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[Page 287]

The Great Destruction

 

A. How 300 Jews saved themselves

by Chaim Leibovitz

Translated by O. Delatycki

On the 7th of February 1943 the third slaughter took place, which destroyed the communities of Novogrudok, Korelicz., Lubcze, Wsielub, Najsztat and Zetl. From approximately 12,000 people 550 Jews remained. The German head of the district solemnly assured at a specially arranged meeting that the surviving Jews, who were useful would outlive the war. An official government order was issued confirming this. The surviving shadows of human beings were locked up in the district court buildings, where workshops were set up. Sleeping bunks which allowed 60 cm per person were provided. Bread mixed with straw was baked. The ration was 100 grams per person. A thin soup, black in colour was provided. It was made of water and potato peels. To make sure that the survivors would not escape from their quarters, the buildings of the district court were surrounded by a fence made of barb wire. Outside of that fence a tall second fence made of boards was erected. On top of that fence was more barb wire. Outside, next to the road leading to the farms, trenches were dug. The trenches were to prevent an attack from the partisans. At the fence a watch tower with a projector was erected and machine guns were mounted. Eighty policemen kept watch. The Jews were made collectively responsible for the behaviour of each one. This meant that if one Jew offended in any way all Jews would be punished. They were also told that if one Jew would escape from the Ghetto, all Jews would be shot.

Helpless and resigned, the survivors looked on the fires of the burning Ghetto [This refers to the 'second' Ghetto in Peresike, where, apart of some survivors from Novogrudok, the Jews from surrounding towns and villages were interred after the first slaughter. During the first slaughter 85% of the Jews of Novogrudok were killed]. Some of the onlookers had in that Ghetto members of their families, friends and acquittances. It was horrible to contemplate that many of those confined in the Ghetto were convinced that they would be spared by the Germans. They believed it, because the commandant of the Ghetto promised this to them. Their hopes vanished in death and fire. Only now, in the district court, had the Jews come to the conclusion that the German promises were worthless. They now knew that they, the few remaining Jews, would meet with the same end. In silence, with their heads bowed, the Jews in the district court went to sleep on the hard boards. In the morning a meeting was called of former members of Poalei Zion and Bund. The purpose of the meeting was to look for ways of escaping from the claws of the murdering Nazis. The meeting was chaired by Dr I. Cohen, a member of the Central Committee of Poalei Zion in Poland. He spoke with pathos and stressed that our lives must not be sacrificed cheaply, we should aim to take a head for every head killed by the Germans. He continued 'It is disgraceful to die like our misled brothers and sisters died. It is an insult to live such a shameful life. There is only one way left – a worthy death. We must attack the Germans with any means available – using knifes, stones, with teeth and nails. And only than will we be united with the souls of the fallen'.

As a result of the meeting it was decided to prepare an armed uprising. To cut the wires, conduct the Jews from the Ghetto to the forest some 15 kilometres from town, and join the partisans who were located there. The organization of the uprising was on military lines. The membership was drawn from young captives, who were united in one desire. The fighters were divided in groups of five: four combatants and a leader of the group. The headquarters of the operation was at the infirmary where Dr Cohen and Dr Jakubowski had their office. The recruited members were called to the headquarters, where they swore at a burning candle that:

  1. They will obey all orders

  2. They will not betray any secrets of the movement even if they will be tortured to death

  3. They will revenge for the spilled Jewish blood

  4. They will not be captured alive by the Germans, and if they will have to die, it must be a worthy death

  5. If they should betray the movement they will be punished by a dishonourable death

The plan of the uprising was worked out in detail. Dr Cohen was nominated the head of the uprising. The attack will be made from all four corners of the Ghetto. The leaders of the four groups, who will attack the Germans were: Jankef Nevachovich, Berl Yoselevich, Avrom Rakovski and Mandri.

Korzuchovski together with a group would throw hand grenades at the watch house and destroy it. Orlanski with a group would cut the telephone wires. Czernichowski with a group would cut the wire fences. The more skilled tradesmen would lead the Jews through the wire. Initially most of the people in the Ghetto knew little of the conspiracy. As time passed the situation in the Ghetto got worse. The Jews were counted twice a day. Frequently shots were fired into the windows of the Ghetto. The committee was preparing the uprising. Arms were purchased. This was easier said than done. Arms were purchased for substantial sums from the policemen who were guarding the Ghetto. Non-the-less five rifles, six revolvers and four hand grenades were obtained. The uprising movement was growing in strength. To the surprise of those preparing the uprising, a resistance to the uprising was building up in the Ghetto. Some were arguing that the Germans would not be able to manage without the input of the tradesmen from the Ghetto. Others were arguing that they were not prepared to take their own lives. They did not mind how they would die. God gave them their life and only God could take their lives, they argued. The committee, however, was continuing with their preparations. The blacksmiths were making knives, metal rods with sharp ends, cutters for the wire fences and telephone wires. The preparations continued for two months. The uprising was planned for the 15 April 1943. The order was given for the units to be ready. The young people were thirsting for revenge. On the Sunday night, when, as was the custom, the guards were drunk, the members of the uprising opened the main gate using copied keys. The arms were taken from the hiding place. All were waiting, as arranged, for the first shot, which was a signal to attack the guard. Suddenly, a Mrs Burshtein, whose son was sitting in jail, came out shouting and calling the guard. The members of the uprising have removed the woman. But it was too late. The policemen started to run inside, but they found no one. The members of the uprising moved back inside the Ghetto. A member of the committee told the guard that the woman was deranged. The door was closed and the uprising failed. It should be mentioned that Mrs Burshtein was the mother of Moishe Burshtein, who was at one time one of the managers of the works office in the Ghetto. He was a young man 24 years old and naïve, he was made a member of the Judenrat (works office). In the beginning he collaborated with the Germans and believed them. The systematic slaughters and his disappointment in the German assurances sobered him up and he joined the organisation of the fighters, where he took an active part. It is not known who informed the Germans that Moishe Burshtein was connected with a fighting group. He was arrested without any explanation. The German Gestapo tortured him in order to obtain information about the resistance movement. But he did not disclose anything. He managed to smuggle out a letter written with his blood on his shirt. He wrote 'I am waiting for my death. I am in great pain. I will not betray you.'. He died a martyr's death. After the failed uprising there were several attempts to rekindle the fire of resistance. But the enthusiasm for the uprising had waned. The enthusiasm to bare the breast to a bullet and to become a martyr for the cause had gone. Dr Cohen had resigned from the leadership of the fighting group. The organisation of the fighting group had not been abolished. All fighters were concentrated around the group of furriers. They moved to the same block and consolidated the fighting unit.

The Ghetto lived under tension. In the evenings all were dressed, wore their rucksacks and were ready to attack the gates of the Ghetto. There was fear and panic in the Ghetto. A slaughter was expected at any moment.

At that stage the commissar Reuter appeared and declared that he was satisfied with the behaviour of the remaining Jews. He praised in particular the tailors and shoemakers. He ordered that the tradesmen should be divided into categories: those highly qualified should be given a ration of 200 grams of bread a day, those less qualified – 100 grams. The gentile director accompanied Reuter on a tour of inspection of the workshops and pointed out to him the well qualified workers. About 80% of all employed were considered to be highly qualified. Among those were people that the director knew and those whom the director wanted to oblige. The rest were considered to be 2nd category workers. It was ordered that the highly qualified tradesmen should eat in a separate room to the rest of the workers. This selection caused aggravation among the Jews. They felt that something evil was to happen. The extra bread had a taste of death. Those selected would have gladly forgone the extra ration, but they were made to eat in a separate room, where the bread was allocated.

This change caused, as was usual, various comments. Some, who spoke to the Germans, were told that the better workers would be sent to Germany to work there in factories. Those that were not selected would be left in Novogrudek and would work for the local population. Most of the people in the Ghetto saw in the selection a new ploy by the Germans. They saw it as a measure of misleading the Jews prior to a slaughter. There was panic among those that were considered by the Germans to be less qualified. They were collecting money for the gentile supervisor, hoping that he may persuade Reuter to reconsider them as better qualified. They were also looking for places to hide during the selection. They lifted the floorboards under the bunks and tried to find hiding places, should they be needed. This went on for five weeks. Gradually the excitement subsided. Everyone got his allocated portion of bread, which he ate while standing in the cue for soup.

On the 7th of May at 5 o'clock in the morning the Ghetto was awakened. Commissar Reuter came to check that no workers were missing and to make a list of the workers of the 2nd category, with the object of increasing their bread ration. The workers who were promised by the gentile supervisor that he would endeavour to have them all transferred to the 1st category, have gone out without hesitation onto the yard and arranged themselves according to their trade and category. The better qualified workers stood separate from those less qualified. Commissar Reuter read from a list. He removed deliberately his gloves, lit a cigarette, smiled knowingly, looked around, took out his watch, removed from his pocket a pencil and started writing on a piece of paper. He ordered that the workers of the 1st category should be given on the spot their portions of food. As soon as the better qualified workers entered their canteen, Belarus policemen appeared from behind the fences. They were called crows, because they wore black uniforms. With them, in green uniforms, were heavily armed Latvians. They surrounded the workers who remained in the yard. The workers realised that they had been tricked. They started to shout, cry and try to run, but the Germans opened fire and killed 3 people. The others were beaten with butts and forced on the ground with their faces down. They selected 298 persons, who were led out of the gate and made to lie face down on the ground. They were forced to completely undress and were taken, ten at a time to prepared trenches, where they were shot. The trenches were dug 400 metres from the Ghetto. This may have been done deliberately, to make certain that those who were left in the Ghetto could see the slaughter. Those that were led to their death were shouting, singing, waving their arms to take leave of their friends. Some women put up a resistance. They were severely beaten and dragged by their hair to the trenches. Some managed to escape from the trench, but the machine gun fire put an end to their lives. It was all finished within half an hour. Our Belarus neighbours willingly covered up the trenches. All that was left was a small elevation where the trench was. Farmers with their horses and carts were trailing slowly and indifferently to market, past the place where a short time ago the slaughter occurred. The morning sun shone on their round, well fed faces, as if to imply that they could travel undisturbed, they were not in any danger.

The slaughter had a shocking effect on all those who remained alive in the Ghetto. The dead were with us. We could see clearly from the yard of the Ghetto the mound over the trench. The members of the organisation were moving around silently with their heads bowed. Ahead of us lay long, sleepless nights and joyless days. During the day we were waiting for the night. And at night we were praying for the light of the next day. The members of the organisation started to plan anew an uprising against the Germans. It was decided to post a guard in the day time on the loft, with the order to raise an alarm should the Germans surround the Ghetto. It was decided that if the Germans should approach, a group of fighters armed with hand grenades should meet them at the gate. It was also decided that each time there was a head count in the yard, the members of the organisation should come to the yard with hand grenades in their pockets. About that time it had become known from the concealed radios that there was an uprising of Jews in Warsaw, which resulted in the liquidation of the Jewish population of Warsaw (the committee had a secret radio receiver in the Ghetto, only the members of the committee knew of its existence) . From the same source news was received of great defeats which the Germans suffered at the front and the bombardment of the German towns. The Germans started to hint that the Jews would be transported to a safer place. One German, a certain Zellinger, who played the role of a friend of the Jews, let it be known that the remaining Jews would be treated better, because the attitude of the German government to the Jews had changed for the better. The members of the committee were bitterly disappointed with the past events and were not deceived by any overtures. In the mean time news arrived that all Jews of Lida Ghetto were liquidated. It was ordered that all members of the group must be on guard.. The members of the committee gathered and discussed the possibility of an attack on the Germans on this day. At the same time Jews who did not want to leave the Ghetto met to discuss the situation and decided to hinder the efforts of the fighters. They decided to stay in the Ghetto as long as possible. Their argument was that they did not want to commit suicide, because an attack on the Germans would be unsuccessfully. On the other hand, if the Jews would remain in the Ghetto, their may be an opportunity to save one's life. One must have faith. One of the group who decided to stay told us in confidence that Ing. Kaltenhauer had assured him that the remaining Jews would be allowed to live till after the war and after that they would be sent to Madagascar, where the Jews would live among themselves. It was also possible that the Germans would lose the war and would be expelled and the Jews, miraculously, would be left alive. It was also contemplated that the American Jews would succeed to persuade their government to exchange the German prisoners of war, which they were holding, for Jews from the Ghettos.

And finally G-d gives and G-d takes. Nobody is at liberty to take away the gift that G-d gave him – his life. And to discourage the members who favoured an uprising, they sent a delegation to the uprising committee suggesting a plan to build a tunnel leading outside the Ghetto, and then get out to the forest.

The committee had stopped for a few days the activities of the conspiracy. At that time, within three days the project to dig a tunnel was approved. Berl Yoselevich was appointed technical manager of the project. The structural supervisor was Dworecki.

It was decided to build a tunnel 70cm wide and 70 cm high. The work proceeded at a fast rate, but the digging was very hard, because only one man could work at the face of the tunnel and he had to dig in a lying position. The soil was dragged out in bags. The ropes for dragging of the bags were made from shirts. The bags were moved to the lofts by a conveyor line of sixty men. When the lofts were filled, the soil was put into the water well. This created a shortage of water in the Ghetto. The Germans, who did not know the reason for the shortage, supplied water in barrels for the Jews. At that stage the Germans ordered that the water wall should be cleaned. The Jews dug the soil from the well and added to it the sand dug from the tunnel. The Germans were petitioned to give permission to dig new toilets, so as to maintain cleanliness in the Ghetto. The permission was given. The Jews dug trenches for the new toilets and added to it the soil from the tunnel. Within two months a tunnel 110 metres long was dug. The tunnel led to a field outside the Ghetto. A meeting was called to discuss the evacuation of the Ghetto. However, those Jews who were previously opposed to attacking the Germans were now opposed to leaving the Ghetto through the tunnel. They were in favour of digging a longer tunnel. There were others who also wanted a longer trunnel, but would not be used. Their idea was that when the Germans would come to take the Jews from the Ghetto every one would hide in the tunnel. It was decided to continue digging the tunnel to a total length of 220 metres. At that stage heavy rains began to fall. The soil above the tunnel began to crumble. Cracks appeared in the walls of the tunnel. There was a danger that the whole tunnel would collapse. It was decided to line the walls of the tunnel with boards. For that job, boards used were those delivered to the Ghetto for making furniture. When the Germans came to collect the furniture they found that the boards had disappeared. The Germans suspected that the Jews used the boards for heating the interior of the Ghetto buildings. The Germans came and flogged the carpenters from the furniture workshop. Being in a playful mood, they hanged a carpenter named Shaffer. Mrs Hodl Samsonovich from Wsielub came over and cut the rope, thus saving Shafer. Shafer escaped and was hiding. (He is now in Israel). Samsonovich also escaped punishment.

The work in the tunnel continued with a great energy. The tunnel was 280 metres long when it was finished. Holes were made in the ceiling of the tunnel to allow air to enter. Electric light was installed. The tunnel led to a wheat field. The mood in the Ghetto improved. The news of the German defeats at the front was also encouraging. A meeting of all the Jews in the Ghetto was held in the carpenter workshop. Members of the committee spoke and suggested that all should leave the Ghetto by the tunnel. There were a number of people who opposed the proposal. It was then proposed that all Jews should express their view in a secret ballot. The result of the ballot was that 65% voted for getting out through the tunnel. In view of that result, the committee selected an evacuation group which was empowered to force all Jews to leave the Ghetto. A group of armed persons was established, which was ordered to see to it that all Jews would leave the Ghetto. The committee had accepted the following rule about the order of evacuation: first those between 17 and 35 years would leave, secondly the intelligentsia, thirdly the workers who actively participated in building of the tunnel and last would go all others in order decided upon by the committee. The evacuation committee was working intensively. Every Jew was given a number indicating the order in which he had to leave. The punishment for not obeying the orders of the committee was flogging to death. All Jews were given a number with exception of three: Dr Jakubowski with his wife and the convert Mendelson, A Jew from Vienna who worked in the office of the Germans. Dr Jakubowski, who was previously a member of the fighting organisation, was wounded in his leg by the Germans when they were shooting at random into the Ghetto. Because of the wound he could not walk. His wife threatened that she would inform the Germans if there would be an attempt to escape.

There was a meeting of the united committee, chaired by Dr Cohen. Salek Jakubowski, Dr Jakubowski's brother was also present. Salek Jakubowski was in the lead as he was the head of the Ghetto police and was totally devoted to the committee organisation. When the problem of his brother and sister-in-law came up, Jakubowski expressed his opinion that the only way the people of the Ghetto could leave undisturbed was to kill his brother, sister-in-law and Mendelson. It was decided that an hour before the escape the members of the committee would kill the three. The people who would do the deed were appointed. In the last minute some members of the committee decided to try to speak with Jakubowski. Jakubowski was taken to the place were the tunnel was dug. He was taken inside. Behind them came a member carrying a bag and a rope to throttle him if he should not agree to escape through the tunnel. Luckily Dr Jakubowski and his wife agreed to get out through the tunnel providing he would be allowed out first and that he would be carried for the first 100 metres after leaving the tunnel. Mendelson was locked up in his office and was killed later.

The last preparations for the escape were made. There were some difficulties regarding the projector, which illuminated an area of several kilometres. Shutting down the projector by causing a short circuit would arouse suspicion by the guards. The projector was disabled by reducing the current. This meant that the light shone bleakly no further than a few metres around the projector. The committee published for the people of the Ghetto a leaflet about the escape. Our aim was to gain liberty, and if in the process we would die, this would be G-d's will. A leaflet was also printed urging the Byelorussians to escape to the forests, because the Germans had lost the war and the day of liberation was nigh.

On the 26th of September on a rainy dark evening, when the guard was engaged in getting drunk, all Jews went through the openings in the ceilings to the entry to the tunnel. At 9pm all were standing in an order arranged by the committee. At the entrance to the tunnel stood the members of the fighting unit with revolvers and whips in their hands. They let everyone into the tunnel in the order set out on the list. One hundred and forty persons were allowed to go into the tunnel. At exactly 10pm the exit was opened. Within 3 minutes all Jews were out. The last were the members of the fighting organisation. In all 323 Jews got out, which was almost the entire population of the Ghetto. A few 'clever' people hid in the Ghetto. They assumed that all those that went through the tunnel would be caught, and in a few days they would leave. Those that stayed behind were caught the next day. [Not quite so. See eg p.237. A sea of trouble.]

It was arranged that after leaving the tunnel, the Jews would crawl to the shrubs. But, as soon as the Jews got out and felt free they became disoriented and started to run. Also, the last to leave forgot to extinguish the light at the entrance to the tunnel. This drew the attention of the guard. They thought initially that the partisans came to free the people of the Ghetto. They opened a hefty fire. The German military and the gendarmes, having heard the shooting in the Ghetto, started shooting using machine guns and lit the area with projectors and rockets.

Next morning the chase started. Germans in tanks and motorcars began looking for Jews. The Jews ran in all directions. Some, in confusion, ran into the town. Forty four Jews were caught in town. They were tortured. Some had their eyes removed. All were burned in a barn. Some were killed in the fields and bushes. Almost all members of the fighting organisation were slain. Dr Jankef Cohen, the leader of the uprising, Berl Joselewicz, technical leader of the construction of the tunnel, Jankef Newachowicz, deputy leader of the uprising group, died on leaving the tunnel. Salek Jakubowski carried his brother 200 metres before being killed by a bullet. His brother lives in Poland. The fighters Kozuchowski, Czernichowski, Orlanski and another 5 fighters, found three days after the escape a partisan unit led by Victor. They were asked to surrender their weapons. They had two weapons. The fighters refused to surrender their arms. They said that only death would make them part with their weapons. They were killed by the partisans. The commander Avrom Rakowski found a gentile partisan group where he had excelled in his fight against the Germans. He was highly decorated by the Soviet government. He was killed in the fight for Berlin. About 143 men joined various partisan groups and survived the war. They fought the Byelorussians, who collaborated with the Germans. A number of them took part in the war and were killed on the approaches to Berlin. Some made their way to Israel and fought for the liberation of the country. Some died fighting in the Negev.

Their names will be remembered for generations. We will remember the heroes Berl Joselewicz, Avrom Rakowski, Dr Cohen and other heroes of the Novogrudok Ghetto.


[Page 293]

B. The last Passover

by Chaim Leibovitz

Translated by O. Delatycki

It was 1943. Spring was early. In March the sun created some warmth and brought the expectation of the arrival of spring. But the Jews of the Novogrudok Ghetto, in perpetual fear of death, were not warmed by the sun. It was the eve of Passover. The snow had melted. Here and there rivulets of water were flowing. The aroma of the fields and forests sneaked in to the Ghetto through the fences and bars. The Ghetto was enmeshed in sadness. The 550 Jews in the Ghetto were holding on to their lives by the skin of their teeth. They were the last of the 18 thousand Jews of Novogrudok [6 thousand Jews lived in Novogrudok at the beginning of the war]. They were the last of those who were segregated tens of times by the Germans and allowed to live. They were considered to be qualified tradesmen, who were of service to the Germans. They were assured that they would survive because the Germans needed them. They were told that when the war will end, they will be sent to Madagascar where they will be able to continue to live as Jews. The Ghetto was like a fortress, it was locked up, and one could not come in or get out. The Jews were checked twice a day. A collective responsibility was imposed. There was extensive hunger. People were moving like shadows. Every day another shadow was missing. Some one was buried in the yard next to the building. In the corners next to the workshops groups of people were arguing. There were rumours going around that the Ghetto would be liquidated any day. The Jews were distressed. They didn't want to believe it. Was it possible that the Germans would kill the tradesmen? We heard on the radio hidden in the Ghetto that there was an uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto. As we were isolated from the world around us we wondered whether that could be true. Could it be that after very many tortures and killings the Jews were capable of launching a fight against the well armed murderers? We could not believe it. But then again we found in our souls a quiet hope – perhaps, perhaps…

The youths were assembling separately. They still had hope. We gathered in a corner. Dr Kagan from Baranovich said that such an existence made no sense, here we could expect only extinction. A slaughter could be felt in the air. One solution was preferable – to attack the Germans and die as heroes. The assembled quietened down. Nobody uttered a word. One could hear only the branches swaying softly. They seemed to be saying 'save yourselves'. Disappointed, we dispersed slowly each to his own corner. Though death was nearly upon us, though disappointed not knowing what tomorrow would bring, the Jews were preparing themselves for the Passover feast. There was no way we could bake matzos. Instead of matzo, we toasted on the fire the 100 grams daily ration of black bread which contained straw. The women grated the skins of the potatoes and made dumplings and we were ready for the Passover. The evening was approaching. The rooms in the Ghetto were packed with people. It was difficult to breathe. Old Gertzovski, the brush maker from Zetl, crawled onto the fourth tier of the bunks. He was joined by another six Jews. They conducted the Passover service. He recited the Haggadah and was heard in the quite. The others repeated every word after him. There were no children left to ask the kashes (questions). Various memories were passing through our heads. We were thinking of the years gone by, the Passover feasts we had been to when whole families were sitting together at the festive tables, fathers, mothers and children, well dressed and jolly. In the Ghetto were mostly skeletons, single members of families, walking shadows. Someone started weeping. The crying spread.

In haste we recited the Haggadah. The words were said monotonously 'Next year in Jerusalem'. Could it happen? Could there be a miracle and someone would survive? Who knows what tomorrow would bring. Who knows?

Quietly the Jews slid down from the bunks and in mourning each went to his corner. They wrapped themselves in rags and tried to sleep, because tomorrow at five o'clock in the morning they had to be ready for the daily inspection. On the bunks among the women was a girl from Warsaw, Linka Landau. The Germans did not kill her because of her good looks. She was tall, slim and gracious with a smooth thin face. She had big black eyes and long lashes and black hair. A veritable Jewish beauty. She sat with the other women on the bunk and sang a sad song:

In a hamlet not too far
In a small house on a side
From a small window
A Jewish child looked out

His mother brought him here
Wrapped late at night
She kissed him cried and wept
And spoke her last parting words

Around were mothers from whose hands their children had been torn away. They started weeping uncontrollably.

On the bunks opposite men were lying and reciting quietly the Haggadah.


[Page 294]

C. Three who were burned to death

by Chaim Leibovitz

as told by Chana Kirshner

Translated by O. Delatycki

This happened in 1942

A year had passed since the German boot had smashed Byelorussia and the wild beasts have murdered many Jews. In the middle of December an order was issued by the District Commissar Traub to send six workers to him to install water pipes to his palace. It was stressed that the work must be done promptly. The Jews sent six workers, three for the day shift and three for the night shift. H. Gershovich, Florent from Baranovichi and Chanan Kirshner were working on the night shift. The Jews were trying their best, but the work was difficult because the soil was frozen. To keep warm they lit a small fire. They were tearing lumps of soil using axes and spades. The District Commissar Traub would go out from time to time from his palace to see if the Jews were working. He warned that if the job would not be completed in time he would shoot 100 Jews. He was smiling whilst looking on how the Jews were working diligently.

It was midnight on the eve of the New Year. Traub went out of the palace, approached the Jews and told them to stand in line. He took out a notebook and asked their names. He had written down their names and told them that tomorrow they would not work there anymore. He hit them with his whip and ordered them to shout three times 'Ich bin ein varfluchter Jude' [I am a cursed Jew]. The Jews complied. Then he told them to shout 'Heil Hitler'. 'Louder!' he shouted, 'Louder still!' The Jews were shouting with all their might. Next he took out his revolver and shot them all. He shot Gershovich first. Next he shot Florent. And as he was going to shoot Kirshner, Kirshner ducked trying to escape, but he was hit by a bullet and fell unconscious. Traub grabbed the Jews for their legs and dragged them to the fire. He stacked them on top of each other with Floret at the bottom and Kirshner on top. He covered them with branches. The branches were catching the fire slowly. Traub stood by smoking a pipe. From time to time he pushed the branches with his foot. However Chanan Kirshner was not dead. The bullet hit him in his buttock and he fainted from pain and fear. When he came to he felt a dreadful noise in his head and heat in his body. He was dressed in a sheepskin jacket. He felt with his hand the hair of his friend. He opened slowly an eye and saw the face of the murderer Traub. He closed his eye and feigned death. He began to feel strong pain in his side. He felt that his fur coat was smouldering. He was lying without movement. Traub stood by his victims and from time to time pushed their bodies with his boot. Then he spat and slowly went back home. Kirshner was lying holding his breath. The minutes moved slowly, like an infinity. He lifted his head slowly. All was quiet and covered in snow. The only sound was that of the steps of a policeman, who walked back and forth in front of Traub's door. Kirshner felt that his fur coat was burning on him. He decided to wait no longer. He got up and ran in the direction of the fence. The policeman heard the steps and shouted for Kirshner to stop. Kirshner took off his fur and threw himself in the snow. The policeman mistook the fur for the man and shot in the direction of the fur. Kirshner, using all his strength, jumped the fence. He crawled on all fours to the other group of Jews who were working in the horse stable for the Gestapo murderer Hose. Kirshner got into the stable with his last strength and fainted. The workers threw water over him and brought him back to consciousness. They hid him in a corner of the stable, covered in straw. In the morning, after other workers replaced the night shift, they returned to the Ghetto and told Kirshner's parents what had happened. The Judenrat sent a horse and cart with workers under the pretext of cleaning the yard. They brought Kirshner back in the cart, covered with straw. They took him to the ambulatory where he was given medical help. A day later the Chief of Staff Wolfmayer came to the Ghetto and inquired about Kirshner. It is not known how Wolfmayer found out about Kirshner. He visited Kirshner and he told the doctors to take good care of him. He asked Kirshner what had happened and how he saved himself. He said: 'Jude du hast dein Leben geretted, but you will parish anyway'. Since than, any time the Chief of Staff would come into the Ghetto he would inquire after Kirshner. After 90 days Kirshner was feeling much better, though he limped slightly. But it was not destined for Kirshner to survive. He died from a bullet wound shortly after he got out of the tunnel.

It is not known to this day why the Chief of Staff was so interested in the fate of Kirshner, because he was the organizer of all the slaughters. Is it possible that he had a human feeling? Or did he want to see Kirshner healed so that he could shoot him in good health. Who knows what he had in mind.

[On p.274 in the article 'They burned the town', Yehoshua Yaffe described an incident which is similar, yet in a number of details different from the above narrative. It is probable that the two articles described the same event. It is difficult to know which version is the correct one.]


[Page 296]

D. Escape through the tunnel

by Chaim Leibovitz

Translated by O. Delatycki

On the 26 of September at 10pm, as I get out of the Ghetto through the tunnel crawling on my stomach, a strong rain is cutting my face. A light wind carries the smell of the field and forest. It is very dark, gloomy and one cannot see even a meter in front of the face. I find myself on the wet grass, with no strength left in me and yet I am drunk with the surprise. I take a deep breath and feel strength pumping into my limbs. A rush of warmth circulates through my body. I am saved, I am saved. Now the Germans can not torture me any more. If I will be killed, I will die as a human being. My dream had become a reality, I may die now as a free man the other side of the barb wire. Suddenly a hurricane of gun fire opens up. Machine guns are shooting from all sides. Projectors are illuminating the countryside and the wet sky. I have only one thought – to run. I find it difficult to drag my legs. They feel as if they belong to someone else. I run however, spurned on by an internal compulsion. Without design, without an aim I fall into a hole with water above my knees. I am trying to pull myself out of the morass, but I feel powerless. The shooting is more intense, more frequent and closer. The bullets fly with a whistle above my head. Near by shadows are moving. The shadows are people. Who are they? I hear a whisper. It is Rybak, the teacher and his wife. They help me out of the bog. They hold me under my arms and we are running together. But my feet are not obeying me. They drag. Rybak and his wife drag me about 100 steps, when I fall and drag them down with me. I am begging them to leave me and save themselves. But they continue to drag me. In the end they leave me and disappear in the darkness. The sky begins to get lighter by the minute. Rockets cross the sky. My sight begins to darken. Suddenly everything before my eyes begins to jump, vibrate in the air and tumble in a prism of colours. Large wheels are turning, blue, green, red rainbows. Suddenly I feel a mild sensation in my limbs. I don't know how long I was lying half conscious. Drops of rain wake me. Where am I? I must run, but run where? Is there anywhere one can run? The Germens are everywhere. I feel my head. My hat is gone. My thoughts are pursuing me. I am saved, they will never take me alive. Not far, just over the hillock my family is buried. I may join them shortly. I take out a sharp knife which I made in the Ghetto. It will be useful. I get up and walk slowly. Suddenly it seems to me that I hear some voices. I bend down closer to the ground. They appear to speak Yiddish. I walk in the direction of the voices and begin to shout: Yidden! [Jews]. A few people approach me. I recognise some of them: Rybak and his wife, Mazurkiewicz, a Jew from Poland and Chanan, the cobbler from Makrec. We are happy to have met. It started to get lighter. We look around and we can see that we are close to the military barracks in Skridlewo. German soldiers are housed in the barracks.

Gradually an autumn day is beginning to evolve. We hide in low shrubbery. We divide up into two groups. The day is getting rapidly lighter. We can see herdsmen and cows. They graze close by. We can see farmers travelling in horse drawn carriages. Shma Isroel, whispers Chanan the cobbler, shma Isroel, save the Jewish folk from an evil eye. The heart is pounding fast. Lorry loads of German soldiers are passing by so close that it seems that we could reach them with our outstretched arms. We are lying flat, holding our breath. The day stretches endlessly. We long for the darkness. May G'd give a salvation - prays Rybak. Thus we are lying in fear until it begins to darken. After darkness falls we crawl over to the other side of the highway in the direction of the forest. We begin to feel hungry. But where can we get food? We decide to find the nearest farmer's house and ask for food. We walk in the darkness a mile when we see a small isolated house. We move slowly to the door and knock on the window. 'Who is it' asks a hoarse voice. 'Give us some bread' we reply. 'We have no bread' answers the farmer. 'Have pity on us sufferers' pleads Chanan the cobbler. A window opens and a hand throws out a thin slice of bread. We take it and go around the corner were the bread is quickly swallowed. We begin to feel more hungry than before. We decide to return to the farmer to ask him where other houses are where we could find some food. We creep silently to the house and knock on the window. 'What do you want again' asked the farmer. “You gave us too little bread” we reply. 'I have no more, the Germans took all I had' the farmer replied. 'Show us were other farmers live?' we ask the farmer. 'I don't know, go away from here, you punished by G'd Jews' answered the farmer. We take out the knives we had made in the Ghetto. Mazurkiewicz takes out a revolver made of timber and points it at the farmer through the window. As soon as the farmer sees the revolver, the farmer begins to talk in a silky voice and is begging 'My little fathers [a Belarusian turn of phrase indicating the will to compromise] why are you shouting?'. 'Give us bread' we shouted. 'Don't shout' he answered 'I will ask my wife, she may have something for you'. After a few minutes the farmer brings two large loaves of bread, weighing about 20 pounds. We take the bread and walk away. We stretch out on the wet field and begin tearing lumps of bread. In a few minutes we finish the bread. We drink some water from a puddle and fall into a deep sleep on the wet grass.

This is how we spent the first 24 hours of freedom.


[Page 297]

E. The heroic death of Berl Yoselevich

by Chaim Leibovitz

Translated from Yiddish by O. Delatycki

Twenty years ago Berl Yoselevich died heroically. He led to freedom 330 Jews [elsewhere it was claimed that 230 Jews were at that time in the Ghetto, see eg. 'p.237. A sea of troubles'. A figure of 250 was also mentioned elsewhere.] through a tunnel, which was dug from the Novogrudok Ghetto on his initiative. Berl Yoselevich was one of the heroes of the Ghetto. He led a battle against the Germans, he encouraged the Jews of the Ghetto, he urged them to break out from the bondage of the German bandits and he led them to freedom.

The Jews, the remnants of four slaughters, were held in a locked up Ghetto and were guarded by 80 armed policemen. It was impossible to break out from the chain of the armed German and Belarus crows (they were called crows because they wore black uniforms). A collective responsibility was imposed on the people of the Ghetto. There was acute hunger in the Ghetto. Many inmates were swollen from hunger. The food ration was 100 grams of heavy dark broad made of grains mixed with straw. A bowl of dirty water, with a few pieces of potato peel swimming on the surface, was given for lunch. Shadows wrapped in rags with wooden clogs on their feet were moving through the Ghetto. People were dying every day. They were buried in their rags in a house next to the workshops. The graves looked like garden beds in the autumn after the harvest. Various rumours circulated in the Ghetto. The youths were congregating in groups in the yard and whispered to each other. Everyone expected a slaughter at any time. Some were saying that the Jews would be taken to Germany to work. The survivors were going around with bowed heads. They knew well what the future was likely to hold in store for them.

At that difficult time, when the situation seemed hopeless, Berl Yoselevich became prominent. He was moved to act by the dormant feelings of the national consciousness. He became the leader of the Novogrudok Jews.

Berl Yoselevich was born in Novogrudok in 1904 to a family of respectable tradesmen. His father Rafael was a member of the management committee of Shogdai Meloche and a gabi in the Chevre Kadishe. Berl had a traditional Jewish education. For 2 years Berl and I were pupils at the cheder Menaker. Berl was a studious and able schoolchild.

In 1918 Berl started learning photography. This became his occupation. In 1924 he was called up for army service in Slonim. Berl was a protagonist of Hashomer Hatzair. But his main involvement was with the sporting club Maccabi.

Berl did not have the appearance of a brave man, he had daring, courage and fearlessness. He was always the first to do things and was a good organiser.

When the Germans occupied Novogrudok, Berl worked, as all Jews did, for the Germans. He lost all his family during the three slaughters. When he and the handful of survivors were locked in the court house, he and some young friends were planning an uprising against the Germans. But the attempt fell through. It was obvious that the remaining Jews were certain to perish. Berl assembled a group of 10 people. He told them that remaining in the Ghetto was senseless, it would spell perdition. There was only one solution: to build a tunnel and get out. And if they must perish, let it be in a fight. The assembled elected Berl to be in charge of the project to build a tunnel.

Berl started to organise the work. He assembled a group of reliable young men. As the work began, all those in the Ghetto who were able to work were drawn into the task force. It was decided that anyone who would betray the secret would be killed.

The building of the tunnel took till September. The tunnel was 220 metres long [elsewhere the length was quoted at 250 metres] under the corn fields. It was decided to get out on the 26 of September. Berl ordered that in the workshops all sowing machines should be dismantled to make them useless. A leaflet was printed in which the Belarus police was urged to drop their guns and go to the forests, because Germany was certain to lose the war. On Sunday the 26 September, when the Germans were getting drunk, all Jews crawled through the cellars to the entrance of the tunnel. Within half an hour all were arranged in a row in the order which the committee had previously decided. Berl was standing at the entrance with the prepared list. In the prearranged order one after another crawled into the tunnel. Next to him were the members of the committee, who were making certain that all orders were obeyed.

Everyone entered the tunnel in the prescribed order. By 10 o'clock all Jews left the tunnel. The last to leave were the members of the committee and Berl. In all, 332 Jews had got out through the tunnel. The majority did not want to go, but they went nevertheless, except for a few 'wise guys' who, unbeknown to everybody else, hid in the Ghetto. They thought that all those who went out would be caught and those who remained would get out a few days later and would survive. The 'wise guys' were caught the next morning. [As far as it is known, 6 people decided not to go out with the others through the tunnel. The story of five of them is described in detail in 'p.237. A sea of troubles.' All five stayed in hiding for 8 days after the escape through the tunnel. All survived. There was also a single person, who hid separately. He stayed back till the next day. He walked out of the Ghetto unhindered. He told his story after the war in Germany.]

According to the arrangement those escaping from the tunnel were supposed to crawl half a kilometre from the outlet of the tunnel, to a shrubbery. But when the people left the tunnel they became disoriented and started running. The members of the committee overlooked turning out the light in the barn at the entrance to the tunnel. The movement and the light drew the attention of the guards. The guards thought that the partisans had come to liberate the Ghetto. They started intensive shooting from automatic rifles, turned on the search lights and fired rockets. The members of the committee could not stop the Jews, who were milling in a panic, and had forgotten to run to the forest, which was 4 kilometres from the town.

The brothers Orlanski and Chernichovski, who were armed, were killed after they got to the forests and met a gentile partisan group. The commander of the group Victor asked them to surrender their weapons. Orlanski refused to part with his gun. They were shot on Victor's orders.

Berl Yoselevich, the organiser of digging of the tunnel, was killed in a forest not far from the village of Horodechno about 4 kilometres from Novogrudok, having fallen into the hands of the Germans on the 27th of September 1943. The name of Berl, his fighting spirit and courage remain in the memory of the Jews of Novogrudok. His memory, as one of the heroes who sacrificed his life for the Jewish people, will be preserved in our memory.

He will be remembered forever among the heroes of the Jewish people.

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