The Editor (Arie Kopilovitz )
Donated by Florence Koplow
Translated by Milette Shamir
With excitement and awe, stooping under the burden of our sorrow, loss, orphan hood and helplessness, we present to the reader The Book of Ilya. This is our modest contribution to the communal tombstone, erected to immortalize the memory of tens of thousands of the communities of Israel, and millions of brothers, who perished in the hands of the Nazi enemy and his helpers: who were tortured, starved, murdered, burned, and killed in strange ways - during the days of the horrendous Holocaust, the like of which never occurred in the history of our people and of the world.
We have no words to describe even the minutest part of the vivid life of our town and the dimensions of the tragedy of its destruction, a tragedy that took place before the very eyes of the indifferent and uncaring people of the world. The Holocaust - that cut down a third of our people - cannot be measured by its astounding results only, without considering the quality of those who perished. We lost our best creative talents, who would have been able, perhaps, to provide a more fitting and appropriate description of the town's life and the dimensions of its tragedy. And although we are not worthy, fate has assigned this mission to us.
After much effort, the collection of material for the Book of Ilya is completed. We can now bless the effort and say that the job was not an easy one, for many reasons; because of the scarce numbers of our town's residents in the world who survived its destruction; since the community's records, where the main events of the town since its establishment were probably written - were destroyed; for lack of reliable sources from which we could glean information on the ancient town and its history; due to the fact that most of the survivors, who live in Israel, are relatively young, and did not have time to absorb within them the town's culture and history, and the few that did, lost it during their many travels and struggle for survival. All of the above prevented us from presenting a correct and full picture of the glorious past of the town and its effervescent life in the period between the two wars. In addition: we should consider the objective fact that the main burden of writing this book was assigned to only few people and that flawed the description. Despite all, we tried to summarize what was available under the present conditions and to include it in the book. It is our duty to gratefully mention all those who gave of their time, energy and abilities, material or literary, to the writing of this project. First and foremost, let us bow our heads before the grave of our town's resident Tuvia Chefetz, rest his soul, who initiated the idea and forced us to materialize it, taking the editorial task in his own hands. But how strange sometimes are the ways of fate. The man who longed to commemorate the town did not manage to do so, and died before the project began. May his memory be blessed and retained forever in our hearts. With gratefulness we mention our town's members, the sons of Tzemach Shapira, rest his soul, from Mexico and the U.S., that thanks to their moral support, their crucial financial contribution, and their constant personal involvement - our tiny birth town, Ilya, gained this eternal tombstone. We are proud of the respectable appreciation letter to our friends the brothers Shapira, written by Mr. Yossef Vintzki from Mexico, and hereby publish it verbatim with much pleasure:
[in Yiddish] .......
A heartfelt thanks also to Mr. Chaim Levin from the Kibbutz of Ramat Hakovesh. Despite the fact that the man is past his prime, he did not worry about his health and came to see us in the evenings, to tell of his memories of the town's events. Let us wish that we will all have the privilege of blessing him on his 120th birthday.
Hearty blessings to all of Ilya's sons in Israel and in the Diaspora: in the United States, Argentina and Mexico. Especially to Zusman Geitlitz, Shlomo Koplovitz and Eliezer Dinerstein and to the members of the committee for the union of Ilya's descendants in Israel. To all the friends who contributed their writing, money, pictures and time to the publication of this memorial book - our deep thanks. All have a considerable part in the project of commemorating the town and its martyrs. To my friend and work mate, Matityahu Bar Ratzon, for his advice on editorial matters and his interest in the progress of this work - my warm blessing.
To my dear and loyal wife Miriam, who encouraged me to continue work despite the many difficulties and unpleasant obstacles I faced - I send the blessing of a loving and admiring husband. This book enfolds a long history of the life of a tiny, ancient and lively Jewish community, and the details of its final destruction are at your disposal. Let it serve as an eternal tombstone, to bring together the generations of the past, the present and the future.
||The Shapira Brothers of Mexico, the main contributors
to the publication of the memorial book
|Standing from right to left: Ya'akov, Yehoshua, Gershon. Seated: Eliezer|
Donated by Florence Koplow
Translated by Milette Shamir
A Yizkor book for the lives that were lost; for the dear souls that were cut down; for whole families who perished; for babies who were slain; for infants who were torn to pieces; for traditional values that were uprooted; for temples that were burned - and for a tiny and ancient community that was erased from under God's heavens. A book to immortalize the lives, actions and death, of simple as well as outstanding people; of those who contributed in their actions to the aggrandizing of our town's spirit and name among our people and in the world; and of all those who perished in strange deaths, invented by the Satanic enemy, in the period of the most tragic Holocaust in the history of our people.
Although our tragedy is too large to bear, and is inconsolable; although our eyes shed tears over our huge and cruel loss, these are but one drop in the general suffering and morning of the nation. When we now immortalize our pure and dear martyrs, we are but adding our tears to a sea of blood and tears; a sea of loss, sorrow, orphan hood and destruction that cries from the depths - Revenge!
Our town Ilya was like thousands of other Jewish towns attacked by the destroyer, but at the same time it was different. Despite its outer similarities to others, it had its own character just like people of the same age, tradition and education have different personalities. Maybe its nickname - silken sacs (Ziedne Tarbas [in Yiddish]) reflects its character best: poor and proud Despite the fact that most of the Jewish population lived in want, with tightened belts and in poverty, the sons were never seen begging in other towns, although many of the poor of the vicinity swarmed our streets. Our poor were hungry in secrecy, but were embarrassed to stretch their hands out for alms. They slowly diminished, but pinched their cheeks to seem blushing in health.
The economic base of the town was meager and the Jews' hearts were drawn especially to matters of the spirit, which changed shape with every generation. Thus  our town Ilya nurtured men of stature in Torah and values, of dimensions that were very wide in proportion to its Jewish population.
Two famous people, who have a guaranteed place in history, contributed to our small town Ilya's fame. First is Hagar-Tzedek, Graff Pototzki, who is forever bound with our town. The second is Rabbi Menashe from Ilya, of the disciples of the Ga'on from Vilna, the messenger of light and enlightenment and the rebel against conventions; the first preacher for the productivization of the Jewish street; the persecutor of underage marriages; the rebel against poverty and fighter against ignorance.
The fact that genius, famed rabbis occupied the rabbinical chair in this tiny town, testifies to the Talmudic and moral level of the Ilya Jews and made our town famous in the Jewish street.
The Ga'on Rabbi Aryeh Leib Shapira, better known as Rabbi Leibale Kubner, occupied the rabbinical chair in our town and from there moved to Kubno.
The Ga'on who is well known under the name Rabbi Leibale Umner from the town of Uman.
The Ga'on Rabbi Reuven from Dinburg known as Rabbi Reuvale.
The Ga'on Rabbi Shmuel Ben Yehoshua Zelig - who made aliya in the beginning of the 19th century.
Four of the loyal disciples of the Rabbi Menashe Ben Porath, better known as Rabbi Menashe from Ilya, learned Torah from his lips and eagerly drank from the sources of his wisdom.
The Ga'on and God-fearing Rabbi Moshe Shlomo Khari, to whom miracles are attributed. And lastly, he who perished so tragically in the Holocaust, before the eyes of his parish, the Rabbi Avraham Eliyahu Remez, bless his soul.
Be the memory of the righteous blessed.
In honor of our town we must mention also the existence of a large yeshiva, headed by the sharp and well-versed Ga'on, Rabbi Moshe Yisrael Shapira. Hundreds of students, sons of Torah, swarmed to the Yeshiva to hear Torah from his mouth, and Ilya's residents took care, with all their hearts and souls, of the students' every need.
As we erect a tombstone today for the commemoration of the town of our birth, we will also praise the wonderful chapter of the blossoming of the Zionist Movement, in each and every one of its branches in the period between the two World Wars.
The deep plough of traditional Jewish education and the dream of the Return to Zion that many generations suckled and absorbed in their hearts, surfaced after the end of the First World War. The buds of the organized Zionist Movement, that first trickled among closed circles now increased and conquered wider strata from year to year, until it appeared an overflowing river that sweeps along everything in its way. By the outbreak of the Second World War, our ENTIRE town Ilya was caught in the flames of belief in the Zionist Movement..
What was - is no longer there.
We now cry over the dear hearts that beat there, that stuck with their faith, that bubbled with life and dreamed and struggled. Now the destroyer cut all this down and it was erased from under God's heavens. The old cemetery, commemorating life, creation and tears, was plowed over and turned into a field, and with it, a long and glorious history of about 600 years disappeared: generations of Hasidim, Ga'onim, the righteous, the innocent, the honest, pioneers and warriors, were swallowed by the earth.
Earth! do not cover up their blood.
Yitgadal Veyitkadash Shmei Raba...
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