by Y. N.-S.
They pass before my eyes and my soul in a large crowd, the innocent and the pure, whether at school or in the youth movement. In the morning, I was their teacher, and in the afternoon, their friendly instructor.
I have a few pictures from those days, and every once in a while I take the pictures out and look at them. Here's Aharon Gufman from the Old City, vigilant, happy, and smiling. Here's Niume Feldman, intelligent and wise. Here's Furman the little philosopher. Here's Lerer, the serious one, and Lerner, who was full of life. They were all full of love for their nation and their land. With excitement, they took it upon themselves to tramp through the winter swamps to collect small coins for the Jewish National Fund.
You haven't seen youthful rejoicing if you never saw them during song evenings on the mountain by the riverbank.
For a few years, I accompanied them in their youthful way of life
And again, I take out a picture of the third-grade children here's Tsizen the graceful one, here's Tenenboym the lovely one, here's Sudman the quiet one, and many more And I lost them all as a teacher and instructor.
Together we learned, played, and dreamed tomorrow's dreams. I remember the trips we took around the area in the summer and winter, scout games, and stormy dances at our branch. We didn't have a permanent home; we wandered from apartment to apartment: at Feldman the carpenter's apartment, by the river bank on the road to the village of Zarudi.
Everywhere we went, we brought the spirit of happiness and youth
With excitement, we learned about the Land of Israel (from Braslavski's booklets) and Youth Guard kibbutzim established there.
How can I fail to mention my students who in time became instructors? Here's Chave Mofshit, the serious elementary instructor. Here are Pati and Zelde from the Zelber family, who contributed much to the life of our Youth Guard branch.
And I lost them all
Zalman and Yakov, the Epshteyn Brothers
They came from a poor family, a widow's sons who worked to support her.
They joined our chapter when it was established and became active, even though they were busy with work. They dedicated a lot of energy to chapter life. Zalman asserted himself with his activities. There was no activity in which Zalman didn't participate: collecting money for the Jewish National Fund, decorating the chapter house, instructing, helping with field trips, and much more.
The brothers weren't rewarded with the fulfillment of their dream immigrating to the Land.
May their memory be for a blessing.
by Mikhael Valdman
On June 22, 1941, we left Vishnevets. We traveled for a month. The route was difficult. My departure from Vishnevets was also kind of a mission. I was assigned to bring home a Russian's wife and small children, and my task wasn't easy. Enemy planes escorted us, and every once in a while they dropped bombs.
After Shepetovka, when we were installed in a car that also carried reservists, I ran into Menashe Tsvik, Hirsh Marchbeyn, and others from our town, who were on their way to rescue mother Russia.
Since I had left with the members of a Russian family whom I was assigned to transfer to Russia, we had no difficulty joining the other passengers. The car supervisor was a Russian cooperative administrator who knew the family. He let them inside and also let us in, since it was unpleasant for him to leave us outside.
We traveled to Kiev in that car.
In Kiev, notices with mobilization orders had already been posted. They listed the recruits' ages and the exact dates they had report to the flag.
I went to the military commander and asked him what to do. According to my age, I belonged to the group that was required to report for duty. But he told me to stay with the convoy to the end and report for duty when I reached a certain location, and then they'd decide what to do with me.
The family left. We separated, not knowing where to turn.
There was a convoy on the same day. I sat in the open car with my wife and two children, not knowing where we were going. My objective was to travel as far as I could from the Nazis.
We traveled for three weeks, day and night, without stopping. No one cared for us or our needs. We ate what we were given at the stations.
On the way, students and many workers climbed into our ca. They were professional workers who had been transferred with their factories after being evacuated from Leningrad.
We arrived at a station in the village of Zolsk, in the Caucasus.
The world ended there. A barricade indicated the end of the railroad tracks. That place was unique. It was an old Cossack camp that had been turned into a kolkhoz.
The local kolkhoz hadn't received orders to come and welcome the refugees. During those confusing hours, the arrival of so many refugees was a rare event that surprised this small place.
When we entered the village, my wife asked the first farmer she met on the road, Are there any Jews among you? She didn't do it with the intention of making anyone angry, but because it was a typical Jewish custom.
However, he answered her, also without intending anything, There are only Cossacks here. There's not one Jew among us, and I can't remember a Jew ever living here.
In absolute fact, we were the first Jews in that place.
They brought us to the kolkhoz leader, an 82-year-old Cossack with an amputated leg, and he told me, I've lived here since I was a child, and I've never seen a Jew here.
We stayed there for two weeks. I realized that I didn't have a place there. I moved to the nearby town of Nalchik in Kabardino-Balkaria SSR. For half a year, I worked there in a factory, and then I was drafted into the army.
My wife and children stayed in Nalchik. Thanks to the fact that she was a seamstress she was able to support herself and the children while I was wandering around for five years, on the frontier and outside it.
She was the only Jew out of 45 refugee families who lived in the hut, and she never experienced any discrimination.
Meanwhile, the Germans entered the town. My son was sick. She couldn't leave the town because of him, and she stayed there. She registered with the Germans as a Jew. Later on, she found out there were other Jews in town who were married to non-Jews. Those were Jewish women who lived under the protection of Christians, and they asked her, Where are you planning to go? Don't you know how dangerous it is?
Nevertheless, she wasn't afraid. She went and registered as a Jew.
Luckily for her, the Germans were forced to retreat because their front collapsed near Stalingrad. They left the area, and she was saved.
The Germans who lived among the Russians walked gingerly and didn't act rashly, but this time she was saved by a real miracle.
A Russian prisoner of war who had been brought there by the Germans lived next door to her. He was a shoemaker and helped the local German shoemaker. One evening, the Russian prisoner left his place of detention and spent the night at the Russians' house.
In the morning, when the Germans realized he was missing, they conducted a search for him. The minute they tried to enter my wife's home, a Russian woman who wanted to save her from the dangerous visit started to yell at the Germans, Don't go in there. There's nothing to search for over there. A Jew (Hebrew) lives there.
The Germans may not have understood what a Hebrew was, or they may have been shaken by the woman's hysteria. They skipped her hut and continued the search. That's how she was saved.
Until 1945, I was in the Red Army without knowing if my family was still alive. I approached Nalchik's municipal committee and asked them if they knew of the Valdman family. It was far away, and I wanted to know if I should travel to Nalchik or go in a different direction. They answered me, There's no family by that name, but a young man named Moshe Mikhelovits Valdman is registered with us. If he's related to you, write to him.
I was confused, and my heart feared the worst. What had happened to my wife? What about my daughter? I knew Moshe was my son, for sure, but I wondered why he was the only one to register.
Later on, the matter became clear. When the Russians, returned my wife was so excited about liberation that she forgot to register again with them. But my son, who had turned 17, remembered and came to enlist to the army. And so I found my family after great fears.
In 1946, I was discharged from the army at the border with East Germany. I returned to get my family and moved to Poland to build myself a new home.
When I passed Kremenets, I wanted to turn and visit Vishnevets, but the town commander advised me not to do it. He said, You stayed alive, so stay that way. Vishnevets is swarming with gangs that are hostile toward us and for you. Each Russian soldier was shot and killed by them. Keep on traveling, and wait for another opportunity to see your town. The whole area is a death trap.
I listened to him and traveled to Poland. I was in Valbezhikh and started to establish myself. I worked as a glassblower and earned a good salary. A few months later, after the Kelts pogrom erupted, I didn't wait another day. The day after the pogrom, I packed my belongings, liquidated everything, and went to Italy.
We lived in Italy for three years under the United Nations' care. I worked as a warehouse assistant, and later, I immigrated to the Land.
When I remember the chapter of my life that I spent among the Russians, pleasant memories come to me. I was always the only Jew among the Russians, and I wasn't treated badly or discriminated against. I enjoyed good comradeship. Today, when I see Russia and its treatment of our small and hopeful nation's remnants, it's hard to understand what happened to the good Russian nation how it has declined and degraded itself so much.
by A. Y. Teyer
After typesetting the sections of the book, we received some chapters from a diary written by A. Teyer, a survivor of the Vishnevets ghetto. We present them literally (not correctly) so as not to detract from their value. This was how his heart expressed itself, and so we will leave them. It's interesting that at a time of piercing soul-searching, the man needed to return to the Hebrew tongue, because it was the holy tongue for him. Therefore, we decided not to change its style or correct the tone of his writing so the words will be read as a plea and a cry of distress. Editorial Board
The war broke out on June 22, 1941, when the Nazis attacked the USSR, and as it is known, they broke forward at great speed. On July 2, they captured our district, and our town also fell into the murderers' hands. Already on the next day, they caught around 35 Jews, some in the streets and some from their homes, collected them in Issakher Sofer's cellar, and they were killed there through suffocation by our town's Ukrainian residents. A Jew named Alter Ruach, Makhtsi's son, told me about the death of each of them. He was also caught with the unfortunate ones and was miraculously able to escape. He told me about it almost two weeks after the disaster, and the fear hadn't yet left him. Even though 15 days had already passed, it seemed as if he couldn't shake the fear and horror that befell him during those terrible moments. While he told his story, he kept looking around to see if anyone was listening to the details of the horrible murder.
When they finished with them, we don't know how they found out that a few had escaped from the cellar. Immediately, they went out to look for them, intending to leave no witnesses to the cruel murder mentioned above. They said they caught a few of them. One whose name was mentioned as being captured was Kalman Nek (Choish), and even though everyone was almost sure none of them was alive, most of our town's Jewish residents didn't dare or allow anyone to express his opinion about this murder. Most didn't believe something like that was possible, and the rest feared that it would reach the murderers' ears that so and so knew something about the incident.
In those days, I was on the way home from a Soviet prison on the road to Siberia. During the first days after the war broke out, that was where they'd collected the accused whose sentences were already set in order to transport us to the Soviet zone on the fastest direct train, but the Soviets couldn't get us out of the prison in time. The Nazis' military push forced them to leave the town in a hurry.
They set the prison on fire before they escaped, and we were locked up, but no one on the inside suffered from the fire. It was on Friday, July 4, 1941. The next day, we left for the road. After wandering for nine days, I arrived home, and it was on July 14, 1941.
I won't tell here at length about the incidents on my way home. But I'll bring up a few incidents only to describe the Jews' state during those first days. Here's the first: on the road, we passed a well where a few Ukrainian farmers stood drawing water for their homes. We approached them and asked for a little drinking water. To this they answered with eyes full of murder, What? To give drinking water to the Jews, who cut our women's breasts? We'll give you poison.
I panicked when I heard these words. We had no choice but to leave the well, and we left the well thirsty.
I started my journey in the company of five young Ukrainian men who always stayed together, meaning fellow sufferers, a Jewish man from Chortkov, and me. We were seven in all.
One day, when we passed by the town of Zaslav, where the Gorin river passes, we decided to rest and wash at the same time. After washing, since we didn't have towels, we sat in the sun on the shore to dry off so we could get dressed and continue our journey. Before we were ready for the road, we saw two Nazi soldiers coming toward us. They took handguns out of their pockets and, with his finger, one of them ordered each of us to stand in our place. When five stood in their places, he then said five were enough for him and ordered them to march forward. By chance, the five who were ordered to stand in their places were the Ukrainians, and the two left were we two Jews; so what was our crime? It's clear that we decided to wait for them for a number of reasons. First, it was easier for us to cross the villages in their company, and, secondly they had left the parcels they took with them, not only theirs but also the ones they had stolen from others. We had to watch their parcels, so we sat until sunset. When they returned, it was hard to recognize them. In a few hours, their faces had completely changed because of the hard labor they had to do, and in addition their attitude toward us changed. They openly blamed us for the Jewish piece of work. We continued on our way with them without saying a word to each other. See how the Ukrainian population was poisoned in a matter of hours.
The road to Vishnevets was long, around 220 kilometers give or take, without a piece of bread or the ability to enter a house and sleep there. In the course of nine days, on July 14, I arrived home. Sometime afterward, he came to me and told me about the terrible death of the 30 and some Jews who suffocated to death, the conqueror's first victims. The panic in our town was at its highest; they didn't know for sure what happened to those people. Fear entered the hearts of each one, and one question passed from mouth to mouth: who knows what the next day will bring? The town's streets were deserted, and all the men stayed home. The murderers started to visit each home with the goal to rob, steal, and pillage.
They entered and checked house after house with different excuses, such as, for example, a search for weapons or spies. They took everything they found, and it was useless to complain. In the homes where they couldn't find anything, they struck the people who lived there with murderous blows, and everything was done solely by the Ukrainians.
At first, they thought the murderers would take revenge only on those who had worked with the Communist regime, and in time the situation would calm down. The reason for that thought was that from the first day, our town was controlled solely by the Ukrainians. There was only one person representing the conquerors, and his only duty was to ensure that the farmers would bring one tenth of the different kinds of wheat they needed during the war.
Nine days passed from the day I arrived in our town. On July 23, 1941, early in the morning, it was around half past four, I went outside to breathe a little fresh air since it was dangerous for men to walk outdoors during the day. I walked on a narrow street near my home. Various thoughts didn't leave me even for a moment; what's going to happen? Suddenly, I heard a commanding voice behind me: Stop! I turned around and found a young Ukrainian man, short in stature, a cobbler's son. I knew his whole family, and he also knew who I was. He started to retreat in order to give himself enough room to pull his gun, which was twice as long as he was, and ordered me to start walking forward, because they were given an order to check the documents of each person they met in the street. At first I was surprised, and I approached him with a friendly remark: Without documents, you don't know who I am?
For this he walked closer to me, to the point where his gun was touching my stomach, and said to me in this language, The days when you can utter your smart talk are over, and if you don't listen to me here, in this place, I'll kill you like a dog!
After he allowed me to inform him through the window that I was going to the police station. I purposely walked in that direction at extra high speed. When I entered the room where they gathered us, even though it was still very early, I found some Jewish men and a few young men among them. After an hour or an hour and a half, the room was full. Those who arrived barely had enough time to walk in before they started to take the others out, but none of us knew where these people were going. Every few minutes, the door opened, the one who was standing close to the exit was called, and the door closed behind him. Meanwhile, because I was restless all the time, I got close to the door, and from there I suddenly heard horrible cries. It was just after a young man was taken out of the room. I stood close by the door and waited to see if I could hear more screams after the next person was taken out, and here I came to the conclusion that the same screams were heard after they took someone out. I didn't know how to explain it to myself. It was clear that the people who left the room under the Ukrainian murderers' command were beaten very hard. But it was difficult to know what the murderers were really doing with those people, and where were they collecting them? Meanwhile, the time came for my row to come out. At first I didn't know what to do: leave at the first opportunity or wait. Finally, I knew I couldn't avoid it.
The moment I reported by the door, the policeman showed me that I had to turn left and enter a room where Nadke Badasiuk, the murderers' chief, was sitting. Before we could bless each other with the morning blessing, I started to explain to him that I was afflicted with a stomach ailment after spending13 months in a Soviet prison, and for that reason I couldn't stay in a room without a toilet for a number of hours. To that he answered, Go home.
Before I could ask him to inform his policemen who were standing by the exit door that I was going home, he stood in his place and told them to let me pass, and no one dared to raise his hand to strike me. From that incident, I understood that those who weren't allowed to return to their homes were beaten extremely hard.
The streets were empty, simply desolate. Shivers and fear took me over when I couldn't see a living soul on the entire length of the street. While I was walking, screams suddenly reached my ears, and suddenly I saw group of women standing in a corner whispering to each other. They all fainted when they saw me from a distance, and I had to help all by myself. I whispered in their ears that I was among the living until they regained consciousness, and we ran home together leaning on each other, shivering and afraid.
That afternoon, we found out that 60 men had been taken from the town and, even today, no one knows their burial location.
Avraham Tsimbler told me that his brother-in-law was among the people who were captured that day. To save his brother-in-law, he ran to the Vaytsman family with the intention that maybe they could influence the chief of police, Gnadke Badasiuk, to save him. He risked his life walking outdoors in the desolate, empty streets, but it was all for nothing. Out of great fear, they didn't allow him to enter their home, and through a window they informed him that, to their sorrow, they couldn't help anyone. Suddenly, wild screams reached his ears, with the sounds came from the municipal (Gemine) building, which was across from the Vaytsmans' home. So as not to be seen from a distance, he lay on the ground in their garden, and from there he saw how the murderers were taking each of the captured men out of the cellar, striking him on the way with horrible blows until he lost consciousness, and before he could walk halfway, he fell without the energy to continue. Then the two who accompanied him handed him over to the two other murderers, who dragged him on the ground, one by the hands and the other by the legs, to an automobile standing next to the house, and threw him inside the automobile, and they did this to each one. By the time they arrived at the automobile, they were half-dead. Two hours or more passed, and the automobile moved from its place, but he didn't know in what direction.
The next day, early in the morning, the murderers' mothers reported to the homes of all unfortunate families whose husbands or sons had been taken and told those who were left with their children in great secrecy that the rumors in the town that those who'd been taken were no longer among the living weren't true. Therefore, they could help bring their husbands or sons back home, and as payment, they'd take clothing or valuable items and give them to the policemen who guard the concentration camp where they were staying.
In order to take more from the unfortunate women, they came back two days later and explained to them that the situation wasn't too bad, and meanwhile they took something else from them. It was a complete fabrication; a week passed and no one returned.
Exactly on Wednesday, July 30, 1941, in the morning, they started to visit house after house, taking only men, without letting them know where they were going. Whoever had the time to hide was saved, and many who weren't able to escape from the murderers' claws fell into their hands. The same thing happened to them but with one difference: this time the disaster was seven times larger than the one the week before. In two hours they collected around 400 Jews, and they all disappeared the same way as before. And again, a few Ukrainian mothers came and tried to deceive those who were left. It's understandable that a large number believed their words and gave the murderous women a few items so that maybe the father of the children who were left orphaned would return. In two or two and a half hours, a large number of men disappeared, and also this time only men.
On the same day, the town's Rabbi, Yosef Erlikh, and Shike Yakira were also among the kidnapped. The Jews of our town, Vishnevets, were killed and destroyed solely by the town's Ukrainian residents. Those in the villages didn't take part, not because they objected to the holy mission, but because the Ostrovski, Badasiuk, Shapoval, Kovalski, and other families like them didn't allow the farmers to enter and do anything in order to keep the spoils and plunder only in their hands.
Almost everyone in our town knew Hentsi Feldman. She lived on the corner of Korolka by the road to Kremenets. She had an only son named Moshe. She was so attached to her only son that whispered rumors flew around town that she wouldn't allow him get married until he was at an advanced age out of fear that he'd leave her. The day of the great disaster, her son was among the kidnapped. Not surprisingly, as a mother, she did everything she could to save her son from the murderers, who were all her neighbors. After screaming and crying, she realized there wasn't any solution, and then she asked the murderers to take her, too, so she could stay by his side in each location. At first, they explained to her that they weren't allowed to do such a thing, because they were ordered to collect only men to work behind the front lines (again the same version). After a few moments, when she refused to separate from him, they struck her with such cruelty that she fell and only a pile of bones, flesh, and blood were left.
After that great disaster, panic increased among the town's residents, who really didn't know what to make of everything that was happening around us and the fact that there was no one to help us. On one side, there was the event of Moshe Feldman's mother, and on the other side, there were the rumors that the murderous Ukrainian women were spreading, that those who were taken weren't destroyed. All these together removed from the Jews' imagination the thought that this was the beginning of the end and that they should think of organizing a revolt under the slogan Let me die with the Philistines and the bloodshed among them would decrease. They really reached their target when some the town's Jews brought up the Moshe Feldman incident, and the majority came to the conclusion that she was the one to blame, because it was clear that during a war, the sides always need people to work behind the frontline.
Misery increased along with the panic. Poverty was followed by hunger and death without deliverance, epidemic diseases without medicines, trouble and misfortune without benefit. Days passed, with each day bringing another decree, and they also started to demand laborers to leave early each morning to work for the farmers. At first they were afraid: surely they always say that those who disappear live in some kind of labor camp, but no one saw them. But later, when the demanded quota of workers returned without anyone missing, it's true that they weren't paid any wages, which is unthinkable, but nevertheless, the number of workers increased from day to day, because they were able to smuggle some food for their children and decrease hunger at their homes.
The distress around us increased from day to day. Sighing and groaning, a man asked his friend, Are we going to be rewarded by seeing the days when we can live a normal life?
The majority were sure the downfall of the modern Haman of the civilized nation of Central Europe would come, but who would be alive? And who would be rewarded by seeing their downfall with his own eyes? We shall expire before redemption comes! After the murder of July 30, 1941, when almost 400 men were exterminated, the killings stopped. But the fear wasn't lifted. They didn't know what the day would bring, and along with fear, the robbery and cruelty didn't stop. In addition, hunger among the Jews brought different contagious diseases. Not a day passed without some deaths. Each time, we had to ask for permission to take the dead out and bring them to a Jewish grave. When they returned from the cemetery, most expressed their wish that they'd be rewarded with the same death. In their hearts, they were jealous of those who'd already died and been brought to a Jewish grave.
Together with time, the summer also passed, and they started to worry: what are we going to do when the cold weather arrives? How are we going to hold on? On one side there was hunger, different diseases, horrible epidemics, and in addition, the approaching freezing weather would finish those who were still alive. Cold, hunger, sickness, and death were the share of our lives, and there was no help. The only food we officially received in the beginning was 300 grams of flour, and in time they decreased that amount.
A month and several days after the great disaster, when hundreds of Jews disappeared, it was on September 5, early in the morning before sunrise, a light knock on our neighbor's door woke us up. We panicked; what was this noise? I got up and walked to my neighbor's house. When they opened the door, we saw a horrible sight. At the door stood a young woman, Rachel Sendler's young sister, who was almost naked. Before we could ask her what had happened, she fainted and couldn't talk. A few minutes later, after she regained consciousness, she started to tell us about an event that froze the blood in our veins.
In summary: the previous night, the Ukrainians from the Old City, along with several Ukrainian policemen from the New City, removed every living soul from the Jewish homes, and in a matter of a few hours exterminated all of them, babies, women, men, and the elderly.
The only one to survive was the one who escaped from her bed, went into the river that divided the two parts of the town, stayed in it for a several hours, and before sunrise came and brought this horrible news. This was the fourth murder, and there was no one to yell and complain to. And what would happen in the future? What would tomorrow bring? The abandonment of the Jews reached its height, and there was no rescue or relief. We were given over to the beasts' hands.
At one time, we endangered our lives, Avraham Tsimbler and I. We left town, removed the symbol of shame from our chest, and decided to go to Kremenets. We wanted to use this opportunity to tell them about all the incidents and listen to what they said to us, whether there was a spark of hope or not. By chance, we didn't have to wait long. The first car that passed by took us (for sure not knowing we were Jewish), and in an hour or less, full of fear and worries, we arrived in Kremenets. Our first step was toward Dr. Landsberg's home to hear from him: was there a way to defend ourselves? Are we lost? We didn't spend a lot of time with him since he didn't want to frighten us even farther. But to our sorrow, and the sorrow of all Jews who were then under the Nazi regime's control, he couldn't find one word of comfort for us. We understood from his words that it was destruction and total extermination. He advised us not to delay our stay in the city, because here we were in danger of falling into the killers' hands, and if they caught us, no one would be able to save us. We didn't realize how difficult it would be to return home. To leave the city, we had to walk in the back streets so the Vishnevets murderers who visited Kremenets every day wouldn't see us and suspect that we were trying to make a daring move to protect ourselves, meaning, to complain about their actions. With a great deal of luck, at sunset, when darkness fell on our town, we returned home. The answer we brought with us was very easy to understand: that during our long stay in the Diaspora, which was saturated with tears, we hadn't been humiliated in such a frightening way. But how could we express this in front the nation and each community and take away the spark of hope that continued to live within us?
The puzzle that none of us knew how to solve was this: If it was true that we were given such lawlessness to be killed and destroyed, why didn't they finish us off all at once? And each time they took people and killed them, why did they strictly keep it a secret so no one would find out? None of the town's residents could understand it, and all the more so, explain it to somebody else. This stalemate made our lives even more difficult. What was clear was that it wouldn't take long, because on one hand, people died day after day from starvation, illnesses, and lack of medicine to cure them, and on the other hand, from the frequent murders. These facts together would bring our end faster. Several days after the fourth murder, as previously, thoughts started to cross their minds: maybe they were really lying when they said those who were taken from us had been killed? Who'd ever think such a thing could happen, that our neighbors, whom we have lived with for hundreds and hundreds of years, suddenly, in such a frightening way, would turn into beasts of prey? It was quiet after every event, and as in other times of trouble and misery, this time, to, they started to compose various jokes.
For example, when a man asked his friend, What's going to happen? What will be after all? the answer was, What this has to be. Meanwhile they don't bother us, and let's not bother them either.
And so a few more months passed. Autumn ended, the cold weather started to organize a full assault, and thus a complete symphony was created: hunger, epidemics, and contagious diseases without any medicine. In addition to all that was the frigid weather with no ability to get food, since the amount they legally gave us was lowered every month. The calculation was clear; if they continued to keep the situation mentioned above without a change for the better, then in a very short time, not a single soul would remain alive in our town, and we didn't see a sign that it was going to end. The robbery and cruelty didn't stop, and they kept on coming back to the homes in the town and taking everything they wanted. From day to day, our world was getting darker. If we take into account that this situation was taking place in each occupied location, then they, with the help of the Ukrainians in Ukraine, the Poles in Poland, the Lithuanians in Lithuania, the Hungarians in Hungary, the Romanians in Romania, and so on will completely destroy Europe's Jewry.
On one terrible day, a new decree from the day our town was captured was announced. They demanded 150 men to be ready in two days so they could transfer them to labor camps without even telling us where they were going. What they did tell us was that the number of men mentioned above should report on the next day to the train station in the city of Kremenets. I can't measure the great panic that spread in the city from moment to moment. Negotiations started with the chief of police, whose name was Shapoval. At the beginning, they were talking about totally dismantling the entire decree, but he said that it was impossible. And so they started to talk about the possibility of lowering the number, but the main question was, if they lower the number, how to collect the smaller number? Meanwhile, the news spread that they'd reached an agreement that for a certain amount, those who gather would leave on foot with in order to delay their arrival, and when they could, as one man, they'd return home. All that was arranged by one Jew, the Judenrat leader, named Koylenberner. It was clear that not everyone believed these rumors, mostly those who decided to join of their own free will. A suspicion arose that it was all a lie and that the rumors had been started to calm those who were departing, and since they'd decided to leave out of desperation so they'd no longer see how our children, no matter what age they were, drop swollen in the streets and die of cold and starvation in front of their parents, who couldn't help them even for a moment. The departure had to be prepared for the next day. That evening, it was necessary to collect clothing, shoes, and underwear for those who were leaving, and it's worth emphasizing that those who had to collect the items mentioned above didn't show any resistance. With great sorrow and heartbreak, they handed the collectors all they could provide, and with eyes full of tears, they expressed their wishes that they'd leave in peace and return in peace.
Early in the morning on August 10, 1941, instead of 150 laborers, only 50 left. I don't have the power to express here on paper how the Vishnevets Jews felt on that day. As in the previous times, the possibility that they wouldn't return alive was set in each person's heart, but no one thought about himself.
Maybe in the depths of their hearts they knew there was no hope, and as always in cases like that, to be certain, a man asked his friend's opinion: Are we going to be rewarded with another life? And the answer was, God knows!
After those people left the city, everyone remained worried about their fate, but there was no choice. They almost didn't talk about the subject because they were waiting for the day to pass so they could see the results of the agreement struck in regard to those people's return. During the day, rumors started to spread that they saw some people leaving in the morning for the Kremenets train station. Rumors passed from mouth to mouth, but no one wanted to believe the matter until they could see the few with their own eyes. It's no wonder that there was no end to the happiness. It was a restrained happiness, happiness without noise, and we could say it was a hidden happiness.
I heard the following words from a participant in the transport mentioned above: the treatment during the walk was terrible. When they arrived in Kremenets, they were given an order to go and visit their families, and those without one were told to visit friends, under the condition that each knew where the others were. The reason was known: by the time they started to collect them, they found out they had missed the train. That evening, they were ordered to return home. What happiness during a time of sorrow and misery, hunger, and different methods of death! Who could imagine such a strange situation? Surely, the people who left the city agreed to do so only out of desperation and as an escape from the terrible situation in each home so they'd no longer see their children's suffering. And so whoever didn't see our sorrow in those days, how a town of a few thousand people was dying little by little, and how their number was lowered by hunger and disease from day to day, hasn't see sorrow in his life. However, when we saw the people returning from their way, a spark of hope was awakened, that maybe? Maybe in the future, meaning from that day forward, the attitude toward us would change and in the future we could arrange things the same way. From that they learned that the rumors being spread in the streets of our town about those who were taken but not murdered might be true, and maybe it was true that they exist in labor camps.
It was an autumn day, with the rain and cold starting to merge in the evening little by little, and together it was a very strong attack. It was simply difficult to think about what would happen when the cold days arrived and we couldn't get a small amount of coal or maybe a pile of wood. It's impossible to say who would be able to cope with all that. The strongest enemies of a human life, cold, hunger, and epidemic diseases, merged under a difficult regime whose purpose was one and only one: to destroy and exterminate us. Even a heart of stone would be moved by the sight of the tragedy that took over our miserable town. Poverty and the crowded conditions were over our heads, and no one helped, not brother to a brother or father to his son, and we were all locked up, unable to go out and search for medicine for our dying children. The Jewish quarter was judged and sentenced to death by starvation. Survivors will try in vain to describe the depressed towns that lived under the difficult and striking force of our Ukrainian neighbors under Nazi rule, and there wasn't a pen or enough ink to write about even a small percentage of what happened to us.
The oppressors and robbers destroyed and took everything from us without mercy, so much so that there wasn't anything left at home to trade for a piece of bread or a drop of milk for our children. Our world was getting darker from day to day. Parents watched their children, no matter what age they were, die of hunger, and there was no salvation. And in addition, the murderers returned to the homes of Jews, who already looked dead, to search for and take furniture, utensils, clothing, and underwear out of their homes. It was like a hidden but clear hint: soon they wouldn't need anything.
We didn't get any messages from the outside or know what was happening in the towns around us or in the entire European zone occupied by the Nazis.
On one of those days, we were told to prepare a place for around 1,000 Jews from the town of Vyshgorodok. We didn't have a choice. One night, when the winter was most aggressive, they started to arrive in loaded carts, almost naked, frozen from the cold, and hungry. We greeted them and could only welcome them with hot water and a corner to stretch out their legs. The next day, we also had to find a corner for them so they could get organized. Our guests' arrival tripled the Jewish quarter's tragedy. They also came naked, hungry, and with nothing. How could we help them when we couldn't help ourselves. The number dying from hunger and various diseases increased every day. Preparation for winter's departure lasted longer in our eyes than in years past. Sometime after we welcomed our guests, a decree came out one that none of us ever imagined.
All the town's residents of the Jewish race had to concentrate on only one street, starting from Alter Layter's and ending at Zise Mazur's house. And from that day on, Jews were forbidden to reside outside or leave the boundaries of that area without special permission from the authorities. We had to create a wooden fence from home to home and block the windows. With that, we'd be separated from the pure Christian race that lived around us. To make sure the work was finished by the deadline, they demanded two Jews as a guarantee, and all efforts to disassemble the decree were for nothing. The two Jews who given to them as a guarantee were Yakov Marchbeyn and I. On the same evening, on February 14, 1942, they took the two of us from the Jewish quarter and delivered us to the cellar under the municipal building on the condition that the work be finished on time, and on February 16, 1942, they'd let us return home. If not, they'd send us to a concentration camp. Everyone, like one man, first started to collect material, and exactly two days later, it was done. That same day, the two of us returned home.
However, with the ghetto's establishment, almost all of us remained in our places, meaning that none of us was taken out. A special tremor entered each of our hearts: what was coming now? What was the reason behind the ghetto decree, with the new law that no Jew could leave his homes for even one moment? And also, why weren't Christians allowed to enter the ghetto? What was the exact intention? But who could give us a clear answer in those days?
All we could do was wait, full of fear and worry about what was in store for us. We began to get used to the new life. Darkness ruled in most e rooms within the narrow ghetto's boundaries, because they also ordered us to block the windows with boards. The homes were filled with more men, women, and babies, all of them hungry, sad, and sick. A few looked like human shadows.
I simply don't have the words to express my opinion about the situation then in regard to the new decree.
One day, I saw a Ukrainian policeman leading a Jewish young man from a distance. I imagined to myself that he had broken one of the new laws for example, maybe he'd left the ghetto without a permit or, in addition, maybe he'd been able to exchange something for a piece of bread for his sick mother or father. First, I decided to save this young man from the murderers' hands, since they first would strike the people they caught with murderous blows, and second, there was a dangerous possibility that they'd take him to a concentration camp. I called the policeman by his name. I knew them all, since they were Vishnevetsers. The two of them came closer to me, and he started to explain the young man's great and terrible crime: that is to say, he dared to throw a piece of bread from a location outside the ghetto to a family member who was on the inside. After I heard the subject of the crime, I appealed to him to give him a monetary penalty note with a given sum of money as a fine, and before I could take the money out of my pocket, he spoke to me in these words: What? Are you crazy? Why would I give such a poor young man a fine? When I gave him the sum of money for the punishment, he let him go. It was simply difficult to understand these people's nature. We were in their hands, and there was no one to save us. They were our neighbors, we'd lived with them for hundreds and hundreds of years, and we didn't recognize them. Who could have imagined that the moment they were given free rein to do as they pleased, they'd storm us like beasts of prey. They not only stole and took everything from us and left us 100% without means to live on, but they, only they, ruined, demolished, and destroyed our lives, from the infant to the old, men and pregnant women.
Duvid Feldman told me about this incident:
After each murder, rumors spread that townspeople who'd been taken away were in a labor camp. The main purpose was to deceive the unfortunate families and to take valuable items from them and, secondly, to prevent any kind of opposition under the slogan Let me die with the Philistines! That could have caused great bloodshed among them. After each campaign, when rumors started to pass via whispers from person to person, most of the town's residents expressed their opinion: maybe it was true? Maybe they were all alive. Weren't the Nazis in a difficult war, and didn't each side need workers behind the front lines? Fate had fallen on us to do this physical work, and every once in a while it would occur to you: maybe we can hold on until this awful anger passes.
If so, don't despair! The main question in those days was, would the daily violence and robbery stop? How long are we going to be in our murderous neighbors' hands? And no one replied! And again the days passed, the piercing cold and the lack of heating that was eating our flesh slowly began to withdraw, and clear days began to arrive, with an evening sun that melted the snow accumulating in piles in the area where we lived. It gave us a sort of special hope; the sunlight brought a little happiness to our desperate aching hearts, even though the disaster with all of its horrors didn't decrease even one percent. It was true that with spring's arrival, the situation was a little easier than the previous winter days, but hunger grasped us with all its strength. People who looked like human shadows began to go outside to warm themselves under the sun, and when you walked down the street, you saw relatively young people say farewell to each other, saying they wouldn't live for more than a day or two, and the next day or the day after, they would die of starvation. And so, even if they didn't destroy us with bullets or different kinds of murder, the calculation was clear that in a short time they would finish us off, and if they were using the same methods in each town and city, this was nothing but a total extermination, and the end would arrive for Polish Jews and maybe European Jews. At all times. We were cut from the outside world, and we also didn't hear any news or know anything about what was happening in the political or military fields.
The ghetto became a no-man's land. Officially according to the law, it was an area that a Christian wasn't allowed to enter without a special permit, but who was asking? And to whom would you complain?
From the day the ghetto was created, violence and robbery increased sevenfold, and there was no restraint outside the ghetto in the buildings that had been emptied of Jews. Our neighbors came daily with their family members and destroyed house after house to emphasize that they knew they couldn't remove any valuable items, because most of the buildings were already old, and they couldn't even take a piece of wood that was worth something with them. But they did this with special satisfaction and with great enjoyment, solely under the realization that they were not only destroying but also removing all Jewish symbol from the land, and thus nothing would remain.
Amidst all the tragedies we experienced during those days, it was difficult to comprehend what our eyes saw. Even an author with the greatest talent couldn't put down on a sheet of paper or express the smallest percentage of what we really experienced. It was clear that the sword that the murderers held over our heads was coming down, we knew that the process of destruction was worse than the destruction of the body, and there was no rescue. Our children wandered in the ghetto streets, swollen from hunger and from various illnesses, like drunks without the energy to carry their weak bodies, and died like flies. There was no advice or device. Naked, hungry, and thirsty, our fate was sealed in the environment of cruelty and under our sadistic oppressors' rod. How could the Nazis have poisoned the locals in each place they occupied and also bring our downfall in such a short time?
I want to use this opportunity to describe another incident so the way the Nazis prepared our extermination in cold blood will be understood, although local Christians in many locations executed their work with extreme dedication.
One day, I received a permit to leave the ghetto, and my intention was to exchange items for food for my family members. When I returned, the danger that they wouldn't let me pass hung over me, and when I reached the ghetto entrance, one of the guards who guarded the exit approached me and jokingly said to me, I am interested to see what the Jew can bring into the ghetto in his bag. I didn't have a chance to say a word, and the other guard told him, We're not going to check. Let him bring it in this time; it doesn't matter. To that, the first one answered him, Good. I won't object this time, but if you think that he'll come out to protect you when the regime turns because you let him pass, then you're mistaken. How the matter ended isn't important, but what was interesting from this conversation was that in their view, they had to erase all the Jews so no witness to their deceitful murderous acts would remain. All the locals in those places were against us, and they not only helped them with their murderous work, they also helped them by spreading rumors that those men weren't dead. The food they distributed at first to the Jewish quarter's residents, and later on in the ghetto, was lowered from day to day until there was nothing. Various epidemics and death from starvation reduced day by day the number of men who could do something in that direction. There was no way for news to travel from town to town, so how could sick and hungry people do anything? The murderers, with the help of the locals in each location they conquered, prepared with cold blood and advance planning, and there was no reason to blame. We need to memorialize everything we experienced so generations that come after us will know what the people of civilized Europe were capable of. There was no deeper lamentation or greater tragedy to enter beside the lamentations that have been memorialized ever since.
One April day in 1942, on Monday the 13th, a decree was enforced on us. It wasn't a new type, but it was a lot more terrible from all the decrees enforced on us until that day. They demanded that in two days, 50 women or young women be ready to leave for the landowner Grocholski's farm in Kolodne and stay there for a month. The decree was severe, and all the negotiations to cancel the decree came to nothing. For that reason, it looked a lot more serious in our eyes. Who knew their intentions: if we didn't oblige their demand, would they start to abduct people in the streets and in their homes to send? Who? Who among the young women would willingly agree to go? During conversations held with our killers, they promised at each step that nothing bad would happen to them during that time and that they'd all return to their homes healthy. But who could believe them? Finally, after they promised to allow the parents, husbands, or brothers of those who stayed there to visit the farm each day and bring them food, they slowly started to gather, and on the assigned day, the full number left on their way. Great fear grew among us from moment to moment. The most essential thing was that the day after they left, a few family members went there and returned with the relatively good news that they were working on the farm and that their guards' attitude was sufficiently good.
This news calmed the young women's families and all the ghetto's residents. And so day after day passed. Family members went there almost every day, but they couldn't bring them food. They only visited them so they could see with their own eyes that nothing bad was happening to them, although they couldn't do anything to help them. But when the people came back, day after day, with the news mentioned above, peace and also satisfaction arrived. The Jews themselves started to explain the murderers' good behavior. Maybe there had been a change for the better? Who knew? A month passed, the young women returned to their homes unharmed and healthy, and as always after such an event, special hope entered each person's heart, and a sort of hidden power was getting stronger, calling quietly, don't despair! This was our fate and our lot all the days of our life in the Diaspora.
Who could ever have imagined what the murderers were preparing for us? Death never stopped ruling with full strength in the ghetto streets. We reached a situation where there was no home without dead people, and there was no help. The number of dead from starvation increased from day to day. Parents lost their minds watching their children die in front of their eyes, and they didn't have the power or ability to slow the Angel of Death's pace. And behold, one day in July, a new kind of decree was enforced on the ghetto, one that nobody could on any account have imagined, that is to say: the ghetto's full capacity, the length and width of the street, must give 120 tons of flour in two days. The screaming and the yelling reached the midst of the heavens, panic increased from moment to moment, and everyone asked in fear, how can we fulfill their demand? It was clear that the end was near, and just to spite us, this time they didn't demand a guarantee. Each person's heart filled with a special fear. Everyone tried to explain it differently. We had the impression that time was running out at full speed, and here the day was passing, and in two days they would enter the ghetto to receive the full amount of the decree. With eyes full of blood and tears, bitterness and desperation, some ghetto residents went to each door asking for mercy, and it's true that long ago flour had been our only food. In a matter of hours, a few ghetto Jews who had long ago prepared themselves brought what they could from their homes to the designated location. It felt as if the ghetto residents' sentiment and the responsibility were united, and they decided to remove the ax swinging above our necks with all their power. The very fact that they'd collected a few hundred kilograms of flour by the designated time when hunger prevailed at full strength showed that each person had taken the last drop out of his home from desperation, and that way they were able to collect a few hundred kilograms of flour. It is difficult to describe the situation, how hungry people, skin and bones, as thin as human shadows that had been suffering from hunger for some time could watch the sight. And here the oppressors came and forced them to give away the only food they had. Many fainted from lack of energy and from hunger.
Everyone as one understood that if they'd enforced this horrible decree on the ghetto's residents, it was clear that the end was getting closer.
That same day, the murderous Ukrainians entered with their carts and took out what had been collected. It was at the end of July, Tuesday, July 28, 1942. The people, who had gathered when the flour was taken out, started to scatter slowly and go home. It was a terrible sight that had never happened before, and no one knew what tomorrow would bring. What would they give their hungry children, who wandered in the streets and dropped from lack of food, to eat tomorrow? It was clear that the ghetto residents' lives were hanging upon nothing, and a man would ask his friend, can we cope? The carts left loaded with the flour stolen from the Jews, and the hunger that grew from moment to moment never stopped killing children, babies, women, and the elderly. We were all tired. The sights in the ghetto street had drained our energy, and great fear showed on each passerby's face. Anyone who didn't see our sorrow has never seen sorrow in his life. Step by step, we were separated from the world of the living until we reached an unbearable state. Our ancestors were also tortured and suffered great pain, but no one knows the history of our torture. Of all our neighbors, with whom we'd grown up and studied all our lives, there wasn't one who could comfort us or express his feelings about our horrible situation, one who would offer his help none of the ghetto's residents even dreamed about that. The facts of the three events caused arguments and gave rise to different explanations of our situation. The return of the 50 men when they'd demanded 150 for a transport to a labor camp, the return of the 50 young women from Kolodno with the realization that nothing bad had happened to them, as they told us after they returned home, and at the end, when instead of 120 tons of flour they were given a smaller percentage and didn't say anything the ghetto population explained all these together by the fact that maybe the waters were calmer. If they didn't stand firm on their demands and it was possible to arrange things with them that way, maybe they'd moved away from their cruel system. And who thought that these signs only predicted trouble? No one in the ghetto thought the murderers had set up these facts for a reason. After the horrible decree of the flour, one day followed the other, and nothing new happened. It was clear that we remained satisfied, but the fear of the unknown settled deep in our hearts, and everyone had the same feeling that we were living out our quiet moments before the storm.
One night, when the ghetto slept its restless sleep, we suddenly heard gunfire. Our hearts filled with great fear. The men woke up first, thinking it would pass. Then they started to wake the children and dress them without thinking about what to dress them in: Where are we going? Does death rule around us? The children were crying, the women screamed in silence, the men bit their lips until they bled, and the situation lasted for an hour and a half. Everyone in every home was simply going crazy, and there was no word. Suddenly the gunfire ended and disappeared. We waited for it to restart, but when it became quiet, everyone fell asleep in their places until dawn entered and the day after it.
We couldn't leave the ghetto at all, and we were also afraid to leave our homes, but a few risked their lives, went outside, and found that nothing bad had happened to any of the ghetto residents. We couldn't find out the reason for the gunfire because we were cut off from the outside world. We were left without an explanation, and we were satisfied that nothing bad had happened.
It was quiet until one day at the beginning of August. As usual, the known number of people gathered early in the morning to go to work, but they were informed by the ghetto guards that today they wouldn't go. After a short break, the peace was broken again. Other than forbidding us to leave, they didn't say anything else. The storytellers, meaning those who weren't allowed to go to work, said as one that they understood from the expression on the killers' faces that they were preparing something. This was solely a personal feeling, and the whispers stirred up a storm in the ghetto. The first half of the day passed without any special incidents, but calm didn't return. On the contrary, they dreaded the approaching night, and they didn't know why. We wandered around inside, and no one dared to calm his friend's soul. After the ghetto decree, a hiding place had been prepared in each home. We knew for sure that it wouldn't save us from the murderers, but even so, we'd prepared one in order to escape death even for a short time. So were our lives. Surely it was known that in general, particularly in those days, life was a hundred times more difficult than death, but they did all they could to delay the Angel of Death's arrival anyway
No one could explain the gunfire on that night or later on the ban on leaving for work, a daily matter we took for granted, which was suddenly cut off. All these together increased the silent panic. What was going to happen? And what would the day bring? And no one could solve it. If the robbers had paid us a visit 10 times a day in the past, the visits stopped in those days. This was something that brought different thoughts, and no one could comfort us. In previous times, when our murderers visited us, we could hear even if it was a complete fabrication but now, none of them came in or showed their faces over the ghetto's fence. A few started to express their opinions; maybe it was connected with the Nazis' downfall? Who knew? Surely we were cut off from the whole world, and news couldn't reach us, so what was the sudden change?
We had the impression that the sword had been given to our oppressors only to frighten us, and now there was no one to control them, no one to stop their murderous acts. How bad and bitter was our fate when the robbers entered and left, each day and at all times, and at each encounter they hit, killed, and stole everything that fell into their hands, and the Jews moaned in silence, and the misery was unbearable. And now, when those bandits didn't enter, it caused horrible distress, so who could understand that? And who could solve this complicated question? And most important, from whom and from where would our salvation come? The most worrisome question in those days was, How could we survive, and would our lives return to a normal course? Powerless, we sat on our ruins waiting for the end, without knowing what kind of end: the end of our miseries, or the end of our lives?
Was it true that this distraction was taking place with the same anger in each town occupied by the Nazis? If so, this was a total extermination. Meanwhile, our life was becoming harder to bear, and the rope thrown around our necks was getting tighter and tighter. At these moments, I remembered that before the war broke out, Hitler, may his name and memory be blotted out, not once and not twice promised that the day he captured a certain country, the Jews would no longer live there. Was it true that now he was planning to carry it out?
There was no end to the chapter of our miseries, and every day, liquidation was becoming more and more prominent. When a few Jews gathered and went through the incidents that had happened to us since the occupation, they found many conflicts in the attitude toward us so, they thought maybe this time it would only pass with fear. Having no choice we waited to see what the day would bring, so day after day passed without any change, meaning that the ban on going out to work wasn't lifted, and not even a single robber dared enter. We used the opportunity to talk to them and hear their opinion of what was happening around us. A certain kind of inner fear started to take over each ghetto residents and grew from moment to moment. Was this a total liquidation? You can't compare our life at that time to a dog's life, because dogs' owners let them lick the bones under their legs, and we weren't allowed to do even that. The fear that prevailed in those days within the ghettos walls made the days longer, and the fear of what the day would bring dried out our brains. Day after day passed, and a few more days, until Saturday, August 8, 1942.
That afternoon, black clouds gathered in our town's sky. It looked to us as if the clouds had come to bring us the horrible news of the upcoming danger. The uproar among the ghetto's Jewish residents increased from moment to moment. Without saying a word to each other, they wandered crazily. Fear and shivering took hold of everyone, grievance and sorrow was set on each person's face, and no one knew what was going to happen. We received the impression that the murderers were planning an action like none they'd ever done before. In addition to the dark clouds that covered our town, evening started to fall with its darkness, and all together this affected and depressed us. And like every day in the evening, most people didn't wander in the ghetto street. A strong rain came with the evening and didn't permit anyone to stay outside. It was impossible to find out anything from the murderers, who usually came in every once in a while to take something out and lie to us, because none of them had come in the last few days. Meanwhile, we heard gunfire through the sound of rain. At the echo of the shooting, of which no one knew the meaning, everyone went into his hiding place. The shooting didn't stop, and together with it, fear increased. There isn't a pen or enough ink to describe the sights of that night. It was impossible to look at the mothers' and children's faces, which were full of sorrow and grief. The shooting lasted almost all night, and the next day we were informed that nothing bad had happened to any Jew. This time the Jews didn't calm down, and the unrest didn't leave their hearts.
Early in the morning the next day, not a single Jew dared to leave his hiding place. We heard voices talking in the Ashkenazi language [German], and it was the only Nazi who stayed in our town all that time. He asked us to come out to collect the bodies of those who had been killed by mistake, and we must do it quickly to prevent epidemics, and he guarantees that such incidents wouldn't be repeated, and nothing would happen to any of us.
Having no choice, we left our hiding places. Next to the rabbi's home, which was also a synagogue, we started to dig a mass grave for the victims who had fallen that evening. It was impossible to know who and how many had died in the evening, because when we'd collected a large number of bodies, and before we could cover them, the murderers started to fire at us with their guns, and each of us escaped to save his life. Again, they went homes and went into their bunkers, and they waited. We stayed in hiding on Sunday, August 9, 1942. In the evening, when it was quiet, the echo of steps walking on the sidewalks by my house reached my ears. I risked my life and quietly got closer to a hole in the wooden planks. The walker was one of the murderous Ukrainian policemen, and I called him by his name. Surprised, he turned toward me to see who dared to call him while danger was hovering over these people .He directed his steps toward me, and I asked him to tell me what was happening around us, I also told him that I knew he couldn't help me, but at least maybe he could give me a hint, maybe he knew why there was such a sudden change. He told me we had nothing to be afraid of. Kremenets had informed them that Jews had shot at the Nazis, and they were ordered to check the ghetto for weapons, and if they didn't find weapons, everyone would return to their places. The lie showed in his eyes, but I had to believe him. After that, he continued to walk, and I remained standing on my knees, because the hole through which I talked to him was very low. I left the place and entered the bunker. There were 32 people in that room, women and children. Halfway through the first day, we started to feel the lack of air, and some started to suffocate, but what, where would you go to look for different air? The air was suffocating us in all corners of the world, in the whole world's eyes, the modern or the democratic, and no one paid attention to the horrible tragedy that would end with a whole nation's destruction. Where was the smallest part, let it be the smallest of the small, who always dared to raise their voices even from one corner of the whole world during times of trouble? Was it true that the country was full of violence and murder, and the whole world stood on the civilized European killers' side? Don't mention the righteous of the world, because they don't exist. From the way it looks, my life was saved by the murderer of 5,000 Vishnevets Jews and 1,000 Jews from the town of Vyshgorodok! One day, the murderer mentioned above took a known amount from our town's murderous policemen, traveled to Borskovits, and with his own hands butchered Moshe Venshil's whole family. It was worth knowing that the village of Borskovits was in the Lanovits district, but it wasn't enough for him to only hear that they were already dead and had been killed cruelly, but he had to be sure to fulfill the holy work himself.
The first day passed without any incidents. The lack of air grew from hour to hour and moment to moment, and then some people from our home left for the attic, first to decrease the amount of people in the bunker, and second, to look carefully through the cracks and see what was really happening outside the boundaries of our residence.
Truthfully, we didn't see anything special, because on Mondays, the Ukrainian population was busy with their work. For that reason, there was no movement in the streets, and since the second day passed quietly, some of us slept in the attic. On Tuesday, early in the morning, we woke to the sound of voices getting closer to us. And here we saw with our own eyes about 20 armed killers, each with a gun on his shoulder, singing their national anthem as they approached the ghetto entrance. We didn't have time to climb down and go into our hiding place; we heard men, women, and children screaming and shouting. Before we had time to see what was really happening, we heard the killers' voices in my home, and because everyone was hiding, we heard a few of them say, There aren't any Jews. Let's go to another house. We were sure that they'd already left. Hiding in a relatively small place in addition to the large bunker were Duvid Kitaykesher's 14-year-old daughter, Yakov Marchbeyn and his wife, and I. We were the first to be taken from our home, and for that reason, around 32 people were saved for now. Duvid Kitaykesher's daughter was sick with typhus, and her fever was surely over 40. Among those who took us out was one Nazi who just showed the murderers what to do, and they moved from place to place by themselves to instruct the other murderers. I approached him with the request that maybe he'd let that young woman stay home because she was sick and didn't have the energy to walk. To that, he answered with the same song that the Ukrainian killer told me: that Jews in Kremenets had shot at them, and therefore they needed to search for weapons, so they were taking us out, and when they didn't find any weapons, everything would return to normal. When he faced me, he realized that I didn't believe him, and then he pushed his fist into my face and said to me, When I tell you, Yudi, then you must believe me! and ordered one of the killers: Take them all down immediately. They led us all to Bath Street, and there they separated the men from the women. What kind of cold blood did these people have, that nothing showed on their faces when they took everyone to their final extermination? They also wanted to remove the thought that this was the final extermination from each Jew. They stood Tsvi Margaliot, Yakov Marchbeyn, and me next to Shike Yakira's factory by the entrance to the ghetto. They ordered us to demolish the wooden wall, something that we did with great care so we wouldn't be among the first to be taken to the other side of the ghetto, where people were loaded on a truck that took them close to the Christian cemetery in the Old City. The sound of gunfire echoed over the river that passed through our town. We began to demolish the wall and sorted the wooden planks without stopping. Meanwhile, a certain car entered and stopped, and two high-ranking Nazis came out. One of them faced us with the question, What are the Jews doing here? We told him we were sorting the wooden planks. To that he ordered us, Leave the sorting and stand in your places.
At first we stopped our work, but when he was far from us, we again attended to the wooden planks. Suddenly, we heard some noise coming from the corner by Chaye-Tove the butcher's wife's house. It was understandable that none of us dared to get closer to the place from which the screaming was coming, but the policemen with their guns in their hands and without belts (that was also premeditated) started to march over there. One of the two Nazis who had entered walked closer to the corner to see what was happening with his own eyes. It was obvious that they cleared the way for him, so I could also see the sight behind him. From one of the buildings, where the butcher's son lives he had a son who wasn't mentally well since he couldn't physically protect him, he started to scream, and the air was filled with these screams. That one Nazi murderer approached him, put his hand in his back pocket, pulled a gun out, and with a shot to the young's man mouth, he silenced him for eternity.
When I saw that, I saw clearly that all hope was lost. Meanwhile, I counted the number of Ukrainian murderers; there were 28. There were around 60 and some men in the place where we were standing. The Nazis who'd come to see how the work was progressing were gone, and the cars left their location loaded and returned empty. The only Nazi who stayed was guarding the entrance gate to the ghetto. It was apparent that he wasn't satisfied with the job given to him. But who could think they might help us? I looked at the sight and saw that very soon we'd have to move from our location and walk toward the murder. I approached a few of the men who were standing with me, and suggested that since there were 28 of them and 60 and some of us, maybe we should storm them. It was clear that we couldn't save our lives, but also that the murderers wouldn't come out alive from our hands. To that, one of the young men got closer to me I don't know his name. I think his father was Melksnits. He worked as a tailor at Yokil Teslier's, one of his sons worked as a barber for a long time and worked for Bentsi Sherer, and the other brother also worked for Yokil Teslier. He faced me with these words: I don't want to pay with my life for you. I have a work permit, so I'll continue working, and I'll stay alive. And no more than 20 minutes later, he was already among the dead.
He wasn't the only one who thought that way. The reasons for these ideas were the Nazi murderers' behavior, with the help of the Ukrainian murderers in the Ukraine, etc., who never told us that each time they took some men they annihilated them on the spot by shooting them in the back. They purposely spread the rumor that it wasn't true, that they were living in labor camps, and also that at first they agreed to return the men and then the young women without anything bad happening to them. All that was done in cold blood. First, they took some men in order to decrease the ghetto population's inner strength, and then they starved those who were left, so much so that they couldn't show any resistance. The contagious diseases and epidemics that resulted from slow starvation helped them complete their plan.
After he said the aforementioned to me, I left the place where I was standing and walked toward where the Nazi was standing guarding the entrance. I took a gold chain from my pocket and told him once, What you see is yours, and if you take me to my home, I'll give you additional valuable items worth a very large sum, and you'll take the woman standing with the group of women holding a child in her arms with me. Quickly, he took the chain from my hand and shouted at me, Run away from here immediately. To that I told him, How can I escape with the policemen standing ready to shoot? Then he scolded the Ukrainian murderers: Relax your guns, you pigs, and to that he added, All this is going to my head, but what can I do? An order's an order. I began running toward the cellar over which the Markhbeyns (the Kuts family) lived. When I was already inside the cellar and had started to climb the ladder to reach the attic, I saw Hirsh Margaliot and Yakov Markhbeyn (Yekil, Eti Rachel's) running after me. We hadn't had the time to think where to go or where to hide when two murderous Ukrainian policemen entered through a door on the other side, one holding a gun in his hand and the other a bayonet. They came over to us and demanded that we give them valuable items, let it be a watch or other items. Then we each put in what we had: I had a watch, and the other two gave each one 20 or 30 dollars. They left, and we decided only out of weariness to stay in the same house, climb to the attic, and later on we'd see. We climbed quickly, first to prevent another meeting with the killers, who later on took people from their homes and killed them. They visited each home to remove everything that came into their hands. When we'd climbed up, we found some people hiding there. For a moment, we each looked for a place in a corner, first to rest after three days without sleep or food. Once we lay down, we immediately fell asleep from extreme fatigue. And afterward, I don't' know how long, I woke up to the sound of screams from the street. Quickly, I got up, and through a crack in a door located behind my house, I saw the first Nazi, who'd given us the opportunity to escape. Next to him stood the two who'd come to inspect how the work was progressing. A Ukrainian policeman was babbling in the Ashkenazi language, which no one could understand, but I understood that he wanted to explain to the two that the people who'd escaped from the place with the help of the guard lived in that house. He ordered the two Ukrainian policemen to nominate one of them as a head leader to find and bring the escapees out. My blood froze in my veins when I saw the sight, thinking that maybe they'd find the room where 32 souls were hiding. It is understandable that we'd be guilty. After a few moments, they came back and promised that they'd searched and checked every corner and hadn't found anything. On the spot, the two ordered two Jewish policemen to enter and bring out those who'd escaped. When they also came out empty-handed, first they beat the Ukrainian murderers because they'd lied to them, and to even things out, the Jewish policemen also received their share. It was worth watching the murderous way they struck the policemen.
The echo of each strike was heard from 100 meters away or more. With that, the matter ended, and they left the place. We felt as if a hard rock had dropped from our hearts.
We found out that we'd been in a deep sleep for many hours and that we shouldn't waste time thinking about how to continue the rescue, meaning that it wasn't clear if we could save ourselves by escaping from the ghetto's border, but we were sure that it would come to nothing if we stayed inside the ghetto. Therefore, we had to investigate it carefully and escape only where eyes would take us. We stayed inside the ghetto for two more days, and death hung over each step. We sat in the attic, and we saw the tragedy through a crack in the roof: how they took a family after family from each house to be killed. Meanwhile, the carts entered. Their duty was to collect the sick, no matter what age they were, and also the elderly who were too weak to stand on their own legs. They collected them on these carts, with half their bodies were on the carts and the other half almost hanging on the ground, and the horse continued to walk to the sound of their voices, and their screaming reached the midst of heavens. It looked like the times when a certain forest was cleared and the roots were pulled out. The work was done by some Vishnevets residents, not by the police. Until 12:00, on August 11, 1942, 2,000 or 2,500 souls were destroyed. Their only sin was that their ancestors stood at Mount Sinai.
In the evening, we left the house where we and the 32 had spent the whole day without food or a drink of water. We decided to stay one more day; maybe that day we'd find a hiding place. At night, we decided to leave the ghetto under the threat of death. By chance, when we came to the exit next to Beni Mazur's house, the policeman who was guarding the exit walked in one direction, and we Yakov Markhbeyn and I took advantage of the moment and crossed the road toward Zagorodzye. From there, we climbed into the forest that led to Great Zagorodzye. We approached one of my better friends and knocked on the window, and when someone answered me through the window with the question Who is it? I only requested that they let us in, without mentioning my name. They recognized my voice and opened the door for us. The two of them, mother and son, stood panic-stricken and frightened, and the first to approach us was the son.
Believe me, I want to do something for you, but the danger is so great that I'll have to risk my life for you, and today a brother isn't doing so for his brother or a father for his son. If only you knew how Vasil Mindzar is visiting each house, beating with murderous blows those who don't want to go out and dig pits to create a place for the dead, whom they murder with shots in the back.
It is worth explaining here that this was the same Ukrainian young man whom I'd asked through a crack on the day they surrounded us to tell me was happening around us with regard to the fact that we weren't allowed to leave as usual for work. To that, he answered me, When they check and don't find weapons, each one will return to his place uninjured and healthy. He was one of those who made sure the pits were ready so the town wouldn't run out of space for the number to be slaughtered.
Even though we talked in whispers, he and his mother were full of fear that maybe one of the neighbors heard our knock, and she offered to let us sleep there that night, but said that the next day we had to leave their home without any excuse. We stayed. Weary and fatigued after four days without sleep, we closed our eyes before we lay down. We didn't want to, and also couldn't, think about what tomorrow would bring and how we'd get out of here. At the time that death hung over each step, we felt: Sufficient unto the day was the evil thereof!
We fell into a heavy, deep sleep, and in the morning, at dawn, the Christian young man climbed up to us. We thought maybe he'd at least brought us a piece of bread with some water, and when I saw that he came empty-handed, I said to him, Ivan, you know we haven't eaten anything for a few days. To that, he answered, They say there's going to be hunger this year from a bread shortage.
It was harvest time, and the smell of wheat brought from the fields in those days intoxicated us.
He wanted 20 dollars for a piece of bread. We didn't have a choice; we paid him the sum demanded, and for the time being, he forgot the danger that was still hanging over him maybe because we didn't mention it to him and so a few days passed. On one of those days, he returned from town and told us that every day Jews were being taken out of their hiding places to be killed, and they thought that according to the murderers' account, three quarters of the population was already dead. Most left their hiding places and gave themselves up to the murderers so as not to die of starvation.
On August 20, 1942, when he'd already demanded a number of times that we leave him, I made him the offer that tonight he could go to my home. I told him the location where valuable items were hidden, and he could go and take whatever he wanted for himself. All he had to do was go to my two brothers and tell them I was staying with him and take them to his place, and when they arrived, at that moment, we'd leave his house together. He didn't refuse, and that night, he came up and told us he was leaving. By the way, I also asked him to take not much, but at least one or two shirts for me so I could change the one that I hadn't changed for 12 days.
We didn't sleep all night. We waited impatiently; maybe they'd all come together with the shirts. The night passed and morning came, and no one from the house came up to us. We didn't know what to think. We were worried that maybe he'd been caught on the way. Maybe when he returned with the items, he was taken to the police station, and now for sure they'd come to him, conduct a search, and find us. Every moment, a new thought came to our minds, one more horrible than the other, and maybe my two brothers had gone with him, and they maybe they'd caught all of them? Who knew, and if nothing had happened, why wasn't he at least climbing up to let us know how his mission had gone? That day, at 10:00 or 10:30, our savior reported. He told me how successful he was. When he arrived at the place, he opened the small door with one knock, and there behind the doors, he found the items. He couldn't take everything at once.
When I reminded him that I needed a shirt in order to change the dirty shirt I'd already been wearing for almost two weeks, he answered that he'd brought everything under great fear and needed it all for himself. He didn't give me any shirts, and as for my brothers, he'd found out that they'd been taken out the previous evening, and now they were in the Great Synagogue, and according to whispers in the streets, tomorrow, meaning Saturday, August 2, 1942, they'd be slaughtered. I didn't dare complain that he didn't give me a shirt, because I didn't want to arouse the anger of the owner of our lives, and second, I wanted to ask him to go to the location where the synagogue was and give one of my brothers a note from me. I wrote these words on it:
Try to take any opportunity you have to escape from where you're staying, even if it involves a mortal risk, because they've gathered you so they can take all of you to be killed at one time, so if you try to escape, you may be able to save yourselves. Any other way, they'll kill you for sure. I'll wait for you until tomorrow at the home of the person delivering this note, and we'll leave together. Maybe we can reach Brody. He won't allow us to stay more than one day.
That evening, he came and told us he'd delivered the note to my brother and promised him he'd give it to the second brother so that they'd try to find a way to leave together, and if they could, they'd come to the designated location in the evening, and then we'd see what we could do. We waited for them all night; it was on Friday, August 21, 1942. The next morning, I asked the young man to go and see what had happened. After an hour or an hour and a half, he came back with the message that the synagogue was empty, meaning that on August 22, they'd taken all of them, a few hundred men, women, and children, to be killed. He let us stay until that evening. We stayed until 8: 30 and left for the road.
Some people remained in hiding, but every day, families gave themselves up to the murderers so they wouldn't starve to death. Two weeks later, we found out that a month or two passed before the final liquidation.
This is all I can write as a witness to the torture, horrors, and cruelty, and how the Ukrainian murderers tortured us. And again I repeat that all the Jews in our town, Vishnevets, along with the Jews from Vyshgorodok, were murdered only and only by the Ukrainians. Without them in our district, the Poles in Poland, and all the Christian population in all their locations, they couldn't have exterminated us so cruelly.
We have to memorialize everything that I testify to here on this paper. It is possible that I haven't revealed all the details about our murderous neighbors' brutality. The generations that come after us should know how and whom we can trust and remember the saying If I am not for myself, who is for me?
by Cherne (Katz) Rabin (Lanovits)
I knew Asher before I saw him. In 1930, I had a Hebrew teacher named Yosef Spirt, of blessed memory. He was a good Jew and a loyal Zionist. He tried to establish the Hebrew language through a variety of methods and using all his skills, because our school wasn't recognized by the Polish authorities and was almost illegal. He didn't have many possibilities, but he did everything to the best of his ability and understanding. He had an idea that I could practice the language by exchanging letters. I liked the idea, but with whom? Surely, could I write letters to people in Lanovits? Then he remembered Asher, a family member and a young man around my age who lived in Vishnevets and knew Hebrew; maybe we'd find common interests to write about to each other. When Yosef Spirt, of blessed memory, explained the purpose to Asher, he agreed to write first, and so he did. After I answered him, we began exchanging letters, and my teacher's goal was met. And so I knew Asher before I saw him.
During my vacation that year, I decided to visit my family in Vishnevets. I wanted a little change from the atmosphere in Lanovits, and I wanted to meet a new group of young people. I already knew one person, and I informed Asher that I was coming. That evening, he came to introduce himself, and through him I met his friends. I spent almost a month in Vishnevets, and obviously I saw Asher and his friends almost every evening.
During our conversations, he told me about his daily activities. I knew he dedicated his days to his movement and Betar. I saw the enthusiasm with which he talked about the movement and how he was connected to it, and saw that he was doing his duties with dedication and great belief. I belonged to a different movement, and the arguments between the movements' leaders were very serious, sometimes involving conflict and hatred, but all these matters didn't interfere with our friendship. We could have a good time together without mentioning our different points of view.
After that summer, when I had such a good time and felt so good among the friends I'd made, I returned to Vishnevets every time I had the chance. I had the opportunity to do so at least twice a year, and each time, I found Asher immersed in the movement's work. His belief in the movement grew stronger when he started to teach younger people, and he did it with great dedication.
The movement started to take away his days and evenings. Some evenings, he joined us late because the movement was first in everything, and I appreciated him for that.
He was able to serve as an example to a different group of young people who didn't belong to a movement and were involved in reckless behavior and lacked substance.
Even with all his activities, he never forgot his friends and didn't forget to welcome me the day I arrived in Vishnevets.
There was a kind of rare nobility in him that was expressed in his social behavior, the way he argued with those who opposed him, his relationship with his students at his movement, and mostly the way he treated his family.
When the horrible news of Hitler's holocaust arrived, I remembered everyone who remained there, my friends and family. I also remembered Asher, and my heart ached. I mourned all of them, and I also mourned him.
One early evening, I went to visit Yone Ron. The street and the house were covered with darkness maybe it was a power failure or maybe it was just gloomy and from a dark entrance I was asked, Someone has arrived from Vishnevets. Please guess who it is. He's here with us.
I answered in an instant, Asher Sofer!
I don't know how it crossed my mind that he'd survived, that he was alive. But my heart told me he'd arrive. He deserved to enjoy the fruit of his Zionist dedication.
The meeting was emotional. There was no end to curiosity: How did he get here? How had he made it? And what was the fate of everyone without whom we thought we'd never be able to live? Asher promised to come to my home and tell me everything.
At the end of 1945, the country was under the whim of the crumbling British rule. Week after week, there was a curfew, and day after day, there were surprises. At night, we went to bed not knowing if they'd declare a curfew while we were sleeping or if we'd have enough time to get food. And look, someone knocked on my door at five after midnight. I was afraid that maybe the British had come to my home. My husband was wanted by them as an active member of an anti-British clandestine movement. With our hearts pounding, we carefully went down to open the door, and Asher Sofer was standing in front of us, dressed in a uniform with Polish insignia.
I was astounded.
What was this Polish patriotism here in our country? When we hated them in their country.
And here is his story, which he told little by little during the six weeks he was in hiding.
When the Germans began bombing Warsaw, he was working at the Betar office in Warsaw. In 1939, he sensed that a war was going to break out. Everyone ridiculed him. He paid no attention to them, packed his suitcases at once, and left for the train station, where to his surprise he found everyone, even though they'd laughed at him a couple of hours earlier. They all traveled to a safe place. He went directly home. It seems that his heart predicted he'd never see them again. Meanwhile, the Russians entered Vishnevets. He felt that his place wasn't there because of his many sins, being the son of the well-to-do Issakher Sofer and an active member of the Betar movement.
When Asher asked for a job, someone told him cynically, you're not getting a job because we have a long account with you. Immediately, Asher understood his situation and decided to leave town. He said goodbye to his brothers and asked them not to tell their father. When he went to say goodbye to his sister-in-law, Shlome's wife, she was shocked when she heard where he was going and began screaming. Asher covered her mouth so his father wouldn't hear, and with a small suitcase, like one you'd take on a short trip, he quietly and sadly left his birthplace.
After a great deal of hardship, he arrived in Vilna, where he found many friends and leaders of the Betar movement. From there, he was able to inform his family where he was staying. Taking a mortal risk, his brother Yoel came and brought him a little money to live on and reach the Land. Asher tried to convince his brother to stay, but his responsibility to his family and to his father prevented him from doing so.
In Vilna, they looked for ways to immigrate. Meanwhile, they held movement activities in hiding, and to support themselves and cover their activities, they worked in trades.
Among them was a person named Slutski, who was a talented graphic artist. He made counterfeit documents for himself and visas to China for Asher and Shpilberg, without their party's knowledge.
With great fear, Asher handed his documents to the authorities, and everything went through without any problems. They joined a group of 12 illegal immigrants and left for the Land of Israel via Moscow and Turkey.
In Mersin, Turkey, they had to report to the Jewish Agency, and Barlas, its representative. When his turn came, he asked to be alone with Barlas and revealed everything to him his illegal status and his connections to Betar.
His two friends didn't see anything wrong with what they'd done, but Asher was afraid he was endangering the agency's status and reputation and wanted the agency's men to act cautiously.
But Barlas jumped up and answered him, You can go back where you came from; we don't want to endanger the agency because of an illegal immigrant.
With great fear, Barlas telegraphed Dr. Yonitsman of Betar and informed him of Asher's dangerous act, but he didn't raise a finger to save him.
Asher was left penniless in Turkey, depressed and without a chance to reach the Land.
Somehow, the news reached his brother Yosef. Immediately, he went to Shprintsak and informed him that he belonged to the Betar movement. To that, Shprintsak answered, But he's not a Communist?
And he authorized an immigration certificate.
In 1941, Asher arrived on Israel's shores from Turkey in a rickety fishing boat.
In 1942, he volunteered for the Jewish Brigade, but he was disqualified because of his poor vision. Revenge consumed his heart. He wanted to go to the front lines to shed German blood and avenge his parents, friends, and relatives who'd been murdered. When he couldn't, he enlisted in Anders Army in order to return to Poland, to the burial town of his ancestors and the tragic victims, and to avenge their blood on the various front lines.
He was accepted into the army as a medic.
He was able to reach Syria, but Asher realized there that he wouldn't be able to fulfill his mission with them. In addition, he saw that they hadn't changed their Nazi anti-Semitic ways, even toward their brothers-in-arms, and he realized that he wouldn't be able to go into battle with them. He decided to leave, no matter the prices. He deserted, and with great difficulty and without documents, he arrived in the Land. The night he arrived, he decided not to endanger his two brothers; maybe the British would search for him at their homes at their Polish allies' request. And so he came to us.
|R' Simche Ayzik Rotman|
One of the most outstanding characters in Vishnevets, who left his mark on our town and its way of life, was the great teacher R' Simche Ayzik. He excelled in his great knowledge of the Talmud and all the Holy Scriptures and their interpretations, and his revitalized knowledge and multifaceted education earned him a great name in town.
Today, it is difficult to say how he came to be in our town. Maybe he was among its founders or maybe one of its first builders, but many generations before ours talked about him as a town prodigy. He acquired his knowledge by studying on his own and increased his knowledge of many fields without anyone's help. Everything came to him from himself, and as usual in cases like that in such towns, there's no one to tell us whether he studied on his own because he loved it, because there was no one greater than him to teach him, or because he didn't have the means or any parents to support him, etc.
His multifaceted education in the ways of the world earned him endless appreciation and admiration but also misgiving and distrust.
For three generations, he taught the Torah and good manners to local older boys, and when they finished their studies with him, they were considered bridegrooms in everything. At that time, his cheder was probably called a school for bridegrooms.
The town turned to him with a variety of requests. He gave his help, and there was no end to the admiration and praise he received. But R' Simche Ayzik Rotman reached the height of his glory when he was asked to compose a petition to the Russian czar to soften his heart so he'd order a pardon for R' Yosile Radoviloy, who had been arrested as punishment for murdering a slanderous teenage boy. His letter, which was embedded with classical celebrated words as the members of the generation before us related touched the Czar's heart, and he tore up the evil decree. R' Yosile was taken out of prison, although the fear of a trial continued to hang over his head.
What distinguished R' Simche Ayzik is that then, around 100 years ago, he adopted an advanced outlook on the world and leaned toward the Enlightenment openly and without fearing the difficulties it would bring him.
His ideas about man and society and about Jewish society in foreign lands outpaced his generation's ideas, and for many years he rebelled against the local people and their lifestyle. The war of opinions he conducted with the public and its leaders wasn't an easy one and caused him a lot of hardship. If not for his great personality and his firm stand as a scholar, who knows if he could have stood it. We find the echoes of this war in his notebook, which he left with one of his dedicated students, Eliyahu Averbukh, of blessed memory, which by chance reached us completely yellow, eaten by mold, and with blurred writing.
In those writings, we see a man who locked himself in his attic at night, and maybe in his solitude he investigated and wrote down the changes and suffering in his soul and the obstacles he faced when he wanted to live according to the values of those changes.
In the tradition of the intellectuals of that time, he used ornate Hebrew in his writing. Each sentence contained part of a verse from the Prophets and part of a sentence from rabbinic literature. It seemed as if he needed to base his ideas on our prophets' words and the proverbs of our sages, of blessed memory. Because of his great familiarity with the style of their phrases, and to give his ideas legal standing, he drew from those who preceded us and those who preceded them.
His notebook is paved with fables, animal fables, events in the forest and the heavens, satirical songs, and epigrams, all in the style of the logic of the harp, with the harp and the singing helping the logic. There are also letters to an imaginary addressee who probably symbolizes the Jewish institution of those times. He heaps abuse and disrespect on him, calling him a borrower who pulls his hand from his lender, meaning that he loaned his former students, the tax collectors of wisdom, a great deal of silver and gold, but instead of paying off their loans, they slip away from him, not only escaping the subject once and for all, but also plotting to swallow him from the face of the earth and lower him into a pit.
His long poems, which are rhymed with multicolored dense verses, reflect the era and its leaders. Their actions and the opinions they shared are of great interest for our book.
We can't translate and present all of them. The few we've selected shed light on the darkness in which a generation of Vishnevetsers lived (as did the people of other towns), where they tried to hatch their dream to become a nation not among the gentiles, but in a country where the sky covers the land.
The long poem we present reflects the deep tragedy of a man who fights a war on both sides.
On one side, he provides the local children, his students, with progressive ideas, putting tools in their hands so they can live a brilliant life in the world to come, but as a result, his eagles spread their wings and want to fly out of his cheder, and the danger of losing his source of income hovers over him. And maybe it's not only the lack of income that worries him, but the possibility that all his Jewish teaching might shatter at once against the rock of estrangement.
The poem is directed to his students. He sends his regards to them and appeals to his loving friends who also study together not to say, the term is over it's time to go to the Russian teacher, because this wasn't his intention when he preached for education.
It is apparent that the Jewish intellectuals' gloomy, miserable drama also broke out in full strength in our town, and its echoes were carried in the hearts of three generations, the students of R' Simche Ayzik Rotman, the generation's most loving and most tragic teacher in our town. And maybe, who knows, he gave them the push to live in a country not the Kingdom of Heaven, but a real country that isn't waging a war of shadows. On the other side, the short second poem, On the Enlightenment, testifies to his idealism and the price he paid for his opinions and his idealism, so that poor and rich/strike me, hit and wound me.
Today, we don't see these poems as harmless or lacking in tension. The echoes of burning souls rise from them, and many of the best of our nation were burned by them. And as their poems become more innocent, the personalities of those who were willing to stand on their opinion grew to the point where they were willing to pay the price for it.
Who knows if the great sacrifice of the people who secretly fought for the delicate, holy language, the commanding language of the praised sons of the Israel Defense Forces, and their fight to give young men the knowledge of the world that today is in its new resurrection is the Weitzmann Institute and many others. Who knows if we could have reached what we have today without them.
The story of R' Simche Ayzik, of blessed memory, is a story of an innocent warrior who fought for a great intellectual conclusion, and we see the results in our nation's life today and so it started.
His story is the story of our town and its war of opinions, and so it came to an end.
Both deserve to be on a tablet.
by Simche Ayzik Rotman
Loving friends who also study together,
Because it's time for the term to be over,
Don't step out of your bounds, and don't break the fence;
The Torah should not be your blazing religion,
My hand won't come down heavily on you so
Also the different fields of science,
But only this I'll comment to your morals
Then you will bring a blessing to your souls
by Simche Ayzik Rotman
Because in public
it is called a traitor
that desecrates everything holy
and only being praised
by this, by them,
she is the Enlightenment.
And this is all my sin,
by Shlome Rachmani
Our town, Vishnevets, was saved from the pogroms that took place in the towns around us, but the fact that we were saved by a miracle left an unpleasant feeling in me, and I decided to leave.
I immigrated in 1920, and I was one of the first young immigrants from my town.
My father, R' Moshe Derbarimdiker, R' Levi Yitschak of Berdichev's grandson, built a house in Vishnevets, and its atmosphere settled in his son's souls. I didn't rest here in the Land until I brought him here, and then I calmed down.
R' Moshe Derbarimdiker secured a place for himself in Vishnevets on his own accord and never mentioned his origin to anyone in order not to magnify his name. He was resolute in his opinions, gave a lot of advice to those who approached him, and was willing to help each person in his time of distress.
My mother, Nechame, managed the store and enabled Father to deal with his public work, listen to his fellow man's whispers, and delegate his free time to clear matters brought in front of him.
Mother was known for the fact that every day from the age of 12, she woke up early to pray in a quorum and never missed a day of prayer, and here in the Land, she used to pray next to the Western Wall, and as was her custom, she never stopped until her last day.
I was very young when I emigrated, and I suffered as many others did at that time, but it didn't stop me from convincing Father to liquidate his business and immigrate.
In 1925, my parents and their children immigrated. It's a pity that our brother Chayim stayed there and perished with his whole family.
In a way, their immigration forged links between generations. In 1850, Bat-Sheve, our grandmother's twin sister, immigrated after she got married, and established the well-known Olshteyn family here in Jerusalem. Every once in a while, she visited our town with her sons, and her visits served as an awakening to Zion and its forgotten existence.
My parents' immigration at that time was a kind of pioneering renewal, and the impression it left on the people of our town wasn't quickly forgotten. You can say that each immigrant to the Land confused those who remained in town, and the immigration of my father, of blessed memory, also caused changes in our town's way of life, and we preserve his merit along with the merit of the rest of those first immigrants. May his soul be bound up in the bond of everlasting life.
They were humble in their ways. With modesty and simplicity, they extended help to all who were in need during times of unemployment and lack of a day-to-day income. Those who needed financial aid received it at the Chazans' home. Their home served as a meeting place for people from Vishnevets and towns nearby, such as Lanovits, Shumsk, and Vyshgorodok.
When Zalman worked as a tinsmith and his income was meager, the Chazan family listened to the whispers of those who suffered, and their home was an inn, a friendly, warm corner to those who entered.
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Loyal to the renewal of Zion, Chazan's soul was dedicated to the building of the Land and population's suffering from the Mandate's government's restrictions and bloody riots and conflicts with Arab gangs. With their limited funds, they carried a heavy load and brought members of their immediate family to the Land. They gave them financial aid and helped them settle.
After the accident that took Zalman's life, Bat-Sheve was left alone. Many who knew her and enjoyed her kind heart didn't come to comfort and help her. But Bat-Sheve didn't take it to heart or complain during her troubles and loneliness. With her good nature, she didn't despair, and before her death, as we knew she would, she willed all her property to help others, to Ilan and the Organization of Vishnevets Emigrants.
The money from her estate, thousands of Israel pounds, served as the foundation and covered a generous part of the publication of Sefer Vishnevets.
Let the page with their picture that we have in front of us be a memorial to Bat-Sheve and Zalman Chazan, of blessed memory.
by Chayim Rabin
May the nation that resides in Zion remember the martyrs of the Diaspora, who took our nation's sorrowful faith on themselves, kept their Judaism in their souls, and paid for it with their blood.
May the son of a Jewish town remember his birthplace, the cradle of his vision, and remember its residents, who under pressure, desperation, and oppression planted in us the yearning to live openly and in prosperity and freedom.
May the Vishnevets survivor remember the town of his youth, adorned with lovely scenery and springs, where he bloomed and where the flowers of his greatest dream, the dream of living in his homeland, blossomed.
May we remember our parents, brothers, and sisters, our friends from school and our neighbors from the Vishnevets alleyways, who died before their time, before they matured, before they became old and their longing for us and life in the homeland wilted.
We will remember our loved ones, victims of evil men, whose tortured souls left them while they called our names.
We will remember that somewhere in the distance, there is an open mass grave shouting at us,
Build a memorial for us!
Together we were slaughtered, together we were cut off, together we lay in a mass grave, flesh to flesh, skin to skin, and our souls as one.
May our tombstone also be one!
May the man from Vishnevets, wherever he is, remember that it is his duty to remember them, to tell and write their stories a book.
Let us bring the memory of our loved ones to each joyful event, and may their souls be bound in our souls and the souls of our sons after us; may it be so!
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