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Menachem Finkielsztejn Testimony

Translation from Polish, Document 301/974, ZIH, Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw, Poland*

Testimony of Menachem Finkielsztejn:

Jewish Historical Commission
27 June 1945
L.p. 72

Finkielsztejn Family
Upon arrival in Israel, 1946
[Bottom row L-R]: Yisrael Finkielsztejn, wife Chaya (nee Wasersztejn) Finkielsztejn and eldest son Menachem
[Top row L-R]: Chana, Sholem, Yaffa
Entire family of six survived the Holocaust
Went to Israel, 1946


Deafening noise of artillery barrage woke up inhabitants of the Radzilow village in Grajewo County on June 22, 1941. Huge clouds of dust and smoke on the horizon, from the direction of the German border which was but 20 kilometers away, indicated that something important was afoot. The news about outbreak of war between the Soviet Union and Hitler-Germany spread like wildfire. 800 Jewish inhabitants of the village immediately understood the seriousness of the situation. The proximity of a bloodthirsty enemy filled everyone with fear. [...]

On the 23rd a few Jews managed to escape from the village to Bialystok. All the other Jewish inhabitants left town, setting off for fields and nearby hamlets to avoid the first encounter with bloodthirsty enemy, whose murderous designs against the Jews were very well-known. The attitude of peasants towards the Jews was very bad. They didn't allow the Jews even to enter their farmsteads. The same day when the Germans arrived, peasants chased away the Jews, cursing and threatening them. Jews had no other choice but to return to their homes. Poles from the vicinity ridiculed frightened Jews and, pointing out to their necks, kept saying "Now it will be slash Jude." ["Teraz bedzie rznij Jude."] The Polish population immediately cozied up to the Germans. They built a triumphal arch to greet the German army, decorated with a swastika, Hitler's portrait and a sign: "Long live the German army which liberated us from the horrible grip of Judeo-commune!" The first question the hooligans asked was: "Is it permitted to kill the Jews?" Of course the Germans gave a positive answer. And immediately afterwards they started to persecute the Jews. They started telling various false things about the Jews and set the Germans against them. Those Germans beat Jews mercilessly and robbed their property and then distributed the robbed items among the Poles. Then they proposed a watchword: "Don't sell anything to eat to the Jews." And so the Jewish situation got even worse. Germans, in order to put down the Jews, took their cows away and gave them to the Poles. It also became known that Polish bandits killed a Jewish girl, sawed off her head, and threw the body in the swamp, feet first. [...]

On the 24th Germans ordered all males to assemble near the synagogue. Immediately people understood what was the reason. They started running away from the town, but the Poles kept a watch over all the roads and brought back those who ran away. Only a few managed to escape, including myself and my father. In the meantime, German soldiers proceeded to give lessons of "good manners" towards the Jews. These "lessons" took place in the presence of many assembled Poles.

Soldiers ordered the Jews to bring out all the holy books and Torahs from the synagogue and the prayer house and burn them. When Jews refused, the Germans ordered them to unroll the Torahs and douse them with kerosene and then they set them alight. They ordered the Jews to sing and dance around the huge burning pile. Around the dancing Jews, a jeering crowd was assembled, which beat them freely. When the holy books burned down, they harnessed the Jews to carts and ordered them to pull while beating them mercilessly. The Jews had to pull them all over town. Screams of pain were frequently piercing the air. But together with these screams one could hear the happily screaming Polish and German sadists who were sitting in the carts. Poles and Germans continued to torment the Jews until they chased them to a swampy little river near the town. The Jews were ordered there to undress completely and to get up to their necks in the swamp. Sick and old men who could not obey these beastly orders were beaten up and thrown into even deeper swamps. [...] From this day on, a horrible chain of sufferings and torments began for the Jews. The Poles were the main tormentors, as they mercilessly beat men, women, and children, irrespective of their age. They also sent the Germans at every opportunity, by insinuating things. And so on the 26th of June, on Friday evening, they sent a group of German soldiers to our house. Like wild animals, tormentors dispersed around the house searching and throwing around everything they found. Anything of value they took and put on carts waiting in front of the house. They were bursting with joy. They stomped in their heavy boots over household items, which they threw to the ground. Foodstuffs they also threw out and doused with kerosene. Germans were accompanied by Poles, whose leader, Henryk Dziekonski, later would also distinguish himself with barbarity. He destroyed everything with an even greater ferocity. He broke tables, wardrobes, and candelabras. When they finished destroying things, they started beating my father. Escape was impossible because the house was surrounded by soldiers [...]. Much more painful than the wounds and damages we suffered that evening was the awareness that our situation was much worse on account of the Polish population taking a hostile attitude towards the Jews. And they were becoming more active and bold in their persecutions.

Next morning a group of prominent town citizens came to our house, together with our acquaintance, Wolf Szlapak, who was a well-known Zionist activist and speaker, and everybody tried in vain to comfort us. No solution was found. Political news was overbearing. Even though we were all persuaded that the Germans would be defeated, one could see that the war would last a long time. Who will be able to survive this? Jews were like a defenseless lamb in the midst of a pack of wolves. One could feel, it was in the air, that the Polish population was getting ready for a pogrom. That's why we had all decided that my mother should go and plead with the local priest, Aleksander Dolegowski, whom we knew well. We wanted him, as a spiritual leader of the community, to influence the believers not to take part in persecution of the Jews. But how big was our disappointment when the priest, with anger, replied: "It is well-known that every Jew, from the youngest to those 60 years old, are communists, and that he has no interest whatsoever to defend them." My mother tried to argue that his position was false, that even if someone deserves to be punished, that women and small children are surely innocent. She appealed to his conscience to have pity and stop a dark mob, which was ready to commit any kind of atrocity, that in the future will certainly stand as a shame to the Polish nation, because the political situation will not always remain as it is now. But his cruel heart did not soften and he said in the end that he cannot say anything good about the Jews, because his believers would throw mud on him. The same answer was received from all the other prominent Christian town citizens to whom Jews went to intervene in this matter.

The consequences of these answers were not long in coming. On the very next day squads of young Polish sons were organized: Kosmaczewski brothers, Jozef, Anton, and Leon, Feliks Mordasiewicz, Kosak, Ludwik Weszczewski [?] and others who inflicted terrible moral and physical pain on frightened and miserable Jews. From morning till night they led old Jews, laden with sacred books, to a nearby river. They were sent on their march by crowds of Christian women, children and men. When they got to the river the Jews had to throw their books into water. They also had to lie down, get up, hide their heads, swim, and perform other idiotic exercises. Spectators laughed loudly and applauded. Murderers stood over their victims and beat them mercilessly if they didn't execute an order. They also took women and girls and ordered them to get wet in the river.

On the way back, squads armed with sticks and iron bars surrounded the tired, barely-alive Jews and gave them a beating. And when one of the tortured protested and refused to obey orders, they threatened and cursed them, that they would be taken to account for this soon, and they beat him so that he lost consciousness. After nightfall, squads assaulted Jews in their houses by breaking down windows and doors. They took the hated Jews out, beat them till the Jews fell down bloodied and unconscious. Not even women and children, or mothers with newborn babies, were spared. From time to time they brought Jews from their houses to the square and they beat them there. Screams were unbearable. Around the tortured ones crowds of Polish men, women, and children were standing and laughing at the miserable victims who were falling under the blows of the bandits. There were many wounded and mortally sick Jews as a result of these orgies. And their number was increasing day by day. The only Polish doctor who was in town, Jan Mazurek, refused medical assistance to people who had been beaten. The situation was worsening day by day. The Jewish population became a toy in the hands of the Poles. There were no German authorities as the army moved on and did not leave power to anyone.

The only one who had influence and maintained some sort of order was the priest, who mediated between Christians in their affairs. The Jews were simply of no concern to anybody, but a propaganda started coming out from the upper echelons of Polish society which influenced the mob, stating that it was time to settle scores with those who had crucified Jesus Christ, with those who take Christian blood for matzoh and are a source of all evil in the world - the Jews. Let's stop playing around with the Jews. It is time to clean Poland from these pests and bloodsuckers. The seed of hatred fell to a well-nourished soil, which had been prepared for many years by the clergy.

The wild and bloodthirsty mob took it as a holy challenge, which history had put upon it - to get rid of the Jews. And the desire to take over Jewish riches wetted their appetites even more.

The Poles were in charge, since not even a single German was present. On Sunday July 12, at midday, a lot of Poles from the neighboring town of Wasosz came to Radzilow. It was immediately known that those who came had previously killed in a horrible manner, using pipes [?] and knifes, all the Jews in their own town, not sparing even women or little children. A horrible panic broke out. People understood that this was a tragic signal of destruction. Immediately all the Jews, from little children to old men, fled the town for neighboring fields and forests. No Christian let any Jew into his house or offered any help. Our family also ran in the fields and when it got dark, we hid in a field of wheat. Late at night we heard subdued calls for help not far from us. We covered up our presence as best we could, understanding that over there a fate of a Jewish life was being decided. Calls were getting fainter, and then they subsided. We didn't speak one word to each other then, even though we felt that we had so much to say, but it was better to be silent since there was nothing to lift our spirits that could be said. We were sure that some Jews had been murdered. Who killed them? Polish murderers, dirty hands of people from the underworld, people who were blinded, and driven by animal instinct to kill and rob, who had been raised for decades by reactionary clergy, which built their existence by preaching racial hatred. Why? What wrong have we done? This was the most painful question which multiplied our suffering, but there was no one to complain to. Whom to tell about our innocence and the great injustice which history threw our way? In the morning, the Poles spread the news that the murderers from Wasosz were chased away and that Jews can safely return home. Exhausted and tired, everybody started to walk across the fields towards town thinking that the news was truthful, but they shuddered at a horrible sight which they encountered when coming closer. In the vicinity of the town two dead bodies of Moses Reznel [?] and his daughter (whom we heard as they were being murdered) were brought. They were then taken to the square, which will later become the place where the execution on all the Jews will be carried out. As if to some ill-fated miracle, all the Poles, from children to elders, men and women, were running, with joy on their faces, to see the victims who had been clubbed to death by Polish murderers. Before burial the girl opened her eyes and sat up, clearly she just lost consciousness from the beating, but the murderers did not pay attention and buried her alive, together with her father. A delegation was sent to the newly established Polish municipal authorities made up of the priest, the doctor, a former secretary of the gmina [community] Stanislaw Grzymkowski, and a few other prominent Poles to plead with them to stop what the population was doing. They replied that they cannot help and sent the Jews to people from the underworld, to negotiate with them. Those in turn said that Jews should compensate them, and that everybody's lives would then be spared. Jews, thinking that this may be the last straw, started bringing to Wolf Szlapak various valuables: china, suits, sawing machines [?], gifts of silver and gold. They also promised to give up the last cows which they had hidden. But all this was a comedy organized by the murderers. The fate of Radzilow Jews was already sealed. As was later learned, the Polish population knew one day ahead when Jews would be liquidated and in what manner. But no one [...]

Note: After these words, half of a large sheet of paper on which Finkielsztejn pencilled concluding parts of his recollection about the mass murder of Radzilow Jews is missing. The next sheet, the very last one, has been preserved intact. He brings the matter to a close in the following manner:

What a terrible sight this presented can be gauged from the fact that the Germans stated that the Poles had gone overboard. The arrival of the Germans saved 18 Jews who managed to hide during the pogrom. There was an 8-years old boy among them, who had been already buried, but who revived and dug himself out [...]. In this manner the Jewish community in Radzilow was wiped off the face of the earth after 500 years of existence. Together with the Jews everything Jewish was destroyed in the village as well: the study house, the synagogue, and the cemetery.

Witness - Finkielsztejn
Protocolant - Finkielsztejn
Jewish Historical Commission - M. Turek, Mgr.

*ZIH, Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw, Poland. Call number 301/974.

Editor's notes or definitions are entered in [brackets].
(Parentheses) in the translation appear here as they appeared in the original text.

Translated from Polish by: Jan Gross. Edited by: Jose Gutstein.

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