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[Page 291]

Szczebreszyn under Hitler's occupation

by Devorah Fleischer

Translated by Moses Milstein

The whole town of Szczebreszyn was enveloped in horror. Young and old, Jew and Christian, awaited the future with sorrow and despair.

Sept 1 1939

– That cruel date marking the outbreak of the Nazi war. Like everywhere else, the news hit S like lightning.

Nursing classes were offered, for Jewish women as well. We had hardly had time to have a few classes before the German airplanes began flying over our heads. People hid where they could: orchards, gardens, fields, villages.

 

Sept 8 1939, Shabbes

– A large armada of bombers flew over, and dropped hundreds of bombs on our little shtetl. Instantly, we came face to face with horror. There were many wounded and killed – among them, Yosele Warman and his wife, Shmuel Yankel Grant, and Binyamin Shmacher's daughter.

 

Sefer torah burned with our own hands

Sept 13 1939, Rosh Hashanna

– The Germans are here. The first thing they did: they took Yechazkel Ehrlich who worked in the soda water factory, and forced him to take the sefer torahs out of the ancient shul, and burn them, with his own hands, on the street.

He told me later, through bloody tears, about his great anguish and feelings of guilt. He has not forgiven himself to this day.

The Germans refrained from other dirty tricks, because the second day of Succoth, the Soviets arrived. We thought our salvation had arrived, and we were saved from humiliation and extermination. However, after a few days we heard news through the radio that the Soviets were withdrawing from our shtetl, and the Nazis were coming back.

That night a large part of the Jewish population fled. – Some left with the Russian military, and some hid outside town.

The next day, the Germans returned, and showed again their bloodthirsty nature. They grabbed people for work, forcing them to clean the streets, the latrines and outhouses with their hands. Every day, tortured screams, every day, human sacrifices. By day, you had to work, at night, you hid where you could.

 

A story about a ladder

Sept 26 1939

Hiding in an attic, Abraham Reichstein's son-in-law was about to pull up the ladder, but on seeing an SS officer below him he panicked, and dropped the ladder on the German's hand.

After this, an order immediately went out that Jews could not leave their houses. All Jews, men and women alike, were driven from all over the city, like animals, to the Magistrat [city hall] which was heavily guarded on all sides.

When the lawyer, Paprotski, heard about this, he went to the priest, Tczeszlewski, and both went to the mayor, Franchak. All three then went to the German commandant and explained to him that the issue of the ladder was an accident, and assured him it would not happen again. The commandant made a big speech to everyone that if this or a similar incident happened again, every tenth Jew would be shot. Before this was even published, Rev Yichiel Blankman and Shlomo Maimon, and others had already been beaten up.

 

Oct 30 1939

The city is trembling with the news that Gestapo have been running around with a list of prosperous Jews. They beat them viciously with truncheons. Badly beaten were Baruch Shisl, Abraham Reichstein, and others.

A lot of people fled to the Soviet side last night across the Green border. My husband and son left then too.

In October 1939,[1] the Germans burned the shul.

 

Refugees arrive

Winter set in. People fled to Zamosc on sleighs. Captured together near the agrar school, which has become a Gestapo post, were Israel Pope, Yosel and Getsl Weinbleit (Zelig Fisherl's son), Moishe Shpool's wife, Moishe Wolf, and Miriam Ziser. Only Isrulke Pope returned, because they took him for a Christian.

In December, on a fiercely cold night, a train arrived full of Jews expelled from other parts of Poland. Their cries rent the night. A lot of them were brought to the beit hamidrash from Rev Mordechai's court. In the morning, whoever had the means, took people into their homes. Later, a kitchen was established for the homeless in the beit hamidrash.

A few quiet months passed. People slowly went back to work. But on the Soviet side, conditions became very bad. People were sleeping in train stations with no means of supporting themselves. People began to return home. Along with many others, my husband returned. My son remained in Bialystok.

 

Problems from the Judenrat and the Poles

A Judenrat was established. Nobody willingly wanted to become one of them. They were constantly drinking with the Nazis, and betraying the Jews.

The Germans took Jews for street work, and to Belzec to dig canals. In order not to be sent away, every one tried hard to get work at the air-field near the sugar factory. My husband found work there as a foreman of the qualified workers. In order to lighten the lot of the Jews, my husband took on a large number of unqualified people, anyone who approached him. Because of this, he received a lot of trouble from the Judenrat who were trying to make a business out of this by squeezing more money out of the Jews.

There were other reasons they wanted to work at the air-field. They preferred to work under a Jewish overseer, it was near to home, and they received bread, soup, and some vegetables.

The Polish underclass contributed to German chicanery and the downfall of the Jews. They fingered Shimon Goldman, Hillel Eisen, and Leibkele Glaser and his wife as Communists. They were arrested and sent to Zamosc. After 2 months, Shimon Goldman and Hillel Eisen returned. But Leibkele Glaser, and his wife, perished in jail.

Conditions were deteriorating from day to day. Jewish stores and their merchandise have been long since confiscated. Only some merchandise has been secreted with amenable Christians. You had to steal it back little by little in order to try to survive. So time passed until June 22, 1941 when the war with Russia began.

For the last month, we have seen the German military continuously massing during the night. Jews have been increasingly oppressed, forbidden to go to the countryside, or to buy from Christian stores in town. For such a transgression, Itsku Minzberg (my brother-in-law's son) was taken to Lublin to the famous number 7 Lipowa Street to be seen no more.

 

Evicted from homes

In the winter of 1941, every Jew had to relinquish any furs he might have. For not obeying, the penalty was death. Because of one fur, found hidden between 2 walls, Haim Maimon and Gershon Staatfeld (Shloime Maimon's brother-in-law) were taken out to Zwierzyniec forest and, there, killed.

The Jews were driven out of their houses and concentrated in the back streets. Only on Green street where we lived, in the market near the church, and on the “potchene” were the occasional Jews still living. The confinement, the crowding, and poor clothing brought Typhus.

Many people died then. My husband became infected from the newcomers who used to come to the kitchen to eat. He could not permit himself not to help the unfortunate. After two weeks of illness in hospital, he died on the 8th of January 1942. At the same time Binim Rosenfeld also died.

Two days after this tragedy, I too was taken to hospital. The doctors held out little hope for me. But I survived. I was bed-ridden and sick until Pesach. At that time, baking bread was forbidden, much less matzos. We got a small portion with our ration cards. With great difficulty, we managed to get a couple of kilos of flour from Christian bakers and, at night, with stealth, we baked at home.

 

Bad news, terrible events

Before Pesach, we heard bad news about Jews being transported out of Lublin and all the little shtetlach. We waited fearfully for the Aktion to happen here.

Rav Yichiel Blankman, at some risk, gathered a minyan and went to the grave of Rev Simchele, and begged for mercy for the Jews of S. Rev Simchele stated in his will that whenever there is danger in the city, he would help, if his grave were visited for the next 10 generations. This is the 9th generation. I don't know if it was a miracle, but the rail cars were already at the station. People wandered around in a daze. Everyone saw his death before his eyes. And then an announcement: the quota has been filled without S.

Our relief did not last long. Right after Pesach, it was rumored that “there is a list of 70 people.” I did not know if that meant women too. But I had a feeling they would not be spared.

One day, 6:00 in the morning, we heard a commotion. Through a window, I noticed that they were leading the Bronsteins, father and son, (the kazioner Rabiner and his son, the dentist).

I realized that their house would not be visited again, so I snuck into Natan Bronstein's house through Jodcikovski's orchard. There, I witnessed the heart breaking distress of both the wives and the children. They told me immediately that I was being sought too.

The murderers took away 13 people: both Bronsteins, Moishele Fersht, Liba Itta Berger, Shloime Dales, and others. Shloime Dales ran away. Liba Itta Berger, Moishe Arieh Gelernter and Moishe Fersht were shot near the Magistrat. All the others were taken to the Zwierzyniec forest and killed.

Also on the list were: Abraham Finkel, Abraham Rothstein's wife, Beile Berger, Esther Mantle, Heshl and Itzhak Haim Eisen, Itsele Fersht, Menachem Neitel, Shimon Rice, David Sapir (my brother-in-law), and Sala Danziger. We all hid away. The Polish police took huge sums of money to keep quiet, but we still had to hide. For four months, I slept in a tiny attic in our wooden house with two other people. Life became a monotonous misery. People went around like lunatics, not knowing what to do with themselves. Everyone was tortured by the thought: I am going to die. We had no peace, day or night.

Now there were shooting sprees on the roads. It was no longer permitted to go to the sugar factory, only to the air-field with proper documents. Everyone had to be find work. The unemployed were sent off. Half of the men and women of S. went to the Krasnobrod forest every day to work.

I and nine other women worked in the garden in the hospital. Among them: Hadass, (Moishe Buk's daughter), Hadass (Leib Doktor's daughter), Tzviah Fersht, and Ruchel Shpool. We hid ourselves: at night in the attic, or in another hiding place, in the daytime in the garden – often without a piece of bread.

The Poles exploited the Jewish labor. We had to work with absolutely no wages. They were, moreover, doing us a favor by employing us. Even Dr. Zigmunt Klukowski, the famous physician-historian, understood that Jews should work without bread. The Poles treated us like slaves. We were powerless, and endured all kinds of sorrows and humiliations.

 

The aktions

Shavuot, 1942, saw the first Aktion. The Judenrat fulfilled the German orders and rounded up Jews for shipment to Belzec. The work cards did not help. 280 people were shipped out. A lot of people also died in S that day.

Every day we received depressing news brought to us by the train workers: Every day 5-6 sealed cars full of people go through, bound for Belzec. Jews wandered around terrified, weakened, at the end of their strength. Seeing that even work can not save you, they gave up and avoided work.

In June, 1942, more people rounded up. Twenty six men were taken, among them: Hershel Ingber, Mordechai Frank, Baruch Frenkel, Yehoshua Glattman, Nathan Shtibel, Haim Nie. The Germans herded them in broad daylight through the streets to the “vigon”, and there killed them.

Right after this, they made sure we understood that Jews were not allowed in the countryside. The assassins in Deszkowice shot Yankel and Etele Bricks, Hadass (Moishe Biks daughter who had fled there to hide) and her uncle's family. At about the same time, they sent away to Mecholov, Laizer Zera and Leibish Shmayele's son, Yoseph (a barber), and shot them. People were crazed. We had to go to work, and every day, wait for another Aktion.

 

Hiding in an attic

The news was out that S will become Juden-rein. We saw no escape. What can you do? How do you disappear?

In the still of the night (so that the Polish neighbors would not hear) people dug deep cellars underground, under the latrines, or searched out hiding places in attics, well camouflaged. But all our toil and ingenuity was for naught. We envied the dead. The end arrived for us Jews who were so brutally annihilated by the murderers.

The following happened on October 21 1942: Quite early in the morning, we heard shooting. I barely made it into Isrulke Germanovitch's house. There was nobody left there except for his little 4 year old daughter, Ruchele, who, in the turmoil, was left behind. I took her to me, and calmed her down, and together, quickly, we got into an attic cupboard. There, we found her mother. We could not get to the prepared hiding place at Germanovitch's.

We lay there a whole day in great fear. We heard the houses being demolished. The murderers were running around searching every hole. Sometimes they were in our prison in the attic. Shooting could be heard from all sides mixed with the cries of parents, the wailing of children. You could go mad listening to this.

I don't know what happened to those closest to me in the last moments. Beile Berger, who lived with me, was sick and bedridden. Reizl Berger tore herself free from the murderers' grasp, and escaped to the fields, and later to the forest. Before, she had not wanted to hide with me, thinking there was still time.

At night, I went down to my house. I crawled on all fours so as not to be seen from the street. Everything was demolished, the doors and windows shattered. I took along a little water, and a piece of bread, and went to the second hiding place which was behind a separate wall in Germanovitch's house. There were 14 of us there. We had to crawl up to an attic through an opening in the kitchen which was covered up after. We lay there in fear, the Germans passing by frequently in their searches. It was so comfining, there was no air. The lamp would not burn. At night, we went out to get some air.

 

A funeral of the living

I realized that I could not stay there. So I went to the previous hiding place in the attic. Hidden in other attics were Zelig Fisher's children, the Ketselech, and the shochet's family. Through the cracks, we saw them lead away Moishe Ketsele to the yard. The Polish policeman, Gall, who collaborated in the Aktion, shot him. This was 23rd October, 1942.

That same day, we saw them lead out the whole courtyard full of people. The heavily armed murderers, aided by guard dogs, led them. Polish children ran after them. I will never forget the horrible picture: a funeral of the living! Exhausted, filthy from hiding, resigned to their fate, they went wretchedly to the slaughter.

Lying in the attic, all manner of thoughts crossed my mind, thoughts of being doomed to die. I saw how people from other hiding places expired from thirst and hunger. I decided to run away to the forest. Also fleeing with me were Itshak Haim Eisen, and Latche Eisen.

 

Fleeing to the forest

On the 24th of October, early, we escaped through the fields to Klemensov station, and from there, into the forest. We were certain we would not live, but if we were to be killed by a bullet, better to die in freedom.

In the forest, we came across many people. They came here by crossing the river. We reckoned that there were more than 1000 people in the forest. Regrettably, most died at the hands of the Poles.

Among others there were: Motel Blatt, Israel Zirer, Laizer Untzig, Binyamin Shuk, Yankel and Shmuel Miller, Aaron Shea (Grishker's son), Hadass Beitcher (Leib Doktor's daughter) Feige Reiber, and her family, Zeftl Reiber and her family, Sarah and Breindl Shisl, both Hochgelernter sisters, the Dym family, Pessl Mabeh, Yosef Tuchschneider (Leibish Shmeieleh's grandson) the Eisen brothers and their sister, Hershel Bricks, the Kulpes, the younger daughters of Yankel Lutwack, the Herring family.

Out of all these, survived Itke Herring, Raizel Berger, Zindl Reiber, Itche Shtemer and his family, Gershon, Roizele, Zhiletts, and Yenkele – Manker's boy.

After two days, I left the forest. We did not meet again until after liberation.

I want to add that there were Christians who empathized with the Jews and helped and suffered because of it. One such was the milner Brilowski whose garden bordered the hospital garden. He showed us an escape route in case the Germans came for us. Behind the barn, he cleared away obstacles and made a clear route to the river. I would also like to mention Dr Spaz, the priest Tczeszlewski, the vicar, the organist Stets and his daughter, the pharmacist, who helped Jews. Hidden Jewish things found there caused them much grief.

But people like these were few. Most of the residents declared themselves to be Volks Deutche, and collaborated with the murders and the aktions against the Jews.

Bad Reichenhal, June 15 1947


Translator's Footnote

  1. Dr. Klukowski puts this at Nov. 15, 1939 (MM) Return


[Page 300]

Twenty-four Children Saved from Christian hands

by Devorah Fleischer

Translated by Moses Milstein

In 1945, after the destruction of Polish Jewry, the few families that survived wandered from city to city looking for a trace of their relatives. I too, as one of the survivors, dragged myself around for long months, on highways and byways, looking, asking, hoping, but without any sign of my only child, or my sisters and brothers.

Bitterly dejected over my fate, and after endless wandering in cities and villages, I settled in Lodz where there was a larger Jewish community. Few there were from Poland, most were returnees from Russia. They were in a terrible depressed state. They had come from the forests, the bunkers, and they were homeless, unable to start their lives, with no one to turn to, and no where to go.

It was then that each person first became aware of the great tragedy that had occurred, and the fact they were now alone. Anyone who came back to his home town, and saw that no trace of Jews remained, when it seemed like only yesterday that the streets were alive with thousands of Jews, was overcome with great melancholy. The towns were dead, like a huge cemetery with no graves.

There were just a few Jews in the larger cities. They lived in fear of the Christians who were still filled with hatred and often fell on the remaining Jews, and shot them for no reason other than that they were Jews. After years of suffering in their hiding places, their lives in constant jeopardy, often going weeks without food or water in the dark holes-now, having gained their freedom, they were killed by a bullet shot by the murderous Poles. Even now, after the liberation, those with a characteristic Jewish appearance were afraid to show themselves in the streets, or to take the trains which were often stopped, the Jews taken out, and shot.

 

Influenced by an Israeli emissary

In November, 1945, among the emissaries bringing the first greetings from Israel, was Leibele Goldberg (from Yagur), under the alias Turek, who came with the goal of returning Jewish children to the Jewish people.

I first met him in Lodz at the Bregman family. The Bregmans displayed great care for the reclaimed children, keeping them for many weeks like children of their own, sometimes paying out money to ransom them from Polish hands. Leibl was introduced to me by chaver Sheftl, chairman of the Central Historical Commission of Lodz.

Leibl, an intelligent young man, unassuming, energetic, persuasive, fervently explained the goal to me: Finding Jewish children kept by Christians, and rescuing them. Without a thought for how dangerous travel would be, I immediately agreed to help in this important work.

He pointed out the difficulties of the clandestine and illegal undertaking. We had to be ready to pay with our lives since these were turbulent times in the cities and on the trains. He affected me so strongly that nothing was going to hold me back. I thought to myself that with his characteristic Jewish appearance, he was putting his own life in danger. I then dedicated myself to one goal-tearing the Jewish children away from Polish hands at any cost, and with this, stilling my own pain.

I met him on a Friday night, and by Sunday, I was already on the road as a Christian. I went to the Lublin area which was the most familiar to me, but also the most dangerous at the time. It was, after all, the region of Majdanek, Sobibor, Treblinka, and Trawnik in the time of the Germans, and, later, the biggest zone of anti-Jewish terror perpetrated by Ukrainians and Poles. My acquaintances and near ones tried to dissuade me from going. My only remaining father-in-law traveled from Chelm to Lodz (a considerable distance), putting his own life in danger by traveling by train, to plead with me, “Why do you need to do this? You have survived the war and now you are putting your life in danger?” I answered him, “There is nothing to hold me back. I have no one left! It's all the same… earlier, later. And since I have survived, I must accomplish something!”

I was in constant contact with Leibl during the year I was involved in this difficult, stressful work. I often had trouble locating him. He himself usually didn't know where he would be at any given time. He was often nervous when he left, and failed to write or telephone while on the road.

I remember that once, returning from travel, I was told that Leibl had been desperately running around in the Zionist “coordinatsye” looking for me. “Who knows what could have happened to her?” I, in turn, began to look for him. I ran to the organization on Narutowicza Street, to the Historical Commission on Srodmiejska, and to his residence. Finally, resigned to not finding him, I returned to the “coordinatsye” where I found him in a room with the newly founded Aliyat Hanoar[1] teaching Israeli songs. He was active in all domains.

More than once, he put his life in danger traveling by train. Once, on July 1st, 1946, while traveling with the emissary Nathan Blizowski, from Warsaw to Szeczin, the A.K.[2] stopped the train at Malkin and killed three chalutzim from the Bialystok Gordonia[3]. Leibl and Nathan were shattered by this as well as by the news from Israel that the English military, on June 29th, 1946, had attacked Yagur where they had left their wives and children.

On arriving in Warsaw, they agreed that if one of them should fall, the other would transfer his body to Eretz-Israel.

The well known author, Chaim Grade, was present at this discussion, and it made a very deep impression on him. He asked them to describe the work that had motivated them to leave their families behind in Israel where their lives were in danger from the English, and to come alone to Poland, endangering their own lives. He later visited the orphanage in Lodz (Piotrkowska 88) where he saw the children rescued from Polish hands sleeping innocent and carefree in white beds, clean, well-fed, but lonely orphans. Deeply moved he wrote the poem. “Yosel From Yagur.”

There were four such orphanages, founded with great effort and difficulty, but with much love, and staffed by specialized supervisors and educators. Two on Piotrkowska 88, and Narutowicza in Lodz, and two on Pietrolesia and Kamienec in Lower-Silesia closer to the border, from where they were transferred to Germany and, after, to Eretz-Israel.

 

By various means

During the war, Jewish children came to live with Poles in various ways. The majority were given up to Christians by their parents who knew they were going to their death and still had the opportunity to do so before the aktions which took place in 1942-1943. At the same time, they also gave up all that they possessed. There were also cases where compassionate Christians, finding a child wandering around alone in the forest, or in a village, took them in. But such cases were few, because the farmers often betrayed and gave up the children. A blonde child with blue eyes, who could speak Polish, had a better chance.

Christians who kept Jewish children were mostly of the Polish intelligentsia, good friends of the parents. This was mostly in the larger cities, because in the smaller shtetls it was more difficult. The neighbors lived too closely, and knew each other too well, and often betrayed them, sometimes out of enmity, sometimes out of envy because the child could be exploited, or his fortune stolen.

Many Jewish children-I believe the majority of those alive after the war-were saved with the help of the Catholic clergy who took them into the church notwithstanding that they put their own lives in danger.

The Red Cross also helped. In 1943, when the Warsaw ghetto was burning, the Red Cross drove around in cars on the Polish side, and, quickly, so the Germans would not see, picked up the children who were wandering around, and afterward transferred them to the churches. There, the children found themselves among hundreds of Christian children, and were well protected from the murderous Germans.

 

Polish clergy does not want to relinquish

It is regrettable that still today there are many Jewish children in these same churches because the clergy converted them, and considered it a great sin to give them back to Jews.

In 1946, R' Herzog visited the Pope in Rome in order to see about reclaiming the children from the churches, but to no avail.

Getting the children back from Christians families was met with great difficulty, because they did not want to give them up. Everyone had their own interests in mind.

Many of them saw them as a source of income. The Jewish committees which were established soon after liberation in the large cities such as Warsaw, Lodz, and Lublin, gave the Christians holding Jewish children large sums of money practically every month, as well as clothing, food etc. Every Christian hoped that a rich uncle from America would materialize and pay him thousands of dollars.

The farmer in the village had, in the ten to twelve year old Jewish boy, a dedicated shepherd, working for free, whereas he had to pay the parents of a Christian boy to look after the cows, or geese, four to five measures of wheat annually, as well as clothing him. The Jewish shepherd, without a guardian, barefoot and poorly clothed, looked after the cows until late autumn, in rainy weather, and also in the frozen days of winter. The child also had to work and do the cooking in the farmer's house. A twelve year old girl told me that she had to cook for the whole family of seven during the harvest.

There were also cases, particularly in the cities, where the Christians became very attached to the child, and loved it as their own. These people did not approach the Jewish Commissions about their Jewish child, because they were afraid to lose it.

The Jewish committee after the war in Poland was pro-Communist and was not interested in reclaiming Jewish children from Christians. And if they were reclaimed, they were content to leave them in Polish orphanages in order to build a Greater Poland. The committee was also absolutely against transferring the children to Eretz-Israel. Furthermore, there was no expectation that the committee would help the Zionist organization in reclaiming Jewish children from Christians. They also did not want to share the lists of Jewish children. But we did find some interested people in the communist committee that did come to our aid, and gave out the lists.

Haifa 14.12.1950


Translator's Notes

  1. Youth Aliyah Return
  2. Polish Home Army Return
  3. A youth movement Return


[Page 305]

The Last Train

by Aaron Shrift

Translated by Moses Milstein

My father worked hard all his life. Hard is an understatement. He would leave the house very early and return late at night. He would come home late in the winter night, broken by hard work, eat his poor meal, and sit down by the warm oven to learn Tanach with us. We children would eagerly swallow his every word.

But not everything proceeds as we would wish. Sometimes my father's hand would swell up from his labors and he would not be able to work. Then, there would be nothing to eat. There were seven of us small children and we had a healthy appetite. We didn't have to be coaxed to eat, we would have eaten stones.

The whole responsibility for making a living lay on my father. My mother was also not in the best of health, but she would do everything in her power so her children would not go hungry. Sometimes times were better, sometimes worse, but more worse than better. I was in Shebreshin until I was 18 years old, and I remember that even in the worst of times, I never saw my father cry.

My mother, however, would, from time to time, have a good cry. It's easier for women. There was no lack of opportunities. For example, Friday evening at candle lighting, erev Yom Kippur, and sometimes, when the soul is burdened, it doesn't hurt to cry a little. But my father was unmoved and he did not cry.

I don't think there was anyone in the shtetl who did not know my father Reuben Shrift (Sapuch), a tall man with a copper, a little grayish already, beard. He was a very intelligent man. He was always ready to give advice to others, but he could not help himself. He also liked to joke around. For this he had his friends-Yosel Kandl, Atchi Shiser, his brother Beirach, and many others. He went through life with a light heart.

So life went on until 1939, when the Second World War broke out. As soon as the Germans entered, the troubles began. First Chaim Laizer Shtreicher was beaten up. The goyim immediately began to steal. When I saw a goy carrying out bolts of cloth from Arish Maimon's store, I grabbed the goods from him and ran to Simchele Roife's house. The Germans saw this and shot at me. Luckily, they did not hit me.

It didn't last long and the Germans left and the Russians entered. We were overjoyed. Jews became big “machers”. They made arrests, they jailed anyone they felt like jailing. The spree didn't last long. After the big celebration came the sorrow. All at once, we heard that the Russians were leaving and the Germans were coming back. Things became tense and panicky. The young people began to organize themselves to escape, heading toward Lemberg. There were many in town who had to flee.

This was after Succot. The nights were already cold and the rains began. I decided that I would have to go. With me came Yenkel Miller, his brother, Shmuel, Piniele Reis, and many others. We left our homes at 4:00 pm heading for Zamosc.

Before we left, we heard that the last train from S would be leaving for Ludmir (Wlodzimierz Wolinski) at midnight. We had no hope of getting on this train because it was coming from Zwierziniec and was already half-full. In S., whole families with children who had to leave were getting ready because it was their last opportunity. Among these families were my sister Chaye and her husband Yenkel Becher who was in the militia that the Communists had organized in the time of the Russian occupation. With no hope of going along, we left on foot.

When my father returned from Minche-Maariv, he was told that I had left without saying good-bye to him. So he declared that I must be made to return. He was not against my leaving, but how do you go away without a “Go in good health?”

We were already quite far. Suddenly, I saw my little brother, Shaye, running after me and crying. I stood stock still, waiting to see what had happened. “Father orders you to come straight back home,” said my brother. Understandably, I did not want to do so. So he fell at my feet and did not let me go any further. At that moment, a goye passed by and said, “Your voyage will not meet with good luck, if you do not return home.” I didn't spend any more time thinking about it, and said good-bye to my friends and went back.

Back at home, my father was overjoyed to see me, but he knew I had to leave. We decided that I would leave on the last train at midnight with my sister, brother-in-law and their daughter Sheindele. The train left, however, when it was already daylight.

I made my farewells to my mother, my sister and brother at the house. My father decided to accompany me. Along the way, he stopped, clutched me to his chest and began to cry loudly. Today, after so many years, my ears still ring with the sound of my father's weeping. I believe he felt that we would never see each other again. The last train separated us forever.

*

My brother Shaye, soon after, became the first martyr. He was shot by the Germans. He was not yet sixteen years old.


[Page 306]

The Last Evening in My Home

by Sarah Fuks (Ingber)

Translated by Moses Milstein

It was a time of changes. New information came daily. Yesterday, we had the Germans, later, the Russians. The joy when the Russians came to S. is indescribable, because we were free of the Hitler-murderers, even if only for one day.

Suddenly more news: we have to get ourselves ready to leave, because the Russians are retreating, and the Germans are coming back. Rather than fall into German -Polish hands, it would be better to fall on the road. Mother prepares a pack for each child-bread and a little salt.

We are going to the train. In the dark, we see many people-women, men, children-everyone on foot. The question on everyone's mind-where to? Meanwhile, everyone is going in the same direction-to the train. People snake along led by the same desire to live. We are accompanied by a sea of tears. Only the young are going, the old are too exhausted from hunger and the bombings and the hiding. They have no strength to flee. At the train there is a din and a racket. Where do we go, is the question. All carry only as little as possible, something to cover themselves with. Suddenly, a new commotion: There are only a couple of cars along the long platform. There is not enough room for everybody. People crowded together. There are a large number of Jews from Zwierzyniec. The wailing reaches up to the sky.

Parents came to say good-bye to their children. My mother and father and mother-in-law also came, and took off their last little shmate and threw it on us. We looked at our loved ones for the last time, and the train pulled out of the Shebreshin station.

Our closest and dearest ones disappeared, and we lost the hope of growing up together with the rest in our shtetl where everything was so near and dear.

The singing of the Chasidim in the shtiblach is only a memory. Who can forget Moishe Kliske Farber's hammering Friday night, “Kinder, shabes, close up, close up.” The tumult of the young people on the new promenade Friday evening when everyone went to their organization-to the Chalutz, to the Bund, everyone with the desire to learn something there.

Early Saturday morning Isak Shmoiger Germanovitch would wake people for morning prayers. A little later we would hear, “To shul, to shul!” And our mothers and fathers, with their deep piety, went to pray.

Our big beautiful shul has been consumed by fire along with our families, and our hope that here, where we were born, we will grow and flourish in the company of our own.

Montreal, Canada


[Page 309]

My Ruined Town

by Abraham Weinrib

Translated by Moses Milstein and Yocheved Klausner

A friend of mine sent me a letter,
On paper he wrote it all down.
Fear runs through and hurries…
There are no Jews left in this town–

The town that was once full of Jews,
Chasidim, Mitnagdim, and secular–
Now empty streets, and a vacant market
Give it a funeral air.

A silent cemetery, houses–tombstones
stare at the emptiness around–
The dead, without graves, lie about,
after the days of slaughter, that one, the big one…

The stones, where Jews once tread
to business, to work, to prayer–
Lie soaked in tears, splattered with blood,
in sadness, hidden, silent as the dead…

They are ashamed to face the Heavens,
Give testimony of what they have seen –
As the Germans slaughtered a town,
From grandfathers to suckling babies…

The holy houses–synagogues and houses of prayer
where Jews poured out their hearts,
lie in ruins, defiled,
obliterated by the murderers, bare…

Gone is the Bet Hamidrash, the books, the Gemaras,
Gone is the sound of study through the night,
the songs of Abayey and Raba the Sages
sung by the boys learning Torah.

Gone is the cheder, the rabbi, the Chumash,
The happy urchins–the children–
Like an offering of cattle
Burned on the altar of the Teutonic Moloch…

And the youth from libraries, and unions,
with books, theatre, and songs. –
Gone are the Jewish sons and daughters,
who marched with flags along,

They marched, convinced of their ideals,
Not just for their personal welfare,
but fought for the Jewish people, and suffered
for humanity, for the common wheal…

There are no Jewish youth left in my town,
from the Bet Midrash, the clubs, and the union–
Together with mothers and fathers…
all went to their death as one…

And houses, where Jews once lived
for hundreds, and hundreds of years
speaking Yiddish, dreaming, striving,
are houses where others now live.

And the wealth of Jews: stores and goods,
workshops with tools and toil
turned over to the hands of Polish enemies
who helped the Nazis despoil…

Once neighbors, now foes,
they have become the heirs–
of my town, that is ruined.
Of this, my friend wrote.

Santos, Brazil, 1947


[Page 311]

A night of terror[1]

by Balche Milstein (Langburd)

Translated by Moses Milstein

Very early on, the burdens of family fell on me. After a lengthy illness, my mother died. At the age of 9, I had to manage the household. I was forced to go give up my girlhood and become an adult.

My father, Feivel Langburd, like many other Jews who lived in town, carried out his business in the surrounding villages. We saw him only on weekends, because the rest of the week he was busy working among the farmers. Early on Monday morning, he would kiss us good bye, and go back to the villages. On Friday, covered in dust from the roads, he would return. When my little sister, Shaindel, and I would see him, our joy would know no bounds.

There were no modern communication methods then; trains or passenger cars did not travel to the distant small villages. Mostly you traveled on foot. If we were lucky, we could get a ride on a horse and wagon, driven by a farmer we might know, to take us part of the way. Even though we were young, we knew how hard our father worked so that we could be well fed. I took the place of mother and father to my sister.

As the Nazi plague descended on Polish Jewry, the persecution of the Shebreshiner Jews began.

I remember hearing wild cries in the middle of the night. Everyone was awakened. I ran to the window and looked out. and I saw fire. I could see the fire's reflection on the walls of the church, and the windows of the hospital. The sky was flaming red. People were running and screaming. My little sister and I became frightened. She fainted. Our father was not at home. The Germans banged on the door, and yelled at us to get out. I wanted to save some house-hold things, as well as clothing for my father and sister. I remembered that he had hidden some jewelry under the kitchen floor. But I couldn't find the exact spot where he had hidden it. So I quickly packed a few things, and we got out of the house.

I flew across the street, hoping to get help from the hospital doctor there who knew us as neighbors. While I was standing near the hospital, our house caught fire. The Germans were running around claiming that the Jews themselves had set the shul on fire, and that they would be held accountable. This was a tried and true method of the Germans: pin every crime on the innocent.

The Germans herded the Jewish residents into a garden, near the well, not far from Groisse Shloime's budke. The fire in our house was vigorously being fought, because the priests were afraid that the church near our house would catch on fire next.

I struggled to drag around all the things I had stuffed into a large sheet. My little sister couldn't stop trembling. I calmed her down a little. Not knowing what to do, I decided to go get help from my fiancé's family, so that they could help with the baggage.

A hand grenade was thrown into the courtyard of the shtrickendriers, meant for the Rav. They wanted to punish him. The Germans looked for various measures to frighten the Jews.

While looking for help, I came across the shtrickendrier's daughter, a mother of four children, who had lost track of one of them. I found the child, and brought it back to the desperate mother.

As I walked further along, a German stopped me, and forced me to go where the rest of the people were being assembled. My sister was still with our belongings, back near the hospital. Separated from her, I began to worry about her safety. Suddenly, I saw the Germans leading her and our packs to the gathering place, where I was waiting. My relief knew no bounds.

I saw how Jews were driven from their houses, half naked, in their underwear, some carrying small bags that they snatched in their panic.

Halfway through the night, the Germans ordered everyone to leave their bags behind at the gathering place, and they led us all to the Halle, the market hall. You could only bring along a small pack. So we decided, as before, that my sister should stay behind and guard our things. When I tried to get back to her, a German stopped me, and refused to let me go on. I told him that I had left behind a child, but he didn't believe me, and said that he would shoot me if I were lying. So he accompanied me back. When he saw my sister sitting on the packs, he believed me. To give the impression of “gentlemanliness” he helped us carry our things to the Halle.

The threats of shooting, as well as the minute displays of decency, were one way the Germans played with our nerves.

The majority of Jews were concentrated in the Halle. The stalls were empty, the merchandise had all been stolen. Our pleas to be allowed to bring our things into the Halle with us were ignored. Everything was left lying outside. The Germans assured us they would not allow the Poles to steal anything. They posted guards, and prevented the farmers from the villages from coming into the city.

As we sat in the Halle, we could hear its tin roof cracking from the heat of the houses burning around us. The Germans searched for the Rav, but could not find him. This enraged their beastly instincts. To revenge themselves, they threw an incendiary bomb into the shul. Flames escaped from the windows, and lit up the shul courtyard and the Halle.

The Jews held in the Halle, aware that the shul was on fire, began to bewail the devastation. The flames in the shul consumed its innermost walls, and licked away the prayers of hundreds of years that had been absorbed within. Outside, black crows circled the burning shul, and their cawing was dispersed in the dark night. The Shebreshiner beit hamikdash was no more.

When day came, the Germans accused the Jews of setting fire to the shul, and stated that they would be punished for this. They detained ten Jews, and demanded a large ransom. The rest were let go. The money, of course, was acquired, and the hostages were freed.

After the fire, not a day passed without some new evil decrees inflicted on the Shebreshiner Jews.


Translator's Footnote

  1. The date of the fire was November 15, 1939 according to the diary of Dr. Zygmunt Klukowski Return


[Page 314]

Wandering

by Shaindl Knabl (Stern)

Translated by Moses Milstein

My seventeen year long journey, counting from the time I left my home, my birthplace, until I came to Israel, was one of hard struggle for life and existence, a fight against starvation and destruction. I can still hear my mother as she came to my workplace at Pesach Berger's, and telling me in tears, “Shaindele, leave your work and come and get ready to leave your home, because the danger is great. All the young people are fleeing, and you and Brochele, will also go.”

This was in 1939, when the Red Army was in Shebreshin, and people were saying that they were leaving and ceding the territory to the Germans who had already been here. I obeyed her, settled with my employers who rewarded me generously, and went home to prepare to leave. The following morning-it was Chol Hamoed Succot-my sister and I left on foot on the long journey, following the wagons filled with Jewish refugees from Shebreshin.

We parted from our parents, and my sister Raizele, with broken hearts and hot tears. They accompanied us until the sugar factory, and then they turned back. They kept looking back at us, and we at them, until we were out of sight. My sister and I kept going, resting often, and sorrow kept us from exchanging a single word. Russian soldiers gave us rides on their trucks, and we reached Ludmir by nightfall.

We spent the night in a shul with many others like us, and in the morning we met our relatives who took us to their place which was in barracks on the outskirts of the city. I want to point out that the family were also refugees from Tishvits, and had been here several days, and had secured a room in the barracks. Aside from them, two other families lived in the same room. We slept on the floor. Some had a pillow, others did not. The streets in Ludmir were full of “Biezhentses[1]”. To buy bread or other food in the stores was very difficult-the lines stretched far, far.

 

In a Siberian labor colony

Having no way to provide for ourselves in Ludmir, we signed up to go to the Russian interior for work. We were now three people, because in Ludmir I married my present husband. We arrived in the Siberian labor colony with the registered echelon. Most of the population consisted of exiled Kulaks from the time of the revolution, and criminals. They allotted us a room in the barracks, a plank bed, a blanket, and sent us to work in a textile factory.

The winters were freezing. Snow and frost came in through the wide cracks in our room. Water froze. We had to slice the bread with an axe. (A lot of work with the bread wasn't necessary, because we didn't always have bread.) Both my husband and I worked in the factory. My sister, Brochele, had her own place and earned money to buy the small piece of black bread and watery soup in the “Stolovke” where you had to wait in long lines. There were another twenty Jewish families with us in the “Pasholek.” With the coming of summer, the Jewish families set out for the Ukraine, because they did not want to perish of hunger and cold in the Taiga. We were also among the wanderers. We gathered our meager belongings, and with a young child in hand, we set out in a “parachad” (a cargo ship) looking for better fortune. We got to Krukov, a small town in the Ukraine on the Dnieper river. There we met Yankele and Leah Shtible from S. They helped us get a room with a Ukrainian family. My husband had trouble finding work. But finally he found a job which paid very little, but we managed somehow to live.

But we were not to enjoy the Ukrainian Garden of Eden for long. Soon the Russian-German war began. The town was unexpectedly quickly captured by the Germans, and we had barely enough time to cross the Dnieper on a raft and save ourselves. My aunt Iteh-Riva Weinrib and her two daughters Ettele, and Surele, and her sisters Shaindl-Gitl, and Rivka Boim were also in that area. Unfortunately, they could not save themselves. From that time on, we kept running and the Germans kept destroying our home.

 

In a stone quarry in Uzbekistan

We would stay for several weeks in one place, and then be forced to run further and further until fate drove us to Middle Asia, to Uzbekistan. There we encountered a heartless population. We were in a kolkhoz where we were fed a “lepiashke” (a kind of flat bread). There, our child died of starvation, and we nearly succumbed as well.

At that time, they recruited young people for work in Ural. We registered ourselves, and were taken to a stone quarry. We were given quilted pants, undershirts, and straw shoes with leggings, and we dug out the rocks from mountains that had been blown up with dynamite. We had to break up the rock, load it into wheel barrows, and carry the load onto a barge in the water. The quota was very high. Whoever made the quota received soup and a side dish, and whoever didn't, got soup alone. Thus we lived until repatriation, sundered from the world, from human existence, seeing only rocks and water.

When we registered to go back home to Poland, we had no idea that the devastation was so great. In everyone there had glimmered a spark of hope that, coming back to Poland, we would find someone, that the Poles had saved even one child from families that had remained in Poland. When we crossed the Polish border, we were shocked and depressed by the tragedy that had befallen our people. Many left the train stations to look at the gas ovens, the barrels of ashes, and brought back the tragic news.

 

Repatriates in Lower-Silesia

Most of the repatriated were settled in Lower-Silesia where Germans had lived. We received good houses with nice furniture, clothes and dishes that had belonged to Germans. But all this frightened us. I couldn't use any of the German things. I felt they were covered in Jewish blood. Feelings of fear and pain accompanied our stay in the house. I found a lot of anti-Semitic material in the house, illustrated magazines that mocked Jews, and several pieces of soap with the initials RJF. (Pure Jewish fat.) I sent it all to the Jewish historical institute.

The Kielce pogrom completed the bitterness and fear. The Poles believed that there were no more Jews left in the world. At the end, they realized that a few Jews had survived, so they wanted to complete what Hitler had been unable to. Many Jews left Poland illegally at that time, but they soon stopped that, and we remained where we were.

Life became a little more normal. The various gangs were subdued, and it became a little quieter. The government declared that they would support emigration of Jews to other countries, and we lived in hope. A lot of time passed before that became a reality. We underwent many difficulties in that time, both materially and spiritually.

The atmosphere was tense in Jewish circles during the doctors trials in the Soviet Union, and the Slonski murder in Czechoslovakia. We feared that the same thing was imminent in Poland. We were also shocked when we heard about the activities of the NKVD against Jewish authors and artists.

 

Happy in Israel

Later, the 20th conference of the Communist party proclaimed freedom of speech and democracy. Anti-Semites in Poland used this to spread anti-Semitism in Poland. What was previously hidden was now revealed. But the change also had its good side. It allowed the Jewish masses who had been registered six years before, to leave Poland.

My family and I received permission to make Aliyah to Israel. On November 20, 1957, we crossed the border to Israel, and thereby put an end to the dark wandering episodes of our lives, and thus a new, bright, productive life for me and my family began. I feel fortunate that my children will be raised in their own land, and if they will love and sacrifice for it, they will not meet with disappointment and deception.

Herzliya


Translator's Footnote

  1. Homeless people Return


[Page 318]

In Armed Battle

by Ephraim Farber

Translated by Moses Milstein

Shebreshiner Jews who served in the ranks of the 27th artillery regiment stationed at Ludmir Wolinsk and surroundings were: Yosef Tsoler, Leibish Leibhaber, Ephraim Farber, and others. In far away Danzig, at the famous fortress near the Baltic Sea, Westerplatte, where the German army faced a determined defense from the Polish army, one of the heroic defenders was Moishe Hilf. Shebreshiners fought on every front against the bloodiest enemy of the Jews, the Nazis.

In distant Pomerania, at the slaughter in the Tuchol forest, Yosef Tsoler fell.

After three, four days of fighting the Polish army was completely broken. The military officers took to the air, and fled the field of slaughter leaving the soldiers to their own destiny. The fighting spirit was paralyzed and mass desertions began.

Yosef Tsoler and other Jewish soldiers dug fox holes and mounted a resistance against the bloody enemy with the full conviction that they were defending thousands of Jewish mothers and children. He fought until a bullet put an end to his young life.

His grave is found not far from Tuchol shtetl near a lonely forest path. There are no wreaths or flowers to decorate his grave, just withered leaves that fall in autumn.

*

Berl Koil languished in Stalag A-1 in East Prussia as a prisoner-of-war. I met him at Luba Gall's after I was released from the Lipowa 7 transit camp in Lublin.

I was seized with bitter pity when I saw this person known to the whole working class of S. His belly was swollen from the inhuman conditions suffered by the Jews in Stalag A-1.

I can picture Berl on his shoemaker's stool, his thoughts carrying him far away, over the Alps, where in deep snow the last freedom fighters of the Austrian “Schutzbund ” plodded. And, animated, he removes his glue-covered apron. His lion's roar thunders through the Bund hall describing the lost Viennese “Schutzbund” battle. With his mighty voice he recounts the last days of the Austrian “Schutzbund.” His listeners are carried along and raise their fists against the oppressors.

He inspired us with his great persuasive voice.

This dreamer of human happiness endured the entire Hitler nightmare until death released him.

Kiryat Yam


[Page 320]

Do Not Forget the Dead!

by Mordechi Elboim

Translated by Moses Milstein and Yocheved Klausner

I visited the dead last night,
listened to their complaining:
––So what if we wander around lost,
do you not still have to say kaddish?

And if you did not see our death throes,
did not hear our last will,
are you allowed to dance, to tread on us
on the cemetery paths, bloodied, dusty and gray?

Are you allowed to shut our eyes
seal them with mud
and believe that you can redeem a sin
with a moment's tears of regret?

From every bit of soil, stone and flower,
we peer out like tombstones:
and you, laughing,
you don't even bother to look around,
sunken in lies and lust.

And still more their woe reaches me,
their strange, lonely distress
and a cry cuts through like a knife
and subsides in a lonely moan.

We wander forever in a wild gyre
in winds, in blizzards.
Perhaps you will hide us
so that we can find respite…?

Bodies sundered, burned, crushed to ash
only a wick remains.
So light the wick even if it's weak
so a memory of life remains.
Bury somewhere deep, in a corner of your heart
a yorzeit to bind us
so that in the union
sorrow will wane
and a flame will ignite.

Because if not?––
You are naked in our flame,
hollow, empty, and frozen.
You are deader than we
Having lost the spark of holiness.

Thus did I wander and visit the dead
until the sun's red rays appeared…
From damp ruins the cry arose:
Do not forget, do not forget, the martyrs, the dead!


[Page 322]

Oh, My Little Shtetl

by Pinchas Bibel

Translated by Moses Milstein

I remember that, years and years ago, when our hopes were still young, when the world was still whole, that in a magical town, Carmel, by the sea, near my San Francisco, the writer Peretz Hirshbein came for a rest after a long world tour.

At the Pacific shore, always stormy yet peaceful, where the Sierra Nevada mountains descend in giant, broken steps, there is a quiet town in the forest. The sand is white as snow, and the waves, calmer now, wash the feet of those who have found this place, and have come to live here in unruly nature.

And I remember a night when the clever Hirshbein had invited me to a dinner that he and his beloved wife, the poet Esther Shumiacher, had so ritually prepared, and we sat by an open fire–the woods were cool and foggy, the ocean rhythmically chased the foamy waves–and we read and talked.

Hirshbein said that he was working on a big novel and a new play. Esther read her lyrical songs, and I–my modest prose.

Late at night, Peretz exclaimed, “Bibel, Tell me something about your shtetl. Tell me about your early years.” I laughed, “About my shtetl? What is there to tell? A small dot in Poland, a little yawn, one out of hundreds. It is not important!”

Hirshbein looked at me with warm, sad eyes, “Describe and write, Bibel! Remember and write. Who knows what will happen to our warm homes.”

I did not understand it then. It appears that Hirshbein sensed the beginning of the storm. He foretold the future.

I described but I didn't write.

*

Now it is too late. Now every memory hurts. Now we can't touch those events that have formed us. Now we can't write “poetically,” sing of our loss. Now we can only look back, and silently remember–and grieve–and regret.

And yet, opportunity demands that we wipe off the dust of the years, to revive and retrieve, if just for a minute, our town that once was. To reconstruct the destroyed houses, put back the streets, the budkes, the fences, the people, to reduce oneself and become a young, dreamy boy again in a small Polish shtetl.

The poets say that as long as we remember someone, that person lives among us, but if we forget, then they return to dust and ashes.

So let us remember for ourselves, for our children, for the deceased, for the Jewish life in Poland that disappeared.

I remember our home–an open door for Jews and goyim. A simple home. My grandfather, my five uncles–simple, good Jews.

My father came from elsewhere, from Chelm, from the Brisker yeshiva, from the Warsaw Bet Hamidrash, and brought with him the impetus of the big city.

The shtetl is calm, sleeping in an old dream. Nothing changes. It is a fortunate shtetl. Although a paved road links to Zamosc, to Lublin and stretches away to Bilgoraj, and far, far away even to Lemberg, the quiet is seldom disturbed.

*

The old, nine hundred year old shul dominates and influences life. It is deeply rooted. It is baked into the good Polish earth. Even when Chmielnicki entered the towns, he left Shebreshin in peace. In 1863, the Polish people revolted (my grandfather told me that many Jews assisted) and when the revolt was suppressed, the Russians came in from the Toplice forests, and determined to wipe S from the map for helping the revolutionaries, but by a miracle the city was saved.

Even in our times we were lucky. During World War I, we were not expelled, not bombed. Even Petlura respected us. Yes, S was a lucky city. It was, until the Germans.

We lived quietly. We accommodated with the Poles. We survived the Russians.

We had our “shtot gvir,[1]” ( Mordechai Fleischer in our time) who always ruled over a generous home. It was the dream of poor Jews. The businessmen who worked for a living, and supported a working class in Poland. The workers who accepted their fate–the woodchoppers, water– carriers. The city deaf–mute, even a Jewish thief.

*

The days, the years, passed with quiet, slow rhythms from our river Wiepsz that lovingly divided and encircled our town on three sides. Quiet and rhythmic, deeply rooted in the past, and dreamy, waiting for the Messiah.

I remember the small group that my father belonged to, that met, late in the evening, in our house; the promenading every Shabes morning; the fields on the other side of the cement works; the reading of the first newspapers; the forbidden books.

And the “revolution,” the revolution in clothing. Until then everyone (with the exception of Nathan Sheiner and the Bronsteins) wore the traditional clothing: black caftans to the ankles, flat black caps with a tiny brim. Only at night, in the dark, when respectable people were sleeping, would the youth–my father the first–gather near the hospital, put on a European hat and a short jacket, and promenade.

I remember that during an epidemic of typhus, a market woman yelled at my father that children were dying because they were becoming goyim and wearing fedoras.

*

But the wheel was turning faster and surer. We left the kloiz.[2] We sought the light. A library was founded. A Zionist organization was founded in an attic. A little later, a Bund association.

New people arrived. The young children organized into a scout group with green shirts and long staffs. I hold membership card number four.

The shtetl gave itself a shake. The door to the world opened a little. Lecturers came. The workers made demands of the bosses, even dared to strike. Mass meetings took place even in the Bet Hamidrash. A tall ascetic man came to live in our house. Lazar he was called. He had travelled the world, had been to Eretz–Israel where he contracted malaria, and he founded the first Hebrew school in our house. Later, others came and brought worldliness, knowledge and unrest.

We sensed that Shebreshin would not continue in its long sleep. We wanted to learn about equality and justice. We wanted a little tolerance. We rushed to the world. The Polish schools filled with Jewish children, even though I was inflamed by the words of my teachers, like Pan Hartlieb, who expressed often the sentiment that it was regrettable that Poland must support the parasites, the Jews who suck Polish blood.

We got older. We founded the Hechalutz organization. We readied ourselves for a free socialist life, to physical work, to culture, to the Hebrew language. Some of us left for the greater world, others stayed and prepared.

Others acknowledged their place in the life of Poland, with their connection to their roots, to their home Shebreshin. They developed the town, cleaned it, made it European, dried up the mud, paved the streets with cobblestones, straightened the old houses, built a systematic life, hoped for a better, honest tomorrow.

*

Tomorrow came, however, on the wings of German airplanes, came black as the uniforms of the SS–absolute devastation, with true German precision. None of the inheritors of the past still walks upon the earth.

I think often, I think quietly. I want to immerse myself in the last minutes in the cemetery when the mass graves were already dug.

––––The quiet, wise rabbi has spoken his last words. –––It is certain that his eyes were turned to the sky, to the far horizon. Did he see all the generations, the long, long rows of ordinary people that lived in the shtetl for 900 years, who lived and came to rest in the earth. Did he see–not just the catastrophe of reality–but did he also feel the pain and shame that a band of barbarians could so demonically annihilate the historic chain that stretched from Kazimierz the Great to the first persecuted Jews who found a haven here?

I think. Only sorrow, and grief, and mute hopelessness remain.

San Francisco


Translator's Notes

  1. The wealthy man in town. Return
  2. Small synagogue whose members were often from the same profession/social group. Return


[Page 326]

My Ruined Home

by Shlomo Reiter

Translated by Moses Milstein

The nigunim of Torah study are no longer heard from the Shebreshiner kloizlach.[1] The folk songs are no longer sung, the beat accompanied by machine, saw or hammer of the tailors, shoemakers, shtepers[2], and carpenters. The storekeepers, Jewish men and women, no longer look out their stores. The Jewish children at play, with their sweet, noisy little voices are silent. The symbol of Jewish Shebreshin–the beautiful old shul–has been wiped from the earth's surface…Only the soil is left, soaked with Jewish blood and tears.

There remain only, floating in the air, the painful groans of the innocent, and the last tears of the children before their death. What remains is the echo–why?!

*

And you, accomplices to murder and indifferent bystanders, you have appropriated their property and goods. You live in their houses, your children play with the toys of the little children who were killed in the middle of their play. Are you not frightened of the blood which is reflected in your windows? Do you not see that the green that grows on the earth is mixed with red blood? Are your eyes not afflicted by the roses and flowers that grow on the holy blood? Those are roses and flowers of prematurely cut down fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, of brides who did not live to go to the chupa!

Empty are your hearts, you active and passive collaborators to their demise! Now you dress yourselves in lamb's fur and claim to be creators of a new world! May you feel the curses hurled at you by my father, mother, my brothers, sister, my old grandfather in the last convulsive breath of their lives.

You, German culture–murderers, showed my 90–year–old grandfather, Shmuel Zishe, how you murdered his daughter Sarah Libe, and her husband Berish, their children Malkah, Itzik, Abraham, Fradl, Velvelle. You sadistically strangled him in front of his daughter Mantshe and her husband and children, and then took their lives.

In this wild murderous bacchanal, a large part of the Polish population took part. The Poles waited like hyenas for the plunder, the quicker to inherit Jewish possessions. The Poles have forgotten how, before the wheat sprouted and the orchards blossomed, they took money for their future harvests from Jewish merchants. Now they live, the active and passive collaborators in Jewish houses and sleep in Jewish beds.

*

I see before me my holy, dear–ones. I see my father, a simple and honest folks–mensch, who worked with the sweat of his brow to support the family. And if the weight of the wagon he pulled to make his living was too hard, you, my heroic mother, came to meet him, and together you struggled to pull the wagon.

You worried and provided for everyone, my beloved mother. Better to feed everyone first, and whatever was left, you took. Although thin and weary, you took the welfare of the home under your broad wings, like an eagle. Always anxious, you strove to meet the needs of your husband and children. You looked on with joy when they got a new piece of clothing, a new pair of shoes, which you wrested with great hardship from your meager earnings.

You allowed your children to study in cheder and school. May they grow up to be educated people, you said. I see your forehead prematurely wrinkled by worry. Your clever, blue eyes that always looked on with joy at your growing children, will always shine for me. I see the Shabes table, people sitting around it, father making Kiddush, your motherly face shining with joy, and your lips whispering a prayer quietly. “God, may it not be spoiled!” you prayed. One demand you had of God–to live to see naches from your children, and this gave you strength and courage to undergo every difficulty.

But you did not live to see any naches. The German murderers did not permit it. With wild sadism and beastly satisfaction they threw themselves on your innocent and blameless lives. You struggled against your bitter fate: Until the last minute you tried to hide from death. You stuck yourselves in bunkers and holes. In the darkness of night, you stole out, like moles from their burrows, not to be seen by the murderers, to bring a bit of meager food and water for sustenance.

In the most trying times, you, my mother with your motherly wings, strove to lessen the pain of your family, keep them warm and watch over them. You hoped that God, in whose ways you walked, would bring a miracle and save you from the murderers' hands. But God did not bring a miracle…

Instead of the tones of the klezmer you hoped to hear when your daughter was brought to the chupa, you heard the jungle sounds of wild demons as you were all brought to the cemetery. Your eyes must have looked on with horror when they brought your youngest son and daughters to their death. A mother's wings had no power anymore. Death swallowed them along with my father's life, with the lives of my brothers and sisters, my old zeide, and my dear, beloved Shebreshin.

*

Only the echo of their last cries for help remains. Only their holy blood, calling for judgment of the murderers remains, blood from fathers, mothers, from brides and grooms, from babies in their cradles, blood and broken lives, disappeared worlds. Only the big question mark remains–why?

Why were we slaughtered and murdered? Why was the world indifferent to our blood bath? Where were the so called “leagues for human rights”, and the Red Cross? Where was the Jewish God when his people, who served him so faithfully, were slaughtered?

Heaven was closed to the final cries of a people taken to the killing fields. The ears of the world were stopped to the great cries of woe. No, the world cannot proceed to everyday life until it has answered, why!

And you, wild vandals, who shed innocent blood, destroyed entire worlds! It is not important where you find yourselves now–in Poland, in West Germany, or even in East Germany. Take the masks off your faces! You want to represent yourselves as creators of a better world. You laugh at the world, which bedecks you again with medals for your great gallantry. Your punishment will yet come! You will drown in your blood and tears! Hatred will consume your filthy bodies! You will not be able to redeem yourselves with money for our blood. Blood for blood, must you give!

*

My Jewish Shebreshin is no more. Gone are my father, mother, my sisters and brothers. Only their cries of agony remain. Only an unhealing, deep wound in my heart remains. Only sweet dreams remain of the home that once was.

We will erect an everlasting memorial to you. We will always remember you, my dear ones! With my last breath, I will remember my beloved shtetl, Shebreshin!

Netanya, October, 1955


Translator's Notes

  1. Small house of worship Return
  2. Tradesman making the leather forms for shoes Return


[Page 329]

Night of Progroms

by Batya Bibel

Translated by Moses Milstein and Yocheved Klausner

Pale faces,
frightened eyes,
sunken bodies
stretched
through the night.

A tug at the heart
in everyone's step,
a blow to the head
at every turn.

With bated breath,
eyes full of sorrow
the unfortunate
slowly walked
in the dark night.

Parched lips
murmured a prayer
and bony hands
to the heavens stretched.

With bloody hearts,
and heads deeply bowed,
the shamed
walked with fear
in the dark night.

 

My Friend's Town

All the lights are out,
just the candle gutters,
like a yorzeit candle which illuminates
and throws shadows on the wall.

And my friend tells me
with longing in his voice
of a town, where he was born,
long, long ago.

The oldest town in Poland,
the thousand–year–old shul,
hundreds of Torah scrolls
in his town of old.

Of tombstones in the cemetery,
ghosts that dance in the night,
of a sleepy young man,
who jumps from roof to roof.

In the old cemetery–
seven graves, hand in hand
seven sons and a mother
threw themselves off a high wall.

By the light of the burning candle
my friend pages through a journal
from his old town in Poland
from his past, long ago.

New martyrs–new wonders,
new Jewish strength and beliefs,
that the accursed Nazi,
could not steal from the Jews.

Hundreds of sefer–Torahs are burning
and Jews in prayer shawls praising God.
Throw themselves into the fires
and die dancing a karahod.

Gone are the sefer–Torahs
gone is the ancient shul,
gone are the thousands of Jews
in my friend's town of long ago.

All the candles are extinguished,
everything is deep in sleep.
But I lie with open eyes
thinking: why the punishment on Shebreshin?


[Page 331]

In the Whirl of War

by Simah Berger (Elbaum)

Translated by Moses Milstein

Our family was not rich, but our upbringing was. There were seven of us children. A grandmother and her son, Shloime Dales, whose father had died, also lived with us.

Life was not easy. We treated the grandmother with respect. This I can't forget. Now I understand it better, being alone in my old age. In general, everyone behaved with respect and love in this small house, where everyone had a place. On Saturdays, my father, z”l, could not sit at table unless we had a guest. There were plenty of poor people coming from other towns. That was the custom.

My father was a scholar. Everyone knew R' David Elbaum from the Radziner shtibl. He would conduct “din-torahs” which were received with great honor but no money, even though he could have used it.

My mother, Bashe, and grandmother, Hinde Beile, did much on behalf of the poor and sick. On Thursday evening, they would bake bread and chales for the needy on Shabes even though we ourselves had very little. Friday morning, my grandmother would run around distributing the chales, although no one was to know who received them, not even we children.

 

Salvation in Israel

My travel to Israel did not come easily. For my religious father, it was as if I had converted. All of a sudden, here comes a girl from such a Chasidic family, and announces that she is going to a kibbutz for hachshara[1], because she wants to go to Eretz-Israel! It was a difficult fight. I succeeded only thanks to my uncle, Moishe Hersh Berger, who later became my father-in-law. He was in the leadership of the Zionist organizations in S. He also helped me out materially.

While in Israel, I received heartfelt letters full of woe. My father, mother, and the rest of the family envied me because the earth in Europe was burning, although no one was anticipating such devastation as occurred. Later, my relatives began to plead with me to help them come to Israel. However, I did not know how to help them while the British were in charge.

 

Self sacrifice

My oldest brother, Abraham, z”l, graduated from the Lublin yeshiva with the title of Rav.

At the time of the German occupation, he was selected to be a member of the judenrat. I arrived in Israel in 1936, bur according to the survivors of S. who had been there during the occupation, he often put his own life in danger. At the end, when he was ordered to assemble all the Jews, including his wife and four children, in the center of town on a certain date, he went to the German commander, and out of overwhelming grief, he begged them-“Shoot me!”

To shoot a Jew was an easy thing for the Nazis. In full view of the whole community and his family, he was shot on the spot.

*

My other brother, Mordechai, baruch hashem, lives in Belgium. He was saved from Hitler's hand and survived the war in Russia.

One of my younger brothers, Moishele, conducted himself-as some children do in times of trouble-like an adult. Much was relayed to me about him.

Prior to being transported to the crematoria, in order to punish someone, they would be confined in jail-they called it the Kozeh-where they experienced pain, hunger and cold. Moishele wanted to help everybody. Fearlessly, he clambered over the high fences to bring food to the prisoners.

He was successful for a short time, until he was shot by the murderers during one such attempt.

Haifa, 1980


Translator's Footnote

  1. Agricultural training of prospective emigrants to Israel Return


[Page 333]

Memories

by Feige Roitman

Translated by Moses Milstein and Yocheved Klausner

Where are you, brother, sister?
There is no memory, nothing remains…
My limbs stiffen
with my wailing and weeping.

Beards pulled out, burned in fire,
whoever was a Jew was persecuted.
Everything that was dear to us cut away
so beastly, so perverse.

Where are the blooming, beautiful, young
with their rousing songs,
the shul, the holy prayers, pure,
with the ring of Jewish devotion?

Burned are the magnificent shul, and the books,
our good fortune ripped away.
Now we search for the graves,
Longing for just one glimpse.

Why are you silent, black night,
with your angry stormy winds?
You see how I sit and think,
Bring me the memories now!

When your moon was shining
and lit our way
in the nights of great danger,
that ended with darker days,
remind me of memories of our little town,
the Jewish mothers in their need,
remind me of the songs of the beautiful Sabbath,
the mitzvoth of giving bread to the poor.

Remind me of Fridays and mother in the kitchen,
her cheeks flushed, working quickly.
preparing for Sabbath for her household,
The Jewish mother–where is she now?…

Appear in my dreams, beloved face,
stretch out your hands, I won't be afraid.
Embrace me, you are still young.
I don't want the earth to cover your body.

Where are you, my father, my constant friend,
Worried about tomorrow, and our daily bread.
Now you do not see the sun as it shines anymore.
Ah, my father, why are you dead?

Here I write the words, as well as I can.
My heart dictates what my pen should write.
I see the houses of the shtetl along,
the streets, the orchards, the wooden houses,
there where my friend spent his youth,
playing, working, laughing, in song.
I see the artistic, beautiful shul
Where Jews streamed in numbers on Shabes.
In the end, the beauty perished in flames
and with thousands of Jews, went to the grave.

New York


[Page 335]

Why are the Survivors Silent?[1]

by Shimon Kantz

Translated by Moses Milstein

Help bring the murderers to justice

On May 3, 1942, several gestapo arrived in Torobin, near Shebreshin, and, together with their driver, killed 107 Jews. Five days later, the same slaughter occurred in Shebreshin. On the 8th of May, at 3:00 pm, three gestapo arrived in an automobile, and shot over a hundred Jews. Terrible panic ensued among the Jewish population. The wounded ran to the hospital. The police, however, refused to let anyone enter. A little later, two gestapo, with their rifles still smoking, came to the hospital. They warned the Polish doctors that they too would be shot, if they provided any medical help to the wounded.

After carrying out the mass murders, the gestapo required the Judenrat to pay one kilo of coffee and 2,000 Zl for the cost of the bullets that were used in the massacre of Shebreshiner Jews.

In the nearby shtetl of Josefow, three gestapo murdered over 100 Jews. There occurred such scenes that even German officials who were hard–core antisemites, were upset. Even they were shaken when they saw their ideology become reality.

In Torkowice, the Germans established a labor camp for the Jews of Bilgoraj. Moishe Shuldiner, a Jews from Bilgoraj, escaped. He was caught, and beaten, and led to the camp. He was forced to run between bicycles ridden by Germans. If he paused to rest, the dogs were set on him, and tore at his flesh. Barely alive, he was taken to the camp and tied to a tree. Twelve hours later, he was untied, swollen and unconscious. He was barely revived and set free, because he was of no use for work. He did not, however, get very far. He died in great agony.

The city of Tarnogrod is far from Bilgoraj. The first Aktion took place there in August, 1942. Friday evening, the Germans surrounded the Jewish houses and dragged out the occupants, half–dressed, onto the street, and drove them on the road to Bilgoraj. In a nearby forest they forced the Jews to dig a large grave. When the grave was ready, the German gendarme announced that this would be the grave in which they would soon be buried. Tevl Herbsman stepped out of the ranks and shouted, “Others will come who will avenge the innocent Jewish blood you are shedding. You will not avoid the day of judgment!” Then he turned to the Jews and shouted, “We will not fall at their feet and beg for our lives. Let us die together as martyrs for Kiddush Hashem.” A volley of machine gun fire cut short his words, and together with all the kidoshim, he fell into the grave.

Among those shot was the young boy, Shalom Hochman, who was only slightly wounded. After the Germans left, he dug himself out of the lightly covered grave, and covered in blood, he dragged himself to the city, and for a whole twenty–four hours, he hid under a garbage container, and after the second night, he came home to his relatives. His wounds were bandaged, and he repeated, word for word, the heroic address, which the pious Jew, Tevl, gave at the edge of the grave.

In Lublin proper, the SS sent their dogs, and every day they caught a number of Jewish victims at the train station. They brought them to Greier's restaurant where they murdered them. There they also killed the Shper family who had founded the Jewish high school in Lublin. The youngest daughter, Maniah Lewkowich, and her seven year old son, were killed with one bullet.

At the time, they would capture Jews and hold them in the shul, until the families paid to ransom them. Later, the Germans hit on a devilish scheme: On the road from Lublin to Piosk, there was a small settlement Maidan–Tatarsky. It was decided to transfer a number of Lublin Jews there. After the suffering of being brought there, they received another blow–a selection with all the torture that usually accompanied such actions. Later, Warthoff held a speech assuring them that such things would not be repeated, because the Aktion had ended. He said exactly the same thing later, when they liquidated the ghetto of Maidan–Tatarsky.

These massacres were merely a foreplay for the great devastation that began in Shebreshin on August 8, 1942, when there appeared at the train station empty train cars that were readied to take away all the Jews of Shebreshin. Whereto? Officially it was said, “Somewhere in the Ukraine,” where the Jews would be settled for the duration of the war. For an entire day, the German gendarmes and the Polish police went around town capturing Jews. Jews were taken from their hiding places and driven to the market place. Most of the Jews were clothed in rags, and their faces showed hopelessness and despair. Women carried children in their arms but no crying or wailing was heard. The doors to all the Jewish homes were open, and the representative of the magistrat[2] carried away goods and merchandise, and loaded them onto the cars for transfer to an unknown destination.

On October 18, 1942, the Jews of Zamosc were annihilated. Only about ten workers were left. The older Jews were shot on the spot, and the remainder were taken to Izbice, to a death camp.

Was it all over? Apparently not, because the third campaign of the special battalion to settle the Jewish question in the Lublin area was still underway. The hunt for Jews hiding in bunkers and the forest got underway. These Jews had to be found. They also had to find hidden Jewish treasure. Every captured Jew had probably hidden some jewelry, and knew where others had done the same. Therefore, he was threatened with all sorts of things to force him to divulge the information.

Now, after twenty years, the German prosecutor, H' Zwig, who is leading the investigation into the murders, and preparing for their trial, recently said to the representative of the Israeli government, H' Polishewsky, “I am worried about the lack of witnesses…as time passes there are fewer who remember it. With every passing year, the number of those who cannot remember anymore becomes greater. When I travel by bus or train, I tremble at the thought that the person next to me could possibly have been one of the murderers. But my children do not understand this fear, because they are taught nothing about this shameful period in school. The newspapers also do not write about this. Why are you silent? Why do the survivors not cry out? How can they sit quietly in the various corners of the world and not help the search and prosecution of their murderers?”

This prosecutor had been offered a high position in the justice ministry several times. He declined saying that he could not abandon his work of finding the Nazi criminals, a task that is far from finished. He explained, “The material I have gathered gives me no peace.” He searches day and night for the criminals, and calls on the victims to help uncover them.


Translator's Footnote

  1. Article from “Letzte Neies.” Return
  2. City hall Return


[Page 337]

My Little Town of Shebreshin

by Brochele Stern

Translated by Moses Milstein and Yocheved Klausner

My little town of Shebreshin
the place of joy and youth!
Where endlessly the fields of green
around the city spread.

Surrounded by mountains
a river snaking through
with flowers and orchards
endowed with richness, grew.

My little town of Shebreshin
where my youth was passed
where my girlfriends and I
gaily sang and laughed.

The sun shone down so gently
And lit us with her rays.
We dared to dream with high ideals
of fuller, better days.

I did not know it at the time
that the sun would be lost to us
that from a pretty, clear blue day
the darkness could arrive.

The night came down
dark, without any stars
and covered the town
with Jewish blood and tears.

Innocent fathers, and mothers
sisters and brothers
shot in the cemetery
and, still alive, with earth were covered.

The neighbors told us,
they knew us well,

that hand in hand they walked going into that hell.

Our mothers quietly asked
God! Why does this come to pass
that for us Jews
the right to live has been taken.

Can one even express
the grief and the pain
where mothers and fathers
go to their death?

Yes, this happened in Shebreshin
where fields and forests were so green
the sun that once so brightly shone,
shines no more, the town is gone.


[Page 339]

Hallucinations in the Siberian Taiga

by Velvel Ingber

Translated by Moses Milstein

Little streets, little streets,
little streets and walls.
Forever will I
grieve for you

Forever…forever, until my last day, I will be followed, wherever I walk, on any road, by great pain and sorrow for you, my shteteleh. I will be followed by the never–stilled yearning, the sorrow, and consolation, of my shtetele for the joy of my youth, for all your Jews–tailors, shoemakers, storekeepers, carriage drivers, warm–hearted mothers and fathers, bent under the hard yoke of labor.

I yearn for you, my young generation, the flower of our people, dreamers and believers, with a vision of a just world, and the Jewish people redeemed in it. My shtetl is no more, my home destroyed, my generation cut away, and the silence of the cemetery lies over your streets.

But you live on in my imagination. And on the wings of great yearning, I fly back to you and see you as before–with all your poverty, and yet so precious; with all your modesty, and yet so brave; with your stillness, and yet seething with activity and enthusiasm; stuck in the ghetto, and yet with such broad horizons. Surrounded by a sea of hate, and ignorance, of savage, bloody fury, you stood as an island of love, and faith in mankind, and dreamed your dreams–and perished.

*

It is night. I peer, with sleepless eyes through the barrack windows. The Siberian Taiga is unwelcoming and frightening. Sky, forest, and earth run together in darkness. Only the sandy road reflects the light. It tempts me and promises me, “Come, I will take you back.”

Like a lunatic, drawn by unseen powers, it pulls me from my bed. I am outside in a single leap. I am covered by the darkness and no one sees me. I am on the road. My heart beats quickly. The road disappears beneath my feet… Faster, faster.

I reach the water. A little farther–and I hear the first whistle from the train. How dear it is to me now, how homey is its call! I look at the gleaming steel of the tracks. They are, after all, one way or another, connected to my tracks far away, and waiting for me to cross them.

I am traveling. The wheels clack with the rhythm of my heart.

Faster…faster…back…home!!! I come to the station. Everything around me is sleepy and as if drunk from the fresh winds coming from the forest, and the fields, and newly chopped wood. From the sandy path, I pass to the pavement. Here, I am on the road. My footsteps quicken: Not far.

From a distance, I see the homey panorama, the roofs and houses thrown together by a careless hand. I am enveloped by the smell of freshly mown hay lying spread out on the fields on both sides of the road.

Here is the sawmill. Here, in the avenue of the tall poplars, we used to walk hand in hand. Our flushed faces were caressed by a light wind, and the night received our youthful dreams. Here, in the still of the night, huddled in a circle, the legendary images of Gershoni, and Vera Figner passed.

Here is the first house, huddled near the road, unafraid of being swept away by the waters that flood the fields in the spring. The river Wiepz flows quietly, and reflects the willows that stand at its banks, bent and thoughtful, as if at tashlich.

I get up on the hill. I know every rock, every hollow here. I have measured every inch of it with my feet. The shul, with its three cornered roof stands like a giant among the little houses, as a memorial to the generations of Jews that arrived and left, stands like a witness and ponders. Kol Nidrei night–––shoulders covered by talissim, in repentance, bending before the Creator of the world–––Ashamnu.

My father stands at the tailor's table, bent and weeping. How did you sin? Maybe by getting up at dawn for prayers, by providing wood in the winter for poor Jews? How?

And when the shul was set on fire by abominable hands, burned and gutted like a yorzeit candle, Moishe, the shames, stood on the hill of the ruined orchard, dressed in white, and looked with deadened eyes at the burning shul, the names in the attic, the holy books of records where the yorzeits were inscribed. When is it now yorzeit?

The market paved with stones, the little green garden with the budkes[1] standing like guards at the sides–here our martyrs went on their last road, and gave a last look at the cobblestoned pavement, at the familiar roofs–the mute witnesses of their tragic pain and destruction…

Montreal, Canada, 11.3.1956


Translator's Footnote

  1. Market stalls Return

 

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