We Remember Jewish Siennica!
This photograph was taken in Siennica in 1932. The occasion was the commemoration of the 51st anniversary of the death of Joseph Trumpeldor by Siennica's Betar organization. Elie Goldsztejn is the young man in the top row holding Joseph Trumpeldor's picture on the right. His older brother, Yojnas, probably the only person in the photograph who survived the Shoah, is sitting on the extreme left in the second row.
From the Testimony of Elie (Eliahu Son of David and Esther) Goldsztejn from Siennica, Poland Written in June 1944
Submitted by Jacob D. Goldstein
Translated by Jacob D. Goldstein, a nephew.
A translator note:
Elie Goldsztejn was born in 1914 in Siennica, Poland. The excerpt given below is part of his Shoah memoirs, written in Yiddish and assembled together as a whole no later than June 1944, while he was still in hiding with my parents. After liberation, Elie was murdered (by Poles) when he went to reclaim some property.
The end started on the sixth month of 1942. That's when the news from Warszawa first reached us and when the heart of Polish Jewry froze in the fear of the Ghettos. How, approximately one million Jewish souls, after almost three years of intense terrifying anguish, lost their last bit of strength in life along with any hope that some day redemption would come!
On the 22 of June, in the city of Warszawa, the Jewish people started drinking from the widespread torrent! Right around this time, this torrent started penetrating all large cities, such as Krakow and Lemberg. Also at the time, we received a report that the Jewish president of the Warszawa Judenrat, Czerniakow, the unique powerful representative of Polish Jewry, overtaken by despair, committed suicide upon arriving at home. We immediately understood the significance of this development. From then on, tens of thousands of Jews were deported each day, every day. From the beginning, we have not heard anything about where they are being taken or why? Something has been clear, though: To be destroyed!
It ripened into another rumor that a certain number of Jews would be taken in a shipment, in an Aktion that would take place on a known date.
None of us wanted to believe the fact that the torrent might wash away the entire three million Jewish souls. How hardened have our arteries become as this torrent grows increasingly widespread with each passing day, getting closer [each day], washing away from Earth that which was rooted for thousands of years; i.e., everything Jewish! How terrifying it felt [for a mensch] to be sentenced to death. Much more so then, when [his] conscience was clean from everyone's sin[s]. Then, it was in fact sheer terror, since the sentence applied to an entire people (all Jews). Then, everything was to be no more; that which was alive; that which had been created and built during thousands of years; everything swept away. Our legacy would no longer be passed from mother and father to child, from brother to sister or from sister to brother, etc.
The torrent reaches for us.
The torrent closes in, [sweeping away,] steady in its course, sweeping away large cities and small towns (Jewish Ghettos).
It is impossible to understand how frightening this was (or that men, aged 19 to a hundred, are capable of these deeds). It is not possible to even describe what happened, or to write about such horrifying actions with a human hand.
On September 23, 1942, all members of the Judenrat were summoned to appear at the police outpost at 12 o'clock sharp. We were notified by telephone per the Kreishauptmann. You can imagine what each of us thought in our hearts.
Past 12 o'clock, a taxicab drove up to the outpost and there, outside, surrounded by several gendarmes, stood Gutbelein, the Haupt Chef of the Minsk Circle, and ordered us (our mayor was outranked): in the name of the Kreishauptmann, we Jews must leave Siennica and move to Mrozy.
He spoke to us as if he was an acquaintance of old. He said that a reorganization of the Province of Minsk was underway (this was after the torrent had swept Minsk). Two weeks ago the Jews from Latowicz went to Kolbiel, those from Dobre to Stanislawow, and that now the turn had come for the Jews from Siennica to be taken immediately; i.e., at 5 P.M. the Jews must leave this Shtetl and go to Mrozy. He then added that he did not want to see any blood spilled as in Minsk and that neither would we, with the help of the Jewish Police. Let them go forward and prepare the way. At the same time, he suggested, we should pick 70 strong-built men and send them directly to the labor camp in Mienia.
Questions, questions... We asked 2 questions (with permission). What are we permitted to take along? And perhaps it would be possible for us to leave Siennica, our home, tomorrow morning? In their eyes, he was being very gracious. He allowed us to leave Siennica at 9 A.M the next day, as well as to take anything along with one exception: all Jewish tools and workbenches, whatever their purpose, must stay in place. All the belongings may be taken along in covered wagons with the Police contingent, under their responsibility.
Understandably, for us the one-day extension was a great gain... The gain of a night was a great joy. Each of us had extra time to meditate. Clearly, the reckoning was not based on our past, and now what will happen at 9 A.M.? What will happen in Mrozy? They do not mean to have us next to the train station, do they?
My father told me a few times that he thought it is possible that we would be sent to another shtetl, either Kolbiel or Parysow, or that perhaps we would be interned in a camp. [However,] I never had an answer for him. Why? I was convinced that neither Kolbiel nor Parysow could handle the enormous surge of the torrent. Furthermore, what were the prospects for life in camps? It would certainly be different from life in the Ghettoes of the cities and shtetls. We would probably be placed in different camps. How could a woman like my mother or a man like my father, aged 55, or my only two sisters, aged 13 and 16, adapt to life in a camp? Clearly, the answer to my father's
question was very disturbing to be conceived: we would go where the other Jews went. We too...
The gain was of a night in the calendar of our lives whose pages had been torn. This was indeed not only our last night before leaving one Shtetl for another, but the last night before the Shtetl where 500 Jewish souls lived for many years would disappear.
I engraved in my mind the images of our world, from the smallest detail to the largest feature, as a dying man who opened his eyes for the last time would. By the will of Hashem, my last glimpse was of my most beloved and respected, of them who embodied what we most loved in this world. How painful it was to think that our entire world was the dying man - that we were all doomed, and thus were unlike the moribund man who catches a glimpse of what he leaves behind [in this world]. But us? How terribly frightful it was to see the look in the faces of my mother, my father, my sister, my brother, and all the neighbors. How healthy individuals become images of death, and how distinctively their eyes sparkle with anxiety! But there is nothing we can do. Do we have any alternative?
 Translator's Note: On *July* 22, 1942, mass deportations from the Warszawa Ghetto toTreblinka began after German officers leading Ukrainian and Latvian guards in SS uniforms surrounded the walls of the Ghetto.