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[Page 239]

The Destruction of Ustiluh

by Nachman Burlyant, New York

Translated by Zvi Kaniel

The following translations were commissioned by Avigail Frij,
whose maternal grandparents were from Ustilug (Kopp and Kultin Families)

Our old home town Ustiluh had about 4,000 Jews, 15 Houses of Learning, a secular Hebrew school “Tarbut,” a Talmud Torah, a Bikur Cholim [organization for caring of the sick], and a Yiddish library.

Economically, the Jews did not live badly, but the anti–Semitic politics of the Polish government had begun to push many Jews out of their secure economic positions, making their future precarious.

On September 1, 1939, when the Nazis suddenly invaded Poland, the Jews of Ustiluh were unaware of the goings on, and did not realize that their years were numbered.

And two weeks later, September 5, when the Russians slaughtered the Poles in Ustiluh, there was a tremendous fire where a quarter of the city was burned down. Namely, Meyer Vogenfeld's large fence in the middle of the market; three rows of houses of Bath Street, from Shaikel Goldhaber's house until Mechel Krakower's house. The fire cost 12 Jewish people their lives. On September 17, the Russians occupied Ustiluh, and life became somewhat more normal again. Even the economic situation was bearable.

For reasons unknown, the Russians deported about thirty families deep into the country. Many Jews moved to the nearby city of Ludomir due to the shortage of housing resulting from the fire. About 3,000 Jews remained in Ustiluh itself and continued to live with hope for their future.

All that continued until June 21, 1941. One beautiful early summer morning, at five AM, all the Ustiluh Jews were awoken by cannon fire, aerial bombardment, and the bark of machine gun fire.

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Tongues of fire shot up in the sky. All this mixed with people crying and screaming amidst the fire and blood, the agonies of death as the victims shrieked “Shema Yisrael!” The fires destroyed the entire town, from Yekhezkel Sheinerman's house down in the distilleries district, all the shops, the Ludomir road, Dan'kes Street, and so on. About 500 Jews lost their lives. Mothers lost their children, and families were torn apart. All this, and more, the ferocious Nazis achieved when they marched into Ustiluh. Mothers searched for the bones of their children in the mountains of ash in the midst of the destruction, men sought the remains of their wives, sisters their brothers, to bring them to the Jewish cemetery. And now the real inferno began for the Ustiluh Jews. Very soon, Jews were seized and sent to work. The frail, elderly or sick were shot on the spot. Jews went into hiding. But the murderous Germans soon created a “Judenrat,” (Jewish Council) that had to make available to the Germans, every day, hundreds of workers who were taken away for work– of which ten percent less returned home every day. How did this ten percent die? The frail and sick, who could not work, were “liquidated.”

It should be mentioned that the Judenrat in Ustiluh, with the chairman Mechel Shafran at its head, risked their lives to save Jews from death.

Jews were now living under terrible circumstances – hunger, death, freezing cold, and typhus were spreading. There were no doctors and no medicines. Hundreds of our beloved brothers and sisters died then, and in Ustiluh, no more than about 2,000 Jews remained.

This tragic situation dragged on until August 31, 1942, when the Gestapo arrived in Ustiluh. That same day, the SS troops issued an order that the following day, September 1, at six in the morning, all the Jews, their wives and children were to assemble in the market place near the pump, and those who go into hiding would be captured and shot. The Jews felt a great looming tragedy. There were no cries, no pleas that could help.

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When children asked their mothers why they were going to be shot, their mothers answered: “Don't cry, my child, it's nothing. We are going to a more beautiful and better world.”

September 24, 1942, 28 Elul 5702, six o'clock in the morning, on a beautiful summer day, when the sun shone brightly, its warm rays enveloping Mother Earth, military trucks arrived. The Germans began loading the Jews onto it. The first to get on the truck was the chairman of the Judenrat, Mechel Shafran along with his family. The second, Benyomtze Meyer Fenix and his family, and so it went. They drove the trucks away behind the village Piatidan, across the bridge, and left to the Piwnik forest, on the road to Ludomir, where the Jews were sent to dig huge ditches. The Germans told them they were preparing hiding places for their airplanes. They stripped the Jews naked and sorted their clothing, shirt to shirt, shoes with shoes. They ordered the naked Jews to stand at the edge of the ditch, and groups of savage German Nazi and Ukrainian soldiers and policemen aimed their guns right at the hearts. After each volley of fire, dozens of Jews fell into the large ditches. The rich, black Ukrainian soil became red from all the blood that flowed. The sun shone that day as if nothing unusual had happened. How could the sun shine on such a dark day? Why did the sun not become dark like it was in the mass grave? The trucks drove quickly back into town with the clothing of the victims, and to bring back a fresh load of victims. This is how the actzion continued for ten straight days, until Ustiluh was Judenrein (free of Jews).

It is important to mention that many Jews fell into the ditches out of terror, still alive, but were subsequently buried alive. A very small number were able to crawl out of the mass grave and escape into the forest to the partisans. The others went to their slaughter with the last words, “Shema Yisroel!” and screamed out, “Whoever survives this should take revenge!” At the same time and place, they murdered 15,000 Ludomir Jews, including 1,000 Ustiluh Jews who had moved there. This was a total of about 17,000 Jews in one mass grave. The approximately 300 Jews who did not present themselves in the market place on that dark day, ran away into the forests, fought with the partisans, hiding in the ditches until the Russian Army liberated them.

[Page 242]

It is also important to mention that a few good Christian Poles risked their lives by hiding Jews until the liberation.

Until today, we have registered in our relief committee over two hundred Jews who lived in the camps in Europe, and with your help, we can support them with food and clothing every month. We help them get to America; we send them money so that they should be able to reach the Land of Israel. This is the tragic summary of our old home Ustiluh.

On a tall mountain surrounded on all four sides by flowing water on the Western Ukrainian side, on the Polish border, at the River Bug, there was once a calm beautiful Jewish town – Ustiluh. About 4,300 Jews lived together there and hoped to have a long happy life.

Ustiluh is no longer; it is wiped off the earth.

And our beloved dear Ustiluh Jews?

A mass grave of 4,000 martyrs, without tombstones, without even a low fence marking the cemetery…

We cry for you with tears mixed with blood!

We will never ever forget you!

Yitgadal V'yitkadash!

[Page 243]

The Massacre in Piatidan

by Kehat Kliger

Translated by Zvi Kaniel

The autumn trees were watching and were silent,
The Elul skies did not cry out to God

Autumn trees, why are you silent?
A. Elul skies, why are you not crying out?

My Jewish town, my twenty thousand Jews,
were slaughtered in the village Piatidan on the 19th of Elul

Woe to you, trees, from the town of Piatidan,
Woe to your skies, over the town of Piatidan

From infants to children, from women till the aged,
The blade sliced through from one to the other;

The blade sliced through, the knife cut
The bride, the groom, the rabbi.

From the main street to the shul court, from the poor to the wealthy,
The blade sliced through everyone equally.

My twenty thousand Jews – how many remained?
None remained, no one survived.

The autumn trees watched and were silent,
The Elul skies did not cry out to God.

[Page 244]

At least tell me, skies, tell me, trees,
From the Piatidan slaughter days, woe is to me, woe is to me.

I know it, this town, the cottages, just one,
With the deficient, unpaved roads, with the dry plains;

I know this town, this Volyn, Piatidan,
Each poor farmer from the markets and the fairs;

I know each motion, each sound of the scythe.
In sunny spring, and the waves of the oceans,

Oh, tell me, heavens, tell me, trees,
About the Piatidan slaughter days, woe is me, woe is me!

The Rav Yaakov David, the gray–haired, refined person,
Did he really smile as his soul left him?

Hinda, wife of the gabbai, was she in her Shabbat headscarf?
Did she accept with love the brown murder?

Oh, tell me, heavens, tell me, trees,
About the Piatidan slaughter days, woe is me, woe is me!

Did the chazzan's wife, Pessia Gitel – my mother
Along with my sister – her only daughter –
Dance towards the slaughterer, singing:
Holy! Holy! – and take three steps [as is done during prayer?

Did Yitzchak Shlomo the shochet utter the blessing
When the evil person's blade slit his throat?

Did the pious water carrier – the quiet Srul,
Scream before his death: “God will pay them back”?

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Was the cry of Nechemtze's child – one year and seven months
like a parched “Shema Yisrael,” remaining hollow?

Woe to you, trees, you bloodied witness,
Why were you silent during the Piatidan slaughter?

I will inscribe it in my journal, upon my heart
So that it remains engraved in our memories for generations.

That while my town – the 20,000 Jews,
Were murdered on 19 Elul in the town of Piatidan,

The trees on the ground did not cry, did not shout,
And the heavens remained silent witness to the bloodshed.

From the book “The World Begs Me to Die”; Buenos Aires, 1950.

[Page 246]

A Stroll
Dedicated to My Home Town Ustiluh

by Yossel Burlyant, z”l, New York

Translated by Zvi Kaniel

On a tall mountain, sprinkled with fruit gardens, surrounded by green meadows and ponds, stood our town Ustiluh.

Strolling north from the middle of the marketplace: two lines of shops, a large, broad place known as Warsaw Street, with that name because of the beautiful houses belonging to the wealthy businessmen in Ustiluh.

Next, the strolls through the mountains, the Lug River and the good fish, with the large river ripples in the reed covering, the two mills with the locks [in the canal] which block the water from the Lug that flows into the Bug and provides energy to the mills so that they can run. The highway to Zeluzhe, the roads to Warczin, Widernitz, Stizhericz, and Krinitz, and the famous Sosnow forests.

Left: Back onto the mountain, and a look to the west, there's the Rabbi's house with the orchard. Way at the bottom, at the foot of the mountain, the Bug River flows calmly. From where? Somewhere from Galicia. Where to? Across Poliesa to Pinsk and into the Vistula. On the other side of the Bug, the large hay stacks.

Then to the right: The teachers' street. The Rizhiner and other small synagogues. Behind the mountain, near the river, the bath house, Bluma Ziske's small house with the straw roof. The frame slides back and forth. The houses on the other side, the city gate, the large chimney can be seen at a distance from the Striszow sugar warehouse.

Back to the city, a stroll to the south. The large House of Learning, the Trisker Shtiebel, the tailors' Shtiebel, which is about to fall into the ground as the sinkhole gets bigger and bigger, almost reaching the town council hall, and that might even cut the town in half.

[Page 247]

And noteworthy! As the ditch reaches a holy place, it moves off in another direction. Also, there was the mail that used to bring us the world's news four times a week, and of course, a letter from America.

Farther down, past the fence between two tall mountains, is the road to the distilleries. In fact, between the distillery buildings there are a few female deer, and [there's a place] where they produce oil in a primitive fashion. Then, another river flows there, the Rydzek River, which flows into the Bug. On the other side of the bridge, you can see the brickyard, the roads to Rossov, Izov, and so on. A little higher up to the left on the little mountain is Sokolov's large house, which was the school for over half a century. Around the river there are more green meadows with the fragrant hay of summer.

On the way back to the marketplace, there are another two rows of shops, no stores. In one shop, there is a barrel of herring; in another, a barrel of kerosene; in a third, two or three sacks of flour; and so on. A winding right to the east, and there are another two rows of shops, but these were already more “profitable.” Here you are able to find material for a suit, a container of sardines, tobacco, sugar, iron, and so on. Continue right, and there is the large Russian church with the large fruit orchard. There's the Christian street with the straw roofs, and farther down is the road to Ludomir, the blacksmiths, the Polish church, the hospital where no Jewish foot has ever stepped, the empty park, but the pears and apples were the best, and right after World War One, a train station was built there and set up.

On the left, there are two long rows of chestnut trees, where, on Friday nights, both young and old would stroll to the Jewish cemetery because on the other side of the cemetery there is a small, narrow, hardly noticeable river that flows, with the erroneous name of “Bielebi,” that flows north into the Rydzek near the priest's mill, with the wide meadows all around, where the youth would spend a happy and lively afternoon after their Shabbat meal. Towards the south, the Bielebi (real name is Bieli–Bug) flows into the Lug River. Further down, across the small river, between two rows of trees, is the wide highway to Ludomir, the city district where I received 75% of my education.

But, I shudder when I look there at the larger city.

Over there, where we say from where the sun rises and falls, and we use the words “I have set G–d

[Page 248]

before me always,” there on the main road, just a few kilometers from Ustiluh is the village of Piwnik; now the “holy village.” In that village is the mass grave of our martyrs. That is where the Nazi murderers killed our dear and loved ones: mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, our relatives and friends, all who perished in sanctification of the name of G–d, with these words on their lips: “Do not forget us!” There were exactly 4,000 people, and only 200 managed to save themselves, spread right across Poland, Italy, Austria, and a few in Russia.

No! I cannot continue. I run back to my town, but…! It's a disaster! Where am I? There is no town left here, no Ustiluh, only ruins, the houses destroyed, here and there only a remnant of a house, a chimney, no marketplace, no shops, no churches, but there is the 100–year–old large Beit Midrash [Study Hall], left standing tall and proud, as a symbol for the victims to show that we are a nation with a strong backbone. No one can destroy us! We survived the Pharaohs, the Amalekites, Torquemada, all kinds of pogroms, and Hitler, may his name and memory be erased, erased forever. No! We who survived will not be defeated!

The enemies will receive their punishment, and all of us together, without any political differences, will build a Jewish city in the Land of Israel, that will serve as an example for the entire world to learn tolerance and democracy.


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