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[Page iii]

Dedicated to the memory of the decent, honest, G-d fearing people of the city who were killed and massacred by the slaughterers of our nation. May the memory of the slaughterers be wiped out from the face of the earth. We pray that G-d should pour His wrath upon them and His anger should reach them wherever they are.

Foreward

April 1998

This translation was undertaken as a tribute to our ancestors and their friends and relatives who lived in Yampol. I would like to acknowledge those who contributed to this project:

Dayan Berkovitz, Max and Ruth Davis, Michael Davis, Rael Davis, Al and Lynn Finkel, Irwin and Molly Fridovich, Judy and Michael Green, Brian and Evie Hill, Alvin and Pearl Holzberg, Jay Lenefsky, David Lewin, Roland Rance, Cynthia Shaw, Clare Schwartz, Harvey and Esther Sonin, Inbar Tamari and especially to Rabbi David Shapiro in Jerusalem who edited and translated large sections of this book.

When I took upon myself the task of organizing the translation of this book I had no idea of what it contained. My mother, of blessed memory, had told me a few stories about her difficult life in Yampol and I had drawn the conclusion that Yampol was a tiny shtetl where simple good hearted people lived and struggled. I had no idea of the depth of learning and intellect that existed there. The pages of this book encompass the learned, the whimsical, the horrifying, the joy - the total gamut of emotion that is human life. Putting it together was a very moving experience and the rewards have far exceeded my expectations.p

As organizer and typist I apologize for any errors. The sections were translated by many different people and some of the sections are a precis of the material rather than a literal word by word translation of the text. The aim of this book is to enable to reader to know what the original contains. Some of the material was exceedingly difficult and some of it is a translation from the Hebrew that had already been translated from Yiddish. The list of the names of the martyred has been included both in Hebrew and English because the spellings are not always easy to transliterate but I wanted it to be accessible to those who do not read Hebrew.

Certains phrases and names have asterisks and numbers by them. You will find a list of notations at the end of the book.

This book is an epitaph to the memories of the many who perished and I hope this translation will allow more people to appreciate the beauties and the hardships of our ancestors.

In loving memory,

Judy Wolkovitch


[Page v]

A Memorial for Future Generations

Our town of Yampola, or, in the Russian pronunciation, Yampol, is considered to be one of the oldest communities in the region of Volhyn dating back to the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. (Researchers claim it was much earlier, around the 11th century.) When Jews were driven out from Spain, they spread out into different parts of Europe, attempting to find a temporary resting place in the Diaspora, yearning for a better future - the arrival of the Messiah.

We are dedicating the present volume to the memory of the people of our town, our relatives, friends and loved ones. They were decent, honest, innocent victims who were slaughtered in one single day, some of them even buried alive.

Yampol was built in a similar way to the other towns of Volhyn and for a few decades was static, with neither growth nor development. Most of the newcomers adapted to the new environment, making a bare living of frugality and poverty.

A few families left town in the last century, emigrating to the USA, Argentina and other countries. Only a few isolated families, such as Rabbi Shalom Yahalom and the rabbinical judge David (Rabbi Doodi) went to Palestine in their older days. A few of the young people arrived in Palestine 40 years ago and made a significant contribution to the rebuilding of the land and the establishment of the State of Israel.

Despite the town's stagnation economically and physically, Yampol did develop remarkably, both spiritually and culturally. Yampol produced scholars, intellectuals, chassidim and religious giants, who brought honor and esteem to Judaism.

This tranquil city, similar to other Jewish communities, shared the fate of other European Jews brought about by those evil enemies who shattered their roots, stems and branches. All of Yampol's Jews were exterminated without leaving even the tiniest remnant. The atrocities to which they were subjected struck them in the most severe, terrible ways.

The undersigned, who grew up and were educated in Yampol, who, thanks to the grace of G-d, escaped the terrible fate, were the sole survivors who escaped, some even before, and others after, the first World War. They now reside in Israel and felt a moral obligation to eternalize the memory of those martyrs whose entire lives were dedicated to noble and charitable activities. To our great distress we do not have pictures, documents or other records of the town during the last period, that of the Holocaust. We do not even have the date

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of the cruel slaughter. We know only one fact - the innocence, honesty, and righteousness of those who were killed and slaughtered. We hope the following articles will serve as a reminder of our loved ones, never to be forgotten.

Commemoration Committee for the Town

Aryeh Leib ben Josef Gellman (Jerusalem)

Ezriel ben Baruch Goren (Pardess Hannah)

David ben Yitzhak Rubin (Kfar Chassidim)


[Page 1]

Judaism of the Heart and Mind

by Aryeh Leib Gellman

The terrible suffering of the Jews, during the Holocaust, hit Yampol Jews hardest over the years 1943-1944. The incredible agony of millions of European Jews, unmatched in history, left deep wounds in the heart of Jewry. How could we ever forget the destruction of thousands of Jewish communities? Among them the community of Yampol, in the district of Volhyn, a community of people distinguished in their study of Torah, piety, intellect, ethics, morals and spiritual nobility. Their memory for us must be eternal!

The great trauma which that destruction caused to the Jewish people left its mark on the body and soul of the nation. Its heart is wounded, pained and depressed. A flame burns within us, a flame of hatred against the accursed murderers. Not only never to be extinguished, but increasing from year to year!. We cannot forget, we are not permitted to forget, it is impossible to forget!

The fortresses of Judaism, doomed to extinction, stand daily before our eyes. We can imagine the fire and sparks spread against Jews with unheard of venom. The millions of innocent souls who were thrown into flaming ovens by inhuman beasts of prey raise their voices to us, as do the sole survivors, demanding 'DO NOT FORGET'.

Their memory must be preserved by Jews all over the world.

The town of Yampol had a unique characteristic, different from its neighboring towns. Yampol belonged previously to the district of Kremenetz but during the Soviet occupation, it became part of the district of Shepetovka. According to the last census, it had more than 300 families. In Jewish records it became well-known because of the 'Blood Libel' of 1756.

The Jews of Yampol suffered a lot during the 'Libel'. Many were imprisoned and subjected to harsh interrogations. (The reader will find interesting details of this historic trial in the late Professor Meir Balaban's article in this volume). It is not difficult to imagine the hardships and tragedies of the townspeople as a result of this terrible libel. They also suffered much during the fighting between the Swedes and the Cossaks at the start of the 18th century. Nevertheless, “the Eternal [G-d] of Israel will not deceive” [I Samuel 15;29] and the town safely escaped from all harm and tragedy and continued to spin the thread of traditional life. The life of a quiet, folksy, chassidic, and enlightened town.

Despite the small number of Jews of Yampol, it was privileged to have some of the greatest Torah luminaries among its spiritual leaders, thanks to the many men of spirit in the town. Among the noted was the “Noda BiYehudah,” Rabbi Yechezkel Landau. (A separate article can be found in this volume on the spiritual character of this genius whose fame spread throughout the Jewish world.) Furthermore, our town's leaders invited one of the famous students of the Ba'al Shem Tov, Rabbi Michael of Zloczow, as preacher, a post which he occupied for many, many years. He, as well as his son the pious Rabbi Yosef, are buried in the cemetery at Yampol.

For the main part, Yampol's Jews had limited means. They made a living from small trade or different handicrafts. Some had the good fortune to receive help from their relatives in America.

During World War I and the Russian revolution, and shortly afterwards, the Jews of the Ukraine were subjected to many pogroms and sufferings which also hit Yampol's Jews. The soldiers of the Ukrainian, Russian and Polish armies plagued the Jews and stole their possessions. The pogrom of the Russian soldiers, headed by the fierce Hetman Shisko, brought desolation and destruction to the Jews of Yampol in 1919. Many were killed, many others wounded, and Jewish property was stolen. Matters improved, though only slightly, during the Communist regime. Some 20 years later, Yampol was occupied by the German army and the great glory of Yampol was extinguished forever.

A JEWRY OF HEART. This earnest title was bestowed by one of the Hebrew writers on the Jews of Volhyn. The Volhyn region did not glitter with famous scholars like Lithuania, but was noted for pure heart with simple folksy devotion to the underlying basis of a matter without paying attention to the superficial esthetics. It was mainly a Judaism of the heart and an outpouring of love and trust.

Yampol, however, differed from most the other towns of the Volhyn district. Not only did Yampol excel in matters of the heart and the spirit, it also had an intellectual Torah heritage, which was implanted in it by the outstanding pious, religious leaders who had been in their midst in previous generations.

The spirit of Torah and enlightenment was an integral part of Yampol Jewry, including not only scholars and intellectuals, but also the simplest artisans who gathered in the great synagogue. The town did not experience antagonism among its groups. Chassidim of Trisk, Zinkov and Ostra, lived in peace and harmony. The spirit of Enlightenment created some difficulty only for a few fanatics among the religious Jews, but they did not have a serious influence on the general populace. Typical is the fact that the Zionist movement and the political vision of Herzl made an impression among the Torah scholars, the enlightened and the simple folk. The fact that a small group of youths wrote a pamphlet by hand called “The Awakening” which spread rapidly among the readers of Hebrew symbolized the spirit of the cultural level prevailing in the town. The contributors to the paper were; Alter Rimel, Eisik Knif and Yaakov Horzshach of blessed memory, and the survivors David Rubin, Ezriel Goren and the editor of the present 'Memorial Book.”

In numbers, there were only a few young men who devoted themselves entirely to Torah study, but in quality they rose to great heights. The elders of the town, among whom were accomplished scholars, discussed their study and scholarly novellae with these boys. It has been more than half a century since we parted from our dear town, but the image of these pious and noble individuals always pass through our mind. It is difficult to forget their knowledge in all areas of Torah study and their noble spirit.

A notable scholar was Rabbi Aryeh Leibish Lerner. He was one of the outstanding students of the famous Rabbi Shlomo Kruger from Brody. This was the second time that the leaders of the community went to Brody to choose a rabbi. The first rabbi was the world renowned scholar Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, author of “Noda BiYehuda” and other important Halachic works. Rabbi Leibish Lerner acted as local rabbi for over 60 years and passed away on the seventh day (Tishrei 7) of 5673 (1912). His son, Rabbi Meir Shmuel Lerner, followed his father and was highly respected by the Yampol Jews. He shared the fate of the innocent victims of the Holocaust and did not survive (HY'D). Rabbi Yosef Derbarimdiger, a descendent of the Berditshever Rav, Rabbi Levi Yitzak, served as a rabbinical judge at the time. He too perished during the Holocaust (HY'D).

The elderly Rabbi Aryeh Leibish Lerner (of blessed memory) was renowned in all the nearby towns as a halachic authority, and they all turned to him with their halachic questions. His custom was to come to the Kloiz early in the morning before dawn. He would then spend hours in contemplation. He was of much aid to the young scholars who studied in the Kloiz who turned to him for explanations of difficult passages in the Talmud. At an advanced age he became blind, but since he knew nearly the entire Talmud by heart, he still was able to reply immediately on important or minor matters without having to consult the Talmud. His erudition and outstanding memory were truly impressive.

Rabbi Eli Zeigermeister (Weisstaub), a frail short person, was an adroit scholar, “sinai [=knowledgeable] and “oker harim” [lit. uprooter of mountains, i.e. a sophisticated analyst.] He studied and taught for many years, but never completed the entire Talmud because his analysis of each page of the Talmud took him several days. He wrote and published two books, “Minchas Marcheshes” and “Minchas Machvas” which comprised commentaries on the Torah and analyses of difficult passages in the Talmud. He who perished during the Holocaust, excelled by learning at a slow pace, in depth. He wrote two essays, commentaries on the Bible and Talmud. The writer of these lines had the honor of assisting him in the preparation of the first volume which was printed in Berditshev. One of his sons, the late Dr. Yitzhak Weisstaub, was a student of Dr. Tzvi Peretz Chajoth, chief rabbi of Vienna, who helped him to enter the faculty of Medicine at the University of Vienna, and he became a physician. In his last years he joined relatives in Winnipeg, Canada, where he practiced medicine at the local hospital. As a writer, he was a frequent contributor to the weekly “Hamitzpa” which was published in Krakow. One of the essays he published is titled “The Poor Zalman of Yampol.”

Rabbi Yisroel Feivishes was considered one of the greatest of scholars, and his influence on his students was tremendous. His specialty was the study of Halacha and rabbinical decisions. The author of these lines, one of his devoted students, studied with him not only the Talmud and Tosafoth, but also Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim and Yoreh Deah (the laws of Kashruth). He personally knew the critic RIBA'L [Isaac Baer Levinsohn] but never spoke against him or criticized him in spite of RIBA'L's bitter opposition to Chassidism. He was careful to honor him as a great Talmudic scholar and analyst of Jewish thought. This demonstrates the patience and honorable relationship which the orthodox had towards those who opposed their opinions and ideology in Judaism.

Rabbi Yankele Greidinger (HY'D) was a native of Yampol who had studied in our kloiz and served as a rabbi in Greiding, in the district of Podolia. He was the only son of Reb Shimalle. Once a year he would come to Yampol to fulfill the commandment of “Honor Thy Father and Mother” by visiting his parents He took the opportunity to visit the Kloiz where he would join the students in their study. They would assault him with questions concerning the Talmud and Tosafoth. His explanations were excellent and wondrous, and were received by the youths with great pleasure.

Rabbi Yitzhak Meller from the nearby town of Lanivitz would occasionally visit our town. He was author of the well known works “Ezra Lehavin”, a wonderful supercommmentary on Ibn Ezra's bible commentary, and a unique pamphlet “Or Haganuz”, a supercommentary on “Or Hachaim”. On his visits, he would spent time with the youths of the kloiz, many of whom were already proficient in Talmudic and critical literature. This rabbi, who served afterwards as rabbi of several communities in Bessarabia, was also knowledgeable in secular studies, particularly mathematics and geometry. The youth of the Yampol kloiz were deeply influenced by his writings and enjoyed his visits immensely. The introduction to his book “Ezra Lehavin” as well as his last essay “Lehavin Imrei Bina” were important contributions to the field of critical literature.

In 1945, an emergency meeting of the Zionist Organization took place in London. The delegation of the Jewish community of Poland was led by a Mr. Sommerstein. A young grandson of Rabbi Meller, who during the Holocaust was a partisan, also attended the meeting. He reported the following: entering Yampol with his partisan group after the fall of the Germans, he found Yampol completely destroyed. The Ukrainian peasants from nearby villages told him that “all Yampol Jews were one day removed for burning and slaughter.”

Rabbi Samuel Chaya's was a unique personage among the outstanding householders of the town. His house was always open for travelers or other Jews passing by Yampol. He was considered an accomplished scholar and his vast knowledge of Talmud was made available to students who constantly turned to him with every difficulty they found in any Talmudic passage. He was a friendly person, quiet and humble. He distanced himself from all local politics. His custom was to attend the last “minyan” of prayers each morning, and then he would spend his time with those young scholars who showed sparks of genius. They learned much from him and he is deserving of a blessing.

Rabbi Yankel Zalman's (HY'D) was the only “melamed” [teacher] who spread the study of grammar. In this subject he endowed his students with much linguistic and literary knowledge.

Thus the kloiz produced young Talmudic scholars who were adept in the Hebrew language and literature. Worthy of mention are Reb Yitzhak Goldberg (known by the nom de plume “Itzi Moshe Hirsch's”) and Reb Alter Rimel (know as “Alter Avrohom Elyakim's”) who were among the first teachers to introduce the method of studying Hebrew in Hebrew (Ivrit b'Ivrit) in Berditschev, Ostra and other localities. Both were prolific gifted writers and occasionally published articles in the Hebrew and Yiddish newspapers. May their memory be blessed.

This little town raised and educated a Jewish intelligentsia, men of spirit, heart, emotion and wisdom, who in time developed and became writers and leaders in various lands who brought honor to the people and the state.

The holocaust and its destruction uprooted and eradicated from the world thousands of communities, but it did not succeed in extinguishing the holy fire, the sensitive feelings, and the noble spirit which they carried in their hearts up to the last moment.

The articles gathered in this volume are dedicated with admiration, deep sorrow and severe pain to the memory of our beloved townspeople, decent, faultless Jews, nearly two thousand, who marched erectly one Sabbath morning from their homes in to the death pits and ambushes of fire which the Nazis had prepared for them. They marched with dignity, vengefully despising their Satanic murderers who will be remembered as an eternal shame. Their names should be wiped from the face of the earth!.

May this Memorial Book serve as a monument to their pure souls. May the Almighty remember them beneficently among the righteous men of the world and may He revenge their innocent blood.


[Page 6]

For Ukraine and its Towns
(A sound and lamentation)

by L. Bieler

My G-d, my G-d, my soul cries
Cry, daughter of Israel
Lament, and breathe
The fire consumed Israel

For the butchering of a people
Untold suffering, a waterfall of blood,
Old, young, no mercy
On the altar, an innocent sacrifice

For the babies, being nursed
Turn apart on the rocks
And for their blood which flowed
Right in front of their parents.

For destroyed communities
And for the catastrophe of the synagogues
Wood for fire
The beautiful cities of Israel.

For the generations who were cut down
Tears of fathers on tears of their children
In the valley of Auschwitz, they ended their lives
For the bonfires of the furnaces.
For the imprisoned, wearing sackcloth
Wiped out in the thousands
In Treblinka and Maydanek
There's no one to collect their bones.

For the trains full of people
Lined with plaster and sulfur
Dying of thirst, almost dead
Crying “water” and finding none.

For the girls who fainted
Wives who killed themselves
Ninety three pure ones died together
Their honor was protected.

For those who froze in snowy fields
Sweet children in their mothers' arms
And for the holy ones crying out
As they were buried alive in pits

For the desecrated parchments
In the hands of Nazis, enemies of G-d,
Ripped up, torn and defiled,
In the garbage and no one to rescue them.

For the saintly ones, the humble of the world,
Learners of Torah, the heads of the nation,
In the cells of poison their voices were choked.
The menorah fell, it was extinguished.

For the youth, the flowering of the nation
Fighting vanguards, lions of rebellion
Facing the criminals spilling blood
Burned in the flashes of fury.

For the rivers of blood and tears
A covenant of revenge in a heart is kept
In a ghetto battle unfading
Consumed was the strength of concealed heroism.

For the sanctification of G-d's and the nation's name
And for revenge for the blood of the pure
Ever stronger they gave up their lives
They fought, the heroes fell.

For the broken nation let us lament
Trapped with sorrow, wrapped by Holocaust
Will you forever hide hatred
And not bring out the shine?

See, G-d, my flesh is shriveled
My heart is broken, my enemies rise
Listen to my request, find a fast shelter
Save my soul from bloody men.

Rise hero, upon the dead
As a candle always shining and quivering
Every drop of blood a sacrifice to the devil
We shall always remember.


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G-d of Revenge

by Chaim Chamiel

he oppressor was proud, and destroyed all that was dear
Destroyed, ruined, cut down and blew up.
Waves of hawks turned over cities
Homes - broken by tyrants
The Jewish Diaspora is filled with those hanged
And those who fell by the sword.

G-d! Have your mercies ended,
Or has the trait of Justice found another reason
Or praise for a Goy drumming at a dance of sacrifice/
Inventing battles, churning new ideas?

Forget…and remember, until the very end of your cup I stopped finding
Send lightening and thunder! Pour on him your arrows of wrath!
Give your inferno and hell, your bitter destruction
Gather anger, take revenge, find my debt,
Enable me to grit my teeth for the dread in my heart
Strike him, shock him, with the shock of annihilation
Shatter him, break him into pieces before his master the Devil
Close the mouth of the “volcano” of this horror with great slap
For joy, contempt, and the spilled blood.

Take revenge, G-d, a revenge for the painful groans
The voice of blood cries out, with full heroism;
The heroes of Warsaw, Krakow and all the regions -
The holy ones of Volhynia, Podolia and the cities
To sanctify the name of your people who were mightier than lions
And defeated in their souls the disgusting monsters
The blood boiled, the corpses fell apart
And they cried out to heaven with the cries of wrath!
REVENGE!

Wail before your treasure, with noble lamentations
Pierced by lead, his body like a sieve
Those fainting gazed at a hard sky
And the path of the just followed them in blood…

G-d of revenge! If you hate an innocent child
And hid your face from a songful soul and innocent longings
Before you lock the gates of tears.
When people are beside themselves on the night of forgiveness
Holy ones were burned, the ruins rustled, the babies crushed.
They came to a small and stubborn people,
While speaking to you: “Since you are a G-d of pardon and mercy”!
They spilled tears, knocked on your gates
They raised their eyes to heaven, searched your face
They begged for their lives with sweat and trembling
Because they saw that their hands would not save them
They lit up their eyes in a flame.

Gather, G-d, their wrath and that of many others
They were slaughtered in public
And cast into pits;
The roar of the confused, the cries of the oppressed.
Tiny babies were sent to the slaughter,
He will combine, roar, bellow and make noise,
With powerful thunder, sulfur and fire.
Shock in detention the clucking of the viper,
The suffering of the shadow of death, give him generously,
Destroy his mischief, pluck out his eyes, kill him, annihilate him,
Let his daughters putrefy, his pregnant women be swallowed.
Wreck his blows, grind up his bones
Take revenge for an innocent girl, hanged on a rope.
Her braids were bloody with her neck and her scalp.
The curls of the girl, a crushed skull.
She gave up her soul with clear eyes
Burning and piercing…REVENGE!

Don't be still and don't hold back
Remember the child in school, who cuddled with you.
That in the merit of his sweet breath, the world exists -
Holding flames of the walls of the building.
Soldiers of annihilation and destruction surrounded him,
He escaped with “The Path Of The Just” in his hand,
And he sang the “Foundation of Chassidism and
Root of Divine Service” before the one G-d -
This is the song of freedom of a humming soul, longing for G-d.
The small one went into the fiery furnace in joy and happiness
He sang before his Creator, and made hearts tremble.

Their heart and soul sang to the living G-d
They sent machines of inferno, fire of destruction
Their souls left them in holiness and purity
Parchments of Torah were set on fire
And the flames consumed the walls of the house
To the sounds of calls of revenge, the song of the poet.

From your heights, G-d, scream like a woman giving birth!
Let not the blood be blood for your name
With spilled blood come and immerse your arm
And place it on the criminals who did not know your name
Terrify them and break them, because you are G-d.

Send your wrath, your inflamed consuming wrath
And burn them all up like on a bonfire
Until all sin is cleansed and purified
Until all evil and rebellion ends
So that all life will know
That the G-d of revenge has appeared!


[Page 13]

About the Martyrs of Our Times

by Moshe Prager

Dedicated on Holocaust Memorial [Yahrzeit] Day, the tenth of
Tevet, in memory of the millions of pure and holy souls, including
more than 2000 of the people of Yampol who perished in 1943-1944
May G-d revenge their blood.

This is the story that has yet to be told - that of the martyrs of our times.

The period of the Jewish Holocaust in Europe revealed to us some majestic scenes of Jewish heroism. These inspiring images have already assumed an aura of legendary quality. We have the story of the fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto, the story of the partisans, the stories of escape and passage to Palestine. These stories were a significant source of inspiration for Israel's War of Independence. Yet this wonderful tale of modern martyrdom is still hidden, waiting for the dedicated historian who will collect the documents and testimonies and reveal the legendary splendor flowing from the facts.

“Where was your martyrdom?” I was asked recently by one of the leaders of modern Jewry. “The left wing circles, the socialists and communists, created the Jewish partisanka; the Halutz (pioneer) movement was prominent in the ghetto rebellion. But, what of Orthodox Jewry, or more accurately the millions of believing Jews? What was their response to the threat of genocide? We have not even heard of acts of heroism with religious zeal and martyrdom in the traditional religious sense of Kiddush Hashem [sanctification of G-d's name]. Since I have come to clear conclusions concerning this question after years of researching the period of the Holocaust, I answered as follows:

Admittedly, there have been very few reports of the many and varied manifestations of martyrdom in our time. On the other hand there are many accounts and indications of spiritual heroism and self sacrifice under indescribable conditions. So, the problem should not be put down to a scarcity of actual occurrences, but to a paucity of documentation.

With regard to the paucity of publications of this type of material, there are several reasons for this:

a) Very few of the elite of the religious Jewish community survived. The rabbis, heads of communities, leaders and religious activists and all those who served in religious roles in ten thousand communities spread over twenty one European countries that were occupied by the Nazi oppressor. They all perished together with their holy communities, and no one survived to tell the tale of their heroism during the years of dread of the Nazi regime, and of the fervor of the sanctification of G-d as they took their last steps. On the other hand, one should remember that the shining legend of the Warsaw uprising and of the deeds of the partisans came into being largely due to those who survived the camps. b) The few religious Jews who did survive are not keen to tell the tale of their survival. These are the very few elite who miraculously survived. A few admors [chassidic rebbes] and rabbis, yeshiva students, communal workers, members of the religious intelligentsia and others do not show any inclination to tell the story of their experiences and trials at the time when they faced the chasm of the abyss. This silence is typical. One must remember that this lofty experience of readiness to sanctify G-d's name, was a profound experience of consecration and elevation, literally as far as the very limits of the soul. Any one who went through this experience does not wish to describe it or glorify himself in it because they feel that the experience is profaned through its revelation. Moreover, these Jews who experienced the sternest spiritual test of all, do not consider themselves heroes at all. They humbly underplay their emotional experience of yesteryear: “What is there to tell? What did I do, and what is there to marvel at? Any Jew is capable of such behavior, because he is a Jew for this very reason!”…

c) There is no public institution involved in collating documentary evidence of acts of sanctification. For the very reason that the subject is very comprehensive and relevant to the experiences of millions of faithful Jews, there is no one to take responsibility for it. Unfortunately, a strange and shameful situation has arisen in the research of the Holocaust whereby each group chooses its own heroes from the six million victims. These heroes, all of whom are the 'private property' of each group, only they are worthy of a wreath of remembrance.

In an honest effort to reveal the historical truth, I recently conducted an educated attempt to research the subject of the sanctification of G-d's name only on the basis of evidence provided by non-religious and even anti-religious Jews. I am grateful to the Bund Archives in New York which granted me access to their large collection of Holocaust literature. I will attempt to present a concise summary of my findings.


The Awakening of Faith

The first question:

What was the intensity of belief in the ghettos, torture camps and places where killing took place? Did people lose faith in the face of destruction? The Nazis waged a war of annihilation against the Jewish faith, methodically desecrated all things holy to Israel, and took every opportunity to abuse the G-d of Israel. How did this affect the repressed and humiliated Jews?

We were very surprised by the response:

Among millions of doomed people in the suffocating ghettos and the cramped conditions of the camps of destruction there were clear signs of a religious revival. Not only did the observant Jews withstand the cruel test and display boundless devotion to Jewish values, but there was a religious revival among Jews who were previously non-observant or even opposed to religion.

The following are descriptions and facts taken from different places and different circumstances:

The well-known poet: A. Sotskver, one of the leaders of the Jewish partisans, states in his book about the Vilna ghetto:

“The commander of the ghetto forbade praying or the holding of any religious ceremonies, but just as was with the conversos in the time of the Inquisition in Spain, the religious Jews did not abandon their faith. In Reb Shaulka's kloiz, a yeshiva was set up in the name of the late Rabbi Haim Ozer Grudzenski, attended by 30 students. Later, a yeshiva was established for small children. The yeshiva students studied at night, and during the day they were subjected to forced labor. Little was known in the ghetto about the two yeshivas.”

Other chroniclers of ghetto life also talk of the revivalist movement and return to faith in the ghettos that were destroyed.

Religious feelings strengthened considerably in the ghetto. Jews assembled every day to pray. Even those who were thought of as secular came to pray with the minyans (based on 'The Remembrance Book of Breinsk,' published in New York in 1948.)

“Life in the town under Nazi rule changed things … the number of observant Jews grew daily. People who had not prayed for many years became religious and prayed for hours on end and recited psalms. There were also instances of the reverse, but no one lost faith in the miracle that would surely come” (based on Yizkor Buch fun Rottne, published in Argentina in 1954.)

Another record of the events tells of the emotional traumas of the religious Jews. An eye witness of a public Nazi ceremony at which Torah scrolls were burned in the Galina ghetto, near Lvov, provides the following account (taken from the book 'The Scroll of Galina,' published in New York in 1950):

“The German officer gave the order to take all the Torah scrolls out and to burn them. At that moment the evil doers took the scrolls out, there were four or five of them, and threw them out near the synagogue. … one of the Jews who were in hiding, Yerachmiel Wolf Khodak, ran out, fell at the Nazi's feet and begged him in tears to let him take the scrolls. “It's good you came here” shouted the German; “you will burn the 'Bible' yourself! Have you got any matches? Burn your 'Bible!' The Jew threw himself on the scrolls and replied: “Burn me with the scrolls! Even if you shoot me I will not carry out your order!” The murderer took out his gun, aimed it at the Jew and again ordered him to burn the Torah scrolls. The Jew jumped up, tore his shirt and exposed his chest to the murderer: 'Shoot! I won't carry out your order!'

“At the time, I was in hiding in the house of the Reb Abba'lle, the shoichet, together with his son-in-law, the Rabbi from Pruchnik. When we heard that the Torah scrolls were being burned we began crying bitterly with screams of pain. The Rabbi tore his clothes, fell to the ground and wept: “What is left of our lives? What are our lives worth now? We have been shamed! We have been shamed!” The people surrounding him tried to calm the Rabbi. He raised his head and lifted his eyes to the heavens and called out: “And we still have not forgotten Your holy name! We will continue to serve the blessed Lord!”


Underground Houses of Prayer

The second question:

How did the Jews continue to conduct their religious life and traditions? In many places, the Nazis imposed the death penalty on anyone carrying out religious activities, for any assembly involving public prayer or for any one avoiding forced labor on the Jewish festivals. What did the Jews do? Did they observe the Jewish festivals? Did they organize underground houses of prayer? Did they, at least, take the risk of holding communal services on the High Holy Days?

Once again we were surprised:

The documents and papers in our possession show clearly that wherever they were, the Jews all tried to organize clandestine houses of prayer, despite the harsh conditions and the explicit death penalty carried by such activities. Special efforts were made on the New Year and Yom Kippur when crowds of Jews assembled for prayer, even in the concentration camps. Moreover, even in the camps of partisans who fought in the forests under Russian-Soviet command, Jews assembled to recite the Prayer of Remembrance.

It is worthwhile copying a few testimonies regarding the clandestine prayer assemblies which took place during the High Holy Days. It should be noted that all the records of life in the ghetto make little mention of these activities, as if it were a natural and everyday occurrence.

Here for example, is a description of life in the Polish town of Balakhtov:

“The torture which the Jews underwent during the High Holy Days was a particularly tragic event. Despite the ban on prayer assemblies, on pain of death, Jews gathered on these days, in groups and prayed with great fervor … the Jews risked their lives, secretly removed the Torah scrolls from synagogues and hid them in different places … in Pavianitska Street, two Jews were led away, cloaked in their prayer shawls and wearing their Kittels [white prayer gowns worn on Yom Kippur], - they had been caught praying.” (an extract from the book “Yizkor Bukh” published in Argentina in 1951.)

The same eye witness spoke of a Kol Nidre assembly which took place in the Majdanek concentration camp:

“I shall never forget the night of Yom Kippur and the prayer of Kol Nidrei in Majdanek … it is impossible to describe the sorrow of the people who wanted to save their lives through praying to G-d. It was awesome …”

The writer, Rebecca Kaviatkovska, wrote about the prayer assemblies in the Auschwitz concentration camp:

“The Jewish women from Hungary assembled and began praying. The Jewish women from Czechoslovakia and Poland followed suit loudly. In the face of death, the women forgave each other for any offense they may have committed, reconciled themselves and awaited the morrow with fear and trepidation.” (Taken from the book 'Fun Lahger, Tzu Lahger,' published in Argentina, 1950.)

Rachel Auerbach tells of the secret spot for praying, and the El Malei Rachamim memorial prayers recited in the Treblinka destruction camp:

“And Tanhum also tells us about one youth - others also mention his name - who was called Meir Kapo. He was the son of a scribe (of Sifrei Torah, Tefillin and Mezuzoth) and had a good singing voice. He was very devout and every evening, after work, when everyone was shut up in the huts, he would stand up and recite the ma'ariv evening service and El Malei Rachamim, after which the Jews in the huts would loudly recite Kaddish … the Germans loved to hear the Jewish religious songs (yiddishe schticklech), and until he was shot by the Germans he was honored by them as a “kapo” although he harmed no one.” (Based on a report in the Warsaw communist newspaper 'Das Naye Leben.')

And the last and most important - the partisan's prayer in the forest: based on reliable evidence given by the leader of the Jewish partisans, the poet Shmerka Kachraginski:

“It was in 1943 at the beginning of the High Holy Days, the last remaining Jews in Vilna, despite the fact that most of them were not observant, felt a strong sense of longing for yesteryear which had ended so recently, for their observant parents, for their grandparents who had prayed. Even in the forest, they did not want to completely break away from the sanctified yesteryear, and they prepared to gather a minyan to pray under a makeshift shelter, to pour out the bitterness in their hearts to their Heavenly Father and to recite the Remembrance of the Souls prayer.” (Taken from a book entitled “I Was a Partisan” published around 1952 in Buenos Aires.)


On the Last Road

The third question:

In their final hour, how did the Jews accept the death sentence, a fate of utter destruction? The merciless enemy declared incessantly that the Jews were being led to the gallows only because they were Jews - did not this arouse in the Jews a sense of Jewish pride, a recognition of Israelite martyrdom and of readiness to sacrifice their souls for the sanctification of G-d?

And at this juncture, we encounter a most surprising discovery:

It is true that, on their last road, many Jews felt a sense of Jewish pride and a recognition of having a mission, and being sound of mind and with clear convictions they took it upon themselves to sanctify G-d's name with their death.

These disclosures show just how wrong the hackneyed complaint against the martyrs is: “As sheep are led to the slaughter.” Not at all! This was not a dumb, senseless and misunderstood act. In too many cases, this was a march to the Akeida (a willing sacrifice), out of pure faith and fervent devotion. Leading the march to the “(train) carriages of death” and towards the crematorium were the rabbis and community leaders. They ignited the sense of self-sacrifice in the people following them. They spoke words of farewell expounding on the great merit of martyrs.

This is an account of such a death march as recorded by one of the survivors of the Treblinka camp:

“In the train carriage, on the way to Treblinka, the mood is not bad … people behave with dignity in life's final hours. An elderly man managed to bring his phylacteries with him and he was preparing to conduct his daily prayers before the Master of the Universe.” (From “Podolyishe in Umkum” by M.Y.Feigenbaum, Munich 1948.)

Furthermore, there are some accounts in Holocaust documentary books. These are stories of an inner freedom espoused by our age's martyrs.

“The deportation was announced for the day after Yom Kippur … On Yom Kippur, the Jews assembled at the Shtieblakh (small synagogues) to pray. It is difficult to describe or portray this prayer. Young people, who were far from religious life, pushed their way in, out of an inner feeling, and also came to pray … maybe this is the last time, so we should be together with other Jews. The prayers were like confessions on the deathbed. That night, after the prayers, the Jews did not forget to drink l'chayim (to life), as was their custom. But this was the last time. The SS forces, Ukrainians and Lithuanians, were waiting to perpetrate their plan of murder …” (From 'Yovel Buch, Gewedimet Di Kdoishim Fun Sokolow' New York, 1946.)

“At this time, as a group of elderly Jews was forced to sit down in the snow, all wrapped in their prayer shawls and prayer gowns (tallitot and kittels), waiting for death huddled together against the terrible cold. One old man, Reb Yitchok Nochum Weintraub, took a bottle of spirits and a small glass out of his coat and offered drinks to his neighbors. The elderly people drank to each other l'chayim and to meet again in Heaven, and wished a bitter end to their murderers.” (From 'The Destruction of Shedletz, Oif Di Churvois Fun Mein Heim' by Elimelekh Feinzilber, Tel Aviv, 1952.)

These accounts, faithfully quoted here without any interpretations, are just a sample of comprehensive and rich documentation. Unfortunately, there is no room to tell the tale of 'the other side' of martyrdom, i.e. self-sacrifice in saving other Jews and helping out brethren in distress. I would like to comment that here too, a completely erroneous concept has taken root. The lamentable phenomenon of the JudenRaten with the 'Jewish Police' should not conceal the heroic struggle of the extensive and long lasting self-help efforts in the ghettos. These activities were continued until the very end. When the documentary material on this topic is made available, we will know that it is not the dark characters of 'The House of Dolls' that represent the image of the Jew fighting for his soul.

 

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