Friends and Colleagues!
We have gathered this evening from all over this country. For a long time, we dreamed about a get-together of all the Zaromber in Eretz-Israel but never hoped for a gathering such as we have here today. The tragic fate of our people demanded that this meeting be a memorial for our dear parents, brothers and sisters, childhood friends, friends and relatives who were so tragically killed by the cursed Germans and their helpers.
All that was so near and dear to us and what is etched so deeply in our memories and in our souls, no longer exist. Our dear shtetele with its beloved Jewish mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters and little children, is no more. Gone is the shtetele, which was full of Jewish life, which strove for a better, and more secure future. Zaromb was a shtetl of dreamers and fighters, a shtetl always struggling to eke out a living and striving for a better life, both economically and culturally. Our shtetl was different in many ways and, according to my view, better than other shtetlekh. It is not only local patriotism, which makes me say this. We had no really wealthy men in Zaromb as in other shtetlekh but we never let anyone go hungry. There were almost no illiterates in Zaromb. Every Jewish child went to cheder. The same strivings which pushed our parents to enrich their cultural and spiritual life through the synagogue, the Chassidic prayer-houses, the study groups who pored over Gemorah, Mishnah and the Psalms, etc. - that same striving, but in the context of the new times, led the younger generation on the various paths of the modern Jewish cultural life, led by the political parties and youth organizations. Each had its own ideals but worked hard and pooled their energies as the extensive library efforts show. Our shtetl had the reputation in the region as a town of socially aware youths who, through their own efforts, had reached into the sources of knowledge.
Our shtetl excelled with the characteristic of assuming responsibility for mutual assistance. The concept of "Kol Israel Khaverim Zeh V'zeh" (guaranteed aid for all Jews) was one of the outstanding characteristics of our shtetl life. How many children and also adults who were sick were helped and saved because of the mutual caring and help! The community chest from which anyone could borrow was devotedly administered by the older and younger generations, by the orthodox and the freethinkers working together. There were no "Yakhsonim" (people of special privilege) in Zaromb. The Rabbi's daughter was a good friend of a shoemaker's daughter.
Dear friends, permit me to honor the memory of our dear friend, Shmuel-Leyb
Ruskolenker, whose efforts and encouragement brought us to Israel, but he
himself did not live to come here. Let his fine and noble Jewish soul remain
etched in our hearts and may his memory be blessed!
Of the survivors of Zaromb, Velvl Olshak, is here with us today. He will tell us what he saw with his own eyes and what he himself experienced. I want to wish him that he rapidly establish roots here in Eretz Israel and begin to feel like one of the builders of this land and, together with us, help welcome the rest of the Jewish survivors. May they not be forgotten!
Zaromb (Zaremby-Koscielne) also listed as Zaremby, is a small shtetl on the road between Warsaw and Bialystock. It is slightly to the side between the train stations of Malkin and Tzizshev, seventeen kilometers from the countryseat of Ostrove. Other shtetlekh near Zaromb are Malkin, Brok, Komorova, Nis and Yendzsheve.
For many years Zaromb was a little village surrounded by forest. It was because of the forests that the village got the name "Zaremby". Of the dozen or so villages named Zaremby, our Zaremby-Koscielne was the largest. Among the Poles and in the surrounding area, our town was known mainly for its two large churches, which gave it the second part of its name, Kotchelne.
One could get to Zaromb from the roads, which led to Ostrove, Malkin and Tsizshev. There were no good roads connecting Zaromb with the rest of the area, which is why our shtetl was always in dire economic straits. There was no railroad station; the closest one was in Malkin. In 1922, finally, the train made a stop near Ishtchinek, a village only a few kilometers from Zaromb. The new train station was named Zaremby-Kotchelne. It was now easier to reach the town, but materials still had to be transported by horse-drawn carts the few kilometers from the town itself to the railroad station.
On three sides, Zaromb was surrounded by the Brok River, a tributary of the Brotchisko, which flowed from beyond Tsizshev. The river flowed past the new cemetery in a wide valley which, on the northeastern part of the shtetl, was called "the Redenes" (the speeches). That name came from the time of the 1905 Revolution when the youth of Zaromb gathered there to make and listen to speeches. The only bridge over the river was just north of the "Redenes." Across the river is the village Yineltes. Then the river flows to the village Brekves and then over a small falls into a swampy area. Then it flows past the villages of Kosed and Diageloo where it joins the Brok close to where the Brok flows into the Breg.
Yankl Bergman and Mordecai, Yokl Stolier's son, had found a gravestone in the old cemetery dated 1681. The stone was buried two feet below the surface in the second row of graves. Perhaps the cemetery was even older than that. According to a census in 1764, there were 113 Jews over one year of age living in Zaromb. That means that, including infants, there must have been about 125. There were 25 families of whom 17 lived in their own houses and 8 were tenants. The 17 houses did not belong to the Jews who lived there but to estates belonging to some "Pritzim" (feudal landowners) and to the priest of Zaromb. Four Pritzim, the wealthiest of whom was Simon Zaremba, owned 12 of the houses and the priest owned 5. Of the 25 Jewish families, 4 are listed as tailors, 1 furrier and hat maker, and one servant. Some were involved in commerce of one kind or another and no occupation at all is listed for 7 of the families. Among the single individuals, 3 men are listed as barmen in the local taverns, 2 valets, a servant girl and a tailor's apprentice.
At that time, Zaromb belonged to the Vengrav community. There were also 7 Jewish families, 32 persons, who lived in the nearby villages. Five were tenant farmers, one had a tavern and one is listed as a tailor. (We thank Dr. Raphael Mahler for the information on the 1764 census.)
Even until 1939, parts of the land on which Jewish houses stood belonged to a few Pritzim. However, this was, by then, more tradition than fact and the Pritzim did not collect any rent money. There had been lawsuits over land ownership but around 1900 all the legal papers were destroyed. This is how that happened: there had been a court in Zaromb for many, many years which was going to be transferred to another city. This did not please the Jews of Zaromb because the court brought peasants into the shtetl, who, once there, bought from the Jewish shopkeepers. At the time, all the legal papers were already loaded on a wagon, ready to be taken to the other city when a Jewish woman set the cart on fire. The woman spent only a few months in jail and court remained in Zaromb.
In 1920, during the Polish-Bolshevik war, Polish soldiers planned to make a pogrom in Zaromb. Fortunately, they had to leave the town in a hurry, but they satisfied their need for a victory by shooting Jews in Malkin and Zeistes. These seven victims were buried in the Zaromb cemetery. Many Zaromber risked their lives to bring these martyrs back to Zaromb for proper burial. Dr. Shlomo Kleynplatz, the Rabbi of Malkin, performed the rites. In Zaromb itself, the Polish soldiers robbed several Jewish houses and raped some Jewish women. This is how the age of Polish independence was ushered into Zaromb.
According to the 1921 census, there were 207 homes and 15 other buildings in Zaromb. The Zaromb district encompassed 48 shtetlekh villages with 6,528 inhabitants, of whom 4,916 were Catholics, 1,591 Jews, and the rest Russian Orthodox. 5,035 listed their nationality as Polish; 3 as white Russian, and 1,479 as Jews. Jews lived in only 15 of the 48 communities. Most of the Jews lived in Zaromb proper (1,254 Jews and 372 Catholics). The second largest Jewish community was in Zaystes where 181 of the 282 inhabitants were Jews. In Ostrove, the largest town in the region, there were 13,425 inhabitants, of whom 6,812 were Jews.
In the years after 1921, the Jewish population in Zaromb did not grow because many people, especially the young, moved to the large cities of Poland, or even out of the country in hopes of a chance to make a living. Before war broke out in 1939, there were more Zaromber Jews in the United States, Palestine, Argentina, Cuba and France and in Warsaw and other large Polish cities, than in Zaromb itself.
Zaromb also had a Jewish children's library which was founded in 1921 by the children themselves to prevent Polonization. At that time, the Polish-Jewish "Folkshul" non-religious school contained about 100 Polish children's books. The children of the fourth class, especially Shayke Fridman, Beyle Burstein, Freydke Burstein and Brayntche Fridman, demanded from their teacher that Yiddish books also be bought. The teacher did not want to give in, so the children decided to create their own children's library of only Yiddish books. The first money they raised for this project came from a Chanukah concert. During the first years, the library was located in private homes; later, they occupied a corner in the older library
The Zaromber Jews were always quite poor. Even the so-called rich men were never rich enough to send their children off to the big cities for their education. In 1920, Berl Fridman, the son of Chaym-Yankel, the iceman, "discovered" the Religious Teacher's Seminary at 9 Genshe Street in Warsaw. The beauty of the seminary was that it was tuition- free and, in the cellar of the seminary building, there was a dormitory were one could get a place to sleep for no charge. With a little "protection money", one could also get a free meal each day. So, Berl Fridman went there to study and soon other boys from Zaromb followed - Ayzshe Ruspelenker, Moyshe Migdal, Shayke Fridman, and some others. A few girls from Zaromb also went to Warsaw to study, but they hungered more than they studied and had to come back home
In 1930, the Poles began a campaign to ruin the economic opportunities for the Jews of Zaromb and finally they achieved their goal. In the last 6-7 years before the outbreak of war in 1939, life for the Jews of Zaromb was a constant struggle.
In a report issued by the "Joint" (Joint Distribution Committee) published June 28, 1938, the conditions in Zaromb are described as follows
"The events in the Bialystock district had a very bad effect on the conditions of the Jews of Zaromb. The local 'Nara' members - local criminals and young wealthy peasants - carried on terrorist activities which prevented Jewish merchants from coming to the marketplace. Where, until a few months ago there was not a single Christian merchant, now no Jew feels he can dare show up. Also, because of the terrorist actions in the surrounding shtetlekh and villages, many Jewish merchants and artisans there have lost any chance to earn a livelihood. Even now, when the situation has become a bit better in some areas of the Bialystock district, the terror in Zaromb is as harsh as ever."
A pogrom in the neighboring shtetl of Tchizshev in 1936 strongly affected the economic life of Zaromb. As soon as the perpetrators of that pogrom were released, they joined anti-Semites from Zaromb to terrorize the Zaromber Jews. The administration of the Zaromb "Kehillah" (Jewish community) sent the following call for help to the Jewish press in Poland:
"The town of Zaromb-Kotchelne and its 250 families are doomed because of the boycott agitation activities carried out by the released 'Tchizshev Martyrs' and the Nara leaders in the neighborhood. Not a single Christian customer will buy from a Jew. No peasants come into the shtetl at all during the week except on Wednesday, which is market day. It would be better for the Jews if the market would be eliminated altogether. On Wednesdays, the Jews close their shops and hang curtains over their windows. They post guards by their back doors and are afraid their shops will be broken into and looted, that they themselves will be pulled out of their shops, lifted high in the air by the jubilant crowds and then get beaten up. Such incidents happen often in Zaromb. They provoke incidents and then beat up Jewish merchants; they sing anti-Semitic songs, step on the feet of anyone standing on the steps of Jewish stores, etc."
"Last market-day, they made up the story that a certain manufacturer-merchant wanted to shoot at them while they were dragging an 80 year old Christian woman from his shop. Complaints to the local authorities have led nowhere. Soon not a single Jewish shop will dare to open on market days. Jews dare not show up in any of the villages for the Nara boys beat up any Jew they see, with sticks and stones. Those who depended on trade with the villages are now completely wiped out. The situation in our shtetl is now hopeless. Help is crucially needed."
In a second announcement in the press, the Zaromb Kehillah stated that Jews from Zaromb were not being permitted to travel to the markets in other cities.
"When the poor merchants don't obey and take their meager merchandise to a 'Yarid', they are attacked and beaten on their return. That is when Yehuda Leib Granan, G. Golshak, Pinkhus Balender, Chayim Veisbord, Eliohu Stern, Shimshon Zshutchik and Leybl Hersh and Motl Holshak were beaten with cudgels. Even 14 year-old Leybl Weisbrod was not spared despite his pleas to be allowed to live. The local government does what it can to prevent these incidents: 4 hooligans were arrested, put in chains and sent to Ostrove. At the last Yarid, extra police were sent from Bialystock. But the economic situation of the Jewish population is so uncertain, Jews are selling their shops to Christians for pennies and leaving the shtetl. Almost 90% of the Jewish families suffer from hunger and from the cold. Children go to school hungry and in tatters."
Hershke Levin, the glazier, who used to go to the villages, fell victim to the Poles. In a letter to the Zaromb relief Committee in New York, his widow wrote, on November 21, 1937:
"Going to the village Ketlanka one day, my husband was attacked by a frenzied bunch of Poles who beat him murderously. He came home, barely alive and had to be confined to bed. I sold everything to try to save him. I even had to sell our one cow to pay the doctors. When my husband got a little better, he got out of bed before he was ready to. The poverty in our home upset him so much that he went off to the Village Gancherova, hoping to earn a few 'groshen.' He used to buy some fish there and then bring it to the city to sell. But, as soon as he came to the water, a band of "shkotzim" (young gentile men) tried to throw him into the water. Miraculously, he was able to get away from them and run toward home. When he came home, his illness returned, even worse than before. Since he had no more money, the town took up a collection to pay for him to go to a Warsaw doctor. Unfortunately his condition got worse each day and he died, leaving me and the children orphaned, and the empty walls and no means of livelihood."
"Shkotzim" so terrorized Yehuda Berl Dzshize, the village peddler, that he lost his mind.
A letter to the New York relief committee from the Zaromb Kehillah, dated October 3, 1938, describes the assault on the grain merchant Berish Klaymer, by some Poles. He was one of Zaromb's richest Jews until the Poles forbid him from buying grain from the peasants. He was attacked and beaten near the village Maintove and died shortly afterwards. His widow and 3 orphans gradually sold all their possessions and when there was nothing left to sell had to come to the relief committee for charity. But Zaromb had become so poor that there was no money left to assist anyone in need and that left only one alternative - to appeal to the "landsleit" in America.
At first groups of Poles blocked the doors to Jewish shops only on. Wednesday, the market days, but later they did it every day.
The Poles had an organized campaign to take over Jewish homes and the boycott of the Jewish shops was their primary weapon.
In a letter from Zaromb to the New York Relief Committee, February 10, 1938, it was reported that almost all the houses on the market square had already been bought by Poles.
If the boycott were not bad enough, a terrible fire broke out on May 15, 1938 and 69 people lost all their belongings and their homes. It turned out that the fire was no accident -- that Poles lent a hand to cause this tragedy. Among the destroyed buildings was the one where the community- chest and loan organization had been housed. That was the primary target of the Poles.
One night, 20 Jewish graves were desecrated.
On July 17, 1937, the administrators of the Yiddish Library wrote a letter which told that because of the dire situation in the shtetl, there was the opinion that the proposed new building should not be constructed because many felt they would soon have to leave Zaromb. However, the majority decided that because of the troubles the cultural center should be built to help bring courage and hope to the young people during this crisis, to keep up their morale.
Of the 230 Jewish families in Zaromb, 197 had to borrow money from the "Gmiles Khesed" (fund which provided interest-free loans) between April 1, 1937 to March 31, 1938.
A report from the "Joint" on June 28, 1938 reported "90% of the Jewish population of Zaromb are noted to receive assistance and the other 10% barely earn enough to cover expenses. Of the 230 Jewish families in Zaromb, 150 did not have Matzoh for Pesakh In many instances the Jews are forced by poverty to sell their houses and shops."
Zaromb had many oil presses, which were owned by Jews. They produced oil mainly for the peasants. Because of the boycott, this means of earning was also eliminated. The Jews could not buy the materials to make the oil because no one would give them the necessary credit.
Only 2 stocking factories, which employed 12 workers during the season, were unaffected by the boycott because they did not work for the local market. A wool factory, which reworked old wool into new fabrics, had to shut down. Credit was denied to the Jewish artisans. The 15-20 fur and hat makers who worked for the peasants were left without a means of earning a living. The 4 windmills got less and less grain from the peasants. The one electric mill was attacked by the Poles.
At the start of the war in September 1939, the Germans remained in Zaromb for only two weeks. During that time, their activities were limited to beating up Jews, robbing them and dragging them off for slave labor. They were preparing to get instructions from Germany about chasing all the Jews out of the shtetl but had no time to carry out their plan because after only 2 weeks of German occupation, due to conditions set down in the Russo-German pact, Zaromb went to the Russians.
The border between the Russian-held and German areas was not far from Zaromb. It went along the Dreg River near the villages of Rostik, Daniluka Festskes and Zaromb. The Russian border guards closest to Zaromb were in the small village of Koser.
Being so close to the border, tens of thousands of Jews trying to escape from those parts of Poland now under German occupation stole across the border and went through Zaromb. Many lost their lives at the guns of the German border guards. Once those who made through reached Zaromb, they could breathe easier, but only for a short time. Soon it became much harder to cross the border because the Soviets did not want to let in any more refugees. For a time, thousands of Jews remained in the narrow strip of land between the German and Russian borders. Once a mass of thousands of refugees moved toward the Russian border with a red flag and a picture of Stalin, which they had been given by a youth group in Zaromb. They were determined to get through by force of numbers.
The youth of Zaromb did whatever they could to help the refugees. They even sent telegrams to the Soviet government and they helped refugees "steal" the border.
In Koser, Jews from Zaromb waited to give refugees first aid and food. The refugees were not permitted to remain in Zaromb for any length of time. They were forced to move on the long road from which so many never came back.
The Jews who illegally crossed the border came into Zaromb on foot. The few Jewish cart owners who still had horses went back and forth from the shtetl to the border to bring back the refugees. Despite being economically ruined themselves, the Zaromber tried to help the refugees in any way they could. There was a decree that no one was to take a refugee into their home overnight but the decree was ignored whenever possible. Most of the refugees slept in the synagogue or outside and would be on their way again in the morning. Most succeeded in boarding the train near Ishtchenika. Others continued on foot to Tchizshev. The forests around the train station of Ishtchenika were full of refugees who slept under the trees.
Khava Keyman of Shtchetchin, who went through Zaromb in October 1939, gave an eyewitness account of how the shtetl looked at that time.
"The shtetl is tiny, with people like grains of sand. Mostly they are strangers here with packs, backpacks and valises. We approach an inn on the market square. It is in a low, light-colored little house. The inn is packed with refugees drinking something warm. The windows are full of people looking out. Many stood by the little bridges to speak to the new arrivals and offer them something warm to eat and drink. They sighed together, the local people tried to console the newcomers and helped them find a place to sleep."
"I and another young woman went to see the rabbi, a middle-aged Jews with a brown beard. Around his table sat his own 7 children. At another table, there were at least 3 times as many. We were greeted with a warm 'Sholem-Aleckhem' and given a blessing for our continued journey."
"We found the synagogue. As we opened the door, we were almost overcome by the dank heavy air from within. In every corner groups of people were lying on their packages and sacks. Their little iron stoves smoked more than they burned. Pots and kettles stood on these. Women and children were trying to warm their hands. Children were crying; old people were sighing, moaning. A few men were standing around. I felt a strong pang in my heart observing this picture of Jewish poverty, homelessness, hopelessness, hunger and cold. More and more people kept arriving. Some young men and women from the shtetl came in to converse with the refugees."
"The exhausted people huddled together for warmth waiting for dawn. Then they took their belongings and headed for the train. At the station, they found hundreds of others who had been waiting there from the previous day. It was impossible to get into the small station house. It began to rain. Rain poured on the people and on their packages. As if by spite, the rain did not let up all day and still no train arrived. The people were wet, hungry, cold, tired and discouraged. Many were crying."
The Zaromb cemetery was rapidly filled with graves of refugees killed trying to cross the border and who knows how many Jews drowned in the Dreg which was particularly stormy in this region, or died in the Orlov and Sodov forests and in the villages around Zaromb? Those poor souls never had a proper Jewish burial.
During the Russian occupation, the cultural and community life in Zaromb was administered by a committee: Chaim Mayer Faynztak, Leyzer Levin, Leytche Fridman, Eliohu Pravde and Rokhel Dishke. The Polish shoemaker, Vishilitzki, worked with them.
For a while in 1929, there were some Jews who had come into Zaromb and then to other parts of Soviet-occupied Poland who, for various reasons, found living under Soviet occupation unbearable and they crossed the border, usually illegally, back into German-occupied Poland.
Letters were also smuggled through Zaromb.
The Russian army had dug trenches and put up concrete fortifications all around Zaromb. During the long hours of that first night, the Russians put up resistance to the attack. According to one eyewitness, the Germans forced Poles to approach the fortifications and throw in grenades, which contained some sort of choking gas.
Later the Germans forced the Jews to take out the bodies of the dead Russian solders and throw them in a large pit.
After taking Zaromb, the Germans decreed that a "Judenrat" (Jewish council) be established to be elected by the Jews themselves. The members of the Judenrat were Levi Kilevitch, Kusher, Shiye Byale and Shmuel-Lib Ruskelenker.
During the first few weeks, the Germans confiscated all that the Jews possessed. Each day a stated amount of food, clothing and money had to be handed over. Each day Jews were taken for slave labor. During those early weeks, Zaromb was still the border administratively, which made the situation even more difficult.
A few weeks after occupying Zaromb, the Germans began killing the Jews in the surrounding shtetlekh but, at the time, the Jews in Zaromb were not aware of what was happening. Even when they heard that Jews from Yendzshev or Siminev were taken into the forest, they did not know why and for what purposes they were taken. About 7 weeks after Zaromb was occupied, the Jews there found out that 300 Jews from Tshuzshev were taken away for slave labor and the rest were shot in the forest near the villages of Mianvek and Sember (Szulborze), which were between Zaromb and Tshizshev. According to one eyewitness, Jews from Malkin and Yendzshev were also shot there. The Jews of Zaromb did not know about this mass murder.
However, we now know for certain that the Poles in Zaromb did know about the massacre but were careful not to tell the Jews, so that the Jews would not try to run away when it was Zaromb's turn to rid itself of its Jewish population.
Suddenly the Poles saw a chance to realize, with the help of the Germans, their old dream of getting rid of the Jews of Zaromb. They were impatient that the Germans were not doing that immediately. During the first weeks of the occupation, some Poles sent a request to the Germans to chase all the Jews out of Zaromb. Among those who signed this request were the entire Polish "intelligentsia" of Zaromb: Pisanski, the teacher Pavelchack, the secretary of the local council Geraltowski, and others. Geraltowski, Bek and Dr. Gauze went around gathering signatures for their petition to force the Jews out of Zaromb. All of this was done secretly, so the Jews did not know of this until much later.
The German Command center for the region was in Tchizshev. On the 29th of August, 1941, they sent an order to the Zaromb Judenrat that all the Jews of Zaromb must move to Tchizshev by the morning of September 2. A ghetto was to be set up Tchizshev for the Jews of all the surrounding shtetlekh. Yekhial Kus, in an eyewitness report, told that through a Pole, a good acquaintance of his who worked for the Gestapo, he found out about the massacre of the Jews of the surrounding shtetlekh. He went to Zaromb and told the Judenrat there about what he learned but they did not believe him.
Even on the day on which the Zaromb Jews were to present themselves in Tchizshev, Yekhail Kus reports, some reports were optimistic. Some Jews were even glad that the Germans were making a ghetto in Tchizshev because then they would have only one enemy to deal with, the Germans, and would no longer have to suffer from their neighbors, the Poles. Some Zaromb Jews thought living in a ghetto controlled by the Germans would be less troublesome than life in Zaromb with the Poles.
The Jews of Zaromb were not an exception in thinking this way. The Jews of Kovna had asked the Germans to establish a ghetto. Mindl Alshok told that the members of the Zaromb Judenrat had heard about the massacres, particularly about the murder of Tchizshev Jews. That is why they were afraid to go to Tchizshev.
Collecting the money and jewelry which the Jews of Zaromb had managed to hide, they took this to the German commissar in Tchizshev with the hope that this bribe would make him establish a ghetto for the Jews of Zaromb in Zaromb itself. He took the money and the jewelry but rejected their request.
According to Mindl Olshok, the Zaromb Polish council knew for a full week before August 29 what was planned for the Jews of Zaromb - that there would not be a ghetto in Tchizshev but that all the Jews of Zaromb would be killed. But the Poles kept their knowledge a secret to prevent any Jews from trying to escape and save their lives.
As we saw later, the Poles took an active part in the massacre of the Jews of Zaromb. Several days before, a number of Polish cart drivers had been given orders to be ready to transport the "Zshides" (derogatory term for Jews) of Zaromb. They kept that order secret.
What the Zaromb Jews did not know yet was that the Germans already had plans for organizing the death camp of Treblinka, right near Malkin. Many years earlier, during the Rebellion of 1863, Poles fought against Russian forces in the forests. It was often told that when the Russians captured a Pole, they cut off an arm or a leg. The wounded Poles dragged themselves to Zaromb where Jews healed their wounds with sour milk. Not far from Zaromb, on the way to Danilvke, there is a Christian cemetery where Polish victims of those battles are buried. In that region, which is a very beautiful one, nature-wise, the Germans built gas chambers for Jews. That is why they decided to wipe out the Jewish communities in that area as quickly as possible. This included Zaromb.
On Saturday, August 29, 1941, 30 young men from Zaromb met in Rozshinski's house. Mindl Alshok, the only one of the 30 who survived, described the meeting:
"We felt that we had 2 days left to live. One thing we promised each other whoever lived through Hitler's horrors should tell friends outside of Poland what we felt and what we said." She stated that among those present who agitated against the Jews going to Tchizshev were Shmuel-Lib Ruskelenker and Khinke Alshok.
The first few carts carrying Jews had gone through Sember and toward Tchizshev so as not to arouse the suspicions of the others on their way to Sember. Later, these few wagons full of Jews were sent back to Sember.
Moyshe Veintroyb tells that some of the Jews were murdered by Poles almost as soon as they were out of Zaromb. Among these was Yankev Gzshibovitch who was murdered by the Poles near the old Jewish cemetery.
A few Jews managed to hide in the attic of the Sember schoolhouse. Among them were Braynche Kusher's son and Itzl Katzve's wife. The Polish policeman Batenski, noticed Kulevitz and his son trying to climb up to the attic so he pulled them down and broke their legs. Among the Poles who played an active role in the massacre were Bodtchak and Zshad. Many Poles stood all around and kept beating the Jews. Those Jews who tried to escape were shot. Among those shot by the Poles while trying to run were Khava Shedletzki, Rokhel Smala and Mayer Raykhman and his wife.
Once all the Jews had been herded together inside and round the Sember schoolhouse, a German made a speech. He explained that Jews wanted to destroy Germany so now the Jews must perish. Using revolvers, the Germans forced the Jews to applaud the speech and the announcement that they were to be killed.
From the Sember schoolhouse, the Jews were loaded into trucks and taken to Mianowek, another small village near Sember. The Russians had begun building a narrow railway track here but had not completed it. According to one eyewitness, the Russians had been building anti-tank ditches and not a railway-. That is where the Germans had murdered the Jews from Tchizshev and other shtetlekh and there, on September 2, 1941, they murdered the Jews of Zaromb. Moyshe Krishtal managed to hide behind some trees where he witnessed the slaughter. (Later, Moyshe Krishtal was killed by the Germans.) Mayer Raykhman threw himself on a German officer and bit him on the neck. Saynay, the "shokhet" (ritual slaughterer) said Vedui (final confession of sins) with the Jews. The son-in-law of the capmaker shouted: "Jews! Let's attack these bandits and run away!" But nobody succeeded in running.
The martyrs of Zaromb were shot in groups of 70 people. One group then buried the previously shot group. The last 70 martyrs were buried by Poles. Mindl Alshok tells that Abraham Khanowitch, who looked like a strong man, was forced to throw live Jews into the pit. Moyshe Veintroyb tells: "Many fell into the pit out of fear, even before they were shot. Children under 12 were not shot but pierced with bayonets. During the slaughter, Polish police beat the Jews on their heads with heavy cudgels." He also said. "When the pit was covered up, the earth heaved and rose. Blood from our Jews came up above the earth covering the mass grave." A Polish woman who was watching this slaughter went out of her mind.
Those who survived the Sember massacre, according to Mindl Alshok, were
entire Alshok family, the Rabbi's family, Gures family, Yankl
family, Grappe's family, Leybe Goldberg's family, Sheyke
Feyge Studzanke and her 2 children, Khayim Lashitzky, his
son and a grandchild;
Sheyne-Libe Burshtin, Beyle Bergman, Motl Migdal,
Shelke and Vadya Alshok,
Esther and Khayim Shafit, Khoya Migdal, Mayer-Yelke
Yaskulke, Ezra Daultchik,
Dobe Kavaltchik, Abraham Dmokh, Haskel Stidzianko,
Shlomo Teutshe, Shlomo and
Talbe Byale, Khaitchke Radzianski, Rosa
Vaydenbaum, Mordecai-Mendl Migdal,
Khayim Klayner, Raphael Yarmus and Leybl Paluba.
In 1942, the Germans set up a slave labor camp near Zaromb for the Jews of the Bialostok Ghetto who had not been murdered. There were about 16,000 slave laborers there. A few Zaromber, Malka Shif and her two children were there for a time. In January, 1943, the camp was liquidated and all the Jews who were there were transported to the Auschwitz death camp.
Latche Levkovitz from Zaytses, who was originally from Zaromb led a partisan group in the forests around Bialystok in 1941. She died in an attack.
A significant number of those who remained alive after the massacre were murdered by Poles or were handed over by Poles to the Germans. Among these were Shlomo and Talbe Tenshe, Motl Migdal, Mordecai-Mendl Yigdal, Khaytche Ruzshanski, Khaya Goldberg and her son, Yashke Grappe and his wife and others.
On the way to Sember, the wagon, which carried Shmuel Leyb, Khayim Shteper and others, broke down. They ran off and saved their lives. They found out about the massacre of the Zaromb Jews so they ran to Starodin. About 20 Jews from Zaromb gathered there. This whole group hid out in the forest where they ate mainly tree bark. They stayed in the forest for about a month. Then Poles reported them to the Germans and on September 28, 1942, they were all shot in the village of Tzekhonov, between Kasov and Starodin. The mass grave of this group of Jews from Zaromb is at the roadway at the foot of the hill in Tzekhonov.
Sheyne-Libe Burshtin, her husband and a child managed to hide for a time but were then reported to the Germans by a Pole.
When Zaromb was liberated, there were 14 Jews in the region who had by a miracle survived. They were Shayke Grinspan's family, Ziporah Goldberg and one child, Tzipe Goldberg, one of Graff's children, Nathan Kavaltchud's child (Rashke-Libe's grandchild) . The liberated Poles however did not stop killing Jews. So after surviving the long German occupation, Shayke Grinspan and Shlomo Tentche were shot and murdered by Poles.
Mindl Altshok tells that near Zaromb there was a kind Pole who helped her and her 3 sisters to hide. When the Soviet army returned to Zaromb, other Poles found out that this man had sheltered Jews and they killed him.
Dobe Kovaltchik was hidden by the Pole Adam Katcharowski. The Poles of Zaromb wanted to kill him but he ran off to Germany where he is living with Jewish refugees. A telegram from the "ITAY" on July 13, 1946 states that Poles stopped a train near Zaromb and murdered 6 Jewish passengers.
Graffe, a Jew from Otrove, visited Zaromb at the end of 1945. He reports that a Polish policeman said to him, a smile on his face: "There are no more 'Zshides' in Zaromb."
Only 2 Jewish children from Zaromb remained alive. Miriam Graff, Yankl Graff's (Watermaker) grandchild, who had been hidden by a Christian woman, and a child of Tziporah and Leyble Veintroyb. After lengthy negotiations and much aggravation, Miriam Graffe was finally brought to Eretz-Israel. The Christian woman had to be paid 60,000 zlotes. M. Mankute, who was involved in trying to rescue the child from Poland, wrote the following in a letter dated September 8, 1946: "the money we gave the Christian peasant woman was not enough. We had to snatch the child away." Soon after, he wrote, Poles came for the child and when the woman told them she did not know where the child was now, the Poles beat her up.
Ziporah and Leyble Veintroyb had hidden in the forest after the massacre of the Zaromb Jews. When they could not withstand the hunger any more, they put their child in a Christian home. At the end of the war, that child was found and sent to Eretz-Israel. However, the peasant who had taken the child took the mother to court demanding a huge payment. Ziporah tells the story about her child in a letter to the Zaromb Relief Committee, dated August 22, 1946:
"The child, Khava Goldberg, was born in Sterdin, August 20, 1942, a little less than a year after the slaughter of the Zaromb Jews. When the child was only 4 days old, the killing of the Sterdin Jews began. My husband and I and the newborn child managed to run away to the Visoke-Mazovietze region where there were still a few small ghettos. But on November 2, 1942, the Jews of that area were slaughtered. This time, my husband, I and the baby succeeded in running into the forest. The child was then 9 weeks old. The forest was deep with snow and it was very difficult for us to remain there with an infant and we decided to leave the child near a peasant's hut in a village by the forest and, one dark night, that is what we did.
"The peasant raised the child. My husband was killed, but I survived. When we were liberated, I tried to take the child back but the peasant did not want to let her go. After many efforts, I did manage to get my child. I kept her with me for 7 months and then I sent her to Eretz-Israel.
"Even today, the Christians are trying to get the child. Last week, I was called to court on this matter. Now I have to pay for the 3 years that the peasant and his wife kept my child."
Even the Jewish sacred places have been destroyed. Mindl Altshok tells that, after the liberation, there was not a single tombstone left in both Jewish cemeteries. The Poles had destroyed them back in 1941.
Those houses in Zaromb which had not been destroyed – houses built with Jewish labor, where Jews worked hard to eke out a living, where Jewish mothers rocked their children to sleep - were inhabited by Poles who profited from the annihilation of Jewish life.
In the house in which the Ruskelenkas had lived, the Pole Tamashek from the village of Kankove, opened a store. The Poles, Shulbodski from Ninaltas, Dombkoviniaka from Leshnes, Wanda Gashlitzki and Inatchik from Zaromb, Roman Pisanski and Goldowski from Brevkes were among Poles who took over Jewish houses in Zaromb. The Pole Yablanko lives in the cap-maker's house. In the last house on the street, near the church, the Pole Gashlitzki lives and, together with his youngest daughter and her husband, he opened a store there. Gashlitzki had been a shoemaker. When the Germans came into Zaromb, he gave up his trade and became head of the committee which liquidated Jewish businesses. Later, when the Russians came back into Zaromb, he was put in prison in Lomzshe and his family was sent to Russia. But, he was released and his family returned. Now they all live in a Jewish house in Zarorrib. Their neighbors are the Poles Ekert, Katiniah, Tcheshek and others.
The few Zaromber who survived the death camps are still wandering from city to city, from land to land. Only a few succeeded to get to Eretz-Israel or to America.
A few Zaromber risked their lives and visited Zaronb and Mianvek where the martyrs of Zaromb were slaughtered. They had to run out of Zaromb as soon as they got there or the Poles would have murdered them. They relate that the field near Mianvek where the martyrs are buried is not fenced in. They are asking the Zaromber and Tchizshever "Landsleit" in America to think about sending a delegation which would buy that field and the sooner the better. It is not sure whether the Poles will even allow our martyrs there to rest in peace.
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Updated 13 Aug 2005 by LA