At The Valley of the Destroyed Communities, Jerusalem, 1999 On the Fifty-Seventh Anniversary of the Bialystok Ghetto Rebellion April 16th, 2000 Published in the Kurier Poranny Magazine, Bialystok April 18, 2000
Im 45 years old, and I'm as American as Coca-Cola, cherry pie, baseball, or plastic credit cards. Until two years ago I knew very little about my family's roots on Polish soil. My father was born Abram Bartnowski in Zabludow Poland in 1913. He died young in 1965. My father and my grandmother came to America in 1921 from the port of Gdansk aboard a ship called the Susquehanna. Their decision to come to America and join some of my grandmothers family members already in Chicago, and Passaic New Jersey was hastened by the fact that my grandfather who worked in one of Zabludows leather factories, and my fathers two younger brothers had all died in the influenza epidemic of 1918-19. My mother says my father told her that although he left Zabludow at the age of eight he still had very vivid memories of Zabludow that never left him. My father was a well-integrated and successful American, but he always felt that he had lived his life in two worlds. Of the pre-war world in Zabludow it has been said that one could manage without a watch. Almost every child knew how to look at the shade of the sun and tell the correct time. One could easily know the day of the week, the coming of the Jewish holidays, and the changes of the seasons. There was almost no need for a calendar. Life proceeded in a circular motion like the hands of a watch. Starting at one certain point and returning after one full circle.
All I had of the world of Zabludow was some old pre-war photographs of family members, most of whom I could not identify, and many of whom my father had said were murdered in the holocaust. I also had one of my fathers dearest possessions, the 500 page Zabludow Yizkor (memorial) book published in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1961. It's written in Yiddish, a language in which I have no ability. I noticed that several of my wonderful old photographs had Yiddish writing on the back. I was able to find someone to translate this for me, and in this manner I was able to identify several previously unknown family members. I also was able to employ someone to translate to English the approximately 70 pages of the Holocaust Chapter of the Zabludow Memorial book. Using the Internet extensively I was able to connect with several persons much older than myself who were born and spent their formative years in Zabludow before the war. They were able to give me some personal information regarding some of my family members in the photographs. I was also able to find some previously unknown family members living right here in America who provided additional information.
For the past year I've had a comprehensive Zabludow Memorial Website on the Internet where I publish all my material including many old photos from Zabludow, and many English translations of historical documents related to the Jewish people of Zabludow. My website has been visited over 4,000 times. Through the internet I've come into contact with perhaps 40-50 Jewish people from Zabludow families, and some Polish people with whom I've enjoyed both a good collaboration, and sometimes a frank discussion. Several Polish people have been extremely kind and helpful to me.
In my research I learned that my great grandparents Shmuel (Samuel), and Rina Bartnowski (Rina means song in Hebrew), had at least 10 children, not three or four as I had previously thought. Shmuel had a Smyths shop on the Zabludover River, and his son Birshe Bartnowski worked there with him. By all reports Birshe was a very nice man who had never hurt even a flee. When the Germans entered Zablduow in late June of 1941 they immediately burnt nearly the whole town of Zabludow to the ground including the very old wooden Synagogue built in 1646, which was the centerpiece of Jewish Zabludow. For hundreds of years a very large rock sat next to the synagogue. It is said that when the Jews looked at that rock with no Synagogue next to it they felt as though the rock had been orphaned. In the Holocaust Chapter of the Memorial book I unexpectedly found an eyewitness account of the murder of my great uncle Birshe by German troops on the same day of the burning of Zabludow in June of 1941. The Germans took Birshe out of his house and bought him by the bridge over the river and shot him in front of his wife and children.
I found that I had a great Aunt Mindel Bartnowski who married Itske Lopata. Coincidentally Itske was my grandmothers (she was born Tsirel Lopata in Zabludow) brother. They had at least two children Hanna and Rachel Lopata. Hanna by all accounts was the most attractive women in Zabludow. I learned that not long before the war Hanna married Yitzhak Rubins. I was able to find and contact some surviving members of this Rubins family in Israel. None of these people of whom I speak survived the war, but their precise fate in the holocaust is unknown.
The truth about what happened to the Jews in Zabludow during the war is worse than what could easily be imagined. Some like my great uncle Birshe were murdered in the first days of the war in 1941. Many fled to Bialystok and died in the various German actions which took place there, or were deported to Treblinka. Motke Zabludovski the baker from Zabludow and his family were all murdered in Bialystok on February 5th 1943, as revenge for the heroic action of Yitzhak Malmed on Kopitzka Street. Also Beila Zesler and her two daughters Lilly and Sollie were murdered that same day. When the Germans burned the Bialystok Great Synagogue the famous chess player from Zabludow Aharon Zabludovsky was burned alive, as were several highly respected Jewish teachers from Zabludow. The last Rabbi of Zabludow Joachan Mirsky was deported from the Bialystok Ghetto to the Pruzany Ghetto, then to Auschwitz in January of 1943 where he was murdered. Avraham Dralis, Herschel Bazruk, and Rabbi Yaacov Zesler followed the same horrible path. Some from Zabludow were among those taken from the Bialystok Ghetto to Pietrasze Forest and murdered there. These are a few of the names that are known, Feivl Zesler and his son, Velvel Glatshtein and his son, Shlomo Borosh, Avrahamel Bazruk, and others . . . so many places to die!
In Zabludow the remaining Jews, about 1,400 were staying in the large Beit Ha Midrash (prayer or study house), and a few other buildings that survived the burning of the town. Later they were placed in a ghetto located in the area of the leather factories. They suffered greatly from June of 1941 until November of 1942. They provided slave labor on the roads under terrible conditions, and faced many tortures by the Germans. On November 1st 1942 the remaining Zabludow Jews were transported by Polish wagons to the former camp of the Polish Tenth Calvary in Bialystok. There they remained under the worst of conditions until about November 10th when they were taken by train to Treblinka, and all but a small handful died by gas that very same day.
A few Jews from Zabludow by miracles survived the death camps. Some other Zabludow Jews were arrested by the Soviets in the period 1939-41, and were taken deep into Russia. Ironically this turned out to be their blessing, as there they were able to survive the war. Some young Jewish people served in the Soviet Army and survived the war. A small number of Zabludow Jews managed to flee deep into Russia, and a few where successfully hidden in the Zabludow area by local Poles. Today there are Jewish people in America, Israel, Argentina, Mexico, Canada, and Russia all with roots in Zabludow.
When I look at the wonderful old photographs of my family members in Zabludow I'm struck by how it seems as though for them time stood still, or ended in a manner very difficult to explain, not by some Pompeii-like volcanic explosion, or meteor which struck the earth. This was a one hundred percent man made disaster. I wish I could go to Zabludow today and find hundreds if not several thousand proud Polish citizens of the Jewish faith to greet me, living in a free, independent, and increasingly prosperous Poland. They would have names like Bartnowski, Zabludovski, Zasler, and Gelershtein. But this is just in my imagination. We have adjusted well to the new reality of Israel and America as the center of Jewish civilization, but on a day such as the anniversary of the Bialystok Ghetto rebellion, as we are going forward we pause to remember Poland in all it's aspects, and to honor the memory of our people, like the Jewish People of Zabludow whose lives were cut short in the cruelest fashion, and whose ashes were scattered on the four winds.
Tilford Bartman To learn more about the Bialystok Ghetto Uprising click on the links below The Bialystok Ghetto Uprising by Pejasch BURSZTEJN Fighers of the Bialystok Ghetto From the Museum of Tolerance Multimedia Learning Center The Story of a Bialystok Partisan The Story of Icchok Melmed Documents from Polish Archives, English Tanslations Testimony of Meduchowicz Lipa Jewish athletes Murdered in the Bialystok Ghetto Testimonies from the Final Liquidation of the Bialystok Ghetto Testimony of Jozefina Szaper Modzelewska Click here for Bialystok Memorial Website
Bartnowski History Zabludow Synagogue Maps Town History Zabludow Landsmanshaftn Zabludow Holocaust Page Links Zabludow "Ancient" Pnkas Web: 2003 Tilford Bartman