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Calel Perechodnik

Calel Perechodnik as a student
Born September 8, 1916(1916-09-08)
Warsaw, Poland
Died 1944
Cause of death Suicide
Nationality Polish
Known for Jewish ghetto policeman who wrote a memoir of his experience; participant in 1944 Warsaw Uprising
Religious beliefs Atheist
Perechodnik lived in this wooden building in Otwock
The former cinema in Otwock, run by the Perechodnik family

Calel (Calek) Perechodnik (born Warsaw, 8 September 1916, died between August and September 1944) was a Polish Jew who joined the Jewish Ghetto Police in the Otwock Ghetto. His wartime diaries were published posthumously as Am I a Murderer? (in Polish, Czy ja jestem mordercą?).


Early life

A secular Jew, Perechodnik was born in 1916 to an Orthodox Jewish family in Otwock, south east of Warsaw. He earned a degree in agronomy at the Warsaw University of Life Science. Perechodnik's wife Chana (née Nusfeld) was also from Otwock; she ran a movie theater named Oasis with her two brothers. Calek and Chana's only daughter, Athalie, was born in 1939, before the German invasion of Poland.

Am I a Murderer?

Perechodnik's memoir is the only known written recollection of a Jewish ghetto policeman. It records such events as his and his father’s compliance with the Polish radio broadcast command to go eastward to fight in 1939, the formation of the Judenrat in Otwock, Himmler’s visit to Warsaw, the death of Czerniakow, the rounding up of Jews in the ghettos; life in, and escape from, a work camp; the experience of being hidden in Warsaw, the beginning of understanding of what was happening in the death camps, the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. His information is now considered by various researchers and experts on the holocaust to be remarkably accurate, and according to these researchers, the notes show proof that the Jews at that time knew what was happening.

The German occupation of Poland encouraged anti-Semitism among the gentile population. Some Poles started harassing Jews and in some cases, willingly helped the Gestapo in apprehending and deporting them (see: Szmalcownik). Perechodnik expressed his anguish and astonishment at the savagery of those Poles who turned against the Jews. It was, he wrote, "the greatest disillusionment that I have endured in my life." The Perechodniks lost their house and most of their belongings and Calel had to deposit all of his savings in a "blocked account" in a German bank, which was immediately appropriated by the Germans.

In 1940, Perechodnik and his family, along with the 8000 other Jews of Otwock, were transported to the Otwock ghetto. In February 1941, fearful of being sent to a labor camp and hoping that the job would provide a shield for himself, his wife, and their two-year-old daughter, he joined the Jewish Ghetto Police, organized by the local Judenrat councils under German Nazi orders to maintain order in the ghetto.

In early 1942, the German authorities began rounding up Jews to be put into trains which were destined to go to Treblinka. The Jewish police were ordered to assist in this effort and they complied with the orders. Assured by the commandant of the Ghetto Polizei that his family would be protected, On 19 August 1942, Perechodnik brought his own wife and daughter to the ghetto's main square. But he was betrayed: Anka and Athalie were among 8,000 Otwock Jews sent to their deaths in Treblinka. Subsequently, he was sent to a labor camp. Perechodnik constantly blamed himself for the death of his wife and daughter. Prior to their shipping to Treblinka, Chana asked Calek on several occasions to obtain a false Kennkarte for her, identifying her as a Polish citizen (Chana did not have the typical Jewish looks and Calel wrote that she could easily pass for a Pole if she dyed her hair). Perechodnik failed to obtain the kennkarte for Chana in time, partly due to his laziness and partly do to his "lack of trust in such things".

On 20 August 1942, Calel Perechodnik escaped to Warsaw, where he spent 105 days in hiding with his mother and other Jews in the apartment of a Polish woman for a stiff fee. His father, Aryan in appearance, remained at large to support the family until he was captured by the Gestapo and executed. While in hiding, he spent the time writing. He joined the Polish Underground; it was during this time that he contracted typhus.

On 1 August 1944, the Warsaw Uprising began as part of a nationwide rebellion, Operation Tempest. Perechodnik participated in the uprising as part of the Chrobry II Battalion.[1] There are several theories as to how he died. One states that he committed suicide by swallowing cyanide after the Uprising failed. Another claims that he was killed by pillagers after the uprising. He died at the age of 27.

Shortly before Perechodnik died in 1944, he entrusted his manuscript to a Polish friend. After the war ended, the memoir was given to Perechodnik’s brother, Pesach Perechodnik, who had survived the war in the Soviet Union. The original copy of the memoir was presented to the Yad Vashem Archives, and a copy was given to the Central Jewish Historical Commission in Poland, which today is the Jewish Historical Institute. This book was the first publication of the complete document. The manuscript was largely forgotten and remained virtually unknown in English-speaking countries until Frank Fox's translation in 1996. It was released in Polish and Hebrew in 1993 prior to its translation into English in 1996. Since then, it has been translated into many languages.

Its original title is "A History of a Jewish Family During German Occupation” but its title was later changed to "Am I a Murderer?: Testament of a Jewish Ghetto Policeman". It was recently republished in Poland in an unabridged version, with comprehensive sidenotes and references, under the title "Spowiedź" ("Confession").

In his last years life, Perechodnik completely changed his attitude towards the Jews and the Jewish faith and traditions. In his memoir, he rejected belief in God and the religious traditions of his Orthodox Jewish family. He became very bitter toward the Jews and frequently criticized them, even blaming them for bringing these events on themselves because of their insistence on cultural and religious isolation. He was sarcastic about others, as well as self-deprecating about his own Jewishness.


  1. ^ Barbara Engelking, Dariusz Libionka, "Żydzi w Powstanczej Warszawie" (Jews in the Warsaw Uprising), Polish Center for Holocaust Research Association, 2009, pgs 184-190


  • Calel Perechodnik, Czy ja jestem mordercą?. Ed. Paweł Szapiro. Żydowski Instytut Historyczny - Instytut Naukowo-Badawczy: KARTA, Warsaw, 1995.

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