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Several years ago, I paid a return visit to Bialystok, and as with my previous visits, a compulsive feeling led me along Sienkiewitz Street in the direction of the Gymnasium schoolyard. I do not understand why my steps lead me there. What am I searching for in that place, and what am I looking for in Zebia Street where the ghetto cemetery was? And why did I go to Smolna Street and Novogrodska Street where the uprising took place? What once was, is now nothing but a memory, a dull pain which accompanies one 'when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up', on holidays and workdays. Not a single trace of this memory remains in Bialystok. The sites which the survivors of the Jewish community marked and commemorated have been erased. There was a memorial on the grave of the last of the fighters of the uprising. The memorial is no more. The large, beautiful synagogue, to which we Gymnasium students were brought on Polish national festivals in order to hear a speech "prepared" by Rabbi Rozman, praising Polish democracy - is also no more. Immediately on entering the city in June 1941, the Germans threw two thousand Jews into this synagogue, and burnt them alive. The skeleton of the magnificent dome lay there for many years as a symbol and a memorial. Now I searched for it and could not find it. On the wall of a house there is a plaque with an inscription honouring the memory of the two thousand Jews who were burnt.

In 1938, I completed my course of studies at the Gymnasium and sent my matriculation certificates to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. I was accepted as a full-time student and received an immigration certificate, I thought that I was lucky, I could realise my forefathers' longing for Eretz Yisrael. University or Kibbutz, the main thing was to emigrate! Someone else thought differently. I was ordered to be an emissary for the Movement. Twice my immigration certificate was renewed, both during the war and under the period of Soviet rule, and I was given permission to emigrate within the quota of students, but once again I was ordered to remain in the pioneer underground, under the Soviet regime. I had been taught Zionism in the Gymnasium; in the Movement I was taught to implement it. I stayed, and joined another underground: the fighting underground during the period of the Holocaust.

Continued in "The Immortal Spirit"

The Story of the Hebrew Gymnasium in Bialystok find out more!

(c) Ya`acov Samid, 2003 Contact Ya`acov Samid