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Written Accounts

From the writings on the walls of the former Great Synagogue in Kowel, as written down in 1945 by a refugee from Krakow, Henoch Hammer, who was on his way back to Poland from the Soviet Union
1. We want to live so much, but they won't let us – Basia and Magda. …
5. Keitel – I am going to die [even though I am] innocent, together with my son Henech Fortgang – 04.09.1942. …
8. I am writing for the last time before my death. If someone remains alive, remember the fate of our brothers. I am calm in a strange way evem though it is hard to die at the age of 20.
9. My dear mother! There was no chance of saving ourselves. We were taken [to the synagogue] from outside the ghetto. We are about to die a horrible death. We are sorry that we can't be together with you. I can't forgive myself for this. I thank you, my mother, for all your efforts. I kiss you many many times. Forgive us for all the trouble we caused you more than once. Dobcia Kagan. …
11. I am writing these words with tears and I can't live any longer.
12. My right hand will be forgotten if I forget the tragedy of the Polish Jews. Eliahu. (original in Hebrew)

YVA M.49/1644

A. Verbitski "I became the voice of the death", Davar, December 19, 1944 (Hebrew).

From the information provided by Ilya Ehrenburg, published in the "Davar" newspaper, Tel-Aviv:
… and here are the inscriptions in the Kowel's [Great] synagogue, where the Jews had been detained before being executed:
"Bushka and Shonik are going for vacation. September 15, 1943 [sic for 1942]. The Last of the Mohicans – Barzilai and Toybichev".
"We – Haim Ben Zvi Yitzhak Liberman from Brześć [nad Bugiem] and Ester the daughter of the prominent Rabi Zvi Morgershtern from Kock were caught on the holiday of Rosh Ha Shana. We were kept alive for ten days. Please report my death to the Rabbi of Brześć so he can say the "Kaddish" [Jewish memorial prayer] for us."
"Do not forget what we have been through, do not forget our blood, the blood of our sons that has been shed, the blood that was as pure as the water of the Sea of Galilee. We cry for revenge! Yehuda Shechter."
"If only the wrath of our pure blood would pour out onto the Germans! If only [God's] fury would strike them! Avenge and make them pay! Srul Vainstein, August 28, 1942."
"Earth do not cover our blood! Sun, take vengeance for us! 10th of Elul [August], Bluma and Yaakov."
"Bentzion Sher is going toward his death and he does not know why." -
"Quiet! The murderers are coming. Our hearts beat [faster] when we hear their voices. God, take us to Your eternal arms. The murderers will pay with their blood! May they be torn to pieces by our sons who come after us. One more hour, one more minute. May you be blessed, beautiful world that I have never seen! Sarah Arbaiter and her family."
From the letter titled "Avenge us!" written by Sergeant of the Red Army Semion Grutman to Ilya Ehrenburg, a leading member of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee.
December 2, 1944

At the beginning of September of this year, I had occasion to be in Kovel [Kowel] while searching for my mother and mother-in-law. I already knew their fate, but I wanted to find at least something to remember them by, perhaps a photograph or something else. I arrived in Kovel at night…. Not one stone was left standing on another stone. Not a trace of the houses remained; it was just like a wasteland, over-run with weeds as tall as a man. Only one large synagogue was still standing, outwardly untouched, as though it were mocking me. Without even wanting to I entered the building where people had spent their lives, cradle to grave, where people had worshipped, blessed their labors and the fruits of their labors. What did I see before my eye? A huge, empty two-story structure that could accommodate a thousand or fifteen hundred people. The altar had been pulled down. The Torah scrolls were burned. There were no benches and the walls had been pockmarked by bursts of automatic weapons fire. Two huge lions were the only "living" witnesses to the terrible savagery perpetrated by the Nazis in what had once been God's temple. In spite of myself, I remained standing on the very threshold, … and was already thinking about leaving, but I wanted to have a closer look and to examine the holes in the walls: Had there been a battle here? Perhaps this had been a fortified position for the Germans? When I approached the walls, I was filled with horror. The walls began to speak.
It turned out that the walls were covered with writing in pencil. There was not a single empty spot of the wall. These were the last words of the doomed, their fare-well to this world. The Nazis had driven people in here, and then, after robbing them of everything down to their last stitch of clothing, had led them out naked to be shot somewhere outside of Kovel, in the city cemetery, in the swamps or forests…. They had also killed people right here, those who were too weak, or who had cursed their murderers. My heart began pounding, and it ached. I had seen a lot of sadness… had been through the whole of the Great Patriotic War from day one… . I had seen many towns and villages burned by the Germans. … But now I could no longer contain myself. Perhaps my mother's last pleas were here? I began to read the inscriptions carefully. I was hurrying because I could feel my legs giving way, while tears were choking me and getting in the way of my reading. … Somehow, the walls made me feel ashamed, as though they were saying or thinking about me: "You went away and left us. You did not take us with you. You knew that this would happen to us and you left us all alone". The inscriptions were packed so closely together that each writer had tried to draw a line around their own so as to make their cry for help, for vengeance, stand out the more strongly. They were written in different languages: in Yiddish, Polish, and Russian. In every inscription, the words for revenge – "Nekome!" [Yiddish], "Pomsti!" [Polish (sic)] and "Otomstite!" [Russian] were written clearly. I did not find an inscription from my mother: either I could not find it or she had joined in these calls silently. The names of entire families were written out, dates of executions, and words addressed at the heads of the inscriptions to various people who had managed to get away and join the partisans or the Red Army… . In every inscription were the words "Avenge us!".
Here are some of their words:
In Yiddish:
"Leyb Sosna! Know that they killed all of us. Now I am going with my wife and children out to die. Be well. Your brother, Avrum. August 20."
"Dear Sister! Maybe you managed to save yourself, but if you're ever in the synagogue, read these words. I am in the synagogue and waiting for death. Be happy, and survive this bloody war. Remember your sister. Polya Friedman." …
"Gitl Zafran from 6 […] Street, Rina Zafran had her throat cut on Thursday, August 19, 1942. Take revenge!"
In Polish:
"Borya Rosenfeld and wife Lama died August 19, 1942." … ".
… [Let innocent Jewish blood pour down on all Germans. Avenge us! Avenge us! May lightning strike them. Their mothers are whores.]. Srul Vaynshteyn. August 23, 1942."
In Russian:
"Liza Rayzen, wife of Leybish Rayzen. The dream of every mother, to see her only daughter Beba, living in Dubno, did not come true. With great pain she goes to her grave."
There were no inscriptions on the second floor, in the corridors, or on the stairs. Obviously, the condemned had not been allowed up there, so that they could not throw themselves from the windows or from the balconies. …"


Quoted in Joshua Rubenstein and Ilya Altman. eds., Unknown Black Book (Indiana University Press, 2008), pp. 154-157.