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[Page 186]

Under the German Occupation

Sara Hinda Movshovich

Translation by Sara Mages

The Germans entered Divenishok on Monday (May 24, 1941) after the outbreak of the war against the Soviet Union. It was quiet on Wednesday. As usual, in the morning of that day my father went to pray in the synagogue. The Germans, who passed convoy after convoy through Wilner Street, saw the Jews praying through the synagogue's windows. They broke into the synagogue, seized the Torah scrolls, spread them across the road, drove their tanks over them and tore them to pieces. My father opposed the removing of the Torah scrolls and the Germans wanted to kill him. Fortunately, Pyotr Shimansky, who lived across from the synagogue, entered the synagogue and asked the Germans to leave him alone. “He is a decent Jew – he said – please leave him alone”. Shimansky brought my father home. We were already very anxious for the fate of our father because Meir Zalman came running to us earlier telling us in a tearful voice: “Your father is no longer”…

One of the Germans noticed that the Red Flag was hanging over the school building. Out of panic, Yekutiel Ziz'mski, who was the school principle, forgot to remove the flag from the flagpole. The Germans set fire to the school building and with it also two synagogues went up in flames.

The Germans advanced towards Subotnik where heavy fighting took place. Later, convoys of Russian prisoners began to flow toward Dowichitzki Street, and there, in the graveyard they eliminated them.

 

An unusual case

When the Germans entered, all the thugs raised their heads and started to harass the Jews.

From day to day conditions in the streets became more and more dense. At night, shouts were being heard from the homes that the thugs broke into. Truskevich, the well known robber, seized two hand grenades and ran to throw them on the Jews, but a Polish policeman prevented him from doing so. The robber harassed Gutka, the daughter of Yankel A. At night he was knocking on the door and making scandals. She was forced to flee from Divenishok.

A gang of robbers joined together under the leadership of Truskevich, Myopglen and Wazyock. Night after night they broke into the shops and robbed the merchandise. This gang also killed Gedalia the blacksmith (Itza Binyamin's son-in-law), and a woman and a boy from Vilna who were hiding in his house. At nightfall the whole town was immersed in the fear of death.

The praise of Zalman-Leib Lib, leader of Divenishok's Judenrat, should be noted. He has done a lot to ease the life of the town's Jews. He knew good German and used his personal charm to influence the Regional Commander. He used his influence and asked for help against the atrocities committed by the gang members. One day, a group of Germans arrived to town, brought the gang leaders to the market – and shot them. This was an exceptional case: Germans shooting gentiles because they robbed Jews.

Once, next to the police station, Zalman-Leib noticed that three refugees from Vilna were being loaded on a truck accompanied by beatings. They were two Yeshiva students and a teacher from Ivia who were hiding in town. Zalman-Leib knew well what was waiting for these Jews. He approached the German commander and promised him a pair of boots if he would release the Jews – they were released.

We suffered in particular from a German communication unit that was stationed in the village of Vasilishok on Dubizishok Street. Every Friday they were given a leave and came to Divenishok to have fun. To humiliate the Jews they collected the young people in the market, ran them through different exercises, threatened them with their firearms, and didn't spare punches. The Judenrat was forced to answer to their demands and give them ransom money.

Despite the difficult life, the town's people were united and mutual aid was their main concern. My husband David and my brother Eliyahu carried rye on their backs to the flour mill, a distance of 2 kilometers, to grind flour for the poor. My sister Leah baked bread and distributed it to the poor

 

In friendship and brotherhood

In Voronova we lived with the town's cantor. There were 3 rooms in his apartment.

The cantor and his family lived in one room, we lived in the second and another family in the third – all together 19 people. The men were taken to force labor without pay, all of us lived from the sale of the clothes that we brought with us and waited for the future with anxiety.

Somehow the winter passed - we lived in friendship and brotherhood and shared everything that we had.

On May 9, the ghetto was surrounded by German and Polish heavy guards. The local farmers gathered with their axes and pitchforks and closed the city. The cantor prepared a shelter in his home, and on the day of the killing 58 people crammed inside. Among them were his mother and his sister. Shmuel Sharon, his father, was hiding in another bunker.

Doctor Gordon, who arrived to Voronova together with the people from Divenishok, also lived with us. He had a permit to walk freely even during the liquidation of the ghetto. He informed us of what was happening outside. After noon he knocked on the wall and said: “get out slowly, the Germans registered the names of those who remained and I registered yours”. After we came out a policeman harassed my father, who was wrapped in his Tallith and Tefillin, and wanted to arrest him. My brother Eliyahu bribed the policeman and saved my father.

 

My brother joins the partisans

After a two week stay in Voronova we were transferred by train to Lida. Here they housed us in a barn on Klodna Street together with other families. I slept next to the family of Yona Tener, Binyamin Dubinski's uncle, from Stashiles. They ere rich and helped many. His wife Alta approached me and said: ”Sara Hinda, maybe you need something? Maybe money? Take, don't be shy!” she helped me and also others in need. There was also a family from Traby with us, a husband, wife and daughter, she also helped them and kept them alive. She also helped Lizrka Avraham Meirs and his family. She was a dear soul, a real “angel from heaven”.

We stayed in Lida's Ghetto for 13 months, and there history repeated itself: work quotas, threats and new decrees to humiliate and oppress the Jews. Meanwhile, my brother Eliyahu left for Bielski's Otriad [partisan detachment] and returned every once in a while to take Jews out of the ghetto. I seriously debated what to do because I didn't want to leave my sister Leah and my old father in the ghetto.

 

In the Bielski partisan detachment

My brother visited Lida's Ghetto three times and for various reasons we were not able to leave with him. But, on the fourth time he took us out of there. My brother was already known in the ghetto as a trustworthy man who was familiar with all the winding paths that led to the partisans. And indeed, on the same operation my brother was able to take 86 people from the ghetto. Bielski received us well and also cared for the elderly and the children. Those who were capable of carrying weapons joined the fighters, and the rest stayed in the family camp. We lived in huts and everyone tried to help with the household chores.

It was early August 1943. The German Army and the Belarusian police started the most extensive hunt for the partisans. According to various estimates their number reached forty thousand. The Germans removed large forces from the front and directed them to the fight against the partisans. The Germans wanted to secure the Wehrmacht's withdrawal routes, and decided to eliminate the partisan at all costs. This roundup was the largest throughout the German occupation. Besides Naliboki forest they also surrounded Lipiczanska and Novogrudok forests.

The whole camp was placed on alert. Dziencielski was ordered to take the responsibly for the families, and retreat with them inside the forest. The gunfire got closer and indicated that the enemy was attacking from the rear. Seven hundred people were running in the woods – women, men, fighters and people without weapons. We sought refuge and retreat, but the enemy blocked all the roads.

An order arrived from the brigade's headquarters to retreat in the direction of the dense forests of Naliboki Pushcha [primeval forest]. The Pushcha was a continuous virgin forest hardly ever trampled by human feet and with large swamps. There were dry islands between the swamps, like “Krasnaya Gorka”, but it was only possible to reach them during the winter. We set off and walked in a single file. First in line were those who carried the children because the swamps deepened as we progressed. The Germans rained machine-gun fire and mortar and their voices echoed in the woods. People moved forward through the swamps, in the meadows, and between tall grass that hid the movement – they were tired, hungry, barefoot, exhausted and thirsty. At rest time people tied themselves to a tree with a rope or a strap and dozed a little.

After ten days of wandering we finally arrived to a dry hill in the Krasnaya Gorka area.

Food ran out quickly but the Germans encircled us from all sides and the access to villages was blocked. Due to the hunger many started to show signs of bloating.

The shooting stopped several days later, and people started to return to the old camp. The road was very difficult. Most of the people were infected with ulcers and sores from eating grass, and barely dragged their feet. The women were on the verge of despair and collapse, but the will to live was so strong that we overcame all these hardships. The condition of Bella, my brother Eliyahu's wife, was the most difficult. She was left alone without her husband who went to fulfill an important task: to bring Jews from Lida's Ghetto. She carried her baby in her arms in the boggy swamps and her suffering was unimaginable.

My brother Eliyahu came back to us after the siege ended. We were together until we were liberated.

 

After the liberation

After the liberation I lived in Ivia. On a Thursday, Divenishok's market day, I traveled to Divenishok with a farmer (the Tatars who lived in the area sold seeds). I arrived to the market, sat by the pump, and cried for my bitter fate. My heart shuddered when I saw a lot of people walking peacefully in the market. Farmers from the nearby villages were engaged in trade, and gentiles replaced the Jews in the stores. The world functioned as usual, as if the Jews had never existed there.

Most of the town was burnt. When I went to investigate how it happened, this was explained it to me: There was a large concentration of heavily armed White Poles in the vicinity of Divenishok. Their leader was Jacek, the cobbler from Subotniki Street. When the Germans retreated a battle developed between the retreating Germans and the Poles. There were many casualties in this battle. The Poles buried their dead in the market in front of the church, and indeed, a large cemetery is located the market square. In the heat of battle the Germans torched the town and it almost burned down.

When I passed the market the gentiles looked at me with astonishment, they didn't believe that Jews were still alive. Barsolka Staskes, the well known thief who lived in my father's house, approached me and said to me in Yiddish: “Surke, are you still alive?”

He took me in his hand and led me to our house. I didn't enter because I didn't want to increase the great pain that was infiltrating my whole being. I returned to Iwye and lay for two weeks with a high fever.

Our decision was made: to leave the field of slaughter and immigrate to Israel. And indeed, shortly after we traveled to Poland and from there to Israel. I arrived to Israel together with my husband David and my two daughters, Henya and Hedva. I live in Motza Illit near Jerusalem.


[Page 215]

I'm the only one left from my family

Yeshayahu Wolfowitz

Translation by Sara Mages

I was born and raised in the town of Kollishok, a distance of about 12 kilometers from Divenishok. Around 20 Jewish families lived in that town. Naturally, this settlement couldn't function independently and therefore it had tight communal ties with Divenishok. I had a family connection with Divenishok: Hirshel the cobbler from Wilner Street was my uncle, and for that reason I visited the town frequently.

The conquest of the town by the Germans caused a sharp turn: we lived in fear not knowing what the day would bring. And indeed, immediately on Shabbat Shuva, a number of Polish policemen took all the Jews to the market and laid them in rows while others used the opportunity to steal valuables that they found in the Jewish homes.

Chaim Traub, who was the head of the village council, was harnessed to a wagon and the wife of Smulni's village leader was placed inside. She forced Traub to pull the wagon up the mountain, lashing him hard with a long whip. Chaim Traub pulled until he weakened and fell. They forced us to crawl back and forth, and when they realized that we were completely exhausted they ordered us to crawl back home.

On the next day, a number of Jewish women went to the Police Chief to complain about the act, but he, as if to complete the measure of bitterness, answered them rudely:

“You're lucky I wasn't there at that time. I would have poured kerosene on all of you and burned you alive”.

Kollishok's Jews were ordered to move to Divenishok three weeks before Divenishok's Jews were transferred to Voronova. All that time I was staying with my uncle Hirshel the cobbler. However, before long, the Kollishok and Divenishok Jews were transferred to Voronova.

Before the liquidation I worked together with 30 other young men in the forests in the vicinity of Stashiles. Every night the forester in charge of us returned to sleep at his home. One evening, when he didn't return, we thought that something was going to happen. To investigate the situation we sent a young Polish woman to Voronova. She told us that the ghetto was surrounded by soldiers and the Jews were digging pits. We decided to escape immediately, and each one of us went on his way. I returned to Kollishok and started to associate with the gentiles until I met Avraham Goldensky.

Avraham and I left to seek help from a farmer who at one time sold us his crop. For many years this farmer supplied potatoes to the Jews who lived in Lipufka, a suburb of Vilne, and they sold them to the shops. When Vilne's Jews were transferred to the ghetto, a few of them were allowed to supply potatoes and flour to the ghetto.

In the Vilne Ghetto I was able to evade all the Aktziot – coincidence or good fortune helped me. When the ghetto was liquidated I found shelter in a pit under the bath-house in Stephen Street. After a few weeks stay in the pit, the gatekeeper discovered us and reported us to the Germans. I was captured and transferred to a work camp in Kalwariski Street, Vilne. It was one of the last labor camps to exist in Vilne. 150 Jews worked there overhauling and painting automobiles.

About two weeks before the end of the war, Gestapo men came and killed all the Jews on the spot. My friend Moshe Zhukovsky and I were lucky: we hid behind the oven's vent.

Moshe woke me in the early hours of the morning and ordered me to leave the place with him. His mother, may she rest in peace, appeared in his dream and told him that someone will find us in our hiding place. We left our location and moved to an adjacent room that was already searched by the Germans. This is how both of us survived and saved from the fate of the other Jews who were caught and shot in the yard.

As evening fell, we slipped from the place and hid in the forests in the vicinity of Yashny. After liberation I worked in Benakani. There, it became known to me that Pinkowsky, the notorious Police Chief, was in a Grodne prison. I announced that I wanted to appear as a witness in his trial and my request was granted. I testified about all the atrocities that his officers committed, and his answer to the women who came to complain before him. After a brief discussion he was convicted and the death sentence was to be carried out in Voronova.

We traveled to Voronova in the district headquarters' car that escorted Pinkowsky and another Polish policeman who murdered Resnic's son from Lida. We arrived to Voronova at ten in the morning and made our way directly to the market. Two gallows were already standing in the center of the market. After the sentence was carried out, the bodies were left hangings for a number of days, so the gentiles will see and know the fate waiting to the opponents of the regime.

I didn't want to stay any longer in a country awash in blood. I traveled to Poland and from there I immigrated to Israel. In Israel, I was inducted to the Israeli Army and fought in the War of Independence.

I was the only one left from my family. My father Reuven passed away before the German entered. My mother Rivka, my married sisters - Batya, Henya and Sheine, and my unmarried sister Chana, were murdered by the Germans. My brother Yisrael managed to escape from Lida Ghetto and hid among the farmers, but as far as I know, he was murdered by them.


[Page 217]

Where are all of them? Where?…

Tzvi (Hirshel) Kryzovski

Translation by Sara Mages

On the second day of the war between Germany and Russia, that is to say, in the morning of 23 June, my father organized all the active people in our town - more than 50 people, to prepare wagons with horses to carry their baggage, and drive in the direction of Oshmene. On the third day we arrived to the town of Rakovi near the Russian border. We hid in the forest because German airplanes bombed us. We weren't able to continue on our way because the border was closed. We turned in the direction of Radoshkovits where the border police commander, my father's friend, was stationed. But, when we were informed on the road that the Germans were already in Radoshkovits – we returned to Rakovi.

The road was completely blocked with wagons, burnt cars and refugees who filled the whole area. We weren't able to advance, and we also didn't know where to go because everything was burning around us. My mother was in one wagon, the family of Ajzik Lewin in the second, and we walked.

When my father realized that we reached a dead end, he told my mother: “try to return home, the children and I will walk to Russia because I prefer to die from a Russian bullet than a German bullet”.

My mother returned to Divenishok and hid with Chaim Gershowitz. From there, she traveled to her family in Ivia and perished there in the ghetto. My sister Keila returned to Vilna and perished there together with her husband's family. We moved in the direction of Rakovi and on the way we lost our father. According to what Meir Yosef Itzkowitch told us, our father got stuck between the Germans and became ill on the road. My brother Kalman took care of him and they managed to reach Krasnei Ghetto. There, he suffered from hunger and deprivation until he was killed together with all of Krasnei's people.

We advanced through the forest in an easterly direction. On the way we met two young Russian men and women who escaped from prison and returned home. We waked with them for ten days. We gave them money and they bought us food and milk in the villages. One day they stole a horse and a wagon from a farmer and escaped – and left us alone. We moved forward alone until we reached the city of Mogilev. There was a lot of confusion in the city. With difficulties we made our way to the train and traveled.

After a two week journey we arrived to the Tambov region. From there, they sent us to the city of Penza where we worked in a peat mine until we were inducted to the Lithuanian Brigade in 1943. There, we worked in the headquarters' restaurant until we were liberated. Immediately, on our first opportunity we traveled to Vilna.

 

My visit to Divenishok

After the war I visited Divenishok twice, the first time in 1950. I wanted to see my birthplace, the place where I spent my childhood. The town left a depressing impression on me. All the buildings were burnt, and here and there the protruding chimneys shouted the destruction. The silence reminded me of the stillness in a cemetery. I went to see our house, but to my sorrow I didn't find anything – only a few pitiful bushes stood here and there. The farmers recognized me and said: “Here is Kryzovski's son …look what the Germans have done to you”…and the expression of hypocrisy reflected from their faces.

On the occasion of my immigration to Israel I was forced to visit Divenishok again in order to obtain documents. It was in 1971 – meaning, twenty one years later. This time great changes took place. Beautiful brick houses with large windows, surrounded by lawns and gardens, stood where the Jewish houses used to be. There were streets and buildings in the area across from the church. The local municipality gave its residents the Jewish building plots for free, and also long-term loans so they could build houses in town. No wonder that the town was being built in a fast pace. My heart ached with pain when I saw Divenishok without Jews. I stood stunned in the market, looked around me, and my heart was crying, Where are all of them? Where?…

 

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