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[Pages 350-352]

The Beginning of the End

by Simcha Statfeld (Pardes Chana, Israel)

Translated by David Goldman

 

It was a small town that exists no more.

Tarnogrod, our little town began to disappear on the first day of Rosh Hashana in 1939 at 12 noon. I was a witness on that day to the arrival of the first Germans into the wide marketplace. However, even before they arrived at the marketplace they had already planted the seeds of death among the Jewish population. The first victim was a teenage boy of 16 years old, the grandson of Itsikel Kaklus, whom the Germans shot on Lochow Street. I heard his mother's restrained but bitter weeping and sensed the end of the Jewish community in our small and poor town.

The destruction of our town began on the second day of Rosh Hashana, Friday night at midnight. A number of Polish soldiers hiding among the Jewish houses in the area between Mendele Bishtcher and Yankel Mantel, attacked the German soldiers who were stationed in the marketplace across from these two houses. As a result of this military confrontation the Germans took the Jews out of their homes and shot them on the spot. The result was that thirteen people were killed, and their bodies were immediately burned together with the houses . The fires quickly spread and nothing could stop it. Jews did not dare go out on the street, they fled to the fields around town and to the nearby villages. The armed Germans patrolled the streets and captured Jews, especially men, and rounded them up in various locations. They made use of a trumped up charge that the Jews attacked them at night, and that if it happened again they would kill all the Jews. But who could be certain that some provocation might not occur again, which would result in the Germans keeping their threat?

My family, several other dozen people and myself from Roznitz Street fled out to the fields at those streets, and we could see how our town was destroyed so quickly. The whole situation was one of tremendous disorder.

This is what happened over several days and nights, where every morning some wished it were already night, and at night others wished it were morning. In general, the town started to empty out in the evening hours. Some went to the nearby villages while others ran out to the fields. This included men, women and children. There was great fear of remaining in town, and the gentile villages refused to allow them to enter their homes and yards.

Anti-Jewish propaganda spread among the villages, and in town the result on Friday night was 13 dead before our very eyes. However, this situation was unavoidable. The world was big, but there was nowhere to run. In the meantime the Germans were satisfied with looting and theft of Jewish property, while engaging in beatings and various forms of humiliation. They captured Jews for all types of work, and in at the worksites they abused them in various ways. I was among 10 people caught on Saturday evening to supposedly put out the fire burning since the morning. We were brought to the Yankel Magram [sic] and Rivka Mantel's building, and started tearing down the half-burned buildings using tools they gave us, yet even while working they were hitting and kicking us. Finally, at around 11 pm they sent us warning us that anyone who did not disappear from the marketplace within 5 minutes would get a bullet in the head.

This situation of fear and threats continued this way day and night until the holiday of Sukkot, when after a tense period of waiting the Soviet army arrived, which was greeted with flags and flowers. The whole town was overjoyed; finally we were able to breathe a sigh of relief.

This did not last long however, and all the joy ended after just a single week. According to the agreement made, the Russians left Tarnogrod and retreated almost to Shinova [Sieniawa]. Then the Germans returned to our town, and the abuses returned with great energy. However, many Jews left Tarnogrod with the Russians, especially the youth. This depressing picture was the view of what was happening in our town. It was on a Friday morning, the last day of the pullout of the Russians from town. I glanced over in the direction of Fishel Foxman and could see teenage boys and girls of various ages carrying full bundles on their backs, making their way quickly to the gates of Korchov [Korch—w]. They were accompanied to the gate by parents. When saying their quick goodbyes the parents, and especially the mothers had eyes filled with tears. The question they were asking themselves was whether they would ever see their children again, and in fact, in most cases they never saw their children and relatives again.

That very same evening the Germans entered town. The dance of the devils with the local Jewish population began: abuse, beatings, and various types of mistreatment in full view of the Christian population in the marketplace. This was the fate of the Jews of Tarnogrod.

In view of this dangerous situation Jews in town began their departure from town and to cross the Russian border. However, this could only be done with various dangers and difficulties. When the people of Tarnogrod reached the conclusion that they had to leave everything behind and save their lives, it was too late. But in spite of this, slow movement began in the direction of Shinova, some by vehicle and others by foot. Four other people and I - I remember that two of them were Reuven Richter and Mechl Rinskiss – made our way through the fields and side roads in the direction of the border. We planned to arrive in Shinova to see what the situation was like there, to return and then move there with our families. We arrived at the village next to the border, a place where Mendil Yoshes Futer's son lived. Upon arrival the Germans removed our watches, and in the evening we crossed the border, where we were captured by the Russian border guards. The next day they brought us in peace together with several hundred other Jews.

Two days later we returned to Tarnogrod with the decision to cross back again to Shinova with the whole family. On the way back to Tarnogrod we ran into such Jews from Tarnogrod who walked or traveled in the direction of the border. Some left Tarnogrod and returned several times, while other traveled for business purposes, and yet others to bring back something from home. Thus, there was constant wandering and confusion.

News from Shinova and from Yalovtchov [Naleczow] was not encouraging because of the flow of refugees. There was nowhere to live and not enough food. This situation led to most Jews in Tarnogrod adapting to the new situation in our own town. We had a motto among the people of Tarnogrod that being able to sleep on one's own bed was something of great value, but a few hours later one would change his mind and start packing his bags. The various events occurring through a single day or night affected this instability. For instance, in the village of Rekowka, there lived a Jew named Iser Lumerman. One night they came in and killed his wife. He and the other family members moved to Tarnogrod. Already by 1939 the lives of Jews were easy targets. Only a nearsighted person thought that things would calm down.

I left Tarnogrod on November 15, 1939 in the early afternoon, and great fear spread throughout town. Families and relatives separated, children left their parents, and husbands left their wives. Even I left my parents, and brothers and sisters, both on my side and on my wife's side of the family. Only 5 people left Tarnogrod. My young brother-in-law, 14 years old, accompanied us to the end of Lochow Street, crying bitterly all the way from the house of Zelig the Shoemaker to where I lived, as if he assumed that he would never see us again. So when I returned to Tarnogrod in 1944, two weeks before Rosh Hashanah, I found no one alive except my young brother-in-law.

I left behind 5 members of my family in Tarnogrod, and two of us returned. I found the town burned and destroyed. The population of our town was buried in several mass graves. Most near the Christian cemetery on Roznitz Street and in the yard of David Yoel the shoemaker. May their eternal rest be bound among the living and their memories never forgotten.


[Pages 364-365]

The Study Houses[1] of Tarnogrod

by Eliezer Teicher

Translated by Miriam Leberstein

Written during my last visit to Tarnogrod, in 1949

Where have you gone,
study houses and shtiblekh[2] of Tarnogrod?
I've come over hilltops and ditches
to search for you here.

You will search in vain.
The murderers destroyed us all.
Not a trace of us remains
On this cursed ground.

My holy shul
it's a wonder you're still standing.
I've now gathered together
small stones that lay near you.

Listen, you who prayed here,
and I'll tell why I'm still standing.
No one can know this
but the Creator himself.

The Nazi gang did their best
to knock me down, to burn me
But my four thick pillars
prevented my destruction.

They robbed me of the candlesticks and Torah crowns
and the curtains of the Torah ark.
And they took my greatest treasure –
dozens of Torah scrolls.

I stand here like a gravestone, a monument.
No one hears my weeping, my lament.
Within my walls there's only silence
No one's left to say Kaddish.[3]

 

Home to Zion

Lift up your eyes,
Steady your hand.
Enough of bowing down to others
in the stranger's land.

Here you still live in exile.
Enough of slaving for others.
Go east, where the flags wave blue and white
on the shores and harbors.

That is where our home is,
there is holy ground.
There we'll build with clay and brick.
There we'll live unharmed.

There we'll plow and sow
and cut and bind,
wrapping straw around
the sheaves of grain.

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. The Yiddish word translated as study houses is bote-midrashim, plural of besmedresh, literally “house of study.” The besmedresh in the shtetl served not only as a place for study of the Torah, but also as a house of worship, as an alternative to the synagogue. Return
  2. Shtiblekh is plural for shtibl, a small (often one-room), modest house of worship, especially for Hasidim. Return
  3. Prayer for the dead. Return

 

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