Translated supplied by the Kotz family
in memory of Ephraim Dov and Ethel, Frada, Arkie, and Label Kotz, all of whom perished in the Holocaust
Edited by Eilat Gordin Levitan On Friday, the 1st of September, 1939, Glubokie was stunned by the German assault on Poland. Although the town was sufficiently distant from the German frontier and was located all the way in the extreme northeast corner of Poland of that time, the imprint in the first few hours was horrendous; the extent of the blood-bath was felt immediately. Many young men were mobilized and had to leave instantly. People ran to the banks and savings associations to remove their assets and the last to arrive could not be paid since the bank ran out of cash. The Polish officials began to confiscate textile products, shoes, and alike for the military use. The population began to search for ways to provide themselves with the necessities, and the prices skyrocketed. One encountered numerous women and children with tear-stained faces in the streets. You could also hear some wailing and cries of distress coming from inside the homes. Since the men were drafted, that Sabbath was spoiled for Jews Around the public radios at the two ends of the town (3rd of May Place and Mark Place) people were crammed, and did not leave the spots. They listen to the news that got progressively worse and increasingly disturbing. In the very first hours of the War, many Polish cities were heavily bombarded, and the number of causalities was high. We weren't used to it yet!
Correspondingly, at the railroad terminal, there was much chaos. It was swarming with people. Those to be recruited were being sent to war. Women and children, who had come to say farewell to their husbands and fathers, burst out crying. Even the valiant men were yammering. Their expressions hinted at; Who knows if this isn't an eternal farewell? There were no trains accessible for civilians. The only trains passing through were those brimming with military personal and ammunition. Kinfolk were extremely nervous about relatives who were stuck somewhere far from home. The War unexpectedly trapped them and they couldn't return home to their dearest.
When I, Zvi Rajak, the writer of these lines, had to travel on August 31, 1939, from Vilna to my home, we still held on to the hope that maybe a war would somehow be averted. However I, by that time, needed a special pass, issued by the military, since the railroad lines were at present under military jurisdiction. Thanks to my documents from the Vilna Board of Education, which indicated that I had to travel on their behalf, I was able to obtain a special pass at midnight. At headquarters, on Zsheligovski Street in Vilna, where a senior military official issued such passes, many tragic scenes unfolded in front of my eyes. People who found themselves torn away from their homes, far from their families, were suddenly engulfed by the War and couldn't return to their relatives. Mothers, with tears in their eyes, pleaded for mercy, to be allowed to return to their children, who had been left unattended. Here was a bridegroom, traveling to his own wedding, which was set for tomorrow, the eve of the Sabbath, and he was stuck on the way. He couldn't proceed, and they didn't allow him return home to the town or village that he had come from. There were also businessmen, who were cut off and couldn't contact anyone concerning their affairs. The Headquarters was besieged by hordes of people neglecting the fact that it was already after midnight. In the streets of Vilna, there were no means of transportation available. All taxis, trucks and even droshkes had already by noon- time, been procured by the military. If someone, by chance, happened to find some sort of mechanical vehicle or droshke, he would have to pay an unbelievable amount of money to be transported only a few kilometers!
Also the railroad itself, had been put on a war footing. The civilian authorities were replaced by well-manned military patrols, who checked everyone carefully. The railroad cars and train stations dimmed their lights. On the city streets the lights were extinguished and the windows of homes were blacked out. It was incomprehensible. At first it made a very strange impression. The city looked dead! And even the optimists, who still hoped that the wild German beast would forestall the worldwide tragedy, quickly saw their mistake.
The schools, which should have begun the normal school year on this day, postponed their opening until the 11th of September. On the second day of the War, tragic news arrived, informing the citizens of the destruction of many cities in Poland, especially the capital city, Warsaw! Civilian war casualties had already reached the thousands. The Germans advanced and occupied massive areas of Polish territory. The Polish Army fought valiantly opposing the foe, and in a few places they were victorious. However this was insignificance as far as the bigger picture. The situation steadily worsened, and the tension grew by the minute!
Sunday, the 3rd day of the War, the radio announced some cheerful news: England and France had declared war on Germany!. National flags were hung, and people presumed that our rescue was forthcoming! In fact, the report at that moment didn't deserve our trust. The Germans were able to damage and dissolve Poland, almost without any opposition!
In a few days there began to arrive in Glubokie, refugees from the central Polish provinces, and even from the eastern parts, such as Grodno, Vilna and others. It could be immediately mastered that the frenzy heightened expeditiously.
We anticipated shelling and sudden bombardment. On Kopanitze, in the city park, and in many other locations, shelters were dug, for hiding in the event of bombing. In the gardens, and empty spaces around many homes, private shelters were dug. Shelters were also dug in public places, such as the Polish churches, the marketplace, small parks and the like. Through notices and printed flyers, posted in the streets, the public was instructed on how to behave in the event of a bombardment On top of a high tower, above the fire station, those guards who stood watching and listening for enemy planes, could be seen from the ground. As soon as the slightest sound was heard, the sirens were sounded. This was the signal to the populace of some impending peril. The sirens would cause great panic, and there were many cases of false alarms.
In the courtyard of every house, water and fire fighting equipment had to be arranged. Garrets had to be filled with sand. (How much effort was expended on this!) Many people walked around wearing gas masks. For months before the War, people were taught how to behave in the event of a poison gas attack; how to use the masks; how to save oneself, and how to administer first aid in case of gas poisoning. On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, at the time of the afternoon prayer - on the 12th day of the War - while the Jews were in their prayer houses, passionately praying, a powerful barrage of sirens pierced the air. It was unmistakably a bombard raid and hysteria reigned. People began to hide in the nearest shelters, or wherever one could find a hole. The flight from the bustling streets was hurried and confused. In a few moments deathly silence spread through the streets. Not one human being was to be found walking the streets. The majority fled to the fields outside of the city., where the Germans would not drop their bombs. At the end, after half an hour passed the all clear was sounded. The German planes were actually not far from the city, but they had veered away and the city dwellers escaped with only a fright.
The next day, Friday, the 2nd day of Rosh Hashanah, at 6:00 A.M. the same thing occurred again. The entire scene repeated itself, and once again the city escaped with only a fright. It is true that the Holiday Prayers lost their flavor. They were, to a great extent, spoiled. People were afraid. They rushed through and did not extend their prayers. Afterward, during the Sabbath of Repentance, a large number of refugees from Vilna, Kovno, Grodno and other places arrived.. Previously, many displaced people arrived. They told us of the great damage and atrocities in the above mentioned places. About Warsaw, there was nothing good they had to say! Complete sections had been laid ruined. A large portion of the city had been demolished. There were thousands of civilian casualties. People were buried alive under the huge piles of rubble. The enemy was formidable and his war-making capabilities were frightening. They conduct the War not only at the battlefront, but also against unarmed and helpless civilians.
Sunday, the Fast of Gedalia (Day after Rosh Hashanah), before dawn, we were again awakened by an air raid warning. We ran, undressed, to the shelters and dugouts. Our family went down to the basement. This sort of hiding place was truly self-deceiving. The smallest bomb would have destroyed it completely. Also R' Katz and his family, of blessed memory, came there, since they lived in the same house. The family of Shalom Weinstein, the owner of our house, and Dr. Britanishsky and his family, who were our neighbors in Meir Hadash's house, came down. We stayed there for long hours, not knowing what had transpired outside. We didn't hear planes, and the all clear wasn't sounded either. I'm reminded of R' Katz's, of blessed memory, joke at the time: It's a pity to live these few hours like this. Life is so short! We could not yet, at that time evaluate our situation and had no inkling of what awaited for us Dr. Britanishsky went out to reconnoiter and he soon returned with provoking news: The Soviet Army crossed the Polish border a few hours ago, and was approaching us. They are occupying our area. This news had been conveyed by phone from the border. No one knew what this meant. Did it mean there is a war between Russia and Germany or was it a peace settlement? At last we found ourselves in a more favorable situation. All were astonished by the news and Dr. Britanishsky was summoned - after all - he was the Vice Mayor of Glubokie
Immediately after we heard the humming of planes. We didn't know whether they were German or Soviet planes. We also heard a weak explosion and afterwards a few more explosions, which were a bit stronger. The railroad station was lightly bombed. A few people were killed and then it was quiet again.
We found out that the Polish civil government and officials are fleeing in panic; some on foot and others on horseback. They said that the provincial governor was seen fleeing in his underwear. He was so frightened of the unexpected news that he received, that being awaken from his sleep he failed to get dressed or maybe this was just another of the fantasies that people invented at that time. In the offices of the Secret Police they saw to it that communiques, documents and other such things were destroyed and burned. This was also the case in other offices.
We received false rumors that all young men would be mobilized immediately and be given arms to fight off the Bolshevik invader. As it was proven later, there was little basis for this rumor. There were really some young Polish hotheads, who had no understanding, and as in Krilov's fable: The elephant and the little dog, Moska, they ran to attack, with handguns, the huge might of the powerful Soviet Army. A number of these foolish heroes perished.
The Soviet Army advanced from the border almost all the way without opposition, and Sunday, the 17th of September, 1939, at midday, they occupied Glubokie. Some of the populace breathed a sigh of relief. They were mostly Jews who feared German occupation.. A large portion of the non- Jewish population were understandably not happy with the Soviet control, but they had little choice, and against their will had to accept it.
Molotov immediately announced over the radio that the Soviet Union realized that the Germans force was about to occupy Poland in its entirety. The Polish Government had fled overseas on Saturday eve, the 16th of September, and left the country in a state of chaos. in order to liberate White Russia and also Western Ukraine from the German claws, the Soviets decided to invade the area and, in effect, end the War on that day for Western White Russia.
Soviet forces did not cease advancing for three days on end, day and night they drove through town,. Their might appeared extremely formidable. There were diversified motorized units utilizing the most modern technology, and a long row of cavalry units proceeded. There were almost no infantry units. The units were all on motorized vehicles. For us, civilians, The terror of war passed. There was no longer danger to life and limb. The sword no longer hung by a thread before our eyes. It was peace time in our area. The war continued far from the outskirts of Glubokie, far outside what used to be east Poland province for nineteen years. Our area is now occupied by the Russian military, with its Soviet might, with whom the Germans are now living, so to speak, at peace.
With the change in the situation, the Jews now faced new problems, and a new perspective. With the establishment of the Soviet system and its concepts of new order, the Jewish element who were mostly engaged in business and trade for many generations, must now, comply with the Soviet system and break with their past and establish itself on a fresh foundation, with different employment. The Jews would no longer be storekeepers, or merchants. They must engage in labor, and alike The majority of Jews did indeed make the adjustment quickly and found themselves in organized labor groups. The fortunes of the wealthy were nationalized (confiscated), as well as the large houses, but they ( the former well to do) also adjusted and it wasn't so terrible. Life normalized. Some moved away to other cities and established themselves there. The winter of 1939-40 was a very cold and difficult one The elderly did not remember such a hard winter. Certain elements of the population were deported by the Soviets to Siberia., mostly the Poles, but also some Jews. Among them: Dr. Britanishsky and his family, Meir Gittleman, Arke Sherzon, Zalman Levitan, Novick and others. Some people, who previously worked for the Polish regime, were arrested. Some wandering Jewish refugees, who came from German occupied Polish cities, arrived to our area. The German boot was already treading upon the Jews. They risked their lives crossing the border in order to save themselves in the Soviet territory. The turmoil the refugees endured became especially grim when the Soviets recognized an independent Lithuania, and returned Vilna to Lithuania. Some Glubokie Jews and even entire families moved to Vilna. Vice versa Refugees from Vilna, who did not want to remain in Lithuania came to Glubokie. When the Lithuanians were granted their independence by the Russians, they began to persecute Jews. Glubokie, at the time, became terribly crowded. The refugees had to be settled. The local Jews welcomed them with open arms. My wife, Dr. Rajak, gave up her medical offices for the sake of the displaced.
In the winter of 1939-40, a German Commission came to arrange the exchange of war refugees and prisoners. The Russians free Folks-Germans from their districts, and the Germans freed Soviet citizens from their occupied territories. Among others who were freed and given to the Germans was their spy, Vitvitski, may his name be blotted out, who had worked there during Polish times and who has to his credit quite a bit of Jewish blood from the entire region. (More about this in a separate chapter.) Also Jews, displaced ones from Poland, registered to be returned to their homes in the area occupied by Germany! The life of wanderers was not for them. They couldn't imagine, what was in store for them at the hands of the Germans. But, to what turned to be their good fortune, the Russians, instead of sending them to German-occupied Poland, sent them deeper into Russia, and saved them from a cruel death at the hands of the German murderers. If only that had happened to more Jews at the time, even though, at the time they felt most unfortunate.
From Vilna, which was under Lithuanian rule, there came news that with a mighty effort, the Jews there are making arrangements to go, either to Eretz Yisrael or America. In the atmosphere you could sense the impending war, which could break out at any moment, a war between Russia and Germany. Among the non-Jewish populace there were elements that were impatient for that moment and they purposely spread all sorts of provocative reports.
Large military convoys passed through Glubokie from time to time. they were all going westward. Also the Russian military occupation of the Baltic States, did not bode well for peace. It seemed as if the appetite of the Germans was set on devouring Russia .
June 22nd, 1941 arrived., Sunday morning was a tranquil and dignified as usual. Christians in a holiday mood went to church, and the church bells with their pealing rang through the air. Jewish housewives were preparing breakfast and making plans for lunch. The youngsters were preparing for sports activities, which usually took place on holidays and Sundays, and life went on its merry way according to plan. Suddenly, at about midday, the radio announced came . During the morning of that day the Soviet Union was attacked by Germany. A number of large Russian cities were bombarded. Among them: Kiev, Zhitomer, Bialostok and others. They had been badly damaged, and there were many casualties.
This news greatly upset most of the populace. Even the authorities displayed exceptional nervousness. It was received as being extremely critical. We understood what it meant. We stayed by the radio, wet listened to Molotov's speech. We swallowed the words of the Jew; Illya Ehrenberg, who in a speech on the radio lasting for hours, decried the treachery and the nefarious act of the German bandits.
In town everything was topsy-turvy. Strange, in a moment everything changed. The chaos among the populace was such that it cannot be described. Essential commodities immediately disappeared. Contact with the outside world was cut off for civilians, and there was no way of communication. Technically Post offices still accepted letters during the first day, dispatches still went through, but this was only a show. They didn't really go anywhere. People who were on the road, suddenly were cut off from their homes, and from their families. It is easy to hypothesize the precarious situation that those families faced. Husbands were far from their homes and were stuck in a strange place far from their wives, children, parents, and alike Especially tragic was the condition of those whose relatives were in one of the above mentioned cities that the radio said had been heavily bombed. Among the latter was the family of M. Rajak, who was at the time in Bialystok.. He was working as a teacher in the Bialystok Middle School No. 12. He planned to shortly move his wife, Dr. Helena Rajak, who worked as a doctor in Glubokie, and also the rest of his family, to Bialystok The War shattered his plans, and M. Rajak was separated from his mother, wife, child and brother. They, upon hearing on the radio that the city of Bialystok was amongst the first victims of the German blitzkrieg, became so unhinged that nothing else engaged them. They didn't eat or sleep or concerned themselves with the calamities that are about to come right here to Glubokie. . They did not notice the events of the day The impending disaster was of great concern to all others
Pandemonium magnified from moment to moment. The queues in front of the stores stretched for kilometers. People stood there to obtain produce and baked goods,. The feet swelled standing in line, and most received nothing. People greatly feared hunger. The days to come appeared very harrowing. Citizens ran to all directions wishing to obtain whatever commodities possible. They even prepared medicines Monday, the 23rd of June, there was a mobilization order for all reservists. people besieged the military commissarat . . They were volunteering to fight the bloodiest foe in human history. Everyone was ready to throw himself into the fray! On the same day,, in the morning, there appeared vehicles carrying refugees from the furthest distances: Kovno, Shavell, cities on the Baltic, and so on. These were evacuated families of ranking military men and officials, who, already yesterday, on the first day of the War, barely managed to flee. They told terrible things about the frenzy that had seized everyone, and about destruction and ruin. Many Soviet officials had not even managed to escape or be evacuated from those areas. The enemy advanced swiftly. Nothing can stop him! Before he occupies some city or other, he wreaks havoc and destruction on it from the sky. there are also many casualties as a result of the bombardment. In many cases, the displaced were seized on roads. the enemy, who either caught up with them, or surprised them by coming from an entirely different direction, captured them. Other refugees who attempted to flee east- deep into the Soviet Union- would often be stuck on the way, not knowing what to do next. If someone was able to disguise himself in such a way as to appear to be neither a fugitive nor a Red Army soldier, he would have a chance to save himself and return to his city. If not, many, who were on their way, lost their lives. The appearance of the refugees bore witness to the hurried way in which they had fled. In the vehicles, their belongings were scattered, not packed with any order. The passengers, especially women and children, were tired, depressed, frightened with disturbed faces, and couldn't answer questions. They were physically drained and psychologically broken. Some would lie, continually sleeping among the disorder in the vehicles. It appeared as if what was happening to and all about them, just didn't concern them at all! Others, on the other hand, looked frightened, they searched to see that they weren't being chased. They were in a great hurry, and inquired about the way to Polotsk and Minsk. They didn't know which of the two was safer. They were right. Any delay was fatal. The reports of the enemy's advance followed one upon the heels of the previous one. The later refugees did not even pause to stop. They ran wildly and swiftly. They trembled at the prospect of being caught. So it went on for the entire day.
Here in the city some began to construct shelters, or refurbish those that that had been constructed 21 months earlier, when the Germans invaded Poland. We were certain that sooner or later, the German bombs would not overlook Glubokie. Tuesday, the 24th, the third day of the War, The Soviet officials, and their families, began to evacuate Glubokie. This magnified the panic. People became so confused that they just didn't know what to do. All wanted to flee. The Soviet officials and followers were even more terrified. But where and how to flee? There were no trains for civilians. Rides couldn't be obtained for any sum of money. The only remaining alternative was to flee on foot. This could be done only by healthy, well-built adults, who had no family. (Most of them had already been mobilized, previously.) To flee on foot was an even greater risk, since the enemy could easily overtake you. Others, with gold and jewelry, were speedily able to purchase horses and harness from the farmers. They received much higher prices than they had ever imagined asking. Later, it became known that the retreating Red Army, had taken the horses and wagons from the fleeing civilian population. From our courtyard, on 25 Warsaw Street, on the 25th of June, at dawn, the teacher, Shaul Yididovitsh, (the well known Bundist in Vilna) left quietly on foot, with his wife, Manya and his son, Vove. Some turned back, discarding their modest possessions, which they had taken along. (Adler, his wife and child, and others.) Our family members could not think of fleeing, since M. Rajak was in Bialystok, which was the first city to be bombed. We did not think of the future, the days to come, since we were tormented by the present. For the moment our only concern was to receive at least some live regards from him. At the time it seemed like a childish fantasy. But the emotions did not want to deal with logical conclusions. We imagined that perhaps, from somewhere, would come our salvation. How fortunate it seemed were the unfortunate ones, whom the Soviet regime had deported east a few days before the War began.
The Soviet force did not completely abandon the town. On Wednesday the 25th, in the morning, they only partly withdrew. Joy reigned among Jews. They assumed that the soviet had an astute strategic plan. They commented that probably the German enemy was forced to retreat. Some were overjoyed that they hadn't fled the previous day and ruined it for themselves. Several days passed normally. The civilian force left town and in the morning return. It was the same in other towns. Therefore, knowing that the force had not completely abandoned the town, made everyone optimistic and reassured. During the stay of the Red Army one could be more certain of prevention of attacks and pogroms carried out by the darker elements of the local Christian population, who would, if the force left, surely rob and murder the Jews.
Red Army soldiers started appearing, they were separated from their units. They were exhausted, demoralized, half naked, and wandered aimlessly. This made a harsh impression. The enemy was on the attack, both in the air, and on the ground. Meanwhile the local populace, except for the Jews, began snatching products from the Soviet Base. They shlepped flour, sugar, fuel, salt, tobacco, leather and other things. Poor peasants became well-to-do overnight.
Shabbos, June 27th, enemy planes appeared. They circled over the town, and in the section east of Glubokie, Lavrivnov, they dropped several small caliber bombs. There were several casualties among the civilian population. From then on, planes began appearing often but did not drop bombs. They were probably reconnaissance planes. The people would run at each appearance, not knowing where to go and how to protect themselves. The noise of the planes would drive away the people who were standing in line for supplies, at the bakery and grocery. Later they got used to it, and ceased running away. The air raids were especially terrible when the Germans were chasing the soldiers who separated from the Red Army, and wandered into our town by accident.
It was Sunday the 29th, when an extraordinary joyous event took place. I, M. Rajak, after wandering for a week and undergoing a most horrendous journey, arrived home from Bialystok. The family became delirious with joy. My wife Helena ( born in Wilno in 1904 to Bentzion and Breina Vilkomirski ) Noticed my arrival through the window, and shouted: Michael arrived!. This seemed so unbelievable that she began blessing and making vows and from great enthusiasm did not know what to do; whether to run towards me or to run to tell mother, who was in her room. I cannot forget the joy that enveloped us at that moment. Soon our very good friends and acquaintances came running. In spite of the general calamity, we drank a LChaim and recited the blessing of thanksgiving. The joy was so great that the German danger lurking from without, the planes and the bombings were all forgotten for the moment. My son, Aaron Itzakel (the pain of his loss ) was 6 years old at the time. He did not know what to do, he was glowing with immense delight.
I will digress a moment from the general course of events and briefly relate how, during such a time, I made the terrible journey on foot, practically, from Bialostok to Glubokie, a distance of almost 500 kilometers.
When on Sunday, the 21st of June at 4:00 in the morning, the enemy began bombing Bialystok, no one could imagine that it was real, an attack by an enemy? A war. Throughout? it was thought that these were only war maneuvers that were taking place in Bialystok. When entire walls started collapsing, and people covered with blood ran, we realized and absorbed that it was not a joke .The realization came that Germany, according to her well-known methods, had unjustly attacked the Soviet Union. Its difficult to accurately describe the chaos and the dismay that enveloped the town,. People were running about confused, like madmen. The evacuation of offices and families of the military took on a very disordered characteristic. Everyone wanted to save himself, but did not know where to go or how to get there. The authorities arranged for evacuation of the higher echelons, also for some of the civilian population, but traveling by train was perilous. The Germans especially bombarded the trains. They did not even consider who was traveling by train. They also targeted defenseless women and children. Even approaching the train stations was fraught with great danger. Bombs were falling on all sides. There was utter confusion. The populace, however, would not be deterred. They ran to the trains which became the symbol of deliverance from this hell! I was among the last. I would have paid any price for a way to get to my family in Glubokie. At the time it seemed infeasible; like traveling to Mars!
After a bitter day, I caught a train, at 10:00 o'clock at night, which went through Volkovisk and Baranovitch to Minsk. Though this was not the direction I wanted to go (I needed a Grodno to Lida or Grodno to Vilna train), I decided to take it to Minsk. The night was as if non-existent. When it began to dawn, the planes began chasing our train. During each raid the train had to halt and the passengers ran out and hid in the corn and high grass. This happened so frequently that we only covered a small distance during the course of the day. By the time we reached Baranovitch, we already had 16 dead. A separate railroad car was reserved for the casualties, and the train officials made an effort, as much as was possible, to keep passengers away from the car carrying the dead, since the nerves of the passengers were already very stressed.
Tuesday the 24th, in the morning, we arrived at the Ratomke Station, 7 kilometers from Minsk. Minsk had was heavily bombed. From afar, it looked as if the city was entirely engulfed by flames. Thick pillars of smoke were seen, covering a large expanse of sky. Wherever one's gaze fell, people could be seen fleeing. Leaving all of my possessions in the railroad car, I got of the train. What happened to my fellow passengers, I do not know! I went by foot to the shtetl Rakov aboutl twenty kilometers west from Minsk. Arriving there, I again encountered a bombing. At night I left for the shtetl Radashkovitch ( father west), where I arrived on Wednesday morning, the 25th. Generally, the road was safer at night. In Radashkovitch all offices were already evacuated. I went to our friends there, to the family of Yoel Lippman. They kept me there so that I was able to rest a bit, and on the same day, at dusk, the Germans came in. I saw their swastikas for the first time. They entered immediately after the Red Army units abandoned the town. In Radashkovitch there were refugees from Vilna and other places. Among them, I met the eminent Vilna community leader, Yevzerov, who, in fleeing from Vilna, like many others, was stuck midway, and didn't know where to hide himself. I, too, remained in Radoshkovitch overnight.. In the morning of Thursday, I was again kept from continuing on my way. German troops appeared in droves and I was frightened to continue.
On Friday, the 27th, the Soviets bombarded the Germans, who were entrenched in the town, and half of the town burned down. The large House of Study also burned. That day, I left, going north towards Dolhinov through the woods, and the woods were being steadily bombed and strafed by German planes. They were pursuing the retreating divisions of the Red Army. Not far from the shtetlk Ilya, a truck with people freed from captivity, approached. They wanted to give me a lift, but I declined. I didn't know who, or what they were. As the car moved on, one of the passengers began shouting from a distance: Comrad Rajak, come ride! Several times the call was repeated. But the car was going too fast, and I couldn't catch up! I was so disappointed. Near the village of Ilye, the car stopped, it was out of gas, and could not continue on its way. There, I met the tailor from Glubokie, Aarons, who was riding in the car. He had recognized me, and was the one who had been calling me. He was fleeing from Molodetchno. I was as delighted to see him as he was to see me. In Ilya, we met many refugees from Smorgon and other towns. The Jews of Ilya received us very cordially. Especially our student, Brida, who was concluding a vocational school term in Glubokie, he couldn't do enough for me. Friday evening, we wanted to continue on our way, but we were strongly advised not to, because, in the woods, 'there were Red Army patrols, who did not let anyone through.
Shabbos morning we left for Dolhinov. On the roads and in the woods were many Red Army soldiers. They checked out everyone. We, too, were detained by a patrol who led us to staff headquarters, in the woods. My documents were in order. They were very reliable. By the same token, Aarons, who accompanied me, had no documents at all, and his situation was most grave. He could have been taken for a deserter and with them (deserters) they made short shrift. They would be sentenced on the spot. With a mighty effort, I was able to save him from death. I argued with the staff officer. Thanks to my papers, which identified me as a prominent and upright person, the officer warmly bade us farewell and told us to be careful to avoid Germans on the way, since their attitude to Jews need not be spell out for us.
In Dolhinov also, there was no reigning regime. We stayed there overnight with one of our students, Shayne Shapiro. Sunday morning we arrived in Dockshitz. There, a refugee from Lodz, Leib Shnayerson joined us. Together we arrived in Glubokie on Sunday during the day. Aarons was afraid to enter the town, since he might be perceived as a deserter. He hid in an unfinished building, and I informed his relatives of his arrival. He had arrived safely, and I felt happy that, during such a calamity, I was instrumental in bringing him through it all.
The journey took its toll on my health. I could not heal for a long time. It was very difficult for me to talk, and I lay as if I was paralyzed. But subsequent events did not permit me to repose for any length of time.
Monday, June 30th, the morning after I arrived, an air attack, and not a light one, was directed against Glubokie. The roofs of many buildings were blown off. The windows of most of the houses were blown out. There were deaths among both the military and civilian population. The enemy had targeted two areas: the district of the city garden and Senkevitch Street (Kaptziker), where units of the retreating Red Army were concentrated. The sirens, the warnings of an imminent air raid would begin wailing hours before. And has previously mentioned, there would be air raids without bombings, designed to disorient and demoralize the populace. Just then, when the bombings did occur, the people had, just a short while before, crept out of their hiding places thinking that nothing more would happen. Thus, for example, a bomber would suddenly appear and fly over our courtyard, at a time when a long line of people were standing by Sholem Vienstein's bakery, for bread. Luckily, everyone would manage to flee when the plane swooped low, firing its machine guns, so that no one was harmed. Only the windows of the nearby houses fell out, and the walls of the bakery were damaged. Bombs also fell in the lake, resulting in unusually strong and high waves. It seemed as if the entire lake would spill over, onto the dry land.
On Tuesday, July 1st, during the course of the day, there were repeated long wailing of the sirens. Heavy bombings followed. In the city garden, there were encamped many Red Army soldiers, with their supplies and ammunition. The fright was great. In the evening one did not see a living soul on the streets. It was as quiet and as empty as if in a graveyard. From time to time the stillness was disturbed by a Red Army vehicle racing through the town. No one slept! They waited and actually, at 4:00 A. M., at dawn, just as it was getting light, a strong humming sound could be heard. On the horizon there appeared many planes. There was such a roar, that one could not hear what was being said by others. The bombing encompassed almost the entire town. The explosions, at times became stronger and more frequent. We all lay stretched out on the floor. (Neighbors came running, each one thinking that perhaps it would be better to hide oneself by someone else.) The men began reciting chapters of the Psalms, reading the Sh'ma prayer aloud, and so forth. Also the women were praying, pleading, with tears. The panes of the windows were pouring out like hail. The walls were shaking, and buildings were falling like balls. The little children, who were with us, huddled close to their mothers. Near our house a bomb exploded, with such force, and we became so confused, that we just didn't know what was happening to us. We picked ourselves up, and began running about aimlessly. The planes circled about for a long time, even though they were no longer dropping bombs. It seems that they were observing the Red Army. The populace was terror-stricken the entire time. After the planes flew off, and disappeared beyond the Glubokie horizon, we all calmed down a bit.
Friedman, Maier-Mordechai, a tinsmith, 8 year old Nechamele Gordon and her 16 year old sister, Gita, (who was seriously wounded, but pulled through). Both were our students, very wonderful children. Also there was the little boy, Mentkowitch, Mordechai Schulheifer's grandson, and many more whose names we no longer remember. Harav Katz, who hid in Kishelaike, outside of the city, believing it to be safe there, was buried alive. He was completely covered with earth for a long time, but survived this time. Many Christians were also killed at that time.
The general appearance of the town, for us who were not used yet to devastation, was terrible. Many buildings were completely destroyed, and others partially ruined. (Among them: the homes of Lazar Gittelzon, Mendel-Leib Fliskin, Maier-Mordecai Friedman, Binyamin Gittelzon, Shmuel-Ryder, and others.) In Ryder's house, Yaakov-Leib Asmans, a boy, the grandson of Chaim Kevlin, was killed. Other houses had halfway hanging roofs arid pieces of walls sticking out. The windows of practically all of the houses and of the post office in town, had fallen out. Dark holes looked out, seeming to be hidden, mystical and secretly concealed . The streets were strewn, and spread with fragments from the collapsed houses, with glass, with uprooted trees, with telegraph and telephone lines, and so on. the torn telegraph, telephone and electric wires were so entangled that one couldn't walk through. Very often we got hurt because of deep holes in the very center of town, and on the side streets. Bombs fell there, tearing out large chunks of earth. No sort of Soviet vehicle that had survived, was able to penetrate through the streets, and had to seek a side passage somewhere else. It was not a time to be wandering about for any length. Any moment could bring annihilation.
After the bombing people came to the bakery in our courtyard and began grabbing bread and flour from there. The owner wasn't there to guard it. Others, however, were fearful. Also, a Soviet vehicle arrived and loaded up with bread. At that time one of the ranking Soviet military men, a colonel, came running in, drinking. He confronted us and gave us hope that the German assault would be pushed back . During the time that the Soviet vehicle was parked in the courtyard, we were filled with a great terror that the German spy plane would notice that in our courtyard there are Red Army troops, and that they would rain down death-dealing bombs . And The results of the bombings were fatal. There were many victims: indeed, so it happened! As soon as the automobile drove out of the courtyard, the bombers appeared immediately and began circling over our houses. Neither dead nor alive, we sought to hide ourselves in the pits, in the cellars. Suddenly, it became completely still, a stillness that -was even more disturbing . There was no bombing this time, but the mood continued to be a very nervous one, and no one could foretell what sort of a surprise might be forthcoming at any moment. It is interesting to note that the Christians, during the period of uncertainty, ran to grab products from the Soviet base which had not yet been emptied; not taking into account the fact that the danger to them was no less than it was for the Jews. At the time, the German bombs did not make a distinction between Ayran and non-Aryan, but there was quite a distinction in that they ( non- Jews) did not fear the arrival of the Germans, and so, their mood was quite different.
At 2:00 in the afternoon, on July 2nd, the deathly stillness was shattered by quick, heavy treads on the stone sidewalk. We stuck our heads out to take a look. We saw the first German soldier from the arrival-depot, running with his gun pointing, as if to shoot. We looked all about. Luckily he didn't notice us. He was dressed in a green uniform. On his head he wore a protective head covering. On his sleeve was a swastika. Right behind him, there streamed Germans and more Germans And the frogs came up and covered the earth! (Exodus 8:2).
And the Germans occupied Glubokie. They appeared to be strong and healthy. Their manner of speaking and laughing was deafening to our ears. They displayed not a bit of apprehension or discomfiture. They rode in on their machines, and their arrival gave the impression that it was a scientific experiment and not the commencement of war. Not one was tired, and none faltered! (Isaiah 27:29).
The bombard was over and we assembled in our dwellings. Terrible nights ensued for us. Exposed before our eyes were floors strewn with glass and shattered utensils, plaster from the walls and so on. The doors were twisted out of shape, and no windows remained. The ceiling curved, giving the impression that it was suspended in air, and would fall at any moment. With great effort and hardship, we succeeded in making a little order. Momentarily the main concern was how to manage without windows. (At the time that seemed like a calamity!) To install new ones was out of the question. We covered the windows with blankets, sheets, tablecloths, various rags and so forth. The adversity to later come, understandably, by comparison would pale all of our previous discomforts .
In the street, civilians from the local population began to surface. Jews, as much as was possible, tried to avoid being seen outdoors. During the initial days, the Germans did not bother most Jews. They only shot several people who had dragged themselves out of the Soviet base. As soon as the Germans arrived, the streets in town emptied and the German massive armed forces took control.
Translated by Eilat Gordin Levitan Everyone sensed that there is nothing that could be done to prevent the Arrival of the Germans. All comprehended that the German boots would most certainly tread upon the ground of Globokie. Still, not until the very last moment, did they really want to believe it. They shun such contemplation, hoping that perhaps the terrible impending plague would not extend to this place, perhaps by the help of god, the menacing force would be vanquished.
However, the calamity occurred, and immediately the German claw was felt by the Jews. A claw which was about to start to strangle us. During the initial stage the ruling rights on the local level were at the hands of the commanders of the military divisions who first arrived marching through our region. The last to march to town and stop there did as they pleased with to us Jews. The oppression and their caprices behavior was instantly felt upon the Jewish neck. Here is an example: During the first days after occupying the town, some Germans went to Rabbi Katz, of blessed memory, and under death threats demanded that within 20 minutes he supply them with several bicycles. The unfortunate old and weak Rabbi, suspended in life/ death state of mind, began running around town looking for bicycles. Clearly they were not to be found. The Germans had already confiscated all of the bicycles, a few days earlier. After 20 minutes the Germans returned for their merchandise. When they realized that their demand could not be fulfilled, they began to avenge themselves on the Rav. For a certainty, they would have shot him right then and there. However, by trickery he managed to twist himself away from them, and hide. They had no time to search for him since they had orders to leave the town forthwith. And only thanks to this coincidence was the Rav saved from a tragic death for a time A year later the German murderers were able to carry out their evil design upon him. There were many such instances. Constantly we received new demands from the German officers and soldiers. Demands that were many times impossible to comply with, any time Jews were liable to be shot, and the murderers need not supply a reason for the killing .
Thus, the entire Jewish population, from the first day of the German occupation, was geared to comply with German demands and caprices. Strained, and in a state of great fear and confusion, they Jewish community members ran from one Jewish house to another gathering and taking from wherever and whoever they could, any merchandise so that they would be able to adequately satisfy the illogical demands of the Germans,. On top of it, often, the German soldiers themselves entered Jewish homes, robbing and stealing the most precious possessions of the owner and before they left they beat the homeowners with a vengeance.
False rumors were spread amongst the local population; the Jews, together with the Soviets, took revenge upon those arrested by the Soviet regime prior to the war. The prisoners were held in the Berezvetcher Prison, about 2 kilometers from Glubokie. There ( the rumors said) they shot 2,000 men and 500 were bricked-in, alive, in the thick walls of the Berezvetcher Monastery. They were punished because they deserted the Red Army. Fear and terror fell upon the Jews as they found out of the rumors being spread. The local Black Shirts (assistants to the Nazis) utilized the frenzy for their own personal intends. Just like their bosses, undisturbed, they went to Jewish homes, stealing whatsoever their hearts desired. Guardianship by elements sympathetic to the Jews could not be counted upon at all. The Jews were too frightened to react, and not a mouth was opened to complain. Some amongst the Christians made their looting honorable by being well mannered. They would introduce themselves to the Jews as "good friends", who, in time of trouble and stress, would strive to protect the Jews, and for this they should be paid a good price in advance....
Levandovski, the baker, Yaremek and others, brought a unit of German soldiers to the home of old, highly respected, Sholem Weinstein, of 25 Warsaw Street. They took their revenge upon him by screaming to the soldiers, that he was responsible for imprisoning 500 people behind the walls of the Berezvetcher Dungeon. Therefore they then pulled out of closets, from beds and chests, whatever they could and bestowed these "offerings" upon the soldiers.... Later, the Germans established "order", and declared that the entire Jewish holdings belonged only to them, the Germans. The local thieving element could no longer take any belongings or exchange any wares from the Jews.
Sholem Weinstein was a pious Jew, with curly gray hair and a beard. He devoted most of his time to Torah studies and performing good deeds. He only partook in matters pertaining to the House of Study, Yeshivah and charity. Just his patriarchal appearance bore obvious witness to the fact that he did not concern himself neither with politics nor with secular affairs of the outside the Jewish community.. The naive, innocent and God-fearing Weinstein, did not grasp what the hoodlums wanted from him. He stood paralyzed, not comprehending what they said. He looked on helplessly as they dragged away his hard-earned possessions, he was afraid to resist. The same thing happened to Chaveson, and to many other Jews.
For several days the Jewish community lived in deathly fear. They awaited the consequences of such a blood-libel, terror-stricken that it would provoke further destruction, or a terrifying pogrom by the local population. Fortunately, the provocation was not accredited by most of the local Christian population. They knew well that among those arrested and thrown into Berezvetcher Prison, at the time of the Soviet occupation, there were also many Jews. Jews such as: Dr. Britanishsky; Dr. Kahn; Hannah Safra; Miakinin and others.
Here we must allude to the local council, which was responsible for illuminating to the Christian mob, the absurdity of such rumors and the senseless Jew- baiting and the distortion being spread. They called upon the population of all faiths and allegiance, to unite and make peace among themselves. They strove to enlighten the community so that they should not be influenced to do evil, and not be led astray and drawn into a web of crimes and horrible deeds. This failed provocation undertaking in order to united the locals under the flag of hate, was very enlightening. There, where the local population did not let themselves be easily inflamed, the Germans were not able to carry out their extermination policy against the Jews as effortlessly.
Transporting them by military conveyors, they were crammed in and pressed so tightly in the boxcars, that they perished not only from starvation and thirst, but from suffocation. It was impossible to breathe in these improvised conveyances. The unconscious and dead were not even removed, they were taken, together with the living, to the designated destination. Consequently, the number of dead steadily increased. This inhuman circumstances were not accidental. The aim of the Germans was to deliver as few living prisoners as possible to the prison camps.
As a result of the tortures, the sufferings and deaths of prisoners, along the way, a "remnant" of 47,000 living men was brought to Glubokie. They were driven from the train station to Berezvetch, to the prison barracks. The youth of yesterday, which days before was full of energy, who were only weeks before appeared as strong courageous fighters, heroes of the Soviet Union, were now famished, feeble and wounded, broken shadows of their old selves, with pale drawn faces. They were cruelly beaten for all to see. Openly tortured by tile Germans! Hunched over, they dragged themselves along the road like very old people; their dull gaze from their deeply sunken eyes was begging for food and drink. They languished to be free, to survive.... verbally begging for a piece of bread, or a little water, was forbidden. It was also forbidden for the civilian population to offer them any food or drink. And those, who upon seeing the unfortunate prisoners, were bold enough to throw them a crust of bread, were severely punished by the Germans for their "impertinence".
At the beginning, people didn't know that giving a prisoner a piece of bread or a little water to drink, was a crime. People were gallant enough to throw bread, vegetables and other food items to the passing prisoners. Immediately, announcements were posted ; anyone caught giving bread to a prisoner, would be shot to death Understandably, such an announcement frightened people off, and so they restrained themselves from helping the prisoners. There were some, whose pity for the wretched prisoners weighed so heavily upon them, that they could not keep themselves from secretly throwing the bread, thereby putting their lives in jeopardy. The extent of the length of the Germans' cruelty, is exemplified by the fact that when my seven year old son, in compliance with his mother's instructions, gave a piece of bread to a prisoner, the Germans noticed it and chased after the child. By a miracle of God, the child was able to hide in a closet, and the Germans were unable to find him. Incidentally, the Germans could not search for him too long, since they were accompanying the prisoners, and thus the child was saved! The Germans brought the prisoners to Berezvetch and here they were "lodged" in specially arranged pits, which were so-called barracks. These barracks-pits were not covered on top, and when autumn arrived, followed by a cold winter, the prisoners, who suffered from hunger, thirst and German torture. In addition, that winter of 1941/1942, suffered from the bitter cold. After such a terrible journey, experiencing so much torment along the way, a new order of suffering began for the prisoners, a new chapter of tortures. In order to protect themselves from the cold, to warm themselves somewhat, they would huddle together, pressed tightly among themselves, to alleviate their suffering somewhat.
The barracks-pits were in such unsanitary condition, that it is hard to describe. There was no private place for the prisoners to relieve themselves._ The filth was so great, and the lice had reached such proportions that the gaunt, emaciated bodies of the prisoners, were devoured by the vermin. It was told that when a prisoner would take off his shirt, the shirt actually moved, because of the quantity of lice.... The stench, the malodorous air, was carried from the barracks-pits to a great distance enveloping the camp. Not a word was ever said by the German master race about taking the prisoners to a bath-house, or providing them with a change of clothing.
The prisoners in Berezvetch were fed "bread" - a mixture of some ground-up straw and "sawdust" (30% according to the testimony of the baker, Elihu Gordon). This was given in such a small portion that the prisoners would become swollen from hunger. When the Germans, on rare occasions, would bring into the camp some frozen rotten potatoes, and the prisoners would fall upon them, grabbing and clutching, the Germans would shoot into them for "failing to keep order!" The hunger was so oppressive that death punishment was not a deterrent. The shooting did not frighten the prisoners. Better death by a bullet, than the slow death by hunger. They grabbed the rotten, raw potatoes as though they were the best of delicacies. It is clear that such a "life style" in the camp, gave rise to disease. The strongest human being would succumb to it here! There was not even a talk of healing the sick. They either died of disease or were shot by their guards. Every morning, dozens, and even hundreds of bodies were scattered about. Bodies of those who died during the night. The Germans, by their cruelty, brought the prisoners to a state of inhumanity. When the portions of bread would be scattered, the prisoners would lift up their dead comrades, supporting them as if they were only sick, so as to get their portion of bread for themselves. When a German wanted to have fun, he would bring the prisoners a dead horse. The unfortunates would throw themselves upon the animal like beasts, tearing the putrid horse flesh. The stronger ones would grab the portions of the weaker ones.... At that the Germans would amuse themselves, and shoot several tens of prisoners for their "bad manners" and for not "restraining themselves"!
The hunger in the camp reached such a degree, that there were cases where the prisoners permitted themselves to eat the flesh of their dead comrades. Some of Yesterday's Heroes, normal thinking human beings, were transformed by the German's murderous actions, into cannibals!
Every evening, the sounds of gun shots or machine guns reverberated throughout Berezvetch. The Germans shot the prisoners during the night. The issue of escape was a difficult one for the prisoners. Not because of the guards, but because of their own physical weakness and the injuries which they suffered from regular beatings by the Germans. There were some cases of prisoners fleeing from the camp. After escaping they would come running into town in small groups, where they would be given civilian clothing to change into, and in this way they would be saved. One of the prisoners, Ivanov, fled to the Ghetto, and there, in due time, he organized a group of 18 youths, who went into the forest as partisans.
Special commendation was earned by a truly small proportion of the populace, they were ready to sacrifice themselves for the fate of the imprisoned. People would "innocently" bring wood to a point not far from the camp, and when the patrols failed to notice them, they would throw food, clothing and other things over the fence. Whoever was lucky enough to catch the clothing, would immediately change and flee. They would thus save themselves. There were cases of peasants, from nearby villages, who would remove prisoners from the camp, under bales of hay and straw. They would then provide them with food, clothing and even weapons. These prisoners later joined the partisans. However such cases were extremely rare.
Among the prisoners there were also traitors, which made it even more difficult to flee and to receive any help in one form or another. The Germans appointed these traitors as the "seniors" in the camp! They were supposed to be a sort of police who would watch the other prisoners. These traitors, who sold their souls, took revenge upon the prisoners, as much as the Germans did. They informed on them, and in front of the eyes of their "lovely bosses" the Germans, they would beat their fellow prisoners "black and blue"! The Germans derived great pleasure from this, and they would laugh and make merry. The traitors won the trust of the Germans to such an extent that they were even given weapons with which they themselves killed prisoners.
Of the 47,000 Red Army prisoners brought to Berezvetch, almost none were left alive, except for the few who had managed to flee. The Germans annihilated them in Berezvetch's Concentration Camp, where over 50 pits remain, a testament to German brutality and barbarism! Many of those who perished were true heroes, who till their very last breath did not forsake their humanity. Here it is worthwhile mentioning one of the Jewish prisoners, Captain Raskin, whom the Germans, for some unfathomable reason, wanted to keep alive. He was wounded at the time that there was a shooting of the prisoners. When a German officer brought a doctor to him to give him medical aid, Raskin refused. The German officer turned to him with the following words: "Herr Captain! Your wound must be bandaged. You are losing blood and you will die!"
The Captain straightened himself, his vigorous face became even more serious, and with an angry, almost shouting voice, he answered him: "Herr Officer, better to die than to be bandaged by the hands of a German doctor!" Trembling from head to toe, he added: "The Germans have put the world into enough bandages! They've tied her up so that she has ceased breathing. The day is not far off when the world will free herself from your chains and the gruesome hour of reckoning will come when you will pay!" Thereby the noble countenance of the Captain became very distorted, for it was apparent that he was in great pain! He collapsed, blood gushing all over him. Several hours later he died!
This sight so affected those present, that many of them swore revenge for the blood that had been shed! And indeed, that night a group of prisoners choked the German sentry to death and fled. The Germans hunted them all down, and murdered every last one of them. The fields were covered with dead bodies. Only the above-mentioned Ivanov, who came to the Ghetto and from there went to the partisans, managed to save himself. Near the pits of the prisoners in Berezvech, a grave draws a special attention. It is the common grave of the eight members of the prominent family of Chaim Kozliner of Berezvech, who through the cruelty of the German murderers, perished at the start of the occupation. They were killed because they were "guilty" of giving food and water to the war prisoners. May their souls be entwined in the vine of everlasting life!
How pitiful these poor people appeared. They stood in line to give up their "luxuries", which consisted of 3 kilos of flour, corn or oats. Many people, after turning in their excess bread, did not themselves believe that, heaven forbid, they had retained something more than the norm, 20 kilo. They exercised strict self-control, weighing and measuring, and if there was a half kilo over, they destroyed it, pouring the excess flour or grain into the lake, into the mud, grass or some other place. One had to be very cautious that no trace was left, so no suspicions would be aroused. The population's fear and terror mounted! But, so to speak, these were just the first buds of the later blossoms and flowers!
This was the first case of shooting, by the local police. An entire family Was murdered for such a minor incident, threw such a fright into everyone; that one could not find a repose for oneself. At first, no one wanted to believe what had taken place, did not want to think about it since they couldn't imagine that such a thing could really happen. But when Christian witnesses appeared and told how they themselves had seen what had happened, how the family had been led out and tortured even before they were shot; then, the unbelievable became a fact and the Jews realized what an abyss they had fallen into!
The families of Yaakov Olmer, Wolf Drotz, Kantrovitz, Pliskin and others, where there were even larger amounts of bread products at the time, were threatened with a similar punishment. At the home of Drotz the police found an "excess" of just a little glue that he completely forgot he had. It had not even entered his mind that a little bit of glue was in the category of "bread" and had to be turned in! The "criminals" were arrested and within three days they and their families were sentenced to death. However, they suffered only torture. This time, with the aid of a huge bribe, they were fortunate enough to escape a terrible death.
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