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Introduction

A half century has elapsed since Abraham Weissbrod wrote his book describing the extermination of the Jews in the small Galician town called Skalat.

Of the few of us who survived the slaughter, those of Abraham Weissbrod's generation are no more. Those who were then young, a dozen or two teenagers, and the few surviving children are the last living witnesses to the catastrophe which befell the town of our birth. It will be far less than fifty more years before there will be no one left to say - “We were there. We saw what happened. We remember the suffering and we still carry the pain of our losses.” As I have grown older, this thought has given me no rest. During various contacts with other survivors, I realized how many of them were preoccupied with the same thoughts. When speaking to my children and to others of their generation, I also became aware of how much they wanted to know everything that happened to us and how urgently they needed a record to pass on to their children.

But the questions of the young people and our answers to them proved more painful to handle than I had anticipated. The prospect of reliving my personal tragedy in writing made it impossible for me to pick up a pen for forty-five years. Some events of the Nazi era have marked me indelibly: the mounting dread, the hopelessness of our situation and above all the 'actions.' Those shall be with me to the end. With time, however, I had begun to forget the names and the details of the daily nightmares of Skalat in those days. It is with these reflections in mind that I turned to Abraham Weissbrod's book.

Living in a small town, naturally our families knew one another well. The author's mother, Amalia Weissbrod, found me sitting on the ruins of my home, near the marketplace of our town, on the day I finally came out of hiding. Having recognized me, she addressed me in Yiddish, “Vus tiysty du?” (What are you doing here?). I looked up and answered her in Ukrainian “Bihrne ya zhydivka, no ya zabula hovoryty po zhydivski” (I swear, I'm Jewish, but I forgot how to speak Yiddish). Terror and loneliness had blocked out the Yiddish language in me and made it impossible for me to form the words in the tongue of my parents and my community. She stared at me in disbelief and said, “So young, all alone, how did you survive?” Tears flowing, we slowly made our way to her place. She took me in and that night as I went to sleep, for the first time in a long time, I felt safe.

I was in Skalat during the Nazi occupation and there lost my entire family. At eleven years of age, I was old enough to understand the terror and the overriding necessity to run and hide in order to escape the killers' bullets. For that reason, I share the anguish and passion with which the author relates the events which led to the annihilation of the Jewish community in Skalat. At that young age, there was also, of course, much that I was not privy to, especially the dealings between the members of the Jewish Council, i.e., the Judenrat, and the Gestapo headquarters in Tarnopol, as well as between the Jewish Council and the German and Ukrainian administration in Skalat. Since each survivor knows only his or her part of the terrible puzzle, there is much in Abraham Weissbrod's book from which we, who lived those events, have also learned. Obviously, only those who jumped from the trains, witnesses at the mass shootings and the very few wounded who came out of the graves, could tell us what went on there. Others supplied details about events in the Skalat ghetto, the camp and the woods. We are, therefore, indebted to the author for the amount of information which he collected and passed on to us.

When one reads the story of the destruction of the Jews of Skalat, it seems that although the town was small, it was typical of what took place in thousands of other towns both small and big. Even if this book were the only record left of that tragic time and place, one would still be able to know the circumstances, the Nazi aims, the process and the final result of that unprecedented evil. In Skalat, a small Jewish community was persecuted then incarcerated, extorted, tortured and finally with a few systematic 'actions,' brought to an end.

Abraham Weissbrod's recollections of the events and the testimonies of other survivors were

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shaped into a book and printed in Munich (Germany) within two years after our liberation. There was not yet, at that time, much printed material on the period subsequently known as the Holocaust. But even now after half a century of accumulated information, one still can't understand how that which took place, could have occurred. Often we, the survivors, can't comprehend the events which we experienced. It is precisely because the horror of that period was so extreme, that future generations may be tempted to doubt its authenticity. There are also those whose anti-Semitic and malicious intent is to rewrite the facts and to deny the truth of the Holocaust period, as some “revisionist” writers of our time have already done. We think it is imperative, therefore, not only to make the book available in English and thus accessible to a broader reading public, but to add to it additional personal testimonies which could only be obtained from the remaining survivors, in order to further substantiate the verity of these events.

With that in mind, the task of obtaining an English text was undertaken. In addition, personal testimonies were solicited. Contact was made with survivors from Skalat in the U.S., and in the Spring of 1992 a group of survivors met in Israel. Dates, names, and the accuracy of events were verified. The book was considered from a perspective of fifty years since it was written. Those who gathered felt that with the exception of some obvious repetitions and a few pages of philosophical ponderings, stated from a personal perspective and therefore deleted from the edited version, Abraham Weissbrod's book depicts faithfully the destruction of the Jews in Skalat and, therefore, should stand as written.

All agreed with the view expressed by Buzio Eisenstark. With the exception of the creation of the State of Israel, where some Skalat survivors rebuilt their lives, and also those who did so in the U.S., there are no bright rays in the sad saga of the perished Jewish community of Skalat.

We join in Abraham Weissbrod's desire that this book serve as a memorial to the Jewish victims who perished in and near Skalat and also as a legacy to our children, grandchildren, and to future generations who must undertake the difficult task of educating themselves about this tragic period in our long history.

Lusia Milch nee Rosenzweig
New York, 1993

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Introduction to the Original Yiddish Text

(1948)

With Death of a Shtetl, the Central Historical Commission in Munich begins publication, in book form, of more extensive works by individuals who describe the khurbn [1] of Jewish settlements, as well as their own experiences under the Nazi regime.

It is superfluous today to speak of the importance of such works. Innumerable Jewish communities were uprooted or cut down with the most refined cruelty, leaving no documentary trace or memory of their destruction. In countless shtetls [2] as well as in the larger towns, it is impossible to determine the locations of the Jewish mass graves, to say nothing of the dates of the 'actions,' [3] or other details of what befell the Jews before their extermination. The existing written history of the khurbn is now focused mainly on the testimony and descriptions of the few survivors. All testimony - each detail, including hearsay - is important at this stage. And it is especially welcome that a person who survived the khurbn devotes himself to compiling a broader description - a monograph - of the annihilation of an entire community, as in this book.

Abraham Weissbrod has shown the courage, in writing this book, to erect a monument to his birthplace, Skalat, a shtetl in Eastern Galicia. Even under the Nazi regime, he began to gather his material: to question people and to clarify many of the details regarding the Jews of the town. His work became much broader after the liberation. He threw himself with all his energy into collecting more and more reports. He gathered data from among the few who returned to Skalat. He also traveled to find other Skalat survivors and to record their experiences. He corresponded with many more. He doggedly researched each event of the occurrences in the town and the fate of almost every individual. Thus the author succeeded in assembling the work that lies before us. And though the book is limited to Skalat, it throws light on the destruction of many other Jewish settlements in Galicia and in other parts of Poland, where events transpired in a similar manner.

In relating the various events and experiences, Abraham Weissbrod demonstrates great descriptive powers. At times he even evokes admiration for his artistry. Weissbrod is also no stranger to the satirical writer's style, which, within the context of this book, introduces a lighter note and a certain liveliness.

The author also demonstrates a marked tendency to philosophize. Deep reflections and psychological insights frequently accompany his recounting of the events themselves. Perhaps the author's insights and, still more, his conclusions suffer from the emotional involvement resulting from our proximity to the events. Yet his reflections add much poignancy to the content of the book. They underscore for the reader the issues of that wild and tragic time and encourage us to think more deeply about those events. We're living close in time to the events described, therefore to a still-smoldering atmosphere due to these events. Hence, we cannot expect the author to maintain a cold, measured tone nor complete objectivity when dealing with the torture of his relatives in the Skalat Ghetto and in the nearby camps nor complete objectivity when dealing with the behavior of some Jews who held leading positions in Jewish institutions. In some cases we may differ with the opinions of the author and his judgments about these persons. It is also possible that some of his other views may be open to correction. However, in regard to his relating of the facts themselves and of his own actions, there is nothing to give us pause. Here we can see plainly that the author writes with deep integrity, that every event he relates bears the seal of his conscience, of his own painful experiences and, more pointedly, of his feeling of social responsibility.

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The literature of our latest khurbn is yet so small and the khurbn itself so horrible that the need to preserve the eyewitness accounts becomes a veritable commandment of our times. We must, therefore, approach such a work as Death of a Shtetl with our fullest attention, especially since its materials were gathered so carefully and with a sacred devotion. The book itself was written as though it were a holy obligation.

This work is truly an important contribution to the recorded history of our great catastrophe. May Abraham Weissbrod's work be an example and a model to our survivors, and for each of us, a reminder to devote our time and strength to erect similar memorials for the many, many murdered Jewish communities.

J. Kaplan

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In Memory of the Shtetl

(Foreword by Abraham Weissbrod, 1945)

The khurbn of Polish Jewry is a bloody inscription in the martyrology of the Jewish people. Every city and shtetl in Poland where once Jewish life pulsated became, during World War II, the site of the greatest tragedy and martyrdom.

The Jewish cities and towns have died out.

They were destroyed and buried along with their Jewish lives, even along with their Jewish cemeteries. Now one cannot find even a trace or memory of a Jew in the small Polish towns. Only the tattered remnants of the khurbn, dispersed and wandering among strangers, in search of a home and a future, know the horrible details of towns which became slaughterhouses. Every individual who survived is a major living witness to the monstrous crime of the extermination of the Jews. Every individual shtetl is a monument for all time: a document of tragedy and sacrifice. Each collapsed hut, each foot of earth, each stone stained with Jewish blood shouts and asks: “WHY?!”

If and when we ever learn the tragic sum of the total destruction of the Polish-Jewish shtetl, each town would still have its own specific history: retain its individual path of pain, reflecting the diversity within the overall martyrology. The human suffering of that time is So boundless that when one attempts to recount it today, it seems to many almost inexplicable and unbelievable.

Today, as I detail the tragedy of a small shtetl in Galicia, I find myself motivated by two considerations:
1. Based on my own experiences and on materials I have gathered, I wish to describe the end of Jewish life in the average Galician shtetl because as soon as Hitler planted his boot on Galicia, events involving the Jews followed a similar pattern. I also wish to describe, in this book, the Jewish struggle in the Galician shtetl the battle and its end.

I wish to relate how a Jewish community once flourished in Skalat where later the people were subjected to so much suffering and how they died - to the very last. The great tragedy of this little town must be set down objectively: free of exaggeration, embroidery or self-aggrandizement. In telling the brutal truth, one must also relate errors and weaknesses. This, however, should not be considered a desecration of the memories of our martyrs but should be viewed as an effort to provide an accurate illumination which will serve as a moral warning for present and future generations.
2. I intend this description to serve as a monument to the murdered Jewish people of Skalat. There will be far less written about Skalat, its environs and approximately 5,000 Jewish inhabitants than about Warsaw, Kaunus (Kovno) or Vilnius (Wilno). The Skalat Camp and its four hundred prisoners is not as notorious as, for example, Treblinka, Auschwitz or Majdanek, but the fate of this small community, in its crushing and silent tragedy is, in its smaller way, just as inexplicable and equally horrible. The destruction of any such town requires deep psychological insight and profound penetration into the metaphysics of suffering and death.

*****

A divine mystery, a bloody specter, envelops the past of my shtetl. As we memorialize our martyrs their spirits rise, commanding us to remember and demanding: DO NOT FORGET US!

My shtetl died.

I am now far from my home but I still hear the pitiful sobs rising from the mass graves I still hear the last gasps of my father, of blessed memory, in one of those graves, who gave up his innocent soul amid all the other martyrs: relatives, friends and companions of my town. I still hear the echo of their sacred final cry: Shmah Yisroel! [4] It is an echo that drives one to madness.

My account of the sorrowful history of the life and death of my shtetl is but the anguished cry of the thousands who perished there. How weak, though, are words when compared to the sacrifice of the martyrs. The Jewish shtetl is no more. All that is left is memory. Therefore let this modest work stand in place of a tombstone for my vanished home, Skalat, and in memory of all the martyrs. May they finally find peace in their graves.

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1. The Shtetl As It Was

Two kilometers outside the town, at the edge of a wood, a giant stone erupts from the earth. It is a tall, broad, gigantic boulder. From afar its smooth and semi-circular form gives it the appearance of a huge, bald human head. A number of smaller stony mounds lie scattered about, like dwarfs at the foot of the gigantic boulder. Nature itself apparently determined the name of the town, since in Slavic languages skala means boulder.

Over generations a settlement grew here. The soil of the Podolia [5] region is fertile and from earliest times drew large numbers of settlers. The first colony quickly grew into a hamlet, the hamlet into a village, the village into a small town, and finally into the bigger town, Skalat, which was eventually surrounded by seventy-two dependent villages. Among forests and fields, between valleys and meadows, the huts grew, the people multiplied, and, under the biblical mandate: by the sweat of your brow people toiled and their labor provided sustenance.

The river Zbrocz flows through the area and, some twelve kilometers from Skalat, marks the Russian border. It passes through Podwolczyska, Tarnorude and many other villages. The town Skalat, in the Tarnopol district of Galicia, formerly part of Poland, has its own history of battles and victories, of Tartar and Cossack invasions, of fire and blood.

Four massive XVII Century towers, with red tile roofs, rise from each comer of the surrounding huge town wall. Nearby stand rows of small, old fashioned, twisted little houses. In a few places one also sees separate huts, scattered chaotically and bent toward the earth. In the central marketplace, opposite the church, a handful of hunchbacked houses huddle along the Picynia Section which, itself, is a remnant of a great fire some fifty years earlier, when only this one little area miraculously survived. Along it are spread the small adobe houses, leaning against one another and exposing the thickly-growing moss through their rotted out shingle roofs. Here also are the few dingy, large driveway houses with clumsy, diamond-shaped roofs, and broad overhangs supported by posts. Here and there, on the main street of the town, are a few single-story houses with grey zinc roofs.

In contrast to them stand the buildings of the shul [6] , the city hall, the post office, the courthouse and, at the town's outskirts, the large Sokol [7] . These buildings, a blend of the highest achievements of modern technology and provincial architecture, stand proudly as though they were skyscrapers. The Roman Catholic Church in the marketplace, the Greek Catholic Church in the Gmina Section and the shul in the Bath area stand out prominently from all the other buildings. They inform all who approach from afar that here in Skalat, God is worshiped by three religions: those of the Jews, Ukrainians and Poles who have lived here, side-by-side, for hundreds of years. Old traditions were woven into newer times. The three groups bought, sold, bartered, conducted commerce and lent each other money. Whatever different historical or political winds might have blown outside, they, more or less, got along among themselves.

In 1939, out of approximately 8,000 inhabitants of Skalat and its peripheral areas (Mantiawa, Preczepinka, Krzywe, Nowy-Swiat and Ksiezy Kat), some sixty percent were Jews who lived, mostly, in the center of the town. The Jewish population consisted of some small traders, craftsmen, businessmen, and a few professionals and officials, There were also students of the Torah, beggars of the older generation and ordinary unemployed do-nothings. It can be said that in its high rate of unemployed Jews, Skalat was a typical shtetl. It was one of the oldest Jewish shtetls in Galicia, where Jews had settled in the sixteenth century or earlier.

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At the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, there was mass migration to America. due to poverty, hunger and the lack of opportunity. Further impetus was provided by anti-Semitism and the wave of pogroms in Russia. In later years, hundreds of Skalat families received aid from their relatives overseas. This helped to ease the poverty in the town. Skalat landsleit [8] established a large orphanage named after one Louis Rosenblatt. They also assisted in setting up the co-operative bank and the free-loan society which helped the Jews through critical times.

Jewish life flourished in Skalat. Institutions and organizations participated actively in the town's social, cultural, religious and political activities. Though Skalat was nominally an orthodox. Hassidic town, the younger generation followed the paths of progress and national, secular education in addition to religious instructions. All political parties, from the extreme left to the extreme right, were organized and exerted their influence on the young. The shtetl was no different from other Polish towns and the people here engaged in a daily struggle for existence and for human rights.

According to the rhythms of history, the tangle of world politics, and the constant changes in political regimes, the Jews of Skalat experienced times both good and bad. At first there was the old Polish kingdom, followed (in 1792) [9] by the Austrian rule, then in rapid succession came the First World War (in 1914), the Ukrainian “Lightning War” (of 1918-1919) and the Polish restoration of(1919-l939). With the advent of the Second World War came the (1939-1941) Soviet occupation of Galicia, then the (1941-1944) German occupation with its tragic consequences. Finally there was the return of the Soviets (in 1944), but this time to a town without a Jewish population.

On its fateful, painful road, Jewish Skalat experienced many regimes and all sorts of troubles: insecurity, hunger, tortures and persecutions. Yet it survived the worst times and revived. It remained for the German madman to become the Angel of Death: the executioner of this shtetl and of all the shtetls of Poland. Now it is time to relate the facts of the life-struggle and destruction of Skalat!

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2. On the Eve of the Fire

When Germany attacked the Soviet Union, on 22 June 1941, the people of Skalat had been living a more or less normal life. The Soviets had instituted a certain calm and order during their 22-month rule of Galicia. The Poles, formerly the lords of the land who had lately lost their political independence, gritted their teeth and endured the occupation, or the so-called “Red Exile.” The Ukrainians, who had long had an appetite to rule this land and who dreamed of full sovereignty, reacted to the Soviet rule with hatred while appearing to accept their regime.

The Jewish population found itself in a very uncomfortable position: between the hammer and the forge. On the one hand they adjusted to the new regime but, on the other hand they feared “what the Gentile neighbors would say,” that is, how the Gentiles would view that adjustment. Anti-Semitism had been rooted in the souls of their non-Jewish neighbors for many generations. Now it had a fertile soil in which to flourish. The arrival of the Soviets provided the fuel that fed the fires of the Jew-Haters. “Commie Yids” had been an old slogan in Polish politics and now the Jews “were being chummy with their old buddies, the Bolsheviks...” - so went the popular anti-Semitic rationalization.

Everyone could find work now and life was both good and bad, depending on one's position under the new regime. It was quite understandable that the Jews were able to adjust more easily to the new life, since the Soviet regime trusted the Jewish population more than it did the Gentiles. A significant portion of the Jews - the workers, the artisans and the working intelligentsia, therefore, took on leading roles in the economic and social life of the town. They held important positions in cooperatives and in communal and public institutions. No one group could have adjusted better to the newly created conditions of life than the Jews.

Yet, the radical change in the social and economic structure left the vast majority of the Jews without a way to earn a living. Among them were businessmen, small traders and craftsmen. There were also the opportunity bereft unemployed of a typical provincial town. The number of prosperous Jews and “burzhuyis” [10] was very small. All of these declasse Jews were desperate to obtain formal positions because the watchword of the new order was: He who does not work does not eat. In addition this, middle class, the former house owners and traders, made a strong effort to find employment in order to obtain a work-card, which protected one from being considered “non-productive” and therefore exposed to various troubles, including exile to Siberia. Regardless of whether it was out of necessity or simply as a cover-up, the impoverished and declasse Jewish population made every effort to work and be productive. The reshuffling of one's social standing took place overnight, one might say. This phenomenon had, without doubt, some positive value in the social, egalitarian restructuring of Jewish life.

The Ukrainians and Poles, living as farmers on their own land, did not experience a particularly disturbing effect on their accustomed life styles. For that reason, they had no need to find new employment or sources of income. No peasant stopped being a peasant. “Our people left, our people will return” was the familiar, meaning-filled folk-saying among the Gentiles. Their tragedy was rather of an ideological or nationalistic and territorial nature. They lived peacefully, waiting for better times and better conditions. In regard to the Soviet regime, the Ukrainians and Poles were weak and powerless. With respect to the Jews, however, in spreading anti-Semitic poison and in preparing the soil for the eventual slaughter, they were quite powerful -virtual giants. Despite their own national tragedy, the germs of envy, hatred and anti-Semitism grew and increased among the Gentiles into a powerful force which confused the minds and consciousness of both the masses and their leaders. That was why they could hardly wait for the Germans to arrive. Better the Germans than the Soviets, thought many Poles. And the Ukrainians saw in Hitler a Savior, the creator of an independent Ukraine.

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3. The Knives are Sharpened...

From the first days of the war, the town was gripped by a wild, nervous mood. Instinctively we knew that momentous events were about to occur. The radio brought alarming reports: Heeresgruppe Sud [11] under Von Runstedt was advancing on the regions of Galicia and Wolin. Soviet authorities sought to maintain the calm of the civilian population, while preparing themselves to evacuate. During the first days of July, 1941, the Soviets began their orderly withdrawal from the town.

They were accompanied by some 200 Jews, mostly workers, craftsmen and some who simply had good sense and a clear vision. I stress “clear vision” because very few Jews fully understood the danger awaiting them. On the contrary, no matter how fatally foolish it may now appear, there were some, mainly among the more affluent, who thought that living with the Germans might be easier than with the Bolsheviks. Realistically, where was one to run? To Russia, the Red Hell? Or, at least, that was how those Jews assessed the situation. Another part, the majority of the Jewish population, simply thought: how can we leave our homes and go off into exile? And so the Jews left their fate in the hands of God and to the future.

On 3 July, the Soviet civil administration, the police and the armed detachments left the town. Only a few soldiers remained behind to carry out specific assignments and the town was left without a government. On the deserted streets, underworld characters and various peasants from the neighborhood sought opportunities for robbery and other adventures.

At the first signal of the impending conflagration, the beginning of agitation and turmoil occurred - even before German jackboots marched into town. A peasant named Hilko Kory (some say he was called Krupa) said to the Jews: “Wait. Just wait, you kikes. Hitler's coming soon and we'll slaughter you all like chickens!” A Soviet soldier, hearing of the incident, was outraged by such talk. He tracked down the peasant, dragged him off into the fields and left him there dead. The incident enraged the already excited peasants and provided the village of Krzywe with an excuse to carry out an act of vengeance on the few Jewish families living nearby. They murdered them all in a beastly fashion. Blaming his death on the Jews, the executed peasant was declared a “holy martyr.”

The peasants in town and in the surrounding villages were stirred up. They began sharpening their knives for the coming slaughter. At midnight on Friday, 4 July, we heard the continuous sound of machine guns and the detonations of exploding grenades. At 2:00 AM the first German patrol arrived on motorcycles, surveyed the neighborhood and called out over loudspeakers: “Ukrainian brothers, awake!” There really was no need to rouse them as they were already wide awake, ready to help the German soldiers -especially in robbing and killing the Jews, who were fleeing in all directions. At 5:00 AM on Saturday, 5 July, the regular German troops arrived. Joy was widespread among the Ukrainians. They dressed in their holiday clothes decorated with ribbons in the blue and yellow of their national colors. Ukrainian flags decorated their houses and here and there fluttered red banners with the Nazi swastika. Carrying floral bouquets, and with songs on their lips, Ukrainians came to greet their German liberators. They danced and kissed in the streets.

Later that Sabbath morning, some Jews walked openly and unhesitatingly to services, carrying their prayer shawls, as though nothing had happened. Others, - in truth, very few - went off to admire the German military equipment. Today it sounds incomprehensible, but some Jews were convinced that so cultured a people as the Germans would not harm anyone. Besides they believed that now they would be more secure: before there had been danger from the enraged goyim, [12] but now there would be law and order.

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At first they seemed right: the German military harmed no one. On the contrary, they spoke in a friendly manner to the Jews, boasting of their swift and heroic deeds against the Reds. These Jews later argued with others: “Fools, what are you hiding for? Are they harming anyone?” Some affluent Jews, though not all, naively thought that even if the worst were to occur, it would not affect them but the “Eighth Company.” [13] Therefore, these people felt, let the Socialists or Bolsheviks worry, but not the well-off. The Germans themselves know that the prosperous ones were also victims of the Red regime. The new rulers would probably return the land, the confiscated wealth and the nationalized houses. Thus some deluded people reasoned. They quickly learned, however, how such foolish optimism had clouded their minds.

At around 10:00 in the morning, several battalions came to a halt in the shtetl, while other troops continued their “triumphal march” eastward. The Commander of the SS brigade, so that his troops might “have some fun,” gave the order: Tzen minuten shlachten Juden! [14] The soldiers passed the order on to each other and quickly leaped from their automobiles, tanks and other armored vehicles and ran to the very center of town. Sweaty, begrimed from the long ride, in shirt sleeves with the cuffs rolled up, they ran about like wild wolves, firing their guns. First they assaulted Jews encountered on the streets. The first victim was Efraim Diener, [15] hose beard they cut along with part of his face. The bullets fired at him missed, miraculously. The murderers were in a hurry and left the victim, who had fainted, on the ground.

Peasant children and some of their elders ran after the raiders, pointing out Jude! [16] Jude! The town was thrown into turmoil and gripped by panic. Germans ran after the fleeing Jews, shooting at them constantly. They chased Mordechai Orenstein (the milkman) and his wife down to the riverbank and drove them into the water. They fired at them until their bodies sank, leaving only red stains on the surface. Then some Germans, led by Ukrainian peasant children, ran among the houses, shooting at each pointed out Jew. Other soldiers raided homes: ostensibly searching for weapons and hidden Bolsheviks, while robbing, defacing and destroying the contents of the homes. The allotted ten minutes sufficed to turn the town upside down, to leave some twenty Jews killed and an equal number wounded. Some were slightly wounded and others seriously. The Jews sought to hide wherever they could. Their homes, now unguarded, fell prey to the Ukrainian peasants and the Polish town hoodlums, who rioted for hours afterwards. They stole whatever they could, and beat, unmercifully, any Jew that they found.

This was but the prologue to the slaughter of the following day, conducted entirely under the direction of the newly appointed Ukrainian administrators.

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4. The Historic Meeting

Over the generations in Galicia, the Ukrainian village and the Jewish shtetl had been in relatively friendly contact. The Jews had no territorial designs in the area. The Ukrainians suffered under Polish rule almost as much as the Jews did, which tended to bring the two peoples together in the common struggle for their minority rights and for the preservation of their national identities. Leaders of the Ukrainian folk movements often spoke out in sympathy with the Jews, and in elections to the Polish Sejm, [17] Jews and Ukrainians ran jointly in some areas while in others the Ukrainian press at times urged its readers to vote for the Jewish slates.

Thus, who would have predicted that these same Ukrainians would turn so viciously against the Jews, their centuries-old neighbors? These repulsive deeds were carried out not by benighted individuals among the Ukrainians, nor by fascist terror groups. These heaven-offending acts were the work of none other than the UNDO, [18] the leading organization of the Ukrainian people in Galicia and its official representative for many years.

The UNDO organized the first pogroms in almost every town and village in Galicia involving the entire Ukrainian community in this enormous, bloody event. With the exception of a small group among the older generation which was disgusted by the savage behavior of its sons, the balance of the Ukrainian population now shares the burden of guilt for the destruction of Galician Jewry. Established facts, documents and eyewitness testimony will prove that it was they who were the killers of their age-old neighbors. This chronological review of events in the single shtetl of Skalat also reveals parallel patterns in other towns. Everywhere it was the Ukrainian people who carried out the mass murders. The same criminal hand was at work.

Already on Friday evening, (although some say it was Saturday evening), the Ukrainians in town held a secret meeting to consider the new situation created by Hitler's victorious march. The meeting was attended by the elite of the Ukrainian populace. All segments were represented from priest to peasant. The lively meeting was opened with the singing of the Ukrainian national anthem, “Shehe Ne Vmerla Ukraina,” [19] and quickly turned to matters of state. Such questions as organizing a Ukrainian militia and selecting persons for public positions and institutions were considered. Various opinions were expressed about their work, with an eye towards the fulfillment of their aspirations in the future. An important question arose about the attitude of Ukrainians toward the Polish population.

The most important question on the floor, however, was: what is to be done with the Jews? Those who were there, one after the other, took the floor. Whole pages were quoted from Hitler's Mein Kampf and from Alfred Rosenberg. The conclusion reached was that the Germans were to be supported in every way, because only they were the true liberators. “We must gain the Germans' confidence,” said one of the speakers. “Hitler is right. The Jews are a menace to the world. They are like a bone in our throats as well, so let there be an end to them!” In a vote, the majority supported the proposal of a pogrom against the Jews. Those who were there understood that it would be necessary to obtain permission from the Germans. Hence, a three-man delegation was chosen on the spot to go to the Military Command in order to obtain permission for a 24-hour slaughter of the Jews. Such a full day's work, they believed, would suffice to end the Jewish presence in Skalat.

One of the main spokesmen at the meeting was a well-known personality in town, the Greek Catholic priest Canon Onuferko. He had long been involved in business matters with the Jews and used to boast of having been a Judeophile all his life. He spoke Yiddish fluently. It was of him that local Jews

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would say: “ A hen that crows and a priest who speaks Yiddish should both be sent to the chopping block.” The folk expression was quite apt. In addition to the priest and his wife, among the others at the meeting were Judge Politila, Maruszszuk (a blacksmith), Bilyk, Jaromiszyn, Chruszcz, and Wilczynski, all well-known people in Skalat and its environs.

On the following day, the Ukrainian delegation led by Canon Onuferko appeared before the German General Staff carrying a signed petition, requesting permission to carry out an anti-Jewish pogrom. They were welcomed by an aged general who, with deeply-furrowed brow, wondered about their demand. He had other considerations in mind: he agreed that the Jews should be slaughtered, but in a planned fashion. First, however, their physical labor could be useful to the military machine. The general gave permission for a pogrom, but only of eight hours duration. He also said, with a warm-looking smile, that women and children should be spared. The delegation thanked him heartily, bowed deeply, and departed.

The Ukrainians immediately called a general meeting of all their community activists, including their newly organized militia. Those attending decided to make the necessary preparations to execute the plan.

The German military authorities sent a report to Berlin, enclosing documents which demonstrated “justified” local hatred of the Jews. That petition, along with hundreds of similar petitions from Ukrainians in various other cities and villages were later released to the press by the German ministry of propaganda so that the world might see that it was not the Germans who were slaughtering the Jews, but the local populations who were demanding the right to carry on their own pogroms.

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5. The Pogrom

On Sunday, 6 July 1941 [20] (11 Tammuz 5701), at about 11:00 AM, organized gangs set out across the town. The Ukrainian militia, armed with rifles, and civilians, carrying sticks, went from house to house calling Jewish men and youths to come out to work. Wild shouting, curses, resounding slaps, the wailing of women and the cries of children were heard from Jewish homes, while German soldiers stood about on the street joyfully watching the spectacle.

The Jews, thus drawn out, were forced to perform tasks that only sadists could have devised. One group was ordered to uproot some small trees with their bare hands. Since that could not be done, those Jews were beaten to death. Others were ordered to crawl on all fours, gathering stones in their mouths, and then, crawling further, to deposit the stones into pots. Still others were forced to clean privies with their bare hands, sweep streets with their hats and to perform other senseless tasks during which scores of Jews were further tortured and finally put to death. Some of the Jews were assigned to the German military units, where they slaved, as in the days of Pharaoh, while being beaten about the head with rifle butts. The Jew, Chaim Szrencel, already badly beaten, was thrown to the ground and was run over by a truck, which crushed his bones. The victim, writhing in pain, was finally shot through the heart by a soldier.

Terrible acts were perpetrated near the water-pump in the marketplace. There, some Ukrainians forced the spout of the water pipe into a Jew's mouth and kept pumping the water until he drowned. Leib Jawer, an imposing Jew, tall and handsome with a silver-grey beard, had his legs broken by assassins wielding iron rods and then was placed under the pump for a “cold shower,” as the murderers so wittily termed it. The victim pointing at his heart, for he could no longer speak, pleaded to be shot and to end his suffering. The wild-eyed bystanders, laughing and enjoying the show, egged on the killers: “No! No! Let him live a while longer! “ A mob of peasants then attacked the victim, ripping hairs, one by one, from his patriarchal beard. The near dead body was again placed under the water spout, his mouth forced wide open, and water pumped into him until he drowned.

Rabbi Benjamin Wolowycz [21] was tied behind a horse and then the Germans, Ukrainians and other peasants, standing on the sidewalks, whipped the horse into a gallop. At first the Rabbi ran, but he soon fell and was dragged, bloodied and tortured, as far as the towers, were he gave up his soul. His body was carried into the tower and tossed onto the growing pile of corpses. A similar fate was that of a certain Friedman [22] (son-in-law of a tinsmith from Grzymalow), who was tied behind a moving vehicle and dragged through the streets until his body became an unrecognizable mass of flesh: red and black from blood and dirt. Dr. Leon Fried [23] was dragged to the public privy near the bathhouse. There he was ordered to jump into the cesspool, where he was shot. Many Jews were shot by Ukrainians, who then stole their shoes and searched their pockets for other booty. At the same time, village peasants roamed the streets of the Jewish sections, robbing the houses.

The main collection point for the victims was amid the four old towers in the center of town. It was there that the great bloodbath occurred. The Ukrainian police led Jews, in groups of thirty or forty, to the tops of the towers and ordered them to jump, while firing automatic weapons at them. [24] The

[Page 9]

martyrs met their deaths with screams of pain and with cries of Shmah Yisroel! Throughout, the Germans photographed the slaughter, and the photos, with appropriate captions, were later sent on to Berlin to prove that it had been the Ukrainians who were killing the Jews and not the Germans. There amid the towers, more than three hundred people were murdered, including thirty children and youths.

Similar horrors took place at the cemetery. Groups of newly-captured Jews were forced to bring the dead there and bury them and then were shot themselves as soon as they completed their work. It was told of Isaac Binsztok, son of Szyje-Nuty Binsztok, the butcher, that among other corpses he had to bury his own father. While reciting the Kaddish, [25] he was shot down and fell on top of the just-filled grave. At the cemetery alone, approximately 150 people were slaughtered. By 3:00 PM the death toll had reached five hundred. [26] Who knows how many more victims there would have been that day were it not for an air attack by Soviet bombers, which scattered the killers across the fields. Some village peasants were in the midst of preparing an attack on the synagogue. The bombing, and the few resulting casualties among them, caused a break in the slaughter.

For a few hours all was peaceful. Then the mob returned. Even though the allotted eight hours had ended, the slaughter went on for another two days, although on a smaller scale, and additional scores of Jews fell at the hands of the Ukrainians. On Wednesday morning, the Ukrainian militiamen dragged out the three Lastman brothers and Loma Gross, and shot all four on the grounds that they were Bolsheviks.

The slaughtered Jews were still lying around the towers where they had fallen. Then the Ukrainians dragged the Jews out of their hiding places and ordered them to take the unburied corpses to the cemetery. All day long, using horse carts, the Jews carried the corpses, wrapped in blood stained sheets and prayer shawls. Stiffened arms and legs and bloodied heads hung down from the carts and swayed to the rhythm of the wheels. Blood dripped along the entire length of the road to the cemetery writing in long red lines the tragic story of those snuffed out lives. It was the muted voice of the innocently shed blood which the cursed earth was thirstily soaking up.

Deep sorrow enveloped the town. Jews observed Shiva. [27] The surviving Rabbi proclaimed a community day of fasting and ordered the wearing of sackcloth and ashes as a sign of mourning for the martyred dead. The surviving Jews sent a delegation to the German commander, who promised to restore calm. The military authorities issued an order to the population to return all stolen items. Of course, nothing was returned, nor could the five hundred lives lost in the pogrom possibly be returned.

Meanwhile tragic reports began to be heard from the surrounding areas. The Ukrainians had conducted a pogrom in the neighboring shtetl of Grzymalow. There, they had driven some five hundred men, women and children into the river and machine-gunned them all. It was said that for days the river ran red with Jewish blood. In the village of Chmielisko, the Ukrainian peasants buried alive some thirty of their long-time neighbors. In the village of Turowka, the local Jewish doctor had his legs broken and was then impaled on the tines of pitchforks. In Tluste, a smaller town near Skalat, the Ukrainians slaughtered all of the Jews.

So went the Ukrainian twentieth century version of Saint Bartholemew's Night. We shall never
forget the partner and the right hand of the Germans. As it is written: Ye shall remember Amalek!

The great tragedy of Skalat had just begun.


Footnotes:

1 khurbn - Total destruction. Return

2 shtetls - Small towns. Return

3 'actions,' - Round-up of Jews for killing. Return

4 Shmah Yisroel - First words of the key Hebrew prayer. “Hear, 0 Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord is One.” Return

5 Podolia - The flatlands of Eastern Galicia. Return

6 shul(s) - Synagogue(s). Return

7 Sokol - Sports hall in Skalat. Return

8 landsleit - Fellow countryman (Yiddish). Return

9 In 1792 - Dates have been added (not in original text). L. Milch Return

10 "burzhuyis" - Under the Soviets, denoting a wealthy person and having a pejorative connotation. L. Milch Return

11 Heeresgruppe Sud - A German battalion under Von Runstedt, which occupied Galicia in 1941. Return

12 goyim - Non-Jews. Return

13 "Eighth Company" - A phrase used to signify the impoverished masses, It is thought to have originated from the notion that long ago craftsmen and those providing services had to purchase permits of which the eighth-category was for the lowest occupation. L. Milch Return

14 Tzen minuten shlachten Juden! - Ten minutes for killing Jews. Return

15 Efraim Diener - According to my own and some other survivor's recollections, the first Skalat victim was Esther Fiszbach's son. L. Milch Return

16 Jude - Jew. Return

17 SEJM - Polish parliament. Return

18 UNDO - Ukrainian Nationalist Democratic Organization, the main Ukrainian political organization in Galicia L. Milch Return

19 "Shehe Ne Vmerla Ukraina...." - The Ukraine is alive... Return

20 Sunday, 6 July 1941 - Another version of Skalat survivors states that the main slaughter of the pogrom took place on Saturday, 5 July 1941. Isaac Butel (Birnbaum), the only survivor of the slaughter in the towers, did to the best of his memory, substantiate the Sunday date. L. Milch. Return

21 Rabbi Benjamin Wolowycz - Another version states that the rabbi's neck was broken when he was thrown from an attic and that he was then killed. I remember this version. L. Milch Return

22 Friedman - Some survivors of Skalat stated that another Jew, though no one remembers who was dragged to death by horses in addition to Friedman. L. Milch Return

23 Dr. Leon Fried - The eye witness account of Chajka Kawer nee Sass states that on Sunday, 6 July 1941, she saw Dr. Leon Fried, Berl Sass (her cousin) and M. Bernstein, lying decapitated near the public bath. L. Milch Return

24 As per Isaac (Birnbaum) Butel's testimony, he and the victims killed late in the day, were lead inside the towers and shot. L. MilchReturn

25 Kaddish - Prayer for the dead. Return

26 I and other survivors remembered the number of pogrom victims to be around four hundred. L. Milch Return

27 Shiva - The observance of a seven-day mourning ritual. Return

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