“With a heavy heart I walked around the shtetl where a warm Jewish life once pulsed.”
So begins “On the Vestiges of a Disappeared Jewish Life” from the Yizkor book of Czyzew-Osada, Poland. What sets this excerpt apart from others recounting their return to their devastated and unrecognizable hometowns after the Holocaust is the depth of the conversations the writer, Y. Dawidowicz, has with those who witnessed the horrors that befell the Jews of Czyzewo. Some of these were Poles who had been sympathetic to the Jews, including one old man who was threatened by Polish nationalists and, years later, could still barely speak because of the fear that had been struck in him. Another was a socialist who spoke of “Jewish friends whom I will never forget because of their honesty and heartfelt humanity.” After the liberation from the Nazis he then had to witness “the Night of the Long Knives” when leaders of the Polish underground slaughtered Jews who had begun to return. The criminals, he said, were never apprehended.
Dawidowicz encounters an old Christian women who broke down in tears as she remembered the horrible things that had happened, and when he told her not to cry, she said, “One must, one must; terrible things happened here.”
The old stationmaster of the town tells him in a tortured voice: "“We knew that they were being taken to their death and we did nothing but watch, as if they were dogs, not people with whom we had lived together for tens of years…”
In the end, Dawidowicz wrote: “I was tormented by disgust for everything around me and for myself. I had the feeling that I was walking around a terribly contagious filth of crimes and decadence that would not let me buy back [Jewish Czyzewo] at any price.”
Silver Spring MD
Researching: DRACH, EBERT, KIMMEL, ZLOTNICK
Towns: Wojnilow, Kovel