Mistreatment of Jews in occupied Poland (1940)

In June 1940, a woman gave an eyewitness account on the mistreatment of Jews in occupied Poland, specifically in the town of Wloclawek:

“A few days after their entry in Wloclawek, on the eve of Yom Kippur, the Germans forced their way into a private house, where Jews were praying, and ordered those present to go out and run. Then they ordered “halt” but several Jews did not hear and carried on running. They then opened fire and killed five or six of them.

On Yom Kippur itself, the Germans burned down the two large synagogues. The fire spread to some private houses. The Jews threw their possessions out of the window and were then robbed by a mob of non-Jews. The arsonists were mainly men of the SS. The Jews tried to save the burning buildings. The Germans then took out all the Jewish men from one of the houses, 26 of them, and forced them to sign a declaration that they had laid fire to the house. After receiving the declaration the Germans told those arrested that they will be punished for the arson unless they pay 250,000 zlotych, a ransom on their lives The Jewish population of Wloclawek collected the money and the arrested men were released.

Then, hunting expeditions on Jewish houses took place. They caught 350 Jews and put some of them into military barracks and others into a factory. From there they were taken out daily for work but received no food, only their families were allowed to bring them something to eat…

The Judenrat [Jewish Council], which was nominated to fulfil the Germans’ orders, produced each day a certain number of Jewish workers in accordance with German demands. Those who were taken, or caught in the street, were beaten up and humiliated endlessly. The way they treated the Jews during work can be seen from the fact that one of these Jews, Jacob Heimann, 52 years old and too weak for physical labour, was beaten and stabbed with a dagger during work, and died a few days after being brought home.

In October, the Germans decreed that the Jews should attach on the back of their clothes a yellow star and that they should not walk on the sidewalks but in the middle of the road. After levying the fine on account of the imaginary arsonists of 250,000 zlotych, they fined the Jewish population another 500,000 zlotych for supposedly not observing the order forbidding them to use sidewalks. The schools were closed. A few days after their entry into the town, the Germans closed and confiscated the Jewish factories and shops. Jews were required to register all their property, and no Jew was permitted to keep more than 200 zlotych in his house…

Cases of beating and abuse of Jews were frequent. These occurred not only during forced labour, and not only under some pretext, but also for no reason at all. Some simply walked up to a Jewish passer-by, shouting “Jude!” and then beating him up.”