Horrors of One Night
by Sheindel PeichmanWagenfeld (Beer Sheva)
Translated by Jerrold Landau
Donated by Bubbles Segall
I see a flood of dreams and memories of our town. The Jews there had good, calm and quiet days, and there were also bad days, full of fear, sadness, and worry. I recall a horrific tragedy that afflicted our family in 1919, when I was seven years old. My sister Chana was already married and the mother of a baby girl. My father had died in 1914 during the cholera epidemic in the city of Chełm.
For some reason, it seems to me that it was a stormy night, and the wind was knocking on the shutters. It was the time when people curl up in their beds and go to sleep. However, my sister's husband used to study Torah at night. Even then, he was sitting hunched over the Gemara. My mother would say that night gives light to thoughts, and we all tried to avoid disturbing him in his studies.
Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. My sister went to open the door, and two men burst in. They approached my brotherinlaw. He lifted his head, and his face expressed question and surprise. However, he did not even have time to open his mouth before one of them pulled out a gun and shot him.
In our thoughts, we had perplexity and fears about that night. However, years passed, and we did not have feelings of loneliness and bitterness in the town. The family members were always imbued with a contradictory spirit that penetrated the soul. In the town, there was no room for distancing, and for unnaturalness in family relations or friendship. The relation of love never left us in anything that we did.
He was killed on the spot. The scene is etched in my memory and my soul, and I will never forget it. The reason for the murder was never solved, and the matter remains as a tragic mystery. I only knew that one of the men was a Jew, and the second one, the murderer, was a Christian.
We were all overtaken with trembling, and we spoke about the frightening tragedy for many years. It was a topic of conversation throughout the town.
My parents, Dov and Chaya Wagenfeld, earned their livelihood from the cattle trade. They lived traditional and modest lives. Along with this, they had many worries. I wish to tell about one of them, for it also related to the tribulations that frequently afflicted our town.
I was too young and tender to understand the secret of the suffering that my mother bore in her heart when she discussed the incident regarding my brother Velvel. This was in 1914, at the time of the outbreak of the war, and my brother Velvel was on his way to the garden far from our house. He did not know the way. He began to get lost, and, out of caution, decided to ask someone about the shortest route to that garden. Instead of answering him, the Pole whom he asked went to the police and reported that my brother had asked him where there are concentrations of soldiers.
I wish to note here that the authorities were concerned about spies at that time. My brother was immediately arrested on the accusation of spying.
Who can express the pain of a mother who is unable to help her son and defend him against wild animals?! No amount of intercession with the authorities was effective. With cruelty, my brother was sentenced to death by hanging.
When they served him his last meal, he said:
I want you to bring me this rogue who slandered me with this terrible lie. I am innocent, and I want to look in the eyes of this murderer!…
They went and brought the Pole who had testified against him. When he saw what was taking place, his heart broke inside of him, and he admitted that he was just joking, and that the Jew was innocent of any wrongdoing.
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