|H.P. Blaff||D. Erlich|
|J. Baum||J. Nodel|
|I. Hostik||E. Nodel|
|E. Lerner||M. Vald|
by Chaim Pinhas Blaff
Perhaps because of its geographic location, Grabowitz was not as well developed as other Polish shtetls. The railway was far from the village; the potholed road made contact with the outside world rather difficult; lack of electricity and a water network prevented the inhabitants from finding sources of livelihood. Therefore, the economic life was based mainly on peddling at the markets in the village itself and in the nearby settlements. The merchandize was brought by cart from Helm, Zamoszcz and Lublin and sold in the neighbouring villages. There were also tailors, cobblers, joiners and other small artisans. The peasants brought carriages loaded with poultry, cereals, eggs, potatoes, vegetables and fruit to the market and sold their goods to shopkeepers from whom they purchased their necessities.
The market was the heart of the village, a circular spacious area surrounded by shops. Many were the ways and paths leaving from the circle to the lanes and streets of the shtetl. The market could be reached from all sides, not only for the trading and bartering of markets days, but also, for no special purpose. Day in, day out, when tired of staying at home, one walked to the market. There one could always find something to catch the eye; one could always find idlers and loafers strolling about.
In front of the circle of houses and shops were tables and stands surrounded by crowds of bargaining women. All trade of the town was done in the shops of the market square; the stands and tables were laden with all kinds of cloth, wearing apparel, leather goods and toilet articles, shoes and hats, fruit and vegetables, poultry and meat, various kinds of iron ware and scrap, felt, coats, miscellaneous delicatessen and freshly ground cereal dishes prepared before your very eyes. The inn, with its noise reaching the street, was located here too.
All day long there was a commotion in the market, spreading out from it towards dark lanes and alleys, to the street and roads crisscrossing the settlement. All roads emanated from the market and were bound and linked to it. From whichever direction you came, you reached the market; every lane you hurried to reach led you through the market; hundreds of eyes following you until your feet wobbled and your arms twisted around and you had nowhere to hide them. The sun which rose beyond the forest shone over the market circus at noon, revealing all the majestic brightness and beauty. The streets and lanes, closely encircling the market, lent a tense excited ear to the noise as if their very existence depended upon it. Only at dusk, when the golden sun set beyond the mysterious green forest, only then did the tension loosen, tired and forlorn. The soothing light of the moon, in all her longing and loneliness, would be perceived only when she appeared over the market, in the blue sky of the last nights of spring. A silvery silence vibrated over the straw and tin roofs. Clad in mystery, the quiet lanes led past dilapidated fences, down narrow passages to the sleeping marketplace. Now, only goats, stray dogs and cats wandered about the empty stands searching for food among the refuse. Here and there, the quiet of the night was pierced by the howling of a cat or the sobbing of a child. The children, asleep in their beds, fearfully crawled under their blankets, scary thoughts filling their small beings, praying seven times: I hope for Thy help, a proven remedy against the evil eye or a wrong, Gd forbid. The lanes, once again fell asleep. Once more the marketplace fell into silence bathed in moonlight until the milkman from the village came with his creaking cart. The waterman started pumping water with his rusty pump. The stained water pipes squeaked with a dull and dry voice until at last the merry noise of fresh, vivid water burst from the pump.
The marketplace awakened and with it, the lanes. Quick steps were heard; a pale greyish light was shed on the sleepy houses and shops. A new day arose over Grabowitz and the Jews hurried to welcome it in prayer to Gd the Almighty. There were days when the echo of the
hammer blows of Berl ‘The Shamess’, the synagogue's beadle was heard, rapping at the window sills as he called with a coarse voice: Awake, arise, the shul is waiting for you! Awake, hurry to praise the Almighty and sing the Psalms!
A new day was born. All gates, doors and windows were flung open and the everyday life of the Jews in the shtetl began. Some walked slowly as if counting each step, breathing heavily, sighing, stopping to inhale fresh air prior to entering the Prayer House; others, in haste, reached the synagogues, hurriedly said their prayers, swallowing half of the words in order to manage to arrive first at the village.
Thus were the Jews of the shtetl absorbed in their way of life, a typical Jewish way, a pattern of life from Saturday to Saturday, waiting for the Messiah, the Redeemer. The language, Yiddish, was a mixture of Hebrew words from the prayers, from the Gemarrha, together with Polish and Ukrainian, all adding a special charm. Those who knew the Torah, who devoted much of their time to learning Gemarrha, spoke in the Talmudic style even when talking of trivial matters. Often, these men used to season their conversation with expressions such as: Ma Shma (to let known); lemaj nafke mine (what difference does it make). Svore he (it thus appears), all drawn from the Talmud.
With the birth of the Zionist Movement, fresh winds came to our shtetl. Some of the youth started to look for new solutions to old problems, new answers and new possibilities for contact with world Jewry in order to find together the answers and solutions longed for.
After the PolishRussian war, Zionist activity became stronger. It started with the formation of small groups, among them upperclass youth, who had received their education in the Kheder and the BetMidrash. They were only a small minority of the Jewish population, but a most active one. The vast majority of the Jews of Grabowitz continued to see the centre of Jewish life within the walls of the Clause (Praying rooms) and the BethHaMidrash; nevertheless, discussions took place between the supporters of the Zionist ideas and its opponents. The minority did not remain isolated. The Youth of Grabowitz began to establish contact with world Jewry, to take part in meetings and congresses and each step of the kind found an echo among the wide public of Grabowitz.
The Zionist Organization spread its activity in two directions: first of all, towards inrooting and deepening the consciousness of Eretz Israel as the future homeland of the Jewish people; and secondly, towards the cultural activity in the shtetl in an attempt to rid itself of the selfimposed seclusion. The Zionist Youth devoted all their enthusiasm to this
idea and ideal. And, indeed, those years, when we took our first steps in the Zionist Movement were the best years of our lives. We considered ourselves the pioneers of a great movement entrusted with the sublime task of awakening the people from their slumber.
An incessant fight between the old and new generations was taking place. The Zionist youth was alert and active, striving to bring forth a change. Some of the youngsters of the shtetl too strove for such a change. While apparently engaged in their learning, they secretly studied in the singing tunes of the Gemarrah, the rules of Hebrew grammar, the tongue they would need in days to come. Early at dawn, they would go to the Shlossberg, the Castle Mountain, to the wide fields to welcome the rising sun. After breakfast they would meet again around old and dilapidated tables covered with stained oil cloths, old books bound in yellow leather opened before them; above their heads, small lamps cast a meagre light in the room. The youngsters in singsong voices read the old books trying to find the mystery of Taun Rabanan and Omar Abai, the old homely tunes creating an atmosphere of this world and another one, distant yet close.
The atmosphere of Eretz Israel emanated from the broad yellowed pages, elevating their hearts, day in, day out until that day when some of them would disappear from the shtetl, leaving for the great world in search of a purpose.
And, in the Tzeirey Zion Lending Library, you could see youth dancing and singing: We will be the very first ones to rebuild and build our homeland and the streets and lanes sunk into silence, listened to the hopeful voices. Day in, day out, until….
Until the end came, when the civilized Amalek of our modern era rose and brought horror and terror, destruction and death to the Jewish community of Grabowitz, when old and young joined in the dreadful journey to death, their last journey!
Never, never shall we forget them. We will go on telling about them; about their life in our shtetl, which is deeply inscribed in our hearts. We will tell of them to our sons and the sons of our sons in all generations to come, from here to eternity.
by Leibush Glomb
I was reared and raised on the knees of Hassidism. As a young child, I was impressed with the way of life in Grabowitz and elsewhere, the habits and customs, the atmosphere and inclination for happiness and joy. Now, after the Holocaust, I consider it my duty to revive the memory of the Hassidism I knew and to assure it the place it duly deserves in this Book of Memories, a spiritual monument to the Jews of Grabowitz.
There were a number of Hassidic groups who had their ‘stieb’ (placing of learning) in our town, among them the Hassidim of Hushatin, Kozmir, Belz, Radwin and others.
Some groups were followers of other Rabbis and teachers, but they were small in number and they did not have the means to build synagogues of their own. They joined the synagogues of the Hassidic groups they felt most attracted to.
My ears still hear the prayers of the chassanim in those many synagogues and places of learning, their clean voices and clear articulation, joining the chorus of the praying community, witnessing its hope for redemption, strong in its belief and loyal to the Torah and to the singular existence of the People of Israel.
From the death camps of Sobibor where so many Jews from Grabowitz and other neighbouring towns perished at the hands of the Nazi, I hear the last sighs of the holy community of our little town of Grabowitz and their lamentations pierce our souls. This great community of Hassidim and observant Jews, who sang their Psalms and studied the Mishnah, who longed for the Messiah to come and free them every day of their lives, was exterminated by a cruel hand which killed the proud and the rich as well as the bent and the poor, scholars and
simple folk alike, all united in faith and spirit, all equals when disaster struck.
No holidays will be observed any more in Grabowitz and the voices of the Hassidim will not be heard any more in their places of learning; a Jewish town is turned into a forgotten desert, wiped from the earth as if it had never existed, its inhabitants butchered by a savage people, thrown into an abyss of bottomless suffering sparing no one, leaving no trace and no graves to weep over.
Everything holy and dear was trampled and destroyed and only a very few who managed to escape, remnants of a community that saw a whole generation exterminated, only those very few preserve the sorrowful memory, keep it alive within them, write down names and facts to erect a monument to the memory of those who fell.
Our fathers and grandfathers observed the laws of the Torah. The synagogues and the places of learning of the Hassidim were the centres of their life. These meeting points for groups of Hassidim, each with their own synagogue and their own characteristics, left their imprint on the way of life of all the members of the Grabowitz community.
Let us tell the story of the Hassidim of Grabowitz as best we remember.
As in the other cities of Poland, Hassidism had many followers in Grabowitz. Hassidism banished sorrow and filled the heart of every Jew with joy, drew him into the close circle of the Hassidim who gave him spiritual support and new energy and taught him the love of Israel and the joy of charitable deeds. Hassidism filled the town with an atmosphere of learning. Though every Hassid had his own way of life as his Rabbi had taught him, and though the Rabbis differed sometimes very much in their opinions and customs, they all gave Grabowitz a singularly unique character, for all taught the love of Israel and dedication to Judaism. Love is the main principle of Hassidism and it is brought forth by joy and modesty. Those who do not know modesty will not know love; but they will know sorrow.
The various Hassidic groups in Grabowitz had different origins, representing a sort of ingathering of the exiles in miniature and each group remained loyal to its customs and its way of life. Hassidism as a whole, its habits, its ways of life and its divisions, were inspired by the Rabbi. He was the personification of the force of Hassidism. In the person of the Rabbi, Hassidism expressed one of its main principles namely: the identity of the religious and the secular domain. Heaven and
earth are not two distinct entities but one and the central force motivating both is one: the force of Kedusha.
The Hassidim of Grabowitz formed a close spiritual group, distinct from the other Jews. They had special synagogues and places of learning. Many studied the Toray day and night, openly and in hiding, deepening their understanding of the law and some woke up every night to say the midnight prayers and lament the destruction of the temple and of David's house and the exile of Gd's spirit from Jerusalem.
The Hassidim of Hushatin
How did the Hassidim of Hushatin reach Grabowitz? The question arises because of the geographical distance. Hushatin was as large as Bet Rizin and its influence was felt mainly in the towns of Galicia, Rumania and Bukowina. The journey to Galicia was long and difficult and roads were very bad. It is well known that in World War I, the learned Rabbi Israel went to Vienna and from there to Palestine.
And this is the way greatness came to our town. The Rabbi of Hushatin, Rabbi Mordehai, about whom the Rabbi Israel from Rizin the greatest one of his generation used to say that he was one of the wisest men in the world: (and a wise man is held in higher esteem than a prophet) grouped around him that great Hassidic community, after Rabbi Israel left. Many flocked to his school and among them were well known rabbis and learned scholars.
Hushatin soon attracted Hassidim from far away towns, from all the corners of the country. Rabbi Mordehai was held in great esteem by the community of Grabowitz for he was one of the greatest of his generation and he established a new branch in Hushatin, of the Rizin Hassidic tradition. He was a very special person, warmly loving each human creature and every Jew, a special person among all those great men who formed Hassidism.
The Hassidim of Hushatin remained loyal to their master even after his death, and travelled to see his son, Rabbi Israel who knew how to gather around him a great group of Hassidic followers. He was full of wisdom and knowledge of the Torah; he gave guidance and good counsel to all who came to him to ask his advice, to learn the Torah and to pray with him. Every Hassid who came to the Rabbi of Hushatin, was initiated by him personally into the main principle of his faith: the love of Israel.
The Love of Israel was the centre of the teachings of Hushatin Hassidism and when Jews came from all over to tell him of their troubles
and sorrows, he would speak to them, eyetoeye and say: When friends help each other out of the fullness of their heart, their help will be felt in heaven.
On Shabbat afternoons, a very special atmosphere settled over the Hassidim when they sat down together for the third meal and the Rabbi sang with emotion. From all over the town, people came to listen to his pious and beautiful singing. As dusk came, one could not distinguish any more between those who were present as they became like one man, one heart, longing for the Queen of Shabbat.
The Hassidim of Hushatin used to say: Those who do not understand melody do not understand Hassidism. In their singing, they joined together the spirit and the original expression of Hassidism. Some of them knew each note of the melody and abhorred any deviation, an unmelodious sound. Well known for their marvellous singing and sweet voices were Rabbi Moshe Singer, ‘Itsche’ called the ‘white Itsche’, Baruch Melamed (Hendel), Elkana Cohen, Avraham Rapoport, David Wald and others. They heightened our prayers with Hassidic melodies and brought new melodies to Grabowitz which they had learned on their visits to the Rabbi.
How wonderful were these late Shabbat afternoons in the cold winter when snowstorms outside tried to destroy the world and return it to a state of TohuvaVohu, and when there was warmth in the home of the Hushatin Hassidim who had gathered to accompany the Queen of Shabbat during these last darkening hours of the Shabbat afternoon. At Yosef Karo of Muldatetsch's home, they listened to those fascinating Hassidic tales that were a sort of Talmudic teaching and between tales or between dishes, the Hassidim would sing their typical melodies. Tales of many righteous Jews of the past were told at these meetings. Some were masters in the art, as for instance: Neta Fink, Shlomo Hustik, Mendel Hustik, Yantshe Baujm, Gershon Baujm and others. When they related their stories, speaker, listener and story became one a mysterious living entity.
The Kosmir Hassidim
The community of Kosmir Hassidim occupied a place of honour in the town of Grabowitz. In the Kosmir synagogue, one could find many outstanding scholars, as for instance: Ephraim Singer and his son Leibush; Yeshayele Morotshnik (a very rich man who owned considerable property and a beautiful carriage the ‘Jewish prince’ of Grabowitz); Eli Kutscher (who owned a large store of leather goods managed in his old age by his son Baruch); Hershele Ellis, one of those typical landlords
in the true Kosmir style, always excelling in the most strict interpretation of the law; Hayim Brendel * who owned a grain business and who was one of the founders of our charity and mutual aid funds in Grabowitz a true religious and observant Jew; Leizer Schiessler, known for his high moral character; Mordechai Shimon, a tradesman who had conquered a very honourable place among the learned, and many others. Not a day would go by without their giving part of their time to the study of the Torah.
The Belzer Hassidim
The Belzer Hassidim were not less dedicated to the study of the Torah and to the joys of Hassidism. They had excellent brains but were possibly less fanatic. There were fine and merry young men among them who brought joy to the holidays and would eat all the prescribed meals with keen devotion, praising the Creator for all things the earth brought forth.
Belz the name will not be erased from the memory of Jews ever! Thousands will think of Belz with spiritual elation and the name will be honoured in a spirit of loyalty, solidarity and admiration.
Also in Grabowitz, the name Belz served as a symbol for the four generations of Tsadikkim originating from Belz. They occupied a predominant place in the history of Hassidism in Poland. The Rabbis of the Belz Hassidic community erected a monument to the teaching of the Torah, to Judaism, Hassidism and deep devotion of the Jewish soul.
The Belzer shtieb in Grabowitz was in the centre of town. It was warm there in the cold winter nights. It felt good to sit and listen to the Hassidic tales we would never forget. I still can hear the words of Eliezer Shur quoting the Rabbi: The Torah commands and your brother will live with you. And the Rabbi would interpret the phrase in a simple way: if it is said: ‘and your brother will live with you’ that means that only if your brother lives with you will you live yourself and if not then your life is not work being called a life for it is worthless.
No wonder, therefore, that this philosophy of life was conducive to charity, mutual assistance and good deeds for which the Belzer Hassidic community became a living symbol. One of these Hassidic benefactors was Matte Katz who gave to the poor with a free hand, in modesty and without asking for praise. The idea of charity in silence became one of the pillars of Belzer Hassidism the expression of its most inner fulfilment.
by Leibush Glomb
Grabowitz was a modest, little town, and so were its people. The scenery was the usual one in that area: fields and forests, streams and lakes. Its share in the riches of this world was small neither was its people endowed with any property to speak of. There was no industry and trade, and commerce was only modestly developed. Trade remained within narrow limits, serving as a means of livelihood rather than as a way for adventurous and energetic enterprise. A plentiful livelihood was granted only to a very few; most members of the community were happy when they made a modest living and that was hard enough to come by. There were no easy ways to make a living and hard work was necessary to assure the daily bread.
Most Jews in Grabowitz were traders or peddlers. They earned little and had to work hard for it, no less than in any other occupation. Others were tradesmen, exercising one craft or another, covering the daily needs of life in those days, the needs of the Jews themselves and of the villagers in the surroundings. They were millers and bakers, tailors and cobblers, painters, butchers and carriage drivers. Their life was not an easy one, but it was pure. By the sweat of their brow, they ate bread and praised Gd.
Still, in general, the Jews of Grabowitz were not physically weak. They were not addicted to drink or licentiousness, but on the contrary, their pure and simple life was a source of health. Among them were strong men that were feared by their Christian neighbours when these came to market. But within the Jewish community, physical strength did not rule. One scholar was held in higher esteem than ten strong men. The body accepted the rule of the spirit without protest, willingly conceding to its supremacy, for in the inner ways of Jewish life, no authority could impose its will by force. In the Jewish community, the scale of values was based on the inspiration of the soul, typically Jewish in character.
Spiritually, the Jews of Grabowitz felt themselves at home as far as one can say this of Jews living in the Diaspora under the strict supervision of hostile rulers. They enjoyed not only some sort of religious and spiritual autonomy, but could also carry on their business amongst themselves
without interference of secular authorities. When they had quarrels, they went to their Rabbi. Rarely would Jews speak the language of the country or of the common people. Even if Jews did not know Polish, they would use the language only in their contacts with the authorities in town and with the Christian villagers, never as a language to study in or from which spiritual values could be drawn. The spiritual values they found in our rectangular letters. The bookshelves of the Jews of Grabowitz would carry only books in Hebrew characters. The way of life, the rhythm of life, at home and in the street, on workdays and holidays, was intensely Jewish. Even the turn of the seasons, the order of the world seemed to follow the Jewish calendar.
Lovers of Song
Many Jews in Grabowitz were enthusiastic admirers of cantorial music and singing. Many gifted cantors prayed with the community in the synagogues in Grabowitz. Their voices inspired hope even in the most difficult times and their beautiful melodies were a source of spiritual elation and joy. The Cantors of the community of Hushatin Hassidim were most prodigious in awakening relish and enchantment, sometimes moving the assembled to tears.
And when the Shabbat drew to its end, a sadness of parting settled on the Jews of Grabowitz. From twilight to darkness, people became shadows, forming a wall as if to bar the road on which the Shabbat was about to leave. But the stars would twinkle in heaven, saying: Let go for the hour has come for the Shabbat to leave you. And the women who had only yesterday lit their homes with the precious flame of the candles would now silently stand and look through the window, westward with a sigh before venturing into the new week and praying in a sad melody: Gd of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Your holy and merciful Shabbat is already parting from us.
And so the days go by, one Shabbat following the other and the year will soon draw to its end bringing us closer to the Great Holidays, the days of purification and exaltation.
As the flowers turn to the sun, so were the Jews of Grabowitz drawn to the Torah. Above this small community of Jews hovered the ideal of our prophets: All your sons will learn the Torah. Even the unlearned, those who had imbibed only little knowledge of the Torah, were filled with its spirit and had great respect for those who knew, realizing that their Torah was the Torah for all Jews and so the day of Simhat Torah was a day full of joy in our town.
Through the generations, the Rabbis were held in great esteem by the Jews of Grabowitz.
Unfortunately, we have not been able to gather all their history and narrate it in this book of memoirs. It is, therefore, the duty of every one of us to write down every detail we remember, every name and every fact so that the great Jews who lived and worked in our community, destroyed in such a horrible way, will not pass into oblivion.
Rabbi Shalom Yosef
The first Rabbi I remember was called the Rabbi of Yosepof. His name was Rabbi Shalom Yosef and he came originally from a place called Yosepof, apparently. He prayed at our synagogue of Hushatin. He loved peace and sought peace. He was a very learned man and the best scholars of our town would sit for hours and discuss with him and confer on all matters, personal and general.
The Rabbi with the Red Beard
He loved Israel beyond limits. Worldly matters did not interest him at all. He studied Torah all day long and was very poor. He used to repeat the words from Gemara Sanhedrin: ‘Gd created man as the last of all creatures. Therefore, if a man comes to you, full of pride, tell him that Gd created him only after He had created the fly’. He studied and prayed at the synagogue in Kosmir and led a very simple life. He used to say that the principle of Judaism was: ‘and you shall live by them’, meaning the study of the Torah. The Torah helps us to live, teaches us how to refrain from disorderly life and how to lengthen our days on earth. He was held in great esteem at the Belzer synagogue where he used to pray. He loved the Torah but he also loved his fellowmen and these were his great principles of life.
Rabbi Aharon Yosef Shur
Rabbi Aharon Yosef also came to the Belzer synagogue to pray. Only on the holidays did he go to the Yeshiva where he used to address the community. The whole town came to listen to him for he was held in great esteem by all the Jews, even the poorest among them, but certainly by the learned scholars. He told the congregation how to live and how great ideas brought joy to life. He used to say that a man's life was a constant struggle against the bad powers which were always
vigilant, whereas the good powers often go into hiding. We must therefore strengthen our powers so that they may withstand the bad.
The Black Rabbi
To distinguish him from the Rabbi with the red beard, he was called the ‘black Rabbi’. But nothing bas was meant for even in the heat of the discussions, we all had much respect for him. He was supported particularly by the Behov Hassidim and he used to pray and to study in the Behov synagogue.
by Ben Zion Fink
For the Jews of Grabowitz, the last days and weeks before the outbreak of the war between Germany and Poland, in 1939, were a nightmare. Everybody knew that the first to suffer from this war, if it broke out, would be the sons of the people Hitler planned to destroy. Reports about the persecutions of the Jews in Germany had reached Grabowitz and stirred fear in the hearts of the Jews of the town. No wonder fright seized the children of Israel and panic spread among all Jewish communities in Poland, Grabowitz included. But, among the many who expressed their concern, there were a few who remained optimistic. This isn't the first time this has happened they said.
The political situation looked grimmer with each passing day. As the danger of war grew, worried Jews anxiously discussed at home, at the synagogue and in the streets, what the future held in store and the sense of approaching disaster strengthened.
Difficult times lie ahead, they moaned.
Disaster struck suddenly. On the morning of September 1, Germany attacked Poland and bombed Polish cities and villages. The German army crossed the border and moved, almost unimpeded, deep into Polish territory, conquering one town after the other.
News about the atrocities the Germans had committed against the Jews in the conquered territory reached Grabowitz in the first days of the war. The knowledge of the administrative suppression and physical persecution which the Jews of Austria and Czechoslovakia had suffered, after their annexation by Germany, was fresh in our minds. Fear of these brown devils seized each of us even before the first German soldier was seen in Grabowitz.
The Polish population did not change its attitude towards the Jews who had been their neighbours for many generations. In the first days of the war, there was no scarcity of food either as contact with the village population was maintained. Nevertheless, dread filled the hearts of the Jews from the first moment of the German attack. We knew that Polish and Ukrainian antiSemites would soon raise their ugly heads.
Jews who had fled from nearby and more distant localities began to reach Grabowitz and their reports on German atrocities struck us with terror of events to come. Four Polish policemen had remained in the town but they could not prevent hooligans from pillaging Kalman Yoshles' store in the centre of town and stealing all his merchandize. Black gangs of robbers prepared for pogroms. These were days of complete disorder.
I must mention here a courageous priest who warned the faithful from the pulpit not to plunder the Jews or attack them. Such acts were against Christianity and humanity, the priest admonished. It required boldness and spirit to say these things in those dangerous days.
One day, early in the morning, the Russians entered. To our great relief, some kind of authority was instituted. The Soviets organized a mixed JewishPolish militia as a protection against robbers and other criminals. Excited with this new security, we welcomed and praised the Russian soldiers. Polish communists rejoiced boundlessly.
After a few weeks, however, the Russians withdrew and many Jews followed them. Officers of the Red Army called a meeting to inform us
of their departure and added that anyone who wanted to leave could travel with them.
Those who stayed feared the worst. We knew we were sitting on a volcano but we were afraid that leaving our homes and wandering into the unknown would involve a yet greater disaster.
The first months after the withdrawal of the Russians passed uneventfully. But then the Gestapo established headquarters in Harobishov and began to issue oppressive antiJewish orders. Now and then, they drove through the town, victimizing. On one of these incursions, they shot Shmuel Alter's daughter who was walking with her refugee friend, killing them both without even asking who they were. These two were the first victims the first of many whom the Germans found among Jewish passersby. These executions, lawless and unpredictable, were far worse than even the strictest antiJewish orders.
Forced labour struck a heavy blow at the Jewish power of resistance and endurance.
The Germans established a labour camp ten kilometres from Grabowitz and concentrated there Jews from a number of towns and villages in the area. Grabowitz had to supply thirty workers each day. Among them was Leah Nahumcha, Pinye's daughter. She fled from the camp the same day but the Ukrainian police caught her at home, brought her to the town centre and shot her with their rifles. They left her there lying in a pool of blood. Jews hurriedly brought her home. Her life was saved but she lost both eyes.
Our days were full of terror and suffering, but the will to live was strong and persistent. People simply refused to be conquered by death. Those who managed to evade forced labour went about their business, trading with the villagers. Some even ventured as far as Lublin. Those were strange times. Some even cherished the hope that life would soon return to ‘normal’ again. They were days of transition and expectation. Forgotten was the past horrible was the present and uncertain was the future!
Winter came with shorter days and long cold nights. The rains filled the heart with unending sorrow and depressed our souls. Letters came from those who had left Grabowitz with the Russians, telling us how bad things were for them too. At night, deadsilence sunk over the town. Nobody dared to leave his home. Frightful memories became alive and horrible stories made whispering rounds.
Each day brought new sorrows, each night new fears. Many were
afraid even to think of the future. And again, refugees arrived from towns where the situation was even worse from Lublin and Warsaw. They told us that here in Grabowitz life was easier. We had food and more freedom than the Jews in the ghettos of the cities. We set up a kitchen with free food for the refugees.
Towards the end of 1941, matters grew worse. The Gestapo Headquarters at Harobishov ordered the formation of a Judenrat, composed of seven people. They were to furnish furs, silver, gold and labourers who were brought to the forced labour camp to work there from dawn to dusk.
The first aktzia took place in the summer of 1941. The Germans rounded up all the Jews who were then in Grabowitz. The refugees, those who had come from localities that had now been annexed to the German Reich, were selected and brought to a bridge near Pavlitz's house and shot. A third of the Jewish population was transported to a camp at Belzetz.
The Jews who remained went to the labour camp each day, watching and listening for any sign of new danger. Many had lost their wives or children killed by the Nazi murderers or carried away to the camps.
For several months, all remained relatively quiet. There was no other aktzia. But then the Germans started their systematic liquidation of the Jews of Grabowitz. The S.S. started dragging people from their homes on the pretext that they were communist activists. Shlomo Kalman, David Avisha's brotherinlaw was arrested this way.
Simultaneously, the Germans issued new orders restricting the economic activities of the Jews, causing impoverishment, hunger and helplessness.
The second aktzia was similar to the first. The Jews were rounded up at ‘Tragovitza’ Place and kept there through the night. At dawn, the Germans brought some Poles with carts. Women and old people were heaped onto the carts; the men went behind on foot. We were herded to the train station at Maventshin, 10 kilometres from Garbowitz. The Germans selected several hundred young men who were sent back to Grabowitz. The others were pushed into the waiting cattle cars, crowded together as the cars were much too small to contain them all.
I was among those sent back to Grabowitz. I was all alone. My father had died in 1940; my mother and my brother Simha had been loaded onto the cattle car. Life in Grabowitz was unbearable. Jews were allowed to live only in the ghetto, extending from the house of Neta the tailor to the bathhouse. We were sent to forced labour in
the yards of the landowners and the Germans, every day. It was forbidden and dangerous to leave the village. But sometimes, peasants would come to buy some of the remaining belongings that the Jews had managed to hide. Some of us sold our last pieces of clothing to get a loaf of bread.
After some time, we were ordered to the ‘Tragovitza’ Place again and from there, they brought us to Harobishov. When we got off the carts we immediately sensed the deathly atmosphere of a largescale aktzia hanging over the town. It occurred the next day. About ten thousand Jews were rounded up in Harobishov.
How did it happen that the Jews, who knew what the Germans intended to do, obeyed their orders? How did the Germans succeed in making the Jews follow their orders and in imposing their will? Why did the Jews line up, mostly on their own? This will remain forever a secret, the secret of Satan's profession.
I wish I could describe the aktzia to you in such words as would make every reader sense the seven hells these people went through when they understood that they had been tricked into a deathtrap. But I know I shall never be able to find the words. Can anyone express these horrors, vocalize the sufferings and describe the extermination of the Jewish people?
Cursed and wicked Germans. How efficiently did you make us into disciplined puppets? We go, as you say, into the wagons and off to the death camp Sobibor!
Stupid, lifeless puppets are what we have become. I a moment, shots are fired and victims fall. Nobody is able to think any more we have no life of our own. Only the whistles are heard of the guards and the S.S. who, in their helmets, look like demigods commanding a mass of paupers, carrying back packs and frightened to death.
The guards push the Jews towards the loading site, killing many in the streets from along the crow. It is a large site and there are many cattle cars. There will be room for all!
We get into the crowded cars and the doors are locked. There is no air to breathe and we stand, crowded in lethargic torpor. We have no thoughts. What can we think?
At 21hr in the evening, the train moves at last carrying us to our final destination, to be killed and burnt.
Standing in the strangling heat and darkness, pressed by the Jews around me, I think of the hidden powers that govern our lives. But why can't our lives govern those hidden powers too? Fate strikes those who
go to meet it. I did not know what my fate was meant to be but shouldn't I try to escape from certain death?
Shmuel, Rafael Lubis' son, stood next to me and as I spoke to him, I felt confidence overcome my earlier anxiety. When the train slowed at a curve, I crawled out the window and jumped into the darkness, falling by the side of the tracks.
I am saved! That was my first thought as I felt the cold earth beneath me. The intense darkness which cloaked even the surroundings kept me from death's door. I heard shots but in the darkness of the night, they fell short of their intended target. Meanwhile, the train became ever more distant.
I got to my feet and tried to penetrate through the mask of night. I was sure that I was not the only one who had jumped from the train, but around me there was no other living soul. I breathed a sigh of relief even though I was not yet out of danger.
So far so good! But what next?
I began to walk in the direction of Grabowitz by way of Varbikovski. As I passed the village railroad station, a young farmer appeared in front of me. I couldn't escape as he stopped me with his shouts. I thought to myself: This low and mean villain is none other than the personification of the Devil. I was saved from the German murderers only to fall into the hands of the Angel of Death who brought me to the police.
At the police station, I met five other Jewish fugitives from the train. I was very depressed. These policemen did not know pity and all our pleas fell on deaf ears. There was no hope left.
After two days of detention, a man from the Gestapo came and attached us to a work detail. We had to collect all the possessions from the abandoned houses. If money was found, we were instructed to turn it over to the Gestapo.
In the city, we saw a large group of those who had escaped from the train and had been caught. We had to bury those who had been shot to death en route to the train. Our strong desire to live gave us the strength to overcome our revulsion and to do as ordered.
For about two months, we worked in the building of the Gestapo Headquarters and then we were sent to Camp Bodzin. This place had originally been a prisonerofwar camp but now, there were only Jews who had been brought from Russia. The camp, which was located in a forest, was a collection of animal stables which housed the Jews. They built
themselves fourtiered bunk beds. Conditions were deplorable. At least four people slept on each tier.
The veteran prisoners of Bodzin told many stories of individual mass murder in the camp. They told of acts of cruelty and barbaric torture. Those who witnessed these terrible events remembered them as a living nightmare. The cruellest of the butchers was Adolph Fichs, a sadistic German who was a barber by profession. Not a day passed without its toll. He conducted a reign of terror. There were no limits to his many and various methods of torture; his desire for murder knew no satiation. And all his deeds were accompanied by a perennial smile upon his lips. The dimples on his cheeks deepened with laughter and satisfaction at each murderous act.
Officially, Bodzin was called a work camp. In point of fact, it was a camp of torture, murder, starvation and deprivation. It was a place of despondency and hopelessness. Under these circumstances, the daily fear of death which confronted us hour by hour, minute by minute, was far worse than death itself. Upon arrival at Bodzin, we were all certain we would die; none of us had the slightest hope of remaining alive.
After six months in camp Bodzin, together with a large group, I was transferred to camp Plashov which was located near Krakov… When the evacuation of Plashov began, I was among those sent to camp Gursenburg and from there to Trazindshdat where I was liberated by the Red Army. Being weak and ill, I was taken to a hospital. There were those whose hearts could not stand the intense joy of freedom and they expired a few minutes after experiencing the light of liberation.
When I recovered, I wanted to return to Poland. My intention was to reach Grabowitz in the hope of finding perhaps someone else of my family having been saved. However, when I reached Harobishov, I met others there, survivors from Russia, who told me what the Poles had done to them when they had returned to Grabowitz. As a result, I did not attempt to return to Grabowitz, the place of my birth, where no Jew any longer lived.
Several months later, I went to Germany and by way of France, I came to Israel in 1949. During all the subsequent years, no matter where I turn, I am constantly surrounded by the shadows of the murdered and the echoes of the atrocities. The noble images of my parents, my brother, my sisters, my uncle and aunts and my fellow townsmen who were butchered by the hideous monsters will never fade from my sight. We must not forget what happened. We must remember it always.
The judges, prosecutors and defence attorney listened to the testimony of the survivors against members of the Gestapo who had operated in Harobishov and its environs, including our own Grabowitz. I was among those who testified in 1969 at the trial of the murderer, Diamont.
Don't ask me for exact dates, I said in reply to the irritating and persistent questions of the lawyers. At that time there was no calendar. Instead, the pictures of what happened have been engraved in my memory forever.
From the eve of the Holocaust rise before my eyes the concentrated masses beside the train platform: men and women, old and young, pushed and herded; screams, tears and above all the shouts of the coarse, redfaced Germans, continuously lashing out with their whips, crushing! It was a bright day full of sunshine.
I see the Yeshiva boys herded along by a giant German whose face is that of a murderer. I see their faces and bewildered eyes. They are given spade to dig a ditch. The whip urges them on. After several minutes, four shots are fired. Once more the whip lashes at those who fill in the hole.
At the platform there are cattle cars. This is the special train. It goes to Belzets. Into the cars enter, after me, the Jews from Harobishov and Grabowitz.
My heart shuttered within me at the painful and hated memory of the brutal deaths. Oh, how I wanted to witness the day of revenge against the Nazi atrocities; to see the Nazi hangmen themselves thrown into panic and fear of death. I looked at them sitting in the courtroom. They smiled. Here they were charged with mass murder, and they smiled!
Only the faces of the lawyers and judges remained serious. They continually pressed me for exact dates. With the utmost seriousness, they undertook to confuse me but I replied again and again: I do not remember dates but I will never forget the sight of the murderers.
I repeated these words in 1971 when I was called as a witness against Stiebner, head of the Gestapo in Harobishov and in 1973 at the trial of Heibmiller. Both of them tortured and murdered in the vicinity of our town. I told of the tortures, the beatings, the degradations and the murders that I suffered and saw with my own eyes how they made fun of people frightened to death and burst out in laughter. The tortures inflicted on the victims and the degradations they suffered before death
were no more than sadistic pleasures for the benefit of the murderers. I saw Diamont shoot a boy who was clinging to his mother. And as the boy died in his own blood, he shot the father and mother! The German judges did not wish to hear descriptions of these acts of atrocity, how members of the S.S. beat poor mothers who tried to stop them from snatching their children out of their arms, how men parted from their wives and children as Germans from right and left inflicted blows upon the heads of those who lingered during these final moments. The judges, persecutors and attorneys demanded facts, and I told how Grabowitz was destroyed, how the defendants beat and shot children and old people; how they snatched children from the arms of their mothers, flung them to the ground, kicked them with their boots and trampled them to death. The screams of the children and the wounded mothers crazed me, ringing in my ears and alive before my eyes all the way to the train; a way besmirched with the blood and the smashed brains of the children.
My voice, with great difficulty, burst forth from my constricted throat. Never will the memory of these scenes the scenes of the terrible Holocaust fade.
Do not forget. Do not forgive.
Already in the 1920's, some men left Grabowitz and arrived, after much difficulty, in Palestine. In the 30's, the Zionist parties and the Youth movements, Hehalutz, Dror and Betar sent out the first pioneers to prepare themselves in kibbutzim for Hahshara for their immigration to Palestine.
After World War II, the first refugees from the Holocaust arrived from Russia. Earlier immigrants from Grabowitz, who by now were firmly implanted in the country, offered the newcomers a warm welcome and their homes were a meeting point for every member of the Grabowitz community. The home of the Mittler family in Kiryat Hayim (now living in Holon) was such a reception centre. Though they had not known me previously, I too enjoyed their sincere hospitality.
In those days of 1946, the Association of Immigrants from Grabowitz in Israel was formed. The Committee heading the Association was composed of Yosef Nudel, Yizhak Schnitzer and Moshe Wald.
The Association contacted its sister organization in the United States whose President, in those days, was Mr. Hayim Pinhas Blaff. He gave us much encouragement and moral and material assistance.
Our first memorial meeting was held at the home of Moshe Wald and we have since convened these meetings annually.
In 1947, many more families from Grabowitz arrived in Palestine and there was an urgent need of help and for the creation of means for appropriate mutual assistance.
The Association held a General meeting in 1948 in TelAviv. The numerous participants elected a new Committee, composed of Leibish Glomb, Baruch Eiges, Yisrael Hostik, Moshe Wald and David Ehrlich.
We approached the Associations of members of the Grabowitz Community in other countries as well as the Association of Immigrants from Poland and Israel, and with their help, we succeeded in establishing a Gemilut Hasadim fund.
Leibush Glomb was chairman of the Committee of our Association and Baruch Eiges, chairman of the Gemilut Hasadim fund.
We made great efforts to enlarge the fund so that we might be able to extend our mutual assistance.
In those first years, we received much help from our women members: Perl Eiges and Hava Shnitzel. They knocked on the door of every home of a Grabowitz family in Israel to collect funds and to help those who were most in need. They made it their goal to reach all those who needed assistance.
When speaking of those who gave so much of their time and energy to help others, we cannot forget to mention the late Haya Lerner whose life was entirely dedicated to charity and benefaction.
By 1971, the fund had already given loans to about 250 borrowers, all immigrants from Grabowitz.
The Committee of the Association considers the strengthening of the ties between the Associations of members of the Grabowitz community now living in Israel and elsewhere, to be the main object of its activities. From timetotime, meetings of the members are held and though they are all very busy and fulfil many functions in public life, they gladly attend these meetings and are interested to hear about our activities and our plans for the future.
Several years ago, our Committee took the initiative to publish a book about the Grabowitz community. Under the chairmanship of Leibush Glomb, it assumed the heavy responsibility of immortalizing the memory of those who had perished in the war. This great task was undertaken by the Committee members on a voluntary basis and they contacted the members of the community now living in Israel and America. This venture required not only a great effort to mobilize the necessary funds but also much time and thought for the compilation of written material and the preparation thereof for publication, in cooperation with the Editor.
If we succeeded in fulfilling this task, this is due to the great spirit of responsibility that inspired the members of our Committee and to the unfailing assistance of our friends from Grabowitz in the United States, among whom we must make particular mention of Hayim Pinhas Blaff.
Our thanks to all and may your efforts be blessed.
For all those who escaped the claws of the Nazi hounds, this book will revive memories of their lives as youngsters in Grabowitz where we dreamt our first dreams of a better life, aspired to a better future and from where we started out on our road to a full national existence in the State of Israel.
The book will serve also as a monument to the memory of those of our town who were slain: our parents, brothers and sisters killed by the Nazi; a memorial of pain and sorrow for all those who fell before their time and who were not allowed to reach the promised land of freedom.
To all our townsmen of Grabowitz, now spread over many countries in the world, this book is dedicated to strengthen the ties of friendship and sympathy between the members of the Grabowitz family everywhere.
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