Extermination of Jewish and Romani people in the Sącz region

Łukasz Połomski

Script of a HISTORY lesson

Estimated duration: 45 minutes.


I. Subject of the lesson: Extermination of Jewish and Romani people in the Sącz region.

II. The objectives of the lesson.

– describes how the extermination of the Romani and Jewish people happened;
– knows the most important locations connected with the German crimes in Polish lands;
– discusses the attitudes of the society toward the crimes that were committed;
– knows the most important places connected with the extermination of Jewish people in Nowy Sącz.

III. Teaching forms, methods and techniques; teaching resources:

1. Forms of teaching: working together (whole class), individual work, group work.

2. Teaching methods and techniques:
– information-giving methods – explanation, lecture;
– activation methods – discussion, working in groups;
– curricular methods – working with a textbook.

3. Teaching resources:
– source texts:
– map of Nowy Sącz.

IV. Lesson course:
1. Organizational activities:
• greeting the class students;
• roll call;
• students write down the subject in their notebooks: Extermination of Jewish and Romani people in the Sącz region.

2. The teacher introduces students to the subject. The students listen to the teacher’s lecture on restrictions towards the Jewish and Romani populations introduced after Hitler’s rise to power, and later, during the German occupation. The teacher should discuss in detail things like:

– the Nuremberg Laws – the teacher lists the laws restricting the Jewish and Romani populations, he discusses with students which, in their opinion, were the most harmful;

– the Star of David – the teacher discusses the meaning of this symbol, both in the context of history and war. He refers to the documents introducing the obligation to wear it during the occupation. He talks to the students about the importance of such way to marks the others;

– ghetto – the teacher discusses the history of ghettos, starting from the Middle Ages. He explains to the students how the closed Jewish districts turned out to be  death traps which nobody could avoid;

– extermination – the teacher explains the term, referring to earlier examples of genocide, e.g. in the colonization era or the slaughter of the Armenians;

– concentration and extermination camps – the teacher explains the difference between the two, at the same time pointing out the locations of the most significant of the camps created by the Germans in the Polish lands.

2. The teacher discusses the situation of the Romani and Jewish populations in the Sącz region. To prepare for this part the teacher can use the following publication: Pamiętając dla przyszłości. Historia Żydów na Sądecczyźnie: konteksty – nawiązania – refleksje, Nowy Sącz 2016. Key points to discuss:

– lack of broader knowledge about Romani people, based solely on stereotypes;

– an outline of the Jewish history of Nowy Sącz, especially in the context of Polish-Jewish relations until 1939;

– listing and mentioning national minorities, the multicultural mosaic, of people living in the Sącz region until 1939 (including Lemkos and Germans).

3. The teacher divides the students into groups. Each group receives one source text (all texts are included in the attachment) and reads it.

GROUP I – memories of Markus Lustig;

GROUP II – memories about the extermination of the Romani people;

GROUP III – memories of Janina Gołosińska-Maćkowiak;

GROUP IV – memories of Jadwiga Fiszbain.

After reading the texts, each group should take a piece of paper and draw on it one item, one thing that in their opinion symbolizes the story they just learned. For example it can be a feather or a bed for Lustig’s story; fire or wagons for the Romani story; a school briefcase or threads for the memories of Gołasińska; pears for to the memories of Fiszbain. Students should be given complete freedom in this regard.

4. After analyzing the source texts and creating drawings, we go to the map of Nowy Sącz, which should be displayed or should hang on the board (alternatively, the teacher can try to sketch it schematically by hand). Each group tells about the location where the events of the source text took place. We try to mark these points on the map that everyone can see. We put up the groups’ drawings in these point. Each group needs to explain why it chose the symbol they drew for their story.

GROUP I – Pijarska Street;

GROUP II – bank of the Kamienica River;

GROUP III – former ghetto near the castle;

GROUP IV – Batory Avenue/Evangelical cemetery.

Then the teacher asks the students to use their smart phones to search for information about places connected with the extermination of Romani and Jewish people that are commemorated in Nowy Sącz. The students should find:

– the pedestal on the Trzeciego Maja Square;

– the Jewish cemetery;

– the plaque on Franciszkańska 8 Str.;

– the plaque on the Nowy Sącz synagogue.

Then we mark these points on the map for everyone to see.

5. The teacher discusses the source texts read by the students. He points to the similarity between the extermination of the Romani and Jewish people. He tries to start a discussion with the class about memory and the need for other forms of commemoration of the tragedy of the Second World War. Are they needed? How can it be done? Why should we remember these events – what should people’s goal be?

6. Recapitluation of the discussion and conclusion of the lesson.



Memories of Markus Lustig (born 1925)

But not this time. This time fortune did not smile upon us. No, it is not possible to calm down. From the lower floor banging on the door can be heard, the door opens a moment later, creaking, German curses, choked scream. A round of machine-gun fire scares me. Another one. Crash of heavy furniture, the smash of broken glass. I start to tremble. I can’t control my hands and legs. Suddenly silence.

– Maybe they will now go somewhere else? Please! – I beg. But no. They are walking up the stairs, I hear the clatter of heavy heels on the floor. Heavy steps reach our floor. I pull the covers over my head. Maybe they will go to the attic, to the apartments on the top of the stairs, maybe they go past us? I’m trembling, I’m afraid. They killed the Herzberg family, I am sure. I no longer hear the voices in their apartment. It’s my turn to die. I know the creaking of the Szeinfeld family apartment door. The soldiers leave it without shooting. Now they are in the apartment next to ours. A round of machine-gun fire scares me. I pull the covers even more over my head. I stop breathing. How lucky, that Mojżesz Józef is asleep. He won’t move, they won’t see him, he will survive. The gunshots get closer. I hear objects falling and shattering, I hear heavy bodies sliding to the floor. Murderers’ shouts in German, crying.

Now the murderers, may their name perish, break down the door and walk into our apartment, into mine and my brother’s, Mojżesz Józef’s, room. Haman and his gang of murderers are in a hurry and go to the parents’ room. I do not breathe, I listen to what is happening in the other room.
– What will they do to father and mom, intimidating fear – I whisper into a pillow.
– What do you do? – the soldier asks my father in German.
– I am a bookbinder – the father responds weakly. These are his last words.
– Turn around! – a brutal order can be heard. I hear shots and the sound of a body sliding down to the floor. I huddle in horror.  – Dad! – I whisper to myself. Mother bursts out crying terribly. Terror can be heard in her sobbing. Shots. Silence. – Mommy! – I whisper from under the covers. I hear Rachel, terrified, crying and screaming:
– Mommy! Mommy!

Shots. Silence. I clench my eyes as hard as I can under the covers. I feel cold sweat all over my body. I tremble helplessly. On their way out they pass through our room. I hear their steps next to our bed. – Let them leave! – I pray fervently.

– And what do we have here? – one of the murderers says.
– Leave him, he’s just a little boy – another voice answers. This does not help little Mojżesz Józef, dreaming his dreams. The gun gets loaded. Blood freezes in my veins. A shot straight into my little brother’s head. I lie, trembling and holding my breath, hidden under the covers, I feel my brother’s warm blood running down my legs. Finally, they leave our room.

– Good night! – the devil did not forget to say in Polish and he laughed. I stay in the bed petrified. I can’t move or breathe. Are they really gone? Will they come back? I don’t cry and I don’t scream. I lost my tongue. My body turned into stone. The brain was fogged. My heart… is full of fear. I lie in the bed and wait for the shots in the building to stop. Finally, there is silence. Dead silence. Feathers, red with blood, fall on the floor.

– I have to get out of the bed – I command myself. I sit, my legs tremble, my body is weary. There is horror in my eyes. Death and destruction My brother lies in our bed with no signs of life. His shattered head still rests on the pillow, as if he was still deep in a dream. The terror makes me close my eyes. I move toward my parents’ room. Father lies in a huge pool of blood. His head is shattered. – Dad, what did they do to you, Dad… – my clenched lips say.           Mother and Rachel lie mangled and mute on their beds, covered with bloodied red feathers. The walls and floor resemble a slaughterhouse.

– Mom, Rachel… – I whisper with horror. Then it strikes me, like a club, the awareness that I am now an orphan without a father, without a mother, without a brother and without a sister. Fate? Luck? I don’t know and I will never know. Those terrifying scenes will remain in my soul forever. I carry them inside like a force pushing me to success, to pride, to a rich and happy life, to creating a wonderful family, indeed, toward the essence of victory and retribution for this ultimate evil.



Memories of Barbara Świdzińska (born 1935)

The month of July started soon, so we finally got to go over the Kamienica River. However, when we came to the footbridge (not from the side of Hell, but from the other side, from the city), we were stopped by an unbelievable view! The entire opposite shore, which we used to call a “beach” – a huge number of Gypsies was sitting, walking, standing or lying, and the footbridge we wanted to walk over the river on was completely “swarmed” by their children. And along the road that ran by the river, that we used to walk on, there was a lot of wagons, and even horses, which apparently did not fit among the bushes. When we were standing in bewilderment on the side of the river forbidden to Gypsies, immediately a few of the children on the footbridge gathered their courage and came to us, begging for anything to eat. Mommy immediately took what she had brought from home for us out of the bag , gave it to them and told them to “scamper off” quickly, so that nobody would catch them. I don’t remember today whether it was sugar cubes or a piece of bread. The only thing I remember is that she had tears in her eyes and she wanted to go back home right away. However, we begged her to walk further along this side of the river, and try to find a spot clear of bushes to put down a blanket. And we found one, although quite far away, which even had a meander where the water was a little deeper, enough to swim. When on our way back we visited aunt Tabaszowa, she told us that it was the Germans who had been bringing Gypsies here since the spring, even from places very far, and that many of them were dying, undoubtedly from hunger. She also said that despite the ban, they keep coming over to this side of the river and beg, or simply steal, anything that can be eaten, especially from gardens. A few days we went back to this “beach” we found last time, we did not go to the footbridge to avoid looking at all of those unhappy children – hungry and naked – whom we were not able to help. And it was there, in this remote corner, when I went into the bushes to pee, suddenly a completely naked little girl stood in front of me, with brown tan and very long black hair, which covered almost her entire face; she stretched out her hand and whispered to me:

 “Give something to eat”…

 “But I have nothing, nothing!” – I replied, also whispering, shaking from fear

And then she said:

 “Then tomorrow bring me… candy, also here. I will come here. I am Raissa, and you?”

 “Basia” – I whispered, and at that same second she disappeared in the bushes. Of course, I did not tell anyone about this meeting, but I kept thinking where to get some candy for Raissa, since I haven’t even seen any since Christmas. Although mom would give us each a suger cube once every few, but I did not know when this “sugar day” was coming… However, it was raining the next day and it kept raining for a few days mor, and one of them turned out to be a “sugar” day. So I took my sugar cube and quickly hid it under clothes in my “dolly corner”. I couldn’t wait for the sun to give Raissa the sugar cube and see her joy! When the right day for the beach finally came, I insisted on wearing one particular dress, already too short for me then, because it was the only one with a pocket in which I could have hidden the sugar cube. I was in such a hurry to meet her, that I kept running in front of mommy and Kazio, or I kept jumping up and down. We were still quite far from the river when we were suddenly stopped by an unpleasant stench and thin streaks of smoke floating up as if from above the water. Mommy wanted to go back immediately, but Kazio kept explaining that we should first see what burned down. Maybe it was somebody’s house? And so we went slowly and carefully forward looking around, until we came close enough to see the beach on the opposite side of the Kamienica River, which was completely empty, save for a skinny mutt running there and back with a pitiful howl. From the burned bushes, where there were wagons and horses before, streams of smoke were still raising, stinging the eyes, and the entire old beautiful beach was covered with rags, budnles, pots and pieces of some objects and maybe even human bodies… I was not sure because mommy told us to turn away at once and quickly pulled us back home. But I kept turning back, all the time hoping that somewhere out of this burned ruin Raissa would suddenly run out, so that I could give her that little bit of sugar…

But I also ended up not eating this sugar.



Memories of Janina Gołasińska-Maćkowiak (born 1931)

In the morning, instead of books, I loaded two loaves of bread in my school briefcase and I went to the ghetto for bartering. I was quite easy to slip past the workers hanging around the wall construction site. No one paid attention to a schoolgirl with braided hair and a stuffed briefcase. Right on the first street I was surrounded by jabbering Israelites and asked questions like: – What is the miss selling? I explained what I have and what I need. One Jew, still young, about 28 years old, turned up and said that he has threads, and he can arrange saccharin. Not without fear I followed him from one gate to another, and then through long and winding galleries. He opened the door and led me into a room, which was so stuffy that the stench almost pushed me back onto the gallery. In this little room, in conditions that were an affront to any rules of hygiene, there dwelled: a grandfather and a grandmother, a father and a mother, three little Jewish children playing on the floor and a half-year-old child crying in a cradle. The father shouted from the threshold: – There is bread! The little room stirred – three pairs of small dirty hands stretched towards me. One of them, probably the biggest, started to tinker around the briefcase lock, but the mother used a kitchen cloth to chase the raiders away and into a corner, and she asked me to sit on a chair, she quickly wiped with the cloth. She started apologizing for the tight and dirty room, explaining that they used to live completely differently, until she finally burst into tears reapeating: – What will happen with us, what will happen with us. Then she pulled out a couple of thread spools from some nook – first she communicated with her husband in their jargon – and one bread “went” for the threads. They did not have saccharin, but I was stubborn and I did not want to trade both loaves for threads. I needed saccharin and nothing else. They told me to wait and all four adults – grandparents and parents – sat down to deliberate. They jabbered loudly, arguing and convincing each other, looking in my direction every now and then. At some point I remember the stories my friends told me years before, when we were little children that Jews take away Catholic children to make matzah. They push the taken child into a barrel with nails inside, and they roll the barrel until the child is drained of blood, because blood is necessary for the real Jewish matzah. I got cold and hot by turns, I felt an unpleasant knot in my throat. I didn’t want threads or saccharin anymore, I was even ready to throw down the briefcase with bread, just to get as far away from this room as possible. I was measuring the distance to the door with my eyes, if I could get to it and run away, or if they would catch me. But apparently the Jews did not have the taste for matzah with my blood in it, because before I made up my mind, the grandfather said: – Wait a little more, miss, there will be saccharin. He waddled to the door and after a quarter of tensely waiting, as I was still not sure about the blood, he came back with the saccharin. So we made the deal and showered with blessings and requests to come back with bread again, with relief I closed the locks of my briefcase, in which the bread turned into threads and saccharin. Coming out, I took a look behind. Squatting on the floor, the trio of curly-haired children busily teared slices of bread sprinkled with a little sugar with their teeth. The smallest one in the cradle also got a piece of crust, which it rotated inside its toothless mouth.

Whenever I entered with my briefcase into the small dirty room, I was greeted by a choir joyous screams. The little ones would pull out the briefcase from my hands mercilessly and ferret around it, right down to the bottom, because there  would always be three pieces of candy or three lollipops on long sticks waiting there. I was no longer afraid that I would be used to make matzah. Besides getting threads and saccharin, which I would later go with to the countryside, I was drawing a kind of great satisfaction from the fact that I am such an expected guests in that family, that I am helping someone, because in the countryside we would just simply barter.



Memories of Barbara Świdzińska (born 1931):

In 1942 (it must have been early autumn, because pears were ripening) the ghetto was liquidated. Some people were transported out by trucks, but there alsow were the so-called death marches – the Jewish people were driven like cattle throughout the city and loaded into freight wagons. On the way there they were mocked and those who could not keep up, who were walking slower, were shot at like fish in a barrel. The escort guards were on motorcycles, a car with the blue police followed at the back, and after them there walked some people, probably Jews too, who collected the dead bodies.

For us the death march turned out to be a salvation march. Mommy, falling down on the cobblestones, pulled me with her and ordered me to lie down quietly. When the column was far away, we crawled toward the bushes of the nearby Evangelical cemetery. I remembered her saying that she had no hope to survive, that the only thing she wantedwas for us to die together, and not let us be separated before death. Despite all the horror, I felt safer being close to Mother.

That is how we found ourselves outside the ghetto. We were hiding at many people’s places. First, Mrs Anna and Mr Antoni Ptaszkowski gave us shelter on Kunegundy 20 Street (my uncle Stan Fiszbain has been liviung with them for some time already). Then we moved to Mrs Janina and Mr Józef Mazurek on Sikorskiego 25 Street (in the Hell district). Finally, we were offered a helping hand by Mr Professor Giesing from Kołłątaja 29 Street, by whom we also spent some time.

We had to change our place of residence often. I didn’t have the “good appearance”: Semitic features and black curly hair drew attention. It was more difficult to stay safe. I was hidden in various, most unpredictable places: in a bee box and in a bread oven, in a made up bed covered with a bedspread, in cellars, in gardens and in haystacks. I spent six weeks under the ground, in a special compartment dug out for me.