The piece below contains a disturbing eye witness account of the
massacre of the citizens of Zagorow, including Leon Jedwab’s
mother Szajne Rajzel, sister Riva and little brother Moishe in the
Kazmierz Biskupi forest in the district of Konin in late 1941
The Testimony of
Dr. Mieczysław Sękiewicz
Shmuel Krakowski, A Small Village in Europe Chelmno (Kulmhof), The First Nazi Mass Extermination Camp, Yad Vashem 2001, Chapter I, The Beginning of the Extermination, pp 19-21. Translated from Hebrew by Ada Holtzman
A Polish veterinary doctor, resident of the area, Dr. Mieczysław Sękiewicz, testified for the first time in front of a juridical Polish Committee on 27 October 1945 and again in June 1968 for the Polish Committee Investigating the Nazi Crimes in Poznań.
Here are some parts of his testimony.
In the middle of November 1941, around 4:00 in the morning, the Gestapo men came to the cell in the prison in Konin where I was locked and ordered me to get prepared to go. They chained my hands and brought me to a vehicle where other two of my comrades were already in. They were chained to each other in hands and legs. They were Walenty Ochrowski from Golina and Kazimierz Tylżanowski from Rzgów. I sat near to them and then the Germans chained my legs also. We drove towards Kazimierz Biskupi... The auto passed the first path in the forest' reached the second one, drove back and stopped between the first and the second path... Then they released us from the chains and we were faced with the back to the clearing in the forest, where the mass graves are now… We stood there about half an hour, then they led us to the glade. Two pits were dug to the width of the glade. The first' nearer to the path, had length of about 8 meters, width of about 6 meters and depth of 2 meters. Almost parallel to this pit and all through the width of the glade another pit was dug, same depth as the other pit, width 6 meter and length of about 15 meters…
Around the glade, except in the side of the junction of the two paths of the wood, stood or sat Jews… I cannot describe their number, because they stood among the trees. In the mass were women, men and children, mothers with babies in their arms. I cannot tell if they were from Poland only. It was later said that they were from Zagórów. I noticed among them one tailor and one shopkeeper from Konin, but I do not remember their names anymore. On the paths, in the glade and around the forest, walked many Gestapo men. Except us who were brought from Konin, there were around 30 other Poles.
In the bottom of the bigger pit I saw a layer of unslaked lime. I do not know the thickness of that layer of lime. In the bottom of the smaller pit there was no lime. The Gestapo men warned us that the wood is surrounded and kept by them tightly so each one who will dare to escape will get a bullet in his head.
Then they ordered the Jews to get naked, and then to jump into the bigger pit. There were unimaginable cries and weeping. Most of the Jews jumped themselves to the pit and some opposed the command. Those who opposed were forced and pushed to the pit. We were ordered to collect the clothes and shoes of the victims. I saw Gestapo men who came to the sorting places where we put watches, jewellery, rings and other valuables. They took those valuables and pushed into their pockets…
In certain moment they ordered the Jews to stop getting naked because the pit was already full. Only on top we could see the heads of the victims strongly tight to each other. Those Jews who were named already were thrown by the Gestapo men to the pit, on top of the heads of the Jews tight together. All the time were forced to sort out and collect the clothes which were thrown away, shoes, food packages, blankets etc.
This way it continued until noon time, and them a truck arrived and stopped at the path near the glade. I noticed that on the top of the truck were things which looked like wash-tubs. Then the Germans connected a small engine, which was probably a kind of pump, and connected it with a pipe to one of those tubs. Two Gestapo men held the pipes and started to pour some kind of liquid on the Jews tight up in the pit. I think this was water' that how it looked like, but I am uncertain of that. During the pumping they connected the pipes to the other wash-tubs. Probably because of the boiling unslaked lime, the people in the pit started burning while alive. The cries were unimaginable. We, who sat near the thrown clothes tore pieces from them to shut our ears. To the horrible screams of the Jews who boiled inside the pit, were added the terrible cries and weeping of those Jews who still awaited their destiny. It lasted 2 hours…
On the following day we were ordered by the Gestapo to cover the pit with earth… Our work was interrupted when trucks arrived and then we were ordered to load the victims clothes and separately their other possessions.
Already in the afternoon a few times appeared a vehicle similar to an ambulance, dark grey, with doors in the back. After he doors were opened, corpses of human beings were thrown out of vehicle. They were Jews as well. Men, women, children. This grey vehicle came and go while I was there three times, with an interval of one hour from each arrival… The corpses thrown out of vehicle were connected to each other. Many were holding hands. Probably members of one family. The Gestapo men ordered us to separate the corpses. Later we had to put them in the small pit, condensing them, corpse by corpse… While I was there, 3 layers of corpses were led on each other, and still there was one vehicle which remained to be unloaded. The corpses who were brought by the grey vehicle were probably gassed by gas as the vehicle and the corpses smelled of gas.
I remember that during the murder of the Jews in the glade, one Gestapo man snatched a little child from his mother's hands and smashed his head on the auto. When the mother screamed, he threw on her the smashed head of the little child, then he took handful of lime and stuffed it into the mother's mouth. I also saw how a Gestapo man grabbed a young Jewish girl, tore her dress and underwear, hung her with her hands on a tree, and then with a Finn knife he cut her breast to pieces. This way the Jewish girl was dying on the tree. I did not know any of those Gestapo men.