Leah, my older sister, had just graduated from the high school in Vileyka, and my younger brother, Gershon was studying at the Yiddish school that the Soviets had established. And then
The war started on June 22, 1941. Panic spread though the population. The belief that the renowned Soviet army would swiftly destroy the German army was abolished in two days. Vilna and Molodechno were constantly bombed. The Germans were rapidly approaching and the Soviets were even more rapidly retreating. The confusion and panic was grave. For our family, the worries intensified because we lost touch with our mother.
The Soviet politicians and their families were the first to escape east.
Trains, trucks and horses pulling buggies full of crying children and
housewares left for the east. I asked my father what I should do. He advised
me to stay so that mother would have a place to find us. I ran to our meeting
place at Nyomka's house. Yitzhak Einbender and Shimon Zirolnik were already
there. Riding on our bicycles, we left town, heading east.
|Benjamin [Nyomka] Shulman
with his much older sisters, Rashka (left) and Rivka
In the central market area I met a Soviet worker name Timsok. He knew my father well. He told me Son- You are a child, but don't listen to others. Don't procrastinate. Go east. So that's what we did. We wanted to reach Pleshnitz, which was on the other side of the old Polish-Russian border. The situation there was total chaos. That night, only residents that were former Soviet citizens were allowed to go east. The rest were ordered to turn back.
Extremely disappointed, we slept in a field near the border. Early in the morning we saw German planes going to Poloczek. There was a great panic, and we decided to go back to our town. Everywhere on the roads we saw people going east with hope in they eyes, and people returning west with disappointment and a quiet acceptance of the bad situation. All through the ride, Belarussian farmers who were standing on the side of the road, kept mocking us, but they didn't physically hurt us.
On June 26, we arrived in town. The Germans hadn't entered the town yet. The Jewish population was very fearful. The gentiles gathered in the center of the town, and we were afraid that they had come to raid us. But we soon realized that they wanted to prevent the farmers from entering the town. They took a barrel and used it as a podium. The son of Bazil the Footless stood on the barrel and shouted, We will be with you, Jewish residents of Kurenets. We won't let them touch you. They called us to take part in the congregation, and we all decided to arrange watch groups. Mendel, the son of Henia Motosov, marched us to the house of Reshka Alperovitz, the former headquarters of the Soviet police. We found rifles and ammunition there. The rifles were divided among the young people who knew how to use them. Shostakovitz, the Belarussian doctor that was later a German sympathizer, was at that moment on the side of the Jews. He organized patrols of gentiles and Jews to patrol the town. I was stationed at a watch point near the railroad, together with Eliyahu Spektor. The farmers started coming with horse and buggies. We told them that they couldn't enter town and that if they did, we would shoot them. They all left, and for two days, there was silence in the area. But then the town's gentiles started robbing the Soviets' storage areas and a few of them also robbed some Jewish homes.
that was the situation until the 28th of June. And then, the German army paraded through the town on motorcycles and cars. The gentile citizens of the town held flowers in their hand, and gave them bread and salt. Immediately, the Germans ordered to return all weapons, and told us that whoever refused would be shot to death. We returned our weapons.
Among the people who returned the weapons were two Shimon Zimmermans. One was the son of Yosha, and one was the son of Yermiau (they were cousins). The Germans took them to a nearby village and killed them. They were the town's first victims. The Germans announced that every Jewish man from ages 16-60 had to be in the center of town at 1:00 PM sharp. Anyone that didn't attend would be shot immediately. So from 1:00, to 3:00, Grandfathers, fathers, and teenagers stood in the center of town surrounded by the German army and police, who had machine guns. Then a German officer came and gave us a speech about the wonderful thing that had befallen us: life under German authority. We were ordered to obey all instructions, and anyone that would not do so, would be shot to death.
They told us to immediately choose Jewish representatives, or Judenrat. The
Jews started calling names of prior representatives, like my father, (Natan
Gurevitz), Zalman Gvint, Shabty Gordon, Gershon Oyeshisky and Dov Einbender,
but they all declined the offer. They chose Shotz, a Jewish refugee from
Austria as the head of the Judenrat. We were told we must participate in
forced labor, we must wear a Jewish star, we weren't to walk on the sidewalk,
and we were not supposed to congregate with or talk to gentiles, and
|Some members of the
Kurenets underground in 1939
1. Yitzhak Zukerman; 2. Kopel Spektor
We devised a practical plan. Firstly, we were to collect weapons and organize a Partisan group. Secondly, Shimon Zirolnik suggested that we print flyers urging people to fight the Nazis. Nachoom Alperovitz, who prior to the 'Soviet time', had worked in a printing office, decided to organize this. Lastly, and most importantly we would try to find other people that could join us. We hoped, in particular, to contact the Russian resistance.
As we were leaving we ran into Yosef Zukerman he told us that during the Russian retreat he noticed a soldier throwing his gun in the marshy area next to town, we went there and found a gun with three bullets- we had our first weapon!
At the end of July a transportation camp for war prisoners was established in Kurenets. Every evening thousands of POWs would come walking from Dolhinov, and at night they would sleep on the ground at the meat market. The next morning the Germans would force them to walk to Molodechno. Most of the POWs were in horrible shape: wounded, sick and starving. The road between Dolhinov and Kurenitz was filled with corpses. We all wondered how ten German soldiers could lead two thousand young Russian soldiers through thick woods with only a few, isolated attempts at escape. We asked ourselves, How could that be?
Just around that time, we found out that all the Jewish men of Vileyka had been killed. On July 12, 1941 signs were put all over Vileyka notifying them that all Jews age fifteen to fifty must report at the 'big synagogue' at ten in the morning. These Jewish men and boys were told that they would be taken to work. Instead, they were taken to the woods, slaughtered and buried.
Seeing death all around us was unbearable. We wanted to help the POWs, so we arranged, through Shotzs, a job for ourselves at the transportation camp supplying water to the prisoners. If the Germans thought that we gave them too large an amount of water, they beat us severely. Our fate was worse, if the Germans suspected that we had talked to the prisoners. However, we managed to point some of the prisoners to a pile of clothes which they put on while laying down pretending to sleep. And when we left the camp, they mixed with us and managed to escape. One of the escapees, Vlodia, later became one of the leaders of our resistance group.
One day Chaim Sozkover approached Eliyahu Alperovitz. He told him about a rifle he had hidden deep in the woods and said You young ones will need it.
My aunt Fiska Kastrel Alperovitz, Nachum's mother, was a woman in her fifties. She was different from most women: full of energy and extremely brave. During the time of German occupation, her slogan was, We must do something. She encouraged her son to fight the Nazis anyway he could. She immediately volunteered to bring the rifle.
The next evening, Fiska, Nachoom and I started walking toward the area were the
rifle was hidden. Fiska walked ahead, and we followed a few steps behind.
Suddenly she stopped and we could see her walking down to the river, trying to
hide behind the trees. She took a huge hay sack off her back and she started
pulling something very long. It was the rifle. She put it in the hay sack,
but it was too long and you could see the tip of it sticking out of the sack.
She started walking towards the woods and we followed her to the front yard of
Moshe the woodsman. We did not know what to do. We continued, with our
journey planned in two stages. First, we ducked through the pigs alley. Pesia
carried the knapsack all by herself. From there we took it to our hiding
place. She was fearless. We walked right next to her to hide the rifle from
view. We safely crossed the market place and immediately hid the rifle in
Nachoom's cow shed, next to our house. Now we had a gun with 3 bullet and a
rifle with no bullets.
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