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[Page 134]

The Holocaust

 

My Small Town Steibtz

by Nachman Flaksin, Buenos Aires

Translated by Harvey Spitzer

Steibtz, my beloved small town, how my soul yearns for you! You are always etched deep in my heart. You are always before my eyes. I shall never forget you!

In a dream, in a vision at night, upon awakening, in my imagination and in my thoughts – you are always standing before my eyes and arouse within me memories, pictures, personages, events,

Memories of days past, when you were standing firmly established, with all your institutions and societies, with your study halls, your rabbis, your Gaonim[1], your students and your intellectuals.

Interest–free loan funds, banks, Talmud Torah,[2] each society of its own kind, each one encamped by its banner[3], orchestras and club houses, courses and evening classes, expounders of Scripture and preachers, speakers, arguments, political parties and associations – a life that was swiftly flowing, gushing and clamorous. The echo of ancient times protected you, my dear Steibtz. People of means, the well–to–do,

 

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The Mass Grave

[Page 135]

the wealthy, community leaders and heads of the community, the poor and needy, beggars and common folk, merchants and workers who, with the toil of their hands and the sweat of their brow, ate their piece of bread – you all pass before my eyes as in a movie…

Your Sabbaths and holidays are before me, drawing Jews to the synagogues slowly and calmly in rhythm and discipline, dressed in their Sabbath attire, sometimes patched, but always permeated with the sanctity of the Sabbath. Songs of the music of your cantors pull on the heartstrings, exposing and revealing sparks of longing for the hopes of Israel, for the return to Zion, for the Messiah and for better days than those.

Your disputes, your “sides” and your rabbis, those delaying the Torah reading[4], your Zionists and your Agudasists[5], the Bund[6], the Leftists, all of you, you are all dear and beloved to me despite your political factions, for you were all equal in the eyes of the enemy oppressing you, and you all sacrificed your lives on the altar of the nation.

The hewer of trees rose up against all of you, the destroyer, the exterminator of fathers and sons, the elderly and the young, with suckling babes. The lion arose from his den, killed and tore to pieces, slaughtered and annihilated thousands and tens of thousands. Like sheep, you were led to the slaughter, pure and holy souls.

You were beloved and pleasant in your lifetime, and in your death were not parted from God[7]. The Rabbi, the Gaon, my teacher and my holy rabbi, Rabbi Yehoshua Lieberman –May the memory of the righteous be blessed!–May God avenge his blood and the blood of all our brothers! I see him, wrapped in his prayer shawl and crowned with phylacteries, walking at the head of all the streets of the town to surrender his refined and pure soul in the sanctification of God's name and that of the nation. Dr. Yechezkel Sirkin – May he rest in peace!– always smiling, did not separate from his brothers and family. Who can give details of everything; who can relate everything? I see you, my brothers and sisters, my dear fellow townsmen, being led to the slaughter. I see your eyes filled with fear and panic, terror and despair, rotting in their sockets. I see mothers hugging their children, the delight of their eyes, and kissing them with their last kisses, good–bye kisses, while the terrible angel of death stands, drawing his sword from the sheath, to take their souls….

I hear shouts, cries and wailing when the Nazis (May their name and memory be erased from under the heaven!) – round them up with various kinds of rifles, around the big pit, next to Zayamnaye[8] … I see everything and my hair stood on end from fear and trembling, terror and dread. I still can't calm down and rest. I see you grappling with the awful death and your holy souls rising in a flame to the heavens and tearing at the gates of Heaven, crying out bitterly: “For what and why did this happen to us?” They fly under the desecrated Throne of God and ask “Why did we not merit staying alive until the wrath passed and see the revival of our people, the building of our country, the ingathering of our exiles, and the establishment of our State?” The voice of your blood shouts from the ground[9]. Earth, earth, don't cover their blood that is spilled like water, and let there not be a place for their cries of help! I see everything and my soul is pining for your love and affection[10].

My beloved Steibtz! Your memory is engraved in my heart! Foxes now walk on your ruins and destroyed places[11] damaging the vineyard of our people, and foreigners are now taking possession of our property for which they did not toil. The memorial stone and the gravestone there will cry out bitterly: Why did You lend a hand to the sinners? Why did You help them, the cursed Gentiles, destroy our brothers and why did You let them take possession of our inheritance? Have you [plural] killed and also taken possession?[12]

How can I bear witness for you? How can I encourage you and how can I comfort you, my town Steibtz? My sole comfort is that on your ruins and the ruins of the other holy small towns, our country and homeland is being built. And our children will return to their borders[13] and among them, the surviving few of the Holocaust, our survivors, plucked out of the fire[14], the townspeople of Steibtz – living and existing monuments. May our people flourish and multiply in our land and spread out and take root, grow strong and expand in the land. May we live and create a life of freedom!

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Gaon – genius, rabbinic title Return
  2. Talmud Torah – religious elementary school Return
  3. reference to the encampment of the 12 Tribes of Israel in the Sinai Wilderness – “When the Israelites camp, each individual should be in his own camp, by the banner for its division”, Numbers, 1:32 Return
  4. Ikuvey kriah – In Jewish communities in Europe, the delay in reading of the Torah in the synagogue was a kind of demonstration until the institutions of the community intervened in the problem of the protest. Return
  5. Agudasists– members or supporters of Agudas Yisrael, ultra–Orthodox rabbinic organization Return
  6. Bund – socialist organization Return
  7. Quote from Av Harachamim– Father of Compassion– prayer in memory of the departed, recited in the synagogue on most Sabbaths Return
  8. North–west of Steibtz 52°06'00.0”N 30°09'00.0”E The place of the mass grave. Return
  9. allusion to God's reprimand of Cain, after he murdered his brother Abel: “What hath you done? The voice of your brother's blood crieth unto Me from the ground”– Genesis . 4:10 Return
  10. Quotation: “My soul is pining for Your (God's) soul)” from “Yedid Nefesh”, “Beloved of the Soul”, – liturgical poem by Rabbi Eliezer Azkiri, kabbalist of the 16th century in the Land of Israel. I am with you in your distress (Psalms, 91:15), I am with you in fire and water. (Isaiah, 43:2). Return
  11. Reference to Rabbi Akiva's famous remark, quoted in the Talmud (Tractate Gittin, page 55), that foxes are now prowling on the ruins of the Holy Temple, confirming God's warning that the Temple would be destroyed and lie in ruin but, just as this prophecy came to pass, so will God's promise that the Third Temple will be rebuilt. Return
  12. Reference to Elijah the Prophet's question to King Ahab, who not only killed Navot, but also took possession of his vineyard (I Kings, 21:19). Return
  13. Jeremiah 31:17 Return
  14. Zacharia, 3:2 Return

 

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