“Arise and go now to the city of slaughter; into its courtyard wind thy way;
… and with the eyes of thine head, behold.”
“Be’Ir ha-Haregah” (“City of Slaughter”) by H.N. Bialik
Bialystok was a huge city. I had never visited such a large city before. Here, too, the heavy hand of the Nazis was clearly in evidence. At the outbreak of the war, the Germans had attacked the city and several buildings had collapsed during the bombings. The Nazis entered the city on September 15th and retreated a week later. Under the terms of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the city came under control of the Sovietforces.
The city resembled a battlefield. Hundreds of Red Army tanks and military vehicles were scattered everywhere and battalions of soldiers roamed the city. Worst of all were the enormous numbers of refugees who flooded the city. Most, if not all, were Jews who had run for their lives from the claws of the Nazi predator, or had been expelled from their homes in the cities and villages and savagely crushed.
The stream of refugees into the city was endless, like the powerful current of an overflowing river.
At first, Father thought we could manage here; but it quickly became apparent that even the Russian conqueror was unable to restore order and cope with such a large population crying out for food and housing. Every synagogue, school and beit midrash (study hall) was filled with Jewish families who had arrived empty-handed. All public auditoriums housed refugees; families wallowed in hallways and public areas, under appalling sanitary conditions. Bialystok Jews opened their homes to relatives and acquaintances. Social service institutions and philanthropic organizations did their best to help their Jewish brethren. Although the large community of 50,000 Jews was well-organized, the burden was much too heavy for its institutions to bear.