Let blood just pierce the abyss!
And pierce the abysmal black of creation
And there in the dark devour and corrode
The low Earth's rotting foundation!
by Chaim Nachman Bialik
Translated by A. Z. Foreman
Edited by Sheryl Bronkesh
Cry out from all sand, from under every rock,
Cry from out of all the dust, from all flames, from every column of smoke
It is your blood and vital essence, it is the marrow of your bone,
It is your skin, and life! Cry out, cry loudly!
Cry out from the guts of animals in the forest, from the fish in the river
Come all of you from Treblinka, from Sobibor, from Oświęcim,
Come, you who have been drowned, ground up, pulverized, come, stand and array yourselves,
(From ‘The Song of the Murdered People’)
This poem was written shortly thereafter. Using language and meters drawn from Biblical poetry (albeit somewhat more complex, adjusted for Ashkenazi Hebrew stresses, and with rhymes appended), this poem is in the tradition of Biblical lamentation, even as it subverts and debases that tradition to ask the question: How could a just God let this happen? and the answer There must not be a God whence follows the question so how, in a world without God, can murderers be found guilty?
Edited by Sheryl Bronkesh
|Event||Day of the Week||Secular Date||Hebrew Date|
|Outbreak of WW II;
German invasion of Poland
|Friday||Sept. 1, 1939||17 Elul 5699|
|Capture of Sarny by the Red Army||Thursday||Sept. 21, 1939||8 Tishri 5700|
|Outbreak of GermanSoviet War||Sunday||June 22, 1941||27 Sivan 5701|
|Soviet Retreat from Sarny||Friday||July 4, 1941||9 Tammuz 5701|
|Capture of Sarny by the Germans||Saturday||July 5, 1941||10 Tammuz 5701|
|Decree to Wear a Sign with a Star of David around the Neck||Wednesday||July 8,1941||13 Tammuz 5701|
|The first Official in Charge of the Sakhalin Facility; the decree to exchange the Star of David for two Yellow Stars, on the chest and back||Thursday||Oct 1, 1941||Yom Kippur 5702|
|Establishment of the Ghetto||Thu Sat||April 24, 1942||Pesach I & II, Hol HaMoed I 5702|
|Liquidation of the Ghetto
(The Days of Extermination)
|ThuFri||Aug 278, 1942||1416 Elul 5702|
|Retreat of the Germans and Liberation of the City by the Soviets||Tuesday||January 11, 1944||15 Tevet 5704|
By Joseph Pearlstein
Edited by Sheryl Bronkesh
Yearin and yearout, on the fifteenth day of the month of Elul, the Jewish survivors of Sarny and its vicinity who live in Israel, come together again, and yet again, to call back into memory, those nearest and dearest, the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, relatives, friends and acquaintances, who were torn out of life before their time, by the murderous Hitler hand, but whose memory will never be wiped out of our hearts.
On that day, the longing returns, like a silent dove, and it knocks on the heart, winged in nostalgia and sorrow. With anger, and a hatred not quenched. The alte haym is no longer. Once there was a city, which bore the name ‘Sarny.’ This name said a lot for those who trod those homey streets and byways.
On a day like this, the city rises full of life, with its clean and wellordered Jewish streets, and modern buildings.
Here, in your imagination, you see in this homeygoodhearted town, the homey young people strolling through the streets. In their hearts they weave dreams, which, however, were cut down before their time, along with those who had woven those dreams and carried them in their hearts.
In a similar fashion, the Jewish mothers of Sarny and its vicinity stand up before your eyes. You see them in your imagination, in spic and span clothing, which are always new, even though they had first been sewn for their wedding. They faces shine with a sanctity and their eyes glisten with a Jewish tear, which never dries whether out of joy, or sorrow.
And here you see the fathers consumed by their labors. They too, it would seem, are different from all the other fathers in the world. They don't stand on the marketplaces in coats battered by the wind, in their pursuit of a living. Each of them works himself out for that bit of bread one maybe a bit harder, while another a bit less strenuously, but without an overly driven ???
The more you think on this memorial day, the more, and more, do you see these people from Sarny and its vicinity. You see them together with their worries, their joy, and your heart becomes oppressed in a fluttering yearning and ache.
Here you see the carefree children, with their innocent unblemished faces, and their gleeful eyes, and with an indescribable anger you ask: Where are they? Why were they cut down before their time? How is it that the murderous hand that was raised in cutting down unblemished children and innocent people did not shrivel up?!
There is no answer, because no answer cannot and is not appropriate to provide a rationale for this great calamity!
And so this small bit of consolation remains for those left living that is the ‘Yizkor Day,’ the day when all the living survivors come together to pay their respect to the memory of those who are no longer with us. This day has become transformed into a rationale for the surviving remnant: ‘We are here! We will continue the chain of existence through all conflagrations and martyrdom!’
Accordingly, we gather every year, and we recall our centercity Sarny and its vicinity. People get together with their familiar friends, shake each other's hand warmly, wear a sad smile, with a haunting sorrow, which is not extinguished from the heart, like a permanently lit Yahrzeit candle, and one speaks, and recollects, and one remembers. Ach, the recollection!
You think, on that very night, how the city and its vicinity would rise from the dead, and from that tortured past, and is again restored to life, suffused with life and light, which for ever and ever is never again extinguished.
By Mordechai Peczenik
Edited by Sheryl Bronkesh
On September 1, 1939, the Hitler's troops attacked Poland.
The majority of the residents of Sarny did not properly assess the situation properly, and thought that everything would return to its normal state, peacefully. It was only after the authorities ordered a blackout did it become clear that the situation was very serious. The first days passed more or less in order, but after the passage of some time, the stream of refugees began to reach us from the western Polish urban centers. We heard the rumors that were circulating, coming from the mouths of these refugees, and it became clear that even we, despite the fact that we were far from the front, we were destined to be found under German capture.
With the deterioration of the situation, we began to think about leaving the place, in the direction of the nearby Russian border. A few of us packed up our belongings, and turned to the Starostvo (the local authority) with a request for permission to leave. It became clear that there was no longer any need for such permission the authority itself had left and scattered.
On September 17, we were sitting in a place of refuge, and among us was the teacher Abraham Tendler, who brought news in the name of a person designated by the Starostvo, that the Red Army had crossed the Polish border beside Ostoki, the border station, and had captured Rokitno. It was hard to believe this news. It seemed to be very strange. Except for the fact that, in the meantime, we heard the sound of an approaching plane. When we emerged from our refuge, after the plane had disappeared, we found out that this was a Soviet airplane that had dropped leaflets all over the city: it contained the familiar speech of Molotov on the liberation of the western territories of the Ukraine and Byelorussia by the Soviets.
After two days, the first of the units of the Red Army entered the city. Residents who were carrying a large tax burden at the ‘Uzhond Skarbowy’ (The Government Tax Office), these were the ones who hoped that, with the capture of the city by the Soviets, they will be freed from this obligation.
On the first night, shots rang out coming from all directions. There were some thoughts that the Poles were returning, and a fear fell upon those who had participated in arranging a welcome in honor of the Soviets. It was subsequently clarified that this was a clash that took place between two Soviet forces, who arrived from different directions. In this clash, there was no lack of victims from the ranks of the Jews as well, and the community office was severely damaged.
Those refugees that reached the city, took up residence in the community offices. The Chairman of the community, Mr. Gerszunok, and the Secretary, Mr. Sh. Zandweiss, decided to use the assets of the community to liquidate its debts to a variety of people. Through the agency of Jewish ‘working partners,’ this decision reached the ears of the head of the city, Niniuk. Mr. Zandweiss was called in, and received a directive to transfer all of the assets of the community into the hands of the city. It was in this way, that this institution was liquidated, that had served the Jewish populace in the entire vicinity.
The economic situation, that grew worse, threatened the existence of scores of merchants and small storekeepers.
In the meantime, citizens of Russia began to arrive from the Soviet side. They too were ‘interrogated’ by the Jews of Sarny, concerning the lives and doings of the Jews in Russia. One of those ‘interrogated,’ was a Jewish engineer from Kiev, and he underscored with praise, all the good things that will accrue to the Jews, from the new régime. Among those, who were listening to what he had to say, was also R' Lejzor Susnik kz. He asked the engineer: ‘And what about Yiddishkeit?’ A silence descended, and everyone waited for a reply. The engineer attempted to sidestep the question, but R' Lejzor did not let up, and conveyed his opinion: ‘Without Yiddishkeit we will not be able to survive.’
The teachers, like the rest of the intelligentsia in the city, were left without work. The Tarbut School, and the Talmud Torah were shut down. Also, the accountants that worked in Jewish offices, were left unemployed.
Slowly, slowly, the situation became settled. Young boys and girls went off to work in government offices, however the teachers could not find a place for themselves, because the teaching of Hebrew was now inconceivable, and the teachers were not prepared to teach Yiddish in the Soviet style.
With the passage of some time, a central gathering of the teachers took place in Winzowsky's movie theater, with the participation of an official of the education division in Kiev. The official formalized the establishment of the Soviet educational approach. The first school was established in which the language of instruction was ‘Yiddish,’ and ??? the teachers who in the past had been ardent advocates of Hebrew. Mr. Abraham Tendler was selected to be the principal of the school. He was deemed suitable for this position as a consequence of his activity, and lack of participation in Zionist undertakings.
The motives and agenda, of the Soviet authorities in conducting civilian matters, were not clear. Even the Jewish communists, who in the past had actually be thrown into Polish prisons over the years, didn't comprehend what was going on, any better than others, and didn't seem to benefit from the overthrow of the government. And here is an illustrative example: consider the case of the election day that approached, for the representatives of an assembly that was to deliberate the return of western Ukraine to its sister state, the Soviet Ukraine. A few people approached the teacher Tendler, and proposed that, in the name of those who worked for the city, that the officer in charge be asked to consent to the candidacy of Mr. Sh. M. As a representative. Mr. Tendler, who lived on the outskirts, advised me, that after we had examined all of the issues surrounding this question that it looked fundamentally sound. The person in question was a political prisoner, a wellknown communist, etc. Who would be more appropriate than someone like this? Mr. Tendler convinced me, and Mr. Schnipper, and the three of us turned to the officer in charge of the city, and brought our proposal to him.
The officer listened to what we had to say, and after a perfunctory bit of rumination, he asked us if we knew what the ‘Bund’ was. We immediately felt that we had failed in our mission, but despite this, we bolstered ourselves and replied: The Bund was a social democratic party, etc…. The officer listened, and said: And who are you, do you know? You are Bundists, without any cover! We will select the representative to the assembly, and not you!
We left confused, with the implicit decision that we would not again assume a mission of this kind. As to the nonpayment of the debt of taxes going back to the Polish régime this was a particularly joyous matter. Part of the monies of the new régime were used to cover most of the older debts, and not only taxes, but also the loans to the Jewish People's Bank that had declared bankruptcy for some time, and the loans had been forgotten from the time of the notes that were issued back then. Mr. Benjamin Schnipper, who managed the books of the bank in its last period, was compelled to turn over the lists of all the debtors. These received immediate demands for repayment of their debts. As a result, an undertaking was launched with the authorities to obtain relief from the burden of repayment. The truth must be said that the poor people were let go after an investigation and audit conducted with the local people ‘familiar with the circumstances,’ but those of better financial circumstances were forced to pay their obligations in full.
Life got itself organized a little bit at a time. The leader of the city, Mr. Niniuk, revealed an interest in the facilitation of repairs to the Jewish municipal bath house, and was similarly interested in the mikva. The religious cohorts of the city decided to approach the municipality with a request that the mikva not be closed. Mr. Niniuk, who understood nothing of the traditions associated with ablution, indicated that he thought it better to bathe in the main bath rather than in the old mikva. It is understood that his attempt at an explanation was not palatable to the thinking of the emissaries, and accordingly, a new mikva was built in the courtyard of the synagogue of the Stolin Hasidim, and they continued to make their ritual ablutions there.
Slowly, a little at a time, the Jewish populace accustomed itself to the economic circumstances. Several cooperatives were established, especially for older people and people who were infirm. R' Yaakov Bryk kz was the head of one of these cooperatives. He did everything that he could to assure that those tailors who wished to observe the Sabbath would be able to do so. It was in this was that R' Yaakov Mikhl's (Feldman) succeeded in resting from work in the cooperative, and do no labor. This matter was wrapped up in a danger to one's life, because a severe penalty was levied for being 15 minutes late to work, not to mention this sort of subterfuge.
Because of the revelations of this dedication to the observance of the Jewish rituals, after a short while, leniency was sensed, with a reduction of the tension. I continue to recall that on one Sabbath morning, I passed the cooperative of the shoemakers, who were in the house of Mr. Leib'l Lieberman. The door was open, and I looked inside. Bearded Jewish men sat on ???? with their heads ??? and they sewed. There was heartache in seeing them this way, despite the fact that one could not reprove them for the violation of the Sabbath for fear of the authorities. Despite this, when Yom Kippur arrived, the men of the cooperative decided not to work, and let happen whatever will happen. And this is what occurred: In the morning, everyone came organized to the workplace, and from there straight to the synagogue. The authorities appeared to understand that there was no point to yanking on the rope more than necessary, and they remained silent over the incident.
Much more serious was the situation of clergy. All the sources of their income were cut off. There were no longer any rabbinical courts. The single source of income for Rabbis was the sale of yeast. The children would travel to Lvov and bring back yeast for sale in the city. There was an incident involving the daughter of Rabbi Kunda, Mir'eleh, who was apprehended by the authorities for bringing in this ‘contraband.’ The Rabbi and his daughter stood trial. Everyone waited fearfully for the verdict, because everyone knew of the severe punishment that awaited the Rabbi. From a variety of quarters, a tumult arose, to find some way to gain the release of the accused. And here, it became known, that the wife of the judge was Jewish, and her mother was to be found at home with her. The mother, a simple woman, who lived with the feeling of having sinned in her daughter's marriage to a gentile, wanted to compensate for this transgression through exerting all of her energy to have her soninlaw release the Rabbi and his daughter. I was present at the time of the trial. The Rabbi decreed, on himself, a day of fasting, and sat on the bench of the accused, with dried lips. At that hour, it was possible to take pity on the judge, who tried to put words in the mouth of the Rabbi, in order to make his release possible from this bad situation.
As some time passed, the Rabbis received demands to pay income tax. It is understood, that in their straitened economic circumstances, this was beyond the capacity of their means. Investigation and research by people from the ‘second side’ that is to say from centers that had for years been under Soviet rule, it was agreed on the advice that the Rabbis would publish a notice in the local paper regarding the fact that they were going to discontinue rendering their Rabbinical services, and because of this, they would not be liable for taxes.
I worked, at that time for the local Ukrainian newspaper, ‘The Red Way.’ Herschel Szpilszer and Mr. Joseph Zinger also worked in the publication of this paper. One day, the door opened, and the Rabbi, R' Aharon Kunda kz entered. We admitted him to the room in which I worked, and inquired as to the purpose of his visit. He said that it was his wish to publish a notice in the paper that he would be discontinuing his services as a Rabbi.
Mr. Szpilszer, who was close to the editor, went to him, and conveyed the issue and the request of the Rabbi to see him.
The editor was happy about this, as if he were someone who had come upon a large booty. He intended to serve the cause of militant atheism, which followed the line of the authorities. A short time before this, the Russian Orthodox priest had announced in church on Sunday in the village of Lyukhcha that all of his past direction to the flock under his guidance was nothing but lies and prevarications. For the revelation of this patriotism, the priest was nominated to be the record keeper of the ‘Gorkomkhoz.’
A few seconds went by, and the Rabbi was invited into the office of the editor. Beside the table sat the editor, his deputy, Mr. Silczenko, and the Ukrainian author Krawcow. The Rabbi was affably invited to sit down, and the three of them began to detail their demands for the publication of the announcement in the paper: the Rabbi would have to make it known that his announcement was being made because of a change in his thinking and not because of difficult circumstances alone, and the editor cunningly added that, after all, the priest of the village of Lyukhcha had already done so, and managed to have himself wellsituated…
Rabbi Kunda, who did not grasp the Ukrainian language particularly well, didn't follow their train of thought at first. He asked me to explain the matters to him. It was not comfortable for me to get involved in this matter yet. However, having no choice, I clumsily explained to the Rabbi what their desire was. The Rabbi paled and said: ‘What? To be an apostate and insult my faith? God forbid! I thought it would be sufficient for me to make the declaration that I am giving up the Rabbinate as a source of making a living.’
The three waited for an answer. I relayed the answer to them, and as a result of this, the Rabbi's request remained unfulfilled.
I will recollect one further detail from our life during that period: On one morning, we heard that on the previous night, many families were taken out of their homes, and transported on special trains to the far reaches of the Soviet Union. This incident made a very hard impression on us, which included the suicide of the engineer Blaosov. He killed himself in a sealed train car.
A panic broke out in the city. A fear descended on the populace, everyone feigning being busy with their affairs, but fearing that perhaps he was also marked for this sort of removal. There were those that actually began preparing themselves for such a trip. At one time, I entered the home of Mr. Nahum Drakh, and I see him preparing for a trip. He was certain, that as an activist among the retail storekeepers in Sarny, he was destined to be sent to the faraway places. Also, Mr. Millstein, vacated his home for the same feelings. The fear was widespread, because there were no further exiles of this nature. However, there is not evil without good: those that were exiled to faraway Siberia, were saved from the hands of The Scourge.
The authorities took aim at Mr. Mendl Klein, but it happened that a few days earlier he got a jump on them and left Sarny with his family to go to Vilna.
With the Nazi attack against their allies, The Soviet Union, on June 22, 1941, the period of the Soviet rule in Sarny came to an end.
The period of the extermination of the Sarny community commenced.
By Yitzhak Greenbaum
Edited by Sheryl Bronkesh
For a long time, we did not know what happened to the Jews of Wolhyn, at the hour that the troops of Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. It was only after the surrender of The Third Reich, that some more or less detailed news reached us, which suggested that a general slaughter of the Jews did not take place in Wolhyn and Galicia, during the activities of the conquest, but rather that the same periods passed over them, that were the lot of the Jews of Poland, but only their butcher was more quick. The entire period of the erection of ghettoes and their sealing, that preceded the slaughter in Poland, was practically entirely unknown in Wolhyn. The sealed ghettoes were erected in every location immediately after the penetration of the German Army within the Soviet Union, and the institution of their rule of conquest with all its tribulations.
In every town and village of Wolhyn, all the familiar protocols of degradation and abuse were set up, and were carried out in line with ongoing extortion of the masses of the Jews with the assistance of the Judenrat organizations that were appointed by the executioners themselves. Here, as well, as in all places conquered by the Germans, the Nazi authorities deceived the Jews carrying out their orders with their promises, and succeeded to avoid the outbreak of the masses in almost all places.
In Wolhyn, covered in forests, and in the north also with swamps, the opportunities to save one's self through uprisings were plentiful, and much better than in Poland. The simple Jew of Wolhyn had not distanced himself from nature, and did not fear the difficult life in the forests, as was the case of the Jews of Poland. The forest had served as a source of making a living for many and whose pathways were known to the masses and the youth. The partisan movement began to spread among the Jews of Polesia and White Russia even before organizers and officers were being sent from Moscow, who set up wellorganized and wellarmed units, who had the capacity to tie down the German Army, to sabotage the connecting lines and blow up trains that were transporting those necessities required at the front.
The closeness of the forest and its various hiding places, aroused a hope among the masses and the young people, that not all was lost, that daring action could result in being saved. In the forests, where most of the structures were built of wood, it was possible to set fire to the ghetto during an ‘aktion,’ and to take advantage of the ensuing confusion that would envelop the military and the police, to flee into the forest. The organizers of the slaughter, the S.S. troops, and the Gestapo, also perceived these possibilities, and as a result, they attempted to calm down the leaders of the Judenrat. These people believed what they said, because they saw them willingly accepting bribes. This fact alone testified that according to their thinking it was possible to depend on the word of someone open to taking bribery.
It happened this way in Sarny and most certainly in other towns. There was a Polish refugee here, who appears to have had an experience in doing this, and knew how to deal with the Germans. It was he, who passed along the bribes to the German authorities in order to lighten the decrees. It was he who promised the ruler to add something on top of the sum that was given in gold, if he will avert the implementation of the slaughter against the Sarny Jews, which, according to his words, were to be fulfilled faithfully by the German officials. It never dawned on this intermediary and his comrades, that this authority was only there to implement the orders that were handed down from higher up, because he would be placing his own life in danger were he to alter or delay them, beyond the date that had been set for their implementation.
The faith that the Jews had in bribery was based on a tradition of hundreds of years of persecution. The history of decrees and exterminations were filled with stories about the power of money, on those subjected to distress, in the purchase of the sentiment of rulers, and senior officials, even up to the rulers of the countries themselves, who could not withstand the lure of the gold of the Jews, and annulled decrees, even to the point of stopping slaughter that was already underway. This faith reigned even during the period of the Holocaust, and even grew stronger, in the face of the behavior of the ruling officials both of low and high rank,, who believed that the Jews possessed the ‘treasures of Korah,’ which literally, by imposing terror on them, or in promising the annul decrees, it would be possible to persuade them to transfer all of their worth in gold and silver to the hands of their rulers, to satisfy their greed, and thereby become rich.
At that time, there were Jews who were merchants and businessmen, who possessed a substantial trove of assets, in merchandise, and even silver and gold, and precious stones. In the wake of the war, and the sealing of the Jews in ghettoes, merchandise remained largely in their stores, and all debts to pay them were canceled. The monies that remained in the hands of the buyers of the merchandise, was security for the promissory notes they had signed, remained in the hands of the creditors, together with the merchandise, which was possible to sell on the black market for large sums. For those who were concerned with future transactions, the amassed money remained in massive amounts.
The conquering authorities were certain of the material wealth of the Jews, and during those first days, levied requirements for contributions and fines, of varying kinds. They were encouraged by the fact that there was not a single instance where a Judenrat did not pay up as required, under the threat of being shot to death or being sent to the gas chambers in the camps.
High and low ranking officials took advantage of this situation, and would draw near to them, those Jewish activists, of all sorts, and raise hopes among them that they would be saved, if they would carry out all of their orders. When the ‘zero hour’ approached, they would drop hints to their ‘confidantes, and close ones,’ that it was possible to buy their lives with silver and gold. And there was not a case where they lacked for finding people who would believe these hints and intimations.
It remains a source of wonder, that even today after all that has been revealed from the days of the Holocaust that there are still to be found experts in its history, that have the temerity to repeat this legend about the power of money to save, that the German Nazis created and the Jews with no other recourse, left alone, orphaned, wanted to wholeheartedly believe, since they saw absolutely no other way out. On the basis of a few facts that took place after the complete retreat of Hitler, they aver that some opportunities were foregone.
Everything that took place in Sarny that is told in detail in this book, is only one of the many situations that occurred, give testimony that faith in the power of money to avert a violent action, was blind, and that it would be able to save many, and inject confusion into the ranks of the Nazis and their accomplices.
Those who spread the belief in the power of money to save, at the hour of total extermination, extend the lore of illusion and resignation, and that their martyrdom in Jewish history, covered in blood, had not been diminished at all because of this misplaced belief. However, what this added on top of the martyrs, was a violation of the international solidarity, to the surrender of Jews by their leadership to the Nazi Moloch, out of the futile hope that what had been decreed for the many would save the few.
Those who disseminate this false lore, obscure the truth. They make no distinction between the period when Nazi victory was in ascendance, and the period of their downfall. In this latter period, the majority of those who were among the senior Nazi command believed that by extending favors to the Jews, they will be able to save themselves from being held responsible for the travesty that they enables, and perhaps would serve them favorably against the Soviet Union, that was threatening with a socialist revolution.
In the final months of the war, during the death throes of the Nazi authorities, this belief also reigned, and many ‘discussers’ took advantage of it, to their satisfaction.
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