Batya (Melamed) Taitel
Shlomo Taitel (Tamri)
By Yitzhak Weinstein (Itzik Benies)
In 1941 I was in Stanislavov when the German-Soviet war started. I was sent there by the Soviet authorities to recruit Ukrainian specialists to work in the oil fields of Baku, Azerbaijan. Thereafter, as part of the flood of refugees I moved Eastward, ahead of the impending catastrophe. I joined the Red Army and served on the 1st and 2nd Ukrainian front.
In 1943, Wanda Wasilevska organized the Polish Legion in the USSR. I was assigned to the first Polish army named after Tadeus Kosciuszko. With them, I entered Poland via Volynia. While I was stationed in Kiverts, near Lutsk, I decided to try and detour to Lanowitz, my hometown. I had no concrete information regarding the extent of the catastrophe that occurred. Polish movies did show burning towns and villages and alluded to the mass murder of Jews. Soviet newspapers described harrowing scenes of German occupation with their typical exaggerations and bombastic style. I believed what I saw, yet did not believe it. I could not imagine the terrible truth because I probably did not want to believe it. I just did not have the proper background facts to absorb what had happened.
It was a summer day. The black earth of Volyn and its smell reminded me of my home region. My heart longed for my home town.
I was an officer in the Red Army. I assumed that it would be difficult for me to obtain army leave. I told my superior commander of my concern for the fate of my family. I begged him to permit me to go to my home town to find out who of my family and friends survived. Perhaps they needed help or protection. To my surprise, he not only granted my leave request, he also selected two armed guards to accompany me on my private journey. It was wartime, and danger lurked anywhere. We traveled from Kiverts via Lutsk, Rovno, Kremenec to Lanowitz with a horse and wagon.
While in Lutsk I rummaged through the town looking for Jews. The town was in ruin. I saw no civilians on the streets. The only visible persons were Soviet and Polish army soldiers that were billeted in the outskirts of the town and its surrounding forests.
At the railroad station, I met an older man sitting on a bench who appeared lonely. Guessing that he was a Jew, I talked to him. He confided in me that his name was Josef Kaplan from Pomierovka, Province of Poznan. When the war broke out, he escaped to Volyn and survived the entire occupation period in Lutsk. A Polish family dug a shelter for him in their yard and fed him throughout the war period. A few days ago, the Local Ukrainian authorities exiled this Polish family from their home. He is now alone, awaiting an opportunity to return to his home town to seek the remnants of his past. He knew nothing of the Holocaust. As we walked the streets of Lutsk, he came to realize that the town is no more: neither its houses nor its Jews.
We did not get to see Rovno or Kremenec, preferring to bypass them. We passed many people walking on foot. Because of the war situation we did not trust to introduce ourselves to those we bypassed.
I arrived in Lanowitz at 10 in the morning. The Red Army soldiers in our group continued to Jampol while I left them at Wolica to take the train to Lanowitz. As I walked into town I met Theodora Gadamsky, the sister-in-law of Kartshashich. She recognized me readily. Her husband had disappeared. She looked around apprehensively if neighbors would notice, only then invited us into her home. The latter was located next to the house if Itzik Ehelen, near the Blote (Lake).
Mrs. Gadamsky warned us to be extra careful because Ukrainian bandits roam the area killing Russian and Polish officers. We overnighted in her house. The woman took extra precautions that our visit not be known to her Ukrainian neighbors. She feared arson. Most of the town houses that remained standing were occupied by the local Soviet authorities. Itzik Ehelen's house was still standing, only damaged. The rest of the houses on the street were in ruins.
The next morning I walked over to the office of the local Soviet commander, located in the old synagogue. I asked the commander for an additional local guard. He not only refused my request, he also suggested I not meddle in local affairs. He made clear that he will not be responsible for our safety.
Despite his warning I went into the town. From Mrs. Gadamsky, I learned that the Ukrainian families: Harutz, Primos, Somolitsky and Butenko had family members who served in the local German-led Police force. These policemen were involved in the killing of local Jews. The local police force consisted of only two German gendarmes. The killing was largely done by the Ukrainian Police [It is interesting that Butenko is now a Priest in Wizshegrudek and the main culprit, Mishka Harutz, has not been tried for his crimes.]
I first visited the town's mass grave. It was dangerous to do so. That same night, Ukrainians had murdered a Russian officer in near by Kozatsky. In retaliation the village was torched by the Soviet authorities. I went to the mass grave regardless, to be with my dear relatives and friends who perished there.
Alexander The Blind still lived at that time. Recognizing me, he cried bitterly and begged me to leave the area. As I stood at the mass grave, I felt as if the earth beneath me was still rumbling, as if the dead had not yet settled in. My sorrow saw no bounds as I prostrated myself on this warm earth. I later returned to Mrs. Gadamsky's house, hoping that no one noticed my coming and going.
In the meantime, I heard that a Jewish young woman lived in the area. A local Russian officer told me about her. I visited Mikita Diduch. He told me that the young woman is from Vizshegrudek, presently living in the house of Ilka Diduch. I went there. When I met her, she was sitting on a couch, scared, for she did not recognize me. She spoke Ukrainian, spoke haltingly, and claimed to be Ukrainian. When I calmed her, and she felt comfortable with me, she admitted that her name was Sobol, whose family lived next to my mother's house in Vizshegrudek. [She now lives with her husband, Misha Fuchs, in Israel.]
We sat and talked for a long time. She told me that she recently arrived from Vishnivits, where she hid during the Holocaust. She told me of the tragedy of the Vishnivits and Vizshegrudek Jews who all perished in the Vishnivits Ghetto.
I left the Diduch house to visit Boshke, the Felsher [country Doctor]. He told me that all the Jews were led to their death through a field next to his house. As they passed his house, these Jews threw their money into his garden so the murderers will not get it. He regarded this money as Holy and donated it to the Red Army to Fight the Nazi Beast.
Boshke added that Yolik Kosolke succeeded in escaping the shooting area by jumping the fence into his garden. However, the Ukrainian guards noticed his escape and shot him [Boshke's wife told me that weeks later she found a number of gold rings in her yard. She told me These are stained with blood. I don't want them, take them. I did not accept them.]
Lanowitz was a poster-like town surrounded bygreenery and mountains. These were witness to a Jewish tragedy. Lanowitz is no more. I went to visit Zuber, the Felsher [country Doctor] who used to live downstairs in the house of Hayim Nathan. I found out that he had passed away in the meantime. His 24 year-old daughter, a local teacher, told me the following: Ukrainian students in her school often came to school wearing blouses, dresses and slacks that used to be worn by Jewish children. When Mishka Harutz's daughter appeared in school with a blouse, the teacher recognized as having been worn previously by Hayim Nathan's daughter, the teacher asked the student where she got the blouse. The student answered, My father bought it for me.
Zuber's wife told me with tears in her eyes, details regarding the Lanowitz Holocaust. She described how hard the Ghetto Jews had to work, unloading coal and clearing snow, how Richter, the local German commander hit Jews for every small infraction. He would torture those already sentenced to be executed. She insisted that I go with her to the nearby kashchiel well to witness with my own eyes where Ukrainians threw live Polish children into the well a few days previously..
A terrible smell rose from the depth of the well. The air smelled of decay and death. Among the bodies were Wodos' six children, who drowned. It was said that the Ukrainians, at the urging of the Germans, attacked the Polish communities, burning their churches, killing and raping. They even desecrated their cemeteries.
Zuber's wife pointed out an important fact. As soon as the Germans left the area, the Ukrainian authorities let it be known that Jews are now free to come out from their hiding places. These survivors were soon murdered in order to eliminate witnesses to Ukrainian collaboration with the Germans. Mordechai Liberant's sister, David Lipes' daughter, and others whose names I do not know, were all killed in this post-liberation period.
The Cobbler Lewitsky, an ardent Communist under Soviet rule, became a German collaborator. He was personally responsible for the murder of several Jews. When the Ghetto was liquidated, Hannah Hayim-Nathan was able to save herself. She went to Lewitsky, their neighbor and her husband's good friend, and begged him to help her find a hiding place. He threw her out of his house and informed others of her whereabouts. These killed her on the Blote [Lake] near Gadamsky's house. Lewitsky now lives in Lanowitz, a free man.
I next visited the Soviet district chief. He had previously served in this position in 1939. I asked him to arrest and indict these bandits. I gave him names and addresses. He replied, At the moment we are still weak. They are still killing our people. We will deal with them in due time. He next took me to the old prison and showed me how many bandits have already been arrested.
On the third day, I went to our house which we had previously sold to Khilos. The house was intact. Mindel's house next door was torn down. Our house that was in Ukrainian possession was left standing. At Khilos' restaurant, I met the Krume [bent-over] Ukrainian tailor. He came over to me and said, Too bad you left town, otherwise we would have shot you, like a dog.
I took out my revolver ready to shoot him, but those present stopped me. He was arrested shortly thereafter. On my return to Poland, I wrote to the Lanowitz authorities the facts of this case. I was called as a witness at his trial. He was sentenced to 8 years in prison.
As I was about to leave Lanowitz, I met Uliana, the domestic that previously worked for Golda Bernstein. I met her by chance. She cried bitter tears as she told me the following details. In June 1941, when the Soviets left Lanowitz, but the Germans had not yet arrived, the Ukrainians established their own local authority. They arrested 34 Jews and killed them. She remembers the names of some of them: Zalman Parnes, Uziel Rabin, Yisroel Katz, Yitzhak Buchstein, Pesach Buchstein, Yosel Margaliot, Mit Burhen, Nachum Viner, Uziel Raichman, Yitzhak Melamed, Nachum Karper, Benzia Katz (Luzek Betsekes), his nephews Yosel and Yulik, Bienik Gurvich & Berchick Davidson.
They broke the hands and legs of Davidson and left him lying in a field. Uliana found him, took him into her house to care for him. However, the attackers returned the next morning to her house and shot him at her door. She, with the help of a few Jewish friends, buried him in the Jewish cemetery.
I left Lanowitz broken-spirited. I had to sneak out of town like a thief. My life was in danger. Later I visited my tragic hometown twice more because I was drawn to it. I believe I reported all that happened to me there.
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