“..mood in Grayeve was very heavy. All ..Jews expected bad times but they did not know that they were standing over an abyss and that their days were numbered. Poles talked openly of murdering ..Jews ..yet Jews in Grayeve as all over Poland never anticipated and did not conceive of such a huge tragedy and such annihilation as befell them a few years later.” Dr. George Gorin.
There is little new in these few lines to offer peace to the Memory of those Jews of Grajewo, and while its truth is known to many, it is not quite known to all. Far too often the detailed space occupied by those Murdered of Grajewo, and all too many other spaces removed of its Jews, is lost in the very narrative content which is The Holocaust. I hope I have brought newer recall to those who Survived to know we are here Always to Remember, Never to Forget them. We are made aware of what the Survivor has achieved, but largely require a reminder as to what we allowed to happen to their compatriots from Grajewo and more tellingly, what was allowed to happen to 6,000,000 of Their Family, Friends and Neighbours for being Jews. There is a work, a book by Dr. George Gorin, Grajewo Poland, Memorial (Yizkor) and it is precisely about these, the Jews of Grajewo. This now is my effort to add to both memory and remembrance and is merely a supplement to that specific detail.
“..Ghettos ..torture by neighbors ..deportation to camps. So much diversity of murder in a small town.” Evelyn Fine.
Much of this underlying narrative, which underscores the very essence of Grajewo’s Jews, is written by those intimately connected to the catastrophic events which consumed this Community of Jews. Other contributing testimony’s, whose flow of words echo the Jewish refrain that signalled those events which litter Polish history, add to the broader dimension which becomes The Holocaust itself. With an intolerance, indifferent to the slaughter of a People, 3,000,000 of whom were their own Polish Jewry, the fate of Polish Jewry was in cold relief here in Grajewo. For me it is essential, and while I clearly acknowledge that I owe more to History than it owes to me, that applies to Jewish History in particular. The loss of our own Humanity, cannot remain eternally lost without us attempting to gain at least part of what is detained within The Holocaust. This effort is gaining ground in our understanding. But it remains an ingrained loss, contributed to in no small measure by the attitude of Poles, Europeans and the World at large to the struggle and decimation of Jewish life under Hitler.
“..It was late at night and a community of Jews slept uneasily ..surrounded by a hateful wrathful world ..enveloped in black shadows of reaction and enmity.” Dr. George Gorin.
For me, there is the thread of a further narrative echoing through this work on the Jews of Grajewo and it comes for their past and from those who wished to share their knowledge of that past. Their entitled integrity is a combined effort, and it is of the inescapable truth which tore Jewish Grajewo to shreds. So while this is merely a hint of what Grajewo must mean for those Jews intimately connected to its unravelling atrocity in The Holocaust, and for History and our Humanity, let us remember also the diversity of its Human dimension. No one can ever approach the deep loss felt by those whose very devastation is complete. In all that proved too much to have to bear, for what could still be done in the name of the oldest hatred, which is antisemitism we urge their memory to deliver their pain ever more increasingly. For me, empathy will allow for all of us to come closer to appreciating this huge loss, even when we can never know the totality of all that has gone and taken from us.
“..village ..built on that spot was therefore known as Vyerbove. After resting briefly ..Adam and Eve continued walking. Enchanted by ..beauty of their new surroundings ..Adam called to Eve ..Play ..Eve. ..This is how the future town built on this spot came to be known as Grayeve.” Khaye Golding-Kayman.
What we have all too often, is a lack of the context in which the Jews themselves strove to Survive and in every event were forced to endure. If not, they would simply topple over at the point of a gun or in the Gas Chambers of Birkenau, Treblinka or Majdanek which would consume their very existence. We move carefully onto a History of a place, not wholly Jewish but steeped in the Jewish tradition of the education of its People. These were Jews of trade and diversity all the while coping with the ramshackle relations between their non-Jewish Neighbours. Here, the expression of peasants, who held petty grudges and aspirations beyond their means was driven by a church which stood for equally obnoxious sentiments as any hatred would confirm and professed them often. Grajewo, known also as Grajevo, Grayavah and Grayeve was a small provincial town in the Bialystok region of Poland where Jewish settlers began establishing themselves around the early 1700’s. By the end of that century the Jewish People had fully established a thriving and benevolent community there.
“..I simply seek a friend. I seek somebody I could tell about my worries and joys of everyday life. Somebody who would feel what I feel ..who would believe me ..who would never reveal my secrets.” Renia Spiegel.
I had begun to write a piece of work in the faint hope I could formulate a recall of the Grajewo tragedy. Here though I need to stress fully that I cannot begin to ever know the loss to our humanity over the Murders of these Jews, and not just the Jews of Grajewo but for the 6,000,000 Jews of Europe who are The Holocaust. Also, and for the entirety of the Jewish People of The Holocaust, and we know their number, it is 6,000,000, but we cannot know them all on any other lvel that in a past sense of an immense loss. What we do know and must accept is that these Jews of Europe, these are in fact The Holocaust. Desparingly too, we have but the names for 4,500,000 of these Jews from within the catastrophe. While that is a monumental effort in itself, given Hitler’s clear attempt to obliterate all traces of any Jewish presence from within Europe on an individual basis, We cannot know these Jews personally.
“..I understood ..meaning of these gruesome deaths from ..stories ..Rabbi used to tell us in kheyder ..religious school ..but could not imagine that such a dreadful death would befall my own father in ..Hitler gehenem ..hell ..of torment ..suffering.” Dr. George Gorin.
Without each and every individual atrocity, We cannot arrive at the depth of that Jewish Catastrophe that is to be the coming of The Holocaust. While we need to learn who Lejzer Hersz Abkevitz, Pinkus Abkiewicz, Shimon Kolko, Yosel Levitt, Abraham Mordecai Piorko, Yankel Rutski and Zalman Sutker were, we indeed learn who we are. Along with Ari Ibn Zaav or Sholem Zaidenberg we need to appreciate their place in the History of the approach to an astonishing destruction, brought relentlessly forward so as to sweep them from life. From amongst all of this we cannot seemingly extract further from those missing names of the 1,500,000 Jews of The Holocaust entire, still missing to us. So here, in these formative days of Grajewo’s Jewish existence, which is getting further away from its rural persistence, the Jews operated a number of factories and many of them opened small shops.
“..attitude of ..Polish fascists and semi fascists even in such a dangerous situation as ..threatened German attack did not alter.” Nakhman Rapp.
In places like Grajewo, the essential to add individually to what has been taken from us all must not be submerged by the essence of 6,000,000 personal, individual and human losses. According to the census of 1765, there were 83 Jews aged over one year old, and these from some 17 differing families. From amongst these, 6 Family’s resided in their own houses and 11 other’s had actually leased their homes to ensure Jewish roots were being firmly established. Also, there were some 336 Jews who were living in 38 villages in close proximity to Grajewo and these Jews leased taverns or were occupied as small traders, especially artisans, craftsmen in both tailoring and tinsmithing. Until 1862 Grajewo was included in the towns of the Russian-German border zone, where Jewish residence was subjected to various restrictions, controls and bias. In the 1800’s many Jews in Grajewo exported agricultural produce and artisan goods across the border to Eastern Prussia. This was a cross border trade that had flourished with little of the anti-Jewish feeling to come forward later on.
“..I left for ..train accompanied by my Parents ..Brother and Sister. Tears were choking me and I felt like a person saving himself from a danger and leaving his dearest behind alone. ..Grayeve streets were dark and abandoned.” Dr. George Gorin.
However, once the rhetoric of hatred had been inbibed and given free reign in Poland, an antisemitism which had sought to purge from its Polish christian midst its Jewish presence, it had been sought out again from that same hatred developed over the centuries. The church inculcated itself with vehemence in many anti-Jewish pogroms and when the words of Hitler would ring out, it struck a chord and resonated with the basest instincts of those Poles already converted to their own brand of Jewish hatred. In Poland, antisemitism had been given an almost universal expression and this hatred they now adapted and explored. By now, the Grajewo Jewish community numbered 197 or roughly 39% of the total population of the Shtetl of over 500 people in 1808. This had risen to some 727 Jews, or about 57% of the total population of around 1,300 people in 1827.
By the time we reached 1857 there were some 1,457 Jews representing some 76% of this still considered Shtetl population of more than 1,900 people. With the first Zionist Congress, held in Basel in 1892, the Jews of Grayeve were already caught up in Zionist thought. Home away from threats to their own integrity could not be contenanced on an on-going basis forever. Here, the whole Jewish Shtetl underwent a suprising shift in growth and by 1897 there were some 4,336 Jews living in Grajewo. With Rebbe Avraham Piorko, who was a prominent Hebrew teacher, he became a central figure in Grajewo and was much loved. An aspirational outlook blossomed once more and Reb Piorko inspired both the educated Jews and the scholarly Jews of the Town. By the time of the Zionist Congress that was held in Minsk in 1902, Grajewo was represented by Elimelekh Pomerants at its congregation. Here too, Miryam Markel-Mosessohn was part of an aspiring Yiddish Press in Grajewo at the turn of the century marking its progression.
“..we were more afraid of ..Poles than of ..Germans.” Khaye Golding-Kayman.
With the Balfour Declaration of November 2nd. 1917 there was a great call for celebration for World Jewry and in Grajewo it was no exception. World Jewry could now look toward the prospect of their own Homeland in Palestine. In 1913, shortly before World War I, Moshe Avigdor Amiel became the Rabbi of Grajewo, a member of the Mizrachi movement with his pius influence so keenly felt. Rabbi Amiel did manage to escape the horror’s of The Holocaust and died in 1946 knowing then what we are still coming to terms with, the loss of his People. There developed in Grajewo also a strong sense of identity which had long been sought by them. From their aspirational and educating principles of furtherance, Jewish identity grew in evidence and relevance. Residents remembered here are Avrom and Itche Gershtonsky, Leyble Remigolsky, Simche Sarn, Izze Epstein, Mr. Gortshitsky, Gershuny Eisenstat, Chaim Friedman, Isaac Kolko, Mr. Lifshitz and the two Teacher’s, Miss Kolko, who was Shimon Kolko’s daughter and Miss Barkovska, and all were well respected.
“..gray and cold days with ..worries for ..coming winter. ..whole city gets ready. Homeowners buy loads of potatoes to be stored in cellars ..sheds replenished with firewood and peat. ..hamlet braces itself for survival of ..oncoming winter.” Dr. George Gorin.
Grajewo became the source of culture for the local region and Zalmen Sutker, Grajewo’s own theater director, set up a movie house in Shtutzin. Shtutzin, less than 10 miles away was presented with US style movies twice a week. The Great War of 1914-1918 did not escape the Jews of Grajewo, nor did it escape much of Poland. World War I was to be the War to end all Wars, given the depth of destruction meted out in the trenches. But side by side Polish Jew fought with non-Jewish Pole in furtherance of a greater deed than petty hatreds all too easily expressed in antisemitic tones. The end of WWI however, did not afford Jews any respite from the previous pettiness and pogroms were continually unleashed in Poland. 16 Jewish Youths from Grajewo, including the 3 Brother’s Segalevitsh were set upon by non-Jewish Poles in Ogustove, now Augustow. They were being brought back to Grajewo and they stopped off in the Village of Belda for some respite.
There, the Polish escort Murdered all 16 of these Grajewo Jews and their bodies were dumped into a communal grave there.The Jews of Grajewo and Shtutzin had a shared liviehood going back over generations which was a vibrant and vital co-dependence. Grajewo had its own train station, where Buses met, and Trucks dispatched all manner of goods from the arriving trains. This made Grajewo the dominant hub in the area. Travel to Bialystok and Warsaw was effected here and all major Polish centres too could be reached. All those seeking to escape Poland too, to Palestine or America transferred from here and toward Germany and a hoped for prosperity. Unknown at the time, all such moves would also secure them safety against the murderous net Hitler was beginning to cast. Education still proved both liberating and steadying, so much so that a prayer and study house and Yiddish School was to become prominent in Grajewo.
“..a sunny spring day in 1921 when ..for ..first time ..left my beloved ..Grayeve ..a feeling of longing and loss nagged in my heart ..every house ..every street ..every fence ..connected with so many memories ..everyone ..a friend or ..acquaintance. ..a departure ..from Grayeve ..also ..my childhood.” Dr. George Gorin.
In what was becoming a fortress for prayer and religious study, and what was now a burgeoning Town, Jewish Grajewo was thriving. The San Remo Conference, during April 1920, saw the Allied Nations, who had fought together in World War One, reaffirm their commitment to the pledge given in The Balfour Declaration of a Jewish sovereignty. This, providing World Jewry future hope of a Jewish national homeland in Palestine was to be grasped enthusiastically. Given that the murders of these 16 Young Grajew Jews had caused an upsurge in both local and national expressions of antiemitism, pogroms and other murders, that declaration appeared opportune In 1921, while census figures throughout Poland recognised the integrity of 2,855,000 Jews who were present within Poland, these numbers were not allowed to give Polish Jewry any real sense of stability or belonging.
“..Poles ..in Grajewo ..as well as in Shtutzin ..first murdered ..Jewish intellectuals and householders ..so as to immediately get their hands on their property. ..All classes of Polish society took part in ..slaughter.” Khaye Golding-Kayman.
After the ravages of World War I there had been sought out many vicious accounts from amongst non Jewish Polish and against Polish Jews of both the whole Poland and from here within Grajewo. Perhaps most cruelly, and unaware what the ending of mass immigration to America would ultimately mean, with the passage of the Immigration Law of 1924 it carried with it greater restrictions for those Jews deperately seeking a way out of Poland and out of harms way. At the time this was simply a migration of Polish Jews on the grounds of economic consideration, though all manner of abuses played a leading hand in the decision making process. But this was not yet to become a matter of life over their death, a death which would eventually consume them. For more than 3,000,000 of Polish Jewry, that murder process came in a systemised, industrial, mechanised and annihilatory Slaughter.
Here too in Grajewo, while there were now some 2,834 Jews, or 39% of a total population of 7,346 residents of the Town, we understand a great loss was made of Jewish life in the world conflict. In 1928 there set in upon the area the deepest winter cold, an intensity of cold that was not recorded again until the occupation period just prior to Hitler’s attack on Russia in 1941. In 1929 there was a Jewish Revisionist Party founded in Grajewo and the era of Zionism, now speaking for a national shelter for World Jewry had arrived in all its forms. Also, and with the realisation of Hitler’s confirming intention to strike at World Jewry, the prospect of taking Polish Jewry away from the scourge of an antisemitism that was 2,000 years in the making appeared less reactionary and more a realistic prospect for the sanctity of Jewish life.
“..silence does not last long. A door opens and closes with a bang. A boy with a brass kettle in his hand runs to River Street for tea. Slowly ..whole hamlet arouses from ..deep slumber. This is how it was in summertime ..every Saturday afternoon ..year in ..year out.” Dr. George Gorin.
The essence of a more National identity did not leave the Jews, and those thoughts of Eretz Yisroel while taking shape, still had home firmly fixed under foot in Poland. However, since Hitler’s rise to power, the region itself became a hotbed of anti-Jewish feelings once more, empowered somewhat by the rhetoric of hatred coming from within Germany. Educationally, great determined studies were adapted and they were clearly refined by local Scholars which many non-Jewish Poles did not avail of, and this bolstered the misguided belief in an educated Germany undermining the racist hatred of Hitler. Amongst the Scholars to give hope to Grajewo were Dr. Emanuel Olschwanger, Abraham Mordecai Piorko, Professor Simon Rawidowicz, Dr. Zwi Woyslavski and Ari Ibn Zaav and many others, all are markedly renowned as innovators and leaders.
“..Particularly horrible was ..case of Miss Elkon ..a Woman ..mentally unbalanced person whom ..Nazi had dragged into ..Bogusha woods. They put out her eyes and left her blind and dying. A peasant had found her and brought her home in ..wagon.” Nakhman Rapp.
With learning proving key to the growth of Jewish understanding, great strides were still being made collectively, for Jewish enterprise in Grajewo. In 1933 and then through 1934, 1935 and again into 1936 the sting of widespread Pogroms filtered back into Polish actions. The boycotts of Jewish Business and assaults against the Jewish People were never controlled, were sporadic and less coordinated. But still, they continued across Poland as if to sanction somehow the bile which Hitler presented now on a World stage. Gradually, Polish non-Jewish intentions became more clear and assaults upon the local Jewish integrity started to become more focused and even politically motivated and organized. In 1937, on what would be Dr. George Gorin’s last visit to Grajewo before the Catastrophe, the chill of hatred failed to wrm the spirit of his visit and he was increasingly concerned for the future structure of Poland with its Jews locked within its rapidly closing borders.
“..a fiery antisemitic sermon in church and ..murderous instincts had been aroused. Peasants came to that market day with axes and sticks to beat and kill Jews and they had not forgotten to bring huge sacks in which to pack up ..merchandise from robbed Jewish businesses.” Dr. George Gorin.
This was the atmposphere which had greeted Dr. Gorin on this occasion of his visit, which he attempted to make to Grajewo at least once a year. While Jewish strength grew through learnings, catholic church officials could incite the worst excesses of ignorant bigotry which many non-Jewish Poles subscribed to. It was not too difficult to attract this age old bias and bigoted hatred and it resurfaced all too often. Every strata of governance was emboldened and then embroiled in this push toward the very ignorance which should have been enlightenly shelved. The Polish government of Marshal Pilsudski, along with the rightist Sanacja was so debilitated by its focus upon the Jewish question. It is abundantly clear that it too became a bankrupt, undignified and politically ruinous right wing oppressor of its own Jewish strength of Population. This Polish government’s own failure to speak more loudly against the tirade of abuses suffered by Polish Jewry was an abdication of a duty of care and responsibility.
“..It doesn’t suffice from them to merely see us die. They had to rape us in addition. Gestapo men and some Poles did ..job. Brother Jews! Take revenge for us and for our shame.” Sarah Mayek.
What always allowed for this seeming acquiesence, which sought to further bolster the strength of antisemitic assaults, was both a culpable and calamitous duplicity. While Jewish property was under constant attact, Jewish businesses were robbed and Jewish houses were broken into. Jewish Women were regularly violated and these attacks were widely common place. With so many Jewish doors and windows smashed, and far too often, and with the physical assault against any Jewish neighbour becoming too regular, Jewish life suffered greatly. Even after what appeared an enlightenment post WWI, even when so much promise and expecttion had been raised, the chill wind of conflict bloomed. Then, with the Munich Pact signed between Britain and Hitler on September 30th. 1938, and with the appeasing of Hitler’s hate filled aspiration, this agreement practicably ensured for the Jews of Europe, Poland and Grajewo that they now knew they were to be abandoned to the whim of a Hitler hell bent upon destroying them.
“..Thursday ..day before war broke out ..entire population was at ..railroad station. ..heart rending cries of ..mothers whose sons were leaving for ..front mixed with ..shouting of those who had not been able to leave earlier and were now in panic. Drunken Polish soldiers leaped from ..cars into ..Jews ..shouting that ..war had come because of ..Jews and that now they would get even.” Nakhman Rapp.
No piece of paper can have so defined the betrayal of all Europe than this abandonment of the very integrity of individual nations here in Munich. In the intervening year, in which European Jewry was somewhat lulled into a false sense of security again, it never matched the certain shock waves of despair that had wrung out after the treachery they initially felt, and so accutely. Hope was in abundance though, and by 1939, with 3,850 Jews constituting 40% of Grajewo’s population, artesans, tradesmen skilled and un-skilled with Doctor’s, Teachers and other professionals being well established, optimism could offer the hope that the disquiet would not. By this time some 400,000 Jews had already left Poland for Palestine and elsewhere, and all this, covering the past few years. However, this still saw 3,250,000 Jews recorded as Polish Citizenry at the time and though hope was held tightly on to, and with no inkling of what was coming, troubled Polish Jewry on the whole, sank back into the sanctity of their belief that all was well.
“..I ran to ..window to see what was happening. A thick column of smoke rose to ..sky blocking out ..light. Were it not for ..constant firing and explosions ..one might have thought that ..city was not being attacked but merely put to ..torch. Not being able to see anything through ..window ..I went ..onto ..porch. But as soon as I put my hand outside ..I was hit by a piece of shrapnel which tore off ..2 fingers. I fainted and my wife carried me indoors.” Yosef Kalski.
Imitation is never the best form of flattery and that should certainly be subscribed to the Polish conduct and their efforts to resemble the Nazi assaults and Murders being reigned down upon the Jewish People in Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia. Right up until it became Polish Jewry’s turn to feel the weight of Nazi aggression, in full and even in Grajewo itself, Grajewo was immediately impacted by Hitler’s Invasion of Poland on September 1st. 1939. Here, Polish sovereignty was all but quashed and under the yoke of Hitler’s aggression, Polish Jewry and the non-Jewish Pole would suffer these consequences, but not as The Final Solution of The Jewish Question would contend. Almost immediately, Polish Jewry was set to be Murdered in their entirety, amongst the very many Poles who had fallen defending their Country, were the many Jews who had fought alongside their erstwhile Cousins.
“..Remember this day ..remember it well ..you will tell generations to come about it one day. ..we have been shut away in ..ghetto. I live here now ..world is separated from me and I’m separated from ..world.” Renia Spiegel.
Jews, even affected as they were by the rampant antisemitism present within Poland, and this did not disappear once they entered the Military, they joined up for the exact same reasons that National pride must dictate. Alongside these were those Polish Jews who had come from Grajewo to stand squarely for that very reason which dictated what would be a unity of spirit. However, that was barely reserved for Jews in Polish Military service once Poland had tasted defeat. Here though, for the loss to the Jews of Grajewo, and I mention barely a few of those lost to us, it cannot be forgotten the good and decent non-Jewish Pole who saw nothing different in serving alongside any Pole, Jew or not, in the service of their Nation, and its pride. With the close proximity of Grajewo to the Polish border, this meant that these regional Poles and Jews were the first to fall in battle. While any of these military survivals were treated wholly differently by the invading Nazi’s, it was especially so for the Jews.
“..There is very little documentary material available on ..subject. ..Polish Army ..defeated ..left no written records of its men taken prisoner ..scanty files of ..Polish Government in Exile in London hardly mention ..fate of ..Jewish prisoners of war.” Shmuel Krakowski.
Bearing in mind there was little of any Polish Military command structure after Hitler’s victory, the Polish Army command had run away and across the Romanian border. Petty squabbles once again settled in and age old hatreds came to the surface to either blame or accuse the Jews for the defeat. With German inflammation of such divisiveness, former comrades in arms saw the Jewish plight as a method to ameliorate their own predicament. With the formative Einsatzkommando operating with impunity, identifying Jewish pow’s was often gifted these Einsatz supplementary forces. Of course, there is little substantive evidence for what was politically motivated or even militarily expedient. But with regards the treatment of the Polish Jewish Military, past comraderie was placed else where. Certainly, German treatment of Polish pow’s was severe, though that Jewish status emerged to ensure as Jews, they were brutalised incrementally more savagely than their former non-Jewish military colleagues. The Jews indeed received the most barbaric and brutal of treatments, whether they were Jews of the military or not. As to the Jewish soldiers treatment by their non-Jewish former Polish Military, once the defeat had settled upon them, which was clearly subscribed by Nazi intention, former shared heroics were selfishly confined to self and was tribal.
“..I see before my eyes my Brothers ..Sisters of my birthplace Grajewo ..who died under torture and in great pain. I hear their last desire unspoken ..tell of our deaths. ..Let not our memory ..memory of our sorrows be forgotten. ..Let ..memory of our martyrdom remain as a headstone for ..few survivors of our city where they may come to weep and recall ..tragic loss. ..for our people ..let it remain as a spark which ignites a great flame ..a constant reminder.” Nakhman Rapp.
The Jewish People were singled out for being Jews and it is a reprehensible course which then segregates them out, and also within the Polish Military any mutual code was displaced. Jews were made unequal from their non-Jewish Polish comrades despite their equal effort in fighting against the common enemy. Once battle had been done though, and from amongst the prisoner’s of War were these Grajewo Jews forced to die, Chaim Epstein, and though Yakov Shia Kaminski was captured, he managed to escape but would later be Murdered in the Ghetto with his Parents. Any and all forms of Survival was a temporary measure required by Hitler for those Jews whose fate within Poland he had sourced and then secured. There was Benyomen Kureyvowski, Chaim Kurzhondkowski, Chaim Mendel Levine, Yosel Levitt, Yankel Rutski, the Son of Falk Rutski the Painter, Tobiashora, Gershon Viernik, Moishe Viernik, Moishe Yitzhok, Leibl Zeligson all lost for doing what Citizens’ have been doing for Century’s, fighting to protect their Homes, their Nations, their status in Statehood.
“..They took ..youth and especially ..males into ..synagogue and tortured them for 2 weeks. There in ..synagogue it was a real hell. Such tortures ..it would be better to die rather than suffer so much. They twisted their arms ..ripped out their tongues ..tore out their nails. They whipped them every day in ..morning ..100 lashes each. When one of those tortured fainted ..they threw him into water with chlorine and lime ..and when he regained consciousness there was another new torture ..jumping over various barricades ..over benches ..tables.” Christina Helene Nadolna.
The Town itself fell victim pretty quickly and though many of the Polish administration took flight and made its way to Bialystok, there were many Jewish residents who both chose to stay or could not afford to flee their homes. Those intial 2 weeks of September were crucial in establishing German clear intentions, as many places of Jewish worship or study were attacked and even burned down. With the killing of many of those Jews, who were completely at a loss as to such scenes, this was an unimagineable horror from supposedly civilised a nation. Jewish Grajewo was often times traumatised in the past, now it was more entrenched and from an external source. The enforced transport of many Jews to places unknown was a further concern for all Jews, both present and returning. Meanwhile the brutality against those Jews remaining knew no bounds as Dovid Rapp, the 17 year Son of Itsik Rapp the baker, was quartered alive with swords by Nazi murderers. On September 17th. 1939, and though the Jews of Grajewo could not have known it, while 20 of Laskarzew’s Jews were being murdered in their homes and streets, Russia occupied the Eastern portion of Poland.
“..young engineer Kirshboym. ..was not from Grayeve ..came as a refugee from Warsaw. ..was happy to jump from ..2nd. story and tried to run away. Poles ..standing around and taking pleasure in ..Jews’ suffering ..caught ..Jewish engineer and threw him into ..big pit near ..shul. ..pit was a ..big ..garbage pit ..Germans ..made near the shul. After they threw him in ..unfortunate engineer swam around and grabbed ..boards of ..rim with his hands and tried to crawl out of ..excrement.” Yan Kalski.
We learn the names of othrs of Grajewo’s Jews, Moyshe Pinievski was amongst the bakers of Grajewo but it was Khaym Leyzer, who had a bakery on Shul Street whose Daughter was blown apart with a handgrenade. These Jews faced the wrath of the German’s for no good reason other than their Jewish antecedence. Khaym Leyzer’s Son Srolke, just simply disappeared. A few residents also known to Grajewo History included Avraham-Itsik Faynshtayn, Shabtsi Frida, Mr. Genakhovski, Itsik Gershtanski, Sender Guzhik, Mr. Gvirtsman, Mr. Kahane, Tsvi Kaptshavski, Mr. Kats, Khaim Katsprovski, Beynesh Kolko, Mr. Kravtsinski, Ruvn Malakhovski, Mr. Markus, Elimelekh Pomerants, Khaim Itsik Ravidovits, Henekh Raykhelzon, Mordkhe Rembelinker, Mordkhe Rinkovski, Alter Tsuker, Mr. Vapinski, Elihu Vaks, Dr. Tsvi Vayslavski, Dr. Velikovski, Dr. Viner, Itsik Vitkievits and Mr. Yezherski. Amonsgt the many Jews taken away were the 15 year old Son of Khaytshe Baykovski, Abrasha Baykovski and Khaym Fridman, the Son of Feyge Malke Fridman. Khaym Fridman was the only one of these Grajewo Jews removed to a killing site in the Bogusze Forest who managed to escape and return.
“..After that they stood them all up in rows and each tenth person had to jump through ..second story window. If anyone jumped and lived ..Germans killed him on ..spot. They twisted ..Jews’ hands with barbed wire ..and with ..same wire they twisted their heads backwards and threw them into ..cellar of ..shul like that ..so that they would die there. ..dead bodies of ..tortured were only taken out a year later ..completely decayed. You could not recognize who anyone was. ..workers who were driven together for that work became deathly ill with several diseases. ..corpses were thrown into a pit with lime that had been in ..cellar.” Christina Helene Nadolna.
Other’s taken away for Slaughter were the Rabbi, Itsik Ayzik Grosman and the owner of the mill, Avromtshe Ayzenshtat. Such was the onslaught in those formative days, that for those Jews who did manage to flee, they began their return only once it appeared German influence could be assuaged by Russian intervention in their areas. Under the Soviet occupation of September 20th. 1939 until June 22nd. 1941, when Hitler launched his operation Barbarossa and Invaded Russia, Jewish businesses were nationalized and Polish Jewry West of the demarcation line were left to the mercy of Hitler’s murderous legions. On September 21st. 1939 Heydrich issued clearer instructions as to the Einsatzgruppe aktionen to be taken against the Jews of all Poland and this too was keenly felt in Grajewo. Gradually too, the very Jewish complexion of Grajewo settled into a post apocalyptic calm and business resumed as it had before. The Jewish People were not oblivious to the on going threat to their presence, livliehoods and even lives, and though many were resigned to a fate as yet unknown, there were many who spread the word of those atrocity’s to disbelieving ears and incredulous minds.
“..standing around ..laughing at ..zhyd ..submerged ..in ..filth. When they saw ..young man was crawling out ..ran to him and with iron shovels split ..unfortunate’s head into pieces.” Yan Kalski.
The Russians for their part entered Poland on the side of Hitler and his regime, and here, some of the most influential Jews of Poland, along with their Families, were extracted by the Russians. The Russian administration were somewhat bemused by the Polish non-Jewish conduct toward their Jewish Neighbours. This anti-Jewish antipathy cannot be stated without acknowledging the great rift that was present amonsgt the Russian elite and their Jewish counterparts in Russia. The Jews of Russian were not always seen kindly or treated well. During March and April 1941, military subscription was brought in by the Russian Red Army and all those of Military age were conscripted into Stalin’s realm. The Jews of Grajewo were not slow in signing up and those who went were, amongst many, Chaim Adanstein, Leibel Dorf, Gershon Gringross, the Son of the Butcher, Zorach Gringross, Shamai Marcus, Yosel Mayek and Yankel Roimer. All went on to fight against the Nazi terror which tore apart the very existence of Jewish Grajewo.
“…we sat down on ..earth with our feet tied together and so ..night was passed. ..night was very terrible. First ..because they would not allow us out to urinate ..people suffered a lot. Second ..at such a time all kinds of thoughts occur. One says ..they will set us on fire ..another says something else.” Mayer Kletski.
On June 19th. 1941, and from Grajewo itself, a number of Jewish families, the Beykowskis, Yosef Bialostocki and his family, the Kirshenbaum’s, the nurse Mania Kaplan and Aaron Leizerson were all moved to what might be considered safety, the hinterland of Russia. Some of these Grajewo Jewish residents, and many other Polish Jews, and even non-Jews were exiled from Poland into deepest Siberia. For these Jews expelled, exiled, removed, for those who survived the rigours of Russian climbs, they indeed Survive what Hitler had intended for them. In Grajewo, the old synagogue, which had been burned down by Hitler’s horde was replaced by a theatre, described as beautiful and which could safely accomodate the seating of 1,500 of those attending Plays, Shows and Concerts. The intention to dismantle the study system and the belief system of the Jewish People was fixed but circumvented.
“..I often returned to find there consolation and a retreat from ..strange wild world.” Dr. George Gorin.
Hitler’s legions did him proud as they had burned all the synagogues of Grajewo, and elsewhere throughout Poland, their Synagogues became recognisable targets. A Grajewo communal prayer house was conducted in Moishe Piniewski’s home. Moishe was another of Grajewo’s baker’s, and so some semblance of Religious life resumed. Although in somewhat more cramped surroundings and with an air of strick secrecy surrounding it, Judaism was given light in the still darkness. A part of the Yiddish School too was set aside for Religious activity and this was ably conducted by Anshel Kotchak. When the Germans set fire to the large synagogue Yitshok Grobgeld succeeded in saving one Holy Scroll and a number of prayer books which were of great use during this time. By June 24th 1941 a German military kommandatur arrived in Grajewo and it settled into its Headquarters on Pilsudskiego Street.
“..Grayeve Ghetto was larger than that of Shtutzin. Not just one small street ..but several streets and ..2 or 3 well constructed buildings.” Khaye Golding-Kayman.
Normality of sorts for the theatre actors, who so graciously strode the stage, was for all too many of them their swan song as they did not Survive Hitler’s intentions. Nor did any of Grajewo’s Children who had wistfully watched so many of these fine performances. All Grajewo’s Jews were either Murdered by the Nazi’s and their collaborator’s, on the spot or within Majdanek, Treblinka or Auschwitz. Then, as Hitler’s forces prepared for Barbarossa, the unprovoked attack on his former ally Mother Russia, many of those already exiled Polish Jews would now be saved from certain annihilation. The Germans recaptured Grajewo on June 22nd. 1941, and instituted a reign of terror against its Jewish Community. As the Germans reoccupied the Town, Assaults, Rapes and Murder were immediately conducted against these innocent Jewish inhabitants. The Ghetto within Grajewo, which would eventually contain more than 3,000 Jews was in existence the following day, from June 23rd. 1941.
“..In ..morning ..overseers came in and asked with a smile ..So ..little Jews ..How did you sleep.” Mayer Kletski.
Within Grajewo itself, and with it its immediate regional Jewish life, all was forfeit to the whim of the Nazi administration and also to the local antisemitism of fascist Polish organizations. In what has been termed the Bermuda Triangle of atrocity against Polish Jewry, this triangulation was the area of Bialystok, Grajewo and Lomza, the Polish non-Jewish population was freed from restraint and were driven enthusiastically toward atrocity against their former Jewish Neighbours. I remember here, as I took my own persoanl journey from Warsaw to Malkinia, and I would be setting foot in the Treblinka Death Camp, which had consumed 900,000 Jews from Europe, Poland and Grajewo, I witnessed signs which pointed to Augustow. I also noticed the very names of these 3 Cities and Town’s which were forming that triangle of Destruction Bialystok, Grajewo and Lomza.
“..A city is like a living creature. It has a heart that feels ..moods of melancholy ..frivolity ..enthusiasm ..worries. It seems there were a lot of Grayeves ..each ..a different face ..depending on ..different circumstances.” Dr. George Gorin.
There too the signs pointed towards Szczuczyn, all of these places bridging that abyss between my own knowledge and its integrity that was buried in each of these places I mention. I sat on my train journet and realised that this cascading effort in atrocity, which reached in from Germany and would consume Polish Jewry in almost its entirety, was particualrly rampant along the border areas in those initial stages. Warsaw and hence Treblinka would become part of that onslaught while Grajewo had been reeling from its effects from day one. With anti-Jewish attacks escalating even further, and immediately after Hitler’s invasion of Russia, the Jewish predicament went from precarious to annihilatory. The Stronictwo Narodowe, the ‘SN’ was a staunchly anti-Jewish element and they were instrumental in the attacks against many of the Jews who found themselves beaten and even Murdered in Grajewo and elsewhere.
“..After ..Germans entered ..our lives ..changed completely. We were in constant fear that we would be deported to ..Camp. We knew that it is happening. We were very worried about our future. We met our neighbors and discussed what would happen to us. We were afraid ..still afraid.” Runia Lunski.
When, on June 25th. 1941 the Yellow Star decree was enforced, few in Grajewo saw other than a distinguishing mark rendering them prey to easier recognition, even though the banner of its pride was somewhat raised. The full scale of what Hitler had intended for all the Jews of Europe was now more clearly on display, locally, Nationally and within Europe as a whole. The divisiveness of anti-Jewish feeling was keenly felt and the segregation of communities impacted sorely. Resonating within the Jewish presence throughout Europe, as newer strains of anti-Jewish violence entangled its Jews, and while here in Poland and here in Grajewo, it was more immediate the echoe grew louder, vocifierous and stronger. On June 29th. 1941 local non-Jewish Poles attacked their Jewish Neighbours and 10 of Grajewo’s Jews were Murdered and a further 30 of the Town’s Jews were injured.
“..People smile again in harmony with nature ..grateful not only for ..fact of being freed from ..bondage of Egypt ..but also from ..severe ..long ..lonely winterpictures of Grayeve stand before my eyes, etched in my soul. They are unforgettable, like still impressions and happenings of the childhood years which remain a part of us for the rest of our lives.” Dr. George Gorin.
Then, on June 30th. 1941, with the German occupation forces facilitating a further bloody assault upon the Jewish Community, with a further 500 of Grajewo’s Jews, who were rounded up and confined to the marketplace and here, where the non-Jewish Poles stood, they brutally attacked and injured 100 of these innocent Jews out of vindictiveness and because they could. This all appears in a running commentary on hatred’s most vile expression, an antisemitism that has persisted for far too long. Given the very educating experience and principles of civilised reasoning, how could any enlightened society turn to the barbarism of brutality, atrocity and mass Murder. However, on July 3rd. 1941 a further round up was sought which saw barely 300 Jews surrender their person, fearing what they now knew awaited them. These who arrived, as suspected, were savagely beaten and then detained in the local Theatre. Here they remained right through till August 1941.
“..One night ..Germans came to our apartment and took us to ..Camp that was on ..edge of ..Town. ..They gathered all ..People from ..area. There was not much food. We hardly ate anythin.” Runia Lunski.
Some of these Jews were forced to jump from the floors of the Shul to their deaths. For these Jews, and unless they had not survived the non-Jewish Poles assembled below, they were brutally killed with shovels and pry-bars. Velvl Piekarevitsh, the Son of the Staviski blacksmith Avrom Shleyme, was one of these so brutally Murdered. No amount of interpretation can deliver to the reader the maximum terror and horro of such incidents. That this seeks to add to a memory all too many would allow to fade into the shrouded history of our terrible past, words find newer meaning in their emphasis. Velvl Piekarevitsh himself, who had jumped through the window of the Shul and ran toward the Jewish cemetery, was one such Grajewo Jew who is in Memory for the horror inflicted upon him.
“..On Wednesday July 25th 1941 at 10:00 am ..they drove all ..Jews together in ..middle of ..market square and ..town kommandant Greiss read aloud for them ..decree from ..high command.” Mayer Kletski.
Giving chase, the non-Jewish Poles caught up with Velvl and threw him still alive into the lime pit near the shul. What then followed was the enforced labour, continued assault and the constant threat and enacted Murders of some 40 of these Jews. This entire atrocity proceeded with a relentless zeal. Released for a selection from the Shul, and from amongst the entire Jewish Community, as many as 10 more of these incarcerated Jews were Murdered. Amonsgt those brutally taunted, assaulted and brutalised there was Mayer Kletski and he informs us of the feelings of terror and horror as a Survivor of that nightmare. With that said, what no one reading any such account can comprehend, nor will they come close to the terms with which they are decribed. We recognise for its completeness the significance of testimony in delivery of the essential truth that we seek.
“..Jewish nation is a criminal nation and as such has earned a hard and eternal punishment of hard labor and imprisonment. They are forbidden to live free and together with other peoples ..because they do not have pure blood. Sooner or later they must all die. They must be obedient to every German ..under penalty of death. ..Jews will be distinguished by a yellow star ..which they must wear on ..shoulder and breast as a sign of their shame.” Greiss.
On August 7th 1941 between 100 and 300 Jews, including Children, were shot in the local Cemetery and some 1,600 to 2,000 of Grajewo’s remaining Jews were then confined to create The Grajewo Ghetto. The Ghetto itself was enclosed and bounded by Dolna, Lazienna and Zielona Street. It was established on August 10th. 1941 with Zalman Sutker as its President. Zalman, who was heading a Judenrate with 1,600 Jews initially, were all contained within the Grajewo Ghetto boundary. Zalman Sutker, who was born April 24th. 1892 oversaw this Jewish Ghetto population expand toward 2,000 over the coming days. The Jews of Grajewo at the time worked closely with the Judenrate president, all seemingly believing that this mechanism would truly represent the route toward their very existence. Active amonsgt the Grajewo Jewish Community were Joseph Bialystotski, Luba Fabilinska, Julian Glatt, Chaim Goldberg, Abraham Grinberg, Yehuda Grinberg, Leyzer Leishke Grossman, Shloime Gumovitch, Shmuel Kaminski, Karbowski, Berl Khilare, Berl Kletski, Meyer Kletski, Joseph Marcus, Iosher Tevel Oz and Lea Popovski the Secretary.
Tuesday October 7th. 1941 “..In exceedingly severe fashion ..politics of antisemitism ..applied. ..arbitrarily on October 7th. order given by ..officer. Jewish personnel personnel sent to Koltubanska ..put under ..command of ..officer ..known to be ..antisemitie. Jews ..removed from other formations ..segregated ..discharged en masse.” Stanislaw Kot.
Amongst other’s who simply understood they were hopefully facilitating the relief of their own Jewish People and controlling, with expedience, their own Community’s relief from the trauma which surrounded them were Neiman Reubin, Moishe Slovatitski, Pinyeh Suraski, Tennenbaum, Yitzhok Voyslavski, Sholem Zaidenberg, Yitzhok Zharkowski and Vovek Zilbershteyn. While we look back to History and recognise the tortuous times the Jews lived in, at the time, and while these informed Jews clearly recognised that the Jewish serving soldier in the Polish armies fared no better than any civilian Jew within Poland, they contended with it being a Polish assault. However, at the hands of non-Jewish Poles, it became routing and though they somewhat expected better from the more accultured and supposedly classically civilised forces of Hitler’s Germany, they were to be so cruelly betrayed by their own belief in all humanity.
“..pictures of Grayeve stand before my eyes ..etched in my soul. ..unforgettable ..like still impressions and happenings of ..childhood years ..part of us for ..rest of our lives.” Dr. George Gorin.
Now though, with Hitler fully engaged in Russia, many scores were settled by the Polish military against the many exemplary Jewish military commanders. All due to that aged old hatred, Jewish officers and the ordinary Jewish recruits were severely treated and totally discredited on the basis solely of their Jewish antecedence. Maligned in many ways this insensitive, intolerable and indifferent outlook spilled out and over the national status of the Polish Jews. All of this was to be the focused experience for many all too civilian Jews in Poland in the wake of defeat. In many Villages, Towns, Cities, Shtetl’s the length and breadth of the Country, Jewish life and existence was at the mercy of yobs of Polish miscreants. These roving bands of brigands were totally unfettered by an absent Polish government which had clearly run away from any and all responsibility for its nation and its People.
Thursday January 1st. 1942 “..Hitler aims to destroy all ..Jews of Europe. ..Jews of Lithuania are fated to be ..first in line.” Abba Kovner.
The wildly diverging strains of 3,000 years of antisemitism in the World became polarised here in Poland at a time when Jews too were aligned and had been fighting for the better good of the Polish nation. However, and no matter how exemplary had been the Jewish conduct in the recent battle to save national pride, the Jew was still a Jew and was deserving of nothing other than a derisory, contemptable and a wholly despicable treatment. Unfortunately, this state of affairs was not solely the Jewish experience in only Poland. The varying assault upon the Jewish presence was rampant throughout The Baltic States, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and in the Balkans region amongst the Croats. Tragically for History, it is difficult to name any Country which did not possess the abiltiy to show an immense intolerance toward the Jews.
“..Jews of Grayeve ..were kind hearted people ..proud of their city.” Dr. George Gorin.
Such was the hatred that was latched on to, the intolerance shown was never compensated for by
church which seemingly shared such a sentiment as was rife with sheer religious indifference. Often seen and witnessed even with a fervour which some of the christian churches clearly and callously stoked, the strains of any christian tolerance and human charity was consigned to the remaining vestiges of a sadly lacking concern. As the criminal pyres raged and the flames consumed the Jews of Europe, a conflagration that was unprecedented and unparalleled in all of History, Grajewo was gripped by its own sense of foreboding. During June 1942 most of the young Jewish Women of Augustow arrived in an enforced attachment to the Ghetto and were settled into ever cramped and delapidated surroundings.
Saturday August 15th. 1942 “..pogrom of Jews in Poland ..a preliminary probing operation ..to test ..behaviour of conquered nations. ..pogroms help ..police ..become more efficient ..intimidate. ..Shaulises ..Latvian fascists ..well trained in ..murders ..preparing. ..crimes against ..Jews ..to be looked upon as a ..warning.” Polish Freedom Tribune.
Then, and unlike previous events when Pogroms forced the Jewish People to consider their national status, this time, and while they considered it would all pass by, something more cruelly stringent was in the air. Here, while awareness of the great wrongs being done to Polish Jewry does not seem to limit the very vehicles of Polish freedom, such tomes are clearly expressing some satisfaction at the Jewish plight. This polish freedom tribune was noting this too as a warning of worse to come. Not just that, elements of the Polish state were so confident in the very nature of the atrocity against their Polish Jews being accomplished by roving bands of Shaulises, the Latvian militia willing to adopt all and any methodology in the procurement of the Jewish Slaughter, little protest was ever stressed. Such mercenary undertakings, whether Latvian, Polish or Ukrainian should have greatly rankled Polish sensitivities.
What with the Germans occupying the whole of Poland now, with Polish sovereignty now non existent, it beggars belief that other nationals could be thus employed. Why there was no need to protest these other foreign nationals behaving with such impunity upon Polish soil. Perhaps the answer indeed lies in the fact that the abusive treatment of the Jewish People was considered an acceptable loss to Polish pride at the time? Through whole swathes of the Polish nation, many government agencies, churches, groups and individuals all turned a very blind eye to what befell their Jewish Community. That a nation, on the whole grew deaf to any Jewish pleas is enough of an accusation which History owes to posterity to accuse as many as can be identified for such intolerances and indifferences.
Thursday August 20th. 1942 “..200,000 Ghetto residents ..already ..deported. ..lootings ..with ..German Police ..Lithuanians ..Ukrainians ..Latvians all taking their turns. ..succeeded in finding out ..way to kill .in ..Treblinka ..is ..gas chamber. ..24 hours a day ..dredging machine ..digs a deep ditch. ..corpses ..simply tossed into that ditch.” Armia Krajowa. The Polish Home Army.
What we knew of the time, from both the residents of The Warsaw Ghetto, who were the Jews of Warsaw and its surrounding districts, is accurately stated in the pages of dispatches sent to the Allied powers. We do not need to enter here into the debate as to why der Einsatzgruppe reports had been intercepted but were largely ignored with regard to their Jewish content. But we are certain that the very detail which contained the excess and Murder against 100’s of 1,000’s of Jews throughout The Baltic States, Poland and the Ukraine were known to Allied intelligence and recorded as such in Nazi telexes, the OSR’s or Operational Situation Reports. Also, and in the many other such statements made and these were made on a regular basis by the supposedly resisting Polish Home Army, such was the truth that could not ever be denied.
As such, that very truth and cognisant awareness of the awakening resolve to Murder all of Poland’s Jews has found all too many willing now to deny the very fact of what here has been clearly acknowledged with its factually truthful integrity. With the expellation of Warsaw Ghetto Jewry toward Treblinka, this ensured that these 200,000 Jews were recorded as having being transported to be Murdered in the Treblinka Gas Chambers. Here too, with the corpses to be interred in the ditches dredged by the dredging machines on a 24 hour basis, and on every single day, such information never appear to have formed the Polish resistance toward this genocidal effort. On behalf of the Jews who were being exterminated, until it was enacted by the Jews themselves, resistance was in very short supply from those more ably equipped to do so, the non-Jewish Polish forces of the state.
“..I talked with Zalmen Sutker ..Julian Glatt ..Leyzer Grossman ..Vovek Zilbershteyn and others I met in ..Judenrate.” Khaye Golding-Kayman.
On October 25th. 1942, and with the arrival of 600 Jews from the Rajgrod district, this was to be a fore warning of an approaching storm for all the remaining Jews of Grajewo. On November 2nd. 1942 the Ghetto itslef, in accordance with The Final Solution protocol was surrounded by Police units, SD and SS from 4:30 am. With measured and attentive force the Jews of the Ghetto were brutally dragged from their homes and made to gather in the square. Any attempts to hide or even resist was met with immediate death and during this whole liquidation process, 6 entire Jewish Ghetto Family’s were murdered on the spot. The Ghetto, which had lasted until this day had contained as many as 3,000 Jews. They had been drawn from Grajewo itself, from Bialystok, Grodno, Jasionowka, Krynki, Pruzany, Rajgrod and Sokolka and all of the smaller Shtetl’s and Villages with pocketed the surrounding areas.
Then, on November 11th. 1942, when those few survivng Jews of Grajewo’s Ghetto faced the consequences of their own final end, no outside clamour for their safeguarding was ever muted, motioned or heard. After its final dissolution, with at least 2,500 of these Grajewo’s Jews having been sent straight to Treblinka, the hollowness to what remained echoes throughout Poland as a desolation of the fountain of Jewish existence. Many others of these Grajewo Jews, still managing to resist toard a bitter end would be held over for later deportation to Auschwitz. The final impact on the entire Jewish existence in Grajewo was both colossal and terminal. Any of the remaining 2,500 Grajewo, and those otherJews from the district, who were either Murdered on the spot or were transported to the Slave Labour Camp and Ghetto at Bogusze, these then formed that subsequent Auschwitz transport.
“..We did not know where we are going to. We stopped in Czestochowa. In ..ghetto there was family. ..husband pulled me out of ..carriage. ..Germans did not fire. ..perhaps 2 soldiers for 250 Jews ..they did not notice us. Somebody from ..car threw us a coat.” Runia Lunski.
For these, the very remnants of Grajewo Jewry, who were told they would be sent to a Labour Camp in the area of Silesia, where Auschwitz and Birkenau awaited them, they were duped further as they by-passed the Treblinka Death Camp along from Malkinia. Then, by December 15th. 1942, most of the remainder of Grajewo’s Jews had been finally readied for transport to be resettled in Treblinka and where extermination awaited them there also. Zalman Sutker and his entire Family were included in the Treblinka resettlement and were indeed expelled toward Bogusze and then onto Treblinka. On December 16th. 1942 with his Wife, Ida Vilenska Sutker, Father, Meir Icko Sutker, Mother, Basia Itke Wojewodzka Sutker, Berl Sutker and Feiga Sutker, Zalman entire Family headed for a fate only they can know and toward what they may have felt was a certain destruction.
“..On January 2nd. 1943 ..Germans ordered ..Jews to pack up and prepare to leave ..next day.” Nakhman Rapp.
However, while rumours abounded that this transport was being sent to the crematoria of Treblinka and annihilation there, hope, that last feeling to cling to, was their consideration. For who would believe such things could be, and this became their reality. Initially, the rumour was not believed and as the Bogushe Camp was emptied of 5,000 of its 7,500 Jews, amongst them Leyzer Grossman, Zalman Zutker and his Family, Treblinka was their final destination. After that, Birkenau now awaited the residue of Jewish Grajewo existence with their entire presence all but finally eviscerated. This terminal period arrived for these Jews on January 6th. 1943, as assigned to the Augustow transport and resettled in Auschwitz. As Grajewo is now declared Judenrein, or cleared of its Jewish People, their History is extinguished to a faded memory upheld by fewer and fewer of those Survivor’s who truly knew and lived through the catastrophe. On January 7th. 1943, the Augustow transport arrived, and on the ramps at Birkenau, of the 2,000 Jews who were summarily assessed, 296 Jewish Men and 215 Jewish Women were separated out for work.
“..highlighting Grajewo. ..A cousin of my father’s escaped ..carnage and joined ..partisans. ..defeat of Russians and occupation by Germany was done in ..blink of an eye. Eyewitness reports exist in ..Yizkor book so there were a few Survivors. But of course they fled. Grajewo was Judenrein so very quickly.” Evelyn Fine.
This temporary reprieve to work in the Camp, did not extend to the remainder of the transport as 1,489 Jewish Men, Women and Their Children were immeidtaely gassed. This now sees Grajewo’s few remaining Jews, who were transported here to Auschwitz and destruction in Birkenau, complete the transition toward their destruction at Hitler’s behest. Much of the sheer evidence of Jewish existence, from the German Polish border through Grajewo and into Poland, heading deeper and deeper Eastward, was almost completely obliterated in an account it has proved impossible to wholly reclaim. Of course, there were vestiges of Jewish persistence, but while most of Grajewo’s Jews had been reduced to ash, and the culture of that hereditary life had been brutally vanquished, study resurrects barely their memory. Despite what The Final Solution of the Jewish Question sought to achieve we have sifted through that clear intention to obliterate not only all of European Jewry, but the very evidence of their transport through History and time and the very evidences of all that had been enacted against them. For the study of such Jewish eminence, the echo of any Jewish past no longer resounds with its usual vibrancy and the crucifying and hollowed resonance which marked the Jewish presence within Poland.
“..On January 3rd. 1943 ..last Grajewo Jews left ..Bogushe camp forever. In jammed cars ..they left ..Prostken railway station and rolled on through Bialystok ..Warsaw ..Treblinka. When ..train passed Treblinka and did not stop ..a ray of hope shone among ..unfortunate. They did not yet know that there were other Death Camps besides Treblinka.” Nakhman Rapp.
In places like Grajewo there is deafening quiet, a depleted and destroyed presence no longer vibrant nor tangible. All those Jews of the East, Murdered, riven from places with their decimation sustain a very vocal stillness, stubborn with certainty that time will not allow us to forget them. Of all Jewish presence in the areas of former Jewish existence, Graveyards to a Jewish past, but hidden under a pile of blood and the ash of their Existence, we tread across lands saturated in atrocity. It is an understatement for the Polish underground of the time to not only conclude that some 3,000,000 of Poland’s Jews have been effectively Murdered, it would be disingenuous for them not to do so. Knowing too well the full order of that destruction in places like Auschwitz, Belzec, Birkenau, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka and every single Community where Jews had lived fruitfully for 1,000’s of years, words cannot be left to any attempt to undermine this truth. What has awakened a Jewish and non-Jewish scholarly endeavour to Remember, Recall and acknowledge their Annihilation drives forth the Memory to be recorded.
Tuesday March 23rd. 1943 “..Insofar as ..can be ascertained ..fate of ..Jews has undergone a further deterioration. Considering barely several hundred thousand Jews have remained out of 3,500,000 one has a fair insight concening ..scale of atrocities ..perpetrated.” Polish Underground.
But for those, the witness who also was the Perpetrator, the Participator and the willing, complict, duplicitous collaborator in the scale of the atrocity waged against their own Jewish Citizens, their words must not prove culpable in any attempt to ameliorate what we know. The Grajewo Teacher, Ezra M. Obodzinski, was part of that very resistance, though his was a Jewish Resistance, that was active. Ezra was a participant in the Bialystok Ghetto uprising, a resolve that fought so valiantly from August 15th. till August 22nd. 1943. Ezra had served well already the student body of Grajewo and alongside other Teacher’s like Beykowski, Yisroel Borekh, Fromer, Haika (Chaja) Grosman, Josef Jambor, Kureivovski, Moshe Pomerantz, Lea Popovski, Chanan Rubin and Abraham Shlonsky, Velvel (Vovak) Silberstein, Dora Wapinska and Shlome Wronsberg, these others taught too the values that life could bring to their students. That the student body of Grajewo was hugely dissolved and Murdered makes us all the more willing to listen and to learn from the examples those like Ezra have set. However, as Hitler unfurled his Murderous campaign and resolve to destroy all Jews, many of these Teacher’s too suffered the fate of their Student’s.
Ezra, after escaping to the Knyszyn Forest joined the group of Vafroid Jewish partisans but he was subsequently killed fighting against those same Nazi’s in the region who were Murdering his own People. Many Jews throughout Poland spoke of the fate of their People and many of them died with a defiance upon their lips so largely omitted from History. From amidst the nations which had courted them, even as Jews, allowing them to establish themselves, even as Jews, few others fought hard to protect the continuing onslaught upon their very existence. Even as non-Jews, the war against Hitler was being waged and no account was gven to the Jewish People over what else Hitler had asssigned them. When Gisi Fleischmann wrote her letter to the Daughter she had resigned herself to never seeing again, we become witness not only to the trauma of the Jews of Europe, of Poland and here in Grajewo, but we find a very distinct heroism that was present amongst these very communites. From amongst the 6,000,000 Jews who were annihilated, culled, executed, exrtracted and always murdered, Jewish Resistance persisted, even when pressed hard against the force of a bullet.
Monday September 6th. 1943 “..Fate has willed us apart. ..Yet ..same fate has also willed that during ..years of our people’s greatest misery ..your mother is fulfilling a great mission in order to ease this terrible suffering. If I survive this difficult period ..I think I will be able to say that I have not lived in vain. In this spirit you must bear this separation. ..suffering of ..People of Israel stands above any personal pain.” Gisi Fleischmann.
We can all wish to stand above personal pain and do so reluctantly, and while many even wish to condemn the Jews for the Slaughter inflicted upon them, we cannot legislate the Jewish mood of hope or expectancy. Who would foresee, from the nation of German’s who should have acted with all Humanity, the barabarity that was unleashed, unfettered and unprecedented. Remember too, that what Elie Wiesel sought to insist, and that while not all victims were Jews, All Jews Were made Victims by Hitler and German intervention. From that very clear premise we know, and while we are very certain that Hitler sought to enslave the Poles, Hitler even allowed for their demise at a cost to productiveness, but here any comparison ends. To enter into the destruction of a People, wholly intended and offer up any form of comparison, to do so would be unjustified in the course of History. Relevance clearly shows that with Poland and its Jews, it was with typical Hitlerite inconsideration for their lives that their lives were lost.
While some 3 million non-Jewish Poles paid for that sought after slave labour with their lives, this was not immediately sought. However, none of the actions against any other of the People’s of Europe was as systematically legislated for and directed as was The Final Solution of the Jews of Poland and then all the Jewish People on Continental Europe. That the non-Jewish Poles were not sougtht out for total eradication, slaughter, annihilation nor extermination is clearly expressed. Every facet of Hitler’s claims for the Jews of Europe sought out the Jewish People for an unparalleled atrocity. The Polish Jews and their entire being on the Continent of Europe, were already forfeit as Jews to the whim of Hitler. When Poland was assailed in 1939, Polish intelligentsia was sought out too for Murder, but all and any Jew was sought out for Slaughter, all 3,000,000 plus of them.
“..Grajewo ..Judenrein ..can sleep peacefully. No more Jews in Grajewo. But ..earth of Grajewo shall not rest for a long ..long time. Long ..very long shall sleep be taken from ..eyes of those in Grajewo who helped in ..great crime. ..pain of ..murdered Women ..Children ..Fathers ..Sons ..shall long disturb their rest. Mortal fear shall grip them by night and black melancholy shall torture them by day for ..awful deeds that they have done. ..curse which our martyrs cast in ..final moments of their being shall pursue them eternally to ..end of their days. ..Then ..blood of martyrs shall be quieted.” Nakhman Rapp.
What has since emerged from the trauma of realisation, has seen a resurrgence of a Jewish persistence of spirit, and in places like Poland which seeks to justify its unjustifiable position with regards to their Jewish Community, the Jewish People persist. More than 90% of Polish Jewry was wasted in a claim to destroy them all. On the back of this intolerance, which then sought the assistance of a monumental indiffernce to all Jewish struggle, Polish Jewry was submerged in such cruelty, it is unfathomable. Largely lost to all eternity, more than 3,000,000 of Polish Jewry has not been given up to a past forgotten. Nor has their destruction abandoned the call for a State which would have secured more of a safety net for them than the World provided. With the Right to Return, this Law, The Law of Return was passed on July 5th. 1950 and it signalled for the entire World of Jewry, the remnants of Polish Jewry and those Jews of Grajewo who Survived, as we speak of them a space they can call Home awaits them.
Ever since the inception of the State of Israel, created out of the trauma of Survival and our abandonment of them, on May 14th. 1948 for what must be the accepted moral and ethical realisiation of that Jewish space. After what we allowed to happen to their People, the 3,000 year Diasporan Jew could finally cease their wandering, if they so choose. Here in Israel, the weary Jew, the World Jew, what is left of the Polish Jew and what remains of the Grajewo Jew can settle amongst their fellow Jews in a Land promised to them. I do not solely speak of a mandate of Jewish Humanity, but of a god of Judaism and christianity who acknowledge that right of return. That return fully recognises an equality that would be enshrined in what would be wholly deliverable to all Israeli Citizens, whether they are Jewish or not. In the gravest of terms, which persist to this Day, life for the Jewish People is not enshrined in their liberty, livlihood nor their ability to contribute to all and any community they live amongst without fear.
“..past ..will never return. ..only thing that remains are memories ..sweet ..lovely. ..Dniester River ..which keeps flowing ..distant ..strange ..cold ..which hums ..not for me anymore.” Renia Spiegel.
The Right of Return.
I Every Jew has the right to come to this country as an Oleh.
II Aliyah shall be by Oleh’s visa.
An Oleh’s visa shall be granted to every Jew who has expressed his desire to settle in Israel, unless the Minister of Immigration is satisfied that the applicant
i is engaged in an activity directed against the Jewish people; or
ii is likely to endanger public health or the security of the State.
III A Jew who has come to Israel and subsequent to his arrival has expressed his desire to settle in Israel may, while still in Israel, receive an Oleh’s certificate.
The restrictions specified in section 2 (b) shall apply also to the grant of an Oleh’s certificate; but a person shall not be regarded as endangering public health on account of an illness contracted after his arrival in Israel.
IV Every Jew who has immigrated into this country before the coming into force of this Law, and every Jew who was born in this country, whether before or after the coming into force of this Law, shall be deemed to be a person who has come to this country as an Oleh under this Law.
V The Minister of Immigration is charged with the implementation of this Law and may make regulations as to any matter relating to such implementation and also as to the grant of Oleh’s visas and Oleh’s certificates to minors up to the age of 18 years.
So when the Jews went in search of a European meaning to a tragedy of the Shoah, they found a precedent had been set in The Holocaust term. For that tragedy alone, which met 6,000,000 Jews and Murdered them wholesale, there is a greater need to maintain reference to them within that term than to deny them the last vestiges of our human decency denying them its space. So the meaning is clear. The Jews of the World, whether they emerged from the deep trauma of a hostile environment and from the murderous tentacles of The Holocaust, or whether they now wish simply to live amongst like minded, spiritual and efficatious Jewry, Israel afforded them a space to call their own. Even though the Jewish State is under constant threat of its destruction, we are morally obliged to support and assist the after our broken covenant with Humanity. I have made an effort to steer clear of politicising the terms of reference given to The Holocaust, but the right to Jewish existence must be given a consideration above all other’s by dint of what the World allowed to happen to 6,000,000 of their own, Our own.
“..senseless murder of 6,000,000 Jews is difficult to understand ..even more difficult is that ..World was silent. ..I stopped trying to understand it because it defies logic ..I prefer to use ..lessons I have learned ..stand ..against all evil ..never give up ..treat people with fairness ..forgive your worst enemy ..think of one thing you can do to make ..world better.” Eva Moses Kor.
So while I have listed some of these, these Jews of Grajewo which We have all lost, who were Murdered intentionally and were chosen systematically by Adolf Hitler, and solely for being Jews, no account will ever be complete. For Hitler who epitomises an enemy of our own Humanity, each and every Jewish name, mentioned here in the account I can barely comprehend, they all stand as an accusation of the inhumanity that was allowed to be shown and as an affirmation of a loss we will seek Always to Remember, Never to Forget. The account is not in the least bit as complete in detail as it should be and toward the Memory we seek to Remember for them, it is sadly incomplete by many 1,000’s. While every attempt has been made to identify with Grajewo’s Murdered, it is likely too that many who were born elsewhere were Murdered here. It is also a case of happenstance that might include those Married to a Jew of Grajewo. There was for some, who were merely a Jewish visitor to the Grajewo an assault upon them which forms their enclosed status as a Jew of the Town that was Murdered.
Lejzer Hersz Abkevitz, Boruch Abkewicz, Brajna Abkewicz, Fishel Abkewicz, Khana Abkewicz, Motl Abkewicz, Rywka Abkewicz,Wela Voula Abkewicz, Brynke Abkewitz, Layki Abkewitz, Rochel Abkewitz, Shayna Merka Abkewitz, Velinki Abkewitz, Chaszka Khasia Abkiewicz, Mendel Abkiewicz, Mosek Abkiewicz, Pinkus Abkiewicz, Wela Sara Abkiewicz, Ben Abkiewicz, Jochewet Abramska, Sara Abramska, Jakub Abramski, Josef Abramski, Matatiahu Abramski, Szejna Abramski, Szymon Abramski, Taibe Abramski, Tova Abramski, Mordekhai Abramski, Rivka Abramski, Yaacov Abramsky, Yokheved Abramsky, Kivel Abramson, Guta Adamshtein, Awezer Adamski, Chaim Adamski, Faiwel Adamski, Guta Adamski, Lazar Adamski, Guta Adamstein, Abram Adamstein, Khaia Agushevich, Moshe Agushevich, Zelda Agushevich, Cyla Tzipora Ajzensztadt, Cypora Ajzensztadt, Jakob Ajzensztadt, Mina Ajzensztadt, Jacques Ajzensztat, Jankel Ajzensztat, Yakob Ajzensztat, Avromtshe Ayzenshtat, Abram Bajkowski, Hersz Bajkowski, Khano Baykovski, Cipa Bialystocki, Cypa Bialostocki, Dawid Bialostocki, Dawid Bialystocki, Rachel Bialystocki, Rakhel Bialostocki, Yokheved Burshtein, Aviezer Dorf, Breina Dorf, Ester Dorf, Frida Dorf, Luba Dorf, Moniek Dorf, Sara Dorf, Yisrael Yaakov Dorf, Yitzkhak Dorf, Yosef Dorf, Peshka Fabritzki, Abraham Fainstein, Hadasa Fainstein, Khaim Fridman, Menukha Fridman, Yacob Leib Fridman, Malka Fridman, Chaim Friedman, Chana Friedman, Faige Malke Friedman, Menocha Friedman, Shaindel Friedman, Liptza Frydman, Sarah Frydman,Doba Chana Glas, Dora Glas, Tzura Glass, Chaim Goldberg, Abraham Grinberg, Chaja Khava Grinberg, Khaia Grinberg, Yehuda Grinberg, Yisrael Grinberg, Abraham Isak Gringrass, Itsik Ayzik Grosman, Khana Grosman, Masia Grosman, Mina Grossman, Natan Grosman, Rachela Grosman, Riwka Grosman, Yitzkhak Grosman, Juda Gruenberg, Chawa Grunberg, Frida Zmojewski Grunberg, Afroim Guzik, Jankiel Guzik, Kalman Guzik, Motek Guzik, Sara Guzik, Chaja Kac, Rubin Kaminski, Avrum Kaminsky, Chana Kaminsky, Tzvia Kaminsky, Refael Karmin, Avraham Mordekhai Katz, Chonon Wolf Klecki, Sheina Zelda Klecki, Dov Klecki-Kaletzki, Hershel Tzvi Klecki-Kaletzki, Khaim Yehuda Klecki-Kaletzki, Shprisha Kolka, Gitel Kolko, Hersz Kolko, Izzak Kolko, Moshe Kolko, Nella Kolko, Reina Rakhel Kolko, Reizl Kolko, Sprysza Kolko, Szymon Kolko, Yaakov Kolko, Arie Leib Levit, Mendel Lewin, Yda Hinda Lejzerson, Srolke Leyzer, Sara Liner, Berko Malachowsky, Josef Malachowscki, Ezra M. Obodzinski, Velvl Piekarevitsh, Chemio Piorko, Miriam Piorko, Mojzesz Piorko, Mosze Piorko, Mosze Piorko, Relka Piorko, Sara Piorko, Tzipa Piorko, Mirjam Piurko, Rela Piurko, Lea Popovski, Mina Mindo Radak, Dovid Rapp, Yehuda Reimer, Chaja Alta Rozenbaum, Abram Rynkowski, Chackiel Rynkowski, Chaim Rynkowski, Rachel Rynkowski, Rywka Rynkowski, Ahuva Luba Sarna, Rejza Serejski, Ester Sosnowicz, Basia Itke Ida Sutker, Berl Sutker, Feiga Sutker, Ida Sutker, Meir Icko Sutker, Zalman Sutker, Mordechy Vapinski, Rachel Vapinsky, Chana Waks, Lea Waks, Meir Waks, Mejlach Waks, Rachel Wapinska, Chaya Alte Wiernik, Dina Zilbershtein, Szulamit Zylbersztejn.