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Podhajcer Association in Israel

The first immigrants from Podhajce arrived in Israel at the beginning of the twentieth century, during the years 1919-1925. There were individuals and families whose motives for coming to the country were religion and tradition, like Jossel Frisch and the Rabbi of Zavalov, and others who came for economic or social reasons, as they were trying to build their homes in the new country, which was promised to the people of Israel. At that time, the first of the pioneer immigration left Podhajce. Those were organised in the “Achwa” and “Shomer Hazair” Associations and passed their pioneer training prior to their immigration.

The majority of these immigrants joined the Kibbutzim and part of them have up to this day remained within the Kibbutz movement. In the course of time, immigrants from other movements too, such as “Hanoar Hazioni” and “Hechalutz” came to the country, occasionally being followed by other members of their families. In the course of the years preceding World War II, the numbers of immigrants of all kinds from Podhajce increased, and in the course of time reached 15 to 20 complete families.

It is worthwhile mentioning that not all the immigrants who arrived in the country integrated here and stayed on. Those who did not integrate left the country. Some of them who returned to Podhajce unfortunately perished there together with the other family members during the Holocaust.

As was customary during those days, there was no organisational link among those in the country, who originated from our town, and it was everyone's endeavour to integrate in the entirety of the renewed nation in its homeland.

Only towards the end of World War II when the few remained, surviving the holocaust, who were saved in a miraculous manner, by hiding in bunkers or in forests or as refugees in Russia, or posing as “Aryans”, arrived here, the necessity was felt for a special framework for countrymen who considered it their duty to help as best they could for the rescue, as well as the need for a reunion from time to time to the memory of the martyrs of their town and to eternalise their memory.

The association of those originating from Podhajce in Israel was founded in 1951 and towards the end of this year on December 2nd, 1951, the first meeting of the members of the association was held, and a provisional committee, whose members were Mordechai Merker, Jehuda Weissman, Malka Globus, Feivish Mosberg and the late Yehuda Roll, were elected.

It must be pointed out that our association was established belatedly, after there were many associations from various towns of Galicia and Poland.

During this period, there was, in effect, no connection among our countrymen and it was even difficult to trace their residences in this country; The first to act for the establishment of the association were Mrs. Nechama Merker(nee Stem) and her husband Mr. Mordechai Merker who invested a great deal of effort in assembling the Podhajcers through advertising in the press and on the radio.

It must be placed to the credit of the Podhajcers that they responded to the call of the Provisional Committee and in the first Memorial Service for the martyrs of our town, which took place at the Beit Hachalutzot on January 23, 1952, about 200 of the people of our town, the majority of whom arrived after the holocaust, participated.

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The first memorial service was followed by a long period of absence of activity, and only in the memorial meeting held in 1954, an active committee consisting of the late Meier Zerubavel-Zloczower (the engineer of the Tel-Aviv Municipality) and Mordechai Merker, Yehuda Weissman, Dr. Baruch Milch, Menachem Ettinger, Joseph Schachter, Zvi Goralnik, and the late Yehoshua Stamler, was elected.

The Committee was headed by Meier Zerubavel - chairman, Mordechai Merker-treasurer, Yehuda Weissmann - secretary. This time, too, it was due to Mordechai Merker's and his wife Nechama's efforts that the association's activities was revived and a new committee was elected, who started actual activities.

Since the committee of the association was elected in 1954, an annual memorial service for the.martyrs of our town is held on the 3rd day of Sivan, the day of the liquidation operation in Podhajce. The organisation committee has been active consistently since that time, performing some operations, highlighted by the publication of this book.

The first activity on the agenda was the planting of trees in the Forest of the Martyrs. This operation required the amount of IL1000-.which we had to pay to the Directorate of the Jewish National Fund. Without waiting for the organisation of the appeal of our members to take action, the members of the Committee convened and of their own money collected the sum required for making the agreement with the Jewish National Fund and only subsequently upon receipt of the consideration for the trees from the members of the association, the amount paid by them in advance was gradually refunded to them.

The second activity for eternaIising the memory of the martyrs was the placing of a memorial tablet in the Holocaust Cellar. This operation was perfomed in 1964. At present the memorial tablet for the Podhajce Community is among the memorial tablets of its sister towns, which were destroyed in Galicia and Poland, and now, year by year before to the memorial service, our members proceed to the memorial tablets as to the tomb of their loved ones to pour out their bitter hearts and to moisten with their tears the cold stone symbolising the memory of our relations and dear friends who were murdered “al kiddush hashem”, for being faithful sons of the one and specific Jewish nation in the world. In financing the setting up of the memorial tablet, thanks to the initiative of our member Mr. Isser Roller the landsmanshaft of our town in the United States participated substantially.

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In the year 1964, the late Meeir Zerubavel who was the chairman of the association since 1954, up to the day of his death, passed away. Close to this date, Mr. Menachem Ettinger was elected chairman of the Association Committee, which office he holds up to the present day. During this period an energetic operation was launched for the publication of the Memorial Book of the Community.

The idea concerning the publication of the “Yiscor” Book to eternalise the memory of our Community was suggested as far back as 1961 by a number of members headed by Dr. Milch and Mr. Menachem Ettinger and his wife Bluma; however only in the year 1965 a special committee consisting of the members Dr. Baruch Milch, Menachem Ettinger, Yehuda Weissman, Shlomo Walden, Zwi Goralnik, Yehuda Grüssgott, Shraga Hessel, Mrs. Clara (Chaja) Stoop nee Milch, Baruch Shatten, Uri Milstock, Munio Brandwein and others, was elected. The Committee of the Book was entrusted with the task of raising the necessary funds for the publication of the book and concentrating the material for its printing - articles, testimonies, photos etc.

With the commencement of the operation and the appeal for the publication of the memorial book, we felt the necessity of giving the association a legal form and in the year 1965 we registered the organisation as an association in accordance with the Ottoman Law. Advocate Arie Ben Charutz worked out, voluntarily and free of charge, the statutes and had them approved by the authorities and we hereby express to him our gratitude and our esteem.

At the same time an energetic action was launched which made many and frequent session of the members of the committee necessary and which necessitated a great deal of work in sending of invitations, letters, circulars and questionaires to our countrymen in Israel and abroad.

One of the main difficulties with which the committee was faced was inherent in raising the many funds required for publishing the book.

The number of members of our association is not considerable and the majority of them are of moderate means. We applied several times to the Landsmanschaft of our town in the United States, but it was not easy to induce them to come to our help in our efforts to carry out the sacred task which we undertook.

In 1968, during the Passover holidays Dr. Milch, on the occasion of his visit to New York succeeded in organising a Committee consisting of the members Isser Roller, Jehoshua (Shia) Freedman, Mr. Gruber, Mitzio Frish, and Shlomo Reiss who undertook to assist us in the publication of the Book.

Party of Podhajcer in New York

 

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Meeting of Podhajcer in New York

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During Dr. Milch's stay in New York, a meeting of our countrymen in the Synagogue of Podhajce emigrants was convened (named after the late Rabbi Benjamin SoInik the author of the book “Mas'at Benjamin”) where Dr. Milch explained at length the subject of the publication of the book, urging the participants to assist in this task. This operation resulted in raising more than $1000.- which Mr. Roller collected from the Podhajce and surrounding emigrants, which amount was handed to Dr. Milch as the Landsmanshaft's contribution to the publication of the book.

Apart from this, only a few and isolated persons out of our countrymen responded by contributions ranging from $100 to $200 (according to a specification of contributors in the country and abroad attached to this booklet.)

The assistance of two Podhajcers in the United States namely that of Rabbi Wolf Firestone and Mr. Isser Roller must be particularly stressed. Rabbi Firestone himself wrote an article for us on Podhajce Rabbis in their generations and availed himself of every opportunity to urge the members of the Landsmanshaft to come to our help. Mr. Isser Roller and his wife Hanah (nee Grossman) continued in their activity for our interest. and remitted to us some hundreds of dollars which they collected among the members of our Landsmanshaft in the United States.

It is interesting to note that among our countrymen in the United States, who had an indifferent attitude towards the publication of the book and even showed opposition, there were also some “new immigrants” who arrived there after WorId War II, and who felt all the terrible events of the Holocaust. Even among the members who were elected to the Book Committee in New York, there were some who opposed this idea. There were also some among our countrymen in Israel who disassociated themselves from this activity, among them were such who were financially sound and those gifted with eloquence, who refrained from any material and spiritual participation in the publication of this book.

It was not easy to concentrate material for the memorial book. We addressed ourselves at every occasion to the Podhajce in Israel and abroad, requesting them to furnish us with descriptions and memories on the life of our town in the near and distant past so that the book may truly illustrate the status and significance of the Podhajce Community which was destroyed. In the course of time our call had a certain response and material was accumulated, which made it possible for us to contract an editor for putting it into print, by editing and translation.

The editor Mr. Sh. Geshouri also agreed to make an historical survey on the strength of the material found in various historic sources and thanks to this, at the beginning of the book, there is an interesting and comprehensive survey of the history, giving an idea on the history of the town and the Jewish Community in it from the beginning of its foundation up to the close of its tragic annihilation.

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There is also a contribution (in Yiddish) written by Mr. Nachman Blumenthal, who comes from our area (from the town of Borszczow) and a monography written by him on a forgotten author named Oizarkis, who lived in our town towards the end of the 19th century and the first years of the 20th century. We were also instructed by Dr. Kermish, the director of the archives of Yad-Va-Shem; and by the late Professor Abraham Weiss, who comes from our town and who, during the last years, lived in Jerusalem.

From the Yad- Va-Shem archives we received some important testimonies on the events during the period of the holocaust, which are included in the last part of the book, describing the destruction of the Jewish community in our town. This part also. includes a detailed report on the struggle to rescue a number of families, which was written by Mrs. Henya Shourtz of our town.

One of the most important and most difficult problems was the concentration of the names of the Holocaust victims of our town and the surroundings with a view to etemalising them in the book so that their memory should not pass into oblivion in the course of the generations.

A countless number of times we applied to the people of our town, stressing the great importance we attach to submission of full and properly arranged lists of the names of everyones relatives, friends and acquaintances; and indeed we received many lists of names of people who perished during the Holocaust, but there is no certainty that the list is indeed complete and that there are no defects and various distortions and we solicit our members indulgence and understanding for each phenomenon of this kind, only considering the objective difficulties with which we were faced.

Finally we would like to express our appreciation to all those who did not spare their efforts and time in helping us to publish this book, and in particular to the committee members Dr. Baruch Milch, Mr. Menachem Ettinger and his wife, Mrs. Clara Stoop and Messrs. Weissman, Walden und Merker, who carried on their shoulders the main responsibility for this extensive and prolonged activity. Our particular appreciation goes to those not of our town, who engaged in the publication of this book, to the Editor Mr. M. Sh. Gehsori, the proof reader Mr. Lindenberg and to “Ot” printing press, Tel-Aviv, who took care of the printing of the book, which is so precious to all of us.

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Podhajcer Attending Yizkor Ceremony
in Yaar Hakdoshim (Forest of "Holy Memories")

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Podhajce – After the Destruction

By Dr. Baruch Milch

My first meeting with the ruins of Podhajce was a short time after its final liberation. It was after a wearisome journey that I arrived at the place, on account of lack of regular transportation and the danger of raids.

It was in the summer, three months after the first liberation by irregular Soviet troops, who after a ten days stay in our town were compelled to withdraw eastwards and again leave the town and the surroundings under a cruel regime of the Nazis. For this reason I did not find the whole small group of Jews who remained here and were rescued, as part of them fled eastwards with the retreating Russian troops.

In fact, I was not present in Podhajce together with all my dear relatives and friends during the time of the main destruction and therefore did not have the “privilege” of seeing the destruction of my native town with my own eyes in its last hours, the town where I was raised, where I studied and where most of my dear and numerous family of more than twelve persons perished (my parents, two of my sisters with their husbands and children, my brother Joseph with his wife and two daughters). I did not then know that I remained the only one and the last of the entire family. Only some time later I found out that my younger brother, Nathan, who was recruited into the Soviet Army in 1940, fell near Stalingrad. I left my family as far back as 1939, and was expelled by the Soviets who found my family as being burgeoise, the same way they found this defect with other middle class Jewish families and they provided their identity cards with the “sign of Cain” - paragraph ll. This tragic paragraph prevented aU those unfortunate holders of this certificate from full movement, and full access only to certain places. The possibilities of study for children were limited and and now they sometimes were in for criminal trials, jail and the like.

And now my tum came. As the son of a family with the ill-famed “paragraph II” in my identity card, I was transferred as a physician to another town - to the town of Tluste, Galicia, with a charming Jewish community, and fate wanted it, that I should remain there during almost the whole period of the Holocaust. My activity there is to some extent described in the Memorial Book that appeared on behalf of those who originate from this town, in Israel. In this town I lost my nearest family, who were murdered cruelly and tragically. My only son, aged 3, was buried alive in a mass grave while he was still embraced in the arms of my sister-in-law Clara Weinles, a beautiful 17 year-old girl, who during one of the “operations” got a bullet in her head and fell together with the child alive into the ditch together with hundreds of others killed. The same day they took with them, out of the bunker where I hid them, my mother-in-law the late Mrs. Rachel Weinles,whom they murdered. I found this out one day after I returned to town. In this town I also lost my first wife Peppi Milch nee Weinles who was taken out with her sister-in-law Eve and her 3 1/2 years old son from an underground hiding place in a field and both were murdered by the SS and their Ukrainian assistants. On arriving at Podhajce and at the first sight of my destroyed town, I imagined in my mind and in my heart all that it and its people underwent during the three years of the destruction when I was away. Even before I met with and talked to the Jewish people of Podhajce, before my eyes passed all the events and scenes of the “seven stages of purgatory” as I saw at Tluste and which was the fate met by all the Jewish settlements and communities in Poland, and suddenly before my

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eyes there were again scenes of the Ghetto, operations, expulsions from homes, rooms full of hungry children and sick people with all kinds of infectious diseases. All the things that I already saw in another place and which was exactly similar to the goings-on here, since as a physician I had on more than one occasion access to places which were prohibited to others. I had the terrible “privilege” to come face to face with the horror. And again .I saw with my own eyes Jews with their bundles, property and belongings who were expelled from place to place, from village to town, from street to street, from house to house and from room to room, and I saw - my eyes were spared no sights - hundreds of human corpses of innocent people systematically murdered in a most satanic way and with every murderer's device. Some of them were caught and sent to camps from which they never came back, and they never saw the faces of their families, as happened with my abovementioned brother-in-law the late Auzias Walfish. Some of them were shot on the spot or died of starvation, of disease or of inhuman beatings. There were others who died a slow death of congestion, frost and bad clothing, of typhus and desyntheria, and by this proved and cruel method the Nazi murderers also destroyed our town Podhajce.

However, my suffering was still greater when I brought up in my memory the town of Podhajce which once was a town full of Jewish life where there was a class of Jewish intelligencia, of Rabbis, of leading businessmen, of excellent craftsmen, scientists and men of repute and ordinary happy Jewish families, from amongst the people. And what is left of all this? Everything turned to dust and ashes, everything destroyed and not existing any longer. Jewish Podhajce strangled in the Ghetto, in cellars, in bunkers, in deep ditches, in forests, in camps and in mass graves. And then I fell into thoughts until my decision ripened not to refrain from any efforts until I will have succeeded to express in some way and to some extent and to eternalise in some form at least part of this big tragedy within the framework of the Memorial Book of our town, where the blood of my family, my relatives my friends and my acquaintances, were shed; a town which in my inner-most exists with all its might and the memory of which will never leave my thought.

It was Sunday when I arrived at Podhajce. In one of the main streets of the town, (Brezezianska) where they used to go from the Greek Catholic (Ukrainian) Church to the Centre of the town (Market Square), I met the majority of the Ukrainian population of the town and its outskirts on leaving the church, after they had finished their prayers. They were mostly youngsters and women with many children, all of them uninhibited and gay. When I looked at them I felt as if recently they underwent nothing, nor did they suffer from anything. They were all dressed in their Sunday best with holiday faces. They talked amongst themselves in a loud voice and even laughed, not paying any attention to the many stones on the repaired pavements, on which they walked, and which were taken from the tombstones of the Jewish Municipal Cemetery, on which the inscriptions, the names of the deceased and dates, were apparent.

It was at that time already that I was sure, that among the mass leaving the church there were many who collaborated with the Nazi gangsters and in those there were many who got rich from plundering from Jews. They were possibly not happy with the political situation and the regime upon the entry of the Soviets to our area. Howewer I saw and felt the satisfaction and gratification by the gentiles, which even included their good elements who saw murdering of the Jews as the finger of God, as a punishment for murdering Jesus... Some of them who hardly recognised me, said hello to me, wondering at the sight of their eyes as they did not believe that I remained alive, and certainly regretted it.

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It is very difficult to put on paper my feeling upon my coming to Podhajce and my meeting with the first of the survivors. I found that the survivors huddled together and lived in congestion, the only reason for this being that they wished to find some warmth and encouragement. I did not even find a grain of joy in this sad meeting. We were all pervaded by a heavy load of memories, nightmares, and tears strangled our voices.

We were still in a maze and had no mental capacity to get used to the idea that only we, the few who were here, survived with all our dear ones taken away from us. It was then that I remembered the saying of our sages: “anyone maintaining one soul of Israel is considered as if having maintained the whole world”; and indeed after this destruction and annihilation of our people in Poland and other countries, each surviving Jewish soul was considered a world of its own. I enquired into the tribulations of the life of every one of the survivors and as to how he succeeded in remaining alive. They finally gave in to my entreaties and opened their hearts to me. We heard of the horrid operations; of the operations of the Judenrat, on the “Ordnungsdiensten”, on the plundering of the property and the various murderous methods up to the liquidation of the Ghetto, on expropriation and penalties. The atmosphere in the town was tense, about 70% of the Jewish residential homes, shops and synagogues were razed to the ground, and on the other hand, the majority of the other buildings, amongst which was the building of the great Synagogue, their appearance was like after a pogrom or a great fire. Not even roofs were to be seen, only broken windows and doors, bare walls and rooms without furniture. Only in a few houses of Jews there were Christians living past neighbours or farmers from the outskirts, some of whom were once employed with the Jews as workers, wood choppers, domestic servants and the like. With many, the plundered Jewish property remained. On the other hand, in the houses that were in a better condition, the government offices installed themselves and part of them were occupied by Soviet officials. Unfortunately, all my families houses, mine, that of my parents, my sisters and my brothers, remained intact and they were occupied by Christians of the folk or from Russia.

I entered my parents home, next to the Government house, on which the sign “POWIAT” was apparent. There I found two Christian families, one of our former domestic servant and the family of the worker who once was employed by my parents. On seeing me entering, I saw how surprised they were, and nevertheless they appeared as if they were happy that I survived whereas in point of fact, they were concerned for themselves and sad. They did not talk to me at all about the past, and only enquired what I was going to do. They suggested that I stay overnight with them and naturally I did not think of accepting their advice as otherwise I could not today have brought up these memories.

The few survivors who gathered from their hiding places, from the surroundings, from the forests and bunkers, all of them lived together on one house, that of Mordechai Lehrer in the centre of the town, fearing the nationalist Ukrainians who might want to destroy them, thus leaving no trace of the local Jews, who could one day testify against them or claim the return of the robbed property. We all went to the mass grave, to pray in public and to say Kaddish in memory of the martyrs, and only with the greatest difficulty could a “Minyan” be gathered as only two families remained alive completely, namely the Gross and the Shurtz family. The others were lonely men or lonely women. One of the survivors showed me a photo of a mass grave which was open, as some days before a government committee of “Shernik” came whose members went from place to place to investigate Nazi crimes.

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It was a heartbreaking experience to look at the photo where we saw the various parts of bodies of hundreds of people - men, women and children who were murdered. on the spot. According to the information I received, my parents, too, were murdered. there. This happened in the course of one of the last operations at “Holendra” in the direction of the Brzezan road out of town.

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Mr. I. Schourtz standing next to the
tombstone of the holy victims in Holendra

 

The ditch was now covered with fresh soil,entirely even and there was calm and tranquillity all round, not even the rustling of leaves or the twittering of birds, as is sometimes heard in a cemetery, as there was no tree on the spot. We took a big sheet of paper on which we wrote a brief history of this mass grave with dates. We introduced this sheet into a secure bottle which we closed and buried it very deep next to the grave. So far as for the history of this mass grave.

The following day I went out to the second mass grave of the martyrs of Podhajce and the surroundings which is at a greater distance from the town in the direction of the village Zahajce.

This visit was prone with the danger of death, as the road there was next to a Ukrainian village from which there was a danger on the part of the Bandero gangs. I was therefore warned not to expose myself to this danger by leaving the borders of the town by myself, as the intelligenzia was a special target they sought to liquidate .

I was moreover told that a week ago the only surviving Jewish pharmacist was murdered. This was Chaimke Weitraub, who went from Podhajce in a carriage to the neighbouring town Brzezany to bring some remedies and to reopen the local pharmacy, whom the Banderowce murdered in cold blood in the forest next to the village Muzilow.

I also understood that when the Germans declared Podhajce as Jew-free (Judenrein) they took the survivors of all the operations, who were strong people and in good health, under the pretext that they were being moved to the labour camp in Tarnopol (amongst them there was also the entire family of my brother Joseph) but when they arrived out of town they were all shot and murdered. Here on the spot of the mass grave an entirely different picture presented itself. Here on the place of the grave the soil sank for about one meter below the ground level of the surrounding area, which was all covered with thorns and wild flowers. In some spots there were holes and inclines, and it was really dangerous to pass on the spot. A special odour was felt, which helped to find the ditch. I stood there for about half an hour hanging around by myself on the spot, and again before my eyes passed the terrible scene of which I was an eye-witness at the time two days after one of the big operations at Tluste, where hundreds of Jews with their children were murdered and buried alive in a mass grave, and among them my only three year-old son.

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Then, indeed, two days after the murder, there was an entirely different picture from the present one. Then the ground of the mass-grave was raised above the level, and each time it was raised higher whereas in another place it sank. Between the furrow there were streams of blood and other liquids, and a terrible odour of death pervaded the air. In consequence of the gas emanating from the bodies which were buried alive, one could see individual limbs or some hand raised into the air, as if demanding revenge for the bloodshed. Also now when I stood in front of this terrible ditch, I found in the surroundings some remains, tom clothes, children's shoes, broken objects and fragments of silverware, which the victims got rid of in the last moments. In this terrible place also empty bullet shells and empty bottles, originating from the murderer's drinks, were lying around This sight made my blood run cold and the wrong cried up to heaven. In these moments, I was oblivious of the whole world, and I was enwrapped in this poor blood that was shed. When all this happened the heads of Governments in the various countries, who now talk highly about truth and justice, remained silent in their impotence to do something against the barbaric actions of the blood-thirsty Germans.

With a broken heart and eyes red from crying I left the fraternal grave. Gradually I came back to myself and I returned to town. I made a round of the town, and though it was an ordinary week-day, the sight of the town was as if on the eve of Yom Kippur- a quiet day without traffic and life, without open shops as in “olden days” before the Holocaust.

Cars were “non-existent”; apart from isolated carriages, no vehicles were seen and apart from some soldiers of the Red Army or Soviet Officials there was no living soul in the street. I also did a round. of the Jewish cemetery and found it fenceless, forsaken and neglected. The house with the room for prayers next to the door, and also the gate itself, were destroyed and only some high trees and remains of tombstones remained there on the whole area. It was indeed the rustling of the trees and grass that made one think that at any rate there was still the Holy Spirit in the air, guarding the dead buried beneath the soil, and it was as if the spirit was saying that not everything yet was lost and there was still a watchful eye.

Then I made for the great Synagogue which I entered, and which was deserted and open, doorless and windowless. Inside I did not find a trace of the Holy Ark, and only here and there bits of the Holy Books or bits of paper, written in Hebrew, were seen. Also here deadly silence of the vicinity, the sound of the draught through the windows and the twittering of the night bird made a terrifying impression, and I could not hold back my urge to cry. I saw God's House destroyed by the impure and was filled with feelings of anger and revenge for what was perpetrated by people claiming education and culture... It was not easy for me to leave the destroyed sanctity, where I once spent pleasant hours in the company of relatives and friends on Saturdays, holidays and week days alike and this brought up in my memory the poetry “the Holy City and its surroundings became the scene of shame and looting.”

I left the synagogue, and looked round. Here was the centre of the town with the side Streets that once reverberated with gay Jewish life, now almost deserted, aImost empty - a barren desert. The block of houses in the centre of the town, which existed for hundreds of years and the stores, ninety percent of which belonged to the Jews, were definitely destroyed and each time I passed through one of the streets, or entered a deserted house, it was as if I expected to hear the voices of living people, and it was some strange feeling that compelled me to run away quickly from the place.

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The Ghetto area offered a particularly shocking sight. I went into Moshe Lieblich's house, which during the Diaspora period served as a store for the property of the Jews who were murdered during the operations, and even then there were remains of clothes and broken tools of Jews who died. In my view it would be worth while to preserve those items as a Holy memory - but who is going to do this work?

I was at Podhajce three to four days and I scoured the town through its length and width and with my own eyes I saw the destruction of the Jewish community. I investigated and asked acquaintances and others about relatives and distant friends, when I found that none of my near or distant family had remained alive.

After I had arrived at the bitter and terrible “Full-stop”, I could see I no longer had business in this town and I decided to leave it forthwith. However, even this was not of the easiest things, on account of lack of regular transport and danger on the roads. The majority of the local offices were only partly organised, and the same Ukrainians who previously collaborated with the Germans now were working there, and when I entered any office to get information or any assistance, these officials enquired into how I had succeeded to remain alive, when others perished, or: why did not the Jews defend themselves? And each time I had to give them again a new lecture on our precarious position during the Nazi period, though there was no need to add a great deal to what was common knowledge.

They were however unwilling to admit that each defence was doomed to failure, in view of the hostile Ukrainian neighbourhood, who helped the enormous military power of the Germans. The fate of the Polish population bore witness to this, since after they had finished with the Jews they started liquidating the Poles in our surroundings, who did not succeed either to defend themselves. At that time I did not know about the uprising of the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto; however, I told them about the passive resistance and defence with heroic deeds which occurred in many places and in Podhajce, for which I had evidence from the survivors.

I heard of the heroic death of the woman pharmacist Ornstein and Bertha Dauber and Leibush Lilienfeld, who poisoned themselves in the middle of the operation. They told me about the active resistance of a young man named Kovash Mates in our town- a former officer in the Polish Army -- who, while the operation was going on, drew a gun from his pocket and shot a German. Unfortunately this was not of much avail. Policemen got hold of the young man whom they did not shoot, but they beat him to death. The same day half of the Jewish Ordnungsdienst was wiped out. I pointed out to the officials, to whom I talked, the heroic deeds of the Jews and of the partisans, who inflicted all kinds of sabotage on the Germans, when for some time they lived under a clandestine Christian name or were wandering in the forest with anti-Nazi groups, as myself did when I was connected with the underground and the Polish resistance movement.

This was the only way of survival. There were cases, when after most of the family were murdered, some took up arms and others resisted without arms, and at a moment of lack of any other choice those defenceless mustered unusual courage and through heroic deeds succeeded in saving themselves in the last moment from annihilation. My narrations to the officials on the heroic deeds, while the sword of the destruction was on their very throats, sounded in their ears like cock and bull stories or fairy tales.

In my heart of hearts there is no doubt what they thought: pity that these few are still alive...

They showed no intention of assisting me in anything in my endeavour to leave the town and to return to my medical work as the Director of the Municipal Hospital at Zaleszczyki, where I was due to be back at a certain time.

[English page 17]

Fortunately, on Thursday a soldiers convoy appeared, which was en route to the Tarnopol district. I availed myself of this opportunity and joined it, and thus I succeeded to leave this God forsaken place, which at one time was so close to my heart. I took leave of a small group of survivors, as they did not concentrate in one place, fearing that they would be caught and sent to forced labour to the “Dombas” as was then customary, and the others were engaged in various preparations to leave the town where they suffered so much and where they were now left with their sad memories.

Particularly ardent was their desire to take advantage of the “repatriation law'” (the return of refugees to Western Poland) and thus to remove themselves more and more from this town, coming as close as possible to a safer place.

Everyone hoped to find some family or a good friend among the Jews of the United States or of Palestine, with the help of whom they would be able to reestablish themselves. On leaving the town, it was difficult for me to take my eyes off it and not look behind, and in my heart I thought: What a pity that there is one stone left in this town, and prayed to God that it would all go up in flames and that no memory of it or its inhabitants should be left, like Sodom and Gomorrah.

The whole town was worthy of the punishment of destruction after the annihilation of the Jews, since but for their help the Germans would have been incapable of perpetrating their crime of this total destruction. The Ukrainians were not embarrassed to admit that that is indeed what they wanted and no desire of theirs was more ardent than this, namely that there should not be a single living Jew left in the town, so that there would be no one left to strive for vengeance for the blood of his brethren whose only crime was their Jewishness and their Hebrew race.

I returned from Podhajce to Zaleszczyki, the place of my work, all broken from this sight in my native town and mentally depressed from the terrible crisis that befell my people. I did not believe that I could still muster strength to start a new and orderly life and to cut my losses, or that the tragedy that I underwent on the loss of my dear and beloved ones should pass into oblivion.

The fact that I did muster the strength and obtained new forces from nature and succeeded in reaching safe ground does not mean that we are free to forget our martyrs without erecting some memory for those who perished during the Holocaust of the Nazi period.

The crying voices of our martyrs ask for revenge. and we cannot turn a blind eye to what we were told in the Torah: “ Thou shalt remember what Amalek did to you”

pod009.jpg
Dr. B. Milch Identity Card

 

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