People began to whisper together about the possibility of escape, and did their best to see that the Jewish police heard nothing. Who could be wise enough at such a time to weigh the pros and the cons? Anybody who put a foot outside the Ghetto was risking his life and in danger of death at every step, until he had left the town behind. Once outside, there were fresh perils. These came from-both the village police and the German police on guard at the bridges along the roads, waiting in ambush in order to murder and pillage. if anyone succeeded in crossing the frontier in spite of all these risks and perils he had to find a place where he could hide when crossing the frontier, for the Hungarian police were keeping strict watch all along the border area. If they caught any Jews from Poland they returned them to the Gestapo at Lawoczne. But if anyone found a good hiding-place where he could stay a few days, he could wait for a suitable opportunity of getting to Munkacz and from there to Budapest. Yet in spite of the perils and pitfalls, which maybe one in a thousand could evade, it was still worth risking a life that had become worthless.
However, the weaklings and cowards in the Ghetto thought otherwise. As long as there were no Actions, they argued, the Ghetto was the sole refuge in which it was possible to live for the present. Leaving the Ghetto was as good as suicide. Why should a Jew go to meet the Angel of Death? Better wait for the Angel of Death to come for him.
The physicians Dr. Shützer and Sobel succeeded in crossing the frontier and reached the first Jewish house on the soil of Hungary. When they knocked at the window to ask permission to enter, they were met with animosity and contempt. The poor fellows explained that they had just escaped from Poland, and entreated for a place to spend the night. Their entreaties and tears were of no avail. It is shameful and painful to have to reveal the reproach of some Hungarian Jews. One even brandished an axe and warned them that they should clear away at once, otherwise they would be handed over to the frontier police. They were driven away by force and returned to the hell of the Stryj Ghetto.
A Hungarian Jew who was caught hiding a person who had run away from Poland was liable to three days' detention. At the time that Polish Jewry was weltering in its blood, Hungarian Jews were afraid of imprisonment.
In spite of everything, people set out to cross the mountains. Hersch Benczer, Moshe Schechter, Kron, Michael Wang, Moshe Kess and others succeeded in reaching Budapest. The delivery of letters to Jews had long ceased. Those happy persons who had reached Budapest wrote letters to Polish addresses in Stryj. The letters were brought to the Ghetto and induced people to risk their lives and cross the Hungarian frontier whatever happened. My three dear martyred brothers Isaac, Joseph and Pinhas, with Ephraim Kramer and his son Saul, engineer Haim Vogel, Leib Risch and David Sobel and their families, Shlomo Ladier, Mendel Meller, the brothers Rosenman and others like them whose names I have simply forgotten in the course of time, - these brave fellows, who did not wish to wait for the Nazi murderers and to stand in line by the pit were all shot on the frontier. The Carpathian ranges, both on the side of Lawoczne and on that of Dolina-Wiszkow and Perehinsko-Osmoloda, absorbed the blood of these holy martyrs.
Dozens of people who tried to escape to Hungary were shot on the way at Morszyn or at Synowódzko. A few were wounded and returned to the Ghetto with bullets in their backs and legs, happy that they still had a refuge to which to return. The Wohlmut, Reiner, Crib and other families and persons dug themselves bunkers in the Skole district in the Carpathian forest. Soon enough the bunkers were discovered by Ukrainian shepherds who brought the Gestapo there. Moshe Wohlmut was the only one to get away. He succeeded in returning to the Ghetto where he died of grief and anguish when he contracted typhoid. Some people dug themselves bunkers in the forests near Rozdol and Dolina. Ukrainian bastards searched for Jews in the forests in order to obtain a reward from the village police. All those who went to the forests and were not discovered returned one by one to the Ghetto or the camps, for they could not face the perils of forest life. Only a bare handful escaped from these hiding places.
The Germans discovered this trick as well. Strict watch was kept at the railway station. First they inspected all documents and stared straight in the eyes of the passengers. Afterwards they physically examined those they suspected. Jews and Jewesses by the hundreds were hung in the railway stations. Only a handful of those who tried to escape from Stryj to Warsaw succeeded in saving themselves with the false documents. Among them were the physicians Schleifer, Hausmann and Kindler, the Brothers Apfelgruen and a few more. Women had a better chance than the men of escaping with the aid of such papers. Is it possible to describe the distress of parents waiting to die in the Ghetto and saying goodbye to their daughter who was going out into a world that was full of peril at every step? Their parting blessing was, "Listen carefully, daughter, and pay attention. Forget your people and your family."
The murderous situation developed an animal-like instinct within us for feeling the storm before it came. There were clear signs of an approaching action. The kidnapping in the streets stopped. They did not put pressure on us or thrash us at work. The Police at the gates did not inspect us, and let things pass. Sometimes they even vanished into the neighbouring inn. This meant that we were simply not worth guarding any longer. For who guards the dead? Even the thoroughgoing Gestapo examinations at the camps stopped; examinations of which we had been in deadly fear. Now the camp was unattended. So when we did not feel the whip and the pressure we knew that this was the calm before the storm, before the last storm that preceded the final everlasting silence, the calm and silence of death. Those who were not prepared to accept the terrible thought that they had to wait tremblingly for death at the hand of the Nazis, those whose will to live was not yet fully destroyed and who still thought of rescue, had to decide between the following four alternatives: To hide with non-Jews, to run away to Hungary, to escape to the forests and dig a bunker there; or to try to get to another town with false papers. All of these alike meant 99.99% sure death. Those who risked one or other of these methods of escape had one more temporary possibility. If the non-Jew flung him out alive, or if the conditions in the forests compelled him to return to the town, he could still take shelter in the Ghetto as long as it existed. But after the liquidation of the Ghetto there would no longer be any place for a Jew to enter if he did happen to be alive. He was simply outlawed and could be killed by the first passerby. Those were our thoughts in Spring 1943.
I shall remember Passover, 1943, in the Ghetto until my eyes close forever. At the time I was working at the A.S.A. glass factory. Kneeling naked I drew glowing glass vessels out of the furnace. Once a day we received a portion of soup which was not fit for dogs, and a piece of black bread. After work we went to a camp in the Belechowska street, at the corner house of the Nawalnicki sisters. The furniture consisted of two tiers of boards which were infested with lice. Three persons lay side by side on such a bed of boards. The camp was surrounded by tall wooden palings, while a policeman stood at the entrance gate. The events in other cities made it perfectly clear to us that first the Ghettoes would be cleared, and afterwards the camps in which the productive workers were kept. The Ghetto was generally regarded as a place which it was dangerous to enter, for nobody could guess the day or hour of the approaching Action which could be sensed in the air.
On Passover Eve I stole into the Ghetto. My three martyred brothers were no longer alive. They had met their end in the Carpathians. On this night I, the only surviving one, wished to be together with my parents, whatever happened. My heart forewarned me that I would never see them again. Jewish refugees from other towns were staying with my parents who had always been hospitable. They sat round the table, on which burnt a dim candle made of fat that my mother had specially hidden for the purpose. A few black matzot made of coarse meal and hot water had been prepared for the festival. We said kiddush over the Matzot. When my father asked me to repeat the Four Questions I remembered the Passover Eves of the good years, when we had sat like olive-shoots round a truly royal table on which shone vessels of gold, silver, and crystal-ware, and had gaily and cheerfully sung the words of the Haggadah to the traditional tunes. My tears choked me so that I could not utter a sound . Nor did the eyes of the others remain dry. Suddenly the young fellow who had been watching on the balcony burst into the room. They're coming", came the cry, cutting like a lancet through the living flesh. In the distance he had seen two shadows approaching the Ghetto, a sign that the Action was impending. Within a moment we were all in the bunkers. This time it was a false alarm. Some people had heart attacks because of such alarms and maneuvers, while there were those who lost their minds.
Next day I met the martyred Reb Shlomo Drimmer in the Ghetto. He was a learned Jew, and the Secretary of the Talmud Torah. With him he carried a volume of the Mishna text. In answer to my question he told me that he was going to the kloiz (synagogue) of the Czortkow Hassidim, where a quorum of ten Jews met every day. Each of them studied a chapter of the Mishna for the salvation of his own soul, and then said Kaddish after himself. For who would say Kaddish after us if extermination were decreed for our people and not even a memory would survive us? All the synagogues and houses of study were already destroyed. In the curse of the actions the Ukrainians had smashed, ruined and burnt the Torah scrolls, the books and the furniture. Or else they used them as fuel and for wrapping up goods in the shops. The windows had all been smashed.
I stood in front of the "Geyle Kloiz" in Kusnierska Street, the Temple of the God of my youth, my old House of Study; and I trembled. The holes and spaces of the windows seemed to face me like a man whose eyes have been put out, and made their demand. Should I weep at its destruction, at our own or at both alike?
As I walked in line back from work I entered a Ukrainian shop at the risk of my life in order to buy some tobacco. The shopkeeper wrapped up the leaves in a page of Gemara. Sheets of a Torah Scroll were spread out on the floor. I was shocked and felt my knees and heart shake. Scalding tears suddenly burst from my eyes at the sight of my people's sacred objects being trampled by impure feet.
The tension in the factory increased. People whispered to one another, "They're digging!" At the sound of the words the bowels within one seemed to turn over. Pits were being dug at the Jewish cemetery in readiness for the day of the impending Action. The terrifying news was brought by Aryan workers belonging to the "Baudienst". That day the men in charge did not drive us hard at work. Such easy-going days always boded evil and catastrophe. Our hands simply did not respond to the work, but seemed to be paralysed. We stared round about us like trapped wild beasts. Nobody slept at night.
What we feared came about. In May 1943, between the Passover and the Feast of Weeks, the Ghetto was surrounded. By this time the work of the murderers was far simpler because the area of the Ghetto had been reduced. There was no escape or refuge. Gestapo units were brought from Drohobycz to help the Stryj squads. Those in charge of the slaughter were: Oberleutnant Klarmann, Ebenrecht and Huet of Stryj, and Hildebrandt, Minkes, Josef Gabriel and Gerber of Drohobycz. The murderers and their assistants were all drunk. The echoes of the shots and explosions that reached our ears pierced to our very vitals. It is beyond my powers to describe what went on within us. It is beyond all human comprehension. While we were working for a German victory only a few hundred paces away from the Ghetto, Hell was opening its maw to swallow our families. When the murderers entered cellars or other suspect places, they put their ears to the walls in order to try and distinguish movement or human voices. At such tense moments all those in hiding held their breaths. if anybody coughed or a child began to cry, they all promptly covered him with their clothes and choked him. The children and babies found in the houses in upper floors were not brought downstairs but were dragged from the arms of their mothers and flung from the windows. Their little heads smashed against the pavement, while the little bodies were trampled underfoot by the Nazis and Ukrainians. Bunker walls were smashed open. Those who never heard the yells of the feral beasts roaring, "Raus! Los!" (Out! Quick!), and those who never heard the weeping and wailing of the babies and sucklings trampled and murdered in the streets, can have no idea of Hell. Hundreds were shot in the streets. Thousands were taken to the Great Synagogue and from there to prison and the cemetery for mass Slaughter.
It was obvious to the Nazi murderers that the Jewish Council and Jewish police had to play an active part and help in carrying out the Action. The Jewish police who were called upon to participate received special white jackets. Their task was to take the corpses out of the houses, pile them in heaps on carts and take them to the graveyard. All the way there blood dripped from the carts and the cart-wheels on the Stryj earth. Those Jews who survived this action, and who were not yet done away with by the murderers, washed and scoured the streets of Stryj after the Action, removing the bloodstains left by their brethren.
This time the victims were not taken far. Some had prepared cyanide of potassium for themselves and committed suicide in prison. They included Dr. Malka Leibowicz and her son, Dr. Schnier, Dr. Kiczales and others. When the victims were sent half-naked out of the prison and climbed on the lorries that took them off to the cemetery, a crowd of Ukrainians gathered at the gateway to see and satisfy their lust for Jewish blood. And let this go into the record: The Ukrainian curs beat the naked bodies of our brothers and sisters with nail-studded clubs while they were being taken away to slaughter.
The blood of 8,000 Jews was shed that day at the cemetery. Poles who lived in the Pomiarki suburb next to the Jewish cemetery told me after the Liberation that they went up on the roofs to watch the murder. After the Nazis left the field of slaughter the level of the graves had been raised because of the sea of blood that had been shed. For several days afterwards dogs licked the blood that oozed from the earth.
After the Action was over the Jewish Council received an account from the Gestapo listing the precise number of bullets used up in carrying it out. The Council was requested to pay the bill.
After having cut us limb from limb, the Ghetto was ready to be liquidated. The only bunkers left there were those that had been built by really skilled workmen in hidden places where even the murderers would never dream of searching, and those that had by chance never been discovered. After the last Action, which was on a hitherto unprecedented scale, the desire of the survivors to keep themselves alive and escape by building bunkers had very definitely weakened. What was the point of saving one's self again if the Ghetto was going to be liquidated anyway? Physical strength was at an ebb. Some died of starvation and grief or else of infectious diseases, while others just committed suicide. Despair spread from the Ghetto to the camps. It was obvious that once the Ghetto was liquidated it would be the turn of the camps. We secretly began building bunkers within the camp itself.
During the middle days of Passover 1943 four young men came to the Ghetto. They had reached Stryj from Warsaw with forged Aryan papers, after running away from the Destruction and crawling to the Aryan part through the sewers. They told of the heroic deeds of the Ghetto fighters who raised the blue-white flag in the burning Ghetto, which was defending itself to the last. The cadaverous faces of the Stryj Ghetto inhabitants grew bright at these tales of bravery.
But our joy did not last long. The liquidation of the Ghetto began on 10th June 1943. A permanent guard of armed Ukrainian police was stationed at all the Ghetto outlets for a fortnight. Those who still retained a spark of the will to live left the bunkers, went up to the attics, made holes between one attic and the next, fashioned themselves a way to the Aryan Quarter and through the attics reached the house of Fleischer, at Rynek corner of Cerklewna Street. From there they stole at night to our camp at the Nawalnicki Sisters' Building in Bolechowska Street.
The fires of hell were literally burning in the Ghetto. The murderers went from house to house seeking victims, and absolutely destroyed the buildings. Where they suspected the existence of bunkers they flung incendiary bombs or flooded the cellars with water. Those who did not drown were buried alive under piles of bricks, stones and dust or else were burnt and choked in the smoke. "Some perished by water and some by fire, some by strangling and some by stoning", as the prayers for the New Year and Day of Atonement put it. Not a single person survived in the last bunkers, which were regarded as unconquered fortresses, at the homes of Moshe Rosenbaum and Ezekiel Reder in Lwówska St. and the home of Moshe Kron in Berka Yoselowicza Street. The sound of bombs and rattle of automatic guns made the town shake to its foundations. We in the camp listened with bated breath to the echo of each bomb as though a battle were going on.
A Jew from the Skole District who escaped from the Ghetto hid in the attic of Isaac Reich at the corner of the roof, and through a crack in the wall saw what took place in the courtyard of my parents He succeeded in making his way through the attic route to the camp, and this is what he told me: My parents left the bunker in sheer exhaustion. As soon as they entered their dwelling the German murderers appeared, accompanied by Ukrainian police. My parents were taken through the outer stairway down to the courtyard. A German knocked my father's skullcap off with his rifle and shot him. Afterwards he shot my mother. May the Lord take vengeance for their shed blood. The murderers emptied my father's pockets, removed a few marks and his watch and chain. Then came the Jewish police and loaded the corpses on a cart.
When the Ghetto was liquidated the Offices of the Jewish Council were burnt and the members were shot, together with the police. All that was left was the deathcart with the skinny mare. She was brought to our camp, whose turn had now arrived.
The last survivors of the Ghetto who had found refuge in our camp hid wisened with starvation in the attics and the cellars. Those who managed to obtain cyanide of potassium took their own lives, their final satisfaction being that the Nazis had not touched them. As for the remainder, the last spark of life gradually dimmed in them, and they wandered round like shades, more dead than alive. The commandant of our camp, A.S.A., August Schmidt of Stuttgart, a glass-factory owner, informed the Gestapo that illegals from the Ghetto had stolen into the camp. One fine morning before sunrise early in July 1943 we were startled to hear sudden shots in the camp itself; shots which flung us off our lice-infested boards. Before we could find out what was going on, we saw through the windows that we were surrounded by Nazi, and Ukrainian forces. The medley of shouts and shots left us highly confused and unnerved. The Jewish police urged us with their rubber truncheons to dress quickly and go down to the courtyard. Through the sound of the shots could be heard the voices of the commanding officers: "A.S.A. workers with the W mark in one row, and the rest in a second row!"
I stood among the A.S.A. workers and pinned the W badge on my chest; for its absence meant death. My eyes sought my wife and mother-in-law, who had hidden themselves in a bunker under the roof. Shots sounded in the attic. A Schupo and Gestapo men climbed on the roof and shot those who were running away. Their riddled bodies fell into the courtyard beside us. People were dragged out of the chimneys and shot on the spot. Two Jews in an attic defended themselves with knives, and so as a result I saw two bandaged Nazis in the neighbouring courtyard. Those who had tried to escape lay weltering in their blood at the camp gateway.
This Action was conducted by Oberleutnant Klarmann. His shirt was unbuttoned, his face was red and he looked like a savage and bloodthirsty beast. His head was bare and he had an automatic rifle in his hand. He stood on the steps in the courtyard giving orders. At his side stood Isaac Stark, the Commandant of the Jewish Camp Police. Through my skull thundered the order: "Count the 165 for the A.S.A. All the others to the other row!" My work card was numbered 164, which meant that I was among the living. When they reached my place I felt my pulse, my muscles and my eyes to see whether I was dreaming or actually awake in this valley of slaughter. I felt that my senses were leaving me. My legs were shaking. Klarmann spoke: "We have taken the Ghetto filth out of your camp, for they dirtied the camp which is intended only for the good workers. It is your duty to work and work, and henceforward let your camp be clean!"
The row of illegals was loaded on lorries with yells and wailings whose echoes still resound in my ears as I write these lines. They were taken to the cemetery to be killed. We, the 165, were led away to work at the factory.
The Altstoff and Wasserwirtschaft camps were liquidated with other small camps. The three labour camps left at Stryj were those of the A.S.A., Heeresbarackenwerke, and the H.K.P. There was no longer any doubt that they would also be liquidated. The question was which would come first. Or maybe they would be liquidated together. Who could guess the plans of the murderers? Those days were just a corridor leading to death. The factory in which I worked was surrounded by fields and trees. Whenever I passed I breathed their scent as deeply as I could, wondering to myself meanwhile whether my feet would be treading this earth tomorrow, or whether I would already be rotting in a common grave. I would be rotting but the grass and trees would continue growing for years to come. And maybe they would even see the downfall of the wicked.
After our work in silence and despair we gripped the wooden bars which fenced us in, silent and despairing. Every hope and possibility of rescue had vanished. All we could do was to moan in silence and wait for death. Beyond the fence lay the Aryan Quarter, noisy and swarming with life and liberty. How happy were those who had not been sentenced to death like us, and who might come and go as they desired. Beyond the Camp fence people went about their affairs and their work, some smiling, others grrave. They looked at us as though we were some kind of show. In the brain hammered the thought; why haven't they been sentenced to death like me? Why don't I have freedom of movement like them? Against whom have I sinned?
Underworld types, the offscourings of humanity, emerged from their dens. Thieves by day and robbers by night, suspect janitresses, prostitutes and all kinds of scoundrels wandered about by the camp fence and opposite it. In spite of all the warnings they were not afraid to approach the fence posts and talk to us. They stood round the camp like black ravens about to swoop down on corpses, all of them waiting for blood. If anybody still had any article of clothing, a watch, a ring or anything else of value, he exchanged it with them for food. We who were going to die did not require any belongings. The dead are free from needs. Among them were also "rescuers" who came to suggest hiding places and to bargain about it. Some people went with them at night and returned a day or two later, after having been robbed of all they had. Some did not return at all. These merciful people took their victims into their cellars and then invited a "comrade" disguised as a Gestapo agent to extort a ransom. Wherever you turned there was death, death and death.
Then came the most dramatic night in my life, the night of the 19th of July, 1943. I clearly felt the footsteps of the Angel of Death approaching the camp. My heart told me that our hours were numbered. In the camp demoralisation and anarchy prevailed, an atmosphere preceding Action and death. There was no authority. Some drank to intoxication. Some laughed hysterically or wept to ease the terrible tension racking the brains and turning the very bowels over. The two storeys of the camp and its courtyard had turned to a true madhouse.
I could see my own thoughts reflected in the alarmed and confused eyes of those around me. The nervous tension reached its peak. In a little while we must break down. And was it surprising? Hundreds of young men in the bloom of their youth, all innocent, had been driven into this filthy unbearably stinking cage. The last drop of blood was being pressed out in exhausting labour for dry bread and a few drops of water. After they had sucked and pressed the blood out of the body they were now about to take the souls as well; and we were just waiting for them to come.
Each of us could see them in his mind's eye. They were coming, the Germans! Coming like a tempest in their spick-and-span green uniforms with faces like wild boars. They would surround the camp as usual. They would line us up in a straight row because they so greatly loved order and system even in the face of death. They would take us through the streets of Stryj, through our own streets, straight to the cemetery. People in the bloom of youth, with their vast desire to live, were to be taken alive to the grave like sheep to their slaughter. They would walk to their last resting place on their own feet, direct to the spot where people are carried. On their legs they would bear their bodies and souls straight to the pit!
There we would undress. Undress for the last time. We would walk the plank which crossed the pit like a diving board. We would take our last step. I would ask for only one thing from the Lord, my very last entreaty - that the bullet should hit the brain or heart direct and done! For if I fell injured into the pit there was no saying how long it would take to die, until I would be covered over by the heavy weight of corpses, and be choked by them
All of a sudden I awakened as though from a fever. My thoughts were interrupted by the tune of a Tango that came from beyond the fence. Barely ten paces away the rooms were lit up gaily. Cheerful voices and laughter mingled with the melody reaching my ears. Through the windows I could see the dancing couples. The cursed Ukrainian bastards were dancing while death mounted in our windows. Thunder did not smite them from heaven, nor did the earth open her mouth to swallow them up. The pits in the cemeteries were waiting for our bodies. I felt that a critical moment had been reached in which there was something decisive. Either life or death!
I did my best to concentrate my thoughts on this single point. No matter what might happen, we had nothing to lose. We had to escape that night. Tomorrow might be too late. My dear wife who had always supported me in times of struggle and bitter stress now stood beside me silent, trembling in despair. She sensed my thoughts and the tempest within me in these decisive moments. In answer to my question she replied that she also thought the end had come. We decided to leave the camp that night, no matter what might happen. From nine o'clock on there was a curfew in the town, while a Jew could expect a bullet in the daytime as well if he went beyond the camp fence. But anyone who was thinking of running away and escaping had to blot the word danger out of his thoughts. In my mind I weighed the two perils of remaining or escaping. The former seemed the worse.
We left the camp at midnight. Our very souls seemed to depart from us, and our breathing stopped at the echo of our own footsteps. When we had left the town behind and entered an abandoned cowshed, our clothes soaked with the cold sweat that covered us. I imagine that a man sweats that way only once in his life, when his soul departs from his body.
This is not the place to describe the perils and adventures through which we passed from that night until the Liberation, on the 8th of August, 1944. Indeed, they simply beggar description.
In the morning of the 20th of July, 1943, five hours after we left the camp, the murderers liquidated all the A.S.A. workers who wore the letter W. Most of them were shot in the camp courtyard, the rest at the cemetery. After the Action was completed the Municipal Fire Brigade came to wash the camp courtyard and the neighbouring streets clean of Jewish blood. A few days later the Heeresbarackenwerke, the largest camp in town, was also liquidated and many good fellows lost their lives there. The poor fellows had arranged that one of them should give a signal on the way they were being led, and then they would all scatter and flee. As soon as they reached the prison courtyard, Hirsch Finkelstein of Slobótka shouted the signal. Most of them scattered and ran away at once. Many were shot on the spot and the rest at the cemetery. Only a few escaped.
The H. K. P. Camp was liquidated the same day. The murderers attacked it in the morning. Those who did not dress quickly enough were shot in their beds. Among them was my dear young brother-in-law Joseph Landau, may the Lord avenge him. The city of Stryj was Judenrein.
Stryj was occupied by the Red Army on the 8th of August 1944. I was one of the first Jews to enter the town. When Ukrainians saw me their eyes bulged out of their heads and they crossed themselves. In their eyes I saw the astonishment of those who witness the rising of the dead. On that great day of liberation, while the thunder of the cannons still shook the town, the few Jews who had escaped went to the graveyard to pay a last visit to their martryred brethren. How dreadful the scene was! The holy ground had become a grazing ground for cattle. It was covered with thorns and thistles. The fence had been broken down. The German barbarians had used the tombstones for road-paving. Along the paths lay fragments of skull and scattered bones of skeletons. We dug a grave for them and gave them a Jewish burial.
My feet led me to the ruins of the Ghetto. The weeping of the stripped and homeless souls hovering round me reaches my ears still as I pen these lines
That is the story of the destruction of Stryj, where my mother gave birth to me. During the winter nights of my childhood I wandered through her streets, a little oil lamp in my hand, when we returned from heder. I grew up within the walls of her houses of study. There my father hid his head beneath his prayer-shawl when the Priests chanted their blessing. There I became bar-mitzva. Through its alleys I hastened to the Selichot Penitential prayers in the chilly Ellul mornings, in order to knock at the heavenly gates and entreat forgiveness for all Israel. There I adorned the sukkah, there I recited the Hallel prayer when we prepared Matza shemura for the Passover. On her soil I wove the dreams of my youth, the dreams of a return to Zion. On her soil I grew up and became a man.
It was my fate to see both the prosperity and the destruction of Stryj, her beauty and her fall; when the enemy set his Polluting hand on all her beauty, consumed Jacob and destroyed his home. Those voices of prayer which once cleft the heavens have grown silent in her synagogues. The sad sweet chant of Torah has departed from her houses of study. No little children recite their verses at the heder. There are no more disputes between the Hassidim, and the quarrels of the parties are at an end. The Jews have no place in her markets. Her sons have gone forth and earth covers the Jews of the Holy Congregation of Stryj forever. The burning bush has been consumed.
On her graves and ruins, ruins of wood and stone, scraps of parchment sheets and paper scorched and burnt, I absorbed within myself the holy spirits of the souls which quivered in the empty area of the destroyed ghetto. I absorbed within myself the moan of our brethren and sisters, the death-gasp of tortured and tormented infants and babies who were slain and who call for avengement; who call for vengeance to be taken for the holy congregation of Stryj, which gave up its collective life to Santification of the divine Name.
When I left the Ghetto ruins I turned my face back and prayed:
"Germany! Happy he that repayeth thee thy recompense for what thou hast done to us. Happy he that seizeth and dasheth thy babies against the rock. May I yet be one of them. May my feet stand in their blood, and may I wash in their wicked blood as they washed in ours."
We always held the memory of the departed dear to us. For their sake we used to study Mishna, and particularly that chapter "There are some who raise" in the Tractate "Mikvaot", which was held to aid the souls of the dead to rise aloft. We recited the Kaddish, we drank to the memories of the departed, we lit candles, we would say prayers at the graveside. We gave charity and baked special loaves for distribution to the poor, in order to aid the soul of the dead to mount aloft. All this we did in memory of the single individual. What shall we do to mark the memory of six million of our brethren, including the 12,000 souls of our holy congregation? To mark the memory of men, women and children, all of them slain, burnt, drowned and choked by poison gas and in the furnaces.
May these pages be a soul-light to their memory, and may they be bound up in the bundle of life. Let us pass onto all coming generations their last will and testament calling for vengeance, as a memorial stone to those martyrs who have gone aloft.
Stryj on earth was destroyed by the Nazis in 1943, in the year 5703 of the Jewish era. Stryj on high will live in our memories till our very last day.
Would that my words were written indeed.
Would that they were engraved in a book,
With pen of iron and lead.
Hewn forever in the rock.
For I know that my redeemer lives,
And at the last will rise to avenge on the earth.
Brooklyn, Ab 5714 A. M., August 1954 C. E.
Eleven years after the extermination of the Holy Congregation of Stryj.
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