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[Page 24 - English] [Page 32 - Hebrew]

My Town Zuromin

Mendel Braun

Although it seems like yesterday, many years have passed since the Shoah of European Jewry, when a third of our people, six million Jews, were murdered and cremated by the Hitlerian beast. Yet my old home, the small town of Zuromin, remains deeply engraved upon my heart. It is difficult to forget, difficult to remember and forget. Not a moment passes when my Jewish town, although far in bitter exile, is not revived before my eyes. Day and night, while sleep evades me, I suddenly see my town with its streets, its alleys, its houses, its synagogues and batei midrash from which the prayers of my town's Jews would echo on holidays and on weekdays.

For many generations the Jews of Zuromin lived peacefully among the Gentiles, with whom they dealt on various occasions to support their families – some more and some less – but all (you might say) were content, for the spirit of Judaism engulfed our people of Israel, as was common in towns throughout Poland, despite the anti-Semitism bred by the Pritzim, the Endekim of all sorts and the Israel-haters.

Six days a week, the townspeople were busy providing for their families, but when Shabbat came, even the poorest, the workmen sweating all week long in the shops and in commerce, were engulfed by the holiness of Shabbat, as joy visited their homes, and their tables did not want for bread or fish and meats and all delicacies which elevate the spirit.

Although it sometimes happened that someone was taken badly ill or was short of funds or bought a trayf chicken not befitting a kosher Jewish table, none remained without Shabbat dinner. Rich or poor, Shabbat dinner was always the best.

Even though I was young at that time, I clearly recollect market day, which was on Thursdays. It was a day when the whole Jewish community rushed to buy products brought for sale by the Gentiles, and to sell their products in exchange.

Joy was never absent from Jewish homes, much as poverty never was, visiting one house or another. But all were engulfed by the spirit that caused men to hope, and it was marvelous to see, on Shabbat evenings, flickering candles burning in the windows, as Jewish mothers stood and silently prayed and blessed Shabbat, crying for God to send good health and safekeeping for the family and for all Israel throughout the world.

And whenever memories and yearnings visit my soul, I recall the youth of our town – myself among them. Most of the youth were organized in parties. I for one was a member of the Mizrachi party, according to the Zionist traditions of my home, but most of the youth used to visit the public library (folks bibliotec) to satisfy their thirst for knowledge by reading learned books; my own heart was drawn to study scriptures – the Bible. At times of Shacharit as well as in the evening I used to read a Jewish paper. In the public library, lectures were given and assemblies were held where youth could engage in ideological arguments and discussions, varying from Aguda youth to Revisionist youth to Betar and other parties.

This was more noticeable when elections were held in town, as ideology awakened and stirred to life. Differences of opinion and opposing views, accompanied by heated argument, filled the town, not to mention the library. Everyone wanted to persuade one's friend and convince him of one's rightness, and of the superior stand of one's own party. Through all of this, the youth lived in hope of better days, in hope of the day of redemption.

Thus my town Zuromin lived in peace and tranquility, filled with the spirit of Judaism and Jewish tradition until the year 1939. The town's Jewish residents were panic-stricken when the horror of war became a reality. The Nazi beast, Hitler, began crawling as a monster upon the states of Europe, forcefully taking the Sudetenland and then the whole of Czechoslozakia; even Austria fell into his hands. The war was then approaching anti-Semitic Poland. Already on the first day of September 1939, at 2 PM, the rumor spread throughout the town that war had broken out between Germany and Poland. Polish soldiers gathered at the town hall. There was havoc in the town. Most of the population was evacuated away from the front. An order was given that all men, ages 18 to 50, must join the army, and already during the process of evacuation, German bombers were heard, claiming their first victim, David Goldack. My brother and myself went to Biezun and others went on to Plock and Warsaw. On the fourth day of the fleeing, we went back home. The town was already crawling with German mercenaries who now occupied the vicinity.

Trouble began immediately. Jews began to hide indoors, but anti-Semitic Poles pointed out every Jew, exploiting the chaos to steal Jewish property and to harrass Jews at every opportunity. Jewish victims fell. The Poles mocked and abused the Jews, being gleeful and merry as at a wedding or a parade.

I remember how the town's Jews gathered fear-stricken in the synagogues, crying and wailing in prayers to the Almighty for mercy upon His people Israel and for salvation, but salvation came not, and the Nazi enemy began to declare “German Order” throughout the town. SS men ordered all Jews to assemble near the town hall fence, but my father, may God bless his soul, thought we ought to flee from the town until wrath had passed.

And thus my brother and I left town and our home, to hide until nightfall in the cemetery. We also learned that the Jews who assembled near the town hall were taken to labor. When we returned home, my father advised us to hide in the attic. It was almost Simchat Torah, the yamim noraim (High Holy Days), but the spell was broken, and everyone feared for his life. Meanwhile, the Germans raged on in the town and set fire to the synagogue, burning it and the Holy Scriptures inside to the ground. Mendl Grinberg, the town's teacher, appealed to the Jews to sit shiva, which most did, each at his own home or hiding place.

Trouble and hardships multiplied with every hour. The Germans ordered every Jew to wear a patch on his outermost layer of clothing to mark him as a Jew. Furthermore, sidewalks were forbidden to Jews, and they were permitted only in the streets, where carts drove. A Jew with a beard and peyot was subjected to mockery and ridicule by the Germans, and the beard was shorn. The first victim of such deeds was the town's chazan, Mr. Walecky.

We were now afraid to show our faces outside, but after a committee was formed – Judenrat, as it was commonly called – we were forced out, after the committee discovered we had not attended the first assembly near the town hall. Our job was to empty all warehouses belonging to Jews of all food, clothes and other property, load it onto carts and bring them to railroad cars, to be sent to Nazi Germany. It was, of course, a heartrending and tragic labor, and the mental anguish was intensified by murderous beatings by the German wolves and their Polish accomplices.

As if all this were not enough, on November 11th of that year, at 3 PM, we were brought to the town hall while being severely beaten; we were taken from there to the town of Sierpc, and from there by railroad cars to Warsaw. In Warsaw we earned the title “The Driven,” and due to the overflow of people we were housed in batey midrash, having our belongings taken away. Hunger and disease immediately spread among us, left as we were with no help or assistance, sick with typhoid and other plagues. Every single day people died, and we could not even bury them. Those who survived were taken to labor, and it seemed as if those who were in charge of assigning the labor took advantage of our being “Driven” to give us the hardest work.

Things were difficult beyond measure. No sign of rescue could be seen, and the youth among us decided that our place was not here – the situation was getting worse from day to day – and we started evading and traveling the most difficult roads to towns where ghettos still existed, fear-stricken though we were.

My brother, Eliezer, and I went toward Mlawa, thinking of staying there until we were safe, but the killers had reached us even there. Here, too, there were troubles aplenty, and one day 50 Jews were taken out of the ghetto, among them Jews from my town, and murdered. One of them, Zalman Baruch Monderstein, appealed to God, just before he was shot, and wished himself to be the kapara (sacrifice) for all Israel, for God to have mercy on His people and save them from trouble. SS men shot him and he died instantly, but to no avail, for God had not listened, and did not save His people, even as He was seeing their anguish and fright, watching while they were butchered.

After our trouble in the Mlawa ghetto, we were brought in cattle-carts to Auschwitz-Birkenau, the infamous camp. In this camp I witnessed the herding of people into the gas chambers. Prisoners, later called musselmen (“goners”) who were barely more than mere skeletons, were housed in shacks, ten to twelve people sharing prizches (wooden bunks) so close together as to make breathing difficult, and forcing all of the bunk-sharers to shift if one wanted to shift.

Shortly after we were brought to the “New Planet”, the appels (standing roll calls) began. Whether or not you had the strength, you had to run to the appels. Even in the first few days, my brother, myself and some more Katzetnicks were brought to a large building, opening the doors to reveal many corpses. SS men then ordered us to load them onto a lorry to be driven to the pits, where they were cremated. These were the corpses of those murdered in the gas chambers.

The pits were only a hundred yards away from our shacks. At daybreak, at 4 AM, we were awakened, still dead-tired, and under a rain of beatings from the Kapos (trustee prisoners) or the SS men we were once again taken to the same building to do the same hard and strenuous labor, where human dignity was not worth its name, for the Angel of Death, Dr. Mengele, was the one who sent them to their death in the gas chambers.

One more humiliating fact have I witnessed in Auschwitz-Birkenau: At specific times. and according to the “German Order,” the prisoner also had to relieve himself. The place of “relief” was in a pit, a few feet away. Everyone would sit packed so tightly together in a row that there was not room for even one more person. Then, a Kapo or an assistant Kapo would come, and seeing there was no more room, would shove one prisoner into the pit of manure, and take his place. Afterwards, the prisoner was hauled from the pit to be cremated alive in the pits. Such value had a man's life in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Here a man was the mere number tattooed on his arm, in the eyes of the German cannibals and their assistants.

It is difficult, very difficult to convey through words; it is difficult to watch, to be present and witness such cruel acts done by Germans and their associates to a human being. It seems that an animal would not do such deeds unto its own species. The human mind cannot grasp, or will not grasp, how those savage animals, bearing a human appearance, can take living people, breathing people, and throw them onto the pyre. A man becomes numb, indifferent, helpless and only one thing occupies his mind: How do I escape this fate, get out of this living satanic hell and stay alive to warn other generations, to tell what I have seen with my own two eyes? It seems that reasonable thought cannot even try to conceive of such cannibalism in the enlighted days of the twentieth century. Nevertheless, it is a fact. The unbelievable in Auschwitz-Birkenau is merely routine, for here everything is beyond any reason, beyond any horrifying nightmare. The Angel of Death, Dr. Mengele, stands and indicates with his polished pointer: left, right, which one to the crematorium and which to more labor. Time means nothing here, God's creation nil. Here rules un-reason, death with all its might and fiendishness.

Here come trains, this time from Sosnowiec or Bendin. The Jews are transported like cattle, in cattle cars. They are barely able to breathe. Broken by the road, by hunger and by thirst, elderly and children, women and sick men. For SS men, led by the arch-satan Mengele, these are people to be exterminated. But a few will go to labor. I was in a group called Aufreumung-Kommandos (cleaning group). Our job was to load corpses on carts and wheel them to the cremation pits. Two men would grasp each corpse, one by the head, another by the legs, and throw it onto the cart.

My brother, Eliezer, was with me. We were young, and the rest of our family had been murdered. Only he, my dear brother, and I were left after the terrible hell of Auschwitz-Birkenau. My brother joined his Maker here, in Israel, at the age of 61. Destiny had allowed us to reach Israel and testify as witnesses to the Holocaust.

At this point I would like to share with you an event – one of many – a horrid event I have witnessed during this hell, for it left an indelible mark, a scar that will never heal; it haunts me to this very day. It was a day when a new transport arrived, with Jews collected in various ghettos and Aktions (operations). Among these Jews I saw a beautiful girl, six or seven years of age. A golden-haired girl, blonde. She must have realized where she had been brought, together with pregnant mothers, and tried to hide herself and vanish in the crowd. The Kapo Heinz, an Austrian Jew, begged the SS man for mercy on the child. But the SS man did not heed his pleas. The child, who hid behind a “death cart,” was set on the cart with the dead corpses and taken to the pits. The klappe (rear of the cart) opened and she was hurled alive into the pit along with the dead.

Forty-five years have since passed, but the image of this pretty child leaves me not for a second. I see her alive in front of me. I watch her hide behind the “death cart,” and she visits my dreams each and every night. I am frightened into wakefulness, covered with cold sweat from the hallucination. Wherever I go she follows, her pretty eyes and her golden hair rendering me sleepless.

During the time I was in Auschwitz-Birkenau I tried to save pregnant mothers, for they were not selected for labor, but rather were sent straight to cremation. I did not always succeed.

This is but one of thousands of horrifying events my eyes have witnessed in Auschwitz-Birkenau. I was miraculously left alive, knowing but this: my Jewish town of Zuromin is no more. There are no more small synagogues, shtiblach. No more prayers will be heard coming from the synagogues. No more Jewish weddings and briths. Everything here is dead, empty of Jews. No Jewish youth parties, no craftsmen or talmidei chachamim (scholars), who were plentiful in my town.

It is difficult to remember, difficult to forget, and even more difficult to write of it, for as I have learned in Akdamut (a liturgical poem recited during Shavuot): Had the heavens been of parchment, and the oceans of ink, no human hand could record the whole of the horrific crimes I have witnessed in Auschwitz-Birkenau. The heart aches, but to no avail. Only a small revenge remains: the arch-murderer, Hitler, wanted to erase the Jewish race from the earth, and yet he failed, and the People of Israel live; as our sages, said: netzach yisrael lo yeshaker.

THOSE WE GRIEVE SHALL NOT BE FORGOTTEN!
GOD ALMIGHTY SHALL AVENGE THE HOLY MARTYRS OF MY TOWN OF ZUROMIN,
AND WE HAVE THE PRIVILEGE OF RECITING A MEMORIAL PRAYER FOR THEM.


[Page 28 - English] [Page 36 - Hebrew]

Din Torah with God

Mendel Braun

I, Mendel Ben Yitzchak Moshe, want to expatiate with you. Why did you let six million Jews be executed, including our town of Zuromin? What flaws did you find in your Jews? Wherever you looked, you would see Yiddishkeit (Jewish culture). Yeshivas and batei midrash (religious schools). The air was scented with Jewishness. Even the Christians knew when it was Shabbat, Pesach, Rosh HaShana, Yom Kipur and Sukkot. Wherever you turned, on Shabbat or a holiday, you would see candles burning. Nowadays, none of them pays heed to the Jewish Sabbath. Your bet midrash is now a warehouse or a barn. Your houses, filled with Holy Scriptures, are put to mockery. You too, my God, err. Many years ago, you brought upon the world the mabul (Flood) after which you had regrets and swore that there would be no more mabul for eternity, and You created the rainbow through the clouds. Being the diplomat you are, and almighty, instead of water you rained fire upon us, fire that devoured six million of your chosen people. Then, once again, you realized your error and built the State of Israel as an atonement.

Regretably, even in Israel you do not let us live in peace. Each day brings forth new troubles, all because your people of Israel do not let go of you. Watch from above how we celebrate Shabbat and holidays. Stroll once, on Shabbat evening, at twilight, and watch candles burning in each house. Your Jews head to the synagogues to pray, and the air of Shabbat is present. The air is filled with Shabbat holiness. Even those who open their businesses on Saturday are complaining, “Why, my God, have you cursed me with so hard a living? I, too, want to sit around the table with my children and family.” Even those who drive to the beach on Shabbat, do it as a Shabbat pleasure.

My God, what do you want of your people? How long do we have to suffer for you? There has to be an end to it. If you no longer want us, bring forth another great flood and wipe us from the face of the earth. Let there be no more a “chosen people.” Regret once more, but it will be too late. No one will ever cry “Shema Yisrael” (“Hear O Israel”). So this is our last request: End our troubles. Let us live in peace in the State of Israel. We shall follow you, and you will be our God.


[Page 29 - English] [Page 37 - Hebrew]

To the Memory of
My Grandfather, Rabbi Abraham Leib Krull
My Parents, Shlomo and Rivka Bracha Lichtenberg

Uziel Lichtenberg

I would like to memorialize my parents, my grandfather, and my family, whom I lost in the Shoah. This is but a part of the immense catastrophe which befell Europe's Jews, and Poland's Jews within it.

We must remember them every single day, so that those who were born after the Shoah will learn about the past, as we in our time learned about the days of the Inquisition and the expulsion from Spain as history. For – it should forever be repeated – what happened once might happen again. “One must always see himself as if he had been there.”

The phenomena of the Polish towns shall be repeated no more. A Jewish community living together with Poles, comprising half of the town's population, forever struggling with anti-Semitic movements doing everything to drive the Jews from every economic position. An anti-Semitic Polish population, although there is no Pole who has not at least one Jewish friend.

Zuromin is a typical town. Its main street runs the length of it. In its center, an old church is hidden among chestnut trees, towards which we learned not to look as children, even as we passed it by. The church was consecrated, for there was a holy madonna buried in it. Several times a year, religious parades left the church to circle the town's fields, thus consecrating them. The crowds attending those parades included many local villagers who exploited the opportunity to deliver a heavy beating to passing Jews. Every Jew knew that when the parade was leaving the church's gates, it was better to lock the doors and bolt the windows and wait for the thundering to pass.

Directly across from the church, further along the street, was the Jewish shul, proclaiming “I am also here.” The end of the street kisses a wide meadow, to which the town's cattle go at dawn and from which they return at sunset, driven by the shepherd's pipe. To the sound of the pipe, we Jewish children used to run to all the Gentiles' farms to be present at the milking, thus making the milk kosher.

The town's center was bisected, to the south and the north, by the main roads into and out of town. The town's population was 6,000 people, over 2,000 of whom were Jewish. In the center of town, the population was for the most part Jewish. This is where the shops and stores were, and the main marketplace, which filled with stands every Monday, the market day. Here were displayed the workshops' products, and here the villagers were displaying their harvests, brought on carts and wagons.

The Jews made a hard living. But a few were wealthy merchants, owners of stores, barns, timber and horses. Most were travelling salesmen, wandering with their goods during most of the week to market days in nearby towns, coming home only on weekends.

Many of the town's Jews were doing “customary” crafts, allowed for Jews alone: tailoring, hat-making, shoemaking, furriery, goldsmithing, barbering. Many crafts, but nevertheless a meager living. In spite of the economic difficulties, not even a single Jewish child had to miss school. Most of the education was self-taught, and one who wanted to continue on to high school had to travel far, for there was none here. Libraries were very crowded, and reading books a custom for all children. Every single child in town was a member in one of the youth organizations.

My grandfather, Abraham Leib Krull, had a special status in town. His house, in the center of town, was connected in its front to a shop for various goods, run by my grandmother and, after her, by the unmarried sons.

My grandfather was born in Bendin during the 1860s, an “Illuy” (genius) and candidate for the rabbinate. He was of the Gur Hassidic sect. He married a daughter of the wealthy Bloomenzweig family. The ketuba clearly forbade him to attend to matters of earning a living or to charge money for rabbinic services. Indeed, my grandfather kept tutoring and learning while the family grew, first by four daughters, followed by three sons, and the eighth, a little girl born approximately at the same time as my eldest sister. He was tutoring “Illuyim” (geniuses) at his house, and each afternoon taught Gemara and “Poskim” (religious legal decisions) to groups in the shtibel. Each evening he functioned as a judge in dinei torah for Bnai Brith [Translator's note: not the well-known organization, but rather in its literal meaning 'sons of the covenant' –i.e. faithful Jews], which preferred him to the town's rabbi. He judged matters of kashrut for women and tried to ease the verdict by sighing loudly when he declared a woman's chicken trayf. Thus he served for as long as he lived as the informal rabbi of the town, and in periods of great need he served the entire community exclusively, never receiving any sort of payment from the community or from his students.

Following my grandmother's death at the end of World War I, he remained a widower. When I saw him for the last time, at the close of his life, he was banished to Warsaw. There, living with his daughter Frieda's family, in a one room apartment, at the age of 80, poor and without property, he sat on his bed and recited Gemara from memory. As I left the ghetto in March 1941, I parted with him for the last time. From there, he went like the rest of the ghetto's Jews. Blessed be his memory.

My father, Shlomo Lichtenberg, and my mother, Rivka-Bracha

Like my grandfather before him, my father was not born in Zuromin. He was born in 1886 in the town of Tchememiky [Translator's note, I could not definitively identify this town.] in the Lublin district. A yeshiva scholar, Illuy. At 16 he was praised and recommended to my grandfather as a groom for the eldest daughter, Rivka-Bracha. After passing the test, an engagement was agreed upon. In 1905 the marriage was held, and he moved to Zuromin, where he was supported at my grandfather's table. Being a determined person, he started trading timber, not taking long to succeed. Unlike my grandfather, my father turned to deal in public affairs. The Zionist idea captured him and he founded, along with some friends, the Mizrachi movement and the Gmilut Chasadim synagogue.

That was the place of assembly for all those, religious or not, whom the Zionist ideas captured. This synagogue's main purpose was to bear the banner of Zionism, along with constructive work of financial aid for the needy. My father Shlomo, head of the Zionist Board, was also chosen to be the head of the community, and during the poor, hungry days following WWI directed the operation of JOINT. To this day I remember myself as a child, walking each morning to teacher Skorupa's school, passing the queue of the needy waiting for their box of JOINT milk.

Father was a rousing speaker. Directing struggles for Zionist ideas, board meetings were held in our house. Here as a child I witnessed struggles to win over the community, the election of a Zionist rabbi. And when Zuromin was declared a town, and elections were held for a magistrate (town council), father was among the magistrates, negotiating with his Polish friends for a coalition with the Jews in directing the council. He was recognized as a leader even during periods when he was not head of the community.

In 1929, during the big crisis, he liquidated his buisness and moved to Lodz. Here in the big city he also found his place in the leadership of the Mizrachi movement. He and his associate, Berl Mark, founded the “Tachkemony” national religious school, where he acted as vice headmaster and supervisor of the Jewish sector until WWII. He published many essays concerning day to day issues and historical facts. When the Lodz Ghetto was created, he was attached to the education board and was one of the founders of the ghetto's educational system.

My mother Rivka-Bracha lived her life in the shadow of my father. Nonetheless, she set the tone of the house, always feeling herself the eldest and responsible daughter, caring for the entire family. She raised orphaned children in our house.

Both remained till their last days in the Lodz Ghetto, from which they were transported by the Nazis to Auschwitz. May their memory be blessed.

A millennium we have lived together amongst the Polish people, as long as their history. Alongside them we fought their wars; together we rose against their oppressors. But when the day of judgement came, they turned their backs on us, refrained from assisting, and maybe even mocked us.

The Zuromin community, like other Jewish communities in Poland, is no more. There are no Jews in town, and only the town's elders still remember us and point for visitors to the place where once stood Jewish households and where the Jewish shul once stood.

 

The communal council of Zuromin in 1918

Sitting from right to left: the teacher Przmyrowicz, Yaakov Trombka, Ber Klein, Leibel Tyk,
Yissachar Frajdenberg, Shlomo Lichtenberg, Yitzchak Segal. Standing are two German captains.

 

The graduating class of the public school class of 1922

From right to left, top row: Perl Goldek, Eidel Fruchobnik, the teacher Przystop, the teacher Josef Kasian,
Hencha Bitten, Sara Teitelbaum, Elisheva Skoropa.
Middle row: the teacher Roszowski, the teacher Zajdowna, Sara Drobiner, the principal Brodcki,
Leah Lichtenberg, the teacher Tehilimowna, the music teacher Grelbski.
Bottom row: Rachel Klein, Feiga Elsztejn, Slova Frank, Esther Krulik, Mania Kopeld

 

[Page 32 - English]

In addition to the story of our parents, written by my brother Uziel, I would like to note those further details:

Father was the archetype of a communal leader. A gifted speaker, mastering Yiddish, Hebrew and Polish, a violin player, with musical knowledge, and a remarkable chazan. He used to bring me and my sister Esther to his rehearsals preceding the yamim noraim and other holidays. My brother, Uziel, was too young then.

After his daughters made aliyah to Eretz Israel, he used to write to us from time to time, and cared to note in a dedication for a booklet he published that he “...had taken pride in the fact that his daughters are fulfilling their dreams in Tel Aviv.”

He never realized his ambition to make aliyah, for the hand of the Nazi murderers reached him and our mother, lost with the rest of the Shoah's victims. Our home nourished us with deep-rooted Zionism, which we took as a matter of fact. It was with us wherever we went, a link never to be broken. I wish fate had enabled us to be brought together, to enjoy the deliverance of the Jewish nation and state with the elite spirit we were brought up in.

Leah Adinny (Lichtenberg)

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