Calel Calek Perechodnik - Jews Poles Germans
A secular Jew, Perechodnik was born in 1916 to an Orthodox Jewish family in Otwock, south east of Warsaw. His family ran a movie theater named Oasis. He earned a degree in agronomy at the Warsaw University of Life Science. Perechodnik's wife Chana (née Nusfeld) was also from Otwock; their only daughter, Athalie, was born in 1939, before the German invasion of Poland.
Perechodnik's memoir is the only known written recollection of a Jewish ghetto policeman. It records such events as his and his father.s compliance with the Polish radio broadcast command to go eastward to fight in 1939, the formation of the Judenrat in Otwock, Himmler.s visit to Warsaw, the death of Czerniakow, the rounding up of Jews in the ghettos; life in, and escape from, a work camp; the experience of being hidden in Warsaw, the beginning of understanding of what was happening in the death camps, the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. His information is now considered by various researchers and experts on the holocaust to be remarkably accurate, and according to these researchers, the notes show proof that the Jews at that time knew what was happening.
The German occupation of Poland encouraged anti-Semitism among the gentile population. Some Poles started harassing Jews and in some cases, willingly helped the Gestapo in apprehending and deporting them (see: Szmalcownik). Perechodnik expressed his anguish and astonishment at the savagery of those Poles who turned against the Jews. It was, he wrote, "the greatest disillusionment that I have endured in my life."
he Perechodniks lost their house and most of their belongings and Calel had to deposit all of his savings in a "blocked account" in a German bank, which was immediately appropriated by the Germans.
In 1940, Perechodnik and his family, along with the 8000 other Jews of Otwock, were transported to the Otwock ghetto. In February 1941, fearful of being sent to a labor camp and hoping that the job would provide a shield for himself, his wife, and their two-year-old daughter, he joined the Jewish Ghetto Police, organized by the local Judenrat councils under German Nazi orders to maintain order in the ghetto.
In early 1942, the German authorities began rounding up Jews to be put into trains which were destined to go to Treblinka. The Jewish police were ordered to assist in this effort and they complied with the orders. Assured by the commandant of the Ghetto Polizei that his family would be protected, On 19 August 1942, Perechodnik brought his own wife and daughter to the ghetto's main square. But he was betrayed: Anka and Athalie were among 8,000 Otwock Jews sent to their deaths in Treblinka. Subsequently, he was sent to a labor camp.
On 20 August 1942, Calel Perechodnik escaped to Warsaw, where he spent 105 days in hiding with his mother and other Jews in the apartment of a Polish woman for a stiff fee. His father, Aryan in appearance, remained at large to support the family until he was captured by the Gestapo and executed. While in hiding, he spent the time writing. He joined the Polish Underground; it was during this time that he contracted typhus.
On 1 August 1944, the Warsaw Uprising began as part of a nationwide rebellion, Operation Tempest. It is now known that Perechodnik participated in the uprising, even though it is not clear as to what role he played in the Uprising. Sometime in late August or early September, 1944 after the Uprising failed, he committed suicide in his bunker by swallowing cyanide. He was 27 years old.
Shortly before Perechodnik died in 1944, he entrusted his manuscript to a Polish friend. After the war ended, the memoir was given to Perechodnik.s brother, Pesach Perechodnik, who had survived the war in the Soviet Union. The original copy of the memoir was presented to the Yad Vashem Archives, and a copy was given to the Central Jewish Historical Commission in Poland, which today is the Jewish Historical Institute. This book was the first publication of the complete document. The manuscript was largely forgotten and remained virtually unknown in English-speaking countries until Frank Fox's translation in 1996. It was released in Polish and Hebrew in 1993 prior to its translation into English in 1996. Since then, it has been translated into many languages.
Its original title is "A History of a Jewish Family During German Occupation. but its title was later changed to "Am I a Murderer?: Testament of a Jewish Ghetto Policeman".
In his last years life, Perechodnik completely changed his attitude towards the Jews and the Jewish faith and traditions. In his memoir, he rejected belief in God and the religious traditions of his Orthodox Jewish family. He became very bitter toward the Jews and frequently criticized them, even blaming them for bringing these events on themselves because of their insistence on cultural and religious isolation. He was sarcastic about others, as well as self-deprecating about his own Jewishness.
From someone who actually read the book:
There is a little bit more to the story of how the memoir got written and published. At the end of the war, Perechodnik joined the Russian army. Shortly after, he became sick. It was one of those infectious diseases that were running rampant in the war aftermath. The Russians refused to give him medicine and treatment because he was a former ghetto policeman and they largely saw him as a colluder with the Nazis, and they believed that he had only joined the Russian army because Russia had won the war. Also, they didn't really need new recruits very much because the fighting was finished, and all that remained was police-style duty being done to prevent a collapse into anarchy. Perechodnik hid out in the boarding house because German citizens were still killing Jews mostly to prevent them from consuming food, which was in extremely short supply. He wrote his memoir knowing that he was going to die soon from his disease. He gave the manuscript to a non-Jewish friend and made the man promise to get the memoir to his (Perechodnik's) brother to be published. He believed that only if the people knew about the Jews' own complicity in the Holocaust would such an event be avoided in the future. Perechodnik was on his death bed by this time and he died a few days later. The friend traveled all the way to Canada where he found the brother, who had fled to Canada from Poland at the time of the Nazi invasion of Poland at the beginning of the war. The brother took the manuscript and promised to do what he could. He wanted to immigrate to Israel however. The Israeli government told him that he would be denied entrance if he published the manuscript, so the brother handed over the manuscript to the Israeli government and thusly became a proud citizen of Israel. The manuscript was held by the Israelis as a confidential document, but this confidentiality expired after 50 years, at which time it was published.
I found the book to be a major eye-opener. I was astounded by the Jews' own complicity in the Holocaust. The European Jews (at least in Poland, where the book took place) have a bribery-oriented culture. Their entire mode of living is focused on getting ahead by paying bribes to obtain preferential treatment, and (on the other side of the coin) "influence peddling" or "cronyism." The SS used this to their advantage. The SS would make a big announcement that they were going to "liquidate the ghetto." They would then covertly spread the word that liquidation could easily be avoided by simply paying a bribe. They located influential members of the Jewish ghetto and gave them the title Ghetto Policeman (GP). The GP's job was to decide which Jews got taken away to Treblinka and which ones (the majority) were spared. Rather than liquidate the ghetto, only a handful of Jews were actually killed. The SS did this repeatedly, gradually chipping away at the Jewish population, which was the best that the SS could do given their extremely limited budget. All of the money in the ghetto would make its way into the GP's hands over time, as everybody was paying him bribes to be spared. The SS would then go to the GP's house and arrest him, and they would find all of the community's money hidden under the floorboards of his house, which they would confiscate. Nobody stood up to fight for the GP because everybody in the ghetto hated the GP and considered him to be their oppressor. They cheered when he was arrested! This made the job of the SS very easy. As an example, let's say that there were twelve SS officers liquidating the ghetto. They outnumbered the GP by 12:1 and could win this fight easily. The ghetto however, outnumbered the SS by perhaps 4000:12 and could have easily defeated the SS, if only they had fought against the SS. They never did though, except in very rare cases such as the Warsaw liquidation. By this time, essentially all of the Jewish wealth had been transferred to the SS. Also, the Jews were starving, which makes warfare a physically challenging activity. At this late date, the SS had a lot more money available and could field hundreds of soldiers armed with real guns and attack dogs and other tools useful in a fight.
My impression from the book, was that the SS totally blundered into this "strategy" that I have described above. In the beginning, the SS had a very small budget and only a handful of members. Their job was obviously impossible! Each SS member knew that his job was impossible and low morale caused him to become corrupt and begin accepting bribes. Normally you would expect that corruption would weaken an organization and cause it to fail. The exact opposite happened and corruption of the SS caused the SS to succeed. Only because the Holocaust was impossible, did the Holocaust become possible.
Perechodnik presents a brutally honest description of European Jewry. At one point he tells a story of how the SS were killing all of the Jews in a particular town (Otwock, I think it was). The SS were executing the Jews by forcing them at gunpoint to lie face-down, whereupon they shot the prostrate Jews in the back of the head. Perechodnik tells of one case in which a soldier in the city park ordered five Jews to lie face-down. When he tried to shoot them however, he discovered that his rifle was out of bullets. A lot of the Polish people had come out to watch the fun. The soldier asked one Polish boy to go to the SS headquarters and fetch him a box of bullets. The boy jumped on his bicycle and took off. The soldier then sat down on the ground, leaned up against a tree, and smoked a cigarette. The boy returned after about 20 minutes with the box of bullets and the soldier paid the boy a handful of coins from his pocket. He then loaded his rifle and shot the five Jews in the back of the head. The Jews had laid there face-down on the grass awaiting death, and they had not risen up to fight the unarmed soldier. Apparently they were waiting for better than 5:1 odds!
Most GPs, at the time of their arrest, were sent to Treblinka for liquidation. Perechodnik admits that he was spared this fate because he allowed his wife and daughter to go to Treblinka in his place. Instead of death, he got a promotion, and became a GP in Warsaw which was the nearby big city. Perechodnik knew that at Treblinka the Jews' fat was rendered into soap. Sometimes when he was taking a bath he would look at his bar of soap, think about his wife and daughter, and begin crying. At this time, he actually owned a handgun (what he refers to as a "barker"), but he still lacked the courage to go shoot an SS officer.
It is interesting that Perechodnik's spelling of the word "Treblinka" varies throughout the book. He obviously only knew the word verbally and hadn't seen it in writing. Also, his own understanding of what was going on at Treblinka evolved during the course of the book. It is also interesting that the word "treblinka" is the Russian word for "bag." The Russians have a phrase "pashul la treblinka" that literally means "get in the bag" but would be translated into English best as "get with the program." That really adds an element of humor to the SS use of the word as the name of their death camp!
I recommend Perechodnik's book. You will get a glimpse of the Holocaust very much different than what you get in Hollywood movies such as "Defiance."
list of works by Holocaust victims, published after they died.
* Hélène Berr: Journal
* Moshe Flinker: Young Moshe.s Diary: The Spiritual Torment of a Jewish Boy in Nazi Europe
* Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
* Petr Ginz: The Diary of Petr Ginz
* Éva Heyman: The Diary of Éva Heyman
* Janusz Korczak, Ghetto Diary
* Rutka Laskier, Rutka's Notebook
* Abraham Lewin: A Cup of Tears: A Diary of the Warsaw Ghetto
* Kim Malthe-Bruun: Heroic Heart: The Diary and Letters of Kim Malthe-Bruun
* Irène Némirovsky: Suite Française
* Kim Malthe-Bruun: Heroic Heart: The Diary and Letters of Kim Malthe-Bruun
* Oskar Rosenfeld: In the Beginning Was the Ghetto: Notebooks from Lodz
* Yitskhok Rudashevski: Diary of the Vilna Ghetto
* Dawid Rubinowicz: The Diary of Dawid Rubinowicz
* Dawid Sierakowiak: The Diary of Dawid Sierakowiak: Five Notebooks from the Lodz Ghetto
* Jerzy Feliks Urman: I'm Not Even a Grown-up: Diary of Jerzy Feliks Urman
The anti-semites shall be our best friends." Diary excerpt from Zionism creator Theodor Herzl (1860-1904) (Source). What is a Zionist?