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[Page 310]

Expressions of Shumsk


Letter to a Friend

by Malka Roich-Heyman

Translated by Sara Mages

You were murdered, my friend, murdered thirty years ago by the hands of Petlura's[1] men, and since then I have accumulated a lot of questions to ask you, myself, one and the same. You are he -- I and I -- she is you. For me you are alive, for me they did not murder you. They murdered your body, it has long ago since rotted and merged with the rest of the earth's material, and you have left your soul to me, and I carry it in me and guard it.

Do you remember the time we secluded ourselves on our evening walk out of town? We went to listen to nature, to the universe, to the whisper of thousands of its creatures, and then I learned a theory from you, the theory of faith, the theory of human love and other animals, and the whole universe. You explained to me the great benefit, the great role that every creature plays and everything in the world, and you gave me the concept of human greatness, the greatness of the soul, the spirit, the faith, and I, my friend, absorbed all this into myself, and it is more precious to me than anything else. And yet, bitter and painful questions arise in my heart: if so, if this theory is correct -- why did human hands murder you? Hands in the image of God?

I know, you will answer me: “Don't get angry, human beings are weak, not only God dwells in them, the dark devil also dwells in them!” And you, forgive me my friend, I cannot accept this answer, because I know: a man is strong, he has the power to defeat darkness! Why is he lazy? Why is he not lazy to follow the path of evil?! You once told me, when I was still little, that before the soul is sent to the human body, God parts from it with a kiss, and I knew, I always knew, that God kissed my soul ... and in every person I met in my way, I knew, God kissed his soul. And because of that I was so happy for every person. I have always wanted to live by your theory, the near, dear to me. But how? How would I be able to hold it when it slips away from me?! All the people of your, my, town, Shumsk, were destroyed by human hands! Old, young, babies. The gentiles just murdered them all, human beings who were created in the image of God! For what, and why? Because they wanted to live! Here you see? The image of God!

Where are all the families of your friends, big and small? They were murdered in all sorts of different deaths, like yours in your time! Who has done it? The hands in the image of God! Do you know? I am standing in my room, a quiet night around me, a sacred silence that we loved so much to listen to. And in this silence I see dead bodies big and small, and hear the cries of mad, bereaved mothers! And I feel that I am losing my mind; my eyes come out of their sockets. I extend my hand, to whom? To what? To the image of God, to your theory, and a silent cry suffocates my throat, my soul! I see before me the murderous eyes, the hands, the devil's hands, that murder and tear the bodies of babies, and the carnivorous teeth! And these are images of humans created in the image of God! Yes, my friend, I keep your theory, but the pain is too acute. Masses, in masses they were murdered, and before that, before that they dug their own graves at the devil's command, and were thrown into them naked like dog carcasses!

I am going out for my evening walk, to there, to these graves, to seclude myself with my dead and think: All of them walked around, lived their lives and waited for their natural death, and the innocent did not know that there are human hands that reap life without mercy. And the babies, the babies' chatter, small lips, their whimper is like the chirping of birds in the morning, and the smell of their flesh like the smell of wildflowers, and all this music, this beauty was trampled, murdered and destroyed! Human hands did all that!

Forgive, you say? There is no forgiveness in my heart! Then, then I could still forgive, have pity on the criminal; now, no! Too many lives have been taken from me as prey! Do you remember? You taught me to be a mother, a great mother, a mother of all. And here, they murdered so many children, big and small, and they are all crying around me. I hear them and see their blood, pure blood.

No, my friend, I cannot forgive, never!

You too, greater than me in soul and in spirit, would have been shocked at the sight of such devilish acts. I would never forgive!

Translator's Footnote

  1. Symon Petlura (1879-1926) was a Ukrainian socialist politician and statesman, one of the leaders of Ukraine's unsuccessful fight for independence following the Russian Revolution of 1917. He was briefly the president of Ukraine during the Russian Civil War (1918-1922), when many deadly pogroms against Jews were carried out – by soldiers under Petlura's command as well as by other forces involved in the conflict. Petlura was assassinated in Paris in 1926, and the assailant said he was avenging the deaths of thousands of victims of pogroms. Petlura's name is also commonly spelled Petliura or Petlyura. Return

[Page 312]

Not a Grave

by Shoshana Segal

Translated by Sara Mages

Not a grave, not a tombstone on their grave,
— They did not die.
They live in our hearts forever.
— Not a tombstone?
Father and son perished together
Who will lay it?
…A son perished at the prime of his life
And a grave has not yet been prepared for him,
His name is not engraved on a stone
But it is engraved in the heart, in blood!
All who perished
Those who have no tombstone on their grave
We will place the candle for them
In our hearts is a tombstone for them!


No caption appears in the Shumsk Yizkor Book with this photo of a group of Jews from Shumsk visiting the Shumsk mass grave site near the Vilya River in 1956. The adults pictured are, from left, Moshko and his wife, Sasha; Sara Chusyd and her husband, Avraham Chusyd; a Polish military officer who accompanied the visitors; Sarka Berensztejn-Fiks; Shalom Krakoviak and his wife; and Shmuel Shafir and his wife. The children are the Chusyds' son and the Krakoviaks' daughter Ora.

[Page 313]


by Shoshana Segal

Translated by Sara Mages

Before we return to daily life
Before apathy envelops our heart
As long as the heart cries out
And the candle is burning
We will remember:
Another flame had to burn
A flame that did not go out!
Because a lot of blood extinguished it
Blew it out
Those who put the end
To thousands, tens of thousands of people.
…As long as the wax drips from the candle,
As long as the torn heart is bleeding,
We will remember those who were not granted freedom
Those who perished with the generation
Who were cut off from the tree of our families;
Our brothers, our fathers, our mothers…


No caption appears in the Shumsk Yizkor Book with this photo taken in Tel Aviv at a meeting of Shumskers at a memorial service. The banner behind the group says: In memory of the martyrs of Shumsk. May God avenge their blood.

[Page 314]

The Light of a Memorial Candle

by Shoshana Segal

Translated by Sara Mages

They were exterminated in the Nazi camps with their lives ahead of them.

On rainy evenings, when I was little, I sat on my father's lap.

— Tell me, I asked, you also had a mother? Where is she? Why is she not here?

I asked my curious questions.

Yes, you had a mother, also a father. You had brothers and sisters. The song of their lives was interrupted when their lives were still ahead of them.

They had not yet had time to go out into the world, to learn its cruelty, and were already a victim of its injustice and cruelty.

Sometimes we talked about “them.” I did not know them, but they were not strangers to me.

I sat on Father's lap and looked into his eyes, their gaze stuck in space as he told his story. A tall woman with black hair, kind eyes ... It was clear to me that she was my grandmother.

White beard, a kind face, big and intelligent eyes, the bearing of a man respected by his people, God-fearing and expert in his profession -- my grandfather.

Why are they not here!

Because ... here began the story of the war with all its horrors.

A long, winding chain of Jews, trudging heavily.

The Nazi soldiers who marched on the side, cursed loudly, shouted and shot at those who tried to escape to save their lives.

A tiring and exhausting walk. In the background, walls and stretched barbed wire. Dark gray is the predominant color. Spiked shoes, rifle, helmet and belt. Rigid and somewhat mysterious facial features. Small sunken eyes peeking suspiciously and lurking for blood. Aggressive movements foretelling annihilation.

Those who have walked slowly on their last journey mumble sacred passages, mentioning the name of God and not despairing of Him even in this moment.

A line of skinny women, something had happened to them in the ghettos. They hold howling toddlers in their arms, their bellies swollen from hunger.

[Page 315]

How did the brave men fall? Their gaze turns alternately to the ground and to heaven in a request, a call, a plea and a silent cry for mercy.

A spark of hope.

The black kapotas[1] and the tzitziot[2] that peek from below. The shiny hat. The sidelocks swaying under the hat. Silent disgruntled children dragged their feet from the side. They walked and held in their hands the bundles that had been stolen from them.

They are silent, God, how is it possible to be silent at this age?!

And from the world of hallucinations back to reality. Why is it so? Why is that good woman in my imagination not here with me?!

She was Jewish! So what! Really? So what? ... something is rebelling within me. I don't want to accept it.

So what? What? ...

Inside the candle flame I see her figure. It was placed in her memory, and it fades.

I am looking at her; I am sure she sees me too. Her good eyes, so close, are looking straight at me. A smile in her eyes and at the corner of her mouth, her face is serious, the suffering evident in them.

The town was destroyed in one day. Soldiers! Orders! Walls, barbed wire …

There is much more to fix in our world for us. That is the meaning of the flame of the memorial candle.


Note on this photo3


Translator's Footnote
  1. Kapota (pl. kapotas) long black coat worn by Hasidic men. Return
  2. Tzitzit, pl. tzitziot, (lit. “Fringes”) refers to the strings attached to the corners of the tallit, the Jewish prayer shawl. It also refers to the poncho-like mini-tallit that is worn throughout the day, often under a shirt. Return
  3. This image appears in the Shumsk Yizkor Book with no caption. It is a painting by I. Weinlaz depicting a group of fleeing Jews. The image appears on a postcard published by Verlag Jehudia in Warsaw after 1907 with the title “From a fire.”The postcard is in the collections of the Jewish Theological Seminary and is shown at https://digitalcollections.jtsa.edu/islandora/object/jts%3A611626. Return

[Page 316]

Speech for the Opening
of Hebrew University in 1925

by Shlomo Bahat

Translated by Sara Mages

Friends! It seems to me that each of us already knows what we are celebrating today, and this question will be answered by each of us that today, 7 Nisan [April 1, 1925], we celebrate because in Jerusalem, on Mount Scopus, the first Hebrew University is opening. But, let these four words “the first Hebrew University in Jerusalem,” soak in. These words lift the heart of every Jew, so it seems that we really need to rejoice today and have a big celebration wherever there is a Jewish settlement. But, if that is the case, the question will surely arise in us, why are we not happy about the opening of other universities in which we also have a part? We also participated in their building, physically and spiritually. But there is a sufficient answer to that question. First, we cannot celebrate a foreign university that brings us destruction and doom, because those universities are a symbol of envy and hatred. Second, because their language is foreign to us, and third because their foundation is in the hands of foreigners, because the ground beneath them is foreign. But the university that opens today on Mount Scopus will be the opposite of those foreign universities. It will be a symbol of peace, brotherhood and love, and its gates will be wide open to all the nations of the world, without any difference between nations. And its light will shine on all the gentiles, and with it we will continue to weave the same golden thread that we have woven from the destruction of the Temple to this day. It has already turned red from all the disasters that befell us and from the abundance of pure blood which was shed for nothing on the altar of our holy Torah. Even the Inquisition, and the decrees of annihilation, could not remove from the heart of the people, our people, the faith in our Torah and our hope for imminent redemption. And now, when we are privileged to see the fulfillment of our hopes, both spiritually and physically, and all the nations already have recognized the injustice done in harassing the innocent Jewish people, they themselves come to Jerusalem to be at the opening of the university and bless the Jewish people. And we see how our country is progressing, thanks to our pioneers and the leaders of our wise people, and today we bless the people who helped it, congratulate them from the Diaspora and thank them for their tremendous work, and may God have only joy in the resurrected Land of Israel.

Note from the editorial board:

We include this speech because of the innocence, faith and passion of its speaker. It was given 42 years ago, and it turns out that in addition to what was mentioned above, it also expressed a vision -- hence its value to this book.


[Pages 317-318]

To My Town, the Unforgettable Shumsk

by M. Rubin

Translated from Yiddish to Hebrew by Rafael Sapir

Translated from Hebrew to English by Sara Mages



My tiny town,
Beautiful and graceful
Your houses stand in a straight line.
Houses of worship for young and old
And a synagogue rises like a castle,
Distilleries, the mill and beer factory,
Long streets -- short streets,
Beautiful streets -- straight streets.
Rows of shops arranged like final mem[1]
A thread of grace, of beauty, stretched over everything.
Do you remember?
A grove shading a magical world
The ancient Surazh Forest
The garden in the new city
Blooms every spring
Shining in its white and green
And in the distance gives a scent.
* * *
My town and all your masses
Your memory will rise before me.
Do you remember?
River current
Clap of an oar
Noise of millstones
And glorious meadows
Blue sky
And green pasture
Golden fields
And morning glow
Bright nights and moonlight
Silent streets
Sleepy people
Welcome the morning with a happy heart
* * *
Woe unto me! Everything fades like a dream
Murderers are organized to the end
Tombstones stand - scorched walls
In memory of the soul of brothers who were shot and slaughtered
* * *
I will not forget you, my town, all the days
You are guarded and engraved in my heart forever.

Translator's Footnote

  1. The Hebrew letter mem has a final form used at the end of words: its shape changes from מ to ם . Thus, “Rows of shops arranged like final mem” means the shops were set up around a square. Return


[Pages 319-320]

Preparations for Shavuot in the Town

by Yehoshua Toren

Translated by Sara Mages

Notes: Yehoshua Toren was born in Kremenets to Sara and Avraham Toren, according to his daughter. He spent a few years in Shumsk as an emissary to the Hechalutz Hatzair (Young Pioneer) Zionist youth movement in town. In 1922 he immigrated to Palestine, living for some time in Kibbutz Ein Harod and later in Be'er Sheva, before Israeli statehood, when there were only a few Jewish families in the town. He also wrote “Experiences and Memories,” beginning on page 147 of this yizkor book, and the poem “My Grandfather's Synagogue” beginning on page 325.

Another holiday of Shavuot on the horizon
There are still days left to the Sefira[1]
Mother left at dawn for the milkmen's market
To make sure to get cheese and other dairy products for the holiday.

A tradition since time immemorial
To have a dairy meal on the holiday
And who is the mother who did not take care in time
To fulfill this mitzvah in the fullest detail.

At home we polish and clean
Engage in preparations
The copper vessels (inheritance of generations) are already shiny
A pleasing sight -- the daughters' handiwork.

The sons return from the cheder[2] and memorize
An endearing traditional melody[3]
Before reading the ten commandments
O let me speak in awe two words, or three.

The melody spreads through the room
Penetrates every corner
As a balm for the mother
For all the ailments in her heart.

The family members giddily
Engage in every deed
For the holiday and the Creator
As written in Moses' Torah.

The greenery is also of great importance
In memory of the Harvest Festival and the first fruits
It is customary to decorate walls and floors with it
The sons take care of that.

With the sanctification of the holiday
Serenity prevails in all
The smell of the field is absorbed in the house
In all its fragrances.

The worries disappeared
The shadows hidden
The candles
Radiating light.

My mother's face is radiant and good
That's her role and that's her labor
In holiday clothes and a holiday blessing
She receives the returnees from the synagogue.

Where are you, town of my roots
Where are you, my graceful mother
A dairy meal is no longer needed
Neither is your devoted concern.

What will I tell you, my dear mother?
Will I lighten the weight of the clods of earth under which you are buried?
I will tell you, your work goes on. There are those who are loyal to your ways and to tradition.

Jewish blood is no longer worthless
The Jewish state has come alive,
Gathers her sons who have abandoned God,
And is a stronghold, a fortress and a shield.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Sefirat HaOmer (also abbreviated as Sefira or the Omer) refers to the 49-day period between the second night of Passover and the holiday of Shavuot. Return
  2. Cheder (literally “room”) an elementary school for Jewish children, teaching basic Judaism and Hebrew Return
  3. Akdmut Milin (literally “Introductory Words”) is an acrostic Aramaic poem traditionally read on the holiday of Shavuot prior to the reading of the Ten Commandments. Return


[Page 321]


by Malka Roich-Heyman

Translated by Sara Mages

Curses to God, to man and wild beast
For murdering my brothers, my sisters
For raping my daughters
And crushing my babies' skulls!
My curses will be a flag for my dead,
And they will haunt you with this flag all your life,
Your impure life, contaminated with their blood.
My dear dead will scare you
When you lie down and get up from your beds.
The water you drink will turn into blood,
The meat you eat will become human flesh
That you murdered with your own hands!
And you will not be able to escape the eyes,
You will be pursued by big, terrible eyes
Terrified by fear, babies' eyes,
Eyes of innocence and purity, asking, asking:
“Why were our lives so short …?”
And you, sons of darkness, accursed!
You will never have peace!


[Page 322]

Mother's Prayer

by Malka Roich-Heyman

Translated by Sara Mages

You grew up to beauty, my anonymous daughter
A spectacular blooming rose,
And it seems not long ago you were just a baby,
And how did you grow so suddenly?
You have two black braids, and two eyes
Full of wisdom and cleverness, and the will to live.
They tell me the secret of your dream
That you embroider for yourself, about your fiancé,
And in your dream you see him full of love
And his hands caress, his soul caresses
And you are drunk with happiness, tenderness ...
And he, the man, still lives in your dream,
You have not yet come to him, and he has not to you,
Secretly he stands at a distance from you
And your lips are thirsty like a flower for a dew kiss.
And I see you in your wonderful secret,
My lips whisper a prayer for your happiness.
Suddenly I was terrified, you are not meant for happiness!
My daughter, the daughter.

[Page 323]


[Page 324]

In Memory of My Brother

by Malka Roich-Heyman

Translated by Sara Mages

They tortured you, my brother, for the soul in you,
A great and pure soul.
I lit an eternal candle in my heart for your soul,
In memory of your holy heroism.
Your humble figure is always before my eyes,
Without saying a word I loved you, my brother,
In your walk and in your voice, and the look in your eyes.
And you did not know about it, my dear.
They turned off your light of life forever ...
But to me you are alive, my love,
I hardly knew you,
I only saw you pass on the town street,
Your head slightly bent,
And your voice low, quiet as the sound of a violin.
I will always remember you, my tormented brother
You were dear to me in your life and in your death,
You will be dear to me and remembered …


[Pages 325-326]

My Grandfather's Synagogue

by Yehoshua Toren

Translated by Sara Mages

Notes: Yehoshua Toren was born in Kremenets to Sara and AvrahamFriday, June 03, 2022 Toren, according to his daughter. He spent a few years in Shumsk as an emissary to the Hechalutz Hatzair (Young Pioneer) Zionist youth movement in town. In 1922 he immigrated to Palestine, living for some time in Kibbutz Ein Harod and later in Be'er Sheva, before Israeli statehood, when there were only a few Jewish families in the town. He also wrote “Experiences and Memories,” beginning on page 147 of this yizkor book, and the poem “Preparations for Shavuot in the Town” beginning on page 319.

In my grandfather's synagogue
An atmosphere of holiday and anticipation prevails
Everything is brushed, polished and clean
The holiday carriage is galloping through the city gates.

Indeed, the sun is still shining
Here and there a haberdashery store is still open.
For the punctilious the time is pressing
God forbid they will be late for the afternoon prayer.

And indeed everyone is in a hurry
To finish their work and business
To be among the firstcomers to the synagogue
As was the custom of their forefathers.

Today is Rosh Hashanah
The sanctity of the High Holidays
Every living thing stands to attention
Even the trees in the forest are quaking.

The first homeowners are seen in the synagogue
Blessing each other with a Happy New Year blessing
May one year end with its curses
May another begin with its blessings.

Suddenly silence reigns.
My grandfather is seen entering.
This man is beloved by all
It is he who will stand before God.

His beard is long. He is handsome.
His pleasant voice penetrates the hearts.
His noble figure is well-dressed
Only his eyes look teary.

He is the cantor who prays before the Creator
On him the burden and responsibility
He will call God to a Din Torah[1]
To claim pity and forgiveness.

And everyone is waiting for his words
Believing in his power and his penetrating voice
For opening a route and a path
To the people who drown their troubles at sea.

And my grandfather starts quietly
And his voice grows louder and louder
In the name of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
Benevolent God, the God of Israel.

Along with him the congregation of worshipers
As a mighty and immense force
Crying and pleading, they repeat his prayers
And their voices reach the heavens.

Woe my grandfather! Your voice was pleasant
You fulfilled your mission faithfully
The years of your life passed in grief and pain
At the sight of your people's troubles and the exile.

You could not see ahead
And you did not let pass your lips
That at a distance of three generations
The synagogue will be erased along with your holy flock.

You were blessed that you were not able
To see with your teary eyes
The destruction of the Jewish people
Who were led like sheep to the slaughter.

Translator's Footnote

  1. Din Torah (Heb., “Ruling of the law”) a Jewish legal judgment. Return


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