“When you receive this letter, none of us will be alive.” The Letter of the Jewish Combat Organization for several days before the final liquidation of ghettos in Będzin and Sosnowiec. We received the letter from the grandson of a Warsaw doctor, who together with the rest of the Warsaw inhabitants left the city after the fall of the Rising of Warsaw in 1944.
Frumka Płotnicka (DROR, ŻOB), Herszl Szpringer (DROR, ŻOB), Izrael Kożuch(Hanoar Hacijoni,ŻOB), Szlomo Lerner (Gordonia, ŻOB) i Cwi Brandes (Ha-Szomer Ha-Cair, ŻOB) leaders of the Jewish Combat Organization, on the 17th of July 1943 for several days before the final liquidation of the ghettos in Będzin and Sosnowiec (Środula):
„When you receive this letter, there will not be on this soil a single Jewish soul”
The letter addressed to the representatives of the parent organization of the authors, who at that time were already in Palestine, is a kind of report of the events in occupied Poland, the report of the Holocaust, as well as the report of the death of friends. All of the authors lost their liveswith the fall of the uprising, which started on Kamionka and Środula in August 1943, repelling the attacks of the Germans in the bunker on the 24 Podsiadły St. in Bedzin.
One of the copies, translated to Hebrew, was sent from Istanbul to Geneva, fell into the hands of German spies, who sent it on to their authorities. Istanbul because of its neutrality was one of the places where functioned organizations such as for example the Jewish Agency Vaada ha’Hatzalah, which aimed at rescuing Jews from the Holocaust. The agency had its branch also in neutral Switzerland. In Geneva, were at that time some of the recipients of the letter — Dr. Zilberstein, Nathan Shvalbe and Dr. Haim Posner.
There are slight differences between our copy of the letter and its version published in the Book of Remembrance of Zagłębie. However, we do not know whether the differences in the two copies result from differences in the original text, or if they appeared in the German translation of one and the same version of the letter.
We received the letter from the grandson of a Warsaw doctor, who together with the rest of the Warsaw inhabitants left the city after the fall of the Rising of Warsaw and together with his family left for Czech Republic (either during or after the war), where the family settled permanently.
We do not know how the copy of the letter got into his hands. The grandson of the doctor found it among other personal documents years later. Among the documents there also was the statement made by a witness regarding help that the doctor gave to a Jewish couple in occupied Warsaw. Near to the monument „In Memory of the Będzin Jews,” less than a hundred meters away, a little deeper into the yard, there is a building. Underneath it, there was a bunker where members of the Jewish Combat Organization (ŻOB):
Cwi Brandes, Frumka Płotnicka, Herszel Szpringier, Baruch Gaftek were defending themselves. The building has not changed its appearance until today. The ground floor is made of stone, the second floor of the darkened, red brick. On the ground floor, the windows have bars. The events that took place in this square commemorates a plaque on the wall of the building. It was unveiled it in 1945. Unfortunately, since its creation it has not been renewed.
To Wania, Mendel, Zev.
Only today with great joy, we received after long weeks of waiting, your Sheliah (messenger) with the letter. Unfortunately, he has been a little late in coming. For years we have dreamed of an opportunity to tell you about our life and our fight.
During the first 1,5 of the war, we established a big structure, apart from that, we organized a youth movement that were stronger and better than in normal times. Following the organization of the ghettoes, a systematic plan of extermination began. It began in Warthegau, in the districts of Łódź and Poznań. About 80,000 Jews were poisoned by gas (officially it was known as evacuation).
In Łódź, there was a small, closed, and sealed community that numbered some 40,000 who were undoubtedly dying from hunger and tuberculosis. At the moment, we don’t have any information from there. This place of destruction is called Chelmno(Kulmhof). After this, came the extermination of the Lithuanian Jews who were shot to death in Ponar. Altogether, about 20,000 Jews remained in Vilna, Kovno and Shavl. For several months now, we have had no word from there either, and it appears that they have been made „Judenrein.” We prepared our defenses, but unfortunately they’ve been unsuccessful. In the area known as „Government,” Warsaw, Lublin, Czestochowa, Krakow and the surroundings, there are no Jews at all. The extermination was carried out by gas in Treblinka near Malkinia. This is an infamous place of destruction, not only for the Jews of Poland, but also for the Jews of Holland, Belgium, and so forth.
Our finest chapter was in Warsaw. Tzvia (Lubotkin] organized the defense and Josef (Kaplan], the children (the reference is to the various Zionist youth movements, M. H.) Terrible battles took place in the ghetto. Sadly, only several hundred of the enemy were killed – some 800. The result was that all the Jews were killed; the ghetto was destroyed and not a trace of it remained. In the „Government” region there is no longer a Jewish settlement, apart from three labor camps, Trevnik, Poniatov and Prokochim, numbering up to 30,000 people. In a few weeks time there will be nobody left.
In Warsaw a few thousand people survived among the gentiles in an illicit manner, on the Aryan side, among them being Cywia (Lubotkin), Icchak (Zukerman), and Galer (Eliezer). From the Ya’ari family (the reference is to Meir Ya’ari from the leaders of the Kibbutz Artzi movement, affiliated with Hashomer Hatzair), nobody survived. Tosia (Altman), Chentzia (Plotnicka), Leja Perlstein, Jozef Kaplan, Mordechaj Anielewicz, and thousands of our people are no longer alive. From the Reiss family, Enszel (”Poalei Zion”); only one Sack (Jozef) survived; Grajak (Shalom) and Levin (Lejser). From the Samak (Kaplan) family only Bloch (Eliezer Lippa), who was in the labor camp, survived, and Kirszenbaum (Menachem); and from the Alter family (Victor), only a few survived. The Ukraine and Polesia are „Judenrein.” In Bialystock about 20,000 Jews survived in slightly better conditions. Those from the Lublin district were completely exterminated in Belzec and Sobibor.
The last Jewish settlement, which had existed under relatively better conditions, was Upper Eastern Silesia. Some three weeks ago 7,000 Jews were exiled. They are being killed in Auschwitz. They are being shot and incinerated. In the coming weeks, our district will be without Jews. When you receive this letter, none of us will be alive. Based on the information we received through Switzerland, only a few people were arrested (sent to the detention camp for foreign citizens, M. H.) None of us were among them. These days, the authorities are making it difficult and are no longer placing people in detention camps. To date, we have not received any word from any of those who were sent in the last dispatch. On the contrary, today we know for certain that they were sent to Auschwitz. Immediate intervention by the patron government is of the strictest urgency. We are not sending you the requested material, since you will be able to receive the pictures and the facts from Natan (Szwalbe) and from Zilev (Dr. Abraham Zilbersztajn).
I personally visited all the districts I have written about and witnessed all the acts of extermination. Herszl (Szpringer) is still with us; however, do not write to this address, since he is at odds with „Shiltonovitz” (the authorities). For myself, I am also not living with him [”Shiltonovitz”] in complete tranquility. We are looking for a way to reach Hungary and request your help with this, in any way possible.
Do whatever you can. I doubt if you can help us in time, since we are nearing our final days. All the youth movements together number no more than a few hundred people, including our kibbutz members and the children’s’ kibbutz, unofficial kibbutzim.
Our hope of reaching the homeland (Eretz Yisrael) has not been realized, to our deepest regret. Warmest regards to the Letben family (Yitzhak Tebenkin), Eliezer (Gravitski), Benderski (P. Benduri), Ya’ari (Meir), Kolodeni (Kol Moshe), Goldstein (Yitzhak), Pinkas (Lubianiker-Lavon), and all the relatives.
We are writing this letter in great haste, since the messenger’s time is very pressed. We haven’t the strength or the patience to write everything to you, what was most important and what we wanted most.
We send heartfelt greetings.
Frumka, Herschel, Zwi, Kożuch i Szlama L