Tomaszów was still a multicultural and multireligious city in the II Republic, however the number of citizens and proportions have changed. After 1918 Polish citizens were in majority, in 1923 53% of citizens were Polish, ten years later – 63% (Kędzierski 2012: p. 38). The following years showed a decline in Jewish population, on the eve of II World War Jews constituted 25,4% of population of Tomaszów. However ethnic groups not always overlapped religious groups which proves growing assimilation. The city didn’t lose its industrial character and the most recognized and deserved citizens were members of families: Landsberg (Cloth Factory), Bornstein (Factory of Clothing Products) and Steinman (Cloth Factory). Citizens of Tomaszów of Jewish descent belonged to all social groups. As “Mazowieckie Echoes” state, in the end of 20. craft and merchandise in 80% were performed by Jews. Similarly with medical and legal practice where they constituted a half of all workers (Kędzierski 2012: p. 39). Among the doctors there were dr Fabian Warszawski, Paweł Kon, Julian Berliner, Alfred Hertz, Edward Juwiler, among the lawyers: dr Jakub Józef Hirszprung, Ludwik Frucht. Jewish intellectual elite participated in creating everyday life of Tomaszów Mazowiecki, although you could find Jews also among the poorest citizens of Tomaszów.

Factory of Rayon. Source:

The city teemed with life not only on weekdays, also on Sundays and holidays; Jews from Tomaszów often broke a command to rest during shabbat. Around 1934 the biggest craft and trade companies were: Śpiewak’s Dyery, printing house and bindery of Garfinkel and Glass, manufanture werehouses of: Brzoza, Rubinek, Pakin (Kędzierski 2012: p. 30). Jews worked in bakeries, tailor, cobbler and barber workshops and many other small enterprises. Streets of Tomaszów were fool of shop windows. As Michał Piasecki, son of Tomaszów’s tailor Mordek Pesses recalls:

“Polna street beggins with shopping centre. Round the corner there is a square wrapped with a ribbon of shops. You could say that it is a one big shop, except that with many owners. The visit card of the trade city of Tomaszów is a merchant Chawełe Naar (Stupid Chawcia). Everyone knows her. She sits on the stairs in front of Blajber’s barber shop (…) All her stock is a bunch of candies. She moves them around as if she would like to increase  them (…) And here, on the elevated ground floor a fur shop of mister Bierzyński. You can see already from the distance the sign board with silver fox as if showing the way to the shop (…) And here are next shops, like the one of mister Lenge. On the exposition ties of different colors, scarves, shirts from “Opus” and other things called haberdashery. They are every expensive, only for the rich I guess (…) And next the watchmaker. The owner is called Niemietz (…) he is a Jew with a long black beard and a too long traditional cloak. He fixes and sells different clocks, hanging on the wall and more fashionable furniture like, big as a wardrobe (…) Next a large exposition with a brass sign: tailor – Władysław Kujda. He is the only non-Jewish tailor in Tomaszów (…) On the second corner of the square, under the arcades there are <trefne jatki> (tref [uncelan] slaughterhouse). They sell meat for goys there. Despite the fact that the meat comes from ritual slaughter, it is unclean, it contains only back parts of carcase. The real tref shops are nearby (…) They sell pork and cold meat. A legitimate Jew would not even look in this direction, he would turn his head passing this disgusting chazer.”

(Piasecki 1995: pp. 68-72)

Tenement on the Plac Kościuszki Square. The twenties. Jerzy Pawlik Collection.


St Joseph Square. Around 1914. Jerzy Pawlik Collection.


At the beginning Tomaszów’s Jews, not having their own community, belonged to kahal in Ujazd. They also used the local cemetery where they had their own Tomaszów’s quarter. (Kędzierski 2012: p. 8). Despite earlier attempts of count Antoni Ostrowski, only the act of granting municipal rights to Tomaszów enabled creating Jewish community there. The count gave the new community lands in the centre of the town where they could built synagogue, baths, cheder and Jewish hospital. Ostrowski committed 30 trees, 20 thousand bricks and 12 thousand roof tiles for building synagogue and hospital (Kędzierski 2012: p. 9). Up until 1844 Jews settled in Tomaszów Mazowiecki freely, however including Tomaszów among state cities in 1844 was connected with designating special districts for them. Newly created quarter included the following streets: Jerozolimska, Polowa (today Polna Street) Bożnicza (today Bohaterów Getta Warszawskiego Street), Mojżesza (today Stolarska), Handlowa (today Berka Joselewicza), Kramarska (today Grunwaldzka) and Wschodowa (today Wschodnia). The quarter existed since 1844 until its liquidation under the ukase proclaimed by tsar in 1866 (Kędzierski 2012: p. 9). For a long time the community constituted only advisory body for the mayor, but gradually it comprised wealthy Jews of Tomaszów (in 1904 Aleksander Landsberg, Samuel Steinman and Chaim Rubin). Jews were admitted to municipal authorities only during Interwar period (Kędzierski 2012: p. 10).

Ritual bath next to Great Pond, Tkacka Street. 1930. Jerzy Pawlik Collection.

First synagogal supervision was founded in Tomaszów in 1831, headed by wealthy manufacturer and merchant Lewek Silber (Lejb Zylber). The community sponsored building of wooden synagogue with cheder at Bożnicza Street. The buildings survived until 1939 when they were burnt by nazis (Kędzierski 2012: p. 10). First ritual bath was localized by – no longer existing – Great Pond, reachable from St. Tekla Street (today Barlickiego Street). Second one, built also by the Pond reachable from Tkacka Street, was used in post-war time as a municipal bath. The poorest Jews used wooden barrels built at Pilica river. Ablution (hebr. twila), a ritual washing was an indispensable part of Jewish religious life. The most significant form of ablution was a full body immersion in a mikveh – a container with running, not drawn water, performed by women after menstruation, converted to Judaism (proselytes) and men before Yom Kippur. Water was also used for everyday purification – ritual handwashing, immersing new kitchen utensils bought from non-Jews, after returning from the cemetery (Unterman 1994: p. 8).

Great Synagogue at Handlowa Street (today Berka-Joselewicza Street). Jerzy Pawlik Collection.

The existing synagogue was insufficient for the needs of Tomaszów community, therefore between 1864-78 another temple – A Great Synagogue was built at Handlowa Street (today Berka Joselewicza Street) (Kędzierski 2012: p. 11). The interior was designed by painters brought to Tomaszów – brothers Warzager. Third synagogue was built of wood at Warszawska street in Starzyce (reachable from Gęsia Street). It was a place of prayers, reading of Torah and management of community. It was also a place of assembly of the community – as its Greek name suggests (synagoge means assembly) and Hebrew (bejt ha kneset – house of meeting).

The Great Synagogue as a digital model designed by Aneta Warkoczewska. She graduated from Lodz University of Technology (Faculty of Technical Physics, Information Technology and Applied Mathematics). The model was a subject of her thesis (the engineer’s degree): “Cyfrowa rekonstrukcja synagogi w Tomaszowie Mazowieckim”. The thesis was written under the supervision of dr Rafał Szrajber.

Antoniego Street. Jerzy Pawlik Collection.

Antoniego Street. Jerzy Pawlik Collection.


First bombs in September 1939 fell in Tomaszów Mazowiecki on the tenement houses at streets: Krzyżowa, Wieczność and Zgorzelicka, killing three poeple (Biernat, Smile of melancholic), Germans entered the city on 8 September and immediately started anti-Jewish operations. In 1940 they burnt the Great Synagogue at Handlowa Street (today Berka Joselewicza Street) and two other synagogues. Jews were forbidden to move on the main streets of the city and commanded to wear armbands with the Star of David. On 3 May 1940 a ghetto was established in Tomaszów. Officialy 15 thousand of Jews stayed there. However as the former Jewish policeman from the ghetto and prisoner of concentration camps – Samuel Talman claims in his not published “Dzieje tomaszowskiego getta” (History of the Tomaszów ghetto), there were about 17-18 thousand people. The aftermath of German extermination policy was not only establishing Jewish district, but also frequent operations inside the ghetto: many members of Bund and Zionists were killed, as well as representatives of Jewish intelligence and members of Jewish Council. One of operations called “Purim operation” is described by Michael Grossman (most probably Uszer Grossman, one of Jewish policeman in Tomaszów):

Dr. Mordkowicz was one of the leading members of the Jewish community of Tomaszow. His parents had been simple people, who could barely scrape a living. His mother used to sell milk and his father was a night watchman for various shops. The family lived at No. 6, Koszcoszki Place, known as the “Corridor”. At an early age Mordkowicz showed outstanding ability and was one of the best pupils at the Gymnasia. His teachers foresaw a brilliant future for him in whatever career he might choose. However, in order to earn a living and pay for his studies he gave private lessons in various subjects to less talented pupils. Although he was small of stature, his schoolmates recognized that he rose above them all. He was not deterred by difficulties, and was determined to achieve his aim of becoming a doctor. Even as an assistant at the Poznanski Hospital, he earned a reputation as a talented surgeon, and was afterwards recognized as one of the most proficient experts in his field. In complicated cases he was consulted by other doctors, and when he worked at the Eisner Hospital in Lodz he was called by the patients “zlota roncka” (“hands of gold”).

Though he was celebrated throughout Poland, he remained modest: a sociable man, fond of his fellow-men and held in affection by all. If he had time to spare he would visit his parents, and would also spend the sabbath with them. It need hardly be said that he helped his parents and all his family. Immediately after the outbreak of war, when Lodz was annexed by Germany, he succeeded in fleeing from it and returning to Tomaszow, his native town. Here he worked indefatigably, giving medical aid to many Jews. He was also Director of the ghetto hospital, as the Jews were no longer able to avail themselves of the town hospital. With the limited means at his disposal he succeeded in acquiring the most essential medical equipment. Despite the strict demands he made on his staff, he was respected by them all, and earned the esteem of his colleagues and of his patients.

Dr. Augspach, the director of the town hospital, though he was a Volksdeutscher, was a “righteous Gentile”, and in exceptional circumstances he would enter the ghetto to meet with Dr. Mordkowicz. He always apologised, as he was in general prevented from seeing his Jewish colleague more often. The Germans and the Gestapo, including Oberleutnant Greiser, knew that Dr. Mordkowicz was an expert in his field. For some time Greiser had been suffering from a venereal disease and other ailments. German doctors had tried to cure him, but in vain. When he was told that in the ghetto there was a Jewish doctor who was a spcialist in those diseases, he did not even want to know his name. To think that he, Oberleutnant Greiser should be treated by a Jew! He could not even bear to hear the word “Jew”! If he had no choice but to contact a Jew he would do so through the intercession of the Meister of the “Shop”, Hans Fichler, and if he absolutely had to talk to a Jew, he would do so at a distance of six metres from him. His gaze was always fixed over the heads of the Jews, for as a son of the “master race” his honour would not allow him to stand near them. The anti-semitic hatred that flowed in his veins had no equal for cruelty – so how could he possibly agree to be treated by a Jewish doctor? However, his condition deteriorated, and even the professors from Berlin that were sent to Tomaszow could not help him. Thus, given no alternative, the Jewish police were contacted to inform Dr. Mordkowicz to present himself at once before Greiser.

All the inhabitants of the ghetto knew that if any of them was required to leave the ghetto he would be accompanied by an ordinary Jewish constable. But this time Dr. Mordkowicz was accompanied by none other than Josek Goldberg. Goldberg too was, to begin with, an ordinary policeman, but for various special “reasons” he had reached the rank of Commissar, head of all the Jewish police – and it was he, as stated, who would escort Dr. Mordkowicz to meet the Arch-Murderer Greiser. The turmoil and anxiety in the ghetto increased from minute to minute – and when the doctor and the head of police returned, everybody breathed a sight of relief. It transpired that Dr. Mordkowicz had been ordered to appear before Greiser every Tuesday, to treat his ailments.

Wonder of wonders! No more than two weeks had passed since the doctor first visited him when Greiser appeared close to the ghetto (he rarely entered the ghetto itself). He ordered Dr. Mordkowicz to come to him, and the two now stood facing each other: Greiser, as tall as Goliath – and Dr. Mordkowicz, a midget in comparison. They talked quietly. This was probably the first time that the German talked to a Jew publicly. After a brief conversation he left, after thanking Dr. Mordkowicz for curing him.

March 20th, 1943. Today is Purim Eve, a warm and sunny day. Even the work of collecting and sorting Jewish belongings proceeds in a lighter spirit. In the evening Megillat Esther will be read and there will be a tinge of festivity. A few drinks had been prepared, there were even “Haman’s ears”, which the women had taken the trouble to bake, and perhaps the meal would be a trifle tastier. Perhaps they would even get a little drink and forget their sorrows for a moment. Perhaps the complex of guilt that they were still alive and working in the ghetto would be alleviated. Perhaps their jealousy towards those families where none had been deported and who were still together would disappear. Anyway, that evening all would be forgotten, the survivors in the ghetto would gather in fellowship, eat a little, drink a glass or two, maybe even sing, and maybe for an hour or so the burden of their tragedy would be lightened. And they were also happy that the accursed work they were doing would soon be finished.

Dr. Efraim Mordkowicz too felt relief that day, compared to other days. In his youth he had been far from religious, but on festivals, Rosh Hashana, Succot, Pesach and Shavuot he took care to celebrate with his family – until it became a tradition for him. Even when the demands of his profession left him little time, he continued to visit his parents. In May 1942, when Jewish doctors and intellectuals were murdered, he began to fast every Tuesday and Thursday. He was profoundly worried as to what might happen at any time. Despite this, he devoted himself heart and soul to his nine-year-old daughter Krisza, while investing all his energy in the hospital. This was particularly the case when there was a typhus epidemic in the ghetto, to which he also fell a victim. After recovering, he committed himself even more to his patients. Now, however, after the deportation, work at the hospital had diminished, for there were only about a hundred Jews left in the ghetto, including the doctors Yudek Milstein, Knikheit, Zloloslowand of course Mordkowicz himself. There were few patients, and he had plenty of time to take care of his only daughter, for whom he had to give the love of both father and mother. And so that day he would invite the other doctors, his brother Menasze and his daughter, and a few neighbours, and little Krisza would invite some of her small friends, and thus they could all forget their sufferings for a while.

At last, 5 o’clock in the evening came round, and everyone lined up to march back to the ghetto camp. However, when they got there, a lorry drove up to the ghetto gate and cries of “Aufmachen, ihr dreckigen Judenschweine” (“open up, filthy Jewish pigs”) were heard. The speaker was Hans Alsch, a police officer, and he was quickly inside the ghetto. Through the main gate now appeared Fichler, who at once presented the Jewish policemen with a list and told them that all the persons on it had to assemble at once, as they were to be sent to another labour camp.

A knock was heard on Dr. Mordkowicz’ door, and the Jewish policeman Y. Sh. entered, the list in his hand. From the list he reads out the names of Dr. Mordkowicz, his little daughter, his brother Menaszeand his daughter, and he repeats Fichler’s instructions. They must at once pack a few things, as they were being transferred to a camp, and the Germans were waiting for them.

In the meantime, other Jewish policemen were running here and there to round up the others on the list, amongst whom were fellow policemen, such as Kasztucki, his wife Rachel, and their two children. Also named were Rejgrodsk and his wife Yadza, of the house of Bresler. Meister Fichler examines the list to see that no one is missing. When Dr. Mordkowicz arrives, holding his little daughter in one hand and his bundle in the other, he asks Fichler where they are going. Fichler burst out sarcastically: “You are being sent to a place of rest”. Little Krisza asks tearfully: “Why do we have to be sent just today?”, for she had invited her friends to that very evening! “Perhaps we could postpone our journey to tomorrow?” Fichler placed his hand on her head, and she sensed it was the hand of a murderer and, wrenching herself free of him, clung tearfully to her father.

Meanwhile, everyone on the list had arrived, and they were loaded onto the lorry, with their baggage. There were 21 of them. When the lorry reached the house of Szeps, outside the ghetto, some armed gendarmes clambered onto it, among them the Volksdeutschers Fuchs, Walkowiak and Krapfisch, as well as Gestapo soldiers. In a car that followed sat Oberleutnant Greiser, Meister Fichler and Obermeister Siegert… it was the latter who suggested that the Jewish policeman and his wife be included in the list, because he had seen him outside the ghetto accompanying a Jew to a dentist who lived outside the ghetto. For this “offence” the Jewish policeman and his family paid with their lives.

The procession proceeded to the cemetery. Helped by blows from rifle butts, the victims jumped from the lorry, which had stopped beside an open grave (to avoid attention this had been dug by Poles). At once, Fichler ordered the unfortunate Jews to take off their clothes… terrible cries then rang through the cemetery. Two women, Yazda Rejgrodska and her sister refused, and one of them began to struggle with the murderers. (These women were members of the Wein family, all of whom were among the victims. The Weins had come from Kracow, where the husband had been an engineer and his wife a dentist).The two women now started to run screaming towards the fence. Krisza also burst into tears and began to make for the fence. Krapfisch, who was known for his sadistic trait of firing at the heads of small children, put a bullet into the head of little Krisza, and thus staunched her tears. The other butchers began firing at the Jews standing on the edge of the grave, while Hans Alsch, Fichler and Seigert ran after the two women – and a few revolver bullets halted their cries and their flight, whereupon the Germans said “Die verfluchten Hunde haben die Kleider verseucht” (“the cursed dogs have ruined their dresses”).

Polish workmen filled in the graves. Afterwards, they said that the earth on top of the graves went on heaving for some time after the murders.

Oberleutnant Greiser had remained in his car all the time, making sure that the murder of the 21 Jews was carried out punctiliously. The butchers, their hands and uniforms stained with the blood of their victims, climbed onto the lorry and returned to town, as did Fichler and Siegert in their car. Oberleutnant Grieser thanked the murderers in polite German tones for the loyal assignment they had carried out. This then was the “Purim gift” of the German butcher to the Jewish doctor who had cured him. Now his conscience was clear, for the Jew was dead – and thus Greiser was no longer obligated to him. Later that evening some soldiers and workers came to the cemetery to collect the clothes of the victims and take them to the store to be sorted.


Tomaszów ghetto. Source:

Majer Erlich, a ghetto policeman in Tomaszów. Source:


In the district of Tomaszów, one of the biggest in General Governorate, there were Factory Police (Werkschutz), Rail Police (Bahnschutz), Forest Police (Forstschutz) and Border Guard (Grenschutz). Additionaly there was a Party of Young Germans (Jung-Deutsche Partei) with their seat in Piesch Factory (Biernat, “Smile of melancholic”). The post of Commissioner of Tomaszów Mazowiecki was taken up by Dr Siegfried Lucas, higher officer of National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP), who, together with other civil officials, was responsible for implementation of Nazi administration. On 18 November 1939 General Governor Hans Frank issued an ordinance regulating position of Jewish Councils set up a little bit earlier by Reinhard Heydrich (Judenrat). Judenrats were composed of influential citizens from local Jewish communities who were obliged to execute occupier’s instructions in the field of administration, such as: delivering food, population register, medical service, burials. Jewish Council was also obliged to deliver workers, organize transports to work camps, collect and transfer contributions. Later they were also forced to cooperate during the deportation to death camps. Authority over Judenrats was exercised by German authorities who in fact decided and regulated life in the ghettos. Bolesław Szeps became the head of Jewish community (before him Bernstein was nominated, but he was murdered for refusal) – a person of significant meaning for Tomaszów’s Jews. He was a co-owner of Starzyce Carpet Manufacture, a member of Jewish Charity Association, he was engaged in social activity and charity, he built a “house of orphans” (Witczak 2012: p. 242) and regularly subsidized the poorest. During the occupation, together with other members of Judenrat, he ran a canteen for inhabitants of the ghetto, he ordered establishing Jewish hospital in the former building of Jewish Gymnasium at Wieczność Street (today Juliusz Słowacki Street). Szeps died in 1940, he was beaten to death by his executioners. A recollection of his funeral was described in many letters from the Tomaszów ghetto among which we can also find a caricature of former chairman of Jewish Community.

At first the ghetto in Tomaszów was composed of three different districts. Only in 1941 it was joined and closed (according to Stanisław Talman it included the following streets: Prawa, Zgorzelicka, Krzyżowa, Kramarska, Handlowa, Piekarska, Mała, Wschodnia, Polna, Bożnicza, Stolarska, Słoneczna, Jerozolimska, Południowa, Lewa, Żwirki i Wigury, Smugowa, Świerczewskiego). It resulted in deterioration of life conditions of its inhabitants – drastic reduction of food portions, death threaten for leaving the ghetto without special permission, another crimes against Jews from Tomaszów and region (in the ghetto there were Jews from the whole Tomaszów district). Judenrat’s work was no longer sufficient, people died from hunger and exhaustion on the streets of the ghetto. It was no longer possible to trade with Arian side where some Jews, hiding the handband with the Star of David, used to go to get supplies for their families. In June 1942 Germans restricted rules creating ghetto inside the ghetto. Within the streets: Jerozolimska, Handlowa, Wschodnia and Piekarska they created “the little ghetto” to separate working inhabitants (Chernoff 2014). Indicated square was fenced with barbed wire and the guard checked employment documents of everyone who crossed the little ghetto. It was closed on 30 May 1943 as a part of ultimate liquidation of Jewish community in Tomaszów.

Little basket from Tomaszów ghetto. Alina Gogól-Siniarska Collection.


„Here everything is going as usual, as I wrote you hundreds of times in my letters. Infinite monotony, uselessness, emptiness, greyness. What has changed is that the snow fell down and people, and even houses, shortened from cold (…) I’m going on the field next to the gasplant and I wander. Our dog (Muszka) follows me, dirty and ugly, but I prefer her to people because she is not insincere nor hypocritical, she’s more “human” (paradox!) than people. So she follows me, this poor dog (and sometimes several dogs, her mates) and so we wander around the gasplant. Or maybe she knows that I’m thinking of you and waiting and waiting…” (3I.X.1940)

Wrote Izrael Aljuche Orenbach to his beloved girlfriend whom he had met in Bydgoszcz. Orenbach, commonly known as Lutek, was a Jew from Tomaszów born in 1920 from Ita Rajzl and Szmul Binem (Witczak 2010: p. 176). He spent his childhood and early adolescence in Tomaszów Mazowiecki where he went to school before leaving with his parents and sister Bela for several years to Bydgoszcz. The outbrake of the war turned Orenbachs again to Tomaszów which separated youngsters for two years and forced them to exchange mail correspondence. These unpublished letters from Lutek are not only a record of youthful feelings but also a picture of life during German occupation. Orenbachs’ family stayed in the Tomaszów ghetto, formed in 1940 as three different districts. They lived at 8 Lewa Street, Lutek was a full-time employee in Jewish community. At first Orenbach missed his friends from Bydgoszcz which resulted in certain hopelessness.

„Tomaszów like Tomaszów. Neither village, nor town, neither fish nor fowl, something, a backwater, a hole with manufacturers… I feel nothing for this town but one day I will recall these years, my beautiful years of youth ruined in this town, when the war…. maybe then I will be eager to visit this town (“Or maybe my beloved, we could visit Tomaszów for one day…”), but now I feel that two more years in here and I’m finished”. (31.XI.1940)

Gradually Tomaszów became for Lutek more and more important. He found friends and created Little Art Theatre.

„Our Klein Kunst Teater can develop, but conditions are dreadful. There is no fabric, you have to take whatever is there. And again you can’t play great Polish Literature because it meets technical problems (mostly – lack of costumes). Anyway that kind of work gives something, exercises, enables to measure talent”. (10.VI.1941)

Lutek was not only an actor and director in the Tomaszów ghetto, but also a caricaturist. Next to his letters many caricatures of prominent citizens of Jewish community survived war. He shared his passion for art with painter from Łódź Henryk Barczyński, with whom he created Club of Artists in the ghetto.

“We created a club of artists here. We gather at Władek Rejder (an artist – painter from Łódź, very talented). On thursday we had our first meeting, with vodka. I declaimed, we sang and generally it was fun. We organize musical evenings for our closest friends and we forget for a while difficult times, Warsaw and that we don’t know: how? where? what’s going to happen with us? It’s such a pity you can’t be there during our evenings, have fun and laugh with us”.

Orenbach wrote his letters to his beloved in Polish, Edith answered in German. The exchange of letters brakes in 1942, Lutek’s fate remains unknown. Edith Blau (later Brandon) gave all his letters and drawings to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, where they remain until today.


A member of the Club of Artists of the Tomaszów Ghetto Henryk (Henoch) Barczyński (Barciński) was a painter and graphic designer from Łódź. He went to a private school of drawing of Jakub (Icek) Kacenbogen in Łódź. He learnt also at Henryk Glicenstein workshop in Warsaw as well as in Dresden Academy of Fine Arts under professors Otto Gussman and Robert Sterl. Cymerman wrote about first works of Barczyński in one of his reviews: “He paints with a special interest in elders, he loves sunken cheeks and wrinkled foreheads” (Malinowski 1987: p. 21). Similarly to Marek Szwarc, Barczyński often deforms biologically his characters in his works, however his drawings remain “violent and sharp”. Both Szwarc and Barczyński belonged to a group of expressionists in Łódź – Jung Jidysz. It was established in February 1919 by Mojżesz Broderson, Jewish painter, drawer and poet. The name could refer to the New York literary group Di Junge (it existed between 1907 -19), bringing together writers and poets from Poland and Russia, propagating ideas of breaking with didacticism, sentimentalism and realistic social themes in Jewish literature. They were close to symbolism, poetic imagination, psychological analysis, individuality and spontaneity. Jennings Tofel (Idel Juda Taflewicz) lived in New York at that time. He was a founder of the first Jewish Artistic Centre in New York and Art Center of the Congress of Jewish Culture. Tofel was born in Tomaszów Mazowiecki, he emigrated to the United States as a teenager with his parents. He frequented a painting school in New York – Townsed Harris Hall preparatory school (Witczak 2010: p. 245). He was connected with group The Introspectives, opposing the “superficial art” with an art of creative imagination. In Jewish magazine “Szriften” Tofel assessed positively the work of Jung Jidysz. In the period of prohibition of painting representation of human character, the group from Łódź and their ideas were very important to him. Tofel appreciated especially works of Jankiel Adler and Henryk Barczyński, whose characters usually play violin or harp and listen to the subtle music. Next to Adler, Barczyński, Szwarc and Broderson there were many other artists who belonged to Jung Jidysz: Icchak Kacenselon (poet and playwright writing in Polish and Yiddish), Dina Matusówna (painter and scenographer), Wincenty Brauner (painter and graphic designer). The main objective of the group was to find national Jewish style and revival of Jewish art. Artists published an almanac in Yiddish “Jung Teater” with poetry, prose, and art manifestos. They were inspired in their works by Marc Chagall and group Die Pathetiker, as well as chasidic mysticism and irrational currents in philosophy. Jankiel Adler used to visit in chasidic clothes Jewish cities in central Poland and Germany, Marek Szwarc after his conversion to Catholicism called himself Jewish catholic, attempting to introduce to the Christian iconography the Old-testamental motives, which would unify Christian world. The group cooperated with Pikador from Warsaw, Bunt from Poznań and Kultur-Liga from Kiev. The last time we meet the name Jung Jidysz in the poetry of Broderson in 1921. At that time Barczyński studied in Drezno and travelled around Europe. He got to Tomaszów in 1939 where, in the ghetto, he continued his artistic work. He was a friend of Lutek Orenbach and painter from Łódź Władysław Rejder. Unfortunately drawings of Tomaszów by Barczyński didn’t survived. Most probably Barczyński died in the ghetto.

Henryk Barczyński “Sukkot”. 1922. Source:

Jennings Tofel. Source:


When in May 1940 the Tomaszów ghetto was established, Lutek with his father visited Klara Segałowicz in Warsaw. It was “an old friend” of Szmul Binem and his former student. Orenbach as a youngster ran an amateur dramatic circle. Klara Borodino was its member and already at that time “she revealed a great artistic talent”. Borodino family came to Tomaszów from Kiev in 1911. Ten years later she moved to Warsaw where she signed on with the Central Theatre. Soon she married Jewish poet and writer Zusman Segałowicz, and her name has appeared for the first time in the play “Thieves” by Ganowim Bimko Fiszel, Jewish playwright and novelist writing in Yiddish. She was connected with one of the most significant Jewish scenes of the Interwar period – Warsaw Jewish Artistic Theatre (Warszawer Jidiszer Kunst-Teater). WIKT was established thanks to Estera Rachela Kamińska, her daughter Ida and son-in-law Zygmunt Turkow. Between 1922-24 the theatre was very successful, the most important actors next to its founders were: Klara Segałowicz, Samuel Landau and Ajzyk Samberg. Segałowicz successfully performed both in the theatre and in the film. In 1939 she was a director of Jewish Folk-Artistic Theatre (Folks un Kunst Teater) in Łódź  with which she performed in Vilnus “The Tempest” by William Shakespeare directed by Leon Schiller (Witczak: p. 213). The outbreak of the war found her in Warsaw where she was helping their friends – Weichert family. Michał Weichert was a founder of Warsaw Jewish Experimental Studio – Youth Theatre (Jung Teater) in 1932. After establishment of the ghetto Segałowicz worked as an administration worker in clothing department of Jewish Social Self-help. She founded Theatre for Youth. She used Argentinian passport in the ghetto presenting herself as a foreign citizen of Jewish descent (Witczak 2010: p. 213). This is why she was arrested in 1942 and imprisoned in the Pawiak prison for women where she was shot to death together with a group of other prisoners in 1943.

However when Orenbachs come to Warsaw Klara Segałowicz focuses on her theatre work. She is a wife of Leon (Lejb) Neustadt, director of Joint (American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee). It was a charity organization established in the United States in 1914, aiming distribution of goods collected by other charity organizations. Lutek describes visit in the apartment of Klara and her husband with an unhidden amazement.

“Interesting person. She is an old friend of my Father. At the time when he played and directed she was a little girl and directly she showed great artistic talent. She played together with my Father and Mother. Then my Father quit, and she started to work in Warsaw. She had maybe about ten husbands. Now she is rich. Her husband is the director of Joint – Neustadt. They have a villa, a car and everything – I wish I had the same. Mrs Clara is a bit hysterical, a bit crazy, like all the artists, she lives like a Hollywood star”. (10 V 1940)

Perspective of a youngster shows wealthy and glamour of Warsaw celebrity. Lutek shows in a caricatural way everyday life of the artist, often with a sting and criticism:

„(…) we came there. She was happy in a natural way and she said  she would do everything what she can; it’s very nice of her but… this house gets on my nerves. The housemaid – Russian – holds the whole house. Her highness lies in bed, and her husband Mr Director eats dinner. Short, bald and ugly. Daddy said that he looks like dr Mabuze. They call each other «baby». «Baby, the car has arrived…» I sat in the armchair, smoked and said nothing; the whole history made me nervous. She lies here, damn, comtesse and fools around with that old fart. Suddenly from under the blanket two dogs come out and start to kiss their Mistress, bleh!bleh! damn…” (10 V 1940)

Lutek in his letters also describes meeting with the former director of Vilnus Company (Wilner Trupe) and his wife. Most probably he meant Mordechaj Mazo and Miriam Orlesko or Estera Goldenberg, significant artists for Interwar Jewish scene. Orenbachs visit in Warsaw, despite the atmosphere of war, was a very strong impulse for artistic work. Mordechaj Mazo, Klara Segałowicz, Miriam Orlesko, Estera Goldenberg, Ajzyk Samberg will continue their art work in the Warsaw ghetto. And Lutek called back to Tomaszów by his mother in the letter, will open his own theatre in the ghetto.

Abraham Morewski, Klara Segałowicz and Izaak Inwentarz. Source: E. Krasiński, Teatry żydowskie w Warszawie między wojnami, „Pamiętnik Teatralny” 1992 z. 1/4, s. 331.


Izrael Aljuche Orenbach,  born on 29 October 1920, lived with his family at 14 Zgorzelicka street in the familyhouse of his mother Ita Rejdla. She descended from a large family of Libers, she was born in 1898 in a small town of Łomazy. She had five siblings: Estera, Rachela, Abram Mordka, Guta and Chana Perla. Her 6-years-younger sister Guta married Alfred Knopp whom Lutek immortalized on one of his caricatures. Chana Perla, wife of Icek Rotberg, was a mother of Alfred, born in 1915. Despite that Rotbergs lived in Łódź, Fred got to the Tomaszów ghetto. There, together with Lutek, he ran the ghetto theatre as a music director.  Ita, Estera, Rachela, Abram, Guta and Chana were children of Małka Glasbaum and Hersz Liber. Lutek lived at Zgorzelicka with his grandparents and Hersz’s death is mentioned in one of his letters: „Grandma is very sentimental (maybe after her I have this „sentiment”). When I go there she recalls different things from the past, when she ran the household or when she travelled every year to Karlsbad and Marienbad, and now… she barely has a bread…since grandpa is gone. And she always cries. Oh grandpa, he was a great man, unusually wise and unusually good…” (13VIII1940)

Lutek’s father, Szmul Binem born in 1983 in Radoszyce, descended from Orenbuchs family (as a result of a mistake made by vital records registrar Szmul received name Orenbach) and he was the son of Szlam Zełman and Rajzla Szeps. Since 1908 he was a member of Jewish Association of Music and Literature „Hazomir” (hebr. nightingale), throughout many years he worked in the company of Aron Józef Michlewicz (Witczak 2012: p. 178). He married Ita Rejdla in March 1920 in the Synagogue of Tomaszów at 7 Joselewicza street. The wedding was performed by assistant rabbi Moszek Milsztajn (Ibidem).

Orenbachs family, from which Lutek – author of letters from the Tomaszów ghetto originated, was very large, however not all Orenbachs from Tomaszów were relatives. What is interesting, in February or November 1920 (in the registration documents there are two different dates) also Izrael Lejbuś Orenbach was born, who lived with his parents Gerszon Henoch and Rachla Wagen and his siblings: Chana, Szlamek and twins Dwojra and Chenoch at św. Władysław street, and next at Wojciechowskiego street. After establishing of the ghetto Orenbachs lived at Wieczność street (today Słowackiego street). Izrael Lejbuś Orenbach died in July 1942 and his whole family was most probably deported to the camp in Treblinka after the liquidation of the Tomaszów ghetto in October or November 1942. Five sisters of Gerszon Henoch emigrated to the United States in the beginning of 20th century. Gerszon and his sister Rajzla stayed in Tomaszów. She was a wife of Abram Berkowicz with whom she had two children: Frymet and Aaron Mordechaj. Frymet’s son Teofil lives today in Sweden.


In her story about Tomaszów Helena Futerhendler recalls image of overcrowded ghetto where people, dying on the street, were covered with newspapers. Her father was one of the first people deported to Buchenwald camp and then Dachau where most probably he died. Before the war he worked as a tailor in Tomaszów. He hired about fifteen – twenty Jews in his workshop. Futerhendlers lived in the centre of Tomaszów, little Helena went to a public school for Jewish children where they learned in Polish. In her home she used Yiddish – language used by the majority of Jews of Tomaszów. She describes the city as culturally diverse and full of tensions before the war. Opposite to the school where she went, there was a Polish Christian school. There were many fights and bullying between the children (she recalls the fear of being hit by a stone imitating snowball). Her mother was also a victim of anti-Semitic insults such as: “Go to Palestine you lousy Jew!”. After unsuccessful attempt to get to Warsaw in the first months of the war, Helena with her parents and brothers stayed with their grandparents in Tomaszów. The newly established ghetto forced them to share their house with other family. Helena, thanks to her aunt Gienia, managed to get a job in the factory outside the ghetto; she had a chance to get a soup and a piece of bread everyday. She was escorted by the Jewish police to the factory. Helena stayed in the Tomaszów ghetto until it was transformed into the little ghetto (her mother was sent to Treblinka at that time) and eventually liquidated. She was deported to the camp in Bliżyn. Stanley Grosman, descending from an orthodox Jewish family from Tomaszów (his father had a kosher shop) recalls that up to 1940 when the Tomaszów ghetto was closed, there was a possibility of trade and smuggling of food. The ghetto was watched by Schutzpolizei (Schupo) and the Jewish police designated by the occupier. After closing the ghetto Gestapo ordered chosen men to work on regulation of Walbórka river. Stanley was one of them. Next he was deported to the transit camp in Lublin.

In the Tomaszów ghetto there was also Joseph Wolke (Józef Wołkowicz) with his family. Before the war he lived in the centre of the town and his father, an orthodox Jew, had a farm near Tomaszów. As a boy Joseph frequented Polish public school and yeshiva where a rabbi taught him Hebrew. He spoke Polish, Yiddish and German. When the war broke out his father didn’t want to leave his hometown. As a result the whole family got to the ghetto. For the whole time Joseph, risking his life, tried to get food going outside the ghetto. Many times he took off the handband with the star of David. He recalls liquidation of the ghetto when everyone was ordered to take only one hand luggage weighing maximum five kilogrammes. His family and other citizens gathered on the square were divided in two groups. Joseph went to the age group between 15 and 36 years old, the rest was shot to death. In this way he lost his father. The chosen group was led towards the church (at the time it was the church of St. Wacław at Wieczność Street, today its a parish of Our Lady the Queen of Poland at Juliusz Słowacki Street) and stood by the wall. Next 50 persons were chosen. This is how the small ghetto was established.

Sabina Pelta (Sefra Jurkiewicz) recalls repressions of Jews just before the war, when they were not allowed to stay in the parks during the day. In 1939 Germans knocked on Jurkiewiczs’ door and made them open the shop with construction materials ran by her mother. The loot took place during Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah. Sabina descended from orthodox family, among her cousins almost no one survived the war. She herself spent the war mostly on Siberia and her comeback to Tomaszów was nothing but a meeting of a boarded up family house.

Children’s Hospital on Zapiecek Street. Around 1962. During the Second World War it was Gestapo headquarters. Source: APTM no. 241. Sygn. I/H/1


Tomaszów Mazowiecki as Mosze Wajsberg writes, was bombed at 6 am. The first person who died was a Jewish engineer Fajner. In 1939 on the road from Tomaszów to Rawa Mazowiecka there were many Jews running away: by bicycles, on foot, with wagons. The first round-up took place on the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah): “They took 84 young Jews from their homes and driven them in an unknown destination. The fate of those men was known to Jewish people only when the first documents came from the death camp in Buchenwald.” (Yizkor Book: p. 358) “The real hell started for Tomaszów’s Jews, as Wajsberg writes, in 1941, when German murderer Pres came to Tomaszów. His first order concerned reducing bread portion to 1,20 kilogram per person per month. He organized the ghetto and to leave it you had to get a permit with his signature (…). The ghetto was a nightmare. People walked in rags, barefoot, sick, swollen from hunger. Beggary became a massive issue. A kitchen for people was opened; it served hundreds of plates of watery soup a day”. Michał Grosman recalled: “We didn’t know what exactly was happening in the vicinity, in towns and villages, because we were not allowed to travel since the ghetto was established in 1941; we couldn’t use the post, we were cut off from the rest of the world. The only ones who could move around were those who had green handbands. They took care of buying clothes, rags and furs and delivered them to the factories seized by Germans. Those who wore “green handbands” brought news about Jews from towns and villages being displaced and sent to death camps. Citizens of Tomaszów didn’t believe and called them insane. How can one sent young, healthy people to death camps only because they are Jews? It was unbelievable (…) In September 1942, when Jews celebratethe New Year and Yom Kippur, Jews from Tomaszów began to whisper and believe that these are their last holidays spent together with their families”. On 23 October 1942 the electricity was installed in on the streets of the ghetto. The ghetto was surrounded by Polish, Ukrainian, Latvian and German police. “They were all armed with machine guns, revolvers, helmets on their heads, like in the battlefield”. For leaving the ghetto you could get killed; “there was a German policeman Kropfish called “children killer” known for killing children; he would stand all day in front of the entrance to the ghetto and waited for the children. If he caught a child, he would kill him immediately, and if he saw that the child was crawling in death pains he would trampled him with shoes with nails laughing and shouting: “your parents wait for bread and potatoes; here’s bread and potatoes you lousy Jew!”. According to the author of the book dedicated to the Tomaszów Jewish Community, for six months more or less 20 people died everyday. The ghetto hospital was not able to stop epidemic Typhus. Hospital was quite well equipped, as Meldung recalls, it had big, bright rooms, operating theatre and pharmacy with medicines (bought secretly), laboratory. Earlier it was a three storey house of Bolesław Szeps transformed into the Jewish Gymnasium. The helpers of doctor Mordkowicz in the hospital were dr Milstejn, dr Keningheit, dr Złotołów and laboratory assistant Mankiewicz. Before the war, in Tomaszów, several Jewish doctors worked within the Society for the Protection of Jewish Health (TOZ) at 14 Antoni street. Dr Złotołów recalls dreadful conditions in the ghetto hospital. Doctors took care not only of sick but also beaten patients. I did several sanitary inspections in the ghetto and I have no words to describe what I saw there. People were squeezed 10 person in a room, packed in like sardines. At Polna street a mother with her two children lived in a closet, because of the lack of the place. Maybe it sounds like a fantasy, but it was real. Also in the baths at Tkacka street there had to be a doctor who would watch delousing chambers and naked swollen bodies. Some looked like skeletons. In the cold winter days Jewish police led groups of people, who looked like shadows wrapped in rags, to the baths for delousing: Złotołów recalls drastic scenes he had to watch: “I’ll never forget when the little wagon pulled by a skinny horse left the ghetto and came back with children shot to death, holding tight some potatoes, covered with fresh blood that hasn’t clotted yet”. He adds that next to Kropfisz there was also Pilcher who murdered children: “he couldn’t shot as good as his colleague, that’s why his victims were brought half dead – half alive”. Both the hospital and the whole ghetto gradually depopulated. Groups of Jews from the Tomaszów ghetto guarded by armed Germans and Ukrainians were regularly taken to the train station. Many people died on the way to the station, usually the elders who delayed the walk and their young relatives trying to help them. Only young people and craftsmen left in the little ghetto. In the houses the doors were open or plucked out, the windows were broken (…) incredible mess. On the tables the plates with unfinished soup, cups with tea, because everyone had to leave hearing the shouts: Juden raus! In many apartments there were blood stains, dead bodies of killed sick and old people who couldn’t walk so they were murdered on the spot. The bodies were taken to the cemetery by the Jewish policemen who stayed in the ghetto, and buried there. Collected things were gathered in one place, sorted and sent to Germany”.

Exhumation of Jews murdered during the Second World War. Source: APTM no. 241. Sygn. I/H/6

First transport to concentration camp in the spring 1940. Source: APTM no. 241. Sygn. I/H/60


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  1. Mordechai Pelta

    wonderful memorial. but the spelling and some of the statements attributed
    to my grandmother sabina are incorrect

    • Justyna Biernat

      Dear Mordechai,
      thank you very much for your comment. Remarks on Sabina Pelta are based on the transcript of her video testimonies which I have received from the Tauber Holocaust Library (JFCS Holocaust Centre). If there are any mistakes you may contact the Holocaust Centre and send me your remarks in order to correct my text.
      All best,

  2. Mordechai Pelta


    I am aware of the source and know it by heart. But at least two mistakes were made in the quotes from the video.. I suggest you correct it. You did not even ask what mistakes were made. It is up to you. Anyway, I appreciate the goal of your project and thank you again for doing this important work 🙂

    • Justyna Biernat

      Dear Mordechai,

      As I mentioned – I did not have an access to the video, but only to the transript. Unfortunately, I am not able to verify mistakes without the video record and that is why I was asking you for your help. If there are any content-related mistakes, please let me know: Thank you a lot and best regards!

  3. Sharon

    We are related to the Szeps family and are interested in knowing more about them.

    • Justyna Biernat


      could you indicate any names of Szeps family in order to find more about the Szeps.


  4. Sharon

    Hi Justyna,
    Thanks for your reply. Our understanding is that Isaac Szeps (1867- 1942) built the block on Antoniego St.

  5. Melanie Diamond

    My great uncle on my faher’s side was the painter Henoch (Heinrich) Barczinski, a friend of Lutek Ohrenbach. I am interested in finding out more of his life in Tomas and how he died which we believe was March 1941. As far as we know all his works 1939-1941 were destroyed

    • Justyna Biernat

      Dear Melanie,

      thank you very much for your comment. Let me answer your question in email. The letters written by Orenbach will be hopefullly published in December this year. Henoch Barczyński is one the characters of the letters.
      All best,

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