by Risha Zablotsky
Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer
When the war broke out, I was on vacation with my husband and child in Brittany. My two brothers and their families and my cousin Yankel and his family were with us.
My husband and younger brother were called up for military service. We all stayed at the seashore and were afraid to go back to Paris. But after France was occupied and divided into two zones, we were caught in the occupied zone. It made no sense, therefore, to remain in Brittany, so my child and I went back home - to Paris. Likewise, Abrasha, my husband was demobilized, and managed to get home with great difficulty.
The first days of the occupation the Germans were still civil and had not yet shown their true face and it seemed that we could deal with the situation. We even opened the pharmacy which, together with our apartment, was located on the first floor. However, we had officially transferred ownership of the pharmacy to a gentile pharmacist.
At four o'clock one morning in August 1940, when I was five months pregnant, my husband heard (through an open window) someone say: When the pharmacist wakes up, he'll have a surprise. Abrasha went to the window and cautiously glanced around at the street. He saw that the building was surrounded by a chain of policemen, so no one could escape. Abrasha quietly awakened me, told me what he heard and said that he was going up to the sixth floor, to one of our neighbors, a Christian woman. Then Abrasha added: "Since you're pregnant, they won't do anything to you, but it's better for me not to be at home".
I couldn't sleep any more, but sat hidden behind a curtain at the window and watched every movement the police made. They were in the habit of seizing Jews who were on the street early in the morning. I immediately phoned my brother and acquaintances and warned them not to leave their homes and to be careful.
At eight o'clock, they began knocking on the door. Trembling from fear, I opened he door, and a German and two French secret agents came right in. They immediately began searching the apartment and inquired where my husband was hiding. I told them that our son was on vacation in a village and that my husband had gone to visit him. They warned me that my husband was to report to the police as soon as he returned. Naturally, Abrasha had already gone into hiding and decided to leave Paris as soon as possible.
We began looking for a way to get Abrasha over to the Vichy (unoccupied) zone. Nothing at all was said about me and our son. People calmed their fears by saying: They won't take any pregnant women with children. Abrasha found a man who took him across the border of the Vichy zone for a large sum of money. It sounds very easy, but it was, in fact, life threateningly dangerous. With God's help, my husband reached Lyon safely. He didn't have much money left and began to suffer from hunger. Besides, Lyon was a big city and there was a great danger of being seized. By chance, Abrasha met one of his former teachers, a gentile, who had escaped from Alsace. This man introduced Abrasha to the owner of a village pharmacy who agreed to give him a job and Abrasha left for the village. It wasn't bad for him there, but we were separated, and no letters could be sent from one zone to another.
Meanwhile, I gave birth to a little girl. Before I went to the hospital, they had taken my older brother, Yosef, and deported him to the Compiègne detention camp, one hundred kilometers from Paris. He became ill there and was put into the hospital. A French nurse helped him escape and, together with our brother Yisrael and their families, were smuggled into the Vichy zone.
The situation of the Jews in Paris was growing worse day by day. They already began deporting women with children but provisionally only those who were not French citizens. We had a good friend, a commissioner at the headquarters of the Paris police, who remained working at his post even under the German occupation. He would let me know when a deportation was to take place and I, in turn, would inform my friends, who would hide in my apartment.
One fine day, the police commissioner came and warned me to hide with the children because French citizens were also going to be deported. I never even dreamed about being smuggled into the Vichy zone with two small children. I remembered that my older sister, Fanny, who lived in Reims, about 160 kilometers from Paris, with her family, did not declare herself as Jewish and did not wear a badge. We decided that I would leave the children with her, cross the border alone into the Vichy zone and once I was there, she would send the children to me with a Christian woman, telling anyone who asked that they were her children.
The children were with Fanny, but how does one get across the border? I was given the name of a French railroad engineer who often drove the diplomatic train on the Paris - Vichy line. I called him up and asked him to fix a place for a meeting. He set our rendez-vous in the Metro (subway) but on the condition that I remove my patch. He explained that he was a tall, thin man, that he would be carrying a small suitcase and that I should go up to him without any reservations, as if to a good friend.
I took along my cousin, removed the patch, and we left. My cousin stood at a distance so that we wouldn't both be caught together. I recognized him at once by the signs he had given me and we acted boldly as though we had known one another for a long time.
Hearing my request, he expressed his agreement to take us across the border. In addition, he told us that he transports people in the water tank, which is attached to the locomotive. Who could imagine that people could be hidden in a narrow pipe, but there is no limit to human inventiveness, especially in a time of trouble. But how could we get into the locomotive garage when everything around was guarded by the Germans? I again took along my cousin and a lady acquaintance and, arm in arm, we went out for a stroll. We were lucky and got into the garage without anyone noticing us. In a few minutes, we were already sitting inside the tank in cold water and could hardly catch out breath.
When the train moved, there was less water, so we could breathe more freely. An elderly couple was also sitting there, and they felt very bad. Although I had a heavy heart and was beset by the persistent worry that I might not see my children again, I began to sing and entertain the people. The old man said, in fact, that I was singing off key (as I did in Lubtch in the school choir), but they were happy to be able to take their mind off their troubles.
When we arrived in Vichy, they took us out of the water and we waited for our clothes to dry. Then each of us went on his way, to his own fate. I went to the village where Abrasha worked and a few days later, a Christian woman brought both our children to us. The people in the village knew that we were Jews, but the simple village folk, who had hardly ever seen a Jew before, were far from being anti-Semitic and we lived among them without any fear. Abrasha also brought one of his relatives to us, a dentist with her husband and son and a doctor who lost her husband and child. Abrasha used to go around the villages and procure food for all of us. My brothers and their families were also near us in the neighboring villages.
Life went on like this for nearly two years until the Germans began occupying the Vichy zone as well. Things got much worse. Little notes were posted with the message that a Jew was working in the pharmacy and that Jews were living there. The French began looking for a hiding place for us. A priest took our oldest son, Gérald, to a seminary. I told him that if we were caught and deported, he should remember that he is Jewish, and he promised to remain a Jew. Two French women let us live in the attic of a small, vacant house in the woods. During the day we would hide in the woods, and at night we would come back to sleep in the attic. We taught our little girl, who was then 2 ½ years old, never to say our name. Even for a while after the war, she would keep asking: Now may we say our name?
In 1944, my brother Yosef and his wife, Rochelle, and their two daughters, Jeanne and Nicole, were taken away. We never saw them again, but their photographs have remained as well as the everlasting, unquiet sorrow in my heart.
by Lyuba Meyerson-Kowalsky
Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer
My father, Rabbi Chaim Meyerson, came to Lubtch from the yeshiva [rabbinic seminary] in Volozshin and was also very well versed in science and world literature.
My mother, Feigel, came from a family of rabbis. I remember that when my grandfather Rabbi Moshe Rabinovitch died, the neighbors brought their sick children and caressed them with the deceased's hand, for they had such a strong belief in his piety. My mother was a polite and kind woman who treated everyone with respect and friendliness, whether Jew or gentile. She was always ready to do someone a favor.
In my childhood years, I learned from my father that all people are equal, that their social status didn't matter at all, and that one should not be ashamed of one's work as long as he or she is an honest person.
I mention my parents here because my thoughts take me back to the ghetto in Novogrudek where, in 1941, I was kept together with my parents and six year old daughter, Frumele.
I will always remember my father's last words as he was led away to be slaughtered together with five thousand other Jews from Novogrudek: I was not fated to have pleasure from such a fine grandchild, and his eyes swelled with tears which he quickly wiped away as he went on his last way.
I managed to save my child thanks to the deep bonds of friendship which my parents had cultivated among gentiles. I hid her with very good Polish friends, the Rostkovsky family, who lived in a hamlet near Delatitch. My daughter spoke only Yiddish and they risked their lives to save a Jewish child. She remained with them for 2 ½ years, until the liberation.
I managed to save myself because I was working as a pharmacist in the Novogrudek hospital when the slaughter of Jews was carried out in 1941. The Germans had temporarily left the medical personnel unguarded. We worked in the hospital and they would lock us in at night. It was actually a kind of a ghetto from which we never thought of being able to leave. When we found out, however, that they were getting ready to finish us off, we escaped at night through one of the hospital windows. We reached the partisans in the forest around Nalibok and lived to see the day of liberation.
[Translators note: This chapter is the Yiddish version of the same chapter as on pages 364-379 (Scrolls from the Fire) which was written in Hebrew]
by Yisrael Slonimsky
Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer
On September 1, 1939, the conflagration broke out in which everything that had authentic meaning for us went up in flames: home, happiness and future.
With terror in our hearts, we awaited the arrival of the Germans, who had invaded and taken over Poland. At night, we slept in our clothes in case we had to run away in search of a hiding place. Seventeen days went by in this way when, suddenly, the news reached us that the Red Army was approaching. We were very happy, as we were finally rid of the fright of falling into German claws.
A few weeks went by and our joy was marred. The Russians took away all our possessions and levied heavy taxes on the store owners which they couldn't possibly pay. The richest Jews were sent to Siberia or Archangel, and those who were not sent away lived in fear that the Russians would come at night, pull them out of bed and send them off to perform forced labor in the far north.
My lime burner was nationalized, and such heavy taxes were imposed on my store that I had nothing left. I went away to work on the rafts, hoping only that they would let me stay in one place. But we still didn't grasp the fact that evil and misfortunes have no limit, nor did we ever imagine that it could be thousands of times worse if the German destroyer gained control over us.
In the early hours of the morning of Sunday, June 22, 1941, the gentile residents of Delatitch and peasants from surrounding villages began running back to their homes from the market in Lubtch. Jumping with joy, they related that, while in Lubtch, they heard on the radio that that the Germans had attacked Russia and that German airplanes had already bombarded Lida, Novogrudek and Baranovitch. In the evening, it was reported that German troops were already shooting up the roads leading to Russia and that the former Polish-Russian border was closed to everyone except government personnel who had come to work in our district. Where can people run to? We already found out from the press and from refugees that the Germans were locking the Jews up in ghettos, wiping out entire Jewish communities, but what could we do except wait for our dark fate.
On Saturday, June 28, hundreds of peasants from the whole region started out in wagons for Lubtch. They were coming, with the permission of the Germans, to plunder the property of the Jews in Lubtch. After a half day of looting, they went back with their wagons completely loaded up with our possessions: furniture, sewing machines, bedding, clothing, pots and pans, glassware, cows and even chickens, anything and everything that their wild animal appetites lusted for. The gentiles in Lubtch opposed them, not, God forbid, to protect the Jews, but because they claimed the plunder belonged to them. They hit one another with iron tools. The gentiles from the surrounding area went back home with deep gashes in their heads, their animal blood pouring down over their impure faces, but they were happy, knowing that the wagons loaded with our possessions would compensate for everything.
Gentiles from Delatitch whom we knew very well, our so-called good neighbors, came to the Jews and told them that the same thing would befall us the next day. They advised us to pack up our better things and give it to them for safekeeping. In any case, you won't be needing these things any more today, and tomorrow they're going to take everything away from you. Give it to me, and when you need it, I'll give it back to you. Every word of theirs was like a spear piercing our hearts.
The peasants from the surrounding areas couldn't wait until Sunday and attacked us that very Saturday night. They smashed all the windowpanes, broke down the doors, forced everyone to the Neiman River and robbed anything of value, and whatever was worthless to them, they simply broke and destroyed. They hit the elderly Rabbi Beinish Liss over the head with a spade and my father, Feive the Baker, received a blow on his shoulders with an axe.
We hid among the shrubs at the river edge for two days. On the third day, when our hunger became oppressive, we went back to our homes. They somewhat calmed their bloody instincts for two days. They greeted us with a shout: Now, Jews, there's not a thing we're lacking! A few elderly Christian residents secretly brought us bread, flour and a pitcher of milk. But where could we get a pan or a spoon, since everything had either been stolen or broken? They strewed garbage all over the study hall [synagogue], broke the windows, took down the doors, tore the Torah scrolls and hung them up on the trees.
The Germans came a few days later. They appointed the police and published an order that Jews must wear a yellow Star of David over their heart and shoulders, that Jews must not leave the town without a permit and whoever did not obey this order would be shot on the spot. Rabbi Ya'akov Baksht, May God avenge his blood!, was the first to go outside with the yellow badge. You could not conceive how happy and excited the gentiles were to see the Jews humiliated.
The gentiles began forcing us out to work on property belonging to Delatitch. There, we dug up potatoes and beets and also received blows from our new masters. They also became masters of our houses. We accepted everything with love because our heart told us that things were yet to get worse.
Even before the Jews were locked up in the ghetto in Lubtch, 150 young Jews were selected and sent to a work camp near Dvoretz. My brother-in-law, Avraham Kivovitch as well as Shepsel, Itche Kushner's son, and Shemaya, Sarah-Elke's grandson, were part of that group.
I worked on the property belonging to the village of Vereskova. Velvel Yankelevitch and Sara-Elke's grandson, Yerachmiel, worked together with me as did my father-in-law and both my brothers-in-law, Nota and Ya'akov. We also used to sleep there. When the Jews from Delatitch were driven into the ghetto in Lubtch, I would work all week long in Vereskova. Friday evenings, we were allowed to go to our families in the Lubtch ghetto. Since my job was tending to the cows, I would go into the cow shed Thursday night, milk the cows and prepare a couple of bottles of milk. That's how I was able to smuggle a little milk into the ghetto. My wife would divide the milk among our small children. Of course, one received a death penalty for such a crime. Even before we were locked up in the ghetto, Gestapo agents would come to Lubtch in trucks. They would seize young men, as though for work, and then take them behind the town and shoot them. When we found out about that, we became more cautious. As soon as there was daylight, the young men would run off and hide in the fields all day long. But no one thought about escaping into the forests and saving himself from the Germans. We still believed that we would outlive the enemy, and besides, we didn't want to be separated from our families.
The situation changed for the worse when we were driven into the Lubtch ghetto. It already became difficult to run away. The news that reached us about the slaughters of the Jews in surrounding ghettos broke our spirits completely. In Novogrudek, on the first day of the Hebrew month of Av, 5701 (1941), the Germans and their helpers gathered together 52 Jews, stood them in a row in the middle of the street and shot every tenth person. The counting was repeated regularly until they finished off the last Jew. While this was taking place, a band played happy marches. Afterwards, Jewish women were sent to wash the blood off the pavement stones.
We began to observe fasts - the old Jewish means against evil decrees. We would fast twice a week and even little children fasted. But no miracle occurred and God's gates of mercy remained closed to our prayers and fasting.
Jews from Delatitch, Neishtat (Negnyevitch) and the Jewish residents of the surrounding villages were also locked up in the Lubtch ghetto. Chaim Bruk from Lubtch and Berl Yankelevitch from Delatitch were appointed leaders of the ghetto. Decrees were issued incessantly: First, we had to hand over all our money, jewelry, other valuables and the little furniture that remained after the plunder by the gentiles. Harsh monetary penalties were imposed on us for any light matter. We had to hand over at once whatever they desired. The craftsmen: tailors, shoemakers, etc., had to work for the Germans and for the local police, but the craftsmen themselves were almost naked and barefoot. If a person managed to bury something in the ground, he risked his life sneaking out the ghetto to trade the treasure with a gentile for a piece of bread to keep his children alive.
We lived in Tevel the Shoemaker's house. There were thirty people in one room. When we slept, one person's head was against another's. People were actually eaten away by lice and worms, but until the very end, no one broke down or lost confidence in the belief that salvation would come. Yenta, the daughter of the rabbi of Lubtch, also lived in the ghetto with her husband, Dr. Rabinovitch from Baranovitch. The rabbi had died a short time before, and his wife was in the ghetto in Novogrudek. On a certain day, the rabbi's wife informed Yenta that the murderers had set out in the direction of Lubtch and that we should be on guard. When we heard the tidings, we all recited confession and awaited death. Till this very day, I can't comprehend why we didn't try to escape from the ghetto that day, as if some secret force was preventing us from running away, although there were dense forests all around us just an arm's length away and good prospects for saving our lives. A few days went by in expectation of death, but the murderers did not show up.
Incidentally, I will mention here that a short time later, during the slaughter, when they brought Yenta and her husband to the pit, Dr. Rabinovitch shouted out to the Germans that the day of revenge would certainly come for them and their mad leader and that they would pay dearly for their crimes. He embraced Yenta, kissed her and, thus doing, both fell into the pit.
A few days after Passover, 1942, two Gestapo agents came into the ghetto. They took out Naftali's son, Avraham Alperstein, Yitchak Rosenblum and Chaim Bruk. They brought them out of the house and shot them on the spot. Chaim Bruk still managed to run to Sarah-Esther's yard, but they chased after him and shot him. We remained like sheep without a shepherd, for Chaim Bruk, with his authority, wisdom and knowledge, always comforted us and gave us courage and confidence.
An order came from Novogrudek to send one hundred tradesmen there from Lubtch. My brother-in-law, Nota, Baruch-Mordechai Krulevetzky and I were taken as part of that transport. Weeping terribly, we said good-bye to our families. We felt that we would not see each other again. My wife, however, would not let the Jewish Council rest until they prevailed upon the authorities to allow her and the children to move to the ghetto in Novogrudek.
600 Jews from Lubtch capable of working were transferred to Vorobievitch to shtchereben in shayer [sense unclear]. There were also Jews from Delatitch among them and I remember some of them: Rabbi Ya'akov Baksht and his daughter, Necha, Rabbi Beinush with his family, Berl with Peya, Velvel Yankelevitch, Chaya -Zelda, my father-in-law, Moshe-Aharon with his son, Ya'akov, and his wife with two children. They were assured that they would work paving roads and that they would all remain alive. Not one of them remained alive: some were burned alive and others were shot at the large pit, close to the Lubtch- Novogrudek road. Gershon Kapushtchevsky tried to escape, but they shot at him and he fell wounded into a stream and drowned.
There were also some Jews from Delatitch in the Novogrudek ghetto: my father, Rabbi Feive, my brother-in-law, Avraham'l with his son, Binyamin, Yosef the Ritual Slaughterer with his family, Golda Krulevetzky with the children, Moshe Sontzes with his younger daughter.
Mainly old women and little children remained in the Lubtch ghetto. My mother, Feigel, and my sister, Itke-Tulia, with her three children were also among them. They were all murdered in Podlipka, on the 24th of the Jewish month of Av, together with the last 275 Jews from Lubtch. On that day, they also liquidated the Jews in Vorobievitch and two thousand Jews in Novogrudek.
After arriving in the Novogrudek ghetto, we were placed in an old house with a broken, rotted roof. We would get wet with the slightest rain. Every day, together with my wife and son, we went a distance of seven kilometers to work paving roads, carefully guarded by the local police. All day long we would drag heavy stones and wheelbarrows with sand and gravel. For being late to work, one was made to lie on the ground and was then whipped to death. At five o'clock in the afternoon, the police would take us back to the ghetto. On the way back, they would make sport of us, whip us or even shoot us just for entertainment, leaving behind the dead and seriously injured. Those who worked received 120 grams of bread a day. Those who didn't work got nothing. My daughter Rochele was still too small and didn't work.
One day, they sent off a group of Jews to work in Minsk. My brother-in-law, Nota, was included in that group and was murdered there.
The day came when the Jews in Novogrudek were slaughtered:
That day, as always, we were away at work and had left Rochele in the ghetto. Suddenly, people began saying that an aktion was going to take place that day. We were then working in the town itself. I dropped my work, turned around and went into the ghetto. I took Rochele and tried to get her out of the ghetto. A Jewish ghetto-policeman stopped us at the gate and ordered me to leave Rochele in the ghetto. I pleaded with him at length and when he finally pretended not to notice, I went out with Rochele and brought her to the workplace.
There was a great commotion when the foreman began registering people with a trade. I urged him forcefully and he registered me as a tradesman. Then they drove us up to a yard and again began registering us. But this was already for a final count. When the pushing and shoving got out of hand, a policeman, a Tarter from Novogrudek, began hitting us with a leather club. Then they led us away to the barracks where armed Germans called out the names of 200 men from a list. After that, they began shouting to the remaining Jews: Damn Jews, back to work.
We already understood what awaited us and began running to hide in the fields of grain. I took my wife and children, my brother-in-law, Avraham'l, with his son and we went back to our house in the ghetto where we had discovered a good, camouflaged hiding place a few weeks before.
As soon as we heard the first shooting in the ghetto, we went into a closet, removed the small cover and from there went into the hiding place, putting back the small cover to close the closet. My father was also with us, but the tightness made him choke and he began coughing very loudly. We asked him to go out and hide in the crawlspace because we would all surely be killed on account of him. My father understood the situation very well and went out of the shelter, climbed up into the crawlspace and put down the ladder. He lay there for three days and wasn't found. On the fourth day, the 200 selected craftsmen were brought into the ghetto so they could take down the ghetto fence and put up a new one. When my father noticed people going about freely in the ghetto, he came down from the crawlspace. He was soon caught and led away.
From our hiding place, we could look outside and see how the Jews were driven from their houses and ordered to lie face up on the ground. The policemen shouted: Davai tchasi, Davai zolota! (Give watches! Give gold!). When it grew dark, trucks came and everyone was pushed onto the trucks. Whoever didn't climb aboard fast enough was shot on the spot. The Jewish ghetto police carried the sick people out, but when they finished, the sick people were locked up in the same house where we had our hiding place. Afterwards, the door opened and someone shouted the order: Out! They packed them into a truck and took them away. They also discovered various hiding places and dragged out the people hiding there. Over 2,000 Jews were caught and murdered in the common grave on the road to Shelyov, near the dogcatchers' house.
Lying in our hiding place, we heard the front door open. Two Jews who were part of the group of tradesmen entered. They were looking around the rooms for something. We heard one of them ask the other: Well, did you find anything to chew on? Convinced that they were Jews, we decided to ask them if it was possible to leave our hiding place. Hearing our voices, one of them approached the closet and said in a loud voice: Stay there! Don't go out! I'll talk to the Polish commander, who is a friend of mine. When he comes here and calls out that Yevnovitch sent him, only then should you leave your hiding place.
A few days went by, but no one came. On the fifth day, Rochele had an attack of hysteria. She started to laugh wildly and no one could calm her. The nervous people were about to put various things over her face and suffocate her, when my wife suddenly got the idea to bite Rochele somewhere on her body until she was bleeding. She did this and our young daughter immediately calmed down.
It was only on the seventh day that the commander came in and shouted in Polish: Go out! Yevnovitch sent me! We came out of the shelter drunk from weakness. The commander demanded one thousand rubles to take us into the small ghetto. We gave him the amount he asked for, and he brought us into the ghetto. We hid there several days and then went out, having assumed the names of those who had escaped from the ghetto.
The bitter news became known to us that we no longer had any family remaining either in Lubtch or Vorobievitch. A few days later, they shot my father, who had been kept under arrest the whole time as well as Yosef Kagan with his wife, Simke, and their two little children. As they were led past the ghetto, they shouted out to us: Jews, avenge our blood!
We decided to escape from the ghetto. I spoke to the Jews in our room about this: Avraham Lin, Itche Florans from Baranovtich and Rabinovitch. We traded a suit of clothes for fifteen kilos of flour, which we smuggled into the ghetto and baked bread from it- provisions for the way. Avraham Lin stole a gun with sixteen bullets at the place where he worked and brought it into the ghetto.
On the set day, my son didn't go out to work because he used to return very late. The German who used to come to take him to work came looking for him. My wife told him that he had gone to work very early and that was all she knew. The German warned us that it would be very bad and bitter for us if our son failed to go to work the next day as well. The same day, two Germans drove into the ghetto in wagons and ordered us to fill them with bricks. When we finished the job, one of the Germans for whom I worked looked around to see if anyone was listening and said to me: Jew, You'd better find a way out of here, otherwise you're going to die. When he received no answer from me, he repeated the same sentence. Then I plucked up the courage to talk and replied that I was afraid to talk to him because Jews are forbidden to speak to a German. For Heaven's sake, I won't do anything to you!, the German exclaimed and began to lecture about the new German culture which murders innocent people, adding that he doesn't feel good about the war and that if Hitler has a bone to pick with Stalin, let them fight it out together, like two mad dogs.
He also said that the surrounding area was full of partisans who had already killed many Germans and that he was sure that we could reach the partisans and save ourselves from death.
That night we escaped from the ghetto. We gave every one in the group a small loaf of bread - provisions for the way, and I also took along an axe with nails and the gun.
The night cloaked us in darkness as we scraped ourselves on the ground, crawling under the barbed wire, with hearts filled with fear and prayer to God that He would lead us on the right way. When all of us were over the other side of the ghetto wire, we began running, one behind the other.
Dogs started barking and their owners also noticed us. It didn't take long for them to notify the Germans that Jews were escaping from the ghetto. A searchlight cut through the night, and a hail of bullets accompanied us. Suddenly, we heard cries and noticed that Liss and his wife had fallen dead, like cut-off ears of grain. We all gathered together among the bushes and lay there for a few hours until it grew quiet and, somewhere in the distance, we only heard dogs barking and eventually whining. It was only then that we decided to go on our way, following the road to Selyov. The night was ours because the Germans were afraid to travel on the roads at night on account of the partisans.
The next day, we sat stuck in the woods not far from Selyov. That night we reached Delatitch and went to the river. The water at the shore of the Neiman was already frozen, but it was possible to cross over with a rowboat because the middle of the river was still ice-free.
I found a boat not too far away, looked for a pole instead of an oar and began to cross over the river with my wife and children. When we got close to the opposite shore, my little daughter fell into the water. My wife barely managed to grab her little hand and pull her out of the ice cold water. I went back to the other side of the river and brought over all the people from our group. Soon after, we went into the forest and started on our way to Berezin.
As we got closer to Berezin, we left everyone in the forest, and only Avraham'l and I went to the homes of peasants in Berezin with whom we were acquainted, very decent Christians, from whom we used to buy fish in the good times. Avraham'l had hidden his things with one of them.
In the evening, we knocked on the door and went into the house. There, we found the peasants' sixteen year old son. The boy was very frightened, seeing the unexpected guests. He ran over to the lamp and extinguished the wick. He told us that the Germans had come the day before and exchanged fire with the partisans. Suddenly, he shouted to us: A policeman is going! What he meant wasn't very clear to us, but we ran out of the house and went to try our luck at the home of the Christian with whom Avraham'l had hidden his things.
Here, too, a young fellow also opened the door for us. He asked us to sit down and went into the next room to wake up his father. As soon as the elderly peasant came in, he embraced and kissed both of us and wept. He ordered his son to bring us food and asked about our families.
We told him that my wife and children, Avraham'l's son, Niome, and several more Jews were sitting in the forest, waiting for us to return. He asked that none of them should come to his house, only the both of us. He would provide us with food and would do everything he had the strength to do for us. And, in fact, he brought us bread, a small container of butter, cheese, two spades and a saw. Avraham'l asked his advice about how to go about building an earthen shelter, but he refused to answer this question because, should we be found, we would undoubtedly suspect that he was the one who turned us in and sold his conscience to the devil. As he spoke, we could sense his honest intentions, clean conscience and pure heart. And our hearts trembled as we realized that the whole world had not yet been corrupted and that even in Sodom there were still some honest and good people!
We went to Kazik, who was in the forests near Potashnya. He, too, inquired who had remained alive and gave us potatoes, bread and two spades. We offered him money so that he would provide us with food. He replied that he had more money than we did, but if we needed any kind of merchandise, we could get everything.
We settled in Viltche Bloto (Wolf Mud), a place in the forest where the wolves have their dens. We dug a pit, blocked the walls with sawed off young trees, put a ladder inside so we could go down and camouflaged the top with little trees. The snow covered everything, and it was hard to tell from outside that this was a hiding place. However, it is very hard to hide from the eyes of peasants who know every hidden corner in the forest and recognize, like a wild animal, the scent of a stranger.
When we went back to Kazik a few months later, he told us that the peasants in the surrounding villages knew where we were hiding. He advised us to leave the place because the peasants would turn us over to the Germans.
We did not leave the place, but we were already afraid to go and ask peasants for food. Three weeks went by and we were simply famished. My brother-in-law suggested that we go out and look for koptzes potatoes (holes covered all winter for storing potatoes). We actually found such a kopetz hole in one of the hamlets, and that kept us alive.
Early one morning, as we were sitting around the fire cooking our food, we heard a shout: Ruki verch! (Hands up!) We naturally obeyed the order and raised our hands. These were Christian partisans in a unit bearing Stalin's name. They searched us, took our money, boots, sheets which we had gotten and they also wanted to take our gun, but one of them would not allow this, explaining that we wouldn't be able to get food without a gun and that we would die of hunger. We asked them to take us with them, but our asking was in vain because: You're robbers, and there's no place among partisans for such people. Two weeks later, they returned and took the only gun we had.
A few days later, we were forced to leave our earthen shelter and move to another place. We dug ourselves into a hill and built a stronger and better camouflaged earthen shelter. We had to hide from the Germans as well as from some of the partisans. We were in contact with a certain peasant, Misha, whom we would often help with his household work. A few days after we had left our first shelter, the partisans came back looking for us. When they found no one there, they shot bullets in their own hats and informed their commander that we shot at them and then ran away. The commander ordered them to catch us and bring us to him. We found out all about this from Misha, our contact person. In short, they captured my brother-in-law and forced him to lead them to our hiding place. They then took two of our men and brought them to their commander. On the way, they savagely beat them up, then washed off the blood and brought them to Tchapen, the village where the unit's command post was located. As they were waiting outside in this state, a Jewish partisan happened to pass by and said: Don't be afraid, fellows. They won't do anything to you., and having said this, left. And that's what actually happened. The commander understood the truth and released them. Since it was already too late to go back, he ordered that they be given food and a place to sleep. My brother-in-law again brought up the question of our being accepted into the unit, but they turned down his request because we didn't have any guns, and they themselves didn't have enough guns for their men. The commander sent a letter with our request to the district staff quarters located not far from Baksht, but we received the same reply from there.
Itche Florans decided to go back to the ghetto in Novogrudek and get his brother out. We took him as far as the Neiman. He crossed the ice covered river and got safely into the ghetto, but it was already impossible to get out of the ghetto. They started to dig a tunnel, but before they finished digging, a slaughter took place and they hid in a bunker. That night, Itche Florans was standing by the door of the bunker, listening to the sounds outside. Suddenly, he heard the Germans approaching the bunker and surrounding it. He shouted: Jews, save your lives! He jumped outside, quickly climbed over the ghetto fence and was engulfed by the blackness of the night. He reached Delatitch that same night. He stayed there a full week until he managed to return to our earthen shelter.
Spring was approaching. We knew that when the ice melted, the Neiman would overflow all around and we would be cut off from all human habitation and not receive any food. That meant that we had to provide food for ourselves well in advance if we didn't want to die of hunger.
Lin, a carpenter, carved guns and pistols from wood, and they really looked authentic. Armed with such weapons, we went to one of the hamlets. We entered a house holding our pistols and ordered the peasant to harness a horse because we had to go somewhere. The peasant started crying, explaining that he had only one horse and that if we took away his horse, he would be unable to maintain his household. I calmed him down, promising that we wouldn't hurt him, and that if he was worried about his horse, he should take us with him in his sleigh. The peasant actually did so.
It was a bright winter night. The ground was still covered with white, clean snow as soft as butter, but we already felt a mild spring breeze coming up and the trees awakening from their frozen sleep. The sleigh carrying the six Jews with wooden guns on their shoulders moved along quickly and pleasantly, as though it were a peaceful jaunt in the good old days.
The Voynov forest was silent when we went into the homes of the peasants and ordered them to give us food. We loaded up the sled with a few bags of flour, bread, groats, meat, sausage and honey. At midnight, we went back with our trophies, accompanied by the barking of dogs.
On the way back, we encountered a large group of partisans. We were afraid that we would be questioned as to where and how we got food and that we would undoubtedly be shot on account of that. But we had no other choice and had to take a chance. When we got closer, a guard saw us and shouted out: Give the password! I kept my wits about me and answered: The same, the same as you! He gave an order Move your horse on! The same thing happened a second time. We got through safely in this way and returned to our earthen shelter. Then we released the peasant with his horse and he went happily back home.
Two weeks later, we again took a horse from one of the peasants and brought back a wagon full of potatoes. We obtained food in this way and got safely through the few weeks, during which everything around was submerged in water and we were sitting in our shelter, as though we were on an island, cut off from human settlement.
Spring arrived. The sun became agreeably warmer and the water dried up. Everything was covered with green vegetation and an abundance of flowers. Birds were chirping and flying from tree to tree, carrying pieces of wood, grass and soil in their beaks with which to build their nests. Everything awakened to a new life. We also felt freer and happier.
On such a day, we were sitting outside, cooking a pot of potatoes over a small fire. Suddenly, we heard the echo of a strong movement, not far from us, and an echo of voices also reached us. We were terribly afraid. Who could that be? As we were sitting like that, eating the hot potatoes, we saw two armed men approaching. We soon recognized them as partisans. We greeted them with a Welcome comrades! and invited them to sit and eat with us.
Hearing that we were Jews hiding from the Germans, they told us that they belonged to the partisan unit named after Tchkalov and that there were many Jews in that unit who would certainly like to see us. Before long, the Jewish partisans, men and women, came to us. We kissed and wept from joy, seeing living Jews and besides, Jews who were taking revenge and paying back the enemy with fire and death. They asked us to go with them and show them in which villages there were no Germans.
We set out late at night and got as far as Delatitch-Zahorye. Guards were placed on the roads leading to Lubtch and Delatitch and we began to clean out the peasants, taking their cows, pigs, flour, grain as well as stolen Jewish property: suits, material, clothes, etc. We harnessed 25 horses and got to Mikolayeve before daybreak. We didn't take anything from the peasants who lived near the forest. On the contrary, we shared the things we brought with them.
The commander of the Tchkalov unit gave us a document stating that we belonged to his unit. He sent me and my brother-in-law on mission to spy out the area and report where the Germans were deployed and which of the local peasants were in the police force. We carried out our task superbly. Next, we went to Delatitch with a group of partisans. There, we caught the gentile who was the first to rob the Jews as well as the village elder, Alexei Shunke. We honored them both with a bullet to their heads, and we took everything they had in their houses, mainly the things they had robbed from the Jews.
The front had moved closer to our area. The Germans were running back in wild panic just as the Russians had run back three years earlier. The partisans cut off the roads taken by the retreating Germans and sowed death and destruction among them. At the beginning of January 1944, we heard distant, dull echoes of artillery fire. A few days later, we were already greeting the attacking divisions of the Red Army, which liberated our area.
and brother-in-law, Benyamin Kivovitch
We were once again free people, but where could we go? We were terrified to go back to our town - a few Jews among so many gentile wolves.
We went to Ivya, where I was drafted into the Red Army and sent to Lida, where Engineer Buslovitch, a former partisan from our unit, discharged me from the army, pretending I was needed for work in his division. My wife and I soon returned to Delatitch and moved back into our house. I worked in Lubtch, in the Raiprom-kombinat, as a deliverer of raw material and tools. In this position, I had the opportunity to travel about in Lida, Baranovitch, Minsk and other cities. The destruction was great everywhere. The Jewish communities were obliterated, and not a trace remained of the once flourishing and spiritually rich Jewish life.
It was hard for us to remain on that cursed ground. As soon as we had the opportunity to leave for Poland, we left our town and went to Lodz.
In Poland, however, the hatred towards the few surviving Jews was even greater and more intense than in our region. Pogroms were perpetrated against Jews in Cracow (1945), Kielce (1946) and other cities. They stopped trains, took the Jews off and shot them on the spot. The Polish population rejoiced and eagerly assisted the bandits.
We set out on the difficult path of clandestine immigration to Palestine. The route we followed took us through Czechoslovakia, Austria, Italy and finally to Eretz Yisrael. But this is already a separate chapter in our life, the story of which will be told in the history of the Jewish People and its fight for its own country.
On May 19, 1946, a year after the victory over the Germans, the greatest enemy of the Jewish people, our feet stepped upon the ground of our eternal homeland - The Land of Israel.
by Chaim Yankelevitch
Translated from the Hebrew by Ann Belinsky and Harvey Spitzer
To our fathers, the will to live and heroism were of no avail.
The fist of the beast was supreme.
And the grave was silent in the agony of dying,
They walked towards a releasing death with a weeping soul.
And in a quiet oath the hand rises up,
A lament for the parents, the brother and sister,
We will tell of those burned and murdered in the ghettos,
by Nachum Shlimovitch
Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer
To you, my dear brothers and sisters and friends, I have come today to transmit the last groan, the last sigh, the last call of Shema Yisrael of our mothers and fathers, wives, husbands and little children when their lives were savagely cut short by the sharp knife of the Nazi-Germans and their eager helpers.
To you, I have the obligation to transmit the last thoughts and feelings of terror of those sentenced to death without a reason why, without guilt, but only because they were Jews - children of a people who never harmed anyone, never touched anyone and were happy just to be given a little rest.
In the nightmarish dark days and nights in the ghettos and camps, when everything was blocked up before us, the Heavens closed and there was no one to call to for help, and there was no other way out than to wait for the final march, we thought about how to save ourselves, to have the great merit of staying alive in order to tell the world what happened to us, what torments and tortures we were made to suffer before we were killed and how monstrous the German people of culture actually were. And also in order to bring to you, dear brothers and sisters, the final greeting of those who were so painfully afflicted, their last call for revenge, not to forgive and never to forget the German Amalek.
This evening, when we have gathered together to honor our martyrs, at this very moment when I stand before you, there pass before my eyes many close and dear faces, the same ones that come to me in my dreams, tear me from my sleep and refuse to leave me alone in my sleepless nights as well. They order me to speak, tell and cry out our last cry so that it will be heard by those who are our own flesh and blood, our succession, the continuers of our cut-off lives.
It was the end of June 1941. The Soviet authorities fled; the Germans were approaching. The local gentiles and peasants from the surrounding villages took advantage of this situation. They came with wagons and sacks, axes and hammers- and began plundering and robbing.
They emptied out the houses and stole everything they could get their hands on. They tore up the floors of the houses and cellars. They didn't even leave over a piece of bread, but this was only a prelude to what came about later.
The Germans locked us up in a ghetto and fenced it in with barbed wire. They forbade us to leave the ghetto and distributed a few grams of bread a day.
In order to make better use of the work capability of the Jews in Lubtch, and also in order to keep them under their eyes and to kill them more easily, without any resistance, the Germans divided the Lubtch Jewish community into four segments in the following way: a) Lubtch ghetto, b) Vorobievitch work camp, c) Dvoretz work camp, d) Novogrudek ghetto.
I see, before my eyes, the Lubtch rabbi, Rabbi Yitzchak Weiss and his wife, Shoshke. I see the rabbi, already beardless, wearing a short, torn, little coat, dragging wheelbarrows with bricks until he died of sheer exhaustion.
I see Itchele Baksht's daughter with a suffocated child in her arms. They were hiding in a closet, but the child started crying and the mother suffocated her own child, sacrificed him, just so the other people could be saved. The murderers found them and killed them all.
I see a drunken SS man making the selection who for life and who for death. I see children who were selected to remain alive getting up on the trucks, on their own free will, to be killed with their mothers and fathers together. I see Jews wearing their prayer shawl and phylacteries going to martyrdom with Shema Yisrael on their lips.
I see my brother, Moshe, and my sister, Rachel, with their families, who were killed in Vorobievtich on the same day that the slaughter of the Jews in Novogrudek took place.
I see our townsmen, Yonatan Itzkovitch (Layzer the Shoemaker's son) and Yaakov Yedidovitch, being led to their death on the same day as the massacre in Novogrudek. A child started crying, and the murderers discovered the shelter where they were hiding.
There was no way to escape. Everyone was against us: the Germans, Poles, White Russians, the town gentiles and the village peasants. They all helped the Germans, they all murdered Jews, they all bathed in Jewish blood and they all gleefully rubbed their hands together, knowing that they would be rid of the Jews forever.
A person remained alive not because of his or her wisdom or heroism. It was the choice of fate that some individuals should survive to relate the terrible story of pain and torment, to kindle hatred towards the Germans for generations to come and engrave the Remember! in the life of our people - to remember and not forget the German Amalek.
This tragic mission has been entrusted to me, one of the survivors. I am bringing this mission here to you, together with the final greeting of our closest and dearest.
Their memory will be hallowed forever. They will forever live in the memory of the Jewish People.
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