Translated by Theodore Steinberg
|I go thus, and the city is destroyed,
I meet no one, no friend, no relation;
The city is burned, its housesall gone,
While far above circle white doves.
And up in that circle of doves so white
I lift up my head so so high and yet higher,
Destroyed is the city, its roads all in ruins.
Its weeping flows out and through all the streets,
And it wraps me around in a veil of flames.
by R. Litmans-Pelner
Translated by Theodore Steinberg
In September, 1939, when Hitler's aggression against Poland began, I was in Warsaw. The Germans brought horrible pains and suffering to the city. The Jews suffered especially. The largest number of victims of the German air attacks were the Jews, because the German airplanes sadistically sought out as their targets the thickly populated Jewish streets. The large number of Jewish victims was no accident. Exactly on Erev Rosh Hashanah and Erev Yom Kippur the incendiary bombs fell like hail. The Jews lay hiding in their cellars and responded to every explosion with Shema Yisroel.
This was the beginning of their devilish plan to physically exterminate the Jews. The Hitlerites planned a total annihilation of the Jewish people. After they marched into Warsaw, the Germans began in an organized and systematic way to steal Jewish possessions. They wanted to deny the possibility of economic existence to the Jews. There were edicts forbidding Jews to travel by train, ordering them to register their goods so that later they could be confiscated and sent to Germany, ordering them to turn in their radios and fur coats. There was an order to wear the yellow patch in order to trample their manhood underfoot, in order to strike them psychologically. Under the threat of being shot, orders were issued regarding anti-Jewish discrimination. The Jews felt that rights did not exist for them, that they were outside [not protected by] the law. Seeing the beginnings of a terrible life, a life on the edge of the abyss, masses of Jews began to flee to the Russians, who at that time held a portion of Poland, such as western Ukraine or western White Russia [Belarus]. A beam of joy flashed over the Jewish darkness. Great hope was raised in everyone by the approaching Red Army. Reports spread that they would seize territory as far as the Vistula. But when news arrived that the border would be the Bug [river], Jews massively headed in that direction.
People went to Bialystok, Brisk, Semiatycze, and Bielsk. Hundreds of thousands of Jews workers, merchants, teachers, writers, doctors, and lawyers, all left Warsaw. People traveled on peasant wagons. People went with their leaders, if only to escape from the Germans. Along with the great stream of refugees, I also left Warsaw, where a mournful, sad, dark,
gloomy atmosphere reigned, where every step was dangerous. I went to my home town of Bielsk, where I hoped more easily to survive the war.
The city was full of refugees. Bielsk took them in warmly, took care of them. There was hardly a Jewish household or homeless strangers who were not welcomed with the Jewish virtue of hospitality. The schools, too, and beis-medreshes were filled with them. Bielsk had become a city of refuge for them.
The people of Bielsk strove as far as possible to care for the needs of those who had lost their source of income. A Jewish Relief Committee was formed headed by Moyshe Jaungerman. The refugees gradually became absorbed in all branches of labor. In Bielsk there were, according to the pattern in Russia, tailors' cooperatives, shoemaker, carpenter, barber, and furrier cooperatives. The head of the carpenters' cooperative was Sheffi Kestin, for the shoemakers Bernadski, for the barbers Meishke Glazer, for the furriers Domb. All of the workmen worked in an organized fashion in the cooperatives. The refugees worked side-by-side with them, without distinctions. And anyone who had no craft was sent to build roads, houses, or were salespeople in the government shops, at the buffets in the movies or the train station. All of the cooperatives quickly developed and adapted to the needs of production.
The city administration was in the hands of Jews and partially also of the resident Russian citizens. Young people took over the management of economic, political and community life. Jewish militiamen preserved order in the city. There were Jewish bookkeepers in all workplaces. The mayor of the city was Avi Domb, who had spent years in prison for being a communist. The manager of the gymnasium was Stupinski's son, who was once excluded from his class for the sin of being a communist; and wherever the Jews worked, all of their creative strength was awakened, as they worked to rebuild life on new, healthy, and productive foundations.
At that time, Bielsk was really revived. Bielsk's young women married important Jewish men from the Soviet government. A feeling of unity ruled over the people, friendship and equality. Joy dominated the town, because the Jews of Bielsk remembered well the Germans, who despite being with them for only a number of days, had already worn them out physically and humiliated them morally. They had already had hours and days of fear, of vexation and difficult tortures. And now with the Sovietssuch freedom, such cordiality, such brightening.
There were movies and theater every evening. There were orchestras and dance evenings. There were lectures and readings constantly. Artists came from abroad. Mina Bernholtz and an ensemble of refugees gave concerts. Soon we could even see pictures of Russian collective farms, their place of life and conduct.
For the first time, May 1 [May Day] was celebrated in Bielsk, with great demonstrations, with meetings, with the participation of young people, with the schools and the children. Young and old celebrated the holiday. It was sunny in Bielsk then, and the people were free, very free.
A special warmth and attentiveness was paid to the children. The Tzisha School [Tzentrale Yidishe Shul OrganizatziaCentral Yiddish (or Jewish) School Organization] and the Tarbut School were combined, and students learned in Yiddish and Russian. Also both kindergartens were moved to a single location. Also that summer the children were sent to colonies. The refugee children also learned and equally enjoyed the nicest and the best things.
A different source of happiness, lust for life, play, and mischief ruled in the schools. People saw there frolicsome, happy, lively children with childish fantasies, in contrast to the hungry, unfortunate children of Warsaw, under the Germans, where fear, terror, and gloom cold be seen on their faces. Hungry, aloneabandoned in the rain, the wind, and the snow, twisting with cold. And here in Bielsk, children in the schools were free, proud, satisfiedsurrounded by love and care.
But the happiness in Bielsk, even with the best of intentionswas not complete. True, the large majority of inhabitants were happy and encouraged. Standing in line for goods did not bother them, for sugar and oil, for soap and candies, for clothing and shoes. They took it in stride, like a sport. They hastened to be first in line so that they could then go on to other spots.
Only a few people were put out by this, those whose property had been nationalized. Their houses and shops having been seized, they were sent to work at low wages, to which they were not accustomed. This is how they confiscated Barkhat's, Freydik's, and Glagavski's businesses. Mattya Leben and Tevya's brewery was made into a government restaurant.
The mill belonging to Pomeranienz was taken, and the owner remained there in a menial position. Some of them were even sent to Siberia. At that time on one Friday night, people took all of the refugees who were trying to get Soviet passes, hoping to reunite with their families, with their wives and children, and put them in trucks and sent them deep into Russia.
All of Bielsk felt bad about this. They sympathized and shed tears, not knowing what awful fate awaited them, because only a year after this peaceful, secure, and good life, Hitler, on June 22, 1941, hit Russia with the Blitz and quickly took one city after the other, and among them was Bielsk. And the Bielskers who had sorrowed for the refugees--who had been sent to Siberia, to the taiga, and many of whom had gone through the seven levels of Gehenna [hell]the people of Bielsk more than once envied them. And in the sea of evils, of pain, of destruction that came upon the Bielskers, in view of the murders and destruction and moral failings of the Germans, the Bielskers clung to life and to the hope that the Russians would again come and free them from the German hell, but that hope was not fulfilled.
|At the communal grave1947|
by Motl Levkovski
Translated by Theodore Steinberg
(From a talk at the yizkor-evening for the Bielsk martyrs, November 16, 1953, in Tel Aviv, Israel.)
Dear Landsmen and Friends! Shalom!
It is now 11 years since those awful days when the Hitlerite beasts, together with their Polish and Ukrainian assistants, murdered and destroyed the Jewish settlement in Bielsk Podlaski.
A year ago, at the tenth anniversary of the annihilation, I spoke about the inhuman pains and afflictions of our mothers, our fathers, our brothers, our sisters, and our children. And then I called out: Remember what Amalek did to us! Never forget!
We are the living monuments. As long as we live, that is what we are. But the generation that is growing up now, thinking about how much less will it feel our distress, where it will find support for Never forget?
So, let us tell them about our destruction! Let us awaken love and attention to our past in the young generation that is coming along! Let us not permit time, which devours everything, to devour our grief! The grief must remain with us, untouched, and time must have no power over it! Let us with our combined powers create and distribute a yizkor book. It should cry out with the simple words that tell of our suffering and pain! It should be an eternal source of tears that will never be dried up.
Today, honored friends, on the 11th anniversary of the destruction of Bielsk, together with you I will walk through the ruins of the Jewish streets in Bielsk. Perhaps they can reveal to us the horrible experiences of the wonderful Bielsk Jews.
And I remind you. It was in the month of June, 1946. Those who miraculously survived the concentration camps and the taigas deep inside Russia travel back to their cities and shtetls. Perhaps they will meet someone…but there are no Jews; only the ruins remain.
The train goes quickly and brings me closer and closer to the train
station. We have already passed Strobla. From a distance you can now see the first houses of Bielsk. A many-year dream, long years of wandering alone. Always, in all those years, this town stood in my imagination and lamented its lack of accessibility, its fantastic distance in time and space, its geographic location on the other side of the front.
And now the train runs undisturbed on the hot June day and carries me ever nearer to my dream. It is no wonder that my heart beats so quickly, that my disturbed breast moves deeper and stronger, that my breath fails me.
Busy with such thoughts, I do not notice how we ease into the station, while before my eyes shines the waiting room with the same inscription, with the same ideal peacefulness. As it was…as it was…
But why am I alone in the world [crowd]? Where are the Jews who used to have to take the same train? Tomorrow is Thursday morning, and no one would miss the market day. I look around and see no one. I feel, however, that they will return from the fairs in Bransk, Sakala, Wysokie Mazowieckie. They would come from Warsaw, Bialystok with valises, hurrying faster…ever faster…
I leave the station. Carriages are waiting, the same carriages, the same horses as before…as before…and it seems to me that my carriage drivers are waiting, Jewish drivers like Strikovski, Rak…but when I approach, I see new proprietors.
Before me the long street that leads to Holovesk spins [is winding]. It used to appear strange to me, and it does so now. I am indifferent and cold to it. My city is further on, Jewish Bielsk. I go on foot. Every Christian that I meet looks at me as if I had horns. They are not happy about having a guest in the city.
I find myself on Ban Street, and before my eyes the destruction appears. Here and there stands a house. There once lived the Rishelevski family. In the courtyard was the Jewish school (united with the Tzisha). There children played and sang. They sang the Yiddish song: The Jewish School on Ban Street. Trala-la-la-la…The first grade should live long, trala-la-la-la…
There also was the home of the Bund and the Left Poalei-Tzion organizations. Also the Jewish sports club had its hall there.
Once it boiled with Jews and Jewishness [Yiddishkeit]. Now it is silent. No more school, no more children…
I hasten away. Have I come to Bielsk after so many years in order to be tortured like this? No! I must forget! Absolutely forget! But this does not last long. As I approach the center of the city, I approach everything that I intended to forget. I find myself at the corner of 11 Listapad Street, where Jewish children every day went to learn in the Pavshechna School and the gymnasium. There, too, was the library with a large collection of Jewish books. To my right there used to be the popular Jewish bank, which had greatly helped the Jewish residents with loans. And there, a few streets further on, on Zamkava, was the Tarbut School, the center of Zionist and pioneer education. A generation of Zionists grew up there, a generation that very sadly did not see its life's dreams realized.
My heart starts to beat more strongly. Thanks to my having been good at mathematics in school, I calculate that in this place stood Matya-Leib Farber's candy store. Nearby was Zabludovski's, and there, there, on that spot, where every pebble, every corner was well known to me, there, in the house of the watchmaker Mastovski, I was born. There, in that courtyard, together with my friends Berl Vrana, Moyshel and Michl Chazan, I spent the best years of my childhood. From there my father accompanied me on my first trip to school and cheder. From there, in the month of Iyar in 1927, I accompanied my father, who had died too young, to the place of his eternal rest.
From there my mother led me to the beis-medresh to say Kaddish. My dear mother, how hard she fought to exist, to give her four children a good education. I wish I could for a moment forget everything, if I could snuggle with my mother, kiss her eyes, as I did once…as I did once…
Our mothers are gone. Dear familiar shadows appear before me. They look silently at me. I close my eyes and myself become a shadow, like them. I go further with my head pounding. I remember well all the businesses and their Jewish owners. But in the shops that still remain there are other merchants, who have come here from Partzeva, Vidava, Franievitsch, Filika. Their dark dreams have indeed come true.
I approach the spot where once stood Ichele's beis-medresh. Instead of the broad roof and skinny walls, I see now a blue horizon. Low grass grows on the spot where once stood the aron kodesh [the Holy Ark]. It had wonderful carvings of hands raised
toward Heaven in eternal prayer. Here we children, after accompanying our fathers to shul, played outside.
From there I can clearly see the place where another center of religious life in Bielsk once stood, the beautiful Yefeh Einayim beis-medresh. The houses are not there, not Shtern's business nor the homes of Shifman, Machanik, Minovitzki, and the other good Jews who lived there. Only the Chasidic prayer house remains. Faded and gray from seeing so much Jewish pain and sorrow. Under its windows, many Jewish victims were buried in Jewish graves. The singing and dancing of the Chasidim is no longer heard. A deadly silence rules over its shriveled body.
I look to the left and see the city hall with its clock. The marketplace looks like a mourner who long ago gave up hope of being consoled. All the houses are missing. At the spot where the Jews used to do business are the graves of fallen Red Army soldiers. (They were later relocated.)
I cannot look indifferently at the place where one of the Zionist leaders lived, the director of the Tarbut School, Menachem Stupnitzki. A part of my life is tied up with that house, where, as a leader of the youth organization Ha-Shomer Ha-Tza'ir, I met with the other presidents, like Moyshe Shtern, Melamedovitsh, the dentist's wife Germeiza, Sheyna Vasser, Shmuelka Levin (who now lives in Israel), and others. There we worked out the plans for cultural projects and for the very important work of the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael for Israel [the Jewish National Fund].
I approach that pure Jewish street, Beis-Medresh Street, the street of Jewish institutions. There was the Sha'arei Tzion Beis Medresh, the guest house, the city bathhouse and the mikveh. There was also the cheder, the unforgettable cheder. Four times a day would Jewish children go into the cheder. In winter, in the dark evenings, the cheder boys would use lanterns made out of bottles.
Everything is like a dream. Everything is extinguished, like those primitive bottle lanterns.
Further on, in the corner house, was the orphans' home. Many Jewish girls and boys were taken care of there, with a good education and motherly love.
From a distance, the Biala River whispers and calls, but on Dubitsh and Padziamtzia there are no more Jews.
For a long, long time the Jewish street holds me. I cannot part from there. For hundreds of years Jews lived there and preserved Jewish existence. It is as hard for me to leave as it would be from a dear relative's grave.
And now will I weep a bit on the grave of our dearest ones. Like an automaton I come to the cemetery. It is hard to approach the grave of my father. There is no monument. The monuments were all used to build roads. The sacred stones were laid with the letters facing down. Those square letters that over generations celebrated the fine Jews of Bielsk after their deaths were obliterated.
And our dear ones in this sacred spot also had their eternal rest disturbed.
Everything that showed Yiddishkeit was obliterated.
Yes, so it appears. So appears Bielsk today. One shudders when one thinks of what became of this Jewish settlement, of its Jewish residents. The destruction of Bielsk is horrible. From every corner a voice cries out in pain: Remember us. Do not forget what Amalek did to us! Avenge our blood!
BielskI no longer long for your name and for the spot you occupy on the earth. But I long for my loved ones, who rest in your cemetery, I long for my dear and beloved ones who suffered in the ghettos and gas chambers!
A cool early morning in June. The long Mickiewicz Street is behind me. I am back at the train station.
It is difficult to leave you, my ruined Jewish Bielsk, but it is also hard to stay with you. I choose the latter.
|Motl Levkovskisecond in the first rowat the funeral of Rochel Fredmeiski.
Near him are Gedaliah Vasser and Chetzkel Weinshteyn.
by Franciszka Kotaszewska
Translated by Theodore Steinberg
|We offer here a letter from a Christian, Franciszka Kotaszewska, to Mr. Sukenik in America, dated 5/20/1946.
The two pieces of newshow an old Jewish mother spoke of death and about a thoughtful Jewish man who knew that death was a certaintyare enough to freeze one's heart.
This is a rare human document.
To Mr. Arnold Sukenik
(Written in Polish, translated by A. Shteynberg)
You will be surprised to receive a letter from someone whom you do not know.
Dear Sir, for a long time we lived together in friendship with your cousin Sh. Eisenberg and with your sister.
Eisenberg was a skilled dentist. He cared for my husband's teeth and mine. We met him in 1938. Your sister would come every day with your cousin Izzy to get milk, and we liked her.
When the murderous German army came, it was very hard for the Jews. At first they were set to hard labor, for which they received no pay. They had nothing to live on. They sold their furniture, their clothing, whatever the Germans had not stolen, because it displeased them. Finally the Jews were confined to a small area of 3 streets. Life was really difficult, because there were four thousand Jews and very few dwellings.
We were also ousted from our home, and the Eisenbergs were placed there.
The three streets were surrounded by a high fence, and the place where the Jews lived was called a ghetto.
Entrance to the ghetto was forbidden. But people did have to leave with various items. People would go through under the fence, or they paid off the gendarmes. My husband is a farmer, and our barn, where we store grain, was close to the fence. It was easy every day for us to get milk, butter, eggs, meal, and potatoes to them. I want to emphasize that we did not do this for free. We received money. Eisenberg was a true, upright man. He always had one request for me, that
I should at the very least look after his son Izzy. He believed that his cousin in America would bring the boy to him.
Dear Sir, together with them lived your old mother, who always remembered you as the son she had in America. She said, If God will allow us to survive this terrible war, afterwards we will go to America.
At a certain place, when we met with Eisenberg, he said to me:
Before long, the Germans will kill us all, so I ask you to write down these two addresses in America so that you can let them know after our deaths that we were murdered in a terrible fashion at the hands of that horrible killer Hitler.
After the killing of the Jews, we returned to our house, but we didn't live there long, because as the Germans withdrew, they burned down our house and the rest of the buildings in the city. We lost all of our furniture, bed things, and clothing. Our only remaining possessions are our clothing, with whom we decided to flee with the important papers and documents that are vital to us.
Honored Sir, God saved our lives, which is the dearest thing. Now we will begin to live anew. Our conditions are terrible. Everything is in ruins. In our house there were portraits painted by Eisenberg himself, the memory of which pleases me, but in the fire, they, too, were burned.
For a long time I have wanted to write to you, but to tell the truth, you, as a person who bears a heavy burden, will understand that one who lacks enough to live can be pardoned. Finally I have decided to write this letter to you, because I feel it is my duty to serve those people who suffered such terrible deaths at the hands of Hitler's killers.
If my letter reaches you, Honored Sir, I ask that you respond. If you are interested in details about him and his family, I can describe them.
I beg you to answer so that I may be at peace and have no more responsibility to people who are no longer alive.
57 Ogrodowa Street
From The Forward
Translated by Theodore Steinberg
|The following letter was sent to us by a woman named Libe Elson who lives at 2102 Wallace Avenue in the Bronx. She received it from her friend Chana Tikotzky from Bielsk (Podlaski, former Grodno Guvernia).|
Bielsk (Podlaski). August 14, 1945
My dear friend Libe!
I sent you a telegram, and now I must fulfill my sad duty and describe everything to you in a letter. Sadly, I have no good news to write to you. After the tragedy that we Polish Jews have experienced, sadly I must convey sadness and woe.
Dear Libe! It is hard for me to write to you. I feel the great pain that I must cause you, but be strong! You, too, as a daughter of the Jewish people, have not escaped misfortune, and you also have a great part in the tragedy that Hitler's dogs have left behind.
So, my dear, dry your tears and listen, and I will tell you, in brief, the tragedy of Bielsk, in which your family and mine were represented! I will tell you in brief because there is not enough paper to describe all the sorrows that the Jews of Bielsk experienced, and my mind is in tumult. All of my thoughts want to jump onto the paper, and it is hard to concentrate. It leads to madness!
On Sunday, June 22, 1941, at 4 in the morning, the whole population of Bielsk was jolted by terrible shocks from the German air-pirates. They bombed the city and killed many people. So it went for three days. On Wednesday they got to work. They soon shot several Jews. A few days later they took over the city, and immediately proceeding to their murderous work, they arrested 30 Jews, the city's intelligentsia. Among them were your brother-in-law Levin, Doba's husband, our friends Yoysef Katz, Yankel Brezinski, Mottl Itshteyn, Alter Muzikant, the Meitzik brothers, and Tola Kaplanski, as well as others. After three days of torture,
they were taken out and murdered. To this day their graves are unknown. A month later came the second executions. They again murdered sixteen Jews, among them Shefa Kestin's father, Vorona the house painter, Yehuda Lazovski's mother, and others. The Hitlerites murdered them in the Piliki Forest. (Ten days ago we looked for their grave and brought their bodies to a Jewish cemetery.)
Yisroel Berkovski and Janek Glezer at the exhumation of the Bielsk martyrs
in the Piliki Forest in order to bring them to a Jewish cemetery 1946
After that, all the Jews had to leave their own homes to be shut up in a ghetto. The Germans seized their homes and furniture. No more than a couple of days would pass without some Jews being shot. This went on until the end of 1941. Then those accursed dogs assembled all the Jews from the surrounding towns in the Bielsk ghetto and took them en masse to the train station, where they were loaded into special cars and sent to the death camps of Treblinka, Maidanek, and Auschwitz. On one day they killed all the remaining ailing Jews who could not go to the station. On that day, over a hundred men, women, and children were shot. They were put into a common grave in the yard behind the Yefeh Einayim beis-medresh. We plan on bringing them in the near future to a Jewish cemetery.
Your family, too, my dear, was sent away then and, sadly, none of them has so far returned. Until today, three Jews have returned from the concentration camp: the younger Piasek,
Leyzer Davidovitch, and the pioneer. From Russia, I returned, as did Yitzchak Chrabolowski. So we are five solitary men, without wives and families
Aside from us, there are about 50 Jews living in Bielsk who came from the surrounding towns, because Bielsk offers more security. All the towns around Bielsk are clean of Jews. There are still a few Bielskers who survived. These are young people who served in the Red or the Polsih army, or there are a few families who are still in Russia. Such is the family of Aizik Blumenthal, Barkhat, and Kalman Freidkes. I am in contact or correspond with all of them. We hope that they will soon come back here. Yes, so, too, the family of Hirsch Kadluvuski from Ban Street. He, his wife, and his children live in Russia.
This is the bitter story of Bielsk's Jews, friends and acquaintances, and also of your and my families.
I will conclude with a few words about myself, because you have too much of your own sorrow and my misfortune is too great. We saw the Soviets as builders in 1940, and I took a place as a builder for the Red Army. With the Soviet army I retreated to Russia. With the Red Army I went through the whole war until the end of 1944. Then I was released because of my health and I returned to my home, but sadly I encountered no one. I have nothingno wife, no child, no sister or brother, no friend, not even a former acquaintance. I am as solitary as a stone, and there is nothing else So one must continue as one is called, to all the devils, to live
So convey this, my dear, to all of our Bielsk landsmen in America. I am sending you a couple of photographs of some of the dead of Bielsk. This was at the exhumation of the 16 murdered Jews of Bielsk in the Piliki Forest.
Be constant in your deep sorrow. Stay healthy and strong, and never forget to keep in mind the destruction of Bielsk!
The letter was published with two photographs. One of them, seen on page 389, had the caption: The caption under the photograph reads: We are burying the murdered Jews at the Jewish cemetery in Bielsk.... The other photograph shows a row of 12 coffins with the caption: Underneath the gruesome picture we read the words: We ourselves made the twelve aronim [coffins] for the martyrs, whom the Nazi murderers killed in Bielsk... Chana Tikotzky is included in a group photo on page 478.
A brief response from the United Bielsker Relief, written by Eliyahu Samuels, followed the letter. It says that although the organization had not been able to establish direct connection with Bielsk, relief for survivors had been sent to Bielsk. It also announced a special meeting to be held on October 21st to continue relief efforts. A more detailed response dated October 11th can be read on page 523.
To see the letter as published in Morgn Frayhayt with a link to the complete edition, visit this page on JewishGen's Bielsk Podlaski KehilaLinks site.
by Chana Tikotski
Translated by Theodore Steinberg
To my friend Perele!
The letter that you sent to Bielsk came to me, that is, to your neighbor Tikotski Chana, because, sadly, until now I have been the only Jew in Bielsk. Now there are five of us. Three came from Hitler's death camps and two have returned from Russia. With great sadness I must respond that your parents shared the same fate as all of Bielsk's Jews and were taken to Treblinka, which was one of the largest death camps that Hitler's killers built for Jews. Until now, no one had returned from there. It was the largest grave for all Polish Jews. This happened on November 19, 1942, as it happened in all of Poland. There were only a few lucky cities from which a scattering of Jews escaped, since the Jews from all the cities in the Bielsk district now live in Bielsk, and altogether there are about 70 of us. Most of them are single men, without families. You should convey that sadness to all who are from Bielskthey should know of the great fracture that has befallen Polish Jewry as well as the Jews of Bielsk.
Dear Perele, I still have much to write. I would confide in you the suffering heart of someone you know. But it is impossible for me. The thoughts in my brain rebel, and when I should write them down on paper, they turn crazy, so that is enough.
Yes, dear Perele (excuse my being so familiar; I just long for someone I know). Also, I have a request for you. See Radilevski or Farber and ask them to write to me. Perhaps they know something about my Liba. Perhaps she is still alive and has written to them. They should write something to me. I am surprised that they are silent and do not write.
About myself I will write briefly. Throughout the war I was in Russia. Now I have returned to Poland with the hope to encounter a relative or a friend. Until now I have not. I am a man without a wife, a child, a friend, or even anyone I know. Materially I am not doing badly, but I would come to you. Tell everything to Radilevski or Farber. I would write to them myself, but I don't have their addresses. Be well and strong. Hearty greetings to my family and all Bielskers.
Your former neighbor
by Sh. L. Schnayderman
Translated by Theodore Steinberg
Editor's Comment: We offer here Sh. L. Schnayderman's report from the Forward of 12/27/57, although it is from a while ago, because it shows Bielsk after the horrible Nazi catastrophe with its handful of Jews and because it offers the names of the remnants of Bielsk's Jews, and among the responsibilities of the Yizkor Book is the importance of what it says about the remains of Bielsk so that it brings it to the attention of Bielskers and of the rest of the world.
The road that leads from Zabludow to the city of Bielsk Podlaski is paved with gray bricks. This nice road that stretches over ten miles, by poor Podlaski villages with straw-covered houses, windmills, and wooden wells, is soaked with the blood of Jewish slave laborers. The Jews from Zabludow, Bielsk Podlaski, Orla, Grayeva, Wasilówka, Zambrow and other towns from the area paved this road.
Just as with Pharaoh in Egypt, so, under the Nazi occupation, the Jews from these areas had to spread the lime, bake the bricks, and pave through the muddy village route. For the task of rapidly building this road, the Nazis charged [assigned responsibility to] the Orla rabbi, Rabbi Halpern, and the head of the community organization, Weinstein, who owned three brick factories in the area. Both of them died on the road under the blows of the Nazis, because they refused to force the Jews to work more quickly.
Bielsk Podlaski was a large Jewish center in Bialystoker Province. Just like all the other towns in the area of Podlasie [Province], the powiat city of Bielsk was a kind of large village with low wooden houses. Still, in the marketplace there were concrete buildings, and in the centera building with a high red-brick tower. This was the city council, a jail, the firehall, and other institutions.
When our car arrived in the city, all the Jews of
Bielsk Podlaski came to the home of Yisroel Kaplanski, which was the gathering point for the handful of Bielsk Jews. Kaplanski led the prayers in the Bielsk shul. He and his wife, Toyve, had already prepared the table, which was covered with a white tablecloth and set with good thingsmarinated herring, liquor, and even kosher-for-Passover Vishniak [a Polish cherry cordial liqueur], which they stored in a large jar.
Yisroel and Toyve Kaplanski live in a new house of four rooms, comfortable and modern. When they noticed my surprise at their fine house, they told me that this house was originally found in neighboring Orla, where their family had lived for generations. After the liberation, when they returned from their hiding place in an adjacent village, they moved the house from Orla to Bielsk Podlaski, because they were the only Jewish family to have returned to Orla.
The house was dismantled and taken piece by piece on peasant wagons. The move took a month, and rebuilding took two weeks. The street where Yisroel Kaplanski's house now stands before the war was called Buzhnitshna Streetthat is, Beis-Hamedresh Street. That was where the large beis-medresh was, the mikvah, the bathhouse, and the other community institutions of Bielsk Podlaski. Not a trace of them remains. The name of the street, too, has been changed to Kazimierzowska.
In the spacious rooms of the Kaplanski's house stood three large crates made out of fresh pine boards, whose woody aroma pervades the rooms. The crates are closed with zippers [locks]. This is the baggage that the Kaplanski family has ready for their journey to the State of Israel. One of the crates contains a brand new piano.
Kaplanski, by profession a dealer in livestock, told me that he was getting along fine and that now, because of the new rules that provided more freedom for private enterprise, he could make more money. But he had decided to emigrate to Israel, because in Bielsk, and even in the broader area, Jewish life was lacking and these would be the last years of a Jewish environment. The house that he had brought piece-by-piece from Orla, he had already sold for 700 dollars. He already had his passport, his visa, and he was waiting only for news of the ship that would take him from the Polish harbor of Gdynia to Haifa.
Kaplanski and another Jewish man from Bielsk, Elias Pagada, director of the local state owned flax spinnery, were called to the presidium of the Bielsk national council, where the chair and the other clerks tried to convince them not to leave the city.
I clearly felt, said Kaplinski, that the Gentiles were sincere. They asked me if I suffered from antisemitism, if I had any hardships, and they tried to get me at the last moment to change my decision and to remain in Bielsk.
Elias Pagada added that the head of the national council, with whom he was personally friendly,
Had said with great sincerity, It will be lonesome in the city without you. Don't go. You have nothing to fear. The past is gone.
Also the Grode brothers already have their passports and are prepared to go to Israel. Like capable merchants, they planned their emigration to Israel systematically. They sent their oldest brother Leyzer, along with his 17-year-old son. Leyzer Grode's wife is still in Bielsk in order to help send their remaining baggage. Leyzer Grode and his son traveled with a large transport of 22 Jewish farmers from Lower Silesia. They were on a special train of 36 cars with cattle, horses, sheep, and agricultural machines. The Grode brothers sent with this transport 6 cows, 19 sheep, and a tractor. The Grode brothers, who are still in Bielsk Podlaski, will also travel to Israel to a finished workshop that their brother has arranged outside of Haifa.
The Grode brothers, and in general the Jews of Bielsk Podlaski, do not reflect the situation of Polish Jews, most of whom remain broken and poor who still need help and support before they can set foot on the earth of the State of Israel.
The Grode brothers paid for their prosperity, which they attained during the first years of Communist Poland. Inn 1953, when the police regime became stronger and began to undermine all private initiative in Poland, Fishel Grode was arrested. The police in Bielsk Podlaski falsely accused him of dealing in dollars. The Grode brothers engaged four lawyers from Warsawone Jew and three Poles. The Jewish lawyer, Ehrlich, is now in Israel, and the Polish lawyers were: Prushinski, Lodashuk, and Baninski. After much litigation in court, Fishel Grode received nine months imprisonment. Until that judgment, he had been terribly tortured by the police.
Two years after he was released, in the winter of 1953, several days before the false accusations against the doctors in Moscow, Fishel Grode was arrested again. This time he was accused of being involved with the underground movement. Twelve policemen entered the house of the Grode brothers and removed almost everything in the house. Shortly after Stalin's death, Grode, just like the doctors, was freed without a trial and his place in the jail was taken by the prosecutor and the investigative judge. It appeared that they had stolen the silver and the jewelry of the Grode brothers.
The trial of the prosecutor and the investigative judge took place behind closed doors, and each of them was sentenced to eight years in prison. Recently they were released, thanks to Gomulka's amnesty. The investigative judge is now in Bielsk Podlaski and works as a porter. When he left prison, he came to the Grode brothers and explained that he had them arrested on orders from the Party. He even claimed that the secretary of the Party had sent him a note saying to sentence Fishel Grode to a five-year term.
The experiences of Fishel Grode and his wife reflect the troubles that the surviving Polish Jews have experienced in the course of the last two decades under the Nazis and under the Soviets. During the years of the Nazi occupation, Fishel Grode, along with his brother, hid at the home of friendly peasants in a village outside of Bielsk Podlaski. In contrast, Fishel Grode's wife, who came from Ravna, spent the war years wandering on the roads of Soviet Russia. As a twelve-year-old girl, she was evacuated deep into Soviet Bashkiria in 1941, where she remained in the city of Ufa. There she joined the Jewish Kramer family from Stanislava, and in 1945, together with them, she traveled back to the Galician city that was under the control of Soviet Russia.
The Grode brothers with their families live together in one house, and just like Yisrael Kaplanski, their rooms are full of valises and crates of things, and they wait daily for news about the Polish ship in order to go from Danzig to Haifa.
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