Piotrkow Trybunalski is a town in central Poland about 26 kilometres south of Lodz, it is one of Poland’s oldest cities.
Piotrkow was part of Russia between 1815 until 1915, before reverting back to Poland in 1919, it was an important industrial centre, principally for the manufacture of textiles, wood and glass products.
Jews had lived in Piotrkow since the early Middle- Ages and by 1939, numbered some 15,000 residents. This was approximately twenty seven percent of the total population.
The thriving Jewish community, both secular and Orthodox, supported three weekly newspapers, as well as a number of religious, cultural and political organisations and institutions.
There were numerous synagogues and prayer houses in the town, with the Great Synagogue considered one of the most beautiful buildings of its kind throughout Poland.
Following the German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, more than 1,000 Jews were killed on 4 September in bombing raids on the nearby village of Sulejow, where they had fled before the advancing German army.
After some initial bombing and shelling, Piotrkow was occupied on 5 September 1939, the persecution of the Jewish residents began immediately.
Jewish men were seized in the streets for slave labour, beatings and random killings became commonplace. Although approximately 2,000 Jews had managed to escape from the town to the Soviet-occupied zone during the initial days of the occupation, throughout 1939 and 1940 the population was enlarged by Jews from the neighbouring towns and cities, including Warsaw, Lodz, Belchatow, Kalisz, Gniezno and Plock.
As was commonplace a 24 strong Judenrat was established in the early days of the occupation, headed by Zalmen Tennenbaum, a former Vice-President of the pre-war Jewish Council.
Zalmen Tennenbaum was also appointed President of all Judenrat within Piotrkow county. In October 1939 the German army transferred the administration of the city to the civilian authorities under the command of Oberburgmeister Hans Drexel, who on the 8 October 1939 issued a decree establishing a ghetto for Jews -this was the first ghetto in occupied Poland.
As in other ghettos the living conditions were appalling, 5,000 – 6,000 people had lived in this area before the war, now 28,000 were incarcerated there. Many houses had no electricity, water supply or basic facilities, the ghetto was closed on 28 October 1939. Hanka Ziegler was 9-years old when the Second World War began, her parents and their five children lived in Lodz but moved to Piotrkow in the early days of the war and she recalled:
“We all stayed in one little room, the seven of us. Another fourteen people came to the room at different times. I remember sleeping on a chair with one of my brothers, it was awful. My father got caught foraging for food and was put in prison – I never saw my father again. My brother Zigmund and I were the breadwinners – he was about fourteen.
Read more here: http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/nazioccupation/piotrkow.html
The Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team
Copyright Carmelo Lisciotto H.E.A.R.T 2009