by Chaim Rabin
Translated by Howard Freedman
|Note: Chaim Rabin (1910-1990), the editor of the Shumsk Yizkor Book and author of this foreword to the Yiddish section of the book, was born in Lanovits. His mother, Dina (Berensztejn) Rabin, was the daughter of Kovka and Ides (Yehudis) Berensztejn, prominent members of the Jewish community in Shumsk. Chaim Rabin's parents, Dina and Uziel Rabin, perished in the Holocaust as did two of their children. Chaim Rabin immigrated to Palestine in 1934. He was a prolific author and translator and edited more than 10 Yizkor Books.|
When we remember Shumsk, we remember Yiddish, the language of our eternally dear murdered parents, brothers, sisters, friends, neighbors-- all of the dear Shumsk Jews. We know that they held on to their language as a means of defense to protect their Jewish way of life and maintain their uniqueness. In it they spoke, thought, and whispered the 2,000-year secret that brought us back into our Land of Israel, and in it they created, sang, and traded their lovely Jewish jokes and ... cried in times of uncertainty and death.
Therefore we have devoted a large section of the book to Yiddish, although our intuition regarding Yiddish tells us that in the future Yiddish will be supplanted by the use of Hebrew.
We undertake this with love.
The Yiddish section is not a translation. It is the language of creation of the authors and, just as the entire book has been created by the efforts of a few who have taken pains to write, so is the Yiddish in the book the creative language of its authors. Fortuitously, it is almost a parallel reflection of Shumsk to its Hebrew reflection.
Here is a section of nostalgia, of longing for the past of our shtetl with its sorrows and happiness.
Here is a picture of its society, which was built upon a moral law and code of the soul, with its shaded and bright characters.
Here is the longing of its youth for their own state and a safe, secure Jewish life.
And, above all, here is a description of the massacre of the people of Shumsk by three witnesses saved from death.
Worthy of mention is the treasury of Shumsk folkore in the chapters by Muni Chazen and the diary of Elye Hersh Nite's daughter Zipora Rojchman, which was written in the 1930s in the midst of seas and oceans, between sky and water, when she was an illegal immigrant to Israel and her heart was torn between her love of Israel and her longing to return home to Shumsk.
The Shumsk landsmanshaft in Israel did everything so that the book in Hebrew and in Yiddish would be a fitting memorial to our holy, dear Shumsk Jews, a tribute to all Jews murdered in all lands and generations, and an accurate picture of our shtetl.
We presume that here and there errors and oversights were made. This is natural and pardonable, for if we had not made the effort to prepare this book we would not have fulfilled our duty to immortalize Shumsk for our children and for Jewish history.
We thank all of our Shumskers, whose demand for the book gave us the courage to put up with the obstacles and financial difficulties, and brought the dream of a Shumsk Yizkor Book to realization.
Let us consider this book as the collective expression of all of us Shumskers.
by Sarka BerensztejnFiks [Fuchs]
Translated by Sandy Bloom
Dedication: This translation is dedicated with love to the memory of Ida Fiks Oren, who was born in Shumsk to Sarka and Yehoshua Fiks in 1929 and passed away in Ramat Hasharon, Israel, in October 2017.
Notes: This chapter was originally written and published in Yiddish. Esther Weinschelbaum translated it to Hebrew, and Sandy Bloom translated from the Hebrew to English. The YiddishtoHebrew translation appears at https://www.jewishgen.org/Yizkor/szumsk/files/Szumsk_Hebrew.pdf. Rachel Karni, translation project coordinator for the Shumsk Yizkor Book, provided the following introduction, along with most of the footnotes.
Introduction: The author of this chapter, Sarka/Sarah Berensztejn Fiks, was born in Shumsk in 1900 to Yaakov/Kovke and Edes (Susak) Berensztein. She was their ninth child. From an early age she absorbed her parents' values of extending a warm helping hand to others. For example, when the Poles began their rule in the area in 1920, she immediately learned Polish so that she might represent Shumskers before the government authorities. She married Yehoshua Fiks and they had a daughter, Ida. During World War II they survived in the USSR. Sarka and Yehosh devotedly raised their niece Ada, the daughter of Breindel (19071943) and Lazar Hak, Sarka's sister and brotherinlaw, who perished in the Holocaust. In 1956 Sarka, Yehoshua, Ida and Ada immigrated to Israel. Sarka was an active and beloved member of the Shumsk association in Israel and a source of endless information about Shumsk and Shumskers. A remembrance of Sara BernshteynFiks, along with a photo of her, is included in Voice of Kremenets and Shumsk Emigrants in Israel and the Diaspora, Booklet 18, which appears in English translation at https://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/kremenets1/kre1_1838.html#Page53
The Vilya River encircled Shumsk and contributed to the city's charm and wellbeing. People bathed in the river, sailed on it in boats, and skated on it when it froze over in winter. In addition, the river was filled with fish and people used to relax by going fishing. Toward evening, after the tumult of the workday, the large sun would set over the river, illuminating the entire village with its blazing red rays. This was followed by the merry concert of frogs. The croaking of those frogs remained as sweet, charming memories.
Several dukes from the entire area lived in Shumsk. There were five brothers who were Polish nobleman: Duke Shitanovsky, Duke Mugliantizky, and Duke Lidachovsky. Shumsk belonged to [Duke] Mezhinsky who, in 1863 during the Polish Revolt [against Russian rule over Poland], hid by my grandfather. Mezhinsky was a liberal man and a good person who built several flour mills in Shumsk as well as the liquor refinery and the beer brewery. He also developed commerce in the town.
After the third partition of Poland, the Russians gave the largest flour mill to the priests of the Holy Synod of Saints Cyril and Methodius. The second mill was bestowed on the muchacclaimed Colonel Ivshetznako. Finally, the Russians gave the Czar's son's nursemaid Shovlova a present: the large estate on which Mamut and Berensztejn settled, and the beautiful garden.
While Shumsk may have appeared to be a regular shtetl like all the others, it had one advantage over the others: its youth were culturally and politically advanced. I remember that as early as 19111913 when the Beilis bloodlibel trial took place the youth in Shumsk already talked about Eretz Israel.
We had a twoclassroom Russian school on a high academic level, when other towns barely had one. In 1905, several youths already sat in jail for revolutionary activity: Yonah Krejzelman, Yechiel Kanfer, Fajwel Berensztejn, the son of Kitza Landa (and) Saruza Vigoda.
In 1907, a topquality Hebrew teacher was brought to the town to teach the children of several wealthy families. I still remember the protests of the religious balebatim in our kloyz (small local synagogue), when my brothers began to study in the Russian school. Their cries became even louder when they found out that my father bought copies of Y.L. Gordon's poems for the students. At the time, such material was considered treif, even worse than pig meat.
In 1907 an illegal library was opened by Isaac Mejler who lived opposite Malka the Cripple. The library was run by Motya Szames, Dovid Berensztejn, and Binyamin Marder. Their assistants were: Chana (Bryk) Geldie, Blima Gejlichen, Sheindel (daughter of Tocha) Mirmelsztejn, Breindel Chazen, Moni Chazen, Pesach Szames, Lazil Mordysz, Yechiel Kanfer, Moni Lizk During the day the books were hidden in barrels, breadboxes and laundry tubs. People came in the evenings to exchange books and take new ones. Outside, we always posted guards of our own persuasion, lest we be interrupted.
It was about this time that a matzamaking machine arrived in the town. The youth helped do the work and also guarded against theft and missing weight. The youths were the ones to bring matzot to the houses of the poor people. An illegal JewishHebrew school was founded; also a drama club and other activities. In 1917 an official Hebrew library and Hebrew school were established, with the permission of the state. During the typhus epidemic of 19181920, volunteers were organized to tend to the sick people in their beds.
Avraham Wertheim (a relative of the rabbi) brought us Zionism. When elections were held for the Russian parliament, two representatives came to Shumsk: the first was Goldsztejn representing the merchants, the second was a Zionist. Wertheim said that Number 8, the number representing Goldsztejn, implies boycott. We don't need them, said Wertheim, we don't need to do business here. We need to build our own country in the Land (of Israel).
In 1936 the Revisionist movement was founded, and internal struggles intensified. We also had several Bundists, and a few communists, but they had no effect on the town.
The craftsmen in the town were peace loving Jews. Who doesn't remember Matti the blacksmith, ChaimYidel the tailor, Yitzchak Baruch the shoemaker, Chaim the tailor, Laizer the furrier. All of them did substandard work. Some were very impulsive. (Their inferior work probably stemmed from) harsh socioeconomic conditions and great difficulty in making a livelihood. But none of them was an informer, they didn't harm a soul. Their revolutionary side was expressed in their desire to serve as gabbaim (synagogue beadles) or as cantors.
Worse than them were some pseudobalebatim. They were not Torah scholars, and didn't really have any kind of occupation either. They didn't know what they wanted.
Zionist activity swept away the intelligentsia, secular and religious alike, as they proudly bore the brunt of the work involved. After difficult days in the shopkeeper's fair, worries in making a living and competition woes, N.A. Geldie abandoned his store and the merchants and went to raise money for the Keren Hayesod. With him were: Pesach Bat [Bahat], Alter Jukielson, Mottel Segal, Hertz Milman, B. Wilskier, Motti [Mordechai] Sztejnman, Leib Korin, Y.M. Girszman, and many others as well! In the later years, most of the village's residents had children in Eretz Israel and planned on joining their offspring there eventually.
From the earliest years of my life, I remember the following people who used to appear in our house very often: Efroim Goldenberg (from Bielozorka), Yitzchok Szechver, and Chaim Wilskier. These men acted as mediators between people, but they did not receive payment. Of course, they also became Zionists and were active in the movement. I remember that I found Efroim to be especially interesting. He spoke a Yiddish that I barely understood, because his Yiddish was 90 percent Hebrew but with a different accent! He was a dear fellow, a refined and honorable Jew who used to read a lot. I never heard a bad word from him, never uttered a word of contempt or derision. He was as honest as a mirror, in business as well as daily life.
Avraham Rajch was a goodlooking, noble and interesting person. In spite of his religious education and knowledge, he was a big apikorus (heretic) yet he had the magnanimous nature of a good Jew. Avraham's beloved son, Moni, committed suicide by shooting himself when the 1906 Revolution did not succeed. (At the time, a group of people joined to together to kill themselves to break the heart of the Czar.) Avraham was very pained at his son's death. Despite his conservatism, he told me, Moni had good intentions, he wanted to do the right thing. He was a gifted pupil, he earned a gold medal and was accepted to the university. And suddenly he does such a stupid thing. Even now, I grieve for him.
I recall how one evening, YisraelMoshe approached Avraham to ask for charity (gemilut chasadim) to buy a cow, because his cow had dropped dead. YisraelMoshe's house was full of children, sick ones too, on top of everything else. Rajch protested, But you already owe me so much; your debt grows from year to year! Do you think I have an endless supply [of money]? YisraelMoshe lowered his eyes, and left. About 10 p.m., Rajch's assistant Yisrael said that he was going home because it was late. Nu, go in peace, but take 50 zloty and bring it to YisraelMoshe, said Avraham.
He's almost certainly getting ready for bed now, Yisrael protested.
Don't worry; for this, it's OK to wake him up.
When our chalutzim (pioneers to Eretz Israel) went to collect the money the Jewish National Fund boxes, Rajch used to poke fun at them. Over there, a couple is walking, he said and immediately added, But it's better than taking from the guarantors.
And now a few words about my father, Yaakov Berensztejn. One day, the Russian Czar decreed that all the Jews must be evicted from their villages. The Jews from the nearby villages were, of course, depressed and worried; they sent representatives to our house, to talk to Father. (The villages were Surazh, Malaya Borovitsa, Karpilovka, Khudak, Kuty, PikolskyAtiske, Derganis, Bolozhivka, Marinek, Olyves, Kordyshev, and Novostav.)
A tall, thin, darkbrown Jew was so upset that he kept pulling out hairs from his curly beard. Next to him sat a goodlooking fellow with a wide and powerful body and red cheeks; his name was Reuven Winokur, who kept looking at my father submissively. Next to him sat two brothers from Marinek: Yechezkel, with a quiet, refined face; and his brother, with a gaunt, greentinged face and a pointy beard. Then there was a handsome, tall Jew with a wide black beard: he was Meir from Bolozhivka (Gursztein).
These visitors spent a full day and night together, consulting with Father. The final decision was: to turn all the village Jews into craftsman/tradesmen, so that they wouldn't be subject to expulsion. Thus, of the Jews who came to consult with Father, one became a religiousstudies teacher (melamed), another a blacksmith, and the third a shoemaker. Police chief Kaltenberg, who was friendly with my father, was of great help in pulling this off. But Grandfather was forced to leave Obych.
This Kaltenberg provided the first 20 rubles towards the new lamp for the kloyz which used synthetic gas. Kaltenberg also studied Talmud and the Hebrew language. He helped obtain the release of Tzeli Min HaHar (Kopejka) who was accused of killing a nonJew. Buzhi, Tzeli's wife, declared that she would not go home until my father would obtain Tzeli's release she had five children and she was poor. Father went to great efforts to explain to her that the proceedings would take at least a day; he first needed to get all the facts and analyze the situation, as the police commander told him. Father called for Yitzchok Szechver (Zavadnik), they came to a decision, and at night the two of them traveled to Kremenets and resolved everything. The doctor in Kremenets determined that the nonJew's artery had burst from drinking too much liquor, thus causing his death.
Someone informed on Eliyahu the son of HirschNeta (Rojchman) that he was selling candles to churches without tax (Lighting Tax). When Kovke Berensztejn talked to the police chief about it, the latter added that someone had informed on Pinya Pelc that the fellow had purposely injured his foot to avoid army service. Many other issues came up as well, and Father took care of everything.
Yechezkel Rojch died, leaving a sick widow with four children. The eldest, Szymon, was 14 years old when he began to help his mother in the flour store that Father and ShmuelLeib Vigoda set up for her. The three girls married and Szymon eventually became quite wealthy.
Now we hear someone knocking: it's Malka the Cripple with her wooden foot, crying bitterly. Her oven has broken down and now she has no way to earn her livelihood. She bakes holiday confections, and makes a living from it. Yidel Zak used to say that parents became impoverished from the money their children spent on Malka's pastries.
After Father died, it turned out that we had to register or take care of several apartments that my father helped the owners evade various fines. There was the apartment of Shmuel Kotik, and the apartment of Hirsch Rojchman who was supposed to pay a tax on his son Michoel who emigrated to America; then the apartments of Chana Gengen and Binyamin Shochet.
It is hard to list everyone and everything. Kovke Berensztejn was an important figure who lived not only for his own family but for all the Jews. When I returned from prison in 1933, my brother Fajwel admonished me for sticking my neck out to help other Jews. They were all released, and you of all people had to do jail time?! My answer was short: Our father taught us to sacrifice ourselves for each and every Jew.
Several of the town's women are also engraved in my memory, such as BessyRayze the wife of the gabbai. She walked around in the cemetery like an important director. She approached Father's headstone, knocked on it with her long pole and said, Shalom to your holy soul; tranquility for your [eternal] rest; your children are standing here then listed their names, delivered a long speech, and left us. After all, people were waiting for her; without her, no one could open a book.
Nu, Dina Perl used to shed tears when I took her to vote for the Polish parliament. It was in the fall, the ground was a bit muddy, she walked with the long staff in her hands, and said, Tell me, what decree has fallen on us that I must go vote now?
Rayze the wife of the gabbai was a very handsome woman. But she was hunched and bent over with her two baskets of challah for Shabbat that she would collect from the housewives. When there was no room left in the baskets she put the rest in her aprons and thus, weighed down, was barely able to drag herself around. Secretly she brought each family or person what they needed for Shabbat.
Rivka, wife of Chaim Shuster, was a happy woman. To her, potato soup was as good as chicken soup; roasted potatoes were like cutlets. She was always happy. However, she was serious and focused when she did the tahara ritual for the deceased. Frequently, a tear or two would well up in her eyes. Yes, Rivka was all heart and soul. She was widowed at a young age and was left with five children. I used to drop by her house frequently. Her children were very straight and honest, decent, and quiet.
The people in our town lived in peace and tranquility. Everyone knew everyone else, we were like one family; together in joy and in suffering. Then there was the case of Mendel Rojzen, who had a toohigh opinion of himself. He had no children, and was not much of a Torah scholar. But he had to do something, so what he did was to create controversy: He proposed to our rabbi, Mordechai Lerner, to be just a rebbe: accept notes with requests, conduct hitbodedus (special prayers in seclusion), and let his son, Bere'le, be the rabbi.
The rabbi did not want to humiliate Mendel so he simply didn't answer him. But the son Bere'le immediately refused. Mendel Rojzen, with the wide pants as he was called, brought a rabbi from old Constantine; and also brought a shochet (ritual slaughterer) called Avraham Chervitz. The latter was a wise, learned Jew who was not quarrelsome at all, and was able to compensate for the shortcomings of the rabbi (that he had brought).
Mendel's holy work was to run after the slaughterers, the butchers of the other side, and would do anything to provoke a conflict. He became the head gabai (beadle) of the main Beit Knesset, which was managed by the great philanthropist M. Bat; Bat was the one who built the Beit Knesset and brought in Rabbi Mordechai [Lerner] from Radzivilov, at the time. And he (Bat) recruited Rabbi Mordechai because Bat's brotherinlaw, the wealthy gvir Mess, was an enthusiastic supporter of Rabbi Yosele, Rabbi Mordechai's father.
Rabbi Mordechai used to be chazan (cantor) for some of the more weighty prayers on the High Holy Days, and he came to blow the shofar for ne'ila. Once, when the rabbi came to lead the Hineni ha'ani mi'maas prayer, Mendel wouldn't let him approach the bima (platform)! The rabbi had a few supporters: Pinchas'l Ingerlejb, Yitzchak Shochet, Berl Klujzman and others. Pinchas'l, who never talked during the prayers, could not control himself when this happened and asked Mendel, How do you dare humiliate a rabbi, today on Yom Kippur?! The answer was: I'm making fun of all of you. It was not long before Mendel became ill: His clothes started to hang awkwardly on him, he went to Vienna to consult with famous physicians, but nothing helped.
Two melamdim (teachers of religious studies) stand out in my memory from all my years in cheder. One was Shimon Berg and his wife. Shimon was as good as the light of day: he was quiet, he had a pleasant, affable personality and always a smile on his face, and he got us to do and learn everything he wanted. His wife used to sew and hum songs while she worked. Their home was extremely clean. She never let us go out without a winter coat. Before we ate, she instructed us to wash our hands. The other teacher, Benny, had a yellow tinge, but was good as sunlight. He loved nature and, in the spring, gladly sent us outside to the sunlight. On Lag Ba'Omer, he'd go with us to the field, behind Rajch's flour mill, where the cows used to graze. He'd try to pluck an orange flower when our backs were turned, and then he'd occasionally bring it to his nose to sniff, when he thought we weren't looking. He would explain all unpleasant acts in the Chumash as coincidental phenomena; every evil act he would interpret as a form of social aberration. He had great talent in teaching us the material, in a way that we could understand.
Who doesn't remember Frojka the melamed? Once I was in Rabbi Yossele's house, old Jukielson was also there as well as Shlomo Shtzaveli. Suddenly R' Frojka entered and said, Rabbi, you called for me and so I have come to see you. We wanted to leave but Shlomo stopped us. He (Shlomo) hurried to prostrate himself at R' Frojka's feet. With tears in his eyes, Shlomo started to kiss Frojka's feet and asked for forgiveness for the tribulations he had caused. Frojka stood, his face white as snow, large tears pouring from his eyes, and unable to utter a word. What was happening here? A few years earlier, Shlomo had summoned R' Frojka to the rabbi on suspicion of stealing 300 dollars from his (Shlomo's) house, when he taught the children. Frojka didn't try to deny the charge but asked to give him a few days to get the money and return it to him. And that's what he did: Frojka sold a store in the market that had belonged to his oldest daughter, and paid his debt. Time passed. One fine day, Shlomo's partner became ill and he told Shlomo that he had once stolen 300 dollars from him. Since Shlomo's partner knew he was dying, he wanted to ask for forgiveness for his sin. Shlomo promptly fainted. Now he had come before the rabbi to ask Frojka to forgive him, to forgive for everything, and to state what he wanted in compensation for the embarrassment and shame inflicted on him. Meanwhile he returned the 300 dollars to R' Frojka. Frojka cries, weeps, he forgives him for everything but asks not to tell anyone about the incident. He has children to marry off, and people might misinterpret things. Shlomo cries, kisses Froike and says, R' Froike, why didn't you deny immediately? Why did you sell your store? Jews he shouts tell me how can I redeem my sins toward the dear, honest rebbe? Yes, that was R' Frojke the melamed.
The year is 1915. Shumsk is full of numerous refugees from the towns of: Radzivilov, Kremenets, Verba, Kuzin, Brestotzka. They were all given a joyful welcome and many of them viewed Shumsk as a second home. The Sender Seforim family brought us much Zionism and Hebrew. He was a prominent Talmud scholar, had served as a shochet of Verba. Zvi (Herman) Rosenberg's contribution was to considerably raise the level of Hebrew taught in the school.
Dr. Jakobson, who lived with us for 50 years, is deserving of much praise for healing our sick. When he built an apartment for himself, he took a Torah scroll from our kloyz and invited the public to his place for a minyan (to make up a prayer quorum). At that opportunity, he showed that he had semicha (rabbinical ordination) from the great Kurland yeshiva. When I was in Shumsk, I paid a visit to the cemetery. The path to Rachmanov was paved with Jewish tombstones. The vandals were only unable to uproot the gravestone of Dr. Jakobson, therefore they smashed it to pieces.
I was in Shumsk on Chol Hamoed Sukkot of 1956. It took much effort to find my house. The town had changed completely, it was not even a tiny village; it looked like a ranch or farm, dark, without electricity. The merry river was gone, and the sweet frog symphony was no more. Don't make fun of me; those frogcroakings had been lovely music to me. True, I also loved the folk musician minstrels (klezmers); they all played softly, they were all good. When the children encircled them, the klezmers didn't send them away. Buchman and his fiddle frequently brought us close to tears. But Yankel's bass with its great lower bout, Dudi with his shiny brass trumpet, Yankovsky and his clarinet these only made us happy. I remember the wedding of Fruma Kac: The welltodo Sachish, Prilucki and Marcus inlaws asked Buchman to play Kol Nidrei. His music brought tears to everyone's eyes. Buchman suggested that everyone go outside, to the large, empty valechlech (market square), and began to play freilich happy marching tunes. They danced till the middle of the day and then he accompanied them to their lodgings with lovely marches.
Where is Shumsk today?!
Let us all be consoled by the knowledge that the memory of the dear, beloved Jews of Shumsk, murdered by the German and Ukrainian executioners, will always remain holy.
by Manny Rubin (Avraham Schochet's grandson)
Translated by Howard Freedman
My small shtetl,
Its surroundings so beautiful
Houses straight in a row,
Study houses, a synagogue between them.
Streets short and long
Shops in a line on the square
The Braver, a distillery, and also a mill
All beautiful and delicious to everyone's senses.
The walk to the woods
Through the wood and up the Gorki
When every Sabbath, everyone big and small
Would head from the shtetl
After the delight and rest of Sabbath
Everybody, everybody, you and I.
And the orchard at the New Town
In summer used to blossom so well.
I think now of you and your people
And of your beautiful evenings
The sky, such a pure blue, moon shining
In it, I remember today
The quiet streets, the people sleeping
There was always happiness, cheerfulness
But suddenly evil took you.
Obliterated, I can no longer see you.
By the hand of German murderers
There remains no more than burnt walls.
And together with you
Your people were obliterated
My sisters, brothers, and who was not?
O Shumsk, I will never forget you
In my memory you will always be engraved.
by Fayge and Yosef Mednik as told to Muni Chazenr
Translated by Howard Freedman
|Notes: Howard Freedman's translation from Yiddish to English was augmented by Rachel Karni using a YiddishtoHebrew translation prepared by Ahuva Shalom. Rachel Karni prepared the following introduction.
Introduction: Fayge/Tziporah (Geldi) Mednik was a native of Shumsk. Her parents were Nachum Asher Geldi, a merchant born in 1890, and Chana (Bryk) Geldi, born in 1895. Fayge's parents and her sister Susia all perished in Shumsk. Fayge's brother Pinchas Geldi/Giladi survived the war, hiding in Shumsk itself and in the area, and after the war he settled in Israel. He is referred to several times in the accounts in this yizkor book by other survivors.
Yosef Mednik was from Mizoch, near Shumsk, and married Fayge Geldi before World War II. During the period of Soviet rule in Shumsk that began in September 1939, Yosef headed an economic cooperative in Shumsk known as the MST or Municipal Company for Supplies. With the German invasion in the summer of 1941, he and his wife fled from Shumsk into the Soviet Union. While in the Soviet Union the two became separated when Yosef was taken into the Red Army. They were later reunited in Tashkent.
After the war the Medniks were in Wetzler, Germany. In December 1949 they immigrated to the United States with their two children. In America their names became Fay and Joseph Madnick and they had two more children. Shortly after their arrival in the United States, they spoke at a meeting of Shumskers in New York, relating for the first time to those in America what had happened in Shumsk during the war. Yosef's talk was transcribed by Muni Chazen.
From the following detailed description of events that took place in Shumsk after the Medniks had left the town, it is clear that they had met in Europe with Shumskers who had been in Shumsk at the time of the massacre and survived and that they had heard firsthand reports from them. Almost all the events they describe in this talk are corroborated by survivors' accounts in earlier chapters of this yizkor book, in the section On the Holocaust. In the few cases where the Medniks are the only ones to tell about a specific incident, we have learned from researchers at Yad Vashem that unfortunately such incidents were known to have occurred in western Ukraine.
Joseph Madnick passed away in 1987, and Fay in 1990.
On June 22, 1941, the war began with a black cloud of death and destruction for the world as a whole, and especially for us Jews.
On the 5th of July at 6:00 in the evening, Hitler's gang arrived in Shumsk. As soon as they arrived, they began to beat and harass all of the shtetl's Jews. They began by cutting the beards of elderly Jews and looting Jewish property and goods. And within a few days, they gave an order for Jews to sew yellow patches onto their backs and onto the front over their hearts, as well as a white band on the right sleeve with a Star of David, so that a Jew could be recognized a mile away. The patches had to be 20 square centimeters. If a patch was any smaller the person was beaten until he fell dead on the spot. From such a punishment fell the first casualty in Shumsk: Berel Lalkis BenTsion Burdman's soninlaw, the husband of Reyzel.
Here is Shumsk… buried
Every day, from dawn until late at night, groups of men were driven to work in the forests, ten kilometers from Shumsk. The work was more difficult than a person could endure. For being unable to lift a heavy beam on the first try, a man was beaten until he lost consciousness. Obtaining food was completely out of the question.
Upon returning from an entire day of work in the forest, if a Jew was found with a piece of bread, a potato, a beet, a carrot, or something of this sort (which some brought to nourish their starving children), he was hanged.
Jews began to purchase food from gentiles covertly. For a piece of bread, cabbage, or potato, one had to pay with gold coins. A good suit was given away for a loaf of bread.
That is how it was until the establishment of the ghetto.
On March 12th  during the morning count an order was given to begin work to erect a fence, the purpose of which was to isolate the Jews inside a ghetto. They gathered the shtetl's Jews together to dig ditches for a fence, which stretched from the raised road onward, going from Baruch Godl Shprecher's house until Yakov'ke Berensztejn's house and then up to the monastery that was the Polish horse stable. From there the fence ran to Shimon Duchowny's house and Nachum Kac's, until Mates Kreyzelman's across the way. Then the fence extended until Yente Ingerlejb's house, and from there to Yudl Zak's, Sholem Lalkes', Avrahamke the tailor's, and then from Zelig Duchowny's to Zeyde Kac's house. From there it went to Mendel Tober's house, Bayarki's house, and Leib Shimon's house, until the brewery on the river.
The other side the fence enveloped the home of Rabbi Yossele, the bathhouse, the Kanfers' home, and all of the houses that were by the river. In the middle were the study houses and the Great Synagogue, which was already nearly 200 years old. It was all enclosed by a high fence to create a ghetto. The fence was 3 meters high, with boards joined together to form a wall, so that one could not see out through them.
They then rounded up the Jews into this area together with all their possessions.
The congestion was terrible. People were as crowded there as herrings in a barrel, several families to a house. Stationed around the ghetto were Ukrainian policemen plainly murderers from the nearby villages. They stood guard to prevent anyone from leaving the ghetto. Life became even more bitter than before. Each person received nothing more than ten dekagrams of bread a day, and nothing else was permitted into the ghetto. Only when a Christian felt pity and tossed in some bread did some lucky person have the privilege of catching the bread and feeling fortunate. The hunger was enormous. Often people fought until blood was shed for the sake of a piece of bread. People began to swell from hunger. Children and tiny infants died of hunger.
On one of these calamitous days, the bandits arrived in the ghetto and assembled all the men, women, boys, and girls. With clippers, they cut the hair from everybody's head and beard. They put the hair in a sack and left.
After this work, many of the Germans departed, and only a landver with Gestapo police remained.
From time to time, a forced contribution was imposed on the ghetto through the Judenrat that had been established in the ghetto, and a collection was taken for the contribution. Thus, for example, they once demanded the delivery of 500 gold watches with gold chains, women's necklaces, and gold bracelets. The ultimatum was that if the items were not delivered in the amount dictated by 7 o'clock, they would take a hundred people out of the ghetto and shoot them.
Afterward, they demanded diamonds, gold rings, furs, sewing machines, bicycles, motorcycles, gramophones, typewriters, fine suits, gold coins, and other items with the threat that if we did not comply, they would take 600 people out to be shot. The ghetto was then surrounded by more Ukrainians murderers with machine guns. People brought out the last things they owned. People fell on each other's necks and said, Who knows if we are going to be able to come up with the collection? God knows who among us will fall as martyrs, should we fail to fulfill the demands.
Every day all the men were driven from the ghetto to do strenuous work in the forest and to break stones for roads. And as they left and returned from work, someone at the gate searched them to see whether any of them were carrying a piece of bread with them.
People in the ghetto were like geese in a cage. Each wanted to comfort the other, telling the person he was speaking with that he had had dreamed of the merits of his ancestors, and that salvation would come soon. People used to sit in front of their dwellings and sleep there because inside it was too crowded and suffocating. Out of the hunger and crowded conditions emerged a typhus epidemic. Many people, especially small children, perished from it. It was crowded, people were hungry, and one slept bumping into another's head.
In the evening, the men came back from work worn out, hungry, and exhausted. They would fall to the floor to rest. The wives and children would ask: Father, did you bring anything? If the father should have had the fortune to bring some potatoes or a beet, it was divided among the children, and they ate it raw.
Parents and children felt wretched after waiting an entire day for the father to bring something. If he did not succeed, the children would collect potato peelings and eat them.
Once a false accusation was made that Jews were raising pigs in the ghetto. The landver drove in with Gestapo police on motorcycles, and, with revolvers in their hands, began to beat men, women, and children whoever came into their hands so they would surrender the pigs. We fainted in fear. We could not understand why this was happening.
However, there was among us in Shumsk a Pole, Victor Katshanavski, who was an extreme antiSemite. He had made an agreement with other bandits and with the landver, and through a nearby hole audaciously smuggled in a pig. The Judenrat came to the place and found the pig, and they were forced to lead the pig in a parade through the ghetto. And later, as a punishment, all of the pretty girls were rounded up and taken away to the landver to be raped. When they did not allow themselves to be raped, they were shot.
The worst began on the 15th of the month of Av, 1942. They stopped calling people to work. The ghetto was now completely sealed. People were no longer given any bread. The situation was becoming worse day by day.
An order was given to list the names of everybody in the ghetto. Men were to be listed separately, and women and children separately. All of the working men would be given work permits, as they called it, if they were capable of working. These people walked about happily because they would be able to leave the ghetto for work. When everyone had been registered, people waited for what would now happen. Only, meanwhile, the gates of the ghetto were not opened. On the contrary, where one murderer had been posted between the post office and the glass works, there now stood two. People peered out from their attics day and night to see what was happening outside the ghetto.
People noticed that the Germans were transporting gentile men and women who were holding shovels from the village of Krilitz. It was understood that this was not good and that something terrible was going to happen.
Several days later, on the 26th of Av it was a Saturday night at around midnight an entire battalion of Nazis arrived and surrounded the ghetto, so that at every two steps there stood two murderers. For three days they stood with their rifles pointed toward the ghetto and gave the order that nobody should move from his or her place. Should anyone leave his or her house, or move from one building to another, he would immediately be shot. From these bullets fell Valie the mezshe, Shaya Bat, Dudi Bikovitzer, and several others.
The martyrs were left lying there, as people were scared to go out to bury them. The heat was stifling , and the corpses began to emit a strong stench, such that it was difficult simply to breathe. Motl Chazen risked his life and, along with the chairman of the Judenrat and two Jewish policemen from the ghetto, with upraised arms set out to go to the fence to ask the murderers if they would permit him to go to the landver. They asked the landver why they had surrounded the ghetto and killed many people who were still lying there, and whom people were afraid to bury. It was hot and the bodies were already emitting a stench, and this could lead to an epidemic. The landver answered that they had surrounded the ghetto because they had heard shots from the ghetto (which was an utter lie). Therefore they had to conduct a housebyhouse search in the ghetto to look for weapons. Should nothing be found, the guarding of the ghetto would be relaxed. In the meantime, the corpses could be gathered and buried within the ghetto, since it was forbidden to exit the ghetto. The martyrs were buried in Leib Shimon's garden.
The mood inside the ghetto was very tense and depressed. Everybody lived in deadly terror, as the guarding of the ghetto did not subside. One felt in the air that something awful was being prepared for the Jews. People feared leaving their houses, so they sat and waited for what would come.
The complete extermination of the ghetto came.
This was on a Wednesday, the eve of Rosh Hodesh Elul 1942, at 4:00 in the afternoon. Rabbi Reb Yosele asked everyone to fast and to pray that a miracle would happen and we would be helped and rescued from the murderers. That same Wednesday, the murderers had driven into the ghetto and told the Judenrat that everyone who had been given a work card was permitted to come to the square and line up. They would take these men to work, and everybody who did not have such a certificate would be taken to a concentration camp. Those who were going to work were permitted to bring their families with them. Thus, many people came out of their homes, as most people wanted to extricate themselves from the sealed ghetto.
When everybody was in the square, they were ordered to march around the square and then told to sit on the ground without moving. People already saw what going to happen to them. Next, they called on those eligible to work to stand up in rows with their wives. Their children remaining behind, they departed the ghetto, surrounded by the murderers. This took place in the square by the synagogue.
The first group left through the gates between Avrahamke the tailor and Shaya Duchowny's house.
This happened on the second day of the month of Elul. They led the group of Jews to the New Town. When the group of Jews was near Pesach Bat's house, they were attacked by bandits, whose presence had been arranged earlier, and were beaten murderously. Thus were the Jews led close to the Christian cemetery. There, three huge pits were prepared. A large board was placed alongside each pit. People were ordered to undress and go up in groups of ten upon the board. Two Gestapo agents shot them in the head, and the holy ones immediately fell down into the pit.
The pits were 6 meters wide, 3 meters long, and 8 meters deep.
After every three or four groups of ten were shot, the Germans called on the Ukrainian murderers to go down into the pit and compact the bodies and sprinkle them with chlorine.
Thus was the first group of approximately 1,500 Jews buried in a single pit. Once the Germans had taken care of the first group of Jews, they went back for the weak and elderly Jews, along with women and children. They threw the small children who could not walk onto trucks covered with tarpaulins, and drove them to the pits. They threw them in alive and shot them with machine guns in the pit. When the second group arrived, the German murderers took out the older children, and finished the toddlers' grave with them. This was the second pit. All of the remaining Jews were brought to the third pit in the same manner and sprinkled with chlorine.
Afterward, the gentiles covered the pits, and what remained of 4,500 Jews were three large graves.
Some Shumskers succeeded at the last minute to escape from the pits. They were Berel Segal, Avraham Refzon, and Yoske the wagon driver. They alone among all of our townspeople survived, having witnessed the death of our Shumsk martyrs. While they were escaping they were shot at, but were fortunate enough to save themselves.
They survived in the fields amid the piles of grain and some gentiles helped them to hide.
Gentiles said that for three days the tops of the pits heaved. When the murderers had become tired of shooting, they pushed the martyrs into the pits alive.
After the annihilation, there still remained a few families in bunkers, but they were found and murdered: Nachman Sosna with his wife; Kopl Segal the butcher with six daughters, two sonsinlaw, one son, and nine grandchildren; Zelig Duchowny with his wife and three children; Avraham Oife's wife with four children; Goldberg and his family; Sholem Sosna's daughter with her husband, Yenkl Efros' son; Hirsh Szwarc's daughter, and others.
On the sixth day of the final slaughter, there were still hidden in a cellar Shlomo's son Yudl Dovid with his family: Yudl with his wife, five daughters, five sonsinlaw, two sons, two daughtersinlaw, and eight grandchildren. They were starving in the cellar, and had run out of food and water. Two young children died from lack of water, and had to be buried within the cellar. The oldest son David took a chance and went out to search for a little water. He was spotted and tracked, and the hiding place was reported to the Germans. They took them out and, next to the graves, dug a separate pit and shot all of them. Thus they lay in a separate grave.
It is reported that there were still others who remained and were able to save themselves, and now live in Israel. But they are very few.
by Chaim Geler
Translated by Michael Goldstein
|Editor's note: After the massacre of almost the entire Jewish community of Shumsk on August 12, 1942, about 100 people who had succeeded in hiding but were subsequently found were selected by the Germans, housed in the synagogue and assigned work. During the ensuing five weeks, many of them were killed, and a few succeeded in escaping. Then only 15 remained in Shumsk. Accounts of this five-week period are in other chapters of the Shumsk Yizkor Book: The Last Days of Shumsk by Ruth Stztejnman Halperin, My Last Days in Shumsk by Haim Cisin, Shumsk, My Tragic Host by Moshe Grenoch, and Shumsk at Her End by Yaakov (Yankel) Geler, son of Chaim Geler.|
From all of Shumsk only 15 of us were left, among them myself and my poor son. We worked for the Germans, serving them and cleaning for them, and at night came back to the synagogue to spend the night in the Ghetto.
Once, when I came to the German, who was a sailor, he was not at home, and his wife, a Russian, said to me: Tomorrow they are going to shoot you and finish you off, the last 15 Jews. Save yourself; I hate the Germans; do not sleep in the synagogue tonight.
I conveyed this to everyone and the 15 of us took off to the villages rather than spend the night in the synagogue.
I and my son Yankel went to a gentile, who was a Shtundist, an evangelical that is, a neighbor of mine. When he would meet me on my way to work for the Germans, he would say that he would risk his life to save me and my son. I would tell him that it was dangerous for him to hide me. But on that night, I went to him and told him everything. Do as you see fit, I said to him.
As we were talking a gentile from a village came in and says he brought the Germans potatoes and the storehouse is closed, so he has to make the trip back home with the potatoes. My acquaintance speaks up: Take these two Jews home with you and keep them safe.
This gentile was also a Shtundist, but he had come with another gentile, not a Shtundist, and he says that he was afraid of the other gentile. So I tell him, Go to the other man, let him go home alone, and at night take us to your house.
I told him to go just out of town and wait for us. From there we would go together.
Leaving town was highly dangerous but we safely made it through all the streets. It was very dark. We arrived at the spot, and the gentile was not there. He was fifty meters further on but in the dark we didn't find one another. So, we went back to our acquaintance.
The gentile also went back there, so the three of us now set off for his village.
It was terribly dark. We walked 30 kilometers all the way to his home. Our clothes were wet from perspiration. He took us up to the garret, where we dropped down and fell asleep like the dead.
In the morning he comes up and says his wife is very scared to keep us. The Germans come into the village every day, so we must move to another gentile, he will take us there.
It took nine days for him to find a gentile, also an evangelist, and we went to him. On the way he says, Don't reveal that you were staying with me. Say that I found you in the woods. Otherwise he will tell me to go on keeping you.
In the five weeks that only 15 of us had remained in the ghetto, I had realized that we had to put away some goods in case we managed to save ourselves. I had left two crates/trunks of belongings with my Polish acquaintance, clothes and other things. So I tell the gentile, You hide us and I will reward you. I asked Valenik to go to the Pole, take the belongings from him, sell them, and buy provisions for our current gentile [the one now caring for us].
He came back having found everything was in order, but he had seen a new pizshak, so he put it on himself. This was my older son's pizshak, which he had never even managed to try on when alive. When I saw the pizshak I almost fainted; I felt ill and the gentile noticed it. So he took off the pizshak and said, You can take it with you to the garret. It's cold there.
But I didn't take it.
At night he would keep us in the house because it was very cold upstairs. One night I heard a loud knocking on the door and shouting in Russian, Open. I understood that it was the Ukrainian hooligans. So I yanked my son awake and we got out in time to the garret. The hooligans saw that there were no Jews there, so they left.
From then on, we were afraid to be in the house. We stayed in the cellar until Passover. It was very cold in the cellar but better cold than dead.
Once the landlord came to the cellar with the elder Shtundist and he saw that I was standing and praying with tfillin. The elder said, You ought to know that we consider tfillin foul. I would like you to burn them; we are not allowed to have them in the house. I instructed Yankele to remove the parshiot, to put them away somewhere safe, and to burn the batim.
And so every day we now prayed with parshiot. During Passover we did not want to eat hametz so we got by on three to four potatoes a day. Non-kosher food never passed our lips and the gentile did a fine job of guarding us.
One time, panic broke out. Ukrainian robbers came in looking for Poles to murder, so the parents of our landlord's wife, Poles, came to hide. Says he, unfortunately, I must save my wife's parents and you have to go to someone else.
Meanwhile we learned that other Jews, a boy and a girl, were hiding in the village. I said to him, bring us to that gentile and I will also pay for the two of them. He went and came back, and said the other one did not agree. So I sent off my son: You go to him and promise him a lot [of money].
The gentile heard this and agreed. We came into the attic and two people were sitting there, a boy and a girl, afraid that he might send them away and keep us. I calmed their fears and told them that I was also paying for them, and the four of us remained.
I arranged with the Shtundist that he allow us to dig out a pit for the four of us. We did the digging at night and covered the pit with boards, earth and planted grass over it, so that it would not be detected. The pit adjoined the chamber and he handed us food, bread, potatoes and water through the small door.
We did not go out of the pit. We relieved ourselves in a pan and at night we emptied it.
In about March, the gentile comes and says that the Russians are already here, and we should leave as he no longer wants to keep us.
It was cold, the frost strong and the snow over a meter deep. From lying for so long in one place, I could not stand straight, but he simply drove us out.
At 12 midnight we went out, took with us two more Jews who were at a neighbor's, and set off into the frost and blizzard. The Partisans noticed us. We were going to Shumsk and it turns out the Germans were still there. We stayed there until a Jewish Partisan saw us and told us that Jews were gathering in Zdolbunov, near Rovno, so with his help we went to Zdolbunov, from there to Kiev and after much wandering we arrived in Israel, thank God.
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