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From the abyss: A letter to my parents

From the once-Polish town where most of his family was murdered: How did you find the strength to live?

Dear Imma and Abba ,

As I stand here in the Polish city of death, Rozyszcze, in which our family was murdered during the Holocaust, and which you survived courageously to carry the family torch, here are my thoughts and words to you. You have left us, but the Dichter family flames shine brightly and eternally because of you.

I returned during the holiday week of Passover 2016 to the town that you loved dearly as children and came to hate as adults, having survived the horrible slaughter of the Jewish community of Rozyszcze. It has been 75 years since you fled your hometown, and now another pair of Dichter feet, my own, have stepped on the cursed ground of Rozyszcze.

Imma, you continuously avoided a return to the place in which almost all of your family was murdered, and ultimately you could not make the trip to Ukraine. Abba, you remained a lone survivor to a glorious family — and so Poland and Rozyszcze remained a black hole, to which you would not even entertain the possibility of returning for a visit.

Together with me is Sam Gun, whose father Yankele (Jack) and uncle Anzsel successfully survived due to the resourcefulness and determination of their father Shmuel, who entrusted his sons to the hands of his Christian friend. They were passed along to another Christian who then hid them as children, ages six and 16.

Tomorrow at the Israeli Embassy in Kiev we will award their protector with the title of “Righteous among the Nations,” which Yad Vashem rightly decided to grant him through his children and grandchildren, as he passed away several years ago.

Sam and I shared a mutual great grandmother, the mother of my grandfather Avrum Moishe, for whom my parents named me. Devora was Shmuel’s mother and the grandmother of Jack and Anzsel. She too was led by the Gestapo to a pit at the entrance to the town adjacent to the train tracks. Together with thousands of Jews that remained in the Ghetto north of the town, they were marched from the Ghetto, which abutted the Jewish cemetery, along the main street of the town until they reached the large pit at the other end of town.

Avi Dichter with his parents and sister (courtesy Avi Dichter)
Avi Dichter with his parents, Yehoshua and Mallka, and sister Yael (courtesy Avi Dichter)

Three thousand eight hundred and seventy Jews in total – men, women, elderly people, babies and children – were led as sheep to be slaughtered. The head of the Jewish community shared with me a document in which the Germans reported on May 7th, 1942, that 5,295 Jews remained at that time in the Ghetto. It appears they were all taken just three months later to a death march. It is terrifying to see how easily 1,425 Jews are added to the list of those murdered.

Imma, even blind citizens of Poland would have heard the dragging of the feet of your parents Nachman Yoel and Henya, and the screams of your younger siblings Chaya and Avraham. David was just 10 years old when the Gestapo murdered him in front of your eyes, before you were able to escape the ghetto with your friends — moments before you too were to be led to the death march.

Abba, these Poles that lived along the main road watched your parents Avraham Moishe and Mindle, as they attempted to not leave behind any of your brothers, lest they be left for the murderous Germans or Poles. It was unclear at the time who could bear more harm to them. With their hands they carried Reisel and Isaac, who were five and seven years old, respectively.

They were all led to the pit of death at the foot of the hill by the entrance of the city. I could not find even one Pole or Ukrainian who would admit that they saw the tears or heard the screams, the prayers and finally the gunshots from that scene on the 10th of the Month of Elul, August 22nd 1942.

They heard the terrors of the clatter of the machine guns, as if they were sewing machines. Is it possible that those weapons of murder fired live bullets all day that were all silenced as they spilled the blood of their neighbors? Were the screams of those crushed to death under the bodies of their family members silent? Or was their anguish just ignored by their neighbors simply because the victims were Jewish?

The morning and evening came and went, a day passed, and darkness fell on the abyss.

Imma and Abba, you know that many times in my lifetime I was forced to deal with loss and pain, but today, here in the town of your birth, which is a mass cemetery for our family, at the place in which nearly all my roots were murdered, I could think of one thing only: how did you find the strength to start a family and bring my sister Yael (Henya) and myself into this world? How, despite all of this, and perhaps because of it, did you build a family, across the sea in the Land of Israel?

Abba, today I drove by the street on which you lived with Grandma and Grandpa, whom I never got to know, with your siblings, the uncles and aunts I never got to meet. As I reached the edge of the street I decided to depart and cross your alley on foot. I remember the chilling tale that occurred next to your home, which you told me shortly before you passed away. I crept slowly along the street imagining to myself how you walked, dressed in full Russian uniform with a rifle on your shoulder searching in vain for any family member that might have survived the horrors.

As you approached your house with a heavy heart you understood, you told me, that your home, like the homes of so many other Jews, had been populated by Poles.

A group of children burst into the street from one of the homes as I arrived near your home. These children had no connection to those that you saw at the end of the war, that were dressed in the clothes of your brother Mendel and sister Reisel. I froze as I watched these children, until they scattered. I continued on the path and entered a car that waited for me. You, Father, continued on to months more of war until the final defeat of the Nazis.

My dear father, Abba, Yehoshua (Sheike) and mother, Imma, Mallka, I need no reinforcements or justifications for why it is I live in Israel and have been working for the security of the State of Israel for the past 45 years. It is all here in this town in which you, my beloved parents, were born and raised. And here, across from the pit of death, I have sworn to remember, time and again to remember, and to never forget.

It is due to your strength that the Dichter and Koniuch family trees continue to grow. The Nazis and their helpers succeeded in hacking off many of the branches of our tree — but our tree stands tall and grows, with two children, six grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren (and counting…).

Imma, your brother Yitzhak, whose wife and children were murdered in the town while he was off at war as a soldier in the Russian army at Stalingrad, had one child with four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

This cursed ground which was once Poland and is now Ukraine, is not worthy to house your roots. The entire tree made Aliya to Israel in 1949 and was successfully transplanted there. I told this to the governor of Vohlin and the mayor of Rozyscze, with whom I met today, in order to ensure that they take good care of the Jewish cemetery and the memorial that stands at the mass grave of the thousands that were murdered.

Sam and I have decided here to organize a family trip for our families from Israel and the United States, to visit the very place from which I write to you today and from which our family cries out from the bowels of the earth below us. We want to ensure that our children, grandchildren and the generations to come will also know very well where our roots were planted and from where they were uprooted.

Here in Israel we envelop our families with defense and a sense of security, which was missing for you, Imma and Abba, as for the entire Jewish people, just 75 years ago.

The days when Jews are murdered just because they are Jewish are over and will never return. Imma and Abba, on the eve of the last day of Passover, the day on which you left us, we will hold a memorial ceremony. But standing here on our family’s death pit, I will precede by saying the simplest words that come to mind:

I love you and miss you very much.

Your son,

Avraham (Avi) Moshe Dichter

Avi Dichter served as Director of the Shin Bet, Israel’s Security Agency, Minister of Public Security, and Minister of Home Front Defense.

About the Author
Knesset Member Avi Dichter, Likud, is chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and has served as Director of the Shin Bet, Minister of Public Security, and Minister of Homefront Defense.
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