[Page 1] [Hebrew cover]
|Dedicated to the Holy Memory|
|Martyrs of Visoke-Litovsk and Volchin|
|I weep for those mishaps, my eyes are dripping with tears,*|
|for the destructions.|
|Saturday evening||Beethoven Hall|
|February 7th||210 East 5th Street
[* Translator's note: Adapted from Lamentations 1:16]
[Page 2] [Inside cover -- blank]
[Page 3] [Title page]
Samuel Levine and Morris Gevirtz
Published by the United Wisoko-Litowsker and Woltchiner Relief
As we lie awake at night, we find ourselves beside you at your open grave, during your last minutes. Together, we stretch out our arms helplessly. Together with you we cry out Shema Yisrael with all our might. Together, we spite the executioners.
This image comes to us vividly: An ugly morning in autumn, in the month of Elul 1942. A miserable drizzle of rain descends on Volchin and Visoke. The Germans and local hoodlums surround the ghetto of Volchin. They carry clubs and whips. Some people from the neighborhood come to watch. The Germans drive the inhabitants to the ghetto exit with blows and lashes. The cries of the victims rip the air. This infuriates the Germans even more. They strike harder with their weapons, hitting people on the shoulders, necks, and heads. There is no escape. The people watching, former friends and neighbors, show no sign of compassion.
The victims ignore the onlookers. They repeat the Psalms they know so well to comfort each other. The victims are driven to their open graves. At that point, they begin to cry out to the onlookers:
You will not take our places!The cry rises, echoes, and becomes deafening:
You will not take our places!And the victims cry out to the German executioners:
Murderers! As you destroy our Visoke and Volchin, so will your homes be destroyed.The voices carry over the muffling of the rain and drown out the sound of the gunshots, over and over again:
As you destroy our Visoke and Volchin, so will your homes be destroyed.
We bow our heads to you, our martyrs. We mourn your annihilation. We cry out in lamentation.
We will remember your beautiful lives down through the generations.
To us, you are the equals of the Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Khanine ben Teradyon in your martyrdom.
You showed courage and kept hope alive. It did not occur to you to earn your own survival by betraying another. True to our tradition and in the footsteps our greatest martyrs, you spoke the Shema Yisrael with your last breath.
May your innocent, spilled blood never be silenced!
May your innocent blood speak through the ages!
My case was different. From my youngest age, I felt a transcendent love for my shtetl, my Volchin. And what's so surprising about that? My neighbors took an interest in me. Everyone gave me sincere love, from the rabbi to the least educated people. So did my fellow students at the yeshiva. Neither did those my age who did not attend yeshiva ever show jealousy, hate or envy. I never knew boastfulness, arrogance or pride. These are some of the reasons I found it difficult to leave my beloved shtetl, even if only for a few months.
I started preparing to return home weeks before the date. I knew that the first Shabbes after my homecoming I would be required by my parents and relatives to deliver a droshe [a certain Jewish religious discourse/speech]. I acquired the drush-sforim [a kind of exegetical Jewish religious book] and wrote down my own ideas and interpretations.
I thought of Borukh Gevirtzman (the son-in-law of Mendel Nekhames). He was waiting. This introspective and pensive genius, who took lonely walks along isolated paths outside the shtetl, mentally reviewing hundreds of Gemara pages and commentary, spinning his philosophical thoughts. And I revised the Massekhte [Tractate of the Talmud] I had studied during the yeshiva semester, just so I would not fall behind in my conversations with him.
I thought about Nissl Shuster, the trustee of the local biker-khoilim [Jewish Hospital for the Poor], encumbered with caring for the poor and the sick. He was waiting, and hoping that I could help lighten their burdens.
I knew that my former rabbi, Tzvi Shulklapper, was also waiting for my return. He was a truly learned man and a fine scholar, burdened by an unsuitable wife. Moreover, the contrast between their physical appearances was striking: he was slim, tall, and comfortable; but she, on the contrary, was short, not good-looking, clumsy, and helpless. She looked as if she was always shrinking in fear of something unseen .. He, my rabbi, found in me the person he could trust and confide in to unload his heart.
The town rabbi was waiting, too. He was burdened with concerns about the town's affairs, the town's bank, education in town, poverty in town.... He and I were able to have many frank conversations. I often served as a bridge to connect with many of his flock. He, the spiritual aristocrat, found it difficult to deal with them about the town's affairs because his livelihood depended fully on them. He knew I could identify with him and his concerns.
There were those family heads in town who took the rabbi's difficulties to heart but could not find a way to agree with him; they were also waiting for my return because they knew I'd be able to find the appropriate words to mediate between them.
Volchin, my very beloved shtetl, where have you gone? What has become of you?
Woe to those who have been lost and are no more.
* [Translator's note: Khaval al deavdin ve-la mishtakkhin: Quotation, in Aramaic, from the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, p.111; only the first half of the sentence, khaval al deavdin (woe to those who have been lost) is usually quoted, as it appears in the title of this eulogy.]
Seated from left to right Samuel Levine Sec'y, Mrs. Helen Levine, Hyman Gevirtz,
Sabbath however was different. As soon as we finished eating the cholent [ Sabbath stew], we children would leave either to walk to the Countess Patazki's palace and some of us to Kayiavchine [?]. We, the younger ones, would wander over to the Borek [?] or to the Finetch [?] fields where we would find our older brothers and sisters who called themselves sistzialistn [socialists] and they would conduct secret meetings [sabranies]. When our gang appeared, they would chase us with threats that, We will get lost and that, Our mothers/fathers would not know where we had disappeared. Also that we would be hit, and which one of us was not afraid of beatings? That was part of our upbringing. However, we understood that something was going on here and that we had better get moving and so we left for home, making our way through fields of planted corn and peas, picking weeds and forgetting that on the Sabbath it was forbidden to pick anything.
But our carefree childhood did not last long. War broke out, and the Germans conquered the czarist army and also occupied our town and began to bully us. And we, who were still kids, had to work like adults, removing rocks from the fields, pulling lifoveh [?] from the trees, cutting and drying nettles and digging potatoes. For this we were promised one mark per day. But when they had to pay us, these miserable Germans always found fault with our work and never paid. They called this voluntary work, which was quite different from forced labor, when they would grab people off the street without giving them the opportunity to get their warm clothing or to say good-bye to their families and would send them off to either dig peat in the swamps or chop wood in the Bielavisger woods. In the greatest frosts, barefoot and naked, they were forced to obey the German blackjacks and guns. Nobody survived this. And even if they returned a group of weary and sick people, they died as soon as they were brought back. I remember many a time when I would see a young man run across the street disguised as an old woman to avoid being caught for forced labor, which meant certain death.
The German occupation also ended but Visoke was not destined to be free. The Poles soon replaced the Germans and the town was faced with new troubles. Already poor and worn out from the war and the German occupation, the town now had to endure the newly established Polish state and its army and the start of new taxes and penalties. If you owned an old hut, you paid taxes; if you sold a pound of bread, you paid taxes; if you didn't sweep up around your house, you paid a penalty. Even this did not entirely satisfy the Poles. They took sadistic pleasure in tearing off Jewish beards, throwing Jews off moving trains, or just beating them at every opportunity. This was how they were strengthening the Polish State. However, young people wanted to live. Some ran away to relatives in America, and those who remained in the town struggled for a life of freedom, establishing schools, libraries and theatre. And they dreamed of better times, of bright tomorrows; and while they were dreaming, they were not aware of the approaching dark stormy night that destroyed the town, uprooted everything and everyone from their roots. And in this stormy night, the roads leading to free countries were filled with our young people, Jewish youth who for centuries had been prepared to sacrifice their lives for freedom, and Visoke was destroyed, my fate New York.
[Organization of Yiddish Schools], WYSOKIE LITEWSKIE, 1930.
Sitting, from right to left: Shlomo Steinman, Yoel Garber.
He considers giving aid an unquestionable moral obligation of those who had the chance to avoid the catastrophe towards those who survived.
An international ad campaign uncovered some 40 survivors, former inhabitants of Visoke and Volchin.
The landsleit who are convinced they lost everyone and that there is no one left to care for are completely and utterly wrong; the D.P. [Displaced Persons] camps in Europe are full with people, our brethren; there are 250,000 survivors in Europe who are alone and destitute; there are 130,000 orphans in Europe, many of whom don't know even who they are, let alone where they come from, so why not help them?
How can the landsleit stand aside in the face of such tragedy?
[Transcriber's note: The text of page 10 continues on very repetitively and has been summarized here, above]
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