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[Column 541]

How I Survived

by Dinale Rotsztajn-Ricer/Paris

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Translated by Toba Ajzenstat

Edited by Toby Bird

 

Dinaleh Rotstein-Ritzer, Paris. She was still a young child when the War broke out in 1939. She ran away with her family to a village but had to part from them later on. She learnt how to conceal herself, how to climb from one attic across to another, how to hide in bunkers, ditches, etc. later on, it became hard not only to hide but even to obtain a piece of bread. He was beaten savagely until finally he gave away the name of the person from whom he had received it. The person in question was then severely punished.

The Poles caught her older brother and mother who were concealed by a peasant, and shot them both.

The Christian who hid Dinaleh and other Jews was shot by Polish reactionaries after the entry of the Red Army, as being a communist who had hidden Jews.

Yossel Hoppenheim, Haya Ritzer (in Israel) Dinale's sister and Hennele Weinberg.

* * *

In September 1939 the Germans bombed Kurow and almost the whole town burned down. The residents scattered to nearby villages. My family and I fled to a village called Choshtshuv [Choszczow]. We were there until Sukkos. When the Germans occupied the town [i.e. Kurow] many people returned but they didn't have a roof over their heads. My dear father went away to Vonvelitz [Wawolnica] on the first days of Sukkos, rented a dwelling from a peasant and moved us there.Vonvelitz had not been bombed. When the Germans started taking Jews for work my father had to go to work along with my older brother, Elia. This was in the spring of 1940. It wasn't long before they also started taking women and young children. From our home there were now three people going away to work in the fields, in the village of Drziwce. My father said that he would not go to work, he would pay money to the Judenrat. He went to Kurow to see what he could do. He wanted to put up a new house but the murderers came and were grabbing Jews for work. They held my father a whole day and gave him a sound beating. After he did the work he went to Kloda where my dear grandfather, Alter, was living with his son and his daughter, Chuma.

We moved to Kloda. This village belonged to the municipality of Markuszow. In April, 1942 all Jews were to present themselves at the town square [in Kurow]. We didn't go. There would be time enough to go to our deaths. Many people did go. On

[Column 542]

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Yossel Hopenhaim, Chaya Ricer (Dinale's sister, in Israel), and Hennele Wajnberg (the daughter of Naftuli and Keila, granddaughter of Noech [Buchszrajber]

April 8th, 1942, the second day of Pesach, they gathered all the Kurow Jews at the market place and with one blow emptied out our shtetl. This date has remained in my memory because it was the anniversary date of my eldest sister's marriage (to Chaim Ricer, son of Moishe Duvid; they lived near the Jewish cemetery.) My dear mother had made a small parcel of food and sent my younger brother with it to my sister in Kurow. My sister was then in special circumstances and she

[Column 543]

couldn't come the three kilometers to us on foot. When my brother was on the way to Kurow people already informed him of what was happening in the town. He immediately ran away. The Jews of Kurow were forced to walk to Konskowola. Very few wagons were provided to carry the children and old people. Many people were shot on the way.

Only about thirty Jews remained [in Kurow] because they worked for members of the SS. When these Jews came home [from work] they found that their parents, their families, were gone. Avraham Goldberg (he was head of the Judenrat) approached the mayor to ask that more people be employed. The tens of Jews occupied the large house of Itshe Rozen and settled into a life of brutal constraint. All the other houses the Jews had left behind were taken over by Poles; there were many Silesian Poles among them. Still other Kurow Jews were hiding on their own. For them this was easier because of the fact that they maintained contact with the remnant of Jews in Kurow. The Poles at that time still let Jews into their homes and gave them a piece of bread. The little ghetto existed until the 9th of November, 1942. On that day Germans entered the town, went into the ghetto and shot all the Jews. Several ran away, but very few. There were a few young people who had weapons. When the tragedy occurred Motele Zalcberg jumped from a window and entered the home of a Pole. Seeing them shoot Motele Berls, the butcher, he came out of the Pole's home and shot the SS man. As soon as the shot was heard a second SS man appeared and shot Motele Zalcberg killing him on the spot.

I was often in the town with my brother, Elia, but a few days before the liquidation of the Jews we were already going very rarely to the town. We were already more in hiding. We were in the village of Kloda-Alempin which is near Kurow and Markuszow. I was in Alempin with my younger brother at that time. When our father came to see us the old woman hiding us said to him: "Moshke, I can't keep them any longer. I am afraid."

My father paid more money. She said: “I'll keep your children till the end of the month, not longer.”

 

“Live For Me Too!”

My older brother was with my father and mother in a bunker in the village of Kloda. We [Dinale and her younger brother] couldn't be with my parents because the two little children of Yankele Fajnszmit were already in that bunker. When the end of the month of December arrived I knew what awaited me. The woman hiding us had improved. She said to me:

[Column 544]

“Danushu, you will stay but Tadek (that is, my brother Simchale) won't.” I said: “No, Ma'am, I am leaving and my little brother will stay with you. I am almost five years older than he is.”

The night of December 31st, 1942 arrived. I had an eye problem. I had no socks on my feet. I broke into tears, my little brother and I kissed each other and I said to him: “Live for me too. I don't know if I will be able to see you all again. I don't know what will happen to me. Today is Sylvester Eve[1]. Today Poles drink a great deal. I have nowhere to go.”

I say “Good night” to him once more and go on my way. I walk towards Plynek [Plonki]. To get to Plynek I have to go through a great many fields. The worst thing is crossing over the main Kurow-Markuszow highway. It is cold, it is snowing, there is a strong wind. I knew the way very well but when the wind pushed me I got off course and came to another village. It is late, where I am – I don't know. I see a light on in a house. The dogs are barking loudly. I hold out my stick and give the dog a little piece of bread so I'll be able to go into the house of the Christian. Who he is I don't know, but I have to know where I am. I knock, enter and ask what the name of the village is. He says “Kalin.” He asks me: “Where are you going?” I say to him: “I am going to Kurow.” He asks me to sit down and he looks me in the eyes: “Who are you?”

I say: “You don't know me. I am from Konskowola. If I tell you my name you still won't know.”

He says to me: “You don't have to say anything, I know you are Moshke's daughter. Your father is called Moshke krupnik[2]. Your mother is Alter's daughter – and you are telling me that you are not from Kurow! I know you very well. You were a child when I rode with your parents.” And he says to his wife: “Bring in a bread and cut her off a piece to take with.”

I thank him. I don't want bread because I am afraid he is telling her to give me bread in order afterwards to take my life. He asks about my parents. I tell him that no one remains, I am alone. He expresses his regrets and says to me: “I can't keep you.”

His wife tells me how to go to Kurow. So I go. On the way I see three men walking with flashlights in their hands, but I have to keep walking because there is no time to hide. They come up to me, look me in the face and stop me. They ask: “Who are you?” I reply: “Svoya.” They say: “Who is Svoya?”

Someone shines a light in my eyes. I can't see who

[Column 545]

it is. It is only when he puts his flashlight in his pocket that I can see who it is. He says to his companions: “I know her.” And he explains to them that I am Moshke's daughter. They say to me: “Go, but be careful. Not everyone will be like us.”

 

The Poles Don't Give Bread Because They Don't Trust The Jews

I continue on, to where I don't know. I arrive in Plynek. I get up into the loft of a Pole, in the place where his horse is. I lie there a whole day because I have nowhere to go. I worry about my parents, about my little brother. No one wants to take in Jews. Whenever I enter the home of a Pole the people say to me: "Poor child, it's bad for you, but we can't keep you."

They are afraid. A law has been made that whoever hides Jews will be killed along with ten neighbors. If a Jew is found on the road and he has a piece of bread the Jew is beaten to make him say where and from whom he got the bread and so the Poles don't trust the Jew; he will betray them. So now they are afraid to give you even a piece of bread. It is very bad. For a month I wandered around like this from one place to another, from one hayloft to another. In the middle of February 1943 I go back to the place where I left my little brother and beg the woman, crying, to keep both me and my brother.

While I was in Plynek I met children from our town, a little boy and girl, the children of Ajzik Sznajder. They told me that they too had no place to live. I arranged with them to come and see me on such and such a night. I told them the date and place. I waited for them. I pressed my landlady to take them telling her that it was the same punishment for hiding one Jew as four Jews. So they actually stayed with me and my brother for a while.

 

The Pole With the Beautiful Boots

Within a short period of time she says to us again: “I won't keep you.” She is going to send us away in the night. She doesn't want Jews anymore because the Germans are supposed to come and search for grain to see if people have supplied the amount levied on them. She is afraid. Again we go away, but this time my brother and I are together. The two other children go somewhere else to search out a place to hide themselves. It is still winter. The summertime is easier – we at least were able to lie in the fields or the woods. But winter is bitter and hard. I go with my brother to a certain peasant who lives far away from any neighbors – there are, all told, only two houses there. We go to his house

[Column 546]

and ask him to keep us at least for a short while. At first he won't hear of it but he does let us come in for the present. In case we hear something the forest is not far so we'll go into the forest. This was March, 1943. I don't remember which day. Ten to twelve days elapse and no one has seen us. One day we were sitting in the house because the loft was cold. Looking out the window we see a man wearing beautiful boots walking towards the house. We thought it was the forester. My brother went up on top of the stove while I crawled under the bed. The visitor opens the door and exclaims: “Send out the Jews!”

This was someone in the Polish police. He sets about searching and finds me and my brother. Now we are in the hands of murderers. He questions us about how long we have been here. Each of us says "one day" as if we had pre-arranged with each other to answer this way. The householder asks the policeman not to betray us to the Germans. He says to him: “I will give you money if you let them live. You see, after all, that these are young children.”

At that time the Germans ordered that every Jew who remained alive should come to Konskowola. Things would be good. The policeman tells the peasant this. “Send them there. Don't hide Jews because if they find a Jew in your place they will kill you.”

The peasant says to us: “Go to your parents, bring me the money and then you won't stay any more at my place. My place is finished.”

 

My Brother Speaks Like a Father…And Our Father…

At nightime we left. Our father gave us money for the payment. Now again we don't have a place to go to. My father says to me: “Dinale, you will go to Konskowola. There are already a lot of Kurow people there. If it's good we'll all go there and be together, not separated from one another anymore.”

Then my older brother says: “Dear Father, for the moment we are hidden and no one sees us. Don't forget that if Dinale goes away and something happens to her it will be your fault. No, sister, you are not going.”

My mother cried bitterly and begged their landlady to let me stay together with them for a few weeks. I would be a day here, a day in another village, until the start of spring. In the middle of this my cousin, Shaya Rozen, arrives. He tells me that his family is all together in one place. But their landlord has already told them that just as soon as the grain is high they should go and hide in the fields. I decided to go to a place within one kilometer of Kurow to a certain Pole who was the custodian of a meadow.

[Column 547]

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Shaya Rozen (the son of Alter and Chuma), Paris

When the work camp existed in Kurow people said of this Pole that he gave a place to sleep to any Jew who wanted to stay over a night. I discussed this with my cousin and told him to whom I was going. I told him that if I stayed there he should come and see me.

I went to that Pole's place. He said to me: “You can stay with us but not in the house. We can't keep you in the house. We have seven children and the two of us – altogether nine souls. We'll make a bunker in the earth and you will be there all day long. At night, between 1 and 2, you'll come out into the fresh air.”

 

It's Hard to Get Used to a Bunker

I had slept in lofts a number of times but I had not yet been able to accustom myself to hiding in a hole in the earth. But meanwhile the bunker wasn't dug yet. So I went back to the same place I had been until the 31st of December, 1942. Now it was already the end of June, 1943. They let me stay at their place just a few days. Again you have to go to another place.

I ate supper there and tried to beg them – “Maybe I can stay for another day?” “No. But you will be able to come again to us for a day or two.”

I left. Where do I go now? Maybe to my mother's brother and his family? But go search for them in the fields. The fields are vast. I am afraid to go and shout “Uncle Yoina!” because it's very quiet at night, someone might hear me. In the meantime I walk. It is already for sure 2 o'clock at night. I am going towards Plynek. I walk with my stick and my piece of bread. This piece of bread is not mine alone. I have to share it with the dogs because at night they are unchained and attack you.

[Column 548]

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Chuma Rozen (Dinale's aunt, a daughter of Alter Sznajder [Shabenmacher] with her little daughter (both perished), and with her son Shaya (living in Paris)[3]

I come upon a peasant I know who is getting ready to go to Kurow. He lets me stay with him over the day. When he comes home from the town he tells me (this was the 1st of July, 1943) that they have killed fourteen Jews there; among them are my mother's sister and her daughter, my mother's brother and his wife and children and other Kurow Jews from the Kenig family. It becomes dark before my eyes.

That same night I had to leave him and I went away to Bronic. I believe that people from Kurow still remember the home of Lanieskin. Nearby there was a Pole to whom my father had given a lot of goods, so I went to ask him if my parents were staying with him. He told me that my brother had gotten dressed in four suits and was now in Kloda. If I wanted I could go there. But I went to the person who assured me that when he had dug the bunker in the ground he would hide me. The bunker was for sure not even one meter deep, maybe it was 60 to 70 centimeters. It couldn't

[Column 549]

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Dinale's parents and the children

be made deeper because water started to seep in when peat for burning was cut in the meadow. I couldn't sit in it, I could only lie down.

I was very satisfied with the place but I longed for my parents. I had a very strong desire to see them. I told my landlords that at night I would go to see some Poles I knew and bring a bit of food from them. I did not tell them that I was going to see my parents. I always said over and over again that I didn't know anything about them nor they about me. This was Monday, the 9th of August, 1943. I got there and they let me down into my parents' bunker. There was only my mother and my older brother. Where was my father? He was in Plynek, already for several days. My older brother had sent my little brother away to a peasant in another village. He didn't tell this peasant that he was a Jew and he started taking the cows out to pasture there. My older brother and my mother were so happy to see me that both of them were unable to let go of me. They kissed me and were happy that I was doing everything for myself.

 

I Saw My Mother and Brother For the Last Time

My brother asked me: “Dinale, how does your hiding place look?” I told him. He said to me: “Dinale, take Mother with you and I will also leave here for a little while. There is too much talk now about our presence in the village.” But my mother

[Column 550]

said to him: “I'm not going. I am staying here with you, my beautiful son.” And that's how it was. On Tuesday night I left them – and never saw them again. This was the last time I saw my dear mother and my beloved brother whom I loved so much and who was so devoted to me. Wednesday, the 11th of August, at night, I am sitting with my landlords outside on a bench – this time I had come out of the bunker earlier – and, hearing shooting, in my heart I suspected something bad. I asked: “Why are they shooting?” My landlord said to me: “But you know that the Germans often shoot here, why are you asking?” I sat a little while longer and then went again into my bunker hiding place. I lay there and cried over the bad fortune we Jews had that this happened to us.

Thursday morning when my landlord brought me my piece of bread I tell him I'm not hungry. He says to me: “Eat!” For the midday meal he brings me potatoes in milk. I show him the piece of bread from the morning; I wasn't able to eat. I want him to tell me why they were shooting at night. He says nothing to me. In the evening my landlady says to me: "Come out, my child."

 

Poles Shot Them

I somehow didn't like the sound of this. She asks me: “Where are your parents?” I say to her: “I don't know.” She says to me: “Till now, they were here, but they've been shot! And they weren't shot by Germans, but by Poles!” I became sick.

After some time a little girl came to visit me, a daughter of Yankele Fajnszmit, Dinale, (she is now living in Israel), and she brought me a few things from my beautiful mother. I gave everything away to the Christians with whom I was staying. A little while after the tragedy that befell me I longed even more strongly for my father. I set off for Plynek. I arrive and meet my father. He looks very bad, without the will to live. I tell him I will search for a place for him. He says to me: “Every door is closed for me.” I go out looking and talk and plead for my father, but everywhere people refuse.

And yet with one person I did have success: “I'll take him, but be careful with food so that no one sees you carrying pots.” At 2 a.m. we entered the barn. There was a lot of straw there. I spent two days with my father and then went back again to my former hiding place. But I couldn't be long without my father. In a few weeks I went to him again and stayed for three weeks.

[Column 551]

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Alter Shabenmacher and his wife, Rivka Ettel. He was a longtime gabbai of the synagogue. She was a longtime warden of the Chevra Kadisha [Burial Society]

By then it was the 9th of November. The landlady said: “Moshek, you go away and let Dinale stay because something could happen on November 11th (a Polish national holiday – Independence Day.) I have two sons. My husband is old. I mustn't risk so much.”

 

The Good Pole Was Killed By Poles

My father went again in search of a place somewhere. I remained by myself in the barn. For the first three nights my landlady called me into the house to warm up but then afterwards not. It was cold. I was there until the 12th of December. On a beautiful bright day I emerged from the barn and went to Kurow.

[Column 552]

I didn't want to be alone any more. I went back to my poor Pole. There I often saw Jews and my cousin, Shmuel Chanysman with his son, the son of Manes Luzer, and Chaim Pesach, with his wife and children. They all came to me. The Pole was very good. I lived through the war at his place. They wanted me to live and to survive the war. When his wife brought me food in the bunker she often said to me: “The world is beautiful, the sun is shining, but for you it is dark.”

After the war “Akovtzes” [Polish Nationalists] killed this man in his own house. They said to him: “You will fall from our bullet because you are a communist. You hid Jews!”

 

Translator's notes:
  1. Sylvester Eve is the Polish name for New Year's Eve. Return
  2. Members of the Ricer family in Kurow were called by the nickname “krupnik.” The literal meaning of the word “krupnik” is “barley soup.” Return
  3. The English translation that appears underneath the Yiddish caption in the Yizkor Book mistakenly identifies Chuma Rozen as Dinale's mother. The Yiddish caption identifies her correctly as Dinale's aunt. She was a sister to Dinale's mother. Their father was called Alter “Sznajder” in Kurow but the family name was Shabenmacher. Return

[Columns 553-554]

The Martyr Death of an Editor
and a Councilwoman – the Nisenbaum Couple

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

[Translator's note: the following text appears in the yizkor book in Hebrew. It is followed on column 554 by the English version of the Hebrew text. The original English text is presented here unedited, including grammatical and typographical errors.]

Yankel Nissenbaum and his wife Bella Shapiro. He was appointed editor of the “Lubliner Tagblatt”. He and his wife were both popular figures in Lublin. Yankel Nissenbaum himself came from Kurov, where his father had been a popular and highly-esteemed Hebrew teacher. When the War broke out Jacob and his wife Bella proceeded to the part of Poland which was occupied by the Soviet forces. Three weeks later they returned to Lublin.

They both established contact with the Underground Bundist Organization. The Gestapo arrested them. During their interrogation their finger nails and toe nails were torn off, but they did not break down and they gave nobody away. He was released and worked in the offices of the Judenrat until the general deportation of the Jews in March 1941. An agent of the gestapo then arrived, summoned him by name and shot him on the spot.

He wife Bella Shapiro-Nissenbum was deported to the Ravensbruck camp in December 1941 and was tortured there.

Yankel Nissenbaum, editor of the “Lubliner Tagblatt”.

[Column 553]

[The following text is translated from Yiddish.]

 

Yankl Nisenbaum

Lived in Lublin until the war. Was editor of Lubliner Togblat [Lublin Daily Newspaper]. Took part in communal life. His residence was destroyed by bombs during the beginning of the war. Nisenbaum and his wife, Bela Szpiro, then left for Soviet territory. However, he returned immediately and became an official at the Judenrat [Jewish council created by the Germans].

 

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Yankel Nissenbaum, editor of the “Lubliner Tagblatt”

[Column 554]

With his wife, he remained in contact with the Bundist underground movement in Warsaw. And with the Polish underground movement. At the same time, he endured all of the hardships of the ghetto. In June 1941, he was arrested by the Gestapo due to the failure by an illegal woman leader on whom Nisenbaum's address was found. Two days later, his wife was arrested. The couple survived terrible torture; the nails of their hands and feet were torn out. They knocked out all of Nisenbaum's teeth and punched him in the kidneys. The Gestapo asked him to give the names of all illegal activists. Despite the pain they went through, Nisenbaum and his wife did not give anyone away. They went through the same pain at the confrontation and with the same results. The beaten couple were brought back to Lublin and placed in the prison hospital at the “castle.” Comrades and friends tried to free them. No effort and money were spared. The Bundists Klin, Nowogrodski and Ozshech were particularly occupied with their fate. As a result of the efforts, Nisenbaum was released. He worked further as an employee at the Judenrat until the general deportation in March 1942. On the last day of the month of March, a member of the Gestapo came to the office of the Judenrat, called out the “editor” Nisenbaum from the Judenrat office and shot him on the spot in the street.

Nisenbaum kept a diary in the ghetto that did not survive.

[Column 555]

Bela Szpira-Nisenbaum

Wife of the editor of the Lubliner Togblat [Lubliner Daily Newspaper] – Yakov Nisenbaum. Lived in Lublin until the war and was communally active there in the Bund party. Was a councilman [sic] in the city council, appeared at meetings and represented the Bund at an entire series of communal institutions. Her residence became a ruin as a result of bombings right at the start of the [Second World] War. Bela and her husband escaped to the Soviet Union. They returned to Lublin after three weeks. Szpira[1] worked in a kitchen that was organized by Jewish women from various party affiliations. She also was in further contact with the Bund Central Committee in Warsaw. Despite the difficult living conditions and uncertainty about the coming day, she did not lose courage and told others to also persevere and cope. She also maintained contact with the Polish underground movement. In June 1941, she was arrested with her husband. The arrest took place because of a failure by a female courier from the underground movement. The courier had the address of Bela Szpira with her. She [Bela] was horrifically tortured in jail by the commissar for political matters, Fiszater. They tore out the nails from her hands and feet. She went through other racks of torture. They asked her to betray the illegal movement. Bela endured all of the pain and did not reveal any names. Bela was taken from Lublin to Radom, where a confrontation with other political arrestees took place; these methods did not succeed, Bela remained silent. She was brought back to Lublin, terribly beaten.

 

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Yankl Nisenbaum, his wife Bela Szpira, his sister
Chayale Grosman (the wife of Yakov Leizer), all annihilated

 

She was taken to the prison hospital. Her friends and comrades made efforts to free her. They did not spare any money. They succeeded in accomplishing that she would not be sentenced to death… In December 1941, she was sent to the Ravensbruck camp. There she was probably tortured. A son was murdered in Gdynya.

Sources: Archive of the Central Jewish Historical Committee in Poland, minutes number 1887 and no. 1897.

Conveyed to the editors by H. V. Jasni.

 

A Letter
From Meir Akerman's letter from Poland to Leibl Kawa in New York

Legnica, 14th of July 1948
Dearest Friend Kawa,

I have just been in Poland for a few days. I will put aside my private matters at this time and write to you about how the Jews of Kurow were annihilated. I probably hold you as my best friend because you helped me at my most difficult time, when my child was sick. Therefore, to me you are higher or still closer than just a landsman [person from the same town]. I have become very interested in your family.

…on the second day of Passover, everyone was driven to the last phase. Whoever stopped walking was shot. The old Reb Moshe Tovya, may his memory be blessed, who seemed to have prepared himself for it. He dressed in white, combed his patriarchal beard, got undressed near the cemetery – through which the Jews were driven – stood near a tree to recite his confession. A bullet from a German bandit immediately found his heart. His last words were: Shema Yisroel! [“Hear, O Israel” – the beginning of the central prayer of Jewish worship.]

 

Translator's notes:
  1. The names from the Yiddish text are transliterated using the standard Yiddish transliteration for the given names and the Polish transliteration for the surnames. Yankl is a diminutive of Yakov. Return

[Columns 557-558]

Songs

Moshe Shulstein/Paris

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

 

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MOSHE SHULSTEIN is a well-known poet, author of many volumes of poetry, was particularly popular in the revolutionary circles in pre-war Poland. His creations often were recited at worker-evenings, especially his poem, Der Tate Shtreikt [The Father Strikes] (before the war) and his poem, Ikh Hob Gezen a Barg [I Saw a Mountain] (about Majdanek, after the war).

Moshe Shulstein is a Kurower. He lived in Paris during the years before the war and during the war years.

“I was born in Kurow on the 9th of September 1911. My parents: Royze Gitl and Benyamin. Studied in the khederim [religious primary schools] of Getsl Melamed [religious school teacher], Moshe Yosl Nisenbaum and others. At age 12, I learned tailoring with Moshe Sztrasburg. Left the shtetl [town] with my parents in 1924. From then on, I lived in Warsaw. Studied at the Jewish Folkshuln [public schools]. In 1927, published my first poem in the journal Undzer Hofening [Our Hopes] – of Y.M. Wajsenberg. In 1934, published the first collection of poems under the title Broyt un Blei [Bread and Lead] in Lublin. In 1937, left Poland. From then on, in France where survived the Second World War…”

Several of his books were published in Paris in recent years.

I Saw a Mountain

I saw a mountain –
It was higher than Mount Blanc,
And more holy than Mount Sinai,
It appeared not in a dream, but in truth, v on the earth –
Such a mountain, such a mountain I saw
Of Jewish shoes at Majdanek.
Such a mountain, such a mountain I saw.

And suddenly, it happened as if magically,
I saw it stir and move from the spot
And the thousands of shoes lined up on their own
In pairs as a mass,
And in rows –
And walked…

Listen, listen to the march, listen to the hymns
Of the remaining shoes – the last signs
Of small and large, of everyone.
Make way for the rows, for the pairs! –
Make way for the generations, for the years! –
The shoe army, it walks and walks.

We are shoes, we are the last witnesses,
We are shoes of grandchildren and grandfathers
From Prague, Paris and Amsterdam.
And while we are just of cloth and leather –
And not of blood and flesh – each one
Has avoided the flames of hell.

 

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Shoes at Majdanek

[Column 559]

Listen, listen, the blended tears
Of all manner: of the rebbe's house of prayer,
And boots, simple and ordinary,
Of simple Jews, of butchers, skinners,
And of small knitted shoes of children,
Who were only now beginning to walk.

The soles make noise with all kinds of sounds:
The rustle of a groom's rubber gaiters,
The bride's slippers of silk,
They have not gone to the khupah [wedding canopy],
The khupah sticks left somewhere on a side
Now lament them.

We shoes from Iasi, from Munkacs and from Athens,
That would go to the market and to the workshop,
And go in peace on our way,
To the store, factory and children's school, to the kheder [religious primary school].
Now we go – an inheritance from the community,
Which has left, left us…

While the flame was sufficient for the bones and flesh
The mouth of the fire did not digest us
And spit us out on a side.
Now listen, now listen to the squeak of our soles
Which follow us as an accompaniment.

[Column 560]

We, shoes that would go to the park and stroll
And lead the bride and groom to the khupah,
And through the generations would go
To celebrations, to weddings and to births,
And full of noise and enthusiasm would go to dance,
And quietly would go to a funeral.

Until once in a long solemn procession,
We went quietly to our own funeral,
Parting with the movement of old and young,
When life hidden left us,
The poison respected us and did not choke us,
Because we – without a heart, without a throat, without a lung.

We go without rest and bang, bang…
The hangman did not have a chance
Of catching us in his bandit's sack,
Now we go to him, so that everyone will hear
The steps that walk like a flow of tears,
The steps which bang out the judgement.

And listen and listen, who would once not want
To hear our walk through the threshold of death,
Now hear, throughout the city,
We are walking – dead echoes of a life –
We will never give you any rest
And walk and walk and walk…

Ayzykl the Shouter[1]

On long winter nights, his voice reaches me and does not let me rest.
Who is this, who? I do not remember his appearance, image or his smallest gesture.
In the winter dawns, he would awaken my shtetele [small town] for work and commerce,
“Wake up to worship God!” – his lamenting voice from outside would frighten me.
As his pelisse [fur-lined coat], the jackets, the leather belts, vests echo,
Today he clears his mind of the snow of my ruined shtetl in Poland.
And Ayzykl the Shouter again comes to my window today to wake me,
Of course, when the windowpane was frosted and the heating stove without fire,
Of course, in the snows – now he wanders around in my imagination,
And I hear him wrestle there with the wind and with walls, as if blind,
His satin pelisse patched with night and pinned with stars –
An old, a simple Jew, who I knew only from hearing him.
Of everything that time has covered and cast over in shadow – his voice remains,
It wakes me; it wants to be at least in my poem, as written in a pinkas [chronicle],
As his life, his ordinary oak cane was written in the snow,
His name sealed – [his name] received because of his trade, his shouting, his awakening us…

The shtetl is covered with snow and with sleep and with dreams of wonder,
And on the beds, the straw mattresses – wrapped in covers, each separately.
The pillow there is full of gold coins, or only with “worthless” dishonest expressions,

[Columns 561-562]

The wind moans in chimneys like stubborn sobs, unstilled, at funerals.
The frost creeps calmly on the windowpanes like a strange, many-footed animal.
And suddenly someone outside interrupts the silence – it is Ayzykl the Shouter.
Everyone hears his lamenting voice and his melody, but no one sees him,
Like a cricket that one hears, but that one does not see – hidden behind bricks and stones.
But who needed to see Ayzykl; one only needed to hear him shout.
To the Jewish community his voice was a tool and a weapon against sleep.
He dug a livelihood from the night with his voice – like a spade in virgin land,
His voice was his equivalent of a bow or a string to a klezmer [musician].
Before Ayzykl, not a peep was heard – only the wind lamented in the snows,
His was a sign for the rooster, a sign to begin crowing,
And the stars knew that the day was beginning because of Ayzykl the Shouter.
He awakened – and then the pail clattered in the well and the straw moved in the barn.
A key squeaked, a gate yawned, sleepily opened, drawn.
Smoke from a chimney haggles, curls to the side and bends.
A curse screws into the morning like a pinch in a thick body,
The wheel of the mill grinds and someone imagines a quick, silent Shakhries [morning prayer].
The irons in the smithy resound red hot and strew gold – a fortune,
The horses are hitched to the sleighs to go to the fair on the white, covered roads.
From behind the houses, the doors open, little by little life begins to reveal itself,
As if Ayzykl's voice was an incantation and his simple cane magical.

But once, the city was late and, unusually, slept,
Because Ayzykl's song was not heard and later they ran to each other
At the market, where someone was horrified where muddy spots led –
The traces of Ayzykl's steps in the snow, the signs, the writing of his cane.
His beard, white with old age and snow, had a reason to stretch out.
He said nothing and the shtetl with its own voices awoke itself.
They searched among Ayzykl's loose, open jackets, vests and belts
For a sign of life, a rustle and the least sign.
For years he would wake the city – now it tried to awaken him, revive him, shout,
But now in the snow – in a tidy, white bed, in a neat one – he lay and was silent…

 

The Melody of My Father's Sewing Machine

My father had a sewing machine,
I cannot in any way know since when,
Because when I first saw the bright light
It already was a resident in our home.
My father probably had received it long ago
As a dowry or a wedding present.
I only know this: I recognized it
Equally with my mother's hand rocking me to sleep,
I only know that I absorbed its melody
Along with the song with which I was rocked to sleep.

How good its song was for us,
When the needle, the bar danced joyfully,
And the fabric and the fustian [heavy, woven cotton fabric] waited,
For it to sample them.
The clothing left by the dozens
With the songs about potatoes, of hope and good,
Which accompanied it in song,

[Column 562]

Peretz's Drei Neitorins [Three Seamstresses] was heard,
The song of my older sister, which was
Brought to the shtetl [town] and entangled, turned
In the wheel of the machine,
Trembled in the seam of each dress.

As winter settled in the shtetl
The sewing machine went across the world.
Dragged itself to distant villages,
Loaded in peasant wagons, in straw,
With talis un tefillin [prayer shawl and phylacteries] with the iron and scissors,
And the dairy spoon and pot, as suitable,
Thus, it clothed the entire household,
Sewed the villages in warm clothing.

How lonesome it was for us without its voice
When quiet, when without work, it
Stood silent, alone in a corner,

[Column 563]

The needle weakened, snagged in the teeth.
The “figure” [mannequin], naked, stands on one side
Nothing is measured on her – no trace of any sewing,
No one caresses it, no touch,
No squeak is heard, no peep from it.
The machine is silent – and its song is silent,
The pots on the stove are silent – at loose ends,
The teapot does not whistle; the kindling does not crack.

Until once, our machine was carried out
Of the house like a cripple and in a wagon
It [was placed] with furniture, tools
With children, with babies… Through the night and through frost
The machine started for Warsaw…
It placed a foot on an estate
In Muranów, somewhere in tumult, in a rush
And there it went down to a cellar room,
Ashamed as an impoverished man, its head sank.

What do you do in Muranów without a machine?
Well, another one arrived there.
The wheel turns, another one turns
In the cellar, where the light is scant and thrifty;
Where the table is the bed and the bed is the table
And it runs neatly on cloth like a country road,
An edge chases an edge, like a road after a road,
The days run with them and months pass,
The sewing machine gets older, ages in need,
Its shiny skin cracks and wrinkles.
Its head covered in rust and bad patches,
The head of my father – with the same silk,
But it still works, does not stop.
Revived with oil, its head is awake. Spools are lain under it, like eggs under a hen,
And done again, again, again,
And it works again, sews and quilts,
Expands its wretched, old strength.
My writing table was destined to remain after it,
When my poems were first heard…
It waited for unfortunate times. ---

With everyone, it was imprisoned in the ghetto.
My father carried it into the German shop
Its head should save him, ransom him,
So it would relieve my mother from need,
Where it lay – a choked bird in filth –
The iron useless, rusted, quiet,
And a figure wanders around in the courtyard,
With ribs torn. It lies with a corpse, Awaiting death as a miracle.

What has the sewing machine already sewn?
Of linen and velvet, of satin and silk;
Jackets and shirts of homemade flax;
Small, short dresses full of childish charm;

[Column 564]

Delicate trousseaus and veils of tulle
And lace and full of sparkles.
Now, alas, what the machine quilts, what it sews,
Clothing stockpiled by the Angel of Death.
The green of defiled fabric makes one dizzy,
The hand no longer knows any other color.
The stubborn needle a poisonous jab,
Actually nauseates the sewing machine, suffocates it and makes it vomit
With the green of the fabric, like the green of bile,
Until the room became overflowing,
And an order was given to it: enough!
And the covered wagon gave it a push.
Loaded again with machines and packs,
And with my parents it left again…

It stands in the dark, crowded wagon.
There is no light – it is mistreated there.
And it is good that the machine does not need light,
That it has no vision to see the pain,
And it is good for the machine, that it is a tool.
The suffocating lime has no power over it.
It feels no blood, it does not feel any tears.
And it is good that it has no sense of hearing,
To hear the confession, the gnashing of teeth,
The insane laughter, the moans, the sobs.
It travels to Treblinka. It is carried now
Through familiar villages with trees and dogs,
Where it would once travel in the winter snowdrifts,
Sewing warm padded [clothing] for families.
Now work takes it to jail – the train
And the tailors together under German deception.
It is carried, as if sick, down from the train,
They try to humble the steel of its head.
And it is eternally separated from tailors.

And now, it is possible, that it stands homeless
Imprisoned in the impure land of the Rhine,
Its melody mixed with a quiet sob,
And the hateful plank of the floor burns it.
A foot like a burden, its peddle steps
And steps on the years, the days and the nights
The only trace of my home desecrated.
It stands lost, lonely and away from home,
There its sewing has a hostile hearing –
The only familiar voice on the earth,
The familiar voice that I would like to hear now;
I would stand near it, on its base
And like a relative – talk from my heart,
And I would for a long time, continually question it,
About everything that was dear and known to me…

And perhaps it stands neglected and all alone
In the field, in the desolation of extinguished remains,
There among the remaining piles of shoes
– Those, too, who rushed its sewing …

[Column 565]

And all kinds of objects sparkling in flame,
Which together embrace each other,
And the remains of clothing, of human garb,
From coarse linen to genteel plush
– Such things that perhaps it had stitched, too –
And bend toward each other like heads
Of dark figures, frozen stiff in obedience,
And soon bowed in whisper and rustle.
And a boney hand sticks out of the sleeve,
As if it had turned to it in mercy,
Strengthened with all kinds of clothing there
And gave it a command and commanded: sew!

And quietly and secretly arrive
Nighttime winds and it turns the wheel
And it calls out to the old the melody,
It engraves the sailcloth with its teeth,
Moans a shout of neglect and shame
And perforates the heaven – the blue fabric.
From pouring rains and water, in dampness,
It stands covered in rust, like mange.
And like a tortured prophet in chains,
That stands over ruins, destruction and death,
– But its bright glance is not extinguished –

[Column 566]

It stands on the mountain of the remaining remnant.
Its melody rises like a complaint and calls
And there explodes into pieces the void, the air,
And small stars fall from the heavenly edge
And kiss its every mangy wound,
Cover the rust and relieve the pain
And fall like spangles to the sewn articles.

From the sacred pile, rise and push
Thousands of pairs of eyeglasses and look around
With glances – extinguished pupils – glazed –
The vision rises like a bright spirit –
And illuminates the sewn articles, the sewing,
And it rises as if on the rungs, on stairs.

Accompanied by the light, encircled and enveloped,
It carries itself with momentum higher and strides
And I hear its rusted voice everywhere,
The old, the familiar voice of the past,
That says to me: “Recognize the voice of your mother.”
And the thousands of eyeglasses look at me,
Burdening my heart with red-hot anger:
Its melody should eternally remain your song.

 

kur566.jpg
“Germans are coming!” –
The teacher and children escape from kheder [religious primary school]

[Drawing by Yosel Bergner, Safed]

 

Editor's comment:
  1. This poem does not belong thematically to the Holocaust section, but we present it here for technical reasons. Return

 

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