Am I a Murderer? Testament of a Jewish Ghetto Policeman

Am I a Murderer? Testament of a Jewish Ghetto Policeman

Am I a Murderer? Testament of a Jewish Ghetto Policeman

Am I a Murderer? Testament of a Jewish Ghetto Policeman


This is the memoir of Calel Perechodnik, in which he describes the destruction of the ghetto of Otwock near Warsaw in 1942, and evaluates his role as a Jewish ghetto policeman who compromised his own ethical standards in an attempt to save his family.


Every catastrophe in history is foreshadowed; there are always some signs in the sky warning people about the danger. Rarely does anyone believe them.

Sometimes it seems to me that it's a fairy tale--the assertion by the medical world that the heart is a chamber of delicate membranes that cannot stand suffering or emotion and that they burst, causing death. Today, I would advise those who construct fighter planes to build them out of heart membranes. They will . . . outlast the most enduring steel.

The greatest skill in this vile world is to be quiet when the heart is bleeding and the fists tighten.

--Calel Perechodnik

CALEL PERECHODNIK, a twenty-seven-year-old ghetto policeman in Otwock, a town near Warsaw, is witnessing and chronicling not only the end of a people but also the end of a world. Each morning he wakes to a recurring nightmare: An enemy possessed of unimagined hatred occupies his native Poland; only those Jews may live who are still needed to bury others. "In February 1941, seeing that the war was not coming to an end," and wanting to avoid the labor camps, he joins a force of around one hundred ghetto policemen. Other policemen deliver quotas of Jews, but he claims that he does not have a "sporting instinct" for rounding up fellow Jews and that his only duty is to deliver bread rations to Jewish officials and their families. Perechodnik hopes the uniform will provide a shield for himself, his wife, Anna, and their two-year-old daughter, Athalie. But on the fateful August 19, 1942, Perechodnik and other policemen help herd eight thousand Otwock Jews into the town square, where they are loaded into boxcars. The policemen are promised immunity for their own wives and children, but the German enemy deceives them. Perechodnik watches in horror as his wife and daughter are loaded into wagons headed for the Treblinka death camp.

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