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The Shtetl,
a Jewish Mother

[Pages 5-6]

A Memorial to our town

Yitzchak Zigelman

Even before the roar of the cannons of WW II died down, while our dead still lay heaped up in Treblinka and Oeswenciam, the desire and the inner necessity arose to remember and record those terrible events we witnessed. They were among the worst in our long history of martyrdom, and in the history of humanity.

At that time a decision was taken that affected our whole being, to erect a monument to our town, a memorial to its Jews and to our relatives in order to fulfill their will and testament.

The testaments were most tangible. Here is a brother's will that reached us when death appeared at our windows: “Disperse and save your souls. Perhaps one of you will be able to reach safety and to relate the 'unbelievable' so that it might be recorded for eternal disgrace.”

There was the will of a youthful friend which was uncovered together with the wooden boxes that contained the Ringleblume Archive and was addressed to both the community and the individual.

Wherever we turned we felt the same pairs of eyes, which in the last minutes before their destruction, whether in the murkiness of the gas chambers or under the mounds of earth covering living beings, pleaded and begged: 'Erect a memorial to us.'

So I set to work collecting gleaning thinning and editing. I collected and wrote down testimonies from survivors. When it was necessary, I looked for pictures to fit to what was told to me. The number of events and their details grew. The participants included people who had literary experience as well as others who had difficulty writing down their stories. However, the latter, most of whom had been personally involved in the terrible events, wrote their stories with their blood. They recorded shocking evidence of strangulation and stoning from which could be heard the terrible sounds of their own death throes and those of their relatives.

This book is intended to be a memorial to the glorious town of our birth on which the modern Amalek engraved these terrible events that left us with dates of deaths, strangulation, ashes and graves. Where the suffering and death throes that happened to our brothers in their last moments are revealed. For us it will be a way of performing the final justice to the Jews of our town.

The important thing about this book that resulted is that it is a collective effort in which we found a way to express our ideas each in his own special way.

* * * * *

However this book will not only tell about destruction and extinction .It will also tell about dynamic life that existed both in the far and recent past. It is intended as a memoir of Radzyn. It will tell about generations existing in the distant and recent past; about God fearing Jews who sought redemption; about Chassidim and Chassidoth; about ideological disputes; about revolutionary movements to which many of our best young men were attracted who had only yesterday occupied the benches of the Bet Hamedrash; about the excitement of redemption, that many of our best young people, tired of the degenerate life in the Diaspora, experienced; and about their wandering to the countries of the world and about their new life in the Homeland.

The chain has not been broken. The remnants of our people are gathering together again; the dry bones have come back to life. New centers have been established, including the greatest and most natural one, Israel, where most of the remnants have found a safe haven. Therefore, it is understandable that the memorial to our town was erected there.

[Page 7]

Holy to God

Maier Segal (New York)

A sad glow shatters the setting sun
Onto the evening trees.
Small figs weigh heavy close to the ground
And are submerged between Mincha and Maariv.

Soldiers rush through the city
With carts and laden oxen. –
From cooking kettles arises steamy vapor
From coffee, brewed and burnt.
Upon carts clatter knives.
Pikes gleam sharply.
Sad is the setting sun.

Jews, stooping, go for Mincha, go for Maariv.
Soldiers spring from carts. –
Whips pierce, knives bloody in hands
Knives slash through the sun, pale faces turn bloody.
Jews in city homes fall dark
Between Mincha and Maariv – holy to God…

[Pages 7-8]


Mendel Lichtenstein (New York)

On the map of Europe there is a country called Poland which has many cities and towns on it, and under every name there is a dot. Our Radzyn is marked with such a dot.

A very insignificant stream wends its way between the endless fields and the adjacent forests. In the summer it disappears almost completely except for one place where it suddenly expands, becomes visible and flows around the edge of the shtetl of Radzyn. That may be the reason that the 'first Radzyner', a few hundred years ago, found it to be a place suitable for settlement.

Aside from that it was a shtetl like all shtetls. From outside it looked like the stain made by a spider web on some wall. However, internally, Radzyn stood out with specific characteristics. It gave the impression that it is proud, distinguished and aristocratic. That may be the reason why it was always the district capital (Powiat).

We do not know exactly how old Radzyn is. We remember old gray Radzyners who were born in the shtetl and who remembered their childhood…etc. etc. The gray palace in the shtetl tells us a lot about its age. It was built in the Rococo style most likely in the 17th Century. Legend has it that when the architect finished the building his eyes were put out so that he would never be able to build another such beautiful palace. Radzyn boasts of this. Only such a beautiful and romantic town could think up such a legend.

We Jews too had our own romantic legends. The synagogue was built at the edge of the town so that the living would not be frightened when the souls of the departed wander through the fields at night on their way to the synagogue.

We remember the Beis Hamedrash, our community center, where we studied, debated dreamt, and acquired the knowledge to become citizens of the world .We remember the Rabbi's house, its impressiveness, its festive atmosphere, altogether a miniature Jewish kingdom. We can never forget all the different characters who passed away or were annihilated!

Radzyn, our precious shtetl, you cannot be forgotten. When we do think of you we are proud to have been Radzyners.

[Pages 9-11]

My Shtetl (My Village)

Abba Danielak (Toronto)

Like from a foggy, gray morning
The sun, radiant in gold, peeks out
In my memory, where the years are concealed,
You rise in your many–colored form.

Above narrow, winding streets
Houses stooped with age and gray,
Huddle together under weighty loads
Of moss–covered shingles and straw.

Your three markets of communities arranged by ritual practice
Divided by sovereignty and discord –
Russian split from Polish split from Jewish trade
Living hundreds of years side by side.

I see you in summer's golden beginning:
The sky above arched in pale blue.
Nighttime dreams insistently weave,
Lie discarded in the dewy field.

Bodies fatigued, faces weary –
The day awakens to a new song, to life
Some to the well with bucket to draw water
Some to the synagogue with tallit to give God's Sabbath.

With wheat, wagons and horses,
Laden with peasant goods, they encircle the markets
intelligent foreheads, milked Jews
They set the price, they huddle, they bargain.

[Page 10]

Women disheveled, dress and apron stained,
Their skin and faces wrinkled with concern
Their stores wide open with herring and salt
And sugar – the peasant's daily bread.

[illegible], craftsmen
Jew and gentile, for generations, clothing,
Needle and hammer – their lot
And they sing of their woe and joys.

Living poor, struggling, as fate has decreed
For man and women and child and bond.
The morrow threatens, poverty – a tough lot –
Concern for livelihood, clothes, and bread.

* * *

A summer evening as if touched by the paint brush,
Glorious heaps of magic tossed, piled
Into the void. In seas of light, a polished prism
The day immerses itself, sinking in shadow.

In hellish fire on the sky's edge
The sun dips, copper red, dips, disappears.
At the nefarious tip of the cross, embers aflame
Ablaze: fright, fear, from medieval times…

Ding–dong, ding–dong, the bell tolls:
Dark shadows, they spread and spread
And by the time the final bell goes silent
Heaven and earth – a black abyss.

From the cemetery, hard against the river, spirits shriek forth
From open graves: frogs croak, crickets chirp
– Foreign forces awaken to life
From gentile streets – hoarse, mean barking.

[Page 11]

Families gathered in homes of the DLD
In air thick with sweat and stink,
Mother and father in bed with a pointing infant
They rest on straw, on the sleeping bank.

Dreams weave from hidden worlds,
Of magic and gold, of prince and princess,
No more poverty. Clothes aplenty, fancy soles.
Heaps of mint and full to bursting…

* * *

Batei midrash Hasidic prayer halls surround
– Evidence of Jewish endurance and mystery –
There Jews sing out the grief and woe of generations
In study and prayer to lighten their burden.

Little cradles of Tchelet valued by Hasids.
Fathers greet each other, guarding for loyalty,
And wisdom and learning and pedigree
Having taken their place with honor, [illegible]

[Page 12]

The Jewish Kehillah Organization
in Radzyn

L. Winderbaum (Tel Aviv)

Up until 1928, ten years after the establishment of Polish state, the Jewish people in Radzyn did not have any legal representation. 'Influential people' were usually appointed by the authorities to manage public affairs, with no democratic control. The first elections to the Jewish Kehillah in the city took place in 1928. According to the new Polish law, the elections were free and proportional, the same as for any elected governmental body. This raised a wave of joy and hope, especially in nationalist circles of the Jewish community.They saw the elections as a basis for creating greater national cultural autonomy and the rebirth of national life. At the head of the election committee stood the Shaul Blumenfeld, of blessed memory, from the Mizrachi organization.

Most of the parties and organizations in the town submitted their lists of candidates:

the General Zionists, the Ultra-Orthodox, the Bund, Poele-Zion, the Artisans,etc. Yisrael Winderbaum, Yehoshua Finkelshtein, Yeshayahu Zilberberg and Haim-Yitzchak Gelerman, Velvel Tenenbaum, Yoel Butman and David Lichtenshtein were elected. The new board started working energetically hoping that it could expand the framework of the existing Kehillah, because it was not possible to take care of all the educational ,cultural, national, social and other needs under the previous arrangement. The government however intervened immediately and cancelled all items that were not intended for strictly religious purposes.This action by the government caused great disappointment in the nationalist circles, clipped their wings, and in place of enthusiasm the public became completely indifferent to all Kehillah activities. Again the rich and the influential, on one hand, and on the hand the Jewish “Hsnatziah” followers (a not very successful or understandable imitation of the governmental' Hsnatziah' party, which arose among the Polish electorate at that time) took control. Again the Kehillah was emptied of any national and social aspirations and remained, as in the past, an institution that could fulfill only minimal religious needs.

The main sources of income of the Kehillah were from kosher slaughter and “ATAT” – a special tax imposed on the residents by the board of the Kehillah with permission of the authorities. The major part of the budget was from the income from ritual slaughter.

The main expenses were: Support of the Rabbi (Rabbi Haim Fine) the ritual slaughterers and a few other salaried employees; synagogue and cemetery maintenance expenses; plus administrative expenses. From time to time there were special social expenses.

The “Magistrat” (the municipality) collected the Kehillah tax,because the board of the Kehillah was not allowed to collect the tax by itself. This was occasionally the cause of great difficulties. At times the anti-Semitic municipality collectors decided to collect the tax on Friday evenings and caused great anger when they tried to confiscate candlesticks and the board members had to redeem them and return them to their owners, without violating the Sabbath…

[Page 13]

The Song about Residents of Radzyn

Maier Segal (New York)

The Germans rush into the Hasidic prayer house –
Shrieking wildly: The rabbi must come!
The holy rabbi… Jews, tell us –
We're going to shoot him, just the holy one…
One Jew by way of all: Where is he? Tell us where.
We'll let you live, we'll leave you be…
He's not in Radzyn, the godly man…
He's among you, he's there among you.

He has left Radzyn for Wlodawa –
The Jews – a chill runs down their backs:
The rabbi isn't here with us, dear folks.
The rabbi is already dead, has been dead for some time.
He was very old. He's no longer with us…
Bring out the young one, the young one!
The young rabbi. You'll bring him immediately
And if you don't give him up – we'll shoot you!

* * *

There is news: Lublin is being ravaged!
The rabbi raises his hand and shakes his fist.
Lublin, the venerable Jewish holy city –
Lublin – is being destroyed… O, God, save us!

[Page 14]

There is news – one's blood goes cold –
What is man doing? He himself knows not what he does…
The rabbi, standing frozen in the corner and listening –
Of Lublin, of what's becoming of the Jews,
Of the Jews, and what is being done to them –
The rabbi, the rabbi, he stands guard…
The rabbi smiles, he still continues to smile.
His smile is bitter, his tears like salt,
They drip and drip – of it he knows not.
It sneaks by onto his brow,
From his brow onto his cheek, from his cheek into his beard –
He stands frozen, stands in his spot
And suddenly – the rabbi shouts out with a cry:
Almighty Lord of the world, I do not stand alone!
The two of us stand together on guard… you also
Look to Lublin, watching from afar…
You also wait hidden as I do here… watching –
And you can do nothing for your people, the same as I!…
I do not stand guard here between the walls alone –
You also… and the rabbi shakes his fist.

The cry of generations

Drawn by Mendel Lichtnshteyn

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