• April 15, 2013
  • 68

Through Vilnius to Warsaw – the letters of the Jewish fighter

fot. polskatimes.pl

Ofer Aloni, an Israeli writer and artist, found in his family archive letters written to his mother, also in Polish, whose author is Rachel Zilberberg “Sarenka” , a participant in the ghetto uprising and Ofer’s aunt. He was named after her; Ofer means in Hebrew ‘young roe deer’. The majority of the letters dates from the period when she was hiding herself near Vilnius at the beginning of the war.

The letters describe the first years of the war and Zilberberg’s experiences, who – as many members of the Zionist youth movement – escaped from Warsaw occupied by the Germans to the East. Rachel was in Vilnius, in small kibbutz established by a Zionist youth group. In her letters, she wrote that although she was all right, she had doubts because she felt that she was  supposed to be closer to her Warsaw community and fight there.

“Because always and everywhere I feel such stupid responsibility for people and I must take care of them” – she wrote in a letter from April 1941, from the kibbutz near Vilnius which was already included at that time, together with whole Lithuania, in USSR. In the letters, she was writing about her uneasiness about her sister’s fate, she was persuading her to go to Palestine.

In one of the last letters – written in a small hand on a scrap of paper – she thanks her sister for information. Her sister Ruth is already on her way to Palestine; thanks to her connections with Zionist activists, Rachel had taken care of the documents necessary to leave. She decided, however, to remain in Vilnius already occupied by the Germans.

In this letter she informs also that she had given birth to daughter Maja who is sweet and she cries at nights. At that time, the information about systematic murder of Jews by the Germans in Vilnius reaches the kibbutz near Vilnius. Rachel resolves to come back to Warsaw in order to inform about the scale of extermination led by the Germans and to convince the local community to resistance.

“It was a night of horror. We, the members of Hashomer Hatzair, had hidden in one flat. We heard the voices coming from the street. A German car stopped, then we heard screams, shots, crying. In this way they evacuated a street after street. Where? To the nearby forest close to Paneriai, undoubtedly the valley of massacre” – told “Sarenka” at this meeting. She said that this was not an isolated massacre, that it is a part of a planned extermination of the Jews and that young people in ghettos have to start to fight. In Warsaw her account from Vilnius is accepted with disbelief and appeals calling for armed insurrection – with scepticism.

“One day we called a meeting of our brigade with the new young delegate from the Vilnius ghetto. It seems to me that her name was “Sarenka” (or maybe Rachel?). (…) In front of us stood a young woman, about 22 years old, she had already silver highlights in her hair. In the  semi-darkness she looked dignified, but her eyes were dimmed” – Aliza Wittis-Szomron  quotes the account in a book about young ghetto fighters. According to Ofer, it is a proof of Rachel Zilberberg’s significant role in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

Ofer became fascinated by the history of  aunt who decided to send daughter to children’s home before leaving so that she could join her companions in the Warsaw ghetto. He sees her as a rebel forgotten by history. “Not only her, but many other women who played important roles in the uprising, have been forgotten. “Sarenka” is like Polish Joan of Arc” – says in the conversation with PAP.

Rachel died on May 8th 1943 when the Germans discovered and surrounded huge shelter on Miła 18 Street in Warsaw, in which a few hundred of people took shelter, including the staff of The Jewish Combat Organization and over 100 Jewish fighters.

Ofer still hopes that it is not too late to find his cousin Maja. If she had survived, she must be a 72-year-old woman…

Based on: PAP, polskatimes.pl

Source: http://www.wilnoteka.lt/pl/artykul/przez-wilno-do-warszawy-listy-zydowskiej-bojowniczki

Tłumaczenie Barbara Rożek w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Barbara Rożek within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu. 

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