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[Page 173]

Children and the Old

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Three young girls – three little sisters, three complete orphans [both of their parents were dead]. They only had a brother; he was named Manes and he was their mother and father, their only provider of food and education. Therefore, they were called “Maneses” – Khayka Maneses, Sonya Maneses and the youngest, Chanale Maneses. Their family [name] was Ejzenberg, but they used the family [name] when they became adults, but they remained “Maneses” all the same. Even when they were old enough to marry, got married and even when they had their own children, they were called “Maneses” in the shtetl [town].

“The Maneses” stand before my eyes – both as children and as adults. I remember: fate wanted me to meet Khayka in her house a day before I escaped from the shtetl. She asked:

– You are leaving?

– Yes, I answered.

She said:
– It means we are seeing each other for the last time and, pointing to the shtetl with her hand, added, you are seeing everything for the last time.
And it really happened. My heart echoed her prophecy, “you are seeing everything for the last time,” more than once.

We cannot forget such people as Khayka. She knew that she possessed beautiful, anxious eyes. Yes, her eyes remembered everything. She knew that she had appeal, that she possessed a long neck as if [made] of white marble, her black hair, which covered her beautiful head, cut short, well-turned legs. She was not very tall, but so attractive – a beautiful small figure

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as if shaped by a master. The eyebrows and eyelashes, almost black enough, she blackened. She possessed that which the poets call “the eternal femininity.”

I knew her for a long time and I never saw her, during the day or at night, when she was not dressed, with her hair combed as if she was going to the theater or to a wedding.

Khayka Maneses! It is difficult for me in my imagination to imagine how she looked when the blood-bath arose and how the hardship transformed her. I know that she escaped from the shtetl and everything that I learned, I gathered from bits and pieces.

I also know: when Dmitri Soczkowski and his security police drove all of the Jews to the synagogue and imprisoned them there, the youngest sister, Chanale, a young, beautiful girl, was there. Those hidden knew that this was the end and the mood was like the eve of the martyrdom. They said goodbye to life, said their confessions, prayed with their heads turned to the open Torah ark.

Chanale, the youngest, was so afraid of death, wanted so to live. She found no place from fear, wandered around among those hidden and despondently wept continually.

– I want to live! I want to live!
Women and old men tried to calm her:
– Chanale, we all want to live…
However, Chanale knew that when the Germans came, that would be the end of their lives. They would drive the imprisoned to the Biala shores and shoot them in the already completed, prepared pits. Chanale did not want this. Death was wildly strange to her, such a revolting, wild animal; she shouted:
– I want to live! I want to live!
Her pain, her despondency amused the murderers. They bent over in laughter. However, it disgusted Soczkowski. He walked over to Chanale

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and gave her a forceful blow with the handle of the revolver and said:

– Now you will live!...
Chanale's face was covered in blood and she became quiet. [She] made peace with death.

Khayka Maneses was among those not spared. She and her nine-year old son escaped from Kolki to Otowa, to his [her son's] grandfather Pesakh the klezmer [musician]. Like Pesakh klezmer, Khayka was sure that the Germans would not enter the depths of the forests. However, the Germans did come. During the slaughter in Otowa, many Jews ran to the forest, into its depth. Khayka also ran and escaped for the second time. However, her son disappeared and Khayka was completely broken. She was sure that the boy was no longer present among the living. She changed because of the misfortune [and was] unrecognizable. One shuddered looking at her. Barefoot, with torn clothing, from under which one could see naked pieces of her body. With disheveled hair and swollen hands covered in wounds, she rushed forward with bitter stubbornness. A dark fire burned in her eyes. She walked, not looking around, forward, tens of kilometers, all with the same momentum forward, forward to Trostynates where her sister Sonya and her two small children lived. She forgot all dangers, did not avoid any villages or any people whom the devil would bring to her. She walked as if she were wading in blood and with weakened lips did not cease to repeat:

– Blood! Blood! Blood! Blood!
If she met a person, she passed with the same words. The surrounding peasants saw her and were quiet. Even the Germans she encountered did not pay attention. The misfortune, the inhumane catastrophe propelled [her] forward.

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Khayka came to Trostyanets. However, we did not succeed in establishing when and how she arrived.

From what I did succeed in learning, I concluded that the German gendarmerie came to liquidate the Jewish community in Trostyanets in 1942. Several Jewish families in total lived there who were just like the surrounding peasants. They lived in their own cottages and toiled in the field and in the barn.

It was said that the gendarme met resistance in the first Jewish house here. The Jew and his two sons beat the Germans until they themselves fell in the struggle. And other Trostyanets Jewish peasants knocked off the head of the German chief, Kremer with a spade. Here, the Germans killed the Jews on the spot, in Trostyantes itself, as soon as they saw a Jew. It is possible that Khayka Ejzenberg, Khayka Maneses, perished in such a death.

Trostyantes lay 18 kilometers [a little over 11 miles] from Kolki. The Ukrainians would call such villages sela raj – a village – a paradise. They especially were described in Ukrainian poetry and literature. The cottages here were old, but in good condition, firmly established, as if they had grown out of the earth itself. A straw roof was rare. The roofs were covered with shingles or with tin. The window frames and porches were colored. There was a small area of sour cherry trees near each house and flower beds with colorful flowers. An old windmill with long wooden wings stood at the entry to the village of Trostyantes. Who in the entire village did not know Motl Epsztajn, Motl Trostyantes' mill? The mill fit in the area like a picture in a frame. Wherever one looked, colorful gardens, a fair of color – from daybreak to sunset, a blaze [of color] poured out. From the early morning blue to the blood red of the night. The poppy blossoms with their cocky, tender heads, the yellow flaming plates of the sun beams – they winked from among the trees

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and cottages satisfying the eye, and the air could inebriate one like wine and the ripe pumpkins protruded like pregnant young stomachs.

The Garden of Eden suddenly was transformed into daily and nightly fear, of blood and of death.

In the splendid gardens, the Jewish children sought salvation from death, which hovered over them from all over, like hundreds of hungry wolves waiting for a sacrifice to still their hunger. Two-footed wolves and small Jewish boys, who needed to satiate their persecutors with the blood. Two-footed, satiated wolves in chase after small, exhausted and sad Jewish boys of just skin and bones. Small children, how great their will to live! It seemed that they were murdered to the last one, but yet they suddenly appeared like frightened hares to grab a carrot, tear out a beet, rake out a few potatoes to maintain their souls. They appeared and disappeared while they faced danger at every step.

Henrik Cibulski, the leader of the Polish fighting group against the Ukrainian fascists, said:

“It appeared as if no living creature remained in the Jewish cities and villages. The houses empty; their possessions stolen to the last thing, to the last spoon and plate. The glass panes – broken; the doors – open. Dead! And yet, suddenly, as if from under the ground, a nine, ten, eleven-year old child would appear. Appearing, looking around and disappearing. Where did they live? It could not be understood. They had developed an intuitional feeling for where they could go, for who they could trust and from whom they had to disappear quick as a flash. 'Little uncle, give me a piece of bread.' And they would not fool themselves. The one to whom they turned, gave. They rarely made a mistake. A mistake was equal to death.”
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In 1943, a considerable number of Jewish children were still alive, hidden in their lairs in the forests of Kivertse [Kivertsy], Trostyanets, Tsuman. The Ukrainian security police and Ukrainian fascists arranged police raids against them. Many were shot, many were murdered, their small heads were split against tree trunks. And despite these police raids, they [the children] again would appear here and there. The bolder ones approached the gardens in Trostyanets. Every “theft” from a garden was a salvation for them and theirs, young comrades hidden in the forests. However, it is a horror to remember: the fascists drew in young murderers for their bloody work. They would hide in the gardens and wait for a boy whose hunger drove him there and they would bet among themselves who would murder a small Jewish “thief” with a blow of his cudgel.

Henrik Cibulski told how the Jewish children would arrange their hiding places with such commonsense and ideas. One could pass by many times the places in which they were hidden and not notice anything.

Two small Jewish boys who had been hiding with a Ukrainian family came into the forest from the shtetl Olik [Olyka]. However, they had to escape because someone denounced them and good people warned them of this. The boys made a cover of leaves and branches with wires and when danger neared, they would climb leafy trees with their cover and wait the entire day. There were no Jewish boys remaining in the entire area and they survived…

Searches were carried out often. Soczkowski led them. They searched and rummaged every bush. The children knew that Soczkowski and his bandits – the Ukrainian police from Sitnica, Hameln, Kolki and other communities – did not leave any Jewish child alive, and murdered

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them on the spot where they were caught. Therefore, when they suffered a setback, they knew that every one of their persecutors was the Angel of Death. They did not cry; they did not scream, did not ask for mercy, but as their forefathers in earlier centuries, they went [to their deaths] al kiddush haShem [as martyrs – in sanctification of God's name]. Only sparks of rage shot from their eyes, which soon had to close for eternity… They died under the blows of the scoundrels. Abraham, the small son of “the Polish woman,” Khayka's son – the grandson of Pesakh the klezmer, the son of my best friend – perished during such a search.

In the notes about his experience, the 14-year old Avrahaml from Kamarova, who as a nine-year old already was hiding in the forest, wrote: :When I heard the wind rustle in the trees at night or a branch break off, or a hare spring through, I was attacked by fear – perhaps a person was coming.

The hidden children were not afraid of any animals nor of demons – but of people – how could one bear here the very unscrupulous human conscience?

One of the murdered children was the great grandson of Kalman the butcher. All who were descended from Kalman's seed were butchers. The Ukrainian writer from Volyn, Szapietqa Polikorp, when he describes the bandit war of Soczkowski, does not say, naturally, the name of the nine-year old boy who hid for weeks in the chimney of an oven. The peasants told the writer that this was “a boy from Kalman's family.” Soczkowski learned about the hiding place; he himself made the effort, came to the spot, dragged the child out of the chimney with his own hands. The blackened little creature, with a thin, trembling, frozen voice, pleaded:

– Mr. Commandant, do not kill me!
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However, the murderer, in the eyes of the assembled neighbors, took out his revolver and murdered the young boy with a shot to his head.

I also learned from Szapieta Polikorp about the death of Ben-Tzion Stowker.

* *
*

The name Ben-Tzion Stowker always was uttered with respect – with reverence – by those in the shtetl.

I no longer remember if my friend, Leibl Stowker was the son of Ben-Tzion's sister or of his deceased brother. However, Leibl was a keylekhdiker yosim [a complete orphan – both of his parents were deceased] and was raised by his uncle. I was a frequent guest in the house. I really loved the atmosphere that reigned there. I was not one who was bashful, but in this house I became quieter, reticent, more serious, lowered my eyes more often; I simply wanted to please them. I had great respect for the people of this house.

This was the only house in the shtetl that subscribed to two Yiddish and one Hebrew newspaper. A closet of rabbinical books was in many houses, but an entire set of newspapers and monthly publications for the year was only found in Stowker's closet. Therein, entire yearly sets of issues of publications from before the First World War were preserved by a miracle from the fire. Leibl and I would spend time paging through a yearly set of Literarishe Bleter [Literary Pages]. Once we came upon a critique of a performance of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. Reb Stowker passed by, looked at what we were reading and said:

– At 17, boys, are you interested in Shylock? When one is 17 one must have the desire to read Shakespeare in the original.
This amazed us. We did not even dream of this. Yiddish was for us the greatest importance and our greatest love, we

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only dreamed of being able to speak with a Vilna dialect. And he, a shtetl [town] Jew, believed that a young person must strive to read the world classics in the language in which they were written. My reverence for this person rose even more.

Ben-Tzion Stowker was a deeply religious Jew. However, he was not a fanatic. His faith was a calm one, tolerant – he did not impose it on anyone. He was bound to it like a beloved to his chosen one.

Summer, on a Shabbos morning, we sat with Leibel at Stowker's house. The windows were wide open. There was a long bridge in front of the house. Ben-Tzion sat on a chair on the bridge and around him on the steps, as if in an amphitheater, sat his surrounding neighbors – the artisans who toiled all week in the villages and came home to their families for Shabbos.

The day was a hot one. They sat without their kapotes [coats worn by pious men] in white, starched shirts, some in their talis-koten [four cornered tasseled garment worn under a pious man's clothing], some in waistcoats. Jews, browned by the sun and wind, with black, blond and white beards, small caps on the top of their heads. Ben-Tzion Stowker spoke and they listened quietly, staring into his face and thirstily swallowed the words from his lips. Leibl and I listened at the open window. For us, as for his other listeners, what we heard was a revelation.

He spoke about Emil Zola and used him as an example of what it was to be a proper human being. This was a writer – Ben-Tzion said – who did not long suffer injustice and placed himself in support of the innocent. He took a great deal of material for his works from court documents because he wanted to be close to real life and take part in it with his creations. With complete boldness, he presented a defense of the innocent, Jewish Captain Dreyfus who through

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dark powers was chosen as a target to spread anti-Semitic agitation and hatred of Jews. He published his call to the world in a public letter to which he gave the name, I Accuse.”

He told the history of Dreyfus, Zola's fight, how he had to escape to England from his country and that he did not stop his war for the truth until justice was achieved and the Jewish captain was released from prison and from blame.

They listened spellbound and those who knew the story also listened with just as much attention because Stowker was not only an interesting storyteller but in his manner he enriched the story with ethical problems connected to it.

Pesya, the fish seller, who was known as “Pesya the chatterbox,” apparently for her loose tongue, also was listening to the story. It was interesting to watch how this Jewish woman listened to Stowker's speaking. A completely different Jewish woman than during the week, so changed. She sat on a high step, near the story-teller, her hand placed under her chin and listened with such deep earnestness, as if she was listening to no one other than Elijah the prophet. The weekdays fell from her and Shabbos spirituality shone from her. I think, she became younger and prettier, the chatterer, the Jewish woman who was extremely talkative.

It cannot be said that women did not listen to Pesya “the chatterbox.” She, herself, also had a talent for telling stories. Now she had a new theme: Emil Zola. On Thursdays, she would sell fish to the women for Shabbos and then she would begin to talk incessantly. Now she began with the same zeal, telling at length what kind of man Emil Zola was, the French writer who “did everything possible” to defend Dreyfus. Some Jews in the shtetl knew about Dreyfus, but they heard about Emil Zola for the first time. Pesya the fish seller

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was the devoted propogandist for Zola in the shtetl. When Ben-Tzion Stowker would hear women speak about Emile Zola, he would smile into his long, beautiful beard with pleasure.

*

Ben-Tzion Stowker was the final arbitrator in the shtetl. When two people were embroiled in a discussion and it went from a discussion to a dispute, they would go to hear the opinion of Reb Stowker and when he said something, that is how it remained.

No one doubted his knowledge and authority. When two sides would come to an agreement - geyn tsu mentshen [go to people] – there was only one mentsh [person] – Ben Tzion Stowker.

Stowker also stood out from everyone in the shtetl with his appearance. He was tall, stately, small-boned and stood straight as a tree. His large, long, white beard had never known a scissors, but was just as if it had been pampered by a barber. His face was smooth, without wrinkles at age 60 and even when he was a septuagenarian, the few small wrinkles around his eyes were like lines in a portrait to make the beauty of his face clearer. His blue eyes looked out with great mildness and his hands, only he had such hands, thin, white, with beautiful long fingers. He was miserly in gestures, cautious with his words, delicate in all regards.

Stowker! – a beautiful person, a smart one, a friendly and modest one.

*

The Ukrainian writer, Szapieta Polikorp, spoke about how Ben-Tzion Stowker perished on the basis of evidence from the peasants of our area. I personally spoke with people to learn something more.

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In 1941, the police commandant of the Kolki area, Dmitri Soczkowski, drove several tens of old men and children to the field at the other side of the Styr River, not far from the bridge, at the “Lug” as it was called by us.

They pointed automatic weapons at those driven together and forced them to crawl on all four limbs and to eat grass. “Eat Jewish animals!” – they bellowed at the unfortunate Maczkowski and at every shout chose a new victim who was treated with blows. Everyone was wounded and beaten when he sent them on all fours to run to the river to drink.

Stowker stood straight and watched the devilish game, the wild pastime of this hangman. Suddenly, Soczkowski noticed the majestic old man, jumped [at him] and screamed:

– Why are you not kneeling, accursed Jews? Why are you not eating grass?
Stowker looked at the water in the river in which the sky was reflected and did not even look at the face of the evildoer, did not even turn to his side.

His large, wooden house stood a few hundred meters from him near the bridge near the river. From the distance he said goodbye to everyone. He saw the old wooden synagogue on the right and knew that he would no longer pray in it; no longer would his voice flow at the cantor's desk and no long would the supplicating prayers of the congregation of toiling Jews be heard. Three thin, dead trees, without leaves and without life stood there for years and he now standing here alone knew that he, too, already was a tree without branches, without leaves and without life…

Who knows what Stowker's last thoughts were when a wild cry reverberated:

– On your knees!
At the same time a shot from a revolver echoed and threw the old man to the ground.

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Doby mene [get me]! – lying in blood, groaned the 84-year old man.

– No! – the murderer spit out through his teeth and he left. No one saw the old man breathe out his soul; we could not learn from anyone how long he suffered. He was and he remained until his death a Jew who would not kneel down.

* *
*

Dmitri Soczkowski, the murderer of Jews, was a blackguard even among contemptible people. The Polish writer and historian, Zbigniew Załuski, said that Soczkowski's true name was Soczka; however, he strove with all his strength to make a career. He policized his name and married a Polish girl to be accepted by the Sanacja [Sanation – Józef Piłsudski's regime] government and to receive the office of village major. During the Hitlerist occupation he again reversed himself; he again became Soszka and, in order to show that he was a real Ukrainian nationalist and devoted S.S. comrade, he hanged his Polish wife with his own hands in his own house.

Colonel Zaluski informed “the prowodnik” – the leader of the Volyn organization of nationalists – “Kabur” (real family name Kliaczkowski) that Soczkowski had forgiven him his past sins, rehabilitated him and even gave his “blessed” sickle, blessed by a priest. He again changed his beliefs, became a Pravoslavner [member of the Russian Orthodox church].

At the crash of the “Third Reich,” with the help of his S.S. comrades, through Berlin and Rome, he managed to enter Canada. We know that he lived quietly and comfortably in Toronto. According to what I read in the Lutsk daily newspaper of the 10th of September 1978 this bandit exchanged his Toronto refuge for Winnipeg. He lives under his own name. It would not be difficult

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to find him and place him before a court to finally pay for his horrible crimes – for murdering everyone in Volyn, for his revolting ill-treatment of his victims, for the rivers of blood he spilled in the cities and villages of our old homes firmly established by generations.

 

 
Izya Sznicer
(grandson of Pesakh
the klezmer[musician]
  Ben-Tzion Stowker


[Page 187]

One of the Gentile Friends of the Jews

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

During difficult times, when people are tested, they are really put to the test. It is then that we recognize their essence – the human as well as inhuman. Suddenly, the friend and the enemy are revealed, the hero and the coward.

Here I will speak about one, who, during danger, revealed all of his beautiful, human qualities – I will speak about Witold Pamenka.

He was born in Warsaw in 1905. His father was a Polish klezmer [musician], a usual klezmer among many others. Life was difficult. The head of the family thought: change location, change luck. He took all of his bag and baggage and moved to Chelm. Witold entered a teacher's seminar. He had to interrupt his studies to help feed his family. He was musical from childhood on; he played the clarinet and other wind instruments. His teacher was his own father. The family's poverty followed persistently from Warsaw to Chelm; it can be said that it was changed from a shoe to a bast shoe [shoe made from tree bark – that is, they became even poorer]… They wandered further and the troublesome sorcerer followed them step by step and thus they arrived together in Lutsk.

In 1925, Witold finally was established, and in fact well-established in a military orchestra of the 24th infantry regiment, a stable state position. For the first time, need received a good kick in the backside and left.

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When the family had to travel, it happened that wherever they would settle they lived among Jews. It was like that in Warsaw, like that in Lutsk. In Lutsk, Witold also played with amateur Jewish musicians. And, as is unusual, he himself also created melodies; they were half Polish, half Jewish.

It is described in Sefer Lutsk [Lutsk Book]:

“The young Witek [diminutive of Witold] was introduced to the Stoliner Rebbe, a tzadek [righteous man] who was known as a great musician and himself played the fiddle. Witek spoke Yiddish from his childhood years on. He proposed to the rebbe in simple Yiddish that he would create a melody for the Stoliner Hasidim. The rebbe knew that Witek was not a Jew, but he accepted this.

“Pamenka created many melodies. They had the local color of the regal fields and the velvet of Jewish sadness. They sounded like prayers without words… It was said that Pemenka's melodies pleased the rebbe and the Hasidim sang them with great ecstasy. It also was said that they, the rebbe and Pamenka, played them together on their fiddles…”

When the years of fear, of terror and death arrived, Pamenka began writing a secret journal. Here are several fragments form this journal:
“There are philanthropists who themselves know that this is what they are…” “When they say to me, 'You are a decent man,' I think they are making fun of me…”

“The greatest spiritual strength of a man is his belief in a better tomorrow…”

“…do you know, dear friend, many of our neighbors and friends are as good as me and they have demonstrated their friendship when this cost nothing and nothing was threatening. At the first test, it was shown that this is a lie.”

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Pamenka did not declaim about equality and love of the people. He kept a journal in order to describe the horror. He began it on the 26th of June 1941 and the last page ended with the date of the 25th of December 1943, when Jews no longer lived in Lutsk.

Pamenka described everything: the first placards against Jews, the ban against Jews walking on the sidewalks, the order that Jews must remove their hats for every German, the savagery of the Ukrainian fascists.

“The 10th of July 1941: all Jews must wear an armband with a Mogen-Dovid [Shield of David – the Jewish star]. The first labor camp at Krasne.”

“1st of December 1941, seven o'clock in the morning – the Lutsk ghetto was created.”

“17th day of August 1942. Second tax: 1,000 kilos soap, 100 kilos of candles, 210 packages of fabric.”

“19th day of August: Wednesday, the Lutsk ghetto surrounded.

“23rd August. They are searching for Jews who are in hiding. Those caught are being taken to the castle. In rags, sick, bloodied. They are being led to mass graves.

“From the 20th to the 23rd of August – 17,500 Jews were murdered in Lutsk.”

And thus, day after day, with the greatest precision.
“The size of the pits: 150 meters long, five meters wide, 2.5 meters deep [about 492 feet by 16 feet by 8 feet].”

“The 23rd of August, Sunday, I saw very small children who were dead floating on the water of the Styr River. An image was engraved in my memory that constantly persecutes me: a small, dark girl with brown ribbons, tied like a flower, a white face with open eyes, as if they were looking into heaven.”

There is a short note under the date of the 10th of August: “Fryde-Mirl – a letter and a golden ring.”

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We would learn much later what the note signified. It speaks of Yosef-Benyamin's daughter, Frayde-Mirl[1], “the Cossack.” She then lived in Lutsk with her nine-year old daughter. It was clearly said in the letter:


“I will live two more days… If the war ever ends, send the letter to my aunt in New York, to Betty Polak; let people in the world know what happened here.”

I tried to establish how Frayde-Mirl could know that she would live “only two days.” However, every time we thought that I was on the path, a thread was torn. I wanted to learn everything and I could not. It is certain: there was a secret committee in the Lutsk ghetto that tried to help with food products and with items of clothing for the poorest among the poor. There were people like Pamenka, and others who like him would smuggle a few potatoes, flour, several dozen heads of cabbage into the ghetto. Pamenka said that Frayde-Mirl would indicate who the neediest were, who needed help first.

Frayde-Mirl had a “nice appearance” and spoke Ukrainian like a real peasant – she would be successful in leaving the ghetto for the surrounding villages and making contact with her acquaintances. She also had contact with Jews in Kolki and Sienkiewiczówka [Senkevichevka]. A small amount of food would be smuggled into the ghetto from there. In the surrounding area they also searched for weapons for the fighting group that was created in the Lutsk ghetto. She was certain to receive assignments from the workers at the carpentry factory where an armed uprising was being prepared.

Zyglbaum-Sowicki remembers: “Probably no one knowns and we will never learn how the uprising of the 12th of December 1942 was organized. Based on the fire-power, we must assume that the preparations lasted a long time.”

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There is no doubt that Frayde-Mirl was one of those who knew the way to the partisans. The dark prophecy about her death was carried out exactly.

I have not added a word to the letter that was hidden by Witold Pamenka. I reprint it in its entirety. Here it is:

Dear Aunt Basia Polak!

Now I start to write you a letter and this will be a kind of confession before death. If you read this letter, I will have long been dead. But what can we do?

Dear Aunt! I am leaving this letter with a Christian and when the frightening bloodbath ends and if the noble Christian survives, you will receive this letter and then you will first know about the Jewish tragedy here in the accursed, bloody Ukraine.

Dear Aunt, the Christian with whom I am leaving this letter is very honest and he is worth writing about in the story, because what this Christian does for Jews in the ghetto is indescribable. The honest income which he earns he gives away to poor Jewish children and he himself lives the life of an average man. However, alas, he can only save people from hunger but not from any angry animals.

My dear aunt and cousins and American Jews, in general, who among you can imagine the tragedy of the Jews in Ukraine? No one! Human thought cannot grasp this. What? They took people, young, healthy and capable of life and arrested them and they buried them alive. Or, eventually, they shot them. Why? Because they were Jews.

Also, my dear aunt, I will tell you, in short, [about what happened] from the beginning. I have been in Lutsk for 10 years. Suddenly, the war broke out. The Germans entered four days later. And they immediately caught Jews. Here in Lutsk, as in all the other cities, they began to clear out

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the Jews little by little. They were grabbed by the thousands and until now we do not know what happened to their bones. It is already 14 months ago. Then they began, little by little, to murder the Jews here.

Dear Aunt,

The first victims were my father, my mother, Khayke's husband, Mendl, and my Chana's husband and Khayke's two children. They were caught and we do not know to this day where they are.

Then they began to murder all of the Jews in the cities and shtetlekh [towns] and human thought cannot grasp this: what does it mean? They brought several thousand people together, women, men and children; they led them out to a field; they cut them down like one cuts rye.

Imagine, aunt: parents had to watch as they shot their children. God, God! Where was the Jewish God? How were the little children guilty?

Dear aunt, I no longer have anyone. One of my brothers survived.

Last week was the slaughter in Kolki and the murderers murdered my dear mother and my sister Chana and both of her children, Chaya Riwer and her three children, Chaim and his wife and a child. Meir's wife and Khayke and the children, Mendl's wife and the children, my father's brother's sister and children.

Alas, how can we bear this, hearing – from such a large family, only one brother remained. Only my dear brother, Meir, remained.

I have just received a letter from Meir; he writes to me that he will live only for revenge. God knows, if he will live to see this.

Now, dear aunt, we know here in Lutsk that we have been sentenced to death; we do not know when the sentence will be carried out. Today, I write this letter and I do not know if I will be alive at this time tomorrow. Will they burst in in the middle of the night? They are taking the Jews from their houses and they are slaughtering them like chickens.

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Dear aunt and dear American Jews, your fate is better than ours, do not wait too long to take revenge for us. The duty lies with you because American Jews helped build Hitlerism, and now he is annihilating the Jews of Europe.

I do not write more.

It is just a pity that my young child, such a beautiful child, such a dear child, has to go to the slaughter. Alas, she wants to live. But alas, God knows!

Dear aunt, if you are alive and your children are live, you certainly will read this letter and you will then know about our tragedy.

The Christian will surely write to you about everything because he speaks Yiddish as I write Yiddish.

You also will learn from him.

May you all remain healthy. You are fortunate because you are in America.

Your niece, Frayde-Mirl

…I sit in Minsk with Ahron, Yosef-Benyamin's youngest son, now, a leader of a grey transport organization. We discuss various facts, what he was told and try to connect them in order to put together a nonmaterial matzevah [headstone] for the Yosef-Benyamin tribe.

– Wait, Dovid – Ahron said, taking a pencil in his hand – how many people were in our family? Brothers, sisters, brothers-in-law and their children? Also, only the closest family?

Everyone present helps to create the list: Avraham the locksmith, Mendl the tailor… Names and trades pour out – all toilers who labored for their bread to eat. Counted – 57. Only those closest – 57. How many would they have grown into through all the years which were taken from them by wild thievery? This must also be taken into account. Not only those who were born, but also those who were cut down

[Page 194]

before being born. We must all mourn them because mourning them, we mourn ourselves, whose roots were cut off and cannot produce any living fruit.

We know something about the exterminated. Their bones have been found in the pits near Sitnicea, near Starosele, in the large pits at the Biala shores where Meir, who wrote to Frayde-Mirl in Lutsk, that revenge is demanded? We saw him in 1943 in the village of Novasilki. Meir was a scout in a partisan cavalry division, under the leadership of Brinski. What happened to him? Where is his grave? No one knows.

Only one of the family, besides Ahron, survived; this was Ruwin Fuks, the locksmith worker with an amputated leg, who lives and works in Omsk. He fought with weapons in his hand from the first day of the war and carried on a bloody campaign with the enemy on many fronts for the land, for the people, for his family. He fought for a long time around the Stalingrad front and in Stalingrad itself; [he was] gravely wounded and, after leaving the hospital, again returned to the army and went with it in constant struggle on the road to Lithuania, to Königsberg [Kaliningrad], where he again was severely wounded and lost a leg.

Thus one member of the Benyamin tribe ended the war, a dignified member of a dignified tribe.

What a sad conclusion!


Translator's footnote

  1. The name of Yosef-Benyamin's daughter is given as Fryde-Mirl on the previous page. Return


[Page 195]

Two Who Were the Last…

Among themselves, the shtetl [town] Jews with great respect gave the apothecary in Kolki, Mendl Fajersztajn, the title “Mendl the Scholar.”

Mendl, himself, was his children's teacher; he raised them all to have a purpose. His first born, Shmuelik became a not-bad apothecary. True, he was an apothecary without a diploma. He ran a drugstore but did not have any right to make medicines, although he made them “illegally.” As to their worth and effect, they were no worse than the legal ones.

The middle son, Zelik, became a fairly good feldsher [barber-surgeon]. True, he did not have a diploma and, in any case, he did not have the right to engage in this trade. However, he did engage in it.

Mendl's two other sons were Hebrew teachers as was his son-in-law, incidentally, a teacher of Hebrew and with much higher qualifications.

In general: it was not an average family but an intelligent one; more, of great intelligence.

All of Mendl's sons and their families perished: in Kolki, in Rovna, in Lutsk. And in total, more then two dozen souls. Only one was destined to have a different fate to be one of the last two Jews in the Kolki ghetto, after all had already been murdered. The Germans did not want to murder him – they needed him. They did not need him as a person. They needed him as a feldsher for their servants – the Ukrainian police.

Based on his appearance in the dead and ruined ghetto, he more accurately belonged to the already dead. The previously considerably fleshy and wide shouldered

[Page 196]

Zelik was already completely not himself: skin and bones. Sharp, protruding jaws. Grey overgrown hair, like old forest moss, sunken cheeks. Completely like a skull on a stick. Only his eyes stared sickly with constant fever.

It was not easy for me to have access to learn about the deaths of the last two Jews. Those, who tried to question the Christian neighbors about this received very scant and slim answers. Everyone avoided speaking with clear words. Perhaps, because their consciences were unclean; perhaps because they had had a hand in their death or made use of the possessions of the slaughtered. One had to draw each word as if with pliers. Therefore, I actually barely learned bits and crumbs and from these collected stutters – and through secondhand [information] – tried to put together these fragments.

What is known: The Germans forbid the shooting of Zelik. However, Zelik did not want to live. Therefore, he constantly provoked [the Germans] in the hope that the enemy would not abide [his behavior] and they would execute him. He shouted at them; he cursed and verbally abused them: Bandits! Wild creatures! Contemptable cannibals! Murderers! Bloody dogs! His [fellow] inmates hated him with the greatest hate, with the greatest power of their depraved hearts, but they did not dare transgress against the German prohibition, so Zelik lived and [he] considered them equal to the mud.

Until someone transgressed against the prohibition.

It was told:

One morning, when a policeman came to take him to the medical location, he found him sitting on a stool with his head in his palms, resting on a table. Unmoving. Stiff. Half a potato lay on the table and in it the black wick of a burned-out candle. The gelled blood on the floor led to a gelled\
[Page 197]

pool [of blood] from his head and at the hole where the bullet entered was a seal of blood, like dripping wax.
Who was his murderer?

Why did Zelik sit in such a pose, near a candle in a potato? Perhaps, this was a yahrzeit [memorial] candle for his wife and four annihilated small daughters?! He sat, apparently, in thought, in deep melancholy at his candle, when his death came – with an unexpected shot to his neck.

* *
*

I knew the grandfather Liplewski very well – he was an intimate in our house. I knew his sons much less. I also knew his son Khone even less. However, I remember that it would be said in the shtetl [town] that the baker Khone was “dressed intelligently.” This meant that after work, on a “regular weekday,” he would appear in the street in well-pressed pants with a sharp crease, like a knife, with a starched white shirt, with a tie. Such attire showed his intelligence and Khone the baker with the well-pressed jacket was really a cultured man and, in addition, a very handsome man. He possessed a thick head of dark grey and shiny, industriously combed hair – not only with a small comb, but also with a small brush. Although he was over 50, his face tanned by the flame of the oven was fresh and without the least wrinkle. The brownness added to his charm and the women would sneak an embarrassed look into his always smiling eyes, which sparkled with a blue flame. Khone was always in a good mood and for every individual and for every group of people he had an appropriate joke, witticism, aphorism, said on the spot – always subtle and subtly said. And what was more of a surprise – he never repeated himself, never added anything needlessly, so that Jews loved his company.

[Page 198]

Liplewski's house did not burn during the large fire in 1915. It was low, sunken in the ground and its windows were so low that looking in one saw not only the room, but also everything that was in it. Passing by the cubicle one could see everything inside – a house open to everyone's eyes.

Friday night, when Jews would start walking in the direction of the Ukrainian alleys, they would look at the baker through the windows. Everything dazzled – the white cloth on the table, the white cloth over the covered challah [Sabbath bread]; the candlesticks shone like silver; the floor – clean as an egg yolk. After eating, one could see the sons standing on all sides of the table and looking at each other, like cocks who would soon appear in battle. That is how they carried on their discussions and their voices could be heard outside. Moshe, Benyamin and Yankl shouted over each other – each shouted their opinion and all at once. A racket. They stubbornly expounded their credos.

– The land [of Israel] perished with blood on its hands and with blood and fire we will take it back and rebuild it.

– Not with blood and not with fire, but with a shovel, with a pickaxe, plowed with sweat, seeded with sweat and the harvest gathered with song. We will plant orchards and show the world: we are the same as everyone.

The third did not agree with his two brothers and argued calmly, but with assurance:
– You want to make a small island, a small corner green. However, we can free ourselves, when the entire world is freed – Jews, non-Jews, all peoples: white, black, yellow, red. We have to fight together for a just and better world.
[Page 199]

Their voices became even louder and they each felt they were the only correct one, each had the truth in their pocket, all other truths were false. Each argued “ironclad” for his point of view. When the tumult reached to the very heavens, Khone, the father, who sat quietly with his hands in his lap, spoke out (the good-looking man sat with his hands in his lap, peaceful as a Jewish woman) and said, thus making a severe impression:

– Enough! Competent people make over the world! How many times has the world been made over for you and it will be made over after you, and, perhaps, even entirely and, of course, without you? Children, there is nothing new under the sun.
The sons looked at their father and the flaming argument was cut off as if with a knife.

Right after eating, the other family members and the surrounding neighbors would disperse to all corners of the shtetl [town], and then – I was told recently by Yankl – Khone would go out to his small porch, sit on a small chair and quietly, heartfeltly and longingly sigh and then he began to sing his, “Do not cast me off in time of old age; when my strength fails, forsake me not.” [Psalm 71-9] If someone in his family was in the house, he would sing along to the father's melody.

Thus, they lived from year to year – an honest, Jewish, toiling family. Until… Until the calamity arrived…

When the war broke out, Benyamin and Yankl immediately were mobilized. There was gloom on the roads. The Germans bombed them ceaselessly, bombed trains and many people perished. In the turmoil, false and, naturally, unchecked information about those who had perished and those who were taken prisoner, shot right away, spread in various directions. False news also came to Khone and his wife, Sosl – both of their mobilized sons had perished. When the Germans entered, Moshe was reportedly rounded up; [he] hid somewhere, but his parents were sure that he too was not among the living. Was this not enough? The mother's heart had its last blow and her

[Page 200]

imagination, it seems, could not endure – in a group just shot by the Germans was her youngest – her daughter Faygele. [To her] the house, those living, no longer existed. She did not clean and did not cook; the plates were not removed from the table; the beds were not made. Sosl sat bent over at the window – one destroyed in the ruins. The floor, which she polished and washed for so many years, became black like the dirt.

Khone carried the pain inside. He was very occupied; he was the first one, the most important Jew to the Germans. He was a baker and they needed bread, a great deal of bread, more and more. Not for the Jews, who received the muddy ration of bread, but for the Germans who wanted good bread. Khone had no time. He collapsed before one's eyes. His house was a ruin; only Sosl, his wife, sat there, hardened, at the window and always murmured the same, senseless words: “Hello, hello, Benyamin is talking, do you hear me? Hello, hello, Benyamin is talking, do you hear me?” – these words had engraved themselves in her brain and she repeated the sentence like a warped gramophone.

In 1940, Benyamin had worked for the postal service, at a telephone, and looked for connections to Lutsk, Rovno, Kovel and other cities and would continually, stubbornly talk into the receiver: “Hello, hello, Benyamin speaking, do you hear me?”

Sosl would suddenly get up from her spot, appear in the street, walk in the direction of the dirt road, which once led from and to the shtetl, and would constantly repeat the same thing, as if a dybbuk [a spirit that possesses the body of another] had entered her. It gave the impression that she was calling to the entire world: “Hello, do you hear me…?”

His [Khone's] appearance caused sorrow

[Page 201]

even among the blackened ghetto Jews, although each one had met the same fate as a punishment. Khone's eyes were extinguished, dead, without any movement in the.m, terrified eyes…

In Baltimore, his son Yankl, later told me that a Ukrainian neighbor, a man who could be believed, told him that he had met Khone and proposed that he “come to me, I will hide you.” Khone looked at him as if he had seen him for the first time in his life. The neighbor repeated this several times, what he was proposing, and finally it reached Khone. He answered: “No, no! I want to go to my Sosl. To my children. I do not want to live!” He shouted out loud. – “Let them murder me! Why do they not want to kill me?!” And Khone's behavior became strange; something suspicious to an outsider. At night he would go out with a sack through the dead alleys, enter the looted houses, look for something there and return home with a full sack. Often, he searched in the houses of prayer and also took something from there in his sack. No one watched him, the half corpse, no one followed him. Lonely, forgotten. Who needed him? Late at night he would leave his mourner's house for the garden; he would dig a hole with a shovel, shake everything out of his sack into the hole and cover everything with dirt.

No one saw him, it seems, no one noticed and yet the surrounding peasants began to whisper that the baker was involved with secret things. They were not lazy; they sneaked up and watched from afar at how he walked around through the houses and how he devoted himself to the garden every night.

It seems that they did not have to spend much time in thought. It was as clear as the day as to what Khone was doing every night. He certainly knew

[Page 202]

all of the hiding places, where Jews had hidden their gold (they were sure that all Jews had gold), he took out the expensive things and at night he buried them in the ground so that they would not take it from him.

– He would not succeed in this, the Jew! – the neighbors decided – Let him gather, we will dig it out and take it for ourselves and keep it a deep secret among ourselves; the Germans will not learn of it and take it from us…
Once, on a Sunday, they, the neighbors, came with shovels and dug out the holes; looked for the treasure. They saw that there, where the treasure was supposed to be, lay some kind of books, old, bound and separate pages – large and small – all printed [matter].
– The Jew is sly – they thought – he has covered the treasure with paper to fool them, and the treasure – the gold – this must be buried deeper.
They dug deeper and deeper. They would not be fooled. They dug and dug, but the treasure did not appear. It was the same in all of the holes. Yellowed, old pages, old book covers!...

They tossed the detached pages from the religious books with anger…

– A crazy Jew! Completely crazy! Pages, filthy paper! What worth do they have that he hides them in the ground?
They did not understand that for the Jew, the baker, it was a religious obligation. They did not understand that he gathered the detached pages from the religious books so that they would not be desecrated. These were the sacred remnants in which the souls of his forefathers placed so much love and faith, such devotion to them after thousands of years!... Khone understood this as his last mission…

He brought the remnants of an entire Jewish shtetl to a Jewish burial; they surely were still sacred as in the other, peaceful times, when Jews would bury the remains of the old religious books, Sidurim [prayer books] and Makhzorim [prayer books used on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur].

[Page 203]

He did this carefully. He decided that he would not leave one Jewish letter, not one printed Jewish letter, not one book to be stepped on with feet. He was the last from a Jewish community and he would fulfill his duty and then he would calmly wait for a blessed death.

* *
*

But, before death came, something terrible happened. Khone was sure that everything that belonged to his people [the Jews] was erased from the earth. He had no idea that Moshe was alive and that on one fine day he would return home. Did he [Moshe] know that his father was alive? It was only known that he had hidden; on one night, running from one house to another, getting closer to his father's house. [He] was certain that no one noticed him. However, they had noticed him and they began to run after him and shoot at him.

Moshe began to run to the Styr [River]. In the deepest spot, here where there had once been an old water-mill, he jumped into the water.

He was known as a good swimmer. He jumped in and no one saw him. Perhaps, he at first swam with the current, under the surface of the water and later swam to a shore and wandered further, or fought and finally fell somewhere or perished? And, perhaps, after his dive, the Styr took his dead body with it in its further eternal flow.

* *
*

Khone, his father, the baker, was shot. By whom? A German aimed at his thin body, or a Ukrainian policeman? Or perhaps a peasant who had dug up the sheymes-griber [hole in which discarded pages from sacred books are buried] and did not find any gold?

 

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