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[Page 327]

Kremenets in Poetry


[Page 329]

Kremenets, Volhynia

By Duvid Rapaport (North America)

English translation by Theodore Steinberg

The days are gray, the days are long–
the wings of night cover me with peace.
My heart weeps for my Kremenets, for my Jews. I mourn
their lives, their deaths, their awaited hour!

Often they visit me in dreams
and often I visit them.
They look at me and say hello
and are extinguished like stars that are there and cannot be seen.

In their eyes no joy,
in their eyes no tears.
I speak to them, but my words
miss their ears.

They are all young–
and the old have not aged.
Their tongues are tied
like a stack of golden sheaves.

I say to them: “Itsik, Leybish, Gitel, Yakhed,
Don't you know me?”
They turn their deaf ears to me fearlessly
and ask, “Why are you here? Why?”

My town of Kremenets is like one washed out by a flood,
the air cuts with knives through the blue mist.
Ukraine!–the land of picked pockets,
historically murderous land of Hetman Chmielnicki. .

My millennium–old town of righteous Jewish faith:
The poorest of the poor lived with their God.
For dreams, for hope, for godly striving–
you have been sundered, you ceased to exist.

[Page 330]

Spring on “Sheroka Street,” going out on Sabbath night
With young men and women at a cherry blossom festival.
My town in the valley, surrounded by hills and farms, as if in conference,
where they put on Goldfaden's “The Witch” at the student ball.

Ah, the Hotel Bona is where I left it.
Through the windows of the Balnitsa the wind howls.
Since I have left them,
no one notices me.

I see: In the Great Synagogue the multicolored windows play with sunbeams.

The high fence surrounds the cemetery.
Brides in modest veils–
The cantor's prayers everywhere.

Now the molasses runs like an overflowing wine cup
with white chalk and washed–out yellow lime,
like Marc Chagall's musician on Jewish roofs–
from such distant paths I return home.

On R' Yitschak Levinson's cottage hang yet the banners
adorned idealistically for a national parade.
On the fences the hens cluck
from behind the town center from the facade of Kremenets.

Lanovtsy and Katerburg Leverant
say the afternoon prayers in the field and turn up as guests at our inn.
Market days: wandering businessmen flour merchants, and hog dealers–
money–making concerns reserved for weekdays.

Shabbos. The homes are washed with white lime.
In the Kazatski Study Hall, Moshe–Chayim the cantor sings with the burning lights.
People and God united in love
and like lovers are they restored.

Now eternal winter reigns.
The white snow sleeps on the straw–covered roofs.
Alone brother Yosel hangs in the non–Jewish cemetery,
and there is no “Jew–boy” to cure a Sabbath gentile.

Shadows surround me, wrap me up as if in a prayer shawl.
In my nightly rambles I find a friend in an old stone.
Our neighbors ask whom IU seek, and I respond
to their question, “I seek God, only God! …”

[Page 331]

A Fair in the Shtetl

By Moshe Nadir

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

The great day dawned
with ruckus and despair.
Kremenets, our little town,
prepared for the yearly fair.

The town had prepared feverishly
a long time for its fairs. –
A trifle–a game,
the treasures that it bears!
There's whisky and there's herring,
there are ribbons there and sweets,
boots are there and buttons
and pots of colored beads.

The fair in Kremenets
lasted many days
and drew a large and raucous crowd
that flooded the highways.
The cows and sheep and horses
all made their livestock sound,
mixed with sounds of beggars
who sat there on the ground.

And kosher Jewish clothing
Side–by–side is fused
with unkosher goyish bodies
In wool and linen mixed.

It's the yearly fair in Kremenets–
its attendees far from few.
The Jews are all so busy
with their visors work askew.

There stands an eager Jew
and bargains with a goy.
He fiddles with his sidecurls
and says in tones not coy:

“Look here, dear little father,
how much for all your wheat?
A ruble? No?” He lays out funds
but still fears a defeat.

“Nu, Milo, what… Have we a deal?
Let's cut the price right now.
It's not worth more–you get my drift–
Wheat's worth less than a cow!…”
Then he goes to another stall
where a cow lies in the hay.
He touches its brown hide
and starts to have his say:
“Fifteen?! you ought to be ashamed
by the cross you find so sweet.
What could be going through your mind?
A cow's worth less than wheat!”

It's fair time in Kremenets,
in that precious little town,
where poverty and Yiddishkeit
live kosherly as one.

[Page 332]

Songs of Destruction
(From Pinkas Yampol)

By Hadasa Rubin

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

A Greeting

Tell, tell, you see, I don't cry.
My eye is blindfolded my heart's a stone

I will, I will in your words
find the gardener
from my past.

A fence a prayer house…interrupt me–
Now the graves stand open
and from the pit

the heaven escapes, interrupt me–
my first joy remains there
and will never again return.

Tell, tell, you see, I don't cry.
In black graves lie bones
not covered by earth.

And from the pit, and from the bones
no paths lead to anyone
as if the town were dead.

Tell, tell, through your words
and return to those places
with a shaky step.

I return here, here, from where
there is no possible return,
where the road ends.

Tell, tell, you see, I don't cry.
Tell, tell, you who asked me about
those bones in the pit.

And perhaps…They beg pardon
that I live, that I remain,
I, one person from the town?

Tell, tell, you see, I don't cry,
the heart is like a tombstone–strong,
fenced in with barbed wire.

My Jewish Child

The full light of the whole expanse
The full joy
on the silk of grass,
of the play of beams,
unstained, without sun,
for you, child,
for you, Jewish child.

As in eyes, in yours
should shine the shining
in a joyful color.
But what if you understood
the last scream of your mother
and it screams in you?
My hands will be empty,
like a bare desert.
I will no longer need light.
I must be your pain and woe,
Child, my Jewish child.

[Page 333]


[“Be consoled,” from Isaiah 40:1]

In the hot nights,
awake at night,
I say to myself: be consoled.

I rub my hands,
and I beg for mercy:
Don't rip up my body
in bloody dreams.

Awake at night
with eyes shut
I seek you, I call you,
my tortured one.

Awake at night,
offer me no consolation:
I am the pain,
I am the reproach.


A visit to the Kremenets mass grave in 1961
The photo was contributed by Munye Gindes of Israel
(the last one in the photo).


[Page 334]

Mother Town

By Mordekhay Katz (Buenos Aires)

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

Among the green hills
of Volhynia–
That was my shtetl's site.
Of those there born,
the best we mourn–
their memory will always shine bright.

Oh, Kremenets,
Oh, dear home town,
such grace pervaded thee.
Oh, Kremenets,
always loved, our ancient home,
Wherever I am, you accompany me.

The green hills crown you,
the woods adorn you,
with crystal springs galore–
Your dear panorama,
Oh, Kremenets, my mama–
your enemies soaked you in gore.

The souls and trade halls
and parents' four walls–
all is blood, is gone.
The Nazi–Germans reviled,
with them be never reconciled–
Forever–this have I sworn.

I remember a night
and many like it;
restless nights of thievery and terror,
nights filled with terror and chaos,
people plundered by the light of dawn,
Three, six, and even seven times.



[Page 335]

I Remember a Night

By Mordekhay Katz (Buenos Aires)

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

I remember a night:
So young,
so very young. –
The room is hidden in sleep,
the sky: a radiant sea
with little boats floating
away, away to the dawn…
a beautiful layer of moonlight
showers down
From its mistress.

I remember the night
so blue
and gray–
Like all late summer days before dawn
the streets in sleep, delicious sleep
in the lap of my warm and bold Volhynia
. But winter suddenly began to play
with a sharp blast, like a sword in the night
and did away with the town–awakened…

I remember the night:
So hot,
Its mountains surround it as if distraught,
staring like golems and silent as fools.
They have dragged people out of their beds
to somewhere behind the town, behind the hills…
By the light of the moon a pale mother
wrung her hands with a groan:
My only provider is away, how bitter.
Woe is me. There is no end of evil.

(From the 21st Commemoration)

By Chayim Nudel (Buenos Aires)

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

Between mountains and valleys
studded with woods and rocks,
little Avrahams and Moshes lived,
Brayndils and Feygeles, with Jewish grace.
Now that was a town,
more beautiful than beautiful!

Then came the foe
of the Ten Commandments
who silenced the Song of Songs
and the praises of God.

Still hovers their tune,
the melody of the Torah,
our unique inheritance:
which helps us to live,
to build, to fight fearlessly

Honor to you, our heroes!
We remember you, beloved.
The murderers' guilt
we will never forgive.

[Page 336]

No More Letters Will Arrive

By A. Kripitser (Buenos Aires)

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

There were times, good times,
you remember them,
when a seven–page letter
would come from our old home.

Impatiently we waited
for the familiar hello
that comforted us, that cheered us
beyond its simple words.

Every hour seemed like a year,
a day seemed like eternity
when a letter did not come.
Has something happened, God forbid?

But suddenly the sun would shine
and flowers smelled superb;
the birds in cages sang out
that good news had arrived.

The ringing of the bell is like a song
Sung in the purest tones
when they follow the tread
of the blessed postman.

The letter brightens up the room,
laughter mixed with tears;
then silence falls
as if it were a sacred time.

Mama wrote the letter,
making us remember,
so we read it seven times
with eyes full of tears.

Our father took the letter
to the old post office
with red and dripping eyes
and put it in the mailbox.

Through hills and valleys would we go
not fearing fiery flames
just to see them one more time,
to be with them just once.

But that is not our fate
To share in so much luck,
to see them with the children
or the grandchildren.

The beasts of the Third Reich
tore them from their cage,
burned then, bet them, cut them off
without mercy, without conscience.

The fires spread so quickly
from the west far to the east
and among the smoldering towns,
so, too, burned ours.

And the two–footed beast strides
and scatters fiery sparks;
half the world is destroyed, until…
until eyes fill with blood.

Now the sun no longer shines for us,
and wilted now the blooms.
The birds in their cages are silent:
from home no more letters will come.

Nothing more will we receive.
Our old home is destroyed.
No letters will arrive from there,
and futile it is to wait.


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