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The Fall of the Jewish Town Byten

Dudel Abramowicz

Translated by Pamela Russ

 

Yizkor

At the shore of the Shchara River, in a wide, deep valley, amongst fields and meadows, surrounded on three sides by large areas of tall forests, there is a small town with a traditional Jewish life that has been rooted for hundreds of years. She was known far away, way beyond her borders, because of several major personalities in the Rabbinic world – such as Reb Mordkhe'le, well known as the Amshinover genius [Amshinov was a town in Poland]; later the Rav in Slonim, his son-in-law, Rav Avrohom Yakov Bruk; and a rare and unusually great personality Reb Mateske; and more recently – in the years of the First World War – Harav Ziff (later the Bransker Rav). The town shone with her teachings, her fine Jews, and her teachers that raised many generations in the Jewish spirit.

She knew her working masses -- honest and hardworking people.

She was also famous for her labor movement that was part of the struggle against Czarism, particularly in the years 1904-1905, when she produced one of the most beautiful pages in the history of the labor movement, in that town and in the surrounding areas.

She was graced with great intelligence in those years, particularly with the families Garfinkel and Kolbowski, around whom all the forward-thinking youth gathered.

Within a few generations, a row of organizations and institutions were built in which the Jews lived their lives, each at his own level. There were places of study [beis medrash],

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… schools of religious study, secular schools, associations for helping the sick and for helping the poor and homeless. There was a Jewish bank cooperative (co-op), a place for financial assistance, and more. For the large group of educated youth there were two libraries: one named Y.L. Peretz, the other Brener.

In the actual Jewish town, with her joys and sorrows, monies were not plentiful, but one managed to support oneself and live a respectful life – some as small merchants, some from business, some from handiwork. Mothers and fathers married off their children, were proud of them, aged, became grandmothers and grandfathers, married off their grandchildren, and had more joy and pride. And when their time came, as it came for everyone, they were given a fine tombstone and a memorial candle was lit. Their graves were visited, the writings on the tombstones were kept clear, and it was home-like in the large, old cemetery. It seemed that the town and the cemetery were one and the same, only that the elderly mothers and fathers moved aside a little bit, just behind the town, as if exhausted from the age-old Jewish burden that they carried on their shoulders. And now they were resting under the shade of the large trees, and making their children more comfortable [with the increased space in the house].

And that's how the town lived until a dark power of devilish might, a nation of thieves and murderers, uprooted the small, content, hardworking Jewish people, and threw a noose around her neck, placed her children outside of the law, spit at them, decorated them with yellow humiliating symbols, stole their belongings and fortunes for generations to come, tortured and violated them, and chased them into a narrow street in a ghetto that was walled with barbed wire and under armed guard, and they were finally dragged to the prepared graves then shot and sometimes buried alive while the sound of music was playing.

All the Jews from this town lie in one grave (ditch), arm-in-arm, squashed one into the other, and with them, choked and buried the final screams of death from their tormented bodies and violated souls. There lie – choked and wounded – the fun-loving, innocent laughter of the sweet, dear children, the modest dreams of the youth, the gentle, sacrificing, warmth of…

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… our mothers, and the paternal wisdom of our fathers.

In these graves, lie the wounded generations of Jewish culture, of scholarly sages, those with a lust for life, the desires of the youth that lived, dreamed and wanted to live, and was suddenly cut off from the world.

The link between generations has been broken, the Jewish life from the spirited, little town. Her empty houses echo, the mothers, with their hearts throbbing, are no longer reading the cherished letters from their children who have left to lands across the ocean to seek their fortune and to be able to help their parents in their older years.

The town is silent, you hear no one. The houses are silent. The houses of study are empty; there is no melody heard for the reading of Lamentations (a book read on Tisha b'Av), there is no dancing on Simchas Torah (a day of great joy and celebration).

The letters from overseas wander around, knocking at the doors of their once-upon-a-time homes, and no one opens the doors. No one greets them – no mother, no father; no brothers, no sisters. So they knock at the windows of their neighbors. It is quiet. No one opens doors; there is no voice, no response. A deathly silence is all around. The letters fly around the town looking, searching in every room, in every hiding place, and there is no trace. A deathly silence everywhere.

This was once a Jewish settlement – a warm place, and now no more. May this book of records be an eternal tombstone for our town; a memorial for the Jewish community of Byten that was violated and tortured in mass slaughters by the German thugs and their White Russian, Polish, Lithuanian, and Ukranian servants on:

July 25, 1942 – 11 Av, 5702
August 29, 1942 – 16 Elul, 5702
September 19, 1943 – 8 Tishrei, 5703

A memorial for the dearest and gentlest souls of our fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, whose lives were cut off and whose souls will avenge themselves.

A memorial for the holy Jewish children, who were stabbed in their carriages, whose heads were inflamed by wooden clubs, whose fresh bodies…

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… were tossed like a ball from one bayonet to the other, who were thrown alive into the open graves and then drowned there.

A memorial for our beloved and dearest ones who were punished in the forests by being burned at the stake, and had their bodies slashed open while still alive, and then their bones sawed and spread over the swamps.

May the great pains of our holy martyrs rob the restfulness of their murderers during the day, and rob the sleep at night.

May the damages of our martyrs persecute their tormentors forever.

Never forget what was done to your nation, to your parents, to your brothers and sisters.

Always seek to take revenge for those murderers.

 

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