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Introduction

 

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Brief History of the
Szydlowiec (Shidlovtse) Yizkor Book

The idea of publishing a Szydlowiec Yizkor Book was born early in 1956 during a gathering of landsleit in Paris. At a memorial meeting in New York for our martyrs it was again broached. But the idea remained suspended in mid-air because at first it found few supporters among the Szydlowiec landsleit in New York.

The plan to immortalize our home town in a memorial book was given concrete form in 1960 when the Association of Immigrants from Szydlowiec in Israel took some practical steps to implement it. The New York landsmanshaft was happy to hear this news and decided to help our townsmen in Israel with funds, as well as with the gathering of materials. Other Szydlowiec landsleit also helped financially.

Regrettably, the initiative of the Association in Israel was unable to sustain itself for very long. This resulted, however, in a second initiative, in mid-1966, to publish a Szydlowiec Yizkor Book, this time by a group of landsleit in Argentina and Brazil. But nothing further happened until 1967, when the landsmanshaft in New York began taking the project more seriously.

On the New York Book Committee at that time were: Isaac Moro, President; Fishl Korenbraut, Vice-President; Yankel Silberman and Isaac Milstein, Secretaries; Abe Rosenbaum and Abraham Weisbrot, Treasurers; Jack Leibowitz and Leibush Glas. The main initiative came from Yankel Silberman, who stimulated the effort and did much of the work himself, with considerable assistance from Isaac Milstein and Isaac Moro.

The work proved to be very difficult, not only financially. A bigger problem was the gathering of the material from the

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landsleit. It was like crossing the Red Sea to get an article, a reminiscence, a description. After January 1969, when the practical work of our committee began, we made strenuous efforts to get as much material as possible, so that the life of the Jews of Szydlowiec, in all its shadings, would be reflected in the book. And we accomplished a great deal, collecting more than 200 articles from about 150 people. But because of the indifference or lack of cooperation on the part of some of the landsleit there were still gaps that we ourselves could not fill. The fault lies with those people who did not respond to our call.

For most of the areas of Jewish life in Szydlowiec there is rich and colorful material which was put into literary form by the editor, but which actually comes from the depths of the Jews in Szydlowiec – the worker and the artisan, the craftsman and the village peddler, the tradesman and the merchant, the religious and the secular, the Right and the Left.

It is gratifying to know that we were able to fulfill our task of immortalizing our native city and to make the deeds of its martyrs a living part of the Jewish national memory. For this, thanks are due to the small group of landsleit in New York who carried out this tremendous undertaking with so much love, devotion and determination.

The Szydlowiec Yizkor Book was published in 1974 in Yiddish, but since that language is no longer accessible to many of the younger generation of Szydlowiec landsleit born in the United States and other countries, the decision was made to publish a selection of material from the original volume in English translation, so that they might get to know at least a part of their parents' and grandparents' rich spiritual and cultural life that was so brutally destroyed by the Nazi murderers.

The Yizkor Book Committee


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“How Lonely Sits the City. . .”

By Akiba Berlinski

My heart pounds and my hand trembles as I pick up my pen to write a few words about my native city, which I left when I was very young.

In my mind's eye I see a Tisha B'Av in our home. My father, Reb Yisroel Moshe Aaron's, pious and God-fearing, weeps incessantly. Still a young boy, I do not understand why he is crying. I ask him:

Tatte, why are you crying? All of us, thank God, are in good health.”

My father sighs deeply and replies:

“My dear child, I am mourning for our Holy Temple that was destroyed. The Aggadah tells us (and here he turns to the older children) that when the Temple was destroyed, the curtain f the Ark became wet with its own tears. Children, no matter how much we weep over that Destruction, it is still not enough.”

As he said this he took me by the hand and we walked over to the Ostrovtser Shtibl. Here we found the real setting for Tisha B'Av; all the lights turned off, except one, all the benches upside down, the Ark of the Torah bare, the worshippers sitting like mourners, their shoes off, and chanting hoarsely after the cantor, chanting and sighing the Kinot, many of them shedding tears.

“How lonely sits the city…” With these words Jeremiah, the greatest elegist of all times, begins his Lamentations the mourning poem is unequalled in world literature. He himself suffered the awful pain, the longing for the place where his cradle once stood. Even the city grieves, he says, as it yearns for its children who were driven away.

And that is the meaning of the Yizkor books. The martyrs of all our towns and cities demand of us the proper eulogy for

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our greatest churban.

Millions of Jew, including scholars and believers, including the naïve and the innocent, were killed. And so I ask The Almighty: How can He sit on the celestial throne now, after all that has happened? I ask: Who betrayed whom? Was it the righteous Jews like Alter Freedman, for example, who ran in a hail of German Bullets to the mikveh, so that he would be pure when he appeared before the Heavenly Throne? Or Rabbi Chaim Rabinowicz, who appealed to the Jews of Szydlowiec, assembled in the castle before they were deported:

“Fellow Jews, we are not leaving behind us anyone to say kaddish, so we are obligated to say kaddish for ourselves.”

And all the assembled Jews broke into a kaddish-lament the like of which has never been heard before in the world. So I ask: Who betrayed whom?

Even at the moment of death, Jews sanctified the Name of God and held on to the glory of the shechina, believing unquestionably in the words they whispered before every meal: “Though I walk through the valley of death's shadow I shall fear no evil, for You are with me. . .”

Arise, O great Berditschever, and begin your well known din-Torah with the Almighty. This time He will not win. Let us make a pyramid out of the six million martyrs, so high that it will reach to the higher heaven and shake the Throne of the Master of the Universe, because “the voice of my brother's blood still cries out from the earth!” Let us demand justice, and like Moses, ask: “Lamah hareoso la-am ha-zeh? Wherefore hast Thou dealt ill with this people?”

The poet Yaakov Glatshtein asks: “How can one pray to a God who allowed the destruction of a third of His people?” I, for one, do not understand the meaning of “God is righteous in all His ways.”

Most people feel an attachment to the place “where their

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cradle stood.” Our homes were destroyed there, but the strings of our hearts still vibrate to our own, “by the water of Babylon we sat and we wept.” So it should not be surprising that there has been a steady stream of “Yizkor literature” during the twenty years after our most terrible churban. What is the whole world worth when compared with the home of our youth, of our songs and our dreams?

The world's most beautiful avenues are overshadowed by our little pond. The most elegant clubs in the world cannot compare to the splendor of our bes-medresh and our shtiblech. What are all the famous vacation resorts worth against the Sodek Forest, where the youthful romances of the yeshiva bocherim in the Hassidic shtiblech began?

Someone asked the young German playwright, Hochhut, author of The Deputy, in which he has Pope Pious XII get down on his knees, what his reason was for such a bold step. Hochhut replied: “Not one reason, but six million reasons, moved me to tell the word who else, by his silence, helped to fill a million barrels with blood.”

So I stand with bowed head before one of those barrels, where the blood of my sister still seethes, the gentle Chanele and her sensitive husband Beyrech Weisbrot and the talented seven-year-old Monyiek, as well as the blood of all my scores of relatives.

The walls themselves weep at our churban!


Shidlovtse, My Birthplace

By Yitzhok Goldkorn

My shtetl Szydlowiec was bordered by fields, meadows, gardens and woods. Its Jewish community was a cross-section

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of the vigorous and dynamic Jewish tribe in Poland. Szydlowiec was a Jewish shtetl of piety and tradition; a life concentrated around the synagogue, the study house and the Hassidic shtibl. The seasons of the year and the daily routine were felt not only in the rhythm of nature but also in the cycle of Jewish holidays, the Days of Awe, Shabbos, shacharis, mincha-maariv, Torah study, mitzvos and helping the needy.

The shtetl also had its “commerce” – light industry and trade, prosperous businessmen, brokers, owners of tanneries, of stone-quarries, of iron foundries, little shoe factories, dry good stores, and many other sources of income.

Side by side with the “eastern wall” Jews – the Torah scholars, the communal leaders, the wealthy merchants – were the simple folk: harassed and worried Jews in unrelenting pursuit of unattainable means of livelihood; Jewish toilers, tailors, shoemakers, wagon-drivers, water-carriers, luftmentshn who lived from hand to mouth; impoverished Jews who exited like sparrows on the kernels and crumbs of the Wednesday fairs.

Parallel with the sweet, dreamy nigun of Torah, prayer, psalms, and Pirkey Avot, you could hear new “melodies” in Szydlowiec – Hatikva, the Bundist “Oath”, the Internationale. The modern young people in Szydlowiec belonged to various secular “shtiblech” – Zionist, Bundist, Poale Zionist, Communist.

Through the mist of time I can see the vanished shtetl youth: the May first outings across fields and woods in the fragrant mornings; the mass meetings, election meetings, cultural events; the libraries of Tarbut, of the Bund, of the trade unions; lectures on various literary and social-political themes that were held in the movie theater Illusion.

Thus the bubbling Jewish life flowed in Szydlowiec during the week, in or around the tanneries, the stone-crushers, the iron foundries, the workshops that made shoes with special

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soles, the “freight expeditions,” the fairs, and the ephemeral “businesses” on the one hand; and on the other, the Shabbos and Yom-tov rhythm of Torah, Hassidim, Yiddish secular culture, national and social ideologies. Until – Until all of this was destroyed.

May your martyr's death be immortalized in the sacred Yizkor pages, and may the names of the martyrs and the memory of the nameless be transformed into eternal letters floating n high, in a heavenly Szydlowiec.

 

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