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[Page 93-110]

The Holocaust


In the Jaws of the Nazi Beast

Memoirs of a Vileykan Partisan

by Yosef Norman

Translated by Eilat Gordin Levitan


On that wintry night in the beginning of 1940 our family members who lived for many generations in Vileyka were "bestowed" with a Soviet ID cards with the infamous stamp "Capitalists" The new classification forced the family to move away. Undesired "bourgeois capitalists" were not allowed to reside in Vileyka since Vileyka was the district capital. And now we were expelled from our home where we were born, raised, and educated, so we were forced to look for a home to rent in another town. We rented a small room in Kurenets and started a new life in the new Soviet homeland. Once in a while we would visit Vileyka and we would get very upset seeing strangers who benefited from our hard work and took our home and business from us. The first taste of the Bolshevik liberation was more than a bit bitter for us.

Our house became an office building for the municipal authorities. Shortly we found a job in Vileyka, but the job was not a permanent job and it wasn't official. My brother, Rafael, was imprisoned and received a year of hard labor since he resisted when they named us bourgeois capitalists and confiscated our home. He only returned to Vileyka about a month before World War II after being released from the army and was taken to work in the agricultural department.



The War

With all the pandemonium that started on June 22nd 1941, when Molotov announced on the radio about the invasion of Germans on Russia, our first reaction was to go to Vileyka and see what happened to our home. At that point we started visiting Vileyka everyday, seeing our house, and in the evening we would return to Kurenets to hide there. Only on Wednesday the 25th of June did our family return to our old home in Vileyka after all the civil servants left. For some reason, the fear of the Germans and the need to escape to the Soviets didn't seem to us so pressing since we were classified as bourgeois and were not welcomed by the Soviets. Since some of us recognized that the Soviets' claims of freedom, equality, and independence were only empty slogans, most of the family decided it was better to just stay put, since escape would only mean escape from one hell to another. Now this attitude really hurt us in the long run. My brother Rafael, Muleh Levinson, and Itzhak Zimmerman on the other hand, immediately took their bicycles and escaped to cross the old Soviet border, but on the way they met with Germans who returned them to Vileyka. My brother Nathan was supposed to join the Red Army after receiving a conscription notice on June 23rd, 1941, but since all the officers escaped to the Soviet Union, he didn't join.

Shortly after we entered our home, we still didn't bring our possessions or clothes, and a fire started in the nearby barracks that was a huge wooden building that was used by the Secret Police during the Polish times and later on became the headquarters of the NKVD under the Soviets. It seemed that the Soviets didn't wish to leave behind all their papers that had to do with internal investigations, so someone burned them all. We worked very hard to extinguish the fire since there was a very strong wind coming from the direction of the house of Yakov Norman who was next to us, and we thought that maybe the houses, which were all made of wood, would burn. Luckily we were able to save most of the houses and buildings except for the wooden bridge on the River Vilia, which was totally burned.

On that Wednesday the 25th of June, the first Germans entered Vileyka riding on motorcycles. After a few days, a never-ending parade of infantrymen started marching through the town. They went from Smorgon and the village Kalafi, east in the direction of Witbesk-Smolensk. Some of the Germans who stayed the night in Vileyka demanded a place to sleep, so they took me and other Jews and brought us to the gymnasia (high school) and they ordered us to clean all the rooms that were used for science projects. We were ordered to throw all the scientific tools and dishes and bottles into the garbage. In our yard they established a kitchen. Whenever they would take water from the well for cooking, they ordered us to drink it first to make sure that the well was not poisoned.

Shortly after, an S.De troop arrived. Their first order concerned all the Jewish residents. From now on, every Jew must wear an armband with a yellow star on his left arm. Inside the Jewish star we were ordered to embroider the word "Jude" in Latin letters. From now on, no Jew was allowed to walk on the sidewalk. We were only allowed to go on the streets, and we were only allowed to walk one behind the other, no two Jews side by side. No Jew was allowed to be in the street from 8 in the evening until 6 in the morning. Since many of the Jews were lucky enough to escape by train (there was a station in Vileyka) to the Soviet Union during the first days, many of their homes were left empty.

Soon the Christian neighbors from the town and neighboring villages realized that, so every day they would come and look around the houses, and at night they would break in and loot whatever they could, breaking whatever they didn't want to take. Sometimes they would do the same to the homes of Jews who didn't flee, and rob them. On the other hand, some of the Jewish residents decided to give some of their belongings to their Christian neighbors, things like jewelry, dishes, and clothes for safekeeping, not knowing what the future would bring. A few of the young people in our street decided to guard the street from the looters.

On that Wednesday evening, the 25th of June, which was two days after the Soviet authorities left Vileyka, I was near the house of Rev Aron David, and all of a sudden I heard loud steps. It was already dark outside. I was worried that it was the neighbors trying to steal Jewish possessions.

When they came near me I was faced by five German soldiers with automatic weapon. I could not escape. They asked:

"Are you Russian?"

They searched my clothing to see if they could find any signs that I am a soldier. I told them in Polish that I am just a local who lives across the street. One of them spoke Polish and they decided to let me go.



To Work

Shtephan Bialosov who managed the Flexer printing house that I used to work for, came to talk to me two days before the first massacre. He said that I should come back to work for him and he would arrange for the needed papers. He did not want me to be taken to other slave jobs that the Jewish population was now assigned to. My first job with him was to print posters that were ordered by the Germans. The poster announced in big letters that the entire Jewish population must come to the yard of the synagogue signed by the Gvint Commissar A. Shmidt.



The First Massacre

On Saturday, July 12, 1941 posters announced that all the Jewish men from age 15 to 55 must come to the synagogue by 10 a. m.

Nobody, even in his worst nightmare, imagined the true intention of the Germans. People said that as they (the Germans) did in some other towns, they want to select Judenrat. I remember how Moshe Svirsky urged people to go and elect a committee. Almost all the Jewish men some even older then 55 arrived.



In the Yard of the Synagogue

As we arrived in the yard, the Germans put us in four lines. Each line was ordered to enter the synagogue. As soon as we entered we were received sever blows by German Tugs who stood on both sides of the entrance holding bats made of pine trees.

They hit us on our heads, faces and any other places they could reach, they also kicked us mercilessly.

This was their first "welcome" to the Jews of the town.

A SS man confiscated all the identification papers from each Jew as they arrived. We were order to leave and return at a later hour with tobacco, watches, gold, and alcohol.

My father, brother Nathan and I were put with a group they ordered to return with shovels at noon. Another group was told to come to the train station to. I was also told to bring them tobacco and liquor. Since I gave them false I.D. and false address I decided not to return.

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Yosef Norman



A Fateful Decision

Michael Golkovitz lived with us. He gave his papers to the Germans in the synagogue and was ordered to return in the evening to a location near the bridge. My brother Rafael was also told to do so…

Our household made a decision; Rafael will not go. We urged Michael Golkovitz that he should not go either. Michael said that he must go since they had his papers. He said that they will come for him here anyway and then others might be punished because of him.

Rafael said that he could not let him go alone and he joined him. We waited for their return for the entire night …

Next morning a rumor spread in town that all the people who went to the bridge were taken to a labor camp. Some of the Christians said that they were taken to work in molodeczno….Freydel Greenhous Shprirgen and a friend dressed in Christian farm girls style and went to look for their husbands. They spent one month on the road. They arrived to faraway Kharkov but returned with no news. Finally some other Christians told us that they know what happened to the Jewish men. The Germans took them to Malony forest. First they made the Jews dig a huge hole in the ground and some hours later they shot and killed them in the chasm and that is where they buried them in one big brotherly grave. Two people from Viazin escaped after being buried alive in the hole. They were; Binyamin Epstein and Isar Riar. According to a list that was made about 150 men perished in that massacre. Amongst them were; Ytzhak Potrapas who as just returned from Kurenets, Yaakov Chasia Hnias' Yoselson, Ytzhak David, Noach Norman, Mula Levinson, Ytzhak Keler, Moshe Svirski, Max Cherny, and many others…

The four brothers, The Saddlers, arrived to the bridge 10 minutes after 6 p. m. for a far they could see the Jews being taken in-groups away from the bridge. The Germans took them back to town. Apparently even the valley of death has codes of timing and chance.

As soon as the horrible news reached the community there was great panic and sadness. The rest of men started hiding in basements, attics and any other hideouts they could find.

It was a regular day in the Jewish month of Tamuz. I decided not to go to work. I left the house through the gardens to the shore of the river and decided to hide during the day near the river. The swimming shore was filled with Nazi soldiers, so I lay down on a distant spot, as if I came to get some sun, and lay there, counting the passing minutes. The soldiers who also lay there getting some sun didn't pay attention to me, but at as soon as I got up to leave the shore, two Nazi soldiers in uniform saw me and ordered me to go to work wearing only a bathing suit. Near the little bridge that would take you to the synagogue, there was a temporary bakery. Here I was ordered to work with an electric saw. They would bring wood and order us to cut it.

In the bakery a few Jews worked, amongst them the very old teacher Rodnitzky, who were ordered to carry water from the river for the mix that they were making. There were a few Christian youths from the orphanage who also worked there. Since I was the same age as them they started bothering me and yelling at me, "All the Jews are already eating dust. How come you are still alive?" It seems to me that those Christian guys were the direct reason why I made the fateful decision to escape to the partisans and avenge the honor of the Jewish nation. So at four, when I was registered as working there from that point on, and ordered to return the next day, they gave me a little bit of bread as a sort of reward for my job, I decided not to return to work.

A few army brigades that settled into town needed workers to clean the rooms and to prepare wood for the fireplaces, and also a few professional jobs. So everyday, the Germans would come in pairs from house to house and kidnap Jewish men and women to come to the workplaces. While they were doing that they would also take from the homes whatever they liked. One day the soldiers came to our house. I just had enough time to take from my parents' home a sword which I had found earlier in the brigade house that was left behind by the Soviets, and immediately I lay in my bed, pretending to be very sick. The SS people took my sister Gala with another five Jewish people, amongst them the son of Floman and Belshinsky. They put them in the basement of the courthouse and during the day they ordered them to clean, and at night they slept in the basement so they couldn't escape from the job.

With all these problems, the Jews of Vileyka couldn't stay alone in their homes, so people who were alone joined families and lived in a few bigger apartments. The rest of the homes were locked, empty of people, but once again this made the Christian neighbors and the soldiers break the doors and loot all the property. Now there were many soldiers in town and they took for themselves the best apartments that had previously been occupied by the Soviet authorities.

So all the cleaning of the offices and the apartments was now in the hands of the Jews, as was the laundry and tree cutting. In return all they received was a piece of bread. One day, the town mayor Spiszka, came to the bakery of David Mordechai Norman, and my father happened to be there, and so was Floman. So he said to them, "Clean the ovens. From now on you will receive flour and you will divide it according the number of people, 300 grams per person. You will receive ration tickets for bread." Everyone was very happy since we were practically starving at that point. The baker David Mordechai did all the preparation and together with his son Muleh they started baking bread for the Jewish community. The flour was received from Lunka Yagilovich, who was the head of the municipal bakery. Lunka received extra secret funds to add a little bit to the flour. This extra charge kept rising every day, but it was still worthwhile to us, since we received only a little more than 300 grams a day, so our dependence on exchanging our possessions for food with our Christian neighbors subsided.

The bakery became a community center for the Jews in Vileyka. The people who were taking part in the baking were Asher Floman, David Mordechai Norman, Moshe husband of Raisel Kopelovich, and my father Baruch Norman. They became voluntary Judenrat. The Germans would come to them for Jewish workers and for beds, bedding, furniture, etc. The mayor of the town, Spiszka, said that we must have a census if we were going to give bread by tickets. We must know the exact numbers of tickets to be given for bread, and everyone who was accepting the bread must repay by working. This census that was done showed that officially there were 300 Jews left in Vileyka, amongst them I must say there were many who were not originally residents of Vileyka but were refugees of nearby towns who found their way here. Generally Vileyka became a transfer place for Jews that came from Minsk, Boronovich and other places in the area.

I remember that Nyama Kapilovich lived with us for a whole month and afterwards returned to Vilna. Our house was always full of guests who stayed with us for either days or weeks. The streets of the town were empty of people. The Jews were not allowed to walk around except to go to work, and as I said before, a few families lived together, both out of fear and in order to share in expenses. Anyone who had to go somewhere had to go through the yards or climbing fences. During that summer, a few of our neighbors like Zundel Henia and David Mordechai would come to our house everyday and always asking the same thing, "What will become of us? You're so smart, how would this all end?"

The German radio would be operated the entire day, every day, and it was filled with Propaganda for the Polish and Russian citizens saying that the Jews and the Communists killed all the Christians and sucked their blood, and disrespected them and took their property. And now Stalin escaped through a tunnel with all the officials. And now the Germans were standing on the gates of Moscow. Through the entire year they would repeat the same news. We understood that there was something behind it, so could we have any hope, even a small one, for our salvation?

Although the IDs we received from work should have protected us from kidnappings, it didn't always help. Whenever the Gestapo or SS needed more workers, they would just take us. So how did we financially survive? It's very difficult to answer that. All that any of the Jews wanted was a piece of bread and potatoes, which became very difficult to get. No one could make any money except for a few professionals who were still needed by the Christian neighbors. For their jobs they received potatoes, butter, and some vegetables. The rest would sell their clothes and other possessions for food. Once they had nothing to barter with, they were practically starving since 300 grams was truly insufficient.



The Second Action

On the 29th of July 1941, at six in the morning, SS soldiers spread in small groups all over the town and started searching the homes. When they found Jews they would get them out of their beds and beat them up with rubber bats and ordered them to immediately get dressed without even explaining to them what was going on. Eventually they announced that all would be taken to work outside the town. When the Jews came out of their homes they were put in trucks. The Jews who were mostly women and children and a few men who didn't have time to hide, were locked in the trucks and taken on the other side of the train tracks. The action took two days. The Polish and Belarussian policemen took equal part as the Nazis in this annihilation. They all lied to the Jews, making them think they were going to work. Moshe Taitz and Forman the Tailor who lived in the yard of Sezkov, made a huge hole near the Mayak, not knowing that this would be their own grave, as well as the grave of their brothers who were all killed and buried there.

Days passed until the Jews in town realized what happened. They kept asking, "Why?" Finally, Moshe Shimon secretly went to that area and dug a hole, and found the bodies and brought their clothing so that all the Jews who doubted the fate of their loved ones would realize the great tragedy that had happened. Amongst the people who were killed in this action were Faba Gurevich, Zundel Kraintz, Yehuda and Yakov Landau, Baruch Vaviyer, Eliau Zagermister, Mordechai Epstein, Aharon Lampart, Zalman Kasdan, and many refugees who came to town from Vileyka and Minsk. They found my brother Nathan hiding in the yard. He fought with the Nazis but they forcefully took him on the truck. At the same point, his wife Rivka, nee Miliokovsky, was in a hospital pretending to be Christian, bringing a boy to the world. But the father never laid eyes on him. His brith mila took place in our home, and it was the only brith mila during the entire time of the Germans in Vileyka. After this action only a few survived and from some families there was not one remnant.

At that point, the bread baking for the Jews in David Mordechai's bakery was stopped. They no longer wanted to give flour for the Jews' bread. The mayor said it was a waste of manpower to supply them with flour during wartime. So now the Jewish population only numbered 100 souls they could get bread from the municipal bakery. Instead of the 300 grams from before the action, they now received only 200 grams. Still they would give the bread in the Jewish bakery, so the Judenrat members would go to the bakery to receive the bread for the Jews.

Life became very difficult. Most of the Jewish homes were empty now. The Christians broke into the homes, took the windowsills, the floors, everything. They looked for hiding places where the dead Jews might have hid some belongings. In a few homes some Christians from the villages moved in. One day, when they looked for Jewish laborers, the SS found Moshe Shimon who had a long beard, so they took him to the central market and cut his beard. From then on he wore a scarf on his face, and until his dying day he didn't take it off. On another day a few Germans came to the bakery and looked for workers. Since these Germans were not known in town they didn't receive any workers. So the next day, the limping policeman Yashinsky came with orders from the Gvitz Commissar, took my father Baruch Norman with other Jews who were responsible for supplying Jewish workers, like Asher Floman and David Mordechai Norman, and brought them to the market, where they received 50 lashes each for not sending workers.

The days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur came, and in the house of Moshe Shimon we set up a synagogue. Three times a day the Jewish men would come there. All the males would say kaddish. We knew exactly where each and every Jew was killed. During the days of torment, we prayed in the synagogue of Lubavich, the only synagogue that still stood. The mitnagidim was burned by the SS and the big synagogue, already in the days of the Soviets was used for workers, and the Germans turned it into a stable. Mister Malishkevich stood before the ark and conducted the service. He would watch the synagogue as if it was the sparkle in his eye. How can anyone describe our prayer? The walls of the synagogue never heard such pleas and such spiritual heightening.

When Sukkoth came, we built a Sukka in the yard of Moshe Shimon and we sat and ate in the sukha through the entire holiday. Rev Shmuel the shohet would encourage our spirits, saying Torah passages and prophesying the quick annihilation of the haters of Israel.

During that time the news from the front was very sad. There was a big world map that was hanging (somewhere in town?) and the little flags pinned to it would keep moving every day. They kept moving east as the Germans were moving closer to Moscow, and we kept waiting for a miracle, but there was no miracle. The Christians didn't care. For them it made no difference. Some of the Christians would bring us from time to time uncensored information that in some areas the Germans were not so victorious, and that the winter's cold started giving them trouble. We would breathe a sigh of relief and wait for a miracle when we heard that news.

During regular times, before winter came, we would prepare a large supply of wood for the fireplaces, which we would buy in the market from the Christians. That year there was no wood for sale and no one was preparing. We were just happy for every day that passed without tragedies or killings. But that winter was very cold. We had already burned all the fences and there were no windows or doors left anymore since the Christians had already taken them all. So we had a very hard time finding wood to warm the home, or for cooking. And we could only do it during late nighttime, in the dark. Since the food was very minimal and the cold was unbearable, people started dying. Yakov Norman became sick and died and passed away at the end of the month Zhvat. On the same night, Tsipa Kopelowitz passed away. We were busy for two days, trying to dig a grave, since the ground was totally frozen and we were so weak and starving. These two were blessed to be buried in a Jewish grave with the remnants of the Vileyka Jews taking them down their last road. How we envied them that they were able to die naturally, in their beds, amongst their dear ones. The wife of Yakov Norman, Marisha, passed away a few days later.

Ever since the time I was in Kurenets I kept in touch with some young people who were getting ready to leave town and go to the forest to join the partisans. This was a very difficult decision. How could I leave my parents, especially knowing that if the young people left their work to go the forests, the older ones would suffer the Germans' revenge? My parents also talked of going to the forest but they kept delaying it day after day on account of the cold weather. Meanwhile the Christians who before worked for us became our bitter enemies now. They felt that our possessions belonged to them and they could hardly wait for our annihilation.

I somehow met Nachum Alperovich from Kurenets, who used to work in printing as I had done before, and we decided to join and prepare for the escaping to the forest. We decided to meet in Kurenets with a few others and to make some decisions. To go to Kurenets as a sole Jew wearing a Jewish star was very dangerous. Just a few days before, two young Jewish men from Kurenets were killed by Sherganovicz, a Belarussian policeman who was an extreme anti-Semite, even though they were on their way to work for the Germans. But I knew I had no choice. Somehow I succeeded in getting safely to Kurenets. Here I met with some Jews, amongst them Nachum Alperovich, Nyomka Shulman, Haya Katzovitz from Dolhinov, Zalman Gurevich, and Bertha Dimmenstein from the village Kalafi [ed:also there were Itzhak Einbender, and Motik and Eli Alperovich].

In this meeting we decided to organize resistance and to try to have more members. We would collect food and clothes and hide them in a secret place, and when spring comes to leave for the forest. At this point we didn't believe we could survive winter in the forest. The group had about 30 people from Kurenets and on one of the roofs of a house in Kurenets there was a storage area that was used to store clothes and food supplies. At this point we only dreamed of getting weapons, but how would we do it? Still it made us feel much better. We were not alone anymore. We now belonged to some sort of group where if something happened to us the others, someone would pay for our deaths. We would not go as lambs to the slaughter. I started working in a printing house for the Germans, from early in the morning until the evening.

Since the meeting in Kurenets I took it upon myself to steal printing letters to be used for pamphlets. The decision was made that Nahum Alperovich, who used to work in a printing press, would use these letters to make pamphlets for the underground. So each day I was able to take a letter from the printing house in the Gvitz Commissar. I would cover it with cloth and leave it outside and after I finished the work I would take it near the house of Noah Dinestein who also worked with the Kurenets resistance. There I would leave them in a designated place and quickly go home. And Noah Dinestein would transfer those letters to Kurenets, and Nachum and the others would print pamphlets. They would print hundreds of copies and distribute it to the Christian population, especially during market days. Mostly the pamphlets were about the lies of the Germans. They told of battles where the Germans had lost and they called the Christian population to go to the forest and join the partisans. The pamphlets were signed by Russkiy Partisans. Through the entire winter there were many pamphlets printed. At one point, all the printing press was taken from Kurenets to the forest.



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Fira Kramnik with her parents;
Slava nee Greenhaus and Yosef-Shimon Kramnik
son of Hillel

The Third Action


Just before Purim during Tanit Esther, all the Jews fasted. At night we read from Megilat Esther in the house of Moshe Shimon. We had soulful prayers and we blessed each other with happy Purim, and may we see the fall of the new annihilator. At two in the morning we heard knocks on the doors and windows. I turned on the oil lamp and opened the door. The S.DE people ran in and yelled in Russian, "Odyo vi yatz" (?) meaning "Dress up." I asked them, "Where are you taking us?"

A soldier answered, "We are taking you to the ghetto in Krasnya" but we thought he said Krasne.

Meanwhile, the local Belarussian police came and without saying anything started beating us and hurrying us off to work. Outside there were trucks covered with canvas (?). Everyone was taken half-dressed and we couldn't find a way to escape. In the truck I found Moshe Shimon and his wife, David Mordechai and Muleh, Zundel Kraintz and his wife, Henia Kopelovich. We were all brought to the infamous prison in Vileyka. In the yard there was a storage building, and here we met with people who were brought before us, amongst them Barshai Floman. The Nazis put a table and by the table sat a German with cards and he identified each one of us according to his working place. Then he divided us according to two groups, one to the left and one to the right.

In the group that was sent to the right there were all the people who had a profession. The second group to the left was just laborers. Shlomo Hayim Norman who was sick and lying on a gurney (?) was taken out and then they started taking five people at a time from the group on the left. Barshai said when he took the gurney outside, he saw a pile of dead bodies in the yard. When he came near that pile, the soldiers started shooting at them. Barshai fell on the pile and he knew that he was wounded in his neck and in his back, but he lay there, pretending to be dead. When he felt that no one was paying attention and the soldiers went inside to get another group, he jumped on top of the barbed wire and escaped to Kurenets all bleeding and wounded.

Muleh Norman and I, who were younger than everyone there, were transferred to another room. I guess they decided we were professionals since Muleh was a baker and I was a printer. Here we met with Muleh Weissman and Oldmelshkovich. Shmukleh also came at one point, but his mother was transferred to the other group. As we slowly realized that all the professionals were separated, and now they decided to keep them alive. Through the entire day we were locked in the room. On 3/3/42, at 11 at night they took us to the big room. They put us on one side of the room. On the other side there were women who were not yet killed, among them my sister-in-law Rivka nee Miliokovsky, with her baby, who was born the day my brother died. She begged me to take her out of there, but there was nothing to do. Oscar Keller who was 13 escaped and came near us, but he was severely beaten and returned to his spot. He was the only boy amongst all the women. Hayya Shatz was also there. Fira Kramnik, the daughter of Slava nee Greenhaus, and Yosef-Shimon Kramnik son of Hillel, was lying on the ground on a white sheet and her mother stood next to her. Fira became paralyzed. About 20 women were in that room. At one point we were taken out of that room, outside, and with German guards we were taken back home, and the next day we were taken back to work. When we returned home Muleh and I walked together. My head was very confused. I didn't really want to understand what was happening. Although I was returning home, who was I returning home to? My father and mother were separated from me early in the morning and from that point I didn't see them again. Most on my mind was what my father said as we sat in the truck. "Yosef, you must be strong and take care of yourself. Even when I go in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will not fear." In my ears I heard the echoes of the shots and the screams of the dying. The image of our sisters waiting to be killed in that room, I couldn't stop seeing that image. How brave and strong they were. Although their eyes were filled with pain and torture, they didn't cry and they didn't beg the Germans. Maybe they lost any ability to cry. Their eyes appeared as if they were from another world. I felt as if they transferred to me a silent scream, "Survive despite our killers and avenge our blood, our respect, our honor."

We pulled our legs in Vileyka. Today was Purim. Is there any holiday as happy as Purim in the Jewish tradition? But everywhere there was silence. Only our steps would echo in the silence. We approached Pilsodzky Street, the main artery of life in Vileyka, a street filled that used to be filled with Jewish residents. Now the houses were all empty and broken, appearing like open graves waiting for new victims. We entered our home. I only left it that morning and how different it appeared now. I felt a frost coming from every corner. It was very good that Muleh was with me. The German officer suggested we be together. For some reason he commented, "It's better for you to be together during wartime."

My father and mother, my sister and young brother, my sister-in-law Rivka with her baby in her arms, were all killed in this action. Shortly after we got there we heard a knock on the door. A German gendarme with a Polish policeman came for us. They said that they had to take us to the prison yard. They received an order to look for any Jews who were hiding and to bring them immediately to where the Jews would be annihilated. It could be they really just wanted to loot whatever could be found and they met us. We kept explaining that we had just returned from there and we were needed professionals. This taught us the lesson that we must live together. They finally let us go and we waited until morning hours.

Before we left we broke every bit of furniture and possessions so no one would find the place fit for living. In the morning everyone came to one home and we were counted together, the last of the Vileykan Jews, 22 souls, amongst them four families. Hayya Gita with her husband and son, Malishkevich and his wife, and Muleh and I. We moved to live in a room at the Malishkevich house. Malishkevich would make soap and candles. Shmukleh became a glassman (glazier?). The brothers worked in their profession in the house of Lampart. I continued at the printing press. Twice a day we would pray and all of us would say kaddish since we all lost parents. Noah Norman (my uncle) and his wife Feyga Henia, their granddaughter and his sister-in-law Batia, were hiding during the third action in a cellar in their house. The house was divided into two. In the front part facing the street there was a Christian Soviet man, a rustanzik. When the police came looking for Jews, the Christian man said there were no Jews there, so the policemen left. The next morning when the family realized that everyone else was annihilated, they escaped to Kureents and eventually they moved to Ratzke. Muleh and I kept in touch with them and we used a Christian woman to send them messages and letters. Once in a while they would also send us clothing and food. For a long time they were at the house of a Christian in the village. Eventually they were forced to run to the forest and after we escaped to the forest we lost touch with them. There were two stories about how they found their deaths. One said that the Christian residents in the area killed them and another one that they were found by German dogs and killed.

The husband of Hayya Gita and her son used to work in the flour mill that once belonged to Dubin, and later on was confiscated by the Soviets.

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Sofia Petropos Eidelman

Now their situation was a little better than the other Jews' since they had plenty of bread. They also had good connections with some Christians in the area. They used to live with us. Hayya Gita would put a big kerchief that would cover her yellow Jewish star and would go through the town to her husband's place of work. For many months she was able to do it, but shortly after the third action she encountered a local policeman who recognized her and immediately took her to the Gestapo, claiming she walked the street without a yellow Jewish star. The family tried everything. She begged and they tried to bribe, but in July of 1942 she was killed.

As I wrote before, Shernagovicz who as a Belarussian policeman from a village near Kurenets was extremely cruel. Dozens of Jews from the area were killed by his own hand. As I mentioned the two Jewish young men who returned from their job in Vileyka that he killed for no reason. Manya Edelman Potropsk and her family found themselves in a similar situation during the Soviet times as our family. So they moved to Kurenets during the Soviet times. Her husband Yitzhak was killed by the bridge in the first action in Vileyka, so she stayed with her daughters in Kurenets. One day she saw the killer Shernagovicz coming towards her apartment. She had just enough time to hide her daughters in the attic but didn't have time to hide herself. The killer came inside the house, pulled out his gun, and shot her on the spot. The daughters made contact with some Christian family friends and moved to live with them. One day, the two girls were brought to us and here we took real good care of them. We saw them as our little sisters through the troubles and we decided amongst ourselves that when we go to the forest we would take them with us. One day when I returned from work I couldn't find them. I was told that another Christian family who had also known Hayya Gita took them in. I never heard of them again, all traces were lost since that day.

Every day I went to work in the printing house in the municipal building. I didn't receive any payment. Muleh had some contacts with Christians, so from time to time he sold some clothing that he brought from his house and was able to get some food in return. Many months earlier, my father hid some possessions and clothing in an oven that was hidden in the basement of David Mordechai. So now in the evening we would sometimes sneak into the house that was sitting empty and we would take some of the possessions and bring it to our apartment in the house of Malishkevich. And then we would sell them to the Christians for food supplies. One time Muleh remembered that the family hid in the ground of their house a large amount of soap from Shikht, so on Sunday when we didn't have to go to work and all the Christians went to church, we started digging in the ground and we found the box filled with soap. To our bad luck, a few young Christian men saw from the street that we took out the soap, so when we finally arrived behind the synagogue, two policemen that the young Christians had notified about what we had done ordered us to go with them to the police station. One policeman took me and the other took Muleh. On the way I begged the policeman, "Take the soap and let me go!" But he said, "No, you must go to the station."

All of a sudden I saw Muleh had disappeared. I came to the police knowing that this must be my last walk. When we arrived at the station I saw Muleh, and he pointed to his feet. The other policeman took his new boots and gave him his torn up old shoes. I kept asking the other policeman to let us go in exchange for the soap, finally the two policemen talked to each other and said, "Okay, go away but keep it quiet."

We thanked them but we knew that for this soap we knew we could have food for half a year.

I remember the day when I went for lunch and on Mitzkivitzha Street and Shernagovicz came across from me. Even the Christians knew how cruel he was and would escape when they saw him. He was pointing a gun at my heart and he asked, "What are you walking around here for, bloody Jew?"

I answered quietly, but with self-confidence, "I am going to the printing press of the S.De. And here is where I live. I just had lunch and I must return to work. Here is my working ID."

Finally he let me go. He must have been afraid to kill someone who worked for the Gestapo.

The wife of Gdalia was watching everything. I could see her in her window, shaking, thinking that there would be another victim. Shatz, who came from Austria, somehow found his way to Kurenets during the Soviet times. Since he knew German fluently, he became now responsible for all the workers from Kurenets. Since there were hardly any Jews left in Vileyka, 50 Jews from Kurenets were brought into town to work. At first during the day they would work in Vileyka and then return to Kurenets in the evening, but after the third action when there were no more Jews left, the group from Kurenets became bigger: there were 200 people and they were put in a camp in the school for working youths from the Soviet days. It was located near the cemetery. Now they stayed in Vileyka the whole week and only on Saturday would they return to Kurenets. Through time they divided the group into two. One professional group, and the other, laborers.


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