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[Page 7]

Preface to the Book

Moshe Droog

Translated by Jenni Buch

Edited by Jerrold Landau

This book is primarily for you – our children and grandchildren. We, the adult natives of Ratno living in Israel, would perhaps have been satisfied with the Ratno Yizkor book that was published in Argentina in Yiddish -- a language that we know very well. This book contains the entire story of our town Ratno from its beginnings until its bitter end. If we saw the need to add this book to the literature of Jewish martyrdom -- it is because of our wish that you too will also get to know this town and through this be able to find our roots, that are also your roots, and so that you would come to know the well from which we drew during our childhood and adolescence.

Once there was Ratno. Even if you do not succeed in finding it in your geographical maps or atlases -- it existed. It was a town forgotten by man and G-d, as they used to write in the Volhynia district of Poland. It had a population of approximately 4,000, the majority of whom were Jews and the minority Ukrainians. The houses were built of timber, and the roofs were constructed of straw. The sidewalks along the streets were made of wooden planks, and after every rain, the mud would be neck deep. There were no great millionaires in her homes and yards, and the poverty oozed from every corner. No great spiritual leaders were found wandering her streets and famous industrialists also kept their distance from it. It was a small Jewish town similar to those that have been well portrayed by Mendele, Sholem Asch, and Shalom Aleichem, and about which you have learnt in school.

Moreover, what a wonder – our Ratno was also a rich, vibrant, dynamic town, abundant in creativity, Jewish values, Torah, wisdom, ideas, and accusations. Everything that existed in the larger Polish cities, those with the honored places in the maps and atlases, also existed in our little town. The doors in our little wooden houses were open to assist every person that needed it – one did not even have to knock or ring on the door before entering. Their hearts were also open. The mutual assistance of one Jew helping another Jew was their primary concern. This primarily took the form of giving charity anonymously, without the recipient knowing who had helped him in his hour of distress, and also without others knowing. The essence of Jewish life prevailed in the town and its customs were quite evident in the Jewish homes and on its streets. It is the essence of this life that we are trying to depict for you in this book.

In addition, the social and political life of the town was not inferior to that of any other large Polish town. Everything that existed there – existed also in our little town: Zionists from all the factions and parties, the anti – Zionists, zealous Hebraicists, and radical Yiddishists, left and right Poale Zion, Communists, General Zionists, Revisionists, the supporters of “Agudas Yisroel” and the supporters of the “Mizrachi”, “Hashomer Hatzair”, “Hehalutz Hatzair”, “Brit Trumpeldor”, and the Zionist Youth.

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Basically, there was nothing lacking from what exists in these areas today in Israel.

In view of all this “abundance,” you will not be surprised if we say to you that there was much social agitation by the young in its small streets and small homes of our town Ratno. Stormy public meetings and arguments that “reached the heavens”, controversial ideological disputes within the same family, an abundance of parties, in which each one is obviously convinced that its way is the only path for the salvation of the Jewish race and the Jewish youth, etc.

In addition, our Ratno also had Hassidim and Mitnagdim, although the Hassidim always were the stronger, they were divided between different rabbinical courts and dynasties. In Ratno, there were Trisk Hassidim, Stolin-Karlin Hassidim, Niskiz-Stepan Hassidim, and Lubavitch Hassidim. Each of these factions had its own synagogue, prayer rite, and melodies

If you ask how this was all arranged and sorted out between the 450 Jewish families? This puzzle shall remain a puzzle.

Most of all, we did not forget the Land of Israel in Ratno. Believe it or not, in the atmosphere of tiny Ratno, thousands of miles from the Land of Israel, the breath and spirit of the Land of Israel, with its essence and experience, was felt. The Jews of Ratno were proud of every Zionist achievement, of every dunam that was redeemed in the Land of Israel, of every new settlement that was established. They sat on the banks of the Pripyat, but their heart was between the Kinneret and the Jordan. They were surrounded by Ukrainian folk songs but their souls overflowed with songs of Zion. The gentile boys and girls danced the Russian Kozachok[1] dances in the forests and near the surrounding lakes, but the Jewish youth came out and danced the Hora, the stormy Israeli folk dance with a longing that never left them for one second -- the longing to go there and to build their homes there. Every departure of a young person to Israel was accompanied by the whole town coming out with tears in their eyes and fervently wishing in their hearts that they could join them. Every decree against Zionist endeavors, every “White Paper” that was published in Palestine evoked waves of protests in the streets and synagogues, in the youth movements, and inside the little houses. Every Zionist envoy that came to the headquarters, and certainly every one that came from the Land of Israel itself, brought a celebration to the town, lifted the hearts and souls of the small town that never let up its guard.

Naturally, we cannot forget the Tarbut School – this was modeled after an Israeli school, very much like the schools at which you yourselves studied. Its teachers faithfully nurtured the devotion to Israel, and it was this school to a large extent that inspired us, your parents and grandparents, to immigrate to Israel – and therefore is how you all came to be here...

We hope that now you will understand what motivated us to write this book for you, what moved us to write an epitaph or memorial for this little town that is not to be found on a map. We certainly realize that many things in this book will seem peculiar or strange to you, as will be many of the names and terms in this book that you will read in this book. You are permitted to gloss over anything that does not make sense to you and that you cannot absorb. However, there is one chapter in this book that you are not permitted to skip -- the final chapter, about the Holocaust. You, the children and grandchildren of the Ratno natives in Israel, must not skip over this chapter that was written with our blood and the blood of our dear ones who perished in this terrible Holocaust. You often asked us, and you often wanted to ask and we prevented you from doing so: how did this frightful and terrible event take place? How did we go “as sheep to the slaughter?” You certainly thought in the recesses of your heart: these Jews of the exile... weak in body and weak in spirit... Why did they not rise up as one person to stand for their lives and to defend themselves? Where was your bravery and initiative? Where was this value of

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“Sanctification of the Divine Name” about which we were educated and have educated others? In this manner, you spoke to your friends, and thought in your hearts after you heard what you had heard or read what you had read about the terrible Holocaust. Therefore, in that chapter, the final chapter of the book that we have published for your sake, we attempt to answer the questions that you have asked or have kept hidden. Without paint and a comb, without concealing anything, those who passed through this terrible Holocaust, those who survived, one of a city and two of a family, those who found hiding places with the farmers in the villages and those who fought against the Nazi enemy in the forests with the partisans, those who were in the vale of murder, will relate to you in that chapter how things unfolded, and how everything happened. They do not tell these things to denigrate, not to sweeten the bitter pill -- and indeed it was bitter -- not to cast accusations, but rather as a factual accounting, for they see the need to tell you about everything that was there. You will make deductions and reach conclusions based on this, which you will then transfer to your descendants. Let the deductions and conclusions be as they are.

Sons, daughters, and grandchildren, with awe and trepidation we give this book into your hands. Search out your roots. This is a “visitor's ticket” to the town of Ratno, which you did not succeed in identifying in your maps and atlases.

We were assisted greatly with this book with the material from the “Ratno” anthology published in Yiddish in 1954 in Argentina. Many of the articles and sections from that anthology are included in this current book in Hebrew translations. Our sincere gratitude is extended to those who worked on and edited the Yiddish Anthology

Uncaptioned. A street from Ratno.
Store on left is labeled Kawiec


Translator's Footnote

  1. A Ukrainian folkdance. See Return

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