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[Page 270]

Holocaust and Heroism

 

[Page 274]

Our Town is Burning

by Mordecai Gebirtig

Translated by Selwyn Rose

It is burning, brothers, our cherished town, it burns!
Our poor unhappy town is on fire!
Enlivened by evil spirits
And from the wild-fire ruins
Everything is already burning all around.

And you who look upon it while folding your arms!
And you stand and just stare and look.
How our town burns!

It is burning, brothers, our beloved town, it burns!
Our poor unhappy town is on fire!
You already know full well how the tongues of fire swallow all, -
Everything is already burning all around.

And you just stand and look...

It is burning brothers, our dearest town, see how it burns!

The moment may come when the town will remain – G-d forbid,
Together with you, like after a battle, -
Blackened and desolate.

And you stand and just look…

Only your hand, your hand can prevail!
And if the town is dear to you,
Take tools and quench the flames, quench them with your hands

And prove your hands failed you not!

Do not stand, brothers, like that to the end, with folded arms!
Do not stand, brothers, put out the fire, for our town is on fire!


[Page 275]

Our Exile from Jarosław to the Siberian Forests

by Moshe Katz

Translated by Selwyn Rose

“How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people (Jarosław) and her Jews are not.”[1].
It was that same fateful summer of 1939, a short time after Nazi Germany attacked Poland and the Second World War broke out. One bright morning we found the Jackboots of the Nazi army in our town, captured virtually without a fight and without a shot being fired.

The sorrows of the Jews began the following morning after the Germans mobilized the Jews for work (sometimes simply fabricated and unproductive). The work was intended to abuse and humiliate the Jews more than any other purpose. While working the Jews were beaten mercilessly by the Germans. Anti-Semitic Poles took part in that and goaded and aggravated the Jews.

It was the morning hours of a lovely day when the writer of these few lines, together with his mother, were in their grocery store at 4 Spytka Street when suddenly a German entered the shop accompanied by two Poles. The Nazi spoke a couple of sentences to my mother that could only be understood in one way and that was:

“All the Jews of the town of Jarosław and the area must congregate today, no later than three this afternoon in the town's stadium, with a parcel of belongings to take with them. The Jews must lock their apartments and business premises, workshops and arrange all the keys together with the addresses of the properties and the personal details of the owner.”
Many of us, in our innocence and naïveté did as the Germans commanded and reported to the stadium. The Germans body-searched everyone carefully taking everything of value they could find, especially money, gold, diamonds, rings and other articles. Many at the same time bullied the Jews with blows and then moved them across the River San.

Many of them (my family among them), understood the intention of the Germans and crossed the river on their own initiative and in so doing saved themselves from robbery, insults and pain. And thus, within one day alone, our town was cleared of all its Jews, leaving behind them quantities of personal property, homes, stores full of goods, workshops

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and also much public community property – splendid synagogues, Study-Houses, schools, the “Yad Harutzim” building, public and other meeting rooms. Most of the buildings in town were owned by Jews and everything remained, everything was confiscated, rapidly and completely and we even had no time to prepare provisions for the journey; The Jews left behind them the organized Jewish lives and traditions that sustained them in Jarosław for many generations.

Within two or three days, we were met by the Red Army that was advancing rapidly towards the San which according to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Agreement was to be the international border between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany after the fourth carving-up of Poland.

Most of the Jews of our town spent the winter of 1939-40 in Eastern Galicia.

The spring of 1940 did not bode well, although our townspeople somehow managed to survive with acquaintances and relatives and among ordinary Jews and sometimes with Poles from the Righteous Among the Nations. We were only sorry that there were so few of them.

The Soviet Union brought order to the annexed territories and offered the population Soviet citizenship. The Jews of Jarosław as one rejected the offer, considering themselves refugees with the hopes that at the end of hostilities they would return to Poland. They asked to remain as refugees and waived the offer of Soviet citizenship. There is no doubt that the rejection wasn't pleasing to the Soviets and Stalin's reaction was came quickly.

It was a dark summer night when the N.K.V.D. came to visit the refugees - the Jews of Jarosław. They ordered our refugees (together with tens of thousands of other Jews who fled when the war broke out), to gather their belongings and once again fulfill the biblical injunction “Get thee out of thy country…”[2].

That same night, guards transferred us to railroad wagons with small windows and we journeyed eastwards in the closed wagons. When we passed Lvov, many of the town's Jews brought us bread, something to drink and other supplies. A few Yiddish words were all that was needed for them to bring as much food and supplies for us as they could get their hands on before the train moved on eastwards. After three days, confined within the wagons and travelling in the direction of Kiev we noticed at every station a conspicuous sign with the word “Kipiatok”– we didn't know why the town “Kipiatok” had so many stations.

At fixed times during the journey, the wagons were opened once a day and we received bread, soup and tea. It was only during the journey eastwards we learned the that meaning of the word – “Kipiatok” was “boiling water” -

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“boiling water” that was so essential for the preparation of tea during long journeys lasting several days.

We continued eastwards.

The train passed through all of European Russia, travelling for a week or two (during which we often stopped for a number of hours). And here we were already in Asiatic Greater Russia. If there had been earlier doubts among the Jews as to where we were going, those doubts now disappeared. The thought of forced labor now gnawed at our minds. We travelled on and on for about 4 weeks until the transport arrived at a town called Barnaul. The biblical injunction of “get thee out of thy country…” continued as far as the area of Topchikhinsky and the village of Topchikha as we penetrated deeper and evermore deeper into endless forests. It was possible to travel for days on end through the Taiga[3]. areas, imprisoned by the forests from which there is no escape or exit.

Our final destination in the Topchikhinsky raion (district) was barrack number 3. It was our “resting place”. We were about seventy Jewish families, some from Jarosław: the large Kaufmann family, with Yeshiayhu Kaufmann, the Shachne Rubinfeld family, the Blond Family, owners of the paint shop with their son the veterinarian, Dr. Korman[*]. The Zadok Prinz family, the Sonnenblick family- metal-workers from Jarosław, Leib (Arieh) Katz and his family, owners of a grocery store at 4 Spytka Street (who immigrated to Jerusalem and lived there for many years and was privileged to see the reunification of the Eternal City). There were additional families from Jarosław whose names have unfortunately slipped my memory.

The first winter started before Rosh Hashanah, we began to bury our dead in ever increasing numbers due to poor living conditions. We suffered from hunger and the cold weather.

When we arrived, we found a large bare barrack block with no partitions and that is where about seventy families were placed. There was no kitchen and no facilities. We “lived together” communally throughout the first Siberian winter. We were selected to work in various forestry works such us chopping down trees. The payment for the labor was barely enough to maintain us for about one third of our needs. We had two Russian work managers as overseers and also an N.K.V.D. officer. We were told quite clearly that we would never leave that place – “No one is ever released from Siberia”; and “if we build for ourselves

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living quarters it will be for our own benefit for we have hands, there is an abundance of timber and no restriction about building a place to live.”

The distress, the hunger, the lack of sanitary conditions and the hard labor had a devastating effect on our community. The religious traditions constituted a crime - public prayer - a crime. During that first winter, we began to count our dead. Among the first were Mr. and Mrs. Kaufmann, who died of starvation and the hard conditions they were unable to withstand. Shacḥne Rubinfeld lost his son from starvation and lack of medication and hospitalization. A significantly equipped clinic was tens of kilometers away (the nearest mail facility was 32 kilometers distant). During the twenty months period we were there, tens of people died, among them the entire group of elders and the youngest children. Only the strongest in body and spirit managed to hold on and were granted “Amnesty” through the Sikorski-Stalin agreement, leaving Siberia for central Asia at the end of the two-year period spent in that “Garden of Eden”.

In the hot central Asiatic zones in the difficult tropical climate of Tashkent, Dzhambul, Alma-Ata and so on (Kazakhstan), we met up with other Jews, many of them from Jarosław. The shortage of

 


The Northern Part of the Central Square
On the left Grodzka street

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food and the minimal conditions for mere existence as a result of the war, against the Nazi beast, the illnesses – malaria, dysentery and so on – all these made us very frail.

It was only at the end of the war that a small number of our townspeople returned to Poland but not to Jarosław. The anti-Semitic beast had decided unequivocally that the Jewish property and Holy places in our town will remain free of Jews. And thus, it was.

I visited Jarosław in 1946. I strolled around many different parts of the town. I was shocked. I didn't recognize my town at all. It was Jarosław without Jews – I felt as if the heart had been torn out of me. But worst of all – there were no acquaintances, no friends, no family, no ḥassidim, no Mitnagdim, no Zionists, no Socialists. Everything was strange everything was foreign. Even the Jewish cemetery with its impressive tombstones was as if it didn't exist.

I spent about two weeks in Jarosław in the summer of 1946 with my mother, Batya-Basha Katz (Z”L). I covered the town from side to side and from top to bottom, from the church as far as the River San, in the direction of the railroad station, to Dietziusa Street area near the home of Lazar Diller and the municipal hospital in the direction of the Wandoły. Everything was there and in place – but the soul – non-existent. We have suffered enough pain. We left the deserted Jarosław without Jews, never to return there.

Again and yet again, our souls directed us onwards – to the Land of Israel.


Footnotes

* The family of Baruḥ Kalchheim (the brother of Moshe Kalchheim - the mainstay of the “Akiva” Zionist youth movement in Jarosław before the war Return
  1. Taken directly from the opening verse of the Lamentations of Jeremiah. Return
  2. Taken from Genesis XII; 1.Return
  3. Taigas are subarctic scrub areas found throughout the northern latitudes from Canada to Siberia Return


[Page 280]

In Memoriam

by Alexander Silberman

Translated by Selwyn Rose

When the first days of September came and with them the threats of the bloodthirsty leaders of the criminal people, together with the Polish leaders' proud declarations concerning the “undefeatable weapons of war” that Poland possessed; In an atmosphere between hope and despair, it was possible to hear the weak voices of Jewish optimism of “...the demon is not so terrible”

And thus, on the first of September, 1939 the Second World War broke out with massive bombing attacks by the Germans on defenseless towns and cities and the fate of Europe's Jews and with them the Jews of our town Jarosław, where its Jewish community had thrived for centuries was sealed. The contribution of that community to the cultural life of Poland is well known.

On the 8th of September, the Nazis entered the town and conquered it and we, the Jews, were degraded to nothing more than hunted animals by blood-thirsty criminals. Confiscations, robbery, collective punishments and cruelties became daily occurrences.

On 28th of September, we were forced, under weapons' threat, to leave all our homes open and vulnerable for several hours and afterwards we were deported across the River San. That same day, Jarosław Jewry ceased to exist and the Jewish citizens of our town became homeless wretches, wandering from place to place, in Siberia in the east, or became prisoners in extermination camps that the Nazis built in the “New Europe”.

Torments and suffering were the lot of some of the Jews of our town and we together with our brethren chopped down trees from the forests of Siberia, mined coal in the Urals, rotted in concentration camps, ghettos or fought with partisans against the common enemy.

And now we are the survivors of the Jarosław's Jewry. We have no idea where the bones of our mothers and fathers are strewn, where the children are buried or where our relatives were murdered, whether in Bełżec (Belzhetz) or Treblinka or Auschwitz, Mauthausen or Bergen-Belsen. And now we are the remaining Jewish survivors of Jarosław, living in our homeland understanding and knowing full-well the enormous obligation we have to perpetuate the memory of the magnificent Jewish community and how important it is to honor and respect those who are no longer with us; to hand down to our children and future generations a diligent description of Jarosław's Jewish community before its total destruction.


[Page 281]

In the Struggle against the Nazis

by Mundek Hebenstreit

Translated by Selwyn Rose

Tragedy was the fate of Poland's Jewry during the Nazi occupation. Before the war the Jewish population numbered three and a half million Jews. At war's end only few thousands remained.

It was particularly hard for Jarosław's Jews and their chances of surviving were slight. After being expelled from the town by the Nazis, they were dispersed to several different places completely strange to them and at decisive moments, when the ghettoes were liquidated, they had no acquaintances among the Poles who may or may not have been in a position to prepare hiding places for them and those who did were few and far between. Because of that, the Jews of Jarosław perished in their multitudes without the slightest possibility of defending themselves as did some Jews in other places.

Not all of them, for all that, were tortured to death in the camps or at the times of the Aktzias by the blood-thirsty Nazi beasts. There were tens of young Jewish Jarosław-born young men, who fought in the ranks of the Polish army or in the Red Army, some of whom fell in battle against the Nazis.

Since I have no names for these fighters, or information as to how they fell, I will describe one of them and by doing so commemorate for eternity all the fallen of Jarosław who died with weapons in their hands in battle against the Nazis.

 


Mordecai Hebenstreit

 

Mordecai Hebenstreit was known in our city as a humble and quiet guy who was interested in studies. He was first educated in a Ḥeder and later in a Talmud Torah. Like most children his age, he attended an elementary school and in the latter years

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there he began to find much interest in social ideologies and his perceptions, apparently, tended more and more towards the left. He himself never displayed his views publicly.

His father, a religious Jew, favoring tradition, never sent his son to the gymnasium because there it was obligatory to attend on Shabbat. Mordecai was forced to study his high-school curriculum privately and at the end of his studies successfully passed his matriculation examinations that took place externally, in Lvov. After that, he registered to study at the Lvov Polytechnic.

Mordecai was fully immersed in his studies and only occasionally could be seen on the streets of the town and that was in spite of the fact that his circle of acquaintances was quite wide and he was liked and welcomed by everyone. He was always ready to help, active and modest – and was also very handsome according to the opinion of the girls in his age group.

With the outbreak of the war in 1939, on the 6th day of battles between the Germans and the Poles, Mordecai and I, together with a group of Jarosław youth, made our way over the eastern border of Poland. Our leaving was with the blessings of our parents because it seemed more than likely that with the occupation of the town by the Germans they would start torturing and murdering Jewish youth of military age.

It seems that our father was not aware of Mordecai's views because at the time of our departure he gave his son, among other items for his journey, his phylacteries and prayer-book neither of which had been used for a while, saying: “Take them with you and G-d will protect you and have mercy on you”.

We went on our way. After wandering around for a week, we met some units of the Red Army that had crossed the eastern border and invaded Poland. In light of the new situation, we decided to return to our town of Jarosław. But at the village just before town, we were stopped in our tracks by what we saw before us.

The Jews of our town, from whom we had parted just two weeks ago appeared terrified while meandering around the rented carts of the local peasants, unloading their belongings and carrying them to the attics of the meager houses of the villagers. Some acquaintances explained to us what was happening.

The Germans had ordered all the Jews of Jarosław sent across the River San. All their property, the labor of years and perhaps of generations was confiscated. The people told us that after the town had been occupied, the Germans took thirty Jews, among them our father, as hostages and imprisoned them in the cellar of the Municipality where they were cruelly tortured.

The reunion with our family was painful. My father's appearance

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who's hair had turned white, and his beard chopped, stunned us; we saw the shock on Mordecai's face and we knew that at that moment his hatred of the Germans grew enormously. The Nazis were the enemies of humanity but especially were they the enemies of the Jewish people.

In 1940, Mordecai completed his studies with excellent grades and entered into competition for a post as an aspiring mathematician under Professor Bartel (ex-Prime Minister of Poland). Mordecai won the competition and remained at this position until the outbreak of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union.

On the third day of that terrible bloody war, the authorities in town organized the evacuation of college employees to Russia. By doing so, the administration intended to save the intelligentsia, who were among the first – together with the Jews taken out and executed, in all places occupied by the Germans.

Mordecai and his wife, Hela Krug, left Lvov and turned eastward intending to get as far away as possible from the battle areas. But on the way, when they got as far as Kiev he suddenly changed his mind. He left his wife and enlisted in the Red Army in order to fight against the Nazi conqueror. In a short while, he attained the rank of an officer and was sent to the front.

At the same time, the strong German army succeeded in encircling the Red Army in Ukraine. All this was within the framework of the well-known “Operation Barbarossa”.

The encircled Russians disposed of their arms and uniforms and sought a way eastwards knowing what awaited them if they fell into the hands of the Germans.

Yitzhak Damast of Jarosław, and other eye-witnesses serving in the same unit stated that his comrades in arms suggested that Mordecai join them in trying to find a way out of the siege because their situation was hopeless.

Mordecai refused. He voluntarily decided to remain and fulfill his obligation to fight the Nazis. Mordecai stood by his decision and told his comrades that he will not desert the field of battle and will fight the enemy with all his strength.

And thus, it was. A few days later he fell in battle. That same modest man from Jarosław died the death of a hero.

 

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