Zareby Koscliene

by Evelyn Rosen


Tishe b'ov (9th day of Ab-fast day commemorating the destruction of the first and second temples in Jerusalem), 1914. Our shtetl of Zaromb looked different than on that fast day in other years.  All shops were closed. People gathered in small groups along the streets talking not about the destruction of Solomon's temple, but of mobilization and war.  With tears in their eyes and pain in their hearts, mothers looked at their sons; fathers with red tags walked around with their heads bowed.  Cries could be heard from every house where mothers whose sons were being taken away, wives whose husbands had been called for mobilization, children whose father were being taken away for them, all bemoaned their fate and expressed their fears.

The moonlit night in Zaromb was a night of mourning and the next days were days of deep sadness.  Every morning, Zaromber stood at their doorways waiting for the mail carrier.  From time to time, there was sad news which spread quickly through the shtetl.                           

Groups gathered around any newspaper that arrived, trying to figure out how long this disaster of war would last.  The entire shtetl began to prepare for impending disaster.  Near each house, pits were dug in which to hide the little bit of valuable the poor Jews possessed.  The richer Jews bought wagons and horses so they would be able to save their possessions in case of danger.  Even my father, Saynay the "Shokhet" (ritual slaughterer) bought a horse and wagon. Everyone was prepared for a conflagration.

When news reached Zaromb that Malkin was ablaze, there was a panic.  The retreating Russian army came through Zaromb like a black cloud.  Everyone ran into his house.  Shops were left open and unguarded not to upset the military: "Let then take what they want."  They did take everything.

The Russians confiscated every wagon in the shtetl.  My father took one wheel off his wagon and hid it, so they left his wagon.  When the last division passed along the Malkin-Ostrove road, people began carrying packs to the fields outside the shtetl.  The men carried furniture, the women bedding and clothing.  Even the children carried small packages.

Suddenly there was a desperate cry -- Zaromb was burning!  Flames were shooting up to the sky from all parts of the shtetl.  People were running in and out of the burning houses with anything they could grab -- a parcel, a chair, some pots.  They ran to the field, threw the items on the ground and ran back to the houses to see what else they could salvage.  A mother, realizing her child was missing, ran through the field wailing.

The wealthier Jews, who still had wagons and horses dumped wagonloads of their belongings, then drove back to bring the rest.

My father quickly put the wheel back on his wagon, threw what little we owned into the wagon, put the two youngest children atop it all, grabbed the reins and yelled for his horse to go quickly.  But no matter what he did, the horse raised his head and forelegs, but wouldn't budget from the spot.  My mother and father began pushing the wagon.  My uncle Shayke pulled the horse.  I stood thinking about the long mirror which was left in the house and turned around to go back inside.  My mother noticed I was not there and forgot about the horse and the wagon.  The whole family was looking for me.  My grandfather, Leybke, pushed me and the mirror out of the burning house.  By then, all of Zaromb was in flames.

When the red flames became transformed into black smoke, mothers began unpacking the bedding and tried to put their crying children to sleep under the sky.  Suddenly we heard galloping horses nearby and shouts in German.  Everyone started whispering that the German army was there now, in place of the Russians.  At dawn, the men put on their "Talleysim" (prayer shawls), children woke up crying, women began opening packages of food.  We all breakfasted on the damp ground.

Then each family went back to look at what remained of what had been their homes.  Nobody returned to the field empty handed.  Someone brought a blackened pot; someone else some knives with burned handles; others whatever remnants they could find.  My grandfather and Uncle Shayke went to see what was left of their belongings.  On the way, they spotted my father's wagon and his horse.  My uncle discovered that the wheel, which my father had reattached in such a hurry, would not turn.