By Arieh Feiwlowicz
Translated by William Leibner
The Fall was approaching, the first half of the month of Heshvan (October-November) brought with it cold winds that sometimes released light rains. But this Monday morning announced itself to be a very pleasant and sunny day that influenced many farmers to leave their homes. The farmers from Old Hite, Burkes and Szklane-Huta decided to visit the market in the hamlet; some went on foot while others rode with their carts. Truthfully speaking, most of them did not feel like making the journey for they did not expect great things.
The days when they came to the city with loaded carts of grain, vegetables or chickens were gone. Gone were also the crowds, mostly Jews, that awaited their arrival. Those were the days that you traded, made deals, purchased items that you needed, had a few drinks at the local tavern and headed home. But today, all of this is gone, most of the population, especially the Jews, disappeared all over. A few paupers remained that saved themselves from the big fire. There were also a few Germans stationed locally, but they wanted everything for free. For a fat chicken they would offer a few pennies and you had to thank them and smile. There was no bargaining - talking was forbidden. Therefore, the farmers took as little as possible with them to the market. Most of the trading was done locally. They bartered food for boots or coats for the approaching winter.
The market was now bigger that it used to be prior to the war. Many houses that used to ring the market were burned out, thus providing a greater view of the horizon. The place that used to house the Pankowski haberdashery store was gone and you had an unobstructed view of the village of Unikow and its rich fields. The church, which seemed to be taller than ever, stood there dominating the entire area.
The left side of the market showed signs of two-story houses that became mere skeletons or naked walls standing by themselves, chimneys protruding like arms to the skies, windowless holes similar to gaping mouths wanting to scream silently Jewish children, you were born and raised amidst these walls, generation upon generation, we protected you against everything evil and where are you now? Where is your roof now? You took the wandering road and abandoned us to the winds and storms following the fire and destruction.
One by one, the carts lined up in the market with their owners sitting in their usual position. On the sidewalks swept clean from debris, stood groups of peasant women wearing warm head shawls that even covered their merchandise so as not to entice the prowling eyes of the German soldiers. They waited for a potential Jewish customer that would pay the demanded price, or exchange goods for a piece of clothing or bed linens that still remained in their possession. The hamlet still contained a dozen Jewish families, the remains of the Jewish community of Zloczew. These families had left the hamlet following the second expulsion order by the Germans, but along the road, they heard the news that the Germans cancelled the order. So these families returned to the hamlet and each one found a niche, so to speak, and awaited their destiny.
A shadow appeared from a side street slowly heading to the water pump in the market square with a water pail in his hand. A Jew needs water to wash often and to boil it in order to dunk his hard bread into it. His teeth were gone with the exception of one tooth that protruded from the lower lip and gave the face a comical appearance. The Jew never had a round face, but then it was almost covered by a gray beard and side curls that almost reached the typical Jewish hat that he wore and his long black Kapote or caftan. Presently, he had to change everything for the danger was mortal. He exchanged his hat for an ill-fitting casket that covered his ears, he shortened his caftan, removed his beard and side curls. All these changes made him uncomfortable and revealed his sadness as well as the sad story of the Jewish people. Therefore, there was no surprise in the fact that nobody recognized this Jew that will become the tragic hero of a bloodthirsty beast. As the Jew started to pump water, a German soldier suddenly approached and asked him sarcastically; What are you doing here, you filthy Jew? The German was determined to have a good time at the expense of the Jew.
The latter was frightened and did not reply instantly but continued to hold the iron pump in his hand. The German whacked the man's hand with his pointed stick, apparently an indication to let go of the pump. He again repeated the same question. This time the Jew answered in a supplicating tone that he wanted some water to wash and to cook. He was still frightened and his begging gray eyes searched for mercy. His left eye looked more to the left where he seemed to feel danger. Meantime, he was hiding his injured hand behind his back. The German continued to scream but you are a filthy swine!. The Jew replied; Dear Sir, I am not a filthy person, and he slowly showed his hands to the soldier to convince him that he was clean. The German continued But your soul and your body are filthy and hit the Jew's hands again. The latter instantly moved his left hand to his mouth for bloodstains appeared on his hand.
The nearby farmers began to converge to the scene and began to wonder as to the identity of the Jew. They also wanted to know how the scene would end. Still, they could not figure out the identity of the Jew, although they were certain that he was a local Jew. They kept asking each other questions, but had no answer; the farmers were merely shrugging their shoulders. Amongst the crowd, there were also city residents and after extensive examination, they recognized the Jew. He sold exotic goods in Goldringer's house near the house of Getzelte. The city dwellers began to describe to the peasants the former appearance of the Jew and slowly they began to remember him. Oibalke the shoemaker even added that the Jew was called Wolf Leib. The latter name meant little to the villagers, but the city dwellers knew him well.
Wolf Leib stood hopeless, not knowing how to explain to the German that he was not dirty, although he had not visited the bathhouse for some time. No Jew could think of such luxury when the synagogue and the study center were converted to horse stables. True, some time had elapsed since he dunked himself in the mikveh, but he keeps clean by washing himself often.
The German was not interested in explanations; he had his devilish plan and was set to implement it. He called for a young Gentile and ordered him to undress the Jew.
He himself picked up the hat of the Jew with his pointed rod and flung it far away.
Wolf Leib then covered his head with both hands in order not to appear hatless which would have contravened Jewish law. This action made it difficult for the Gentile to remove Wolf Leib's coat. Again, the German whacked the Jew with his pointed rod and both hands came down helpless.
Wolf Leib still did not understand what was going on, even when his shirt was removed and his body was partially covered by the partially torn and yellowish talith katan or four-cornered tassled undergarment. This piece of clothing with black lines and the hanging fringes was a mystery to the German as well as to the Gentile. But the latter suddenly remembered that pious Jews with beards wore such clothing under their kaftans. He realized that it was not a mere piece of material but it was connected with religion. Thus, he began to hesitate even after the German ordered a second time to remove the clothing item.
Wolf Leib had a forefeeling of what was happening and he pressed the talit katan with both hands to his chest. The German thought for a moment and then ordered the Gentile to rip off the garment that covered the back of the Jew. The material did not give. He then took the hand of the boy and together with his hand tried to rip the talith katan but it did not tear. The simple material held just as the faith of the helpless and hopeless Jew who remained a true follower of the commandments in spite of all the risks.
Then an accident happened, Wolf Leib lost his footing due to the pulling of the German and the Gentile. He fell to the ground and knocked down his pail of water that rolled down the hill. Wolf Leib lay stretched out on the ground. The angry German refused to let him stand up and surveyed the panic-stricken crowd that was beginning to distance itself from the scene. The German noticed a solid built man in the crowd that was constantly laughing during the show and with a wink ordered him to his side. The solid man instantly obeyed the command.
The German pointed out to him a half a brick on the side of the road and told him to get it. He then told the young Gentile to pump water and the brick holder will rub the Jew with the wet half brick until he is clean. The order was to be carried out instantly. The peasant women began to cross themselves and recited some prayers while covering their eyes. Some even turned their heads away so that nobody could see their tears. Wolf Leib did not feel too much pain. With the first pail of water he soon began to feel the rubbing brick on his back. He emitted a few deep groans and resumed his silence. His white skinned back soon became red with blood oozing from everywhere. Those people that were closest to him could notice that while lying on the ground, Wolf Leib pressed to his trembling lips the mud covered talit katan.
Two hours later, the Jewish committee received the following brief order: You are hereby ordered to bury this clean Jew!
By Gödel Lutotawski
Translated by William Leibner
In 1939, following the German occupation of Poland, the Germans began to arrest and deport Polish citizens to various hard labor camps in Germany in order to perform various tasks. One such group was assembled, and, according to various informational sources, was about to be sent to the city of Breslau.
These deportations affected Jews as well as Poles. However, due to the Nazi hatred of Jews, the predominant members of these transports were Jews. One railroad car of a transport contained nothing but Jews, except for one Christian. The latter was the priest Kalkiewicz, who was known as a rabid anti-Semite and actively supported the pogrom against Jews in Zloczew (see the item on the pogrom in Zloczew by I. Katz) and also wrote for the anti-Semitic paper called Arendowni. It seemed that his destiny was to share the ride to Germany with Jews that instantly recognized him. Of course, they did not gang up on him, but when he got sick, nobody assisted him either he lay in a corner and realized that his chances of recovery were diminishing with time. With the passing of the third day, the priest realized that his death was imminent; he asked a few Jews to gather around and asked them to forgive him for his anti-Jewish behavior and for his anti-Jewish deeds of the past. He also asked to be buried when the train stopped at a station and to write his name on the tomb. We do not know whether the Jews forgave him for there were no survivors from this carriage. However, his request for burial and a plaque were not implemented. As soon as he died, his body was tossed out the window.
By H. Yakhimek (כימעקאַי)
Translated by Josh Price
I stand and hold a Jewish book in my hand. A Jew stands here and holds a Jewish book in his hands and speaks Yiddish. What an extraordinary thing: you Jews, who were in the hands of the Nazis you will understand me. In my hand is a book of Yiddish poetry: from the poet Malka Lee.
I read without fear, freely, with no need to look over my shoulder. Across from me stands the poet: Malka Lee. She looks at me with her penetrating but tender, dreamy eyes. The writer Leyb Faynberg sits and listens, and so does the scholar and Yiddish literary critic Moyshe Shtarkman. And so do other Yiddish cultural activists and teachers.
Is this possible? Did this very miracle happen to me? I see everything as if through a fog. Is it dream or reality?
Winter 1942: Brussels, Belgium. The dark black night of German, Nazi occupation. In the heart of the former Jewish population. Down to two men we slink about in the dark, through spiral steps and corridors. We reach the attic of a Jewish house. By chance the Germans have not managed to put up the swastika here nor confiscate everything. We barely make it through the narrow door, where the owner is standing, a thin, suffering man, whose wife and child were caught by the Germans and sent to their deaths.
After making sure that we cannot be seen, we turn on the electric light. Though it is a small lamp, the room turns extraordinarily bright, such that we can barely open our eyes, as if a hundred suns had suddenly started shining. A large room, at least twelve Jews had once gathered here. Sadly only two were still alive. Comrade Albert tells me that Comrade Novik has a surprise for me. He takes out a bunch of wrinkled newspaper and says that I have broken the rules by having a piece of Yiddish writing on my person while going to the meeting point. But I could not resist the temptation. A lot of words rubbed out, illegible. The authors: Shmuel Halkin, Leyb Kvitko, and Malka Lee. Yiddish poets comfort us, encourage us, their words work like balm. Yiddish poetry wants to be heard.
Everything comes to an end. It becomes quiet. Hands press together, burning faces, teary but fiery eyes. After the instructions from the comrade in charge, it gets dark again and we sneak out one by one.
A dark black night, the sky a bit of black ink, a cold wind mixed with rain and snow. From the deep black sky a humming and buzz of airplanes. Are they Germans? May they be cursed, and wiped out. If they are Allies may they way be guarded and lit by the pillar of fire.
Our shoes in water, we shuffle along the walls, barely making it to Boulevard du Midi. A little further, after a few minutes, and I will be at Porte de Hal, will take tram number nine, sneak out under the city, where a small bedroom awaits me.
Suddenly a whistle! German trucks rush by. They stop in the middle of the street, huge searchlights turn on, and it becomes as bright as the daytime. I slip into the depths of a locked gate so as not to be seen.
Now furniture and various things are being dragged out of Jewish houses. Everything is loaded onto the trucks. Drunken voices make noise, scream, curse. Books, sacred and profane, are not packed up, but thrown out onto the middle of the street in heaps. Jewish books from Jewish homes, from which the owners have already been sent to burn. Now their books are doused with gasoline, ignited, and they too burn. Everything around turns bright from the fire. Jewish books burn, a wind turns the pages holy pages, the night weeps with wet snow.
Like a mother's tears, raindrops wet the pages, wanting to extinguish the fire, but they are powerless, because gasoline keeps being added. Drunk Germans dance in a demonic circle around the pyre. The Horst Wessel Song sounds in the air and Jewish blood spurts from the knife…Jewish books are burning, a khumesh is burning, Sholem Aleichem is burning, the Prophets are burning. The Talmud is burning, Peretz is burning, Herzl, and Leyvik, Medem, Borokhov, and Karl Marx. Rambam and Professor Einstein. Spinoza, and M. Hess. Most Jews were poor but how rich they were in books. I close my eyes, and when I open them, the trucks have already disappeared. The fire is burning out. Another flicker, and then another, of a little flame, like a dying soul. The whitehot coals are extinguished by the rain, they are reflective and look like streams of blood. And now it is totally dark. Feeling as if part of a terrible funeral I drag myself away, tapping along the walls. Crossing the street, I happen upon on a book.
Instinctively, I bend down, pick it up, and walk on. A Jew condemned to death and in the dark black Hitlernight he walks with a Jewish book under his arm. How it warms me, as if I were holding a living child to my heart. What kind of book is it? What escaped from the fire, like a single Jew, like myself? A miracle. A coincidence. Whatever it may be now we are together. Me and the Jewish book. And here my common sense started talking: You're crazy, you're walking with a Jewish book under your arm? And when you are caught, that's the end of the book, that's the end of the Jew, that's the end of you…but if Jews survive, so will a Jewish book.
As I prepared to put it away, this unknown book began speaking. Like a voice that comes from the burning bush like Moses: Yes, yes, dear Jews, a Jewish book can speak, warn, and yell even when silent…just like many Jews did in view of the dead. Don't throw me away, don't leave me, it's possible that there will be no more Jewish books…I survived the fire, don't leave me so pleads the book.
How can I hold you and walk through the city? Won't we be caught and burned? I ask the book, with a silent voice…approaching the ledge of a window, involuntarily, automatically, like a machine, I put the book away. After giving it a kiss as if it were a holy book. May it godforbid not fall into the impure hands of the Nazis. Dear Jewish book with dear Jewish letters. Will I ever have the honor to hold it in my hand and read it? Now I'm standing and holding it in my hand and reading it:
The same poetry, which I had then read on that horrible night in front of twelve Jews. And alas, only two of them are still alive…then, in view of death, I made a pact with the Jewish book. Either live together or die together…so we will remain one, until the last breath, until the last drop of blood my Jewish book…
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