Translated by Roberta Paula Books
© by Roberta Paula Books
15 Sivan 5732 (May 28, 1972)
Today, six weeks after the death of our fellow Pschaicher (landsman), Moishe Yakhimovitch, zl, with the permission of his wife T. L. Yakhimovitch, we are attempting to edit the memoirs written by the deceased.
We want to make an effort to present his sad experiences of the war years in the spirit in which he wrote.
In April 1942, we intensely recognized the approaching liquidation of Pshaytsher Jewry (Przedecz in Polish). In the neighboring towns, the ghettos no longer existed. All their Jewish inhabitants had been sent to Chelmno death camp, which was situated between Dabie (Dambie in Yiddish) and Kolo.
While in a village where I had found a hiding place for my family, I learned that the Nazis had sent all the Jews from Pshaytsh (Przedecz in Polish) to Chelmno death camp. Among them were my beloved father Aron Dovid, my sister Krusa, my wife Rokhl, and our two small daughters Yazda and Mala, may their memories be blessed.
I could no longer show myself in the region. I had been hiding in the garage of the Christian, Drabyolo, for six weeks. The Christians told me, in detail, about the liquidation of the Jewish population of Pshaytsh (Przedecz in Polish). They further told me that Shmuel Abba Abramovitch, who had been hiding with a Christian shoemaker, had been handed over by him to Henkl, an ASA (Sturmabteilung) man, a local German.
Similarly, Menakhem Ravski had been captured by a local German, Friedrich Henebauer, who killed him in Jakubowo (Yakobov in Yiddish) forest.
The surrounding peasants trembled about their own fate and asked me to leave the area. I ran from there to the village of Debina (Dembina in Yiddish), near Klodawa. I thought I could hide there for a short time. However, I felt like an animal being stalked by hunters for its fur. Every rustling sound terrified me. I slept in the fields on the haystacks. For days I did not eat or wash. My nerves were shot to the nth degree. I considered surrendering to the hangmen, but something inside me made we want to live. My goal was to survive and to tell the world of the horrible betrayal perpetrated by the Christian population, resulting the destruction of Polish Jewry.
One night I stole a bicycle and left for Inowroclaw (Inavaratslav in Yiddish). From there I went to Lojewo (Layove in Yiddish), a camp where many girls from Pshaytsh (Przedecz in Polish) had been sent.
After four weeks in the camp, I was chosen as the head of a group in the camp. At that time, I established a workshop where approximately fifty people worked. It is important to mention this because none of the workers in my workshop died, on account of the relatively good conditions they had thanks to this work.
It was an open camp, into which we were permitted to bring food. Also, thanks to this, we were able to live.
Sometime around July August 1943, the head of the camp informed me that the camp was soon to be liquidated, and that all the people would be sent to Poznan to clean up the city after it had been bombed.
However, I overheard that they were sending all of us to Auschwitz. When I told the people in camp, some managed to escape, myself included.
This was Shabbes (Saturday), the 30th of August. That same day, I arrived at a farm not far from Lojewo (Layove in Yiddish). Here, too, there were several girls from Pshaytsh (Przedecz in Polish). Suddenly, before daybreak the next morning, September 1st , I noticed a truck approaching. I didn't have a chance to warn anyone, and I ran off by myself to the field. The following were in the camp: Ruzhe Topolsky, Esther Danielsky and Tobche Danielsky, Kasriel Yakobovitch's two daughters, Soreh Nekhe Haltrikht, Pesia Danielsky. In the field, not far from the camp, I found a shovel and started working. Then I heard the loud screams of the girls as they were being beaten by the Nazis. This was their final journey. They were sent to Auschwitz. Not one of them returned. The screams of these girls as they were being sent off prevent me from forgetting the past.
I then went to hide with a Christian in a village not far from Lojewo (Layove in Yiddish). I stayed there for one week. When he saw I wasn't leaving, he threatened to report me to the police. I told him I would find another place, but that I would return in eight days to get my things which I had hidden with him when I was in the camp. When I returned to collect my belongings, the police were there waiting for me. They tied up my hands and feet and sent me to a jail in Muntfa.
Until 12 o'clock that night I was held in a guarded room where they questioned me about different things. Then, they threw me into a room in a cellar, locked the door and left. I felt these were my last hours.
Once again, I made up my mind not to surrender to death. I used all my strength. I struggled to free myself from the chains restraining my hands and feet. My hands and feet were bleeding after I freed myself, but I didn't feel anything. I broke the window with a piece of iron, which I had found in the cellar, and ran off to the Christian who earlier had turned me over to the Germans, to get the money I had left there. I told him they had freed me, but when I heard the police were chasing after me again, once again I was forced to run. I later learned that the Germans put a bounty of 500 marks on my head.
As I was running, a peddler chased me with a wagon and wanted money. When I gave it to him, he demanded no less than that I should go with him to the gendarmerie. I struggled with him, and I argued, and I got a good beating, but I tore myself away from his hands. Escaping via a deep ditch, the Gentile could no longer chase me. Before the war, this gully had been the boundary between Germany and Poland. I went into the water to hide from this Gentile.
Afterwards, I had to remove my clothes to dry them on the grass. I hid myself naked in a pit in the forest.
Meanwhile, the Christian informed the school children in the area and, together, they began to search for me in the forest. They actually passed right by my hiding spot but did not find me.
Once again, I saved myself from death.
I went to my former camp commander, Patik, in Broniewo (Broynyeve in Yiddish), who had helped many Jews. I asked him to prepare papers for me so that I could live as a Christian. Baltzia Goldman had received such papers. Unfortunately, he was no longer able to help. He told me he was considered suspicious, and the Gestapo was looking for him.
However, he gave me a place to sleep in the loft of the barn.
That night a young Christian apparently wanted to kill me.
He looked for me, but did not find me. When day broke, he left. But I heard him scream that he would kill me yet.
Later, Patik's wife came up to me and brought me food and a rope for me to hang myself. When she left, her husband entered my hiding place and brought me an address in Paproć (Paprotch in Yiddish) of a good friend of his who would hide me. After a week during which she had hidden me, the Christian took me to her sister in Inowroclaw (Inavaratslav in Yiddish). I hid there in a cellar, together with Baltzia Goldman, until the end of the war.
During the year and a half in hiding, we worked for the Christians. I made boots, and Baltzia knit various pieces of clothing. For a bowl of soup in a dark, wet cellar, we paid with hard work. I contracted tuberculosis of the spine. For two years after the war, I lay in a cast. Thanks to the care I received from my wife Baltzia, whom I married after we left the cellar, I survived.
I would like to state that our two sons were the last Jewish children to be born in Pshaytsh (Przedecz in Polish). Today we all live in Israel.
My wish is that my story serves as a warning to the world that there should not be any more wars, any ghettos, any camps or any racial hatred.
by Moishe Bilbasky
Translated by Roberta Paula Books
© by Roberta Paula Books
Reb Itche the Shammesh (beadle or Rabbi's assistant), that is what he was called in town. A last name was not needed, since no one would have used it and no one would have recognized whom they meant.
Reb Itche the Shammesh was something of a scholar, albeit a very modest man. Because of his profession, it is probable that he did not want to display his knowledge. He did not want to embarrass the important men in town, who were proud of their more limited education.
Reb Itche the Shammesh was the center around which revolved all Jewish life in town. Often it seemed that, without him, people would not have known what was going on in town.
He was the steady companion of the Rabbi. Wherever the Rabbi went, Reb Itche accompanied him, whether it be a weekday, Sabbath or a holiday.
Friday at lunchtime, the Rabbi and his shadow would inspect the Eruv in town (a wire boundary within which Jews were permitted to carry objects on the Sabbath) to make sure it had not been harmed, Gd forbid, during the week. More than once, he noticed that the Eruv was ritually unsuitable and there was not enough time to repair it before the Sabbath, and the town was left without the Eruv. Right after lunch, the Rabbi went to the Mikve (bath house) to ritually immerse himself in honor of the Sabbath. Reb Itche was beside him. The Rabbi left the ritual bath. Reb Itche the Shammesh hurried home to grab a wooden hammer, then ran to knock on Jewish doors so that people would hurry their preparations in honor of the Sabbath.
Now came the last few minutes before the Sabbath, and once again Reb Itche was at his post, but now dressed for the Sabbath in his velvet hat and his long delicate kaftan, perhaps his wedding garment. Once again, he ran through the town. Standing on his tippy toes, in every street corner he called out C A A A N D L E S, light your candles! He shouted so loudly that even in heaven they could hear that Jews were preparing to welcome the Sabbath Queen.
When he had finished this task, he walked with slow steps. It was already Shabbes, and everyone knows do not take heavy steps (an admonition not to exert oneself on the Sabbath). Reb Itche walked slowly, step by step to the Rabbi's house and waited with humility for the Rabbi to finish, and they enter the synagogue.
The streets came alive. In every Jewish window
Sabbath candles burned brightly. One could see, through some windows, a woman with a covered head hiding her face in her hands and blessing the Sabbath candles. The tenderness and gentleness of the Jewish mother could be felt at that moment, in the glow of the Sabbath candles on our mothers' faces.
Fathers with children carrying prayer books came out of each house and headed toward the synagogue, or the house of study, or the Khevre Tilim (Society of Psalms) to pray. A mood of holiness settled over the town. Laborers, craftsmen, country peddlers who had worked hard the entire week and carried the burden of earning a living on their bent shoulders. You see the neshome yeseyre (additional soul) that each Jew possesses to give honor to the Sabbath.
And Reb Itche accompanied the Rabbi to synagogue with his slow steps, and one sensed that he, indeed, Itche the Shammesh, was actually Gd's messenger, with his knocking on doors, with his calling light the candles, he played an important role in the holy Sabbath atmosphere that now settled over the town. And if the Eruv was in fact damaged, he would stand in front of the prayer house, the Society of Psalms, between the evening service and the Kabbalah Shabbes (prayer service for the welcoming of the Sabbath), with a red handkerchief tied around his neck, calling out it is forbidden to carry.
The prayer service to welcome the Sabbath ends and everyone goes home. Once again Reb Itche accompanies the Rabbi to his home. Heading home from prayers, every Jews wants to approach the Rabbi to wish him a Good Sabbath, Rebe. And adds Good Sabbath, Reb Itche.
Saturday morning, Jews wake up and recite the Torah portion twice, then the translation once (in other words, the custom was to read the weekly portion twice in Hebrew and once with the Aramaic translation of Onkelos), sometimes also have a bite to eat with a glass of something warm and wait for Itche Shammes's call. And then he appears, with his slow steps, and soon one hears his familiar call: To the Synagoooo … gue!
And the Jews go into the synagogue. After Shacharis (the morning service) and before the Torah reading, his job is to sell the Aliyos (the privilege being called up to the Torah). With a bang of his hand on the reading desk, he calls out: ten grosheyne for a koheyn, twenty grosheyne for a koheyn, and so forth. He does not say groshen as one does all week, but grosheyne, with a shenye (a change in pronunciation) to honor the Sabbath.
After prayers, of course he accompanies the Rabbi home again, to his residence, which borders the house of study. And there, from time to time, a warm reception awaited him. His soninlaw, Reb Elijah Walter, a learned Jew and a fine prayer leader, would recite Sabbath blessings there before the lectern! Or Sabbath of the new month. Some Jews who were still sitting in the House of Study waiting for him would say: Ay, Ay, Reb Itche, everyone enjoyed your soninlaw's service today. He was amazing. And the modest Reb Itche would shake his head. May Gd see to it that he was the real messenger and may Gd accept his prayers on behalf of all people
of Israel. And a special prayer He will redeem us soon, and gather in our exiles from the four corners of the earth.
And when Reb Itche came home and told everything to his wife, they both lifted their hands toward heaven and whispered a prayer to the Creator of the universe. Beloved Gd, we ask you not to disturb our bit of pleasure, as this is the only bit of light in our difficult labored life.
Reb Itche and his wooden hammer had another task. Before Rosh Hashanah, when Selichos (the prayers of repentance) are recited every morning, Reb Itche knocked on Jewish doors before dawn to wake everyone for Selichos. The prayer house filled with people praying. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, wearing his white kittel (white ceremonial robe), with his glasses perched on the tip of his nose, he was the community's messenger from the synagogue up to Gd.
To supplement his income, he provided Pshaytcher (Przedecz) Jews with a certified lulav (for Sukkos) and of willow branches for Hoshana Rabbah.
On Chanukah, when Jews would come to synagogue for evening prayers, Itche Shammesh was also at his post. He was the one to light the Chanukah candles, accompanied with a blessing using a very special melody.
One day before Passover the Rabbi, accompanied by a large portion of the
|The street from the old market where the Shammesh Reb Itche Kovalsky lived.
Standing in front are Simkha Naymark and his wife on their visit to Pshaytch (Przedecz) in 1965.
local gentry, went to the river to draw mayim shelanu, water which would stay overnight for making shmura (watched) matzah. Reb Itche lugged the large wooden bucket. And, while drawing the water, singing took place, chapters from Hallel. Reb Itche carried the heavy water bucket, but every few steps someone took over in order to take part in the good deed of bringing water for the shmura matzah.
Shavuot, the holiday of the giving of the Torah, Reb Itche decorated the synagogue and the house of study with greens, as is the Jewish custom. He did this with such devotion, as if he was actually preparing to receive the gift of Torah.
Understandably, when a legal question was brought before the Rabbi, his task was to bring the litigant to the Rabbi. He remained at his post, ready to carry out any mission, until the end of the litigation.
At meetings of the community council, his job was to carry out all assignments.
When there was a wedding in town, Reb Itche, in the name of the host, invited the guests.
Gd forbid when someone died, Jews wanted to fulfill the good deed of accompanying the deceased to his eternal rest. Reb Itche ran through town calling out for people to attend the funeral. During the funeral, he ran through the crowd with a collection box saying righteousness shields from death.
When the dark clouds of the German fascist occupation fell on Poland, the sky over Pshaytch (Przedecz) darkened as well. Reb Itche was worried about how the institutions of the Jewish community would continue to exist when he, Itche the Shammesh, would not be able to fulfill his role. It was already the days of repentance, when he would wake the people. Would they be permitted to leave their homes in the middle of the night? The occupiers had begun to show who they were. They had already taken away the key to the synagogue, all the community institutions and Jewish organizations were closed. People were afraid to pray in groups, even in private homes. Every day brought new edicts, with their hardships. Jews were being kidnapped for forced labor and were beaten. Half of their beards were cut off. The Rabbi was forced to carry heavy planks of wood while Reb Itche, his companion, had to stand at a distance and watch.
The nights of repentance. Reb Itche looked at his orphaned wooden hammer. Reb Itche and his hammer could no longer carry out their task. But how could we not say the prayers of repentance. Reb Itche scrambled into the yard, and from there into the yard of his neighbors, Avrom Fisher, Shimshon Zielinsky. At the second yard of Khaim Yosef Zielinsky, Yisroel Khaim Zielinsky he tapped lightly on their doors and asked them to come with him to say the prayers of repentance. They comprised
a half quorum of Jews. By the light of a small candle sitting on the floor, his soninlaw Reb Elijah Walter began Ashrei (an adaptation of Psalm 145 as an alphabetic acrostic) Happy are the people who dwell in your house. When he came to the passage Gd is righteous in every way, and faithful in every deed, he broke out with such a wail, joined by all those praying with him, and all said after that The Eternal protects all who seek Gd in love, but will destroy the wicked. And each of them ended the chapter with We will bless Gd now and forever, Hallelujah. Each one of them felt that he was the messenger for all Jews, and at that moment Reb Khaim Yosef the saddle maker said with a broken heart On your doors we knock, compassionate one, don't turn us away empty from before you (from the prayers of repentance). Reb Avrom Fisher continued the prayer: We approach (relying on) your name. Lord, act for the sake of your name because of your name's honor. (This and quotes that follow are from the penitential prayers, called Selichos.)
They continued with the penitential service, and Reb Yisroel Khaim the tinsmith continued, his voice breaking, From the beginning until now, we are exiled, killed, slaughtered and butchered. We remain a tiny remnant among the sharp thorns. With the fearsome wonders of your right hand, we will be saved for eternity. For we trust your abundant mercy, followed by Reb Shimshon Zielinsky: May our pleadings be acceptable as we stand (before you) during the nights. Turn (toward us) favorably, as with a burned and consumed sacrifice. Magnify your miracles, you who does greatly. A few youths from the neighbors arrived and everyone together Hear our voices, Lord, our Gd, look and have mercy upon us, and receive our prayers with mercy and favor. The heavy steps of soldiers could be heard outside, patrolling the town, and Reb Itche, now totally broken, stood up, forgetting about the new situation, and began to chant Hear our voices, Lord, our Gd. Look and have mercy upon us, and receive our prayers with mercy and favor And he said this prayer with such a moaning, it was like two thousand years of Jewish suffering in exile, all the pogroms, slaughters and inquisitions lying on his bowed shoulders. With that, he opened his private Holy Ark, the old dresser where he kept all his ritual items, his prayer shawl and phylacteries, his kittel (white ritual robe), the synagogue's shofar (ram's horn), the synagogue key and his orphaned wooden hammer. They should all bear witness to the fact that, even in these difficult times, Jews were saying the prayers of repentance. And with the spirit of tradition. And when he came to the passage Do not cast us away in old age. When our strength fails, do not abandon us, he wept along with everyone else.
And they continued like this until the service was completed. Help us, Gd of our salvation, because of your honored name, and save us, atone our sins for your name's sake.
In the above mentioned dresser, well hidden in a corner, lay a small package bound with a white string. Once a year, Reb Itche and his wife opened it, aired it out well, and carefully tied it up again. Shrouds. When the time comes that they are called to the world of truth, they should not, Gd forbid, be buried in an unfamiliar shroud…
Itche Kovalsky the Shammesh, his soninlaw Elijah Walter, Avrom Fisher the tanner, Shimshon Zielinsky the tailor, Khaim Yosef the saddle maker, Yisroel Khaim the tinsmith and their sons, who assembled to recite the prayers of repentance, with a few others who risked their lives. With great respect
we must remember their names. With this deed, they were the first in town to raise the flag of resistance against the Nazi occupation.
Reb Itche the Shamesh could not find his footing after they took away the key to the synagogue. His heart told him that the murderers did not want only to kill the Jews, they wanted to annihilate every trace of Jews and Jewishness. The synagogue was in danger. And what would happen to the Torah scrolls? But he convinced himself that, under the circumstances, in the event Gd forbid of a decree to burn the synagogue, there would be more glory for the Torah, since the holy books, too, would go up in flames. The holy letters would reach the Divine Throne and demand a fair trial for Am Yisrael, the Jewish people, the people whom you chose. He believed that each attempt to rescue the books would cost Jewish blood. Maybe that was their intention. Any (rescued) books would be disgraced and mocked. In fact, the barbarians did burn down the synagogue, the night of Shmini Atzeret. In other years, on such a night, all houses of prayer would be packed. Itche remembered how he would be busy in holiday preparations. The holiday mood would have captured young and old. But today transformed the night of Shimini Atzeret into a night they will be made to cry (a reference to the lamentations recited on Tisha b'Av to commemorate the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem), they had to mourn the destruction. And the entire world remained silent.
Reb Itche became unwell and dispirited. The synagogue, the blessed sanctuary, and the holy books were burned. He stood in the corner at his private Holy Ark and asked the master of the universe for salvation as he recited the prayers for the seventh day of repentance.
When the Nazi criminals laid their hands on our community in town, the Pshaytcher (Przedecz) Jewish community was liquidated through the final annihilating deportation to Chelmno on April 24, 1942, the 7th day of Iyar. The Jews were gathered in the local church in the last hours of their lives. Reb Itche the Shammesh sensed his obligation and called out to everyone: Jews, let us say the Vidui (the confessional prayer said by Jews before dying).
And with these holy words, Sh'ma Yisroel (Hear O Israel) on his kosher lips, Itche the Shammesh shared the same fate as all the other Jews from Pshaytch (Przedecz) on their last journey. May the Lord avenge his blood. Let his memory be for a blessing.
by A. Talmid
Translated from the Hebrew by Marshall Grant
© by Roberta Paula Books
I hold in my hands the book, The Warsaw Ghetto Diaries, by Hillel Seidman. This is a new version of the book released in New York in 1957, which follows the first version published in Tel Aviv in 1946. It can be assumed that the thousands of copies are not only in private libraries but also in many universities, and the historian who researches the Holocaust will certainly find interesting information with historical significance between its pages.
Among the book's content is a record of Rabbi Zemelman, who fought in the Warsaw Ghetto and fell fighting the Germans.
While reading the book, I asked myself, how will our sons, who serve in the IDF, appreciate the brave actions of Rabbi Zemelman and his call to rebellion, to purchase arms, and finally, his call to take up arms and fight the Germans. A battle from which he never returned.
Our young soldiers have made heroism a habit during their IDF service. Many have fought in two or three major wars, and others in the smaller ones after the SixDay War. They have shown tremendous courage, and thanks to their heroic actions, the IDF is where it is today. Can they appreciate the heroism shown in the Warsaw Ghetto by such a distinguished man as Rabbi Zemelman?
I asked myself this question, and I have written my responses down on paper. I remember the day that Rabbi Zemelman and his family arrived to accept the position of rabbi in our city. It turned into a celebration! In the early hours of the afternoon, all the city's residents put on their nicest clothes. In the evening, the city's leaders also turned out, supported by the entire Jewish community. There were two young men in costumes riding on horseback at the head of the group who went to receive the rabbi and his family. Upon entering the city, the rabbi alighted from the carriage carrying his family, and as he started walking, the parade began. The rabbi was led under a chuppah (wedding canopy), together with the city's leaders, to the synagogue. There was an honor guard on both sides of the chuppah, with all the other Jewish residents gathered around. Following the festive ma'ariv (the evening prayers) led by the cantor and shochet (ritual slaughterer and examiner), the rabbi was presented with his official rabbinical documents and appointed by the head of the community to his position. He gave a sermon on behalf of the occasion. Of course, it was in Yiddish, but he then spoke in Hebrew, which the rabbi spoke well with an Ashkenazi accent. The crowd was overjoyed. The surprise of the evening came when, after he saw municipal officials and police representatives from the bima, he acknowledged their presence with a speech in Polish, which surprised everyone. There were loud rounds of applause that actually shook the walls of our beautiful synagogue.
He called Ya'akov Tapolsky to the stage and thanked him for the honor guard. Zemelman then expressed hope that he would enjoy the full cooperation of all segments of the population in the future, just as he had been awarded on that day.
As if to endorse this wish, the rounds of applause seemed to go on forever; in fact, our synagogue had never witnessed such an ovation.
Immediately after beginning his tenure, Zemelman worked to develop the Jewish religious institutions that were, at that time, haphazardly operated. They were expanded and placed under public supervision that he himself led. These efforts resulted in the establishment of Beit Ya'akov, a girls' school, the city's second institution, which touched many students. The best teachers were recruited from the city and outside of it, and the results were extraordinary. Whether day or night, voices could be heard from the schools, learning holy scriptures, singing the Gemara and Tanach. The rabbi did not only serve as the principal of the educational institutions, he himself taught lessons to the older students. In fact, thanks to rabbi's efforts and organization, winds of change began to be felt in the city, and in many respects, an awakening had begun.
I had the privilege to be one of his students, and I remember how he was interested in all facets of life.
He was well liked by the public with his courteous behavior and distinguished demeanor. He befriended the wisest students and the city's most humble; no one was too important or insignificant. He always respected those younger than he with his Torah and wisdom, and would always be prepared to share the beauty of Jewish beliefs. In every one of his speeches, he always tried to emphasize the content and philosophy of traditional Judaism. He tied the love of the Torah to the love of the Jewish people.
He was so powerful that even the most mundane conversation became an incredible experience just by hearing his voice. He spent every free moment studying the Torah, in fact it can be said that he never stopped. He wrote interpretations of the Torah and corresponded extensively with the most eminent rabbis in Poland concerning his opinions. He was also well respected among the local Christian community and made friends with many. The city's leaders and clergy were sympathetic to his problems. Every year, he would travel for two to three weeks to Ger and spend time with the Rebbe, whom he deeply admired. Upon his return, he would share his experiences with anyone he encountered, which enabled him to find a common language with some of the youth who were not regular visitors to the synagogue. He heard their problems and their paths to tikkun olam. He would argue with them endlessly, but with mutual respect.
Chess was another field in which he was knowledgeable, and in his spare time, he would play with his students or other acquaintances in the city.
His wife, a rabbanit, in her own right, had a gentle soul. She made her home with comfort and tenderness; she eagerly helped him, and her only request was to stand by the side of her respected husband.
It was not unusual to see lights on in their home at two or three o'clock in the morning while preparing an answer that had to be provided the next day. The shochet had found impurities in a cow that had been slaughtered and brought the question to the rabbi. The rabbi was looking for a way to make the cow kosher, because he knew the shochet's dire financial situation. It continued for almost the entire night. When he had to deem a cow unkosher, it was like part of his heart had been torn away.
The celebration of the sauda shlishit (third Sabbath meal) on Shabbat became wellknown throughout the city. Jewish students would memorize what they had learned so they could participate in the Talmudic discussion held during the meal.
Politically speaking, he was affiliated with Agudat Yisrael, and as part of this organization, he supported efforts for the settlement of Israel. It was not easy for him to come to terms with the fact that some of his students established Mizrachi Youth (Tze'erei Mizrachi). It was the time of the Tarpat riots (1929 in Palestine), the destruction of Hebron's Jewish community in Kiryat Arba, and the brutal murder of tens of yeshiva students by the Arabs.
When his former students were collecting funds for the JNF (Jewish National Fund), they went to his house as well, and the rabbi warmly accepted them. There were some reservations, however, and he explained that as a member of Agudat Yisrael, he could not contribute, but he sent them to his wife, who gave a substantial contribution.
I will note a small, but important, detail. He was never a physically strong man.
The years went by and he took care of the community and provided for their spiritual needs. His dedication was complete. More than once, he was offered positions in larger cities, with a larger salary, but Przedecz was his city, and he would not leave. With every ounce of his soul, he was dedicated to the community and its members.
Then the war broke out, and the Polish friends became enemies overnight. It was with their help that the Germans began to harass the Jews.
The Germans did everything they could to humiliate him, and thus break the community's spirit of resistance. He was made to work in forced labor in the market square so he would be seen by the city's Christians and Jews. When a Jewish man begged the Germans to let him work instead of the rabbi, he was beaten so severely he began to bleed. While this was seen by the rabbi and the others present, the worst humiliation was when they shaved the rabbi's beard, and the beards of all Jews in the city. Of course, they did not do this gently, and it can be assumed that this was the moment the seeds of revenge were planted and began to grow in Zemelman's heart.
The night of Shmini Atzeret (a Jewish holiday) arrives, and it is this of all nights that turned into a night of lament. The synagogue was ablaze, curfew was being enforced in the city, and several of Przedecz's Jews take their lives into their own hands and visit the rabbi's home. They pleaded, Rabbi, please, let us try and save the Torah scrolls from the burning synagogue, no matter what the cost. Why did the Nazis choose the night of Shemini Atzeret of all nights to turn into a night of destruction? The rabbi was moved by their very presence in his home and by their willingness to make such a holy sacrifice, but he ordered them not to do anything at this time. This is the time to protect our lives. The Germans are planning a bloodbath, and it is unlikely the Torah scrolls can be saved. We are commanded to respect the Torah, but we are also commanded to save our lives. The very fact you came here under the threat of death is greatly honoring the Torah. In the situation we find ourselves in, the biggest honor will be when the holy parchments and letters will rise in flames to the heavens and will stand before the holy throne, and in their presence, they will remember and acknowledge the holy communities, which died a martyr's death.
The rabbi turned and faced the corner and stood there for a moment. When he turned around, tears could be seen falling from his eyes. He said, Friends, I have known you for years, and we have not always agreed on everything and we have had our differences, but your willingness to sacrifice yourselves shows how devoted you are to Judaism, and how the treasures of our people are dear to you. We are all praying that our eyes behold your return to Zion with mercy. It could be that Saul's suffering ended in exile, but let us all now promise, in this significant time, that if, with God's help, we stay alive, we will remove the chains of exile, we will return to our homeland and fight for a Jewish state in the Land of Israel. We will collect the holy letters from our Torah that rose to the heavens engulfed in flames, and we will carry them through the ocean of Jewish tears created from 2,000 years of diaspora. And with these letters, weakened by fire and water, we will write new Torah scrolls, we will build beautiful synagogues, and this will be so very magnificent, a sight the world will have never before seen.
The atmosphere in the room was almost charged with electricity. Those present were all deeply moved and agreed with the rabbi's words. They said, our teacher, our rabbi, we are with you!
and the synagogue was in flames…
All the participants remained in the rabbi's home until the morning, as he had instructed, in order to not needlessly risk their lives.
When they departed, he turned to them and said, my friends, we will cling to life and pray to our fathers in the heavens that we will be worthy to revenge the Amalek of our times, how they tortured us, the people of Israel and everything sacred to Judaism. This is a calling to impose the revenge of God on the Nazi vermin, and only then will we be worthy and be entitled to celebrate our holidays in the Land of Israel.
The day after the holiday, the rabbi, accompanied by his oldest son, Yehoshua Elimelech, went to where the synagogue once stood. They broke into tears, and the rabbi begged for forgiveness and compassion for not trying to rescue the place of worship and the Torah scrolls within. It was his respect for the synagogue that influenced him he did not want tens of fatalities as the Nazis had planned. My dear son, we follow the sanctity of life, therefore we must plan for the day we can take revenge for all that has been inflicted on us and our holy sites. This will be divine revenge of today's Amalek. We will be the messengers, and we will restore our pride and splendor.
On that same day, the rabbi was made to sign, under threat and humiliation, that he and his congregants were responsible for burning the synagogue. He also took upon himself, under the orders of the Nazis, to pay a fine.
The rabbi, despite the humiliation he suffered, was time and time again required to approach the military administrators and try, for the good of his community, to postpone one of the upcoming decrees against the Jews. There were times he succeeded, but everyone knew it was only a temporary postponement. The Nazi monster had not abandoned its plans.
Yes, the Nazi machine continued to destroy and kill. Tens of youngsters from his community were sent to labor camps, two of the rabbi's daughters among them. It was forced labor, punishment camps. Some were able to send letters, others were not. News arrives about the youngsters, most of them tortured or murdered while working. Older people are also sent to labor camps, and no family in the city remains completely intact.
Half of Przedecz's Jews are in labor camps. The others are made to leave their homes and move to the ghetto. Helpless and defenseless, the Jews succumb to their fate and leave the homes they have lived in for decades and leave for the ghetto. Everyone is humiliated; they are hoping for a miracle while clinging to their instinct to live. Their husbands, sons, and daughters are in the labor camps and they are waiting for a letter, a sign of life. No one knows who has the better fate: those who remained, or those who were sent away.
This is the way they lived, in the harshest of conditions, with a unique stubbornness in their belief they would again live in comfort and their children and relatives would return from the camps. They planned for better days.
But as it turned out, it was all for naught.
On the 7th of Iyar, 5702; April 24, 1942, the Jews of Przedecz are destroyed. They are sent to the valley of death, infamously known as Chelmno. They are asphyxiated in the vans of death.
And here I hold before me The Diaries of the Warsaw Ghetto, by Hillel Seidman. The book
describes life in the Ghetto, the horrors they experienced, being sent to the labor camps, and the arrests. Community leaders convene, including the Admorim and other rabbis to discuss the situation. The urgent issue at hand was whether the Germans were actually planning to destroy Warsaw's Jewry. The largest concentration of Jews in Europe? There are optimists, and there are pessimists.
The optimists: our strength is in our numbers. Half a million people. They wouldn't dare! Warsaw is strength! They will have to take this influence into consideration. There are many Christians who want the ghetto to remain, and there are Germans who want the Ghetto to remain. The German tax office receives 25% of the value of the goods that enter as a gift. The Commissar also receives huge sums of money and other gifts from the community for various measures of relief. And secondly, the soldiers: if the Ghetto is destroyed, they will be sent to the front. And last but not least, the Ghetto produces a great deal, it is an important economic hub, and it is inconceivable that the Germans will want to eliminate it.
And on the other side were the pessimists: yes, they will dare! The Nazis are capable of anything. They are not to be believed; the Germans don't take anything into consideration. We are in great danger, and we need to think about how to rescue ourselves. The pessimists prevailed.
And then there were proposals: to collect great sums of money and bribe the Gestapo. To collect gold and offer bribes. A proposal is made to send a delegation to the GovernorGeneral; others suggest opening new factories to produce more, and in this way prevail.
Mr. Yosef Kennigsburg, who recently arrived from Lublin, where he miraculously survived the expulsion, provides chilling details of the destruction there. He asks us not to succumb to their deceptions. We need to immediately adopt any means of survival available. A proposal is made to secretly send a delegation to Switzerland and to appeal to international public opinion from there. England must recognize all the Jews, at least until the war is over, as citizens of Eretz Yisrael; America must take us under its wings; the Pope must be asked to issue a special appeal.
But what can be done when we are locked in jail? How can we send an envoy to Switzerland when anyone who crosses the street faces the penalty of death? Our brothers abroad will not understand, at least this time, the huge danger of annihilation, nor will the world's conscience be shaken. Little by little, the participants become pale as they understand that all the rescue plans are unfeasible and cannot be achieved. We are helpless, we are lost.
And we read on (Ed. Note: in The Diaries of the Warsaw Ghetto, by Hillel Seidman):
Among the village refugees who now arrived in Warsaw is Rabbi Zemelman, Przedecz's rabbi. He also tells of the destruction of rural Jewish communities, both large and small. That rabbi is an activist in the Aguda and a talented scholar, who tried to make contact with leftwing Polish partisans. He would sneak over to the Aryan side and behave as if he belonged there, and would return with weapons and ammunition. His calls for revolt were met with firm resistance.
Today I heard Rabbi Zemelman speak in a secret meeting in the Bunker. He is a talented speaker with fire in his soul; he describes the inconceivable scenes from the destruction of Jewish communities. He calls for vengeance, Great is revenge that is given between two names of God, referring to the Talmud's definition of a God of retribution.
He also proposes a detailed plan for an uprising, and he takes it upon himself to provide arms and ammunition.
He does not just demand action from others, he acts himself. Today, for example, he provided the Defense Committee 12 pistols and several boxes of bullets.
When he went on a mission to purchase weapons, he did it as if he was hearing the tortured cries of his children, of his saintlike wife; the cries of the hundreds of children from his community, and of every Jew in Przedecz; the cries of millions of Jews across Europe who are being tortured and cruelly murdered; the cries of our fathers in the heavens. Oh, compassionate God above, for your holy name in this world, we will inflict our vengeance.
He demanded our blood be avenged from our nemesis. Please, God, do not let our sacrifice be in vain, pursue and destroy them.
Rabbi Zemelman saw himself as a divine messenger to take revenge, in His name, for what the Nazis have inflicted on us.
He visited the rabbis and Admors and demanded they also call for revolt and vengeance. I was told that he visited a meeting of the pioneers, the core of the insurgence, and he captivated their young minds. Last week there was a heated exchange between him and Bund representatives who instructed that the insurgency wait for a sign from London and their socialist comrades on the Aryan side. And it was Rabbi Zemelman who proved all this was all an illusion, all in vain.
In other words, it was Rabbi Zemelman who first initiated the uprising and reprisal in the Ghetto among religious and other circles. When asked the questions, Rabbi, with empty fists we will rise up against the Germans? Can a tight fist overcome them? He proved they would fight with more than a tight fist. He slipped to the Aryan side and returned with arms and ammunition. I am sure he witnessed divine miracles.
It is hard to imagine that here there are groups organizing to fight the Germans, groups of hungry and depressed boys, most of whom have lost a large part of their families but they are not humbled. Their souls are prepared to fight the Nazi animals, and this, Zemelman considered a presentday miracle, a miracle from the heavens.
Then an announcement appeared, signed by many officials, including the President of the Jewish Council,
Engineer Mark Lichtenbaum, calling for the Jewish population to volunteer to travel to Poniatow and Trawniki, near Lublin, for work. They were promising the volunteers would work in good working conditions.
The Jewish National Council convened and decided not to encourage travel. The Gestapo local collaborators have betrayed us in the past, we will not move from here. The rabbis, with the active participation of Rabbi Zemelman, issued a declaration calling on the population not to travel. The slogan: Our Numbers Our Strength. Any separation, any division weakens our opposition, and it is treasonous to the memory of our loved ones and it is treasonous to ourselves.
This policy was successful; the Jews are not volunteering to travel. Nevertheless, those hungry and starving were prepared to leave. The Jewish Resistance Movement, together with the rabbis, and again, with the active participation of Rabbi Zemelman, create a special fund from monies aggressively collected from the city's affluent to support the needs of those who were able to persevere and not have to travel due to hunger.
But the fateful hour was approaching. The holiday commemorating our freedom began, and so did the revolt. When it became apparent the Germans were planning to
destroy the Ghetto, the password was given: armed opposition and revolt, courage under fire.
The battle for the Ghetto had begun.
In the uprising's headquarters, people gather for the seder, haphazardly, with the participation of Rabbi Zemelman. He asks, Would anyone be as wise as to express his interpretation given by the freedom fighters in those times and conditions to the phrase, ‘Why is tonight different from all other nights?’ Can we feel the excitement when they said, ‘Pour out Your wrath upon the nations that do not acknowledge You, for they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitation? Pour out your anger, and destroy them from beneath God's heavens’. The seder continues, they are wonderful times. The fear of death is replaced with another feeling, of Pesach and resistance, holiday and struggle.
And the battle for the Ghetto has begun.
The commanders of the uprising give orders to open fire, and the results that evening were that no Germans were to be seen on the streets. It seems that they too are afraid of the angel of death, especially when hundreds of their comrades had already been injured. They know that every home has a Jewish soldier lying in wait for them, and they retreat.
The soldiers also continue to take action in the post called North. One of the commanders there is Rabbi Zemelman.
And the Polish partisans, who promised to join when the insurgence began? They idly watched the battle from the side.
No delusions, no help from anyone.
And the Ghetto is in flames. The Jewish solders, among them Rabbi Zemelman, face the overwhelming Nazi war machine with extraordinary bravery. This is not a battle of equals. This is a battle of modern weaponry against the spirit of bravery, against soldiers who left for battle chanting God is a God of vengeance, and the God of vengeance appeared. This is the story told about Rabbi Zemelman's last battle, and the one in which he fell. May God revenge his soul.
Rabbi Zemelman and his comrades stood strong in a bitter and stubborn battle; they fought bravely, with heroism and sacrifice, and paid with their lives.
That is the way they fought, as heroes, as grandchildren of the Maccabees, and we have achieved a Jewish nation
in the Land of Israel following the years of Holocaust and heroism, achieved through a bloody war. It was the uprising in the ghettos, a spark that burned and became a flame, that ignited the hearts of other soldiers in Israel: the heroic IDF soldiers who have bravely fought in the wars of our lifetime and who promise that another Holocaust will never happen again.
It was Rabbi Zemelman, the rabbi of Przedecz, who was one of those who lit the spark that would become an inextinguishable flame.
This is how Rabbi Yosef Alexander Zemelman sanctified God's name during his life and in his death. He has been promised a place of honor on the long list of Israel's heroes.
May his soul be bound in the bundle of life.
by Rabbi Itzhak Yedidia Frankel
Translated by Marshall Grant
© by Roberta Paula Books
By generous permission of the Great Rabbi, Yitzhak Yedidia Frankel, for the memorial book dedicated to the innocent Jews of Przedecz
We have just completed the memorial service next to the monument commemorating the Warsaw Ghetto. The monument lies on the corner of Ganesha-Dazika streets, in front of the military prison. In the past, the square was the center of Jewish activity. The intersections of Nalewki, Pawia and Dezalna Streets were filled day and night with vibrant Jewish life, full of energy and activity. And now - there are only the walls of the military prison; only they remain as testimony to the destruction of Warsaw in those days.
The entire area was a mountain of rubble, and no two bricks remained cemented together. Over the last few years, apartments for workers have been built, and on the Umschlagplatz, a granite memorial has been erected, representing the struggle, uprising and destruction.
The Mute Memorial Cries Out to All
The abandoned memorial stands mute and cries out to all.
It was to this memorial that Jewish delegations flowed from around the world to pay their respects and admiration to the Jews who heroically gave their lives in the uprising of the
|Translation from Polish: In this place, on the 8th of May 1943,
the commander of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising,
Mordechai Anielewicz, died a heroic death, together with his staff and tens of soldiers who took part
in the revolt against the German murderers.
Warsaw Ghetto twenty years ago. At 4 p.m. this Friday, the Sabbath evening of the Shmini Torah portion, we arrived in the thousands to the memorial's square and waited for the ceremony to begin. Lines and lines of Polish policemen separated the official delegations that had arrived from around the world and the curious spectators who began to gather from every direction.
An armed Polish battalion has gathered in the center of the square. Members of government have arrived, as have prominent Jewish educators and international delegations, which have brought 237 flower wreaths to be laid at the base of the memorial. The delegation from Israel has also arrived, including Dr. Adolf Berman. The Polish and international press are also present with their radio and television teams.
We stand at attention and listen to the notes of the Polish national anthem Poland is not yet lost, so long as we still live. Yes… Poland is not lost… but Poland's Jewry? Our heart is torn to shreds as the military officer speaks about those who have fallen fighting fascism, and then requests that all anti-fascist forces unite in the common struggle against its resurrection. Our hearts raged and overflowed; God in the heavens, what is going on here? Did we come to a memorial service for Polish soldiers who died in battle? Is this also the way its Jewish fighters of Warsaw fell? Were there not cries of revenge and Shema Yisrael that could be heard? And the whispering of I Believe?
A Jewish Mark has been Left on the Ceremony
Finally, the general ends his speech by calling, Respect their memory!. The soldiers presented their arms and everyone was silent. Hearts beat strongly and shook. I left the line I was standing in with determined strides towards the memorial. And when I reached the military officer, I gathered all my strength, and the strength of many other pure souls that filled the space, and I screamed
On the left, in the beret and wearing medals, Mr. Yitzhak Zanderman, the Chairman of the Israeli branch of the Association of Disabled Veterans of the War Against the Nazis.
a scream that shattered the surrounding silence: Yitgadal v'yitkadash sh'mei raba! [Exalted and hallowed be God's great name] The pen cannot describe what transpired at that moment. From all sides there was crying and wailing and many even joined the saying of the Kaddish prayer. We stared in the direction of those gathered around the square, beyond the lines of the Polish police. Hysterical cries and screams were heard from there. It turns out that the crowd was Jewish, a crowd that cannot recognize its own members on any other day. Today, however, it was this tragic Kaddish that broke the ice, and all the sorrow and pain that had accumulated in their hearts could finally be released.
The military commander, government officials and the entire diplomatic corps, from the East and the West, all remained at attention. Their faces become pale as Poland shook from cries and lament.
This was the Jewish mark left at this official ceremony, integrated into the official texts that would come later. From this moment on, let every person in Poland know that this is our memorial service, and for that reason alone Jews from all over the world have come to commemorate their brothers and sisters who fell in the uprising and struggle in the name of God.
On Route to Mila 18
We leave the square; the police open a corridor through the crowded throng that have come to see us. An old handicapped man, sitting in a wheelchair, insists with his words and a glance that we approach him. We come to him and he grabs my hand and covers it with kisses and tears. The eyes of all those around us are puffy and red. Under the ice, warm springs of repressed and expecting Jewish souls have been discovered. We march from the square towards Mila 18, where Mordechai Anielewicz, the commander of the uprising, and his comrades fell. This visit was not part of the official plan, but the Israeli delegation unexpectedly decided to go there. The other delegations marched after us.
We arrive at Mila Street, which no longer really exists. Somehow, at some time, a few new houses were erected among the rubble, but Mila 18 and its surroundings are still in ruins and desolate. The bunker built with reinforced cement that served the commander of the uprising protrudes from the ground. The names of the fallen are etched in the concrete in Polish and Yiddish. Here, on May 8, 1943, the last of the soldiers fighting the Germans fell after lighting the flame of revolt on April 19, 1943. And the names appear:
Mordechai Anielewicz, the commander of the uprising, Arie Wilner, E. Fondiminsky, Mira Fuchrer, Lev Grizlatz, Sara Żagiel, Lejb Rotblat, Berl Braude, Szyja Szpancer, Haim Akerman, and others.
The bunker's block of concrete protrudes from the pile of ruins we have all climbed together. We stood in silence, feeling that we were standing on the Masada of European Jewry. Fear and trembling engulfed us as we lit a fire as a memorial flame for the fallen, where the ground was soaked with the blood they shed. I said the prayer Maleh Rachamim (prayer for the souls of the deceased), please, do not be silent or show restraint when the blood of Israel is shed like water - Oh land, do not cover their blood until retaliation and revenge are delivered.
My lips whispered Psalm 142, when David was in the cave of prayer, My voice cries out to God. I said the Kaddish in a broken voice and looked around. I saw my Jewish brothers there, and they were just like me, with their heads bowed contemplating the holiness of the ground on which they stood. Before me stood Stimson, an English cleric from London, the head of the Jewish Friendship League, who arrived with a Jewish delegation from London. He approached me, and with tears in his eyes, and he looked away; there is no repentance and no forgiveness for these horrific crimes! Including those who stood by and let it happen.
|A Polish general, disabled veteran from the war against the Nazis, next to the memorial during the Kaddish prayer|
Welcoming the Sabbath in Warsaw's Only Synagogue
The clock shows 6:30 p.m., 15 minutes until the Shabbat (Sabbath) candles must be lit, according to Warsaw time. I am rushing to reach the only remaining synagogue in Warsaw before Shabbat arrives. It is located at 6 Twarda Street, and no one knows or can explain what caused the Germans to leave this synagogue untouched after they had completely demolished and left no remnant of any other synagogue in Warsaw, or in Poland for that matter. I travel in the Ambassador's car, which brings me to my destination: the route from Zamenhof to Twarda Street, now named Craiova Army Street. It is destroyed and deserted, except for the square that used to be named Dzerzhinsky Platz. A statue of Dzerzhinsky stood in the middle; he was ethnic Polish, one of the founders of the October Revolution.
Up ahead are the former offices of the Finance Ministry, which currently houses the Warsaw Municipality. The previous municipality building on Tatralani Platz was completely destroyed; the entire area around the Tatralani Platz and Bielańska Street was turned into a barren desert.
We pass Dzerzhinsky's square towards Twarda Street; along the way, everything is abandoned, scorched earth. The fašade of building number 6 no longer exists, and only the NoŻyk Synagogue, located in the yard, remains completely untouched. I enter the synagogue, everything is exactly as it was back then, except for the minimal lighting and emptiness projecting a mood of depression and heartbreak.
It is getting late by the time a minyan (prayer quorum) gathered. The minyan was composed of officials from the Warsaw community, whose job it was to oversee the kosher kitchen next to the synagogue, and to guard the synagogue and the cemetery on Ganesha Street. After the prayers, we went up to the kitchen and recited blessings with wine from Israel, and celebrated the Jewish commandments.
Standing Proud Through the City's Streets
I decided that on Saturday morning I would approach the Jewish delegation and anyone else who, in the name of Israel, would be willing to march with us, together, to the synagogue through the streets of Warsaw, completely outdoors and under the sun. This way all the gentiles will know that Joseph still lives and that the Jews are marching proud and erect through Warsaw's streets! Everyone who heard my offer willingly and enthusiastically accepted: the Israeli delegation, and those from England, France, the USA, Mexico and more, including those from neighboring countries: Czechoslovakia, Hungary and East Germany. The Israeli ambassador decided, together with his employees, to join us as well. It is interesting that Dr. Darin, a Mapam (left wing political party) member, and Ruzka Korczak, a former partisan and currently a kibbutz member, were the first to warmly accept my offer.
At 10 a.m., under the bright sun, we walked down Jerozolimskie (Jerusalem) Avenue and Marszałkowska Street; more than 100 Jews from all over the world, among them, Mr. Banet Janner, a British Member of Parliament, Mr. Harry Lundy, Rabbi Heschel, Rebbe Amos from England, a French admiral and officials of the Joint (the Joint Distribution Committee) in Europe. Elderly Polish men and women watched the rare event, and many even crossed themselves; they thought that these were the Jews who had been sent to Auschwitz and who have now been resurrected.
Dancing Among the Ruins
The Sabbath welcomed the Hebrew month of Iyar, and as it was my mother's yahrzeit (anniversary of death), I led the morning prayers. I asked Rabbi Katz from Bratislava to say a few words to those present. Even though he initially declined, he later accepted my request and rose speak, and these were his short words: This week, in the Shmini Torah portion, we read, 'And Moses spoke harshly unto Aaron, and unto Eleazar and unto Ithamar, his sons that were left'. Dear brothers, we are the sons that are left. And we ask that you not be angry at us if your eyes see things that are unthinkable or if you are unable to understand our words. We ask God for better days. Immediately after him, the writer of these lines [Ed. Note: e.g., Rabbi Frankel] returned to the pulpit and began, In the Shmini Torah portion it says, 'And let the whole house of Israel bewail the burning which God hath kindled.' This is why we came here, to bewail the burning
which God hath kindled. After me, Dr. H. Shashkas, from the USA, gave an emotional speech. People held hands and flags flew, and then they spontaneously began singing the song: And We Were Dispersed Among the Gentiles.
Hand-in-hand and shoulder-to-shoulder, we lift our feet and we cry our tears, and again and again we sing, And we were dispersed among the Gentiles, Jews from the East and West, from one side to another. And we were dispersed among the Gentiles… This dance became a release from all the emotional tension, a sort of purification and elevation. It echoed in our ears for hours to come.
|With God's help,
I have hereby written my notes on [illegible] and I hereby authorize you to print them, and to print the picture.
By the way, I have left out the two rabbis: Rabbi Goldberg from [illegible] and Rabbi Zemelman, may God revenge their souls, [illegible] - Przedecz was so very fortunate to have such an esteemed and respected rabbi. [Bold type added by Editor.]
Respectfully yours, [illegible]
Translated by Jerrold Landau
© by Roberta Paula Books
On page 153 of his book Warsaw Ghetto Diary,, the accomplished writer Hillel Seidman portrays Rabbi Zemelman's reputation and role in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
Rabbi Zemelman Calls for Revolt and Revenge
Among the refugees of the town who have now come to Warsaw, there is also Rabbi Zemelman, the rabbi of Przedecz. He also tells about the annihilation of the Jewish communities, small and large, in the outlying cities. That rabbi, Aguda activist, and great scholar attempted to forge connections with the left-leaning Polish partisans. He snuck over to the Aryan side, stayed there like a pure Aryan, and brought guns and arms to the ghetto. With great enthusiasm, he called for resistance.The last time we heard from Rabbi Zemelman of blessed memory was mentioned on page 257 of the aforementioned book.
Today, I heard Rabbi Zemelman speaking in a clandestine meeting in the bunker. He spoke with great talent. With the full fire of his soul, he described the scenes of atrocities of the annihilation of Jewish communities, and he called for revenge. Great is revenge, for it is found between two letters. [he said], basing it on the Talmudic explanation of A L-rd of revenge is G-d. [Psalms 94:1].
He also proposed a detailed plan for an uprising. He took it upon himself to provide arms and weapons (which had already happened, incidentally even then, on a large scale). Not only did he speak finely, but he also acted finely. For example, today, he gave over 12 guns and several crates of bullets to the committee. He visited all the rabbis and Admorim [Hassidic Rebbes] and demanded that they also call for revolt. I am told that he visited a group of pioneers [chalutzim] who formed the central kernel of the resistance, and enthused the very young pioneers. Last week, sharp words were exchanged between him and the Bund forces, who had said that they must wait for a sign from London, and their comrades the Socialists from the Aryan side. He proved that all these excuses are for naught
From the burning house on 17 Mila Street, a group of armed Yeshiva students emerged with hand grenades and Molotov cocktails. Rabbi Zemelman and Rabbi Reuven Horowic joined them, as they ran in the direction of Zamenhhof and Kopieca streets. Along the way, they saw S.S. groups and excavators who were going from house to house and setting them on fire. The lads (most from the minyan of Gerrer Hassidim on Nolawki 19) immediately entered the gate of the house at 44 Zamenhof, from where they threw hand grenades and Molotov cocktails at the Germans, and the Germans threw hand grenades back at them. The person who told this story does not know what happened after that because it had become too dangerous to see what was happening.[Page 192]
This is the last we hear of Rabbi Zemelman, Rabbi Reuven Horowic, and the groups of Yeshiva students. Several other people who were saved from the ghetto (Berish Erlich, Rabbi Meir Zemba, and others) who are currently in Landsberg near Munich served as eyewitnesses to the aforementioned facts.
We further bring a few more citations from that same book Warsaw Ghetto Diary, from pages 241, 248, 251, and 256, where the name of the hero Rabbi Yosef Aleksander Zemelman, may the memory of the holy be blessed, is mentioned.
Page 241: The Rabbis to whom many asked for their advice about whether to remain in the ghetto or to volunteer to travel to Poniatów and Trawniki near Lublin to work in the German enterprises under good conditions commanded them to remain in the place and not to go voluntarily, for it was the ruse of the Nazis to bring the Jews out willingly and transport them to the gas chambers of Treblinka. Among the rabbis who entered the Yeshiva on Kopieca Street, where Rabbi Menachem Ziemba lived in the dwelling of his nephew Yitzchak Ziemba, there was rabbi Goldszland of Sierpc (who was once the rabbi in the city of Przedecz before the arrival of Rabbi Zemelman), Rabbi Ber of Zduńska Wola, Rabbi Treistman of Łódź, Rabbi Zemelman of Przedecz; and several other rabbis mentioned in this book.
Page 248: On 21 Zamenhof Street across from Kopieca Street at the central command of the party, a Passover Seder was conducted. Present were Rabbi Reuven Horowic (an activist of Mizrachi, the rabbi of Olek), Rabbi Zemelman of Przedecz (from the Agudas Yisroel youth), the Rodal brothers, Aniliewicz, Tusia, Yosef Kenigsberg, his son-in-law Simcha, and others. The Rabbis did not preach, but rather uttered slogans calling for persistence and battle.
Rabbi Goldszlag describes the Passover Seder at the home of Rabbi Menachem Ziemba on 7 Kopieca.
Page 251: The Jewish fighters remain on guard in a state of readiness. A reinforcement arrived from Muranowska, where the Northern sector command was located, and from Świętokrzyska, where the Southern sector command was located. Rabbi Reuven Horowic, Rabbi Zemelman of Przedecz, Ajchenbaum (a Revisionist who escaped from Majdanek to Warsaw), and a group of chalutzim, including Meir Tajlblum and Yitzchak Szcrabti, and others stood at the head.
Page 256: The head command of the brigade worked on Mila 21, where Mendel Kirszenbaum, his daughter and son-in-law Birenbaum, Aleksander Landau and his daughter (who fell when she tossed a bomb at a German captain on the sixth day of the revolt), Rabbi Zemelman of Przedecz, Rabbi Horowic, Nachum Rembo and his wife, Anielewicz, Tyusia, Kaminer, the son-in-law and daughter of Dr. Sziper, and others were found. They directed the battle in the Zamenhof-Muranowskia-Kopieca sector. In the meantime, the sounds of explosions and flames approached, and the smoke could already be felt. The situation became unbearable. What to do? To move to another place? To where?...
And thus we come to the end of the sad ghetto tragedy, when we brought Rabbi Zemelman out of the battle from the house at Mila 17 which was burning. A group of S.S. men were going along, and the threw grenades and Molotov cocktails. After the battle, we heard no more news of Rabbi Zemelman. He certainly fell there as
a fighter among the thousands of other fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto, and one of the great leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising against the German Nazi murderers who killed and annihilated 6,000,000 Jews, the best and finest of European Jewry. Above all, he smuggled weapons into the ghetto at the risk of his life. May his great and holy memory be etched in all the survivors of Przedecz, and spread through the entire world forever. May his holy member be blessed, and his bravery and holiness never depart from our midst.
Now we bring a personal letter of appreciation from that same writer, Hillel Seidman, who lives in America. He, who personally knew Rabbi Yosef Aleksander Zemelman of blessed memory and his great traits, writes about him and his great personality and activity, especially for the Yizkor Book:
Rabbi Zemelman was a young man, a great scholar, full of energy and enthusiasm a holy flame burned within him, for all the martyrs of Israel as well as for the Land of Israel. He was among the leaders of the Agudas Yisrael youth, for which he worked with enthusiasm and dedication. In the conventions of the movement, he appeared as an orator forged of flames of fire. He did not relate to the troubles and aspirations of the nation with indifference rather, he was completely consumed with the love of Jews. We knew the man and his manner of speaking, and we learned to appreciate and love him. He was always involved with activities and ideas. He made demands upon others, but he served as an exemplary model. He was always the Nachshon , ready to jump into any sea.[Page 194]
Indeed, the vast majority of Agudas Yisroel youth gathered around the Land of Israel. That means that their desire was for aliya and the upbuilding of the Land, and they also wanted to join hachsharah [organizations for aliya preparation] and to obtain certificates for aliya. Indeed, Rabbi Zemelman of blessed memory was among those who expressed these aspirations without reservation or hesitation, without circumlocution. The atmosphere immediately warmed when he rose to the podium of the conventions, for they knew that his words would be fiery and lofty.
He still stands before the eyes of my spirit with the full enthusiasm of his fiery soul as he expressed himself with his logical words accompanied by a plethora of honest emotion, for the man was true to himself. He never cowed before anyone, and he was not afraid to express his opinion against the opinion of the hesitators and hemmers and hawers. He did not give up, especially regarding matters of the Land of Israel.
Along with this, he fought for the independence of Orthodox Jewry against all who plotted to be its representatives unjustly and without any rights that is, the assimilationists as well as the secular Zionists, who trampled over the heads of the holy nation. This battle especially came to expression at the time of the elections to the communal councils, city councils, Sejm, and senate (Polish parliament). At such times, the battle heated up in its full strength, and Rabbi Zemelman was, as always, one of the chief fighters. Then, at the end of 1942 and the beginning of 1943, after the great killing when only few were left, we found out that Rabbi Zemelman of Przedecz was wandering about the city in the ghetto and in Aryan neighborhoods calling for resistance and revolt. Many youths gathered around him, and he stood at the head of a strong, close-knit group that later participated in the uprising. They all fell in battle.
Other details on his activities in the underground and the uprising are not known to me, since I was already imprisoned by the Germans during the time of the uprising in April 1943, and the information reaching me was perforce choppy. I only remember that Rabbi Yehuda Leib Orlian, who had been the head of the Beis Yaakov seminary in Krakow and was then in Warsaw, told me a great deal about the activities and words of Rabbi Zemelman. He astounded us as a man of the uprising, since not only rabbis, but also the vast majority, was not inclined toward such.
Another surprise for me was the fact that after the Holocaust, the historians of the uprising did not see it fitting to give prominence to the activities of Rabbi Zemelman. It seems that the inclination to forget the role of an Orthodox rabbi in these event was increasing. Even the discoverers of the Hassidic uprising that did not take place skipped over this wonderful personality.
I knew him well since we were comrades in outlook, especially with regard to the Land of Israel, and I very much held in esteem his good nature, generous traits, great strength, and willingness to go to battle for the sake of his nation.
May his memory not depart from us.
Such was the man such was Rabbi Yosef Aleksander Zemelman, the final rabbi of the town of Przedecz (Pshaytsh), and one of the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto.
May his soul be bound in the bonds of eternal life.
Translated by Janie Respitz
© by Roberta Paula Books
This is an excerpt from the book Ash and Fire by the poet Yakov Pat. We are bringing you this excerpt from the book about the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto after the uprising by the heroes against the beastly German murderers, the murderers of the Jewish people. Practically with bare hands, these last Jewish fighters in the Warsaw ghetto fought the murderers as they did not want to be led like sheep to the slaughter. One of the heroic ghetto heroes was the rabbi from Przedecz Rabbi Yosef Alexander Zemelman of righteous blessed memory. This great scholar and leader, with his gentleness and kindness illuminated our town. He had a bubbly nature just like Rabbi Akiva of blessed memory, who during the days of Bar Kochba witnessed the destruction of the Holy Land. He called for an uprising against the Romans and did not allow them to submit to slaughter. This is what Rabbi Zemelman did when he called upon ghetto Jews to fight the Nazi animals. He died a hero, fighting, as we will soon describe.
Therefore we are presenting the above mentioned excerpt from the book:
On the Grave of My People
Today I was at the grave of my people for the fourth time in the former Warsaw Jewish ghetto.
I went to say goodbye in silence, perhaps for the last time, to my former Jewish Warsaw. Four times I climbed through the massive ruins of our people. The first time, I was very nervous to go deep into the destruction. When I returned the second time, I crawled and ran up and down the hills, in the depth of this large area where the upheaval of our history had transpired. The third time, I spent hours walking and searching for remnants of my ten years on the streets of Warsaw.
The fourth time, I went to say goodbye, in order to take the largest grave of the Jewish people into my eyes and heart, to be able to always see and feel it.
And now, at night, a few hours before I leave Warsaw, I write these lines and would like to recite psalms just as our fathers and grandfathers did, with a candle at the head of a corpse. Where will my help come from?
Until today, the world has not seen such a powerful, cruel, miserable and dark scene. It is a sea of destruction. Dead waves are thickened over the sea. All the streets of Warsaw have become one immense, gigantic memorial of generations past. These streets no longer exist: Nalevky, Muranov, Dzhike, Pavyie, Smotche, Gensha, Francisca, Shvientoyorske, Navalipiye, Mila, Karmelitzka. Nothing has remained, just emptiness. Mounds of destruction jut out, iron rods, stones piled higher and higher, and lower down are shallow ditches, crazy peaks, and wild fantastic figures of demons. I stand in a deserted field that once was Krashinsky Place.
My companion, the captain of the ghetto fighters and the great grandchild of the Vilna Gaon Mark Edelman, tells me: this is where the ghetto battle began, and points to another field of destruction. This is where we placed the mines when the Germans were approaching.
I stood on a mound of ruins. When the Ghetto was burned and destroyed, the Nazis built a concentration camp on the ruins for Jews from Greece who they brought there. These Greek Jews were slaves, tortured skeletons
who died here, one after the other. The dead lay on these hills of extermination for days and weeks, while under the hills lay thousands of Polish Jews who still lie there until today. We are at the gate of the former brush shop in the German slave factory about which more will be written. One of the world's most dramatic stories. This is where the decisive ghetto battle took place. This is where young Jewish heroes killed 300 Germans; this is where Jewish youth threw their lives up to heaven. Like angels - the mother recounted, throwing stars from the sky into the night. I walk and walk. I climb up and down the hills, stand for a while with my head bent. Until today, lying under these huge ruins is the fighter and martyr Mikhl Klepfish, one of the heroes of the ghetto, who already weaves through Jewish legend, whose grandmother took slippers and Shabbat candles with her to Treblinka. There are no greater or holier words that can and must be whispered: Magnified and sanctified be God's great name! (From the mourner's prayer, Kaddish).
And this is how the poet describes the great destruction of Warsaw Jewry, the great heroism Jewish youth displayed fighting against the Nazis as they fought until their last breath and fell between the burning and falling buildings. Although it appeared that the end of the great destruction was nearing, the Jewish heroes of the ghetto did not allow themselves to be led as sheep to the alter. The Nazis payed a price for their victory in the Warsaw ghetto. Thousands of Germans were killed by the Jewish heroes.
And we, the survivors and refugees from Pshaytch (Predecz), must remember that one of the heroes in the Warsaw ghetto who excelled in bravery and fought, encouraged and called others to battle against the Nazi beasts was our unforgettable rabbi from Pshaytch (Predecz), Rabbi Yosef Alexander Zemelman, of blessed and righteous memory. He is mentioned in many periodicals which have been published over the past years, especially underlined in the diary of the writer Hille Zaydman Diary in the Warsaw Ghetto. Behind the large mound of ruins of the Warsaw ghetto, among the thousands of Jewish heroic fighters, lies the holy body of the great hero, the rabbi from Pshaytch (Predecz), Rabbi Yosef Alexander Zemelman, of blessed and righteous memory. We, the survivors from Pshaytch (Predecz), whisper the words:
Magnified and sanctified be God's great name!
|Only one large tree remains in
the cemetery as a silent memorial
Photographed by Dr. Professor Berner in 1966
|Comrade Simcha Heinrich and his wife Hela,
standing in the cemetery area in 1965
by Y.L.L Shlomi
Translated by Roberta Paula Books
© by Roberta Paula Books
I've been thinking for a while about answering your letter, dear Nishra. I could not bring myself to write because until now I was not able to answer your question as to whether I have adjusted. There are various explanations. For people who have not experienced anything in their lives, we can call it getting used to a new place, a job, an apartment, society and so forth. For me there is a second meaning. I understand that you want to know if I have forgotten what I endured, meaning the camps, the camps, the camps.
No, and once again no!
I have been living in the richest, luckiest country in the world these past ten years, and I have not forgotten. I am sure that everyone who went through this swamp
|A monument at Birkenau Auschwitz in memory of the Jews murdered there
Photographed by Dr. Brand 1965
of vile murderous hatred will never forget. There are some people who want to rid themselves of horrible thoughts by living a happy life, but this does not mean they have forgotten. There are those that mull over everything. Every day, they go step by step through their terrible experiences and wonder how it all happened and how they managed to survive. For each of us who went through this, something has remained that does not want to go away. Sometimes it hurts more and sometimes less, but it never goes away. There is always something from that time spent in hell.
I received your letter on the anniversary of my last conversation with Tashya, the beginning of the second half on December 1944. You, Nishra, did not know her, but it seems to me that I knew her. Up until 1941, we lived in a small town where everyone knew each other. I was twenty-five years old and she was a few years older than me. During this entire period of shame on the world, we were together, and I did not realize that such an extraordinary, pure person existed.
Our last chapter, as you know was Auschwitz. It was near the end. The insurrection was dying, the Red Army was already at the Vistula. Bits and pieces of news were reaching us, but we were still generally isolated. Understandably, we were Jews, dirty thieves, and add to that, killers of God. This came to us through the burning ovens and furnaces, through hundreds of transports of Hungarian Jews, through daily shootings of captured soldiers, through the uncovering old mass graves and the burning of half rotted bodies, in order to erase their sins, to cover up their tracks, through the stinking smoke and thick flames.
The last days, we were in the same barrack. The last nights, we slept on the same bunk. Lying next to me, she said: you know, tomorrow I am going to the sick house, which meant to die. I shouted with anguish, look at what is going on around us, it won't last much longer. Don't be a child, she replied, and don't try to console me. This is not the place for that.
It was a strain for her to speak. She was very weak. Her feet were swollen.
It took great effort for her to move from place to place. In the opposite corner of the barrack, there was a separate, small room for a Christian or someone pretending to be a Christian. That evening, she took in two to three women, and they quietly sang Christmas Carols. The melodies were not foreign to us. We could even recognize the words through the slats. It was not our religion, but it reminded us of the past.
I haven't eaten for a week, said Tashya, I just drink and drink. My insides are burning. I know I will not be fooled when I die in the gas. I want to die conscious. I want to look, for the last time, at the face of he who wears death's head on his hat (Totenkopf, skull and bones), he who is called doctor.
The singing brought us back. It reminded us of times past that will never return. No one was left in our town Pshaytch (Przedecz). We believed our lives would be normal. That sons would stand at their parents' graves and recite the mourner's prayer, and that their daughters would sit Shiva and cry together. Now we don't even know the dates of death for our loved ones or whether anyone still exists in this world. With great effort, she spoke these words. It was difficult for her to breathe. She continued to speak slowly. She was afraid she would not be able say all she wanted. Every one of her words felt like a stone on my heart and remained forever.
As soon as they entered our town, all the nonJews avoided us. For every small thing, a piece of bread or another life necessity, we had to pay dearly. Not with money but with gold and other goods. They often robbed us of all we had or blackmailed us.
There could not be any talk about resistance. They laughed in our faces, and from the start we were sentenced to annihilation. In the early days, the pharmacist Grushtzinska came to me and asked me to sew dresses for her daughters. I believed I would receive some products from her for my work, a bit of medicine, a piece of soap, but no.
She gave me some pieces of paper with which I could not buy anything.
Our life wasn't yet miserable. We earned every piece of bread honestly. We made an effort to keep the cultural activities in town going. We really lived decently. They put an end to everything. Do you remember, little girl, our evenings at the needle society and how we taught older people to read and write. How much light there was then, in our work and in our dreams, and now there is nothing. But you can't kill decency. They will kill thousands more, but they too will be killed.
Then humanity will blossom again, and you my child …
Don't forget little girl, that when all of this will end you will not build anything on this ground.
This is our cemetery. Run away, and where ever you will be ….
Do you hear me -- you should tell all, and delete nothing! Do not be ashamed, they should be ashamed. They wanted to lead the world to a sort of wildness and in large measure they succeeded, but they remained the wild ones. Perhaps things would have been different had people united against the beasts. But everyone thought he would live through it and feared taking the risk. This is what the murderers enjoyed. Killing individuals and the masses.
I am not talking now about us Jews.
Yes, little girl, under the mattress are three pieces of bread. I gave two to the commander so that she would free me tomorrow.
A few words from the Christmas Carols continue to ring out. You hear the camp asleep. However, in addition to the two of us, there was the noise of the flames from the chimneys, but the there was also smoke from the bodies of the Musselmen (a slang term used amongst Jewish concentration camp prisoners to refer to those suffering from a combination of starvation and exhaustion, as well as those who were resigned to their impending death), from the heat bursting the skin, hands and feet moving, ash, ash. And pieces of bones.
Do you hear, they are already sounding the roll call. You stay alive to tell the story. This is how the night passes.
From that day on, when I put a piece of bread to my mouth, I hear the words from those Christmas Carols, and I remember those three pieces of bread. It could be thanks to those pieces of bread that I survived. And now I tell the story. But the only people who believe it are those who lived through it.
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