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Resistance (cont.)



What to do

It was June, 1941, and a beautiful summer. We had just finished taking our last test at the high school. My mother, who had a lung disease, was in a nursing home. My father, Natan Gurevitz, was both a mother and father to us. He worked very diligently. An active Zionist prior to the Soviets' invasion, he was also a merchant, and was very worried that he would be sent to Siberia. As a result, he decided to walk to Vileyka with his friend and coworker, Zalman Gvint to work at a Soviet soap and shoe polish factory. He never missed a day of work, even if he had to walk in the snow or in the heat of the summer. He did anything to look productive in the eyes of the Soviet authorities.

Leah, my older sister, had just graduated from the high school in Vileyka, and my younger brother, Gershon was studying at the Yiddish school that the Soviets had established. And then…

The war started on June 22, 1941. Panic spread though the population. The belief that the renowned Soviet army would swiftly destroy the German army was abolished in two days. Vilna and Molodechno were constantly bombed. The Germans were rapidly approaching and the Soviets were even more rapidly retreating. The confusion and panic was grave. For our family, the worries intensified because we lost touch with our mother.

The Soviet politicians and their families were the first to escape east. Trains, trucks and horses pulling buggies full of crying children and housewares left for the east. I asked my father what I should do. He advised me to stay so that mother would have a place to find us. I ran to our meeting place at Nyomka's house. Yitzhak Einbender and Shimon Zirolnik were already there. Riding on our bicycles, we left town, heading east.


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Benjamin [Nyomka] Shulman
with his much older sisters, Rashka (left) and Rivka


As I looked back to our little shtetl, I wondered if I would ever see my parents again. We arrived in Ratzke, a small town that was 8 kilometers from Kurenets. We saw many of our townspeople there. We ran into the head of the Kurenets police. He said that there was no need to panic, and that we must return to town. We ignored him and kept going. People crowded the road . Pandemonium was everywhere. Fear was particularly strong in the eyes of the Easterners. They had lived with the Soviet authorities for many years, and were accustomed to obeying orders. Now, there was no one to give them orders. On the evening of June 25, we reached Dolhinov. I wanted to rest there for a short while. I had relatives and friends from the Youth Movement who lived there, and I particularly wanted to see a pretty blonde girl named Bushka Katsavitz that I had met in a Zionist summer camp.

In the central market area I met a Soviet worker name Timsok. He knew my father well. He told me “Son- You are a child, but don't listen to others. Don't procrastinate. Go east.” So that's what we did. We wanted to reach Pleshnitz, which was on the other side of the old Polish-Russian border. The situation there was total chaos. That night, only residents that were former Soviet citizens were allowed to go east. The rest were ordered to turn back.

Extremely disappointed, we slept in a field near the border. Early in the morning we saw German planes going to Poloczek. There was a great panic, and we decided to go back to our town. Everywhere on the roads we saw people going east with hope in they eyes, and people returning west with disappointment and a quiet acceptance of the bad situation. All through the ride, Belarussian farmers who were standing on the side of the road, kept mocking us, but they didn't physically hurt us.

On June 26, we arrived in town. The Germans hadn't entered the town yet. The Jewish population was very fearful. The gentiles gathered in the center of the town, and we were afraid that they had come to raid us. But we soon realized that they wanted to prevent the farmers from entering the town. They took a barrel and used it as a podium. The son of Bazil the Footless stood on the barrel and shouted, “We will be with you, Jewish residents of Kurenets. We won't let them touch you.” They called us to take part in the congregation, and we all decided to arrange watch groups. Mendel, the son of Henia Motosov, marched us to the house of Reshka Alperovitz, the former headquarters of the Soviet police. We found rifles and ammunition there. The rifles were divided among the young people who knew how to use them. Shostakovitz, the Belarussian doctor that was later a German sympathizer, was at that moment on the side of the Jews. He organized patrols of gentiles and Jews to patrol the town. I was stationed at a watch point near the railroad, together with Eliyahu Spektor. The farmers started coming with horse and buggies. We told them that they couldn't enter town and that if they did, we would shoot them. They all left, and for two days, there was silence in the area. But then the town's gentiles started robbing the Soviets' storage areas and a few of them also robbed some Jewish homes.

that was the situation until the 28th of June. And then, the German army paraded through the town on motorcycles and cars. The gentile citizens of the town held flowers in their hand, and gave them bread and salt. Immediately, the Germans ordered to return all weapons, and told us that whoever refused would be shot to death. We returned our weapons.

Among the people who returned the weapons were two Shimon Zimmermans. One was the son of Yosha, and one was the son of Yermiau (they were cousins). The Germans took them to a nearby village and killed them. They were the town's first victims. The Germans announced that every Jewish man from ages 16-60 had to be in the center of town at 1:00 PM sharp. Anyone that didn't attend would be shot immediately. So from 1:00, to 3:00, Grandfathers, fathers, and teenagers stood in the center of town surrounded by the German army and police, who had machine guns. Then a German officer came and gave us a speech about the wonderful thing that had befallen us: life under German authority. We were ordered to obey all instructions, and anyone that would not do so, would be shot to death.

They told us to immediately choose Jewish representatives, or Judenrat. The Jews started calling names of prior representatives, like my father, (Natan Gurevitz), Zalman Gvint, Shabty Gordon, Gershon Oyeshisky and Dov Einbender, but they all declined the offer. They chose Shotz, a Jewish refugee from Austria as the head of the Judenrat. We were told we must participate in forced labor, we must wear a Jewish star, we weren't to walk on the sidewalk, and we were not supposed to congregate with or talk to gentiles, and…!!!


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Some members of the
Kurenets underground in 1939

1. Yitzhak Zukerman; 2. Kopel Spektor



Kopel Spektor had just returned to Kurenets, so we asked him to secretly meet us in a hideaway on June 30. This was our first meeting since the German occupation. The main question on our mind was “What are we going to do?”. We all came to the same conclusion: we must fight the Nazis. We were only 17 and 18, and we were still naïve enough to believe that there was something we could do. We believed in the slogans of the Youth Movement about our collective and personal responsibilities. Kopel knew that the situation was grave, but didn't try to stop us. All he said was “I so hope that you will succeed”.

We devised a practical plan. Firstly, we were to collect weapons and organize a Partisan group. Secondly, Shimon Zirolnik suggested that we print flyers urging people to fight the Nazis. Nachoom Alperovitz, who prior to the 'Soviet time', had worked in a printing office, decided to organize this. Lastly, and most importantly we would try to find other people that could join us. We hoped, in particular, to contact the Russian resistance.

As we were leaving we ran into Yosef Zukerman he told us that during the Russian retreat he noticed a soldier throwing his gun in the marshy area next to town, we went there and found a gun with three bullets- we had our first weapon!

At the end of July a transportation camp for war prisoners was established in Kurenets. Every evening thousands of POWs would come walking from Dolhinov, and at night they would sleep on the ground at the meat market. The next morning the Germans would force them to walk to Molodechno. Most of the POWs were in horrible shape: wounded, sick and starving. The road between Dolhinov and Kurenitz was filled with corpses. We all wondered how ten German soldiers could lead two thousand young Russian soldiers through thick woods with only a few, isolated attempts at escape. We asked ourselves, “How could that be?”

Just around that time, we found out that all the Jewish men of Vileyka had been killed. On July 12, 1941 signs were put all over Vileyka notifying them that all Jews age fifteen to fifty must report at the 'big synagogue' at ten in the morning. These Jewish men and boys were told that they would be taken to work. Instead, they were taken to the woods, slaughtered and buried.

Seeing death all around us was unbearable. We wanted to help the POWs, so we arranged, through Shotzs, a job for ourselves at the transportation camp supplying water to the prisoners. If the Germans thought that we gave them too large an amount of water, they beat us severely. Our fate was worse, if the Germans suspected that we had talked to the prisoners. However, we managed to point some of the prisoners to a pile of clothes which they put on while laying down pretending to sleep. And when we left the camp, they mixed with us and managed to escape. One of the escapees, Vlodia, later became one of the leaders of our resistance group.

One day Chaim Sozkover approached Eliyahu Alperovitz. He told him about a rifle he had hidden deep in the woods and said “You young ones will need it.”

My aunt Fiska Kastrel Alperovitz, Nachum's mother, was a woman in her fifties. She was different from most women: full of energy and extremely brave. During the time of German occupation, her slogan was, “We must do something.” She encouraged her son to fight the Nazis anyway he could. She immediately volunteered to bring the rifle.

The next evening, Fiska, Nachoom and I started walking toward the area were the rifle was hidden. Fiska walked ahead, and we followed a few steps behind. Suddenly she stopped and we could see her walking down to the river, trying to hide behind the trees. She took a huge hay sack off her back and she started pulling something very long. It was the rifle. She put it in the hay sack, but it was too long and you could see the tip of it sticking out of the sack. She started walking towards the woods and we followed her to the front yard of Moshe the woodsman. We did not know what to do. We continued, with our journey planned in two stages. First, we ducked through the pigs alley. Pesia carried the knapsack all by herself. From there we took it to our hiding place. She was fearless. We walked right next to her to hide the rifle from view. We safely crossed the market place and immediately hid the rifle in Nachoom's cow shed, next to our house. Now we had a gun with 3 bullet and a rifle with no bullets.


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Yosef Norman


We decided to make fliers to encourage the population to fight the Germans. Shimon Zirolnik made a primitive printing press. Our problem was how to get the printing letter stencils. There were no letters in Kurenets so we decided to steal them from the printing house in Vileyka that was now used by the Germans. We found out that Nachoom's friend Yosef Norman worked there. We visited Shotzs from the Judenrat and demanded that Nachoom be taken with the first labor group of Kurintzers to be sent to work in Vileyka. Shotzs agreed. Nachoom went to the camp. There he met Yosef Norman, and Yosef agreed to be a member of our underground group. Three days later a little package was ready for Nachoom, and in it was the whole alphabet, and everything else we needed. Yosef acquired the package of printing letters under very dangerous circumstances. He knew that he would be shot on the spot if revealed, but he continued transferring printing material. Pesiah, Nachoom's mother sewed an apron with little pockets, each contained a different letter so Nachoom could put it on without it looking suspicious and also it could be quickly hidden. We made a printing room in the cowshed and next to it we built a hiding area deep in the ground. We started printing. Shimon Zirolnik planned our first flier but soon after he was imprisoned with other Jews with the suspicion that he was a communist. He was immediately taken and no one knew where to. A few weeks later his parents got a letter from Grodno from a prison camp for communist. In his letter he asked his parents to say “hi” to his boys and this is how our older friend was taken to his death.


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