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Thursday, April 22, 2004

Bloody Wednesday

Imshin led me to this photo and the Yad Vashem website

An accurate account of the circumstances surrounding this photograph was found from two very different sources. The first is the Olkusz Yizkor book, which describes the fate of the community during the Holocaust period. In the book, the photograph forms part of the narrative of the events of that same day. The book describes how a German police unit arrived in Olkusz on July 31, 1940, and gathered all the Jewish men in the main square. There the Jews were forced to lie on the ground while the policemen and members of the SD “registered them”. During this process, the Germans brutally beat the Jews, shooting one of them 2.

In order to further heighten their suffering, Rabbi Moshe Yitzhak Hengerman was made to don his tallith (prayer shawl) and tefillin (phylacteries), and to stand barefoot and pray next to the prostrate Jews. Hence the scene in the famous photograph. The Jews were permitted to return home that day, and the Germans left. Due to the beatings suffered by the Jews, the event was subsequently referred to as “Bloody Wednesday” 3.

Exactly the same story is documented in the second source: the criminal investigation files against war criminals which were compiled in Germany in the ’50s and ’60s. A very similar version of the events is revealed from these files, which also add several details. According to the information in the files, the police activity on July 31, 1940 came in the wake of the killing of a German policeman, Ernest Kaddatz by members of the Polish underground on July 16, 1940. All the Jewish men were concentrated in three places: next to Czarna Gora, next to the old Electric Company installations, and in the market square. The photographs show the detainees in the market square and in one other place.

The Jews were forced to lie face-down on the ground ý while the policemen and SD members “registered them” at a table set up there. Throughout the day, the German policemen kicked the men and beat them with their rifle butts. One Jew, Tadeusz Lupa, an electrician, could no longer bear the suffering, and tried to escape. The policemen shot and killed him. The Germans often justified executions by reporting them as ‘escape prevention’, and the reported circumstances of this murder are therefore suspect. This source also refers to the day as “Bloody Wednesday.”

Thanks to Yad Vashem’s Pages of Testimony project, we know for certain what happened to Rabbi Hengerman: he was murdered in 1942, probably in Majdanek.
The Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names
will be online, and accessible via Yad Vashem's internet site, at the end of the summer 2004.