by the Editorial board
Translated by Talya MoscovitzKlein
Edited by Toby Bird
With a tremor and reverence we approached the sacred work, publishing the book of Kobylnik. Overwhelmed by the burden of grief, bereavement and orphanhood, we carried the terrible burden imposed on our shoulders, though we knew how incompetent and speechless we are to encompass in all its depth the intensity of the destruction and the Holocaust that afflicted the entire Jewish nation.
We are horrified by the bitter role fate has given us, the great responsibility that lies upon us that we may not deserve it, to try to express the grief of our people and speak for those who are killed in the strange deaths invented by Satan. And if with our own hands we counted the piles of fallen people before our eyes and knew their amazing numbers, we will never know how to estimate the spiritual heritage we lost, or the cultural, moral and Torah life that has been and is no more.
We are stunned by the fate of the precious people who perished, and at the end of 25 years of their annihilation, we, the few remaining who have escaped, are left to build a monument to the town and to its holy people. We will try to describe the history of the people of our town in this book, which was meant to serve as a tombstone, and as a perpetual candle light for the fallen.
These lines will illuminate the path of anguish, in which our loved ones marched their last step towards death. The chapters will merge into a great scroll of fire that will burn the living flesh of the destroyers of our people, and will be engraved forever in the mark of Cain for an eternal disgrace.
And when we leaf through the pages of the book we will discover corners of life that disappeared from the town of Kobylnik at the time, when everything was still standing. We will discuss the lives of the Jewish residents of the town, their deeds and daily struggles, their good and bad, the wellbeing and suffering they suffered, and dreams that have faded away. The chapters will depict the simple and modest Jews, as they appeared by their sorrow, loneliness, and joy, until they reached the bitter end. The chapters will tell about the death, destruction, and holocaust that afflicted our nation, the moaning of babies who were thrown alive to the grave, the Shema Israel, which Jews shouted on the brink of death, raising their eyes to the heavens.
These chapters will commemorate the way of life of the town, as it has developed over generations, and the glamorous souls of our holy ones. The people taken from us will be a source of inspiration and pride for us and for our children. We will review this book, and browse it from time to time, unite with the memory of the saints together and in unity, so that their lives and pure sacrifice will be a symbol and a memory for generations to come.
Now, after much effort, we can bless the finished and reveal that it was a difficult work because of the meager numbers of those who lived in town that survived the destruction and because of the relatively young age of these people, they did not have enough time to follow and be interested enough in the history of the town. The diary of the town that was kept in the synagogue contained the main events that the town had undergone since its existence was destroyed and we lacked the sources from which we could draw information about the town and its history, and only in concern for the level of the book, we worked to obtain historical material in Israel and abroad.
Efforts were made by us to share the book as much as possible with the members of our town, and indeed more than half of the Kobylniks in Israel gave us their notes and memories. In addition to the main chapter, which contains an authentic and chronological description of the events in the town at the time of the Nazi occupation of Kobylnik from 1941 until the liberation in 1944, the book also contains material written by friends, describing their personal experiences from the Holocaust period, and from the previous period. And if we do not have complete confidence that there were no defects in the book describing the life of the town, it seems to us that we managed to encompass the most important and the maximum under the existing conditions.
As a pleasant duty, we would like to thank all those who helped us carry out the project, first and foremost the members of our town in Israel and some of them in America, who contributed to the publication of the book. We are also grateful to the friends who devoted their time, energy and ability to write things down. We would like to thank the editor of the book, Mr. Itzhak Zigelman, and the secretary of the Committee of the Jews of Kobylnk, Mr. Yitzhak Gordon, who headed the operation to publish the book.
We will bless and thank them all.
Standing: Usher Krocov, Meyer Swirsky, Meyer Hadash, Itzhak Gordon, Haim Yavnai
by Baruch Axelrod
Translated by Talya MoscovitzKlein
Edited by Toby Bird
In memory of the martyrs of the town of Kobylnik who perished and were cut down by strangers
My dear brothers and sisters, a holy community whose bones are scattered all over Poland, with all six million of our pure and holy brothers
I stand at attention on your graves, Kaddish did not say and I will not justify the decree
They also did not hear the prayer of El Maleh Rachamim because the heavens were high and the gates of mercy were closed
My soul is bent for the land and my eyes are raised to the heavens, and as then, now there is an empty heaven before me I knew that you would not listen to my prayer, HaShem.
Because you did not listen to the prayer of infants and babies nursing in their mother's arms. As you have not listened to the prayer of the elders and the holy ones whose eyes were raised to heaven and the Shema Israel prayer on their lips. And as they were united with the Holy Name, HaShem, the ONE, they were all cut down one by one.
Are they resting in the shadow of the wings of Shekhinah? No, Elohai! Even the sound of the wings of the Shekhinah will not silence their blood that cries out and rest will not be found.
Land, do not cover their blood! Saints Your name will be magnified and sanctified, and your memory will never fade from our midst.
And we will build a generation that will remember … and who will remind our brothers wherever they are, because only here in their homeland their resurrection. And Here the Jewish nation will be great again.
This will be the living monument in memory and the spirit of our holy ones.
by Yitzhak Gordon
Translated by Talya MoscovitzKlein
Edited by Toby Bird
(Was given by the residents of Kobylnik at the first memorial assembly for the martyrs of Kobylnik, held in Haifa on September 28, 1950)
We gathered here a handful of Jews, survivors of fire, haunted and devastated, the survivors of the Jews of our town of Kobylnik, the Vilna district.
A faithful town of holy and pure, tortured and persecuted by the hands of an enemy and oppressor in the years 19411942. My heart is with you my parents, my dear brothers and sisters, men, women and children, whose lives were cut down from the book of life, without time or purpose. In the splendor of your fresh blossom, you have mercilessly taken root. And you babies, death caught you up even before you knew what life is.
In the open, in broad daylight, they abused you and harvested your last breath. Heaven and Earth were not shocked at the abominable crime. Everything covered your spilled blood. You were exterminated even though you did not sin, and only because you were Jews. With helplessness you had been led to the slaughter and you had to accept the punishment, because evil had shut you down from all sides. You fell dead and sacrificed on the altar of hatred of the Jews and even for Jewish burial were not brought.
You were buried in your graves and your soul is still in your nose and they have already poured the whitewash on you. In your precious life, you have paid the debt of blood for the grace they have done with you when you are at foreign land. The Gentiles thirstily drank your blood and proved their lust for theft.
You are the sweet and loving ones in your life, fulfilling the 613 commandments, you did not abandon your faith and your faith in the Torah and in the Ten Commandments was not weakened. You opposed the use of violence and coarse force as a solution to interpersonal problems and aspired to justice and justice. Indeed, you believed that in God's image man was created, and in your innocence you trusted them that they were permitted from the beast and were bitterly disappointed. You innocently believed that man was superior to the beast but you were severely burned by that assumption.
Dear Jews, honest and kindhearted, charitable and compassionate you were. No one died of starvation at the step of your door. Your house was wide open and you used it always with great hospitality. At your table you gave a place to the poor, and your shared your bread with an unexpected guest.
You supported the weak and offered him your help. You have supported the orphan and the widow in distress. You established charities and charitable organizations and, through secret donations, collected money for the needy for kimcha dafscha, kinshet kallah and for visiting the sick. You had a continuous tradition for generations in the spirit of Torah and Judaism with all its laws and commandments and in this spirit you have educated your sons and daughters. You were careful of assimilation and kept your Jewish consciousness. You were the guardians of the walls of Netzach Israel. Through the windows of your little houses, a light shone from the candles of the Shabbath, and which gave you hope and resourcefulness. Your holidays, though they seemed to be full of melancholy, were full of joy. From your homes came the sounds of your pleasant songs. You concealed your Jewish character in the wings of your clothes and the modest attire you wore. The beard on your face and the Payot testified to your origins. Indeed, even in the delicacies of your food, you were different from your neighbors, who were often jealous of you for that. For countless generations you lived in foreign lands and there rose halachic rulers, and scholars.
The Beit Midrash was a home for you and was a witness to wisdom and Torah and a place for singing and prayer. There you got together with God with devotion and poured out the pleas of your heart; from the Beit Midrash you have taken your strength in the daily life, and it has been your fort against the suffering and distress, which visited you often. In the synagogue, you also found a cure for the things between you and yourselves.
The old argument between Chassidim and Mitnagdim flared up, and they settled into a dispute over who should be the seat of the rabbinate in the town. But at the same time you also gave attention to important and significant issues. You did not object with blind fanaticism to the external education that penetrated your walls and moved from the Heder to the modern school, to educate your children, just as you did not oppose and supported the best of your money and your contributions to building Israel. And when the pioneers came to Israel, you did not declare a boycott, in your everyday life. You behaved as common people, as kind people and proud of your Jewishness.
You were healthy and strong in your body. You grew up like a tree and the field grew around. The beauty of the landscape in which you were born was reflected in your nature. Your sources of income were meager and few knew what a bit of abundance was.
The common trade and the way you worked as tailors, shoemakers and other professions did not allow you a life of luxury. Many of you worked hard but had to manage with a modest meal. In your homes and in the courtyards of your little houses, love will also fall for the chickens and animals that lived with you. Large and wide families you were. Your homes are crowded with the noise of their inhabitants the noise of your children and their laughter around them. Indeed, you have been blessed with fathers, sons, and grandsons in the glory of the elders and in the greatness of the wise.
There is not enough room to describe the extent of the dimensions of wisdom and morality that were hidden in you, the glorious Jews. You were like a tiny pearl embedded in a necklace of Jewish communities in Poland and you are no longer… Your fate was sealed with the fate of the great European Jewry that was annihilated by the oppressor and their aides during World War II. Your dwellings remained desecrated and nothing was left.
May your memory be preserved in us forever, Amen.
Written by engineer Meyer Swirsky Haifa
Translated by Yael Moscowitz
Edited by Toby Bird
There are no more Jews in Kobylnik; with time, the name of the town has also disappeared. Today it's called Narach… there is no trace left of the Jewish community in the town, no one to mention us there. For those who were our neighbors this is convenient, as in their own hand they helped the Nazis to eradicate us and then to delete every trace.
The cemetery was cleared of all gravestones and on the mass grave of our dearest, who were murdered, a grave that was outside the town has no sign and no one is coming to visit. The synagogue, the institute that more than anything was a symbol of our small community is no longer there…
The synagogue was built many years ago; An old man from the eldest people of the town… was the owner of the local estate, the Goy. With his permission, on his land the Jews of the town built their praying house. It was a wooden building. Very often a fire burst and instead of many wooden houses, new brick buildings were built. But the ancient synagogue stayed still despite all. It was a big building in a shape of a rectangle; its width was a bit shorter than its length, with a very high ceiling and many narrow windows around it and a double slope roof. An excellent simple building that characterized all wooden houses in the town.
Although the synagogue was located close to the center of town the marketplace it was in a side corner without a street name. The eastern wall was on the border of Todres and Gantovnik gardens. North to it was the Jewish school that was on the border of our family's fruit garden. And so on. Behind the school was the Jewish public bath house and more gardens, the meadow of the priest, the crick and on both sides trees and lots of plants. On the west side to the synagogue were vegetables gardens. Those were owned by the Goys. The south entrance had a wide big square in front of it and the path was leading towards Vilna Street, near the house of the Krivitzkis.
The entrance to the big praying hall was a wide room. On the left there was a library, rooms for accommodations and the rabbis' apartment. In the central room a big square stage was standing proud, for reading the Torah.
In the middle of the eastern wall a holy cabinet high and elegant with a few steps in front of it, on the right a praying place for the cantor. Seats for the prayers were located around the stage and another row next to the eastern wall.
The western wall had windows from side to side these were the woman's seats and had a separate entrance.
This was the center of our lives for generations.
Of the glory days of our synagogue we would hear from our fathers. It appears that this era was going on until the First World War. The Jews of the town had pretty much an equal status; they were working in craft work and a little trade and were mostly poor. Electricity and light haven't been available and there were no paved roads. Houses without water or toilets, modest furniture… only seldom people have traveled far from the town. Jews excelled at being religious and keeping the purity of the Jewish religion when around there was primitive Christianity. Their integrity, innocence, kindness and keeping mitzvahs united the entire community back in those days. Those were our forefathers for generations and until our grandparents.
The synagogue was the only religious center at the time, without any other spiritual cultural institute. The only photograph that was preserved from those days was taken in the synagogue, showing everyone with heavy beards, serious and innocent faces.
The belief, faith and sometimes learning the Torah, kept our forefathers more than the crafts and work they were doing for a living. Although there was poverty, our grandparents stuck to the synagogue like a moss to a wall… this is where they thanked God for their existence. This is where they reached joy on holidays. A live evidence for those days was the eldest people on the town who still lived in my childhood days. Those were our grandparents and their main business remains praying, the synagogue and keeping Mitzvahs.
We were educated growing up around the synagogue and our forefathers' tradition. Almost all of our parents, without any exceptions, were highly religious. Keeping kosher, Shabbat, holidays and occasions were common to all. Most of them even prayed three times a day, in their houses or at the synagogue. Nonetheless that was another generation, different, more advanced in trade. We were not educated on Torah only; advanced general education was part of our share as well.
Our parents read newspapers, listened to the radio and knew well about politics. They used bicycles, didn't have much free time and didn't dedicate their lives to the work of God as their parents did. Although there was no grandparent without a long beard, our parents did not grow beards anymore. And yet, the synagogue kept on being our spiritual center. This is where the congregation gathered around on Saturdays, holiday, special occasions, and everything that had to do with the community. Nevertheless this was not our only central place; behind the synagogue they built the new advanced Hebrew school, the youth group of the Yung Halutz was getting together, things that were established by our parents.
Lately, people who came to the synagogue divided into three defined groups more or less. The elderly group, those with the long beards, adherent to the Torah and prayers. Sometimes they just sat for some time in the place that was so holy to them. They were mostly sitting next to the eastern wall, the most respected among them. They also sat around the big stage in the center of the praying house; the tiles around the stage were used as a heating system.
The head of the elderly group was Rabbi Einbinder, next to him the most central person in the synagogue and in the entire community Yeshaya Yosi Gordon. This is where we regularly saw Haim Yankal'e Yanovsky, the porcelain trader, his brothers Avraham It'che and Moshe, Berl Gebtovnik the butcher, Mendel Leib Hadash the teacher, Yeshayahu Vexler the tinsmith, Zternosky the blacksmith, old Glot and the others…
About half of the elderly group passed away before the Shoah and were considered to have a special right from God to be to die naturally and to be buried in a Jewish grave. Our forefathers were the main group of the synagogue; among them we crowd together, us the children, youth and teenagers.
On the two sides of the stage set the young generation and the parents. On Shabbat and holidays the synagogue was full of people, everyone dressed in the best clothes. Not only on the high holidays, the time of praying was also for mental serenity, time for small talks, catching up and fun pranks by the children.
This part, that stood in contradiction with our fathers' feelings, was the daily occurrence for the younger people and for some of the older as well. Things like those happened mostly while reading the Torah. Instead of following the reading that was performed with much grace and talent by Leib Friedman or the butcher Avraham Goldzegger, people made conversation about events in the world, or their impression of visiting other villages markets, things about Zionism and the lad of Jews, updates about Kobylnik, jokes and funny pranks like throwing a towel on the head of one of the prayers…
Some literal assassination with the elderly group and the more conservatives were inevitable, and the adjudicator and peace maker as usual was the good and innocent Rabbi. An example that you can see is the case when people told the rabbi that Yankel Beinish is disturbing the prayers. The rabbi came to Yankel Beinish who sat near the southern was among the Jokers; everyone stood up for the rabbi (this was custom at the synagogue). The rabbi asked if that was true. Yankel said: His blood is on his own head, I swear… the rabbi wondered, turned to the complainant and said: What do you want from Yankel Beinish? He clearly swore he had nothing to do with this.
There was much joy in the synagogue during the holidays, like Simchat Torah, Purim, Shavuot. Being happy was a mitzvah and even if there were some jokes or pranks, the older generation saw this with understanding. Everyone has a special courtesy to Shaya Yossi. Although he was very old, he still controlled the yarmulke, calmed every fight, set who will be the prayer leader, who will go up to read the Torah etc. He was also the address for all that was going on outside the synagogue. When he passed away all those issues transmitted to the managers of the synagogue, first to Shlomo Yavnovich and then to David Leib Swirsky.
Upon the arrival of the soviets in 1939, we felt a severe decrease in the importance of the synagogue. Even keeping Shabbat became very hard, because most of them worked in governmental positions, and the young generation that was studying in the state school had to come to school on Shabbat and holidays. And what a wonder; the external difficulties made the Jews want to be even stricter about keeping the Mitzvahs…
My father for example, insisted and received an approval that he will be free of any work on Shabbat and will work on Sunday instead, the official day off. Others followed him if they were able to receive the approval. I remember the time when all the Jewish children (who were attending school on Shabbat without books or pencils) organized together and didn't show up for school in Rosh Hashana. The principle, the Goy, came to the synagogue with his teachers and tried with to force us to leave. He did not succeed this time but it was clear that that the next generation should expect many difficulties in the future to keep those values that were sacred for generations by our forefathers.
The twist was sudden and crueler than anything we expected. The Nazis, yimach shemom, came, and with them the big Shoah of the Jews of Europe, and our town in it. The hardest of all was the idea, that the god of armies, who we believed in and was so sacred, is punishing so cruelly his flock. We had enough admonishment and beating one's breast, thinking that all of this came upon us for not keeping the Mitzvahs strictly enough, while trying to ignore the horrible truth… we were humiliated and tortured before being totally destroyed.
The Synagogue together with most of the Jewish houses were set on fire on 1943 by the partisan Meyer Hadash, one of the few survivors, for the sake that our Goy neighbors will not be able to defile them anymore, most of them had on their hands clean blood of the town's Jewish people…
by Dr. M. Dvorzhesky
Translated by Jerrold Landau
Remember the Holocaust of Israel, remember the loss and the bitterness, let it be fore you as a sign and a lesson for years throughout the generations;
Let this memory accompany you always as you travel along the way, when you lie down, and when you get up;
Let the memory of brethren who are no more be bound to you forever;
Let this memory penetrate your flesh, your blood and your bones;
Grit your teeth and remember: when you eat your bread remember; when you drink your water remember; if you hear a song remember; when the sun rises remember; when night falls remember; on festival days and holidays surely remember;
If you build a house you should leave a breach, so that the destruction of the House of Israel will be before you always;
If you plow a field, you should set up a mound of rocks as a monument to brethren who did not receive a Jewish burial;
When you bring your child to the wedding canopy, at the height of your joy, recall the memory of the children who will not be brought to the wedding canopy;
Be as one: the living and the dead: the victim and the survivor: those who went and are no more and those who remained alive;
Hear, Jewish person, to the voice calling to you from the depths: do not be silent, do not be silent!
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