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In Memory of Strzegowo

While writing these lines, we see before our eyes our brothers and sisters of our birthplace, Strzegowo, who died under torture and in great pain; we hear their last desire unspoken as they left the horrible world;

TELL OF OUR DEATHS! Let not our memory and the memory of our sorrows be forgotten! Let the memory of our martyrdom remain as a headstone for the few survivors of our city where they may come to weep and recall the tragic loss. And for our people, let it remain as a spark which ignites a great flame of revenge, a constant reminder: Erase the remembrance of Amalek…


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Introduction

by F. and N. Youkelson

This chapter is written mainly for the descendants of the people, the story of whose lives and tragic end make up the contents of this book. To many of the young people who will turn the pages of this Memorial Book and look at the pictures therein, the town of Strzegowo will seem a strange and distant place; and yet these same young people carry part of it in their hearts, characters, and personality makeup, because Strzegowo, its customs, its way of life and spirit, influenced the lives of their parents and their home environments. Indirectly, therefore, there was transmitted something intangible to the young, who never saw the town.

 

The Old Ways

This is the story of a town – a town which lived, created, grew – and perished. It is a part of a set pattern in Jewish history for the past 2,000 years; the growth of Jewish communities in some countries and their destruction as a result of political, religious, and social upheavals.

It was a typical small town which grew over a period of years from a small village with dirt roads and unpaved streets, into a community of thousands of people of whom hundreds were Jews.

The economic life of Strzegowo was not all big business. The bulk of the Jewish population consisted of small shopkeepers and artisans and they eked out a meager existence in the midst of prosperous business activities, which were being carried on through their town.

The commercial phase of life in Strzegowo was predominantly in Jewish hands. They were the business people who supplied the whole population with goods and services.

As in all the towns of Poland religion was a dominating factor in the life of the Jews of Strzegowo. Religion was also the background of education; it began its influence when an individual was born and carried on his education through the old-fashioned “Kheder”, under the supervision of old scholars whose function it was to indoctrinate the young generation in the precepts of the torah and the Talmud. From the grownups, daily visits to the synagogue for prayer were expected, and in general, religion was the important and directing force in all situations of life.

The Jewish community had its own court of justice, the Rabbi. He used to settle all litigation among Jews by arbitration. He also had the power to grant divorces and to settle various problems within the family. All this led to a way of life, which was isolated from the non-Jewish com-

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munity and explains partly the preservation of customs and traditions and their passing on from generation to generation.

Education confined itself solely to the study of Jewish learning. It began early in life, at the age of 4, and continued until maturity. There was little secular education available. However, Strzegowo could not resist the trend of the times and new ideas did infiltrate into the life of the community. Among these new ideas were primarily Zionism, Poale-Zionism, Bundism, Mizrachi and others. All the foregone is evidence that Strzegowo was a thriving and intellectually alert little town, which mirrored in its confines the strife between progress and backwardness in Jewish life everywhere.

Strange and unpredictable were the ways of fate, which prompted some of the Strzegower inhabitants to emigrate and flee, while others remained to be cruelly destroyed by the Nazis. It is not wisdom, clairvoyance or superior intelligence that made some people emigrate; neither is it stupidity or backwardness which caused others to remain. Life in Strzegowo held little promise for young people, and consequently the latter were making ceaseless efforts to emigrate; some succeeded in doing so, some did not.

The desire to emigrate did not confine itself to young people only; after the first World War it was all-pervading. Anyone of those here in the United States today could have remained over there had not the hand of fate guided them or their parents into the free world many years ago, before the catastrophe was in sight.

 

The Catastrophe

Because we are unable to present a detailed depiction of the catastrophe that has befallen our unforgettable community Strzegowo, we will just submit some of the highlights.

On September 1st, 1939, the hordes of Hitler swept across from Germany, and within hours were in possession of Strzegowo. The Jews of the town were panic-stricken; they were trapped by the enemy. From their hiding places they watched with fear the goose-stepping Nazis march into Strzegowo. They were trapped by the Nazis, assisted by the local German residents, and there did not seem to be the slightest chance of escaping death.

A reign of terror began immediately. While the Nazis were busy setting up their headquarters, the anti-Semitic Poles went on an orgy of brutality. They together with the local Germans dragged Jews from their hiding places to forced labor and many of them were murdered. They walked from house to house and did their cruel work. Before the Nazis had time to begin their own program of extermination of the Jews in Strzegowo, some Poles and the local Germans gave them a preview of the horrors that would follow.

The Jews of Strzegowo were driven from their homes and herded together into a ghetto. A Judenrat was organized to keep order inside the ghetto. The ghetto was very crowded; many families were herded into one room. Privacy and basic comforts of life were done away with. Yet the

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Jews did not lose their courage and by a common effort, as if by tacit agreement, carried on even under these terrible conditions. At no time did the Jews of Strzegowo lose their dignity, in spite of the physical degradation and the totally abject living conditions.

The policy of the Nazis was to degrade and humiliate the Jews, but in this respect they seldom succeeded. The Jews of Strzegowo never turned against each other; on the contrary they cooperated with one another and shared whatever little they had, to the last crumb of bread.

A great part of the Jewish community, young and old, died of hunger, sickne4ss and torture by the Nazis in the Strzegowo ghetto; another part, found the same fate in the Warsaw ghetto, while the remaining major part – young and old, men, women and children – were driven to the concentration camps in Oswenczym, where they were gassed and cremated by the Nazis in the incinerators. Only a handful – about fifteen in all – remained alive to tell the horrible story of death and destruction.

It follows therefore that every one of us should consider it a duty to remember those martyrs, our brothers, sisters, parents, cousins and friends, who did not have the good fortune to save themselves and who perished so horribly. Their memory will live on forever and this Book is dedicated to the Strzegowo Jewish community that was.

No one can deny the law of continuity in history and civilization; and although the Jewish Strzegowo was erased physically from this world, its spirit together with the spirit of Jewish life in Poland remains an indestructible heritage. This spiritual heritage will live on and perpetuate itself by enriching Jewish life throughout the world.

F. and N. Youkelson


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Preface

by Rubin Youkelson

I am not a native of Strzegowo. The town and its Jewish inhabitants were completely unknown to me until I had volunteered to compile and edit this Memorial Book and until I had read the material that goes into it.

Each manuscript that passed through my hands evoked both profound feelings of sorrow and a deep sense of respect. I saw before me the whole town with its peculiarly interesting characters, its captivating local color, its whole life which was so brutally destroyed by the Nazi beasts.

There were moments when I felt that each one of the twenty martyrs that was hanged by the Nazis in the little Calvin forest was raising his voice in a bitter, accusing “why?” “Why has the world permitted it?” Voices shouting for vengeance seemed to well up from all those men, women and children of Strzegowo, who were killed, tortured in the ghettoes, gassed and cremated in the death chambers.

As compared with most Jewish towns in Poland, Strzegowo was but a small community of about 600 Jewish inhabitants. Strzegowo cannot boast of a long history. The Jewish community came to life there only at the beginning of this, our Twentieth Century. Strzegowo cannot claim to have produced any famous leaders, writers or artists, in any broad sense of the term. The Jewish inhabitants of Strzegowo consisted, with a few exceptions, of workers and artisans who toiled hard for their meager livelihood and were barely able to scrape together enough for Shabos. Yet, small as this community was, it had a brisk social and cultural life, its youth was wonderful, and, though in miniature form, various organizations and institutions were functioning.

This Memorial Book describes all these facts in a series of impressive articles, some longer, some shorter, written with colorful simplicity and deep honesty. In connection with this aspect of the book, I should like to mention with appreciation the esteemed Reverend Itzchak Bogen, one of the first pioneers of the Jewish settlement in Strzegowo and now for many years a resident of Israel. His article about the birth and development of Strzegowo describes the very beginnings of its Jewish community.

I should like also to express my appreciation at this point to Joseph Rosenberg, also a resident of Israel, for his semi-fictional story in which he so lovingly and heartily describes a whole gallery of interesting characters in Strzegowo.

The above-mentioned contributions gained in strength and impact by the various shorter articles, memories, episodes, and adventures by other contributors of Strzegowo. Together, these descriptions grow into a colorful, vigorous portrayal of all that was characteristic of this town, its social activi-

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ties, its joys and sorrows, its hard life, its eternal hopes.

Of special value are the articles dealing with the destruction of Strzegowo, written by the few who have survived.

I wish to point out here specifically the contributions of Fishl Meirantz, Ben-Zion Bogen, Hinde Berlin and Molly Piotrikowsky. With a great deal of detail they describe the grueling acts of the Nazis and their local henchmen: how they began their bloody work ad with what bestiality they carried it to its murderous conclusion.

The shorter descriptions by Israel Silberstrom, Beinush Vure and others are valuable contributions and important supplements to the history of the destruction of Strzegowo.

Of no less value are the other articles, including two written in Hebrew, by Itzchak Tanditsharzh and Joseph Rosenberg (those articles are of special value to the Sabras in Israel), as well as the compact compilation of material in English for the Americans born of Strzegowo descent. They are all important additions to the history of Strzegowo, of its life and brutal destruction.

Very valuable and deeply moving are the few photographs of the exhumed bodies of the two Jewish martyrs who were hanged by the Nazis. They were buried in the desecrated ruins of the Jewish cemetery – a cemetery which in itself stood out like a lone tombstone in memory of Strzegowo and its inhabitants, of a life that was and no longer is.

Unstinted recognition for the sacred work of exhuming the two martyrs should be given the survivors: Fishl Meirantz, Avreml Pinkert, Yeshaye Margulin, Beinush Vure and Sanek Plot. With the aid of the American Landsleit, the above named individuals have also restored the cemetery have fenced it off and erected a monument on the bruder-kaiver of the twenty martyrs.

Expressing thanks to all those who have contributed in writing and with photographs for this book, I wish to express the greatest t hanks to my dear wife Feigl (Bisberg-Youkelson). She not only was the initiator of the idea for this book, but has invested super-human work to organize this difficult project and helped to realize it.

She has written scores, perhaps hundreds of letters to landsleit in America, Israel, France, England, Poland and during the first few years, to those who were still in the concentrations camps of Germany and D.P. camps of Austria and Italy. In her letters she demanded material for the Memorial Book. She encouraged writing and outlined what to write about. Of special significance was her contribution in connection with a trip to Europe and Israel in 1950. There she personally influenced many landsleit, old residents of Israel as well as new arrivals, to write for this book.

Aside from this basic work, Feigl has been of great help in assorting the material, gathering photographs, giving advice and generally assisting in the compilation of the book. Without her energetic, untiring efforts, it would have been impossible to even think of a Strzegowo Yizkor-Book.

This modest Memorial Book, dedicated to the memory of the tiny Jewish community of Strzegowo, is a valuable addition to a long list of

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similar books, dedicated to other destroyed Jewish towns and cities. These memorial books occupy a unique place in the voluminous memorial literature in which, through poems, novels, plays, documentary books, etc., the greatest catastrophe in Jewish history, a catastrophe in which six million Jews have been exterminated, has been recorded and immortalized.

These Yizkor-books will serve the future historian as an important source from which to draw factual information, not only about the unprecedented destruction in the era of Hitler, but also in regard to many Jewish towns and cities and their inhabitants.

Our Memorial Book which was created with tender piety, with sadness and grief, we bring to our Strzegowo Landsleit as well as to the Jews throughout the world as our modest monument to the incomparable pain and heroism of those people who have perished in Strzegowo; a monument for all future generations!

With this book another bloody chapter is added to the greatest tragedy that befell our people – the extermination of one-third of the Jewish People and of countless Jewish communities. Through this Memorial Book, in the name of those who have left no written testament, we hurl our curse at the Nazis and their fascist followers the world over – a curse to the Nazis and a demand and a warning to those of our present as well as future generations, to be on the alert and never again permit a repetition of such monstrosities.

“Yizkor” – in memory to the martyrs!

“Yizkor” – a reminder of our own duties and obligations to hold their legacy sacred.

Rubin Youkelson
New York, September, 1951.

 

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