David P. Boder Interviews Isaac Ostland; September 13, 1946; Hénonville, France

var english_translation = { interview: [ David Boder

[In English] This is spool 9-125B. It was split up orginally from Spool 125 and divided in spool 125A which is Mr. Gutman and 9-125B which is Mr. O-S-T-M-A-N. Or, O like in "ocean," S like in "Sam," T like in "Tom," L like in "love," A like in "Adam," N like in "Nat," D like in "Denver." The name cannot be clearly detected from the spool. In both cases it seems that the name was a ficticious one.

David Boder

France, September the 13th, 1946, at HÃnonville, 50 kilometers from Paris in a home maintained by the Agudah, together with the ORT. The principal inhabitants is a Khasidic group under the leadership of their rabbi, but they are rendering hospitality in a separate wing to a Yeshiva which came over from Lithuania together with their rabbi.

David Boder

[In Yiddish] How many people are there in this Yeshiva?

Isaac Ostland

Twenty.

David Boder

But there are more coming.

David Boder

[In English] So far there are twenty people . . . students in this Yeshiva but from day to day they expect another group coming in. I am now interviewing the rabbi of this group, Rabbi Isaac Ostland who is going to talk to us now.

David Boder

[In Yiddish] And so, Rabbi, will you please tell us again in an orderly fashion where you are from, how old you are, and something about your family?

Isaac Ostland

I was born 70 kilometers from Vilna, in a small town [called] Labonar, in the year 1915. My father was the local rabbi and slaughterer. He sent me to study first to the great Yeshiva of Ponevezys with the Ponevezys Rabbi Caneman; afterwards in the great Yeshiva of Telsh under Rabbi Bloch whose son-in-law I have now become.

David Boder

Now, Rabbi, will you please tell me where you were and what happened to you when the war started?

Isaac Ostland

When the war started I happened to arrive by accident with a group of Yeshiva people from the Yeshiva of Telsh in [the city of] Telsh, because we had to abandon the hamlet Shiblovo where the Yeshiva of Telsh was located. We had to get out of there on account of significant events, so we arrived in Telsh. And from Telsh, on a Sunday, the day when the war started, we escaped to Krishek [I am not sure of the exact name]. There we found a second group of the Yeshiva of Telsh and from there we departed for Russia.

David Boder

Excuse me. Why did people have to go away from there?

Isaac Ostland

There was a Polish Yeshiva in the hamlet Rasein [I am not sure of the name] which the Soviets wanted to send away to Siberia. But the members of the Yeshiva dispersed into the neighboring hamlets and when they were unable, in gathering them together, to distinguish who are the Polish Yeshiva people and who are the Lithuanian [Yeshiva people] we stood pat [the expression apparently meant that "we would not betray them"] and that is why we had to get away from there.

David Boder

Go on.

Isaac Ostland

When we arrived in Telsh Sunday morning and hearing that war was declared by Hitler - cursed be his name - we all got terribly scared, we did not know what to do now. We, the young ones, have decided to run away to Russia but my father-in-law, the Rabbi of Telsh, with the other members of the Yeshiva remained unfortunately there. My wife too was there and she reports the following:

David Boder

Were you already married then?

Isaac Ostland

No.

David Boder

No.

Isaac Ostland

[She] tells that on Friday evening all Jews were called together in Telsh near the lake [he did not pronounce clearly this word]. The German authorities called out . . .

David Boder

Near what, the river?

Isaac Ostland

. . . the lake, and they called for somebody from the community who could speak German. The rabbi volunteered [declaring] that he speaks German.

David Boder

Rabbi Bloch?

Isaac Ostland

Rabbi Bloch. So that the rest should be able to understand what they were talking about. Rabbi Bloch bravely stepped forward from the [assembled] congregation [one word not clear]. The German representative reproached him that the Jews were sniping through the windows at the Germans, and for that reason the Jews are being threatened with severe punishment. Rabbi Bloch endeavored strongly to prove the meaninglessness of such an accusation; he explained how alien such action is to the Jews. There occurred some other incident in the negotiations but that was not reported to the community. When Rabbi Bloch returned from the negotiations to the congregation there took place a little meeting of the heads of the community . . .

David Boder

[The last two words were given in Hebrew and the interviewer asked for their meaning.]

Isaac Ostland

That means the representatives [of the Jewish inhabitants] of the city.

David Boder

Yes.

Isaac Ostland

As a result of this meeting Rabbi Bloch presented himself before the community and talked to them in very severe terms and demanded from the community penitence. He explained that the only means to be saved in such a moment is a miracle. [the last two words are in Hebrew, I am not sure of the correct translation]. There is no natural way [to salvation]. He demanded from the community that they mend their ways with reference to three things; to preserve the purity of the family life, to observe the Sabbath, and to observe the dietary laws. This proposal was accepted by the community, and all like one, the pious and the free [thinkers], children and old ones, men and women, have resolved immediately to go through with it.

David Boder

Which three things [the interviewer did not understand clearly the three Hebrew terms]?

Isaac Ostland

The Sabbath, the dietary laws, and pure family life.

David Boder

[The interviewer understood now the first two terms but inquired about the third one].

Isaac Ostland

[Translating] pure family life.

David Boder

Yes. Now continue.

Isaac Ostland

And then for no reason known to us there was all at once deferred the terrible sentence over the Jewish community of Telsh, which they had doomed to be exterminated; but the Germans permitted the women to go home immediately, while the men had to remain there overnight and afterwards they were led to a lager [camp] and for the time being nothing was done to them. The morning after they also called together the women and led them away to a different lager. The first lager, the one for the men, was located 4 kilometers from the city of Telsh. It was called Gerul, and the second lager was called Raim [the name is not clear].

David Boder

What were these lagers, back yards?

Isaac Ostland

A kind of a farm. There they held the men for two weeks and during this time the three vows which they have pledged were not complied with and their doom was sealed [I am not sure of the correct translation of the last two worlds given in Hebrew]. In two weeks, it was on that gruesome day of Tammuz [a midsummer month of the Jewish calendar, usually the hottest month of the mid-European summer] the men were assembled one evening, and they were submitted to horrible, horrible torture. They cut off their beards and they forced the older people to dance the "devils dance," they called it, and tortured and tormented them to the brink of death.

David Boder

Who did this?

Isaac Ostland

The Germans with the Lithuanian partisans.

David Boder

Ah, the Germans together with the Lithuanian partisans.

Isaac Ostland

With the Lithuanian partisans.

David Boder

Go on.

Isaac Ostland

They were informed that that was their last day, that they have time to live until next morning. The next morning . . .

David Boder

Who told you that?

Isaac Ostland

[as if continuing the sentence] . . . that was done by those terrible criminals who were standing around there, the Germans and the Lithuanians together.

David Boder

But who told you all that?

Isaac Ostland

My wife, the daughter of Rabbi Bloch, Khaje.

David Boder

And how did she know about it, she wasn't with the men?

Isaac Ostland

Yes . . . the children. She as a child of Rabbi Bloch . . . the children were then still with the men.

David Boder

So. And the women were kept separate?

Isaac Ostland

The women were kept separately. They were made to get up at five o'clock in the morning under the pretext that they are being taken to work, but it was already known what kind of work expected them. Crowded by murderers they were led out about 200 meters from the lager and there began the terrible shootings at which my wife was already not present but the screams and the outcries of the shooting were heard in the lager where she was.

David Boder

Who were taken, all men?

Isaac Ostland

All men.

David Boder

And they left the children?

Isaac Ostland

They left the children but the men were shot near the ditch [common grave]. And one of these people who saved himself from among the men told later how from the ditch where Rabbi Bloch was lying, one heard the cry, "Sma Ysreil" [Hear, O Israel], because it was before daybreak, the time for Krishma [a special prayer for that hour], so he still recited the Krishma and his soul departed on the word Aekhod [the full sentence of the prayer reads: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one"]. The same thing happened the next day, caph aleph [the 21st]. That part of the men whom they had not managed to shoot caph Tammuz [Footnote: The tenth month of the Jewish calendar.] [the 20th of Tammuz] they shot on caph aleph Tammuz [the 21st]. The women who were in the second lager, that is 16 kilometers from Telsh . . .

David Boder

Do I understand that they have taken the children with the men and the women separately?

Isaac Ostland

The women were afterwards reunited with the children.

David Boder

But from the start? [He talks at the same time as the interviewer and one cannot clearly understand what he is saying. The interviewees are often irritated by questions and do not permit the interviewer to finish the question but just talk simultaneously with him.] So at the start the children were with the men and the women were alone?

Isaac Ostland

Yes.

David Boder

Go on.

Isaac Ostland

After a certain time has elapsed they came to the lager of the women and counted them up. The older ones and the very young ones they separated on one side and the young ones, that is the ones able to work . . . it became obvious immediately that those who are able to work have been granted a little bit more time to live and that those unfit for work are already doomed. My wife managed to extract her mother from among the unable to work into the group of able to work. And for that reason her mother with her other sisters returned to Telsh where there was created a ghetto which existed for a few months longer. During this time some of the younger ones and energetic ones managed to slip out of the ghetto, to hide among the Christians. They managed to live through the several years of war with them and those who remained alive are already by now . . . some of them in the land of Israel and some of them are in Poland.

David Boder

How did they hide among the Christians, with Aryan papers?

Isaac Ostland

With Jewish papers, because there could be found . . . although very few Christian families who were able to appraise the significance of saving a Jewish life. There were some who saved them with the purpose to convert to Christianity the children, and they did so later on . . .

David Boder

So.

Isaac Ostland

. . . and that is the purpose why they saved them . . . but later of course, when the war was over the children were returned to the Jewish faith and remained pure and fine Jews.

David Boder

Well, no let's return to the beginning. Where were you, and what happened to you?

Isaac Ostland

Now, I myself was in Russia. For about four weeks . . .

David Boder

How did you get away?

Isaac Ostland

We came with a group of people from the Yeshiva of Telsh as far as the city of Mitau, a city in Latvia . . .

David Boder

Oh yes, Mitau in Kurland.

Isaac Ostland

Yes. We arrived on foot, there we found ready echelons on which we embarked and within ten days we arrived in the province of Kirov.

David Boder

For whom were the echelons?

Isaac Ostland

For the population who wanted to be evacuated.

David Boder

Yes, then they were evacuation trains. How were you treated during the evacuation?

Isaac Ostland

During the evacuation . . . we had something with us and en route others had to suffer a bit because things could not be properly arranged right from the start but as we got deeper into Russia the preparations [to receive us] were better.

David Boder

But they did not take away from you your things?

Isaac Ostland

We had no things with us because we abandoned our things en route, because it was hard on the way to Mitau, marching on foot so we had to abandon all our things and we traveled without anything.

David Boder

What kind of railroad cars were they?

Isaac Ostland

They were freight cars.

David Boder

But they were kept open?

Isaac Ostland

Open.

David Boder

You could have air, you were permitted to go out?

Isaac Ostland

Yes.

David Boder

You were able to go out, you could step out to satisfy your needs, you did not have to do it in the cars?

Isaac Ostland

No. We would stop at stations and we could do everything satisfactory.

David Boder

And you traveled to Kirov?

Isaac Ostland

To the province of Kirov where we got to a little town, a village Vecheva. And there we got together a group of sixteen Yeshiva people with the whole [inventory of] Yeshiva.

David Boder

Excuse me, the province of Kirov, what was that before?

Isaac Ostland

Vyatka.

David Boder

Oh, the province of Vyatka, go on.

Isaac Ostland

There we, the sixteen people of the Yeshiva, have decided to work in a forest so that we could be separated from our Christian comrades, in order that we should be able to observe the Jewish rituals . . .

David Boder

But you were working?

Isaac Ostland

We were working. We were working in a forest doing very hard work on lumber. And in general not being accustomed to physical work away from the [books of] Talmud, it was very hard for us. We lost a lot of strength. And we remained there until Sukkoth [the autumn Feast of the Tabernacles], observing all the Jewish traditions, dietary laws, and observance of the Sabbath. But in time we began to suffer, we had to get away from there because our physical strength did not permit us to remain at such hard labor.

David Boder

Did you have with you the [volumes of] Talmud, did you have [with you] any books?

Isaac Ostland

No, no books. We only studiedâwe had with us a little Tanakh-Pentateuch, Prophets and Writings. And there were some among us who knew [the scripture] by heart, so we held every Saturday conferences reciting the words of the Bible or the scriptures which we knew by heart.

David Boder

So.

Isaac Ostland

And every day we had a [set] time for study, and we prayed three times a day.

David Boder

The Russians permitted it?

Isaac Ostland

The Russians were not with us at all. We managed to find definite time that would not interfere with the work.

David Boder

But you worked for the Russians?

Isaac Ostland

We worked for the Russians, for the authorities.

David Boder

Yes.

Isaac Ostland

We were able to observe the Sabbath because we worked on Sunday.

David Boder

So they demonstrated religious tolerance?

Isaac Ostland

They did not bother us and also permitted us to choose our own day of rest.

David Boder

So . . . well, but you worked for the government, did you get any pay?

Isaac Ostland

The pay consisted of our food which we were given, our working clothes and the lodging and the tools for work which we needed . . .

David Boder

Now, tell me one thing. You told me that they permitted you to observe the dietary laws; what kind of kosher food were you getting?

Isaac Ostland

We ate no meat. We only cooked grits, vegetables which were given to us and that was our nourishment.

David Boder

So. Go on. How long did this last?

Isaac Ostland

That was going on until Sukkoth.

David Boder

How many months?

Isaac Ostland

Two months.

David Boder

Yes, and then . . .

Isaac Ostland

Afterwards, seeing that that was too hard for us, some of our people, the older ones, departed for Almata in search for another place [a long pause]. When we arrived thereâthe messages which we sent to our group as we learned later were not received by them, they could not receive any word from us, our contact was broken and they decided to depart by themselves.

David Boder

Who, the older ones?

Isaac Ostland

The group that remained behind.

David Boder

You were among the older ones which departed first?

Isaac Ostland

Yes.

David Boder

Go on . . . they departed . . .

Isaac Ostland

They departed.

David Boder

And where did they go?

Isaac Ostland

They departed and at the time we had no contact with them. Not until later when we obtained information through Buguruslan [a city] through which they cleared all the evacuated. And from there we got information about two comrades, three comrades. These were Chaim Stein, Meyer Karonovitz, Meyer Zeligman. Then we also received the sad information about the other ten persons who were not alive any more. The reports were as follows: passing near Bukharaâthere reigned at that time a terrible epidemic and suffering from hungerâthey unfortunately could not by-pass it, and they perished from various diseases.

David Boder

But the Russians let them go? Did they let them go or did they run away?

Isaac Ostland

They ran away.

David Boder

Well. And you, how many of the elders were you who departed [before]?

Isaac Ostland

There were three of us. And we too for various reasons were forced to become separated, due to the difficulties with transportation. It was prohibited to travel from one place to another and that is how we became separated.

David Boder

Go on.

Isaac Ostland

Among those who died there were: Hertz Jachnin, Boruch Baron, Friedman, Michael Kron, Isaac Brutzvik [I am not sure of the last name].

David Boder

[after a pause] And where did you go?

Isaac Ostland

We found ourselves in East Kasakstan.

David Boder

Who do you mean by we?

Isaac Ostland

The older comrades: Rosenband, Karanovich, and Bar [I am not sure whether he has not given inadvertently his real name among the three.]

David Boder

Well, so you reached Kasakstan?

Isaac Ostland

Yes.

David Boder

Where is Kasakstan?

Isaac Ostland

Kasakstan is in the east, it borders Siberia.

David Boder

So. Well.

Isaac Ostland

There we spent two years. We went through [he apparently corrects himself] three years time and we went through all the hardships which the Russian people went through, especially the evacuees, which was still harder for religious people. Still I was able to observe dietary laws, the Sabbath, and all the Jewish laws; naturally with great, great difficulties. Very rarely were there people who could stick it out. In the year 44 . . .

David Boder

Now, in these three years, what were you doing? Did you report to the Russians for work?

Isaac Ostland

I worked, worked all the time.

David Boder

What kind of work did you do?

Isaac Ostland

I was occupied in all kind of labor. I had to work in a kolhkhoz, I had to work in a labor gang, over water, fishing, floating logs . . .

David Boder

H-um.

Isaac Ostland

. . . all kinds of labor, I went through everything that there was.

David Boder

And where did one live?

Isaac Ostland

That varied. This is a question which is difficult to answer in one word.

David Boder

Yes, I understand. But where did you live? Let's talk about you. As I understand it, you worked for the Russians, all right. Did you live in a private home? Did you live in barracks? Where did you . . .

Isaac Ostland

While in the kolkhoz I lived in the dormitories.

David Boder

Oh, you lived in a kolkhoz [apparently the interviewer did not notice this statement by Ostland before; such things of course happen in non-directive interviews where the interview is being recorded and one expects to hear it later from the recording].

Isaac Ostland

And while with the labor gang [I lived] in a private home.

David Boder

Did you work in the kolkhoz together with Christians?

Isaac Ostland

Together with Christians.

David Boder

And how did they behave towards you?

Isaac Ostland

Being there the only Jew, perfectly strange and unfamiliar to them, and being a deeply religious Jew which they haven't seen already for 25 years, they developed towards me a relationship as to a stranger who has nothing in common with them. They could not understand me, they could not comprehend [my behavior], they knew that here was a stranger with whom they have nothing in common. I did not suffer from anti-Semitism, except, naturally, the young ones bothered me somewhat. But the old ones . . .

David Boder

Did you keep your beard?

Isaac Ostland

I kept my beard all the time [that of course could not be of great importance in Russia where most of the peasants wear long beards].

David Boder

And you prayed with your prayer shawl and phylacteries?[Footnote: Two receptacles with long thin leather strips attached; the receptacles contain excerpts from Biblical texts; they are worn during the morning prayer, one on the forehead and the other on the arm.]

Isaac Ostland

I prayed only with phylacteries, without a prayer shawl.

David Boder

Where was your prayer shawl?

Isaac Ostland

The prayer shawl was lost on the way.

David Boder

Yes.

Isaac Ostland

And the phylacteries I got from somebody else.

David Boder

Yes, go on. [A pause] And this lasted three years, your stay in Kosakstan?

Isaac Ostland

Yes.

David Boder

Did you meet there any other Jews?

Isaac Ostland

In Kosakstan I met also Russian Jews, a Jew from Lebavichi, who distinguished himself by his devotion to Jewish traditions, and many other kinds of Jews.

David Boder

And so, what happened then?

Isaac Ostland

In the year 44, being mobilized in the army, in the Lithuanian army . . .

David Boder

How come in the Lithuanian army? You were in Kosakstan . . .

Isaac Ostland

The Soviet army proceeded with the mobilization and they sent them away to the Lithuanian division which was created and was already stationed at that time in Lithuania.

David Boder

Oh, you were sent back?

Isaac Ostland

That happened already after the liberation of Lithuania.

David Boder

So you were mobilized for the Lithuanian [army]?

Isaac Ostland

We were mobilized and sent to Lithuania . . .

David Boder

Were you equipped with soldiers uniforms . . . ?

Isaac Ostland

No, no uniforms, [I went] in civilian clothes. They only gave me the papers and I was granted already all the privileges of a soldier. I was given provisions on the road, a railroad ticket . . . everything. But in Novosibirskâsince that city had no rabbi at the timeâI was invited there as rabbi which status I held already from before . . . and thanks to this rabbinical certificates from Novosibirsk where I spent three months time I was subsequently discharged from service by the Lithuanian army in Vilna.

David Boder

Where is Novosibirsk?

Isaac Ostland

It is a big city in Russia which had at that time about 30,000 Jews evacuated from all over Russia.

David Boder

Did you have a rabbinical certificate from before?

Isaac Ostland

From before the war.

David Boder

And you are also a slaughterer?

Isaac Ostland

No, I am not a slaughterer.

David Boder

So you had a rabbinical certificate and in Novosibirsk the community initiated you as their rabbi . . .

Isaac Ostland

As rabbi.

David Boder

Tell me, don't they still have in Russia like in the olden times an official rabbi and a [spiritual rabbi] . . .

Isaac Ostland

No, that does not exist any more.

David Boder

Does not exist any more . . . so where are the newborn Jewish children registered?

Isaac Ostland

They are being registered in the general registry.

David Boder

Do they inscribe in Russia one's religion in the passport?

Isaac Ostland

No, not at all, no religion [is being registered].

David Boder

They don't register one's religion?

Isaac Ostland

No religion, [just] nationality is registered.

David Boder

Oh, they register one "nationality-Jewish? . . .

Isaac Ostland

Yes.

David Boder

. . . but they don't register the religion?

Isaac Ostland

No.

David Boder

So you were initiated there as rabbi. Did they hold you back from the army? If you were a soldier . . .

Isaac Ostland

I had a rabbinical certificate from before and thanks to this rabbinical certificate . . .

David Boder

You went then to Vilna?

Isaac Ostland

I went then to Vilna and was there discharged. And then the community of Vilnaâbeing in need of a rabbiâmade representations to the authorities that I be not sent back to Novosibirsk, to my previous post.

David Boder

Yes . . .

Isaac Ostland

But that I be permitted to remain in Vilna.

David Boder

So . . .

Isaac Ostland

And they consented, and I remained in Vilna, and lived there for a year's time until I departed for Poland.

David Boder

So . . . how did you manage . . . ?

Isaac Ostland

During the year I remained in Vilna, we managed to re-erect a prayer house, we repaired the Choral Synagogue of Vilna at the cost of 50,000 . . .

David Boder

Zloty [unit of Polish currency] . . .

Isaac Ostland

. . . rubles [Russian unit of currency]. We organized again ritual slaughtering . . .

David Boder

The Choral Synagogue was in a basement, one had to step down a few steps . . . ? Oh, no, the Choral Synagogue was on Zavalnya Street.

Isaac Ostland

Zavalnya Street . . .

David Boder

That was built years ago by Smaya Levin.

Isaac Ostland

Very possible, times ago.

David Boder

Berstein, who wrote Atiquo [the Zionist anthem] was there the cantor.

Isaac Ostland

Was there the cantor.

David Boder

Go on.

Isaac Ostland

Why only the Choral Synagogue: Because of all 170 prayer houses which existed in the city of Vilna there remained only one on the German Street number 19 [the name of German Street was an old name of one of the important streets of the city of Vilna since olden times] only this one was left intact by the Germans.

David Boder

And the others?

Isaac Ostland

All the others are destroyed.

David Boder

The whole "synagogue yard" [the city of Vilna had several blocks occupied by numerous synagogues of various congregations, as far as I remember surrounded by a general fence, and that section was called the "synagogue yard"]?

Isaac Ostland

Everything, the "synagogue yard" with the old city synagogue and with the synagogues of the whole city.

David Boder

Didn't they convert the "Synagogue yard" into a ghetto?

Isaac Ostland

Yes, there were two ghettos in Vilna. One ghetto was located between the Zavalnya Street and the German Street; the other which was located in the "synagogue yard" existed only for a few months, until the Day of Atonement, when it was liquidated. The second ghetto existed until about a year before liberation.

David Boder

Go on.

Isaac Ostland

In the synagogue on the German Street number 19, where the community was re-established after liberation . . . about this there is an interesting story to tell.

Isaac Ostland

Yes.

David Boder

Now then, I want to know, Vilna has become again [a part of] Lithuania?

Isaac Ostland

Lithuania.

David Boder

Lithuania. And how many Jews did you find there approximately?

Isaac Ostland

There we found altogether about 450 Jews who have managed to hide in the environs of Vilna with the Christians. Or [they were hidden] in malines, in hideouts, in caves . . .

David Boder

What are "malines?"

Isaac Ostland

"Malines" means a hideout under ground [here the words under ground must be understood literally, meaning under the surface of the earth.]

David Boder

The word is of Hebrew[Footnote: In speaking Yiddish to Mr. Ostland, the interviewer used unawares to himself the English word "Hebrew" which Ostland apparently did not understand. This obviously accounts for the confusion in this section of the dialog.] origin. From what word does it originate?

Isaac Ostland

That I don't know.

David Boder

I have been told that it comes from the Hebrew word "malone" which is supposed to mean hiding; they told me it was a Hebrew word.

Isaac Ostland

A Hebrew word meaning hiding.

David Boder

And they have made of it a Russian word "maline" which is a berry, a fruit.

Isaac Ostland

Well, with this synagogue on the German Street happened the following.

David Boder

[In English] Wait . . . This concludes Spool 125 [later designated as spool 125-B] in which part is Mr. Gutman's and part Rabbi Ostman's [I apparently have been confusing his name, calling him at time Ostland and at times Ostman] report. HÃnonville, near Paris, about 50 kilometers from Paris, September the 13th, 1946 . . . [ends abruptly]

David Boder

France, HÃnonville, 50 kilometers from Paris, September the 13th, 1946. In a home which belongs to the Agudah and shared educationally by the ORT. Also, in . . . out of [unintelligible] there is housed a Yeshiva which escaped from Lithuania recently â part of the students yet coming â and the head rabbi of the Yeshiva, Rabbi Isaac Ostland, a young man of about 30 or so is reporting continued from Spool 124 . . . oh, 125. This is Spool 126. Again, Spool 126.

David Boder

[In Yiddish] And so Rabbi, you told me that there is an important story to tell about Vilna. Start, talk into the microphone, don't hurry, you talk as long as you wish.

Isaac Ostland

On the Saturday, "Section Bechuckotay"[Footnote: Levitious XXVI: 3âXXVII: 34. For Saturday reading, the Pentatecuh is divided into 53 sections.] [as is often the custom, he designates a particular Saturday by the Section from the Torah which is being read on that Saturday] and while they were in the process of recitation [of the Torah] . . .

David Boder

On what Saturday was that?

Isaac Ostland

"Section Bechuckotay," of the year 41, when the Germans were already in Vilna . . .

David Boder

And what do you call that Saturday?

Isaac Ostland

When "Section Bechuckotay" is being recited.

David Boder

Oh!

Isaac Ostland

. . . that is the Section which contains the "Takhakho."[Footnote: "Takhakho" means "admonition." There are two "Takhakhos" in the Pentateuch, one in Leviticus XXVI: 14-46, and the other in Deuteronomy XXVIII: 15-26. Both "Takhakhos" contain the maledictions and threats of most unspeakable suffering which were to come over the Children of Israel if they should "not hearken unto the voice of the Lord . . . to observe to do all His commandments." An analysis of the cardinal difference between the two "Takhakhos" is given in Footnote 7.]

David Boder

Oh, in what month is that?

Isaac Ostland

That is about in the 12th month of the Jewish calendar.

David Boder

Give me the month in Hebrew, the Hebrew . . .

Isaac Ostland

At the end of the summer . . . Excuse me, not "Section Bechuckotay" but Section Ki Tahbo." (Deuteronomy XXVI: 1âXXIX: 8.)

David Boder

Aha!

Isaac Ostland

"Section Ki Tahbo" may come out in Elul.

David Boder

In Elul, before Rosh Hashana.

Isaac Ostland

Before Rosh Hashana.

David Boder

When they blow already the Shophar. Are we not also in the month Elul?

Isaac Ostland

Yes, we are now in Elul, and this Saturday also "Section Bechuckotay"[Footnote: In spite of the spontaneous correction which he made a few sentences before, Rabbi Ostland commits again the same slip of the tongue (of apparently Freudian nature), giving "Bechuckotay" instead of "Ki Tahbo." Could it be that for him personally the highpoint of German violence came with the deportation so vividly described in "Bechuckotay," It suffices to quote only one verse from "Takhakho Bechuckotay" which expresses by no means the most extreme of the depredations that were to come over the Children of Israel if they should fail to observe the teachings of the Torah: "And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall execute the vengeance of the covenant; and ye shall be gathered together within your cities; and I will send the Pestilence among you; and ye shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy." (Leviticus XXVI: 25) In general "Takhakho Ki Tahbo" lists the "mortal sins" while "Takhakho Bechuckotay" gives the most detailed aspects of punishment by catastrophe. Both the tendency to suppress even the thought of such sings referring in large measure to sex perversions on the one hand, while on the other hand the memories of the German inhumanities did not cease to haunt them, may also account for this repeated substitution of "Bechuckotay" for "Ki Tahbo." No wonder that Rabbi Ostland, as well as his father-in-law, Rabbi Bloch, as so many pious Jews, were struck by the vivid resemblance between the castastrophe brought upon them by the Germans who evoked into reality above any measure, most of the macabre prophecies of the "Takhakho Bechuckotay."] is being read.

David Boder

So, it was like at this time?

Isaac Ostland

Yes. So in the middle of the services all Jews were taken from the house of prayer as they were in midst of the recitation of the Torah, and everything was left; the Bibles open, even the Torah with the point at its side [a small stick to point at the lines and words during reading], and the house of prayer was sealed and the Jews led away. They put a seal on the door of the house of prayer. And things remained that way until the day when Vilna was again liberated . . .

David Boder

Yes.

Isaac Ostland

. . . a group of Jewish respected citizens entered the place with the most reverend Rabbi Gutman and they found everything untouched. The holy Torah was lying on the pulpit with the finger-marks of the reader on the Torah and the pointer, that is how they found it. That was the only synagogue in all Vilna.

David Boder

What was the synagogue on the German Street?

Isaac Ostland

On the German Street number 19, which by a miracle has remained intact from all the 107 synagogues, which once existed in Vilna.

David Boder

Oh . . .

Isaac Ostland

And this [the salvation of one single synagogue] offered the possibility to rebuild again a Jewish religious life. The few Bibles which were found in that synagogue, the holy Torahs and in general all the things that a congregation needs for its existence.

David Boder

Tell me, excuse the interruption, what books are you using here at present? Are these new books?

Isaac Ostland

No, these are books the Talmud and other religious Tomes [he enumerates the various sections of the scriptures and commentaries and Hebrew] . . .

David Boder

How did you manage to bring them over? How . . .

Isaac Ostland

These were obtained from Poland from Lodz. In Lodz were found large stores of sacred books.

David Boder

Aha. Then they did not print new ones here?

Isaac Ostland

Here not yet, but abroad [books] are being printed. In Switzerland, in the land of Israel; we also received a great deal of books from America.

David Boder

Yes, because I have seen some of them look entirely like new.

Isaac Ostland

New, these are from abroad.

David Boder

From abroad. Now let us continue.

Isaac Ostland

And so in this synagogue and the adjoining room was founded in 1944 the Jewish congregation of Vilna and through this began the reconstruction of a new Jewish life in Vilna.

David Boder

Do you remember any names in the parish council?

Isaac Ostland

The rabbi then was Rabbi Gutman, the shohet was Mr. Farber.

David Boder

Yes?

Isaac Ostland

Afterwards there was a second one, a younger one- Lieberman.

David Boder

Ah . . .

Isaac Ostland

And the other members of the parish council were Stein, and Sapirstein was the secretary.

David Boder

Yes, was there among them a certain Zalkind?

Isaac Ostland

[After a pause] No.

David Boder

No [the interviewer asked about a very prominent family in Vilna]. Well, go on.

Isaac Ostland

Now the city synagogue suffered only on the outside. The inside was still intact.

David Boder

Which- The Choral Synagogue or the city [synagogue]?

Isaac Ostland

The city synagogue in the synagogue court.

David Boder

Oh, that is the large synagogue where before [now they talk both at the same time] the cantor Sirota was singing.

Isaac Ostland

Yes, that is the synagogue has continued to exist already for about 500 years in Vilna.

David Boder

Ja.

Isaac Ostland

It was decided to hold services that Rosh Hashana in that synagogue and we held our services in that synagogue.

David Boder

Will you excuse me, please. I have still another question. You see, I know Vilna.

Isaac Ostland

Certainly.

David Boder

What happened to the cemetery where the Vilna Saint was buried? [The words used here were: The Gaon of Vilna, which means not exactly saint, but a great rabbi with prestige equivalent to the Christian saint.] Was this cemetery spared?

Isaac Ostland

I shall tell you about it later. But now, this synagogue, this old city synagogue was still on the inside intact. But in the middle of the winter due to a castastrophe with two railroad trains [He apparently is returning now to an episode that happened during the time of that German occupation. In general his statements here are becoming somewhat incoherent.] which collided on the tracks, there was a great uproar in the city in which all those who were at the station became victims, and the city in general suffered and that is how it [the synagogue] was destroyed.

David Boder

H-um.

Isaac Ostland

Now, as to your inquiry about the cemetery, it was like this: In Vilna there was the old cemetery, [the next few words are not clear] the one that had the new fence, which was erected not long ago. This one [the fence] was broken through in several places and there were dug for military purposes trenches and it was desecrated very badly. On the day when we arrived we visited the cemetery, and our hearts ached.

David Boder

The old cemetery?

Isaac Ostland

The old cemetery, and our hearts ached because it was such a sacred cemetery on which there was buried "The Saint" [Here follow a few words in Hebrew and I cannot establish whether he mentions the name of another venerated person or if it refers to the first saint] and other very famous men. And to find it in such a horrible state. All our efforts to fence it in again, and to throw out all the extraneous rubble which the former armies left there were for the time being, in vain, and the cemetery still remained in a terrible, regretable state.

David Boder

H-um.

Isaac Ostland

Now, the second cemetery, the one that was called the cemetery "Across the River" on which Chaim Eisner [the name is not clear] was buried . . . on this cemetery it appears the Germans also did not let the dead rest. They took away the tombstones, the monuments which were erected there, a large part of them, the better ones were transported to Germany, for the purpose of paving the streets with these tombstones.

David Boder

Oh? Go on.

Isaac Ostland

And in general it was destroyed and excavated. And in spite of all the efforts to establish order in Vilna, all our labors brought very little results. Like in those times there still take place maneuvers, military maneuvers and the destruction continues [I am not sure of the last few words]. Now about the other things. When afterwards the congregation began to grow in Vilna when the number of Jews increased, it became too crowded in number 19 German Street and it was decided to move to Zavalnya Street 35 to the Choral Synagogue. There we found two rooms adjoining the Choral Synagogue. There we established the congregation and after Rabbi Gutman left the town when he departed for Poland, we took over the rabbinate; also the shohets changed [in membership and personnel]. The parish developed rather well. It devoted itself to social service and it distributed during the course of the one summer '45- [the congregation] distributed up to 100,000 rubles for the poor, for those who returned from lagers, for strangers who arrived. The parish also devoted itself with the reestablishment of Jewish life [I am not sure of the translation]. They established a wide correspondence for the communication from friend to friend and other important work. At the end of '45 there were in Vilna already nearly 17,000 Jews. But unfortunately, there was no need in Vilna for more than one single house of prayer. There could be no more than one single assembly for prayer in the whole city of Vilna.

David Boder

But there were other prayer houses?

Isaac Ostland

Yes, prayer houses, but there remained unfortunately very few pious people. The newcomers were to taken by their work that the working conditions did not permit the attendance of services.

David Boder

Ah . . .

Isaac Ostland

One cannot get to services if the hours of work are established from 8 or from 9 o'clock so it is impossible to come to services. On the Sabbath also no larger attendance could be present at services because of the necessity of work.

David Boder

H-um.

Isaac Ostland

Have you any other questions?

David Boder

Now then, you have remained in Vilna, as the rabbi of Vilna.

Isaac Ostland

Yes.

David Boder

How long did you remain there?

Isaac Ostland

For one year until February, '45 [correcting himself] until February, '46.

David Boder

And why did you leave Vilna?

Isaac Ostland

As a Polish, a Polish-Vilna citizen from the province of Vilna . . .

David Boder

Yes . . .

Isaac Ostland

I had the right to travel.

David Boder

The Russians then permitted . . . ?

Isaac Ostland

They evacuated the Polish citizens, they evacuated from all over Russia.

David Boder

Yes.

Isaac Ostland

So they were evacuated from all Russia and also from the Vilna region.

David Boder

Yes . . . So then you were traveling to Poland in a perfectly legal fashion?

Isaac Ostland

Yes . . .

David Boder

Why did you leave? Why did you not want to remain in Vilna?

Isaac Ostland

In Vilna there were no prospects for religious people to be able to adjust morally in the spirit of the Scripture.

David Boder

H-um? So you departed . . . Now tell me, you arrived where?

Isaac Ostland

I arrived in Poland . . . from Poland to Prague, and from Prague to Paris.

David Boder

Wait a moment. You came to Poland. Where did you go in Poland.

Isaac Ostland

To Lodz.

David Boder

To Lodz. And why did you not remain in Lodz?

Isaac Ostland

Because there are taking place terrible anti-Semitic onslaughts against the Jews, that occur in Poland, which make it impossible nowadays to live there [a few words not clear].

David Boder

Now tell me how do you explain it? The Poles were freed from Fascism . . .

Isaac Ostland

Yes.

David Boder

They cooperate with the Russians.

Isaac Ostland

Yes.

David Boder

So how . . . where does the anti-Semitism come from there? The Russians did not demonstrate anti-Semitism against you . . . How does it come about there?

Isaac Ostland

This is still the "gospel" from the plants which the Hitler followers have sowed in their time.

David Boder

And nothing can be done about it.

Isaac Ostland

The authorities make great efforts, but it is impossible to re-educate the people.

David Boder

And the Polish intelligentsia?

Isaac Ostland

The Polish intelligentsia also accepts it.

David Boder

Accepts what? [pause] What do they accept?

Isaac Ostland

Anti-Semitism.

David Boder

Anti-Semitism. Now then, how did you assemble your group, and how did you get away?

Isaac Ostland

This group of Yeshiva people who are here today.

David Boder

Where did they come from?

Isaac Ostland

They are the ones who returned from Russia. They are from the many yeshivas which the Soviets have evacated previously, a week before the war, a week before the war they were evacuated into Russia, to Siberia.

David Boder

Yes . . .

Isaac Ostland

Part of these remained [alive], those who still have the strength to withstand all the sufferings, all the lagers in Siberia, with starvation, with epidemicsâthese remained. From these remained about 300 yeshiva people and another 100 persons, members of their families. They are now in Prague, and we expect them shortly here in France. For the moment we have here a small group, about 15 students [?] from among the younger ones who have already arrived in France.

David Boder

They are not the same whom you knew there . . . ?

Isaac Ostland

From those who left with me together for Russia only a small number, six people, have remainedâfrom the sixteen.

David Boder

And they are . . . ?

Isaac Ostland

Three are already hereâand three are still in Prague?

David Boder

And they will come?

Isaac Ostland

They will come.

David Boder

So you know them from there. Now, what are you doing here all day and what are your plans?

Isaac Ostland

Now it is like this. It is our duty . . . since from all the survivors who still are capable to appreciate . . .

David Boder

Yes.

Isaac Ostland

. . . the significance of all the events, we know that it is our task to spread as much as possible the Torah among the Jewish people, and to spread Judaism as much as possible among the Jewish people. We disregard [the fact] that we already have the possibility to go to America; and since for the time being we are able to accomplish something in France, we endeavor with all our strength to redeem, to bring up the children who have fallen into Christian hands during the course of the war, and even those who before the war have not learned the traditions of Judaism and the Torah of the Lord of the Universe, and these we endeavor nowadays to bring up in the spirit of the Torah. This is the whole mission, the whole ideal of all those who have remained alive.

David Boder

Then you are not going to the Land of Israel?

Isaac Ostland

Our road, our destination is for the time uncertain.

David Boder

Yes.

Isaac Ostland

. . . but for the time being we have devoted ourselves to educational work here in France.

David Boder

Who supports the Yeshiva?

Isaac Ostland

The Yeshiva draws its support from many institutions. The main savior of the Yeshiva was the Vaad Hazolah.

David Boder

Vadda Ha . . .

Isaac Ostland

Vaad Ha Hazolah, which . . .

David Boder

How do you spell it?

Isaac Ostland

Vaad Ha Hazolah . . .

David Boder

Two vov's [vaus; the spelling proceeds in Hebrew letters]?

Isaac Ostland

Yes, [correcting] one vov.

David Boder

Go on.

Isaac Ostland

'ayin,

David Boder

'ayin,

Isaac Ostland

'daleth,

David Boder

'daleth,

Isaac Ostland

cheth,

David Boder

cheth,

Isaac Ostland

sadhe,

David Boder

Is that one word?

Isaac Ostland

Two words.

David Boder

Oh, that is . . . sadhe,

Isaac Ostland

lameth,

David Boder

lameth,

Isaac Ostland

cheth,

David Boder

cheth. Vaad Hazolah . . . What does it mean, Vaad Hazolah?

Isaac Ostland

That is an organization, especially formed to save those Jews who could be found in Russia or in Germany.

David Boder

Is that a new organization?

Isaac Ostland

That is an organization founded during the time of the war, under the leadership of the famous director of the Yeshiva of Kletsh, Rabbi Aaron [last name not clear] . . .

David Boder

Ah! And where is he?

Isaac Ostland

He is in America.

David Boder

Ah! And that is the Vaad Hazolah?

Isaac Ostland

Yes, . . .

David Boder

And the other organizations which support . . . ?

Isaac Ostland

And then there are still other organizations which are lending assistance. Nowadays here in France we are helped by other various organizations.

David Boder

Aha! Now there are them among you such who will go to America, and such who will go to other countries.

Isaac Ostland

Yes. It is self-evident that the further road cannot be the same for everybody.

David Boder

H-um.

Isaac Ostland

In general . . . there has been created now an organization which is called the "Spreader [?] of the Torah," which devotes itself especially to the spreading of the Torah, and founding of yeshivas, be it in European countries, be it in African countries, and in America as well. Part of those who are arriving now, will depart for America to develop there their yeshivas, and the remaining part will probably go to other countries.

David Boder

Now, and you personally, where do you intend to go?

Isaac Ostland

I personally am being called by my family which resides in Cleveland . . . who have founded there the famous American Yeshiva, the famous Yeshiva of Telsh in Cleveland and from there I am requested to come.

David Boder

Now wait a moment. Your in-law was the . . .

Isaac Ostland

My father-in-law, the rabbi of Telsh.

David Boder

Where is he?

Isaac Ostland

Who perished in Telsh.

David Boder

. . . Telsh, yes [they talk almost simultaneously].

Isaac Ostland

There has survived a brother, the Reverend [one name not clear] Meyer Bloch, the shepherd of the Yeshiva of Telsh in Cleveland.

David Boder

Oh, that is his brother.

Isaac Ostland

. . . together with his former brother-in-law, Rabbi [first name not clear] Katz, and his father-in-law, the Rabbi Sirotski, and the father-in-law of his brother [name not clear] âthey run the yeshiva.

David Boder

Aha! How soon will you be in Cleveland?

Isaac Ostland

In the near future.

David Boder

In a few months?

Isaac Ostland

In a few months, I hope.

David Boder

And who will remain here with the Yeshiva?

Isaac Ostland

Here with the Yeshiva from Prague will remain the leaders who directed the Yeshiva still from before the war [this states is somewhat confused].

David Boder

Well, maybe we shall see each other yet in America.

Isaac Ostland

God willing.

David Boder

One may get to Cleveland some day. Now tell me something about your wife. Where did you meet her? Where was she, and what happened to her?

Isaac Ostland

She was in the same ghetto of which we talked before . . . so her mother with others of her family were sent to the ghetto of Siauliai [Shavli]. In the ghetto of Siauliai they were until the liquidation of the Siauliai ghetto, when they were all shipped away to Germany.

David Boder

H-um . . . and where in Germany were they sent?

Isaac Ostland

In Germany they suffered through various lagers.

David Boder

Yes.

Isaac Ostland

. . . and of the whole family remained only two: Khaje Bloch, that is the daughter . . . my wife, the daughter of the rabbi of Telsh . . .

David Boder

Yes.

Isaac Ostland

. . . and her cousin, Naomi Bloch, the daughter of the Telsh [two words not clear] Mr. Salman.

David Boder

And the mother of your wife?

Isaac Ostland

The mother, alas, perished in Telsh.

David Boder

She perished in Telsh?

Isaac Ostland

In Telsh.

David Boder

[hesitantly] How come?

Isaac Ostland

She was caught. After she had been in hiding she returned; she was caught and shot.

David Boder

Oh! The mother was shot . . . Now where is the cousin of your wife?

Isaac Ostland

The cousin is now in Munich, in Germany.

David Boder

Oh. What is she doing there?

Isaac Ostland

She is there with another cousin. Also another daughter of the rabbi of Telsh was saved, hiding among Christians, and her cousin, the daughter of Mr. Salman, was also hiding among Christians.

David Boder

Well.

Isaac Ostland

That is all that is left from the family.

David Boder

And where did you meet her?

Isaac Ostland

Now on our return, I from Russia and she from Germany, we met in Vilna. Our coming to America and our marriage were arranged [a few words are not clear] . . .

David Boder

What do you mean by [interviewer attempts to repeat his Hebrew words] . . . ?

Isaac Ostland

. . . [it was arranged] by relatives, by the family.

David Boder

So you met in Vilna. By accident or by arrangement?

Isaac Ostland

She came . . . she came from Germany and I being in Vilna, hearing that the daughter of my teacher was saved . . . so I sent immediately [a letter?] and brought her over to Vilna and kept her with me until the day of departure.

David Boder

And now she is here with you?

Isaac Ostland

Yes.

David Boder

Have already any children?

Isaac Ostland

No.

David Boder

Now tell me, is there anything else, that you think is important to preserve, to tell? [At this instant Ostland apparently insisted that no record be taken. He finally agreed to make some additional statements, provided his name is not disclosed. Apprehension is obvious from the content of the subsequent remarks. Many DPs were reluctant to make anti-Russian statements, fearing a remote possibility of being handed over to Soviet authorities. On the other hand, the Baltic Christian DPs took, at least on most cases, a solid anti-Soviet stand and were reluctant to voice any criticism of the Nazis.]

David Boder

[In English] We are now making a short record of [and interview with] a gentleman who does not want to give his name. And considering the importance of the episode we requested him to talk . . .

David Boder

[In Yiddish] Also . . . [the interviewer made the preceding statement in English and is now translating it into Yiddish so that Ostland may be assured of his "anonymity"].

Isaac Ostland

When the evacuation of Polish citizens from Russia began, many Jews who were not Polish citizens had "naturally" a desire to join us and also to be evacuated to Poland, partly with the purpose to go to the Land of Israel, partly just to save themselves. [He constantly lowers his voice as if imparting dangerous secrets.]

David Boder

Yes, well.

Isaac Ostland

Then, during the last winter, certain groups began to form with the purpose to travel ahead "stealing" the Soviet border into Poland.

David Boder

Yes.

Isaac Ostland

In one of the groups there were . . .

David Boder

[with a smile] Talk a bit louder, go on.

Isaac Ostland

One of the groups consisted in part of yeshiva people also from Telsh, which were detained en route. The story as it was transmitted to us was like this: four automobiles with people who intended to "steal" the border, departed from Vilna. They were halted en route, fire was opened against the automobiles, the automobiles refused to stop. As a consequence of this shooting one person was killed instantly while sitting in the car, ten were wounded and all were caught and arrested.

David Boder

Talk a bit louder, go on . . . or get nearer to the microphone.

Isaac Ostland

Those apprehended who wanted to escape from Russia were tried as "political criminals."

David Boder

Yes.

Isaac Ostland

And they were sentenced "to Siberia."

David Boder

Yes. [a pause]

Isaac Ostland

And . . .

David Boder

Go on . . .

Isaac Ostland

And by way of a remark, this caused a very heavy mood in the whole Jewish population in Lithuania which could not understand the meaning of such action of the Soviet government against the people who wanted to leave the country either for the land of Israel or for other purposes- and that they should be declared "political criminals", and be sentenced to Siberia.

David Boder

Oh . . . I have heard already about this. Did you also hear about the incident when an attempt was made to get them out by airplane? Did you hear about that? Another [case] . . .

Isaac Ostland

[He apparently shakes his head.]

David Boder

You have not heard about it. Now . . . but the Russians did not try them as Jews, they tried them as people who wanted to depart against the law?

Isaac Ostland

[pause] But the action was too grave . . .

David Boder

Oh, the sentence was too heavy . . .

Isaac Ostland

The sentence?

David Boder

Yes. [You mean] they should have demonstrated a bit more understanding for human feelings and for a man's faith. About that you are right. [Pause] Now then . . .

David Boder

[In English] This concludes a part of an interview, first with . . . [unintelligible]

Isaac Ostland

[In Yiddish] No, no, this is no good. This episode was dragged in rather out of place . . . [He apparently somehow understood the meaning of the interviewer's statement made in English.]