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[Page 155]

Chaim Yosl's Hopes

by Sara Reisen

Translated by Lillian Leavitt

Fall days had arrived. It rained more often and leaves covered the ground like blankets of brown and gold. You could hear the wind whispering “autumn, September”.

Khayim Yosl, the tailor was without work. The pressure and worry of the upcoming holiday felt like a vise around his heart. He felt lost. He would have to ask his cousin, Itkind, for charity, but since he still hadn't repaid his last loan, how could he show up and say “Brother, times are hard, won't you lend a hand?

In the morning as he awoke, he thought about how he might approach his cousin. He might say something like “Brother, times are hard, can you help out?” But when he went to see Itkind, and his wife, who was after all an in-law, opened the door cheerfully (she knew he was having problems), Khayim virtually lost his tongue. This is the same Khayim Yosl who, as a tailor had been an influential man, had had ten men working for him, had been able to add a joke to any conversation, and had, in fact, been a master spokesman. Ever since there had been no work, however, and both new sewing machines sat shut down, covered, without a needle in either one, Khayim was speechless. He had nothing to say. Even his wife would frequently say: “Khayim Yosil, where's your tongue? You've turned into a little lamb.”

Khayin would smile guiltily. He might have responded: “When you lose your luck, you lose your wit,” but he thought the wisest thing to do was to keep quiet. “Silence is gold and talk is silver”. This proverb was all he could think of and he kept quiet.

Occasionally, relatives in America would send a few dollars for Rosh Hashanah. That made it easier to prepare for the holidays. Nowadays, people said, that America was also having hard financial times…and the American relatives had not only stopped sending money but had stopped writing.

He, however, wrote to the relatives every year before the holiday so they would know that he wasn't just looking for money. He also wanted to maintain the relationship. True, it wasn't easy to buy a “Shana Tova” card and stamps, but doing that brought hope to his heart.

Maybe, some money would arrive. It was after all, “America”. “America”, he thought and took heart and rekindled his hope. As he wrote the letter he felt his ability to talk returning. He almost began feeling the way he used to in better days. Words virtually spilled out of him, as if they were a song that he used to sing as he worked. Words that were buried in his heart when he was at home came tumbling out. He felt his soul brightening. He wrote the truth, because from a distance it was less embarrassing to confront it. Furthermore, his wife wouldn't read what he wrote, so it was like talking to God himself.

As he wrote the letter, he felt his heart trembling as if it might stop at any moment. With a flourish in his script the way he used to write for his teacher Tebel, he drafted the letter.

“My dear brothers in America! (one letter to all the relatives, at the address of the oldest one, Nokhem Yaacov). Dear Relatives, my heart and my hand tremble as I write you this letter. Times are hard and the holidays are coming. Along with them, comes winter. My sewing machines have stopped “singing”. (He liked the phrase and felt his lips smiling.) The children are shabby. I, too, am not singing, because if I could sing, I could get a job at Shul for the holidays and make a few gilden. Things, however, are not good, and along with weeping September winds, my heart weeps too. I implore you: have mercy, and send something to a relative going through a hard time! (Having said those words, he felt freer.) There's no work here. I wanted to turn to some other livelihood, but there's no work that can provide a livelihood. I rented a field and worked it all summer, day and night, but the devil…” He lost his thought, reread what he'd written and was dissatisfied. He remembered that he had written them the story of the field last year. He erased the part about the field, because it was last year, not this year, that he had had some money to lease a field. (When you've told a lie once, you can't repeat the lie a second time.) To the point, there's no work and we're looking for a miracle. And what kind of miracles might happen here? So, we wait for a few dollars to arrive from America in time for the holidays. And we tremble with fear, in the event that it doesn't. That's why I implore you, my brothers in America. If you can't send anything individually, please group together and send something collectively! I send my “Shana Tova” wishes to you all. Your brother and relative, Khayim Yosl Broyner”

Khayim Yosef wrote the names of each and every relative on the Shana Tova card and sent it off to America.

When he returned home from the Post Office, his wife, Tzirl, barely recognized him. He was a new man, completely changed. He spoke louder, performing the ritual washing before eating, with great pride. “What's to eat?” he asked openly and clearly. His wife, who had no idea of what great event had boosted his spirit to this degree, became a bit edgy.

“Is he worried about anyone else? No, not at all…just serve him something to eat….” she thought silently, but said:

“I have martzipan especially for you.”

Her words cut Khayim Yosel to the quick, but he ignored it. He sat patiently at the table until Tzirl served him some day old beets. Khayim Yosl, starving, devoured it with zest, as if he were actually eating martzipans. He really would have loved an onion along with the beets, but he restrained himself. “A person can't be too much of a glutton”, he thought to himself.

After eating he lay down to rest and fell sound asleep. He dreamt of being in America, walking across unfamiliar streets, flying through the air, even in an airplane. He was able to simply get up and fly. There he was with his relatives. They were reading his letter but it had no resemblance to what he had sent them. The New Year's card had grown and was ablaze with golden edges. Seconds later it was set in real gold. The relatives were amazed.

“Khayim Yosl is so rich that he sends golden “Shana Tova” cards?” He felt empowered by the dream and interpreted it in the most positive way.

“It's going to be a good year!” he said to his wife with exaggerated cheer “Tzirl, there'll be money coming from America. Just wait and see. I've had an omen. You'll see.”

A few minutes later he added “Oh, how good a warm glass of tea would be right now!”


[Page 159]

The Tall Mountains

by Shifra Osnas Livy

Translated by Lillian Leavitt

When I was about 12 or 13 years old, I was a clerk in Gitl Mateh's shop, which we called a wholesale store, where we sold to shopkeepers. I was quite the young manager there and very much immersed in the business. I knew from whom to require cash and who might use credit. It was a responsible position at which I worked 14 hours a day.

One day a committee came to the shop to call for a strike. Among the committee members were Mendl Merlis, or rather as he was called, “Mendl Shpan”, as well as Yoshke Khokhas. They demanded that my employer shorten my hours from 14 a day to 12, and that he raise my wages.

This was something entirely new in our town, because nothing like this had ever taken place before. This was 1906.

My best friend at that time was Malke Sulsky. She was learning to sew at Malka Yudil's. My friend was a young, clever, and intelligent girl. She was one of the Sulskys whose brother was the representative of the library. (He's a physician here in America.) Her brother and Khane Shultz were fiery revolutionaries, as the young people of that time were, grouping themselves into various parties. Some turned to Zionism of which Khayim Yehuda Merlis was the leader; others turned to the Zionist Socialist movement, “Workers of Zion”, and still others turned to the Bundists. All young people at that time were invested in building a better, more righteous world.

One afternoon my friend dropped in to get me to go to a meeting in the mountains. It was very conspiratorial, secretive, and no one was to know about it. This was around Shavuos time when the trees and the flowers on the mountainside were in the splendor of full bloom. The mud of the market place, near Shleymke Margoles' house had already dried and the swimming hole was just waiting for a good sunny day.

When Malke and I arrived in the mountains, at the “meeting”, a new life opened for me. I met a lot of our young people there, a good part of our intelligentsia. A speaker was there explaining the difficulties of our class and our people. They pointed out who the members of the self-defense team were. I was curious about why needed this since the world was moving into a greater state of civilization. At that time it was unimaginable that in just a few years to come, the course of civilization would sprout a Hitler - a tragedy of such proportion.

When I came to America and sat at the sewing machine in the shop, I would see the tall mountains, the flowers and flowing stream in front of me, as if it were a dream. Yet I couldn't believe it was only a dream. How beautiful those mountains remained in my child-like imagination.

But now I can no longer talk about them with that kind of awe.

Knowing the tragedy of my people, of my entire Jewish nation, of my dear townsfolk, of my Koydenov, I am engulfed in tears as I write this, thinking of the massive grave of buried living souls in those mountains.

I can no longer talk about those tall mountains without sighing, without tears and pain in my heart. I want to scream - don't remind me of those mountains! I think I can hear the frightful screams of those frightened and confused people, running out of every street - the last screams of the living.

Where could we run? Where could we hide? Everyone wanted to save themselves and remain alive. I hear the screams of mothers and little children in their arms, the last prayer of the elderly.

That was October 21, 1941.

 

Shifra Osnas Livy

 

[Page 171]

“A Dream”

by Meyer Tumin (Teomim)

Translated by Lillian Leavitt

Once I had a dream
About a lengthy visit to my home town.
A room full of people to see me
From near and far friends and relatives came down.

Everyone came by to see the boy
That had left his hometown years ago.
The crowd wrangled to have a look
At the child they used to know…

The pack was noisy, the room crammed full
Everyone asked where I'd been
They pushed to shake my right hand,
To hear news of relatives I had seen.

I shook the hands they did extend.
Their feelings were honest and dear
(The master of dreams wove without end)
My dream was alive and clear.

b.

I stood near grandpa in the great shul
Praying with my heart devout and sweet
The men go outside in the highly lit night
The new moon to ritually greet.

Suddenly, I hear an old preacher
Preaching his Shabbes best
There I sat at the rebbe's table
Singing Shabbes songs with great zest.

The master of dreams carried me further
To a group praying at the new Shul.
There was Meyer the teacher telling
A wondrous tale he interpreted to make our hearts full.

At Father's grave I stood head bent,
At the new cemetery cool and dark,
My heart broken, tears in my eyes,
I whispered the memorial prayer, quiet and stark.

c.

I burrowed deeper into my memories
Perhaps something else I might find.
But the years had faded so very much
There was not a trace left in my mind.

My little hometown had never given me
More than a sliver of hardened, dry bread.
So how do you take the hunger and pain
Out of your heart and out of your head?

Still, off and on, thoughts come along
About childhood years, even hard days.
Old memories swim to the surface
As a deep, quiet longing in my heart stays.

Little sweet town of my youth
My heart aches thinking it all through.
Only God knows what's happened there
But I know I can never forget you.

 

Young People in Rubezhevicher Street (1916)

 

[Page 174]

The Cantor, Reb Fayve
(Reflections)

by Aba Hurvitz

Translated by Lillian Leavitt

I recall those years when I was a singing assistant for Fayve the cantor of Koydenov. Fayve was middle aged then. I was still a young boy. I remember the awe and idolization I felt for this man. He was a quiet man, very calm. He was what we called a “lovely person”. I never saw him angry. I remember him as a smiling soul. I can see his laughing eyes. When they looked at me, they warmed my heart and filled my childish soul with amazement. He was medium height, somewhat heavy set; his black beard was already laced with silver threads…The mixture of strong black and silver white added even more expression to his already striking face.

I went to see Reb Fayve with my older brother Yisroyel, may he rest in peace. At that point, Yisroyel had been singing with Fayve for several years. He had become a member of the family. Yisroyel, may he rest in peace, had already developed his tenor voice and frequently led the prayer services. He asked Reb Fayve to listen to me sing because he was convinced that I had a fine voice…Fayve looked me over lovingly, patted my check, took his tuning fork out of one of his pockets, and was about to hear my voice. Abruptly however, he put his tuning fork down on the table and asked me to sing along with him “Do-rey-me-fa-…” I did as he asked. My voice held without a break. Even at the highest octave, it rang softly and emotionally. Fayve was delighted and told Moshe the bassist, to take care of me, that is, to place me in the choir with all the choirboys. Furthermore, he warned me that I had better attend every day because Slikhos was coming up. Immediately after Slikhos, we would have to get ready for the holy days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. That's why I needed to attend practice every day, to absorb the prayers…..

I will never forget the first night of Slikhos: all the singing assistants were at the cantor's house. No one even thought about going home to sleep. We sat around the big long table. The cantor asked his beautiful young daughter, Mindel, to bring us tea. He personally added two pieces of sugar to each of our glasses to sweeten the tea…Borukh Yosl Lozers and I (Here in America, he became known as Beny Horowitz) got pieces of “candied sugar” and “oat sugar”. He told us to not to crumble them, but rather to let them melt in our mouths because I was to perform the solo “ Rakhmona Dayenu” and little Borukh was to follow me with a the prayer “Rakhmona Khus”. So, the longer we could keep the sugar in our mouths, the better we'd perform our solos.

Then we were off to synagogue. He had us turn our collars up so we might not, Heaven forbid, “catch some wind”. He himself always kept a scarf around his neck. Nonetheless, this was inadequate protection, since he often became hoarse… Like a general and his soldiers, the cantor and we boys strode along. It was so quiet; you could hear the beat of our hearts. A cool breeze flew through the leaves and you heard only the crunch a fallen leaf. Suddenly a rooster awoke and the “cock-a-doodle-do” rang out so sharply in the stillness of night, it felt like the voice of God. The pale moon lit the court yard of the synagogue. The shadows following us cast fantastic images…everything looked enchanted. I followed the cantor with my heart frozen with fear…It would be the first time that I'd be standing at the prayer pulpit delivering a solo…

We walked into the large walled off synagogue. Dozens of candles had been lit. Their glow was reflected in the sleepy faces of the crowd. Their rays of light flickered on the black beards like small rainbows painting the men in the synagogue. They looked other-worldly to me, not the same men they had been on previous ordinary days. They were all engrossed in holiness, purified by holiness…even Yoel Dametzkes who normally led the prayer service so quickly that no one could keep up with him…But tonight at Slikhos he no longer raced; he proceeded slowly, lost in thought about the meaning of the words that he was saying aloud. No one was in a hurry.

Then the cantor walked over to the pulpit dressed in his big prayer shawl as Moshe the bassist showed everyone of us singers where to stand.

In the women's shul, you could hear sobs. The fully packed synagogue was deep in the holy act of self reflection, in ecstasy…

My father's voice could be heard above all the others. You could hear the words to his prayers clearly. I thought my father, may he rest in peace, had seen the face of God in the clouds and was addressing him personally. The tense weeping mood that dominated the synagogue made every bone in my body tremble. I looked at my father. He met my gaze and calmed me, as if he were saying: “There's nothing to be frightened of, my child.”…

At that moment I felt Fayve's soft, plump hand on mine, giving me courage to prepare for my solo. I sang my solo with no fear, having compete confidence and faith in the cantor. Borukh Yosel Lozers was right behind me, with the holy words of his solo. Who could ever forget that time? Who could ever forget those boyish experiences?

Fayve was beloved by everyone. Everyone loved him and listened to him. Everyone found joy in his compositions. Everyone sung his tunes. Akh! The joy that he brought to Jewish hearts! ….He was a legend (even during his lifetime). There were many anecdotes, jokes, and stories told about his exceptional naivety! For example, there was one story told about how amazed he'd become looking at a wheel of cheese. Imagine the wonder of it all: you pour soured milk into a sack and it turned into cheese! Look at the folds in the cheese, etc, etc, and other ordinary sights that would never appear extraordinary to most people. It was even said that he was extremely bright, but because he would sputter both gentle humor and biting wit into his conversation, he left the impression of being a very strange man. He had a unique approach to life. He would say that bottom lines were the property of God. Man was not the composer of the bottom lines. Man had virtually no authority and no bottom line.

I never saw him worried, never given to despair, even in the worst circumstances. The synagogue was for him what the Holy of Holies was to the great priest of ancient Israel. The prayer pulpit and the cantorial station were what brought him closer to God. Wrapped in his old, large, woolen prayer shawl with its silver trim on which flames of light wove their way through its silver threads, he took on an even more striking appearance. His heartfelt melodies were the expression of his most beautiful soul. This was the source from which he extracted his prayers heartfelt, modulated, unhistrionic, without drama. He knew you didn't scream at God. You didn't express anger. A refined person did not get all worked up. God hated that kind of excessive drama. One prayed beautifully, quietly, softly, tenderly. This is what he taught his accompaniers.

His choir was a virtual harmonious symphony. He divided most of his prayers into solos and assigned them to the boys with the best voices. When a young childlike voice rang out in a solo, as a bird in the woods sang at the rise of the sun, mesmerized in holy ecstasy, everyone in the synagogue was enveloped in silence. He used to say that when a child prayed, when he sang out his prayer to God, it moved a person deep in his soul. Who could resist? Who could refuse? A prayer like that had to leave its mark on God…

I remember when there was a new prayer ark placed in the big synagogue and we had a big celebration for it. The cantor and the choir began singing the refrain of the Khanukah song and I sang the solo. I will never forget what an impression those words made upon me. When I finished, I felt tears on my face. It was Rev Fayve's own melody. Even today great cantors use his compositions.

I remember his last days, when he no longer had strength to sing with us. He used to pick up his violin and place his head and white beard on it. His big eyes used to look at us with love and tenderness and he would play with the greatest emotion. It seemed to me he was saying good bye to us and blessing all those heavenly moments when he had expressed himself through us…

And now that I am in my early sixties, the memory of those childish experiences is still fresh in my heart. It's hard to believe that the town and its inhabitants are no longer there. It is painful to write about it as something that no longer exists.

Our enemies, the Nazis turned it all into a pile of ash….

 

[Page 184]

The Revolution in Koydenov
(As told by my father)

by Noakh Rozevitzky

Translated by Lillian Leavitt

People have written about the French Revolution, the American Revolution and the Russian Revolution. I am going to write about the Koydenov revolution.

Years ago in Koydenov, as in many Jewish towns, people were oppressed by the power of petty officials and even more so by the tyranny of the business class. A few rich businessmen in town were in complete control. They had given themselves full rights to reign over everyone and to humiliate the tradesmen, the poor, oppressed workers. A tailor or shoemaker was not allowed to say a word. But, as the expression goes “There comes an end to all things...” The respectable businessmen, under the leadership of Dovid-Shloyme and Kalmen Shulkes, came together and began a campaign against the dictatorship of the rich and powerful little business bosses. They succeeded in setting up elections to choose resident representatives to manage the business of the town.

And herein lay the great wonder. There was a revolution within the revolution. The most oppressed and downtrodden of the workers, the mute fellows, who had never known anything but hunger, and doing only what the wealthy and pious folks said these very menial tradesmen came rushing forth and began demanding that a representative be chosen from among their rank. This was a bit too much. “How could that possibly work?!”, argued the proper businessmen. How could a shoemaker be a representative? A representative might be a shopkeeper, a tavern owner, a moneylender, but not a shoemaker! Look, be realistic, isn't that a bit foolish? Ok, but you might as well talk to the wall!

Riled up by all the tradesmen and led by Zorekh and Yaacov Isaacs, the shoemakers were determined to see a representative elected from their ranks. And they won. Regardless of the opposition, their demand was met. Their candidate Yaacov Isaac was chosen as a representative. The shoemakers celebrated their victory with a parade around the synagogue courtyard. The musicians led the way: Yisroyel with his mandolin, Hirshl with his flute, Koldunye with his fiddle. After them came Yaacov Isaacs and Zorekh Yoshen riding on white horses, accompanied by a mass of shoemakers and other tradesmen drumming and singing “Hoorah for Yaacov Isaacs and hoorah for Zorekh Yoshen. And hoorah for the Koydenov revolution….”

It was only then that the businessmen, the wise ones, realized that the shoemakers had been right in demanding to have their own representatives.

Likening the Koydenov revolution to the Russian, one might say that Kerensky played the role of Dovid Shloyme that is, leader of a bourgeois revolution; Trotsky played the role of Zorekh Yoshen. He learned how to lead a proletarian revolution from him!


[Page 186]

Koydenov in 1920
(Memories)

by Eyda Aynbinder-Liberman

Translated by Lillian Leavitt

Poles are leaving Koydenov. The atmosphere is oppressive. I feel something very serious is about to happen. The soldiers start behaving like wild animals. Robberies take place in the market place. Stores are robbed. What can we do?

It was 12:00 o'clock in the afternoon. We began to hide our valuables, cover windows, and barricade doors. Our house was the largest on Slutzker Street, which made it quite noticeable. Our father went off to a neighbor's house, because we were afraid that his presence could harm us since bearded Jews were hated. My sister Fanya was also afraid to stay at home, so she too went off to a neighbor's. She thought things would better without our being there.

This left only my mother, my brother's children: a little girl Sonya, five years old and a little boy, Lioveh, ten years old, and me in the house. Since my mother was a very nervous woman I asked her not to get involved if the Polish soldiers came into our house. Suddenly we heard a lot of noise. A woman had been picked up by a truck in the market place. Her husband and children ran after her, crying and pleading that she be let go. Their efforts were fruitless. It wasn't long before we heard knocking at our door. We hid in corners and were silent. Even our dog which usually never let a stranger come in, stayed quiet and lay dejectedly in a corner. He didn't even whimper in response to the knocking.

The furious knocking grew stronger and soon the doors were nearly broken down. Seeing that there was no way out, I went to open the door. The children hid. I apologized to the soldiers and told them that since it was the Sabbath holiday, we had overslept and hadn't heard the knocking. I put everything on the table that I could find. One of them began to speak very harshly but I ignored that and softened him up. They finished eating, took whatever they wanted and left. And that's how it was all day in and out, taking everything and anything they liked.

A farmer by the name of Ingolye lived in our courtyard. I sent my mother and the children to his place. I and another girl, Nina, ran to another farmer who was also a neighbor and who was housing a police company and their commandant. I knew them well because they'd been staying in this particular courtyard for the past nine months. At 9:00 o'clock in the evening, one of the company came over to us and said “Girls, we feel very badly for you that you haven't left town yet!” As soon as I heard that I began to tremble and grow cold. I then began shaking. Suddenly another policeman screamed at the farmer's wife “Give us something to eat! We have to leave immediately.” He then turned to us: “Look at how bright it is outside. I just ignited a fire and the whole town will be ablaze very soon!” I opened the door and saw the train station burning. It was 12:00 o'clock at night. I said to Nina “Let's run and wake everyone up. Maybe we'll be able to get some of the more precious things out of the house.”

My brother and father had been hiding in the yard amidst the tall grasses. Suddenly my brother's wife ran into the house and started screaming at the commandant “Help, they're going to kill our father!” “Well, so what if there's one less Jew in the world…”was the commandant's answer. To our relief, we discovered only his boots had been taken from him. They had fled and allowed him to leave barefoot. But things didn't end there. That was only the beginning. I tried to get out to wake everyone up, but it was impossible to pass through. The entire courtyard was filled with sleeping soldiers. I was afraid to cross over them. “Don't be so scared,” my friend Nina quietly said to me. “They're tired. We can do it.” It was very dark and we couldn't see quite where to place each foot. We were barely able to move. By the time we got to the “threshold” the night had become very bright. The fire had engulfed the entire town.

I went back into the house and saw that my mother and sister were asleep on the small bed covered with a blanket. I quietly called out to our neighbor, Ingolye, and showed him the fire approaching. Overwhelmed by panic, he didn't know what to do. He wanted to run back into his room. I spoke to him calmingly, saying we would be able to rescue everyone. We just had to wake them up.

There was only one window in the room where my mother and sister were sleeping. It was draped so heavily that they couldn't see what was going on outside. I woke them and said it would be better if we got out and tried to escape without our things. If we survived, we'd be able to acquire new possessions. I lifted the curtain and showed them the fire outside. They were stunned. I don't know how my mother pulled herself together to find strength and self control. We began collecting our things. We even found the previously hidden things and bundled them with the neighbor's possessions. The courtyard was so brightly lit up that we couldn't tell whether it was daylight or light from the burning flames. We took all the things we had collected and brought them into the field. En route there, two soldiers stopped my brother shouting “Hands in air” and they took whatever money he had on him.

All the neighbors took their things to the field. All around you could hear the screams and cries of people as the fire continued to burn nonstop. Now and again Polish soldiers came by; some with carts. They just took whatever appealed to them and destroyed what they didn't want, as long as we Jews were left with nothing. They only took from Jewish families. Our things, however, were with Ingolya and we kept to ourselves. The soldiers never bothered Ingolye because he was a farmer, so our things were protected. Shortly after that, we had to leave because the fire was growing closer to us. At night, things settled down. The soldiers were afraid to come near us. We could only hear them running on the sidewalks and yelling “faster…” For a moment we thought our troubles were over, but in the morning another part of town was ablaze. They had already poured kerosene on our house and lit a match, but thanks to one of our neighbors, a Polish farmer, it never got to the point of fire. He assured the soldiers that he was the owner of the house, and he even put “icons” on all the windows. That, however, didn't help. They beat him mercilessly and he suffered from that beating for a long time to come.

Suddenly the soldiers arrived at our neighbor Ingolye's to tell him they had been notified that he had Jewish goods. He denied it. They let him know that if they found any Jewish items among his things, they'd shoot him. They started rummaging through the pile of goods and found household items like candlesticks, talises, and religious books, as well as other items that were clearly Jewish. One of them wanted to shoot him immediately, but Ingolye pleaded that he cared not for his own life; his only concern was for his young daughter, whom he loved dearly. He wrapped his arms around her and held her to his chest as his wife began kissing the soldiers' hands and pleading that they release her husband. One soldier responded “Why release him? He's a Bolshevik.” Another soldier intervened and Ingolye was not shot. But they took all the things they had found including things that belonged to him. We watched the entire scene from afar. My mother fainted. My brother's wife also passed out. What was I to do? I sat there with the children and thought about getting water for them, but there were flames all around us. There was a well nearby but you couldn't get through the flames to get there. The children started crying. Little Sonya started screaming “Grandma, grandma!” I quieted her down as best I could. I was afraid that the soldiers would hear us. My sister Fanya was not with us. Totally frightened, she had run off into the woods earlier in the morning. My father and brother were hidden somewhere else....Again as evening fell we hoped things would settle down, that the Polish military would leave. The more they set aflame and robbed, the sooner they would be done.

Suddenly I saw my brother and three Jewish boys who were our neighbors with him. The Soldiers went over to him and ordered him to go with them. My brother began to plead with them, showing his arms “See these muscles. They're from work that I did for you.” Somehow he got through to them. Then they started on the three other boys. They killed one of them. They shot another one in the legs. When he fell, they thought he was dead. The third one, a young, agile boy about 18 years old, fled into the tall corn stalks. They shot after him but didn't hit their mark. He was found three days later, passed out.

At this point, it was night time and the children hadn't eaten. None of us had had a drop of water during all this time. My mother had a small piece of bread which she had been saving for the children. Exhausted, we could no longer stand up. When we approached farmers, they chased us away, saying that they would suffer consequences because of us…

These people were our friends. Regardless of what had happened, it was painful. The only person who remained loyal was our neighbor Ingolya. My mother, little Sonya and I spread out on the grass; Ingolya and his wife on the other side. We all were covered by one blanket. My nephew Lioveh was so exhausted and terrified that he fell right into the tall grasses and fell asleep where we were. Suddenly, a neighbor woman came along and told us that she had recently spoken with a commander who told her that they were planning to murder all the Jews and throw them into a boiler. She had always been a bit of a hooligan, but the way things were going then, everything seemed possible. I didn't respond. My mother heard it too. Our neighbor Ingolye was terrified. He said “Where can I hide you now?” I just lay there and thought the end had come…

The night was alight. We heard screams and cries. I lifted my head and saw that were surrounded by infantry and cavalry. My only thought was that we were about to die here. There was no safe place. We waited and thought that perhaps we could sneak into the woods. The small footpath that led into the woods was, however, filled with military. Twenty minutes later we noticed that the crowd was sparser and we hoped we'd be able to get across the few hundred meters, snaking through the tall cornstalks and dense grasses. I got myself up and took little Sonya into my arms. I was afraid that she'd start crying when she awoke. When we got to the most dangerous spot, I prepared myself and we all ran through. Suddenly we heard voices behind us. Someone was yelling “Stop, stop”. The screaming separated us. My mother stopped and fell in the corn field. She had no more energy to keep running. I, along with the others, continued running and hid among the corn. The night was cold. We lay on the damp earth without coats, hats, and shivered from cold, hunger and fear. My mother still had not reached us. What was I to do? It was impossible to go back because the danger was too great. We waited until the night grew a bit lighter. We were afraid even to whisper. We could only listen to the screams. When daylight arrived I wanted to raise my head out of the cornstalks but I didn't have the courage to do it. Suddenly it sounded like someone was moving near me. I looked around and saw that my mother was lying near me. I almost burst into tears with joy. We both however, contained ourselves, knowing that we were surrounded by enemies. Once again we heard screams, cries, and tears. It seemed to us that everyone in the world had been murdered and we were the only survivors of the town's Jews.

Suddenly a Russian young man ran over to us and told us that two Polish soldiers were chasing him. He believed that our hiding place was not safe. The Poles were now much closer to us. He suggested we change our hiding place. He warned us that Polish soldiers were beating people mercilessly. Fifteen minutes later, Polish cavalry had surrounded the entire field. They were slashing through the cornstalks with swords, hoping to strike someone in the process. We were at the very edge of the field and that was our salvation, because the horse riders were afraid to go that deeply into the field. Nonetheless, we were convinced that our location was not safe so we decided to sneak into the woods. We had to cross the train line which was a risky proposition. The Polish soldiers would easily notice us. Once we began running, all the residents of Slutzker Street appeared and also began running into the woods. The giant stampede frightened us. Everyone was running, not knowing what spot might be safer or better to hide in…Then we were in the woods, lying down. The children were exhausted and starving. We hadn't eaten in three days. We found blueberries in the woods. Eating them calmed our hunger.

Nonetheless, we heard screams “Faster, faster” (in Polish), and it was not the voice of soldiers. It was local peasants who had been looting Jewish households. We learned from them, however, that the Polish military was no longer in town and the Red army was expected at any time. We started to leave the woods with joy. On the way out we met my friend Khanah Sliazberg who told us, amidst her tears, that she was looking for her mother. She had been told that her mother had been killed.

Approaching our house, I saw my parents, my sister, and brother. They were in the field cooking potatoes. We sat ourselves down in a circle, quietly without words; tears and heavy heartedness choking us as we looked at what the Polish monsters had done to our dear town, Koydinov.

 

Koydanover Street (Rubezheviche)

 

[Page 194]

“My Town, Koydenov”

by M. Slovin

Translated by Lillian Leavitt

(In memoriam)

After Purim, storks begin flying
through our town.
Circling the air
majestically light,
they weave their nests
on tips of towers.
Yet deep in the valley
snow still dazzles our sight.

The copper sky
turns blue and bluer
as winds no longer
blow by with haste.
From behind the landscape
cloudy and gray,
spring strolls in
while winter lays waste.

Spring, our honored guest, arrives,
turning dull plains green,
bringing blankets of grass
to steep hill and valley.
But spring can't find
her hosting Jews, anywhere -
not here, not there
not in the market, nor alley.

Right here, where the hill
dips down low
a stream gurgles close
to those laying dead.
Here my brothers'
bodies rest, covered;
their hearts hollowed
by bullets of lead.

Above them trees sway
their branches pointed
while winds groan
in the gloom of night
as “holy” figurines on the “cathedral”
witness in silence-
a community
murdered outright.

I close my eyes
and see you dear town:
your streets, your schoolyard,
your stores without frill.
Nothing is left but
a note from the martyrs,
their graves planted
at the base of a hill.


[Page 196]

“Arah Yekels”

by M. Slovin

Translated by Lillian Leavitt

His right hand holds
a red scarf;
his left, a staff.
In his home town
troubles abound,
so community he must craft.

His beard is red,
his face - pale;
his eyes ablaze with fire!
He rushes with haste
through every street.
He knows the times are dire.

At every house,
he's in, he's out,
gathering charity for the needy,
easing poverty
as angels pray
that God help him be speedy.

The morning sun
rises anew
in the sky, perfectly clear,
a ray of light
embraces Ara,
infuses his soul, devoted and dear.

His heart ablaze,
he continues on,
red scarf and staff in hand.
The day is short;
the need is great.
His task, it so demands.


[Page 198]

“When Summer Arrives”

by M. Slovin

Translated by Lillian Leavitt

The ocean is not
precious to me
in the same way
trees and grasses are.
I never realized this
until the day
I left
my home afar.

I set myself sailing
on ocean plains
Yet nonetheless
alien the sea remained.
In my heart were etched
Dirt roads, trees above.
It seems that these
Are the only things I can love…

And when
Hot summer arrives
I leave the ocean
To make others sate.
A quiet corner,
With trees around me
That's my solace,
My pleasure, my fate.

Birds tweeting
At early dawn,
Screeching cries
Of roosters and hens
They bring me joy
Greater than all
Sounds I've heard since
I know not when.

The ocean wields
A world of charm
Yet I leave her
For others to cheer.
A tree, a leaf,
A field of wheat
That is for me
A thousand times more dear.

 

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