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Chapter 6


Signs of Resistance


This digging and preparation of hideouts was a new form of Jewish resistance to the Nazis, but cases of heroic resistance had occurred before. Every little bit of fat smuggled through the gates or under the fence at risk of life, every piece of bread or handful of potatoes a Jewish child brought from the next village, crawling under the barbed wire, every kilogram of grouts paid for with valuables and carried into the starving ghetto, all these were feats of supreme heroism, acts of resistance to the satanic Nazi plan to destroy the Jews by hunger and disease.

The first two actions in August 1941 had been a terrible bloodletting and there were very few Jewish communities that had suffered so much during the first month of Nazi occupation. We know of the pogrom of the Jews of Bialystok on the 27th of June and the 3rd of July 1942, immediately after the German conquest, but the number of victims was nowhere near that of Pinsk. On those terrible days, Tuesday and Thursday, 5th and 7th of August, 1941, the flower of Pinsk Jewry was destroyed – the vast majority of the men between the ages of sixteen and sixty.

In spite of the abject despair that prevailed after the slaughter, there were cases of spontaneous resistance and also attempts at planned and organized defiance. “On Thursday August 7th, 1941, two days after the murder of the 8000, meticulous searches were carried out for hidden people. In one of the streets, a Polish policeman found Hershl Levin (son of the sawmill owners), who had run away. The policeman fired, wounding him in the neck. Hershl fell with his face down. The policeman approached and, seeing that he was still alive, intended to fire again, but Hershl, though wounded, jumped up, tore a picket from a nearby fence and hit the murderer over his hand, so that he dropped his gun, whereupon the boy jumped over the fence and got away. This is the only known case of resistance before the ghetto days.”

In the ghetto, a number of attempts were made to organize resistance as a means of revenge or rescue, all within the last two months before the end. The above witness continues: “When the digging of bunkers and hideouts began, people also thought of escaping to the forests, to contact partisans and to join them. A group of fifty organized, led by the abovementioned Hershl Levin, Shaike Kolodny, Lolek Slutski the lame, another Hershl Levin (from a different family), Noah Weiner and myself. We acquired a number of semi-automatic guns, revolvers and two hand grenades. We hid these arms in the Kaplan vegetable garden, where the watchman was a Jew. When the Judenrat got wind of this they asked us not to leave – yet, as our going to the forest might endanger the whole Jewish community in the ghetto, and first of all our own families, whom the Germans would take as hostages. These arguments were weighty and we postponed our departure from one day to the next.” [63]


The Dilemma of the Underground
There were however more serious attempts to organize underground units, which on the day of extermination would put up resistance and help Jews to escape. About this organization we have evidence from two separate sources, delivered at different times and places (1955 in Tel Aviv and 1962 in New York).

The first testimony comes from one who was actively involved: “As news reached us regarding how the Jews in the neighboring ghettos had been exterminated, we had the growing feeling of being slowly strangled. In reaction to this, an underground organization sprang up, which planned resistance to the Germans in order to save as many Jewish lives as possible. Before our eyes was the example of the town of Lakhva. The group I knew within the organization consisted of two workers from Lourié's plywood factory and myself as representative of the tannery. Our contacts were with employees of the Judenrat: the engineer Tennenbaum (son-in-law of Zelig Kotok), Neiman (of the steamboat owners), and the head of the Jewish police, Goldberg. Secretly we began to enlist more members and to acquire arms. We were able to buy a number of revolvers from Poles, which we hid in various places outside the ghetto. I hid arms in Kaplan's gardens.

At our secret meetings we debated a number of proposals of how to organize resistance. Someone suggested that we should set fire to all the factories and workshops where we were employed simultaneously, and take advantage of the turmoil to escape. Someone else proposed killing the German Commissioner; others stressed the importance of joining the partisans. In the end, one proposal was agreed upon: to organize to set the town on fire at the crucial moment. All places of employment where Jews worked were supplied with combustible materials such as kerosene, rags and matches and everywhere there was someone who was responsible for carrying out the order upon receiving a secret code.

The problem was discussed at all our meetings but when to give the decisive word was never resolved. We knew that the resistance would be followed by bloody revenge, which the Germans would wreak upon the whole ghetto, that is, by wholesale destruction of all the Jews in the town. Therefore, with the help of the Judenrat and of the Chief of the Jewish police, we gathered every bit of information concerning German intentions, so as to act only at the decisive moment, before the final action. We did not want to take responsibility for triggering the destruction of thousands of Jews. Members of the Judenrat who learned of our underground organization warned us not to endanger the physical existence of the ghetto, through any ill-considered and irresponsible act. They also tried to persuade us not to try to escape, as one group of young people, who were employed in a workshop outside, had been planning such an escape and one day failed to return to the ghetto after work. Members of the Judenrat visited their families and threatened that they would have to hand them over to the Nazis, in place of the boys who had run away – unless they did everything in their power to bring them back. Because of this escape – they said – the Germans were threatening to exterminate the entire ghetto.

As a matter of fact, under pressure from their families and from the Judenrat, and unable to contact the partisans, the young men returned after two days out of town.

On October 22nd, rumors spread in the ghetto that on the airfield at Dobrovole long and deep ditches were being dug: and that only Gentile workmen were employed there under supervision of a German engineer. It was also known that a carload of lime had been unloaded there and water pipes had been laid.

These rumors caused alarm which also reached Ebner, who a few days later summoned Minsky and another member of the Judenrat and told them what was already well known, that the trenches on the airfield had been dug as storage for additional fuel tanks, the pipes were to siphon the fuel from the cars into the tanks and the whole thing had been done because it had been decided to close the airfield at Rzebczyc and to transfer it to Dobrovole. At the same time, Ebner warned against attempts to escape or resist.

To confirm what he had said, Ebner phoned the engineer at Dobrovole and, in the presence of the two Judenrat members, asked him what the ditches were intended for. The Jews could hear the answer on the phone, and it confirmed what the Deputy Commissioner had told them.

“I give you my word as a German”, said Ebner, “that nothing will happen to the Jews of Pinsk. They are working for the German war effort.” As a gesture of goodwill, Ebner promised to stop the searches at the gates and to increase slightly the daily bread ration of the workers. He also allotted some more land for growing vegetables.

“The two members of the Judenrat returned and immediately called a meeting of all the inhabitants and related the comforting news. After this assembly in the ghetto, our underground group met for consultation. Some of us argued that the Germans could not be trusted and that we ought to act at once. But most of those present were swayed by the soothing words they had heard and proposed delay – until the situation became clearer. The next day another rumor, apparently spread by the German themselves, was the talk of the ghetto: according to this, 3000-4000 Jews who were not working would be removed from the ghetto, and all the others would remain, on the strength of lists of employed compiled by engineer Friedman.

“This rumor was grist to the mill of those members of the underground who opposed immediate action. They said we could not risk the total destruction of our people in the ghetto, when, upon reliable authority, there was a good chance that the majority would be spared. The majority resolved to be ready for action according to any steps the Germans might take: to secure secret information in time about their intentions. Thus, the Germans succeeded in deceiving us all until the very last moment.” [64]

And here is what the second witness had to say: “Inside the ghetto, there were a number of attempts to organize resistance. My friend, son of the teamster, Glauberman, told me that one day a Gentile forest guard had revealed to some Jews, who were working outside the ghetto, that in his forest 150 rifles were hidden, left by the retreating Russians. Among the young men in the ghetto this caused excitement, and several hundred prepared to find the rifles in the forest and to stay there. This organization was headed by Dr. Praeger. Preparations were protracted and the departure delayed again and again, until one day the Judenrat announced the solemn promise given by the German Commissioner that the working population of the Pinsk ghetto would be spared. This killed the whole project, and a second attempt by some young men to organize met the same fate.

“With more and more indications of the approaching doom there was a group of young Jews, headed by Lolek Slutski, who resolved to set the whole city on fire the moment it should be surrounded for the final destruction. For that purpose, the town was divided into districts, with a number of young men assigned to each one who, instead of returning to the ghetto after work, would have to stay in one of the empty houses, where petrol, kerosene, rags and matches were kept ready. The organization was top secret and the action planned to the last detail. The aim was to cause a big conflagration and, in the turmoil and confusion which would seize the Nazis, to break out and escape. This plan, too, was foiled by the calming announcement of the Germans, as made known by the Judenrat. [65]

“Thus, we lost our last opportunity to carry out our resistance plan. The Germans succeeded in deceiving the Jews of the ghetto till the very moment, when the total extermination was beginning. In the course of the action itself there were some attempts to escape and to resist.”

An eyewitness relates: “When it became clear that the ghetto was surrounded and everybody knew that this was the end, several hundred young men rushed to the fences in an attempt to break out and escape, but hidden machine guns mowed them down. This was repeated time and time again, and each time the young men were forced to retreat, leaving behind them dozens of dead.” [66]

We find an echo of these desperate attempts to resist in the report of the German officer in charge of the operation who speaks of the successful use of the cavalry, when 150 Jews who had tried to escape were caught to the last man, although some of them had managed to make it to a distance of several kilometers. This same report mentions one Jew who attacked
a Nazi rider with his bare hands and managed to wrench from him his rifle and cudgel, but was cut down by the other riders before he could use the arms. The report also states that “innumerable people were hiding in well-camouflaged holes in the ground.”

These last desperate efforts do honor to our brothers who were facing a cruel and bloodthirsty foe. Very few Jews of Pinsk were able to fight the enemy with arms in hand and to take revenge. Those were the partisans and resistance fighters in other locations. A special chapter in this book is devoted to them.

[3 KB] Click here to extend the picture Lolek Slutski was twenty-seven at the time. He is described by his brother Jerachmiel Slutski of Ramat Gan: “Lolek's character was hardened though suffering, when for months he had been in the grip of death but emerged victorious. When he was 11, a Polish boy hurt his right leg on a winter day, while he was ice-skating. He contracted poisoning of the marrow of the bone. For more than a year he hovered between life and death in the Jewish hospital. By his iron will, he overcame his illness, learned to walk again, first on crutches and then without them. Yet he walked with a limp. He did not accept the fact of his disability and, to prove his willpower, rode alone on his bicycle from Pinsk to Warsaw and back. To everyone's astonishment, he used to go swimming in the river over long distances, his bad leg bandaged. He never accepted blind fate and believed in man's power to shape his own destiny. His national pride was acute and to every insult to his “Jewishness” he used to react strongly. He was broad-shouldered, stocky and good-looking, sharp-witted and shrewd. His friends and the Jewish youngsters of the town adored him. It was only natural that Lolek should plan actions of revenge against the enemy and that the underground should crystallize around him.”

Chapter 7


The Extermination


Calming Rumors
Wednesday, October 28th was a comparatively quiet day in the ghetto. Searches at the gates of those who returned from work were perfunctory and most of the food brought in was allowed to pass. There were less beatings by the Polish policemen than usual, but the returning workers had been stunned by a German proclamation posted outside the ghetto, warning the public upon pain of death not to touch Jewish property. [67]

That same night, a story ascribed to Bertha Schwartzman made the rounds of the ghetto. The German secretary of the District Commissioner, Bertha's friend, had shown her a telegram, signed by the Führer himself, with instructions not to touch the Jews of Pinsk, as they were working people. The two friends had embraced each other with joy....

There was new hope for survival and the Jews went to sleep somewhat comforted. That evening men who were supposed to work during the night had been sent back to the ghetto; only the plywood factory went on producing. But at midnight all the employees were called to a storeroom and were locked in there. [68] At two in the morning, the Christian inhabitants of the houses adjacent to the ghetto were removed and mortars and machineguns were installed there.


The Ghetto is Surrounded
Before daybreak a number of Jews realized that the ghetto was surrounded by German forces. One of them ran in the direction of the fence in an attempt to escape, but was shot dead on the spot. This shot, at four in the morning, startled the ghetto. People came pouring out of their homes and found themselves closed in on all sides.

The news spread like wildfire, and thousands of terrified Jews began to run around aimlessly. Some tried to proceed to the gaps in the fence they had prepared, but there they were met by German guns pointed at them. At six o'clock, by the light of dawn, hordes of Germans were seen advancing towards the fence in force.

The first cordon was posted at the fence. They were standing in units of three, at intervals of 10 meters, armed with automatic rifles and pistols. A second cordon, armed with machine guns, was installed at the windows and on the roofs of the houses near the ghetto. [69] At the gates there now stood no Jewish policemen (inside) or Poles (outside), only Gestapo. No one was allowed to leave.

“I approached the gate” – relates a witness – “and said that I must go to my job at the printing press. 'Today you shall work here', said the German, pointing to the ground.” [70]

Hundreds of people began to rush to the gates, for work as usual. Rumor had it that holders of work permits had best queue up ready to go to work: perhaps they might be spared. Within minutes, a long and orderly column of hundreds upon hundreds was standing along Glinishchanska Street.

At 6.30 am. soldiers of an S.  S. detachment, with the S. S. symbols on their sleeves and death skulls on their helmets, poured into the ghetto, armed with clubs, double-headed axes and accompanied by dogs. They scattered through the streets, and shouting and hitting right and left, made the Jews hurry to the gathering place near the Karlin cemetery. Some of them marched the column of men ready to go to work – who appeared as if they had been anticipating this – in the same direction. In the general uproar, a number of Jews managed to vanish into the hiding places they had prepared.

Upon arrival at the place of concentration, the Jews were told to kneel down and wait for further orders. Skilled craftsmen, doctors and engineers, and those employed in factories and workshops, were taken out and brought to the square in front of the Judenrat.


The Skilled are Spared
Here Ebner turned up with prepared lists, which he handed to the foremen of the carpentry shops, the tailors, printers, farm workers and employees of the tannery, Lourié, Rekord and others.

Each foreman read aloud the names of the workers on his list and told them to stand in separate groups. The noise was unbearable.

The names of those who had not mustered were called again and again, but many were missing, as they had gone into hiding. No women or children were allowed to join these groups. [71]

The evidence of one witness was recorded at the Israel Police headquarters in Tel Aviv in 1962: “When the names of the remaining skilled people were called, the list included my father, my mother, brother and myself. I held my little sister, aged 5, by her hand and tried to pass with her to the group of skilled workers at the other side of the square. Ebner noticed this and shouted an order to one of the Germans to take the child away from me. He assaulted me, tore my little sister from my arms with brute force and sent her back.” [72]

Another piece of evidence recorded back in 1945 confirms this: “Among his other children, the tailor Sherman also had a little daughter, aged four. One of the Germans saw her and kicked her so that she fell down and rolled over several times.” [73]

Ebner ordered all these workers to be kept in a number of nearby empty houses, in which they had to wait for several hours before being assembled in a hospital close to the ghetto (Zemski Szpital), where they were guarded by Polish police. There they were kept for three days and from the windows they were able to see the proceedings of the action, the extermination, and the Jews that had been ferreted out of their hiding places, brought to the cemetery and murdered there.

One of the witnesses had this to tell to the presiding Judge of the Tel Aviv District Court, Dr. Nathan Ben-Zakkai:
“I remember the horrible scene. I saw from the hospital window two heaps of Jewish corpses, some of them with axes still stuck in their skulls – there were thirty to forty in each heap. During these three days Ebner gave orders to shoot anybody who tried to enter the hospital without the yellow armband inscribed 'useful Jew'.

Those who were left alive were told to go down into the courtyard and they were shot in one of the hospital wards. Many of the victims tried to climb out through the windows in order to escape death. 200 were shot there.” [74]
And here is more evidence given on the same occasion:
“When we were brought to the hospital building, the sick and the children who were there were taken into the courtyard and murdered before our eyes. One of the stray bullets hit a German in the eye and this maddened the murderers, so that they began to hit out right and left with axes, indiscriminately, killing also those who had been put aside as 'useful'. In panic we struggled to push our way into the building and whoever did not succeed was murdered with the rest.” [75]
The skilled workers, too, were sorted again: not all were to be spared.


At the Concentration Place
When the screening of the skilled was completed, the S.S. began to form groups and to lead them towards the death pits. The thousands of Jews gathered in the cemetery area were divided into groups of 200-300. The aforementioned witness gave this evidence in the magistrate's court, Haifa:
“The S. S. men took us out of the house, beat us with rifle butts and told us to march to the cemetery. I could see that we were going to our deaths. There were about thirty of us who tried to break out of the gate, but the soldiers fired, killing ten. I ran back and reached a shack near the hospital, which served as a woodshed. Together with one other man I climbed up and hid under the roof. There we found a doctor and his family, who had reached this hiding place earlier. Throughout the day I could look through the cracks and see the S. S. bring Jews to the cemetery area, divide them into groups, beat and torture them and kill some on the spot. I saw little children taken out of their parents' arms, held by their feet, heads down, and shot. [76]

“The members of the Judenrat, too, were brought to the concentration area and sent to the side of the skilled workers. Some of them tried to approach Ebner and to find out about their fate. Bertha Shwartzman was the first to approach him. His answer was: 'You, Bertha, will go to the pit first;' and with that he sent her and her husband to the front row of the group that were sent to Dobrovole. Such was also the lot of the other members of the Judenrat , who went to the pit first.

“Other Jews too, who were acquainted with Ebner, tried to beg for their lives, among them the furniture merchant Segalovich, a tall, old man. Ebner ordered him to kneel down with bent head and when he did so, Ebner shot him in the nape of the neck. One of the witnesses saw dead members of the Judenrat at the cemetery; some had been shot there, others had committed suicide by swallowing poison.” [77]


Search for Hiding Places
“During the next two days (October 30th and 31st ), the murderers continued to comb the ghetto area unceasingly and with the help of dogs. On Friday, at two in the afternoon, we heard German voices, near our hideout, calling 'Here are more Jews.' At the same moment a dog broke into our den and began to bark. The Germans followed and called us with their loud voices: 'Why don't you go to work? Don't you want to work? If you don't come out at once, you'll all die! We shall finish you off with grenades!'

“We sat perfectly still, holding our breath. The warning was repeated and then came the explosion of a hand grenade and another near the entrance. We were choking and began to creep out. When I reached the entrance, I saw the murderers glaring at us with fiendish bloodthirsty looks, their guns aimed at us. They beat us over the head with rubber truncheons and made us sit on the ground. An S.S. officer walked up and demanded delivery of anything we had, not only valuables but also outer garments. I showed the officer my work permit and he looked at it and shouted: 'You son of a bitch! What were you hiding for? All the printing workers have been brought to the hospital and they'll be allowed to live.' He tore up my permit.

“Other groups of Jews who had been detected were assembled and then we were told to get up and march to the Karlin cemetery. There we had to kneel again, together with thousands who had arrived before us. Suddenly we heard an order: 'Get up! March!'”


The Death March
“We started marching away from the ghetto confines in the direction of Dobrovole – a distance of three kilometers. The day was warm and bright. The peasants of the neighboring villages were standing by the roadside watching us at their ease, maybe quite happy at what they saw. We approached the pits: before us were corpses of victims thrown by the roadside, torn apart by dum-dum bullets. Next to me walked a woman with her three little weeping boys; she was carrying a baby in her arms. The others were no longer able to walk. One German escort told me to take a child in my arms, which I did, while the little one was crying the whole time: 'I want my mommy!' When we approached the pits, I asked the German to let someone else carry the child, as I wanted to be with my wife in the last moments of our lives. He agreed and handed the child over to somebody else. We all walked in silence in the fields, bare after harvest. We saw the Germans scattered all over the area, some on horseback, some with dogs. In front of us, the piles of earth near the pits came closer. A few steps further came the order: 'Halt! Undress! Lay your clothes down in order by items. Hurry, hurry, you cursed dogs!' Before us were the gaping pits; I saw the corpses of Jews shot, face down, one upon the other, heads smashed. The murderers began to push the naked Jews into the pits, beating them cruelly, furious with hatred, forcing them to descend the steps cut out in the pits for that purpose, to lie down on top of the dead and the writhing wounded, face down, and wait for the bullet in their neck. From the depths came the agonized wails of those whom the bullets had failed to finish off at once.” [78]

“The son of the mason David Gitelman, of Brodna Street (who now lives in Cuba) told me the following: 'When we were near the pits, a detachment of S. S. arrived. They picked fifty Jews who were awaiting their fate, and used them for a murderous game: One Nazi would stand before the unfortunate Jew, while another pushed him towards the first, and a third, who had been waiting, hit the victim in the back with a pick-axe, then pulled it out as the man fell to the ground. He also saw a beautiful girl, who refused to undress, stripped savagely. Within minutes her black hair turned white, before our eyes.” [79]


In the Pits
A witness who was inside the pits has this to add: “On the second day of the action, I was sent to work in the pits of Dobrovole. All that day, they brought more Jews who were all forced to kneel down and to strip naked. One German led each naked Jew to the edge of the pit, where another shot him in the head. Later, we had to arrange in rows all those who had been shot. When the German had emptied his pistol, a second loaded one was handed to him, so that the satanic murder could continue without interruption.

“We also had to count and to record the number of the corpses. When they saw that we were not able to do this properly, one of the Germans took the paper and pencil out of our hands. Several times during the day, we were made to lie down on the ground and were told that we too would be shot; however, they ordered us to get up and go on with our work. We were a small group of Jews who had to do this for four days. At night, they took us to a merchant's house on Brzeska Street. To this day I do not understand how it happened that, at the end of this bloodcurdling work, we were brought to those in the hospital whose lives had been spared. [80] A Polish policeman, named Tchorny, told my friend and protector, who was hiding me at the time, that during the first night of the action he was standing guard at the pits. All that night the earth was heaving as in waves, a flow of blood and white foam was coming to the surface together with moans. This went on till morning, when the S. S. arrived and poured quicklime over the corpses.

“After this, the policeman was in a state of shock, unable to eat or sleep for a whole week.” [81]


Last Minute Wonders
A miracle like that of the man who survived after four days in the pits happened to three other doomed people. “On the road towards the pits, Bertha Shwartzman's mother was walking next to me with her granddaughter. She asked me to tell the German officer that in her house she had left a vase full of gold. I told him, but the German didn't reply.
“When we were standing near the pit and had begun to undress, I saw that same officer running about as if he were looking for somebody. I approached him and he beckoned me. I seized my wife by the hand and pulled her with me. 'No, not her, I called only you', he shouted, brandishing his revolver. When he saw that I would not give in, he told us both to sit down at the side. He then went to consult his superior officer and came back without a word. From afar, I saw Schwartzman's daughter standing there, naked, and only she knew where the gold was. I found the courage, went up to the officer, and told him that only with the aid of that girl could the gold be found. He jumped up as though stung, shouted and blasphemed, but in the end said: 'Where is she?' I called her and she snatched some garment from the heap of clothes, put it on, and came to us running. We sat on the ground together while the German watched us. After a while, we were told to get in a car and under escort of some Germans with red, blood-spattered faces, we drove to Shwartzman's house on Alexandrowski Street, outside the ghetto.

“An S. S. officer entered the house and began to search, together with the girl, but in vain. We then drove to the ghetto, where we looked in the hideout under the pharmacy and found a wallet with banknotes, rings and a box of cigarettes. The officer took the rings and the box, but not the money.

“We went deeper down and found the vase, but decided not to mention this but to continue with our search till dark. We gave the German who was standing at the entrance some of the gold and told him that we were looking for more. At nightfall he ordered us to come out and follow him. He took us to his officer and gave him the gold, which he pocketed. I said, there must be more and that, early next morning, we would go on with our search and would certainly find it all. He had us taken to the S. S. The soldiers who were escorting us belonged to the special extermination unit and weren't familiar with the town. I told them to take us to the hospital, where the skilled workers were kept, and next morning they could bring us back for the search. To our surprise and good luck, they did not come back and we were left with the craftsmen.”

Among the Survivors at the Hospital
During the three days of the action, hundreds came to the hospital to join those who had been set aside as skilled or otherwise required workers, hoping to save their lives there. The place became overcrowded and squalid. No food was given and the only nourishment was raw beets and other roots, brought in from the nearby vegetable gardens. Even from the pits, twenty young men were brought back to the hospital. They had already undressed, when the Germans, observing their strong build, asked them whether they wanted to work. “If you work, you will live.”


The Last Selection
On Sunday, November 1st, at nine o'clock in the morning, Ebner appeared at the hospital and ordered those responsible for the workers at Lourié's plywood factory to form a column and to leave for work. They hurried out, forming their column as ordered, glad to be gone. Suddenly, Ebner called the engineer Josselevich and the foreman Brezenbaum back to him into the building, while the S. S. troops, instead of leading the men to work, took them to the cemetery and shot them on the spot, a scene witnessed by hundreds of Jews watching from the hospital windows. At the sight, people began to run around like madmen, crying and wailing. “If that's how the Germans deal with the workers of a vitally important factory – there can be no doubt what is in store for the rest of us.” Some committed suicide with the poison they had on them. First of these was the town medical officer, Greenberg, followed by the daughter of the Rabbi of Karlin (but she didn't die right away). Many asked the doctors for a dose of poison, but they had none to spare. Some began destroying valuables, breaking their watches, tearing up banknotes etc.

Ebner returned, accompanied by Engineer Sieg. People retreated, trying to hide in corners. He produced a sheet of paper and announced that the craftsmen whose names he would call had to go down into the courtyard at once. He started with the tailors, and out of sixty called twenty names. From the city employees he chose half, and so on with the locksmiths, fencers, carpenters, shoemakers, saddlers, printers, etc. All the rest were told to remain inside the hospital. [82] Following is the testimony given before Judge A. Newman in the Magistrate's Court, Haifa: “After the workers of Lourié's factory had been murdered, more groups were sent down and all were slaughtered. Next came a group of dentists, general practitioners, tailors, shoemakers and printers, thirty all together, who were made to stand on the other side. At this moment, an S. S. man came running and asked aloud whether there were any carpenters among us. I thought I had nothing to lose, opened the window, jumped up and cried out “Yes, I am a carpenter.” At once others jumped up after me. An officer who was standing nearby shouted in brutal rage: 'No carpenters! Go back, cursed Jews.' I shall never forget the fiendish expression on his face. That very moment, shots were fired and some of those who had jumped after me were killed. I don't know how I managed to join the group of thirty.” [83]

143 Jews remaining after this selection were handed over to the Polish police, who conveyed them via Albrekhtowska and Zavalna streets to the city jail on Brzeska Road.

One witness recalls the following names out of the 143: Chayah Khrapunski; the tailor families Sherman and Chertok; the Geyer family of Kosciusko Street; Mrs Beckerman the dentist and her two brothers, Vevke and Mika; Avraham Perchik (now living in Haifa); Baruch Friedman (now in the U.S.); Dr. Jacobson and other doctors. [84]

Additional names were given by another witness: Bonya Vilkovitch; Sioma Yelinski (now in Germany); Liudwinitski, Kolomnitski the bookbinder; Liubashewski of the soap factory; David Gleibman (now in the U. S.); Yosef Bankowski (locksmith); Reuben Dolinko (furrier); Moshe Rozhanski (locksmith); David Federman; Yudl Furman; Yehiel Grushko (son
of the tailor of Honcharska Street); Brezenbaum (of Lourie's factory); the lame Feldstein (dental technician); Bankowski (the ironmonger who escaped from the slaughter at Sarny).

Among the women were: Naomi Kazh; Glauberson (of the featherbed shop), Kerman (daughter of the yeast merchant), the wives and children of the tailors Sherman, Geyer and Chertok; a young girl named Klotsman; Chayah Steinberg. Hannele, the Karliner Rabbi's daughter, who had swallowed poison, barely reached the prison and died there during the first night. Later it became known that those who had been left in the hospital were made to strip, were herded into the courtyard and shot there.


Chapter 8

 

The End of the Last Remnant


In Prison
The Polish police handed the 143 Jews over to the prison wardens. This is what happened: “Conditions here were different, more human. Upon arrival, we received prisoners' clothes and were placed in a number of rooms. Men and women were separated, thirty to forty to a room. The doctors were given a special room. In each room there was a table and two benches. The warders asked us whether we had eaten, but brought us nothing. So we had to lie down hungry on the cold, bare stone floor. Next morning we each received a small piece of bread and hot water. The same day all of us were led to the bathroom where our belongings were disinfected. After a bath came a midday meal, nothing but a watery soup. After that we were allowed a quarter of an hour's walk in the prison yard. When we were back in the cells, Ebner arrived and told us: “You must know that you've been given a new lease of life. If you work diligently, you will be spared. In the prison you will stay a few days until your new ghetto is ready, where you shall live.” He asked each one what his profession was. One man said he was a blacksmith and Ebner wanted to see his hands. Ebner looked at them and shouted: 'With these hands you pretend to be a blacksmith?' He took him out and the man was never seen again.” [85]

And here is what one of the women related: “In the women's room Ebner behaved in the same manner. With a little gesture of his finger to the right or to the left he decided whether a person would live or die. I remember how, on the first day, he had Mrs. Beckerman the dentist and her brother's fiancée taken out of the cell and shot. In those days Ebner was very active and visited the prison frequently; every visit meant a death sentence for another number of Jews. On the third day, he separated the doctors from the rest of us and told them they were going to work in the sick-fund clinic, but later on one of the Gentiles told the tailor, Sherman, that the doctors had been taken to the cemetery, where all of them had been made to strip and were shot. One of them, the dental technician Vevke Beckerman tried to escape, but was caught and shot.” [86] And another witness added: “We heard that the doctors had had be executed because the Gentile doctors, Dilewski and Mikhailov, had declared that because of the mental tension and troubles they had been through the ghetto, they were no longer in any condition to work.” [87] On the fifth day of their stay in the prison the first groups went out to work. Gentile foremen came to the prison showing licenses from the German engineer Sieg that entitled them to take workers with them. One of the printers relates:

“We went to work only on the sixth day. With faltering steps we went along the Brzesc road. The Christians looked at us as though we were fantastic creatures from another world. In the workshop, our Christian coworkers received us in a friendly way and even condoled with us, but we felt these were merely words. We were also given something to eat. After work we returned to prison, accompanied by a Gentile worker who had to guard us. This became routine.

“During those days we were able to relax a little; we received food and even could bring some to those of us who were not yet going out to work. Every night Ebner checked whether all of us were working. He had a number of women, who were not yet employed, taken out and shot. [88] After eleven days, on the 12th of November, a bitter cold day, the prisoners got their clothes back. A muster was held in the yard and the prison director took leave in a friendly way, comforting us that from now on we would be better off. Clad in rags and tatters, we were escorted through the deserted city streets to the «little ghetto».”


The Little Ghetto
The Little Ghetto was located behind the district hospital. In its center was the building where the Karlin Yeshiva had been housed, and around this were a number of smaller houses, eleven altogether, fenced in by barbed wire. From the windows one could overlook the area of the large ghetto, now desolate, empty and quiet as death. Everyone found himself a corner, which he made his new home. Outside, Polish policemen stood on guard day and night. At the gate they kept a fire burning.
In the morning, one went to work escorted by the Gentile foremen who waited at the gate. The policemen would count those who left. In every house one person was allowed to stay to keep the house in order and to prepare supper. The provisions were: biscuits, potatoes, grouts. In the evenings people gathered in the house of the tailors, who did their work inside the ghetto, and there news was exchanged.

The tailors' foreman was Leibl Sherman, a highly qualified craftsman, highly appreciated by the Germans too. On the very first evening, Sherman told us that Ebner and Sieg had visited the ghetto at noon to see how things had been arranged. He held Sherman and Geyer responsible for keeping the ghetto clean. If there were no shirkers from work, he, the Commissioner, would provide their livelihood. He also warned them not to let any unregistered Jew into the ghetto. If that happened all of them would be held responsible.


Newcomers to the Little Ghetto
Yet every night survivors from the old ghetto infiltrated. For weeks on end they had been hiding in dugouts and cellars, but now winter had come and they were no longer able to withstand the cold and hunger and came in. Their names did not appear on the lists, so they were forced to hide in the ghetto. Whenever the suspicion of the guards was aroused, they made sudden searches and killed any hidden Jews they found.

To outwit these searchers, the newcomers too began to join those who went to work. For their connivance, the foremen were paid handsomely. Among these newcomers were: Motl Shukhman; Gutka Feldman; the shoemaker Feldman with his son and daughter; the Holtzmanns, man, wife and son; Chaya Portnoy; Dr. Jacobson's daughter; and Pesach Sherman. [89]

Worst of all was the lot of the women and children who joined the people in the little ghetto. They were, of course, unable to go to work and faced the threat of death every day.

“Here is the special case of the wife and two daughters of the director of the Tarbuth school at Karlin, the Hebrew writer Tal (Tuvya Levin). All three had been hiding in a house on Bernardinska Street, when a German discovered them during the search. The older girl began to cry and somehow human feelings were aroused in the German's heart. He covered them with rags and said that this place would be combed no more and in the evening he would bring them bread – which he did. In this manner they remained hidden for three weeks. One evening when we were passing by the house on our way back from work they joined us and entered the ghetto, but in one of the searches they were discovered and shot.” [90]


The Old Ghetto is Thoroughly Combed
After a while, searches in the area of the old ghetto continued and practically every day Jews were found and murdered. These searches were organized by the head of the Polish police, Sologub. During the nights, the inmates of the little ghetto could see those Jews who had been apprehended sitting on the ground, in the cold, not far from the fires the policemen kept going. They were as if petrified, neither speaking nor crying. During the weeks of hiding they had been half frozen, starved and haunted by constant fear. Among them were babies. At dawn they were taken to the S. D. Here they had to wait until a sufficient number of Jews had been collected. Then they would be led to Dobrovole and shot.

It also happened that the Germans themselves brought more Jews to the new ghetto, such as David Neidich, the Secretary of the Tarbuth School. He had managed, together with other Jews, to escape from his hiding place in the old ghetto and to approach a nearby village. On their way they met a peasant who betrayed them to S. D. When asked for his calling, Neidich claimed to be a carpenter who because of this had been sent to the ghetto.

There was a story about Rabbi Rozenzweig, who had been hiding too and was discovered. When the policeman tried to drag him out, the Rabbi wounded him with a knife and ran away, but another policeman shot him dead.


How Long Will the Little Ghetto Be Allowed to Exist?
A month had passed and people became adjusted to the new way of life. They worked, cooked, slept and even played cards. Yet the tension persisted and the general feeling was that before the New Year (1943) Pinsk would be judenrein (rid of Jews). Before that date, the Gentile workers would have to acquire the skills needed to replace their Jewish colleagues at their jobs.

The Germans were extremely eager to equip themselves with new clothes, shoes and other leather wear, and this fact too aroused suspicions that time was running out and that they wanted to make the utmost use of the Jewish craftsmen. Tailors, shoemakers, saddlers and carpenters were flooded with orders, and, to keep up with them, had to work until late into the night. How long the ghetto would last was measured by the amount of work in hand with the tailor Sherman and the dental technician Feldstein. The days of the ghetto were counted by the number of days required to complete their orders.


Out into the Forest
During all this period plans were made to escape from the ghetto to the forests. Some people managed to acquire arms, knowing that this was a precondition for joining the partisans.

If organized groups were to leave the ghetto, this meant grave danger for those remaining, as what with the small number of persons overall, it would be impossible to conceal the fact that some were missing. On a Saturday night one such group left for the forest. Sunday was the day of rest, so they had two nights and a day before being reported as missing. On Monday, when asked where their comrades were, those remaining said they were sick; the truth was discovered only on Wednesday. The head of the S. D. called Sherman to his office and told him he knew that a number of Jews in the ghetto were missing, and that they had fled to join the partisans, but they had been apprehended. The German was lying in order to frighten the Jews and to prevent further escapes.


What Happened to Those Who Fled to the Forest?
Here is the report by one member of this group: “We were about twenty who had left the ghetto in order to join the partisans. A Christian showed us the way. We met four partisans who greeted us in a friendly manner and said they would be back with their commander. A couple of hours later some twenty armed people arrived on horseback. They took away everything we had: a rifle, a pistol, all our valuables, and left us. We were forced to return to town. After hiding for six days in an abandoned house, I went out together with Hershl Boberov. We crossed the frozen river and hid in the marshes. Peasants whom we knew brought us bread several times. So we spent four months under horrible conditions, until we could go to a place further away where we joined the partisan detachment of Missiura. Our direct commander was Volodya Kovalchik.” [91]

A woman witness speaks of another of these groups: “One day Baruch Friedman, who was working outside the ghetto, revealed to me in secret that he and ten of his friends had decided to run away. We prepared food and boots for ourselves. The boys went to work in the morning and I removed the yellow patch from my clothes. At one p.m. I left the ghetto and went to the place where the ten were employed. The foreman was away and they hid me inside a sofa. In the evening they let me out and together we went to our rendezvous on Lahishinska Street, near the railway tracks. There a Gentile who had been waiting for us, took us in the direction of Kobrin by a path parallel to the railroad. After a six hours' walk we reached the village of Vulka where another Gentile appeared, took us across the river in his boat, pointed to the nearby forest and said: 'Go, with God's blessing!'

“All that night we wandered in the forest. The next day we met a band of men who spoke Russian and said they were partisans on their way to an operation. Therefore they directed us to their headquarters. About forty kilometers from Kobrin a band of partisans found us, took away whatever we had and quartered us in a house, telling us to go to sleep. The next day, they said, they would take us to the partisans. The guard whom they left to watch us warned us that these were Ukrainians and that we had better disappear at once if we wanted to survive. We ran back to the forest. There were Jewish partisans who brought us before their Russian commander but he refused to take us without arms and sent us back to Pinsk. Broken and tired we set out on our way. Now and then we would send one of our members to a peasant's house to obtain some food but none of these emissaries ever returned. When we arrived back in Pinsk, three out of the original 17 were left: myself, Friedman and Perchik. After various adventures in Pinsk we set out again to look for partisans, this time in the direction of Morotshno. We reached the spot just as a clash between Germans and partisans was taking place. Therefore we turned toward the town of Sernik. In the village of Svorichevitz we finally succeeded in joining a group of partisans that were just organizing. Therefore they were ready to accept us without arms.” [92]

Here is what happened to two Jews in the forest. “During one of the searches in the old ghetto they discovered our hideout and brought us to the S. D. My brother-in-law had a pair of scissors hidden in his boots, so we succeeded in removing some of the iron bars from the wooden window frame. We escaped barefoot, not making any noise with our feet, and reached the ghetto area. There we found shoes, a kettle and something to eat in the abandoned bunkers, and before daybreak we entered the cellar of an empty house on Nova Street, near the railway tracks. We stayed there all day. In the evening we encircled the town until we came to the river, which had begun to freeze over, crossed it and reached the forest near the village of Vulka. There we made a shelter under an uprooted tree and there we remained hidden for four months: as long as the provisions which we had brought with us lasted. We ate only once a day, boiling water from snow on a fire we would kindle only at dawn or at dusk. In March 1943, our food gave out and we went back to the abandoned ghetto, poking in empty houses. We found some more flour and grouts and returned to the forest that very same night. In April we decided that we must locate partisans at all costs, as once again we had nothing left to eat. Twice we met bands of peasants who took away whatever we had. At the first encounter both of us managed to escape but the second time, my brother-in-law was killed and I, after many more adventures and disguised as a peasant, reached the vicinity of Pohost-Zagordski, where I joined a troop of Jewish partisans, named after Kaganovich, whose commander was David Boberov.” [93]


Last days of the Little Ghetto
The remaining inhabitants of the ghetto were busy making plans to escape, each little group choosing for itself one of the empty houses outside the ghetto as a meeting place at the decisive moment. When returning from work, they used to conceal bread and other provisions in their secret hiding place. “We chose Fishko's stone house in the marketplace for our secret rendezvous.” [94] In those days, many stayed outside the ghetto overnight so as not to be taken by surprise should the action started suddenly. Those who slept in the ghetto were also very alert during those nights. “We were on guard at all times. Every morning my husband and I stood near the barbed wire fence, bundle in hand, looking for a way to escape in case the ghetto should be surrounded. At daybreak friends used to mock us: “You see! Nothing happened; we have been asleep all night and you have been out in the cold!” [95]

“The number of orders at Sherman's, the tailor, began to decrease. Feldstein told us that the Germans had taken back the gold for their false teeth. It was clear that these were our last days. Another group made good their escape from the ghetto and went into the woods, but the Germans looked the other way. And then, at daybreak on Wednesday, December 23rd 1942, the Germans surrounded the little ghetto and murdered all its inhabitants at the Karlin cemetery. A handful of people succeeded in getting away while the action was in progress, hiding in nearby houses. Another small group hid in a garbage pit within the little ghetto area. The murderers were busy with preparations for Christmas, so the Jews could slink away unseen, but most of them were later caught in town or nearby and were murdered.” [96] One of those who got away told of his experience: “Together with my cousin, Naomi Kazh, who had an Aryan appearance, I hid with a Gentile friend of hers. She helped us to reach Brzesc, and I approached another Gentile acquaintance who agreed to keep me for only one day. He gave me a piece of dry bread and water, and in the morning I went to find the hiding place that had been prepared in the attic of Fishko's ruined house in the market square, of which I knew from our days in the little ghetto. I knocked according to the agreed sign and climbed up. When they had identified me and made sure that I was not being followed, a small ladder was let down. I found a number of Jews there, among them Vilkovich, the printer. After deliberation, we decided to leave the town. For that purpose we had to obtain arms, so I and another man crept stealthily into the house of a German, who served as prison inspector, in order to take his rifle. Unfortunately we found neither the man nor his gun so we took only several bottles of brandy and some food. Next day we approached a Pole who, to the best of our knowledge, had a pistol. After long and tedious bargaining, when I had bestowed on him a bagful of hides that I had secretly taken from the factory where I had been working, I finally got the pistol with 10 rounds of ammunition. That same night we each left in a different direction, setting on a place in the ruins of the Main Synagogue where we might leave word of communication for each other. And then each one left to face his own fate.” [97]

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