Friday, May 25, 2012


On Shavuot 5703, Skalat became Judenrein.

Some six hundred of the last Jews in the ghetto were marched out to burial pits that had been prepared in advance and shot. The only ones left were about four hundred in a labor camp and those who had hidden in the forest.

On Monday, the seventh of Sivan, the day after Shavuot here in Israel and the second day of Shavuot abroad, a group of survivors that gets smaller every year and a few descendants will meet at the monument to Skalat at the Holon Cemetery outside Tel-Aviv. Last year, we were maybe two dozen, but did not have a minyan.

Zvika will speak. His mother Yocheved will listen.

Yocheved's brother Motel will say kaddish.

Shammai's family no longer comes. They used to be represented by three generations. Shammai and his wife were both from Skalat, but he died a few years ago on Shavuot - days after his son-in-law - and they meet elsewhere on that day for their personal memorial.

Jurek from Sweden has asked me to mention that his aunt who lived in California died a few months ago and I will do that.

I will no doubt see David from Netanya and his sister Zippi - their mother was Cyla Pikholz, who came with her husband back in the 1930s. Two of Cyla's sisters came after the War - Tonka is buried in Holon as well and Shufka is buried in Herzliyyah. Tonka wrote two articles in the Skalat memorial book. Her son has lived abroad for years and Shufka's kids never come. Two other sisters and the parents were killed in Skalat.

Perhaps my fourth cousin Leonora will come, if she can get off work. Her mother was Pikholz from all four of her grandparents. I call Leonora "my cousin from the cemetery" since that is where we most often meet. One of these weeks, I'll tell her story here. She has an uncle buried in Holon. Her mother never knew that her brother-in-law had survived.

The memorial in Holon,
seen from the side.
My translation is to the right.

Inside the memorial
is a scroll with a list
of victims from Skalat.
To the suffering people of the Skalat community 
to the fathers who took their lives in their hands,
in desparate attempt to save their children,
to the mothers who hair blanched
from pain and fear for their dear ones,
for those tortured and shot in the town streets,
in the ancient citadels
and on the banks of the river,
to the thousands taken in the death cars,
to Belzec, on the road of blood and suffering
and were ground to dust., to the few who dared
to jump from the speeding trains,
because they never quit or gave up hope,
even at the edge of destruction,
for the thousands at the pts of death,
fathers, mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers
brothers and sisters, counting the
last grains of sand in the hourglass,
their eyes desparate and no one comes to rescue,
to the brave, the daring, the fortunate,
who in that night of storm and unrest,
of hope and desparation, joined the fighters of
Kobpak and whose blood filled the path
of the Resistance in the Carpathian Mountains,
to the thousands of the community who were killed
with the cry of SHEMA YISRAEL on their lips,
to the few who remained, by miracle or by chance,
fewer every year, and during these many years
they carry the cries of the entire community,
and the greatest and heaviest cry of them all,
the cry of the dead and of the living, echoing
throughout the world, from then until the end of time:

There is a whole row of these memorials along the eastern fence of the cemetery, and others elsewhere. Other towns are memorialized in other Israeli cemeteries. And graves which mention parents and brothers and sisters and others who were killed are common.

As readers of this blog may know, many of the Pikholz families came from Skalat. It is probably one family, but I have not yet succeeded in linking them all together.

My grandfather's grandmother Rivka-Feige Pikholz was born there, probably early 1820s. Her four children and most of her grandchildren were almost certainly born in Podkamen and Zalosce, though one daughter married a man from Skalat and her children were born there. Three of Rivka-Feige's children went to the United States.
Yad VaShem's Pinkas Kehillot series says that there were 3256 Jews in Skalat in 1890, out of a population of 5889. The number of Jews had gone down a bit by 1921, but after the Germans came in 1941, Jews from some of the smaller towns nearby were added to the population. Not always of their own volition.

Once the shul. Now a warehouse.
There were five major killings of the Jews of Skalat. In the first three, Jews were taken by truck to Belzec and killed there. There are no records. That was when the Germans still thought that the world would object to the mass murder of Jews, so it was kept quiet and nothing was recorded. Eventually they realized that the world didn't care at all and the result was transports to industrial-sized death camps, often with meticulous records.

The first killing was 18 Elul 5702, 31 August 1942. Six hundred old and infirm. The Jews of the Judenrat had to deliver them to the Germans. That drove a wedge between the Judenrat and the rest of the Jews, but more important, it served the Germans' purposes by making Jews complicit.

Then what was called "the large killing" - 10 Heshvan 5703, 21 October 1942 - three thousand Jews. A few of those were "selected" for slave labor and a few others jumped from the trucks to freedom or (more likely) death. Freedom? - about fifty escaped and returned to Skalat. Where else was there to go?

The "small killing" was 29 Heshvan 5703, 9 November 1942. "Only" eleven hundred that time.

The fields of the last two killings.
A memorial made of a few surviving gravestones from the
old cemetery is in the background.
This memorial has been upgraded, but with the same basic motif.
The site of the old cemetery.
Now it's the municipal soccer field.
The stones were used for paving
and fencing, but are now gone.
For the last two killings, the Jews were simply marched out of town and shot beside open pits. Some died from the shooting, some from the burial. The first of those two was 2 Nisan 5703, 7 April 1943 - about seven hundred Jews. And the last six hundred on Shavuot.

The new memorial
There is more on Skalat. Much of the aggregation is my work, but some was done by the folks who took over the site.

And there are two memorial books - here and here.

We will be meeting Monday afternoon at five-thirty. That's ten-thirty on the east coast of the US. Right about the time some of you are saying yizkor. Perhaps you'll give a thought to the dead Jews of Skalat


  1. Thank you for painting us a picture of the lonely remnants of Skalat. Surely it will help us remember what the town once was and the evil perpetrated against the pure souls who once lived there.

  2. Susan J. Gordon25 May, 2012 17:49

    Thank you, Israel, for your fine and deeply meaningful words. Even though you say there are those who "never come" to the memorial... one day they might -- especially because of your blog. It's impossible to measure how much good it does! I, too, have been to Skalat. I have wept and recited Kaddish by the shul, the killing sites, and the memorial. It's not enough; nothing is. Susan J. Gordon

  3. Dear Mr. Pikholz,

    I am the daughter of Leon Bomberg and Hinda Shapira Bomberg, niece of Bume Shapira, Sosha Shapira Schechter, and Rabbi Moishe Schechter. I want to thank you so much for educating and informing me of events that occurred to the residents of Skalat during the Holocaust. My family very rarely talked about that terrible time, and carried the tragic events quietly and heavily in their hearts. Your descriptions, pictures and testimonies are invaluable. It is important that truth gets out to the second, third, fourth, etc. generations, and I can now do my part to never forget and tell the true legacy of the brave and innocent people of Skalat to my children and grandchildren.

    Yashar Koach,

    Jacqueline Bomberg Wise

  4. Next week's post will be about what was said at the memorial yesterday. It was more substantial than in recent years.

  5. I found your blog while looking for something meaningful to share about Yom HaShoah. My father, Bernard (Nazje) Weinsaft is nearly 88 years old and is from Skalat. He was friendly with Shammai and Nechama z"l.

    We were all in Skalat together for the dedication of the monument on the killing fields nearly 20 years ago. I am touched to hear that people still gather at the memorial in Israel, and am grateful to have found the photos you shared.

    Zie gezunt,
    Sima Weinsaft Matthes

  6. Thank you. We do what we can. There are fewer and fewer actual survivors each year.

  7. I am Shammai's (z'l)nephew and I thank you for posting this. I know a number of the commenters. Jacqeuline Bomberg Wise...I am quite sure that my parents (Paysha and Bronya -- Paul and Bernice Sass) were friends with your parents. I just visited with much of my family in Israel, and i saw my aunt Nechama -- now 91 years old and in failing health. Tomorrow at a ceremony at the New York Courthouse, my Mom and my son (who is a lawyer) will be lighting a candle at their Shoah remembrance. They will be reading her bio (a very edited version) which includes many of the stories shared here. A couple of observations from someone who was also at the dedication:

    1) I heard Motel from Yavne recite a bracha that i never heard before -- sheh asah li nes ba'makom ha'zeh. 10 years later my daughter recited that same bracha surrounded by her 12th grade classmates at Majdanek where her grandfather survived some might same "miraculously."

    2) The message on that matseva -- "Am Yisrael Chai" -- after all they suffered, the message is one of survival and triumph....don't forget the past but look forward. That was very much was were taught by our parents, and what we try to teach our own children.

    David Sass

    1. I really should have linked to this on this week's blog, but I wasn't thinking.

      Thank you for your comments.

      Shammai was of great help to me in my Pikholz genealogy. On one occasion, I introduced him to two Pikholz women whose mother had left Skalat in 1941 and ended up in Tajikistan. I introduced them to Shammai at the Skalat memorial ten years ago and he called his wife over. "Nechama," he said, "you remember Leiser Pikholz who lived across from you? These are his granddaughters."

      The fact that Shammai's funeral was the same day as the Skalat memorial was just so right.

      The beracha you mention is a traditional one when you revisit a place where a you benefited from a personal miracle.

    2. Thank you for your insight into our families history. If anyone knows of the Rosenfelds and Kupfermans please contact us.

    3. My great grandfather Yechiel Mechel Schonhaut was the Chazzan of the Shul in Skalat until he died in 1920. His sister Chana married Moshe Rosenfeld. They had 3 children Chava, Aaron and Moshe all killed in the war. I have a photo of them.

    4. Herb, I see four people listed in the JewishGen Family Finder doing Schonhaut from Skalat and researcher #1202 looks like he is you.

      The newest of the four is a fellow I have spoken to several times. he lives in Israel; he is a Kaczor on his father's side.

      Some of your records appear in JRI-Poland, but I am sure you know those.

  8. Thank you I want to know everything my great grandmother born in 1886 in Skalat she left to NY but ended in Argentina. I know very little of any family tha remained during ww1 or ww2 so atrocious so tragic and disgusting all what has happened and continues.