On the night of September 5-6, 1939, only a few days after the German attack on Poland, a group of Jewish journalists and writers decided to leave Warsaw for the East at the behest of the Polish government in order to escape the German advance. Among them was Zusman Segalovitsh (1884-1949), who, while fleeing, reflected on it in a philosophical manner.
Somewhere near the station Pilawa, or Sabalev, we heard a noise from some planes, very close and even closer. Already above our heads. We didn’t know which was better? Stay in the wagon or run into the field, to the forest.
The instinct to run away won. So we all left and ran into the field. […] Submissiveness, inferiority, submission to a feeling of shame is what you feel during such a run. People of the Torah and knowledge, people of Beethoven’s symphonies, Baudelaire’s poems, Michelangelo’s sculptures… You are a sheep and you run like a sheep… And as if to annoy me, I spotted a white butterfly among the people. It floats, it flutters. The last butterfly born somewhere in that first warm autumn days …
A little later we were sitting in the coach again.
We are mixed in the wagon: Jews with Christians. Only yesterday we were in different districts of Warsaw. Strangers to each other, angry with each other. Now we looked out of the window together. We are all human beings and we are exposed to a danger that has united us. If only the joy, beauty and honesty of life had united us before. And back then it wasn’t only Jews who fought with Christians. Jews with Jews – too.
[…] It was loud in the wagon, but nevertheless it gradually became a home for the homeless. A home with dramatic, tragic and funny moments. I can’t remember everything. There is not enough time to describe everything. I only reach for individual episodes in my memory. […] I know I feel that compared to the suffering others have gone through or are still going through, I should hide in a corner… I know that quite well. But you have to collect the sufferings, the big and the small. Collect for the great chronicles of human suffering. Sufferings that make even hell itself – future generations should pass this on so that future generations can start living differently.
[…] The night sank as always into their nocturnal home, everything darkened, soon completely dark. […] But the night eclipse had no power today: on both sides of the road you could see fire, far and near, villages and shtetlekh were burning. […] On both sides we saw the fires and thought: The illuminations of the twentieth century. There you have all the dreams of equality, peace, a better man…
[…] We had the feeling that we had left a cemetery behind us … Not much strength remains after such a day, especially not faith. First, you have the idea of selfish suicide. Going away, escaping from this terrible misfortune, going away, escaping at all costs. Don’t look around, don’t think, don’t feel and don’t sympathize. But afterwards, when you are already in minor danger, then the question comes up: What’s it worth all the rescuing? You run to the world when the world is a wild animal …
Zusman Segalovitsh (1884-1949), 11For biographical details see Cohen, Nathan: Segalovitsh, Zusman in: The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, https://yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Segalovitsh_Zusman (25.9.2019.) is considered one of the most popular Yiddish writers in Poland in the interwar period. He was one of the few Polish-Jewish writers who were able 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, and arrived in Vilnius on October 10, 1939. On the run and in the midst of the everlasting danger of German bombing, Segalovitsh philosophises about the alleged achievements of European civilisation and humanity in the state of flight.
Segalovitsh made it to Vilnius, where he stayed for two years. In 1941, he left Vilnius for the Soviet Union, from where he went to Palestine, and survived the Shoah. In 1948 he reached the USA, where he lived until his death in 1949.
1For biographical details see Cohen, Nathan: Segalovitsh, Zusman in: The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, https://yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Segalovitsh_Zusman (25.9.2019.)
Segalovitsh, Zusman, 1947: Gebrente Trit : Eyndrikn un iberlebungen fun a plitim-vanderung, Buenos Aires: Tsentral-Farband fun poylishe yidn in Argentine, Chapter 3: Der tsug fun zshurnalistn.