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[Column 533]

Passover after the Shoah

by Ya'acov Nathanael–Roitman

Translated by Selwyn Rose

Passover came in '46: in Dubno, the shul stayed closed the eve that made holy the day.
Though the snow was melting and the cherry–tree bloomed – each house was bent and ruined, each roof was in decay.

The streets were bare and empty, not a soul was passing by, the doors gaped wide, as did the gates, yet no one came that way.
Of all the things we dearly loved, the flames devoured them wholly
And only the night's chill wind lamented “This is the bread of our sorrow.”

Abandoned seemed each household, a brick from the walls cried out,
An unseen hand strikes out and a buried voice bemoans.
A grateful Christian voice cries out while a flickering alien flame
Eats at the bricks, like a silver candlestick stolen by the Haidamaks.

From “Ha–Boker” [1] 14th Nisan 1946

[Translator's comment advising the adoption of my collaborator, Ms. Shirley Ginzburg's erudite analysis of the Hebrew poem's esoteric and literary language:–

The author mingles references to traditional parts of the Haggadah, the guide for Passover rituals, celebrated on the Hebrew date 14 Nisan. The family Seder meal would be observed in Dubno, if there were any Jews left to do so. The houses are destroyed and vacant, the synagogue abandoned. The ‘doors gaped wide, as did the gates;’: During the Seder, a child opens the front door of the home, and all sing to welcome the metaphoric arrival of Elijah the Prophet. Here, they are open––for no one at all! ‘This is the bread of our sorrow’ recalls the opening line of the Haggadah: “Ha–laḥma Aniyah” ‘A brick cried out…’ The Egyptian slaves made bricks for the pyramids. ‘An unseen hand strikes out;’ alludes to the final plague, killing of the first born, recounted in the Seder. The Haidamak were Ukrainian Cossacks, who infamously fomented a massacre of Jews in Uman in 1768. Periodically, Cossacks and rioters stole wantonly during pogroms, especially the prized candlesticks used weekly to inaugurate holy times. Without them, there were no flames kindled to usher in the Passover holiday. Profane flames had destroyed Dubno's Jews, their homes and Temple.


Translator's Footnote

  1. Ha–Boker” “This morning” or “The Morning” was a Hebrew–language daily newspaper in Mandate Palestine and later Israel associated with the General Zionists, founded in 1935 by the right–wing of the General Zionists, with the first edition published on 11 October that year. Its first editor, Samuel Perl, left soon after the newspaper's founding, and was replaced by Joseph Heftman and Peretz Bernstein, one of the signatories of the Israeli declaration of independence, who held the post until 1946. Its journalists included Yosef Tamir, a secretary of the General Zionists, and Herzl Vardi, another signatory of the declaration of independence. Return


[Columns 535-536]

From the Bitter Spring

by Netanel Bahiri (Bilizki)

Translated by Jerrold Landau

My pen and paper tremble – with convulsions
What strength do I have to describe everything to you…
I only know this –
To my city, it was as if the ruler prepared against it,
And he, his wife, and children came down, and it fell.

I knew you, my city, as a person knows the palm of his hand
Not one corner was hidden from my eyes
And I did not know only this –
Where the lad was hiding, strong in build
And where he was spilled like blood at the frightening time…

I knew that they destroyed my city from the face of the earth –
The poretz, uncircumcised Stas, and Ivan;
And now, woe to life,
Did they destroy the image of the honor of G-d within you,
Or did you fall full of indignation, as a partisan falls?

*

You stand before my eyes alive, young, bustling
Even though I have already lost your picture, for some time,
The nobility of your splendor, which was so spellbinding and enchanting,
It storms upon me heavily, and with bitter sadness.

And with you everything is emptied out, and they live: Father, Mother, and the like
Your small room, which filled me with great happiness, so great,
Even your enchanting aunt, Aunt Breina,
Stands before me with a kerchief wrapped around her elderly head.
I will remember what you said: Father and Mother, I will not abandon you…
(I knew, you were one with them, pampered and alone)
And I indeed left them, and the wind erased my footsteps,
In the remote station, snowy, stormy, and isolated.

I will ask – and who does not know my mouth – where are you, where are you both together?
Alas, what happened to you there, oh proper daughter of Israel?
During the time of destruction and fear, did the dark, evil hands of the murderers
Also hone over your head the cutting knife?..

From Yiddish: Y. Netaneli

 

Translator's comments
  1. A poretz is a term for a landowner.
  2. I reversed some of the stiches of the last two lines for clarity.

 

dub535b.jpg
The Krypister family who poisoned themselves in their home on the day of the “Aktzia”

[Column 537]

“The Empty Heavens”

As related by Rabbi Leibish Vinokur of Dubno, in Israel in TSH”AT (1949)

Translated by Selwyn Rose

The event occurred three days after the Shavuot festival in the year TRZ”G (1942) [1] 14th. At that time I was in the home of Rabbi Eliyahu Guttmann (May G–d avenge his blood), when they came and took Rabbi Yisrael Yudl Diamand a known businessman and the son–in–law of Perl, for execution. “Rabbi!” I screamed – “Rabbi, can you see who they are taking?”

Rabbi Eliyahu, who was standing next to the window, raised his eyes sky ward and cried “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is One! ” and he fell silent.

After a few moments, he lowered his gaze and murmured: “Escape for your lives…the heavens are empty…”


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Translator's comment: The author has defined the year in both everyday Arabic numerals and also the Hebrew system. There is a definite conflict between the two: the Hebrew year TRZ”G is quite definitely 1933 and NOT 1942! On the other hand, Rabbi Leibish Vinokur correctly writes in his closing line (TRSH”T–1949). Return


[Column 541]

A Necklace of Sadness for Senele
and the Eight Hundred Children who Perished in One Day
[1]

by Ya'acov Netaneli-Roitman

Translated by Selwyn Rose

As I stood gazing mournfully at the devastated town of Dubno, all that met my eye was a solitary cherry-tree standing in the garden of what had been our home, beladen with the ripe, blood-red fruit. All that could be seen in the deathly silence was the glow of a red-hot bar of iron from the burning rubble rendering asunder the bricks enclosing it as its heat caused the bricks to split. Only the cherry-tree was afire, its glowing-red fruit calling out in the silence for rebellion.

As market day came to a close in Dubno on the banks of the River Ikva, Jewish homes were set ablaze and a thick pall of smoke covering the town lay like a carpet over everything.

The unspeakably evil Asmodeus, who knew only to create horror among Man, became personified by the rioting Germans, shooting at everyone with their machine guns or force-marching young children along, among whom was Senele, with volleys of shots; it was not far to walk…

[Column 542]

An evil one grasped the young artist with the soul of a poet who, clutching a stick of charcoal created a living breathing image of Marshal Pilsudski with his magnificent mustache on the pavement. Then uncle and grandfather quickly appeared chatting with the neighbor Malka-Etta, gazing wonderingly at the innocent child's creation on the ground.

The fresh ripening fruit on the cherry-tree attracted the attention of passersby and from the Ḥeder came the sounds of “Akdamot Milin”[2] carried on the air as a warming refrain arising from the razed fields after the pain and suffering of the destruction.

The diminutive Nathaniel now appeared alone at the doorway of the Rabbi's house and study and entered the pit of hell. He bore in his hand a brush well-dipped in color and he carried it into the heavens like a magician wafted on high from the thick branches of the tree. And there in the skies appeared a castle, a river, the hillsides of Dubno her meadows, forests and suburbs, her markets and fairs, the hustle, bustle and confusion of her streets, the synagogue with its magnificent Holy Ark, all in contrast to the ringing of the church bells pealing out their glee at the suffering of the Jews.

[Column 543]

And among them stood the cherry-tree beneath which stood two others and over all yet two more, bearing between them the first fruits on their way to Yerushalyim…And again, a puzzling grandfather and father will come, unable to understand how the senses of such a small child could create such complex images?...

And today behold: there is no Senele…while a toad and a frog in a springtime chorus is heard incessantly…So come and see as the street awakens, weep with mourners in the street. The hand of a Haidamak has strewn arrows around leaving only brush and thorn-bushes. On the ground beneath the cherry-tree, Tikun Shavuot[3] is taking place and we weep together with them and strike our heads against the wall…

Come and see – there is no Senele – his glowing eye has weakened and the colorful sky has become grey and dull like a leaden bullet.

[Column 544]

Today, in the Baratz Beit-Midrash I saw a dancing competition taking place. It was not night-time and there was no dawn and torches were lighted at dusk. From every side, from every grave night-clothes flew in the air and there was a pile of bodiless heads of children heaped against the walls. They came out to read the “Akdamot” together but their mouths brought forth only dry canes and reeds for the event.

It was as if on a blooming colorful flower-bed of azure-yellow and red, silence poured all over a disappointed orchestra of what had gone before; mouths whispering from decapitated heads the story of the robbery and pillage and the helpless dancing without bodies, without blood and without limbs.

Oh, cherry-tree, oh, cherry-tree for whom do you bloom? If it is for the devouring German then deprive him of it…cherry-tree oh, cherry-tree for whom are your berries? If for the Haidamaks may you cause your blossoms to rot…

Land O, land. O grazing meadows of Satan, let no peace come upon you, may eternal silence be your fate; may the fruit bring forth nothing but a curse upon you and may your soul be placed upon the pyre.

Tel-Aviv, the Festival of Shavuot 1946.

Translator's notes and comments:

  1. The Hebrew original to this piece appears in the Dubno Memorial Book as a poem. However, the poem contains many local and highly esoteric allegories, metaphors and imagery that made it advisable to render it into everyday prose. Return
  2. Akdamot : A highly esoteric and Talmudic, encoded Aramaic prayer written around 1095 and recited on the Festival of Shavuot, mainly - but not exclusively - in Ashkenazi communities. For a full commentary see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akdamut Return
  3. Tikun Shavuot A religious debate special to the Festival of Weeks – Pentecost, Shavuot Return

 

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