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[Page 102]

The Bread of Our Affliction

A composite of events described to Y. L. L. Shlomi by Tuvshe Yakubovitch,
Rushke (Shoshana) Yakhimovitch, and perhaps the daughter of Khaim Kladovsky and others

Translated by Roberta Paula Books

© by Roberta Paula Books

Sit down, please, and recline. After all, today is the first Seder night. There are no feathers in the blankets or pillows; the Germans ripped them all up and threw the feathers to the wind. They searched for gold, silver and jewelry in the pockets.

Sit, sit, make yourself comfortable and listen, since this is the last Seder in town, and the second under such circumstances. We will not sing here any more, even though we haven't been singing for a long time.

These are my memories of the last Seder in the town of Pshaytch (Przedecz in Polish) in 1942, shortly before the poisoning in the gas chambers in Chelmno. We remember little about the Haggadah, about the miracle of leaving Egypt, nor do we mention matzah because we have none, just a poor man's bread, the real “Bread of Affliction”, large quantities of maror (in English, bitter herbs) – bitterness; nonetheless, we prepare a Passover Seder.

(Translator's Note: the next few paragraphs were told by Tuvtshe Yakubovitch.)

One hundred girls and one boy, Avromek Zikhlinsky, were in the first transport in 1940, recalled Tuvtshe Yakubovitch. We had been assembled via a list from the Jewish council. They said we were going to pick potatoes and beets in the fields. It was around the time of Sukkos (Translator's note: October). They divided us into three groups once we arrived

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in the region of Poznan. We were sent to three farms which were converted into labor camps; Gnojno, Lojewo (in Yiddish, Layove) and Tuczno. I was with my sister Hella. We brought with us bedding, clothing and underwear. We worked hard from dawn until dusk. The local Volksdeutsche (people whose language and culture had German origins, but who did not hold German citizenship) guarded us and liked to beat and whip us to show their importance and power. The camp had its own kitchen, but at the beginning we received packages and a bit of money from home. Understandably, not all parents could help. We also received help from friends. We were not free to wake up and go to sleep at will, because of lights in the living space, nevertheless the possibility

 

Mrs. Kayle Yakubovitch, of blessed memory, and her daughters: Hella and Tuvtshe, may they live long.
They live in Israel.

 

of legitimate cultural activity didn't exist. The exchange of letters with our families was limited. We asked after and thought about them. From time to time, someone would go home for a few days. We had to buy a furlough with money or a gift for the head of the camp, the Volksdeutsche Urbansky, or other services for the Hitleristic low life creatures.

The worst was when they took us from one place to another. We had already settled in a little, placed a bit of straw on the plank beds we slept on, become familiar with the surrounding population through which we were able to offer our belongings

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and goods –– so–called –– for a bit of food, and then they moved us to a new place. For a long time, we slept in the hall of the theater in Inowroclaw (in Yiddish, Inovrotslav) on bare boards on the stage, and this was in winter, with a frosty wind blowing in from all sides. We all caught cold. Understandably, we sent or wrote letters in Polish or German. We had to write carefully. Writing between the lines, not everything could be inferred.

Before Passover 1942, thanks to some money my sister Hella and I received from home, I received a three–day furlough.

It had been two years since I had seen my parents and brother. My brother Mordkhai was in a prisoner camp as a Polish soldier, which I hadn't yet learned. But I still had my parents and two brothers, Yakov and Notte.

Sitting anxiously impatient on the train, I had to remain inconspicuous, since I did not have permission to ride this means of transportation.

With great fear, I got off the train at the last station in the hamlet of Szatki (Tseti in Yiddish) and walked the last eight kilometers.

I arrived in town on Passover eve, at night (Translator's note: Wednesday evening, 1 April 1942), when Jews are required to go to the synagogue, but I met nary a Jew. I was overcome with fear in that horrible stillness.

I could not enter my house. My parents had been moved to the ghetto and had left everything behind. A Christian let me know where to find the Jewish quarter. Pshaytch (Przedecz) is a small town, and it was not difficult to find the place where those remaining were, in a very crowded, destitute situation.

I found my mother in the house. My father was still at work. The curfew (police hours) hadn't yet come. He worked as a tailor for a Volksdeutche woman living in the former apartment of the Rappaport family. My brothers were already in one of the murderous camps, and in my lifetime, I would never see them again.

Many parents came to me asking about their daughters. I could not offer them anything more than greetings. I could not tell them the whole truth. But in my last visit, our parents had talked only about Chelmno and how the liquidation of the Ghetto was approaching. They knew exactly what was happening there. My father returned late, and after he finished praying, we sat down for a Seder. Many women were in the group. Their husbands were in camps. Among them were widows –– although not all – knew about that yet. Some little boy

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asked the questions “Why is this night different”. In the middle, he burst into choking tears and cried out Chelmno. The child was perhaps five years old. I don't remember whose child he was. The windows were curtained. Two candles burned on the table. My mother managed a few dry white pletzels (a flatbread similar to focaccia). All of us tried with all our might to hold back our tears, but when my father came to the passage “we shouted unto G–d and he heard our voices” he could no longer control himself, and continued with quiet sobs until the end of the service.

This was the last Passover Seder with my parents. After my return to the camp, I did not see them again. Nor did I hear from them again. But when I had returned to the camp, I had to describe everything anew. This time I could not control myself.

(Translator's Note: The next few paragraphs were told by Rushke (Shoshana) Yakhimovitch and perhaps the daughter of Khaim Kladovsky.)

Bitter herbs. Egg. Rushke, take me with you. Shank bone, karpas (a raw vegetable, usually parsley or celery), matzah. Chelmno. Gas chambers on wheels. Charoses. Wine. Everything, everything, I have forgotten nothing. Beautiful candlesticks with candles, a white tablecloth, covered matzah, everything, everything, just as it is supposed to be. Rushke, don't leave me behind. Everything so beautiful. Traditions, customs, clean without chometz. Kosher. Without memories, without bitter thoughts, without parents, without graves for a brother and sister, how can this happen, how can we understand this?

With these words, Rushke (Shoshana) Yakhimovitch began her description, her description of the last Seder she experienced in Pshaytch (Przedecz) in 1942. I was sent to Gnojno, a hamlet not far from Inowroclaw (Inovrotslav). A ranch. From the autumn of 1940, I began to work there in the field picking potatoes, beets, guarded by savage, brutal Volksdeutsche with sticks, whips and other instruments to beat stooped shoulders wet from rain. They acted with particular cruelty towards the Krel and Engel sisters. There was not a day or a night without beating them, accompanied by wild laughter. They took special pleasure in beating and kicking the unfortunate girls until they bled. They beat other girls too, but they mistreated these girls in an animalistic way. They had not dropped anything or done anything wrong. The truth is that they simply chose them as a scapegoat. Without any reason. That is how it was, because they were the rulers, the masters. As for culture, I believe they could not read or write. They spoke Polish poorly, and their German was not any better. That is how it was. The stick was in their hand. And they knew how to use it. After that, there was clearing the fields and carrying full sacks of produce on our backs. Then they harnessed

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us to the wagons because they treated their horses with respect. They kept us busy caring for the pigs, cows and horses. To cut straw, to cook potatoes for the animals, from which we also ate a little, stealing food from the pigs. Not everyone had the means to buy food from the local peasants or trade a piece of clothing.

We lived like this for a year. Then they took us to Lojewo (Layove) camp. The guards there were a bit more humane. They did not beat us. The work there was also not easy. Perhaps it was more difficult. We excavated ditches, arranged wagons, transported the carts, which we had first filled with earth, and then poured additional earth on the road as appropriate, filling holes and puddles.

At this same time, that is autumn, 1941, they brought another group of thirty girls from Pshaytsh (Przedecz) to a camp in Tuczno, not far from us. Among the girls was Kayla Vishnivska. At about the same time, they brought a large group of men from Pshaytsh (Przedecz) to work in a sugar factory near Lojewo (Layove). We received very little food, and the men received even less. Many of them died from hunger and hard labor. The weak ones were sent to the hamlet Amze, which was near Inowroclaw (Inovrotslav), where they were shot by the German executioner. Among those killed were Yakov Pinkhas Rumer, Dovid Vishnievsky, Hersh Zielinsky, Shlamek Makovitsky, Moishe Raukh, Mendel Kviat, Dovid and his uncle Israel Khaym Zielinski, Maniek Raukh, and many others.

By the beginning of 1942, they began to liquidate the camps of Tuczno and Gnojno and sent everyone to the camp at Lojewo (Layove). A large number of youths arrived from the town of Radziejow. In Lojewo, the head of the camp selected Kayla Vishnivska as foreman of the girls (the elder Jew). We should write a second chapter about her, the good things she did. She organized a workshop for seamstresses, headed by Yetta Lntzitzka, for Pshaytsher girls in Lojewo; with ten girls, the work was not too difficult, and quietly they earned a bit of food which they gave to the starving men in the sugar factory. But with it all, we were anxious. We received bad news from our parents at home. Thanks to Kayla Vishnivska, I was able to be free for a week and go home. The others who went home with me for that bitter Passover were Khava Zielinsky, Feyge Pshedetzke, Tova Yakubovitch, Brayna Engel, Brayna Ofnbakh. We kept apart, in the event the Germans would capture one of us (we were not travelling legally), but we

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all arrived home. These were difficult days with our close ones for all of us. I found my mother and my eight–year–old brother Levi in the ghetto. They had been thrown out of our home. My family now lived in a small attic room at Avrom Fisher's. My father, Khaim Kladovsky, and my eldest brother had been sent to work a few weeks after I had been sent away, and no one had had any news of them since. I was told my father was killed working at the trains in Inowroclaw (Inovrotslav), but I later learned he was taken to the death camp Amze and murdered there. Tell me, my dear one, where is your grave? Where are your bones? When is the anniversary of your death?

My mother was hungry. She sold everything in order to send me packages to help me endure my suffering. My little brother became small and weak from these problems. He had begun to have a speech impediment. When I left to return to camp, he accompanied me. On the road, he asked, Lushke, take me with you. Lushke, I don't want to die. They will take us all to Chelmno where they will gas and burn us. Little brother, how can I? I have no idea what will happen to me. But Lushke, I don't want to die.

Every Passover I hear Levi's voice. Lushke, I want to live. Lushke, Lushke, Lushke.

I want to live.


Quiet Courage

by Y. L. L

Translated by JR and Roberta Paula Books

© by Roberta Paula Books

In our story, we honour this great act of Yakov Yakubovitch of blessed memory

On a weekday between Yom Kippur and Sukkos, they dragged all males over the age of fourteen out of their homes, brought them to the new market, and organized them in a semicircle. At the opening of the circle stood three men dressed in gabardine coats with raised collars and, on their heads, Tyrolian hats with feathers. Beside them was a small table covered with white paper, a razor and a scissors.

Almost all the Jewish men in town were assembled, with the Rabbi in front and, beside him, his devoted companion, the half blind

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elder – Itche the Shammes. The men varied in age, ranging from fourteen-year-old children and younger ones who did not want their fathers to go alone, to older men whom others helped by taking them by the arm. There was no shortage of helpers.

The scene was unnatural as they surrounded us with a thick wall of mockery and derision. They stood in their high shiny boots and stared at us with their colorless eyes, pale narcotic faces and thin lips.

They were our fate.

They were the ruling race.

All the Jewish men were gathered. Men went to search for those in hiding. After about a half hour, one of the three began to shout. He began to explain the inferiority of the Jews. He used words that a person from the lowest cultural standing would be embarrassed to have in his lexicon.

He ended by telling the farmers and workers that the filthy Jews, parasitic dogs, will be made to be productive.

 

A group of girls from Pshaytch (in Polish, Przedecz) at forced labour

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These pigs will have to work all over the world for the victory of the northern ruling race. He shouted in that manner, with staring dead eyes, for approximately twenty minutes and ended by announcing that he will now introduce hygiene to these filthy bastard dogs. He called forward a local barber from among the Jews and ordered him to cut off beards, but only on one side. Soon the Jews looked as if a disease had distorted their faces. They, the gentlemen, rolled with laughter. They jumped and clapped their hands on the weapons at the sides of their pants. They summoned an old Jew who looked wretched with grey hair hanging from his half-beard. They placed him in the middle of the semicircle and again began to shout that he is an ugly, uncultured, filthy parasite. At first that Jew stood there embarrassed and sad. But then he began to smile. The German asked him angrily, what are you enjoying? His answer was excellent – we should say a memorial prayer (kaddish) for your culture.

Luckily the executioner did not understand the Yiddish answer. However he did catch the word culture and became even angrier, and took some of those who were assembled to the pump. He ordered two to turn the wheels, meaning to pump the water, and one of the Jews had to stand under the pouring water. When he was soaking wet, he was replaced by another. The wet man was forced to go to the other Jews, who were ordered to do gymnastics. They had to run, jump and lie down on the ground. They made our Rabbi haul heavy planks of wood from one corner of the market to another. Here we see the ugly, audacious act carried out by a wild Jewish scoundrel (according to them). The eldest son of Itche Yakubovitch the tailor, the twenty-six year old Yakov, went to one of the gentlemen and with tears in his eyes asked if he could replace the Rabbi at this difficult work. For this exceptional crime they made Yakov lie down on the ground, and they beat him with a stick on his bare back twenty times, and then he had to do difficult gymnastics. They brought Yakov home wet and bloody where he lay in bed for a week.

This is how these gentlemen taught culture and productivity until late at night. When they themselves were finally tired and hoarse, they let the tortured, beaten and exhausted Jews go home.


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Lament for a Town that is No More

by Pnina Leah (Zemelman)

Translated by Leon Zamosc

Edited by Roberta Paula Books

[Ed. Note: It is interesting that, although the poem is entirely in Hebrew, Rabbi Zemelman's daughter
nonetheless uses the Yiddish name Pshaytsh to refer to the town – the name my father always used.]

 

The war is over and I am on my way home ...
After all the terrible suffering, I am going home.
Thousands roam the roads, lonely, worn out, exhausted.
The brutal war ended yesterday,
and today everyone is returning home ...

Every mile, whether by train or car
on my way home,
seems too slow, an eternity.
My beloved town Pshaytsh[1]
floats before my eyes all the time,
its houses, its residents, the place where I was born, the daughter of the rabbi.

Warm was my home, blessed with children,
four boys and four girls,
pure, innocent and cheerful without end,
my righteous mother and my father the rabbi, can it be that they are gone?

About two hundred families, all of whom I knew by name.
Craftsmen, shopkeepers, petty traders,
Making a meager living but with dignity.
Can it be that they are all gone?

The train stops - Krzewata! Klodawa!
Passengers get off the train, nobody recognizes me,
I feel soothed … I grew up here and was still a child when I left,
it was a long way to go, but my town is in front of my eyes.
My town Pshaytsh[1] … Oh, how I have loved you!
And it seems that all the rumors were untrue.

Because my town exists, it looks calm and whole.
The Christian Church is still here, Gothic and complete.
No. Nothing has happened, and I run to Pshaytsh.[1]
But what do I find? It is a town of the dead.
Shop after shop with the shutters closed, where are their owners?
I walk through empty streets and empty houses,

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on my way home - to my home!
From a distance I see it, standing on its own, somebody lives there,
Flower pots on the windows, red like blood … Blood!

No! These are not my mother and father…
I knock on the door, hesitantly, with fear in my heart.

An evil woman appears.
What do you want? Who are you looking for?
She asks in a sharp voice that stabs my heart.
Are you the rabbi's daughter?

Translator's Footnote:

  1. Przedez in Polish Return


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A Collection of Memories

by Y. L. L

Translated by Roberta Paula Books

© by Roberta Paula Books

Thrown away, sometimes it is possible to have oneself there between dangerous landowners hunting, catching fish, and other diversions, amplified by alcohol and blood, perils, and dangerous deeds, according to the customs of the wicked.

In those days, we looked at our town as a place ensnared in limitations, backward, with a difficult life for the hardworking masses, with few exceptions. A life circumscribed by laws and traditions which had been around since prehistoric times.

Today, decades later, we look through the mirror at our memory and see things totally differently. Even the forests, water, swamps with peat trenches, take on a different appearance. It could be that we understand it in a different way, or simply romanticizing the past makes everything nicer. However, the facts that we endured shed yet another light on the past.

Before me lie reminiscences written by three people: Yakov Topolsky, who stirs up the past of the cheerful years from 1900 until the outbreak of the murderous period; and Moishe Mokatov and Yitzkhak Loyn, who recount more facts from 1923- 1938. I don't need to agree with memories adorned with ideological flourishes from passionate hearts, nor with the complexes carried from the environments where they lived and spent their youth. However, in all this material, we see splendid characters, serious people, and kind, positive thinkers, thirsty for a renaissance which they stubbornly brought to town.

We see people who try to find a solution for the Jewish masses -- who are tied up by the endless persecution, state laws and other restrictions that are not at all simple.

Life in Pshaytsh (Przedecz) passed slowly, wearily. On summer evenings, cattle return home from the fields with a lazy, satisfied stride across the narrow streets. Leaving here and there some (Turkistanish energy) material on the stones, night comes closer, the shepherds crack their whips, the fathers rush off to Minchah (late afternoon prayers) and return home after Ma'ariv (evening prayer), when they have received all the latest news of the town. The wars evaded our streets, yet our town suffered.

In the furrows of the nearby villages where the Christians

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dug sand for the city folk to put on their floors, they found skeletons in cholera cemeteries from the Turkish – Russian war.

In the years 1917-1918 there was a typhus epidemic in town which, from nearly every family of the general population, claimed the life of at least one member. Even if there was no front line in town there were victims. Rulers changed, here there were Russians, over there, Germans, each with its persecutions. They always managed to find a spy who knew nothing, but was obliged to give up his soul. In those days people did a bit of business, worked a bit, smuggled a little and many were hungry. The worst economic time was the end of the First World War and the beginning of independence.

In the early years of the 1900s, journeymen came to work in Pshaytsh (Przedecz). They were from other towns. They belonged to the Populist movement (“Naradniye Vale”) and tried to attract new members. But thanks to the Rabbi at that time and other religious Jews they did not succeed. A similar process was initiated by the Langnoz brothers in 1906, when they tried to establish a Zionist organization. Our pious parents were afraid to awake the Messiah. Although the study house, synagogue and smaller houses of prayer were always full with worship, new ideas did not cease to bubble. Thus, the idea of our own home, as well as far left ideas, remained.

Perhaps, when our parents were young, they hid Heine's poems in their Gemorah (Talmud), as many of our fathers were able to recite his work by heart. But they wanted to protect us and thought it better not to talk about it. I should not be revealing such a secret.

Every Friday night bright candles burned in the small windows. Beside them were the bent heads of our mothers covered in kerchiefs. They covered their eyes with their hands but we often saw hot, pained tears roll through their fingers. Saturday mornings, our mothers would walk on Synagogue Street in long dresses, our fathers holding their children by the hand. The child would carry his tallis (prayer shawl). In past days and on the holy Sabbath, we would offer praise to our creator.

Time dragged on slowly. There were weddings, funerals and children to be reared. We were occupied with Gemorah, benevolence, scythes and hoes, and we created new things. In Sarajevo, a shot falls, Kaisers fight, and soldiers fall. Hunger came and brought epidemics. Many people have become homeless.

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Many Jews came to Pshaytsh (Przedecz) from Lodz and other cities. We found places for them to sleep. Also a kitchen to prepare food with newly collected funds. It was not a lot, but we were keeping people alive. Many families remained in town, including various professionals, and also scholars, and others. At that time the first library was founded on Jewish Street. Among the organizers were Yakov Topolsky and Ruzhie Mokotov. Lectures were organized. Also, an amateur drama club. New books were purchased with the funds collected from membership fees. Momentum grew to build a home for the library. A Zionist organization was founded under the imprimatur of the current rabbi. Things had to loosen up. But the library stayed and continued its activities. A primitive hospital was led by Itche Vayden with considerable assistance from Mrs. Mokotov. Her husband Yitzkhak Mokotov also devoted himself to the cause. In 1922 Rabbi Goldshlag left town to take on the position of rabbi of Sherpetz following the death of his grandfather, who had been the rabbi there.

During that year they began to consider candidate for a town rabbi. They listened to sermons, analyzed, considered, weighed and measured. Our parents had a hard time making the decision, until they finally agreed to hire the young rabbi Rabbi Yosef Alexander Zemelman, the son of the rabbi of Drobin. I must add this was a good decision. They young rabbi turned out to be a highly intelligent, worthy man. On the day of his arrival, the entire Jewish town went out to greet him. A few youths on horses decorated with a variously colored ribbons kept things in order, wearing masks of the Tsar's Musketeers and other generals, including Cossacks, but all with Jewish hearts. Musicians were at the head of the group. There was such a feeling of holiday and cheerfulness. Thanks to the energetic and good organizing, everything took place uninterrupted. The rabbi was a kind, understanding man. The town became more moderate and more interesting. There was now a desire for knowledge. People began to read more. We received daily newspapers in Yiddish and Polish. The rabbi often invited young people for discussions on political topics as well as literature. He had a good pedagogic approach, although it was not always followed.

In the early spring of 1924, an agricultural training camp was established under the auspices of the General Zionists. Practically all the young people in town participated to some extent, learning how to work the fields of our future Jewish home.

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People worked enthusiastically on the large plot of land belonging to Khaim Zumer and Mirl Frank. Everyone carried up water. We also applied a full measure of fertilizer. The most beautiful flowers grew there. We were elated with the amount of fruit grown in autumn. The whole village bought radishes (new moon turnips), cucumbers, potatoes, tomatoes, rhubarb, parsley and other vegetables. The young people worked every afternoon, and the entire day Sunday. At night they guarded against mischief makers, all voluntarily. The young people included: Yakov Topolsky, the Engel brothers, Gavriel Levin, Leyb Khudtsky, Hersh Zielinsky, Pinkhas Zikhlinsky, Menakhem Ravsky, Yitzkhak Bur'nshteyn, Yakov Hersh Vayden, Meir Lvkovitz, Khaim Aron Urbakh, Khaim Alter Iglinsky, Yekhiel Ofenbakh, Ezriel Skavransky, and many others. This truly positive organization was like the life of a summer bird, but only for one summer. Maybe had there not been such an abundant harvest of fruits, the successful training camp would not have collapsed so quickly. However, for one spring, summer and fall the Jewish youth showed they were capable of prodigious work.

In those times, there was economic progress. Tailors and shoemakers had greater success. A tailor – shoemaker “cell” was formed under the regulations of “Izba-Ziemieshlnitsa”. They distributed journeymen and master diplomas. They had a professional commission. From all the neighboring towns came candidates to join from surrounding towns. With the money that came in, they rebuilt the Psalm Society (Khevre Tilim) building and formed a financial aid fund. The chairman of the cell was the hat maker Gershon Leyzer Haltrikht.

By 1927 we begin to see communist leaflets in our village and surrounding hamlets. The same year, a strike broke out among the shoemakers, tailors, and hat makers that lasted a few days. It felt like a strong jolt of electricity. A while later, a needle union was formed, with a Sholem Aleichem library. The following were among the organizers: Mikhl Shapiro, Nokhem Danielsky, Binyomin Tsanskovsky, Moishe Levin, and Esther Goldman. In 1929 the Young Mizrachi (religious Zionists) was founded. The majority of its members were young men from the local Yeshiva founded by Rabbi Zemelman. At that time, there was also stepped-up activity in the Polish streets. It was difficult to go out on the streets late at night. there were not organized activities, but the work of spreading information with collaboration and gossip was fruitful. It was especially difficult for the town's merchants, orchardists, for the poorest Jews in town.

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In 1932, Betar (a Revisionist Zionist youth group) was founded. People came from the central organization to give lectures. People also came to give courses in Hebrew. We played chess and ping pong, they organized outings to the hamlets to familiarize us with agricultural work. Quite interesting were the discussions led by the chairman, Shloime Yisaskhar Engel. He was an intelligent man who devoted his life to association work. He knew a lot, read a lot and had a special way of planting a love of construction work in these passionate hearts. He would often say, no one will do the work for us. We must build a home and fight for a home with our own hands. Thanks to his efforts, three youngsters learned carpentry. Two of them live in Israel: Moishe Mokotov and Khaim Zikhlinsky. This was a time of great unemployment in Poland, including Jews with higher education. They wandered from town to town giving lectures and artistic performances. Among others who also came to us was the doctor of philosophy Foyglzon. He would recite poetry from Yiddish writers and translations of foreign authors. In one of his presentations, he said: “Jews, we must strive to emigrate from here, because Jews here will undergo a great tragedy”.

In 1934 Fishl Topolsky organized a proper Poalei Zion (Workers of Zion) organization, and Mikhl Shapiro founded HaShomer HaTzair. They carried out their work in the same premises. They were highly intelligent people. They worked together in a united front with the needle workers union and did exciting cultural work. There was something on every evening, like a living evening newspaper. Question and answer evenings, singing, dancing, a drama club, public book readings and Hebrew learning. Those most active were: Fishl Topolsky, Tusyeh Yakhimovitch, Feyge Flatzker, Esther Goldman, Moishe Levin, Dovid Sayka, Levi Shveitzer, Soreh Haltrikht and others. From the proper Poalei Zion and HaShomer Hatzair membership, sadly no one survived. According to the recollections, we see there was worthwhile work happening on the Jewish street. Everything was destroyed, together with so many precious lives.

Consider a man like Hersh Lipman Perele. A tall, slim Jew with an aesthetic black beard and passionate black eyes. He walked quickly and held his head high. He would often say: “I am proud to be a Jew”. He taught boys Mishna and Gemorah (Talmudic biblical interpretation). He put so much good will into his efforts. This fine and wise teacher had the patience to explain a passage three or four times, until we really understood, because our heads were,

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at the moment, in the yard where Yehoshua Isaac had just scored a goal.

Let's talk about Hershie Buf, who brought us chickens every week. There were such fine people among us. I remember when Hersh Lipman was sick, and we needed to bring him oranges. We didn't have any. Two boys went by bicycle to another town to bring the fruit for the patient. Or the hardworking Krel family, that worked so hard for a piece of bread. But when it came time to sew a suit for a poor groom for free, they did it with love.

Who did these good people disturb? Who?


One Tombstone Remains

by Y. L. L

Translated by Roberta Paula Books

© by Roberta Paula Books

All the laws were broken at once, all the odiousness of life, of humanity. Murderers freely roamed the streets, with hatred and mockery from all directions. There was nowhere to hide, surrounded by a sort of absurdity. Beatings were visited on Jewish heads without limit or pause. They shot people in the middle of the street, hanged them in the center of the marketplace, took them to useless work. Our children were dragged from our homes and sent who knows where. From some we receive an occasional letter, from others there is no trace. There is not a moment of rest. They burned down the synagogue and forced some prominent men, led by the rabbi, to sign a paper that said we had burned down our own holy building. And then we had to pay 50,000 zloty to the commandant of the town for the crime that had never been committed. When Moishe Hersh Danielsky and Dr. Diament handed over the money, which had been so difficult to collect, he said: Yes, this money is for the government, and now I want the same amount for me. There was not a drop of pity from anywhere. The helpless, unarmed Jew was surrounded by outstretched, blood thirsty hands. There was neither day nor night, even our children in the course

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of a day became adults, maybe in the course of mere hours. The schools were closed, religious schools, forbidden, it was an overexertion to come together, they were in no mood to play. They wandered around quietly with inquiring eyes, but there were no answers. The German prescription was already starting to work, a mandate for euthanasia “death without pity”. There were various experiments at injections that they would need for their vicious military people, all connected to the annihilation of people of inferior races. What could you call this plan of one nation toward another? Perhaps one day a genius doctor will provide a diagnosis for this cruel psychosis and perhaps clarify these times, defend or find an excuse or a reason why the world was silent until now? Who is guilty of this? Three year old children in 1940 already knew what was happening at the Chelmno camp. And for these blood suckers, this wasn't enough. Not only did they physically exterminate, but they annihilated and erased every trace of the Jewish people.

In the summer of 1940, the German miscreants, with the help of Polish volunteers, destroyed the Jewish cemetery. They promised pieces of tombstones to take as building materials for those that helped.

The Jewish cemetery in Pshaytsh (Przedecz) had existed for over 600 years. The first graves predated the 13th century. There were graves with an old patina for which you could not even decipher to whom the grave belonged, sunk deep in the ground, not able to know who had found eternal rest there. There were thousands of graves with various tombstones, some of sandstone, limestone, grey granite, and white and black marble, shining like mirrors and streaked with gentle red and green veins.

Dozens of young men from the Christian population scampered joyfully, like jackals, to grab this work. First they crossed themselves and recited, as usual, a short prayer for each effort and, while they worked, jokes fell from their mouths about what they found at this place of rest, as they banged away with their tools on the stones and said with a smile: “you Jews stuffed yourselves with enough fat geese and chickens”. The Jews had to listen to this as the Germans forced them to harness themselves to wagons piled high with tombstones and take them to be stored in Khaim Zamer's garden. All the stones were pulled from the ground with cruelty, the field was plowed from end to end, no remnant of a cemetery remained. Only one tombstone remained, even though they planted potatoes there.

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Barely three hundred years ago, a great Jew lived here. Mothers passed on the story to their children. This was the time of the unfortunate “Liberum Veto”[1], when each Polish nobleman felt he was king of his fiefdom. The peasants were bound to the land and lived on the land. The peasant had the same worth as an ox, and like an ox, he had no rights. In the nobleman's palace, alcohol and honey flowed freely. When one nobleman overthrew another, he killed his whole family and all of his peasants. He stole the land because he was stronger, and the deceased ostensibly did not show him enough respect. In these bloody free times in Poland, a strong man came to town and chased all the Jews from their homes, as he was looking for a scapegoat and wanted to demonstrate his skill at killing people. He gathered everyone at the plaza of the Holy Florian and had the Jews line up in a long row. Facing them was a row of Christians. In the middle of the two rows he place a brilliant, respected Jew and said: Now, with one slash of my sword I will behead this man. Whichever side it falls will be the side he belongs to.

What horrible crime did the man commit to merit such a punishment? The Jews of Pshaytsh (Przedecz) had created an Eruv (boundary) within which they could carry objects on the Sabbath. He headed this committee.

At the very moment this nobleman, this murderer, lowered his sword on the man, a pregnant Jewish woman ran out of line and caught the man's head in her apron. The Jews gave him a Jewish burial. Within a short time, a small tree grew at the head of his grave. It grew into a large, thick, wild pear tree. It was as if the tree wanted to protect the grave of the old man with its branches. It served as a tombstone. This tombstone of many years ago remained.

Winds howl, sometimes from the west, sometimes from the east. The large branches are covered with flowers or leaves, or in winter they are bent and twisted from the snow.

These times are also twisted. The stones, the tombstones were divided up. The workers received some of them for the physical work they did in liquidating the Pshaytsher (Przedecz) Jewish cemetery. They used the remaining head stones to pave the streets of town.

The tombstone stands and the branches are as twisted as the times.

Translator's Footnote:

  1. The liberum veto (Latin for “free veto”) was a parliamentary device in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. It was a form of unanimity voting rule that allowed any member of the Sejm (legislature) to force an immediate end to the current session and to nullify any legislation that had already been passed at the session by shouting, Sisto activitatem! (Latin: “I stop the activity!“ or Nie pozwalam! (Polish: “I do not allow!“). In place from the mid-17th century to the late 18th century, the premise of the rule was: since all Polish noblemen were equal, every measure that came before the Sejm had to be passed unanimously.) Return


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Why?

by Y. L. L

In memory of Reb Khaim Tarner and family

Translated by Roberta Paula Books

© by Roberta Paula Books

“I have placed my rainbow in the clouds as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth”. (Genesis, Chapter 9).

Like the echo of silver bells, the voices of young children escape from the small windows of the kheder (school for young children). Along the wall near the window is a long, straight table made from pine planks. Around the table are rough-hewn benches (not planed), and on them sit students ranging from four to twelve years old, repeating after the rabbi the words of the Hebrew Bible. At the head of the table, the Rabbi sits as his knowing look takes in the heads of the children being prepared for the difficult life of a Jew.

Nearby at a lower little table sit the three-year olds, called the alef beys (first two letters of the Hebrew alphabet) students.

The room was grey. There, the sun never peeked in. Two small windows opened toward the western side of the world. They were partially blocked by a horse stable. Between the windows and the stable, a small path led to the well where the surrounding neighbors drew water, the same well where the baker Klodowsky got the water for his bakery.

In the deep darkness of the well, one could hear an uninterrupted churning, as if many people were talking at the same time, which left us anxious and curious. We were convinced that in the cold, deep darkness there were thousands of devils and spirits lying in wait for our souls.

In the middle of the courtyard, which was surrounded by small houses where the artisans lived, was a post used to tan leather. Surrounding this place, shaped by the feet of horses and people, was greasy soil strewn with sacks filled with leather mixed with salt and hair. A strong, unpleasant smell emanated from this place. The smell from the horses' stable was like perfume in comparison to this smell.

On a summer afternoon, the sun sometimes shone on the working people. But in the kheder where the small children

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became familiar with the first words of the prayer book and Khumesh (Hebrew Bible), the sun never shone, as it was blocked by the horses' stable.

The entrance to the kheder was in a dark, narrow corridor. The floor was made from clay, which turned into hills and valleys, especially during the winter. The fact that the students did not break their hands and feet was a miracle from heaven.

G-d said, “I have indeed seen the suffering of My people in Egypt. I have heard how they cry out because of what their slave drivers do, and I am aware of their pain. I have come down to rescue them from Egypt's power. I will bring them out of the land, to a good, spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus, Chapter 3). The voices of the little children ring together with the bass of the Rebbe, filled with love and devotion.

Across from the door was a white, tall brick oven which, in the summer, was used only for cooking and in the winter, to heat the room.

G-d spoke to Moses saying, “I have heard the complaints of the Israelites. Speak to them and say, ‘In the afternoon you will eat meat, and in the morning you will have your fill of bread. You will then know that I am G-d, your Lord’”. (Exodus, Chapter 16).

Form the oven, parallel to the window, was a closet with kitchen utensils. There was also a closet for clothes. The room was divided in two, and the other half was completely cut off from daylight. That half was the kitchen and dining room etc … When the sun was still high in the sky, it was dark in both rooms, and they had to use a kerosene lamp even though the windows were kept perfectly clean by the Rabbi's wife.

“Suddenly, he saw G-d standing over him. G-d said, ‘I am your father, the Lord of Isaac. I will give to you and your descendants the land upon which you are lying.’” (Genesis, Chapter 28). The childrens' voices rang with rapture and with the beauty of promise.

The floor of the kheder looked like a mosaic: parts were wooden boards, and parts were clay. The boards were washed almost every day, but the part that was clay, especially in winter, liked to sweat or freeze, depending on the temperature outside and the heat of the oven.

Even here in the room, the floor was not ideal. Intentionally or unintentionally, there were hills and valleys. It would happen more than once that a 4-5 year old boy would doze off during the Rabbi's dvar torah (explication of a Biblical passage). When a friend beside him on the bench would give him a shove or

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the Rabbi's loving voice would awaken him, he would be startled. Often the child would burst into tears or wet his pants, and then the Rabbi's wife would wipe his tears, wash and calm the frightened child with motherly warmth.

“These are the foundations which Solomon laid for building the house of G-d: the length, according to the old standard of measurement, was sixty cubits and the breadth, twenty.” (Chronicles 2, Chapter 3). The voices of the children rang out like the singing of birds, out to the yard where the hard-working people straightened their bent backs and looked toward the sky, as if they saw angels in heaven singing these songs of praise, together with the children.

A few generations of Jews had sat in this dark, sad room at the simple, long table as they were shown the way toward heartfelt love for the Master of the Universe.

For many years, at the head of the table sat the Geller Rebbe, a short, broad man with a wide patriarchal beard. Slowly, word by word, in his bass voice, he instilled in the childrens' small heads words of love to the Creator of the World.

Every morning, he opened the school day with all the children standing on their little feet saying the familiar Morning Prayer, “Modeh ah-nee lifanecha, Melekh chai v'kayam, she-hechezarta bee nishma-see b'chemlah rabbah emunasecha.” (I give thanks before you, living and eternal King, for you have returned my soul to me with compassion; abundant is your faithfulness.) In the evening, at the end of the day of learning, everyone recited the Kriyas Shma, reciting “May the angel who has redeemed me from all harm bless these boys. May they carry on my name and the name of my fathers, Abraham and Isaac. May they become teeming multitudes upon the earth”.

Each year, Reb Khaim Tarner also recited the morning prayer service during the Days of Awe (the ten days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur) in the House of Study, where he prayed all his years. When he would approach the podium in his kittel (white linen robe worn on special occasions), wrapped in his prayer shawl, people felt he was actually God's messenger.

Please accept my prayer as coming from a regular old man with a pleasant appearance and a full beard and a pleasant voice and involved in the common good for the people. However …

However, in this holy house, it was never joyful as the sun never peeked in.

Also, there was generally not enough bread to be satisfied. But the hearts of the two magnificent people laughed with great joy when they heard the silvery voices of the small children sing out the praises of the great Name.

The Rebbe, Reb Khaim and his wife Malke had tears of joy in their loving eyes, and quietly sang along with the children:

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“And God created man in his image, and in the image of G-d he created man and woman”.

And the Rabbi's wife Malke, in her clean, patched dress, always overworked, but always with a warm smile. For many years she cared for the children with motherly love.

Reb Khaim derived pleasure from his former students, who now sit in the House of Study and study biblical interpretation.

These magnificent people were exterminated. These beautiful, magnificent people do not even have a grave. The grass at the cemetery does not even sing them lullabies.

Only my spirited words praise the worthy Tarner family. Whoever reads this will remember these people and say:

“Magnified and sanctified be G-d's great name” (From the mourner's prayer)

God of mine, I call upon you, as a sinning Jew I praise you. Tell me, great G-d, why? Great one, why? Almighty, One and only, why, just one.

And why? Eternally, Eternally,

Why? Why?

W – H – Y?!


Memories of My Father's House

by Esther (Zemelman) Burg

Translated by Marshall Grant

© by Roberta Paula Books

I am recording the memories of my dear family, my parents, brothers and sisters, who perished in the Second World War at the blood–covered hands of the Nazi beasts.

And now, while documenting my childhood memories, I still find it hard to believe that everything that happened between then and now really took place, and even though my memories are a still a bit vague, I still feel and sense my family experiences from my parents' home.

We were eight children at home: four brothers and four sisters. I was the oldest, then came Leah, Yehoshua, Yoel, Nehemia, Adele, Chametza and Yankele, my parents' youngest. I lost them and they are no more; of my large family, only my sister Leah and I survived.

In my dreams, I see myself together with my dear family in our house and in our small town. It was like all other Polish towns – there was nothing exceptional about it.

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Mrs. Esther Burg (Zemelman) in the Holocaust basement in Jerusalem, next to the memorial to the fighters and heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto

 

But in my eyes, the town was the symbol of beauty and prosperity. That was where I grew up and was educated, that was where my world was, that was where I dreamed my childhood dreams.

I remember when I was just three years old, my parents, of blessed memory, decided to send me to a cheder to learn the alphabet with the teacher known as Dar Ga'ala'ar Chaim. He was much older than the students. After I completed my studies in the cheder, my parents sent me to study in Beit Ya'akov. This was a school affiliated with Agudat Yisrael, founded by Ms. Sarah Shnerer, and it mainly taught Tanach, a little Hebrew, home traditions and laws. The teacher at Beit Ya'akov was Mrs. Hirschberg. I loved and adored her very much. She had a pleasant personality and was very dedicated to her students.

After Mrs. Hirschberg moved away, a new teacher arrived. She had completed a seminar for certified teachers in Krakow. This was my aunt, Esther Zemelman, my father's sister. I completed my studies at Beit Ya'akov and reached the age at which children began their schooling. I was happy. It was the happiest day of my life. I felt “big” – ready for first grade. My first teacher was Mr. Jaczinsky, and I was almost seven years old. For the first time, I loved and adored someone other than my family, and I trusted him completely. After him, there were other teachers and my admiration went from teacher to teacher. I was especially captivated by Mrs. Pavashinsky, who was the wife of the school's principal.

For a while I studied at the old school. I was so happy when they began building a new school in the town. It was a beautiful and unique school, and one of the most beautiful buildings in the town. Later, I was hugely disappointed

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when I heard the government didn't have sufficient funds to completely finish the building. I was heartbroken when, for the first time, I learned that my beloved homeland, Poland, was poor.

Now, when looking back to the days of my youth, I see how much I loved Poland and how I believed it was my only homeland. I didn't feel the anti–Semitism surrounding me … I didn't feel what my “Polish brothers” did to me and my family.

I remember September 1939, the beginning of the Second World War. The Nazi monsters invaded Poland and in just a few days they entered our town. Persecution against the Jews began immediately. My father, the town's rabbi, suffered the most. I remember the tragic morning when they took my dear father from our home and sent him, with other prominent Jews in the community, to clean the streets; with Poles standing around them jeering, their eyes filled with satisfaction and happiness. There was more than the humiliation and embarrassment. They shaved the beards and payot of every Jew in the city. They ignited our beautiful synagogue and made my father sign a declaration stating that it was he, my father, and several other local Jews, who burned the synagogue down.

He was later sent to the ghetto. This is the street we called the Alter Mark (the Old Market) in Yiddish. This is where most of the residents were blue–collar workers and small–business owners. It was in these small homes that all the town's Jews had to crowd together.

The Nazi scourge stole our belongings. They closed Jewish shops, prohibited Jewish children from going to school, and there was no one to resist the cursed Nazis. My father's noble soul revolted when it could no longer endure the suffering of his city's brothers and the destruction of the community he loved with all his soul and with all his might. He was unable to help. He then escaped to Warsaw and made it to the Jewish ghetto. My father calls for revolt and revenge. He calls for Jews to rise and revolt against the Nazi enemy. With his life under threat, he goes to the “Aryan” side and resides as a “pure Aryan”. He contacts leftist Polish partisans. He later made the same trip back to the ghetto with guns and ammunition. He held secret meetings inside the bunkers. He speaks with skill as he describes the horrific scenes of the destruction of our small town and other communities with passionate rhetoric.

My father calls for revenge and offers a plan for the uprising. He takes it upon himself to provide weapons and ammunition, and was fairly successful in doing so. When the Warsaw Ghetto uprising began, my father was among the first combatants involved. Witnesses said that they last saw my father when he was emerging from a side street with a few other yeshiva students who attacked, with grenades and guns, a group of S.S. soldiers who had entered a Jewish house in order to set it on fire. My father and his group threw grenades at them and shot their pistols at them. The Germans also threw grenades and shot back with their rifles. This was the battle in which my father and the yeshiva students fell. This was the last piece of information concerning my dear father, as told by Hillel Seidman, in his book Warsaw Ghetto Diary.

The murderous Nazis continued to destroy the Jews in gas chambers even after the Warsaw Ghetto revolt. The destruction was faster after the fall of the ghetto, and the Jews were slaughtered and killed by the millions. Five years after the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, the War of Independence broke out in Israel, a nation striving to achieve independence in its homeland. On the 5th of Iyar, 5738; May 15th, 1948, the establishment of the State of Israel was declared, together with a bloody and costly war. The best of Jewish youth paved the path to the state's independence with their lives. This is where the remnants of the Holocaust gathered, here in the State of

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Israel, and we are confident that a second Holocaust will never occur. However, we must remember the soldiers who stood on the front line and fought for the establishment of Israel and died in the line of duty. They carried the flame of revolt in the Warsaw Ghetto and risked their lives against the Nazi animals. One of its founders and spiritual leaders of this revolt, and who actually took part in the combat, was my father, the late Rabbi Yosef Alexander Zemelman, the rabbi of the town of Przedecz, may God revenge his soul.


My Father Mikhl Hersh Naymark

by Simkha Naymark, Sao Paolo, Brazil

Translated by Janie Respitz

© by Roberta Paula Books

We were orphaned at a young age, since our mother Frimet passed away at the most beautiful time of her life. Our father was left with six young children. The older ones were not old enough to help care for the little ones or to help run the household. Our father was busy all day trying to earn a living. He was forced to look for another housewife. After looking for a long time, he married a widow named Rokhl who had a child from her first husband whose name was Hersh Leyb. Although she was a good wife to my father and a good housewife, we kids could not make peace with the fact that

 

A glance at the old market street photographed by
Mr. Simkha Naymark when he visited Przedecz in 1965

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another woman took the place of our good mother. This is the reason why at a very young age we looked for a way to be independent and leave home.

We were very fond of our father and very proud of him. His house was always filled with people, Jews and Christians who would come to consult with him during times of trouble.

My father's advice was taken with the belief it would lead them in the right direction. Reb Mikhl Hersh always evaluated all matters to provide a way out of a difficult situation.

Not only did people from Przedecz come to my father for advice, they came from surrounding towns and villages, directly to the “good Jew” in search of help at a difficult time.

A few years ago, after my visit to Israel, I went to Poland to visit my birthplace, Przedecz with the hope of finding a relative or a friend alive. Unfortunately. this did not happen. When I came into contact with the town's Christian population and walked through the streets of my hometown, many citizens stopped me and with admiration called out: “This is the son of Mr. Naymark”.

In a discussion with these people, it was brought to my attention that not only people from Przedecz, but also people from the surrounding towns and villages came to Mr. Naymark looking for help. Until this day, they remembered my father's name with respect and were not patronizing.

My father made a name for himself as the perpetual defender and often the judge of hundreds of suffering people, never differentiating between Jews and Christians or poor and wealthy.

My honest and good father, whom everyone respected and admired, was tragically killed together with his family. In those times, Hitler and his German barbarians, with the help of some of the Polish Christian population, began to annihilate the entire Jewish nation.

Luckily the plans of these barbarians were not realized, even though they killed one third of the Jewish people.

With this remembrance, I would like to erect a monument, a symbolic tombstone for my family which was tragically murdered. Most of all my unforgettable father, as well as the fathers and mothers who were sent to the gas chambers, hanged on gallows and faced other forms of death. We will eternally honor

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the memory of the six million Jewish martyrs, among whom were my brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, nephews and cousins.

With deep respect, I remember my stepmother who shared the same fate as my father, as she was his devoted life partner in the most difficult moments of his life.


Memories

Translated by Marshall Grant

© by Roberta Paula Books

In the beginning of 1939, our bakery in Przedecz was closed by order of the authorities. My parents began to look for other sources of livelihood, and they found a bakery for lease in the city of Kleczew, and we moved there. The involvement of my father, of blessed memory, in the public activities of his hometown of Przedecz was part of his life. He was involved in the community's life and institutions, so the separation from his natural surroundings was very difficult.

Nevertheless, we became used to the new location and it seemed we had found our place.

But the atmosphere was toxic in Poland during those months, as was the way the Poles treated the Jews. Anti-Semitism erupted, and the concern was things would get worse if war broke out, and this weighed heavily on us, and on all Jews, especially those like us, who were new.

From my brother, Moshe in Israel, we received letters often. We were aware of the riots being suffered by the Jewish community there, and our concern was understood. My parents, may they rest in peace, would often say, if only we could be together with him in Etetz Yisrael – but it was a dream that never came true.

On September 1, 1939, the war broke out, and the boots of Nazi soldiers stomped over Poland, destroying cities – and it was the Jews who suffered the most.

The Germans entered Kleczew on the night of Rosh Hashanah, the new year, and on the holiday the next day the Germans took the Jews to the city's market to bully them so that the Jews would understand who now ruled the city. The torture and degradation had begun, and while getting used to the new situation, life continued.

Official prayer houses were not closed down, but Jews were not allowed to come and pray in public.

In the summer of 1940, the Nazis began the eradication of Kleczew's Jewish population, and transferred the Jewish residents to Zagórów. The Germans obtained vehicles, carts and horses to transfer the exiled and their few belongings, which, while not a lot, still held much value for them.

I will note one small detail. When we left Kleczew, we left behind a half-ton of flour in a storage room, and when we arrived in Zagórów we received special permission from the Judenrat, with the approval of the German authorities, to use a car to bring the flour to us in Zagórów. We lived in a sort of ghetto for almost a year, and in the summer of 1941, all the younger people who were able to work physically were sent to the Inowroclaw and Farkash labor camps.

About two weeks before Rosh Hashanah, the expulsions from Zagórów began. The expulsion was carried out with complete thoroughness. All the Jewish residents and all the refugees who had arrived were rounded up and forced to pay four

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German marks for travel costs. They were then given medical checkups to verify that they were indeed able to work.

In the Farkash labor camp, I received a letter from my parents in which they notified me that they and the children were being sent to a work camp, and that in the next letter, they would notify me of their new address – an address I never received.

It was unbelievable how the Germans misled and deceived the Jews, how the masses believed every promise, every good word. The exiled were unable to believe that Germans had created a reality that was their worst nightmare – the work camps. Jews from Kleczew and Zagórów believed, when they were taken in terribly overcrowded trucks to the killing valley in the forests of Kazimierz, they believed when they were told that they were being taken to labor camps, they believed when the Germans brought them to the buildings with the sign “Special Jewish Bathhouses for Disinfection and Washing” appearing on them.

They believed that in their final moments a miracle would occur.

But the miracle never happened.

A month passed and we did not receive any letters with the promised new address. A man from Kleczew, who was in the Farkash labor camp travelled with permission to Zagórów to find out what had happened to his loved ones, to find out where they had been sent.

He was never seen again.

And nothing has been heard from him since.

And no news has been received from them. From snippets of news that were collected, it turns out that some of Jews were murdered - some were shot, and some were poisoned in trucks from hell. Amongst the Jews from Kleczew who were brought to Zagórów and sent to the valley of death, was also my father, Mendel Wolf Belinski, my suffering mother, Sarah Belinski, my two sisters: Briana 25 years old, Balatzia 16 years old and my brother Laybel 13 years old. “May their souls be bound in the bond of life,” may G-d revenge them. From all those expelled from Zagórów to the forests of Kazimierz, no one survived.

In the Inowroclaw labor camp I met several people from Przedecz, Moshe Rabeski, Moshe Tchenaskowski, Hirsch Zingarman, Itsche Weidan, Moshe Aharon Weidan, Lev Chodotzki, and others, from whom I heard about the suffering of the Jews of Przedecz and the surrounding cities.

Of course, as a result of the lack of food we were forced to occasionally buy food outside the camp, but those who were caught faced a bitter fate. Asher Roznekrantz was caught with several potatoes in his pocket and sent a nearby camp for punishment. This camp had all the horrors from hell, and for those in this forced labor camp, their lives would sadly end there.

From the Farkash labor camp I was sent to the Adkova labor camp at the end of 1942. There I met the brothers Shlomo and Eliezer Makovitzki, Yomtza Shlifkovitz, and Moshe Aharon Yacoboveski. Shlomo Makovitzki died in Adkova due to malnutrition. In February 1943, I was transferred to Andrychów where I met Azriel Skovronski and Monish Sayka, who worked on the construction of railroad tracks.

In Birkenau I met the Angel brothers, Arieh Lev Pe'er-Danski, Pinchas Rauch, the Danialeski brothers, who are now in the United States, and the Tapalski brothers.

The Sonderkommando operated in that camp, and at the end of 1944, a group organized itself to rebel

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and blew up the crematorium. Among this group's members was Hirsch Tapalaski. After the explosion, all members of the revolt were killed by the Germans.

From Birkenau I was sent to the Jaworzno camp, where I worked mining coal. From there, with the retreat of the German army, I was sent all the way to Blechhammer labor camp. Here I broke through the brick wall that surround the camp and made it to the forest, where I remained until the liberation.

Immediately upon my release in January 1945, I returned to Poland and twice visited my city of Przedecz. The city was desolate. I walked on its streets, I looked for remnants of Jewish life, and I didn't find any. The synagogue was burnt down, the beit hamidrash, where I had spent many hours of my childhood for prayers and study, was deserted. Not the sound of prayer, and not the sound of study was heard. And the Poles looked at me in wonder, as if I had returned from another planet. Could it be? Did Jews still remain? They were astonished, they were concerned for they may have to return Jewish assets and homes to their rightful owners. I paid full price for the bread I bought from our former friend, Doshak.

And then I left Przedecz forever.

Germany was defeated, but was still fighting. Liberated Poland established its military right away. I enlisted because I was looking for revenge against the Germans. I saw scores of Germans with their families in Lower Silesia who had become refugees overnight. They left their homes, their possessions, with bundles on their shoulders, they left everything and were expelled to the crumbles of Germany. It was little retribution.

It was clear that our loved ones and our friends, who were murdered by Nazis after being humiliated and tortured in a way that history had not yet known, could not be brought back, and we couldn't save them.

I meant to travel to Israel. In 1948 I arrived in Italy, where I underwent additional military training in preparations for my conscription in Israel. In January 1949 I arrived in Israel, and after disembarking I was immediately sent to a military camp for conscription to the IDF. This was a day of celebration for me, as after so much suffering, I was wearing the uniform of the Israel Defense Forces. Forty-eight hours later, I received a furlough to visit my brother and his family, who lived in Ramat Gan. I was excited. However, my brother was not at home. He too was in the military. But after just half an hour, there was a knock on the door and my brother appeared with news of his release. Overwhelmed with emotion, we stood embracing and weeping for several minutes, both of us in IDF uniforms. My brother was about to be released after taking part in the War of Independence, while I was taking my first steps in Israel in an IDF uniform.

I was overcome with emotion and spiritual uplifting that I will always remember.

I was serving my country.

 

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