When World War II broke out, some young Jews left the town together with the retreating Russian army. In September 1941, SS-Untersturmfuhrer Kurt Engels and SS-Rottenführer Ludwik Klem seized the local municipality jail. From then on, the so-called Zamość Gestapo for persons from outside the town started to operate in Izbica. A year later it was already one of the more significant cells of the so-called Operation Reinhard[3.1]. Kurt Engels showed exceptional cruelty towardsthe Jewish population. He personally shot a number of Jews. He drove around the town on a motorcycle looking for victims[3.2]. The local Jews were initially used as laborers to construct an airport in Zamość[3.3].
In 1941 the Nazis created a ghetto in Izbica especially for transports of Jews arriving from different localities or countries. It was a transit camp from where Jews were deported to Bełżec and Sobibór and at the same time was the largest transit ghetto in the Lublin district[3.4].
The ghetto for Jews living in Izbica was situated in the building used by the fire brigade, behind the railroad track. It was located in this one building, surrounded by barbed wire, where the death rate was almost equal to the mortality in the Warsaw ghetto.
The town was in a convenient location and a railway line ran through it from where Jews were deported to Bełżec and Sobibór . Transports of Jews from Czech Republic, Moravia, the German Reich and Austria started arriving and prior to that, in 1940-1941, Jews from Częstochowa, Łódź, Głowno, Konin and Koło were taken to Izbica[3.5].
From March to May 1942, approximately 12,000-14,000 people were transported to Izbica. Among the Jews were highly qualified specialists: engineers, doctors, economists including the vice president of Prague, Austrian army generals and professors from Vienna, the Hague, Jena, Heidelberg and Wrocław[3.6].
Jan Karski , a courier, who witnessed the atrocity of the Holocaust after arriving in the transit ghetto disguised as a guard – tells the following story:
[…] As far as I could see the camp had a total area of around 1.5 square kilometers of flat land. Several rows of solid barbed-wire fencing supported by wooden poles at intervals, surrounded the camp. It was two and a half meters high. On the outside, guards patrolled it at intervals of 50 meters and on the inside, armed guards were positioned about every fifteen meters apart. There were a few barracks behind the wire and in between was a, heaving, waving crowd. The prisoners were pressed one against another like sardines, they tried to shout each other down. The guards, on the other hand, tried to keep them in some sort of control and order [...].
[…] To the left of the gate, about a hundred meters outside the fencing, there was a railroad track, or rather a kind of ramp from which a wooden sidewalk led to the fencing. A train, with about thirty dirty and dusty railway cars, stood there […].
[…] At that moment we just walked past an old man who sat naked on the ground and rocked back and forth. His eyes were glistening and he kept blinking. Nobody paid any attention to him. A child wrapped in rags lay next to him. It was shaking and looking around in fear. The crowd pulsated in time to some insane rhythm. The people yelled, waved their arms, quarreled and swore. They must have known that there was not much time left before they would be facing the unknown. Their fear, hunger and thirst intensified the feeling of uncertainty and animal instinct of danger. They had already been stripped of all their modest property that they had been permitted to take on their journey. It was a mere five kilos of luggage, usually the essential travel items: a pillow, cover, a little food, or bottle of water, sometimes valuables or money. Usually, they were people fromghettos, who were completely destitute when they arrived at the camp.
[…] Usually, they stayed in the camp for no more than four days. Soon afterwards, they were herded into the railroad cars only to face their death. During the whole time spent in the camp, they were barely given anything to eat so they had to rely on their own provisions. The camp barracks could accommodate, more or less, about half of the prisoners. The remainder had no other choice than to stay outdoors. The smell of human excrement, sweat, filth and decay permeated the air […].
[…] An SS officer, probably responsible for the loading, stood before the crowd of Jews. He spread his legs widely apart.
[3.1] M. Rucka, Zdążyć przed zachodem..., p. 17.
[3.2] Areszt zbudowany z macew, „Gazeta Wyborcza: Lublin”, 18th of September 2006, p. 3.
[3.3] Izbica, Dia-pozytyw: Ślady i Judaica, http://www.diapozytyw.pl/pl/site/slady_i_judaica/izbica, [ as at the 17th of May 2008].
[3.4] R. Kuwałek, Z Lublina do Bełżca..., p. 17.
[3.5] P. Burchard, Pamiątki i zabytki kultury żydowskiej w Polsce, Warszawa 1990, p. 175.
[3.6] M. Rucka, Zdążyć przed zachodem..., p. 17.
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