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[Page 5]

A Message from the
Association of Immigrants from Shumsk

Translated by Rachel Karni

When information about the enormity of the Holocaust reached us we took it upon ourselves to achieve two goals: to become a body that would assist the survivors from our town and to devote ourselves to perpetuating the memory of the Jews of Shumsk who had been killed.

We had been taught not to maintain here in Israel the exclusiveness that was common among Jews of each town or country in the diaspora. We had been educated to strive for the unity of the Jewish people. Thus we viewed our association only as place to remember our loved ones who were no more and to educate our children to honor the memory of their forefathers. The activities of our association have remained faithful to this goal.

We succeeded in the task of helping those who were in need of assistance. Among the survivors from Shumsk there is no one today who is needy. Their homes are firmly established in the State of Israel.

As a body that sees as its goal the perpetuation of the memories of our loved ones we were only successful in one activity -- that of gathering annually on the terrible date of the massacre in Shumsk. We view this memorial meeting as one of the greatest importance and will not break this tradition.

But for many years a feeling has accompanied us that this is not sufficient. We are the people of the book and it was felt that it is our obligation to prepare a book that will serve as a record of the terrible iniquities of the Nazi criminals and as a lasting memorial to the Jewish community of Shumsk and her wonderful people. The book would serve as an educational tool for our children, and through their reading of this book they would understand their responsibility to maintain unbroken the chain of generations. They would better understand us and would learn to love their -- and our -- forefathers who maintained the flame of our unique identity in all situations and conditions.

It is for these reasons that we were so enthusiastic to prepare this book and ready to devote so much time, effort and love in this undertaking. We view this book as the highlight of the activities of our association and its crowning achievement.

[Pages 6-8]

Preface of the Editorial Board

by Pesach Lerner, Rafael Sapir and Chaim Rabin

Translated by Shimshon Bahat

Together with all members of the Association of Immigrants from Shumsk we recite the blessing “Shehecheyanu vehigianu”1 upon the completion of the Shumsk Yizkor2 Book. We feel that we have repaid a debt owed to our parents, sisters, brothers, friends and neighbors with whom we grew up and who were massacred, starved and beaten to death, crushed, shot and buried alive, individually and in mass graves, with no headstones or memorial on their graves.

This is the only memorial we could erect for them, prompted by our conscience and God's will.

All of us from Shumsk participated in this task -- those who accompanied the book to its publication with care and genuine enthusiasm and those who enriched it by adding impressions, experiences and assessments to its contents. We all joined together to complete this portrait of the Shumsk community along with the editors, who spared no effort to prepare and publish the book.

The team of editors who organized the effort was in fear of failing in some way, thus dishonoring Shumsk's martyrs. They thank all those who shared in this project. The editorial team notes with appreciation Pesach Lerner's dedication to the task both as the community's beloved representative and as a member of the editorial team.

The editorial team especially notes Zipora Weisman's assistance, performed with great dedication, and thanks Esther Lerner, who as a caring partner to Pesach Lerner took care of all the day to day responsibilities and made their home a hub for the activities of the Shumsk Association and for the work on the Yizkor Book.

Our feeling is that they did this with good will. Without their efforts, especially those of Pesach, the organization's attempt to publish a Yizkor Book might not have come to fruition, God forbid. Explicitly mentioning and emphasizing Pesach's contribution is supported by everyone from Shumsk.

* * *

The humanity of the Shumsk community, and other such communities, magnifies the responsibility of the German nation from which prowling beasts have emerged to annihilate Jews and eradicate their memory. No conscience can be silent in the face of this heavy responsibility.

Yizkor books are a reminder of German atrocities and a warning to all those who might attempt to follow in Germany's footsteps. The testimonies in these books, serve as sources for future generations and are of lasting value as documentation of Nazi evil. They were written by those who faced that evil, suffered severely, survived and recounted their experiences just a few years later.

We tried not to slip into revenge but to let things be told as they were lived by those who witnessed them. That being our major purpose, we have devoted the necessary space to the chapters related to the Holocaust.

Our role is also to create a monument to the Jewish community of Shumsk that is no more. To this end we have included portraits of individuals in the town, and personal experiences and feelings expressed in poetry and prose. From these chapters the Shumsk community emerges as one of caring, good people, worthy of being remembered forever as an emblem of caring humanity who cherished human dignity and preserved their moral fiber in all circumstances.

In the Shumsk Yizkor book we publish for the first time the “Diary of Vellas,” titled in Yiddish “A brivele der mamen” (“Letter to Mother”) by Zipora (Rojchman) Weisman. We see in this diary a living portrayal of a young Shumsk girl's agonies, facing the physical and mental hardships of illegal aliyah3 (immigration to the promised land), turning her face to mother Shumsk, who set her on her destiny, inspiring her to distance herself from Shumsk but beckoning her at the same time.

The original diary has been placed in the Labor Archive4 and serves as documentation of a bygone era. Its publication in our book is the first and only to date.

The letters published in the book also serve as documentation of the periods in which they were written.

We have also included chapters of folklore by M. Chazen, David's brother, who left varied, interesting articles.

* * *

The editorial board expresses its sorrow for two things:

  1. The omission of portraits of Motil Perlis and Kopel Zoref, who were two pillars of Zionism in Shumsk. Thanks to them Shumsk turned into a hub of Zionist vision and action.
    We are also sorry that no one was found to fully depict Herzog Milman, Yosl Neiman and others, the nurturers of Zionist activity in Shumsk. Thanks to them many Shumsk youngsters went on aliyah, thus literally saving their lives. May our very lives be an expression of our appreciation to them.
  2. The martyrs list which is not complete for obvious reasons.
While denouncing the crimes of the Nazis and their helpers, we call your attention to chapters in the Holocaust accounts that highlight the role of individual gentiles who put their lives at risk, especially the Shtundists.5 Their life-saving deeds elevated them to highest spheres of honor for human bravery. Their names have a place of honor in our book and signal to us that not everyone is untrustworthy.

We regarded the task we were eager to accomplish as heavy and sacred, and we thank all those who helped make it a reality.

We ask forgiveness for omissions made – they were not done on purpose.

Pesach Lerner6, Rafael Sapir7 and Chaim Rabin8

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Shehekheyanu vehigianu: (Hebrew) Literally, "He who kept us alive and brought us here," words of a blessing that is a common Jewish prayer of thanks to God, recited to celebrate special occasions or accomplishments. Return
  2. Yizkor: (Hebrew) Remembrance Return
  3. Aliyah: (Hebrew) Literally, ascent. The term is used for the immigration of Jews from the diaspora to the promised land, the Land of Israel. "Making aliyah" by moving to Israel is a basic tenet of Zionism. Return
  4. The Labor Archive: Archyon Haavoda, the Moshe Sharett Labor Party Archive, founded in 1965 in Israel Return
  5. Shtundists: An evangelical Lutheran Protestant sect of German origin which had been settled in this area in the past. Their religion mandated love and esteem for Jewish people, and Shtundists in the area were known for being sympathetic to the Jews during the Holocaust.. Return
  6. Pesach Lerner was born in Shumsk in 1901 and emigrated to Eretz Yisrael in 1921. He founded the Organization of Shumskers in Israel. For more biographical information, see the translator's notes on page 199 of this yizkor book: Return
  7. Rafael Sapir (the name originally was Sforim) came to Shumsk with his parents and siblings as refugees during World War I. Having been teachers of Hebrew, they opened a school in Shumsk where Hebrew was taught and were active in the Zionist activities in the town. Rafael was among the first people from Shumsk to emigrate to Palestine.. Return
  8. Chaim Rabin (1910-1990) was editor of the Shumsk Yizkor Book and many others. See biographical note at page 345: Return

[Pages 9-14]

Shumsk and the Shumsk Book

by Chaim Rabin

Translated by Shulamit Berman z”l

A. Historical geography of Shumsk (sources and data):

1. Povshachna Encyclopedia, 1867 edition:

… Shumsk in the district of Volhynia (not to be confused with Shumsk near Vilna), in the province of Kremenets, is on the bank of the Vilya River, which flows into the Horyn.

It is first mentioned in the year 1149, when it was conquered by Włodzimiersk [Volodymyr-Volyns'kyy], Halicki prince.

In 1152 Iziasław, prince of Kiev, demanded that it be returned to him. His ally [Giejza] the king of Hungary supported this demand, but Włodzimiersk refused.

In 1224 we find that Shumsk was the capital of a brave principality battling the invading Tatars. This war was notable for the heroism of Prince Świętosław Szumski, who fell in battle.

In 1260 Shumsk was ruled by Wasilka (Vasilik), Prince of Włodzimiersk.

In 1261 the Tatars again invaded Shumsk, Wasilka surrendered and the capital, Shumsk, was destroyed and lost its importance (!).

2. Slownik Geograficzny[1] (most recent edition 1908)

… a small town next to the Vilya on the left bank of the Horyn, 10 versts[2] from Greater Dederkaly, 35 versts from Kremenets. There is one Russian Orthodox church, one synagogue, four tanneries, four fairs.

In 1881 the population of Shumsk was 2,300, and of those 2,000 were Jews. The Jews were mainly involved in trading on a small scale.

… When you leave the town and head for the “kampa,” which is surrounded by water on three sides, you can see the remains of the fortress built by the Malinskis. Its outer walls are still visible today, as are the inner partitions.

This fortress was still habitable during the reign of the Radziwills. The kościół (church) was built in 1852 by Ludwika Mężyńska.

The police subdistrict of Shumsk is composed of four regional councils in the area: Velikiye [Greater] Dederkaly, Borki, and Belaya Krinitsa.

During the years of the Tatar invasions Shumsk was the capital of the principality.

In 1366 Kazimierz the Great conquered Volhynia. He signed a treaty with the Lithuanian princes, transferring the principality of Shumsk to Lithuanian Prince Lubrecht (Lubart).

In 1575 the council of the entire district of Volhynia was held in Shumsk.

In 1648 Bohdan Chmielnicki[3] razed Shumsk to the ground, including its churches and the famous monastery (!) of the Basilians.

From 1637[4] the town became the estate of the Malinskis.

After the Chmielnicki devastation of 1656 Daniel Malinski bequeathed 4000 zlotys for the restoration of the Basilian monastery, but his heirs did not execute his will. Therefore it remained in ruins and was not rebuilt.

He also bequeathed 8000 zlotys for the restoration of the Franciscan monastery, but that was also not rebuilt until 1715, when his grandson obeyed his instructions.

The monastery was one of the most beautiful buildings in the region, famous for its size and its library.

In 1752 the Malinski brothers sold Shumsk to Prince Michel Radziwill[5] who used to come here to hunt.

In 1806 Romuald Bystry bought the estates of Shumsk and Rachmanov.

In 1817 he sold them to Mężyński.

In 1867 they passed to Countess Antonina Błudow.[6]

In 1761 all of Shumsk was destroyed in a great fire. All that remained was Rachmanov, on the other bank of the Vilya, where the printing press of the Wiszniowiecki family was located.

More details about Shumsk can be found in the book by Stecki (editorial comment: regrettably we cannot access this book).

3. Ivrayiskaya Encyclopedia – edited by L. Katzenelson (undated):

In 1847 the Shumsk community numbered 1,101 souls.

According to the population register for 1897 there were 1,962 Jews in Shumsk.

* * *

So much for the available sources.

In other English and German sources including the most recent, an encyclopedia devoted to Judaism, Shumsk is not mentioned.

The sources quoted above depict Shumsk as an important location, the capital of a principality and a hub of religious culture. It was fought over by princes, for whom it represented a center of commerce and security. Whoever held it possessed a broad principality inhabited by people who worked and earned a living, a region that was thickly forested, rich in water sources. Both of the latter were very important in those days of frequent raids and sieges, for the safeguarding and maintenance of the principalities, which were independently policed units.

As a fortified position guarding the roads of the Volhynia region, Shumsk was the focus of regional rulers and a lure for distant raiders (the Tatars).

According to the historians the purpose of the Tatar raiders was chiefly to plunder and loot. Their main targets were food stores and the wealth whose fame had reached their ears, attracting the best fighters of the Tatar hordes.

Shumsk was thus a principality that provided abundant possibilities for economy and plunder, a pre-eminent location, a place that endowed the invaders with heroism and prestige, a deterrent to those who revolted against them or harbored illusions of resistance.

The sources give no indication of the national composition of the population, its society, its economic structure, or the foundations of its security. However, they, and especially the Polish sources, reveal that somebody made sure that Polish Catholics would dominate the Shumsk principality, which indicates that the Ukrainians were less represented, despite their being the overwhelming majority of the population. This led to notorious quarrels with the Poles, who shaped the character of the settlements, despite the Ukrainian majority and Polish minority. The Ukrainians constantly rebelled, expressing their discomfort and anger, although they themselves had no consolidated plan for establishing a national regime of their own.

We would not find this worthy of mention were it not for the eternal Jewish aspect, since these disputes came to a head during the Chmielnicki uprising.

In the annals of Jewish history this became known as Gezeirot Tach Vetat (literally the decrees of 408 and 409), and it is notable for the tragic situation of the Jews. They were caught between two warring parties who alternately accused them of them treachery and loyalty, and vented upon them their rage against their opponents.

Historians agree that both sides went to war without any ideology, no plan for improving society or changing the existing regime, but solely for economic gain. The Jews, who were noted for their financial acumen, were an easy target for their fury.

For our purposes, this sheds light on the Jewish aspect, although it is not stressed in the sources. We can therefore assume that if Shumsk existed during the Chmielnicki insurrection, there were certainly Jews in the town. It has been ascertained that Jews lived consistently in Shumsk for hundreds of years, unlike what the Jewish residents themselves believed. We know that Chmielnicki had many willing cohorts in the places where Jews were to be found, and he was easily able to foment mass hatred of the Jews among the oppressed Ukrainians and thus incite them to rebel. The Ukrainians' hatred of their Polish overlords was diluted by the fear which had hitherto prevented them from rising up in revolt. We can therefore assume that in 1648 there was a Jewish community in Shumsk against which Chmielnicki directed his forces.

Details about the Jewish community can be gleaned from the Ivrayiskaya Encyclopedia, through examining the text and the data, but it only provides figures obtained from the first Russian population registers from 1847 to 1897, with no mention of previous figures, and even these do not provide any other demographic details such as occupation, social, commercial, religious, and political structure, and so on.

This is regrettable. We know that there were Jews in other settlements in the Volhynia district near the Horyn river who chose to live in remote areas away from anti-Semitic populations, where they could earn a livelihood and practice their religion.

If there were 1,101 Jews in Shumsk in 1847 this did not happen overnight, so we can assume Jewish Shumsk had a history prior to that time, but unfortunately there is no trace in previous records, which were mostly the work of anti-Semitic record keepers. Unwilling as we are to accept these figures, we have to take them as our starting point, and draw our own conclusions.

* * *

B. Shumsk as an established Jewish society

Jewish Shumsk emerges from the information provided in this yizkor book as a cohesive community with established social strata like any other Jewish, Polish, or Ukrainian community of the time.

There is very little material from the pre-Zionist period.[7]

Here and there we get a hint that the community was conservative by nature, proud of its reputation and loyal to the regime, respectful of its scholars and wealthy townsfolk, and nurtured by folklore, replete with miracles that served as a substitute for the tales of heroism and validation that were so lacking in real life (M. Chazen's chapters in Yiddish, Gejlichen, Bahat and Sudman in Hebrew).

During the Zionist period Shumsk glowed brightly. In various articles in the book, especially those dealing with everyday life, memories, and respect for specific people, we see many details about the town, how Jews survived in the surrounding alien sea, and relationships within the larger society, both inside and out.

This is where we see the uniqueness of Shumsk. We have the occasional religious zealot waging war against “progress” and “enlightenment,” but never for the sake of power or personal gain, but for the sake of Torah, and when they see their error they cease their zealotry and do not stint in their blessings.

This is its uniqueness.

(The chapters dealing with the establishment of schools, etc., especially the interesting article by Y. Sudman, “The Move to Shumsk,” which remains as originally written, reflects the identity and deeds of its writer.)

Shumsk had diverse social classes. There were those who managed the synagogue affairs (gabbaim) and those whose status demanded respect, and there were those of lower standing and lesser income. There were disputes over rules and so on, but when someone tried to change the established order by using logic and ethics, it was achieved without upheavals or crises, as was heard of in other places across Poland.

It can be said that in these matters the book blurs the shadows of Jewish daily life in Shumsk, but that's only natural when we rely on the power of memory, which does not absorb the shadows, but above all testifies that: 1) there were not many shadows in this town; and 2) the writers remembered the overall image of Shumsk as apparently very positive, or at any rate there was a willingness to amend and a tendency towards the affirmative.


C. Shumsk during the Holocaust

This brief and terrible time is emphasized in the book, as is fitting in a memorial for the victims for whom it serves as a tombstone.

There are two approaches in the writings in this book to describing this period. One approach extends over vast regions of wandering in Russia and exposure to its indifference to human beings; the second is limited to the narrow area of hardship in Shumsk, trapped as it was within the brutal and murderous walls of the Nazis.

The second avenue is the more important, dealing as it does with the tragic depths and frightful experiences of looking death in the face, and therefore we will deal with it first.

In this section, those heroes who survived provide a description that is entirely Jewish and mainly about Shumsk. The details are included in the crucible of simple personal truth. This testimony is vitally important for those who chronicle this tragic period, and it has vital humanitarian importance for those who write about the spiritual bravery of Jews in every generation.

In these accounts we encounter youngsters, cut off from the traditions of their parents, who had a vision of Zionism as young pioneers. They were able to integrate this vision into their lives because their town, Shumsk, was liberal and full of understanding for their misgivings before the Holocaust. So Shumsk appears in their tragic stories, between the lines. Then, too, Shumsk draws them like a distant beacon of childhood longing, like the cradle of dreams matched by all the horror of predictions. She draws them by her scenery, their experiences, and the friendships she offered them, as they departed on their silent rebellion against Shumsk itself. Yet it is from her they drew their strength for the final journey, bound up as they were with fears, gathering up their strength to overcome them.

This vision is entirely Jewish, because it is the way of Jews to create for themselves new visions

when beset by calamity, and to remain alive for them. The main thing about Shumsk is that in that town they could create for themselves a complete vision of salvation. It had a foundation and earth and the promise of a state for whose sake they were willing to add more suffering to what they already suffered, and days of horror as well, just to remain alive and live their lives, nothing more.

The chapters of these simple experiences provide a rare and epic work describing the distant remnants of an annihilated community who bear the burden of rebuilding it. It is a tale of perpetuity, existence, reality and faith.

Their innocence is convincing in its truth. It serves as a true testimony to what happened, and a testimony to the resourcefulness of those to whom it happened. Their identity is of paramount importance, because they are both Jews and Shumskers. This is immeasurably valuable to those Shumskers who immerse themselves in the depths of their difficult and unhappy past.

The first approach, like the second, illuminates what happened to the scattered survivors of Shumsk with an honest, pure light. Solitary and orphaned, they bore the burden of becoming mature by turning toward Zion. They were tossed about to distant, unfamiliar landscapes, deprived of friends and abandoned to the tribulations of encountering a Jewish population that seemed almost deliberately hostile in this, their time of distress, in a land that should have offered them brotherhood and affection.

It is hard to describe the suffering of those bereft of their families. It was their fate to be thrown into infernal events and they had to adapt to the upheaval of changing situations. All they had was the strength of their love for their parents, and their hope that they, the sons and daughters, would be restored to them in good health, to shower them with kindness for the long days of separation. And they also had the desire to join the ranks of the avengers, to hit back and avenge the fate of the Jews in the newly established state. They had no more strength and no other reason to live.

Many years passed before the Holocaust survivors from Shumsk were able to recover, to go back and respond to these horrifying chapters in their lives. But once they had recovered they wrote down their experiences. Their love for Shumsk, their town, shines from the pages, with a warmth that reveals their strength to continue despite everything. They have faith as they follow their path towards their vision of the future. But above all, their descriptions of Shumsk can be gleaned from these lines. Her importance lies in the fact that her children cannot forget her – but she is no longer.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. An English translation of the full Shumsk entry in Slownik Geograficzny Krolestwa Polskiego i innych krajow slowianskich (Geographic Dictionary of the Former Kingdom of Poland and Other Slavic Lands), along with translation editor Richard Spector's introductory note about the text and the region's changing political boundaries, can be downloaded from Return
  2. A verst is about 1.067 kilometers. Return
  3. Bohdan Chmielnicki, also spelled Khmelnytsky, was a Cossack chieftain who led an uprising of Ukrainian peasants and Cossack and Tatar warriors on horseback against Polish rule. Both Jews, who were butchered on a mass scale, and Poles, in particular the nobility, suffered enormous losses of life in nine years of rampages through southeastern Poland. Return
  4. The original book says 1837, a typographical error. Return
  5. The Radizwill family is a very large and famous Polish noble family whose origins date to the mid-15th century. A 15th-generation descendent, Stanislas Radziwill, in 1959 married Lee Bouvier, the sister of Jacqueline (Bouvier) Kennedy Onassis; they divorced in 1974. Return
  6. The original book says Blusov, another apparent typo. Return
  7. Although it is true that few records from pre-Zionist Shumsk were available in Israel when this yizkor book was compiled, numerous records became available in the late 20th century and the 21st century. Many resources have been compiled at the website The Shumsk Pages, Return

[Page 15]

Dedication to David and Rosa Chazen

Translated by Rachel Karni

Translator's Note: The dedication on page 15 of the Shumsk Yizkor Book appears in both Hebrew and Yiddish. This translation is from the Hebrew. The Yiddish adds that the book serves as a memorial for the holy people of Shumsk who were victims of the Nazis in the years 1941-1945.

Although only the Chazens' financial contribution is mentioned in the dedication, they also sent high-quality paper from America for the book.

David Chazen also wrote in Yiddish about his mother, “Sarah the Righteous,” on pages 372-375 of this book, and that chapter appears in Hebrew on pages 226-229. A Hebrew-to-English translation appears here.


This picture of David Chazen and his wife Rosa has been placed at the opening of this book to express our deep appreciation to David, a dear son of Shumsk, and to his wife, both generous of spirit and yet modest, who have financially assisted with the expenses of the preparation of the Memorial Book of the Martyrs of Shumsk and, with their significant donation, made possible its completion.


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