Market 1943

Looking toward the east side of the Zolynia market square during wartime, in 1943. The synagogue, behind the low building on the right, is still standing, but appears to have been stripped down.


General-Government of the Occupied Polish Territories

Much of German-occupied Poland was simply incorporated into Greater Germany. However, a large area that stretched from Warsaw in the north to Krakow in the west to Lublin and the Rzeszow-Jaroslaw area in the east was set off in an independent division called the Generalgouvernement or "General-Government." The long-range German plan for this area was to replace the current population of 12 million Poles, Jews and others with about one-third as many Germans, over a period of about a decade. Some Poles would be retained in the Reich as servants, serfs and slaves. Meanwhile, during this massive Germanization program, the existing population would be used largely as slave labor and as tools of providing supplies to German troops. By the end of 1939, the General-Government contained more than 1.2 million Jews, more than half of all the Jews in Germany and German-controlled territories at that time.

Zolynia was part of a new district adminstered out of the city of Jaroslaw, about 19 miles (31 km) to the east and south, where there was a Gestapo office. The General-Government was headquartered at Krakow.


The initial "Instructions by [SS Chief Reinhard] Heydrich on Policy and Operations Concerning Jews in the Occupied Territories," issued to Einsatzgruppen chiefs on September 21, 1939, made clear that whatever policies were enacted in the short-term, some kind of permanent solution to the Jewish Question would eventually be worked out over time. In the meantime, throughout the fall of 1939 and early 1940, a series of regulations and decrees severely restricted or ended the ability of Jews to work, earn, travel or socialize.

Within four months of the arrival of the Germans: The payment of cash to Jews is severely limited and the withdrawl of funds from all bank accounts limited to a small amount each week, preventing shopkeepers from purchasing goods. All Jews over the age of ten must wear a white armband marked with the Star of David in blue. Jews must have written authorization to be on public streets, paths and squares between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. Jews must not change their lodgings without authorization. Jews may not use the railroad without written permission from the SS.

This is just a selection of the regulations. The occupation was a hardship to everyone in Zolynia, but for the village's Jews, virtually all of the ordinary, familiar and mundane activities of daily life were essentially abolished. Violations of many regulations were punishable by "prolonged hard forced labor" and in some cases by summary execution. The authorities emphasized that "instigators and helpers will be punished like the culprits," so the Polish population was at risk if they conducted any kind of business with the wrong person in the wrong way.

In late January 1940, it was ordered that all Jewish personal property must be presented to the authorities and registered. Any other property found later would be confiscated. Families tried to hide small or valuable possessions, or quickly sell them to neighbors. Religious items and family keepsakes were hidden in and around houses. For the rest of the occupation, Jewish homes were subject to sudden police searches by the police for hidden possessions.

The Jews of Zolynia were consolidated into the neighborhood around the market square, and some of the smaller colonies of Jews in the outlying villages were moved into this area. Housing was crowded as families and friends shared homes. Many non-Jews even of good faith were no longer renting houses to Jews, due to the difficulties Jews now had in raising cash, the potential for trouble if some regulation was violated, and even possible future damage to their property from some German action. German policy was geared toward physically, economically and socially separating Jews from Poles and even exacerbating tensions between the groups, reducing the chances that they might join in common resistance.

The Judenrat and the Ordnungsdienst

The Germans realized early on that they simply did not have enough people to coordinate every aspect of daily life in the occupied zones. The directive of November 28, 1939 set up a local Jewish Council (Jundenrat) "composed of the remaining authoritative personalities and rabbis" who would to be chosen by the Jews themselves with the approval of the Gestapo, or by the Gestapo directly if Jews did not come forward. This council was "fully responsible, in the direct sense of the word, for the exact and prompt implementation of all directives," under threat of "the most severe measures" for any perceived insubordination or sabatoge. In municipalities the size of Zolynia, the council would be made up of twelve people. The Council was specifically responsible for counting and tracking Jews in the village, housing Jews moved into the village from the countryside or other villages and providing enough men for labor details. There was also a central county Judenrat which met at Jaroslaw.

In Zolynia, the Judenrat collected special fees and taxes imposed on the Jewish community by the German authorities and was the conduit for bribes paid to Germans for work and travel permits, job assignments and releases from the jail (arrests were made for suspicion of black market activities). The council was ordered to hire a J├╝discher Ordnungsdienst, a Jewish Order Service, to enforce regulations and help fill labor quotas. Members of the Judenrat urged Zholiners to make payments in order to keep peace with the Germans, a strategy that failed. There was frequent harrassment and even occassional killings despite payments and cooperation, especially when Gestapo agents from Jaroslaw arrived for inspections, usually once or twice a week.

It is known, for example, that In April 1940, six people in Zolynia were shot by the Germans. Many of the adult Jewish men stayed indoors throughout the occupation, especially traditionally religious men, who refused to shave the beards which they knew would make them targets.

One member of the Judenrat, Berish Lowenbraun, is identified as the unofficial mediator between German officials and the Jewish community, primarily because of a casual pre-war relationship with a German who was now assigned to the district Gestapo office.

Labor Camps

Jewish men were subject to conscription and often random selection on the streets for unpaid manual labor and extended assignment to a forced labor camp. Particularly in the months after the invasion, the Germans pressed local men into service repairing damaged bridges and roads, and to reinforce village streets and squares to accomodate heavy army trucks. Other tasks included reinforcing the banks of nearby rivers, clearing snow and other maintenance projects. But it was the extended stays in the labor camps that was dreaded the most.

All Jewish men between ages 14 and 60 were required to register for open-ended work assignments in regional labor camps. There were at least ten labor camps established in the immediate region around nearby Rzeszow (renamed "Reichshof" by the Germans) and Zholiners could be assigned to any of them. Some of the camps were basically detention centers housing workers for adjacent factories, like the Flug Motoren Vork Reichshof and Damler-Benz airplane engine works at Rzeszow. This factory, shared by the two companies, typically utilized 600 local Jews, mostly as janitors and manual laborers, and some with technical skills worked as watchmakers, electricians and repairmen. Jewish workers there were housed in a barracks behind barbed wire, but had better food and hygiene conditions compared to most of the other camps; they received cold showers every day, so lice was less of a problem than at other Arbeitslager (forced labor camps). Other camps quickly became infamour in the villages, because the young men would come back after a month or two "like skeletons" and with stories of severe brutality. Some never returned. One of these was the lumber camp at Biesiadka, about 31 miles (50 km) west of Zolynia, just outside of Mielec. This particular camp will re-enter the story later on.

Village mothers and wives who could raise some money often made payments through the Judenrat to get family members released early from camp duty. One of the Kapos (a labor foreman) at Biesiadka had family ties to Zolynia and accepted money for releases. Other families could not raise the money to get inmates released.

Mutual Aid

Very soon, many Jewish families were without income and without the means to earn money. An April 1940 report says that 210 Jews in Zolynia were considered destitute. Those with any resources continued to contribute to community funds to help those more in need, but there was less and less to go around. A regional Jewish Self-Help network was formed at Lancut to coordinate distribution of aid and housing of refugees among the Jewish communities in the Jaroslaw District (the chairman was Dr. Marek Pohorile, also chairman of the Lancut Judenrat).

There was still hope of help from outside and abroad. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee was created and funded by Jews in the United States during the First World War. The U.S. was still a neutral country until 1941 and registered American charity agencies were legally permitted to operate in Poland. Based in Warsaw, the JDC in turn helped fund Jewish Mutual Aid Society ("ZTOS"), which had an office in Krakow by the spring of 1940. American and European Jews representing JDC and ZTOS bravely went deep into occupied territory and arranged for occassional limited amounts of food to be brought to hundreds of towns. This aid was often in the form of a soup kitchen, and could also include coal or wood for fuel. JDC and ZTOS were the most certain route through which occassional small supplies of clothing and food could to Zholiners from loved ones in the United States. It was an indespensible lifeline for hundreds Zolynia.

And then, in December 1941, the United States entered the war against Germany. Zolynia was closed off from the outside world as if a door had swung shut.

Exposed and Isolated

The Jews in Zolynia were in the middle of a countryside, in a small town where they could be easily recognized and could never melt into the larger crowd, where there were few buildings or structures in which to hide, no transportation system or even a sewer which could be an escape route. They were exposed.

The ghetto at Zolynia did not have walls and was not fenced in, but Jews there were isolated. There were limited opportunities for news or connections with the outside. Some information came from those returning from work crews or labor camps, or from those who still worked in the market square and could pick up rumors or bits of news. A few Jewish families still owned horses and wagons and, acquiring appropriate permits through various means, could haul grains or small goods collected from local families to Rzeszow for sale in the ghetto there. Often, these trips were made on back roads late at night, to avoid German patrols and others who would likely confiscate any goods hauled by Jews. This brought some income to local families, In Rzeszow, there was an active Jewish underground, led by members of Hashomer Hatzair and some members used stolen or forged Aryan identification papers to move between villages. Also based in Rzeszow were several work crews set up by the Germans to collect and transport recyclable materials for use in military production; one of the crews included Jews who, holding special travel permits, also brought occassional reports of nearby events to Zolynia and other villages.

By the middle of 1942, word had gotten to Zolynia that the Jews that a number of communities in the region had been relocated en masse, supposedly to undisclosed labor camps in the east. The price of resistance was high. Beginning on July 7, 8,000 of the 14,000 Jews living in the ghetto in Rzeszow were moved out in a five-day operation. Some Jews were deemed uncooperative and at least 236 people were shot in the streets. The possibility that the Jews in Zolynia could be expelled and moved away from their home town was a clear possibility.

That July, the last small groups of Jewish families living in outlying villages were ordered to move into Zolynia. Also that month, the Jews of Zolynia and other nearby towns were ordered to pay any taxes due or outstanding. Most Jews in the area now lived in poverty, unable to pay. Police used non-payment of taxes as a pretense to raid homes and confiscate remaining registered possessions. This all added to a growing feeling that the Germans were preparing to move the Jews of the area.

During this time, Berish Lowenbraun, the Judenrat member who saw himself as a mediator with the Germans, was shot. His usefulness to the Germans, and perhaps the usefulness of all the Jews of Zolynia, was at an end.

But tere was no way to know exactly what the Germans were planning to do.


1940 Population

A Jewish Mutual Aid Society report on the estimated Jewish population in the Lancut-Jaroslaw area, dated December 11, 1940. There are an estimated 5,886 Jews in the district, representing 3.1% of the total population. Zolynia has an estimated 700 residents. The document is addressed to the regional self-help coordinating committee at Lancut.

These notices were issued periodically throughout occupied Poland. It reiterates, in German and Polish, that hiding or aiding Jews in any way is punishable by death.


More Information

By the end of 1939, there were the beginnings of an organized, armed Polish resistance in Zolynia, part of a larger network that had cells in Lancut, Bialobrzegi, Grodzisko and other nearby villages. From 1939 to 1942, an underground newsletter was published from various locations in the area. By early 1943, the local resistance had stolen enough weapons to make some guerilla raids, including one which successfully liberated eight Poles from German custody in Zolynia in March 1943. 24 Polish residents of Zolynia were shot by the Germans in reprisal for the raid on June 4, 1943.

The Castle at Lancut was spared and at times was used to billet high-ranking German Army officers, including Field Marshall Von Rundstedt. Unlike much of the Polish elite, Count Alfred was allowed to stay in his home. He remained unharmed and was generally able to travel to visit his properties and relatives, though his movements and activities were monitored. His was also allowed to operate his famous distillery until well into 1943. Count Alfred, in his memoirs, complains about German officials taking supplies and animals without pay, kidnapping or arresting favored servants and indiscrimate cutting of his forests for timber, but his wealth, his connections and his lavish entertaining of German officials gave him great leeway. Count Alfred funded a public kitchen in Lancut and made other donations of supplies to local neighborhoods.

Just 56 miles (90 km) north of Zolynia, the county and town of Zamosc was the testing site for a "Germanisation" plan that was likely going to be the model for the rest of Occupied Poland. Generalplan Ost (General Plan for the East) called for the ethnic cleansing of Poland and replacement of the population with German colonists. Starting in the fall of 1941, over 110,000 Zamosc residents would be expelled or killed, many sent into slave labor in Germany. Thousands of children with physical characteristics the Nazis considered to be Aryan were kidnapped and sent to live with German families (on the grounds that these children were the descendents of Germans). The Nazis renamed the town "Himmlerstadt" and planned to place 60,000 German colonists there by 1944. Fierce local resistance slowed the process and only about one-sixth that many had been placed there by the time Zamosc was liberated.

The Granatowa Policja or "Blue Police" was a slang term for the official Police Police of the General-Government (their uniforms were light blue). In October 1939, the Germans ordered pre-war Polish police officers to report for service in this unit. The Blue Police were to free up the occupying Germans from the responsibility of basic law enforcement, particularly criminal activities such as theft. As time went on, Blue Police were ordered to assist the German Order Police (Ordnungspolizei or Orpo) and its subordinate municipal police and Gendarmerie in operations against smugglers, roundups for deportation and in sweeps of houses and forests for hiding Jews.

Many, though not all, Blue Policemen followed orders from the Germans reluctantly, and some were members of the underground resistance.

Most foods were rationed by the German authorities during the occupation, based on ethnicity. Jews had the lowest ration priority, just below ethnic Poles. In country towns near Zolynia, each Polish resident was generally allowed one loaf of bread per week.

On December 16, 1941, General-Government Governor Hans Frank gave a closing address to civilian and military members of his cabinet. Following is an excerpt from the remarks:

One way or another—I will tell you that quite openly—we must finish off the Jews. The Fuehrer put it into words once: should united Jewry again succeed in setting off a world war, then the blood sacrifice shall not be made only by the peoples driven into war, but then the Jew of Europe will have met his end.

…I must also say that if the pack of Jews were to survive the war in Europe while we sacrifice the best of our blood for the preservation of Europe, then this war would still be only a partial success. I will therefore, on principle, approach Jewish affairs in the expectation that the Jews will disappear. They must go. I have started negotiations for the purpose of having them pushed off to the East. In January there will be a major conference on this question in Berlin…A major Jewish migration will certainly begin.


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