Monday, August 21, 2006

A Story Of Sadagora During World War I

(Photo courtesy of Tomasz Wisniewski)

The excerpt below was taken from the book The Enemy At His Pleasure: A Journey Through the Jewish Pale of Settlement During World War I by S. Ansky:

I went to the Hasidic rebbe's court, which was located on the outskirts of town.

Two red medieval castles in Moorish style were flanked by ingeniously ornamented circular towers with battlements and enormous portals. Of the two castles, which were identical in size and architecture, one was the rebbe's home, the other the synagogue.

The walls of both buildings were still whole, but the interiors had been thoroughly looted, wrecked, and soiled. Now both structures housed a military typhus hospital.

I shuddered when I saw the rebbe's house: gutted rooms, broken walls thickly coated with mud and spit. In the largest room, the walls were lined with cots, on which sick Romanian soldiers, newly arrived from the front, were sitting or lying. Dark, haggard, gloomy shadows in wet, muddy, tattered overcoats, half barefoot, squeezed together, trembling with fever, moaning. In the next room, orderlies were bandaging wounds and trimming the hair of typhus patients. The third room contained a bath; it had a heated cauldron. Amid dense steam and suffocating stench, a few dozen naked soldiers were shuffling about, sick and emaciated…

He [a physician] pointed to the other castle. "That's the second building. It used to be a synagogue. We set up a hospital there. It's got all of eighty cots."

I entered the large and very lofty synagogue. There I instantly noticed the rows of cots with sick and dying men lying there in military overcoats. The air was heavy and stank. The sick men were all gaping at us - with pitiful eyes pleading for help. In other cots, the eyes were cold, hard, and serious - and already hopeless, self-absorbed. A whole gamut of looks!

I peered around. Torn, naked, filthy walls, with a few traditional pictures left here and there: lions and leopards, musical instruments. An expensive but broken chandelier hung from the ceiling.

Then my eyes alighted on the eastern wall - and what I saw made me tremble. The rich ornamentation of the Holy Ark with the Tablets of the Law above it was untouched. But at the center, on the Holy Ark, a Christian icon had been inserted. Desecration. The word flash through my mind. And this jolted me more than any pogrom. An ancient emotion stirred in my heard, an echo of the Destruction of the Temple. I stood there, unable to avert my eyes from that bizarre image. I felt that a dreadful profaning had occurred here, a degrading of both religions. The savage hand of a brutal soldier had violated both God and man….

The doctor was telling me something, but I wasn't listening.

Upon returning to Czernowitz, I met a Hasidic Jew from Sadagora. I told him what I had seen in the rebbe's synagogue. He wasn't surprised. His embittered face remained cold and stony.

"It scarcely matters compared with what happened to the rebbe's grave." He sighed softly.

"What happened?"

"You don't know? The army destroyed the entire cemetery. They smashed all the headstones - as well as the small ohel on Yisroel of Rizhin's grave, which they dug up, and they made off with his bones. Someone had told them that Jews bury money in graves, so they hunted for it."



The yizkor book Pinkas Hakehillot Romania states:

With the outbreak of WWI, the Russian army conquered Sadagura and pogroms were brought against the Jews of the city. They murdered several of them and exiled many others to Siberia, the elderly among them dying from hardships along the way. The rioters destroyed the zaddik’s luxurious house as well as most of the Jewish houses.

No mention, however, is made about the story in Ansky's book concerning the kever of Rebbe Yisroel of Rizhin, nor in the book The House of Rizhin, nor the International Jewish Cemetery Project's entry for Sadagora.

Does anyone else have any information about the veracity of this story?


At August 23, 2006 at 1:53:00 AM EDT, Blogger MC Aryeh said...

Wow. I hope it is just a story, and not the emes....I have been reading histories of many of the shtetls of old, and they are all so tragic sometimes I want to stop, but it is so important to read about and to know...

At August 23, 2006 at 4:51:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

MCAryeh: The most tragic story in this book is contained on page 79.


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