The Trzebinia Ghetto

In the early days of the occupation, the Germans broke into the Jewish stores and apartments, robbing them of their possessions. Members of the “Volksdeutsche” (ethnic Germans living in Poland) and Polish mobs joined in these lootings. At the end of 1939 and the beginning of 1940, Jewish-owned factories were confiscated, and the Jews in Trzebinia were put to hard labor. The demand on the community to provide workers’ clothing grew daily. The men were involved mainly in drainage and road-paving work, and the women worked in German factories in the town – both were subjected to constant abuse.

In October 1939, the Jews of Trzebinia were ordered to wear armbands bearing the Star of David. These were later changed to yellow patches. The community was also subjected to a curfew from 6pm until 5am. At the beginning of 1940 a Judenrat (“Council of Elders”) was established with 15 members, subordinate to the central Judenrat of Sosnowiec. Heading the Trzebinia Judenrat was Yissachar Mandelbaum.

Further decrees increased the burden borne by the Jews of Trzebinia: they were forced to hand over their valuables and household possessions to the Germans; travel outside the town was limited; and more. Punishments for not obeying the decrees were severe. As a result, a number of youths left the town in 1940, aiming to cross the San River eastwards, towards the Soviet boundary. Those who succeeded found it difficult to find work and shelter, and a few were exiled to far-flung regions of the Soviet Union.

At the end of 1940 and during the first half of 1941, the Germans began to seize Jewish men for forced labor camps. One group was sent to a labor camp near the Soviet border, where they were put to work building fortifications in advance of the German invasion of the Soviet Union. News of the terrible conditions and the high death rate prevailing at the camps aroused tremendous fear in the Trzebinia community. The Jews of the town desperately searched for work in the local factories in order to avoid deportation to the camps.

In the summer of 1940, some 1,100 Jews were living in Trzebinia. In 1941, the Jews were ordered to concentrate their homes into a few streets, which turned into the ghetto. The ghetto included Krakowska, Ochronkowa and Piłsudski Streets. At first the ghetto was open, but departure from its boundaries was gradually restricted. Among other institutions, a soup kitchen was set up, and despite the decrees and the dire economic conditions, the Jewish community made sure that the children continued to receive some form of education. Groups teaching a range of occupations were also secretly organized.

During the war, groups of refugees from Rybnik, Oswiecim and Pszczyna came to Trzebinia. Most of the Jews in the ghetto worked in German factories for 70 marks a month. In order to survive, they sold the rest of their possessions to local Poles. The Germans allowed a few of the Jewish grocers in the ghetto to continue to sell food in exchange for coupons.

In June 1942 the ghetto was liquidated and the Jewish community of Trzebinia was wiped out.