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[Page 288]

Life In the Lida Ghetto

By D. S. Amarant

Translated by Don Goldman

b. Our Life in the Ghetto

Platoons of laborers departed for various work sites every day - to factories and workshops, farms, hospitals, booty warehouses, etc. The members of the Judenrat believed that concentrating the Jews in the neighborhoods was a positive development in the direction of tranquility and less danger. The deputy chairman of the Judenrat, Kutok, was dynamic and energetic, especially believed this. He believed the Germans' promises that labor would provide the Jews with an undisturbed life. Kutok spoke frequently with the deputy local commissar, Vidnish, who pretended to be a gracious German who was concerned with the Jews. Kutok held on to high hopes about the supposed promises he got from Vidnish.

“Now,” Kutok told me after I arrived in Lida from Vilna, “we can organize the internal life of the Jewish community the way we wish. However, we will be forced to work for the Germans. But we'll be able to survive. Ironically, the current situation will

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enable us to develop some degree of self-government.” Not much time was given to this devoted and excited man to naively fool himself and let himself be deceived by the German's clever and hopeless promises.

In the meantime, Kutok devoted himself to his work in the Judenrat, and was seen everywhere. He was an activist, and a bald-headed, tall man and with an energetic-looking face. His voice was authoritative, and his movements were quick. He was loyally assisted by the Judenrat chairman, Lichtman, who was deliberate and settled. They worked in new offices at Koshrova Street in a centrally-located place that enabled them to maintain contact with the three Jewish neighborhoods across the town. They organized a Jewish police headed by Kutok, and the various offices of the Judenrat, such as the offices of Labor, Supplies, Social Assistance, and population statistics.

In the backyard of the Judenrat offices, on its patios and stairways, many people met during the evening hours after work and orally discussed events, and sent out workers to work sites. The Labor Office provided the daily labor requirements demanded by the Germans. Most work sites were unstable, and groups of workers were occasionally required to go to various places to perform sanitation and service tasks in the offices, factories, hospitals, military camps and army warehouses. The winter of 1941-42 was the most difficult of all. For several months the weather was bitterly cold, and in addition to the back-breaking work and bitter cold, there was also hunger, which embittered the lives of many Jews, and especially of the refugees who had recently arrived empty-handed and penniless.

Sundays were days off from forced labor, however, German soldiers or police would appear in the early hours of Sunday and would take away the adults, both men and women for unpaid work such as sweeping away the snow on the streets, and clearing out burned buildings. On one Sunday all the Jews of Lida were called out to go into the nearby forest to clear out the rabbits hiding in the bushes, and chase them in the direction of the hunters. A group of several hundred men were recruited for this job, and a long line of Jews marched down the road to the forest in the deep snow, shaking from cold and fear of what they would encounter. Suddenly a group of winter carriages appeared, including the local commissar Hanweg and his staff, senior officials, and women wearing beautiful fur coats. They were all drunk, lying around their seats in the carriage hugging and shouting, their peels of laughter echoing in the distance. The carriages galloped between the rows of marchers, and the shouting grew louder. The wild Germans mocked the Jews, laughed at them, and struck those nearby with whips. One of the drunken officers aimed his hunting rifle and started shooting at the Jews to the raucous pleasure of his staff. The bullets struck some marchers who collapsed in pools of blood.

Panic broke out among the Jews, and many started fleeing, but the guards only made it worse, and prevented them from escaping, which hastened the march to the forest where the hunting was going on. For hours the Jews were forced to work at their strange jobs. They marched in long lines extending the entire length of the forest, and passed between thick trees and bushes, acting in role of hunting dogs to chase out the rabbits in the direction of the hunters. A punishing sun was in the clear blue sky, together with the bitter cold that penetrated the Jews' bones. Wind rustled between the trees that were heavily covered in bright snow, and the shots and shouts of the drunken soldiers echoed through the forest. The Jews ran around in the forest among the bushes, shaking from fear and cold.

At nightfall, the Jews returned to their homes dead tired. This was the “day of rest” for the Jews of Lida. Nevertheless, these were the days of relative quiet in the months of 1941-42. Sometimes, especially on Sundays, there were positive-sounding rumors that suggested that the Germans were being defeated along the battlefront, and about a revolution against Hitler and the Nazi regime, and about approaching peace negotiations. For a short time these rumors raised the spirits of the people listening to them. However, several hours later the illusions disappeared, and were replaced by the sad reality. The existing situation in Lida at that time drew dozens of Jewish refugees from Vilna. The Judenrat arranged identity papers and lodging.

The apartments were crowded, and we ended up in a hovel on Koshrova Street. One or two families lived in each of the narrow rooms of the house. Tamar and I got room in a dark and small kitchen. In one corner there was a wide farm oven, and in the other corner next to the window, there was one bed for both of us. The house was full of people, shouting and the crying of babies.

I first worked in various temporary jobs in the hospital and gardening. We suffered from hunger in all its intensity. Due to the harsh cold we started suffering from frostbite on our hands and feet. This hurt us and weakened our bodies. Finally, I was accepted to a job in the Judenrat on Koshrova Street in the evidentiary office set up by Kutok. In this office there were five workers, and we managed a file index to provide information required for other offices, especially the Labor Office.

However, there were some easier days with fewer worries. There was also daily suffering, hunger, exciting rumors, back-breaking work, cold weather, and vain hopes. Then March arrived, with warm breezes and sunshine. The farmers started plowing the fields nearby. We began recovering land near our homes, and even had disputes regarding the land located between neighbors. In the next room our neighbors celebrated the wedding of their daughter to a young man, a refugee who arrived from Lida from one of the towns in Poland. We too, Tamar and I, were invited to the modest and embarrassing ceremony. I looked at the young couple in their youthful charm and new clear hopes. We celebrated with slices of dry bread and borscht. We blessed the couple and sang songs. However, the weeks of relative stability did not last long.

c. Ominous Signs

One day in March the SS arrived in our neighborhood and visited one of the houses. They checked personal identity papers of the residents and arrested five Jews - four men and a young woman - who were refugees from Vilna, and who had not yet obtained “certificates” as residents of Lida.

Those arrested were brought to the Judenrat, and in the presence of some of their

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friends had their names recorded. The young woman begged them to let her return home to her baby who was left alone. However they were all taken outside and lined up against a wall. We were terrified at the sounds of a few gunshots, and through the windows saw their bodies covered in blood and jerking with the last movements before death. The SS left after completing their work, and suddenly we could hear someone among the dead crying “help, help!”

The young woman stood up showing a bullet wound near her forehead, which was covered in blood. She walked in the direction of the Judenrat, walked up the stairs as if she were sleepwalking, with her arms outstretched. She entered the office screaming, “help, help!” The SS men were not yet gone, and they heard the screams from the Judenrat yard. They returned to the yard and quickly discovered that a body was missing. They broke into the office and found the forlorn woman, whom they tried to pull out to the yard. She relieved herself on the men, and with her last bit of strength grabbed onto the furniture, the door and their legs. “I want to live! I want to live. Save me, take me to my baby!”

Her straggly hair and head covered in blood, and her hopeless struggle, were blood-curdling. However, the four soldiers overpowered the wounded woman, and they dragged her to the yard, where her screams soon ceased after one additional shot that hit its target.

Jewish refugees from other ghettos were occasionally brought to the Lida prison. Most of them were Jews from Vilna who were headed for White Russia under the assumption that they could find shelter from their suffering. One of the victims was the director of the Polish gymnasia high school, Mr. Tepper, who was arrested near Lida and executed in the prison yard. Many Vilna Jews tried their luck with false papers, and we frequently ran into acquaintances from Vilna outside the town and even in German offices, where they worked and pretended to be Poles. We ran into them without ever disclosing that we knew them. Mrs. Katz worked in one office as a clerk; she had been a teacher at the Hebrew Tarbut gymnasia high school in Vilna, and succeeded in remaining in Lida until liberation. The prison was filled with prisoners whose fate had been decreed in all circumstances. Jews were brought there after being arrested on the roads or who had been turned over to the Germans from their hiding places in the homes of village farmers. These included people caught without their yellow patch or identification papers.

The news that an entire Jewish family had been arrested in Lida spread widely. It was reported that a daughter in the family had fallen in love with a German in the office where she worked. The German was seriously in love with the young Jewish girl, which aroused the ire of his friends. The poor girl was sent to jail for the crime of interracial relationships together with her brothers, sisters and parents. Several days later all were executed. During this time the Judenrat received frequent notices to send a wagon to the prison in order to transport bodies to the Jewish cemetery. One day the wagon was loaded with the bodies of the family of the girl whose wretched relationship led to the death of her family. It was said that the German who was her boss fell into deep mourning and would frequently visit the cemetery where he would weep bitterly at her grave.

4. Dafilda - Before the Slaughter

On one evening in February 1942 we heard rumors that caused us great worry. We heard that one of the refugees from Vilna, a young unmarried man named Yaakov Avidan, broke into the apartment of the local Orthodox priest. This priest returned home, and when he saw the thief he yelled for help, started struggling with the thief and chased after him. During the priest's struggle, the thief's coat was pulled off, and it revealed yellow patches. The priest was joined by others in the chase, but the thief escaped among the houses, broke into another apartment, and to the amazement of the tenants, he jumped through the back door and disappeared. The rumor spread that the thief was connected to some of the Jewish policemen and their joint rackets and drinking parties [unclear] that they had with some underground criminal elements, in addition to the break-in at the priest's apartment.

The story that a Jew had tried to rob the priest's apartment, and had even hit him, angered the local population. It was said that the priest was a friend to the Jews, but the attempted robbery in his home made him very popular and heated up the animosity against the Jews. The next day Lichtman and Kutok were summoned to the local commissar, and with unequivocal threats were ordered to turn over the thief. However, the thief who had escaped from his pursuers had already fled Lida and returned to Vilna. All searches undertaken came up empty, and after a while it was discovered that following his return to Vilna, Yaakov Avidan continued in his “profession.” Ultimately, however, he was captured, and his career ended at the gallows at the hands of the Judenrat, on the orders of the Germans, at Jatkova Street in the Vilna ghetto.

Under oppressive conditions, and following a bitter struggle with their consciences, the members of the Judenrat decided to turn over to the Germans six Jews who were part of underground criminal elements. These six were veteran criminals, and were accused of having been the masterminds of the break-in at the priest's apartment. The members of the Judenrat believed that the local commissar, with whom they had a good relationship, would not investigate into the matter, would hasten the punishment, and with that the story, which had inflamed the local populace, would be over. However, events developed in an unexpected manner.

Vidnish, (Windisch) the deputy regional commissar, undertook a detailed investigation, and obtained testimony from the criminals who were accused of breaking into the priest's apartment. Of course they denied everything, but were not satisfied with this; while they were apologizing, they began revealing the “crimes” of the Judenrat, whom they knew very well. They went into particular detail about the many refugees from the Vilna ghetto who found refuge in Lida under the Judenrat, and who received false documents as Lida residents in exchange for large sums of money. One of the thieves, known to be one of the refugees in Lida was Avraham Virobek, whose family was famous for their criminal behavior, went even further as an informer.

On March 1, 1942 we all became aware that the neighborhood was surrounded by police at a distance of only a few steps from one another. Individuals who attempted to escape were shot on the spot. In the morning we were all taken out of our homes and ordered to proceed in the direction of the city square. Screaming soldiers accompanied us as they broke into our homes and threw us out those who had been reluctant to leave. The

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infirm were shot on the spot. Here and there you could see the bodies of men and women on the doorsteps of houses. These were victims of the murderers. On the entry stairway to one of the houses on Koshrova Street, across the street from the Judenrat, an elderly woman sat with her head leaning on the wall. Her face was as white as her hair, and yet she looked calm. Eternal rest had already penetrated the terror that was the portion of those walking on the street. We were all scared to death, and asked ourselves where they were taking us. Was this our final march? Some individuals tried to escape at forks in the road and into alleyways, but the soldiers' bullets ended their attempts in one minute.

We approached the wide city square. At one end stood the large government gymnasia high school, which now served as the headquarters of the local commissariat. At the other end of the square stood a tall fence surrounding the Erdal (Ardal) Boot Factory. There were more than seven thousand Jews in that square who were surrounded by rows of police and soldiers in all directions. A heavy dark cloudy sky was above us; the weather got colder. Hour after hour passed, and we remained where we were standing. People struggled in vain to keep warm by jumping up and down and by rubbing their freezing hands.

Fear increased by the minute: machine gun emplacements on the roof of the commissariat occasionally shot off gunfire, and the clatter of the gunfire froze our blood. Policemen passed among the crowds and ordered them to hand over their money and jewelry. Many people tore up their money bills and threw their coins and jewelry all over the ground, while others buried them under the snow. The sounds of machine gun fire could be heard again from time to time, filling us with dread. Was this the sign? Many people broke out in tears, children screamed their heads off as they tightly hugged their parents, and many people started praying. We had no doubt that our end was fast approaching, but a turning point came like an unexpected guest.

We heard orders issued over the loudspeakers telling us to get organized. We were ordered to pass in procession by the local commissariat building between two rows of soldiers and policemen and through a temporary gate erected especially for this purpose. So here was a strange parade of all the Jews of Lida. As German officers approached, and to everyone's surprise there was the thief Avraham Virobek looking at each person passing by and pointing out particular individuals who were then removed from the line and sent to a central spot on the side. Fifty people were arrested at the instructions of Virobek, and were then surrounded by a crowd of guards. Everyone else was released back to the neighborhoods.

We returned home after dark and could not believe what was going on. Did things really end this way? Was our judgment decree postponed? We arrived home exhausted and went to sleep, dead tired. We had not yet understood the day's events, and only the next day we saw what had happened. In the town square there had been a census count of the Jews to determine who among them were refugees from the Vilna Ghetto who sought shelter in Lida, supplied with false papers as residents of Lida.

The two informers, Virobek and Tsigelnitsky, took on the job of discovering which Jews were not local residents, and by pointing with their finger, the fate of dozens of people was sealed. The group of arrestees was taken off to prison, and without delay were all shot that night. Several months later I ran into Virobek when I was plastering the walls of the German office as his assistant, since Virobek was a painter by profession. Virobek opened his heart to me, and said, “Did you think I didn't know you were a resident of Vilna? You have me to thank that you are still alive. For some reason I didn't want to harm you.” He looked at me with cold expressionless eyes in his freckled face surrounded with red hair.

“You were in my hands, and with this tiny finger I could have put an end to your life.” A crooked smile spread over his ugly face. A shudder seized me, and I said nothing.
A few days after the defilda members of the Judenrat were arrested, including the chairman Lichtman, his deputy Kutok, and attorney Binyamin Tsiderovitz.

Great fear hovered over the Jews of Lida, and the work of the Judenrat was basically terminated. Several days of tense expectation passed, and on one night two Jewish prisoners managed to escape from the prison (though they were not from the Judenrat). They took advantage of an opportune moment when the prison guards were not looking, and jumped through the window into the yard onto a pile of barrels, and escaped over the fence. They told us about the suffering of the Judenrat members, their extensive brutal treatment, and their bitter end. They reported how Kutok remained firm, and both before and after the decree was issued refused to carry out the hurtful order. He organized the resistance, stood firm in his refusal to cooperate, and encouraged others to follow in his footsteps.

Several days later, the Judenrat office received a report that it was to deliver a wagon to the prison to carry away the dead to the cemetery. These were the bodies of the tortured members of the Judenrat, and the bodies were so badly damaged that it was difficult to identify them. Kutok's wife identified her husband by a crooked fingernail on one of his hands.

Only family members were permitted to escort the bodies to the cemetery. They were buried in a mass grave in the Lida cemetery. Dark dread was cast over the ghetto after the deaths of the Judenrat members. Their loss was bad news for the Jewish population, and portended bad things to come.

Several weeks passed in this situation, until we received the bitter news that the commander, who arrested the fifty Vilna Jews, was to serve as a maneuver before the operation to destroy most of the Jews of Lida through trickery and deception. We felt then that our decree was merely postponed, and that our end was hovering overhead as more signs indicated our imminent demise. One day some sixty Jews working at the refuse [or booty] warehouses, and heard that the Germans discovered theft of arms from the camp, and were accusing the workers there. They began an investigation, and the frightened Jews did not come to work. The reaction of their supervisors was immediate.

Police took them from their homes, and took them all to prison. This was on a Sunday in April, a beautiful and warm spring day. I was not working and was sitting in the back of the house on Koshrova Street, facing wide harvested fields that were surrounded by a dark forest in the distance. Suddenly, a few hundred steps from where I was sitting, I saw a group of people surrounded by soldiers walking along a path among the fields. The people were walking in a procession down to a valley spreading out among the fields, its earth walls turning yellow. I followed them, and could make out silhouettes of people walking along the path. The group was stopped in the center of the valley, made to stand against a wall that was shining in the sun. Suddenly I heard shots like the dull sounds of a drum. The row of people fell to the ground; the armed men leaned over them and apparently buried them in the ground. A while later the armed me started moving off onto the path in the direction of town. A sudden silence

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took over, and everything seemed so unreal. Our hypothesis was quickly proven! The workers of the refuse factories, who had been arrested a short time earlier, were killed before my eyes.

6. Hopes and Illusions

We got a corner of a hut on Khalodna Street. Three families lived in three corners of one small room three feet by three feet, and then a fourth bed was added for one additional man who came to the ghetto from one of the neighboring towns. The street was located on the side of ghetto closest to the Lida-Baranovich railway, near the ghetto wall. From a window in the room, it was possible to watch the trains, filled with soldiers and equipment, passing by along the raised tracks. Wide green fields reached as far as the tracks; the wheat was sprouting and wild flowers burst forth on the soft paths. Beyond the house a small hill rose in the distance, and you could see the thick trees of the forest. The red roof of the railway guard's house stood behind. It now served as the guardhouse of the German soldiers and Ukrainian police, whose job was to watch the railway bridge over the Lideika River. The railway tracks passed along a marshy swamp; the river flowed among the swamp's shrubs, and alongside it was the ghetto's barbwire fence. Across the swamp, at a distance of a kilometer from the ghetto, one could clearly see the buildings of the local commissar.

I was sick, and my legs were terribly swollen - at least twice as big, and red, with a purple hue over them. The three remaining doctors in the ghetto were brought to examine me, and they looked me over. They talked about my case with worried expressions on their faces. They said that I had a very serious condition requiring extensive treatment because my condition was so rare and usually occurred among immobile prisoners. I required extensive treatment and healthy rich foods. Their diagnosis was not very encouraging, and for many weeks I was confined to my location and to my bed. These were relatively quiet weeks, and no outsider interfered with life in the ghetto. I was able to lie down undisturbed on the grass in the backyard, letting my legs benefit from the spring sunshine. This helped my condition, my pains subsided, and my legs returned to their normal clear color. Gradually they also returned to their normal shape. I started moving, walking slowly. I mustered all my strength to be able to move and to get used to walking again. I wanted to go to work with the labor teams rather than stay alone and immobilized for weeks at a time, absorbed in my memories, the prey of my constant thoughts. My rehabilitation was slow, but finally I became encouraged.

I joined a labor team working in the garden at the villa of Hanbeg, (Hanweg) the local commissar. His villa was the most beautiful one in town, and was located not far from the local commissariat office (the former government gymnasia) located on a hill and surrounded by shady trees, flower beds and a tall bush fence all over. Near the villa was a beautiful pool. We worked at various jobs in the garden. Hanbeg still pretended to be a good German, and never got angry with us or acted crudely. He almost never looked directly at us, and sometimes gave his orders in a quiet voice, “Get that! Do this!” It appeared to us that we did not even exist as far as he was concerned. The commissar once ordered us to bring a heavy planter box into his house. Two of the workers followed orders and lifted up the box in order to put it into the villa. The commissar was lying naked in his bed with one of his girlfriends. They exhibited no shame or confusion on their faces, and continued with their amusements as if there was no one else around. Sometimes the commissar and his staff would go swimming in the pool in the garden, where they would splash around totally naked, fooling around with no sense of shame or concern about the presence of the Jewish workers who were bending over their work in the garden nearby.

In the first months after the May 8th massacre, prior to the enlargement of the workshops that would later surround most of the Jewish population, there was a provisional Jewish committee that managed the affairs of the ghetto, arranged food and directed the workers to various jobs around the town pursuant to the demands of the

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German ministry of labor. A Jewish police force was re-established, and bread was distributed in the store on the corner of Postovska and Kholodna streets. The council handled housing issues, and many people inherited the belongings of victims of the great massacre found abandoned in apartments, and they exchanged them for food items. A huge barter business with the local population blossomed at the work site. People returned home from work carrying food. The provisional Jewish council collected a part of the belongings of the victims in a special warehouse and distributed them among the needy. Similarly, after we returned to the ghetto after a delay of ten days with nothing in our possession, we received basic outer and underwear. In the ghetto we felt a bit of respite.

The residents were to work at the workshops of the local commissariat that expanded significantly under the management of engineer Altman and merchant Alperstein. These two men had good contacts with the commissar, who promised them that the employees of the workshops would enjoy permanent job security since their work was important and beneficial for security. Most of the residents of the ghetto were gradually concentrated in those workshops, which expanded significantly throughout the ghetto. The employees' entrance was on the side of Postovska Street, and the outside entrance for non-Jews was at the entry to the ghetto. The workshops were housed in many buildings, some of which were one-story structures and others were two-story structures. Almost every type of artisan craft was represented in this large factory, in which its managers invested significant organizational skill and serious effort.

The machinery workshops repaired various vehicles, agricultural machines and engines. The clatter of machines and banging of hammers could be heard from there all the time. Electricians were busy at their work, as were tailors, furriers, hat-makers, shoemakers, watchmakers; blacksmiths took work orders from the Germans. Commissariat officials, German officers and their relatives took advantage of the workshops and flooded them with orders that were completed on time. A special department handled leather leftovers received from boot factories, and made leather items such as belts, wallets, purses, stripe-colored boxes, and leather jewelry that especially charmed female officials at the commissariat offices.

Hundreds of workers worked tirelessly to meet the demands of the Germans, and to reinforce their fantasies in order to keep the Germans constantly amazed and satisfied. They sought to fulfill every whim, and considered this work a form of salvation for themselves on which they hanged their empty hopes. In the carpentry workshop the workers invested extensive efforts, as they did in manufacturing toys for the children of the Germans. A staff of workers even produced a small train set with an electric engine as a birthday present for the children of Henbag, the local commissar. The train traveled along long tracks through a tunnel over some bridges, with train switches, stations and guards. Intense labor was devoted to building this train, and the commissar was exceedingly pleased about it.

Vegetables and flowers grew in the gardens. Workers raised angora rabbits for their fur, and the staff involved was Jewish. Jews were assigned to supervise individuals workshops, and planned and managed the work, although officially Germans ran the workshops and represented it before the German authorities. One crude elderly man wearing a uniform was in charge, but his presence was unnoticed. He took care of the work assigned to his supervisors Alperstein and Altman.

The organizer and inspiration of the workshops was Alperstein, a merchant from Grodno. He was an excited man, flowing with energy and initiative. He expanded the factory, and tried to arrange easier conditions for the residents of the ghetto. He was dependent on the futile charitable behavior of the commissariat officials, and especially of Henbag. After he completed his work in the workshops, Alperstein prepared a detailed report for Henbag. He devoted a great deal of time to the report, and based himself on the known theories of several historians in Poland (Schiffer) in order to prove that the Jews of Poland were not Semites, but rather of Khazar origin, who accepted Judaism and migrated from the Caspian and Black Seas to the west in Poland and Russia.

The report was delivered to Henbag, who pretended to be interested in its contents and promised to read it. Was the German not amazed by the innocence of the Jews, who were held by logical explanations and did not see the situation as it was? However, in this situation as well, Henbag did not diverge from the role of a good German, and he continued this way until the last day of the ghetto's existence. Alperstein toiled skillfully and constantly. He developed the workshops until they comprised most of the Jewish population. Sometimes Alperstein complained about the absence of meaning in his work - “What am I working for? Everything is going to come to an end! This lack of purpose is the most painful thing!” However, Alperstein continued to overcome his fears and devoted himself to his work with energy.

The Jewish workers in the workshops did benefit from relative quiet; their supervisors were Jews. They arranged all the work and directed it. The work schedule was not overly pressured, and it was possible to relax from time to time, to chat about events, read German newspapers, discuss the latest news from the war front, and to pass around rumors. Sometimes the workers of certain workshops socialized together. We held a Purim party for the workers of the leather leftovers department.

We set tables, sang soft songs and engaged in friendly talk, detaching ourselves from our despair. In most of workshops, the workers produced items intended for barter with the non-Jewish population. We had daily encounters with the local Poles or farmers at the fence. They brought their products to obtain important items in exchange. They bartered for watches, clothes, shoes, sweaters, etc. This brought a steady flow of food into the ghetto through the workshops: bread, butter and cream, which enhanced the food supplies of most of the ghetto residents. On the other hand, Henbag would constantly repeat his calming words to Alperstein: “In Berlin they are aware of the fine products of the Lida workshops. Nothing bad will happen to you even if all the Jews in the other ghettos are annihilated. You will remain alive here.”

This is how illusions were fostered - illusions that lulled the alertness of the survivors of the Lida massacre, who forgot about the fear of the danger and the approaching end - until it was too late and the survivors were eliminated.


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In the Lida Ghetto

By Yitzchak Rabinowitz

Translated by Roslyn Sherman Greenberg

I was in the Lida Ghetto from its beginnings until the last day of its existence - the sad day of September 17, 1943, the day of the total liquidation of the Ghetto. I was lucky to remain alive, running from the path of the boxcars which carried away the last residents to Meidenek.

The Germans said that they were taking us to work in Lublin. On that unforgettable, sad day I lost my whole family. I want to tell you about two episodes from that horrible day.

On one of the frosty days of the winter of 1941-42 I had not gone to work because I didn't feel well and was running a high fever. Lying thus, near the low window, in the cold house, thinking, looking outside, I saw two armed gendarmes driving the famous teacher from the Lida Povshekner Shul, LICHTMAN, on his final journey. He was the chairman of the first Judenrat.

One of the gendarmes was Sobolevsky. LICHTMAN was very pale, his hands behind him in handcuffs. Several days later his tortured corpse, along with the tortured corpses of several other members of the first Judenrat, were brought to the section of the Ghetto on Petovsky Street, where they were buried in the Jewish cemetery.

Now, about my experience on a summer day in 1943, before the liquidation of the Lida Ghetto.

I was going from work in a work gang along Fabritshine Street. There was the headquarters of the Whites. These were members of the Hitler Youth. They stopped us and held a search to see if anyone was carrying any products into the Ghetto. They found potatoes on me that a Pole had given me. They took me out of the work gang and brought me into the headquarters. There they ordered me to read an anti-semitic placard on the wall. After each sentence they rained blows on me from all sides. My face became swollen and full of bruises. Then they ordered me to undress and lie on a table. They put a sack on my head and told me that I would get 25 blows, and that each time I would make a cry or a groan, I would get the same amount of blows again until I would remain still.

From both sides they started beating me with long whips. I bit my lips and kept silent. How many times they hit me, I don't know. When they told me to stand, I could barely stand on my feet. I was half-conscious. Then they ordered me to clean up the courtyard, which had a fence, and in the entrance there was a post. I understood that they weren't going to let me leave there alive.

While I was cleaning the courtyard, I noticed a German enter it. Not having anything to lose, I went over to him. I told him that my family was starving. I was bringing them a few potatoes from work, and because of this they had arrested me.

He had me freed, gave me back the potatoes, and brought me himself to the gate of the Ghetto. It was my luck to meet a German with human feelings.

It was hard for me to sit for many weeks afterward. The 17th of September 1943 the Ghetto, which contained the small streets of Postovsky and Chladne, was encircled by a German military unit of gendarmes and S.D.-men. The Ghetto police said that the Germans ordered that we should take whatever we could carry, go out of the houses, and stand in groups of 50.

The German guard stood in two rows, one outside the fence and the second inside, in the Ghetto. Before going to stand in the group I told my sister, of blessed memory, that she should go over, with one of her friends from Voronovo, to a German soldier and ask him where they were taking us. They did this, and I heard his answer, that they were taking us to work in Lublin. Later, the Germans began to lead one group after the other to the boxcars.

Our family and the KAMIENIETZKY family were in one group. I saw how the leaders of the workrooms, ALTMAN and ALPERSTEIN and also the Commandant of the Jewish Ghetto police STALITSKY, stood with their bundles on their shoulders in one of the groups.

At a certain moment, a great hole with corpses came into my mind, and I was in the middle, and the earth started pressing on me and sticking. At that moment an overwhelming strength gave me a push. I threw the sack with my clothing off my shoulders and began to run. I ran into a house that was emblazoned with yellow Mogen Davids in back and in front. There were several men there. One asked me in Polish what I need there. Driven by momentum I ran out and into a barn near the house. There was a pile of dried turf. I wanted to dig myself into the turf, but I saw that it was impossible. I went out of the barn and saw a heap of dung overgrown with long wild grass. Lying there were also pieces of rusted sheet metal. I dug myself deeply into the dung and covered it with sheet metal.

At one time, as I lay there, an S.S. officer passed by. I was lucky that he didn't have a dog. I lay there until evening. At night I met 4 other escapees, among them MOVSHOVICH from Lida, who had had a booth of second-hand clothing in the marketplace. To add to our worries, a full moon lit our dark world. We decided to wait until morning.

At daybreak we divided into two groups. Two other escapees and I went first. Behind us, at a distance, went MOVSHOVICH from Lida with a boy, a refugee from Poland. His name was SHLIAMUSH.

We had to go through one part of Suvalsky Street and were afraid to be noticed by passersby. If we saw someone coming toward us, we crossed to the other side. At one time we heard a cry of “Halt”. We didn't stand still but went in the direction of Lida Street.

I found out later that the area Commandant had stopped the two behind us and had taken them to the boxcars. SHLIAMUSH was able to run away from the boxcars, and he told me this when I met him later in the woods.

We went through Lida Street. I threw a petrified glance at the small mound of our house. We crossed the small river Lidzeike, the small town Ruslaki, and went into the woods. I glanced back in the distance and saw from the abyss, my family, my forever lost family.

In my memory, I parted with the neighborhood which was bound up with my golden childhood years. I couldn't cry because my heart was turned to stone and my blood curdled. I cried myself dry at a later time, after many years.

We went deep into the woods, and after a while came to the partisans.


[Page 302]

How We Saved Ourselves and Remained Alive

By Chana Movshovitch

Translated by Roslyn Sherman Greenberg

This happened in September 1943. Quite early the Ghetto on Postovsky Street was encircled by the S.S. Polish police and soldiers with machine guns in their hands.

There were then in the Ghetto about 4,000 Jews from Lida and the surrounding shtetls. The S.S. started to drive everyone without distinction to the railroad station and loaded them into the boxcars. It was hard to run away since they would be shot right away. Many hid in cellars, but they were all caught. By chance my brother Eltchik went into a house and noticed a cellar. From the cellar there was a tunnel dug all the way to the foundation. The tunnel was six meters long. About ten people were already sitting in it. He quickly got out, took my mother and Chana, and we entered the tunnel. Quickly more people ran in. The S.S. noticed the path, and started searching in the area. However, they didn't notice the tunnel. They opened the cellar door, and not seeing anyone, they departed and left behind Polish police so that no one should hide in the cellar.

In the evening already no Jews remained in Postovsky Street. Only Polish looters came to take the little Jewish goods that remained.

It was dim. The people who sat in the tunnel began to dig further and made an opening under the house.

It was already dark outside. The second house was 15 meters from the river. One by one we slowly went out and crossed the river. The water reached as high as our necks. My mother was carried across.

When the Polish police heard a noise they began to shoot. Four people were killed, but ten saved themselves and entered the road through the fields on the other side of the river. We finally reached the woods. We walked for two days and slept under the free sky. When we went deep into the woods we met partisans from Bielski's Detachment and thus we were rescued.


[Page 306]


The murderer of Jews, Leopold Windisch

By Dr. S. Remigolsky

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld

After my family in Vilna was massacred, I escaped to Lida in 1941. I was sent to the Regional Council (Gebietskommissariat) to work as a translator in the main forestry office in Juraciszki near Lida. Leopold Windisch was in charge of the office and together with this he was also the acting Regional Commissar (Gebietskommissar) in Lida. During his frequent visits to the forestry office in Juraciszki, and the hunting operations that took place there, in which I was forced to act as translator, I had numerous opportunities to speak with Windisch. Windisch believed that I was a Pole and perceived me as an educated man, and expressed to me his political views and his opinions of Judaism and the Jews. He stressed that from a national socialist viewpoint the Jews should be rooted out and his task in the sphere of Gebietskommissar in Lida was to carry out the merciless extermination of the Jews of Lida. Likewise, he would reiterate in my presence that irrelevant to the Nazi ideological stance, though taking into consideration the situation on the Eastern front, the extermination of the Jews was a military necessity. To my question if this verdict applied to women and children, as well, his reply was in the affirmative.

On one clear spring day in 1941 Windisch appeared in Juraciszki leading an extermination squad whose object was to reach Ivye. He announced that he would travel to the town of Ivye in order to kill the Jews following a selection that he himself would make. On the way back from Ivye he was delayed in Juraciszki and said that before carrying out the murders, he had separated the Jews into two groups. The first group was murdered immediately and the Jews of the second group were kept alive temporarily. The second group were stronger and they would continue to exploit them as a work force. However, together with this, he emphasized that the fate of these Jews would depend on the situation at the front and in his opinion; no Jew should be left alive.

I was also present when Windisch spoke with the head of the Juraciszki –Welski(?) council. He ordered him to send a transport truck to Lida and return with large quantities of lime to pour over the murdered bodies in order to prevent plague.

Leopold Windisch was reknowned in the field of Regional Commissar (Gebietskommissar) and was located in close contact with the Gestapo and would frequent jails in Lida in which Jews were regularly executed.

Remark:

Dr. Shimon Remigolsky gave this testimony in Munich, Germany on the 16th of October 1947, in the presence of the central committee of the liberated Jews in the American occupied area.

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