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Lopatyn
(Lopatin, Ukraine)

50°13' / 24°51'

Translation of “Lopatyn” from:

Sefer zikaron le-kehilot Radikhov

Edited by: G. Kressel

Published in Tel Aviv, 1976


This is a translation of “Lopatyn” from Sefer zikaron le-kehilot Radikhov; Memorial book of Radikhov,
ed. G. Kressel, Tel Aviv, Society of Radikhov, Lopatyn and vicinity, 1976 (H,Y)


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[Page 170]

Schematic Layout of Lopatyn

Translated by Shuki Ecker

[41 KB]

 

Title Schematic Layout of Lopatyn
Scale 1:1000
Roads Upper right: Road to Szczurowice
Middle left: Road to Radziechow
Lower left: Road to Toporow
Lower right: Road to Stanislawczyk
Areas (near the top) Stands, Market, Stands
Numbered sites 1) Agricultural estate of H[einrich] Suchostaw, 16,000 dunams[1] surrounding Lopatyn with forests and the manufacture of alcohol, beer and timber
2) “The kloyz” synagogue of the Husiatyn Chassidim
3) Synagogue and bet midrash (place of prayer) of the Belz Chassidim
4) Residence of the rabbi of the Husiatyn Chassidim
5) Residence of the rabbi of the Belz Chassidim
6) Polish church of the 13th century
7) Agricultural estate of the Polish church and the priest's residence
8) The courthouse
9) The prison
10) Primary school
11) Distillery and brewery
12) Polish and Ukrainian residences
13) Agricultural farm of Ch[aim] Bernholz
14) Jewish residences and businesses
15) The Jewish public baths

Footnote

  1. 16,000,000 square meters or approximately 4,000 acres Return


[Pages 171-194]

Pages from the Life
of the Community of Łopatyn and its End

by Avraham Tzvi Bernholtz

Translated by Jerrold Landau

 

 

With holy trembling, awe, and great trepidation, I come to erect a monument for my native town, the community of Łopatyn.

Łopatyn is located in the district of Brody in Galicia. This holy community existed for approximately 150 years. Exemplary Jewish life was lived there until destruction fell upon it, with its fate being the same as the fate of all the Jews of Poland, who were burned in the conflagration in holiness and purity.

I went through all these frightful events. I am a brand plucked from the fire[1], who drank from the poison cup until it was drained; I am the person who witnessed the hellish torments of my nation. My flesh saw the cruel and frightful tactics used by the troops of Hitler, may his name be blotted out, to destroy all traces of the Jewish people. The tactics were similar everywhere. No Holocaust eulogizer has yet found the words or expression for this evil, in order to describe the pernicious acts of murder and annihilation.

I encounter no shortage of difficulties already at the beginning of the act of erecting the monument. To my sorrow, I have no written memorial or sign that would bear witness to the realities of Jewish life in that community from the time of its founding. I was not a witness to anything that I write about the distant past. Rather, they are from hearsay alone, whether from the elders of the town or from the home of my parents of blessed memory. Even though I hope that my memory does not mislead me, the angel of forgetfulness nevertheless takes its toll. I will attempt to ensure that the content is precise and true to reality.

The family of Reb Chaim Distenfeld was one of the first families that settled in Łopatyn during the time that the town was still sort of a village. This family came to our town from the city of Krzemieniec in the district of Volhynia (Wołyń) at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The family spread out and grew, and “conquered” a large portion of the town. Entire families sprouted from it, such as Binyamin Katz, the family of Zeinwil Distenfeld, Reb Chaim Distenfeld, Esther the widow and her children, etc.

 

Reb Zeinvel Distenfeld in the center, his son Moshe and his wife Sara, nee Fish, and their children Yaakov and Tzipora, may G-d avenge their blood

 

My grandfather Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Bernholtz was the son-in-law of Reb Chaim Distenfeld. Several years after his marriage, my grandfather, through the recommendation and influence of the Admor of Bełz Rabbi Yehoshua of holy blessed memory, was chosen to serve as the rabbi of this small town. He tended to his flock for more than 40 years with wisdom, understanding, faithfulness and dedication. He was a gifted and learned scholar, great in the fear of heaven. He conducted discussions in halachic matters with the great Torah scholars of his generation, including the rabbi and gaon Rabbi Shlomo Kluger of Brody and the rabbi and gaon Rabbi Shalom Mordechai Schwadron of Brze¿any. He was even invited to a rabbinical gathering in Lwów in the year 5648 (1888), and was one of its spokesmen.

The man Moshe was very humble. He was modest and discrete, satisfied with little. He was always careful that nobody would precede him with a greeting. He would even initiate a greeting with a gentile on the street. He never made a complaint to the community requesting a raise in his meager salary, despite the fact that the poverty and deprivation in his house were unbearable. When his wife, the Rebbetzin Chaya, complained about the poverty in the house, he would tell her: I did not come into this world to occupy myself with meaningless matters. I must study and teach to the best of my ability, and I fix whatever I can. He lived a long life and taught tens of students, some of whom attained the levels of Yoreh Yoreh and Yadin Yadin (levels of rabbinical ordination). He was summoned to the heavenly court when he reached the age of 80. His death caused a heavy mourning among his community, his friends and acquaintances.

The family of Rabbi Anshel Moscisker was among the first families in the town. I heard from my revered father that Rabbi Anshel was generous, enlightened and progressive in the context of the times. Additionally, he was G-d fearing, pleasant in his dealings with people, and acceptable to the townsfolk. The door of his house was open to anyone in need, and anyone suffering from among our people. The stories that I heard about him are typical: Once, the two cows of a Jew from the town were stolen from his barn. This family earned its entire livelihood from the income of milk from these two cows. This sad news spread rapidly, and the matter became quickly known to the entire town, including to the ears of Rabbi Anshel. Rabbi Anshel decided to support this family during their time of difficulty. This was the Sabbath. The next morning, when the Jew (I also knew his name, but have forgotten it with the passage of time) was on his way to the Shacharit (morning) service and passed Rabbi Anshel's house, Rabbi Anshel called to him through the window and asked him for details about the incident and about the value of the damage this caused him. The Jew mentioned the full price, and Rabbi Anshel took out the stated amount from the safe in his house, and gave it to that Jew without any discussion or issue. The value of the two cows was significant then as it is now, and Rabbi Anshel absorbed this even though he did not have great wealth. This incident was remembered in the town many years later, and everyone cited it with praise and approval.

Another story was about the fire that broke out in town. The fire also affected homes of the Jews and my grandfather Tzvi's home was also burned at that time. There was no fire insurance among the Jews during those times, and those whose homes were burned down not only remained without a roof over their heads, but also without hope for any rehabilitation. Anshel called all those whose houses were burnt, and took from his drawer pre-prepared notes that granted each of those individuals rights to receive lumber from the forests to rebuild their burnt houses. At that moment, my grandfather uttered a heavy groan from his heart. Rabbi Anshel understood the meaning of this groan, turned to my grandfather, and asked “Rabbi Hersh, why are you groaning like that, all will be well.” My grandfather said, “We will now have lumber, but how will we find the money to transport the wood from the forest?” Rabbi Anshel returned and gave 20 zloty for this purpose. It is appropriate to note that Rabbi Anshel's family members were not people of great wealth, but rather ordinary, well-off Jews. However, their relationship with the needy of the town was beyond the usual. One can see the relationship and sense of gratitude of the town's Jews to this family from the fact that after the death of Rabbi Anshel's wife, all the town's Jews decided to name any daughter born that year Tzina in recognition that the family's concern for the needy of the town was beyond the usual.

A second family that settled in Łopatyn during the second half of the nineteenth century was the family of Reb Yekutiel Katz and his wife Miriam. This family fulfilled the commandment, “your home should be opened wide, and poor people should be among your household.” Their home was open wide, and charity and benevolence were given generously to the poor of the city. In town, Miriam was called, “the mother of the poor.” Every needy person who entered their home found a set table, and was given food for their household. Miriam also had a list of needy people. She used to provide what was missing for the Sabbath so that, heaven forbid, the Sabbath would not be profaned in a Jewish home. Rabbi Yekutiel served as the head of the community of Łopatyn until his latter days. His communal activity was untainted. He knew how to get on with government authorities, and he was the one who attempted and succeeded in changing the status of the place from that of a village to that of a town. Rabbi Yekutiel was one of the important Chasidim of Bełz, acceptable to the Rebbe. After his death, the communal leadership passed to Vofche Kaufman.

To complete the picture of the character of the Jewish population of our town, I wish to dedicate my words to an additional family, that of Rabbi Eliakim Gasthalter. Rabbi Eliakim was a refined man, and his house was blessed with both Torah and greatness. He was a wealthy man, with an estate in the area. He also leased an estate in Łopatyn. The human approach of this household to the poor of the city and the neighborhood is beyond description. Everyone was received pleasantly and in a proper fashion.

The market day in Łopatyn took place on Wednesdays. The Jewish peddlers of the area and market attendees, which included some very poor people, received support and sustenance from the Gasthalter household. Their home was open, and whatever was given was with a generous and willing hand. Rabbi Eliakim and his son Michel (Mechtse) were Husiatyner Chasidim (all the Husiatyner Chasidim in town were proud of this family). They would organize Sabbath celebrations and the third Sabbath meal in a bountiful fashion. Whoever did not see the utmost devotion during the third Sabbath meal, which enveloped the participants of the meal, had never seen true joy in his life. After drinking a small amount of liquor, and before they became tipsy, they would enthusiastically join together in a circle dance with song and hymns to the tune of “vetaher libeinu leavdecha b'emet” (and purify our hearts to serve You in truth). Their faces shone like those of the ministering angels. After the song and dance came the Maariv service, which was also recited with enthusiasm and devotion as a preparation to escort out the Sabbath Queen. For the “melave malka” (post Sabbath meal) itself, the table was set with all sorts of fine food. After appropriate drinking and communal singing, the lion of the group, Rabbi Binyamim (Binyamim Charap) spiced up this sanctified meal with words of Torah and stories about the tzadikim of the generation.

Sheva, Rabbi Eliakim's wife, was a type of woman described by “a woman of valor who can find,”[2] a pleasant, upright woman – that is, pleasant in her deeds and upright in her behavior. She served the Creator with her heart and soul, and loved her community with her heart and soul. In her latter years, she made aliya to the Land, and lived a long life. She lived with her grandson Yaakov Gasthalter in Sde Yaakov, where she has now found her eternal rest.

The lion of the group was Reb Binyamim. He was physically weak, short in stature, but mighty in spirit, with a broad grasp of all aspects of Torah. The following was the order of the day of the rabbi of blessed memory. He got up at dawn. His first destination was the mikva (ritual bath), where he immersed his body. When he returned home from the river, he began preparations for prayer. After about two hours of “preparations,” studying chapters of Zohar, etc. as was the custom among Chasidim and people of good deeds, he commenced his prayers. In his old age, when his vision dimmed, he recited verses of Zohar by repeating them after me, after he removed his Rashi tefillin. After eating a morsel for breakfast, he put on the second set of tefillin, the Rabbeinu Tam tefillin. This brought him to an hour after noon. His daughter had no more energy to wait for her father, so she came to the synagogue to force him to go home so he could eat. At approximately 4:00 p.m., he returned to the synagogue (the Husiatyner Kloyz). His students gathered around him and delved into the depths of Torah until late at night, with a brief pause for the Mincha and Maariv services. It would happen that the students would disappear one after the other during the learning. His immersion in the depths of the Talmudic passage was so great that he did not even notice this, and he continued his studying alone, without students.

His six sons and son-in-law Yisrael established their homes in nearby towns and disseminated their Torah to the Jewish lads. The most prominent of them was Moshe (Moshe Charap) who, over and above his deep knowledge of Talmud and rabbinical decisors, knew the mechanics of our language and the nature of secular knowledge very well. Second to Reb Binyamin Charap from amongst the men of that generation in our town was Reb Asher Zelig Teitelbaum (Reb Zelikl). Reb Zelikl was a simple shopkeeper with a grocery store that sustained him in an honorable fashion, so that he was even considered to be among the well-to-do of the town. However Reb Zelik was also a great scholar with a sharp mind. He was a great expert in Torah, Talmud, and rabbinical decisors. He used to choose two or three lads from amongst the lads of the town and draw them to study with him, without expectation of payment. He commenced his studies at the crack of dawn, a long time before the Shacharit service, and continued his studies after the service. During the short winter days and on long Sabbath evenings, the studies would at times take place in his home. His daughter Chaya, may G-d avenge her blood, would place a small meal on the table. During the harsh winter when a snowstorm prevented us from going home, we remained with him for the night. He himself would prepare our beds with dedication and love. All this was done out of his love for Torah and those who study it.

The following are two incidents that made a strong impression on me when they occurred and are etched deep in my memory. We were standing in prayer in our kloyz on the day of Hoshana Rabba (seventh day of Sukkot). News spread among the worshipers that a Jew from the nearby town, a relative of Reb Zelikl, went to a gentile court to negotiate with another Jew, his former partner in monetary matters. The news shocked all the worshipers, especially Reb Zelikl. Reb Zelikl hurriedly left the kloyz while still wrapped in his tallis and went in quick steps to the courthouse. He forcefully removed the Jew from the courthouse and brought him to the kloyz, preaching loudly: A Jew is not supposed to bring his complaints to gentile courts. There is justice and a judge in Israel. How much more ugly is this matter when it is taking place on the day of Hoshana Rabba – this is a public desecration of the Divine Name.

The second incident etched in my memory is the appearance of Reb Zelikl in our Beit Midrash on April 24, 1920, after we returned from a festive parade in our town in honor of the San Remo decision to certify the Balfour Declaration. Reb Zelikl ascended the podium and preached about the issue of the day. Among other things, he declared, “the stone that the builders rejected has become a cornerstone.”[3] The Zionism that we regarded as heresy and related to with disgust, those who we banned and scorned, we must ask for their forgiveness, for they have laid the corner peg. We must offer thanks before the nation and the community for witnessing this achievement. It is stated in Tractate Taanit, page 29, folio a, “From the time the First Temple was destroyed, groups of young Kohanim gathered together with the Temple keys in their hands, and they ascended to the roof of the Sanctuary and said before Him, Master of the World, since we did not merit to become faithful guardians, let the keys be handed to You. They threw them upward, and a kind of palm of a hand emerged and received them. Then they jumped and fell into the fire.” Reb Zelikl expounded on the legend and said, “I see in the eyes of my spirit that the footsteps of the redemption are approaching – I see the beginning of the redemption. There is hope that the people of Israel will get back the keys to the gates of Zion. The sun of Israel is rising and shining and will bring salvation and healing to our pillaged people. Dear Jews, it is appropriate to close your businesses, to abandon your property, and go en masse to our Land. Generations of the children of Israel will follow after us.” Words such as these heard from a Jew of the type of Reb Zelikl were a rare phenomenon for us Zionists. The words strengthened and emboldened the youths, and gave an opening and foundation for the thought of aliya and the building of the Land.

The third personality that it is fitting and appropriate for me to present on these pages is Rebbe Elazar Shou'b (Wilder). He was beloved and esteemed in the town, even by his opponents. He was a Chasid of Husiatyn. The town was divided between Husiatyn and Bełz Chasidim and there were constant disputes between them. However, Reb Elazar held both sides in esteem. He also spread his vast knowledge. Even lads of marriageable age studied Torah and Chasidism from him. He was recognized in town as someone knowledgeable about medicine. He was summoned to the sick, and he tended to them with love and dedication to the best of his understanding. Interestingly, all the people of the town had full faith in the medical care he dispensed. He willingly accepted any call with no expectation of payment. He also knew how to pray for the recovery of a sick person, in the sense of “the righteous decree, and the Holy One, blessed be He.” I also know that even though his livelihood was not bountiful as was usual for a shochet of a town in those days, he was often involved in giving charity discreetly so as not to, heaven forbid, embarrass anyone. At times, he would return the slaughtering fee into the basket of the fowl in a way that would not be noticed as it was happening.

I recall that one Purim, as I was making the rounds in town collecting donations for the Jewish National Fund, Reb Elazar realized I avoided going to his house, for private reasons not to be described here. He leaned against the window and waited for me until my friend and I were opposite his house. He opened the window, and said, “I know you are angry with me, but do not prevent me from fulfilling this holy commandment.” Of course, we listened to him. We entered his house, and not only did he give a generous donation to the Jewish National Fund, but also treated us appropriately – as is done amongst traditional Jews on Purim.

I will also mention with gratitude two people who left their mark on me during my early youth and had an influence on the continuation of my and others' studies. They are Reb Alexander Ziskind Kurz (Reb Zusha), and Reb Yechiel Michel Wilder, two brothers-in-law who made Torah their calling, and were learned in Bible, Mishnah, and Talmud. They were known for their modesty and humility, as scholars and knowledgeable men, who conducted themselves humbly. My tongue is too short to describe their generous traits, charity, wisdom in their professions, and fear of G-d. They attempted with all their energy to imbue fine traits and love of the Torah of Israel to their students. Even though they were not always successful, for the most part their intentions and deeds were not in vain.

Reb Zusha disseminated Torah to Jewish children from the early morning hours until evening for more than a half century. The long winter nights were also dedicated to Torah. To this day, his holy ways stand before my eyes. Reb Zusha was always weak and sickly. From where did this sickly man draw the superhuman powers for this difficult task, without break and without any rest?

Reb Zusha was fortunate to have passed away before the community came to an end. He merited at least not seeing the murder of dozens upon dozens of his students.

Reb Yechiel Michel lived on after him, and saw with his own eyes the destruction and annihilation that the Russian conquerors brought in 1939, and the bitter end in 1942 by the impure Nazi beast.

With these two sublime people living in the town, devoting their energy to the education of the youth of the town – the generation was not an orphaned generation.

* *
*

Here I will add some details to the words of my fellow town native Ben-Zion Friedman regarding the sprouting of the Zionist idea in our town. When the First World War ended in 1918, and the youths returned from the killing fields, a Zionist council was set up, and the council decided to renew the Zionist organization “HaTikva” that had closed at the outbreak of war in 1914. Our dear friend Moshe Charap stood at the helm of the council and along with him were: Yosef Roth, Mordechai Friedman, Feivish Bernholz, Michael Kardash, and others. The youths of the town received news of the organization's development willingly and with joy, and most registered. Every Sabbath, and at times on weekdays, lectures took place on Zionist topics, cultural questions, etc. Groups were founded to study the Hebrew language, and committees were set up for the Jewish National Fund, the Shekel,[4] etc. A library was also founded, with books donated by the members from their own libraries. From time to time, books purchased from bookstores were added. Michael Kardash was appointed as librarian. This was during the era that the impure Ukrainians ruled this area. The organization existed until the month of Iyar of that year.

After the liquidation of the Ukrainian regime, which was hostile and hateful to the Jews, by the Poles, whose regime was no less favorable to us, the organization was closed as it did not receive a permit for its existence.

The Bolshevik Russians ruled over us for about a half a year. During that time, they prevented all communal activity, and there was certainly no trace of Zionist activity. At that time, there was no contact at all with the outside world. The Poles returned replacing the Bolsheviks and in 1921, Zionist activity resumed in the town. Committees were created for the Jewish National Fund, “Ezra” (help) for the pioneers, the distribution of the Zionist Shekel, etc.

Dozens of villages surrounded the town, each of which had several Jewish families. The Zionist activity of the aforementioned committees also encompassed them. Every village had a representative who conducted work faithfully in accordance with the directives of the committee in the town. The representatives passed along the money they collected for Zionist institutions. The drama club was organized and always put on performances for the townspeople. Income from the admission fees from these performances was dedicated to the national funds. For many years, Mrs. Kranz headed this club and most of the rehearsals took place at her house. The performances were also considered to be a cultural activity among the youth of the town. For the most part, the parents opposed this activity and regarded it as a weed in the vineyard of Israel. In time they became accustomed to it, and begrudgingly responded amen [i.e. gave their consent].

A Hebrew school was founded in 1922. The first teacher at that school was Aryeh (Leib) Kurz, a native of the town. Aryeh later left the town and became a Hebrew teacher in the cities of Podhajce and Stryj.[5] Chana Lerer, a teacher from Beresteczko came in his place. Later, Avraham Dov Werbner from Stojanów worked with us. He also published poems in the Hebrew newspapers that were published at that time in Poland. The school existed until the era of the oppressor Grabski,[6] with his “emergency wagons”[7] that appeared on the Jewish street. The Jewish population dwindled, and it was left as an empty vessel with no possibility at all of maintaining and sustaining itself. The school was closed at that time, for the parents were unable to maintain it.

 

Hebrew course for adults

 

In 1924, the young lawyer Bardach settled in our town and opened his office there. We found out that he was an enthusiastic Zionist and was prepared to be involved with every joint Zionist activity. In time, he became the living spirit and the chief of all Zionist activity. He was chosen unanimously to be the chairman of the Zionist council. After some years, he was also elected chairman of the community. At that time, the Keren Hayesod committee was formed, and Bardach dedicated most of his time to the activities of the committee. We made the rounds to the houses of the townsfolk, and people signed donation pledges. We did not pass over the homes of the estate owners and wealthy Jews from villages in the area, and we also found an attentive ear among them. Thanks to Dr. Bardach and those that stood at his right, the Zionist organization returned to life. It once again engaged in serious activity in the full sense of the term.

In 1926, Bardach brought the lawyer Bejdof to assist him. He too was dedicated with his full heart in Zionist activity in our town.

The depressed economic situation, which came about because of the anti-Semitic politics of the Polish government, worsened and led to a complete dwindling of the Jewish population. A portion of the youth began to leave the town and emigrate to the extent possible, going to far off lands or large cities in the country in search of a livelihood and some sort of employment. As a result of this, Zionist activity in the town also declined. Both the donors and canvassers dwindled. The activity expanded and contracted in cycles until the Russian army conquered the area in 1939. The 22 months that the Russians were with us brought a complete paralysis of all Zionist activity. The Zionists feared for their lives, and did not expose themselves with any communal activity. The community council was liquidated. The shopkeepers liquidated their businesses. Some were forced to obtain government work, not heaven forbid to sustain their families, but rather to camouflage their businesses so to speak. The employment salary was not even sufficient to provide enough bread for the household. Slowly, slowly, the Jewish population's supply of money and goods dwindled, and the entire population turned into a group of indigents and beggars. Only a few individuals managed to succeed somehow, in ways not appropriate to the new circumstances. This period continued until the outbreak of the war between Russia and Germany in June 1941.

The Germans were already in our town one day after the outbreak of the war between Russia and Germany. The world darkened for us. From rumors as well as from the newspapers that reached us, we knew that the situation in Germany was exceedingly bad for Jews. Nevertheless, we did not know and could not imagine the level of depravity reached by that nation, which was once considered a nation of culture, and now it shed blood in broad daylight and before the eyes of the entire world against those who were without iniquity or sin. The German army advanced into the Russian areas as quick as lightning. The S.S. followed in their footsteps, and took over the government in the occupied areas. Decrees against the Jewish population followed immediately. There were all manner of new decrees each day.

One day I was informed that I had to appear in the kloyz for a general meeting of the Jewish population. The meeting took place. Dr. Weissman, the chairman of the community, informed us that he was fired from his position, and in accordance with a directive from the Gestapo, we were to choose a new communal council, or Judenrat as it was later called. One of those gathered recommended me for this council. Without thinking too much, I said more or less the following, “You know well that I have never refused to accept a communal responsibility. I always stood in service to the community when I knew that my efforts would bring any sort of benefit. Under the current circumstances, I am virtually certain, to my great dismay, that our work will have the opposite result, in the direction of liquidation and annihilation.”

To my great sorrow and agony, the words I uttered at that meeting in the kloyz were fulfilled in full detail and in the cruelest fashion. As was verified later, the job of that Judenrat was to fulfill the depraved desires of the German government, to suck the living marrow out of the Jewish population, and to impoverish and marginalize it from an economic perspective so long as any Jew remained alive. We no longer had any cash. Therefore, we were forced to liquidate our meager household belongings to comply with the cruel demands. The Judenrat calculated the amount of money that everyone had to contribute. If any of the taxpayers did not fulfill their assessment, Jewish policemen and militiamen arrived to remove the household objects by force. The rooms of the Judenrat were filled with pillows, blankets, and various valuables that were extorted and squeezed from the impoverished Jewish population of the town.

At that time, the Judenrat received a directive to provide 50 strong, healthy people daily to go to the nearby forests next to the village of Hrycowola, about ten kilometers from the town, to harvest pine roots for the production of turpentine in Mordechai Meir's factory, located in the area. The work was in accordance with a preset quota and was without pay. The people taken out to do this work were mainly poor. It is impossible to understand how they endured the day in the forest without actual food. They would take a dry morsel of bread with them to the forest, and at times, they would not even have such. I cannot at all understand to this day from where these people drew the physical energy for this backbreaking work and how they returned home each day. I believe that this work continued for nine consecutive months. I must add that a man who returned home after a backbreaking day of work – broken, shattered, and without strength – would never even find a morsel of hot food or other food to satiate a hungry, exhausted man. Additional work awaited him at home, preparing tools for the upcoming workday, sharpening the saws, axes, etc.

In the meantime, news arrived of trains laden with Jews – men, women, and children – being transported to an unknown destination. One time, we found out that many Jews from western Galicia had been brought to the nearby city of Bełz, and no one knew the reason they were brought there. In general, people were transported by train from place to place and we did not know why or where they were headed. After some time, it became known that these people were destined for the crematoria in Beł¿ec, and they were indeed the first victims transported there.

Day followed day, and decree followed decree. The year 1941 was already behind us with no shadow of hope and salvation on the horizon. There were Jews in town who had purchased land to till prior to the war. In 1942, the Germans forbade the Jews from harvesting the wheat. They gathered the entire harvest into our yard, brought threshing machines and commanded us to thresh all the wheat. Later, they confiscated the wheat without leaving even one kernel for the true landowners. Those who managed to hide a few kernels from the eyes of the Germans and hide them with a “good gentile,” so to speak, fell from the trap into the pit, for the good gentile did not return the wheat that was given to him to watch.

During the High Holy Day season of 1942, news spread that the male Jews of the town would be set up for work in agricultural fields. Many saw this as a shadow of rescue and a means of salvation. Anyone who wanted to go out for work and live on a farm had to register with the Judenrat. In return for this “benefit” they had to pay a certain sum of money or equivalent. There were people who grabbed onto this “bargain” to save themselves from the bitter end. Such people sold the rest of their belongings and even the clothes on their bodies to fulfill the demand of the Judenrat. At the end it became clear that this was nothing more than a pretext and trap to remove our last belongings from us.

One day, I entered the Judenrat offices to find out what was going on. I immediately discovered that an “aktion” to take people out to be killed was to be perpetrated that day. Trembling and fear took hold of me. Without wasting time, I ran through the fields leading to my house to inform members of my household about what was about to happen. Three other natives of the city, Nathan Barach, Avraham Frankel, and Shmuel Reischer joined me. When the four of us reached the house, it was already empty. I found only my older brother Moshe, who waited impatiently for my arrival. We began to run through uncharted paths to reach the bogs with the hope that they would not come to look for us there. We hid for about two days in the haystacks. This is how we were saved from the first aktion. Those who were captured were taken to the district city of Radziechów (Radekhov). They were taken to Kamionka Strumiłowa along with the people of Radziechów and the area. They were beaten with deathblows throughout the entire journey. Ukrainian murderers awaited them in Kamionka, frightening and terrifying them. The greeting was accompanied with shouts, “Yids, remove your money, gold, and dollars from your sacks. Otherwise, you will not leave here alive.” Once again, there were deathblows. The elderly Elazar Wilder, Ratner, and others were murdered there.

At dawn, the order came to free all the people and send them back home. This was not from mercy, a sense of conscience, or a change in the murderous intent, but rather simply: they arrived too late for the transport to Beł¿ec, and this was being pushed off to another time.

On the first day of Rosh Hashana at the time when our entire family was home together, in the middle of the prayer services conducted in our house, someone knocked on the door. I approached with fear to see who had suddenly come to us. The minyan gathering was fraught with great danger. The knocker was Moshe Wilder, the Judenrat policeman. He came to inform us that I was summoned to go to the rabbi's house within an hour or two. Thoughts of my parents and wife flashed before my mind. I thought they intended to capture me, and my parents and my wife thought the same thing. Nevertheless, I got up and went. I thought that perhaps this would somehow be for the public benefit or perhaps for the benefit of a particular individual, and therefore it was worthwhile to take the risk and go. I found several of the town's householders in the rabbi's house in mourning, with tears streaming from their eyes. There was deathly silence in the room as they all waited for the rabbi to speak. I encountered the pale, sad face of the rabbi, Rabbi Leibush Hamerling. I did not even dare to approach him and greet him. I sat down silently like everyone else. After a brief time, some more people came, and then I realized the purpose of the meeting: through the Judenrat, the order came from the authorities that all the elders of the community must be given over to the government within two days. This news fell upon our heads like thunder. Heavy groans were heard in the house. Everyone was surprised and disgusted. Suddenly, the rabbi of holy blessed memory gestured to his son-in-law to approach him. In a weak, weeping voice, he said, “Give me the Rambam (book of Maimonides), section Yesodei Hatorah, chapter 5.”

His son-in-law placed the book of the Rambam in front of him. At first, he looked in it himself, and then he read to us, “And thus, if the idol worshipers tell you to give over one of yourselves to be killed, otherwise you will all be killed, all should be killed, and no Israelite should be handed over. If he was deserving of death like Sheba the son of Bichri, they should give him over. However, if the [singled out person] is not deserving of death, no Jewish person should be handed over.” The rabbi continued and said, “Without doubt, you know the meaning of these words. This is the Halacha, the law, and we must accept it.” There was no reaction from those gathered, not even from the men of the Judenrat, at whose bequest this meeting in the rabbi's house took place.

Then one of the Judenrat got up – I do not want to mention his name – and said to those gathered, “Dear Jews, there is hope and perhaps we will succeed in cancelling the decree if we gather two kilograms of gold today.” A committee was formed on the spot to inspect the houses of the townspeople in pairs, and to collect the required gold. The response was comprehensive, more than the needed amount. There was even one person, Tzvia Lakritz, who gave all of her jewelry and did not leave herself with anything, whereas others only gave a portion of their jewelry. The gold was collected, given to the Judenrat, and the decree was rescinded. The entire story remains a mystery.

After I found out that my mother of blessed memory was among those transported to Radziechów and my father was not seen among them, I was certain that my father, of blessed memory, was hiding some place around the town. Along with my brother Moshe, we began to search the area for him. We reached the area of Zamczysko. After about two hours of searching there, we found him in an abandoned hut, in a faint and helpless state, and he had no energy to walk. We took him on our shoulders and crossed the nearby river. We took turns carrying him on our arms and shoulders until we reached our home, a distance of four or five kilometers. His spirit only returned once he was home.

This was on the day of Simchat Torah. At that time, nine covered wagons came to us accompanied by the hooligan Lipa, may his name be blotted out, a man who frightened and terrified all the Jews of the area. He arrived with one of the Judenrat members. They emptied all the rooms of the house, and loaded all the furniture and other property onto the wagons. I wanted to save one of the sacks of bedding that was on one of the wagons. I took the sack and thought of giving it to one of the gentiles whom we particularly trusted, to guard. Lipa sensed this, jumped on me and beat me hard over the head with the stick in his hands. He grabbed the sack back and sent a messenger to fetch the Germans and turn me over to them on the pretext that I rebelled and rose up against the aktion that was being perpetrated by the authorities. I did not lose my composure. I knew that this was liable to cost me my life, and I succeeded in slipping away and escaping. I hid in the house of a gentile for two days, without anyone knowing my hiding place.

At the end of October, the final deportation edict reached the town's Jews. In accordance with the edict, all the Jews had to leave the town within a week and gather in the nearby city of Radziechów. However, a significant number of people decided to leave for the nearby town of Stanisławczyk where a Jewish community still existed, and the edict of deportation had not yet arrived.

Only 12 Jewish families remained in Łopatyn itself with German permission. Their job was to collect various heaps of metal and the like, that might benefit the German war effort. As proof of their permission to remain in the town, they received special tin tags called “blechlech.” Since my brother Moshe was among those certified in this manner, I also wanted to join the group of those certified. Through my brother Moshe, I sent a gold watch and other valuables to a certain Jew, who had contact with the authorities, to deal with the matter. I requested that he obtain a permit for me to remain there. However, I came up with nothing. I too finally left the town along with my wife, and we went on a tortuous route to Stanisławczyk. I left my only daughter with my brother. I will never forget the warm welcome and the pleasant reception given to us by the people of Stanisławczyk. These dear Jews skimped on their own meager food to give some to us. Elderly people slept on floors and offered us their beds. My lips are too poor to tell and describe the great kindness that the Jews of Stanisławczyk bestowed upon us without expecting any recompense at all.

However, it was not long before the tidings of Job began to reach there as well. News came that there was also an aktion in Radziechów, and those who survived and were not snatched had scattered to Busk and Sokal. To our sorrow, not one Jew from Łopatyn who was deported to those cities survived. During the time we lived in Stanisławczyk, we heard the rumor that the hooligan Lipa from our town deigned to come to Stanisławczyk to attack the Jews of Łopatyn. My wife and I did not wait to verify whether this rumor might be true. We left Stanisławczyk, accompanied by a local gentile, and set out for Brody. My wife's entire family was still alive and living in that city. We arrived in Brody on Thursday night. On Friday night, my brother-in-law arrived as well, perplexed and frightened. He told me that the Gestapo had arrived in the town and was preparing for an aktion. Without tarrying, we left Brody on a dark night with the intention of hiding in one of the forests. Gentiles who ambushed Jews on the roads attacked us on the way. They took everything we had, including our outer garments. After spending two days in the forests, of course without food or drink, we approached a village (the name of which I have forgotten). We received a bit of food from the gentiles and ate to satiation. These gentiles told us that Brody was already Judenrein, and there was nothing to return to there. This was not accurate, but we believed it. Having no choice, I set out for Łopatyn with my wife Chana with the hope that we might be able to hide there with my brother Moshe's help. Thus, we arrived back in Łopatyn.

My brother's family, my father and my daughter were still in the house. After we rested from the tribulations of the journey, Father advised us not to sleep in the house, but rather to sleep in the grain storehouse. We listened to him, moved to the storehouse, and fell asleep. At around midnight, my wife woke me up and whispered to me, “Avraham, there are people outside next to the storehouse.” I also heard the rustling, and saw the beam of a flashlight shining through. I immediately figured out the situation. I took her by the hand, and we went up the ladder that had already been prepared during the day, and jumped down to the ground. Once again on a dark night, with pouring rain, we set out for the nearby village of Huta Szklana. We thought that we might be able to stay there with an acquaintance. We reached him, and he even received us properly. We remained with him for a few days. However, he then came to us suddenly to tell us that his wife was afraid of keeping us, and therefore he requested that we leave his house that very day. Regarding this, the gentile told us that on the night they were looking for us and we escaped, the Germans, along with their Ukrainian assistants, found seven Jews, including my uncle Yosef's three children. They captured them, hauled them to the forest near the village of Chmielno, and killed them. Our requests and promises to pay him back appropriately for letting us stay with him were for naught. We were forced to leave the house of this gentile and return to Stanisławczyk once again.

Only a small number of Jews remained in the town itself, concentrated in one house where they were permitted to stay. These people vigorously justified their position, stating that they could not endanger themselves or their families on our behalf. They advised us to go to one of the gentiles and remain with him until evening, and then to set out through the forests to Brody. According to their information, there were still Jews in Brody, and those Jews were about to be concentrated into a ghetto. One gentile allowed us to enter his house, and we remained there until night. We set out toward Brody at night, and reached the city safely in the morning. We found our relatives alive, and they received us with open arms. Indeed, the gathering of the Jews of the city and the surrounding area into the ghetto had begun. November 30th was set as the final day for the closing of the ghetto. In order to receive residency rights in the ghetto, we were forced to pay a significant sum to the Judenrat. Several streets in Brody were designated for this purpose. These streets were fenced off with barbed wire. Special policemen were assigned to guard the ghetto. I do not recall the number of people absorbed into the ghetto, but I do recall that the crowding was terrible and unbearable, to the point that one could not breathe a bit of air. Eight families were forced into a dwelling that had once housed a single, average-sized family. Anyone who complained to the Judenrat about the terrible crowding or requested slightly better conditions received a laconic response with a subtle hint: soon you will have more space.

The ghetto existed from November 30, 1942 until May 21, 1943. It is beyond my power, and I am unable today to write down the details of our life under pressure in the ghetto. There were three factors causing the death of the ghetto's population: 1) the evil regime, may its name be blotted out; 2) famine and dire straits; 3) living conditions that resulted in a typhus epidemic that felled many victims daily. Those victims appeared as particularly fortunate in our eyes. The situation worsened from day to day. Demands to hand over people to forced labor camps came daily. The first sent over were the Jews of the region. Thus, the ghetto began to be emptied of its residents. The men were taken out and handed over to the Germans, and the women and children remained in the interim. One can get an idea of the famine that pervaded the ghetto from the following fact: if beggars asked for a handout, and they were indeed in need of such, their joy would be boundless if they received one uncooked potato.

One day, Herman Wasser, the son of Reb Zalman Leib Wasser, one of the wealthy people of our town, entered our dwelling. I was shocked to see his gloomy image. I gathered several potatoes from the residents of the house and gave them to him. He fell upon my neck, and hugged and kissed me with tears in his eyes. About a week later he died of starvation.

People told of an underground somewhere in the forest, and certain people in the ghetto knew of it. I myself did not know about it. However, my brother-in-law Dolek Zesler told me this secret, and told me that he was involved with it. They further stated that the underground attacked the Germans on various occasions and attempted to save Jews from their talons. There certainly was some sort of activity, however, in general, the missions were unsuccessful. The forests were surrounded by villages of Ukrainians, our enemies from way back. They would report us and expose our hiding places. At one point, the Germans and Ukrainian police surrounded the forest, and our lads fell victim after an extensive search and drawn out battle. Three of our boys who escaped back to the ghetto were caught by a policeman of Polish extraction, who attempted to arrest them. They shot and killed him on the spot. They managed to hide in one of the cellars of the ghetto houses. However, their hiding place became known to the Germans. They surrounded the house and threw several grenades inside. Everyone in the cellar was killed on the spot. They removed 400 people and liquidated them near the city as a collective punishment for killing the policeman.

It was felt that the bitter day of the final liquidation was approaching. Hundreds of Jews, including my brother Moshe, registered for a labor camp – a forced labor camp, for perhaps they would be saved from death in this manner. They had to pay a significant sum of money to the Judenrat, I believe about 1,500 zloty, for this “kindness.” Passover was approaching. Most of the people in the ghetto saw no possibility for baking matzos, and they did not even prepare to celebrate the holiday. Nevertheless, our family gathered together in the home of my father-in-law Shmaryahu Zesler to recline together and somehow mark the Festival of Freedom, when we once went from slavery to redemption. Tears of blood wet the table and blended with the meager feast that was before us. My brother Moshe, who was already in the labor camp, was freed at that time and joined our poor man's feast. The wailing and weeping also grew stronger in the nearby houses of the neighbors. The sounds of weeping and wailing were heard. I understood that we would hasten our end if we did not stop reciting the Haggadah, for voices were heard in the distance. If the Germans, may their names be blotted out, would enter, they would kill us on the spot. I got up and collected the Haggadahs, and the gloomy ceremony ended. I will always remember and never forget our common feeling during that time, and our tragic, dismal situation that evening.

Of all the families and individuals who participated in that Seder night, the only ones left alive were me and one other woman of the Goldhaber family. She arrived in the Land and built her family here [Israel].

May these words serve as a monument to the pure martyrs who did not merit to survive, and who gave up their souls in the valley of murder.

I realized that the ghetto was just about to be liquidated. However, since it was impossible to know the exact date of the liquidation, we three people – Meir Kriger who today lives in Nahariya Israel, his brother Chanoch who fell in battle with the Germans, and I – decided to endanger ourselves and go once again to Łopatyn to see if we could fetch some of the things that we had left with gentiles so as to save ourselves from the disgrace of hunger. The three of us obtained several loaves of bread for the journey and set out for our hometown. We arrived in Łopatyn safely. The three of us separated after setting a time and place to meet again to return to the ghetto. I went to the gentiles with whom I had left objects. I filled a large sack of various belongings. The three of us met again in the designated spot and returned to the Brody Ghetto that night. It was difficult to enter. We heard shots from all sides. We somehow succeeded in entering. My father was the first to greet me. He hugged and kissed me. No force could separate us at that moment.

During those days, a unique nervousness pervaded the ghetto. The last survivors from the ghettos of Złoczów, ¯ółkiew, Jaryczów, and other places arrived in Brody. The news that arrived from other places foretold bad things. We felt that our days were numbered. At night, most of the men wandered about and gathered outside after their wives and children went down to the bunkers. People who had spared bread from their mouths out of concern for the next day, believing that the ghetto would continue and would not be liquidated, suddenly turned into squanderers with the mindset of “eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die.” A decisive sense of despair overtook everyone. They did not ask about or believe in the next day. In the middle of the day, one could see Jews tipsy and completely drunk. Madness was also a daily sight. The level of morality dropped greatly. Things took place that would never had happened in normal times. There were people who left the ghetto in those days to hide somewhere else until the fury would pass. But there were also instances where people who left returned a few days later having lost their final coin without being able to make arrangements, even temporary ones, somewhere else.

The verse in Job says, “For the thing which I did fear is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of hath overtaken me.”[8] The feared liquidation of the ghetto that had continued for 34 months was finally coming. On Iyar 16, 5703, corresponding to May 21, 1943, Hitler's troops along with brigades of Ukrainian police surrounded the ghetto, and the slaughter began at dawn. Elderly people, children and the weak were killed on the spot. Those who were apparently healthy and strong were hauled to the train station. Between 80 and 100 people were crowded into each car and transported to the death camps of Beł¿ec or Majdanek. Those who succeeded in hiding in the ghetto were also captured. The search for those in hiding lasted for a week. Finally, almost all were found. They were taken out of their hiding places and liquidated on the spot. The floors of the cars were covered with a thick layer of calcium [quicklime], adding to the misery and further embittering the final hours of the unfortunate people.

There were 65 people in the cellar in which I hid. During the first days after the aktion, we sat silent and mournful, not knowing what to do and not seeing sunlight. We knew it would be dangerous to leave, but hunger afflicted us so we were forced to go out and search in the houses for some remnants of food. I know that my wife Chana was shot on the street on the day of the liquidation. I will not describe here the bitterness of my feelings and the great agony in my heart. Hunger afflicted us. I would go up from the cellar to the house above it every evening to search for something. To my good fortune, I found a bit of flour from which I made pitas, which sustained me and my daughter who remained with me. This situation continued until Wednesday, May 26th. In the meantime, the cellar began to empty. People dispersed to various places, without one knowing about the other. I also decided to leave the place. The danger of death lurked at every moment. On Thursday morning, I took my eight-year-old daughter Leah, and we left the cellar. We went out to the street. We had only succeeded in walking a few steps when a flurry of bullets rained down near us. I saw a ruined house near us. We entered. We only remained there for a few minutes as I knew that we must not even waste a minute. The journey was long: I felt that time was short, and if we did not leave immediately, we would not succeed in reaching the place I intended by nighttime. We also could not return to the cellar in which we had been hiding. We entered Lesznowski Street and decided to go in the direction of the city's suburbs. Then I suddenly noticed that there were three policemen armed to the hilt walking on the other side of the street and approaching us. The thought came to my mind that we must turn aside and disappear onto a side street. However, I immediately changed my mind, and we continued on our way opposite the policemen. It is an unsolved mystery to me to this day why the policemen did not pay attention to us or ask us anything. They continued on their way, and we on ours. The puzzle is even greater given that this was a time of emergency, and, in accordance with their orders, they should have stopped us. We reached the village of Zbroje at dawn.

At sunrise, I decided to hide in the forest, and not continue walking. There were gentile houses in the area, but I did not enter them, for I knew that the people of this village were murderous and wicked. Our entire food supply at this point consisted of two small pieces of sugar. Of course, I did not think of taking them myself, but rather gave them to my daughter to lick. A heavy rain came in the afternoon, and we were able to quench our thirst from the drops of rain on the bushes. We continued walking in the evening, and reached Stanisławczyk. At the bridge, the problem of how to cross it arose. I was certain that it was guarded by day as well as by night. I knew the area well, and knew that the water was shallow and it was possible at times during the summer to cross by foot. I placed my daughter on my shoulders and succeeded in crossing the Stryj River. I arrived at the forest guard's house in the middle of the night. To my surprise and astonishment, I found several Jews who had escaped from the Brody Ghetto in one of the buildings. To the praise of the forest guard and his wife, it can be said that they were among the righteous gentiles. For several days, they provided us with the food necessary for our survival. After several days with them, the ceiling broke due to the weight of all the people in the attic, and everyone went down or fell down. We were exposed and revealed to everyone. The situation became unbearable, and there was the danger that we would soon be discovered. I therefore decided to leave the place.

I went with my daughter to the nearby village of Tritki. There I had a gentile acquaintance from the time we were students in school. I told him of my situation, and did not hide that I was left empty-handed and had nothing to give him. He had mercy on us and said, “You cannot live in the house with us, but go to the hay storehouse. I will arrange things for you there, and you can remain as long as possible.” After a few days, he brought the news from Łopatyn that my sister-in-law Gittel and her son Yehoshua were in town, staying with his brother Nikola, but they could not remain with him under any circumstance out of fear of the police. My sister-in-law asked me to meet her, for perhaps we could find a place to hide together. We met that night. However, we were forced to leave the place immediately. We went to Zamczysko. We hid in an abandoned shack for the day, and at night we continued to the village of Huta Szklana. I met a gentile who agreed to build a bunker for us for the price of 1,000 Polish zloty per month. He agreed that we could hide in the standing crops behind his house. We sat there for a day. At night, the gentile appeared, brought us some food, and asked for an advance payment for the bunker. Of course he asked for a nice sum of money – and for his part, he promised to fulfil his word and began to dig the bunker. To our dismay, we realized two days later that the gentile was failing to keep his promise, and nothing would come of this. The gentile stopped coming. He did not bring food, and we were even lacking water. We realized that we had to leave this place very quickly. My sister-in-law said, “He took a significant amount of money. Perhaps we could still approach him to at least give us some.food for the way.” We entered the gentile's house. His wife was prepared to give us something, but at that moment, two gentiles appeared and began shouting and threatening, “Death to Jews, you will not leave here alive.” We both began to flee. I managed to hide under the cover of darkness, and they did not find me. However, my sister-in-law tripped and fell and became entangled in wire on her route, and the gentiles reached her. They struck her and beat her soundly. She died after great suffering.

After some time, when the gentiles disappeared, I went to find the children. However, to my sorrow and surprise, the children were no longer there. I leaned on a tree that stood on the route, being sure that the children certainly succeeded in escaping, and they would come to that place. I waited until dawn, and the children did not come. I set out back to Łopatyn. I went to a gentile acquaintance and asked him to give me some sustenance, for it had been two days since I last ate. I told the gentile about the terrible events in Huta Szklana, and asked him to go search for the children in that general area. In the meantime, I hid in the standing crops, and he was supposed to bring me some food. I heard later that my name was called, but out of fear I did not emerge from hiding, and despite my strong hunger, I forwent the food. I went back to that gentile in the evening. He told me, to my surprise, that the children had been captured by a Ukrainian policeman and were shot on the spot. The chief poet[9] states regarding them, “Beloved and pleasant in their life, and not separated in their death.” I was the only one surviving from the entire large family, wandering aimlessly, with no shadow of hope.

I could not remain there for long. I returned to the forest and went to the forest guard. I met the Krieger brothers from Łopatyn there. We decided not to search for a hiding place in the city, but rather to build a bunker in the forest. We did that. We remained in the bunker for close to a year. We did not participate in sabotage activities against the Germans, for we did not have the minimal conditions for such. Our concern was how to remain alive. There was a second bunker next to us. My cousin Yaakov Bernholz and his family, as well as our fellow townsman Moshe Distenfeld were there. The latter was killed by Bandera gangs in 1944. After several months, another bunker was added not far from us where the family of Yosef Roth and Kehat Barach hid. Altogether, we were 13 people.

Life was difficult and particularly intolerable. New tribulations came daily. Despite the great danger, we were forced to go out from time to time to concern ourselves with a bit of food for our mouths. We went to the far reaches of the town of Łopatyn once a week. Sometimes we had success, and, through rationing and skimping, the food that we brought would last for a week. One time, it was necessary to change our place, for the gentiles whom we visited from time to time told us that the police knew of us and were preparing a search in the forest for us. The winter passed under such conditions. The Russian Army liberated this area on March 31, 1944, and we found ourselves under a new situation. It was only after the liberation that we each felt how great was our tragedy and disaster.

After we left the forest, the Russians forced us to enlist in the Red Army. I served until October 1945. After I was discharged, I went to visit Łopatyn. Why did I go, and what was I looking for there? To this day I do not know. This was a particularly illogical step. I knew that none of my family remained alive, and the danger of being found in the city was great. Nevertheless, I went there – perhaps to bid farewell to the cemetery in the city. Indeed, two days after I arrived in the town, I realized that I had gone from the frying pan to the skillet. Bandera gangs were ravaging the area, and the chances of leaving in peace were very slim. In the meantime, I got to know the priest of the nearby town of Szczurowice, who had helped several Jews in their difficult situations. I too turned to him for help. He told me that in order to leave the Soviet Union and go to Poland, one must receive a permit from the office called PUR (State Reparation Office).[10] To the best of his knowledge, there was such an office in Brody. He even offered to let me stay with him, and to support me until I left. Out of fear, I did not accept his offer. I approached the governor of the city, who advised me to set myself up temporarily with the army brigade that was camped in the city.

I found three Jews in total in Łopatyn: Yitzchak Halpern the son of Moshe Halpern of Łopatyn, the daughter-in-law of Shmuel Frenkel of Toporow, and a Jewish soldier from Bessarabia. I stayed with them for the entire time I was in Łopatyn. In the meantime, the priest told me that a caravan of Poles was about to leave for Poland in the next few days and if I did not join them, I would lose any chance of leaving the Soviet Union. I then went to Brody to obtain the needed permit. Mortal danger lurked on the routes, but I did not think about this. When I arrived in Brody, I found out that there indeed had been such an institution, but it had been moved to another unknown place. I arrived in Brody on the eve of Yom Kippur. I joined the only minyan (quorum of 10 men) of worshippers in the city for Yom Kippur. That city, which was once considered a major Jewish city, now barely had a minyan of Jews. I returned to my friend the priest in Łopatyn, and told him that the PUR institution moved from Brody to another city, and I did not know where to turn. He advised me to go to Kamionka Strumiłowa because according to the information he had gotten, the institution had relocated there. I went to Kamionka, and did not find the office. On the other hand, I found a different surprise. I met a gentile who approached me with these words, “You are a Jew, correct?” I answered, “Yes.” “For your benefit, I advise you not to wander around in this city.” I understood the hint. In the meantime, I found out that in the city of Winniki, near Lwów, there was an office authorized to give me the requested permit. I set out for Winniki on the first train that I could. I obtained the permit and returned to Łopatyn. The priest stood by his words, and, through his agency, I joined the caravan of Poles that set out for Poland.

On my final day in Łopatyn, I went to the cemetery of the town. I took leave of those that dwell in the dust. Their souls are sublime. I supplicated over the graves of my ancestors, relatives, and acquaintances. I wet their graves with tears of blood. I informed them that I was the last Jew in the city, and I was leaving it forever. The next day, I left the city. I joined the caravan of Poles who were leaving. As I left, I raised my hands upward and said more or less the following, “Master of the World, my request and supplication: No longer lead me to paths upon which I have walked to this day. This impure land which absorbed a great deal of Jewish blood shall be desolate and abandoned forever; remove the light from it; let there be no dew or rain; cursed be this land and its residents who at times exceeded the cruelty of their German masters. Avenge your people Israel. May the names of the wicked rot.”

Finally, I wish to preserve the personalities and memories of my dear family members who perished in the Holocaust.

My revered father Reb Chaim was born to pious, G-d fearing parents in Łopatyn, Reb Avraham and Rivka. From his early youth, his soul desired Torah. It was told that in order to avoid spending time in transit back and forth, he transferred to the Yeshiva of his grandfather Rabbi Moshe Yehuda, to grow and be educated in Torah, commandments, and good deeds. There, he spent day and night studying the pages of Gemara. He immersed himself in the sea of Talmud, and filled himself up with Talmud and halachic decisors. It was decided with his parents, and with the agreement of his grandfather and the town elders, that after the passing of his grandfather, my father would take his place and serve in holiness as the rabbi of the town. He studied diligently in order to be worthy of that position. However, as he grew up, he began to realize the dismal status of the rabbis of the area. Seeing the poverty in his grandfather's house, he pulled away from the idea of the rabbinate. He forwent the rabbinical seat that was awaiting him and me, and decided to occupy himself with business and commerce, as did most of the Jews of the town.

His good name went before him, and the nobility of his soul led to the wealthy people of town lending him the needed sums for starting his own business. G-d granted him success in everything he tried. After several years, he married Yehudit the daughter of his uncle Reb Tzvi. After saving a significant sum of money, he left commerce and business, and decided to work in agriculture. In 1903, he purchased a farm in a suburb of the town, and dedicated himself completely to agricultural work and running this farm. Father was graced with the traits of diligence and alertness needed for agricultural work and for developing a farm. Despite being completely immersed in the work of the farm, he did not abandon the learning of his youth. He devoted the early hours of the morning and the late hours of the night to studying a page of Gemara with its commentaries. We cannot describe his and Mother's happiness watching us sitting and delving into a page of Gemara, studying a specific Talmudic topic. Father was known in town as a generous person. He occupied himself with charity and benevolence. He opened his hand to all in need, and responded to people during times of difficulty. Thus did Father's years pass in wealth, success, joy, and satisfaction from his children, until the bitter end.

In 1938, the Russians confiscated all the property that belonged to us, and we were left bereft of everything. In 1941, the accursed Germans conquered our town, and imposed their cruel laws upon day-to-day life. Mortal danger lurked with every step. In 1943, Father (Mother was no longer alive) arrived in the Brody Ghetto. He was murdered by a Ukrainian murderer at the time of the liquidation of the Ghetto on Iyar 19, 5703 (1943). May his pure, holy soul be bound into the bonds of life.

While Father was occupied with the work of the farm, Mother took care of us with dedication and educated us in the spirit of Israel, in Torah, prayer, and good deeds. It is written in the Torah, “Thus shall you say to the House of Jacob, and state to the House of Israel.”[11] Our sages state that this verse hints at how a Jewish woman must educate her young children. My mother imparted to her household happiness, joy, and trust in the G-d of Israel. Along with this, she knew the secret that, “Torah along with the ways of the world” is good. She registered us in the local public school to obtain a general education, and brought teachers to our house for private lessons. We learned German language and literature from them, which at that time was the splendor of European culture. It was indeed, “The beauty of Japheth in the tents of Shem.”

A table was always set in Mother's house, and when a passer-by came through, she would greet him in Yiddish, “Fellow Jew, wash your hands and eat.” This was her holy manner in day-to-day life. My unfortunate mother did not merit having a Jewish burial. She was caught by the accursed Germans, may their names be blotted out, and gave up her soul on the way to Beł¿ec, alone and forlorn. She was buried in their impure land. Her memory is blessed in my heart.

My late wife, Chana of the Zesler family, the daughter of Reb Simcha, was in the Brody Ghetto until its liquidation. She was sick on the day of the liquidation of the ghetto, and was resting in the hospital. The murderers took her out of the hospital and killed her on the spot.

My only child Leah was murdered by a Ukrainian policeman, may his name be blotted out, near the city of Łopatyn along with my brother's son Yehoshua.

My oldest brother Moshe Yehuda was in the ghetto along with his wife Gittel, the daughter of the philanthropist Reb Aryeh Leib Weissman of Radziechów. My brother was captured in the month of Adar 5703 (1943) and taken to a forced labor camp near Brody where he remained until the day of the liquidation of the ghetto. His track disappeared. I do not know the day of his death or his place of burial.

My brother's wife, however, succeeded in escaping from the ghetto with her young son Yehoshua. She met her death in the village of Szklana on Sivan 3, 5703. Their son Anshel was given over by the Judenrat to the Germans along with 14 other lads. Several months after the liquidation of the ghetto, when I was in the forest, I heard that he was living in the forced labor camp on Janowski Street in Lwów. Apparently, he was killed there.

The four children of my uncle Reb Yosef Bernholz and his wife: Feiga, Reuven, Sara, and Meni, were shot in the grove near Chmielno. Their daughter Serki was killed in the forest of Leszniów.

My aunt Esther and her daughter Rivka were captured in the aktion in our town. They were brought to Sokal where they were killed. Her two daughters Serki and Meni were in the Brody Ghetto until the liquidation. They were captured and taken in an unknown direction. They were certainly killed. The only son, the wonderful firstborn Avraham, was in the forced labor camp near Złoczów. From what I had heard, he was taken to the gallows there.

My uncle Shalom and his wife Feiga, the daughter of Reb Yehuda, were deported from the town and transferred to the Busk Ghetto where they perished from hunger. Their daughter Rivka was taken to Beł¿ec where she was murdered.

My uncle Tzvi and his wife Esther, the daughter of the shochet Reb Eliezer, were in the Brody Ghetto with their four daughters. They perished at the time of the liquidation of the ghetto. They were loaded onto trains and sent to Beł¿ec.

My aunt Ruchama, her daughter Sara, her husband and children, were murdered in the city of Złoczów. Her eldest son Shraga Feivush was in Brody. He was captured in the first aktion, and his tracks disappeared. Their son Tzvi was in the city of Krzemieniec, where he perished.

The daughter of my aunt Chana, Chaya Tzirl, survived and went to the city of Bytom, Poland after the war. However, death came to her there. Thieves attacked her one night and killed her.

I wish to dedicate a few lines to my friends and acquaintances whose names I did not mention in these pages. Do not judge me unfavorably. I have not forgotten you nor averted my thoughts from you. I loved you and held you in esteem during your life, and also in your death. The memories of you will stay with me all of my days.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. from Zecharia 3:2 Return
  2. Proverbs 31:10 Return
  3. Psalm 118:22 Return
  4. certificate of membership given for paying dues to support the Zionist movement Return
  5. A photo of Aryeh Kurz is on page 112 of the Podhajce (Pidhaytsi), Ukraine Yizkor book. Return
  6. the Polish prime minister and minister of finance during the 1920s who imposed high taxes on Jews Return
  7. Wagons came to confiscate the household belongings of Jews who were unable to pay their taxes. The wagons were nicknamed "Grabski hearses" or "Grabski wagons". Here the author calls them "emergency wagons". Return
  8. Job 3:25. Translation from Mechon Mamre; https://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt2703.htm Return
  9. David, in 2 Samuel 1:23 Return
  10. PUR is the abbreviation for Państwowy Urząd Repatriacyjny. It was a Polish governmental institution established to supervise and care for residents of the former eastern territories of the Republic of Poland. It was in operation from 1944 to 1951. Return
  11. Exodus 19:3 Return

 

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