• Put to death, execute
  • Executed
  • Exterminated
  • Liquidated
  • Liquidation number
  • Liquidation of Jewry
  • Finished (off)
  • Actions
  • Special actions
  • Special treatment
  • Specially treated
  • Subject to special treatment
  • Cleansing
  • Major cleaning actions
  • Elimination
  • Resettlement
  • Execution activity
  • Executive measure
  • Treated appropriately
  • Conveyed to special measure
  • Security police measure
  • Worked over in Security Police manner
  • Solution of the Jewish question
  • Cleaning up of the Jewish question
  • Judenfrei gemacht : (area) made free of Jews
  • Registrations
  • Resettlement
  • Baths
  • Inhalations

Psychological manipulations were a hallmark of the Nazi regime.  It was not so easy to have “civilized Germans” murder six million Jews.  To help, the Germans employed repression, rationalization and justification.  Words such as “killing”, “murder” or “genocide” were not uttered. The words listed above were used to carry out the dirty business.

Heinrich Himmler

Heinrich Himmler, master of the mind-bend, repeated over and over that what they were doing was a good thing – the Jew had to be destroyed.

  • The Jews are a danger to Germany and the world
  • The Jews are evil
  • The Jews are criminals
  • The Jews are vermin

The mantra – “Jews are a danger” and they had a plot to conquer the German people penetrated all Nazi offices and activities.  The idea became a cornerstone of German foreign policy.   “Thus,” states Raul Hilberg in Destruction of the European Jews, “the conviction grew that foreign statesmen who were not very friendly toward Germany were Jews, part-Jews, married to Jews, or somehow dominated by Jews (Hilberg at 284).

On February 5, 1943, the following instructions were issued:

“Stress: If we lose this war, we do not fall into the hands of some other states but will all be annihilated by world Jewry.  Jewry firmly decided to exterminate the Germans.  International law and international custom will be no protection against the Jewish will for total annihilation” (Id. at 285).

In 1943 Himmler stated: “We [have] the moral right vis-a-vis our people to annihilate this people which wanted to annihilate us” (Id. at 275).

The criminality of the Jew was often highlighted in the press.  This press instruction was issued:

“Stress:  In the case of the Jews there are not merely a few criminals (as in every other people), but all of Jewry rose from criminal roots, and in its very nature it is criminal.  The Jews are not people like other people, but a pseudo-people welded together by hereditary criminality” (Id. at 286).

Further, when referring to the confiscated property of the Jews, the Germans emphasized that it was the: ‘utilization of the property of the Jewish thieves’ (Id.).

In order to bolster the idea of the Jew as a criminal who wants to kill children, a collection of stories about alleged Jewish torture of Christian children was published.  This book, The Jewish Ritual Murders, was distributed to hundreds of members of the Einsatzgruppen – the mobile killing units (Id.).

It was not sufficient to label Jews as criminals.  Jews had to be reduced to something other than human beings.  You may be a criminal – but you are still a person.  Vermin, on the other hand, are easy to kill.  You want to kill them – get rid of them. “Jews and lice” were often said in one breath, as if they are one in the same.  The extermination of Jews and the need for “cleansing actions” made the killing seem more like swatting flies that killing humans.  In fact, the term “Judenrein,” usually translated as “free of Jews,” actually means “clean of Jews.” (Id. at 287).

If even after this propaganda offensive, there was a shred of doubt that killing Jews was a praiseworthy act, it was made clear that orders were to be obeyed.  Once obeyed, the soldier was absolved.  Himmler spoke to a killing party in Minsk.  He told his soldiers that “they need not worry.  Their conscience was in no way impaired, for they were soldiers who had to cary out every order unconditionally” (Id. at 288).   This was surely comforting.

If that was still insufficient to allow for a clear conscious, Himmler continued to explain to his killing units that they must look at nature.  There was killing everywhere – animals, even plants. “Whoever tired of the fight went under” (Id. at 293). This articulated the ultimate rationalization – kill or be killed.

Humans are capable of great good, but we are also capable of great evil.  The 1984-Newspeak utilized in Nazi Germany infiltrates daily life.  During the cold war – there was a desperate struggle between “free people” and the Communist “aggressors.”  The world was split into “light” and “dark” lands.  The Vietnam era saw the Vietnamese people labeled as “gooks.”  Reagan declared that there was an “evil empire.”   Now Trump has decided that all Mexicans are criminals and Muslims are terrorists.

Newspeak does not cease to plague our world.  We must be ever vigilant.


Hilberg, Raul. The Destruction of the European Jews. Teaneck, NJ. Holmes & Meier. 1985.



How many of us get a second chance to fulfill our dreams?  Not many.  But it seems that Hamann rose from the dead for a second chance to kill Jews.

As retold in Megillat Esther (the Scroll of Esther), Hamann was the Prime Minister of the ancient Persian Empire. He conspired to kill all the Jews living in the Empire – all on one day.  The heroine, Queen Esther, thwarted Hamann’s plans and the Jews were saved.  Still today, Jews throughout the world celebrate this victory on the holiday of Purim.

In the 1940’s Hamann was back in the form of a Nazi Obersturmfuhrer. In the summer and fall of 1941, Hamann was busy fulfilling his dream of killing Jews.  He was the commander of the Einsatzkommando 3.  “The Jewish situation in Siauliai [northern Lithuania] was a dirty mess and [] all Jews in the city had to be ‘liquidated,’” Obersturmfuhrer Hamann declared in September of 1941.  [yes, it’s really his name!] (Hilberg at 142) This time he was going to get it right.  With assistance from the German army and the local Lithuanians, Hamann murdered thousands of Jews in very short order – not on one day as the Persian Hamman had planned, but in just a few months.

As opposed to the Persian Hamann, this German Hamann’s method was successful.  Shooting Jews into massive pits, the Einsatzgruppen units began their murderous spree when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in June of 1941.  In just five months, they murdered approximately 500,000 Jews, (Id. at 111) and by November of 1942, over 900,000 people were dead (Id. at 153).

I’ve known for a long time that Esther Wisznia Goldberg’s family was murdered by Einsatzgruppen B in August of 1941 –  just outside of Slonim (see blog post January 7. 2016), but I cannot stop wondering how the Einsatzgruppen managed this.  So many people shot dead in such a short time, over such a large territory.  In Raul Hilberg’s classic history of the Holocaust – The Destruction of the European Jews, I read the section on Einsatzgruppen three times to take it all in – it still somehow seems more than a human mind should have to absorb.

Hilberg emphasizes three main reasons why the Einsatzgruppen’s methods were so successful.  First, the Jews were surprised – there was no warning and most had no inkling that this could occur.  Second, the Einsatzgruppen units were efficient.  Third, the local population either cooperated or was passive.

The “victims were to be caught as quickly as possible,” writes Hilberg.  “They were to be given no warning and no chance to escape” (Id. at 104).  The Einsatzgruppen units were to follow closely behind the army, but more importantly, were also permitted to be on the front lines (Id.).  This allowed them to take the Jews by surprise.

Besides the advantage of surprise, these killing units were also efficient.  The Einsatzgruppen units were commanded by successful professionals – a physician, a professional opera singer, and numerous lawyers (Id. at 116).  “These men were in no sense hoodlums, delinquents, common criminals or sex maniacs,” Hilberg explains.  “Most were intellectuals. By and large, they were in their thirties, and undoubtedly they wanted a certain measure of power, fame, and success”  (Id.).

These professional commanders standardized the work in each city or town, streamlining the process.  The same basic procedures were almost always used: “The site of the shooting was usually outside of town, at a grave,” writes Hilberg.  “Some of the graves were deepened antitank ditches or shell craters, others were specially dug.  The Jews were taken in batches (men first) from the collection point to the ditch. . .. Before their death the victims handed their valuables to the leader of the killing party.  In the winter they removed their overcoats; in the warmer weather they had to take off all outer garments and, in some cases, underwear as well”  (Id. at 127).

Additionally, the Jews were used to thinking of the Russians as the bad guys and the Germans as the good guys.  In World War I, the Germans were “quasi-liberators” (Id. at 124).  Now, only 24 years later, many Jews unknowingly welcomed the Germans with open arms.  Because the Soviets and the Germans were allies between the summer of 1939 and June of 1941, Soviet newspapers and radio were silent about what was happening to Jews of Western Europe.  The Jews did not know what was coming.

In late summer, 1941, a Jewish delegation in Kamenka, Ukraine sent the following to a visiting German dignitary:

‘We, the old, established residents of the town of Kamenka, in the name of the Jewish population, welcome your arrival, Serene Highness, and heir to your ancestors, in whose shadow the Jews, our ancestors and we, had lived in the greatest welfare.  We wish you, too, long life and happiness. We hope that also in the future the Jewish population shall live on your estate in peace and quiet under your protection, considering the sympathy which the Jewish population has always extended to your most distinguished family’” (Id. at 124).

Still, of course, the Jews of the town were immediately ordered to wear a star and were subject to slave labor (Id.).  So, with the elements of surprise, efficient professionalism, and the Jews’ positive pro-Germans mentality, the Nazi killing machine proceeded with ease.

These factors, however, would not have been sufficient to shoot almost a million people (one at a time!).  It became possible when local auxiliary troops joined the 3,000 member Einsatzgruppen units and the rest of the local population either participated in pogroms[1] incited by the Einsatzgruppen or passively allowed the Nazi murder machine to operate.[2]

The first round of Einsatzgruppen killings went from June to December of 1941.   Four groups of Einsatzgruppen (A-D) followed the German army as it plowed through Soviet-controlled lands.  But the first round had left many Jews alive.  So the Einsatzgruppen did a second, more thorough, round of killings, even as the first was winding down.  This second round began in September of 1941 and continued until the end of 1942  (Id. at 138).

This is where Oberstrufurer Hamann enters the picture.  His order to kill the Jews of Siauliai, Lithuania, was given in the beginning of the second round of killing – in September of 1941.  Hamann’s stated mission to shoot all the Jews of the city was challenged by the district’s Gebietskommissar, the civil administrative leader.   The Gebietskommissar said, that the Jews should not be killed because they “were needed as skilled laborers” (Id. at 142).   Hamann’s response was that “such matters were none of his business and that the economy did not interest him at all”  (Id.).

This is how Hamann was able to rise again to carry out his dream of killing Jews.  The Jews of Europe had no Queen Esther to save them.  However, our own Esther was able to save a few – Chayim Kwiatek, Sam Goldberg and Velvel Schniedman.  Each of these went on to have children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  Take that Hamann!



Hilberg, Raul. The Destruction of the European Jews. Teaneck, NJ. Holmes & Meier. 1985.

Wikipedia article – Reichskommissariat Ukraine


[1] A progrom is a “spontaneous” outburst of violence against the local Jewish population.  The Einsatzgruppen organized or inspired progroms throughout the region.  These progroms got the locals to do some of the Nazi’s dirty work – every Jew killed in a progrom was one less the Nazis had to shoot.   Further, by inciting the locals to attack their Jewish neighbors, they imposed guilt and responsibility on them.  Hilberg quotes Brigadefuhrer Dr. Stahlecker of Einsatzgruppen A: “‘It was not less important, for future purposes, to establish as an unquestionable fact that the liberated population had resorted to the most sever measures against the Bolshevist and Jewish enemy, on its own initiative and without instructions from German authorities.’” Id. at 120.

[2]  “In all the Einsatzgruppen reports,” Hilberg writes, “we discover only one indication of the pro-Jewish act in the occupied lands. Sonderkommandos 4b reported that it had shot the mayor of Kremenchug.  Senitsa Vershovsky, because he had ‘tried to protect the Jews.’  This incident appears to have been the only case of its kind. Id. at 118.

TOP PHOTO:  The Feast of Esther, by Jan Lievens circa 1625.  by Universal Pops.


STOCZEK – The Memory of It

Stoczek – Esther’s home town.  Visiting Stoczek was a melancholy experience – nothing left from Esther’s time – save the Church, the Christian cemetery, a few old decrepit pre-war houses and the empty lot where the Kwiatek soda factory stood.  But pre-war Stoczek was no “Fiddler-on-the Roof” cartoon.  It was a vibrant, interesting place, filled with real people who had hopes and dreams.  There was a library that had books translated into Yiddish, including books by Tolstoy.  There were competing youth groups, with different ideologies and purposes.  There were bakeries, clothing stores, shoe stores, smith shops, shops for horse supplies, schools, Synagogues and homes – many homes.

Chayim Kuper was a wood carver.  He carved three pieces that I want to share – two houses and a horse and buggy.  A picture of the horses and buggy, at the top of this post, is typical of what one would see in Stoczek before the war.  The carved houses depict his home and his wife’s home.

These pictures were sent to me by Chayim Kuper’s daughter, Bella Kuper Sanderson.  Bella shared that her parents described Stoczek as a “cultured and modern place.”  It was a town of mainly Jews, with the Gentiles living on the outskirts of town (like the Stys families who live four kilometers away).  One of Bella’s grand-fathers was a harness maker and the other was a schmidt who made soles for horses.

Horses were very important.  Horse and buggy was the main means of transportation in the town.  As you can see, it was a four wheeled open cart with a seat across the top for the driver, pulled by two horses.

I don’t know how long it would take to get from Warsaw to Stoczek by horse, but important speakers often came to Stoczek from Warsaw (70 km away).  They spoke to the youth groups.  There were four different ones:  Hashomer Hatzair; Scouts, Bund; and Poalie Tzion.

Esther was a member of Hashomer Hatzir – a Socialist, Zionist youth group. The goal of this youth movement was to prepare the youth for life on Kibbutz in Palestine.  The movement emphasized personal fulfillment and education.  There is a picture in the Stoczek Yizkor book (a book of memories and memorials by those who survived) of a group of Hashomer Hatzair youths.  Influenced by the Scouts, they wore light color uniforms with a neck scarf tied in a scout-like fashion.  Imagine a young Esther Wisnia dressed in her uniform going to weekly youth movement meeting.  I would have loved to see that.

The Bund was an anti-Zionist, secular group, devoted to Yiddish language and culture and secular nationalism in Poland.  Poalei Tzion was a Zionist group that wanted an independent socialist national-state in Palestine.  The Scouts were most likely a group who got together to do different activities.  From what I can tell from the pictures in the Yizkor book, only the Scouts and Hashomer Hatzair wore uniforms.

The town had no electricity and most homes did not have bathing facilities.  So the women would go to the Mikve (ritual bath) at set times in the week to bathe.  The Mikve was outside (I hope they boiled the water in the winter to warm it up!)  Women baked in their homes, but there were communal bakeries where challot (Sabbath breads) were baked on Friday.  The women also brought their chulent (traditional Sabbath stew) to the bakery on Friday and left it in the ovens overnight, fetching it Sabbath after Synagogue for a hot mid-day meal.

Almost everyone in the town was religiously observant.  However, only a few of the pictures in the Yizkor book show men dressed in traditional Chasidic garb.  Such garb typically consisted of a long black coat extending down to the knee – called a Kapote.  Most men pictured in the Yizkor Book are dressed in suits and ties – very thin, hipster-type ties. They look modern and stylish with short combed hair, sometimes topped by a cap.  Esther’s father was an exception.  Shlomo Zalman Wisnia, a Chasidic Jew, was a melamed – he taught Jewish subjects to elementary school students.  He wore a Kapote and a black Skull Cap that covered his whole head – the kind often worn by old-style Cantors in Synagogue.  I imagine he attended Synagogue on a daily basis.

The Synagogue that the Wisnia family attended was only a few blocks from their house. It was a large, two story brick building.  On the outside, the brick was completely covered with white stucco.  The prayers were held on the first floor.  The small section in the back was reserved for women.  Continuing past the women’s section, there was a much larger section for the men.  Both sections were filled with wooden pews and had a wooden fence-type structure (mechitza) separating the two spaces.  Because men and women sit separately during prayers in Orthodox Synagogues, there will always be some type of separation.  Some Synagogues have a physical structure separating the two sections, like in Stoczek.  Others have the women sitting above in a balcony.

In the front sat the Aron Kodesh – the Holy Ark.  Here the Torah Scrolls were kept.  A Torah Scroll contains the Five Books of Moses, written with a quill by a specially trained craftsman called a Sofer.  The words are written on parchment and when the Torah Scroll is completed, it is rolled up and covered with a velvet cloth.  A portion of the Five Books of Moses is read aloud in Synagogue each Sabbath, with shorter sections read on Monday and Thursday mornings.  The Shulchan – the table – is where the Torah Scroll is laid down, unrolled and read out loud.  The reader points at each word with a silver pointer, chanting the words of the Torah with a tune handed down from generation to generation, filling the sanctuary with the word of G-d.  The Shulchan in the Stoczek Synagogue was towards the front of the room, between the pews and the Holy Ark.

In the Shtetl, spiritual and physical sustenance were both critical.  So just next to the Synagogue was the well.  It was open for anyone to come and collect water.  But the town also had a Wasser Treiger –  a water carrier – who used to carry water in buckets to individual homes and stores – for a fee.  I know, my name is Treiger.   My ancestor was a carrier of some kind.  Family lore has it that my great-grandfather Treiger was a Matza Treiger – one who carried the matza after it is baked to be packaged for sale.

But back in Stoczek – imagine how much water the Kwiatek family had to carry from the well to make soda for the people of the town.  Perhaps Moishe and Chayim, strong young men, were in charge of carrying the water.  Perhaps they used one of the four-wheeled, horse-drawn carts pictured above.  Whatever method was used to schlep the water to the soda factory, the sweetness of the flavor-filled bubbly water, embodied the simple sweetness of life in Stoczek before the war.  Next time you lift a glass of soda water to your lips, flavored or plain – think of Stoczek, think of the families that lived there – the Kupers, the Goldfarbs, the Kwiateks, the Wisnias and all the other Stokers.  Our lives are richer for the memory.


  • E-mail exchange with Bella Kuper Sanderson
  • Phone Interviews with Feivel Goldfarb
  • Holocaust Memorial Museum Encyclopedia:

  • Khonigsman, Yakov, Euroasian Jewish Congress:  Political Parties and Groups Among the Jews of Poland and Western Ukraine in 1919-1939.

  • Zionism and Israel – Encyclopedic Dictionary Poalei Tziyon (Poale Zion) – Definition