Quiet like a pigeon. Daniel Fligelman

A student and a refugee from Aleksandrów Kujawski, Daniel Fligelman transcribed, edited and copied testimonies about persecution of Jews in the ghettos, in the Eastern Borderlands, in labor camps. A „biting sense of humor” was a distinctive feature in his writings.

 

Fligelman came from Aleksandrów Kujawski. His family had lost their home in the September 1939 bombings and, like many other refugees, escaped to Warsaw via Kutno and Łowicz, from where they were expelled by the Germans. [1] In the Warsaw Ghetto, they lived at 24 Śliska street. Daniel became Oneg Shabbat’s regular contributor thanks to Hersz Wasser, who recruited him at the Jewish Social Self-Help.

For the Ringelblum Archive, Fligelman was collecting and transcribing testimonies from witnesses of persecution of Jews, thus contributing to a description of their situation in the entire occupied Poland. Usually, he was writing in Polish, like many other Oneg Shabbat contributors: Gustawa Jarecka, Bernard Kampelmacher, Natan Koniński, Salomea Ostrowska, Stanisław Różycki. [2] He often used pseudonyms – „Fligar” and „Fligel”. His handwriting was particularly clear. Many application forms, which he was writing on with ink, had faded, but typescripts had survived. [3]

We don’t know much about Fligelman himself. Most information about his story and wartime events can be found in his writings.

A woman feeding pigeons on Piwna Street, in the background the ruins of Warsaw, 1946. Photo by Julia Pirotte, Jewish Historical Institute collection, Central Jewish Library

“There is talk of the animal cruelty of humans at times, but I believe that if one talks like this, they treat animals unfairly. An animal can never be as cruel as a human, so artistically, so elaborately cruel”

– Fligelman quoted Dostoyevsky in his report “Konin” from the town of that name.

Ringelblum Archive

„A well-read author with good command of foreign languages and a vitriolic sense of humor. His works, written in Polish, were dotted with Latin sentences” – wrote Samuel Kassow on Fligelman. [4] Emanuel Ringelblum appreciated the historiographic value of his works: due to reports from Słonim and a testimony from Arie Wilner, Kassow considered Fligelman „one of the Archive’s most important contributors”. [5]

Researchers believe that Fligelman received a thorough education in humanities before the war, as proven by his style and literary quality of his writings. Among his contributions to the Underground Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto, we can find accounts of persecution of Jews in the towns of northern Mazovia, reports from labor camps, first descriptions of mass murders committed by Germans and their associates (mainly Lithuanians) in Vilnius and Słonim in the summer of 1941.

Abraham Lewin noted an event which involved Fligelman, on 31 May 1942:

During „round-ups”, Jewish women have acted remarkably, saving a young Jewish student, a valuable man, our friend Fl[igelman]. He was arrested at Komitetowa street [right next to his house– P.B.], thrown into a Hohn-Keller bus and taken to the collecting point. At Ciepła street, a few young men have jumped out through a small window. F[ligelman] was among them, trying to escape. One Jewish policeman followed him. He ran into a courtyard. Then, women, simple women began to struggle with the policeman, who punched one of them in the face. He grabbed F[ligelman]and pulled him out of the courtyard. On the street, women – now many more of them – attacked the policeman again. While he fought with the women, F[ligelman] took his chance and ran away. We can say that he escaped death. Be blessed, you Jewish women, who have saved one of the nation of Israel. [6]

Emanuel Ringelblum wrote about him: „Daniel Fligelman, quiet like a pigeon, would have died a long time ago, were it not for constant, heartfelt support from our dear comrade Menachem [Mendel Kohn, treasurer of Oneg Shabbat – P.B.]”. [7] Kohn’s accounting book contains mentions about small fees which Fligelman was paid for transcribed testimonies. Kohn also delivered medication to Fligelman when he contracted typhus. [8]

Below, we publish an excerpt from „From Aleksandrów to Warsaw (Aleksandrów-Łowicz)”, an account from the first days of war:

Since the burning of the Wrocław synagogue, we were concerned about our one [in Aleksandrów Kujawski – P.B.]. A merciful hand (a beadle, as it seems), removed and hid the Torah scrolls. The first regulation brought peace: during the war campaign, all the windows in the synagogue broke and fell out. We were told to install new ones. Windowpanes were very expensive back then, and an expense of several thousand zlotys – giant for a pauperised, daily robbed town, but a money collection covered the cost within a few days. When the windowpanes were installed, someone tried to burn down the synagogue one night. It wasn’t successful. The fire died. On the next night, the fireworks worked out and only rubble remained from a pretty building, renovated soon before the war. The Germans are consistent: they told the Jews to pay the fire brigade quite a large sum for their sacrifice (which consisted only minding the fire not to die or move onto other buildings), and ordered the Jews to remove the remains on their own. We made it in time: the contribution was paid within three days, and in eight days the synagogue square was as flat as a tennis court. 

The crowning event was the deportation, organized under following conditions:

  1. Every evening, a list of 35 families, which must leave the town the next morning, will be announced.
  2. The deported have to leave the town on foot.
  3. The deported may take only one set of underwear – the one they’re wearing.
  4. It is forbidden to take money, food or bedding, apart from pillows for babies.
  5. In order to avoid bypassing these rules, the deported will be controlled before leaving.
  6. 10 hostages, selected from the Jewish community, will guarantee with their lives and belongings that the deportation will follow these orders. [9]

The first page of the typescript of the account “From Aleksandrów to Warsaw (Aleksandrów-Łowicz)”, most likely prepared by Daniel Fligelman.

Ringelblum Archive

The first page of the manuscript of Daniel Fligelman’s account Mon retour de l’URSS – a story about crossing the Bug river near Małkinia.

Ringelblum Archive

Fligelman also wrote down an account from an anonymous refugee from Radom, who crossed the German-Soviet border in 1939 and went to Słonim, where he witnessed pogroms in the summer of 1941. The situation of people in these areas was horrible: Poles, Jews, Belarusians, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Russians and eventually Germans were terrified of each other, everyone could expect treason and violence from anyone else. In 1942, when Jews were returning to Central Poland from the East, members of Oneg Shabbat engaged in collecting their testimonies.

The morning on the next day, 15 October, was frosty (about 150) and sunny, with slight snow falling. The first groups of pogromniks had appeared in the town already about 6 in the morning,  consisting usually of two Germans or Lithuanians assisted by Polish militiamen or members of Todt [construction organization dependent on the German government – P.B.]. The entire town of Słonim was deadly silent, as if everyone went extinct.

They had begun from the center of the ghetto, moving towards the edges, searching district by district, not simultaneously everywhere. Each group visited flats one by one, took away all the Jews, no exceptions, and passed them to the militiamen, who were taking them to the collecting points. Most Jews didn’t even try to hide, packing their rucksacks and wraps instead. Most of them, aside from craftsmen who had been warned previously, believed that they will be resettled. Some managed to hide themselves and those usually survived, because the search wasn’t too thorough. [10]

In October 1941, Fligelman wrote down an account by Arie „Jurek” Wilner, who later became a liaison between the Jewish Combat Organization and the Home Army and who committed suicide in Anielewicz’s bunker in the ghetto. The document, called Mon retour de l’URSS, refers in its title to Andre Gide’s book about his impressions from his travel to the USSR. [11] Wilner mentioned that in September 1941 in Vilnius, the Germans established two ghettos – one for professionals and the second one:

More than a dozen people stayed in one room. Each of these ghettos had their own Judenrat and militia, consisting mainly of „shady” element. If Jews believed that this would be the end of round-ups and executions, they were terribly wrong, because they had only increased. (…) For example, on Yom Kippur night, they took away about 5000 people, men, women, children and the elderly, from the „professional” ghetto, having given an impression that they would be deported to a smaller one. Instead, they were taken to Łukiszki, where they had spent 36 hours standing in their cells next to each other, without anything to eat and drink, even without a chance to change a position. Afterwards, they were taken to Ponary. (…) Thus, the Jewish community of Vilnius, which comprised about 70,000 in the Soviet times, was reduced to 35,000 within 3 months, and in the next month – to 25,000. [12]

Arie Wilner. Wikipedia, public domain

Fligelman was murdered probably during the Great Deportation to Treblinka in the summer of 1942. His writings were included in the first part of the Ringelblum Archive, discovered in September 1946.

Written by Przemysław Batorski
Footnotes:
[1] Ruta Sakowska, Relacje Daniela Fligelmana – członka „Oneg Szabat”, „Biuletyn Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego w Polsce” 1986, no. 1-2 (137-138), p. 167-168. This article and the following note were the basic source of information on Fligelman: Archiwum Ringelbluma, vol. 11, Ludzie i prace „Oneg Szabat”, ed. Aleksandra Bańkowska, Tadeusz Epsztein, transl. Sara Arm and others, Wydawnictwo ŻIH/Wydawnictwo UW, Warszawa 2013, p. XXV, par. 34.
[2] Ibidem, p. XXVII.
[3] Ruta Sakowska, op.cit., p. 170.
[4] Samuel D. Kassow, Kto napisze naszą historię?, transl. Grażyna Waluga, Olga Zienkiewicz, JHI Press, Warsaw 2017, p. 313.
[5] Ibidem, p. 314.
[6] Abraham Lewin, Dziennik,edited by Katarzyna Person, Warsaw 2015, p. 91.
[7] Archiwum Ringelbluma, vol. 29, Pisma Emanuela Ringelbluma z bunkra, edited by Joanna Nalewajko-Kulikov, transl. Adam Rutkowski and others, Żydowski Instytut Historyczny, Warsaw 2018, p. 514.
[8] S. Kassow, op. cit., p. 314.
[9] Archiwum Ringelbluma, vol. 9, Tereny wcielone do Rzeszy: Kraj Warty, edited by Magdalena Siek, translated by Sara Arm and others, Wydawnictwo ŻIH/Wydawnictwo UW, Warsaw 2012, p. 17-18.
[10] Archiwum Ringelbluma, tom 3, Relacje z Kresów, vol. 3, Relacje z Kresów, edited by Andrzej Żbikowski, Żydowski Instytut Historyczny IN-B, Warsaw 2000, p. 178-179.
[11] Ibidem, p. 433.
[12] Ibidem, p. 441.