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The Holocaust in Belarus: Zheludok

by Leonid Smilovitsky
Zheludok, originally on pp 203
translation donated by Peter Duffy

Nachum Shifmanovich (born 1922):  His parents had a small weaver's shop.  His father Getz passionately loved the orchestra, which he himself organized.  Mother Elka was a housewife, and helped in the workshop.  There were also brother Enya and sister Shleyma [sic] [correction: should be the other way around].  In Zheludok there were three schools that taught in Yiddish, Hebrew, and Polish; two synagogues - the old one and the new one.  I remember Rabbi Sorochkin.  There were the Hechalutz and Beitar organizations as well.  The town was not far from the border; we heard rumors of persecutions of Jews, but not about executions.  People said that such a clever people as the Germans would never exterminate innocent people.

The officials of the Zheludok region fled at the start of the war.  During the week when there was no governmental authority until the arrival of the Germans on June 27, 1941, the peasants from the villages looted Jewish homes, especially when there was no resistance.  The Germans burned the town, sparing only the outskirts, where they were to build the ghetto.  They lived in crowded conditions, with several families to one room.  The relationship toward the Jews changed.  Some local people went to serve with the police and to collaborate with the new government, while others were prepared to assist.  Most, however, remained indifferent.  In the first few days, they executed six Jews - former communists, and then regularly killed persons involved in petty crime.  At first the Germans, without any particular bias, demanded that the Jews wear yellow armbands.

When the new commander arrived at the workplace and ordered everyone to stand at attention, I was among those at work who did not yet have a yellow armband (the day before tape had been handed out).  I pulled it out of my pocket, asked someone next to me for a pin, and put it on.  My comrade could not find his armband.  Thus, twenty-two Jews like him were taken aside and made to dig a grave.  They were then shot.  They ordered us to bury the dead.  I remember one of them shouting, "Jews! Don't cover the pit, I'm still alive!"  Within three days they allowed us to bury them in the Jewish cemetery.  When we dug up the bodies, I found that damned armband in  a friend's breast pocket that was the permit to stay alive.

On May 9, 1942, there was a general operation.  Everyone was rounded up at a pre-dug pit outside of town. The Germans and Police executed some of the locals.  Only the child Fishel Zborovsky survived.  He barely escaped the pit and ran away, but then fell into the hands of the Germans again.  Our entire family perished in the pogrom - almost 30 people - my parents, my beautiful sister Enya, and others.  Mother was only able to conceal Sheymele by placing him under some bricks in a Russian oven.  At night, he got out and ran away.  After extensive efforts, he found the partisans and asked to join their unit.  Shleymele (19 years old), a blond-haired boy, often participated in reconnaissance missions, exhibited daring and always wanted to be in front.  He was mortally wounded in the last battle.

I only managed to escape the executing because at the time of the executions, I was working in a neighboring village, from where I was taken to Lida.  There already were partisans at that time.  Once at night I made contact in order to get the surgeon Myasnik out of the ghetto and into the forest.  On October 15, 1942, the doctor and I, together with several comrades and some non-functioning weapons, left the ghetto.  The relationship of the partisans toward the Jews was varied.  Some sympathized, while others did not hide their hostility.  In my partisan unit, like all others, I went on my assignment, sat in ambushes and stood guard.

Boruch Levin went together with me.  The police were looking for him, and he hid out constantly until leaving for the forest.  In the unit Boruch became legendary, and he derailed 18 troop trains.  The commander awarded him the medal of Hero of the Soviet Union, but he did not receive this medal. After the war, Boruch Levin left for Palestine and lived there until he died in 1981 at the age of 70.

Zheludok was liberated in July 1944.  The commanders and commissars of the unit stayed around, organized local government departmens, and headed the regional Communist Party and regional political committee.  Regular partisans joined the existing army and moved westward.  After the war I was discharged and went home, but I could not live in Zheludok any more, so I moved to nearby Shuchin.  I worked throughout the years, got married and set up a new home with a son and a daughter.  I provided them with advanced education and had four grandchildren.  In 1990 we all moved to Israel; this decision was not made quickly, and it was the children who had the final say.  We bought an apartment, the children work, and the grandchildren attend university.  Eventually they too will make their own lives.  (Author's archive.  Letter of Nochum Gertsovich Shifmanovich from Holon, July 4, 1994).

Author's note:  Zheludok - an urban settlement (from 1962) in the Shuchin region of the Grodno oblast.  During the time of the Oration of the Pospolita it was a town (from 1486), until 1567 - the center of the district of the Vilna province.  In 1795 it became part of the Russian Empire.  In 1847, there were 287 Jews, and in 1897 there were 1,372 Jews (out of a total population of 1,860).  In 1921-39 it was part of Poland, the regional center of the Lida district of the province of Novogrudok.
  At the time of the Polish census of 1931, there were 1,053 Jews. As of 1939, Zheludok was part of the Belarus SSR, a regional center.  Between June 27, 1941 and July 9, 1944, it was occupied by German forces who killed approximately 2,000 people.  Currently Zheludok has more than 3,000 people, including a few remaining Jewish families.

 

2003 Belarus SIG