Tova Teper-Kaplan (Jaffa)
Dictated by Tova Teper; Written and Prepared for Printing by Yitschak Rokhel
English Translation by Thia Persoff
In memory of my parents, Nachman and Rachel-Feyge, and my sisters Lube and Sheyndil all murdered by the Nazis.
By Chance I Returned to Kremenets
I was born in 1920 to my parents, Nachman, son of Fishil Teper (1884), and Rachel Feyge, daughter of Mendil Leder (1884). We were five siblings. My eldest sister, Chane, trained in the Eastern Pioneer youth group and immigrated to Israel in 1936. My brother, Fishil, immigrated to America in 1939. Our parents and three daughters were left at home; of them, only one has survived I, the tearful writer of the story of the extermination. My sister Lube, who is older I am (1918), and Sheyndil, the younger one (1925), were murdered with our parents.
[Translation Editor's Note: In Hebrew, Eastern Pioneer (a religious Zionist group) is Hechaluts Hamizrachi.]
My brother and sisters and I were all members of Zionist youth groups. Our parents made an effort to see that we were in religious-oriented ones, and, indeed, my sister Chane was a member of Eastern Pioneer, and I was in the Religious Guard. In 1938 I graduated from the ORT school, and after the Russians conquered the town, I entered the technical-agricultural school in the small town of Zaleshtshik, where I studied for two years and even won a stipend. In June 1941, eight days before the onset of the Russian-German war, I returned home to visit my parents. My plan was to stay in Kremenets for a short time and then return to my studies, but fate had a different plan. I was with my family throughout the days of horror. Here I will relate what I saw and what I know.
[Translation Editor's Note: In Hebrew, the Religious Guard is Hashomer Hadati.]
World War II erupted in September 1939, and Russia and Germany signed an agreement on the division of Poland. Our town, Kremenets, was given to the Russians, who ruled it for about two years. During that time, I was not in town. I know that in those years a great number of refugees flowed into the town from areas that had been conquered by the Germans, trying to save themselves. Jews from Warsaw, Lodz, Kalish, Chelm, and towns near and far came to Kremenets. The number of refugees was estimated at 4,000, and together with the population when the Germans entered, there were about 14,00015,000 Jews. During Russian rule, the organized Jewish community had disbanded, and the Nazis found a fragmented Jewish community. Earning a living was very hard, and there was a great deal of friction between the permanent residents and the refugees. Among the refugees were two who later played a most terrible role in the life of the ghetto: Diamant and Bronfeld. Even during Russian rule, Diamant once said that he would not rest until he had seen the blood of Kremenets' Jews flow like water. He was a base, cruel man, a swindler and a money grubber a man of the underworld. He had a mistress whose name to be remembered with disgust was Goldberg. She was contemptible, a thief known by the nickname Golden Hand. Bronfeld, too, was a foul piece of human scum.
On June 22, 1941, the Russian-German war began, and on August 2 the Germans conquered the town. During those 40 days, many Kremenetsers rushed toward the borders, intending to cross into Russia. At that time the border was just few kilometers from the small town of Shumsk (20 kilometers from Kremenets). Those who worked for the Russians or had close ties to them crossed into Russia without a problem, but just plain citizens were not permitted to cross, and a multitude of refugees amassed at the border. Only during the final days, when the Germans were close to the town, did the Russians allow the residents to escape into Russia. Indeed, many saved their own lives by doing just that. The number of people from Kremenets who escaped to Russia is estimated to be in the 1,500s. Some of them later went to Israel, some immigrated to America and some to Poland, and a few even returned to Kremenets.
My two sisters and I left the town on foot and had to walk the 10 kilometers to the train station. By then rumors had started to spread about riots and murder at the borders and hunger in Russia, etc., so we decided to return: my two sisters, some other young people, and I. But many who had the courage continued to walk, boarded the train in one of the stations, and were saved.
The First Slaughter
The day after the Germans conquered the town, rumors spread that the Russians had murdered 60 Ukrainian nationals in the jail and that they would therefore retaliate and take revenge on the Jews, who were, as is well known, all Communists. And indeed, that very day a pogrom began. A gathering of gentiles from the area's villages entered the town through the Dubna suburb, armed with iron bars and assorted tools of destruction. They went from house to house, robbing and looting, and herded hundreds of people to the large jail, beating and wounding them without pity. Inside the jail, they were forced to wash the corpses of the murdered Ukrainians, then to dig pits near the jail and lie inside. German soldiers went from pit to pit and shot them to death. In this first action, about 400500 people were killed. The pogrom had been going on for three days when the order to stop the killing came. Those who were still alive in the pits were ordered to get out and return home. Among them was my friend Ronye Barshap, who had been shot in the pit; a few bullets had penetrated her body. She managed to crawl out and find her way to our house, black and blue from the beatings inflicted on her by the Ukrainians and scorched by the Germans' bullets. We nursed her and brought her to the Jewish Hospital, where she stayed for few weeks and recovered (later she was killed).
Our house was not harmed, because the Ukrainian who was living there would not let the rioters do so, but on the third day they attacked us, found my mother, and dragged her to jail. But a few hours later, when the action stopped, she returned unharmed.
After the riots, Miler, the district commissar, put out a graceful public announcement that it was forbidden to rob and kill Jews. Then the town quieted down for a while.
A few days after entering the town, the German authorities assembled a Jewish representative contingent, called the Judenrat. At its head they installed the notoriously corrupt Diamant and Bronfeld two people known to be German agents and dealers in suspicious business with Commissar Miler and his lackeys who were greedy to gain money and power by any means. The main function of the Judenrat was to execute the German authorities' orders concerning the Jews. The Judenrat office was on Slovatski Street, in Kopeyka's house and those across the street, in Moshe Rokhel's courtyard. As time went by, the Judenrat swelled into a large, wide-ranging office, with assorted sections and dozens of clerks. At first, some honorable public servants took part in the Judenrat, among them Dr. Binyamin Landsberg, Shimshek, Bruber, and others. After a short time, when the true character of the institution became clear to them, they resigned. Responsible roles in the Judenrat were filled by Mr. Tsigel, one of the refugees, who was in charge of the labor detachment, and Shmuel Barshap from the Dubna suburb, who was the commander of the Jewish police. He was arrested later and murdered, and Mr. Blit was appointed in his place.
The oppression began. From the beginning, Jews had to wear a white ribbon with a light blue Star of David on their left sleeve. A few months later, it was changed to a star on an eight-centimeter round yellow patch, one on the front and one on the back, so people could be identified as Jews from either side. Walking on the sidewalk was forbidden; Jews were permitted to walk only in the center of the road. Jews were not permitted to eat meat, fat, or eggs. All other residents were forbidden to sell them those items. Near the Judenrat, the authorities had established a special store to sell rationed foods: potatoes, bread, grains, etc. Forced labor was instituted: every adult had to register each morning in the Judenrat offices, and from there they were sent to work for the German authorities, receiving meager food in exchange but no salary. A few workshops were allowed to continue their work, but mainly for the Germans, for a miserly payment.
Week by week, the oppression became more severe. One day the Jews were ordered to give up all their furs. One day they were robbed of their blankets by the thousands, then all their silver and gold. A special collection place was opened for the confiscated possessions, and for weeks there were long lines of Jews, waiting to hand over possessions that they had been collecting for years.
About a month after the Germans' arrival, the Gestapo came to town and opened an office in the building of Stshelets, the Polish sports association. Wearing army uniforms and a ribbon around their hats with a skeleton design on the visor, they roamed the town and spread fear among the Jews. Everyone understood that the end was near; the time for the total extermination of the Jewish population was approaching.
Their first deed was to burn down the Great Synagogue. First they lit the building on fire, and then they roused the people in the neighborhood, had them stand by the burning synagogue, and accused them of starting the fire. The entire interior of the synagogue burned completely that night, but the charred walls remained standing.
The Action in Tivoli Garden
A few days after the burning of the synagogue, the Gestapo ordered all people in the liberal professions physicians, attorneys, engineers, nurses, teachers, etc. to congregate by the Tivoli Garden, near the Polish sports association's headquarters. Thus a few hundred people from the intelligentsia gathered there. They were called into the building for a meeting, supposedly, then the doors were shut on them, and no one was allowed to enter or exit. They were held there four or five days without water or food. This caused great fear among the detainees' families and the city in general. Relatives began to bring food but were not allowed entry. The food was put on tables standing outside. The relatives were sent back home, but the food was not given to the detainees. Then the Gestapo announced that anyone who volunteered to serve the food to the detainees would be permitted to enter. Ten of the people who brought the food over volunteered, among them Izye, Chayim Ovadies's daughter. They were let in, but never returned.
One of the assembled was Mrs. Galina Sorochinski, a Russian woman of German ancestry, who by chance happened to be there. She notified the Gestapo that she was not Jewish and was there in error. She showed documents proving that she had many generations of German ancestry, and after swearing not to reveal what she had seen inside, she was released. Nevertheless, people heard from her how the starving had been tortured there. They were forced to kneel for hours with their hands behind them and their heads between their knees, while the Gestapo walked among them and whipped them incessantly.
Eventually they were all killed and buried in the Tivoli grove. Among them were Dr. Tabak; Dr. Shklovin's daughter, who had come from Brazil to visit her family in Kremenets; Izye, Chayim Ovadies's daughter; Dr. Polonski's daughter; Yantsi (Yakov) Shrayer, a technical teacher in the ORT school, and his wife; Mikhal Chidis, a teacher in the Polish public school; Liusye Veksler, a graduate of the ORT school, and her sister; and many others.
That is how the intelligentsia of Jewish Kremenets were destroyed.
For few months after the action in Tivoli Garden, a relative peace settled on the town, although even then a soldier or German policeman would hit a Jew if he happened upon him, there were break-ins and looting, and Jews were thrown in jail for trifles. If a hungry Jew was caught taking a potato or a carrot from a Ukrainian's garden and the owner complained about him, he was thrown in jail immediately. The prisoner's fate was preordained: every now and then the Jewish prisoners were taken out and killed, no matter what their crimes were.
The Animosity of the Christian Population
The non-Jewish population, particularly the Ukrainians, was hostile toward the Jewish residents. They joined in the looting and made libelous, false, and malicious accusations to the German authorities, harassing them and mocking their calamity. The first time I went out on the street wearing the yellow patch and ran into Ukrainian acquaintances, including the priest, they ridiculed me and laughed, saying, Look what a lovely flower this one has adorned herself with .
One day, during the peaceful period, Ukrainian policemen burst into our house to conduct a search. They accused us of holding meetings of suspicious groups in our house and listening to radio broadcasts from Russia. We did not even have a radio, but using this opportunity, they discovered a live goose left from the old days, a forbidden thing, as Jews were not permitted to eat meat. Immediately a German policeman was called in, a thorough search was done, all the rest of our possessions were confiscated, and my mother was taken to jail. I understood what awaited her and could not rest. I turned to the Judenrat, to no avail. Then, through a Ukrainian policeman, we received a note from my mother telling us that if we paid a fine of 20,000 marks, she would be released. But we did not have a way to get such a sum. Although it was forbidden, I tried a direct approach to the Germans, but the vice-commissar told me simply that in a few days there would be a cleansing, and all the Jewish prisoners would be killed. If I wanted to save my mother, I should hurry and bring in the money so as not to miss the deadline. He also added that, in his opinion, the Judenrat ought to pay this fine, as it had a great deal of money. I went back and approached Diamant. He agreed to pay the fine from the money that was in his keeping, on the condition that I disclosed to him the houses that had consumer goods or forbidden foods hidden. Obviously, I refused to be an informer. Then Shimshek, also of the Judenrat, said that the Judenrat would pay half the sum and that we should pay the other half. We sold everything we had left and brought the required amount. Together with Diamant and Bronfeld, we went directly to District Commissar Miler himself. I received a release note, rushed to the jail, and took my mother out. She had been incarcerated for two months.
A few days later all, the imprisoned Jews were murdered. These were regular events during the peaceful period.
At the end of January 1942, an edict stated that all the Jews were to move into only three streets, which would constitute the ghetto: Levinzon Street, Kravetska Street, and Gorna Street. In this zone were private homes and a few public institutions; these, too, were taken over to be used as living quarters: the ruins of the Great Synagogue, the government courthouse, the fire station, a few small synagogues, and others. The Jewish hospital continued to exist even during the ghetto days and was not made into living quarters. One month was allowed for the move into the ghetto and the migration began. Those who had acquaintances in the zone moved in with them, and others moved into the public buildings. In this way, the 14,000 Jews in Kremenets at that time were concentrated in this narrow area. A two-and-a-half-meter-high fence made of wooden planks surrounded the ghetto, with a single gate for entering and exiting near the Great Synagogue.
On March 1, 1942, Commissar Miler came to the ghetto, called on the members on the Judenrat, and fired three shots in the air, and the ghetto's gates were shut.
The ghetto existed for five and a half months, from March 1, 1942, to August 14, 1942 the day when the last action the complete extermination began.
Our family also moved into the ghetto, into Leviatin the dentist's apartment, on Levinzon Street.
The Judenrat was installed in Gorna Street. At its head were Diamant and Bronfeld. Next to the Judenrat, a Jewish police force was established under the command of Shlome Blit. Only Jewish policemen were inside the ghetto, but the gate was guarded by German policemen, who were forbidden to enter the ghetto, supposedly to avoid causing riots. They made an effort to pretend to have no bad intentions toward the Jews. Relations with the Jewish policemen were good, generally, with some exceptions. They were assigned to guard duty but had the terrible role of handing over to the authorities the people who were sent to other towns, supposedly for work, although they knew that they would not return alive. And, indeed, only a few returned or survived.
A sanitation board under the guidance of a physician (I do not remember his name) functioned at the side of the Judenrat. They had public toilets built, where people had to stand in line, but they made sure it was kept clean. A public bathhouse was built in the fire station, where most people went to bathe and get disinfected, and the streets were kept clean. People were careful about cleanliness, knowing that if an epidemic began, the ghetto would immediately be exterminated.
Near the Judenrat, a kitchen was opened for the needy, who received food for a small fee, and the distribution of rationed bread was organized a starvation portion.
The young people had to work outside the ghetto. In the morning they were led to the gate, and in the evening they were returned by the Jewish policemen. Many had signed up willingly for work because of the chance to buy food from gentile acquaintances and smuggle it into the ghetto for their families. In spite of the searches, some succeeded in concealing and bringing in a few food items, although in many cases people were caught with the forbidden food, sent to prison, and murdered there. In the final few weeks of the ghetto, the food situation worsened so much that in the public kitchen they were cooking all sorts of garbage.
There was a severe food shortage in the ghetto. Many went hungry, and 1012 people died daily. First their feet swelled, and after a short time they died.
From time to time, people were sent to work in different towns, where most of them died. Some members of one group sent to the town of Vinitse survived by escaping to Russia.
A few hundred people were organized into a labor detachment called Artel. At its head was a Jewish refugee from Bialystok named Landoy. The Artel members were tailors, seamstresses, shoemakers, and other professionals, men and women. Their workplace was a large house outside the ghetto, but some of them were employed as helpers in gentiles' private workshops outside the ghetto. In the morning they were taken out, and in the evening they were returned to the walled ghetto. The authorities treated these people better, and Artel existed until the very day of extermination.
At that time, the demolishing of Jewish houses on Sheroka Street and other streets outside the ghetto began. Jewish laborers did the work under the supervision of Ukrainians.
When the Jews entered the ghetto, they were not forbidden to take their possessions with them, so they took all they could. The result was dreadful crowding; several families had to share one room, but the greatest congestion was in the synagogues and the courthouse.
From time to time, heavy taxes were demanded of the ghetto's residents, which were collected by the Judenrat with the help of the Jewish police. Later came a demand for a large amount of rye. As the amount was not available in the ghetto, the Jews had to sell their property for a pittance, buy the rye from area farmers, and hand it over to the authorities.
Depression, apathy, and helplessness permeated the ghetto residents. They had no initiative to find ways to save themselves: to escape, join the partisans, etc. They did not search for a means of escape either as a community or as individuals. Many worked outside, and even of them no one tried to escape. For one thing, there was a worry that if such a thing were done, everyone in the ghetto would be slaughtered immediately. They still believed in spite of all the signs and information that penetrated the ghetto that thanks to their obedience, they would be allowed to live. There was no one who could stand up as a leader of the oppressed community and show them how to behave. The members of the Judenrat certainly did not think of that at all. They did not care about the community and its success. Both Diamant and Bronfeld were collaborating with the Germans, sharing with them the money that they extorted from the Jews in assorted ways; there was not a despicable thing that they would not do for the love of money. They hoped to escape from the country at the right time, but even they did not get to do that. Friction developed between Diamant and Bronfeld concerning the division of the loot, with the result that about a month and a half before the extermination, Diamant, his mistress, and some of his associates were arrested, brought to the jail, and killed there. Of what happened to Bronfeld, I have no knowledge.
The Rovno ghetto was annihilated, as is known, one month before the Kremenets ghetto. At the end of July, Pinchas Tseytag, a refugee from Rovno, arrived in our ghetto and spoke of the extermination in Rovno, saying he was the only one who had survived and escaped. He told the ghetto residents that this was what their end would be and called on them to dare to escape any way they could, as they had nothing to lose. They did not believe him and even ridiculed him. Even after this warning, no initiative to escape and survive surfaced in the ghetto residents. After a long period of oppression, hunger, and degradation, they were physically feeble and spiritually exhausted, incapable of acting to save themselves.
A few days before the extermination, Ukrainian policemen drove a truck through the streets outside the ghetto's boundary, announcing that very soon they would liquidate the Jews.
The ghetto residents saw and heard this and were worried, but even so would still not believe that, indeed, these were the final days. It was the Sabbath. On that day, many Jews, Artel members and others, were still working outside the ghetto. The gentiles who employed them had warned them that their liquidation was imminent and hinted that they should not return to the ghetto but escape. Nevertheless, they all returned to the ghetto to say goodbye to their families and escape the next day when they went to work. But they were not allowed out anymore.
On that same Sabbath, I was working outside the ghetto, in the house of Dr. Landsberg (a Jewish gynecologist), where German officers were now living. While I was washing dishes, a glass broke, and I cut my finger. Immediately, one of the German soldiers took care of my injury with courtesy and politeness the same soldier who, no doubt, participated in murders the very next day.
On Saturday night, shots were heard coming from the mountaintops that surrounded the town. At the break of day, a detachment of German policemen entered the ghetto and ordered all those who had exit permits to the ghetto gate. About 1,500 people, they were organized into their work groups, lined up, and taken to Bialo-krinitse, and the gates were closed.
That morning they hung a member of the Judenrat (I do not remember his name) and murdered a few people in the ghetto streets. And the ghetto was quiet the rest of that Sunday.
The act of elimination began at early dawn on Monday. German policemen announced that the residents of the Kremenets ghetto would be moved to a different town. They were to enter the trucks waiting by the ghetto gate immediately; they were allowed to take only small packages with them. Wooden planks enclosed the truck beds. The first to get in were the old and the children. They did not show any resistance, and the rest of the ghetto residents got in after them. Whether they knew where they were being taken or not, or whether they pretended not to know, most followed the order to come to the gate, got into the trucks, and left on their final journey. Family after family they entered, each man and his family. Trucks went, and trucks came. The evacuation of the ghetto took two days, Monday and Tuesday. The trucks drove out of town in the direction of King's Bridge.
Half a kilometer from the train station, near the barracks, were army trenches from the days of World War I. Those trenches had been made not by digging but by pouring abutments above ground. This was the place the Germans had chosen for the mass extermination. They did not even bother to deepen or widen the trenches, but used them as they were. When a shipment of Jews arrived at the killing place from the ghetto, they were ordered to get down from truck. They were sorted into separate groups of men, women, and children, and ordered to undress and lie naked in the trenches. Ukrainian policemen guarded the area all around to prevent those destined for death from escaping. German policemen did the murdering; armed with machine guns, they walked the length of the trench, showering shots at those lying inside and murdering them down to the last one. After that, they poured a great deal of chlorine over them to prevent epidemics and obliterate the features of the murdered; that was covered by a thin layer of dirt. After a while, hundreds and thousands of skulls and human bones were scattered over this place. That is how the mass murder was carried out.
Not all the ghetto residents came to the trucks willingly. Some hid in attics, cellars, and bunkers, but the Ukrainian and German policemen conducted thorough searches in the houses and yards. Jews who were promised life in exchange for informing on others helped them. Hundreds of people were found daily, loaded on the trucks, and driven to the killing place. The searches for the hidden lasted about two weeks.
Each day the shipments got smaller. In early September 1942, the Germans burned the ghetto and all that was in it and that was the end of Jewish Kremenets.
Yet there were some who did not join the shipments or hide in attics, but chose to commit suicide. Dr. Binyamin Landsberg, an attorney and well-known Zionist activist, and Dr. Chaskelberg committed suicide in the Jewish hospital. All members of the family of Hindes, the pharmacist, put on black clothes, sat around the table, and met their death by swallowing poison. Brover, who used to own a yardage store and then worked for the Judenrat, hid for few days and then lost his mind.
What happened to the 1,500 workers who were transferred to Bialo-krinitse the day before the last action? For some time, they were kept there and employed in assorted jobs; then the daily sorting began again. Those who (supposedly) had agreed to work in a different town were loaded on buses, brought directly to the mass-killing place, and murdered with the others there. In the end, only 200 of them remained, and they were put in jail. For a while they were kept there and even worked, until they, too, were murdered and buried in the jailhouse yard.
Such was the end of the Artel members, too. They were held in a special section of the jail, sent to work, and returned daily. The Germans told them that they would be allowed to live, and as odd as it seems, they believed it and did nothing to save themselves, though they had many opportunities to do so. Daily, the Artel sent my cousin, Moshe Teper, a stitcher by profession, to a Russian shoemaker outside the jail. Throughout the day he was not guarded, but nevertheless he returned to jail every evening. He kept his allegiance to his oppressors and murderers. Finally, the Germans informed the people of Artel that because the Jews themselves had burned the ghetto, there was no place for them to return to, so they would be liquidated, too. And indeed, a short time after that, they were murdered in the jailhouse yard and buried there. Of the Artel members who were murdered there, I remember the two Borvil sisters, Pozner, the two Rachiner sisters, the Teper family, and others.
The final shipments the single few Jews who were the last ones to be caught, the Artel members, and others were not brought to the trenches but to the jail, where they were murdered and buried in the yard. It has been estimated that about 2,000 people are buried there.
The clothes taken off the people's bodies before they were killed were collected by the Germans and brought to special warehouses in town. There they were cleaned and sorted, then sold to the Christian residents of the town, who bought them eagerly.
The attitude of the ordinary Christian residents in those days was one of hostility. They assisted the Germans, investigated and searched out people who were hiding, handed them over to the murderers, and then rejoiced in the killings. But a few were out of the ordinary.
In our town there were a few families with mixed marriages. The Germans deemed them to be Jewish and murdered them, too.
Vaynberg, a German who had converted to Judaism and married a Jewish woman, lived in our town. When the Germans came, he was employed in a government office, and when the ghetto was formed, he and his family were allowed to live outside. Eventually, they, too, were brought to the jail one day after the large action and were murdered there.
How many Jews were exterminated in Kremenets? We will never know an exact number, just as we will never know all their names. The estimate is that 14,000 people died in all the actions, in individual murders, and from starvation.
Of them, 10,000 were murdered in the killing place, and the rest, in the jail, the Tivoli Garden, etc. Most of them were residents of Kremenets, and a few thousand were refugees who collected in our town during the Russian days.
Fourteen thousand were murdered, and 14 survived. One per thousand! I will tell briefly what the surviving remnants endured, how they saved themselves, how they hid in caves, and how they saw the sun again.
Here are their names, in order of their hiding places:
In Aleksandra Teresova's house:
Among the survivors are eight from Kremenets and six refugees. Of them, one or two died later, three live in Israel, and the rest are dispersed in the world, America and Europe.
That is the sum of the town of Kremenets and its survivors.
My family and I my parents and my sisters hid in an attic. We were unaware of what was happening outside, but we felt the danger and escaped as well as we could. Through the cracks we saw that Christians had gathered outside the ghetto gate. One day, a boy, the son of Zitser the barber, ran to us and told us that he had been near the gate ready to go into the truck when he saw the Christians standing and looking joyfully at the loading of the Jews. He found out from them that the Jews were being killed, so he managed to escape from the gate and came to find shelter with us. After that, we all went down to the cellar and stayed there for two weeks; eventually we were found and taken to the jail.
And this is how it happened: one day in early September 1942, two Jews walked through the streets of the ghetto, announcing, Jews, come out of your hiding places, there is nothing to fear anymore, they have stopped the killing. They are only taking people to work. In spite of all that had happened to us, we were fooled into believing the announcers' words and came out of the cellar. Immediately, German and Ukrainian policemen appeared and took us to the ghetto gate, where a group of Jews was already waiting. We were organized into lines of four and marched to the jail in the Dubna suburb. There were about 50 people in our shipment. In the jail we found 200 more. The jailyard was divided in two, one section for those intended to be killed, and the other for Artel members, who were still employed in assorted jobs. The first group was not given food. They crouched on the ground, and their strength slowly drained from them. Among them were the dead, whom the jail authorities would not remove. The Artel people received some food, though it was very poor: one slice of bread and a little soup. But they had a few possessions that they exchanged for some food brought from the outside by the Ukrainian policemen. The Artel members sneaked some of their food into the other section to revive the condemned. That was prohibited and put their lives in danger. The condemned were not allowed to get up from the ground, and if someone moved there, an immediate warning shot was fired into the air, and sometimes the person would be shot to death on the spot.
Among the jailers were a few acquaintances who used to shop in my parents' store. Following their advice, at night I escaped from the first section, crawled over to the Artel section, and was sent to work with them in the vegetable garden near the jail. At night I sneaked into a small shack by the fence, climbed onto the roof, and lay there without moving until midnight. Then I jumped over the fence into the garden, crawled to the outer fence, climbed up, and jumped outside. I crawled to a Ukrainian family's house not far away and hid there without their knowledge. Before morning, the woman of the house discovered me. I begged her to let me stay there until the next night, and she pretended to agree but immediately went and informed someone. Soon a Ukrainian policeman came and took me back to jail. This was how my first attempt to escape failed. When I was brought back to jail, my parents and sisters were still alive. They cried bitterly when they saw me back with them after believing that I had been saved. From the jailers I understood that our end was near and that I had nothing to lose. My friend Niusye Kaner was with me, and together we made plans to escape again. We decided to try to escape with my younger sister Sheyndele, but my mother advised me to go by myself and said my sister should be saved later in a different way.
On one of the nights soon after, I said goodbye to my family. I crawled barefoot up to the gate, climbed onto the wall, and from there climbed onto one of the outer guard shacks. I crossed to the next yard, climbed the outer fence, and dropped down. I crawled to a nearby semiruined house, hid for a while, and ran to the forest by the Christian cemetery. The whole time I thought I was being followed, so I continued to run not being followed until I found a hiding place beneath a boulder on the Mountain of the Virgins, where I lay for a few days. I got water and some vegetables from a garden in the area, and that is how I survived.
One night I heard the rumble of gunshots. I knew in my heart that the news was bad. And indeed, after a while I found out that on that night, all the Jews in the jail had been murdered, among them my parents and sisters. Death took them in the jailhouse yard. Of those in the jail, I still remember Gurevits, who used to own the flour mill; the Ratshiner family; Barats from the Dubna suburb, who owned a lumberyard; the Nudel family, who were tailors; Vaysbrod, Shchopak, Kopeyka, and many others. I assume that they all were murdered that night.
I also learned that the night of my escape, 30 more people ran away, but most of them were caught and then killed. Only four of the escapees were left: Niusye Kaner, Chatski, Alerhent, and I.
For five or six days I walked at night to Bialo-krinitse village, where I found refuge with my parents' Ukrainian acquaintances. I stayed there eight days and then had to leave because of the Ukrainian police station in the village. My acquaintances suggested that I go to the Dubna ghetto, which had not yet been destroyed. Barefoot and dressed like a gentile, I started walking this time during the day and arrived at my destination without a mishap. Jews from the outside were not permitted to enter the ghetto, but I chanced to meet a group of Jews in the Dubna suburb working in road repair, and when they found out that I was a refugee from Kremenets, they hid me in a hut, and in the evening I entered the ghetto with that group.
I stayed in the Dubna ghetto for three weeks. There I found the same attitude that I had seen in the Kremenets ghetto: helplessness, discouragement, lack of will to save themselves. The Kremenets Jews did not believe the refugee from Rovno, and the Jews in Dubna did not believe the refugee from Kremenets. Only a few dared to save themselves, and some of them even succeeded.
I felt that the end was also drawing near in Dubna and searched for ways to save myself. There I met my friend Sofye Kagarlitski, and together we tried to negotiate with acquaintances, gentiles from Kremenets. They prepared a hiding place for us in the mountains, and one day between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we both walked back to Kremenets, dressed like gentiles. On the way we happened upon some Germans, and to escape them we entered a nearby Catholic church and joined in the prayers, then continued on our way. That day the traffic on the main highway was stopped, as the Germans had already made the preparations for the extermination of the Dubna ghetto. We made our way by using side paths and going through forests, and arrived in Kremenets the day after Yom Kippur. A day later, the Dubna ghetto was exterminated.
For 18 months from the beginning of October 1942 to the end of March 1944 seven other Jews and I hid in the house of Aleksandra Teresova on Tonikis Mountain near Kremenets. By then, the town's Jewish population had been completely annihilated.
When I arrived at Aleksandra Teresova's house, Yakov Kot was there, and later the others arrived. Altogether, eight Jews in hiding assembled there.
Teresova's house was a solitary one in a large, parklike garden, some distance from the town, concealed among the mountains as if made for hiding. The owner, Aleksandra Teresova, a good-hearted Russian woman, the adopted daughter of an important Russian official, was an enlightened and wealthy woman who had graduated from the Polish Lyceum in town. Living with her was her mother, a semi-insane person, who caused us a great deal of trouble and often endangered our lives, as she was liable to reveal our hiding place. At first, Teresova took us in for money, but when our money ran out, she continued to keep us for free, and many times endangered herself trying to hide and protect us.
Also living with her was her friend, the Russian Marye Dest, who did laundry for the Germans, so they used to come to the house regularly. Because of that, the house was never suspected or searched. Throughout the 18 months, even the gentiles who owned the yards nearby had no idea that Jews were hiding there. Because of the Germans visiting the house, such a suspicion never occurred to them.
All of us lived in one room. A few days after our arrival, we started to dig a bunker for all of us under the yard. It was 10 meters in length, 1 meter in width, and 1 meter in height. Support beams were installed inside to keep it from collapsing.
All the work was done during the night, and Chatski, who was an electrician, installed electric lights inside, and a code was established for blinking the lights: when the Germans came to the laundry, the lights would blink three times in the bunker so that we would keep quiet, and no sound would be heard. Sometimes we would dare to go up to the room above to get a breath of fresh air, and a few times the Germans arrived at the laundry just then. Immediately the light code was given, and we escaped into the bunker. Even with this excellent organization and all the precautions we took, I still cannot understand today how we managed not to be caught during the 18 months we were there. Indeed, it is a miracle.
Sometimes the insane mother would start mumbling about the Jews being down there, and then a great fear would assail us. One day Marye Dest, the laundress, asked us if we would be willing to accept a German soldier who wanted to desert into the bunker with us. Our reply was an absolute negative, and we told her that if he showed up, we would immediately shoot him to death with the single gun that we had. After that, she left us and never again brought up the subject.
We Were Also Helped by Non-Jews from the Outside
In town, the Russian Sorochinski family hid their Jewish friend Henrik Kot, a refugee from Lodz, in their house. When it was not possible to continue to hide him in town, they brought him to Teresova's house, where he stayed until the Russians liberated the town. Mrs. Galina Sorochinski, a professional nurse, would come to the Teresova house from time to time, bringing newspapers and encouraging the hidden as much as she could. Her husband joined us in digging the bunker and installed a camouflaged vent for air. After some time, she joined the Polish army, where she contracted typhus and died.
[Translation Editor's Note: Although Galina Sorochinski enlisted in the Polish army as a medic, she did not die of typhus. As the army advanced toward Berlin, she was wounded and died on May 16, 1945. We thank her granddaughter, Anna Brune, for giving us this information and for allowing us to reprint Sorochinski's death notice in Supplement 3.]
Two of the men had Christian wives: Vove Landsberg's wife was Polish, and Yakov Kot, from Kalish, had a German wife. They stayed in the town, outside the ghetto, and supplied food, newspapers, and money, not only to their husbands but also to all of us.
This is how we lived for 18 months and how we saved ourselves, the sole remnants of the thousands of Kremenets Jews.
The Russian army conquered the town on March 23, 1944. Because of fear and insecurity, we spent two more days in the bunker and emerged only on March 25, and went to see what was going on in the town. It was a horrific moment; the Russians were greeted joyfully by many residents, including Poles, Ukrainians, and Russians, but there were no more Jews. The impression was shocking. We did not recognize the town we had been born and grown up in. The ghetto was burned, the houses were destroyed, and everything was in ruins. Part of the area had already been cleared and leveled; we hardly recognized the town we knew.
We continued to live in Teresova's house until June, and then we left for Rovno.
In May 1944, a Soviet committee from Moscow arrived in our town, including physicians and with them a troop of soldiers to investigate and determine the processes of extermination. My friend Sofye Kagarlitski and I approached the killing place while the committee was there. They threw hand grenades on the graves in order to open them, and immediately, like lava out of a volcano, the air was filled with flying skulls, bones, and parts of the murdered those were our parents, brothers, and sisters. It was a horrifying sight. The dead were in hole after hole, the men, women, and children separated from each other. The committee members took photographs of the killing place together with the two survivors who were there. Afterward, we were ordered to come to the NKVD office in town (the office of the interior ministry), where they took down our testimony, in detail, on the extermination.
In closing, may the three righteous women be blessed: Maria Dest, Galina Sorochinski and her husband, and last but not least, Aleksandra Teresova. Thanks to them, all eight of us were saved, me, the writer, included. It took Teresova patience and courage to keep eight people for 18 months. During that time, love developed between her and Pinchas Tseytag from Warsaw, and after the town's liberation from the Nazis, they were married. She sold her property in Tonikis for a pittance, and they moved to the small town of Raykhenbakh (Dzherzhonyuv in Polish) in Silesia. After a time they were divorced. Tseytag left and immigrated to Israel and then to Italy. Teresova serves as vice mayor of the town.
We will remember their charity toward us, and we will remember that what they did took place in an atmosphere of deep hatred toward Jews by the town's Christian population.
Mikhel Bankir a Robinson Crusoe
As mentioned, five more Jews were saved. They were hidden in two separate houses, one group not knowing about the other. But there was one more Jew who saved his life in his own unique way, and I will tell about him here.
Mikhel Bankir, a tinsmith from Kremenets, hid in a cellar during the extermination. Later he was caught but escaped on the way to jail. He began by making the rounds of the homes of his gentile acquaintances, but realized that taking refuge there was unsafe, so he escaped to the rocks in the Mountain of the Virgins. He lived in a cave for a long time, arranging a living area with some furniture, a bed, and a stove. Some nights he ventured out to the gentiles' houses in the area, requesting food, water, matches, etc., and returned immediately to his cave. He arranged the stove in such a way that the steam would dissipate among the rocks and not be seen outside. During the winter and snowstorms, he stayed inside for weeks at a time. Later he said that he craved the opportunity to talk, but there was no one there to talk with. When he knocked on the gentile's window at night to request food, he was careful that none of the family members were aware of it so he would not be betrayed and handed over to the Germans.
In March 1944, when he knocked on his acquaintance's window, as was his way, he was invited to come into the house (that was unusual) and was told that there was no more need to worry as the Russians were in town already. He did not believe it and thought that the man wanted to betray him.
He tried to escape, but the man came out to him and influenced him to wait, and showed him that Russians were already staying in the neighboring houses. After that, he agreed to stay. The next day, he came out of his cave and returned to his home in the town, which happened to escape destruction. His wife, his son, and all his family members had been killed. When he came out of the cave, he looked like a wild man, with a gigantic black beard and his hair grown wild. He stayed in Kremenets for a few days, then went to Rovno, where he led a more normal life and married again. After a time, he immigrated to America.
He has two brothers in the Land: Yakov and Shlome. They have a photograph of him with his hair grown wild.
Of the 14 survivors, not one was able to stay in town. They all roamed and traveled to different places. But out of the townspeople who did survive in spite of all the troubles in Russia at that time, few returned to Kremenets and settled there.
The nearby communities of Vohlin were annihilated in this order:
First the Jews of Rovno were murdered about a month before Kremenets. After them, in Elul 1942, came Kremenets. About a month after Kremenets, in Tishrei 1942, came Dubna.
Tovye Troshinski (Tel Aviv)
English Translation by Thia Persoff
His students said: Rabbi, what do you see?
He said to them: The parchment is burning, but the letters are floating free. (Sanhedrin)
A purse made of Torah scrolls.
The holy letters do not float gleaming in their blackness, they are set into the white parchment as if the nimble hand of an expert scribe has just engraved them. A black fire on top of a white fire the straight, black lines shine like strings of pearls from their case.
For many years, perhaps generations, this Torah scroll was kept safe in one of the many study halls in Kremenets. The Jew who had the honor of taking it out would approach the Holy Ark with awe and reverence, open it up, take scroll, and carry it to the lectern. With awe and reverence, the person called to the Torah would move the corner of his prayer shawl over the open book, then kiss it and say the blessing Who chose us and gave us His Torah. Lifting the Torah, rolling it, welcoming a new Torah there are many ways to honor the Torah, and worshipers carried these out with sacred care throughout the generations until the reaper attacked our people.
Cut down, too, was Jewish Kremenets. The synagogues were smashed and demolished, and the Torah was booty in the hands of a filthy soldier who found the scrolls fit to be made into a woman's purse and sent to his wife in Bensheig, Germany, as a victory souvenir.
A purse made of Torah scrolls.
In those days, when German industry found a unique source of raw material, human raw material for its products Jewish women's hair to produce high-quality mattresses, laundry soap made from pure Jewish fat, and Jewish scalps as decorative items apparently it was the fashion to send souvenirs made of Torah scrolls.
This purse was in the German's contaminated possession for a few years until its deliverance by one of our townspeople, Mr. Binyamin Kornits. In a long, detailed letter, he describes the suffering and wandering that his family endured during the war years at labor camps in Siberia, the hardship they encountered on their way back to Poland after the war until their arrival at the refugee camp in Bensheig, and how he came to have the honor of rescuing the desecrated scroll:
One day my daughter-in-law left the camp to buy some household supplies. A German woman she met on the way agreed to sell her what she needed in exchange for the food my daughter-in-law had received from the Joint, and the woman took her to her home to see the items. The German woman asked what her hometown was, and when she heard that it was Kremenets, she seemed to be in shock and could not speak. When she recovered, she said that her husband had been an officer in the German army and that, in 1942, he and his brigade had been stationed in Kremenets. From time to time, he would send her packages of war spoils from there, and in the last package was a modest present for her a woman's purse made from a unique kind of leather. 'Although the purse is not particularly pretty, it is very dear to me, as it is the last souvenir from my husband, who was killed in the war,' said the German woman.
'A purse made of a unique kind of leather' a sudden suspicion stirred in the Jewish woman's heart, and she begged the German woman to show her the purse. The woman avoided doing so by giving various excuses and postponing it from day to day. Mrs. Kornits did not give up, and one day when she came to the house, she noticed a red object in one of the open cabinets. Her heart stopped: this was the purse! Before the German woman could notice, the purse was in her hand.
Overcoming her agitation, she asked the woman if she would like to sell her the purse, but the woman refused to listen and took the purse out of her hand. All her requests at least to let her show it to her father were in vain, and she returned to the camp disappointed.
From that day on writes Mr. Kornits in his letter I did not have a moment of peace; I could not sleep, and I walked around like a ghost. At that time, we received two months of food rations from the Joint, and I decided to give all of it in exchange for the purse. My daughter-in-law took the packages and went to try again with the German woman. After a short time, she returned and said that the woman had not agreed to sell the purse but was agreeable to giving it to her for a few hours so that I could see it, and then having it returned to her. I agreed to that
And now the purse was in my hands continues Mr. Kornits in his letter. My hands were shaking. I opened it. Something inside me broke, I became dizzy, and I collapsed
Sabbath morning prayers in the Magid's Synagogue in Kremenets, Torah reading time. Chayim Berzitser is reading the weekly portion. Chayim is a short, skinny Jew, but his voice is sweet and pleasant to the ears. Next to him stands Leyb Shrayer, the treasurer of the synagogue. He is so tall that his height almost entirely obscures the Torah and the reader. Since he was elected, it is hard to recognize the synagogue. Cleanliness and order are in every corner; indeed, the Divine Presence is in there. One of the worshipers is my childhood friend, Shlome Fingerut. We grew up and studied in the cheder together. Today he is a member of the City Council, busily devoted to the needs of the community, working for the good of everyone and particularly for the craftsmen, whom he represents. R' Chayim is reading from the Torah, and the congregation listens. I hear my name called: I am called to come up to the Torah. I want to go, but I cannot move, and again my name is called.
I woke up to my wife's screams. I had fainted.
Mr. Kornits did not return the purse. He left Bensheig and moved with his family to the refugee camp in Feldefing.
The purse, whose outside is dyed red, is made from three or four parchment sections of the Torah scroll. It has six compartments, three on each side, that fold inward. Now a third color is added to the white of the parchment and the black of the ink the color of blood.
We open it and read, Avraham looked up and saw the place from afar God will see to the sheep for his burnt offering, my son the portion on the binding of Yitschak.
Then, Far be it from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly And God said: If I find 50 righteous ones within the city of Sodom, I will forgive the whole place for their sake. And he said: Please do not be angry, my Lord what if 10 are found there? And He answered: I will not destroy . the Sodom affair.
And more: You shall throw every boy that is born into the Nile Pharaoh's decrees. And the last one was Yakov's blessing: Your brothers will praise you, Yehuda; your hand shall be on the back of your enemies' neck
Astonished by the mystery by the symbolism of the matter we folded up the parchment.
Another display was added to the collection of horror in the cellar in Har Tsion. It is a mute outcry, testimony to one of the base abominations of the new Sodom that was not destroyed a Sodom that is still standing to this day.
Ayzik Hofman (Tel Aviv)
English Translation by Thia Persoff
From additional testimony that we collected, we learned that Diamant (about whom Shvarts and Tova Teper tell in some detail in their articles) was the third person to be head of the Judenrat. Before him, two others were in charge.
Dr. Ben-Tsion Katz was the first. He was appointed by the Nazis and agreed to accept the role. Having been educated in Germany in his youth, he was fluent in the German language and culture, and the Germans assumed they would find him a useful instrument in carrying out their base goals. They were very soon disappointed.
Born to a well-respected Zionist family, he was the son of Meshulam Katz, one of the first members of Lovers of Zion in town. He was a doctor of philosophy. From 1922 to 1928, he was the headmaster of the Tarbut Hebrew High School until its closure. He later served as the chairman of the local People's Bank (Povshekhni) and was well liked by the townspeople. When the Nazis came, the Jews were fooled into believing that the Judenrat would serve as their representative to the authorities and work for the benefit of the Jewish community. And, indeed, a few civic activists, such as Dr. Binyamin Landsberg and others, joined that first Judenrat. Even at the start of the Judenrat's activity, Dr. Katz received a demand to hand over a list of Jews who would be sent to (so-called) work outside the town. He handed over the list, and the first shipment went on its way. Soon after came a demand for a second shipment list. This seemed suspicious to him, so he notified the authorities that he would not hand over another list until the first shipment returned to town. The Nazi authorities saw it as a refusal to comply, and Dr. Katz was executed.
Yonye Grinberg was appointed after Dr. Katz's dismissal. He was an attorney, a talented man with a sharp mind, and a Bund member. In spite of his predecessor's bitter experience, he still believed that the Judenrat would be able to work for the good of the Jewish community and accepted the appointment. But before many days went by, he realized that the Nazis meant to use the Judenrat in the annihilation of the Jews. That knowledge caused him to sink into a deep psychological confusion, which led to a complete collapse, and he ended up becoming mentally ill.
Then that man Diamant, about whom much is told in this book the man who was exactly the kind to suit the Germans but was despised and ostracized by the Jewish community was appointed. He, too, ended up being shot by the Germans after he became embroiled in intrigues with the Nazi authorities.
English Translation by Thia Persoff
Davar, August 24, 1944: Kremenets refugees from Cheliabinsk have notified us that Yosef Otiker, who had been with them and later wandered to Central Asia, died in the town of Namangan (USSR) on September 7, 1943.
Our friend was a member of the Zionist movement in Kremenets. A few months before the start of the Russian-German War, he was inducted into the Red Army together with many of his fellow townspeople. He was at the front from the start of the war, in the vicinity of Kobi, and then was shipped to Cheliabinsk in the Urals. With the wandering and all the troubles he endured, he became ill and was released from his work in the army. He left for the south and died tormented by his illness, far from his friends, forsaken and lonely.
He strived to reach the Land, and even in the final months before his death, he believed that he would succeed. He had been a member of the Youth Guard and Pioneer movements since his childhood. He was 26 years old when he died. His brothers live on kibbutzim in the Land.
About 30 refugees from Kremenets ended up in Cheliabinsk. Only Yosef Otiker separated from the group in order to make his way to Israel. He tried but never arrived. Death took him on the way. His friends say that he starved to death. Most of the remaining Kremenets refugees in Cheliabinsk came to Israel a few years later.
Indeed, fate treated him very bitterly. He was one of those who rushed toward fulfillment, but he did not succeed in reaching his goal. May his memory be blessed!
Duvid Shukhman (Buenos Aires)
English Translation by Thia Persoff
My heart, my heart aches for your fallen, town of Kremenets the old and the young, the men and the women, whose lives were cut short by beasts of men bright as the sky, shining and sparkling. It was a precious and holy community, with its rabbis and generous public figures who erected institutions to be proud of the large hospital and the home for the aged, the Talmud Torah and yeshiva, of which I was privileged to be an administrator and especially officials and devotees of the Zionist movement and the young pioneer generation. They are no more, no more . They were all extinguished in the fire set by the German Satan. Because of this, our hearts are filled with sorrow, and our eyes are dimmed. Was it not about this matter that the prophet cried, Oh, that my head were water and my eyes a fount of tears; then I would weep day and night for my slain people. And the pain is great.
The sun rose and set. When the sun dimmed on the precious portion of the people of Israel that dwelled in Eastern Europe, a sun of righteousness rose for us in our Holy Land, bringing healing on its wings, and a voice of salvation sounded and announced: Return, children, to your homeland until the day of the ingathering of exiles and redemption.
English Translation by Thia Persoff
The horror stories that we heard from the two survivors are reproduced here in their entirety as they wrote and submitted them, with almost no changes, and it is as if they complete each other. Some details are the same in the articles, and some contradict each other, but we were not too scrupulous here: these were written after the deeds were done, and one fact or other may have blurred slightly in their memory. Indeed, the stories basically match, and they are true testimony from original sources.
To this section (and the one in Yiddish), we have added other details contributed by survivors who visited the town after the extermination.
In addition, we decided to put in this section the first reports about the destruction of Kremenets received by newspapers in Israel. We did this to preserve the initial reactions to the catastrophe, but they are different from the descriptions in the two foundational articles.
The Holocaust chapters published here give rise to the question: did the Jews of Kremenets resist their Nazi murderers? Both writers testify that an organized resistance movement did not exist. Anyone who reads the description of the extermination in all its stages will understand why it did not and could not. But there were definitely single cases of passive and active resistance in the town and its surrounding area, by individuals and by groups:
A. A group of partisans was active in the city's vicinity, and one of them was Yonye Bernshteyn of Kremenets. It is assumed that more young Jewish people from the city who were hiding in the mountains and forests joined the group and fought the Nazis.
B. The first two heads of the Judenrat, Ben-Tsion Katz and Yonye Grinberg, stood up honorably to the Nazis, did not follow their orders, and paid a high price for their actions: one was executed, and the other lost his mind.
C. The son of Peysi Kremen, the barber, refused to join an extermination shipment, and when he was arrested, he shot the Nazi policeman with his pistol and killed him. In turn, he, too, was killed on the spot. People who visited the town after the extermination discovered this fact, and it is possible that this was not an isolated case.
D. A few families, mainly from the intelligentsia, committed planned suicide before the Nazis came to take them to the killing fields.
E. The Jews of Folvarki village near Kremenets stood up to the enemy, fought them, and killed some of them (see the list on page 160). It is possible that there were similar cases in other corners of the city and its surroundings, but we were not informed of it.
F. There were hundreds of escapees and hundreds of attempts to escape. People also tried to save themselves and their families through various sorts of subterfuge, and some even succeeded. Indeed, even in the midst of the horror, many did not give up.
An organized resistance movement? It did not exist. But there were definitely pockets of resistance, although there is no way to know how much.
From The Hidden Light, by Martin Buber, part 1, page 122
When Rabbi Avraham* came to the house of his father-in-law, the genius of Kremenets, the community's dignitaries came to greet the holy man and pay him homage. However, he did not face them but looked through the window at the mountain** at the foot of which the town sat. One of those who came to greet him who considered himself an esteemed Torah scholar and did not want his honor slighted said impatiently, Why is Your Honor gazing at the mountain? Have you never seen one? The rabbi replied: I look and wonder how a small lump of dirt got so haughty that it swelled into a large mountain.
*Avraham Malakh, a leader of the Shabbatai Hasidim.
This Is How I Saw You, My Town
Miryam Bat (Afula)
English Translation by Thia Persoff
The final year I spent in my town before I left it forever is embedded in my memory as if it is still alive: the promise of spring in the air and the snow melting even before Passover, its white brightness darkening. In the mountains around it, the snows melt and puddles of water overflow, running and flooding the alleys, sweeping bundles of straw, horse droppings, pieces of lumber, and an old, dilapidated shoe on their way . On days like these, the children do not rush home from school, but run joyously in the puddles and slide on the remnants of ice. Who could refrain from such a pleasure? Even the adults are pulled more and more outdoors .
In the large shop windows on Sheroka Street, snowdrops are seen, and right next to them are blue violets. The Poles are already ruling the town. Business and negotiation between the Jews and the gentiles are thriving in anticipation of the coming Passover holiday. The market is humming. Jews carry bundles of onions on their shoulders and the best of the produce in their hands. Chickens and ducks raise Cain from inside the farmers' wagons. Groups of farmers' wives walk by the stores and buy assorted merchandise from the Jewish merchants: colorful cloth, decorated kerchiefs, pink dolls made of sugar, paper flowers, lovely toy roosters so lifelike you expect to hear them crowing kookoorikoo at any moment . Day by day, the weather turns nicer, and nature all around is balm to the soul everything green and sparkling in the light. Children roam the streets. The heart longs for the mountains, the fresh green of the budding gardens. Who can resist nature's charm? The white blooms of the acacia trees line the street, intoxicating the air with the aroma of spring.
This is the time of the Balfour Declaration. The Zionist organizations' work is flourishing, and Kremenets leads the activities for the entire area. Regards from the first pioneers are arriving from Israel, and the Zionist idea is increasingly taking hold in people's hearts. It is then that you sense that the hands of murderers hold all the charming beauty and abundance of nature, and one day our eyes open to see that there is no future for us here.
Very soon new names and expressions like orchard, vineyard, work brigade, kibbutz, and collective rapidly penetrate the town. The living link between the Kremenets community and the Land of Israel is strengthened.
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