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[Page 34]

Personalities

Translated by Haya Newman

Edited by Rachel Mines and Aviva Tirosh

[Rabbi Yaakov Khaim Baruch Terushkin translated by Rina Liebeskind]

 

HaRav HaShkudi, Rabbi Yechiel Michel Hovsha, z”l

On the 25th of Elul, (Sept 12,1917), the famous and respected Rabbi Yechiel Michel Hovsha passed away at the age of 72 after a short illness. Born to a respected family in Kelm (Kelme), when he was 26 in 1872, he became a rabbi in the town of Parnu in Estonia. From his childhood he excelled in his deep and wide knowledge of the Torah and also in general secular studies. Thanks to his talent as an exceptionally powerful speaker, he obtained a world-wide reputation.

With his external appearance and his pleasant manner, he won peoples' hearts, and the authorities treated him with great respect. He used this influence for the betterment of his brothers who were without privileges. The elders of Parnu can tell long and loving stories about Rabbi Yechiel Michel Hovsha's activities for his community.

In the month of Tevet, 1880, he was called to the rabbinical throne of Shkud, where he lived and was active for 38 years until his passing. He was active not only as a rabbi, but also as a public figure. All the charity organizations in town functioned under his enthusiastic leadership, and they thrived even during difficult times.

When he visited London as a public servant, the Orthodox community there, with the agreement of the Chief Rabbi and with the mediation of Mr. Shmuel Montague and Herman Landoy (z”l), wanted him to become the Chief Rabbi of London. Rabbi Yechiel Michel made the condition that he would be the only rabbinic authority in issues relating to kosher slaughter. The Chief Rabbi did not accept that condition, and therefore Rabbi Yechiel Michel rejected the position.

In spite of his many worries and wide-ranging activities, he found time to publish a number of articles in 1888. He published a long article in “Hatzfira” (“The Siren”) under the pen name of “Small Rabbi.” At the end of the article, the editor added some words of support and appreciation, and remarked with grief that this generation was not able to fulfill these ideals.

In 1898, he published a booklet titled “And Samuel Died”, which was a eulogy to the passing of Rabbi Shmuel Muhaliver, ztz”l (may this righteous man be a blessing).

In 1898, a section of a lengthy book on Jewish law and Halacha, titled “Michel Ma'yim,” was published. This was received with much interest, just like his previous literary works.

In1905, during the Delitchi debate, he came out with an anti-Delitchi book called “Babel, the Righteous Commentary to the Bible,” which was translated into German.

The Rabbi Hovsha published an entire row of books. Among them is “Belief in the Future,” which dealt with the issue of building a Jewish High Court. In 1911, he published an article on this topic in the Berlin weekly “The Hebrew,” where he called for the revival and establishment of a Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, and even made suggestions on how to make this happen. He received letters from all parts of the world, sent by learned people, the greatest of their generation, who supported him in this endeavour. He was especially interested in the advice of Rabbi Aaron Cohen from Cairo, who promised to stand by his side and assist him. But his economic situation did not allow him to fulfill his ideas and aspirations.

The death of Rabbi Hovsha was a great loss to the Shkud community, where he received the full trust and deep love of the town's inhabitants. He was the father of the poor people of the town, all those who were oppressed. He especially excelled in his blessed activities during the war. He carried on his shoulders all the social activities for the town's poor people. God will comfort all the mourners of Zion for this loss, because Rabbi Hovsha was an asset to all of Israel. May the name of this tzaddik be for a blessing.

(This section on R. H. was published in the newspaper “Dos Folk” Nov 23, 1924.)

 

[Pages 36-37]

Rabbi Yaakov Khaim Baruch Terushkin hy”d, Lithuania 1917-1941

This memorial book is different from other memorial books that are about entire communities or villages. This book is made to commemorate all members of a specific synagogue, Congregation Shkud. In the introduction it is mentioned that the town of Shkud was located on the border of Germany, Slovakia and Russia. Shkud is referred to in the Hebrew as an ayarah which is more of a town rather than a city.
Rabbi Terushkin was a member of a family that was mostly agricultural, farmers and tradesmen. He received his education at many rabbinical yeshivas and places for Torah study in Russia and in Poland. He was chosen to be a rabbi in the town of Shkud immediately after the death of Rabbi Yechiel Michel Hovsha in 1917. He was chosen for that role and stayed there until the disaster, the destruction of Shkud by the Nazis.

He was married to the rabbi's daughter. Her name was Cheina and when it was time for her to come to marriage, her father, Rabbi Yechiel Michel visited many yeshivot and when he got to the Slobodka Yeshiva, the head of the yeshiva pointed out Yaakov Khaim Terushkin and said that he would be the best candidate for the marriage. He chose him, he looked at him, he saw that he was a good student in Torah, he was good looking and he had impeccable manners. And then he introduced them and the minute that they saw each other they knew that this was meant to be, they were beshert.

His personality was so outgoing that very quickly the people of Shkud were seeing him as their spiritual leader and he had a huge influence on all the different aspects of the town and everything that was happening in the town itself. He gave many speeches and he bought their hearts, his spirit was so impetuous that everyone was always following him around. He was mostly talking a lot about how to be kind to one another and he liked to help people to fix their differences and if they had any issues he would be the one mediating between them.

He also had incredible patience, one of the qualities that everyone noticed, and even though he was very big on keeping the Shabbat holy he tried not to fight with the youth who were choosing that day for sports. He knew that this was something that he had to do in order for the people to continue to still have some sort of k'dusha, that the Torah tells us to keep the Shabbat holy but he didn't want to take the sports away from the youth because he knew that was what they were going to do.

He didn't stay in his own little world; he was outgoing and gave from his time to conduct many different kinds of research, he was exposed to various sciences. He was not only very spiritual but he was considered very good looking. His personality also allowed him to see far into the future to see that the Zionist movement was going to gather speed. He supported the the Zionist movement. He said that he felt the ground was coming from under the feet of the Jews who were living in the Diaspora, and he educated his people toward the chag sh'ma, about the ability to get to Israel and become olim. Three of his girls are in Israel now. There was a lot of objection at the time to the Zionist movement but he was a strong supporter of Zionism, he wasn't afraid to show his views even though there was a lot of commotion around the ZIonist movement during those times.

When anyone came from Israel to Shkud they were his guest. He would have them at his house, he would host them, he would listen to them and want to know every single thing that happened in the land of Israel. His house was like an open house. Anyone and everyone who wanted to be part of the Zionist movement were welcome. When he was in the shul he would have some sort of a gathering and every time they would talk about Zionism and the new things going on in Israel.

He wanted the youth to be strong and to be tied down to the country and the community of Shkud so he created what is called a kloizen. A kloizen is like a group of classes and any topics that relate to the Torah. He would have courses and classes and people came to what was like his own yeshiva. They would rejoice in the perfume of Torah seen through his wisdom and all enjoyed being around him.

He was a very very great rabbi with so many aspects of giving to the community that he lived in, it is really apparent that he was doing a lot of things at different levels. He didn't just meet people's spiritual needs, he was feeding them information, encouraging them to have a political stance, he was trying to tie down the youth so they would have roots, some solid ground for the future.

 

[Page 37]

Rabbi Chaim Aharon Hovsha

On the 16th of Iyar, 1930, Reb Chaim Aharon Hovsha passed away in Shkud at the age of 61. He was born on the 3rd of Nissan, 1869 in Shaviln (Sabile), Latvia, to his father who married the daughter of the Rabbi Damta. When he was six years old, the family moved to the town Frenu in Lapland. There, his father obtained for him a very strict, orthodox, religious education. At the start of WWI when the new Zionist Jewish organizations started to evolve in the town, he took upon himself as an orthodox Jew, but also a nationalist, the leadership of the organization “Mizrachi.” He organized it and was loyally active in it until his last day.

When Keren Hayesod [a Zionist organization] was organized in our town, he became active in that organization as well, and he carried on his shoulders the burden of fundraising. However, his cruel illness, which was severe in his last years of his life, did not enable him to pursue his blessed work.

Our town is obliged to give thanks to Rabbi Chaim for establishing the elementary and high school and for all his activities for their development and prosperity.

As a teacher for Torah studies in both schools, he worked devotedly until his last day. He strenuously educated the students in the spirit of religious, nationalistic, and Zionistic values. In his last days, he became famous for his creation of a 1000-year calendar, in which he proved his power in religious and secular subjects.

Following the publication of this calendar, the Histradut of Zionist Women appointed him as editor of their own wall calendar, “Ben Shemen.”

With his death, our town has lost one of its chosen activists.

I would like my many students to eternalize his name in the golden book, because that was the will of the deceased. (A passage in Yiddishe Stimme, p. 2319; by Ben Ishai.)

 

[Page 38]

Yisrael (Ben Rabbi) Isaiah Shaf (z”l)

Among the wise, educated scholars of Shkud, he was a teacher and author. Until the elimination of the cheders, he taught small children in the cheder, where studies went on from morning till dark. He worked as a teacher in the pre-Gymnasium of Dr. Karsht, and he continued in the Hebrew pre-Gymnasium as a teacher of the Bible and Hebrew literature.

He was a dedicated and avid Zionist with heart and soul. He also educated his students in Zionism, collected postage stamps, and sold them, dedicating the earnings to the Jewish National Fund. He was the town's first representative of the fund, and he himself used to empty the blue fundraising boxes in the houses until the organization was established particularly for this purpose. His published books are “Ehud Ben Gerah,” “Aksa Bat Kaleb,” “Hayated,” and more. Translations from the prose of the Hebrew literature and a lot of handwritten documents remained after him, which remained unpublished because of his sudden and brief illness. The lonely light that was lit until the late hours of the night hinted to the people who were walking in the town square that Rabbi Yisrael Shaf was pondering various ideas and setting the foundations for a new creation.

He passed away in March of 1938, and all the Shkudders grieved his death. Also his brother, Yosef Shaf z”l, was known as an author of proverbs and sayings. Many of them were published in the newspaper, Yiddishe Stimme, in Kovne (Kaunas).

[Page 39]

Handwritten Letter

Shkud, 22 Sivan, 1935

To my student and my friend Alexander Pinta, Meir Teil, and Shimon Tsurlung[?],

Hello and greetings. From the depths of my heart I express to you my thanks for the …. on the day I became 70 years old. From all the letters …. (about 40), I did not enjoy such a sweet pleasure as I enjoyed from your few lines, because I'm sure you didn't write just out of duty, but rather, because you felt an inner need in your soul to say whatever you expressed, your memory will be imprinted in my heart all the days that God will grant me. May all the wishes of your heart be fulfilled.

  With feelings of gratitude and appreciation
Your teacher and friend Yisrael Shaf

 

[Page 40]

Shlomo Ben Yehuda Yudelman hy”d

He was born on the 13th of Adar, 1912, and like all the town's children, he studied in the cheder, and afterwards he went on to the Hebrew Gymnasium. With the awakening of the Halutz [Zionist] movement in the towns of Lithuania, he left his home in Shkud and went to prepare himself for a trade in Kashrut in Memel (Klaipeda). He was one of the first people in the town to do so.

During his period of preparation, he devoted himself to the United Kibbutz [armed] movement, and in the year 1933 he made aliya to Israel and joined a unit of that movement in Nes-Tziona. This unit experienced severe hardships and went through a period of trouble; there were many desertions. The members of the unit praised Shlomo, who was always in a very good mood. He was sure that the difficult situation would pass, and they continued their explorations. He fulfilled many duties, and was especially active in the area of security. He didn't like to stand out. He willingly guided every new member, and, first and foremost, demanded from himself. He was not afraid of new projects or enterprises, and strove to learn and accomplish new activities.

Suddenly he disappeared from his unit, and only a few knew where he had been sent. The days then were days of keeping watch and training, and Shlomo had been sent to do security duties. He was among the 42 prisoners in Acre, and his imprisonment separated him from his wife and young child. During that time, his unit settled in the upper Galilee, near Kibbutz Dafna, and was sad that he was unable to participate in the building of the kibbutz. But while sitting in prison, behind bars, his hands were not idle, and he even encouraged the rest of his colleagues in his unit. With longing, he awaited the day of release, so that he would be able to return to his family's arms and to his friends in Kibbutz Dafna. Great was the joy in the kibbutz on his release, and there was a big celebration in his honour.

At the head of 30 colleagues, Shlomo was sent to help establish a new settlement, Ne'ot Mordechai. With the morning sunlight, the camp was established, and the friends who had been sent to help prepared to return home in the afternoon. All of a sudden gunfire started, and one enemy bullet from ambush pierced Shlomo's heart. On the day of demonstration that took place in Tel Aviv against deporting the Ma'apilim [illegal Jewish refugees] that had come to the country, the terrible news arrived. He fell in the spring of his life; he was only 35. May his soul be remembered.

 

[Page 41]

Avraham Kaplanski z”l

He was born in Shkud on August 9, 1919, to his parents Yaakov and Tovah. At home he received a traditional education. He completed Hebrew school and continued studying in the trade school “Ort,” but he didn't complete his education because he made aliya. In Palestine in 1938, he studied in a trade school near the Technion in Haifa, and finished successfully. In particular, he specialized in the engraving of delicate machinery.

The days were days of worry in the Jewish community, and every boy with a warm Jewish heart was called to help the nation; and Avremele, a name that was in everyone's mouth, joined the division of the Haganah, “Khish,” and completed the second national course for military commanders in Joara (in Ramot Menashe). He stayed for a short time in Jerusalem, and filled a position on behalf of the Haganah as a watchman and worker in a factory on the Dead Sea. In the autumn of 1940, he was drafted into unit 606 of the British Army. He served in Egypt, Cypress, Greece, and Crete, taking British courses in sabotage and bomb disposal on land and water. He achieved the level of Sergeant-Major. He was gifted with quick understanding, and here is a typical incident.

The army was retreating from Crete, and the last ship was leaving. The chance to leave on that ship was desperate and hopeless. When he heard that the medical unit had been called aboard, and there was no reply even to the second call, he answered: “Yes Sir.” He instructed his subordinates to throw out their uniform decorations, and this is how he saved himself and his subordinates.

After a short rest in Palestine, he rejoined “Khish,” participated in combat in Italy, and received a Silver Star from the American Army for bravery in combat.

And here is a clip from the Order of the Day of the US Army:

“There was fierce combat near the Senio River and the enemy was dug in very strongly. Despite being gravely injured, Sergeant Kaplanski showed bravery and steadfastness, which encouraged his people to advance in spite of unceasing gunfire that rained on them from enemy machine guns, and in spite of danger on the road, which was heavily mined. During all that action, Kaplanski didn't attend to his wounds, and he walked at the head of his group until he fell from loss of blood. By his brave behaviour, Sergeant Kaplanski was a source of encouragement to his people, and in spite of the fact that his small group suffered losses, it succeeded in advancing to the enemy outposts and forced them to retreat.”

During the time of his army service, he married a woman in 1944, and only two years later, he was released from the British Army and started building a family life. He joined a cooperative of released army personnel to develop the beach Galya [in Haifa], and worked for a while for the electric company in Haifa.

In the beginning of the War of Independence, he volunteered for the Israeli defense army, even before there was a compulsory draft, and he was made an adjutant of Unit 21 of the Carmeli Brigade. He participated in the defense of Ramat Yochanan, the takeover of Acre, and the liberation of the Western Galilee. He fell in the battle for Jenin on June 3, 1949, leaving a wife and 3-month-old daughter, named after his mother Tovah.

When the bones of all the fallen soldiers were gathered by the Army rabbinate, they were buried in a mass military grave at the foot of Mount Hertzl in Jerusalem, and he was buried on August 3, 1950.

His name is mentioned on a handmade tombstone to the sons of Kiryat Chaim, and the tombstone is on his grave. It is also mentioned in the Yizkor Book “Heroes of Yesterday” in the 25th paragraph of “HaGilgal.”

May his name be for a blessing.
Shmariahu [author]

 

[Page 42]

David Davidov hy”d

He was amongst the most prominent business people in activities for the Zionist trust funds in his party, “Tzionim Klalim.” He especially loved to perform before the youth and encourage them to action in favour of Eretz Yisrael. His typical saying to the youth was, “you are the Cedars of Lebanon: everything depends on you.” He was the chairman of the “Maccabi.”

 

[Page 43]

Tzvi Yosselevitz, z”l

He served as the representative to the Jewish National Fund from the day of his arrival until his departure from the town. He also acted as an unpaid volunteer for Hayesod Fund. He earned his living by repairing teeth. During this time, the funds' income increased. In general, he had a lot of influence; he was a friendly and popular man, and always ready to help others. He also had great organizational talent.

Messengers from Eretz-Yisrael found in his home an open door and friendly advice. He left Shkud in 1936 and went to England. The inhabitants of the town held a big farewell party when he left.

 

Michal Fogelman hy”d

He was an active businessman. He was the head of the Folksbank and the pre-Gymnasium. He put a lot of work and energy into establishing the school. He participated in establishing the operation “Ezra” [Help]. He did a lot to expand the income of Ezra, and to improve the social services in the town. He was very involved in the public life of Shkud. In 1941 he was exiled to Siberia.

 

Rabbi Yaakov Kaplanski, hy”d

He was a clever and superlative scholar; for a long time, he served as a preacher in the synagogue in the New Town. He was active on the town's Jewish Community council. He blew the Shofar, and after the prayer, he used to blow the Shofar for sick people in their homes.

 

[Page 44]

Bera Zusya Peres, z”l

Bera Zusya was a well-known welcomer of guests. He took the responsibility of arranging Shabbes meals for poor people who arrived in the town. He used to visit various homes to solicit invitations for guests, and he would direct the poor according to the invitation slips that he had gathered. If somebody was in trouble, they used to go to Bera Zusya, and he would immediately give help and advice. He was a known leader of prayers. On holidays, he used to pass by the Torah stand in the New and Old towns on a volunteer basis.

Among others, we should note Mendel Hatzkels, Yaakov Moshe Yankelowitz, Meyer Henoch Bloch, Eliyahu Tanur, Yishua Helman.

Activists in the youth circle were Abraham Bunis, Meyer Hovsha, Sheina Baskind, and Yosef Taitz.


[Hebrew pages 45 - 48, Yiddish pages 58 - 62]

The Tragic End

Eliyahu Reif

Translated by Eitan Reif (grandson of Eliyahu Reif)

On the 22nd of June 1941 the inhabitants rose from their beds as has always been, and none of them had any premonition of the horrible tragedy about to befall the tranquil shtetl of Shkud. Only at noon the news spread quickly of bloody battles between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, and that Germans crossed the river in Bayorn and have already penetrated Kretingen on their way to Dorbian.

It is impossible to describe the panic which rose among the people of Jewish Shkud. Some of them began hastily to pack their belongings and leave their hometown in an unknown route, with no clear destination, not knowing where they would get to, or even if their lives may be saved there. Others, on the other hand, claimed that there was no danger to the inhabitants, and at the worst they would have to work for Hitler…

In the meantime, the Soviet garrison left the shtetl, en route to Latvia (the Latvian border lay two kilometers away from Shkud).

The cursed Lithuanians, may their name turn to dust, were jubilant, as they longed for the day when they will break free from the Soviet burden and have the chance to quench their thirst with innocent Jewish blood.

Their second objective was achieved, to our chagrin, completely. On that very Sunday, the 22nd of June, at half past two in the afternoon, the German armoured column entered Shkud.

The Lithuanians, the “friends” of Jews only yesterday, commissars of workshops and factories, those who for years made their living from Jews and were counted among their friends, all welcomed the Nazi troops with flowers and cries of joy, and raised the national flags on their roofs (they were shamefully forced to remove those after a while).

With the typical Lithuanian self degradation, with flattery and fawning, they fulfilled every wish of their “liberators”, pointing with mockery and cynicism at every Jew how happened to walk in the street.

One hundred Germans remained in the shtetl as garrison with their commandant, and the rest of the German battalions moved forward en route to Prekoln and Libave in Latvia.

For a full twenty four hours German troops kept passing through the shtetl. On the next morning an order was published by the German authorities, forbidding the carrying and keeping of arms by the civilian population. The order set a deadline for turning those in, and added: “for every German a hundred Jews will pay with their lives”. In spite of this, many of Shkud's Jews returned home, with their mood very low.

The Jews were immediately taken out for hard labour. The “good” Lithuanians from only a while ago forced them to into degrading and pointless chores, absolutely useless from every perspective, other than to simply humiliate the Jews.

Most painful was when a Lithuanian hooligan, only a few days ago a Jew's classmate, was the one to harass him the worst. On the whole, the Germans were assisted by the local Lithuanians in pillaging and looting, and even turned upon women and children. With those sights the Lithuanians crossed every line in their audacity. This surge of abuse continued until Saturday, the 28th of June.

In the meanwhile, the Red Army soldiers, who vacated Shkud and regrouped in the surrounding woods, regained their strength and decided to retake the shtetl. They learnt that the garrison is small and so, in the early evening hours of Saturday, the 28th of June, they returned to Shkud.

A vicious combat erupted in the center of the “new town” between the Red Army soldiers, in full battle gear, and the Germans. Within minutes several fires broke out in the market square, the long street, the Yelokian street and Maisad street.

Nearly the entire “new town” was engulfed in flames from the German hand grenades. This battle claimed casualties on both sides, among them the German commandant.

The Russian fighters outnumbered the Germans. Yet, on Sunday morning a German reinforcement arrived, and the Red Army soldiers, who fought heroically, were forced to surrender. With the fighting over, many civilians were found to have been killed, among them a number of Jews, together with the Rabbi of Shkud, Rabbi Terushkin zts”l, fallen on Maisad street.

That Sunday the fate of the Jews of Shkud was sealed.

The German authorities accused the Jews for having informed the remains of the Red Army battalions in the surrounding woods of the small size of the German garrison. Those yearning for Jewish blood have thus achieved their goal, and the order was given.

All Jewish men were concentrated in warehouses, one of which was the “Hall of the Shaulists”, while the women and children were incarcerated inside the large synagogue in the old town (were the Germans later stored fodder for animals).

And already on the 29th of June the bitter end came for the Shkud community.

In the evening hours a group of men was led to the fields of Zelikovitz, a short distance away from the warehouses, and they were ordered to dig large pits. When the work was done, groups of fifty men were brought there and shot on the spot. For an entire night drunken Lithuanians, under German leadership, led the Jews of Shkud to extermination.

The poor Jews were beaten viciously before their death by the Lithuanians, who brutalized them like beasts in human form.

Yitzhak Malkenzohn, hero of the shtetl, who only recently purchased the fields on which the Jewish blood was now shed, sprang upon a Lithuanian and strangled him with his bare hands before being shot in the head by the Germans. The vengeful Jew thus fell too, but he has not only avenged his own blood with his heroism, but the blood of the entire community. May his memory be respected!

At the end of the nightmare the German set aside four Jews, who were forced to clean the Jewish houses in the old town and prepare them as dwellings for the German soldiers, as the houses of the old town were not damaged by the fighting. The four Jews ordered to do the work – Reuven Gilder, Moshe Leib Grinblat, Netanel Turek and Josef beRabi Yehuda Levin, later shared their brother's fate.

Chief of the Lithuanian hooligans and shooters was Petras Bitleras, a barber from the old town. Petras, who grew up with the Jewish youth of Shkud, was proficient in Yiddish, made a living from Jewish customers and from time to time invited to their table. His dream for the last 29 years finally came true. Now his hands were dipped in the blood of Jewish men and children. Cursed may he be in his life and death and his memory to ashes.

As for the women and children, they lay for a week inside the old synagogue, suffering starvation and torture. After a week the women were grouped together, young and elderly, healthy and ill, with their child beside them, in their arms or in their womb, and were all ran to Dorbian.

Lithuanians surrounded the crowd on all sides, and those women who could not continue on their way were shot on the spot. The Lithuanians claimed later that they were ordered to do exactly that.

The women remaining in the synagogue were brought to Dimitrova farm, located between Dorbian and Kretingen (where communists from the district were at on time administratively shipped to). There these women worked in agriculture, in inhumane conditions. Indeed, their fate was not different from that which came to their husbands and families. In the autumn of that year, when the Germans performed the “Aktzia” in the Telzsh district, the innocent women of Shkud were shot together with their children. May there memory be respected.

This, then, is the story of the tearful ending of our shtetl Shkud, annihilated so tragically, with the blood of its Jewish inhabitants spilt on its streets. I gathered the information about it from local Lithuanians who happened to arrive in Shavli during the German occupation, while I was there.

It should be pointed that a part of Shkud's Jewish youth, which escaped together with the Red Army troops, fell in the battlefields under the flag of the Lithuanian Division. These young people of Shkud fell as heroes with guns in their hands.

Few of Shkud's Jews who came back to the shtetl, walked its streets like shadows from the past, treading on their brothers' graves, for there is not a spot on Shkud's land that has not been soaked with the blood of its Jews.

 

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