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[Page 320]

Do Not Forget the Dead!

by Mordechi Elboim

Translated by Moses Milstein and Yocheved Klausner

I visited the dead last night,
listened to their complaining:
––So what if we wander around lost,
do you not still have to say kaddish?

And if you did not see our death throes,
did not hear our last will,
are you allowed to dance, to tread on us
on the cemetery paths, bloodied, dusty and gray?

Are you allowed to shut our eyes
seal them with mud
and believe that you can redeem a sin
with a moment's tears of regret?

From every bit of soil, stone and flower,
we peer out like tombstones:
and you, laughing,
you don't even bother to look around,
sunken in lies and lust.

And still more their woe reaches me,
their strange, lonely distress
and a cry cuts through like a knife
and subsides in a lonely moan.

We wander forever in a wild gyre
in winds, in blizzards.
Perhaps you will hide us
so that we can find respite…?

Bodies sundered, burned, crushed to ash
only a wick remains.
So light the wick even if it's weak
so a memory of life remains.
Bury somewhere deep, in a corner of your heart
a yorzeit to bind us
so that in the union
sorrow will wane
and a flame will ignite.

Because if not?––
You are naked in our flame,
hollow, empty, and frozen.
You are deader then we
Having lost the spark of holiness.

Thus did I wander and visit the dead
until the sun's red rays appeared…
From damp ruins the cry arose:
Do not forget, do not forget, the martyrs, the dead!


[Page 322]

Oh, My Little Shtetl

by Pinchas Bibel

Translated by Moses Milstein

I remember that, years and years ago, when our hopes were still young, when the world was still whole, that in a magical town, Carmel, by the sea, near my San Francisco, the writer Peretz Hirshbein came for a rest after a long world tour.

At the Pacific shore, always stormy yet peaceful, where the Sierra Nevada mountains descend in giant, broken steps, there is a quiet town in the forest. The sand is white as snow, and the waves, calmer now, wash the feet of those who have found this place, and have come to live here in unruly nature.

And I remember a night when the clever Hirshbein had invited me to a dinner that he and his beloved wife, the poet Esther Shumiacher, had so ritually prepared, and we sat by an open fire–the woods were cool and foggy, the ocean rhythmically chased the foamy waves–and we read and talked.

Hirshbein said that he was working on a big novel and a new play. Esther read her lyrical songs, and I–my modest prose.

Late at night, Peretz exclaimed, “Bibel, Tell me something about your shtetl. Tell me about your early years.” I laughed, “About my shtetl? What is there to tell? A small dot in Poland, a little yawn, one out of hundreds. It is not important!”

Hirshbein looked at me with warm, sad eyes, “Describe and write, Bibel! Remember and write. Who knows what will happen to our warm homes.”

I did not understand it then. It appears that Hirshbein sensed the beginning of the storm. He foretold the future.

I described but I didn't write.

*

Now it is too late. Now every memory hurts. Now we can't touch those events that have formed us. Now we can't write “poetically,” sing of our loss. Now we can only look back, and silently remember–and grieve–and regret.

And yet, opportunity demands that we wipe off the dust of the years, to revive and retrieve, if just for a minute, our town that once was. To reconstruct the destroyed houses, put back the streets, the budkes, the fences, the people, to reduce oneself and become a young, dreamy boy again in a small Polish shtetl.

The poets say that as long as we remember someone, that person lives among us, but if we forget, then they return to dust and ashes.

So let us remember for ourselves, for our children, for the deceased, for the Jewish life in Poland that disappeared.

I remember our home–an open door for Jews and goyim. A simple home. My grandfather, my five uncles–simple, good Jews.

My father came from elsewhere, from Chelm, from the Brisker yeshiva, from the Warsaw Bet Hamidrash, and brought with him the impetus of the big city.

The shtetl is calm, sleeping in an old dream. Nothing changes. It is a fortunate shtetl. Although a paved road links to Zamosc, to Lublin and stretches away to Bilgoraj, and far, far away even to Lemberg, the quiet is seldom disturbed.

*

The old, nine hundred year old shul dominates and influences life. It is deeply rooted. It is baked into the good Polish earth. Even when Chmielnicki entered the towns, he left Shebreshin in peace. In 1863, the Polish people revolted (my grandfather told me that many Jews assisted) and when the revolt was suppressed, the Russians came in from the Toplice forests, and determined to wipe S from the map for helping the revolutionaries, but by a miracle the city was saved.

Even in our times we were lucky. During World War I, we were not expelled, not bombed. Even Petlura respected us. Yes, S was a lucky city. It was, until the Germans.

We lived quietly. We accommodated with the Poles. We survived the Russians.

We had our “shtot gvir,[1]” ( Mordechai Fleischer in our time) who always ruled over a generous home. It was the dream of poor Jews. The businessmen who worked for a living, and supported a working class in Poland. The workers who accepted their fate–the woodchoppers, water– carriers. The city deaf–mute, even a Jewish thief.

*

The days, the years, passed with quiet, slow rhythms from our river Wiepsz that lovingly divided and encircled our town on three sides. Quiet and rhythmic, deeply rooted in the past, and dreamy, waiting for the Messiah.

I remember the small group that my father belonged to, that met, late in the evening, in our house; the promenading every Shabes morning; the fields on the other side of the cement works; the reading of the first newspapers; the forbidden books.

And the “revolution,” the revolution in clothing. Until then everyone (with the exception of Nathan Sheiner and the Bronsteins) wore the traditional clothing: black caftans to the ankles, flat black caps with a tiny brim. Only at night, in the dark, when respectable people were sleeping, would the youth–my father the first–gather near the hospital, put on a European hat and a short jacket, and promenade.

I remember that during an epidemic of typhus, a market woman yelled at my father that children were dying because they were becoming goyim and wearing fedoras.

*

But the wheel was turning faster and surer. We left the kloiz.[2] We sought the light. A library was founded. A Zionist organization was founded in an attic. A little later, a Bund association.

New people arrived. The young children organized into a scout group with green shirts and long staffs. I hold membership card number four.

The shtetl gave itself a shake. The door to the world opened a little. Lecturers came. The workers made demands of the bosses, even dared to strike. Mass meetings took place even in the Bet Hamidrash. A tall ascetic man came to live in our house. Lazar he was called. He had travelled the world, had been to Eretz–Israel where he contracted malaria, and he founded the first Hebrew school in our house. Later, others came and brought worldliness, knowledge and unrest.

We sensed that Shebreshin would not continue in its long sleep. We wanted to learn about equality and justice. We wanted a little tolerance. We rushed to the world. The Polish schools filled with Jewish children, even though I was inflamed by the words of my teachers, like Pan Hartlieb, who expressed often the sentiment that it was regrettable that Poland must support the parasites, the Jews who suck Polish blood.

We got older. We founded the Hechalutz organization. We readied ourselves for a free socialist life, to physical work, to culture, to the Hebrew language. Some of us left for the greater world, others stayed and prepared.

Others acknowledged their place in the life of Poland, with their connection to their roots, to their home Shebreshin. They developed the town, cleaned it, made it European, dried up the mud, paved the streets with cobblestones, straightened the old houses, built a systematic life, hoped for a better, honest tomorrow.

*

Tomorrow came, however, on the wings of German airplanes, came black as the uniforms of the SS–absolute devastation, with true German precision. None of the inheritors of the past still walks upon the earth.

I think often, I think quietly. I want to immerse myself in the last minutes in the cemetery when the mass graves were already dug.

––––The quiet, wise rabbi has spoken his last words. –––It is certain that his eyes were turned to the sky, to the far horizon. Did he see all the generations, the long, long rows of ordinary people that lived in the shtetl for 900 years, who lived and came to rest in the earth. Did he see–not just the catastrophe of reality–but did he also feel the pain and shame that a band of barbarians could so demonically annihilate the historic chain that stretched from Kazimierz the Great to the first persecuted Jews who found a haven here?

I think. Only sorrow, and grief, and mute hopelessness remain.

San Francisco


Translator's Notes

  1. The wealthy man in town. Return
  2. Small synagogue whose members were often from the same profession/social group. Return


[Page 326]

My Ruined Home

by Shlomo Reiter

Translated by Moses Milstein

The nigunim of Torah study are no longer heard from the Shebreshiner kloizlach.[1] The folk songs are no longer sung, the beat accompanied by machine, saw or hammer of the tailors, shoemakers, shtepers[2], and carpenters. The storekeepers, Jewish men and women, no longer look out their stores. The Jewish children at play, with their sweet, noisy little voices are silent. The symbol of Jewish Shebreshin–the beautiful old shul–has been wiped from the earth's surface…Only the soil is left, soaked with Jewish blood and tears.

There remain only, floating in the air, the painful groans of the innocent, and the last tears of the children before their death. What remains is the echo–why?!

*

And you, accomplices to murder and indifferent bystanders, you have appropriated their property and goods. You live in their houses, your children play with the toys of the little children who were killed in the middle of their play. Are you not frightened of the blood which is reflected in your windows? Do you not see that the green that grows on the earth is mixed with red blood? Are your eyes not afflicted by the roses and flowers that grow on the holy blood? Those are roses and flowers of prematurely cut down fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, of brides who did not live to go to the chupa!

Empty are your hearts, you active and passive collaborators to their demise! Now you dress yourselves in lamb's fur and claim to be creators of a new world! May you feel the curses hurled at you by my father, mother, my brothers, sister, my old grandfather in the last convulsive breath of their lives.

You, German culture–murderers, showed my 90–year–old grandfather, Shmuel Zishe, how you murdered his daughter Sarah Libe, and her husband Berish, their children Malkah, Itzik, Abraham, Fradl, Velvelle. You sadistically strangled him in front of his daughter Mantshe and her husband and children, and then took their lives.

In this wild murderous bacchanal, a large part of the Polish population took part. The Poles waited like hyenas for the plunder, the quicker to inherit Jewish possessions. The Poles have forgotten how, before the wheat sprouted and the orchards blossomed, they took money for their future harvests from Jewish merchants. Now they live, the active and passive collaborators in Jewish houses and sleep in Jewish beds.

*

I see before me my holy, dear–ones. I see my father, a simple and honest folks–mensch, who worked with the sweat of his brow to support the family. And if the weight of the wagon he pulled to make his living was too hard, you, my heroic mother, came to meet him, and together you struggled to pull the wagon.

You worried and provided for everyone, my beloved mother. Better to feed everyone first, and whatever was left, you took. Although thin and weary, you took the welfare of the home under your broad wings, like an eagle. Always anxious, you strove to meet the needs of your husband and children. You looked on with joy when they got a new piece of clothing, a new pair of shoes, which you wrested with great hardship from your meager earnings.

You allowed your children to study in cheder and school. May they grow up to be educated people, you said. I see your forehead prematurely wrinkled by worry. Your clever, blue eyes that always looked on with joy at your growing children, will always shine for me. I see the Shabes table, people sitting around it, father making Kiddush, your motherly face shining with joy, and your lips whispering a prayer quietly. “God, may it not be spoiled!” you prayed. One demand you had of God–to live to see naches from your children, and this gave you strength and courage to undergo every difficulty.

But you did not live to see any naches. The German murderers did not permit it. With wild sadism and beastly satisfaction they threw themselves on your innocent and blameless lives. You struggled against your bitter fate: Until the last minute you tried to hide from death. You stuck yourselves in bunkers and holes. In the darkness of night, you stole out, like moles from their burrows, not to be seen by the murderers, to bring a bit of meager food and water for sustenance.

In the most trying times, you, my mother with your motherly wings, strove to lessen the pain of your family, keep them warm and watch over them. You hoped that God, in whose ways you walked, would bring a miracle and save you from the murderers' hands. But God did not bring a miracle…

Instead of the tones of the klezmer you hoped to hear when your daughter was brought to the chupa, you heard the jungle sounds of wild demons as you were all brought to the cemetery. Your eyes must have looked on with horror when they brought your youngest son and daughters to their death. A mother's wings had no power anymore. Death swallowed them along with my father's life, with the lives of my brothers and sisters, my old zeide, and my dear, beloved Shebreshin.

*

Only the echo of their last cries for help remains. Only their holy blood, calling for judgment of the murderers remains, blood from fathers, mothers, from brides and grooms, from babies in their cradles, blood and broken lives, disappeared worlds. Only the big question mark remains–why?

Why were we slaughtered and murdered? Why was the world indifferent to our blood bath? Where were the so called “leagues for human rights”, and the Red Cross? Where was the Jewish God when his people, who served him so faithfully, were slaughtered?

Heaven was closed to the final cries of a people taken to the killing fields. The ears of the world were stopped to the great cries of woe. No, the world cannot proceed to everyday life until it has answered, why!

And you, wild vandals, who shed innocent blood, destroyed entire worlds! It is not important where you find yourselves now–in Poland, in West Germany, or even in East Germany. Take the masks off your faces! You want to represent yourselves as creators of a better world. You laugh at the world, which bedecks you again with medals for your great gallantry. Your punishment will yet come! You will drown in your blood and tears! Hatred will consume your filthy bodies! You will not be able to redeem yourselves with money for our blood. Blood for blood, must you give!

*

My Jewish Shebreshin is no more. Gone are my father, mother, my sisters and brothers. Only their cries of agony remain. Only an unhealing, deep wound in my heart remains. Only sweet dreams remain of the home that once was.

We will erect an everlasting memorial to you. We will always remember you, my dear ones! With my last breath, I will remember my beloved shtetl, Shebreshin!

Netanya, October, 1955


Translator's Notes

  1. Small house of worship Return
  2. Tradesman making the leather forms for shoes Return


[Page 329]

Night of Pogroms

by Batya Bibel

Translated by Moses Milstein and Yocheved Klausner

Pale faces,
frightened eyes,
sunken bodies
stretched
through the night.

A tug at the heart
in everyone's step,
a blow to the head
at every turn.

With bated breath,
eyes full of sorrow
the unfortunate
slowly walked
in the dark night.

Parched lips
murmured a prayer
and bony hands
to the heavens stretched.

With bloody hearts,
and heads deeply bowed,
the shamed
walked with fear
in the dark night.

 

My Friend's Town

All the lights are out,
just the candle gutters,
like a yorzeit candle which illuminates
and throws shadows on the wall.

And my friend tells me
with longing in his voice
of a town, where he was born,
long, long ago.

The oldest town in Poland,
the thousand–year–old shul,
hundreds of Torah scrolls
in his town of old.

Of tombstones in the cemetery,
ghosts that dance in the night,
of a sleepy young man,
who jumps from roof to roof.

In the old cemetery–
seven graves, hand in hand
seven sons and a mother
threw themselves off a high wall.

By the light of the burning candle
my friend pages through a journal
from his old town in Poland
from his past, long ago.

New martyrs–new wonders,
new Jewish strength and beliefs,
that the accursed Nazi,
could not steal from the Jews.

Hundreds of sefer–Torahs are burning
and Jews in prayer shawls praising God.
Throw themselves into the fires
and die dancing a karahod.

Gone are the sefer–Torahs
gone is the ancient shul,
gone are the thousands of Jews
in my friend's town of long ago.

All the candles are extinguished,
everything is deep in sleep.
But I lie with open eyes
thinking: why the punishment on Shebreshin?


[Page 331]

In the Whirl of War

by Simah Berger (Elbaum)

Translated by Moses Milstein

Our family was not rich, but our upbringing was. There were seven of us children. A grandmother and her son, Shloime Dales, whose father had died, also lived with us.

Life was not easy. We treated the grandmother with respect. This I can't forget. Now I understand it better, being alone in my old age. In general, everyone behaved with respect and love in this small house, where everyone had a place. On Saturdays, my father, z”l, could not sit at table unless we had a guest. There were plenty of poor people coming from other towns. That was the custom.

My father was a scholar. Everyone knew R' David Elbaum from the Radziner shtibl. He would conduct “din-torahs” which were received with great honor but no money, even though he could have used it.

My mother, Bashe, and grandmother, Hinde Beile, did much on behalf of the poor and sick. On Thursday evening, they would bake bread and chales for the needy on Shabes even though we ourselves had very little. Friday morning, my grandmother would run around distributing the chales, although no one was to know who received them, not even we children.

 

Salvation in Israel

My travel to Israel did not come easily. For my religious father, it was as if I had converted. All of a sudden, here comes a girl from such a Chasidic family, and announces that she is going to a kibbutz for hachshara[1], because she wants to go to Eretz-Israel! It was a difficult fight. I succeeded only thanks to my uncle, Moishe Hersh Berger, who later became my father-in-law. He was in the leadership of the Zionist organizations in S. He also helped me out materially.

While in Israel, I received heartfelt letters full of woe. My father, mother, and the rest of the family envied me because the earth in Europe was burning, although no one was anticipating such devastation as occurred. Later, my relatives began to plead with me to help them come to Israel. However, I did not know how to help them while the British were in charge.

 

Self sacrifice

My oldest brother, Abraham, z”l, graduated from the Lublin yeshiva with the title of Rav.

At the time of the German occupation, he was selected to be a member of the judenrat. I arrived in Israel in 1936, bur according to the survivors of S. who had been there during the occupation, he often put his own life in danger. At the end, when he was ordered to assemble all the Jews, including his wife and four children, in the center of town on a certain date, he went to the German commander, and out of overwhelming grief, he begged them-“Shoot me!”

To shoot a Jew was an easy thing for the Nazis. In full view of the whole community and his family, he was shot on the spot.

*

My other brother, Mordechai, baruch hashem, lives in Belgium. He was saved from Hitler's hand and survived the war in Russia.

One of my younger brothers, Moishele, conducted himself-as some children do in times of trouble-like an adult. Much was relayed to me about him.

Prior to being transported to the crematoria, in order to punish someone, they would be confined in jail-they called it the Kozeh-where they experienced pain, hunger and cold. Moishele wanted to help everybody. Fearlessly, he clambered over the high fences to bring food to the prisoners.

He was successful for a short time, until he was shot by the murderers during one such attempt.

Haifa, 1980


Translator's Footnote

  1. Agricultural training of prospective emigrants to Israel Return


[Page 333]

Memories

by Feige Roitman

Translated by Moses Milstein and Yocheved Klausner

Where are you, brother, sister?
There is no memory, nothing remains…
My limbs stiffen
with my wailing and weeping.

Beards pulled out, burned in fire,
whoever was a Jew was persecuted.
Everything that was dear to us cut away
so beastly, so perverse.

Where are the blooming, beautiful, young
with their rousing songs,
the shul, the holy prayers, pure,
with the ring of Jewish devotion?

Burned are the magnificent shul, and the books,
our good fortune ripped away.
Now we search for the graves,
Longing for just one glimpse.

Why are you silent, black night,
with your angry stormy winds?
You see how I sit and think,
Bring me the memories now!

When your moon was shining
and lit our way
in the nights of great danger,
that ended with darker days,
remind me of memories of our little town,
the Jewish mothers in their need,
remind me of the songs of the beautiful Sabbath,
the mitzvoth of giving bread to the poor.

Remind me of Fridays and mother in the kitchen,
her cheeks flushed, working quickly.
preparing for Sabbath for her household,
The Jewish mother–where is she now?…

Appear in my dreams, beloved face,
stretch out your hands, I won't be afraid.
Embrace me, you are still young.
I don't want the earth to cover your body.

Where are you, my father, my constant friend,
Worried about tomorrow, and our daily bread.
Now you do not see the sun as it shines anymore.
Ah, my father, why are you dead?

Here I write the words, as well as I can.
My heart dictates what my pen should write.
I see the houses of the shtetl along,
the streets, the orchards, the wooden houses,
there where my friend spent his youth,
playing, working, laughing, in song.
I see the artistic, beautiful shul
Where Jews streamed in numbers on Shabes.
In the end, the beauty perished in flames
and with thousands of Jews, went to the grave.

New York


[Page 335]

Why are the Survivors Silent?[1]

by Shimon Kantz

Translated by Moses Milstein

Help bring the murderers to justice

On May 3, 1942, several gestapo arrived in Torobin, near Shebreshin, and, together with their driver, killed 107 Jews. Five days later, the same slaughter occurred in Shebreshin. On the 8th of May, at 3:00 pm, three gestapo arrived in an automobile, and shot over a hundred Jews. Terrible panic ensued among the Jewish population. The wounded ran to the hospital. The police, however, refused to let anyone enter. A little later, two gestapo, with their rifles still smoking, came to the hospital. They warned the Polish doctors that they too would be shot, if they provided any medical help to the wounded.

After carrying out the mass murders, the gestapo required the Judenrat to pay one kilo of coffee and 2,000 Zl for the cost of the bullets that were used in the massacre of Shebreshiner Jews.

In the nearby shtetl of Josefow, three gestapo murdered over 100 Jews. There occurred such scenes that even German officials who were hard–core antisemites, were upset. Even they were shaken when they saw their ideology become reality.

In Torkowice, the Germans established a labor camp for the Jews of Bilgoraj. Moishe Shuldiner, a Jews from Bilgoraj, escaped. He was caught, and beaten, and led to the camp. He was forced to run between bicycles ridden by Germans. If he paused to rest, the dogs were set on him, and tore at his flesh. Barely alive, he was taken to the camp and tied to a tree. Twelve hours later, he was untied, swollen and unconscious. He was barely revived and set free, because he was of no use for work. He did not, however, get very far. He died in great agony.

The city of Tarnogrod is far from Bilgoraj. The first Aktion took place there in August, 1942. Friday evening, the Germans surrounded the Jewish houses and dragged out the occupants, half–dressed, onto the street, and drove them on the road to Bilgoraj. In a nearby forest they forced the Jews to dig a large grave. When the grave was ready, the German gendarme announced that this would be the grave in which they would soon be buried. Tevl Herbsman stepped out of the ranks and shouted, “Others will come who will avenge the innocent Jewish blood you are shedding. You will not avoid the day of judgment!” Then he turned to the Jews and shouted, “We will not fall at their feet and beg for our lives. Let us die together as martyrs for Kiddush Hashem.” A volley of machine gun fire cut short his words, and together with all the kidoshim, he fell into the grave.

Among those shot was the young boy, Shalom Hochman, who was only slightly wounded. After the Germans left, he dug himself out of the lightly covered grave, and covered in blood, he dragged himself to the city, and for a whole twenty–four hours, he hid under a garbage container, and after the second night, he came home to his relatives. His wounds were bandaged, and he repeated, word for word, the heroic address, which the pious Jew, Tevl, gave at the edge of the grave.

In Lublin proper, the SS sent their dogs, and every day they caught a number of Jewish victims at the train station. They brought them to Greier's restaurant where they murdered them. There they also killed the Shper family who had founded the Jewish high school in Lublin. The youngest daughter, Maniah Lewkowich, and her seven year old son, were killed with one bullet.

At the time, they would capture Jews and hold them in the shul, until the families paid to ransom them. Later, the Germans hit on a devilish scheme: On the road from Lublin to Piosk, there was a small settlement Maidan–Tatarsky. It was decided to transfer a number of Lublin Jews there. After the suffering of being brought there, they received another blow–a selection with all the torture that usually accompanied such actions. Later, Warthoff held a speech assuring them that such things would not be repeated, because the Aktion had ended. He said exactly the same thing later, when they liquidated the ghetto of Maidan–Tatarsky.

These massacres were merely a foreplay for the great devastation that began in Shebreshin on August 8, 1942, when there appeared at the train station empty train cars that were readied to take away all the Jews of Shebreshin. Whereto? Officially it was said, “Somewhere in the Ukraine,” where the Jews would be settled for the duration of the war. For an entire day, the German gendarmes and the Polish police went around town capturing Jews. Jews were taken from their hiding places and driven to the market place. Most of the Jews were clothed in rags, and their faces showed hopelessness and despair. Women carried children in their arms but no crying or wailing was heard. The doors to all the Jewish homes were open, and the representative of the magistrat[2] carried away goods and merchandise, and loaded them onto the cars for transfer to an unknown destination.

On October 18, 1942, the Jews of Zamosc were annihilated. Only about ten workers were left. The older Jews were shot on the spot, and the remainder were taken to Izbice, to a death camp.

Was it all over? Apparently not, because the third campaign of the special battalion to settle the Jewish question in the Lublin area was still underway. The hunt for Jews hiding in bunkers and the forest got underway. These Jews had to be found. They also had to find hidden Jewish treasure. Every captured Jew had probably hidden some jewelry, and knew where others had done the same. Therefore, he was threatened with all sorts of things to force him to divulge the information.

Now, after twenty years, the German prosecutor, H' Zwig, who is leading the investigation into the murders, and preparing for their trial, recently said to the representative of the Israeli government, H' Polishewsky, “I am worried about the lack of witnesses…as time passes there are fewer who remember it. With every passing year, the number of those who cannot remember anymore becomes greater. When I travel by bus or train, I tremble at the thought that the person next to me could possibly have been one of the murderers. But my children do not understand this fear, because they are taught nothing about this shameful period in school. The newspapers also do not write about this. Why are you silent? Why do the survivors not cry out? How can they sit quietly in the various corners of the world and not help the search and prosecution of their murderers?”

This prosecutor had been offered a high position in the justice ministry several times. He declined saying that he could not abandon his work of finding the Nazi criminals, a task that is far from finished. He explained, “The material I have gathered gives me no peace.” He searches day and night for the criminals, and calls on the victims to help uncover them.


Translator's Footnote

  1. Article from “Letzte Neies.” Return
  2. City hall Return


[Page 337]

My Little Town of Shebreshin

by Brochele Stern

Translated by Moses Milstein and Yocheved Klausner

My little town of Shebreshin
the place of joy and youth!
Where endlessly the fields of green
around the city spread.

Surrounded by mountains
a river snaking through
with flowers and orchards
endowed with richness, grew.

My little town of Shebreshin
where my youth was passed
where my girlfriends and I
gaily sang and laughed.

The sun shone down so gently
And lit us with her rays.
We dared to dream with high ideals
of fuller, better days.

I did not know it at the timev that the sun would be lost to us
that from a pretty, clear blue day
the darkness could arrive.

The night came down
dark, without any stars
and covered the town
with Jewish blood and tears.

Innocent fathers, and mothers
sisters and brothers
shot in the cemetery
and, still alive, with earth were covered.

The neighbors told us,
they knew us well,
that hand in hand they walked
going into that hell.

Our mothers quietly asked
God! Why does this come to pass
that for us Jews
the right to live has been taken.

Can one even express
the grief and the pain
where mothers and fathers
go to their death?

Yes, this happened in Shebreshin
where fields and forests were so green
the sun that once so brightly shone,
shines no more, the town is gone.


[Page 339]

Hallucinations in the Siberian Taiga

by Velvel Ingber

Translated by Moses Milstein

Little streets, little streets,
little streets and walls.
Forever will I
grieve for you

Forever…forever, until my last day, I will be followed, wherever I walk, on any road, by great pain and sorrow for you, my shteteleh. I will be followed by the never–stilled yearning, the sorrow, and consolation, of my shtetele for the joy of my youth, for all your Jews–tailors, shoemakers, storekeepers, carriage drivers, warm–hearted mothers and fathers, bent under the hard yoke of labor.

I yearn for you, my young generation, the flower of our people, dreamers and believers, with a vision of a just world, and the Jewish people redeemed in it. My shtetl is no more, my home destroyed, my generation cut away, and the silence of the cemetery lies over your streets.

But you live on in my imagination. And on the wings of great yearning, I fly back to you and see you as before–with all your poverty, and yet so precious; with all your modesty, and yet so brave; with your stillness, and yet seething with activity and enthusiasm; stuck in the ghetto, and yet with such broad horizons. Surrounded by a sea of hate, and ignorance, of savage, bloody fury, you stood as an island of love, and faith in mankind, and dreamed your dreams–and perished.

*

It is night. I peer, with sleepless eyes through the barrack windows. The Siberian Taiga is unwelcoming and frightening. Sky, forest, and earth run together in darkness. Only the sandy road reflects the light. It tempts me and promises me, “Come, I will take you back.”

Like a lunatic, drawn by unseen powers, it pulls me from my bed. I am outside in a single leap. I am covered by the darkness and no one sees me. I am on the road. My heart beats quickly. The road disappears beneath my feet… Faster, faster.

I reach the water. A little farther–and I hear the first whistle from the train. How dear it is to me now, how homey is its call! I look at the gleaming steel of the tracks. They are, after all, one way or another, connected to my tracks far away, and waiting for me to cross them.

I am traveling. The wheels clack with the rhythm of my heart.

Faster…faster…back…home!!! I come to the station. Everything around me is sleepy and as if drunk from the fresh winds coming from the forest, and the fields, and newly chopped wood. From the sandy path, I pass to the pavement. Here, I am on the road. My footsteps quicken: Not far.

From a distance, I see the homey panorama, the roofs and houses thrown together by a careless hand. I am enveloped by the smell of freshly mown hay lying spread out on the fields on both sides of the road.

Here is the sawmill. Here, in the avenue of the tall poplars, we used to walk hand in hand. Our flushed faces were caressed by a light wind, and the night received our youthful dreams. Here, in the still of the night, huddled in a circle, the legendary images of Gershoni, and Vera Figner passed.

Here is the first house, huddled near the road, unafraid of being swept away by the waters that flood the fields in the spring. The river Wiepz flows quietly, and reflects the willows that stand at its banks, bent and thoughtful, as if at tashlich.

I get up on the hill. I know every rock, every hollow here. I have measured every inch of it with my feet. The shul, with its three cornered roof stands like a giant among the little houses, as a memorial to the generations of Jews that arrived and left, stands like a witness and ponders. Kol Nidrei night–––shoulders covered by talissim, in repentance, bending before the Creator of the world–––Ashamnu.

My father stands at the tailor's table, bent and weeping. How did you sin? Maybe by getting up at dawn for prayers, by providing wood in the winter for poor Jews? How?

And when the shul was set on fire by abominable hands, burned and gutted like a yorzeit candle, Moishe, the shames, stood on the hill of the ruined orchard, dressed in white, and looked with deadened eyes at the burning shul, the names in the attic, the holy books of records where the yorzeits were inscribed. When is it now yorzeit?

The market paved with stones, the little green garden with the budkes[1] standing like guards at the sides–here our martyrs went on their last road, and gave a last look at the cobblestoned pavement, at the familiar roofs–the mute witnesses of their tragic pain and destruction…

Montreal, Canada, 11.3.1956


Translator's Footnote

  1. Market stalls Return

 

 

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