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Part III

Destruction and Perishing


[Pages 577-580 - Yiddish] [Pages 573-576 - Hebrew]

In Memoriam

by Fishl Yitzhaki

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

The picture of our shtetl[1], before the destruction, where we were born and spent the best years of our lives stands before my eyes as if alive. Every street, every house, garden, orchard, forest and the entire environs stands before me. I see the shul[2] on the shul hill and the river beneath the hill. I remember the yomim-tovim[3], joyous days and also the sad moments through which I lived in Goniadz.

Goniadz was a shtetl like other shtetlekh in exile Poland, with communal activities and institutions, in which the whole of Jewish life in Poland was reflected. It was soaked in Torah and tradition, idealism and the love of Israel, like all the shtetlekh.

Goniadz was a pioneer shtetl in one respect – modern Hebrew education. The Hebrew full day school where all general and Jewish subjects were taught in Hebrew, was the first of its kind in Poland. Those who stood by its cradle put their entire youthful fervor and idealism into it. The entire pioneer and Zionist work of the shtetl grew from the school.

The Tarbut[4] library stands before me with its wide circle of readers. The communal activities in connection with elections to the Sejm[5], to the Zionist Congress and so on, were centered around it.

I am reminded of Hahalutz[6] and Halutz-Hatzeir[7], which prepared a great number of pioneers for Eretz-Yisroel; the Jewish school that was supported by the so-called proletariat element; the stormy gatherings and meetings where the various ideologies that reigned in the Jewish neighborhood were discussed.

I also remember the two benches at the gemiles-khesid[8] which supported the shop owners and artisans during difficult times, when the taxes were high and oppressive. I also cannot forget the community institutions, lines hatzedek[9] and bikur-holim[10], which often kept the needy alive.

There were Jews here with warm hearts, compassion, community workers, scholars, simple people and also paupers.

All, all, without exception or discrimination, perished in the great devastation of Polish Jewry. It is difficult to find expression for this great pain and calamity. We can only say that they will live in our memory for eternity.

May this yizkor[11] book be a living matzevah[12] and an eternal memorial for them and for the beloved and cherished shtetl of our birth.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. town; plural: shtetlekh Return
  2. synagogue Return
  3. religious holidays Return
  4. Tarbut was a Zionist network of educational institutions, such as schools and libraries. Return
  5. the lower house of the Polish parliament Return
  6. organization training agricultural workers before emigration to Eretz-Yisroel Return
  7. Zionist Youth Movement Return
  8. interest free loan society Return
  9. poorhouse Return
  10. organization for visiting the sick Return
  11. memorial Return
  12. headstone Return

[Pages 581-582 - Yiddish] [Pages 581-582 - Hebrew]

Six Candles

by Asher Shtshutshinski

Translated from Yiddish to English by Martin Jacobs

For the souls of the six million slain of our people (may the Lord avenge their blood)

I light six candles --
and bitter tears roll
down my sorrowful face.
-- you will never be forgotten.

Six candles which burn darkly
darkening the world, putting it to shame;
knead your tallow with our blood
and in the fire – seek revenge!

[Pages 583-590]

Goniadz Under Soviet Rule

by Zeydl (son of Note Dwoshke[1]) Altshuld

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

To the eternal memory of my dear parents, Note and Dwoshe Altshuld

The Germans occupied Goniadz on the first of September, 1939. Immediately upon their arrival in the shtetl, the German vandals looted Jewish possessions and made a ruin of our beautiful, historic synagogue which had adorned our shtetl[2] with its particularly local architectural style and also its distinct solitary position – on the highest point in the entire area.

The Germans withdrew from Goniadz after several weeks as a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and Goniadz was occupied by the Russians in the month of September 1939. At first, the life of the Goniadz Jewish population, which numbered more than 1,000 souls, was difficult. They could not accustom themselves to the new way of life that the Bolsheviks brought to the shtetl.

But a short time later, life became a little easier. A special “office” was founded whose purpose was to provide the population with the necessary products for living. The “office” began to bake bread for the population. Several government store cooperatives were opened – at which Jews were employed in most cases. Jews were also employed in various institutions and institutes that were founded in the shtetl. The Jews also took a major role in the city council.

The Jewish artisans – tailors, shoemakers, capmakers, and the like – proceeded with their work from which they fed their families, but with relative quiet and stillness. Thus, the life of the Goniadz Jewish population proceeded for nearly a year and 10 months – until Sunday, the 22nd of June, 1941.


The Change

That Sunday, in the middle of the night, the residents of Goniadz suddenly awoke from their sleep, hearing powerful bombs exploding. The news spread quickly that the Germans had suddenly started a war against the Russians. An indescribable fear fell upon the entire Jewish population in Goniadz. The Russian soldiers also ran around confused by the sudden change.

On Sunday night the Russian military regime issued an order that all citizens, former military members, must appear for military service immediately. A large number of young men obeyed this order; only a small number hid.


The Situation in Goniadz at the Withdrawal of the Russians

Goniadz, in the early morning at 2:30 on Sunday, the 22nd of June, 1941. There is a heavy knock at my window. I think I am dreaming… No, I really do hear knocking at my window mixed with a Russian curse word… “Wake up, you! (I am in the military.) Report immediately to the headquarters of the 10th battalion. Be ready in 10 minutes and report there to the military official on duty, ponial?! (Understood?) If not – a bullet in the head!” My good friend, Djodje Dlugolenski (who I lived with) was near me and said to me with a distressed voice that he had heard a tumult the entire night and then also shooting and heavy bomb explosions. He believed, he said, that these were exercises, but his face expressed astonishment and strong agitation. Meanwhile, I finished getting dressed and was ready to leave my room. My good friend, Djodje Dlugolenski accompanied me to the door and asked with tears in his eyes: “What happened?”… It was quiet, calm in the street; no sound was heard, the shtetl was asleep… But from time to time, bombs were heard exploding far, far away… At the old market, in Chaim Kobrinski's house, a weak light was seen and soldiers went in and out in great haste (military personal had lately been quartered there). Coming to Zalmen Bialostacki's house (where the headquarters of the 10th battalion air observation and liaison was located), it did not feel that something hung in the air. Calm, quiet, as usual… Starting as always with the entire row of houses, from Chaya Ruckl Luria to Kloip, the shutters and doors were closed, their residents calmly asleep, alas, not knowing what the morning would bring…

Arriving at the headquarters, I reported to the commander on duty, whose appearance expressed disquiet and anger. I immediately received an order to take an auto from the N.Z[3]. (that is, the autos that were used only in extraordinary cases such as, for example, war or other special occurrences). I had already gone through military exercises twice with the battalion (so that I already knew everything from earlier). The autos stood in Berl Rudski's courtyard. Upon arrival there I tried to start the autos, one after the other, but, alas, without success. Each vehicle was missing another part. It appeared that the earlier drivers had taken out the parts for other automobiles and these were left standing… Then the door opened in Grodjenski's house and the woman, Chinke, came out. She looked at me in amazement that I was working here in the middle of the night. But she did not ask me anything because I was guarded by a Red Army member with a gun. Seeing that I could not do anything, I announced to the commander that the vehicles could in no case be readied for departure because they were missing necessary parts. The commander became very excited and cursed: “Eto sabotazh, svolochi. Rasstrelyat vas. (This is sabotage; we need to shoot you, outsiders, scoundrels!).” In spite of the cursing by the commander, the vehicles would not move from the spot… After long labor and searching, we were successful in borrowing a part from another military formation. The commander praised my initiative and ordered me to go to the observation points and take the soldiers stationed there away. The points were in various nearby villages around Goniadz. Leaving I saw a group of Jews in discussion standing at the market; they accompanied me with astonished looks, not asking what had happened. Perhaps they still only believed that these were exercises, as many of the members of the Red Army also believed. The roads were bombed and were full of holes several meters long and wide. I had to drive through the fields because it was impossible to travel on the highway. There were broken pieces of machine guns, dead horses, cows and also members of the Red Army, who asked for help. But no one was concerned about them; everyone ran farther… My vehicle rocked as a ship on a turbulent sea, making my way through fields and forests, arriving at various points and giving them the orders from the headquarters – Retreat! The Red Army quickly left their positions leaving all of their military equipment abandoned.

In the evening I came back to Gonaidz. A dead silence reigned in the shtetl. The streets were dead. No lights were seen in the houses. Darkness around and around. I was controlled by anxiety; I wanted very much to be among friends and acquaintances. I asked my commander for permission to go see my acquaintance, but after 10 minutes I, alas, received an order to remain in the vehicle because conditions were unusual and moving from the spot would result in “shooting.” Despite this I was successful in dropping in for several minutes to my good friends, to the family of Moshe Leizer Grajenski while my vehicle stood in Berl Rudski's courtyard. Knocking quietly, Moshe Leizer's wife opened the door to me. Her facial expression expressed fear and despair. The same was also noticeable on the faces of the remaining people in the house. Quietly she told me that her son, Gdalke, had also been mobilized by the Russian military and several others with him: Asher Szirtes [the teacher], Zeidl Khazan [Chenye Peshe's son], Ahrele Reznicka (Beilke the baker's son], Leibl Brumer (Yehoshua the tinsmith's son]. I spent about 10 minutes with the Grajenski family and I left them with a grieving heart, feeling that I would never see them again. Upon leaving, I heard a sad, heartbreaking, quiet cry… I stopped near my vehicle. A dead silence reigned in the entire shtetl. From afar was heard something exploding, which became louder and louder – apparently the danger was getting closer… A great compassion awoke in my heart for the desolate Goniadz Jews who were now apparently sleeping calmly, not having any idea about the great misfortune that would appear in the morning… A strong desire awoke in me to be with friends and acquaintances, who were so close to me and so far… It began to get light. My commander gave me 15 minutes. My first visit was with my friend, Ida Rudski, in her residence on Kaszcalne Street in Ruwin the shoemaker's house. The shutters were closed. A soft rap and Ida opened the door for me with fear and dispiritedness. After speaking several words, she asked: “What will be? And what will happen to Zeidl? – “I cannot give an answer to your questions, Ida,” I answered. “But I would advise you to go to Suchowola, to your friend, Kohn, because you have no one here in Goniadz and you feel lonely.” Her answer to my advice was a sharp sigh and a quiet, bitter cry… Wanting to encourage her a little, I said at taking my leave that during a bad time one must not lose their courage. And it could be possible that when I quickly visit her a second time, we will speak with joy of the past suffering. She smiled and said: “Halevay[4].”

Going out into the street, I encountered the butcher, Leibl Tikocki, asking: “What will be, Zeidl?” Immediately, Zeidl Sidanski, Chava Furman, Moshe Feiwl Bialosukenski and several other Jews also approached and we began to speak “politics.” I crept away and went to my friend, Yankl Mankowski, who was full of worry and grief. We parted with the blessing, “See you again in our homeland,” and I went to visit the wife of my dear friend, Zelig Newodowski, who had to leave Goniadz during the time of Soviet rule because of his Zionist activity. His son, Leizer, a talented student in the Hebrew gymnazie[5] in Bialystok, was also not at home at that time. Only the wife, Fanya Newodowski, and their small daughters were at home. Mrs. Newodowski greeted me with a cry, asking what should she do? She was alone. She did not know where Zelig was and she also had no news from her son… Her crying tore my heart in pieces. I tried to calm her, but it was impossible. With a broken heart, I said goodbye to her and her small daughters and I quickly ran to headquarters. Entering headquarters, I received an order to drive in the direction of Bialystok. I left my shtetl, Goniadz, on Monday, the 23rd of June 1941 at 10 o'clock in the morning.

I stopped at the market for a while where many very sincere friends and acquaintances were gathered to take leave of me. One, an old Jew, called after me aloud: The Lord bless and preserve thee on the path on which you go.” Peace! In that time of danger, it seemed to me that I heard the words of the old Jew clear and distinct. My vehicle started to move slowly. A cry was heard… Tears also poured from my eyes without stop. Even the commander was moved by what was happening around us… We drove past the cemetery in the direction of the Monki railroad station. The gates of the cemetery were half open. A strong desire was awoken in me to enter the cemetery and say goodbye to my parents. But the commander said that when life is in danger, one should not take one step in that direction. But in the depth of my heart, I parted from my parents and from all of my friends and acquaintances…

Thus I left my birthplace, Goniadz, and with her, also the friends of my youth with whom I spent my past years. With a broken heart and with great sorrow and pain I parted with you, my dear ones, knowing that great, very great, was the danger that stood before you. And who knew if we would again see each other. But your memory will be engraved in my heart for eternity…

Munich, 8 Sivan 5716 (18.5.56)

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Dwoshke is the diminutive of Dwoshe. Return
  2. town Return
  3. abbreviation for unknown words Return
  4. God grant it Return
  5. secondary school Return

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