Evolved from damage to property to mass killings culminating in the creation of a ghetto, deportations to death camps and executions in the town’s Jewish cemeteries, anti-Semitism in Piaski was a constant element in the lives of its Jewish community.
However, it rapidly escalated during the Holocaust taking the form of both cultural genocide and mass killings.
Piaski, formerly known as Piaski Lubelskie, is located 25km from Lublin in Poland. Piaski once had a thriving Jewish community that dated back to the sixteenth century and consisting of around 4000 Jewish people, representing around 80% of the town’s population by the turn of the twentieth century.
Through the 1930s, early examples of cultural and physical attacks on the Jewish population are evident. A rise in anti-Semitism in Piaski resulted in the destruction of property by fire, damage to businesses, and in some cases the deaths of Jewish people.
Even prior to the Nazi occupation, Piaski officials gave the go-ahead for houses to be built on and around the old Jewish cemetery.
The Nazi occupation
Saw the escalation of cultural genocide and violence against the Jewish population in Piaski.
At the end of September 1939, units of the Soviet Army entered the town. They established a revolutionary committee, involving members of the Jewish community, to offer support for the Soviet regime.
However, shortly after the Soviet army left in early 1940, and with the arrival of the German army, several Jews were murdered as revenge for supporting the Bolsheviks. A number of these were taken to the old cemetery and shot.
As soon as the German occupation began, Jewish shops were plundered, and Jews were beaten, whipped and their beards cut in public to humiliate them.
On 27th September 1939 Jews were forced to wear armbands bearing the Star of David. Various rules were imposed on them. They were not allowed to use public transport or enter public premises.
Attacks on cultural property also began and the town’s two Jewish cemeteries were vandalised.
As the war progressed this physical violence escalated further into the mass killing of the Jewish people of Piaski and surrounding areas.
The Jewish cemeteries in Piaski were used to perform executions of the Jewish population and their bodies were buried in unmarked mass graves in the cemetery grounds.
Throughout 1940 the Nazi German occupiers also began to resettle the Jews. They established the Piaski ghetto to imprison not only its own Jewish inhabitants but also several thousand Jews transported from the Lublin Ghetto as well as from elsewhere across the German Reich.
During the winter and spring of 1940, the number of Jews there had reached 5,000. The ghetto housed a synagogue and makeshift hospital built by the prisoners.
A second ghetto was established in 1941 and by mid-1942 the combined population of the ghettos had reached around 6,500 people.
"The ghetto was surrounded by a 7ft wooden fence. There was barbed wire on top. Here, on Lubelska Street, was a house where the gestapo lived. The localisation was such that whenever they stood on the balcony, they could see almost the entire ghetto. This way they were well aware of what was going on in the ghetto."
Anna Swietlicka, (2002)
Deportations and Liquidation
Various deportations took place in 1942 and the ghettos were liquidated in 1942/3, with the remaining Jews being sent to Trawniki and on to Belzec or Sobibor to be exterminated.
Only 35 of the Jewish population of the Piaski ghetto survived, most of these were young men who had joined different partisan units.
"I found out that those who didn’t come out from their hiding places... And I would have been in the hiding place with the other people in the other half of the ghetto. They didn’t come out. They didn’t find them. But they bombed all these homes, and the basements were...uh... What you call it? Imploded-like, and the people died there in these basements."
Kurt Thomas describes the actions taken on 4-5th November 1942 whilst rounding up Jews from the ghettos in Piaski.
Various places in Piaski became sites of cultural genocide and mass violence. Both the town and its population were transformed by the arrival of the Nazis.
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