8 Execution site(s)
Stanislaw T., born in 1924: “It was in the summer when I saw the Jews being shot. “One day, the Germans escorted a column of Jews past my family’s property towards the forest. It was so sad to watch it. Some people weren’t walking fast enough so the Germans killed them on the spot. One Jew tried to escape but also was shot. Then, the local German administration gave the order to remove the bodies from the road and bring them to the forest to be buried.”(Witness N°710, interviewed in Józefów, on August 10, 2017).
“At the end of the sweep, the unit gathered briefly at the market place. We were given new guidelines. We were told that now all the rounded-up Jews had to be killed by us in the forest outside the town. (…) I remember that the entire unit drove in the direction of the forest. The first commando of the execution, composed of about thirty men, had to start their mission. Other men from the battalion transported the Jews in our trucks to the execution site. Once there, they forced them out on the path of the forest. Then, they were escorted by other policemen inside the forest. As I participated in the execution as a shooter, I can describe the extermination process in detail. The commando who escorted the Jews ordered them to lie down in a row facing the ground. The commando who executed was visible from the pit and stayed a couple of meters away with their arms. When the Jews laid down, the execution commando started to fire (…). With bayonets they fired in the nape of the neck. Firstly, only the execution commando fired. I think we were firing for about an hour before being taken over. I remember that after that we took turns, and we continued the shooting until dusk. I remember that we did not have enough time, and that the shooting wasn’t conducted in the same manner as in the beginning, at some point, it wasn’t so formal.” [Deposition of Friedrich B., member of Police Battalion 101; given in Hamburg, Germany, on November 5, 1963; B162-5914 p. 94].
Józefów is a town located on the banks of the Niepryszka river, 111 km south of Lublin. The first records of the Jewish community in Józefów date back to the early 18th century. In the late 18th century, the first synagogue and a Jewish cemetery were created. A Hebrew printing house was established in Józefów in 1820, becoming a leader of book printing in the region and exporting books abroad. Half of the local Jewish residents lived off printing and selling religious books in Hebrew. A few decades later, the print house had gone into bankruptcy. In 1865, there were 675 Jews in the town, making up 78% of the total population. There were many artisans, such as cobblers and tailors. However, the majority of Jews were involved in small-scale trade. The Zionist movement was very active in the town. After World War I, many Jewish political parties appeared. According to the 1921 census, 1,050 Jews lived in Józefów. On the eve of the German occupation, the Jewish community numbered approximately 1,700.
Józefów was occupied by the Germans on September 17, 1939. Beforehand, during the few days of occupation by the Soviets, 300 to 1,000 Jews fled east with the Red Army. Shortly after the occupation, two labor camps for the Jews were established on the outskirts of the town. Circa. 600 Jews from Konin and more from smaller towns were deported there, which made the living conditions in Józefów unbearable, and resulted in a typhus epidemic, especially among people who lived near the market square.
According to a Judenrat report, 2,147 Jews lived in Józefów in August 1941. The first execution of Jews was conducted by the Gestapo in May 1942 on 100-130 Jews in the streets and in a quarry. However, according to a local eyewitness interviewed by Yahad, the first victims of the Nazis were six Jews killed behind the chapel in 1939 shortly after the beginning of the occupation. The largest mass execution was conducted on July 13, 1942. All the Jews were first gathered at the market square. Anyone caught trying to hide was hunted and killed. As a result of the selection at the square, circa. 300 Jews, mostly young men, were transported to labor camp in Lublin, while others were taken on trucks to the forest, to Winiarczykowa Hill, near the road to Biłgoraj.
That day, 1,300 to 1,500 Jews were murdered by Police Battalion 101. After a few days, locals were requisitioned by the police to bury the bodies. According to one of the requisitioned locals interviewed by Yahad, it took them three days. With the help of a local witness, the Yahad team was able identify several mass graves in the forest where the bodies remain to this day. Approximately 400 Jews managed to avoid the Aktion in Józefów, but they continued to live in terrible fear, because the Germans continued conducting such executions sporadically. Some tried survive in nearby forests. According to a local witness, a couple of days after the July massacre, about 100 Jews were taken to a school yard and shot. This execution, as well as the site, remains undocumented until now. Another 70 Jews were executed as hostages in September 1942 in a quarry, after the Judenrat failed to pay contributions that had been demanded by the Germans. The final execution took place on November 3, 1942, when some Jews were shot by a Schutzpolizei unit, and some others were deported to the Bełżec death camp. However, even after having declared the town Judenfrei, the Germans continued looking for the Jews who stayed in hiding. This fact was confirmed by local witnesses.
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