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[Page 112]

Blue-green Tongues

Leon Yurman

Translated by Harvey Buchalter

A. Little Horodenka

A town languishes in the midst of unending suffering. On the first few nights the Germans abandon the streets and soon the remaining people await the arrival of the approaching enemy – the Russian-Czarist Army. The Dniester River blocks their incursion momentarily; but for how long? The people wait in their attics and speculate. The silence is broken by their beating hearts. And the night falls silently. No sound of a falling leaf, no rustling. Night falls gruesomely silent, with anticipation. Pale-blue beams of moonlight spread as with held breath – dim and quiet. Only in solitary places, between random trees, silhouettes wander about, swaying and flittering.

From somewhere in a hole in the ground or from a cellar one soon hears the lament of a child which is quickly hushed. And stillness returns once again.

The town is abandoned. The dirt roads, empty of people, are laden with anxiety from waiting. Only light from the dark-hued moon. Not a single person is on the dirt roads. Only packs of dogs, abandoned, fera1 from hunger, run about, a groaning sound emanating from their throats. A voice is heard from somewhere. The town shakes with fear. A hoarseness grows in parched throats. Eyes swell with fear. Whitened lips inform the sound of: “This is what is happening?!”

Moon beams gush snowflake blue light over the leaden roofs. The perfectly round solitary stars gleam with apprehension. And soon a dog appears somewhere along a cliff, dragging along an anguished bark throughout the town. The townspeople shiver; fear grows and spreads its flattened wings over both young and old. It flings the mother's nourishing breast from the sucking child. The dog keeps sounding its lament.

The night is without end!

A blood-red sunrise has crept its way out of the twilight. The fields have become smoky – the b1ackened body of mother Earth with her countless thousands of laments. The dirt roads run vacantly over mountain and valley and become lost in whirling dust in the distance. The wall near the town's mountain peak stands yellowed and "settled in" in the bluish light of the moon. Ravens fly about – the symbols of war. They cut through the air, wait, and then proceed to gather, aware of everything waiting.

The dirt road became alive! Dust whirled in the distance on the Dniester Road. Horses whinnied and reared their heads, chasing and pecking one another with sharp spurs. Nine Cossacks on smallish Tscherkesker horses appeared. They galloped frantically, as fire sparked from their hooves.

Suddenly a dog appeared on the dirt road – a starved cur with a body deformed by human neglect. One of the soldiers – the one with a pistol – spotted him on the run and shot once, twice. The dog crumpled, its feet in the air, and lay prostrate. The eyes of the cavalryman were ablaze.

About four weeks later, a Hungarian rifleman shot the Cossack, also in mid gallop: once, twice. He turned, hitting the ground, rolled over with his feet in the air, and he too lay prostrate. The eyes of this rifleman, too, were on fire.

War roared. An orgy of celebration. Swarms of soldiers. The earth became black and scorched. The broad fields, the "breadbasket of Galicia," was bleeding to death. Memory furnished no example of this. As far as the eye could see, masses, masses of wandering people. Aircraft flew about. Heavy "36ers" rolled along, dragged along by massive Arabian horses. Light machine guns and also heavier ones. Officers on horseback and cavalrymen. A black mass, blurred by the dust.

One mass riding by. One order: burn and pillage and totally devastate {mach churban} the land!

One mass, a bloody giant. "If not me, then you! Who will remain? Me!"

A mass of soldiers rode in a quick trot to music, to a beat created to liberate the people. Aircraft sputtered overhead. Officers shouted and the mass went forward uniformly. The officers' eyes took in everything beyond the mass of soldiers.

And then suddenly a blast from a loose cannon. And again, stillness.

The top branch of a tree, broken off by a shell, flitted in the wind, barely holding on by its bark. All the other branches were bent toward the ground. But the top branch, the one almost torn from the tree, was still fighting its last battle. One of the fighters saw this. The spark of humanity in him became alive and he imagined himself "human" once again, and he separated himself from the pack, in the process forgetting where he was, who he was. The wind continued to howl. An officer ordered him – he who with silenced lips attended to the flickering crown of the tree – to move away. He refused. So they took him away, and, one discharge from a rifle later, everything went back to "normal.” But one of the "masses" sorrowfully bit his lip; the crown of the tree still swayed in the wind!

Heavy and blackened like a rusty hammer, night fell over the town of Horodenka. People shivered, waited. Stillness and solitude, that feeling of a breath held, walked with air-like steps over all of the ordinary people who awaited the arrival of the enemy. And both sides were caught up in waiting: One gloomy and close to being annihilated, its limp hands outstretched. The second, the predator – murderer – that is how they were looked upon – was about to break through the Dniester line, either today or tomorrow. He is here barely 48 hours, and the town is his for that stretch of time, the women and the young girls, the gold and the money!

Their plunder wracked the lives of the subdued masses. Their blood quickened in their veins. In the middle of the night one was awakened and looked around. He would see the thousand upon thousand of submissive souls. He would flee. A second person would then arise. Then a third. The night would become suddenly alive and wracked in blood. Blood! Blood!

Wild cries wracked the night. Awakened from their pretense of sleep by the echoes of the cry, men and women scurried about; even the smallest children, their eyes hollowed by fright, quietly sobbed.

Ay, how the horses stamped about! How they carried on over the stiffness of the night. Hooves flickered with fire. Eyes filled with the inevitability of plunder, glinting in fear, as never before. The night was consumed with shrieks, becoming red with blood. And blood also flowed from beards which had been tom away, now littering the streets. The beards shrieked along the howling streets:

"'Mama, Mama!"

Frenzied cries transformed the town, painting it red in the night. A horror! Save us! "Ha, don't scream, you cripple! I only want to straighten out your hunch back, your crooked back.

“Ha, ha, ha!"

Heavy steps pounded his back, his hunched back. And he was "straightened out." Drunken laughter accented the war chronicle.

The omnipresent, eternal, depressing walls of confinement suddenly motioned. The walled-in spaces suddenly became filled with Jews, old and young ones. And one, a sage. was pulled by his beard – his long, white beard stamped him with Jewish-ness – and was brought forward, half-dead. The constant cries among the captives became stilled; not a word could enter the walled confines.

An old woman was dragged from her cellar and taken to her room . She was stripped bare and put onto the table. A blackjack whistled past and landed solidly on her. Streams of blood squirted up towards the ceiling. Blood whipped about and landed as splotches over the white walls.

"We are dyeing your room, ha ha." She was silent although she spoke a few words later on. And then, sometime later, she fell into tota1 silence.

Grayish pictures, panoramas, showed up: Shoeless soldiers wallowing along the dirt roads; women being pulled about by their hair stoically maintaining their silence. And the night deliberately passing, passing like hot blood pouring from a living organ, a practiced flow, on the bloody 15th of May 1915. The day in which fright and its memory infected our town.

Dawn reflected another bloody day. Pillars of smoke and fire enveloped the town. The marketplace, the heart of the town, was swept by fire and smoke as houses burned, and the sunlight whirled in springtime reds over a leaden horizon.

Wires on the telegraph poles hung neglected – no one knows how long --- awaiting a message from a loved one. Some soldiers wandered about with fixed bayonets among the jungle of loose wires. And others set up tables in the middle of the market place. The day commenced a marketplace of doom. A Cossack galloped like a madman, a naked woman tied to the saddle of his horse. Blood and mud freely mixed together, intermingling on the sandy road.

At the height of the imprisonment, they drove the Jews out, and each fourth one was taken aside so as to take a total of ten; the rest were taken back to the walled enclave. The locks resonated as the doors again enclosed them.

Ten Jews selected to be impaled by bayonets.

The captivity continued. The town burned. Through crooked, old and dirty streets Jews were driven. One once spotted his house and stood in front of it stone-still for a moment, as bayonets impaled countless "guilty" Jews one after another in the screaming dawn of May.

Suddenly there was mass-hysteria, as eyes became fastened to the sight of the telegraph poles. The will to live, with wild-eyed obstinacy, rose up in the core of the Jews' being and faced down the challenge of death. A struggle between life and death broke out between the helpless captive and the Cossack. But still they hanged nine persons, people who had just been alive and who breathed fear and at the same time, yearned for a springtime morning.

One victim came loose from the rope, and before any of the Cossacks had the chance to hang him again, he ran away, but not far enough. Two Cossacks grabbed him near a burning house. His large frame shook as he grabbed both of them and took them into the burning house. Then the deadly flames fell upon all three of them and covered them for all time.

Women were customarily shamed on the tops of tables. In the middle of the day, in the market place and wherever houses burned, the smoke was visible through the clearness of the dawn. And the nine people suspended on the telegraph poles had exposed their bluish-green tongues, which were covered with dust and grime. Nine lifeless tongues. Nine tongues up against the monster – the beast of imperialism which ruins lands, that kills people and releases the savagery that lurks within the human breast.

The day had ground down and had brought an end to the harsh, dark night.

[Page 114]

About the History of Our City

William Offenberger

Translated by Harvey Buchalter

The name "Horodenka" originated in the Ukrainian word "harad" which means “garden.” According to legend, Horodenka was built by a Ruthenian duke by the name of Tscharney. He lived in a village not far from Horodenka, which was named after him: Tschnernelitsa. A castle stood there in which the Duke probably lived.

When the Polish king Casimir, Vielke (The Great) allowed Jews into Poland, 150,000 settled in the province, which later – after the first Polish census – was called Galicia. According to the census, Maria-Teresa governed the 150,000 Jews, but this knowledge brought no great joy, either to the Princess, or to the Jews.

After Poland, Austria was the greatest Jewish center of that time. The heads of state sought all means possible to decrease the number of Jews. The anti-Jewish mood combined with economic strangulation created a constant environment of insecurity for the Galician Jews. First they were tolerated: later they were driven out and subsequently allowed to return, but under harsher conditions and punishments. The Jews of that time had to exert all of their strength to maintain their unity, their one-ness as a people standing in opposition to the possibility of becoming extinct.

In Jewish society, the Rabbis had the greatest authority, notwithstanding the influence exerted on them by the Kabbalah. Even so, the two strands running through the community, the interior (personal religious life) and the community-based life, formed the illusion of natural autonomy (self governance both as a religious individual and as a community). To the outside observer, they would give the appearance of being under the thumb of the Polish aristocrats.

The Hasidic movement had become established in Galicia. It had its origin in the person of Israel ben Eliezer, Baal Shem Tov. He was born in the area of Kosow in the year 1700, and according to certain folktales, his mother and other kinsmen were from Horodenka. One of his best-known students was Rabbi Nahum of Horodenka who assembled the pages of the Baal Shem Tov's Torah into scroll-form and decorated it as well.

The establishment of the Hasidim caused an outcry in the other Rabbinic circles, generally called the Misnaggdim. There were long years of bitter rivalry between the two religious customs. In neighboring Olomay, it went so far that in 1776, the Rabbis burned all Hasidic writings with excommunication. And they also threatened all followers of Hasidim. Finally the Austrian authorities became involved in the rivalry and the Hasidim gained the right to have their own congregations and their own Rabbis.

Under the authority of the Polish King, Jan Sobieski, Poles and Austrians together fought against the Turks in Seratin, a village near Horodenka. The battles against the Turks had the character of a Christian battle against Islam: the Jews were blamed for having betrayed the Motherland as the Polish army retreated and the Jews were abandoned to the retreating soldiers. There were no actual witnesses, but documents in YIVO point out that these soldiers inflicted a pogrom upon the Jews.

For hundreds of years our ancestors endured a double oppression, first from economic shortcomings and then from the environment of ignorance that surrounded them. And so the small towns nurtured their own culture and their own rituals that are so genuinely reflected in the work of the great Jewish writers. Of the "types" which the great Jewish writers portrayed – wagon drivers and water carriers; cheder-teachers and musicians; tailors and shoe-makers; buyers and sellers – all are flesh and blood portrayals derived from East European Yisddisheh life. All of the communities that nurtured Jewish life and customs existed for over 550 years and then were so tragically destroyed by the desolation brought about by the Nazis.

We will eternally remember our loss and will struggle to maintain the rich cultural inheritance, which they have bequeathed to us.

Jewish Educational Institutions in Horodenka Between the Two World Wars.

The First World War brought many changes to Horodenka. The Austrian- Hungarian monarchy ceased to exist. Poland became a sovereign republic and in the new republic the relations between Jews, Poles and Ukrainians in their day-to-day dealings were normal. Jews did not become citizens with full rights, but they enjoyed many freedoms that gave them a chance to catch up after the four years of war.

Thanks to the intervention of the American Jewish Committee, President Wilson pushed through a peace treaty, the Treaty of Versailles, which initiated new policies. These protected the rights of ethnic minorities in the newly-established nations. This was a never-before-stated ideal; the Polish Jews felt for the first time that their meager rights as citizens were not solely dependent upon the rule of the sovereign, but could be enforced by an international treaty.

This was finally realized in the field of education. Jews could now search for ways to give their children a better secular education, and at the same time, a Jewish education.

In those days the cheder was the only Jewish school. Although old-fashioned, it fulfilled an essential role: to maintain the traditions of the Jewish people from the age in which Jewish life was centered upon the Shulchan Aruch. For generations the school existed and helped educate Rabbis and scholars who studied Torah day and night. And now, in our day, under the sun of freedom, new ideals have come about and new schools have been founded.

The Hebrew language school was founded according to the ideals of Zionism. Their schools' followers dreamed of building the land of Eretz Israel. They consumed the poems and songs of Chaim Nahum Bialik, joyously celebrated the holidays dedicated to Dr. Herzl each 10th of Tammuz, and helped collect money for Keren Kayemed and Keren Heysod. The largest number of the First Aliyah (ershteh halutzim) were students from the Hebrew school who were infused with its spirit. The older students and the teachers who remained knew that here were educated the pioneers of a great, new experiment.

The Yiddish school, which was founded with the assistance of the progressive Horodenka Farein in N.Y., had a far different aspect. There the children sang and recited Jewish folksongs and Jewish poems written by modern Jewish poets. There they industriously learned and wrote about the work of the great Yiddish classic writers: Mendele Mocher Sforim, Y.L. Peretz, Sholem Aleichem, and others. They knew that they lived in a time when Yiddish literature resonated and the spirit of freedom hovered over all of Europe.

The fervent leaders of the Yiddish school and the Yiddishist community in our city were persons such as Asher Shtreyt, Yehudah Hirsh Sobol, and others who were totally taken in by the ideal of freedom for the masses. And they planted the ideal of freedom in their students and they prepared them to aspire to and struggle for a better and more beautiful tomorrow for all humanity. They inspired all to bring freedom not only for all the Jewish people but also for all oppressed people.

The two aforementioned schools, both of which had deeply rooted but opposite aspirations, were both Jewish national schools in which the children studied in the afternoon, after studying the mandatory curriculum of the Polish school. There were also assimilationist groups, made up mainly of lawyers and officials, who were not interested in learning Hebrew or in Jewish education; they sent their children only to the Polish school.

Whoever aspired to higher education sought out the Polish gimnasia and could, at least in theory, study further at the university. But in reality this was very hard to bring about; in addition to the financial difficulties there were also a variety of obstacles, mainly quotas, in enrolling Jews at the university.

In the years preceding the Holocaust, the Orthodox group Agudat Israel founded two schools that strived toward a modem education within the framework of a Jewish-religious curriculum, The Yavneh School for boys and the Beit Yacov school for girls.
Horodenka Jews sought ways to acquire a secular, liberal education and at the same time not lose contact with the traditions and culture of their people.

But the horror of Nazism blotted all of this out. They killed the students along with their parents and their teachers. Thus, one of the noblest capitals in the history of our people was obliterated from the earth.

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