« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

[Page 459]

Central Historical Commission
at the Central Committee of the Liberated Jews in the American Zone

Historical Survey of Ruined Jewish Settlements
and Deceased Jewish Personalities

  1. The city of Augustow. District library. Poland.
  2. How old was the Jewish settlement?
  3. How many Jews lived there before the war? — around 4,000[1]
  4. What were the main occupations? — handworkers 70%, small traders and merchants 30%.
  5. Which and how many community institutions, cultural organizations, associations and clubs were there in the town, and what has become of them today?

    (Such as synagogues, prayer houses, yeshivas, cemeteries, old-age homes, orphanages, hospitals, Lines HaTsedek, schools, libraries, evening courses, drama clubs, cooperatives, banks, Gmiles-Khesed, professional and artisan unions, political parties etc.)

    A large synagogue, a prayer house, cemeteries, Hakhnoses Orkhim, Bikker Khoylim, Talmud Torah, Jewish library with 10,000 books, drama club, cooperative bank, Gmiles-Khesed, Small Traders' Union, Artisans' Union, “Chalutz.”

    The Germans destroyed everything in 1941; during the Russian occupation everything was active.

  6. What rarities were in the possession of the community and in private hands, and what has become of them now? (such as: buildings, gravestones, pinkeysim,[2] ritual objects such as: poroykhes[3], atores,[4] spices, holy books, paintings etc.)
  7. The most important events in the town from the start of the war (1.9.1939):
    a. Since the Nazi occupation.

    —The Red Army occupied our town at the beginning of the war. They arrested 4 Zionist activists; one by the name of Hershl Papirovitsh. He

[Page 460]
was freed after 8 months of captivity, I don't remember the other names. They were deported to Russia.

b. Under Nazi occupation: (date of arrival, the first decrees against Jews, fencing, tribute, confiscations, ghetto—open or closed—torture, beard cutting, badges, forced labor, evacuation of Jews from the town to other places or the contrary, pogroms, executions, looting, how did the final liquidation of the settlement come about? —date).

—Straight away, on Sunday June 22, 1941, 6 a.m. the German army had already entered our town, they issued a decree that all Jews had to wear a special sign, and every day Jews were taken and put to work on various tasks. At the end of July the same year all the Jews had to go to a certain spot, allegedly to be registered. Then 1,500 men were taken to Szczebra in the forest. I and thirty other Jews were chosen as skilled workers and taken back to town. They kept the Jews there 3 days without food, and then they were all shot in the forest by S. S. men.

At the end of August the ghetto was created, where 15 people were housed in a single room. The ghetto was surrounded by a barbed-wire fence and guarded by Polish police. In total there were 70 men and 1,500 women in the ghetto. Every day we had to go to work. In Early July 1942, the ghetto was surrounded by Polish police and S. S. men. We were driven out to Bogusze near Grayevo where 7,000 Jews had been gathered from the surrounding settlements. We stayed there for six weeks. We received about 100 grams of bread with half a liter of soup per day. During those six weeks 2,000 of us died. At the end of August they made a selection: 3,000 were sent off to Treblinka and 2,000 were sent to Auschwitz. In all three Jews from the camp survived.

  1. Relations and interactions with the non-Jewish population.
    —Very bad. They had a direct hand in all things.
  2. Did the Jews in this town organize a resistance?
  3. Number of survivors from the town.
  4. Notable people: (name, age, profession, role, area, date and manner of death).
    Place: Regensburg.
    April 23, 1947

Ze'ev Kalshteyn (witness)

[Page 461]

Jewish Provincial Historical Commission

Bialystok February 20,1947
L. G. 35/37
Communicated by Yekheskl Fendzukh, born 1901 in Bialystok. Lived in the Bialystok ghetto during the occupation. On 14.8.43 transported to Augustow, and following the liquidation brought back to Bialystok prison. Survived in Działdowo[5] camp. Now located in Bialystok.

On August 14, 1943, at 3:30 in the morning, the Gestapo, escorted by the Jewish police removed me from my home and in a windowless van took me out to the outskirts of town. I didn't know where they were taking me. It was only after Knyszyn, when they stopped to refuel that a man in the vehicle behind me, Klein, told me they were taking me to Augustow for a work detail.

Arriving there I soon met carpenters from Bialystok who had already been working there for some time: Yoyne Lis, Furmanski, Mayer Markhovki and Gelman, I don't remember the others' names, six men altogether. They were bruised and battered, because a few days earlier the Augustow camp commander had caught them, led them into the camp where each one received 25 lashes and finally they were forced to eat hot potato soup for two minutes which left blisters on their mouths . . . they were very sorry to see me. Mr. Lis said to me: “Yekheskl, they brought you here as a victim too?...”

Our task was to finish building a villa for General Kanarius.

A few days later we went into town to a Polish hairdresser for a shave. He told us that in Bialystok he had seen the ghetto burn, and watched them evacuate all the Jews; where they were taken he did not know. Later a construction technician called Lenkovitser was brought on, and he told us exactly how the liquidation proceeded, and how 140 workers who had been working for the Gestapo led people to Lomza prison, while others were taken to Lublin (Majdanek). When I asked him about my wife and children he confirmed that they had also been taken. It is pointless recounting my experiences. From that moment on I went gray, and though I am only 46 years old, I am as gray as a dove.

Then we began to think about how to escape. Escaping into the nearby woods was impossible, because there was a group of Polish partisans there

[Page 462]

who called themselves “Młoda Polska.” On every tree in the forest was the slogan: “Polska bez żydów i bez Rosjanów[6]. We began to dig a tunnel in the cellar of our workplace, but many of us believed that we would not be able to acquire the necessary supplies of food and water.


Jewish Provincial Historical Commission

Bialystok 10.11.1945
L. G. 97
Nr. 1267
Memoirs written by Fania Landau, born in the year... In Bialystok. Lived in Bialystok ghetto. Brought out on work detail two days before the definitive liquidation of the Bialystok ghetto. Awaited liberation in Auschwitz camp.

I lived in the Bialystok ghetto and worked together with a group of Jews outside the ghetto in S.R. The work was led by a Jewish engineer Zigmunt Lenkovitser from Warsaw.

On August 13 Lenkovitser passed on the order that two women and four men were needed to travel to Augustow, because the villa of inspector Kanarius had to be completely finished by August 15, 1943. I also wanted to see the inspector's villa for myself. His mission was—the annihilation of Jews in Europe. There was no question of refusing the order to go. It was enough to hear the order for my fate to be tied up in theirs.

The following morning, at 9 a.m. on August 14, 1943, I left Bialystok for Augustow. Driving out of the ghetto I must admit that I could breathe more freely. Straight away the engineer removed our yellow badges which we had been wearing for two years. As we drove further away from the ghetto I could no longer see the deeply anguished faces; the small children selling cigarettes in order to earn a morsel of bread; the boys stooped down toward the earth lugging a bundle of wood from outside the ghetto in order to earn a mark for their families. I did not hear the daily news: another aktion, or more dead in Treblinka, a fresh victim, Auschwitz, Majdanek—the news upon which we

[Page 463]

subsisted in the ghetto. We approach Augustow and it looks like we're entering an entirely different world. People are moving around freely, knowing nothing of a ghetto. I must remark that they also seem to know nothing about Jews because there had been no Jews there for almost a year. They also perished in Treblinka and Majdanek. We see forests, fields, lakes and finally the inspector's villa. There I meet several Jews from Bialystok, working on getting the villa finished.

They briefly tell us about how good life is there. They've been in Augustow for two weeks now. I quickly get acquainted with my surroundings. The workers prepare me a place to sleep where I can stay for the few days I am scheduled to be here. The first day is truly pleasurable: we worked for a few hours and afterwards we walked around like free people, taking in the lakes, the glorious forests; everything was so beautiful to us as we had spent the last two years unable to go out and enjoy the beauty of nature. We had no desire to go to sleep.

The next day, August 15th, 1943, Inspector Kanarius arrived with his murderous Anita. They amused themselves for half a day, rowing boats, catching fish and gathering them . . .at 4:00 in the morning two of the murderers come to us and say we should no longer go anywhere near the building where his friends will soon be gathering, or should I say the pogromists will soon be gathering. Then began the meeting—the preparations for the bloody Monday. Yes that's where they planned how they could most easily fool the Jews and lead them to their deaths.

Their meeting lasted a long time. Afterwards they came to visit us in the dilapidated building opposite, where we were staying. There they told us ironically that our Judaism did little to serve us, that they would serve us better. In the evening they went off on a hunt where they caught several wild ducks and a rabbit. That was all a preparation, and now, in the middle of the night they drove off for the real hunt, to Bialystok. This time it was not birds they were going to catch but people, to snatch children from their mothers, sisters from brothers, wives from husbands: destroying all that people hold dear - taking the lives of innocent, unarmed people.

Then came Monday. We were waiting impatiently for a truck from Bialystok in order to travel home. But it was in vain: the truck never came. We believed that we would be able to go back on Tuesday. But then rumors reached us that the ghetto was burning. Several regiments of soldiers went to surround the ghetto and evacuate the Jews. But our companions reassured us: it was a lie; the Christians were saying that to scare us. On Wednesday we find out that it was not a lie, it was the bitter truth.

[Page 464]

And now the worst began for us: no more home, no more loved ones, no more families. Gloomy and terrified we sat there waiting for our turn to come. We were now almost continually silent, except when a voice spoke from a corner: “My wife, my little children . . .” then another: “My mother and my sick father.” Then from the other room: “I thought I would die with them, such a terrible death—gas!” Day after day passed in this manner, each one harder than the last. We were running low on food, and there would be no more supplies coming. The wind started to howl; it was growing cold. Our group had no more than the work clothes on our backs, and those were beginning to fall apart. We no longer worked 8 hours but 10 hours and each day we had to present ourselves to the Gestapo.

Now we heard a cry of pain—death! But hurry up! When you want to live the German says—for you there is only death! And when you want to die, he says—drudgery! That's how it was for us. We had toiled for two months already and there was no end in sight. Every day the Christians would tell us that 23 Jews had been found and shot right then and there; on Petrasz Square they had found 35 Jews in a cellar and shot them. We knew that the fate of our group of ten would be no different. So why did they continue to torment us? Another week passed, then another; but this week brought something new.

It was Thursday the 12th of November and we lay down again to sleep on the cold floor with nothing but our fists for pillows. We did not reckon with any change in our circumstances and then suddenly there was a clatter on the door, all but taking it off its hinges. A Gestapo man came to us and announced that the next morning, Friday, 5 a.m., at daybreak, that we were to go to the Gestapo square and each of us was to take a shovel with us. He noted coolly that he was tasked with keeping an eye on us, but seeing as he knew us, and trusted that we would not try to escape he would go to sleep and come back to pick us up before dawn. Despite being convinced that death awaited us the next morning, and that we would have to dig our own graves, none of us gave any thought to escaping because we were already so exhausted. Despite being entirely apathetic I could not sleep a wink those few hours.

5:00 in the morning. Each of us has prepared a shovel. Our executioner comes to take us. We walk. A deathly silence reigns. No one says a word, not even May4er, who had always been so kind to me, always sharing his last portion of bread. He does not speak to be because he has nothing to

[Page 465]

say to me before death. Then I decide I want to say something to him. I try to open my mouth to say something. No. Useless. Something catches in my throat, and no word can come out. Now I understand Mayer; he wants to speak, but cannot. We approach the square. It's surrounded by police. Seeing us, the police deploy themselves and hurry us onto the square. And there we see death before us. The bandits inform us that in 4-5 hours we must each dig a trench 180 centimeters long, 90 centimeters wide. All manner of thoughts begins to rush into my mind. What if I don't dig? They'll shoot me and then they'll have to dig the grave themselves. And maybe I could run away? That way I would not see as they shoot me. I have to spit in their faces before I die, I thought. And then I hear my colleague next to me say: “Children, time to atone before death.” Then I felt bewildered. What should I do? Scream? Scream and maybe atone for my sins? But then I see that all the others have already dug large pits, and I have not even started. But then when I look down again at my own pit I realize it is actually deeper than the others. I barely noticed how quickly I had dug my own grave. Another minute and it would all be over. Once all nine graves were ready they would shoot us and no trace would be left to show that nine innocent young people had stood there just a moment before, shot because they bore the name Jew.

Thinking this, I hear Mayer say to me, with a voice unlike his own:

“Fania, is it true they are going to shoot us? And you too, Fania? But you're so young, you're not even 18 years old.”

“And you're only 23,” I say to him. “You've not even begun to live. Let's stop talking; the bandits are coming already.”

“Are you finished?” one of them says.

“Shoot these dogs,” shouts another. And all the others laugh heartily. We are not laughing. We're thinking only of how to get a bullet faster so as not to have to hear their ironic laughter, or look in their loathsome faces. But then something unexpected happens; they take the men from our group. Were they not going to shoot them along with us? We see that they are given full sacks and they come back to the pits and are told to empty them into the pits. Something strange is happening: are they going to bury us with these potatoes? But then we hear the boss's voice: “When you've finished go back home.” We all stare with half-crazed eyes . . . Is it true that they're not going to shoot us? Was it all just a game for them? . . . Yes. This time it was all just a joke—they were playing with our lives! We filled the pits with the potatoes and went back

[Page 466]

to the dilapidated villa and for our efforts we each received a loaf of bread.

We go back to our quarters. Each of us seems to have lost our minds: one laughs, the other gobbles down his bread; Estherke screams: Because we prayed, God spared our lives. We would have a few more days after which they were going to shoot us anyway. And that's exactly what happened.

We stayed there another two weeks. Each day was terrible. Yes, it was Tuesday. It had been a successful day for the bandits. They found some partisans whom they shot, and in celebration they had gotten drunk. Then when they were drunk they met our five men who they began to toy with. This time they played a different game: they beat them—each of them received 25 lashes! Exhausted and broken they returned to their quarters. We administer compresses to their wounds and tell them to take heart; perhaps we would one day look back on all this as ones who had been through it all. But we could not console ourselves in this way for long.

Friday came. This time they took us out and separated us from the men—but for good this time. It was daybreak. A knocking on the door. We get up to open the door. But then we see that the building is surrounded by Gestapo men and some of them were already inside the building. They give an order that in half an hour everyone must be ready because we were leaving. We were ready and believed that we would all be traveling together. But no. Climbing onto the truck they separate us from the men. They don't let them board the truck, and tell them to stand to one side. “You're going to a different work detail,” they tell them. Mayer begins to plead, my sister is there, he says, I want to stay with her. As an answer he receives a punch. He is bleeding and they push him aside. I'm confused, standing on the truck, not knowing what to do. Should we say goodbye? But it's no use—the truck begins to move. We begin to feel dizzy. We're moving away from them. I see Mayer, bloodied and crying and he calls out: “farewell! Maybe you'll survive?” Our ears buzz, our minds are foggy. We look at each other and every face tells the same story: Where was fate taking us now? And yet Fate did want me to live after all.

Chairman of the Provincial Historical Commission
Mgr. Turek


  1. Original Footnote: There were more than twice as many people in the town. Return
  2. Community Ledgers. Return
  3. Curtains for the aron kodesh. Return
  4. Torah mantles. Return
  5. Soldau concentration camp. Return
  6. Polish: “Poland without Jews and without Russians;” Return

[Page 467]

Poems by Eliezer Aronovski

Dedicated to the Memory
of the Heroes and Martyrs of the Augustow Jews




The First Little Candle

It trembles, the poor, Chanukah candle...
No more is the heroic Maccabean strength,
of a people that fought and died like lions,
in a land made holy, and free.
Extinguished is that flaming fire,
which hurls its people into death to liberate!
The wee flame of a candle remains,
and before its own shadow it cowers and shakes...

Come down from the window! – scream the stars –
you foolish, faded, Chanukah candles;
not to free a people – but to dupe them!
Energy ebbs and sits forged in place!...
Suffering in exile fettered and fixed;
bound in grief waiting on bliss...
blinding a people with tears in their eyes–
but you know this already – no more and no less...

[Page 468]

We still remember them, us stars in the sky,
heroic, tigerish, Hasmonean battles,
where not with candles – but hearts of flame
thrown into battle, the enemy bested!
Indeed candles were kindled! – when this people triumphantly
danced in the streets of a holy victory.
Then, the lights showed the world,
that in the heart of this people, there burns a holy blaze!

What do you have to show for it, you candles? – Frozen fire!
The tremble of our people at every step?
That blackened, bloodied Jew in exile?
The oceans of tears that don't help one bit? –
Extinguish forever and don't burn again!
If my heart must be black as it's always been;
and like eagles, should this people not fly to be free –
it should be dark in the window! If it is night in my heart . . .

Augustow, December 1923


How can I grieve...

How can I grieve, how can I properly lament,
the murder of my people, since if I start to obsess; –
The tears in my eyes will all soon be spent
on one corpse, or two – so what of the countless?

We are far too used to slaughter, to butchery!
Pogroms in every land, that threaten every home;
of auto da fe is hallowed the memory,
of our martyrs in fire and brimstone.

Not a death untried upon us –
not a tyranny, not an anguish in the world;
we are airless, we are breathless,
the light of our sun cloaked by a curtain unfurled...

[Page 469]

Yet we're quite accustomed to all that's been done –
since we've lived thousands of years this way...
But today's hellfire – spares no one –
we burn by the millions... like stalks of hay!...

And whoever remains – alack and alas –
ashes and grave sites, a coyote's cry –
in mad howls, and shouts to shatter glass
will call, will wail: Adonai, Adonai!...

And he who will hear his voice, his moan,
his heart will burst, and his head will unhinge...
he will fashion himself a heart, hard as stone...
and shut every window and door before him...

A loner, his howls heard the whole world through...
a surrogate voice from the graves for their strife –
so that a fatal chill should come to imbue,
all that prepares to come into life...

And what rest there is in the world won't last –
a million souls – all's not forgiven! –
Bile will drip in every wine glass...
and in every temple shadows of dread will be driven...

To a world that allows millions to be slaughtered –
joy and rest should not be given! –
And however its fate may be secured,
its being remains, a being in question...


I Will Never

I will never hear from you again;
no sense in searching, or trying to pretend.
It won't help, this looking high and low –
there is no savior, there is no hero!

[Page 470]

They burned you up, my dear mother, in the barn,
along with all the Jews of the shtetl,
you with your son, in fire, arm-in-arm
devoured by flame, like a heap of dry nettle.

No ash left behind – the wind carried it away,
now through distant lands it's borne in bluster,
and when it comes – you can hear the lament…
from Yaakov's tents, a mournful mutter.

And there in another shtetl is shot to death
your daughter with her children,
her blood poured together with
all the Jews, the kosher flesh…

And flowing in rivers, through streets, and down drains
an ocean of blood, that boils and brews,
and in heaven, God can't contain
the cries of the tormented Jews!...

The winds blow through this very shudder,
casting dread on everything and everyone;
so who now isn't an orphaned daughter?
And who now isn't an orphaned son?

We carry sorrow withheld in our soul,
shed sometimes a tear we tried to keep in,
which covers the abyss, that deep dark hole,
but is soon wiped away – not to be seen again…

There is no comfort, no comforter, no consolation,
and no one can get a moment's relief;
so better to stick the pain down deeper,
in holy torment, to choke, and to grieve . . .


[Page 471]

The Tenth Day

On the tenth day of Elul my father died,
a young tree – in the spring of his life.
It was the year 5673,
for four orphaned children and one widowed wife.

I was the oldest, but no more than eight,
my sister, the youngest – and too young to know.
I remember the night, the glimmer, his face...
when we all mourned that terrible blow...

Who would believe that now it would be
such a gift from God, that he died when he did –
An autumn night when they buried his body,
that held him like a flower, a flower gone wilted...

At least I know where my father spends his days,
I saw his headstone, through the fence, not long ago...
where a tree arched over him piously sways,
sending thanks from afar – with a silent “hello” ...

Where is my mother?! My brother?! – My sister?!
Where do they lie? And when is their yahrtzeit? –
Did no small bone remain from the fire? –
Of the barns full of Jews burned for sheer spite!...

Do any trees still stand there today,
That witnessed without protest or uproar,
how all the Jews were driven away
from their cities and villages – like never before?...

Scorched in the stable, burned in the byre,
choked and smothered in rooms full of gas; –
will a small branch, singed from the fire,
show me that place, where lies their ash?

Might not a tree turn to me and say “hello”,
call over and point out: Here they lie!...
And might I keep walking and not even know,
my heart should've burst for those I walked by...


[Page 472]

Yisgadal V'yiskadash Shmey Rabo

Yisgadal v'yiskadash shmey rabo,
every soul that I used to know...
tormented, gassed, devoured by flame,
rend your garments – cry out in vain!

Sit shiva – take off your shoes,
lament that you're still alive,
and how you don't feel that you are a part
of the people encamped, who met their demise.

So you don't feel that you need to try
to hallow all the life left to come,
like they – in that torturous time –
hallowed the pain of their martyrdom...

The light was snuffed out –
the fire, the fire, it burns! –
Take a moment to look at yourself,
deep in the eyes – try and discern…

that you are their heirs,
children of martyr and hero! –
should your hearts be pure as their prayers,
and your conscience clear, as it crows...

They have no grave, no burial shrouds,
the wind wafts their dust up above,
just a soul fluttering about,
like a poor, bloodied white dove...

Take her in as one of your own,
offer the rest she's been kept from,
then you will see that you will be shown
the light that leads to the world to come.

Make sure your life has an aim,
even when it splits at the seams;
let the pure light of dawn be the flame,
that shows you what it all means . . .


[Page 473]

My Cities and Towns

By the Bobra, by the Niemen, by the Vistula,
by the Netta, by the Biala, by the Sajno,
in thousands of cities and towns,
there were more than you could know...
Jews that lived by the millions,
through labor, commerce, and travail,
from a needle, a pin with some thread,
to fields full of cattle and cattails.

Jews were dignitaries,
with comforts, with lavish estates.
And out and out beggars,
in hardship, starvation, and straits.

Yet together we fashioned a life! –
A Jewish city or town;
through the tyranny and oppression,
it's a miracle we're still around.

Those gray days that turn into weeks,
that encase the heart and harden like clay,
Jewish faith and devotion,
turned those weeks into months of May...

And that's how we weathered
the days of terror and bloodshed;
through black clouds that hover over
we saw the light up ahead...

Hundreds, thousands of years,
Jews, the bookish and learned.
Generations birthed generations,
The kernels of Torah and Talmud...

[Page 474]

We taught our children
to be good honest Jews is an art,
in school, in the study and prayer halls,
with God's word etched in their hearts.

It used to ring out in the shtetl
Of Chumesh and Gemora, a song...
Tell me, when was the last time you heard it?
And has it been very long?

Now on shabbosim[1] and holidays –
the world gets its rest and relief!
and for each and every person
God kindles courage, belief...

And alone in every dwelling
There rests the presence of the divine,
when the shabbos lights are lit,
how stunning, how sacred, how fine!...


A dark curse from the heavens
suddenly fell to the ground:
they came in from Germany –
brown beasts and bloodhounds! . . .

And over peaceful people
descended the terror of war.
The world crashed in the flames,
of their carnage and gore.
The blood filling up
the earth, the rivers, and seas.
The flames are still burning,
with no sign the killer will cease...

[Page 475]

But he did destroy us
eternally and forever so;
he built death factories,
and torched us like willows . . .

From all of the cities and towns
he drove cattle cars of millions –
to Treblinka, to Sobibor, to Majdanek –
to slaughter not cow – but civilian.

And standing there nakedly
mother and child, kith and kin,
they all suffocated together. –
But for what crime, and for what sin?

And as if that wasn't enough,
then they set their bodies to burn.
God! If you're really there,
how could you pay no concern?!

And even the bit of ash left over
not let to rest – au contraire! –
Scattered by wind through farmland –
earth be fertile, fruit to bear . . .

My cities and towns!
Ruins, graveyards turned to dust! –
And me with my heart full of tears,
who's most deserving of my disgust?

For they took your life,
your Jewish life and strangled it,
casting clouds above you,
blackened, bloodied, desperate . . .

Where there were thousands,
not a single Jew left;
inscribed on each footprint
those murderers, consigned them to death! . . .

[Page 476]

Now the sky looks to me like it's crying,
even through rays of sun;
not seen nor heard up til now,
it seems they've escaped everyone: –

To massacre kith and kin,
to choke to death, to burn into ash,
And to build factories for it,
no one will recognize death after that!...

A shudder runs through me –
how can we live after this?!
how much better if my heart
could just burst – for all its distress.

And there, together with them,
could my soul, in salvation,
in holy, divine torment,
receive comfort, and commiseration . . .


[Page 477]

My Mother

There by the Bobra,
in a small town,
lives my sickly mother,
alone in her decline.

A pile of skin and bones,
And a head of gray hair,
And those black eyes –
growing colder each day.

Children, worlds away,
far, scattered, strewn...
driven out, forced to carry on,
by hunger, torment, and ruin…

From time to time
comes a letter from afar –
and a humdrum day becomes divine,
and the world – restored…

She kisses every word
as her tears escape her…
traded in those children –
on tiny scraps of paper…

They write: they're quite well.
but aren't they just saying that? …
They just don't want to hurt her –
or give her a heart attack…

She senses, she feels –
The children are suffering over there!
though in the letters –
no sorrows, nor cares…

So she reads them
over and over again,
until she sees a secret message
in every piece of punctuation…


[Page 478]

My Village in the Flames

My village in the flames
of bombers and cannons,
and I hear my mother's moans
amid the moans of millions!

Is her voice from the ruins,
that still remain here?
or from the wild wilder-wander,
where they all were led by fear?

Were she and the children
bombarded by bombs?
Or did they all get split up,
then had to forge their way on?

How many days has she been starving?
And does she still have her health?
Perhaps she's laid up sick
some place all by herself?...
My dear mother, my dear mother!
Would only that one day I'll hear –
that you got out alive –
In some letter, drenched in tears...


[Page 479]

Who Wiped My Village off the Map?

Gone through all the lists
looked through every name –
who took my poor faint-hearted mother,
who took her away?

Who took my poor brother,
So humble, so sweet,
A worldly young man
And beat him bloody?

Who threw my beautiful sister
to the wild unsheltered
with her dear little children
in swamps, in heavy weather –
then forced them yet again
to march to death together?
Who took my family,
of good, pious people,
and laid out every last one –
so that their blood would boil?

Who took my village
and wiped it off the map?
which menacing devil
took it into his grasp?

Were they all led there
to the altar on the mount? –
the whole of everyone!
the whole damn town!

In the confines of a train car
to the death factories,
tricked to the showers
with no air to breathe?

[Page 480]

Did they get each one,
at home, under the staircase,
in the yard or in the attic,
in the stable, in a crawl space –

And work them all:
with the butt end of a gun,
with the blade of a knife –
to torture just for fun?

Where is their resting place?
Where is their gravesite? –
down in the earth,
or up in the sky?

Does their dust blow about,
their ash carried by wind?
woe to me, my God,
woe to me, and to them...

I'd like to give
their dust a gravestone –
and rest in their row,
when they bury my bones.

So my life of sin
will also carry on: –
and then I'll lie with the martyrs,
when I'm dead and gone . . .


  1. Sabbaths. Return

[Page 481]

After the Nightmare

by Shmuel Eliezer Aplebaum




Some of the Augustow Jews may have survived, but of the beautiful and rich Jewish social and cultural life in the city, there remain only memories—nothing more. Hitler's brutes destroyed everything that was, and that could serve to commemorate any of the martyrs; they even desecrated and turned the cemetery, that holiest of places, into a field for cows to graze.

They paved streets and thoroughfares with the gravestones. And as a testament to their barbarity and inhumanity—the gravestones were paved with the letters facing up, to be desecrated without end.

I'd like to turn back time to those beautiful, candid memories of a thriving Jewish life in Augustow, the memories from the earliest years of my childhood. In Augustow there was well-organized, systemic work on the part of the Jewish community to manage its vital institutions. One of them was the Talmud Torah School. The school had five classes, but offered much enrichment. The students didn't just learn Torah and Hebrew, but also acquired a secular education at the school. We fondly recall the Principal of the school Zilber, the beloved Hebrew teacher Bergstein, the teacher Levinson, and the superintendent Efraim who taught us Gemara, may they all rest in peace. There was also an “almshouse” in Augustow, where a traveling Jew without means always had a place to eat and a bed to sleep in.

And that wonderful library, which benefited young and old; the great selection of books—historical, scientific, and belletristic; and the librarian Yishayahu Plotshinski, who worked there many years, who knew everyone, and was a friend to everyone.

With great reverence we remember the shul, the prayer houses—all the holy places which were built and preserved at great sacrifice to the Jews of Augustow; where we, during prayer, revitalized our national pride and

[Page 482]

tenacious perseverance against the difficulties of life in exile, and asked God for a return to Zion.

The political life in Augustow was rich and diverse, most of all the Zionist organizations. It was like a holy duty to contribute to the Jewish National Fund; to redeem tokens for the Jewish Congressional elections. The youth were a part of “HaShomer HaTzair,” “HeChalutz,” “HeChalutz HaTzair,” and other organizations that led developmental and educational work. We recall with honor the youth activist Eliav Chalupitzki, and the cultural house in which the Zionist groups did their work; the beautifully arranged youth center and the erev Shabbes gatherings when emissaries used to come, telling of the noble work of the first settlers, about the obstacles and successes of conquering and developing our land. The youth would visit this house by the masses. The song of the youth would resound through the street where the cultural house was located. It was in these organizations that the youth received their initial education as pioneers of the Zionist movement. Many of these youths went through “training” and immigrated; they experienced the War of Independence, and helped fight for a free fatherland—the State of Israel.

In Augustow there was also the athletic club “Maccabi,” where the handsome Jewish youth would, after the school day or a hard day's work, engage in sport. In the athletic club, all strata of political affiliation were as one. The motto of the club was, “A healthy spirit in a healthy body.” The athletic exhibitions would spark envy from the Polish youth.

So came the year 1939, the year when Germany invaded Poland and the humanitarian catastrophe for Polish Jewry began. It was the first of August 1939 when Germany invaded. The Jews of Augustow received the news with great angst and trepidation. Though even before that life in exile had started to become unbearable. The people of Poland had more plainly and more forcefully displayed a negative attitude towards the Jews through boycotting Jewish business and enacting other restrictions. For several days, Augustow remained without any military personnel. The Polish military capitulated, and the police deserted after hearing that the Russian army was advancing. Everyone sensed, and feared, that the Christians would use the chaos to spread anti-semitism, so we sat in our houses listening in confinement to the news on the radio. News came from Suwalk and from the surrounding villages, that Polish vandals were targeting and pillaging Jewish businesses. There was tension in the air. When the Russians finally came, the Jews could breathe a sigh of relief—but life was veering down a new path, and certainly one like

[Page 483]

nothing before. Suffice to say the traditional organized Jewish life which dominated for years, vanished like a dream. The chasm between Jews and Christians grew larger. Jews quickly adapted to the new reality, began working in cooperatives; Jewish youth even took up jobs in city council, and it strengthened hope that we would get through it all.

But soon the sky went black again. Refugees who escaped the Germans began to arrive from Suwalk and they told of the atrocities committed by Hitler's army. The Jews of Augustow were shaken to the core by news that the Zionist activist Eliav Chalupitzki was arrested and imprisoned. And early one morning, we learned that just that night the Russians had led families like the Rechtmans, Borovitches, and many others to an undisclosed location. Augustow was known to the Russians as a stronghold city, so all the refugees, the arrivals, had to leave. Some Russians came soliciting work deep in Russian territory. Among the refugees who volunteered, there were also some Augustowers who joined up, thereby saving themselves and outliving the atrocities of the war. Many months before the invasion of Russia by the German brutes, I too left Augustow. Far off in Siberia, in various work camps, I survived the war. The Jews that outlived the brutal war in Russia eventually turned back—they led us to Lower Silesia, where the Polish

military would establish the Jewish colony. After traveling for several hours, the train came to a halt. A bridge was blown up and it would be a long time before we'd be able to travel any further. I knew that we were close to Augustow. I turned to a crew member, an old Pole, and I tried to get him to buy Russian cigarettes from me. Then I told him that I wanted to travel to Augustow so long as the train was stopped, and I didn't have any money. The Christian agreed and told me to wait. He came back, “I'm getting on a cargo train transporting lumber; the train is going through Augustow,” he told me, “you can even come back with me.”

I was in Augustow. I ran quickly, and first I saw the mill. Then there was the forest; soon I would see the Jewish cemetery. I was very close to the Polish “churchyard.” But what was that? I stood there, I couldn't believe my eyes, no more “holy place”! I saw cows grazing, a shepherd sitting with a dog; there were still signs of the graves, and one great stone (the wall of a tomb) in the corner. Everything was soiled by cattle... and the tears obscured my vision . . . The shepherd came over to me, “what are you standing there for? Why are you crying?” he asked me. I didn't answer.

[Page 484]

Suddenly I heard, “Aren't you Mulki Khaim Itshe's son?”

Yes, that's me, and you are Pavel, Mikhal's son?” “Yes, I am Pavel,” he answered.

“So Mulki, why did you come here? I see that you survived.” … I did not know how to answer him.

I went over the bridge, arrived at Bridge Street number 22—the house where I was born. The house was roofless, deserted; I stood and stared, I didn't know what to do with myself. Christians surrounded me, looking at me as though I were a specter from the afterlife... They asked me if I was hungry. I walked further, feeling as though they were mocking me... no trace of the prayer house on Bridge Street! I walked further; it was hard to recognize the city. It was neglected, in shambles... Yes, Pavel wasn't lying. At the stairs of Tzali the Baker was a stone with Hebrew letters, “May his soul be bound in the bundle of life.” Some passersby laughed; others expressed their sympathy.

I wanted to see more. Something compelled me. No more Talmud Torah... and as for the shul and the study house, nothing but pieces of wall remained as a “remnant of the temple”—a remnant of a Jewish life which was demolished and desecrated; a remnant of a people who lived and created for years only to be destroyed by those brutes masquerading as humans!

I'm upset at myself for having walked with my head hanging just because I was crying…

I left Augustow with the decision that I would never set foot there again!

But I was in fact in Augustow once more, in 1956, before I immigrated to Israel, with my wife and son. It was in the heat of the Sinai Campaign. I needed to find a birth certificate. Naturally, I did not find any Jews that time either.

I saw that the gravestones with the letters facing up had been removed from the sidewalks and no one mocked me, not publicly at least. I proudly looked the Poles in the eyes; I was proud to be a person, to be a Jew, traveling to his country, a country whose military defeats its enemies and protects the national honor of the Jewish people.

[Page 485]

The Path of Sorrows

by Yitskhok Bialobztski




A bundle of memories from my hometown Augustow, of the war and aftermath of the war, 1946–1950.

Of my childhood years I remember that I learned in cheyder with Hershl Papirovitsh, Avrom Khlupitski, and many others, and alas I am the only one of them left alive. On Broad Street, where I lived, there lived many fine and dear Jews; the late Yankev Sheye Panos, a Chasid, a scholar; Shimen Eli Barman, who would study for nights on end. The Germans, may their names be erased, shot him when he refused to let go of the Torah scrolls. The Grabover Rebbe, scholar and a fine leader of prayers; lumber merchants—Lozman with his large adult sons, who did not know them? Who did not know the large family of Gushe the baker?

On Shabbes, after eating and having a nap, all the Jews would set off for a stroll in the town gardens or to the garden where the monument stood, or even go to lie beside the canal, by the Grodno Bridge.

When the Russians came the village of Szczebra on the road to Suwalki was where the border lay, following the pact between the Germans and the Russians. The Russians hated rich Jews, and so they sent the rich Jews to Suchuvola. Only a small number of them were sent to Russia—these were the only ones who survived.

I myself, Yitskhok Bialobztski, was sent to Russia, but without my family. The Germans entered Augustow on the very day the war broke out, and the Jews had no chance to escape.

In 1946 I returned to town and my gentile acquaintances told me everything that had happened: first, the Nazis picked out several Jews and tortured them terribly. Later they gave an order that all men over 16 years of age should come to the magistrate's office. When the men arrived they were led to the park and the S.S. took them from there to the hunting club. There the Jews were tortured and

[Page 486]

starved. Later they were taken out to the Szczebra Forests. They had to dig their own graves and were all shot by the S.S. There were a few men left, people said, Shulik Koyfman, a shoe stitcher; Doctor Shor; Kantorovitsh the watchmaker; Beder. I met Dr. Shor myself after the war in Augustow. He told me

[Page 487]

almost exactly the same story. Later the Nazis erected a ghetto where the barracks was, a separate workers' quarter. The Jews lived there in cramped conditions until the 1st of November 1942. They were brought into town every day, along Mill Street, and put to hard labor. On the 1st of November in the morning, the ghetto was surrounded and everyone was taken out to the Grodno Road.

Those who couldn't walk—the old, the sick—were killed on the spot. The Jews were led along over Grodno Bridge to Grayevo as far as the Bogusze camp, carrying their baggage in their hands. It was very cold; the screams were heard as far as the town; the gentiles of Augustow ran out and tore the baggage from their hands.

They stayed in the Bogusze camp for two months in very difficult conditions. Those who were still alive were taken to Treblinka and Majdanek.

This is how Dr. Shor told it, a survivor of the Majdanek death camp. Our town was entirely cleared of Jews.

In early 1946 I arrived in Augustow by train. I all but fainted when I saw that all the carriages and cab drivers waiting at the station were gentiles. All of them tried to offer me a ride, but I went on foot.

I passed the watermill where I spent 15 years with Nosn Varhaftig and Rosental. The mill is there to this day. Under the mill I saw a mound of gravestones from the Jewish cemetery piled in a heap. The cemetery was empty, without a single gravestone. I saw many of the headstones on the paving on the market square. The main synagogue and prayer house had started to be dismantled, but the Butchers' synagogue was still intact.

The houses that were still in one piece had, naturally, been occupied by gentiles. I walked with Max and Leybl Rekhtman to the magistrate's office and asked that the few remaining graves standing near the barracks be fenced off. They promised to do so.[1]


The Front of the Former Cemetery. In Place of the Cemetery – a Forest. Standing are the Town Secretary and Mark Rakovski


The Taharah Room.[2] At the Entrance – L. Rechtman

[Page 488]

The Memorial to the Victims of the Nazis in Shtzavra. Next to the Monument L. Rechtman. The Jews are Not Mentioned at All.

[Page 489]

A Letter to a Mother . . .

by Esther Tuker (Glikshteyn)




I went to Bridge Street to say goodbye to my old friend.

My old neighbors were dear to me. I wanted to hear the hearty farewell: “Safe road!”

On Bridge Street where the prayer house bordered the large Jagiellonski Gardens there stood an old tree which could have told many stories about the sufferings and joys of our dear Jews.

It kept the Jews company as they prayed—three times a day—and when they studied the holy Torah.

That same tree shook its leaves sadly when the Jews were brought to the sacrificial altar.

I met a mother standing there, and she asked me: “If you see my boy, tell him he should write his mother a letter.”

By the time I found him to pass on the message—there was no one left to write a letter to.

Tranlator's Footnotes

  1. This promise was not kept. This year Rekhtman visited Augustow again. He went to the magistrate's and made the same demand again. Return
  2. Tahara, purification, is Jewish preparation of a body for burial. Return


« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.

JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Augustow, Poland     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page

Yizkor Book Director, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Max G. Heffler

Copyright © 1999-2024 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 10 Feb 2023 by JH