Pages From The Zabludow Yiskor Book:

Zabludow; Dapim Mi-tokh Yisker-Bukh , editor: Nehama Shavli-Shimush, Published by Former Residents of Zabludow in Israel, 1987 (Hebrew) Translation from Hebrew by Ziva Rosenhand
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The Old Synagogue of Zabludow: 1635-1939, a Model by Moshe Verbin, Kibbutz Yakum

Holocaust Chapter

 

Before The Destruction
By Phinia Korovski (New York)

We have never had delusions about anti-Semitism because it was rooted deeply in the consciousness of our neighbors the Poles. But the relationship was one of acquaintance with mutual respect and a greeting of the traditional raising of the hat. There were mutual congratulations in times of holidays and business relationships were out of necessity. They also worked together in leather factories that were owned by Jews. Full cooperation existed also in times of crisis that the town faced like natural disasters, fires, etc. The Poles were not our only neighbors, there were also white Russians; whole villages were populated by them along with the Polish villages.

In normal times we didn't have any problems of anti-semitism from the villagers because they were full of hatred toward their Polish government, and they left us alone. On Sundays, during holidays and market days the villagers, Polish and white Russians were coming to the town with their carts and their women sitting on the top of their carts holding things for sale. Usually a colorful hen or chicken that would bring some money for small expenses. When they arrived at town they went to prayer, the Polish went to the Koshchul [?Catholic Church] and the Russians went to the Pravoslavic Church that stood in the center of town in the Market Square. After the prayer they filled the taverns and the teahouses that were mostly owned by Jews and were a good source of livelihood. I can't remember any anti-Jew fights with serious violence, except small fights when they were drunk. In those rare occasions Jews had the upper hand and they remembered the results for a long time. Our Polish neighbors from the town stood aside and didn't intervene, and in most occasions they encouraged the Jews by saying that the villagers became obnoxious and that they have to learn a lesson.

Here and there, there were reserved friendships between the Jewish youth and Polish youth. Usually it was during sport meets on the field, or at coed dances.

There was no love among us, but there were fair relationships- all that up to the beginning of the thirties.

With the appearance of Hitlerism in the neighboring Germany and with the spreading nazi beliefs, different winds started to blow in the town. It was spreading slowly but significantly. The main active cause was the Polish intelligensia, especially the youth that started to flock to the colleges and universities with the active help of the government. Anti-Semitism started to break through the surface. Rumors were spread that in certain houses of our neighbors meetings were being held and groups were being organized. It was said that their main goal was to spread the anti-semitism poison among the calm citizens. The effect was felt mainly in the economic area. In the beginning maybe with a bit of unpleasant feelings and hesitation but all the while it was obvious. The turning point was sharp and the relationship was not like in the past. Most of the towns Jews were making their living from business especially with the surrounding villages. They produced a variety of agricultural products. Besides food they produced wool, linen, furs, leather, etc. The business took place directly in the markets or the Jews used to go to the villages by cart, or by foot.

Some of the town Jews made their living in shops of industrial products, like different fabrics, leather for shoes and boots, house dishes, working tools, especially agricultural and all kinds of glittery haberdashery. There were also workshops for tailoring, shoemaking, carpentry, and blacksmithing, the villagers enjoyed some of the profit. The hired proletariat worked in the leather factory that was the main industry in the town. Prosperity in the town started with the end of the harvesting at the time of gathering and threshing. The decline was in the time of plowing, seeding and waiting for the crops. During this time that is called by the nation 'the dryness' Jews stood in the doorway of their businesses doing nothing, and they waited for the customer who didn't show up, or browsed in the market with the hopes that maybe someone will come. The youth that matured never found their place in all this, resources were very limited, and there was hardly enough for their fathers. Immigration was impossible therefore the youth browsed aimlessly, and in boredom in the hope for better times without knowing what will cause the desirable change. The future did not look bright and the overall condition seemed to come to a dead end.

The ideologicaly advanced youth was divided into two groups: the first one- their wandering eyes looked to the east, to the new revolutionary world, and the second one also looked to the east, but a different east, the one that our ancestors turned to with prayers and longing. Those hopes had little chances; they hoped for a solution, but there was no way to make it a reality, and all that happened during the first years of the 30's, the final solution they did not see even in their worst nightmares. Europe became astir, on one side the threatening Nazi-Germany, and on the other side the Soviet Russia, and in the middle the free European countries, and the United States satisfied and looking for peace and quiet.

Day and night we were glued to the few radios in the town, knowing that our fate was in destiny's hands. All of us, including the Orthodox, hoped for the Soviet victory, but actually we were just bystanders. Until the storm got to us, and we were pulled unwillingly into the awful turbulence that had spread all over Europe.

The intense propaganda against Poland was working full time. The progressive leaning toward pro-Germany didn't help Poland, especially in the anti-Jewish part. Poland stood on a verge of German invasion. A general drafting was declared, including Jewish youth, the town was in turbulence, nothing was clear and certain, there were rumors that were dismissed in a minute, one thing was certain- one word that shook each and every heart was in the air- war. And so, in the month of September, 1939, the Germans invaded Poland and started the first step in World War II.

Fear and anxiety was everywhere, rumors were all over, there was a great worry for the youth that was drafted quickly because of rumors about the fast progression of the Germans and the flight of the Polish army. Wounded units crossed the town, German planes spread fear by flying over the houses, and ambulances with wounded ones crossed the town without us knowing to where and from where.

The arrogant Polish army all dolled up and shiny lost its glamour, here and there soldiers went around with mixed clothes, part civilian and part uniform, and there was embarrassment all over, in the local government, and in the population. Stores closed, there was a shortage of basic foods, and there was no way to make a living. The villagers kept their produce, because they lost their trust in money. A few of the youth left the town and ran away to the northeast without knowing exactly to where they would go.

There were rumors that the Germans were already in the neighboring Bialystok and in Bilsk, on the other side of Zabludow, and we were in the middle without any rulers. It was a situation of anticipation and depression, and then suddenly, and at once, as if according to an unheard order all the tumult stopped. There was a frightening silence all around, we stayed in the houses, shades closed and we looked through the cracks to see what was going on in the empty street, alert and tense to every change.

Suddenly we heard the noise of an approaching car. With great speed it entered the Market Square, it was loaded with German soldiers and with their weapons drawn against the windows and openings of the houses.

It turned around and went back the same way that it came. It was probably a patrol car. After a few minutes it appeared again, and inside there was a Polish resident who had been captured and was seated in the car, in order to be sure that the towns people wouldn't sabotage the car. Soon the town was full of German soldiers carrying their weapons and equipment. In each corner they put machine guns ready to fire, we looked at them fearfully.

Slowly people began to appear in the streets, first the Poles, and then us too, but with great hesitation. In some of the houses opened commentators who would give exit permits. Some rooms from the best houses were taken for the Garrison officers.

In our house they took one room for a young officer that was quite polish, he even asked my mom to cook home made food for him. Before he ate he made us taste the food, to make sure it wasn't poisoned. After two days of his staying with us I dared to ask him, in my innocent way if Jews served in their army; his answer was negative, but he added that Jews work for his army. He also said that I don't have to be afraid of the regular army, which is the Wehrmacht but when the SS and the Gestapo come our situation will not be too good. Of course I didn't know what exactly would happen to us.

During the day, somehow we continued our lives, in spite of the fear and shortage, but at dusk, and when the curfew was set we locked ourselves behind lock and key, no one comes and no one goes. Here and there we heard screams because of robbery, but without any drastic actions, just the rhythm of the guard's steps with their boots that spread fear, disturbed the silence.

The rumors continued as usual in times that history is being formed, day by day, hour by hour. The main question that we faced, and that would determine our fate was where do we stand in the famous Ribentrop and Molotov agreement. We didn't know to whom we would belong to and where the border will be drawn. Pundits and profits of doom appeared everywhere, we were shaken by the stormy waves of history, helpless and trying to make our way in the unknown, and during those thoughts the Germans disappeared over night, as if they didn't exist, just like the ground opened up and swallowed them whole. We woke up in the morning; there was silence, and no sign of the Germans. At first we didn't believe our eyes, and when the astonishment was over, then came the joy. Some of us were more reserved, saying that its too early to celebrate, maybe it was a tactical maneuver, and the Germans are going to return.

For now we are left with no government, a mixed civil militia was formed (Polish and Jews) in order to keep the people's possessions. The connection with the neighboring Bialystok was weak, people were afraid to go out of the town. There was again an unknown feeling, again anticipation for upcoming things, and especially to the Soviets arrival. The departure of the Germans was a sign that we were under the soviet government. To our knowledge they were supposed to come from the northeast, from the G Donna forests. Most of the day was spent in the attic, looking in that direction. I also participated in the observation, because we lived in a duplex building, a rare one in the town.

Meanwhile a few people came from Bialystok and told us that the Soviets were at the train station outside of the city. With pride and satisfaction they told us how the Soviet soldiers forced the German soldiers to unload cars full of merchandise that were stolen from the station's storage. One villager that arrived from the other side of the town, from Bilsk, told that the Soviets are there too, again we were in the middle, with a feeling of deprivation, that we are the last to know. Again we blamed the fact that there was no railroad track connected to our town.

After a few days of waiting and observing, without a government we saw a convoy nearing. We told everyone the good news, and the rumors spread like fire. The streets were filled with people and children, exactly the opposite than what happened when the Germans entered the town. On the other hand the Poles hid in their houses, not in fear, but in embarrassment and deep pain because of their lost independence, especially to those who they never liked and nicknamed them moscals. We didn't doubt the fact that they preferred the Germans from the Russians.

The convoy entered the town, there was some army trucks full of soldiers, some wearing military tunics that were the same color as the neighboring villagers tunics. Wearing gray wool hats with ear muffs to protect from the cold, and in the middle there was a red star, a symbol of the red army.

In their hands they were holding long, old rifles, with long narrow spears that we recognized from pictures from napoleon's war in Russia, at first sight we were disappointed from their appearance, comparing them to the German commissars who were wearing leather clothes, nice and tall, the way we imagined them. We hesitated to approach them, if from embarrassment, or because we didn't know the Russian language very well.

Out of one of the trucks came a soldier, probably their officer, dressed a little differently, with a different kind of hat, with a metal red star, and some crossed leather stripes on his tunic, carrying a big pistol in a wooden case. He approached us, and blessed us that we were freed from the fascists. He asked us when the Germans left the town, and how was their behavior was toward the citizens. After we answered his questions he went back to the car.

In a short time army units started to pour in from the same direction with their equipment and weapons: infantry, cavalry force, artillery corps, and Cossacks in dark blue uniforms, in fur hats. They were handsome, well built, and attached to their horses, as if they were born together, and the most astonishing- there were Jews among them, Cossack Jews, Circassians in colorful uniforms, and short tunics, decorated with pistol bullets on both sides of the chest. There were Calmicats, Tatars, a mix of people that we've never seen. The sight of their armored cars and tractors changed our first impression by a lot.

Since noontime, and during the whole day and night, the units continued to stream west, to where the border was supposed to be, according to the agreement. The tumult got quiet; a few units were left as garrison that worked the next day to put in loudspeakers in the Market Square and a big wooden stage in the middle for the army bands and some delightful Russian music that was heard throughout the town. We rejoiced without knowing what lay ahead of us. The new regime was a puzzle to us, but we felt that we were saved from the Germans, without knowing exactly from what we were saved (that we knew only in the second edition of that world war).

Among the small garrison, we noticed some uniforms that were different from the others, they were more glorious than the rest, they had different hats, with a red stripe going around it, they were well built, and healthy looking, like officers, but without any signs of rank. They didn't mix in with the rest of the townspeople, like the other army people, they were reserved and they had more superior manners.

It turned out that they were the people of the N. K. V. D., the successors of the famous che-ke, the order makers, and the founders of the soviet regime.

The civil and half army government settled in the old city hall (the magistrate): drafted civilian soviets, most of them party members ruled there, and their leader, as we found out, was a Jew by the name Margolin. It was the holiday season: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkoth. It was a strange feeling- on one side opened up a new world that brought an end to our suffering as Jews, and on the other hand there was a strange emptiness, maybe because of the holidays that were not celebrated as in days past. In any case the celebration was over very quickly and the dull reality set in.

The town factories were confiscated, among them also our flourmill and its belongings. The stores closed, and our source of livelihood was totally blocked. Other new sources of livelihood from Soviet resources, were not created.

The polish villagers and town farmers hid in their farms and hid their produce. They slaughtered their cattle in an unorganized, uncontrolled way, for fear of confiscation and distribution among everyone. They feared the creation of Kolchoz (collective farms), which they hated very much.

As a matter of fact, the first part of the "international song" came true: the Old World got destroyed, but the building of the New World was not yet started.

Because of the confiscation of the houses for different organizations, or because of their capitalist status, the Soviets took people out of their houses, including my parents who lived as tenants in a two-floor house, and turned it into a government financial institute. We were moved, six of us, with all our belongings, to one room at my mother's sister's house, that used to be a store which closed.

Like every new and strange regime the Soviets needed collaborators (this time based upon ideological background) from the population, which they could find easily, especially among us Jews, and from the white Russians, who saw themselves as the main partners in the upcoming changes. I'm not sure if their motive was ideological. The way they saw the Soviet was regime was basically wrong. Their conception of a revolution was literally turning the world in a way that the lower class would be going up, and the upper class would be going down: now the capitalist will be the servants of the oppressed. They were so innocent that they put the previous owners of the factories (which were full of valuable products) as guards, but with a small difference that each one of them will guard at night on each other's factory.

Their innocence was based on revenge, and not on ideology, but it didn't last long, time took it's toll and stability started to occur, and from the chaos started a new reality, more directed and with a goal. The reaction of the Jewish population to what was happening was diverse, and even extreme, and there were a few reasons. The main ones were: their economic and social status in the past, their reaction to religion and to the Zionist idea,and also the direct effect of their real or fake status. Therefore some of the Jewish residents were active supporters, the main part was apathetic, and there was also a part that hated them-of course in secret.

Most of the people that tried to be a part of the new government came from the poor population, with an undefined livelihood, but cannot be defined as a proletariat because they never worked as employees, and therefor were never used directly by their employers. The proletariat employees, which most worked at the leather factory, were the ones who were hurt economically. In normal times they had a normal income, and they made an honest living, to them the new government didn't react with generosity.

Meanwhile- the economic situation got worse and worse and the problems of the growing youth did not get solved from any point, there was no livelihood and only few found jobs with the government. Most of the shops were closed, and the few government shops that opened did not provide much of anything. When there was something for sale it got divided among anyone with government ties. There was a shortage in almost everything, especially in everyday needs, like food, clothes, and basic house needs. Every rag became valuable. Trade became popular because there was not too much trust in money. The pessimists said- that's it and the optimists said- with the stabilization of the political situation the economic situation will stabilize too.

In spite of that- there were advances in the educational and cultural sector, elementary school got expanded, teachers and educators, part of which came from Russia, succeeded in creating motivation among the students. Excellent students' names appeared on a bulletin board in the school, and all sorts of school pamphlets. They declared competitions with prizes, and new ways and opportunities came up for higher education. All kinds of classes and courses opened up during after school hours. School became the center of each student's lives, the language of the white Russians was declared as the official language. Classes and courses for adults were put up for subjects such as music, drama, dance and all that accompanied with political propaganda's about the superiority of the Soviet regime. The influence of the regime on the school age youth was great.

The influence on the rest of the population was different. The elderly continued with their traditional way of life. As in the past, the houses of learning were their center of life. Everything that happened around them didn't interest them; they looked at the enthusiastic people with a nod of their head saying that it's not the end of it without knowing what they were actually predicting. The adults couldn't decide, they were holding on to the past, while waiting for the future, maybe after all, a better one. Most of the youth turned their backs on our tradition that had become weak anyway, and all this without a strong foundation, and with a feeling of non-stability and doubts toward a vague future.

The town filled up with military personnel's family and Soviet clerks. Over time some of them became friendly, especially toward the Jews. The Poles, except for a few of them, stayed away from the Soviets and saw the Jews as cooperators and traitors. They felt that their time will come (the jews), and they hoped that the Germans would return...

Jewish refugees started coming into the town from the area conquered by the Germans with horrible stories about the German's attitude toward the Jews, about humiliations and beatings leading to death, expulsion and needless murders. It was hard to believe that things like these actually happened, it left us with anxiety, but we thought that maybe those descriptions were exaggerated a bit.

I rarely arrived home from Bialystok, which is where I worked, because my home was very crowded and there was no room to sleep, and all of that until I got drafted to the army. The western world undermined firmly the drafting citizens from conquered areas, but without success. I was drafted and sent to the heart of Russia, to a different world, different people, and a different way of life.

Letters from home arrived regularly, and in them I was told about happenings at home and in the town. Mom told me with satisfaction that my father was permitted to work in the previous family business - the mill - even though other family members were taken away from it, because my father's professional expertise and also because he was well liked by different people with different status's. They also wrote to tell me that one of my brothers worked in Bialystok in the textile industry, and my other brother worked in the leather industry in the town. My little sister studied hard and succeeded in them. In our childhood we heard that before world war one, in the days of czarist Russia, a dam was built on the small river that crossed the town (miltina). During World War I the Germans bombed the dam and the lake that it created ran dry. Now the Russians re-built it for the pleasure of the people of the town, small events such as these were very interesting in the small town. They also wrote me that they missed me and they were waiting for the moment that I'll get vacation time and go home.

I got home five years later... there was no house, there were no residents.

They disappeared as they had never been there, with no grave or stone to put my head on and cry, their dust and ashes were spread across the sky. To gather them in the end of days will be a difficult and maybe an impossible mission.

 

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