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Chapter 13

This webpage reproduces a chapter of

Abyss of Despair

Rabbi Nathan Hanover

Bloch Publishing Company
New York, 5710‑1950

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though, please
let me know!


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Chapter 15

 p89  XIV

The massacres of the community of Zamosc

From there the oppressor Chmiel, together with all of his army of Tartars and Ukrainians, a great multitude, like the sand of the sea, journeyed onward and laid siege to the city of Zamość, a city with which none could be compared in strength. It possessed a double wall and a moat surrounded it. As soon as the enemies arrived there, the town folk burned all the houses near the wall so that the enemies would not be able to hide in them. They did not permit the enemy to come within one half mile of the city. Thus they held out for many days.

Meanwhile the enemy dispersed throughout the surrounding communities and caused horrible slaughters, in Tomaszow, in Szczebrzeszyn, in Turbin, in Hrubieszow, in Tarnigrod, in Bilgoraj, in Gora, in Krasznyk. In all of these cities they massacred thousands and tens of thousands of Jews. Also in the Province of Wolhynia; in Wlodzimierz-Wolynski, in Lubomla, in Luck, and in Krzemieniec, and their environs they caused horrible slaughters, killing thousands of Jews. In the city of Krzemieniec one hoodlum obtained a slaughtering knife, and slaughtered several hundred  p90 Jewish children, and asked his comrade, in mockery, whether they were "kosher" or "trefah." He replied: "They are trefah." He then threw them to the dogs. Afterwards he took one of the slain children and slashed its throat open and asked: "Is this kosher?" And the comrade replied: "Yes, it is kosher." He inspected the entrails, as one does with goats and sheep,1 and he then carried it on a spear through the streets of the city and called: "Who wishes to buy goats and sheep?" The Lord avenge their blood.

Also in the narrow paths near Biechow, the scoundrels overtook several hundred carts of Jews and they killed all of them. Similar slaughters took place in many other communities, the fury of which cannot be recorded. Thus they devastated more than seven hundred communities, all the cities and settlements up to the Vistula River. Though they besieged the city of Zamość many days they were unable to conquer it, for a German general by the name of Weiher, together with six thousand trained German troops, defended the city. They released cannon fire from the wall and killed many of the enemy. Yet thousands of Jews died of starvation and of the plague which broke out in the city.

And it came to pass when they had been there a long time,2 that the enemy contrived a scheme. By the use of witchcraft they let a viper soar in the sky, and they took unto themselves as a sign: "If the viper will turn his face toward the city, we will subdue it before us, and if he will turn his face toward us we will flee before them. And it came to pass at midnight, when they saw  p91 the viper ascending skyward, and he remained suspended for about a half hour with his face toward the city. After that he turned toward the camp of the Cossacks and the Tartars. They realized that this was an evil omen for them and that evil was before their faces. They forthwith dispatched a message to the inhabitants of the city and said to them: "Is it not better for you to compromise with us, as did the capital city of Lwow than to die of starvation?" When the people of the city heard this they readily agreed and compromised with them to pay twenty thousand gold pieces. After this the Tartars and the Ukrainians drew near the wall and brought with them many prisoners to be ransomed. The Jews of the city ransomed several human prisoners. May the Lord recompense them for their kindness.

The oppressor, Chmiel, together with his Ukrainian and Tartar forces journeyed onward, and turned toward the Metropolis of Lublin, one of the four great communities in the Kingdom of Poland; a city unequaled in scholar­ship, worldly affairs, and loving kindness. The townspeople had fled from this city to take refuge beyond the Vistula River, leaving behind them several hundred citizens of the poorer class. They supplied them with sufficient money to provide for the indigent of the city, especially the refugees who came from other places. In the meantime all the nobles and the dukes of the Kingdom of Poland had gathered in Cracow, Poland's metropolis, to elect a king for themselves, so that the Kingdom will not be like sheep without a shepherd. The nobles and dukes deliberated but could not reach an agreement among them as to  p92 who shall rule over them. Some preferred Casimir, may his glory increase, the Cardinal of Gniezno. Others preferred his brother, Carlos, and still others preferred the Lord of Siebenbürgen in the Kingdom of Hungary, whose name was Rakoczy.

When the oppressor Chmiel heard about this he sent emissaries to the dukes and nobles in Cracow, saying: "If they will elect Casimir, the Cardinal of Gniezno, as king he will withdraw and will no longer wage war against them."

When the dukes and the nobles heard of this, it found favor in their eyes and they elected Casimir, the second son of King Sigismund, as king.

And it came to pass in the year 5409, in the month of Cheshvan, that our Lord, King Casimir, may his glory increase, was crowned.3 May his Kingdom grow and may he cause his enemies to fall under him and behold seed, and be blessed with length of days. For he is a just King, a God‑fearing man and a friend of Israel. He took unto himself the wife of his deceased brother, Wladislaw, for a wife.

After the King sat securely on the throne of his Kingdom, he dispatched letters to the oppressor, Chmiel, to return to his home, together with his army; that all his grievances against the Kingdom of Poland would be settled by mutual agreement.

The oppressor Chmiel, together with his forces, were on the way to capture the city of Lublin. When they were only four miles away from the city, the King's letter advising him to return home, reached him. He welcomed the King's letter with joy and immediately  p93 returned home. All that winter the land rested from war. Surely the merit of the people of Lublin, who dealt kindly with their brethren of the House of Israel who had escaped the sword; with the living as well as with the dead, was great. This kindness stood in their good stead, and saved them from the enemy's sword. However, throughout the period of the siege by the enemies, the city of Lublin was shut and closed. No one went out or came in. And there was a great plague in the city, and more than ten thousand Jewish souls perished.

Among those Jews who had escaped across the Vistula River a terrible plague broke out. They cast their dead on the cemetery in the darkness of the night, so that their unfriendly neighbors might not notice them and delight when they beheld a new grave. The plague was different from any other plague (God spare us). They were stricken with high fever, as a result of the trying journey and the fright. Many poor people whom the Gentiles did not permit entry in their homes had to sleep in the streets and they died of starvation and exposure. No man offered aid to his brother, and no father took pity on his child. More than one hundred thousand Jews perished of this disease (may the Lord preserve and save us). And the Jews became impoverished. The balance of silver and gold and garments which they managed to retain, they sold for half their value, silk and other garments, for one third of the value. Books were worthless, for there was no buyer. The Torah lay in a deserted corner, for the Gentiles bought only silver and gold and garments.

 p94  When the Jews heard that the enemies returned home, and that the nobles were following their example and were also returning to their homes and to their estates, they, too, made their way back to all those places where Polish nobles were present — up to the city of Zaslaw. From there eastward, there was not to be found at that time a single nobleman or Jew. For all those places were still occupied by many scoundrels and the nobles were afraid to travel there. Approximately two thousand soldiers, remnants of the forces of Duke Dominik, and of Duke Korecki, were in charge of Ostrog, Zaslaw and Korec. The Jews there placed their trust first in God and then in them, thinking that they might find refuge for themselves and their families. They also hoped that the townspeople would repay them the debts they owed them.

The Editor's Notes:

 (p126)  1 Literally, he examined it. The procedure following ritual slaughter is to examine the entrails of the animal for symptoms of disease.

2 Gen. 26:8.

3 John Casimir was elected King of Poland at the end of 1648.

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