Sarny was a young community. It was barely forty years old. During its brief existence, however, it developed the personalities of its residents. A lively community life burgeoned within Sarny, fresh energies sprouted, as it grew, developed, and spread out quite farther than its boundaries. The study of Torah and the enlightenment were woven together within her midst. It was a community of Hasidim and Maskilim, merchants and common laborers, activists and fighters for freedom, national maximalists and leftist radicals all created the variegated fabric of its community.
Sarny truly excelled in its practical Zionist activity, with its pioneering-oriented youth, which, from childhood on, was raised in the lap of Hebrew culture, as well as a labor ethic, and training and preparation to make aliyah. From the time of the Balfour Declaration of 1917, to the outbreak of the Second World War, the process of aliyah to the Land of Israel was a stable, continuous aspect in the life of the city. The community was privileged that hundreds of its scions made aliyah to the Land of Israel, established roots here in The Land, fought for its creation and liberation, and are counted among those who were its builders in the cities and the labor settlements.
Sarny was a cultural and social center for the Jewish presence in the small towns and villages around it. Neighboring Klesów was the training point for hundreds of young people from all reaches of Poland, who left the homes of their parents, in order to prepare themselves for the physical labor and living conditions as Halutzim of the people in our Fatherland. This vigorous tree was tragically and cruelly cut down, but its planted seeds in The Land did put down roots and blossom anew.
In producing this book for publication, we find it necessary to stress the following:
In this book, articles and portraits written by familiar community personalities, are to be found, who responded to our appeal for this type of material, for which we express our heartfelt gratitude. Their descriptions are supplemental evidence to support the fact of the burgeoning community life of the Sarny Jews, and they demonstrated thoroughness and attention, in the manner with which they addressed their community, cultural and national achievements, whose influence and repercussions reached far beyond the borders of Sarny and its vicinity.
This book is the collective creation of those remnants of the Sarny community. It is written for the most part by people who are not writers. Each of the participants made every effort to contribute to the description, not only of the destruction of the Sarny community, but also of its beautiful life, full of the Jewish spiritual substance.
It is clear that this Yizkor Book, in which the larger part of the participants relate their memories of decades gone by, runs the risk of some repetition, and even contradictory statements. We have therefore made the effort, in the time that was available to us, to align the various portrayals, and to edit them. Accordingly, we have been, from time-to-time, compelled to either abridge or correct content.
Despite the imperfections, which by whatever means, have managed to slip into the Yizkor Book, we hope that, with this book about our destroyed Sarny community, we will have made a modest contribution to the research that is ongoing about the Holocaust Era.
We wish to recognize all of those who provided the material or in whatever other way helped us publish this book.
We thank Mr. Yehoshua Katzman for his participation in contributing to the esthetic appearance of the book.
Finally, we wish, with effusive gratitude, to underscore the help given to us by 'Yad VaShem' in publishing this book.
By Nachman Blumenthal
The 'Yad VaShem' Administration
The reader will find much interesting and educational information in this book about the City of Sarny, it establishment, the period of its growth, and ultimate destruction. It was written with understanding, and a great deal of affection towards their home town, mostly written by those who left Sarny whether it was those who had left it a long time ago, or by those, who remained to the last, with their martyred brothers and sisters, and by a sheer miracle managed to be saved and by direct, or indirect means, this Land of The Decree [sic: of Death], and after the destruction of Sarny, settled in Israel.
This book is one of the many, so-called Landsmanschaft-Bikher, or Yizkor-Bikher, whose value cannot be estimated. Apart from the fact that the book represents a way of unburdening the soul for those who personally lived through the Holocaust, and provides a form of satisfaction to those who were tied to the city, it was a natural requirement to set down a memorial to their home town. Accordingly, this book provides an array of facts, that only those who were there, are capable of providing.
The facts about their city, fixed in this book, gives the future historian the necessary materials for the history of the Jews in Diaspora-Europe up to the Second World War, and the tragic end to Polish Jewry during and after that war.
Without these memories, the Jewish historian would have no material, since most of the written documents, archives, and collections of the writing of our communities, institutions, and private individuals, were entirely destroyed. Only fragmentary records about the city of Sarny were, randomly protected [from destruction].
And in addition to the facts, that have been provided by the people of Sarny, with such heart and love, we are motivated to provide a few further statistics. from which, it so happens, one can see how Jews lived there.
According to the 1931 census, there were 7,587 residents in Sarny; in contrast, in the entire Powiat including the city of Sarny there were a total of 181,300 souls. Of these, Jews, following Mosaic Law were 16,088 souls; speakers of their mother tongue (Yiddish) 16,019 people.
In other words, what this means is that almost all Jews, 99.57% of the vicinity, were Jews by nationality, not assimilated, who also made use of Polish, or some other European language ( in the Polish areas mostly Russian).
This data obtains its true meaning when we take into account the corresponding count of all of Poland, taken in the same census.
According to that same census, there were 3,113,900 citizens who professed adherence to Mosaic Law, of which only 2,732,000 citizens indicated that their mother tongue was either Hebrew or Yiddish, meaning that they were nationally Jewish [sic: in the sense of the language they spoke at home]. In other words: Approximately 12% of all Polish Jewry was assimilated, but that count in Sarny, did not even reach one half of one percent. It is also worth noting that, the largest percentage of nationally identified Jews (national in the sense of the language they spoke) were seen in 17 Voievodes: Vilna, with 98.23%, Polesia 99%, and Wolhyn 98.4%. The Polesia Voievode shows the largest, so to speak, national percentage, somewhat larger than Wolhyn, which, however, is overtaken by the Sarny Powiat, which appears to be the largest of the ones among the Jews of Poland of that time.
Therefore, we hold it to be our obligation to emphasize, at this place, that even though we are utilizing the official statistics of the Polish census, we do not necessarily hold them to be absolutely correct, especially insofar as they relate to Jews, who are reported in much fewer numbers, which is understandable, when the nature of national politics, carried out by the Polish government of the day, is taken into account . In general: the data from these statistics provide the minimum which was officially recognized, but not the factual situation.
And what else can we say? In this short introduction it is worth stressing that the entire organized Jewish settlement in Sarny was not in existence for even as long as a half century, but in this short interval of time, we see everything that had transpired in Poland during the course of centuries, and not only just in Poland. With the arrival of Jews in a settlement, the settlement grows and develops, just as it did during the Middle Ages, and similar to those settlements to which Jews came afterwards, even if it was first in the Twentieth Century.
And everywhere thanks to the Jews new employment opportunities are created, new, higher standards of living, but with the growth of the Jewish population there also grows and not in any smaller measure the non-Jewish population, that takes over from the Jews that which is new, that the Jews had brought with themselves.
And all over, this is how the competition arises, in which the Jews, as a minority, are the weaker side, and they are the ones who suffer accordingly. In time, they become like a thorn in the eye of those who have power in their hand, or an influence over such power, and again, as is well known, come the predations, pogroms, etc.
And so, the short-lived history of our youngest settlement Sarny is able to illuminate the history that would come from more ancient locations.
One fate encompassed them all, being united and martyred together.
By Prof. Ben-Zion Dinor
(A Community Barely One Generation Old, With Many Generations Folded Into It)
I am not a scion of Sarny, nor did I ever reside there, and never even visited it, and I had no friends or acquaintances there. I am of the impression that there were no prominent people there: neither great Rabbis, or famous writers, not any accomplished scientists, and not even activists who were nationally prominent. In my youth, it did not appear in newspapers: there were no events that took place there that were out of the ordinary, and it was not noted for disputes or antagonistic words, and there were even no predations or expulsions there until the predations of 1918, perpetrated by Petlura. And during The First World War, when occasionally an accounting was publicized in the newspapers, of the 'Founders of the Committee for Wounded Jews, ' and if one of the more outstanding communities was portrayed in such an article, in how they rendered organized assistance to their displaced or expelled brethren, its name was not explicitly mentioned (for reasons of censorship), but was only hinted at using the first letter of its name ©), and it is only addenda from 'related matters,' did I know that what was being described was Sarny. And also by the year of its given publicity in Kiev by the 'National Jewish Secretariat' [which produced] a list of the communities in the Ukraine And Sarny was one of the 47 communities in Wolhyn that were recorded by the Secretariat but her name was not among the twelve communities in which there were greater than one thousand electors.
I became interested in Sarny, when I happened to trip over the name of this place in the newspapers, and in the accounting that flowed from this I would read quite a bit about the town the city, and its Jewish community, about the Jewish experience there, and about the youth, and the Zionist movement in it. I could not explain to myself what it was that generated my 'unique interest' in Sarny. I thought that this interest had roots in childhood impressions of mine: during the days of my wandering, I would hear the call of the railroad conductor, in one location or another, when he would announce: the first ring of the train, Sarny-Kovel'... but when I read the listings about Sarny in the 'Wolhyn Compendium,' these things became vague to me.
The Sarny community is a young one. It's entire existence are comprised of only one generation. Its genesis came to me, and already in those days, this genesis seemed to me to be 'symbolic,' something unique, into which were enfolded many periods that hinted at the form of 'the Diaspora and its communities.'
There is a date for when Sarny came into being: May 10, 1903, three weeks after the pogroms at Kishinev. The Russian Interior Minister, Plehve, who was held responsible for the pogroms by Russian public opinion and in the world at large, as well as for the murders and those who perpetrated them, wanted to 'tamp down' in some measure, the 'severity of the impression' that this made, and also to demonstrate some sense of 'concession' to the Jews. On May 10, 1903, a list of villages was published that were called 'towns,' and Jews were given permission to live tin them. Among these 110 villages, and the 32 in this specific list, was Sarny.
However, wrapped into this 'concession' were real issues of landed property ownership, Russian people engaged in commerce, manufacturing, and trade: these were not just ordinary 'villages,' but rather railroad station locations at key area boundaries (Sarny, Zhmerynka, Razdilnoya, Lozovoya, Lindwarowo and Koszidiry and others almost a quarter of these so-called 'villages'), towns which had markets and manufacturing (like Jozowka, Krivoy Rog, and others), and points of concentrating agricultural produce for export (Wyprik and Mincza, little Parszcipina and Dzhankoye, and others)... Land owners and 'people in the economy' in these places were very interested in the permission granted to the Jews to live there. And the Jews 'penetrated' into' these places, and the struggle of the government in the face of this 'penetration' was made more difficult by the stand taken by the 'people of influence' in these places. This was the way Plehve granted a 'concession' to the Jews, and real issues ranging from the very local, all the way to matters of national sovereignty.
This was the beginning of the Sarny community, of a legal, and recognized, Jewish settlement as a town. A number of Jewish families lived inside the village. When the Kiev to Kovel railroad station was constructed (1901) Jews began to flock there, individually and in families, and for two years, they were obliged to struggle against difficulties, on a daily basis, who rigorously oversaw compliance with the regulation that Jews are forbidden to live there outside of the boundaries of the city itself.
Fifteen years went by from the establishment of Sarny to the outbreak of The First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the civil war. These years were years in which the trajectory of integration continued for the community and the development of the location. This was a unique integration in the development of the eastern part of Wolhynia, on its swamp lands and forests, based on its interweaving with the capitalist methods of development in the Russia of the end of the previous century, and the beginning of the current century. In the town, and its vicinity, lumber manufacturing developed, sawmills were erected in the forests, agricultural produce increased vigorously, and all of these things demanded participation of the Jews. Even the government needed them, as well as the railroad companies, as well as the owners of the forest lands, and people who had wealth. They are building contractors, they participate in the commerce of forest products, they cut down the trees themselves, participate in putting up factories, and are exporters of goods out of the country. The Jewish settlement grows. In the course of ten to eleven years, until the [First] World War, Sarny grew to be a town that commanded respect, and the lives of the Jews prospered there. During these years, the town was a model and an example of the creative economic power that had been hidden inside of the Jewish person. This was no doubt due to the prominent, rich and clever people in their midst.
The 'portrait of the Jewish person' also belongs to the 'Origins of Sarny.' The Jews of Sarny in their collective, were 'Jews all year round.' they were a community of 'the common folk:' Jews from the surrounding towns, young unattached men, oriented to finding a way to make a living, residents of villages who uprooted themselves to come to the city. There are no 'people of pedigree.' Everyone is a 'newcomer,' and there is a sense of [social] equality. There are no distinguished scholars who take pride in their scholarship, and contest with each other over their study of Torah, and there aren't any formidably rich people who lord it over the people, and there are no downtrodden poor, who embarrass the majority by their poverty and wretchedness. Even the social life of the community assumed the exterior of a stamp of 'the common folk' on them. Community house, community family, community that gives the feeling to each and every person that 'I am sitting amongst my own kind.' Jews that sit one beside another: a few have some wealth, and among them are those who aspire to wealth, but in general these are people who have a way to make a living, and they live this way, partly making a living beside one another, and partly off of one another, 'seeds' for forming clubs and groups, to form institutions for charity, study, with the first appearance of institutions of education and Torah study, a bit for institutions of charity, and to each of these institutions, groups of similarly minded people, with an interest in them coalesce. Differences of opinion, disputes, business competition, and party victories do not impair the general spirit of harmony that had begun to take form in the town, from the outset of its establishment. During these years, this small community experiences a period of setting down a foundation, as well as a foundation for its internal organization.
And The First World War was upon us. The city of Sarny was not far from the front. It was on the border, in every sense. It was not far from the Austrian border, not far from Poland, White Russia, while its entirety was within the Ukraine. With the advance of the German armies and the Austrians, in Poland in 1915, the number of refugees in Wolhyn grew large, and especially from the Lublin Province, and two help committees were set up in the valley, in Rivne and Sarny. From the reports that were conveyed, it told that the number of Jewish refugees continues to rise, and many of them could be found in the forests around Sarny. The Sarny committee submitted a request to the government to get permission to cut down trees in the forests and construct gathering places for the refugees in the midst of the forests. The requesting letter, and its sentiments were confirmation to the reckoning being made by those powers who could dispense the aid, that in their view, Sarny was an example of a 'community with a Jewish heart,' that has no competence in how its aid is to be administered, and that such aid is not the province of individuals and activists, but rather that each and every individual participates in it, and makes an effort to be active.
Sarny was located at crossroads and on national borders, and in the instance of the Russian Revolution and the ensuing Civil War, it was a way station for the passage of bands, and conscripts, of [all] nations and countries, of rulers and rebels; it was buffeted by wings of these units during this period. The general troubles of the civil wars, and the unique harassment of Jews, did not pass her by, and she was victimized by allegations and canards, and even pogroms. On a day-to-day basis, the Jews in all of the cities and towns, byways and settlements in Wolhyn, felt as if 'no trouble ever comes into the world except that it is directed at Israel.' In those years, the Jews felt like they were living on a volcano, because the external changes, and the wars between the neighbors among whom, or beside whom they lived, were the determinants of their fate, and on which their lives depended. These three-four years of civil war, and the condition of being 'between the hammer and the anvil,' is the condition that Sarny found itself, and did a great deal to case the sense of the Zionist feeling to penetrate deeply into this town. which even before this, was steeped in a proletarian Zionist atmosphere, thanks to the circumstances of its founding, and the character of its residents.
The story of the Sarny community under Polish hegemony that are told in the pages of this book by its scions indicate that Sarny, during the second half of its existence, was also by its experience, its rise, its struggle and destruction possessed of the model for all chapters of 'Exiles and their Destruction.'
With the annexation of Sarny to Poland, after the Russian-Polish War of 1919-1920, Jewish Sarny continued its trajectory. It continued along these lines: forming institutions, and settlement, a cooperative effort to develop the industry in the area, and the building of the community. Sarny was a border city, and a city of the book. Poland was interested in its growth and development, however, only in an orientation that was Polish, and also in pushing the Jews to the margin. As a literary city, Sarny was more than enough Jewish. Initially, the Polish régime behaves as if it is supportive: nevertheless, it does a great deal to pressure the Jews, and to hobble their progress, however, it appears that they are not quite prepared to be overly disruptive to their economic and industrial activities, and thereby literally lower their standard of living. The history fo the Sarny community in the twenty years of Polish rule was a balancing act between these two Polish 'extremes,' accompanied by the steady and ever-present rise of anti-Semitic factors.
During that same period, Sarny became a provincial seat. The number of Polish officials, with a portfolio, increased as did police, border guards, and the like. From the standpoint of the government, a 'provincial seat,' was naturally, Polish, however, from the perspective of its economic and industrial activity, it was predominantly Jewish, even if the Jews were 'only' 50% of its residents, but the remaining 50% were not of one 'stripe:' there were Poles and Ukrainians. But this indeed, was a factor in sharpening the typical emotions of anti-Semitic animus: envy and jealousy and economic envy, and a national jealousy. The jealousy was to serve as a way and means to displace the Jews in economic terms. Regulations and decrees, orders and administrative behavior, incitement in the press, and incidents in the streets. all combined together, into a single 'agenda of action' to completely push the Jews out, and the 'transfer of their possessions' to the Poles.
But Sarny was not a Polish city. The entire vicinity was Ukrainian. The Ukrainians perceive themselves to be under foreign rule, subjects of an alien and severe régime. The Ukrainian national movement also infused a national jealousy, and a view that the Jews were an alien entity supporting their captors. And even among them, their jealousy of the economic 'standing' of the Jews, and their industry, waxed strong. And thus, in the days of the First World War, the Jews found themselves again between the proverbial hammer and anvil: they had built a city, erected factories, excelled in their daring, in their energy, but they lacked two things: land under their feet, and air to breathe.
It should therefore come as no surprise, that Sarny was one of those communities in which the sense of alienation grew stronger, and the spirit of Zionism grew and strengthened. The influence of Hebrew education was a great influence, and the aliyah to The Land did not abate.
This was the situation when the Second World War broke out. The entire cycle of history was complete for Sarny in the course of forty years. Every ten years a complete era went by: foundation, settlement, building and struggle. In each of these periods, little Sarny was a model of 'the common people' in the Diaspora, a model of its creative force and skill at development, of the end of its ways, and the weight of its fate.
Scholars remain divided over his role in this travesty, with the following remarks on the record: Historians have pointed out that Petliura himself never demonstrated any personal antisemitism, and it is documented that he actively sought to halt anti-Jewish violence on numerous occasions, introducing capital punishment for the crime of perpetrating a pogrom. Taras Hunczak of Rutgers University writes that to convict Petliura for the tragedy that befell Ukrainian Jewry is to condemn an innocent man and to distort the record of Ukrainian-Jewish relations. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symon_Petliura Return
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