[Columns 1617 - 1624]
A part of the mobilized youth immediately returned home. Another part went with the Red Army deep into Russia.
The brothers Yehuda and Meyer Lapida did not return nor go deep into Russia. Yehuda was killed in battle and Meyer was severely wounded by the Nazis. He was captured and they killed him. The Lapida family was the first to suffer such severe casualties.
With the occupation of the Red Army, the economy of the shtetl was not too bad.The farmers were able to work their farms harder than ever and everyone was able to make a living.
Only political items had to be hidden. We burned all the archives of the Zionist organizations. A lot of Jews got assorted government posts and were very happy.
Our shtetl did not fall into the hands of the German Army. For nearly two years we were able to catch our breath until that terrible day, the 22nd of June 1941.
On that day, at six o'clock in the morning, Moscow radio reported that that Germany broke the German-Russian pact. This caused a panic among the Jewish population in general and of course in our shtetl.
The Lithuanian population (gentiles) received the news with great joy and were dancing in the streets. As the Russian Army withdrew, the population started to rob all the arms that were in storage. They immediately started their own militia which fought against the retreating Russian Army.
The leading criminal of the area was Feyoss Rokovski, a Lithuanian from Adutzishik. His group started harassing the Jews. Within the first few days there was a casualty, Gordon's son.
Eight days later Hitler's army entered the shtetl in the morning and pasted posters declaring laws against the Jewish population.
We learned that all Jews are to wear yellow patches in the front and back, each bearing the Star of David. All Jews fourteen years and older had to go on forced labor.
The Germans immediately revealed their sadistic nature. The soldiers caught ten Jews and ordered them to pull a large wagon with a very heavy load. The Germans were on both sides of the wagon carrying large wooden clubs. If any of the Jews faltered, the soldiers hit them over the head with the club.
The weeks passed in this manner. Finally, the Germans left our area because the front moved eastward. In Adutzishik the Germans left a Lithuanian civilian government. The head of this government was a young Lithuanian, a terrible anti-semite, Feyoss Rokovski. In Shtayatsishoks the criminal Joseph Senkowicz was designated the head of the shtetl. Ha became the boss of the area. He confiscated all the cows from the Jewish farmers and gave them to the gentiles in the area.
This was not the end of our agony. On the 20 of September, 1941, there was a conference of all the German appointed government heads in Shvintzan (Swincian). The head of the Vilna province proposed that all Jews be rounded up and sent to Poligan. Only Jews with essential skills were to exempted from this proposal. Only the head of the Shvintzan governnent agreed to exempt Jews with essential skills.
On the eve of the Sabbath, September 26th, ten Lithuanian police came to Shtayatsishok. They told all the Jews to go into the street and take with them a three day supply of food. In a few hours they were marched to Adutzishik. In addition to the Shtayatchik Jews, there were over 8,000 Jews from the Svintzan area here. On Chol Hamoid Succoss they were all murdered. Very few were able to escape or be rescued.
Shmuel Katzyonah, Hodeh Abel and Chana Wollak hid in the field. They were caught and shot to death. Rudnitzky was shot to death as he was running away from the shtetl. Only sixteen Jews were able to hide. They were: Eliyahu Gedod and his son Tzvi, Leib Wollak, David Gordono, Chanuch Kahan, Paysach Wollak and his wife Chana, his son Abraham and daughter Shayneh, my father Chayim Gontovnik, my mother Bayleh, brothers Eliyahu and Abraham, my sister Ethel, my wife Rachel, my daughter Rebecca (26 days old) and myself, Israel Gantovnik.
Everyone ran in different directions. Late in the evening we started looking for one another. Around eleven oíclock in the evening we met. We discovered my father and brother Eliyahu were missing. We waited a few hours for them, then decided to go through the woods at night in the direction of White Russia. On the way we came upon two Jews from our shtetl, Sholem Gantovnikís son Israel Itzchok and his daughter Miriam.
At four o'clock we approached a village not far from Vidz. A Russian gentile farmer whom we knew lived here. We decided to knock on his door to have pity on us and hide us in his attic for the day. He was startled. It was not easy to hide thirteen people. We spent the day with him and when it became dark we went on our way.
Early Sunday morning we arrived in Katzian. The Katzian Jews greeted us warmly and we were taken in by various families. Early Tuesday, my father and brother Eliyahu whom we hadn't heard from arrived here too.
In few days we heard that the situation in Opseh was better than in Katzian. We decided to leave and go there. We had to travel over 50 kilometers.
We arrived in Opseh erev Yom Kippur. The Opseh Jews greeted us warmly. Here we met Jewish refugees from Ignolineh, Doksh, and Adutzishik.
In a few weeks they found jobs for all of us and we remained in Opseh for a half year. In March 1942, there came an order for the roundup of all the Jews. They were to be sent to Vidz.
We decided that this was not a good situation so we left for Postoy. For three days we plodded through deep snow, through fields and forests until we finally arrived in the Postoy ghetto.
We immediately saw that we had made a mistake. The Postoy Jewish Council was afraid to take us in. With great reluctance they finally decided to take my wife, my child and myself because they had pity on the infant. The other Shtayatchisok Jews said goodbye to us and left for Donilovitsh. None of us realized what a sad day this was, for we did not realize that we would never see each other again.
The Postoy Jewish Council made us feel that we were useless. We remained there until the 17 of June 1942.
At the beginning of June they started killing all the Jews from the Postoy area. This brought on a terrible panic in the Postoy ghetto. On the 16 of June we learned that all the Jews in the area were to be killed. We decided to leave Postoy and continue our wandering.
The 17 of June was a rainy day. This saved our lives because it was easier to flee. The rain did not let up for the entire day. We bundled our little child and wandered through fields and forest back towards the direction of Shtayatchisok. The next morning, the 18 of June we came upon the village of Yakomenish, 3 kilometers from Shtayatchisok.
We knocked on the door of a gentile we knew, Favel Borok. He greeted us very warmly and allowed us to hide in his barn. We stayed there for entire day. In the evening, when our daughter started crying, he told us that he was afraid and suggested that we go to the Shvintzan ghetto. It was quiet and safe there.
Did we have a choice? So we left for Shvintzan. The Shvintzan Jewish council told us categorically that they could not under any circumstances take us in. They didn't even have a tiny room for us.
I found an old hovel and repaired it myself. I made a room from it and the problem of housing was solved.
It turned out that in this ghetto there were 40 illegals. We had to be careful of the Lithuanian police. I saw there was no future in this so we left for Tsurklishok.
I told the administrator Jan Chaltzki who I was and proposed to him
that I work
the land. He appealed to the German Work Council and in a few days he appointed me his landworker. A short time after I got employment for my brother Abraham and my sister Ethel who arrived from the Shvintzan ghetto.
Our situation improved. We had enough to eat and we were no longer illegal. Understand that we had to thank the kindhearted Chaletzki for this.
Meanwhile there was a shock throughout the ghetto. It was encircled with barbed wire. There was only one entrance and exit. The police became much sterner.
By the end of the summer, the Vids ghetto was liquidated and any remaining Jews were brought to Shvintzan. It became overcrowded. Rumors passed that there was a plan to liquidate all the ghettos.
I discussed the situation with my brother and sister. We decided not to wait but to leave quickly. Our daughter was fourteen months old at this time.
We waited for a dark night, wrapped my daughter well and left by way of a large forest in the direction of Lintov.
In the middle of the night we came upon a town. It was very cold and we wanted to get our child out from the bitter cold. We knocked on a gentile's door and asked him to have pity on us. He let us into his house. They were friendly people and gave us a warm welcome.
We ate, warmed up and wanted to continue further. The farmer said that with such a small child we could not get very far. He suggested that we leave the child with him. We couldn't make up our minds. All this time we had the child with us;
now we should separate ourselves from her? It was very difficult to arrive at such a decision. He presented us with a good argument. So, with a heavy heart, great sorrow and pain we finally decided to rescue Rebecca and left her with him. We took note of the name of the village and the name of this good family. The name of this village was Mili. The names of the family were Aniskenza and Matrona Burlokov. They had a daughter Zeena and a son Fyodor. They ware Russian Staravyaran who were not enemies of the Jews.
After leaving our child, our hearts were bitter. We left for the nearby forest and waited until nightfall. At night we started for Tsirlishok in order to find out what happened in Shvintzan. It turned out that it was quiet there and no harm was being done to the Jews. Chaletzki suggested that we continue at the work we were doing. We heeded his advice and remained there until February 1943.
Meanwhile, we received good news about the war. The German army was badly defeated at Stalingrad. The Red Army captured Kharkov and was approaching Vitebsk. Everyone began to hope that freedom was approaching. But simultaneously the situation in the Shvintzan ghetto became horrible. The head of the Vilna ghetto told us that all Shvintzan ghetto Jews will be transferred either to Kovno or Vilna.
We later found out what happened to them. The Kovno transport took them to the Ponar forest where they were slaughtered.
But my wife Rachel, brother Abraham and sister Ethel could not be talked into going on to the Kovno transport. We all left in the direction of Shtayatchisok. To our good fortune we came upon some good gentiles who had pity on us and hid us. I must note their names: Marcal Tsolko from
Shtayatchisok and Mazayeh Kazimir from Djikevenish. They placed their lives in danger in order to save ours.
On the seventh of July the Red Army came and freed us. We returned to our shtetl and learned that only seven Jews survived out of 350 in Shtayatchisok.
We decided not to remain amongst this death and destruction. We returned to the village of Mill to get our daughter.
We made aliyah to Eretz Israel.
This is only a brief story of a doomed Jewish shtetl. I want to honor all of our dear best friends and families who were tortured to death. I also want to honor all those friendly gentiles who imperiled their lives in the face of the Nazis.
Rachel Gantovnik's story. (Wife of Israel Gantovnik.)
The days were clear and bright and the sky was blue. It was Friday, Shabbos Tsuveh. There were little frosts in the morning and evening. The women were preparing tzolant. Some were in the midst of their housework. Suddenly shouts were heard throughout the shtetl, 'Take bread for three days and get into the street!" These were the shouts of the drunken police who came to chase the Jews out of the shtetl.
There were more shouts, tears and screams from one end of the shtetl to the other. "Where are we going?" cried Chiyenneh Layeh. 'Where are they chasing us with our small children? My children have no shoes for the winterl"
'Where are they taking us?" asked Reb Chayim quietly. "I have lived here my entire life. Where are they sending us? That which I own, I earned with my ten fingers. Even my house I built myself. To leave would be equal to death."
Then Reb Chayim became quiet. In his entire life he never had an argument nor insulted anyone. Thanks to his perseverance and skill his business grew and prospered. He couldn't understand the hatred of these German murderers. He said, "I have no place to go from here." He sat quietly and prayed. To this day I could recall his prayers. To this day I cannot forget them.
'Where are these killers taking us?" asked Reb Nochim. "Iím not going anywhere! This is my last word. They will not chase me out of my house!"
He remained in his house. He didnít have the strength to go. He sat alone, alone and by himself he cursed the shtetl Shtayatchisok. Two days later, on Sunday, the police (Joseph Senkowicz) came and shot him in the field. To this day his grave is in that Shtayatchisok field.
ìWhat do these murderers want from us? cried Dvayrah. I have suffered so much these past few years. Finally I have a bit of money saved, oh how I denied myself over the years!"
Dvayarah was left a widow with two small children, Abraham and Maysheh. She alone had to run the farm. Alone, with very little strength she plowed the fields, sowed the seeds and drove the cows to the fields. There wasn't anyone to relieve her. She lived in a broken down house outside the shtetl. With her last few pennies she paid to send the boys to chayder. When Abraham was a Bar Mitzvah he also became the boss. He began working the farm. He no longer ran to play with the children. He knew that the responsibility of the house was on his shoulders. He worked with his mother day in and day out. While everyone was asleep Abraham was working the fields. He was usually ahead of everyone. His cows were feeding before everyone elsesí. His work was on a par with the adultsí. Drayrah became old and bent from this heavy work. She never allowed herself to eat well because she was saving money for a new home. Their butter and eggs were sold in the village. A few years went by. Abraham and Maysheh became adults. They built a new house closer to the shtetl, near the hill next to Reb Nochim and Reb Haymen. Now they started to live better. They ate and dressed better. Dvayrah would llft her hands daily to God and say, "I thank you God for the miracles you have bestowed upon me."
"Where shall I go now? How could I leave my beautiful palace? How can I throw away everything for which I worked so hard and saved so long? Oh God , Oh God! What do these terrible people want from me?"
This could be heard from a distance. It was tragic and heart rending.
"Save yourself Jews, there is a fire burning (holocaust)" Liebeh screamed. Oh how Liebeh and Shmuel suffered until their children grew up!
"And Brankeh, who is studying at the gymnasium, Liebeh would boast. "And Yehudis can sew and weave very well; and is also a good housekeeper; and both are beautiful."
Brankeh, I remember you to this day with your black braids and burning black eyes. When I asked you what you can learn from the books you were, reading, you would tell me all about them.
I heard cries and screams in the distance. I still hear them to this day.
Leib, the big one with ten children said goodbye to his house. He stood a long time at the doorway kissing the mezuzah. "Oh how I want to save my house just as I want to save Shtayatchisok!" he cried.
In our house we had no idea as to what was going on. We thought they were coming to rob us, so we hid a few things. Suddenly, our door flew open and my sister-in-law Ethel came running in wearing a coat over her shoulders and boots without socks.
"Children, don't be afraid, God is with is. They came to take us to Poligan where we will die of hunger. Let's run away and God will help us. "Quickly children, the police are ten meters awayl"
Fortunately, we were all at home. I, Abraham and Shayneh. I thought that in White Russia they would not send us to a camp. None of us could imagine that they would send us to our death. My mother and father lived in Shtayatchisok for seven years… We moved into my grandfather's farm after his death. He had three cows, some sheep, chickens, ducks and geese.
I saw my father lean against the book cabinet and started to cry. It was the first time I ever saw him cry. "How do I leave my home? How could I leave Shtayatchisok? How do I leave my books?"
In one sac he placed a loaf of bread, a shirt and a few books. My mother tried to appease him. "You shouldn't cry because we are leaving. God will help us. I saw her place a Chassidic sidur in his sac.
I was very confused. I didn't know how I was going to meet my husband Israel. But Ethel assured me that we would meet on the path late at night. He did not, under any circumstances want to leave at midday. We would escape by a hidden trail. He knew the direction we were to go. He said that we were to go towards Beyellow Russia (White Russia), Kazian and Postov where more Jews could be found. I couldn't find a kerchief for my head so I took a nightgown. I only found one shoe. So I left with a shoe on one foot and a heavy sock on the other. In my briefcase, I placed all my papers from the teacher seminar in Vilna and from the Jewish gymnasium in Vilna. I always saved them. They were very dear to me.
While Rebecca was asleep Ethel took her. Our little Rebecca! How much more will she suffer? We ran through the fields. From the distance we could see smoke rising from Shtayatchisok and a trail black with people wailing and screaming. The cries and the screams from the children accompanied us the entire way. From every direction we could hear the crying of the cows and sheep and the barking of dogs. Everything at this point was in a state of chaos. My father, speaking to Abraham said, ìWe are leaving Shtayatchisok. Who knows if we shall ever return? This story has continually repeated itself throughout the history of the Jews. Ever since the Diaspora. Ever since the wandering of the Jews began. In every generation there was a new decree for banishment. But God always helped us. This time there is a terrible storm on unfriendly soil. What worth do we have to these murderers? We are like sheep bleating in the wind. Maybe we should have gone with the rest of the Shtayatchisok Jews? I don't know. Where shall we run to. The Germans are everywhere!"
Late that night we met in the woods. My brother in law Reb Chayim, sister in law Bayleh, father in law Eliyahu, my son Abraham and my husband Israel.
Under no circumstances did Reb Chayim want to leave his home. With great difficulty his children led him out of his house. "Whoever wants to go, should go; I will not leave,î he argued. ìI have nowhere to go!"
It was dark and cold in the woods. Rebecca did not stop crying. I had nothing with which to cover her. Abraham was carrying her in his arms and rocking her, But it did not help. As we went further, she cried harder and everyone else was crying with her. It was decided that we should start a fire in order to warm her up. I tried to breast feed her but she wouldn't drink.
She was very cold and wet.
Woe is me!, Woe is me! We are living through such wonderful times "said Reb Chayim sarcastically. "We have sinned! We should have sold everything and moved to Eretz Israel" said Reb Paysach.
"Now it is too late!" replied my father.
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