[Page 3 - English]
By publishing the Oshmana Memorial Book we perpetuate, to some extent, the memory of our fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters - a whole community murdered cruelly by the Nazis and their henchmen. Their souls demand that we erect a monument to their memory in the shape of a Memorial Book.
May this book serve as a symbolic eternal lamp commemorating Our Martyrs.
For a long period, the Oshmana landsleit discussed at their meetings the subject of publishing a Memorial Book. However, practical steps in this direction were taken only in 1964. In January 1964, the Townsmen Committee held a meeting in which also participated several invited guests. After a detailed discussion, devoted to the problem of the contents of the Book and to the organizational matters, the Book Committee was chosen. Its members were: Moshe Becker, Moshe Beininson, Zelda Ziskind, Yona Livne, Hoshea Soltz, Reuven Solel, and Michael Peled.
First of all, a circular was sent to our fellow-townsmen in Israel and in the diaspora. The letter explained the great importance that ought to be attached to the task of perpetuating the memory of the Oshmana Community; information was given on the proposed contents of the Book, and we appealed to the landsleit to write articles, rerninisenses and to give a financial contribution to the undertaking.
Shortly afterwards, in March 1964, at a well attended meeting we announced our decision to publish a Memorial Book. The assembled expressed great satisfaction at the announcement and on the spot raised considerable sum of money for this purpose.
We came to the conclusion that personal meetings with our fellow townsmen would be most helpful and effective. We visited numerous towns and villages where we arranged meetings with our landsleit and discussed with them the problems relating to the book. Thanks to this activity, articles, reminiscences and other materials, as well as financial contributions, began to reach us in a slow but continuous flow. Our landsleit wrote about their experiences during the holocaust years. Their writings were shattering, written with blood - not with ink.
In the course of time began to arrive documentary articles on the life of the Jewish Oshmana Community before the war, and on its economic, educational and social institutions. This activity continued till we became convinced that we disposed of enough material and of sufficient financial means to begin the editing and printing of the book.
I should like to mention the praiseworthy activity of the members of the Oshmana Committee in America, and foremostly Mr. Aaron Borovsky who placed himself at the disposal of the Israel Committee, contacted all our fellow townsmen in the United States, organized a meeting in New York and contributed greatly to the success of the undertaking. Mr. Harry Ginsberg of the U.S., for his generous financial help. We thank our editor, the writer M. Gelbart, who, besides carrying out his professional duties, guided us in solving all the technical problems, and searched the archives for valuable and important material relating to the history of Oshmana. We express our gratitude to: a native of our town, Mr. Hayim Rindzinsky, from Heret Zincography, Haifa, for his devoted effort in printing the illustrations and Pictures of the book. We thank the Mordehai Anilevitz Moreshet for their generous help in handing us important material about our town.
- to Mr. Michael Peled who, in his writings, presented a faithful image of the Jewish Community's life;
- to Reuven and Malca Solel for their devoted work. We are grateful for their important contribution - the paper for the printing of the book, in memory of Haim Soloducho and their painstaking work;
- to Hosea Soltz for his devoted work on the Editorial Committee, and particularly for translating the chapters dealing with the history of Oshmana and for drawing up a map of the town;
- to Mrs. Zelda Ziskind for her endless devotion and for shouldering the burden of the daily work on the book.
- to Zeev Bakst for his important work in gathering material about the people and the history of Oshmana's Community;
Finally, let me mention gratefully the activity of our friends Moshe Beininson, Yona Livneh, Luba Pistol, Rivka Shapiro, Yona and Haim Berkman, Aljokim Zyskind, Doba Becker who devoted much of their time to the book.
And last, but not the least, let us remember our landsleit who forgot their daily cares and preoccupations, and, in response to our appeal, wrote articles, sent pictures of great documentary value, thus helping to complete the great undertaking.
May they all be blessed!
This book is destined for all those who were born in our town, and there absorbed the atmosphere of their paternal homes and who carry in their hearts the memories of Oshmana.
Strong is our hope that also our children will read the book about their parents' native town, about a Jewish community which struggled for its life until the end, until its complete destruction.
[Page 13 - English, Page 21 - Hebrew]
Hosea Soltz (Tel-Aviv)
Oshmana was founded in the Middle Ages. The name in Polish is spelt Oszmiana and pronounced Oshmyana. The first houses were built on the shores of the Oshmanka, where today stands the village Franciszkany (Old Oshmana). Its name was first mentioned in a document from 1040. The name is of Lithuanian origin and means in Lithuanian " a sharp edge".
The Lithuanian Great Prince Jagiello (1350-1434) married the Polish Queen Jadwiga in his palace at Krevo, near Oshmana. This was the beginning of the personal union between Poland and Lithuania. Oshmana lay on the territory of the Lithuanian princedom of Krevo.
In 1384 the German crusaders attacked the princedom in order to destroy it. They established a fortified camp in the village of Miedniki and looted all the settlements in the vicinity. The inhabitants of Oshmana escaped from their homes which were looted and burned down.
In 1432 Oshmana again became a battlefield. At that time King Jagiello banished the Lithuanian Prince Swidrygiello, who resided near Oshmana, for his cruel and oppressive rule. During a heavy and bloody battle ten thousand men were killed. King Jagiello built a Catholic church as a token of gratitude for his victory. Soon afterwards began period of growth and the locality became a flourishing town. Next to the church was a large square which served as a meeting place for the population. In the course of time the square became a market-place. Four streets ran from the market: Zofrany, Vilna, Olshan and Barony.
In 1537 the duties (payment of taxes) and the rights of the inhabitants were determined by a royal ordinance signed in Warsaw. Great progress in the legal sphere took place in 1792.
The Polish King, Stanislav Poniatowski acceeded to the request of the town-mayor and the municipal councillors and freed Oshmana from taxes paid to the land-owners. The inhabitants had since to pay municipal taxes only. Also a court of appeals was established in town.
It is difficult to fix the date of the arrival of the first Jewish families in town. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, published in Petersburg, there were, in 1765, 376 Jews who paid the "head tax".
After Poland's partition in 1795, Eastern Poland was annexed by Russia. The Russian authorities carried out a russification policy. A Russian orthodox church was built in the market square and a Russian school opened. Oshmana became a district-town. Within its jurisdiction were the little towns of Zupran, Sol, Smorgon, Krawo, Olshan, Vishnevo, Volozin. In 1880 the population of the district was 162285 souls, among them 11131 Jews. At that time the economic situation of the Jews improved, as a result of the opening up of large markets in the Russian Empire.
The population censuses carried out in the middle and at the end of the nineteenth century bear witness to the speedy growth of the Jewish communities in the district.
In 1897 there were 3803 Jews in Oshmana, the total number of inhabitants was 7214. According to the Great Russian Encyclopedia (Petersburg, 1914) there were in the town: 23 factories, mostly tanneriers, 276 workers, 704 craftsmen and artisans, 2 Russian schools and 2 Jewish schools.
During the First World War, in the fall of 1915, the town was taken by the German Army. The Germans reimained in Oshmana for three years.
After the First World War, Oshmana changed hands several times, in the course of the fighting between the Poles and the Russians. Both sides carried out pogroms against the Jews. Since the end of 1920 until September 1939 Oshmana belonged to Poland.
During the period between the two wars, Oshmana grew considerably. The Poles, who were interested in the increase of the Polish population, included many adjacent villages within the borders of the municipality.
The Jews participated actively in the life of the town and contributed greatly to its development and prosperity.
According to Mr. Golembo, there were 7 Jewish councillors in the municipal council. These are their names: Abraham Strugach (Vice-Mayor), Shlomo Grop, Joseph Golembo, Shaul Milikovsky, Ahoron Soloducho, Hanah Shreider, A. Katcher.
In 1939, soon after the outbreak of the Second World War, Soviet Russia occupied eastern Poland, as stipulated in the Molotov-Ribentropp agreement. Oshmana came under the Soviet rule.
On Sunday, June 22nd, 1941, Nazi Germany attacked Soviet Russia. Already on Thursday, June 26, the Germans occupied Oshmana.
Immediately upon their arrival began the tragic end of the Jewish Community. The Oshmana Community, many centuries old, with its learned rabbis, diligent merchants, generous, warm-hearted Jews and gentle, innocent children was annihilated.
In April 1943, the Ghetto was liquidated. Some of Oshmana's Jews were transferred to labor-camps and the Vilna Ghetto, the rest to the death-camp at Ponar.
The Olei Oshmana Organization in Israel fixed the 2nd day in the month of Ab, the day on which all the men were killed, as the Remembrance Day of our innocent victims.
Before the end of World War Two, in July 1944, Oshmana was recaptured by the Soviet army.
Now there live in Oshmana a few scores of Jews
[Page 17 - English, Page 29 - Hebrew]
The Jewish Congregation at Oshmana was known to be a very honorable one, and Rabbis and well-versed in the Law of Moses, regarded it as a special privilege to sit on the Rabbinate Chair in Oshmana.
At the outset of this century there sat on the Rabbinate's Chair, the Congregation's Head Rabbi, Rabbi Mordechai Rosenblatt which was known in the Jewish World in different names as: The Pious from Botten (Der Bottener Zadiq), the Rabbi from Koralitz (Der Korelitzer Rab), the Good Jew from Oshmina (Der Oshminer Guter Jid) and Rabbi Mordehele from Slonim (Der Slonimer).
And here are some features of his descent and image as I succeeded to find out from different sources.
Rabbi Mordechai was born to his father, Rabbi Abraham Menachem Weizel, in the town of Antapoli (Grodno District) the 3rd of lyar 1837, His father was an honorable merchant in Antapoli, and although he was well-versed in the Law of Moses and ordained to the Rabbinical post, he did not want to make the Law of Moses an axe to dig with and traded in commerce.
In his childhood he had distinguished himself by his outstanding talents, his enormous perseveration, and his activity in learning and work. Those who knew him in his childhood relate that his diligence and perseverance were beyond human power.
At an early age he already learned the Law of Moses from Rabbi Isaac Hirsch, the Congregation Head of Siatitz and when he was fourteen years old, he married one of Antapoli's girls.
In 1856, he moved to Pinsk and there served before the Renowned and learned Rabbi Morddechai Zakheim - President of Rabbinical Court of Pinsk - and was ordained by him to the post of Rabbi.
After being ordained as Rabbi he returned to his home- village Antapoli and was appointed as Assistant Rabbi to Rabbi Pinhas Michael - President of the Congregation Court of Antapoli, which loved him as a son and cherished him much.
During several years they both learned the Law of Moses, and consecrated a part of their time in learning practical Kabbalah (a mystic lore).
In 1870, he was appointed as Rabbi of Boten (Grodno District) and owing to a life of self-mortification which he led, and his perseverance in the study of the Law of Moses, he became known as a Pious and Miracle Performer. Multitudes of people flowed to him from near-by and far-off places, to seek advice from him and ask for his blessing, and not only Jews called on him but Christians also and the neighbourhood nobility.
In 1887 he was appointed as Rabbi of Korelitz (Pinsk District), and four years later, in 1891, as the Rabbi of Oshmana.
About this event, we find in the Hamelitz of 2.4.1891 the following correspondence:
Oshmana - we publicly announce that his Honour our Renowned and Learned Master and Teacher Rabbi Mordechai Rosenblatt, may he live long and happily, Amen, was good enough to accept the post of Chief Rabbi in our town, and immediately after the coming Passover for good luck, will reside among us, and therefore may the seekers of this post desist from mollesting us with their orations and by their sending delegates here, because a Rabbi has already been appointed thanks to God. Signed Moshe, son of Reb Leib Shehira.
I remember from my mother that at the outset the Rabbi dwelt at Holshany Street in the house of Rabbi Moshe Sherira (which was known as Reb Moshe Der Bolvenishker) and in the days of Rabbi Mordechai, the Rabbi's was built, which is certainly remembered by Oshmana's inhabitants.
In Oshmana he sat on the Rabbinate's Chair until 1940, and in that year went to minister as Rabbi of the Slonim Congregation.
It seems that during his stay in Oshmana, many congregations applied to him and proposed him the Rabbinate's Chair in their town but without success.
In this connection, we do find in the Hamelitz from 8th March 1896 the following correspondence:
Oshmana - the owners of the printed message from Kobrin (Hamelitz No. 33 this year) in which it was stated that the Congregation of Kobrin elected as Rabbi the Re- nowned and Learned Rabbi Mordechai Botener now honourably residing in our town, I therefore say that writer only conveyed false rumours among Israel.
It is true that the Kobrin Congregation had sent men to deliver a Rabbinate's appointment letter to the Rabbi of our town, but our Rabbi didn't accept it, although they promised him much more money than that which he shall receive from our Congregation, and on hearing this, the writer of these lines found it right to make it known in the Ha- melitz lest some Rabbis might think that the Rabbinate Chair in our town is vacant and might increase useless ex- penses in order to come to us. A Hebrew I am.
It seems that Kobrin's Congregation didn't lose hope in influencing Rabbi Mordechai to accept the Rabbinate Chair in their town by means of attractive offers.
As a matter of fact, in the Hamelitz No. 42 dated 19.2.1898 we find once more a correspondence in this connection, and here is the text:
Our friend from Oshmana Judah Aidel Cizling informs us that many had vainly tried to sit on the Rabbinate's Chair at Oshmina, after having heard that the Learned and Renowned Rabbi of Oshmina finally accepted, after entreatment, to become the Rabbi of Kobrin, and that this rumour is without foundation. The Rabbi will not leave his Congregation, who knew how to honour him, for any other town which sought him earnestly, let alone Kobrin where the Rabbinate Post was desecrated in a deplorable manner, as is known to the readers of Hamelitz, and which is to be regretted owing to the diffamation of the Law, Religion and Heaven's name too, how would he personally fail in that? God forbid that I should suspect the Rabbi in such a matter.
From the above, we learn that the Congregation of Oshmina knew how to honour Rabbi Mordechai and did not easily part from him.
In my youth I heard from the elders of Oshmana, that when it became known in town that a delegation from Slonim had come, and that the Rabbi accepted to receive from them the appointment letter to the Rabbinate's post, they assigned watchmen on the Rabbi's house in order to prevent him from leaving our town, and it was only on a rainy and stormy night that the Slonim delegation managed to take out secretly Rabbi Mordechai from Oshmana. It seems that the Rabbi was also connected to Oshmana, for in Oshmana he married (his second marriage) the rich Abraham Green- berg's daughter, after the death of his first wife.
I have heard many legends and miracles from the elders of the village about Rabbi Mordechai-le, here is one of them:
It happened that a woman came to the Rabbi with a child about two years old in her arms. Since the Rabbi was still in Beth-Hamidrash (here Synagogue), the woman entered a neighbouring house and asked permission to rest there until the Rabbi returns. On being asked by her hosts, the woman recounted that she had been married to a man many years ago, and during all these years she could not bear children, and only two years ago she gave birth to the child in her arms: a lovely child, but he was dumb and did not speak, and that she came to the Rabbi in order to restore to him the capacity of speech.
After coming out from the Rabbi's house with her child, she went back her face wet with tears, in order to take the package left over with her hosts, and left their house in a great hurry, without telling anything.
After a time it became known in town, that when the woman came to the Rabbi and told him about her worry and affliction, the Rabbi asked her: maybe it is preferable that the child should not speak? Once more the woman told him that this was her only son, and that she didn't know whether God may give her once more an offspring, and that the only consolation in her life - was the child, and how should she not shudder when seeing her son dumb ?
And the Rabbi once more asked: Perhaps is it better if the child does not speak?
It was only when the woman repeated her request for the third time that the Rabbi addressed himself to the child and asked:
My son, why do you not speak ? and the child was silent.
Once more the Rabbi addressed himself to the child asking: My son, why do you not speak ?
And than the miracle occurred.
The child observed his mother with his clever eyes, then turned towards the Rabbi, looked at him, opened his mouth and said:
Rabbi, what shall I say, that I am a bastard ? and then the woman started weeping and cried: Rabbi, let him be silent, it's much better that he be silent all his life than speak! and she ran from the Rabbi's house.
There are many ethical morals in this story, but these I will leave to the reader.
His first-born son was the chairman of Etz-Haim Yeshiva which was established at the beginning of the nineteenth century, in which studied, in his days, more than four hundred disciples. This in addition to the Rabbinate's post which he held.
Rabbi Mordehele died in the days of the first World War (I don't know the precise year) and left two sons and two daughters.
His first-born son, Rabbi Asher Weizel, was the Rabbi of Drohichyn, and his second son, Rabbi Shmuel Yoshua Weizel was a great scholar on religion, but he worked in commerce, and was an honourable merchant in Slonim.
His two sons-in-law were also rabbis: the first was pre- sident of the Rabbinical Court of the Goldlieve Congregation (Sobelsk District) and the second also President of the Rabbinical Court of Boten (Grodno District).
Still in his youth he published a book about the argumentation in learning Talmud called The Rose Leaf and from his book's name, his teachers and friends called him Rosenblatt, name in which he was known by all.
In 1899, while presiding on the Rabbinate's Chair, his book Mordechai's Glory appeared in Wilno in two parts containing questions and answers on Halacha (theory) and practice homilies and argumentations.
It is also known that he left a quantity of manuscripts, and it is not known to me whether they were published.
And finally I would like to mention that of Oshmina's people mentioned here, Reb Yehuda Aidel Cizling was known to me, with his honour-inspiring face, a great religious scholar, a Rabbi and an educator par excellence. And in my youth I was lucky enough to be one of his disciples.
[Page 23 - English, Page 38 - Hebrew]
The learned rabbi Rav Gershon Moshe Alter of Blessed Memory, died in 1926 at the age of 60.
In his youth when he studied at the Yeshivot of Voleshin, Telz and Slobodka, he was called the genius from Troki, for Troki, near Vilna, was his native town. Then he became known as one of the most famous rabbis of his generation. Not only was he a great Torah scholar and a very righteous man, but he also possessed broad education and wordly knowledge; he had a great personal charm and impressive appearance.
He came to Oshmana in 1921, having suffered greatly in the days of the First World War and the Russian Revolution; he had lost his wife and son, his house and property and was finally forced to leave his community which loved and admired him; even when he fled from Russia and be- came a refugee, this did not dim the brilliance of his personality and he captivated the hearts of all the people who knew him intimately.
His death was a shock to the rabbis, the Torah scholars and to everybody in the whole neighborhood of Oshmana. All the inhabitants men and women, old and young, participated in his funeral. In addition to them arrived hundreds of rabbis and religious students from Vilna and the entire region. When the news of his death arrived in Palestine, Hagaon Rabbi Iser Zalmen Melzer of Blessed Memory, who was in Jerusalem at that time, left immediately for Hebron to eulogize him at the Slobodker Yeshivah there.
[Page 24 - English]
Michael Peled (Tel-Aviv)
On passing through the tannery of Baruch Bunimovitz you well find, on its left side, Horvitz's house called The Debeser after the name of the village Debissy, from which they then moved according to the order of His Majesty the Emperor because they were Jews. This house, together with the adjoining buildings formed an apex which divided the road to a bifurcation - a junction. On the left side was the road to the Baron and indeed such was called the Road Baroner Way i.e. the Baron's Paved Road.
The right-hand road led to the small Jewish Village Paviage, more precisely, the small Paviage to be discerned from the big Paviage, which was a Gentiles' village.
Up to this junction, you went through a settlement, and in addition to this a Jewish one (though poor indeed), there were no sidewalks, and the road was not particularly paved. It was a dust-road for carriages and men.
From here onwards, wide fields are revealed to your eyes (snow in winter), and loneliness. If you were a boy you would be glad to walk alone, without meeting a living soul - a Gentile, until you reach Paviage, as already said, was a small Jewish village.
At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, the Jewish village-settlers were expelled from their houses and immigrated to the adjoining villages. Although they were not agricultural settlers in the full sense of the word. They rented lands from the landlord, and were even busy, at other occupations: Shopping, inn-keeping and wayfarers lodging and others... nevertheless a field odour spread out of them.
And look, there was a real Jewish village not far-off our town. It was called Small Paviage, to be discerned from the christian Big Paviage some kilometres distant farther.
I don't know the history of the Jewish Village from its outset. It was clear that the village has been a remainder of a bigger and more populated village. Already during the years before the First World War the number of its inha- bitants was small. Two ramified families are especially known to have formed its basis: the Olanski and Perski families, God avenge their blood. These two families carried on until the Holocaust, which fell on our Community and its neighbours. It is noteworthy to point out that the lands belonged to the proprietors, but the areas were not vast and didn't supply a living for their labourers. Today, I would have called these farms as Auxiliary Farms. Not only were the areas restricted, but the Authorities didn't help to their development and rapid growth, they even put obstacles to their efforts. The men were compelled to work in town in order to maintain their families. They mostly worked in tanneries. The women and children worked on the small farm. The men did the hard work in their leisure time, or a salaried Gentile worker. Hence Paviage too was not con- sidered to be an agricultural farm in all its meanings and aspects, though it formed a peg in the social order.
These few were also exterminated and there remained no trace or sign of Jewish labour and labourers. The attempt to be deeply rooted in land-work was eradicated. These also sanctified the name of the Jewish people. Let their memory be registered and sealed in the Remembrance Book of the Oshmana Congregation, which was exterminated and to which they had belonged. May their memory be honoured.
Time stopped passing away. All the years retreated back- wards. The present existed no more. The machine of life turned me back to bygone days. Is it true that there were such days?
Had they been generally speaking, those days ? or is it not but a mockery of imagination ? A dream's play of a bygone world ? and perhaps are you carried on the wings of delusions and memories which do not want to fade ?
I took the album of those days and these pictures must testify as a hundred witnesses that indeed there was such a world, a shining and smiling world which is merrily shown to you through the shining faces and eyes of the centuries. And they, my pupils and yours, and those teachers who look at you likewise, all endeavour to convey, to prove to you, to themselves and to all others, that they are living creatures, living and working, that happiness and grief, tension and relaxation and human life spread out of them. They exist!
Do they exist indeed ? Yes, they do.
I am trying to speak with them and they respond. There is no need for an effort to make them speak. They willingly take part in the conversation, they even intervene in the speech of each other and slowly we sink down in memories and we rouse from oblivion many, common experiences. And the memories are heaped in piles, piles of things just as a heap, a hill or a mound.
Slowly we begin to restore order in the matter .
Then silence. A painful and a scorching silence.
After such a long and silent separation, speaking was by no means easy. First they were astounded to see me, to me. Much water had flowed in all the rivers of the world since we were separated. But silence did not only prevail between us, but also among themselves, a sort of stubborn silence.
Why did not somebody open his mouth? Perhaps they feigned to be strangers to each other ? Or perhaps were they stricken with astonishment of the unexpected meeting?
We were silent. We looked at each other and remained silent, contemplating each other's face as if examining each other's face. Maybe some changes took place in our appearance and we are trying hard to remember childhood and youth looks.
It is hard to establish how much time we spent in this silence, but sighs and groans began to come up - sighs of relief. No, the teeth of time couldn't overcome the memories, couldn't exterminate or anihilate them.
And suddenly there started confusion, commotion and tumult broke out and when they had calmed, then came the hour of conversation ... good and quiet conversation. The enthusiasm of the unexpected meeting subdued. In the meantime, we grew up, became adults, and a quiet and friendly conversation was possible.
But has there been indeed any conversation? Maybe those were halucinations? Halucinations.
Mendel Ulkenitzki, Mendele, wearing spectacles, bright- haired and clear-eyed, how do you do? You have grown up and are very impressive, how and in what did your time pass? I have heard that you had been a soldier and to what did you arrive at?
Mendele, the boy, rolled his eyes which were serious, moved his eyebrows, but his mouth remained motionless.
And you, Zvi Leskes and Yankele Levin, what ails you? looking as if questioning? It's I who speak to you. I remernber that you were a little bit unruly but innocent and good. They moved their heads and remained silent.
And you, Ettele Benski and Yudith Zusmamovitz it's a pleasure to look at you. You are radiant and certainly are living a nice and pleasant life. And ... Ettele, with her narrow and deep eyes and Yudith Zusmanovitz the wise and smiling, but silent. Silent. Why?
Consequently I turned towards Shebah Berkman, the narrow-faced and profound thinker, and near him there was merry Berele Shames. They both looked at me it seems com comprehensively, but when I saw that even a muscle didn't move in their faces, I turned my head away from them surprised but without complaint.
Gronia Kaminer, Haim Kozlowski from Kozlinki the stammerer with a dull countenance, and you, Sender Kozlowski sitting near them, you who are clever, speak, tell me about yourself and your friends.
He bent his head as if ashamed and did not utter a word. I was astounded. What was the meaning of this silence since the meeting was exciting and moving ? perhaps did it only seem to me that they were listening. Was I not dreaming? This time I spoke with excitement to a whole group: Mintz and Kite, Rachele Shapiro, Batia the daughter of Rabbi Gelbord, Haya Karp and Leah Group and Rachele Zuskin.
They looked at each other, speaking the dumbs' language, their voices did not reach me. But from their eyes grief could be seen.
This time I looked a long time at the serious faces of Zalman Abilowitz, Baruch Bobrovski, Shalom Lerner, Sara Finger, Hanale Liebman and Abraham Voronowski from Ulshan. They also looked at me, a tired and premature grown up.
Did I rightly understand? The meeting was agitated, causing a great excitement. There is what to say, my teacher, awful things occurred and nobody was able to speak, to tell, to converse. They were silent.
Still I kept on being cool-headed. The mere fact I was staying with them, fondled my soul.
I turned around on hearing sounds of foot steps. And look, they were coming closer and closer ... not from one period, or one age, oh, God who gathered them together?
Here is Frumele Kuchevitzki of Volozin, from a side the brothers Ruben and Mayer Golemba are approaching, Ruben the open-minded with his radiant face. Treading be- hind there are: Haim Kravietz, Haim Kozlovski, the beloved pupils of the teacher Yoseph Lev, and still coming after them: Eliezer Hadash (son of the teacher Hadash), Eliahou Hadash, Leib Shugal and his sister Beila, Yoheved Isenberg and Mina Shugal, big and small are flowing and approaching.
In the rear: Henech Blecher, Sheine Kozlowski, Frida Minz, Ita Karchmer, Etele Abelovitz and others, and others and others ... too numerous to be counted.
From another side came a bewildered group, the pupils of the Orphanage, pupils of the Tarbut school, and even those who learned at the Zisho school (a yiddish school), standing, leaning their bodies onwards and keeping silent. Listening, to what ?
I am perplexed and cannot understand the reason of this happening, the strange behaviour and the silence.
Bewildered, bewildered eyes. Eyes of all shades and expressions are concentrated in you. Their lips are moving but their voices cannot be heard. Movements of the body and muscles of the face are all speaking silently. And perhaps, perhaps sounds are coming out, speaking and telling stories, only I, deaf-eared and slow-witted cannot perceive them.
I don't know how long this bewildering and depressing, very depressing vision went on.
Suddenly, everything broke loose, hearts opened and voices became audible, mouths spoke and all became clear ... my teacher, we do not exist, we could not be seen, only in your memory. You are carrying our names in your heart, thank you, thank you.
A big host is beginning to retreat. Slowly, backwards, towards the horizon. Vision is fading, and the characters are disappearing. Mist starts flooding the place and nothing could be seen. And, nevertheless, I am quite sure that I saw them, heard their voices, and that they begged me to remember them for ever, for ever.
I awoke from my hallucination, and for an unknown reason, I continued to believe that the meeting indeed took place, that the silent dialogue took place, Yes took place ...
Dreams haunted me. I felt the world had to do on existing to perpetuate their memory, the memory of these pupils.
I am weeping for that beauty who is decaying in earth (Brachot Tract. Talmud).
Reb Shlomo Galinishker
Reb Shlomo came to Oshmana from Galinishki, when the Tsarist government forced the Jews to leave the villages. Nobody knew his real name. I was a child at that time and I only remember that he lived across the street, at Apt's inn. He claimed he was ninety, but people rumored he was getting close on 100. He lived in solitude, his wife had died much earlier, his children, brothers and other relatives were dispersed all over the world.
He was tall and lean and had unusually long legs. Every Thursday afternoon he used to ride on his little horse, and his legs almost touched the ground.
It is unknown to me how the man made a living. Apparently his needs were very modest.
Though all alone in the world, he was never embittered and could often be seen standing in the street, surrounded by adults and children. He used to tell stories about the Polish uprising against the Russian regime in 1863, and always found listeners. It was amazing how he remembered every detail but one thing he could not remember. Once, on a late afternoon he approached Reb Shimon David Baron and asked him a question which apparently had been preying on his mind. Tell me, Reb Shimon, he said somewhat vexed, I had a brother in America but I have forgotten his name. Reb Shimon, however, did not remember his name either. Reb Shlomo was angry at Reb Shimon David why he did not reveal to him his brother's name. I was passing in the street at that moment and Reb Shimon called me and told me the whole story. Read in the Book of Exodus, he said. I obeyed him and began reading, noting the various names, till I mentioned one of them which reminded him what his brother's name was.
Reb Shlomo was very pleased and out of gratitude he pulled my ear. For a couple of days I could not touch it, for it hurt me so much. I remember well the affectionate ear-pulling. But it was worth while to have rendered and old Jew happy.
Yankel the Fisher
That is how he was called. Not that he was a fisherman (fisher in Yiddish), since also fish-mongers were called fisher. The man and his wife were very, very old. The couple lived in the back of Shlomo Wolberg's house. They were lonely; their sons were faraway, in America, and from there they were sending letters. In every letter they enclosed a dollar or two and this was their main source of income.
Reb Yacob (Yankel) had a habit of- buying on credit in the morning and of returning the debt on the same day, in the evening. Michla Ginzburg, in whose shop he used to buy, asked him once: Why do you take the merchandise on credit in the morning and return the debt in the evening. You can not say that you earn the money during the day, because you live from the allowance you get from your sons. So what is the use? Reb Yacob smiled and replied: Since you are a clever woman, Michla, you will understand me. All my life I was known as a straightforward and honest man and everyone granted me credit out of a feeling of security. Lest they forget that they may give me merchandise on credit, I continue to buy on credit from you and enjoy the fact that you do not refuse it to me. Michla smiled too, and replied: Congratulations! May you live till 120.
Der Podmurovschik (Foundation Builder)
I do not remember his name and I suppose I never knew it. In those days I was learning in the Heder of Reb Leyser, behind the synagogue buildings, in 13atya the milkwife's house. She was called so because she sold milk and other dairy products. The man, called Der Podmurovschik, lived in the bathhouse lane. Podmurovschik is a Russian work denoting the builder of stone foundation of wooden houses. The man was a strong, very old fellow and he rolled the heavy stones with his big, powerful hands with such ease as if they were tennis balls. We, the Heder children loved him and the stories he used to tell us. He was one of the Jewish children caught by the Tsarist officials in the 19th Century and inducted forcibly into the Russian army.
As a child he was uprooted from his parents' home and did not remember his native town. He did not know the Hebrew letters in the prayer-book and had learned the prayers by heart. How did he get to our town? Well, this is his story. After having being taken from his home, he was sent to a Russian village where he stayed until he was 21. Then he served for 25 years in the Tsar's army, certainly a hellish experience. When he was discharged, he had to be registered in a Jewish community. Otherwise a discharged soldier was considered a vagrant and often banished from one place to another. The Jewish Community of Oshmana accepted the man and agreed to put him in the register, and that is how he became a resident of our town.
Since he had no relatives and did not want to depend on charity, he worked as long as he could and finished his life in a hostel for the poor.
Reb Shimon, Der Dreher
Reb Shimon's family name was never used and it is probable that the old man, himself had forgotten it and was satisfied with his nickname der Dreher. He was named after his occupation. He used to turn a wheel in the only printing shop in town, which belonged to a man called Mechkel.
As children we used to stand in the entrance to the printing shop and watch Reb Shimon work. It is hard to say what drew our interest; after all his work was mechanical and simple. Perhaps it was the man himself, very tall and lean, bent like an interrogation mark and quiet - terribly quiet. The children tried to annoy him and shouted at him Dreher, Dreher. This word meant not only a turner, but had also a derogatory meaning - a cheat, a liar, a deceiver.
The old man used to turn his head in our direction and say: Children, it is better to turn the wheel than to deceive people. Remember this. I am not angry with you because you are children. You had better go back to the 'heder', learn well and not do anything evil.
May these sentences serve as an apology of many children who have grown up since, the same children who once shouted Dreher, Dreher!
Leah Nisan's of Blessed Memory
She was Reb Itamar Sheinberg's mother-in-law and the grandmother of Zalman, Nissan and Rivkah. She gained fame in the town as being very clever and shrewd. A wise man's brain was stuck in her skull, the people used to jest, whenever her name was mentioned. When I met her for the first time, she was already very old. She lived alone - not at her childrens home. In the long and frosty winter evenings, we used to meet frequently at Sheinberg's home. She was there, leaning upon the hot stove and listening to the gossip and shop-talk of the youngsters. Though her eyes expressed understanding and wisdom, she seldom interfered in the conversation of the young people. We respected her greatly because of her old age and wisdom.
On one of the winter evenings, as we were all sitting around the table, the door was opened and one of our friends burst into the house bringing with him a whiff of cold air. Did you hear?, he shouted, X the old spinster was engaged to Y. The reaction was joyful. Finally she will get married. It was high time for her to hear the musicians play the wedding-tunes. Then voices of amazement were heard: Is not the prospective bridegroom a good-for-nothing? It is bound to be a mismatch. And from the direction of the stove came the old woman's comment. Children, she said, you have little experience and do not know the ways of life. A match is like a ladder. Only when a ladder is placed at a slant can you climb it up, but if it stands upright it is like climbing up a wall. It makes no difference if the match does not look right to you, your view of things is distorted. In the course of time we learned that the couple lived in happiness and harmony, and we remembered old Leah Nisan's words.
Reb Chone the Coachman
He was a big, strong, heavily built fellow. His 'Wife, on the contrary, was short, almost undersized. The town jokers made fun of him. In his wife's presence, so they claimed, he was very very small.
Reb Chone had a noteworthy habit. As we had mentioned previously, he gained his livelihood by taking people in his carriage to the railway station at Sol, ten miles away from Oshmana. But even had he been offered all the money in the world he would not have worked after sunset. Then he would wash, change his shirt and walk leisurely to the Talmud reading circle. I do not know what his scholarly achievements were. It seems to me that he was pretty ignorant, but when asked why he gave up work he needed so badly, he replied: I drive the carriage because I am compelled to do it, but I learn the Torah willingly and joy- fully. Perhaps the burden of my daily work will become lighter, since I took upon myself the burden of the Torah.
Let us call the man A.A. Those were his initials, but in everyday life he had a nickname of his own. He was a coachman too. His -usual route led from Oshmana to the railway station. On the road, 10 km. from Oshmana, lay a little Jewish town, Zupran. On Fridays, particularly in the winter, when the days are short, he used to make a stop at Zupran in the centre of the town. Let me stop for two minutes only, he would say, I'll only have a drink in the inn, to warm my frozen limbs. Well, two minutes, it's not worth arguing, thought the warmly dressed passengers. But over a half hour passed and the coachman did not return. The traveler who entered the inn to look for him did not find the coachman. It turned out that he had left by the backdoor and gone to the ritual bath. When he finally returned, smiling and perspiring, his passengers would rebuke him violently - Robber! How could you do it? We'll miss the train! And he would reply disdainfully: Train, shmain, today is Friday and when I come back home it will be too late to go to the bath-house, and how will I appear for prayer? You ought to know that there is no prayer without a ritual immersion. I made you participate in a good deed. And, of course, the people were appeased.
Those were the simple people, who would be called up to the Torah only on the Simhat Torah festival.
May they be remembered together with their destroyed Community.
A flood of dim memories sweeps over me, the mist of the distant past closes in on me, and out of that twilight there appears, without any order or logical sequence, a rich gallery, an endless gallery of names, faces, eyes, looks and smiles, expressions of sadness and bitterness. There walks the body of one, while the head on his shoulders belongs to someone else. But everywhere and above all, there are the eyes, eyes, eyes, without end. They surround me in a dizzying whirl, and I am unable to say whose eyes they are. They stare and penetrate through me, mute yet demanding, they beg and cry out. For whom are those looks, what is the request mirrored in the pupils of those eyes? They are crowding around me, they follow me wherever I may turn. There are some amongst them in which all life seems to have stopped, frozen.
And what are they beckoning at, winking at you cunningly, cleverly? And the serious, questioning eyes, what mute question is burning in them? Your heart goes out to them, your befogged brain tries to put in some order, to allot the eyes to their rightful owners. For a moment it seems that the veil of oblivion has been lifted and things begin to get clearer and clearer, taking shape in the rays of sunshine breaking through the rain and mist limiting your vision.
And I keep on looking at those eyes, speechless and straining my memory, trying to concentrate. Little by little the twilight disappears, the fog lifts, the oppressive drizzle melts away, visibility gets better and better, my own sight grows more and more confident as under my gaze, so full of love, and gratitude, respect and admiration, the figures begin to arrange themselves in a kind of line, and one after another they keep on forcing themselves under my pen. Not according to any special qualities or talents do they take their place in this written record: I have only good and pleasant memories of all of them. They all pass in a long row, parade before me. Every now and then I rise from my seat, bow my head before them, very, very low, full of reverence and humility before their saintliness. And a voice coming from the innermost recesses of my being calls to me: Shed your shoes, for your feet are standing on Holy Ground, for they have hallowed Heaven with all their soul and being, and commanded us to live on and remember. A shiver passed through my body and even I saw their eyes again, the eyes of the days gone by, those good, eager eyes, burning with a thirst for life, for action.
The gaze of many, many of them rested on me and calmed me a little - in that frame of mind I began to write. Only a minute later I felt the pricks of doubt and hesitation again: for who am I? Am I worthy of commemorating them? But again the soft, bright caressing eyes fortified and com- forted me: You! You will be able to do it. Shall I indeed? I'll try!
FEIVE SOLODUCHO, tall, straight and proud of bearing. His large brown eyes inspire trust. A romantic in all his being and a Zionist without peer. Full of enthusiasm him- self and a source of inspiration for others, firm in his faith in the ideal that burnt in his body and soul, the deep faith of a man of few words. His contribution to every kind of activity, whether Zionist, cultural or public, reflected the strong inner light of a radiant personality. He had striven to realise his dream of emigrating to Eretz Israel - (well do I know his fruitless efforts and attempts in this respect) - and he didn't live to see his dream come true. May his name never be lost in oblivion!
FRIEDA SOLODUCHO, born SHELUBSKI - full of charm, true to the ideas of her husband, Feive. She, too, strove to emigrate to Eretz Israel, but fate decreed otherwise: she perished on the stake of the holocaust. Blessed be her memory!
NOTL TABORISKI, Feivels faithful companion, whose friendship for Feive was unconditional, a modest, retiring man. He never put forward any demands for himself, his look - humble, his bearing - gentle, his voice confident and.serene. If only we could blow away the dust covering your eyes that you might see the State of Israel, a living fact, your dreams come true. Honoured for ever be your memory!
SHIMON BER LEVIN, of short stature, but of lofty spirit, owner of a printing shop, willing to sacrifice his livelihood for the sake of his ideals. A man of many talents, a bit of a musician, a stage amateur, full of bright ideas. The love of his people and his land burnt in his soul, but not for that love did he lay down his life. He perished in the fire of the holocaust - blessed be his memory.
ZALMAN SHEINBERG, my childhood friend, blue-eyed and of noble spirit. A gentle soul, unprotected against life's abuses. Pure of heart and pleasant in his ways. He walked swaying slightly, always bent forward. He belonged to the race of dreamers, who dare neither name nor realize their dreams. May yours be the life of eternal perfection!
I also wish to mention his brother, Nissan, one of the chavura (circle of friends).
SHALOM KALMAN SHRIRA, tall, broad shouldered, loud in his talk and broad in his stride, yet in that tough body there dwelt the soul of an idealist. Zionism and the Hebrew language were his guiding lights, straightforward and staunch of heart as he was.
The holocaust consumed him and not a trace was left of his family. Blessed be his memory!
ESTHER ZISLING, soft and gentle, a spirit rich and blessed with artistic gifts. She had been the mainstay of the dramatic group of Tarbut for many years. The stage boards offered her scope for self-expression, she looked upon the parts she had to perform as something sacred and acted them superbly. She contributed a great deal to the cultural life of the community and should be remembered with respect and admiration.
Let us also remember her sisters, Feigl and Fruma.
ASHER KAMIN, wide awake, full of vitality and fruitful enterprise, both in his private business as well as in his social activities. Practical and shrewd, he used to contribute much to his group, as a generous giver, as one who has a lot to give.
May his brothers, Ya'akov and Eliahu, and his sisters be remembered here, together with him. They were all devoured by the holocaust. Blessed be their memory.
AHARON RABINOVITZ, the representative of the General Zionists on the Tarbut board, the Keren Kayemeth Committee, and other Zionist institutions. Simple and straightforward in his ways, innocent of heart, a man, who avoided all quarrel and strife and knew how to calm the spirits of others. Both he and his family perished. Blessed be his memory.
BEILA OLANSKI, young, black-eyed, high-spirited. A faithful member of the Tarbut group, where she found an outlet for her gifts and scope for spiritual activities. How it grieves one that all these were extinguished too soon!
ZELIG SHRIRA, simple in his bearing, moderate in. his talk and sober in his approach to life. He had done a great deal for the Tarbut drama circle, he kept it going, in fact. One of the more important and active members of the group, talented and distinguished for his special intuition in creating stage characters. He also worked as the make-up man. One could hardly imagine the drama. circle without him.
How it grieves one to think that he had to walk up the stage of the Nazi slaughter-house defenceless, exposed to the cruelty of the savage beast.
NAPHTALI TOSHAV, the eternal rascal, even when he grew up. For this reason he played an important part in the drama circle, acting the comic parts, portraying the folksy characters, the ameha types. He spared no time or efforts, knew his place in the society, which he very much respected. No trace was left of his family. Blessed be his memory.
ABRAHAM KIT - quick of speech and movement, one of the loyal supporters of the Zionist cause. He never refused any duties or tasks laid upon him, and was prepared to serve the cause in any cultural Zionist activity. Younger than his fellow members, he kept pace with them and never fell behind. Blessed be his memory.
ZELIG SOLARCHIK, graduate of the Hebrew Teachers Seminar Tarbut in Vilna. In the drama group he generally played comic parts, with remarkable success. Blessed be memory.
LIZA BOGAD-BIALER, Alte Zupraner-Chadash, Hana Miasnik, Mira Shelubski, Fruma and Roza Kochevitzki, Leah and Masha Mechanik, the flower of the town's girlhood, lovely in body and soul. There will be no trace left of those young lives, if we do not mention their names in this list. May their memory be blessed!
LEIB MECHANIK, son of Malka and Lipman. Grew up in a Zionist-minded home and remained true to the spirit he had been raised in. He was the kind of youth that is a blessing and pride to all. He has gone, without leaving any trace or mark behind him. Let us remember him kindly.
HAIM DEUL, a man of learning and character, worked for many years as a teacher in the Tarbut school, as did his sister, Hinda, who possessed a great literary talent and distinguished herself as a brilliant teacher. May they be remembered for ever together with the others that perished.
BRAINA DEUL, a model housewife, noted for her business acumen as well as for her high cultural standards. People loved her company, liked to meet her, talk to her and enjoy her charm and wit. Blessed be her memory!
RIVA KARP DEUL, of comely appearance, considerable cultural standards, she devoted her gifts to the amateur stage and achieved great success there. She was popular in the company and knew how to make and keep friends.
SHMUEL KIVOBITZ, pleasant in his ways, company loving and blessed with a gift for making friends. For many years active in the drama group, where he played many important parts with great success. However, as his views were leftist rather than Zionist and he was an enthusiastic supporter of Yiddish and the Yiddishists, he became the leader of a Yiddish amateur drama group and was closer to other circles. His charming personality and friendly feelings towards his first drama group enabled him to remain on good terms, indeed, keep up his friendship with the members of the Tarbut group, although they did not share his views. Both he and his . family perished in the holocaust. May the Almighty revenge the blood spilt!
ITZHAK LIPKOVITZ, short of stature, his eyes - bright and smiling. A gifted man, noted especially for his remarkable analytical turn of mind. He was a leftist, active in the field of Yiddish schooling and champion of the Yiddish culture and literature. It was good to talk to him, he never raised his voice, nor belittled those that opposed his views - He married Batia Chadash, raised a family - they all vanished in the holocaust without a trace.
YOSEP ELIAHU SWIRSKI, one of town's merchants, a man of substance, who joined the Zionist camp of Tarbut and from time to time participated in its activities. Was always willing to lend a hand in time of need. Blessed be his memory !
YOSEP YANKELEVITZ, also one of the town's mer- chants. A person of considerable education and culture, well versed in the ways of the wider world, outside the small town. A loyal supporter of the cause of progressive Zionism, participating in its activities. He should be remembered es- pecially as one of the inner circle of the more active members. His brothers, Abraham and Koppel, and his sister, Mathilda, who were my schoolmates, should also be mentioned. Blessed be their memory!
SHIMON MEKEL, an artisan, moderate in his ways and very slow in action, a dreamer. Straightforward and the soul of integrity, he hoped to climb up the social ladder. He used to read a lot and devoted himself wholeheartedly and earnestly to the Halutz Movement. He raised a family, they all perished in the holocaust, without leaving a trace behind them. Blessed be his memory!
YEHUDA RAPOPORT. a simple, sturdy fellow. He was a blacksmith and treated his trade with great respect. I knew him since my childhood and we were in the same company while doing our military service in the Polish army. He knew the meaning of true comradeship and I was always happy to meet him. Blessed be his memory.
BARUCH GOLEMBO, one of the group, should be mentioned and remembered kindly.
ARAHAM KRAINOVITZ, of handsome, athletic appearance. His kindness of heart was reflected in the smile that hardly left his face. Both in public life and personal relations with friends ever ready to answer the call, to do whatever he could. He was active in all the branches of the movement and was one of the organisers of the Tarbut drama group. The hearty laugh, coming out of his mighty chest, had rung in my ears since our heder days.
His sons, Reuben and Dov, and their Mother, Bracha, are in Israel, they have realised their Father's dream. Honour and gratitude to his memory!
SHABTAI GOLDANSKI, lost his father at an early age and grew up fatherless, a most devoted son to his widowed mother, faithful unto death. He was one of the group, turned to business and did well. Although always overburdened with work and other duties, he would deprive himself of the rare moments of rest and leisure in order to devote himself to public activities and help in any way he could. No trace was left of his family.
SHMUEL and DOV BOGAD - had known some hard times in their lives, but their childhood was a good one and just before the outbreak of the War things began to look up for the two. They were loyal and devoted to the movement, involved in its daily activities. No trace was left of them. Blessed be their memory.
MILA KOZLOVSKI, came from a talented family and herself had her fair share of talents. She was a loyal member of the group and contributed her wide learning and intelligence. She raised a family - all perished in the holocaust. Blessed be her memory.
YOSEF DANISHEVSKI, a sensitive soul in a handsome body. His bearing and behaviour were rather hesitant. He could never hurt or in any way offend anyone, was beloved by his friends and companions. No trace was left either of his or of his parents' family. Blessed be his memory.
MORDECHAI CHADASH, son of Ya'akov Pesach, was a quiet, modest man, his voice low, his way of speaking -gentle, moderate, but he carried out without murmur any duty task allotted to him. A friendly fellow, easy to get on with. Blessed be his memory.
HERZL PERSKI, MEIR SELZER, SHMUEL MIASNIK, used to perform mainly comic parts in the Tarbut drama circle. Especially, the first two mentioned above distinguished themselves as comic actors and would always get enthusiastic applause from the audience. Blessed be their memory.
Forgive me, dear martyred friends. I have tried to mention the names of all of you, I devoted a few lines to those that I pressed themselves under my pen, but maybe that I have not been quite accurate or have not said enough, as each of you might think. You know better, no doubt, but then my pen is too poor an instrument to be able to express all I feel, to say all that should be said.
In putting down your names here, I meant to raise a memorial not only to you, but also to those whose names I have not mentioned. There are many, many of you, beloved martyrs, - and how could I hope to mention you all ?
But now you are all, all of you, gathered and forever enshrined in this lzkor Book of the martyred Oshmana Community, so cruelly destroyed! Generations to come will be taught the greatness of Jewish, martyrdom, from -your graves, which are no graves at all, there will rise an eternal flame to nourish the new generation's faith in life, to fortify the young in their struggle-for man's freedom and for the re-birth of the people of Israel in our own land - our State.
Together with the sounds of the Kadish prayer over your unknown, far and wide strewn graves, another song has arisen to Heaven, the joyful song of our people, which has lived to see Deliverance, the song of all the people, both in Israel and in the Diaspora.
May your memory be preserved forever, to the lasting glory of all the martyrs ! ! !
Not a poet or a writer has penned these pages dedicated to the memory of our town and townsmen. You have no poet, nor great artist, our vanished community, to sing of you. No brilliant master of the language, or thinker has given here expression to the grief and mourning that fill his heart.
Whoever reads these pages of reminiscences may perhaps sense some of the bereavement that never leaves the minds and hearts of those whose childhood was spent in the streets and lanes of our town. In that town there existed, forever struggling for survival and for the unique Jewish way of life, the wonderful Oshmana community, blessed be its memory. Simple, ordinary, but very loving people have bared their souls in this book. The lines they wrote down are not remarkable for their highflown style or analysis, since what mattered was to put down the last remnants of memories of the past and let them, in the form of writen word, speak and tell their tale.
The deep emotional need to pay that awful and immense debt to those, who were our fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, acquaintances and friends, and all those that breathed the air of our common daily life there, compelled us to write.
In their own blood and tears they rose above the their personal experience, leaving behind all that was good and beautiful, dynamic and brilliant, to fulfil the old prophecy: In thy blood thou shalt live, in thy blood thou shalt live!
Great is our hope and deep our belief that it will be possible for the reader to participate in what did exist and happen and which is now no more, in that upon which curses instead of blessings were showered.
However, there are not only tears to be found in these broken phrases, but also a firm faith in the eternity, in the survival of Israel. And out of the prayer in our hearts there rises a tearladen hope that the rule of evil will vanish for ever from the face of the earth.
What monument, what memorial for the future generations to see, can a loving son raise for you, dear little town, except these few pages, filled with sorrow and regret, what else can one do but resurrect your memory for all those that have survived your awful destruction.
May your memory become one with the memories of the Eternal People, which has for times innumerable been martyred on the scaffold of evil, yet out of the flames of countless stakes has arisen forever as the victor!!!
[Page 46 - English, Page 218 - Hebrew]
Zelda Ziskind (Ra'Anana)
As a matter of fact, this was not a street. I lived in a street called Water Street because of its proximity to the river. I can't describe the beauty of the landscape and nature at this place. It was at the end of the Jewish dwellings, and for this reason we tasted antisemitism. If we had a booth on Sucoth the Gentiles destroyed it, drunkards sang us Serenades and we were afraid.
In the vicinity of the house there was a garden which extended on an area of dozens of dunams with lawns, a large number of paths and flowers, and beautiful trees which delicate blossoming scent in the early hours of the morning I remember to this day, and benches where Romance took place.
In this garden, which was called the 3rd of May, national festivals, folk dances and sportive events were held. The garden was located on a hill and we dwelt at its slopes. The neighbours were mostly Gentiles who lived in small houses. Near every house there was a garden with flowers of various shades.
The landscape was adorned by the Strogatz yeast and brandy Factory with two chimneys stretching high unto the sky.
The factory was working day and night, and a special monotonous machine ticking could be heard. A stranger to this vicinity would have been astonished and would have wondered how men could live surrounded by such noise. On Sunday, which was the Christians' rest day, when the factory ceased work, we missed the noise.
The portrait was completed by the river, which banks were decorated with wild herbs and trees, in which we were all swimming in summer. The river flowed quietly. In winter it was frozen and we would skate on it. Before Passover, when the snow thawed, the river flooded its banks, more than once, I could not get home from school. There were also instances when I stayed overnight with my friend who lived beyond the river, because the bridge was flooded.
On the slope of the river, there was a fountain clear as crystal which water served for drinking. At night, we sailed boats and sang yearning songs to Israel. At the Tarbuth school, we acquired Jewish culture. Here was sown the love for our people and his past, and here was developed the yearning for Zion, proved some years later by joining the youth Hashomer Hatzair movement. These were the loveliest years of my life. We were educated for social life and love for Eretz Israel.
Once I remember that I had to escort as leader a group to a summer settlement where pupils were trained for scouting and a life of labour on, an agricultural farm. However, owing to some reason, I couldn't go out on the appointed day and went the day after. It was on a Thursday after- noon, the weekly fair-day. I travelled in a cart, stepped out in the dark, I couldn't find the place, but suddenly in the distance, I could clearly hear the echo of a song. I was able to reach the place following the sound. On my way, I passed through courtyards, fences, dogs barked - until I reached at last the training farm.
On opening the door, they all assaulted me, and I was almost choked by the fourteen-fifteen year-old children, who even joined me in a stormy Hora. We were trained and trained others to a life of work and simplicity.
In my heart there surge memories of institutions and personalities, of children which I dreamed to come to the Land of Israel and to join the builders of this Land, but the wick of their life was cut by murderers.
May these lines serve as a commemoration candle for their pure souls.
[Page 49 - English, Page 272 - Hebrew]
Moshea Becker (Ra'Anana)
Oshmana was situated in a long, narrow valley, near the river Oshmianka. The soil was good, black soil, water was to be found at the depth of 2-3 metres. Most of the house- holders, who had small patches of land behind the house, used to grow vegetables or fruit-trees there, some kept a goat or cow, doing a bit of side-line farming to help out in making a living.
The fields around Oshmiana were situated mainly on soft hill-sides, furrowed by ravines. As soon as the snow melted, all the water-ducts would carry the water to the streams and these would empty themselves into the river Oshmianka. The river would then swell, overflow its banks and became a threat to the farmlands and buildings in its vicinity.
The soil was a light one, suitable for pine forests, which the local peasants had been cutting down for hundreds of years. If you climbed up a higher hill, you would see small pine-tree groves scattered among the ploughed fields - these groves were the last remnant of the vasts forests that in the olden days stretched over immense areas.
Those forests provided the basis for the production of turpentine, which they used to obtain from burning of the pine and firtrees, as well as the production of charcoals, which was mainly in the hands of Jewish farmers.
They also used to turn their hand to pealing the tree- bark, which after drying and flattening would be used for hide processing. In the numerous large tanneries in Oshmiana and in nearby Smorgon they employed hundreds of men, of whom only few were the above-mentioned owners of small plots. Both these and the others tried to remain in the vicinity of the town so as to be close to the life of the Jewish community.
After buying a plot of land, the Jewish farmer would build his farm and plan his farming following the ways of the local peasant, the goy, he would fence off an area of a few dunam, using wooden poles and tree logs to make the fence. In the yard he would build his dwelling-house and farm-buildings, then dig a well for himself. The fields were in the shape of long narrow strips. It often happened that the field would be only 15-20 metres wide and several kilometres long. Between the different strips there was a path about 50 cm. wide, which was not cultivated and was therefore overgrown with all kinds of weeds, amongst them sorrel, which grew here wild and all sorts of berries. They used to pick them and make preserves for the winter, they had a sour-sweet taste (they were called brusnices) and were usually served for dessert on Shabbat, after the cholent.
This strange plotting and division of fields originated in the old times, the days of serfs attached to the land, when the peasants were serfs of the Polish nobility and their huts were clustered around the huge mansion of the nobleman. After they were freed from their serfdom, the land was divided amongst the emancipated farmhands. The distribution of land was not properly planned or carried out: each peasant remained in his hut, behind which there stretched out into quite a distance his narrow allotment. This division of fields caused the peasant a considerable waste of time and manpower when, plowing and sowing, as well as in the harvesting and picking season.
Only in the thirties did the Polish Government begin organizing a new land distribution so as to concentrate the fields round the dwelling and farm-buildings. The farming was of the extensive type and was based mainly on grain cultivation and animal husbandry. The farmer's working day began with dawn, and all the members of the family, young and old, would take part in the daily toil. The father and -sons would go out into the fields, the mother and daughters worked in the household and in the garden, even the boys of the heder age had to do their share of work.
When dusk fell, they used to return from the fields and after supper they would take out the horses to nearby pastures for night-grazing. After tying the horses' front legs one would let them roam at will, while the men in their charge, both Jews and Gentiles, would gather, make a bon- fire, sit around it. After a while someone would pull out the garmoshka (mouth-organ) and a melody filled the night-air.
As soon as the first bird-twitter was heard, the horses were untied and they would gallop home.
Harvest days were days of backbreaking toil in the heat of the long day. The smallholders had to do all the work by hand and all the members of the family, sickle in hand, would go out into the fields. And if there were not enough working hands at home, one would harness the horse to the cart and drive to the Labour Exchange, in the Baroni Street, on the bridge, opposite the power station, in order to hire some women workers.
In that season groups of Gentile women would stand and wait to be hired for harvest-work. After a brief discussion concerning the wage to be paid, the women used to get on the cart, carrying in their hand their shining sickle and a bit of food wrapped in a piece of cloth - so equipped they would set out for the long and hard working day.
The men and women harvesters would stand in a line, at a suitable distance from one another, so as to ensure free movement of the sickle. The would cut a handful of corn-ears, bind them and stretch them out on the ground to form a kind of rope on which to place the next bundle of corn-ears, until there were enough of them to make a sheaf tied with the same rope. Towards the evening they used to collect the sheaves, pile them up in rows of ten with the leaves pointing upwards, and the tenth sheaf spread like a cap, covering the stack - a protection against birds and rain. After a few days, when the sheaves were dry enough, they used to be taken by cart to the barn. The barn was a tall, long structure, in the middle of which there were two rows of high beans, set at a distance of 4-5 metres from one another. On these sturdy beams there rested the wooden roof covered with straw. On both sides of the barn there were two tall and wide gates (their width corresponding to that between the beams) so that a cart laden with the sheaves might enter the barn comfortably through one entrance and leave it, after the sheaves had been unloaded, through the other.
The corn would be placed on either side of the posts, in a certain order, each kind of crop separately. The long and narrow floor space was like a kind of road, made of clay mixed cut straw. This was evened out, pressed together, allowed to dry and it formed then a smooth, flat area, on which they used to thresh the corn.
In winter the farmer's main job was threshing the corn in the barn. The sheaves would be untied and spread on the threshing floor in two rows, with the ears of corn to- ward the middle, and then one would thresh with three or four sledges, rising and falling in time, beating the ears of corn. After the threshing, one would press out the grain to separate it from chaff.
Another task - the fodder mowing. This used to be mown in marshy places, where one could hardly gain foot- hold. One would drive wooden poles into the ground and lift the fodder onto them to let it dry, and only in the winter, when the ground froze, could one bring the fodder in carts to the farmyard.
Winter was also the time for fattening geese and when these were fat enough, one would take them with great ado to the shohet so as to be able to prepare fat for the Pessach grivenes.
In the winter we, boys, used to endure the day-long studies in the heder and could hardly wait to see the welcome sight of the sleigh cart appearing to release us and take us home. The farmers used to build those sleighs by themselves. The would buy in town two young and thin tree trunks, of the sturdy kind, yet still tender, and would bend their ends into semi-circles to make it easier for the sleigh to glide on the snow, the two trunks would then be joined to a kind of ladder, 80 cm. to one metre wide, tree branches were cut and beaten with a hammer until they split into strips, which would then be braided into a strong and elastic rope, proof against cold and dampness; with this rope the crosspieces would be tied to the cart. In the bright and frosty winter evenings, when the snow crackled under our feet, we would carry the heavy sleighs to the top of a hill, arrive, there quite breathless and exhausted, in order to slide down in our sleigh, yelling and laughing at the top of our voices. Sometimes the heavy sleighs would in their descent bumb into a frozen earth clod, and we would all fly out, landing in the soft snow.
After a snowstorm that sometimes raged all the night, we would find the snow piled up to the height of the door- lintel and were unable then to leave the house in order to feed the cattle and other domestic animals. At such times the mutual assistance program would go into action: equipped with big hoes, we would clear the paths to the farm buildings and those leading from the farmyard outside
One of these farms, called in Yiddish der heifl, i.e. the yard, belonged to my Grandfather, Reb Eliezer Becker, of blessed memory. On that farm dwelt my family as well as that of my Uncle. Every Saturday a minyan would gather for prayer in the big hall at the house of my Uncle, Reb Shayeh Miasnik, of blessed memory. All the neighbours would go there on Shabbat and my Uncle conducted the prayers (he was Ba'al tefilah), as he possessed a fine voice and a knowledge of the holy tongue (Ba'al Ivri, as the neighbours used to say), he would also read out the portions of the Tora.
Those Jewish farms and villages were scattered like tiny islands in the sea of the native peasants. Yet between the two communities there were good neighbourly relations, there was even friendliness towards each other, until the ill winds began to blow in Poland, just before the outbreak of the Second World War.
The Jewish farmers were bound, body and soul, to their own community: they saw to it that their children received a traditional Jewish education, on festive days they would leave their farms in their neighbours' care, so as to be able to celebrate the Holy Days with all the Jewish community. Many of their sons and daughters were amongst the founders of the Hechalutz and Hashomer Hatzair. They subsequently went to Eretz Israel and are carrying on the family tradition as farmers in the State of Israel.
[Page 54 - English, Page 237 - Hebrew]
Aliza Gofstein (Lisa Kozlovsky)
30 years have passed since I left my hometown Oshmana. Who would have thought then that I was leaving forever and that fate would bring me to the capital of the world - New York. From a little town which lies on the shores of a tiny stream, Oshmanka, I came to a city surrounded by an ocean and mighty rivers on which ply ships from all over the world. But what are they to me in comparison with the little boats swinging on the quiet waters of the Oshmanka? What memories will leave the sirens and whistles of all the various vessels in comparison with the memories left by the strokes of the oars which sometimes disturbed the silence on the Oshmanka? What can the skyscrapers of New York tell me as compared with the story of the low houses of Oshmana, dispersed along its narrow lanes? Each one of them was full of Jewish content, of warmth and devotion of their inhabitants whom I remember with awesome reverence. I pay this great respect to them not only because of their terrible death, but also because of their hard life in unfriendly surroundings. And particularly here, in New York, where the number of Jews is almost as big as in the whole territory of Poland, can I appreciate the heroism inherent in that life, the sacrifices and devotion which found expression in aid to the poor and the sick, in caring for the Jewish education of the children and for the continuity of the national existence, in spite of the hatred which surrounded us. I remember a man whose name I cannot recollect. He was short, hunchbacked and lived in the Vilna Street. On every Thursday, the market day, he would go around with a cloth bag and collect silver coins from the shopkeepers; by the way, some of the shops were so tiny that they looked like small cupboards; he would bring the collected money to my father, Israel Kozlovsky, of blessed memory, who for many years was head of the Linat Tzedek (Hostel for the poor) Association. I still see the expression of happiness on my father's face. He knew that the collected money would enable him to fulfil the requests of every poor, sick man. I remember the faces of the needy, expressing gratitude to all those whose weekly contributions helped their sick child or their weak husband or themselves; some hesitated to request help for themselves.
Great were the sacrifices of a large part of the population to ensure Jewish education for their sons and daughters. Those people did not send them to the State elementary school, where tuition was free, but with their meager resources founded a Hebrew school. This school became an example for the whole surrounding region. I see before my eyes, the worried parents from the Parents' Committee who used to gather in our house. Where would they find a place? Finally a corner was found in a religious school for the nine of us. The sacrifices were great indeed, since the graduates of the Hebrew schools were bound to encounter many difficulties after finishing school. The sacred devotion of our fathers and mothers enables me now to contribute to the Hebrew education of the American Jewish children. They are a shining example to me and to my pupils after total darkness had enveloped them together with one-third of our people.
Who can forget the man who devoted all his life to Hebrew education in Oshmana, Hadash of Blessed Memory. He used to spend the days and evenings in the school building, located in a lane parallel to the market-place in the centre of the town. I remember him sitting with his accordion and preparing us for a Hanucca evening. Now I sing the same songs about the heroes of our people with my own pupils. I try to infect them with the same love and admiration which I had absorbed among the walls of the school. Indeed, that is how I remember Oshmana. I do not desire to remember you destroyed, desolate, wallowing in the blood of its Jewish inhabitants, and among them my brothers, Hayim and Alexander of Blessed Memory. I want to remember you, as the town in which my brothers and sisters saw for the first time the light of the sun, grew up and learned and developed their great talents; the town where my sisters Tanya and Mila prepared their exams in the flickering light of a candle. I want to remember the paved streets where every evening echoed the steps of my father returning from the synagogue where he learned a page from the Gemara. I shall remember you in the wintry nights, when the whole town was asleep, and only my parents of Blessed Memory, were listening to the beating of hooves of horses harnessed to a cart in which my late brother Hayim and I were coming home from Vilna for our winter vacation. I shall remember you, my native town, during holidays and Sabbaths celebrated in a festive atmosphere. And so will you stay in my memory!
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