The Weight of Freedom
The Slow Roar
Later, in 1941, we would be ordered to wear a yellow Star of David with the word “Jude,” which had to be sewn onto each piece of our outer clothing. Wearing the yellow star, my mother explained, was an ancient method used to keep the Jews separate from the Christians. We were not allowed to leave the house without the yellow patch on our outer clothing. This made it much harder to mix with the Polish population.
Selling anything on the street was considered “black marketeering” and prohibited by the Nazis. To make a point, the Nazis convicted six men caught doing business on the black market and sentenced them to death by hanging. The hanging was to be public to let us know what the consequences of black marketeering were. A huge stage with a scaffold was erected – built high so that everyone could see – in one of the city’s squares and everyone was compelled to attend. To me it appeared as though people wanted to attend this public display of barbarism. The square was ringed with four- or five-storey buildings, and all the windows were packed with onlookers. My family’s friends had an apartment overlooking the square and we were invited to see the spectacle from a good vantage point, right across from the gallows. From the window, we could see the entire square and as far as I could see, the square and streets were packed with people. The mood appeared high, anticipatory, if not festive. No one had ever seen a public execution.
Soldiers and police surrounded the square as the six men were lined up on the scaffold. The executioners put ropes on their necks. A Gestapo official read a short verdict and the trap was sprung. It felt like the crowd uttered a shudder as the men fell through the trap. Their knees jerked, then dropped, and their bodies swayed. They were left hanging for twenty-four hours. The crowd’s mood changed to sombre, and people left either crying or in silence. I heard that the families were allowed to retrieve the bodies for burial the next day. This exhibition understandably caused everyone to take notice, and my mother stopped me from going on the street to sell or trade.