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[Pages 386-387]

Remember and Do Not Forget

by Moshe Yosef [1] Daum, Brooklyn

Translated by Menachem Daum

Great quantities of ink, rich with tears, have already been spilled and become dry in portraying the slow death of Polish Jewry – including our community – until its total demise.

But together with the words of the poet of Akdomis [2], we too can say that if all the heavens were parchment and all the seas were ink we would also not be able to express even a fraction of the gruesome experiences of those years of gray days and dark nights when we already sensed that the irreversible verdict had already been signed.

But it should be established right from the start, at least as far as I know of my city and its surroundings, that in spite of some of the stories which here and there spread among Jewish communities and came to our ears at that time –, even in our wildest dreams and tormented nightmarish fantasies which painted dreadful images of bloody days and murderous nights, of cruel torments and bestial tortures, even then not even a man with the richest unbelievable fantasies was able to imagine that the race of polite “Danke schoen” and “Bitte schoen[3], would be capable of saying and also carrying out in reality the total annihilation of an entire nation – a crime that to a large extent was successful.

And here I want to note that the very fact of not seeing the heavy dark clouds which were closing in on the Jewish people, and our disbelief in the flood of blood and fire with which the Germans were preparing to destroy us, this itself was already one of the greatest punishments that were poured upon Polish Jewry with unheard of fury.

Had we had less faith in the effects of the so–called “European culture and humanism”, of which the polite Germans were one of the most profound representatives, had we believed in the unbelievable – the picture of our tragedy would not have turned out so horribly dark.

Hundreds and thousands would have searched and probably found various paths to rescue in time and even later. This was the tragedy of Yiddish–European Jewry that fell into the German claws. This was also the misfortune of our city – until the fateful day of the 17th of Elul, 5702 when the Germans and their accomplices wiped off the map our well–established and vibrant Zdunska Wola Jewish community.

When we, the Jewish embers saved from the consuming inferno, want to express the horror of those days as much as is possible we see how the incurable wound has infected our folks' organism. In particular we feel this when we come together, for example, to celebrate a joyous event for our children. We are truly happy that we have merited doing so, that the deranged murderers did not succeed in destroying us all as they had immorally planned and that we are continuing the chain of Jewish eternity. However, it is a joy mixed with deep bitter mourning – as if intermingling light and darkness.

Among people of all nations all over the world, grandfathers and grandmothers, uncles and aunts, close and more distant relatives participate in such celebrations. Our children and we did not have this privilege. Not a single one among us, when we come to this point doesn't wipe tears away from our eyes as we are placed in this painful situation, which not only puts us in a quandary, us and our children, but it is also openly obvious proof of the great inconsolable misfortune that struck us.

All that remains for us is to mourn our people's great destruction that, among other Jewish European communities, has also wiped out almost all of Polish Jewry. These Jewish communities – an endless reservoir of physical and spiritual activity, where for many generations a warm, intense Jewish life has sprung up – full of dreams and hopes, of justice and eternal peoples' peace, were transformed into a great cemetery and mass graves.

***

Over 20 years have passed since the destruction of our city – and it is still difficult to make peace with the sad reality.

It was a city of Torah and Wisdom, Hasidim and people of accomplishment; a city in which people breathed spirituality and holiness. I believe that there was certainly not a single home among us that, at the very least, did not live a traditional Jewish life.

There existed and exhibited a great deal of vitality, innumerable Torah institutions, in addition to many others: economic, cultural, educational, political and philanthropic institutions and organizations. Among the others special mention should be made of the yeshiva and the mesivtha [4] in which study and Hasidic ecstasy reached a very high level. Boys from near and far–––many from the surrounding towns, came to draw from the Torah wellspring of these institutions.

The students, most of whom came from poor homes, joyously and enthusiastically fulfilled, “Bread with salt you shall eat, water in small measure you shall drink, and upon the ground, you shall sleep; live a life of deprivation and toil in Torah [5]”. Eating “days” [6] – some of them also slept in the ratusz [7] shops in order to earn a little something [8].

These students did not seek riches or material careers. They dismissed the pursuit of worldly material goods as if it were like dust of the earth. They were devoutly determined to seek eternal Torah truths. Immersed in the Torah, in the Talmud and rulings of Jewish law, and in Hasidic literature, to enrich their spirit, to gird themselves with traditional, crystallized Judaism in order to quell all attacks of surrounding [9] secularism, and maintain Jewish eternity under all circumstances and conditions. This was their only goal in life, for which they offered their youth and careers.

These foundations were provided for them in abundance by our city. They emerged from there full of Torah and Wisdom – this spiritual baggage served them as impregnable protection for their future life journey and struggle for survival.

Is it really a great, indescribable pain, that this caring, inexhaustible well of scholarship and Hasidism, of power and belief, together with all of Zdunska Wola Judaism, was through the forces of darkness, by the so–called cultured philosophical and poetic German nation, were so horribly and unbelievably destroyed.

Remember what Amalek [10] did to you…don't forget (Deuteronomy 28, 17–19)

Translator's footnotes:

  1. Author's middle name is incorrect and should read; Moshe Yosef Daum Return
  2. A prominent liturgical poem recited annually on the holiday Shavuot Return
  3. German for “thank you” and “please.” Return
  4. Orthodox secondary school Return
  5. Ethics of the Fathers, 6:3 Return
  6. The system in which local families would host out–of–town yeshiva boys and provide them with a meal one or more days a week Return
  7. Administrative building and tower at the town center surrounded by shops Return
  8. Most yeshivas in Poland did not have dormitories so out–of–town boys often slept in shops sometimes earning a small fee for serving as night watchmen. Return
  9. אנגרייפנדיקן? Return
  10. The ancient biblical nation who attacked the Israelites departing from Egypt and who is seen as the archetypal and eternal enemy of the Jewish people Return

 

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