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The Destruction of Zinkov[1]

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The destruction of Zinkov,
as related by Yehudit Weissblatt–Loyfer

by Y. R.

Translated by Yael Chaver

We now come to the most painful chapter of our book.

We, who have undertaken the responsibility of collecting material for this important chapter, did not have original sources for authentic information about the destruction of our town. We were not lucky enough to find Jews of Zinkov who had survived and could give us details of the great disaster that overtook our town. This was truly our main goal in assembling this memorial book, because filling it with memories of the time before the destruction, 40–50 years ago, would have completely sidetracked us. We knew that there were several survivors living in Kiev and in other towns in the U.S.S.R. Unfortunately, we could not send them too many questions or contact them properly because of the restricted relations between the United States and the U.S.S.R. Although we were recently able to somehow contact them, they supplied only general information that we already knew: the destruction of our town was total. It had been wiped off the face of the earth. None of its former residents were alive. It is also important to realize that between the time we left Zinkov (early 1920) and the outbreak of the terrible Second World War, we had no clear idea of the life that had developed there, and no social connections with the home we had left.

We made many inquiries in Israel, and a woman named Yehudis Vaynblat–Loyfer recently responded. She had endured the entire horrible tragedy of the Hitler occupation in Zinkov, and had survived. In letters, she recounted everything she had undergone. We now present her testimony word for word, as she wrote it down for us in her letters:

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“I am one of the few survivors who were able to save themselves and to go to Israel. My name is Ida Vaynblat of Zinkov, the granddaughter of Dodi the butcher. My current name is Yehudis Loyfer, and I live in Herzliya, Israel. Mrs. Raydman, of Zinkov, informed me that you were seeking material about the destruction of Zinkov. I congratulate you on your mission, and extend my hand to you from Herzliya, to Brooklyn.

 

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Yehudis Vaynblat–Loyfer, her husband and daughter

 

I am ready, difficult as it may be, to tell you everything that I know and have gone through, so that it shall remain as a memorial.

When the war began, I was seventeen and a half, and was a history student at the Kiev University. I could not evacuate, as I was immediately mobilized to help defend the city. When we were ordered to evacuate, it was too late. That is how I was seized by the German occupying forces.

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So I decided to go back to Zinkov. When I came home, almost all the Jews were still alive. As you recall, there was a great number of synagogues in the town, with roofs of straw or shingles, and dirt floors. People lived according to Jewish tradition, righteously and honestly. Over time, the straw roofs were replaced by shingles, the dirt floors by wooden boards, and life went on happily. The children grew up and studied, and their parents took pride in them. There were other changes as well. Rabbi Moyshele's large house was turned into a school; Rabbi Pinchesl's synagogue became a cinema. The synagogue of the cart–drivers, known as the “Kinsky,” became a granary for the rye grown in the Jewish kolkhoz. Prayers were held in the old synagogue of Mirele–Tsupe, and in a small anteroom. The older Jews sighed and moaned, and young people avoided the synagogue. So life went on.

Suddenly, a black cloud came over us – the plague of Hitler. They tortured us for a whole year, but let us live. It was life, yet not life. There was nothing to eat, and even a shortage of water. The water–carriers were not allowed to bring water from the two wells in the valley; besides, they would not have been able to do it, as their horses had immediately been seized. The minds of the Ukrainians, who had already been infected with racism, were easily poisoned by the Germans. Jews were now forbidden not only to work as individuals, but were even prohibited from selling anything, even water. Anything that could be bought from the peasants was in exchange for a coat, a dress, a shirt, or underwear–whatever could be bartered. People became swollen with hunger. Jews were no longer allowed even to draw or carry water from the well themselves, as before. Mothers had to stand by and watch their children suffer from thirst. It was hard, bitterly hard. Everything needed to be stolen; those who were caught either beaten or clubbed to death. Only when God sent rain could we collect a bit of water for drinking and cooking, if there was anything to cook…

My appearance was hardly Jewish, and I was taken for a Ukrainian woman. I would leave the city and buy, or barter, some flour, beans, or potatoes, to take to a different street every day. Only a few of us could do it. We were afraid that the Ukrainians would

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recognize us and hand us over to the Gestapo. This went on for an entire year. I, as well as the others, were concerned for the old and the sick, and nothing deterred us from helping them. Often, we were caught by the guards, who wanted to know why we visited the zhids so often.[2] But we were experts at evading them, sometimes escaping with only a few blows. Those who were in great need of help included the black rabbi, Yankev Ber, Moyshe Shoykhet, Mirl Tsupnis, Royze (the daughter of Tzale, Hershe's son), the old Kupitzes, Shiye Zayontchik, Shmuel Royfe, and others.

One Sunday morning, we heard horses in the street – Germans riding, singing and playing music. Well, we knew that the great calamity had arrived. No one went out on the street. People ran to hide in the hideouts they had prepared. People rushed around as though they were insane, fleeing to anything available – cellars, attics–as though that would save them from disaster.

Then, it began. The most observant Jews were shot first, as well as others:

Khayim Shoykhet (Khayim, Royze's son), his wife and two daughters.
The black rabbi.
Moyshe Shoykhet.
Yitzchok Fayn with his wife and children.
His son, Moti, with his wife Feyge and two children.
Zaynvl Laytman (Leyzi's son) with his wife and daughter Frida.
Royze Vodovoz with her sister Rokhl
Basya Furman with her grandchild.
The Shnaydermans.
Kupets with his family.
Motl (the son of Peyse Sitchkarnik) with his mother and wife.
Moyshe Kopit and Meir Kopit (Meir Kopit fought back, and was beaten to death on his doorstep).
Hershl Vaynblat with his wife Dvoyre and three children.
Khane, of the Post, with her husband Moyshe.[3]
Mirl Tsufenis's son.
Feyge Shapiro with her daughter Itta and two sons.
The synagogue manager, and many others.

Afterwards, it grew silent – the silence of death. Those who are alive crawl out of the holes. The Germans order us to cover the graves of the dead. The wailing is immense. They find the daughter of Pinye the butcher (Petyuta), a beautiful sixteen–year–old girl who was beaten to death. Apparently, she fought off a guard,

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and prevented him from raping her. She was battered to death, untouched and pure, and was buried as a saint, in the holy ground of the Jewish cemetery.

It was quiet for a short time. Apparently, they wanted for the Jews to come out of their holes…”

* * *

In a private letter to Moyshe Garber, who had asked Yehudis for news of his family, she wrote the following:

 

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Rokhl Baskales and her daughter Esther, murdered

 

“I knew your uncle, Yehoshua, or, as he was known, Shiye Fotografshtchik. His daughter Feyge married my brother. Your uncle lived in Proskurow, where he was a photographer. During the first massacre that the Nazis carried out in that city, Shiye and his daughter with her baby were hiding in a concealed hideout, along with others. The baby, who was 11 months old, was crying loudly and could not be quieted. They placed a cushion over the baby. When the Germans nearby left, and the cushion was removed, they found that the baby was dead. Your uncle and his daughter returned to Zinkov. Shiye was killed during the first massacre, along with my brother. His daughter remained alive for the moment…”

Her accounts are sporadic. The terrible experiences

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burst out of her memory at random. Mrs. Yehudis Vaynblat–Loyfer recounts episodes–one event, then a different one. It is impossible to determine what happened first and what later. We understand, however, that this is actually unimportant. Suffice it to say that a normal person could not conceive of such things: how can human beings do these acts, and how could anyone see them and remain sane, even go on living? The fact is that Yehudis, Dodi the butcher's grandchild, in her corner of our Zinkov, witnessed the catastrophe that overtook our people and its dreadful extermination. Let the world know, and be stunned; let us, the survivors remember it well. And let no frivolous persons come and start chattering that holding a grudge is not a Jewish quality. God of vengeance! Forgive them, these faint–hearted of our people. They are not concerned with good qualities, or kind–hearted. They simply do not want to think about horrors. They don't want their rest and happiness to be disturbed; all they want is to continue their foolish existence, occupied with everyday matters.

All of us, and you who read this memorial book – remember – Yizkor![4] May Heaven itself shout it out until the end of time, until the last of those who dipped their hands in the blood of our people will disappear from the world, until the appearance of the generation referred to by the prophet: “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation” and justice shall reign among people.[5]

Let us switch to the following letters and “Lamentations” chapters of Yehudis Vaynblat–Loyfer:[6]

“This is what happened when the German murderers carried out their first Aktion.[7] At exactly 3 minutes past two o'clock, they shot anyone they could catch. They ripped the clothes off men and women, and chased them. Children were stabbed with bayonets, or thrown down alive. Children were grabbed from their mothers, to wild laughter, and tortured or killed in the home before their mothers' eyes. At the same time, an orchestra of possibly one hundred musicians was playing jazz, to drown out the voices of pain and fear. Some mothers resisted, such as Menashe Raydman's daughter Dvoyre (about whom I will write separately). The mass shootings took place among the hills of Stanislavchik, near the Vikovits roar.[8] Later, they sent people out to cover the bodies. However, there was a downpour shortly afterwards, and the bodies swam up to the surface; people were sent out again to cover the bodies. A few days later, a non–Jew came and

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told us that he had seen a zhid being hung from a tree. The Jews of the community went over there and found Khayim Izakson (Royze's son) hanging by both arms from a tree. He was one of those who had been shot; how he came to be on the tree will forever be a riddle. They went to the Gestapo and asked for permission to bury him. The Gestapo office demanded a great sum of money and fancy clothes. The Jews went to the town's householders requesting help. Lyova Finkel handed over gold objects, and his wife's earrings (Lyova Finkel was Moyshe Grinman's brother–in–law; his wife Rivke was Moyshe's sister). The wife of Yisro'el Aynkoyfer (Moyshe's mother) contributed two rings. The Fukelmans donated a good field coat, Basya Vinokur gave the entire trousseau of her daughter Slava.[9] So it was that they ransomed the corpse of Khayim (Royze's son) and buried him in the Jewish cemetery. The Germans ordered all the other victims to be buried in mass graves. There was not enough property to ransom everyone. Zinkov was small and poor. It was decided that anyone with possessions should use them to barter for food, to aid the survival of those who had nothing left to exchange.

32 people were crowded into a hideout in a hole somewhere. One of them was a 19–month–old child. It was the same story once again:

 

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Shakhna and Sore Vaserman, with their son Yoysef and his family
All were murdered

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The child cried. It was quieted by various means, the end result of which was that the child was suffocated. The mother was almost insane. She would not surrender the child, not believing that it was dead. The mother lived for six more months. Their hideout was discovered in a later aktion; by that time she had completely lost her wits. She would not go out and surrender to the Germans, and was buried alive. The hideout became her grave. All the others were murdered.”

* * *

Yehudis ends her letter thus:

“It is hard to live and remember everything. I write this letter with my heart's blood. But I must write nonetheless. Let people know what the Jews suffered.

Some information about Shmuel Royfe. As he was a widower, he remarried with a girl who was much younger, and had a child with her. They were all murdered during the first aktion.

Efroyim (Froyem, Batchke's son) and his wife Tzivia were murdered, along with their children. Only their oldest daughter, who was married to a Christian, remained alive…”

* * *

Yehudis goes on:

“After the year in which we were allowed to stay alive, regular aktions began. The first one was followed, two weeks later, by the second; later came the third, the fourth, and the fifth. The murders continued for eight days. It grew quiet again. We returned from the Rivnich forest, crawled around to check on all the houses, and called out to the survivors. They were very confused. The dead lay everywhere: men, women, and children – murdered, suffocated in their hideouts for lack of air, with no food or drink, dead of fright. We dug pits and placed the dead in mass graves.”

* * *

Yehudis writes to Moyshe Grinman (Yisro'el Aynkoyfer's son):

“…A few days pass. We are now in a ghetto. The ghetto is established not far from your street, on the meadow near the butcher shop, not far from the Jewish school, all the way to the house where Ayzik Fukelman used to live. They promise that the Jews will remain alive, because they are needed for labor… Now,

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no one has anything to barter in exchange for a bit of bread. We go begging in the villages, and succeed in bringing some food from acquaintances…

Your sister Khane was still alive then, but completely broken and full of agony…

And another episode: Once, as I was leaving the ghetto, a Jewish policeman catches me, Avrom Vasilke. He hands me over to the Gestapo.

 

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Shapse Zalas's father, his sister Itta and her husband, Leyzer Palatnik, with their two daughters, who later graduated. All were murdered.

 

I am tortured and beaten terribly; my sin was that I left the ghetto without wearing the yellow patch, the stain of shame, that the Germans ordered Jews to wear. I lie in the Gestapo for five days, begging for death. But I have nothing on me with which to commit suicide. On the sixth day, I am sent with a transport of Jews “to work.” By now, I know what “to work” means, and I jump off the truck when it is

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going at full speed. They shoot at me, but I run away. I come to the village of Petrashi and stay there with a Christian for two weeks. In the meantime, I learn that there are no more Jews in the town…

I return to town. It's true: they have expelled all the Jews. Not a living soul remains. So I go back to the village, but my Christian tells me that he is afraid to hide me any longer. I have nowhere to go, and start walking towards Mogilev. It was held by Romanians, who did not carry out pogroms. I manage to get to Mogilev, and stay there for five months. I live there with almost no food. I eat one potato and half a beet each day, if they're available. Now I live as Jewish. They catch me and send me to a labor camp in Tulchyn, and from there – to Tiraspol. I was liberated in Tiraspol. This is how I survived, and, as you see, I stayed alive.”

* * *

In another letter to Moyshe Garber, Yehudis recounts:

“…You certainly knew Itzik Shapirovitch. He was a teacher in the Jewish school. He, his wife, and three of his five children were murdered; the other two survived.

… Now I'll tell you about Sheva Abramovitch (the daughter of Alter–Mani–Yitzchok's son). I'm sure you knew her. Her married name was Foygleman. She was very intelligent. She had four sons; she, her husband, and their sons hid in a phosphate mine. They suffered there for four years. A peasant would bring them some food, to sustain them. But Sheva couldn't hold out, and died three months before the end of the war; in fact, she was buried in that very mine. Her husband and four sons survived. The oldest son was of military age; he was mobilized, and fell in battle three months later.

Her brother, Avrom Abramovitch, his wife Itta–Lea, and their son were murdered. Another son fell in battle; the other children were in Moscow, and survived…

In your letter, you mentioned the local paramedic, Gerega. He treated Jews very badly during the German occupation. His daughter came to Zinkov from somewhere, with a five–year–old child. She moved in with an SS officer, and really abused the defenseless Jews of Zinkov. The moment she found out where a Jew

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was hiding, she immediately turned him over to the Gestapo; her son smashed the panes of all the Jewish windows. But I lived long enough to witness her terrible end. After Liberation, she poisoned herself and her son. Gerega himself became blind, and lived with a different daughter. During the occupation, he absolutely refused to help sick Jews, and gave permission to shoot Jews hauled out of their hideouts behind his fence. Several dozens of Jews were buried in this way.

 

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Shloyme–Yisro'el Aynkoyfer and his wife, murdered in the war. The entire family was murdered.

 

Quite the opposite of Gerega was another Christian paramedic, named Vatzik (or Vadik). He, on the contrary, helped many Jews. Sadly, he soon died. His wife and daughter couldn't stand the sufferings of the Jews, and entered a convent, so as not to witness the complete destruction of Zinkov.

Rubinshteyn, the teacher, evacuated in time, with his wife and children.

Mitelman was killed along with his entire family.

The only survivor of Yekhiel Royfe's family was his son, Hershl the cripple.

Levi Stoler, his wife, and youngest son, were murdered. His son Motl fell in battle. The other children are living in Moscow.

Two children survived from Pini (the cripple) Goldshmid's family.

The entire Berkovich family was murdered.

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The fish–seller, his wife, and two daughters were all murdered together.

Fixler, the tailor, his wife, and two sons survived. His daughter was murdered shortly before Liberation.”

* * *

In her letter of March 2, 1965, to Moyshe Grinman, Yehudis writes some details about German soldiers who were “quartered” in homes in Zinkov during the occupation:[10]

As I recall, Gestapo men stayed in your house. Schutzpolizei were quartered across from your house.[11] An SS man and his family stayed in Avrom Blecher's house. A Gestapo officer and his servants stayed in the house of Perl the sveytshke (I think she was the daughter of Hershl's son Yekhiel–Mordkhe,– Y. R.).[12] The Gebietskommissar was quartered in the house of Moyshe Foyglman.[13] An assembly point where Jews were taken before they were slaughtered was set up where Mirl Tsufenis's house used to stand. The Jewish community office was in the Vertsmans' house. In 1947, when I was in Zinkov, very few houses remained standing. They belonged to Rabbi Pinchesl, Khane of the post–office, Menashe Raydman, Funkelman, Milshteyn, Rabbi Moyshele, Moyshe Tsukernik (Shpialter), Avrom Abramovitch (Alter's son), Sender Garber, Avstryak, Hersh (Yekhiel Royfe's son), Shmuel Royfe, the Vinokurs, Khayim (Royze's son), the Garniks, the “Sage of Nehardea,” the “Yantanikhe,” and a few other buildings.[14] Most of the houses were burned; those which were not were torn down and used as firewood by the Ukrainians. Only a hill of clay remained for each house. Occasionally, a ripped feather–filled torn pillow was be found, or a child's shoe. It is terrible to imagine how the non–Jews helped to destroy the town. Ukrainian inscriptions were scrawled on the remnants of the destroyed walls: “End Jewish rule! Long live a free Ukraine! No entry to Jews and dogs! Beat the Jews, save Ukraine!” and other such “kind–hearted” messages. Only when they realized that Hitler didn't respect them, either, did they become a bit better. But by then it was too late.”

In one of her letters to Moyshe Garber, Yehudis recounts her later horrible experiences in the Zinkov vale of tears, and includes additional tragic details:

“On one of those days we found the mother of Velvl Tuchman, tossed into a pit. We wanted to take her out, but were

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unsuccessful. Velvl Rozenberg then asked to call her daughter, to beg her to come out. We called the daughter. The daughter talked to the watchmen and requested permission to take her mother out of the pit and bury her. And, wonder of wonders: the daughter took her mother's hand and easily picked her up out of the pit (Y.R. adds: it is unclear whether she was still alive, and the watchman initially prevented the rescue, or whether it really was difficult to remove her. In any case, that place gave rise to one of the legends that often develop during times of disaster and community suffering.). The next day, a new pogrom occurred, and all Mrs. Tuchman's children were killed, as was Velvl Rozenberg.

 

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Yisro'el Aynkoyfer with his son and nephews. All murdered.

 

Now, I would like to tell you another episode (Y.R. adds: this is the term that Yehudis uses for this sad event) that is so tragic, yet true. You certainly remember the large synagogue that the Jews of Zinkov were so proud of; there is much to be said about it. As you surely remember, two lions adorned the top of the Torah Ark. The Germans demolished the synagogue and broke everything, but a large section of the Ark, with the gilded lions, survived. Apparently, the Germans thought that they were covered with real gold, and wanted to strip the gold. They threw grenades that hit the Ark and broke it. But the lions remained standing in spite of everything. Then they sent two Jewish children

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to remove the “gold,” while the adults were still standing there. They then shot the two children, who fell; and the wall remained upright. I believe that it is still standing. (Y. R. adds: Clearly, when Yehudis says: ‘the Jews remained standing there,’ she means the children; or else she is saying that Jews were sent to remove the lions while the children were held as pledges. As soon as the Jews didn't want, or refused, to remove the lions or the “gold” from the lions, the Germans shot the children.)

Now I would like to note the bravery of one Jewish girl. I must tell you that it wasn't only Yitzchok Leybush Peretz who brought us his three gifts, as an expression of the heroism of the Jewish people.[15] A few of our martyrs today have also exhibited heroism… I want to tell you about a girl of our town, Zinkov. There were two or three Gemeynerman brothers. One was Pini, the butcher, who had an only daughter of 16. She was beautiful, smart, well brought up, and intelligent. We studied in the same middle school. At the time, I had already finished school, and she had another year to go. During the second Aktion, she was caught by a police officer, a former student at the same school, who had graduated a few years earlier. He wanted to rape her, and she fought with the powerful giant, fought to the death, until her pure soul ascended to heaven. We found her in the pit where he had dragged her – beaten, bloody, bruised, but pure and virtuous. She paid for her Jewish name with her life, and died, not like a sheep, but like a heroine. (Y. R. adds: Many isolated instances of Jewish bravery disappeared into the abyss of blood and have remained unknown. Due to the absence of press correspondents and photographic apparatus, some people dare to accuse our martyrs and hallowed victims of going like sheep to the slaughter.[16])

Another instance: Menashe Raydman, his wife Charne, and daughter Dvorye, with her young child, were taken to be shot. They wanted to take the child, and send Dvoyre to work, saying, “You are still young' you can work well before they shoot you.” Dvoyre spat in the policeman's face, yelling “Bloody murderer!” They then shot the child before her eyes, and shot her too immediately afterwards.

I am tired after writing all this and can write no more now, but will

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write again. I have vowed never to forget the nightmare of blood.”

* * *

In her next tragic report, Yehudis writes, “Moyshe (Fani's son) and his daughter Mani survived; his wife and son were killed. Woe to this father! He was hiding with his son, who went outside for a bit. The SS men caught and shot him, and Moyshe was left waiting for his father to come back; he is waiting to this day. His daughter was studying in Moscow, and survived.

 

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The Shraybman famiily, Itzi (Mayke's son) and his children. The younger ones were murdered.

 

The Brezmans were cap–makers. They lived in the meadow near the Vinkovitz brum. All were murdered, except for one daughter.

Leyzer Vouler was a smart boy, and was studying to be a history teacher. He was murdered during the second Aktion, along with his father, mother, and grandmother.

The Shundermans were all murdered. Unfortunately, their son Avrom, who was a university student, had come home for a vacation, and was murdered together with his family.

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Yosl Vodovoz, his wife, and children. His daughter was married to the son of Perl the sveytshke. His son Yankl was caught by SS men and was sent to work on the road. While there, he somehow annoyed the SS man. The latter picked him up and threw him, feet first, into a barrel of boiling tar. He later took him out and laid him down. People brought him back to the ghetto. He was half–burned, as black as coal, and his pain was unbearable. He begged: “Poison me, or shoot me.” He suffered for three whole days and nights, and died in the evening of the third day. His sister Mani was murdered later, when a non–Jew turned her over to the Gestapo.

Feyge Chmelniker, her daughter Itta, and her son Khayim, were murdered. Her other two daughters and a son, who were not in Zinkov, survived.

Moyshe Fukelman hid with a non–Jewish family in Stanislavchik. At some point he heard that things were better in Transnistria (Romania) and paid a non–Jew to transport him. The non–Jew made a false bottom on his sledge. This caught the attention of a policeman, who thought the bottom was too thick. He stabbed into the bottom with his bayonet, and pierced Moyshe as he lay there. There was a gush of blood. The non–Jew was beaten almost to death; Moyshe was left to suffer. He was allowed to be taken out on the next day. He was dead by then.

Avrom Shpialtsh (Tsukernik) and his two sons survived.

Brayne Berzman, the shammes's daughter, survived.

Tsirl Rubinshteyn survived, but her entire family was murdered.

Rassi Kibrik was murdered. Her daughter Beyle and her brother survived.

The Margolios family was murdered.

The Rosens and the Strianiks (he was a dentist) were murdered.

Perl Tsufenis's son and his daughter Rokhl were murdered.

Yankev–Ber, the “Honey–Jew,” apparently hoped to save himself by showing friendship; on the first day the German murderers entered the city, he walked out of his house with bread and salt – perhaps he did this out of fright. But an SS man yelled at him: “You are a Jew, a traitor to your country,” and shot him on the threshold of his house.

Moyshe Itzi made candles for sale. He lived near the Vinkovitz brum, and was killed during the first Aktion.

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Itzik “the imp,” as he was called, and his sister Ester were severely tortured and shot en route to where they were being taken to be murdered, together with all the others.

Rissiya (Gedalya–Hersh's daughter), was a pious, wonderful woman. She was, poor soul, old, and couldn't walk. She was forced to run, constantly begging, “Shoot me, shoot me, murderers!” while they continued pulling her by her gray hair. The murderer stabbed her with his bayonet; her children witnessed it all, unable to help their mother in any way.

Shimen Laskin and his family had had a very hard life; but recently, shortly before the disaster, his life had improved. The children were grown, and each of them was working. Then the murderer arrived. The father was beaten inside the house. One son yelled, “Murderer!” and was pummeled. The other son, Yankl, and the daughter, Sarah, had to witness it, poor things. They were allowed to live only until the fourth Aktion. They wanted to scream, but could not open their mouths out of terror.

The Lermans' daughter Gissiye witnessed the murder of her father. She herself hid, and survived; but was murdered during the final Aktion.

Yekhiel Tan'i and the fish–seller lived not far from the poorhouse. He had two daughters. One was a teacher. Her husband, Yisro'el Vaserman (Yekhiel the blacksmith's son) was also a schoolteacher. The female teacher was one of the last people murdered in the town. Her husband became a captain in the army and survived; he is now living in Kiev. He is the only survivor of five children. Their child and grandmother were murdered during the first Aktion.

The Shenker family was murdered. Their children are apparently alive.

Arn, the bathhouse attendant, his wife, and their four children, were murdered.

The Goldfinds and the Shvartzes (the watchmaker) were murdered.

As soon as Hitler came in, the Ukrainians (with some exceptions) collaborated in the bloodbath. Even Jews who lived in the villages, and by now did not even know (the younger generation) that they were Jews, were not respected and were handed over to the Gestapo

The family of Mendl Petreshier was the first to be slaughtered. The entire family was handed over to the Gestapo.

In Proskurow, I met my best friend Rokhl Finkel. She told me that she and her younger sister had been in the Greshtshanke

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labor camp, near Proskurow.[17] Rokhl was pleasant, smart, and well–brought–up. I remember well how elegant she was when came into class. Her mother sewed a red ribbon on the left side of her apron (which all the girl students wore), because traditionally a Jewish child should not wear black. And so the apron remained. One day she was careless, and left the house to go to work, wearing her apron. A policeman came into the barracks and noticed the apron. He decided that she was a communist, and took her out to be shot. Her sister happened to be in the barracks and went to the window to see what would happen to her sister. Rokhl asked the policeman, “I beg you, take me a bit further away, I am ashamed to let people see me. Take me to that tree, where it is quiet. Let the tree be my memorial.”

 

Zin192.jpg
The Averbukh family: Zisye, Hodl, and Mendl

 

She made this request because she did not want her sister to see her being shot. She addressed the policeman again. After all, everyone has the right to ask for one last thing before they die. The policeman responded, “Zhidovka, you are still romantic” and told her to run. But he shot into the air. She fell to the ground out of fright, believing that she had been shot. She thought, “If only I could get up and tell everyone that death isn't that bad, and it's not worthwhile suffering so much to stay alive.” Suddenly, she felt a poke in the ribs. The policeman stood next to her. “Zhidovka, get up!” But she, poor soul, stuck to her idea: “What

[Page 193]

do you want from me? After all, I am dead.” The policeman burst out laughing, and took her back to the camp.

It later emerged that Rokhl had been murdered on December 3, together with her sister.”

* * *

Zin193.jpg

 

For a while, Yehudis stopped sending letters with tragic content. She continued on May 9, 1965, saying that she had been very ill with a high fever and had been in hospital. Her fever continued unbroken for ten days, during which she could not recognize anyone. The doctors said that the fever was caused by extreme agitation, and termed it “nerve fever.” Yet, as soon as she came to her senses, she once again continued “the holy work,” as she called it. Her next letter only arrived on September 6, 1965. It contained a new list of names belonging to our murdered brothers and sisters of Zinkov. She remarks,

“It's too bad that there are no Zinkov natives here to help me remember all the names of the victims. I would, of course, prefer that our memorial book mention and memorialize all those of our town who were murdered.

Death was terrible. But nothing can kill the will to live. This cannot be explained! But the lives of the survivors are terrible enough. I, for instance, live in two worlds. By day, I am a person like all others, with

[Page 194]

my family, with my work. I have my worries and my joys, just like anyone else. But when night falls, the nightmares come. I'm at home again, and I suddenly sense that a pogrom is coming (an Aktion). I run, I scream. I wake up in a cold sweat. Only God knows how long this will go on. I will never be happy. It's been 24 years since I listened to music or went to a concert. I have not danced and will never dance again. When I pass by a place that is playing jazz music I run away, because it reminds me that the German murderers accompanied every Aktion by the sounds of wild jazz music and inhuman screaming.

We have sworn an oath that we will never forget this and never forgive it.[18] I am sure that you too, our fellow natives of Zinkov, will join us in this oath… Every Jew there swore that anyone who survived should remember forever, and never forget, not only the disaster itself, but the disgrace of our murder as well. We cannot forget this, and will not forget it!”

Signed: Yehudis Laufer

Assembled from her letters: Yisro'el Roytbord.

* * *

Conclusion of the “Destruction” chapter

The tragic chapter of “Destruction” cannot end without a few concluding words.

The heartrending, tragic account in this chapter cannot fully convey the bloody events that actually took place. Who can recount the anxiety and agony of each victim, of the inconceivable and inexpressible murder of a people?! Who can express their boundless pain?!

What is left for us, the survivors, but to protest? We need, and must also seek and find, consolation, because the life of our people must go on. The ancient writers of our prayers and piyyutim, who were live witnesses – no less than we – of the evil edicts and torture that were the fate of our people, wrote, for example, in the Thirteen Attributes of God's Mercy, which we chant during the closing prayer of Yom Kippur:[19] “You have collected all our tears in a bottle to be stored.” This short expression reveals an entire allegorical image: after the writer commands the holy city of Jerusalem, which lies in ruin and has reached the very depths,

[Page 195]

to beg for mercy, not for itself, but for its people (“beg for mercy for your people”), because every heart aches and every head is battered – he turns directly to God requesting that all the tears be collected in a flask for storage. In other words, let the tears not be lost, let them be collected for the ages and generations. What is the purpose? The only purpose is to awaken sympathy and understanding, and the conscience of mankind.

 

Zin195.jpg
Luni (Lib), the son of Khayim and Sheyna Vayntroyb – the only survivor of his murdered family

 

Yes, dear sisters and brothers, many tears have collected in the flask. They are dripping down the sides; the flask is overflowing. We need to bring them before the court of the world, with admonitions, and demand justice and decency.

Remember well, you children of all nations, races, and continents. If you will be ruled by cruelty, it will destroy not only our people (God forbid), but will destroy you as well, all of you–because with today's means and technical possibilities, destruction will be total!

Therefore, let there be an end to the darkness, ignorance, cruelty, and moral corruption, and let justice and decency gain control over our world.

And I, who write these sentences with profound sorrow and grief, would like my bitter tears over the destruction of the daughter of my people to be added to the eternal flask of tears and serve as a witness and memorial to the destruction of my close friends and relatives.[20] Yisgadal ve–yiskadash shme raba![21] May the great Name of God be exalted and sanctified!


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. The heading is repeated in Hebrew and in Yiddish. Return
  2. Zhid is a Slavic pejorative for Jews. Return
  3. Khane may have worked in the post office. Return
  4. Yizkor is the traditional exhortation to remember the deceased. Return
  5. Isaiah 2, 4. Return
  6. Accounts of large–scale disasters affecting Jews are often headed by the title of the biblical book of Lamentations. Return
  7. The German term for roundup operations was Aktion. Return
  8. I could not identify “Vikovits roar.” Return
  9. I could not identify the precise meaning of “field coat;” it may be a military issue garment. Return
  10. The quote marks are in the original. Return
  11. Schutzpolizei were state protection police. Return
  12. I could not identify sveytshke. Return
  13. The Gebietskommissar was the regional commissioner. Return
  14. “Sage of Nehardea” and “Yantanikhe” seem to be local nicknames. Nehardea was the location of one of the major rabbinical academies in Babylonia, during the 3d–5th centuries. Return
  15. In the story “Three Gifts” by the major Jewish cultural figure Yitzchok Leybush Peretz (1852–1915), ‘Three Gifts’ of martyred souls are delivered to heaven as the price of entry, Return
  16. Accusations of this kind were made after the war. Return
  17. I was not able to identify this camp. Return
  18. The italics are in the original Yiddish. Return
  19. The piyyut is a Jewish liturgical poem, usually sung, chanted, or recited. Return
  20. “The destruction of the daughter of my people” is a quote from Lamentations 3, 48. Return
  21. These are the opening words of the Mourner's Kaddish, said in all the mourning rituals. Return


[Page 196]

Regards from Postwar Zinkov
– from letters to Moyshe Grinman

by Leonid

Translated by Yael Chaver

August 8, 1945

Good morning, my dear ones!

I send you my warm regards and best wishes for your lives.

Dear Moyshe, I am immeasurably happy to learn about you. I wept constantly while I read your letter, because we two are the only ones left alive. We have no one else. Only you and I are left, of our large, beautiful family, It is extremely painful and distressing.

I know, my dear, that what I am about to write you will cause you much grief. But it cannot be concealed. You should know, and the American people must know, what this damned Fascism is. It means that wherever a German foot stepped, it obliterated the people, the culture, and all the good that was achieved by us over decades. I was on the front the whole time, and personally saw how the accursed Germans abused Jews, killing children and elderly people.

They killed 3200 souls in Zinkov, among them all our relatives. They were unable to flee, because Father and Mother were old, and our sisters were burdened with children; thus, they were all murdered. Our Solomon was in the army, where he fell; his family was shot by the Germans. It is hard to describe all the taunting that our people suffered at the hands of the beasts. During the pogrom in Zinkov, they collected the young children, set them on a wagon, and surrounded them with barbed wire. A child who jumped off to run to his mother – who was also being taken to her death – was immediately speared and thrown back on the wagon, where he died among the other children. In one house, they cut a living child into four pieces, before their parents' eyes, explaining, “We're leaving this meat for the Russians.” Afterwards, they raped the young mother in front of her husband and parents, and later set fire to the house on all sides, burning them all alive inside the house.

When I was in Moscow, I met our relatives from Odessa and Medzhybizh. Everyone in Medzhybizh had also been killed. Grandmother in Medzhybizh had lived until the Germans arrived; they murdered her.

I can't describe everything; my nerves won't hold out.

Our country endured many horrible terrors, but we gritted our teeth and believed in our victory; now we are celebrating the holiday of victory… We must now work hard to rebuild the destroyed towns and villages, and need much strength and resources.

My dears, I embrace you all heartily, and kiss you.

Your brother, Leonid.

September 20, 1946

Good morning, my dear ones,

I want to report that I went to Zinkov and Proskurow a few days ago. Aunt Eyde and her son Boris are living in Proskurow. We have no one in Zinkov. I visited the graves on August 6, as it was the yortsayt of the pogrom.[1] The yortsayt was on the ninth day of Av.[2] There are a few graves in Zinkov, but it is impossible to know where someone was buried. The situation there is very bad. The entire town was destroyed; only 30 residents are left, of a population that numbered 3500. You cannot imagine how hard it was to stay there for a few days. I remembered everything and everyone from the days when I would come to visit this large, beautiful family! Now there is only me. It is so hard and miserable. You are my only consolation. Things are a bit easier when I think of you; I am happy to read your letters and look at your photographs. I really long to be with you, but that is impossible.

My life is not bad. I am busy rebuilding the destroyed economy. We were badly hurt during the German years, and now must do much work to heal all the wounds, and live even better than we did before the war…

Well, my dears, I will stop here. I wish you everything good and kiss you all.

Your Leonid.

Write me more often.


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. The yortsayt (also known as yahrzeit) is the anniversary of a person's death, when it is customary to visit the grave. Jews often referred to German Aktions as pogroms. Return
  2. In Jewish tradition, the ninth day of the month of Av is a fast day, which a number of disasters in Jewish history occurred (primarily the destruction of both Solomon's Temple by the Neo-Babylonian Empire and the Second Temple by the Roman Empire in Jerusalem). Other national tragedies are commemorated annually on this day as well. In 1946, the ninth of Av was on August 6. Return


[Page 198]

The Return to Zinkov
(excerpts from letters)

Translated by Yael Chaver

As soon as Zinkov was liberated by the Red Army, the leaders of the Zinkov Association and aid committees in America approached the Russian War Relief, and donated a whole ton of clothes for Zinkov. The Relief sent them immediately, and instructed the Zinkov Relief Committee to send all inquiries about their relatives and friends to the town's leader.[1] The Relief Committee did so, and some time later received news about the few remaining Jews of Zinkov, who had survived and returned to the town.

One letter, received by the Relief Committee, was from the 74–year–old Alter Pakhter, included the following: “I am the only survivor of a family of 36.” He goes on to describe the remarkable miracle of his rescue:

“In Frampol, over 500 Jews were driven into a large cellar. The doors were bolted shut, and the Jews were left to die in terrible agony from hunger and lack of air. Crazed by terror and hunger, people flung themselves down to lick the damp earth, to delay the tragic moment of death a bit. A few days later, the dead bodies were thrown out into the street. As you can see, I was fated to live to witness the joyous days of liberation from the German murderers. A peasant named Semyon Vasilyevich Bazay from my village noticed me still breathing. Putting his life and the life of his family at risk, he sneaked me away and hid me for 23 months.” The elderly Alter Pakhter asks the Zinkov Relief Committee to try to find his relatives in America, and provides their names.

Among the letters from Zinkov survivors who returned to their home town after Liberation was one from Sonia Kiper, Burd's niece. She recounts how she and others returned to Zinkov, and describes what they

[Page 199]

found there. “After the Red Army liberated Zinkov, I came home, where I found ruins instead of buildings, and barely 35 lonely, exhausted, unfortunate people, children with no parents and parents with no children. It is terrible to live in a wasteland that resembles a cemetery. Four of us are living in one house: I, Fishl's son Sonye, and my two girlfriends. Life here is difficult, materially and psychologically, but we must adjust to the situation, because we are happy to have survived and be free. There is no one to complain about, because the war is continuing, and, after all, we are not the only ones. But we hope the war will soon end, and everything will be better.”

It is clear from these letters and others that the Jews of Zinkov, and even those from the surrounding villages, are returning home; and that the aid sent by the Zinkov Relief Committee is extremely important and crucial.


Translator's Footnote:

  1. The reference to the “town leader” is unclear. Return


[Page 200]

The Scream

by Y. Ben-Shachar (Shvartsman), Haifa[1]

Translated by Yael Chaver

Arise, you gates! Lift up, you eternal doors,
Speak, Zinkovites, speak, heads held high,
Of your source – the town you cherished;
Of your home town–the glory of your past.

Raise your voice – sing out;
Old and young–all town natives.
You who were rescued – break your silence:
You who are free – express your joy…

The voices fall silent, there's no sound:
Throats are hoarse, no answer.
Hearts ache, tears flow
Over the mass grave of Zinkov!

Almighty God: give us strength and courage,
Turn away the sword, trouble and pain![2]


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. I have not attempted to reproduce the rhyming schemes of the poems on pp. 200–203. Return
  2. This poem, translated from Hebrew, includes tropes of Jewish mourning, some of which are biblical. Line 1 is a quote from Psalms 24,7. Return


[Page 201]

A “Lamentations” Poem on the Destruction of Zinkov

by Y. Ben–Shachar (Shvartsman)

Translated by Yael Chaver

Zinkov, Zinkov, sweet home town
All mothers are beautiful, none is ugly.
You were my cradle–
What has become of you now?!

Your beautiful hills and thick forests,
Springs, lakes, and wide fields,
Breweries, tanneries, and water–mills.
You were all my cozy home.

You were a Jewish soul,
You saw the Jewish future.
You raised us in the Jewish spirit,
With the finest Jewish traits and customs.

Wake up, Mother, cry your heart out
For your children's enormous disaster!
May God remember![1] May God remember
Your pure lambs, which were lost…


Translator's Footnote:

  1. The poem's title refers to the biblical Book of Lamentations. This phrase is translated from the Hebrew in the original. Return


[Page 202]

The Cry for Help

Translated by Yael Chaver

Zinkovites, join forces,
Away with the borders, break the boundaries!
Rich and poor,
We're all equal.

Let each help as best he can;
If not now, when?![1]
Let this book be a memorial for all
To remember those unforgettable years.

In memory of sisters and brothers,
Flesh of our flesh, limb of our limbs,
They died for their Jewish souls.
Let us weep, and lament, never tiring.

They were taken to the slaughter in tallis and tfillin
By the Ukrainian murderers, under German rule.[2]
The German dogs despised babies in cradles,
They slaughtered Jewish women.

The day will yet come – the day of revenge!
That will be our great consolation.
They'll be cursed by God, shunned by men.
Reviled by all, blessed by none!
Zinkovite brothers, join forces,
Away with the borders, break the boundaries!
We're writing this book for future generations,
Not only for ourselves!


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. This well–known phrase (Ethics of the Fathers, 1, 14) is attributed to the sage Hillel the Elder. Return
  2. The tallis is the prayer shawl that men wear during communal prayer. Tfillin are the phylacteries worn by men for weekday morning prayers. Return


[Page 203]

On the Ocean Billows

by Chana

Translated by Yael Chaver

A fragment of a moody poem, written by a distinguished daughter of Zinkov, while on the ocean en route to America.

Billows stretch on your way,
You barely decided to find a shore.
You survived long battles
Until the word boomed out: Go,
But be whole, don't speak of sorrow!

Let your spirit no longer break
At every step, at every turn.
The dark ocean flows calm and quiet.
The night comes, dark and cool.

My ship floats over the waters
And my heart keeps rumbling:
You've left all your loved ones
Back in the land of your birth.

I knew God's bright world
At first sight:
Beautiful, blue, summer, fields,
Childhood, dreams, radiance, images

All engraved on my memory.
My town is turned to ruin and waste.
All that enchanted and astonished you
In those wonderful summer nights.

[Page 204]

Now the town stands cold and empty,
A different generation is coming.
On its own life's flow
To a new world, large cities,

A generation strange and alien…
And the buildings stand as before.
The peasant sows and reaps.
The old feeling awakens:

The trees sway in silence,
This is your
Good old home.
Your youthful dream comes awake.

All is as it was then.
Your home, your world, newly born…

[Page 205]

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