[Hebrew pages 121-124] [Yiddish pages 362-367]
By Joseph Viner
When I finished my studies in Lanowitz, I started working to help my parents. I worked for Asher Brilliant in his wholesale business, selling gasoline and lubrication products. In the eyes of the Soviet regime, I was considered a kosher proletarian. I was assigned to manage Frieda Shmil's store. Rachel Bobe Uzieles worked there with me. Later I was transferred to manage the nationalized warehouse of Hershel Kagan. In this capacity I had to make frequent buying trips to nearby towns, especially to Tarnopil. A large Soviet supply warehouse was located in that town, serving to supply our entire region.
In 1941 I was inducted into the Red army. At first, I was regarded as a loyal soldier. However, after three weeks I was called back to my former job. My job was declared essential to the economy.
One evening, as I was attending a dance arranged for the local youths, our mayor, Yizhak Shmokh came over and tapped me on my shoulder. He called me aside, and told me to stop my dancing and prepare to leave for the front. His message was somewhat mysterious. Under the German-Soviet (non-aggression) agreement, no front was contemplated. However, under the Soviet regime we learned not to question orders but to do what we were told. I said goodbye to my mother and brother on that winter morning, (My father had passed away previously, having contracted asthma) leaving with a great feeling of unease.
Avraham, the brother of Motil Pasalsky, the son of the deaf shoemaker, left with me. I have not returned to Lanowitz since that departure day. I never saw my mother and brother since that time. For a short while, I maintained contact with my family. Having learned from my letters of the poor army food, my mother sent me several food parcels.
I spent two months at a training base, after which I was sent to the front. Next, my army records were reviewed for some reason. I was reclassified as unreliable by the army and sent eastward to a town near Moscow.
When we arrived in Smolensk, the town was already on fire (from aerial bombardments). We were next sent to Vyasma, 90 kilometers from Moscow, traveling on foot, walking at night and sleeping by day. We were promised food, but supplies never arrived. We had to make do with whatever local supplies we could get. Hungry and tired we continued onward for six weeks until we arrived in Vyasma. There we were placed on a train that took us to Gorky.
In Gorky we were given some food and put to work in a machinery factory. The work was hard, and the food we received was inadequate to sustain ourselves. We started to sell our blankets to be able to buy extra food. The black market in Russia was a necessary companion to its fixed-price economy. With the food shortages that existed in Gorky, the black market was particularly active.
Selling our goods was not easy. We were under continuous supervision. We supplemented our food supply as we marched to work. One of us, on the march, would sneak out in pre-assigned order. This person would return to our dormitory, take out a bed, mattress or blanket, and sell these for one or more loaves of bread of pita. At the end of this process we had nothing to sell. Our situation was desperate. We had nothing to sleep on, but that was irrelevant. Our workplace was several kilometers from our dormitory. When we returned, we were so tired that we could sleep under any condition. Our foremost need was for bread, to sustain ourselves.
Our unit Commander was a Moscow Jew, with the rank of army captain. He lent me money to buy food. I am in debt to him to this day. I am certain he has forgiven my debt. He was a Jew with a warm heart, willing to help a brother in need.
After sometime, we started to sell our shirts. We would go to the market and return half naked just to supplement our food rations. One day, when I had nothing more to sell, and was starving, I entered (the Captain's) office. He was not in his office. His shirt hung on the office coat hanger. I put my hand in his shirt pocket. It contained 1,600 rubles. I took them. As I left his office, he re-entered. Having noticed the missing funds, he came to our dormitory, turned directly to me and asked politely if I knew who took his money. I answered him without hesitation: You need not investigate further. I am sure that whoever took your money surely needed it, and will repay you at the end of this terrible war, provided he stays alive until then. That is clear.
When the matter of selling our bedding was discovered, we were punished. Our work quota was increased. Five hundred of our group were transferred to a forest, 60 kilometers from Gorky, to fell trees. Each group received a production quota. Our food ration depended on meeting our production quota.
I was young and healthy, able to meet and exceed my quota. My food ration was consequently adequate.
I worked in the forest, felling trees, for a full year. It was hard work, under difficult conditions. I tried to find another work assignment, but was unsuccessful.
One day another job opening materialized. A manager, assigned to install telephone lines, came to our work camp looking for workers experienced in such work. I signed up as a person experienced in this field. I worked at this professional task for four months. The work assignment was a good one, but the job was about to end. I started to worry (about the future). I dragged out my task on purpose. Instead of completing it in two days, I extended the task to last three additional weeks. In the meantime I had time to spare. I started to socialize with my bosses, and noticed that my bosses liked having more idle time. I came to realize these bosses liked saboteurs like me, who do not take their jobs seriously. It was thanks to my delay tactics that they did not have to wander to another job location immediately. From the outside the Soviet system appeared as serious, responsible and effective. The truth was that a productive worker was mocked secretly. Managers preferred a worker that organized his tasks so that both he and his superiors could relax. This was the real Russia. My bosses appreciated the fact that thanks to me, they could remain at their present site for a while instead of having to wander immediately to another location.
I invested in a bottle of hard liquor, and gave it to the top boss. In appreciation I was reassigned to drive a truck that brought supplies to the forest workers. My situation improved, as did my superiors.
I was once tasked to drive to Arzamas, 100 kilometers south of Gorky with our purchasing manager. We stopped to rest a little on that hot day, and purchased a Quass drink (made from sour apples) from a roadside vendor. Two tanks were parked nearby, and next to them were two military officers dressed in camouflage suits. I no longer remember how it came about that these officers started to menace my boss. They called him Zhid (he was Jewish), slapped his face and threw his hat onto the truck roof. We were a team of four, so we were able to beat up the two officers. We thought the altercation had been settled. Suddenly we heard a whistle blowing and sixty soldiers appeared from nowhere. We immediately ran away and hid in a nearby forest. From our hiding place we could see that the soldiers left with their tanks. We waited for three hours, uncertain whether to continue in the direction we were going, inasmuch as the tanks left in the same direction. We were fearful, but, at the same time, realized that we cannot return to our base empty handed, so we continued on our way. After driving 8 kilometers, we were stopped by an armed soldier. Our team was taken to the location where the two tanks were parked. Our papers were checked, and the previous altercation investigated. A miracle occurred. Our papers were returned to us, we were allowed to proceed, and an apology was offered to our boss. While the matter was being investigated, the two officers removed their camouflage suits. We noticed that both had the rank of colonel. I continued in this assignment until near the end of the war, the beginning of 1945.
Suddenly, I was again inducted into the Red army. The army apparently needed more cannon fodder. In our training camp we slept on boards, using our food bags as pillows. We were so tired from daily training that I did not feel anything when a mouse got into my food bag. The general camp conditions were terrible.
I was fortunate to befriend a local captain who for the sum of 2,000 rubles concocted a set of papers for me that showed that I was born in Poland (not in the Ukraine). The papers stated that I wished to serve in the Polish army. His was a farsighted plan, according to which I was to wait for my call-up by the Polish army authorities. The document I was given, stipulated that I was to remain in my present camp until my Polish army papers arrived. My new job was to make myself useful to my superiors. With this document, I was able to avoid serving in either army.
I have a great feeling of nostalgia for Lanowitz and all it stood for, as I write my story. I am willing to replace all our modern regimes, to have the opportunity to recapture its lifestyle. Lanowitz is still dear to me. While in the depth of the Soviet Union, I longed for its life seven-fold.
By Mendel Brimmer
In the fall of 1939 Lanowitz fell into the Soviet orbit as a result of the famous German-Soviet non-aggression treaty. I was 19 at the time. The foundation of our society was shaken. The Soviet authorities nationalized my father's wholesale business. He became the warehouseman of the business.
The Jewish youths had to work to support themselves and their parents. I, who had no profession, created a team of lumberjacks together with Bura Margalit and Leizer Flemchik. The orders for our Artel [cooperative] increased with time. Our salary was more than sufficient to support ourselves, our parents, and provide us some savings.
At the time, Uziel Reichman was indicted as a trader who hid his past and some of his assets. He was tried and convicted. His alternative was to either pay a large fine or be exiled to Siberia. The Jewish community organized a collection on his behalf. Community activists went from door to door to raise the required funds. When they arrived at our home my father was embarrassed. He had no money but felt obligated to participate in such a community effort. He turned to me and asked me to help him with this Mitzvah. I responded by giving him my entire savings. Reichman was saved, and I lost my savings.
I worked with my team until 1942 (actually, June 1941 – Ed.) The Soviet authorities considered me as a Kosher proletarian. I did not have to join the Komsomol in order to deny my Zionist past.
(In 1941) the German/Soviet war broke out. The Soviet administration evacuated Lanowitz, taking along its entire staff. Many of the Komsomol members were evacuated with them. I, who was not a party member, was not considered eligible for evacuation. Workers like me were left to fend for themselves. I decided to leave Lanowitz regardless for two reasons: Firstly, my attitude had changed. The proletariat regime suited me. I saw no problem fitting into it. Secondly, I wanted to escape the German regime. The future under that regime looked bleak to me.
I also wanted to save my friends, especially the girl I had been going out with for two years, as well as her sister and the sister's boyfriend. We foresaw the difficulties our parents are likely to face in our absence. We decided therefore to ask for their consent. The girls were hesitant to ask their parents lest they refuse them. They asked that I make the request on their behalf. I knew I was taking on a difficult task. Both the girl's father and my friend's (the boyfriend of my girlfriend's sister) father were likely difficult persons to convince. The girl's father was Shlomo Zhiliaznik (Pletsele) and the father of my future brother-in-law was Meir Furman, son of Avraham Meshes. I suggested to my friend to join me in approaching his future father-in-law. On the morning of July 1, 1942 (actually 1941-Ed.) we approached Shlomo Zhiliaznik together, asking for his consent to allow his daughters to join us. He was adamant in his refusal. They are remaining with us, he said, and suggested that we too stay here. His refusal did not surprise us. We expected it.
After we left their father's house, we decided to leave without the girls. Each of us turned to his family to bid goodbye. By the time I reached our house, German aircraft had dropped 3 bombs on the town's outskirts, 2 on the train station and one on Shraga's flour mill.
The atmosphere in our home was tense. I did not dare speak about my decision. Instead, I took my father's military knapsack, the one he came back with after his release as a POW in Austria in 1920. Over the years, this knapsack symbolized for us both wandering and separation. My father understood the hint and said, You are my last support. What will happen to us will happen to you. Do not leave us. He was sitting at our table, crying like a child. At this tense moment my sister Selva entered the house and said to my father, Do not take upon yourself such a responsibility. If the lad wants to leave, let him leave, and may God be with him. Father was silent for a moment, and then rose. He blessed me in the traditional priestly manner. I hugged my parents and left. Mother shouted after me to bid goodbye to my grandfather. I went to his house. He opened the book of Psalms, read a few chapters and blessed me again.
Next, I went to fetch my friend. He lived on the other side of town. As I crossed the town's main street, I noticed it was unusually empty. Only Mordechai Guberman stood at the doorsteps of his house. As I passed him, he asked me, Mendel, where to? I replied that I will go eastward to wherever my eyes will take me. He counseled against leaving for an unknown destination.
At Dov Furman's house all eyes were on me as I arrived. They were all crying. Faiga, his mother, demanded to know from me: Why are you inciting him to leave; he is our only breadwinner. David (Dov ?) listened to his mother, and I left without him.
On the hill overlooking our town, I pondered which direction to take. Which way to safety?
Next, I visited Yashke, a stupid (retarded?) Polish lad, who for years had been renting out his services to the town's residents. I implored him, Yashke, I am leaving. I beg you to go and help my father. I will remember your good deed upon my return. I bid goodbye to him as if he was a normal person. Somehow I felt a little better about leaving my father.
My instincts told me to change directions near the Jewish cemetery. I took a path through a tall wheat field. I was alone for sometime. Suddenly a person dressed in a Russian military uniform appeared. He tried to dissuade me from continuing in my direction, claiming the presence of German troops. I was suspicious of him, so I distanced myself from him, and then ran for hours in the original direction. I crossed the old Polish/Russian order and caught up with a large group of Russian and Jewish refugees.
It was 8:30 pm. While resting, I felt lonely and depressed. I wanted to cry. At that moment one of the coachmen conscripted to evacuate the Soviet staff recognized me. He called me over, and brought me back to reality. Aryon Damchuk used to deliver vats of beer to our store from the train station. He shared some of his water, and let me climb onto his wagon, to recover. For a long while Aryon left me alone. Only later did he turn to me and asked timidly, Why did you run away Mendel? You were not a communist, so no harm will befall you. Tomorrow I will return to Lanowitz. You can return with me. I will cover you with hay, and you will return home safely. I did not listen to him even though he meant well and expressed a primitive friendship. My decision to head eastward remained unchanged. We parted, and I boarded a freight train, carrying lumber, to Kiev. Together with other evacuees I continued into the depth of the Ukraine, thereafter Russia. The journey became a long separation from all that was familiar to me.
In Russia I lived in Voroshlovsk, Ordzhonikidze/Caucasus, and other places. I also worked in a Kolkhoz. At the end of 1942 our group of Jewish refugees was conscripted into a work battalion to serve at the front. I requested to join the Red Army instead, because work at the front entailed the same dangers without the benefits of army provisions such as food and lodging. Four other Jews were in my group. We suffered from hunger and lice. The army authorities however rejected us as unreliable. We continued our work at the front without any means to protect ourselves.
Our task was to dig trenches. When these trenches were inspected by the military staff upon completion they were found to have been dug in the wrong direction to favor the German army. During the interrogation that followed, it came out that our superiors were part of a 5th column bribed by the Germans. A separate army regiment was brought in to disarm the traitors. They were tried and shot. Our group was commended for our work. We were next brought to a public bathhouse where we washed, shaved, and were provided with a change of clothing. From Taganrog, the Red Army withdrew to the Caucasus, and I with them. In the Caucasus I continued as a worker in various tasks.
During my wandering in Russia, I only met a few Lanowitz Jews. These were Moshe Marder, Shaike & Berl, sons of Michael Khirik, and Joseph Viner. For a short time we were able to spend time together. When we again separated, it was a tragic separation. I was in touch with the first three for a long time. Later, Shaike was killed on the Hungarian front, and Moshe Marder was killed in Germany 4 days before the end of the war. I lost Berl's trail, and do not know his fate. I am told he is somewhere in Russia. I corresponded with Joseph Viner, and was instrumental in persuading him to leave Russia when he was considering settling there. I visited Abraham Weiss in his home in Kiev. I found him indifferent to issues important to me. I therefore decided to sever contact with him.
In 1948 I visited Joseph Marder at his home in Breclav/Ukraine. He was married to the former wife of his brother-in-law, who fell in the war. I was in regular contact with him after the war. Our dream, to revisit Lanowitz finally materialized in 1955. Joseph Marder and I traveled to Lanowitz together. We were afraid to experience a shock, so we felt more secure going there together rather than traveling to Lanowitz individually. We found the town completely destroyed. The only buildings that remained standing were the main synagogue, the home of Michel, the blacksmith, the houses of Shaya Wittelstein, Shmuel Bachtel, Shlomo Plazel and a few others.
In Lanowitz we met Zvi Mail (He settled there after the war. See his story, original pp 132-136, Ed.) The three of us decided to build a fence around the mass grave of our community. Up to then, our dear ones rested there anonymously. We were unable to purchase bricks for this job. Our solution was to purchase the foundation of Petrus' house, who lacked the means to build on it. I dug out those bricks with my own hands and this way we created our cemetery fence. We met annually in Lanowitz to commemorate the slaughter of our families until Zvi and I immigrated to Israel.
By Mendel Brimmer
Until I actually immigrated to Israel I did not dream that soon I shall have permission to leave the Soviet Union. I corresponded with Zvi Mail on the subject. We both decided to be patient and wait for an opportunity.
In the meantime I married. Our son was born and he started to attend a local school. I had little time to speak with him and learn of his attitudes in this foreign land.
One day our son came home, confused, and asked me: Dad, are you Jewish? I replied, Of course. And mother? he asked. I replied She is also Jewish. Our son then declared, I do not like Jews, they tortured Jesus the redeemer until he died. It became clear to me that Russia remained Russia: They use Marx to hate Jesus, but they still use Jesus to hate Jews.
Prior to my marriage, during the confusion that was part of the war period, several of us Jews ended up resting at the home of a peasant woman. It happened on a winter evening. She fed and cared for us in a sincere manner. She let us use her beds. I received the best bed in the house. I shall never forget her gracious hospitality.
In the morning as we parted, we stood there to thank her. We were searching for the proper words. It was tempting to say, God will pay back your good deeds, but citing God was dangerous. We praised her deeds instead. Her children, who stood next to her, savored the praise we heaped on their mother. She replied, Better days are ahead for all of us. I expect that you Jews, who are suffering so much now, will also see better days ahead. When her children heard that we were Jews, they asked if we also were the ones who tortured Jesus. While the peasant woman was free from bias, her children were exposed to a different dogma,
In the work camp where I was employed, I became acquainted with one of its engineers. He was a wonderful man, but as a party member he was fanatical when it concerned party matters. When secretary general Khrushchev came to visit our camp, he, of all people, was chosen to greet the secretary general. We Jews at the camp were careful to hide from him the fact that we were not party members. We were particularly careful that he not notice when we received letters from Israel.
One time, my normal caution failed me. I received a Rosh Hashanah greeting card from my brother in Israel. It included some of the major panorama and symbols of the new state. As I was staring at the card, thinking: will I ever see these sights with my own eyes, the engineer stood behind me. There was no escape. He saw the greeting card and said: Comrade, I envy you. I would clearly love to have received such a greeting card. Here too was a Jew, an underground Zionist.
By Zvi Meil
On Succoth holiday, September 22, 1940, I was inducted into the Red Army and left Lanowitz. I was sent to Vladivostok and the Manchurian border, 12,000 km from home. We traveled for 29 days on a freight train. From Lvov to Irkusk, no food was available for purchase. In Irkusk we were able to purchase a sausage made of horsemeat. It was impossible to eat the sausage. We arrived in Birobidjan [A Jewish autonomous republic on the Manchurian border- Ed] hungry.
In Birobidjan we Jewish soldiers were well received. The local Jews prepared food items familiar to me. They ranged from dumplings with sour cream to a variety of baked goods just like my grandmother and mother used to prepare.
When the war between Germany and the USSR broke out, our unit was sent to Erevan, near the Iranian border. From there we were sent to the Leningrad front. Our unit participated in battles in front of Moscow and Vileki Luki.
In 1943 I was wounded near the town of Nobil, which is near Kalinin. I was brought to hospital No. 53/65 in the town of Yaroslav. I had many wounds. I recovered from my wounds only after the war ended. In my unit in the Far East (from Lanowitz) were: Yidele Foiker, son of Moshe the Black, Israel Pacht (the nephew of Kendzur), and Shlomo Shwatz, the son of the deaf shoemaker. When we left for the front, Israel Pacht deserted and disappeared. The three of us from Lanowitz stayed together until we arrived at the Leningrad front. Shlomo Shwatz was killed there. It happened when our group was crossing through a thick forest. A mortar shell hit a tree that fell on Shlomo and killed him instantly. I and two Gentile soldiers from Lanowitz buried him where he died.
Let my testimony about my fallen friends be the equivalent of providing them a Jewish burial
Two of us were left at the Leningrad front. We were taken prisoner by the Germans when they encircled the village of Vishi-Kotitsa. We were kept in the basement of a private home. After six days, we escaped by killing our German guard. On the way back to our unit, Yidele told me that he decided to desert the army and return to his family in Lanowitz. I later found out later from Pavel Hindes that he arrived in Lanowitz in late 1941 and perished with his parents in the Ghetto.
When I was stationed near the border facing Japan, we were ordered to dig defense trenches. Our immediate Commander Medvedev demanded that we work faster, complaining that we (Jews) always want to live from the work of others. When I complained about Medvedev's behavior to our General Commander Simyonov, he did not reply. However, the next day I found out that Medvedev disappeared that night and never returned. Later we found out that Simyonov was Jewish.
When I was wounded, I was the only Jew in my unit. Shumilov, a Gentile Ukrainian from Lanowitz and Bashov, a Russian, rescued me after I was hit. I owe my life to those two comrades.
It is not my nature to only remember bad incidents. It is, however, a fact that we Jewish soldiers were living under tension that has no parallel in civilian life. The danger to our lives was particularly high if our comrades behind us were Poles or Ukrainians. Serving in a foreign army, far from home, they tended to take revenge on Jewish soldiers.
On December 3, 1944, I received a letter from Siberia. The letter was from Hayim Nathan Gitelman. He asked me to visit him in a detention camp where he and other Jews were held. I asked our hospital administrator for a four day leave pass to visit Gitelman. It was granted. I visited Gitelman and his friends at their detention camp. The camp was well organized and its food supply was adequate. A local doctor extended my leave permit from 4 to 18 days. In the camp I also met Shalom Segal. The three of us spent an enjoyable time together. With Segal was his daughter, Klara. They told me that Avraham Weiss is in Kiev. Segal said that he visited Lanowitz several weeks ago to rescue his daughter. He was the first person to inform me as to what happened in Lanowitz.
In 1945 I received another leave from the hospital administrator to visit my home-town, Lanowitz. On the way to Tarnopol, I had to change trains in Kiev. I had to wait in town an entire night. I entered a Jewish home and asked if they could let me sleep there. The next morning I went to the local market to see what goes on there. From afar I saw a person resembling Avraham Weiss. I called him by his last name. He was shocked but did not know who called him. When I approached him and asked, Don't you recognize me? he was sure I was a person he knew from Vizshurodok. It hurt me to realize that my appearance apparently changed (due to my injuries). I was, after all, his next -door neighbor.
This episode proved to me that my war wounds may prove to be a bad omen. Weiss was truly happy when he realized who I am. He invited me to his home. He was widowed after his wife perished in Lanowitz. In Kiev he worked in a pharmacy and was happy with his lot. He did not have a room of his own. Instead he slept in the pharmacy and cooked his meals there. I visited him from time to time. He was like a brother to me. When we parted we did not ask Where to? Both of us realized that our future destination was uncertain.
On the way to Tarnopol, railway police boarded the train in Podvalochisk and warmed us that Bandera bands are still in the destination area, that we passengers must be careful. I felt anguished for I wanted so much to visit Lanowitz. In Tarnopol I had to wait for the train to Lanowitz until 12:30 in the morning. I went to survey the town. It was completely destroyed. Its streets were blocked by ruined houses (On the train to Lanowitz) I traveled with NKVD officials. The train was full of soldiers. I, too, was in uniform. A few minutes after our departure, our train stopped suddenly and all of us flew out of our coaches. It turned out that a Bandera insurgent switched the train to a dead-end rail branch.
I arrived in Lanowitz in the morning (on another train?). We all leaned out of the train's window not to miss anything. While at the Kiskovits rail station we already saw the extent of its destruction. The town that once hid the horizon with its panorama; now it hid nothing. Here and there one could identify a few buildings. At the railroad station I met the son of Stefan (the carpenter) Legsiuk. We walked to town together. On the way to town, I recognized a few Gentiles that stared at me, noting a strange visitor. They did not recognize me, and I did not start a conversation with them either. I could not bring myself to speak with anyone. My heart was pounding.
I arrived at the corner of the homes of Brimmer & Sarah Shayes. Suddenly I saw David Schneider coming towards me. It was a tragic meeting for us. We both cried and walked to the cemetery. We spent the whole day there. In the evening I returned to register with the Police. They found lodging for me at the home doctor Zuber (the local felsher= A country doctor).
In the morning, I wandered through the town I loved and found destruction everywhere. I rummaged through the ruins of our house and to my surprise found a photo of my mother. In my wandering, I always carried family photos with me, but did not have a picture of my mother. Here I found it under these tragic circumstances. The photo has remained in my wallet to this day.
That day, Hayim Nathan [Gitelman] and Shalom Segal arrived in town for a visit. Haika Kagan arrived the following day. We spent a week together in Lanowitz. We met Ita Karper who returned from Russia and for some reason decided to continue her life in the ruins of the town where she grew up and her parents perished. She lives in Lanowitz to this day.
Of all the former houses, the only ones that remained standing were those of Michael, the blacksmith, Shmuel Bachtel, Michael Kenfizyur, the bakery of Shmuel Furman, the cellar of Beyla Berg and the houses of: Libergel, Aharon Parness (Michlis), Golda Bernstein, Moshe Katz, Leibel Shzuleg, Khanah Re'uveni, Shayah Natnes, Manos Zhak, Hazan (including its shingle factory), Eliyah Zabares, Mordechai David Lipes, Moshe Merinkowitz, Berl Pacht, Leah Glinik, Layzi Pletsiles, Yasha the barber, Moshe Kofets, Moshe Fogel, that of Hayim Simcha Reznik (the father-in-law of Kofets).
We parted from our town. Each of us went to his destination. We left downcast, with an empty feeling.
In 1947, I returned to live in Lanowitz. My situation was such that nowhere else was I able to find work and housing. I did not imagine that I would ever be able to live again in my home town, but circumstances forced me to reconsider. I informed all my Lanowitz friends that I am back in town and corresponded with them.
From time to time, the remnants that survived visited me. Among them was Yosef Marder who presently lives in Bretslav, Ukraine, and Mendel Brimmer. After some time we discussed the idea, and decided to build a fence around the mass grave of our brethren who perished in the Holocaust. The idea came to me and did not leave me peace of mind for many days. However, I did not have the means to carry out this project. We were able to implement it in 1949 when the communist party sent to Lanowitz a new secretary-general. He happened to be a Russian that served in my army unit. I told him about my plan. He advised me to implement it as soon as possible, while he is the local authority, and can help me administratively. His successor may not be as cooperative.
In May, 1949, Hayim Nathan Gitelman, Shalom Segal, Mendel Brimmer, Jacob Kagan, David Schneider, Moshe Rosenberg, Yosef Marder and I erected the fence around the mass grave. In 1950, I left Lanowitz.
(The Caretaker of Our Mass Graves)
By the Editors
Yosef was not born in Lanowitz. He came to the town in 1920, with the rest of the refugees from Kopel and Siniava. He came when the Polish/Russian border was finalized. These Jews chose apparent freedom and escaped to Poland.
Marder was over twenty when he arrived in Lanowitz. He worked independently, supporting a widowed father. As a merchant from an early age, he traded in leather and did well commercially. He married, and started a family just like others in Lanowitz.
In 1942 (actually 1941 - Ed.), when the Soviet authorities evacuated Lanowitz, he left with them. As one previously employed by the Soviets, he feared the Germans. However, he did not want to leave the town permanently so he left his wife Haika and daughter Anzia in town. He and his son, Moshe, escaped eastward. In the Soviet Union, he and his son suffered all the hardships of the war, such as hunger, sickness and injuries.
In 1945, he returned to Lanowitz to rejoin half his family that he left in town. On the way to Lanowitz, he heard of the tragedy that befell his family. When Bushka, the nurse, advised him to leave town to save his life, he left town broken hearted, resolved never to return again.
In 1948, the Lanowitz survivors in Russia decided to come to town and visit the mass grave of their relatives that perished there and Yosef joined them. Together, H. Gitelman, Zvi Mail, David Schneider, Moshe Rosenberg, Shalom Segal, and I (Brimmer) participated in the erection of the fence around the sacred grounds where our dear ones were buried.
In 1964, Yosef returned to the site to erect a monument and a plaque at its entrance. From time to time he returns to the site to make sure it is properly maintained. In the exchange of letters between us (Marder & Brimmer - Ed) one discerns a glimpse of the times, his character, and attitude to our holy place. The following are three of his letters on the subject translated word for word from Yiddish:
3 May 1964(Date seems to be in error judging by the letter's content; perhaps 3 June 1964-Ed)
Dear Mendel, Lisa, Children and Grandpa.
I fulfilled my holy obligation by erecting a memorial monument commemorating the Lanowitz residents that were killed by the German murderers. I started this work at the end of April and completed it on 23 May 1964. I am enclosing a photo. We do not have a better photographer in Lanowitz.
I will describe to you how I accomplished this task. As you know, the gravestones had fallen and the covering earth had sunk. I brought in 150 loads of fill, employing 3 trucks, a bulldozer and a digger. I erected small mounds to prevent the fill from eroding, and seeded the mounds with clover. I also repaired the fence that was damaged in several places, and planted trees inside the fenced area. I poured a foundation on which I erected the monument. The latter is fenced-in from 3 sides. A concrete walkway leads to the monument from a gate that I installed.
The monument has two inscriptions. It was erected midway between the two large mass graves.
Editor's Comment: The inscriptions are in Russian and Hebrew:
'Here lie Lanovtse residents that were killed by Fascists on
29 Av and 1 Elul Tashav 13 & 14 August 1942'
6 January 1967
Dear Mendel, Lisa, Children & Grandpa:
Mendel, why are you not answering my letter? I wrote you that there is a need to write a book about Lanowitz so that it will serve as a memorial for future generations. The book will inform them what Lanowitz was like, also how its Jews were killed by the fascists.
If it is difficult for you to publish such a Yizkor book, seek help from those from Lanowitz living in the Diaspora. After all, they, too, had relatives that perished in the Holocaust, yet did not help to erect the memorial. Let them at least help with the publication of such a book.
12 September 1967
Dear Mendel, Lisa, Children & Grandpa:
On September 4, 1967, the first of Elul, I traveled to Lanowitz with Hayim-Nathan Gitelman on the anniversary of the Ghetto's liquidation. We went to the mass graves and arranged a memorial in town. The monument and the graves are in good condition. I arranged a 'Yarzeit' and said 'Kaddish.'
27 May 1968
I congratulate you on your decision to publish a Yizkor book commemorating our dear ones that were killed by the Fascists; may their sins be remembered forever. Remember to mention my wife, daughter and son that perished (in the Yizkor book)
By Mendel Brimmer
Moshe was the son of Yosef and Haika, born in 1923. He received an education typical of that given to Lanowitz children. He was a quiet and serious child who felt close to his parents.
When World War II broke out, Moshe was 16. At age 18 he left his mother to join his father and help him in his wanderings after his flight eastward. At age of 19 he was inducted into the Red Army. He was wounded at the Ukrainian front. After his recovery from the wounds he was sent to the rear. However, after several months of recuperation he was again sent to the front.
In 1944, I met him by chance at the Armavir/Kuban railroad station. We spoke together at length. He gave me his father's address, which was previously unknown to me. We parted, not knowing that I shall never see him again.
In March, 1945, he fell during an attack on German forces in Czechoslovakia. He was 21 when he died.
In the accompanying photograph, he is on the right (on page 140) with Shaike Schneider on the left. Shaike was the son of Michael Kenziyur, a friend and of the same age as Moshe. Shaike helped his father in his tailor shop. He was drafted into the Red Army in 1944. He, too, fell on the Czech front in 1945 and the location of his grave is unknown.
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