To the Memory of Boaz Patt

We Remember Jewish Suprasl


A Memorial in Suprasl erected by the Suprasl Landsmanschaft in Israel 

LIFE AND DEATH
IN SHADOW OF THE
FOREST

The Story of Suprasl -

A Shtetl in Eastern Poland

 

Published with the assistance of "Amos Fund" Jack and Genia Liberman.

(c) All Rights reserved by the Author Printed in Israel by "Murag"

Dedicated with love to:

Haya, Boaz and Hanna, Galit, Maor and Vered, Batia and Avi, Orli-Zehava and Corey-Pinchas

 

...For man is a tree of the field... its branches grow according to its roots...

The Author Jaacov Patt

 

CONTENTS

Life and Death in Shadow of the Forest .......................................... 3

A Town on the Way to the Forest......................................................... 9

Foreword........................................................................................... 11

Preface............................................................................................... 12

About the Author................................................................................ 13

A Town on the Way to the Forest

M.K Chaika Grossman


Chaika Grossman z"l in Treblinka 1991

How wondrous is the memory. How amazing it is how the duty to commemorate their town, their ruined community, however small it may be, rises up in the hearts of Jews. For years Holocaust survivors kept their silence and refused to tell their children about what they had seen. It was hard for them to fulfill the commandment "and thou shall tell thy sons". Many years had to pass before we understood that we were not helping our children by surpressing our pain at home.

I knew the town of Suprasl during its hey days and during the horrors that passed over it. One only had to cross the railway lines at the end of Sankewitza Street, near to the freight train station in the city of Bialystok, and continue on another sixteen kilometers to reach the holiday resort which nestles between river and forest. During the time of the German occupation the matter was complicated. It was, of course, forbidden for Jews to move freely on the roads and the bridge over the river was guarded by German gendarmes. If, however, one managed to reach and cross the river it was possible to circumnavigate the center of the town and vanish into the adjoining forest. The forest protected you - but not always.

The summers, which I spent in summer holiday camps, almost completely disappeared from my memory, but I remember for a suitable location in the forest for the resistance fighters. I remember the liaison people who went and found the small Jewish community which still existed in Suprasl, an important base from which to organize themselves in the nearby forest. I remember the groups who left Suprasl and Krinki, and regrouped in the forest, because they did not want to follow German orders to report to the market place. In the last months of 1942 the Germans "cleansed" the entire region of Bialystok, except for the Bialystok ghetto itself, of Jews and led them to Treblinka - nearly four hundred thousand Jews.

The Jewish communities of many towns disobeyed the German order to assemble in the market place. Many Jews fled Suprasl, men, women, and children, for the nearby forest.

The last time I was in Suprasl was in July 1944. I remember the town being pounded and bombarded by Russian Katyusha missiles from one direction and by German guns from the other direction, with me in the middle. I fled Bialystok to join the partisan unit at the Klonovsky headquarters to which I belonged. I did not want to get myself killed by a Russian bomb on the verge of being freed.

When Yaacov Patt and Daidush Fine came to me to tell me about the plan to publish the Suprasl Book, I was truthfully amazed by the tenacity of these people in searching for their comrades, former residents of the town, to collaborate in the publishing of this book. The survivors of Suprasl's Jewish community are scattered throughout cities, countries, and even continents. Despite this they have succeeded in putting together "the story of the town" - a single drop in which the entire ocean is reflected.

There were about six to seven hundred Jews in the town including textile workers, small businessmen, established landlords, and enthusiastic youths. The Jews who lived near the forest knew it and its pathways well and could guide the city dwellers through the forest and found the pathways, which were conquered by young, robust Jews.

I will not be doing the publishers of books on the major Jewish communities an injustice by saying that the commemoration of a small community, like Suprasl, only serves to enrich the sweet smell of deep roots.

I think the time has come to stop portraying, stereotypically, the Jews of the Shtetls as weak and ready to surrender without putting up a fight. Its high time to tell the true and varied story of the Jews' struggle and the roots of their fight with all its colorful aspects and anecdotes.

Let this book be an important contribution to the understanding of our great past.

Foreword

The Suprasl book, a portrait of an exemplary Jewish community in eastern Poland, was written primarily to tell the story of the Jewish town, to uncover its roots - our roots, to describe the bitter struggle against the Nazi enemy, and to preserve the story in the collective memory of the Jewish nation forever. Nonetheless, the book's most important service is of an educational and research nature - research into the terrible events of those times and to provide the basis for an educational series for the new generation of Jews in Israel and abroad who are seeking their roots and identity.

"'For man is a tree of the field", and just as a tree whose branches grow and develop thanks to its roots, so grows man, especially Jewish man. The roots of the past give life to the branches of the future, and he who denies his past puts his future in jeopardy.

Since the terrible tragedy that passed over our families and over the whole of Polish Jewry, many works of research and books have been written about the Holocaust, including a variety of subjects such as the "Juden-Rat" and the organization of the Jewish resistance. Despite the fact that they waged war against the Nazis, the Great Powers and various international bodies were accused of not taking action to end the destruction of Jews. The strong Jewish community in the United States, too, was accused of not making its voice heard clearly until it was too late. We blamed everyone except ourselves.

The predicament of the Jewish population of the Yishuv in Eretz Israel at that time was difficult with pressure being exerted, on the one hand, by the British Mandatory "White Paper" r, and, on the other hand, by Arab murderers. Nevertheless, I am bothered by the that we too did not do enough from the moment that the first news of the mass destruction began to filter through until the gas chambers had claimed their millions of victims. No! We did not do enough to save our families! Neither through protest nor acts of courage.

Although the Jewish leadership of the Yishuv was occupied with waging the struggle against the British, however important that struggle was, in retrospect I can see that it cannot justify our, and our leadership's, shortcomings in not doing everything possible to warn, shout, and save.

The publication of the Suprasl book about a special community which fought hard, hoping to survive, and was annihilated together with other Jewish communities of Poland, the description of its life, its good deeds, and its commemoration in the collective memory of the Jewish nation, will go some way to atoning for this terrible failure. I hope that the book, and the nature of the events and customs retold in it, will help to expose our roots to the young members of our families, in particular, and to the new generation who are searching for their own roots. And may this be myrecompense...

This book joins the mosaof folklore and commemorative books which have been written about the Jewish communities of Israel whare no more. The book describes the uniqueness of this dearcommunity and the cult, spiritual, and folklore heritage which it bequeathed to its members, the recognition of the uniqueness of the Jewish way of life, and to safeguard the memory of the travesty which our most terrible of enemies brought upon us. Lest we forget!

The Author

Preface

The committee of former Supraslers take great pleasure in marking the publication of the "Suprasl Book", the tale of the Jewish Suprasl community which exists no more.

Jewish Suprasl was closely tied with the Jewish community of Bialystok and many of the latter spent their summers in Suprasl, as did Jews from other towns in the region. Before the Holocaust the Suprasl community was known for its great hospitality, modern public services and for the tenacity of its efforts to survive during the Holocaust - even taking in refugees from other towns. Before being taken to Treblinka, some courageous Supraslers, under the leadership of Daidush Fine, established a "rebel unit" of fighters and survivors of the ghettos of Bialystok, Krinki, and other nearby settlements, in the Suprasl forests.

These facts, together with the recognition of the importance of telling the "story of the town" to all our families, and to the generations to come, contributed to the decision to produce this book despite the many difficulties we encountered in the process. The idea was first broached by our friend Yaacov Patt at the last memorial service, held on October 11th 1989, fifty years after the outbreak of the Second World War, and it is he who contributed most to implementing the decision. It is thus our pleasant duty to offer him our heartfelt thanks and those of the survivors of Suprasl. Yaacov Patt took upon himself, on a voluntary basis, the job of author and producer of this book.

Our thanks go, too, to the survivors of our community who sent us their recollections of Suprasl and especially to Daidush Fine without whose help and the recording of how he survived the destruction of the Suprasl community, it is doubtful if this book would have come about.

We would also like to thank Shula and Zelig Gottlib and Helena Rabinowitz for translating the historical excerpts from Polish into Hebrew. We greatly appreciate the generous donations sent to us by ex-Supraslers, both in Israel and abroad, including friends from Krinki and Bialystok, which helped to pay for the publishing of this book.

Special thanks go to Jack and Genia Liberman from Melbourne, Australia, former residents of Krinki for their kind contribution towards ensuring the publication of this book

A "Yishar Koach" goes also to Leon and Yvonne Fink, Leon and Minia Lipkies from Melbourne and Jack and Zelda Yazer (Yazernicki) from Sydney, Canada, for their assistance.

Our greetings to you all.

About the Author

Yaacov Patt, a native of the town, emigrated from Suprasl to Israel in March 1939, and since then has held important positions in the pre-State administration, in the establishment and defense of the State, in the Israel Defense Ministry, and as an emissary of national delegations abroad.

He was born in November 1921 in Bialystok to Meir and Batia (B'ashke) Patt, who decided to move to Suprasl in 1927 with Meir's appointment as shochet and cantor of the Suprasl community. Yaacov completed his primary education in Suprasl and Krinki and his secondary studies at the "Tachcemoni Gavoa", with an additional year at the Bialystok yeshiva.

Shortly after his arrival in Israel, he was amongst the founders of the Kewutzat "Alumim" in south Netanya, which later became Kibbutz Saad near Gaza. In the years 1940-43 Yaacov was conscripted as a constable in the Jewish Settlement Police (J.S.P.), at the Kfar Yona mobile guard, and was appointed also as a Hagana area commander for the Hefer Valley region. In this capacity he ran Hagana courses and took part in smuggling Jews into Israel along the beaches between Netanya and Herzliya. In September 1943, after marrying Haya Goldshmid, a native of Jerusalem, Yaacov left the kewutza and moved to Tel Aviv where he continued his Hagana activities until the outbreak of the War of Independence in 1948.

The Patts have a son, Boaz, a daughter, Batya, both married and five grandchildren.

The War of Independence found Yaacov amongst the founders of the Seventh Brigade. As a platoon commander he fought at Latrun and in "Operation Hiram" for the liberation of the Galilee.

On his release from the I.D.F., at the end of 1949, he was appointed district manager of absorption of the Jewish Agency. He organized the settlement of new immigrants in Majdal-Gad (Ashkelon of today) and old Beer Sheva.

On May 1st 1951 he was appointed Director of the Immigration Department of the General Security Services (Shabak), and later transferred to the personnel department of the Ministry of Defense. In 1960 the Minister of Defense, David Ben-Gurion, appointed him chairman of the Official Authority for the employment of disabled veterans and as Chief Pensions Officer. After the Six-Day War in 1967 he travelled to Australia to visit rehabilitation centers for war veterans in Melbourne and in the State of Victoria. On meeting the Jewish community there he founded the "Keren Mishpachot Hagiborim" I.D.F. veterans, which still exists today.

In May 1968 the foundation stone of "Bet Halohem" (Fighters House) in Afeka was laid.

Yaacov, in his capacity as Chief Compensation Officer, helped lay the foundation stone of a sports and rehabilitation center for I.D.F. disabled veterans unparalleled throughout the world. As head of the Claims and Compensation Unit, he was also responsible for the families of the war victims. Following a meeting with a Belgian diamond merchant, Charles Knobloch, Yaacov established a summer vacation scheme for war orphans at the "Emitie Club" summer camp at Ostend in Belgium. In July 1969, he accompanied the first group of children to Belgium as representative of the then Israeli Minister of Defense, Moshe Dayan. The scheme proved extremely successful and takes place every summer in Belgium.

Yaacov was among the founding members of the "Raffi" party, which was established under the leadership of Shimon Peres following David Ben-Gurion's struggle in the 1960s.

In September 1970, Yaacov Patt was appointed head of the Aliya Center for the Mid-West of the United States, in Chicago. During Yaacov's term of office there, 3,000 Americans immigrated to Israel in what is known as the "golden age" of American aliya. Those who immigrated included a large number of aeronautics engineers, who were at loose ends following the termination of the Apollo space project, and were absorbed by Israel Aircraft Industries. Yaacov also worked for the Bonds and the Magbit in fundraising for . He returned to Israel in September 1973 shortly before the country was plunged intthe trauma of the Yom Kippur War on October 6th 1973.

In June 1975 Yaacov was chosen to serve as emissary of a United Israel Appeal mission to Melbourne, Australia, which was particularly successful, and was promoted to the post of Executive Director of U.I.A. for all of Australia.

On his return to Israel in early 1980, he was appointed to the position of Deputy Managing Director of the Rehabilitation Department at the Defense Ministry. In 1982 the Lebanese War broke out and the rehabilitation services were traumatized once again, before they had managed to rehabilitate the wounded veterans of the Yom Kippur War. He continued in this position until March 1984 when, at the request of the World Chairman of the Keren Kayemet, Moshe Rivlm, he left for South Africa as J.N.F. Representative. Yaacov was stationed in Johannesburg and established "Galil South Africa" in Israel's north. When he returned to Israel in April 1986, he retired from the Defense Ministry.

Since his retirement, Yaacov Patt has continued to contribute from his skills and experience; He is chairman of Friends of "Amal" for the advancement of technological education Israel, and is active in public a.

Yaacov occasionally puts pen to paper. His "writing career" began in his yo, in the years 1935-40, when he kept a diary and wrote poems, most of which survived, and later continued witmakamas, reviews, repor, ar, and editing journals at different times. He edited the Amal international conference brochure and various information bulletins.

Yaacov Patt saw it as his sacred duty to contribute to the commemoration of the Suprasl community and to the publication of the "Suprasl Book" as a mark of respect to his parents, his family, and to the members of a model Jewish community from which Yaacov received his educational base, high moral values, and faithfulness to the Jewish nation and to Israel.


The old Post House in Suprasl by winter

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