Skip to main content
USF Libraries Exhibits

The Ghetto of Przemysl, Poland

John Rinde, Holocaust survivor

And I am not quite sure at what point, how many months after, a ghetto was formed, but it was. I just remember (laughs) vividly this one instance, you know, where they already had prisoners. And a truck, an open truck full of—I think it was Jewish prisoners or inmates, whatever they were called—stopped in front of our building. And they looked famished, so my father gave me a loaf of bread and says, "Go give it to them." So, I went there, and I came to the truck and gave it to them. Those guys grabbed it, like ripped it out of my hands; they started eating on it. One of the Gestapo guys grabbed me, slapped me in the face, threw me to the next one. I went in the circle three or four times and they said, “Get the hell out of here.” (laughs) And I did. I was lucky they didn't throw me on the truck.

But at any rate, you know, things were getting bad. Finally, we were forced to move into the ghetto. And the ghetto was small, and there were lots of people who were forced into the ghetto. You know, not only from Lvov proper, but from the suburbs and neighboring area. They didn't have necessarily a ghetto in every single town. And we were made to share an apartment with another family. If I have it correct, there were just two rooms, two bedrooms and a common kitchen. So, we had one room and the other family had the other room, and we shared the kitchen.

And the Germans would—you know, they formed the Judenräte, which is a Jewish a city hall, and they picked some prominent physicians and lawyers and so on to run it, to do their bidding. And they also made a Jewish police, you see, to do their dirty work. So, then when they needed people to for a work detail they would call the Judenräte, say, "Okay, send us hundred men tomorrow morning" to do whatever, and those guys would pick who would be sent for the work detail. And there was a tremendous shortage of food. People were starving and there was no money. And they would, you know, be marched out of the city—out of the ghetto, into the city to do whatever had to be done. And they weren't allowed to walk on the sidewalks. They had to walk in the street with the cars and stuff like that. One day, one of the bigwig Germans was coming to visit the town, so they got the crew—it was in the fall—to sweep up the streets. Well, they swept the streets, but then came the wind and new leaves came down, and they had to go back and sweep all over again. (laughs) You know, it was just degrading, dirty work.

And they had factories that worked for the Wehrmacht to sew uniforms or make munitions or food processing, what have you. So, people who worked in these kind of allied industries that were supposedly helping the war effort had a special stamp on their ID cards, which made them somewhat exempt of being deported, at least early on. So, everybody was clamoring and trying to get one of those all-important stamps on their ID so they would be supposedly left alone. And the ghetto started to shrink, you see, and every so often they would have what they call "actions" or "round-ups," you know, where they would come and grab people and put them on trucks and take them out of town. And the Germans had very good propaganda, of course; they never told you that they were going to send you to a death camp. You were being "resettled," you were going to a "labor camp," and many people believed it. They kind of deluded themselves that that was true, even though there were many rumors that that wasn't the truth, that people were being sent to death.