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[Pages 711-712]

A Dream of My Shtetl

by Shmuel Farber

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

 

…I go through my beloved shtetl [town]
Wander around it lost, as if blind;
The houses are unfamiliar, the streets unknown –
Not recognizing, unrecognized.

I will find the khederim [religious elementary schools],
Where I once studied
Khumish, “Swarbe” and Gemara[1]
Aloud, aloud…

The house of prayer stands orphaned,
Empty and deserted and completely quiet,
Gemarus lie closed –
All quiet, all quiet…

[Page 712]

Look! The synagogue hill – a cemetery,
Terrifyingly aflame at sunset…
Dear Jews! Where are you?”
All dead, all dead.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. The Khumish is the Five Books of Moses – the Torah. Swarbe is an acronym for esrim-vaarba'a – the number 24 in Hebrew – the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible: The Torah, the Prophets and the Writings. The Gemara contains commentaries on the Torah. The plural of Gemara is Gemarus Return


[Pages 713-716]

On the Goniadz Road

by Dovid Treszczanski

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

 

“Everyone, everyone is near to me, brothers of my sadness”
Shlomo Shnud

You always follow me as a nightmare, day and night, Goniadz, my dear shtetele[1]!

Home of my childhood years, of my youth. In you I rocked in my straw cradle, studied in kheder[2] and – grew into a “person.” In you I spent my young years as a victim in the struggle for a better world.

Endless pictures run through my memory!

Friday – a wedding in the shtetl. The groom and bride are accompanied by music to the synagogue hill. The entire shtetl is lively – a wedding in the shtetl, lehavdil[3] – a funeral in the shtetl. Everything draws me to the ghostly alley. Everything is wrapped in sorrow.

Joy and sadness together.

There stands our white synagogue on the hill like a light-tower. Jews would run to the synagogue hill on a warm day to catch a breeze from the river.

The old bathhouse stands beneath. Children running with their fathers to the bath… How lively and familiar – erev Pesakh[4], erev Rosh Hashanah.

Here is the old Beis-Medrash.[5] Mordekhai the shamas[6] heats the oven and we, friends, bring potatoes to bake. A group plays cards on a big, long table in the woman's prayer room. Mordekhai the shamas chases them out…

Chana-Dina's son, Yaruhem's gemara[7] melody reverberates by the tallow candle on a winter night…

And the bel-tefilah's[8] – the always joyful Reb Eliezar, son of Rywka Ruchl's son Moshe, and Yankl Elia, the blacksmith's son. I see them in front of the synagogue lectern dressed in a kitl[9], in talisim[10] asking and crying for a good year.

And the stormy meetings in the Beis-Medrash about all community matters. What was not there in Goniadz? [Political] parties, schools, groups, sport groups, reading circles, libraries and so on.

The dear Y.L. Peretz library! How much love and energy I put in among your walls! Another book! Another book! – And the delight in my heart. I cannot forget the late Leibl Mankowski, the founder and creator of the library who was beloved in all circles of Goniadz society.

I remember the inscription on his headstone: “Here lies a simple member of a Jewish worker family.”

A number of young Goniadzers were forced to his grave where they were shot and buried.

I see you all, fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers, how you were forced into the cattle cars to Bogusze…[11] Your last journey.

It is quiet in the shtetl. Death is all around.

It is Friday in the evening. No Shabbos candles. The windows black, dark holes…

… And the Bober swims farther on its way… Dear River Bober! Our mothers would launder our childish shirts in your clear waters. How many dreams did young hearts dream, navigating on your calm waters on summer evenings? How many hearty songs did we sing on boats rented from Mikhal the fisherman?

Jews came to your waters to say Tashlikh[12]. Jewish children will never again swim on your still waters and pious Jews will never come to you again to wash the “sinning” skirts of their garments…

And the frogs at Dolko, Guzy and Rawe[13] croak as always.

Where are you, dear daughters of Rawe! Your Shabbos pletzlekh[14] were tasty! A house for everyone who was hungry… Always singing and joyfulness and so much hominess.

For the Goniadz survivors – an eternal, deep wound that will never heal!

However, from the great ruins rises the heroic personality of a young man from Goniadz, Avraham-Leizer Rubin, the son of Yankl the blacksmith. The hero of the uprising in Treblinka and of the partisan movement around Bialystok calls to us and demands that we never forget.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. little town Return
  2. religious elementary school Return
  3. word usually used to separate the sacred from the profane Return
  4. on the eve of Passover Return
  5. House of Prayer or synagogue Return
  6. rabbi's assistant Return
  7. rabbinical commentaries Return
  8. person who leads prayer at the lectern Return
  9. white robe worn on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and by the groom at his wedding Return
  10. prayer shawls Return
  11. transit camp near Grajewo Return
  12. The custom of casting bread crumbs into a flowing body of water on Rosh Hashanah to cast away one's sins. It is derived from Micah 7:19 - “You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.” – Translator Return
  13. Dolko, Guzy and Rawe seem to be the names of places identified on the shtetl map on page 13. – Translator Return
  14. flat rolls – Translator Return


[Pages 717-720]

Night of Horror

by M. Sh. Ben–Meir

Translated by Selwyn Rose

The night was rainy and after midnight
Blind autumn o'er the window pane groped,
Her fingers touching the tears.
Hidden was I in the bosom of an armchair
An orphaned town, during a night of cold.
Nestling close to its foster–mother.

Behind me stands the lantern,
Its head droops on the wall before me,
Shedding its light on a picture.
In the picture –the image of a Jew
(A known work of Chagall)
Wrapped in a Talit, crowned with Tephilin.

A crumpled paper I spread before me,
A letter retrieved from the Shoah,
A witness to abomination –
A reminder of the destruction of my town.
From hand to hand, from camp to camp
It coursed its way to arrive in my hand.

The details of a nightmare.
Sanctified names of Men women and babes–in–arms.
And in the end one wrote:
The old Rabbi Israel hid in the Yeshiva
Martyred, by the Holy Ark;
Wrapped in his torn and bloodied Talit
His gouged–out eyes on his Tephilin gaze…

My vision is clouded,
My throat chokes up like a vise.
I hear a heart beating,
I know not whose –
Is it mine if that same old man?

I raise my eyes to the picture.
Gazing for long at the image of the Jew
And a trembling seized me.
My lips grasped tight in a grimace –
They will open speaking in rage:

Woe to you, O aged Jew enwrapped and adorned!
Art thou not that same Rabbi Israel
From my home town,
Whose blood congealed upon his shawl?
Why hastened to conceal thyself in the Yeshiva?
Why did you hide?

Behold your sunken fear–filled eyes
With their frozen look of death.
The look of a dying man,
Gazing on another distant world.
Your cracked and seamed face like a package split open,
Stiffened in death, it thunders a secret.
And your mouth agape as if uttering its final word.
Your hands imprisoned in the leather straps
Are hanging as if paralyzed
Lacking salvation.
And the totafot between your gloomy, angry eyes
Have slipped and cover your furrowed brow.


[Pages 721-722]

The Burning of the Synagogue

by Avraham Yaffe, Tel Aviv

Translated by Amy Samin

In our town, an ancient synagogue stood on a steep hill. The date of its founding is unknown, but the elders of the town would recount that long ago, when the area was ruled by the Prussians, a large prison stood on the spot. And how many benefits there were in that synagogue mount. Aside from the sanctity of the synagogue, and the extensive field around it that isolated it from the town – also of note was the wonderful and spectacular view of the surrounding area. At its feet flowed the Buber River, which wound its course through fields, meadows, and green pastures into the distance, and on the horizon – continuous dense forests which surrounded the area with a blue-green wreath. Not for nothing did the townspeople take pride in the synagogue mount.

On the winter Sabbaths, a minyan [ten men, the minimum number required for prayers] of worshipers and synagogue faithful would gather, plodding through the mud or in snow up to the knees. Though as Passover approached and the spring sun began to warm the face of the earth, the residents of the town would throng to the synagogue mount, to see whether the river had awakened from its winter slumber under a thick blanket of ice wrapped in a thin sheet of white snow. On one of the Sabbaths, as the worshippers left the synagogue, chilled to the bone, to warm up a bit in the shining sunlight and to observe the river, suddenly a declaration was heard: the ice is moving! …In the air could be heard the echoes of the faint sound of the ice cracking, and from the river and beneath it came the trumpeting sound and an amazing noise, which grew louder and louder. That Sabbath day became the festival of Spring, and the synagogue mount would celebrate its victory. During the Mincha [afternoon] prayers of the Sabbath, the number of worshippers would greatly increase, and people would stand and watch the flowing ice with joy and trembling…They had just finished studying Psalm 104, and here suddenly they could see with their own eyes “how manifold are thy works”, the river killing the ice as it rose up on its banks, its breadth and length in a glorious song of freedom, the song of Spring, a celebration of light and liberty. From Passover to Sukkot and even Simchat Torah, the synagogue was the center of prayer in the town, and the synagogue mount became a destination for day trips, conversations and gatherings for the townspeople.

Lightning struck the roof of the synagogue more than once, and under the roof was kept the lightening-struck timber, in memory of the saving of the synagogue from destruction by fire.

[Page 722]

Many conflagrations befell the town, and during the First World War part of the town was destroyed and burned by the shelling of the Germans and the Russians. The synagogue on its high hill, and with its stone walls, remained unchanged, like an unmovable stone in a stormy sea, “like Mount Zion which cannot be removed,” until the blasphemous Nazis invaded the town, those two legged predators, may their names and memories be erased, in the Second World War, at the end of 1938. And so came to an end the fortress of the community of Goniadz.

Rosh Hashanah, 1939. The people demanded in secret: make weak the haters of Israel. But the opposite happened…the bitter enemy of the Jews grew stronger, and with its victory over Poland, the town fell under the government of the filthy, evil Nazis. With the Days of Awe came the real days of horror.

A great fear befell the Jews on the eve of Yom Kippur. Someone spread the word that the Nazis had a terrible plot against the Jews: they were going to blow up the synagogue during the Kol Nidre prayer. The rabbi and the beadles made an announcement not to come to pray at the synagogue on the eve of Yom Kippur. They were barely able to scrape together a minyan at the rabbi's house, and there they secretly said the Kol Nidre prayer.

The belief of the townspeople was weakened when they heard that they were to avoid praying in the synagogue on Yom Kippur, because many used to come to pray in the synagogue on that sacred day of fasting, because the pure air there would ease their fast…

The next day, on Yom Kippur, suddenly the sounds of a loud, threatening explosion were heard. Fire and billows of smoke - chunks of the synagogue walls went flying upwards, the roof and ceiling collapsed, and the entire synagogue mount became like a volcano. The Nazis had put their plot into action and blown up the synagogue on Yom Kippur. The Jews of the town prayed brokenheartedly in grief and sorrow: “No prophet and no visionary, like the blind we will cast about and leave. Every day it is said what will be our end, our lives are hanging in the balance…”

During the prayers, weeping and burning tears flowed from their eyes over this new destruction – the destruction of the ancient synagogue that had once been the majesty of the town.


[Pages 723-724 - Yiddish] [Pages 727-730 - Hebrew]

The synagogue (poem)

by Idl Treszczanski (M. Sh. Ben–Meir) of blessed memory

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

 

On the green hill, separated from the shtetl,[1]
Chosen on the first day of creation,
Everyone admired your magnificence
And everyone told of the glory of your importance:

“An old castle from Jan Sobieski's time –
In Kingdom Poland, before the Prussians and Russians –
Sanctified him, before God and man,
The great, great grandfather with his accumulation of merit in heaven”…

From childhood on there has appeared in my dreams
A small temple white and clean,
Where the spirit of peace always floats around,
Like repose with the Divinity itself.

When the swirl of time torments my mood,
When melancholy's wings heavily wave, –
Sorcerer's dreams bring me to the beloved hill,
My eyes and ears – I see and hear…

I see the mantel lamps blazing in holiness, –
The candles sparkle on two arches…
I hear the prayers pour together
With the twitter of birds, – there they fly! –

[Page 724]

I see – talisim[2] swaying, without end,
Rabbi Gdalye stretches out his hands for the priestly blessing – – –
The voice of Kopl the melamed's[3] shofar[4] – – –
And Meir Budner's melody split the walls…

A Rosh Hashanah sigh – – a holiday “Amen” – –
A knock of a rattle – – – a sip of Kiddush wine[5] – – –
And on Simkhas Torah[6] one is called by name.
And the dead pray by moon shine – – –

See – yahrzeit licht[7] which die at Neilah[8],
The last cry breaks out in the women's synagogue – – –
And after the tumult of the quiet Kadeyshim[9]
Miller approaches with his fire [wagon]…[10]

*

My synagogue is a ruin – my most beautiful dream!
The villain destroyed my childhood world!
The Shkhine[11] cries – – – and the angels of peace –
They have hidden their face

And we cry with them…

But I – I cannot cry, –
As there are devastated worlds everywhere!
Oh, synagogue mine, with your thousands of charms,
I will quietly hide you in my heart.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Town Return
  2. Prayer shawls Return
  3. Religious primary school teacher Return
  4. Ram's horn Return
  5. The Kiddush prayer is recited over wine before a meal. Return
  6. Simkhas Torah is the autumn holiday commemorating the giving of the Torah by God to the Jewish people. Return
  7. Memorial candles Return
  8. Closing prayer on Yom Kippur. Return
  9. Prayers of mourning. Return
  10. It was a common occurrence for fires to occur in synagogues on Yom Kippur because of the many memorial candles burning there. Return
  11. The Divine Presence. Return


[Pages 731-732]

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[Pages 733-734]

Lamentations

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Eikhah [Lamentations] How destroyed and empty has become the deep-rooted traditional, old kehile [organized Jewish community] in Goniadz! Her sons and daughters, sacred and pure, righteous and honest people in deed and work, were tortured for the Yidishkeit [a Jewish way of life] and met a violent death through the blood thirsty murderers, may their names and their memory be erased, and their bones were seeded and spread across the blood soaked Polish ground and they were not given a burial.

Let us stand sadly and quietly in our great sorrow for the taking of our holy. Let us engrave their dear memory in the depth of our hearts and may their dear images always float before our eyes!

Let their desperate cry of pain not leave our ears and our sadness not cease until the shame and the curse of exile is erased and our people will build and be reestablished in its land, Israel!

[Pages 735-736]

[blank]

[Page 737]

Let us remember them in all prayers,
We will lament them in all prayers for the dead.
Let us recognize them in all Yisgadals,
May they exist in all our Hatikvahs
Yakov Glatstein

[Page 738]

Shema Yisroel


Translator's Footnotes

Yisgadal is the opening word of the Kaddish recited by mourners.
Hatikvah The Hope – an anthem adopted by the Zionist movement and now the national anthem of the State of Israel.
Shema Yizroel – “Hear, O Israel” – the central prayer of Jewish worship.


[Pages 739-740]

[blank]

 

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