Standing from left to right: Dov Sokonitzki, David Yardeni, Hanna Havuczevski, Miriam Zahavi, Arieh Studnicik
Sitting: Yekutiel Chinski, Esther Mishkinski, Ben-Zion Hassid, (Mordecai) Max Zahavi
Translated by Selwyn Rose
This memorial book that we here offer our readers is a memorial-stone for the Congregation of Sokółka that was erased from the face of the earth by the German Nazis and their Polish helpers. The memorial book is an event of great value for the survivors of Sokółka in as much as they were there.
We bow our heads in sorrow and agony in remembering our martyrs, the loved ones and the pleasant ones who gave their lives in sanctification of the Holy One and who, in their death paved the way for our lives, freedom and national independence. It has fallen upon us, the remaining Sokółka refugees here in Israel, to write this book as a memorial to our mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, who were led like lambs to the slaughter; who were killed by different methods, by stoning, by fire, by gassing, by murder and strangling. Let this book be their memorial, an eternal flame for their sanctified pure souls. In its pages is drawn the portrait and soul of the destroyed Jewish Sokółka; her joyful days, her good days, days of development and culture and above all else the chapters of the sacrifice of our town from the very mouths of those refugees who survived the Ghetto of Sokółka. In it will be engraved forever the image of our town, of her magnificent past, her distinguished personality, her many institutions and Zionist and economic organizations. In the light of the memories written here, the forgotten images have been brought back to life.
It is difficult and bitter to eulogize over thousands of souls, the sons of our town whom we knew from childhood, soul-mates who were close to our hearts as neighbors and friends. We have not come to terms with the awful tragedy that happened to us; we have not forgotten nor will we ever forget what the Nazi Germans and their Polish helpers did to us. We will remember the victims and not forget the murderers, including the murderous Poles, whose hands are steeped in the blood of our Jewish townspeople, living in their houses, enjoying their property and belongings, strolling at ease through the streets of Sokółka. The houses are wrapped in sorrow and agony, and we mourn over the Jews who dwelt within them for they are not; in a strange land they found their death, in a land of exile. The Jews of Sokółka, whose sole ambition was Palestine and the love of their people, did not win the right to go there. From afar they dreamed of the country, but they could never come.
How dreadful was the killing perpetrated on the community of Sokółka, a slaughter that has no equal, no precedent? From time immemorial the world has sought our destruction. The destruction of the splendid congregation of Sokółka, sublime, august in her tradition; Sokółka who raised a generation of pioneering-Zionist youth that was totally eradicated. Was there ever destruction like that destruction?
Each and every one of us carries in his heart the terrible and awful pain. Each and every one of us mourns his brothers and sisters, his parents or children! The few survivors feel the loss of their families, and we have organized ourselves and congregated together to seek ways of expressing the insult to our humanity through perpetuating the community and its martyrs, by erecting a Memorial-stone in this memorial book. There is no way to erect an actual tombstone since the place of their burial is unknown. The book suffered many birth-pains before it was finished; much toil by those who remember the martyrs so dear to them, in gathering the material and photographs and preparing detailed lists and records of the martyred dead. Courage and daring were needed in our approach to erect a name and a memorial to the community of Sokółka, the city dwelling between Białystok and Grodno. Like other memorial books of the rest of the communities, there was also the motive in bringing forth the book, a dread from which there is no surcease that the names of the martyrs should be erased from memory, and we decided to raise up a memorial to our brethren and relations who were extirpated from the land of the living, to those who were taken to the extermination camps of Kiełbasy, Treblinka and Auschwitz, to those who were incinerated and killed and buried in unknown common graves and blood touches blood.
When we approached this work we never imagined to ourselves that the task would be so difficult. Before us stood the question from where can we can we take the material for the account of this great disaster that befell us?
From where will we draw the material that will describe the lives of our town's community, the full details of its destruction for us and for the generations to come? No notebook or diary that records the life of the settlement remained in our hands. It was not easy to convince our friends to commit to paper their memories. We didn't ask for long detailed reports. We approached people from Sokółka who were there both in Israel and in the Diaspora, to assist with this holy undertaking.
In the beginning few answered the call but as time went by more and more friends joined us and thus we were able to gather the material for the book crumb by crumb. But the material we received was far from what we required. What were missing were records describing the history of the life of Sokółka. With the help of the Encyclopedia of the Jewish Diaspora which offered us important historical material on the past of Sokółka from the day of its establishment we managed to overcome all the obstacles that stood in our way. There still remained the problem of processing and editing the material - a task requiring much work and effort. In the evenings we sat hour after hour working through all the records we had at our disposal and organizing them in preparation for editing into a Memorial Book describing the way of life of the people of our town and giving us a comprehensive picture of our community.
Our thanks and gratitude go out to all our friends who were there, who found for us the records and the photographs, to the Encyclopedia of the Jewish Diaspora for the dedicated and willing rapport we received and the material they researched for us on the history of our community.
In the Memorial Book we also record our meaningful relationship and unity with Sokółka refugees who immigrated to the United States before World War One and later, World War Two, who worked long and hard for the sake of our organization, and responded with dedication and an approving eye throughout the years with financial support of the foundation of Compensation Fund for the Righteous (G'Milat-Tsedek), in the name of the Martyrs of Sokółka and the surroundings which, from the day of its founding helped with loans to those of the members who turned to it for help, survivors of the Holocaust, for helping new immigrants to Israel and bearing the name of our martyrs, whose whole-life concept was love of one's fellow man and benevolence. There is a large number of Sokółka Jews in America who have planted a grove in the Forest of the Martyrs in the Hills of Jerusalem.
May this book be an eternal memorial to the Holy Congregation of Martyrs of Sokółka that was - and is no more, that it may be a memorial to her sons and daughters and her blessed people for eternity; our memory of them will never be erased.
The Book Committee of Sokółka Immigrants
Esther Mishkinski and David Yardeni.
Translated by Selwyn Rose
On the 18th January 1943 the Jews of Sokółka were gathered together in the town square and taken on their last journey to the extermination camp. How doth our city sit solitary . her streets mourning, no one goes out, no one enters; all the Jews have gone.
Sokółka my town! Town and metropolis; in her were dazzling institutions youth federations and Zionist organizations: Flowers of Zion, Young Zionists, Forward, Freedom, Revival, Literary Society, The Bund, Jugendverein, professional associations and a pleasant theater.
Sokółka was a Zionist town, a cultural center for the national life of the Jewish public. She was known as a stronghold of Zionism. Every national and Zionist event was turned into a festival. Her sons and daughters were educated with a love of Eretz Yisroel, the people of Israel and the love of one's fellow man and once the gates of Eretz Yisroel were opened for immigration, the youth rose up, left their parents and their home and immigrated there; trail-breakers and pioneers. A great number went and worked on the roads, in the citrus groves, many of them on guard-duties and in the Hagana and conquering the desert. They struck roots in the land and were participants in the creation of the State.
The Jews of Sokółka, even though their lives were far from a bed of roses, always cared for others. On Shabbat, no Jew ever sat down to his meal if there remained a single Jew on his own in the synagogue - a passer-by who was not invited to a Jewish home. They would worry that there should be a place for the wayfarer to sleep and a special home was built to ensure that no one was left without a welcoming bed for the night. They cared for the poor: free loan benevolent societies, overnight hostel for way-farers, a soup-kitchen for the destitute all these stood at the center of the city's life.
This wonderful community, its exalted morality rooted in the past of our people, this much-praised community became a mound of destruction. It was as if it had never been: wiped off the face of the earth. The blood-thirsty Nazi animal encircled the residents, destroying without mercy young and old, babes-in-arms and mothers, all killed, slaughtered.
It was not even possible to record their memory, to kneel in grief at their graveside; no markers on their resting-places, no graves. A common grave they have, there, in exile, in the land of decrees, the defiled land in a land of blood. Only one or two individuals stayed alive. A few were saved; most of the people of the town were destroyed...a few remained from the many.
We therefore feel commanded to secure a memorial to our brethren and relatives, who were extirpated from the land of the living, who were taken to the death-camps or buried together in common graves, Blood touching blood.
It is a Holy obligation upon us to come together and unite every year on 11th Tevet, with our martyrs who were not able to be with us in the State of Israel. May it be a day of unity like a pillar of fire, which will illuminate our path and a day of uniting the remaining refugees.
May this Memorial Book be an everlasting memorial to the community of martyrs who are no more, and may their memory and those of their sons and daughters all be bound up everlasting life for all eternity.
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