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The Blood of Our Brothers Cries Out from the Mass Grave (cont.)

THIS IS HOW IT STARTED

        The tragedy of “Poligon” actually began back in the year 1915.
        Poligon is the name of the Czarist, military summer camp which was located along the train tracks between Podbrodz and New Svintsyan. On Yom Kippur 1915, the Germans entered Vilna. The Czarist government was trying to throw the blame for their defeat at the front on the Jews by spreading the false accusations that the Jews were traitors in Spain and that now they were passing information to the Germans. The Jews, therefore, were happy when the Germans marched into town. But the Germans immediately began to bare their teeth by instituting “decrees.” The situation in Vilna became worse from day to day. The military hordes confiscated food and other materials. The town was suffering from hunger. Terrible scenes were made by people trying to get a piece of bread and a bowl of soup in the inexpensive [soup] kitchens. People started dragging out clothes and furnishings from Jewish houses in order to trade them for flour and potatoes.
        Each day the oppressions became more terrible. More and more restrictions were added. People were forcibly sent to Germany against their will. The civilians were arrested and imprisoned in camps so that free labor would always be available to build roads and to chop down trees in the woods, which were then transported to Germany. During forced labor, people fell like flies. In the city, the typhus epidemic was taking its toll; and corpses lay in the streets of Vilna.
        The Germans issued an order that the streets be cleaned of filth. Under the mask of this decree, all poorly dressed people were rounded up and sent to Poligon, where they were incarcerated behind a barbed wire fence and closely guarded. The terrible things that happened in this camp boggle the imagination. The prisoners would stand near the barbed wire and scream in wild voices: “Bread! Save us!”
        Under the guise of evacuation, the Germans sent hundreds of families there. Among them were also Jews who lived in the villages near the front lines. The evacuees were placed in barracks. They could move about freely only on the field of Poligon. Leaving the field was strictly forbidden. They had to work, and for their labor they were allotted food rations. The Jews of New Svintsyan, Svintsyan, and Kaltinian organized a relief action and assisted the Jews of Poligon with food. Later it was also possible to smuggle them out and send them to the Ponyevitch area. This tragedy was unparalleled in its cruelty.

POLIGON IN THE YEAR 1941

        Jews were packed into the large barracks without doors and without windows. The men were separated from the women and children. The things that they had taken with them, the Lithuanians took right at the start. The imprisoned Jews hugged one another, looking for a word of comfort in the cold autumn night, anything that might make this easier to bear. Diseases broke out almost immediately because of the lack of food, the dirt, and the overcrowding. Every day the conditions became more brutal and more cruel.
        On the 8th of October, the German Commissar, Volf, arrived. He called all of the Jews together and demanded that they give him money, a half a million marks, giving them the illusion that by doing so they would save their lives. The money which the Jews gathered was greater than the asked-for sum. But the very next morning after [the Jews had] given the Germans the money, the Lithuanians began the executions, which took two days. Eight thousand Jews were thrown into an already prepared pit a half a kilometer long. For several days the tremendous mass grave in the woods near the Zhemyane River moved. The earth, where innocently spilled blood still seethed, issued forth a silent protest to the sun, to the cruel world, to God.

WHAT ABOUT ME?

        Having grown up in that area, I knew every road and path. In the early years of my childhood, I reveled in the beauty of nature, running and jumping through the fields and woods, swimming in the Zhemyane River, listening to the song of the birds and inhaling the aromas of the various colored flowers. But I have never forgotten the pictures of the First World War, when I first recognized the brutality of the Germans.
        I returned from Israel for a short time in the 30's and traveled around Poland. There I saw the raging hatred emanating from Germany. Even at that time I sensed the threat to the existence of European Jewry. At that time, I wrote an article in the periodic journal Our Way, published by the group “Free Writings” in Vilna, in which, just as in my speeches, I called attention to this great danger looming over the old, established Jewish homes. In the January 1930 issue of Our Way I wrote:

        ...Dark clouds hang over the world. The cry of millions of unemployed workers echoes louder
every day. The common people are drowning in a sea of hunger and deprivation, but the plight of the
Jews is doubly hard because, in addition to the ominous clouds of bitter hunger and poverty, they must
also suffer the angry reactionary winds of political enslavement. Over all of this hovers the tension of
war and decimation.

        In the issue of Our Way published on the first of May, 1931, I wrote:

        ...The grumblings of hard times can be heard everywhere one turns. It is true that we are no longer ruled by Czars, but no less terrible are the ideas of Mussolini concerning once again imbuing Rome with its erstwhile power or those of the Hitlerites who would empower Germany by means of murder and pogroms...
        In the March, 1934 issue of the journal Dawn, I wrote, among other things:
        . . . The following S.O.S. can be heard anywhere there are Jews: They scream, “Save us. We are going under!” Never before has the situation been as terrible for Jews as it is today. If something bad befell the Jews of one country, the doors of another country stood open to receive them. Today the world is hammered shut. . . . No feels that it is worth his while to speak up for the Jews.
        In the year 1943, in New World, I wrote, among other things:
        . . .Our mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, are being slaughtered every day. Our cries [of protest] should have echoed throughout the world.
        What will we tell those individuals who will survive Hitler's slaughter when they ask us, “Why were you silent when our blood ran like water? How could you sleep peacefully in your beds? How could you dress yourselves in such luxury when our corpses weren't even covered by earth? How could you decorate your houses with flowers when we were choking in our hiding places? How could you eat and drink when we were dying of hunger and thirst? How could you dance, sing, and be happy, when we were going to our deaths?
        It was only yesterday that you left us, and you have forgotten us so quickly. Have your feelings become dulled to your own flesh and blood? How can you complain about anyone else, when you yourselves are no better than they are?” For the sake of our martyrs, shouldn't we live more modestly, not live such profligate lives, and prepare ourselves for the day that the war will end and we will have to help the survivors with bread?
        Later, when we did meet the surviving refugees, I was asked more than once: “Where did you get the visionary ability to see so clearly the picture of Jewish destruction?”


The mass grave of forty-three Jews from New Svintsyan who were shot in the Baranover Woods
The mass grave of forty-three Jews from New
Svintsyan who were shot in the Baranover Woods



EARTH, DO NOT COVER THEIR BLOOD!

        But during the time of this terrible destruction, there were also pages of heroic struggle in which the youth of the Svintsyan area took part. Those who will chronicle the history of life and death of that time will also be surprised at the great courage, the honoring of God, and the honoring of people that our brothers evinced.
        We, therefore, ask of you, the martyrs of our area, to pardon us because our pain is too weak to cry out from this book. But we assure you that we have tried, and will continue to strive, to make certain that your memories will not be forgotten.
        We will never stop demanding that the passive world justify its silence, justify its not coming to your aid.
        We will never forgive the murderers and all of those who looked on with joy as you were killed.
        A rich spiritual Jewish life was erased, a thriving life which embodied great spiritual values. The lakes of Lingmian, Palush, Gaviken, and surrounding areas no longer hear the prayers or the praying of the Jewish fishermen. The flowing rivers no longer hear the blessings[4] of the Jewish peddlers who walked or rode by and stopped to wash their hands in their waters. In the fields of the Jewish village Stoyotsishok one no longer hears the psalms being sung during the plowing or the harrowing. During the twilight times between the afternoon prayers and the evening prayers, one no longer hears the cessation of the sounds of the blacksmiths, the tailors, and the shoemakers, or the shopkeepers doing business and going to the synagogue during these hours which connect the day to the night, some to pore over a page of Gemara, some to learn from the book Khay Odom[5], others reciting a chapter of psalms.
        One no longer hears the call to say the nighttime prayers of forgiveness[6], or the blowing of the ram's horn in the evenings, or the Jewish sighs of our guileless fathers and grandfathers.

 By the mass grave in Poligon near New Svintsyan
By the mass grave in Poligon near New Svintsyan

        Quiet, a funereal quiet, prevails everywhere.
        This silence hurts, it cries, it bores into one's ears, tears at one's insides!
        Never, never will the crying in us, the great wailing for our martyrs, cease. With all of our thoughts and feelings, we unite ourselves with the huge graves in Poligon and in Ponar near Vilna, graves of tens of thousands, where the tortured and cruelly murdered Jews of the Svintsyan area lie. [Nor will we forget] the graves of Duksht, Kimelishok, Postav, Niementshin and all of the others. Every one of us has a father there, a mother, a brother, or a sister. We will never, never forget you. We will never forget those who fell, fighters at the front and partisans.
        With bowed heads and folded hands, we stand before this memorial book which commemorates the twenty-three destroyed communities in the Svintsyan area, and we become one with the sacred memories of the murdered martyrs.
        Hallowed and exalted be the names of our martyrs and our heroes! [7]
        
Heshl Gurvitz

 The remnants of the survivors from the area of Svintsyan
The remnants of the survivors from the area of Svintsyan near the memorial commemorating
the anniversary of the death of 8,000 victims in Poligon near New Svintsyan


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4. An Orthodox Jew washes his hands and says a prayer for various different things throughout the course of the day. Trans. Back
5. Hebrew for The Life of Adam. Trans. Back
6. Slikhos, said the whole month before Rosh Hashona. Trans. Back
7. This last line is in Hebrew, and it starts out like the kaddish but ends differently, praising those who have died rather than God. Trans. Back

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