Herman Kruk was a refugee from Warsaw who wrote reports on the refugee situation in Vilnius for the Yiddish magazine Folks-gezunt (Public Health) of the aid organisation TOZ and, as an insider, provided unique insights. In this excerpt, he reports on an interview with doctors and nurses, evaluates the thoroughly positive reports on local health care and, despite all the optimism in numbers, wonders where the refugees get their hope from.
The doctors and nurses who supervise the refugees are satisfied with the results of their work. […]
– Today it is much better – tell me with a smile on your face.
– Today, we care for about 9,000 refugees here. The majority of them are housed in dormitories, some of them use the various food outlets. All in all, we are currently supplying 91 such places.
The medical and hygienic condition has improved significantly. The number of beds, bedding and furniture has been increased, the condition of food storage has improved. In some of the dormitories there are even reading rooms with the Yiddish and non-Yiddish press.
I learned the following from reports:
19 doctors and 3 social nurses are in charge of the 91 places mentioned. In February alone, the doctors and nurses visited the dormitories 448 times.
They still complain that in many dormitories, people still sleep in pairs in one bed.
The nurses also say in their reports that it is cold in many dormitories.
One of them reports the following:
In all parts of “Hashomer-Hatsair“, there are 60-80 cases of illness a day. You have to feed the sick accurately…
– But – one of the doctors tells me – we have already achieved a lot from February until today.
– A nurse adds that in February alone we had 16,436 visitors in the bathroom with the disinfector.
– 700 kilos of soap to wash oneself was distributed this month!
In the weaker sanitation facilities, the medical brigades worked 17 times.
In February the doctors visited 812 times lying sick people and 356 sick people were treated in dormitories. Hospital help was given by the medical supervision of “TOZ” to 145 people with a total of 2,659 hospital days.
I was informed about the following:
According to the report for the month of February, the ambulance of “TOZ” gave help to 5,648 refugees. For this purpose 4,534 prescriptions were issued. The refugee dormitories were distributed to 103 local pharmacies.
The reports are full of figures, the authors are beaming with satisfaction about their results, but?… but how long can you throw around numbers unscrupulously.
Yet, despite all this, the refugees are still extremely disorganized and overwhelmed. Something drives them, something chases them, something…
– How can one sit here?
– An uncle in America…
– A brother in Argentina…
– A certificate.
– A visa.
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Oh, have mercy, poor things!
A few days after the German invasion of Poland, Herman Kruk (1897-1944), a Polish Jew and activist of the Bund, decides to flee Warsaw in view of the imminent danger posed by the approaching Wehrmacht. Kruk fled to Vilnius, where he worked as a reporter for the Yiddish magazine Folks-gezunt and published several articles in the spring of 1940, in which he reported and philosophized about the refugee situation, refugee worries, support networks and identity issues.
He lived in Vilnius for almost four years and experienced the fate of the Jewish community under Soviet, Lithuanian, again Soviet and finally German occupation. From 1941 to 1943 he lived in the Vilnius Ghetto. Kruk documented his time in Vilnius as a chronicler and reported on the support networks for Polish Jewish refugees from the German occupation of the city, on his futile attempts to flee the city, on his desperation over the invasion of the Wehrmacht and his grief over the fate of his hometown Warsaw, but also on his motives for recording what he experienced in writing for future generations. In 1943 he was deported to the concentration camp Klooga near Tallinn, where he was murdered in September 1944 shortly before the arrival of the Red Army. Parts of his manuscript are still missing today.
Kruk, Hermann, April 1940: Pleytim (2ter reportazsh), pp. 11–13 in: Folksgezunt: Ilustrirter populer-visnshaftlekher zshurnal far higyene un meditsin 4, p. 13.