Translated by Roslyn Sherman Greenberg
Edited by Jerrold Landau
Twenty-five years have already passed since our home was destroyed, mother, father, sister and brother were murdered, and still our beloved shtetl lives in our memory. As in a fantasy, we see floating before our eyes the large water mill in the neighborhood called padlezan the green fields with the aromatic pine country-house forest and the rooming houses around the forest.
Thus we see our shtetl on a summery Friday afternoon. In the marketplace stand wagons. Gentiles from the neighboring small villages came to Maytchet. They brought things to sell, one a calf, another eggs and a little fruit, another
|Market place on a week day|
some grain; and they came to buy what they needed, either goods from the dry goods store, or some shoes from Shinetsky's store, or a hat, a bottle of oil or kerosene. Merchants buy, and storekeepers sell a small market day.
|Standing at the door of the business, waiting for a customer|
The aroma of the Sabbath delicacies wafts through the air. Mothers bake challos for the Sabbath, and cook fish. Some cook pike and other cook small fish the main thing is to prepare for the Sabbath. Children come from school in groups, happy, excited, and joyous, with schoolbags in their hand that had been sewed by their own mothers. Some were coming from cheder and others from the Tarbut School. Tomorrow is the Sabbath morning, where there is no school. The joy is great.
The sun starts to set in the sky and travels further to the west. Soon comes the loud voice of Moshe, the Shamas, calling the people to synagogue. Business is over. The stores are closed. Shutters are closed and locked, either with two locks, one above and the other below, or with a long iron bar with a lock on the side. Jews go home to prepare for Shabbos (Sabbath). Gentiles travel away from the marketplace.
The sun has already set. Through the glistening windows, veiled with white curtains, twinkle the Shabbos candles in polished brass candlesticks, or in silver candlesticks, perhaps two to a table or three on a table, or perhaps even five. But in every window, through all the panes they twinkle and light the holy Sabbath. Tables are decked with white tablecloths and challahs are covered with various embroidered cloths. The Divine Presence is at rest.
There go the Jews dressed for Shabbos in traditional long coats or jackets. They go to the shul or to the Beit Midrash or the Hassidic shul, but they all go with the same holy spirit in their hearts to welcome the Sabbath.
In the marketplace it is quiet, empty and dark. In the dark, only the white goats roam around. They enjoy the leftovers a bit of fresh hay, a bit of green grass or vegetables, which the horses left over. Satisfied, they lie down on the gangways or under the roof of the row of stores.
Friday night, after eating and after the songs, the young people of Maytchet go walking in the country-house forest. There one always meets new faces, people from the country houses, who just came to the shtetl. Whoever walks to the train station does this. Some of the youth are from the HaShomer HaTzair (a leftist/socialist Zionist organization). There on the small hill at the home of Sarah the Carpenter woman, the Maytchet youth enjoy themselves. There in a circle they danced a hora by the light of a kerosene lamp and they sang songs of Eretz Yisrael. The resounding voices spread far in the stillness of the night. These are sounds from young hearts that love, dream, and hope that tomorrow will be better and more beautiful than today.
This is the way a poor but beautiful Jewish life was lived for many generations. Mother and father bore the heavy yoke, bearing children and rearing them the same as everyone else, and the young searched in the dark the way to tomorrow. Many centuries the golden Jewish circle endured. And today, in the dead quiet in Maytchet, there is sad desolation in the hearts of the people of Maytchet in the whole world. There are no longer any Jews, burnt up, destroyed, empty and desolate. Our old beloved home is dead, but in our hearts still live the dear Jews of Maytchet. You are with us at all our happy occasions; we call our children by your names, which is a worthy remembrance of you.
Translated by Ron Rabinovitch A small group of Jewish families lived and worked in some of the little villages that surrounded Maytchet. Even though their homes were in these nearby villages, these people were still considered citizens of Maytchet. They would go there for their civil affairs and for the religious activities.
Among these nearby villages were two with the same name, Svorotva. One was called Little Svorotva and the other was called Big Svorotva. What numbers were used to make this distinction is unknown. But there was a farm of a Polish Paritz near the village that was called Big Svorotva.
Among the residents of Big Svorotva was Rabbi Elchanan Gershovitch and his family. He was a teacher and a merchant. Shortly before the war he moved to Maytchet and it was here that he was murdered by the Nazis. Also living in the village was a family by the name of Serebrovsky and the head of this family was a wood merchant. At the beginning of the war the wife of Mr. Serebrovsky was murdered by the Nazis but he and his two daughters were able to flee. They were hidden by local Polish citizens, survived the Holocaust and immigrated to Israel after the war.
In the village of Novosyulki lived the family of Israel Yehuda Singalovsky, a successful merchant. The local Polish citizens were jealous of his thriving business and made the lives of him and his family very difficult. The family was forced to leave because of these hostile citizens and moved to the village of Dvorets. It was here they were murdered by the Nazis.
Living in another nearby village by the name of Druzdin was the family of Lifa Zochovitzki; they owned the local grocery store. Early in the war he fled to Maytchet and was murdered there. Only one of his sons survived the war and may have moved to the United States.
Translated by Martin Small and Roslyn Sherman Greenberg Small SvorotvaThis is what my small village was called, in proximity to a second not much bigger village, which was called Big Svorotva. Small it was, since it numbered 70 houses in all, 5 of them Jewish. It lay a distance of 5 kilometers from Maytchet between some not so big hills and in not too deep a valley, surrounded by large forests and fields and an ebullient happy little stream that emptied into the Molchadka River.
The five Jewish families of the village were longtime inhabitants, that even the order that had driven the Jews out of all the villages, was not binding on the inhabitants whose land was handed down from generation to generation, maybe a lucky thing and maybe not. Who knows?
All five Jewish families diligently worked the land and fulfilled the verse: With the sweat of your brow, you will eat bread. I remember how my father, may he rest in peace, used to sing this well-known song while he worked, In the plow lies prosperity In regard to prosperity, the story is this: from the material standpoint there was indeed prosperity, while in our house nothing was ever missing and everything was good. But in the realm of spirituality very much was missing. There was not even a minyan of Jews to pray a public prayer. Of course, there was no synagogue. My father constantly complained that he was living a double exile. The whole week, as on the Sabbath, he prayed in the house, but on the holidays and the High Holidays he went to Maytchet to pray. His uppermost dream was to participate in public prayer or to learn a portion of Mishnios between Mincha and Maariv. The problem of teaching the children about their Jewish religion was made more difficult because they had to learn reading and writing as well. A teacher was brought to the village to teach the children.
In order to fill the void of studying Torah and prayer, my father engaged in doing good deeds toward others. When
he had the opportunity to do someone a favor, he was extremely happy. A needy person never left his house with empty hands. He used to say, Whatever I earn is not mine. It all belongs to G-d. I am just a temporary guardian, and with his permission, I give to anyone who is needy. My mother, may she rest in peace, was a real counterpart of his. She worked in the field and the garden, managed the household, and raised the children (we were four sisters). She had many worries and little naches, but she was always happy with her lot and participated in the good deeds and charity of my father.
Relations between us and the gentiles were good. They knew that my father Shlomo always had an open ear and an open hand that would help them in their time of need. You are such a good person, they used to say, not at all like a Jew. In their twisted outlook, a Jew was a bad person. Thus many, many years passed, and when the tragic day arrived, they showed themselves as real gentiles who returned a bad act for a good one. Without any human emotion, they dipped their murdering hands into the blood of their Jewish neighbors and helpers of many generations, and brought atrocities to the Jews of Svorotva.
That is the tragic way the few Jews from our little village got killed. Their holy names are:
Translated by Ron Rabinovitch Many Jewish families were living and earning their livelihoods in villages surrounding Maytchet, like a garland surrounding it. For many generations the Jews of the villages worked in agriculture alongside the local gentile farmers. Others were merchants, tradesmen, and agents for selling the agricultural crops and homemade products of the farmers, and bringing in merchandise and urban products to the village. During times of peace, their livelihoods were plentiful, and they maintained good neighborly relationships throughout the generations. During the holidays, they would come to Maytchet to celebrate together with the Jews who lived there. Therefore they viewed themselves as being residents of the city for all matters as if it was Maytchet and its suburbs.
In the village of Yatra, just 12 kilometers from Maytchet, lived three Jewish families: Yankel and Batya Shmulovits, the Abramovitz family and the Malishansky family. There were also two women who escaped from Novogrudok during the wartime. The relationship between us and the local people was cordial, and we remained there until the first German aktion in the Novogrudok ghetto in the winter of 1941. When the policemen from Novogrudok came to look for us, they began making inquiries of our neighbors. One of our neighbors told them to go to another place and then came to warn us of the approaching troubles. After that, the policemen from the village of Potoshipobi came occasionally to bother us, so we were forced to flee, each one in a different direction.
My mother escaped to the forest. My cousins Lyuba and Noach Kowel and I fled to an estate in Yatra and hid in the barn. My father and my brother escaped to the home of a gentile acquaintance three kilometers away. Shmolovits and Abramovitz escaped to Maytchet. After the aktion in Novogrudok, we returned to the village and found empty houses that had been ransacked by our good neighbors. We all settled in one house. My mother returned from the forest but she was suffering of frostbitten legs. Dr. Yakobovitch, a refugee physician from Zapolia, came to our house everyday to help Mother's frozen feet, but he was not successful.
Survivors from Yatra told a shocking story of a desecration of holy objects and a strong injury to Jewish sensitivities. The few Jews of the village had a Torah Scroll which they used for reading during services with a minyan [prayer quorum]. When the Germans found out about it, they forced the Jews to throw it into a burning oven. When the Germans left the house after perpetrating their evil deed, the Jews put out the fire and were able to rescue several folios. When they asked the Rabbi in Maytchet what to do
with them, he said that the rescued pages should be buried in the Maytchet cemetery. This is what was done. They transferred the folios to Maytchet, conducted a funeral, and buried them in the local cemetery.
After five months, the policemen came and took all the Jews from the surrounding villages to the Karelits Ghetto.
All of the villagers who were gathered from the nearby villages we were forced to remain in one house. They worked us very hard, filling sacks with potatoes and grain, which were sent to Germany. We were also forced to clean the houses occupied by the German soldiers and the local police. One day, an order was received to move some of the people, especially the villagers, to Novogrudok. We were a group of over one hundred people walking 25 kilometers. When we arrived in Novogrudok at night, they moved us to the prison rather than take us in to the ghetto. It was a night of nightmares. They made us remove all our clothing and then searched our clothes and bodies for gold. In the morning, they moved us to the ghetto and put us in the barn. We were sent to work at cleaning and other tasks in a military base. The Germans wanted to abuse us, so we were sent to the graves of the victims of the first aktion to cut some flowers to bring to the cook. After two weeks, they were short of workers in the Dvorzec Ghetto, so we were moved to work in the quarries there.
During this time, the Germans took some Russian prisoners to work in Germany. Some were able to escape to the forest, and this was when the local partisans became active. The Gendarme (police) tried to hunt them down, and they sent Jews in the front line to absorb the gunshots. That is how we became aware of the partisans. One day I went to Yatra to search for food with my mother and my brother Meir, and with the help of a gentile, we managed to bring some to the Dvorzec Ghetto. Before the massacre in Maytchet, the Jews there also supplied food to the Dvorzec Ghetto. About two months after the liquidation of the Jews of Maytchet, my family moved to the Jedon Forest my father, mother, my brother Meir, and I; Pesha and FredaAbramovitz his brother Michael Abramovitz had previously joined the partisans.
We were living outside under the sky, and at times worked at homes of nearby gentiles in order to get some food. When winter came, we moved to Zemlianka. Sometimes the partisans came and killed German soldiers and the number of partisans grew day by day. We were joined by Jews who had escaped from the massacre in Dvorzec. After the exposure of the village in which we worked, all of the gentiles escaped with the Jews to the forest. They burnt down their village for collaborating with the partisans. After some time, the gentiles returned to their ruins, and the Jews remained in the forest.
Partisans of the Belski Otriad were active near Maytchet. When they spread out in the area to gather food, I joined them in active service. The Germans conducted a large search for partisans at the time of Purim, 1943. Out of the group of 27 partisans, only 7 survived. My father was captured, moved to the Novogrudok prison, and was murdered there. The survivors were my mother and my brother, Abraham Kaplan and his son, Tzim Kaplan and Sonia, Pesha Abramovitz.
The seven survivors went out to the Belski Otriad, and met a group of partisans who brought them there. At that time, I was on guard duty, and the commander did not inform me of the arrival of my mother and brother until the end of my shift. We remained in this Otriad until the liberation. From there we went to Novogrudek, where we were liberated in an official fashion and military style, with the granting partisan certificates.
Translated by Jerrold Landau
It is deathly still in Maytchet, the townsfolk are happy,
Come, townsfolk brethren with the German hordes,
There they go, the multitude whom have been sentenced to death,
Going on their final way, a multitude of the living dead.
They are quiet, no sobbing is heard,
Impoverished Jewish Maytchet, what has become of you,
The Tarbut School is enveloped in deep fury
However, a comfort glows in the hearts -
We, the surviving Jews of Maytchet
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