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Map of Rokitno

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Comments from the Editorial Board

Translated by Ala Gamulka

The Jewish Community of Rokitno lasted for a short time- less than 50 years. However, in this short period a vibrant town was built. A town that produced loyal and traditional Jews, scholars and businessmen, ordinary persons imbued with love for our nation and our people and with a deep esteem for Zion. These people were well-known for their superior qualities. They founded a life full of youthful vigor and a wish to present Rokitno as an example and a spiritual center for the surrounding villages.

Our town was small and modest. It was young and its inhabitants were vibrant. They shaped her personality and entrenched in her Western culture and modern life, as it was then known. This magnificent structure of life was razed during the Holocaust by the Nazi beast of World War II. Our town is destroyed and is no longer here.

With great trepidation we have erected a monument for generations to come. We have told her history with reverence. We described her life-style and her image. Thus we “resurrected” her from her ruins, as she was once - in her shining times and in her decline, in times of bloom and growth and in times of poverty and misery- from her beginnings to her destruction.

The historical tale of our town is short since Rokitno is not ancient. However, it was written accurately and is based on written sources as well as on personal recollections of the town veterans.

The decisive period in the life of the town began in the early twenties of the twentieth century and it is significant in our book. We cannot claim that we were able to tell all. Definitely, there may be certain events or experiences which were not fully described - either because there were no people to tell them or due to oversight.

Most of the events that we brought up and on which we concentrated belong to this era. A second period that is fully discussed in the book is that of the Holocaust where the remnant that was spared was able to recollect. The stories of the survivors in the book have a value which is not only local but belong to the general literature of the Holocaust.

Rokitno served as a center of a large group of villages where there were a small number of Jews who were closely tied to our town. The life story of these villages is well represented in our book.

An important section of our book is the Yizkor (Remembrance) pages in which we list all our dearly departed. As well, we included eulogies to several people whose lives and deeds helped to shape our town. We also dedicated a prominent section to members of our town who fell during the War of Independence and to those from our town and its vicinity who died in Israel.

This book of Rokitno and its vicinity shall serve as an eternal monument to the memory of one of the most interesting towns in the Diaspora where we were born, where we grew up and were educated. For us Rokitno is not just of historical value. She is always alive in our thoughts and is permanently engraved in our hearts. Although many of us have been away from her for many years - she is dear to all of us.

Let the book awaken the memory and let it tell our children the story of their parents in the Diaspora. Let it persevere for eternity so that those who come after us will know how their forefathers lived. Silently, with bowed heads we stand at the scattered graves of our dearly departed. We shall never forget them.

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The Editor and The Editorial Board

From right to left:
1. Shlomo Kravi
2. Yosef Segal
3. Haim Shteinman
4. Aharon Lifshitz
6. Bat Sheva Fichman (Shohet)
7. Aryeh Geipman
5. The Editor, Eliezer Leoni

The creation of this book was not easily achieved. The mission was too heavy and too full of responsibility. The members of the Editorial Board dedicated much of their time and spent over three years in backbreaking work. They added brick to brick and helped the Editor in the verification of facts, editing material and in the final preparation for publication. Thus was produced the manuscript of the essence of the lives of the community of Rokitno and its vicinity. The years in which the book was created were years of suspense and great activity of all the members of the Editorial Board. This dedicated work exacted many sacrifices - both physical and emotional. It was done with inspiration and unconditional dedication in order to perpetuate a whole community- a task that only our generation knew. It was teamwork in which much thought and contemplation were invested. We did whatever it was possible for us to do so that the image of our dearly beloved would not, G-d forbid, be diminished and that their memory would not lessen among us.

It is our pleasant duty to heartily thank in the name of the Editorial Board and in the name of all those from our town and its vicinity, our Editor. The author Eliezer Leoni, a native of Kovel, who invested a great deal of energy, diligence, dedication and talent in gathering the literary material, editing it, proof-reading and preparing it for printing. He did not skimp on any effort. He visited many of us who came from Rokitno and its vicinity, encouraged the people and wrote down their recollections. Thanks to his adherence to this lofty task Rokitno has been commemorated in a way that allows us to see all that is good and sacred to us all. Let this monument serve as a recompense for his hard work.

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Regional Map

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Rokitno shall survive

Eliezer Leoni

Translated by Ala Gamulka

The Jews of Volyn Province were as one family. This Jewish Community did not have borders since “we came from the same well”. Thus, with a slight change of the ancient proverb I will state, “I am a man from Volyn and anything that touches Volyn and its Jewry is close to my heart”. Therefore, I will lament and eulogize the children of Rokitno who were struck down since I think of them as my siblings.

The memory of Rokitno is dear to us since this is where the foundation of our youth was laid. The atmosphere of our parents' homes and that of Rokitno shaped our being. They became absorbed in our being as a cherished heritage. Therefore, the sharp memory of the misfortune lives inside us. Now, sadly all is ravaged. The candle is snuffed. The children of Rokitno were killed mercilessly in a way that cannot be imagined. They will not return to their homes. This is the terror which screams out, but no one can change it.

Man is endowed with the ability that is his alone - to be able to resurrect the dead in a spiritual way. This is possible in print only as S.Y. Agnon says in his book, A Guest Goes To Sleep (p. 332): “Paper is superior even to a gravestone since if a gravestone is large and attractive, the goyim steal it and put it in their buildings. If it is small, it sinks into the ground. Paper is different. When a book is printed, it is sent throughout the land and it lasts for generations”.

Man's life moves in two circles which after some time blend one into the other. One is a narrow circle, the circle of physical existence, which is restricted to a specific beginning, a middle and an end. All human beings are subject to the law since “the road begins in the six days of creation”.

However, man does not live only a physical existence. His life also moves in another circle, the circle of spiritual life, which has no end and which is not as light as the body, but becomes a spiritual essence, an eternal existence.

When it comes to the narrow circle, the Jews of Rokitno have reached a definite end. Death swallowed them for eternity and their light will not shine again. However, when it comes to the endless circle they still exist. In spirit our dear ones are here and they are immortal. This book was meant to give an eternal resting place to their souls.

In addition to perpetuating the soul of the Jews of Rokitno and its vicinity, there is a tragic moral lesson hidden in the book. For us it is like the phrase: “Teach them thoroughly to your children and speak of them while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way, when you retire and when you rise”.

We were slaughtered and burned, not because we are one of the rotten nations, but because we are a nation lacking in protection, without a country and bereft of any basic human rights. Our miserable situation in the world- a situation of a defenseless nation - is what encouraged the perpetrators to do their evil deeds.

Rokitno had its own setting. It was a town of youth, of young people, vibrant and active. Thus, the book is mostly dedicated to these wonderful young people with their cravings, their hopes and their dreams of redemption - their own redemption and that of the Jewish Nation. In these young people were found strengths and special talents which unfortunately stayed hidden and were never discovered. They were very young people when they went on their last voyage. The youths were nurtured deeply by a love of Jewish tradition. This is why they did neither kneel nor bow down to the goyim and they bore their tradition and their Jewishness with pride. How wonderful was their life and how rich was their experience and how deep and sacred was their inner world. A thrill of sacredness waves over me when I remember them. I am unable to peek behind the screen of its existence. These youths were taken from us by wicked and violent persons while they were still developing, at the height of their aspirations and desires. How can we forget those who are part of our own experience?

Rokitno was a young town when it was cut down. Its foundations were only begun at the turn of the twentieth century. However, in this short period of time vast spiritual and human values were shaped. With recognition and in fear that we may not be able to commemorate these values- they may be forgotten and they may sink into oblivion- we drew out the sweetness of our dear ones. We collected their stories, their jokes, their experiences. We amassed a spiritual wealth which is important not only for us, but also for generations to come. This book is not an impassive gravestone which we honor but keep away from. This is a source of life which flows on the eternal horizon and serves us as an emotional support. Therefore, we see it as our life's path.

We constructed a repository for the soul of the communities of Rokitno and its vicinity. This is a work of rededication. We collected and gleaned the spiritual bones of our dear ones in this modest temple. They will be anchored on the infinite shores of the human experience and their time will never end.

In spite of the large scope of the book, it is only a prologue. We did not include everything in our structure. It is impossible to describe the treasure of Rokitno souls. Many chapters remained behind the scenes because we could not express all that was there. If, G-d forbid, we made any errors, we ask forgiveness from our martyrs. All was done to honor them, not for us, so that their memory would be eternal.

Now, when we look at the world of Rokitno, as it is again being revealed by word and picture, the pain is rekindled and it will not be relieved. I take upon myself the role of community representative and I state that even if we ascend to heaven our grief will not end. A lamentation pours out of the heart. Alas, what happened to Rokitno! Would that G-d had breathed life in our dearly departed who were tortured and slaughtered. Would that He would have rejoined all the bones! How rich our life would have been! How happy we would have been! We cannot really absorb the misfortune without realizing their yearning for Jerusalem and their desire to see the eternal glow of Israel.

The book is the sole and most important sacred remnant of Rokitno. We have nothing else. Without it we would be full of endless misery. This is our “Western Wall”. We can let our tears flow in front of it and we can unburden ourselves to ease our pain. Near it we are joined with our martyrs. As long as we are connected to them and we are involved in their lives - we lengthen their lives and the community of Rokitno will persevere and will achieve immortality of its soul.

"That the generation to come might know them,
even the children which should be born;
who should arise and declare them to their children"

Psalms 78:6

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