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[Page 581]

In camps of wanderers

Translation by Naomi Gal

Not too many of the enlisted who wandered in Russia and arrived to Siberia were lucky enough to see the end of the war and then later go to Poland and from there roamed until they reached the long awaited homeland. Amongst them there were a few people from Rovno; we were a handful of survivors originally from Jewish Rovno who joined together on our way from Siberia and arrived at Polish Stettin. I was among those who sat and waited impatiently to continue with the journey. One night the people in charge of the illegal crossing of the border told us to get ready for departure. The excitement was great and we spent the whole night waiting anxiously. In the morning we were put in half-closed wagons. It was done swiftly and in a rush. We were 2,000 people, men and women and some hundreds of Rovno's sons, all weary and depressed after what we had been through. But the hope for immigration strengthened us and we were glad to leave Stettin. We were ordered to keep quiet on the way since we were passing an area under Russian rule. When we reached Lubeck, which was under British control we were relieved but we were still afraid and insecure since the British could see us as illegal immigrants and it could thwart our plans.

Big trucks were waiting and we were transported to an empty building of a Jewish synagogue that remained in this German town. We received warm food and shelter for the night. At dawn the next day we continued on our way through the region that was under American control. When we passed Hamburg and saw it in ruins we felt vengeance; if we could not revenge our enemies at least we could enjoy its destruction by others. We traveled all day and in the evening reached Hanover. For lack of a better place they lodged us in a big German bunker, designed as a shelter from air raids. In this bunker we spent the second night on impure German land. We again boarded the big trucks and continued toward Frankfurt-am-Main. There we found out that all the dangerous places on our journey were behind us, and we sighed in relief. From Frankfurt we left on trains to the camps that previously served as concentration camps for workers of German military factories. A strange feeling came upon many of us: supposedly we were nearing the Land of Israel, but for the moment we were led to camps. The people from Rovno tried to stay close together on the way and when we reached the camps.

We were lodged in shabby buildings in a forest, where we had to await the possibility of immigration to the Land of Israel. No one knew how long we would have to wait, so we had to find our place and settle down. By the instructions of the people in charge and with their guidance we began the necessary arrangements for our life there: cleaning the buildings and their surroundings, establishing a kitchen, finding a system to distribute food, assigning guards, that later became our police, organizing classes of handcrafts and Hebrew, a clinic, schools for the children, a synagogue, a Mikve, a library and more. Life went on and it all took time, thought and planning. It was not easy and we did not do all at once, there was a lot of scurrying. When all the projects were under way there was an impression as if we were settling down and living our lives in this place, while no one could even fathom staying there. We were all, especially Rovno People, on our way to the Land of Israel; few fancied life in foreign countries across the ocean.

Day in and day out, grey meaningless days for most of the camps' inhabitants. Meanwhile different parties were created and each party tried to gain supporters. Eventually we had branches of all the parties and the national youth-movements that quarreled among themselves, especially during election times, or when we had a guest-lecturer. More than once our big camp looked like a Jewish village with all the pettiness, disputes and empty squabbles, envy and gossip.

In our first year in the camp everyone received their food-ration in the camps' kitchen, except those who were not part of the general kitchen, or were busy with different businesses, most of them dubious, with the Germans: they had no time to stand online for their rations. The Kibbutzim that were formed in the camp got their food collectively for all their members and they lived their life separately from the others. These Kibbutzim impacted the whole camp with a Land of Israel flavor; since they were organized they instilled in all of us confidence in our nearing immigration and in a proper future in our new land. They inspired us all and helped us overcome the shortcomings in the camp's life; we learned a lot from them.

It went on until Israeli messengers arrived at our camp and took upon themselves the managing of the affairs.

 


The Rovno sons in the camp
(Page 583 in the Hebrew text)

 

From that time on our lives in the camp changed considerably. The messengers took care of improvements and cultural activities. Courses for studying Hebrew were founded; a school was established for the children, something that was greatly missed. The opening of the school in the camp was a remarkable event: the children were delighted, and the parents were happy as well that their children would learn the language they would use when they live in the Land of Israel. To maximize the benefit of the time in the camp the Kibbutzim were moved to German farms so they could learn and practice agriculture work. “ORT” opened schools for handicrafts and the camps' youth intensively dedicated themselves to studying. These were rays of light in the camp.

And then immigration began in small groups, in order to break through the blockade the British imposed on Israel. Our lives changed: a spontaneous national sentiment enveloped most of us. There were very few cases of people deserting, people who quickly forgot the horrible past and looked for an easy life. One unforgettable case should be mentioned: there were two children who adamantly refused to travel with their parents to any foreign country but the Land of Israel. The parents' promises, threats and blows were to no avail, the kids demanded that their parents change their minds and forget their plan if they wanted to be together. The children left their parents and went with a group of immigrants hiding under the luggage. The parents begged us to tell them where the children were hiding. They went after them and reached them close to the border. Only after tearing the travel documents to the country they dreamt about, and promising to immigrate to the Land of Israel with them, did the children come back triumphantly to the camp. They proudly related their victory to the other children and a strong Israeli spirit took hold of all the children in the camp. The great day arrived, the day of the Exodus when many of us left for Israel, despite the obstacles and dangers that awaited us on the way.

A very important event in our lives in the camp was when we got the information about the UN resolution to found the State of Israel. The impact was huge and the joy was great although it was mixed with tears for the memory of our dear ones who in their death commanded us life. In those days was held in Fernwald the first memorial for Rovno's Jews. We knew that gathering Rovno's Jews in camps, the meeting of people from different camps and holding a memorial on German soil of all places – was inspirational. The following members who were active should be mentioned: Kotik, Scwarzefel, Sutin, Shustak and others who managed to organize such a gathering. Every one who attended was hoping to find a relative, or at least get some news about relatives who survived. Most of them were disappointed. It is impossible to describe the crying and the plaints of the assembled people throughout the traditional “Yizkor”. The words of Beker, a young rabbi, made a huge impression when he eulogized and lamented Jewish Rovno. For a short while he took us back to our city and to our homes before the annihilation and he knew also how to consol and strengthen us.

And so we had the privilege of arriving from migrating-camps to the yearned shore and join the builders of our homeland.

Yoel Miller


[Page 584]

From the anecdotal collection of the Holocaust depository

Translation by Naomi Gal

 


IZKOR The people of Israel will remember the Nazi's victims in Rovno.
May they rest in peace
(Page 584 in the Hebrew text)

 

In the Holocaust basement on Mountain-Zion in Jerusalem (this basement served till Yad Vashem was founded) many legends are accumulating, history, plans, personalities. Two of these legends are about the great Maggid from Rovno and Mezerich, the famous Rabbi Dov-Baer and they represent Kiddush Hashem (the sanctification of God's name through martyrdom) and the idea of the Hasidim migration to the Land of Israel. Both legends are dedicated to the memory of the saints of the thriving Rovno community.

 

A. Rabbi Shelomo went alone

The just Rabbi Shelomo sanctified God and lovingly accepted heaven's verdict in the Maggid School in Rovno. They relate that when the old Jewish study house was attacked they found Rabbi Shelomo wrapped in his prayer shawl next to the Holy Ark praying and begging. The murderers laughed but he went on praying, they beat him, tortured him and dragged him to the slaughter place of the whole community. When he began walking he saw his grandfather, the holy Maggid, limping toward him. The Maggid looked at him with his warm eyes and asked: Where are you going, Shelomo my son?

– To the sacrifice, grandfather, answered Shelomo and went on walking surrounded by his torturers.

– “Let's go together!” said the Maggid, “When one goes to sanctify God's name it is better to go in company, as said in Isaac: Two are better than one.”

At first Shelomo was glad that the Maggid was accompanying him, but after they walked together for a while, and the Maggid encouraged him, he thought to himself that the Maggid came with the intention of fortifying him so that he would not be distressed, and he had second thoughts. Did he need encouragement and assistance with sanctifying the name of God? He turned his face toward the Maggid and spoke Torah words:

“ I am afraid, old man, that what the Torah says is that if two went together, one indeed was saved, as it occurred when Isaac was saved. When two are walking it is natural that one is asking for mercy to save the other one, even from Kiddush Hashem, and God grants their wish, but when a man walks alone is it imaginable that he would pray to be saved from Kiddush Hashem?”

The Maggid understood his wish and went away, back to his chair in the study house, and Rabbi Shelomo went alone to his death, with joy in his heart.

 

B. A story about a grain of wheat

Once in dire times Hassidim gathered in the old place of Torah study in Rovno for prayer and pleas. There was there an old man who told a story that happened to the Maggid, itinerant preacher, one hundred and fifty years earlier.

On the conclusion of the Sabbath the Maggid was sitting with his Hassidim at the table immersed in thoughts, his eyes looking far away. He sat that way for a long time and only his sighs disrupted the silence. Then he began mumbling as if talking to himself:

“When a baby is born there is so much crying and yelling! The woman yells when she is in labor, screaming and crying; the baby, too, when he emerges into the world he immediately whines and cries. There is no birth without labor. There is no building without the destruction of the old one. The wheel spins since the first six days of Genesis. Before the wheel ascends it descends. One has to descend before he ascends. The grain does not sprout and grow before it rots and turns into 'nothing'. Something out of nothing. And this is what our blessed elders said: God creates worlds and then destroys them, and then builds them anew. This is fine but what is the point if he destroys them? Since destruction is the 'something' the old one requires the building of a new one, and one cannot go without the other, old must make way for new.”

The Maggid spoke and then stopped and restarted, spinning sparkling ideas and stopped again. Late at night the guests left and the only one who stayed was his best student and confidant, who was always on his side. The Maggid's lips went on moving, praying or talking to himself, suddenly he stopped, looked at his student as if he did not know him, then woke up and said:

– “ Listen to me, Menahem-Mendel, I want you to be my messenger.”

The Maggid took out a grain of wheat and laid it on the table, he took out of the cupboard a mortar, put the grain in the mortar and began crushing it. Menahem-Mendel stood and waited, watching closely his rabbi, looking intrigued.

When the Maggid saw his student standing astonished without saying a word, he patted him fondly on the shoulder and said: “A fresh and beautiful olive tree that God made. Was not Israel called an olive tree? Israel was called in the names of many good trees. But an olive grows on a tree, then it gets picked up and then you press it and grind it and use stones until it oozes its oil. Israel is the same way: the nations beat them and chase them from one place to another, they imprison them and torture them and here is the secret of Israel's light: all the hardships and calamities result in crushing so that the light can appear. The two destroyed temples were crushed, too. The third temple will stand forever. This explains the terrible grinding and crushing of the whole of Israel.”

Yes, Mendel, yes, the new “something” is about to be created, that is why the old “something” has to be demolished, this is why redemption is called “a plant”. This is the way of redemption. Like a plant it can only grow after the grain rots in the earth. We should be preparing for redemption soon. When you say the “Kaddish” you have to say the word “grow” with all your heart, so that we could see the messiah.

Menahem-Mendel listened attentively and his eyes moistened: tears' dew, and when the Maggid finished he bent his head and said with a sigh,

– “And what would happen to me?”

A long silence followed while the student went on staring at his rabbi. Finally the Maggid raised his voice slightly and said,

– “Menahem-Mendel, what are you doing here? Go to the Holy Land.” – and he put the crushed grain in his hand.

That same morning Menahem-Mendel left town and immigrated to the Land of Israel.

He was busy with the grain. He crossed the country from one side to another and was looking for the right place to sow his rabbi's seed. He went to the Galilee and stood all night long facing the Sea of Galilee, while praying. At dawn he looked at the sun that was rising slowly and illuminating the world. He took out the crushed grain and sowed it in an apple grove.

This is where the best of the Maggid's students go to looking for the Geula that would come slowly, like the rising sun.

Dr. Sz”ch


[Page 587]

Uplift and making holy in the eternal remembrance

Translation by Naomi Gal

The foundation of the idea of commemoration is remembrance, remembrance in commemorating characters, personalities or a community. When we erect a tombstone for one person, who died naturally in normal times, we use a regular stone that carries a certain inscription on the deceased grave. Or a pillar of stone or bronze with symbols and inscriptions that is erected in public places in memory of an admired personality paying tribute to his life's endeavor.

Not so when it is a community, a victim-community that reached its tragic end in an uncommon way, under despicable conditions, like the Holocaust that descended on the Jews in the Diaspora, when the nation lost one-third of its sons in a brutal and cruel way, which history never saw before.

Could the people in their homeland and in the Diaspora, who escaped the disaster, remain indifferent to everything they went through without making sure an appropriate tombstone was erected that would commemorate the names and memory of all its sanctified? Indeed we see the remains of the lost communities wake up and the survivors, especially those who arrived to the eternal homeland of the nation, are erecting memorials to their communities in Israel. Tradition and national awareness are guiding the memorial-raisers in finding the right expression for their turmoil when they commemorate the souls of the sanctified.

The tombstones are different, but the aim is one: a sanctified and transcendent commemoration. The hundreds and thousands of the sons of Jewish Rovno in Israel took upon themselves the commemoration of their destroyed community in several ways. The first: planting groves in the memory of Rovno's saints in the Sanctified Forest planted by the Israel National Fund in Jerusalem's mountains, a tree per soul. Living trees will grow as a symbol to the uprooted souls. A tree for each soul that was prematurely uprooted by a cruel hand, together they will consist a living, green tombstone to the whole community.

 


Inscription: The Sanctified Forest
(Page 587 in the Hebrew text)

 


Rovno's descendents planting the first grove in the “Sanctified Forest”
(Page 588 in the Hebrew text)

 

The first grove, with 1,000 trees, was planted in 1953. The second one was planted in 1954 and they are planting more.

The second way to commemorate is this memorial book, in which many of the city's sons did their best to remember Rovno's history and its Jewish community during the generations until they were uprooted by evil.

A third way is to establish a charity-fund in the memory of Rovno's sanctified in the purpose of assisting the city's survivors by lending them small loans with no interest. The fund is now legal and operating.

Many of Rovno's sons in Israel are planning to build a cultural center named after Rovno's Community on the lot assigned by Haifa's municipality on the Carmel Mountain. One hopes that despite the many difficulties the center will be built and that the place will absorb every remain and memory that was left of this important city.

And finally, the listing project of “Yad Vashem” and the transmission of honorary citizenship to the sanctified. The sons of Rovno in Israel and in the Diaspora will persevere in fulfilling their duty to their relatives-the-saints in commemorating them in “Yad Vashem”.

The time of the Nazi occupation was a chain of murdering and exterminating Jews: not a day passed without victims. But the two dates of the mass-slaughters:

November 7 1941
July 13, 1942
These dates have a special place. We would engrave these fateful dates for Rovno Jews on our hearts and commemorate them forever and ever.
Arieh Avitachi


[Page 589]

On the wreckage of the city

Translation by Naomi Gal

The moaning of generations past and the cries of our generation, all mixed together. The groaning of the slaughtered and the howling of the slain in the void of the impervious world. The skies are dark and the light is gone. Anger and wrath poured down. Alone and deserted stood Rovno's sons in the dark days, days of blood, with no support or defense, without help or mercy. The brute could destroy; the devils of the world could reap their harvest, the ungodly of civilization, which were worse than all the previous enemies. The nation, seasoned in many defeats, did not know any such thing throughout its thousands of years.

When the axe came down and the destroyers performed their diabolic scheme to uproot a nation, communities fell like stalks of grain after the reaper, Rovno's sons were amongst the first in Volhynia that fell in “actions” and individually, until there was no living Jew left within the city's limits. Some managed to hide but were eventually discovered by the enemy's henchmen for a “ration of salt” and they, too, fell.

Hence were disrupted the lives of thousands and ten thousands of Rovno's Jews, old and young, men and women. Spiritual and cultural properties were crushed, creations of generations were trampled, the community was wiped out while the enlightened world was watching. The hearts were not wrenched, the world was not shaken by the horrors, the earth did not tremble.

At that time, when rivers of blood were flowing in all the roads and no Jew passed Rovno's streets for fear and terror, we, the lucky ones sat in the renewing homeland; shame darkens our faces for the powerlessness and inability to come to our bleeding brothers' help. Many of them were supposed to immigrate to our homeland, they dreamt about her days and years, and were anticipating, many of them tried to come in impossible ways, and failed, they are sanctified by us, Rovno's sons our brothers, who can recount their greatness and their loss!

I am watching my city's sons on their death-march, their final route, their faces lowered, their legs stumbling, the light of life extinguished from their eyes, and they are walking like sheep to slaughter. Among them parents, brothers, sisters, and dear-relatives they and their children are pushed to the gallows. From far I feel them holding their breaths, the tremor of their souls and their bleeding hearts. They are walking toward the ditches that were dug for them, and they feel it is their last route. A hysterical sobbing tears the air, and its echo is lost faraway.

My heart turns and I pray bitterly: may the evil come before thee, God almighty, and you will take revenge.

I am walking through the scene of the mass-murder and the earth burns my feet and my body, I cannot find peace. Nothingness and bereavement in your streets, my city. I roam around looking for the past, the tumultuous life I used to know, I peek in your alleys, and you are abandoned, ruined and deserted, with none of your Jewish sons and builders, who built and cherished you hundreds of years. No synagogues since there are no prayers, no schools since there are no students nor teachers, no aid-institutions, since there are no aided nor aiding. Devastation and annihilation on every corner, desecrated Torah scrolls scattered and grieving mezuzahs in the entrances of Jewish houses inhabited by strangers. No Hebrew speakers, no pioneers waiting for “Aliya” no life, nothingness. Only I, the only remain, walking broken and crushed mourning my city, my Rovno.

And I knew for sure that the end had come, the splendid crown was smashed and the rich violin silenced, destroyed my city amongst Jewish communities that were annihilated by tyrants, murderers and impure.

O Rovno, my burnt city, would you ask about the remains of your sons whose heart is crying bitterly for your fate!

Arieh Avitachi

 


Mass grave in Rovno
(Page 590 in the Hebrew text)


[Page 591]

Remember the calamity of Israel

Translation by Naomi Gal

Remember the calamity of Israel; remember the loss and the rebellion,
Let them serve as sign and lesson for years and generations
And this memory should forever be with you, when you walk, lie down, wake up
Betroth forever the memory of brothers that are no longer there
And the memory should be in your flesh, blood and bones.
Grind your teeth and remember: when you eat your bread – remember,
when you drink your water – remember, when you hear a song – remember
when the sun shines – remember, when the night comes – remember
and remember when it is a holiday.
When you build a house leave a crack so that you will always remember the
destruction of the house of Israel; when you plow, raise a mound of stones
A memorial to the brothers who were not buried in a Jewish grave
When you lead your sons to wedding remember while rejoicing
The memory of the sons that will not wed
And the living and the dead will become one, the fallen and the survivor
Those who went and will not come back
And those who remained
Shema man of Israel the voice calling you from depths:
Do not take my blood, do not…
Dr. M. Devorjscki

 

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