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[Page 11]

Foreword - The editor

Y. Aleksandroni

 

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With awe and reverence, we present the book “The Community of Augustów”[1] for the survivors of the town in the land[2] and in the Diaspora - and for the historian who in the future will write the story of the Jews of Poland, and their history – in the most terrible period of the lives of the Jews in the exile.

For about three years we attended to the collecting of the material. At memorial gatherings, which took place every year, the question was always asked: “When will we erect the literary “Mound of Witness”[3] to our ancestors, our brothers and sisters who were sacrificed on the pyre?” We asked ourselves: “Are we unable to do what emigrants of so many towns and villages have done?” The mission was indeed onerous. The first immensely difficult problem that we faced was – where would the material be found? The community ledgers, party archives, government records and documents – there are none – they were all “gone with the wind.”

We turned to all the natives of Augustów in Israel and the Diaspora; we searched in libraries, we gathered them one by one and linked one to the other, and we erected this memorial to those lives that were annihilated – a monument of witness for eternal memory.

It is clear to us that we have not succeeded in giving a complete picture of the life of the town. Even the last chapter of its life is lacking. There remain only a few firebrands saved from the fire and they were not able to reply to our requests to leave reliable testimony for future generations about what the 20th-century Amalek[4] did to the Jews of Augustów.

* * *

Public life in the town teemed with liveliness and effervescence. We hope that our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will read the book and be filled with pride for their ancestors, and the ancestors of their ancestors, who knew – in spite of the difficulties of life in the Diaspora – to found lifestyles and organizations that can serve as impressive examples even for a normal nation. Without means of coercion and despite the agendas of the authorities, they succeeded in creating a “nation within a nation.”

The Jews had almost no need of the courts of the gentiles[5] – rather, they had their own; they established a network of “Chadarim,[6]Talmud Torahs,”[7] and “Yeshivot[8] – before

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the authorities had founded schools; even before the gentiles knew what a fund for the sick was – the Jews had organized “Linat Tzedek[9] and “Bikkur Cholim [10] and free clinics for the poorest among the people; before the gentiles had created a welfare bureau, our ancestors had supported the needy by means of secret giving, “Hachnasat Kallah,[11]Ma'ote Chittin,[12]Hachnasat Orchim,[13] distribution of daily meals for Torah students, etc. In a later period, amateur bands of adults and of children, a choir, a sports association, a library etc.; there were established lessons for the “religious” and literary receptions; all this, in a community where the number of its Jews was like the numbers in a small agricultural village in the land.[14] It is worth noting and emphasizing that there were no drunkards among the Jews in spite of the fact that they were tavern owners; there was no Jewish murderer and no youthful wildness.

There was no explanation for it, but an idyll prevailed over the lives of the Jews. There were arguments within the community; there were power struggles for positions within the community between synagogue managers and rabbis; there were jealousies and reasonless enmity; there were rich and there were poor. However, there is no doubt that the light was infinitely greater than the shadow.

And with respect to the period of destruction: there is no judging them for not revealing greater opposition when they were few against the many and the strong; unarmed amidst a sea of alienation – and facing them, a mighty force armed with the most modern weaponry before whom they fell in the blink of an eye; indeed a “Maginot line” and Jewish confidence – both of which failed to stand the test on the day of the command.

From our illustrious community, there remains just a pile of rubble. Even the cemeteries were destroyed and erased to the foundation, and the burial place of our murdered ones is unknown. Our state will be the monument to our loved one, and we will strengthen and fortify it until it becomes a safe refuge for our nation forever.

* * *

The book is the collective creation of the remnants of the community. It has been mostly written by people who are not writers by trade. There are repetitions, inaccuracies, and perhaps even contradictions. There is no one to survey the organizations of “Tzeirei Tzion[15]Poalei Tzion,[16] and “Mizrachi,[17] the activities of the Community Council and representatives of the Jewish community on the City Council and so on. We did the best that we could, but time was not on our side and our resources were insufficient. If we had delayed publishing the book for some time there is no doubt it would have been more enhanced in both content and in style.

However, we were pressed by our aged team to hurry because they wanted to see the finished book with their own eyes. Indeed, there were some who didn't get there. We wish to remember Reuven Levi and his wife Miriam, Gad Zaklikovski, Yaakov Bergstein, Abba Gordin and others – may their memories be for a blessing.

I did not, as editor, use my authority to exclude material. Every note and photograph that were of public interest that came to hand – I have included.

The book is mostly in Hebrew, and a little Yiddish. We adopted a rule that the words of each one

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would be published in the language of its author. Nothing was translated (an exception was “The Town is Burning”). Because of the paucity of material in Yiddish there was no reason to divide the book by language. The division is therefore topical, but we concentrated the Yiddish sections at the end of each section.

* * *

There were no famous people in our town. At various times, to our good fortune, there lived in it, at different times, the writers Yaakov Frenkel, Abba Gordin, and – may he be set apart for a [long] life - Tzvi. Z. Weinberg, who described in their creations the way of life in the city at the end of the last century and the beginning of the 20th century. The writer, Yosef Steinberg (may his memory be for a blessing), edited the story of Tzvi Z. Weinberg's “The Mournful Roads,” saying that the writer conveys the spirit of the time; another writer noted that the book had documentary-historical value; in other comments Tzvi Z. Weinberg reliably described the Augustów people. Abba Gordin, whose father served for ten years as the rabbi of our town, offered lovely details of events and personalities in Augustów at the beginning of the century. To our joy, we found a manuscript of Meir Meizler (may his memory be for a blessing) from which we extracted notes that described the beginning of the professional organization of the teachers, and in another the difficulties encountered by the public library that donated much through the years to the development of the intelligentsia in town. The eldest emigrant of the city, Akiva Glikstein, a Jerusalemite of youthful spirit and wonderful sense of humor - who is still distinguished today after heroic years - in reading the works of Shalom Aleichem – participates in the book with some of his memories.

* * *

Our thanks to all those who helped us with spirit and material in publishing the book. Our thanks go especially to the brothers Mordechai, Avraham and Moshe Goldshmid whose generous donation made possible the realization of this memorial to the glorious community that is no more.

May all of them, all of them, come to blessing.

Tel-Aviv 25th Shevat 5726, 15th February 1966.

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The Goldshmid Family

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The Grandmother Ita and the Grandfather Ze'ev

 

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The Mother Sarah-Malkah and the Father Shmuel-Meir

 

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Ogustove. Return
  2. Of Israel. Return
  3. This term appears in Genesis 31:48 “And Laban declared, “This mound is a witness between you and me this day.” That is why it was named Gal-ed.” Return
  4. According to the Torah, Amalek was a tribe that harassed the children of Israel in the wilderness, and is identified by the Bible as the ancestor of Haman, the villain of the Purim story in the book of Esther. Hitler too is referred to as Amalek, as a vile enemy of the Jewish people. Return
  5. While the Hebrew word “goyim” literally means “nations,” in Yiddish vernacular it refers to non-Jews, and carries a pejorative sense. Return
  6. Plural form of cheder, literally a room, a school for Jewish children that taught Hebrew and religious knowledge. Return
  7. A Jewish school that places special emphasis on religious education. Some Talmud Torahs concentrate on Talmudic studies as a preparation for entrance into a yeshiva. Return
  8. A school of higher Jewish learning. Return
  9. Hostels for the poor. Return
  10. Home visits to the sick. Return
  11. Creating a bridal dowry. Return
  12. Flour for Pesach matzot. Return
  13. Welcoming guests. Return
  14. Of Israel. Return
  15. Zion Youth. Return
  16. Workers of Zion. Return
  17. An Orthodox Zionist movement whose name was derived from the words merkaz ruchani (spiritual center), and whose slogan was “the Land of Israel for the People of Israel according to the Torah of Israel.” Return

 

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