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[Page 385]

Vyshgorodok and Pochayev

Their Full Life and Their Tragic Demise

 

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A Few Memories of Vyshgorodok before 1927

By Moshe Fishman, Cordova, Argentina

Translated by Murray Kaplan and Elizabeth Kessin Berman

In March 1927, I Ieft Vyshgorodok, my birthplace, for Argentina. All my close friends and companions not only arranged a farewell evening, but also accompanied me to the train station at Bilke, a village three kilometers from Vyshgorodok. In addition to my relatives, my Guard club–named for Yosef Trumpeldor–of which I was the leader, came on foot. In leaving Vyshgorodok, I left behind my budding youth, which in later years played an important role and helped the town's development. The young people as well as the elders well understood the important role I played in helping the town progress and develop. The young people as well as the elders well understood the importance of this struggle for their existence and the constantly continuing process of developing their civic life.

Vyshgorodok, a small provincial town, knew how to maintain contact with neighboring towns as well as the larger cities in order to glean spiritual sustenance from them. Vyshgorodok maintained many close ties with its sister city, Kremenets. There was once a Russian elementary school there and, later, under Poland, a college. But anyone who wanted higher education with a college degree or commercial courses went to Kremenets. In Vyshgorodok, there were several Jewish schools, large as well as small, but anyone who wanted to attend a yeshiva went to Kremenets. Vyshgorodok also maintained ties with Rovno, Tarnopol, Lemberg, and Warsaw. Constant contact with Warsaw was required for many companies, first for business, and, in addition, because the newspapers all came from Warsaw–Today, Moment, journals, books, and meeting notices.

When I left Vyshgorodok, a Tarbut school had already existed there for several years. Adult evening courses, in Hebrew, were also included in the curriculum. In my day, there were four Hebrew teachers plus the headmaster, Pinchas Karp, who is now in Argentina: Moshe Koyfman, Nadye Shternberg, and Bat Sheve–not all of them from Vyshgorodok. The students had their library and study hall. Often they would organize children's plays. I don't remember the names of everyone on the school's Board of Directors, but I will attempt to tell about Yakov Meyliker, Yosef Bokser, Shlome Taytel, Shifre Meyliker, and others. These people were, so to speak, business people, that is, salesmen, shopkeepers, and so forth. They had the time to devote themselves to a cause. I want to note here that at that time our town's population was increased by about 473 migrants, that is, refugees from another town. They were from Lakhovtsy, from which they had escaped after World War I; they were educated, intelligent, and substantial people. Who among us residents doesn't remember the families: the Kabtsen brothers, the Rosenbergs, and the teachers Karp, Shternberg, and Koyfman? Then, Vyshgorodok was stimulated intellectually under these people's influence, which was felt especially by the young people. These families in particular left for North America while I was still there–except for one of the Kabtsen brothers and the teacher P. Karp, who are now in Argentina; Nunye Shternberg married and remained in Vyshgorodok.

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The General Zionist Organization existed for many years. Like so many, it worked hard and raised funds for the community and United Israel Appeal. Every year it raised funds for Herzl. The main speakers at these events were usually Yechezkel Melman (the pharmacist), Shlome Taytel, Yosef Bokser, and others.

The Zionist party, Union, whose members were small shopkeepers and craftsmen, also dedicated their time completely to Israel's welfare and benefit. They competed with the Socialists and tried to raise more money for the Jewish National Fund and United Israel Appeal and to sell more raffle tickets, etc. The most active members, I recall, were Nunye Shternberg, Yosel Fishman, Chayim Leyb Nelik, and Leyb Soybel, among others.

In Vyshgorodok, there were also the following organizations: Youth Guard, Trumpeldor Guard, and Pioneer, whose main leaders and foremost activists were the following: Yosel Kabtsen, Vevtsye Chazan, Sore Meyliker, Base Kornblit, Hershel Chazan, Chayim–Leyb Nelik, Moshe Fishman, Pinchas Grinberg, Lazer Tshatski, Moshe Koyfman, and others. I wish to note here that Youth Guard and Trumpeldor Guard had conflicting ideologies when they were founded, and their members were not very skillful in carrying out their program and ideas. However, they did carry out their projects until the two parties merged into one, Pioneer, and here at last, they could see the fruits of their labor. In my time I know of three people who immigrated to Israel: Avraham Soybel (a member of my unit), my friend Leye Korach, and Zisel Finkelshteyn.

In Vyshgorodok, there was also a craftsman's association, dedicated to protecting workers' rights from the Polish government.

In Vyshgorodok, there was also a public library containing many Yiddish and Hebrew books. There was also a study hall where often lectures and cultural and literary discussions, which were attended by virtually everyone in town, were held.

There were two drama clubs in Vyshgorodok, consisting of interested young people, and they often put on Yiddish plays. The admission fee benefited the library and other communal projects, and sometimes needy families.

There was a beautiful synagogue in Vyshgorodok, as well as two study halls, a church, a cemetery, and a public bathhouse.

There were approximately 200 Jewish families in Vyshgorodok. The majority were small shopkeepers and village peddlers who earned their living in the village doing odd jobs. Some were salespeople and craftsmen, and some were wheat brokers.

Almost all of them struggled to make a living. The Polish government was relentless. Taxes were high–so high that as time went by, things got worse. But they persisted and earned a living. Things were bad for older retirees. But for young people, there was a problem: unemployment was high; there was no work! There was no future! So they searched for alternatives. Anybody who could do so left town–some for Israel, some for Argentina, and so forth. However, later those who had left were terribly lonesome and longed to return home even though they were all too familiar with the town, its puddles, and its poverty. That was one side of the coin, but the other side? –They were drawn to it, to their birthplace, their own, and the houses they used to visit.

One can never forget how on Sabbath afternoon they would climb the hill, lie down with a book, and become engrossed in it while breathing in the aroma of the surrounding trees…

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And what about a Saturday evening near the Polish church? –One can certainly never forget how the whole town, the old as well as young–two by two, in threes and in groups–talked, discussed, and sang all the way to the forest. They would promenade like this well into the night. I mentioned above that in the beginning we were lonesome after leaving Vyshgorodok. However, the facts of life have their own ways. Little by little, as time passed, one took hold of the new surroundings and became, understandably, removed from the old habitat. However, I do believe that many of us carry on a correspondence with our townspeople and financially support our poverty–stricken countrymen, who depend on our help.

In the name of our committee, we thank you profusely for your help. With high regards, Moshe Vinokur and R. Nelik[1]

Not until 1947 did we learn of the great destruction that the barbarian German Hitlerites brought on the Jewish people as they annihilated the largest Jewish communities in the largest cities, as well as the tiny villages. And among them was our entire beloved town, Vyshgorodok.]

 

Three Vyshgorodok survivors perform a memorial service for their hometown in a German camp
The sign in the photograph reads as follows:[2]
Remember,
nation of Israel, the brave heroes of
the truth, [who were hanged] on the gallows
at the Acre fortress of by the [?]
[?] British as
martyrs for the people and the homeland

 


Footnotes:

  1. Note in original: This was the first and last letter that our aid committee in Buenos Aires received from our hometown. return
  2. Translator's note: Although the caption indicates a memorial service for Vyshgorodok, the sign in the photograph appears to refer to the Acre prison break of 1947, in which four Irgun members were sentenced to death by the British. return


 

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Over the Ruins of Our Old Home

By Ruven Nelik

(Vyshgorodok–currently in Poland)

Translated by Murray Kaplan

Tragic are the fortunes of the Jewish people. Throughout the generations, we've had to endure various troubles, expulsions, and torture, but the most terrible times they had to live through were the years 1941 to 1945. During that time, Jewish life became chaotic, like the dust of the earth. In 1945, I happened to visit our old home, the little town of Vyshgorodok, to which I was attracted with a magnetic force and great longing, because I was raised into manhood in this little corner of the world. Arriving in town, I was gripped with terror, pain, and angst because, to my bewilderment, I recognized not one of the people living there. In addition, I didn't recognize any of the places where we and our dearest and beloved ones lived. Everything seemed to have changed and be ashamed, and even the stones seemed saddened by the terrible things that had happened.

Being interested, I visited the towns of Lanovtsy, Vishnevets, and also Kremenets, and perusing these dead places, I was enveloped in horrible fear and pain, because where Jewish life had thrived, not a semblance remained

Everywhere, a deadly silence reigned supreme; the most holy places were overgrown with weeds. In Kremenets, I encountered a few Jews who could tell the story of the terrible destruction–how several thousand Jews were burned alive, over 8,000 of them.

Now these terrible places are overgrown with weeds. And thus, embarrassed and beaten, I left our neighboring town. I won't forget the sadness that overwhelmed me as I visited our old home. It is certainly painful to write about the recent past, how our blameless brothers and sisters were martyred by the Nazi murderers. This is how Hitler the animal drove Jewry to destruction and annihilation.

The horrible scenes that I saw with my own eyes were deeply ingrained in my memory, and I will never forget them for the rest of my life.


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Fellow Townspeople from Vyshgorodok
Living in Buenos Aires

By Simche Shulik (Buenos Aires)

Translated by Murray Kaplan

As a matter of fact, it has occurred to me to mention a few memories of our old home, Vyshgorodok itself. However, since I was very young when I left town, all the scenes and experiences in my memory are mixed and confused, and for that reason I don't wish to rely only on my memory. My departure for Argentina remains clear and vivid in my memory. It was in 1923 that the desire to emigrate overseas was strong; it was driven by economic and moral issues, because after World War I there was no future for young Jewish men in the new Poland. The Jewish vocations of the small towns, where there was no industry, included only petty activity and little deals. It consisted of a poor penny made on the back of a poor peasant. Even more, anti–Semitism ran rampant, and the Jewish population was locked into a dull corner. The only hope lay in emigrating. My thoughts were to head for North America, where my older brother had relocated many years before. There were, however, difficulties with the immigration quota, and I turned my eyes toward Argentina, even though my father wouldn't hear or think of it. “It's enough”–he said–“that my older son Itsik has left me, and God only knows whether I'll ever see him again, and you, my youngest, want to leave me, too.” Taking into account my determination, and thinking himself of what a poor future there was for Jewish youth in Poland, he quietly granted his permission.

I'll never forget the night before I left. My father lay in his bed and cried bitterly. I, too, dampened my pillow with tears, believing that this was the last night that I would ever spend with my father and that I would never see him again. And in truth, I never did see him again, but his pleading eyes accompanied me during my journey and were forever ingrained in my memory.

In this way, I left Vyshgorodok with three other Vyshgorodokers: Yosel Chait, from Berezhanka, Itse Vereshtshaker, and Yosel Verkhman (a militiaman). I arrived in Buenos Aires on July14, 1923. In the beginning, my countrymen's lifestyle pleased me greatly. At that time, there were very few families from our town. We all felt like one happy family. We often visited back and forth and enjoyed ourselves in a homey atmosphere, telling our stories about our old hometown. These meetings were refreshing for us greenhorns. We breathed in stories of our old hometown, but the raw reality, the hard struggle to make a living, didn't allow us to think of the life we had left behind. It was difficult to settle in if you had no skill, no trade, and were repelled by menial labor. I, too, was one of those. But since I had a close friendship with the Arbit family, neighbors from back home who were all carpenters, it was easy for me to get into the furniture factory of a former Kremenetser, Volke Shames. That's how I've remained a worker in a furniture factory to the present day. I found much more acceptance and warmth from carpenters than from deliverymen.

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The family I used to visit with pleasure and enjoy myself after a hard day's work or on a Sunday was my friend Y. Arbit's family. Together we would relive Vyshgorodok's episodes and customs in our memories. And that's so even today, when we'll never again have a letter from there because everything and everyone is gone, wiped out in a horrible way. When I get a letter from my brother in North America, I feel the need to give it to my friend Arbit to read, because he's interested in everything about our little town.

In about 1935, my brother, Itse Shulik, and his wife went from New York to visit our elderly father and the rest of my family members, my sisters, and their families. Yes, my brother had the good fortune to visit with them; I did not. Seeing the majority of the Jews' great need and poverty, he and several other interested people helped form an interest–free loan association and promised that on his return to New York he would meet with several other countrymen to support the association and ease their plight. On his return, he acted on his promise. He formed a hometown society. He wrote me a long letter concerning this issue. Understandably, I showed this letter to my friend. This letter touched a delicate chord in a in our hearts and brought forth a desire to lighten our countrymen's heavy load in the old hometown. And even though the great majority of our countrymen's economic situation locally was not that great, we still got together with several other Vyshgorodokers to form a relief committee.

In 1938, this relief committee became a reality. The first item was the issuance of a 10–peso bond, via a onetime tax. Then a meeting was called for all Vyshgorodokers. Also, a ball was held. The income, which amounted to a very fine sum of money, was sent off to designated responsible citizens in Vyshgorodok. We divided up the work, although we were each busy making a living. More than once, my wife said to me, “You're busy helping your countrymen overseas–when are you going to help yourself?” I had to excuse my wife for her reproof, because since she was born and raised here in Argentina, she couldn't understand and feel what we as immigrants feel for our old home. These sentiments were foreign to her. Because how can we forget our old, heartfelt home and its charm and warmth? In our town, whenever there was a happy occasion, like a circumcision, everybody was happy, because we felt like family. Everyone was an in–law, a guest, this one from the groom's side, this one from the bride's side; and in this way, when there was a tragedy, at a funeral, the whole town also mourned. Everyone was a mourner. Now how much heartache did the town possess when a girl was left an old maid, alone, with no one to worry about her? No one rested until a dowry was raised and a marriage consummated. It was no small deal, this good Jewish deed of helping a poor girl marry.

One does not forget very easily, though one would like to be forced to forget it, when World War II began. Our ties to Vyshgorodok were severed. Only a small amount of the collected relief money remained. We could not, however, to stop worrying about the old home. So in order for our work, which had just begun, not to be interrupted, we formed a treasury for small loans. The general treasury would be the base for the loan fund. The loans were not the main aim of this new branch. Support for cooperation and closeness among all the people of Vyshgorodok was the substance of the loan fund for the people.

Other than myself and my friend Arbit, support for this initiative necessarily came from these compatriots: Moshe Fishman, Zeydke Taytel, Y. Furman, and Y. Neyman, of blessed memory.

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And on October 28, 1939, the loan association was founded by the Vyshgorodok committee.

The first shares were for10 pesos. Loans were made for up to 25 pesos. Later, shares were increased to 25 or 30 pesos, and the loans, from 150 to 200 pesos.

The work among us Vyshgorodokers in far–off Buenos Aires proceeded without a break, although some withdrew, unwilling to take part in the work, and in addition spread false rumors about the people who gave of their time for the community. Later, other helpers took part, such as M. Tshatski and A. Keselman. At first, every authorized compatriot helped out in the loan department, and the general fund remained closed.

In about 1942–1943, when the political sky was loaded with black clouds, most of the people were of the opinion that we should cease our work and dissolve the group. We were beset by fears. At that moment, Y. Arbit proposed to me that I take charge of the archives, bring them to my house, and operate our little enterprise. I didn't hesitate for a moment and immediately agreed. Moreover, I involved my older son, Hector, and convinced him to help us operate. This is how we organized our work, and with success; even people who stood on the sidelines look favorably on the very important work that we carried out. True, some couldn't conceive of how grown men could give their time and energy and not benefit from it.

We carried on our quiet work until the second half of 1946, when we found in the Jewish newspapers an open appeal from a group of Kremenetsers to the fellow townspeople of all the surrounding towns to organize a large countrymen's association in order to help the survivors of the Hitler plague.

 

A Group of Vyshgorodok Young People

 

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We answered the appeal with enthusiasm and took the initiative to help organize the association.

On October 11, 1946, when conditions were right, a large number of our Vyshgorodokers stepped up and really contributed to the financial campaign set up at that time for our survivors. Our loan department took the opportunity to return the loan amounts. This was the surplus that we could not send to Vyshgorodok in 1939, which had earned high interest.

After two years of the Kremenets Compatriot Association, in which we Vyshgorodokers took part, we proposed various opportunities to form a loan society at the Kremenets association. When our wish became known, we, who continued to function in our little group, decided to monetize our loan department and return the money for the shares to everyone. Simultaneously, we recommended that our fellow citizens buy shares in the association. The money brought in by the shares was also transferred to the Kremenets, Vyshgorodok, and Pochaev Association's loan fund. The money was faithfully transferred according to law, with the condition that it be put to use in case of an emergency on the part of a Vyshgorodoker. That was written into the bylaws of our partnership of the Compatriot Association.

Underlying the togetherness of the relief work that we, a small group of activists, performed, I'm very satisfied that I played my part in relief work that formerly benefited our old home and now benefits the survivors.


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The Town of Pochaev

By Shmuel Menin (Israel)

Translated by Murray Kaplan

I'm not a writer, but I write down these remembrances with the very essence of the blood that drips from my Jewish heart. I want to write, as much as I can, the short history of the little town that the wild Nazi beasts destroyed along with the other little Jewish towns.

It's already a quarter of a century since I left those places. I am, however, certain that although these 25 years constitute almost half of a person's life expectancy, I'll come to the point with clarity and without fantasy by describing the destruction of my little town, where I was raised.

 

Pochaev

In the days of czarist Russia, as well as that of Poland, the map of my birthplace was registered as the “Town of Pochaev.” Whether or not it is known by that name today, I don't know. What I do know is what the survivors said of the agony of Pochaev's death. Today, some of these survivors are found in the Land of Israel and some in North America, and the tales they tell are heartrending:

“Not one Jew remained in Pochaev. The Nazi beasts and Ukrainian murderers completely accomplished the wild slogan of ‘Jew–free’” …

I'm not exactly sure why my town is considered exceptional, and we're not particularly interested in whether it's because of its wealth or Graf Potocki. What does interest us is that, through municipal records and with the help of other documents, the beautiful Jewish life of the 250 families or approximately 900 souls that were butchered before our very eyes is acknowledged, so that the people who read these lines will have an idea of how this little town fared. It is necessary to pause and talk about its geographical location. I'll mention only several large and small towns so that readers can more or less orient themselves to Pochaev's location on the map.

From Pochaev to the Austrian border, or to Galicia, it was no more than 18 kilometers. The closest towns in the environs of Pochaev were Radzivilov, Brody, Podkamień, Zbaraz. To the east of Pochaev were Kremenets–the county seat–and Lanovtsy. To the south, at an estimated distance of 50 kilometers, was the town of Dubno, 70 kilometers to the south was the larger town of Rovno, and 100 kilometers to the south, the still larger provincial capital, Lutsk. To the north were Vishnevets and Vyshgorodok and other smaller towns. Other than all these towns I've listed, there are towns that I haven't mentioned because I've forgotten them, and little Pochaev was surrounded by all of them. Among all these little towns are those that, because of their aesthetic appearance, weren't embarrassed to compare themselves to a Warsaw or a Lemberg.

The tiny town of Pochaev, however, stood out from the surrounding towns. In the gentile world, Pochaev was a religious center–a sort of holy place–because the world–renowned Lavra[1] was located there, with its giant monasteries and thousands of monks, comprising a world of its own.

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I must say, however, that it would please me much more to write that my little town of Pochaev excelled in Jewish matters and not actually because of the Lavra. It would certainly be more honor for our Jewish martyrs if we didn't have to mention that they were mixed in with the impure. It is necessary to mention this, however, because in the Pochaev Jews' economic life, as in many little towns in the area, it played an important role, because Pochaev had no proper or other means of income or welfare for a Jewish congregation. The Lavra had large fruit orchards, which it would lease out to Jews; dozens of Jewish families made a living from these orchards.

Pochaev was 800 meters long and 600 meters wide. The town's general appearance was very good, its situation not bad, and if not for the mud puddles for which it was famous, you could be mistaken and take it for a larger city. When strangers came to Pochaev for the first time, they saw the cloisters' large brick towers, and that would give them the impression that this was no small town, but a Paris. The dirt roads leading to Pochaev were the Kremenets, Vishnevets, and Radzivilov roads. They were planted on both sides with giant linden trees. To measure their thickness, you needed 10 people, without exaggeration, to hold hands around them, and I doubt that they would measure even one of them. Their age? Not my father or my grandfather or my great–grandfather knew their age. They perhaps go back to the days of Khmelnitsky, may his name be erased. They have witnessed I don't know how many of the pogroms and persecutions experienced by Jews from this little town.

The entrance to Pochaev was especially nice in the springtime, when the trees were in full bloom. The extraordinary aroma extended for many kilometers.

The 250 dwellings of which the town was composed were arrayed in four rows in length and four in breadth. Certain houses weren't in any row. They were located mostly in the back, along with the three synagogues that belonged to the city: the Great Synagogue, the study hall, and the kloyz[2]. They were actually located on a back street. They bordered on the gentiles' fields and gardens. Why these synagogues weren't located in the middle of the town, I don't know, but one can assume that it was probably for strategic reasons … or maybe so that they wouldn't stand in counter position to the cloister.

In the middle of the town was a large marketplace, which was only used on market days. The farmers would position themselves with their wagons and livestock and all sorts of vegetables. The houses in Pochaev were similar to those in other little towns: made of wood, lime, and also brick. If I'm not mistaken, the only Jewish brick building was the study hall. Roofs were covered with shingles, except for some that were covered with tin. One house even had a thatched roof. That was my rabbi's, Hirsh Molokh's, of blessed memory. The cottage was across the street from ours, and it was unfortunately so old that it would groan like an old woman in any ordinary wind, and it was supported on all sides with thick rods and wood. I would say that my rabbi observed the commandment of sitting in the sukkah all year long, because it was more sukkah than house… The tallest of the Jewish houses were the Great Synagogue, the study hall, and the kloyz. They were tall, but only two stories, because if they weren't that tall, where would the wives pray? The top floor served as the women's synagogue, but I didn't envy them, especially the ones in the Great Synagogue, because to climb those stairs you had to be an experienced climber. The steps were unfortunately so rotten, twisted, and turned that actually only women could use them, because if men had to climb them, they would surely not make it but would fall down; those steps wouldn't carry their weight.

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Incidentally, don't think that there were no buildings larger than the synagogue or the study hall or the kloyz. There were actually larger buildings of five or six stories and even higher, but they didn't belong to Jewish Pochaev. These were the kinds of buildings that could have been found in Warsaw or even bigger places. They could have lain nine cubits underground; I'm referring to the buildings of the Lavra.

Our little town was located on a hill, but the Lavra stood even higher, with tall buildings and cloisters that towered over the small houses. Driving about eight or nine kilometers out of town, you could already make out the Lavra cloisters. From afar, you could imagine that you were entering a large city.

The town looked especially good on the gentile holidays. Thousands of pilgrims from all over would come at that time: from Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and other countries. There were pilgrims that came on foot after walking for several months. They would arrive tired and broken from the long journey, but for them it was almost a badge of merit … to be able to see the wonderful cloisters and hear the ringing of the great brass bell whose echoes could be heard for more than eight to ten kilometers, because it was so big and weighed about 12,000 kilos.

In reference to what was just said, I'm reminded of an episode that happened during World War I, in 1915, when the Austro–Hungarian military entered our town. The first thing that attracted them was the bell. Seeing such a large hunk of metal, from which they could manufacture thousands of bullets and weapons, they built a special wagon to transport it to a factory. They made a big, strong wagon, but the result was in vain: a wasted effort. They drove the bell about seven kilometers from town, and there they had to abandon it, because the bell's extraordinary weight and this big, ungainly wagon, which probably also weighed about 6,000 or 7,000 kilos, made it impossible to go further. And so they had to leave it in the middle of the journey.

In 1918, as a child of 10, I used to run out behind our town to see the bell on the wagon. They were so deeply stuck in the ground that the wagon was completely out of sight and the bell was half buried in the ground. Understandably, when it was dug out and hung up in its proper place, this made the faithful even more faithful and strengthened their belief in the Virgin Mary; they saw a miracle in this.

A month before the Christian holidays, thousands of pilgrims would begin arriving on foot. Every bedroom and every attic would be rented out as hotel rooms. People even slept in the streets, under wagons, on the wagons, and on rooftops, and the crowded conditions were fearful. There was no place to breathe a bit of fresh air. At that time, this little town no longer looked like Pochaev but rather like a big city, a bit of Warsaw. At that time, you could see different faces from all kinds of nationalities, and you could hear many languages. There were Tartars, Turks, Greeks, Armenians, Poles, Caspians, and many other types, and to sort them out you'd have to have a writer's brain.

The town was as busy as a beehive. The arrival of the different nationalities and the noise of the gentiles selling their various kinds of drinks, fresh bagel, candies, greens, crosses, candles, and icons deafened the air. But the Jews were happy with the chaos and the crowds. In the final analysis, they made their living from this. Although they knew that the noise would finally come to an end, some good money would remain in their pockets, and they could make it through the next few months, when the town would sleep through its dreamy time.

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In the meantime, the Jews had no time to speak to each other: Jews who used to go to the baths once a week and shine their boots (for the Sabbath, of course) now didn't have time to do this. Those poor boots looked very scruffy, with the tops run down and the noses pointing up. There wasn't a single Jew who didn't have “guests.” Every one of them had to be a very careful bookkeeper, because not every guest was charged the same price. The one who slept in a bed, naturally, didn't pay the same price as the one who slept under the bed; the one who slept in the attic didn't pay the same as the one who slept in the kitchen, or by the stove, or in the stable among the horses and cows. Some guests drank tea with sugar, and others, without sugar; some had to be served small, fresh buns, and some expected large buns, or even white bread. In truth, it was a very complicated business. But even so, everyone came out of this peacefully, with no trouble. And as if that wasn't enough, you had to be careful that the samovar didn't run dry or the stove didn't get cold, because the effect of that kind of a catastrophe could slow down the whole operation and create huge problems… All of this required good sense and heroism. It required initiative to get a container of water in those momentous days. The town was situated on a hill, and there were only two wells: one belonged to a Jew, Eliezer Tsherniak, and the second to Katsher, a Czech who owned a mill. The well owned by the Jew was sealed off in the last few years because of a tragic accident. On a winter day, when the well was covered with snow and ice, a Jew went to get a pail of water, and while doing so, he slipped and fell into the well. By the time he was extricated, he was dead. Because of that, nobody wanted to use the water from that well. The second well, which belonged to the Christian, was outside the town, so not everybody could go there for a pail or two of water. Aside from that, the Czech sold the water for a high price, and not for paper money. For every pail of water he would charge an egg, and one egg wasn't always enough for him. If the value of eggs was down, he would raise the price … for two pails of water, he would charge three eggs.

In the years following World War I, civilization and technology came to Pochaev, but unfortunately without success. Thanks to the dollars sent over by North American relatives, a well was built in the middle of town. But it, too, didn't solve the problem; everybody wanted to save the few pennies that a cask of water cost, so they all began to take advantage of that poor well. They all began to bring their livestock to drink. Whoever had a horse or a cow brought it to the well, until it ran dry. No matter how many experts they brought in, it didn't help, and the well remained in the middle of the town like a beaten Hoshana[3]… Jews had to buy water from peasants who took on the job of bringing water from a nearby village, called Old Pochaev. There was a hill there that gave off a spring of water. Everything was good in normal times, when the town lived normally. However, during the Christian holidays, when Pochaev, with its hundreds of thousands of guests, got busy and the peasants weren't interested in the water business, but only in vodka or samoganka (homemade vodka), bringing a cask of water wasn't their priority. So the Jews solved the problem: if Ivan wasn't interested in bringing water, then on the outskirts of town, not far from the bathhouse, was a landowner's wife with a pond on her property that had water year round, so they would surreptitiously grab a few pails of water from there. Once in a while, the Christians would object when they drank a glass of tea made from that water, but it was all right, the Jew found an answer; the tea was too strong, and if not that, he said, I forgot to put in another piece of sugar, the dummy, what did he know!

[Page 399]

And secondly, this isn't such a big sin, because it is written that to save a life, you may even work on the Sabbath! Well, to make a living, you can even fool someone. During these few weeks, the Jews suffered; they put up with all sorts of drunkenness. Enough complaining; it paid off well. For months to come, they had only one sleepy market day per week, Thursday. And if the Almighty didn't send pouring rain or a high wind, then the market day would go on with a sigh, and you looked forward to next Thursday. Honestly, some had to go out to neighboring towns on market days: to Vishnevets, Berezhtsy … Kremenets; some with dry goods, some with letters.

Out of the approximately 250 families in the town, not counting the 14 or 15 laborers–tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, and so forth; the four teachers, the rabbi, the three sextons from the three synagogues, and the two private teachers–all the others were in business. There were a few big businesspeople, among them those who bought forests to cut the wood to sell locally and some for export; some used to lease fruit orchards from the Lavra and private landowners. But most were small businesspeople dealing in wheat, wool, skins, butter, and eggs. There were two Jews who sold religious objects, crosses and icons and everything else. There were stalls everywhere, about 60% of the town, almost all of them in the marketplace in the center of town. They were located row on row, waiting only for market day.

I don't know how good or how bad my description is. I also don't know how clearly I can extract myself from this mess that I've created here. In any case, I want to convey that aside from all the difficulties the Jews had to deal with, they lived happily and didn't worry much about their situation. And I would say that every Jew in Pochaev was “satisfied with his lot in life.”

Their spiritual life was beautiful. In my neighborhood, I didn't know any lowlifes. Even those who were crude weren't also illiterate and could read the Sabbath prayers. Among the Jews were scholars who knew all the prayers by heart. One of them was my Gemara teacher, Hirsh from Brody, a wise man. In addition to his teaching, he sold pottery. This didn't provide him with a large income, because every time people got angry, they broke the clay pots; they broke them and made a mess. I'm reminded suddenly of how on a winter evening, the town rabbi suddenly arrived to test us in Gemara. Just as we were in the middle of a difficult tractate and he feared we couldn't explain it, he changed the subject to another tractate with which he knew we were familiar. The rabbi left very satisfied. And later, when we asked him, “Rabbi, why did you do this?” … He answered in this way: “Please understand me, if I had asked for an explanation of the first tractate, you would have been embarrassed, and there would have been many broken pots. So better to do as it is written in the Shulchan Aruch[4]. Understandably, then, after such a clever answer, we were well behaved for several days and treated the pottery well.

Another good student was Yitschak Shnayder, or as he was called, the Bricklayer. He was called this because he had a brick factory. He was a laborer who could make do with very little: he didn't work too hard, didn't want to expand his horizons, and was a Torah student. He studied the Talmud. His spiritual life was full, except for a page of Gemara and a bit of the Mishnah and reading HaMelits and HaTsefira[5], as well as various books on the Enlightenment. Even so, there was good harmony in his mixture of studies and true piety. He also contributed to the synagogue's upkeep. With his own money, he supported whatever was required in connection with the synagogue eruv. He couldn't countenance how Jews could be inconvenienced on the Sabbath, needing to go to the synagogue wearing their prayer shawls or without handkerchiefs in their pockets.

[Page 400]

Rarely did we see such an odd, extraordinary Jewish man. He was interested in health matters and a friend of health organizations. I believe that he studied according to the ethical principles of the Ethics of our Fathers. Just a couple of days ago, his nephew, who lives among us, related a story that is worthy of mention.

In 1915, when the Austro–Hungarian military was billeted in Pochaev, a transport of cows arrived on a certain day, and the soldiers prepared to slaughter them. They stationed the cattle in the middle of the town, and the heat burned down on them all day long. The dumb animals were practically dying of thirst. Their mooing reached to the high heavens. The next morning, instead of going to his place of business, R' Yitschak went to the herd of cattle, and whenever a peasant drove by with a keg of water, he purchased it and began to give water to the dumb animals. He proceeded to do this from early morning until one o'clock in the afternoon, buying water and giving it to the cows. His wife, seeing that he was nowhere to be found, became very concerned and started to search for him throughout the town. Wherever she looked for him, he wasn't there. After midday he came home. The household became happy. But his wife and children wanted to know where he had been… “Yitschak, where have you been?” “Father, where have you been?” “Quiet! quiet! Don't make a fuss. I was giving water to the cows.” “What do you mean? Here we almost went out of our minds, we ran all around town looking for you in every synagogue, in every house of study, and you were content to give water to the cows?” Being a wise Jew, he answered her, “Listen here, my dear wife and loving children: every living thing has plenty of sins, and in 100 years, in the world to come, they will weigh the sins and compare them to the good deeds. But when I arrive in the next world and they begin to weigh my sins, I will tell them to put one of the oxen that I helped with a little water on the scale along with my good deeds, and then you'll see how this one ox will weigh more that all my sins.” Understandably, no one was willing to argue with him after such an answer.

Our rabbi was a fine example of a Jew: a wise man, a good speaker with a quick mind, a good critic. He would actually captivate the audience with his sermons. Not only was he a great student of the Torah, but he was also very well read and approached everyone with a very friendly manner. He was an imposing figure of a man: beautiful on the outside as well as on the inside, thoughtful and careful in his speech, with a gentle manner and a warm appearance. He breathed patriarchal gentility and good manners. His sense of fair play and good–heartedness was directly connected to his clear mind. There are many more good things to be said about this man, and they all add to the manifestation of this brilliant Jewish town that was destroyed before our eyes.

The most difficult thing I have to say is in regard to the younger generation. The spirit of learning and Torah that pervaded the older generation and the worldliness and enlightenment of the younger generation–these two separate worlds balanced one another. The youth circle was a separate, open world of local people and institutions, and, for the older generation, the study halls filled their spiritual life. The younger generation had their own modern activities and places of recreation. They used to meet, enjoy themselves, discuss books by Peretz, Smolensky, Sholem Aleichem, Bialik, etc. Among the Pochaev youth were a large percentage of educated people. Their spiritual life was full, especially with Gemara and Mishna, as well as with modern Hebrew and Jewish literature. Again, we must also mention Russian, Polish, and German literature. This reading material may have been the foundation of their ethics. On the basis of dedication to Jewish learning, little Pochaev beat out many larger towns.

[Page 401]

After World War I, with Poland's support, Pochaev was able to advance strongly. Although earlier there were no more than two private Yiddish and Russian teachers in town and only four schools with four teachers who used to teach from the ABCs to Gemara and Mishna, now a number of educational institutions appeared: Polish technical schools, Talmud Torahs, etc. Not one of these young people failed to attend one of these educational institutions.

The young people also started their own library. And the town had a health institute for the sick, a hostel, and organized Pioneer and Youth Guard movements, in which I personally took part. A few of our friends immigrated to Israel with the fourth wave, but as their luck would have it, instead of devoting their lives to building and developing the Land of Israel, they were annihilated along with the rest of European Jewry. In the Land of Israel, they contracted malaria and had to return home.

I see the day of their return to town before my eyes as though it were yesterday. A stir developed among the Pioneers; the comrades were outraged: “Can you imagine? We were given the benefit of two certificates, we gave them to these two comrades, and they betrayed us–they were scared off by malaria, grabbed their backpacks, and returned home! These are idealists?” Others cried, “We need to prosecute them! We ought to exclude them from the community!” The atmosphere was tense, and it split the peacefulness of the community. But suddenly, on the evening of the discussion, the door opened, and in walked the rabbi (of blessed memory). He arrived in the company of the town fathers. On seeing the rabbi and his entourage, the Pioneer members were stunned and speechless, somewhat out of respect and somewhat out of fear. Because how was it that the rabbi had suddenly made his entrance? But this stillness didn't last long. Seeing that we were struck speechless, the newcomers began as follows: “Don't be afraid, children. We have come here because we heard that you're on the verge of issuing a very important judgment against these two returnees. For that reason, we've come here to handle the matter together.” We sat down around the table and began to examine the issue. The rabbi and the people with him listened to the whole story, and when the comrade chairman ended his testimony, the rabbi began. “Children (we weren't really that young; some of us were 22 or 23 years old), all your arguments are justified, but you mustn't forget that Zionism is the flesh and blood of our national identity and must be able to bear the burden of measles and smallpox … and therefore you mustn't be scared off by the return from the Land of Israel of two or even more of your comrades. Maybe God wanted it that way. Take our advice: don't punish these two. Believe me, Israel will develop without them. We shall all live to see the building of a great, strong Jewish country.” He ended in this way: “Hillel the Elder put the sagacity of the whole Torah into ‘You shall love your neighbor as you do yourself.’” How prophetic!

After the passage of so many years, in my dreams I often see the rabbi of Pochaev sitting among us, the young folk, and he is instructing us in a difficult point of law. I wake up in a cold sweat. We live in another reality. That happened a quarter of a century ago, and I begin to feel so odd. I feel like crying out: Arise from your graves, you slaughtered and suffocated ones of our holy people! Wake up and live out in your memory all that was this beautiful little Jewish town. Let the whole world know how much spiritual beauty lies buried in this unknown Pochaev.

 


Footnotes:

  1. Translation editor's Note: The Pochaev Lavra is a monastery of Orthodox Christian denominations in Pochaev. return
  2. Translation Editor's Note: Kloyz is Yiddish for small a study hall or synagogue. return
  3. Translator's Note: Hoshana refers to the five willow branches that are beaten on the ground on the holiday Hoshana Rabbah. return
  4. Translation editor's note: The Shulchan Aruch (literally: “Set Table”) is a widely consulted code of Jewish law. It was authored in Safed by Yosef Karo in 1563. return
  5. Translation Editor's Notes: HaMelits and HaTsefira were weekly Hebrew–language newspapers. An eruv is a ritual enclosure around a community to enable the carrying of objects outdoors on the Jewish Sabbath, which would otherwise be forbidden by Torah law. return


 

[Page 402]

The Death of the Jews of Pochayev

By Charles Zalts (North America)

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

 

The Authors of “The Death of the Jews of Pochayev”

This description of the destruction of Pochayev is taken from private letters to Charles Zalts from his surviving fellow townspeople, who numbered seven in 1947 in the accursed German territory. Three of them played an active role in the description. The first was Urke Kiperman, to whom Ch. Zalts had directed a letter seeking information about the fate of the Pochayev Jews. This Kiperman was the actual eyewitness, for he is the only one who remained for the entire time, until the complete extermination of the Jews of Pochayev, 25 Elul 1942. Kiperman escaped from the massacre by running into the woods, where 11 other Jews arrived. They went to Podkamien. The massacre had not yet reached there, so they remained there for two months. When the executions began there as well, the 11 young people took off for Brody. After 10 weeks, only 2 of the 10 [sic] remained; the Gestapo had killed the others in an awful way. Kiperman was with the partisans in the Pochayev area until the Red Army freed him.

The second writer, the author of the piece, who used the descriptions of others, Chayim Gekhtel (24 years old), Aba Gekhtel's son, Yitschak Zeltser's (Itsik Velvel's) grandson. The third was Z. Vaytsman (Velvel), 47 years old. He spent four years in the Red Army; he was among the first to enter Warsaw and Berlin. According to Urke Kiperman's account, the slaughter was described by the last two.

 

–1–

We will convey the dark history of the events in our Pochayev, a village in Volhynia, in the region of Kremenets, “famous” for the Lavra Monastery with its “holy” picture of the “Mother.” At the beginning of the century it was well known throughout Russia for its dark mahogany and its bishops: Yevlogi, Yereman Ilya, who incited pogroms. But this was not the worst thing in the history of Pochayev. That which no one could have imagined came when the Germans invaded Russia: the extermination of the Jews. If we describe the events, it is so that people will be able, whether in our generation or later, to repay all who had a hand in the heaven–piercing murders that were visited on our people as a whole and on our nearest ones in Pochayev in particular.

Blessed are the hands that will do so.

 

The Germans' Entrance into Pochayev and the First Six Months of Their Bloody Reign

The outbreak of the war caused by Germany's attacks on Russia had an effect on almost all the Jews of Pochayev. Only a few went elsewhere at that time.

On June 30, 1941, about a week after invading Russia, the Germans were in Pochayev. Their first step already involved Jewish victims. When the German Intelligence Division arrived in the village, one heard a shot or two.

[Page 403]

Whether those were real shots or German provocations or from “good neighbors” was hard to tell. But the Intelligence Division had a good pretext to attack a Jewish home and, on the spot, to shoot the completely innocent Shimon Bik (the blacksmith).

The first order from the occupiers was that the Jews should turn over all their livestock (cattle, horses, fowl, etc.). Through this came their second victim. Naturally the Jews tried to figure out how, as much as possible, to evade this decree. As much as possible, people gave their livestock to non–Jews whom they knew “until this wrath would pass,” until they would be rid of the Germans. In general, the Jews believed that the Germans would be defeated by the more powerful, as people had been told, Red Army. Asher Shkolnik, an older Jew who had also given his cow to a non–Jew, went to check on his cow and get a bit of milk. But Germans were already in the non–Jew's courtyard. Seeing the Jew, they shot him, no questions asked.

These two cases were the first of their type, and they caused quite a commotion. In a short time, people recognized what their overlordship meant for the Jews and also what the intentions of their “good neighbors,” the Germans' assistants, the Ukrainians, were. A civilian Ukrainian administration was established. They also called three Jews as representatives of the Pochayev community. From the community, where the Jews had come, they were sent to the territorial commissar in Kremenets (23 kilometers from Pochayev). He gave notice to them that now a Hitlerian power was in control, that they lacked any protection, and that whatever they were ordered to do must be carried out immediately; the Jews had to choose a Jewish Council of 12 people and a Jewish “police force” of 30.

This was very difficult to carry out, because no one wanted to be on the “council” and other agencies: everyone immediately understood what kinds of tortures and dangers were tied to those “offices.” For every “deviation,” a bullet was the simple punishment.

Under compulsion, the following men were appointed to the Jewish Council: Ayzik Mushnit–chairman (Shmerel Yosel's son), Pinye Tsherniak, Yankel (son of Yosef) Rudman, Shlome (son of Yosef) Rudman, Yankel (son of Yosef) Rudman, Hersh–Leyb Shuber, Shmaya Harzhek, Yankel Lerer, Yosef Flaksman, and several others whose names I do not remember, because they were refugees from western Poland. The next victims and atrocity from among our intimates were the “Komsomolists” (young communists). These were Jewish young men and women who worked as officials in Soviet institutions. The non–Jews pointed them out. These Jewish young people were rounded up (and if any of them were not at home, their parents were taken), and after terrible torture, they were shot. The false accusations against Komsomolists were repeated in all the cities and towns.

In brief, after the founding of the “Jewish Council,” on the night of July 8–9 (1941), the Ukrainian police, who were mostly the city's punks, under the command of several Germans rounded up 106 Jews from Pochayev and confined them in police cells in the Council Hall. They were kept there a day and a night without water and without the ability to take care of their bodily needs. They were also beaten murderously. At night they were led almost naked through the town. None of the unfortunates could be recognized. All of their faces were running with blood; their heads swollen and bloody. In the evening they were shot in Biler Woods (on the way to Kremenets). Among the 106 victims were: the rabbi of Pochayev, Eliezer Uretski, of blessed memory. The rabbi had had a heart attack when the whole group was being led to the execution site. He fell. A car that was carrying guards aimed purposely at his body and crushed him to death. The Jews had to take his body and carry it to the already dug grave, into which a few minutes later they would also be flung, either shot dead or almost dead.

[Page 404]

The list of the killed is: Gedalyahu Zalts, Yosef–Volf Zalts, Yosef Oyshan, Duvid Oyshan, Leybush Ravke, Yosel Kliger, Chayim Krasnofiar with his son and son–in–law, Shalom Roytbard with his three sons, Nota Ravke with his son–in–law, Nachman Tsherniak, Meir Uretski, Moshe Vaserman with his son, Motye Zilber, Yisrael (son of Yakov) Rudman, Moshe Nudel, Yosef Kroyzen, Chayim (son of Anshel) Klots, Yankel Shochet and his son Barukh, Yeshayahu Lando, Leyzer (son of Yitschak) Rudman, Manes Liderkhader, Vovke Yankel, Peyse and Shaye Fuksman, Pinye Volk, Yudke and Chayim Barnblit, Efraim and Shlome Tsvik, Yankel Brik with his son Alter, Simche Fursht, Moshe–Yakov Shukher and two sons Burtse and Shlome, Yosel Lerer, Shaye Sasenko and his son, Yisrael Skulski with his son Fayvel, Chayim–Hersh Mandel, Chayim (son of Yosef) Tsherniak, Shmuel Shukher, Shimon Fayershteyn with his son and son–in–law, Yitschak Fayershteyn, Moshe Brik, Shlome Kabrik, Shlome Krusman, Avraham Krusman, Yechiel Fursht, Buzye Tsherniak, Avraham (son of Yakov) Yakira, Mordekhay Mandel with his son Avraham, Avraham Aba Kuperman (Kutsye), Yudekl Rudman (son of Yosef) with his son Yankel, Avraham Figler, Kalman Blavshteyn, Moshe Leyner, Yosel Fuksman, Chayim (son of Binyamin) Tsherniak, Shlome–Yehuda and Leyzer Rudman, Yisrael Federman with his son–in–law, Betsalel Raysman, Shmuel Zaltsman with his son Moshe, Simche Mesh, Boris Avner, Zalman Kuper, and others.

One hundred six Jews were eliminated, and the town was diminished. Soon there were widows, orphans, and the destitute, who had nothing. What would the next day bring? Dark fear ruled the town. People saw or felt that sooner or later a dark end awaited them all.

It is impossible to describe the terror of the Pochayev Jews, who found themselves under the murderers' control in their day–to–day lives, the tortures, the pain that they could not block from their imaginations.

The atrocities were carried out by former neighbors, almost friends. A constant horror of death consumed people. People learned to deal with humiliation. People had to “relax” from the horrible things in order to pay the different contributions that had been imposed on the poor Jewish community. Every day brought new contributions: furs, things, sewing machines, typewriters (which hardly existed in the town), money, jewelry, virtually everything that a person could own. Every German could also enter any Jewish house whenever he wanted and take whatever he wanted, and they knew where to go, because every Jewish house was indicated by a Star of David. In addition to the Germans, the Ukrainian murderers also….

And before killing us, they also wanted to destroy us spiritually and morally. The bright day was not darkened by shame. The earth was filled with robbery (Genesis 6:12). But no Flood came…. When the order came for our town to provide 20 young women from 18 to 20 years of age for a brothel for the German “supermen.” The German beasts wanted to use our sisters for their animal instincts. We could not comply. What we lived through, what we experienced before this shameful decree could be obviated with money. That was perhaps the only time that money saved us, not from death but from horrible human insult and disgrace….

Until the final mass slaughter, the murderers systematically destroyed particular groups. They cut off living limbs from the Jewish population (with short interruptions).

On one of those days, they took another 10 young “communists.” They had already collected ransom money for them, a sum of 50,000 marks. The ransom money was brought–and the Jews were returned … dead.

In the community courtyard lay the 10 shot alleged “communists,” and the other Jews had to carry them away, but not to the cemetery.

Their bones rest–to the murderers' everlasting shame–in the woods, where we used to bury animals, and they were required to be buried in the same grave. And this was ordered by one of our neighbors, who lived his Christian life thanks to the Jews.

[Page 405]

He ate their Sabbath challah with them and drank their kiddush wine, and now he was a big man for the Germans.

***

For six months the Jews of Pochayev lived “freely,” that is, more or less under their own roofs. This the murderers did not begrudge them. If a Jew could get a little produce or a bit of bread and hide it away, he had to reveal the hiding place under the supervision of the foreign killers. Then came the order that all the Jews must go into the ghetto that began at Ridikier's house and extended to Bath Street. The ghetto looked like this:

Ridikier's house
The Synagogue
The Ghetto Gate   Bath Street

Around the ghetto, which was very small, was a fence made of boards, two meters high, fastened thickly together, like a wall. Above the boards hung three rows of barbed wire. No boards were missing.

The fence had to be constructed in 24 hours, and it had to be finished under the threat of being shot if it was not. It was terribly crowded. People were literally trampled.

Every little booth or stall became a “house” or a “dwelling.” A new chapter of woe, of pain, tears and blood, hunger and cold, humiliation, for which there are no words in human languages, had begun.

And the Pochayev Lavra, with its picture of the “Holy Mother,” which had allegedly worked wonders, and with its arrogant, ornamented turrets with their crosses looked tranquilly on the town, where Jews struggled with death. The “Lavra” with its great bells called the “righteous Christians,” and the gentiles went to the church and the cloisters, praised Jesus and the Fuhrer who had given them complete control over the Jews, even so they could kill them without penalty, enrich themselves with their property and goods, and drink their blood.

 

“Life in the Pochayev Jews' Ghetto”

– 2 –

With the beginning of the painful life in the confines of the ghetto, there arose a severe lack of water. Near the house of Duvid Rudman (opposite the Council House) they made a small doorway that allowed people access to the well for water. Two hours a day were permitted for obtaining water for a whole day. Anyone who did not manage to get water during those two hours was left without water. A long line of people with pails and pots stood by the well, waiting for a bit of water. With much effort and money, they managed to arrange that the horses of Duvid Rudman, Mikhel Kartiman, and Hersh–Leyb Kartiman should not be seized, so the horses were used to bring water into the ghetto. They used to put a bit of grain, meal and other produce into the water barrels and so smuggle them into the ghetto. In the ghetto, people used stones to make hand mills and grind the kernels into flour and cereal. The flour or cereal was divided among the most unfortunate people who had the greatest need.

At first each person received 150 grams of bread per day. Then, at the start of the ghetto, for two months they received 120 grams of bread per day, no more. People could come by produce only with great effort. They got it from the peasants, but only in exchange for things, like fabric, clothing, etc. Money was worthless. Only those aforementioned things had value, but that value was very small.

[Page 406]

Thus need and hunger were constant guests in the ghetto.

A small help was the fact that each day two or three hundred men were called to work. The work consisted of removing the Jews' empty houses and fixing the roads. The men who went to work would take advantage of the opportunity to sneak into villages and barter things for produce or some pieces of wood. Everyone wanted to go to work, but sadly not everyone could be sent. The overseer of the work on the houses was a certain Ukrainian hooligan who was raised on Jewish bread, Natan Pasyetshnik. He bullied the Jewish workers, and no day went by when 10 or 15 of the men did not return beaten up and abused.

People did not dare to bring produce into the ghetto. Inside the ghetto gate stood a Jewish policeman, and outside, a Ukrainian. If he was a decent policeman, some smuggling was possible: a piece of bread or a little flour or something else. But most of the time they were hooligans, bandits, who would seize everything from people and beat them thoroughly with sticks. The Jewish police would negotiate with the Ukrainians and often succeeded in having the Ukrainians allow people with produce through; it often happened that when a bandit was stationed at the gate, people would leave their produce outside the ghetto, with a Christian, who, the next day, would not return it. Or they would deceive people by telling them to leave stuff, but when they would return to the gate, they would receive blows.

It is worth mentioning that they used to take 20 men each day for work in Lasyat. This was a very desirable place, because it was close to a village. People would sneak from their work into the village and get produce, knowing that they would have to bribe the overseer. People really wanted this work. One day they decided to send 40 men on this job. The men, having finished their work in an hour or two, paid off the overseer and went into the village to seek goods. In the village they saw Ukrainian policemen, who soon returned to the town on bicycles and waited for the workers by the gate. The workers, not knowing this, returned home. But at the ghetto gate they were stopped by a strong contingent of Ukrainians. The men were not allowed into the ghetto. Their produce was seized. One of them, Shapaval from Kremenets, who had lived in Krutnev and was transported to the ghetto, had 10 kilos of flour that he had obtained in the village. They threw it over the fence. At that moment a Ukrainian policeman from Berezi, Yosef Besfalkes, shot him on the spot. The remaining 39 men had to stand motionless for three hours. Then the men were brought to the police station. Then the local commander came and “interrogated” the Ukrainian policemen, who explained that the Jews had fallen upon them and wanted to overthrow them. The commander then chose the youngest of them, 19 Jews, and sent them off with the police. The Jewish Council was forced to dig a grave, and all 19, without being shot, were buried alive.

After being in the ghetto for two months, when they ceased to provide bread, hunger and need became even greater. People began to swell from hunger. People began to die of hunger. Then Eliezer Shraybshteyn raised an outcry, called a gathering in the demolished synagogue, and called tearfully for people to help the needy. They formed a committee whose job it was to gather funds from whoever had any and organize a communal kitchen. The task was quickly undertaken. In the kitchen, people made soup every day, and every day there were long lines with pots outside the kitchen, and thus the needs of the unfortunate were somewhat alleviated.

[Page 407]

Then something else happened: in the ghetto was the Lidehover family from the village of Ledukhov. Their young boy, Moshe suffered, from hunger. People advised that he should run away to Ledukhov, to his hometown gentiles, and beg for something to eat. He let himself be persuaded, and he climbed up the fence and was free. Soon a policeman from his village, who knew him, saw him and shot him down. Almost every day something happened. That is why people were always terrified and frightened. Each day seemed like a year. People felt that, day by day, the worst day was approaching. But each person believed that it did not apply to him. Thus, people passed the days until the 25 Elul 1942.

 

The End of the Ghetto

A few days earlier, on Thursday, the whole Ukrainian police force gathered, about 200 of them, around the town. No one knew why they had assembled, and they let a couple of days go by in this way until six in the evening on the Sabbath, because that was when all the workers had come back. On Sundays there was no work.

Then they locked down the ghetto. No one was allowed to go out or come in. Every five steps around the ghetto a Ukrainian policeman was stationed. The Jewish Council intervened and begged them to at least allow the horses out to get a drink. But this was also not allowed, though children were allowed to come in and water the horses. To the question of the Jewish Council, “What has suddenly happened?” they answered that this happened “because the Jews wander around seeking produce, so there is punishment that no one can leave for three days. But if nothing else happens, there will be no danger.”

So, things proceeded until Tuesday at four in the afternoon. Then they saw that from the Vishnevets road were coming two vehicles with about 20 Gestapo men, who went into the Council House and the police station. There preparations had been made for a banquet. They had specially slaughtered a cow for their sake. They ate well and drank a lot, and then they went off to the ghetto singing songs of the Ukrainian murderers with the Ukrainian police. When they got to the ghetto, they ordered the whole Jewish Council and all the Jewish police to come to the gate immediately. When they arrived, the Gestapo leader asked the Council how many people were in the ghetto. After the Council gave him a number, he ordered the Council and the Jewish police to drive all of the Jews out of the ghetto–young and old, sick and week–and into the square. There were several carts for those who were ill.

Soon the Gestapo and the Ukrainian police spread out and began to drive people out of their houses, to beat and pummel them. Their voices reached the heart of heaven. People kissed, hugged. People trembled. People felt that their last hour had come.

When people got to the gate, the Germans began to sort them: men here, women there, the sick on wagons, and they began to drive the people onto Bath Street, through the fields, until they had been driven into the cemetery of the priests. Near the cemetery they had already prepared a grave, and by the grave they ordered everyone to strip naked. They had placed a machinegun there, and they lined up naked people in a row and began to shoot them and throw them into the grave. In this way they killed some 800 people. Toward the end they threw a couple of grenades, which exploded, into the grave. Then they covered the bodies with chlorine and filled in the grave. The ghetto was under guard. After every such action, they seized everyone who tried to hide. Then these men were led to the cloister field and told to dig graves. Then they were shot.

[Page 408]

This lasted for eight days until they had been found and exterminated. Finally, about 30 people were left. Wanting to use them for various jobs, they were assured that nothing bad would happen to them. Then they were ordered to clean up the ghetto. After carrying everything to one spot, the men were assembled, led to the cloister field, and all were shot.

Such was the tragic ending of the anciently settled Jewish town with its old traditions and customs, and all traces and signs of Jewish life in the area were erased. When there were cases when isolated heroic young people escaped, our murderous Ukrainian neighbors of old stayed alert so that no one would remain who could tell what they did to their neighbors, who had sustained them and whom they had for a long time desired to kill so they could steal their goods. They killed without mercy. A bandit, seizing an escaping Jew, killed him on the spot. A “goodhearted” person would turn him over to the police.

 

View of Pochayev, from above

 

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