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[Page 133]

Part Three

On the Ruins of Our Shtetl

The First Victim

A letter from a rescued Brzeziner landsman

Translated by Renee Miller

Edited by Fay Bussgang

In 1939 Nazi agents grabbed the nineteen-year-old young man Aron Efroimowicz, threw him into an automobile, and took him away to the nearby Rogow Forest. There those despicable beasts took off all his clothes, bound him to a tree, and beat him with murderous blows––without rhyme or reason. His screams from the terrible pain were carried to the heavens, but no one came to help him. The villains answered his imploring pleas with more blows, with sticks over his naked, tortured flesh, until he fell unconscious from the barrage of blows. Seeing that their victim was barely moving and his wailing cries had become a dying groan, they shot him with revolvers and ran away, leaving their victim to die.

Not far from the Rogow Forest lived a Brzeziner Jew, a shveyger (milk dealer), by the name of Pachczer [Pachciarz?], who came running into the forest to help, hearing the reverberating echoes from the horrible screaming. As he came into the forest, he could hear the quiet death rattle of someone dying. When he looked around, he saw the tragic, gruesome scene of the dying nineteen-year-old young man who was bound to a tree. His body and his face were black-and-blue and bloodied so as to make him unrecognizable. These were the last moments of his final breath. Then Pachczer looked around the forest for some evidence of who the victim was. He found his clothes, and from the pieces of paper in his pockets, the man found out that this was the observant Hasidic young man Aron Efroimowicz of Brzezin, who studied in the Gerer shtibl [Hassidic house of prayer].

Reb Pachczer immediately ran to Brzezin to inform the community and the young man's close relatives about the horrible assassination by the rotten Germans and that they needed to bury the victim. When the milk dealer gave the young man's mother the terrible news, she immediately fainted. Later, she went through the streets with a candle in her hands and asked everyone to come to her son's graveside.

Aron Efroimowicz, the pious young man who sat in the Gerer shtibl day and night, was the first victim, the first martyr of the Nazi bestiality of our holy community. May his soul rest in the Garden of Eden. . . .

 

brz133.jpg -   Aron Efroimowicz, the first victim in Brzezin
Aron Efroimowicz,
the first victim in Brzezin

 


[Page 134]

The First Shocking Encounter

brz134a.jpg -   Aron Fogel

by Aron Fogel

Translated by Renee Miller

Edited by Fay Bussgang

Aaron Fogel (Ester-Laja's, the baker's son) was one of the first survivors from our town who returned to Brzezin after the war. He had just been freed from a Nazi concentration camp, where, by a miracle, he had managed to stay alive.

In a letter to our landsmanshaft [organization of fellow townsmen] in New York, Aron Fogel gave the first shocking report from destroyed Brzezin. He wrote:

“Arriving in Brzezin at the beginning of February, 1945, at four o'clock in the afternoon, coming alone from the camp, I did not imagine I would find the town as it was before, but how could I not find a few dozen Jews––there were, after all eight thousand souls who were living there before! One easily says and writes “eight thousand,” but let me, as much as possible, try to give here the details of what it had been like. The creativity, the activity, the work, the bustle, the coziness, the informality, the quarreling between givers and takers of work, the travelers, wagon drivers, tailors, shoemakers, elegant Jews, Hasidim, friends, intellectuals, semi-intellectuals, the shuln [synagogues], bote-medroshim [prayer/study houses], Hasidic shtiblekh [houses of prayer], mikvoes [ritual baths], organizations, Jewish banks, charitable institutions––I believe almost all of Brzezin passes before your eyes. And imagine––nothing, As in Genesis––toye-voye [a void]! Not one single Jew, literally none.

“I, myself, who had seen the great Hell, where, in a few days, thousands of our brothers were taken away and never came back, was not able to understand how it was possible. What happened to all the people? Where are our children––the infants, the schoolchildren? Where are the Talmetoyres [Jewish elementary schools]? And it moved me emotionally so much that I decided to go to the besoylem [cemetery] first thing in the morning. I will rip open the graves and demand answers from the dead. Those of ours lying and resting in their graves for generations, do they know that their yishev [settlement] was exterminated, their martyrs burned up and annihilated, that never again will anyone say Yisker [memorial prayer] at their graves nor Eyl Moley Rakhmim [Merciful God––opening line of prayer said for departed souls], to commemmorate the ceremony?

“I did not sleep at all that night. I waited for daylight as if for redemption. And the way everything passes, so did the night. Early in the morning, I immediately ran to the cemetery, but unfortunately, I had no one to whom I could unburden my bitter heart. They, the assassins, also had not preserved our dead. The cemetery was torn up, the gravestones gone, the fence ripped out––the mekhitse [separation] between the living and the dead torn apart. And with a broken spirit I left that holy place; before my eyes it had revealed to me our entire tragedy.

“It was, it seems, not enough. Only in the light of day did I find massive barricades in the streets of the town made from the gravestones of our dead, and I thought to myself––souls of the dead, both generations-old and recently perished, float around in the air of our town; and heaven is filled with holy souls that are even greater than the souls of the asore-hagure-malkes [ten learned men murdered by the Roman Emperor in 135]; because after their deaths, there still was a holy remembrance, but our tormented ones have no redress at all. And a force, a tremendous one, began to push me––run away, run away from the klole [curse] inflicted on our town! And I made a vow that wherever I might be, and at every opportunity, I would recite Megillas-Eykhe [Book of Lamentations].”

 

brz134b.jpg -   On the fifth 'yahrzeit' [anniversary] of the annihilation of the Brzeziner community
On the fifth yahrzeit [anniversary] of the annihilation
of the Brzeziner community, Mendel Friedman (Aron Szames's
grandson) spoke in the presence of Brzeziny town officials

 

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