Two School Essays by Tzerna MorgensternFrom: The Way We Were Before Our Destruction: Lives of Jewish students from Vilna who perished during the Holocaust
Author: Yulian I. Rafes
Copyright: Yulian I. Rafes, used with permission of the author.
Introduction: Yulian Rafes was a student at the Epstein-Szpeizer Gymnasium, a Jewish school of high academic standards in Vilna, Poland. The language of instruction was Polish. The brother-in-law of Shep Zitler, Michal Morgenstern, was a teacher there; his daughter Tzerna Morgenstern was a pupil. After the war Yulian Rafes found the papers of the school preserved in the Lithuanian Central State Archives, including issues of "Student Forum" and "Our Thoughts" the school's literary journal. Dr. Rafes' book is available from the YIVO Institute of Jewish Research in New York City.
"Symphony of the City" by Tzerna Morgenstern, pg. 16-20 "It is still quiet, The sleepy town is enveloped by the pink light of the sunrise. The golden ball of the sun is rising higher and higher, and everything is waking up to life. We can hear the lumbering sound of a cart, which was empty even a minute ago. A taxi passes quickly by. Soon students in uniforms appear. They are going either in pairs or by themselves, with earnest faces, talking in low voices or laughing loudly, gesticulating. "Then, all of a sudden, the sharp sound of a siren penetrates the air. Workers are hurrying to work. Their steps on the pavement are monotonous and measured. Everyone is in a hurry. Adults hurry with dignity, youth with a credulous smile on their lips. There is much hubbub in the streets, the voices of newsmen break the typically daily street noise. "The sun is getting higher. Now we can meet our mothers, who are hurriedly doing their shopping. The market is the center of all this hubbub, haggling and turmoil. Carts are rumbling nearby, :arbons" [in other words, the buses of Vilna Y.R.] are passing by with a heavy grumbling. People are shouting, bargaining, singing the praises of their goods. Her a child in whining in his stroller, there a girl is weeping. Hungry children are playing in the dark and dirty side street. Then the traffic becomes slower, everything gets quiet. It is dinner time. It is getting darker. Street lamps and neon signs are gradually lighting up. "Somewhere, the shop windows are lit. The life of this large city begins only now, late in the evening. Taxies are honking, the clatter of hoofs can be heard. Automobiles are whistling and loudspeakers are growling. "A large wave of pedestrians pass by. There is a shout and laughter, and some fragments of the talk reach us from time to time. A gentlemen at the gate is rubbing his hands over a box with handkerchiefs and calling out in a loud voice, 'These are the best linen handkerchiefs!' "A young fellow, who is standing a bit further along, is shouting, 'Chocolate popsicles! Four for ten, two for five, Please buy, please buy!' But a mighty bass is trying to cover all those voices: 'Extra, extra! Hitler occupies Austria. The Anschluss! All Europe is in chaos. Only for ten groszy.' "This is the paper boy, Valka, always drunk, missing one leg. An old gentleman comes up to him, he is looking through the extra edition very nervously. 'But Mister,' he says grievously, 'I don't see anything about Hitler here and nothing about the Anschluss.' Valka is hurt: 'And what of it? For ten groszy, you would like to buy the whole Hitler?!' "And a bit farther, you can see window shops, tastefully decorated with colored paper, The windows are completely curtained. Is there dancing? Only the sounds of some melancholy tango penetrate into the street. There is a rich advertisement over the entrance, sparkling brightly. Multicolored little lamps are spelling out 'Caf‚.' The colors are richly enticing. Suddenly, the advertisement goes out, as if by the touch of a magic wand. Only to light up again, in a minute, slowly, bulb by bulb. "Behind the caf‚, several houses farther, we stop for a moment. Loud applause for a famous violinist is heard. Oistrakh reaches us, the violinist on a tour around all Europe now. When the applause faded away, you can barely hear the sweet sounds of the violin "But what does that shout mean? A large throng has gathered at the intersection. A fat lady is screaming with much emotion. " 'This rogue has stolen my last five zlotys!' Everything is in an uproar. There are shouts of 'Catch the thief,' the appeals of the victim, the policeman's whistle. "Everything is absolutely different on another street. The largest park of the city is situated here. You can see a fiddler near the iron fence. Sad and quiet melodies can be heard. They are in unison with the noise of the trees in the park and the sighs of the fiddler. A policeman comes up to him and orders him to go home. But where should he go? Where is his home? The traffic gets less hectic. The advertisements go out, the voices are getting lower. The night is beginning to fall. "It is already quiet in the streets. And only someone's scream and the clinking of broken glass somewhere in the side street can break this silence. And again silence, nothing important has happened." That was written by Morgensternowna (Tzerna Morgenstern) a few years before her horrible and tragic death in the Vilna ghetto.
"By the Campfire" by Tzerna Morgenstern, pg. 97-98. A description of a trip to the countryside, thoughts, self-criticism these are the things we find in the article "By the Campfire," written by Morgensternowna (Tzerna Morgenstern): "At last, this moment had come. The evening was cold and dark. A huge pile of firewood was burning in a small clearing. The firewood was crackling joyfully, and golden shafts of sparks were shooting up the hill. We were sitting and singing "The latest events in the history of the days spent in the camp had all been entangled in our thoughts. At first there were all these shortcomings- the atmosphere which was far from friendly, the lack of understanding of the rules of mutual life and poor relationships among scouts. And then a question arose, must it all be like that? It is clear that it must not. And if not what must life look like? How must we correct it? And, at last, what exactly is the essence and the cause of these shortcomings? "We rose. A circle of strong shoulders had been created around the fire. Slowly, at first, and then quicker and quicker. We flew into a rage, somehow, quicker and quicker, till we started panting. "We were dancing the hora. After the Young Scout parade, we were singing again, and looking at the dying campfire burning down with a wonderful sadness, which was not to be rationally explained. The second fire was like the first one. But once, when we held a discussion, someone declared that we wanted to have another fire, quite different, a fire that could mean more than dances and singing. A fire with a large and deep meaning and value. And again we were together. The night was cool. The stars were falling down, one by one. We were sitting together around a small fire. Only stars were twinkling above us and our flag was proudly hovering over our heads. We were comfortable somehow and we felt we were close to each other. We were somehow wonderfully fine. But all of a sudden, our Young Scout unit leader rose from his place. 'Today,' he said, 'we will have a trial for each of the scouts.' "A name was uttered in the silence. Then the pledges were recited, one by one. He listened with strained attention and tried to memorize every detail carefully. "The fog that surrounded us had a t last dispersed. The day was breaking. The sun was rising. We got up, somewhat wiser, because we realized that our hearts contained something bad as well as good. And that means much, because once I posed a question of how to work in the scout organization? I was told, 'You should work on your own self.' And if you know your own drawbacks, it would be easier for you to work on yourself and avoid your 'minuses.' I was told, 'Take a mirror, wrinkle your forehead and look deep into yourself.' This was written by a pupil of the fourth grade, Morgensternowna (Tzerna Morgenstern), in 1939. The author of this essay was an exceptionally beautiful girl. Little did she know that within a couple of years, she would be the victim of a brutal rape by the Nazis in front of her helpless and distressed father, our respected and admired teacher. Sadly, both of them perished.
Copyright: Yulian I. Rafes