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[Pages 625- 626]

The Last Action

By Malka Milchtajch- Lorber Z”L

Translated by Blima Rajzla Lorber

The Last Action

I

In the Ghetto of Chelm nobody remained.
The inhabitants were taken during dawn,
under an intense rain, like animals, to an unknown place.
They were nude and barefooted.
The lines were huge,
they crawled slowly and also slowly they prayed while walking.
The day went away and also did the night.
A new day was breaking.
Their feet and their bones seemed to be broken.
They could not walk anymore.
Even so, they did not surrender.
They went on, they did not surrender.
What will happen, nobody knows.
There were old men, children,
parents carrying packages of sadness and bitterness,
together with the yellow strips around their arms.
Everything very painful.
They walked without rest, without bread nor water.
The streets were dark and it was cold and humid.
The sky cried rivers of tears.
In a low voice, crying, the Jews asked themselves: “What will happen to us?”
“It does not help crying,” they said.
They were pushed with weapons, but their strength was at the end.
Nevertheless, they were forced to walk.
“Our enemies are riding at our side.”
“Where will they take us?” They asked with their eyes, crying.
Mothers held their children, hugging them strongly.
They remained silent, but their hearts protested:
“How did we let them take us like animals to die?
We cannot suffer anymore! Whatever will happen needs to happen.”
When somebody was late, he was shot.
The second, the third… the hundredth and in their lips words of fear and anger burned.
Nobody saw anything in the darkness.
They only heard shots.
Old men and young men just like trees fell down.
If someone was left behind, a tremor went through his body.
From the ones that were behind, few remained.
A mother shouted: “Please, what was our sin? Pity! You stepped on my little child.”
They were no more silent and they heard a cry:
“Do not kill my child! Only kill me. It is better to kill me.”
The weapons went on shooting.
The soldiers beat people with their weapons.
There was no more salvation.
The S.S. soldiers ran and with rage they screamed:
“Here, your unfortunate ones, you are blamed for your own misfortune.”
Again, a child cried and was still being dragged.
“Father, I am not able to go on anymore! I stay here in the forest.”
The father begs: “Be strong, a little more. Do not stop, walk my son!“
And he was already looking his only son, a child, being eaten by dogs.
One more day went away with a lot of suffering.
What will tomorrow bring?
Will the Germans will still be alive?
“If parents and children do not die tomorrow,
still these unfortunate Jews will be free,” the soldiers screamed.
The hearts beat afraid.
Oh God, soon life will end.
With range and dark the night fell again.
It rained, rained and rained.
A sharp wind blew: the end will be very sad.
And it turned dawn.
In the forest, a plain.
No, it was not imagination, the last hour beat.
We cannot waste time and we should say the last prayer.
The hole was big and fresh.
It will shelter people's sadness.
A soldier's voice was heard: “Get to the edge of the hole.”
Suddenly, an aged hand raised and turning the face to the bandits,
with the his fist closed the old man spoke:
“Innocent blood spilled will never remain silent.
Put an end to this fight, you will not win.
My curse will get to you like a strident blitz.”
With all his strength the old rabbi screamed:
“Look at me, I will jump first in the hole.
Do not be afraid, because when one cannot live, death is also beloved.”
Shots began to be heard and a voice recited “Schmá Israel….”
Everything was quiet.
No screams were heard anymore.
The earth covered all of them, hiding deep inside the last pain.

To where?

II

If I still will be able to return.
Destiny I will take me back to my country.
Who will listen to my first cry ?
The one who comes in front of me will give me a warm hand ?
Who will wait for my return from so far ?
Whom will I hug, crying, embraced at his neck, whom ?
The streets were destroyed by the enemies' hands.
Shots were like hail.
The streets I knew so well.
They will be ashamed!
The houses destroyed , in ruins. Broken homes.
The tough stone roads painted with blood and human insides.
In front of me there are graves and shrouds
that will call me for a saint revenge –“They will pay!”
Sometimes, I will not find not even shrouds.
Other times there will not be signs of human bones.
My return is horrible.
The feeling is what will I find.
I will find the tombstones in ruins,
written with the martyrs' blood,
who in Eternity will remind what the murderers did.
All decapitated. No one remained!.
I will neither find my mother nor my father,
nor sisters or brothers, nor friends or relatives.
My town is a desert.
It seems a cemetery, after a gale has destroyed everything.
I will be depressed and pain and suffering will wake up my sadness.
It can be that in Majdaneck crematorium
I will need to seek for a rest of ashes,
in plantations as fertilizer, in Treblinka.
Or to seek in a third death camp or can it be in the tenth.
No powder remained from these of my people who had fallen.
I will not see any writing, tombstone or sign.
To whom will I ask when sadness comes?
So weak and nobody to console me.
I swallow my rage.
They who took everything of good from the martyrs
With a hateful look and with all my anger I can now spit.
As a flame which illuminates the way of the wanderer,
Strong it will bind. Poor wanderer!
For my youth's sad and bitter years,
I will again have to leave my destroyed old home.
From the one who dreamed to return soon.

The Young–Old Man Ballad

III

He was together with thousands of people,
waiting to be taken to the gas chambers.
He felt his mother's hand pressed his warmly.
“See, soon they will take you for the sad action.”
He did not see nor listened to anything.
He was feeling his mother's tremor.
“Oh God, we didn't deserve such a death!”
The look was pale and embittered.
“Show us a miracle, we do not deserve such a punishment.”.
Mindless, her lips murmured:
“Worse than death is the mother's suffering.”
The voice was suffocated.
He opened his shirt.
Only destiny wanted to play a game on him.
“Oh, bad luck! Do not separate us both now!
Oh, foolish boy! You still have a lot to suffer.
Mother, may we not be separated before death.”
Glances of envy accompanied him.
“Why was he luckier than the others?”
But his fate did not bring him happiness.
Inside of him, tears burned as fire.
He was nineteen years old,
with the impulse of youth.
The head, a brown forest.
And the eyes aimed at dreams in the sky.
He knew how strong he was,
he hoped to be a great man.
The only child, he was his mother's pride
and she believed the world would hear from him.
A vigorous body,
firm hands as tree branches.
The chest inspired with energy.
He could not see anybody to be harmed,
he could not silence.
Now, he was feeling as thousands of them.
Fear was on his face.
It is more difficult than death, more difficult!
He felt so depressed with the executioners.
They ordered him and two other boys to go to the place of the slaughter
in order to select and to organize clothes
so that they could be transported in the wagons.
The three friends made a pact.
When the wagons were full,
they, at night, would enter quietly and there, amid the clothes, they would hide.
The train left fast as a ray and in a wagon, hidden, three hearts beat together.
The eyes shone in the darkness, burning.
The way for the station was getting shorter.
A deep sound, cutting as a handsaw, could be heard.
The wind blew the night breeze,
The faster they fled from death's claws.
With thousands screams, the quiet night calls.
He was the first one to jump.
Just as the roar of a shot at night.
The two other ones also fell,
for the prison guards were taking care wagons' roofs.
The train swallowed the night's noise.
It was already dawn.
He walked silently.
He was cleaning up his mouth when he came to and he felt like reborn.
He was alive and the earth his feet stepped on was free.
He approached the two boys and saw them wounded.
“You, friends, can not stay here, because the day is breaking.
Look, I am well and healthy and I will take you both with me.”
It is as soon as he said that he felt he would not be embarrassed,
and the swollen eyes started opening up, a pain groan kept silent.
“Oh!”, both of them said at once.
They looked at him but they did not recognize the old man
They jumped all of a sudden and looked at him.
“You are well and healthy, you said! Oh, Schmá Israel!
In one hour you got old.”
Without believing in that, he pulls some hair off his head.
“Oh, Great God, my brown hair is white as snow.”
At the age of 19, in blooming of youth, the youngster became an old man.


[Pages 649-652]

Chelm During the Ghetto Uprising

By B. Alkwit

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

(Photo, caption: B. Alkwit)

With all that the yizkor books, chronicles and scrolls tell of their cities and shtetlekh [towns], they describe Jewish Poland in depth, describe, so to say, the hinterland of the great Jewish uprising: how was it possible, from where did it get its strength that those suffering and bowed rose up, that they became fighters, became heroes - they, the heroes of eternal tolerance, the carriers of Job's patience - heroes and martyrs in the struggle against the enemy in a time when the entire world hit them in the face.

One of the cities was Chelm - the first ghetto uprising was in Chelm.

Chelm, yes, Chelm of the Chelm stories. Who had not heard of Chelm? It was a small city, a poor one and, it was said, a foolish city, as in the stories - of fools, and they also say, sages. But there is no sage whose wisdom is as famous in the world as the nonsense of Chelm - unless, indeed, the wisdom of King Solomon.

The glory of Chelm is like the glory of a wonderful story. There are people who even think that Chelm is itself a story, a fable. But it is here, there was such a city - and for the Chelemer it was a city not just of jests. But the uncertain truth, which gave the city its name, can sometimes be the cause of a mistake that Chelm is also Chelmno, or the opposite - that it probably is motivated by the publisher of a Yiddish book - it is quite a distance from here to Posen [Poznan] on the other side of Warsaw. Chelm is also east of Lublin, not far from the Bug River; Zamosc, where Y. L. Peretz was born, is to the south.

Chelm was a very old Jewish city, on a mountain - just as in the stories, but Jews lived in the valley in great Jewish poverty. There was one street there with stairs. It was the oldest Jewish street, but it was called Neye [new] Tsal and the stairs led down to the market, to commerce, and to Minkhah-Maariv [afternoon and evening prayer] in the large synagogue, in the ancient House of Study. In the 1930s, the population of the city numbered 30,000 souls, approximately half Jewish.

The beginning of the history of the Jews in Chelm is in the wall of the synagogue. Here in the wall is hidden the grave of the groom and bride who perished under the khupah [wedding canopy]

[Page 650]

in the synagogue courtyard during the slaughter by Chmielicki's Cossacks. The Cossacks slaughtered 400 Jews. With the strength of a new Jewish generation, Chelm restored itself. The famous Chelemer Yeshiva [religious secondary school] grew. Reb Elihu bel-Shem [miracle worker] arose. And in our time, a Shmuel Zigelboim (Arthur). Zigelboim was the manager of the worker home, which the Bund founded in Chelm.

How the treasure of folklore was created here is hard to say. Researchers have found that by the 16th century stories were told in poor Chelm about other foolish cities - Gotham in England, Schildberg in the former Germany - settled by Jews. But the Chelm stories are different, different in their morals, their general fantasy - there communal assemblages.

A meeting is called about all of this. The rabbi is here; the parnes-khoydesh [monthly city official] is here; but Chelm, Jewish Chelm is the oldest democracy in Europe. Even if someone would come in with an idea, as for example, let us capture the moon in a barrel of water, he is heard and the parnes-khoydesh calls a meeting.

The bloody scroll of the events after the meeting is now assembled. The first news, the yellowed clippings that lie before me like sacred old documents, was written by Yitzhak Fajgenbaum, a well known worker for Poalei-Zion in Poland, at his return to America at the beginning of January 1941.

He described:

“This that happened in Chelm has no equal in the entire martyrdom of the Jews of Poland under the Nazi regime because in Chelm there was something that could not be expected, namely, an armed resistance of Jews against the Nazis; there the Jews fought like lions…

“This was in November, when the Nazis hung out announcements across the entire city that all Jews in Chelm must leave the city during the course of three days and go in the direction of Lublin. Chelm is not far from Lublin, but a spirit of rage and opposition enveloped the Jews and voices were heard that they would not go. The Chelemer Rabbi turned to the Nazi commander asking to be permitted to call several businessmen to organize the departure from the city.

“There were three opinions among the Jews who assembled with the rabbi. One - obey and surrender

[Page 651]

to their bitter fate. A second opinion was that it is better to die here before dragging themselves on the roads and being tortured by the Nazis in an unfamiliar place. And the third opinion was - fight against the Nazis. Yes, there were those who said that they would not let themselves be chased like dogs. Before they would leave the world, they would give the smell of gunpowder to the Nazis. They would fight and take as many Nazi bandits with them to the other world as they could.”

Yitzhak Fajgenbaum says that the representatives at the “third meeting” were “two prominent Chelemer Jews, one a doctor and the other a lawyer.” No one tried to argue with them, against them. “There were no arguments.” The situation was just discussed a little; the bestiality committed by the Nazis in the city, the looting, the violence and rapes, were described.

Now, however, the Nazis began to go through the houses, to violently drag the Jews to Lublin; they had to “respond with a blow”… and the murderers were answered with fire.

The uprising was carried out with guns. The guns and a few bullets were brought home from the army when the Polish army crumbled, by young people, former soldiers and reserves.

The power that the Germans then had in Chelm was not enough when the Chelemer opened fire. The Nazis called out reinforcements to defeat the uprising. And here is a report from the Silesian Zeitung [Newspaper], dated the 12th of January 1940.

“In Chelm,” the Nazi newspaper relates with sadistic pleasure, “our fighters had both a difficult and an easy assignment. The easy assignment was when they entered the Jewish houses in order to send the Jews to Lublin, It was discovered they had committed suicide. The Jews did not wait for us to be done with them, but eliminated themselves. Others presented a fight against the government and shot at our soldiers with Polish guns. These were reservists who were dropped from the Polish army and did not surrender their weapons. The local regime immediately set the houses on fire, smashed and annihilated the attackers.”

Thus the great regime of the Third Reich, in its conquering march across Europe, also led to the uprising of the Chelemer Ghetto and the Chelemer Jews. The Silesian Zeitung writes, “The Jews ‘received a lecture about how to conduct themselves against the German army.’”

Those who remained alive were forced on the road to Lublin.

But the plan for a “reservation” for Jews in Lublin collapsed and some of the Chelemer returned to Chelm. In time, Jews from the surrounding shtetlekh began to arrive - and later - also from other countries.

At first it was not known what this meant. Some

[Page 652]

time passed and nothing was heard - there was enough to be heard, so they did not ask about Chelm. But frightening rumors began to arrive and then confirmed reports that the world, as well as the non-Jewish bloodied world, actually became struck with fear about them.

The Germans transformed Chelm into a death-center for Jews not only from Poland. Jews were brought here from the Russian Ukraine, from White Russia, from Holland, Belgium and Czechoslovakia and Greece. It was a slaughterhouse and here they experimented on the Jews with scientific death. They tested gases; Jewish old men, women and children were gassed in order to see how they worked, if they could be used in gas attacks and before finally - annihilating, exterminating the Jews from Poland, from Europe.

This was seen while seeking and researching chemical methods of war, which Hitler's chemists worked on for gas attacks on the Allied armies or also on the population.

Anthony Eden, England's Foreign Minister, read to Parliament the reports about what was happening in Chelm in the form of a declaration and the American Secretary of State included the declaration among the State Department documents, which he presented to the public.

This was at the beginning of 1943. Later when Hitler's collaborators were tried in Nuremberg as war criminals and criminals against humanity it was learned what they had done in Chelm.

Then an issue of the German journal Di Handlung [The Action] arrived in America with a memoir by the German, Paul Herzog, who served in the German army in Chelm. His memoir is called: Chelm - a Mountain of Skulls. And this “mountain” was received in America as the first confession of regret by a German.

In his confession he describes the systematic routine savagery of the Germans on crushed and trampled people, when they fell at work. He describes the camp of prisoners, how beaten and wild non-Jews were incited to take revenge on the Jews for the debasement they endured, for the blows they received from the Nazis; how the imprisoned were held in earthen stalls in the camps and literally were transformed into cannibals.

Part of this memoir by Paul Herzog needs to be included in the scroll of Chelm, the nearly legendary city, on a mountain that once swarmed with stories about fools, stories of jests. But the German devils made a mountain of skulls out of the mountain of stories and a valley of death out of the valley.

This was in 1943. At the end of May, in that year of destruction, a famous Chelmer Jew - Shmuel Zigelboim, the Jewish representative to the Polish government in exile in London - united the hearts of the world with his suicide in protest against the indifference to the annihilation of the Jews in Poland.


[Pages 653-656]

Chelm Right After the Liberation

By Moishe Gantz

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

It was in the month of July 1944. I was then in the ranks of the Red Army in a forest in the Kowaler area. One night the strong movement of people was heard. This was a Polish military division that occupied a place in the same forest area. Only the dirt road divided them from our members of the Red Army.

The leader of the Polish soldiers reported then that Chelm was freed of the Hitler hangmen.

After several shots of salute, the Polish and Russian soldiers came together, sang, danced, played harmonicas together.

When I heard that there were no more German murderers located in Chelm, I began to think of various ideas. I had a great desire to go to Chelm to see who remained alive. But the idea was disrupted - I was in the military, at a position and the military duties were colossal.

On the same night, a member of the Red Army came to us with seven German captives. I observed the Germans by a weak kerosene lamp. I asked them from where they came. One, a yeke [derogatory term for a German, often a German Jew] from Leipzig, told me that he had been taken prisoner in Chelm. I immediately asked him how long he had been in Chelm and through which streets he had gone. From him I learned that Jewish Chelm was juden-rein [free of Jews].

At daybreak we loaded the vehicles with ammunition and food and started on our way. We drove past Ljubomil; I remembered the shtetl. In 1939, when I left Chelm I had been there for several weeks. I looked and wondered: where are the Jews? The shtetl was enveloped in deathly quiet. The windows of the houses were sealed with boards. The shtetl was emptied with no bit of life.

At the crossroad stands a member of the Red Army, directing heavy military traffic. We travel farther, in the direction of Chelm. We stop in Jagodzin. I go to a peasant, take from him - for we soldiers - a few potatoes and sour milk. Our group eats, smokes an inferior kind of tobacco. I want to know if we were going to Chelm, but we are not supposed to ask because only headquarters knows the routes. This is a great military secret.

My every limb trembled. My thoughts were taken by my home city. I then went to our chief, a first lieutenant, and in fear asked him if we are going to Chelm. I asked him cautiously in order that he not have any suspicion. I told him that I was a Jew from the city of Chelm, born there and had lived there until 1939.

[Page 654]

The chief pleasantly answered me that we were going to Chelm, adding that he would help me look for my family.

We crossed the temporary bridge over the Bug River. Our vehicle went fast. I looked around; at first everything looked unfamiliar. But I immediately recognized several roads and woods, Chelm's neighboring villages.

The former Sobor [cathedral], the tips of the Catholic Church were visible in the distance. My heart began to beat quickly. We entered Chelm through the train street. Our vehicle stopped on the corner of Sienkiewicza and Szkolna. I exited the automobile, looked around me; my first look fell on Szkolna Street. I looked into the large courtyard of Mr. Borukh Wajnrib (Tsales) - a deathly silence. Where were the many Jewish families of the courtyard? Where were the shoykhetim [ritual slaughterers], the butchers, the fur pelt traders and artisans? I sought, searched, perhaps I would notice someone, but there was no sign of life.

I looked at the other side, in the direction of the Talmud-Torah [primary religious school for poor boys]; I was looking with a

(Photo, caption: Empty square and the ruin where the Kuzmir shtibl [one-room prayer house] of the Kuzmirer Rebbe, may the memory of a righteous man be blessed, was located.)

[Page 655]

great thirst for a Jewish face, straining my eyes, I searched for the Jewish children who made noise here day and night, strained my ears, perhaps I would hear a childish voice, a Jewish voice from the open windows of the Jewish homes. But it is dead silent. Everything is dead, no trace of a soul.

I went farther along Szkolna Street, closer to the center of the city. I went by the spot where the large old synagogue had been located for centuries. It was a ravaged square with clods of earth and stones. I stood with a grieving heart.

I went to the corner of Szkolna-Lubelska Streets; it was quiet here, too, no living soul. From the Rynek [market place] I noticed that our house was no longer here and the entire Przechodnia Street, the opposite from Berish Kuper's building, stood in ruins.

I move closer to the location of our house. I see a little pile of stones and scraps. I go to my chief and lead him to the house where my family and I had lived until 1939.

I go across the “skating ground steps.” I look for the Jewish women, the women merchants, the young kheder [primary religious school] boys, the Jewish water carriers, the artisans, the tailors, the shoemakers, the cabinetmakers, the bakers - where are they all?

I went to Josef Goldhaber's apartment. I entered; a Polish family lived there. I

[Page 656]

asked them, what happened to the Chelmer Jews? The Polish woman answered that she had been living here only a year and she did not know anything…

I entered the house of the Shvartser Bekerin [the dark woman baker]; Christians lived there, too. I stood as if my feet had been knocked out from under me and saddened. [It felt as if] there was drilling in my brain: Where can one learn anything? Where can one find a Jew?

A Pole suddenly arrived from somewhere; I asked him if any of the many thousands of Jews who had lived here were still alive. The Pole indicated that a few Jews lived at Pszczowa Street, number 39. I went there immediately. In the courtyard I met Izer Blachermacher, who stood in fear. I told him that I was a Chelemer Jew; I mentioned my family. A few more Jews immediately appeared, skeletons, among them: Monis Cytrin, Yehiel Szczupak. At first they did not recognize me, but they immediately fell on me, hugged, kissed and cried heavily with hot, boiling tears.

I asked if they knew about my family. Crying deeply, they told me that no one survived; their close family members also perished; the Hitler murderers brutally annihilated all of the Jews, young and old.

Then I understood and clearly saw the dark end of more than 18,000 Jews.


[Page 665]

Witness Testimony

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Name and family name: Ruth Englender
Residence until the war: Chelm
Education: Student in the 6th class of the Hebrew Public School in Berlin, Schlachtersee.

I was born in Chelm, Lublin Voivodie [province] in 1933. The city was not large, but it was interesting to me.

We lived in Chelm until the outbreak of the war. The war with the savage Germans began in 1939. Chelm was the first city in Poland that was bombed by the Germans. I was then six years old. Although I cannot remember everything or impart it all in writing, I will try to communicate several memories and facts that I can never forget.

When the first bombs fell on the city, everyone – in the confusion – ran to wherever they could. We ran to an orchard and crawled on the ground in order to save ourselves from the bombs. I was running then and became separated from my mother, not knowing where she was. I lay completely still, with a neighbor. I only whispered this question to him: “I beg you, tell me if we will stay alive?...” I repeated these words several times in deadly fear.

The terrible bombardments lasted for several hours. When things became quiet, I saw the destruction of Chelm and the blood of shattered people.

We escaped to a village to a Polish acquaintance on the second day in order to calm our nerves a little and to free ourselves of the fear of death that floated over us. It was calmer in the village than in the city. We hid in the village for a month. Then we returned to the city where great anxiety and fear reigned. It was continuously said that the Germans would enter in a week.

However, the Red army entered and urged everyone to go to Russia where it was calm, quiet and there was no war.

My mother decided without wavering to go away to Russia. She folded a pack of things and we left Chelm with other people in overflowing trucks and arrived in the western Ukraine.

In about a month an uproar about passports began. Every refugee had to apply for a passport that only provided the right to live in a village. Therefore the large majority of escapees from Poland did not want to obtain passports because it was said that they would be sent to Siberia with these passports.

Finally, one day the Soviet regime brought together all of the Jews without passports and they

[Page 666]

were sent to Siberia by transports with up to 50 people in a train wagon. It was very suffocating and difficult to breathe. There was no water to drink in the wagon.

We traveled under guard – in such conditions – for more than a month until we arrived in Siberia. It was winter. We lived in barracks that were crowded and dirty. Several built barracks and others worked in the forest to earn a piece of bread.

It was very bad for us there in Siberia. People walked around swollen from hunger. Through a miracle, we were only in Siberia for a few months.

We left Siberia for the Urals. Life there was a little easier. My mother was employed in construction work and I went to study in a school.

The German-Russian War broke out in 1941 and all of the Jews were freed from the barracks and the camps. After living in the Urals for a year, we were permitted to live anywhere in all of the Russian cities where anyone wanted to live. We then traveled to Asia.

In Asia we settled in a kolkhoz [collective farm]. My mother spun cotton and I helped. However, it was difficult to live from this work and my mother was forced to sell several of the things she had brought with her from Poland in order to buy a little barley flour.

We lived in Asia for four years. In one regard it was good for us there because I had the opportunity to study in a Polish school. However, we waited impatiently for the end of the war in order to return to Poland.

When the war ended in 1945, the happy news arrived that we had waited for during our long wandering – that we could be repatriated to Poland. We left for Poland immediately, but we also found that our home had been destroyed and saw the destruction with our own eyes. We learned the facts of the terrible slaughter of the Jews. Therefore, we immediately decided to leave Poland as soon as possible.

Now we are in Berlin and I am studying in the Hebrew school with which I am very satisfied. We now wait for the day when we will leave here, from the land of the assassins and murderers.

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