1943: 1,196 Jewish children from Bialystok

3 comments October 5th, 2013 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this date in 1943, a special transport of 1,196 children and 53 adults arrived at Auschwitz and were gassed shortly thereafter. Thus ended one of the lesser-known tragedies of the Holocaust.

The children were very nearly the last survivors of the Bialystok Ghetto, which had been liquidated in August 1943. Almost all of the inhabitants of the ghetto wound up being sent to the Treblinka Extermination Camp and killed, but over a thousand children were mysteriously separated from their parents and taken away for some as-yet-unknown purpose. (The transport list can be found here.)

At the time, there were tentative negotiations between the Red Cross and the Nazis to trade Jewish children for either German prisoners of war or cold, hard cash. The exact details are unclear, and there’s a great deal of contradictory information about the entire event.

In any case, the Germans selected children from Bialystok, one of the few places in Nazi Europe where there were any Jewish children left alive.

The children, all of them under 16, spoke only Yiddish and Polish. They were in terrible shape, both mentally and physically. One witness later described them:

Suddenly, a column of bedraggled children appeared, hundreds of them … holding each other’s hands. The older ones helped the small ones, their little bodies moving along in the pouring rain. A column of marching ghosts, with wet rags clinging to their emaciated bodies, accompanied by a large number of SS men …

The children, looking like scarecrows, refused to undress. They held on to their dirty clothing, the older stepping in front of the young ones, protecting them with their bodies, clutching their hands and comforting those that were crying. Their clothing permeated with lice, their bodies full of sores, these children refused to wash.

Their first stop was Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia, the so-called “model ghetto” which was used by the Nazis as a propaganda tool to show that they weren’t mistreating their Jews.

Theresienstadt was in fact a horribly overcrowded, disease-ridden city and its inhabitants were all dying of starvation, but it was the best there was available. There were no gas chambers there, and the Theresienstadters knew nothing about the kinds of horrors the Bialystok children had been through.

To keep knowledge of said horrors from leaking out, once in Theresienstadt the children were placed in isolation and weren’t allowed to leave their barracks. 53 doctors and nurses were recruited from the local population to take care of them, and they were locked up with the children.

In spite of these security measures, some of the adults were able to make contact with people from the outside. Theresienstadt youth leader Fredy Hirsch got caught making an unauthorized visit to the children’s barracks, for example, and as punishment he was sent to Auschwitz on the next train.

A child thought to be Deborah Klementynowska, possibly the only surviving photo of one of these lost Bialystok children.

The adults — one of whom was Franz Kafka‘s sister, Ottilie — didn’t know what to make of the children’s behavior at first.

For instance, why, when they were invited to take a shower, did they start crying and screaming about gas? The children started to talk about their experiences, and their caregivers were horrified by their stories.

The Nazis intended to quite literally fatten up the children before they were sent off into the world, so the group was treated very well. Everyone got enough to eat, and they were given baths, clean clothes, medical treatment and even toys. Anyone who got seriously ill was taken away “to the hospital” and, ahem, never returned.

Slowly, assisted by their kind caregivers, the children got their equilibrium and began to act like normal kids again.

Meanwhile, negotiations continued …

The Allies wanted to send the children to British Mandate Palestine. The Germans, however, were against this plan because they didn’t want the children growing up there, strengthening the Palestinian Jewish community and possibly establishing a Jewish state someday. (The Mufti of Jerusalem, whom the Nazis were quite friendly with, didn’t like the idea either.)

The Germans wanted the children sent to Great Britain instead.

The UK, however, had already accepted many Jewish refugees, including 10,000 German, Austrian and Czech children with the Kindertransport, and were unwilling to take in any more.

And there was another problem, relating to the prospect of exchanging the children for money.

This money would have to be provided by the American Joint Distribution Committee and other Jewish welfare agencies, and they flat-out refused to give anything to the people who had promised to wipe them off the face of the earth.

In the end, the negotiations collapsed, through what one witness later called “an ill-applied sense of ‘correctness'” on the part of the Allies. Of course, given the Nazis’ track record, one wonders if they ever seriously intended to release the children no matter what they were given in return.

The plan was discarded and the Germans were left with 1,196 useless Jewish children on their hands. They dealt with them in the usual manner.

None of the Bialystok group or their caregivers had any idea what was coming up for them when they were sent away from Theresienstadt. They’d been told the negotiations had been successful and they were on their way to Switzerland, and thence to Palestine. They were told to take off their yellow stars and the adults had to sign a statement promising not to say anything bad about the Germans.

The transport set off in high spirits, rejoicing at their upcoming freedom.

But their train went not to Switzerland but to Poland, marked for “special treatment” on arrival at its destination. Apart from a few of the adults who were selected to work, there were no survivors.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Children,Concentration Camps,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Gassed,Germany,Guest Writers,Jews,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Other Voices,Wartime Executions

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1942: Icchok Malmed

3 comments February 8th, 2012 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this day in 1942, Icchok Malmed* was hanged on Kupiecka Street in the Bialystok Ghetto for throwing acid in a Nazi’s face and blinding him.

Zchor tells the story:

When the Nazis attacked the house at 29 Kupiecka Street, rounding up all of its residents into the street, a bold young man, Izchok Malmed, whipped out a jar of acid from his pocket, hurling it in the face of a Nazi soldier, who was blinded at once. Seeking revenge, the sightless Nazi fired his revolver several times, hitting another Nazi soldier and instantly killing him. In the melee, Malmed vanished.

Commandant Friedl, after learning what had happened, ordered that one hundred men, women and children living in the area where the incident occurred be rounded up and force-marched to a nearby garden, where they were lined up against the wall of an adjacent bet hamidrash and shot with machine guns.

Afterward Nazi soldiers captured another group of Jews, forcing them to dig a large pit for the bodies of the one hundred martyrs. A thin layer of earth covered them. Some were still alive, their hands groping upward through the earth.

The Nazi soldier accidentally shot by his colleague whom Malmed had blinded was carried to the Judenrat building, and his body was placed on [Judenrat Chairman Efraim] Barasz’s desk. Friedl then proclaimed to Barasz, “See what your Jewish criminals have done. Now we shall take revenge. You shall see what we can do.” Friedl issued an ultimatum for the perpetrator of the crime to surrender within twenty-four hours. Failing that, the entire ghetto would be destroyed with everyone in it.

Barasz knew the Nazis meant what they said. He sent word to Malmed to give himself up and thereby save thousands of Jewish lives. As soon as Malmed heard, he surrendered himself to the Nazis.

Tamarof’s diary described in detail Malmed’s courage. Asked why he killed the Nazi soldier, he replied: “I hate you. I regret I only killed one. Before my eyes my parents were murdered. Ten thousand Jews in Slonim were liquidated before me. I have no regrets.” Tamarof tried to slip poison to Malmed but failed. Even the police could not get near the prisoner.

The next morning, Izchok Malmed, a hero of the ghetto, was hanged in the square where he had performed his act of courage. Despite the horrible torture to which he had been subjected, Malmed cursed the Nazi murderers. After several minutes of hanging on the gallows, the rope broke and the body fell to the earth. Instantaneously, the Nazis riddled Malmed’s corpse with bullets and re-hanged the body for another forty-eight hours.

Kupiecka Street was renamed Malmed Street after the war. Near the site of Malmed’s execution is a plaque reading, in Polish and in Hebrew, “Icchok Malmed, the hero and fighter of the Bialystok Ghetto, was killed here by the Nazi murderers on 8 February 1943. In his honor.”

* The Zchor account spells his name “Izchok” but on the memorial plaque it says “Icchok”. It’s a form of the name Isaac.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Concentration Camps,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Germany,Gibbeted,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Jews,Martyrs,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Other Voices,Poland,Public Executions,Shot,Terrorists,Torture,Volunteers,Wartime Executions

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