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[Page 142 - Hebrew] [Page 280 - Yiddish]

If You Ever Want to Know

by I. H. Kronenberg

Translated by Sara Mages

Jew, if you ever want to know,
The history of your people and their sufferings,
Don't turn to books
And don't listen to lectures.
Go to the fields of Europe and the forests of Poland!
Listen to the trembling grass
And hear the secret conversation of the trees.
And you will understand: in every rose a mother's heart flutters,
In the green-veined leaves, a sister's blood is flowing.
And the dew droplets – are the tears of a child,
And know! These are your parents and relatives.
Who watered the Polish soil with their blood
And their oppressors fertilized it with the ashes of their bones,
Our ancestors became dust from its dust,
And it – to flesh from their flesh,
Our children's blood fertilized it, and it conceived and raised a bud and a flower.
Mother Earth adorned herself with flowers,
And covered the grave of Able her son,
And as a victor stands Cain the “farmer,”
Who saturated his land with our blood,
And in his place, we, who were homeless like Able, the “wanderers and exiled,”
without being given a foothold–

[Page 143]

The Passion for Eretz Israel

by Itzchak Rapaport

Translated by Moses Milstein

During the First World War, when Bilgoraj was occupied by Austria, the Bilgoraj youth joined the ranks of the chalutzim movement. The Hechalutz was created which imbued the youth with Zionism.

Later, after the establishment of the Polish government, at the start of the fourth aliyah, Bilgoraj sent its first pioneers. The memory of the celebration that reigned in the city at every departure for Eretz Israel is still fresh. Almost the whole city went to see them off at the kolejka (little train). The singing of Hatikvah and Tachzeknah carried through the whole city, and breathed life into the youth.

Even later, when aliyah was banned, Bilgoraj young people took part in the illegal aliyah, disregarding the difficulties encountered along the way. And in 1939, I had the honor to be one of the pioneers in the illegal aliyah. Even though I had a good home, I decided to dedicate my future to our land.

I will always remember the words of my father, z”l, “If you really want to join the “Bilu[1] (Beit Yakov Lchu V'nelcha) may it also be “in God's light.“ Be a Jew. Remember “K'mo sh'adam rotzeh lalechet, molichin otto.” My old grandfather, R' Moishe

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Goldberg, z”l, also encouraged me with the words, “ ‘Kumi tz'i mi'toch ha'hafeicha, rav lach shevet b'emek ha'bacha, v'hu yachamol alayich chemla.[2]’ with God's help, you will surmount all the hardships.”

With such encouragement and faith, at the end of July 1939, I said goodbye to my parents and relatives, and left on the illegal immigration carrying only a small pack containing a change of clothing, a blanket and other trifles. I left Bilgoraj promptly at 12:30 at night. It is hard to imagine the feelings that overcame me then, tearing myself away from my beloved shtetl Bilgoraj where I was born and raised. But I was proud that I was going off to help build our sacred land.

In Zwierzyniec, I waited endlessly for the Lemberg–Warsaw train. Once on the train, I instantly sensed a different atmosphere. Every car was filled with young smiling faces. They asked me where I was from, and how many were travelling in our group. I settled myself in a compartment with others, and we quickly became like old friends.

When day was dawning, and the birds were beginning to chirp, Hebrew songs broke out spontaneously from every window. Upon arrival in Lublin, the whole company was concentrated in two train cars. We sang and danced the hora with youthful enthusiasm the whole way, the echoes carrying for miles around.

In Warsaw, we were taken straight away to a place prepared for us at the academic house in Praga.

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The academic house looked like a large train station. People were packing and readying things, writing, or just plain talking. Everyone was wondering, when will we be going? Three days passed as we waited in Warsaw.

One day, we received an order that we had 30 minutes to get ready for the train. There was a big commotion. Every group leader mustered his people. Naturally, there were many people missing. A search was organized, and before things were under control, the commander of the transport arrived and gave an order, and within 10 minutes 1500 people were arranged in military formation ready to march to the train station. After singing the Betar hymn, we left for the Gedania train station.

There was a huge crowd come to see off the travellers at the train station. The train was decorated in blue– white banners, and slogans. The whole leadership of Betar in Poland was in attendance, with Menachem Begin at the head. We entered the train cars in a pre–established order, and the whistle sounded. Singing Hatikvah, we left Warsaw on the way to the land we had long yearned for.

We had passed through several stations, when we received a big surprise. Menachem Begin appeared with the late Stawski, z”l. They handed a passport to each of us containing: the exit visas, and transit visas through Romania and Turkey to the territorial waters of Eretz Israel.

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We held the passports in our hands, and prayed that we would be worthy, that we would arrive safely. Hour by hour, we were distancing ourselves from our old home, and getting closer to our dream, Eretz Israel.

After a day of travelling by train, we arrived at the Polish border city, Sniatyn. We were billeted in the Jewish theater. It was run like a military camp with strict discipline.

In Sniatyn, we were told that for various reasons, we would have to spend several days here. Unfortunately, we spent several weeks there, and in the end, we were forced to go back. It turned out that the English government had found out about the large transport. They sent a secret message to the Romanian government demanding that the transport not be allowed through. Since the political situation was already tense, the Romanian government did not want to disturb relations with England over a few Jews who wanted to throw off the 2000 year old diaspora.

After 4 weeks in Sniatyn, Menachem Begin and Eri Jabotinsky[3], and others appeared. They gave a lecture on Eretz Israel, and informed us that, unfortunately, we could not proceed further. The Romanian government refused to let us pass through. We had to temporarily go back. There will come a time when we will be able to continue, we were told. In the meantime, if there were any who could get through Romania to Constantinople illegally,

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they would immediately be placed on board the ship still waiting for us. Groups quickly formed. Several dozen chaverim crossed the border, and in a few weeks landed on the shores of Netanya. The majority, including myself, opted for returning.

Back home, the first mobilization took place. The German murderers invaded Poland. Within a few days, our beloved shtetl Bilgoraj was burned down, and the destruction of our unforgettable city was underway.

By chance, some Jews left for Russia. I was lucky to be one of those. After living through various experiences, years in jails and camps, and after a span of seven years, I was finally able to walk on the soil of our long–awaited land.

Translator's footnotes:

  1. Settlement movement Return
  2. Arise and flee from the midst of the chaos, Long have you sat in the valley of tears, And He will grant mercy, mercy upon you. Return
  3. Son of Zev Jabotinsky Return

[Page 148]

I Loved You, Bilgoraj

by I. H. Kronenberg

Translated by Sara Mages

I loved you, Bilgoraj,
I always loved you, for your Jews:
Your merchants, your porters and your workshops workers,
For the people of the “shtiblekh” and those who come to your Batei Midrash,
For the alleys of “Bridge” Street that have always been buzzing with your children.

I love the beauty of your plains and your mountains,
The meadow pasture and the water of your “springs.”
The walk in the evenings and bathing in your rivers,
The dew mists that cover your meadows,
The redness of the sun rising over your forests.

I loved you for the beauty of your scenery,
And always hated you for your “Cains”
Who helped the murderess when they slaughtered your Jews,
Laughed at the women who were dragged through your streets naked,
And at the babies who rolled like pillows in your streets.

Daughter of my nation! Foreign landscapes and foreign land nurtured you,
Therefore you fertilized its soil with the ashes of your bones.
Oppressed and foreign you were in the Diaspora,
That's why many were your haters in the whole world.
Every house - a refuge for your murderers,
Every place - ready to your crematorium
And the bodies of the murdered in all your cemeteries.

Happy is the eye that sees your return to your homeland
And the building of your country, your birth-place.

[Page 149]

The Nest of Need

by Shmuel Baron

Translated by Moses Milstein

The courtyard belonging to Moishe Berl (Moishe Shtok) was angular, but not quadrangular. It was longer than it was wide, like a box with no top. The low, densely packed houses filled three sides. The fourth side was wide open, the gutter with its wooden bridge at the entrance separating the yard from the street which sloped steeply from Motl Itzik Hersh's house, past the new cheder, shul yard, and the old cemetery down to the river and the bridge. That's why the street was called the “Bridge.”

Above the courtyard, exactly opposite the street, the terrain began to rise uphill, resembling an old person's rounded back carrying on it the ancient, multi-branched pear tree which shaded the closely packed houses, and did not allow any sunshine or warmth to penetrate.

To the right of the pear tree, two narrow lanes, like blood arteries, seemed almost to draw the houses closer together. They climbed up to the top where they united, dividing into two new directions, one to the Trisker shtibl and the shul yard, and the other through Zelig Merzel and the plum trees to the market.

Before Pesach, when the frozen ground began to warm up, and the accumulated ice to melt, the two narrow lanes released their contents, and the yard was flooded with water and whatever waste people emptied out of the houses,

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and everything swam downhill, flooding the yard and the houses before emptying into the gutter from both sides of the wooden bridge, and finally, the river.

Slowly, the remaining mud began to dry, and vast clouds of flies that had been feeding on the debris carried by the water, waylaid every passerby, settled on the windows and the walls, forcing themselves into houses, and their buzzing, along with the noise of children, created a symphony of joy for the coming spring.

The days of winter passed. The sun rose high above Moishe Berl's courtyard. A new life awakened, the pre-Pesach days symbolizing days of redemption and renewal. The little square threw off the biting cold and frost. The mud was gone. A lighter, silvery dust gleamed in the sun's rays which crept into houses through the cracks where children reflected the rays onto the walls with broken bits of mirrors, and played “feigelach.”

The neighbors in the little courtyard prepared for the coming holiday. Mothers and daughters washed clothes in big round washtubs. The smell of soap and soda permeated the entire yard. From time to time, a dark gray skein of sudsy water from the emptied tubs flowed by. After this, the mothers and daughters carried the laundry and washboards to the river to rinse and beat it on the rocks.

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The happy sound of the washboards, mixed with joy and laughter, filled the surroundings until the evenings, until the sun went down behind the tops of the tsmentash trees.

Returning wet, the women again filled the little courtyard with long lines of ropes knotted together around trees and walls, and the whiteness of the hanging laundry gleamed in the light of the moon that illuminated the yard like a giant lantern.

Dawns came and evenings went. New worries and concerns arose; how to bring Pesach into the home.

In those pre-yom-tov days, everyone was forced to reckon with their poverty. The old carved commodes and cupboards opened their arms to reveal the destitution, the worn-out robes with torn elbows, pants, and undergarments. They were once nice, worn with joy at first. Many of them recalled the distant past, the first steps to a new life (the wedding).

Years went by, people aging prematurely. Children were brought into the world, partners in need and poverty. Pale little faces, yearning for good fortune, the warmth of life. How do these children greet the holiday? With tattered, outgrown suits, worn-out shoes with the color gone from the tops, white at the toes (nothing to polish them with), hats with torn peaks. How can you bring these sweet children along to shul? Sadness gripped the hearts of the parents.

The women may spend the whole year in the poverty of their homes, Shabbes with their Yiddish chumash, but yom-tov?

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How can a Jewish woman not go to shul? But how can she do it? Worn out, oft-patched skirts, threadbare shawls. The last earrings and candlesticks already pawned to get through the winter. No shoes, the wig dating from the wedding still not combed out.

The young girls look on with envy at the better off girls promenading on the street in their new dresses and shoes, bows in their hair.

These are the thoughts which arise looking at this poverty, black clouds shrouding the beautiful world–where, how, to make do?

There were cases where the appearance of the mailman saved our neighbors from desperation. An uncle, an aunt, or any relative in far-off America remembered his debt, and punctually repaid it. Then the situation changed completely. There was rejoicing in the home. The faces of the parents and children, like after a terrible storm, lightened up, and joyful shouts, and sometimes a little cursing filled the house.

Try this on, my child, stand straight. A houseful of stuff acquired–shoes, pants, caps, socks, and little tallit katans. Also a robe for father. The girls, since they don't go to shul, are left out.

This is how the erev yom-tov fever began. Mother and daughter took to patching the bed sheets, mending clothes, whitewashing the walls and ceilings yellowed by smoke. After the whitewashing, the floors were scraped with knives revealing the wax-yellow, washed boards.

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Clothes are aired out after a whole year. Windows, and window panes were washed. In the corners, white dazzling sheets hold matzos that were baked cooperatively. Smaller jobs remained like hanging the lamp with its chains–refurbished after a year of dirt, and fly specks, with a gold powder–so that it sparkled, and a new wick installed. Fresh straw was put into the beds that had been cleaned with boiling water, and curtains were hung over the windows.

Pine logs crackled merrily in the stove where the pans were heated, and later smeared with lime. The rooms took on a wonderful aromatic warmth. Yom-tov is on the threshold, Pesach is here.

Pesach passed with its eight carefree days. The courtyard returned to its daily cares and worries. The long, hot summer days arrived. Children from the courtyard went out to gather blue lilacs whose smell tickled their noses, and whose beauty charmed the young shining eyes.

The old pear tree in the courtyard began to come back to life, its crown decorated with white-violet buds. The buzzing of the bees around the opening buds was like a musical drone accompanying the work.

After a short time, the blossom petals began to fall en masse creating a snowfall around the tree. Its crown was soon festooned with small green leaves. It was a sign of its rebirth, growing taller and broader, more stately and prouder,

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the nakedness of its branches bejeweled with new fresh growth as if it had just burst through the soil.

It changed from day to day. The leaves became bigger, wider, dark green, and between them like beads, the tiny pears. Even below, around its old trunk, the stones and roots uncovered from the ground, dried out, light green young grass grew in a semicircle on the side where the sun's warmth could reach.

The lives in the houses also changed, and took on a summer aspect. The old, small, boarded up windows were opened wide, throwing off the lime packing which had been nailed and glued around the windows in winter to keep the cold out.

The tall oven reaching up to the ceiling, and the wide stove with six burners, two doors and a grate in the middle got to rest. We no longer snuggled against it, reviving ourselves with its warmth. The broad bench that stood before the length of the oven, was orphaned, abandoned, like its neighbors.

Just once a week, Fridays, the little door was opened. A small red fire of crackling spruce lit the darkness of the kitchen depths, carrying itself into the cracks in the old bricks, into the air.

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This kingdom belonged to her majesty all week. The “feet” stood on tin pans. Near the soot covered feet, the mothers stood and blew their breath on the glowing coals and wood. A Shtchaf[1] borscht that the children had picked in the meadow was cooking in tall pots, a soup to dunk bread in, or a few dumplings with potatoes, when they came home for lunch from cheder. Dumplings and beans were cooked for supper when the men returned from Minche-Maariv. If God had bestowed a good day, in the evening dark, you could smell a stew of veal and buckwheat kasheh. After such a meal, the men would take a nap. The neighboring women would sit outside on the benches and thresholds of their houses, and talk about things they had heard, about good Jews, and demons.

Most of the time, the evening ended with gossip about one neighbor from another, what she herself had seen, what another had heard. In the morning, they went to investigate, and all the stories popped like soap bubbles. They quarreled, became angry with each other, would not look at each other until either a simcheh, or God forbid, a tragedy occurred, and they would make up, shed tears…for someone's misfortune, or rejoice for another's happiness.

The youngsters ran around the courtyard barefoot, sometimes with bloody toes, playing hide-and-seek.

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Their high-pitched voices rang through the whole courtyard until they became tired and they fell on their beds with feet blackened by dirt and dust. The older ones undressed the younger ones, and everyone went to bed in the dirty shirts they had worn all day.

After a hard day's work, the young people returned from the river in the evening, after having washed their young bodies delighting in the clean cold water. In the dimness of the courtyard they were as swallowed up, everyone to his own house, eating quickly. Some were tired and went to sleep in order to rest their tired limbs for the following workday. Some attended organizations that were noisy and lively until late at night.

Others sat in the red shine of a night lamp, reading a book that gripped their youthful imagination, and took them into the lives of the characters, feeling and reliving the story until a weariness came on them, and their eyelids began to close. A young deep sleep overtook them, and separated them from the day.

The courtyard became quieter and quieter. The last lights from the night lamps in the windows went out. The last shutters were shut with a squeak from their rusty hinges. A deep darkness enveloped everything in its night-arms, until dawn, until the first cock-crow.

Thursday, market day, has passed. For whoever has bought what they need, prepared for Shabbes, for the week, there is only Friday left, the last day of the week.

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Friday has arrived in the courtyard. Not as usual, not like other days. At first cock-crow, when the night surrendered its kingdom to the daytime, when the first red-streaked rays appeared low in the east, the courtyard residents began to awaken. The shutters opened with a noisy crash. A cold early-morning wind rushed in through the open window that was immediately shut for fear the children should not, God forbid, get sick. The stale night air in the house condensed on the windows like fog. The red fire of the fireplace, looked like a hanging spark against the emerging day.

The morning brightness continued to flood into the dimness of the house. The call of the cuckoos sitting in the pear tree woke the residents as if to morning prayer.

Housewives wake up, the daughters after them. The father, after putting on his taliss and tfillin chops wood for the stove. The housewives remove the pillows from the kneading troughs where the dough for the coming week has been rising, and begin to knead. The girls knead the dough for the challahs and poppy seed cookies. The oven is already burning with a red flame of pine that spreads over the half-round vault of the oven, and is carried out the little doors to the chimney. Outside, the courtyard gives the impression

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of a giant industrial center, with dozens of chimneys from which thick clouds of smoke rise to the sky. A cozy warmth fills the homes. The children have gotten up, washed, said the broches, and made their way to cheder–bringing along some fresh paplinkes.

But the Friday fullness and happiness did not reign everywhere. This could even be seen from the outside. You just had to look at the chimney to see for whom the coming Shabbes would not be a happy one. In those houses, people did not get up so early. The doors and windows were shut. The children went to cheder hungry and worried that they had no money for tuition, afraid the teacher would send them back home. These homeowners, like guilty people, left the house early, as if afraid they would miss something.

At lunchtime, these housewives heated the stoves, placed pots of water into the chafing dishes so that it would look like something was cooking so that if a neighbor came in, ostensibly to ask something, she would not detect what the situation was in the house. Unfortunately, this rarely worked, because many neighbors used the same ruse.

This is how guarded they were; this is how they were apprehensive at every creak of the door. If he were lucky, the homeowner, at noon, could maybe borrow a few Zlotys, or pawn something, even at two or three o'clock, and the housewives and their assistants, like robots, would come to life.

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Immediately, bread, challah, herring, and candles appeared; beans, rice or kasheh began cooking.

First thing they did was eat. The mood changed. The rooms were swept, cleaned, the children washed with the tubs of water. They even lit and blessed the candles like everyone else.

All the fathers came straight home from davening with a “guten Shabbes,” as they entered the house. The candles were cheerfully burning, Shabbes-like. Soon a fervent “Shalom aleichem, malachei hasharet, malachei elion” could be heard, every word like a flame ignited…and soon, “Eyshes chayel mi yimtsah.” She, the eyshes chayal of a poor Yiddish household, sat like after a hard-fought victory, exhausted, worn out. Her chest softly rising with each breath. A tear gathered at the corner of her eyes, as she listened to the songs of praise from her husband for the eyshes chayel. It is forbidden to be sad on Shabbes. A good Shabbes, a worse Shabes. It's all Shabbes. If there is no fish, herring is also food. And, in fact, between the herring and the dumplings with beans, a few songs, “Menucha v'simcha, or l'yehudim, yom shabaton, yom mechmadim.” the children sing along, and the poorness of the table is forgotten.

And this is how time passed, day-by-day, week-by-week. The hot summer sun burned the skin of the thin courtyard residents who, in their free moments, sought rest in the shade by the river among the bushes and trees.

Mostly, it was the young and the children who could take the time to rest.

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The older ones could not afford the luxury due to the demands of need and time, and which responsible adult goes swimming with youngsters in the middle of the day? The adult men would go down to the river in the evening, quickly dunk themselves a few times in the water, and go off to Minche-Maariv their beards and payess dripping with water.

The days were bearable, but the nights were tiresome. The cramped houses mostly consisted of one room with a vestibule, the large kitchen and the stove with its hearth taking up a third of the room, with no creature comforts.

A thick, choking air hung in the homes, and served as food, and reproduction for various insects.

Before the night lamp was extinguished, the black, irritating flies with their coarse legs, and biting mouths, chewed on the flesh of the sleeping children. Hundreds of brown, long-mustached cockroaches assaulted the oven, the kitchen crannies, and the mantelpiece like a swarm of locusts.

The children, pressed together, sleeping head to foot in bunk beds, or in bedding laid out on the boards of the bunks, tossing in bed, were awakened, shouting, “They're biting, mameh, they're biting me.” When mother lit the night lamp, clouds of red-bellied, blood- sated bed bugs began to run over the bedding into their crevices. As soon as it was dark, the vast plague returned to bite and suck the anemic children again, until exhausted, they fell into a deep sleep, shielding them from the pain.

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In the morning, the children awoke with red, bitten, and scratched, bloody bodies, with red, swollen lips or eyes.

Summer with its hot days can be felt to be coming to an end. The wheat fields around the city had been harvested. The peasants have tied the cut wheat into sheaves, and carried them in wagons piled high, to the farms, only the cut straw, like yellow wire ends, left sticking out of the black earth.

A cold, biting, autumn wind began to blow in the evenings, tearing the remaining yellowed leaves from the chestnut trees and orchards. And the old pear tree in the courtyard also changed its appearance, its little green pears long ago dislodged by kids throwing stones. They covered the fruit with straw to make into lezhilkes. Bees no longer buzzed around its crown. The cuckoo did not sing its early morning song. It looked pitiable, like an old man abandoned by his children.

From time to time a black crow alighted on its branches, holding tightly with its sharp claws. Stretching its black-feathered neck, its mouth opened in a noisy shout, until the kids aimed a stone at it, and it flew away.

The courtyard cats also played among its branches, leaping from one branch to another,

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Or a hungry horse with his old yellowed teeth gnawed on the bark down to the wood. The courtyard was enveloped in gloomy sadness.

Rosh Hashanah passed, and Yom Kippur followed quickly. The courtyard residents' faces changed, took on a worried and careworn appearance, wrapped in fear of the coming judgment day. They trembled at every movement; even their own shadows frightened them.

Erev Yom Kippur, before the fast, when the men returned from Minche, the atmosphere in the houses was tense. The table was hurriedly set for the pre-fasting meal. One urged the other to eat faster, so that, God forbid, they would not be late for Kol Nidrei. The little kids cleared the table, drank seven gulps of water–a remedy so that the coming thirst should not be too onerous–the girls washed the dishes, and mother placed the candles in the candlesticks.

Time was suspended. A holy stillness enveloped the houses. People rose to the highest heights of piety. In those moments, they examined their souls, themselves entirely, as if they no longer belonged to themselves.

When mother let her hands fall, and uncovered her face, and tore her red, tear-filled eyes from the burning candles, a heart-rending cry from the whole family pierced the walls, doors, and windows, going from house to house, from room to room, floods of tears washing over the heads of the little children.

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Warm paternal and maternal hands hugged the little lambs, and blessed and pleaded with the creator not to, God forbid, separate them, orphan them, shame them, gladden their enemies, or humiliate them.

The weeping at the blessing of the children rent the heavens. The bleeding, woe-filled, hearts of the parents opened a year's worth of wounds. It appeared to them that just in these moments–in the holy moments–they were in a position to plead for everything good for their babies, for their suffering, hungry children. They wept, fainted, spasmed, shedding tears, and trembling for their souls. Finally, the father wiped his red eyes with his handkerchief that he kept in the bosom of his kitl.[2] Passing by the mother, he murmured, “It's time. Enough, old woman. We will leave now.” The door opened, the father kissed the mezuzah, and behind him, the children and the mother carried the talissim, and the machzors.

A red sun had set. A cold evening beset the courtyard. The road from the courtyard to the besmedresh was paved with tears and prayers, and neighbors encountered along the way greeted each other amid tears.

The sun had already set below the horizon. From under the light clouds, twinkling stars appeared and graced our little world with light. There, in the shuls, shtiblach and besmedreshim, Jews stood in taliss and kitl, between tall wax yizkor candles lit for holy, departed souls, and with godly holiness,

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sang Kol Nidrei along with the chazzan. The heartfelt melody brought everyone together in brotherhood, young and old, near and far. Even the Christians gathered in the vestibule by the door to experience the holiness, the still Yom Kippur night, the holy yom-tov.

Sukkot, the autumn holiday also passed. Cold biting winds howled in from the meadows to the courtyard, blowing through the holes left when the putty fell away from the window panes, and through the rotten shingles on the roof, into the attic, whistling through the ceiling, and frightening the children.

Dawn was grey and cold. The roofs were coated with a silvery white frost. The mud froze into stony lumps. And in the gutters, an icy film formed over the scum thrown there in the dawn by the houses' wastewater, and children on their way to cheder happily slid on the ice on the soles of their shoes.

The low winter sun cast its weak rays, and around ten or eleven o'clock the roofs began to thaw and weep, and large gleaming water drops formed small turbid pools of water. The homeowners, in the morning, used them to make a yellow, sticky lime, and stuffed all the holes with hemp, and glued it with lime above, and closed off any opening where the cold could get in. The work went on until evening, until fingertips felt the biting cold. When it began to feel like needles piercing the nail beds,

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work was stopped, warm breath blown on fingers, and quickly into the house.

The entire household would be found around the stove. Mother sat in front of the open door of the stove warming her knees and hands, rubbing them together. From time to time, a cloud of smoke puffed out, blown by the wind coming down the chimney. The wet branches smoldered, a dirty fluid coming out of their tips.

The dim interiors of the houses darkened deeper. A tongue of red flame from the open oven door reflected onto the adjacent wall. The father washed his hands, and began to daven Minche. In the meantime, the young kids had roasted rounds of potatoes, eating them hot, burning their lips and tongue.

After Minche-Maariv, they lit the night lamp, and ate supper. On the window panes, as if unnoticed, the frost began to create flowers and leaves. As they grew, they began to resemble velvet, fluffier and whiter. The cold began to be felt in the poorly heated houses. Outside, hanging from the edge of the roofs, long, pointy, icicles like spears, formed. The courtyard went to sleep, escaping from hard reality, until the first cockcrow, until dawn revealed a new world. Winter in its full rebirth, a white, dazzling deep snowfall covered everything like a white carpet and penetrated everywhere. The sounds of distant bells hanging around the necks of horses

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pulling the first sleighs, carried to the courtyard, for whom the first clean snowfall brought joy and delight.

Our courtyard was deadened, locked, as if torn away from life, shutters closed, frozen windows. When the door opened, we quickly ran through it so as not to let any cold in. Quiet as a cemetery. Above the courtyard, where thin clouds of light-blue smoke from the chimneys of the low, huddled houses were carried high, only the old pear tree stood. On its branches, instead of the small pears and leaves, lay fluffy bunches of white snow.

This was Moishe Shtok's courtyard, the nest of need.

This is how people lived here, and thanked God. Born here, grown up here, and with great effort and sweat, earned a living. They lived in a confined narrow world, through time and generations, until Hitler annihilated everyone, and everything.

Translator's footnotes:

  1. A kind of broad-leafed plant Return
  2. Long, white coat worn on certain solemn holidays. Return

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The First Days With the Germans

by David Brik

Translated by Moses Milstein

When I think of how our beloved shtetl, Bilgoraj used to look, and what became of it, the blood curdles in my veins.

It was a city with such precious institutions: the Yesodei Hatorah cheder, a yeshiva with more than a hundred children maintained for free by the city.

The Chasidic Jews, with rav R' Mordechai Rokeach, z”l. The Rudniker shtibl and its dear Jews; the Harmans; R' Levi Stern, and others. The Gerer shtibl with such wonderful Jews like Nachum Wagner, and his children; Aaron Weinberg; Chanoch Rotenberg; Chanoch Leichter; Isreal'ke Weinberg, and others. Studious Jews, charity contributors ready to help any needy Jew in the city.

When I fled Bilgoraj, I met the Rosh Yeshiva of Bilgoraj, R' Yakov Eliezer Goldbrenner, in Sieniawa. He was greatly affected by the devastation. The kol hatorah that you could hear in Bilgoraj every hour of the day and night was silenced.


As soon as the German murderers entered Bilgoraj, they instilled fear among the Jews by seizing people for forced labor, and beating them mercilessly.

One night, they detained people for work, me among them.

[Page 168]

An SS man made us form into rows and marched us in military fashion to the courtyard of the starostva[1].

There I encountered other Jews, some young and some elderly. They were carrying garbage in their bare hands that others were sweeping in the yard. The Germans were chasing them around ordering them to go faster. It looked demonic. I too grabbed some garbage and began running back and forth.

They made us run with our garbage through a gauntlet of SS murderers, who kicked us viciously, and laughed uproariously.

I managed to sneak through so they didn't get me. But an SS man shouted out, pointing at m–this dog hasn't got his yet. He came at me with wild aggression and kicked me in the belly so hard that I suffered from it for 5 months.

Later, they took me and Yakov Zweck away, gave us small axes, and with those we were expected to chop up a heavy oak cupboard.

The SS men were going in and out, while we sat there in great fear. Suddenly one of them came over and says, “Are you aware, Yude, that all Jews must be shot?” Yekl Tzwek began to plead with them, that he had a wife and children. The German responded with a laugh, “That doesn't matter. The women and children will also go kaput.”

I could not imagine that this could be true, but, unfortunately, history proved that they could annihilate 6 million Jews.


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