Oswiecim, Majdanek, Sachsenhausen, Lidice, Oradour World War II has made the names of these obscure towns and villages bywords for the ghastly crimes of German fascism., To their number we must yet add another-Telekhany.
Telekhany is a little town located far inland, amidst the woods and marshes of Byelorussia, midway between the towns of Pinsk and Baranovichi, and within nearly sixty kilometers' distance of the nearest railway.
Step by step, speaking to the inhabitants of this little town and neighboring
villages, I was able to reconstruct the story of the appalling tragedy
which was enacted during the late war.
Before the Hitler armies invaded Soviet territory, Telekhany was a typical little town in the wooded district of Byelorussia,with a large Jewish population. Most of the Jews were artisans and tradesmen, whose sphere of activity extended to the outlying villages. They were tailors, cobblers, smiths, tinkers, watchmakers, harness and cart makers, coopers, butchers, barbers and petty traders.
Disaster overtook Telekhany on June 28th, 1941, when the German Nazi troops occupied the little town. This date marked the beginning of its end.
Telekhany soon remained far in the hinterland of the attacking German troops. On the surface life then seemed to resume its natural course. The inhabitants of Telekhany went on patching boots, sewing garments, tinkering, trading, arguing and praying to God. Many thought that now their greatest fears were behind them and the stories of Nazi atrocities grossly exaggerated.
However, one August morning of 1941, at dawn, Telekhany woke up to hear rumors that the town was surrounded. The terrible rumor was soon confirmed. Telekhany was cut off from the outside world by a chain of guards in green and brown camouflage battledress carrying tommyguns.
Mounted SS soon appeared in the town. With the help of the police they drove scores of the local inhabitants into a wood on the outskirts of Telekhany, making them dig long and deep trenches, the bottom of which was filled with water. No one knew exactly what the Germans needed these ditches for. On the next day, however, which was a Wednesday, the German command issued an order for the entire Christian population to remain at home, not to go out anywhere, and for all Jews of the male sex to assemble at the People's House, as the House of Culture was then called.
Singly and in groups the men went to the appointed place. In front of the People's House a great big bonfire blazed in which the works of Pushkin, Gogol, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Shakespeare, Adam Mickiewicz, Gorki, Mayakovsky, Sholem Aleichem, as well as numerous textbooks, went up in flames.
The half-drunken SS were indulging in a mad orgy around the bonfire, making their victims stand on their knees, beating them brutally with their truncheons, and finally holding a "concert" by dragging a piano out of the building and forcing the cruelly abused, terror-stricken men to sing and dance to the accompaniment of a drunken SS officer.
Mass shooting began on the following day.
All Jews were driven out of their homes, lined up in groups of 30, 40, and 50 persons, and chased into the woods where the ditches had been built.
Men and women, young boys and girls, old folks and little children--all were herded together. No exceptions were made, neither for suckling infants nor for the old and infirm who had to be held up to walk.
This is what Yevgenia Trigenskaya, a native of Telekhany, can recall of that day: "Although we sat at home, we could hear and see a great deal. There is a scene I can remember very well. In one of the groups walked two girls with their arms entwined. One of them I knew a little. Her name was Esther and her surname, if I was not mistaken, was Gotlieb. She was very beautiful and much admired by all of Telekhany's young men. Often she sang and danced at the amateur entertainments arranged at the People's House. She was a merry little thing and a chatterbox. One of the SS convoy, leaning down from his horse, said: "Ah, Judin, why are you so beautiful?" Esther's beauty, however, did not save her. She was shot down with the rest.
The Nazi-Fascist firing squad spared nobody, not the graybearded old men, the pregnant women, nor the babes in their mothers' arms. From the woods came the reports of one volley after another. Those who were shot down were at once covered with earth, even if they were still alive. Upon the layers of earth, running red with blood, new victims fell one after another.
On the next day the SS started a hunt for survivors, combing every barn, shed, attic and basement. The Jews that were discovered were at once dragged out into the street and shot in cold blood.
Leib Brestski, the tailor, had hidden under his stove. He remained there for two days. One of the SS, flashing a light, discovered the poor man, and he was brutally murdered in his own backyard.
It is hard to give the exact number of Jewish victims in Telekhany. However, it is a well-known fact that the Jewish population of the town was nearly 2,000. And all met their death at the hand of the Nazi-fascists. The whole Gurshtel family, for example, which consisted of old Gurshtel, whose first name nobody seems to remember, and his four sons and their families, was wiped out. The-tailor, Srul Gurshtel, his wife Sarah and their two children, 12 and 14 years old, were murdered in their own home. Osher, Yudel and Nisel Gurshtel, their wives and children were shot on the outskirts of the town.
The brothers Vainshtein, together with their own families and their old father, a butcher, were also among those shot, as were the old carpenter, Rubakha, the brothers Esel and Mikhel Kosovsky-two cobblers, Rakhmil Landman, a fish dealer, Mikhel Likhfar, a tailor, the cobbler Beinus, the brothers Motl and Isik Shklyar, and countless others.
Very few managed to escape. Among them were Gdalli Karchmar and Yutsko Chernomoretz, who ran away to join the partisans. No one in Telekhany knows of the fate of the former; the latter, however, is alive, and getting along well today, working in the Ivanovo district of Brest Region.
Aron Rubakha and his brother, the sons of an old carpenter and both
workers of the Telekhany district Komsomol, went to
the eastern part of the country. Aron now works as a cutter in Tashkent and his brother lives in Kiev. Komadeyev succeeded in escaping from the enemy's encirclement. After the war he continued his education and now works in Leningrad. Five out of two thousand! No more, it seems.
We must not forget those resting in eternal sleep in the countless common graves in Telekhany and its outskirts, the Jews and the Byelorussians, the Russians, the believers in God and the nonbelievers, the Communists and the non-communists, all of whom met their death at the hands of the fascist hangmen.
We must remember the dead for the sake of the living, for there are
today walking the earth persons "with two legs, two arms and one head,"
following in Hitler's footsteps, with their racist rantings and their hands
itching to plunge the world into the shambles of an atomic war.
The Nazis exterminated six millions of our people. They destroyed thousands of cities, towns and villages, including our beautiful little town of Telekhan.
The murderous atrocities perpetrated by the Germans upon the world and the Jewish people in particular, also caused a great loss to the world in general. In the holocaust which Hitler Germany loosed upon Europe in the second World War, five million Jewish adults and one million two hundred thousand Jewish children under the age of fifteen, perished, by various methods, "scientific" and otherwise.
Who were these people? What were their names? They are too numerous for the world to know; the list is too long. The majority of them were ordinary people: artisans, traders, professionals, teachers, etc., who, because of their day to day struggle for subsistence had no chance to develop their special vocations.
But among them were many names known to the world. The names of scientists, inventors, pedagogues, writers, artists, musicians and historians, of great talent and even genius. These were people who had contributed much and could perhaps have contributed still more to the cultural treasures of the world, had they not been killed.
The Nazis tried first to deaden their victims' spiritual and moral capabilities, but despite all the physical tortures, the Jews remained spiritually strong. A Jewish grandfather, just before his death, told his fifteen year old grandson that he must survive and take revenge. (Quoted from the Ringelblum archives found in the debris of the ghetto after the war. This story was told by that same grandson at the Eichmann trial in Israel).
The heroism of the Jewish children in the ghettos is yet to be fully studied and evaluated. "The aim of the Nazis was to kill the Jewish children, to rob the Jewish people of the younger generation. So, the atrocities toward the Jewish children were of greater ferocity than toward the older generation," said the Israeli judges when they pronounced sentence on Eichmann.
Dr. Dworzhetzky, in his 500 page book, relates: "According to most authentic estimates, the Nazis killed close to one million two hundred thousand Jewish children. During the liquidation of the ghettos, the Nazis used special "children's squads." In Vilno and Kovno, this was done during the 27th and 28th of March, 1944. In Shavel, it was the 5th of November, 1943. In Krakow, it was the 13th of March, 1943, In Lodz, August 1942, and in Bialystock, August 1942.
In Warsaw there were several special liquidations of children. Generally, the first to be exterminated were the children, under the most bestial tortures. Flocks of trained dogs would tear at their delicate little bodies. They split children's heads by swinging them at poles; they would chop their heads off with hatchets, and often throwing the children, still alive, into bonfires. All this was done while the parents were forced to look on.
From all sorts of archives, documents and diaries, found after the war, we find that German doctors conducted the most despicable sex operations and experiments upon Jewish women and children, in the name of "science." After these operations and experiments were completed, the victims were shipped to extermination camps. Very few survived.
Among those killed in the camps was the now famous authoress of the "Diary of Anne Frank." We will never know how many Anne Franks, perhaps in the hundreds or even thousands of highly talented creative people have been lost to the world because of Nazi bestialities.
Our little town of Telekhan had quite a few talented boys and girIs who might perhaps, in time, have made contributions to the progress of the world. They fought heroically as Partisans against the bloody enemy. Only a handful survived. Some found refuge in Israel, while some joined the Red Army. The survivors: the two brothers Laibel and Ephraim Klitenik, Eli Sanders, Berl Gieskin, Faivel Lemmel, Aaron Shmuel (Riva's son) who fell defending Leningrad; Laizer Lutzky and Shloime Landman, now in this country. Many teenagers joined the underground, among them my cousin Dina Godiner, who now lives in Lodz, Poland.
There was no ghetto in Telekhan, no crematoriums. The Nazis brought together the entire Jewish population, forced them to dig holes in the earth and fill them with water. They opened fire with machine-guns at point blank range at the Jews who stood at the edges of the holes, and continued to shoot until all were killed. Those who did not die instantly were left to die in agony. The shooting lasted two days. The Nazis also sent out squads of gunmen to hunt down Jewish runaways. This gruesome story was told to Shloime Landman and Osher Gurshtel by the Christians of Telekhan after the war, when they returned to the city.
The same story was related to the Partisan Ephraim Klitenik when he returned to Telekhan. As hardened as he was, Ephraim broke down and sobbed like a child on hearing the story.
The stories of the Nazi bestialities are so fantastic, so gruesome, horrifying and repulsive that the human mind is unable to comprehend them. When we realize that all these atrocities took place in our time, in the civilized 20th century, by the bloody hands of civilized Germans, we become ashamed, and seized with fear for the future.
And there is reason to fear for the future. If the Germans (and biologically they belong to the human race) could degenerate to such cruelties, what assurances do we have that such a holocaust might not be repeated. Shimon Dubnow, the famous Jewish historian who was shot by the Nazis in the Riga ghetto early Sunday morning, November 30, 1941, told the Jewish children of the ghetto: "All the Jewish histories written up till now are meaningless. Jewish history begins now!" We may well add: the history of all mankind is now beginning.
We are still too close to this greatest of human tragedies to comprehend it in all its vastness and ramifications. All we could do in the past two decades was to gather data, materials and facts. And all that which we have gathered so far is only a small part of that which is yet to be unearthed. All we know now is fragmentary. The whole tragedy is yet to be written.
New generations will come and they will have all the facts before them. Then, and only then, when the historians, and the writers and the artists will bring out to the world the full horror of the Hitler story, will the world be able to realize what a loss it sustained.
We could be more at case, breathe more easily again, if we could think of the German people as a nation suddenly gone mad. Then the civilized world could adopt measures to neutralize the German-Nazi pestilence. Or perhaps the world could cure them of their madness, or quarantine them as lepers. But the menace is in the fact that they are not mad, and they were not mad when they threw humanity into the holocaust with their aim of conquering the world.
They mobilized all their scientists, inventors, and all the talents of their nation; they indoctrinated their people with the idea of racial superiority and their claims that the Germans were the only ones destined to rule, and the rest of humanity created to be their slaves, and like vermin, legally fit only to be exterminated. Their professors and doctors experimented on human flesh. Their women made lamp shades from human skin. The whole nation became sadists, and fiercest of all was a beast with the title of Doctor, whose name was Mengele. He is still at large somewhere, under an assumed name, in one of the countries of the "free world."
We want to add, however, that with all their preciseness and accuracy,
they failed to create a means of eradicating from the human mind the conscience
and the faculty of remembering. The world remembers their atrocities. In
the slogan: "Not to forget and not to forgive" is the hope and salvation
The crimes against the Jews in Germany began two months after Hitler's ascent to power, in 1933. First the Jews were deprived of citizenship and their properties were confiscated. They were forbidden to come in contact with non-Jews; they were forbidden to use public transportation; synagogues and all other houses of worship were sacked and burned. Jewish musicians were deprived of the right to play. The works of Jewish composers and writers were burned in public, including those of Germany's greatest poet, Heine. Mobs danced around the fires at the burnings shouting: "Out, Jewish vermin! Jews must be exterminated."
Many German Jews, as the situation worsened, committed suicide. Others tried to escape to other countries but found the gates closed. When the Germans became aware of the indifference of most of the people of other countries to the fate of the Jews, they were emboldened to try extreme measures.
The blame can be laid at the doorstep of the Western democracies, our own United States included. During the years 1933 through 1943, only 190,000 Jewish refugees were admitted into the United States out of the millions who were hopelessly seeking refuge from the bloody hands of the Nazis. Had the hearts and the doors of the Western democracies been open to these unfortunates several millions of Jews might have escaped the crematoria.
In 1939 when the Nazis started the war and invaded Poland, they loosed unheard of persecutions upon the Jews. They were forced to wear the yellow patch. They were herded into ghettos like animals, where hunger and epidemics were rampant. But the Nazis were only warming up to their gruesome work. Since it seemed to them that the process of extermination was too slow as they were then doing it, they began to build the crematoria and gas chambers. In trainloads, Jews were shipped to Maidanek, Treblinka, and others.
Those who could work were used as slave laborers and their extermination was delayed for as long as they were capable of producing. When hunger and exhaustion took their toll, the laborers, too, were sent to the gas chambers. Afraid of the pitiable resistance these wretched people might be capable of, the Nazis used perfidious methods to bring their victims to the gas chambers peacefully. The Jews were told they were being taken to bathhouses, and were even given a towel and bar of soap. But as they entered the gas chambers, the deadly gas was turned on and the victims perished in pain. In one crematorium, Treblinka, there were 13 gas chambers, and every 35 minutes ten thousand Jews were put to death by gas.
After the victims were dead, the Germans extracted the gold from their -teeth. Some corpses were split open, since the Nazis suspected that some of the Jews may have swallowed diamonds. Every week 8 to 10 kilograms of gold taken from the mouths of their victims, were shipped to Berlin, to enrich the Nazi 3rd Reich.
A young man testifying at the Eichmann trial, relates: "I grew up in Treblinka. At the age of 14 1 was taken away from my mother. She was shipped to a crematorium with thousands of others. I wanted to commit suicide, but my grandfather talked me out of it. He said, it was my duty to live and help others. And since I was so young, I might yet live to get out of the Hitlerite inferno and be able to tell the world of the German horrors. I performed various duties in Treblinka. One of my jobs was to clip the hair from the dead women's heads and stuff mattresses with it. I also had the job of pulling the gold teeth from the mouths of the corpses. One day I found the body of my sister among the dead."
Another witness tells his story: "In my camp, Chelmna, we did not work on Sundays. The Germans wanted to have fun on that day. They formed long rows of Jews, and had them hold bottles on their heads. They then fired their guns at the bottles. If the shot hit the bottle, the victim was spared. If not, the Jew would be killed. The survivors had the job of clearing away the corpses."
In most places the Nazis succeeded in bluffing the Jews into their death traps, because many Jews did not, or could not believe that the Germans, known as a civilized people, could perpetrate such atrocities. The Nazis stopped at nothing, nor was any trick too perfidious, to prevent resistance from their victims.
However, all the Nazi tricks and tortures notwithstanding, the wretched, starved, physically exhausted and humiliated victims did resist their heavily armed enemy. The heroic resistance of the Jews in Byalistock, Oschwitz, Treblinka, and other camps and ghettos, is still little known to the world. The uprising in the Warsaw ghetto will live on in time as a monument to the courage of the remnants of the Jews of Warsaw and a lesson to future despots.
The mass slaughter of millions of people for the "crime" of being Jews happened in our generation; in the civilized and cultured Twentieth Century. Every man, woman and child on earth should know about it. Mankind everywhere should be on the alert for any manifestation of Nazism, fascism and anti-Semitism, no matter under what guise it should appear. Anti-Semitism appeals to the weak and criminal elements. We may learn from what happened in Germany, for as the virus of Nazism spread, and achieved control of the state apparatus, people were reduced to the status of beasts, and the human traits of justice, truth, sympathy and tolerance, vanished.
We owe it to the future generations to learn an everlasting lesson from the greatest tragedy that ever befell the human race, and particularly our Jewish people. This brief summary, with the lessons it draws of our suffering, and the loss of one third of our people, should be etched onto the minds and hearts of future generations.
Dismayed and disheartened as we are by the indifference of the non-Jewish world to our suffering at the hands of the Nazis, we would not be telling the whole truth, if we did not mention those people in many countries, who, at the risk of their own lives, gave us not only their sympathy, but a helping hand, and in so doing saved many thousands of Jews from destruction.
The most noble example was shown by the Danish people, led by their King. After the Hitlerite invasion of Denmark, the Nazis ordered the Jews to wear the infamous yellow patch. The King, when informed of the order, stated that if the Jews of Denmark would be forced to wear the patch, he would be the first to put it on. As a result the Jews of Denmark never put on the hated patches.
The Danes sheltered older Jews in their hospitals using Christian names. Refusing to accept the Nazi credo of hate and lies against the Jews, they hid Jewish religious articles in their churches. For their warm, humane behavior toward their neighbors in time of crisis, many Danes paid with their lives. Out of a total of seven thousand Danish Jews, only a few hundred were deported to the death camps. When the Danes became aware of the fact that the Jews in the camps were being kept on starvation rations, every Dane, from King to the humblest cobbler, contributed to food shipments to the Jews.
Although not all peoples acted as nobly and freely as did the Danes, yet many peoples in other Iands, to a lesser degree, also did what they could to help. It is well to write here of the contributions of the Swedes and the Swiss.
It is important to mention the name of one Swede, Paul Wallenberg, who served in the Swedish legation in Budapest. Wallenberg rented a number of apartment buildings, hoisted the Swedish flag over them, and housed hundreds of Jews, thus keeping them from the hands of the Nazis.
The gates of Luxemburg were also open for Jewish refugees. In Belgium, under the leadership of the Queen-Mother and the underground, many Jews were saved from certain death. In Norway, under Nazi occupation, the people risked their lives in freezing weather over rugged terrain, and helped many Jews escape into neutral Sweden.
Our beautiful little town of Telekhan shared the fate of many thousands of other cities and towns where Jews had lived and worked in peace for hundreds of years, side by side with their non-Jewish neighbors. The Jews, with sweat, toil and blood, enriched the Iands in which they lived with both material and cultural values. The coming of the Hitlerite hordes put a sudden and bloody end to all this.
We must forever be on guard that such sicknesses as antisemitism, racism and genocide can never again rear their heads, and that future generations may be able to live in peace, and with dignity and security.
To this struggle for a better life for the Jewish people and mankind everywhere, we dedicate our modest "Yiskor Book."
It was in the year 1915, during the first World War, when the Czarist soldiers were running in panic from the onslaught of the German armies. During the night the demoralized Russian soldiers and their officers wreaked havoc in the Town of Telekhan, especially amongst the Jewish population.
In the morning Azriel the Mute and his brother Chaim, together with their wives, Minka and Libby, ventured into the street to find out how their mother and father had fared in the terrible night. The rising sun did not forecast what was in store for Azriel, his brother and their loved ones.
They found their mother and father unmolested, still in their store. As they came in a peasant also entered and asked to be given change for a rubel. This demand for change was a provocation, since at that time the anti-Semites were reporting a story that the Jews were collaborating with the Germans. Part of the lie was that the Jews had shipped all of their money to Germany, including silver and copper coins. When the father told the peasant that he was short of change, it seemed to lend credence to the story, and the peasant began to beat the father with a stick.
The mother's pleas fell on deaf ears, and it was only after she had bribed the peasant with some merchandise was he willing to stop.
While this was going on, a horde of drunken Russian army officers approached Azriel and Chaim. One of the officers began to molest Azriel's wife, the comely Minka. At the same time he hit Azriel in the face so fiercely that Azriel fell to the ground. Azriel, however, was very strong. He stood up immediately, recovered from the shock and began beating the officer.
As his brother Chaim and two women tried to stop the struggle, the other officers seized Azriel and Chaim, handcuffed them and leaving them on the ground, began to debate the punishment they would mete out to the two men.
In the meantime the German armies were closing in on Telekhan. Fearing that they would be trapped in the town, the officers and the soldiers decided to leave in a hurry, but they took the two brothers with them. While on the run, the officers sentenced the two brothers to corporal punishment. Chaim was given ten lashes and Azriel 15. Azriel did not survive the beating.
Chaim survived, and now lives with his family in Hadeira, Israel.
Luck was not with the Eisenberg family in Israel, where they migrated after the first World War. The first victim was Jacob, the son of Chaim and Libby Eisenberg. (The full story of Jacob's struggle and death is related in the Yiskor Book in a separate article in Hebrew.)
Hershel, the son of Azriel and Minka, was working on a building. A scaffold collapsed and he was killed in the fall. His young niece, Chayele, eight years old, who was bringing him lunch at the time, was injured in the fall of the scaffold and remained a cripple for the rest of her life.
Their son joined the Haganah at the age of fourteen, and at eighteen was accepted for service by the Jewish army. He was given the job of mine detection on heavily traveled Jewish roads. After a year of this work he went to the Negev. Following a year in the Negev, he returned, and while riding in a tank, the tank overturned, and he became an invalid as a result of the injuries.
Chaim's son, Moishe, quit the Haganah in 1944 and joined the British army. The Jewish soldiers were discriminated against by the British. His brigade was sent to the Italian front, and Moishe was wounded. When the war ended he returned to Palestine, and was immediately sent to the front to fight the Arabs.
Chaim's second son, Motke, joined the British army at the age of seventeen. In 1944 he was also sent to the Italian front. He was wounded and hospitalized for six months. On his return to Palestine he settled near Kinereth and began organizing the Sentinels. While at Kinereth he married and now is in the service of the State of Israel.
After Azriel's tragic death at the hands of Czarist officers, his wife Minka settled in Palestine with her two sons, Hershel and Motke. She left behind in Telekhan her daughter Ziporah with her husband and two younger children, who were later killed by the invading Germans. Also left behind was a son, Laibel.
Laibel escaped into Russia and lived in Tashkent during the war. He worked hard there. He was for a time imprisoned, for having used language derogatory to the Soviets. After his release from prison he met and married a daughter of a respectable family. After the war they went to Poland and were scheduled to go to Eretz Israel from there. Enroute they stopped in Germany.
One week before their scheduled departure for Israel, Laibel, together with several other young men, went to see a football game. The truck in which they were riding overturned and Laibel was killed.
His wife, Golde, and their small daughter left for Israel in deep mourning, and there, in Israel, joined Laibel's mother, Minka, and the rest of the family.
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