This Sunday was the over 100th meeting of the town of Eishyshok Survivors and surrounding villages meeting. The fiftieth year anniversary since the liberation of Lithuania / Poland in 1945 by the Allied Forces. But hardly a celebration for the Jews hiding in holes in the ground, in the deep forests and those coming back from the concentration camps.
For the Poles and Lithuanians, the war might be over but the war to liberate Lithuania and Poland of Jews was not. “A Poland Free of Jews” was the battle cry, still to be heard today in some circles in 2 countries who have not seen a Jew in over 50 years yet their hatred and fear that Jews will come back from the grave to claim lost properties has not weakened.
Most probably this is due to the lack of Nuremberg trials which Germany had after the war, labeling the culprits and exposing their deeds I explained to an erstwhile child of Polish partisans who came to our meeting two years ago. To the consternation of the Jews attending, he insisted that according to what he understood from his (partisan) parents, the Jews were ungrateful and should really thank Poland and the Free Polish Government that governed the partisans from London during the war.
Germany had Nuremberg trials and today, the children know what went on. Nobody pretends it did not. Lithuania and Poland did not, so the anti-Semitism there is unabated.
I sent the young man (who came with a sincere belief that his parents were correct) declassified German secret service documents from a German General Wulf who did a study in 1944 of the Polish partisans to understand why they were fighting the Germans in Lithuania / Poland. They found that there were two groups of Polish partisans. The Polish Communist Partisans and the White Polish Partisans who were directed by the Free Polish Government that moved to London when the Germans invaded to assist in the Allied Efforts.
The Germans studied the situation and found that the White Polish Partisans hated and warred ceaselessly with the Polish Communist Partisans. Both Polish Partisan groups despised Jews and killed and robbed them wherever they found them. However, the Communist partisans were supplied by the Russians, so a Jew was able to have more of a chance surviving as fighters with the Communists than with the White Partisans.
The Germans met with the Polish White Partisans and made a pact. “You hate the Communists. So do we. You kill the Jews- So do we. Why fight? Let’s work together! We will supply you with guns and ammunition and medical help. You will stop attacking us and let us know when you are making an attack so we can get out of the way.” And so, the Polish Free Government in exile in London and its White Polish Partisans began a traitorous relationship with the Germans to fight the Allied efforts by assisting the Germans in fighting the Russians. I never heard from the young man again.
This year, our group met once again. This was my tenth year running the program and what a spirited group it was! We met in FREE on President Street in Crown Heights, an elegant old mansion with the right cozy atmosphere for our little group.
As an aside, when I first moved the meeting from Flatbush to Crown Heights, someone emailed me: “Aren’t we Misnagdim? What are we doing having our meeting in Crown Heights??” This person’s cousin actually married a Lubavitcher. (horrors!) Ita (Okinov) Altein’s daughter married into one of the most celebrated families from Eishyshok, the Kabatznik family when her daughter married Avraham Kabatznik. Everything is really truly connected. Of course Kabatznik’s are Yaffa Eliach’s fathers mothers family besides being celebrated geonim of Eishyshok. So in a few small ways, Eishyshok, a little far-vorfenor ort (at the end of the world) and her future are now in Lubavitch hands.
Actually, we are the most celebrated and long lasting survivors group perhaps in the United States, many have already folded. Thanks to the diligent work of our most famous survivor Dr. Yaffa Eliach author of “Hassidic Tales of the Holocaust”, the backwoods little known about town became famous with her celebrated exhibit in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC. The exhibit titled: “The Hall of Faces” is a long hallway covered from floor to Ceiling (and including the ceiling) of over 1000 photographs of the vanished 3000 or so residents of the town of Eishyshok located in the area of Vilna. The photographs Yaffa collected after the war by posing as a Polish girl. She went around and using dollars collected these from the local Poles of the area who had looted them along with the other treasures of the murdered Jews.
Yaffa, a History professor at Brooklyn College wrote the 700 year story of her beloved town in a book entitled: “There Once Was a World”. The book made her famous. In this way, Yaffa wreaked her revenge on the treacherous Poles and Lithuanians who spent the war dreaming of a free Polish Kingdom after the war was over. Alas, that was never to be for the Russians would never allow any kingdoms under their rule and in fact took good care of the White Poles and dethroned their “Government in Exile”, making Poland and Lithuania both Russian Satellites.
Even National Geographic traveled to Poland to record the story of her town in an eerie drama they did on the Einsazgruppen, the German killing squads. In the process the young man directing it, told me that his father was Jewish, but his mother not. He came to our meeting and his crew recorded the meeting and spoke with survivors and their children (and grandchildren ken yirbu!).
The result was a film about the history of the Einsazgruppen and a good piece about the well recorded fate of the Jews of Eishyshok. This young man even brought back a small stone from the killing site.
The next year the director called me asking if he could use the leftover footage for another documentary he had planned. We talked and I asked about his father who lived providentially across the street from Yaffa. I wondered about this young man who had such a deep interest and feeling for the Jews of this lost town.
“Is anyone in your mother’s family Jewish?” I asked. “Well, her sister is-“ Her sister? I wondered. There’s more here than meets the eye. “Why is your mothers sister Jewish, but your mother is not?”
“Well” He told me, “She converted to be a Christian”. (Perhaps because of the war) “You mean her mother is Jewish?” he said yes…
“So that means your mothers a Jew and better- You are a Jew too!” He knew the rule that if your mom’s a Jew, so are you. So he always figured that he’s a goy! “Welcome to the tribe!” I told my new found Jew.
Small miracles are still happening- Sparks of the fallout from Eishyshok. Doesn’t it say that we were sent into Golus to increase converts?
Anyways, this year our meeting was sparser than usual and so instead of it being the formal lecture as it always is with each person approaching the lectern to lecture about her or his family, it became a round table discussion with nosh and feeling. A farbrengen!
First we had our ritual candle lighting emceed by Eishyshok Society Secretary and organizer Shirley Grynbal. After that Rabbi Isser Fisher grandson of the last Rov of the Polish Town of Mayor (pronounced: My-Yor) did El Malay and spoke. Rabbi Fisher was a survivor with his mother of the town of Radin where they met up with the Eishyshoker’s who survived the September 21 and 22nd killings and ran to Radin. Together they hid and after the war, his sister married a young man from Eishyshok. Of course, the town of Mayor is famous for the Lubavitcher Avraham Mayor whose story was just published by his children the Drizen family.
Rabbi Fisher’s story was published recently by Hanoch Teller as one of a collection of stories from the War entitled: “Heroic Children” (available from Amazon). I had brought the book to the meeting and it made its rounds.
Well you know survivors. One, a survivor of Lodz is very adamant in his feelings about Poles and Lithuanians and in fact other non-Jews who besides murdering, raping and looting Jews also ignored their plight (which is about the same thing). The rich language used I will leave to the reader’s imagination. I am sure they would be edited out anyways. He was soon joined by others at the table. Somehow, the blasting of non-Jews who hate Jews turned to Israel (where else?) and then of course to the Muslims.
Well, one person at the table objected to the labeling of all Muslims as anti-Semites and this unfortunately began a recreation of a very Lithuanian discussion with all the accompanying yelling, screaming and heated expressions. “Just like it was in Eishyshok!” I remarked to the person next to me who agreed. Yes, we were reliving in all its color a Jewish political discussion as it must have been in the vanished town of Eishyshok. Well, the person who made the “some of my best friends are Muslim” comments left the room in protest.
I must say, to her credit, that Jews fight with a fire! But there is no arguing with a firsthand witness and children and grandchildren of survivors. But she did try. Fortunately we had a professional mediator who brought back a little peace. With some coaxing, the dissenting opinion came back and joined the meeting which we all agreed was the best in years!
Coming out of the meeting which lasted from noon until four thirty pm, I went to daven mincha and kapporos were all setup on the street next to 770 on the service road next to Eastern Parkway. This year, like last year, protestors for animal rights had come in large numbers to beg Jews to have mercy on the poor chickens.
This macabre scene bothered me last year. “Why? I wondered, do they not go to the farms, which are not Jewish, where the chickens are admittedly raised in appalling conditions. Why don’t they go after the non-Jewish transport services that bring the chickens without food or water, or even a way to give the chickens food or water in their cages?” This question always bothered me.
No. Instead, these well meaning and sincere protesters, many of whom are vegan (vegetarians) assault the Jewish communities around New York and in the Land of Israel with signs claiming Jews are murderers of chickens. Crying and begging for us, before our day of atonement to please have mercy on the chickens. Well, I don’t disagree we could indeed do something about feeding the poor chickens for the day or two they sit in Crown Heights. After all, Tzar Baalei Chayim (causing an animal pain) is forbidden by our Torah. It is also a mitzvah for a non-Jew.
But why us? Then I realized- We are nice to the protestors! If they would go to the farms (which are disgusting) and the transport services, well in rural areas, the rule of the shotgun is law. As well, you won’t find many sympathetic police to help you if you’re attacked by an angry farmer. He might even help!
We Jews are so nice. The bochurim tried to reason with the Jewish protestors. We don’t use shotguns.
The protestors came to protest, however they found a Lubavitcher crowd who turned the discussion to Mitzvos and of course Sheva Mitzvos. Since it was erev Yom Kippur so unlike the violence and anger which happened in other neighborhoods and Eretz Yisrael the mood was a mixture of welcoming and amusement. After all, they Jews were sincere albeit misguided and totally uneducated about Jewish laws concerning kindness to animals.
For example, Noach Bernstein and I met a sincere Jewish girl named Miriam who begged us to consider the chicken’s lives and to use money instead of chicken for Kapporos. We got into a whole discussion about the mitzvah of Tzar Baalei Chayim and how one is even supposed to feed their animals before they eat themselves! How the animal is supposed to be completely dead before chopping it up. How our process of killing the animal causes it the least pain.
I was upset because there is a certain non-Jewish cultural element that causes people to have misplaced feelings about animals, that are for the most part selfish and self serving. I always wondered if they had the same feelings about poor people as they have about the poor chickens. Do they know how many poor Jews are literally starving in the Land of Israel where there is no welfare? Who was the last poor person they fed or gave money to? Most of these protestors I knew are upper middle class if not wealthy. The subculture (or religion) of vegan’s (vegetarians) requires a lot of money. Go in any vegan or health food store and just look at the prices. They pay through the nose for their way of eating. It’s a whole sub-culture.
I told Miriam about ASPCA. This group preaching kindness to animals takes in stray animals and tries to find them homes. I told her: Are you aware that they neuter (spay / Castrate) the animals they take in? They rob the animals of their reproductive ability. Is this kind? Where is the animal’s free choice in this? Then after 30 or 60 days (maybe 90 days) if they don’t find a home for Fido they kill the animal! (Or sell it for scientific experiments). Now you tell me- Where is the kindness here?
In fact the whole idea of having a pet is so self-serving so narcissistic. First the owner spays it. Then they declaw it. Sometimes they cut off part of the tail to make it “more beautiful”. As long as it licks your hand and sits at your beck and call, so its “useful”. Then when it gets old and the burden of taking care of it is too much, what do pet owners do? They put it to sleep! The idea of what is “kind” is totally a self-serving selfish non-Jewish one!
Now, the same people who are steeped in this culture of supposed kindness to animals, comes to Jews who have the laws they don’t have to protect animals and preach kindness?
The discussion of course reached its inevitable point when Miriam told us that she is a vegetarian. “So you keep kosher!” We told her. “But you have to check for bugs”. From there, I told her I hosted that very day a meeting of a survivors organization. She told us that her father was a Lodz survivor and her mother had been in Auschwitz.
I’m telling you. You can guess where the conversation went after that. Chickens were forgotten as she told us about her parent’s wartime experiences. And soon enough Noach told her about Shabbos candles.
Isn’t it great to be a Jew?
Signing off from Crown Heights.