Rohatyn in the Oneg Shabbat – Ringelblum Archive

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Archiwum Ringelbluma (Ringelblum Archive); tom 11 (Volume 11): Ludzie i prace “Oneg Szabat” (People and Work of “Oneg Shabbat”); Eleonora Bergman, coord., Aleksandra Bańkowska and Tadeusz Epsztein, eds.; Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego im. Emanuela Ringelbluma (Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute) and Wydawnictwa Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego (Warsaw University Press); Warsaw, 2013.

ARG 988 Ring I 559a and 559b, letters from Rohatyn, March 1942

They started to search all the houses, and pulled out the Jews regardless of their age and sex, from infants to decrepit old people. They drove out people who were half-naked, or completely naked, barefoot, and whoever failed to vigorously follow the orders of the perpetrators was killed on the spot. The tragedy was amplified by the fact that it was generally believed that the action was only against men, who would be taken to a labor camp. Therefore the men were the first to hide in basements and attics. As a result, mostly women, children, and old people filled the ranks of the victims. The whole action took place at a rapid pace, so that it was difficult to get an idea of what was happening, and any attempts to escape ended in death. [Ringelblum Archive, Volume 11, p.328]

Introduction

The Ringelblum Archive is a collection of roughly 6000 documents (more than 35,000 pages) assembled by a team of jewish historians, writers, and others between 1939 and 1943 in an effort to chronicle life in the Warsaw ghetto through a wide variety of materials. The effort was led by Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum, a historian, and was code-named Oneg Shabbat (Oneg Szabat in Polish, or Oyneg Shabbos in Ashkenazi Hebrew), “Joy of the Sabbath”. The team gathered testimonies, reports, essays, posters, drawings, and more, with the intent to publish a book from the archive materials after the war on the development of and survival in the ghetto.

From the testament of Oneg Shabbat writer Rachel Auerbach

From the testament of Oneg Shabbat writer Rachel Auerbach: “Remember, all you who read this: VENGEANCE!” Source: ŻIH Oneg Szabat Project.

When eyewitness reports of Nazi extermination camps reached Warsaw and the archive team realized Warsaw’s Jews were destined for death at Treblinka or elsewhere, they wrote their own final testaments and buried the bulk of the archive in ten metal boxes and three milk cans in building cellars in the ghetto, even while they continued to gather information. Most of the archivists, including Ringelblum, were murdered in the ghetto uprising, at the camps, or elsewhere by 1944.

Recovery of the metal boxes in 1946

Recovery of the metal boxes in 1946.
Source: ŻIH Oneg Szabat Project

With the help of the team’s secretary, who had survived, the ten metal boxes (buried in summer 1942) were excavated from the rubble of Warsaw in September 1946, and two of the milk cans (buried in February 1943) were found in December 1950; the third milk can has never been found. The containers’ contents were water-damaged and soiled, but largely intact.

Today the archive is preserved at the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, known in Polish as Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego im. Emanuela Ringelbluma (ŻIH), and has been systematically conserved, digitized, catalogued, and described by archivists and researchers at ŻIH and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington DC. An extended description of the archive’s development and content is available in a pdf version of the catalog and guide produced by the two organizations. Access to the digitized files is possible at both ŻIH and the USHMM, and the essays and reports of the original archivists have been edited and published in a multi-volume monograph and searchable digital formats as part of the Centralna Biblioteka Judaistyczna (Central Jewish Library), the internet portal of the full ŻIH archive. In 2017 ŻIH opened a permanent exhibition on the archive at its facilities in Warsaw, called “What We’ve Been Unable to Shout to the World”. In 1999, the Ringelblum Archive was inscribed in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register.

Ringelblum Archive Materials on Rohatyn

The Oneg Shabbat archivists studied and recorded not only materials related to the Warsaw ghetto; they also fielded and organized reports from around wartime Poland about the fate of other Jewish communities.

Rohatyn appears in a number of reports and summaries assembled by the archivists as found in “Ring I” (the first collection excavated, in tin boxes), either in lists of regional aktions or in other evidence of the progress of the Holocaust in Poland. These documents are transcribed and edited in Volume 11 of the Ringelblum Archive monograph; to date the volume is only available in Polish, but ŻIH is working to translate the entire monograph (forecast to take 10 years to complete all 37 volumes).

Volume 11 of the monograph includes a variety of material on the working process and staff of Oneg Shabbat including their news bulletins and their information services which collected data on the fate of numerous Jewish communities in Poland, to document the course of the Holocaust. Much of the material covers shocking reports of the extermination center in Chełmno nad Nerem near Łódź, a report on the “Gehenna of the Polish Jews” (a symbolic reference to the biblical cursed valley of punishment or destruction), and a report on the Warsaw ghetto aktion of 1942. The Rohatyn data is found on several pages of the Gehenna section.

In addition, two letters originally written by Jews from Rohatyn in 1942 were preserved in the archive section now titled “Materials on the History of Jewish Communities outside Warsaw”, new archive catalog number ARG 988 Ring I 559:

  • a handwritten letter in Yiddish, badly damaged and substantially illegible
  • a typewritten copy of a letter in Polish, slightly damaged but mostly legible

Digitized copies of these letters may be viewed at both ŻIH and the USHMM; excerpts are shown here. Based on reports and news items published by Oneg Shabbat during the war, it is likely that the letters were intact and fully legible before they were stored in boxes to withstand the destruction of Warsaw. There may also have been additional materials with Rohatyn relevance, now lost.

The archivists’ reports and summaries on Rohatyn, plus the two letters, are outlined and translated below. Translations from Polish were donated by native Polish speakers who are RSRG members and friends of RJH; see the notes in each section and at the end of this page.


Reports and Analysis

As described in the text above, the sections of the Oneg Shabbat writings with mention of Rohatyn and the situation in occupied Poland outside of the Warsaw ghetto appear in Volume 11 of the monograph. In the notes below, page numbers are listed twice, first as pages of the printed volume (as p.) and then as images in the digitized version online (as img p.). Embedded hyperlinks here target the first image in the noted online series. Translations from Polish to English and editing in this section are by Robert Gruszczyński and Jay Osborn.

The first mention of Rohatyn is in the Introduction:

In April 1942, while the deportation of Jews from Lublin was still in progress, Oneg Shabbat created a report, “The Second Stage” (document 66). The report clearly alarmed its readers that the Germans had begun a complete and direct annihilation of Jews in all occupied territories. The report gave details on: anti-Jewish laws implemented since the beginning of the war; mass murders in the East (Vilnius, Słonim, Hancewicze, Równe) in 1941; deportations from villages in Warthegau to unknown directions; and a full deportation from Lublin. An earlier report, “Crime in Chełmno”, was attached.

Notes included in the report suggest it was written on 12Aug1942, probably by Eliasz Gutkowski. A copy survived in a file smuggled to the Aryan side of Warsaw and delivered to the Polish underground government in London, at an unknown date.

Both “The Second Stage” and “Crime in Chełmno” are also part of another report, called “The Gehenna of Polish Jews under the German occupation” (document 67). This is a comprehensive synthesis of overall German anti-Jewish policy illustrated with many examples from materials collected by Oneg Shabbat: facts drawn from the accounts of refugees and displaced persons; statistics on, among others, mortality in the Warsaw ghetto; and German ordinances. In the part concerning the period of direct extermination, the report lists the number of victims of executions and deportations in individual towns until June 1942. Information about the extermination camp in Bełżec appears, but there is no mention of Sobibór.

Directly after “The Second Stage”, descriptions of events in Vilnius, Słonim, Krośniewice, Żychlin, Hancewiczach, Równe, and Lublin were included in the entire “Crime in Chełmno”, and information about the extermination of the Jews of Kutno, Rohatyn and Lviv was added. The number of Jewish victims in the Chełmno extermination center was estimated at 48,800, and the total at nearly 1 million.

A second mention of Rohatyn appears in the Introduction, in a section describing editing inconsistencies in versions of Oneg Shabbat reports produced at different times and sometimes by different editors:

In choosing which copy or copies of reports to use as the basis for publication, editors Ruta Sakowska and others were not always able to determine which versions were “original” and which corrections were accurate:

On p. 34 of the original there is a sentence describing the massacre in Rohatyn:

“Members of the SS as well as Poles and Ukrainians entered the ghetto simultaneously from all sides and, as they passed each of the dwellings, pulled out the Jews who were there.”

In a later edition, the description was changed, perhaps based on censorship considerations:

“Members of the SS with grenades and Ukrainians entered the ghetto simultaneously from all sides and, as they passed each of the dwellings, pulled out the Jews who were there.”

Rohatyn appears as part of a table in the Oneg Shabbat Bulletins and News section, under the heading List of Jewish ghettos in the so-called General Governorship, within Distrikt Galicia, based on German statistics from October and November 1942:

Details of reports from Rohatyn appear in the “Gehenna” report, which begins on page 311 of Volume 11:

The report highlights the sharp increase in violence in the “second stage” of the “Hitler occupation”:

All anti-Jewish decrees from the first 22 months of the present war are nothing compared to this second stage – a period of annihilation (“Ausrottung”). Extermination of whole Jewish communities, not as a result of warfare, with no pretext, and no apparent search, only due to nationality – this characterizes the second stage, the end of which, after twelve months (June 1942) has not yet passed, and which has already consumed at least one million lives (excluding massacres in indigenous Russian areas).

The text notes that the number of victims includes increased estimates of increased mortality due to hunger and epidemics, but excludes victims of all causes in the towns of Sokal, Brody, and Złoczów “and hundreds of others” for which no reports were yet available.

A page from the tabulated estimates of victims

A page from the tabulated estimates of victims, including for Rohatyn, at the Oneg Shabbat exhibition at ŻIH in Warsaw. Photos © 2018 Jay Osborn.

Rohatyn appears in the table on the following page:

The report then details the 20 March 1942 first aktion in Rohatyn, from letters and bulletins gathered in the Warsaw ghetto; from similarities in content and sequence, it appears that this report is largely taken from the Yiddish letter ARG 988 Ring I 559a (see below) with one or more supplemental sources:

In the table below, we want to give an exact picture of some actions in the second stage. It will be a small part of the brown book of Nazi crimes, about which even wild jungle beasts have never dreamed.

Rohatyn

On March 10th, 1942, ten days before the carnage, the foreman (Landkommisar) ordered the Jewish Council in Rohatyn to delegate 120 men who, in two groups of 60, were to dig trenches outside the city (one kilometer behind the railway station, on a hill), allegedly for anti-aircraft defense. The trenches had the following dimensions: twelve meters long, nine meters wide and three meters deep. Again on March 20th – it was a particularly frosty day – a group of 50 people went to dig outside the city. At seven-thirty in the morning on that day, eight German trucks arrived on the market square. SS men plus Ukrainian and Polish members of the auxiliary police got out of the trucks with full armament. The whole ghetto was surrounded by a new squad. The action began punctually at eight in the morning. SS men and Polish and Ukrainian policemen entered the ghetto simultaneously from all sides. They started to search all the houses, and pulled out the Jews regardless of their age and sex, from infants to decrepit old people. They drove out people who were half-naked, or completely naked, barefoot, and whoever failed to vigorously follow the orders of the perpetrators was killed on the spot. The tragedy was amplified by the fact that it was generally believed that the action was only against men, who would be taken to a labor camp. Therefore the men were the first to hide in basements and attics. As a result, mostly women, children, and old people filled the ranks of the victims. The whole action took place at a rapid pace, so that it was difficult to get an idea of what was happening, and any attempts to escape ended in death. The people were herded to the market square, where they were ordered to lie down on the ground, their faces to the snow. Dozens of people were beaten with rifle butts, to death. If anyone held a bucket or a jug, it was put on his head and beaten with rifle butts until he died in horrible torment. If the narrow opening of a milk jug did not fit the head of the delinquent, the following steps were followed: the skull was smashed with the rifle butts, and when part of the brains fell out, the jug was forced on the “reduced” head. Such and similar macabre scenes took place on the Rohatyn market.

Transport to the place of execution took place by trucks. Groups of people were taken in the direction of the previously dug trenches, with the children loaded first and then the adults. The children were thrown like blocks of wood: grabbed by their hair, hands, or feet (no torturer showed a tear in his eye, no one had any conscience). Crying and wailing mixed with the screaming, coarse curses of the murderers, and rifle shots filled the entire ghetto. The trucks stopped half a kilometer from the ditches. With the help of machine guns, everyone was driven to the hill of death. Anyone who could not keep up, or tried to escape, was shot on the spot. On the hill, the SS men selected a few strong Jews who were ordered to collect jewels, money, and better pieces of clothing from all the other Jews. Many men and women were completely naked. Then they were ordered to stand at the edge of the ditch, and they were killed with machine guns. Almost nobody was survived, even wounded, because they were shot with dum-dum bullets. Children were usually thrown into the grave alive. Many people threw themselves into the grave before being shot; most of them were covered by the corpses falling onto them. A few came out of the grave after the massacre ended, with complete nervous exhaustion, covered in a layer of frozen blood and massive frostbite. The Jews who were working on that day had to arrange the corpses evenly along the length and breadth of the ditches. At six in the evening, the last shot was fired at the workers. Over 2000 innocent Jews died a martyr’s death. A little over 1000 Jewish residents were left in Rohatyn. On Saturday, March 21st, the Jews who survived started the gathering of corpses of the murdered, lying in disarray on the square, on the streets, and on the road to the hill. They buried them in the common grave on the hill. In this way the annihilation of Jews – “Ausrottung des Judentums” – in Rohatyn was done.


ARG 988 Ring I 559a: A handwritten letter in Yiddish

Record annotation, Polish: 03.1942[?], b.m. / NN., List do NN. (Mania) / Opis masowej egzekucji ok. 2000 Żydów przy udziale SS i Ukraińców w Rohatyniu. / Opis: oryg. lub odpis, rkps, atrament, j.żyd., 132×195, 147×118 mm, poważne uszkodzenia i ubytki texstu, k. 6 (dwie sklejone razem), s. 11.

Record annotation, English: Mar1942[?], unknown place / Unknown author, letter to Unknown (Mania) / Description of the mass execution of about 2000 Jews with the participation of the SS and Ukrainians in Rohatyn. / Description: original or copy, handwritten, ink, Yiddish language, 132×195 and 147×118 mm, serious damage and loss of text, 6 sheets (two stuck together), 11 pages.

An excerpt from the Yiddish letter

An excerpt from the Yiddish letter. Sources: ŻIH, USHMM.

This letter barely survived its storage and retrieval, with roughly 30% of each sheet missing in small and large holes, but the text is partially legible thanks to preservation efforts of the post-war archivists. Handwritten in clear Yiddish script on scrap paper (one page had been previously used for geometric figures or calculations), the ink has also faded beyond legibility in some places. Even with gaps in the text, however, the message is distressing.

The letter was written in Rohatyn, and annotated by the archivists with a tentative date of March 1942, but we interpret its date as either 3 or 5 April 1942. The author describes events taking place in Rohatyn beginning on 2 Nisan 5702 by the Hebrew calendar (20 March 1942); this was the first major German-led aktion in Rohatyn, which resulted in the death and mass burial of most of Rohatyn’s Jews. The author did not sign the letter; we do not know how he or she saw or heard about these events, or what his or her fate was afterward. Likewise nothing is known of the “Mania” to whom the letter was addressed.

We are not aware of a transcription of the original Yiddish text. The letter was originally translated to Polish by Magdalena Siek; the English text presented here was machine-translated and edited by Jay Osborn (a new direct Yiddish to English translation would be welcome).

Rohatyn, 2nd day of Chol HaMoed Pesach […]

Dear Mania!

You probably received our letter […]. It has already passed over […] has not calmed down yet. It happened […] in winter, 2 Nisan […] 9 […] Landkommisar […] in the Judenrat […] sent […] to dig pits. Why did he make these pits […] he did not say. There were various assumptions. One said that they were making a brickyard, another that […], but instinct […] many graves are for Jews […] Landkommisar […] gave soup and bread to everyone […] layers of 60 people each were buried. […] 9 meters long, wide and 2 meters deep. When […] it was almost ready, it was ordered […]. In this way, they were buried for 9 days […]

[…] […] 60 people […] among […] 8 […] cars and 2 people. Cars […] […] set aside […] […] trucks […] […] […] 8 […] [.. .] in the Christian quarter […] […] were shot […] in the Jewish quarter with […] […] […] of all ages and both sexes brought […] to the market. Those who were found […] were not dressed, they were taken naked, who […] […] were shot in beds […] […] thought that it was only about men […]

Mainly they hid in […] while women with children and older people in […] time […] and from them mainly […] it happened so suddenly that […] time, to find out what […] is still in the beds. How […] and the action started […] the Jewish quarter. When we heard […] we left and noticed as 5 meters in front of my windows there are about 12-15 people, mainly women with children […] also young people. People already […] and when there were 2 people […] they entered the houses, some […] escaped. One succeeded. The second […] fell. We saw it with our own [eyes]. It took a few seconds to get […] We entered the attic, the attic was […] not enough safe and we went down […]

[…] they could not get out of their homes […] … […] they met […] […] with pots […] […] he was a small one on his head […] […] the pot is after all … some people were barefoot and […] they were beaten for so long […] until several […] were gathered … .] cars came and […] were thrown on cars. At the beginning, the children […] by the hair or at the neck and thrown as […] on the cars, and then on […]

In outhouses, 20% succeeded […] taken from the district. Some of the latter were robbed […] by the rural population, and some […] by the Ukrainians into the hands of SS-men […] from the ranks leading them to the point of collection. […] from the car down, and those who […] wounded […] bullets from all […] in the mill and […] private institutions […] while Jews […] on that day […] doctors, dentists, were taken from the market and a few more […] […] or most families […] which. There is a lack […] of the Bahn family who lived by […] everyone […] from the Mauer family who also […] […] lived 89 Jews […] do not know who were friends, when […] to answer me […] without food from 8 o’clock […] when we went out onto the street […] hundreds of Jews lay on the streets […] of work to gather bodies.

[…] led them to graves […] with a daughter, in the back found […] […] she lay? Face to daughter […] from the streets, beds and houses […] to the grave, we knew what our eyes […] […] what the Jews […] […] […] pity […] he said to […] from the fields […] thrown into the grave […] living people […] gathered in the morning […] officers arrived […] […] […] victims […] […] things like […] […] first they started […]

[…] adults went in cars have […] graves are on a hill […] train more or less on the hill, cars […] about half a kilometer before graves […] from a car and there stood […] Jews who tried to escape […] were left in reserve […] […] […] removed from […] young men, among Shlomo Tsuker […] was from people […] valuable things in one […] he had a better coat or suit or […] shoes then they were made […] and then on the edge of the grave they were shot so that […] they dropped into the grave. […] mostly […] there were those who […] before the bullet hit them.

Many were alive with the dead […] in such a way saved their […] legs, because before the execution […] they undressed, so it lasted until 6 […] who worked that day […] ] down […] what is happening in the city […] the first group […] was around 21 people who […] fell to one side […] down because they formed [ …] at the same time all day and not […] children or parents to the closed point, at 6 o’clock […] the last salvo and were shot. The working […] 10 […] went to Kidush HaShem, about 2000 Jews […] out of 1600 Jews from all the houses […] which […] have been emptied of two houses whose entry […] with side. The remaining ones have been […]

[…] do not indicate […] the cruelty of God who punished us […] only this […] […] for you with a child with your […] brother and sister and […] Jews.

[…] write to me at […] address […]


ARG 988 Ring I 559b: A typed letter in Polish

Record annotation, Polish: Po 30.03.1942, Warszawa-getto. / NN. (Rohatyn), List z 20.03.1942 r. do NN. [Edward?] (Warszawa-getto). / Zawiadomiene o śmierci najbliższej rodziny podczas akcji likwidacyjnej (ok. 2000 ofiar). / Opis: odpis (2 egz.), mps, j.pol, 190×245 mm, drobne uszkodzenia i ubytki texstu, k. 2, s. 2 / Druk: Listy o Zagładzie, s. 77-80.

Record annotation, English: After 30Mar1942, Warsaw ghetto. / Unknown author (in Rohatyn), letter dated 20Mar1942 to Unknown [Edward?] (in Warsaw ghetto) / Notification about the death of close family during the liquidation action (about 2000 victims). / Description: copy (2 examples), typed, Polish language, 190×245 mm, minor damage and loss of text, 2 sheets, 2 pages / Printed: Letters on the Holocaust, pp. 77-80.

An excerpt from the Polish letter

An excerpt from the Polish letter. Sources: ŻIH, USHMM.

The record comprises two carbon copies of a typed letter (probably from of a handwritten original) dated 20Mar1942, the date of the first major aktion of the Rohatyn ghetto; current estimates of the number of Jewish dead in that aktion is over 3000. The letter is written by an unknown person, to a recipient nicknamed Edzio (probably for Edward or Edmund) who may have have been confined to the Warsaw ghetto. The letter describes the author’s pain at the loss of his parents plus a likely sister or sister-in-law, and nephew, leaving only one close relative, probably a brother or brother-in-law. The author briefly describes the aktion events, perhaps from second-hand reports but possibly at least partly from direct observation, and his anguish at his own impotence in protecting his family members. No further information is available about the author or his fate.

Translation of the letter contents from Polish to English by Julian Bussgang, Andrzej Brylak, and Jay Osborn:

Dear Friend!

Unfortunately, there is no one left to buy a birthday gift, or to buy it for. Two days before the birthday of our Sunshine, we lost our dearest parents, our most beloved Pepka, and our sweetest Imeczek. Only Dudek remains with me. We are alone in our pain and despair. There is no consolation for us. We “go on living” – not clear why or for whom. We have lost the four persons most beloved by us. How terrible were their deaths. Together with 2000 of our brothers and sisters. In a shared grave. There has never been such a “shechita” anywhere. They did not spare pregnant women, small children, or the elderly. Blood flowed in a stream. Genia [Gehenna?] arrived unexpectedly in the morning, surrounded the section of town, and together with the locals, reveled till the evening. If they had at least freed Imeczek for us, it would have been a miracle – we would have had a goal and something to hold on for.

And so with every day, with every moment, our pain and our despair grows. There is no way that I can reconcile myself with the thought that they are gone. I close my eyes, and see them before me. In my ears still have the roaring laughter of Imeczek. Edzio, you simply can’t imagine what a superb child he was, how wonderfully and properly he was developing. You, who were with us in those difficult times, know and can judge who we have lost. To her children, every mother is the best, but did there exist a more loving, dedicated, selfless, and understanding mother than my Mama? Even when someone did something wrong to her, she never raised her voice. Always quiet, she gathered within herself the sadness of others, always with a smile on her lips, living only for her children. And Father: he worked hard all his life, never complaining, happy in the happiness and joy of his children. He did nor express it in words, but his eyes reflected his boundless devotion and faithfulness. Or Pepka, with unlimited devotion and loyalty, delighted that she could do good for somebody. Even though she never had a good day in her life. For her, her child was everything, and with her own eyes she had to see the death of her little son. Clinging to his mother’s neck, they fell into the grave together. There is a greater tragedy, a greater crime… I don’t believe in anything any more, not in any Providence, if they could allow such pure and innocent beings to go to slaughter like sheep. And what next? We remain as if treading water. What torments me most is the awareness of our impotence. Man is a simple beast, he must wash himself, dress, and eat.

No, you have no consolation for me any more. Man has no heart in himself, only a stone, otherwise it would have already broken long ago. At times, I persuade myself that it has to be borne in a manly fashion, in order to pay it back at the right moment, but these are platitudes. Everything is hollow, nothing will bring my beloved ones back to me again.

Goodbye, my friend, and don’t hold it against me that I share my pain with you. […] so close to me that I have to write about them to you. Everyone has died […] our names. Their last thoughts, words, breath […]. Be healthy, and remember, that the most important […] for you and your mother is to prepare yourself – […] in the apartment shelter.

I take your hand…


Rohatyn Jewish Heritage thanks our friends at the Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego im. Emanuela Ringelbluma (ŻIH) and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) for research and access to digitized copies of the original documents, and RSRG members and friends Robert Gruszczyński, Julian Bussgang, and Andrzej Brylak for their assistance with Polish-to-English translations and interpretation of the wartime documents from the Ringelblum Archive.