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[Page 426]

On the Ruins


A Visit in Augustow After the Shoah

by Moshe Einat, (Zborovski), Attorney at Law




The 4th day in July 1944 is engraved in my memory, for on it occurred the big turning point that determined my fate for the future. That day the Russians again captured from the hands of the Germans the cities of Savir and Zshavizh in northern Poland. I belonged at that time to the Polish underground organization A.K. (Armia Krajowa – the land army) in this area of the country, after I underwent many wanderings crammed full of events which were bound up more than once with mortal danger.

On that day I felt with all of my might that I had returned to be a human being like every person, and that I had no need any more to hide myself and to search for shelter, like a hunted animal, or to put on a face that I am an “Aryan” and to deny my Jewish origin.

I was indeed liberated from the discomfort and the choking sensation that encompassed me all the period of the Nazi conquest, however the nightmare that was revealed before my eyes after the great destruction, which was many times more terrible and terrifying than what I thought, did not leave me alone.

Although I knew that almost no living soul remained of my relatives, my friends and the people of my city, my soul yearned to visit Augustow. This aspiration did not give me any peace during the two years that I worked in the Military Legal Service in Poland.

This was at the end of the summer of 1946. I sat behind a table loaded with files in the Staff Military Attorney's District office in Lodz. There were among them files of “Folksdeutsche” that infiltrated the Polish army and by chance were discovered. Most of the crimes of the “Folksdeutsche” were connected to the abuse of Jews. When it came into my hand to gather enough material to put the criminals on trial, and to demand their punishment in agreement with the law, I felt that I did a deed that my murdered brethren placed on me.

After my completion of the attention to the files of the murderers' I was unable to return to regular work. The thought

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that I had not yet visited in my city after I was saved from the claws of death, did not leave me alone. I was finished saying that I would travel to Augustow. The next day in the morning I went out on the road.

I traveled dressed in civilian clothing, and for greater security I took a pistol with me. These were the days after the Kieltz pogrom, and travel by train was fraught with mortal danger. Gangs of nationalist extremists, members of the N.S.Z. (Naradowe Sily Zbrojne – The Armed Nationalist Forces) had organized in the forests in order to fight in the National Regime in Poland. When they succeeded in stopping a train, they took high officers off it, men of the P.P.R. (The Communist Polish Workers' Party), and Jews.

The fate of the latter was known ahead of time – they transported them to the forests and after they abused them they murdered them.

I went out on the train from Lodz and I travelled by way of Warsaw, Bialystok, Osovitz, Grayevo, Prostki, Alec, Margravova, Ratzk and Suwalk, by way of East Prussia that was annexed to Poland. There was no longer the possibility, as before, of travelling to Augustow by the shorter way – by way of Grodno. This city, like Brest-Litovsk, Lvov, and others, had been annexed to Russia. In Alec, Dr. Shor from Augustow served as a doctor. At that time I didn't know that, and it was a pity. Dr. Shor accompanied the Jews of Augustow almost to the last moment of their lives.

I reached Suwalki in the morning hours of the next day. When the train neared the approaches to the city, I saw the station that was very well known to me. At first glance it looked like no change had occurred here. Everything stood on its foundation – the same buildings, the same train station, and even the same carriage owners, who waited for travelers, in order to transport them to the city.

However, where did those masses of Jews disappear to, who in the regular years filled the train cars with tumult and noise, and who would leave it in haste when it stopped?

Only a few travelers got off the train: solitary farmers, and the rest, Christian residents of the city. The carriage owners waited in vain. These travelers were not pressed for time; they preferred to make their way by foot. I too joined this community.

While walking on the paved road to the city, I exchanged words with an elderly Christian woman, and from her story it became known to me that a few Jews remained as a remnant in the city of Suwalk, and one of them was Yishayahu Kirshkovski from Yatkova Street.

The information that Yishayahu remained alive, encouraged me and filled my heart with joy, since Yishayahu was a faithful friend of my parents. I decided to immediately go to his house.

I passed by streets and houses that were in the past populated mainly by Jews. The houses stood on their foundations, they were not damaged, for the city of Suwalk almost didn't suffer from the air raids in the time of the war. The only change was that the Jewish foot was eliminated from its streets, and the voice of Jacob[1] was silenced in its houses.

I met Yishayahu in his house, in which his mother had lived in the past. Traces of the war had left their imprint on his face, which was plowed with deep furrows. Old age jumped upon him before its time. His dress was poor, his home appeared forlorn, and dreariness burst out of every corner.

Yishayahu received me with his characteristic warm-heartedness, while tears flowed from his eyes, and invited me to have lunch with him.

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Next to a small beverage cup and fried liver that Yishayahu prepared with his own hands, the two of us sat in his desolate room, and all of me alert to his story about his events and troubles in the period of the Shoah.

From his words it became clear to me that he had been in Kazakhstan. His brother, Asher, was killed in Warsaw, while his sister-in-law, Asher's wife, and her children found their death in Vilna. Only one of Asher's sons, an 18-year-old youth, remained alive, and resided in the area of the British conquest in Germany. Yishayahu took out a letter that he received from this young man, in which he pleads that he should leave Suwalk and come to him, in order that the two of them together should continue their way to cross the sea, in order to join the remnant of their family.

To my question, why in truth would he not fulfill the request of his brother's son, Yishayahu indicated the iron bed that he was sitting on and said:

“You see the iron bed. This bed accompanied me in all my wanderings. I even dragged it throughout Russia, and I brought it back to my poor and desolate room. One thing I did not bring with me – my strength, my disposition, my life force, and my will to live, which characterized me before the war. I decided, therefore, to finish the remainder of my life in this bed of mine in the city of Suwalk.”
Towards evening a few Jews entered Yishayahu's house: Vinitzki (I met with him and his wife after some time in Uruguay), Lovovski the elder, and also Vilkoviski. Mr. Vilkoviski arrived in Suwalk from the city of Lodz, for the purpose of selling his house and parting from the city. He had set his face towards aliyah to the land of Israel, together with his daughter and son-in-law. All of them were of the opinion that there was nothing more absurd than for Jews than to bind their fate in the Poland of after the war.

I spent the evening in the house of the engineer Trotzky. Trotzky and his wife (of the house of Smolenski) were saved from the bitter fate that visited the rest of the Jews of Suwalk by the fact that they spent the years of the war in the Soviet Union. In his return to Poland after the war, he was appointed to the role of the one responsible for the management of the electrical station of Suwalk and the surrounding area. In Trotzky's house I met his daughter-in-law, Mrs. Edelson, who made preparations in anticipation of her emigration, together with her son, to Paris. Her sister lived there. I also met the Karmersky brothers, Mr. Solnitzki with his two sisters, and a few more Jews. This was the surviving remnant of the magnificent Jewry of Suwalk.

All of them, except for Yishayahu and Trotzky, expressed a wish to leave Poland as soon as possible, in order to join relatives of their families, in the lands across the sea.

The next day in the morning I continued on my way to Augustow. Yishayahu accompanied me to the bus. A few minutes after the emotional parting, the bus had already carried me onto the road that was well known to me.

Pine trees on both sides along the road passed quickly before me. The road was entirely in the shade of the tall trees, and their smell gave pleasure to the travelers. More than once, when I was a youth, I went out on a bicycle trip on this beautiful road, to the lakes and the forests. When I returned on it at a late hour of the evening, it seemed to me that the road, by the pale light of the moon, was the Milky Way from the legend. I didn't know, in my travelling this time, that this pleasant road became a road to death for the Jews of the city. The residents told me afterwards that a short time after the Germans entered Augustow, all the Jewish men were ordered to present themselves at the city's town square, and after they underwent a selection and only a handful of men were taken out of their rows,

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people with a trade, the rest made their final way on this road. In the Shtzavra forest they were shot by the Nazi murderers.

The trip by bus from Suwalk from Augustow is not long. Within an hour I was in the city. When I passed Długa Street I saw through the window of the bus that the city had suffered badly from the war. The destruction was obvious. The houses, the sidewalks, and even the large building of the Catholic Church and its magnificent spire had become islands of destruction. People of the place told me that near the end of the war, after the city had passed into Russian hands, the Germans bombed it from the air.

The bus was stopped in the center of the city. I was emotional when I stood in the market square. Indeed, in this beautiful city, surrounded by forests and lakes, I spent the best days of my youth.

I stood in its plaza and I looked at all sides of the square. I recognized it only with difficulty. Half of it was destroyed. The houses on the southern side, including the municipality building, remained on their foundations. Likewise, the houses on the eastern side, whose sidewalk served in the days of my youth as a promenade, remained standing. But in these there were substantial signs of the damage that was caused by the serious bombing.

I set my steps, by way of the city park, to Kosciuski Street, where my parents' house stood. The park was abandoned, most of its trees were uprooted, the benches were missing. I was reminded of the fine games that I played with my friends in this park, when I was a boy.

I crossed the park quickly and with a pounding heart, I approached the place where our house stood, and I saw that only the foundations and the remains of the destroyed building stood out among the grasses that covered the empty lot. A vision of the house arose before my eyes. This was a two-story house, built of bricks of two colors – red and white – with a thin, delicate, black line that passed between their rows. The house was not big, but solid and pretty. My father and my uncle Hirsh Meltzer, who erected it in the year 1924, saw to it. Within a second I saw all the members of my family who lived in this house. Now, I stood as if before a gravestone. I thought about my parents and the members of my uncle's family who were killed.

I don't remember how much time I stood, head up, entirely in sorrow. Suddenly I felt that someone was approaching me. It was one of the non-Jewish residents of the city that I knew. The man requested of me that I sell him the lot that was beneath the destroyed house. I refused, even though he offered me a high price. The place was too precious and close to my heart.

Despondent, I left the place. I stepped with slow steps along the length of the fence that they had recently put up around the yard of “The Monopoly House” across from our house. The fence was built from the colored bricks of our destroyed house. Slowly I approached Skolna Street. I remembered that on the corner there stood Breizman's house, in which was also his bakery. On the upper floor lived Rabbi Azriel Zelig Koshelevski, may his memory be for a blessing. The house was entirely destroyed. I continued on Skolna Street until the end of Koprinika Street. The buildings of the electric flour mill of the Borovitz brothers, the houses of Nisan Borovitz and many other Jewish houses, were all destroyed. I continued to walk until Zigmuntovska Street, and I stopped next to the place of the Beit Midrash. The house in which the Jews of Augustow prayed and learned Torah, during the war went up in flames. The same fate also visited the Great Synagogue, which was not far from me, on Polna Street. Only the walls of the synagogue remained. I passed Rigrodska, Mitzkovitz (Zhava Gasse),

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Krakovska (Zoib Gasse), Glinki Alley, and others. In all the places the destruction was great. I went back out to the market square.

I had only taken a few steps on the sidewalk and suddenly I was stricken with shock. I saw something that made my heart tremble. Before my eyes Hebrew letters burst out from the sidewalk. I didn't believe what my eyes were seeing. I thought that I was still liable to passing thoughts, and that I was dreaming. I strained to see but it was not magic. After I felt the stones with my own hands I was convinced that they were really Hebrew letters. At first I didn't understand what was going on here. I didn't get where these letters came from. However, when I came across a full name that I recognized, it became clear to me, and the shocking abominable deed was revealed– the sidewalk was paved with gravestones of the Jews of the city.

While my spirit was still in me I hurried to the cemetery. The cemetery was previously a distance from the city. One had to walk a few kilometers on foot before reaching it, there in the forest across the River Netta. However, when the bridge over the river was built in the year 1935, the way was shortened. I passed Mostava Street almost running and went by the bridge; before me the place that used to be the cemetery was revealed. I remembered that only a few tens of meters separated the Jewish cemetery from the Christian cemetery. But when I got to the place I didn't find one gravestone. The area was plowed. Only the foundation stones of the “Ohel HaTzaddik[2] stuck out from the ground, and they testified that the Jewish cemetery was here.

I stood like a stone. I did not utter a sigh, I didn't shed a tear. I was gripped by rage and I shrank from an abundance of anger and pain.


A Gravestone from the Destroyed Cemetery


Gravestone of Reb Avraham son of Meyrim Soloveitchik

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I returned to the city with a difficult feeling. Despite the fact that my legs were tired, I began to walk around in the streets of the city. I wanted to see everything.

I realized that all the houses of the Jews were occupied by the gentiles. Also, the houses of business passed into their hands. I was reminded of the vigorous life of the city before the war. Indeed, it appeared to the eye that the residents of the place acted for the sake of the rejuvenation of the city, especially in the economic area, however they did not succeed in doing it.

I walked from street to street, from alley to alley, and I looked at the people, the houses, the stores – everything was foreign to me. The faces of people entirely unknown to me looked at me through the windows. All the atmosphere was foreign to me. On the streets I indeed encountered many of the residents of the place, but not Jews. Sometimes I encountered glances that expressed amazement that they were seeing a Jew. A few that I knew approached me and asked the purpose of my coming, and only in the words of a few did I sense a tone of humiliation and self-justification for what had occurred.

I was tired and wanted to rest. Inadvertently, I found myself again on the street where I lived. It seemed that out of habit I had returned to the place that once had been called “my home,” however the appearance of the desolate plot, its wild vegetation and its destruction returned me to the lap of reality.

I remembered that in an alley not far from our house a Christian woman lived who was a friend of my mother. I decided to approach her house. The woman welcomed me warmly. Her wrinkled but magnanimous face expressed joy that I passed through the difficult days in peace, and that I remained alive. The woman told me that my parents were not in the Augustow ghetto, and that she didn't know what their fate had been. Only my aunt, my mother's sister Basha, who was married to the leather merchant Meltzer, she frequently saw sweeping the market square together with other Jewish women, who had been brought by the Germans from the Barkai ghetto.

The woman expressed to me sorrow that she couldn't help my aunt, except that she would secretly give her bread for her and her children who lived with her in the ghetto.

In the evening, I stayed with the Polish woman Zusha Choroshevska, who served before the war as a clerk in the district administration of Augustow, and was a friend of my friend Liza Borovitz. At the time of the Nazi conquest she lived with her relatives in the village, since she was afraid of the Germans in the city, as she was known as a patriotic Pole.

From her I heard the terrifying story of the Jews of Augustow and their fate in its destruction without exceptions.

Mrs. Choroshevska told me that immediately after the Germans entered the city, the abuse of the Jews began. Some of the Christian residents of the place also helped the Nazis. A few of them were put on trial in the courthouse in Suwalk after the war, and one was even sentenced to death.

Many of the Jews of Augustow, mostly the men, found their deaths in the Shtzavra and Klonovnitza forests. They were transported there in vehicles – after they were ordered to present themselves in the city square – and all of them were shot by men of the SS with automatic weapons.

The rest of the Jews were confined to the ghetto in Barkai, in a suburb at the edge of the city across the Augustow canal. The non-Jewish residents from the suburb were evacuated to the city. The Germans enclosed the area of the ghetto with a wire fence, and placed guards around it. The situation of the Jews in the ghetto was exceedingly difficult. They were all starved for bread and were gripped by despair. Their tragic lack of power and the information about the terrible fate

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that was expected for them, brought them to this situation of despair. Only a few overcame it and succeeded in escaping from the ghetto. They found shelter in the forests, but there too danger also lay waiting for them.

The Jews of the ghetto were brought each day, group by group, to various workplaces in the city. Those whose strength ran out made desperate efforts to withstand the yoke of forced labor, for otherwise they expected blows from the whip at the hands of the German guards, and even shooting.

On one bright day in the summer of 1942 the SS men surrounded the ghetto and the Jews were all loaded onto vehicles and transported on the road that led to Grayevo. The Germans brought them to the work camp in Bogushi, and from there they were sent, after selections, on the “death trains” to the gas chambers in Treblinka and in Auschwitz.

Mrs. Choroshevska told me that her friend Liza Borovitz died in the ghetto after an extended illness. Dr. Shor, the Augustow doctor, took care of her.

Destiny wanted, that after years, by chance, there fell into my hands a letter written in the Polish language, in which Dr. Shor briefly reveals to Liza's father the chapter of the events in our city.

In light of the importance of the letter, I here bring it in its fullness in Hebrew translation:

“Dear Mr. Borovitz,

I am very happy that you remained alive. Please sir, try to come to me, and I will tell you everything that relates to the city of Augustow.

Liza[3] gave birth, after two days of labor, to a baby girl, beautiful and lovely. At the beginning she managed well in the ghetto, and even obtained work from the Germans (mainly handwork), however at the end of 1941 she fell ill with an illness whose symptoms resembled those of the disease of malaria. At the first stages of the illness I myself took care of her, although afterwards I referred her to the hospital. There were better conditions for healing there. It was, however, an unusual event that she was admitted to the hospital, since the Jews were outside the zone of care in the hospitals. After a few months' stay in the hospital, she was sent home. She continued to live for only another three weeks. I would visit her and take care of her daily in her home, while my wife would bring her hot meals, and that was because her mother-in-law and her sister-in-law were prevented from coming to her and taking care of her. Before her death she expressed her deep sorrow that not one of you was by her bed in these moments. The Aleksandrovitz family took it upon itself to take care of her child. Liza died in June 1942.

Liza's husband, Alter Aleksandrovitz, Mr. Ofenstein and also your son[4] were taken from Augustow by the Germans in an action that they carried out in July 1941. All the Jewish men, residents of Augustow, were ordered at that time to present themselves. They were loaded onto vehicles and transported to the basements of the sailing club,[5] and on the 15th day of August 1941 they were shot by the Germans in the Shtzavra forests. Ofenstein's wife and their daughter were sent on December 18, 1942, from the Bogushi camp to Treblinka, and there they were put to death by gas. Shmuel Borovitz found his death in the prison in Bialystok, while his wife and children died in pogroms in Slonim. Leivush Borovitz stayed in Grodno. Asnah and Rivka[6] - in Bialystok. When they died I do not know. Of those who were in the ghetto in Augustow during its time, there remained alive, in addition to me, the driver Kalstein, Dr. Herman and his daughter and also the daughter of Noach Levinzon (Noach the butcher).

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Of the members of my family, on the one hand those close to me, and also others who were more distant, there remain alive my brother's wife and their two sons, who appear as “Aryan” in all the papers. On December 18, Mrs. Zelazo and her children were killed. The Jews of Augustow were killed in three stages: on August 15, 1941, in the Shtzavra forests, on December 18, 1942, in Treblinka, and on July 1, 1943, in Auschwitz. My wife was also among those who found their deaths on July 1, 1943 in Auschwitz. Those who remained alive after the actions mentioned above, found their deaths in the death camps in the months of January and February 1943 in Auschwitz. The members of the Vezbotzki family were killed in January.


Alter and Liza Aleksandrovitz


The last people of Augustow, Elko Elenbogen and Domovitz, were killed in March 1943 in Auschwitz. At the beginning of the year 1944 Yechezkel Piastzki[7] (Fishtzok) was still alive in Auschwitz, and Elko Kantorovitz – in Sachsenhausen which is next to Berlin. If they succeeded in remaining alive, I don't know.

And regarding what happened to me, myself. There were times went my weight went down to 35 kilograms,[8] and I stood on my own feet, which were wounded, only with great difficulty. I remained alive only by way of a miracle. Fate apparently wanted that at the time of my old age, all the horrors would always stand before my eyes, the suffering and the torture mentioned above. I have no doubt that you would not be able to recognize me, I have changed to such a great extent.

After I was liberated from the last concentration camp next to Dachau, I was employed as a doctor in the Jewish displaced person's camps. In the last year I worked in a sanatorium for those ill with tuberculosis in Genting.

With blessing, Dr. Shor”

Note: The letter carries a date of October 25. As the Borovitz family informed me, the letter was received in the year 1945. - Moshe Einat

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The hour was already late when I left Mrs. Choroshevska's house. With nightfall I didn't go to sleep. I was still under the difficult impression of the story of the Polish woman. I walked on the promenade and the knocking on the stone pavement aroused in me echoes and memories from the days that went by without returning. I remembered Augustow from before the war when it was teeming with social, economic and cultural life. I was reminded of the youth of Augustow, who were counted among the first of “HeChalutz,” in its tendency towards enlightenment and knowledge. I was reminded of the lectures, the arguments, and the fine orators who left their impressions on the youth and planted in them good qualities and a desire for advancement, and also – a yearning for national and personal redemption.

All of us loved our city, we cleaved to it because of its beauty and the scenery of the forests and the lakes that encircled it. At every opportunity that I had, although I was studying and spent a lot of time outside of it, I always preferred to spend my free days in Augustow.

Given over to reflections, I did not at all sense that I had reached the Augustow canal on the promenade. Out of the fog the bridge that was suspended on iron chains stood out. Signs of the air raid were considerable here too, and the floodgate that was next to it was badly damaged.

I returned to the city after midnight. I spent the night in the hotel that had previously been called “Rosianski Hotel,” for the name of the husband of Zlatka Kadishs, the owner of the famous public house in Augustow. I was very tired and my nerves were stretched tight. I couldn't fall asleep. I waited for dawn, so that I could get up and quickly leave the city that had become, due to the circumstances of the time and the Shoah, foreign to my spirit and my soul.

* * *

The idea to publish a memorial book for the Augustow community, which would constitute a yahrzeit candle[9] for the thousands of souls, holy and pure, who were tortured and murdered, and no one knows their burial places, motivated me to reminisce and describe what my eyes saw and what my ears heard in my visit to the city of my birth, after the Shoah.

In order to integrate my personal impressions with documentary material that was based on testimonies of survivors of the Shoah, I turned to my friend from the days of my youth, Berel Mark, the Director of the Jewish Historical Institute and a history professor at the Warsaw University, and asked him to deliver to me material on the destruction of the Augustow community.

On July 5, 1963, I received a letter from my friend Mark, in which he wrote (translated from Yiddish):

With regard to the book about the Augustow community, I will be able to help you very little, because there remains almost no documentary material. The certificates and documents of the city were burned and the information about the period of the conquest is vague, since the Jews of Augustow were destroyed within a very short time. However, I will do my best to offer you my help in the matter at hand.
And indeed, within a short time Professor B. Mark sent me a few protocols from within testimonies that were reported before Historical Councils. I bring here two testimonies in their exact words. The first testimony is from a son of our city Ze'ev Kalstein from the day April 27, 1947, before the Central Historical Council which is next to the Central Council of the Jews who were liberated in the area of the American conquest in Germany, in the city of Regensburg. The second is the testimony of Moshe Gershoni, born in Bialystok, which was given on June 9, 1944, before the Regional Jewish Historical Council in Bialystok.

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Ze'ev Kalstein tells in his testimony (translated from Yiddish):

“On Sunday, June 22, 1941, at 6:00 in the morning, German soldiers were already seen in our city. They published an order, according to which all Jews were to wear a special identifying sign, a yellow patch on the chest and on the shoulder. Every morning many Jews were abducted and sent to forced labor.

At the end of July of that year, all the Jews of Augustow were forced to assemble in one of the city squares, allegedly for the purpose of registering their identity. In this gathering, 1500 men were taken and transported to the Shtzavra forests. I and another 30 Jews, who were included with excellent professionals, were sent back to their houses. The Jews were held for three full days in the Shtzavra forests, without food entering their mouths, and after that they were shot to death by the men of the S.S.

At the end of August the ghetto was established, surrounded by a barbed wire fence, and placed under the guard of the Polish police. The crowding within the ghetto was terrible, 10-15 people lived in one room. In total the ghetto numbered 70 men and 1500 women. Every day we were forced to go out to work.

On one of the days of June 1942, in the morning hours, the ghetto was surrounded by men of the S.S. and the Polish police. All residents of the ghetto were taken out of their houses and transported to Bogushi, next to Grayevo.

There about 7000 Jews from all the forests and settlements in the area were gathered.

Over the course of 6 weeks that we were held in the camp we received a portion of food that contained from 100 grams of bread and half a liter of soup. In this period of time about two thousand Jews died.

At the end of August a selection was conducted by the Germans, the result of which was that about 3000 Jews were transported to the Treblinka extermination camp, and two thousand were sent to Auschwitz.

Only three Jews from all these that were in the camp remained alive, and I am among them.”


Mr. Moshe Gershoni tells in his testimony (translated from Polish):
“On May 15 (the intention is to the year 1944 – Moshe Einat), they transported us, a group of professionals and experts in various work that numbered 20, and me among them, to the Gestapo headquarters at 15 Shenkvitz Street.[10] Iron handcuffs and chains were put into the vehicle in which they transported us. It was promised to us that they would not harm us, but that we had to perform difficult work and it was up to us to work and be quiet.

We travelled on the road. Our vehicle stopped twice on the way. A heavy guard of 50 Germans accompanied us on our way.

On the next day we continued our journey a few kilometers and we drew near to the forest (I was able to identify the place, even though the route that we took was not familiar to me).

We had to dig in the ground and when we reached a depth of 1.5 meters, many bodies were revealed to us. Six men from our group, me among them, were commanded to cut trees down to their roots. 12 trees, each one 6 meters long, were arranged horizontally and vertically. The men of the guard, who were drunk, cruelly urged us on. They ordered us to arrange the bodies on the pile of trees (we took the bodies out in handcuffs, which were prepared in the prisons). From three ditches, of which the length of each

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was 30 meters, 2 meters wide and 1.5 meters deep, we took out about 900 bodies. We counted them according to the German instructions. The bodies in the ditches were arranged in three layers, one on top of the next.

We did this work for 3 days, 12 hours a day. We burned the bodies over the course of a day and a half. The ashes and the bones were passed through a sieve. Afterward they returned the bones to the ditches, covered them with earth and for the purpose of camouflage covered the area with tree branches. The bodies in the ditches were mostly men.

The Germans sought and found things made of gold. Likewise, they found various sacred accessories and Soviet army clothing. There were bodies of Jews, Poles, and Soviets.

After about 3 days they transported us to a second place in the direction of Augustow, and again in a place near a forest and train tracks. There were 7 ditches there, of the same dimensions as described above. The bodies were in a state of complete disintegration. Most were men, about 2000 people.

In the course of this work, a vehicle approached from the direction of the city, and on it

were twelve bodies that were still bleeding. The wounds were deep, and they were caused by shots from automatic machine guns, whose bullets mostly struck the heads and the upper parts of the bodies. The bodies were naked. Nine of them were young women, one was an elderly woman, and two were men. These bodies were burned together with the bodies that were taken out of the ditches, and the smoke rose from this burning over the course of 8 hours.

The burning of all the bodies continued in the two places for about two weeks.”

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Genesis 27:22 “So Jacob drew close to his father Isaac, who felt him and wondered. “The voice is the voice of Jacob…” Return
  2. “Tent of the Righteous.” This generally refers to the structure built around the tomb of a righteous person, usually a great teacher or rabbi of the community. Return
  3. Original footnote: The daughter of Nisan Borovitz and the wife of Alter Aleksandrovitz. Return
  4. Original footnote: Enoch Borovitz. Return
  5. Original footnote: “Yacht Club” which was established in 1935. Return
  6. Original footnote: The daughter of Zalman Bramzon, may his memory be for a blessing. Return
  7. Original footnote: Yechezkel Piastzki lives in the United States. Return
  8. A kilogram is 2.2 pounds, so 35 kilograms would be 77 pounds. Return
  9. Literally, a soul candle. Return
  10. Original footnote: In Bialystok. Return

The Desecrated Gravestones

by Aleksander Yosefsberg

My origin is from Drohobycz, and my profession in the past was photojournalism. Six years ago I went up to Israel from Augustow, after I lived there with the members of my family for one year. I was, except for Dr. Sadovski, the only Jew in the entire area.

My wife (Polish) had two married sisters who lived in Augustow. Her father, her brothers and her sisters live in the village of Garbova, which is adjacent to Augustow.

We lived by the brothers Edmund and Yosef Bartoshvitz, on May 1st Street. One day a frightening picture was revealed before my eyes, when my wife showed me a number of gravestones that were uprooted from the Jewish cemetery in Augustow and were lying next to a pile of trash. My wife was filled with fury about the heartlessness and the denial of the residents of the place. When she commented to them about this in a sharp fashion, they answered her that the gravestones would serve as cornerstones for the new houses that they would be putting up in the future.

The next day my wife returned from the market extremely agitated. She discovered an abominable deed that was frightening and shocking. She showed me that on a number of streets sidewalks were paved with Jewish gravestones, on which the names of the dead were displayed.

In Augustow ignorance still prevails, which is an inheritance from the previous century, and

[Page 437]

exceptional anti-semitism, even in the conditions that exist at this time in Poland. This is also the reason that until now there is not a person in Poland who would see to gathering to an appropriate place the gravestones that were uprooted by the Hitlerist animals and their assistants.

Apparently, the doctor could have engaged in this matter, but he was interested, apparently, in hiding his Jewish origins.

I was also convinced that most of the Jewish houses were stolen by the residents of the place – despite their knowledge that the legal heirs remained alive.

Moshav Meliah, January 1963


A street in Augustow paved with Jewish gravestones


[Page 438]

I Am the Daughter

by Fania Bergstein[1]

I am the daughter
For generations of hunched over Jews, bowing down
Under the burden of heavy days,
The terror of every Staraznik[2] and every abomination upon them,
Trembling at the sound of the barking of the neighbor's dog,
Clearing the way for the small one among the street brats
And saying hello to the miserable and the drunk,
And shivering like the shiver of a leaf
With the echoes of pogroms and killings
Of their brothers.

I am the daughter
To terrified and silent mothers
Whose lives' years slipped away
As if in a long hallway, dark and narrow,
By the gleam of two flickering candles on the Sabbaths,
Nourished by their dreams of pleasure from children,
And from the prayer of a pure tear flowing from the heart.

I am the daughter
To Jews with an empty mind upon their faces,
Emitting a silent thank you, whispering a terrified pardon
To each trouble of their lives;
I am the daughter
To those who carry in the Holy of Holies of their hearts
A dream of distant and comforting light
On a wing Tzion erases the grief of her children,
About the Shekhina[3] who weeps on a distant shore,
And sighs for the welfare of her prisoners.

I am the sister
To all who go out every day towards death

[Page 439]

And don't know if these are their last,
This is his day on earth
And this is the brightness of the setting of the sun.
And the kiss of his boy,
And his prattle: goodbye,
And this is the silent and trembling handshake,
While pressing the rifle with his other hand,
This is his last friend and the remaining one –
In the still of the nights there are indeed terror and murder.

I am a sister
To all who direct their gaze every day to the road,
While the hand grips the steering wheel of the car,
To steer it with every turn of the wheel,
Towards death,
As the heart guesses in its trembling,
Day by day, hour by hour, and minute by minute.
To all who served up their joyful lives
With two generous hands to the maw of death,
Which doesn't ask, doesn't choose, doesn't distinguish;
To all who placed at the feet of sweat-drenched boulders
And at the heads of mountains wrapped in seedlings
Their lives, their pure souls –
I am a sister

I am the mother
To all of these little children,
Who hang their bright eyes
On the faces of big ones with one question
Silent and piercing in amazement:
Why? For what? Until when?
To these babies who with their footing kissed
This soil step by step
Its countenance with rejoicing every clod of earth
Sanctified every green shoot in its bud;
To these soft hands in which is secreted
Every treasure of glory of the tomorrow;
To these the pure eyes
Which were opened under these heavy skies

[Page 440]

On the tidings of the paper, the forest and the garden,
For the disasters of the sands of the desolate desert –
I am the mother.
For all these tiny children
That would not be demanded of them
Not the strength to forgive, not the bravery to be quiet
And also not the bravery to die;
For all those that would still walk
On the face of this small earth
Without that which will weigh down,
Press in dread,
The crown of the holy ones on their heads,
I am the mother.

5696 [1936]

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Many thanks to my colleague Sarah Radovici for her help with these translations of Fania's poems. Return
  2. An informant for the Tzarist government. Return
  3. The feminine personification of the Divine that dwells among the people Israel on earth. Return

[Page 440]

Four Songs for My Father

by Fania Bergstein


My father,
Do you remember the hour of the parting?
The train moving slowly
And you hurrying by its side
With a teary gaze…

The train is swept away, slipping away,
In the window my hand waves,
And you are receding more and more
And are left alone.

The whole world – shining tracks
Leading only to you, my father.
Moving between the sailing of letters
And wandering back to my heart…


Your handwriting is still clear and pleasant,
Without embellishments and ornamentation,
As you taught me to write
Then, in the days of the childhood.

Your clear handwriting, serene,
Each letter in it pouring out confidence
Like them your image still stands erect
And the house is strong and true.

I will bend over your letters
Examine the depth in them, and I will learn
That you grew tired, tired, my father.
That trembling of the hand had begun.


Today your word remembered me,
Today I received a letter
The address was printed, official,
Crowned by the redness of the cross,
(Blessed be the cross to me,

[Page 441]

My cruel and terrible hater,
Because it turned a friend to me,
Carrier of the blessing of peace)

To your voice in the language of the state,
As if through the lowered screen
I will lend an ear,
My father with every letter,
With every tag and with the trembling in hand.

And as if you raised
My hair to kiss my forehead -
So I will raise the screen of the translation
And your phrase will rage in me and will live.


My father, give a hint, bring a sign!
…there is no sound and no utterance through walls.

My father, between me and you are great distances.
The days are stormy, the waves are calling out.
Across the borders bristling spears
Are drowned out in hundred-year-old shadow.

You are covered in shade, endless returning shade,
And one sun in it – the yellow patch!

My father
How will I pass over distances,
How will I pass deep seas,
How will I breach borders and walls
Until I return to you
Fatigued to death.

Again a little girl is in the community of your students,
Squeezed around you
Tightly cheek-to-cheek,

To hear in the secrecy of innermost rooms
Your voice that still teaches the language of the Hebrews

And to help your trembling hand to write
By the light of the yellow patch
My father!…



All the books of the world will not contain your one word.
All the ways of the world will not lead
To your path that is lost.
The silence will not listen closely
When I think: Father!
I will never again tell you
What is in my heart.


Your distant days are concealed in a cover of
Heavy fog and moving shadow.
A silent wing spread over the last of your words,
And there is no redeemer.

[Page 442]

Your white head that I did not see will not express
The snows of the north.
Your sighs that I did not hear
Will not contain
The mountains of sorrow.


Legends of wonders you once told me,
Legends in abundance.
Only the embarrassed legend of your days
You did not tell until the end.

But it, the only one, still yearns in me
And arouses interest.
All that you didn't tell me
Will sing in me
There are no words.


Into the cup that awaits you I poured a little joy,
And the table is set.
Come, father, sit a little to rest from your way,
And may your coming be blessed.

You have had enough of going
And carrying upon yourself

The blowing night wind.

Illuminate please the shadow of my house with your sitting,
And sit with us.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The cup of my joy is poured
Embarrassed watches still,
It is only designated for your mouth.
It is my prayer, it is my trembling,
It is my yearning for you,
It is my tear of thanks.

On an Ancestral Grave

My heart led me in the thick darkness
Among graves without gravestones,
I came today to prostrate myself alone
On an ancestral grave.

I came today, and my soul is silent.
What can I throw pleading and say?
Will I pray for the peace of my house
Before you, those who dwell in the dust?

If you will be the good intercessors on high,
And hasten help to me in distress?
Complete healing to the sick of humanity,
A blessing for the wandering to a foreign country?

I will tell nothing.
I will prostrate myself and be silent
And my silence he will give ear to and hear
The voice of the dead that breaks through to me
From the depths of earth.
Thus came the voice of my father and the voice of my mother
To me, to the living, to request:
About a great sickness, about an unhealable pain
About a wound that will burn with none to bandage it.

They will give weeping
That no person will perceive,
The anguish of their rebuked old age,
And they will ask, request a blessing, of me
For the way they went out without returning. - - -

I will tell nothing. There is no answer in my heart
For a last softening under their heads.
From the dust of their graves I will only take a handful
And I will place it as a seal upon my heart.[1]

If Only I Was Permitted

If only I was permitted to come to your grave,
On the face of its dust I will prostrate myself,
As if I sought a hiding place
In your compassionate and tender lap.

To this pure stone
On which your name is engraved in black letters,
To lift my eyes with a tear,
As to the light blue of your pure glance.

If only I was permitted to come to your grave…

Translator's Footnote:

  1. Song of Songs 8:6 “Place me as a seal upon your heart…” Return

[Page 443]

The Martyrs of Our City

by Zelda Eidelstein (Koshelevski)




What memorial monument, what gravestone, shall we erect to their memory?

The territory upon which their bones and their ashes are scattered spreads over vast distances! Will there be enough stones of the cursed region to impress on them all of our feelings about them, to draw their profiles and the ways of their lives?

We will not know their last moments, the time when they were put to death in strange and cruel deaths. No one comes to us to tell how they fought and how they struggled with the vile Nazis. Even though we are certain that there were among them those who wore strength and courage and fulfilled “the one who comes to kill you, get up early and kill him first,”[1] To our great sorrow, there does not remain a remnant or refugee[2] who can tell or reveal who struggled heroically with the tyrants. The place of their burial has vanished from us – we will try, therefore, to raise in the Book of Memory for the Community of Augustow, memories of the days gone by, which will be preserved for many generations.

What will give and what will add the monument stone that we erected on foreign soil? The monuments were uprooted from their places and served as materials in the hands of gentiles to pave the sidewalks of the city; they are soaked with the blood and tears of our ancestors, our brothers and sisters, our elders and our little ones.

Who can recount and who can tell the praises of our ancestors of all the groups, beginning with the laborers, the porters and the water drawers, and until the notables whose place is on the eastern wall?[3]

All of them as one are loved and clear, and their memory for us is a sign of pure and exalted lives. May their souls be bound up in the bundle of life,[4] and may God avenge their blood.

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 72a. Return
  2. Joshua 8:22 “…Now the other [Israelites] were coming out of the city against them, so that they were between two bodies of Israelites, one on each side of them. They were slaughtered, there was no remnant or refugee.” Return
  3. The most precious seats in the synagogue are those on the eastern wall, closest to Jerusalem. Return
  4. 1 Samuel 25:29 “the life of my lord will be bound up in the bundle of life…” Return

A Tear Shed for the Destruction of our Town

by Khayim Lazdeyski

The smallest drop of water reflects the mighty ocean. So it was with our little towns in the old country: each one reflected the fruitful and glorious Jewish life in Poland.

So it was too in our dear, unforgettable town of Augustow (a.k.a. Yagostov, or Avgustov). Among the hundred or so families that occupied the small town situated between Suwalki and Grodno, between Lithuania and West-Prussia, one could find a microcosm of everything that Jewish life in Poland represented. The good along with the bad,

[Page 444]

the positive alongside the negative. Certainly the light far outshone the darkness …

It's been over twenty years since our Jewish settlement in our old home was destroyed. The compatriots of Augustow, scattered in the four corners of the Earth, have received only fragmented reports, never the full story, concerning the tragic demise of about seven thousand Augustow Jews. On the fingers of one hand we can count those few who managed to escape death during those gruesome days of slaughter and horror. It is not possible to know with complete certainty where our nearest and dearest spent their last days, where their final stop was, in which death camp or gas chamber they gave up their holy souls. There are various reports on these matters. I've heard contradictory versions from compatriots in Mexico, the United States, Uruguay and Argentina. But what difference does it make in the end? The sad and terrible toll remains the same: in Augustow not one single Jew was left alive.

* * *

Augustow was more to us than just a little point on the Polish map. It was our beloved home, which we warmed and protected. It was the home of our parents and grandparents. The love of one's hometown, where one was born, and took one's first steps in life, as a child and an adolescent, cannot be dampened by the passage of time.

Today there is not a single Jew in Augustow. But we are not thinking about the sad present. In our imagination we wish to see our town as it was twenty-five years ago, thirty years ago, when we could not have predicted that the murderous Nazi thugs would wipe out Jewish life in Poland with such ferocity.

I wish to see our beloved hometown as I left it in the summer of 1936. We wish to see the glorious dense woodlands surrounding the town and the large lakes, the canals and rivers, for which our town was renowned throughout Poland. It is tempting to close our eyes and allow ourselves to be carried on the wings of fantasy.

Here we see our hometown in its full amplitude. We see the hundred needy and downtrodden Jews, the merchants and shopkeepers who just about scraped together enough to keep their heads above water, to provide for their families and celebrate Shabbes in a manner befitting God's will. The shopkeepers and merchants from the Market Square, and from Broad Street, the artisans and handworkers from Synagogue Street and from Bridge Street. We see the pale and harried children of the Talmud Torah,

[Page 445]

the little Moyshes and little Shloymes, who could not all come to school with something to eat … We see the Jewish bourgeoisie, the Chasidim with long beards and thick peyes, who never missed a prayer service in the large synagogue, in the main prayer house, or in one of the smaller prayer houses where it was always so warm and welcoming.


Chaim Lazdeiski with his friend Chaim Vodovoz

[Page 446]

Who could forget the town intellectuals and the well-read youth who silently and secretly sympathized with the liberation movement? Who could forget the glorious chalutz youths who left comfortable homes to go to Palestine and work the land, chopping wood and carrying water? Who could forget the young children of the Zionist Youth Organization who, against the wishes of their parents, went to their colonies to work clandestinely?

How could we forget the rustic folk-types of our town? How could we forget Avigdor the Lipsker, Shakhne the Beer Carrier? How could we forget the hard-working, down-trodden Jews who used to carry bags on their backs to the marketplace near Bridge Street, where the automobiles would stop on their way from Grodno to Suwalki?

It's impossible to forget the Jews of our town who, each in their own way, symbolized Jewish life in Poland, with all its bright and dark aspects.

It's also not possible to forget all the lovely places in Augustow where Jewish children and young adults would go to dream of a better life in a better world, about a future in the Land of Israel and about a better standard of living for their parents, brothers and sisters.

With the power of our imaginations we can see the city gardens and the very center of the Market Square. The clock-tower on the roof of the magistrate's office dominated its surroundings and when the bells rang out it was to indicate a fire. Sunday amusements in the gardens were not for Jews. Cavalrymen from the town garrison would often get drunk and run wild. Jews knew better than to stray too close. At the point where Long Street came to an end there was a park, or the “monument” as we called it because of the memorial for Polish heroes that was there. In the park the fragrant scent of lilac and acacia was positively intoxicating in May and June. Young couples in love would walk further: to the rampart by the shore of the canal under the bridge on the Suwalki Road. On the Grodno Road it was not so romantic. There only the Zionist youth organizations would go marching–Hashomer Hatzair, Beitar and others–singing Hebrew marches and Polish songs. But not late at night. It was not safe.

We see the winter snows heaped over our town in great mounds. The youth would go skating on the ice rink. The children from poor families did not have it easy; they did not have warm woolen

[Page 447]

coats or jackets. But our young blood warmed us more than our clothes …

Who is the equal of those children who in winter could slide on the snow in the frosty and sunny days, skating in a row, tethered to a horse (that was a luxury in its own regard) throwing balls of tightly packed snow?

After Purim, when milder winds began to blow, and when one began to feel traces of the breath of Poland's glorious pre-spring in the air, it would be a celebration for the children. Even the slippery paths and thick mud could not hold them back. The snow would grow weaker and thinner, revealing more and more patches of green fields and woodlands.

And on the eve of Pesach? The preparations for this important and beautiful holiday; scrubbing and koshering the tables and chairs, rinsing the dishes and glassware, beating the carpets and bedding, and most importantly of all–bringing matzo into the white-washed houses … how beautiful it all was. How it ignited the childish imagination.

* * *

In June 1936 I left Augustow and travelled to Uruguay, South America, where my two older brothers were already living. For a few months–in 1932–my third brother had also been there. But it seems he was destined to fall victim to the Nazi's slaughter. He travelled back to Augustow after spending six months in Montevideo.

Poland at that time was still reeling from the pogroms in Przytyk and Minsk Mazowiecki. The policy of “owszem[1] weighed heavily on the Jewish population. We felt it vividly in our town.

Being in Uruguay, we–a group of compatriots and recently arrived refugees from the old country–suffered from afar, observing the course of events in Poland. Most of us were consumed by yearning for our old home and our family members who had remained behind.

Then came the tragic first of September 1939. In early September, a Uruguayan newspaper published a list of Polish towns bombed by the German air force on the first day of the war, and there I saw the name of our town.

Several weeks later our town was “liberated” by the Red Army. Only one letter from my “liberated” mother, sister and brother

[Page 448]

arrived to me in Montevideo. It was the only letter, on dark thin paper, in a dark thin envelope–a sign of the new order, implemented in the Soviet style … it was hard to make anything of a letter like that. But worse was still to come. The Nazi murder machine was already preparing to consume all the Jews of Eastern Poland and all of Europe. The German-Soviet war followed, bringing the worst calamities down on the heads of millions of Jews.

Our hometown suffered the same fate as all towns and villages in Poland. The Jews of Augustow were killed by the German murderers.

* * *

With a holy tremble, we hold and honor in our hearts the memory of our parents, our brothers and sisters, all of our family members who perished as martyrs. May this publication prepared by the Augustow compatriots in Israel serve as a gravestone on the tomb of the dead.

We will never forget them! May their holy memory be blessed until the end of all generations.


Uprooted and Desecrated Gravestones


Translator's Footnote:

  1. Owszem: Name given to the policy of economic boycott of Jewish businesses. Return

[Page 449]

From “The Song of the Murdered Jewish People

by Yitskhok Katzenelson

Scream from the bottom of the sands, from under every stone, scream,
Scream from every dust, from every flame, every plume of smoke –
It is your blood and your sap, it is the marrow of your bones,
It is your flesh and your life! Scream, shout at the top of your voice!

Howl from the entrails of the beasts in the forest, from the fish in the river –
They have devoured you, scream of furnaces, screams large and small,
I want to hear your voice, give me a cry of pain, a howl of anger,
I want a clamor: shout, murdered Jewish people, shout, shout! – – –

– – Come all, from Treblinka, from Sobibor, from Auschwitz,
Come from Belzec, from Ponar, from other places, and others and yet others still!
With bulging eyes, a frozen cry, a voiceless scream, from the marshes come,
From the muddy depths where you have sunk, from amid the rotten mosses – – –

Come, you desiccated, you crushed and scraped, come take your place,
Form a circle around me, one enormous ring –
Grandfathers, grandmothers, mothers with infants in their arms –
Come, Jewish bones, ground to powder, flakes of soap. – –

[Page 450]

Letters from Survivors

My Best friend Khatskl Murzinski,

You cannot imagine my immense joy in receiving this letter from you. We simply wept for joy and from pain and suffering, reading again about the terrible misfortune that befell our mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters and the whole Jewish people. May the murderers be cursed for all eternity. I and my family–that is to say, my father, mother, and three sisters–were saved by the fact that we had left immediately for Russia. My younger brother was doing his military service at the time and was taken captive by the Germans. He was also saved by this fact, as he also fled to Russia. We lived in Augustow between October 1939 and April 1940 after which we all went to Russia, all except for one of my sisters who remained behind in Augustow. She worked as a teacher in the Jewish school. She married a certain Wasserman, whose father was a baker. My sister and her husband, as well as their two small children, stayed in Augustow and perished along with all of Augustow's Jews. They lived across the way from Khaykl, and stuck together the whole time until the very end. I tell you, my dear friend Khatskl, that it breaks my heart to remember all of this, and I believe that until our dying day we will never forget our great misfortune. For the time being we are living in Wroclaw. I received your letter from the Jewish Committee in Rychbach[1] via an acquaintance from Suwalki. I thank you a thousand times. Let us stay in contact. My dear friend, Khatskl, we do not yet know for sure if we will stay here or for how long. For the moment I have no request for you, though truth be told I could use some help. But I know myself that by the time my letter reaches you, and you send aid back, I may already have left Wroclaw, because we are thinking of leaving Poland altogether. For now I'm working as a baker and I make it through the days as best I can.

My sisters and brothers-in-law send their warmest regards,
Ruven Lentcheski

Wroclaw, August 10, 45

[Page 451]

My Best friend Khatskl Murzinski
Cremona 4.6.46

I'm writing to respond to your last letter. It is hard for me to write because your family was as dear to me as brothers and sisters. Now I will write to you frankly. Your father died during the registration of the men. It happened on July 2, 1941 on the day when 800 men, including your father and my brother, were gathered together. They were all shot 3 kilometers from town in the forest by the Suwalki Road. Very few of us men remained, only women and children enclosed behind wire fences in a ghetto. Out of 2,500 people there were only 60 men, one of whom was your brother Khaykl with his children, along with your sister Dobke and her husband Osher and their children. Your brother's eldest son would have been a rabbi; he studied in the Suwalki yeshiva. One of the daughters had studied in a gymnasium, and all of them were very gifted. Now I will tell you about your sister's children: the daughter was a friend of mine; her name is Lubke. She had a boyfriend, also a friend of mine. She was one of the prettiest girls in town, and the sons too were handsome children. It pains me to remember it all. We lived together and worked together in the ghetto, helping each other, until the terrible order came to liquidate the ghetto. It was carried out by the Starosta and the mayor, whose names were: Pon Namen and Richter. With the help of the police we were loaded into train cars and sent to Auschwitz, where the final tragedy began. This was on January 6, 1943. They loaded us off the train cars and split us into rows where the Gestapo began to select young men, and also women, for purposes unknown. Naturally no one wanted to be separated from their families, and so they took a small number of men and women and loaded everyone else onto jeeps and drove them to the crematorium where they were gassed and incinerated. This is where your brother and sister died together with all their children. The handful of selected men and women were taken into the camp for hard labor. Most could not survive more than a few days of being starved and beaten with heavy clubs that flew over our heads–there remained only me and a girl from our town. She was with me in the camp. She is Noyekh the Butcher's daughter; Rokhl Levinzon. She will write a few words herself, as will Shmuel Zupnitski and his wife. He was saved by joining the partisans. No one else remained from our town, aside from those who were sent to Russia in 1940.

Now to the questions asked by Moyshe Khayim son of Hershl the coachman. You didn't mention their surname, but I think they must be from the Poznanski family.

[Page 452]

His father is Hershl, his brothers were called Itshe, Binyomin and Dovid. Before the war we shared a car. Hershl would always talk about his loyal son Moyshe Khayim. I understand that you served in the military with my brother Avrom? If you are from the family I think you are then your father and his three heroic brothers died along with the 800 men on July 7, 1941. If I am mistaken, send me the names and I will answer you in a second letter.

Concerning Isser the carpenter's son and Leybl the cobbler's son I will not write to you now. Send me the family names first.

I will finish up now. May my letter find you in the best of health. Give my regards to my brother, sister and son.

I received the two dollars.

I would ask you, if it is not too difficult for you to help the two Augustow compatriots to do so. The best is with a letter, because money lasts about two months but a letter can have everything cleared up in seven days.

From me, your friend,
Yekheskl Piastski


My Best friend Khatskl Murzinski
June 23, 1946

We received your letter, for which we are very grateful, Piastski and I. I thank you for taking an interest in me. Thank you too for the 5 dollars, you can imagine how useful it was, as you understand what life is like in the camps. I believe we will someday meet and I will repay you then. First you want to know who I was in Augustow. Your brother Leybl was my friend. My name is Shmuel Zupnitski. My mother was called Tsivie, and my father was called Velvl. I am thirty-six years old. No one special. I send a hearty greeting to all my compatriots.

On another occasion I will write more. For now I thank you for everything and look forward to your response.

From me, your friend,
Shmuel Zupnitski


Dear friend Khatskl!
Wroclaw, October 21, 1946

It has been a long time since I answered your letter. And yet I have not received a response. Not awaiting or expecting a response from you, I write to you again. Dear Khatskl, as you know from my first letter we had planned to leave Poland. But last month we unexpectedly received letters from our brother Moyshe, who is now in Uruguay–you must remember him, though he was only a young lad when you knew him. He plans to bring a few people over to him and is currently working to that aim. And so we have decided to stay put for the time being and wait until we receive the necessary documents for my sister to travel to Uruguay. We have also made contact with Mexico, where our uncles–Avrom Dovid Rozenfeld's two sons, Abke and Yudl–are living. They also want to help someone emigrate to them. For now they have been sending packages for my sisters and their children. Dear Khatskl, living with us at the moment is the hat-maker Sender Moyshe Lenzinger and his wife, who is our uncle's daughter. His name was Itshe Krinitski, a tailor. They arrived not long ago from Russia and plan to continue on further, to their friends in Palestine. It was only by accident that we found out they were here in Wroclaw. I brought them back to our place and now they are living with us. The mood is a little lighter to see some relatives from Augustow, given that all the others perished at the hands of the Nazis, may they be cursed for eternity. Dear Khatskl, perhaps it is not too hard for you to bear because you are so far from here. But we find ourselves here in Poland and every day we find out more information about people; when and how our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and children died. This makes it harder for us to bear; though we know there is no hope, our heart bleeds from the pain of it. Where I can I continue to make inquiries: perhaps someone else has survived the slaughter in Augustow. But alas, to this day we have not heard of anyone. We have only heard news of Augustowers who were sent away to Russia before the outbreak of war. In this way Sender Moyshe Lenzinger and his wife returned from Russia. So as you can see we are staying in Poland for the time being. I'm waiting for my brother Moyshe in Uruguay and my cousins Abke and Yudl in Mexico to bring some of us over to them. Then I will see about leaving for somewhere, because it is heart-breaking here, and you know as well as I do how they look upon us Jews … Dear friend, you wrote me that you would be able to help me in some way but that you did not know what I needed. My dear friend, what should I tell you; I work in a bakery as an employee. You'll understand that the prices being what they are I cannot afford everything I

[Page 454]

need. So I would ask you, if you can, to send me a parcel of goods. The favor would serve me well and I would be very grateful to you.

Be well, your friend,


My Best friend Khatskl Murzinski

Yesterday I read your letter to Ruven with the greeting for us. We thank you for thinking of us, dear friend. Many years have passed since you left Augustow. Over the years we have lived through so many things, particularly in the last years of the war. It is very hard to write about whom we've lost, the best and the brightest. Not to mention our own parents and sisters, and also such friends as your brother Khaykl, of blessed memory, and your father, of blessed memory. It is very difficult for me to say their names without shedding a tear. But the wells of our tears have long ago run dry. It is as though we have been turned to stone. But a pain, a great pain has stayed behind in our hearts, and emptiness which cannot be filled. Since the time I was taken from my home, on October 30, 1939, I have only once had occasion to see my dear friends again. On the way to an interrogation they drove me past Khaykl's shop and at that moment he happened to come outside. Our eyes met; but we had no chance to speak. When, a year later, I was sent to the desolate north for eight years' hard labor, I would often receive letters from him, and even parcels. Golde, having been sent to Siberia received the same. Then that devil Hitler declared war on Russia. Then I was freed, while they, those unlucky ones who were left under Hitler's control, they all died–our best, most trusted friends, the likes of which we will never have again. It is sadder still when one does not even know where their bones lie so that they can be given a proper burial. Thanks to the fact that I was arrested I survived. Though I was left permanently disfigured. In the distant North I spent the best part of a year in a hospital. There was even a time when the doctors had given me up for dead. But as fate would have it I survived, but as an invalid, having lost an eye. I was left half blind, with an untreatable heart condition along with kidney and liver damage. There are times when the pain is so bad that I envy the dead. That's what my life is like. Naturally this was all very hard for Golde

[Page 455]

and she too is ill. You would not recognize us if you saw us. And what now? What will happen to us now, I do not know. You write that you remember Golde has brothers in America: Pinye and Khatskl. I probably also knew Kopl, he is also in America. We have their addresses and if not for their aid, even when we were back in Russia, we would long ago have starved to death. It's truly thanks to them that we are still alive. But how much more can they help us? If I were able to work, I might be able to get back on my feet with a little help. But not being able to earn so much as a penny the whole time, and the expenses are so high, because treatment and medicines are very expensive here. The strict diet they have me on is also very expensive such that we are dependent on other aid from good friends. You will excuse me writing like this, explaining my situation to you … Now I would like to ask you who is this chairman of the Augustow committee Sol Lang? Is that Matie Langrevits the medic's son? We're guessing from the changed surname that it's either Shaul Langrevits or Shepsl Langrevits. If yes, do they receive letters from their sister Khayke? She's on the other side of the border, in Estonia, I think, with a daughter-in-law and grandchild.

We've read your call to organize eulogies for the fallen martyrs. That made a strong impression on us, but unfortunately we cannot do anything much to help, because there are so few of us left in Augustow, and there's no one to do it with. I will write to you about that another time. You also mention a cooperative encompassing Suwalki and Augustow; that is alas impossible. There is a lot to write about the whole matter. If ever someone else comes along who expresses an interest in it you should know that they have an ulterior motive. I'd ask you not to tell anyone else about what I write to you. I will end my first letter to you and hope that our correspondence will continue. We would be very grateful to hear from you again.

Your friend,
Sender Moyshe and Golde Lenzinger

Be well. We wish you a joyous Pesach. Regards to your wife, your children and all of our compatriots.

Wroclaw 18.3.47.

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Best friend Khatskl

Received your letter from the 3rd of the 4th. We thank you for your swift response, and particularly for taking such an interest in us all. Dear friend, reading your letters we learn things that we would not otherwise hear being in Poland. About our parents, brothers and sisters, where and when they perished. When we were in Russia we could not fathom returning to Poland and not being in Augustow. But the bitter truth has shown us that such is possible. Firstly, because in Augustow there is not a single Jew left, and at the time the situation was such that going to Augustow would have meant certain death and none of us had wanted to risk our lives. The area was rendered so alien by the Nazis; in all of Bialystok voivodeship, apart from Bialystok itself, there are no Jews at all. There are a few Jews in Suwalki too, but there is no question of being able to go to Augustow. There are people who went there such as Baravits, also the Rekhtman brothers were there, and the Vaksmans, who left behind many houses there, have no intention of going there to sell the houses, that's how bad the situation is. Before '39 the whole area was already poisoned enough. That the German murderers were there when Jewish blood and property was abandoned, that was enough to ruin things to the present day. It's true that the government is trying to combat antisemitism, and to a large extent it has had an effect. But the negligible number of Jews who remained alive would prefer to live somewhere else where there are Jews. And generally even searching for the graves is futile, because the murderers have poured petrol on the gravesites and burned them, wiping away every last trace. Even the old cemetery has been plowed into the ground, the headstones used to pave roads and as foundations for buildings. Such atrocities have never been committed since the beginning of time. Nowadays the world has more sympathies for the murderers, the Germans, than for the eternally misfortunate Jews. That's how our situation appears. How long can we live like this? No one had an answer to this question. You asked why there were so few Augustow Jews in Russia. I will tell you that the only Augustowers who found themselves in Russia were there because they had been sentenced for various reasons. For example Kestin and me were sentenced for being Zionists. For the same reasons Eliav Khlufitski and Abba Arimland, may peace be upon him, were exiled, but they never returned. Others were sentenced because they were big time businessmen, others because of illegal trade. Then there were also a few who served in the Soviet army. The families were sent out in 1940. The people who saved themselves

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were in distant places such as Siberia, working such jobs that none of them had ever imagined they would ever do. Selling all their possessions in order to survive as best they could, hoping they would someday find their way back home and somehow be able to live some semblance of a normal life again. The dream was short lived, and the bitter truth soon revealed itself to have something else in store. It's depressing to look back on all this. Now whoever comes back in one piece, though no one comes back entirely unscathed, can expect to get straight to work for very little pay. And to find some extra aid is also painful. But someone like me, who's lost one eye in the prisons and camps, who's suffered heart failure and severe kidney disease, an entirely broken man, must depend entirely on aid. And believe me I've sometimes envied Khaykl, of blessed memory, and other dear friends who died as martyrs, but what can one do? One struggles to live, though life holds no appeal. I know I'm not the only one who's been left like this, but we each feel our own pain. True, Golde's brother Pinye supports us, and Kopl a little, but can one ever fill a sack that's full of holes? It's only thanks to their aid, and the aid from the Augustow committee, that we manage to survive. And who knows, perhaps with God's grace we can manage to emigrate to Palestine or America, and spend whatever years that remain in the company of our own people. You ask if it is true that there are those who take aid even though they do not need it? I can tell you that whoever comes begging must receive something. As the saying goes, you can never tell whose shoes are tight. We can never know 100%. Everyone has suffered and everyone suffers still– some on a great scale and others on a lesser scale. That's why we appealed to you concerning the Vaksman affair. I believe one must be accommodating.

Be well.

Your friend,
Sender Moyshe and Golde Lenzinger

P.S.–I would like to add: if you are in contact with our Augustover brothers and sisters in other cities, can you warn them not to give any money, or goods, to the Suwalki committee, because wherever there are joint Suwalki-Augustow committees we receive nothing from Suwalki. We've seen cases of this before. Here in Lower Silesia the delegate of the Suwalki association, Mr. Gedalye Smitshekhovski, received money from Chicago and Argentina (where there is a joint

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committee) and we never received a single penny of it. At the same time things came from Augustow–also from a joint committee–and their delegate in Wroclaw told us that after winter those from Augustow would receive a portion. In the end they never gave us anything. So we ask that our Augustow compatriots should not take part in joint aid campaigns with those from Suwalki.

You can even publish this warning in the press.

With respect and thanks,
Sender Lenzinger (Secretary)

Wroclaw 20.4.47

Translator's Footnote:

  1. Modern day Dzierżoniów. Return


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