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[Page 163]

The First Air-Raid of Vishkuw

by Yosef Gurni

Translated by Jane, Mikhail Freider and Vladimir Fronton


Vishkuw is a Jewish shtetl. It's the whole world. It's a lost world that was destroyed so that nothing and nobody is saved for the future existence. For most of those who lived through this flame the disappearance of this world wiped off memories about the family home, manner of living, community, language, soul, about the childhood and youth, and about other values that connect people with their motherland. But even after becoming dead this world has risen in a new body and became a different one. Young people hold only imprecise, unclear childhood memories that are difficult to distinguish from fantasies.

Between those memories there are events that were imprinted in our memory in spite of their distance. They could not be forgotten; they are part of our feelings. Maybe only now, after many years it's possible to define a level of unexpectancy and fear during a first bombing attack, first sign of war.

During that summer of 1939 when I was a sixth year old boy the surrounding world was changing. In one day it has changed from a world of tenderness, spoiling and joy to a dark, angry world full of worries about the father who was being on the war front.

I didn't understand completely what is a war and during first days of the war I was in the ignorant state, full of despair and fear. Though I listened patriotic songs playing on a radio and I, a boy, really believed them. The war front was still far and I believed that there was no power that could break great Polish soldiers.

Adults thought differently. They packed stuff in boxes to leave to Warsaw. They thought that a miracle would happen in 1939 the same way as it was twenty years ago in Warsaw. This way I first understood what is the war on the bright fall morning. I still don't know how German pilot decided to drop a bomb exactly on our calm street. Our world woke up from the ringing sounds of breaking glass. My first reaction was to hide under the blanket that was a defense from the surroundings. That morning my mother woke me up earlier to finish packing our stuff. At that moment my mother was very much like a tigress than a home chicken. She ran to men and cover me by her body and then we embracing each other hid behind the commode and we heard the sound of dropping bomb from there. After that there was heavy silence, suspicious silence. Besides the fact that we are still alive we didn't know whether it was the end or just the beginning of the bombing. After that voices of people asking for their children and relatives resounded around. There were a lot of cries and tears. Desire to stay alive hurried us away from this place. We left together with grandfather. Last part of the family had to join us near the bridge over the river Bug. I, full of fright and curiosity, squeezed to my grandfather body. House walls were like witches with black faces, there was smell of burning, sounds of cries from the center of the town.

Nothing surprised and shocked me anymore. Neither crying wounded people that were lying here and there, nor died people who were at least covered, not even a Jewish cabman who abused a goy in the fireman clothes. He was standing on the cart, pulling the horse reins by one hand and beating the goy using a whip in another hand.

This goy was trying to push the cabman down from the cart (surely he wanted to take a cart for himself). "Jew beats goy!" a thought fast as lightning came through my head and I even felt a pride for a moment. My childish wounded pride was very satisfied by this fact because of continuous pursuit by the goy gang.

There was another world after the bridge. Blue waters of the river Bug flew in the eternal calmness. Fields were green and a sky was blue. Smoke didn't cover everything in the black color yet. We were lying near the road and waiting for a cart.

In Warsaw we arrived at the evening. It admitted us with alarm sounds, guns fire and discharges of air defense artillery.

Beaten and wounded Poland was still defending.


[Page 164]

In the First Days of the Destruction

by Moyshe Venger

Translated by Jane, Sofia, Mikhail Freider, Mikhail M.,
and Vladimir Fronton


Friday, September 1, 1939. I arrived in Wyszków. I had to be with my family during the most difficult times. In the morning radio announced that Germans attacked Poland. All people from Wyszków ran from the town. But journalists found out last news in the town. At the same day people from other places near the border arrived. They told about mockery of Jews by Germans. It was said that polish authorities are going to leave Wyszków. We were left without passports. Germans were bombing the railroad bridge and other locations. On Sunday and Monday everything was silent. On Tuesday, September 5, German planes were bombing Wyszków. In our house my sister Khletche was sick of lethargy for 8 months already. That's why my brother Moyshe and I created a stretcher to carry on the sister to the house of Moyshl the Baker at the market plaza. There were many families on this plaza because they thought it was safe there. All the time planes dropped bombs on the town and all people went through wooden bridge and ran into the forest. My mother Rivele, brother Moyshe, little Sorele and I decided to stay because of sick sister. Later she woke up, kissed everybody and asked: "Let's take me underarms and run to save ourselves".

We passed the bridge and entered the forest with many other families from Wyszków: Malkhiel the Ritual Slaughterer, Pshetitski and others. Planes fired on the running people and spread death. Every couple minutes we were lying on the ground, once going up we found that my coat has got holes from bullets. We were running through the forest in the direction of Jadow.


Wanders During Voyage

At the end of forest on the way to Jadow we met wounded people after the bombing. Among them there was Rokhele Shkarlat. She was being taken on the cart to a doctor. At that time everybody ate together in one common because Leybish Pshetitski had taken some food provisions from his bakery shop. We arrived in Jadow in the early morning. Immediately we were bombed by planes. A lot of people hid in a grocery store but I don't remember the name of this store. One rich and kind Jew invited us and gave us food, drinks and beds. There were no authorities left in Jadow at that time. Polish army ran and Germans were expected to arrive in the town. All of us left this town and hid in trenches from guns' firing. Someone shouted that it would be better if Germans had come already because our fear was too big. Next day Germans came in the town and found hammered doors and gates. It took them half a day to do all their affairs and they started goods requisition. Some families from Wyszków stayed too long in Jadow that time. Leybish Pshetitski went to look at his house and didn't come back ever. Germans killed him on the way.

During those days Germans and Poles killed all Jews in Wyszków and burned everything. People told Germans occupied Wyszków in vengeance because Poles killed fifteen German spies there. We saw a lot of Jews from different towns in Jadow; they passed me this hard news. My mother's sister and all her family Youngsteyn were killed in Karlishem.


Under Soviet Rule

There were rumors that Soviet Army was coming. In the beginning when Soviet authority just settled everybody was glad. People prepared to meet the ones who would be walking through the town. When we were going through Wengrow we've spent a night in Reyzman family and visited our acquaintances there. We met the Rubin family and also Fayvele Shran with his wife Ite who was in a dangerous condition (her leg was injured with bomb's splinter). Fayvele Baharav, their father of son-in-law, a very good Jew, never left them and helped her all the time before she died.

We arrived in Kosow at night and Red Army detained us. In commendant's office we explained (with arms and legs) that we ran from Germans and now we have families and jobs here. Later we were freed. First days in Kosow we felt very free. Red Army showed movies on the streets. They propagandized how to behave in foreign country. Red Army didn't stay in Kosow for long.

We were allowed to go with the army. The border was opened for about two weeks. A very small number of people went with army. But we wandered with a hope to find a better life those days. My sister Khletche prepared to go in Wyszków. In days of wandering she recovered and hired a cart to go to Lochow and then to Wyszków by train. Her speech and appearance wasn't similar to Jewish woman. Her travel lasted ten days and she came back with bad news. We found out that Wyszków was occupied. Our house was destroyed. And we had to think of place to live. These days Germans came in Kosow. A lot of Jews didn't come back there and tried to find a job.

Our family had important discussion and it was decided that my brother and I had to cross the border, find some job and later the whole family will come to us. We and many other families hired a cart to go to the border. We went through the forest avoiding any bands of robbers. This was we arrived to the German border. We were examined and all our things were taken away. Every Jew received ten golden coins and we were taken to the river so that we can swim through the border under gun's fire. We had to pay two golden coins per a person for this. When we reached another bank a few soviet people with rifles came to meet us. And they clearly ordered us to go back. My brother Moyshe told them something in Russian and explained that we can't go back because we would be killed there. Soldiers told us to go to the commendant's office. There we were examined again and we were told to wait in the yard. This night we were taken somewhere. On the way we met other groups of Jews that were convoyed too. We arrived in neutral zone near Malkin. There were people from special services. Near Malkin station Soviet soldiers gathered together about six thousand old people, children, parents. There were staying on the open field in rain and cold. Speculators sold bread for big money. A lot of people died without medical help there. We sent a delegate to ask to free us but it didn't help. After that we decided to explode a bar and free ourselves. We waited for a moment when there were fewer guards. Mothers with little children were moved to the front and old people stood behind them. On the predefined time the bar was exploded and a mass of people went out. Young girls began to kiss soldiers. Some people were so excited because of these events and then all people were singing "International". Soldiers who sat in trenches near border greeted us. We arrived to Zareby Koscielne station. At about two o'clock at night there were several thousands people from Poland in the forest. Together we moved forward to Tshehanovcy where we've been met and given a cargo train to move to Bialyastok.


In Bialyastok

In Bialyastok we came to town committee. They gave a half loaf of rye bread to everybody and told to go to Folvark that is about 15 km from Bialyastok. We came to the town committee of Folvark. They didn't admit us and we came back to Bialyastok under a heavy downpour. Nobody admitted us again. Then we decided to come to Jewish baker.

You can't imagine how bad was our situation at that time, we took off our boots, dried them our and sold them to buy bread. Then we spend horrible days when we had no place to sleep. Even synagogue was completely full of people. There we met the Farber family who wanted to give us a place to sleep for a night but they had many louse. Then we ran to the rail station but there was no place too. We were wandering around this way until we get a job in the bathes where we could wash ourselves. My brother Moyshe knew this job before from Israel. From this time we slept at our workplace. In Bialyastok we met with many families from Wyszków: Asti and his family (I've heard they died from hunger in Russia later), Tchekhanogura and his family, the Shults family, Srebnik and his family, Shran with his son and daughter, Itche Baharav, Nayman with his son, Frayman and the Segal family who had a place to live. Many people from Wyszków found each other. We gave a place to sleep to others together with Moyshe Stolik. All were glad about this meeting. Ours from Wyszków were working and trading buying old clothes on the market and then selling them. Everyone who was from Wyszków let in others in the lines. My brother Moyshe couldn't be in Bialyastok any more and was pursuing every possibility to return to Kosow to my mother and sister. At this moment I've got a postcard from my family to return back to them. Also at this time Soviet authorities started registration. Everybody who wants to get a passport must stay in USSR and move forward because they didn't allow to stay in Bialyastok; others had to go back to Germans. Most of people signed to go back to their families who were left in Poland. Many families who went together with echelons further into Russia couldn't live there and came back to Bialyastok. These families signed to return back to Germans. Many people thought that it would be better in Poland in the end. But the end came actually. We were not allowed to go back. We started to grow accustomed to the new life. Everyone lived as one can. Some tragic night around 12 o'clock, everyone who didn't have a soviet passport was arrested. Immediately they were taken in the echelons to Siberia, into the jails and concentration camps.


[Page 177]

In the Years of Misfortune and Anguish

by Khane Srebro

[Page 181]

6.

The first thing that we did after leaving the cellar was to breathe in a little fresh air. Spending three days in terribly cramped and crowded conditions, without bread or water, had totally exhausted us. Now we ran out of town. The further away from this place, where those closest to us had in the last few days been murdered in such cruel ways, the better. Other individuals began to crawl out of their various hiding places, and when we encountered them, we told each other whatever news we knew. I learned that in the last attack the following Jews had died: Isaac Vansover, along with his wife and children; Soreh Vansover; Khave Elbaum; her mother; the Aldok brothers and their families; Dovid, Hershl-Mekhl and Libe Flude; Ester-Dvoyre Flude and her mother. (The youngest son, Leybl Flude, escaped at that time, but later died in the woods.)


[Page 193]

The last Request of a Martyr

Translated by Edward Jaffe

Donated by Rona G. Finkelstein


In a pocket of a perished Jew from Rovno, who was the head of the Vishkov Yeshiva and later became the Rabbi of Rovno, the following letter[1] was found:

To our Jewish brothers:

Our time has come. Like all other Jews subjugated by the Evil Empire, we give our lives to God, blessed be he.

I am Abraham, son of Shmai Halevi Tsitrin, born in the town of Trachenbad. My father was Shmai Tsitrin, born in Vald, the son of the exalted Rabbi Meyer Zeev. My parents lived in Rovno. My father with his son-in-law Itzchak Chekhnizer, the ritual slaughterer and congregational messenger, were killed last year in Rovno. My mother Sarah Rivka, daughter of Eliokem Getzel Gelman of Trachenbad, together with the entire family were killed by the murderers in Rovno. We have relatives in America. My mother's brother, Joseph Gelman, my wife Bella, daughter of Yakov Arye Steinman of Viskov near Warsaw, member of the large family Steinman of Amselof.

I am leaving behind in Pobrusk two houses with many things hidden in the walls. Furniture and other things are left with the Ukrainian clergymen. Find our relatives and see to it that our bones will not be scattered and our names not forgotten.

Our relatives should say Kaddish and observe annually the day of our death. I Abraham, son of Shmai Halevi and my wife Bella, daughter of Yakov Arye, who has a brother in Russia – Zvi Steinman, say goodby to this foolish world. My dear son Meyer Zeev, 9 years old, my daughter Chaya, 6 years old, my daughter Masha, 3 years old, my mother-in-law, Chava Ziatah and her son Moishe, and daughters Chaya Sarah and Yentah Hadassah, her daughter-in law, wife of the above mentioned Zvi who is in Russia with her three small children and her mother – all of us are being sacrificed in His Holy Name, together with the 70 families of Pobrusk, and 15-20 families from Piasetchny.

Don't forget us, the murdered innocent.

Hear, O Israel. The Lord is our G-d, the Lord is one.

Abraham son of Sarah Rivka

Abraham, son of Shmai Halevi cries out at the threshold of death to search for his relatives and requests that his and his family's bones not be scattered, and that they be remembered. He also asks that relatives say Kaddish (prayer for the dead) and observe the annual day of their death.

_______

[1]   This letter was brought to the USA by Rabbi Moishe Steinberg of Brod, who visited Rovno after the liberation in order to once again organize a Jewish community. This is a reprint of the letter which was published in the "Day" (Tog) of December 16th. This is a document of the awful period. The letter conveys a cry from a life that refuses to give up and disappear without a trace, and wants to be remembered. It describes what Abraham, son of Sarah Rivka, felt in the last minutes of his life when he saw no escape from the hands of the murderers. This was also experienced by thousands, hundreds of thousands of other Jews. Return


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