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[Pages 257 - 258]

The Vicissitudes of a Prayer Book

Salom Sarona

Translated by: Susan Geroe

-- True Story --

I was laying on the grounds of the big synagogue of Oradea, a little further from the other prayer books. The reason I ended up further is because an outraged long moustached farmer kicked me, for he couldn't come by anything from the loot.

It was well into autumn, during the first days of November. A thick, heavy fog was descending over the city, the last of the wild geese were taking their flights in formation toward countries with warmer climate, their sad croak breaking through the lead gray fog layer.

Then all became quiet, deathly quiet in the synagogue and throughout the neighborhood. Because the gang of robbers carried away everything there was to take, only we, prayer books, were laying around helplessly.

I'm thinking of my owner, who purchased me with such great love from the Zoldfa Street shop of the soft spoken, dear Mr. Spitzer, as a gift to his fiancée, that dark eyed lovely girl. Pressed close together, they happily wrote on one of my pages their engagement date.

March 4, 1928, Erzsi and Mano, Oradea. Then:
June 5, 1928, Our Wedding Day.
April 18, 1929, Birth of Evike.
June 3, 1931, Birth of Arika.

On High Holidays, my dark eyed lady took me along to the synagogue. She knew my every letter and how she prayed! At the Szane Tokev prayer the tears were just flowing from her beautiful eyes.

It was probably about noon already, when the gate of the synagogue yard opened and a tired young slave laborer stepped in. My letters started jumping with joy.

"Dear God, from where did you send this Jewish lad? For months now, I have seen only mean robbers."

The slave laborer looked around, took a few steps to the synagogue door, there he stopped, leaned against one of the doors and burst into a cathartic weeping that shook his entire body. He didn't have the emotional strength to step into the temple, turned around with fatigued steps instead, almost stepping on me, leaned down and picked me up. He wiped my fog moistened cover with his jacket sleeve, placed me under his arm and took me home. That home was sad and empty, only the hanging picture of a beautiful woman looked at me. Finally, I found out that the storm swept away this young creature as well.

My new owner often looked at the picture that was hanging on the wall and at such times he started turning my pages, looking always for the page where my former owners made notes, then a tear would drop on me.

Almost two years have passed this way. It happened for the first time on a May morning that my owner placed flowers in a vase, lavender and white color lilacs. A blue eyed blond girl came by in the afternoon. Sitting quietly with my owner, they were conversing softly. At that time I was already in a box in the closet, keeping company to some valuable jewelry. My owner took out the box and placed it on the table. He wanted to gift some jewelry to the blue eyed girl. But the girl's eyes fastened on me, she took me in her hands, turned my pages, and she also stopped on the page with the handwritten notes.

"No, thank you, I cannot accept jewelry, however, if you could give me this prayer book..."

"Please forgive me, but it grew so close to my heart, it would be very difficult to part with it."

Next morning, my owner was whistling joyfully while shaving. The blue eyed girl visited from time to time and my owner became even happier from those visits. By that time I realized that my owner and the blue eyed girl loved each another.

After the wedding, my owner took me out of the box and handed me over to the blue eyed girl.

"Now the prayer book is yours. Let's write in today's date."

The hours, days, months, years, were trickling down like pearls, with one sigh, one wish: When will we get to Israel, to our country?

After fifteen years, the long awaited day arrived.

It was during wintry frosty weather, with large snowflakes falling from the grayish sky, when they were examining, searching the two seventy kilo boxes. My owners were imploring the strict custom's agent:

"Please comrade, remove anything you wish from the box, but allow us to take this prayer book."

Every word, every request was in vain, the custom's agent was unbendable.

This is how I was taken out of the box and given to a close relative.

My fate became harsher than I could imagine. Everything that my owners left to these relatives seemed important, except me. They were throwing me from one place to another, until I finally ended up in the attic.

I wasn't alone in the attic, having landed in the company of a few rusty candlesticks, we held nightly conversations.

On Friday evenings, the candlesticks would complain:

"A long time ago, we provided the light, the warmth for the family in the house - now, humiliated, we're rusting here, because it would be shameful to light us these days of the new regime. Surely there is no light, brightness and peace in this house."

I wasn't complaining or sighing. But I still had to tell someone my story, to bare my sadness:

"What do you know about my life? What do you know about my suffering? You are bewailing the lights that you were shedding through a Jewish house. But I know what it is like when they extinguish the light for an entire city. They humiliated thirty thousand Jews. They robbed and they forcibly carried off thirty thousand Jews. But this was still not enough. They cruelly tortured them, then they finally exterminated them. From thirty thousand only three thousand returned. Their souls, their bodies were broken. Never has anyone seen a man cry who has not witnessed as that slave laborer did on that gray foggy morning. I was waiting for the sky to open to provide some consolation for him.

He mourned thirty thousand souls, buried thirty thousand souls within minutes. But he still did not loose his faith, proof of this being that he lifted me and separately, he mourned my previous owners. On my page with notes, the ink got messed up from his tears.

You should have seen my blue eyed lady owner when she went to the cemetery before High Holidays. There was no particular grave where she really had to stop. She was just walking and tears were flowing from her eyes. Here and there, she would stop at a grave stone. There were at least two or three names on those stones. On top, the name of the person in the grave, underneath the names of those who could not get a grave on this Earth: they died the death of martyrs in Mautthausen. They died as martyrs in Auschwitz. They died as martyrs in Buchenwald. They died as martyrs on Russian soil.

She sat on the side of a grave, with the following inscription: She gave birth to a baby boy in the cattle car, died as a martyr in the Auschwitz gas chamber.

And you should have seen my lady owner pray at High Holidays. She was imploring God: Our Father, Our King , lift high Israel's light and lead us home, to our ancestral land."

This is how we talked for seven long years. On a warm August morning, through the attic opening, a sunray gilded the dust which covered us. I heard familiar voices.

"No, this couldn't be my owner, he is far away, in the land of Israel. I am imagining, I said to the candlesticks."

"No, you are not imagining, they said. People are coming up to the attic".

My owner was approaching. He changed, got taller. Or is it his straight posture? The hair at his temples was gray, but his eyes were peaceful and sparkling.

He picks me up, he dusts me with a fine, soft handkerchief. He walks down the steps, holding me all along to his left side by his heart, which enables me to hear his heartbeat. I press close to him, like a bride to her groom, to the groom who returned from the battle field.

As we are sitting on the airplane, my owner talks to the passenger sitting next to him.

"I didn't really feel like taking this trip. I am not financially independent. But I did it for the sake of the prayer book."

"We are already above Tel Aviv", says the fellow passenger.

"Blessed be He, who returns to the land of Israel", said I, the prayer book...

[Pages 258 - 261]

Camp Orders Within the Ghetto

Translated by: Susan Geroe

Translator's note: Some of the militaristic expressions used in this text are unknown to this translator, therefore a word describing it or closely relating to the original language term was used.

Below, is a verbatim reproduction of the decreed Ghetto Orders by colonel Peterfy, the bloodthirsty commander of the ghetto. One can only imagine the effect the posting of these decrees had on the Jews who were already living in a state of low spirits and depression. Peterfy, who practically ate Jews alive and tormented with unbelievable cruelty the unfortunate residents of the ghetto, was arrested after the collapse of the Hitler regime and hung himself in his Budapest prison cell. He was justified in trembling with fear before the sentence of justice. Or was it perhaps the guilt feeling and conscience that bothered him? (Editors)

I. GENERALITIES 1. The “Ghetto” is guarded by gendarmes. Those who leave the ghetto unrightfully, are found in prohibited area or without gendarme escort, will be shot by gendarmes.

2. Only those Jews are allowed to leave the ghetto who receive orders for it from gendarmes on duty at the time. Stepping out is only permitted through the watch area on Zarda Street set up by gendarmes and with gendarme escort.

3. Contact with the outside world is totally prohibited. No private person is permitted to bring in or take out anything from the ghetto. Those stepping out or leaving are to be searched by the guards. There is no mail service. Smuggling is strictly prohibited.


1. Everyone is to stay in the allocated house and room. Allocations and lodgings are given according to new regulations by official gendarmes. Following the allocation procedure, rooms designated as lodging must be numbered in continuous order. The room numbers must be hung above the doors on cardboard tablets. The assistant gendarme officer in charge of house group command is naming room commanders and deputy room commanders from among Jewish men lodged there.

2. A lodging list (of names) in three copies is to be made out for each room. One copy is to hung on the outside of the door, one copy to be kept by the house commander with him at all times, one copy to be given for safekeeping to the deputy gendarme officer in charge of the house group. Only lists made out on official forms for this purpose and signed by the deputy gendarme officer in charge of the lodging group are valid. The lodging lists must be written with the same writing, in the same ink.

3. I divide the house groupings in such manner that each deputy gendarme officer house group commander has under his command approximately 1500 Jews. I mark the house groups by Roman numerals.

4. In every house group the house commander names 15 (fifteen) men between the ages of 20 and 40 to enforce the camp orders. This number includes the commander and his deputy. The house commander and his deputy are to keep on themselves the list of names of those in charge with the maintenance of the decree. Those enforcing the camp orders are to wear on their left sleeve a yellow ribbon marked in red with the Roman numeral of the house group, the letter “R” and continuous Arabic numerals, e.g. “I.R.1.” Arabic numeral one is to be worn by the commander, number two by his deputy, numbers 3-15 in sequence by other assignees.

5. During the day, between wake and retreat, only house commanders and orders enforcers are allowed to leave the house grounds designated as lodging, including its yard and garden, and only on official duty. The rest may circulate temporarily on the street only by order and with the order enforcer escort. Standing about, idle standing are prohibited. Orders for leaving the house are given by gendarmes or Jewish order enforcers. All gathering outside the house and visiting are prohibited.

6. Wake up is at 6 o'clock. Retreat is at 20 o'clock. Between wake up and retreat each one must be in the allocated room. The room may be left only for taking care of personal needs to and from the designated place, for a short period of time.

7. Quiet should rule over the ghetto during the day also. Noise, singing, vociferation, arguing are prohibited. Between wake and retreat the ghetto is to be desolate and mute.


1. The city authority will take care of supply food when the food reserve brought (by the Jews) at the time of entering the ghetto runs out. The receipt and distribution of the foodstuff will be handled by a central and house group provision supervising committees specifically named for this purpose. The central provision supervising committee will be made up of 1 president and 4 members, the house group provision supervising committee of 1 president and 2 members. The appointments are to be made by the managing Jewish leadership.

Cooking is to be organized in common kitchens established separately within each house group by the provision supervising committee.

2. Breakfast is to be handed out at 7 o'clock, lunch at 12 o'clock, dinner at 18 o'clock. The food should be picked up by one designated person from each room, taking turns. Their appointment is the duty of the room commanders, while the appointees' line up, their escort to and from the kitchen is that of the house commanders'. Handing out the bread is to take place at dinner time.

3. Personnel needed to keep the kitchen functioning is named by the house commander. The kitchen is under the jurisdiction of the camp order decree's commending officer.

4. The name list of the provision supervising committee members and that of the kitchen personnel must be hung in each provision reception area and each common kitchen. The committees' members (including the president) and the personnel shall wear a yellow ribbon marked in red with the Roman numeral of the house group and the letter “E”, e.g. “III E”.

5. It is prohibited to drink or possess alcoholic beverages. Those who possesses such shall this very day hand it over to the gendarme committee operating on the first floor of the girl's high school.


1. In every matter concerning the occupants of the rooms one should go to the room commander, he in turn respectively to the house commander, house group commander, with important issues to the camp official designate unit: the camp gendarme officer on duty will make a final decision in the matter, by following the orders he received. Orders issued by the commander and their proclamation will take place in the same manner, from above down. This is the service regulation and everyone must abide by it.


1. In every house group the order enforcing commander shall name every day from those below him one person on day duty and one person on house group duty and one on house group on call duty. Their time on duty lasts from 13 o'clock to next day 13 o'clock. The whereabouts of the those on duty is established by the house group commander. The person on day duty will keep watch from 13 o'clock until 1 o'clock at night, from 1 o'clock on, the other.

Their responsibilities include carrying out the enforcement of house regulations within their territory and taking care of messenger service.

For the assumption of duty and for instructions they should report to the order enforcing commander and house group commander at 11 o'clock.

2. The house group commander shall send every day a designate from among the order enforcing group for messenger/news service from 7 o'clock until 19 o'clock to the camp guard headquarters.

3. Those on duty should wear a board marked hanging from the neck, marked with the Roman numeral of the house group and the type of service they perform,
e.g. “II.day duty” The boards are to be yellow colored, the writing black.


1. Within the house groups and within each house, the work needed to be performed and its supervision is the duty of the house group commander and house commander, respectively.

Workers can be ordered for outside work strictly with the knowledge of the house group commander.

Inside work orders should be set according to gender and age, in such a manner that each person performs the work equally and by turns.

2. The orderly upkeep of the rooms and houses are the responsibility of the room commanders, respectively the house commander. The common area upkeep, such as streets, or for instance the kitchen hygiene, are the responsibility of the order enforcing commanders.


1. Every house group should have at least one attending physician and a sick room, the ghetto should have a common hospital and birthing home.

2. The appointment of the medical and nursing staff and determining their sphere of activity are made by the lead physician, who reports to the city's military doctor in chief with any professional question.

3. The doctors and nursing staff will wear a yellow armband with a red cross insignia.

4. The building which houses the sick room, the hospital and the birthing home should be marked by a hanging red cross flag.

5. The sick room, the hospital and the birthing home should have two separate lists, one with the names of the nursing staff and the other with the names of the sick. One copy of each, signed by the doctor should be hung on the outside of the entrance door.

6. Sick people from within the house groups should be presented to the doctor at 8 o'clock and a report made to him of those in sick-bed or possibly deceased. Presenting the sick as well as the report are the duties of the house commander. Interning one into the hospital or the birthing house should be handled by the house group doctor in agreement with the leading physician.

Doctors should write exact medical notes on each of the patients under their care.

7. It is the responsibility of the leading physician to isolate and treat he contagious disease cases.

8. It is the responsibility of the leading physician to report immediately in writing every death, birth and contagious decease to the camp command headquarters (officer on duty) and in case of contagious disease occurrence take steps to apply the necessary protective measures.

9. Doctors in charge of house group's “eu” [“hr” - hygiene related] duties should also be on guard as to the strict following of the “eu” regulations. The hygienic inspection of the kitchens, toilets and latrines should be made conscientiously.

10. Sewer water, where there is no gutter system, can be emptied only in latrines or in other places designated by the house commander. If there is a stoppage within the sewer system, the toilets should immediately be locked and a latrine dug in a suitable location in the yard or garden. Debris, garbage can only be emptied in a place designated by the house commander. If within a yard there is great accumulation of garbage, it should be taken to a collecting place designated by the leading physician.


1. The firemen brigade should be organized by each house commander within the building, by the house group commander within the house groups. The house firemen brigade should be composed of 6-10 men, that of the house group of 25-30 men.

2. Over night, there should be pots filled with water in every room.

3. It is forbidden to smoke inside the rooms, in the attic area, or light a match, smoke, or burn an open flame near flammable materials.


1. Between wake and retreat it is prohibited to burn a white light or lamp in those rooms where complete blackout cannot be achieved.

2. Upon air raid signal, if the city air raid is sounded, everyone should stay put, go inside the house, and if there is a cellar find shelter within.


1. Anywhere within the ghetto, Hungarian or German officers, also superior headquarter commanders should be greeted ahead by men with removing head cover, in a polite manner. They should stand in attention with uncovered head before them. If they go in a room, the person who first sees them, should call out loud: attention! Standing in attention includes women inside the rooms as well. The room commander or house commander should present himself in military fashion and provide the requested information readily.

2. Common residence and living in common of several families requires that in regards of moral character or sexuality, nobody should forget oneself and refrain from committing acts offending good taste.


1. Every change in the number of people, including internment or release from sick room or hospital, should be reported up to the level of house group command.

2. The house commanders are to report twice if special situations occurred, at 8 o'clock and after retreat inspection, at 20:30 o'clock during common audience procedures at a place designated by the house group commander. In case of emergency a report should be made out of turn. At morning and evening audiences the order supervising commanders and persons on duty should also be present. They will all receive the orders to be carried out at this time.


1. Aside from house group order supervising commanders, I will control and enforce the carrying out of the house regulations within the territory of the ghetto by appointing continuously circulating gendarme patrols and local gendarme officers. Whoever does not abide by the orders, goes to prison camp.

This camp order should be hung in every house within the territory of the ghetto on the main entrance door, in multi story buildings also on every floor.

Nagyvarad, May 10, 1944


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