(Parts One and Two)
To my dear and valued fellow ex-Yampolites! It is for you that I write these lines. The fate that befell hundreds and thousands of the villages of Poland Galitzia, Latvia and the Ukraine is not in the realm of the living.
Our village Yampol was one of those. The cruel enemy, the evil Nazis, did not pass her by. They exterminated and burned all our friends and relatives, our sisters and brothers. Except for a few individuals out of hundreds, who were miraculously saved, not one remains. The animals [Nazis] exterminated them and swept them off the face of the earth. Years will pass and from our village there will not remain, heaven forbid, any remembrance for future generations. Our children, and the children of our children will not know that in the world of the Holy One, blessed be He, it happened that their loved ones and dear ones were exterminated in such a cruel and horrible way.
Because of this, I have taken upon myself, the son of your village who you still remember from there, the task and trouble to go forth and write down lines and remembrances, in order to erect a modest monument to the memories of all those who were destroyed and are gone.
It is hard to answer with any exactitude the question: How old was our town Yampol? because no one remembered or wrote down when and by whom the village was founded, who laid the foundations and who were its first settlers, but there is no doubt that the village was several thousand years old. The hundreds of ancient and faded gravestones in the old graveyard in the village bore witness to this fact.
This graveyard was situated on the other side of the western road, close to the southern bank of the river. It is possible that hundreds of years ago the graveyard was a great distance from the river. It is possible that perhaps with the passage of time, the water shifted the banks of the river towards the graveyard.
Even our old folks did not remember when we started using the new graveyard that was around four kilometers from the village on the side of the road to the village of Pinkovich. Despite this, the old folks used to say, at every opportunity and with great enjoyment, that several hundred years ago, our village was renowned in all the area because the famous Gaon, Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, known in the rabbinical world as Noda BiYehudah (literally known in Judea) ran the Rabbinate here for ten years.
[Footnote: the writer, who was born and educated in Yampol, started writing an entire book about the village. To our sorrow, death claimed him first. He died a peaceful death in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Only the first two chapters have come into our possession.]
Some words on this subject were found in the ancient village ledger, that was in the possession of the Gabbai of the Chevra Kadisha. To my regret, I never got to see this ledger, but my Uncle Shalom, of blessed memory, who was known as Shalom Batsheles, was for many years the Gabbai of the Chevra Kadisha, and the village ledger was always in his possession. He used to peer into it from time to time.
I remember that my uncle told me that in that ledger were written several references to the fact that Rabbi Yechezkel Landau was our village leader during his tenure in the village Rabbinate.
It is easy to assume that with his departure from our Rabbinate, the village felt a great loss. It is also hard to believe that because of this all the town's spiritual life, which had been in existence for a long time before his tenure, was cut off. However, it did flower and grow during the years of his Rabbinate.
In the period following the Rabbinate of Rabbi Yechezkel, we can only grope in the darkness, because there are no surviving writings on our village's life, development and growth over the last one hundred and fifty years. Therefore I will not engage in investigations and assumptions in this matter.
The last heir of all this property was the Polish noble Lampitzky, a respected noble who lived all his life with his wife (they had no children) abroad, reputedly in Paris. From time to time he would come to our village and visit his property, to check if everything was going well. Afterwards he would once again disappear for a long while.
While the noble couple lived as foreigners in the 'exile' they took upon themselves, their palace in our village was kept up in every detail. The maids and servants baked and cooked. The grooms and groundsmen cleaned and polished the horses and carriages. The guards and gardeners cultivated and perfected the palace gardens, and everything carried on as if they were awaiting the imminent return of 'their Excellencies.' Everything had to be correct and in its place.
The Nobles' property was overseen for years by a Pole by the name of Yakobovski. He was a rotund fellow, short and pleasant-faced. He used to answer his acquaintances' greetings with a friendly smile, ready to engage in longer conversation. Except for a small tax which the homeowners had to pay to the Noble Lampitsky, which was levied by Yakobovski, the two had no other dealings. The only one who had close relations with the 'Court,' that is with the Nobleman, was the 'Lord' of our village, David Kartman, who was usually called David Shayas (Isaiah's David.)
This David Shayas was the Trustee and chief inspector of the Noble's property. Even Yakobovski had to report to him about everything he did. This report, along with his comments and explanations were delivered to the Noble along with the sum of money the couple needed for living expenses abroad.
Another person who had professional dealings with the 'Court' was the rich man of the town, Barish Baruchs. For as long as I can remember, he leased the large village flour mill, and two other small mills in the neighboring villages. The Noble took no part in their operation, because they were arranged by the manager Yaacobovich or by David Shayas, and the Noble only knew what his trustees chose to tell him after the fact.
The 'Court' included a beautiful palace, tall and wide, and all of one story, which stood in the middle of a wonderful wide garden. This garden was situated on the right side of the road, after the fork of the road from the west. Around it was a high fence made of thin wood slats, through which it was possible to see everything that went on in the garden.
The gate of the garden was open all day long, but no one ever could put even his foot inside because next to the gate, for guarding purposes, lay two large dogs, ready to devour anyone who dared pass through the gate without permission.
After many years, I became friends with these two dogs (and I do not remember if they were the same dogs or others), and they even allowed me to pat their backs. I did not have much faith in them and I avoided staying alone in their company . but more about this later.
Across from the high iron gate, in the depths of the garden, it was possible to see 'their Excellencies'' palace, and its long rows of thick tall pillars, whose whiteness blinded the eyes.
From the gate to the main entrance of the palace stretched a wide pathway, covered in yellow brick and bordered on both sides by rows of flowers of all kinds and colors, whose pleasant and pungent smell made one drunk with their perfume. To the right and left of the gate stretched rows of large, broad trees, whose branches wove together to make a tangled canopy like that of a Sukkah.
The broad paths intersected, in the depths of the garden, with many other narrower paths, which were always silent. No one had ever seen a human tread those paths, and apparently no one ever got to enjoy their deep silence.
I well remember that in the days of our childhood, a group of us children would, during the hot summer hours, leave our dusty and heat-prostrated village, in which there were no trees or greenery, and hike 'out of town' in order to breath some cool and refreshing air. It was then that in our childish hearts awoke a deep sense of jealousy to see the quiet, wonderful, secret-filled, and yet empty garden where no one ever saw a living soul. Unconsciously, it penetrated into our childish minds that something was wrong here: this world order did not fit moral ethical and humanistic principles. From this sprang the thought: here stands a cramped village, squeezed in between two rivers without any room to grow and expand beyond its boundaries, just as it does not have any air to freely breathe. And right beside it, a few steps away, sat such a big garden, beautiful and large, whose air is cool, refreshing and healthful, just as if it were a corner of the Garden of Eden. But no one gets any use or enjoyment from it because no one has permission to go inside and enjoy its goodness.
For twelve or thirteen year old boys, as we were then, these feelings of jealousy and this way of thinking was natural. But none of us imagined the possibility and the need to change this world order.
But all across Russia, people older that us had already thought about this. They dreamed about the realization of the thoughts that ran around in chaos in our childish minds and seemed to us impossible and unrealistic. They thought about the opening of all the locked and fenced gardens, into which everyone could enter without regard to social status. They took upon themselves to change the fixed order of the world which had always existed, and to form a 'Garden of Eden' for every man in our sinful and rotten world. Years later, at the time of the October Revolution in Russia, when it was thought that here, this beautiful dream was about to be realized, when they actually opened wide all the locked palaces and their fenced gardens and set them aside for the use of all the citizens, then also from our village did they chase the guard dogs in the Nobles' 'Court' and destroyed the garden fence that had been fenced off for generations. Then it was possible to hope that now we as well, the Jews of the village, would be able to enjoy it, but then they beset our village, and all the villages and towns of Israel, in all the empire of Russia - with a sea of sorrows, torments, punishments and acts of terror, that suppressed the desire to enjoy the Garden of the Nobles and endangered life itself. But on this I will write in a special chapter.
For the sake of honesty, I must mention that even then, when entrance to the garden was forbidden to us, we enjoyed it greatly. If not from the garden and its fresh air, then our enjoyment came when we tasted its wonderful apples and pears that grew in its groves, in one of the corners of the large garden itself.
This grove was held in tenancy over many years by a villager, Moshe Tzvias (Moshe of Tzviah) who sold its fruits in the market. Those were real fruits! When one's teeth penetrated the flesh of such a 'noble' apple, two streams of juice flowed from both sides of the mouth. When one did not want the juice to go to waste one sucked it, you will excuse me, from the apple itself: and such was the fate of the wonderful 'noble' pears, as well.
It goes without saying that such 'sucking' was not particularly modern, and it can be understood that it was also not aesthetic (pleasant though it was.) How can one understand sucking or sipping from an apple or a pear? One sips soup or fish chowder after one has tired from dipping in it the soft absorbent challah. But apples and pears - all the world knows that their way is to be chewed and eaten. But we had no other choice - either to suck and feel the wonderful taste, or to throw them away and get rid of them. Because of this we did not think much about it and did not check if it was nice or not, aesthetic or not . and we sucked them.
During the summer, when the fruit began to ripen, Moshe Tzvias would completely move into the garden. In it he would set up his big Sukkah and stay and enjoy himself in the garden day and night until he had gathered the last fruit from the latest-ripening trees.
Until the first fruits began to ripen, Moshe Tzvias did not sit on his hands. He would walk through the large, wide grove and gather from under the trees the green fruits that had been blown down by the strong winds. This green fruit was not edible, but if it was cooked in a small amount of sugar, its taste was ambrosial and it made an excellent compote.
He would distribute these fruits among the Jewish tradeswomen in the garden, who would fill great wooden baskets and sell them, immediately, to the women of the village. The value of these fruits grew in the days approaching the Sabbath. One such 'measure' (they sold them in large wooden measures) could be bought for six Prutot (one and a half American cents) and every housewife purchased such a 'healthy bargain.'
It also happened that because of these 'healthy bargains' a panic broke out in our village and caused great fear among the tradeswomen in the market. When Moshe Tzvias distributed the green windfalls to the tradeswomen, they would sit in the market streets and fill their great wooden baskets, ready to serve their customers - the housewives milling around them. At this festive moment, as if from out of the earth, emerged Michalko Stoski the policeman. In one hand he held his long thick nightstick and in the other he held an object which he kept concealed under his coat (it would soon be known what this secret object was.) He made his way to one of the tradeswomen who sat in the midst of a group of women who were frightened to the depths of their souls by the threatening stance of this large and clumsy figure. They immediately moved aside and cleared the way for him to stand face to face with the tradeswomen and their baskets filled with 'healthy bargains.' Michalko Stoski lifted up his thick nightstick and set his face in a serious expression befitting a member of the police force. He would deliver an announcement and declaration in a declamation that thundered in his bass voice and spread not only through the length and breadth of the market, but also through all the surrounding streets and alleys.
Slochyata gospondini! (Listen, housewives! He gave his speech in Ukrainian.) In the name of the lord the Urdanik, the Pristav and also 'Yabo vilitsistavo' the Isperavnik (ranks of bureaucrats in the Czar's regime), and so on, up to the Czar Batshoshka ('father Czar') who I am not worthy to mention, I announce to you, tradeswomen, that such 'filth' that you see in the baskets is forbidden, by law, for sale. And when you fill your stomachs with it, it is possible, God forbid, to get, what is called, the real cholera, and according to the Urdanik, this cholera is liable to spread and infect our mother Russia and reach even up to the Czar Batshoshka and infect even him with the cholera. So says the Lord Urdanik, not I, and because of this I have a most serious order, that as soon as I see such 'filth' in the marketplace, I must empty them from the baskets, crush them with my boots and I mean to do so. At the end of this long speech that was heard in the shaking ears of all the tradeswomen and all the other women who stood around them, Michalko Stoski immediately placed his thick nightstick under his arm. In one hand he grabbed the basket full of 'healthy bargains' and swiftly tossed its contents onto the ground. With his other hand he took from underneath his coat a large bottle full of carbolic and poured it over the green fruit rolling on the ground. After this, he added Here's what I will do, and repeated once more his previous remarks. After he had completed his important mission, which had taken but the blink of an eye, Michalko vanished, as if the earth had swallowed him up. One can imagine the panic and tumult that broke out among the women who were there in the market among the tradeswomen. The unfortunate housewives had to run away from there with their empty baskets, without having purchased their 'healthy bargains' for their Sabbath compote. Despite this, they could find a solution and get for themselves, with God's help, from David Schindel-Pitches or Esther the Spinster, some plums or pears - dried - from which they could make a good and pleasant compote, and when some raisins are added to it, it is food fit for kings, and the whole body enjoys it. It is, of course, a little more expensive, but it is a good thing to have for the Sabbath. This way, no one would, heaven forbid, be without tzimmes for the Sabbath.
In the market, not a trace of the tradeswomen remained. They caught up their baskets full of 'treife' goods and went off into the neighboring alleyways, where they were sure that the 'savage hand' of Michalko would not reach them. Thus they prevented sure loss and damage to themselves. In the marketplace itself remained only the stench of the carbolic that was spilled and the tradeswoman who had suffered the loss. She sat on her stool and cursed her bitter fate.
It so happened that the 'punishing hand' of Michalko Stoski fell on the head of the widow of Aharon-Yaakov, the shoemaker, who was also the 'new victim.' Thus sat Aharon-Yaakovka crying by herself in the market, keening and listing her woes, as was her way, to the Master of the Universe. And her complaints were truly justified and logical:
It was enough, she claimed, that you took from me, my Lord, my good treasure, Aharon-Yaakov; you did this with your holy hand, and at any rate, he was already a 'broken dish' and I did not get much use, anyway, from him. When you brought down fire from the skies, on that same terrible Friday morning, and burned my small and meager house, and I with my small orphans, were left homeless, I accepted also this as a punishment that I deserved. Despite this, when you hit me with one hand, verily with the other hand you did to us great kindness, and you showed us a great miracle, because we did not lose much in the fire, me and my homeless orphans. All these sorrows I accept and apparently I was worthy of them. But that I should be punished by the hand of that coarse boor and his piggish kind, by the hand of that despised drunk Michalko Stoski? Punishment like this I did not deserve.
After all her complaints against the Master of the Universe, Aharon-Yaakovka once again became agitated and once more took up her crying and howling in the highest tones and all the alleyways in the area were filled with them. People who saw this behavior as a regular occurrence smiled to hear her complaints and howls. The howling came also to the ears of Moshe-Tzvias who was in his grove. He took them, in his earthy simplicity, in the quietest manner. From the grove he sent her by special messenger words of joking condolence and a healthy portion of admonishment. He instructed the messenger to say to her thus:
What's with you that you complain with your howling to the Creator? One might think, who knows how much this damage cost? I know that all the damage does not amount to more than one ruble, which you have not yet paid to me, and if you ask it of me, I will be willing to write it off, thus you have already escaped all damages. Why do you mix up the loss from today with all your previous troubles, which are not at all troubles, but blessings and salvation? All of us know that your Aharon-Yaakov, the shlemiel, with his walleyes, was, in his last years, a 'man cut down,' a wasted man, worthless, who wasn't able to make even a simple patch on a shoe. Anyway, you had to sit in the market with your baskets, to support your children and save some pennies for medicines for your Aharon-Yaakov, which helped him like 'wind cups for the dead' [a Yiddish expression] and finally he went to his reward. You should have accepted all this as the wisdom of the Blessed Be His Name, to let your Yaakov sleep in peace in his final resting place and not disturb him over every little thing. And why do you wail about your 'palace' with its straw roof, that went up on that same Friday, from heavenly fire, when all the villagers know that it was nothing but a hovel that was liable to collapse any day on you and on your children, large and small, and to kill all of you, that there in the world of truth, Aharon-Yaakov could not help you. Because of this, stop your empty wailing, leave your insignificant and exaggerated troubles and your empty baskets, and go home to your house and your children to sleep and rest. Tomorrow, G-d willing, I will gather such fruit that no one has ever seen. It will shine and glow in all the market and you will be able to put that coarse man, Michalko Stoski, with all his orders, deep into the earth. If everything I said today does not come to pass tomorrow in entirety, my name will no longer be Moshe Tzvias.
The words of condolence, and the promise of Moshe Tzvias, were delivered to Aharon Yaakovka by the messenger, word for word. They strengthened her and lifted her spirits. She knew that Moshe Tzvias' promise would certainly be kept. What he says, he does; what he decrees, he makes good. She left the empty market in the late afternoon. With the empty baskets in her hands and not a coin in her pockets, she returned to her home. Moshe Tzvias had made his promise and the matter was not particularly difficult for him. The 'green windfalls' he gave away almost for free, and from this he made a rather good profit without even taking into account the landlord's crop estimate.
Apples and pears of the first quality ripened on the trees. It was possible for him to gather from these large amounts of excellent fruit and bring them to market but first and foremost he took care to supply to Aharon Yaakovka the choicest fruits and thus keep his promise so that even she would profit after her pain of today's damage - this Moshe Tzvias thought to himself. even though all the damage was at his own expense, he would not lose anything from it. It would be as if the 'alley thieves' had stolen the apples and pears. Moshe Tzvias did not shake the trees to take off the fruit; he would pluck them with his hands with extreme care, each apple and pear, and prepare a great quantity of fruit for the next day.
The afternoon of the following day, glowing in the shopkeepers baskets, were large yellow pears, with long thin necks, which spread a pleasant scent afar. Next to them sparkled large, shiny apples, a little pale, but with blushing cheeks, a sign that they were ready to eat. They looked as if they begged to be tasted and blessed with the 'shechechiyanu' blessing.
The housewives circled around the baskets, filled with wonder at the marvelous fruits, undecided as to what to do. If they were to prepare compote from these it would cost too much but to serve as refreshment for the Sabbath afternoon - there could not be anything better.
Every housewife bought a certain amount of the fruit according to her means. The tradeswomen were in an elevated mood. They received excellent merchandise for sale and in everyone's opinion it was very tasty.
Aharon Yaakovka forgot her crisis of the day before. She sat, encouraged, next to her full baskets and was filled with a whim. She desired that Michalko Stoski would appear up now in the market, see with his murderous eyes all that was taking place here, and he, astounded, would for sure want to gobble from the baskets. But she wished him ill. That's what he deserved for his 'good deeds' yesterday.
Both the tradeswomen and the housewives were satisfied. The only one who was unhappy was Moshe Tzvias. He walked around the large grove, looked at the trees laden with the fruits that had ripened early, and suddenly many thoughts entered his head. Unnatural things are happening here this year, he thought. He had known this orchard for many years. He knew its nature, the value and yield of each tree, just as he knew his own children. When the trees finished their flowering he already knew how many apples or pears each tree would produce, without taking into account, at the time of reckoning, the damaged trees that gave poor yields.
Now he noticed to his amazement that each of the 'sterile ones' that had all the years thought to be barren, this year put out a rich and heavy crop. This wonder he was not able to comprehend in any way in his simple mind. Aside from this, he noticed another thing that confused even his senses and laid to waste all his experience and all his calculations over many years.
The old and experienced orchard master knew that the first fruits to ripen were the fruits of the trees that grew on the fringes of the garden, those that were exposed to the heat and light of the sun. After this came the turn of the trees within the garden and only at the end did those that stood at its center and in the shade ripen completely. Thus Moshe Tzvias was able to perform his work in stages, completely and adeptly, without getting tired.
At the beginning, he cleared the green windfalls from the orchard. And even though they had received the judgement that Michalko Stoski had passed upon them, according to his orders from above, he nevertheless succeeded in distributing them among the tradeswoman who in secrecy and with discretion gave them to the housewives. Big profits were not to be had from them but the 'garbage' (as he called them) he did not take into account anyway. Thus, any amount he received, he took as clear profit. After this he begins to deal with the first-ripening fruits. He plucks, with great care, each apple and each pear, so that he will not cause any damage to the fruit. During his labors he already manages to make an exact accounting and to decide which he will sell now and how much he must gather to save in the cool cellar and take out for next fall when fresh fruit is not to be found at all. Then he could take out his apples and pears, well preserved, and get the best price.
It should be noted that a simple man and a man of the people such as Moshe Tzvias never in his life studied economics and did not have any idea about the laws of supply and demand, yet he understood and felt with his professional sense, that it was worthwhile taking less fruit to market, so as not to supply it with an excess of merchandise causing the prices to drop - a situation which would cause him losses.
If the fruit had ripened gradually, Moshe Tzvias would do his work without hurrying and would have enough time to carry out his plan completely. He would be able to supply enough fruit to market and also, most importantly, to take care that the most beautiful apples and pears would 'go to sleep' in the cellar.
When could he realize and carry out all the plans that he had make ahead of time? When everything went as it should. That was the way things went during all the years he had held the farm in tenancy. This year strange miracles had happened which he truly saw as a 'disaster.' Because how would he be able to manage with an abundance of ripe fruit, without the evil eye, which one cannot leave even one more day on the trees if one does not want it to go to waste?
Moshe Tzvias continues to ponder his thoughts: even if he calls forth and engages in labor all his family members and the sons of Tzviah and her grandchildren, would they be able to deal with all this abundance, within a few days, without leaving them to stay an excessive amount of time on the trees to rot and be destroyed entirely? (We are talking about real manual labor because he had no other way to pick fruit.)
If this disaster had happened to another man, he would have already found a solution to this serious question and there would have been no more place for problems. If the Master of the Universe, blessed him with such excess and everything had already ripened, why pick by hand? Are apples not like etrogs, for example, that one must pick them one by one and take care that they not be defaced, G-d forbid? With a healthy shake of the tree or specific branches, it is possible in a few moments to remove all the fruit and so to finish tree after tree until the end of the harvest. Afterwards there is nothing left to do except fill large containers with the fruit, take them down to the airy cellar, spread them on a bed of straw and finish with the matter. Now, orchard, it has been a nice experience, see you next year.
This is what every orchard man would do it such a disaster happened to him. But what of our Moshe Tzvias? He is not one of these who can agree to adopt such coarse methods with something as delicate as fresh and juicy fruit. He, who all the days of his life (during the seasons) spent in orchards, looked upon the flowering of the trees and the slow dropping of the blooms when one begins to see the tiny bud of an apple and pear. These buds start to grow more and more. They also change their color, at first dark green, after this light green and afterwards from light green they turn to light yellowish and then the yellow starts, at the end of everything to turn to light red and dark red. Following the start of the growth of the fruit, a sense of fatherhood took root in him. He sees the fruit as a living thing and feels a need to relate to it with care and delicacy, he who was enmeshed in it all his life, pointed out frequently that if the fruit was good (and he only spoke of good fruit because in his eyes other fruit had no value) one must take more care with in than with a baby because - he would continue explaining with a parable - a child who falls and receives a bruise, no danger awaits him. The wound will heal and the boy will stay whole as if nothing special had happened. He will continue to grow and will become, within time, a whole man. Good fruits, like a pear or an apple, when they receive a bruise, even the smallest, then woe unto them. It is as if it were just a light touch on the outer peel but you can be sure that under the peel, a light wound has started to develop, and this wound emits a pus that spreads within and causes the entire fruit to rot. With fruit such as this, it is good to take it immediately to the market and sell it, even if 'half for free.' But to send it to the cellar to sleep and to keep it for the times of better prices - it is impossible! There will be nothing left to sell because all will be rotten. This was the thought and concern of Moshe Tzvias for the fruit. Because of this it was no wonder that on that same day he paced inside the grove confused and in a black mood. He looked at the unexpected abundant harvest with which he was blessed that year without being able to think of ideas as to what to do. He went around the length and breadth of the garden and suddenly his mind was filled with the desire to remember whether in earlier years such a thing had happened and how he had handled it then. While he strode, full of thought, Moshe Tzvias, without realizing it, left the garden and stood next to the tall fence at the end of the wide road.
At moments like these, his feet drove him like a car without purpose and without awareness. Then he saw the youths, carefree, who came out in the summer twilight, group after group from the narrow dust-filled village, to breath the cool and refreshing air and passed by the Noble's garden. Looking at the young hikers occupied old Moshe Tzvias's mind and he forgot, for the blink of an eye, his worries and what was going on in his bitter heart.
That same late twilight, we, three friends, met him as he leaned against the fence. It was already dark but we saw the sorrow in his tall, lean form, that pondered in the dark behind the thin fence. This trio was composed of my closest friend Isaac Bierish, of blessed memory, who died afterwards at a young age. My second friend, David Fritz, who did not succeed in emigrating (as he wanted to do) and was no doubt murder during the extermination of the Jewish towns and villages. The writer of these lines, whose luck was with him, managed to leave, at a later time, the village of his birth and emigrate to far away and hospitable Argentine. Thus he was able to reach out, via these modest lines, to memorialize the recollections of his village of birth, Yampol, and the memories of all his dear ones and loved ones of Yampol, who went up in the conflagration and were exterminated during the last destruction.
The three of us stopped exactly opposite Moshe Tzvias, with the deep canal in front of us separating the garden and the main road and serving as a barrier between him and us. He, perhaps, did not see us, buried deep in the worries that busied his mind, and was not able to recognize all of those who stood in front of him in the dark, at a distance of four or five meters. We all shouted to him from afar, with one voice, Good evening to you, Reb Moshe! Apparently he recognized our voices and was pleasantly surprised by our unexpected greeting because his mood changed for the better. Happy New Year to you, children! Moshe Tzvias immediately answered in his soft voice, happy at the opportunity to forget his worries and talk with someone.
He called to us again: Are you going to look for some fresh air, children, as it looks suffocating in the village? Yes, yes, Reb Moshe! You hit the nail on the head, we answered him. Because of this we left the village. It is good for you all, Reb Moshe, for you and your family to spend day and night in your grove in its cool, healthy and refreshing air. It will bring you longer lives, until one hundred and twenty years.
From afar we heard a deep sigh. Apparently he remembered once again his earlier worries and given the opportunity, was about to speak about what was in his heart and gain some relief. However he immediately changed his mind, thinking that youths would not understand much about delicate matters and we could not give him any good advice. Because of this he turned the conversation in another direction and loudly called to us saying: Would you children like to revive your spirits with a juicy apple or pear that was picked at this moment?
This question caught us by surprise and we saw that the good Moshe Tzvias wanted to take advantage of the opportunity given to him and give us pleasure from his abundant yield. We peeked inside and saw, even though it was dark, that he wanted us to receive from his hands a tasty juicy fruit but we were unsure whether it was proper for us, important children of well-to-do householders, to take something for nothing. We were certain that he meant to give it to us as a gift.
Yes, yes, Reb Moshe! we answered him. We would be happy to receive from you something to lift our spirits but only on condition that you will accept payment and that it will not be a gift. In order to show him that we had good intention we added We thank you very much for your attention, Reb Moshe, but if you want to give us pleasure, you must agree to receive from us at least a symbolic payment, otherwise we cannot accept.
The good and straightforward Reb Moshe immediately understood that by forcing us he would not be able to work out anything with the proud children of well-to-do householders. Because of this he shouted to us in a discouraged voice, Do whatever you wish, children!
We wrapped a Russian silver coin in white paper, tied it to a medium size rock and threw it over the high fence in the direction of Moshe Tzvias. He caught it with great dexterity and disappeared with it into the darkness of the garden, shouting to us, I will return immediately, children.
Not much time passed and once again we saw the tall form of Moshe Tzvias between the crowded trees, carrying a large basket full of apples and pears. As he stopped across from us he breathed heavily and began to toss us perfect apples and pears calling Catch them, children.
We were astonished at the goodness of his wonderful heart and we did not have much time to think because the juicy apples and pears flew continuously towards us and we had to catch them in flight. We filled all our pockets and hands with them and Moshe Tzvias did not stop tossing them at us; his mission was not finished and it was as if a blessing had entered his basket.
We shouted to him: Reb Moshe, in the name of G-d, it is enough, we have nowhere to put the fruit. He answered Catch them, catch them, children, and here is another one. With G-d's help, I have enough like this.
With this, the biggest surprise awaited us because with the last of the apples and pears, he also tossed back the stone to which had been tied the wrapped silver coin. He did this with great agility and we only managed to hear his last words: Eat in good health, good night to you, children! and he immediately disappeared into the darkness of the garden.
We stood embarrassed because we had thought ourselves to be intelligent but came to realize that the simple Moshe Tzvias had surpassed us with his wisdom and intelligence. We recognized and were impressed by his 'quick uptake' thanks to which he could carry out his good intentions and treat us against our will.
Already, over half a century has passed since that summer evening, and still, before my eyes, stands the figure of the elderly kind Moshe Tzvias, as if he were still among the living, his loving words still ring in my ears: Eat in good health, children!
I still feel the taste of the wonderful juicy apples and pears with which he treated us, against our will, that same unforgettable evening, in such a human and humble manner.
It would be unjust of me if, after having dedicated so much attention to him, I did not mention, in even a few works, his Polish woman, Feyge, who was his 'helpmate.' She was also called Feyge Moshe Tzvias and she truly deserved that honorable title because aside from her being a 'woman of valor' and a wonderful 'creation,' she also was a 'Cossack Jewess.' It was said that she had a mouth of nails and that it was better to cry uncle than fall afoul of her mouth. But this is a slight exaggeration.
The truth was that she was a wise and intelligent woman who never allowed herself to be put down and always knew what was happening. In contrast to this her quiet husband, Moshe Tzvias, was an innocent lamb. Because of this she did not agree with his dealings and always ran her own business.
As a tenant, for many years, she ran the dairies of the 'noble' manors surrounding the village and supplied the villagers with milk, butter, cheese, cream and all the other dairy products. Top do this work she enlisted 'with a strong arm' all her numerous family members and even her Moshe had to answer to her after the season of the fruit and orchard.
The brother of Moshe, Mordechai Tzvias, tenanted like his brother, gardens of fruit and groves and also dealt in beekeeping. He would buy many hives from the 'nobles' and produce honey and wax. It was known that this business did not cause him any financial losses.
All of Tzviah's sons were straightforward men, fair, plain and hard-working. There were many of them in the village.
As luck had it, the majority of their family succeeded in leaving our village before the first World War and after it and emigrated to what was then far-off America. But they did not neglect the commandment to be fruitful and multiply and the same thing happened there as in our village, their numbers greatly increased. If there, in America, they had been successful in settling not only in one city, but in one neighborhood or perhaps one street, they would have had the possibility and right of calling it 'Yampol Street.' In this way they would have memorialized the name of the village of Yampol, which was uprooted and destroyed, and would never have allowed her to be forgotten.
When Fate decreed that we should flee, we fled without knowing to where. Late in the evening, we reached the town of Yampol naked, barefoot, hungry and thirsty, tired and exhausted, and accompanied by the bombs of the gangster pilots.
It was dark, with no sign of life, not a candle was alight. As if everything was dead. The houses seemed wrapped in black, the sky was covered with thick black clouds. The black of the buildings merged with the darkness outside.
I'm lost. I have no idea where I am.
A piercing rain whips our faces. A biting wind rages and magnifies the ferocity of the rain. There is nowhere to shelter.
The air carries the echoes of exploding bombs. From close by we hear the voices of barking dogs and mewling cats in their wild choruses.
My home town! I have lived with you for two-thirds of my life! Every one of your alleys, your houses and your corners is engraved on my memory and I see it all as if in the palm of my hand. Now I stand in despair, lost and bewildered carefully, like a blind man stretching out his searching hands in front of him I feel a wall and find a window. Quietly I knock on it. But all is silent, all is still, all is dead.
As I knock louder, I hear the whispered voice of someone saying, Hush, my child, and the words are accompanied by a barely heard question: Kto tam? (Who is there? in Russian.)
David Ester from Kremenetz. I can't find my home, where I have lived for forty years. I beg you, show me the way to Hirschel from the wall, or to Feivel Shloms, who lives in my house.
My husband is at the front, I am on my own with the children. They will scream if I leave them along in the dark, which is not a good idea just now but she continued at the end of the wall, at the corner, turn right. Carry straight on and you will soon come to Feivel Shloms.
There I met all my relatives. They had all gathered as if they felt something awful and terrifying, and as if they knew that the hours together were numbered.
Who can describe such a meeting? We embraced each other with kisses and tears. Could I describe all that?
A whole family met together. A whole family wept silently on that last dark night. Before the dark miserable day they touched each other's hearts.
The next morning, everyone in the town knew of our arrival and without thought of the fierce and hostile bombardment, friends, comrades and acquaintances arrived. The sadness on their faces told what was happening inside them of their despair, their hopelessness and their broken and depressed spirits.
Their reception, their greetings, Hello, how are you Dovid? were so pitiful and full of despair that the heart broke with sorrow at the sight.
So Dovid, you are fleeing. Where to? Do you know anyone there? Haven't you thought of what will happen to you there? The chaos is widespread and who knows whether 'they' will catch you there?
I replied that I did not want my family to meet the German murderers face to face. I advised them also to leave everything and to save their families.
Their response? They already knew the worth of 'the refuge in the east,' that it was all the same whether it was the SS or the NKVD.
When I recall their appearance, their despair, their neglect and their depression, which were expressed in their conversation, their reasoning, their unjustified response and their mistaken and illogical obstinacy, I would be made of steel if my heart did not break from pain and sorrow.
Yes! All my nearest and dearest took on too great a danger. But does anyone have the right to judge them according to the tragedy which befell them? After all, it could have been different. Those who were destroyed could have been the ones to write such a memoir of us the 'clever' ones who were saved.
Women stood at the doors of their homes. They wiped their tears with their aprons and shouted after us: Dovid! Hava! Dear friends! Go in happiness! May G-d give you all good things and help us to meet again.
Only some of the blessings were fulfilled. With G-d's help we stayed alive but to our great sorrow we never again saw our friends and never again met our relatives.
A pure and holy community. More than one thousand Jews, all of them precious, holy, honest, hard-working, good-hearted, charitable and learned, were destroyed together with their children, infants and babies. The town of Yampol was completely demolished, together with all of its antiquities.
There is no remnant of the magnificent synagogue, that was the glory of the town. All was destroyed and burnt by the German criminals.
Who will lament you? For there is no-one left who will weep a tear for you! Woe to us all! Wretched, wretched! Who will lament you?
(Translated from Yiddish [into Hebrew] by A.Z. Tarshish)
Some call him 'hidden' and others called him a 'repentant sinner' but he himself said that his name was Zalman the Poor. It is still not known where he was from. He lived in our town for thirty years or more. When he was occasionally asked where he was from, he would reply with a soft affectionate laugh: Idiots! Why are you bothering your brains about where I come from, it would be better to ask where I am going! And when he was asked where he was headed, he would reply that he did not know because it did not depend on his will and desire he never wore new clothes, to this day he still wears only the clothes in which he came to us thirty years ago. Of course, they are by now covered with patches on the patches so that it is no longer possible to discern the original fabric. He was always busy mending them; as soon as he mended them in one place, there would be a fresh tear somewhere else, and so on
It was said of him that he wanted to live in our town because of its ancient cemetery and they said that early every morning, summer and winter, he would visit it, stand outside the fence, examine it from every angle, mutter a few indecipherable words secretly between his teeth and return to town. He lived in a small room in the cloister of the Ostra Chassidim and he was very happy with it. More than once town notables had offered him somewhere to sleep and keep his belongings but he was stubborn, always refused, because there he was free, his own master, no one looked at him suspiciously or as he said 'with a sideways glance' and he lived independently
He made a living partly from old rags, second-hand clothes, which he picked up casually while walking along the road and sometimes by looking through rubbish tips and courtyards and partly by begging during certain periods. For a long time people in the town thought him an uncouth person who only knew how to pray with difficulty, without understanding the words, but they later found out that they were mistaken for he was discovered late one night in a hidden corner with a candle burning and a big Gemarra open in front of him. He was so immersed in deep study that he did not notice that someone had opened the door and come in. If he was ever asked the name of his father he would lose his temper and get very angry, almost coming to blows. Even when he was occasionally called up to read from the Torah and asked his father's name he would shrink and not answer
In front of the cloister where he lived, the square was empty and clean and you couldn't find a speck of dust or the smallest bit of rubbish. The ground around was carpeted with a floor of pebbles which he had laid with his own hands. It was an amazing sight to see him lying on the floor at this pleasant task. A many-colored kippa, which the town wags called a badger or Turkish hat, would be on his head and he would be lying at full length on the ground working earnestly like a craftsman. If someone met him while he was at this agreeable work and asked him: Reb Zalman! What are you doing? Why are you wasting your feeble energy? he would reply with a slight giggle of bitter mockery: I am going to bequeath this to the town for the future generations, these hard, cold stones on the eternal earth. Perhaps someone will remember me on Pesach eve when clearing out the dirt, and carried on working.
The birds were his children. Every day at dawn he would stand outside the synagogue with his hands full of breadcrumbs and seeds and a huge flock of all sorts of birds would surround him. With a joyful cry of Tweet! Tweet! they would snatch the crumbs and seeds from his hands. It is no exaggeration to say that they considered him their father: they sat on his shoulder, flew to his hands and knew with absolute certainty that, under his protection, they would come to no harm. He knew the character of each one of the guests at his table, their good and bad points, their natural inclinations to the finest detail; and according to how he understood their nature, he would call each one by their fitting name; this one was called Cheeky, another Speedy, Ganef, Humble, Snooty, Simpleton - the one who cannot ask questions, and each name was accurate in its sensitive understanding which he had acquired through experience.
He loved little children very much and was particularly affectionate to poor orphans whose mothers had died while they were still babies and who had never known a mother's warm embrace nor heard a mother's pleasant words of comfort. He sometimes brought them toys and played with them, washed their filthy hair and occasionally cured their boils with various remedies, herbs and charms.
He loved to listen and hear the soft, clear, sorrowful voice of a youth studying a problem in Gemarra with his Rabbi and in particular before Pesach, he loved the original tune of the Song of Songs as sung by the school children. When he heard this, his eyes filled with tears and he had such pleasant daydreams at this time he would visit the cheders of our town daily, to hear the Song of Songs.
The Haskalah [Enlightenment] followed him to our town. Our town is very isolated and has little connection with the central towns; it was shrouded in the medieval darkness. We did not know that the world had other kingdoms, languages, experiences and in general terrible deeds and events waiting to be born, to fill the universe. But because of him, our eyes were opened. The sun of enlightenment shone down to our earth from the skies; in his bag were found some crumpled pages of Ha-Maggid and these were a great excitement for the college students, hungry to know everything. Because of him they grew wings to fly wherever the wind carried them, or as is said, 'they fell into bad ways.' He influenced a wealthy youth to sign up for Ha-Tzfira and he encouraged the youngsters to read it and explained politics to them and with keen logic he analyzed the political issues engaging the wide world. He was particularly interested in the Dreyfus trial. He waited impatiently for each day's edition of Ha-Tzfira. It got so far that he promised us that when Dreyfus would receive justice and be released from Devil's Island he would throw away his patched clothes and try to make some new ones.
He liked to relate his enthralling anecdotes about what he had seen and heard in the days of his travels in various cities to his young friends in the cloister. Particularly on cloudy days, when nature was angry, we would gather around him and he would open up the hidden treasury of his memories to us and reveal secrets to us, mysteries, amazing things that stirred the imagination while we listened attentively and with curiosity to every word and syllable which he uttered. There was a thread of grace, poetry and glory running through all his anecdotes; in his longing to tell stories, he added various comments, summarized what we could learn from them, seasoned them with popular sayings and ultimately would always finish with an ethical idea as a general conclusion to the whole matter. The 'repentant sinner' felt a certain wonderful spiritual enjoyment in telling his anecdotes to an audience, or to use his words, 'a sort of huge internal impulse to tell' so that he often did not notice that he had told them more than once or twice before so that we knew them by heart in every detail and would sometimes correct him if he told it differently from the way he had told us previously.
A stranger once came to our town. The 'repentant sinner' greatly honored him and served him and the attitude was mutual between them so that the stranger once whispered a request to him to reveal the mysteries of the world, the coming of the Messiah a great laugh then burst from his mouth and he said that, with respect, he was only a beggar, not one of the Thirty-six Righteous
I saw him for the last time after eight years absence. He was still in his small room in the Ostra cloister, but Oh! how his appearance had altered, his expression and even more his spirit! His cheeks were sunken, there were broad and deep wrinkles on his big white brow. His big eyes sunk in their orbits were misty and bleary, with no movement or twitch as if they had frozen in their sockets. The mocking chuckle which had been on his lips and which had always accompanied him through his hard life had disappeared. His head was no longer held erect. He did not exchange even a single word with anyone; he had become silent. Some said that the disturbances in Russia had affected him badly, and depressed him. Some said that old age itself, from which there was no escape and which did not show favor to anybody, had left its heavy stamp on him. But those close to him, who knew his secrets, said that he had once opened his heart to them after repeated entreaties, and explained to them the reason for the huge changes in his spirit.
A crow with a crooked beak had been his downfall. For fifteen years he had been feeding a crow with a crooked beak every winter. One harsh winter he had been walking along the street in the morning, minding his own business. There was heavy frost over the ground, everyone was frozen stiff and suddenly a crow with a bent beak was flying along sadly croaking Caw! Caw! even though despite the snow, under the rubbish, there was something to slightly ease his oppressive hunger. But the other crows were beating him to it because they had straight beaks. The 'Repentant Sinner' noticed this, pitied the crow, approached him with love and fed him. When the spring came, he flew off to the fields to find food and in winter he would come back to him in the town to be fed. Fifteen years had passed this way but in the sixteenth year the crow had not returned The 'Repentant Sinner' saw in this an omen of a bad future, a dark prophecy of evil awaiting to befall him. This caused him to fall into a depression and terrible sadness. He withdrew from people, isolated himself in the forest and prepared himself for the day of his death which he thought was already breathing down his neck. From then, he had degenerated day by day. He wandered around like a shadow and however hard his friends tried to speak to his heart, to prove with conclusive signs and wonders that this was merely the fault of his deceitful imagination, total folly and nothing bad was about to happen - none of this helped.
This communing has two aspects: as Jews, we must remember those beloved people who were distinguished by all the good Jewish attributes, whose good name went before them and was famed in the Jewish world for their great Torah scholars, their writers and poets, their Zionist and general functionaries etc: and as people from Volhynia we remember with awe and reverence our fathers and mothers, our brothers and sisters, our friends and acquaintances, the thread of whose lives was cut short in such a tragic and cruel way.
It is a hard and heavy task to mourn and eulogize a beloved one who has left us the way of all flesh; how much more so to lament those who meet an untimely and unnatural death: and how immeasurably and incomparably hard to bewail the huge and terrible holocaust which had no parallel, in the darkest periods of our bloody history, from the destruction of our country and temple to present day.
Our historic enemies, which we have never lacked, rose against us in every generation to destroy and eliminate us, and not only did they never manage to put this into practice but we were able to see their downfall - Pharoah and his troops drowned in the Red Sea, Haman and his sons were hanged on the gallows which they had prepared for Mordechai, and even during the destruction of our country for the first and second time, the Babylonians and the Romans did not destroy the Jewish people. But in our own generation, woe to us, our enemy's hand was stronger and we were caught in a trap and had this small remnant not survived we would have been as lost as Sodom and Gemorrah.
Human language is too poor to give a strong and forceful expression to the terrible disaster which suddenly came down on the heads of more than 150 Jewish communities in Volhynia.
Some 600,000 people of Volhynia were destroyed in cruel and unusual deaths, men and women, Torah scholars and philosophers, writers and poets and public functionaries, and of all these who is greater, more beloved to us than mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, young children who had never sinned. All of them pure and holy, for whom there is no substitute and no compensation.
Our reservoir of tears is far too small to weep for the tragedy and the calamity. We have already wept many tears, we have wailed and lamented, but this is just a drop in our sea of woes, and not even if our heads were made of water and our eyes were a well of tears, would we be able to mourn enough our myriad of beloved victims who were killed and slaughtered, who were burned by fire and drowned by water, who were buried alive and tortured with all sorts of cruel and unusual deaths? Our loss is as huge as the ocean and our pain is as deep as the abyss, and words and tears cannot express the feelings of our broken hearts. There is no cure for our wound which cannot heal and there is no solace for our unbearable burden.
If this happens in the case of a normal death, how much more so in this situation. In the case of individual mourning it is only natural since man's end is death and it is decreed that what is covered by the earth shall be forgotten by the heart. Particularly after the latest atrocities, it can be considered a great privilege for a man to die at an old age, amongst his people and in the bosom of his family. But the recent mass mourning is not like this when the whole Jewish people is in mourning and bereaved. Is there a calamity like our calamity and a mourning like our mourning? Even the devil himself has not yet devised the right expression to describe the full extent of the tragedy which befell us.
Where are the prophets of anger and lamentation, and where are the artists with word and brush, who are able to portray a Jewish mother thrust with her babe into the grave which she and her husband have dug, holding onto her child and covering it with her body in order to shield its shivering heart from the bitter death before they are buried alive?!
And where is the hand that could describe a community of Jews, men, women and children, lying naked on the ground and licking at the dust, a sort of living cemetery, while the abominable and filthy murderers ride over their backs on horseback, crushing their flesh and trampling on them until they breathe their last, or even worse, even death betrays them and does not rescue them from these satanic tortures?!
And if we forsook our daily work and abstained from eating and drinking, and wept day and night, could we weep enough for the souls of our gentle mothers and sisters who were defiled and murdered in front of their husbands, and the children whose heads were cut off in front of their parents? Our shock and the blunting of our senses is as great as our pain and to the same extent we need mourners and lamenters who will soften our fossilized hearts and rouse us from the oblivion and unconsciousness into which we have sunk. In this mass mourning, there is no room for amnesia, nor for any remission to our great sorrow. The visions of atrocity will remain before our eyes forever and will not let us rest. The wound will long remain open and will not heal, the mass graves will remain fresh and will make the earth over the victims dance, the voice of our brothers' and sisters' blood will not cease to shout to us from the ground and to demand vengeance and restitution. The extent of the tragedy is so great that our hearts are too small to contain our compassion and our senses are too blunt to feel it and to bear it. Therefore, we have to mourn in public bit by bit, year after year. We must continue to add our tears to the national flask of tears which is as big as the tragedy and which will not be filled until the people of Israel see its revenge and its redemption, until a righteous judge shall seize the genocidal murderers and smash them against the rock.
One of the legends from the destruction of the Temple relates that the prophet Jeremiah, the great mourner, was following the sorrowful route of the exiles from Judea. He looked down and saw that the path was full of blood and the earth was spattered with the blood of the slaughtered. He saw the footprints of babes and sucklings, bent down and kissed them with love. On his way back he saw the fingers and toes which had been chopped off and thrown into the hills. He gathered them up and caressed them, embraced them and kissed them. This was when the prophet wailed his great lamentation and said: I will weep and wail on the hilltops and lament at the oases.
Even this consolation has been denied us. The earlier Babylonian enemy, who was famed for his cruelty, was most merciful compared to the recent satanic enemy. For Nebuchadnezzar intended only to break our land's political independence, not the physical destruction of the people. So he expelled only the leaders and granted them extensive autonomy in his country, which led after two generations to the return to Zion and the resurrection of independence, while the majority of the people remained in their land But the oppressors of our time intended to exterminate the whole people, so that we would never revive.
Perhaps in this way the pain would be eased and the disgrace would be relieved both for us and for them. But to our sorrow and distress we are prevented from doing this. Bitter fate has decreed that no-one shall know where our beloved souls are buried and we must mourn for them from afar. And with no solace for our sick hearts, nothing is left to us except our heavy mourning and the cry of our great disaster, pouring out and mixing together with the voice of the blood of our brothers which is crying out to us from the ground.
But it is not with tears alone that we shall atone for their earth and their blood. They demand a restitution for their souls from us. And we must not forget that even the right to mourn from afar also came to us through a great miracle. As is well known, the jackboots of the enemy of humanity reached the borders of our country and there was only a step between us and the destruction of the remnants of the Jewish people in their land. But a patent miracle occurred and the filthy foot of our enemy did not succeed in treading on the holy soil of our land. Furthermore his downfall began and we gained our redemption and the resurrection of independent Israel.
We will remember and recall the martyrs of the Holocaust of 5702-3. We will not forget them.
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