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Sefer Vladimirets

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Chronicle and Martyrology of the Holocaust

From: Sefer Vladimirets, 1963

Author: Eliezer Shostak

** Webmaster Note: The following is the only chapter of the Sefer Vladimirets written in English. I have presented it here exactly as it was published in 1963, with the correction of some small typographical errors. Although it’s easy to laugh at the dramatic writing style and the characterization of all Jewish Vladimiretsers as ‘purehearted and G-dfearing’ people (I know my family too well for that), please remember that this man saw his entire village destroyed and was writing to honor those who died, to remember a place that no longer existed, and with a deep spirit of gratitude for being one of those ‘delivered to Israel’.

CHRONICLE AND MARTYOLOGY OF THE HOLOCAUST

A marble plaque inscribed ‘In Memory of the Vladimerec Martyrs’ in the Crypt of the Holocaust on Mount Zion, Jerusalem; a neglected, weed-grown mound, covered with thorns and nettles, on the road to Zulkin in the Ukraine; these would be the only memorials to remind us and our children, and the generations to come, of the rock from which we were hewn, of the well-spring from which we have drawn our heritage, of the noble dignity of our families and the horror of the disaster that befell us – had not this chronicle been written.

The whole bond of life and creation that had been wrought throughout the generation that preceded us; the whole epic of heroism and horror that came to pass, in our lifetime, in the holy congregation of Vladimerec – the little town where we were born, at whose breast we were nurtured and grew up, and from which we emerged to deliverance and redemption; the record of the desperate battles fought by this holy community of purehearted, upright Jews, charged with love, endowed with righteousness, thirsting for knowledge, guileless and Godfearing – a community, which even the dark days of disaster and extinction could not diminish its stature nor impair its dignity; a community which, faced with humiliation and dire abasement, produced from its midst men of undaunted courage and heroism, and, on the very brink of annihilation, took a last stand, to rise and revolt and face their brutal butchers with brave contempt --- the tale of this wondrous struggle, as life receded and death cast its shadow, would have been interred with our fathers and mothers, with our brothers and sisters, under the blood-soaked clods of earth that cover their remains – had not the personal account of their struggle been recorded in this chronicle of the fall of Vladimerec.

For who can utter the mighty acts of our dear ones of mighty stature and who can pay tribute to the purity of their lives and nobility of their death, if not we, the survivors who found deliverance in Israel?

For even in death, our dear ones live among us today. They are ever before our eyes and in our hearts, in the ingenuousness of their deeds, and the purity of their souls, the fortitude with which they bore their sufferings, their firmness of spirit and the full stature of their righteousness.

Lo! Here they stand before us, our massacred brethren, the youngest of our families. They are young, though they have prematurely aged in appearance, in the trial of act and deed, weighted down by life’s leaden burden, by the incubus of the fateful struggle and responsibility thrust upon their tender shoulders. Lo! Here they stand before our eyes, all of them, alive, ebullient, their lean gaunt faces flushed. They are assembled for their fateful meeting, and their hearts beat as one, turbulent and tempestuous, charged with the unshakable resolve to break down the walls of the ghetto and escape; to rise and revolt, to destroy and demolish and break free; to set fire to all the houses in the town and rescue those who may still be rescued from the flames, amidst the turmoil and confusion.

And even should the attempted rising fail, quelled at the murderous hand of the diabolical oppressor, at least they would not be led like sheep to the slaughter, but die alongside their butchers. . .

Here they stand before us as if alive, father, mother, brothers, sisters, old and young, infants and nurslings. They have all been rounded up and assembled, in the dawn of that Black Friday, in the open square known as the ‘Linkes’ near the marshy pond. How frail and exhausted they all are, how weary and feeble. On their right are drawn up the Ukrainian fiends, brought in from the surrounding villages; on their left are ranged the demonical host of their own townsmen, goyim, neighbours and acquaintances, whom they know by name and family; behind them stands the Nazi arch-butcher, and before them lies extinction, the end, the gaping pit. And there is none to deliver them. . . 

But the saintly hassidim of Stolin hold fast. They look up to the bright skies that stretch undimmed overhead. In sacred dread and awe, in holiness and purity, they wrap themselves in their white tallithot, as in cerements, and break forth into fervent chanting of the psalms; thus they bless and praise, sanctify and ascribe sovereignty to the Holy One, the mighty and dreaded Lord Shadai. . .

Suddenly a mighty cry, like a rumbling roar from heaven, pierces the elation of the singing. It is Yerachmiel the blacksmith: "Yiden, rattevet sich! Jews, save yourselves!" Loud does Yerachmiel roar, and the Lord seems to answer him as loudly: "Why do you cry unto me? Speak, Yerachmiel, to the people of Vladimerec, and let them journey. Cry unto them and let them flee and escape!"

And our dear ones hear the voice of the Angel Yerachmiel and all their pent up spirit of revolt surges up and bursts forth like an erupting volcano. They break into headlong flight and their murderers amazed and maddened, hurl volleys of death after them. But our dear ones, old and young, women and infants, all, summon up their falling strength and hasten their breathless bid for life. Many stumble and fall, some rise again and, with renewed strength that comes of despair, they flee in every direction – as long as there is life in their bodies and breath in their nostrils. They run and scatter and are lost to sight, saved from the hands of the butchers and the pit of death – most of them only for the meanwhile, but some are saved for all time. . .

I can still see the congregation of our town, all our families, as they are being led from the Linkes’ square to their common grave on the outskirts of the Zulkin forest. Bowed and mute, they make their last way to the town’s graveyard.

It is the month of Elul, days of religious fervour and penitence before the dreaded High Holidays, when our families would prostrate themselves on the graves of their parents and dear ones who had been called to their Maker and had been buried with full Jewish rites. It was on days such as these that one would hear the voice of Yankel the Shochet, piercing the morning stillness and rending the heart, as he offered up the Memorial Prayer: O Lord, who are full of compassion. . .grant perfect rest. . .

But in the dawn of this Friday, all is silent as they pass by the cemetery. The heaven-piercing cry of Yankel the Shochet no longer issues from among the tombstones. There is only a palpable stillness, the stillness of death. Doomed to extinction they flit past, seized by a mighty awe and dread, for they know that the Day of Judgement is near at hand. And Yankel the Shochet is now among them, on this side of the cemetery fence, among the doomed congregation. He walks with his customary heavy gait, for he was once a portly man, but the glow has long faded from his cheeks, his beaming countenance has dimmed, his clear eyes have lost their lustre and his unruffled brow, flawless as the etrog, no longer radiates serenity. His beard has turned white, and his broad chest – from which there once issued his mighty voice – is sunken.

His was the voice that would elate all hearts as he blessed the bride and bridegroom at the marriage service; his was the voice that would gladden the soul as he pronounced the ancient blessings at the circumcision feast; his was the voice that would be raised in a heart-rending cry as he recited the doxology, ‘Magnified and sanctified by His great name. . .’ on the first night of selichot, or as he solemnly intoned the Day of Atonement Musaf prayer ‘Man is from the dust, and to the dust her returns. . .’ in the little synagogue of the Stipan chassidim.

In a little while, this powerful voice will have been stilled for all time. These lips, from which issued the purest of prayers that ever soared heavenwards, whose cantillation of the Torah would delight the very angels on high, whose clear, shrill blast of the shofar would silence all adversaries and accusers – in a little while these lips, and this tongue that uttered ready words of wisdom, will lie mute and dead in the dust. . .

Before our very eyes, though now so far away, there looms the gaping pit, the hill on the road to Zulkin that has opened wide its maw to swallow up our dearest ones – alive. Our eyes grow dim as we see the whole congregation assembled there, a huddled flock of sheep. Their fate is sealed – at one fell swoop to die.

And from amidst the congregation there emerges, head and shoulder above the others, a figure of power and dignity, of majestic mien and courage – the leader of the community. Firm as a rock he stands, the man who has seen the affliction of our dear ones by the rod of the Lord’s wrath – Yaacov Eisenberg.

He, the lion among men, from whose jaws even the brutal butchers cringe; he, so mighty in strength and in spirit; he, who has ever stood at the head of the congregation in time of adversity and tribulation; he, even he is with our fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, ever at the head, as they stand on the brink of the pit of slaughter.

All at once he steps forward, limping slightly, like Jacob of old after he had wrestled with Esau’s guardian angel and had prevailed. Slowly he walks to the nearest tree and hangs up his walking stick, the stick on which he has leant all his life, and which he will need no more. Turning his curled head to face his congregation, he draws himself erect to the full dignity of his noble stature and surveys his people for the last time with tear-dimmed eyes – a shepherd helplessly watching his flock torn to pieces before his eyes. In the terrible silence, which stirs even the Ukrainian butchers that stand around – only last night they tried to induce him to abandon the community and be saved by them – he takes his last leave of his people and walks to the pit. He descends, plunges into its depths, down, down into the living grave he descends. . .

Here too, into the depths of the grave pit he has gone first, to stand at the head of the Vladimerec congregation as they appear before the Almighty Judge, to plead their suit, the abasement of their lives and the horror of their death – in full justice. . .

Can it be that these acts of glory, of heroism and exaltation of the spirit shall be erased from our memory and the memory of the generations to come, just as their protagonists have been wiped out?

Can it be that these deeds of the holy and pure, which shine forth as the brightness of the firmament, shall not be brought to the knowledge of the world?

And who is to perpetuate and sanctify the memories of the mute heroes of this epic if not we, their sons and brothers, who have survived and been granted deliverance?

Blessed, therefore, be the initiative that has caused these scrolls of fire to be written. Strengthened be the hands that have patiently laboured to gather each detail, each document, each memoir, each fact and each picture; and blessed be all those who have taken an active part in the publication of these chronicles.

The worthy editor, Mr. Aharon Meirovitz, is to be particularly commended. Though he does not come from our home town, he has, by dint of his painstaking work of assembling and scrutinizing, writing, re-writing and editing these pages, plunged himself heart and soul into the spirit of the extinct community of Vladimerec, probing the depths of the suffering, the ennobling experiences, the dire hardships and the brave struggle of our dear ones. He has stood where they stood, lived through their dread experiences, shared their sufferings, accompanied them as they trod the paths of sorrow and death. Casting in his lot with theirs, he has, with true vision, inscribed this chronicle on these scrolls of fire and pain.

May these memorial pages, suffused with the heart’s blood of those who wrote them, be as freshening garlands on the desolate mass grave on that distant hillside on the road to Zulkin. May the publication of this book be regarded in the light of the fulfilment of the eternal vow TO REMEMBER AND NOT TO FORGET WHAT AMALEK DID UNTO US. And may the unfolding of these chapters of hallowed heroism serve as an everlasting monument to all the congregation of Vladimerec, those loving, upright and blameless ones, who were ‘loving and pleasant in their lives, and in their death were not divided. . .’

Elul 5723 


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