Every Jew in this world, like every Armenian victim of the genocide and every Cambodian survivor of the Killing Fields, knows how precious, fragile and tenuous our very existence is.
My grandmother's name was Pesa Kaitz. The gravestone says Pola, she had to take the name of a deceased sister to enter this country. My grandmother came from the town of Wyszkov, Poland, a shtetl northeast of Warsaw.
Her family were relatively well to do, they owned the lumber yard. Wyszkov, situated on the Vistula River, had large forests. There were terrible pogroms in the town in 1919 and 1920 that massacred many jews.
Before the war 9000 jews lived in the town, after the war, none survived. They did not go passively or quietly. They fought.
The leader of the Warsaw uprising, Mordechai Anielewicz, came from Wyszkow. And they fought valiantly until the last person fell. Those not shot were shipped to Oświęcim.
Pesa Kaitz was the daughter of Menachem Shkarlat and a mother whose name is unknown to me. Shkarlat means sapphire in Polish. Menachem may have changed it from Grossbard. Pesa had twelve siblings. My grandmother was lucky enough to leave Poland for Palestine in the mid 1920's. The rest of the family was not so lucky. They all perished at Auschwitz, except for her sister Malka, who also escaped before the war and Ruchel, who was hit by shrapnel when they were bombed. The town was completely decimated, by Nazis, Ukrainians and fellow Poles.
Her dead siblings were named Bluma, Israel, Mendel, Hana, Ruchel, Rivka, Itzhak, Moshe, Brana and Pola. I am reprinting a poem from the Yizkor or memorial book from Wyszkow, by Binem Heller.
The Yizkor book can be found here, https://www.jewishgen.org/Yizkor/Wyszkow/Wyszkow.html
In the Wyszkow forest.
The road stretches to Bialystok
Through the sunny village and the forest.
In the auto, in the middle of the way,
I felt – that I detained someone.
Did I hear a scream?
Or was that an order?
In the middle of the asphalt highway
The auto quickly came to a halt.
The light air vibrated
The sun burned the tree trunks.
Who is calling into the empty stillness?
Who recognized me on the road?
A moment, another, I hear:
The forest magically awoke.
In the echoes of the distant guns
The noise of battle is growing.
My heart is constricting from the waiting
A joy and anxiousness befalls me.
The echo of the ghetto in battle
I hear in the Wyszkower forest.
These are the heroes of May
That came out of the fiery days.
They are leaving the ghetto again
Away towards the enemy and battle.
The fire did not choke them
The resistance was not disrupted:
They were sent out of the ghetto
They chased the enemy off the earth.
The last and thin row
Of fighters was counted –
A part of the large army,
Part of the “Gwardia Ludowa.” *
The road to the village is closed –
SS takes the group into its grip.
They fall until the last one in the slaughter –
And that is the noise that I hear.
After a while – the vision disappears
A stillness envelops the forest
And solemnly, into the wind,
The eternal rest begins to speak.