To tell the truth, my hands are shaking as I sit to write the author's preface to the English translation of my book. My heart's desire and the dream of a lifetime have now come to pass. After the Hebrew edition's publication over a decade ago, I promised myself, and to all those who don't read Hebrew, that I would make every effort to ensure the book's translation into English, the universal language. Now, here it is before you. All the obstacles, the difficulties, the concerns have vanished, and I am filled with satisfaction and pride as I bless the resultant product.
The road has been long, and the difficulty stemmed from one primary factor: the problem of financing. To deal with this, I involved several of my friends, Zaklikow natives like myself, as well as their children and grandchildren, with whom I've maintained contact over the years. And I wasn't mistaken in doing so, for from the start to the finish, their support has been unflagging. All along, they followed the project's progress and provided encouragement.
The actualization commenced some three years ago. Being a graduate of the Nazi labor camps and concentration camps, I received a sum as restitution for the hard labor I'd been forced to do. I decided to dedicate these monies as the kernel of funding for the book's translation and printing. This seemed a fitting choice, and I believe my friends will concur in this. After having created this basis, my applications to Zaklikow people bore fruit. More than a dozen of these friends of mine contributed out of the generosity of their hearts to make it possible to finish the task, as did theLekutei Maharil Anshei ZaklikowCongregation, the society of Zaklikow's people in New York. For this I sincerely thank them each and all. Much time and effort went into the translation and editing to yield a fitting work. The results have been achieved, well worth waiting for, and speak for themselves to the satisfaction of all concerned.
Having offered my blessings and thanks to those who came to my aid, this is the time and place to express my esteem and appreciation for those who devoted their skills and talents to the production of this book. First to Deborah Schwartz Jacobs for her sensitive and scholarly translation and editing, and to my dear Caroline Zucker for her great efforts – communicating with me all the way from New Jersey – in providing guidance by her careful proofreading and valuable comments. Special thanks are due to my friend, the Polish poet Mrs. Wanda Tatara-Czopek, for her English translations of the Polish poems. In addition, I wish to state my appreciation for that human advancement, the Internet, for its meaningful contribution in enabling further research of new material and the verification of sources, so that this new edition has been expanded from the original Hebrew.
It is my sincere hope that the English edition will make the story of our home town accessible to more and more readers, and that the subject of the Holocaust and its commemoration will still find its way to their hearts and minds. I hope that the people of Zaklikow will see this book as a part of their heritage that will not be forgotten. Then it will be clear that my efforts have not been in vain.
Over four hundred years of Jewish life in Zaklikow, Poland, ended in November 1942. For those born in the decades immediately following the Holocaust of World War II, much of the history was inaccessible: shut tightly away, buried by pain, faded memories or ambivalence. What little we learned of our ancestral town in Southeastern Poland came in small doses, from stories told at our grandmother's kitchen table or during long walks along the oceanfront with our grandfathers. During the sixties, seventies and eighties, those wonderful stories were our only connection to the place, the people, the customs and the history of our past, and we clung to every word. However, there was always a line that could not, or would not, be crossed. For those who had left the shtetl at the turn of the Twentieth Century to escape poverty and antisemitism, there was little to reminisce about and even less to romanticize about.
In the aftermath of the annihilation of Jewish Zaklikow at Belzec at the midpoint of World War II, the wounds were still too fresh and too deep to consider what had come before. Then, in time, the storytellers themselves were no longer with us. Soon the last generation of Zaklikow would be gone, and with these remaining witnesses to the place. Its people and that way of life would vanish forever, as had Jewish Zaklikow itself. We, who knew it only through the native-born, remained with the bare minimum, and that would have to suffice. This is a story, though, that would not vanish. Hundreds of descendants of this little shtetl are proof that it lives on: scattered around the world, its own Diaspora, seeking a connection to our common past, and to each other.
It took a true survivor such as Joshua Laks to ensure that the stories of Jewish Zaklikow would, indeed, survive and that evil would have no final victory. As we seek the continuity of Jewish life and customs, in synagogues and communities around the world, Joshua Laks' book makes it possible that the stories of Jewish Zaklikow will themselves be passed from generation to generation…". I Was There: Zaklikow, a small town to remember is a gift to the generations of Zaklikow descendants to come, as well as to anyone interested in the daily life of a small Eastern European shtetl.
Wherever we may live today and whatever walk of life we may have pursued, the stories told here are a wonderful glimpse into where we came from and a connection to a time and place gone forever. From the detailed descriptions of occupations of that day, to tales of colorful townspeople to the reverence and central role of the Town's Rabbi's, Joshua Laks has made Zaklikow come alive for us, and has given life to the bits and pieces we heard about as children. The book is a celebration of a place, a people, a culture and way of life that had a tragic end but which had endured for centuries before.
Thanks to Joshua Laks, Zaklikow will be accessible to our children and to endless generations to come. Perhaps some will even travel to this little patch of land, walk the Town Square as our grandparents had done, and stand upon the ground of the small Jewish cemetery on the hill, that holds the earthly remains of our great, great, great grandparents. On just such a trip, a mother and son stood upon that hill and connected across the centuries to those who came before and whom they would carry in their hearts to their last day.
Thank you, Joshua !
An immense conflagration fell upon the Jewish People during the Second World War, its devastation so terrible it has been named the Holocaust. A major part of that nation in Europe was annihilated. Entire families were wiped out, others having only a single, lone survivor. Within the hearts of those who remained, some chose to suppress the unbearable memory of the horrors – but in others there arose a powerful will to speak of it, to describe what had happened during that grim period. The surviving remnants did this because they feared that only a very few remained of the generation which had physically experienced the horrors. They sensed themselves obligated to bear witness to the world, to keep the memory alive and to remind others. Besides the survivors, researchers and historians also took part, in order to illuminate this period from the historical perspective, methodically, so that the required lessons would be studied and learned.
Now, after more than six decades have passed, we ask the question: have the lessons of the Holocaust been learned? Among the Jewish people themselves, I think that this is true; the Holocaust is deeply embedded in our collective consciousness. However, regarding the world around us, the answer is otherwise. Viewed in the light of events happening these days, as we enter a new century, the question once more arises: is another such Holocaust possible? Unfortunately, I cannot answer this question with an absolute negative. Worrisome signs appear from time to time in various parts of the world. Antisemitic groups and individuals are trying to deny the Holocaust, distort it, or liken it to other events in world history. They even blame the Jews, trying to turn the victims into the accused. Therefore, we ourselves should recall it continually, and not allow others to forget what happened to us. The world's nations are mainly weary of further confronting or even remembering these events – but the Jews, especially the survivors, have no cause to cease in this – and not for ourselves alone, as those lessons remaining to be learned have relevance to all humanity.
The long-suffering Jewish People, from the beginning of its history, since the Amalekites and repeatedly throughout its long Exile, has been subjected to riots, expulsions and oppression. However, those events are dwarfed in comparison to the events of the Second World War, during which the Jewish nation lost a third of its members. The focus of the Nazi period was essentially expressed in the satanic plan revealed at the Wannsee Conference in Berlin in January 1942, known as the Final Solution. Its purpose was to destroy Jews in all places where the Nazis could get hold of them. The deep hatred it expressed cannot be understood by human reason. The plan included Europe's 11 million Jews and, had it succeeded, would have gone on to reach those overseas. Hitler promised to get the Jews and annihilate them. During the war, we were to learn how long his reach was.
I was a boy of 12 when the war broke out on Friday, the first of September 1939, but I remember that day well. It was announced on radio broadcasts and displayed in the newspapers' headlines. Our world overturned in one moment. By the war's end, I was a young man on the brink of adulthood. The best years of my youth were lost during this period, stolen from me, a deprivation nothing can replace. I spent those years in constant struggle, fighting daily for a bit of bread or potato peels in order to survive. With all my will I endeavored to get through and get out of that dark period without a mental or physical defect, and to stay human in my soul.
Within a few days of my arrival at the labor camp after having been torn from my family, I discovered that my brother and I were its only survivors. I had no way of knowing how long it would take, nor had I any idea what hardship lay ahead of me – but I vowed then in my heart that if by some miracle I would manage to stay alive, I would make every effort to commemorate what had happened to me in writing and to tell the coming generations about it.
At the end of the war, after my liberation from the Nazi camps, after I found that what I had feared had come to pass, I became determined to tell what had happened in my small world. I also decided to commemorate the place that had formed me – my town, Zaklikow – its inhabitants and the particulars of their way of life. I acknowledge that my undertaking is ambitious, a task perhaps more suited to writers, great authors, people who are more capable than I in the realm of literature and history. However, it seems to me that each individual can illuminate, from his own individual perspective, a special point that perhaps could not otherwise be known. By adding one's own dimension and personal touch, the entire picture is clarified, enhanced, enriched.
I therefore feel the obligation to fulfill my vow, to shed light while releasing to the light what has been closed within my heart, hidden there for half a century. And what if someone asks, why only now and not earlier when the memories and the events were fresh, and there were witnesses who could add from their own memories and their knowledge? My reply is that the idea of writing the book lay dormant within me for many years – yet the time to write the book has arrived, unfortunately, only now. To quote from the Book of Ecclesiastes, To every thing, there is a season, and a time to every purpose… – and in my case, a time to write. My memory reaches back across this span of years, and even beyond it. From these recollections, I have tried to organize and record forgotten chapters and events to which perhaps no one has paid attention. To some of the readers these chapters will be part of their memories, while to others it will be a minor part of history, even though one I myself have found to be significant.
Were we to look at a standard political map of Poland of that period before the cataclysms of that war, we would not find Zaklikow there. Many times, when I was asked where I had been born and where this particular place was located on the map, I found it difficult to point out exactly where it lay. On the other hand, I would say with pride that it was possible to find the place on a detailed map of the region. When I did locate it, there was no happier man than I. It was a shtetl, a little market town like those familiar to us from the writings of Mendele Mokher-Sforim, Shalom Aleichem, Sholem Asch and others. For me and for many others like me, Zaklikow was a world of its own. There were people who spent their entire lives there without ever crossing the river northwards or southwards, or even reaching as far as the boundaries of the local cemetery. I want to dwell upon this world – where none can dwell any longer – to talk about it with affection and respect, longing and memory.
It would be worthwhile to tell about the livelihoods and the work of the Jews.
It would be worthwhile to describe the town as an appealing place for rest and relaxation.
It would be worthwhile to consider the importance and the ways of the town's institutions of education and religion, of community and the many manifestations of support through charitable organizations.
It would be worthwhile to recount the activities of the political parties and the youth movements.
It would be worthwhile to evaluate the local personalities and their activities.
It would be worthwhile to devote some space to describing the community in its joys and sorrows, at times of conflict and of mutual aid.
It would be worthwhile to describe the horrors of the German Occupation, the destruction and the survivals.
Here they are…
These are just chapter headings and notions; an attempt, in a way, to perpetuate the memory of the destroyed community.
If my contribution in all that I have done until now, including this book, will be seen by the people of my town and by all others who read its stories here – my intentions will be fulfilled and my efforts rewarded.
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