PRUZHANY YZKOR BOOK

1958

Chapter 110

PRUZHANY WITHOUT JEWS

By Ytshe Seletzky

 

1945. I came from Linowo in a truck, to the same place from which I used to watch my home city Pruzhany when I left years ago. From the distance I see KRUTZEL's mill and the sawmill, the high chimneys and the houses... distant from each other. How were these empty spaces created? Where did Seltzer street disappeared? (Dombrowskiega St. for poles) Where are those trees on both sides of sidewalk?

 

I came to the river, beside the cabinet-maker's house. The big bridge and its high parapets disappeared, and in its place there is a temporary crossing made of planks, like a bridge lying on the water.

We reached the Church place, near RAD KROMEN where the stores used to be. Every house disappeared with its foundations, all around is covered by wild grass and high thistles... With difficulty I found the location of my street ; it wasn't easy to find our house's. Thanks to SORE GLOTZER's basement, I recognized ours.

 

I'm standing in front of the line of stores. It's all intact. These buildings with its powerful columns was a jewel for the village. Now they're as alone as a dead relative, for their inhabitants and Jewish traders aren't there anymore. The columns collapsed, pieces coming away like a tear in the clothes for the departed beloved people. The white color of those days lighted the center of town. Now it's covered by black spots, discolored like if it was in mourning for its exterminated owners.

 

There are military warehouses now... Here's the white wall, the Tarbut school building and the High school. Here in this religious study house, Jewish youth used to learn and enjoy, and now there are soviet soldiers staying there. From the windows, camp beds can be seen.

 

I came to the "Bet Yakov house of religious studies" in the truck. It was intact. Many houses remained all around. I might find Jews there... but Yakov's sons weren't there...

 

There were nine synagogues. Only one wasn't destroyed. I entered and saw the "Aron Ha'kodesh" (place where the Holy scrolls were put) wasn't damaged. Neither was the upper floor where the women used to sit. The Bolsheviks built it on an electric station. I hear the banging of engines, the sound of machines... I thought: "maybe it's the song of the parishioners, in front of my eyes there are hundreds of people who spread their prayers..." I come back to reality: they're not there. The only holy place surviving was desecrated and humiliated...

 

I went to the place where the market used to be, and I didn't find the Jewish cabins, not a single trace... Only a vast field. The Jewish cabins are in the courtyards and orchards of the peasants, that used the planks to make henhouses and stables.

 

I came to IATKE street, and the synagogue's courtyard. Everything's mixed here. Wild grass is growing on the piece of land, mountains of rubble, all messy, and only the public bath house can be seen.

 

On Pocht street (Post street) many of the beautiful houses are no longer there. Some remained, but their former owners didn't. New "heirs" live there. Most of Kobrin street disappeared. Y. L. Peretz school was razed too. The capitol city of Pruzhany District has been degraded and changed into a hamlet.

 

I stayed six months at Pruzhany, six terrible months of nightmares. Each place I passed through, I saw the former landlords, I saw the houses inhabitants, they were alive before my eyes. They would come with me everywhere.

 

Our gentile neighbors had got used to the "Jews of Pruzhany". Now their longed-for dream come true: they're heirs of Jewish goods. For generations they were our friends. They had their "Jew" without whom they couldn't manage. Don't they miss them now? The Jew they turn to in order to relieve their sorrow, to comment with no fear the dissatisfaction and injustice the authorities committed by humiliating and ruling them...

 

I walked on Pruzhany ground and I couldn't believe it. Is this the city of Pruzhany? Where are those Jews trading on the week days? No market, no buyers nor sellers. I see the present "market days". Poor them! I was standing there on a Monday or Thursday and I saw the orphanage of trade, without dynamic Jews. No shake hands to seal a purchase or exchange. No merry horse sellers, no 15 "groshn" herring sellers, no baker women selling their stuff, announcing and praising their products; those who used to sale clothes, boots o hats have disappeared. Only silence, sadness, a cemetery instead a market.

 

Also the Jews of the feast days disappeared. Where are those Jews that worked hard on the week, but had a different look on Saturdays eve? An additional soul perched on them. The youths aren't there anymore, those who walked, argued and sang...

 

A silence of death rules all the time. Lonely and empty is Post street, the promenade is mourning. From time to time a cart with Red Army soldiers passes by.

 

On Saturday evening, at the synagogue's courtyard, there aren't the Jews walking hurried to the synagogues. The canticle "Lechu Le'ranena" (let's praise God) of Saturday night cannot be heard now. The sabbatical candlelight in which the whole town was immersed, are no longer burning... Now soldiers of the Red Army march on the synagogue courtyard, heading to the public bath house.

 

The large Seltzer street that leaded to both cemeteries disappeared as well as its sieges. The wall between death and life was destroyed. Then death and destruction were all around. The whole Seltzer street and the surrounding lanes were a cemetery. All the trees that gave the place a holy look and meaning, have disappeared. Many tombstones are broken, let down and humiliated. There are shelter holes around; if there wasn't a battle here, who dug it and desecrated the holy place?

 

We the few survivors feel lonely, very lonely, dejected, devastated, we protect each other in one or other house. Someone makes a work, other is an employee of the local regime. The sadness and doubt fall over the all of us. What to do? How to start a new life? With whom? There is a hate sea around. The frightening scenes lie in every corner, when you constantly feel the suffering your close people passed through.

 

And what about our "neighbors"? In their "little words" we feel falseness, cynicism, they suggest us to "go to America, with your brothers". They express "solidarity" but we know the real meaning. They don't want to pay the debt of the goods stolen to Jews. They want to be heirs of the little remaining.

 

In every house we should write the biblical words: "They murdered and they inherited".Staying in Pruzhany means for every Jew to feel like orphans for ever, surrounded by enemies that lie in wait for us all the time.

 

1945. You close your eyes; not a long time ago, in the recent past still fresh, here life vibrated, but you wake up from the dream and you see the outcome, and you fall into melancholy, for this is like living on a graveyard...

 

Then everyone goes away from this bloody valley, some have come for a little time. They see what happened around and they look for the way out. And the words of the Bible book "Elcha" (wailing book read on Av 9th, when both temples of Jerusalem were destroyed) sound again: "What a lonely city inhabited by people, now it's like a helpless widow!"

 

You are alone, our dear Pruzhany, that used to have a full life, our so Jewish Pruzhany, you went like a widow, trapped, sad, deserted...