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[Page 389]

Dear Names

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Names! Names known and names unknown. Only names – only this has remained of Kolki. Names and faces that remain in us when those who carried them are no longer here.

Kolki, my Kolki, Kolki, my dear shtetele [little town]. You are not here, not here, not here. Your life and your death have found a hiding place in our hearts. I have tried to take in the footprints between book covers. I endeavored and still did not assemble everything. Not all of the dead and not all of the survivors even. The many dead and the few survivors. And if I had succeeded in the miracle of gathering everyone between book covers, some among them would still not have entered. However I want to remember several who are not in the earlier pages, because how can they not be remembered. They must be remembered.

Their memory has remained very dear.

Chaim Koyfman. I knew him from childhood on – we were neighbors and we knew what was cooking in the pots in each others homes [what was happening in each other homes]. He enlisted in the Jewish Legion of the English Army at the first opportunity in order to wage war against the Nazis.

Grynberg – from Sitnice. He long demanded that he be taken into the Red Army and he was not taken. He entered the fighting ranks of the new Polish Army directly from the concentration camp. He was at the Vistula River when it smoked. This I know. What happened to him later – I do not know.

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Chanke – the midwife of our shtetl. A Warsaw girl. Just like Sheynke, she was mobilized into the army on the first day of the war. But due to an accident, she was late for the military train and before she could go the Germans were around. She took off the uniform and soon took another road to fight. We know: she was among the partisans in the mountains of Slovakia. Perished.

Esterke Biber – The dark one, the thin one, curly haired, with a perked up nose; Esterke – Baranczyk [Little Lamb], as we, tenderly, called her. In 1941, she worked in the hospital, under fire, carried out the wounded, excelled fearlessly, with stamina, indefatigable and with unbending stubbornness. She went with the army as a liberator from cities to countries – a small one, a little lamb with the 1st Ukrainian front; a little lamb with the sharp teeth of fierce justice. She saw a great deal, a lot of suffering, survived a great deal and lived to see the victory.

Naftali Gutman. It is told:

He was mobilized immediately when the war broke out. Fishl Shnicer saw him in an artillery regiment which retreated. Others saw him near Korastyn. He was found in a division that was bombed by German aviation. He came out alive. At Cherkow, surrounded, he tried to break through with others, perished. Tulye [diminutive of Naftali] was the healthiest young man in the shtetl. According to another version: He was shot with other Jewish soldiers after they were selected from among prisoners.

Lazer Stupak. Lives in a distant area in America. I have been in contact with him by telephone – he told me by telephone: He and his family came out of the ghetto and, persecuted by the Germans, Ukrainians and other bandits, they hid. He finally succeeded in joining a group of partisans. In the end, while with Kościuszko, a Polish partisan division, he was severely wounded in the head.

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Meir Czarta. I tried to speak to him several times, but he said little. Here is something that he did relate:

– That I am alive, you can see. My entire family was in the ghetto. Later, when a number of my [family] scattered, I was able, as were others, to return home.

I found my way back to the army. Took part in many battles. I was wounded in my feet at Marinpol. Returned. I was again seriously wounded with a fragment in the head right at the conclusion of the Stalingrad campaign. A long wandering through hospitals.

I tried to make Meir talk. He did not like to talk about himself. He joked about everything, even about himself.

Others also joined in during the conversation:

–Meir, tell; if Dovid knows, others will know.

–So? Who told you that I want others to know? I was in the war and that is enough. War is not eating Passover kneidlekh [matzo balls] that are caught in the feet, in the head, in the stomach; where it happened … no one wants them, the kneidlekh, but they do not ask anyone. And the taste that they leave cannot be avenged, but it is such a taste for which one blames oneself for his entire life…

*

I must combine the two names of two friends. Because they were combined in life itself: Noynye Gildin and Ivan Shishka – a Jew and a Ukrainian.

Noynye Gildin was one of my closest friends from my early youth. We put a great deal of work into the Peretz Society. I also had the opportunity to know Ivan Shishka. He was a wonderful, pure, idealistic and noble person, which is rare, to which I was a witness:

In 1939 several Polish officers buried three sacks of money in the forests. Ivan Shishka knew of this; could dig out the money and

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be quiet… But Ivan Shishka was not this way. He brought the gold to the executive committee of the Kolker region and laid it on the table before the provisional chairman of the then existing committee. A new electric station was built for just part of the money.

Shishke saved Noynye more than once. But Noynye was not the only Jew who Shishke saved. Shishke was among the first who created partisan divisions in Volynhia – the famous Shishkawices. Among others, he saved many Jews in the Zhitomir area who were hidden in bunkers and in pits, creating a family camp for them, and his partisans supported and fed them; systematically cared for them.

During the years of terror, the paths of Noynye and Shishke came together more than once. Fate brought them together and separated them and every time Shishke was Noynye's angel of redemption.

Among the hundreds of deadly frightening episodes that Gildin experienced was this case: during the first days of the occupation Noynye found himself in a group that escaped from the Germans – one Jew among Ukrainians. Their leader was Ivan Shishke. His friends from last night, in fear, they would be compromised because of a Jew in their midst, unanimously decided to murder him at the first opportunity and in such a manner to be free of him. Shishke's pleas and arguments were of no help. They remained firm – to be rid of the Jew and that was that… With the agreement of Shishke, Noynye disappeared in the middle of the night and was saved at the last moment.

And the two were destined to meet again: Noynye found himself among various people caught by the Germans in the forests. Shishke was also among those caught. With the help of contemptible Ukrainians, the Jews were separated from those caught in order to shoot them and, meanwhile, they were imprisoned among barbed-wire fencing. Shishke slipped in his genuine documents through the wires and began a terrible lament,

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why is his brother-in-law, a pure Ukrainian confined among the Jews? The German officer asked the interpreter: why is that one screaming? He was told that he is screaming that his brother-in-law is being held among the Jews.

–Free him! – The German quickly ordered.

And Shishke again saved him from a certain death.

Noynye endeavored to go in the direction of the front in all of his wanderings and suffered punishments in order to smuggle himself through and unite with the revenge-takers – with the Red Army. Something had to happen: there was a great obstacle on the way – a bridge, guarded on both sides by German patrols. Laying and seeking a way out, he saw: a large herd of cows was being driven. He grabbed a stick and became one of the shepherds and went with the herd across the bridge. But a German from the other side of the bridge ordered him in German:

–Leave one cow for us!

–With the greatest honor, but I need a certificate that the cow was confiscated.

He was taken to the commandant.

Noynye presented himself as Janek Smaczkla and received the proper Aryan name on a German paper with an eagle that he handed over a cow. With luck, he had a new name and the paper of a genuine Aryan.

Who knew that the otherwise genuine paper would become perilous. Tired, he fell asleep in a forest. He abruptly felt – he was being awakened with a boot. He got up. Stood up on his feet. Soviet pilots stood before him. The pilots carried out a thorough search of Noynye and found the German paper on him.

Seeing this German paper with the eagle and not being able to read it, it was clear to them: they had a German spy. They dragged him to their leader.

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He began to explain to the leader from where he received the paper and that he is entirely a Jew. The leader, a major, said, if so:

–Then speak Yiddish to me. He began to spell out the history in Yiddish. He was saved. These were the military pilots of the airplanes shot down by the Germans. The Germans were searching for the survivors and were carrying out searches in the nearest woods.

Noynye was included in the group and was armed, just as the other arrivals.

The group grew all the more into a considerable partisan group that struggled through fields and forests in the direction of the front in order to enter the other side. The Germans persecuted them day and night. On a dark night when tubs poured from overhead, the major realized that they could not run farther; the people slept for an hour. Guards were placed on all four sides. Noynye was among them.

Noynye was tormented by sickness. He stood half alive leaning on a tree. Suddenly in the quiet, as if in a dream, he heard someone say in German the word achtung [attention]!

Noynye let out a long series of bullets from his automatic in that direction. The stubborn fight between the surrounded partisans and the attacking Germans lasted several hours. It was hard to distinguish who was a German and who – a partisan.

Seven among the partisans were killed and many were wounded. Those remaining alive along with the wounded pushed through under the leadership of the pilots and started in the direction of the front, which they were successful in reaching this time. Noynye was then successful in joining the Soviet army.

* *
*

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Yes, Shishke was a true friend and a real human being. He more than once carried out just sentences as the commander of a large partisan detachment against traitors who denounced partisans and dipped their hands in Jewish blood. His name is engraved with a true love in many Jewish hearts. How satisfied Noynye Gildin, my deceased friend, would be if he could read these words about his friend, the noble Ukrainian Ivan.

* *
*

Names, names, names. Dear names!

I sit with Yitzhak Arshtein in Lutsk. I meet Hinde Sasne, Ahron Goldman and Fishl Snicer. We talk and talk. Remember and remember. We remember the white shores – the pits in which our closest ones were thrown. A grave without a name, without a stone, without a trace. The three Kolkers from Lutsk visit their holy parental graves from time to time and lay flowers. They listen to the quiet and feel as if they could hear their own last scream. The stillness laments. They come, the three, to visit the grave of their own past, to everyone's youth. It lays here crushed and they hear how it cries, as if only the quiet, the ghostly, can cry – without breath, cry so quietly as the dead themselves.

They are going again to the cemetery. Yitzhak asks me:

–Dovid, will you go to Kolki with us?

–Go? Go for what? I am there every day. I only need to close my eyes and I see the stream and the little bridge at the Rudnja. It is the same and not the same place. One cemetery. Graves and mounds overgrown with grass. I close my eyes – I see. My hearts palpitates, palpitates more than when I was afraid to open my eyes when the kohanim [priests, descended from Aaron] gave the priestly blessing so that I would not become blind.[1] I was a very young child then. Now I tremble before

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the graves of my closest ones. I am afraid of seeing the faded letters on the perhaps surviving headstones which I carry in my heart.

Here is the old fence, grey from time and from mildew. Here is the smithy. Sura Matziver's uncle comes down from the porch. His face is furrowed like a field. He smiles: “It is good, Dovid, that you have come.” I did not come and yet I recognize him. Wait, perhaps Motl Inkeles will come out across and give me a broad Shalom Aleikhem [hello]! Perhaps Shklyar the apothecary and after him, the entire Katsen family will come out and, after them, others, precisely such well known faces.

No, I will not go there, not go, so that my shtetele [little town] will remain alive. I will not go to look at the death with my eyes that will not see this and cannot see this…

I know: nothing remained. Nothing is there. Not. So why look at that which is not there? Why should I torture myself? It already tortures us enough with this. For me the river is not there, the forest is not there. It is before Genesis.

I will never go there and will always be there. That which remains in my memory, in my thoughts, has no connection to what remains there.

When my father died, I stood at the open grave, but Moshe Kac said Kaddish [Prayer for the Dead]. When my mother died, Moshe again said Kaddish.

And now I have the feeling: at all of the graves of our holy and pure, of our martyrs, I stand and my heart says Kaddish, Yisgadal veyiskadash [“Sanctified and magnified be Your great name”]. May the names of those annihilated before their time be praised and exalted. May their memory be cherished in devotion and with reverence. May our souls tremble and murmur their silent prayer. May they not be erased from the tablets of our hearts until our last moment.

*

[Page 397]

I express my greatest thank you to Chaim Shpilberg (Montreal) for a series of worthwhile comments, as well as for his initiative in creating the material opportunities to publish this book; Meir Eizenberg (Israel), without whom I would have lacked material to write the chapter about the uprising of the Kolki Jews against the Nazi murderers.

Daniel Kac

 

Footnote
  1. It is believed that looking at the Kohan as he recites the priestly blessing will result in blindness. Return

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