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[Col. 349]

My shtetl Baklerowe

(Bakałarzewo, Poland)

54°06' 22°39'

Shlomo Borowski

Translated by Dr. Ida Selavan Schwarcz

Retyped by Genia Hollander

Baklerowe was near the German border. It was surrounded by beautiful hills, woods and rivers. In the summertime there were visitors from all over Poland.

Before the First World War, there was a fine Jewish settlement in Baklerowe with important householders and famous rabbis and scholars, who sat in the synagogue day and night and studied. Most of the Jews were well established.

The Jewish artisans, tailors, cobblers, blacksmiths, etc. as well as peddlers, drew their income from neighbouring gentiles.

In general, the Jews of Baklerowe were religious but not fanatic. The children attended the hadorim[1] of R'Sender Buzshevits, R'Moshe Halperin, Shestok and others, and then continued their studies in the yeshives of the larger cities. Some of the young people attended Hebrew or Polish secondary schools.

During the First World War, Baklerowe was ravaged. The Jews suffered more than any other people. Some of those who fled remained in the larger towns where they found refuge.

[Col. 350]

Those who returned found their homes vandalized. They began to rebuild their lives. They got along with their Christian neighbours. In a short time, they had returned to their pre-war status.

On the first day of the Second World War, Baklerowe was burned to the ground by German incendiary bombs. We were able to rescue the Torah scrolls and took them to Suwalk, where a lot of Baklerowe's Jews had fled, to be in a larger Jewish community in time of trouble. Baklerowe belonged to the USSR for a few weeks – under the Hitler-Stalin agreement. When the Soviets left, some of the Jews accompanied them. The Jews, who remained, immediately felt the German persecution and torment. I myself survived the Nazis.

After liberation, I came back from Lower Silesia to Baklerowe. I was unable to find even one Jewish survivor in my home town, or in any of the nearby small towns. In Suwalk, I found about thirty Jews, each one, the sole survivor of his family. The cemeteries had also been vandalized.

[Col. 351]

I walked on streets paved with Jewish tombstones, some still with legible inscriptions. The Suwalk cemetery had been turned into pastureland. In place of the beautiful synagogue, were little wooden huts of local Christians. I could hardly recognize the cemetery – the graves dug up – the tombstones broken – the two small chapels wrecked – the trees chopped down. The new fence that had been paid for by Baklerowe landslayt in America had been removed.

[Col. 352]

Only in one corner, in the direction of Novopol, were three tombstones intact; my father's – peace upon him; Shepsl the cobbler – peace upon him and a member of Shalom Smilinski's family.

I stood before these three tombstones and wept bitter tears as I said the El male rahamim[2]. With my first words, a hail of bullets was shot over my head and I barely escaped with my life from that formerly holy now accursed spot – my hometown Baklerowe.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Small elementary religious schools. Return
  2. God who is full of compassion A prayer said at memorial services.

 

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