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The Holocaust

 

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At the outbreak of the war

by Meir Kahana

Transliterated by Sara Mages

On 1 September 1939, the signal for the destruction of the European Jewry was given. Poland was conquered in twelve days. On September 17 of the same year, a day after Rosh Hashanah, the sound of tanks and planes reached our ears. We were sure that our end has come with the arrival of the Germans, but to our great surprise the Red Army arrived to Korets' gates and freed us from this nightmare.

The joy was mixed with sadness because we didn't know what the day would bring. However, we were sure of one thing, the hand of the Nazis will not reach us and we wouldn't be led like sheep to the slaughter.

The acclimation to the new regime entailed many difficulties. The Hebrew school “Tarbut,” which had a reputation throughout the area, was closed by order of the authorities. A command was also given to liquidate the Zionist youth clubs. We burned the archive and hid the Hebrew books as a memento of the glorious past.

Much later, we still gathered in secret with the faint hope that one day we'll be able to meet in our club and conduct our activities openly. The Jewish youth didn't accept the new regime for ideological reasons, but began to integrate into the economic area and the circle of life by obtaining government jobs. The youth also continued with their studies, of course not in Hebrew but in Russian.

The Russian regime recruited all the young people who were of military age. They enlisted Shlomo Pirkes the son of Baruch Pirkes who lived next door to Neta Marcus; Aharon Resnick and Shmuel Gorenstein (who survived and now lives in Poland) – and they were never seen again.

The pioneer youth was organized in the Komsomol. At first, they invited the youth and offered them to accept the platform. I, for example, was invited three times, but I didn't show up. For the fourth time I received a notice that I must report to the office of the NKVD. They took my fingerprints and let me go after several threats. The ember of Hebrew and Zionist Korets slowly faded.

Then came the bitter and impetus day…on Sunday morning, 22 June 1941, Germans forces crossed the Russian borders without a declaration of war and burst like a mighty stream of water. This startling news spread throughout the city in a flash.

At that time there were no radios in Korets and we weren't able to get an authorized confirmation about this terrible event.

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The Jews and the Russians were very confused and didn't know what to do. Only the Ukrainians' faces expressed great joy.

The Soviets institutions were in constant touch with the high authorities in Kiev and received instructions. In the evening of the same day we saw that the Red Army is retreating and understood that it was a bad omen.

On the next day the authorities closed the main road for civilian traffic and spread a rumor that they have to transfer 5000 German prisoners. However, at the same time, the government institutions packed their belongings and archives and left for central Russia. It should be noted, that the authorities suggested, though not officially, to all the residents to leave Korets and follow them. The Jews, to our great sorrow, didn't listen to this offer. Only a few families left the city and survived.

The municipal government remained in the hands of the Wojenkomat (wartime recruiting board). Korets' Jews were in a very bad mood and didn't know what to do.

On Wednesday, 24 June 1941, at 2 in the afternoon, all the young people received a mobilization order. They had to report to the place where the Soviet Army was stationed. One or two were taken from each family. In an instant, our city turned into a huge funeral. The screams and cries rose to the midst of heaven. Mothers begged and cried bitterly to let them have their sons. I remember Berale' Schechter and Yitzchak Rosenblatt, whose parents “managed” to convinced the Russians to let them stay in Korets because of their work. However, if only the Soviets didn't listen to the &3147;prayers” of these mothers, because a few days later, when the Germans entered Korets, the two young men were the first victims.

We parted from our beloved parents with the feeling that we would return home soon. It didn't cross our minds that this is the last farewell from our parents, brothers, relatives and good friends, and that we would never see Korets again. We didn't imagine that the Reaper will rise up on the Jews and that the city would turn into a pile of ruins.

Among the recruits to the Red Army were: Zev Litvak, Ljuba Vilner and Dudia Gechet. They were transferred to Ostrog and we never heard from them.

We walked all night under military command and arrived to Zvhil, a distance of 30 kilometers from Korets, the next morning. When we got there we were attacked by a German squadron. The Russian officers ordered us to dig in as far as possible, to chop a pit with our teeth and hide our head in it. We lay on the ground and shivered with fear.

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The German planes made kind of an acrobatic act in the air and were getting ready to bombard us. However, at the very moment, several Soviet planes appeared and chased the German planes away. In this way we were saved from certain death. We only received uniform because guns and ammunition were scarce at that time.

Since then began a chapter of wandering that is hard for me to tell in minute details. We walked day and night, without rest and without sleep. We walked more than 40 kilometers a day with short breaks of 10–15 minutes. The days were very hot, the days of the month of July, and the coarse uniform and heavy boots, that we weren't accustomed to, weighed down on us and caused us a lot of suffering. We were also tortured from the fact that we haven't received any news from home.

When the commander declared a rest, we lay down on the ground and immediately fell asleep. Many of us didn't wake when the signal to move was given. During the day we woke them from their sleep, but many of us disappeared and got lost in the darkness. Thus, for example, we lost Sara Averbuch's brother–in–law, Yitzchak Hanin, a person by the name of Chaim who lived on Brazodva Street, and many others.


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When the Soviets came

by Aizik Chimenes

Transliterated by Sara Mages

The Soviets entered Korets on one of the nights of 1939, and in the morning they controlled the city. The Poles believed that the Red Army came to save them from the Nazis' hands and started to shout – To our aid! To our aid! – but the Russians arrested the mayor, abolished the Polish rule and began to institute their own orders.

A “temporary regime” was created. It was composed from the following “Triumvirate”: the Jew Avratz, who was in charge of food distribution in the region; Zhuravlev, the representative for commercial affairs and Leyota in the role of a supervisor. They brought a secretary named Sabarinka with them from Russia. A group was also created from Jewish youth and its role was to help the authorities to organize and direct the new regime in the city. This group was made up of these young people: Leibel Zavodnik Hershil Viviat, Mitzik Zafran, Michael Litvak and Mordechai Surin.

The Russians used Jewish accountants in the cooperative organization. David Lidski was drafted as chief accountant and Dov Berenstein and Michelson worked with him.

A school superintendent, who started to organize the cultural life in the city, was added to this “trio.” He developed the “Pobschaniem” schools of 10 classes (instead of 7 classes). There was also a large choir under the direction of Mr. Rabinowitch. This choir was almost silenced during the period of anti–Semitic Poland. The authorities turned to Rabinowitch and offered him to establish an international choir of Ukrainian and Jewish children. The choir was established and sang Jewish and Ukrainian songs in its performances. The drama club also renewed its activities under the direction of Rabinowitch, Moshe Gildenman and Ayzik Schneider.

Six months into their rule, the Soviets carried out a large construction project which changed the face of the city. They started to build an asphalt road from Kiev to Lvov. Since it had to pass through Korets they decided to demolish the old bridge over the Korchyk River and build a modern cement bridge in its place. The new road passed through the yard of the Gorenstein house, crossed Yavka's water–mill, turned to the “Ksiadz” (priest) yard and to the road near Moshe Leyleches' house. Moshe Gildenman grabbed an important place in the technical execution of this great project.

One clear day we saw that a large army from central Russia is passing through our city. Also plenty of tanks and cannons appeared.

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The authorities sent to call me, as chairman of “Gurpo“ (“municipal cooperatives“), and other members of the administration. We were told that we should convene a mass meeting because the Germans attacked Soviet Russia. The meeting took place on the same day and all the military commanders participated in it. They promised all the frightened residents that Russia is a powerful nation and the Germans wouldn't be able to penetrate Korets.

A state of emergency was felt in the city. One evening about 25 German planes appeared. They flew over the sugar factory and left as they had come without hurting anyone. The Jews walked depressed. A state of war was declared. It was forbidden to leave the house at night. Only the managers enjoyed the freedom of movement. The authorities, despite their solemn promise, began to prepare their withdrawal from the city. It was determined that once the evacuation signal will be given – we need to escape in any way and by any means of transport available to us.

I began to make preparations for my escape. As I was packing my belongings a government representative came to me and shouted: why are you sitting? everyone has fled. In haste, I put two sacks of belongings, my wife and my children in the car, and we fled.

Two drivers worked for me in “Gurpo“ – Yehielik Goldberg and David Perlman. Goldberg was the son of a rich man. During the Soviets he worked as a driver. I told him: Yehiel, take the car and we will escape. He answered me (I'm very sorry to perpetuate these things) in this language: “I will not leave because my “God” has come to Korets.” Unfortunately, there were a number of rich men in Korets who believed, in good faith, that the German will give them back what the Soviets had seized and confiscated, the situation will return to normal and they will trade and manage their business as they pleased. Yehiel was the first victim. He was killed together with his father when the Germans bombed the city for the first time.

We fled and arrived to the village of Pishehiv a distance of 8 kilometers from Korets. The Soviets, who escaped from Korets, camped there. In the morning we received an order from the Soviets to return to Korets because they pushed the Germans out of Rovna. We left our families and returned to the city. We felt that this order was given to mislead the public. The opposite was true: the Germans didn't retreat but continued to advance in an alarming speed. Chaos prevailed in Korets. There was no rule and thousands of Jews were ready to flee from the city. Korets' youth were the first to leave the city. They walked in the direction of Zvhil but many of them were killed from the Germans' bombs. I was lucky and got to the depths of Russia. I lived in Stalingrad, later on in Kazakhstan, and in this way I survived. \


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The Last Path of our Martyrs[1]

Yitzhak Feiner

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

The great massacre on the eve of the Shavuot holiday 1942 was, as a matter of fact, the eighth of its kind. Before that there were the “smaller” massacres.

At the beginning, the Germans demanded from our Judenrat one hundred Jews for work, asking specifically for intelligent people and promising that they will be sent to “better” work and they will all be fine.

What happened in reality was that they were taken some fifteen kilometers from Korets, forced to dig their own graves and bestially shot.

Such horrible actions were repeated several times. Still there was no total annihilation. The great tragedy of our dear and beloved occurred on the eve of Shavuot 1942. One evening, several days earlier, a rumor spread that the Germans and the Ukraine police had brought some 100 peasants from the surrounding villages to dig graves for the Korets Jews. They were kept under heavy guard and none of them was allowed to go home, because the Germans were afraid that there might be one among them who would tell the Jews to what purpose they were digging the pits…

However, the terrible news did reach the Jewish population, but it was not believed, and everybody said that it was just panic. How could such a horrible thing be true?? Just take innocent living people and shoot them?? True – they argued – here and there some Jews were shot… but when through history Jews were not shot and killed? Here they are talking about deliberate, planned annihilation – such thing cannot be true, somebody just likes to spread fear and panic…

This is how our brothers reassured themselves – until the terrible

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Shavuot eve 1942 arrived. It was still before dawn, people were sleeping in their homes – and suddenly we thought that we heard shots. We woke up and realized that it was not a dream: they were really shooting. At first there were single shots now and then, but soon the shots became heavier and closer. We were very frightened. Several families lived in our apartment – all went to the windows and we saw a horrible sight: A large “transport” of Jews was driven through the street – men, women, children and babies held in their parents' hands.

All these Jews were surrounded by German and Ukrainian police. Several hundred policemen were especially brought from Zhitomir – murderers who excelled in their horrible attitude toward Jews. Anyone who fell into their hands had no hope of coming out alive.

The Ukrainian commandant – his name was Danilyuk – was riding in a car through town giving orders that specified what the murderers should do with the Jews. All the Jews were taken to the “head” named Krizhonovski, a cruel murderer. They were searched and all their belongings were taken from them.

After all the Jews passed the “control,” the Korets German governor arrived and with him several German officers and the order was given that the Jews organize themselves in lines. The German officer walked between the lines and observed every one. Some of them he asked about their age and profession. Some of the younger people were asked to step to the side and stand with their backs to the group. This way some 200 young and strong Jews were chosen and separated from the rest.

Soon many peasants arrived, with horses and empty wagons, also some trucks. The Germans and the Ukrainian police began arranging the Jews, men separately, women separately, children separately. The men and women were soon surrounded

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by guards and driven on foot to Kozak, to the open pits. The weaker men and women were loaded onto the trucks. The children were thrown into the horse-driven wagons just like one would throw stones. The murderer would seize the child – by the little hand, by the leg, by the head or by the shirt – and throw it into the wagon. The wagons were loaded full with the children, one on top of the other, and driven to Kozak. If a child fell off the wagon, a policeman would seize it and throw it back.

Five deep pits were ready in Kozak – 8 to 10 meters wide and 4 to 5 meters deep. Steps were carved on the edge, so that the victims could step inside “comfortably.”

All were taken to a place about 250 meters from the graves and commanded to sit down on the earth, under heavy guard. A little later they began to take men and women, six at a time, and lead them to the pit, after each had to undress and remain naked. In the pit they were made to lie face down and on the edge of the pit six Germans, ready with their revolvers, shot the six victims in the head.

The children were treated quite differently. As the wagons with the children reached the pit, they were thrown, alive, straight from the wagon into the pit. After two wagons were unloaded this way, two grenades were thrown in, tearing the children apart.

Several occurrences at the graves are worth mentioning: In our town lived a very wealthy man, Hurwitz, with his wife Mrs. Hurwitz and their daughter Hessie. The girl was a rare beauty. Her beauty shone from the grave, and the murderers decided that it was a pity to cut off such a young and beautiful flower. The Germans asked Hessie to leave the pit, but she replied that she would not move without her mother. The murderers could not accept such impertinence, and shot her right away.

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Another short episode happened with our beloved doctor, Yakov (Yanie) Hirschenhorn. The Germans heard that he was a very good doctor, and they pulled him out of the pit and ordered him to go home. He begged to let his wife go with him, but the murderers did not agree. He went back into the pit and was shot with the others. There were some instances where children would not leave their parents or parents their children – and together they were sacrificed for Kidush Hashem – the sanctification of the Holy Name.

Our rabbi R'Leizerl, his family and his Hassidim have found a hiding place, in a ruined house near the river. At noon one of the peasants observed them and told the police. Soon the Germans and the Ukrainian police came and took them away.

Earlier the rabbi was told by the Germans that they knew that he had hidden a great deal of gold, silver and valuables. He was ordered to bring all this and he would be released. After all was delivered, the rabbi, his family and his Hassidim were chased to Kozak, to the graves…


Footnote

  1. Testimony at the Munich Historical Committee in 1946. Obtained through Yad Vashem, Jerusalem. Return

 

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