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[Page 399]

Alien[1]

By G. May

Translated by Josh Price

Guta May, born (Yakhimek) in Brussels, Belgium, is a grandchild of Zlotshev. Today she holds the position of a professor at Columbia University in New York. In 1941, during the Nazi occupation of Belgium, Gitele – as she was called in Yiddish – was ten–and–a–half years old, and hid in an an attic, in a secluded village near Brussels. Lying on her strange bed on a sleepless night, she thought:

 

Alien Jew

Well…it's hopeless, I give up! I am tossing about in every direction on my bed and still can't fall asleep. Some kind of horrible and sad feeling is pressing on my heart and choking me.

Is this the nocturnal melancholy which has seized the world?

Is this mother's kiss, which used to put me to sleep for a night of good dreams which I have no longer? Or is it the dirty war against us that is unnerving me?

Is it?

I cannot say…

I cannot say why I am sad, I cannot stop the flow of my tears. They flow against my will and make the bedding all wet. My eyes are wide open. I see images, pleasant images from the past, which stand right before my eyes, even though I found such things of little use…

I see the cook, our cook – laughing and gay. The big tailor's table where father would sit and work – one leg crossed over the other – and humming a Jewish tune.

Mother, bent over the sewing machine, would accompany him with the monotonous tapping of the machine. And the big work table, which I made use of during the school breaks, to stretch out and read, devouring one book after another.

I see my family at dinner: modest and comfortable, everyone laughing heartily…freely and openly…

I see the bedroom, my bedroom. My bed, which used to hold my childlike dreams every night. I see my house, which had a happy life without disturbance. And it seems to me that I am again at home, and the terrible war – the running and running away, the separation – are nothing more than a nightmare, just a bad dream, which dissolves at the first sign of dawn.

But a cool wind sneaks in and reminds me of reality. With my eyes, I walk around the room where I am lying and it seems to me that the cold naked wall is whispering something to me, “Alien!”

That the moon beams, which fall upon my bed and whisper in my ear: “Alien!” That the window, cracked open, whispers, “Alien!”

That the hard, hostile bed screams to me with all of its rusty springs: “Alien!”

That the bare mirror near me, suddenly lighting up, with anger and cruelty, attacks me with the reproach: “Alien!”

[Page 400]

And that all things around me start moving, dancing, in a demonic circle, making noise, screaming, spitting: “Alien…Alien…”

Terrified and exhausted, I hide my face, covered with tears, in the pillow. But even the pillow pushes back, angrily assaults, grimacing, with its creased, worn sides, intoning: “You are nothing more than an alien…”

(Translated from French by her father Yakhimek)


Translator's Footnote

  1. פֿרעמדע (fremde) is a notoriously difficult term to translate (think of Camus' L'Étranger). Return


[Page 406]

Desecrated Even After Death

By A. Yakhimek

Translated by Josh Price

End of August 1939. The air is afire with horrible heat and the rays of the sun stab like spears. Terrified Jews with wide–open eyes look forward to even a single piece of good news. Mothers clasp strongly the hands of their children, who in turn cling to their mother's clothes. Someone reads as a group listens to and comments on the news from the paper. Everyone senses that calamity is imminent. The anti–Semitic group “Sokol”[1] has become more and more hysterical in its organizing of pogroms and boycotts against the Jews of Zlotshev[2]. But meanwhile they have already lost the sympathy of much of the Polish population, because the Poles have been in a panic on account of the approaching danger.

September 1st, 1939. Friday evening. The thing which everyone feared has happened: The great destruction[3] has begun. The devil, in the guise of the Nazi German, has begun to stick its nails into the body of the Jews of Zlotshev. Despite the beautiful September, when autumn is in its full bloom and glory, the world has become dark for the Jews. The humming of the German airplanes has mixed with the destruction and burning of the nearby towns and villages.

As soon as Friday evening came, so began the Jewish flight – whoever was able. Dovid Sroke[4] and others fled all the way to Zgerzh[5], near Lodz. But there they encountered Germans and were driven back.

Returning to Zlotshev, they did not even recognize the town. An empty lot remained where the market once was. Out of the ground poked the still–intact synagogue building, which the Germans later used as a horse stall. All the Jewish families who couldn't escape were murdered. Under the houses and on the fields lay unburied bodies. But life is stronger than all troubles. Whether it wants to or not, it must go on for those who live. So Mikhoel Byelavski,[6] sick and tired, organized the few remaining Jews to dig up all the murdered Jews of Zlotshev and give them a proper burial. Dovid Seroke [sic][7] relates: “How could one describe it today? As I recall it, I ask myself: How could I have endured it?!? There I stand with a shovel in hand, under the direction of Mikhoel Byelavski, and I dig up the scattered and dispersed Jewish bodies. Entire families. They are loaded onto a wagon and brought to the cemetery to be buried there. Sighs and groans are heard, because there are no more tears for crying. Familiar faces. Entire families. It seems that only yesterday we had talked with them, done business with them, played with them…

Here is the entire family of Moyshe Fisheles[8]. Killed together – buried together. Here is Khaim Shapses[9] and his family. Dovid–Shloyme studied with him. And many more.

Merchants, artisans, scholars, teachers. But the sky is still the sky, the sun is still shining, and we go on. Do we have a choice? There is a will to live on…

A few weeks later comes the decree to wear the yellow star – and so follows one decree

[Page 407]

after another, until the main decree arrives: all Jews of Zlotshev must leave the Third Reich (to which Zlotshev now belongs) and go to Sheradz[10], from which they will be sent to Lublin, “to a Jewish refuge.”

For those who for various reasons remained, a ghetto was created in the spring of 1940. The left side of the butcher's street[11] was fenced off with barbed wire, and all the Jews who remained were squeezed into there. If, before that point, there was still a small chance for a few Jews to earn something with work in the village, everything was now cut off with the creation of the ghetto. The Christians who smuggled in provisions were caught and banished (like Koyznik's[12] son), or killed (like one of Kinel's[13] sons). The terror began. The bullying, the mockery, the beating, and the killing grew more intense with each day. Especially active were those Germans who were Polish citizens – residents of the German village Rensov[14] near Zlotshev. They were now called “Volksdeutsche”[15]. They were in the service of the Nazis, most of all with the German “Kebenik”[16], the commandant of Zlotshev.

 

The Cemetery Desecrated

Shmuel Nitsinski[17] was discharged from the Polish army in mid–September 1939 and headed straight to Zlotshev. In Sheradz, he met the mayor of Zlotshev – Niklashinski[18], who was very excited, since this was the first Polish soldier from Zlotshev whom he had met. He tried to talk him out of returning to Zlotshev, but he went back anyway. Upon arrival, he saw that the town was destroyed. Where to go? Who was left? Where was his family?

Suddenly, as if from the sky, a Jewish boy, a grandchild of Sore Efrayimtes[19], came and asked him: “Jewish soldier, do you want to know where your wife is?”

The boy led him to Tsivye the baker, whose house remained standing, and he met his wife, along with fifteen other people from several families.

The situation got worse and worse every day. Killing, beating, forced labor, torture, tearing beards, dumping water on heads, drawing swastikas in blood where one puts on tefillin – this all became a daily occurrence.

With the initiative of Mikhoel Byelavski, a committee with the purpose of organizing self–help was organized. The committee, which consisted of Mikhoel Byelavski, Yankev Litman[20] (מטילאַן), Binem Levkavitsh[21], Shmuel Nitsinski, Zelig Konyarski[22] and Yitskhok Shlomkovitsh[23], set a daily quota of 80 Jews for the “labor force”[24], in order to avoid

the beating of women and children. The labor itself, of course, was pointless, and one was happy to merely make it home alive. One could be shot for taking a small piece of wood (Shmuel himself was nearly killed after being informed on by a gentile woman from Zlotshev). After some time, Shmuel Nitsinski managed to escape from Zlotshev and run away with his wife to Russia.

There too, together with others, he had to endure a lot of suffering and pain. In 1942, he lost a child and became very despondent. He had to bury his child with his own hands in a field in Siberia. Weak, he ran away and fell asleep…his mother came to him in a dream. “Shmuel, my child,” she said, “be strong, I beg of you. You will survive, but remember, if you do survive, visit my grave.”

After terrible suffering and hardship, he survived the Holocaust and found himself in Lodz. He was ready to leave the cursed, bloody Polish earth and run. But where? Everyone was afraid of visiting their birthplaces, because the Polish anti–Semitic bandits were rampant and killing Jews. There were even those who had gone and not returned. But Shmuel remembered his dream and decided that he had to visit his mother's grave. He left his family in Lodz and went to his hometown Zlotshev. Shmuel Nitsinski relates: “There I sat in the wagon of the Pole Kutskov[25], we stopped, I got down from the wagon and stood at the corner of Sheradzer street. I walked along the new Blashker[26] road, paved with the gravestones that had been torn from the Jewish cemetery. I walked by familiar places:

[Page 408]

here I had gone to funerals; here I buried my mother. A turn to the right – and a chill went through my body – here was the grave of my mo…mo…th…er…What was going on? I rubbed my eyes…no cemeteries, no gravestones, the graves of rabbis[27] and rebbes[28] stood open! Human bones were lying about…

I stood in shock! My head was pounding.

Suddenly there appeared, from out of a newly built house, Lutsek Tomashevski[29]. He embraced me, God bless him!…“Shmulik,” he said, “is that you?!? I am so happy that you are alive! Are there many other Jews who survived?”

And meanwhile I was thinking, will he kill me? Instinctively and cautiously I said to him: “Of course there are others who survived!”

“Tell them,” said Lutsek, “that I will help them rebuild the cemetery and guard it.”

Without thinking I went ahead, into the cemetery, while Lutsek Tomashevski went after me. But what did my eyes see? A wide, paved road in the middle of the cemetery led to a spot where there was modern technical stall for killing dogs and horses (it was called “szubienica[30]”)…and there, as a guard, still worked the same Lutsek Tomashevski. The [animal] carcasses were being buried in the Jewish cemetery, the same cemetery where our dearest ones lay. I could endure it no longer and I dragged myself back to town.

 

“The transgressions of Edom”
(see Amos 1:11)

 


Translator's Footnotes

  1. סאָקאָל Return
  2. http://data.jewishgen.org/wconnect/wc.dll?jg~jgsys~community~–539844 Return
  3. The term חורבן (khurbn) is also the Yiddish term for “Holocaust.” Return
  4. דוד סראָקע Return
  5. http://data.jewishgen.org/wconnect/wc.dll?jg~jgsys~community~–539594 Return
  6. מיכאַל ביעלאַװסקי Return
  7. דוד סעראָקע Return
  8. משה פישעלעס. This, as does the following name, seems to adhere to the formula of [first name] + [name of parent in the possessive]. Return
  9. חיים שבתאי'ס Return
  10. http://data.jewishgen.org/wconnect/wc.dll?jg~jgsys~community~–527905 Return
  11. יאַטקע־געסל Return
  12. קױזניקס Return
  13. קינעלס Return
  14. רענסאָװ Return
  15. פֿאָלקסדױטשע https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volksdeutsche Return
  16. קעבעניק Return
  17. ניצינסקי Return
  18. ניקלאַשינסקי Return
  19. שֹרה דער אפֿרימטעס Return
  20. ליטמאַן Return
  21. לעװקאַװיטש Return
  22. קאָניאַרסקי Return
  23. שלאָמקאָװיטש Return
  24. אַרבעטס־דינסט (arbets–dinst) Return
  25. קוצקאָװ Return
  26. The name of this road (בלאַשקער) might have something to do with http://data.jewishgen.org/wconnect/wc.dll?jg~jgsys~community~–493961. Return
  27. רבנים (rabonim) Return
  28. גוטע יידן (gute yidn) this typically denotes Hasidic clergy. Return
  29. לוצעק טאָמאַשעװסקי Return
  30. שוביעניצע Polish for “gallows”. Return

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