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[Pages 51-54]

Massacre Averted in Beitch

Translated by Tania Susskind

An Imminent Pogrom

At the end of the 19th century, around 1895 (5656), the Polish peasants rose up against the central government in Austria. As usual, the Jew was the scapegoat. The instigators of the peasant party were brilliant anti-Semites and were widely accepted among the peasants in the villages, primitive masses of avid Catholics. They spread the poison of hatred, for killing and despoiling the Jews in the small towns, especially those who were far from the larger centers of Jewish population.

They planned to surprise the Jews on a Tuesday. Monday was market day in Beitch and throngs of gentiles would come to town, but on that Monday, the day before the planned pogrom, the town was deserted. All the shops were closed, and all the houses were shuttered. There had been no coming or going since Saturday, because all the roads were considered dangerous. Jewish businessmen rushed around terrified, calling on the town's liberal intelligentsia for help, but it was like a cry in the wilderness, because they were also afraid of the rabble rousers. The telegraphic messages calling for help, which were sent to the governor of the province, were being diverted by the postal clerks. Help was not coming, and the situation was dire. The roused rabble could be seen from a distance as thousands arrived with spades, hatchets, pitchforks and other implements of destruction, to storm the town, as well as hordes of gentile women equipped with sacks and sticks for collecting the booty.

At the last minute, the Jews organized themselves for self-defense: Joseph Elazar Spielman and his two sons, Berl and Naftali, Eliezer Goldberg, and, last of all, Benye Eichhorn, who was the leader, may their memories be blessed. They girded themselves with courage as they stood ready at the gate holding hatchets and hoes, posing a threat to the rabble as they waited for the moment they hoped would not arrive. Most of the Jews were hiding in their cellars, including the writer of this article, who was five years old at the time, and a deathly fear cast its shadow over the town.

The Redeeming Angel

Several months prior to this uprising, a new officer of the gendarmerie had arrived in Beitch. No one knew much about him. It was assumed that he was a Christian. One Sabbath he came to the home of the rabbi at prayer time. The congregants were frightened and incredulous. They could not understand what was going on, but he presented himself forthwith as a Jew wishing to pray. He took off his arms, stood them in a corner and prayed with devotion.

From then on he was welcome in the rabbi's home, and he would arrive on time for Sabbath morning services and again toward evening for the third meal. During those days of terror he was hardly seen among the Jews in town, as if he had left them to their woes, lest his comrades see to it that he be sent away. He was secretly considering how to prepare for the critical moment and thwart the plans of the rabble.

And so it was. At daybreak on that Tuesday, at the most dangerous moment, he went out alone, without being ordered to by his superiors and without letting any of his comrades know. He stood there facing the wild mob that had gathered outside the town and numbered over three thousand. Their leaders' orders had already been heard, when this Jewish officer suddenly began to fire into the mob. They became terrified, and with horrible cries they scattered in the wind until not one remained.

The redemption was not discovered until daybreak. The Jews had been scared to death all night long in hiding. All were concerned about the fate of their kin in town and figured that they themselves had been spared by happenstance or by miracle, their homes having been overlooked. In the morning the information spread that a military unit had come to town. Little by little the Jews emerged from hiding and couldn't believe their eyes. They beheld a 'Purim miracle,' a 'miracle from heaven.' Nothing had happened that night. As it was written, “Not one dog stirred.” They witnessed this miracle of miracles without knowing how it came about. People tried to think up solutions to the mystery, to the danger that had vanished overnight, as in the days of King Hezekiah. “On that night an angel of the Lord came and struck the Assyrian encampment.”

The army had, in fact, arrived, although their transparent intention had been to come slightly after the fact as 'saviors.' Their ploy did not work, however, since the Jewish officer had foiled their scheme. The 'heroic' rabble had run from the fight like mice into their holes, and they did not try their luck again. The Jews welcomed the 'army of saviors' with open arms, cheers and great gladness, and made room in their homes to accommodate the said 'saviors,' who slept cozily in the beds of the local men of means. For two weeks they were wined and dined at the expense of the Jews and received many gifts, something these simple soldiers had never expected in their entire lives.

Only a few days later did it become known that the Jew, the officer of the gendarmes, that wonderful man, was the true 'savior' sent by God to save our town's Jews from misfortune. In return for his courage, he subsequently lost his career, undoubtedly with a reprimand from his superiors, and was transferred from our town to an unknown place. The Jews of our town were not even able to thank this noble man for saving the town. In other times and other circumstances he would have been considered an historic national hero. Beautiful legends about him would have been spun out. His fate, however, was to be forgotten. Many of the Jews in our town didn't even know his name.

So passed that wondrous person, like a dream, without a trace. When these events were recounted only a few years later by townspeople, the simple folk said it had simply been Elijah the prophet, who had manifested in the form of a gendarme. That was the legend that was left for the people.*

This story should be recounted by the historians of our times with the special intention of taking the opportunity to point out how base and deplorable were the “enlightened and liberal” nations towards Jews who were under their protection and who relied on them, and to compare them with massacres that occurred in the Land of Israel under the [British] mandate and the pogroms in Tripoli and Aden, along with all the particulars construed by all kinds of 'protectors' and false guardians.

* * *

Another detail was seen by the Jews of our town as 'the hand of God.' The leader of the mob in our town, Czepenski, may his name be wiped out, who was the town's fire chief, had been preparing for the night of the massacre, he and his whole crew. They were planning to welcome the rabble and spearhead the fight. He was in such a good mood that night and got so drunk that on Tuesday morning he was found dead in one of the pits in town. His friends saw it as a punishment from heaven and one by one quit that bad business, and so were they disbanded.

Lord, may all Your enemies be vanquished so.

* It was remarked by a friend of mine from our town, Mr. Pinchas Süsskind, may his light shine on, that at the end of World War I, when he found himself doing business with cigarettes in the town of Budenbach (Silesia), he went into a smoke shop and was suddenly recognized by the woman who owned the shop. She welcomed him with a smile and very graciously said, “Don't you remember me, Mr. Süsskind?” She identified herself as the wife of the officer named Karwe, who had once been stationed in Beitch and had frequented the inn belonging to his father, Mr. Nathan Süsskind, of blessed memory. He was astonished that after close to twenty years she had recognized him. She called her husband over, who was very glad to see him, and they exchanged interesting recollections of Beitch. Return

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