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A post war visit to Volozhin

By Rachel & Reuven Rogovin

Translated from Hebrew


We left Tadzhikistan and came to live in Riga in 1946. One day we decided to visit Volozhin. As soon as we arrived there we found out that we had nothing, but completely nothing to see of our life prior to the war. Volozhin, the Jewish shtetl did not exist. I recalled the words of our poet Bialik (a student of the Volozhin Yeshiva) "Look around, my friend. On your heart are ruins, only ruins".

On the first day we met our Christian friend; Roman Horbatshevski. With tears in his eyes, he told us that he hid behind a fence and watched the shtetl's Jews marching to their death. "They walked silently, as if ignoring the faith awaiting for them" he said. "Tell me Mr. Rogovin, why did they accept the verdict, why did they not resist?" I left the question without an answer.

After some days we met an old friend Mr. Katovitz the orthodox priest from Losk. He was really glad to see us and could not hide the joy that he was 'blessed" to see us alive. He invited us to visit our mutual friend the priest Salizh, who asked for the second time the faithful question: "Why did they not resist?"

This time I could not restrain myself and answered his question with a question:

"You don't understand why the Jews did not resist? And the fact that from four millions Red Army captives only 3% had survived? And why did not they show any resistance? The Soviet Communists and Commissars that were taken prisoners by the Nazis, they knew that they would be exterminated, why did they not fight for their lives? And the thousands of Polish Officers that were murdered by the Soviet NKVD in the Katyn forest, - why did they not resist?  Do you understand it? The answer, your holiness you might receive only from the holy martyrs that were terrorized, humiliated, famished by the Nazis and not only abandoned but commonly haunted by their gentile neighbors.

The conversation farther spoiled our gloomy state of mind.  We decided to go to the Jewish Grave Yard, in which our dearests were buried. We looked at the vast area of the common graves.  They looked like small grass covered hills. A committee inquiring about the Nazi crimes was active in Volozhin at the time of our visit there. A grave was opened. Woe to the eyes that saw it. We looked at the murdered. Despite the flesh that was shed from the bodies we could recognize some of our friends. We have no words to describe it. For this reason it would be better not to scrub the wounds and not add pain to our unbearable pain. We mentioned here a drop of the hell we have seen and we leave the reader to imagine it. But as horrible as it would be to imagine it, it would never resemble the dreadful reality of what our eyes have seen while looking at the remains of the Volozhin Jews.

We visited Volozhin again prior to our Aliya to Israel in 1958.  We went again to look at our Brothers common grave. The years diminished the tomb. The hill sank as though it had been swallowed by the enormity of the crime committed here. Our brothers' blood had leaked into the very depth of the earth. But to our sorrow it did not leave any sign and did not overthrew the world's foundations. Life went on like nothing had occurred here. Pigs were burrowing inside the graves of the last of the Volozhin congregation members, the congregation that lived there for five hundred years. I conclude with a wish that the mourning of our fallen community will never end.