The Orphanage at 11 Grodzka Street
The Nursery for Orphans and the Elderly was established in 1862 by the Jewish Community with the purpose of caring for orphans in need and elderly people. It was situated in the Old Town at 11 Grodzka Street. The institution operated under this address until 24 March 1942, when German forces brought it to a close with the mass murder of both child and elderly residents.
- Pre-war activity of the institution
- People in the care of the Nursing Home
- The activity of the institution under German occupation
- The personnel of the Nursing Home
- The financial conditions of the institution
- Separation of the Orphanage from the Old People's Home
- The liquidation of the Orphanage
- The liquidation of the Old People's Home
Pre-war activity of the institution
In the days preceding WWII, the Orphanage gave assistance to a relatively small number of those in need, irrespective of their age and gender, with room for only 15 people at its disposal. The care of the residents was in the sole hands of the 9 members of personnel1. Its supervising body was the Education Office established by the Jewish Community. Its members, appointed at the beginning of January 1939, included Wolf Halpern, Zanwel Szpiro and Szmul Wolman. The head of the office, Leon Szper, (nominated in the 1930s) was a secondary school teacher. Most probably, the chair of the board was replaced by Anna Taubenfeld shortly before the war2.
By the end of the 1930s the buidling where the Nursery was situated had undergone thorough renovation work which allowed it to be connected to both sewage and electricity systems. The modernisation of the structure, as well as its institutional remodelling, were crucial for the improvement of the living conditions of its residents3. The activities of the institution were concentrated for the most part on providing its charges with food and lodgings. For this purpose, three bedrooms were set up, heated with stoves. The inhabitants of the Nursing Home received three meals a day, prepared on the premises. In compliance with nutritional norms, the boarders were entitled daily to 50 dag of bread, 8 dag of meat, 3 dag of fat, 3 dag of sugar, 2 dag of vegetables and 1/6 litre of milk per person4. The provisions of the Nursery secured only the most basic needs and, as evident from the lack of a library or reading room, overlooked cultural life almost entirely5.
People in the care of the Nursing Home
On the basis of the surviving reports from 1934-1937, the Nursery was inhabited on average by a dozen boarders, most of whom were the elderly.
A report for the period between 1 April 1934 to 31 March 19356:
Max. number of residents: 15 (1 person under the age of 29; 9 people aged over 60);
Number of deaths: 2;
Number of persons discharged: 1.
A report for the period between 1 April 1935 to 31 March 19367:
Max. number of residents: 12 (1 person under the age of 29; 8 people aged over 60);
Number of deaths: 1;
Number of persons discharged: 0.
A report for the period between 1 April 1936 to 31 March 19378:
Max. number of residents: 11 (1 person under the age of 29; 8 people aged over 60);
Number of deaths: 0;
Number of persons discharged: 0.
A report for the period between 1 April 1937 to 31 March 19389:
Max. number of residents: 11 (8 people aged over 60);
Number of deaths: 1;
Number of persons discharged: 0.
Regular inspections carried out by Polish authorities suggested separating the Orphanage from the Old People's Home. However, problems with arranging the necessary additional premises made it impossible to follow these guidelines. Moreover, the sanitary conditions of the place left a lot to be desired10. As a result of the unsatisfactory status of the home, the supervising board strictly prohibited the arrival of new boarders, which was noted in one of the reports:
The place is run in a filthy way. By instructions of the Province Office further reception of boarders is suspended11.
The activity of the institution under German occupation
When WWII broke out, the situation of Jewish citizens aggravated drastically – they had to confront German aggression and face horrifying hardship. Already in the first months of the German occupation several thousand refugees and resettlers arrived in Lublin, among them a large group of impoverished children and orphans. At the beginning of September 1940, the Judenrat provided for 72 children and 10 elderly people, placing them in the Nursery at 11 Grodzka Street12. The significant increase in the number of boarders, as compared with the pre-war period, put the institution into financial crisis, notwithstanding the subsidies received from the Judenrat, the City Board and private benefactors. At the beginning of September 1940, the annual Orphanage shortfall became a serious liability, reaching some 35,000 zloty13. Despite countless efforts to resolve the situation, financial obligations and underfunding resulted in the institution's inability to provide efficient and thorough care for its inhabitants.
The personnel of the Nursing Home
Although the problems of the Nursery were steadily increasing, thanks to the endeavours of its reliable personnel, the institution managed to operate normally. By the end of March 1940, it housed 12 inhabitants. The directives for the activities of the Nursery were set by the Education Office, already appointed in January 1939. Its members, Wolf Halpern, Zanwel Szpiro and Szmul Wolman, held their posts from their nominations to the final liquidation. Apart from these individuals, the personnel included:
- Hena vel Anna Taubenfeld (landlady/headmistress),
- Szloma Felman (landlord/storeman),
- Chana Kuperberg (tutoress),
- Szymon Ezra Tuchman (bookkeeper),
- Basia Eiger (housekeeper),
- Chaja Ruchla Stolik (cook),
- Abram Zylbersztajn (collector),
- Lejb Ajzensztok (messenger).
The poor sanitary conditions in the institution as well as the growing number of its charges made providing medical care in the Nursery absolutely necessary. Chaim Zajfsztajn was thus engaged as a doctor on the premises14. In mid 1940, another tutoress, Ewa Baum, was additionally employed, and in the autumn of the following year Mordko Kornelsztajn was admitted to the post of surgeon, most probably to assist the duty doctor15.
The financial conditions of the institution
In the subsequent months of the German occupation, the situation of the Nursery aggravated significantly, which was undoubtedly influenced by the suspension of the City Board subsidies, as well as the diminishing private donations. Even the Judenrat, responsible for the running of the institution, could not allocate sufficient means for it, being in the throes of tackling other, deeper financial problems. At the beginning of March 1941, the daily subsidy received by the Nursery amounted to as little as 50 zloty, paid only 26 days a month. Obviously, this was not enough to cover the most basic needs of the boarders, which is why their carers demanded a sum of 100 zloty a day. The Judenrat met these expectations only partially, raising the subsidy to 2,000 zloty a month16.
Separation of the Orphanage from the Old People's Home
The continuously rising number of the inhabitants of the Nursery forced the division of the Orphanage from that of the Old People's Home – the latter being moved to a tenement house at Rynek 8, most probably in 1940. Despite the tough conditions the institution suffered at the beginning of March 1941, it managed to provide accommodation for 73 children and 13 elderly people, the number of boarders rising by the end of April to 74 and 14 respectively17. As a result of the constantly incoming applications for accommodation, the Judenrat had to relocate the Nursing Home yet again, this time to 5 Krawiecka Street. The formal opening of the institution, with the participation of the Judenrat councilmen, took place on the 29th of April 194118. In August, 29 elderly people were registered in the Old People's Home. The Orphanage, on the other hand, housed 75 orphans19. Thanks to improved sanitation and disinfection, not a single case of contagious illness was noted, even though a typhoid fever epidemic was ravaging the area at the time (with fatalities peaking during the summer and autumn of 1941).
The deteriorating situation of the Orphanage was not an exception when compared to other problems piling up in the Judenrat departments which, as a result of chronic underfunding and lack of appropriate provisions, were not equipped sufficiently to face wartime demands. Living conditions in the Jewish Quarter were dependent on a German policy which through isolation and pauperisation of the Jewish population, aimed at its gradual extermination.
The liquidation of the Orphanage
After more than two years of occupation, the German policy regarding Jews had become radical, it's target now being nothing less than their biological extermination. The first victims of the policies in questions were the weakest, namely children, the elderly, the mentally and physically ill, the disabled, and women. In reality, this social group was also the most numerous due to the constantly worsening living conditions in the ghettos which led to extreme exhaustion. In the perception of the perpetraitors it was the youngest individuals, next to the elderly and ill, that were deemed unproductive and sentenced to death first20. Only the young, strong and healthy men were meant to stay alive, so as to be utilised for the needs of the German economy.
The liquidation of the Lublin ghetto started in mid March 1942 and was carried out by the SS formations under the SS and Lublin Police Commander, Odilo Globocnik. The operation was executed in two stages, divided with a short break at the end of the month. Most Lublin Jews were taken to the death camp in Bełżec, to be killed in the gas chambers. Old people and children were murdered on the outskirts of the city21.
Not many documents survive which could indicate precisely the tragic fate of children and other inhabitants of the Nursery for Children and the Elderly. Present-day knowledge has to be based most of all on testimonies and accounts of witnesses which allow historians to reconstruct the dramatic events that took place at the end of March 1942 in the buildings at 11 Grodzka and 5 Krawiecka Street or in 5a Krawiecki Square.
The liquidation of the Orphanage and the Old People's Home was carried out in the first stage of the liquidation of the ghetto, which is documented within the minutes of the Judenrat meeting of March 29th. It was most probably on the same day that the German authorities ordered a break in the liquidation action. The council discussed several issues at this critical time, including one entitled “Evacuation of the Orphanage and the Old People's Home”22. The liquidation of the Orphanage took place on Tuesday, March 24th23. On that day two lorries are believed to have driven up to the building at 11 Grodzka Street, followed by a car containing SS-officers responsible for the action. By order of Hermann Worthoff, his subordinate Knitzky summoned the Judenrat secretary Dawid Hochgemajn, and informed him of the imminent “evacuation” of the Orphanage. The group of SS-officers also included dr Harry Sturm, as Worthoff's deputy, Erich vel Ernst Kalich and Bernard Lell. On the basis of existing records it can be assumed that the above-mentioned individuals led the children out of the building and promptly acted as their executioners. Ukrainian watchmen, present in the place of the execution served merely as assistants, dragging victims to the already prepared mass grave. On leaving the building, the children were seen to be holding hands and crying, dressed only in their nightgowns. They were accompanied by their carers while the members of the Education Office, Zanwel Szpiro and Szmul Wolman, were trying to hand out sweets and bread. The Germans, however, forbade them to do so24.
The inhabitants of the ghetto perceived the Orphanage to be a safe haven, which is why apart from the residing orphans, it also took care of children who had been placed there by parents who had to do forced labour25. No one suspected the German forces to go as far as murdering children26.
The events which took place were observed by the local inhabitants of the area, among them Dwora Donner:
Living close to the Jewish Orphanage, I witnessed orphans being taken away, together with the children of working mothers. […] An SD-officer arrived at the council and said he was ordered to evict the children. […] Children were taken to the sandy stretch outside the city and executed. The mothers who came to fetch their children from the nursery after work did not find them there anymore27.
In this final journey the children were accompanied by two or three tutors: witnesses mention Hanka vel Chana Kuperberg and one Ms Rechtman28. In the surviving documentation concerning the Orphanage one other tutoress is named, Eva Baum, who was probably also murdered on that day. The guardians were given the possibility to remain in the ghetto; however, they voluntarily shared the fate of their charges29. The account of Hersz Feldman suggests that from its very onset the operation was carried out in a very brutal way:
I was eye witness to the way they «sorted out» the Jewish Community Orphanage in Grodzka Street. There were 300 children there. The superintendent of the Jews, Worthoff, came by car with the SS dr Sturm and two assistants […] Kalich and Knitzky. They loaded children onto a lorry, beating and torturing them all the time, and took them to a yard close to Majdan Tatarski. There was a hole there, already prepared. I know what happened later from acquainted Poles. […] The older children were shot and thrown in the hole, the younger ones hit on the head with a club and also thrown in the grave. After that, the entire staff of the Orphanage was brought and told to get into the hole alive where they were shot30.
Hersz Feldman gave another testimony, during a session at the District Court in Lublin, where he described the liquidation of the Orphanage in the following way:
I saw the Germans liquidate the Jewish Orphanage in Grodzka Street. Lieutenant dr Sturm and […] Wertow [Worthoff – J.Ch.] – the Jewish reporter were there. On that day, cars arrived and took all the children and the personnel of the Orphanage – around 320 people in all. Later, when I went to Majdan Tatarski, the local people told us that the Germans brought them all to Majdan, shot them with machine guns and Jews buried them in a previously dug out ditch. They say they buried them half alive, because there were moans heard from the ground [...]31.
The most detailed description of the liquidation of the Jewish Orphanage is given by Hersz Feldman in his account included in the Memorial Books:
[...] the SS-officers went straight from the lorry to the premises of the Orphanage and rushed all children into the street. Little children, aged 3 to 4, who were already in beds, were taken dressed in nightgowns only. It was cold and sleeting outside. Children were crying, the older ones were shouting. Their shouts were carried up to the sky itself. The Nazis loaded every child onto the lorry. Two guardians: Miss Rechtman and Hania Kuperberg would not abandon the children and volunteered to accompany them.
Children, together with their tutors, were taken to Majdan Tatarski, where a hole was dug out before, and where they were murdered. The Poles who lived nearby would later tell the way it was done. The smaller children did not even need bullets, they were hit on their little heads with a club and buried half alive32.
The execution of the orphans is also recalled by Rachmil Gartenkraut in the following words:
A car escorted by the SS arrived in front of the building, with a machine gun on top. Children were ordered to come out. They started crying, sensing the approaching death. Lieutenant Worthoff handed out bread for the road and every child was ordered onto the lorry. The children's guardian, Hanka Kuperberg, and the rest of the personnel, even though they had the right to stay, accompanied them. They were taken to Łęczyńska Street. There were pits already prepared there; everyone was shot33.
After the lorries were loaded, the children together with their guardians were taken to the area of a former sand mine in Łęczyńska Street, which was situated on the outskirts of the city. In a previously prepared pit, everyone was executed, the mass grave later buried with a thin layer of sand. For the time of the action, German soldiers established a security zone, placing sentry posts in specific areas so as not to allow accidental arrivals at the crime scene. One of the sentry posts was situated at the turnpike in Łęczyńska Street. Despite the security measures introduced, the atrocity had many witnesses – mainly Polish people who happened to be only several hundred meters from the scene. Many of them, well hidden, saw what happened and heard shooting. After the German soldiers left the execution place, some of the local people approached the crime scene to discover a mass grave34. Marian Sobczak was one of the eye witnesses of the murder he later related thus:
It was rather chilly that day. I was playing in Karol Mulak's yard. […] At lunch time, a tarpaulin truck arrived at the nearby sand mine – it was around 100 metres from the place where I was. […] When I heard […] shooting, I hid behind a barn close by and watched what happened from there. I saw a car then […], parked backward in the direction of the sand excavations. From that car, a man in a uniform was pushing children out towards the sand pit. There were several people wearing grey uniforms by the car. […] To my mind, the children I saw were no more than 10 years old. […] There were two women with the children, they were also pushed into the pit eventually and shot. […] After the murderers had gone, we went with my friends to the place where the bodies of the victims were buried. There was some blood there, too. The corpses were not entirely covered [...]35.
The execution was also described by Karol Mulak, whose farm was situated not far from the place where the children were killed. His account is, for unknown reasons, partial; it allows us, however, to understand that children were transported to the execution spot in turns and that there was a group of Jews made to bury their bodies:
[...] They leave to get a new load. Come back after an hour or so. This time older children are brought. They face death in groups of four, holding hands. They stand over the pit, a German soldier shoots them with a handgun, some of them fall straight in the ditch, others are thrown in by the appointed Jews36.
The liquidation of the Orphanage has become one of the elements of the accusation formed by the Wiesbaden Prosecutor against the officers of the Security Police (SD and SiPo) in Lublin. In the course of the legal proceedings it was determined that not only Germans took part in the crime, but also the Ukrainian watchmen, assigned to bring children to the execution site:
It was a special liquidation action of the Jewish Orphanage. When the division received Hoffmann's orders, Worthoff and dr Sturm went to the place of the action, told the Headmistress that the «evacuation» is about to be carried out, made sure that 30 children left the building and got on the lorry. Then, together with the transport, they went to the empty, isolated area nearby, in Łęczyńska Street, about 2km north from Majdan Tatarski. There, in the field owned by farmer Morawski, children were told to dismount and in the presence of Worthoff and dr Sturm they were lined on the edge of the pit, shot in the back of the head one by one. At the same time, the Ukrainians were to oversee the unloading of the other children from the lorries, bringing them to the execution spot, that is to the edge of the pit37.
The sources cited here contain differing estimates of the number of victims. Information on the course of the liquidation action and the number of victims appears in several accounts of the Lublin Jews who managed to survive the war. Sometimes, their authors relate things they have only heard of themselves and then the number of victims is usually overestimated. This is the case with the testimony of Szymon Fajersztajn who insisted that 600 children were executed, claiming to have received the information from Jews “living free”, which might have meant people working outside the ghetto38. On the other hand, Hersz Feldman, who had given his account of the event on several occasions, wrote in one of them of being an “eye witness” to the liquidation of the Orphanage specifying the number of 300 children taken together with the personnel of the institution. In the testimony given in the District Court in Lublin on 3 January 1946, Feldman raises the number to 320, and in the Special Criminal Court in Lublin on 28 January 1946, lowers it to 200, additionally stating to have witnessed the event only after the children had been loaded onto the lorry and, in consequence, not having seen it from the start39.
The reason for the discrepancies is difficult to judge, especially in that the above-mentioned accounts were given between short intervals of time. Also Doba Cukierman gives the number of 200 children in her testimony40. The exact same figures were submitted during a hearing at the Special Criminal Court in Lublin by Bernard Lell, accused of complicity in the liquidation of the Orphanage41. Not all of the accounts provide specific numbers, however; Eta Bryfman, in her testimony, speaks of a “cart full of children”42. Bolesław Kopelman, on the other hand, mentions “several hundred Jewish children”43.
At the turn of the 1960s and 1970s, the liquidation of the Orphanage was also the subject of legal proceedings in the German court in Wiesbaden, where the murder of at least 30 children was confirmed, which seems a decidedly underestimated number44. During the court case, Lublin Jews gave their testimonies, providing significantly higher figures. In his statement, Rachmil Gartenkraut gives the number of 150-200 victims, and witness Bronowski claims that a group of 50 to 80-90 children was taken away on that day45. Apart from the many problems with determining the exact number of the murdered children from the Orphanage, not much can be said about their age as such information does not appear in most accounts. Most probably, the youngest were barely several years old, while the oldest were in their early teens since this was generally the age the children were allowed to attend the Orphanage. This supposition is confirmed by Eta Bryfman who estimates the age of the children she speaks about in her testimony to vary between 5 and 10-12 years old. On the other hand, the above-mentioned Bronowski testified in the Wiesbaden court that the children might have been 3-4 years old, which can be supported with one of the recollections of Hersz Feldman46.
There are no existing registers with the names of children from the Orphanage from the period before the murder, and none of its personnel survived the war, which renders determining the exact number of victims very difficult. It has to be born in mind, however, that since WWII broke out the group of the nursery's inhabitants had grown several times, which was influenced by the influx of refugees and resettlers as well as the rapidly progressing pauperisation of the local Jewish population. Until the summer of 1941, the Orphanage was inhabited by less then 80 children. It can be assumed, though, that in the following months a slight increase in that number might have been noted. What is more, the Orphanage had certainly played the role of nursery as well. For that reason, a specific group of children left daily by forced labourers had also fallen victim to the liquidation action. Apart from this, the Orphanage shared the building it was situated in with some of the Judenrat offices which further reduced its space. It can be estimated, thus, that on the day of its liquidation, the Orphanage housed little more than 100 children, which is also noted in the study prepared by the Ringelblum Archive employers47. The Orphanage was not re-established in the residual ghetto in Majdan Tatarski.
The liquidation of the Old People's Home
On the same day in which the German forces carried out the liquidation of the Orphanage, the residents of the Old People's Home (situated in 5 Krawiecka Street or 5a Krawiecki Square) were most probably executed as well. It is nearly impossible to reconstruct the sequence of events in this case. The only thing historians are sure of is the fact that the executions did indeed take place – the only remaining evidence being the minutes from the Judenrat meeting on March 29th, and a short annotation from March 27th on the termination of the said institution, the consequent eviction of its boarders and plans for utilisation of the property left on its premises:
As a result of the displacement action, the Old People's Home in Krawiecki Square was closed down. For this reason, applying to suitable authorities for permission to expropriate the equipment remaining therein is required. Furnishings include chiefly beds, bedding, chairs and lockers48.
The only description of the execution can be found in the account of Symcha Turkieltaub, who claimed to have witnessed the following event:
At the end of March 1942 Lell, Knicki [Knitzky – J.Ch.] and a third Gestapo officer […], assisted with three Jewish policemen, went to the Old People's Home in Jateczna Street, ordered everyone out. The policemen were to lie people face down on the ground, after which Lell, Knicki and this third one shot them all. I was standing by the fence with other people and saw the old men being murdered49.
According to the previously cited source – the study prepared in the archives of the Warsaw ghetto – on the day the operation began, there were 70 boarders in the institution50. It means that from the summer of 1941 there had been a significant increase in the number of its inhabitants. After the liquidation action, the Old People's Home was not re-established in the residual ghetto in Majdan Tatarski.
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- Go back to the reference Tamże, 301/6, Relacja Doby Cukierman, k. 31.
- Go back to the reference Tamże, 301/1882, Relacja Bernarda Lella, k. 2.
- Go back to the reference AIPN, GK 175/186, Akta w sprawie getta w Lublinie, k. 39.
- Go back to the reference AŻIH, 301/801, Relacja Bolesława Kopelmana, k. 24.
- Go back to the reference OKŚZpNPwL, sygn. S.27/08/Zn, Akta Główne Prokuratora w sprawie zbrodni nazistowskich, t. 3, k. 460.
- Go back to the reference Tamże, t. 1, k. 128–130.
- Go back to the reference AIPN, GK 175/186, Akta w sprawie getta w Lublinie, k. 39; OKŚZpNPwL, sygn. S.27/08/Zn, Akta Główne Prokuratora w sprawie zbrodni nazistowskich, t. 1, k. 129; Księga Pamięci, s. 332.
- Go back to the reference AŻIH, Archiwum Ringelbluma [dalej: ARG], I 27 (Ring. I/469), Informacja o akcjach likwidacyjnych w następujących miejscowościach, k. 4; J. Chmielewski, Zagłada żydowskiego miasta, s. 721.
- Go back to the reference APL, RŻL, sygn. 137, Ochrona Sierot i Starców (Żydowski Dom Sierot i Starców) – sprawozdania oraz korespondencja z Prezydium Rady w sprawach bytowych, k. 60.
- Go back to the reference AŻIH, 301/2843, Relacja Symchy Turkieltauba, k. 3.
- Go back to the reference AŻIH, ARG, I 27 (Ring. I/469), Info. o akcjach likwidacyjnych w następujących miejscowościach, k. 4; J. Chmielewski, Zagłada żydowskiego miasta, s. 721.