by Dr. Chanoch Swironi
Translated by Mindle Crystel Gross
Edited by Toby Bird
At a time when six million Jews were in such a gruesome and wild manner eradicated by human-animals, burned and silenced, at a moment when every Jew remembers his nearest who, at the hands of barbarians, died so tragically, he grits his teeth in pain, and there awakens in him a feeling of revenge, and upon his lips there arises a black curse, at that very moment, his breath will virtually catch, and he will not believe, and he will imagine that this is a dream, when he will hear what the rescued Svir Jews relate. And a true picture will open up before his eyes. He will suddenly discover that there, in our faraway home, there live not only human-animals, not only wild sadists, but also people-angels, saints, before whom every Jew and every person must bow his heads and kneel before them as before a holy figure. Whoever listens to these stories of the rescued Svir Jews becomes aware that there in the forests and in the villages surrounding Svir, live such Christians about whom children and grandchildren will have to tell legends, and writers will have to portray them as the thirty-six secret saints, and there will not be enough words to praise and to thank them.
Among these people-angels, Christian saints, who deserve to be part of the history of the Jewish martyrdom such as khasidim of the nations of the world, we must mention, with a
feeling of honor and thankfulness seven Christian families: 1) Stanislav and Vzane Mikhnavits of Stupenat; 2) Stanislav Valeyke of Lushtsike; 3) The Kot family of Staravyatke near Konstantinove; 4) Mikadam Tsernyavski near Zalyadz; 5) Andrej Salkovski near Varnyan; 6) Ossip Telika near Zyanovyets and 7) Kurkus near Stratsi.
At the very beginning, when the Germans entered, an unknown Christian saved a Jew from certain death. This also happened with Moshe Svirski, Alikim the Black's son. He intended to sneak out of Svir and flee to a Christian whom he knew who lived in a small village about three km from town. However, on his way, he was captured and the German officer instructed two Polish policemen to shoot him in a nearby forest.
The two Christian young men loaded their rifles and led him to a little hill. Along the way, Moshe heard the two policemen speaking to each other, saying that they had pity for him, and he should not be shot. When they entered the forest, one of the Christians told him not to be afraid because they would only shoot into the air, but he must fall down immediately and lie there until nightfall, and when it will be very dark, he could run away from there.
And so it was. Moshe ran away at night, not to Svir, but to Selevits, a village five km from town. Everybody in Svir was certain that he had been shot.
Several months passed.
Yom Kippur, 1941. Moshe accidentally had the opportunity to work on the road not far from Selevits. As he worked, he noticed a peasant carrying a little stick and looking at him oddly, as if he knew him, and suddenly, when he came closer, Moshe, frightened,
saw how the peasant dropped his stick and began to cross himself, calling out: Oh, Jesus, running over to Moshe quickly, grabbing him, kissing him and shouting:
Thank God you are alive. Everyone said that they had shot you on the little hill in the forest.
Vzane Mikhnovits from Stupenat
It seems that this Christian knew Moshe very well, and this was Stanislav Mikhnovits from Stupenat. Those Svir Jews whom he rescued call him Uncle Stas to this very day.
Moshe told Stas how he had been rescued, and Stas told him that he himself would have done the same thing. Incidentally, he told him that if he found himself in danger, he could always come to him to Stupenat and hide there.
Stas left and Moshe continued to work. His situation however, became more difficult from day-to-day, and Moshe went to Stupenat.
At that time, Stas happened to have a number of guests, and they advised him to wait in the kitchen. When the guests left, Vane, Stas' wife, prepared the table and made a holiday supper. The entire family sat around the table. They had eight children, five sons and three daughters. They were all very friendly to Moshe, although they knew quite well that if a Jew was found with them, they would all be killed.
When the children went to bed, Stas remained sitting with Moshe until three a.m. and worked out a plan how to save him.
Moshe left and Stas in the meantime, prepared a secret corner in the attic of the stable, a small room surrounded by wood and straw.
During the night of March 28th , 1942, Moshe arrived and immediately climbed into his place in the stable attic.
He lay there almost seven months, all alone. Stas, Vzane and all the children would bring him food every day, water for washing and even saw to it that he always had something to read.
Meanwhile, Stas was able to receive news about the situation in Svir. The Germans were going to liquidate the Svir ghetto. Moshe asked Stas to rescue his sister Pessl and her family, and Stas agreed. However, along with Pessl and her son, there came Berele Svirski and his elderly mother, a woman of about 65, and his bride, a young girl from Myadl.
There were now six people living in the attic room, and the question of food arose. As long as Moshe was the only one, Stas managed, but to feed six people was difficult for him.
Stanislav Mikhnavits of Stupenat
Moshe gave Stas the address of a Christian acquaintance of his in Lushtsike, a village two km from Svir, Stanislav Valeyke, and told him to explain everything about how they were hiding, and to figure out with him how to get food for them.
To their great joy, Valeyke agreed to bring them food every other Sunday.
Now Stas also brought Moshe Drevyatski, Pesye's husband, and now there were seven people in the stable attic.
For the entire summer, Valeyke supplied them not only with food, but also with various news reports about Svir Jews. Around Rosh Hashana, they found out that Gitl and
Zalman-Borukh were in the Vilna ghetto, and Valeyke said that he wanted to rescue them as well.
A couple of days later, Gitl and Zalman-Borukh were also in the attic, and even Tsirl's girl, Khaye-Tsipe.
Ten people in a small room in which one could barely turn around. It was tight, but everybody was happy that they found themselves there and not in the ghettos, and that they still had hope at remaining alive.
And so passed days, weeks, months. Once every two weeks, and always on Sunday, Valeyke would arrive from Lushtsike, and bring them food.
Valeyke was to them as a window to the world. He was their newspaper, their radio, and it would be a holiday for the ten Svir people when he arrived. Stas came in every morning to bring them breakfast and to wake them. Good morning. Slowly, they became accustomed to his morning visit, so if he was occasionally late, they would be afraid. Who knew what might have happened.
And when he finally did show up, with a cigarette in his mouth and say Good morning , they felt relief.
Finally, it became known in Stupenat that Stas had something to do with Jews. They had heard that his opinion about the Jews was not a bad one, that he was speaking of them with a feeling of pity, and this talk also reached the ears of the chief of Stupenat. One winter afternoon, in 1943, he paid a visit to Stas. He told him clearly and precisely that the village residents were speaking badly of him, that he is involved with Jews, and he warned him that if this turned out to be true, he, along with the children, would be shot
in his own yard, and their bodies would be given as food to the dogs.
Difficult, very difficult to imagine what took place in Stas' house that afternoon. The children and his wife cried and wailed. On one hand, they did not want to cause their father such pain and drive the Jews out to a certain death, and on the other hand, their own lives were also dear.
The ten Svir Jews talked it over and informed Stas that they would leave and free him. They did not want him to perish because of them. Now, to their great amazement, he told them that he would absolutely not let them go to a certain death. He wanted to look for another place for them first.
Four months passed after the Saltis's visit, and he had found no other place. Vzanye and the children were constantly in a state of fear, wailing and complaining, but not one of them wanted to force the Jews out.
That week, something happened. Not far from Stupenat, there was another family from Svir, Yosl Karasin, his wife and child.
Yosl's wife was shot and he and the child fled.
This convinced Stas to decide that another place had to be found for the Jews.
Berele Svirski, his bride and mother went to another peasant in the village of Kiselay, and the other seven Jews, Stas decided to take at night to the village of Kisaley, 12 km away from Stupenat.
Everybody decided to leave and not to put Stas in danger, but Motele Drevyatski had
a bad leg and could not walk. Stas did not have to give this much thought, harnessed his horse and wagon and drove him.
After walking about two km, Moshe Drevyatski, Pessl and Gitl had to stop. They too, were in very weakened conditions and could not go further. Stas put them in the wagon as well, and was now transporting four Jews in the dark.
They begged him to go back home and to not put his life in danger, but he said:
Whatever will happen to you will happen to me as well. I will return home only after you will be in a safe place.
After riding one km, they saw three people on a small hill. They stopped and consulted where they should stay, but they noticed the three running away at top speed. They later found out that these three had been Zushke from Mihalishak and his children.
Little by little, through the deep darkness of the night, they arrived close to the Stratsi courtyard. It was about midnight when they had to cross the train-tracks which led to Vilna.
In a house 200 meters from the road, a light shone. They already knew that there were Germans in Stratsi. Music could be heard coming from that house. Soldiers could clearly be seen through the windows, dancing with young women and singing. Stas understood that this is only a party and he consoled the Jews and told them not to be afraid.
But yet, there was a terrible moment when suddenly, two men emerged from the house. But they were singing something and were noticeably drunk.
Meanwhile, the wagon with its passengers continued on.
An hour later, they arrived at a river. The water-level was high, and there was no discussion whether to cross on foot or to drive the wagon through. Stas knew this place and said that it was quite deep and that they would have to row across. To their good fortune, they found a boat and one by one, rowed across. Stas, his horse and wagon could not go any further. He bid them goodbye, kissed everyone and wished for them that God should save them all, and he hoped that he would be lucky enough to see everyone again alive.
The seven people remained standing alone on the other side of the river and listened to the wagon as it went further and further away, and when they could no longer hear the footsteps of the horse and the noise of the wheels, they began to walk slowly, step-by-step. They had to carry Motele. Gitl Moshe and Pessl were weak, and yet, they walked. In early morning, finally, they made it to their new place at the Christian Kurkus, who had promised Stas that he would take them in.
In Kurkus' stable-attic, they found Yitskhok Troytsen and his entire family. Also, since the house was situated far from a village and a road, it was safer than in Stupenat. The Svir Jews received food there as well from Velayke.
This young Christian from the Lushtsike forests was then approximately 30 years old, and through various ways, understood how to provide food for all these hidden Jews. He held a certain belief to rescue the Jews, and at every opportunity, he stressed this and said that he sees no nicer or better goal in his entire life.
And so passed several more months.
At the end of July, 1944, the Soviets entered the Svir neighborhood, and those in Svir, Jews along with dozens of others, were freed.
In Stupenat, Stas arranged a dance to which came Bronislav Valeyke from Lushtsike, all the Svir Jews who had stayed with him in the attic. They danced and sang together with the children of Stas. He, Stas, was overjoyed, like the father of the bride or groom, virtually crying from happiness. The celebration lasted until dawn.
Everyone said goodbye and promised devotion to each other for their entire lives.
When the Svir Jews later arrived in Germany, they sent to Stupenat various packages, and to this very day, they exchange letters as true family. Moshe Svirski now lives in a village not far from Giv'at Brener, and when you visit him, you will find two large pictures on the bed which are the pictures of Stanislav and Vzyane Mikhnovits from Stupenat.
And Moshe Svirski shows these two photos with great pride and says:
This is Uncle Stas and this is Aunt Vzane.
Fortunately for the Jews of Svir, Stas was not the only Christian who rescued Jews.
Yosl Karasin and Pere Tsakh and Aaron Shapira have similar stories to tell about good Christians.
When the Germans entered Svir on June 24th , 1941, Yosl was living in Dombravke, not far from Svir.
For six months, the Germans did nothing, but at the end of 1941, Karasin's family was also chased into the Svir ghetto. In April, they were taken to Mikhalishak, but when Yosl found out about those who had perished at Ponar, he decided to flee.
Since he did not want to risk the life of Simele, a young girl of 1½, he gave her to a Christian, Kot, in Staravyaske, near Konstantinove. The Christian told everyone in the village that his sister's little child was being raised by him, but the neighbors suspected something, that this was only an excuse. They wondered why the mother never came to see her child, and began to think that this is a little Jewish girl. There was a hooligan in town, a known anti-Semite, who once took a stick and wanted to kill the Jewish child. Kot's wife ran out of the house to rescue the child, and out of anger, he hit her with the stick and broke her hand.
An interesting episode was experienced by Borukh Mikhnovayets (Mints), who at the outbreak of WWII, lived with his wife and son in Kriveyn. Four km from town, there lived an outstanding tanner and Borukh learned from him how to work with leather.
In august, 1941, the Nazis entered Kriveyn and searched out all kinds of artisans. Borukh was pointed out. Since they needed a lot of boots, Borukh had a lot of work. They treated him well and fed him decently.
At the end of 1942, the Nazis decided to liquidate the Kriveyn ghetto, and Borukh was the only Jew who was saved and taken to Dolhigov. He worked for them until March, 1943, when the partisans attacked the town.
Borukh made use of this opportunity, and together with his wife and six-year old son, fled. For ten days they wandered around Dolhigov and could not make any contact with the partisans.
Borukh remembered that in the village of Vilevits there lived an acquaintance of his, a Christian, Yashtsik, and he decided to go to him. Maybe he would save them.
In the darkness of the night, they entered the village. Mrs. Yashtsik opened the door in sheer terror. She fed them and Borukh proposed that her husband should save them in a simple manner. He, his wife and child would lie in a wagon. Yashtsik would pile a lot of straw on top of them. He would sit up high upon the straw and it would not occur to the Germans that Jews were hiding below.
And so it was. Yashtsik agreed to Borukh's request, and drove them through ten terrible km. On the Kriveym Bridge, there were Germans posted. Along the way, they had to cross the train-tracks which led from Maladetsne to Palatsk, and there stood a German garrison.
Finally, they arrived in the Pakuts forest, and there they crawled out of the wagon from under the straw and went into the forest. Yoshtsik returned home.
For two days, they went hungry and thirsty, until they encountered hidden Jews in their bunker. They remained there a couple of months until, by accident, Borukh met an acquaintance, a Jewish partisan, and through him came into contact with the partisans.
Borukh's first job for the partisans was to set fire to the stash of ammunition in Roksheyn, together with another partisan and they were successful, and they even stole ten rifles.
Soon the partisans found out that he was a good tanner, so they brought him a lot of hides to make into leather, since they were in need of many shoes and boots. The factory in the forest took on from day-to-day a different appearance, until it became a sort of leather factory where there were 40 people working.
The partisans valued him greatly as a leather specialist, and he used this situation to help the hidden Jews. Among others, he also met in the forest, Fanye Fisher and Leybl Potashnik and helped them a lot.
After the war, Borukh spent a couple of years in Germany, and from there went to America.
No less moving is the story that Pere Tsakh-Grager has to tell:
In 1941, Pere was in Vurniyon with her husband. Dovid Grager was good friends of the local priest and went to him for advice about what to do. The priest advised him not to go to any ghettos since they had a six-month old son. The priest gave them the address of a Christian with whom they could leave the child and he would be responsible for him. Pere did this, and with her husband fled into a forest, and the little boy was brought up by the Christian woman.
Quite often, the Christian woman brought the child to the forest to show him who his parents were.
Regrettably, the child could not remain with them because it became known. Also Pere and Dovid decided to leave that particular forest, so they took back their nine-month old son and gave him to another Christian, Andrej Salkovski and the little boy remained there for more than three years, i.e., until the arrival of the Soviets.
Pere and Dovid were also hidden for two months at the same Christian's home in the attic of the stable. The little boy used to run around in the courtyard and did not know that his
parents were there. However, they were able to see him quite well through the cracks in the wall.
Since the Christian was afraid to keep them in the attic, he built a sort of bunker for them in the nearby forest. Quite often, Salkovski would walk there with the child, and she would pass close to this hiding-place so that his parents could see him.
One time, someone came to Salkovski and told him that she had seen a Jew in the forest sitting on a tree and crying. So they had to abandon that hiding-place, meeting up with other Jews in a forest six km from Salkovski. It was then difficult for them to see their child during the day. Only at night would they sometimes take a chance and go to Salkovski to see the little boy while he slept.
When the Soviets entered, Pere took the child back and the child would call her the young mama, and Salkovski's wife the old mama.
Aaron Shapira hid in Voltsinits, a courtyard not far from Semetove, and there took care of the cows for the Duke Novirovits. In 1942, he had to flee to a forest because it was impossible to remain there. There had gathered in the forest about 300 Jews from all the surrounding areas. One time, Aaron went to a village to purchase food, taking his two sons with him Yankev 16 and Zalman 12 and Kasriyel's grandchild, also 12. They got food and carried it back to the forest. However, a Lithuanian policeman noticed them and told them to throw the packages away, and to go with him. He turned them over to the (Pg. 167) Germans. Two Germans took them to a field and instructed them to kneel on their knees. There were shots and all three children were killed. Aaron received two bullets to his head, but remained alive. When the Germans left, badly wounded as he was, he dragged himself to a barn where he spent the night, and later, with difficulty, made it back to the bunker where they bathed his wounds and bandaged them. There were no doctors.
Chaim, Yankev and Zalman Shapira, of blessed memory
For two months, he lay without medical attention. When his health improved, he left with his wife and five-year old, Hirshele, and went to another forest where they found a good person who gave them food. However, he was afraid to hid them, so they left from there as well, continuing until they reached an acquaintance, a Christian Ossip Talayke, near Zanaryen, who received them well, fed them, gave them a place to sleep in the barn, and even went to the forest, heated a bath and bathed him himself the way a mother would bathe a child.
Then his wife came and bathed Aaron's wife and Hirshele. They brought them clean underwear and warm clothes and shoes. From that time forward, they were in the forest during the day and at night, they slept in the barn upon straw, and Talayke would bring them food.
Kasriyel, Leybl and Dvora Potashnik, of blessed memory
They spent six weeks there, until they were noticed, so Telayka built a bunker for them in a forest seven km from there. Many Svir Jews later came there:
Yitskhok Fisher and his family,
Yitskhok Meltser and his family,
Zalman-Mikhl Resnik and both sisters and
Isaac Yaffe and Reyzn.
Berl Resnik, who was a partisan, would come to them quite often, bringing food.
All those who were there survived, and after the liberation, returned to Svir.
These are all facts which illustrate a humane attitude towards Jews from many Christians in the neighborhood of Svir.
At the grave of Aaron Shapiro's perished family
All of this took place at a time when Jews were suffering so much at the hands of the Nazi beasts and so it is our debt to record all of these facts.
May those from Svir who are spread throughout the world know and console themselves about what occurred in Eastern Europe during Hitler's time. There emerged in Svir rays of sun which lit up that area and demonstrated that good people live there and whom we have to laud and thank.
by Chaim Nakhman Bialik
Translated by Mindle Crystel Gross
Edited by Toby Bird
|From steel and iron, cold and hard and silent,
Forge for yourself and come!
Come, go into the slaughtered town, see with your eyes,
Touch with your own hands
Fences, poles, gates and walls,
Upon stones of the street, on all the wood,
The black dried blood and the limbs
Of my brothers, heads and necks
And you should wander about amidst the destruction,
Past walls, broken, with crooked doors,
Past gaping ovens, half-chimneys
Black stones, half burned bricks.
In the streets you will walk with feathers all over.
You bathe in a river, a wide river
Which was created by human bloody sweat.
You tread on entire piles of torn-apart possessions.
These are entire lives, entire lives,
Broken forever like shards.
You walk, you run, you are twisted
Within the destruction
Brass, silver, furs, silk and such,
Torn, ripped into tiny pieces.
by Chanoch Drutz
Translated by Mindle Crystel Gross
Edited by Toby Bird
The first to arrive in Svir after the entrance of the Red Army were the 11 people, i.e: Moshe Svirski and Gitl, Zalman-Borukh, Moshe Drevyatski and his family and Yitskhok Treyts with his family. They found it to be what Bialik portrayed about Kishinev. On the street were scattered large amounts of furniture, torn items, broken glassware, kitchen items, books and assorted papers. Everything jumbled together created a storm of a terrible destruction. Many houses were either totally or partially burned. Of the tower there remained standing only the bottom floor. Also from Eliyohu-Chaim Grager's house, there remained only half. From Eliyohu-Noakh's house, there remained only the barn, but the neighboring houses were almost not ruined. The houses belonging to Fayve Svirski, Yitskhok Meltser, Ruven-Chaim, Yone Svirski and Chanoch Gelgarn, and most especially the entire street where Moshe Miller, Chanoch Zlatayavke, remained intact, as well as Pariser Street.
In the synagogue courtyard, the rabbi's house and Chaim-Yankev's, Avrom-Yitskhok's, as well as the house of study, remained intact.
From Pariser Street to Troyts', almost all the houses had been burned. , among them also Chaim-Avrum the baker's house.
The cemetery, however, was not touched by the Christians and not even one headstone was destroyed.
Sore-Gitl's house had been burned. She moved into Zalman-Mikhl Fisher's house. When the Christians became aware that she was alive, they returned everything which, one year earlier, they had taken from her house. Drevyatski, Meltser, Moshe Svirski and Troyts found their houses intact.
It was very sorrowful and sad for the 11 people during their first days in town. Every corner reminded them o the dear and beloved who had perished. Every torn item was a reminder of a house where three years earlier, there had lived good people. Death stared at them before their eyes and the 11 rescued could not find a place for themselves.
Slowly, other rescued Svir Jews began to return. Almost every day, someone would come, and in the early weeks, Svir already had more than 40 Jews.
Within the time-frame of the three impossible years, there was contact only between a few of them. Mostly, they did not know about each other.
Only after the liberation did it become known that from Svir, many people remained alive and among the rescued were several children.
Naturally, every rescued Jew had his own story to tell. Each person lived through something.
In the main, there were stories with miracles about good Christians, but from many, there were horrific stories, details about how their nearest and dearest had perished.
With regret, Vulik Ayzikovski related how he had to leave Shlomo-Hirshl, his father, to a certain death. They were together with Dovid (Berte Berson's son) in Bukhenwald. From there, they were herded, on foot, to the Sudatenland. They suffered hunger along the entire way, and ate grass. Shlomo-Hirshl became weak and could not continue. He remained sitting to rest. The Germans chased both children further on. They stopped in a village in the evening, and waited there the entire night. A couple of hours later, Shlomo-Hirshl also dragged himself there. The following day, he tried to go with them, but was unable to do so. He knew that he would die along the way. He begged the children to greet his wife, Keyle, and the little daughter, Beyletske, who were in Shtuthof. The children left their father to a certain death, and continued on.
And this is how Shlomo-Hirshl died, of hunger on the way to the Sudatenland. He was the son of Mikhl the watchmaker.
Tsivye Rabkin related how her two sisters, Blume and Tcharne, died before her eyes.
Those who were in the camps told about the heroism of Leyzer Gabay.
Prior to the war, he had been the principal of the Rakshits Hebrew elementary school. In the camp, he took upon himself the dangerous work of supplying ammunition to the partisans. He was in charge of purchasing the ammunition and also transporting it to the forest. When the Germans captured him, he had a revolver in his pocket. They tortured him in front of everyone and demanded he turn in his comrades. He had the courage to remain silent. The Germans tortured him almost to the point of death, but did not extract any secrets.
Three of the Svir partisans: Fayvl Tsakh, Chaim Meltser and Hirshl Drevyatski fell in a
battle with the animals.
Chaim Meltser fell as a member of a Lithuanian partisan division.
Yosef-Chaim hid with a Christian and it was there that he became very ill. Isaac and Reyze wanted to rescue him, and went to the forest. On the way, they were attacked. They succeeded in escaping and Yosef was murdered.
But with these miracles and acts of bravery, one could not live in Svir. It was very seldom that someone had the heart to remain living among the graves and the ruins, and it is no wonder, that almost all those from Svir who had been rescued, as quickly as possible, left for Eretz Yisroel. A small portion of them went to America.
There remained in Svir only several Jewish families. The Svir Jewish community is almost non-existent.
Destroyed was the small, tucked-away little town where Jews had lived for hundreds of years with a satisfactory cultural and community life. A small community was destroyed where Jews, both in the religious sense and national sense, as well as in the economic, could live out their lives in a good way. Most important is that our parents, because of the destruction, perished in a horrible and barbaric way, as did our brothers and sisters, our dearest and nearest friends and acquaintances, who were not fortunate enough to reach the point of liberation. To all of these victims from Svir is this book dedicated. We will mention them all with the old traditional Jewish Kaddish:
Yisgadal v'yiskadash shmey rabo
All of these we will mention with our generations long historical memorials.
Oh, that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears,
that I may weep day and night for the slain of my people!
|Do you feel?
There still swirls about the fear of death
And look long at you with silent eyes
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