“The stoppage of all tears”
A Polish Jew from Bransk, interviewed by Eva Hoffman for her book Shtetl, remembers a young Jewish refugee from the Warsaw ghetto who had lost his father. “How come he don’t cry?,” asks Jack Rubin, to which Ms. Hoffman replies, “there is a certain level of terror that causes the stoppage of all tears” (Shtetl, p. 217).
Somehow, though, Jack managed to cry. An old man when he was interviewed by Ms. Hoffman, Jack tells the story of leaving his parents behind in Nazi-occupied Poland. Through tears, he recalls the events of November 1942 when the Bransk ghetto was liquidated, more than 2,000 Jews sent to their death at Treblinka and others who hid in the ghetto were subsequently found and murdered (People in Bransk long remembered Jewish corpses floating in the river with their throats slit and the water running bloody). At the time, Jack and his family had managed to escape to a nearby farm. “Once there, they had to figure out what to do next. Jack’s father asked him what was going to happen. Jack said that things looked very bad, and he would try to hide in the woods. His parents decided they were too old for that, and they would go back to the ghetto voluntarily…it was the last time he saw his parents” (pp. 225-226).
After surviving in the woods for days, Jack returned to the farm where he had parted ways with his parents. Reuniting with his brother’s family and about a dozen other refugees, Jack made his way towards the Bialystok ghetto. Jack was the only one of fourteen to make it. “This is one of the points in the story where Jack has to pause, his face contorting with suppressed tears. ‘And now I blame myself…In the woods I never cried. When others cried, I said we shouldn’t cry because our families got killed, we should cry because we’re still alive’” (p. 230).
On August 1, 1944, after Russian advances pushed back the German army, Jack deserted his hideout in the woods and walked down the open road “in broad daylight.” His Polish farmer friend who had provided refuge to he and his family came out to meet him. The farmer spread out his hands and exclaimed, “you survived!” That’s the first time during the whole ordeal that Jack cried (p. 233).
Jack Rubin did survive the Holocaust and eventually came to America, where he opened a clothing store in Baltimore. He “preside[d] over a small community of people in Baltimore who call themselves ‘Branskers.’ Some of them left Bransk before the war. A few, like Rubin, survived the Holocaust in Poland” (PBS Frontline, 1996). As of 2008, Jack lived in Florida and remained outspoken about Holocaust reparations (April ’08 Blog link; 2007 AP Story linked from this forum).
Shtetl: the life and death of a small town and the world of Polish Jews by Eva Hoffman ©1997 Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, ISBN 0395822955
“Shtetl” by Marian Marzynski, director, PBS FRONTLINE Show #1320, Air Date: April 17, 1996 (©2005 WGBH Educational Foundation)