This selection, taken from the narrative " The Travels of Dvora from Kalisz and Letters to Nowhere." Travels tells of a young woman whose wanderings take her from refugee flight to love, relationship and life in Warsaw and participation in the Vilna ghetto resistance. Shaul recalls many happenings: recollections of childhood in a living Jewish community, memories of everyday life suffused with the glow of holiness, panicky days and devastaating reoundups, mass shootings and frantic hiding, and nostalgia of near-miss escapes from Nazis and service with partisans.

Selections from the Scrolls

The Diary of Leo der Junge

The Trail of Fire and Jewish Brotherhood

Shaul Returns

Does Birkenau Exist?

Passover in the Seventh Block

Crossing the Sea

Never Say There's Only Death

It was a glorious Polish winter and the edge of the woods was bathed in purple radiance. Whenever she found herself pushed to the side of the road, swept along like a log on the stream, Dvora would feast her eyes on the open landscape. Giant chestnut trees stood naked, their fallen copper leaves rustling at her feet.

Other trees were still green and there was no shortage of wild flowers in the meadows. Behind the hedgerows, late flowering sunflowers, not yet cut down, swayed their heads. Nature seemed to take care that not everything should die at once.

Old men and women sat leaning on their suitcases, taking a respite, wheezing and out of breath. They tried to protect themselves from the wave of trampling feet, but anyone who was not quick enough to stand his ground was bound to be pushed down the slope.

Flood waters were flowing at the foot of the embankment, and from time to time a shout of terror would rend the air as someone found himself stumbling and falling into the turbulent sewage. The true river, the river of humanity, flowed along the road above, filling its length and breadth from Warsaw to Lvov and beyond. Everyone was there! Farmers with their families and a bundle of property and a cow pulled along on a rope. Prosperous merchants in well-protected carts, with pieces of fur to cover the feet of the passengers. Householders in wagons with tarpaulins over them, the wagoners sitting up front in their drivers' caps. Country gentry riding horses, town intellectuals conspicuous in their spectacles, priests, sportsmen on bicycles, lorries creaking under their loads, cars with baskets tied to their roofs and motorcycles hooting to pick a way laboriously through the crowd, for the roads were crammed with thousands of feet.

But soon there was a change in the direction of the flow. While many were still pressing out of Warsaw and the bombed cities of the west, the first of the returnees could be seen making their way back to the banks of the Vistula. Poland had been conquered and the Messerschmitts had stopped harassing the refugees; now the migrants were moving in two directions. More and more the ones moving east were Jews.

Jews from the small towns traveled in wagons. Property was loaded in the front of the wagon, suitcases and eiderdowns. An abundance of eiderdowns. Mostly it was old people, children, and pregnant women who sat in the wagons. The men and youths walked alongside. There were some who had gotten up from their sickbeds, from surgery, some half paralyzed, others holding their hands to their hearts, heads drooping, straining with effort. They came from all directions. At every crossroads more refugees joined them, the column of Jews continued to swell. The majority trudged in silence. The road between Bedzin and Pinczow was strewn with corpses, most of them charred, the skeletons of burned out buses, motorcycles, and suitcases, their contents scattered unheeded. Here a devastating bombing attack had caught them, one of those strafing raids the German pilots took such purposeless pleasure in. The columns passed the charred remnants without stopping, with a mask of indifference.

Only the sight of baby carriages lying on their sides stirred them. Some went up and stood the carriages back on their wheels, looking all around in case there were any babies in the vicinity, then lined up the carriages along the side of the road, as though on parade, eleven of them, and burst into tears. The weeping was infectious and became an uninterrupted wail. Suddenly and all together the sobbing ceased and the dense column began to move. At that moment they realized that what they had seen on the road belonged to the past, to the bombings, to the conflagrations of war visited upon Poland; they were all party to her sacrifices, but from now on the Jews would meet their own fate. "The people of Israel have once again taken up the staff of wandering," said the lawyer Rubinczik. "Lekhlekha-go forth," [1] a man from Pinczow said in support. And after a short pause: "Suddenly, about three nights ago, my grandfather came to me in a dream and said, `go forth from your native land, and from your father's house!'. . . and I didn't understand what on earth he was talking about. I'm not Abraham! But it seems Abraham too didn't understand at the time, and that's where all the trouble started." He stopped talking, with no explanation; the sky overhead grew dark with billowing smoke.


[1] LEKH-LEKHA: The Lord said to Abram, "Go forth from your native land and from your father's house to the land that I will show you." (Genesis 12:1) [back]

SCROLLS Introduction



Subscribe to the JHOM mailing list for updates.

Contact us

Tell a friend