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[Page 9]

Introduction

Translated from the Hebrew by Jerrold Landau

Footnotes Added / Donated by Jeff Deitch

“Then they spoke … each to his friend … and a book of remembrance was written …”

––– Malachi 3:16

The terrible tragedy that afflicted our nation with the destruction of European Jewry in general and Polish Jewry in particular ––– the destruction, the annihilation of hundreds of large and small communities in Eastern Europe, the physical and spiritual liquidation the like of which had never occurred in either Jewish history or general human history, carried out by the Nazis and their collaborators ––– will not be forgotten, will never be erased from the annals of humanity.

The storm of destruction that passed over the Jewish nation must be chronicled by the Holocaust survivors who were living witnesses to the terrible atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis.

In the preface to his book Kiddush Hashem, Sholem Asch, the renowned Yiddish writer, conveyed a sentence from an old book on the Chmielnicki uprising.[1] These were his words: “We are embarrassed to describe everything that the enemies, may their names be blotted out, did to us, so as not to degrade man, who was created in the image of G–d.”

Is it possible for us not to tell, write, or publicize the deeds of the Nazis? Not to describe the torture, humiliation, murder, gas chambers, valleys of murder?

The story of the historian Simon Dubnow spread through the ghettos. As he was being taken to his death [in 1941], he turned to Jews near him and said, “Write and record!”

With holy trembling, we fulfill the command ––– to write, to leave something in writing about what happened to us, to our parents, our children, youths, elders ––– for those coming after us, our children and grandchildren, for generation after generation.

––– Yaacov Levin [member of the Editorial Board]

 

Gathering of Braslav natives on the Memorial Day

 

[Page 10]

From the Editorial Board

Translated from the Hebrew by Jerrold Landau

Footnotes Added / Donated by Jeff Deitch

The book before you for Braslav and the surrounding area ––– Emesh Shoah [Darkness and Desolation] ––– includes testimony, memoirs, and accounts from many natives of Braslav, Opsa, Okmenitz, Dubina, Zamosh, Zarach, Yaisi, Yod, Slobodka, and Kislovshchitzna [as well as Plusy and Rimshan], written by people who experienced indelibly the events of the Holocaust perpetrated upon us by the Nazi enemy. Some were put into ghettos and survived by hiding in various places, some were deported to forced labor and death camps, and some joined the partisans and fought against the cruel enemy and its local assistants, while others fought in the allied Red, Polish and British armies.

This book is being published almost a generation later, 40 years [1986]. Time hasn't blunted the pain, nor has it eased the horror of destruction, annihilation and the death of individuals as well as entire communities. In it you'll find descriptions of strength and bravery, heroism, self–sacrifice, and the will to survive. It deals with the relentless struggle of individuals and groups who fought ––– the few against the many, the unarmed against a well–oiled war machine. The courage of all contributed in no small way to victory against the forces of darkness ––– the Nazi enemy.

The book includes descriptions of events in the towns, stories and images of Jews as they're etched in the writers' memories. It portrays everyday Jews and Jews of festivals and holy days, poor Jews struggling for a livelihood, Jews in relation to Gentiles, and Jews in relation to other Jews in a range of community activities, a full spectrum, as well as childhood pastimes.

And after the Holocaust:

Decades haven't washed away the blood nor quieted people's cries. Let the pages of this memorial book serve as a monument, a testimony and a sign of the honor that we, the survivors and our descendants, owe to them.

The idea of publishing a memorial book to the Holocaust victims of Braslav and the surrounding region was formed many years ago. Impressions of events and the gathering of testimony commenced as early as in the displaced people's camps on conquered German soil, which the first survivors reached soon after the war's end. There, in the U.S. and British occupation zones, the first memorial ceremony for the martyrs of Braslav and the region was conducted in 1947. The memorial was organized by Zusman Lubovitz [Lubowicz] in the Eschwege camp. The next memorial took place on 17 Sivan [June 24] 1948 in the Herzog camp.[2] It was organized by Zalman Charmatz, Tuvia Fisher, Eliahu Shmidt, Bentzion Charmatz, of blessed memory, and David Sztrimling, of blessed memory.

In 1949, after the survivors made aliyah to Israel, a memorial ceremony was organized in the home of David Sztrimling in Haifa. A year later, a committee of natives of Braslav and the region was set up through the efforts of David Sztrimling, Zusman Lubovitz and Zalman Charmatz. From this time, annual memorial ceremonies were organized at various locations in Israel.

The idea of publishing a memorial book was discussed on many occasions during the meetings and memorial ceremonies, but actualization of the plan was long deferred due to the size of the undertaking.

The members of the committee deserve praise. They include the head Yehuda Chepelevitz [Cepelewicz], Moshe Goldin, Moshe Vishkin [Wishkin] and Arieh Munitz. They gave of their time and abilities to convene the memorial ceremonies and meetings. The crowning achievements of their vital activities in the latter years were two endeavors of great worth: (1) With the assistance of Itschak Reichel [Rajchel], they obtained an urn of soil saturated with the blood of our martyrs. It was brought to Israel from the murder pits in Braslav by Shlomo Reichel and buried in Holon Cemetery, and a monument was erected to the martyrs' memory. (2) Through their tireless, blessed efforts, the decision to publish the book Emesh Shoah was realized ––– another monument to our martyrs. Our friends Mendel Maron, Charles Witkin and Tuvia Fisher, from the committee of Braslav natives in the United States, were also brought into this important endeavor. They took upon themselves a full partnership in funding the pages of the book. Mendel Maron began the good deed and

[Page 11]

the treasurer of the committee, Tuvia Fisher, gave a great deal of his time and abilities to the fundraising effort ––– he deserves our appreciation and gratitude.

To edit the literary material and forge the form, scope, and content of the book, an editorial board was selected, composed of Yaacov Levin, Yaacov Aviel, Moshe Bogomolski and Aharon Shmutser. The latter, a member of Kibbutz Ein Carmel, was brought in to help us on account of his wife, Monka, a native of Braslav. He united his efforts with ours, working extensively to translate and collect testimony. The material that reached us was written mainly in Yiddish, with some in Hebrew. There were also testimonies in Polish and Russian. The members were involved in rewriting, translating to Hebrew, formulating the text, and performing the first editorial pass on the material. An extended committee was set up especially for the purposes of the book, to deliberate fundamental issues.

Blessings shall come to the following:

Thanks and appreciation to the natives of Braslav and the region who wrote about the story of their lives during the period of the Holocaust.

We appreciate and recognize the activities of the director of Beit Lochamei HaGetaot [the Ghetto Fighters' House in Israel], Zvi Shner of blessed memory, who encouraged, guided and helped to actualize the idea of publishing the book.

We extend our thanks to Sarah Shner, Zvika Dror and Itzhak Sternberg, members of Kibbutz Lochamei HaGetaot, for whom the topic of the Holocaust is close to their hearts, for reading the manuscripts, sharing their impressions, and encouraging publication.

To Benjamin Anolik, a member of the Ghetto Fighters' House board of directors who worked to obtain photocopied sections from the Polish National Library and who photocopied sections from the book Historja Powiatu Braslawskiego [History of Braslav County, published in Polish in 1930] by Otton Hedemann and copies of microfilms from the Jashinski trial,[3] we owe much gratitude.

To Yaacov Levin, who wrote the abridged Yiddish section; to Zvi Eisenman of Beit Lochamei HaGetaot, who edited it; and to Rachel Mann, a native of Braslav living in Johannesburg who translated the abridged version from Yiddish to English ––– we thank them.

We were assisted by

The Library of the Ghetto Fighters' House
The National Library of Jerusalem University
The Archives of Yad Vashem
The Archives of the Ministry of Defense
The YIVO Archive in New York
The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

We received financial assistance from

The Amos Foundation, Office of the President of the State of Israel
The Fund for the Perpetuation of the Memory of Polish Jewry
The U.S. association of the Jews of Braslav and the surrounding region

To all of them, our thanks and blessing.

––– The Editorial Board

[Page 12]

For them, for them …

A shiny precious stone amid green forests, surrounded on all sides by blue ponds, with the skies peering down upon them as if into a mirror, with stars twinkling and flickering on moonlit nights. The depths of silence and calm enveloped all creation, imparting feelings of melancholy and mystery.

And in the winter, during the months of Tevet and Shevat, everything was covered with a white blanket, as strong ice overcame the waters of the surrounding ponds. Roads and houses slept under the cover of snow. From time to time, a few sounds could be heard ––– the cracking of ice and the sound of wind singing in the oak trees –––

… In this way, memories of a small town in northeastern Poland rise up and take wing ––– one town out of many, whose sons and daughters remained after the final destruction, bearing its memory in their hearts …

Our town [Braslav] wasn't large: approximately 400 families, scattered in the land around the mountain ––– Castle Hill, rising from the center of the town, nestled between ponds, rivers and forests.

It wasn't large but was full of life, bustling and struggling for centuries, with all its institutions: a yeshiva, schools, clubs, factions, clergy, toilers, merchants, shopkeepers, and inquisitive youth who were thirsty for knowledge and wisdom …

Decades have passed since it was destroyed and its Jews were annihilated … Decades, years of eclipse for European Jewry …

Decades …

Is it possible to forget, to remove from memory, to not remember and memorialize?! With trembling and awe, we have come to gather, collect and preserve a small part of the events of our town so that coming generations will know, for the sake of those that follow us, for the sake of those who didn't see the events and the history.

For those who come after us, and for those who are no longer, for all those whose souls are with us, for them, for their memory, let this book serve as an eternal memorial and monument.

In memory of our martyrs –––

Let us remember …

Footnotes

  1. Kiddush Hashem, published in Yiddish in 1919, was a historical novel on the Chmielnicki uprising of Cossacks against the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth that began in 1648 and continued intermittently into the 1650s. In the course of the rebellion, mass atrocities were committed against the civilian populations ––– Jewish and Polish–Lithuanian ––– mainly in what's now Ukraine, which was part of the commonwealth at that time. Several hundred Jewish communities were destroyed, with current estimates of deaths and refugees each running into the tens of thousands. Return
  2. The Eschwege camp was a displaced persons (DP) camp near Frankfurt, Germany, in the American–occupied zone, that operated from 1946 to 1949. The Herzog camp was a DP camp near Kassel, Germany, also in the American–occupied zone, that operated during the same period. Return
  3. The 1962 trial of Stanislav Jashinski, a Gentile who served the Nazis in Braslav as head of the town's local police in 1941–44, is described on pages 134–142 of this memorial book. Return

 

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