Pinkhas Shvarts about his arrival in Vilnius

On the night of September 5-6, 1939, just a few days after the German attack on Poland, a group of Jewish journalists and writers decided, at the behest of the Polish government, to leave Warsaw by train for the East in order to escape the German advance. Pinkhas Shvarts (1902-1963) was among them and tells of his arrival in Vilnius.

אונדזער פּײַנלעכע װאַנדערונג האָט זיך גענומען דערנענטערן צום סוף. מיר האָבן ניט געװוּסט, װאָס עס דערװאַרט אונדז אין װילנע. אָבער מיר האָבן אַלע געפֿילט, אַז װילנע װעט זײַן אַ לענגערער אָפּשטעל אין לאַנגן גלות, װעלכער שטײט אונדז איצטער פֿאָר.

[…] שװער איז אונדז אַלעמען געװען אויפֿן געמיט, װען די באַן איז געפֿאָרן צום באַקאַנטן װילנער װאָקזאַל. הינטער אונדז איז געלעגן אַ שװערער װאַנדער־װעג, אַ פֿאַרשפּילטער קריג און דער אײגענער פֿאַרברענטער נעכטן. פֿאַר אונדז איז געװען אַ פֿינסטערע צוקונפֿט, אַ ביטערע גלות־פּערספּעקטיװ, אַן אומבאַשטימטער מאָרגן. דאָס אײנציקע, װאָס האָט געװאַרעמט אונדזערע הערצער, איז געװען די גרויסע האָפֿענונג אויף אַ צוקונפֿטיקן זיג פֿון די װײַטע פֿאַרבינדעטע איבער די שװאַרצע כּוחות פֿון היטלערן.

Our arduous meandering was slowly coming to an end. We didn’t know what to expect in Vilna, but we all felt that Vilna would be a longer stop of our long exile that was now ahead of us.

[…] We were all melancholic when the train entered the well-known Vilna station. Behind us lay a difficult wandering, a war gambled away and our own burnt yesterday. A dark future lay ahead of us, the prospect of a bitter exile and an indefinite morning. The only thing that warmed our hearts was the great hope for the future victory of the widely ramified allies over Hitler’s black forces.

The journalists reached Vilnius on October 10, 1939 after a long, dangerous and erratic journey. Pinkhas Shvarts 11Herts, Y. Sh. (ed.), 1956–1968: Doyres Bundistn, Vol. 3. New York, pp. 116–122; Schulz, Miriam, 2016. Der Beginn des Untergangs. Die Zerstörung der jüdischen Gemeinden in Polen und das Vermächtnis des Wilnaer Komitees. Berlin: Metropol. http://metropol-verlag.de/produkt/miriam-schulz-der-beginn-des-untergangs/, p. 93 was on board and relates the ambigious feeling he had when arriving in the city. Shvarts was a member of the Bund, writer and correspondent of the Yiddish Folks-tsaytung (People’s newspaper) in Warsaw and brother of the famous chronicler of the Holocaust in Lithuania, Herman Kruk. 22For biographical details see Kruk, Herman, 2002: The Last Days of the Jerusalem of Lithuania: Chronicles from the Vilna Ghetto and the Camps, 1939-1944. New Haven: Yale University Press. He was one of the few Polish-Jewish writers who managed to get a seat on the so-called journalist train, which left Warsaw for Lublin on the night of September 5-6, 1939, to escape the German invasion. He tells of the fears, guilty conscience and (self-)reproaches that accompanied and plagued the refugees on their flight.

Arriving in Vilnius, the Jewish refugees did not hesitate for long. In November 1939, a group of refugee fellow writers and journalists founded the Committee for the Collection of Material on the Destruction of Jewish Communities in Poland in 1939, probably the earliest Jewish historical commission in Eastern Europe, which, in the shadow of German crimes, secretly began to document the destruction of Polish Jewry since September 1939. Pinkhas Shvarts survived the Shoah by escaping via Vilnius in the direction of New York, and in 1957 became a leading member of the Bund‘s World Coodinating Committee.

    Footnotes

  • 1Herts, Y. Sh. (ed.), 1956–1968: Doyres Bundistn, Vol. 3. New York, pp. 116–122; Schulz, Miriam, 2016. Der Beginn des Untergangs. Die Zerstörung der jüdischen Gemeinden in Polen und das Vermächtnis des Wilnaer Komitees. Berlin: Metropol. http://metropol-verlag.de/produkt/miriam-schulz-der-beginn-des-untergangs/, p. 93
  • 2For biographical details see Kruk, Herman, 2002: The Last Days of the Jerusalem of Lithuania: Chronicles from the Vilna Ghetto and the Camps, 1939-1944. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Excerpt from:

Pinkhas Shvarts, 1943: Dos iz geven der onheyb, New York: Farlag “Arbeter-ring”, pp. 59–72.

From the Yiddish Book Center’s Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library.

Search