The Departure – Yiddish Poem

A portion of the first page of the original handwritten poem

Poem by Leo Fuks

Translated testimony from Yiddish to English
of the October 1942 liquidation of the
Jewish Ghetto and community of Ostrowiec.

Leo Fuks
Leo Fuks
Aron Rappaport
Aron Rappaport

The Departure

Written in May 1943

Translated from a Yiddish poem written in Ostrowiec by Leo Fuks in  May 1943 and later completed with the assistance of Aron Rappaport while they were both in a hideout with others under the home of the Pastuszka family in Chmielow *  

Part I

It is Shabbat during the day, the time is three o’clock
We discover that the Gestapo is here,
The evacuation commando that shot for the wonder [of it]
To annihilate our nation of men, women, and children.

The cries in the town have risen very strongly,
A wail, a cry in the Ostrowiec market,
That many Jews fell [to their deaths]
As their fate was already determined.

The city tries also with all its might
To avoid the tragedy
The Rebbe begins to distribute large sums of money,
So that all the parents and children should go out to the field. [Jewish Cemetery to pray]

Today’s Rebbe is standing at his father’s gravesite
Is reciting Tehillim [Psalms] with great passion. He does not want to leave that place.
“Oh Father, I do not want to leave!” he cries.
“Why should we allow this barbarity!”

The prayers of the Rebbe accompanied the children
The mothers and fathers to their graves all spread out,
The cries so loud that even the dead could hear them
Maybe we will be helped at the last minute.

The time in the cemetery evokes tears
From the children’s cries that can be heard there,
At the gravesite they are pleading, “Holy tzaddik, help
Save our children from the terrible wolf.”

Part II

After a sleepless night, I get up very early
My mother cries, asking me to approach her bed.
“Is it quiet outside”, she asks deep in thought,
"Or will the tragedy happen tonight?"

I look out the window, and I say to my mother, “all is quiet.”
I explain to her so that she could understand
“The situation is bitter. Lots of Gestapo are roaming around.”
I tell her that and explain it all to her so she will understand.

As usual, we go to the factory
And from the distance we see
A Jewish policeman is walking by. I am very scared.
Will they assist in spilling Jewish blood?

Only five minutes later, a policeman comes in,
His position is truly a shame.
He strengthens himself and with force he booms
That everyone must be in the marketplace within about five minutes.

My ten-year-old sister falls down, weakened.
The great German power is fighting a battle with her,
Our ten-year-old fighter is laying on her mother’s lap,
Hitlerism is the enemy; the contrast is too big.

In every home, the goodbye drama scenes begin,
Children are saying goodbye to their fathers and mothers,
Whoever sees this scene has no more joy,
As young couples part forever.

The tragedy is great, and there is a lot of noise,
Brothers and sisters part with tears
Great cries, a huge uproar,
The bones become cold out of fear and terror.

In our home, blood becomes frozen.
A gruesome tragedy, I become sick.
Mother faints, and father falls in weakness,
My two-year-old sister doesn’t understand and laughs.

Mother hardly revives, and we have to leave.
But death urges us to still remain.
She wants to leave with a mother’s kiss,
Mother cries, and then faints again.

I comfort her with words, and she feels better,
You cannot be sad when your mother is laying on your neck [hugging you],
Saying, “Be well,” as you are leaving the house.
She starts to plead with me, “Do not go, my child.”

I go back to my mother; I love her very much.
I embrace her, and she becomes happy again.
With tears, she explains this is her only hope,
That her children should survive the war.

I say goodbye to my father, brother, and sister,
The pain is strong, the agony tremendous.
My youngest sister embraces me strongly.
My heart beats most for her fate.

My dear child, we are no longer permitted to be here,
We must all go to the marketplace
But we will hide only you and our grandmother in the cellar,
Now being too young or too old is the greatest error.

These two groups are separated from the others
Our children and elders, he specifically cannot tolerate
They are killed on the spot, in front of their parents’ eyes
Because they are frail and cannot go to work.

Having said goodbye to all, I go into the street
And I am completely soaked with tears
One more glance at the house, I am ---
I still want to see the place where I lived for so many years.

Part III

I arrive at the marketplace and see another world,
The Angel of Death has set up his quarters,
The tragedy is great, in a minute you become gray.
Death is on the watch for this hour.

The Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, is conducting a holy war,
He wants to reach his goal with all his might,
The Gestapo is armed with grenades and carbines
They took a band of Lithuanians to help them.

The German military begins the fighting
You hear the constant noise of machine guns.
There are already victims, but not on the German side.
Jewish women and children lay spread out in the streets.

The marketplace is filled with Jews lined up and spread out,
The Lithuanians take away all the things and all the money,
The confusion increases minute by minute
Someone says the situation is not good.

We thought that we would be sent to Ukraine
Maybe to Lithuania or to Bukovina,
The things we thought of were because of tragic events
That all of the people we knew were disastrously killed.

I see a picture, and my eyes go blind.
A mother who was shot is laying near her child.
The murderer had enough bullets for both
The blood runs far and the rest turns cold.

It’s not difficult to imagine this German
He is a person holding a machine gun
And the sadistic heart of this ---
You cannot find even amongst [the cruelest of tribes].

After doing things that move a stone,
He tries to sit and drink wine lustily,
His terrorist feeling can only leave
When he conducts barbaric acts.
A five year old child is roaming alone in the marketplace
He must have gotten lost on his way with his parents
He’s one too many for the Gestapo, they take him by force.
They cut him in half, from head to toe.

The Gestapo agent gets splashed with blood from the torn-up body.
He laughs hysterically with the other Germans,
He is very happy, his face is shining,
But all the Jews in the marketplace begin to cry.

The Gestapo agent has work, he’s delighted with it,
Lithuanian puts another child in front of him.

He takes him and beats him strongly on the ground,
This child was punished with a horrific death.

The nerves are already exhausted, all Jews jump up, 
The Germans got really frightened.
They’re shooting non-stop in the agitated crowd.
The many fresh victims make the people quiet

The people burst in tears, even a monster would be touched by it.
Their fate is sealed, they’re threatened to be taken away.
15000 are taken away, for the enemies remains the loot.
The city gets empty, the Chevra Kadisha are working hard.

People were deprived of all of their rights, including the right to live.
The 20th century until now was a gift for us.
The Jews that are hidden must be shot.
This is German culture, if you don’t mind.

So that from this day utiln the final hour
There was nothing left of anyone.
No living sign of anyone, until today, had not been discovered.
And the hope to see them is completely extinguished.

And God, I do not request any answers from you,
But I only ask one thing with all my heart,
Show the murderers Your strong hand
Erase them from this world because of our shame.



Tadeusz and Marianna Pastuszka, and their two children, lived in the village of Chmielow. In the autumn of 1943, Moshe Broker, who was working as a slave laborer in the Ostrowiec steel factory, contacted Pastuszka and asked him to prepare a hiding place on his farm for a few members of his family and others. A total of 17 Jewish prisoners, including Leo Fuks and Aron Rappaport, fled the camp and found asylum in the shelter that the Pastuszkas had built. They remained there until the liberation in January 1945.

More details can be found below:

Credit: Special thanks to the children of Aron Rappaport, Harry and Sylvia, who have shared their family history and documents, and have supported the publication of this poem/testimony.