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Published in Melbourne, Australia in 1948

This book is in its second printing with a new cover.

This cover is based on a painting "The Jewish Bride" painted in Lodz in 1914 by Abraham Behrman (1876-1942)

who perished in the Bialystok Ghetto and who is mentioned on page 86 of the book.


Some 60,000 to 70,000 Jews lived in Bialystok prior to the Holocaust. Only a few hundred survived. Rafael Razner was one of them. As a eyewitness, Rajzner spent the post-War years penning his memoirs -- his account of the destruction of Bialystok Jewry. He started writing in Italy and then emigrated to Melbourne, Australia, where his Yiddish memoir, The Annihilation of Bialystok Jewry, was published by the Bialystoker Centre (Australia) in 1948.

It was in 2001 that Harry Lew, a Melbourne Ophthalmologist whose parents were both born in Bialystok, visited his then 95-year-old father and was introduced to this book. Harry, an accomplished author as well as an Eye Surgeon, decided to make this important memoir available in English to a much larger audience. We are very thankful that he did.

A March 2008 article in The Australian, written by Fiona Harari is an excellent introduction to Rajzner's life, his book, and the process that enabled Harry Lew to translate and publish this important first-hand history.

This book, in a coincidental way, is weaved into our modern culture. An Austrian film, The Counterfeiters, was awarded the 2008 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The Counterfeiters is a little known story of Jews who were forced to counterfeit British Pounds Sterling at the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. Rafael Rajzner, a printer by trade, was one of those Jewish counterfeiters. However, his story, as related in this book, differs significantly from the movie. Read about this by clicking here.

The book has an index of surnames. With the kind permission of the Author, this list is reproduced here.

A review of this book by freelance reviewer, Diane Carlyle, is copied below with permission.

On October 12, 2008, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Compass program (ABC's popular year-round series from across the globe devoted to faith, values, ethics, and religion) aired The Sleeping Book, the story of Rafael Rajzner, Harry Lew, and the publication of this book. For those resident in Australia, download this episode here. Due to copyright reasons this video program is available for download only by people located in Australia.

Interested in knowing more about the book, please contact author Harry Lew at harlew@blaze.net.au.



Review of The Stories Our Parents Found Too Painful to Tell

by Diane Carlyle, Freelance book editor, indexer, and reviewer

How this first English translation of Holocaust survivor Rafael Rajzner's memoir, 'The Annihilation of Bialystoker Jewry' , came into being forms a truly fascinating story in its own right, summarised all too briefly by its resourceful editor, Henry Lew. How the original, Yiddish version came to be published in Melbourne in 1948 is recounted with similar stringency in the original publisher's note and foreword. Yet the upside of this tantalising preliminary economy is that readers arrive promptly at the memoir proper, ensuring that their main focus falls on Rajzner's remarkable eyewitness account of how a once-vibrant urban community of 100,000 Jewish people in Bialystok, Poland, already destabilised by the Soviet invasion lasting from September 1939 to June 1941, was utterly destroyed by the Nazi campaigns stretching from then until late July 1944.

Rajzner's unvarnished narrative proceeds chronologically, with each chapter subdivided into numerous, themed segments. Relentlessly he records each new event and the relevant dates, places and grim statistics of the genocide: in the first two days of Nazi rule, he informs us, 2000 locals were brutally murdered - twenty times the number lost during the entire Soviet occupation - and thousands more met the same fate in the following days, as men were herded into the forest and shot. At the same time, entire streets disappeared into mountains of ash - a process of urban destruction now referred to as 'rubbleisation'. Over the next three years, the size of the Jewish ghetto expanded then contracted, as forced in-migration from surrounding rural towns and hinterlands doubled the original population, but on-site slaughter as well as mass deportations to the concentration camps - usually Treblinka or Auschwitz - steadily emptied it. One factor limiting the rate of deaths, Rajzner notes, was the Nazis' need for slave labour in munitions factories, in the clothing and footwear industries, and in carting away and burying bodies. Often the most chilling testimony is provided by almost incidental details: the punctuality with which Nazis start their daily slaughter, knock off for lunch, then resume again until clock-off; the regular sight of flying body parts as hidden Jews are atomised along with the fabric of their former homes struck by grenade attack; the slight undulation of a thin layer of earth covering the mass graves of too-hastily buried victims; the casual execution of a death-pit digger whose efforts are deemed insufficiently neat and symmetrical. There's no need to wonder why so many first­generation survivors tightly compartmentalised such memories, finding them - as Henry Lew's title succinctly attests - too painful to tell.

The translated testimony pays tribute, too, to the near-impossible role of the Judenrat - the Jewish body responsible for governance in the ghetto - as it struggled heroically to satisfy Nazi directives while creatively minimising harm to its own people. Similarly, throughout the narrative, Rajzner names inspirational community members whose acts of resistance and defiance in the face of daily, overwhelming assaults on their physical and emotional capacities mark them as heroes. Also mentioned are the traitors, whose perfidy often meets with unregretted retribution, as well as those other, ambivalent individuals whose actions never fail to surprise - a Nazi with compassion, or a collaborator with a conscience.

Although Rajzner and his family are seldom foregrounded in the narrative, we meet them as they, too, are finally discovered by Nazi searchers in hidden household recesses; all, we are told, were sent to concentration camps, but only Rajzner himself ­despite torture, hard labour and failing health in the face of malnutrition and cold ­survived. In the end his printing skills saved him, resulting in his assignment to a select counterfeiting group, shortly before war's end.

The original memoir ends with the careful following-up of a few loose ends, ensuring as much closure as possible for readers in general but survivor relatives in particular. The translation further offers a summary of Rajzner's foreshortened post-war life in Melbourne, and his healing legacy for fellow-survivors and their successors.





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Last Updated on 21 November 2008.