Jewish Families on the Brink of War

Suddenly the Skies Darkened

Poems from Czernowitz

"Today you wounded me.
Around us there was only silence,
only silence, and snow."

Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger opened her series of poems with these words.  She transcribed her poetry into an album dedicated with love to her friend Leiser (Eliezer) Fichman.

Selma Meerbaum was born in 1924 in Czernowitz, Bukovina, the daughter of Max and Frieda née Shrager.  Max passed away when Selma was a toddler, and her mother married Leo-Leib Eisinger.

Selma's paternal aunt and grandfather immigrated to Eretz Israel (Mandatory Palestine) and settled in Kibbutz Sarid.  One of the kibbutz members visited the Eisingers in Czernowitz in the 1930s, and suggested that Selma immigrate with the Aliyat Hanoar, but Frieda could not bear to be separated from her only daughter.  Selma remained in Czernowitz and joined the Hashomer Hatzair movement, where she met Leiser.

Selma and her parents were incarcerated in the Czernowitz ghetto, and in June 1942 they were deported to Transnistria and imprisoned in the Mikhailowka camp.  Before her deportation, Selma gave her poetry anthology to her friend Else Schächter, so that she could pass it on to Leiser.
The anthology contains 57 poems, 52 written by Selma herself, and 5 that she translated from other languages.  The poems were written in Czernowitz between May 1939-December 1941, those dating from October 1941 being written in the ghetto. She called her poetry series "Blütenlese" (Harvest of Blossoms). The poems were written in pencil, and do not appear chronologically in the album. 

At the conclusion of the anthology, beneath her poem, "Tragedy" she wrote:

I did not have time to finish writing.  It is a pity that you didn't want to wish me farewell.  All the best, Selma.

On 16 December 1942, Selma succumbed to typhus in Mikhailowka.  Arnold Daghani, a camp inmate, wrote in his diary two days later:

"Selma's mother has told me that her daughter was on the verge of making a getaway with a guard's help before she was taken ill. She has it from a farewell letter addressed to her, found in Selma's coat… To my surprise I also learn that Selma used to write beautiful poetry."

Daghani's drawing, "Pieta" – the Death of Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger, which he drew in Mikhailowka, is displayed in this exhibition.

Selma's friend Leiser was born in 1923 in Czernowitz.  His parents Ziporah and Zvi Fichman moved there from Hotin, Bessarabia (then north-east Romania, today Ukraine).  Ziporah and Zvi were on the verge of immigrating to Eretz Israel in 1921 together with their eldest son Aryeh (b. 1920), but due to events unfolding in Eretz Israel, their immigration was postponed, and they settled in Czernowitz.  Aryeh joined the Dror movement, and Leiser joined Hashomer Hatzair. In 1939, Aryeh immigrated to Eretz Israel and settled in Kibbutz Bet Oren.  In 1943, he joined the British Army and became one of the Yishuv paratroopers.  Aryeh parachuted into Romanian territory, was caught and taken captive.

In 1944, Leiser boarded the "Mefkure" ship bound for Eretz Israel, together with some 300 other immigrants.  The ship was attacked on 5 August, probably by a German submarine, and sank.  All except five of the passengers drowned, including Leiser.  Before boarding the ship, Leiser returned the poetry anthology to Else.  She passed it on to another of Selma's friends, Renée Abramovich, who kept the album and brought it to Israel.  Selma's parents were murdered in Mikhailowka.

Aryeh Oreni-Fichman, Leiser's brother, was killed in the "Ma'agan disaster" in 1954.

In 1956, Yetta Richman, Leo Eisinger's sister, submitted Pages of Testimony to Yad Vashem in memory of her brother, her sister-in-law Frieda, and her niece Selma.  The same year, Zvi Fichman submitted a Page of Testimony in memory of his son Leiser.
In 1976 Selma's poetry anthology, "Blütenlese" was published in German. A Hebrew version followed in 1983.  Selma's original album of poems was donated to Yad Vashem in 2005 by Selma's friend, Renée Abramovich Micaheli.

Selma's story is featured in Yad Vashem's online exhibition, "Spots of Light". Selma's cousin on her mother's side is the renowned poet and Holocaust survivor Paul Celan.