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[Pages 345-346]

Editor's Foreword

by Chaim Rabin

Translated by Howard Freedman

Note: Chaim Rabin (1910-1990), the editor of the Shumsk Yizkor Book and author of this foreword to the Yiddish section of the book, was born in Lanovits. His mother, Dina (Berensztejn) Rabin, was the daughter of Kovka and Ides (Yehudis) Berensztejn, prominent members of the Jewish community in Shumsk. Chaim Rabin's parents, Dina and Uziel Rabin, perished in the Holocaust as did two of their children. Chaim Rabin immigrated to Palestine in 1934. He was a prolific author and translator and edited more than 10 Yizkor Books.
When we remember Shumsk, we remember Yiddish, the language of our eternally dear murdered parents, brothers, sisters, friends, neighbors-- all of the dear Shumsk Jews. We know that they held on to their language as a means of defense to protect their Jewish way of life and maintain their uniqueness. In it they spoke, thought, and whispered the 2,000-year secret that brought us back into our Land of Israel, and in it they created, sang, and traded their lovely Jewish jokes and ... cried in times of uncertainty and death.

Therefore we have devoted a large section of the book to Yiddish, although our intuition regarding Yiddish tells us that in the future Yiddish will be supplanted by the use of Hebrew.

We undertake this with love.

The Yiddish section is not a translation. It is the language of creation of the authors and, just as the entire book has been created by the efforts of a few who have taken pains to write, so is the Yiddish in the book the creative language of its authors. Fortuitously, it is almost a parallel reflection of Shumsk to its Hebrew reflection.

Here is a section of nostalgia, of longing for the past of our shtetl with its sorrows and happiness.

Here is a picture of its society, which was built upon a moral law and code of the soul, with its shaded and bright characters.

Here is the longing of its youth for their own state and a safe, secure Jewish life.

And, above all, here is a description of the massacre of the people of Shumsk by three witnesses saved from death.

*

Worthy of mention is the treasury of Shumsk folkore in the chapters by Muni Chazen and the diary of Elye Hersh Nite's daughter Zipora Rojchman, which was written in the 1930s in the midst of seas and oceans, between sky and water, when she was an illegal immigrant to Israel and her heart was torn between her love of Israel and her longing to return home to Shumsk.

*

The Shumsk landsmanshaft in Israel did everything so that the book in Hebrew and in Yiddish would be a fitting memorial to our holy, dear Shumsk Jews, a tribute to all Jews murdered in all lands and generations, and an accurate picture of our shtetl.

We presume that here and there errors and oversights were made. This is natural and pardonable, for if we had not made the effort to prepare this book we would not have fulfilled our duty to immortalize Shumsk for our children and for Jewish history.

We thank all of our Shumskers, whose demand for the book gave us the courage to put up with the obstacles and financial difficulties, and brought the dream of a Shumsk Yizkor Book to realization.

Let us consider this book as the collective expression of all of us Shumskers.


[Pages 347-355]

My Hometown Shumsk

by Sarka Berensztejn–Fiks [Fuchs]

Translated by Sandy Bloom

Dedication: This translation is dedicated with love to the memory of Ida Fiks Oren, who was born in Shumsk to Sarka and Yehoshua Fiks in 1929 and passed away in Ramat Hasharon, Israel, in October 2017.

Notes: This chapter was originally written and published in Yiddish. Esther Weinschelbaum translated it to Hebrew, and Sandy Bloom translated from the Hebrew to English. The Yiddish–to–Hebrew translation appears at https://www.jewishgen.org/Yizkor/szumsk/files/Szumsk_Hebrew.pdf. Rachel Karni, translation project coordinator for the Shumsk Yizkor Book, provided the following introduction, along with most of the footnotes.

Introduction: The author of this chapter, Sarka/Sarah Berensztejn Fiks, was born in Shumsk in 1900 to Yaakov/Kovke and Edes (Susak) Berensztein. She was their ninth child. From an early age she absorbed her parents' values of extending a warm helping hand to others. For example, when the Poles began their rule in the area in 1920, she immediately learned Polish so that she might represent Shumskers before the government authorities. She married Yehoshua Fiks and they had a daughter, Ida. During World War II they survived in the USSR. Sarka and Yehosh devotedly raised their niece Ada, the daughter of Breindel (1907–1943) and Lazar Hak, Sarka's sister and brother–in–law, who perished in the Holocaust. In 1956 Sarka, Yehoshua, Ida and Ada immigrated to Israel. Sarka was an active and beloved member of the Shumsk association in Israel and a source of endless information about Shumsk and Shumskers. A remembrance of Sara Bernshteyn–Fiks, along with a photo of her, is included in “Voice of Kremenets and Shumsk Emigrants in Israel and the Diaspora, Booklet 18,” which appears in English translation at https://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/kremenets1/kre1_1838.html#Page53

The Vilya River encircled Shumsk and contributed to the city's charm and well–being. People bathed in the river, sailed on it in boats, and skated on it when it froze over in winter. In addition, the river was filled with fish and people used to relax by going fishing. Toward evening, after the tumult of the workday, the large sun would set over the river, illuminating the entire village with its blazing red rays. This was followed by the merry concert of frogs. The croaking of those frogs remained as sweet, charming memories.

Several dukes from the entire area lived in Shumsk. There were five brothers who were Polish nobleman: Duke Shitanovsky, Duke Mugliantizky, and Duke Lidachovsky. Shumsk belonged to [Duke] Mezhinsky who, in 1863 during the Polish Revolt [against Russian rule over Poland], hid by my grandfather. Mezhinsky was a liberal man and a good person who built several flour mills in Shumsk as well as the liquor refinery and the beer brewery. He also developed commerce in the town.

After the third partition of Poland[1], the Russians gave the largest flour mill to the priests of the Holy Synod of Saints Cyril and Methodius. The second mill was bestowed on the much–acclaimed Colonel Ivshetznako. Finally, the Russians gave the Czar's son's nursemaid Shovlova a present: the large estate on which Mamut[2] and Berensztejn settled, and the beautiful garden.

While Shumsk may have appeared to be a regular shtetl like all the others, it had one advantage over the others: its youth were culturally and politically advanced. I remember that as early as 1911–1913 when the Beilis blood–libel trial took place[3] the youth in Shumsk already talked about Eretz Israel.

We had a two–classroom Russian school on a high academic level, when other towns barely had one. In 1905, several youths already sat in jail for revolutionary activity: Yonah Krejzelman, Yechiel Kanfer[4], Fajwel Berensztejn[5], the son of Kitza Landa (and) Saruza Vigoda.

In 1907, a top–quality Hebrew teacher was brought to the town to teach the children of several wealthy families. I still remember the protests of the religious balebatim[6] in our kloyz (small local synagogue), when my brothers began to study in the Russian school. Their cries became even louder when they found out that my father bought copies of Y.L. Gordon's poems for the students. At the time, such material was considered treif, even worse than pig meat.

In 1907 an illegal library was opened by Isaac Mejler who lived opposite Malka the Cripple. The library was run by Motya Szames[7], Dovid Berensztejn[8], and Binyamin Marder. Their assistants were: Chana (Bryk) Geldie[9], Blima Gejlichen, Sheindel (daughter of Tocha) Mirmelsztejn[10], Breindel Chazen[11], Moni Chazen[12], Pesach Szames[13], Lazil Mordysz[14], Yechiel Kanfer, Moni Lizk[15] During the day the books were hidden in barrels, bread–boxes and laundry tubs. People came in the evenings to exchange books and take new ones. Outside, we always posted guards of our own persuasion, lest we be interrupted.

 

 

It was about this time that a matza–making machine arrived in the town. The youth helped do the work and also guarded against theft and missing weight. The youths were the ones to bring matzot to the houses of the poor people. An illegal Jewish–Hebrew school was founded; also a drama club and other activities. In 1917 an official Hebrew library and Hebrew school were established, with the permission of the state. During the typhus epidemic of 1918–1920, volunteers were organized to tend to the sick people in their beds.

Avraham Wertheim (a relative of the rabbi) brought us Zionism. When elections were held for the Russian parliament, two representatives came to Shumsk: the first was Goldsztejn representing the merchants, the second was a Zionist. Wertheim said that Number 8, the number representing Goldsztejn, implies “boycott.” “We don't need them,” said Wertheim, “we don't need to do business here. We need to build our own country in the Land (of Israel).”

In 1936 the Revisionist movement was founded, and internal struggles intensified. We also had several Bundists, and a few communists, but they had no effect on the town.

The craftsmen in the town were peace loving Jews. Who doesn't remember Matti the blacksmith, Chaim–Yidel the tailor, Yitzchak Baruch the shoemaker, Chaim the tailor, Laizer the furrier. All of them did sub–standard work. Some were very impulsive. (Their inferior work probably stemmed from) harsh socio–economic conditions and great difficulty in making a livelihood. But none of them was an informer, they didn't harm a soul. Their “revolutionary” side was expressed in their desire to serve as gabbaim (synagogue beadles) or as cantors.

Worse than them were some pseudo–balebatim. They were not Torah scholars, and didn't really have any kind of occupation either. They didn't know what they wanted.

Zionist activity swept away the intelligentsia, secular and religious alike, as they proudly bore the brunt of the work involved. After difficult days in the shopkeeper's fair, worries in making a living and competition woes, N.A. Geldie[16] abandoned his store and the merchants and went to raise money for the Keren Hayesod[17]. With him were: Pesach Bat [Bahat][18], Alter Jukielson[19], Mottel Segal[20], Hertz Milman[21], B. Wilskier[22], Motti [Mordechai] Sztejnman[23], Leib Korin[24], Y.M. Girszman[25], and many others as well! In the later years, most of the village's residents had children in Eretz Israel and planned on joining their offspring there eventually.

*

From the earliest years of my life, I remember the following people who used to appear in our house very often: Efroim Goldenberg (from Bielozorka), Yitzchok Szechver, and Chaim Wilskier. These men acted as mediators between people, but they did not receive payment. Of course, they also became Zionists and were active in the movement[26]. I remember that I found Efroim to be especially interesting. He spoke a Yiddish that I barely understood, because his Yiddish was 90 percent Hebrew but with a different accent! He was a dear fellow, a refined and honorable Jew who used to read a lot. I never heard a bad word from him, never uttered a word of contempt or derision. He was as honest as a mirror, in business as well as daily life.

Avraham Rajch[27] was a good–looking, noble and interesting person. In spite of his religious education and knowledge, he was a big apikorus (heretic) yet he had the magnanimous nature of a good Jew. Avraham's beloved son, Moni, committed suicide by shooting himself when the 1906 Revolution did not succeed. (At the time, a group of people joined to together to kill themselves to break the heart of the Czar.) Avraham was very pained at his son's death. Despite his conservatism, he told me, “Moni had good intentions, he wanted to do the right thing. He was a gifted pupil, he earned a gold medal and was accepted to the university. And suddenly he does such a stupid thing. Even now, I grieve for him.”

I recall how one evening, Yisrael–Moshe approached Avraham to ask for charity (gemilut chasadim) to buy a cow, because his cow had dropped dead. Yisrael–Moshe's house was full of children, sick ones too, on top of everything else. Rajch protested, “But you already owe me so much; your debt grows from year to year! Do you think I have an endless supply [of money]?” Yisrael–Moshe lowered his eyes, and left. About 10 p.m., Rajch's assistant Yisrael said that he was going home because it was late. “Nu, go in peace, but take 50 zloty and bring it to Yisrael–Moshe,” said Avraham.

“He's almost certainly getting ready for bed now,” Yisrael protested.

“Don't worry; for this, it's OK to wake him up.”

When our chalutzim (pioneers to Eretz Israel) went to collect the money the Jewish National Fund boxes, Rajch used to poke fun at them. “Over there, a couple is walking,” he said and immediately added, “But it's better than taking from the guarantors.”

*

And now a few words about my father, Yaakov Berensztejn[28]. One day, the Russian Czar decreed that all the Jews must be evicted from their villages. The Jews from the nearby villages were, of course, depressed and worried; they sent representatives to our house, to talk to Father. (The villages were Surazh, Malaya Borovitsa, Karpilovka, Khudak, Kuty, Pikolsky–Atiske, Derganis, Bolozhivka, Marinek, Olyves, Kordyshev, and Novostav.)

A tall, thin, dark–brown Jew was so upset that he kept pulling out hairs from his curly beard. Next to him sat a good–looking fellow with a wide and powerful body and red cheeks; his name was Reuven Winokur, who kept looking at my father submissively. Next to him sat two brothers from Marinek: Yechezkel, with a quiet, refined face; and his brother, with a gaunt, green–tinged face and a pointy beard. Then there was a handsome, tall Jew with a wide black beard: he was Meir from Bolozhivka (Gursztein).

These visitors spent a full day and night together, consulting with Father. The final decision was: to turn all the village Jews into craftsman/tradesmen, so that they wouldn't be subject to expulsion. Thus, of the Jews who came to consult with Father, one became a religious–studies teacher (melamed), another a blacksmith, and the third – a shoemaker. Police chief Kaltenberg, who was friendly with my father, was of great help in pulling this off. But Grandfather was forced to leave Obych.

This Kaltenberg provided the first 20 rubles towards the new lamp for the kloyz which used synthetic gas. Kaltenberg also studied Talmud and the Hebrew language. He helped obtain the release of Tzeli Min HaHar (Kopejka)[29] who was accused of killing a non–Jew. Buzhi, Tzeli's wife, declared that she would not go home until my father would obtain Tzeli's release – she had five children and she was poor. Father went to great efforts to explain to her that the proceedings would take at least a day; he first needed to get all the facts and analyze the situation, as the police commander told him. Father called for Yitzchok Szechver (Zavadnik)[30], they came to a decision, and at night the two of them traveled to Kremenets and resolved everything. The doctor in Kremenets determined that the non–Jew's artery had burst from drinking too much liquor, thus causing his death.

Someone informed on Eliyahu the son of Hirsch–Neta (Rojchman)[31] that he was selling candles to churches without tax (Lighting Tax). When Kovke Berensztejn talked to the police chief about it, the latter added that someone had informed on Pinya Pelc[32] that the fellow had purposely injured his foot to avoid army service. Many other issues came up as well, and Father took care of everything.

Yechezkel Rojch[33] died, leaving a sick widow with four children. The eldest, Szymon, was 14 years old when he began to help his mother in the flour store that Father and Shmuel–Leib Vigoda set up for her. The three girls married and Szymon eventually became quite wealthy.

Now we hear someone knocking: it's Malka the Cripple with her wooden foot, crying bitterly. Her oven has broken down and now she has no way to earn her livelihood. She bakes holiday confections, and makes a living from it. Yidel Zak[34] used to say that parents became impoverished from the money their children spent on Malka's pastries.

After Father died, it turned out that we had to register or take care of several apartments that my father helped the owners evade various fines. There was the apartment of Shmuel Kotik[35], and the apartment of Hirsch Rojchman who was supposed to pay a tax on his son Michoel who emigrated to America; then the apartments of Chana Gengen and Binyamin Shochet.

It is hard to list everyone and everything. Kovke Berensztejn was an important figure who lived not only for his own family but for all the Jews. When I returned from prison in 1933, my brother Fajwel admonished me for sticking my neck out to help other Jews. “They were all released, and you of all people had to do jail time?!” My answer was short: “Our father taught us to sacrifice ourselves for each and every Jew.”

*

Several of the town's women are also engraved in my memory, such as Bessy–Rayze the wife of the gabbai. She walked around in the cemetery like an important director. She approached Father's headstone, knocked on it with her long pole and said, “Shalom to your holy soul; tranquility for your [eternal] rest; your children are standing here” – then listed their names, delivered a long speech, and left us. After all, people were waiting for her; without her, no one could open a book.

Nu, Dina Perl used to shed tears when I took her to vote for the Polish parliament. It was in the fall, the ground was a bit muddy, she walked with the long staff in her hands, and said, “Tell me, what decree has fallen on us that I must go vote now?”

 

 

Rayze the wife of the gabbai was a very handsome woman. But she was hunched and bent over with her two baskets of challah for Shabbat that she would collect from the housewives. When there was no room left in the baskets she put the rest in her aprons and thus, weighed down, was barely able to drag herself around. Secretly she brought each family or person what they needed for Shabbat.

Rivka, wife of Chaim Shuster, was a happy woman. To her, potato soup was as good as chicken soup; roasted potatoes were like cutlets. She was always happy. However, she was serious and focused when she did the tahara ritual for the deceased. Frequently, a tear or two would well up in her eyes. Yes, Rivka was all heart and soul. She was widowed at a young age and was left with five children. I used to drop by her house frequently. Her children were very straight and honest, decent, and quiet.

*

The people in our town lived in peace and tranquility. Everyone knew everyone else, we were like one family; together in joy and in suffering. Then there was the case of Mendel Rojzen[36], who had a too–high opinion of himself. He had no children, and was not much of a Torah scholar. But he had to do something, so what he did was to create controversy: He proposed to our rabbi, Mordechai Lerner, to be just a “rebbe”: accept notes with requests, conduct hitbodedus (special prayers in seclusion), and let his son, Bere'le, be the rabbi.

The rabbi did not want to humiliate Mendel so he simply didn't answer him. But the son Bere'le immediately refused[37]. Mendel Rojzen, “with the wide pants” as he was called, brought a rabbi from old Constantine; and also brought a shochet (ritual slaughterer) called Avraham Chervitz. The latter was a wise, learned Jew who was not quarrelsome at all, and was able to compensate for the shortcomings of the rabbi (that he had brought).

Mendel's “holy work” was to run after the slaughterers, the butchers of the other side, and would do anything to provoke a conflict. He became the head gabai (beadle) of the main Beit Knesset, which was managed by the great philanthropist M. Bat; Bat was the one who built the Beit Knesset and brought in Rabbi Mordechai [Lerner] from Radzivilov, at the time. And he (Bat) recruited Rabbi Mordechai because Bat's brother–in–law, the wealthy gvir Mess, was an enthusiastic supporter of Rabbi Yosele, Rabbi Mordechai's father.

Rabbi Mordechai used to be chazan (cantor) for some of the more “weighty” prayers on the High Holy Days, and he came to blow the shofar for ne'ila. Once, when the rabbi came to lead the “Hineni ha'ani mi'maas” prayer, Mendel wouldn't let him approach the bima (platform)! The rabbi had a few supporters: Pinchas'l Ingerlejb[38], Yitzchak Shochet, Berl Klujzman[39] and others. Pinchas'l, who never talked during the prayers, could not control himself when this happened and asked Mendel, “How do you dare humiliate a rabbi, today on Yom Kippur?!” The answer was: “I'm making fun of all of you.” It was not long before Mendel became ill: His clothes started to hang awkwardly on him, he went to Vienna to consult with famous physicians, but nothing helped.

*

Two melamdim (teachers of religious studies) stand out in my memory from all my years in cheder. One was Shimon Berg and his wife[40]. Shimon was as good as the light of day: he was quiet, he had a pleasant, affable personality and always a smile on his face, and he got us to do and learn everything he wanted. His wife used to sew and hum songs while she worked. Their home was extremely clean. She never let us go out without a winter coat. Before we ate, she instructed us to wash our hands. The other teacher, Benny, had a yellow tinge, but was good as sunlight. He loved nature and, in the spring, gladly sent us outside to the sunlight. On Lag Ba'Omer, he'd go with us to the field, behind Rajch's flour mill, where the cows used to graze. He'd try to pluck an orange flower when our backs were turned, and then he'd occasionally bring it to his nose to sniff, when he thought we weren't looking. He would explain all unpleasant acts in the Chumash as coincidental phenomena; every evil act he would interpret as a form of social aberration. He had great talent in teaching us the material, in a way that we could understand.

*

Who doesn't remember Frojka the melamed?[41] Once I was in Rabbi Yossele's house[42], old Jukielson was also there as well as Shlomo Shtzaveli. Suddenly R' Frojka entered and said, “Rabbi, you called for me and so I have come to see you.” We wanted to leave but Shlomo stopped us. He (Shlomo) hurried to prostrate himself at R' Frojka's feet. With tears in his eyes, Shlomo started to kiss Frojka's feet and asked for forgiveness for the tribulations he had caused. Frojka stood, his face white as snow, large tears pouring from his eyes, and unable to utter a word. What was happening here? A few years earlier, Shlomo had summoned R' Frojka to the rabbi on suspicion of stealing 300 dollars from his (Shlomo's) house, when he taught the children. Frojka didn't try to deny the charge but asked to give him a few days to get the money and return it to him. And that's what he did: Frojka sold a store in the market that had belonged to his oldest daughter, and paid his debt. Time passed. One fine day, Shlomo's partner became ill and he told Shlomo that he had once stolen 300 dollars from him. Since Shlomo's partner knew he was dying, he wanted to ask for forgiveness for his sin. Shlomo promptly fainted. Now he had come before the rabbi to ask Frojka to forgive him, to forgive for everything, and to state what he wanted in compensation for the embarrassment and shame inflicted on him. Meanwhile he returned the 300 dollars to R' Frojka. Frojka cries, weeps, he forgives him for everything but asks not to tell anyone about the incident. He has children to marry off, and people might misinterpret things. Shlomo cries, kisses Froike and says, “R' Froike, why didn't you deny immediately? Why did you sell your store? Jews” – he shouts – “tell me how can I redeem my sins toward the dear, honest rebbe?” Yes, that was R' Frojke the melamed.

*

The year is 1915. Shumsk is full of numerous refugees from the towns of: Radzivilov, Kremenets, Verba, Kuzin, Brestotzka. They were all given a joyful welcome and many of them viewed Shumsk as a second home. The Sender Seforim family brought us much Zionism and Hebrew[43]. He was a prominent Talmud scholar, had served as a shochet of Verba. Zvi (Herman) Rosenberg's contribution was to considerably raise the level of Hebrew taught in the school.[44]

Dr. Jakobson, who lived with us for 50 years, is deserving of much praise for healing our sick[45]. When he built an apartment for himself, he took a Torah scroll from our kloyz and invited the public to his place for a minyan (to make up a prayer quorum). At that opportunity, he showed that he had semicha (rabbinical ordination) from the great Kurland yeshiva. When I was in Shumsk, I paid a visit to the cemetery. The path to Rachmanov was paved with Jewish tombstones. The vandals were only unable to uproot the gravestone of Dr. Jakobson, therefore they smashed it to pieces.

*

I was in Shumsk on Chol Hamoed Sukkot of 1956[46]. It took much effort to find my house. The town had changed completely, it was not even a tiny village; it looked like a ranch or farm, dark, without electricity. The merry river was gone, and the sweet frog symphony was no more. Don't make fun of me; those frog–croakings had been lovely music to me. True, I also loved the folk musician minstrels (klezmers); they all played softly, they were all good. When the children encircled them, the klezmers didn't send them away. Buchman and his fiddle frequently brought us close to tears. But Yankel's bass with its great lower bout, Dudi with his shiny brass trumpet[47], Yankovsky and his clarinet – these only made us happy. I remember the wedding of Fruma Kac: The well–to–do Sachish, Prilucki and Marcus in–laws asked Buchman to play “Kol Nidrei.” His music brought tears to everyone's eyes. Buchman suggested that everyone go outside, to the large, empty “valechlech” (market square), and began to play “freilich” – happy marching tunes. They danced till the middle of the day and then he accompanied them to their lodgings with lovely marches.

Where is Shumsk today?!

Let us all be consoled by the knowledge that the memory of the dear, beloved Jews of Shumsk, murdered by the German and Ukrainian executioners, will always remain holy.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. With the third partition of Poland, in 1795, Shumsk became part of Russia. Return
  2. The Mamut family had a very successful business selling iron used for construction and also dealt in horses. Yaakov Mamut and his wife, Mirel/ Miriam, who was born in 1898 and was a daughter of Idel/Yehuda and Golda Zak, would later perish in the Holocaust in Shumsk. They had no children. Return
  3. Menachem Mendel Beilis, born in 1874, was a Russian Jew accused of ritual murder in Kiev. After a trial that sparked international criticism of the anti–Semitic policies of the Russian Empire, Beilis was acquitted in 1913 of the slaying of a 12–year–old boy, Andrei Yuschchinsky, whose mutilated body had been found in March 1911 near a brick factory where Beilis was employed as superintendent. Beilis died on July 7, 1934. Return
  4. Yechiel Kanfer, born in 1889, was a son of Nachum Kanfer. Yechiel worked in a bank and was a teacher. Yechiel would later perish in Shumsk in the Holocaust, as did his wife and their son Muny/Nachum. Return
  5. Fajwel Berensztejn, a son of Kovke and Edes Berensztejn and a brother of the author, was born in 1892. He was highly educated, had a successful business in Ostrog, and was married. When World War II seemed imminent, he was drafted into the Polish army as an officer. When the Soviet Union invaded Poland in 1939 as a result of the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact with Nazi Germany, all of these Polish officers were taken as prisoners of war by the Red Army. Fajwel Berensztejn was killed in the Katyn massacre, a series of mass executions of Polish nationals carried out by the Soviet secret police in April and May 1940 in and around the Katyn Forest. Return
  6. Balebatim: religious, middle–class men with families; literally, “houseowners” Return
  7. Motye/Mordechai Szames, the son of Zalman Szames, was married to Reyza. They perished in Shumsk in the Holocaust. Return
  8. Dovid Berensztejn, a son of Kovke and Edes Berensztejn and a brother of the author, was born in 1895. He emigrated to the United States in 1920, going to St. Louis, where relatives of his mother's Susak/Saks family lived. He studied law, was active in the Democratic Party, and befriended Harry Truman, who was then at the start of his political career and would later become president of the United States. Return
  9. Chana Bryk Geldie and her husband, Nachum Asher Geldi, and a daughter, Susia, would later perish in the Holocaust. A surviving daughter, Fayge Mednik, related the demise of the Jewish community of Shumsk in an account on pages 358–364 of this Yizkor Book, https://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/szumsk/szu343.html Return
  10. A photo of Sheindel and Zvi Mirmelsztejn appears with the Yiddish–to–Hebrew translation of this chapter at https://www.jewishgen.org/Yizkor/szumsk/szumskh.html. Sheindel and her husband, Morchechai, hosted in their home the drama group described in the chapter of this Yizkor Book beginning on page 291, https://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/szumsk/szu291.html. Sheindel and her son Mordechai/Motek and daughter Beila would later perish in the Holocaust in Shumsk. Return
  11. Breindel Chazen went with her parents to America in 1921. Her married name was Sachs. She was a member of the Shumsk landsleit (the Shumsk Organization in America). Return
  12. Moni/Hyman Chazen, son of Jacob and Sara Chazen, was the secretary of the Shumsk Organization in America. He wrote 10 articles about Shumsk which appear in the Yiddish section of this Yizkor Book, beginning on page 376. Return
  13. Peschye/Pesach Szames perished in the Holocaust in Shumsk. Return
  14. Lazil/Eliezer Mordysh was active in the Zionist organization in Shumsk. His wife, Teival, who was born in 1896 and was a daughter of Mendel and Dina Gurfinkel, and his daughter Malka (born in 1924) would later perish in the Holocaust in Shumsk. His daughter Leah and son Aryeh survived World War II and came to Israel. Aryeh served as president of the Shumsk organization in Israel . Aryeh wrote “Shumsk, A Small Town to Remember” beginning on page 164 of this Yizkor Book, https://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/szumsk/szu144.html#Page164 Return
  15. Moni Lizk, his wife and their two children would later perish in the Holocaust in Shumsk. Return
  16. Nuchim Uszer Geldie or Nachum Asher Geldi. He and his wife, Chana (Bryk), and a daughter, Susia, would later perish in the Holocaust. A surviving daughter, Fayge Mednik, and her husband related the demise of the Jewish community of Shumsk in an account on pages 358–364 of this Yizkor Book, https://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/szumsk/szu343.html Return
  17. Keren Hayesod: fundraising arm of the Zionist movement Return
  18. Pesach Bat was born in 1881. He was a son of Baruch Moshe Bat and Perel Shafir Bat. He had a restaurant in Shumsk. He passed away in 1939. His wife, Freidel, and his daughter Chana would later perish in the Holocaust in Shumsk. His son Shlomo and many other members of the Bat/Bahat family immigrated to Palestine in the 1930s. Shlomo Bat wrote “Simple Shumsk,” beginning on page 171 of this Yizkor Book, https://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/szumsk/szu144.html#Page171, and “Antisemitism through the Ages,” beginning on page 180 of this book, https://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/szumsk/szu144.html#Page180. Return
  19. Alter Jukielson, born circa 1880, is the subject of a chapter of this Yizkor Book beginning on page 217. He was married to Beila (born in 1885), who was the daughter of Yaakov and Sara Chazen. Alter was the treasurer of the Zionist Organization of Shumsk and the gabbai in his synagogue. Alter died in 1940. Beila perished in the Holocaust in Shumsk along with Alter's married daughter and her entire family. Alter's son Chaim (Livne) Jukielson was one of the first Shumskers to immigrate to Palestine; he wrote chapters of this Yizkor Book beginning on page 158 and page 301. Return
  20. Motel/Mordechai Segal was born in 1895 to Peril. He was married to Nechama/Nachemka, daughter of Neta and Bracha Rozenboim of Varkovetz. They had two children, Yaakov (born about 1930) and Peril (born about 1933). Mordechai was a baker. He was a member of the Judenrat of Shumsk. The entire family perished in the Holocaust. Return
  21. Hertzl/Hertzik Milman, born in 1895 to Nachman and Ita, perished in Shumsk in the Holocaust. Herzl was unmarried. A charismatic leader of the Zionist movement in Shumsk, he is the subject of an article in this Yizkor Book beginning on page 220. Return
  22. Ben Zion Wilskier was born in 1897 to Yaakov Hersh Wilskier and Esther Bryk Wilskier. He was a grain miller and merchant. He was married to Perel (born in 1900). Ben Zion, his wife and their children, Lipa (born in 1927) and Freida (born in 1933), perished in Shumsk in the Holocaust. Return
  23. Mordechai Sztejnman was a well–to–do grain dealer. He and his wife, Liza, their daughters Sonya and Perel, and one young son all perished in Shumsk in the Holocaust. Return
  24. Leib Korin (born in 1880), a son of Nys/Niso Korin and Leah Podkaminer Korin, was married to Tila Szpifer. They had two sons, Yosef and Hersh. Many members of the extended Korin family immigrated to Palestine. Seventeen perished in Shumsk. Return
  25. Yitzchok Meir Girszman, a son of Szeja–Chaim Gerszman and Chava Ajzenberg Girszman, was born in 1882. He was a lumber merchant. He was married to Batya, who was born in 1886 to Dov and Dina Klojzman. Their children were Benyamin (born in 1917), Etel (born in 1920), Dov (born in 1922), and Dina (born in 1924). The entire family perished in Shumsk in the Holocaust. Return
  26. In addition to taking care of community problems, Yaakov or Kovke Berensztejn, who was the author's father, and Yitzchok Szechver studied gemarrah (Talmud) together. Berensztejn did business with Chaim Wilskier and they became related by marriage. Efroim/Froim Goldenberg was Kovke Berensztejn's accountant and they also regularly studied gemarrah together. An article about Efroim Goldenberg appears on page 207 of this Yizkor Book, and his daughter Rivka Ehrlich–Goldenberg wrote “From Shumsk to Tel Aviv,” beginning on page 415 of this Yizkor Book, https://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/szumsk/szu401.html. Return
  27. The Rajch family owned a flour mill and mills that produced electricity in both Shumsk and Kremenets. They were very wealthy. Return
  28. Yaakov/Kovke Berensztejn (c.1861–1922) started his adult life penniless, but with unusual business acumen and outstanding human relations skills he built a large flourishing grain business in Shumsk. He married Edes Susak (c.1861–1929) and they had a large family. At first they lived in the village Obych, later moving to Rachmanov and then to Shumsk. Kovke devoted himself to the Jewish community and the people of Shumsk, by whom he was highly respected. One of his sons, David, emigrated to America. Some of Kovke's grandchildren came to Palestine before World War II, and many of Kovke's descendants who survived the Holocaust in Europe came to Israel. Return
  29. Beztalel/Tzeli Kopejka was born in 1881. He was the son of Moshe and Ruchel Kopejka. He and his wife, Buzhi, and their five children, Moshe, Meri, Yaakov, Aydel and Sluva, all later perished in Shumsk in the Holocaust. Return
  30. Yitzchok/Itzko Szechwer was born in 1877 in Demidevka–Dubno. His parents were Mejer Ber Szechwer and Sura Korswer Szechwer. He was a merchant and a Talmudic scholar. The family left Shumsk in the 1930s for Zdolbonov, later coming to Palestine. Return
  31. Elya/Eliyahu Rojchman was born in 1869, son of Tzvi/Hirsch–Neta Rojchman and Ruchel Baylis Rojchman. His picture appears on page 327 of this Yizkor Book, where his generosity is recalled. He donated a large plot on which was erected a synagogue subsequently frequented by the young people and the Zionists of Shumsk. Members of the large extended Rojchman family came to Palestine in the 1920s and were among the early settlers of Hadera. Others went to Omaha, Nebraska, in America. Return
  32. Pinchas/Pinya Pelc was born in 1889, son of Mendel Pelc and Beyla Rakis Pelc. He came to Palestine in the late 1930s. Return
  33. Yechezkel/Chazkel Rojch was married to Zelda Fermelant. He was in the lumber trade. Yechezkel Rojch's son Szymon, born in 1893, and Szymon's wife, Chayka, and their daughters Sonya and Koka perished in Shumsk in the Holocaust. Return
  34. Idel Yehuda Zak, born in 1875, and married to Golda, was a wealthy merchant dealing in iron for construction. Idel's son David and David's wife, Keila Shtul, and their two children; Idel's son Shmuel, married to Manya, and their daughter Goldeleh; and Idel's daughter Chantzi Zaltzman all perished in World War II. Chantzi's husband, Avraham Zaltzman, survived the war. In another chapter in this Yizkor Book, “After the Holocaust,” beginning on page 103, Shalom Krakowiak recalls that when he visited Shumsk after World War II, Zak's house was one of the few buildings left standing in the area that had been the ghetto during the German occupation. Return
  35. Shmuel–Moshe Kotik was born in 1877 in Katerburg to Aron Kotik and Sheidel–Udle Soifer Kotik. He moved to Shumsk in 1902. His wife's name was Sara. Return
  36. Michel/Mendel Rojzen was born in 1896 to Yosef/Zusya–Aron Rojzen and Sura Bat Rojzen. The Rojzen family lived in Belozerka before moving to Shumsk. Return
  37. After Rabbi Mordechai Lerner died, his son Dov Be'er, also called Bere'le or Beirinyo, did become the Rav. Return
  38. Pinchas Ingerleib was married to Yenta Samet. Return
  39. Berl Klujzman was married to Dina. Their son Sender (born in 1890), Sender's wife, Malya/Malka, and Sender's sons Duba (born in 1919) and Zev (born in 1925) perished in Shumsk in the Holocaust. Their son Dov came to Palestine.] Return
  40. Shimon was married to Tzipora “Zipe” Kalika. Shimon Berg and his wife died before the Holocaust. Their children Meir–Leib Berg and Dina (Berg) Kleinstein, and their spouses and children, all but one, perished in the Holocaust. Meir–Leib's son Ze'ev Berg lived through World War II and immigrated to Israel in 1950 with his wife and three children. Return
  41. Efraim/Frojka Spector, the beloved teacher of elementary–age children, passed away before World War II. He was married to Susia. They had four sons and three daughters, none of whom were married. His daughter Preva was an outstanding seamstress. His son David served in the Red Army and died while a prisoner of war. All the others perished in Shumsk. Return
  42. Rabbi Yosef “Yossele” Rabin was appointed the rabbi of Shumsk when Rabbi Beirinyo died. Rabbi Rabin would later perish in the Holocaust along with his wife and children. Rabbi Rabin is the subject of chapters in this Yizkor Book beginning on page 221, https://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/szumsk/szu221.html, and page 224. Return
  43. Sender Seforim came to Shumsk from Radzivilov with his wife and children as refugees during World War I. Having been teachers of Hebrew, they opened a school in Shumsk where Hebrew was taught and were active in the Zionist activities in the town. Their son Rafael was among the first people from Shumsk to emigrate to Palestine, where the family name was modified to Sapir. Rafael Sapir was on the editorial board for this Yizkor Book and wrote some chapters. Return
  44. Zvi Rosenberg, who served as Tarbut school principal in Shumsk for five years, wrote a chapter of this Yizkor Book, “The ‘Tarbut’ School and Culture in Shumsk,” beginning on page 272, https://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/szumsk/szu261.html#272. Return
  45. Dr. Jakobson is the subject of a chapter of this Yizkor Book beginning on page 199, https://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/szumsk/szu185.html#Page199. Return
  46. On page 312 of the Shumsk Yizkor Book is a photograph taken in September 1956 at the site of the mass grave in Shumsk during the author's visit. Sarka is standing next to the Polish military officer who accompanied her, along with Jews who were then living in Shumsk. The adults pictured are, from left, Moshko and his wife, Sasha, Sara Chusyd and her husband, Avraham Chusyd, the Polish officer, Sarka Berensztejn–Fiks, Shalom Krakoviak and his wife, and Shmuel Shafir and his wife; and the children are the Chusyds' son and the Krakoviaks' daughter Ora. The photo also appears at https://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/Shumskoye/shumsk.mass.html. Return
  47. Dudi Gorender was the trumpet player in the band. Dudi and his wife, Sara, would later perish in Shumsk in the Holocaust, along with their son Aharon, Aharon's wife and their two children, Dudi and Sara's son Yitzchok, Yitzchok's wife, Gitel, and their two children. Dudi and Sara's son Betzalel Gorin/Gorender immigrated to Palestine in 1935. Betzalel Gorin wrote “Family and History” beginning on page 249 of this Yizkor Book. Return


[Pages 356-357]

My Unforgettable Shtetl Shumsk

by Manny Rubin (Avraham Schochet's grandson)

Translated by Howard Freedman

note: This was a rhyming poem. I chose to represent it literally. The syntax from the Yiddish is largely intact.

My small shtetl,
Its surroundings so beautiful
Houses straight in a row,
Study houses, a synagogue between them.
Streets short and long
Shops in a line on the square
The Braver[1], a distillery, and also a mill
All beautiful and delicious to everyone's senses.
The walk to the woods
Through the wood and up the Gorki[2]
When every Sabbath, everyone big and small
Would head from the shtetl
After the delight and rest of Sabbath
Everybody, everybody, you and I.
And the orchard at the New Town[3]
In summer used to blossom so well.
I think now of you and your people
And of your beautiful evenings
The sky, such a pure blue, moon shining
In it, I remember today
The quiet streets, the people sleeping
There was always happiness, cheerfulness
But suddenly evil took you.
Obliterated, I can no longer see you.
By the hand of German murderers
There remains no more than burnt walls.
And together with you
Your people were obliterated
My sisters, brothers, and who was not?
O Shumsk, I will never forget you
In my memory you will always be engraved.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. The Braver was a brewery that belonged to the Wilsker family. It was not in use as a brewery, and, being a large space, it was used for some time as the place where the Dramatic Society presented its productions. Return
  2. The Gorki was a hill just outside the town and was used especially by the young people of the town for walks on Shabbat. Return
  3. The New Town was the name of a section or neighborhood of Shumsk. Return


[Pages 358-364]

Shumsk Dies

by Fayge and Yosef Mednik as told to Muni Chazenr

Translated by Howard Freedman

Notes: Howard Freedman's translation from Yiddish to English was augmented by Rachel Karni using a Yiddish–to–Hebrew translation prepared by Ahuva Shalom. Rachel Karni prepared the following introduction.

Introduction: Fayge/Tziporah (Geldi) Mednik was a native of Shumsk. Her parents were Nachum Asher Geldi, a merchant born in 1890, and Chana (Bryk) Geldi, born in 1895. Fayge's parents and her sister Susia[1] all perished in Shumsk. Fayge's brother Pinchas Geldi/Giladi survived the war, hiding in Shumsk itself and in the area, and after the war he settled in Israel. He is referred to several times in the accounts in this yizkor book by other survivors.

Yosef Mednik was from Mizoch, near Shumsk, and married Fayge Geldi before World War II. During the period of Soviet rule in Shumsk that began in September 1939, Yosef headed an economic cooperative in Shumsk known as the MST or Municipal Company for Supplies. With the German invasion in the summer of 1941, he and his wife fled from Shumsk into the Soviet Union. While in the Soviet Union the two became separated when Yosef was taken into the Red Army. They were later reunited in Tashkent.

After the war the Medniks were in Wetzler, Germany. In December 1949 they immigrated to the United States with their two children. In America their names became Fay and Joseph Madnick and they had two more children. Shortly after their arrival in the United States, they spoke at a meeting of Shumskers in New York, relating for the first time to those in America what had happened in Shumsk during the war. Yosef's talk was transcribed by Muni Chazen.

From the following detailed description of events that took place in Shumsk after the Medniks had left the town, it is clear that they had met in Europe with Shumskers who had been in Shumsk at the time of the massacre and survived and that they had heard firsthand reports from them. Almost all the events they describe in this talk are corroborated by survivors' accounts in earlier chapters of this yizkor book, in the section “On the Holocaust.” In the few cases where the Medniks are the only ones to tell about a specific incident, we have learned from researchers at Yad Vashem that unfortunately such incidents were known to have occurred in western Ukraine.

Joseph Madnick passed away in 1987, and Fay in 1990.

 

On June 22, 1941, the war began with a black cloud of death and destruction for the world as a whole, and especially for us Jews.

On the 5th of July at 6:00 in the evening, Hitler's gang arrived in Shumsk. As soon as they arrived, they began to beat and harass all of the shtetl's Jews. They began by cutting the beards of elderly Jews and looting Jewish property and goods. And within a few days, they gave an order for Jews to sew yellow patches onto their backs and onto the front over their hearts, as well as a white band on the right sleeve with a Star of David, so that a Jew could be recognized a mile away. The patches had to be 20 square centimeters. If a patch was any smaller the person was beaten until he fell dead on the spot. From such a punishment fell the first casualty in Shumsk: Berel Lalkis –– BenTsion Burdman's son–in–law, the husband of Reyzel.[2]

 


Here is Shumsk… buried

 

Every day, from dawn until late at night, groups of men were driven to work in the forests, ten kilometers from Shumsk. The work was more difficult than a person could endure. For being unable to lift a heavy beam on the first try, a man was beaten until he lost consciousness. Obtaining food was completely out of the question.

Upon returning from an entire day of work in the forest, if a Jew was found with a piece of bread, a potato, a beet, a carrot, or something of this sort (which some brought to nourish their starving children), he was hanged.

Jews began to purchase food from gentiles covertly. For a piece of bread, cabbage, or potato, one had to pay with gold coins. A good suit was given away for a loaf of bread.

That is how it was until the establishment of the ghetto.

On March 12th [1942] during the morning count an order was given to begin work to erect a fence, the purpose of which was to isolate the Jews inside a ghetto. They gathered the shtetl's Jews together to dig ditches for a fence, which stretched from the raised road[3] onward, going from Baruch Godl Shprecher's house until Yakov'ke Berensztejn's house[4] and then up to the monastery that was the Polish horse stable[5]. From there the fence ran to Shimon Duchowny's house and Nachum Kac's, until Mates Kreyzelman's across the way. Then the fence extended until Yente Ingerlejb's house[6], and from there to Yudl Zak's, Sholem Lalkes', Avrahamke[7] the tailor's, and then from Zelig Duchowny's to Zeyde Kac's house. From there it went to Mendel Tober's house, Bayarki's house, and Leib Shimon's house, until the brewery on the river.

The other side the fence enveloped the home of Rabbi Yossele, the bathhouse, the Kanfers' home, and all of the houses that were by the river. In the middle were the study houses and the Great Synagogue, which was already nearly 200 years old. It was all enclosed by a high fence to create a ghetto. The fence was 3 meters high, with boards joined together to form a wall, so that one could not see out through them.

They then rounded up the Jews into this area together with all their possessions.

The congestion was terrible. People were as crowded there as herrings in a barrel, several families to a house. Stationed around the ghetto were Ukrainian policemen – plainly murderers from the nearby villages. They stood guard to prevent anyone from leaving the ghetto. Life became even more bitter than before. Each person received nothing more than ten dekagrams[8] of bread a day, and nothing else was permitted into the ghetto. Only when a Christian felt pity and tossed in some bread did some lucky person have the privilege of catching the bread and feeling fortunate. The hunger was enormous. Often people fought until blood was shed for the sake of a piece of bread. People began to swell from hunger. Children and tiny infants died of hunger.

On one of these calamitous days, the bandits arrived in the ghetto and assembled all the men, women, boys, and girls. With clippers, they cut the hair from everybody's head and beard. They put the hair in a sack and left.

After this work, many of the Germans departed, and only a landver[9] with Gestapo police remained.

From time to time, a forced contribution was imposed on the ghetto through the Judenrat[10] that had been established in the ghetto, and a collection was taken for the contribution. Thus, for example, they once demanded the delivery of 500 gold watches with gold chains, women's necklaces, and gold bracelets. The ultimatum was that if the items were not delivered in the amount dictated by 7 o'clock, they would take a hundred people out of the ghetto and shoot them.

Afterward, they demanded diamonds, gold rings, furs, sewing machines, bicycles, motorcycles, gramophones, typewriters, fine suits, gold coins, and other items with the threat that if we did not comply, they would take 600 people out to be shot. The ghetto was then surrounded by more Ukrainians –– murderers with machine guns. People brought out the last things they owned. People fell on each other's necks and said, “Who knows if we are going to be able to come up with the collection? God knows who among us will fall as martyrs, should we fail to fulfill the demands.”

Every day all the men were driven from the ghetto to do strenuous work in the forest and to break stones for roads. And as they left and returned from work, someone at the gate searched them to see whether any of them were carrying a piece of bread with them.

People in the ghetto were like geese in a cage. Each wanted to comfort the other, telling the person he was speaking with that he had had dreamed of the merits of his ancestors, and that salvation would come soon. People used to sit in front of their dwellings and sleep there because inside it was too crowded and suffocating. Out of the hunger and crowded conditions emerged a typhus epidemic. Many people, especially small children, perished from it. It was crowded, people were hungry, and one slept bumping into another's head.

In the evening, the men came back from work worn out, hungry, and exhausted. They would fall to the floor to rest. The wives and children would ask: “Father, did you bring anything?” If the father should have had the fortune to bring some potatoes or a beet, it was divided among the children, and they ate it raw.

Parents and children felt wretched after waiting an entire day for the father to bring something. If he did not succeed, the children would collect potato peelings and eat them.

Once a false accusation was made that Jews were raising pigs in the ghetto. The landver drove in with Gestapo police on motorcycles, and, with revolvers in their hands, began to beat men, women, and children –– whoever came into their hands –– so they would surrender the pigs. We fainted in fear. We could not understand why this was happening.

However, there was among us in Shumsk a Pole, Victor Katshanavski, who was an extreme anti–Semite. He had made an agreement with other bandits and with the landver, and through a nearby hole audaciously smuggled in a pig. The Judenrat came to the place and found the pig, and they were forced to lead the pig in a parade through the ghetto. And later, as a punishment, all of the pretty girls were rounded up and taken away to the landver to be raped. When they did not allow themselves to be raped, they were shot.

The worst began on the 15th of the month of Av, 1942. They stopped calling people to work. The ghetto was now completely sealed. People were no longer given any bread. The situation was becoming worse day by day.

An order was given to list the names of everybody in the ghetto. Men were to be listed separately, and women and children separately. All of the working men would be given “work permits,” as they called it, if they were capable of working. These people walked about happily because they would be able to leave the ghetto for work. When everyone had been registered, people waited for what would now happen. Only, meanwhile, the gates of the ghetto were not opened. On the contrary, where one murderer had been posted between the post office and the glass works, there now stood two. People peered out from their attics day and night to see what was happening outside the ghetto.

People noticed that the Germans were transporting gentile men and women who were holding shovels from the village of Krilitz. It was understood that this was not good and that something terrible was going to happen.

Several days later, on the 26th of Av[11] –– it was a Saturday night at around midnight –– an entire battalion of Nazis arrived and surrounded the ghetto, so that at every two steps there stood two murderers. For three days they stood with their rifles pointed toward the ghetto and gave the order that nobody should move from his or her place. Should anyone leave his or her house, or move from one building to another, he would immediately be shot. From these bullets fell Valie the mezshe, Shaya Bat, Dudi Bikovitzer, and several others.

The martyrs were left lying there, as people were scared to go out to bury them. The heat was stifling , and the corpses began to emit a strong stench, such that it was difficult simply to breathe. Motl Chazen risked his life and, along with the chairman of the Judenrat and two Jewish policemen from the ghetto, with upraised arms set out to go to the fence to ask the murderers if they would permit him to go to the landver. They asked the landver why they had surrounded the ghetto and killed many people who were still lying there, and whom people were afraid to bury. It was hot and the bodies were already emitting a stench, and this could lead to an epidemic. The landver answered that they had surrounded the ghetto because they had heard shots from the ghetto (which was an utter lie). Therefore they had to conduct a house–by–house search in the ghetto to look for weapons. Should nothing be found, the guarding of the ghetto would be relaxed. In the meantime, the corpses could be gathered and buried within the ghetto, since it was forbidden to exit the ghetto. The martyrs were buried in Leib Shimon's garden.

The mood inside the ghetto was very tense and depressed. Everybody lived in deadly terror, as the guarding of the ghetto did not subside. One felt in the air that something awful was being prepared for the Jews. People feared leaving their houses, so they sat and waited for what would come.

The complete extermination of the ghetto came.

This was on a Wednesday, the eve of Rosh Hodesh Elul 1942[12], at 4:00 in the afternoon. Rabbi Reb Yosele asked everyone to fast and to pray that a miracle would happen and we would be helped and rescued from the murderers. That same Wednesday, the murderers had driven into the ghetto and told the Judenrat that everyone who had been given a work card was permitted to come to the square and line up. They would take these men to work, and everybody who did not have such a certificate would be taken to a concentration camp. Those who were going to work were permitted to bring their families with them. Thus, many people came out of their homes, as most people wanted to extricate themselves from the sealed ghetto.

When everybody was in the square, they were ordered to march around the square and then told to sit on the ground without moving. People already saw what going to happen to them. Next, they called on those eligible to work to stand up in rows with their wives. Their children remaining behind, they departed the ghetto, surrounded by the murderers. This took place in the square by the synagogue.

The first group left through the gates between Avrahamke the tailor and Shaya Duchowny's house.

This happened on the second day of the month of Elul[13]. They led the group of Jews to the New Town. When the group of Jews was near Pesach Bat's house, they were attacked by bandits, whose presence had been arranged earlier, and were beaten murderously. Thus were the Jews led close to the Christian cemetery. There, three huge pits were prepared. A large board was placed alongside each pit. People were ordered to undress and go up in groups of ten upon the board. Two Gestapo agents shot them in the head, and the holy ones immediately fell down into the pit.

The pits were 6 meters wide, 3 meters long, and 8 meters deep.

After every three or four groups of ten were shot, the Germans called on the Ukrainian murderers to go down into the pit and compact the bodies and sprinkle them with chlorine.

Thus was the first group of approximately 1,500 Jews buried in a single pit. Once the Germans had taken care of the first group of Jews, they went back for the weak and elderly Jews, along with women and children. They threw the small children who could not walk onto trucks covered with tarpaulins, and drove them to the pits. They threw them in alive and shot them with machine guns in the pit. When the second group arrived, the German murderers took out the older children, and finished the toddlers' grave with them. This was the second pit. All of the remaining Jews were brought to the third pit in the same manner and sprinkled with chlorine.

Afterward, the gentiles covered the pits, and what remained of 4,500 Jews were three large graves.

Some Shumskers succeeded at the last minute to escape from the pits. They were Berel Segal[14], Avraham Refzon, and Yoske the wagon driver[15]. They alone among all of our townspeople survived, having witnessed the death of our Shumsk martyrs. While they were escaping they were shot at, but were fortunate enough to save themselves.

They survived in the fields amid the piles of grain and some gentiles helped them to hide.

Gentiles said that for three days the tops of the pits heaved. When the murderers had become tired of shooting, they pushed the martyrs into the pits alive.

After the annihilation, there still remained a few families in bunkers, but they were found and murdered: Nachman Sosna with his wife; Kopl Segal the butcher with six daughters, two sons–in–law, one son, and nine grandchildren; Zelig Duchowny with his wife and three children; Avraham Oife's wife with four children; Goldberg and his family; Sholem Sosna's daughter with her husband, Yenkl Efros' son; Hirsh Szwarc's daughter, and others.

On the sixth day of the final slaughter, there were still hidden in a cellar Shlomo's son Yudl Dovid with his family: Yudl with his wife, five daughters, five sons–in–law, two sons, two daughters–in–law, and eight grandchildren. They were starving in the cellar, and had run out of food and water. Two young children died from lack of water, and had to be buried within the cellar. The oldest son David took a chance and went out to search for a little water. He was spotted and tracked, and the hiding place was reported to the Germans. They took them out and, next to the graves, dug a separate pit and shot all of them. Thus they lay in a separate grave.

It is reported that there were still others who remained and were able to save themselves, and now live in Israel. But they are very few.[16]


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Susia Geldi's picture appears on page 442 of this yizkor book. Return
  2. Reyzel (Burdman) Lalkis and her brother Yoel Burdman also perished in Shumsk. Another brother, Herzl Burdman, survived the war and settled in South America. Return
  3. The writer used the word grebele, a Ukrainian word for a raised road through a low-lying area, usually a marsh or swamp or wetlands. Return
  4. Kovka Berensztejn had died in 1922. A detailed description of the interior of his large house in Shumsk is contained in “Remembering Life in Lanovits,” a 2006 interview with his grandson Azriel Berenstein. Lanovits or Lanovtsy is about 23 miles south of Shumsk. Return
  5. A Franciscan monastery existed in Shumsk until 1832. The monks' residence may have been the site that was converted to a horse stable. Return
  6. Yente Ingerlejb was a dentist. She and her husband and their entire family perished in Shumsk. Return
  7. This is a reference to Avraham Vajner (alternate spelling Weiner), who was a tailor. Return
  8. A dekagram is 10 grams, so 10 dekagrams is 100 grams or about 3.5 ounces. Return
  9. Landver : (German) The landver were a corps of older German soldiers, similar to reserves, who were called to active duty in wartime. When the Germans occupied a town or area, typically they stationed someone there to govern economic matters, so that production would continue and the Germans could then confiscate the goods. In the case of Shumsk this person was a landver. Return
  10. Judenrat: (German) A Jewish governing body which the Germans ordered Jewish communities to set up and through which edicts were imposed on the Jewish population. Return
  11. August 8, 1942 Return
  12. This date, which was August 12, 1942, in the Gregorian calendar, matches other accounts in the Shumsk Yizkor Book of the mass killing at pits near the Christian cemetery. Return
  13. This date, which was Saturday, August 15, does not match the Wednesday reference above it and appears to be in error in reference to the first and largest mass killing at pits near the Christian cemetery. Further massacres did occur later, in smaller numbers, of Jews who were found hiding in bunkers and those who had been rounded up and held at the synagogue until Yom Kippur. More detailed descriptions of the short period from the main massacre to the very end of the Jewish presence in Shumsk can be found in earlier chapters of this yizkor book, “The Last Days of Shumsk” by Ruth Sztejnman Halperin, beginning on page 29, and “Shumsk at Her End” by Yaakov Geler, beginning on page 66. Return
  14. Berel Segal survived the war and settled in the United States. Return
  15. Yoske the wagon driver is recalled as Liova Veber in an earlier chapter of this yizkor book, “After the Holocaust” by Shalom Krakowiak, beginning on page 103. His wife and three children were killed. He survived the war and afterward settled in the United States, where he was known as Yossie Weber. He remarried before coming to the U.S., and he and his second wife, Dora, had four children, according to Shumsk native Ruth (Ackerman) Markiewicz, who lived near him in the U.S. and recognized him from Shumsk. Return
  16. Survivors from Shumsk are listed by country on pages 475-476 of this yizkor book. Some of the survivors who settled in Israel wrote chapters of this book. Return


[Pages 365-368]

How My Son and I Survived

by Chaim Geler

Translated by Michael Goldstein

Editor's note: After the massacre of almost the entire Jewish community of Shumsk on August 12, 1942, about 100 people who had succeeded in hiding but were subsequently found were selected by the Germans, housed in the synagogue and assigned work. During the ensuing five weeks, many of them were killed, and a few succeeded in escaping. Then only 15 remained in Shumsk. Accounts of this five-week period are in other chapters of the Shumsk Yizkor Book: “The Last Days of Shumsk” by Ruth Stztejnman Halperin, “My Last Days in Shumsk” by Haim Cisin, “Shumsk, My Tragic Host” by Moshe Grenoch, and “Shumsk at Her End” by Yaakov (Yankel) Geler, son of Chaim Geler.
From all of Shumsk only 15 of us were left, among them myself and my poor son. We worked for the Germans, serving them and cleaning for them, and at night came back to the synagogue to spend the night in the Ghetto.

Once, when I came to the German, who was a sailor, he was not at home, and his wife, a Russian, said to me: “Tomorrow they are going to shoot you and finish you off, the last 15 Jews. Save yourself; I hate the Germans; do not sleep in the synagogue tonight.”

I conveyed this to everyone and the 15 of us took off to the villages rather than spend the night in the synagogue.

I and my son Yankel went to a gentile, who was a Shtundist[1], an evangelical that is, a neighbor of mine. When he would meet me on my way to work for the Germans, he would say that he would risk his life to save me and my son. I would tell him that it was dangerous for him to hide me. But on that night, I went to him and told him everything. “Do as you see fit,” I said to him.

As we were talking a gentile from a village came in and says he brought the Germans potatoes and the storehouse is closed, so he has to make the trip back home with the potatoes. My acquaintance speaks up: “Take these two Jews home with you and keep them safe.”

This gentile was also a Shtundist, but he had come with another gentile, not a Shtundist, and he says that he was afraid of the other gentile. So I tell him, “Go to the other man, let him go home alone, and at night take us to your house.”

I told him to go just out of town and wait for us. From there we would go together.

Leaving town was highly dangerous but we safely made it through all the streets. It was very dark. We arrived at the spot, and the gentile was not there. He was fifty meters further on but in the dark we didn't find one another. So, we went back to our acquaintance.

The gentile also went back there, so the three of us now set off for his village.

It was terribly dark. We walked 30 kilometers all the way to his home. Our clothes were wet from perspiration. He took us up to the garret, where we dropped down and fell asleep like the dead.

In the morning he comes up and says his wife is very scared to keep us. The Germans come into the village every day, so we must move to another gentile, he will take us there.

It took nine days for him to find a gentile, also an evangelist, and we went to him. On the way he says, “Don't reveal that you were staying with me. Say that I found you in the woods. Otherwise he will tell me to go on keeping you.”

In the five weeks that only 15 of us had remained in the ghetto, I had realized that we had to put away some goods in case we managed to save ourselves. I had left two crates/trunks of belongings with my Polish acquaintance, clothes and other things. So I tell the gentile, “You hide us and I will reward you.” I asked Valenik[2] to go to the Pole, take the belongings from him, sell them, and buy provisions for our current gentile [the one now caring for us].

He came back having found everything was in order, but he had seen a new “pizshak,”[3] so he put it on himself. This was my older son's “pizshak,” which he had never even managed to try on when alive. When I saw the “pizshak” I almost fainted; I felt ill and the gentile noticed it. So he took off the “pizshak” and said, “You can take it with you to the garret. It's cold there.”

But I didn't take it.

At night he would keep us in the house because it was very cold upstairs. One night I heard a loud knocking on the door and shouting in Russian, “Open.” I understood that it was the Ukrainian hooligans. So I yanked my son awake and we got out in time to the garret. The hooligans saw that there were no Jews there, so they left.

From then on, we were afraid to be in the house. We stayed in the cellar until Passover. It was very cold in the cellar but better cold than dead.

Once the landlord came to the cellar with the elder Shtundist and he saw that I was standing and praying with tfillin[4]. The elder said, “You ought to know that we consider tfillin foul.[5] I would like you to burn them; we are not allowed to have them in the house.” I instructed Yankele to remove the “parshiot,”[6] to put them away somewhere safe, and to burn the “batim.”[7]

And so every day we now prayed with “parshiot.” During Passover we did not want to eat hametz[8] so we got by on three to four potatoes a day. Non-kosher food never passed our lips and the gentile did a fine job of guarding us.

One time, panic broke out. Ukrainian robbers came in looking for Poles to murder, so the parents of our landlord's wife, Poles, came to hide. Says he, unfortunately, I must save my wife's parents and you have to go to someone else.

Meanwhile we learned that other Jews, a boy and a girl, were hiding in the village. I said to him, bring us to that gentile and I will also pay for the two of them. He went and came back, and said the other one did not agree. So I sent off my son: “You go to him and promise him a lot [of money].”

The gentile heard this and agreed. We came into the attic and two people were sitting there, a boy and a girl, afraid that he might send them away and keep us. I calmed their fears and told them that I was also paying for them, and the four of us remained.

I arranged with the Shtundist that he allow us to dig out a pit for the four of us. We did the digging at night and covered the pit with boards, earth and planted grass over it, so that it would not be detected. The pit adjoined the chamber and he handed us food, bread, potatoes and water through the small door.

We did not go out of the pit. We relieved ourselves in a pan and at night we emptied it.

In about March, the gentile comes and says that the Russians are already here, and we should leave as he no longer wants to keep us.

It was cold, the frost strong and the snow over a meter deep. From lying for so long in one place, I could not stand straight, but he simply drove us out.

At 12 midnight we went out, took with us two more Jews who were at a neighbor's, and set off into the frost and blizzard. The Partisans noticed us. We were going to Shumsk and it turns out the Germans were still there. We stayed there until a Jewish Partisan saw us and told us that Jews were gathering in Zdolbunov, near Rovno, so with his help we went to Zdolbunov, from there to Kiev and after much wandering we arrived in Israel, thank God.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Shtundist: An Evangelical sect of German origin, long ago settled in this area, that was sympathetic to the Jews. Return
  2. A Shtundist and a good friend of the author. Return
  3. Pizshak: A warm jacket worn by the Ukrainian peasants, made of cloth on the outside with a cotton batten lining. Return
  4. Tfillin: phylacteries -- religious objects consisting of leather boxes and straps, with handwritten biblical verses on parchment inside of them, worn daily during morning prayers except on the Sabbath. Return
  5. The writer used the Yiddish word “treif.” Return
  6. Parshiot (Hebrew): Literally, “chapters.” Handwritten biblical verses inside the phylactery boxes. Return
  7. Batim (Hebrew): Literally, “houses.” Leather phylactery boxes that house the biblical verses. Return
  8. Hametz: Leavened foods forbidden during Passover. Return

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