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A Mother's Prayer
(A chapter from the memorial book “The Jews of Tarnow”)

Dedication: to the memory of my dear parents Menachem
and Yocheved Ginzberg and my sisters, Batia and Malka
who died as martyrs in Belzec on Rosh Hashana 5703 (1943)

by Nathan-Ari Ginzberg, Bene-Brak, Israel

Translated by Daniel Kochavi


Nathan-Ari Ginzberg


The year of 5702 (1942) is almost over, a bloody year when hundreds of Jewish communities were wiped out and millions of Jews died martyred in all manners of death.

The Tarnow ghetto too suffered sacrifices. During the first days of the “action” thousands from various surrounding locations were cruelly murdered in cemeteries by the cursed Nazis. Jewish blood was spilled like water and thousands of ghetto residents were transported in cattle cars under horrible conditions. They died in the gas chambers of the Belzec extermination camp.

But that was only the beginning of the execution of the Satanic plan known shamefully as “the Final Solution”.

Life in the ghetto was one of fear, hunger and hard labor for those condemned to die. “Those who work will live” was the deceptive slogan of the Nazis to delude the Jews. Their ugly aim was to preserve Jewish manpower as long as possible.

Early in the morning, groups exited the ghetto gates to work at hard labor. We worked for 12 hours and returned to the ghetto tired, dirty, hungry, in pain. In spite of this, every man and woman continues to work to survive. Exploited Jews carry out hard and dangerous work. This hard labor and poor nourishment weaken people day by day. This was our life, constantly fearful during work and upon returning to the ghetto, where we suffered from diseases, overcrowding and depression. As the saying goes: “ with fear in your heart you ask in the morning who will see the evening and, in the evening, you ask who will see the morning”.

At the same time, Job-like news about the slaughters of Jews taking place

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all over occupied Poland begin to reach us. We become aware that the entire civilized world has forgotten us and no one will rescue us from our horrible situation. The Gentile neighbors are against us. We become aware of Jews who hid in surrounding villages and, after their money and meager properties were taken from them, were denounced to the abominable Gestapo, tortured and killed.

We start desperately to look for hiding places in basements, attics and warehouses. Young people who look “Aryan” obtain phony Polish IDs and escape from the ghetto. Then, two days before Rosh Hashana, sleep eludes Jews in the ghetto. A bitter rumor spreads like a storm, started by the Jews who live at the edge of the ghetto, that heavy guards from the police force and the SS armed with light and heavy weapons are stationed around the ghetto to prevent any escape. No one sleeps in the ghetto. A terrible panic spreads among the unfortunate Jews.

The Judenrat (Jewish council) officials announce that every worker must surrender his work ID to be stamped by the Gestapo. Workers who receive a special stamp will remain alive because they are considered essential to the war effort. A large crowd gathers near the Judenrat to obtain the special stamp on their worker permit. However only a few workers get their permits right away. After several hours a riot breaks out when thousands of workers, including myself, are left without permits since they are never returned. Some forged stamps are used but, unfortunately, I am left without a permit after it is taken by the Judenrat police.

Later that night I return home. On the way I encounter families with children and bundles - running away terrified, like animals caught in a trap, in order to hide in bunkers prepared earlier. Here and there the hiding places are further improved, well-hidden and stocked with some food and water to wait out the storm. Everybody looks for ways to save their life and their family.

When I arrive home, all are ready to hide in the bunker. Each has a bundle and they also have prepared some food and warm clothes for me. I join my family and we all struggle to enter the small storeroom that is already crowded with 15 people including small children. It is terribly hot and suffocating, making it hard to breathe. Any light sound that can be heard outside causes great fear of discovery. We especially must strictly keep the young children quiet.

The children are asleep early in the morning. But the adults started to recite Slichot prayers. I am standing next to my dear mother who is reciting her Slichot prayers (note: special prayers before Rosh Hashana) with heartbreaking sobbing. Her tears are flowing on her prayer book. Standing so close to her, I can make out parts of her prayers recited with sublime devotion.

Her eyes are closed and her lips recite a silent prayer. She pleads for mercy: Our God who is in heaven...I know that we are in great danger...who knows what our fate will be....if it is so decreed

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I am ready to die a martyr's death...I plead that a remnant of my family be spared and children survive..that at least a small memory of ours remains...

Her holy and pure lips murmur the last prayer that I heard from her and will never forget it, “a mother's prayer” said simply and with utter belief that the last hour has arrived and the end is near.

In the east dawn has broken. The men wrap themselves in the Tallit and put on the Tefillin. Who knows--this may be their last prayer? They recite it with great devotion. I also join the prayer. Afterwards I come out of the bunker to escape the suffocating air inside and breathe some fresh fall air. Other people are afraid to come out, but I gather my courage after listening to my mother's prayer that instilled in me the belief that I would be saved.

That morning, Jews who returned from the assembly ground tell me that the Nazis have started to round up and deport ghetto Jews who did not have “stamps”. I also found out that young people's work IDs are stamped.

I return to the bunker to consult with my parents about risking a return to the assembly ground. This would be extremely dangerous, practically submitting to the jaws of the Nazi lion not knowing if I would survive. My parents advise me to go, kiss me and hope that I will return alive.

Approaching the square, I see from afar young men returning holding work certificates stamped by the Gestapo. I finally decide to enter the ground and am initially seized with fear when I see a large number of Germans running around the ground. Work permits are stacked in a corner. I quickly find mine and stand in line for the table where a Gestapo man with a murderous face is sitting. He asks my age and my work place. After looking me over from top to bottom he finally stamps my ID card thus keeping me alive. I quickly leave the ground. Nearby I see Jews on their knees with their heads to the ground, unfortunate Jews caught by the Nazis to be sent to the extermination camp in Belzec. Germans armed with weapons and sticks surround and guard them. Anyone trying to raise his head is beaten to a pulp.

To this day I cannot understand how I survive. A real miracle since, after several hours, I found out that I was among the last people to obtain the stamp. People arriving after me in the yard were caught and deported.

The Germans, knowing that Jews were hiding in bunkers and were hard to find, realized that when they found out about the stamps people would come out on their own. Hundreds of Jews were thus caught and sent to Belzec.

I return to my family and tell them about my stamped ID. My dear father encourages me and me tells to remain strong when facing hardships. My dear mother tells me

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that her prayers and pleas the previous night brought this about. My parents bless me that no evil will happen to me and that I will be saved from the impure hands of the cursed Nazis.

This is the last night of the year. I give up my place in the hideout to ease the crowding since I am “privileged,” having received the stamp on my work card. Most young people live in the apartments since they were certified by the Nazis as laborers worth saving. Their parents and small children hide in the basements, the attics and closets.

In the morning I return to the bunker to check on my family and to bring them and other people food and water. I find very tired and sleepy people. The small children sleep a sweet sleep, not knowing of the terrible danger they are in.

In the morning I leave my precious family with wishes that we meet again in the evening. I close the bunker tightly and use a cabinet to hide the entrance. I then step outside to see what's happening.

Almost immediately I hear savage voices of Germans approaching with terrifying sniffing dogs yelling “Raus”! They order every person to come out to the yard and from there transport us under heavy guard to the deportation square. Other Germans with dogs stay behind and carry out a thorough search.

In the square there is terrible uproar dominated by yells of the Nazis who are gathering Jews from every corner of the ghetto. Men, women and children, old women and old men crouch in the center of the square. Poor Jews arrive without pause desperate, terrified and beaten as they are subjected to shoving and horrible shouts from the murderers. They are transported in groups of hundreds to a central place located in a school outside the ghetto. The sick, elderly and disabled who cannot walk are immediately murdered by the hundred of Nazis scouring the deportation square. Those who are able to work and allowed to remain in the ghetto are moved to the edge of the square. We remain there for hours in the burning heat without water and unable to move anywhere. Not far from us the selected Jews crouch. Seeing these poor Jews is heartbreaking as we are powerless to help.

At 3 PM the last transport leaves the ghetto to the assembly station outside. The action is about to stop until the cursed Nazis realize that the count of Jews to be sent to Belzec does not meet the target of their Satanic plan. They decide to choose the needed hundreds from those remaining in the camp.

A fat German, one of the Gestapo officers, is standing in the center of the square holding a stick. All the Jews who obtained the stamp by various means and believed they were safe, have to go in front of this German who decides in a blink of an eye “who shall live-and who shall perish”. The first victims are the elderlies and anyone

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holding a child by the hand. Parents, realizing this, cut an opening in the fence and smuggle the small children through that opening. The children escape and hide in the yards and the houses near the square. By now the German murderers realize what's happening and start chasing the escaping children. A shocking and nightmarish sight. Like wild beasts the Germans catch up with the poor small children and kill them in cold blood. Very few children are able to escape and save themselves. A hair-raising spectacle occurs in the center of the square. A father does not want to be separated from his young son and both are murdered right there by a Nazi.

It gets dark outside. The “action” nears the end. The remaining Jews, families with children and all those with stamps chosen nevertheless for deportation leave the ghetto. The Nazis have completed their criminal tasks and let us return home.

5702 (1942) ends, a bloody year of martyrs, including Tarnow martyrs. A new year, 5703, is about to begin. Those remaining in the departure square, mostly the youths who left their families in their hiding places and bunkers before going out, run quickly to find out what happened to their loved ones. I, among them, quickly reach our house where our bunker is located. The silence in the house is a bad omen. My heart tells me that a terrible disaster has happened. The bunker is completely empty. I only find some pieces of clothing and holy books strewn on the floor. I run like a mad man to our apartment to see if my loved ones are home. But, sadly, I find no one in the apartment. I burst into heartbreaking tears as do hundreds and thousands in the ghetto who today lost their dear ones. All walk around out of their mind, shocked and numbed by the immense pain.

That night we observe the beginning of the New Year ( Rosh Hashana). But in the ghetto, it feels like “Tisha B'Av” ( day of mourning to mark the destruction of the Jerusalem temples), loss, destruction, mourning and tears caused by the enormous disaster. Who could have imagined this? Only that morning I talked with and left my loved ones hoping to see them again after the storm. But the separation was forever. I am sentenced to never see them again and I walked mindlessly all night wondering and asking why? Why are we condemned to lose our parents and families and become orphans in a single day?

I then recall Rosh Hashana evenings before the war. Prayers in our synagogues full of people, the festive and elated spirits of the congregation. The streets crowded with Jews returning from synagogues and greeting each other with “Shana Tova” blessings. The house full of light and joy. A white tablecloth on the table, candlesticks lit up and festive foods with the entire family around the table.

The next day (in the ghetto) is the first day of Rosh Hashana. Here and there small groups of Jews gather for holiday prayers. In basements and well-hidden closets with a lookout

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posted to warn the worshipers should the Nazis approach.

The “Eicha” melody [translator note: the melody that is used on the holiday of Tisha B'Av to read the book of Eicha] is sung for the Rosh Hashana prayers. All the worshipers weep bitterly over the loss of their loved ones who were taken so cruelly from us. The “Unetanah Tokef [ Note: a major prayer recited on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur] has a special meaning for us as we, the condemned to death by the cursed Nazis, recite the verses “ who shall live and who shall die, who by water and who by fire, who by strangling and who by stoning”. In dread we recite the prayer quietly and our hearts weep. Who knows whether at this very moment our martyred beloved are being strangled and burned and what our fate will be? Who knows what bitter fate awaits us? We picture thousands of holy and pure Jews being led to the altars of extermination in Belzec. Thousands of Jews who in life and death are never parted.

In those hard moments I suddenly remember my dear mother's prayer and the last words of my wise father who told me to be brave and strong and to struggle courageously to stay alive.

I continue my prayers and pleas and my heart is filled with faith and certainty that, in the next world, I will be rescued from the killing hell and that my mother's prayer will come true.


Monument to the memory of the victim of the Nazi regime in Tarnow who were murdered in 1942-1943


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