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Page 111

Chapter 6


From the Scroll of Destruction,
Annihilation, and Extermination



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Our tendency is not to add any detail to describe the atrocious war of destruction and annihilation because the story is the same, the same is the horror, atrocity and terror. Any addition of dull or black colors will not change the terrible picture.

Our aim is to describe the sad story of the destruction of the community of Sopotkin in chronological order. Our aim is to describe the destruction of Sopotkin from the beginning until the tragic end.



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In the Grinder of the Poles


As World War II was approaching, anti-Semitism by the Poles became stronger and stronger. In the villages more and more often took place agitation meetings against the Jews.

The leaders of the anti-Semites in Sopotkin were: the physician of the town, the owner of the hospital and the Polish pharmacist. They did not stop to instigate the Poles against the Jews. The Jews were afraid to visit the villages for business and even were scared to be on the streets of the town in the evening hours.

When the tailor, Fireman, was invited to one of the villages to get some work, one of the village peasants gathered his children to show them a Jew. The children were very surprised. In their imagination, a Jew looked like a monster and not like a human being.



Under the Russian Boot


After the occupation of Poland and its division between Germany and Russia at the beginning of the Second World War, Sopotkin turned to be on the border-line between Russia and Germany.

With the publication of the news on the radio that the Russians crossed the Polish border, the communists of Grodno and its surroundings began to confiscate the weapons from the retreated Polish soldiers. The Poles looked at this behavior with a lot of anger and hate. It was a very dangerous atmosphere, a pogrom atmosphere. No wonder the Jews welcomed the Russians as their redeemers and saviors.

With entering of the Russian army, Sopotkin became the district center. The comsomol youth (Russian young communists) came to town and started to build fortifications.


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In every Jewish home stayed a Russian family. Thousands of Russians flooded the town. The Russians began immediately to dig trenches against tanks. They put up fortifications through the entire length of the town which marked the border with Germany. The work was done by the comsomol.

Next to the Jewish cemetery was open a quarry and hundreds of peasant-wagons brought stones and rocks to build fortifications. Hundreds of trucks brought cement and iron and the work continued day and night.

An area of 5 km between the Augustuv canal and the town was empty from the settlers. They were transferred to other places.

There was tension in the town for twenty-two months. Every private home with area more than 50 square meters was confiscated and the owner of the house had to look for shelter 100 kms behind the town.

Jews were invited to come to the N.K.V.D. (secret police). They spent a day there and in the night they had to travel with the Russian soldiers to the peasant's homes and let the peasants know about their forced exile deep into central Russia. Hundreds of peasant families were led to their banishment in bitter cold together with their infants.

Then came time for the Jews. Many of them were exiled to Siberia. The entire town lived in constant fear.

The stores were closed. The tailors and shoemakers were organized in cooperatives and even the coachmen had their cooperative.

The Russians turned the old synagogue into a movie-house and entertainment place.


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Under the German Axe


On June 22, 1941, at the conclusion of the holy Shabbat, tension prevailed in town. News spread through the town that a massive expulsion of the Jews was being prepared. All those who did not receive Russian passports prepared themselves for the expulsion.

At two o'clock in the middle of the night, sudden sounds of thunder were heard. The Jews of the town could not distinguish if these were sounds of thunder or shooting. Confused they ran out of their homes. Those were the thunder voices of the first cannons. After that began a heavy bombing from the Germans. The Russians were not prepared; the Germans surprised them. The Russians ran back and forth like they were crazy and did not understand what was going on.

The town was full of dead people. Fire spread from all sides. Fire consumed those who could not escape.

The Russian soldiers tried to get in touch with Moscow to receive orders and instructions. Because the Germans cut off all means of communications, orders and instructions from Moscow did not come. The German Army did not meet any resistance. The Russian soldiers were confused and together with the Jews fled to the mountains. The Germans surrounded the town from all sides and at 9:00 in the morning they were already in town. Sopotkin was in fire and flames for four days and burned to the ground. An order came from the Germans that all must return to town and whoever was found loose would be shot on the spot.

In the whole town only a few houses remained standing.

The remaining Jews who returned to the ghost town were ordered to dig pits and to bury the dead. The Jews whom the Poles pointed out as collaborating with the Russians were taken to the vicinity of the Augustov canal and shot.

The rest of the Jews who escaped death so far, were gathered in one place and a German spoke to them in Polish. He noted in his speech that they, the Jews, exploited the Poles for twenty- two years, and now the Germans would take revenge. The Christian monastery ("Teolin") became a concentration camp for the Sopotkin Jews.

No food was given. At night the unfortunate Jews approached peasants to get food.


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Meanwhile bad news spread about the total murder of Jews in the surrounding towns, and from time to time the peasants from nearby brought the terrible news that the Germans were getting ready to murder all the Jews of Sopotkin; that the pits were ready and next to them were barrels of chlorine.

Sleepless nights. All of them were sitting waiting for death to come.

About four months before the liquidation of the concentration camp in "Teolin", in June 1942, the Germans gathered all the men except a few professionals to lead them by foot in the direction of Grodno. It was a heartbreaking scene. Women and children refused to depart from their beloved husbands and fathers as they knew they would not see them anymore. The weeping, the crying and the wailing was heard all around for many kilometers. They were brought to Staro-Shiltsa near Bialystok and from there they were taken to Treblinka.

All the others were driven out of the monastery "Teolin" and were placed in the few damaged homes on Asotcheniki Street opposite Fridkovski's house. The entire area was surrounded by a wire fence and became a ghetto. The ghetto existed until the first of November 1942. That same day the ghetto was surrounded by soldiers and around stood hundreds of wagons with the peasant coachmen.

A German commissar approached and in the name of the Third Reich announced that all the Jews would be sent to the Ukraine to work there. Each of them was allowed to take with him only one pair of shoes, work clothes, and a handbag. Every family was assigned to a wagon which was escorted by a policeman. All of them were brought to Kilbasin, a distance of five kilometers from Grodno. This was the tragic end of the beautiful community of Sopotkin.



From Kilbastin to Auschwitz


In the time of Russian occupation, Kilbasin was a tractor station and there were giant warehouses of exchange parts. The Germans kept in Kilbasin about twenty-five thousand Russian war prisoners. They put up around this area barbed wire, erected watch towers with large search lamps and machine guns. The Russian captives were ordered to dig pits. They covered the deep pits with boards and they became temporary prisons for them. Typhoid broke out among the Russian prisoners and the so called camp was liquidated.


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After the liquidation of the Russian camp, the Sopotkin Jews were brought there. After them, about twenty-five thousand Jews from the regions of Grodno and Bialystok were brought there. They were pushed into the deep, wet pits which was called camp. At the entrance stood the hangman, the S.S. Rintsler with a wiper (an iron stick) in his hand. They were beastly beaten and pushed into the pits. All day long they sat in the deep, cold, dark pit. During two hours every day they were forced to crawl out from the pits for appeal, to run and to be beaten again and again. They received one slice of bread a day and "soup" from dirty and rotten potatoes which nobody could eat.

About seventy people died every day in Kilbasin. At eight o'clock in the morning they were allowed to take out the dead and bury them.

From all Jewish representatives from every representation of every town, a central representation (Judenrat) was chosen. Every town had its own Judenrat. The Judenrat was the intermediary between the Jews and the German commandant.

When a new transport of Jews arrived from a certain town to Kilbasin, nobody could get out of the pits. To "receive" the newcomer, policemen with rifles stood on both sides of the highway and "welcomed" the unfortunate Jews with beatings. The horses began to run confused from shootings and beating and many Jews got killed from the hooves of the horses.

Kibasin served as transfer station from which Jews were sent to death camps and the gas chambers. And the cruel Germans kept on telling that the Jews were sent to work in the Ukraine.

The Jews from Sopotkin entered the Kibasin camp first. Those who remained came out from there by foot and were taken to the ghetto of Grodno in December 1942. On their march to Grodno ghetto, the Germans forced them to sing the song "Idl mitn Fidl" (Idl with his violin). From Grodno their way was: Death camps in Auschwitz.


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The Last Remnant


Everything was uprooted – the stones, the houses, the Jews. Someplace here or there at the end of the street stands a little Jewish home half of which is sinking in the ground. The remnant of the Jewish homes are standing like orphans, the roofs hanging down as a sign of the tragedy that happened to the Jews. And amidst the desolation a cry was heard from the last martyr, the last remnant of the Sopotkin wonderful Jews… Liptchak age eight who sacrificed his soul on the Nazi (German) altar in Sopotkin.

The details of the terrible event was told by the Christian Yablonski who was working for the limping shoemaker Eliyahu-Yitzhak.

The ghetto of Sopotkin was liquidated in November 1942. The Jewish voice of the community of Sopotkin was deceased. The last remnants of Sopotkin were brought to Grodno or Kilbasin. The Germans were sure that they completed the killing and destruction and no Jewish soul remained in town. But they were mistaken.

A Jewish boy, age 7 or 8, remained in the desolated ghetto. It is hard to know whether he hid in the time of the evacuation or was sleeping in one of the hiding places. And here, suddenly, footsteps of a little child appeared in the ghetto. The first days he did not stop crying. He used to walk and cry. In the night he kept walking around and around the ghetto and did not move away from it.

When this was known to the Germans, the murderers tried to catch him, but he, like a dog, fox or wolf, had the luck to get away from under their dirty hands. And so the little boy used to hide in the vicinity of the empty ghetto.

From constant weeping and wailing he lost his human voice. As time went on he stopped weeping and mourning. He made peace with his luck and got used to his situation. The peasants were afraid to hide him in their homes, and the Christians that still preserved some human images, used to throw him some leftovers from their food or put some crumbs next to the fence and he used to get them at night.

This is how this unfortunate little boy lived in the caves and pits, day and night, winter and summer, rain and cold. His terrible sight made the gentiles all around to fear him very much.


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The Christians were astonished how this little boy could be so successful to escape and to rescue himself from the hands of the Germans. They did not stop searching from him for a long time and at the end he was caught. Their happiness and desire to avenge had no limit. They hung him in Itche-Nachum's cellar. As soon as the Germans left, the rope was cut by an unknown person and the boy fell on the ground and remained alive. In the evening the gentiles from around, confused, full of fear, saw the boy running around the ghetto with a piece of rope on his neck.

Yablonski and the other Christians saw in this unusual event that the boy remained alive, an act of wonder and miracle. Rumors spread all over the town and vicinity about a ghost, a devil, in the image of a boy wandering in the ghost town of Sopotkin. And again the Germans renewed the siege for the boy.

After some days the Germans ordered the Christians to gather the rest of the furniture, the utensils and the rags left by the Jews of the town in one big pile in the ghetto. The little boy, who was hiding, trembling from the bitter cold, felt the heat of the flames, approached the bonfire to warm his frozen body. He mixed with the crowd in the hope the Germans would not spot him The murderers caught him, bound his hands and legs and threw him alive into the flames of the bonfire.


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So went in the fire the last soul of the wonderful community of Sopotkin. So went up in flames on the Nazi altar, the last remnant of the community of Sopotkin.


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The Kaddish of the Orphan
(Prayer for the Dead)


"Eighteen years past since we remained orphans with no father and no mother.

Eighteen years past since we lost our parents and relatives.

Just now I returned from work. My wife prepared candles and began to chant the Kaddish. To my great sorrow I remembered only ten words: Yitgadal Veyitkadash Shmey Raba, Bealma Divrey Chirutey Veyanmlich Malchutey…

My heart is broken in pieces. Even Kaddish I cannot say. My eyes looked at the candles and in the fire that comes up from them and from the flames of the candles looked at me my father with his black hat and black coat. I see from the flames of the candles the face of mother, grandmother, the children and all the holy people who perished…

I look at the candles and I see the synagogue of Sopotkin and I remember the beautiful prayer coming out from there: "Shema Yisrael…" – "Hear O Israel…"

I look at the candles and see in them the image of our life in the Diaspora: the candles are fading, the life is fading…"

(From a letter from Siberia)


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The Traditon Continues
Nimshechet Hashalshelet


The survivors of Sopotkin, not too many of them, live in the diaspora (in the United States, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Mexico, Poland, Canada and Russia). Their number is about eighty families.

About 110 families found their permanent residing place in Israel. Nineteen families live in Kibbutzim: Ayelet Hashachar, Beth-Alfa, Beth-Hashita, Gal-On, Kefar Menachem, Gaan, Eyn Hakarmel, Ramat Rachel and Shaar Hagolan.

About thirty people with their families were from the first settlers of Kefar Manachem. They were the founders of the Kibbutz.

Those who lost their birth city – they had the good fortune to build a birth country. "In Jerusalem they will be comforted."
(Isaiah 66,13)


sop124.jpg [24 KB]
Memorial Monument for the
Holy Martyrs of Sopotkin



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October 21, 1956 a monument was erected in New York in memory of Sopotkin's holy martyrs murdered by the Nazis.

The Committee of Sopotkin's Landsmen:
 
Samuel Krinsky – Chairman
Myer Kitman – Sekretary
David Pross – Treasurer
Harry Kramer
Joseph Hyman


The inscription on the monument is in Yiddish and in English: "In memorial of Sopotkin's Holy Martrys."



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