A Visit to Poland of Today
Ashes of Human Bones and Weeping Eyes
By Chana Kizelstein (Lyn)
Translated by the courtesy of Bialystoker "Vaad" - the Landsmanschaft in Israel
The ashes of the bones of our loved ones has been scattered over the fields of Poland. Together with the poured Jewish blood, we, the survivors were left with a heritage: deep sorrow and an everlasting unforgettable grief.
Yearning and memory. The source of tears during the passing years.
The grief and suffer from the days of struggle in the Bialystok Ghetto rise again restlessly.
Every year in the time of the annihilation and uprising, we honor the memory of our loved ones; lighting a memorial candles with tear-burning eyes to perpetuate in our everyday life the memory of our families and people.
During the difficult moments, they probably called and cried for help, but nobody came to their help.
Our visit to Poland of today, 45 years after the horrible days of the Holocaust and Heroism has left us shocked and depressed.
We found ourselves facing a grey and tragic reality: Bialystok, our city of birth, which used to have a Jewish majority in the past does not have even a dozen of Jews living in it today. The streets were new and there was no memory of the old remnants. There was no Jewish life; no folk singing.
We are lonely, isolated and alone, like an uprooted tree. We took it upon ourselves to visit the orphaned remains of the destruction so that we could honor their memories.
On the corner of a tall building there is a humble sign, crying from solitude, which tells about the 2000 burnt Jews- fathers and brothers- from the great synagogue in the city. We stop for a moment to wonder: Who does it belong to today, here in our old home? How much more will the crying sign last on the wall? Does it bare any significance to anyone today?
I am standing here near the sign together with my husband, Shamai- two lonesome Jews. The memory connects and identifies us with those who are gone because this is our Jewish and human obligation so long as we live.
Only a few more staring faces were directed to the sign of death after our presence began to awaken unnecessary attention.
Now we are standing by the perpetuation signpost of the hero Icchak Melamed; it waits for the anonymous visitor to come, absorb its content and bend down from respect.
After the encounter with the perpetuation signs, we didn't skip the pass over the cemetery in Bagnówka; graves and remains from the past; gravestones that were destroyed and robbed with almost no memory. There is only one salient gravestone- a monument that perpetuates the victims of the 1906 pogrom. This monument was restored and renovated after a while. A small fence surrounds it from one side and blocks the savage vegetation and the remains of the gravestones that different "friends" left there.
We tried to locate amongst the remains names and families, but we couldn't decipher any of the names. This is the condition of our orphaned stones.
There is an impressive garden in the center of the city. Here, there used to be a Jewish cemetery in Żabia Street, which was destroyed during the time of the occupation. On the grave of brothers where the remains of bones of the dead were concentrated, there is a sign, which is only in Polish that reads: "The ashes of 3500 Jews that were murdered in the annihilation operations by Hitler's thugs, is buried here together with the ashes of those who died during the Bialystok Ghetto uprising in August 1943".
We continue our visit, which brings us to the tragic forest- Pietrasze.
The signboard in the forest of Pietrasze - "tombstone" in Polish of 5000 jews killed during the "Black Sabbath"
In the Bialystok area against the crying sign, we stood still!
"This land sanctifies the blood of the 5,000 Jews who were taken on Sabbath and murdered between the 12th and 16th of July 1941." We breathlessly stood here at attention.
We could see from here that the land is divided to hills in the lengths of dozens of meters baring no burial sign. We knew that under these hills lay the remains of the blood and bones of our loved families:
My father: Lyn Yechiel, bless his memory
My husband's brother: Kizelstein Moshe, bless his memory
Our friend: Balglaj Mosze, bless his memory
There was no limit to our emotion. Every organ in our body broke from emotion. It was impossible to identify or help them.
Only the land and the sky joined our cry against the Nazis - the murderers that spilled here the blood of 5,000 innocent Jews; husbands, fathers, and grandfathers of Jewish generations of families.
The pain will live amongst us forever.
We will forever honor their memory through the lighting of memorial candles and the prayer of Kaddish!
This is how today's Poland remembers the memory of the warriors and holy - All that remains from the heroic struggles is a small marking and reminder of their loss.
Today, on August 16th 1988, we will be witnesses to those horrible days; a formal commemoration around the bones and ashes of our brothers and sisters, the children of Israel who were lost. Around the mass grave assemble officials of different institutions carrying flags and flowers wreaths, saluting the memory of the Jews and talking about the days of the blood spilling.
The organized remains of the Polish Jews arrived together with a flower wreath that was assembled in while and blue in the shape of the Star of David to prove that the spirit of the tradition of the national flag is beating in their hearts. One of them, Shmuel Farber, read the Kaddish prayer with great emotion. Only 3 Jewish families came from abroad. This was their way of expressing their obligation to participate in the tragic Memorial Day and to prove the existence of the Jewish spirit, which nurses on the roots of the orphaned city - Bialystok.
We also came here to express our everlasting feelings.
The Memorial Day agenda lasted until the late evening.
The Institute of History at the municipal university conducted a symposium on the topic: Revelations of Heroism and the Bialystok Ghetto Revolt. 150 Historians took part in the event.
I would like to respectfully praise the organizers of the exciting event and specifically the head organizer Dutzant Dobronsky.
The lecturers emphasized the cruel struggle with no weapons and almost bare handed but with complete resolution to fight and avenge.
Professor Kozacz who fought with the Partisans in this area, arrived especially from France in order to unroll chapters in the difficult everyday struggle of the Jews against the German killers; a struggle that was conducted in complete solitude with no help from any "friends".
The former Partisan, Kissler, told about the strong will to resist without minimal conditions. This is the way he chose to honor the memories of his friends and brothers in battle.
I participated personally in the whole symposium, which unrolled the tragic period and absorbed all that was said about the Holocaust and Heroism.
My husband Shamai and I appeared as proud Bialystokers who miraculously survived and represent today the renewing fighting Jewry in the State of Israel.
The university rector received from us with great appreciation the photo album, which we brought with us that proudly tell about the foundation, development and cultural institutes of Kiriat Bialystok in Israel. This is the way we chose to commemorate the memory and values of our city of birth.
At 4 o'clock in the afternoon there was a mourning ceremony, which began with the lighting of 6 candles in memory of the 6 million Jewish martyrs of the Holocaust. We also took part in this initiative by bringing the candles that were used in the ceremony from Israel and lighting them together with the other participants. Among the igniters of the candles were professor Kozacz and his wife from France and the Nisenboim family from Belgium. The ceremony was honored also by the mayor of Bialystok accompanied by two fighters who saluted the burning candles.
Dr. Weiss who came from Warsaw explained in Polish the significance of the lighting ceremony and the gathered people identified with the feelings of mourning and grief by standing still in a minute of silence.
It is important to point out that this was the first time after World War II, that 6 candles were formally lit in Poland in memory of the murdered victims.
The singer Pashiwilska sang with much pain and talent several songs of Gebirtig, stressing the Jewish roots and the folklore of the Polish Jewry until the tragic Holocaust.
We parted from our city of birth with tears and excitement and turned towards the hills, graves and locations of horrible murderous acts. We started a journey towards camps, whose remains constitute a reminder to the tortured millions.
We entered and marched in the path of the holy. We trembled; our feet failed to hold us and we can't help but wonder: "How many pairs of feet walked through this path? Why were they tortured to death and their life turned into ashes?"
Everything remained the same as in those days: the administration bureau, the information desk; everything was like clockwork. The methods of the murderers were aimed to maximize the extermination of the Jewish "slave people"…
We continue to move through the blocks; see the men's camp, gas chambers and reach the murderous crematorium. We are struck in all our might by an uncontrollable tremble and silently scream inside: "Why and for what were they brought to their horrible destruction?"
The walls filled with lists of the killed are evidence forever to the scopes of extermination.
Candled are lit at the entrance to the crematorium - evidence to extinguished life. We suddenly shiver to the sound of crying.
We move to the women's shacks where the atrocity has been preserved; piles of endless amounts of shoes, clothes, eye-glasses. Women share their horrible stories from those days.
At one point my husband could not control himself due to intense of the emotion; an understandable reaction for a person who has survived a number of concentration camps.
After a break, we continue to search for remains. Maybe we will find some testimony to what has happened here. Suddenly we find a document about an elderly woman from Bialystok who was pronounced dead by the Germans on her way to the camp. What kind of truth is that? Who are they fooling?
Only the great monument explains and cries out: where were the savers? Where were our "friends"?
We exit the camp through the gate that was well fenced and locked. Our hearts are full of deep pain in memory of the murdered who are crying for vengeance.
The death camp extends over 516 hectares (5,159,985 square meters). This is what is stated in the horrible Nazi plan. Inside this area, half a million victims were concentrated in 30.6 hectares (305.983 square meters). We march through great blocks of stone, which symbolize the entering of condemned into the death site- evidence to the Holocaust and Heroism that took place here.
We find a proper place between the stones and light a memorial candle in memory of the pure souls.
Our companion is a tape recorder that we brought from Israel, which plays the prayer of "El Ma-le Rahamim". We are struck by thoughts: Does our cry reach the ears of the murdered souls and why their cry did not reach the ears of the killers?
With our hands closed tight we march through the black path, which my husband walked through. He enters all shaken into the notorious "shower", which he managed to escape from and save his life. One must be strong as steel to survive such an experience and remain balanced and sane.
We turn to the 12 shacks that were left as models. Here we find the remains of pain and grief that tell about the inhuman conditions of those days. It is humanly impossible to describe in words the site that was revealed to us; a picture that will be engraved in my memory forever.
We see the remains of the last "inventions" that it was impossible to escape from. We stand here as regular people, furiously wondering and asking ourselves: How is it possible that such methods were applied to human beings?
At the entrance to the "oven", flower braids were piled up. We light another candle near there on a stretcher in memory of the souls of the murdered; their screaming still echoe in space of the empty room. There is nothing we can do but wrestle with our nails and hope that such atrocity will never repeat itself.
The walls are covered with horrifying statistics- half a million victims from 54 peoples, mostly our brothers and sisters.
We are now standing in front of a mountain of ashes, which is covered by squares of human bones. The cover prevents further disintegration so that the living survivors will continue to give testimony to the Holocaust and Heroism.
Again, our prayer is directed to the mountains of ashes and to the deaf sky. In front of us we see a sign, which is carved: "On the 3rd day of November 1943, 18,400 Jews were murdered".
We reach for the sky together with my husband Shamai, who witnessed these atrocities and carries inside him the load of suffer and pain. He knows about the days that the Jews of our city were locked and murdered; our dear families who were driven here from inside the sealed walls of the Bialystok Ghetto. Eternal prayer to their holy memory!
At one of the shacks there is a coffin filled with bones, which is lit by eternal candles in order to preserve the remains. We suddenly feel some kind of an obsessive need to touch them; to feel them. We start to tremble by the thought that this is probably forbidden by Jewish law.
Eventually, we leave the orphaned remains and promise ourselves that we will return to visit them again.
We continue to march with tight fists. It takes us almost 2 hours to cross 5 kilometers. At this point we reach the worst place of all: the gas chambers and crematorium, which tell the story of the flames and suffocation of the innocent who were condemned to an unnatural death.
Inside the chambers, we notice an "inerasable statistic"- carving marks that were left on the walls by the condemned in order to signal future generations about the tragedy that took place here.
The great monument at the exit of the death camp cries out to the sky: "Masses of helpless living people entered through this path and almost none of them survived."
I am standing in front of the tragic gate, the barbed wire around it and the sign above: "ARBEIT MACHT FREI". My husband Shamai remembers those days when no prayer was met. The amount of torment and killing is beyond human imagination.
The 4 million people whose lives were cut off by beastly conditions remain a statistic figure on the screaming wall. Block number 4 is perpetuated by the children of the tortured peoples. The flags are waving as a symbol of the blood that was spilled, declaring and warning: "To remember and never forget!"
The visit to the death camp near the railway tracks that collapsed due to the pressure from the overloaded train cars is terrible. An eternal curse accompanies the blood spilling killers.
The symbolic grave in the unforgettable Jewish block is decorated by flowers and candles, which trembles every organ in our bodies.
Our companion says his prayer in memory of the millions of innocent Jewish souls who are gone and we are unable to hold ourselves.
We reach the assembly area, which is stone-paved evidence to the cruel lashing punishments and executions.
Block 11- the structure across the wall of death, which the visitors and their children bend their heads when approaching it; again, lighting candles; again, prayer in different languages in memory of the tortured and murdered.
My husband, a survivor of the atrocities, marches beside me. He is reliving the living hell. Everything is familiar to him; the murder, torture, blood spilled everywhere. He looked until he found the shack where he was tortured. He is standing still at the entrance. He cannot describe the atrocity in words. Those who survived bless the day of liberation and their faith in the hope of tomorrow.
We approach the forest where remains to the tragic acts and suffer were found. Here are the remains of the crematorium. It is difficult to approach and our hearts beat stronger and faster. It is impossible to conceal the horrible remains. They project between the sky and the earth and remind us of the brutish inhuman murderers.
The 4 million victims whose lives were stopped remained united in their common fate and hatred to the brutish murderers.
The heart call for vengeance. We shall not forget!
There are 13 symbolic signs hanging in front of us which describe the horror stories in 13 languages: "The Killing and Murder of 4 Million People." The great monument over the signs cries: "To Avenge and Never Forget! To Remember in Order to Ensure a Different Future for the Whole of Mankind."
We can't leave here without a prayer for this an old Jewish tradition, which accompanies man in his final journey.
This is the largest Jewish cemetery in the world - a site that holds ashes, blood and endless agony; covered with 17,000 symbolic stones, which remind the extinguishing of 800,000 Jews; lives that were extinguished by the fire that burnt their bodies and tortured their souls. This is a statistical datum for the researchers and documenting factors and the materialization of the worst possible tragedy for us orphans. We can walk through the lines and scream, but the only response we will get is aching silence.
Here is a stone engraved with the name of my city, Bialystok. Extended hands whisper: You can't caress us anymore, feel us; the German murderers have robbed from us all which is precious to us! I can only caress the stone that was washed with endless amounts of tears. No yearning or praying for mercy will be ever answered.
I close my eyes and see my extensive family marching. Maybe the layers of stone here are covering them. We can only cry and ask ourselves: why was so much pain sentenced to the Jews? Here is the monument, which is written in 6 languages: "Never Again!" This is the voice of the holy to continue the fight against the reliving of the atrocity. We are looking for a place to light a memorial candle in memory of the pure souls. The wind blows strongly and reminds us that it was not able to blow out the flames of the crematorium; the same crematorium that burnt 2,000 Jews every 2 hours.
Now the wind is disturbing me, but determined, I manage to overpower it. How can I leave the ashes of the holy without a candle to burn in their memory, without a prayer that will burst and echo to the sky?
The silence of symbolic stones cries and whispers: don't leave us, don't forget us!
The bitter tears of sorrow and pain have partially turned into tear of joy after we saw our "El-Al" national plane land at the Warsaw Airport. It restores our hope and will bring us back to our dear families in the State of Israel.
24 Ahazanovitz Street
In the center: Shamai & Chana Kizelstein, Hall of Bialystok, Yehud 8.7.2004 also Ada Holtzman (to the left), Mark Halpern (standing) and Zeew Balglaj (to the right).
Last updated October 10th, 2004