The Books of Doom:
Life and Death of the Shtetl
A unique literature is being written on the life and death, during the last war, of the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe. Nominally local history, its apocalyptic character sets it far apart from books that deal with the pasts of still surviving communities. Each chronicle ends in more or less the same way, with an account of the destruction wrought by the Nazis. A fearful story is told over and over again; there are many differences of detail but the burden is always the same, and so is the effect.
That these chronicles have not been issued by commercial publishers is not surprising. The few solid works published here and abroad on the Nazi holocaust have not found a large audience. Massacres make bitter reading.1 We, the helpless and horrified bystanders at the death of six million Jews, have averted our eyes from the record almost as resolutely as the murderers themselves—who cannot bear to see told in print the crimes for which they can never be punished enough, and for which so few of them, comparatively, have been punished at all. This does not mean that we are as hard as they, or have as much or the same guilt to hide. It means only that we cannot truly feel the death of more than one person at a time.
The articles, pamphlets, and books to which we call attention here are not written primarily for us, the spectators, but by survivors for other survivors. The authors, most of them amateur writers, and less than amateur historians, cannot find the historical generalizations with which to gloss over the terrible events they record. They write as participants whose sole concern was survival; they could not have lived had they had a sense of perspective. And now they are simply chroniclers wanting to “talk out” their experiences in order to preserve their sanity, and to keep alive the memory of lost loved ones, friends, homes, places. Implicit in all these books is the sense of the value of every individual; each death, whether of young or old, the lowly or the illustrious, is a tragedy. That is the logic of the mutual responsibility so ingrained in Jewish tradition.
Yet even if it is not directly addressed to us, the outsiders, this literature of commemoration has a great deal to tell us. These books of doom, less schematic and patterned than any sociological or anthropological study, show us the Jews of Eastern Europe as people, living, struggling to survive, dying. And as people, they come very close to us in their suffering and in their will to life.
By now the bibliography of the literature of destruction—it has been called the “Third Destruction,” following that of the First and Second Temples—includes, with cross references, some 50,000 items. Almost 1,700 of these are eyewitness accounts. From Warsaw alone there are 1,500 items. The book-length yizkor (memorial) works with which we are concerned here number several hundred, written in Yiddish, Hebrew, English, German, Polish, and French; and published in Warsaw, Tel Aviv, Munich, Melbourne, Johannesburg, Mexico City, Montreal, Paris, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and Buenos Aires. The two-volume Wolkovisker Yizkor Book, for example, contains a ninety-page article in English by Dr. Moses Einhorn, the editor, who also contributed five hundred pages of the Yiddish text.
Most of these books are sponsored by landsmanshaften, societies of fellow townsmen who, now that there is nothing else they can do for the folks back home, have undertaken to commemorate them. Hence in most cases the books deal with particular places and their environs: Becotov, Bzanov, Brainsk, Karetz, Kosev Polski, Krinik, Yavarov, Zamoshitz, Zaromb, Zlotshe. Most numerous and most outstanding are the volumes that deal with the Polish and Lithuanian Pale, but there are also valuable books on Galicia, Rumania, and the Ukraine.
For scholars, these works are not “scientific” enough. As Dr. Philip Friedman points out, they lack a sense of history and are too much concerned with sheer reminiscence, folklore, personal experiences, odd episodes—all of it given indiscriminately and without coordination; they romanticize, suppressing unpleasant details. The late Dr. Jacob Shatzky pointed out that their lack of historical perspective is most conspicuously demonstrated in the fact that they pay so little attention to the period before 1914 and overstress the period 1914-1939. Some have statistical pretensions; others are marked by political bias and give most of their space to the local Zionists or Bundists, depending on which faction was in control of the work. Books that do begin with an objective historical approach and proper documentation go over before long into reportage, autobiography, panegyric. And occasionally there is bad taste, as in the yizkor book recently published on Koidenov, which is full of personal advertisements (the excuse being that they are needed to cover the costs of production. Nearly half of the 467 pages of this purported memorial to a whole community are given over to stories and poems by Abraham Raisin, who was born in Koidenov, but settled in the United States back in 1914!).
Yet it is pointless to judge these books by professional standards. Those who wrote them have good reason to be historically myopic. Survivors of perhaps the most horrible episode in all history, they may well be oblivious to any other time than their own. The very narrowness of their vision makes it capable of an intensity that has its own value as truth and testimony.
Dr. Shatzky observed that no comprehensive study as yet exists of the resistance, both open and underground, carried on in the Jewish ghettos. By all means, let one be written. But the better yizkor books will certainly remain an indispensable source for those professional historians who undertake that survey, as well as for others.
There are now at least two agencies for the production of scholarly work on the massacres: the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, of New York, which had its origin in Vilna in 1925, and Yad Va-shem, an official Israeli undertaking to create memorials of various kinds to the Jewish victims of the Nazis. Both organizations have jointly initiated three research projects, financed by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. One project is for a bibliographic manual on the destruction, now almost ready for publication. Another will catalogue such archival material as documents from the Heinrich Himmler files; the diaries of the Nazi governor-general of Poland, Hans Frank; 1,700 eyewitness accounts of the killings; and classified military documents from the files of General Alfred Jodl. The third of the joint projects is an encyclopedia, Pinkas Hakehillot, of the 25,000 Jewish communities of Europe, most of which are now extinct. All these publications will be presented in English, Yiddish, and Hebrew.
Pinkas Byten (The Book of Byten), written in Yiddish and published in Buenos Aires by Die Bytener Landsleit of Argentina, is typical of the yizkor books. To most readers the name of Byten will be as unfamiliar as those of the majority of other villages that are the subjects of this literature. There were thousands of them with their Jewish communities. Some have already been mentioned, but there were also Lukov, Mezeritch, Pilz, Klementov, Padliashe, Sosnowca, Stzegove, Horodetz, Rakichok, and so on and on. (Second-generation Jews in this country seem to lack interest in the places of origin of their parents; the third generation seldom even know of them.)
For Byten, the big town was Slonim, eighteen miles to the northwest, with its 25,000 Jews, a city called “Mother in Israel.” Still farther to the west—maybe a hundred miles—was the metropolis, Bialystok. But tiny Byten was as much a microcosm of Jewish life in Eastern Europe as they. Its ways were those of all the other shtetlach and, to a great extent, of the cities themselves of the Pale. Its ordinary folk were like theirs, and even its outstanding people, if they did not attain the eminence of a Chaim Weizmann of Motele, bore a family resemblance to the great of most other towns. And what happened to the Jews of Byten under the Nazis happened, with gruesome variations, to almost all the other Jewish communities; the table of contents of Pinkas Byten is very much like those of most other yizkor books.
To tell what their community was like, in peace and in war, in its “rise and fall” (as the subtitle of the book has it), the survivors have put together a big volume of more than 600 pages containing some 300,000 words. The fifty-odd pieces in it were written by thirty natives of Byten, and two of them—Dodl Abramovitch, in Israel, and Mordecai V. Bernstein, in Argentina-gathered together and in some measure co-ordinated the heterogeneous material. Mr. Bernstein is probably the only one among the contributors who is a professional writer, yet most of the others are keen observers and the urgency of their subject compels them to write with surprising concreteness. It keeps them from hunting for the “imaginative” phrase, and if their language is pedestrian, it is not sown with those purple passages to which amateur writers are prone.
As in other yizkor volumes, the photographs in Pinkas Byten are of surpassing interest. It is understandable that they are only fair technically, and it hardly matters: but both the clear and blurred pictures have a revealing and often touching quality (of which we shall say more later). A rough map shows where in its world obscure Byten stood, near what highways and railroads (it was about four miles from the nearest station, Demanova, on the Moscow-Brest-Litovsk line), near what forests and swamps (these last became in the end refuges, or at least less ignominious places to die in than the accustomed streets and alleys).
Pinkas Byten opens and closes with verses by Shimen Rodel commemorating unser shtetele and expressing faith that the blood of the martyrs had not been shed in vain. There are sober accounts of the town’s economic resources and past by co-editor Bernstein (who began his scholarly study of this shtetl before the war), the proud record of its cultural activities, the story of the forced labor its Jews were compelled to do by the Germans during the First World War (when some of them had eagerly waited for “Reb Velvele”—better known to history as Kaiser Wilhelm II—to liberate them from “Nicolaike” the Czar; it was not such a fantastic idea at that, since in other places the German soldiers behaved quite decently to Jews). One piece tells of the relief sent to Byten during that hard period by Bytener settled in the United States (it had once been considered a calamity to have to leave the town, but the emigrants became its mainstay at this time, when even the formerly well-to-do were glad to receive charity “secretly”); there are letters from survivors and from those who did not survive (one, in Polish, written by a little girl pictured in the book in a dancing costume with angel’s wings, was included in Ilya Ehrenburg’s book Murderers of Nations); and reminiscences of favorite promenades and trysting places and illustrious persons.
The heavy heart of the book consists, however, of two long narratives supplemented by several short ones: Moshe Pitkowsky’s bluntly titled and simply told “How the Jewish Community in Byten Was Destroyed,” and co-editor Abramovitch’s stormier “Destruction and Resistance.”
Byten being in that part of White Russia which was incorporated in the revived state of Poland after World War I, its Jews were caught between the cross-hatreds of the minority ruling class of Poles and the White Russian and largely peasant majority. In the early days of the Second World War, the Poles began working themselves up for a large-scale pogrom, but the Russians, thrusting southward in the rear of the disintegrating Polish army, occupied Byten in time to prevent it. In the confusion of marches and counter-marches, the possibilities of espionage and sabotage, of suspicion and misunderstanding, were great. Many White Russians collaborated with the Germans; others became partisans and fought them; the rest simply did what was necessary to survive. Informers, venal and patriotic, and peasants simply frightened into becoming informers brought death to some Jews at the hands of Russians, Germans, or Poles. But there were also peasants who helped Jewish friends at the risk—and sometimes the cost—of their lives. All this went on in and around the little village of Byten.
What emerges from these diverse narratives is how the individuals of a whole community were destroyed. It was not an old settlement, but it was a vital one. Some Jewish communities in Poland went back a thousand years, but Byten had begun only some three hundred years ago as an inn on a Polish nobleman’s estate. In time blacksmiths, millers, and tradesmen drifted in from surrounding villages. After two centuries Byten’s population amounted to only 975 persons, of whom 509 were Jews. The latter figure eventually more than trebled, fell off, and then rose to about 1,300 in 1940.
Unlike many of the small Jewish communities which lived by taking in each other’s washing, by petty trade, Byten once had had a substantial economic foundation. Most important was the textile factory established by an energetic Polish nobleman in the 18th century. There were also a large tannery and a group of industries based on the rich forests which surround the town on three sides—timber-cutting, logging, sawmills. When the Russian army retreated in 1915, it burnt down factory and tannery along with the rest of the town—everything but the firehouse! In the early 1930’s, the Polish government encouraged a more intensive exploitation of the timberlands, but after a few years it nationalized the logging industry, displacing not only Jewish owners but also Jewish labor.
As long as things were relatively easy, the traditional Jewish way of life flourished in Byten, though modern ways, too, eventually gained a strong foothold. The Old Synagogue (also called the “Cold Synagogue” because it was without heating facilities, which restricted its use to the Sabbath and holidays) was three stories high, a notable example of the wooden synagogues of Northeastern Europe which often attained architectural distinction; its interior was enhanced by extensive mural decorations based on floral and animal motifs. In the same Shulhof (synagogue court) was the Big Synagogue, where the quality held daily services, as well as the Tailors’ Synagogue, which served all sorts of workmen. Off in the shabby lane of the hekdish (a communal lodging house for poor travelers and the town’s permanently indigent, e.g., the chimney-sweep and his family) was a Hasidic shtibl whose members practiced their principles of simple and joyful living. In a “faraway” section of town called the “New City” were two more houses of worship.
This much is pattern. But life overflowed the boundaries of pattern. The separate synagogues for working people and baale batim did not mean that the former were lowly fellows who knew their places. Shmuel the blacksmith was the best leader of services (baal tefilah) in town, and Motya the blacksmith one of the most learned. The congregation of the Tailors’ Synagogue had as much to say about the hiring of the town’s rabbi and cantor as their well-heeled brethren. Byten’s cantor was selected with as much care as the leading tenor of the Metropolitan Opera House: it once took two years of try-outs before the right one was found. And when the Big Synagogue, having burned down along with the rest of the town in 1915, was rebuilt and a new rabbi was brought into town, not horses but the fellows from the Tailors’ Synagogue had the honor of drawing his carriage.
Since the entire life of the community—not merely its religious observances—was centered in the synagogue, most social services were supervised, more or less directly, by the rabbi, his assistant (dayan), the trustees, and lesser officials. Though its entire population could have been put into a few of our big apartment houses, Byten had a fire department, health clinic, bathhouse, and loan bank. And the community provided, specifically for the poor, a free school (Talmud Torah), brides’ dowries Call marriages were publicly celebrated, for three or four days, and everyone, invited or not, came), food—at least matzos and meat—for Passover, and free burial at the expense of those who had died rich. In fact, the rich were pressed to contribute to all needs not met out of the special tax that the government levied on kosher poultry and cattle to support the Jewish community’s undertakings and cover the district administration’s costs. The rabbi himself would make the rounds of the well-to-do to collect funds for the needy. But to show that money wasn’t everything, the members of genteel families —particularly the women-folk—were also called on to do home nursing at all hours for the sick who could not afford to hire help. At the same time the community also dispensed hospitality and provided accommodations for visitors of all sorts—preachers, yeshiva bochurim, authors, booksellers, institutional representatives, fund-raisers for good causes, and the like. It was considered an honor to put such guests up.
The dominating position of religion in Byten did not preclude the rise of a workers’ movement. Students who went to the large towns were exposed to modern ideas and brought them home; so did the tanners and weavers who traveled to work in Bialystok; nor were local factory hands immune: most of them became Bundists or Zionist Socialists. Whatever their theoretical program, the demands were hardly drastic when it came to Byten’s first strike, in 1902. The tailors’ apprentices, who staged it, were then working six days a week and after sundown on Saturdays: what they demanded, and won, was Saturday night off. But the failure of the Revolution of 1905 sent the radicals underground, as elsewhere in Russia, and it was not until after 1914 that the Bundists in Byten dared reveal themselves publicly again.
The spread of social consciousness brought with it from the first, even in small-town Byten, a crossing of class lines. Garfinkel, the textile magnate, who wore a top hat on the Sabbath, may have looked askance at the presumptuous radicals, but his daughter Rashke, a medical student, preached socialism. Jacob S. Bulanski, who came of a rich family, left the yeshiva where he was studying, to become an active Bundist as well as something of a hero to his comrades. Youth in general fell into “lax habits”: rich boys went out with poor girls, and vice versa. Yet the radicals did not throw off the old traditions easily. During the Revolution of 1905, the youth of Byten staged a demonstration against the Czar. It was on a Friday night, but some of them were smoking cigarettes just to show what rebels they were. Reb Laibele, who was not only the town’s shochet (ritual slaughterer) but a scholar, Hasid, and everybody’s good friend and advisor, came along. Without waiting for his reproach, the smokers threw their butts away.
The pride of the Bundists was their I. L. Peretz Library, which was started clandestinely, after the strike of the tailors’ apprentices, with a few illegal pamphlets. While the run of the people were reading the romantic tales brought in from the bigger towns by peddlers and coachmen, the serious-minded began to collect the literature of socialism. Books and pamphlets circulated in secret; people caught with them were liable to be exiled to Siberia. Not until the Red Army came in 1919, for a brief stay, was the library legalized. It then opened a public reading room, sponsored discussions, theatricals, handicrafts. The Poles, who took Byten over the following year, shut the library and some of its books were buried, but others were circulated cautiously from house to house. Under the secret direction of the Bund, the library re-opened as the headquarters of a “Culture League.” Later it was again able to call itself a library, but that lasted only four years. With the unemployment brought on by the nationalization of the lumber industry, it had to close again, this time for lack of support.
Meanwhile a rival Zionist library (named after Yosef Chaim Brenner, a prominent local Labor Zionist who had been killed by Arabs in Palestine) had come into existence. It had no funds, but its members, who all belonged to the Halutz movement, contributed such Yiddish and Hebrew books as they had, and some of the boys stole lumber to build a bookcase (as Y. L. Abramovitch relates). At its peak, this second pride of the town had fifteen hundred volumes—all of which were destroyed in the disaster.
Jews who lived in the smaller surrounding hamlets brought a rustic flavor to Byten, which was their cultural center. These yishuvnikes were often well-to-do leaseholders of timber properties, respected and trusted advisors to the local Polish gentry, and they contributed substantially to the institutions of the town. To Byten they came to celebrate the holidays, to arrange for their children’s schooling, to visit relatives, to see the Goldfaden plays staged by the amateur Dramatic Circle, and to attend the big fairs held in midsummer and fall to which both Jews and Gentiles brought their wares: from bagels to mushrooms, from hats to hogs’ bristles. The poor sold tea and cookies. The daring ones could try their luck at roulette. Children stayed away from school during these three days of merriment, quarreling, and petty thievery; and when the fair was over, conscripts passing through Byten would overturn the tables and dump whatever merchandise was left—unless the strong-arm volunteers of the Fire Brigade were there to restrain them. Ninety-nine per cent Jewish, the fire-fighters were also an unofficial police force; and when their building was used for lectures, plays, meetings, or weddings, they acted as ushers.
Byten an obscure village? But “it was known far beyond its borders” for its Reb Mordchele, the sage who came to Byten in 1870 and whose services were so highly valued that one village after another “kidnapped” him. After the Bytener spirited him out of Antopolia, his birthplace, the Karelitzer carried him off on their shoulders to their own town; it was in Slonim, however, that the great rabbi ended his days. Some people considered him a miracle-worker: he had relieved eye-twitchers of their tics, made cripples walk again, and soothed disturbed minds. Probably the psychology books of that time had not caught up with Reb Mordchele’s discovery that the way to cure sick people was to help them overcome their fears and regain self-confidence.
Byten’s last rabbi, Jacob Ben-Zvi Joffe, was a man of parts, able to assimilate both the old and new learning. He dealt with Russian officials in their own language and went to them on behalf of both Gentiles and Jews. Rounded up for the first mass slaughter by the Nazis, he refused to undress before being shot, and went down with at least some particle of the dignity of a Jew and a man.
In Byten also lived one Avrom Yaakov Bruck; he, declining to be its rabbi, preferred to make his living as a glazier. What a Jewish scholar should know, he knew; and he also knew how to build his own house. An enthusiastic Zionist when few religious Jews yet were, he was a delegate to the first Zionist Congress in Basel; his house was a center for youth, for anyone interested in migrating to Palestine. And this good Jew, whose high spirits fought down his chronic asthma, was consulted by priests as well as his own people. So was Byten’s jolly good fellow, and a smart one—Chayim Yudkowsky—popular among Jews and Gentiles for his imitations of Charlie Chaplin. The town had its dedicated teachers, most of them humble, but one at least—M. A. Kushnirovsky—attaining fame as a teacher of Hebrew by modern methods that included visual aids and dramatics.
One has only to look at the photographs in Pinkas Byten to realize that, by and large, this was a community of vigorous people. Here is a keen-looking young woman and two men, well-dressed, mounting their bicycles on New Street; here is the radiant face of Reb Motoske, who was Byten’s revered rabbi for thirty years, until 1912, and Reb Mordchele with his penetrating, almost hypnotic eyes. There are also pictures of Berel Feivish, the archetypal nebichl of a shammes, and many other plain people, work-worn, shabbily dressed, clustered around family tombstones. Some sentimental pictures, too: four self-conscious young women in a tableau vivant at a favorite picnic place, in harmony with another picture of the Little River just behind the Little Bridge as it makes a romantic curve. On other pages you see the lively faces of the men of the Fire Brigade, the serious and intelligent faces of the guiding spirits of the two libraries, of the thirty-four members of the Culture League, the Keren Kayemeth Committee, the Pioneer Youth. Could the murderers have looked any of these people in the eyes before shooting them down?
The popular Yiddish ditty Mein Shtetele Belz could just as well have been called, except that it does not scan as well, Mein Shtetele Byten. At a few years’ remove and in foreign parts, its people could become sentimental about it. To I. M. Rabinovitch (“Byten, Mein Shtetele“) there’s no synagogue like the Old Shul, and no park like the Pooster Sud, a stretch of beautiful greensward bordered by fine trees where the folks used to promenade of a Saturday afternoon and young couples could find secluded nooks. In every yizkor book people go strolling on a Saturday afternoon until dark down a favorite lane, on some river bank, or along some lake shore.
The trouble began in Byten when the Germans were besieging Warsaw early in September 1939. The railroad was barred to civilians; no newspapers arrived; there were air raids all around the area. Meanwhile, the White Russians, who formed 90 per cent of the population of the area, were delighted to hear that the Polish army was being crushed. Then events began to overtake each other. About the middle of the month, a rumor spread that the Germans had occupied Ruzhnoi, some twenty-five miles away, and people began to bury their valuables in the ground.
But the Soviet army was even closer. To welcome it with banners, several White Russians entered the shop of a Jew with whom they were friendly and demanded red cloth. The man was in a dilemma because the Polish officials of Byten were still around and were executing Communist sympathizers on sight. So he produced a bolt of cloth that was half-red and half-white, from which the Russians stripped the red part. Immediately, the shopkeeper was assailed by angry fellow Jews fearful of the Poles. Fortunately, the Poles fled into the forest, whereupon the White Russians paraded through the town and took it over in the name of the Soviet army. That afternoon the Germans bombed nearby Baranovitch and there was a panic in Byten. For three days it was without local government. Then Soviet tanks rolled in.
Soon the ruble replaced the zloty as the medium of exchange, and people bought up everything in the shops for nothing. Then prices rose 400 per cent. In the general state of disruption, infirmaries, libraries, and the loan bank were shut down. People became confused and dejected. There was peace in the town, but it was like the peace of death. But the Bytener didn’t know then how dead a town could really be.
On June 22, 1941, a Sunday, Molotov announced over the radio that the Germans had crossed the Russian frontier, the one fixed by treaty with the Nazis less than a year before. Soon after, Soviet planes flew over the town—going in the wrong direction —and truckloads of retreating soldiers and officers came through. Again there was panic, but the highways and the railroad were being bombed, and transportation was paralyzed. Only a few Jews got away on bicycles. Others dug trenches—a futile gesture. Germans began to filter in singly; by Wednesday night they had occupied the town and everyone stayed inside his house. On the next day the invaders began the first of a series of lootings in which all their henchmen took a hand. To expedite their work, they set up, as they did everywhere else, a Jewish liaison group, the Judenrat, which was to furnish on demand labor, food, clothing, money—whatever the Germans asked for. An officer passing through Byten ordered three hundred and fifty Jews out to repair the war-torn roads, and the detail being short eight men, Jewish women made up the difference. After that there were constant requisitions for forced labor. One group had to walk five miles to their assignment and back every day.
In August Jews were ordered to wear a white armband bearing the Shield of David in yellow; later, the order was changed to a yellow patch with a Shield of David to be worn on the left breast and left shoulder. In September the Germans removed the eight Torahs of the Big Synagogue, and trampled and burned them in the public square. Under German direction, a detail of Lithuanians stepped up the rate of looting; one day became known as “the Wednesday of the Lithuanians,” and Jews began to suspect that this was but a prelude. In November they heard about the first slaughter, of 9,000 brethren in Slonim. In December the Judenrat was ordered to produce four and a half pounds of gold, all the remaining valuables owned by Jews, and 200,000 rubles. Arbuz the dentist was kept busy pulling gold teeth.
Rumors came through of worse things happening in neighboring villages. Even so, writes Meyer Joffe (“Between the Dying and Death”), “Some wholehearted optimists still try to wrestle with the merciless reality. They say, ‘Who knows what people won’t figure out? They’re only panicky. You can’t believe them.’ To sustain their exaggerated optimism they fall back on the new kind of patriotism—local pride. ‘Granted,’ they say, ‘in Slonim, in Baranovitch, in Deretchin —maybe, do I know? The folks there must have done something. But here in Byten? What complaints can they have against our honest, peaceful Jews? Did we do them any harm? No, nothing will happen here. . . .’ Or they say, ‘They won’t live to see the day.’ That’s how one swings over from logical’ argument to sweet soporific prophecy. ‘Any minute now they’ll be catching it at the front—just wait and see. . . . Seems to me I hear something in the distance, something like heavy cannon fire. . . .’” But before long not even the incorrigible optimists were unmoved by the news of the wiping out of Zireveh, Baranovitch, Lechovitch.
Russian guerrillas—soldiers left behind by the retreating Soviet army—were known to be in the neighborhood. But some Bytener didn’t realize they were friends. All they knew was that if the Russians killed Germans, who would pay for it? “There will be a hundred dead Jews for every dead German.” With the police ever watchful, it was impossible for any great number of people to flee to the forest; and it was not easy to find the Russians. Besides, every Jew was responsible for every other Jew: how could some run away and leave the others to their fate? The only cheerful place in town was Hannah Ditkowsky’s candy store: here they could still sit around like human beings, talking, playing cards, eating sweets, though completely without hope.
1 See Solomon F. Bloom’s review in Commentary, January 1955.