Potok SenderkiBorough of Krasnobród , Zamojski District, Lubelskie Voivodship
Type of placeAdit number 5
Information about the crime
On December 22, 2021, the Rabbinical Commission received an email about human remains found in a former sandstone mine near Jozefów in the Lublin region. The email indicated that the bones were found during a recreational exploration of the adit on February 19, 2017, in the village of Potok Senderki. The author of the email, in her first words, posited that the bones found were Jewish, which was to be evidenced by the siddur – a Jewish prayer book found near them. The report also claimed that these were bones of Jews hiding from the “German slaughter in 1942”. The speleologists informed the district prosecutor’s office in Zamość of the find, which opened an investigation (ref. PR 1 Ds.93.2019.) “into causing the deaths of eight unidentified persons, including five adults between the ages of 25 and 50 and three children between the ages of 9 and 18 on an undetermined date, but no earlier than 1969 and no later than 1919, whose bones and skulls were revealed on February 19, 2017 in the village of Potok Senderki in zamojski district”.
The investigation lasted more than two years. Shortly after receiving the notice, the Rabbinical Commission found a decision to discontinue the investigation dated May 17, 2019. Here is what the Prosecutor’s Office determined:
· “On February 19, 2017, the remains of eight people, including five adults between the ages of 25 and 50 and three children between the ages of 9 and 18, were discovered in the village of Potok Senderki, Krasnobród borough, zamojski district.
· The bones had lain in the adit for 50 to 100 years, as confirmed by subatomic analysis of the gold alloy used in making the prosthetic restorations.
· The remains were revealed by a group of speleologists from the Beskid Speleoclub Association in Dębica during a hobby exploration of the adit.
· The remains were found in a chamber at the end of a roughly 70-meter corridor behind a wall strewn with stones and were stacked with the skulls toward the end of the excavation, with the feet toward the exit tunnel. The remains were mostly stacked on top of each other. No remnants of clothing, shoes, or other objects were found.
· According to the former owner of the plot of land where the adit is located and other residents of the village of Potok Senderki, “during World War II, the adit was a place where the local population sought refuge from the German occupation” (Decision on discontinuation of the investigation under PR 1 Ds.93.2019 dated May 17, 2019).
On May 22, 2017, the remains were excavated by officers of the then Anti-Terrorist Section of the Voivodeship Police Headquarters in Lublin. “Initially, only two whole human skulls were discovered. After the layer of rubble was uncovered, more remains were revealed, close to each other, including one skull, preserved almost intact, and three other damaged skulls and other bones”.
The remains were handed over to the Institute of Forensic Expertise in Kraków. According to the opinion of experts in forensic anthropology and genetics, the examined remains belong to eight human individuals and a deer calf. The human bones belong to five adults, four men and a woman, and three children: two boys and a girl. The adults were between 25 and 50 years old, while the children were 15, 18 and 9. The individuals were related to each other in the maternal and paternal lines, except for person No. 7. The experts indicated that two skulls have holes about 6 mm and 7.8 mm in diameter, resembling bullet holes. They are all broken.
There are no fractures on the long bones, which are preserved in good condition. The remaining traces of damage are of natural origin, having arisen post-mortem from taphonomic processes [that is, processes to which organic remains are subjected after death] or excavation shovels. Based on the wholly preserved skulls of persons Nos. 4, 6, 7 and 8, the experts made hairless facial portraits of the victims. The remains excavated from the adit in the spring of 2017 were in the Department of Pathomorphology of the Zamość Regional Hospital until February 8, 2023. On that day, a representative of the Rabbinical Commission, with the permission of the Zamość District Prosecutor’s Office, transported them to Warsaw to the Jewish cemetery on Okopowa Street, where they will await burial.
In September 2022. The Rabbinical Commission received permission to inspect the investigation file under the reference PR 1 Ds.93.2019. One of the oldest residents of the village of Potok Senderki, born in 1933, was questioned as part of the investigation:
“From what my father told me, there were people of Jewish nationality hiding in these adits during World War II. No one from my family and those living in the area disappeared without a trace. If they were Poles, I would certainly have heard about it. From my father’s stories, and those of people who have already died, I suspect that the people who died in those adits may have been of Jewish nationality”. (Krystyna T. Spring, 2017 Potok Senderki, ref. PR 1 Ds.93.2019)
A man living about 500 meters from adit number 5 also testified:
“As far as I know from my late parents, before World War II, the owner of the adit was a person of Jewish nationality who hid members of his family there during the war” (Stanislaw S. born 1960, Spring, 2017. Potok Senderki, ref. PR 1 Ds.93.2019).
Meanwhile, family members who now own the plot with the adit know little about its history. “During World War II, local people hid in this adit from the German onslaught,” – said the current owner. From my father, I heard that during World War II, people were hiding there,” – testified the mother of the current owner (ref. PR 1 Ds.93.2019). Her father was probably the first post-war owner of the plot of land where the adit is located.
In the decision to discontinue the investigation under ref. PR 1 Ds.93.2019, it appears that no clothes or other items were found with the remains. Meanwhile, the first email on the subject sent by one of the speleologists mentions a Jewish prayer book and parts of clothing found with the dead. The fate of the prayer book remains unknown so far. It was probably taken by another group of speleologists penetrating the adits in Potok Senderki before the police picked up the bones on May 22, 2017. Nevertheless, we do have a photograph of the prayer book. The fact that it was found next to the remains is one of the most significant indications that the remains belonged to Jews.
Since the spring of 2022, representatives of the Rabbinical Commission and the Zapomniane Foundation have held a series of meetings and conversations with residents of the village of Potok Senderki in an attempt to learn more about the circumstances of the deaths of the eight people in the adit and their identities. Unfortunately, it has so far not been possible to establish conclusively who they were and under what circumstances they died. One of the threads that comes up in the conversations is that the pre-war owners or lessees of the adits (more than one) in Potok Senderki were Jews. Hence, adit number 5, in which the remains of eight people were found, is called Jewish by locals. We reached out to the same people whose testimonies appear in the investigation of the District Prosecutor’s Office in Zamość and other locals who agreed to talk to us. Nevertheless, these conversations did not yield any breakthroughs beyond the fact that the remains indeed belonged to the murdered Jews.
“It was said that it was not known how they died. My parents told me that there were four of them and they just disappeared somewhere. They lived on the forester’s lodge in Senderki; another house is still there. There was a sawmill there. They lived in a barracks in the sawmill.
That was before the war because, during the war, they rounded up all the Jews staying in the lodge and just slaughtered them. And they disappeared somewhere”. (resident of Potok Senderki, May 2022)
“(RCC) – Do you know the history of the so-called Jewish drift?
– Ah, yes, the Jewish one. It’s hard to get to it now. Well, there was one.
(RCC) – Do you know why it was called that?
– Well, because it was a Jewish one.
(KRC) Did Jews own it?
– It used to be. But that was many years ago. It was even padlocked”. (Potok Senderki resident, May 2022)
In May 2022, representatives of the Commission and the Foundation met a group of cave explorers and, assisted by them (four people in all), entered adit number 5. We learn about the adits’ origin and nature from information boards on the hiking trail: “The post-mining excavations are located in the hill called Góra Hołda. This hill, 320 meters above sea level, is located within the limits of the excavated tectonic block of Huciska. The adits have a small entrance opening, passing into a dozen-meter-long corridor with chambers and short side branches. Their entrances are located on the slopes of the hill, and the corridors are several meters below the ground surface. The corridors vary in height and length, depending on the thickness of the deposit. […] The adits in Senderki are a vestige of unique underground mining due to the possibility of recreating the mining method and processing limestone sandstone to produce millstones, querns, and brewing stones. In addition, the current conditions in the adits are similar to cave conditions with a static microclimate – warm with high humidity. These translate into bat species composition and abundance. Adits are particularly important for phlox and Bechstein’s nightjars as a hibernation and swarming site. For this reason, the hill on which the adits are located has been included in the Natura 2000 system as a habitat refuge”. The entrance to adit number 5 is nothing more than a hole in the ground, into which one must slide in lying down with one’s head forward and remain in such a position for several meters until one reaches a small obstacle piled with stones, through which one must crawl. At the end of the approximately 60-meter-long corridor is a small chamber where one can straighten up and sit down. From what cave explorers have determined, this is not the only entrance to this mine. During the war, there was a second, much shorter corridor, which collapsed under unknown circumstances. The air inside is crisp. At the bottom of the corridor is a layer of sand and small stones, while at the bottom of the final chamber, a layer of crushed rock is several dozen centimetres thick – this is where the remains were found. The height of the chamber, in which eight skeletons have lain for about 80 years, is about 90-100 cm. There is a rock shelf on the right, and above it is a Star of David and the year 1942 painted by the cave explorers with red paint. There were also burnt candles on the shelf. It turned out that despite two actions to excavate the remains by the Lublin police (the second action described below), there are still human remains at the bottom of the chamber in layers of sand and on the aforementioned rock shelf, including a fragment of a jaw with teeth and fragments of long bones. In the autumn of 2022, representatives of the Commission entered the adit for a second time to collect all the remaining bones there. During the five-hour operation, in the presence of a rabbi, the sand deposited in the cave chamber was sifted through sieves. The human remains thus obtained were secured and also taken to the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw, where they will be buried along with the other bones found at the site.
To date, it remains unknown whether the people whose remains were found by cave explorers in 2017 were hiding there (although it’s hard to imagine that eight people could have stayed in such a small area) or whether they were its pre-war owners and were hiding there in moments of extreme danger. The remains found may belong to Jews who worked at the sawmill in Potok Senderki or who stayed there illegally and hid somewhere in the woods. According to the record of the interrogation of witness Maciej Michoński on the subject of the Michoński family’s assistance to Jews at the sawmill in the village of Senderki, Zamość district, it appears that in addition to Jews working legally, some people stayed at the sawmill who sought shelter there from repression and deportation:
“In 1928 I settled in the Senderki sawmill. The sawmill was owned by Fudakowski, I don’t remember his name [Kazimierz Fudakowski]. […] I knew that the Germans were persecuting people of Jewish nationality and killing them.
As a result, Jews began to hide in the area and came to the Polish population for food and asked them to give them shelter from the Germans. […] At that time, Jews also hid in the sawmill yard, where wood was stored for processing, as well as beams and boards in stacks. We gave food to Jews: Jankiel Wacha, Ryw Moszko, Josek Kalichman, Hersz Dach, Hersz Szlajcher, Moszek Blic and his son Majerk age 13, and others”. (Minutes of July 16, 1987, Piatkowski S. “Accounts of Aid Given to Jews by Poles in the Years 1939-1945,” 2022).
There are many indications that these eight people were brought to Senderki Creek and immediately murdered. Their bodies were hidden in the adit, which is evidenced by two shot-through skulls found in the cave and the fact that the bodies of the victims lay one on top of the other with their feet toward the exit (which means they did not enter the adit alive) and, above all, the complete lack of knowledge of this story among the residents of Potok Senderki. If such a large group of people had been hiding in the forest next to the village, there would inevitably have been contact between those in hiding and the local population, and their sudden disappearance would not have escaped notice. It seems that the adit number 5 was not a hiding place but undoubtedly became a grave.
The following fact and the paradox that arose from it are noteworthy. Shortly after receiving the first notification from caving in Dębica, i.e., in January 2022, the Rabbinical Commission sent a letter to the District Prosecutor’s Office in Zamość with a request to “provide information on the human remains discovered in Potok Senderki in adit number 5 on February 19, 2017. Information obtained by the Commission indicates that there is a high probability that the remains belong to Holocaust victims. At the end of last month, the Commission received a message from a group of cave explorers who came across the remains in the same place where the bones found in 2017 came from. Moreover, human remains were found in this adit every year during caving trips. A reasonably well-preserved Jewish prayer book was also found in one such incident. I would very much appreciate information on the whereabouts of the remains taken by the police in 2017. According to Jewish law, they should be buried in a Jewish cemetery”.
In response, the prosecutor’s office informs that “from the evidence gathered in the course of the proceedings, from the genetic opinion in particular, it does not appear that the persons whose remains were found were of Jewish origin. In connection with your letter, a supplementary genetic opinion has been called in the case to answer whether it is possible to determine the origin of the people mentioned above”. In other words, even though two residents of Potok Senderki testified in 2017 that Jews might have been murdered in adit number 5, the Prosecutor’s Office concluded that these were not sufficient reasons to take such a hypothesis into account, while in the opinion of the Commission and the Foundation, the opposite was true. Besides, the object of the investigation was not to determine the identity of the victims but whether they had suffered death at the hands of third parties.
In September 2022, when the Commission was allowed to inspect the files of the discontinued investigation PR 1 DS.93.2019, it turned out that the information obtained in 2017 by the District Prosecutor’s Office in Zamość and the Krasnobród Police Station was sufficient to accept the hypothesis that the eight people from the drift were of Jewish origin. Additional genetic testing, “ordered” after Commision’s inquiry, confirmed this theory (Opinion of the Institute of Forensic Expertise in Kraków, June 21, 2022. PR1 Ds. 93.2019). Still, their performance, like any that required violating the integrity of the remains even minimally, was a violation of Jewish law, which prohibits incising bones to collect genetic material. The paradox of this situation is that had it not been for the genetic testing of the remains from adit number 5, which the Commission would not have agreed to if the District Prosecutor’s Office in Zamość had requested such permission, we would know nothing about the identity of these individuals and their kinship.
During one of the site inspections in Potok Senderki, it turned out that there were two investigations into the same case. On December 21, 2017, the same speleologists entered adit number 5 and came across human remains apparently not excavated by the police in the summer of 2017 in the same place as a few months earlier. They returned to the site again on April 21, 2018, to take another look at the find. By a strange twist of fate, a deputy district prosecutor from Zamość was in the same forest that day, walking in the area with his friends. The two groups met on the trail, and the speleologists informed the prosecutor’s representative of the discovery. As a result, another investigation was opened (ref. PR 1 Ds. 300.2019) “regarding the manslaughter of an undetermined person, whose skeletal remains were revealed on April 21, 2018, in the village of Potok Senderki, lubelskie voivodeship”.
The story repeated itself. The same witnesses and the owners of the plot of land where the adit is located were interviewed. Once again, the remains were taken from the cave on September 3, 2018. They were examined at the same Institute of Forensic Expertise in Kraków. The prosecution asked the experts the following questions:
– Are the remains submitted for study of human origin, and if so, how many people do they belong to, what was their sex, and what was the age of these people?
– Determination of the length of time the examined remains were in the ground.
– Are there any injuries on the examined remains that could have been caused by the action of a hard, blunt, or blunt-edged tool, and if so, what was their mechanism of origin?
The experts came to the following conclusions: the human bones provided for examination belonged to at least four people aged about 8 years, 12-16 years, 20-25 years, and 60 years (male). At least 60 years may have passed since their deaths. It is impossible to determine the cause or mechanism of death. Accordingly, the District Prosecutor’s Office decided to discontinue the investigation (May 29, 2020) and to bury the remains at the municipal cemetery in Jozefów. The object of the second investigation into the remains from adit No. 5 was not to determine whether they belonged to the same people whose remains were found in February 2017, although in many of the testimonies of those interviewed during the investigation, there are comments indicating that the investigating prosecutor was aware of this.
One of the threads being investigated by the Commission and the Foundation is the wartime history of the sawmill in Potok Senderki, where Jews from neighboring villages were employed. Before the war, the sawmill belonged to Kazimierz Fudakowski, a Polish landowner and senator of The Second Republic of Poland. The State Archive in Zamość contains labor reports of the following fifteen people:
– Szmul Biterman, born November 23, 1900, in Łaszczów, place of residence Jozefów, 4 Jozefów Street, employed as a laborer in the first half of 1941. In the section on family, he listed his wife Malka (born 1902), sons David (born 1930) and Wolf (born 1932), and daughter Chana (born 1936).
– Hersz Biterman, born in 1894 in Łaszczów, place of residence Jozefów, employed as a laborer in June 1941. In the section on family, he listed his wife Szaindla (b. 1906) and two daughters: Baila (b. 1928) and Mendla (b. 1930).
– Uszer Gripo, born April 10, 1924, in Konin, was employed as a laborer on July 29, 1942.
– Icek Goldgraber born November 10, 1915 in Biłgoraj, lived in Jozefów Biłgorajski at 16 Ogrodowa Street. In the section on family, he listed his mother, Suma, born in 1891.
– Natan Granat, born December 5, 1908 in Konin, lived in Jozefów, employed on March 9, 1942.
– Lejba Griner, born April 10, 1927, in Biłgoraj, employed on September 7, 1942, place of residence: Tartak Senderki, Józefów Biłgorajski post office.
– Bela Hanc, born November 10, 1921, in Ślesin, place of residence: Jozefów Biłgorajski, employed on August 25, 1941.
– Natan Kaufman, born April 19, 1908, in Konin, a laborer employed on June 8, 1941, place of residence: Jozefów.
– Natan Kaufman, born September 18, 1902, in Brześć Kujawski, place of residence: Jozefów. In the section on family, he listed his wife Rózia (born 1906), son Szulim (born 1935), and daughter Rachela (born 1938).
– Szloma Korez, born on May 7, 1913 in Jozefów, employed on June 16, 19141, place of residence: Jozefów.
– Juda Ber Kotowski, born on October 6, 1909, in Skulsk, employed on May 18, 1942, place of residence: Jozefów.
– Estera Krampf, born on May 5, 1920, in Zamość, place of residence: Jozefów, employed on April 13, 1942.
– Hersz Łajchter born July 7, 1899, carpenter, place of residence: Jozefów, employed on July 28, 1942.
– Majer Lehrer, born August 6, 1922, in Jozefów, place of residence: Jozefów, a laborer employed on September 29, 1942.
– Lima Markowicz, born April 26, 1923.
Information about Shmuel and Hersz Biterman deserves attention. Both were said to have been born in Łaszczów, which could suggest that they were related. Szmul Biterman had three children: two sons (they would have been over 10 years old in the early 1940s) and a daughter under 10 at the time. Did the Bitermans, among others, die in adit number 5? The Yad Vashem database (The Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names) lists Szmul Biterman, born in 1893 in Łaszczów, as a laborer and husband of Malka (née Zibner). During the war, he was in Jozefów by the Vistula River; Bełżec was listed as the place of his death.
The first actions of the Rabbinical Commission and the Zapomniane Foundation regarding the remains revealed in adit number 5 focused on confirming or ruling out the fact that we are dealing with Jewish bones. When this fact was confirmed with a very high degree of probability, we focused on establishing the identity of the victims and bringing their scattered remains to the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw, Okopowa Street, for burial according to Jewish tradition. In the meantime, the Commission considered various burial options. Consideration was given to depositing them again in an adit and entering their grave in the register of the Lubelskie voivodeship war graves. Consideration was also given to burying the bones in the municipal cemetery in Jozefów and creating a war cemetery there under the care of the Lublin Voivode. Eventually, for safety reasons and to satisfy the requirements of Jewish law, it was decided to gather all the bones in Warsaw and prepare them for burial in the cemetery on Okopowa Street. There are already remains buried in the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw from the Department of Pathomorphology at the Zamość Regional Hospital, as well as those collected by Rabbinical Commission staff in the fall of 2022 from the adit. The exhumation of remains from the municipal cemetery in Jozefów is planned for autumn 2023. In this case, exhumation is permitted when the remains are to be moved to a Jewish cemetery. By the end of 2023, all the remains will be buried in the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw. The inscription on the tombstone remains an open question. We are continuing the research on the identity of the victims and the circumstances of their deaths. The case of adit number 5 is unique and the first of its kind in the more than 20-year history of the Rabbinical Commission and the 10-year history of the Zapomniane Foundation. In the case of Jewish graves from the Holocaust, which the Foundation deals with daily, the course of events is very similar – we receive a report “from the field” from a person who knows (from various sources) the history of the murder of a particular group of Jews (or a single person of Jewish origin) and wants to share their knowledge on the subject and indicate the approximate location of the place where the bodies of the victims were buried. In other words, the starting point is the history of specific people about whom there is some information: where they came from, what they were called or nicknamed, what they did for a living, and how many people are in the grave. The Foundation, using non-invasive archaeology methods, undertakes to determine the location of the burial. If this is successful, the bodies remain at the site, and the victims are commemorated.
In this case, the situation is the opposite: we have the skeletal remains of eight people scattered in three different locations. We know nothing about their identities, or we know only as much as forensic experts have been able to determine based on tests that are incompatible with Halacha, the Jewish law. We have not been able to establish any details about the origins of the eight people, and we have not been able to reach anyone who would know the circumstances under which they found themselves in the adit. Source searches conducted at the Institute of National Remembrance, the Jewish Historical Institute, the Yad Vashem Institute, and the State Archives in Zamość focused exclusively on events in Potok Senderki. However, with so many unknowns, the search circle should be widened, hoping that in some document or someone’s memory, there is an answer to our questions.
Contact and cooperation
We are still looking for information on the identity of the victims and the location of Jewish graves in Potok Senderki. If you know something more, write to us at the following address: email@example.com.
File no. 14, Social Security in Zamość, years 1924-1951, ref. 287, 289-292, Labor applications (Jews) from 1936-1942: ref. 287, pp. 240-245, 267-268; ref. 289, pp. 141-142, 464-465, 773-774, 922-923, 972-97; ref. 290, pp. 185-186; ref. 291, pp. 81-82, 89-92, 422-423, 430-431, 447-448, 564-565, 764-765; ref. 292, pp. 262-263
Piątkowski S. “Accounts of Poles who helped Jews in 1939-1945”, 2022.
District Prosecutor’s Office in Zamość, Decision to discontinue the investigation under ref. PR 1 Ds.93.2019, dated May 17, 2019.
Recordings of conversations with two anonymous residents of Potok Senderki recorded in May 2022. The interview was conducted by Agnieszka Nieradko and Andrzej Jankowski
We have collected the materials about this village thanks to the funding provided by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance as part of the project “The rural Holocaust. Collecting and safeguarding the never recorded testimonies 100 forgotten Jewish graves 2021-2022”.