Crossing The Line; Building The Track

September, 1939.  Esther Wisznia, a young woman of 19, stood with her family, looking at the charred remains of their home.  Gone, their house was gone.  With the Nazis in control of her beloved Stoczek and so much of the town destroyed, she knew they had to leave.  But where to go?

For a few days Esther and her family stayed with a neighbor. But this could not go on long as most of the town was destroyed and the neighbor’s home was in terrible shape.  They decided to go to the nearby town of Prostyn – only eighteen kilometers away.  They had relatives there.  They needed to “put themselves back in order.”

Esther bundled up the few articles of clothing she managed to grab from her burning house and walked with her parents and her four siblings out of town.  As they left, they met many others on the road.  They too were leaving.  There were no smiles or the usual greetings or small talk.  In their place, there were tears and a few words of comfort, but otherwise they walked in silence.   Some were headed to the border to cross into Soviet territory in hopes of finding a safer place to live. Others like the Wisznias were searching for shelter closer to home.

Arriving at Prostyn, Esther was relieved to see that her relative’s home was still standing.  The Germans had not gotten to it yet.  The door opened and the warmth of the home flooded her senses.  It was hard to believe that normal life could still be happening.  They came in and told their tale of horror.  “You are welcome here,” their relatives said, “stay as long as you need.”

Poland was now sliced in two, with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Line dividing German-controlled Poland from Soviet-controlled Poland.    The border was a mere seven kilometers from Prostyn.  So close.   Esther’s brothers, Israel Yosef, now a man of 21 and Leizer Yitzchak, 17, said, “we are crossing the border.  We will write to you from Bialystok.”[1]

Bialystok, approximately 100 kilometers away, was a well-known center of Jewish life.  Before the war, it had a population of 100,000, about half of whom were Jews.  They had heard that many Jews were crossing the border and making their way to Bialystok.  So, Esther hugged her two brothers and said goodbye, not knowing when she might see them again.

But in Prostyn there was nothing to do.  So, a few days later Esther and her father Shloime Zalman decided to travel to Bialystok to find her brothers and see if the rest of the family should relocate.  Her mother, Bracha, would stay in Prostyn with the younger children, Sheina and Shimon.

It was a Friday.  Esther and her father packed up some clothes and a bit of bread for the journey.  They set out early, as they wanted to be sure to arrive in Bialystok before Shabbes.  Crossing a bridge over the Bug River, they quickly reached Malkinia, where there was a border crossing.  Nazi officers were stationed there, harassing all those that passed by.

It was finally Esther and her father’s turn.  They approached.  Esther passed through, but her father was pulled out of line.  “Jid, you want to cross?  Well, you have to work for us before we will let you cross.”  Esther watched as everything he had, including his bread, was snatched from him.  “They were so mean,” Esther thought, “for no reason.”

Esther hid and watched as the Nazis forced Shloime Zalman to work.  He and other Jews were forced to lay train tracks to the Malkinia station.  Esther ran to the nearby town of Zaremvy Koscielna.  There she waited for her father.  To ensure that she would not miss his arrival, she watched the road that led into town.  As the sun set and Shabbes began, she was crazy with worry.   Where was her father?  Why had he not yet arrived.   It was well into the evening when she finally saw him.  They hugged and he told her how the Nazis made him work building the railroad tracks all day and how there was a constant stream of barbs, hits and name calling throughout – “Jewish pig, vermin.”  In Zaremvy Koscielna, Esther met a few other Jews from Stoczek who were also stuck there for Shabbes.  So, they spent the time together.  There were only a few beds for the many travelers, but Esther insisted that her father be provided one of them.

Over Shabbes they learned that the Soviets would allow people to travel to Bialystok, but not back to the German side.  Esther and her father decided that on Sunday, he would continue to Bialystok by train and find her brothers, while Esther would make her way back to Prostyn.  She would explain all that happened to her mother and would convince her that she and her younger siblings must leave Prostyn and travel to Bialystok.  There the family can be together and safe.

*****

This is only the beginning of what happened to Esther’s family.   More has and will be told.  But in this Post I must report about the pit that developed in my stomach.

I used google maps to locate the towns in this story.  I wanted a better sense of Esther’s family’s path as they fled their home.  From Stoczek they traveled some eighteen kilometers to Prostyn where their relatives lived.  From Prostyn, they crossed into the Soviet controlled area and traveled to Bialystok.

This line was drawn just eight days before the start of the War, on August 23, 1939. Vyacheslav Molotov and Joachim von Ribbentrop signed a pact of friendship between their two countries.   The Soviet Union and Germany agreed to attack Poland and take control of the halves of the country.  The men drew a line on a map of Poland indicating the split.   The line became known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Line (“The Line”).  The split can be seen in the map from Wikipedia at the top of this Post. Bialystok is labeled – it is on the East side of the Line (Soviet territory).

Stoczek is not on this map – it is too small.  But it is 90 kilometers northeast of Warsaw, just on the western (German) side of The Line.  The closest border crossing was at Malkinia.

Malkinia – I know that town.  That was the place where, three years later, all the trains bound for Treblinka arrived.   The trains, packed with their human cargo, would pull into the Malkinia train station.  A few cattle cars would be unhinged and pulled 4.7 kilometers to the Death Camp.  The rest of the cars sat at the Malkinia train station until the earlier batch of Jews was “liquidated.”  You see, there was not room in Treblinka for more than a few cattle cars at a time.  So, the Jews had to wait their turn to be gassed.

At the beginning of the war, Treblinka was not even a twinkle in Hitler’s eye.  Hitler wanted Germany and German territories to be Judenrein – “Clean of Jews.”  At first, his plan was to send the Jews somewhere else.  So, over the border to the Soviet Union was fine.  But to get there, the Wisznia family had to cross the Molotov-Ribbentrop line at Malkinia, just kilometers away from the future site of the Death Camp Treblinka.

photoscan-map-stoczek-to-malkinia-larger-version

This google map shows the path from Stoczek (bottom of map) to Prostyn (three quarters of way up).  It also shows how close Prostyn is to Treblinka.  Malkinia  is at the top, just on the other side of the Bug River.

I was stunned to see that Prostyn, the place of first refuge for Esther, was spitting distance from Treblinka, the Death Camp where her future husband would be enslaved and tortured for thirteen long months.

I may have been stunned by this, but my stomach pit had not yet developed.  That came next.

The pit developed as I reread Esther’s account in the Stoczek Yizkor Book.  She describes how her father was forced by the Nazis to work on that Friday – to lay the railroad tracks at Malkinia.  I realized that these were the tracks, that three years later, brought the Jews to Treblinka!  Oy, Shloime Zalman Wisznia, Esther’s father, a pious Jew, who taught Jewish children the alef-beis, was forced to build the railroad tracks to Treblinka – where his future son-in-law (who he did not live to meet) would be taken in June of 1942 and forced to build the death camp itself.

I wonder if Esther ever put this all together.  I hope not.

SOURCES:

Interview with Esther Wisznia Goldberg.

Yizkor Book of community of Stoczek (Stok).

Google Maps.

Map above – Wikipedia.  (By mzopw, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2818887)

 

[1] Bialystok is the name of a town in Poland.  Bialystok was used by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan as the last name of one of the characters in 1968 movie – The Producers.

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A RIGHTOUSE ONE LEAVES US

Janina Golebiewska, the daughter of Halena and Aleksander Stys, left this world on Saturday.  She was buried in the Stoczek cemetery today at 10 AM.   She was 90 years old.

When I heard this news I had two overwhelming feelings:  (1) I am so sorry that she died before Yad Vashem was able to bestow the title of Righteous Among the Nations on her;  and (2) I am so glad that we met Janina in June and had the chance to thank her for all she and her family did for Esther and Sam.

We sang the song, that Shlomo wrote to honor the Stys family, to her.   In turn she sang a song to us about the beauty of people living together on this earth.    When the world abandoned the Jews, she was a friend, especially to Esther.  They talked, they cooked, they shared ideas and stories, they laughed.  Janina was with Esther in her moments of deepest  sorrows and rejoiced with her when the war was over and she and Sam married.

Now she rests in the beautiful Christian cemetery, next to her parents, her Uncles and Aunts.  Her life and love should inspire us all to be just a little better than we thought we could be.

Janina – goodbye.  Thank you for all you did for Esther and Sam.  I am forever grateful.  I never would have met and married the man of my dreams – Shlomo Goldberg.  He would not be in this world and our four children would never have taken their first breath.

I will always remember you.     Karen

 

Bontsha Szweig – Bontsha the Silent

“[W]hat I would like, Your Excellency, is to have, every morning for breakfast, a hot roll with fresh butter.”

This is the request of Bontsha Szweig – Bontsha the Silent – before the Heavenly Court in I.L. Peretz’s[1] retelling of this Yiddish folktale.  The request for a hot roll with butter is in response to the offer of a heavenly reward beyond any human’s dream: “Whatever you want! Everything is yours,” the Judge declares.

How did Bontsha Szweig come to be worthy of such a reward?  “In silence he was born, in silence he lived, in silence he died – and in an even vaster silence he was put into the ground.”  He was, Peretz tells us, “more tormented than Job.”

He was silent when his father threw him out of the house as a child; he was silent when he suffered terrible hunger; he was silent when people spat on him as he worked as a porter; he was silent when his wife ran off leaving him with an infant; he was silent when the child grew up and ran away from him; he was silent.

Upon his arrival in Paradise, Bontsha is greeted by father Abraham himself and angels deliver a golden throne upon which he shall sit and a golden, jeweled crown for his head.  Seeing the welcome he received, Bontsha was again silent.   He was terrified.

The defending angel recounts the many horrible things that happened to Bontsha and how through it all “[h]e never . . . complained, not against G-d, not against man; his eye never grew red with hatred, never raised a protest against heaven.”

The prosecuting attorney steps up to make the case against Bontsha, but all he can say is: “Gentlemen, he was always silent – and now I too will be silent.”

Thus, the Judge rules that Bontsha may have any reward that Paradise can provide.

His request of a hot roll and butter is met by silence and the Judge and the angels “bend their heads in shame at this unending meekness they have created on earth.”

The story comes to an end as the silence is “shattered.  The prosecutor laughs aloud, a bitter laugh.”

*******

Bontsha Szweig haunts the Jewish people.  Is he a laudable character – a lamed vavnik (one of the 36 hidden righteous of the world) who deserve the highest reward?  Or is he the weak Jew, never standing up for himself, who will never change the world, even though he has infinite potential to do so?

This Yiddish folk tale, so expertly retold by Peretz, speaks to these countervailing stereotypes and to the schizophrenic character of the Jew through the ages.

I have encountered Bontsha in my research.   One encounter I shared with you in my blog post of July 11, 2016.  It is the story of Fievel Goldfarb who was a student of Esther’s father in Stoczeck. Here is an excerpt from the Blog post:

“Fievel was from a poor family and he could not afford to buy what Chana [the Baker] sold.  He was friends with Chana’s son – Moishele – he called him Moynik.  One day, they were together and Moynik was eating a roll with butter.  Fievel looked longingly at the roll – he had never in his life had a roll with butter.  Moynik had his fill of the roll and offered the rest to Fievel.  Fievel’s father taught him never to take charity.  So, he turned down the offer.  Moynik threw the remainder of the roll over the fence.  Quickly, Fievel said he had to go home. They parted and Fievel ran to the other side of the fence to retrieve the precious roll.  It was gone – most likely eaten by a dog.  ‘I will never forget that roll,’ Fievel lamented 77 years later, as he sat in his home in Marboro, New Jersey.”

Two more references to Bontsha emerged from the Yizkor Book of the Jewish Community of Ostrow Mazowiecka that I recently read.  This Yizkor book contains pieces written by many survivors, originally from Ostrow Mazowiecka.

The first is from a piece written by Chana Holcman, translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein.   She tells of her suffering and survival in the concentration camps:

“I thought: ‘how will all this end?’ how long can one work expending all one’s strength in such difficult inhuman conditions, knowing death could be just around the corner.  At every opportunity our torturers did not forget to assure us: ‘so, tomorrow you also might come to the crematorium’. I knew that yes, one could go any day up the chimney.  But before, I have two desires.  The first and most important is to see my only son alive.  I want to badly to hold him tight, to kiss him despite how big he is and to tell him how much I love, how much my heart yearned and ached for him.  And I have one more desire. Once, I would like to eat my fill and savour the taste of being sated.  It is perhaps not nice to confess this, but it is the sad truth.  Mostly, my thoughts are occupied dreaming of a little camp-soup, a bit of camp bread – enough to satisfy my hunger.  In truth, there were times when there was nothing I could think of other than eating.  Several times I took comfort in Peretz’s ‘Boncze Szweig’.  I thought to myself, what if Boncze, who went to heaven as one of the ‘Lamed Vavniks’ had dreamed all day about a roll with butter?  Even when he was borne to eternity and when stood before G-d’s judgment he was asked ’Boncze, tell us what you desire, what you want, and it will instantly be granted’.  Instead of a resounding scream, ‘I want the Jewish people to be redeemed’ and perhaps we would be redeemed, he had answered ‘I want a roll with butter.’ Still the simple truth is that the sword of hunger is mightier than the sword of death.”[2]

The second piece is title:  Szepsel Wasertreger, by Hana Levitt and translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein:

“One of the figures in Ostrowa, a sort of Lamed Vavnik or ‘Boncze Szwaijg’ was our neighbor in the shtetl, Szepsel Wasertreger (Water Carrier).  He was a small, skinny Jew with red cheeks, sparkling blue eyes and quiet as a mouse.

He carried buckets of water hanging from a sort of yoke made of poles that had taken root on his meager shoulders.  Day in and day out, in the morning and evening, in the heat and cold Szepsel Wastertreger quietly carried his buckets of water and silently entered the kitchen of the housewives, saying nothing and keeping his eyes down like a bashful girl.  He waited a minute – two – if people paid a couple of groschen [pennies], that was good; some said come back tomorrow or the day after – that was still good; people forgot to pay for if a week- that was also good.

The pump at luica Komorrow was always busy.  Wives, young girls, students and even old Jews used to pump water into one or two pails.  Szepsel would quietly wait and wait until they were all done.  Actually, he would murmur prayers until the pump was free.  The hansom cabs, Jewish and Polish, would use the pump to get a drink for the horses.  People would grab buckets not caring who they belonged to – one grabs a bucket near Szepsel, a second, and Szepsel says nothing.

Szepses Wasertreger and his wife lived in a small house in our courtyard.  His wife, a very small woman with a hump on her back and a pock marked face, was never content with what he earned and would nag him.  Szepsel did not answer her and carried water until mincha.  After praying mincha- ma’ariv he waited for Shabbes.

On Shabbes Szepsel put on a dark splendid kapote and wore a fancy round hat on his head.  His yellow beard shone and his eyes sparkled with joy.

After long years of not having children, Szepsel’s wife gave him a beautiful child who looked exactly like Szepsel – a girl.  Szepsel Wasertreger was in seventh heaven.  G-d had blessed him with a child.  His wife stopped nagging him.  Her relatives in America were sending her dollars and it did not bother her that Szepsel was lax in collecting for the water he carried.

Szepsel Wasertreger and his wife did not enjoy their happiness for very long.  When the Germans entered Ostrowa, everyone ran with his wife and children.  The neighbours [sic] did not know if Szepsel and his wife and beautiful child were able to escape the German bullets.

If he is alive, wish him long years. If he is among those killed, make sure there is a place for him in the Garden of Eden.”[3]

Bonctsha lives on.

water-carrier

 

 

[1] I. L. Peretz (Isaac Leib) lived 1852 – 1915.  He was born in Zamosc.

[2] Gordon, Aba and Gelbart, M. ed. Memorial Book of The Jewish Community of Ostrow Mazowiecka.  New York.  JewishGen, Inc.  2013 at pp. 588-89.

[3] Id. at 433.

OSTROW MAZOWIECKA – A GLIMPS

It was the finest flour in all of Poland.  The steam mill nicknamed “The Automat” transform wheat into flour, fetching top dollar on the Warsaw, Canadian and even Australian markets.   With their buggy overflowing with grain, Sam, a teenager, and his father, Zelig, traveled 15 kilometers to Ostrow Mazowiecka to pay a visit to Kalman Kagan and the Trejster brothers – owners of the Automat.  Upon entering the mill, the deafening noise of the steam engine made it hard to be heard.   “Shalom Aleichem,” Zelig shouted.  Kalman was the first to hear him.  His face broke into a smile.  He was always happy to see Zelig of Bagatele.   He gestured to Zelig to step outside to talk.  “Aleichem sholom,” Kalman responded.  “So good to see you here, Reb Zelig. I see you brought us some more of your excellent grain.” After the small talk was out of the way, they bargained for a price for Zelig’s wheat. Within days Kalman and his partner would turn Zelig’s wheat into fine flour and ship it out for sale to markets near and far.

With a pocketful of cash and an empty buggy, Sam and Zelig, headed into town.  It was, after all, Monday, a market days in Ostrow.  Fayge, Sam’s mother, sent them with a long list of things to buy.   Entering Ostrow from the outskirts where the Automat was located, Sam saw boys trying to catch fish in the local pond.  The blue of the water matched the blue sky on that spring day.  Next they passed the brewery, which supplied the people of Ostrow with one of their favorite beverage.

Entering the main part of town, their buggy rambled along the cobblestones.  The tightly packed stones provided a nice ride.  It was the grass, planted between the stones, that smoothed things out.  Sam noticed the low, simple wooden houses, built close together.  He could not imagine living so close to his neighbors.  In Bagatele the houses were spread out along the dirt road and among the large farms, barns and silos.  Plenty of space.

The cobblestone road led to the town square, the horses just had to follow behind the other buggies.  All were heading to the market.  Some buggies were empty – driven by people coming to purchase, like Zelig and Sam.  Others, driven by peasants from nearby villages, were overloaded with grain, fruit, vegetables, cabbage, geese, turkeys, hens and eggs, ready to sell to the eager buyers.  They passed villagers heading to the market on foot, carrying empty baskets, ready to fill them with butter, cheese, sweet cream, cherries, strawberries, or a whole chicken.

Craftsmen’s booths filled the square.  Each type of merchant had a distinctive look and special location in the market: “The tailors’ stalls look like houses with linen walls,” described Arija Lejb Margolis, a Holocaust survivor from Ostrow, “with suites of clothes hanging from all sides.  Chuna the ‘old-clothesman’ has been here for many years and after his stall are many others.  Near the tailors are the cap makers’ stalls, always in the same order and in the same place.  Their stalls are smaller, packed full of caps for gentiles, with all sorts of lacquered brims.  Further along shoes and boots are hanging from poles.  Loaves of bread, white rolls, sugar beets, kvass, pails and bottles of soda water with syrup, sour pickles and herring are laid out on tables; only dishes and glasses are displayed on the ground.”[1]

Sam and Zelig tied their horses up on the side of the square and headed into the happy chaos.  Paying close attention to Fayge’s list, they visited the fruit merchants and bought apples, pears, and Sam’s younger sister Anya’s favorite – green gooseberries.  The vegetable stalls had small wooden barrels or round, deep baskets that overflowed with red beets, yellow carrots, black and red radishes, and mushrooms of many shapes and sizes.  Sam helped his father pick the best to take back to the family.

Lining the market square were permanent shops, interspersed among modest wood homes.   There were places to buy clothes of all kinds, leather good, kerosene, paint, and of course groceries.  They made a quick stop in the kerosene shop to keep the lamps burning at night.  In the late 1930’s Ostrow was already powered by electricity, but this new technology had not yet made it to the countryside.   The electricity for the city was provided by an electric power station built by Reb Cwi Hirsz Tejtel, who was a successful timber dealer and industrialist.[2]

Sam knew that almost all the retailers in town were Jews.  In fact, forty percent of Ostrow’s residents were Jews.  Sam had heard that the Polish government census of 1934 reported that Ostrow Mazowiecka, including the smaller surrounding towns, had a total population of 20,000.  Of those 8,000 were Jews.[3]

Besides being grain merchants, craftsmen, retailers and wholesalers, the Jews of the area were also key players in the production and sale of timber.  Zelig was one such merchant.  He routinely negotiated with Polish estates to buy timber rights. He hired men to cut and transport the timber.  After turning the trees into usable wood at one of the two sawmills in Ostrow, the wood was shipped abroad for sale in foreign markets.

After the items on Fayge’s list were securely strapped into their buggy, Sam and Zelig stopped by a small café to grab some lunch.   After lunch they stopped by Tante Esther Fleisher’s shop.  Tante Esther was Fayge’s sister, a successful businesswoman in Ostrow.  Her store sold Polish military uniforms for officers.  Since the Polish military had a base in Ostrow, many a young man passed through Tante Esther’s shop.  Though she and her husband had no children she loved her nieces and nephews and was always happy to see them.

Now, they were ready to head back home, but Zelig wanted to stop at one of the Synagogues or smaller Shteiblach to daven mincha, the afternoon prayer, before the trip home.  There many Synagogues in Ostrow, the larger ones were populated by Misnagdim,[4] while the smaller Shtiblach were where the Hasidim[5] gathered to pray.

The Hasidim and the Misnagdim constantly battled for control of the Jewish community of Ostrow.  These feuds led to battles over who should be the town Rabbi.  But for a few exceptional Rabbis who skillfully garnered support from all sectors, either the Hasidim would make the Misnagdishe Rabbi’s life miserable or the Misnagdim would make the Hasidishe Rabbi’s life a nightmare.  With such strife, the Rabbis did not last long in Ostrow.[6]

Sam wanted to stop at the Jewish library and pick out a few books to take home, but Zelig said, “not this time, maybe on our next trip.  We must head home; your mother is waiting.”

There were indeed many other trips to Ostrow Mazowiecka.  On one trip in 1937, Sam heard that the great Automat had burned down.   There was a rumor in town that one of the owners, Mr. Kagan, burned down the mill himself.  He wanted the insurance money to pay his overdue creditors.[7]

During the late 1930’s Jewish life in Ostrow continued to blossom.  The Hasidim and the Misnagdim continued to argue, the Zionist movement flourished and branched out to encompass many groups and ideologies.  Jews from across the community joined forces to raise money to settle the land of Israel.  Also, Zionist youth movements provided a wide variety of activities for Ostrow’s youth.

But when the Germans invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, it did not take long for the war to reach the people of Ostrow.  It was only five days into the war when bombs fell there, shattering windows, sending layers of thick dust through the air and terrifying all living beings.

Then the Nazis arrived.  It was Friday, September 8, 1939.  The Nazis ordered the Jewish merchants to open their shops.  The Nazis went into the shops and warehouses and handed out all the goods to the Poles, who eagerly awaited their booty.  “From Nyska’s large warehouse,” describes survivor Jakob Widelec, “Poles are leaving with full sacks of sugar, salt and rice.  Excitedly they hurry home with their heavy packages and return for more.”[8]  The first week of war in Ostrow saw the destruction of Jewish businesses and the torture and killing of many Jews.

Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, fell on September 24, 1939.  The Nazis had already destroyed most of the Synagogues and Shteiblach.    Most Jews went down to their cellars to pray.  But there was one Shtibl still standing – the Gerrer Shtibl.   On the evening of Yom Kippur, the Gerrer Hasidim waited until dark and then quietly made their way to the Shtibl.  Wearing the traditional kittel (white robe) and tallis (prayer shawl), they began to intone the Kol Nidrei, the opening prayer of Yom Kippur eve.  Quickly, the Nazis stormed the Shtibl and surrounded it, cutting off all means of escape.  “The Jews were dragged out and thrown into the trucks,” explained Widelec. “They were driven down ulica Warszawska to the sadzavka [natural water basin or pond].  A lot of dirty trucks were parked there and the Jews were given the honour of cleaning them.  They were forced to remove their white robes, prayer shawls and even their clothing and go into the water halfway, wet all their things and wash the trucks with them.

When the work was done, all the men were ordered to go into the water again, until it was over their heads.  When they came out from the filth, the Germans cut off all their hair.  Some of the men had half their beards ripped from their faces.  Then they were photographed and ordered to go home.”[9]

The border separating the German-controlled area of Poland and the Soviet-controlled area of Poland was a mere half-kilometer from Ostrow.  The Nazis forcefully suggested that the Jews leave town.  They left in droves, most heading to either Slonim (45 kilometers) or Bialystok (100 kilometers).

Those that remained, did not survive.  In November of 1939, a Jewish home caught fire and the fire spread quickly to other parts of town.  The Germans blamed the Jewish home owner, saying he burned down his own house and caused all this damage.  As punishment, the Germans went housed to house, having the Poles point out where the Jews lived.  They broke down the doors of the Jewish home, grabbed the Jews and forced them to march to the forest.  There, the Nazis shot three to four hundred Jews. Such was their “punishment.”[10]

Though surely Sam’s family heard what had happened in Ostrow, initially they lived in peace.  But not for long.  In November of 1939, around the same time of the massacre of the Ostrow Jews, the Nazis made their way to the surrounding countryside.  In Bagatele, they found Zelig, Fayge and Sam living on the farm. They told them to leave with what they could fit on their buggy and, thanks to Sam’s pleading, one cow.  They left their farm, their possessions, their business, and their memories behind.  Traveling the 10 kilometers to Kavaluvka, where another of Faige’s sisters was living in the Soviet-controlled area of Poland, they began a journey through Nazi hell.

 

[1] Gordon, Aba and Gelbart, M. ed. Memorial Book of The Jewish Community of Ostrow Mazowiecka.  New York.  JewishGen, Inc.  2013 at pp. 165-66.

[2] Id. at 47-48.

[3] Id. at 54.

[4] Misnagdim were Jews who opposed the Hasidic movement.  They regarded the Hasidic movement as a danger to traditional Judaism.  This was due to the changes the Hasidic sects introduced, such as altering the liturgy, joyful ecstatic singing and dancing during prayer.  Id. at 774.

[5] Hasidism was founded by Israel Bal Shem Tov, who lived during the first half of the 18th Century.  Hasidism held “faith and emotional expression to be more important than learning.   The Hasidim sang and danced to express their Judaism.”  Id. at 774-75.

[6] Id. at 35-60.

[7] Id. at 785.

[8] Id. at 492.

[9] Id. at 493-94.

[10] Id. at 507.

Special Note:  I want to thank Father Rafal Figiel of Wasewo, Poland who told me about the Memorial Book of the Jewish Community of Ostrow Mazawiecka (Yizkor Book), which was published in English in 2013.  The story of Zelig and Sam going to Ostrow is a fictional depiction of what might have occurred.  The factual information in the story is combined from information from the Yizkor Book, Sam’s interviews and phone interviews with Shaya (Sam) Schloss and my own research.

The photo above is of a wood carving of a typical horse and buggy of the time.  It was carved by survivor Chayim Kuper from Stoczeck, Poland.