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[Pages 126-130]

Poems

brz126.jpg -   Nahum (Nathan) Summer

by Nahum (Nathan) Summer

Translated by Renee Miller

Edited by Fay Bussgang

My Shtetl Brzezin

My splendid shtetl Brzezin
That the butchers annihilated,
Wounded forever
My heart my soul . . .
I remain a mourner since the great disaster,
Since then, I search for words of comfort;
Words to expel the grief, the gloom––
And helpless is my search . . .
My tongue stammers out unintelligible speech––
And suddenly––as from a spring
A stream of tears rushed out,
That I could not quell . . .
Goyisher villains
Poisoned my heart with gall . . .
And from my lips stream out
Curses, words of blight,
Against assassins' hands
That annihilated, ravaged
My splendid shtetl, Brzezin . . .
It is well-known that the enemy,
In his malice, sought
Its total destruction.
The enemy did not completely succeed
In his devilish plan,
Woe unto us, ––
Impoverished men are left, heirs
Spread throughout the world's parts,
Who will the great epic
Of my shtetl and its holy martyrs
Relate for generations, for eternity . . .
We will tell––
Of the beautiful, tender, chaste mothers;
Of persons of stately appearance, virtuous, observant fathers;
Of the toiling, ordinary, simple,
Scissors-and-iron journeymen,
The shoemakers who shod the young and old;
The butchers' boys, the jolly wagon drivers,
The bakers, the hat-makers, the porters,
Who carried their weekly burden
With a Yiddish song ringing out . . .
We will tell of your Shabosim [Sabbaths] and Yomim-Tovim [holidays].
We will tell
Of your streets and your domains
About your happiness and your pain;
About your sages and your buffoons,
Who sweetened your burden, your poverty,
With roshinkes un mandlen[1] [raisins and almonds] . . .
We will remember
Your malamdim [teachers] and your balitfilis [leaders of prayer],
Who nurtured us for generations.
We will tell
About your streams and orchard-gardens,
That spread graciously
Over Rogow and Koluszki Streets,
Where Brzeziner youth
Spent many sweet days and nights . . .
We will roll up the Megillah-Brzezin, [scroll of story of Brzezin]
That is preserved in our memory.
We will tell of a beautiful past
And the surviving witnesses will also tell
Of the last flickering, sunset days,
Of extinguished lives . . .

The Brzeziner earth became parched! . . .
The rhythm of the week and holidays
Was by murderous hands stifled, choked . . .
Who could have foreseen such a gloomy dream,
That Brzezin would be a town––without Jews? . . .
No longer the dear, beaming
Shabes-Yontovdike [celebrating Sabbath and holidays] Jews of our shtetl,
Who sang out their nign [melody]––
Of weekday poverty and Shabes rest . . .
Only memories of long ago remain––
For generations to spin . . .
You will become holy, my splendid shtetl
In your greatness and your simplicity . . .
We light memorial candles
For young, cut-off lives
From near and far
That the brutal hand of Cain
Has savagely killed . . .
The Kadesh [mourners' prayer] that I recite
collectively––
Is a holy vow,
That I will not forget the yerushe [inheritance]
Of the tormented, suffocated, gassed
Hero martyrs of my once home . . .
Of my––Brzezin! . . .


Our Besmedresh [Prayer House]

(a Ballad)

Going to Nowe Miasto (New Town),
In the direction of the marketplace––
Stood our besmedresh
The building––far from a marble palace;
The exterior walls
Painted white––
More gray than white
From spring rains
And wintry snowy blizzards,
Which,
Year in, year out––
Whipped and thrashed them . . .

Once there was a liveliness here,
The ten minyonim [quorum for prayer] of Jews––
Who prayed three times a day
And their prayer-pleas
Directed to the Reboyne Sheloylem [God Almighty] . . .
Late in the night
The generation-old
Gemore-nign [chant with which the Talmud is studied] broke through to the outside . . .
The simple, the overworked scissors-and-iron Jews,
Found, in reciting Psalms, their redemption
from troubled spirit––
And often actually let a tear fall,
Onto the yellowed pages––
As a hint of the burden of exile . . .

Oh, how clear it is in memory
The Yomim-Tovim [High Holy days] in our town! . . .
The Pesakh [Passover]––of cleaning and koshering
And the bell-like sound
Of the small rascals
While they played nislekh in griblekh [game played with nuts trying to get them into a hole]. . .
Shavuos [spring festival]––of leaves and blossoms in all the homes, -
Also the besmedresh, smells of forest and field . . .
The Yomim-Naroyim [Days of Awe]––
For which the entire town
Prepares itself with dread and reverence . . .
Succos [Feast of Tabernacles]–-the holiday of joy and Torah
And the showing-off
Of the young housewives
With their serving portions of fish
In the Succah booths––
Who can forget it! . . .

Or––there goes
A woman very heavy with child,
Or, somewhere in a home
Lies a dangerously sick person––
Close family, relatives
Rend themselves with lament before the Holy Ark . . .
Jews, recite Psalms! . . .
At once someone stands before the omed [synagogue lectern]
And begins in a low fearful tone––
Blessed is he that walks not in the counsel of the ungodly [Psalm 1:1] . . .

The maged [preacher], who from time to time
Would come to town,
Chastise people, whip them with reproaching words,
Threaten with hell-fires, call to tshuve [repentance]
And weed out sin from among them. . . .
All the community quarrels, debates,
That sparkled between the walls
Of our besmedresh . . .
All that is no more
Than a flash in my memory . . .

There once was a town––Brzezin
And is no longer . . .
Like a joke from bloody madness
Our besmedresh remains
But stands vacant without Jews. . . .
The walls covered with dirt and cobwebs,
On the roof green moss grows.
The broken windows,
On all sides stale dampness permeates. . . .
On the floor lay the scrolls of the Torah
Plucked, dishonored . . .
In the corners where destruction began––
And rats walk among piles
With Exodus from overturned Torah Arks . . .
The stream has been dried up
That had fertilized our community––
The Brzeziner earth no longer sprouts
With the prayer of Jewish psalms . . .
The sound of Torah
And weekly speech has become silent.
No longer are there daveners [people praying] in our congregation . . .
Only memories of the past remain
For generations to relate––
Yisgadal Viyskadesh Shmay Rabo !. . .[opening words of the Kaddish, prayer for the dead]


Yudel the Water Carrier Honored

Yesterday you
Carried water
For the town.
Hard was
Your life.
For old and young;
For small and large––
You were the butt of ridicule . . .
But, you,––
Silently
Smiled at everyone you met.
Kheder-yinglekh [school boys]
Did not let you walk through the streets.
Funny jokes,
Biting words,
Youngsters would
Whip across your face.
And you,––
Instead of anger, wrath––
Only love and goodness
Did you show the pranksters . . .
Your fate is
––you said––fixed on high. . . .
Therefore you
Met your hard fate
With a gamzu letoyve [it's all for the best].
You also did not
Avoid Hitler's destruction.
They, the devils,
Tormented you
With horrible pain . . .
They flayed your flesh
With inhuman torture.
Your faith––
The swine could not break . . .
For the God of Israel
You had no complaints.
All the affliction
You bore in silence,
Perhaps predestined from on high . . .
The executioner tightened
A noose around your neck.
In your last step to the gallows
You murmured words
To yourself;
Words made holy
In the great folk disaster,
That will, in their simplicity
Make your name eternal
For coming generations;
…“Yesterday, to you, I was
Yudel the water carrier
Tomorrow, I will be
Yudel Kodesh [the holy martyr]! . . .”
Like an incendiary
Your last testament words fell
On the face of the murderer.
Those very simple words
Will Brzeziners
Remember forever.
Your life and your death,
Place you
On the list of our
Great folk kedoyshim [holy martyrs].
Our writers and artists,
Will, from your simple life
Find inspiration,
And will raise word-monuments to you. . . .


The Oyel[2] of Reb Szymon Bel-Rakhmones[3]

Not satisfied,
The murderous hands,
When they
Drove into the gas chambers
The old men and old women;
Our women and men;
Our children and suckling infants . . .
They, who
Brought down
The Creator and His creation––
Man!
To the lowest low,
With the
Bloody hand of Cain,
They sought out, on the cemetery
The remains of the long dead,
Of our furthest,
Of our nearest,
Their skeletal remains,
In earthly concealment,
Nazi villains––
Dishonored, trampled
With beastly feet.
Left as a symbol,
For future generations––
There in Brzezin
The very much loved oyel
Of the great scholar Reb Szymon,
Who passed through our town,
And not wanting to desecrate the Sabbath,
Stayed in our town for Shabes.
And when the Jews lit the Havdole [signifying end of Sabbath] candle––
The soul of Reb Szymon Bel-Rakhmones
Was gathered into Eternity . . .
The Brzeziner community
Awarded the great scholar,
The most beautiful spot
In their beysakvores [cemetery]
Later the Brzeziner religious community
In memory––
Of the great bal-mide [man of high moral character]
Raised an oyel . .
Since then, Jews––
When paying their respects at the graveside of their parents
Have also included the grave of this holy man
Leaving there their worries and troubles.
We begged the great Bel-Rakhmones,
He should intercede for us in heaven . . .
With little stones and kvitlekh [notes of supplication],
That observant women
Left there,
Was raised
A little hill towered toward heaven . . .

The murderer––
Plowed up, trampled,
Our cemetery . . .
Like a God-given miracle,
The grave of the great scholar
Remained as a witness
To the great disaster of our people . . .
No longer are there Jews
Who used to come
To his grave to let a tear flow.
The villain annihilated
Our sacred community––
Even our dead
He did not spare . . .
But, the grave remains,
From which Jews,
In time of trouble had drawn solace,
As a memorial to the great Jewish destruction––
And as a message to coming generations:
Jews, don't give up hope! . .
To the gas-ovens was sent . . .
Jewish flesh,
Wrapped in tongues of fire;
But the Kol Yaacov [voice of Jacob]
Of the great soul,
The murderous hand
Did not burn up, did not annihilate . . .

New Jewish lives will rise
Upon the background of burned bodies,
And in remembrance of the past––
Will raise up the great qualities
Of a Szymon Bel-Rakhmones . . .


Nahum Jud: Shnayder-Yinglekh (Tailor Apprentices)

(A Fable)

Three tailor apprentices, very new at their work,
Argued among themselves at the master's table;
Each one strove to show––
What was actually the most important for the garment––
The scissors,
Or the needle, or the iron?
Over this they
Fought so heatedly,
That oh-oh––and fists would have flown! . . .
But an experienced journeyman, who to one side
Sat bent over his work,
And all the time
Was listening and kept silent,
Remarked to them, calmly, from a distance,
“Why, little young men, should you fight,
And make a racket, argue over and over?
You are all correct, each of your views is correct!
Since every cut and prick,
And every stroke is important for the garment . . .
But in the end––
The essential part is the material!”


Notes:

  1. Roshinkes un mandlen” was the name of a popular Yiddish song. Return

  2. The oyel is the structure over a tomb. Return

  3. Bel-Rakhmones means “man of compassion.” Return

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