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[Pages 647-652]

We bid Farewell to the Graves

by Devora Rakavitch-Resel

Translated by Hanan Zacheim

After several years, suffering, cold and hunger and constant dangers, after years of wandering in forests, fields and marshes, and being in our "liberated" native village for over a year, we decided to leave that place, the earth soaked with innocent Jewish blood and to set out for the great[er] world [outside].

Elul 1945.[1] The village is quiet. No sign of the former Jewish life. One remembers the atmosphere that reigned when our dearest lived here, when life was normal.

Early [in the morning] Jews would hurry to the synagogue to attend Selichot [2] services. Jews would arrive from abroad, from other towns and villages in Poland in order to pray in the famous Mirrer Yeshiva[3] during the High Holy Days. A mysterious awe would awaken strange thoughts and emotions in all; some would visit ancestral graves at the cemetery during the days of Elul, and pour out their hearts of all their cares and woes at the silent graves. Women would say aloud petitions and prayers.

Unfortunately our village today possesses not only this ancient holy site, but [also] four more related graveyards have been added, besides tens of [other] individual graves spread out over various sites.

We both go to bid farewell to the graves, silently, each one deep in consideration of his thoughts.

The first related graveyard is located behind the forest on the Gorodzier Road, a kilometer away directly alongside the forest. Here the sadistic murderers cut short the lives of 24 victims - 6 Gentiles and 18 Jews, including also our dear brother Yeruchim Ressel, upon him be peace. He [was laid to] rest fourth in the first row. We bow our heads, tears pour from our eyes. How frightful, simply incredible was their last journey, the twenty sixth of Tammuz[4]  1941, three weeks after the occupation of our territories by the murderers. We had already experienced the great shortages and hunger, cramped dwellings but who can imagine that there awaits each one of us- a premature and gruesome death? Never-the-less we had begun to sense it.

Now to that day of the first massacre. The village is quiet. [People] are gathering together at minyanim in order to complete the prayers. Actually there is no need to assemble a minyan;[5]   we are living [in such] cramped [conditions] that there is no shortage of men. We are living [in] such cramped [conditions], squeezed together, 5-10 families to a small house. But we do not notice this cramped condition because the nocturnal fear of attack by gentile neighbors, the fear of murder, beatings and robbery make us forget the discomforts. People seldom go about in the streets because they are insecure. A German could [suddenly] appear and be inclined to shoot us; and gentiles in general, who until recently smiled at us [in a ] friendly [manner] - a hellish fire of murder had suddenly ignited within them, and they beat and tear pieces out of innocent passers-by.

We sit quietly in the houses, the door closed and marked with a Star of David with "Jude"[6]   in the middle. [The situation] is bad, but the families are whole, with a few exceptions. Suddenly towards evening Germans arrive: no one understands the technicalities of their troop formations. They call individual Jews, create a Judenrat,[7]   instruct [us] to wear yellow patches and order all men to gather in the marketplace the next day. Whoever will hide, will be shot.

People begin to scramble and search for a piece of yellow cloth; experts in cutting and in attaching the yellow patches make their appearance. As these symbols are worn, our fate becomes sealed. We are public [property], we lose all our rights. The yellow patch can be seen from afar; it arouses mockery and scoffing in our gentile neighbours; our hearts are heavy with great pain and sadness.

The first order has been carried out. The yellow patches are now upon us; now each day new orders and decrees are issued.

The following day, Sunday, in the morning: Jews of various ages - long-bearded Jews, minors- have been lined up in rows at the marketplace next to the Russian Orthodox church, with the patches on the breast and back, cap in hand and with frightened faces they stand ready to follow orders. "Fetch leather"- an order is issued- "Fetch spades." Assistants are found: two Gentiles. One [named] Kirke, previously a peasant [an indentured labourer at Zamirer Yard"]; and Yalak, a leather worker Miranker Street. They both indicate which [persons] should be taken out. Eighteen Jews are taken out, well known people of the village amongst whom is our brother, Yeruchim, R.I.P. Six Gentiles are also brought. They are placed next to the wall of the church, [and they] are murderously beaten with feet and guns, [and then they] are instructed to get into the vehicle which is [used to take] them on their last journey.

Our parents, becoming aware that Yeruchim was taken away, are the first to arrive at the scene of the tragedy. They draw close, the earth trembles. The murderers' unextinguished cigarettes are lying about. A gentile, who had been herding cattle nearby approaches [them] and describes what occurred; murderously beaten, they dug their own graves and were buried alive, because the murderers would not spare a bullet.

A short while thereafter, at the request of the neighboring peasants [who advised] that wolves were gathering around the graves, the Judenrat was permitted to transfer the dead bodies to a deeper grave. My father, upon him be peace, joined the group of workers and, with his own hands, he took hold of his son like a small child and laid him to eternal rest. There was no sign of shooting on his body, only battered teeth and a twisted jaw. On the one side next to our Yeruchim, upon him be peace, Yashe Razovsky, upon him be peace, was laid to rest. His nose was missing; on the other side, Yona Pisetshner, upon him be peace, without ears. Thus all eighteen Jewish victims died, by having living pieces [of flesh] torn off them.

We bid farewell to our beloved brother. We bid farewell to each one individually. We stare at a cross that has been placed upon the grave; the gentile families erected it for all.

We go further to the other two mass graves [created] after the massacre of the 19th of Cheshvan[8] 1941. One mass grave is located on the new Shtolptzer Road, behind the site of the former Polish courthouse - a grave of hundreds of Jews, without any sign of a graveyard: No tombstone; no mound of earth. [Simply} a hole [in the ground] from where lime used to be extracted, and [subsequently] deepened and filled with the [prematurely] ended lives of children, women, men and the elderly. The second grave is situated on the road to the slaughter-house, a corner in the form of a "T " and enclosed with wires.

Sunday; white snow covers the earth which was red with Jewish blood. Unexpectedly, early in the morning, the town is encircled on all sides and the Jews are assembled at the market place. Mothers bearing their children in their arms; young people arm-in-arm; Jews wrapped in their prayer shawls.

We stand at the graves, we see them all and we bid them farewell

We draw near to the last mass grave of the last massacre which occurred on the first of Elul[9] 1942. The grave is located at the edge of the forest, at the same site of the first grave. How heavy are our hearts; how tragic the memories.

On the way we pick the blue cornflowers in the fields and place them upon the grave of hundreds of Jews, including our parents Fruma and Moshe Ressel, of blessed memory. We fall down upon the earth - we see before us father [and] mother in the depths of theirtragedy occasioned by the loss of our brother Yeruchim, and our sister Minia Ressel-Rosenthal, may her memory be blessed, in Ravav on the twenty-eighth day of Tammuz[10] 1941, at the age of only 28 years. We see them on the last night when we left the ghetto. We hear their soft weeping, their overpowering dread of our fate. We hear their last words; "Run, dear children, run. You must live and take revenge, and survive to live a decent life."

We now approach the old cemetery of Mir. There are many graves, but not a single tombstone. Not a single tree remains in an area once so densely overgrown. The gentiles tore out the tombstones to cover the muddy parts of their homes. We do not find the graves of our grandfathers, grandmothers and close relatives. We bid farewell to this sacred site, and to all those who rest eternally here having died a natural death.

We now go to bid farewell to the village.

At our house at the central marketplace, we go up to the yard, and we sit down on the cement bench. As arranged, and as directed by an inner force, we do not cross the threshold of the burnt house. Too difficult. Here we were born. Here we were raised by our parents, and from this place we were sent out to study in the town. Here we celebrated happy occasions, and married off children. Here we would enjoy a carefree moment with other youngsters; here the door would not be locked from early morning until late at night - a merchant's house, a house that gave sustenance to many people; labourers; coach drivers transporting food to the train; merchants from surrounding villages; merchants from farther afield; Jews and gentiles, peasants and wealthy Polish noblemen. Everything has been wiped out.

Silence all about, no one, no sign has remained. We wish to say goodbye, but we do not hear a "go well." We do not say "stay well." Slowly we walk about the market and the streets that used to be populated by Jews. We go as if in a funeral procession, stopping at each house of our close ones; we remain at length at the synagogues, at the synagogue-heath. We approach the Yeshivah, stand quietly - there is no sign of the sacred Yeshivah, the Yeshivah that radiated Torah to the whole Jewish world.

Everyone and everything has gone up in smoke, [has blown away] with the bloody windthe heart aches who can express with words our thoughts and feelings?

Notes on Translation

A. General

  1. The "ch" sound has been transliterated from the Yiddish and corresponds to the "ch" sound in the Scottish "loch."
  2. Words in parentheses have been added in order to present meaning more accurately.
  3. This is a literal translation and style has been sacrificed accordingly.

B. Individual words and dates

  1. Hebrew month corresp 10.8.45-7.9.45 back
  2. Special early-morning daily services where penitential prayers are recited, beginning one week before the Jewish New Year back
  3. Center of higher Jewish learning, specializing in Talmudic Studies back
  4. 21 July 1941 back
  5. A quorum of ten Jewish males over the age of thirteen, without which certain   prayers may not be  recited. back
  6. (pronounced Yoode) German for Jew back
  7. Judenrat (German) Liaison committee created in most Jewish areas by occupying German forces back
  8. 19th Cheshvan 1941 9 November 1941 back
  9. 14 August 1942  back
  10. 23 July 1941  Back

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