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pod006.gif Map from memory of the city of Podhajce and its surrounding area [44 KB]
Map from memory of the city of Podhajce and its surrounding area

 

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Introduction to the Book

An Eternal Light

Editor's introduction

Translated by Jerrold Landau

pod007.jpg The Editor Mr. M. Sh. Geshuri [16 KB]
The Editor Mr. M. Sh. Geshuri

 

With the appearance of this Yizkor book, another monument has been erected, another eternal candle has been added to those that have already been lit and erected in memory of the destruction and devastation, and another tragic link has been added to the terrible writ of accusation against Nazi Germany and its enterprise of murder against our people. Included among the pages of this book is another attempt to rescue the image of the community of Podhajce as it appeared to us from the pit of oblivion – a community that existed for hundreds of years, and now is no more and will never be again.

Podhajce, one of the countless towns in Poland and Galicia, excelled in well-rooted, vivacious Judaism with a tradition of hundreds of years, and an alert and lively Jewish community that was concerned for the existence of the nation and its future. In addition to this, the city excelled in its scribes, scholars, wise men and illustrious rabbis who were known also outside the bounds of the city and the country. The names of Podhajce natives were displayed gloriously in books and documents as people of worth and spirit. Whoever will leaf through the pages of this book will be thoroughly convinced that the community of Podhajce was focused upon the life of Torah and culture, and that its people were active in many and various fields of endeavor and effort. Exciting and sublime spiritual acquisitions found a resting-place in this locale, and with the passage of years, etched their seal upon any open heart, bent ear and sensitive soul. As they became absorbed, some of their bearers of the tradition became captivated by the charm to the point that they saw themselves as duty bound to join various movements and streams that arose and were established in their wake: some in order to enthusiastically and diligently shelter and protect the existence the fruits of consolidation of the tradition, its followers and leaders, and to transmit it to future generations – and others in order to undermine and weaken the edifice of the generations, and to establish the life of the nation and its national creativity upon new foundations that their parents would not have imagined. Throughout the generations, Jewish Podhajce lay between the freezing of tradition and boldly forging toward a change of order – a constant, energetic struggle between the old and the new. The community of Podhajce with its lights and shadows, its longings and agony, was a forging furnace for new concepts and ideas that took up wings in the spiritual life of our nation as it dug to renew its consciousness as in days of yore.

The reader who is a native of the city, who flies through the pages of the book, will certainly feel anew the overflowing wave of warmth flowing over his entire essence – an hour where the images are so recognizable and dear to him that they flash before his eyes, stand as if they are alive before him in their full splendor and glory. It will be an hour when the landscapes and places that were so familiar and precious to him once again appear before him and awaken associations from bygone days. It will be an hour when the events and experiences that were an inseparable part of his essence in the past and are etched on the tablet of his heart come forth, are restored before him and cause his soul and spiritual world to soar. The form and image of our native community, as it is seen in the book, will return him to those days, laden with tribulation and grief but also crowned with beauty and hope, days when the body was mired in muddy abyss of the degenerate reality of the exile, but the spirit was floating toward the future in the heavens and seeing new worlds. Our book, that erects a monument to the destroyed community of Podhajce, is a document full of memories and tears of a well-rooted Jewish community, with its flourishing, thriving life full of energy, power and dynamism; and, on the other hand, the tragic days of the eve of the liquidation and the destruction.

Nobody would argue that were it not for the tragedy of the setting of Jewish Podhajce, the remnants of natives who live in Israel and in the Diaspora would not turn from their preoccupations and worries in order to perpetuate their city and all that happened to it. It seems to me that they would see no need for such, due to the absence of any trace of pretentiousness on the part of the survivors to enwrap themselves in the writer's cloak. That task of digging through sources and ancient scrolls would be left to the researchers of history, whose job that is. However the fact regarding Jewish Podhajce – along with other communities of Israel – the destruction in such a malicious

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and hair-raising fashion imposes the obligation to erect a monument of testimony for that community, to sanctify the memory of those dear personalities of the common folk and scholars, Hassidim and people of deeds who were active in that community. On the other hand, we do not boast that the material before us presents a comprehensive and exhaustive picture of Jewish Podhajce in all of its facets. It is not lost upon us that several eras, and many important institutions and events are missing from their place in the book, whether on account of a lack of historical sources, or time pressures that prevented some of the natives of the town from diverting themselves from their day to day concerns in order to clear their gaze toward a matter that has a spark of eternal life. Nevertheless, we believe that, despite these serious strictures, the material that is contained in the pages of this book is sufficient to present a survey, more or less, of Jewish Podhajce. We have invested so much effort and toil in order to give this community a monument among the other communities of Israel that were destroyed.

A common principal in Yizkor Books is that they are written by people whose profession is not the pen. It is only the feeling of obligation and responsibility to perpetuate their city, so that it will not disappear and be silenced with the passing of the last of this generation that imposed upon them the challenge to take the writer's quill into their non-professional hands. As the editor of the book, I expended a great deal of effort in composing the chapters on the history of the community, on its rabbis and scholars, in order to reconstruct as well as possible the human landscape of the community. I can testify about myself that I did not perform my task in composing the historical material as a paid worker, but rather as a mitzvah[1] that is obligatory upon anyone who is able to help the activists who toil toward the end of publishing the book. In the merit of this miztvah, I succeeded in finding the sources that made it possible for me to edit the timeline, to discover the names of rabbis and scholars who lived in Podhajce. Had I not revived them and placed them into the book, they would have been consigned to oblivion. Therefore, I admit and confess that, not only am I not a native of Podhajce, but also I have never visited it. Nevertheless, I feel as if I have lived its life for more than several generations and breathed its air. With the book that lies before us, we will succeed to add another drop to the flask of tears of the nation, by describing the frightful deeds of the Nazi wild beasts and their assistants in Podhajce – may this be a fulfillment of our elementary duty regarding the martyrs of this city, and a discrete contribution to the broad literature of the Holocaust, regarding which it is fitting to quote the words of the composer of Akdamut[2]: “Even if the heavens were parchment and the forests quills…”

A feeling of duty toward the dear martyrs, and a discrete command to remember and memorialize awakened the vital need to establish this monument and conduct other acts of perpetuation. To all who worked on this matter, it is clear that the gathering of the material for the memorial book and other activities connected with its publication demanded special dedication. The decisive turn came with the activities that were started by Menachem Ettinger and Dr. Baruch Milch, who were the first who were aroused, and aroused others, each within his realm of possibility. Beyond this, they took upon themselves to toil tirelessly to realize this holy objective. Mr. Ettinger deserves special mention for his constant watchfulness and fundamental interest in everything relating to the book, especially for composing the list of the names of the departed and martyrs of the city. There is no doubt that without the great deal of help that he gave me, the idea of the book would not have moved from concept to actualization. Along with the two conductors of the task, thanks and blessings are to be extended to all those who gave forth their hand and enabled us to reach this point.

The book lies before you, natives of the city of Podhajce. It is ready to serve as a book of testimony and memorial, as a spiritual and living bond to bind us to the world of our past in Podhajce and its region, and to its Jewish life that once was and is no more.

Tel Aviv, Tevet 5632 (1972)

pod008.jpg The presidium dais at the memory gathering in 1956 [31 KB]
The presidium dais at the memory gathering in 1956
The speaker is Meir Zerubavel (Zloczower) of blessed memory

 


Translator's Footnotes

  1. A commandment, or colloquially, a 'good deed'.
  2. Return

  3. A complex, very beautiful liturgical poem, written in Aramaic that is chanted prior to the reading of the Torah on the first day of the festival of Shavuot. Akdamut was composed by Rabbi Meir ben Yitzchak, in Worms, Germany in the 11th century. The complete quote referenced here, as translated in the Artscroll Shavuos Machzor, is: “His (i.e. G-d's) eternal strength that could not be described even if the heavens were parchment, and the forests quills, if all the oceans were ink…”
  4. Return

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