« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

[Page 31]

The Tree That Resembled a Menorah
on the Way from Mervits to Mlynov

(A Legend)

by A. [Eliyahu] Gelman, Netanya

Edited and translated by Howard I. Schwartz, PhD with Hanina Epstein

©

It was the custom for the Tzadik[1] to circulate among the towns of Volyn to meet with the congregations of his Hasidim who were awaiting him. And even though he was an old man, advanced in years, nothing could prevent him from continuing on his way.

One Friday, the Tzadik went out, according to his custom, to visit in a nearby town, with those who were accompanying him. That same day, a winter day, the snow was falling and covered the entire face of the ground. The winter carriage[2] in which the Tzadik and his companions were traveling, made its way along the dirt road that was snow covered and went up a hill that was between Mervits and Mlynov. Suddenly, the wagon stopped at the direction of the Tzadik; strong pains attacked him and he felt that the hour had arrived to take leave of this world. The Tzadik looked and saw the sun sending forth its bright rays in the approaching sunset, and in another moment the holy Sabbath would spread her wings [at which time transport and burial would be forbidden]. And he – how could he reach a Jewish grave?

Perplexed, the Hasidim stood around him without saying anything. The Tzadik with all his depleted strength, whispered towards his Hasidim, “Holy Shabbat is coming and I am about to take leave of this world. Dig me a grave here, and bury me on the main thoroughfare and you – go by foot to the nearby village and do not desecrate the Sabbath.” And with these words, his lips began to move and he prayed, and while praying “Vidui”[3] [the deathbed confessional], his soul left him – at [the word] 'Ahat' [One].”[4] The Hasidim mourners did as they were instructed by their departed rabbi, and buried him in the grave on the main thoroughfare. At the place of his burial, they stuck a branch in the earth as a landmark and in memory.

Within days, the branch rooted, it grew and became a magnificent tree, with branches out to the sides, which formed the shape of a menorah, a witness and a monument to the one buried in the earth. In the winter, when a person passed that location, the wind blew through the branches with whimpering, the snow squealed under the steps of one's feet – and it recalled this legend [aggadah]: the legend of the grave on the thoroughfare and the headstone tree in the shape of a menorah.

 

Editor's footnotes:
  1. A term meaning “righteous one” used for a religious spiritual leader in the Hasidic world. Return
  2. Possibly with wheels removed and converted to sleigh, as told to Mlynov descendant Charles Epstein by his father. Return
  3. The prayer a traditional Jew recites during their final moments. Return
  4. The Vidui includes the Shema, the Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God the Lord is one. When he got to “One,” he expired. Return

 

[Page 32]

In the presence[1] of Yitzhak Lamdan in Mlynov

by Moshe Tamari

Edited and translated by Howard I. Schwartz, PhD with Hanina Epstein

©

Before WWI, Mlynov was known as a minor town in the western part of Great Russia, on the border of Austria. As is only natural, legends developed – beautifying and embellishing [life] especially for the routine days that were boring and depressing. The residents spoke with wonder –

This was what Mlynov was like, a fertile plain of Volhynia, built of wooden houses, tiled roofs, streets that extended in the shape of a pentagon from the circular market square, far from the railroad and from the intersection of the roads. The large Ikva River passed by her and she was encircled by dramatic green hills and groves of oak and birch, and she was blessed with honest Jews who honored Torah, traded in grain, and from which derived a great diverse bounty.

* * *

During my childhood, people would talk about Itzi Yehuda Lebes, namely, Yitzhak Lamdan, who left via a nonexistent route for the Land of Israel, at the height of the raging war, at a time of uncontrolled pogroms. In the Land of Israel, he worked as a pioneer in every kind of hard work, hungry and sick with fever – and he became a literary giant. There are those who remembered him on markets days, when his father's house served as a lodge for many guests while Itzi, without a corner to himself, lay down with hands and feet outstretched on the wooden floor, and in the midst of great commotion, he would write his Hebrew poems and go back and copy them in his beautiful handwriting. When he reached 12 years, his first poem was published; after several years, he also earned the opportunity to publish in HaShiloah[3] and he received from Joseph Klausner a postcard written in his own hand.[4]

[Page 33]

The Jews of Mlynov were also tolerant in earlier generations. Yitzhak Lamdan, a man who instead of intending to be a teacher of knowledge in Israel, chose to write rhyming poems in the style of the gentiles – [nonetheless] they honored him. His father's merit was extended to him. What's so surprising, is he not the son of Reb Yehuda-Leb?

I do not remember him from the days before he made aliyah to the Land of Israel, but I attentively listened for anything said about him, as if he lived a long time ago. But the large house with the white front, in which a densely branched chestnut tree leaned over its windows, impressed me as more wonderful than other houses: He was born here in this house and from this treetop he dropped chestnuts[5] and here in the river he washed. When I went inside, I sidled up to the wall (“kotel”),[6] without realizing it, and turned my eyes to the floor, upon which he lay and wrote his poems. In the shining countenance of his father, I saw Yitzhak's likeness. And in the singing voice of his father at night when he read chapters of Psalms, I found the source of the son's poems. Although Reb Yehuda-Leb greatly loved the son of his old age, he never revealed his love or expressed wonder at [his son's] success in the Holy Land. What is the fuss all about– secular books? If he wrote, for example, a commentary on Psalms (tehillim) – that would be another matter. But the writing of poetry, it was no big deal.

In the right wing of the house, his eldest sister, Reva, dwelled. Attractive, a perfectionist, and beloved. To her house, which sparkled with cleanliness, even on the days that the mud was outside and came up to your knees, I used to come to read from the letters of Lamdan, and to see the books that he sent.

I don't know whether it was because of a special connection between Reva and my mother or because she knew my love of Hebrew literature that I was the only one to whom she would lend books that I could read at my house. When I returned [the poem] “Masada,”[7] I received the volumes, “Between the Islands” and “Reubeni, Prince of the Jews,”[8] which Lamdan had translated and after that [the volume] “In the Threefold Harness.” She also let me in on the secret of letters he wrote to her. The days the books were in my possession, I would bring them to the clubhouse of [the youth group] Hashomer Hatzair, and the members would huddle together and read from them. Among my age group, there were a few who remembered him. Our hope that all of us would make aliyah to the Land of Israel never left us for a single day. Each one of us prepared him/herself to visit him after we merited going to The Land. That it might be possible he would come to visit Mlynov – this never crossed our minds. And there were many reasons for that.

It was known that Yitzhak longed to see his father, but it was also not lost on us that his visit was not in the realm of possibility, because he was a Russian citizen when he left [and Mlynov had become part of Poland after the war and as a result] the Polish government would not permit his entrance. Periodically, he would write from Berelin, [indicating] that he would try to realize his desire by going to Danzig, which was then a free city, and his father would go to him – and thus see him in person. After Passover, calendar year 5691 (1931), we learned that Yitzhak found a way to overcome the stumbling block [preventing him from visiting Mlynov].

[Page 34]

In a few weeks, he was about to arrive in Mlynov via Lithuania. When the rumor was verified, the excitement was palpable. And, in fact, there were signs of the pending visit. In his father's house, a room was set aside for him for which they installed new doors. In the meantime, letters and newspapers announced his lecture itinerary in Lithuania – about “The Fate of Zionism.” When the day arrived, I was sent with a delegation of my friends on behalf of the Histadrut Hanoar [the Federation of students][9] to receive him personally at the crossroads where he was supposed to arrive in the evening.

As the bus from Dubno drew close, we stopped it and got on it. We looked for Lamdan but didn't recognize him. Indeed, we did see an elegant man sitting by himself on the last bench, his outer jacket spread on his knees, and his arm leaning on a briefcase, but we were confused and didn't know if this was our guest. Could this be the man of [the poem] “Masada?” It was not possible! According to his photographs, and our best estimates, we imagined meeting a pioneer dressed in a wide-open shirt, with unkempt curls on his head and a dreamy look, in the ways of a poet. And he looked at us, sensing our confusion, and did not introduce himself; only his eyes smiled kindheartedly: as if to say, 'look, how far do your sharp eyes reach, my provincial friends'. Better that you look to the heart and not rely on a person's clothes. Am I able to go across Europe in my work clothes from Ben Shemen and straw hat on my head?”– – When we approached him and timidly asked him his name, he smiled, but the barrier (mehitzah) did not fall away yet. We chatted on and off. We didn't tell him how much we looked forward to his coming, but he understood our emotion and it appeared to us that it pleased him. When we reached town multiple groups of young people waited. When we crossed the market place area – which hadn't changed at all since he left it – one couldn't detect excitement in him. The branches of the chestnut tree swayed quietly, the sun was setting in stages over the dam in the river and the grove across from it dripped summer coolness. It was approximately 12 years since his fleeing from the town which had gone up in flames.

We brought him to his home. His father didn't go to synagogue to pray Minhah [afternoon prayers] and was waiting for him. When he hugged him, we knew that we should slip away. Their meeting was a sacred and touching moment that was forbidden for us to see, just as we had been accustomed [to avert our gaze] in childhood and not look at the priests [the Cohanim] when they “rise to the platform” (ducan) and spread their hands [in the priestly benediction]…[10]

* * *

This was the month of Sivan, but the rains were pouring without let up. We prepared a welcome party for him and in the meantime, I visited with him morning and evening. During the morning, I would find him sharing a meal with his father who was positioned at the head of the table, and he was on a bench to his left, sitting modestly, as if he was still dependent on this table [for sustenance]. What subject was not spoken of during those days, when the rain poured heavily, and pounded the window next to them through which could be seen the scenery of the town, the darkened shops that surrounded the square and the rain, like dancing pins on the puddles.

[Page 35]

The river grew dark and the grove became wrapped in fog. We asked about how Hebrew literature was faring in the Land, in the Kibbutzim and in Tel Aviv. We told him about the significant cultural activity in Poland, the network of Hebrew schools and the activities of the [Zionist youth group] Hashomer Hatzair. He recounted his days working in Sejera[11] and Ben Shemen.[12] As was his style, – he measured all his words with restraint, he smiled from time to time, shy and embarrassed. He also recounted that his apartment was close to the sea and he washed in it every day. When the rain became intermittent, we sat with him on the bench in the shade of the chestnut and he chatted with his students, who came to him from Berestechko and Lutsk which were close, and where he had once been a teacher.

One time, we were going on a field trip passing by the grove of the Count [Graf], on the temporary bridge that was set up in place of the bridge that had burned during the First World War. To our right, the posts that stuck out of the river appeared blackened, burned posts left from the foundations of the “Mormon” (a large water mill in Mlynov) and the damn which had fallen into the lake; To our left were two banks covered with bent weeping willows. On the other side of the bridge was the hill called “Mount Sinai”[13] – by children – opposite the Count's estate. The façade of the white mansion, the colonades and gravel walkways with flowerbeds. Only a few were privileged to enter the mansion, but the hill was the possession of this town's children for several generations. Lamdan paused looking at it and was silent. He was surely reminded of his childhood years, when he climbed up it on the Sabbaths, and at the same time, he was not able to take his eyes off the fields of birch that lined the way to the forest of Smordva. And then he suddenly turned his gaze. That very moment, my memories bubbled up with the lines from his poem Masada:

The distant murmur of pine-forests caresses my ear.
The ark of youth floats on the cool waters of the Ikva among the shady reeds Leave me, visions of yesterday! Why have you set on me?
From your flourishing earth, I have pulled out all my roots…[14]
From here he sailed the ark[15] of youth; From here he fled and here he returned. But his sudden turning away hinted that his return was not as a poet of the people to his place of origin and town of his birth. Rather as if he was tempting and inciting the essence of childhood. Hebrew destiny followed in his footsteps to this same point of serenity…

As children of Volyn,[16] we were not normally used to confining our feelings, but he was used to distance and given to moodiness. Apparently, three cultures intermittently surrounded him: softness from the days of his childhood, hot [Hamsin] temperament of the people of the Land of Israel, and the restraint of European manners. It seemed that he had acquired for himself some of the ways of the Anglo-Saxons. All the times we attempted to get him to reveal his opinion on authors, he was cautious in his response. By contrast, he had much to say in general about literature and life in the Land – on the [literary] “responses” and books of “expertise”. If my memory doesn't deceive me, also about the public reaction to the Dybbuk,[17] that was put on in the Beit Haam in Tel Aviv.

[Page 36]

The hours I sat in his presence were very enjoyable, without a separation between us and only once was I burned by his sparks. This was the time that he met with the members of the leadership of [the Zionist Youth group] Hashomer Hatzair. He was speaking about the Pioneer Movement and the difficulties of acclimation to the life of work in the Land. In the discussion, I revealed my thinking, that Tel Aviv expanded too much and that it was better for the Land and our Zionist future, that the Kibbutz towns expand and that the tendency for Jews to gather in cities required restraint.[18] In his reply, he rebuked me that there was no need for restraint against the Jewish city and I had no right to express my view before I saw the Land with my own eyes and before I was there. This was a decisive rebuke and my complaint was finished. Nonetheless, I felt that justice was on my side. I thought to myself, what is this, to the poet of Masada, to spread his protection over Tel Aviv of all things.

The welcome reception went well, even though we couldn't find a fitting reception hall and it was held in one of the sections of the mill that was not finished, that was fixed up special for this, between exposed white walls and tin roof. Two days before, I entreated him to give the lecture “On the Fate of Zionism”, the one he gave in Lithuania (from which good reviews reached us) but he didn't comply. The hall was full of youth from the town. He lectured on the challenges of Hebrew literature. As his lecture ended, he read his poem “Ivrit” (Hebrew), from the volume In The Threefold Harness.

 

Mly037.jpg
Yitzhak Lamdan during his visit to Mlynov[19]

[Page 37]

His visit came to an end. He had to leave urgently for Basel [Switzerland] to the 17th Zionist Congress, that was going to open at the end of the month, in its “world” mission. In the days before he left, the weather improved. It was moonlit nights, and we went out as a group across from the memorial tombstone along the main road outside the city.[20] The edges of the woods on the horizons were silver and the river slowly sang its song among the stalks of bullrushes and boulevard of willows, as it was swallowed up in the river that was larger still – the Styr. The dwellings of Israel doze serenely on the soil, that was held from generation to generation. It is only us who do not know rest, as if this land burned under us. It was hard for us to separate from him and we didn't know why: the heart was full of longing and fear was concealed. The valley was immersed by the light of the moon along the small bridge in wonderous radiance, like an enchanted silver cradle. We looked at it and didn't know, not one of us, that not twelve years would pass and this valley would be turn to a massive grave to our parents, our brothers and sisters.

Published in “Gilyonot”[21] in memory of Yitzhak Lamdan, z”l, Chesvan-Kislev, 5715 [1954].

* * *

From the beginning of Yitzhak Lamdan's poem Masada.[22]

One Autumn night, on a restless couch far from our ravaged home, my mother died:

In her eyes, a last tear glistened as she whispered me a dying blessing. Before I went to campaigns on distant, foreign fields, with my army kits pressing on my shoulder…
On Ukrainian paths, dotted with graves, and swollen with pain,
My sad-eyed, pure-hearted brother fell dead, to be buried in a heathen grave.
Only father remained fast to the doorpost [mezuzah] wallowing in the ashes of destruction,
And over the profaned name of God, he tearfully murmured a prayer,
Whilst I, still fastening my crumbling soul with the last girders of courage,
Fled, at midnight to the exile ship, to ascend to Masada.

 

Editor's footnotes:
  1. Tamari uses the word “bemehitzah” to refer to being in the presence of Lamdan, but he is punning on the meaning of the term which also means “a barrier.” Later in the essay, he uses the same term to talk about the barrier between Lamdan and Mlynov boys who greet him. Return
  2. Rabbi Aharon from Karlin refers to the famous Hasidic rebbe, Rabbi Aaron Ben Asher of Karlin (June 6, 1802 – June 23, 1872), also known as Rabbi Aaron II of Karlin. He was one of the leaders of the Karlin-Stolin Hasidic dynasty. Rabbi Aharon reportedly died in Mlynov on a journey to the wedding of his granddaughter. Another essay in this volume, entitled “The Tree That Resembled a Menorah…” recounts the death of a Hasidic rebbe near Mlynov and may allude to this same story. Thousands of Rabbi Aaron's followers would visit him annually in Karlin around the Jewish New Year. A few years before his death, he quarreled with family members and moved to Stolin. Rabbi Aharon from Karlin was the grandson of the original Rabbi Aaron the Great [Aaron ben Jacob Perlov of Karlin] (1736–1772) one of the early founders of the sect who helped the rapid spread of Hasidism in Eastern Europe, and was known for the fiery eloquence. Aaron the Great was succeed by his disciple, Rabbi Shlomo of Karlin, who was in turn succeeded by Rabbi Asher Perlov, the son of Rabbi Aaron the Great, who was then succeeded by his son Rabbi Aharon II, the one who died in Mlynov. Return
  3. A Hebrew monthly founded in 1896 in Odessa by Ahad Ha'am, published in Berelin. Return
  4. Klausner was a Jewish historian and professor of Literature from Vilna, active in Russia Zionist circles, who settled in Palestine in 1919. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Klausner Return
  5. The author uses the word “hsyr” which can mean to drop but may be a play on the word “poem” (syr). Return
  6. The use of the word “kotel” for wall is a possible literary allusion to the Western Wall and to reverence the author felt towards Lamdan's house. Return
  7. Masada was the famous poem Yitzhak Lamdan wrote in Palestine in 1927, which is quoted below. Return
  8. David Reubeni (c. 1490– Sept 1538) was a Jewish traveler and adventurer who sought to create an alliance between Jews and Christians with the aim of establishing a Jewish state. Return
  9. Appears to be a youth movement of Histadrut, the General Federation of Jewish Labor. The Histadrut was organized in 1920 in Palestine as a Labor Movement. Return
  10. One is supposed to avert the eyes when the descendants of the priestly class go in front of the congregation and recite the priestly benediction called “raising of the hands” or “rising to the platform.” The text of the blessing is found in Numbers 6:23–27. Return
  11. A moshav in northern Israel also called Ilaniya.  It was the first Jewish settlement in the Lower Galilee and played an important role in the Jewish settlement of the Galilee from its early years until the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. Return
  12. Ben Shemen is a moshav in central Israel. The moshav was founded in 1905, and was one of the first villages established on Jewish National Fund land. Return
  13. See the author's other essay in this volume called, “My Hill,” describing his childhood memories of “Mount Sinai”. Return
  14. From Lamdan's poem Masada, section “Outside the Camp.” This translation from Leon Yudkin, Isaac Lamdan: A Study in Twentieth-Century Hebrew Poetry. Ithaca: Cornell, 1971, 218. Return
  15. Possibly an allusion to the ark baby Moses was placed in. Return
  16. The name for the Province under Poland, previously Volhynia under Russia. Return
  17. The Dybbuk is a play by S. Ansky, authored between 1913 and 1916. It was originally written in Russian and later translated into Yiddish by Ansky. The Dybbuk had its world premiere in that language, performed by the Vilna Troupe at Warsaw in 1920. Return
  18. The opinion Tamari is expressing here was also expressed by some members of Zionist leadership at the time and can be seen, for example, as aligned with the opinion of Chaim Weizmann as recounted in his autobiography. Return
  19. The descendants of the Lamdan family believe Yitzhak is 4th from the left. It seems likely, based on a comparison to later photos, that the writer of this essay, Moshe Tamari, is the younger man without a tie in the photo, third from the left. Return
  20. Possibly an allusion to the Rebbe who died along the road and/or the marker for the grave of Rabbi Aharon from Karlin. See footnote above. Return
  21. Gilyonot was a literary monthly that Lamdan founded in 1934 and edited. Its last issue was a memorial to him. Return
  22. Yitzhak Lamdan's poem, “Masada” was published in 1927 and played a significant role in developing the mountain fortress into a powerful symbol of identity among Zionist pioneers. Masada was a first century fortress where zealots held out in the war against Rome. For Lamdan, going up to Masada became a metaphor for aliyah to Palestine. This translation is from Leon Yudkin, Isaac Lamdan: A Study in Twentieth-Century Hebrew Poetry. Ithaca: Cornell, 1971, 199. Return

[Page 38]

The Massive Disaster (Shoah)

Asher Teitelman, Haifa

Translated and edited by Howard I. Schwartz, PhD, with Hanina Epstein

 

Thus it began…

With the breaking of dawn, the town shook from the sound of loud explosions. We thought it was just a military exercise, because there were military bases surrounding us, in addition to the large airfield on the Count's land on the other side of the river. That the war had broken out the day before between the two parties to the [Molotov-Ribbentrop] pact — no one believed this… but when we exited from our houses and the throng of residents gathered in the open areas of the town, and the situation was comprehended, the shock hit us like thunder on a clear day.

“War has broken out” - was heard from all sides. The Germans bombed the airfield, and the local Soviet army was thrown into shock, [but thought] this is nothing but a regretful skirmish. “It is not possible,” the commanding officers responded, “that war has indeed broken out.” But in the meantime, terrible news[1] arrived, each worse than the next.

Shocked and mortified, we stood, group by group, and discussed our situation. We had to plan what to do for the future. Who could have imagined that looting and destruction[2] were this close; that the walls of protection would be removed, that the mighty army of the Soviet Union would retreat completely along the length of the front?

In the meantime, the town and the airfield were bombed four-five times during the day. The large bridge that led to the property of the Count, was destroyed in the bombing, and the passage of vehicles was not possible; those going by foot endangered their lives and crossed it when it was broken up and its whole length was hanging by a thread above the water, but who paid heed to the danger? All the men were brought out by the Red Army to the airfield to fix what was possible to temporarily fix and I was among them. All the time there were sirens and bombings.

What was going on in the town, we didn't know. Only flames and stacks of smoke we saw from a distance and from this we guessed that here and there bombs had fallen. Towards noon, the airfield was bombed in a massive bombardment and it was completely destroyed. There were dead among the residents of the townlet, Jews and gentiles both included, and some of the military men. Hundreds of people [took cover by] lying down along the shore of the river, by the meadow, and watched the aerial fighting taking place between the Nazi and Soviet planes. After the planes were driven away, a large surge of people fled to the townlet. The remnants of the bridge were going up in fire, and many succeeded to cross over to the townlet on the broken remains of bridge that still were floating.

[Page 39]

And the townlet? — most of the residents already had fled from it, and those who remained were waiting impatiently for the return of their loved one from the airfield. The townlet emptied quickly, the bombed houses burned and the roads were destroyed. Towards evening, the Nazis took control of the airfield and on the next day they left again.

The second day passed quietly in the townlet that had emptied entirely of its residents, who had scattered to the rural villages and the fields. On the third day, rumors spread by the Soviet army, that they had repelled the invader, and that there was no immediate danger to our area. The rumors influenced [opinion] very quickly and the residents began to stream back home. Indeed, during the day it seemed, that the danger had passed. But how astounded we were in seeing in the darkness of dusk German reconnaissance units wandering around between the houses. Panic seized the residents of the townlet and, in the blink of an eye, a strong flow began towards Mervits, and from there to Polish farming communities in the area. All night and during the fourth day, the migration occurred, and from afar the sounds the Lutzk bombardment and its surrounding reached us; The burning town lit up the surrounding area.

During the night, the Red Army retreated after hard fought battles on the north side of Mlynov, and evacuated the area. A number of buildings were damaged and among them the new flour mill of Rabbi Joseph Gelberg, z"l.[3] In addition, the supply of electricity to the town was damaged.

During the middle of the fourth day, the soldiers appeared in the area. An army that was large and numerous, with vehicles and by foot, gained control over everything. Tragedy fell upon us, we tumbled and couldn't get up. And that is the way it only started…

 

In Due Course…

Slaughter and robbery became a daily occurrence. These Ukrainians, who had been thirsty for Jewish blood for generations, experienced in theft and murder, were unleashed to pursue their iniquities. The first shots echoed already in the square of the town, blending well with the sounds of windows breaking and houses being destroyed. Farmers from the surrounding area wandered around with sacks laden with items that Jews had labored make. And following them their wives and child, laden with whatever came to hand. Under the protection of the soldiers, they passed from house to house, killing, plundering and destroying everything.

I remember how the people of the Gestapo gathered from the heads of the town, such as the Rabbi, z"l, and my father among them, and laid upon them a quota for ransom — a large quantity of soap, cigarettes and more. And if within twenty-four hours they didn't bring [the ransom] to the Gestapo building, their fate of death was assured. Mortified and chastened the good people of the town went out to gather the things, even though they knew from the outset that the matter was impossible. When almost all the residents gave all that they had, only a tiny bit was gathered and those designated beforehand for death stood with heads bowed before their murderers [as if] “to bring a gift to Esau” [i.e., to appease the enemy] (Gen. 33.11) … all the Jews of the town shook their heads [thinking all would be killed], but to the surprise of all, they all returned home, because there is a time for death and a time for life. But the grace period was not for long.

[Page 40]

The savagery continued. The murder and plunder continued; the Rabbi of the town, a magnanimous and honorable figure according to everyone, was among the first to be taken out to be killed. The angel of death did not discriminate among those who were available, older or younger, or in advanced stages of pregnancy. Each and every day, when day had dawned, the murderers and their accomplices charged around and expelled them from their houses to a large empty field in the center of the townlet, this marketplace (“Mark-platz”) became the departure point (“Umschlagplatz”[4]), and after the assembly they were brought to places of labor, accompanied by the SS and a Ukrainian militia. With tears and blood they saturated the roads, and not a day passed without murder and torture. The town's roads were sown with wounded, blood, and the dead. Day in and day out, the population of the town was thinned out. In the evening, we wished “if only it were morning” and in the morning we wished “if only it were evening”[5] … days of terror and fear overcame us, cold and hunger were our portion. All the inhabitants did hard labor, some in the fields of the Count, some in the airfield, in the vacated destroyed mansion of the Prince or in the estates nearby, like Smordva, and I also was among them. The torture was fully engraved in our minds and body. The order of the day began with an immersion at midnight in the pond next to the mill, in extreme cold, and after the immersion they ran us half naked for two full hours, “oy” if one falls or falters. Pistol shots would be a redeeming salvation for him, and for this each and every one yearned. The difficulties were unbearable.

* * *

The days of winter 5702 (1941) arrived. Rumors and futile hope began to spread and surge in our hearts: “General” winter would overpower them and with it would come our rescue. But our expectations were in vain. To be sure, in the arrival of the murderous troops to the gates of Moscow and Stalingrad, their advance was halted, the bitter enemy forces, may their names be erased, suffered heavy losses and only then did their hand fall heavily upon us. In the townlet, the Judenrat was established, and the Jewish go-between was the execution arm for all the kidnappings of those sent for labor to the camps in Rovno, Studinka[6] and elsewhere. They seized warm clothing, furs, gold and silver and in the end also copper and everything made from copper. Life was difficult to bear in the townlet even before the ghetto was set up, and the fate of those who went to the work camps was no better, and not a small amount of their effort was invested in the holy work[7] of religious persecution and murder.

 

The Ghetto-the end

One of the days between Pesach and Shavuot, a decree was promulgated to gather up the inhabitants of Mlynov/Mervits in one ghetto. The ghetto was set up and the [plan] carried out. In two narrow and small streets, all the inhabitants of the two townlets were gathered and from the surrounding villages. 10-12 persons — and sometimes more — were crowded together in every room, barbed wire fence was set up, with no entrance or opening, the trap around us was set.

[Page 41]

From here, through the entrance and exit gate, hundreds of men and women were taken to work each day. Early morning they would leave, and in evening return. Devastating news reached us from all the communities in the area, day after day, night after night, the Jewish residents were wiped out; the axe was poised. Rovno, Lutzk, Dubno and all the nearby communities were emptied of their Jewish residents. The mass graves were in the thousands, their blood saturating the accursed Ukrainian ground, the diabolical program of the Jewish oppressor went forward and was realized. One day, rumors spread that it was the turn of Mlynov, our town, to be counted. Several daring individuals broke through the ghetto fence and hid in the forests and the fields. But the incident was known to the Germans and they postponed the day of the liquidation. Poor conditions and ravenous hunger tied them to the town, even the daring among them, and thus sealed their fate. The [fate of] the holy community was thus in hands of heaven.

A large mass grave and around it dozens of grave sites and among them, my brothers Ephraim-Fishel and Shlomo, surrounded it. A few managed to escape and hide in the forests and fields but only a few were “brands plucked from fire [i.e., survived].”[8]

Mlynov, this is a small townlet in the Russian Pale of Settlement, most of its people were hard working men and a few of them were small merchants who, with integrity and by the sweat of their palms, earned their bread; in their moments of joy or sorrow, the older ones prayed but the younger ones through their activities lifted up their eyes to the land of Zion and longed for her redemption. Among the town's children [i.e. former residents] is numbered Dr. Solomon Mandelkern, the creator of the concordance to the Bible (Tanakh), Yitzhak Lamdan, among the great poets of our times; most of her children were educated on the lap of the national language [Hebrew], the town's go-getters and active members of the community worked towards a vision of returning to Zion[9] — this town, [including] all the inhabitants from Mlynov, from Mervits and its surroundings were annihilated with all the towns in the area. The ground of Ukraine is saturated with the holy and pure Jewish blood; cursed it will be forever, a disgrace forevermore. The memory of our loved ones shall be guarded in our hearts forever.

Listen up, a song rises and is exciting

With love and faith it erupts into the fullness of the world and lives—

Listen, Listen to the echo of a divine voice: she is powerful, free and uplifting

It will be sung in the choir of the Jewish people,

This is my eternity.

(Yitzhak Katznelson,[10] from Ghetto Fighters' House

Editor's footnotes:

  1. Literally, “news of Job.” Return
  2. Quoting Isaiah 51:19 Return
  3. “z"l” is a Hebrew acronym for “may his memory be for a blessing,” the equivalent of “may he rest in peace.” Return
  4. The term used during the Holocaust to denote holding areas adjacent to railway stations in occupied Poland where Jews were assembled for deportation. Return
  5. This sentence alludes to Deuteronomy 28.67 which reads “In the morning you shall say, 'If only it were evening!' and in the evening you shall say, 'If only it were morning!'—because of what your heart shall dread and your eyes shall see. Return
  6. May refer to Studynka, Ukraine 238 m southeast of Mlyniv, Ukraine today. Return
  7. The term is used here facetiously, meaning the persecutions and murder were considered “holy work” by the Germans and Ukrainians. Return
  8. Quoting Zechariah 3:1-2. Return
  9. Alluding to Psalm 126.1 (also the first sentence of the blessing after meals (Birkat Hamazon): A song of ascents. When the LORD restores the fortunes of Zion —we see it as in a dream— Return
  10. Yitzhok Katznelson (1 July 1886 - 1 May 1944) was a Polish Jewish teacher, poet and dramatist. He was born in 1886 in Karelichy near Minsk, was involved in the Warsaw ghetto uprising and was murdered May 1, 1944 in Auschwitz. Return

 

[Page 42]

Kehilla Mlynov-Mervits: Eradicated

by Sonia and Mendel Teitelman, Haifa

Translated from the Yiddish by Hannah B. Fischthal

Edited and translated by Howard I. Schwartz, PhD

©

We mourn the entire Jewish people that was destroyed, the house of Israel, and also our own Mlynov-Mervits which was small in number, but large in quality. Our dear brothers and sisters, from our shtetlekh from the Mlynov-Mervits kehilla which went down in flames, together with their old established nests,[1] our dear and beloved were torn away from us without mercy for eternity, for eternity. At the same time, our long-standing neighbors warmed themselves in the fires of our souls, and even poured fuel on our large fire. We, the survivors, will never in our lives forget this. Not us, and not our children, not in our freed Land of Israel, and not in the entire world!

How can we picture in our minds that the entire community of Jews from the Mlynov kehilla [which included] –Mervits, Trovits, Boromel, Demidovka, Ostrozhets, the survivors of Turka-Sokoliki,[2] and the few Jews from the villages—are no longer there, and they will never be there again?! How can we imagine that the well-trodden footpaths, on which our brothers and sisters walked, covered with sweat and blood, are now overgrown with grass, and that no Jewish feet will ever step there again?! How can we imagine that the dear children, brought up tenderly with great efforts, are no longer there, and will never be there again?! Never again will we celebrate in the Mlynov kehilla and the shtetlekh Jewish sabbaths and holidays; never again will the shabbat and holiday candles shine out of the Jewish houses; never again will we hear the happy laughter and Zionist songs of the Jewish youth over there.

[Page 43]

We will not meet Jews who, in the freezing dawn, run while carrying their prayer shawls to the beautiful, warm, large synagogue. And no more will he hear their heartfelt prayers and tears when they weep while requesting their various needs; no more will we see Jews getting up before dawn for Selichot,[3] preparing themselves for the Days of Awe. We will never again see them dance with religious ecstasy, singing, hand in hand, after the large collective “l'chayim!” Never will there be a Jewish celebration of bride and groom there. There will never be a gathering from all the distant neighborhoods to the Karliner Tsadik's grave,[4] where anguished Jewish hearts were poured out.

There are no more toiling wagon drivers, who used to get up in the cold winters before daylight, driving the grain from the local merchants to Dubno, Lutsk or Rovno; never again will they get there. There is no longer anyone to visit the graves of our ancestors in the cemeteries where our fathers and grandfathers and other generations were hidden. And there is not even a possibility for survivors of the destruction to be able to visit the other graves, which God alone knows if any signs have remained, because the assisting murderers certainly wanted to erase everything that marked their shame. There is no trace of the footpaths, which our dearest had stepped on for hundreds of years, from generation to generation.

And also gone is a strong hand that would defy the masses of murderers and their helpers for the needlessly spilled blood. What person could carry through an appropriate eye-for-an-eye punishment? And with what can we comfort the orphaned Jewish people even when we have the satisfaction of the establishment of the land of Israel, for which our former generations, for thousands of years, with so much blood and tears, prayed, but did not live to see? And we, survivors, did live to see it.

The Mlynov kehilla is finished and eradicated.

Editor's footnotes:

  1. The term “nest” was used to describe groups of the Zionist Youth group, Hashomer Hatzair – HS Return
  2. Sokoliki in Turka powiat (county) – HBF For background, see the essay, “Murder of the Sokoliki Refugees,” with notes pp. 384-385 – HS Return
  3. Penitential prayers asking for divine forgiveness – HBF Return
  4. Rabbi Aaron Perlov (1802-1872) was a Hasidic Rebbe of the Karlin-Stolin dynasty, and buried in Mlynov–HBF See also the essay in this volume about the legend of “The Tree That Resembled A Menorah.” Return

 

[Pages 44]

Our Small Town Is No More

by A [Eliyahu] Gelman, Netanya

Edited and Translated by Howard I. Schwartz, PhD with Hanina Epstein

The Jews of Mervits were tied to their town with every fiber of their being and only a few solitary individuals immigrated[1] to the United States during the large migration of Jews of Poland and Russia – or made aliyah to the Land [of Israel] with the wave of immigration between the two wars.

Meanwhile, significant changes began in the towns of Volyn in our area. The youth established branches for each pioneer movement, established secular schools, which educated jointly with the pioneer movements, for aliyah to the Land [of Israel], but to our small town, these new winds [of change] barely arrived. The town continued the way of life that was customary before the War. At the center of life stood, of course, the small traditional study-hall [Bet-Hamidrash], which served as a place of worship and for the study of Torah. Also, [it served] as a meeting place both for elders and youth together for discussions of politics, and general subjects, during the secular days of the week but especially on the Sabbath and festivals.

[The hall would be used for] every holiday and for its particular purpose, for joy, or for sadness. Festivals of spring, Passover and Shavuot, would bring joy to everyone's hearts, and would banish their sorrows, that were not lacking all the days of the year. Lilac shrubs flourished and the smell was intoxicating, the flowering of the cherry, apple and plum trees and the first sprouting in the village fields around the town merged together so nicely with the verses of spring in the Song of Songs,[2] which was recited during the evening of the [Passover] Seder, and with the exalting melody of the Akdamut[3] prayer on the Festival of Weeks (Shavuot). In contrast to the spring festivals of Passover and Shavuot, the atmosphere of the fall holidays, of Rosh Hashanah [New Year] and Yom Kippur [Day of Atonement] were different. Deep sadness encompassed the people of the town; Heaven and hearts would be broken open by the mother's blessing in lighting the candles the evening of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the prayer “All Vows” (Kol Nidrei)[4] and the prayer Yizkor[5] during Yom Kippur, and they expressed the fear of what was coming in the new year and of hope that it would be good. With the prayer, Neilah,[6] and the Tekiah[7] note of the Shofar – only then does hope begin to surge, that their prayer would be accepted and only good would come and comfort for the heart.

The festival of Sukkot [Feast of Tabernacles] was a truly joyous holiday. Young and old joined together in the building the sukkah and in dwelling in it; the study hall [used for prayer services] was completely packed. The circling [of the synagogue] and the flags in the hands of children, the festivities and shaking of the etrog and lulav, preparing the branches of the willow, – the Shoshana prayers – engaged everyone and filled every heart with joy. And at the peak of the holiday – Simhat Torah[8] – there was joy with no restraint or limit. Being called up to the Torah everyone from old to young; the dances and various melodic songs, and especially drinking, of wine and vodka according to religion, and in the end of the day every restraint and inhibition was removed.

[Page 45]

One of the Jews would go to the roof of his own home wrapped in his prayer shawl, with the lulav and citron (etrog) in his hand.[9] And he sings from the heights of the roof the prayer melodies of the holiday prayers, accompanied by the words and tunes with Yiddish, and their contents are silly words, but also filled with sorrow, anticipating the winter that is on its way.

Last but not least – the day of Sabbath. This day is like a [bus or train] station [where one rests] – after six days of work and exertion without stopping, in order to earn a livelihood for their households. Washed and attired in Sabbath clothing, they welcome the Sabbath. The whole family tries to prepare better food to honor the Sabbath, and spends most of the day in rest and sleep after a week of work.

Enjoyable but filled with sadness is the completion of the “three meals”[10] with the end of the Sabbath, a candle before it is lit.[11] A sad Hasidic melody emerges from the poor study hall [Bet-Hamidrash] – where a number of Jewish prayer quorums [minyanim] have gathered, to continue and prolong the holiness of the Sabbath.

Also another song is heard from the distant fields in the Ukrainian village – a song of the farmers daughters and sons. A song of nature and the soil, but also on occasion a song of loathing and hatred, which the first Nazis adopted to fan the fire, which consumed our townlet and its Jewish population.

 


Students in school for Hebrew.[12] Original photo courtesy of Miriam Litz.

 

Editor's footnotes:

  1. In fact, a large immigration from Mlynov/Mervits to the US took place between 1890-1925 of which this author apparently was not aware. Return
  2. It is customary to read the Song of Songs on the first night of Passover at the end of the Seder. The Song of Songs is one of the “scrolls” (megillot) found in the third part of the Tanakh and celebrates the sexual love between a couple blossoming in spring. The text was given an allegorical interpretation by the Rabbis as indicating God's love of Israel. Return
  3. The liturgical poem which starts with the word, Akdamut, is a song of praise to God for having chosen Israel and granting the Torah. Return
  4. An Aramaic declaration, named after its first words, said at the start of Yom Kippur, which asks to proactively annul all upcoming vows made to God, to preemptively avoid sinning against God. Return
  5. Yizkor is a special memorial prayer for the departed, recited in the synagogue four times a year, following the Torah reading on the last day of Passover, on the second day of Shavuot, on Shemini Atzeret and on Yom Kippur. Return
  6. Neilah is the concluding service on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and the time when final prayers of repentance are recited. Return
  7. Tekiah is one long blast on the shofar and is sounded at the conclusion of the Day of Atonement. Return
  8. Simhat Torah is the holiday that commemorates the completion of the annual cycle of Torah reading and the beginning of the new cycle. Return
  9. The citron (etrog) and lulav are waved during the holiday of Sukkot (Tabernacles). The lulav refers specifically to the closed frond of the date palm, but the word has been generalized to include the other species of plants (myrtle and willow) that are waved together. Return
  10. It is considered a commandment to honor the Sabbath by eating three meals. Return
  11. A candle is lit marking the end of the Sabbath. Return
  12. Survivor Genya Kozak (later Jean Litz) in front row seated on the far right, 5 years old. Survivor Helen (Nudler) Fixler believes she may be next to her. Return

 

[Page 46]

Prayer for Revenge

Yitzchak Lamdan

Translated by Shirelle Maya and Dina Feldman

Not death, God of retribution! Could it alone constitute
That utmost of reprisals and avenge all, all?
Only death and no more?
Oh, no and no!
Give them life, unbearable life,
In which every moment, to its depths is
By knives of dread and horror
Slashed and punctured!

Within their lives, deepen their hellish grave,
And let them feel day in and day out, hour by hour
Fear devouring them like maggots,
Shivers of horror pricking their flesh!
May they never experience even an ounce of repose--
Without mercy, oh, rob them rob
Of even the strength to moan
And dam up their eyes from shedding a tear!

May their life's morsel stick in their throat like a bone
Unable to be swallowed or spat out!
Because the innocence of childhood's springs
Was murdered by their defiled hands--
May death not rush to redeem them!
May they be thrashed by scorpions of terror days upon days,
And be held in the nights
In a prolonged vampire's embrace!

[Page 47]

Sick the dogs of their hearts to chase them unceasingly
From dead end to no end,
From present to present,
And anywhere they turn their gaze--
A reflection will burst forth and pounce upon them
--like a wild beast in an ambush--
Their own reflection, that horrific image
Erased of the likeness of man!

Do not let them be charmed by the land's renewed beauty,
Do not let their eyes caress tree and grass
And wind, do not bring them perfumes from afar!
They who enjoyed the mortifying cries of mourning
For whom the screams of children inspired laughter--
May the universe withhold from them even the slightest of its smiles,
Let it be to them a cruel stepmother,
Oh, God of Vengeance!

Life, life grant them--of nightmares and pain,
Of silence laced with the poison they fed us,
So in their flesh they will see, and in their souls know
What their heinous hands did unto us!
They will feel, as we feel now,
What is the point of life that is doomed by the agony of hate
And a helpless orphan, what is he--
May they feel this as we do!

And also this: I know, we will forgive again
As we forgave time after time
Oh, this rushed, criminal forgiveness--
Oh God, do not let it succeed!
Distort their mind so they will not understand her speech
And in every utterance, every call of hers and echo
Let them hear nothing but the gnashing of angry teeth
And the roar of joy at their demise!

[Page 48]

Not death, God! Would it alone avenge
That which our whole nation could not?
How merciful is this punishment, how easy
For those who scattered death around them
Effortlessly, like a pleasure seeking eagle![1]
Life please give to them, God of vengeance and retribution,
In which you multiply by seventy seven
All that they have done to Israel!

Translator's footnote:

  1. This might be a reference to the Nazi's eagle insignia. Return

 

« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »


This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.


JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Mlyniv, Ukraine     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page


Yizkor Book Director, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Jason Hallgarten

Copyright © 1999-2022 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 29 Apr 2022 by LA