Speech by Meir Svirsky at the meeting of the survivors of Kobylnik and Myadel
28 September 1988
Once again, we, the few survivors, are meeting as we do every year in order to be together, to remember from where we came and to recall the many and the good who remained behind in the far away shtetl, buried under the ruins of our past.
I am happy to see here today old friends and acquaintances who have joined us at this meeting and I extend warmest blessings. I am referring to our friends from Myadel.
Today, with you, I feel that I am on "my home turf". Each of you warms my heart, bringing me back to the far away shtetl, to my childhood, to my roots.
Here, I also return to that terrible period in our lives. Hardly, I reached the age of bar mitzvah, and we already stood before our destroyers, humiliated as deeply possible, sentenced to destruction.
Beyond our common past, from the distant shtetl, we also have something else, a great thing, in common, our aliyah to Israel. Here we rehabilitate, built families and future for our children and grandchildren. Here in the new Israel, which rose from the ashes of the Shoah, was given the convincing reply to the satanic spirit of the Nazis.
There is no doubt that the Shoah and the establishment of the State of Israel are the central experiences of our existence. In the balance of our lives, there are surely many things that are worthy of remembrance and mention: two of them are greater than any of the others, and they are primary in our lives, our survival of the Shoah and our aliya to Israel. Our survival was the ultimate command of our dear ones who perished…Their prayer that at least one of their family from the shtetl, from the community, should remain as a remnant, as a witness, for revenge, for the continuation of our existence!..
And in those days when all around was despair and helplessness, were individuals, leaders, who succeeded in impossible circumstances to be logical and fair, to serve as a source of encouragement and hope and to look for all possible ways to help. The organized departure from Myadel to the forest of a large part of the Jewish population was the direct result of the actions and organization of individuals who pulled along many others with them.
Refuge in the Forest
This last refuge, the forest…despite the persecution, the hunger, the sickness and the cold, some were able to survive… and it is important to mention the Jewish partisan fighters, including those of our shtetl, Kobylnik. Their fight and their revenge against the Nazis is a glorious page of our history.
At that time, we also found out that the nations of the world had known and were silent…The Christian world, European nations who fought against the Nazis and who could have interfered, disrupted and perhaps partially stopped the Shoah. In our eyes, their apathy showed the incomparable low point of the lack of morality of these nations.
And I remember the days when we started to reunite-we the remnant, returning from the shtetls and the concentration camps and from distant Russia, and the full scope of the Holocaust hit us. Only then did we find out about Aushwitz and the death camps and the crematoria that were primarily used for the systematic destruction of the Jews in all the countries under Nazi control- only then did we know the terrible dimensions of the monstrous plan in its horrific implementation.
At the same time, we learned about the desperate Jewish resistance that was uniquely expressed in the Warsaw ghetto in April 1943; a rebellion without hope but imbued with the noble spirit of bravery.
The clear message that we learned from all of this was to leave and emigrate to Israel and build our land as proud Jews, viewing Judaism as a source of pride, defensive and fighting, masters of our fate.
You can only imagine how the many new Olim and I felt as soldiers and fighters in the War of Independence, side by side with the Jews of Israel, taking a part in ensuring our independence.
And here we are, 40 years in Israel, together with the Chalutzim of our shtetl, who arrived here 50 years ago and more, and those who came after us. And we are one large family bound tightly together with the bonds of the past, a family which, to our sorrow, is getting smaller as the years go by. In the last years, some of the good and dear ones have died before their time.
I hope that we can meet every year and continue to tell in the first person about the shtetl and the Shoah.
In 1950, the first meeting took place and continues to do so every year, thanks to the blessed initiative of our dear Yitzchak Gordon. I have a special blessing for Yitzchak in honor of 50 years of your aliya to Israel and for publishing your first book of poetry. I hope that you will continue your blessed work for many more years in the best of health and happiness together with Batya, your faithful wife who has accompanied you all along.
I would include and conclude with an idea that came up and accompanies me.
We must Return
I have a desire to once again visit the shtetl, to walk in the paths of our childhood, where our predecessors also walked. I can also imagine the disappointment and mental anguish that are waiting for me there, but despite them, I want to visit the many graves, that may not even be marked…to come and tell those who are no longer and to ourselves, that we in our land remember and talk about you. We are a part of you and continue living there for you as well…!
Today, when the gates of the USSR are apparently opening more, it seems that this is the holy duty that must be carried out.
And I want to visit with the few descendants of the shtetl, the Christians, who stood by our side at the time of trouble, who helped us with food and hid Jews at risk to their lives…!
I wish each and every one of you, a good year, of health and happiness and long life.
I also wish our people living in Israel… that we merit of year of moderation, understanding and justice. To brotherhood and neighbors… a return to values and creative efforts, a healthy economy, an end to emigration and an increased aliya (immigration).
Looking forward to seeing you next year.