by Dawid Liwer (Tel Aviv)
(Excerpts from the book City of the Dead)
Translated by Lance Ackerfeld
With all the edicts and sufferings that befell the Jews of Będzin and Sosnowiec, the Zionist activities never ceased for a moment. The nationalist youth with its various factions and nuances Gordonia, Hashomer Hatzair [The Young Guard], Hanoar Hazioni [The Zionist Youth], Hashomer Hadati [The Religious Guard] and Kibbutz Dror continued their activities, held meetings and carried out promotional and educational activities. All this varied activity was carried out, naturally, in clandestine conditions and without knowledge of the masters in the Judenrat, however within the realms of their authority, in fact.
In 1940 the German authority allocated one hundred morag (morag four and a half hectares] land for agricultural cultivation. The Judenrat distributed part of the land to the Jews for the purpose of growing vegetables, and part it kept under its own control. However, the Jews who wished to make a livelihood from their day of labor in the shop, didn't make use of these plots, that were, by-the-way, a considerable distance from the town (Będzin), an issue which required a special permit, in order to reach them. These shortcomings were actually advantages for the youths, who began cultivating the fields. This farm was a place for agricultural training for the Zionist youth. This worthy achievement was made possible thanks to the fact that the manager of the farm who served on behalf of the Judenrat was Arie Liwer (a member of the Gordonia youth movement and a member of the Zionist labor party Hitachdut. He died in Israel in 1964), who was in close contact with the youth. Not only this, he also allowed the youths to manage the farm activity, whilst he himself assisted in organizing secret meetings and held discussions on Zionist themes.
The farm served as a meeting place for the youth activists. Members of Beitar up to Hapoel Hamizrachi from Będzin, Sosnowiec and Dąbrowa, would hold their meetings here. A person, happening to the farm on Shabbat, would be taken away from the war atmosphere and forget his troubles. It bustled with life of thousands of youths, songs of the Eretz Yisrael [Land of Israel], a tempest of hora dancing sliced the atmosphere. What was difficult was the departure from friends and the return to town to the tragic reality!
After a number of months the Judenrat forbade Jews from going out to these
fields, apart from those who were cultivating them. Several policemen of the
Jewish Order Service were ordered to supervise this. Arie Liwer, the farm
manager, was called to the Judenrat offices and was told there, that he was
responsible to ensure that there not be further illegal meetings in the farm.
However, the youths ignored this edict and continued their activities as
previously. Further to this: At the end of 1940 there was a visit to the farm
which added encouragement and strengthened the activities of the youth. Aron
Menszel, a member of the Maccabi Hatzair, secretly arrived in Zagłębie from
Vienna (later deported to Theresienstadt) and held youth club meetings and
discussions on the subjects of: The way of the Jewish youth at this
|Working on the farm
From left to right:
Anszel Fajerman (killed), Iszajahu Erlich (fell in the War of Independence in Kfar Etzion),
Szmul Rajchman (seen in the background, today lives in America), Michael Dreksler (Israel).
In the light of the steadfast and brave position of the youth, Meryn began
threatening to oppress any attempt to carry out activities without the
permission of the Judenrat, and he appointed Molczacki as the political
commissar of the youth. However, the youth stood by their decision not to have
any contact with them [the Judenrat]. Meryn even tried to establish his own
youth organization, that was known by the Jews of Zagłębie as
Meryn-Jugend (a hint at the Hitlerjugend [Hitler Youth]), however all
his efforts in this direction ended in a dismal failure.
We tried making contact with the Polish Underground. In the Zagłębie region there wasn't any Polish Underground activity. Indeed, this is strange since we are talking about the Zagłębie-Upper Silesia region, a large workers center, most of them had communist tendencies. Where did all the activists and militants disappear? In truth, the sophisticated Polish intelligentsia and a considerable number of worker activists were deported by the Germans to the Dachau concentration camp, of to the General Government, however the fact is, that there were no widespread underground activities and no anti-Nazi movements in our region. Only in two towns close to us, Pilica and Wolbrom, was the Polish Underground active. From the German newspapers we learned about the assault, which took place there on the police stations, detonating of weapons stores, the murder of Germans and Polish policemen.
Nevertheless, we did not abandon our attempts to contact the Polish
Partisans. At the beginning of June, 1943, Mark Folman returned from Warsaw
(born in Miechów, a graduate of the Warsaw Polytechnion, and in 1942 was
sent to Zagłębie and was with Baruch Gaptak, one of the teachers of the
orphans in Będzin. He returned from Warsaw and participated in the uprising
there in January 1943. He was caught by the Germans and deported to Treblinka.
He jumped off the train and survived. In June he returned again and tried to
establish a partisan unit in Zagłębie. Due to the treachery of the Polish
liaison the attempt failed. Going back to Warsaw, at the Częstochowa train
station he was recognized as a Jew and shot the Editor M. H.), spent an
extended period with the Polish Partisans in the area around Warsaw and Radom,
he confirmed, that the Polish Partisans didn't want to receive Jews into their
ranks, and only thanks to his Aryan looking face did he manage to join them.
Folman met with a certain Christian in Będzin, named Socha, who he knew from
Warsaw as an officer in the Partisan Army. This Christian agreed to transfer a
group of our members to the partisans in the Miechów-Krakow area, on
condition that everyone be armed with weapons.
We decided to send the
first group that numbered ten members. They received leather jackets, new shoes
and weapons and set out on their way. After that a second group left, that also
numbered ten members.
After several days we discovered that the Pole had led us to fake Partisans, and that he, Socha, was none other than a Gestapo agent and he handed over our comrades to them. Nineteen or our young comrades, dear and devoted to us, were lost. (Only Izak Najman survived, by chance, and made aliyah on the Tel Hai ship the Editor).
We had nothing to do, at the then present time, but continue the bunkers in Będzin, that we had begun before the last deportations. We built bunkers in almost every house. Equipping the bunkers with weapons entailed great difficulties. After the outbreak of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, on the 1st day of Pesach 5703 (19th April 1943), it was difficult to communicate with our comrades in Warsaw, and the transfer of weapons was beyond all possibility. Even so, in each one of the bunkers belonging to the youth organizations and the kibbutz, there were some weapons and money, since in spite of the closed borders and the severe censorship, we received money by all sorts of means from the liaison office in Switzerland. Who other than us could appreciate the enormity of the efforts of our friends Natan Shalav (a member of Kibbutz Hulda) and Dr. Abram Zilberszajn (one of the leaders of the Hitachdut in Poland and a member of the Sejm [Polish Parliament] in Warsaw), who were active in Switzerland?
The greater part of the successful activity of transferring money or arranging
false passports should be credited to Alf Szwarcbaum, from Będzin, who lived
during the war in Switzerland. Almost half of the Jewish population in Będzin
and Sosnowiec was in contact with him. He was one of the few Jews who foresaw
what was coming, and in spite of his good financial situation, he forfeited all
his possessions and in 1940 uprooted to Switzerland. He even dared to
turn Meryn away empty handed, who requested to elect him as the leader of the
kehila in Będzin (today in Israel).
by D. L.
Translated by Lance Ackerfeld
The Germans first entered Będzin on Shabbat, the 3rd September 1939. On the first week of the occupation around sixty Jews were murdered. They ignited the synagogue and incinerated it and the houses, in the street were it stood, up to and including Ruwen Liwer's home. They shot anyone that tried to escape from the burning houses. In the second week two bakers were shot, because of the libel, that they had taken two pennies more than the regular price for a loaf of bread. This libel and the murder, that it included, made a terrible impression at the time.
After that, quiet reigned for some time. Bread was received according to a standard ration and they stood in line to receive it. The Jews and Poles received their bread from the same bakeries, however they would stand in special queues, Jews separately and Poles separately. The Jewish kehila, that ceased activities with the occupation, was ordered to renew them. Eliezer Rubinlicht and the engineer Gustaw Weinziher stood at the head of the kehila. After the kehila renewed its activities, the first edicts on the Jewish population came out: Jews were allowed to walk in the streets up till 7:00 o'clock; every Jew had to wear a white armband with a blue Star of David (the armband edict was in force till the beginning of 1941, when a new edict came out: Every Jew had to wear a Star of Dawid with the German word: Jude, on his chest. This Star of David was known by the Germans as: Judenstern).
The most difficult edict, that came out then, was the labor edict. They began with a hundred laborers a day and reached two thousand. The kehila had to find the laborers. They worked clearing debris, cleaning streets and so on. The Germans abused the Jews. Sometimes they didn't have any work, rather they would invent it: they ordered garbage to be moved from place to place and afterwards put it back, to clean a street it and to litter it and to clean it again, and other jobs like this. The German, who was in charge of Jewish forced labor, was a sadist of the worst possible kind. When he appeared amongst the laborers he called out Achtung! and fear would envelope everyone. They had to stand silently without moving. Anyone who made any movement would have a torrent of blows laid upon him. This evil man was always in the party uniform and they called him Gauleiter . When not dealing with the laborers, he would go from house to house, carry out searches and take whatever he found, and later sell the articles in the market.
At the end of October 1939 the kehila in Zagłębie was reorganized. A Jewish
Council was founded. The council in Będzin was led by Jakob Erlich (a
representative in the civic council on behalf of then Poalei Zion-T. S.)
|A group of Jews on their way to forced labor|
He was the leader of the Jewish Council for only a short period. Apparently he didn't satisfy the conquerors. He was replaced by Benjamin Graubart, son of the late Będzin rabbi. He was also only leader of the Council for a few months, and apparently he also didn't satisfy the rulers. Moniek Meryn was at the time leader of the Jewish Council in Sosnowiec. He was in contact with the Gestapo from which the Jews received much information.
At the same time an order came from the Gestapo organize a central council in Zagłębie and Silesia. The area of control of this center included Jewish councils from Zawiercie to Wadowice (after Cieszanów). The center was in Sosnowiec and it was headed by Moniek Meryn. His official title was: Der Älteste der Judenräte. Following Graubart, Chaim Molczacki was appointed head of the council in Będzin, who was a member of the Poalei Zion T. S. He wasn't native to Będzin.
In December 1939 for the first time the Germans revealed their terrible extortionist faces. The extortion was accompanied by a deal of torturing and abusing. In the streets of the town cars were seen, from which Germans would jump out and they would drag in Jews passing by. There were those who would enter wealthy homes and take their owners. In this manner several hundred Jews were assembled into single barracks. They were incessantly abused and tortured: Old people were forced to jump on each other, were compelled to sweep the courtyard with their hands, to walk barefoot over glass and so on. The members of the Jewish Council were summoned to these barracks, to see the torturing for themselves. When the leader of the Council endeavored to do something for the tortured inmates, he received a reply, that he provide gold in return for their release. The Council called a meeting in which it was decided to comply with the taskmasters demands. Teams spread out through the town to collect gold. There wasn't a home that didn't give something: rings, necklaces, goblets and so forth. All those arrested were released. Through this deed the Germans instigated the belief into the Jewish hearts, that money could cancel the edicts and redeem the soul. This belief was also supported by the Jewish Council.
The Germans used the Jewish Council, in order to put the vigilance of the Jews to sleep. Thus, for instance, they thought early along, that the establishment of the Jewish Police was for the benefit of the Jews. However later on they saw, that this was a mistake. The police became a tool of the Gestapo. The Jewish policemen were given batons and had armbands on their sleeves. They later received special caps, ironically blue and white caps.
The previous working arrangements were reduced, until they were completely
cancelled, and in their stead came a new law for forced Jewish labor
(Arbeitseinsatz). This was a difficult edict. The forced labor was also
organized by the Council that called to the Jewish population to volunteer to
work in Germany. The youth were called to enlist for work, for which they would
receive a wage and food. On Hoshana-Rabba [during the Succoth festival] the first
group (about 200 people) set out for the Arbeitseinsatz. Some were volunteers
and some were taken forcefully. When it was learned later, that they were
working in Upper Silesia under extremely difficult conditions, the food was
poor and several returned sick the calls of the Council were
ineffective. There were no longer any more volunteers. The German office for
Jewish and Polish labor matters was then founded in Sosnowiec.
were no volunteers, they would begin searching and kidnapping and they would be
sent to forced labor.
|Jews being led to forced labor|
Young men of 18 and older and young women of over 16 [were taken]. The tasks of kidnapping and searches were transferred to the Jewish Police. That German labor office announced a new edict: Every Jew of over 18 was obliged to carry a labor identity card, and everyone had to write in his place of work, so that their wouldn't be those shirking work.
In October 1939 businesses and stores were taken away from their Jewish owners. Treuhänder [trustees] commissars were put in their place. The expert Jewish owners remained working in their businesses with small wages. The commissars had to manage the businesses, to place payments into a special closed account in the bank (Sparkonto) and so on. The Jewish houses and the rest of their immovable properties were confiscated. A German company managed the Jewish houses, received rent and looked after them
The labor identity cards were various: Pink for clerks in stores, yellow for non-productive workers, blue for kehila clerks, laborers in factories and laborers doing unskilled labor. From time to time there were assemblies and inspections and they would place a stamp on the cards. In a single hour inspection, 500 people were detained and sent to Germany. When identity cards were exchanged, there was a medical inspection. About 1,000 people were classified by the doctors as having special labor requirements. They were immediately arrested and sent to a transit camp (Durchgangslager, known in short as Dulag) in Sosnowiec. They weren't even allowed to say goodbye to their families. The families were allowed to send clothes to their relatives to the Dulag. However the clothes, the underwear, money and other items were stolen by the Germans. From then on the Dulag remained in Sosnowiec. We called these deportations the Halbe Oyssidlung.
The Judenrat, that wanted that the largest number of Jews remain, apart from the youth, began assisting in founding factories, in which the Jews would work instead of working for the Germans. Two large factories were founded at the time (they were called, as in America shops), that remained up to the last moment, until the liquidation of the Będzin community. One shop, run by the German Rosner, would sew and mend clothes for the army. Around 500 Jewish laborers worked there at the beginning. This factory grew and grew until around 8,000 to 10,000 Jewish laborers worked in it. The second large shop was run by Michacz and was intended to mend underwear for the army. Around 3,000 to 4,000 Jewish laborers worked in it.
A large shoemakers [plant] was later founded in Rosner, in which several hundred Jews worked.
At the end of 1941 another shoemakers [plant] was established by another German, Dr. Braun. The Council helped to clear blocks of houses for the factories. The wage was a starvation wage. Every two weeks they would receive 16-17 marks. Their worth will be understood, if we recall that, at the time, a loaf of bread cost 25 marks in the Black Market, a kilo of meat 70 marks, a kilo of tea or coffee 120 marks. However, the shops had one value: Jews were not taken out of there to other forced labor. These factories were recognized by the Germans as having a prime labor merit. After a time it is known that matters reached such a state, that Jews would pay tens of thousands of marks in bribes, so that they could find work in Rosner
Apart from the aforementioned shops there were other workshops for carpentry and similar. However, the Jews of Będzin didn't live by their labor wages, rather from possessions, clothes, underwear and even furniture, that they would sell in the market.
The Jewish Council organized kitchens. The number of meals per day reached
5,000. The meal had a single course soup. Bread was only received by
those, who gave their card, and instead of the 20 deko [ten deko = 150 grams],
the weight of which was on the card, they would receive 40 deko, without
Social support also developed. Hospitals the clinic worked at maximum capacity to ease the suffering of the Jews.
Schools and Talmudei Torah [religious schools] were closed as soon as Będzin was occupied. The children wandered about without Torah and without anything to do. Lessons were organized in secret. A trade school was founded by the Council, that when opened received a permit, since it helped develop work skills amongst the Jews. In this school there were departments for carpentry, metalworking, electricity and even for agriculture. Several hundred students studied in it.
The prayer houses were also closed, however they would worship secretly. The Council received a special permit for Rosh Hashana [New Year] and Yom Kippur [Day of Atonement] in 5700  to organize public worship. The Council also brought two etrogim [citrons] from Berlin. All of this was given to the Council by the Germans, so as to delude the Jews regarding the deeds that would come in the future
From the book Sefer Hazvaot [Book of Atrocities] (documents,
reports on the Jewish Holocaust in the Second World War), which was published
by the Special Rescue Committee through auspices of the Jewish Agency,
Jerusalem, 5716 1955.
This testimony, which is presented here from Sefer Hazvaot, was recorded in Tel Aviv, on the 20th of August 1944, by D. L., who came to Eretz Yisrael [The Land of Israel] via Romania on the 17th of July 1944 and left Będzin in January 1944. D. L. was the late Dawid Liwer, the editor of Ir Hametim [The City of the Dead], from which sections were taken out for this book.
by K. Tzetnik
Translated by Lance Ackerfeld
A celebration was prepared for the Saturday the 1st.
Already at the outset of the Sabbath the gmina [Jewish council] announced that the following day people would be executed in public, and all the Jews had to be present on this occasion. Thus the Gestapo had demanded.
That same night following the Sabbath was horrific. On that night all the Jews saw themselves as possessing a death sentence, expecting their last night of life before the morning, the death of everyone as a single entity. No-one knew and it was impossible to know, who the victims were, destined to be executed tomorrow, and hence they looked at each other, and eyes stared into eyes. Everyone questioned his friend with blind eyes what the meaning of it was, and everyone's eyes viewed the same horror:
Tomorrow they will assemble all of those Jews together and from amongst them they will select anyone they can lay their hands on
These words were not spoken, but their eyes expressed this. Thus wives looked at their husbands and husbands at their wives, fathers at their sons and sons at their fathers. The horror hung over everyone's head, and in the silence of the night the Angel of Death sharpened his slaughtering knife.
At eight o'clock in the morning a car passed through Modrzejowska Street and stood at the corner of the street, next to the small yard, where the three trees stood. Alfred Dreier, head of the Gestapo's Yot department, stepped out of the car and with him several of his assistants. Dreyer presented himself, he looked up with his grey eyes and observed the three trees, as if he planned to buy them.
Next to him, at his side, stood the Jewish community committee leaders: Moniek Matroz, Abramek Glanc and Felicia Szwarc. They stood like waiters in front of the long table of a banquet, ready and willing to serve. And indeed Dreyer tapped his two fingers, and Moniek Matroz jumped up and went to him as fast as a mouse.
At three fifteen in the afternoon it will take place. And so, you should be aware!
Jawohl [aye], Leader Sir!
The three trees stood wondering and staring. They had never seen a novelty like this in their lives. What they had done to the small yard was to place tables and benches on the yellow sand as if for a festival and this would still have been understandable, but for the five long white ropes, that were hanging from their branches, with nooses at their ends what sort of craziness was this? Who is carrying out this prank to elderly, distinguished trees like these?
The Jews were stood in a half circle. In the first row stood the community committee with the leader at its head, and around them stood the militia with scrubbed blue and white caps on their heads.
Opposite the three trees special places were setup, arranged in a type of
amphitheater, for German guests and the ethnic Germans. They
came in cars, and high ranking officials of all sorts of German authorities
stepped out of them. Even guests of guests with their wives came in cars.
Everyone passed through together and went in and took comfortable seats.
The hearts of the Jews melted and became like snow in boiling water. There was some type of expectation, more difficult than death. Some fainted, and others were envious of them: If one of them would manage to die during this, how great was his lot a free man he was!
In the end the green duck came, the prisoners' car belonging to the Gestapo, and its door opened immediately. At the same time the Jews stopped breathing, their limbs were incapacitated, all their feelings paralyzed. It was as if all the nerves and all the feelings were concentrated in their eyes. Their eyes were fixed on the door of the automobile and they saw: those that had been brought left there, one at a time. Like bees bursting forth from a beehive, they stood for a moment on the step, looking here and there into the beautiful world of the Almighty and they fly out there is no time to stand, there are important things to do .
Fleminger with his son were the first to leave, and after them one woman. Please look and see indeed this is Mrs. Ferber mother of young Ferber
Why that's Rapaport the goldsmith Rapaport
Chenkin ahhh, Chenkin
All of them walk heavily. Their hands are tied at the back. They are ordered to walk and indeed they walk, they are ordered to stand and indeed they stand, as if they were rehearsing for a theatrical show. They are obedient, their eyes looking directly, as if they were artificial glass eyes. Only on Chenkin's face it is conspicuous, that something is bubbling inside him. It seems as if a strong serum was struggling inside him and he was trying to subdue his strong, wild spirit. An unbearable struggle was occurring within him. The serum which had been injected into him, froze his muscles and his mind and caused his eyes to remain in one place and his gaze was fixed, as if his eyes were made of glass, such that there was a total atmosphere of a show. On the other hand Chenkin's spirit was strong, apparently, because of the serum that they put in his body, which fought with the cables, that it was bound with, and sought to be released, in order to spoil, at the very least, the respectable impression of an entertaining show
The verdict was read:
Chana Ferber, age forty-two, on account of having caused damage to the Greater German economy through continual illicit commerce.
Icchak Fleminger, age fifty-five, and his son Benjamin Fleminger, age twenty-three, on account of running contraband and activities that caused damage to the German people.
Dodia Rapaport, age fifty-three, on account of dealing in the gold trade.
Misza Chenkin, age twenty-eight, on account of political activity against Greater Germany.
All of them are stood on the pedestals that have been prepared for the event. Next to each and everyone is a German guard. The supervisor gives a signal, and the Germans begin to setup the ropes. Chenkin stands like a barrel full of gunpowder. There is enormous pressure from within him. The pressure grows greater and greater, and suddenly explodes! Like a cork erupting and popping out from a bottle of fizzy drink:
Murderers! Multitudes of freed laborers will judge you! The death of an individual is a passing event, but justice will continue for eternity
The pedestals were pulled out from their legs, the ropes pulled their heads up, and five dolls began dangling, each one in its own way, each with its own particular convulsions. Young Fleminger let slip: kachhhhh! as if laughing a deep throaty laughter. His eyes were open wide. He turned to the side of the German visitors, as if to hint to them with his open eyes: Look and see! I am hanging! Don't take your eyes away from me and see how I die and how I convulse as I do
The Germans watched the show in wonder. A high ranking officer sat between two majestic German women. One of them with her mouth wide open and looking with nobility and with such warped delight that a stream of saliva leaked from the side of her mouth, and she didn't even notice it. The pure bred German woman showed overzealous enjoyment with her legs crossed and she looked with lust at the facial convulsions of those that were hanging and the twitching of their bodies, and all the filth of her body and soul leaked through her mouth.
Chenkin was the only one, that for a long time after his hanging he failed to remain quiet. His body jerked and bent up and down, like a fish pulled out of the water on the table of the fish merchant.
Both of Rapaport's lips were warped like two swollen spleens. The noose of the rope was on his nape, and because of this, immediately his head fell, his eyelashes lowered and his bottom lip protruded, like a chunk of raw meat. His hands were crossed behind him, and his body didn't swing, rather turned.
Take a look and see, the world is spinning
Fleminger the father and the son were both silent as if they were riding on a type of carousel. Young Fleminger laughed, opened his mouth and showed his teeth like a horse, when pulled from behind by his rein. His face was distorted in a peculiar way from too much laughter, a sort of licentious laughter, causing his throat to choke. And as he turned in the carousel in front of his father, he is indeed reaching him with his eyes and his laughter:
Father! Father! Look and see, your head is twisted! And his father replies: And what do you care?
And he continues on in the carousel.
Mrs. Ferber is hanging as if insulted. Her head looks down at the ground, but nonetheless she will soon look up and ask:
Is this something pleasant? To hang here in a dress, in the middle of the street, as people come and go along it! As a matter of fact, even you can say Someone wearing trousers appears differently. But to be hanging like this, in sandals and ladies socks? I am all shame and embarrassment!
Chenkin has almost no face, rather a profile. His face looks as if it was cut out of tin. His nose is sharp, his chin pointed, and in his sharpened look towards the sky, he looks like a tin rooster on a roof chimney, turning and calling upwards and announcing, that the day has arrived.
by David Meletz
(Kibbutz Ein Harod)
Translated by Lance Ackerfeld
Będzin, town of my birth, in my dreams at night she remains real and alive up until today. Most of the occurrences happen to me in your narrow alleyways and your expansive market. Nightmares, with its surprises and wonders, fill my heart with fear and also with goodness from past worlds, from the childhood atmosphere in your alleyways to the terrifying reports from there, that the destruction has reached you as well. You are empty of your Jews. They are no longer, annihilated, annihilated to the last one. They were taken to the execution, to the slaughter, to the furnace. Father, Mother, Sisters where are you?
In the Chassidic home at the bottom of the alleyway would stand Jehoszua Dawid, a tall Jew, with a white beard running down his full length, and in its shadow it was possible to take shelter He typically visits the sick. There wasn't a sick person amongst the Jews of the alleyways that he didn't visit, that he didn't give support. Every single day, when you are drawn to the cheder, you would meet him on your way and he would greet you first: Good morning, boy! He is a righteous person, with a handsome face, always first to greet you. I never managed to greet him first.
During the winter period the alleyway was covered with heavy snow. It is slippery. When mother would come back at night from the store, it was difficult to walk along the sloping downwards alleyway. She went carefully step by step so that her legs would stand up.
And I, returning alone from the cheder on a winter's evening, was frightened to go through the alleyway. Near an empty courtyard gate a black dog would certainly stand, huge, a reincarnation of a heretic and agnostic who died in winter. I would wait for a long time till someone came to get me past him.
During that period my mother would sit in the store, her hand on a pot of burning coals and her eyes were occupied by a book resting in front of her in an open drawer of the table, and occasionally a groan would come from the depths of her heart. Mother, why did you groan so much? Mother, where are you?
And at the entrance of the alleyway stood, as if guarding it, the house of Reb Jankele Szapira. He was an elderly Jew, a cantor, who would weep in pleasure during the prayer Hineni ha'ani mimas [Here I am poor in deeds], he served as a champion of the rights of the Jews before the Almighty until he fell ill and never arose again. He had a friend and soul mate, he was also an elderly Jew, who would drag his feet with difficulty; however when Reb Jankele fell ill, he would pass every day in front of his house, tap on his windows, would stand in front of him with his body tense clicking his feet, like a soldier and would call to him, to Reb Jankele, across his bed, in Polish: Jankele, jestem! That is to say: Here I am! Thus he would to inform him, that they were still standing guard.
And later on a period came, when the protection of alleyway haven began to disperse, and I began to go by different routes. On the portal of the same house stood the son-in-law of Reb Jankele Szapira, and occasionally on going past him into the alleyway he would ask me if the girls in the Ivriya [Hebrew school] had already managed to learn much of the holy language and at his side stood his eldest daughter, who had a strange disproportion between her pure and delicate face and her oversized breasts, and she would look at me with smiling eyes. Now there is some type of terrible fear in my mind that I will never, never ever see the same alleyway again, the alleyway of my childhood.
The mind is unable, it seems, to absorb the manifestation of the fear, my whole being is unable to absorb, indeed that we don't lose our mind. On the contrary, we continue to live a normal life, all of us as one. No, we are unable to absorb the manifestation of the fear, only in a dream, at night and it takes on realistic and strange appearances.
In the expansive old market, always noisy with Jews negotiating, at their stalls and their shelves are filled with all sorts of merchandise of food necessities, fruit and vegetables and also toys and jewelry. In the old market, always blinding with its range of colors a grayish-black atmosphere prevailed, an atmosphere of fears and threats. The Jews gripped with a grayish-black unease, only walk on the footpaths along the length of the market, and on the side where my father's store stood. It seems, that a demarcation was defined in the old market for the Jews and they were forbidden to leave the lengthwise footpath to other sides, that they were caught in some type of surrealism, which was also grayish-black. They, the Jews gripped with unease, brush against each other, offering one another something to buy, however there are no buyers. At the corner of the street, in the large house, the high one, looking out all over the face of the market square, the large shoe store is open. This store was always full and teeming with customers. Now it is empty, and also a grayish-black atmosphere prevails in it. Above the many shelves white boxes poke out, boxes with shoes, but the store is empty, grayish-black. From behind the table an angry face peeks out, that isn't like that of a German Nazi, since it is dark, elongated and pointy. However, it is known, that this face doesn't belong to them, and is the source of the grayish-black atmosphere, troubling the empty store. On the path running lengthwise Jews walk gripped in fear and unease, offering one another something to buy and there are no buyers.
We will return:
The wide and lengthy street leads to the bridge over the water, to the road that continues and goes over and across the river into the fields and is blanched there, up high, on the hill and disappears past it into unknown territory, across the border. The streets in the road here are empty of people, the many stores are closed, the windows blackened, blind, and again the same blackness fills the world. Uneasiness hangs over the heart that we also are unfamiliar with in reality, and this nightmarish uneasiness only hangs over the heart in a dream.
The street is empty of people, only I am walking in it. There is a feeling of
destruction but not complete destruction. Something is hiding in the
terror, in this empty blackness of the street. Down the end of the street,
close to the wooden bridge, one store is open, only one store.
It is a store for milk and butter belonging to a Jew that always competed with my father's store, since my father also had a store for butter and milk products. The owner of this store was a broad and corpulent Jew, his face drowning in a sea of hairs of wide beard and his thick side locks. He had two sons one, the elder, was completely witless; the second, smaller than him, vulgar and cheeky. However his shop was always filled with gentile men and women, buying and selling, whilst Father he had sweet daughters, and the teachers would come to his store and compliment his daughters and say, that it was a great pleasure to speak with them and teach them Torah. And even I, his son, I was a distinguished person destined for Torah and greatness, with a good head though Father's shop was almost empty and the income meager. And late at night, as the store closed, when Father and Mother would empty out the poor proceeds from the table drawer into a shoddy purse made from hide, and Father would let slip some words of gossip and complaint about the poor proceeds and about the store at the end of the street, that was teeming all day long with customers. Mother sighed as was her custom, a secret sigh from the depth of the heart and secretly whispered: And why are you jealous of him? And Father would not reply at all, only a restrained smile would flicker in his eyes, which looked at me at the same time.
And when morning came, after a restless night, you go down, to the fields. The sun bursts out from behind the distant mountains and pours its gold onto the silver leaves of the poplars standing erect near the pool of water, the silver of the leaves quivers with the golden kiss of the young sun, and your heart quivers with them, with the leaves of the erect poplars. And what is this quiver? In this manner we flicker between terror and rescue, between unease and the sun's kiss. It is a glorious day and the sun that follows the rain, its profundity is a poem.
On the surrounding hills colorfully dressed children dance about. Flowers are alive, ringing with a silver laughter, dance over the surface of the hills, colorful flowers: reds, purples, greens, radiant in their purity. The Gilboa [mountain in the Jezreel Valley, Israel] opposite is adorned with a refreshing green and much sunshine pours over it. My young daughter dances around me and from time to time discovers a new flower, a wonder. Here I sprawl out on a rock heated by the sun. My hand under my head and my eyes imbibe the deep blue of the sky. Here I fill comfort running through my whole body. It is a warm comfort.
And I know all these hills around me, all this green, invigorating valley was created for them, for the Children of Israel who will come and will be filled with pure laughter, the songs of the birds ring out. and suddenly a sort of calamity will come to me, from inside me it will come, will strike me, the Children of Israel suffocating inside the carriages of death. My little daughter, who runs round me, who from time to time will rejoice in discovering a new and wonderful flower, looks very much like my younger sister who I left there in the Diaspora tens of years ago, she looks a lot like her. It is the same oval face, the same face of my sister at the time. She is not dancing about here around me on the hill soaked in sun and joy. She grew up there and went to the carriages of death. Oh G-d is it true? From inside me the suffocation will rise, and the fear will rise from within, fear of the same sun that was now running through my veins.
In the evening I saw the shadows from the gas chamber in the concentration
camp. They were cramped together. Jews sat, old and young and children as well.
All of them are sitting on the floor and their hands on their hunched napes. At
the side can be seen tow tall men, apparently, the damned, standing over them.
They are sitting and waiting to die, all of them as one.
and now I know; in this manner they also sat in one of these chambers, my
beloved as well. What is a person? What is he capable of? And what am I with
all of this? How am I warm and breathing?
by Shabtai Weiss
Translated by Lance Ackerfeld
She is mentioned in Chassidic literature because of Rabbi Jehoshua from Sosnowiec, son of one of the great Chassidim, Rabbi Szlomo Lajb from Łęczna, who lived in it, when it was not really a village, not really a town. She is mentioned in the modern Hebrew literature because Chaim Nachman Bialik, who lived there for a number of years and produced his first works. Sosnowiec didn't have a lineage, and she didn't have a glorious past attached to her. She didn't have an ancient cemetery and old synagogue, but she did have secret powers and adventure associated with it.
Sosnowiec was one of the few towns in Poland that during a period of forty to fifty years rose up from village to a large town, one of the centers of heavy industry in Poland. From this aspect, Łódź was her elder sister.
There wasn't an event or a thought in the revival of Israel in Poland, which Sosnowiec wasn't behind. There was a spirit of innovation beating in her. During the period of the previous world war the occupying German authorities in congress Poland legislated community laws, which determined their characteristics and their basic religious activities, and according to this law there were elections for all the communities in Poland.
Sosnowiec was not alone amongst the first places, in which Zionism and the Mizrachi people conquered the community. However their decisive victory came together with the foundation of a comprehensive plan, conspicuous in its innovations of that period, in its clauses the building up of Israel was at its center. This same plan, educational matters, operative Socialist system matters, attainment of a profession and trade for the children of a wide range of social levels, training for the Land of Israel and more, later served, in a national conference, the basis for a plan of activities for the communities, who took on Zionist characteristics for themselves.
In 1918, clouds of smoke rose up from the ruins in the towns following the front of war Sosnowiec seemed as if it was in its last throes and its youngest sons were the first to volunteer to make aliyah to Israel. Through the flames of war, through obstacles in blocked countries, without visas and permits, the sons of Sosnowiec forced through, together with the sons of Bědzin that was close by, trails across land and sea till they reached Israel.
During the same period the first signs of Hashomer Hatzair were seen there. Sosnowiec was amongst the first towns in Congress Poland, in which several of its sons ceased their studies, in order to make aliyah to Israel and personally carry out the mitzvah of self-realization, to build the roads between Tzemach and Tabcha that were paved during this period.
And in its general character: Here was a town with a majority of Chassidim, forming a definite Chassidic portrait. It was a town that gathered Jews, from Lithuania, Mitnagdim [opponents of Chassidism] and sons of Mitnagdim, amongst them prominent in the Torah, education and social position.
It was a town of Zionists and Mizrachi people, amongst them dialecticians, who introduced the Zionist enterprise with their addiction to the idea and the activity of the Zionists they became carried away. Next to them was a prominent group of assimilated Jews, amongst them intellectual authorities, of high stature.
It was a town of trading and exporting on a wide scale, centralized in the main amongst the Jews. They were the owners of coal and steel mines and next to this light and medium commerce.
From here to was close to Upper Silesia. And through this the tradesmen and professionals supplied the needs of the town and the greater environs, amongst them artisans and the manufacturers of small items in great quantities to compliment the production of the large factories.
This it was till September, 1939.
The war broke out, Sosnowiec was amongst the first places, into which the contaminated [Nazis] entered, she was annexed to the kingdom of the contaminated. For a little more than a year she managed somewhat in the contaminated existence. And a thought then transpired that it was possible that a miracle had occurred.
The month of May, 1942, came. Three dispatches were sent to Auschwitz.
The month of November, 1942, arrived. The contaminated began to take out its residents out of the town and place in a ghetto, in the suburb: Środula. There they suffered oppressions, there they convulsed in the throes of death. From here they threw their last looks to their brothers in the Land of Israel. and from here in August 1943 they were sent to their death in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
In every generation, from when the Jews were in the Diaspora, they were found between the gentiles and walked amongst them, a pure prayer quivered in their heart of all the Jews: Who will let me die amongst my brothers the children of Israel and that I will undergo a proper Jewish burial.
Alas, in our generation, a generation of evil and contaminated culture, the souls of entire communities went out in the gas chambers of the contaminated and they did not receive a proper Jewish burial.
O holy Sosnowiec community, the Lord will revenge her blood!
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