I Wish It Were Fiction

Holocaust Memories 1939 - 1945

My Township of Apt   Speech in commemoration of Opatow

It is difficult after 50 years, to turn your mind back to a distant event of the past, to tragic events, that make your blood boil and to which one will not remain indifferent for the rest of one’s life.

Hundreds of Jewish communities were destroyed in the course of the Second World War. The larger communities are still being somehow remembered. But it is much worse when it comes to the smaller communities, such as Apt, a community that was vibrant and whose multi-colored and multi-faceted Jewish activities were renowned. The chants emanating from religious homes are not heard anymore. The tailors, cobblers and carpenters of Apt don’t sing any longer the popular Jewish folk songs, accompanied by the humming of their machines. The Jewish merchants and storekeepers do no look out any longer from their windows in expectation of their customers. The playful Jewish youngsters, with their sweet voices have been silenced forever. The beautiful old synagogue, that pride of the Jews in Apt, has been scorched. Only the blood-soaked earth, drenched with Jewish tears and blood has remained. The agonized cries of the innocent, the last cries of the small children are still floating in the air of Apt. What remains is the unanswered question: Why? What for?

Where are they all?  They are gone forever. And together with them vanished the Jewish community of Apt. Not a single Jew is left in Apt now!

Remember what the German Amalek did to our people. If our Martyrs could only speak! If they could only cry out, protest? We are not talking about people who died a normal death. We are talking here about unfortunate, desperate Jews in the millions. We are talking about days, nights, months and years of persecution and destruction.

And the murderer Hitler talked in the name of God! What travesty! That was the greatest irony. How could the Jewish people defend itself against a mighty war machine, that destroyed whole countries in a matter of days? Our people were not merely destroyed. Before they were sent to their deaths, they were humiliated and tortured. The Germans were not only our judges, but also the death messengers.

Six million Jews were sacrificed on the altars built by the Germans. Oh God! Where did the people muster such strength to be able to suffer such torture? And where did they gain the strength to suffer all the fires of hell and not lose their faith? Can you imagine – a million Jewish children, fearful, abandoned and helpless, who were destroyed. How could God witness such barbarism?

God evidently turned away from his people. We pray to the Almighty,

Do not forget your children! And we too must never forget!

Our children are asking: Where were you all when the Germans burned our people? You, nations of the world sealed all roads and gates to the unfortunate ones, and refused to lend a helping hand. Where were you, when the Germans gassed mothers together with their children?

Every year, during the high holidays in particular, we devote our prayers to the memory of the Holocaust victims. Every one of us, who was born in Opatow thinks of his or her past. Memories of our parents, relatives and friends are awakened. We think of the life in our native city of Opatow and what a meaningful life it was. The population of the city of Opatow was 80 percent Jewish. Jews lived in that city for hundreds of years and developed a very interesting and intensive cultural and social life. And it was our tragic lot to witness the destruction of this creative community. And even though we have always felt the wide-spread animosity toward us on the part of a considerable part of the Polish population before the war, that sometimes even resulted in unprovoked attacks and pogroms, nevertheless we considered Opatow as our home. It was there that our forerunners built great institutions, to serve the needs of the Jewish population. We had associations of all political trends, Zionist, religious and secular. There were sport groups, artistic and musical as well as choral groups. We had Yiddish newspapers in our town. Leaders and important activists in all institutions lived in our town. They all worked hard for the benefit of our people. A number of Jewish philanthropists helped to maintain all the institutions and their activities. Thus there was a vibrant communal and cultural life in our town. All the institutions were built by several generations, including our own.

We remember Our town with its beautiful trees and green grass, the paved and unpaved muddy streets. We remember the synagogues and the religious temples, where our fathers prayed, met their friends and neighbours, with whom they discussed current events as well as topics of mutual interest. We had poor people, as well as wealthy philanthropists. And there was the doctor and para-medic. We had the central market, where farmers from the neighbouring villages brought their products for sale. We remember the Targoviske, where one could buy a calf. Bargaining galore took place. Then there was the Community Centre, where concerts and theatre performances took place, always attended by large audiences. We also remember the Sandomiesh Road, where young people paraded and engaged in romantic pursuits. There was the huge church with its magnificent bells. There was the wide street, where people never tired of discussing politics, some times even until after midnight. There was the market place, with its open air parties on the one hand and the fist fights on the other. And how beautiful was the town on Saturday afternoon, after the Sabbath feast, as well as the Friday nights, after the blessing of the candles, when Mendel Nome was returning from his pilgrimage to the cemetery.

There was the intelligentsia in our town, who kept aloof from the ordinary people. And we had the simple people, workers, proletarians with whom the so-called intelligentsia refused to mingle. Yes, it was an interesting life. This is the way we will think of our home town forever.

Everything was destroyed at the hands of the murderous Nazis. Nothing at all was sacred to them. They annihilated our parents and grandparents and children. The whole of Yiddish Opatow was transformed into a huge cemetery. Our tragedy knows no limits. There are no words to describe the extent of our loss. But the city of Opatow and its Yiddish heritage will remain in our memory forever

At today’s commemoration, I lament together with all of you on the fate of our parents and families. Hundreds of memorial books have already been written, describing the tragic fate of the numerous cities and towns, that are no more. These books, and the many similar ones that will yet be written, depict the history of the destruction and annihilation of millions of our brothers and sisters, the agony of the victims and the desperate cries of the murdered children.

"Everything was destroyed at the hands of the murderous Nazis"

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