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[Page 362]

Twenty Years On, it is After the Flood

by Rivka Gurfein

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The Bitterness of the Way, and the Large Bird in the Heart

All four people in the car were silent. The women, the man, the child, and the driver. The driver felt no feelings, other than what comes from the responsibility of driving and from the unfamiliar roads. He certainly did not sense the unique scents from the fields, forests, and fruit trees whose pungency was not reduced by their ripeness. Simply -- he was not born or raised in that area.

Even the girl displayed only passing curiosity about the trip through these landscapes in which she saw nothing special. She was silent, however, as she sensed the stormy spirit of her parents. During the two years that she was with them in Poland, she never thought of comparing these stormy skies, the sudden summer rains, and the winter snowfalls with their fun, to the blue skies of Israel, to the constancy of its clear seas, and to the pleasantness of the winter days that were always filled with the realities of her existence. She sensed the solemnity of her parents, which deepened with each passing kilometer -- a quiet that suddenly placed a wedge between these two people and the two others in the car.

The two of us each felt very well the heart palpitations of the other, for we each felt the large bird that suddenly began to beat, perplexed and distressed, in the usual place in the heart. Our childhood came to life, with the entire circle of being that always brought us to the area of the events, to the nurtured area that had been the subject of endless moments of memories and longing for the place where we left many of our roots stuck to many great loves... To the place where we left our parents then.

These bitter pangs of the journey that reminds us of names of places, of railway stations, each one enveloped with a group of memories that suddenly break open and now pierce the enlarged heart and penetrate every part of our body! These paths of mourning had always led us to joyous occasions of encounters with people, of holidays, of the soft, loving face of Mother, forgiving us all our silliness! Our merciful city cannot even provide us with a grave for our loved ones, aside from this large painful one that opens up in our hearts, and at this moment begins to arise from within it, unbelievably vital, a parade of its dead!

We hid from each other the matters that suddenly appeared before us and which rose up from the depths within us. We were two people who were returning together -- and suddenly we were two isolated people, distant from each other, for each of us retreated into ourselves. The driver told us that the oil was leaking, marking the route of the car, but this no longer registered with us. The driver said out loud, “I will not endanger myself by repairing the car in an isolated town,” but the words only reached and registered in some external part of us, without meriting any attention from us. Our daughter saw something on the route and broke out in laughter. She was certainly deeply upset when she saw the two adults, her parents who generally pay attention to anything related to her, suddenly becoming indifferent, far-off, each immersed in their own soul.

Rymanow in the final summer, and perhaps even at the begging of the autumn -- we reached it by wagon on our way to the medicinal springs and the deep forests that surround them. Who did not sit in that wagon? I thought that the following people were now sitting next to me -- all my friends, the brave people of my youth, the strong, restless people. Some of them did merit to choose a life of creativity in Israel. There are also those -- the smoke of whose bodies is now permeating

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the air that is filling my lungs at this moment, and choking them... We set out in the morning, and came back at sunset. My feet once again wander as at that time when I was sitting on the board at the back of the wagon. There is some correspondence between the sad eyes, the quiet face, and the agony in the heart to the world that was filled with lingering images.

Zarszyn. We pass by the train station. This is it. Here I saw my parents for the last time. My pleasant father had the same expression that I had once before seen in my life -- when he returned from the funeral of my younger sister, who was presented before me throughout all my tender childhood as a paragon of success and talent. His eyes were cleaving to me at that time as if I was studying them by heart, for all the eternity that was commencing at that moment.

Dabrowka, the village that is near to my city, that was divided into two, Polish Dabrowka and Russian Dabrowka. Please do not ask me to remember which section came first. However, my Jewish female friend was in the farther part, which houses the train station from which I would travel home after crossing to the other side by foot. When I want to visit her, the Polish cemetery would impart its smells to me, leashed dogs would accompany with their barks, and village gardens with their disorderly pelargoniums, old carnations and fiery peonies would arouse my jealousy and wonder. My jealousy grew along with my wonder. I would return from the village laden with flowers and fruit from the garden of my friend, whose large face is now suddenly fluttering before me even though I had not thought of her even once during the past twenty years.

The oil continued to drip from the car, leaving brown stains along the route, which was already near the entry point to our city of Sanok. The driver worried out loud, but our consciousness was not in the present at that time. My husband sat next to me with a calm, personal silence, so that I would not dare to disturb him. The car, the driver, the daughter, the woman -- we were all distanced by his silence. He was going through his memories or was immersed in his own world just as I was going through my memories and immersed in my world. Here stood our cradle, and from here, we uprooted ourselves and built our greater lives -- but now, we are two adult orphans, very much alone even though we are together -- having difficulty identifying ourselves and our surroundings. We still do not guess what is awaiting us, even though the trepidation is afflicting us with a cold touch.

What is this? The suburb has passed. Slow down, driver, slow down! Allow us to absorb the short streets that we tried so hard to bring into our memories. Let us bless the houses that are populated with memories, filled with life and color a moment ago -- even though our eyes are clouded with unwanted tears that we knew would come.

There were also houses that came up from within us, but they are not there. Simply -- they are not there. The house of the person sitting next to me. The house of my aunt, uncle and cousins. Alone, I now pass the threshold that has disappeared: among five men -- a husband and four sons -- was my beautiful, proud Aunt Chaya, the splendid mistress of the house. The boundary between the two houses, ours and that of my aunt, albeit somewhat far apart, were always soft. We sat in the house that is no longer, or they sat in the house that is waiting for me a distance of several turns of the wheel -- strange, twenty years older, the only one that is still recognizable in the area that has changed -- frightening, rejected. Slow down, driver, slow down! Let me stop at the threshold that no longer exists. Let me peek -- perhaps with all this, I will find my aunt covered with a Turkish scarf making the pretty hair bands, always with the right size, that she made for every holiday! Our lives were so intertwined with each other, on days of agony and joy, on weekdays and holidays...

[Page 364]

Things have passed. The driver changed, the car changed, we changed. Only that which is within us has not changed. Soon we will walk on these streets by foot. We will yet listen to the echoes that are certainly preserved somewhere here in the area. Ten years have passed since all of these houses were populated with those who parted from them with broken hearts. However, we kept them in our hearts, consciously or unconsciously. We will soon return to the abandoned footpath, the mighty corners of life to which we have returned in our hearts throughout the years. With every aphorism that arrives, with every letter that is written, and with every festival that comes, we find no rest, for every memory and longing that brings us back here.

The car, this accursed car! It is the first thing that has revealed to us how tiny the town was, how narrow were its bounds, how short was its main street that we measured by our stubborn feet on our evening strolls, back and forth, back and forth, again, and again; with rapid heartbeats through which we snatched a furtive glance, which was the purpose of such a walk, and of which, as I recall, we never tired...

Here is already the other side of the town. Here is the large train station, far from the city, woven with very few memories. Here is the large house next to it, where the Jewish girl with the Polish name lived, strange to me throughout my childhood due to my proud, lofty sense of Judaism. How many houses have sprouted up in this neighborhood -- strange houses, garages and workshops that imparted a sudden strangeness to the entire suburb. These garages excited our driver, for they would certainly be able to fix the minor damage to his car...

We have now returned to the heart of the city, and our sighing hearts became heavy stones, lying motionless. We cannot return to the cities pampered with our loves, our memories, our longings -- after twenty years, after the storm! We must not return, my friends!

Here is the house in the center of the street, the important house with its own name that served as a waiting place, a meeting place, and a landmark for directions. Here it is. Do you remember it? Right of Wynrowka, left of Wynrowka, opposite Wynrowka and next to Wynrowka -- they have even removed the marble slabs from it. Now it is waiting for us with its empty stores -- its closed, empty stores. Oy! On those forlorn walls whose splendor has melted and whose form has been robbed.

Photo page 364: The post office in Sanok that had been bombed during the war, prior to its reconstruction (1950)

We thought, we once thought and also thought later, throughout those twenty years, we thought that this street was long. Now we see: it was long, large, and splendid -- only in our beloved memories, only in our longings when we went to search for our parents, our relatives, and our young selves. Our memory is faithful to the hunger of the heart, and not to the sight of the eyes.

Here is the large market square. Is that it? That is it... It is strange in contrast to the image that is etched within us. It is fully paved. Something is added to it, and something is missing from it. Something unique and important,

[Page 365]

Something that has not changed? What? We felt this before we understood it. The Jewish Street had started here, but the Jewish Street -- where is it? It is gone. Soon we will stand in the small marketplace where we would always taste the cherries that were brought there by the farmers of the region. We would taste one cherry from each jar, taste, check and deliberate: will Mother not be angry at us if we decide to buy these specific ones? And was it only cherries that we tasted here? There were the wonderful apples, the “zarszynki” and others.

Even the proud church that we never dared to approach seemed smaller than we had imagined. Here it is, proud, and strange -- with only the peal of its bells being recognizable and close. We loved to listen to them, and they accompanied our days, our evenings, and our sleepless nights. However -- Master of the Universe -- what is happening here? Since when were we able to see the forests and the mountains from here? Since when?

It was like a bad dream. The street had disappeared, the houses had disappeared -- this entire area where Jewish life had taken place had been wiped out and disappeared, along with its residents -- disappeared completely. It disappeared along with is wealthy and poor people, with its bathhouse, its cheders, its workshops, and all of its lanes and alleys. Now we can see green fields, spread with agony and despair, through the gaping wound.

Even all of the synagogues behind the large market square have disappeared. We went to them primarily on the days of Rosh Hashanah to hear the blowing of the shofar. We went to Mother who had a set place in the women's gallery. Before she would go she would put on the family pearl necklace, an heirloom of many generations of mothers. Mother was prettier than normal on all Sabbaths and festivals, despite the fact that her large, warm eyes were always suffused with quiet sadness. On the Sabbath of the blessing of the New Moon, we would accompany her and take pride in the whiteness of her fine garments that were generally brought from the large city, eight hours away by train. Now there is no synagogue, no Beis Midrash, and no window therein from which we would peek to see the shofar blower. There are no Jewish houses of worship and no Jews in our town. Those who are walking next to us, the Poles, their neighbors -- do they remember them? Do they remind themselves about them? Witnesses to their lives and witnesses to their deaths?

A parking lot for heavy vehicles situated where the houses of worshippers used to be causes us to retreat. We peer into the houses in which we recognized every resident. The houses are full, full, full. There is no empty space in place of those that are no more. Whoever does not know will not realize what took place here.


My House is Full of Ashes

The two movie theaters are closed. The good restaurants disappeared. The people on the road are strange. It is as if we are in a desert -- there is not one person who is recognizable. The girl who is walking with us does not understand at all. We do not greet even one person in our native town. Is it possible? I tell myself: my first school is there somewhere on the road to the large train station on the slope of the mountain, on a side street, near the hospital. I see myself as a young girl dragging my feet with difficulty through the piles of snow on the route, reaching the classroom in tears from the cold that has penetrated through my toenails. But it was not there that I had started to study. Before that, I studied standing up on my feet all day, in a classroom that had no bench, no picture, and no piece of furniture aside from the blackboard. This was in the midst of the world war, in the school in the suburb next to our house. There were already two schools. Later, I see myself jumping up the stairs of the school in the tall building that bordered our yard, almost adjacent to our kitchen in which my lips were burnt from the hot coffee that I had gulped down too quickly so that I would be able to enter the classroom at the time of the bell. There were three schools, and this latter one saw me for many years -- inside it or next to it. Then there was the gymnasium. Where were all these gentiles with whom I studied? The Poles, the Ukrainians? The many hundreds?

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There is not even one acquaintance, not one. Not on the main street, not in the marketplace and not in an alleyway. Even the streets -- their closeness has disappeared. They have suddenly been emptied of my loves, of my longings, and of my desire to walk on them. It was as if a nightmare had suddenly distanced that which is close.

Photo page 366: The empty area occupying tens of square meters in the center of the city and continuing until the row of businesses beginning with Nechemia Gincburg, Gitsha Peper, and Holosiec, until the bank building 'Kassa Oszcy-Nadnoszy'. It was called the small square (Maly Rynek). It served then as the bustling center of small retail business in the city. Dozens of Jewish stores and stalls stood there, where the housewives of all parts of the city came to make their purchases

With slow, painful, steps, we approached the house that housed everything, our tenants and our store, the mornings and the nights, the longings, loves, misunderstandings, and appeasements, Father's anger and Mother's forgiveness. Here we are returning from all distances, from all adventures of the heart and images of the brain. I knocked on its door for the last time on a gray morning, suffused with the smell of a night trip in a train, and with lengthy words of parting on my mouth -- perhaps a parting forever -- as I informed everyone about my impending aliya to the Land. The clear, fresh snow lightened somewhat the thick gray that was in the world, but did not lighten at all my great pain that entered with me into the beloved house. Even now, with the burden of that agony, with the burden of all those youths who perished during the twenty years that brought full orphanhood, I am standing next to my childhood home and know in my depths: I did not come to ask forgiveness for that gray morning. That is now why I have come...

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But... What should I do with myself next to that store that is closed up with tin sheets, the same covers that would descend every night, as well as Friday before sunset, only to be opened once again on Monday morning? How much trouble was it always for me to lift up the two covers, the one over the door and the one over the window... Why are they closed now? For what reason? Perhaps to protect the shadow of my father who was there at the threshold, placing his ear to hear the sound of the sickle after it had hit a rock, and then determining its state according to the echo that continued to reverberate in the air for another minute. Or to my mother in her black, broad apron, as she was coming and going from the table or to the ladder, smiling and bringing to the customers pieces of iron for the house, oven, or wagons, and nails of any length or thickness. Perhaps lurking behind the cover is some shadow of a shadow of those far-off days when I would stretch myself out on the floor of the store, as the crowd of customers fills its space, as I was immersed in reading a book, forgetting about the world and what was going on therein? All of the echoes of all of the people that would come in to wait for the postman or to talk their hearts out to the wise woman who knew how to listen a great deal, to keep her silence, and to load her heart with the problems that were not hers...

Perhaps. With a cautious step, not particularly steady, as if with a certain amount of trepidation, we surrounded the entire house. These are the windows. This is the well. Suddenly and with difficulty, my hands attempt to raise up the heavy bucket. It drops back down to the well, accompanied by a loud splash of water. I sense the pain from that time. I turned this wheel with all my might, with an iron fastener or its wooden water receptacle. In the winter, the iron would burn the flesh of the skin, and the feet would slip on the drippings that had been trampled upon and turned to ice. This is the well of my childhood, the well of cool, refreshing water, with the melody of the dripping from high up to the dark depths. This is the only thing that is not strange here, not to it, and not to me.

I did not go far into the lane upon which stood the strangest house that had ever been built -- the house of my grandfather. This was a two story house that consisted only of a tall, plastered storehouse that sent up its cold in the winter to the only dwelling, consisting of a room and a kitchen, the fruit of the idea of one of the wealthy people of the town. This sufficed him during the time of his wealth, and certainly during his old age, filled with agony and disappointment. During both of those periods, he never neglected to prepare fish for the Sabbath with his own hands -- hands that never caressed my head. On the eves of every festival, he would make the rounds to his children's houses -- three of them lived in town -- to give them his blessings...

I did not venture far into this lane for a strange reason: Even before we arrived in Poland for that honorable role placed upon us with the founding of the State of Israel, one of our relatives who survived, a female lawyer, opened legal proceedings in my name regarding this house and the many lots that were situated on the various streets, open areas covered with aromatic wild plants -- the estates of my grandfather. One day I found myself before an elderly Polish judge in a courthouse suffused with the smell of paper, and I heard the question, “Can Madame tell me when her parents left their city?” I answered. “Does Madame know in which direction her parents left their city?” I indeed knew the answer to this too, and responded. “Can Madame tell me the reason that her parents left their city?” Upon hearing the third question, I slammed the honorable door of the honorable courthouse, and the honorable judge stared in surprise at my retreating back.

I also did not cross the threshold of my parents' house, which was indeed my house. We stood next to it in silence, as if next to a grave. The girl set her curious gaze upon the windows and the doors upon which we did not try to knock, to see if she could glance into them. She was silent like us. However, it was doubtful whether she absorbed the sudden loss of strength, the living oppression that overtook our bodies to the point of choking, with ashes spread over the heart.

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The Boulevards that were Overgrown with Grass

Here is the house of Doctor Romer, the physician of the city and the family -- the Jew that grew from and into the community and its life. His son and daughter would come from far-off capitals to enjoy the fine villa, the fine garden, far and strange, not connected at all with anything taking place around their homes. They would appear and disappear, enwrapped in aromas and appearances that belonged only to them, to worlds that were not ours, to life that was not ours. However, their father Dr. Romer indeed belonged to us and our life.

From here it is only a few steps to the civic garden, the garden of our childhood, and even more so, the garden of our youth. We were astonished -- what has been done to it? What did they do to it? The green grass, waist high, through which we would sneak until the second boulevard, closed with a colored array of irises and saffions[1] -- is now sprouting graves. Straight rows of graves, one like to the other, throughout the entire length and width of the slope. Graves of Poles who fell in the battle with the foreign invader or the internal enemy. Here, the history of young Poland is displayed. Thus did the garden greet us when we came to search for our footprints.

Perhaps a deliberate intention is hidden here. The graves pierced our thirsty eyes, and our hearts leaped out of their frozen state. Graves in our garden... Perhaps this is not such an invalid idea, especially for pilgrims such as us. Perhaps...

Do you not recognize us, oh boulevards? You do not recognize us anymore, you lilacs, chestnuts, lindens, and birches? And you, oh twisted paths, with your mounds and dew, you short paths upon which our young feet took mincing steps, up and down, up and down. We returned now from afar to cast our loving gaze and our desires upon you once again.

They did not answer us -- the trees and the paths. The trees had grown wild, and the paths sprouted grass. Who is responsible for them now that the city has been emptied of the vibrant Jewish youth, flaming with dreams? Who is responsible for them here in this strange city? Our well, with its cool waters and pleasant taste that cannot be compared to any other water in the world, is sealed off and is no more. Was it closed up and destroyed? (Was it possible for it to not have been destroyed, but to be left forlorn, without all those who refreshed their souls with its waters?)

Now, simply, there is no well. None. The path upon which I walked -- more accurately: ran -- to the house of my aunt there, below, in the dear suburb, that house that was a second home to me, and often also a first home -- appears before my eyes that are clouded with tears. What an aunt she was... She would plant wheat and potatoes, milk the cows, and hatch the chicks near the oven in which she baked the large, round loaves once a week for all the days of the week. She would draw plans of buildings, one house after another, with a thick builder's pencil, and build them with creativity, sell them, and build again. She was not able to bear the suffering of her fellow, any suffering at all, without offering help. It is doubtful if I found another person during all my long and complex journeys who possessed the understanding and compassion of my aunt, graced with natural white hair and with her gold teeth accompanying her smiles that were as good as her breads and dried cheese disks...

And there -- is the cemetery. I will not find you there, oh best of the aunts. I will not find you there, my strict grandfather, who would come to me only on the last day of Passover when he would permit himself to taste the “Charmadzala” of red cooked apples, that my mother prepared for you with special care. I will not find you there either, Mother and Father. Now the cemetery looms before me, naked and bare, white with its stones that nobody needs anymore. Nobody comes to supplicate upon those graves and to beat their chest and weep to beg for the assistance of the dead for the living.

Only here, in this garden, did I weep openly, without shame and without hiding it. Next to the trees that grow wildly,

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without lovers and without anyone needing them, on avenues where nobody relies on their shade and foliage, on avenues that have become overgrown with grass, with the distant image of a cemetery that has suddenly become so redundant. Not next to the locked store, the strange house, the street that disappeared, the neighborhood that no longer exists, and the parking lot that sprouted shamelessly in the place of all of our synagogues -- but here, in the garden that includes the essence of all of those who always used to come here...

I again wandered through the roads. They were full of people but lacking anyone I recognized -- not even one. The car, our car -- where is it? To escape, to get out of the city populated by ghosts. Ghosts of streets, ghosts of houses, ghosts of graves that have been abandoned. To escape, to flee, to vamoose! To save this town, guarded in our souls, admired, loved, to save it as it was guarded in the safest refuge from the destruction of time, life, and history -- in the depths of our hearts and the recesses of our memories.

The leaking oil, and the flat garages around the large train station were obscured. The face of driver that appeared was gray from pain and worry -- the car fixers only ruined it. There was no way to leave here. The day was getting dark and the grayness is now not only within us -- it is already around us and we are immersed in it. An invisible choking sensation rose up from the throat and pressed on the throat with a heavy hand: to sleep here -- Here? In this valley of ghosts? In this cemetery in which strange living creatures are wandering -- to sleep here?

How short is the way now to the small train stations, from which we set out to all corners of the world, to all the adventures of life, to greet joy and sorrow, failure and success, the good and the bad that awaited us outside the bounds of our town. We reached this station now by blind flight. We found it in its smallness, but not anonymity, enveloped in the sweet memories of meetings, and bitter memories of farewells, as if all of the mornings and midnights in which we arrived and left from there are guarded. Here, we bid farewell with broken hearts and greeted with rejoicing. Here.

All the burdens of life that have been gathered from then are included in the salty tears that dropped from our overflowing eyes, without weeping, without swelling, without contortions of the face.

All night we sat on the hard benches of the regional train, struggling with the heavy load in the heart that we were bearing.

A night of guarding for orphans.


Their house is standing there without them, and rain is falling on the roof: as is the way with rain,
And gentiles live in it, in their house.
The lintel of the door even has, with a recessed area, a sign
Of the absence of the mezuza that we kissed.
The scar in the soul is that which is cut from its nation...

(A. Tz. Grynberg, The Lengths of the River)


Translator's Footnote

  1. A type of flower, in Hebrew 'saffion'. I am not sure how it translates into English. return

[Page 370]

A Trip to the Gray Childhood Town

by Ron Adi

Translated by Jerrold Landau

In the morning, the stiffness of the years is exposed – a bird of the forest straightens its feathers backward after a stormy night. It is a wonder. It seemed that it would have to wander for many more days, or perhaps even years, until we would meet up. Now, it rested from the trap, as an enemy.

He [1] was tired and closed his eyes. Harsh visions (with the strong colors of blood and earth) overtook him, and were now absorbed through the skin of its entire body. He was perplexed – shuddering from longing! He infiltrated, penetrated, and tension flowed through his nerves. Fragments of memories were expressed under their eyelashes, as if torn from a tormenting, tense movie.

It was the end of the night, before day, and the path of time
Was like a riverbed woven of lost light
He whitened, trembled, felt hopeless, in the pure darkness,
Glowing as a sundial with the hour markers erased.

He no longer differentiated between what once was
and what is now. He only vaguely remembers the reason he set out on his journey: a very far one.

A journey of thirty–some years
Across the entire length of a steep slope
As stones with a strange formation
Gorged out through a geological disaster.

He was perplexed. This fear cleaved to him as a moth to clothing! Indeed, at times it seemed like a gnawing sound was heard, but in truth, nothing is alive in this silence, through which he was digging like through a mound of archeological antiquities.
There is a labyrinth of solid projections with many sharp sides.
The visions of his heart enticed him, and he continued to go down into the descent, as if inside a magical pot.
At times he slipped, or was suddenly pushed over forcibly. He turned his face and tried to escape, but

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an enchanted light ran before him – dead, white (with long corridors and interrogation cells), as if shining from a crushed mirror in a crazy hand. Blood seemed to be flowing, but it was already thrown into the caverns of memory spread out before him – the frightening landscape with the desire to –

Pass through it,
To pass through this crumbling earth that touches the first sprouting of the tree.

He further saw:

Healthy linden trees giving off a healing aroma.
Rye fields that persevered.
Straw–covered thickets under a covering of tallises of Hassidim –
Spreading out to greet him as if the time of his second birth was approaching:

He further saw:

Houses – boxes of ancient writing that he never knew about, apparently significant, but the key had already been lost for some time:

He further saw:

Chestnut trees
(Heads of various birds popping up from the ground from which a pre–morning mist was rising), heavy from movement, waiting for the trees to return and grow for them wings made out of silver paper.
And of gold paper.
And of paper with all the colors in the world refined in it.
So that they can take off from airports made of huts with the warm scent of the forest
To wonderful lands.

He further saw, saw, and imagined –

He was faint. In any case, he stood in great quiet – in the open area between the memory of the blood and the appearance of the heart.
His eyes hurt, as if he looked into a fire for a long time.
Stars (swarms of lean wolves)
Still ran across the garden.
However, the weary eyes already turned away from them and moved behind the mountain,

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To the blue, warm forest, at his feet between the chestnut trees
The reeds yowl bitterly as a flute in the wind
A snake slithers tirelessly, shedding its silvery skin.
–– –– behold it is, the gray one!
He already wanted to call to it in a loud voice
As a person calls out in joy as he runs out of a thick forest
And crosses the threshold of his house, and saw that its eyes were like those of a female dog
Whose pups had all been drowned in the water.
His eyes began to wander along the destroyed street,
Bands that go out into the battlefields after retreat to search for victims
And hear the sound of the feet of those who are being hauled as they scream from stone bullets
As if another two decades had not passed.

It became evident that now there is lots of sky. He remembers that there used to be many synagogues, Beis Midrashes, and kloizes on the street, and now their place had been taken by the sky, to hide the nothingness, as they hang nice wallpaper to hide cracks in the wall. It is a wonder why there was so much empty sky, but he saw that many dead people who have not been buried were crowded together there to beg from On High a bit of proper rest and a burial plot.

(Father had a red beard –
Not the red of burnished copper but rather of fire that whispers of the bitterness of life,
And when it lifts it flames into the gentile street, and eyes of the gentiles kindled with blood.
As the eyes of a wolf as he smells a sheep from up close.
The child bores through and dreams:
As an image of fire from night to morning blowing into silver trumpets in the heart)

Suddenly his face sprouted thick beards
And flags from his head fluttered in his stormy spirit
Of the color of the blue sky with white clouds floating by
(The children of the angels performed magic with the hand of a child upon a page torn from a notebook)
And of the color of tongues of fire

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With tunes rolling from it with devotion
(Of Gemara, and of songs of hope and songs of reawakening)
A parable of nothing that happened,
A parable of a large crowd that still bustles here.
He saw that in any case, dew has sprouted
And begins to shine as gold

There is also a wondrous wind blowing:

A silent whisper is whispered, and roles about as a crushed, isolated voice
As if it were not a voice but rather a crushed cliff
In silence, a voice with silent tears.
The shadow of our mother slips away.

* * *

From the editor: At end of the “journey,” the content of which is anonymous, and the name of its author is so–and–so – pseudonymous. We should tell this to the reader:

The reason for the inclusion of this poem in the book can be felt from its content. With its generic form, it is fitting for any “longed for place of horror” and to any “destroyed city.” However its place in this rubric, especially immediately following the description of the emotional trip to our former town – fills this unspecified space with a specific atmosphere of the childhood landscapes and slices of reality that we remember and know – of our former Sanok.

And following the solving of the puzzle of the poem by identifying the content of the poem – we will conclude our remarks by identifying the author of the poem – none other than our own writer and poet, the native of our town, Azriel Ochmani (Schwartz).

[Page 374]

Photo page 374: A memorial gathering for the martyrs of Sanok, with the participants of the survivors of Sanok, in Machwach [2] Germany before making Aliya.
In the center is Rabbi Yacov Shlomo Friedman, may he live, the rabbi of the survivors of Germany, who currently lives in Petach Tikva.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. This narrative seems to be written metaphorically from the perspective of a bird. I switched the pronoun from ‘it’ to ‘he’ starting with this paragraph, which no longer explicitly refers to the bird. return
  2. Perhaps Matzbach or Meckbach, but could be any number of other places. return

[Page 383]

The Inheritors are Melancholy

by Azriel Ochmani

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Words from the memorial gathering that was organized by the Organization of Natives of Sanok and its Region on the 13th of Shvat, 5728 (1968).

We have gathered together this evening to eulogize our city, the city of our childhood and youth, the ground upon which we grew; to unite ourselves with the memory of our dear ones who were murdered, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends. We have come to recite Kaddish over the burial of an entire Jewish community, ancient and strong in its life; active with many deeds; occupied in Torah, commerce and labor; drawing its life force from a rich past and weaving dreams for its future and the redemption; filled with the melancholy tunes of the Gemara and songs of the youth breaking out with new life; toiling and struggling all of the days of the week with the struggle for livelihood and providing bread for the children, and infusing the holiness of the Sabbath and the splendor of the festivals onto the entire city with its houses, streets and gardens. Fathers spent time in the Beis Midrashes, Kloizes, and courts of the Admorim, and youth making noise and causing a commotion in the chapters of the youth movements, the party factions, and the lecture halls, seeking a new meaning for Jewish life, for their lives, and the life of the generation; filling the boulevards of the splendid garden and the blue-brown forests of the region with their youthful energy. The light of the land of their forefathers already lit up their hearts, the sounds of its land called out to their ears, and songs saturated with longing were upon their mouths.

It was a bustling Jewish city: generation next to generation, generation stemming from a generation, and generation in contrast to a generation. In one word: it was a grand Jewish life: rich, meandering, tragic -- a Jewish community on foreign land. Yiddish, Hebrew and Polish were spoken. There was the Talmud Torah, the Hebrew school and the government gymnasia that forced the students to attend even on Sabbaths. From here, people deluded themselves about the continuation of the tranquility, about better days to come; and also from here -- those who suspected that the ground would crack open beneath their feet, and who called out and preached warnings.

Then the Holocaust kicked us, uprooting us from the foundations without leaving a remnant or a survivor. Not a remnant was left, except for a few old monuments covered in moss, with nobody looking after them. Tomorrow or the next day, this gloomy remnant will likely also be erased -- the stones will be uprooted and removed from their place, and the ground containing the bones of our ancestors will be plowed over, as has already happened in many places.

The cruel Holocaust fell upon all of us -- upon the scholars among us and the simple folk, upon those who were attached to the heritage of the fathers and those who went to graze in foreign pastures, upon those who observed the Jewish faith and upon the heretics, upon those who were proud of their Jewishness and upon those who tried in vain to flee from it. Divided and factionalized during their lives, everyone was closed in together during the tragic destruction. Today they are all part of the nation that was wiped out, our nation that was wiped out.

I have said that we have come this evening to unite ourselves with the memory of our dear ones who were brought together to the furnaces of annihilation, but I was not precise in what I have said. For in truth, they are always living among us, concealed in our feelings. The older we get, the move we feel the need to return to them, to knock on their doors. If the tribulations and toil of the times move them from our hearts, nightmares and dreams come and revive them before us. Then we return to visit the homes of our parents, the cheder or school in which we studied, the Beis Midrash in which we worshiped. In the morning we wake up and behold, we are orphans.

We are indeed the last generation to whom the Holocaust is not a chapter among the chapters of martyrology of our nation, a chapter that we study in school or read about in books. Rather, it is part of our story, a sort of personal biography of each of us -- our orphanhood, our grief, our agony. We wear the Holocaust not in our memories,

[Page 384]

not in our imaginations, but in the crevices of our living, agonized, flesh. There we flourished for the first time and became rooted, there we wove our dreams, there we struggled for our truth, there we fell in love for the first time, there we built our personalities. Our entire uniqueness that sets the foundation of our souls and our inner essence comes from there. There, the seed was planted. There, our inner personalities were etched.

We merited, and we are here, walking on the land of our forefathers, living a Jewish life in the Jewish homeland, raising children and grandchildren, participating in the building and the redemption of the Land. We gather together on this day every year to unite ourselves with our mourning, to weep for our loss that has no replacement or recompense. Despite this, our gathering this time is not like our gatherings in previous years. For great days came upon us this year, with splendorous bravery as well as with the agony of the many victims;[1], with their glory and with their uncertainty; with their strong storm that not only changed our landscape, but also reached to our very roots; with our agonized longing for different days, days of peace and security, days when mothers will raise their children in peace and without the worry as to what fate is awaiting them?

Indeed, this year, we lived through days of fear, with the siege around us growing and closing in upon us. We lived through the stormy days of a fierce war, and of the wonderful unity that embraced all of us, here and in the Diaspora. It was a time of the glorious revelation of the unity of the nation.

One of the neo-Nazis, who are now on the rise there in Germany, Dr. Bormann, who in his mixed-up mind did not grasp our wonderful victory, the victory of the downtrodden Jews against its enemies, proposed a strange theory in the European Nation periodical about our nationhood. He stated that the Jews of Israel are not descendants of Jews but rather of the gentile Khazars and the Nordic people with blue eyes and blond hair. This is the source of the superiority of the Arabs, may the mouths of the malingers be gagged! That evil man does not know how many Jews we are here; how the Jewish anguish, the Jewish pain, the Jewish longings, the Jewish stubbornness simmers within us like live, burning coals; how connected we are with the masses of Jews that were murdered.

Indeed, if one were to study the sources the bravery of the Jewish people during those amazing six days, one would discover that there are many sources, but without doubt, deep down in the recesses of the soul, the strength streamed from there as well, from our towns that were destroyed, from the Jewish life that was cut off, from the masses of the Jewish people who died in sanctification of their Jewishness.

If one listens to the somber, seething “Conversations of the Fighters”, one clearly hears their voices that are intermixed.

Friends from my community, close to the landscape of my soul! We have gathered here to unite ourselves with the memory of our beloved. Those who were murdered by the Nazi enemy and their accomplices from the other nations will not live again. Glorious Jewish communities were destroyed forever, and will not revive. We build here a new life, and their eyes are gazing at us. I will conclude with that which I started with: we are the last generation for whom the Holocaust is not a chapter from the book of tribulations, but rather a limb cut from a living being, a wound for which there is no cure to this day, that continues to bleed to this day. What can we do, and what are we commanded to do? Not to close them, our murdered parents and brethren, in books and homes for the disabled, but rather to plant them as living seeds in the blood of our children and grandchildren -- budding, growing seeds that will yield an abundance of fruit. Let us not only be inheritors, but also bequeathers.

Would it be that we can have the ability to join the living heritage of our forbears with the values of our children, so that they will become one unit.


Translator's Footnote

  1. The Six Day War took place in June 1967. return
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