Zaromb was the first shtetl on the Russian side of the border, Malkin the first on the German side. The many thousands who came across referred to themselves as "Bezshentzes" (temporary visitors) the word "Refugee" was anathema to them. "If only we live long enough to get to Zaromb", was the word on the lips of the many thousands who wandered through the fields and forests of occupied Poland to get across into the Soviet Union. Zaromb was the springboard for the "Bezshentzes" and their wanderings back and forth and the name "Zaromb" will show up again and again for historians doing research on the Jewish plight in the years 1939-40.
When we went to the various border crossing points around Zaromb we could see the little fires of the Zaromb oil lamps in the dark night, lit for those who managed successfully to get away from the German brutality. They gave courage and hope to the refugees.
The first meeting with the Red army and the Jewish young men of Zaromb was ecstatic. The Zaromber brought rolls and milk for the children and gave first aid to those who had been shot at by the Germans but still managed to steal across the border.
In the crowded marketplace, Zaromber recognized relatives and acquaintances and took them to their homes. The luckiest ones were refugees from Warsaw whom Zaromber knew, because they went to seasonal work in Warsaw. Acquaintances got priority over others who were just as desperate.
I remember one tall, elegant woman from Warsaw pushing her way through the crowd, asking in Polish if anyone had seen her 2 daughters, 15 and 17 years old, from whom she had been separated during the shooting while crossing the border. "I've been waiting for them for 3 days now," she cried. No one says a word. No one has an answer for the distraught mother.
Representatives of the Revolutionary Committee of Zaromb and Soviet commanders give orders, "Pregnant women, mothers with small children, go there ...
The shtetl is awake. It is the day before Pesach. Nobody sleeps. Doors are open to the Bezshentzes. Women sit on their stoops holding children and talking about the plight of the Jews, God's scorn, war. Somehow, the Jews are always caught in the middle of the troubles. They try to console each other that there is, after all, a God and then they curse Hitler.
From early in the morning, Jews stream toward Itchenik, the Zaromb train station, as ordered by the Jewish militia. They are young men with red armbands and carrying Polish rifles. The train has already carried many groups to Bialostok, Brisk, Kovel, Lemberg, Pinsk, and other cities in the East. They were met there with music and fanfare and from there many were sent deeper into Russia.
The forests around Zaromb are full of Jews. They have spread out there with all the belongings they were able to carry with them. Many have been there several nights already, waiting their turn to board a train. There is some sort of order - children find and break twigs so their mothers can do some cooking in the improvised "kitchens". The smell of smoke and various foods and spices wafts up among the trees.
Deeper in the forest, couples stroll, planning their futures again.
The locomotives with the big 5-pointed Russian star, chug back and forth, day and night. Over the star is a portrait of Stalin and 2 large red flags flutter on either side. That is Russia's way of saying, "Welcome".
The cars are decorated with red banners and greenery. Under the windows are posters with slogans glorifying Soviet power and Soviet hospitality and greetings to the "Bezshentzes" for their good fortune in coming to the Soviet land.
The crowds push to get into the railroad cars. Some are complaining that they have been waiting 2-3 weeks already. "How much longer?" they ask, feeling tree to talk to the Russian soldiers; they seem to have forgotten that war has broken out.
This is how hundreds of thousands of Jews got through the Zarorrib chapter of their journey. In far away Siberia, Mogingotorsk, Ural and in all the far corners of the enormous land of the USSR, Polish Jews recalled Zaromb with a blessing on their lips.
By the end of November 1939, the Russian border was closed. In NovemberDecember, thousands of Jews were gathered in the neutral no-man's land, Most were beaten and robbed by the Malkin Gestapo or by hooligans who came and attacked them, unprotected and hungry as they were. Diseases began spreading among the Jews; some were dying, especially children. The youth of Zaromb felt impelled to help. They joined Russian soldiers in bringing the very ill to the hospital and the dead were given proper Jewish burials. They brought both material and moral aid to what extent they could. Despite the severe risk, they helped some get across the barbed wire, especially women with small children, and brought them to Zaromb.
Some Zaromb youths took a red flag from Stalin's portrait and organized a "storming" of the border. After an intense meeting against the German despots and the recalcitrant Russian government, they organized the Jews in the no- man's land into rows - the women and children in the vanguard And, singing the "Internationale" and waving the red flag with Stalin's portrait above it, they marched right to the border and up to the Soviet border guards.
The guards were disoriented and frightened. They alarmed their headquarters with a report of "ten thousand marching on us." Headquarters apparently did not wish to assume the responsibility of shooting at this mass of unfortunate Jews. The Red Army began shooting but only in the air. They tried to push the marchers back, yelling "Get back, we will shoot." Having nothing to lose, the mass stormed forward, getting through all the border posts. They got to the wood by the Zaromb train station. A few had been hit and killed by stray bullets and were left behind. The rest were, for the time being, safe on the Russian side.
Many young men from Zaromb (including myself) acted as guides to lead this mass of refugees through the familiar paths to Zaromb.
In a second incident, in December, there were again about 10,000 Jews in the "no-man's land." The deprivation and suffering of these "Bezshentses" is impossible to describe. Children and old people were dying in hoards from hunger and cold. We could hear the constant moaning and cries in Zaromb. Several attempts to "storm" the border were repelled as the border guard had been reinforced after the first storming.
Germans on motorcycles made numerous "inspections" in the "no-man's land" which they called the "Judenpass" (the Jewish land strip) calling the Jews to come back across the German border. The Pole, Tshupanienko, made the Russians aware of these incursions and they demanded that the Germans clear out of the neutral area immediately. Zaromb was like a boiling cauldron. Zaromber ran to Bialostok and Voyedvudzshtve to the Red Army and to the Communist party. They even contacted Moscow. Finally, there was a telegram from Stalin "Prepushtchits" (let them through).
The border was opened for 15 minutes. People ran. Some were carrying weaker ones on their shoulders. The officers could not control the situation. Young people form Zaromb went into the no-man's land strip and yanked children out of the tightly pressed mob, bringing them back through the wire fence. They took bundles and threw them over into the Russian side. The people of Zaromb did everything in their power to ensure that as many Jews as possible got through in those 15 minutes. Zaromb became etched in the minds of all the Polish refugees for its brotherly concerns and its help to fellow Jews.
In 1940, when some "Bezshentses" began running back into German-occupied Poland, Zaromb was once more the central point for crossing the border. Contacts with Poland, letters, regards, news and "Provodnikes" (men who led those Jews back to the border) all went through Zaromb. The nerve center of Polish Jewry, on both sides of the Breg River, was Zaromb.
It was a horrible, tragic situation. Jews were running from German-occupied Poland toward Russia asking only for a dry crust of bread as long as they did not have to witness the murderous cruelty of the Germans. And from Russian held Poland, they ran back saying they wanted to die "in their own rubbish-heap with their own families." It created a confusion, which cost us dearly.
Zaromber welcomed all the Jews that came (even at great risk to themselves) . The words of simple Zaromber Jews resound like prophecies: "Jews, remember, running back to Poland means placing yourself in the jaws of the beast. Run from those German Hamans. Save your children!"
I remember Hershel Pivke, the "King", veteran of the 1905 revolution, shouting: "Jews, Jews, it's too bad about your fortunes, your houses, your possessions, your money oh! your money. How much pain and trouble those material things have brought you ... throw it all away and run! Run from the cursed Diaspora anti-Semitism. Become people equal to all other people!"
There certainly must have been Jews who remembered the words of the Zaromber Jews as they entered the gas chambers.
Under Soviet control, life in Zaromb changed markedly, got a new face. All the youth were in one "melting pot", formed into a single "club" with one point of view no more discussions.
The leaders of the "Jewish governing body" at that time were Khayim-Mayer Fayntsak, Lazer Levin, Leytche Fredman, Ilya Pravde and Rokhel Diske. Vislitski, the shoemaker, was the representative of the Poles.
The pressure to earn a living was enormous. In the border town of Zaromb, trade was the main source of income.
There was no work for the mass of people, which had swollen Zaromb's population. The Soviets started to enlarge the mills, the roads and the hospitals, giving some employment. Cooperatives of locksmiths, shoemakers, bakers, carpenters and tailors were set up. The Soviets also built several cultural centers: a huge club (from the burned-up old synagogue) a movie theater, a dance-hall, a reading room, a theater group (the theater was directed by Yankel Gzshibovitsh), a sport club where soccer matches were often held, and a folks-court presided over by Zshvadek the shoemaker, Saphieha, the woodcutter, and Hinda Alshok.
The old bathhouse was rebuilt into a modern "spa". The elegant pool was left. Electric lines were brought into Zaromb. Soon there were a number of Jewish government employees. Gradually the Jews got used to working on Saturdays. In the synagogue and the prayer-houses, worship continued as usual but no youngsters could ever be seen there.
Zaromb was one of the first places to get any news from German-occupied Poland. The yellow stars the Jews of Warsaw were forced to wear sewn to their clothing, Nalevky 13, ghettos, labor camps, concentration camps, robbing and shootings. From Zaromb, the news was spread to all the refugee enclaves to the east and from there to all of Russia.
Then came the sudden murderous attack by the German army on the Soviet Union. The first Jewish victim of the attack was Zaromb. On June 22, 1941, at 2:00 am, as the shtetl was just falling asleep (after an evening of dancing at the club), a rain of cannon fire and machine gun fire encircled the town in flames. By 2:00-4:00 in the morning, German tanks rolled into Zaromb. The local Red Army commander and the officers in the headquarters were unable to put up adequate resistance and, not wanting to fall into the hands of the aggressors, shot at the Germans from behind walls and through windows and used their last bullets to kill themselves.
The Red Army soldiers ran to the deep anti-tank ditches. The Germans threw gas into the trenches, killing the Russian soldiers. It was impossible to escape from Zaromb. In that first night, during the first hour, more than 60 Jews were killed by bullets or by the flames.
By morning, the Zaromber Jews realized that the two years of freedom they had under Soviet rule belonged to the past. The Germans plundered the burned houses, and robbed the Jews who had huddled together in the remaining 2-1/2 small streets - Farbarske Street this side of Khayim "steppers" house, Yosl the painter's street (going toward the bridge) and Moyshele the locksmith's street. The Germans demanded gold, money; objects of value and those preachers of racial superiority even demanded that pretty young Jewish girls be handed over to them.
A group of wild German soldiers forced their way into Yaspe Dzshize's house and raped his beautiful daughter. She was from Ostrov. The Germans had groups of Jews to do unnecessary work just to torture them. Three weeks after they came in, the German forced the Jews to remove the dead Soviet soldiers from the trenches with their bare hands and beat them during this gruesome task of removing the rotting bodies.
This went on for over 2 months every day there were new evil edicts for the exhausted, panicked Jews who remained in Zaromb.
Then came the tragic day, December 2, 1941. The Germans let it be known that the Wehrmacht of Tzschitchev "wished" all Zaromb Jews to move to Tzshitchev where a ghetto was set up. The reason they gave was the shortage of dwellings in Zaromb. They said a Jundenrat would be established in the ghetto where all the Jews would be able to live quietly and even happily. Though no specific date was given, the Jews of Zaromb understood that the long chapter of Jewish life in Zaromb was at its end ... Jews rushed to Tzshitchev to be among the first to get the better living quarters the Germans said were available there.
There was a deadly stillness hovering over the Jews of Zaromb. Many had a terrible premonition about the politeness of the German decree. There were no dogs, no soldiers with bayonets to chase the Jews, as they heard was the usual way in other towns. This worried the Zarombers.
Jews "voluntarily" left the shtetl of their birth. They left with so many memories of their own and memories of all the "Bezshentses". Some went by rented wagons, some on foot with huge sacks on their shoulders. The hush was interrupted only by cries of very little children, many of whom were being carried in the sacks on their parents' backs, only their little heads visible. The older children held on to the edges of their mothers' skirts or their fathers' coats, walking in silence as if they felt that crying or screaming would not help.
So, sadly in silence, Jews were wandering again: veins and muscles taut, backs bent under loads of household belongings, including Passover dishes and pots. Nobody was chasing them, they were chasing themselves. A new home Tzshitchev. They drink their own sweat; a strong, cold wind slaps their faces as they sway under their heavy burdens.
The old Jews thought, "It is still good; the Germans are not chasing us." "It is not Ostrov or Pultusk or Vishkeven." They were accompanied by a little fear of what life would be like in their new "home".
In Sember, a large village between Zaromb and Tzshitchev, the Jews were encircled by Germans holding machine guns. With bestial screams, they chased the exhausted, frightened Jews - the men, women, young and old, into the schoolhouse. They were forced to throw their belongings down before being shoved inside. Those who did not move quickly were shot on the spot.
Malke, Khayim Stepper's wife, ran to save her daughter who was riding in another wagon. But the girl was already in a group surrounded by the Germans. The Germans, thinking she was a Christian woman, yelled at her to get back or she'd go with the Jews. She decided to share the fate of her daughter. They were killed together.
Those few Jews who were still alive after the Tzshitchev massacre were also brought to Sember. The Germans had promised that the Jews of the 2 shtetlekh would live together they were keeping their word. They would be together forever in one mass grave.
Mayshe, the hat maker's daughter, had been hidden during her confinement but the Germans managed to find her and her infant and brought them to join her father.
Inside the schoolhouse, an old officer delivered a speech. The theme was already familiar to the Jews. Jews were world capitalists and communists, he said, who declared war on the peace-seeking German people. That is why the Jews must suffer. They must pay for what they had done. "You are unfortunately guilty for your own destruction", the old, cold, sly murderer told them with cool German politeness. After each sentence of the speech, the Jews were forced at gunpoint to applaud and shouted "Bravo!"
Saynay the shokhet said goodbye to the assembled Jews. He tried to console them by telling them the day of reckoning would come. "There will be a Jewish nation which will rise in Eretz-Israel," he told them "and then they will certainly take their revenge!" The speech evoked wild laughter from the Germans. Saynay intoned the Vedui (final confessional prayer); the crowd joined him weeping; the children realized what was happening. Older children started shouting and screaming, "they are bandits, killers, demons", but then they join their fathers in the translation of the prayer into Yiddish as they did every Yom Kippur.
The Germans led the weeping Jews out of the schoolhouse in groups to the pre-dug pits (which had been used as air-raid shelters) near the school. The Jews were told to remove clothing and shoes. The Germans handed shovels to the able-bodied Jews and ordered them to fill the pits. As soon as the Jews began digging, a hail of bullets rained into their bent over bodies.
Mayer Raykhman (from Kempiest) whose young wife was in that first group, threw himself on a German officer who was standing by a cannon and grabbed him by the neck with his teeth. He was cut down with knives. But even as he died, his body kept convulsing with his desire for revenge!
Saynay the shokhet cried out, "Murderers, we slaughter cows more mercifully!" He raised his fist at the Germans and to the Jews he said, "Remember, Jews, we are the grandchildren of the Maccabees and of Bar Kokhba!" And, raising his hands to heaven, he spoke to God: "And you, God in heaven, if you have decided that this is the time for your people to perish, send the Angel of Death -- we will gladly give him our souls for your sake! After all, you are supposed to be our merciful father!"
"Reboynu-shel-olom, how can you watch all this and remain silent?" The large, tall shokhet of Zaromb fell like a huge tree as a German soldier machine-gunned him and several other Jews standing near him.
The second group of Jews brought from the schoolhouse were told that after they filled the pit with earth, they would be free. But the same tragic game was played out again and again and again
The old people and small children - those unable to do the "work" were thrown live into the pit just picked up by hands and feet and thrown. Infants were held up by their feet and their heads banged together, then thrown on the heaped bodies in the pit.
The old officer then ordered (for humanitarian reasons) that the half-living be peppered with machine gun bullets so they should not feel bad having to lie alongside the dead.
He then called the Poles who were standing around to fill in the hole, which they themselves had dug in 1939. They were paid with some of the least valuable items from the Jewish belongings. The earth over the mass grave shook and heaved like waves of the sea from those not yet dead, who had not yet made peace with giving up their lives for a price, not like the heroes of Sayna and Mayer Raykhman!
In this horrible way, nearly two thousand Zaromber Jews gave up their souls! Jews from Zaromb who had fled to other towns and cities during the previous months perished in the various concentration camps and death camp gas chambers.
Two Zaromber who somehow avoided the slaughter of the Zaromber in Sember, Brontche Kasher's son and Rayze Veydenboym, were killed later on. A few dozen families who had run away before the massacre to Sterden and Kosove were killed with the Jews of those towns a year later. Shmuel-Leyb Roskolenker and Menukha (my mother) were killed with the Sterdin Jews in the Khulender forest on October 20, 1942, along with 30 other Jews.
Other Zaromber who were killed in nearby shtetlekh and villages under various circumstances were: Khaya Migdal, Motchepu, Mordecai-Mendl Migdal, Zelik Kelevitch, Khaytshe Rodzansky, Tobe Mentshe, Yoshke Graffe, R.L. Gure, Leybl "Bandek's" family and Leyble Vayntroyb.
There are some single graves, those of Khaya Migdal, Motye Migdal, Mordecai-Mendl Migdal, Zelik Kelevitch, Khaytshe Rodzansky, Tobe Mentshe, Yoshke Graffe, R.L. Gure, Leyble Goldberg and his family, Beyle Beryman, Y. Deryukh and Leybl Vaijntroyb in various villages. Sheyne Libe Burshteyn, who was reported to the Germans by an old Christian Pole, was shot with her small child and buried in Rashenitza.
Only a few adults and children who were kept hidden by decent Christians survived.
This is how the holy souls of the Jewish shtetl of Zaromb breathed their last breaths. September 2, 1941 will long remain engraved in the hearts of all the Zaromber who survived and in those left of the tens of thousands of refugees from Poland who went through Zaromb hoping for a better chance.
Eternal rest and honor to the martyrs of Zaromb!
Eternal shame and revenge on the German murderers.
Emigration from Zaromb to Paris began in the 1920's, though it is hard to say exactly when the first Zaromber set foot on French soil. The first to flee to Paris was Zilke Fredman who came in 1920. Avreme Migdal came in 1925. Soon more Zaromber arrived. The "Landsmanshaft" of Zaromber in Paris was formed in 1937. Our goal was to have some unity among the Zaromber who lived separated from each other in the large city and rarely saw each other. We wanted to get together from time to time, to feel closer, to discuss what was on our minds, to reminisce about our common past and to seek concrete ways of helping ourselves.
Before the war broke out, there were 25-30 Zaromber families living in Paris. At this opportunity, I want to give the names of the first organizers of the "Landsmanshaft." They were Abraham Migdal, Pinkhas Shlafmitz, Mendl Bolender, Sholem Migdal and Motl Rodzhinsky. The chairman was Eisenberg, Dinah Itcheles' brother.
At the start of the war, a number of Zaromber served in the French army, some of them as volunteers. Mayer Raykhman, Israel Migdal, Shmuel Mankute and Motl Ruzhansky were taken prisoner by the Germans.
Most of the Zaromber Jews of Paris were deported to the death camps where they perished with the millions of other Jews. We wish to remember the names of these martyrs: Freyde Rokhelkatz, and Yankev-Moyshe's daughter, the Warsaw shoemaker's son and his wife. By a miracle, their 13 year-old son survived. Esther Migdal's husband Hershi, Yolke's son-in-law, was deported but a child of theirs survived. Zilke Fredman, Khayim Yankel's son, perished but his wife and young daughter survived. Zalmen Fredman and his wife perished but a young daughter survived. Dinah Tomkevitch, Khayim-Yankel's daughter, Brener, "Lomen", Khayim's son-in-law, Moyshe Migdal's wife, Eisenberg, Dina-Itcha Yolke's brother, and his wife and 86 year-old mother.
By some miracle, a few returned from the concentration camps. They were Avreml Migdal, Leybl Eisen, Izak Tshervonagura, Mendl Tshervonagura and Pinkhas Shlafmitz (myself) who spent almost 2 years in a concentration camp, but escaped from there and joined a partisan group. Also, Sholem Migdal, who was arrested twice, but by some fortunate circumstance succeeded in staying alive.
After the liberation, the few remaining Zaromber survivors, the exhausted, broken remnants of whole families, got together. We found we had not lost our courage and have continued our work. Our main concern now is the distribution of aid, which we receive from our American "landsleit" for the orphans, the widows and those who were left without a roof over their heads.
I had the good fortune to visit France twice this year and am happy to have the opportunity to transmit personal regards from our Landsleit in Paris.
The Zaromber in France are proud of the enthusiastic response by the Landsleit in America to the requests for help. Each Parisian Zaromber had good things to say about our work to help Zaromber, wherever they might be.
Through my discussions with the Zaromber in Paris, I learned that the packages, which we sent, were what enabled them to keep going right after the liberation from the German enslavement and mortal pain. When those who did survive returned to their homes after going through such terrible hell, they found the dwellings totally empty, only the bare walls. Our material aid was not only physical for them at that time, but gave them strength of spirit.
Right after France was liberated, it was difficult to get food, at any price. The Zaromber Landsleit in America were on guard, ready to help and sent parcels of food, which our brothers and sisters in France needed so desperately.
Now, many of our Zaromber in France are standing on their own two feet and they are helping other Zaromber who are in need. May all Zaromber who do this honorable relief work with such unselfish devotion be blessed.
1.A little town,
A table, a bed
In the narrow rooms,
Kapotes of satin
For the poor Sabbath,
In the deep puddles.
From all over.
Branches as walking sticks,
Beds made of rope.
2.The smith in his smithy,
Blacksmiths with beards
Making new horseshoes
For tired old mares.
A grandmother kneels
With a small tub of clay,
Patching the holes
In the near-empty house.
Children run swiftly
to Cheder each day,
Peyes blown by the wind
As they go on their way.
3.The pale Rebbe
In his feathered hat
Tells the tale of creation
verse by verse:
How God in his anger
Brought forth the flood
And Noah the Ark built
As he was directed
For birds and for snakes
For horses and oxen
And pairs of all creatures
That breathed on the land,
A forty-days deluge -
Forty days rain came down
Till the entire land
Was totally drowned
And deep eyes stare
As they listen in awe
To the story of Noah
And the rainbow God sent.
4.Snow is falling,
Winter's come again;
Bloom on window panes.
Parents and children
Sitting down together
Round the small table
For their meager meal.
They eat the hot soup
And the dark bread;
Pleasant steam rises
From the earthenware bowls
The snow-covered windows keep
The house dark inside.
Hands are washed before eating
With prayer of thanks
For the piece of bread,
For the hot bowl of gruel,
And if there are some potatoes
Then life feels less cruel
5.The sun with its warm rays
Stands outside the window
And the wreaths of frost
Start to melt and drip away.
We look through the panes
At the world which is ours:
'Tis all covered with snow
Sparkling white in the sun.
You sit quietly thinking,
Then you hear the door open,
A letter delivered,
The envelope's white as the snow.
You tremble as you reach for it,
Your eyes fill with tears.
What news and regards
Have come from a far-away land?
6.Soon the cold winter will be gone
And sweet spring will arrive.
There will be light in the windows,
Warm days and gentle rain
Announce to the earth that it's time
For plants and flower to bloom again
In the fields and the woods,
For the stork to fly back to his nest.
The children will greet it with a rhyme
"Stork, Stork, your house is on fire.'"
And the stork spreads his wings
As if he were saying
"I'm home and you go home too."
Between Zaromb and Tzshitcheve, in one mass grave, lies the entire Jewish community of our home town. Our memories about those martyred souls are like "yortzayt" (memorial) candles to their memory.
My recollections bring me back. to the years of my childhood. I recall "davening" (praying) at the Gerer "Stibl" (prayer house) on Rosh Hoshanah. All the worshippers were imbued with the seriousness of the day. My father covered his head with his "tallis" (prayer shawl) so that I too was covered. He held a thick "sidur" (prayer book) in his hand - a book, which was a treasure trove of prayers and commentaries. I feel his hot tears on my hand, which holds the holy book together with my father's hand. It was not difficult for him to hold me close to him because I had experienced the spiritual awakening.
But after the service was over, these same Jews became quite different. They truly believed that God had accepted all their prayers and supplications and that they had atoned for their sins. With this assurance, the Jews went to the river to "Tashlekh" (the rite of emptying one's pockets into a stream as a symbol of washing away one's sins). They were now cleansed of their sins. On the road back to the Gerer prayer house from the river, the Chassidim danced and sang. Their "nigunim" (Chassidic melodies) could be heard all over the shtetl. The lapels of their satin and silk "kapotes" (prayer coat) were spread wide, their braided belts down their hips; they danced and hopped about without stopping to rest. We the youngsters held on to the dangling belt ends and danced along. Often the old could out dance the children. Mayer Fayvl, the "melamed" (Cheder teacher) and Nossen the scribe were among the best dancers and set an example for the younger Chassidim.
When Simkhas Torah came, there was no limit to the festiveness. There was a continuous rejoicing and revelry. They would go to the homes of the more well to do Chassidim and drink up entire barrels of beer and local wine, dancing so fervently all the time that the very houses shook. As they went from house to house, they danced "Rikud" (animated Chassidic dance) to the amusement of all onlookers. Some danced with such fervor that they jumped up on the low roofs and danced while holding on to the chimneys.
Eliyohu Mayer, the "melamed", who was a hunchback, used to grow from a tiny bent Jew to a giant on Simkhas Torah. His brother, Henekh Nassen, was exceptional. His antics were magical. As a child, I could not imagine a Simkhas Torah without him. When he went off to America, I asked his son, Yankev, whether his father was coming back for Simkhas Torah for I could not believe he would be away from Zaromb for that holiday.
The opposite of such festivity were the wintry Sabbath evenings when the Gerer gathered in the study-house for their evening meal. They sat on benches along the walls and around long tables. It was dark, except for a "Yortzayt" candle, which burned near the ark. One Chassid would start a nigun and the others joined but there was no jubilation in their tone but sadness, such a sweet sadness. In the dark one could see only shadows, silhouettes; but if one could see their faces, one would discover that their sadness was their way of expressing that the Sabbath was leaving them and the dull, empty, poor weekdays would be facing them again. They tried everything to prolong the Sabbath. It was always hard to get anyone to sing the last Sabbath song.
Once the prayers were over, candles were lit and Jews greeted Jews with "A Gut Vokh" (have a good week), but they also sighed "How quickly the Sabbath has gone by."
Life in Zaromb was rich and meaningful. Most of my recollections are connected with the Sabbath because, looking back on my childhood, I think of my life there then as Sabbath, as compared with my humdrum "weekday" life of today.
I remember a Sabbath afternoon. My mother wraps some food in a shawl for me to carry and I stroll with my father to the Heshner forest. My father needs some fresh air. He had weak lungs, which he strained all week teaching gemorrah to students who did not have a great desire to study. When we come to the forest, my father lies down under a tree and falls asleep, oblivious to the flies and the buzzing of the bees. I lie down too but cannot sleep. I listen to the rustling of the leaves. I look up to the clear blue sky through the trees. Everything is so quiet and Sabbath peaceful.
When my father wakes up, we walk back to the shtetl. Along the way, we meet other Gerer Chassidim going for a stroll, their hands behind their backs or thumbs stuck through their belts and they are deep in a discussion about the holy studies, which are so important to them. My father joins the group of strollers and shows off his profound knowledge.
In Zaromb, the words of the Torah were once heard not only in the
prayer houses and Chassidic study-houses, but out along the streets and under
the sky. We no longer hear those joyous holy woods. What we hear now are the
echoes of the weeping of the holy Jewish community, which was led to its mass
grave between Zaromb and Tzshitchive!
He taught me the alphabet and to read the basic prayers. I was terribly afraid of him. There was one day when he was a changed man. On Simkhas Torah, he was so happy that he did somersaults in the street. This was his claim to fame and everyone in Zaromb knew not to try to compete with him.
My second rebbe, Abraham Shlomo, was more easygoing. Under his tutelage, I began learning the Old Testament and I went to Cheder more eagerly. But my third rebbe, the wine maker, frightened me terribly. He was a tall, thin Jew with a small black beard and a nasty disposition. He had the face of a crow - so cold and sharp that whenever he came close to me, I became tongue-tied with fear. With this rebbe, I began studying in the evenings. It was wintertime and the walk home from the wine maker's house to my grandfather, Moyshe-Khayim's, house took me past the old well, the red brick school, the synagogue, the old cemetery, which was painfully scary for me. I couldn't imagine that there could ever be anything more frightening.
I had a happier time with my fourth rebbe, Eliohyu Mayer, the hunchback. I studied with him during the summer and began learning Gemorrah but I did not complete the semester because my father, David Moyshe Khayim's, the gold spinner, left for Stutchin to try to make a better living, and we moved. Away from Zaromb.
Oyzshe Roskolenker was sent to the county official as the representative and he returned with their refusal. Then Shmuel-Leyb Roskolenker ran to the "Kehillah" and took 2 of two "Kehillah" members, Yitzkhak Bergman and Shayke Grenshpan, and in a "droshke" (horse-drawn cab) they went back to the county official. Thanks to Shmuel-Leyb Roskolenker's stubbornness, the "Kehillah" got permission for the school to have the parade and that the other groups could participate.
All the young people lined up in military formation under Yakov-David Fredman's leadership. Then the school children joined together and the rows got longer. The school children were led by their teachers: I. Staynberg, B. Rekant and Etka Haber. The Polish flag and the white and blue flag were carried aloft in front of the marchers. Everyone sang together as the impressive line of marchers went through the streets toward the Itchenik forest. The entire shtetl was in the streets. I heard Jews call out, "This is blasphemy! Where do you think you are, in Eretz-Israel?"
A large Zionist National Fund "pushke" (charity box) was carried on 4 poles and stood out more than any of the other placards. Our police chief, Gurski, walked along with us, gritting his teeth from anger because the Jewish flag was being carried through the streets of this Polish shtetl.
All of the young people of Zaromb came to the celebration in the forest the communists, the left-wingers, the Labor Zionists, and all other groups were there.
The Lag b'Omer celebration lasted until evening. With song, the long train-like lines marched back into Zaromb to the local office of the Hashomer Hatzayir, where the marchers were dismissed.
The Rabbi of Zaromb called for a "khayrem" (excommunication) and the orthodox Jews began to persecute the young men, many for purely religious reasons but others for protecting their own economic interests. But the entire youth of Zaromb was united behind the strike. There already was a professional organization backing the strikers in which Vorshiter, Grainan, Lava and others were involved. Finally, the strikers were victorious.
In 1922, for the first time in the history of Zaromb, it was decided to celebrate May Day. Before May 1st, there was a secret meeting of the workers who worked for tailors, shoemakers and other craftsmen and of the workers of the Parover mill.
A representative from Lomze brought proclamations to paste up which stated that there would be a work stoppage that day. The Zaromber would put up these posters in strategic spots because the next day, which was May 1st, was a "Yarid" (market-fair) day when all the peasants came with their wares.
On May 1st eve, Zaromb slept, but 3 policemen of the shtetl were awake and kept watch. They went into Shmulke's tavern, as they usually did, to get a snack and a drink and a little nap. During the time they were inside, we began pasting up the posters. The first one went up on police headquarters. The others went on telegraph poles, at street intersections, on church walls, etc.
Exactly at midnight, the Parove mill stopped working (it usually worked around the clock). The mill was just beyond the old cemetery and its constant tick-tock could be heard all over the shtetl, especially at night. Now, suddenly, no more ticking silence!
We, who glued up the posters, went home to sleep. We had made sure not to leave any traces of our activities because if we were caught, it would mean long jail terms. The next morning, there was quite a hubbub in the shtetl. The 12 policemen with their rifles slung over their shoulders patrolled the market place and the streets. The young people, who had decided that they would not work on this day, strolled in the streets, dressed in the holiday best. When a policeman stopped any of them to ask why they were not working, their answer was, "It is the first of May, a decision of the workers' central."
Peasant carts were searched and telegrams were sent to higher authorities. The whole town read the proclamations, which had been put up with shoemaker's glue so it was very difficult to pull them down. Orthodox Jews had serious discussions over who could have done this terrible thing. They were terribly afraid that all the Jews would be accused. Rumors were being circulated that outsiders came to Zaromb and did this thing. The placards called for a struggle against reaction and for freedom of speech, for peace among all nations and against the rule by the "pritzim" (landed aristocracy of Poland and Russia).
If everyone in the world would have listened to such calls, perhaps the terrible disaster perpetrated later by beasts in human form could have been avoided.
If Zaromb would have had palaces, large factories, oil wells - if Zaromb were a large, rich city - the world would sometimes recall it; diplomats would discuss it at their round tables; poets would immortalize it in song; its name would be immortalized in the thick tomes, which people would read. And perhaps a tear would fall on the Holy Jewish community Zaromb.
But Zaromb was small and poor. Instead of palaces, there were small wooden houses. Here was the town, here the market place and you were already in green fields outside the shtetl. The small, narrow streets were filled with lovely Jewish children. Poor Jews, exhausted from hard work and long hours, forgotten by God, lived poorly and hoped for a visit to America or to Eretz-Israel. Today, Jewish Zaromb lies dead.
And you, the remaining children of Zaromb, are spread out all over the world. Let your tears fall on this page. This is Zaromb's tombstone; there is no other marker. May your desire for revenge fill your hearts and make you ball your hands into hard fists!
The moonlit night in Zaromb was a night of mourning and the next days were days of deep sadness. Every morning, Zaromber stood at their doorways waiting for the mail carrier. From time to time, there was sad news, which spread quickly through the shtetl.
Groups gathered around any newspaper that arrived, trying to figure out how long this disaster of war would last. The entire shtetl began to prepare for impending disaster. Near each house, pits were dug in which to hide the little bit of valuables the poor Jews possessed. The richer Jews bought wagons and horses so they would be able to save their possessions in case of danger. Even my father, Saynay the "Shokhet" (ritual slaughterer) bought a horse and wagon. Everyone was prepared for a conflagration.
When news reached Zaromb that Malkin was ablaze, there was a panic. The retreating Russian army came through Zaromb like a black cloud. Everyone ran into his house. Shops were left open and unguarded not to upset the military: "Let them take what they want." They did take everything.
The Russians confiscated every wagon in the shtetl. My father took one wheel off his wagon and hid it, so they left his wagon. When the last division passed along the Malkin-Ostrove road, people began carrying packs to the fields outside the shtetl. The men carried furniture, the women bedding and clothing. Even the children carried small packages.
Suddenly there was a desperate cry Zaromb was burning! Flames were shooting up to the sky from all parts of the shtetl. People were running in and out of the burning houses with anything they could grab a parcel, a chair, some pots. They ran to the field, threw the items on the ground and ran back to the houses to see what else they could salvage. A mother, realizing her child was missing, ran through the field wailing.
The wealthier Jews, who still had wagons and horses, dumped wagonloads of their belongings, then drove back to bring the rest.
My father quickly put the wheel back on his wagon, threw what little we owned into the wagon, put the two youngest children atop it all, grabbed the reins and yelled for his horse to go quickly. But no matter what he did, the horse raised his head and forelegs, but wouldn't budge from the spot. My mother and father began pushing the wagon. My uncle Shayke pulled the horse. I stood thinking about the long mirror, which was left in the house and turned around to go back inside. My mother noticed I was not there and forgot about the horse and the wagon. The whole family was looking for me. My grandfather, Leybke, pushed me and the mirror out of the burning house. By then, all of Zaromb was in flames.
When the red flames became transformed into black smoke, mothers began unpacking the bedding and tried to put their crying children to sleep under the sky. Suddenly we heard galloping horses nearby and shouts in German. Everyone started whispering that the German army was there now, in place of the Russians. At dawn, the men put on their "Talleysim" (prayer shawls), children woke up crying, women began opening packages of food. We all breakfasted on the damp ground.
Then each family went back to look at what remained of what had been their homes. Nobody returned to the field empty-handed. Someone brought a blackened pot; someone else some knives with burned handles; others whatever remnants they could find. My grandfather and Uncle Shayke went to see what was left of their belongings. On the way, they spotted my father's wagon and his horse. My uncle discovered that the wheel, which my father had reattached in such a hurry, would not turn.
Later a youth organization was formed in connection with the library and we also organized a reading room. The official opening was in 1918 and it was the first cultural celebration of the youth of Zaromb.
The hall was filled. Everything was ready. Yosef Grinshpan stood on the dais ready to announce the beginning of festivities when there was a sudden shout: "Fire!" The crowd began running to the door, but very soon they caught on that there was no fire only the strict Sabbath observers trying to disrupt the secular holiday of the young people.
Some older Jews attacked the hall and we were truly surprised at how belligerent they were and how ready they were for a fight. We barricaded the entrance and forced back the attack.
For us, the library was a second home, a spiritual smithy where new ideas could be forged. The various party groups came to us with their problems and their platforms. There were big happenings at the library new words, new ideas filled the air. Not everyone could understand all these new things, nor could everyone digest them. Yet everyone felt that they could not remain indifferent to the problems of the world, which demanded some sort of solution. Everyone learned something at the library. It was our "Folks shul" (secular Jewish school). That is where we learned the ABC's of politics, world history, political economy and natural science. We studied Herzl's "Alt-Noyland" ("The Old-New Country") and Marx and Engel's "Communist Manifesto". While Berl Fridman explained Pinsker's "auto-emancipation" and awakened us to Zionism, Avram Lerman read us Borokhov's "Class Interests and the Nationalist Question" and propagandized for Labor Zionism.
There were so many ideologies and parties that the "Yugnt-Farayn" (youth organization) became too small to hold them all and splits occurred. Each party tried to dominate the library  and during these struggles for dominance, many books were lost and the cultural activities became splintered. Each party "celebrated its own Sabbath" (went their own way); no new books came in and generally the young people had lost their interest in reading.
In about 1920, this is what the situation was at the Zaromb library after its
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