze Woods, near Bialystok. There were cases of passive resistance that expressed itself in sabotaging the work, not registering, scorn at the Jewish policeman and the escape to the forest that did not always come as a result of fear of death. Facts show that during the aktsia, Jews were not aware that they were being taken to their death. During the selection no one wanted to be one of the few whom the commissar let remain. The commissar had to carry out the selection with force.
The Czyzewo ghetto did not have any contact with the ghetto in Bialystok. The young did not have any knowledge of the heroic resistance that was put up by the young Jews in Bialystok. But among those fighting in Bialystok itself were also found several Czyzewo young people. Members of the Zionist organization.