MEMORIES OF THE TOWN IN WHICH I HAVE NEVER BEEN
"Where is your father from?" , I was sometimes asked, and I answered: "You - for granted - do not know the place. He comes from a small town whose name is Kartuz Bereza or Bereza Kartuzka". Only few people listened the name of this town, and most knew it for the jail that there was, but my relatives knew that it was the town where my father was born. I know life in Kartuz Bereza through my father's stories, about people, and especially its Jews who stimulate me a special charm, and all relation with the jail didn't have for me any importance. My father YTZCHAK TUCHMAN told so many stories about his town, all details that there happened, and especially the whole stage of his childhood in Kartuz Bereza.
YTSHELE my father, was son of a family favored by many children. He had cousins, nephews, and many, many neighbors. I met my father's siblings through the stories, and they appear to my memory, acquiring a special characteristic in my fantasy. The same thing happens with their parents, my grandfather and grandmother that I didn't have the privilege of knowing, uncles and aunts, and even neighbors. The images of all them filled my fantasy. I knew that my grandmother worked from the morning until night, and she was always busy by some task.
When children demanded her something exaggerated she rejected them, but if a hungry person entered her kitchen, she always left him satisfied. My grandfather was a merchant, and most of the time was outside of house because of his work. When he returned, all the family surrounded him and listened with great attention and respect. My uncle, my father's brother "competed" to determine who was more mischievous. Of all them, I knew personally my aunt HENIE. Another aunt, younger than my father, LEAH, was murdered in endless wars that impacted the town.
I liked to listen the mischief of the small YTSHELE, four years old. I delighted listening the story about his " maneuvers " to climb the pears tree planted in the patio of "Cheder's" teacher to arrive to the top of leafy tree to find the treasure, the best pears. I liked to listen this story many times.
I also "met" a teacher of special personality whose name was SHMUEL BAM. When the students arrived, they hoped to find in front of them a common "Cheder" Rabbi. He was something exceptional, and astonished children and their parents. He not only taught prayers of the Sidur, Torah and Talmud, but the astonishing thing is that he also taught arithmetic. Arithmetic? Who listened about a fellow like this man? When was Rabbi's function to teach arithmetic?. And not only this: whenever parents came to take children of Cheder, they were surprised and astonished by novelties. One of the surprises: he hanged on the door a note with tasks schedule and weekly study program.
Another novelty: a beautiful day, he began to teach Hebrew!! Impossible to believe!! In the town was studied and spoken only Yiddish. Why suddenly Hebrew? SHMUEL BAM didn't surrender. He considered that Jewish children should know Hebrew, and that it was their language. Without knowing him personally, I always thanked him from deepness of my heart for good Hebrew that my father had acquired. When he arrived as new immigrant in Israel, the knowledge of this language helped him a lot. The novelties continued. One day decided Rabbi SHMUEL to dedicate some time.... to song classes!! Never had been listened such a thing in Kartuz Bereza!! And which songs taught? My father used to sing the refrain "Quickly siblings, quickly" and "On the main road somebody threw a rose". In synthesis, the Rabbi was a singular character in that time.
My memories of Bereza are not only experiences and nostalgias. My father's last story is engraved in my memory. It happened when the town was no longer there. During WWII when Germans were to conquer the town, my father escaped because he was an active member in an organization included in "German black list." He escaped alone, saved his life, but all his family was left there. When war concluded he wrote to his family, and didn't receive answer to his letters. One and another time wrote to his relatives, friends and neighbors. To all those that knew, asked: what happened?. Nobody answered his letters.
When he was completely disappointed, he wrote to Town's Mail Chief, requesting him to give the letter to the first Jew that enters to Mail Office. In that letter, my father requested to be informed what had passed with his family and with all town Jews. In some way the letter arrived to hands of a Jew that was not inhabitant of the place, and by chance had entered mail office. He got interested, and wrote to my father that regrettably had to inform him that all Jews of the town were murdered by Nazis, not leaving nobody alive.
I also "lived" this end as if I did it with my own eyes. This accompanied me until the end of my days as if I had been there, in the Valley of Death of Kartuz Bereza Jews...
MY VILLAGE KARTUZ BEREZA
Written June 6 1946.
Translated from Yiddish to Hebrew by Tzvi and Sarah Gachelet
Bereza, Bereza, my town!
My soul despairs of nostalgia
Even if nobody sends an air letter
My heart for you is destroyed
Where my children are?
Where my parents and wife?
Console me, friends,
Come, help me
I see before my eyes the small Cheder
There several years we stayed
The beautiful and innocent youth
That this happened, who can believe it?
I walk in contour
All silent, all dead
It was not seen palpitate any soul
My hours are black and sad
From the day of my birth and up to now
Satan was active
Where my three children are
The Cheder transformed into cemetery
Nobody was left alive
All collapsed and exterminated
In a dark time
Bereze, Bereze, my town
What have they made of you, of my house?
What happened to people and to "chadarim"?
They eliminated them and they were war victims.