My initial assignment started immediately following the German's setting foot in Kurenets. I was sent to the old meat market and told to fix it so it could be adapted to contain the Russian POW's while they were being transferred to the West. We surrounded the yard with barbed wire, dug a deep cavity in the ground, and put immense barrels of water in the earth, to be later utilized by the POWs.
The first days passed in relative peace and father, who knew German due to the time of the German occupation in WWI, would discuss politics with the German soldiers. He would try to debate moral issues. though, their typical response would be, "Jew – shut your mouth. This is not World War One."
Eventually the POW's arrived. They came in colossal numbers. They pull in walking from Dolhinov, through the old avenue lined on both sides by ancient pine trees. They kicked up clouds of dust all surrounding them. They appeared like a gigantic herd of people. The Germans soldiers who were guarding them rode horses; they brandished whips and would constantly strike the POWs to dispatch them. The POWs clothes were torn and they could barely walk. They were completely exhausted. We were not aloud to make any contact with them. Even the trees of the old avenue seemed to be bowing as if to eulogize the POWs. We looked at them with eyes full of tears and with fearful hearts. Whenever one of them would bow to get an item from the ground, he would be immediately shot. The POWs that walked slowly or fell on the ground were also instantaneously murdered in the spot where they fell. The Jews would dig holes along the road to bury them. Most were buried on the side road directly after their assassination.
There were tables on both sides of the entrance to the temporary camp, on which was arranged a meager amount of aged bread. There were large pails abundant with stale concoction they termed "soup". For every six POWs, they would prepare one small loaf of bread. No dishes or utensils were given to them, therefor they were compelled to use their hats to scoop the soup. We tried to bring them canned foods and containers to eat the soup, when the Germans were not watching. The soup would be served to two people at a time, and the POWs would push each other to get to it. This provided a good opportunity for the Germans to strike them on their heads with their rifles.
On the outskirts of the camp stood many Christian villages, mostly Belarussian women who were trying to recognize relatives amongst the POWs. The village women brought food to give to the POWs, but the Germans would not let them approach the POWs. Consequently they stood from afar, looked on and cried.
Amongst the POWs, there were a great number of Jews, who served in the Red Army. The commander of the camp would walk around with his gun ready, and every POW he did not approve of, would be shot on the spot. I remember on one occasion, a POW kissed his feet, cried and begged for his life, all to no avail.
I was ordered to use a horse that was harnessed to a large pail of water, take it to the river and fill the pails with water. One time on my way back from the river, when my pail was full of water, I asked one of the villagers to throw the food she carried into the pail, promising her I would pass it to the POWs. The idea appealed to her and to the other Christian women who were standing there. They started throwing cheese and bread in the water. Twice I succeeded in transferring the food to the POWs, however on the third day the POWs pushed each other to get to the food and created a pandemonium. The German in charge realized it was my doing, he ran toward me yelling, "You bloody Jew."
He grabbed me by the collar and started shaking me. He brought me outside the gate to where a huge crowd of villagers was standing. I managed to slide out of his hands onto the ground, and when I was separated from him I crawled into the crowd and succeed to mingle and escape.
Instantaneously I went to the other side of the street and through the garden of Kuilic I ran to the forest by the river and there I hid until evening came. Then I stealthily returned home.
Following that day, I did not return to work at the POW camp. A short time later, I was reassigned to work on the Luben Farm. I was among approximately one hundred and fifty Jews. Luben was a vast agricultural farm that was famous in the area for the apple and pear orchards that the Jews used to lease prior to the war. One day, we were taken there in long lines by the local police. I walked in the same line as; Yankel, the son of Orchik Alperovich, Asher, the son of Yehoshua Alperovich, Pesach, the son of Finka Alperovich, Chanan, the son of Risha. During the walk, many of the villagers, who stood on the side of the road, holler insults at us. They would call, "It's time that you Jews stop being merchants, finally you got what you deserve! Its about time!"
It took us about an hour and a half to trudge to the farm. The main building in the farm was called "the castle" and was encompassed by enormous trees. There was a portal made of massive wrought iron and there was a school there. The homes around were sparkling in the sun and the trees were bright green, in contrast, we were in a very dark mood, in spite of the fact that we were still very young. Once we reached the gate we sat on the grass, we were told by the Germans what to do. The head of the farms was Kalashnikov and his assistant was Shilak. We were divided into small groups and sent to do miscellaneous jobs. There were German troops in the area, however at this time we had no contact with them.
One Jew from Kurenets, by the
name of Dania Sosensky, was an acquaintance of
the managers of the farm. He used to lease land from them prior to the war,
therefore at this time they chose him to be our leader.
|Chaiale Sosensky [daughter of Dania]
and her brother
I was placed with a crew that resided in a small oil factory. They brought us straw mats to lie upon at night. The next day we were awoken early and worked until dark. We had a short break for lunch, officially they only gave us a small amount of bread. However, the Christian people who worked in the yard brought us potatoes and milk. Donia Sosensky always managed to get us extra supplies.
I worked with Yisraelke the son of Nata Eetzi ben Chanan. Our job was to bring the potatoes from the field to the little factory to be formed to a raw material. I worked for one week and on Saturday, they took us back to Kurenets. On the second week, I stayed home and my father replaced me. A week later, I returned to work. When I returned, I remember that Chaim Yitzhak Zimerman walked next to me. He seemed extremely depressed and said, "We cannot hope for anything good from the Germans. Do you see the bushes here? This is where our bones will roll and there will be no one to bring us to burial. We must escape from here. We need to escape but I don't know where to. Yet of one thing I am certain, we need to escape soon."
From then on, he would urge us to escape. One day when we arrived in Luben, the Germans sent a troop of executioners to the farm. They demanded that Kalashnikov, the head of the farm, give them some of the workers to be murdered. They wanted to show us that they ruled us. Kalashnikov argued with them, saying that all workers were needed as it was the middle of the busiest part of the season. He told them to go to Kurenets where they could find "useless people."
The troop of executioners came to town in the afternoon. That day I returned
to Kurenets and I was taken by the troop to shine their shoes. In town, there
was a great fear. At nighttime, the police spread around town and imprisoned
Jews that were suspected as communist sympathizers. The next day, four of the
policemen went to Luben and took Pesach and Tevel, the sons of Finka
Alperovitz, Arka, the son of Reuven Alperovich, Chaim Yitzhak Zimerman, Tuvia
Sosensky, Charles Gelman, and others. While they were walking, Arka Alperovich
told the rest, "We are taken to be killed. We must jump the police and
take their weapons."
|Arka Alperovitz in the middle of the middle row|
That day I was cutting wood. As we returned to Kurenets, at the distance of two kilometers from Vileyka, we met with the band of executioners returning from Kurenets. They were riding bicycles, their sleeves were rolled up their arms. Each one was holding clothes and other belongings of the murdered Jews. They looked at us strangely and we immediately realized that something horrible had happened in town. Our hearts died inside.
We quickly returned home. When we entered Vilejka Street, there was deathly silence all around. There was not one breathing soul to be seen. Finally we met a Christian woman and she told us about the slaughter in town. I continued thorough the gardens. When I reached home, I found my mother crying Gitel Kopelovitz sister and Shacna Stoler were sitting with her. Sobbing they informed me of the entire barbarous event.
After Simchat Torah, I went back to Luban. At first I worked at the potatoes field collecting potatoes, Policemen would watch us while riding their horses and if they had found that we left one potato on the ground they would whip us mercilessly. Beatings were daily occurrence. On one occasion Shilak ordered Yisraelke (Nata's son) to restrain a horse. The horse succeeded to escape, Yisraelke was whipped, and shoved to the ground, Shilak stepped on him and kicked him until he fainted surrounded by a pool of his blood.
When we were finally done with the fields I was sent to work in the cowshed, I was strong and fast and most of the time the managers were happy with my work. Time past and partisans started organizing in the district, the Germans were very concerned and sent a lot of reinforcement to guard the area. One time when they walked their routine patrol around the farm, they met with a partisan blockade. Two Germans were killed and there were many wounded. We were very worried that the Germans will take revenge on us, the Jewish farm workers.
A few days passed and reinforcement of thirty soldiers was sent to the farm. They came to visit all the farming projects, a few soldiers with an officer came to the cowshed were I worked, the place was sparkly clean and very neat. They greeted us with respect, complemented our job, gave us some cigarettes and left.
During that winter, my youngest brother was murdered with twelve other Jews by the drunken Kurenitz policemen. After the calamitous event, I would visit my distressed family whenever I got permission. Shilak gave me permission to go with him in a buggy on the last evening of Passover, 1942. I spent the night at my house in Kurenitz and very early in the morning I started on my way to Luban, I was suppose to start work at 6 am. I took with me a supply of latkes, the only food we ate during that Passover. (We had no matzos that year)
It was a splendid spring morning, the snow melted and the earth was black and seemed to spread forever. Here and there, it would be sprinkled with shiny white dots of snow, every thing was teeming with life; birds chirping, trees flowering, but my heart was so sullen and melancholy. I was thinking of my beloved brother, How I so missed him, how dispirited was my family now. I took of the boots I borrowed from my father, they were to big and made my walk difficult. I tied the boots to one side of a stick and my food to the other side. My yellow Jewish star was dirty and could hardly be distinguished.
I was already out of the forest, almost in Luban, when I saw German soldiers riding bicycles, coming toward me. I was walking in the middle of the road as Jews were suppose to, there were villagers that were going in the same direction as I was, when the German reached them they started yelling "Jew, Jew". They pointed at me and since they could not speak German, they made signs with their fingers showing curly pias'.
The Germans observed me and continued on their way, I was very surprised that they did not stop me. (Jews were not allowed to leave their homes without supervision) I continued on my way, when I was fifty meter distant from them I heard the sound of a whistle, I pretended I did not hear it and continued walking. Both sides of the road had wide-open fields and nowhere to hide. I kept thinking of the Jews that a few days earlier were riding with a farmer from Litvinki and when the Germans encountered them on the road, they ordered the Jews to get of and killed them on the spot. I was certain that my destiny is to be killed here and now.
I heard a second whistle, I knew it makes no sense to ignore it. I turned around facing the Germans, they had stopped on the road and were waiting for me. They stood in an area adjacent to the forest. I started walking towards their direction, As soon as I came close they hollered "Are you a partisan? What do you have there, food for the partisans?
My heart was beating hard and fast. Somehow I gathered the courage to reply, I said with a wavering voice; "I am working at the Luban farm, last night I went home to get some clean clothes and now I am returning to my job"
They asked for my working card and after I showed it to them. They started interrogating me About my job, however luck was with me that day, one of the German soldier remembered me form a visit to the cowshed. He asked; "are you the child who is working with that red head guy?" then he turned to the other Germans and assured them; "the kid is doing a very good job, the child does a nice job"
At that point, we were surrounded by local Christians who were looking at the scene with exited expression on their face. One village woman yelled to her friend that was leaving "don't go, wait a minute very soon they are going to kill a Jew, you must come here and see!" The German officer said " if he is a good worker we must release him, he needs to harry to work"
I arrived to Luban, my body was shaking all over and my teeth were shattering. From that day on I made a decision to never walk alone.
The next weeks passed somewhat peacefully, One day a partisan troop arrived in Luban, the first thing they did was to seize the flock from the pasture. They tied the shepherd loosely so he was able to free himself and return to the farm. He was immediately arrested because the Germans suspected that he collaborated with the underground. Rumors spread in the farm that the Jews would be sent to dispatch the herd, they said the Germans were afraid of the partisans, however they knew that the partisans would not combat the Jews. We were both worried and exited, as it turned out the Germans must have realized we would stay with the partisans in the forest, so they changed their mind.
At the end of August, 1942, I was transferred out of Luban back to Kurenitz, the partisan were terrorizing the Germans by putting explosives on the train tracks. Both sides of the tracks bordered tick forests, which made it difficult and dangers for the Germans to patrol the area. The Germans decided to cut of all the trees that grew by the tracks. They brought immense number of Jews to do the job. I worked with a crew from Kurenitz, in the same section worked a very large group of men, Jewish survivors of annihilated shtetls in the Baranovitz district. The Germans brought them here to be utilized as slaves. Their predicament was horrible, they resided in the labor camp in Vileyka and received extremely meager amount of food. They would be shot on the spot whenever they would attempt to talk to any one of us. They worked from early in the morning until late at night and had very bad sanitary condition in their camp, many died from starvation and disease. Our hearts were crying inside seeing the miserable situation of our Jewish brothers. All we could do for them was to give them some of our food, food that was not plentiful for us either. Truly we could not even give it to them; we just left it on the tracks in hope that they would grub it while working. Usually they would come to collect the wood after we cut it, so with the wood they would collect the food we left for them, and it sustained them for a while.
At the beginning of September 1942 I came to Kurenitz, the purpose of the visit was to argue my mother's case with the Judenrat, who's duty was to dispatch the Jews to different jobs. I worked in the Luban farm, my father was sent to work in the carpentry mill, my sister was sent to work in the Vileyka labor camp. Now, my sick and spiritually crushed mother, who was in deep mourning for her youngest son that was murdered that year, was sent to work. They demanded that she would remove brush from the train tracks area.
I felt deep resentment toward the Judenrat, so now I decided to let them know how I feel. I approached Sina from Myadel, who was a very vocal member of the Judenrat. I told him "it's unfair that many families don't partake in the forced labor at all, they just sit idle in Kurenitz, yet my entire family is working like slaves". I continued, "farther more, my mother needs to stay home so she will cook dinner for father when he gets home after a long hard day of work". When I saw the negative expression on Sina face, I immediately suggested that I should replace my mother at her job by the tracks.
Sina completely rejected my plea and started yelling at me. I became very upset and said; "If this is the way you see things, I refuse to participate in the hard labor force- I will not go to Luban!"
He yelled; "if you won't go to Luban, we will take you there by force, you super man! We will bring the police and they will take you!"
"Fine" I said, "send the police to take me, I have nothing to lose anyway! I just want you to know that I am not going to work there out of my free will!
I went on my way and stopped at the house of Shachna Stoler, Shachna had a bathhouse on his property. Moments later Sina came running, he was screaming "You must immediately depart for Luban. The rest of the people left already!"
I replied "I will only go if you release my mother from the forced labor troop." At that moment mother returned from her forced labor duties. She started crying and told me "go my son, go. Don't look for justice in times like these. Anyway, it would be better if each one of us worked in a different area, this way maybe one of us will be lucky and will survive!"
I spend the night at home and the next morning I left for Luban together with Yisraelke the son of Sarka from Kosita Street.
I hugged my dear mother and said goodbye, never imagining that I would not see her again.
As soon as we arrived in Luban, we were sent to work in the fields. We worked there the entire Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday morning I was sent with a horse and buggy full of hay to deliver it to the barn that set on the main road. It was extremely fogy morning I could not see a thing in front of the horse. I worked together with a guy from Smorgon. We were done taking of one load of hay and I was just about to depart for the fields to get a second load when a child approached us.
The child was a son of a farmer
from Luban, he asked me if I want to buy some
tobacco, I answered that I have no money, he appeared perplexed, as if he was
considering telling me something. After a short while he asked in a hesitant
"Are you from Kurenets?" the way he was asking, his voice and even the way he stood made me very anxious, it was as if he was keeping a horrible secret.
"What happened in Kurenitz?" I yelled in anguish. "Nothing happened " he replied in a frightened tone. I held him by his collar he seemed scared, he quickly said; "My brother walked to Kurenitz this morning and he was not allowed to enter, all around the town there were policemen and Germans. From afar he could see something was burning".
I immediately knew that this was the day of our town slaughter, the day that we all so feared would come. I did not know what to do, I wanted to scream, I wanted to run there. All I could do was to cry. For one minute, I considered taking the horse and escaping to the forest, however I realized that I must tell the other Jews from Kurenets about the tragic event. I returned to the farm and saw Donia standing outside our living quarters, he was cooking lunch on a fire pit, for the entire crew. I told him of what I have heard, however he refused to believe my story.
By lunchtime, we found out that it was true, none could eat, we just sat there and cried, we all decided to escape that night. We returned to work to not arise any suspicion that we are planing something. The Christian workers looked at us while whispering to each other, their eyes were full of pity.
At nighttime we returned from
work and planed to escape but soon realized it
was impossible since the Germans brought extra people to watch us.
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