I am shedding tears for all those martyred people who were slaughtered and killed. I hope G-d will avenge the blood that was shed and destroy the perpetrators of these evil deeds and extend His divine protection over the remnants of the people of Israel and lead them to Salvation.
The big beautiful synagogue, the big study center, the house of the late rabbi Samuel Gerstel, the house of the young rabbi Zeev Wolf Gerstel, the synagogue of the Belzer Hasidim, the synagogue of the late Rabbi Alter Eichstein, the Kaminker shul , the many Torah study centers where Jewish children studied Torah, the study room of Horev, the religious girls school of the Agudat Israel, the Hebrew day school, the slaughterhouse, the kosher butcher stores, the public bath house, the Mizrachi association, the Zionist association, the bikur cholim society (to visit sick people), the Lina society (to provide sleeping accommodation for needy people ),the mutual aid society, and the road leading to the forest or forests where the youth promenaded on Saturday afternoon and inhaled the fresh country air while admiring G-d's world.
As in other Polish cities, the Jews of Yartchev engaged in trade and conducted business. There were forest merchants; wood merchants; grain merchants; horse and cattle dealers; flax and leather merchants; grocery and store owners who sold all kinds of goods, such as material for coats and dresses, ribbons and threads for sewing; there were metal and leather stores, inns, and slaughterhouses. Geese dealers led their flocks to Lemberg; farmers and delivery men brought their goods from Lemberg; carriages transported goods and people to Lemberg; Yartchev residents headed for Borshewic (railway station) or Zadworshe (railway station) to travel to Lemberg or further (Yartchev did not have access to the railroad). There were many artisans in Yartchev: tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, rope makers, pot makers, bakers, locksmiths, pocketbook makers, tallit embroiderers, musicians, and vendors who sold sweets, cookies, chocolates, fruits, and vegetables in the market.
The city was always known as the residence of famous scholars. The most famous was the rabbi known as the head of the yeshiva. The Germans were unable to blast his tombstone. One hundred eighty years ago, the famous Raver scholar, the late Rabbi Shlomo Kaminker, lived and studied in Yartchev. Many wise stories and tales are ascribed to him, as told to me by my grandmother, Gittel. She was the sister of Rabbi Samuel Gerster, the daughter of Rabbi Mordechai Gerster who was the son-in-law of the Kaminker Rabbi. She was a pious and well-read woman. My late mother, Yente Gerstel, told me the stories of my grandparents and uncles, notably the story of the Kaminker Rabbi and later the Mozitzer Rabbi.
In the city of Rawa Russka, there lived a very rich person, a forest merchant. He lived in a big house with many rooms; expensive carpets covered the floors. He was called The Count and behaved like one. He had many servants and each day rode in his coach, pulled by two horses. The family had no children. One Yom Kippur eve, when all the worshippers left the study cheder after the services, he began to implore the Almighty to grant him children. He cried, begged and recited Psalms all night long and finally, exhausted, fell asleep. Suddenly, an old man appeared in his dream and told him that he was destined to continue this manner of life, but his lamentations had the desired effect. In his sleep he consented to the change and shortly thereafter his business declined rapidly. His wife gave birth to a son who would become the well-known Kaminker Rabbi and a daughter who would become my great-grandmother.
The brother-in-law of the Kaminker Rabbi was my great-grandfather, Rabbi Mordechai Gerstel, the very old rabbi of Yartchev. His father was Rabbi Samuel Gerstel. Rabbi Mordechai Gerstel had a sister, a very pious woman. Most of her grandchildren managed to escape the clutches of the Nazis. They are all in Brooklyn: Rabbi Dr. Moshe Blech; his brother, Rabbi Ben Zion Blech; and the youngest brother, Rabbi Tzvi Blech. The oldest grandson already has children who are rabbis and a daughter who is a professor at Columbia University.
After the demise of Rabbi Mordechai Gerstel, his son, Samuel Gerstel, became
the rabbi of Yartchev. He was nicknamed the Old Rabbi. His son, Rabbi Zeev Wolf
Gerstel, was called the Young Rabbi of Yartchev. He was also a scholar in
botany and astronomy in spite of his Hasidic appearance: he wore white pants
and socks in the tradition of Hasidic rabbis. Rabbi Samuel Gerstel also had
four daughters: Beile Gerstel, Blima
Blick, Sarah Rivka Katz and Sheva Gottesman, the wife of the late Rabbi Betzalel Gottesman.
Following World War I, Rabbi Zeev Wolf Gerstel moved to Lemberg and the rabbi of Yartchev became his brother-in-law, also the son-in-law of the old rabbi of Yartchev, Rabbi Betzalel Gottesman. Mr. Abraham Baum and the Yartchev society brought the rabbi to the United States, where he remained for several years. They supported him and hoped that he would remain in the country, but he refused to bring his family to the United States and returned to Yartchev, where he died shortly thereafter. His son, Rabbi Chaim Gottesman assumed the position of rabbi of Yartchev. For almost two hundred years, the Gerstel family provided rabbis to the town. The last rabbi, a grandson of the Old Rabbi, led about 2,000 Jews to the cemetery, where he recited confessions, and with the Shema on their lips they were shot on the 9th and 10th day of the month of Shvat, Tashag (1943).
The extent of religious piety and Hasidic life can best be described by the fact that the mailman of Yartchev, an employee of the Austrian Imperial Postal System, had a long beard and side curls and wore a shtreimel (special fur hat worn by Hasidim) on Saturday, just like the other Hasidic Jews. His name was Yaacov Baum. His son, Avraham Baum, came to the United States and was very involved in the Yartchev society. He helped publish this memorial book. Mr. Avraham Baum tried very hard to bring me to the United States. With the assistance of Max Reiser from Baltimore I was finally brought from Vienna to the United States before the Nazis closed the gates.
Yartchev had a few Jewish representatives who spoke with the central authorities on behalf of their community. These representatives were all deeply religious Jews and sat on the committees with non-Jewish representatives. Prior to World War I, the mayor of Yartchev was my uncle, Itzhak (Itche) Blick, the Old Rabbi's son-in-law. He was a scholar and a pious Jew. He managed the city quite well and installed lights in the market; these lit the entire city of Yartchev. Yartchev also had a large society of bikur cholim, whose members visited the sick and helped with their basic needs. There was also a Lina society, whose members would sleep in the houses of the sick and help them if they were alone. All of these undertakings were performed as good deeds or mitzvot . Yartchev had a mutual aid society that extended interest-free loans and enabled repayment over long periods of time, so as to enable the needy to survive the bad times. Former Yartchev residents supported this fund and thus helped their brothers and sisters in the old country. Mr. Abraham Baum and the Yartchev Relief Society received many thank you letters and notes from people who borrowed from the fund. They also received many thank you letters for their financial support from the Torah study center, Horev, and from the religious girls' school of the Agudat Israel.
Each year, on Lag B'Omer (thirty-third day in the counting of the omer ), the study cycle of the Talmud finished. Scholars with large foreheads and sharp eyes assembled on that day in the synagogue to hear the final lines of their study program, whereupon, a big celebration was held with speeches, lectures, and Hasidic tunes. Yartchev also had a large Zionist association. Following World War I, the younger members studied Hebrew. They prepared themselves for emigration to Palestine. Many of the younger Jews also left for the United States, where they managed to establish themselves.
As in other Polish cities, there was no lack of poor Jews. Jews gave charity to help the poor ones survive until market day. Every Wednesday was market day, and the poor Jews would congregate in the market and beg charity. Some of these were invited to homes for the Sabbath meals. Every poor Jew was assigned to a home so that he would have a meal. Those that didn't have a place went to the house of the Old Rabbi. Very often there were several guests at my grandfather's tablethe more the merrier. These people were not called beggars or schnorers, but Sabbath guests.
Every Wednesday was market day, and several times a year there large fairs that attracted Ukrainian and Polish farmers who came to town to buy goods: leather, metal pots, axes, pails, plows, nails, materials for shirts, dresses, and ribbons. The farmers sold cows, bulls, horses, chickens, wood, and many kinds of grain, vegetables, potatoes, and various fruits. Jews bought and sold and earned their livelihood from the market and the fairs. Late in the day, especially on summer days when the farmers left town and the dust from their carriages settled, one could see Jews with long black beards and side curls, dressed in long caftans or overcoats and large black velvet hats, rushing to the synagogue, study center, or small place of worship. [One could see] young boys with their velvet kippot and side curls, adorable little Moshes, Shlomos, and Avrahams with beautiful big eyes following their mothers or grandfathers who headed to the synagogue to offers thanks to the Almighty and to ask Him for health, income, deliverance and the reconstruction of Jerusalem. Women sat on the porches or on wooden benches in front of their homes or stores and inhaled the fresh air blowing from the forest while exchanging stories about good deeds performed by rabbis. They also exchanged some local gossip about families with problems, bright children in town, girls about to be engaged and the weddings to follow, children who did not excel in their studies, and so forth. Beautiful young maidens walked quietly and took in the scene, lowering their eyes when they met young men; glances were exchanged and eyes continued to follow each other. Sometimes, greetings were even exchanged. In the study centers, as described by Chaim Nachman Bialik (Hebrew and Yiddish poet), young scholars sat and studied while chanting the particular tune used in the study of the Talmud, Thus said rebbe ... Others secretly read the Hebrew papers Hatzfira and Hamatzpe . The students, pale and dreamy-eyed, faced big Talmud books and tried to answer difficult questions posed by the Rambam (Maimonides).
All this stopped with the arrival of the Sabbath or a holiday. The town assumed a completely different atmosphere. All the stores were closed, and in all the windows there were lights, the reflections of candlesin short, lights everywhere. Jews with patriarchal faces, dressed in black satin caftans and wearing shtreimels (fur hats) on their heads, rushed to the synagogue. Children with velvet caps or hats, dressed in their best Saturday clothing, their payot (side curls) curled, clutching in their hands their sidurim (prayer books) went to the synagogue to greet the Sabbath Queen (allusion to the Sabbath). Here they sang Lecha Dodi (song dedicated to the arrival of the Sabbath).
All this changed with the arrival of the High Holy Days. Entire families from the nearby villages came to spend the holiday in town. Jews greeted each other with the famous blessing: A Healthy New Year. The fear of Yom Kippur was on everybody's mind. Jews began to forgive each other and desisted from expressing sharp opinions or strong personal feelings. Each person rushed to the synagogue to pray and beg for the fulfillment of his wishes. Who can forget Kol Nidrei night in Yartchev? The synagogue was packed with people dressed in kittels (white robes), white kippot on their heads, wrapped in their big talitot . The place was lit by hundreds of candles that reflected the saintly faces of the Jews. Amongst them was my grandfather dressed in white, the kittel and the large talit with its big ornamental fringe. He cried on the way to the synagogue and then preached to the congregants while holding the Scroll in his hands. Finally, he shouted the line that begins the Kol Nidrei service, Or Zaruah . All the congregants shed tears, especially the women. Jews prayed to the Almighty for forgiveness, life, income, spiritual uplifting, positive influences on the children, good marriages, and the speedy arrival of the Messiah.
Jews could be happy without theaters or movies, which didn't exist in Yartchev. They enjoyed the cantor, Yokel, who chanted their prayers, or the young rabbi who blessed the lunar month, or the singing on the way to the Tashlich service (casting the sins upon the water). Young married scholars, supported by their families, continued their studies of the Jewish past and the difficult questions that arose in the study of halacha (Jewish religious legal codes). These men escorted the rabbi when he entered Grevlie Street, which led to the river where the rabbi cast his sins while those in the entourage sang and were merry.
Among the students who studied at the Yartchev synagogue was the future chief rabbi of Lemberg, Rabbi Dr. Shmuel Gottesman. He would later tell me, I was in your grandfather's study center and studied under him. Another famous student who studied there was my cousin, Moshe Gerstel .He was a grandson of the Old Rabbi, the son of Mordechai Gerstel. He became a famous architect in Haifa, Israel. He designed the shopping center of the Hadar Carmel neighborhood in Haifa, the nicest shopping center in the Middle East.
The joy of the Jew was at its height when he participated with the rabbi in the dancing of the Simchat Torah holiday. The teacher Hersali entertained the congregants who were a bit intoxicated, since they had already had a few drinks and tasted some of the baked goods. This holiday marked the end of the High Holy Day season and the Jews felt comfortable with all the mitzvot that they had performed during the month of Tishri. So many mitzvot were performed: the blowing of the shofar, the fasting and asking for forgiveness on Yom Kippur, the sitting in the sukkah, the blessing of the lulav and finally the reading of the last section of the Torah. The Jews were overjoyed with Simchat Torah and they expressed it by dancing and singing, especially the Hasidim. The festivities reached a high point at the synagogue of Rabbi Alter Eichenstein. Some of the grandchildren of Rabbi Abele, brother of the Old Rabbi of Yartchev, managed to survive and live in New York; they are Rabbi Dr. Moshe Blech and his brother. A grandson of Rabbi Alter Eichenstein also survived and resides in New York. His name is Rabbi Elimelech Horowitz.
Jews offered thanks and praise to the Almighty and Creator of the universe. They sang the famous Hasidic song, Ha'aderet v'haemunah (praising the faith): To whom? To whom? To the Eternal One. The understanding and the blessing, to whom? To whom? To the Eternal One. Every Saturday afternoon, at the shalosh seudah meal (third meal of the day, held in the synagogue or in the study center), the Jew sat and listened to spiritual matters that uplifted him. He sang praises to the Lord and escorted the Sabbath out with song and joy while partaking of drinks and snacks. With the exit of the Sabbath, the Jew went home and lit a special candle and sat down to a small meal consisting of borscht and potatoes or herring and vodka. He was happy and joyful with the departure of the Sabbath, which gave him fortitude to withstand all the pressures that the Polish anti-Semites created to deprive him of his livelihood, such as great increases in taxes. The Sabbath songs strengthened the Jew to face daily problems and to look forward to a better world: Siman tov und mazal tov, yehei lanu u lekol Yisrael, amen " (loosely translated: we and all of Israel should have a good omen and good luck, amen); David Melech Yisrael Hai vekayam (King David of Israel is alive and well, a reference to the Jewish people);"G-d said to Jacob, 'fear no one but me.'" [There were] songs about the Prophet Eliyahu, who took a poor Hasid and made him into a rich person in one night; the pauper became a wealthy man who devoted himself to serving G-d without needing to worry about daily necessities. The good old prophet and the Messiah of the house of David will soon lead us to our salvation; Eliyahu, please come and bring with you the Messiah so that we can be redeemed. (These were typical Sabbath songs).
Throughout the year, when an engagement, wedding, circumcision or party celebrating the first-born took place, the Jew of the Polish shtetl really celebrated. The huppa, (canopied ceremony) took place in front of the synagogue at night. The bride and groom were escorted from their respective homes by crowds of people who danced, sang and made merry. The people lit candles and placed them in the windows. The throng of spectators carried candles, the jesters told their lines, and the musicians, reinforced by well-known bands from Premishlan, played music. The youngsters were happy and the less religious crowd participated by singing songs, such as The Huppa " by Meir Hartner. Standing there before the synagogue, the group was performing good deeds: so many boys and girls carrying on, laughing, and mingling. Suddenly voices urged, Silence! Silence! Things are moving. Sha! Sha! Forward musicians of the first order: fiddler Moshe Rimfel, Haim Yekil on the cello, Beryl with the cymbals, Snat Avramel with the drum, Yona with the tambourines, Walt Tremeiter give a honk. The music is moving through the streets Tam Tram Tram Tam Tam...Ta Ta Ta. (This is a loose translation).
Religious Jews participated in the wedding by dancing the Mitzvah Dance. The dancer and the bride would hold a handkerchief while dancing, so as not to touch each other. The crowd danced, sang, and chanted popular songs and special religious songs such as: The first preference, the first preference have Jews because... Who was to know that all these happy Jews would be killed solely because they were Jews?
Fifty years ago, some Jews in Yartchev saw little hope and decided to leave for America. Later, they brought their relatives to this country. Soon they created a Yartchev Young Men's Association to help the new immigrants from their town, to provide assistance to relatives who wanted to come, and to help relatives in Yartchev. Yartchev became poorer as a result of World War I. Polish and German anti-Semitism created a generation of Jew-haters, and university students, officials, and farmers began to discriminate against the Jews. The latter were beaten in the streets, their beards were frequently shaved, Jewish stores were boycotted, and so forth. The story of Pszytic (a modern pogrom) repeated itself in many places. The Jew-haters, the followers of General Haller, manhandled Jews on the trains and in public places and prevented people from buying in Jewish stores. Many public buildings and places had big signs saying, Hit the Jew. The Polish, Ukrainian and Rumanian Jew-haters cooperated with their German counterparts. They tried to imitate the German Nazis, and published all the hate in the local press. The Poles wanted to ban the ritual slaughter of animals to prevent Jews from eating meat. It took a great deal of effort to postpone implementation of the law. They wanted to destroy the Jews and divide their goods. The Germans and Poles only thought of ways to kill the Jews and deprive them of their goods.
Young Jews began to emigrate. Some went to the United States and some organized themselves in Zionist organizations with the intention of leaving for Palestine. Even the religious youth organized itself in Mizrachi Hatzair or Hashomer Hadati and the very religious Agudat Israel had a youth group ready to go to Palestine. Unfortunately, a small fractiona very small fractionmanaged to leave Poland. The entire Polish Jewry, the bulk of the Jewish population, remained in Poland. In large and small cities, Jews continued to live as though nothing happened. The Jewish politicians did not see the German danger. They did not foresee the forging of a unification of German nationalism and Polish anti-Semitism aimed at the Jews. The air was being polluted with anti-Jewish poison. Jewish politicians lulled themselves into a false sense of security and hoped that things would blow over.
When the sadistic Austrian room painter became German chancellor in 1933 and became the leader of a nation of murderers and executioners, the situation of the German Jewish community became very precarious. The Germans issued decrees, the Nuremberg Laws, aimed at the Jews. Thousands were sent to the various concentration camps, many were deprived of their property, and others left Germany as quickly as they could. The Germans constantly wrote in newspapers and in books that they would destroy the Jews. Their speeches stated that they would kill all the Jews, erase every trace of Jewish life, and convert Germany into a Judenrein nation. This aim was also to be exported to the world. They said that Haman (in the Purim story) had tried to kill the Jews but that they would finish the job. This intention was constantly repeated in the German press. The youth and the university students constantly paraded in the streets and sang songs stating that the day would come when Jewish blood would drip from their knives and that this would cause great joy in the heart of the German nation. Not only did the Germans plan to rob the property of the Jews but these "lower-beasts"(I call the Germans lower beasts since I don't want to insult the four-legged creatures that attack only when hungry) also planned to rob Jews everywhere of their goods. Every day thousands of Germans paraded and sang songs stating, We will march in rows and everything will tremble; today Germany belongs to us and tomorrow the world. Frequently, I ran from the streets of Vienna in 1938 and sought refuge when I heard the parade approaching and the songs about dripping Jewish blood and world domination.
The big nations, such as England and France, as well as smaller nations read the German press and Hitler's book Mein Kampf . Their representatives in Germany reported to them concerning the German scene. All the nations thought that Germany was interested only in the Jews and their property. At most, they were willing to grant Germany the Sudaten region, a piece of Czechoslovakia. If, however, Germany was interested in war, it could mean one thing: an attack on Russia. This did not bother most of the nations. They were rather pleased with the job that the Germans were doing on the Jews and some even hoped that the Germans would carry out their preaching. The Poles began a vicious attack against the Jews that resulted in Jews being beaten in the streets of Poland. We Jews warned the big nations that the Germans were interested not only in killing Jews but that they also were aiming at war.
In the summer of 1936, the League of Nations met in Geneva, Switzerland. A German Jewish refugee, a Mr. Lukas, committed suicide in the big convention hall. All the papers reported the event and knew the reason for the act of desperation. He saw that nobody was trying to stop Hitler; on the contrary, everybody sacrificed the Jews and let him do whatever he wanted. Mr. Lukas was buried in a small cemetery and the Jewish correspondent, A. Halpern, writing for The American, wrote a column entitled "Grave Number 236," in which he described the rabbi's eulogy. The rabbi said, You journalists can stop these outrages, you have the means to reach public opinion, what are you waiting for? But the world was not disturbed. I personally wrote to a German newspaper and called the attention of the politicians to an important book that was published by a major Austrian Jewish official, Yona Krepel (who was later shot). The book, The 12th Hour, described the forthcoming dangers and I pointed them out, but I was ignored.
Thousands of Jews fled to East Galicia (part of Poland not then occupied by the Germans) with empty hands. They ran on foot through forests and plains until they reached Lemberg and Yartchev. Thousands of Jews came to this area from very distant small towns. According to a secret agreement signed between Germany and Russia, Lemberg was to be occupied by the Russian forces on September 17 th , 1939; Yartchev was also included in this zone. Life became very difficult. Russia began to prepare for war and took away many Jews. Inflation was rampant, and food became very expensive. The Jews accepted the difficulties, thinking that the worst was over: they were saved from German occupation. Thus they hoped for the best. But this illusion was soon destroyed.
The Jews of the Yartchev ghetto lived in a living hell. The Germans shot, hacked, and knifed Jews to death. When the Germans entered the city in 1941,they detained the following Jews: Avraham Indik, Itzhak Lewenberg, Yossef [Yoshe ] Kreiner, Itzhak Weissman, Israel Binstein, Abele Hochberg, Yossef (Yoshe) Shorr, David Peah, Israel from Podlisk (Feivel's son ), a Jew from Vienna, and three recent arrivals. They were taken to Remaniv, where they joined another party of 30 Jewish men, women and children. All of them were now driven to a big farm in Remaniv. Here some were thrown into the waste pit while others were hacked to death and then thrown into the waste pit, which was eventually covered with sand, and all the injured Jews were asphyxiated. Later, they started to burn the synagogue and the study center of Yartchev. A Ukrainian brought a drum of gasoline and spread the liquid over the holy places. The flames devoured the synagogue and the study center. These holy places, where Jews daily prayed and implored their G-d, went up in smoke.
A few days later, the Ukrainians discovered that the ornaments of the Torah scrolls were hidden in the home of Reb Alter, the melamed (the teacher). They went to his house and took a silver Torah crown and put it on his head. Another crown was put on the head of a Jew of Radinetz. They were forced to march through the streets of Yartchev singing and dancing. Eventually their beards were torn from their faces and they died as a result of the wounds that they sustained. Shortly thereafter, the Germans rounded up 100 Jews for work and sent them to a labor camp. Reuven Fehler describes this camp in his letter. He worked on the streets of Lemberg leading to Yartchev and then to Brody. The name of the German organization was Todt. He received 70 grams of bread a day and half a liter of water. The SS and the Ukrainians beat Jews daily. Many died or were killed in this camp. This was the situation of the camp in 1941.
During Passover 1942, a few Jews met in Yaacov Druker's home to pray. They began the first day holiday service, whereupon two SS men and some Ukrainians burst into the place and found Itzhak Baum, the talit embroiderer, reading the Torah. They ordered him to remain standing while they burned his beard. Their fury increased when he did not utter a sound. The other Jews in the room were beaten and some were even murdered. Few Jews made it out alive. During the holiday of Shavuot, 1942, the Judenrat of Yartchev received an order to send all the elderly Jews out of the ghetto. They were to be sent to be burned. The first to be sent was Shragai Feivel Blick with his talit and phylacteries. The second was Beile Yente Blick, related to the Firs, [and then] Yaacov Hitz; Hersh Kimmel and his wife; their sons and wives; Idel Lewenberg and his daughter; Rachel Shpatz and her daughter; Ethel Karfil; Golda Haitches; Avraham Weissman; Yente Fleher; Zalman, the mute shoemaker; and Avraham Hersh Shteiner. These and many more were taken in the direction of Lemberg and burnt alive somewhere along the road. Then the murderers decided to tackle the old cemetery of Yartchev. The Jews were forced to uproot the tombstones and pave the streets with them. All the tombstones were uprooted except the one for the head of the yeshiva. This tombstone remained erect in spite of the attempt to blast it with dynamite. The stone was finally hoisted from the ground and placed on the bridge of the village of Baninen. Yeshai (Yeshayahu) Ber Klihiner was kicked to death by a German. He started kicking him in the stomach and did not stop until he was dead.
On the ninth day of Shvat, the 15th of January, 1943, Doctor Melnik of Podlisk,
may his name be erased, and the German murderer Shtarnebel, mayor of Yartchev,
may his name also be erased forever, gave the order to kill the Jews of the
ghetto. The ninth day of the month of Shvat was very cold and frosty. The
Germans decided to drive the Jews out of the ghetto. About 2,500 Jewish men,
women and children were driven to the forest. Some managed to hide in special
hiding places but most were driven out of their places. The Germans and the
Ukrainians searched every place. Sick people and small infants were driven out
into the bitter cold. The day was Friday, at 9 AM. About 2,500 Jews started to
march to the forest. Along the road they were split into two groups. One group
continued to march to the forest while the other group was led to the cemetery.
Many sick people and children died during the forced march while others were
shot, stabbed, or knifed to death. The white snow became tinted with blood. The
road to the forest where young Jews used to promenade and hum tunes was the
scene of the mass murder. Here were hacked to death many men, women and
children, among them Moshe Ger, Meir, Shmuel, Wolf the glazier, Mendel Kahane,
and others. Blood and more blood was everywhere, pure innocent blood of small
children, Moshelech, Schlomelech, Saralech, Rivekalech and more. The desperate
cries for help were heartbreaking, but to no avail. All the Jews in the forest
Later, the murderers began to search the hiding places of the Jews in the ghetto and in the forests. All the Jews who were discovered were tortured and then shot. Only a few young people managed to escape and survive, among them Reuven Feler who described everything that took place in the community. His testimony and the one by Rabbi Katz were the basis for this book. The murderers caught Moshe Yaacov (Yankil) Meizel, his wife, and their daughters with their husbands. They fired several bullets at Moshe Yaacov but no bullet hit him. An SS man took his pistol and fired point blank at Moshe Yaacov, who fell saying the Shema. Keile Feler, the mother of Reuven Feler, and her son-in-law Shiya Mimelman and his children were hung. The mass execution took two days, the ninth and the tenth day in the month of Shvat. On the sixteenth day of Shvat, the Germans broke into a hiding place that contained Haim Ker, Mendel Kimmel, Moshe Yaacov (Yakel) Kerner, and some wives and children. There were 33 people in the hiding place. A Ukrainian had revealed the hiding place to the Germans. All the Jews were shot at the cemetery. Nine weeks later another hiding place was discovered. Those hidden there were Mrs. Kimmel and her children. The mother and her daughters were shot; the son managed to escape and survive the war. When the Russian front neared Yartchev, the Germans did not want the Russians to see so many dead people in the forest and at the cemetery. They ordered the local authorities to bring the bones and limbs that were scattered over the area to one place and burn them.
There are no more Jews in Yartchev. There is no sign that a Jewish community existed in this town. Everything is destroyed. Even the cemetery was destroyed. Every tombstone was uprooted. The murderers destroyed everything in Yartchev. We bemoan the fate of our brothers and sisters in Yartchev and the six million saints that were murdered. For those we shed our tears.
With the first publication of the news of the destruction of European Jewry, many groups organized themselves in New York to help the remnants of that community. The Young Men's Relief Society of Yartchev also organized a special relief society, consisting of:Let the people of Israel remember their martyrs.
Let the people remember the bitterness of the exile.
Let the people of Israel remember the heroes of Israel.
The objective of the relief committee was to help the survivors of the Shoah erect a monument to the martyrs who were so brutally killed and not even buried, and to publish a yizkor book describing the Jewish community of Yartchev so that future generations would have a record of what transpired and how the community ended. The book would also contain the names of the Jewish martyrs and serve as a living memorial to the Jews who were never properly buried.Abraham Baum, Chairman
Rabbi Dr. Mordechai Gerstel
Zeev Wolf (William) Taube
Kalman (Charlie) Shehr, Treasurer
Haim Eleazar (Haymi ) Sirop
Leizer (Louis) Lacher
For two thousand years, Jews moved from place to place, never accepted, always
despised and persecuted, beaten, and exiled. No day passed without some threat
or problem, no hour without evil things in the making and no minute without
some plague. But what occurred in our times never happened since creation and
was never done to a nation. The German murderers killed about six million Jews,
a third of the Jewish people. Presently, even the bitter Diaspora is over:
there is no more Jewish life in Poland.
Unfortunately, this small yizkor book, like other yizkor books or journals, serves as a living testimony to future generations. We must draw the bitter inferences of the exile: what nations can do to other nations and how low nations can sink spiritually. Israel must remember the martyrs; the Jewish nation must remember the slaughter of the six million Jews, our brothers and sisters, murdered so tragically. The Jews must remember the bitterness of the exile; each Jew must remember the meaning of the exile, the meaning of statelessness or the lack of government. Unfortunately, we Jews tend to forget easily the problems of the exile. In the desert of Sinai we forgot the problems that we faced when we were slaves in Egypt and kept talking about the good old days we had there. The fact that they drowned Jewish children was not remembered.
The holy Torah tells us, Remember what Amalek did to you. Many mitzvot and other good deeds are based on our exodus from Egypt. Regarding this event, the Torah says, Remember the days between the generations, an allusion to the need to repeat the exit from Egypt in each generation. The prophet Micah also begs us to remember what the king of Moab urged Belem to do and what the latter answered: "What I did from Shitim to Galgal was to show G-d's righteousness." We must remember all our enemies. Amalek and his great son, Haman wanted to kill all the Jews. The second enemy, Balak, said: Go and curse this nation (the Jews)." Jew-haters always schemed or accused Jews of doing evil things to their neighbors in order to incite them to action against the Jews. All enemies of the Jewish people created libels directed at the Jews, from Apian in Egypt to the ritual murders and the Protocols of Zion in modern times. All these accusations, in the spirit of Balak, curse the Jews. But Balak also advised Jews to assimilate, to visit entertainment places with beautiful women, to be invited to the homes of their neighbors and, most important, to mingle with the surrounding population in order to become part of the total population.
We must remember all our enemies. We cannot accept the premise that once we behave like other people we will be totally integrated. Remember, Israel, this is a very serious commitment; assimilation will not eliminate the hatred. The prophet Jeremiah lamented: "Your tragedy (Jewish) is as vast as the sea and who will heal it..." Rabbi Yaacov Itzhak Rheines comments that it is difficult to heal the Jewish tragedy, which is similar to a sea disaster. When a city is destroyed or devastated by an earthquake, the signs remain for a long period of time. At sea, however, no trace remains of a disaster. Within minutes, everything disappears. Unfortunately, great tragedies that afflicted the Jewish people are soon forgotten. This is the reason we must record the events that took place in our lifetime so that a recorded living memorial exists for eternity. This small yizkor book, like other yizkor books or journals, serves as living testimony to future generations. We must draw the bitter inferences of the exile: what nations can do to other nations and how low nations can sink spiritually.
While we resided in exile we thought we had another Jerusalem; this was the cause of our sin. Thus writes the famous Yaacov Amdin in his introduction to the prayer book of Rabbi Javitz. We thought that we had another Jerusalem while living in exile, and this is the cause of all evils that afflict the Jewish people. Furthermore, listen to me brothers and sisters who reside in exile, remember G-d and the holy city of Jerusalem. Try not to make plans to remain in foreign countries, since an attachment develops and it weakens the desire to return to the homeland. This was the sin of ancestors who refused to return to Israel and it caused great pain and suffering to generations of Jewish people. In Spain, Jews lived a beautiful and prosperous life, as they did in other countries, and then they barely escaped with their lives.
Our sages say that G-d said to Yitzhak: "If the Jewish people had earned the merit, the Torah would have started with the letter T (Tav), but it did not." Apparently, the Jewish people did not have the necessary merit, for even after the expulsion of Spain they did not go to Palestine where they could have started to rebuild the country. Jewish moguls like Baron Rothschild or Gootman or magnates of the caliber of Brodsky or Wissotsky could have helped the country financially, so that with the proclamation of the Balfour Declaration there would have been a large Jewish population. The population might have grown to about three million Jews, but this was not to be. Still we implore the Almighty to protect us from all the evil schemers; He should have mercy on His people. Let Israel remember the exile. Remember what the Amaleks and the Jew-haters did to the Jews. According to the sages, G-d said to Moses, Write it down in the Torah, for unrecorded events disappear in history. Let Israel remember the heroes of the land of Israel. Let the people remember the heroes who sacrificed themselves for the Jewish nation, for a free Jewish land in Israel. We all have to remember to assist in every possible manner the struggle for a Jewish homeland based on the principles of the Torah.
Let Edom and Ishmael remember the second yizkor . They and all the other Jew-haters should remember from the pages of history that nations that start with the Jewish people pay the consequences. We Jews believe in the sanctity of the Torah and the Prophets. As the Prophet Jeremiah says: "Israel is holy to G-d and all detractors will pay for their deeds." Let all the Jew-haters remember that those who intend to inflict harm or pain to our people will be punished by G-d. The Germans are already beginning to pay for their deeds and more is in store for them and their deeds. Let Edom, Ishmael and other Jew-haters stop their plans to harm the Jewish people. Let them permit the establishment of a Jewish state and let them leave the Jews in all countries to live their full lives in peace.
There, before your throne, let all the souls intervene on behalf of the survivors in order to strengthen them in rebuilding their shattered Jewish lives and homes as well as to enable all of us to help build the Holy Land. And the Rock of Israel will help free the people of Israel and will send us a special messenger who will deliver the people of Israel, and the Kingdom of Israel will arise again.
The third day of the week, the 20th day in the month of Tammuz, Tashah (1948), reading the Torah section of Pinhas. Quote:" No religious community shall remain without the Shepherd." The author, Rabbi Dr. Mordechai Gerstel, son of Rabbi Meir Gerstel, grandson of Rabbi Shmuel Gerstel of Yartchev, writes the story with tears in his eyes and hopes for salvation.
Rabbi Mordechai Gerstel, 2376 Ryer Avenue, Bronx 57, New York
Heavenly father, residing in Your distant realm, please care gently for the saintly communities that sacrificed themselves for You and the saintly souls that were killed, butchered, slaughtered, and burned since we left the homeland, and all the souls of the six million Jews who were the sons of Abraham, Yitzchak and Yaacov, killed, slaughtered, burned, asphyxiated, and wiped out by a hail of bullets, and the souls of the just and the pious that are close to You. Remember them and all the other saints who sacrificed themselves for You. Avenge the innocent blood that was spilled and direct Your anger at the murderers and their helpers who ignored Your divine protection of the Jewish people. Judge and punish them for the evil things that they did to Your people.
May it be Thy will, Lord our G-d, to have pity on us and the people of Israel. Assemble all the dispersed and direct our hearts and minds to serve You and the creatures of the universe to love the people who perform good deeds. Give us strength and cure us of the ills of the exile and help us for Your sake. Bless all the soldiers who day and night are guarding the holy country against the enemies. Please have mercy, assemble the rejected ones, lead us to the Holy Land, and help us build the country and the temple in Jerusalem. There we will study the Torah, the good deeds of loving and helping people, and the ways of bringing people and nations together. And, Oh Lord, grant therefore glory to Thy people, bring joy to the land and gladness to the country, cause all the wicked people to vanish like smoke in the air, and remove the evil dominion from the face of the earth. No nation shall fight nation. Grant peace and well-being; bless and bestow loving-kindness and mercy unto us and all the nations that respect and defend us. Cast a net of peace upon us and all the nations of the world. And You alone will reign over Mount Zion, the dwelling place of Thy glory, and Jerusalem, Thy holy city, as it is written in the Holy Scriptures: "The Lord shall reign forever, Thy G-d, Oh Zion, shall be sovereign unto all nations. And the Lord will rule over the land and that day G-d will be One and His name Unique. Amen
And these are the names of Jewish people in the city of Yartchev and the surrounding areas who were killed, slaughtered, burned, and asphyxiated on the ninth day of Shvat, when the Torah portion of Ba is read, and on the holy Shabbat, the tenth of Shvat, Tashag (1943). When G-d will order the Resurrection, He will instruct the appropriate angel to account for all the pious, the just, and the converts who died in His name.
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