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Preface 2020/5781

I have always had a keen interest in genealogy and in the Holocaust, ever since I was a young child. My father, Arthur Perlmutter (z”l), and his war experience, played a large part in that. In my youth, I would always ask to look at his old black-and-white photo album. The album was filled with photos from Skalat – photos that were duplicated for my father after the war, by his aunt in Israel, since my father had been left without any keepsakes. I had so many questions about the people in the photos. These were people I didn't know. Were they like me, in any way? What did I miss by not growing up around them? What would I have been like, had I grown up in Skalat and not in the United Sates?

Despite the emotional pain I sensed my father carried on a daily basis, I remained unafraid to ask him questions about life during the war. I certainly didn't wish to inflict more pain with my questions, but I felt it was important to get answers. I needed those answers to better understand him, as well as to understand the world around me. And my father was willing enough to indulge me. The older I got, the braver my questions became. The more I asked, the more he eventually divulged.

Once my parents were gone from this earth – and perhaps because they were gone – my interest in my ancestry continued to grow. I found myself on the Internet, gathering incredible information, and finding cousins I never knew I had. If only my parents were still around to see this, how astounded they'd be. I found that the more I plowed through the information online, the more questions I had. If only my parents were alive to answer them. I found old information that I wanted to verify with them, and I found new information I wanted so badly to share with them. (I also wanted to share with them the beauty of Google Maps. They would have loved the app.)

In addition to doing genealogical research, I began to help my cousin, Henry Jorisch, build a family tree online. I had some information that he didn't have, and he had some information that I didn't have. So we shared. We were also greatly aided by a family tree that our cousin, Jurek Hirschberg, had worked on for a very long time. Jurek's tree reveals a more than 200 year lineage in Skalat.

One day, Henry was doing some research and emailed me to say that he had discovered a Skalat Yizkor Book, on JewishGen.org, that was unknown to either one of us. We were surprised, as we had grown up with Abraham Weissbrod's Yizkor Book, Death of a Shtetl, and hadn't known that any other existed. I immediately emailed Lance Ackerfeld, a volunteer at JewishGen, who assisted me in getting a hard copy of the book.

Skalat: A Memorial Anthology for a Community Destroyed in the Holocaust was compiled and edited by Chaim Bronshtain. It was written in Hebrew, and I felt compelled to find out what was in its pages. Henry felt the same way. Perhaps it contained some new information that our family had never before been privy to. How great that would be! However, I would need one of my Hebrew-speaking acquaintances to translate it for us.

Lance Ackerfeld, in our back-and-forth emails about the book, encouraged me to raise money for the translation through JewishGen. Why not share the work with other descendants of Skalaters, as well? Great idea! What a beautiful way to honor our loved ones -- those who survived the Holocaust, and those who perished.

Finding a translator for the Yizkor Book was not an easy feat, it turns out. I showed the book to some Israelis and to some Americans well-versed in Hebrew, none of whom felt capable of translating it. The book contained poetry, Biblical and Talmudic references, historical information. Not your ordinary, easy-to-read novel. To top things off, the language was high level, floral, and syntactically very different from our everyday English. The task of translation would require a very special person -- someone whose knowledge is vast in the realms of Jewish history, Torah, Talmud, European history, politics, and linguistics. The project became blessed when my brother-in-law, Ephraim Dardashti, introduced me to his friend, Neil Tannebaum. Only Neil was up to the challenge of translating this Yizkor Book. Neil, with his breadth of knowledge in all the aforementioned arenas, and with his patience for that unusual, foreign syntax (think: “Yinglish”), was a Godsend. A brilliant polymath and scholar. A perfect fit. Neil translated the book by hand, verbatim, onto hundreds of yellow-lined sheets of paper. I typed up the pages and went over them with him to make sure I understood his handwriting, as well as to have him explain certain phrases, or certain references that I was unfamiliar with. Then I emailed the typed pages to my cousin Henry – another Godsend.

Henry Jorisch, a retired teacher of both English and Information Technology, graciously offered his time and expertise to edit the Yizkor Book, so it would read smoothly. (He was also incredibly patient with my lack of computer knowledge in our back-and-forth editing process.) It was immediately apparent to Henry that an English-speaking reader from a non-European household might have a hard time comfortably reading the translated Yizkor Book. He and I are both used to the “Yinglish” syntax of our Skalater parents, but that might not be the case for every reader. As a result, Henry spent numerous hours correcting prepositions, and putting passive phrases (so typical of Yiddish speakers) into active form. He used current English expressions to clarify older European ones, double-checked many names, words, and facts for accuracy, and made the paragraphs within individual essays much more orderly and comprehensible. I had so many “aha!” moments, while reading his edited version of the work (as in “Ahhh…so this is what the author actually meant to say!”). Henry's editing made a huge impact on the translation.

And for all the time he spent reading aloud the last set of edits, as I compared them to the first set of edits, I must thank my husband, Steve. He helped me to simplify an overwhelming task. This body of work was much too complicated to put into any type of difference-checking online app. I needed a special person willing and able to help me sort everything out. Steve understood my process, and worked many hours reading and comparing the text with me. Thank you, Love.

I am certain readers will benefit from the efforts that both Neil Tannebaum and Henry Jorisch put into this translation. I, myself, cannot thank them enough for all of their hard work. They have enabled me, and other descendants of Skalaters, to read this Yizkor Book in English, and to learn new and different information about our ancestral town and its inhabitants. They have also enabled English speaking Holocaust scholars, who are already familiar with Weissbrod's book, to find out more about the Jews of Skalat, their life in the shtetl, and the horrors of their experiences before, during, and after World War II.

I am thankful that we have been able to bring this new 50th Anniversary English Language edition to a new generation of readers. If only my parents, Arthur Perlmutter (z”l) and Esther Farber Perlmutter (z”l), were still alive to see this project come to fruition!

Janet R. Perlmutter Schwartz Philadelphia

 

Introduction

By Neil H. Tannebaum, Esq.
Natan Tzvi-Hirsch Tannebaum

When I was approached by Mrs. Janet Schwartz to undertake the project of translating the Skalat Memorial book that had been published in Israel, from Hebrew to English, I eagerly agreed for several reasons:

  1. I am an inveterate history enthusiast or buff, with an intense interest in Jewish history;
  2. I have personally known several individuals who were either natives of Skalat (including my teacher, the late Prof. Ephraim A. Speiser, a distinguished Biblical and Assyriological scholar) or children of surviving Skalaters (e.g., Jonas Weissbrod, then an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania);
  3. On my father's side of the family, I am a descendant of Hasidic Galician (Galitzianer) Jews, my paternal grandparents (o.b.m.), having been natives of Lemberg, (a.k.a. Lwow, a.k.a. Lviv), the major metropolis not far from Skalat. I have maintained a nostalgic interest in that ancestral region; and,
  4. As one steeped in the Hebrew language and literature of all periods, which I once taught on the university level, I felt Iinguistically and culturally qualified for this task; and, lastly, and most importantly,
  5. I view the perpetuation of the memory of the historic European Jewish communities, which were so utterly and cruelly extirpated in the Holocaust, as a necessary and indeed sacred obligation.

Once engaged in the work of translation, I found it to be a most rewarding learning experience. I discovered detailed descriptions of the rich Jewish life, which flourished in Skalat in the pre-Holocaust period, including the Great Synagogue and numerous small shtiblach, the educational institutions, Husiatyn Hasidut, economic activities, a range of Zionist youth groups, and more. With tears in my eyes, I read the harrowing and most depressing account of the annihilation of the Skalat Jews and Jews of other Galician communities in the Belzec death factory. I further learned details of the experience of escapees from Skalat in various far-flung locales: the surrounding forests, with various Partisan groups, in Soviet Russia (including Siberia and the Urals), and for some, surreptitious Aliyah in the post-War years to Eretz Yisrael and commencing a new life there.

I wish to thank my collaborators in this project, Mrs. Janet Schwartz, who patiently deciphered my long-hand translation texts and reduced them to printed form, and to Mr. Henry Jorisch, who performed the final editing of the work.

May the memory of the martyred Jews of Skalat and their beautiful community be for a blessing! Y'hi Zichram Barukh!

נתן צבי-הירש טנבאום

 

Forward

ברוך דיין האמת: I write this forward in honor of my Mother and Father, the Survivors, the Six Million Martyrs, כל בית ישראל, the generations that came before them, from them, and all the future generations to come:

The Jewish part of Skalat was a special place filled with love and kindness. My great grandparents, the same as Janet's, Marcus and Basia Perlmutter, lived there surrounded by family. They were beloved and respected in the community, and the Jewish townsfolk often sought out their wisdom, compassion and counsel. My grandfather, Joseph Wechsler, came to Skalat from Tarnopol, and the moment he met Pepa Perlmutter, he fell in love with her. They married and raised three children, Gusta, Benjamin and Betty. My father, Martin Jorisch, came to Skalat from Podvolochisk and fell in love with my mother, Gusta Wechsler. They were in the first blossom of youth and love, but much more was in store for them. In Skalat, they were embraced by the many relatives who lived there before the Shoah. None of them could have known that they would all soon walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

Three weeks after Rosh Hashanah, in October 1942, in a third major roundup called the 'Wild Aktion,' over 3,000 Jews from the town, including our entire family, were taken by the Germans to be murdered at the Belzec extermination camp. My father and grandfather were selected for slave labor instead, and so they lived. My mother had hidden in an attic.

In the middle of 1943, after months in the Skalat and Kamionka labor camps, my parents and grandfather, along with a small group of mostly teenagers, saw that they too would soon become victims and decided to take the chance to escape late at night from Skalat into the Ostra-Mogila forest. They banded together and helped one another stay alive for almost two years, until the war was over. Janet's father and grandfather, Arthur and Jacob Perlmutter, did the same. And of the original thirty-two in this group that fled into the forest together, miraculously, twenty-nine survived. But few from Skalat survived to tell their stories. Janet and I have been working on our joint genealogical records for several years now in order to recover this family history. That is a story in itself.

Of the 160 Jewish Skalat residents who survived through those years, a number of the youngsters were able to reach safety in what was then Palestine. There, they came together to form a hometown landsmanshaft organization, and then to personally testify to what they had experienced. They wrote and published this book, Skalat: A Memorial Anthology for a Community Destroyed in the Holocaust, and it is where they recorded and preserved the memories of their lives before, during and after the war. They published this volume of memoirs in Hebrew in 1971. Their stories add depth and profound heartache for lost loved ones, a layer of context and history to the stories that I heard from my parents from the time I was very young. Through this anthology, these Skalaters have given us an extraordinary view into the most horrific crime committed against the Jewish People in our history, and this occurred only as recently as the mid-twentieth century.

I read Abraham Weissbrod's 1948 book, Skalat, the Death of a Shtetl many years ago. I found that Janet's grandfather, Jacob, and my grandfather, Joseph, had been interviewed by Weissbrod and listed in the book as 'authoritative witnesses' to the events in Skalat. That gave me a deeper appreciation of belonging to the larger community descended from the families of this 'little' town.

When Janet and I began to explore Bronshtain's Skalat book, we knew it was yet an additional treasure that we were determined to get translated into English so it could be shared with a greater English speaking community. Janet asked Neil to translate the book. His masterful translation uncovered so much information of these Skalaters' horror-filled, yet heroic experiences in the harrowing and heart-rending stories told in the following pages.

I am grateful to my wife, Andee, and my two younger sons, Benjamin and Michael, who constantly checked in on me. Their love sustained me during work on this book. As I progressed through the testimonies, Ben also read the text, and we shared new-found details that put into focus the stories that we knew about my parents' experiences during the war. We had ongoing conversations about how the content and language in the book affected us. Michael helped me with technical aspects of the production and sharing of the book, while I made sure to keep him informed about what I found in the manuscript. The passing down of family history and memory is a precious legacy we owe our children.

I am thankful to Janet and Neil for the joint effort that made this new 50th Anniversary English Language edition possible. I want to thank Ruben Perlmutter, Jurek Hirschberg, Magda Sadura and Abraham Weissbrod (the author's grandson) who helped build the foundation that led us to this book.

Many thanks to the David and Sylvia Steiner Yizkor Book Collection and the Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library, the underwriting funders of their Collections, and the New York Public Library - National Yiddish Book Center Yizkor Book Project for making the electronic version of the original Hebrew publication of Skalat available online. Thank you to Lance Ackerfeld and Binny Lewis for their encouragement and guidance, and for making sure that this English version of the book takes its righteous place among the JewishGen Yizkor Books of Remembrance.

It is with deepest gratitude toward all the writers in the anthology, הקדושים האלה, for sharing their testimonies of the events that occurred in and around Skalat and other places, that we bring their work forward. And my highest respect to the educators and students of Israel who have made the Holocaust and the adoption of shtetlach like Skalat an essential part of their curriculum.

If anyone can be credited with making this edition of Skalat come into being, it is Janet. Her love, determination, hard work and inner light is what turned what was just an idea into a reality.

I dedicate this work to my wife, children, and grandchildren, that they may always know where we come from.

As heartbreaking, tragic and painful as the descriptions of the horrors of the Holocaust are in this book, it has been a sacred duty, an honor and a labor of love to be involved with it.

Reader! With all my heart, I hope you will see yourself as if you too were there in Skalat in the pages of these memoirs, which are filled with such profound belief, courage, grief, despair, hope, renewal and redemption.

Henry Jorisch
NYC 5781

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