by Marek Maciągowski

Shortly after they entered Kielce in September of 1939 the Germans initiated a reprisal against Poles and Jews. German soldiers robbed Jewish homes, organised raids and imposed forced labour. The Jews were made to do the most difficult work and forced to wear the six-pointed star on their clothing. Already by November 1939, Jews with the best homes in the centre of the city, which was designated as the German quarter, were being forced to leave their homes. In mid-December of that year, the Germans began to seize Jewish wealth, quarries, mills, brickworks and lumber mills, whose owners were immediately shipped off to concentration camps. Every Jewish store in the city centre was closed down. Dr. Mojżesz Pelc acted as the chair of the Judenrat – the German-imposed Jewish Council, but eventually stepped down owing to his unwillingness to carry out German orders. He was replaced by Herman Lewi. Food rationing stamps were introduced. From September 1940, a person was allowed a ration of 2.8 kg of bread, 200 g of sugar and 160 grams of grain coffee per month. Throughout 1940 the Jews were being robbed of their property by the Germans and in 1941 the Germans took over even the small stores and workshops. All the while, more and more displaced people, for whom food and lodging had to be provided, were being brought to Kielce. The entire Jewish population was now enrolled in forced labour. During the round-ups, Jewish youths were mainly selected and sent off to labour camps. On March 31 1941, an order was issued to create a “Jewish quarter in the city of Kielce”. The ghetto was located in the poorest part of the city, where most of the houses had no running water or sewage. There were 500 buildings within the area, which could accommodate about 15,000 people, yet the number of Jews in the city, including those brought in, was already at 27,000. The Polish residents of that part of town were given three days to vacate their homes, from April 2 to April 5. All of the Jews had to move into the district. Poles were strictly forbidden, under penalty of having their homes confiscated, to provide the Jews with any kind of shelter. All Jewish stores and workshop outside the Jewish quarter were shut down. An old age home and an orphanage were relocated to the ghetto. In April of 1941, a transport of one thousand Jews reached Kielce from Vienna, and the living conditions deteriorated even further. More and more people were relying on the soup kitchen near the synagogue. There were always very long queues of starving people at the cheap meal distribution points. The old age home and orphanage were still in operation, although it was becoming harder and harder to keep them running.

The Kielce ghetto was fenced in by a wall made of boards and barbed wire. Jews could only leave the ghetto if they had a pass. At first, Poles were allowed to enter the ghetto without any interference but it started to become dangerous because of the frequent checks carried out by the military police. The Germans banned gatherings and prayers and the synagogue was converted into a warehouse. The situation in the ghetto was getting worse by the month. The price of food was increasing at an alarming rate. The Judenrat distributed soup but the lines were so long that people had to wait two hours for a bowl. The penalty for leaving the ghetto was death by firing squad. The executions took place was at the cemetery in Pakosz. It became clear in the summer of 1942 that the Germans are planning to physically eradicate the Jewish population. The first transport took place on August 20 at 4 am. Around six thousand Jews were shipped out on that first day. The Germans killed the old and the sick on the spot. The young and healthy were kept behind to work. On August 22, people were taken from the area known as the little ghetto. Another six thousand were taken on that second transport. Among them was Rabbi Abela Rapoport, with his wife Sara, sons Boruch and Mordechaj, and daughter Zysla. The Rabbi walked wearing his Tallith and reciting the Widduj pre-death prayer and the Shema. The Germans killed around 500 people that day, mainly the old and sick, as well as children from the Jewish orphanage.

On August 23, the Germans killed all of the residents of the Jewish old age home, and ordered all of the patients of the Jewish hospital to be killed by poison. On August 24, 7000 people were taken away in a third transport. Thirty pregnant women were shot to death at the wall of the synagogue. The Nazis killed around 1200 people on the day the Kielce ghetto was liquidated. They sent another 21,000 to their deaths in Treblinka. Around 1500 to 2000 people remained alive – those who were young and able to work. They were locked in a camp between Stolarska and Jasna streets. They were not paid for their work, only fed. Poles were not allowed to enter the camp or even approach the fence. Several people were shot and another dozen or so were sent to Auschwitz for trying to sneak food to the prisoners. After the ghetto was liquidated, the Nazis claimed all Jewish real estate as “unowned property”. The lumber mills, quarries, lots and bank deposits belonging to Kielce Jews were confiscated. On May 23 1943, the Nazis shot and killed 45 children at the Pakosz cemetery. The children were aged 18 months to 13 years and had lived at the work camp with their parents. The Stolarska/Jasna camp was shut down at the end of May 1943. Some of the prisoners were sent to camps in Skarżysko, Pionki and Starachowice, and the rest were divided among three camps near the Kielce industrial plants that were being used for the production of war supplies. They worked 12 hour days with one half-hour break in exchange for 200 grams of bread and a bowl of soup. The camps operated until the summer of 1944, after which the worker were sent off to Auschwitz. Some of those who remained ended up in camps at the arms factories and others were sent to Buchenwald. Around 200 people were killed at these camps and dozens died of hunger and exhaustion. Of the city’s twenty-some-odd thousand Jewish inhabitants, only around 500 survived the war and occupation. Those who survived attribute their survival largely to Poles. Among the passive and indifferent there had also been those who had risked their lives trying to help their Jewish neighbours. During the existence of the ghetto, Poles tried to commission jobs to Jewish craftsmen, paying them in food. Poles also arranged Arian documents for their Jewish acquaintances, thanks to which a dozen or so families survived the occupation. After World War II, the Kielce Jewish community no longer existed.