« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

[Pages 237]

A sea of troubles

by Eliyau Berkovitz

Translated from Yiddish by O. Delatycki

A. Under the Soviets

On the 1st September 1939 the people of our town were overcome by unexpected bad news of the outbreak of the Second World War. There were immediate worrying consequences: mobilization into the Polish army – sons and husbands were leaving their homes and were taken to the frontline to fight the Nazi beast. The war was brief. The Polish army was defeated very quickly by the much larger, motorised army and superior air force of the Nazis.

On the 17th of September the Polish forces left Novogrudok in haste and the town became ungoverned. Some said that the Germans were coming and that spread a fear. At 4 o'clock in the afternoon we heard the news that the Soviet army crossed the boarders and was advancing to the west. At 7 o'clock in the evening a loud noise was heard and the first powerful Russian tanks appeared in Korelicze street. They were met by the Jewish population with jubilation and flowers. It was announced by loudspeakers that the Polish population should not evacuate the town. No one will be harmed. People in the streets were in a festive mood. The Soviet forces were coming from all directions. Some soldiers picked up children for a ride on the tanks. There were Jewish soldiers in the Soviet army who made themselves known to the local community. At 10 o'clock in the evening the loudspeakers announced that the town was governed by a military administration. A 10 pm curfew was in force and all civilians should go home. At 1 o'clock in the morning sounds of intensive shooting were heard. Everyone endeavoured to take cover. No one new what caused the shooting. A rumour spread next morning that some bullets broke window panes. Some soldiers told us that they were fighting the Poles, who were shooting from cover. The strong fire was concentrated in Kowalski Street, where the Catholic Church was. The resistance was suppressed by the morning. During that night the first Jewish victim fell – the older son of Aba Zamkowy was shot by the Poles.

Some days passed. Things returned to normal. Farmers were again coming to town. The shops resumed trading. A parity of the Polish zloty and the Soviet rouble was declared by the authorities. Thus both currencies were in circulation and trade was brisk. The Soviet soldiers were eager customers. They bought everything in sight. The merchants soon realised that it was a fool's game. In a few months time crippling taxes were imposed on all traders. However much the takings were they did not suffice to pay the taxes. The privately owned shops were shutting down. The state started to organise cooperatives of all kinds. The cooperatives employed the owners of the shops and artisans. Manufacturing plants were established such as a clothing factory, which employed all tailors. This was followed by a shoe factory and a furniture factory. Gradually life was changed to the Soviet style.

Thus life continued uneventfully till the beginning of 1941. At that time a mass deportation to Russia of a section of the Jewish population occurred. On one Friday morning packed carriages were seen. They were the possessions of Jews who were previously wealthy. [Several details of this are wrong]. On that Friday there was disquiet in town. The relatives and friends of the deported were bemoaning their loss. Life continued monotonously till the 22 June 1941 [two days of monotony, the event described in the previous sentence happened on the 20 June 1941] when the Germans attacked Russia.

The tunnel

One day a segment of the surviving Jews met and formed a plan to attack the guards of the Ghetto and run wherever they could. We managed to purchase and smuggle some arms into the Ghetto. We knew that we were all destined to be killed. We thought that if we ran a few might survive. We organised ourselves in fighting units. We were all able to fight and knew weapons. A date was set to carry out the attack. All was ready. As the time approached we noticed that the guards had been doubled in strength. We realized that our plans had been disclosed. We decided to investigate the leak and find the culprit. We had in the Ghetto a Dr Jakubovich, who now lives in Israel. He was injured in his leg. His brother was the chief of the Ghetto police. The brother knew of our plans and was prepared to escape from the Ghetto with the rest of us. We asked him what was to happen to his brother, since he would not be able to run. He answered that 230 people of the Ghetto could not sacrifice themselves for one, even if that person was his brother. He told us that he was in favour of the attack on the guards. The doctor's wife, who was a midwife and was doing her best to cure her husband, found out about our plans and opposed the plan to attack the guards. She was protesting and pleaded not to sacrifice her husband and to postpone the attack. The attack was postponed and this, in the end, turned out for the best.

We were looking for a solution and considering all possibilities. Perhaps, perhaps… A group of us got together with the chief of police Jakubovich. As a result of our discussions it was decided to dig an underground tunnel. It seemed a fantasy. But gradually the fantasy was changing to reality. We planned how to go about the job. When the plan was ready Berl Yoselevich and Jakubovich were put in charge. The work was started with great enthusiasm and strict secret, because we were continuously watched by the police on the outside and the foremen of the workshops, who were Russians. Fifty people were selected. They were young and, we hoped, they could keep the work confidential. Every day each man had to work a two hour shift in the shaft. The digging was started in the barn where some of us lived. One of the first problems to be solved was to dispose of the soil removed from the tunnel. As it happened a few buildings in the Ghetto were built under the one roof. Holes were made in the partitions under the roof to create a passage. Men were seated every few meters and the soil in small sacks was passed from one to the other and thus transported to the loft. The sacks were made by the tailors from rags. In time the loft was full. At that stage double walls were made and soil was deposited under the floors. The work proceeded in silence. Communication was in sign language. The most intensive work was done on Sundays, because it was officially a day of rest and the gentile personnel was not present. On Sunday the Ghetto was cleaned and the garbage removed. The opportunity was taken to mix the soil with the garbage and get rid of it. A number of technical problems had arisen. The walls of the tunnel had to be shored up to prevent them from collapsing. The carpenters prepared sections made of wood. The wood was stolen from the workshops, carried under coats, made up into panels and installed at night. Thus meter after meter, the tunnel was extended. Two to three metres were dug daily. The next problem was lack of air and darkness. Kerosene lamps were made, but they did not work for lack of air. Our tinkers, such as Niomke Portnoi and others, came to the rescue. They made up pipes in form of cones – wide at the bottom and small at the top, where they penetrated to the outside. This solved the problem of air supply. The men inside the tunnel worked naked because of humidity in the tunnel. It so happened that July was a wet month and it rained daily. Water entered the tunnel. A new job of removing the water had begun. We would empty it and new water would seep in. In time we overcame this problem too. The tunnel was 60 centimetres wide and 70 centimetres high and ran 2 meters under the surface. This made it possible for a person to crawl through the tunnel. At this stage the tunnel was 100 metres long and it became more and more laborious to remove the soil. We looked for a solution. A carpenter from Zetl by the name of Borecki came to the rescue. He made two platforms on wheels with timber rods for rails. He designed it very well. One carriage was moving forwards and the other backwards. The carriages were pulled by ropes made from rags. This innovation made the work much easier. One improvement led to another. Electric light was installed in the tunnel. We had no electricity in our rooms, but there was electricity in the workshops. Our electrician Gershon Michalovich had run a concealed connection through the loft. We smuggled in lamps and we had light in the tunnel. The work continued. In the beginning of September 1943 the tunnel was 250 metres long. News began to circulate that the Ghetto was going to be liquidated and the town would be made Judenrein [cleared of Jews]. We heard from our Belarus police that the Ghetto in Lida was liquidated and all Jews were taken to Majdanek. The police was pleased to convey to us such news. We decided to escape as soon as possible. The news about the tunnel was disclosed to everybody in the Ghetto and was received with enormous surprise. There were however some who had expressed doubt about the possibility of an escape. Some said that we would be trapped alive in the tunnel. Others thought that we should wait and see what the time would bring. We made every effort to convince everyone. We told them that if we do nothing we would be all killed. If we tried we might succeed. It was decided to conduct a secret ballot and we would follow the will of the majority. The result of the ballot was 165 votes for and 65 against. We decided to escape. The next problem was who should go first and who would be last. Everyone wanted to be first. We came to a decision that no one would be told where he was in the line. Everyone was given a piece of paper with the name of the person ahead of him. The small supply of arms was divided in two: half to those who would guard the exit the other half to those that would guard the entrance. In case of a hold up nobody would be allowed to enter the tunnel to give a chance to those inside to save themselves. It was decided that we would leave on Saturday night. The night turned out to be clear and everyone was held in readiness till one in the morning. It was decided to try again on the next day, Sunday. Everyone went quietly to their barracks. The men in charge knew that they could risk the delay because the Germans never conducted an 'action' on a Sunday. Next day was a clear sunny day, but this time there could not be further delays. The living dead in the Ghetto milled around in feverish excitement. As our luck would have it, at 5 o'clock in the afternoon dark rain clouds began covering the sky. Soon after the rain with thunder and lightening came down. We loosened deliberately the metal sheets on the roofs and the wind made them flap noisily. As soon as it was dark we were all in our appointed places. We slithered through the holes in the loft to the entrance to the tunnel.

Now I have to tell my story, because I did not escape through the tunnel and nobody knew that I remained in the Ghetto. I saw all that was happening in preparation to the escape. With me was my sister Chaje Sore Ludski. She had a heart disease. I knew that she would not be able to crawl 250 metres on all fours through the tunnel. She would only stop others, because nobody could pass her in the tunnel. I was looking for a solution and I believed that I had found one. I spoke to a Jew in our Ghetto by the name of Shmuel Kulachek, who stemmed from Iveniec. He too suffered from a heart disease. He had a 14 year old son. We discussed the situation. He told me that he had prepared a hiding place. He said that if I was in agreement, we could wait and after the escape we would decide what to do next. He took me to a loft and showed me what he had built. It was a double floor 50 centimetres high, covered on the outside with a high pile of smelly rubbish to discourage people approaching it. I liked his preparations and we started storing our provisions, water and blankets, to make it possible for us to survive in the hiding place for some time, if necessary. I included in the conspiracy my brother-in-law Zisl Raisin who was the husband of my younger sister Bejle, who was killed by the Germans on the 7 May 1943. When I explained to him our intensions, he answered that he left the planing to me and would do what I intended to. In the evening, when all departed to the tunnel we hid in our hiding place. There were five of us: my sister, I, Zisl Reisin and Kulachek with his son. At 8 o'clock the escape started with the agreed signal: Gershon Michalewicz the electrician short circuited the current to the projector. The projector was installed on the roof of the court house and illuminated the whole surroundings. We saw from our hiding place the projector blinking a few times on and off and than stopping for good. Our Gershon did well. From then on till about 9 o'clock there was total silence. It was calculated that the escape through the tunnel would take 20 minutes. We were certain, therefore, that the escape was successful. At 9 o'clock intensive shooting started in town. This lasted for about half an hour and then there was silence again. At 11 o'clock we heard more shooting and running by the Belarus police all over the Ghetto. Of course they found no one. They must have been puzzled about the escape. I heard them shout in Russian: 'not a living soul'. There was a lot of activity and after a time they found the entrance to the tunnel. There they found a letter to the district commissar Traub, in which he was informed in a humorous way that the Jews had departed. The rest of the night was quiet. In the morning all the gentile supervisors arrived and were arrested. In the afternoon they dismantled and removed all the equipment in the workshops. For the next three days there were visitors to the entrance to the tunnel. Gentiles from everywhere came to look at the rarity and to see what people under threat were capable of. We, in our uncertain situation, were also glad that at least some Jews saved themselves. We stayed in hiding for eight days, till we felt that the guards were not there anymore. On Yom Kipur at 1 o'clock at night, in the rain, we decided to abandon our hiding place. We were aiming to go towards the forest in search of the partisans. I went out barefoot and shook intensely the barbwire. When there was no reaction we convinced ourselves that the guards were not there. We came down one by one. We went out through a hole which the police used to trade with the inmates. We were carrying my sister. We were aiming to get to the Sieniezyc forest. We got to the forest which was about 6 kilometres away. In the forest we felt more secure. It was beginning to get lighter. We saw in the distance two men with rifles. We thought that they may be policeman and we hid in the bushes. They shouted at us to come out and come over. To our joy we discovered that they were Dr Rosenbloom and his gentile superior. He was very glad to have met us. He told us about the escapees from the tunnel. He said that more then half were caught and killed by the Germans [Jack Kagan, who escaped through the tunnel {see his 'How I survived' on p.299 of Pinkas Novogrudok}, investigated after the war the number of survivors from the tunnel and found that more than 170, or 74%, of the escapees through the tunnel survived]. The rest joined various partisan formations, most of them joined Tuvie Beski's group. He was glad that some were saved. He advised that we should not join a small partisan group, because Jews may not be safe among gentile partisans. He said that they were not keen to help us, and if they meet a Jewish partisan alone they might behave like the Germans. He gave us information of how to find Bielski's group. It took us another 8 days to find Bielski, where we met our people from the Ghetto. We were well received by them. We were not alone at last. We found ourselves among Jews with arms in their hands. We were in the forest and free to fight the Germans. We were in the partisans for 10 months. Every now and then we experienced hunger, but we were alive. On the 22 June 1944 the Russian offensive against the Germans started. The Germans were running to the west faster than they came to the east. At the end of June 1944 Novogrudok and the district towns were free of the Germans. [Novogrudok was liberated by the Russians on the 8th July 1944]. When the Russian army came we were in the forests. They have seen for themselves that there were partisans and their families in the forests. A day after liberation plans were made to return to our homes. But what homes? They found large mass graves. Some of us were mobilised to the regular Russian army. About 50 Jews out of 6000 remained in Novogrudok. Most of us could not live among the ruins. We made our way to Poland and from there to Israel.


[Pages 241]

Under the German Yoke

by Lyuba Rudnicki

Translated from Yiddish by O. Delatycki

Yiskor – remember for generations to come what the Germans did to us. Recall - pass on from one to another what is written here in blood. Yiskor - remember the beginning of the Soviet – German war. On Thursday the 18th of June 1941 [the correct date is the 19th of June 1941] there is an unquiet and fear in the air. There is a movement of horse carriages in town. We didn't know the meaning of this. There were various rumours. One said that the carriages were needed to transport grain (we had no big trucks in town), someone else thought that they would be needed to transport people, the third thought that they would be used to deport the very rich and send them to Siberia. In the depth of the night we were woken by the sounds of the horses and carts moving on the stone pavement. The night passed in tension.

In the morning we found out that overnight the Soviets transported 'the very rich, the exploiters' and the refugees [whilst who is 'very rich' or an 'exploiter' depend on the definition, there were no refugees from the German occupied part of Poland in the transport of the 19/20 June 1941], who were given paragraph 11 (this was a paragraph which was given to people who were not the inhabitants of Novogrudok and big businessmen [this is not correct]). Heads of the families were taken to jail. The other members of the families were told to take some belongings and were driven off in the carts. The next day was a day of sorrow, like on Tishe b'Av [ninth of the month of Av –a day of mourning – the day of the destruction of the first and second Temples]. There were tears and lamentations by the members of the separated families. Children of the deported families who were married, were not deported. There were instances when a daughter of a family to be deported was allowed to remain, when a neighbour swore that the girl was his wife (for instance Ada Ziskind-Shapiro). She was in her mother's home. But Ben-Zion (Benche) Movshovich came and insisted that she was his wife. At the time it was thought that the worst thing that can happen was to be sent to Siberia. Next morning all those who were given paragraph 11 went to sleep in their neighbour's houses. I remember that my parents went to sleep in the house of Joselewicz, the son of Rafael the shoemaker, he was certain that he would be safe being a tradesman. Everyone was sure that the deportations had only started. It was a very long day. There was no escaping the deportation. It was difficult for a settled family to give up their possessions, which they had accumulated in a lifetime. They were certain that they were provided for for years to come. And suddenly all changed and was destroyed. In addition there was the separation of husbands and wives, break up of the family and the deportation to the distant Siberia. Could anything be worse? We did not realise then that the deportation was the only way of escaping from the hell that awaited us.

In that tension and grief two days have passed. On Sunday morning people went on with their business. There was an unusual quiet. As the saying goes - a quiet before the storm.

War!

In the streets were small clusters of people. There were rumours of a war. Somebody said that he listened on Saturday night to an English broadcast which claimed that Germany would attack Russia on the 24th of June. This was startling news. The deportation was forgotten. There was disquiet. In the evening the excitement had grown. Men were getting ready to leave their families. It was assumed that men alone were endangered during the war. They said that the Germans employed men to do heavy work. Women were not in any danger. And this was when the tragedy began. Men were parting from their parents, wives and children. They were heading for Minsk, to the east. Rumours were circulating that the army barracks in Skridlewo were attacked from the air. Four aircraft flew quite low. There were casualties. The panic was growing. People were looking for horse drawn carts, motorcars, bicycles, any form of transport to get away as quickly and as far as possible. My husband and I decided to go to Minsk. We took out our motorbikes and were ready to start. In the last moment I changed my mind. I thought: how can I leave behind my father and mother, my sister? Can I live without them? We became apathetic. We were resigned, we thought: what would happen to everybody would also happen to us. We remained. Perhaps it was our destiny to remain so that those of us who would survive would be able to tell what our eyes had seen. As it happened we were the only witnesses of the tragic end of our near and dear ones. We also witnessed the end of the town of Novogrudok. This is our story for all of those who were not with us so that they could read it and pass on the story to future generations. Perpetually the question arises – how was it possible and how could words convey the feelings of our suffering? Every word that was written came through blood and tears. But there is the urgent need to always remember what the Germans and their helpers did to us.

Remember. Sunday the 22nd of June 1941 the Soviet radio announced that the Germans attacked the Soviet Union. The broadcast urged all citizens to be calm, not to panic, the ultimate victory is certain.

But even on the first day of the war there was a big disorder at our places of work. The officials who came to Novogrudok from the east since September 1939, specifically directors of enterprises, left their posts and were looking for ways to escape. None of them were to be seen. In the morning of that day the sound of aircraft could be heard. We thought that they were Russian planes, but it turned out they were German. They flew past and vanished. The panic was increasing. Nobody knew what to do. Some started building shelters. The streets were filled with people who were escaping from the town in large numbers. Most were going in the direction of Korelicz or Sieniezyc. The Soviets were leaving with their families. On the next day many did not come to work. It was thought that in a bombardment one would be safer in a field or a forest. Some believed that the Soviet air force would put up a strong defence. But on Tuesday the 24th, at 10 o'clock in the morning 9 aircraft appeared in the sky. They lost height and started bombing. They were aiming at concentrations of the Russian army. The Russian headquarters were in the Zamkova [Castel] street in a new house which belonged before the war to Szloyme Mowszowicz. The first bomb destroyed that house. It was flattened like a house of cards. Other objectives were the hospital in Yiddish street and the row of shops in the centre of the Market place. Some houses on the corner off Korelicz street were also destroyed, as was the house of Leizerowski where my in-laws had their soda water shop. The bombardment lasted a few minutes. About 30 people were killed and many were injured. I was on the Castle hill during the bombardment. I was going to Brecianka. When the bombardment started I was lying flat without movement. When the aircraft left I found out that I was covered in soil. A bomb landed not far from me. The bombardment was entirely unexpected. Novogrudok had few strategic objects. Why were we bombed so early? Some people tried to explain it by the allegation that some soldiers discharged their hand guns at the planes. Since the first bombardment, people were escaping to the nearby villages of Brecianka, Hordzielowka, Litowka etc. At night we slept at home and early in the mornings we went to the villages. In town there was no administration or militia. It was surprising that any sort of order was maintained. There was no control and yet there were no reports of thefts or more serious crimes. On the surface there were no changes. Possibly the fear or the common danger restrained everyone. There was an abundance of rumours. Some said that the Russians were advancing, others said that the Germans had already occupied Minsk. We were isolated from the world. We were satisfied if a day passed without major disasters. We were of course extremely worried. It is the unknown that we feared. This is how a week passed till the frightful Saturday evening, the 28th of June. It was a calm day. The sun shone, the air was still. There was no sign of aircraft. People stared moving back to town. It was a Sabbath and everyone preferred to be home and not in a barn or just a paddock. The last few days were uneventful and quiet. As it got darker and the time approached 7 in the evening we heard suddenly a frightening noise of approaching aircraft. We were at that time in Brecianka and decided to remain there. The planes flew low over the town and disappeared. We just started to breathe again, when a mass of aircraft came from all directions and a bombardment began. The noise was appalling. High flames and black smoke rose everywhere. It lasted 15 minutes without a break. Looking at it from Brecianka we were certain that nobody survived and the town was a heap of rubble. The first survivors arrived after 10 at night. They ran over dead bodies and burning houses. The town was in ruins. Waliker Street till the house of the dentist Lewin was destroyed. Zalatuche was undamaged. Yiddish street till the houses of my uncles Kaplinski was gone. The quarters of the public servants were undamaged. In the Synagogue square only the walls of the big Synagogue and two walls of the cold Synagogue were standing above the rubble. Slonim Street on the side opposite to the Catholic Church and as far as the jail was damaged. The church was untouched. All of the shops in the row of shops in the centre of the Market place were in ruins. Schloss Street to the Synagogue was gone. The Town Hall and the Polish gymnasium (high school) on the left side of Korelicz street were in ruins. The right side of Korelicz street as well as Mickiewicz street till the house of Czyz in Sieniezyc street were completely wiped out. Only boulders remained. If one stood where the row of shops was in the Market square, one could see the gate of the Jewish cemetery with its ornate inscription on the façade. The gate was a gift to the town from Itzchok Gurwicz and his wife. On the left one could see the district court which became later the Ghetto. One could not believe that this was recently a blooming, bubbling, clean town, which was changed into a heap of stones. Only a minority of houses remained undamaged.

The bombardment resulted in 300 deaths and many injuries. Most of the casualties were Jewish, because the Jewish part of town suffered most. Very many were left without a roof over their head. For several days many people were not accounted for. After a few days the extent of the big catastrophe had become apparent if not believable. I was witness to the selfless, humane behaviour of the Jews of Novogrudok. People gave shelter to those who lost their homes and helped everyone in need, including strangers. They fed them and looked after them. One spurred on the other. They were sharing everything. To my mind the behaviour of the people in town was exemplary. I never knew that we had so many good-hearted people. I still think often of Novogrudok which in my memory is so dear to me and which I lost forever with all my nearest.

The first slaughter

In memory of my dear sister Raichel and my dear, unforgettable parents.

Remember – on the 5thof December 1941 announcements appeared: all Jewish able bodied tradesmen with their families must be ready to relocate to a Ghetto and they would be permitted to take with them only luggage they were able to carry. The immediate question which had come to mind was: and what would happen to those who were not tradesmen? The word Ghetto had created a fear. People tried to rationalise. Some optimists said that in the Ghetto it may be possible to survive. It was known that a Ghetto was established in Warsaw at the beginning of 1940. What we could find out about it from the distance was not all bad. We knew that some refugees who came to Novogrudok in 1939 from the German occupied part of Poland had returned there of their own will. Some wrote that they were surviving in the Ghetto. Their main complaint was shortage of accommodation. Whilst we were worried about the Ghetto, none of us gave any thought to the future after the Ghetto. It was gruesome enough to think of being locked up in a limited space. But we had no alternative.

On Friday they made an announcement. We were ordered not to remain outside of our homes after 6 o'clock of that evening. If found in the street after 6 o'clock one would be shot. Those were the so called police hours. As to the reason for the restriction there were various rumours. One was that a large detachment of Gestapo was going to march past. Some assumed that Hitler may visit briefly Novogrudok. We were all naïve. There was also a rumour that in Horodyszcz there was a slaughter, where everyone without exception was killed. Same argued that the reason was that the people of Horodyszcz did not obey the orders of the Germans, but we in Novogrudok we were obeying the law and the German orders and we had nothing to fear. We were resigned to the idea of being confined in a Ghetto. We did not sleep that night. We were glad when daylight came. Since the early morning, Jews were seen trying to leave the town. Not many succeeded. Those caught were put in the Ghetto, where all others were hoarded. Two Ghettos were created. One was in the building of the district court the other in the First of May street in the building of the Catholic school. Everyone tried to be selected to go to the district court. The police and one member of the Judenrat were rounding up the people. None of us foresaw the great calamity that awaited us. Being herded into the Ghetto was tragic enough. We left our houses and surrounds that were built by generations of our forebears. Suddenly we did not have a home and could not imagine the conditions that we would be exposed to. Where would we sleep? We took what we could carry on our backs. We got to the district court. Entering into the yard was a frightening experience. Around the building stood SS men with sticks. They restricted our movement. Whoever came in could not come out. There were some Jews who had certificates from their places of work. Everyone who had such a certificate felt more secure, because he thought that he or she was considered to be a necessary worker. My sister Raichl had a special certificate. She was working for the head of staff. My father-in-law Avrom Rudnicki had also a special certificate - he was supplying soda water to the Germans. There were only a few who were so lucky. People were of course envious of those who had certificates. On entering the Ghetto the holders of the certificates and their families were put in a separate place. It was assumed that they were the most secure should anything untoward happen. Many did not want to think too hard. We had no option and we saw no reason why anything extraordinary should happen. We were good and obedient detainees. Everyone tried to choke the fear deep in their heart. The frost outside was severe, but they did not let us go inside. We were shrivelled up from the cold and were huddling close to each other. There was no free space. There were more than 5000 people in the yard. We were standing and waiting. What were we waiting for? When it got dark the doors to the district court were opened and we were pushed in like cattle into dirty, narrow rooms. There was no room to sit. We tried to make space for the old, sick women. The district court consisted of a few buildings. We were running from one building to another trying to find more space. Between the buildings in the centre was a space. We were tired and hungry. If someone brought food he could not extract it. There was no room to put down luggage. The night has nearly over. We were hoping for a better day. On Sunday morning we were told to go to work. The Judenrat was sending people to their usual places of work.

Those remaining were waiting for the return from work of the members of their families. The German soldiers who were guarding the doorways expressed their regrets for the lack of space. They promised that space would be created. When those who were at work started to return they told us that the Christians in town told them that huge pits were dug for us next to the army barracks in Skridlewo. Others argued that the pits were for the old people who were kept in the Catholic school. Those who correctly assessed the implications did not return to the Ghetto. They sought shelter with Christian acquittances. Others were hiding in the destroyed houses. Those who were in the court buildings had no choice. The buildings were well guarded and were surrounded by tall walls and barb wire fences. We turned to the Judenrat as our representatives, who were in touch with the authorities. Judenrat carried out all orders of the regime without fail. They told us that we were not in any danger. The head of the Judenrat was the lawyer Ciechanowski. Members of the Judenrat and their families were located in a separate building to which we had no access. Despite the assurances all were disoriented, panic stricken and frightened. At such times, when there is no visible path for salvation one can only try to switch off. One becomes atrophied, apathetic and just lets go. There were no alternatives. Even if one could escape - what about the family. Under those frightful conditions the night passed. This was a night that one wished would go on forever. We were huddled together. I see before me my dearest sister and parents. We were hugging each other without saying a word. What was there to say? Each one was trying to invent a trade that one could claim to have mastered. It was rumoured that tradesmen would be spared. I can still hear the voice of my cousin Noimele, who was four years old. Despite her youth she understood the essence of the events. She said to her mother: 'Mummy, don't worry about me, I can knit'. Nobody could sleep. Everybody was listening for the slightest noise. In the morning the Judenrat was trying to provide a meal. A kitchen had been set up in a separate building. Each one was given a plate of hot soup. It was cold outside. A fierce wind was blowing. Suddenly an order was given: 'Get inside the buildings'. Families were separated and were not allowed to reunite. A fear of death was hanging over all of us. At that stage a door opened. As people walked in there was a selection: one was sent to the right the other to the left. At that moment I was separated from my parents and my sister. I was pushed forward. I could not move left or right. Suddenly we were alone – I and my husband. A few other people were pushed into the room. They were followed by an SS man. He searched everyone. He took away from one person a watch, from another a chain and left shutting behind him the door. We could see through the cracks in the wall people being moved one way and the other. Where were they going? We could hear the sound of motor vehicles, crying of children.

Those who were sent to the left were taken by trucks to Skridlewo, where the pits were prepared. They were surrounded by Germans with machine guns. Between the two pits was a narrow path. They were made to get off the trucks and walk along the narrow path. They were shot at that point. The bodies fell into the pits. Some were killed others were injured and some were untouched. They fell on top of each other. This is how five thousand innocent lives were rubbed out. Fathers, mothers, small children. Innocent lives were terminated. I find it difficult to describe this scene. We heard of my in-laws Avrom and Rivka Rudnicki. As they were driven to the pits they saw a group of Jews who were working in the barracks, among them their son Mejer. They shouted: 'Tell our children to take vengeance'.

Was there anything we could do to avenge a bestial crime of that magnitude, after our nearest and dearest had been murdered so brutally? Can there be solace in vengeance? A few people managed to save their lives by jumping from the trucks. Among them were Sorke Nachimovski and Chaim Maslowaty from Zamkowa Street. His daughter was shot whilst she jumped from the truck. That day Sorke and Maslowaty were hiding in bushes. At night they managed to return to the court buildings, where they were smuggled in. All members of the Judenrat and their families had survived the slaughter. When I saw Sorke I cried hysterically. She was a smart woman. She told me that as soon as she was put into the truck she with her husband and their 12 year old son decided to jump. In the truck were German soldiers with machine guns. She waited for a suitable moment and jumped. Maslowaty and his daughter followed. The Germans opened a vicious fire which killed his daughter. Her husband and son were prevented from jumping. The woman had a tremendous will to live, despite her debilitating illness. Her main solace in life was her gifted 12 year old son. Even after she lost everyone and everything she had the drive to live. She reproached me for being apathetic. She used to tell me: 'We must survive to bear witness to what has been done to us. We must shout loud enough for the world to hear. We should demand that justice must be done. We must reveal what the cursed Nazis did to the civilized world and specifically to the Jews.' At that time we were naïve enough to think that people would listen.

No matter how difficult it is for me to write these lines, I will be true to my destiny, and describe the murder of our dearest. When the last group of workers returned to the Ghetto it became clear that none of our relatives and close friends survived. Everyone in the Ghetto was in deep mourning. Can one describe the feeling of having lost the closest for ever? We waited the whole night. Perhaps somebody would return. But in vain. A strong wind was blowing emitting tones that were in harmony with our feelings. As I write this story I can not comprehend how we could survive our losses. No one lost their mind, there were no heart attacks. And to this day I can not understand it. There must be a drive to survive that gave strength to overcome our indescribable losses.

As we were sitting in mourning, the head of staff came with some bread for my unforgettable sister Raichl. He came to help her. She was a great person. Alas, she perished with our parents. She did not want to be separated from them. I believe that she clung to them when she died. I still can hear her last words: 'I will not remain behind without my parents'.

In this, the first slaughter, 5000 Jews were killed. About 1000 Jews remained. They were transferred to the Ghetto in Peresike. But only some of them were destined to survive to a new life of suffering and pain.

« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »


This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.


JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Novogrudok, Belarus     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page


Yizkor Book Project Manager, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Lance Ackerfeld

Copyright ©1999-2014 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 7 July 2006 by LA