On April 1, 1925, the nationalistically aware Jewish world throughout the Diaspora celebrated special day: on that day, the Hebrew University in Jerusalem opened.
Zionist Siedlce was not left out. With a great parade and solemnity people in the city marked this historic moment. With a torchlight parade through the streets of Siedlce by all the Zionist and pioneer organizations led by the oldest ZionistsYitzchak Nachum Weintraub, Moyshe Abba Eizenstadt, and Asher Orszel; with lights illuminating all the Jewish windows; with a solemn academic meeting in the city club with the participation of delegates from the Zionist Central Committee in Warsaw, Yosef Grawicki. The solemnities concluded with a banquet in the home of Moyshe Orszel that lasted until dawn.
In the celebratory speeches at the banquet, for the first time people spoke openly about a subject that from time to time had long been spoken of quietly at meetings of the Zionist Committee and in private conversations among friends: that it was now high time that the eighteen thousand Jews of Siedlce should have a normal Hebrew Folk School where Jewish children could receive a truly Jewish education and which could serve as a source of students for the newly formed university.
The foundation for such a school had long been prepared. The Hebrew teachers Akiva Goldfarb and Vulf Tuchlaper had for a time conducted Hebrew evening courses for teenagers. And Dovid Morgenstern had a small school. Later, in 1915, supported by the Zionist executives Weintraub, Orszel, Nehemiah Malin, and led by the young and energetic Asher Livront, Levi Gutgold, Yehoshua Eckerman, Chanah Spektor, and, for many years, Paltiel Eisenstadt, Baruch and Mordechai Yaffe, Yudel Tenenbaum, the Hebrew evening courses grew to be an important site of learning, where hundreds of young people acquired significant knowledge of the Hebrew language.
Helping to prepare the ground for a normal Hebrew Tarbus school, there were also many developments in and around Eretz Yisroel: the Balfour Declaration; the later decision in San Remo Conference to create for Jews a national
home in Eretz Yisroel; the increase in emigration after the First World War [trans. note: He says Second World War, but that must be an error.]; and also the development of Zionist thought in Siedlce and the growth of pioneer youth organizations.
Another factor in the creation of a school was the growing antisemitism in the country that was also manifesting itself in the public schools and creating a fiendish, uncomfortable atmosphere for Jewish students.
The last impulse toward opening a Tarbus School was given by the celebrationThey opened a Hebrew University, and what about us?
Preparations went on for over a year. In meetings between the Zionist executives and representatives from the pioneer organizations, they considered this question: Where would they get children? There was a fear that parents would not trust such a school where children would learn not the traditional holy tongue but modern Hebrew. There were pessimists who feared that such a school was not viable because of financial considerationsparents would not want to pay at a time when there were Polish public schools.
The always enthusiastic Yehoshua Ekerman and Yosef Gutgold visited parents who had school-aged children, so that at the beginning of the school year in the month of Elul 5686 (1926), 20 children gathered together from different families at the premises of the Zionist organization at 20 Kilinskithere was no other location for the school thenand the newly engaged director, the well-known teacher and scholar Yosef Akun (now in Israel), opened the Tarbus School.
In about another month there were 100 children enrolled in three classes in furnished rooms in a building at 15 Florianski Street. Three teachers worked with the director, and when they were not sufficientLevi Gutgold worked as a special teacher.
At the beginning of the second school year, in 1927, the Tarbus School had 180 children enrolled in 6 classes with five teachers, among whom were such educational stars as Salita, Kushlan, and Joselewicz (all now in Israel), and to the previous locale was added the building of Avraham Sukenik at the corner of Pienkne and Florianski.
At the beginning of the third school year there were 250 students in the school. There were also new teachers, Rachel Heller and Flashin (the latter of whom was killed in a tragic motorcycle accident in Israel). The director Yosef
Akun left Siedlce. He was replaced by the talented young teacher Tzvi Bokser (who later became an inspector for the Tarbus Schools in Poland).
At the end of the 1930 school year, there was a celebration with a large parade for the first graduates. Nineteen students, boys and girls, were there, some of whom today fill important positions in Israel among the builders and fighters.
In a short time, the Tarbus School had earned great popularity among all levels of the Jewish population as the best school in the city. Former opponents became supporters. All kinds of people sent their children: Orthodox parents from the Agudah, Bundist working people, even secret communists. From year to year the number of children increased, new classes were opened, and the teaching staff grew. The school gained a large new building with a huge hall for assemblies in the center of the city at 60 Warsaw Street.
In the last year before the flood of blood, the Tarbus School had 360 students in 10 classes, and nine first-class teachers, led by the director Braunstein.
From its beginning, a stable committee of Zionist executives was active in the school: Asher Orszel, Levi and Yosef Gutgold, Yehoshua Eckerman, Sholem Zaltzman, Moshe Yom-Tov, Avraham Altenberg, Chanuch Ribak, Moyshe Yudengloiben, and, for a long time, Fishl Popowski and the author of this book.
When they were needed, the Zionist activists Yitzchak Nachum Weintraub, Nehemiah Malin, Vulf Tuchklapper, and Dr. Schleicher and Dr. Bergman were also involved.
The constant concern of how to improve the school, its continuous growth, the great duties regarding financial matters allowed them no rest. They forced the committee to be on guard, to be creative, really to invent new ways of dealing with things. They organized social events, literary, musical, and artistic evenings, concerts and garden entertainments that were marveled at in the cityall of this made the Tarbus committee the most creative organization in the city.
A committee of parents also assisted at the school. It's members organized the yearly meeting of parents and took part in all undertakings.
There was also a young people's group at the school that consisted of representatives from all the pioneer youth organizations in the city and assisted the committee in its efforts.
The Zionist leaders conducted a constant battle with the Orthodox community majority to gain a respectable subsidy for the school.
Tarbus was not only occupied with efforts for the school. It developed a broad range of cultural activities in the city. It created Hebrew evening courses for young people who were not able to attend the school, it created a good library, and it organized artistic evenings; literary reviews of a very high level that appealed to the most intelligent people in the city; there were regular Friday evening gatherings with a program that impressed the young people and drew them in great numbers. There were often entertainments on literary or scholarly subjects; there were special educational lectures and talks for parents.
The school children also from time to time conducted artistic and cultural evenings in the great halls of the city. The school had a Hebrew drama club where pieces such as Jephtha's Daughter, Samson and Dalilah, Saul and David, Martyrdom, and others were performed. These were admired by theater people and the young actors were referred to as The Small Ha-Bimah.
Also impressive were the Lag b'Omer celebrations that Tarbus would organize. At Tarbus' invitation, children from other schools and youth from the pioneer organizations would come. The celebrations would begin a night earlyin clear rows the children marches through the streets with lights and torches in their hands. Early in the morning, all of the invited children and the pioneer youth would gather at the courtyard of the Tarbus school and with the Tarbus pennant at their head, about two thousand of them would march through the streets to the woods of R. Yitzchak Nachum Weintraub, pitch their tents, and celebrate with dance and play the holiday of Lag b'Omer.
On the streets of Siedlce, one often overheard young people speaking
Hebrew. Thanks to Tarbus, Siedlce was one of the most Hebraicized cities in Poland.
The successful work of the Tarbus endeavors led its directors to further challenges. The last effort of the Tarbus committee before the bloody deluge was to try to prepare a Tarbus gymnasium for the new school year.
* * *
We go past the grave of our beloved Tarbus school that gave so much joy and pleasure to our dear children, instilling in them the fire of belief and hope for the future and bringing light and security into the gray, careworn homes.
We travel along the road where our dear, beloved Moysheles and Shloymeles, Sarah's and Chanahles went every day, dancing and singing with their book bags under their arms, fire in their eyes, and belief in their young hearts that they would encounter a better tomorrow and a better future for them and for their people. We come to the courtyard where there was once a school that burst with song and life, to the ground where their young feet, in the intervals between one lesson and the next, danced the hora, and they sang together:
Never again will the chain be detached;[These are Hebrew verses from a song written by Yitzchak Lamdan.]
The chain continues
From fathers to sons,
From generation to generation;
The chain goes on and on.
Hidden away in a corner the school garden lies crushed and buried where the children used to sing lustily and happily with their ringing voices, Hurray, hurray for the little garden!
Empty and deserted lies the schoolyard, like a little abandoned cemetery. In front stands the ruins of the once beautiful school building, burned and falling apart, like a large, black tombstone that cries silently for the young students, the teachers, and the administrators who have disappeared.
E. Yitzchak Nachum Weintraub
As we wander through the ruins and through the sites of our destroyed, overgrown homes, we come to spots that force guys to pause and to think about the former owners who used to live there
On the flat, overgrown empty spot on Warsaw Street, where before the destruction stood house number 53, which belonged to R. Yitzchak Nachum Weintraub, zl, we stop. We cannot go on. It forces us to pause and think about the original Jew who lived there and who became, for the Jews of Siedlce, a legendary figure.
R. Yitzchak Nachum Weintraub came from a small shtetlTerespol, near Brisk. He was taken as a son-in-law by the well-known philanthropist and distinguished citizen in Siedlce R. Noson Shimon Greenberg, zl.
Weintraub came from his shtetl with many virtues: zeal for Torah learning; a love for people; a desire to work for the needs of the community; and devotion to the idea of returning to Zion, which was in its early stages.
These traits made him popular in the city and he was quickly absorbed in the circles of those who studied and those who worked for the community.
While still young, he became a Dozor in the Jewish community organization and worked to satisfy the needs of the common city together with the other executives and community activists in the city, like R. Moyshe Temkin, zl, R. Hershel Shlifka, zl, and others.
R. Yitzchak Nachum Weintraub became famous for his lifesaving work for the good of the community in 1906, at the time of the pogrom. Under a hail of bullets, when the czarist pogromists went wild in the city, R. Yitzcham Nachum was at the forefront in the city of slaughter together with the rabbi R. Mordechai Dov Analik, zllhe knocked at the doors of the czarist power brokers; he went from home to home of the pogrom's victims and brought them aid and security.
Weintraub was a member of the delegation that then traveled to Petersburg to seek justice from the czarist government. He was received by the then prime minister Stolypin and presented to him the story of the pogrom.
Weintraub was involved in almost all of the existing
institutions and brotherhoods in the city. He was active everywhere, and he helped to create several new organizations.
In his early years, he created an aid organization called Secret Gifts, to help distinguished but needy Jews. Each winter he led a movement to distribute wood and coal to needy Jewsin the form of secret gifts.
He attracted the most distinguished leaders to his efforts, such as : Moyshe Temkin, Dovid Greenberg, Meir Frankel, Mottl Halberstadt, Moshe Eizenstam, Noson Dovid Glicksberg, Getaliah Orszel and others.
From his early youth, Weintraub was active as a Zionist. He went to conferences, worked to raise funds for Zionist causes, and was for many years the chair of the Zionist organization in Siedlce.
Weintraub was everywhere one of our chief speakers. He had something to say at every opportunity: at the meetings of the Jewish community organization, where he served as a door for half a century; at the shul and in the beis-medresh; he often gave talks for the children at Ezras Y'somim; he spoke at a variety of undertakings and celebrations in the city; at all Zionist meetings and celebrations; and on the twentieth of Tamuz, for the anniversary of Herzl's death, he always delivered a eulogy to the Zionist leader in the Great Synagogue at the memorial service.
Thanks to his simple demeanor and his courtesy to people, he was much lo9ved by all levels and circles in the city and people therefore lovingly called him the Uncle.
Jews used to say, Go to the Uncle, when someone needed advice or had to consult. His home was open to everyone. Jews always came to him for advice. He wold listen closely, contemplate, and often told people to return the next day so that he could give a concrete response or good advice.
He believed strongly in the mitzvah of doing good deeds, which he did with a free hand to anyone who turned to him. He either gave cash or he signed promissory notes, and in many cases he paid the fees for those notes.
Weintraub was a great philanthropist. He generously supported many organizations in the city and especially funds for Eretz Yisroel and Zionist causes. He owned a small forest outside the city where pioneer youth and children from the schools and Talmud Torahs would
celebrate Lag b'Omer. That little bit of woods gave him great concerns: he paid taxes on it, and he had to hire a guard because the peasants from the surrounding villages would steal wood from the Jewish forest. When people asked him why he held onto it, he answered, So the children would have a place to go for Lag b'Omer.
Although R. Yitzchak Nachum Weintraub was a man of the old-fashioned observant and studious world, he had a strong inclination for the Haskalah and the requirements of the time. He read Hebrew books and newspapers, kept up with sports, and gave his children a modern education. He participated and supported all kinds of cultural activities and organizations in the city and therefore he aroused hostility in religious Chasidic circles.
His daily routines operated on a strict timetable. He awoke early, and, in both summer and winter, he went for a several kilometer walk outside the city. In the summer he went to the Weselka River to swim. In the winter he would do exercises in the snow. After breakfast he would do his regular weekday work for his business. Every day before lunch he would chop wood or do some other physical labor. Then he would study a lesson from the daily Talmud passage in the beis-medresh or in R. Yisroel Hill's little beis-medresh with a group of Jews, studious citizens with maskilik tendencies. In the evenings he would be busy with the needs of the community. He would go to meetings, to conferences, and to other gatherings, and if he had no meetingshe would do more study in the beis-medresh.
Yitzchak Nachum Weintraub kept diaries in which he wrote copiously. He wrote down the talks and lessons that he had delivered on various occasions. He wrote memoirs about events in the city, about the 1906 pogrom, about community activities, and about the activities of other organizations that he either led or participated in. He also wrote about his own life and the life of his family.
These diaries covered fifty years in the story of Jewish Siedlce, and the leading role in them was taken by he himself, R. Yitzchak Nachum Weintraub.
* * *
The first days of the war were for him quite tragic. At the first German air attack on the city on Thursday, September 7, his house was destroyed by a bomb, and buried under the ruins was his beloved daughter Freyda, the widow of Mordechai Meir Landau. She had lived with her father since her husband's death
The elderly R. Yitzchak Nachum spent long days, working alone, trying to clear the debris of his collapsed house until he could extract the body of his daughter, who had been killed.
At her funeral he said: In the misfortune of my daughter, I see a punishment from heaven for my not having kept the vow that I made at the open grave of her husband, Mordechai Meir Landau, that I would take my family to Eretz Yisroel.
True to his habit of always serving as an advocate for his community in times of trouble, in October of 1939, during the first weeks of Nazi rule, he headed a delegation to the German in charge of the city asking him to order that Jews should not be removed from the lines that were forming at bakeries to obtain bread, since segments of the Polish population were doing so, with the assistance of the Germans. The delegation consisted of Shmerl Greenberg, Dr. Henrik Loebel, Eliezer Levin, Hershel Tenenbaum, and Leib Glicksberg. It was headed by Weintraub.
This elderly advocate later went several times to the German rulers of the city to intervene in various difficult matters concerning Jews, but it was not long before he realized that it was beyond his capability to fight against the Nazi sadists, so he withdrew and left this job to other, younger people.
This older man survived many tragic events in the prison-like ghetto. He often saw deaths. On that dark Shabbos of August 22, he was hidden in a cellar. Later he hid in the small ghetto together with his only surviving grandson, the young son of his beloved, the lawyer Yosef Landau.
People say that in the small ghetto he had no clothing or linen except what he was wearing. This fastidious old man often removed his clothing and underwear and washed them, then hung them out in the sun to dry.
On Yom Kippur he was seized while he was praying in secret with other older men. He was taken to the train station to load coal. There the German murderers beat him badly and covered him with coal dust. People also say that throughout the time of the Nazi regime, and even more in the last months when he was hiding in the small ghetto, he wrote a great deal and greatly troubled because he could not be sure that his writings would not remain in
the hands of Jews, so that people would know how a community of Jews were killed as martyrs.
At 80 years of age, this leader and advocate met the fate of going on the last journey of the last remnant of the Jewish community, of drinking from the cup of pain and sorrow to its dregs. He went through the hell of the small ghetto, of Gensze Barki, and of the wagons to the Treblinka gas chambers.
F. Lawyer Landau
As a member of the Jewish Council, the lawyer Yosef Landau led the division for social aid. This was perhaps the only labor of the Jewish Council that appealed to the conscious and the idealistic character that he inherited from his father Mordechai Meir and from his grandfather, Yitzchak Nachum Weintraubto help the poor, the suffering, the unfortunate. He devoted himself totally to this work, as people tell, doing as much as was possible in those conditions.
As a young lawyer, Landau was very popular with his Christian colleagues, both judges and lawyers. The judge Gala told L. Glicksberg that on the tragic Shabbos of August 22, several of his colleagues came to the gate of the ghetto and told him that they had prepared a hiding place for him. If he could get out, they would rescue him. Landau thanked them heartily and said, Sadly, I cannot accept your offer of help. I must be there with my community. And he went with his community to Treblinka.
G. Dr. Henryk Loebel
Born in Cracow in 1897 to intellectual, half-assimilated parents, who gave him a secular education: studied medicine at Cracow University, graduated as a gynecologist in Vienna, served as assistant to the famous Professor Rossner, published a great medical work on gynecology and often published scholarly medical works in a variety of Polish and German periodicals.
He married the daughter of the Zionist leader in Pszemiszl Meir Honikvaks and then drew close to the nationalistic Jewish world. Was active in different groups in Pszemiszl, especially in B'nai B'rith while practicing as a gynecologist.
In 1933, when the Jewish community in Siedlce sponsored a competition for director of the hospital, Dr. Loebel took the spot, presenting himself as a well-organized, generous doctor who acted as a friend to his patients.
He devoted his entire time and energy to the development of the hospital and did not take part in community activities or political life in the city, except as a military man (with many commendations) who created the association of soldiers.
* * *
In October, 1939, when the Germans ordered the formation of the Jewish Council, Dr. Loebel was fated, as a man of great energy and cultural qualifications regarding the greater European environment, to be the chair of the organization.
As people relate, in the course of his activities in this difficult and responsible positionbetween the hammer and the anvilhe showed great tact and consistency. His bearing was so full of Jewish and human dignity that it aroused sympathy for him among the persecuted Jewish masses.
While he was chair of the Jewish Council, he remained in his position as director of the hospital, to which he had devoted so much. He gave it his time, strength, and energy, so that he not only healed
his suffering patients, but he also brought them security and hope.
On that black Shabbos of August 22, when the hangmen ordered all Jews to the Umschlagplatz for the selection, Dr. Loebel came along with everyone else, although as director of the hospital he had the right to remain in the hospital building with the ailing, where the hangman Fabish had assured him he would remain unharmed.
When on that tragic Shabbos in the Umschlagplatz there were so many Jews who had been beaten and shot, the determined Dr. Loebel intervened with the German killers and received permission that people from the hospital could come to the aid of the unfortunates and of the many wounded. At that time many who were uninjured also found rescue in the hospital building.
That same Shabbos evening, when those chosen for the work detail were led into the small ghetto, Fabish ordered Dr. Loebel to leave his living quarters in the hospital and go to the small ghetto, to which Dr. Loebel proudly replied to the hangman: I will never leave the hospital. I will share in the fate of my ailing sisters and brothers.
And he did share their fate.
Two day after the liquidation of the ghetto, the hospital, too, was liquidated.
After all the patients were shot in their beds, including the little children, while he was forced to stand by, Dr. Loebel and his wife were forced to stand against the wall in the hospital courtyard and they, along with their fellow workers, doctors, aides, and nurses, were shot.
In the last moment of his life, Dr. Loebel called out: Death to the killers. The Jewish people will outlast you. He fell like a true soldier at his post.
H. Hershel Tanenbaum
His reputation as secretary of the Jewish community organization, where so many people came day after to day to look after their interests, each with his own each with his own claims and complaintssome about tax payments, claiming their taxes were too high, some from organizations whose subsidies had not been increased, or because they had not been paid on time. This has to be taken care by the pompous donors with their particular party ambitions and personal caprices, according to which each one desires that only his orders should be followed, while the desires of the other doors are not worth a shred of tobacco And so the duties of his position made him nervous, often destroyed his equanimity, so that he responded bitterly, in an upset way, so that people often realized that they were dealing with a furious Jew.
In his private life, Hershel Tanenbaum was a totally different personfriendly, intimate, a good companion, very sentimental. Over all, he was a warm-hearted mensch.
Often it seemed that people saw two men in him: one was an official who sat in the office and gave official answers, bitterly and angrily, and the other was at home, friendly to his guests, and in community or party groups he was friendly, good-natured, smiling.
He was a man with the split personality of a clerk in a Jewish organization who had no great pretensions in his life, no great aspirations, not for wealth, not for honor, and not for fame.
He outgrew that division when the great misfortune of the Nazi plague befell the community for which he had worked so long.
A bitter, tragic duty was his fatehe was called on to serve as the liaison between the Jewish Council and the Gestapo; to spend days and nights waiting outside their doors, getting from the wild sadists their crazy fantasies and orders that the Jewish Council had to carry out.
This contact with the Gestapoin the very nest of the greatest impurity and bloodthirstiness, of robbery and murder required that every day
he stick his head deep in the wolfish maw and withstand the greatest indignities and offenses, terrible physical and spiritual suffering and indignity.
Tenenbaum had to furnish it all: the most fantastic food and drink, the most expensive clothing, shoes, linens, furs, jewelry, furniture, cookware, assessments, workers, dwellings, and anything else that their wild fantasies demanded.
Normally these orders for robbery ended with a warningif they were not carried out, this or that number of Jews would be shot. Tenenbaum, trying to prevent such executions, would go around a beaten, defeated man to the beleaguered Jews in the ghetto and carry out the orders of the Gestapo thieves.
With the rebuke that the robbery was not conducted on time or that the things were of poor quality, the contemptible villains often beat Tenenbaum and abused him. They often forced him to eat the animal food that their dogs left behind.
Tzvi Livront recounts: In December of 1939, the Gestapo officer Karl gathered together in the square of Stari Rynek a hundred Jews and announced that they would be shot because the sum of 20,000 zlotys that the Gestapo had imposed on the Jewish Council had not been paid. Some people had alerted Hershel Tenenbaum, who told the murderer Karl: The Jews were not guilty. Only I am guilty for not getting the money together on time. Shoot me.In this way he bared his heart. The German was so confused that he released the Jews, gave Tenenbaum a good beating, and extended the deadline for another eight days.
People tell of many instances when Tenenbaum risked his life to save Jews, often resulting in his being beaten and debased and putting his own life in jeopardy.
On the last day of the ghetto, early on August 22nd, Hershel Tenenbaum received his last order from the Gestapo. He Brough chicken, wine, beer, and pastries for the executioners' lunch at the selection table. He received no more orders. He, his wife, and their two sons were sent with the rest of the community to Treblinka.
Translated by Theodore Steinberg
It is an ancient custom among Jews on days of introspection and spirituality to go to the cemetery and have a discussion with those who have left us forever. On the anniversary of a death, on Tisha b'Av, on the High Holidays, and at times of spiritual feeling such a need would be aroused, so all the more, after wandering for several days through the ruins of our ruined home, we felt a call to visit the graves of our fathers. If it was not actually possible to go to those whose burial place is unknownstill, we will visit those who merited to die before the Hitler deluge, to be buried in a Jewish cemetery and to have an address.
After a painful, sleepless nightlike all our nights in this ruined homefull of bitter and empty dreams, early in the morning, when the sun was shining (in stark contrast to our moods and feelings), shining shamelessly as if nothing at all had happened, we went off to the cemetery.
We had already been at the oldest cemetery, near the shul courtyard, when we went looking for traces of the great community that had been sent to the gas chambers of Treblinka. We knew that the cemetery with its old surrounding walls was no more. In its place was an open passageway, a no place, where the surrounding neighbors dug the white sand. So we went to the second one.
Like the first cemetery near the shul yard, the location of the second was also once, a hundred years ago, outside the city, and similarly, over time the city grew around it, so that the cemetery was now in the midst of the city. As old people tell ushaving heard it from their parentsit must be hundred years since this cemetery was closed and had ceased to receive the dead.
Because the surrounding land had belonged to the community, several community buildings were built in the area, for example: the superb Jewish hospital, which was for many years the pride of the Jewish Siedlce, where hundreds of ill and suffering people found healing and a warm home. There was also a building known as the Community Shop, which extended from Pienkne Street, through the market
place and to the hospital. In addition, the city directors had built around the old cemetery shops and cabins and had put a market hall in the large plaza between the cemetery and the prison and designated it as a market place. Thus, amid the ongoing tumult and confusion of shops and market business, amid the stalls of merchants and the wagons of peasants with sacks of potatoes, carrots, and fowl, the older generations of Siedlce's Jews continued in their eternal sleep.
Like the first cemetery by the shul yard, the second cemetery cultivated those plants specific to cemeteries. The graves were sinking, the monuments were half sunk in the soft earth of the cemetery, A person had to make a real effort in order to read the old inscriptionsthe names, the praises, and titles that had been ascribed to the dead on their tombstones.
The enemy's fires, that had devoured almost all of Pienkne Streetalong with its Jewish inhabitantsdid not affect the community buildings or the hospital. It left them alone. They stand there with their shops and workshops just as before. But instead of their former Jewish residents, they are owned by new strangers, who are full of gratitude to the events that provided them with such an unexpected inheritance. And on the hospital building, where there was once an inscription reading Hospital, there is now a sign reading in Polish Hospital for Infectious Diseases.
Today is a market day, as shadows float past meI and two other grave-seekersamong the stands with merchandise and farmers' wagons, we are the only three Jews in the great Siedlce market and we feel the mocking looks of the fresh-baked merchants and the half-witted smirking eyes of the village farmers and their wives.
At the corner of Szenkewicz and Szwientojanski we encounter a newly erected gate (before the destruction it was not there). We slink around unnoticed, like thieves, looking all around, seeking signs of the former cemetery and finding none. But built near the gate is a barracks, suitable for an office with an area for a guard. By the fence there are large, long shops where people work with cement and concrete roofing, bricks and pipes.
Over the whole expanse of the former cemetery are huge stacks of lumber, bricks, chalk, tar, and other building materials. People stand around these stacks, carrying, laying down, measuring, counting, weighing. A carnival! The earth is paved with the tombstones that used to stand at the head of the now desecrated graves. They are spread throughout the roadways over the whole area of the cemetery, and cars and trucks loaded with merchandise and building materials travel over them. Other monuments are scattered among the stacks of bricks and boards underfoot in the dust.
Amid the banging of thrown boards, bricks, and iron, and in the tumult and chaos on the other side of the fence from the market, it still seems that one could hear the silent murmuring that came from the dishonored, desecrated graves, from the dishonored and desecrated tombstones with their sacred letters, trodden upon by human feet and the hard hooves of horses.
While I was steeped in reading the worn down inscriptions on the tombstones that lay under my feet and those that were incorporated in the cobblestones so that I could learn from them the secret of our destruction, my thoughts were interrupted by a question:
What is the gentleman looking for?That answer tells us that no one wants such seekers there. Followed by unfriendly looks, we leave that desecrated holy place
I'm looking for the old Jewish cemetery that was here, I answered brusquely.
There is no more Jewish cemetery. Now there are only the warehouses of the building materials cooperative, the gentile tells me with a face that reflects his satisfaction.
* * *
We proceed to the last cemetery, to that which was the most lively of all the cemeteries in the city.
The many tombstones that we find along the way, incorporated in the cobblestones and in the sidewalk, indicate that there, too, the hands of the murderers reached out, and our hearts tremble with painful anticipation, as we think: Will we be able to find the graves of our near ones?
This did not last long until before our eyes stood the whole terrible picture in its grossness:
The cement wall around the cemetery for the length of Szkolner Street lies broken apart, smashed, thrown into piles of debris. From there one perceives a sea of smashed and crumpled pieces of white and gray marble sticking out among the high, wild grasses. Far and wide, the whole extent of the cemetery looks like a jungle of broken stone. With bloodshot eyes and pounding hearts we begin to move in that sea of fragments and wild growth. Soon we find ourselves in white sand from dug-up graves. We cannot tell if this is the work of grave robbers who sought the golden teeth of the dead or whether it was done just for its own sake: when there were no more living Jews to torment, did they torment the dead Jews in their graves? Who can tell? There is no one to ask.
We are in the area where Siedlce's rabbis and rabbinical authorities of many generation rested in their ohalim [translator's note: this Hebrew word for tent is used for the structures that were built over the graves of important people]. As people used to visit this place, so are we filled with a feeling of the greatest respect and honor for the graves where the bones of famous Torah scholars in Siedlce used to lie: Rabbi R. Mordechai'le zl, the famous lover of Israel, who was famous for his self-sacrifice for Jews at the time of the 1906 pogrom; Rabbi R. Shimon Dov Analik, zl; the last rabbi in Siedlce, the great scholar and fine man R. Yehuda Leib Ginsburg, zl. There, in their ohalim, rested the famous Polish rabbis: the Biale Rabbi, R. Hershele,zl; the Szelekhower Rabbi, R. Gershon, zl; the Partszewer Rabbi, R. Noson Dovid, zl. Thousands of Chasidim would come here to pour out their hearts and cover the graves with a flood of written messages. Of those ohalim and tombstones no trace remains. One cannot even recognize their graves, which lie, like all the others, desecrated, covered with rocks and wild plants.
We difficulty we move on and find among the fragments of tombstones a piece of broken marble with the inscription, leftist Poalei-Tzion in Siedlce. This encouraged to seek further in the area and we found another piece wth the inscription Yosef. We sought further and found another fragment inscribed Sluszn. From a large number of such pieces, we reassembled a tombstone that the Leftist Poalei-Tzion organization had set up
Over the grave of its leader, the leader of the Jewish workers movement in Siedlce, Yosef Sluszny.
In a similar fashion we reassembled fragments of other broken up tombstones, where we read the name Avraham Greenspan (who was shot in 1920 by the Polish army) and other names that we knew.
In that great sea of fragments we also found several whole tombstones. We have no idea how they escaped destruction by the vandals. They were torn out of their spots and trampled on among the detritus and sand of the desecrated graves. We read there several names that we recognized: R. Avigdor Ridel, zl; R. David Rubinstein, zl,\; editor of the Siedlce Vokhenblat Asher Livrant, zl; and other names that we recognized and some we did not.
We approached the cement wall of the cemetery on the eastern side, where we gazed at fresh leaves that marked the magnitude of our tragedy: this section of the cemetery that had been fertilized recently with blood. It grew with thick grasses and was used by the neighbors as pasture for their animals. Who would stop them? A young shepherd lather on the desecrated graves warming himself in the rays of the springtime sun, whistling a carefree tune while his animals grazed.
Not far from there, in the midst of a green field, there was a white area. We went over and stood before a place where recently, driven by wild hatred and evil, people had brought the bodies of our dead. And who knows: perhaps also our living sisters and brothers? The wind had not yet driven away their ashes. So there lay the white ash, piled up as a memorial to our burned up lives, mixed together with burnt pieces of bone, human bones, and pieces of burned shoes and unburned coal.
We stood as if turned to stone, made dumb by this accursed auto-da-fe spot, and we thought we thought We were joined together in our current thoughts with the thoughts of our nearest and dearest about God, people, and the world, about the desecrated and destroyed thousand-year ideals, about the eternal ethical values, at the moment of their greatest torment. And not far away
there was a huge shaggy dog, and soon there were many, a whole host of dogs in the grass, sniffing, seeking things in their doggish fashion. We went in their direction and came across a large open pit with a pile of bones from different body parts of different sizes: skulls, hands, feet; bones from children, even very small children, all strewn around at random, gnawed on and dragged around by the dogs who were frightened and retreated somewhat at our approach, regarding us with their fierce eyes, outraged that we were disturbing them. But they did not run away. They waited for us to leave so that they could complete their canine meal
While we gazed at the dried up bones that were strewn about in the small valley of the desecrated cemetery, each pile of bones reminded us of our poor forefathers, who after the destruction of the First Temple filled the valleys of Babylon, and we thought: one needed to be winged with such spiritual bravery and prophetic faith as was the prophet Ezekiel in order to believe that these dry bones that we see before us will be revived at the resurrection of the dead.
We went from one slaughter place to another and found ourselves by that section of the wall that had served as the execution wall for hundreds and perhaps thousands of our unfortunate fellow citizens. The earth there was freshly dug, full of mounds and pits, all of it soft. When one talk a step, the earth quivered, just as those lives that were cut short quivered when they were thrown into the graves that they had had to dig themselves. Through the thin layer of earth that barely covered them we could see the contours of their tortured bodies that had gone through the seven levels of Gehenna. They told us so much, those grave contours, so much
And even more than the ground, the dumb wall spoke, the wall that stood athwart the tortured martyrs, telling the magnitude of our disasterinnumerable bullets are contained in that unhappy wall, bullets that jumped from the pierced bodies of our tortured sisters and brothers. They are buried deeply, those lead bullets, and sparkle in the sun like living, burning letters on a huge, long tombstone. Other bullets only grazed
the wall, making small pits and then falling into the cemetery grass.
And then we read other inscriptions on the large, dumb wall that is a monument to the executionsthese are the inscriptions that were put there by the blood of the holy and pure who were killed near the wall.
They tell the survivors:
Several days after the liquidation of the large ghetto, when the Jews of Siedlce had been transported to Treblinka, in the small ghetto, where the small remnant of the Siedlce community were crowded togethera band of the murderers came and took thirty women and girls who were there to the emptied out ghetto to sort and pack up the Jews' abandoned and stolen goods for the killers. While doing this work, the women would pick up a piece of clothing or a jacket or a bit of linen to share with those in need in the small ghetto. The chief executioner of Siedlce's Jews, Fabish, discovered this. After detaining the criminals, he ordered the women to be killed. His murderous aides brought the unfortunate women to the shul building that served as a prison in the ghetto. Only one of the womenEsther Spectorthrough a miracle escaped. The other twenty-nine women, with their hands bound behind their backs, were taken to the cemetery, were forced to dig graves, and there, next to the execution wall, were first beaten and tortured, and then shot.
These are their names:
Rusza Landau, Sarah Jablkowicz, Chana Piekorsz, the two Stolawa sisters, Sarah Wakstein, Ferster-Vayman, Sarah Gelbfish, Yenta Lederhendler, Golda Goldring, Chava Felzenstein, Felzenstein-Miadownik, Chana Kromarsz, Gitl Kromarsz, Bronstein, Sarah Grinvald, Suchadolski (wife of Nachman), Bracha Radushinska-Neiman, Rochel Zuckerman, Rivkah Felzenstein, Rochel Kahn, Sarah Kleinlerer, Rochel Einemer, Toiva Epelblat, Esther Kishelinska, Niunia Felzenstein, Perl Ribak, Karnicka.
Their names are not inscribed on a memorial tablet on the execution wall. No one comes to shed a tear at their poor neglected gravesites. No one plants a tree or says kaddish. Only their black blood that has seeped into the cracks of the
execution wall and the lead bullets that tore away their young liveskeep watch over their neglected graves, crying out from the unlucky wall: Awake and call out for vengeance!
* * *
The only living witness who was present at this horrible act, the city councilman Gluchowski, had a heart attack and died several days later
* * *
As we wandered further around the desecrated cemetery, we encountered the first communal grave of several score of martyrs who had been thrown in different corners of the areaa number of Jews who had not long before emerged from the underground bunkers had gathered them up and brought them to the Jewish cemetery.
Not far from that spot we encountered a nest of ants. We stood there and watched enviously as the small, active creatures went around so freely, crawling here and there through the narrow tunnels in their underground quarters. Happy creatures! No fierce dogs and wild cannibals go after their poor lives, as they had gone after ours.
We arrive at that side of the cemetery that is near the neighboring Christian cemetery. Here, too, we look enviously at the symmetrically laid-out rows, at the monuments with crosses that stand by the graves, bedecked with greens and flowers. We see that each person who rests there left behind a heart that longs for him, a gentle hand that cares for his memory. Old women dressed in black kneel at the graves and whisper silent prayers for the soul of the person resting there. There are two young women at another grave, one planting flowers and the other with a watering can, and so on and so on
We turn back to the rind cemetery, to the broken up monuments, to the desecrated and fouled graves, to the bones that are scattered around, to the mounds of ash that remains from our martyrs, to the blood that has soaked into the cemetery walls. And from our hearts arises a curse, a desolate curse on the evil world with its people, with its nature, and especially for the Earth, which has not place either for our living or for our dead.
|Yontl Goldman with survivors bring exhumed Jews to the Jewish cemetery|
|Survivors at the memorial stone for the bones and skeletons that were brought for burial
Survivors say Kaddish
|Monish Ridel delivers a eulogy|
|Simcha Lev commemorates the dead|
Our last, departing glance falls on the ruined and desecrated cemetery and I see how near a large pile of bricks and stones workers are busyhired by the Jewish Committeerestoring the collapsed wall; in another spot, people are busy cleaning off other parts of the ruinfilling in the overturned graves, setting up collapsed tombstones, gathering the scattered bones. Resentment arises against the committee and its workers. I want to yell, Stop! Don't erase our misfortune with your little good deeds! Restore nothing! The ruined cemetery, just as it is, is the most appropriate memorial of the destroyed, demolished community; we must preserve for coming generations this broken memorialthe work of Christian civilization and ethics. These dry, white human bones that fill the valleys along with the overturned, open graves should always remain thus, and like open mouths they should proclaim the destruction until the end of generations!
* * *
Broken, with heavy hearts, we leave the destruction and the desecrated cemetery. I pull up some grass and throw it behind me, thus saying: So should those be plucked up who plucked up my people!
A spring breeze blew lightly and caressed the trees that stood by the entrance to the destroyed cemeterythe only witnesses who saw our destruction and shame. From the soft rustling of their leaves comes to us tune of the orphan, saying Yisgadal v'yiskadash shemei raba
|A Christian guarding the cemetery
Showed me the place of sacrifice.
His eyes flowed with tears like water
At the memory of the awful robbery and massacre.
There I found a young woman
|Young boys and girls, infants and children,
Wise men and gentle women
Were taken together to the cemetery,
Tortured and killed in strange ways.
A forsaken and bitter woman,
The girl groaned and called out,
I will not cover things over.
Hidden are the ways of God. The answer to all the questions
Translated by Theodore Steinberg
|September 7, 1939 (23 Elul 5699), early Thursday: The Germans began their air attack on Siedlce, particularly on the Jewish streets. The bombardment lasted, with short pauses, until Monday (9/11/39) at night. During those days, about 2,000 people were killed, mostly Jews.
September 9 1939: Wanting to escape from the openness of the barbaric air attack, almost all of the civilian population left the city, abandoning their dwellings and all their possessions. The city is in flames. During the confusion, groups of peasants from surrounding villages come to steal from Jewish homes and businesses.
September 11, 1939 (27 Elul 5699), Monday nighty, the German hordes arrive in Siedlce.
September 14, 1939 (first day of Rosh Hashanah). A group of Germans surrounded the shul where a small group of Jews were praying. The Germans entered and beat them murderously, ripping off their taleisim. They shot at those who jumped out of the windows. Yosef Rubin was shot. Throughout the night, bands of Germans stole from Jewish homes and businesses. They seized people in their homes and forced them to go to to the concentration camp in Wengrow.
September 18, 1939: The Germans closed off the city, made a raid on all the streets and houses. All men aged 14 and over are taken and put in prison. They are held there for two days.
September 20, 1939: All the men who are being held, Jews and some Christians, numbering about ten thousand, are force-marched, with bare heads, to the concentration camp in Wengrow.
|October, 1939: A. The Germans order the creation of a Jewish Council of 25 people. B. The Jewish Council that has been formed is ordered by the Germans to pay an indemnity of 10,000 zlotys.
End of October, 1939: A group of Germans break into the shul and the beis-medresh, throw the Torah scrolls from the Holy Ark, rip them up and stomp on them.
December, 1939: The Jewish Council receives an order to pay another 20,000 zlotys.
December 24, 1939: In the middle of the night, the Germans set fire to the shul and the beis-medresh. Many Jews suffer burns and wounds. One Jew is burned to death.
November, 1940: The Jewish Council receives and other for payment, this time for 100,000 zlotys.
June 12 (first day of Shavuos): A band of fired-up Germans conducts a raid against Jews in the city. The iron merchant Binyamin Hertz is shot.
March, 1941: The Jewish Council receives yet another demand for payment of 100,000 zlotys.
March 23, 1941: The German army in Siedlce carries out a pogrom against the Jews that lasts for three days. They robbed and plundered. Six Jews are shot and hundreds are wounded. This was the result of a provocation: in Stari Rynek, people heard a shot, and the Germans claimed that it was a Jew who shot.
End of June, 1941: With the German invasion of Russia, the repression of the Jews increases. They are thrown out of their homes in large numbers.
|August 1, 1941 (the eve of Tisha b'Av 5701): An order is issued to confine the Jews of Siedlce in a ghetto.
October 1, 1941 (Yom Kippur 5702): The large ghetto is enclosed, comprising these streets, beginning on the right: Kochanowskiena (Shpitalna), Stari Rynek, Berek Joselewicz, Mala, First of May, up to Sandowa. On the left: Pusta, Aslonowicz (Prospektowa), Targowa (Yatkowa), Browana, Okopowa, Blonia. After this enclosure, epidemic illnesses increase. The mortality rate goes up.
December, 1941: The Germans order the Jewish Council to turn over all furs and fur products that belong to Jews.
January, 1942: The Germans impose an indemnity on the Jews of 100,000 zlotys per month.
March 3, 1942 (Purim, 5702): The Germans seize ten Jews, take them to Stak-Lacki (a village near Siedlce). According to an order from the head of the governing council at the labor office, they are shot because they declined to work. The Jewish Council is forced to issue a declaration that the Germans were correct and that their judgment to kill the ten Jewswas justified.
June, 1942: The Germans requisition from the Jewish Council various workmen along with their machinery and tools. The selected Jews are sent away somewhere. Later on, people learned that they were sent to their deaths in Maidanek.
July, 1942: The Germans arrest thirteen Jews on the pretext that they refused to go to work. For several days the Jews were tortured. They were returned to the ghetto
|and, as they went through the ghetto gate, they were shot.
August 22, 1942 (Shabbos, 9 Elul 5702)Liquidation of the large ghetto. In the middle of the night, the large ghetto was surrounded by Germans, Ukrainians, and Polish police. Early in the morning, all Jews were driven out to the old cemetery. That day, the selection was conducted. The so-called small ghetto was created in the triangle formed by Kokolow, Aslanowicz,, and Targowa Streets.
August 23, 1942: Victims are taken to the train station.
August 24, 1942: Loading of victims onto the train cars begins. This continued into the next day, August 25 (Monday and Tuesday), until all the Jews had been taken to Treblinka.
August 24, 1942: Liquidation of the ghetto hospital. A group of Germans and Ukrainians, under the leadership of the city commander Fabish, laid siege to the ghetto hospital on Dluga Street, shot all the patients (about a hundred people) in their beds, as well as ten or so newborn infants. The doctors, aides, nurses, and all the hospital personnel are taken to the courtyardand shot.
August 26, 1942 (13 Elul 5702): The Germans took thirty young women for work in the emptied ghetto: to sort and pack the goods that were stolen from Jews. In the evening, when the work was done, the women were taken to the cemetery where they were lined up against a walland shot.
November 25, 1942 (16 Kislev 5703): Liquidation of the small ghetto. The remaining Jews are taken to Gensze-Barki (about 2,000 souls).
November 28, 1942: In the middle of the night, Gensze-Barki is surrounded by a chain of Germans, Ukrainians, and Polish police.
|November 30, 1942 (21 Kislev 5703): The last 3,000 Jews of Sideline and vicinity are taken from Gensze-Barki to the train station, where they are packed into wagons and transported to Treblinka.
January 1, 1943: The new year finds Siedlcefree of Jews.
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