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The Great Synagogue

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A Word from the Editorial Board

Translated by Meir Bulman

Most of this book was composed by non–professional writers or scholars. It is a book of the people. Most of its writers represent the Jews of Jezierzany and even their placement on the town's social scale. The personal color was also preserved in the writers' words because we did not see fit to enhance beyond the sound and spirit of the language. The content, form, language and style accurately reflect the way of life in Jezierzany and its spiritual and physical foundations.

After years, some errors and an erroneously high number of victims from some families were discovered in the necrology. Unfortunately, it was impossible to correct the necrology after its initial printing. Those errors were corrected at the end of this book, alongside other corrections.

[Yiddish Translation of Word]

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oze005
[text in Sketch:Ozeryan]
Sketched by Moshe Sternshus

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1. Obertyn
2. Volochyok
3. Husiatyn
4. Borszczów
5. Chernivtsi
6. Sniatyn
7. Chortkiv
8. Budzanów
9. Trembowla
10. Ternopil
11. Zolochiv
12. Berezhany
13. Lviv
14. Stryi
15. Kalush
16. Stanisławów
17.Halych
18. Nadvirna
19. Delatyn
20. Yarmtza [ירמאה]
21. Busk
22. Kolomyia

Map Key[1]

* Ukraine
+ Dniester
✡ Jezierzany
X Seret
‡ Prut
? Zebervyc [exact English translation unknown]

Map Sketched by Thelma Segal
(Granddaughter of Chaim Zeidman)

 
oze006

 

General Notes and Footnotes

These notes have been added by this Yizkor Book's Hebrew–to–English translator unless otherwise noted.

  1. The map key was added by the Hebrew–to–English translator. Return


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“Ask, Oh you who have been burned by fire…”

The editor

Translated by Meir Bulman

Ask the massacred, the suffocated, the shot and the stoned, ask those who drowned, who were murdered and died strange deaths: “Why did this Holocaust plague us and what are the reasons for its flood of horror?”

Ask those who were buried alive and mothers breastfeeding their infants when suddenly they are dismembered in front of them and tossed to the trash, ask before the Throne of God: “If justice exists, why do the wicked live and become old, yes, become mighty in power?”[1]

Ask the thousands of martyrs from our town and its environs, “What is the meaning of this Holocaust that the senses of body and soul cannot fathom?”

State powers and rulers did not lift a finger, and the elements of the sky did not cease their cycles. The son was not ashamed and the moon and the stars continued to shine despite “the blood of Jews in the sewers, in the doorways and the floors, in the rivers that wept,” as Uri Zvi Greenberg cried. Another great poet, Zalman Shneur, mourned in prose the erasure of the final sources which inspired our poets in their hometowns. Famous rabbis and righteous men were buried in our city of Jezierzany. Researchers and poets, who gained reputations throughout the Jewish world and beyond, were born, raised and worked in Jezierzany. What was shattered and what survived from those tombs? Were the traces of our ancestors' bones also destroyed and completely erased? Were the cemeteries plowed like the streets and the houses razed by a German contractor licensed by the Nazi invaders for that purpose?

One's breath ceases, face yellows and hair stands on end when reading “The Holocaust Chronicle” in this book. The writers of this Chronicle who experienced the daily Holocaust horrors required great restraint. The authors battled the scorching content and attempted to contain and design it as historical literature, yet Job's words (21:6), “When I remember, terror takes hold and my body trembles in horror,” were realized in the authors. Every paragraph and line brings that verse to mind. Every bitter fate and tragedy, and even just hints, are tragically and elaborately confirmed in the written and recorded testimonies in the closing section (in Yiddish) by remnants who survived 99 circles of hell.

The Hebrew and the Yiddish Holocaust chapters mention tragedies and events that were wholly or partly unknown concerning other towns near and far such as Borszczów, Korolowka, Mielnica, Skała, Crivatsh, Chortkiv, Kopychyntsi, Jagielnica, Probizhna, Tovste, Horodenka, Zalishchyky, Buchach, Zbarazh, Ternopil and more. The section includes the horrifying saga of the extermination of the Jews of MaramureČ™ (Carpathia–Russia) who were expelled from their lands as “foreigners” (non–Hungarians) and were led to their slaughter from the Carpathian Mountains to the other side of the Zbruch river to Ukrainian–Russian Podolia. Throughout Eastern Galicia, they were dragged by the thousands, holding infants and Torah scrolls in their arms. They passed through Jezierzany and the neighboring villages, as the whips of the Germans and their rifle butts ceaselessly rained down upon their heads while stragglers were shot and murdered on the road. Historians and essayists will need this book's content.

***

At the beginning of this book, Moshe Sternshus sketched a restrained yet powerful expression of the Holocaust, the mourning of loss and the sight of desolation in our town. The somber grieving in that picture of the destruction of his and our town is disrupted only temporarily by the movement of memorial candles, which is difficult to see whether they are all extinguishing or whether one or two still resurge and continue to flicker. Corpses and souls flutter in Jezierzany's space at different heights, some stormy and rebellious and others slouching and surrendering to the cruelty of fate; and all ask to be covered by a roof or dirt and rest eternally.

Just as the uprooted, vague souls wandering in Jezierzany's space ask for “redemption” in that sketch, so too the deathly nightmare in it demands poetic symbols to complete them. Those are amply present in Uri Zvi Greenberg's fever–steam poems, especially in his Streets of the River. Greenberg is a native of Eastern Galicia. His classic poem, “Cranes [uncertain translation of Hebrew word] of Holiness,” provides an emotional expression to the sympathies and closeness every one of us feels towards

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the center of his birth town: “Down there is the source of my stream–well from the days of childhood in golden fields/ And it is called Beer Lahai Roi.[2]

Shternshus' nightmarish sketch finds a fitting parallel in Shimshon Meltzer's nightmarish poem “A Minyan in My Town”:

… At the dead of night, the dead come wrapped in shrouds and prayer shawls
Masses rise from their grave and walk in formation to their house
…and a thought comes to my mind that this shall be not just at night
But during the day, at midday.
This shall be the minyan of the dead that was foresaid!
For there is no Jewish child alive to see it and tremble with fright.
Not one single Jewish woman alive whose fear would render her fetus dead.
 
(Ohr Zarua[3], 353–54, Dvor Publishers)

 

Jezierzany and Tovste gathered the same souls and the same “minyanim” of the dead when nobody was left alive. Jezierzany and Tovste, two neighboring towns, were poisoned at first separately and then in a joint ghetto and both towns were destroyed at the same time by the same cruel methods.

…in the graveyard they found the grave dug and exposed before them
Sixty men of Israel dug it with a weak hand:
a deep trench, very long and wide as a man's height, with a sort–of bridge raised above the grave from band to band.
And they were disrobed, and booted to the bridge in a line
and they were killed with one miserly bullet per six or seven
They were dropped from the bridge to the pit and they were buried in the spot assigned
And the man placing them carefully separated with children the men and the women.
The fourth aktion, on Sivan third of that year, saw the addition
of the last large pit for one–thousand souls to be buried in the mud
Nobody remained to carefully separate men and women with children.
The fate of one who fell alive was the same as one who was shot,
suffocated and drowned in blood.
 
(Ohr Zarua, p. 368–69, Dvor Publishers)

 

All of the images depicted in those verses bear no resemblance to old “flowery glory.” Every rhyme and stanza depicts and reveals the cruelest reality as if the author photographed each murderous act and added the pictures to the pages. Is there testimony more credible and horrifying than the names of two thousand martyrs divided by household?

***

As in other towns, a glimpse into our town is required. In this book we discovered that in Jezierzany, too, opinions differed on the forced ghetto entity of Judenrat. Its members and roles and all that they entailed, especially the inner police of ten or more Jews who appeared to be striking their brethren by force of the Judenrat alone, were also forced.

Truthfully, all three – the ghetto, the Judenrat and the Jewish Ghetto police – were the creations of the Nazi devil and were designed from the very start to serve Nazi schemes. Therefore, it is unsurprising that the Jewish community mistrusted those institutions and their regard of them ranged from begrudging acceptance or evasion to anger and [making them] the subject of notoriety and mockery. We still cannot decide whether the most negative response was limited to poor people who saw themselves as being trampled over by the rich and the powerful. Good Jews and bad Jews came and went from those institutions during the three years of extermination. Several joined willingly and paid handsomely for both joining and resigning. Some joined because they wished to ease the imposed burdens, while others maintained a delusion that they would be able to save themselves or their families. Human nature is magnified in dangerous times and the will to live controls to the point that one would exchange anything for his life.

To this day, it is unclear why the Judenrat was immediately established in Jezierzany unlike in other places which did not suffer from it at all or only at the end of days when the Nazis formed the ghettos. Whatever the reason may be, the Judenrat created

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the dark, wretched shadow of internal–policing which was received everywhere with a pronounced lack of will. It likely awakened in us suspicions, fears, envy and hatred although its tenure in the town lasted only one year and, for that reason, was not yet [as] hated as it was elsewhere.

Indeed, the testimony here does not contain clear accusations of despicable deeds, wickedness or cruelty for personal gain. Yet traces of protest and bitterness sometimes emerge in the testimony, implicit and even explicit. Can those phenomena be seen as natural, considering the horrid state and the general decay which spread as the end neared? If so, it is no wonder that the sufferers, tortured, persecuted and exterminated, resented, wholly or in part, those institutions and their leaders and helpers. They were powerless and could not direct their anger towards the German authorities and military. Thus, their anger, protest and bitterness were directed towards the supposed “Jewish government” and its minions. There were also cases of evasion, torment, outburst and rebellion, and they too seem natural under the severe circumstances, unparalleled in human history.

The Scriptures often warned us of such events. In addition to the general warning “He who guards his soul will distance himself from them” (and, as the sages added, “Woe to the wicked man and woe to his neighbor”), they added explicitly and in cursing language: “He who breaks the fence, a snake will bite him.” Our sages were strict to the nth degree in emergencies. During the period of the Mishnah, which was a troubled and tumultuous time, they designated three sins as “better to be killed than to violate:” idol worship, incest, and bloodshed. During the Talmudic period and later times of destruction, those three principles were applied even “to the changing of a shoelace.” (Sanhedrin 4)

The two cannot be compared. The Holocaust was not the forcing of religious conversion or betrayal of the tenants of faith. Here was an immense effort and ultimate method with an enforcement arm raised upon the land. They intended to uproot everything, to destroy, murder, and erase the memories of every Jew in order to erase the nation from God's earth. Is there a Jewish scholar of Torah who would apply halacha[4] to judge those who fell victim to the Nazi lust to murder? Of course, there is some quarrel against the existence of such “Jewish government” or individuals within it but we are not here to judge. That is why we did not deliberate or pass judgment upon sins which might have been committed by Jews who themselves were being seared by the Nazi hellfire.

***

Can a responsible observer point at the reason for our downfall? Was it the galut[5] method of lobbying and the absence of an organized uprising under the banner of “let me die with the Philistines”[6]? Perhaps the root of the tragedy was that the great and treasured European Jewry, numbering in the millions of people, suddenly fell into the Nazi devil's trap. During such a tragic time which was unprecedented in the history of our nation, the Jewish people were like a herd without a shepherd. No leader, social or national leadership in Europe prepared the people for what was to come, alerted them or encouraged them to think and act. The Jews remained disconnected and without a shred of hope for rescue, neither from the Zionist groups, nor the American free world, nor the global socialist camp. That wonderful Jewish community sank as it was at a loss; helplessness on the inside and disconnection from the outside pushed the nation into the abyss of hopelessness, and it surrendered to its fate without a struggle. Perhaps one clear conclusion is the utter failure of Jewish leadership in the times of madness throughout the horrific Holocaust.

Therefore, we did not erase or distort anything in this book. We are not historians who have all testimony from all over the old and new world and who can carefully weigh what is primary and what is secondary, whom to cast blame upon and whom to praise. The Holocaust sections in this book serve as a host for writers from our town and the environs, and the book alone cannot establish a conclusion. History's way is to present a final tally after many generations of deliberation and consideration. Future historians will probe every detail and every hint in the hundreds of books that were published and will continue to be published from the thousands of Jewish communities in the vast territories that were struck by the Nazi exterminator and his collaborators in Europe and elsewhere.

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Yet it is still very doubtful whether even those historians who would be armed with all of the possible facts would not face a crisis of conscience at the moment of judgment. They might be unable to pass judgment from their seats in heaven about deeds and failures in the lowest of hells unless it is clear beyond a reasonable doubt that an intentional harm was done.

You are close to saying that, fundamentally, it is not a legal or historical problem but a problem of morality: human, national, social and individual moralities all together. Hence, this problem will not be fully fleshed out until the moral greats issue a verdict for the generations to come. Maybe it will only be solved in the distant future. Many serious disputes arose during our nation's hardest times between morals and the law, or the morality of one period when applied to another period.

What was the conclusion of the dispute between Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair and Rabbi Judah Nasi, which “raised a mountain between them”[7]? And the bitter dispute between Abbi Yehoshua ben Korha and Rabbi Elazar bar Rabbi Shimon? Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Elazar debated issues of political morality regarding the Roman rulers of Israel.[8] Their dispute was not decided until legend arrived and tipped the scale towards the righteous–national–zealous morality when Elijah the Prophet appeared to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi. That dispute occurred during the third generation following Bar–Kokhba's uprising and the bloody Hadrian struggle in Israel. How many generations will pass before the issue here will be resolved?

***

With blood and tears, the natives of Jezierzany erected a monument in the Forest of Martyrs in Jerusalem to the thousands of martyrs from our town and its environs. The remnants of the bodies of the martyrs and their ashes are mixed in with the flesh, blood, and ashes of Jews from other countries that are scattered throughout Galicia across fields, forests, caves and crematoria. They did not receive a Jewish burial. With blood and tears, we composed and published this book in their memory. Who will guarantee that our children and grandchildren, who did not know our hometown at all, will continue to uphold the night of mourning during the intermediate days of Sukkot as we have done every year? We are a people of much suffering, and later tragedies cause the forgetting of earlier tragedies. This book binds their holy souls as it documents the way of life and the spirt of Jewish Jezierzany.

***

A humble chapter in this book is devoted to individual people or groups who were martyred when they rebelled and courageously defied the murderers. Honor and awe will decorate their memories forever. The heart doubly aches for them because they were eventually captured, tortured and murdered in vengeful anger and evil cruelty indescribable by a writer's pen. Earth, do not cover their blood![9]

***

The pages of the book are stained with tears. Fate rescued us in time but denied us the covering of the graves and the final Kaddish for the beloved townspeople. The memories of those close to us and those close to those close to us, whom we so loved, all are etched upon our hearts.

This is a true act of charity that mostly was completed by volunteers with a sense of sacred duty.

This is their tombstone – a holy monument for everlasting memory.

The Editor
Jerusalem, Nisan 5719 [1959]


General Notes and Footnotes

These notes have been added by this Yizkor Book's Hebrew–to–English translator unless otherwise noted.

  1. Job 21:7 Return
  2. See Genesis 16:14 Return
  3. Ohr Zarua – literally means “Seeded Light” Return
  4. Halacha – the collective body of Jewish religious laws derived from the Written and Oral Torah. (note added by English editor) Return
  5. Galut Mentality – Galut means exile. The Jewish Virtual Library states that “The Hebrew term “galut” expresses the Jewish conception of the condition and feelings of a nation uprooted from its homeland and subject to alien rule. A Wikipedia article, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negation_of_the_Diaspora, refers to the “galut mentality” as “The old mentality3. one of passivity, of awaiting salvation from the Heavens.” (note added by English editor) Return
  6. Judges 16:30 Return
  7. Chullin 7B According to Wikipedia, Chullin is the third tractate of the Mishnah in the Order of Kodeshim and deals with the laws for the slaughtering of animals and birds for meat for ordinary as opposed to sacred use, and with the Jewish dietary laws in general. (note added by English editor) Return
  8. Bava Metzia 83b According to Wikipedia, Bava Metzia is the second of the first three Talmudic tractates in the order of Nezikin. (note added by English editor) Return
  9. Job 16:18 Return

 

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