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{Pages 381-387}

The Nazi Upheaval

 

Annihilation

Slutsk Under German Occupation

Translated by Hershl Hartman

[Reported by David Mladinov, 17, born and raised in Slutsk; son of local cobbler Benjamin Mladinov. Escaped from Slutsk on the day of the liquidation action, hiding around Slutsk as a Russian. Crossed front lines via Bialystok.]

There were about 12,000 Jews in Slutsk, Bobruysk Region, at the start of the war, among them refugees from Poland who came in 1939.

The German occupation of Slutsk began on May 7, 1941 [actually, June 26]. Rumors immediately began to spread and the Germans themselves began tosay that all Jews would be annihilated. There were also some cases of Germans shooting Jews who had said something that displeased them. Jews lived in their own homes in town for the first seven months. The Germans forced them to perform all sorts of hard labor, such as building German homes, road paving, etc. While working, they were tortured and beaten with knouts and gun-butts. The tombstones of the Jewish cemetery were uprooted to provide the foundations for four large German homes.

On a Sunday around November, 1941, a Lithuanian military detachment arrived to carry out an “action”[1] against the Jews. During the day, squads encircled the city while the others went from house to house seeking out Jews. Those caught at home or on the streets were shot on the spot, their belongings stolen. Some 500 Jews were killed that day in the course of a few hours. The others managed to hide. The Lithuanian detachment was withdrawn after the action. The Slutsk Jews were locked into two ghettoes in January, 1942. One ghetto, outside town, enclosed no more than 1,000 children, the agéd, sick, handicapped, single, common laborers. Some 40 houses in the center of town constituted the second ghetto, in which were crammed some 5,000 families.
Both ghettoes were surrounded by triple-rowed, electrified barbed wire.

The ghetto of the common laborers was liquidated in May, 1942. The Germans suddenly surrounded the ghetto. All the Jews were loaded into trucks and taken outside of town where they were all shot, according to reports gathered from the local population. The exact location of the slaughter is unknown to the reporter.

The second ghetto was liquidated a half-year later, around Nov. 8, 1942. An augmented Lithuanian guard force had encircled the ghetto on November 7, allowing no one to leave. On the morning of the 8th, the Lithuanians began taking truckloads of Jews outside of town. They harassed the Jews in many horrible ways: tearing children from their hiding mothers, shooting them on the spot; small children thrown to the ground and killed, etc. At that time, some ten armed Jews opened fire on the Germans. Wishing to avoid further resistance, the Germans decided to burn down the ghetto and its Jews.

Benzene was spread on all the houses and ignited. The greatest part of the Jews perished in the flames. The others were shot outside of town, where graves had been dug in “the bogs.”
A small number of Jews, some 25 men, managed to escape through the fence at the time of the second action. Most joined the partisan bands[2] around Slutsk. Among the survivors are Galanson (son), 18 years old, Galanson (mother), 35 years old.

Signature of eyewitness Mladinov. Bialystok, May 31, 1945. Transcribed: Chair of the Regional Historical Commission (Yad Vashem Archive, Num. 1317/M11). Bialystok, May 31, 1945 Transcribed by Sh. Shteynman.


{Pages 382-386}

Letters From The Slutsk Ghetto

Translated by Hershl Hartman

A

Dear Brother Ezriel,

You want to know the circumstances of our mother's death. I was not in Slutsk at the time. I returned to Slutsk two months later. I was told that she lived with the family of a girl I was to marry, had the war not destroyed our plans. In addition to her parents, the girl had three brothers. They supported our mother quite honorably despite their own desperate condition. People have told me that often a day's food was a potato's peeling. Mostly, they starved to death.

This was Monday, October 12, 1941. When the word “Monday” was heard by a Slutsk Jew, a shudder would assail him because several horrible Mondays ensued before the final annihilation. There were many naive people who believed that they would be spared. Many Jews in Slutsk were executed for alleged reasons: for refusing an order, on an informant's word, etc. There were many varied orders: 1) Jews were not allowed to trade in the market square or with each other; 2) walking on the sidewalk was forbidden; 3) Jews had to have their hair close-cropped; 4) hats to be doffed before every German; 5) one's coat had to have sewn-on, front and back, a yellow patch in the shape of the Star of David; 6) Jews were not to speak to any non-Jews. Who can count the many other ridiculous orders?

Failure to obey such orders meant a death sentence. There was no ghetto in Slutsk until “that Monday.” Jews and non-Jews had lived wherever they wanted.

There were large barracks past Vigoda Street where, pre-war, our military forces were housed. The Nazis settled many Jews into them, including Hannah and her children (two girls and a boy). Our mother and the family were on Monakhov Street (where the prison is).

Mother's health condition was never quite good. How could she feel in those bitter days? On the Friday before “that Monday,” Hannah came running, sobbing. Her elder daughter, Khaye, had bought an apple at the market and was caught in that “crime”…The next day, on the Sabbath, our mother was told that all the Jews in the barracks (of course, including Hannah and the
children) had been taken off somewhere. It was no secret to anyone that they had been slaughtered. Such “good news” confined mother more firmly in her sick bed.

On Monday, October 27, 1941, when Jews awakened before dawn, they learned that the entire city was surrounded by Germans, armed with heavy and light machine guns. When the sun was well up, large trucks pulled up into which Jews were tossed. The panic was indescribable. People scurried about like mice. The chase after Jews was on. Anyone trying to escape was fired
upon.

Blood flowed in the streets. The trucks laden with Jews were driven out of town toward the Baranovitsh Road. Mass graves were waiting there. The Jews were machine-gunned, the ground torn up by grenades, victims buried, even those who were only wounded. This went on until mid-day. The so-called Regional Commissar arrived and ordered that Jews were not to be taken out of town butkilled right there in the barracks on Vigoda Street.

The family with which mother had been staying fell apart and was dispersed. Agirl hid atop the heating oven, covered in rags, while mother lay helpless in bed. A Nazi soldier burst in, tugged at mother and ordered her to walk. Seeing that she really couldn't move, he brought in a Jew whom he ordered to carry her to the truck.

(This was related by the girl who lay hidden on the oven.)

Thus the Jews were brought to the barracks. Mother tossed all night on the floor, coughing and near death. There wasn't any water to wet her parched lips.I was told this by Leah, the shveznerin [shvegerin – sister-in-law?] who had survived until then and who in time was killed with her daughters and sons-in-law.

The next morning, October 28, a commission arrived and began sorting people into two groups, to the right and to the left – right to live and left, to die.

Our mother was ordered to the left. The condemned were taken out of town.

2

Dear brother:

I promised to describe what I lived through during our tragedy.

Writing about it is impossible, yet I try to toss some words on paper.

The war began on the 22nd of June and by nine o'clock that night the enemy was bombing Slutsk. The border [with Nazi-occupied Poland] was only 30 kilometers from town and on the 23rd to the 25th of June 1939 [should read: 1941] the Germans bombarded Slutsk day and night. Every corner of the city burned. Zaretse Street was aflame. The flames had not yet reached our street. Our mother said that our little street would not burn because a great holy man had predicted that no fire would ever afflict our street. Our mother and manyother Slutsk Jews believed in this. Communications by radio, telephone, rail, and the electrical grid had beensevered by the enemy.

During the first days we had no idea what was happening in the world; one only sought shelter from the bombs. People ran out into the fields, to the nearby surrounding villages. No one yet thought of leaving Slutsk entirely. No one expected the Germans to be this close to town. On the last day, when the situation became much clearer, the exodus began, some toward Bobruysk, some toward Minsk.

The Germans, however, outdistanced them, and most returned. Our mother and I were out in the fields on the first days. Mother was a sick woman, so living in the fields was difficult for her, so she asked to die, at least, in her own bed in her own home.

When we returned home, the house was in ruins. The bomb explosions had caused the window frames to fly out; pieces of the walls hung as if by threads. Mother said: in the end, one is somehow at home, not on bare ground. I could hand her a glass of warm tea to relieve her cough.

At 5:00 A.M. on June 26, upon leaving the house, I heard heavy gunfire coming from the railroad station. Dead silence ruled over the town. I told mother that the Germans were in town and that I had to escape because they would kill me. Mother asked, “And what will happen to me?” I replied that they would not harm women and children. I really believed that.

I could not stay with mother. She suffered from shortness of breath and had tostop to rest every three steps. It was terrible for me, but I had no alternative but to leave her with an old woman, a neighbor on our street, who was also ill. I went off to find other neighbors and a girl I knew, asking them to care for mother and not to desert her.

With a pained heart I decided to head toward Mozir through fields and forests, rather than along the roads which the enemy was bombarding day and night. His tanks and machine guns cut off all traffic to Bobruysk and Minsk. I arrived at Lyuban at 3:00 AM and could see the flames devouring Slutsk, Uretsha, Stari-Doroga and many other villages and towns. I made it to Kapatkevitsh after another 24 hours. Everything there was still in order. Trains were running. the civilian population had been evacuated. I reported to a mobilization point, from which I was sent to an artillery division.

We fought a two-month defensive action at Pinsk, though Minsk, Slutsk, Bobruysk, Smolensk and Homel had fallen. We were ordered to retreat to avoid the danger of encirclement. German bombardment dogged our every step. People fell like flies and our detachments were surrounded.

In a Ukrainian village I exchanged my uniform for old, tattered civilian clothes and decided to cross enemy lines to our side. I wandered across Ukraine for ten weeks. On foot, I crossed the districts of Tshernigov, Poltava, Dniestr-Petrovsk. I would cover 30, 40, 50 kilometers per day in hunger, cold and lice. A mishmash ruled: people wandering about, some trying to cross the front lines to get home. I would go through fields and villages that the Germans had settled.

I appeared everywhere as a Christian, because harboring Jews was a capital offense. The Germans had organized police forces in the towns, manned by Russian traitors, yet I had to go through them to get food to survive.

Once I was followed through a town by police. What could I do? I saw a wide river ahead of me! I was able to leap and dance from one to another of the river's ice floes, falling to my knees more than once, but reaching the opposite bank. My trackers were not that anxious to risk their lives.

Another time I was held by police and as they were taking me to the German commandant, I bought my freedom with my watch and the bit of money I still possessed, thereby saving myself from certain death.

I tried again to find some way to beat a path back home. After another three weeks of wandering the roads – not spending a night where I'd been by day, risking my life daily, plus suffering from hunger and cold – I was caught again. I was taken to a prisoner-of-war camp in Kanatop: an open field surrounded by barbed wire, guarded by Germans with machine guns. Thousands of people languished there without water or food. Each morning some of the dead bodies were removed. In many cases, soft tissue had been cut out, indicating the possibility of cannibalism. I somehow managed to tear an exit through the barbed wire and escaped during a dark, rainy night.

Ten days later I was captured again and taken to a prison in Rugatshov.

I managed to escape from that hell-hole, as well. This was in mid-December. I was almost completely naked: torn galoshes on my feet, trousers and jacket torn and completely lice-ridden. Life had become deadly. My only hope was to make it to the Belorussian forests to join a partisan brigade. I headed toward Slutsk.

Somehow, after much pain and little joy, I reached Slutsk.

I could not find our mother. There were many Jews in town. There were many dear friends who helped me. Some gave me shoes; others, underwear, a jacket, pants, etc. Starving, they shared their last morsel.

Most Jews then were still not in the ghetto. It was being set up when I returned to Slutsk. Large numbers of Jews were gathered into the area where the synagogues had been. The area was fenced-in by boards topped with barbed wire. Armed police stood guard in a watch tower. Every Jew was required to have a passport issued by the German authorities. Since I didn't have such a passport, people feared letting me spend the night in their homes. I had to sleep in the streets for some ten nights.

By then it was early January, 1940 [should read: 1942]. I obtained the passport of a Jew who had been killed and lived all that time with it.

At the time there were two ghettoes in Slutsk: one for skilled workers, the second for ordinary Jews. It was believed that the first was for living, the other for dying. I thought that, in the end, all the Jews would be annihilated. So I tried to rest a bit and regain my strength after my long stroll through Russia. I sought work that would at least save me from hunger. By great good fortune I got a job in a German restaurant. I feared staying – that is, sleeping – in the ghetto, because I knew it was a death chamber. There was an order posted everywhere that if a Jew were to be caught outside the ghetto, he would be hanged. Still, I did not go into the ghetto. There was a ruined, water-filled cellar at the restaurant where I worked, so I chose a spot that was somewhat dry and fit it out with boards and straw. When it was time to go home, i.e., to the ghetto, I would seize a moment when, sight unseen, I could duck into the cellar to spend the night. At dawn, I would crawl out, again seen by no one. The Germans with whom I worked believed that I slept in the ghetto.

Thus I slept in the cellar throughout the winter. When it grew warmer I slept in an attic over a horse stall near the restaurant. I was the only Jew who worked there. The others were Christians. Outdoors, men would saw and chop wood and, indoors, women would peel potatoes, cook, bake, clean the floors.

The restaurant owners were German Red Cross workers. My work consisted of stoking the oven fires, warming the kettles, seeing to it that wood and water were on hand. I was fully trusted. Not only was I sated, but I was able to provide food for many friends. Most especially, the family with whom mother had stayed. They had a large family of six. The Germans would supply a laborer with 200 grams of bread per day. If I had not helped the family they would have starved to death.

There were two radios in the restaurant. At 5:00 AM I would quietly tune in the latest news from Moscow and pass it on to the ghetto. It was dangerous but it needed to be done. The Germans were spreading rumors that Moscow and Leningrad had fallen and the Bolsheviks were kaput.

In 1942 the partisans let themselves be heard and I sought a connection with them in order to escape to the forests. I did not succeed. The restaurant was located on Proletarsk Highway, where there had once been the Kraynes Club, and the restaurant controlled a “liyednik[3] [ice house?] on Kafashke Street. The
liyednik” was covered by a roof that formed an attic three-quarters of a meter high. There was no access to the attic. The keys to the “liyednik” were always in my care. I raised a plank in the ceiling of the “liyednik” as a means of entrance and began to store food there: about four kilos of sugar, four kilos of margarine, four kilos of preserves, four bottles of 100-proof rum, four kilos of rice. I did not have any opportunity to store bread. It was summertime. I endeavored to establish contact with the partisans but I did not succeed, and so the summer passed.

I worked at the restaurant exactly a year's time, from February 1942 to February 1943.

On February 8, 1943, I followed my usual procedure, leaving my secret abode and starting to stoke the ovens and the kettles. The Russian women who worked with me arrived with the news that German forces had surrounded the ghetto. It was clear to me that the last Slutsk Jews were to be annihilated.

The ghetto of the non-productive Jews had been annihilated and slaughtered in the winter of 1942. I did not give it a second thought, grabbed from the restaurant's pantry ten loaves of bread, each 1-1/2 kilos, and escaped into my hiding place. The monsters set fire to the ghetto on all sides and those who weren't incinerated were shot by machine guns. Armed Germans stood for ten days to make sure that there weren't any Jews who might have hidden somewhere. Anyone who showed himself did not emerge alive. Despite the fact that I was born in Slutsk, I did not know even the nearest surrounding villages and did not know how to make my way through the nearby woods. It was dangerous to walk on the roads. The only alternative was to wait until the weather turned warmer. So I stayed in my hiding place in the attic until April 15, almost 24 [should read: 4] months. No living person knew where I was. I cut the bread into tiny slices. At first, I would eat somewhat more, then reduced it to 50 grams per day, a spoonful of sugar, a spoonful of preserves, and a bit of margarine.

During the extreme cold I would take a bit of rum. For water, I would take a bit of ice from the “liyednik,” cut it up and sucked on it as it dissolved in my mouth. The cold was so severe that the skin on my feet peeled off. Fortunately, I had stored straw and a cotton coat that kept me somewhat warm, but when I tried to walk, I could hardly drag my feet. One could only sit or lie in that little attic.

For the first month I would only sit or lie. It then occurred to me that, in time, I would be unable to walk. I would let myself down into the “liyednik” at night and stamp my feet here and there for about half an hour. The situation was dangerous, because this was right in the center of town. If I emerged, I would surely be caught. I feared I might go mad in my solitude. To pass the time, I carved a chess game out of little boards (I just happened to have a penknife) and I would play chess with myself for five or six hours a day. Luckily, I also had a copy of Tolstoy's “War and Peace.” I determined a quota of pages I would read each day, reading slowly, word by word, quietly. When I finished the book, I started over again. I had no pencil, so I used the penknife to mark the days
and dates of the month.

I crawled out of my hiding place on April 15th. I decided to emerge during the day, because there was a curfew at night and I would surely be shot. I thought I would not be recognized because I had grown a terribly large beard, like a sixty year-old man, but many did recognize me. A Christian woman ran off to the gendarmerie to announce that a Jew had appeared in town. They searched from me in every corner of town, but I was sitting in the municipal park for three hours, trying to figure out where I might go. It was this that saved me. I went off wherever my eyes would lead me.

I walked for four nights until I came into a forest. I ate the rice that I had stored in the attic. I cooked the cereal in a preserves can. I had all of three matches and, when they ran out, I found a little stone on the path, made a wick from my cotton coat. I struck a fire with my steel penknife.

I wandered in the forest for five days until by chance I came across a small group of seven partisans.

My heart rejoiced at being among my own, free people. Together, we marched, ate, dreamt, joined a partisan detachment.

Now I want to live, to take revenge on the murderers.

I lived through so much! Was it possible? Is this the bitter truth? The Slutsk community is wiped out. Where are the Jews of Slutsk?


* (pp. 386-387)

On the Fourth of April, 1942, a group of more than 20 people, led by Israel Lapidus, left the Minsk ghetto and went off to the woods near Slutsk.

Felye Vaynberg of Lodz escaped in January of 1943 from a slave-labor camp in Svyerzhani and joined the “Zhukov” partisan division in the Slutsk area. Several times she entered Slutsk, disguised and dressed as a peasant-woman, reconnoitering and familiarizing herself with the possibility of blowing up the large sawmill that provided building materials for the battlefront.

She completed her task outstandingly, bringing back an accurate map of the entire area and of the factory.

In May, 1943, she volunteered to blow up the Slutsk electrical station and the sawmill.

She again dressed as a peasant-woman, hiding a revolver in her basket, and placing a loaf of bread containing a mine among various vegetables.

When she was five km. from the village of Gresk, a peasant recognized her and turned her over to the Germans.

After suffering great pain and torture, she was publicly hanged in Slutsk.


Misha Oytser of Ostrog (Volhynia), commander of a group in the “Zhukov” division, captured Germans on the Slutsk-Minsk highway and killed them on the spot. (As reported in the book by M. Kahanovitsh, “Jewish Participation in the Partisan Movement.”)

Two Germans Confess to Slaughter of Jews in Slutsk (p. 387)

Kassel, West Germany, Aug. 10, 1960 – Two former German policemen, arrested several months ago, today admitted their role in the murder of about 700 Jews in the town of Slutsk.

“The Jews were slaughtered like cattle in the Slutsk blood-bath” on October 27, 1941, prosecutor Robert Hoppke declared.

The accused are: Franz Lechtroller, 69 years old, and Willi Papenkort, 51 years old.

Both declared that, under pressure of orders, they participated as part of two German police detachments and a Lithuanian detachment.

The prosecutor reported that the Lithuanians shot the Jews – men, women and children – while the German police prevented anyone from escaping.

The accused Papenkort claimed that he had stopped the slaughter because he could not bear seeing it anymore.


A Letter from Slutsk

Slutsk, February 19. 1946

Honored unknown friends,

Your letter of last May arrived in February…We have done what you asked. My husband and I did not know your relatives, but with [the information in] your letter we inquired among others, Jews who knew your family.

Your brother and his family escaped from Slutsk – so they are alive. They asked acquaintances for help in obtaining permission to return to Slutsk. But since it is wintertime and there is a housing shortage in Slutsk, permission to return has been delayed until May… Your sister and her husband and their children sadly perished. They survived until February 8, 1943, when all the Slutsk Jews perished.

Your sister's husband was an expert tailor. Such Jews were used until the final pogrom.

One Jew escaped the slaughter, Berl Kolbasnik, also a tailor. He reports that he worked with your brother-in-law until the final moment. I live a solitary existence, almost the only survivor of a large family.

Recently, I discovered another bereaved brother who lost his wife and five children, a daughter-in-law and two grandchildren.

He lives 40 kilometers from here. We often meet and mourn together.

I beg you to speak with my relatives and tell them not to forget me and to write to me from time to time.

That is our only consolation and hope: to hear a good word from afar.

With thanks in advance, Leah Sheyfer

Editorial note: The following [should read: preceding] letter is one of the first to relate the destruction of Slutsk. An uncle of the writer, in New York, had the letter (from Slutsk) published in New York Yiddish newspapers. On that basis, Avrom Mayzl wrote to the woman, inquiring about his relatives in Slutsk. The letter is the reply to his inquiry.

Sonya Rakhlin/W O E ! (p.387)

Without a shroud and without a prayer,
Lacking even a grave.
Not covered, not buried –
Our ashes, strewn by the winds.

Goethe, Schiller, Schopenhauer,
Come and see the great fire
Of bones burned to ash.
You, the folk of art and knowledge,
See the bloody rivers flowing,
And sympathy from no one?
Words, words, lovely letters.
Desolate sounds are curses.
Woe! Our faith annihilated
And the grave – our exile.

Captions

p. 381 – Drawn by the surviving boy from Slutsk, Khayim Rusak, who now lives in Israel. [The cursive Yiddish letters in the drawing read: Slutsk.]

p. 384 – German tanks around Slutsk. The town is immersed in flames and columns of smoke. (A radio-photo from the “New York Times,” Tuesday, July 22nd, 1941.)

Footnotes

  1. German term for attack on Jews, adapted into Yiddish by the victims as aktsiye. Return
  2. Guerrillas operating under Soviet military command. Return
  3. Here and following, this word appears in the original as shown, italicized and in quotation marks. Return

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