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[Page 117]

Chapter Five

The Destruction of Svir

 

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A Memorial Candle

Shmuel Dobkin

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

Silently I am standing before the written memorial – an eternal monument in memory of our town Svir, our cradle on foreign soil, the town that was destroyed and is not any more.

My heart is shivering and aching. My eyes are in tears and there are no words that I can speak. Human lips are too weak to express the full depth of pain and sorrow.

With trembling hands, with a feeling of holiness I now light an eternal candle to the memory of the dwellings of my childhood – this treasured corner of the world that radiated light and warmth and parents' love – an eternal love that was ruined and forever sealed off. And to the memory of our dear parents whose heart was always awake and apprehensive for every one of us, who were tortured with terrible cruelty in a desecrated land and returned their souls to Heaven in holiness and purity.

And to the memory of our sisters, gentle and loving in life, who did not part in death – who drank the cup of bitterness to the end and died somewhere in the death-camps, alone and forsaken.

And to the memory of our brothers, working and striving, honest and righteous, gentle souls who were burned alive and their pure souls rose to Heaven in flames. And to the memory of all the members of our family who have perished in the valley of slaughter. The tall and many-branched trees have been cut down and uprooted. Our heart, our heart aches for you, dear and beloved, who can replace you in our hearts?

We shall carry with love their holy memory in our grieving hearts and we shall never forget them. May these words be a memorial candle to their souls.

Yitgadal Veyitkadash…


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Destruction and Revenge

Poems by Fanye Fisher

Translated by Mindle Crystel Gross

Edited by Toby Bird

 

My Little Town Svir

My little town Svir,
How I yearn for you
That was so dear and loved
Every street, every house
Where I cried and laughed
Spent my best years there
Spun sweet dreams
Lived through joy and suffering
There
In my small house
Little children played
Charming, pretty
Svir River, rich with fish
Many families benefited
The town adorned
Our youth – strolling
No problems, no worries
Thinking of nothing
With laughter, song
Spent time on the water
Svir mountain, tall and proud
Covered in flowers
Its entire breadth
Opened before our eyes
My little town, my home
You are for me today
Lost ,dead
What happened?
I will see you no more
The same sky, the same earth
But the Jewish people are missing
Every tree of my home.

Every stone of my street
Is a witness to German
Wildness and hate
Destroyed our home
The Jewish people
Murdered, burned
My little town, my former home
A lost dream.

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Chaim Meltzer, his bride Zlate Fisher

 

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The Memorial

The fifth of April, akh, terrible day
How big is my tragedy
How deep my sadness, my lamentation
The memorial candles, the silent witnesses
They burn, melt
Cry over my children, they help
How I envy my mother
Who left along with her children
I was not as fortunate
I must struggle in this world
The murderers spilled the blood of children
The Jewish mother was punished
Akh, God, where is Your justice
Your true justice?
You cut down the little ones
Let the slaughterers remain
My poem is not poetic, fine
But it is spun
With anguish and pain
There is nothing left of my children
Nothing, not a grave.

 

In Hiding

Be quiet, my child, my crown
Your crying will not help
The murderers will not understand us anyway
Be strong, my child
Just wait until the night passes
Don't cry, child
The night will end
The morning will be good

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The child choked from hunger
Held close to my heart
His face pale
His eyes dull
All night
The mother is awake
She no longer feels fear
No hunger
Only one thought, one goal
Rescue the life of the child
But the morrow came
And frightened, she saw
The child was dead
And no longer needs any bread.

 


Yehudit Tsernatski, of blessed memory

 

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My Kaddish

I had a son
Talented, good, fine
I had my kaddish – he would be
Brought up to be a proud and good Jew
I would always hope, strive
To be at his bar mitzvah
Who will now say kaddish for me
Who will now cry and lament for me?

 

Justice

Justice
Come, stand up and demand
For the spilled blood of the millions
Where the murderers stretched out their hands
The Jewish blood was spilled
Justice!
Do not permit the murderers to wipe away their sins
Hand out a punishment
For the murders
Justice
Come, stand up and demand
For the spilled blood of the six million

 

Revenge

May their green fields be cursed
May their beautiful pure forests be cursed
May the rays of the sun no longer shine upon them
May the rain and dew no longer dampen them
You, dear beloved God,
Send a hellish horrible fire upon them

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Grant the Jewish mother her one and only revenge
Prepare for her children's murderers a horrible revenge
Only one consolation in our life
You can now give us
That we should live
To see and to hear
How the murderous people and lands
Will be wiped out of the world
Because all that is holy is dead
They trod upon all with their feet
Tens of thousands little children
Burned, destroyed.


Last letters

Translated by Sara Mages

Letters from Shlomo and Yitzchak Rabinovitz to their sisters in Israel
(They were concealed in a bottle, which was hidden by a gentile in Svir, and later transferred to Israel).

Svir, 10 Nisan 5702 [28 March 1942]

To my beloved sisters!

“O Lord God to whom vengeance belongs; O God to whom vengeance belongs, shine forth”. [The Book of Psalms 94:1]

I'm hiding at this place all that's left. Outside the sword will bring death. Very soon the Lithuanians will enter the town. There is no other way, but to try to escape. To where? The roads are very dangerous. A torrent of blood and tears, entire groups are being led like lambs to the slaughter.

Master of the universe!
Are you putting an end to all the survivors?

I justify my sentence! I didn't immigrate to Eretz-Yisrael despite all the obstacles.

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We have sinned because we didn't build the Land of Israel. It is difficult to describe what we have gone through and what is awaiting us, the poets and writers will handle it.

Love the homeland, the Holy Land.
Build it, so future generations will not know massacres, pogroms, exile, etc.

Shalom to you,
Maybe forever
Remember Shlomo. It is a right to die in Eretz-Yisrael, but I apparently did not earn it.

* * *

Translated by Mindle Crystel Gross

Chanele, Feygele,

Dear children, it is probable that we are writing to you for the last time. It has not yet been said aloud, but regrettably it will be so, and I say goodbye to you. Be well, and take pleasure in your families, each of you. Chanele, Feygele, I write and my hand trembles and I say goodbye to you. Be well.

Your brother, Yitzhak

* * *

I forgot the most important thing.

I'm hiding in this place all that's left, I shouldn't specify. We hid all of our belongings with Metzik Paleika.


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The Demise of Svir

by Dr. Chanoch Swironi

Translated by Mindle Crystel Gross

Edited by Toby Bird

It was a Shabos afternoon - in 1941. Four days earlier, Hitler had declared war against the Soviet Union. All the telegraph agents reported details about Hitler's move into Russia. Here and there one could even find a telegram with the names of cities and towns in Lithuania, and White Russia which were actually in Nazi hands.

The politicos in the newspapers and on the radio kept on saying that the people need to remain calm because the war with Russia is a total error, and Hitler will be broken there in Russia. It was said and written everywhere that the Hitler power will be defeated, that that is where he will be buried.

There were also Jews who, upon receiving these news reports, breathed easier -

eventually, we will live to witness Hitler's demise.

Bat-Sheva sat in sadness, wringing her hands, not entering into the conversation with a single word, and soon she broke out into terrible weeping…

Bat-Sheva, what is wrong with you? they asked her.

She answered:

You are all talking about Hitler's end. What good does that do me? Who knows what is happening now in Svir? Who knows whose blood they have already spilled there?

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And Bat-Sheva's heart knew full well. Svir Jews in the whole world had no reason why to breathe easier. Already in the first days, the Nazis had spilled innocent Jewish blood. Actually there began at that time the terrible martyrdom of our nearest and dearest in Svir and surrounding areas.


Yekhiel and Khaye-Yoel,
of blessed memory, and the family

 

That Shabos, June 25th , 1941, the Nazis were already present in Svir. The first victim was Velvl from Mezolitz, who was going to buy something. He was stopped on his way and immediately murdered, and his body thrown into a field of corn. They searched for him for a couple of months. They wanted to give him a proper burial, but they were unsuccessful in finding his body. Only when the peasants cut down the cornstalks, did they then find him, and bring his dead body back to Svir.

A couple of days later, they murdered the teacher Engel in the Alshever Forest. He was Rivke Ayzikov's husband.

In the early weeks, the German gendarmes, together with the Polish police,

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searched for Communists. Just as they had suspected the teacher Engel to have been a Communist, they immediately also arrested two other Svir teachers, the sisters Basye and Freyde Resnik. They, however, were successful in convincing the German officer, that they were not Communists and he freed them. Shmuel Resnik was also tattled upon, that he was a Communist, and he too, was freed.;


Avrum Yitskhak and Rokhl Miller,
of blessed memory, with their sons

 

It was worse for Mikhl Donishevski and Leybl Solamyak. Mikhl was Yankev Liber Viner's son-in-law. He was a blacksmith by trade, but he was active with the Soviets. Leybl Solomyak was a Soviet policeman.

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Mikhl was caught in a forest near Svir, but he was a strong youth and delivered a blow to the German policeman and ran away. He then took refuge with Leybl Solomyak near Duberyan. They were discovered there and both were shot.


Hershl-Nosn Vaynshteyn,
of blessed memory and his family

 

After the raid on the Communists, the long siege of forced labor began. For this purpose, the Judenrat was formed, with Chaim Resnik at its head. Its duty was to send the healthy boys and girls to work in the surrounding area.

The Svir Judenrat was composed of decent people who, without doubt, meant well. Among his co-workers were Chanoch Zlatayavke, Yosef -Chaim, Shmuel, Shloyme-Velvl's son-in-law and others, and yet, the Svir Judenrat had a terribly and sad happening during the first months.

The Germans demanded 21 workers for Great Vileyke. The Judenrat, however, did not understand the terrible purpose and sent 21 healthy youths. Chaim Zlatayavski even sent his own son, Yosef.

The end was sad – everyone was locked in a barn, instructed to undress, totally naked and then they burned them alive.

Among the 21 who perished so tragically in Greater Vileyke were Yosef Zlatayovke, Yakov Dobkin, Chaim Shapira, Zalman Zeltser, Hirshe-Leyb Kamin's son, Shmuel-Yosef Potashnik, Aharon Donishevski, Yehoshua Tzakh, Shimon Blyakher, Katriyel

Antsilevitch (Esther-Malke's son), Chana Katz, Yona Svirski (Pesse Yerachmiel's son), Eliyahu Epshteyn and Israel Svirski (Aharon the bathhouse keeper's son).

 

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Yisroel-Meir Potashnik,
of blessed memory, and the family

 

Several months passed and then a separate ghetto for Jews was established in Svir.

At first, the ghetto was from Keyle Gershovits to the synagogue courtyard and Moshe Miller's house. Pg. 132 We were not permitted on the other side of the street. A little later on, the ghetto was reduced in size and it was concentrated almost entirely in the synagogue courtyard.

[Page 132]


Falye (Rafael) and Berta Svirski,
of blessed memory

 

The Jews of Svir were required to wear, as were Jews everywhere – yellow patches above their hearts and on their backs.

A couple of hundred men had to go to work early to Dubelyan, Kameroye, Starovyaski and Stratsi. Svir Jews also worked far away from Svir, in Kenye, Verye and Zezner. The Judenrat was responsible for assigning the workers.

No one was paid for work. If the work was not done well, or if the policeman thought that they were lazy, they were beaten.

The workers got little food and were able to get some through the Christian smugglers.

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The work was difficult. Very often the Jews had to go on foot, 15 km each way. Once German gendarmes came from Ashmene and demanded a lot of gold and pieces of jewelry from the Judenrat. Very quickly, the Judenrat complied with everything and they left.


Shlome–Hershl Ayzikovitz,
of blessed memory

 

The ghetto in Svir was not fenced-in – without barbed-wire and without a gate, and was considered to be a free ghetto , but it existed only to the end of 1942. At that time, the Svir ghetto was liquidated and everyone was taken to Mikhalishak. There were only left in Svir approximately 160 men, mostly artisans, i.e., tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, etc.

As long as the 60 men remained in Svir, those in Mikhalishak were better off, because they brought them food from Svir. A couple of months later, they too, were chased out of Svir. At the beginning of 1943, there were no longer any Jews in Svir.

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It was terribly crowded in the Mikhalishak ghetto. There were 15 or more people in one small room. The ghetto was fence-in and the entrance and exit could only be through a gate. There were Jews there from the surrounding area, and all suffered terribly.

However, it did not last long. The Mikhalishak ghetto was also liquidated and the Svir Jews from there went in different directions. Some were brought to the Vilna ghetto, but many went to Vevy, Zeznit and Kenye.

One portion of Svir Jews was told that they were supposedly to be sent to the Kovno ghetto, but they were actually brought to Ponar and they were killed there, along with another 6,000 Jews from the surrounding towns.


Ben-Tsiyon Gitlin with Khaye,
his wife, of blessed memory

 

Kenye too, was surrounded on all sides and everyone there was murdered. From Vevye and Zeznir, the younger people were taken to concentration camps and a few of them remained alive.

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Fayne Papisik,
of blessed memory

 

The same fate was met by the Svir Jews in the Vilna ghetto. Only a few Svir Jews survived because they ran away into the forest and joined the partisan divisions. Among them were: Berl Reznik, Zalman-Mikhl Reznik, Chaim Meltzer, Hirshl Drevyatski and Feygl Tsakh.

Berl Resnik and Chaim Meltser became part of a Russian defense group and Hirshl, Reygl and Zalman joined a Jewish defense division with the name Nekome (Revenge)., whom they found near the Naratser River.

When the Germans once attacked the forest, Feygl and Hirshl perished.

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Later on, both sisters, Basye and Freydl, came to Zalman. They had succeeded in escaping from the Vilna ghetto while on their way to work. Pg. 136 Along the way, they tore off the yellow patches and disguised themselves as Christians. They walked 120 km until they finally dragged themselves to the Naratse River, and there they found their brother Zalman.

When they liquidated the Vilna ghetto, a small portion of the Svir Jews was sent to Estonia. There, a short time afterwards, they were murdered.

The ashes and bones of the Svir martyrs are found in Vilna, Ponar, Kenye, Vevye, Zezir and Estonia and in the camps of Germany.

This in short, is the history of the demise of and annihilation of the Jews of Svir.

The greater portion of the Svir martyrs perished around Passover in 1945.

Just when it was spring, when everything grows and blooms, was the innocent blood of hundreds of Svir men, women and children spilled, just as Bialik had pictured earlier in his poem:

The sun was shining,
The acacia was blooming.
And the slaughterer slaughtered.


[Page 137]

Memories of an Eyewitness

by Tsivye Dobkin

Translated by Mindle Crystel Gross

Edited by Toby Bird

The sudden eruption of the war in Europe in September, 1939 hit hard and shattered the Jewish population of Svir. A portion was mobilized into the Polish military. The police and higher officials immediately left town. For a short time, Svir was left with no power. The Christians remained quiet, maybe because a rumor circulated about the Ribbentrop-Molotov agreement, that Svir would become part of the Soviet section. A deathly quiet permeated the town. The stores were closed. The windows of the houses were boarded up, and Jews waited nervously for the next day. Nevertheless, they quietly organized, and the firefighters took over control, arranging a watch each night for the residents.

With the entrance of the Soviets (Red Army), the town breathed more freely. The first to announce the news was Yosef Motkin. He ran with joy through town, shouting for the windows to be opened: the sun is rising in the east.

Their autos remained standing in place and on a microphone they kept making speeches to the public. Right away, a second power was nominated, at whose head was Kuzma. The Jews were represented by Yankl Milner and Yoylke Motkin (all former Communists). A couple of months later, Yoylke, who was beloved in all circles, died suddenly. His death left a strong impression. At his huge funeral, the military brass band played along with the band of the firefighters. Speaking from Zelig Svirski's balcony, Shmuel Reznik

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eulogized him. Upon his grave were laid garlands of flowers from all the organizations, institutions and towns.

The Jewish economic life in time improved. Jewish shopkeepers sold out their merchandise and were able to exist from this. A large portion of the youth worked as officials in various state posts. Artisans and draymen organized. Sadakin and Meir Svirski opened state stores of manufacture and fancy goods production. Chanoch Zlatavyanke opened a stall for books and toys. Movies were played three times a week. Frequent shows were presented for the youth. Many new houses were built on the other side of the bridge and gave the town a new appearance. Shlomo Rabinovitch was the teacher in the Jewish elementary school, which had only three classes. The older generation continued to pray in the synagogue, and lived their lives in their previous traditional manner.

And this is how we lived until June 22, 1941, when Hitler attacked the Soviet Union. On June 23rd , they were already in Svir. The first Germans came on motorcycles and caused fear in everyone. Brash was the head of the civilian power, and they installed police from the local Polish population, and not waiting long, began to work on the Jews who immediately recognized the fate which awaited them. Laws began to be published, such as wearing a yellow patch, not walking on the sidewalk, and sweeping the streets, most especially on Sundays when the Polish population went to church. The first blow was the arrival of the news that the 21 men, who had been sent for work in Vileyke through the recently created Judenrat, had all been burned. (It hit our own family especially hard because we suffered three victims: my brother, Yankl, my cousin, Yosl and a relative, Kasriyel Antsilevitch.

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They broke everything. They turned the synagogue into a grain storage facility, and the Torahs and religious books were burned in the street, in front of everyone's eyes.

Many refugees arrived in town from the surrounding little villages, such as Farbradz, Nementchin, Sventsiyen, and so forth.

When the ghetto was established, Chanoch and Khaye, Margute, Shaykin and a family of five were living in our house.

When the Svir ghetto was liquidated, everyone was transferred to Mkhalishak. I was working in Duberlan at various field jobs along with my sister Tcherne, Sore the rabbi's daughter, Zelde Mikhnovitch and Mashke Svirski. Once a week, we were permitted to take products by wagon to Mikhalishak ghetto, alone and with no one's help. We used to travel through little side roads until we arrived there, and the joy was great from our family. We were saving them from hunger which was rampant in the ghetto.

Meanwhile, the defense was organized. In this arena, their first job was to set fire to the Balkover courtyard where my sister Blumke worked. They killed four policemen in the neighboring villages who collaborated with the Germans. After completing the work season, we were assembled from all the villages and taken to the Mikhalishak ghetto. We were there only two weeks. It was terribly crowded. About 20 people lived in one house under difficult circumstances. The Christians would arrive at the fence with their products and exchange food for the few items we still owned from Svir. And this is how our troubled life went. The elderly and weak Jews died out.

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A short while prior to the liquidation, a portion of the youth was taken out of Mikhalishak to Vilna. Among them was also our Blumke. On the eve of the liquidation from the Mikhalishak ghetto, we were informed that whoever had ties with family in Vilna had the right to go there. Our family then relocated to Vilna.

We were quartered on Hospital Street with another family in one room. Vilna had already gone through a couple of liquidation actions, but many Jews still remained. I was working in a grain storage facility in town at that time. There too, in the work-place, we exchanged with the Christians for various products and secretly brought them into the ghetto.

The terrible news about the slaughter at Ponar reached us quickly when the bloody clothing of the 500 victims was brought into the ghetto the next day. Among them, we the greatest portion was Svir Jews.

At the same time, we found out that the transport of young women who were taken to Lithuania, among them Khanke the rabbi's daughter, had also been murdered. The rabbi eulogized them in the Vilna synagogue. A short while later, all the Vilna refugees, including my two sisters and me (older people, among them, my father and mother, were meanwhile left) and we were taken to Estonia.

Women were kept separate there. The surrounding population helped us a lot. Nine months later, we were transferred to a second camp. The guards were Estonian. The leader was an S.S. man. Conditions were much worse there. We lived in barracks

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and worked at digging canals – hard physical labor.

Later on, they brought Svir Jews to this same camp; Rabbi Eliyohu Zlatavyanke, Shmuel Reznik and others. During a selection, when they led a group of people to their death, I witnessed a horrible picture. I saw how they dragged Eli Zlatavyanke, barefoot, on a sled in a terrible frost because he could no longer walk by himself. There, I once accidentally also saw my father. I only recognized him by his eyes. He was entirely covered with gray hair, bent, barely dragging himself. I ran quickly with joy to tell my sisters, and when I turned around, I lost sight of him. I never saw my father again.

After being in Estonia for a year, in 1944, my sisters and I were transferred to Germany to the infamous camp of Shtuthof. The trip took three days by boat. The conditions were unbearable. They jammed many people in like animals into a large room, so tightly packed, that it was not even possible to stand, and in case someone lost his place, he could no longer push his way back.

We only ate twice a day, enough to sustain life. At lunch-time, they distributed food from a trough like for animals, cold soup with a couple of rotten or frozen potatoes. Quite often, we would also find worms. There was one bowl for two people, no spoons. In the evening, we got potatoes and bread. There was roll-call twice a day. The selections took place while we stood at roll-call. They led to one side the elderly and weak, and many times, divided families. Dramatic scenes took place at this separation. In spite of all the pain, the will to live was strong

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in everyone, and after every selection, we breathed easier and knew that our lives would continue for a certain time, and maybe we would even be able to await the wonderful hour of liberation.

The guards were very strict. The camp was encircled with a high eclectically-charged fence, and from high towers, large searchlights lit up the surrounding area. After being in Shtuthof for six months, a group of women, to which my sisters, Blumke Dinenshteyn and I belonged, was sent to do farm work for a German. There we met Russian female prisoners, and many German workers. This was at the end of 1944. There we found out from a German Communist woman, that the Nazi army was suffering terribly and their end was imminent. We received this kind of news with joy, but we worried whether we would live to see this. We also found out the reason why we had been transferred from Estonia – it appeared that the Germans had simply retreated from there.

There was no guard where we were working, and we felt free. However, we did not remain there long. Again we completed our work, and brought back to the same hell in Shtuthof. A large percentage of our acquaintances were no longer living. The rest all looked like skeletons, living shadows. There we met Feyge the rabbi's daughter, Sonye Khadash, Khaye Spektor, Paulie Svirski. As we subsequently found out from a woman from Mikhalishak, in her section in Shtuthof, there were still many from Svir, such as Esther=-Malke Blakher, Khane and Lete Konagovitch, Frumke and Batya'ke Miller, as well as Yehude-Velvl's two girls. At the beginning of 1945, with the Red Army approaching

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closer to the border of Germany, they herded us on foot deeper into central Germany. All the highways were clogged with German military, and we were led through side roads. This was in January, snow, and at night we slept frozen, hungry, in a stable. We received no food, and the next day, again through the snow. We dragged ourselves like this for a couple of weeks, until they finally put us up m a large stable in a village. There was no water, so we drank only snow. Our food consisted of a couple of potatoes with the peels. The hygiene and sanitation conditions were terrible, impossible to describe it. We lay in a swamp and from the cold the majority of people had frozen feet. The insects crawled on us and virtually devoured us. Many epidemics broke out – dysentery and typhus, and death cut down hundreds of victims every day. I witnessed before my very eyes, the death of Tillie Svirski and both of my sisters – Tcherne and Blumke. The first occurred three days before the liberation and the second three days after the liberation. Imagine my situation, coming to the sorrowful conclusion that I am the youngest of our many-branched family. My brother Yankl was among the first to be murdered. My parents were certainly no longer alive. We had managed to stay together the entire time, suffered through difficulties, many times looked death in the eyes, and here, on the threshold of being free, cruel death separated us forever.

For six weeks we lay in the stable, until the Russians liberated us. One night earlier, we had heard shooting. We lay in fear the entire time, that we would actually be murdered here at the very last minute when they would have to surrender, as had actually occurred in many camps.

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Later, cases were described how people were transported from camps, were thrown alive into the sea. In the early morning, however, the girls came from the kitchen, those who worked in the village, and told us the news that there were no guards and we were free. Everybody was in a weakened condition and could not move, but with their last ounce of strength, fell upon one another, kissing, with tears in their eyes, and at that moment, I saw my old home and the though nagged in my brain: am I the only one left of the family? Will I yet meet those whom I love somewhere, where?

For six weeks, we were in the stable, and of the 1500 people who were taken there, only 400 remained alive at the liberation, among them, sick and invalids, many of whom later died.

On that same day, the Soviet military passed through, and the officers paid us a visit. They went over to each of us individually and clasped our hands with good-natured smiles on their faces, which reawakened in us the belief and trust in people, which over the course of years had died. In accordance with their orders, they took us on wagons to a neighboring village. Feygele and I, being unable to stand on our feet, were carried to the wagons. A week later, a hospital was opened in the village. The doctors were Russian, and the head nurse was Jewish, and the rest of the technical; work was done by Germans. We were treated well in the hospital. I recovered my strength quickly and grew healthy. Many underwent various operations, others suffered amputations of fingers and a couple, of their legs. After leaving the hospital, we were free and could gravel wherever we wanted.

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Khaye Spektor and I, who had left the hospital at the same time, in March, 1945, decided to go home. We were pulled towards returning there, to the place of our birth, and maybe we could find someone from our families.

We arrived in Svir during the summer when all of the surrounding nature is so beautiful and in bloom. But our hearts were quite frozen, cold. It was on a sunny Sunday and some Christians whom we saw, exhibited a strange wonderment at our arrival, that some Jews of Svir had remained alive. Others reacted in the opposite manner, resulting in tears at our meeting. The town was destroyed and wiped out. The entire main street was either half or totally burned out. From the synagogue courtyard – other than the synagogue – there was nothing left. Our house had been burned. I was at Gutl Yoel's who lived at Zalman -Mikhl Fisher's house, who received me warmly.

With our arrival, the total of rescued Jews rose to 11, and by the time we left the town, the total had risen to 40.

We could not remain in Svir for any length of time. There were too many memories everywhere of our former life.

Today, only a pile of ashes remains.

The loneliness and strangeness around us freed us to continue to wander and look for a secure corner, and the only end-point for me was Eretz Yisroel, to meet with my sister and brother.

After spending two months in Svir, almost all the Svir Jews left. After spending a short time in Lodz, we left for Germany.

At the end of 1946, I left Germany and traveled on the ship Latrun to Cyprus, and finally, seven months later, arrived in Eretz Israel, a short time before the birth of the State of Israel.


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A Svir Partisan

by Chanoch Drutz

Translated by Mindle Crystel Gross

Edited by Toby Bird

While in the Vilna ghetto, several youths from Svir decided that something had to be done, and not to sit and wait for death. They sought an opportunity to run away and join the partisans. They were Berl Reznik, Chaim Meltzer, Hirshl Drevnitski, Fayvl Tsakh and Zalman Reznik. Three of them perished, two remained alive.

One of the Svir partisans later became well-known in the entire area, and even received two medals from the Soviet military power. This was Berl Reznik, Kaufman's son.

The decision to join the partisans was made by Berl after he found out that his brother Ruven-Meir and his entire family had been shot in Ponar, and his brother Yitskhak and his family had been murdered in Kenye. Heroic Berl could not rest, remain passive. He worked out pans for a method to run away. He was busy with this day and night, with only one thought – how to get out of the ghetto.

He spoke to several others, sought ties to the underground organization, and at the end, he succeeded in convincing Chaimk Meltzer and three other friends, and all five decided to flee.

They bought a revolver and 150 bullets for 25,000 zlotys. They obtained a pass which would allow them to go to work to Lavadisbak and they exited the ghetto.

Saying goodbye to their parents, sisters and brothers was very difficult. The ghetto residents were all of the opinion that these five were heading towards a sure death.

[Page 147]


Hirshl Drevitzki,
of blessed memory

 

Even Shmuel, Berl's older brother, asked him tearfully:

– Where are you going, Berl?

– And Berl replied:

– I will go wherever I can.

They left quite early with all the workers and went together as far as Lavadishak. At that point, they tore off the yellow patches, and walked on foot for about 40 km, until they arrived at the Kotlavker forest in the evening.

There they met a Christian acquaintance and spent the night with him, as well as the next day.

He treated them well, fed them, and in the evening, harnessed his horse and took them to a Christian who lived about 12 km from Svir.

[Page 148]

They stayed several days in the attic of this Christian. They gave him money and he bought them a gun.

They left and went to another place, where Chaim Meltzer's sister, Reiche Keile, was hiding. . Chaim remained there one month, then he joined a Lithuanian partisans group and fell in one of their actions.


Chaim Meltzer,
of blessed memory

 

Berl and his friends decided to go on, and on their way they met a Jewish partisan, who was on his way to Lintep to blow up railroad tracks. He told them, that if they give their commander the gun, he will allow them to join their group, as partisans.

They thought that they had no choice, so they gave up the revolver. They followed the man about 30 kilometers and finally he asked them to wait

[Page 149]


Feivel Tzach,
of blessed memory

 

And he went, assumedly to ask the commander. They have never seen him again.

So they walked on, and later they met a Christian, who showed them the way to Jews who were living in a forest.

Three weeks later, they met a partisan who knew the other youths, and thanks to him, they arrived in a Russian partisan division.

This division consisted of 200 men, among whom were 17 Jews. They camped in the forest 20 km from Miyadl.

The entire partisan brigade was composed of 12 divisions, and the leader of all was Markov, a Polish teacher from Sventsiyon, whom the Poles had once incarcerated in prison for Communist activities. Markov received his directives from the military

[Page 150]

power in Moscow.

At the beginning, the partisans lived in dug-out trenches in the forest. Later, they spread out across the fields and roads in order to carry out various responsibilities.

The group which Berl Reznik joined was responsible for blowing up bridges, causing trains to leave the tracks, cutting down telephone poles, and finding out the German locations, destroying the German camps, fomenting agitation among the population against the German fascists, and defending the poor peasants from German attacks.

The entire brigade consisted of almost 2500 people and was considered to a sort of second Russian army which was at the back of the Germans.

The brigade had its own radio station, and at the end of 1943, everybody had ammunition, a rifle or an automatic.

By 1944, they controlled the area very well, and they even took up official residence in the villages where no German dared to enter.

Berl was with a group in a village 10 km from Sametove. He and five Christians were given the responsibility of burning the Stratser Bridge. They remained in the forest during the day, and at night they went to their appointed place.

They went to several peasants and ordered them to harness their horses. They loaded the wagons with straw and wood, and of course, kerosene, and in the dark of the night, they arrived at the bridge.

They ignited the straw and wood beneath the bridge, and when the Germans came, the bridge was already burned.

[Page 151]


Eliezer Gabay,
of blessed memory

 

This was Berl Reznik's first assignment. A couple of weeks later, he went to cut down telephone poles near Semetove.

He also participated in chasing away the German garrison near Myadl. He was in the group that burned Semetove and chased from there the German military. From then on, Semetove was actually in partisan hands.

Berl exploded a train-line near Smargan and blew up train-lines in other places.

He received two awards for his bravery and whenever partisans are thanked publicly, the name of Berl Reznik is mentioned.

One time, when he had to go through some deep water, he fell into a hole and began to drown. Luckily, another partisan dragged him out.

[Page 152]

Berl used his good name with the partisans in order to help the Jews in the forests and in the dug-out trenches. He once found in one of these dug-out trenches Aharon Shapire with his wife and son, Ayzik Yaffe and Rayze, Zalman Renik and his two sisters, Khasye and Greyde, Yitskhak Meltzer and Yitskhak Fisher and their families.

From that time on, he did not rest, searching for Svir forest people. He received permission from the commander and brought them a sack of potatoes, flour, meat and clothing, and he also gave them a horse so that they could bring trees and be able to build a better hiding place.

The commander was so pleased with Berl that he once went with him to the hiding- place to meet his acquaintances. When Belrl would arrive to see the Svir Jews, it was a true holiday for them, because they knew that he was saving their lives.

And so weeks and months flew by until the Soviet regular army took control of the Svir area.

Berl Reznik ran 12 km on foot in order to notify the Svir Jews that they were free.

And that is how a Jewish youth from Svir had a part in the large victory over the Hitleristic bands, and all from Svir everywhere are proud of him.

 

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