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[Page 359]

There are no more Jews in Turka

 

From Atop the Roof I See You

by David Y.

From atop the roof I see you Turka
So clear and fine,
With your smile
Without sorrow, without weeping…

I see the winding alleyways
The curved small houses,
With fallen roofs –
Why so afraid?

And why?
The Szymunka with its pride
Laughs at me and says:
“There is no more a shtetl!
There is no more a Jewish home”…

Mizera, Elul 5724 (1964)


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In the Empty City…

by Michael Heisler

In the autumn of 1944, fate brought me once again face to face with the city of Turka. Already on the second day post liberation, I once again found myself on the Turka mountains, in the same place where I had lived some three and a half years previously, close to the Turka cemetery, from where I could see the entire city in all its grandeur. From afar, I could still hear the firing of the Soviet cannons, accompanying by the fleeing of the Germany Army.

The city was empty and quiet. Not a soul was around. It seems that the houses were smaller than before, shrunken, black, dismal, without windows, without doors, without people… The streets were filled with yellow, rotting, leaves. The railway bridge was ripped apart, and its stones were scattered throughout the city. The rails were curved and flattened. Not long ago – in fact, it seemed like yesterday – Jewish life bustled in every corner here. And today?… Today everything is dead.

I did not weep. Why should I weep?. Was I seeing the first dead city?… Over the entire past three and a half years, I wandered over ruins, over dead, murdered cities and villages, until I arrived in Russia. I had wept so much that my nerves did not react when I saw my own city of Turka in the same situation as thousands of other cities and towns.

I wanted to find a living witness who would tell me details about the tragic death of the Jews who had lived there. I entered the city. Along the way, there were broken gravestones, tossed into the mud and the ditches, trampled by tanks. I attempted to find my mother's gravestone, but it was not possible. In the cemetery I met an old Christian who was leading a sheep on a leash. She led me to a place and pointed with her finger – here is where

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the Germans shot very man Jews from the city, and her is the place where they lie. The grave was already overgrown with grass… “Where are the rest of the Jews?” – I asked. “The Germans sent them all away,” she responded.

*

I set out for the villages to look – perhaps I would find someone alive, or a sign of their murder. I walked to almost every village. It was the same emptiness everywhere. The houses were burned or occupied, and the soil was plowed. Not even a marker remained.

I asked the local residents about how all the Jews had been murdered. The told me that the Germans led them all away to the gas chambers, and that no Jews were murdered here. However, I found out from reliable Ukrainians that many murders were perpetrated on the place itself by the Ukrainian bands. Throughout the entire time of the war, the primary employment of the bands was to search for Jews and murder them, or turn them over to the Gestapo for a “high” payment – a kilo of salt for a Jewish soul…


[Page 362]

In Turka After the Liberation

By Chaim Pelech

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Donated by Boaz Ben-Pelech

I was in Russia. The end of the war was approaching. I read in the newspaper that the Hitlerists were already retreating in the Carpathians. I was anxious for Turka to be liberated, but it was not happening. Difficult weeks passed until Turka was finally liberated. I quickly wrote a letter to my wife in Turka, but I received no reply…I already understood that it was bitter: there was nobody left in Turka… I wrote another letter, this time to the Turka community. After a long wait, I received a letter from Avraham Hanz from Radicz, near Turka. He told me that the bandits murdered all of the Jews of Turka and its environs. No trace was left of my family…

That meant that I was alone. What should I do now – no wife, no child, no brothers, no sisters. I was sitting here in dark Lapatino, deep in Russia, knowing nothing about what was going on in the Jewish world… How was it that the Jewish world could have allowed so many Jews to be murdered? I asked many questions at that time: Why? However, nobody was able to give me an answer…


I began to make efforts to travel home, to Turka, so that I could witness with my own eyes the great misfortune.

I arrived in Lemberg after twelve days. I slept there with my former classmate Shreier, who had survived. I traveled on. I went to Sambor, for no train went to Turka. I arrived in Turka early on the second day.

As I arrived, I stood still and did not know where to go… The entire city was a ruin. All of the houses were broken. The only ones that remained whole were the town hall and Chaim Hirsch's house. In the Olica, there was also Moshe Hirsh's house and a number of other houses. The others were broken and run down to the ground. This was my native town, where I spent my entire life! My spirit was downcast, and I remained standing there in a bewildered state…


A loud shout woke me out of my thoughts: 'Chaim, when did you arrive?”. This was a Jew from Turka. He took me to Chava Brandelsztejn, who remained alive. A Turka Ukrainian, Kamarnichki, hid her in his cellar. Chava was very happy to see me, as she was our best neighbor. She told me everything that took place in my home. She told me when and how my dear ones were killed: my son, wife, sisters, brothers, and stepmother. As she talked, my gaze was fixed upon the floor. I could not look her in the face… How could I have left everyone behind to wantonness, and saved myself alone?!

I listened on.. A letter came from Stryj informing that they shot my brother Shlomo Pelech there on July 1. A letter came from Przemysl that they shot my sister Bracha Pelech, also on July 1. My stepmother was shot in Turka on July 1, all in one day! When the children's aktion took place, a Jewish policeman, Chaim Meinbach, entered the house and took my only son Avraham. He was shot that same day.

Thus did I sit and hear about my downfall…


[Page 364]

In the Destroyed City

by Asher Brandelstein of Haifa

{Photo page 364: Uncaptioned. Asher Brandelstein}

I returned to Turka in August 1945. I had been away from the towns in which I had been born and had spent my childhood and youth for four full years. I had spent four years in Russia. I came with my wife, with whom I had lost my home during the first days of the war, and with our young daughter was born in Bashkiria1. I left behind a town in which a few thousand Jews lived. When we returned, we found approximately 20 to 30 souls… The town had almost been completely destroyed. All of the Jewish homes had been destroyed and burnt.

 

My Mother Lives!

A special surprise awaited me when I arrived in Turka – I found my mother alive, one of the survivors from the town. She survived thanks to a Ukrainian family that hid her. My mother was a midwife, and, before the war, she had helped the family who hid her. My mother was known in town as someone who helped poor women in childbirth, both Jewish and Christian – and in her own need she found a savior.

*

She went through her hell. She could only tell me that my father had been shot immediately during the first aktion. My

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wife's parents with four young brothers were murdered during the large aktion.

 

I Searched for Acquaintances…

Those who survived had hid in the forests. A small number had hid with gentiles. However, almost all immediately left for Poland (Turka already belonged to Ukraine). The rest were preparing to do so.

I, however, could not set out on the journey because my mother required an eye operation. When the operation was finally completed, I was already too late – it was no longer permitted.

{Photo page 365: The first families who arrived in Turka after the war.}

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The first weeks after my arrival in town were difficult for me. There were moments where it seemed that I would go out to the street and meet my friends, acquaintances, and other dear faces from our youth and childhood. Even though the situation indicated otherwise, I would run – perhaps a miracle would take place?… I would have to go alone…

 

A Jewish Teacher in a Strange School

At the beginning of the 1945 school year, I began to work as a mathematics teacher in the Turka middle school. It was difficult to be a teacher. More than once it seemed to me that the students who were now answering my questions – had perhaps shown the German and Ukrainian policemen where an unfortunate victim was hiding during the aktions. We often discussed such facts.

It was difficult, very difficult, to be a Jewish teacher in a school in which many Jewish children should have been sitting – and where are they?…

In 1951, I was nominated as principal of that same middle school. Every year, I conducted formal matriculation ceremonies. Those ceremonies caused me great vexation. I would come home sick and broken. Once again: where are our children who should have received the same certificates today?!…

A few Jewish children, from the three Jewish families in the city, studied in that school. This gave me a bit of happiness. I frequently dreamed of being a teacher in a Jewish school. In the meantime, this was indeed only a dream.

In the meantime, I frequently had to listen to anti–Semitic speeches from teachers (for example, during the Doctors Trials2 during the Stalin era), and to anti–Semitic proclamations from students. I also had to organize ceremonies marking the 300th anniversary of the arch–pogromchik Chmielnicki.

This is now past, as my dream of Israel has come true.


Translator's Footnotes:
  1. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bashkir_Autonomous_Soviet_Socialist_Republic Return
  2. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctors'_plot Return


[Page 367]

The City Sits in Desolation…1

by Bronia Brandelstein of Haifa

{Photo page 367: Uncaptioned. Bronia Brandelstein}

In the valley that is surrounded by a ridge of tall mountains, thick forests, and the lovely Stryj River, lies our native town of Turka. One's native town is precious to every person, but to me and all other natives of Turka it is sevenfold precious. Our town was something special and close to our hearts for us. Indeed, there were wonderful youths in our town. Now, when I think back from some distance, I am filled with wonder – how could such wonderful youth as were in those days have lived their lives full of content and sublime aspirations, without having any chance at all of fulfilling these dreams and hopes. Indeed, each person forged his path in accordance with his possibilities.

The war destroyed all of these aspirations and hopes. Everyone was afflicted in a different fashion. Some succeeded in finding refuge in the Land of Israel. Others were exiled to Siberia during the maelstrom of the war. However, awaiting the vast majority were the gas chambers, which opened their muzzles and swallowed millions of Jews. They swallowed those nearest and dearest: parents, brothers, sisters, relatives, and friends.

Fate had it that I somehow managed to survive. I traveled to an unknown place, to endure the difficult war in far–off Bashkiria, to endure the hunger, cold, and other tribulations, to give life to my baby under the most difficult of conditions, and to protect her life. Even though vast distances separated me from my native area, in my thoughts and imagination I remained with my dear ones in Turka.

The cruel war ended. Weary from the difficult tribulations, we decided at any price to return to the area of our native town of Turka – perhaps fate would turn out positive, and we would find some of our relatives who perhaps survived.

*

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We neared Turka, and found out with clear understanding about the terrible tragedy that befell us, and afflicted us personally as it did our nation. Our hearts palpitated. Here were the serpentines, through which we used to slide in sleds during winter nighttime excursions. Here is the Christian cemetery – and we arrived in the town.

Even were I to be blessed with the most talented writer's pen, I would not have the strength to write on paper about the great pain and terrifying impression that my devastated town left upon me… I walked through its streets and alleyways astonished from agony. Every stone, every pathway, reminded me of my happy, carefree, childhood days, and the years of my youth filled with enthusiasm and faith in a better tomorrow…

The town was empty of its Jews. Every house reminded us of the dear ones who had recently been murdered. The houses were ruined and destroyed. The empty windows and broken panes frightened me in particular… It seemed to me that death was peering out from each of them… Here is the house of Engelmajr – my friend Salka is no more… Here is the house of Beret – Marcha is no more… Here are the ruins of the house in which Esther Kesler and Salka Nistal lived… Mighty G–d, if you exist, how could you have allowed your chosen people to have been tormented so much?!… “Why, and how?”, asked the agonized mouth, but no answer was forthcoming… Remaining were silence, destruction, pain, and wounds that time could not heal… I asked myself – is this not a big joke that I remained alive to be one of the few survivors, to go through my native town to weep for them all?… I walked through Turka during the years 1945–1957 with the feeling that I was trampling over graves. For me, the town was a cemetery saturated with the blood of those most dear to me.

We, the Jews who survived, were a rare sight in the eyes of the local residents… More than once did I notice an astonished look in the eyes of the Ukrainians at the sight of those of us who survived… There were those who justified themselves to me. Others attempted to pass by us with eyes lowered in shame. At times I felt great satisfaction that those who had collaborated and dipped their hands in innocent Jewish blood were seeing me alive… Certainly, this was a vexing thing for them…

*

We were several Jewish families in Turka: Brandelstein, Shein, Kenernstein, Meir, and others. My mother–in–law Chava Brandelstein survived. Can our great joy at this wonder be described?… Before our eyes was the picture of despair, the shadow of a mother

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who endured the Hitlerist hell. A Ukrainian family hid her. She spent months in dark cellars, where she partially lost her sight and was a witness to the terrible happenings in our town.

The following was typical: Anyone who survived came to take one more look at Turka, the city of memories, in general only for a few hours. They came, and fled from it as quick as lightning without making themselves known. Any Jew who appeared in town was directed to us. I do not want to neglect to mention one episode that brought me to tears of laughter. At that time, the mayor of Turka was Vasyl Rohach. On one occasion, a Jew from the area of Turka came to him. Rohach met me on the street and wanted to tell me that someone came to him, but was afraid of calling the person a “Jew”. He said in Russian, “With apologies to you, one of your nation was with me and asked me about the local people of his nation.”… Indeed, I laughed to the point of tears at the unusual politeness with which he related to Jews.

{Photo page 369: Uncaptioned.}

Yaakov Entner came to Turka and told me that his sister had been murdered by a Ukrainian and had been buried in a garden on the Stryj. Yaakov removed her body from there and buried her in the Jewish cemetery. I will never forget Yaakov as he sprawled over the lovely grave of his sister and wailed

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out loud. He did not know how jealous I was of him at that moment. He knew the resting place of his sister's bones, whereas I did not. Indeed, even that type of jealousy existed at that time… One more victim was swallowed up by the Jewish cemetery, upon which the goats, cows and horses were able to trample. To our great sorrow, after the war, the Jewish cemetery turned into a pasture area for horses, cows, and the like.

*

Frequently, fate laughs at a person. My husband Lemel Brandelstein, Fania Kenernstein and I worked as teachers in the high school. Fania and I completed our qualifications after the war, and it fell upon our lot to teach the children of those people who were unable to satisfy their lust for Jewish property, houses and victims. They fell upon their victims and their property like bloodthirsty eagles. Indeed, the children were innocent, but despite all of our intentions, the thought kept popping up – for whom are we toiling and giving over our energy and knowledge?… Is it not to future anti–Semites?… At time, when I was in class and I looked at the faces of the Ukrainian children, Jewish children from our town would pass before my eyes – children whose thread of life had been prematurely snuffed out. How hard was this on the heart! I paid a high price for remaining in Turka after the war!

*

Anyone who did not see Turka after the war – could such a person imagine that entire lanes had disappeared? Is it possible to imagine a greater desecration of the Divine Name than the paving of Legionow Street until the hospital with Jewish gravestones?! These gravestones were uprooted during the wartime period in accordance with a command of Mayor Pysanczyn, and placed with their inscriptions facing upward. To our great dismay, all of our entreaties to the Soviet authorities yielded naught, and the gravestones were not returned. It is possible to believe that an electric station was placed in the synagogue of Turka? This place, which was honored and holy to everyone, without difference in outlook; a place of supplication, where our parents prayed to G–d for livelihood and long life for themselves, their families and relatives; where they laid out their requests for a better tomorrow and peace throughout the world – that this place has become a receptacle for machines!

*

The Soviet authorities decided to arrange for the city to be cleared of its ruins, and to beautify it by planting trees and flowers in the destroyed areas.

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One of the areas that was designated for clearing of ruins was the place where the house of Kesler–Nistal stood. A few classes of our gymnasium with their teachers were drafted to help the town council in this task. Along with my students, I cleared the place where my two beloved friends Estera Kesler and Salka Nistal lived. My eyes welled up with tears as I lifted each brick, can or shovel. Books and unfinished notebooks were scattered among the rubble… The children stared in surprise at the sight of their teacher weeping. Apparently, life had not yet corrupted the young creatures. They understood the meaning of the weeping and were politely silent. Thus, instead of precious souls, Jewish houses, streets and alleyways – trees, shrubs and flowers are growing. Nature was used to obfuscate the traces of the lives of our dear ones…

*

Every teacher had the duty to visit the homes of the students to understand their living conditions. I had many students from Targovitsa. Once when I visited the Sakevchak family, I was stricken by astonishment and stood fixed to the doorway… I noticed a cloth on the table with Sabbath prayers and blessings woven onto it. The current task of this tablecloth was to adorn the Sakevchak house… I was not at all surprised when I noticed that the pillows and blankets were literally piled up to the roof. They were not obtained through the sweat of the brow of the owner of the house… When the mistress of the house saw my astonishment, she justified herself by explaining that she had received many things from the neighbors in return for milk, potatoes, and other provisions. Indeed, many of the local population explained their recently obtained new property in the same manner.

*

Entering the house where I was born and in which I was raised along with my four brothers was an unforgettable experience. That was the place where I absorbed warmth, parental love, and education. I found a merchandise warehouse on the first floor, and some sort of office on the second floor. I went up the steps with an agonized heart, holding on to the railing with my hand – the railing upon which I loved to slide down during my childhood, to the great fear of my parents and others. I entered the kitchen quietly, and moved from one room to the next. I wanted to find something that could remind me of my childhood home… I went up to the attic. Among the piles of paper I found my picture, the sole piece of evidence that I had grown up and lived there… Indeed, not in vain was the adage said that a person is stronger than iron, otherwise – how could one overcome this agony

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that pierces the heart and chokes the throat?! I, who grew up, studied, danced, and loved my dear ones here – slunk into my house on tiptoes, in fear and silence, as if to not awaken my parents and brothers from their sleep…

Suddenly I was startled. A person approached me and shouted at me, asking what was I looking for there? This was one of the clerks of the office that was located in the house.

“What am I looking for,” my trembling lips uttered,” what am I looking for in the house in which I grew up? You ask: what are you doing here – I do not ask you… See: here we slept, sat, studied. Here my dear mother went around and prepared food for her five children. Here sat my beloved father as he was immersed in thoughts about how to provide livelihood for his fivesome…”

Everything came to life before my eyes… I suddenly saw the Sabbath table before my eyes: a sparkling white tablecloth, candles burning in the candlesticks, mother beside the table, father at the head of the table saying with a smile: at every corner I have a son, and at my side, for decoration, I have an only daughter. That is how he managed to give us a bit of happiness… The clerk was startled at my reaction. He must have considered me as one of the crazies who had entered the building.

*

A great miracle took place. We succeeded in leaving there and going to Israel. Here I am happy. I have found many dear friends living in Israel. They are very close to me, and each has a unique place in the recesses of my heart. They serve as a reminder and fine adornments from days gone by.

Translated from Polish by Ida Z.


Translator's Footnote:
  1. A quote from Lamentations 1:1 Return


[Page 373]

A Visit to Turka in 1957

by Moshe From of Haifa

In 1957, I traveled as a Polish citizen to visit Turka, which is today within the borders of the Soviet Union. I went there for two reasons: first, I wanted to visit the region where I was born and where I spent the majority of my youth, and where almost all my relatives and acquaintances were tragically murdered during the dark days of the Nazi occupation. Second, I wanted to visit the eight Jewish families who lived in Turka at that time, including my good friends for whom I had a special feeling, and with whom I remained in contact by letter.

I set out on an express train from the city of Szezecin, which is located on the Polish-German border, in the northwest close to the Baltic Sea. Twenty hours later I was already near the Soviet border, not far from Przemysl. The control formalities did not take long, and we transferred to a Soviet train. Very quickly, we were at the Lemberg railway station.

 

Lemberg in its Time

Lemberg, the central city of Galicia – who of us does not remember it?! The Hechalutz headquarters and the headquarters of all the youth organizations were located there. Thousands of chalutzim would come there to take care of their issues regarding hachsharah and aliya. Jewish students from eastern Galicia studied in the middle schools and the universities there. The large, modern railway station with its underground tunnels would be full, day and night, with

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Jewish passengers, who used to fill all the waiting halls and all the arriving and departing trains.

My memory instinctively went back to the pre-war times, and it seemed to me that Zalman-Nachum Zolinger and Yisrael Pruker would suddenly come out of one of the tunnels, laden with packages. They used to come there at 8:00 every morning, and take care of various matters that the merchants of Turka had given over to him. One could purchase foreign currency through them. They purchased and brought with them all types of merchandise that people would order through them. At 8:00 p.m. they would already be back in Turka, where those interested would be waiting for them to take their packages. It seemed that the Turka merchants, and representatives of various business areas would soon be arriving, and each of them would be going to their businesses. Everyone felt even better and freer here than at home… Here, one was permitted many things that were impossible to do at home for various reasons…

 

And Today…

The microphone of the railway station, announcing in Russian arriving and departing trains every minute, brought to mind the pre-war times and reminded me that now I am seeing an entirely new Lemberg. Not even a trace of anything that once was remains today.

Late at night, at approximately 1:00 a.m. I departed by train for Turka. The train went from Lemberg to Uzhgorod (Ungvar) via Sambor-Sianki. Despite the fact that I was tired from the journey and from the many impressions along the way, under no circumstances could I close my eyes even for a minute. Even though it was dark outside, I looked at everything through the dark and attempted to recognize the region through which I was travelling, and which had been so familiar to me. We stopped in the former Jewish towns such as Komarno

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Rudki, Sambor, and Stary-Sambor. We traveled through known town in which no small amount of Jews had lived – Strelki, Jasienica, Rozluch, Jawora and others. A deathly silence pervaded throughout the entire way. Sometimes, I could see the light of a kerosene lamp through the window of a farmer's hut. We travelled through the Jawora Tunnel, and the train approached Turka. Here was the place where the large sawmill had stood. Today there is only an empty lot, which cannot even be recognized. Here is the place where there used to be large industrial enterprises that employed hundreds of workers, and from which Jewish families in town earned their livelihoods.

 

Turka

With a wailing signal from the locomotive, we traveled through the last tunnel – and we already saw the second side of the viaducts that go through the width of the city, almost until the railway station.

A deathly silence pervaded in the railway station. A pair of weary Red Army soldiers were sitting in the railway station, and a few personnel were wandering about. It was before daybreak: they were just beginning their day. I looked about curiously and set out into the city.

My first steps were toward my friend Lemel Brandelstein, who at that time was working as the principal of the middle school and lived on the Palini near the large school building, opposite the Roman Catholic church. Lemel had returned to Turka with his family – a wife and two children – immediately after the liberation of the city. There, he met his mother, who had been hidden by Christians. She was the only Jewish woman of the older generation whom good Christians had taken in and hidden until the city was liberated by the Soviet Army.

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Chava the Grandmother

When I saw her, she made a fearful impression upon me. She looked very bad, much older than in reality. There was not one tooth in her mouth, she was hard of hearing, and her collapsed eyes could barely see. This happened to her when she was hiding in a cellar without air or light, which ruined her body. On the other hand, she retained her full intellect. When Lemel asked her if she recognizes me, she answered with humor and jest, “You ask if I remember him; I held him in my hands before his own mother saw him!”

{Photo page 376: Chava the midwife.}

It was indeed true. Which child in our town had not been brought into the world through the caring and delicate hands of “Chava the Grandmother”? For a long time, she was almost the only midwife in the region. Cruel fate had it that, specifically she, the one who was present

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at the births of all the children in the city and heard their first life call, and who announced their arrival to the world – should survive the terrible tragedy of their deaths. She saw with her own eyes how hundreds of children, who were so tenderly raised by their Jewish mothers and fathers, were murdered by the Germans and their Ukrainian assistants in an inhumane fashion, en masse and without a reason. And today, when she has lost her energy and when life has not much in store for her, she remains with a sole request to the Master of the World – that she could be brought to a Jewish burial. She spoke to me a few times and complained that the cemetery was neglected, the fences were broken, and the gentiles pasture cattle and goats there (as I myself witnessed later).

{Photo page 377: The survivors.}

She later succeeded in leaving during the period of the repatriation to Poland, where she died

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and was given a proper burial in the Jewish cemetery in the Lower Silesian city of Wałbrzych. May her memory be a blessing.

 

A Guest in Town…

News that a guest had arrived in town spread very quickly among the few Jewish families that lived there. Before I even had a chance to rest from the long journey, almost all of them came to Lemel's house. His wife Bronia decked the tables with drinks, wine, and various treats. We drank “lechaim” at the meeting of good friends.

Every one of us felt a pain in the heart. Our eyes filled with tears and the words were caught in the throat. Each person looked at the other, and nobody could utter a word. I felt like an orphan who had come to the cemetery, and was standing at a fresh grave without being able to begin the kaddish… In order to forget the tragedies a bit and and create a bit of creative humor, I drank several glasses of liquor. Until late at night, people discussed the miracles through which each of us had emerged alive from the terrible cataclysm.

 

In a Heavy Mood…

On the second day, I woke up with a headache and a heavy mood. I ate breakfast and set out for my first walk in the town. The weather was exceptionally fine. The sun emerged from the thick fog and beautified the majestic panorama of the Carpathian Mountains. The town was situated in the valley between the two tall mountains Shymenka and Kychera.

I walked along the street of the large school, near the building of the new courthouse. I went to the town square (Rynek). The path was largely destroyed, filled with stones and potholes. Since the time that I left the city

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fifteen years previously, it seemed that no renovations had been undertaken. The houses were neglected. Despite the fact that no wartime battles were conducted within the city itself, there were many houses, mainly Jewish ones, that had fallen down and had been dismantled.

I wandered to the street of the synagogue. It was once called Ulica Bazsznyca. There was some sort of a strange feeling around, a mixture of memories and reflections. It was now the moth of Elul. At one time, it used to be packed with Jews who were going to services with their tefillin bags and tallises. Everyone was hurrying to worship with the first minyan, and then go to their businesses. One could already hear the sounds of the shofar blowing from all sides. It was already the time of selichot, and one could already sense the High Holy Days in the air.

All of the houses of worship were concentrated in that place. Hassidim from various “courts,” each with their own kloiz, would hasten there. There were Belzers, Czortkowers, and Sadagorers. The Misnagdim would worship in the Great Synagogue or with the Golgower rabbi, Rabbi Eliezer Mishel of holy blessed memory. The butchers attended the synagogue of the businessmen together with the Chevra Kadisha. Even the tailors had their own minyan there.

If this was not sufficient, there were also a few private minyanim, which had no shortage of worshipers, such as with Reb Yudele the Samborer rabbi, and the Waniewiczer rabbi who had his own Hassidim in the city. The Zionists as well had their minyan in the national house. The professional intelligentsia of the city, consisting of several doctors and lawyers, worshipped there on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

 

Devastation and Destruction

And today… Today, a deathly silence pervades here. One does not see a living soul. The Beis Midrash and the Czortkower Kloiz were turned into a warehouse for some sort of joinery cooperative. The Sadagoger

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Kloiz had been destroyed, without even a trace remaining. A diesel engine had been installed in the Great Synagogue, which is now serving as an electric station. A worker was killed at the time of the installation of the machinery – the gentiles said that this was a punishment from G-d…

The densely populated quarter that was called “Behind the Synagogue” had been completely destroyed. The poor, wretched Jewish houses that were situated along the Jablonka River in the area of the bathhouse are no longer present. None of them was saved. They were destroyed along with their impoverished occupants.

When I would go before the war to the area behind the synagogue and look at the poor, wretched, little houses with their goat sheds, it seemed to me that for them the great Jewish artist Mark Chagall used that image for his characteristic pictures that illustrated the wretchedness of the Jewish shtetl.

The street that led to the “Lokacz” was a bit clearer and broader. There, almost nothing had changed. Beyond the bridge, the way parted into three sides: the right side led to the Targowicza [market], the left side let to the Skale, also a typical Jewish alleyway where lived the butchers Chaim Wolf Zeifert and Moshe-Yantsha Nistal with his wife Chana-Dvora “Tartak”, who used to bring joy to every early morning with her juicy curses.

At one time, this alleyway was alive, when the headquarters of Hashomer Hatzair were located in Abish Nistal's house. Every night, the noise of the impromptu Hora dance, or the sentimental melodies of Jewish and Hebrew songs that the youth would sing to the light of lanterns or on the hill that was across the alleyway would permeate from there into the town. Saturday afternoons were especially joyous, for the Shomrim, dressed in their scouting uniforms and colorful ties, would march up the hill near Weissman's house and go from there to the Zwiriniec forests, or bathe in the Stryj River near the Jaworer Tunnel. In orderly rows and in cadence with jovial marching songs,

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they would march with pride; young children would run along the sides of the route, with great jealousy for them…

Jewish houses still stand along the wide street even though their owners are no longer here… There was not even anybody to demand the inheritance. The houses of the brothers Volia and Yaakov-Hirsch Kanke, Yisrael Langenauer, as well as the bakery of Mordechai Erdman stood out. The houses of the street that led to the Targowicza remained whole. For the most part, they were occupied by military families who were stationed in the city, as well as by the Chinovniks1 who moved here from eastern Ukraine.

*

A strange feeling overcame me when I arrived at the Rynek. At one time, this was the main center of the city. The homes of all the honorable householders of the city were located around the large city hall, in the form of a square. During the First World War, all of the wooden houses burnt down there, and new, relatively better built, fine, strong houses were built in their place. Thousands of farmers would fill up the place around the city hall, sell their produce, and spend their money at the Jewish businesses, which provided them with everything that they needed.

Who does not recall the Wednesday market days in town. The town was full of people, and it was difficult to go through the streets. The businesses were full of customers until late at night. The stable boys and butchers ended their business at the taverns and guesthouses. They concluded their purchases over a glass of liquor, clasping their hands together – and the voices ascended to the heights of heaven...

Today, it is peaceful here… No memory of anything remains. Market days and fairs no longer take place here. In the Ring-Platz, between the city hall and the houses that belonged to Moshe Reiter, Hirsh Leib Shreiber, Leizer Stern and others – they planted trees and poplars

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that grew wild, both tall and wide, and formed a strange grove in which children of the passers-by who live in the houses of Shmuel-Nachum Shein and Leizer Stern would play.

The courthouse is situated opposite, on the other side of the city hall, in the houses of Sender Goldreich and Moshe Shteiger. (The large building where the courthouse used to be located was turned into the barracks of the border N.K.V.D.) The house of Abish Artel, the son-in-law of Chaim Hirsh, was occupied by the city militia. The Gestapo was also located there during the time of the German occupation.

*

Otherwise, it was almost as if nothing had changed during the time… In the garden, which had been planted already in the pre-war years, there was a monument of Stalin. (Who knows – perhaps now in 1966 the monument is no longer there…) In the corner where the houses of Moshe Grossman and Shlomo Richter used to be, there is a tribute2 to workers who excel in high accomplishments with their work. To construct this, they removed the marble monument of Dr. Turnheim that had stood tall in the cemetery. They placed the black marble upon a platform, covered the inscription, and placed in a glass frame pictures of “stakhanavches3, creating a cheap and primitive revolutionary point.

On the side of the Rynek, parallel to the viaducts, the houses of Shlomo Richter, Zeinwil Brenes, Hirsh Eigler, and my father's house where I lived until June 1941 all remain stating. The other houses did not survive the powerful detonations of the explosions during the blasting of the viaducts, and they collapsed.

The viaducts, which had been rebuilt, had lost their former splendor and beauty. They only laid stress plates over the remaining pillars, thereby completely ignoring the elementary requests of the architect. From the

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tunnel until the train station, barbed wire was sticking out from both sides, so that no living soul could approach the Jablonka River. Armed soldiers guarded there day and night. The route through the hanging bridge that leads from the Rynek to the other side of the town, known as the Ilyca, was clear.

 

In Good Times

In the good times, before the destruction, the Ilyca was the center of the city. The majority of the businesses, extending for a long way along the main street, from the bridge until the Starostowa building, were located there. The shops, with a variety of merchandise, were one next to the other, and sharp competition existed among them. The merchants would fight for each customer, and this would often result in an argument or even blows. The farmers who used to come here from the surrounding villages would sell eggs, fowl, mushrooms, berries and other products. With the money, they would purchase salt, kerosene, shoes and other products. Frequently, they would barter one item for another, without using money… All week, there would be bustling and movement, and every Wednesday, which was the regular market day, one could not even go through the street. Farmers' wagons stood in all corners, and the businesses were filled with customers, among them some who did not come to purchase, but rather to steal a bit…

The businesses were closed for two days a week, Saturday and Sunday. On those days, the merchants would go out into the streets or sit with a cup of tea in the coffeehouses of Leizer Meiner or Hirsch Liberbaum and discuss politics.

On Friday night before candle lighting, Itzik-Aharon the shamash would appear on the streets with his wooden hammer and would knock on the doors of the shops to inform everyone that the holy Sabbath was approaching. Indeed, they soon closed, one after the other. The bakers had already sealed the ovens after putting in the cholent. Lit candles could already began to be seen in the windows. The town prepared to welcome the Sabbath.

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The next morning – how lively and joyous was it in town. Thousands of youth filled the alleyways in the headquarters of the youth organizations. Jewish children, festively dressed, happy and carefree, sprouted like colorful flowers on the mountains surrounding the city, and by the rivers, as they would play in the bosom of beautiful nature.

The older generation used to take a nap after the tasty cholent and fatty kugel. Later, they would go for a stroll in the grove near the pharmacy, or to the hospital area to get some fresh air and absorb some new energy for the new week, which would begin right after havdallah.

The socio-economic structure of the population here barely changed for generations. The chief sources of livelihood for Jews were business and a smattering of trades. The rest did not have any concrete employment. People lived from the “air” one from the other… There were brokers, village peddlers, wagon drivers, marriage brokers, teachers, and unemployed people. Aside from the few sawmills and the primitive brick kiln that used to be idle more than functioning, there were no industrial enterprises in the area.

Due to the fact that the town was surrounded by a large number of villages, it was able to serve as an administrative and business center. The Jewish population lived an impoverished, but comfortable life. Despite the lack of any great fortune and the lack of a perspective for a better future, people managed from week to week with nonchalance toward what fate might bring.

 

The Course of Fate

Fate took its cruel toll. During the course of three years, from 1941 to 1944, the Germans, with the assistance of the local Ukrainians, murdered the entire Jewish population of the city and the area. Not

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one family was able to save itself. Like hungry bloodhounds, they found all the Jews. Those who were able to pay the price of money and jewelry to hide with local gentiles also did not avoid the terrible fate. The gentiles would take all of their belongings, and then kill the people themselves or turn them over to the Gestapo.

Only the Jewish homes remain, abandoned and orphaned, serving as reminder that there once was a large Jewish settlement here. Today the houses are settled by Ukrainians, no small number of whom played their role in the deaths of many Jews. Today, they utilize and enjoy the property of their victims, in accordance with the principle of “You murdered and you also inherited”4. From time to time, they encounter one of the small number of surviving Jews of Turka who live alone and forlorn in various cities in the Soviet Union. They bring here the concealed pining for a Jewish town in which they had been born and raised. They are driven by an unhappy inclination to see for themselves whether the destruction was as great and terrible as has been described and written…

As soon as they set foot upon the accursed ground and inhale the air that has been poisoned with murder and killing, the heart becomes aggrieved and the tongue becomes immobilized. They wish to go away, and escape as soon as possible from the terrible nightmare.

The voices of the Ukrainians whom one encounters on the street, looking at you as if you have returned from the other world… You are overcome by a strange feeling, as it seems to you that you must answer as to why you are among the survivors… From all sides, you feel wild strangeness and an non-understandable hatred. You feel alone, redundant and unwanted.

Every clod of earth here is saturated with Jewish blood. The walls are sprinkled with the brains of Jewish children, and the souls of the victims are fluttering around. You finally come to the realization that our Jewish town with its large Jewish society no longer exists – it is dead forever…


Translator's Footnotes:
  1. A minor Russian official. See http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/chinovnik Return
  2. The term ‘Erntapl’ seems to imply a sickle shaped monument. Return
  3. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stakhanovite_movement Return
  4. I Kings 21:19. Return


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Memorial Corner

In Memory of my Father Reb Baruch Hirt

They were seven children – four brothers and three sisters. All of them were raised and educated in the spirit of Torah and religious tradition. My father of blessed memory was the youngest of them.

He was very punctilious about three things: love of his fellowman, giving charity in a hidden fashion, and the study of Torah.

He was never jealous of anyone, and never bore jealousy for anyone in his heart. He would give charity in a secret fashion to the extent that he was able. Regarding the study of Torah, he would say: Torah is our life, and a tree of life to those that grasp hold of it. Therefore, learning never departed from his lips.

He was a dedicated father to his children. He educated them in the spirit of love, with a full understanding to their new path in life. His aspiration was to make aliya to the Land, which he never merited to do. Three of his sons and Mother of blessed memory were murdered along with him.

May his and their memory be blessed

His son: Y. Hirt


In Memory of the Binder family

They had a small lot in Turka with a small farm: a few animals, a bit of agriculture, and a great deal of family warmth. Mother was literally a “Jewish Mother” – good hearted, able to instill ideas into all of her seven children that were in the home, as well as honor and respect for parents. She managed the house and business in good taste, even though the decisions always came from Father. Father was a G-d fearing Jew who observed the commandments. He was a farmer during the summer and a merchant during the winter.

I recall the warm Jewish home on Sabbath days. I recall the conclusion of the Sabbath, when the neighbors would gather in our home to conduct the Melave Malka meal, tell stories, and eat the special foods and the famous borscht.

Father was always ready to assist his fellowman – including visiting the sick and tending to the deceased. In everything, he saw an opportunity for a good deed and merits for the Garden of Eden in the World of Truth.

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Family life was conducted with Jewish understanding and values. I recall a picture that was etched in my mind: Father is sitting next to a kerosene lamp, with his spectacles on his nose, reading to mother a story of Reizele that printed in the daily newspaper. At times, the whole family would be together, and someone would sing. The comportment of the parents imparted in the children feelings of respect. When the Nazis came to take Father, mother left her hiding place and joined him. Thus, they were not separated in their lives and in their deaths…

Our eldest sister Rivka was also a victim.

Our sister Malka, the conscience and brain of the family – also fell at the hands of the enemy.

Our brother Yosef, graced with musical talent, also met his end in the crematoria of Majdanek.

Four of us remain – three in Israel and one brother in Belgium. Even though we have changed our way of life, many values from home remain with us.

The Hashomer Hatzair movement to which we belonged also imparted a great deal to us. It is good that there was such a movement that educated people to Zionism and aliya.

David Binder, Chaim Binder, and Hala Kushnir


In Memory of Menachem Langenauer

My brother Menachem the son of Rachel and Yisrael, was born in 1901 in Turka into a traditional, Hassidic home, and received a religious education. When the First World War broke out in 1914 and the Czarist armies burnt down the town, the entire family exiled themselves to the capital Prague. There, the lad studied in a night school for refugee children and began to display his talents as an artist. He continued expressing this talent in Turka after we returned to in 1917, at the end of the war. He would draw the sets for the various amateur theaters.

He went to the United States in 1929. There, he established a traditional Jewish family. His two children, one of whom serves as a military rabbi in the American Army and the second who is a physician, are involved in Jewish life in the United States. They and their wives are fluent in the Hebrew Language – and their homes are exemplary Hebrew homes.

Menachem participated in activities of the Hebrew movement in the United States.

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On the Death of Menachem Langenauer:1

The sudden death and the circumstances of the death of the dedicated Hebrew activist Menachem Langenauer of blessed memory had a depressing impact upon the Hebrew community of New York, which was dear to the departed. He was blessed with talent in drawing. He was the regular artist of the Hebrew Society of America, illustrating all of its artistic announcements, honorary scrolls for people of note, certificates for “The Hebrew Month,” etc. A large group of relatives, friends and those that held the deceased in esteem gathered at his funeral, which took place on Wednesday, 9th of Nisan. Rabbi Tzvi Tabory, a member of the leadership of the Hebrew Society of America and the former president of the Moria chapter of Boro Park, to which the deceased served as secretary for many years, eulogized the deceased. We bring down here a selection of his words:

“… In the name of the Hebrew Society of America, in the name of the Moria Hebrew club of Boro Park, in the name of the entire Hebrew family of greater New York, I bow my head in piercing grief and deep sorrow over the sudden death of our faithful and dedicated member Mr. Menachem Langenauer of blessed memory. He was a comrade in ideas and a comrade in deeds, who girded his shoulders to work towards the revival of Hebrew. For many years, he invested his entire energy and essence on the altar of the Hebrew Language. The man did not labor solely for Hebrew, but rather for the Holy Tongue. His lips were always pure and holy. Our sages have taught us: “Be careful about a simple commandment as a severe one, for you do not know the reward of commandments”2. Maimonides expounds, ‘A simple commandment, such as what? – Such as speaking in the Holy Tongue!’… The adage of Maimonides on specialization in one area is also known to us: ‘Only one tradesman was ever victorious over me.’ It is fitting for a person to excel in one thing, in which he finds the root of his soul. Reb Menachem the son of Reb Yisrael shone in all the commandments of the Torah, but speaking in the Holy Tongue was where he found his lot and his inheritance.

… He was the secretary of the Moria Hebrew club for many years, and now the man has been suddenly taken from us. Last night, he led his son to the marriage canopy, and today he has been called to the Heavenly assembly.

… Even though one is not supposed to comfort a person while his dead is still before him, we say to his wife: ‘Let us bless G-d that Menachem merited to educate your children in Torah and to lead them to the marriage canopy.’ He left behind children like himself, and whoever leaves behind children like himself does not die, but rather gathers unto his people. His children will continue along his path of life. May his soul be bound in the bonds of eternal life.”


Translator's Footnotes:
  1. There is a footnote in the text here: Hadoar, from 18 Sivan 5625 / 1965. Return
  2. Pirke Avot 2:1. Return

 

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