Sara Hinda Movshovich
Translation by Sara Mages
The Germans entered Divenishok on Monday (May 24, 1941) after the outbreak of the war against the Soviet Union. It was quiet on Wednesday. As usual, in the morning of that day my father went to pray in the synagogue. The Germans, who passed convoy after convoy through Wilner Street, saw the Jews praying through the synagogue's windows. They broke into the synagogue, seized the Torah scrolls, spread them across the road, drove their tanks over them and tore them to pieces. My father opposed the removing of the Torah scrolls and the Germans wanted to kill him. Fortunately, Pyotr Shimansky, who lived across from the synagogue, entered the synagogue and asked the Germans to leave him alone. He is a decent Jew he said please leave him alone. Shimansky brought my father home. We were already very anxious for the fate of our father because Meir Zalman came running to us earlier telling us in a tearful voice: Your father is no longer
One of the Germans noticed that the Red Flag was hanging over the school building. Out of panic, Yekutiel Ziz'mski, who was the school principle, forgot to remove the flag from the flagpole. The Germans set fire to the school building and with it also two synagogues went up in flames.
The Germans advanced towards Subotnik where heavy fighting took place. Later, convoys of Russian prisoners began to flow toward Dowichitzki Street, and there, in the graveyard they eliminated them.
An unusual case
When the Germans entered, all the thugs raised their heads and started to harass the Jews.
From day to day conditions in the streets became more and more dense. At night, shouts were being heard from the homes that the thugs broke into. Truskevich, the well known robber, seized two hand grenades and ran to throw them on the Jews, but a Polish policeman prevented him from doing so. The robber harassed Gutka, the daughter of Yankel A. At night he was knocking on the door and making scandals. She was forced to flee from Divenishok.
A gang of robbers joined together under the leadership of Truskevich, Myopglen and Wazyock. Night after night they broke into the shops and robbed the merchandise. This gang also killed Gedalia the blacksmith (Itza Binyamin's son-in-law), and a woman and a boy from Vilna who were hiding in his house. At nightfall the whole town was immersed in the fear of death.
The praise of Zalman-Leib Lib, leader of Divenishok's Judenrat, should be noted. He has done a lot to ease the life of the town's Jews. He knew good German and used his personal charm to influence the Regional Commander. He used his influence and asked for help against the atrocities committed by the gang members. One day, a group of Germans arrived to town, brought the gang leaders to the market and shot them. This was an exceptional case: Germans shooting gentiles because they robbed Jews.
Once, next to the police station, Zalman-Leib noticed that three refugees from Vilna were being loaded on a truck accompanied by beatings. They were two Yeshiva students and a teacher from Ivia who were hiding in town. Zalman-Leib knew well what was waiting for these Jews. He approached the German commander and promised him a pair of boots if he would release the Jews they were released.
We suffered in particular from a German communication unit that was stationed in the village of Vasilishok on Dubizishok Street. Every Friday they were given a leave and came to Divenishok to have fun. To humiliate the Jews they collected the young people in the market, ran them through different exercises, threatened them with their firearms, and didn't spare punches. The Judenrat was forced to answer to their demands and give them ransom money.
Despite the difficult life, the town's people were united and mutual aid was their main concern. My husband David and my brother Eliyahu carried rye on their backs to the flour mill, a distance of 2 kilometers, to grind flour for the poor. My sister Leah baked bread and distributed it to the poor
In friendship and brotherhood
In Voronova we lived with the town's cantor. There were 3 rooms in his apartment.
The cantor and his family lived in one room, we lived in the second and another family in the third all together 19 people. The men were taken to force labor without pay, all of us lived from the sale of the clothes that we brought with us and waited for the future with anxiety.
Somehow the winter passed - we lived in friendship and brotherhood and shared everything that we had.
On May 9, the ghetto was surrounded by German and Polish heavy guards. The local farmers gathered with their axes and pitchforks and closed the city. The cantor prepared a shelter in his home, and on the day of the killing 58 people crammed inside. Among them were his mother and his sister. Shmuel Sharon, his father, was hiding in another bunker.
Doctor Gordon, who arrived to Voronova together with the people from Divenishok, also lived with us. He had a permit to walk freely even during the liquidation of the ghetto. He informed us of what was happening outside. After noon he knocked on the wall and said: get out slowly, the Germans registered the names of those who remained and I registered yours. After we came out a policeman harassed my father, who was wrapped in his Tallith and Tefillin, and wanted to arrest him. My brother Eliyahu bribed the policeman and saved my father.
My brother joins the partisans
After a two week stay in Voronova we were transferred by train to Lida. Here they housed us in a barn on Klodna Street together with other families. I slept next to the family of Yona Tener, Binyamin Dubinski's uncle, from Stashiles. They ere rich and helped many. His wife Alta approached me and said: Sara Hinda, maybe you need something? Maybe money? Take, don't be shy! she helped me and also others in need. There was also a family from Traby with us, a husband, wife and daughter, she also helped them and kept them alive. She also helped Lizrka Avraham Meirs and his family. She was a dear soul, a real angel from heaven.
We stayed in Lida's Ghetto for 13 months, and there history repeated itself: work quotas, threats and new decrees to humiliate and oppress the Jews. Meanwhile, my brother Eliyahu left for Bielski's Otriad [partisan detachment] and returned every once in a while to take Jews out of the ghetto. I seriously debated what to do because I didn't want to leave my sister Leah and my old father in the ghetto.
In the Bielski partisan detachment
My brother visited Lida's Ghetto three times and for various reasons we were not able to leave with him. But, on the fourth time he took us out of there. My brother was already known in the ghetto as a trustworthy man who was familiar with all the winding paths that led to the partisans. And indeed, on the same operation my brother was able to take 86 people from the ghetto. Bielski received us well and also cared for the elderly and the children. Those who were capable of carrying weapons joined the fighters, and the rest stayed in the family camp. We lived in huts and everyone tried to help with the household chores.
It was early August 1943. The German Army and the Belarusian police started the most extensive hunt for the partisans. According to various estimates their number reached forty thousand. The Germans removed large forces from the front and directed them to the fight against the partisans. The Germans wanted to secure the Wehrmacht's withdrawal routes, and decided to eliminate the partisan at all costs. This roundup was the largest throughout the German occupation. Besides Naliboki forest they also surrounded Lipiczanska and Novogrudok forests.
The whole camp was placed on alert. Dziencielski was ordered to take the responsibly for the families, and retreat with them inside the forest. The gunfire got closer and indicated that the enemy was attacking from the rear. Seven hundred people were running in the woods women, men, fighters and people without weapons. We sought refuge and retreat, but the enemy blocked all the roads.
An order arrived from the brigade's headquarters to retreat in the direction of the dense forests of Naliboki Pushcha [primeval forest]. The Pushcha was a continuous virgin forest hardly ever trampled by human feet and with large swamps. There were dry islands between the swamps, like Krasnaya Gorka, but it was only possible to reach them during the winter. We set off and walked in a single file. First in line were those who carried the children because the swamps deepened as we progressed. The Germans rained machine-gun fire and mortar and their voices echoed in the woods. People moved forward through the swamps, in the meadows, and between tall grass that hid the movement they were tired, hungry, barefoot, exhausted and thirsty. At rest time people tied themselves to a tree with a rope or a strap and dozed a little.
After ten days of wandering we finally arrived to a dry hill in the Krasnaya Gorka area.
Food ran out quickly but the Germans encircled us from all sides and the access to villages was blocked. Due to the hunger many started to show signs of bloating.
The shooting stopped several days later, and people started to return to the old camp. The road was very difficult. Most of the people were infected with ulcers and sores from eating grass, and barely dragged their feet. The women were on the verge of despair and collapse, but the will to live was so strong that we overcame all these hardships. The condition of Bella, my brother Eliyahu's wife, was the most difficult. She was left alone without her husband who went to fulfill an important task: to bring Jews from Lida's Ghetto. She carried her baby in her arms in the boggy swamps and her suffering was unimaginable.
My brother Eliyahu came back to us after the siege ended. We were together until we were liberated.
After the liberation
After the liberation I lived in Ivia. On a Thursday, Divenishok's market day, I traveled to Divenishok with a farmer (the Tatars who lived in the area sold seeds). I arrived to the market, sat by the pump, and cried for my bitter fate. My heart shuddered when I saw a lot of people walking peacefully in the market. Farmers from the nearby villages were engaged in trade, and gentiles replaced the Jews in the stores. The world functioned as usual, as if the Jews had never existed there.
Most of the town was burnt. When I went to investigate how it happened, this was explained it to me: There was a large concentration of heavily armed White Poles in the vicinity of Divenishok. Their leader was Jacek, the cobbler from Subotniki Street. When the Germans retreated a battle developed between the retreating Germans and the Poles. There were many casualties in this battle. The Poles buried their dead in the market in front of the church, and indeed, a large cemetery is located the market square. In the heat of battle the Germans torched the town and it almost burned down.
When I passed the market the gentiles looked at me with astonishment, they didn't believe that Jews were still alive. Barsolka Staskes, the well known thief who lived in my father's house, approached me and said to me in Yiddish: Surke, are you still alive?
He took me in his hand and led me to our house. I didn't enter because I didn't want to increase the great pain that was infiltrating my whole being. I returned to Iwye and lay for two weeks with a high fever.
Our decision was made: to leave the field of slaughter and immigrate to Israel. And indeed, shortly after we traveled to Poland and from there to Israel. I arrived to Israel together with my husband David and my two daughters, Henya and Hedva. I live in Motza Illit near Jerusalem.
by Sholem Bronshtaynn
Translation by Sara Mages
I studied in the Heder with the teacher Leyb Arye. He slapped his students on the cheek and also beat them with his fists. I also studied at the Russian School which was in front our house. At the age of 17 I started to work in my grandfather's smithy. After I got married I lived in Aran which was half way between Vilne and Grodne. About fifty Jewish families lived there. It was right next to the border with Lida. Lithuanian Aran, where five thousand Jews lived, was located across the border. In Aran I was independent in my smithy. My wife's name was Miriam. We had four sons.
When the Second World War began, and the Germans occupied Lida, they arrested my two sons, the eldest, 18 year old Tzvi, and the second, 16 year old Yehudah. They led them to Alita and shot them to death.
About a month later, they rounded up all the Jews from the area in the synagogue in Lithuanian Aran. The synagogue was filled to capacity. For lack of space they also filled the square in front of the synagogue with men, women and children and erected a barbed wire fence around it. In this way they held us for two days without food and drink. At times, the guards only brought a little water for the children. I shudder as I remember what took place in the synagogue: crying, shouting and wailing, women tore their hair and slammed their heads against the wall. It was a shocking tragedy. Two days later, they began to chase us in the direction of the forest where they prepared pits in advance. I, and several other young people, agreed that we wouldn't walk like sheep to the slaughter. Suddenly, we started to shout Hurrah! and escaped from the lines. Many fell and died and many got caught. I managed to escape to the forest and by indirect routing arrived to the village of Pakolishok. There, I entered the home of the widow Garishevich who kindly received me and put me in the barn. My wife and my two young sons perished on that day together with of all the Jews of Aran.
The next day, I sent the widow to my Lithuanian friend, Jonas Wilczyńskas, in the village of Kasheti. She took eggs with her and went as if she was going to exchange them for salt. In this way she reached my friend and told him that I was staying with her. That evening he came to me, brought me food and clothes, and at my request took me to my relatives in Marzikanza Station. I stayed there for two days and was forced to flee together with my relatives, to Drosknik. A refugee aid committee was still active there.
I stayed in Drosknik for four months. Suddenly, the Germans surrounded the city. I felt that the end was near. I, along with seven other young men, crawled to the wooden buildings which were built on stilts and used for convalescence and recreation. We huddled under the stilts and spent the whole night there. The next day they took all the Jews, loaded them on freight cars, and led them to annihilation. After the Germans began to scour the city to search for fleeing Jews we divided into two groups. Four ran in one direction and got caught by the Germans who killed them on the spot. I, along with three other young men, escaped in the direction of the forest and managed to get away. Fortunately, two in our group, especially Heshil who was a merchant in this region,
knew the area well. He brought us to a farmer who was his acquaintance and he gave us bread and onions. After an overnight stay at farmer's house we searched for a way to reach Dowicz Forest because, when we were in Drosknik a man told us that his son was there. The farmers from the area showed us the roads that the partisans crossed. We hid, waited, and indeed, they arrived and we joined them.
We sat hungry and barefooted and winter was approaching. Luckily, I found out by chance that it was quiet in my hometown, Divenishok, there were no attacks on the Jews and life carried on as usual. I decided to return to my parents' house - and so I did. There, I found only women, my young brother, Zalman Yosef (who now lives in Hadera), fled with the Red Army for fear of the Germans. My brother-in-law Antek was hiding in the forests from the Pole, Durniak, who was from the village of Dowitshok who wanted to kill him because he was the manager of his flour mill during the communists' days. I found all of them confused and scared. They feared Durniak's young son who from time to time appeared in my parents' house and brutally beat my elderly mother and my sister Zirka, Antek's wife, with a thick stick, shouting: Where is Antek hiding? If you don't tell me - I will kill you here, on the spot. Since my arrival, Durniak's son stopped coming to us. I activated the smithy and in this way I supported the family.
It was quiet in the town throughout the week but we were especially anxious on market day, on Thursday, when all the farmers from the area gathered in town and used the opportunity to attack individual Jews. To this day I can't forget the case of Meir Der Warsawer who was attacked by several Poles and Germans. They beat him with great cruelty until he lost consciousness. His face was torn and he was bleeding.
At the same time we welcomed to our home a young couple from Vilne, Yitzchak and Liza Gogodzinski, who escaped from the ghetto and didn't have a place to turn. They spent seven months with us. They moved to Voronova with us and managed to survive. Now they are in Israel.
When we moved to Voronova I felt that the situation was very bad, but I didn't want to leave my family. And indeed, one day the Germans surrounded the ghetto. I knew what was going to happen and waited nervously for the evening. At nightfall, I crawled on my stomach, managed to get away through the guards, and made my way again to Dowicz Forest.
After a lot of effort I joined the partisans in Dowicz Forest with one prayer in my heart: to avenge the spilled blood. My first task was - to get a rifle. I remember that a rich Jew from Aran entrusted his property with a gentile. We decided to take the property from him. We, ten partisans, went to him and demanded the property. The farmer resisted us with force so we killed him on the spot and took the clothes. We exchanged some of the clothes for rifles and returned to the forest.
At first, we were assembled in the forest in groups, Jews and Russians apart. Each group operated as it saw fit and cared for its needs. After a large number of Russians arrived to the forest and the partisans' forces increased, an order arrived from Moscow to consolidate the groups. A Russian politruk [political commissar] joined our group and tried to unite us together with a Russian group. He left us to make the arrangement - but didn't return. One of the partisans killed him on the spot.
Later, probably under Moscow's command, a Russian lieutenant came to us with seven other Russians to organize the groups into detachments. He was our commander. Thus began the organized work of the partisan detachments - and the forest became our home until the end of the war. In the forests we suffered greatly from the hunts, which were conducted by the Germans and the Lithuanians, and later from White Poles. These gangs murdered Stankvitsh and his staff sergeant, Leybkeh, a young Jewish man from the town of Olkenik.
A year and a half later, while Stankvitsh was still alive, an officer named Davidov came to us. He was a Russian Jew who was parachuted by Moscow to strengthen the partisan movement and report on events in the occupied territories. It was a very special intelligence mission. A radio station, with which he was in constant contact with Moscow, was also at his disposal. Davidov sought excellent partisans at his disposal. I also joined when I found out that Lipa Sokolski left to join Davidov. In this manner a detachment of 12 men was organized under Davidov's command. We were happy with the change of command because Stankvitsh was an anti-Semite and sent the Jews on the most dangerous missions.
Davidov was in constant contact with Moscow. Soviet planes arrived to us and brought weapons, explosives and medicine. When a plane was about to arrive we lit three bonfires in an agreed order so the pilot would know our location. We left for action almost every evening. We blew up train tracks and toppled telegraph and electric poles. Twenty men left for this mission.
I carried the explosives to the destination. After every successful mission we drank L'chaim in Davidov's company.
In this way the time passed until the end of the war. When the Germans started to flee, Davidov ordered us to scour the forest and search for Germans. We undressed those we caught and killed them. When the Red Army arrived, Davidov thanked us for the joint work and expressed his appreciation for our operations. Davidov was a wonderful commander, he was loved by all the partisans and we parted from him with great sorrow.
We arrived in Grodne after we parted from Davidov. There, I was appointed director of a brick factory. Sometime later I returned to Aran. There, I worked at the police station together with Lipa Sokolski. Our commander was Binyamin Rogovski (he passed away in Haifa). In our service we managed to find several Lithuanians who collaborated with the Germans. Among them were two policemen who participated in the liquidation of the Jews of Aran. These murderers were sentenced for long prison terms and returned to Aran after they served their sentences. Our loved ones - would never return
Translation by Sara Mages
I was born and raised in the town of Kollishok, a distance of about 12 kilometers from Divenishok. Around 20 Jewish families lived in that town. Naturally, this settlement couldn't function independently and therefore it had tight communal ties with Divenishok. I had a family connection with Divenishok: Hirshel the cobbler from Wilner Street was my uncle, and for that reason I visited the town frequently.
The conquest of the town by the Germans caused a sharp turn: we lived in fear not knowing what the day would bring. And indeed, immediately on Shabbat Shuva, a number of Polish policemen took all the Jews to the market and laid them in rows while others used the opportunity to steal valuables that they found in the Jewish homes.
Chaim Traub, who was the head of the village council, was harnessed to a wagon and the wife of Smulni's village leader was placed inside. She forced Traub to pull the wagon up the mountain, lashing him hard with a long whip. Chaim Traub pulled until he weakened and fell. They forced us to crawl back and forth, and when they realized that we were completely exhausted they ordered us to crawl back home.
On the next day, a number of Jewish women went to the Police Chief to complain about the act, but he, as if to complete the measure of bitterness, answered them rudely:
You're lucky I wasn't there at that time. I would have poured kerosene on all of you and burned you alive.
Kollishok's Jews were ordered to move to Divenishok three weeks before Divenishok's Jews were transferred to Voronova. All that time I was staying with my uncle Hirshel the cobbler. However, before long, the Kollishok and Divenishok Jews were transferred to Voronova.
Before the liquidation I worked together with 30 other young men in the forests in the vicinity of Stashiles. Every night the forester in charge of us returned to sleep at his home. One evening, when he didn't return, we thought that something was going to happen. To investigate the situation we sent a young Polish woman to Voronova. She told us that the ghetto was surrounded by soldiers and the Jews were digging pits. We decided to escape immediately, and each one of us went on his way. I returned to Kollishok and started to associate with the gentiles until I met Avraham Goldensky.
Avraham and I left to seek help from a farmer who at one time sold us his crop. For many years this farmer supplied potatoes to the Jews who lived in Lipufka, a suburb of Vilne, and they sold them to the shops. When Vilne's Jews were transferred to the ghetto, a few of them were allowed to supply potatoes and flour to the ghetto.
In the Vilne Ghetto I was able to evade all the Aktziot coincidence or good fortune helped me. When the ghetto was liquidated I found shelter in a pit under the bath-house in Stephen Street. After a few weeks stay in the pit, the gatekeeper discovered us and reported us to the Germans. I was captured and transferred to a work camp in Kalwariski Street, Vilne. It was one of the last labor camps to exist in Vilne. 150 Jews worked there overhauling and painting automobiles.
About two weeks before the end of the war, Gestapo men came and killed all the Jews on the spot. My friend Moshe Zhukovsky and I were lucky: we hid behind the oven's vent.
Moshe woke me in the early hours of the morning and ordered me to leave the place with him. His mother, may she rest in peace, appeared in his dream and told him that someone will find us in our hiding place. We left our location and moved to an adjacent room that was already searched by the Germans. This is how both of us survived and saved from the fate of the other Jews who were caught and shot in the yard.
As evening fell, we slipped from the place and hid in the forests in the vicinity of Yashny. After liberation I worked in Benakani. There, it became known to me that Pinkowsky, the notorious Police Chief, was in a Grodne prison. I announced that I wanted to appear as a witness in his trial and my request was granted. I testified about all the atrocities that his officers committed, and his answer to the women who came to complain before him. After a brief discussion he was convicted and the death sentence was to be carried out in Voronova.
We traveled to Voronova in the district headquarters' car that escorted Pinkowsky and another Polish policeman who murdered Resnic's son from Lida. We arrived to Voronova at ten in the morning and made our way directly to the market. Two gallows were already standing in the center of the market. After the sentence was carried out, the bodies were left hangings for a number of days, so the gentiles will see and know the fate waiting to the opponents of the regime.
I didn't want to stay any longer in a country awash in blood. I traveled to Poland and from there I immigrated to Israel. In Israel, I was inducted to the Israeli Army and fought in the War of Independence.
I was the only one left from my family. My father Reuven passed away before the German entered. My mother Rivka, my married sisters - Batya, Henya and Sheine, and my unmarried sister Chana, were murdered by the Germans. My brother Yisrael managed to escape from Lida Ghetto and hid among the farmers, but as far as I know, he was murdered by them.
Tzvi (Hirshel) Kryzovski
Translation by Sara Mages
On the second day of the war between Germany and Russia, that is to say, in the morning of 23 June, my father organized all the active people in our town - more than 50 people, to prepare wagons with horses to carry their baggage, and drive in the direction of Oshmene. On the third day we arrived to the town of Rakovi near the Russian border. We hid in the forest because German airplanes bombed us. We weren't able to continue on our way because the border was closed. We turned in the direction of Radoshkovits where the border police commander, my father's friend, was stationed. But, when we were informed on the road that the Germans were already in Radoshkovits we returned to Rakovi.
The road was completely blocked with wagons, burnt cars and refugees who filled the whole area. We weren't able to advance, and we also didn't know where to go because everything was burning around us. My mother was in one wagon, the family of Ajzik Lewin in the second, and we walked.
When my father realized that we reached a dead end, he told my mother: try to return home, the children and I will walk to Russia because I prefer to die from a Russian bullet than a German bullet.
My mother returned to Divenishok and hid with Chaim Gershowitz. From there, she traveled to her family in Ivia and perished there in the ghetto. My sister Keila returned to Vilna and perished there together with her husband's family. We moved in the direction of Rakovi and on the way we lost our father. According to what Meir Yosef Itzkowitch told us, our father got stuck between the Germans and became ill on the road. My brother Kalman took care of him and they managed to reach Krasnei Ghetto. There, he suffered from hunger and deprivation until he was killed together with all of Krasnei's people.
We advanced through the forest in an easterly direction. On the way we met two young Russian men and women who escaped from prison and returned home. We waked with them for ten days. We gave them money and they bought us food and milk in the villages. One day they stole a horse and a wagon from a farmer and escaped and left us alone. We moved forward alone until we reached the city of Mogilev. There was a lot of confusion in the city. With difficulties we made our way to the train and traveled.
After a two week journey we arrived to the Tambov region. From there, they sent us to the city of Penza where we worked in a peat mine until we were inducted to the Lithuanian Brigade in 1943. There, we worked in the headquarters' restaurant until we were liberated. Immediately, on our first opportunity we traveled to Vilna.
My visit to Divenishok
After the war I visited Divenishok twice, the first time in 1950. I wanted to see my birthplace, the place where I spent my childhood. The town left a depressing impression on me. All the buildings were burnt, and here and there the protruding chimneys shouted the destruction. The silence reminded me of the stillness in a cemetery. I went to see our house, but to my sorrow I didn't find anything only a few pitiful bushes stood here and there. The farmers recognized me and said: Here is Kryzovski's son look what the Germans have done to you and the expression of hypocrisy reflected from their faces.
On the occasion of my immigration to Israel I was forced to visit Divenishok again in order to obtain documents. It was in 1971 meaning, twenty one years later. This time great changes took place. Beautiful brick houses with large windows, surrounded by lawns and gardens, stood where the Jewish houses used to be. There were streets and buildings in the area across from the church. The local municipality gave its residents the Jewish building plots for free, and also long-term loans so they could build houses in town. No wonder that the town was being built in a fast pace. My heart ached with pain when I saw Divenishok without Jews. I stood stunned in the market, looked around me, and my heart was crying, Where are all of them? Where?
by Pinkhas Lipkunski
Translation by Sara Mages
My father was called Nahum and he originated from the village of Dogalishok near Radin. My mother, Slova, from the Binyamin Schneider family, was devoted, and fearful of the fate of her children. She was tall, dark, beautiful - but a weak and sickly woman. Despite all that, she carried the burden of managing the home and the business.
My father was a baker and our bakery was adjacent to our house.
As a villager, my father had no formal education, but as a self-educated man he acquired a basic knowledge of mathematics and geometry. In his youth, he studied for a short time at the Radin Yeshiva, but in his view he was a secular man - and that, as a result of his service in the Russian Army.
His participation in the First World War, and later in the Bolshevik Revolution, deepened his atheistic world view. He took an active part in battle and was wounded by shrapnel in his hand and legs.
In his youth he served in the Far East, near Vladivostok. He always told in his fascinating stories about the wonders of the Taiga and of a tiger hunt in which he participated. He was courteous and friendly and participated in conversations about politics and world affairs.
He loved to play chess; so much so, that he left his work to sit and play. My mother would get angry and shout: Nahum! The bread is burning in the oven, why chess in the middle of work? And he, calmly: Soon Slova! Here- I'm almost done. Just one minute!
My sister, Hannah, was beautiful. She had long, blond hair and blue eyes. My brother, Binyamin, was a weak boy in his childhood and a poor student. However, at the age of Bar Mitzvah, it was discovered that he was a gifted child in all areas. He matured physically and played the violin and mandolin. He was a good boy and was accepted by his friends. His positive character was discovered in the Lida Ghetto: he left for work and managed to bring food, not only for our family, but also for all the tenants
My brother was very enthusiastic about the partisans and smuggled an Obrez (short-barreled rifle) to the ghetto. My father encouraged him to leave for the partisans, but my mother opposed it: It's forbidden to break up the family.
On the first day of the occupation, 22 June 1941, all the who's who of the town gathered to discuss the situation. There were fierce debates about the outcome of the war. All were optimistic and said that it's the end of Hitler.
On the second day of the war, in the evening, a unit of German Stormtroopers was already in the town. Five to six motorcyclists burst northwest of the town, from the direction of Divenishok, and then, for a week, troops of German soldiers moved eastward.
At the end of the summer of 1941, the Germans imposed a contribution on the town - to bring them gold. As collateral they arrested, Pina Kretschmer, the owner of the restaurant, my father and several other Jews. They returned them after they received the gold. My father's appearance was awful - weak, thin, stooped and completely broken from the torture at the prison in Oshmene.
In Vilne, which was under Lithuanian rule, the persecution of the Jews had already begun in the first days. Many Jews from the city and refugees from Poland sought refuge in nearby towns. A young man named Shalom arrived to our house and asked to reside with us. We welcomed him as a family member.
The town's priest, who visited us, saw the young man and asked who he was. We told him the matter, and on the spot he expressed his willingness to save his life under the condition that he would convert. After the war he would be able to return to the fold of Judaism. The young man agreed - and then he disappeared without a trace.
When we arrived to Israel and settled in Ramot Remez in Haifa, we became friendly with our neighbors who were former residents of Vilne. Once, on Rosh Hashanah, we found a Jew at their home whose leg was amputated after being wounded at the front. He recounted the whole story before me: The priest got him a job as a laborer in a farm near Divenishok. When the Russians arrived, he returned to Judaism and volunteered to the Red Army. He was wounded in action and his leg was amputated. He was among the ma'apilim [illegal immigrants] in Cyprus and now he lives in Ashdod.
Our situation in the Lida Ghetto was very bad. We were hungry for bread and became ill from lack of food. In my external appearance I didn't look like a Jew. From time to time I snuck through the fence to the market, bought potatoes, carrots and onions and brought them home. Once, we were caught by Christian teenagers who took our vegetables. They gave us a severe beating and put us in the Judenrat's cellar where we were held for a week. My mother came every day to the prison and cried for her son. My beloved, what will be your fate? The hunger at home was unbearable. My father brought soup (Balanda) when he returned from work to revive our souls.
My father worked in the road near the Gebietskommissar and became friendly with a Pole named, Mackevic, who supervised the Jewish slave laborers. My father became friendly with him. It turned out that Mackevic loved the Jews. I came to him from the Ghetto and he bought vegetables for me. This man saved me when I escaped from the Ghetto.
On September 1942, the Ghetto was surrounded by Gestapo sentinels. An order was issued for the Jews to gather in the streets. There, they were divided in groups of 100-150 people and led in differed directions. The gentiles stood in masses on both sides of the street and rejoiced. As fate would have it, our group was led between the tracks in the direction of a place called The Green Forest, where some of Lida's Jews had been slaughtered in 1942. When I realized this I told my parents: see where they're leading us - to a certain death. I'll try to escape.
My mother objected and said you're too young, you will get lost (I was only eleven then). My father, on the other hand, encouraged me and said: try my son, try! Since my mother held me tight, I bit her hand, and crept among the gentiles who stood crowded around us.
In the street I looked like one of the shkotzim and didn't draw attention to myself. I walked slowly, slowly until I arrived to our acquaintance, Mackevic, who lived on the other side of the city. They were frightened, but welcomed me, and were glad that I survived. They took me to the barn and hid me under piles of straw. I was there for three days.
The gentile's wife brought me food and drink on her way to milk the cows without saying a word for fear that the matter would be discovered. I lay in the straw and cried in secret: what would be my fate? Where are my parents and my sister, are they still alive? Will the farmer keep me, or betray me? These, and similar thoughts, pecked incessantly in my head. A lonely little boy is in a hostile environment - and the tears choked my throat. Suddenly, I remembered that I must not cry-- not allowed to say a word.
On the third day, at nightfall, the woman entered the barn and whispered that I would have to walk to a certain intersection in the forest where I'll meet two children. Join them, she told me, and they'll lead you to a safe place.
It turned out that they were a brother and sister, members of the Hochman family from Soletchnik. They had also been hidden by the same gentiles in a second barn. I joined them and we wandered in the forest until we reached a village where we saw figures walking around with rifles on their shoulders. I got closer to one of the figures and discovered, to my surprise, that it was Moshe Druck. He hugged me and took me to one of the buildings where I was given food and clothes. In this manner around one hundred people gathered in the village. A few days later they gathered us all and Yakov Druck, together with his friends, led us to Naliboki Puszcza.
After a journey of three days we reached the shore of the Berezina River, and there we met Russian partisans for the first time. They heard that Jews had arrived and searched for a doctor among them. By chance, there was a doctor from Baranovich in our group. On this occasion they took me and also two young men. In addition, they also took two young women from Lida, Tzila and Yehudit, apparently with the intention of exploiting them. However, the young women stood bravely and didn't give in to them. For this reason they were expelled and found refuge with Bielski's partisans.
The core of our group was organized in Moscow and consisted of 20 men
who underwent a long period of training for guerilla warfare. Among them there was a Jew, Yakov Smolowitzki, from Homl. When he learned that they had brought a Jewish boy, he protected me and took care of me like a father. Two days after I arrived to the group he returned from a mission and brought me a pair of appropriate boots, underwear, and fur. He made sure to equip me with a short-barrel shotgun. The commander was Major Ruscinsky.
Our camp was situated behind Berezina River, at the entrance to the Puszcza. We were surrounded by swamps and the only passage to the Puszcza was through the lake (The Black Lake). We guarded the bridge and our people constantly patrolled the lake by boats.
We had been entrusted to guard the entrance to the Puszcza. It was one of the most critical and dangerous tasks. For that reason our people were very alert to what was happening outside and followed the Germans' movements.
After I integrated a little into the place they started to use me for acts of espionage and scouting. Rumors reached the Otriad that a hunt was about to happen. Then, they decided to send me to Lida, to sniff and see if there was any military movement. Sometimes, I sat for hours across from the German Gendarmerie and followed what was happening there. Sometimes, I watched a military camp and in the evening went to an agreed location from which a runner took me to the base.
Once, I met Jews who had escaped from the Fort in Kovne and were headed to Bielski's camp.
From Divenishok's people I only met Meir Yosef Itskovitsh. It was about two months after I arrived to the partisans, when I was on guard duty at the lake. Suddenly, a group of partisans arrived and their scout, who was riding on a white horse, moved back and forth in search of a place to cross. I got closer to him and to my great surprise - I couldn't believe what I saw: before me was Meir Yosef Itskovitsh. The meeting was emotional. We hugged, kissed, shared about two good hours and parted.
During my time with the partisans I also got to experience a hunt. It was in late autumn of 1943. The Germans surrounded us with great forces and started to advance into the Puszcza. We were forced to escape to the boggy marshes, deep in the forest. For a weak we lay in the marshes, hung the rifles on the bushes and survived by eating Brosnitzes (sour-flavored red berries that grow in the forests of Poland in the autumn). We drank the water from the swamp, like frogs.
The German intelligence made great efforts to plant spies among the partisans. The commanders tried not to accept local people, but, in spite of it, more than once, spies
infiltrated our ranks. Some of them were exposed right before my eyes.
After the winter, they stopped my intelligence activities and attached me to the ranks of fighters. As a partisan I left for action together with all the members. I participated in several activities. I had great satisfaction in laying dynamite blocks under the train tracks and watch from afar how German soldiers and equipment rose in the air
In one of the actions we destroyed a train that transported officers to a holiday. We caught five German officers, took them to the base so they could see everything with their own eyes. We told them to dig pits and undress, the Germans kept family pictures in a small pouch on their neck. When they got undressed the pictures fell and scattered in all directions. That reminded me of the pictures that were scattered near the death pits around Poland. The Germans begged and asked for mercy - but they were eliminated on the spot.
With liberation our company entered the city of Ivia. The vast majority were taken into the army, including my benefactor, Yakov Smolowitzki, who fell in battle. Our commander was appointed mayor of the city of Lida. Moshe Druck and his family also lived in the city. I was
|The yearly memorial service in Tel-Aviv for the martyrs of Divenishok
The executive committee together with guests from the United States, Meir and Fanny Bolinski zl
sent to a vocational school where all the miserable people gathered. There was a feeling of discomfort in the institution. The Christian boys sensed that I was a Jew and started to harass me. Then, I made up my mind to escape. When everyone was taken to the bath house I dodged and escaped to Druck. I stayed with them for several days and in the meantime we learned that an orphanage for Jewish children was being organized in Vilne. Druck and his wife, Feigale, traveled with me to Vilne and handed me over to the director of the orphanage.
A Jewish school was organized near the orphanage. Children who grew up in Christian homes, or were educated in monasteries, or stayed, like me, with the partisans, studied there. The school had a team of Jewish educators whose only aspiration was to bring us back to the bosom of our nation and our homeland
by Nili Itskovish
Translation by Sara Mages
From the day I was born I was given everything I asked for. But, I lacked two things, a grandfather and a grandmother-- that my parents couldn't give me.
When I was little I didn't understand how precious they would be, but as I grew older I began to long for them. I longed for the little house that was built in the format of the time and was furnished in the old style, a grandmother who would sit on a rocking chair and knit me a pink sweater, and a grandfather with a beard, that I could sit on his lap when I would come to visit him and hear stories about my father, how he lived and behaved in his childhood, and then, come home and tell my parents: you see, you always blame me, but grandfather told me that you, too, father, didn't sit idle, and the whole family will laugh with joy.
I missed the meal, in which the whole family would sit together and grandmother would serve antiquated but very tasty dishes. I wanted a grandfather who will come to our house with a bundle of gifts and repeat the question: So, Nillinka, what to bring you next time?
That is all I wanted, and if it had been given to me I would've been one of the happiest girls in the world, but, God disappointed me and I would never get it.
Since I couldn't change the reality, I wanted, at lease, to see their picture, a small picture that would show me images that I'm so eager to see. One clear day I turned to my father with a question: father, can you show me a picture of grandfather and grandmother? But my father's answer was like a thunder on a clear day. No, Nilli, to my great sorrow all of my parents' pictures were destroyed during the war, my brother also doesn't have a single picture. Imagine how great my disappointment, but suddenly I had a spark of hope: I would turn to my mother. And if you ask why I forgot to mention my mother's parents earlier, I will tell you, but I hope that you won't tell it to my mother. I liked my father's parents more from the stories he told me about them. But, it's possible, that if my mother sat and told me about her parents, their life, their house and their village, they would also attract my attention. Therefore, I turned to my mother, and as you may have imagined I received the same answer from her.
When I heard her answer I lay in bed and burst into tears.
And so, the days have passed. I was jealous at the children who had a grandfather and grandmother, and my desire to see their [my grandparents'] picture intensified.
One day, my father came home from work and announced: a memorial service will be held today for my townspeople, and if Nilli will behave nicely, I'll take her with me. You can imagine how I behaved on that day. I imagined that I would get to hear interesting stories and tales about the Diaspora.
In the evening, my father and I got dressed in festive clothes and traveled to the hall where the memorial service would take place. The hall was filled to capacity. People talked to each other and reminisced. I sat in the corner and waited for the opening of the ceremony. The ceremony began exactly at six. The first part, which was a Yizkor prayer, didn't interest me, but I was very impressed from the second part. Pictures from the old days were shown on a screen. I looked at the pictures with great pleasure and suddenly, one of the pictures showed a middle-aged couple standing on the steps of a house and the name: Nathan Itskovitsh the tailor and his wife was announced. My eyes lit up; I looked at the picture with great interest. I looked at their facial features, the hairstyle, the clothes, and tears of joy burst from my eyes.
I engraved their image well within my heart, and then I didn't continue to look at the pictures. All that evening I saw before me a beautiful grandfather with fair hair and a bald spot in the middle of the head, long pants with suspenders, and a grandmother in a black dress. A black scarf was wrapped around her head and every crease and wrinkle in her face, which looked out of the scarf, was portrayed before me. I also managed to see the house,
the pretty garden, the stairs leading to a wooden door, and the sign on which a pair of scissors was painted - a symbol for a tailor.
There was no end to my happiness. The next day, I told all my girlfriends about my beloved grandfather and grandmother. Indeed, I got to see the picture of the people that I loved with my own eyes.
|A section of the audience at the yearly memorial service in Tel-Aviv (1963)|
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