The Destruction of Motele

11. Between Hope And Despair

On the eleventh, I went to the aunt and she told me that Soltus, the village elder, was called to Jonava, to the authorities in order to receive new instructions. When he returned the next day, new notices were pasted saying not to cause harm to the remaining Jews and that all Jews leaving their hiding places and reporting to the police would receive food, clothing and also places to live.

Our healthy instincts said to us that this was only a poisonous and devilish trick to get rid of the last remnant. But nevertheless we became less cautious and went out more frequently to ask what was going on in Motol and if any Jews were to be seen there, because we have not met any Jews for days even though we searched for them. Here we met a village Jew from our area and he told us of two Jews from Motol who walked back to town after it became known to them that Jews were beginning to get together again and twelve Jews were already there and they resided in two large houses that were returned to the Jews. His words were confirmed by Gentiles from the village that we happened to meet along the way and they added that already more than fifty Jews were in Motol. We decided to also approach the town and see with our own eyes what was happening. By a twisted path, through gardens and yards we entered before evening the village and arrived at the aunt’s house. But our eyes were on the houses and our ears to the walls, and despite all our care not to be observed, immediately some villagers came to us. Some brought us a few potatoes and a bottle of milk. We cooked the potatoes in their presence and for the first time, a cooked meal. We cooked in the middle of the road, because the stoves and burners were smashed by those seeking booty. We stayed in the village at the aunt’s for a number of days. Every morning, we would leave the village and sneak into the field to hide ourselves from the villagers, many of them who openly expressed their sorrow that we were still alive.

Mostly we spent our time in washing and cleaning by the river. We had not changed our clothes during the entire time and were infested by lice and other creatures that multiplied on us and sucked the remainder of our blood.

One bright morning, Mordechai Chimerinski’s son (Malyosh) came and he told us about life in town and who was still alive and by what miracles they survived and the attitude of the authorities to the remaining refugees, and the activities of the local police; who among the police treated us fairly and who not. He told us of the destruction of the houses and streets and the graves in the yards, of the Jews who arrived in the town of Jonava and met their tragic fate. He stayed with us that day. The purpose of his coming was to verify if anyone of his family remained.

He told us about some other sad incidents, how even the heavens conspired to fight the Jews, exterminate them and hand them over to the enemy. The incident was like this. He was hiding by a Christian in the village of Molodovo and the few Jews of Molodovo were also hiding in the granary of a Christian far from the village. And to fill the cup of sorrow with tears, rain began to fall, mixed with thunder and lightning and the lightning struck the granary and killed a young man, father of three children on the spot. Actually, many afterwards were envious that he died without humiliation and suffering, but the tragedy broke their spirit horribly.
 

12. The First Extermination In Jonava

Chimerinski told us about the fate of Jonava’s Jews with the following words:

Some of the Jews were from Motol and they were: Shimon Bolonditski and Hershel Shuchman and his sister Chayah and Yosef Polick and David Shuchman, Shlomke’s son. They arrived after much hardship and suffering to the town of Jonava on that same Saturday night of death, and told them there of the cup of sorrow that overtook Motol. But the Jews there mocked them and said that such things could not be, and only on Sunday when some Christians arrived and told what happened also to the women ; only then did they begin to fear that it was true. On the second night, they gathered the Jews of Jonava, stripped them of their clothing down to the skin and forced them to sing and dance while in their underwear 10 and sent them home. Now the fear began to infest their minds, but nevertheless they comforted themselves that these degradations finished the matter and no more harm would come to them. The four mentioned Jews, refugees from Motol, were at their brother-in-law in Jonava at his house which was at the edge of the city on the way leading to Motol and since they had learned from experience, they refused to sleep in the house but hid in the attic. But bad luck - in the form of a Polish policeman from the Bankarovski family who lived next to the brother-in-law’s house- pursued them. He noticed Chayah Shuchman as a new face and reasoned that there certainly must be more Jews in the house. On Tuesday the 12th of Av 11 the blood thirsty command was issued for all Jewish males from the age of sixteen to sixty to gather in the market square. Then the eyes of the Jews of Jonava were opened and they understood that what the people of Motol said was true and they all immediately went underground and only a few followed the command. When the Nazis saw the small number of men, they took several Polish policeman and went from house to house picking up the Jews. That is how the above mentioned policeman arrived at the Bankarovski residence who of his own freewill joined the Germans in order to kill and loot came to the same house where the people from Motol were hiding and found them in the attic together with the head of the house. There they attacked them with heavy blows and afterwards ordered them to go down a ladder that was placed there. But the slow descent did not please the blood thirsty one who threw them from the room to the ground, And David Shuchman broke a leg. When commanded to go out into the main street wretched David begged to be killed on the spot, but they refused in order to increase his suffering and ordered two Jews to carry him to the place being shown. Shimon Bolonditski’s fate was very sad. He was also staying with a family from Jonava and when the Nazis began to search the houses, they begged him to hide with them. But he was overcome with a terrible despair. He remembered the fate of the people of Motol and especially that of his wife and children, and declared that death was better than life without his family. He left the hiding place to the front of the house, stood on the steps and waited for the Nazis to take him and free him from his terrible loneliness. He did not wait long. The blood suckers appeared at once and took him with them. They tied him to the horse reins and dragged him as they hurried to carry out the terrible cleansing.

That was told by one of the survivors. The Nazis led those they found in groups and at every street corner and intersection, bands of Jews stood under heavy guard and on the main street, all of them were combined into a horrific procession on their final journey. Some of the people who could not keep up and continue were taken out of the line and shot on the street in full view. A terrible silence settled as they passed by. It was forbidden to utter a sound. They were brought to some sort of side road, stood up in rows of four, photographed, and were immediately shot by a Nazi riding on his horse. After four kneeled and were show down, another four were brought and another Nazi was given the honor of spilling blood. Every Nazi there saw it as a great privilege to take part in the murder of Jonava’s Jews, and divided it up among themselves until the last of the Jewish groups that included our poor refugees.

That is how Chimerinski’s story ended. As evening approached we began to prepare to go and stay at the village and Hershel headed towards Motol. Before we separated, he invited us to come to Motol to say Kaddish for our relatives, because there were already two Minyans 12 in the town and they all said Kaddish.
 
 

13. The First Visit

We decided to visit Motol. A tremendous yearning came over us to express our feeling of being orphaned and be among Jews, to hug them, to cry on their shoulders until our last breath, and to find comfort in the prayer that was handed down from generation to generation that would give a feeling of peace and security. This is a wonder prayer that does not blind me to what need prompted it. But, after reciting it, you feel as if you are gently held by strong hands, pressing you like a merciful mother and you feel lightened and relieved. This is the magical prayer which I recited in the synagogue when my father died during my youth leaving me an orphan with my broken, mourning mother. Nothing could console her and she calmed down only when she heard me say, "Yitgadal, vayitkadash, shmay, rabah." My feeling of bitterness gathered within me until I felt that I would explode. The tears welling in my eyes did not ease this terrible burden and with every fiber of my being, I yearned for the moment, I could spill out my anger and terrible sorrow, declaring protest through the calming, caressing words of the Kaddish. I now began to understand their meaning and eternal value. There are many attempts to destroy the Jew during his lifetime, but if he turns only towards the One worthy of worship despite the wrath He pours down on us, the Jew’s strength will be eternal. Despite of all the Hitlers who stood and stand against us during every generation, we survive and continue and even if just a small group, but a Minyan of Jews to proclaim loudly, "Yitgadal, vayitkadash, shmay, rabah." And anyone disparaging Him also disparages us as it is written, "The blood of your servants will rise up and seek vengence against their oppressors." 13

Reuven and I at once felt exalted as if some secret force was urging us on and without saying a word our feet carried us toward Motol. That was on Thursday, the fourteenth day after the terrible slaughter. By roads that could barely be called roads we arrived at the wretched town. The cursed inhabitants looked at us with horrible eyes radiating hatred, saying to each other that despite everything Jews are still alive.

We arrived at Berel Gotanski’s (Minx) house where some of the wretched refugees could be found. We embraced each other and no pen could describe our feelings and wailing. Here we were all equals. There was no rich or poor, high born or lowly. All of us were poor orphans who for some reason were passed over by death leaving us in pain and sorrow without a tomorrow or future and expecting, at any moment, to be wiped off the face of the Earth.

After we calmed down a bit, everybody began to tell what happened and how they were saved. Between sentences, a heart wrenching sigh would be heard. Between the words lay the piercing question: Would it have been better for us to be with our friends, parents, children, wives and relatives? Was it better for them or us?

While still talking, I heard one call another let us try to get a little food to revive us. "Get" meaning to stand with our hand our like beggars in front of the murderers of our parents, our children, the thieves of our own property and labor who perhaps might return us our bread which they stole, a torn shirt, a pair of shoes which were taken. How great was the pain and how great was the shame. But the will to live controlled us and we were too weak to resist and logic had no sway with us. You do not ask if you want to live but you bang your head like the plants in the legend who were commanded by an angel, "Grow!" I remember the passage Ezekial 16:6 XXXXX

In the midst of all this, messengers from the other group of refugees came to bring us to them. They were in Zelik Stravitch’s (the butcher) house. Here was a heartbreaking scene. Each survivor was so precious to his friend, more than brothers longing for each other for years. It was no wonder that our crying split the heavens and we could not refrain from hugging and kissing each other.

Here I found three of our children who miraculously survived. One was twelve years old and the child of Chaim Hatabolkai. The second was the child of Berel Pomerantz from Holyush. The third was the above mentioned Zelik Stravitch’s grandson, the son of Hanyah Rebah. A great miracle happened to him and everyone had to talk about it . Everyone tried to talk about the boy’s cleverness despite his youth, almost an infant, he felt the terrible sorrow of our people, was not a burden and tried to help with all his strength according to his young understanding.

Look at what had happened to this child. When the Nazis issued in the town the proclamation ordering the women and children to gather at the religious school, the child’s mother, her sister Chinkah and another woman with an infant from the town’s refugees, decided to escape from the murderers. By using the yards and gardens, they managed to pass the guards and reach the river behind the town. But they were pursued by a bad luck. They were spotted from afar by someone from the Black Gang who pursued them on horseback, blocked them and forced them back to town. Meanwhile, they left the path and found themselves stuck in one of the many swamps near the river bank. Slowly they began to sink in the muck and only with super human strength they held each other’s hand so as not to completely drown. One of the Nazi guards spotted this scene and found pleasure in shooting at these live targets. He aimed his machine gun at the miserable people. The bullets whistled pass and around them without hitting them. He toyed with his victims for about a quarter of an hour and when tired of this cursed game, he switch to automatic and a hail of bullets rained down on the unfortunate ones. First, the mothers were hit and then the children, But the above mentioned child was hurt only in his hand and he crouched under his Aunt Chinkah in the water. Afterward he crawled to a dry, less exposed spot and stayed until sundown and from there reached the forest.

The boy’s father miraculously remained alive. But everyone envied the boy’s grandfather. He was the only one remaining with a family.
 
 

14. A Meal Together

Little by little, those who went to the city searching for food gathered. They set up a table for everyone. There was no mine and yours. This rule was not only for food but clothes and underclothes also. The danger united everyone. The proximity to the great grave united the remaining refugees more than family ties. But my conscience would not allow me to share in the food that others risked their lives for. So I went out with my friend Reuven to "grab" something. I succeeded in getting some underwear a few loaves of bread and some more food. All this was from the property that I handed over to a Gentile neighbor during the crisis. I saw the Gentile’s hands shake as he handed over things from my own store. He had not expected that he would have to give up the sacks of wheat and grain, the clothes and shoes handed over to him, and I felt what he wished me in his heart, but nevertheless he gave. Thank God, I was later able with some other partisans to send him and some other thieves to the same place they want to send us.

My friend Reuven had no luck. He was chased out of every place by a pitchfork and threats.

Most of the food that I gathered I left for the other refugees and the rest I kept for us. We quietly ate and chewed the bread that was so bitter. We sipped some cold water and so ended the meal. We departed from everyone and promised to return on Saturday for services, because we did not dare to get together and we returned to our village of Tishkavitch.
 
 

15. Hope and Despair

When we returned, we met my aunt and her sons and their faces were glowing with joy. When I asked the reason for their happiness they answered that an old man from the village let them harvest the fields that belonged to her and from now on there is no need to beg for bread and we would have our own bread. Also those that stole from her the animals and cows agreed to bring us a bottle of milk every day. We would start to harvest already tomorrow. We would harvest with a scythe and not a sickle and after the harvest we would thresh right away. On Monday of next week they would already prepare us bread and we would send the rest to those in Motol.

At dawn on Friday we went out to the field and worked diligently until evening. The Sabbath Queen arrived. We received the Sabbath with Psalms and the "Song of Solomon"; we recited the Sabbath and evening service and made a Kiddush 14 on a few slices of bread given to us by the cursed Gentiles and lay down to rest.

The next day we rose and went town. A Christian woman appeared before us gave us an apple and whispered, "Run for your lives!" Notices have been posted in Motol promising a large reward for every live Jew found and handed over to the Germans. My blood froze and I did not know what to do. Should I believe this or be doubtful? If she just wanted to frighten me, why give me an apple? Why tell me that she saw my cousin Piniah Karolinski and the two sons of Yoel Yashpah -- Abba and Yehudah and also Eliezer and Yakov Sharashavski who passed through her yard on the way to the main street. I returned to my aunt and repeated what I heard. She said that they certainly meant only those who have not yet returned and are still in hiding, but we already came back. But my mind was not easy until we decided that we five men who are here will go to the village of Dadvitch where the family of Mishkin Shalom (the son of Yakov Shlomo Ben Reuven) and Reuven Mishkin’s sons lived, and where we could more easily hide if necessary. Because it was told to us that the village’s Jews and some Jews from the village of Pantsvitch returned from their hiding places.

Only four people finally went to Dadvitch - Reuven Mishkin and I and my cousin and another Jew from the village unharmed from the bullets during his escape. We traveled on convoluted paths until arriving at the village. We met a farmer and asked him about the village’s Jews. His answer was that he saw them yesterday begging. He advised us to be careful because the Germans want to deceive us and pretend they will not kill more Jews but actually they will be captured as soon as a group large enough gathers. We thanked him and immediately went to the house containing the remaining Jews. There we repeated the tragic scene and greeted one another with heart breaking cries. After we calmed down, I asked what was new in town and they answered nothing except for old problems. During the conversation, two more Jews arrived, father and daughter, the only girl still alive in the entire area. They came to search for one of their relatives who they heard was still alive. I asked him about the notices posted in Motol. He told me that when the Germans arrived at Molodatchnah next to Vilna to rid the city of its Jews, the Jews met them with rifle short, killed a few of them and escaped. So they put up notices throughout the area stating that anyone capturing a Jews from the above mentioned city and handing him over would receive a prize of a thousand Krovinitz (type of coin) and also ten hectares of land. This claim settled our minds and so as not to lose time we rose at once to go to Motol. Before going, a Jew tossed me the information that Nisan and Chaim Zaditovski (sons of Mordechai the smith) also returned home from the forests and with them also was David Kroyitski. They were in their house at the edge of the city. The house was old and made a very poor impression so no Gentile desired to live there and it remained empty. Now the sons returned home in the hope they would find some food they had hidden. With a lighter heart, I parted from them and Reuven and I went to Motol while the two others went back to Tishkavitch to calm those still there.

We arrived in town and entered directly into Mordechai Zaditovski’s to meet friends. There are no words to describe this emotional reunion. We cried on each other’s shoulder and could not stop from embracing and kissing each other. After the excitement of the meeting passed, we sat down, tired and warn out, and sobbed silently, unable to regain our composure. We gradually calmed down and everyone began his "story" and David Kroyitski had the most to tell. This was his story:
 
 

16. David Kroyitski’s Story

After I departed from you with my cousin Shlomo-Benyamin Bahones in order to save my parents and family, the German guard let met enter. But as they noticed us sneaking in by winding paths, they began to fire on us. With great difficulty we managed to break into Avigdor’s garden and arrived at the forest back at the same place from which we left them (that is from me and Reuven Mishkin and my cousins Yosef and Hershel Polick and Moshe, David’s little brother) and we crossed the river. As we crossed over, some Gentiles from the black gang attacked us, and in the melee they grabbed the youths and dragged them back to the river, and we managed to escape without knowing what was done to the youths. We ran towards the fields of Fritz Yorgenson. We were pursued by Hachcriflboy’s sons, Chavdor, riding a horse and shouting all the time, "Here are Jews! Your end is near!" Suddenly Shlomo Ungerman popped out from some place and joined us calling out, "Guys! Do you know which direction and where you’re running to?" We looked and saw two Nazis chasing us and shouting, "Halt, Stop." We then split up and began to run in different directions. They fired at us and I was hit in the hand. I fell to the ground and heard Shlomo Polick sighing bitterly. My head was spinning but I was able to hear nearby footsteps. I held my breath and lay dead still. My ears picked up voices, "The Jew is still alive." I felt a great blow and lost consciousness. I do not remember for how long I lay there. When I woke up, it still felt like I was in the throes of a dream and I did not know if I was alive or not. Gradually my senses returned to me and I remembered what took place. I tried to move a hand and it did move. Encouraged by the experiment, I tried also to lift my head and did not succeed. My head felt heavy as if it was lined with lead. I opened my eyes and noticed a puddle of blood around me. I began to feel the blood still flowing from me. I tried to remember how I arrived at this situation and what to do in such a case. I then remembered the rule taught in the army that I must first stop the flow of blood. In order to do this it was necessary to rip my shirt to shreds and tightly bind the wounds. I ripped the rest of my shirt and after a few attempts managed to rip a wide swath of cloth and bandaged my hand. But I still felt the blood flowing from my body and with my healthy hand felt my body to find the place of the wounds; my hand stopped on the part of my neck as it was glued to it. I kept on feeling around until I began to again feel with my hand warmth and also pain. I tore another strip from my dirty shirt and bandaged my neck. After these efforts, I was forced to lay still and rest. After a quarter of an hour, I once again gathered my strength, opened my eyes and looked around. I noticed that I was barefoot even though before I wore shoes. My eyes happened upon one shoe. It was next to me. A few meters away was the other one. I remembered that I had a wrist watch. I felt my hand to check if it was there - it was not. Also my wallet and money was taken from me. I was seized by helpless rage as some hidden strength lifted me off the ground and I began to run some distance towards the swamps. Every minute I stopped to gather strength and wet my dry lips with swamp water. Evening was approaching as I arrived at the river. I walked all night along the river until arriving at the house of an old Christian woman. When the old woman saw my sorry state, she took pity on me and immediately tore a strip from her clean blouse and picked some leaves that were known to stop bleeding and bandaged my hand and neck. I realized then that fortunately no bullet remained in my body, but passed through my hand and neck and then exited. The old woman also gave me bread to eat and milk to drink and another proper slice of bread and a bottle of milk for the road, and showed the way to the forests of Saforvah and its swamps. After a few days there, I met Nisan and Chaim Zaditovski who also hid there. For two weeks, my wounds became scabs as I bandaged them each day. After three weeks a rumor reached us that the Jews of Motol were gathering again and we also returned. During the day we stayed in Mordechai Zaditovski’s house and only at night we slept in the loft of the cow shed.
 
 

17. And Your Life Hangs On A Thread

Just as he finished his story, we noticed two Jewish women from Molodovo walking in the direction of Zaziryah. We called for them and they told us that they were going to the above mentioned village to verify the rumor that two children remained alive there and they wished to take them because they were relatives. We asked them if they had seen Jews from Nishtut and one joined the women to show them the way to Dadvitch because by that time there were no Jews in Zaziryah and in the house that had lived the Jews there were already some Gentile "punks" from the Black Gang. The four that went to Nishtut were: me, Reuven Mishkin, David Kroyitski and Chaim Zaditovski. Nisan went with the women.

When we began to cross the main road in the direction of Nishtut and passed by the Jewish homes, I felt a pang in my heart and said to my friend that it would be better to go by an indirect route. Deathly silence settled on the street. No longer would children’s laughter be heard as they played street games, no home owner would discuss the news of the world. Weeds spread around the houses, and in the most beautiful houses, new faces were seen, the faces of our successors, our Christian neighbors.

We crossed over to the side streets, and went by my Uncle Benyamin Polick’s house from which I fled the day of the killing. So, we went by David Kroyitski’s house. In these two houses were the new owners and their little brats playing and raising a ruckus and chasing us calling "Zhid idot" (Jews are coming).

Once again we came to the main street of Nishtut. There we saw houses without windows and houses without doors, a ceiling or a floor. From time to time some Gentile would appear sneaking through the back door with a household item in hand that he needed. We saw some Gentiles poking around and digging under the floors looking for buried treasure. With a heart full of rage and sorrow we arrived at the house in which gathered the remainder of the refugees. There I found my cousin Pinchas Karolinski and also Eliezer and Yakov Sharashavski and the brothers Abba and Yehudah Yashpah. There was a scene of sobbing and tears. I embraced Pinchas Karolinski and we bitterly wept and he continually sighed, "The children! they all suffered an unnatural death, all of them..."

We continued our conversation punctuated from time to time with bouts of tears in order to unburden ourselves, and then began to pray the afternoon service. My heart was full of sorrow and anger and found it difficult to pronounce the words and felt that something bad was about to happen near me.

In the middle of the prayer a policeman showed up and asked Moshe Chimerinski (Fashischber) who was appointed by the local authority to be responsible for receiving and carefully carrying out their commands regarding the Jews. The policeman asked Moshe if the Jews had enough food and he answered that nothing was lacking for now. The policeman left by the courtyard. After ten minutes we saw a truck pass by with two Nazis and began to sense that something not good was about to happen. Moshe Chimerinski went out at once and found a kid that he knew to send to the market to check out why the Nazis were here, what was their purpose and where they were staying. My cousin Pinchas Karolinski could not control himself and wait until the "informant" returned and went himself to the market to find out why the Germans had come. The Sharashavski brothers and the Yashpah brothers also went with him and they asked me to go with them. We went to the market by the river and when we arrived we first entered the house of a Gentile woman, a friend of the Sharashavski brothers and they requested her to find out why the Nazis had come. She refused at first. But after much pleading one of the family’s kids agreed to go. At the same time, my cousin went to another Christian; before he went, he said to me to come to him once I know what is going on and tell him and discuss what to do. I answered him that I could not part from my friend Reuven and leave him alone after all that we had went through together had bound us together and also when I hear something I will first tell all the surviving Jews.

I soon as the kid left for the market, the Gentile woman started "rebuking" the Jews. In her opinion the extermination of the Jews is a good thing because all Jews are cheats and thieves and traitors. We listened to her in silence as her words pricked our flesh. May what we wished upon her at the time befall on her today. Meanwhile one of the Yashpah brothers looked at the window and saw a Gentile acquaintance of his return from the market square. He went out and asked him the news. The Gentile told him that the two Nazis came to get milk and butter from the dairy and other than that, nothing was new. They were still talking when one of the Christians returned with the same story. We thanked him for this "kindness" and went. Abba Yashpah agreed to come with me to Nishtut and calm the refugees. The Sharashavski brothers and Yehudah Yashpah returned to their place promising to meet Pinchas Karolinski and give him the news. It was growing dark as we reached Nishtut. Those that arrived first had already told that the Germans had come only to take milk and butter from the dairy and so there was nothing to fear. I searched for my friend Reuven Mishkin and David Kroyitski and Chaim Zaditovski, but did not find them. I asked Leibel Rozenkrantz about them and he told me that all of them except for Reuven went to Chaim Zaditovski’s house and Reuven went to his nephew Shalom Mishkin in the village of Dadvitch and will return tomorrow and asked me to wait for him. During the conversation, we began to pray the evening service. I stood at the window and looked out. Suddenly I noticed three policemen on bicycles passing by and looking into the house in which we were staying. This was the house of Berel Minx . My head began to swim and right away told everyone there, but they told me only because I was used to being in hiding was I seeing the shadows of mountains as mountains and after a few days in the city, I will adjust and not be frightened by the appearance of a policeman. Abba Yashpah told me that he was going to his uncle Zelik Stravitch’s house which was only two courtyards away and was able to reach it by a garden and he would see me tomorrow. Leibel Rozenkrantz invited me to come with him to sleep in a house that nobody knew was being used by Jews.

We finished praying and began to prepare to eat the rough bread and water, but I could not eat. Something made me uneasy. I was filled with foreboding. I told those sitting around the table that I want to see the street at night and if anyone is lurking around on the street because I was concerned that some of the locals had learned what was going on and might attack us in the night’s darkness. I went out to the yard myself and began to look around. I noticed some policemen around the house in which the refugees were eating their meager fare. One of the policemen sneaked around on his tiptoes and looked through a window that was blacked out. I heard them whispering to each other. After this, they went on their way. I suddenly heard steps in the yard. I understood from the glint of a white shirt that it was not a policeman walking about because the police wore dark uniforms. I began to walk in the direction of the steps and there was Banyah Stravitch (Zelik’s son) who had come out to check how I was. With a choked voice, I told him about the police wandering about, looking through the window and asked him to stand in my place for a while as I informed the other residents. But they ridiculed me and my fear and only a few said that they would take precautions. They went out and asked Banyah if he had seen the police and he told them on the other side of the street, opposite from the house stood a few police and they were also hiding less they be observed when whispering to each other. Fear began to affect everyone but it was still necessary to eat and Moshe Chimerinski told the people that it was necessary to kneed dough in order to make bread tomorrow. Abba Kot (the mason Moshe Fridel’s son) began to prepare the dough. The others began to prepare to disperse to sleeping places.
 
 

18. Crying In The Night

The refugees dispersed, each one to his own hiding place. Every group of two or three had a hiding place unknown to the other Jewish groups and nobody knew of the others’ hiding places. This was a tactic, not a hard and fast rule, taken as a precaution because when a Jew was caught in a hiding place, he was tortured and forced to reveal the hiding places of his friends; there were instances of being unable to withstand the torture and even some handed over family members. Two others and myself found a place to sleep and they were Leibel Rozenkrantz and Avigdor Chernomortz - Leebah Yishayahas’ brother-in-law. The "hotel" was in Avigdor’s house. The house was in Nishtut. On one side was Yishayahu Portnoy’s (Daniels) house and on the other side, about four meters away, stood the house of Abba Kot who was known as "Kaban." Behind Abbah’s house was the house of MordechaiNatan Chimerinski and opposite stood the house of Valul Pomerantz (known as Piniuk) and in towards the exit from the village stood the house of Avraham Chimerinski (Galiup). In all of the houses, could be found Jews staying the night. Avigdur’s house was blocked from all sides; the doors and windows were boarded up. When we reached the yard, Avigdor went to the wall of the overhanging porch and opened some sort of secret window, dragged over a wooden log and stepped on to it, and that is how he entered the porch and singled us to follow. After we also went through the narrow window, he closed it from within and camouflaged it and led us to a small, dark room, lit a candle and arranged for us sleeping places on the floor. Before laying down, I watch him carrying a pile of letters and some torn photographs and breaking into bitter weeping as he approaches and joins scraps together and shows us pictures of his children and the letters he wrote to his fiancee seventeen years ago who was afterward his wife and bore him seven children. Among the letters, one stood out that had a red heart drawn on it, and he explained that he sent this letter to his bride when he feared that she would not agree to marry him and expressed his feelings with a wounded heart. He showed us more letters full of longing and hope of a bright future. And so he sat and revealed to us his most private feelings and his eyes were wet with tears. Finally he packed his letters and shred of photographs and cried out "miserable me, father of seven children whom I loved with all my heart and forced to watch them standing among forty children clutching and kissing each other and I could not lift a finger to help them."

My heart broke watching this man whose fate had been treated so cruelly and with tears in my eyes, I tried to comfort him and could not. We sat and cried over our private fate which made up only a small part of the cold and dark fate waiting our people.
 
 

19. Destruction Of The Remnants

We lay down to sleep. Below us was spread some old clothes and on them a sack as sort of a sheet. Avigdor and Leibel Rozenkrantz took off their clothes, but I kept my clothes on because I was uneasy and restless. I fell asleep immediately and did not hear the two others whispering to each other.

Suddenly I felt as if a hidden hand was waking me from a dead and I heard the sound of foot steps. I opened my eyes and strained my ears to prove that I was not dreaming and heard a clear command, "Two of you stand next to the window to make sure that nobody escapes." Right afterwards, came the sounds of knocking a shout of "Otkroy", that means "Open!". The voice seemed to come from afar and I could not understand what was going on around us. After a while, the voices grew louder and closer, "Open Now!" The knocking became more insistent, "Open Up! This is the police! We came to search." Now I was wide awake and woke my friends. Frightened and hard pressed they sat helplessly without knowing what to do. I shook them a bit to make them more alert and spoke to encourage them to get a grip on themselves so that we could decide what to do, but they already had a plan that I was unaware of. Avigdor was unable to put on his pants because he was so nervous that his limbs were shaking. Despite this, Leibel Rozenkrantz calmed himself a little, brought us into another room and said to me, "Find a ladder, climb to the attic and we’ll stay there until the danger passes." I felt around with my hands until I found the ladder and with shaking knees, I climbed it and after me Leibel and Avigdor came up. There I clearly heard voices from the street, "Open, Jews! The police!" and we stood frozen without knowing what else to do. Avigdor was the first to come to his senses and quietly said, "Let’s go up the ladder and camouflage the entrance to the roof." The three of us began to pull ourselves up the ladder. The ladder banged several times with the roof beam and the knocking sounds froze our blood, but luckily for us nothing was heard outside amidst the din and the shooting augmented the din. We managed to go up the ladder and closed the entrance and shut it tightly so that someone standing below could discern that here was an entrance.
The sounds of shooting grew louder and desperate cries pierced the silence of the night. A mounted rider approached and we heard the command, "Gather all the prisoners to one place and see that they don’t escape and make them unable to escape..."

The morning light began to reach us through the cracks of the roof. Avigdor approached the crack and peered out onto the street. Suddenly a horrible cry pierced the air, "Gevald! Help!" and echoes of rifle buts. The shouting went on for a few minutes and afterwards silence... Avigdor jumped from his place and burst out, "Oy! Look how they’re killing our brothers! with spades!"

For the thousandth time, our blood froze and we were seized by a terrible despair. There was no escape here! No chance! We stood together in utter confusion, suddenly Avigdor jumped from his place and ran to the other side of the attic, lowered from there a rope that hung since they lived there and was used for hanging laundry and shouted that he was going to put an end to his life...death is easier then waiting for the murderers to split his head with a hoe. We jumped on him and got the rope by saying there would be sufficient chance to hang himself when there was no hope of escaping from the murderers. The words were aimed more at ourselves then at him and while talking I took out a pocket knife, cut the long rope in three pieces and gave one to each. Each us went to a corner of the room and prepared a hang man’s noose to be used in case our hiding place was revealed. We were enveloped by a cold tranquillity as each of us carefully measured the rope around his neck, checking its length and if it will do the job. We felt the rustling of the wings of the Angel of Death as he looked down on us and we prepared to greet him and carry out his work by ourselves. But during all this, we gave each other sideways glances to see who was really doing it .

Destruction reined around us. In cow sheds and cellars were tens of broken and decrepit Jews, closer to being skeletons than human beings. They had done no evil to anyone and had not broken the law. Their only desire was to shut their eyes for a few hours and to gather strength to suffer the persecution and to beg for a crust of bread. But this group of shadows loomed large in the minds of the murderers who jumped on their hiding places, dragged them from the piles of hay and rags which they slept on, beat and tortured them and finally "mercifully" put them out of their misery with a bullet.

This time too, some managed to escape. There were those that escaped unharmed from the murderers and those who were honored with injuries on different parts of their bodes from the shooting. Among the wounded was Moshe Chimerinski (Fashischber) whose hand was hit by a bullet and the brothers Meir and Hershel Chimerinski (Malyosh) who were wounded in the feet. Unfortunately, they were caught and fell into the hands of the murderers.

This bloody game continued until five in the morning and quieted down for a half an hour because the rain began to fall. It was not worth it to get wet because of these dirty Jews and any case they won’t escape and will fall into their hands. When the rain let up, Avigdor looked through a small hole outwards. There were ten local Gentiles walking with hoes in their hands, being led by a mounted policeman.

Again a half an hour of anticipation passed that seemed to us like years, and sounds of voices and shouting and water splashing reached our ears. Avigdor signaled to us to get down and crawl over to him. When we got to the edge of the roof, we say through the cracks a horrible sight. The refugees were standing in the street. They were beaten and wounded and almost unrecognizable, all of them were barefoot and only partly clad. They were surrounded and guarded by Gentles riding bareback. One of them put reins on the druggist David Gornisch’s neck while he was carrying a wounded person on his shoulders, and from time to time, the Gentile would add to this burden by urging him on with a blow of the whip to his head. Later it became know to me from one of the survivors that the wounded person that David was carrying on his back was the handicapped daughter of Yisrael Eizenberg, the shoe maker. She lived in the Gentile’s house on the Gentiles’ street. She survived the first slaughter because the Germans said it would be a pity to waste a bullet on someone who would anyway die of hunger, since no one will give her food. How did she survive until now? That is the secret of the Lord above. But now that the local Gentiles have been given permission, they did not hesitate to waste the bullet and shot her in her bed, loaded her on the above mentioned David and ordered him to bring her to a pit they prepared. The blows echoed all around. The sounds of the whips mixed with the whistling of the pitch forks and the wild voices of the bloodthirsty hooligans who drove the Jews yelling, "Skoro! Frendko! am Chika Nah Magilah". In other words, "Hurry! Move! The grave is waiting for you!"

Our eyes filled with blood at this sight. Exhausted and helpless, we knelt in the corner of the attic. We watched without reacting because our tongues froze. Our tongues loosened a bit and each began to mumble the names of those he knew among those being led to death. The noise of an approaching car, interrupted our thoughts. Avigdor looked out and recognized the truck with the two Nazis whom we saw on the Sabbath and said that they came for butter and milk and they were now traveling in the same direction as the Jews were being led. After a few minutes, the sound of gunfire announced to us the end of the remaining Jews. Our hearts were shattered. The end came to our remaining brothers with whom only last night we spent time in the hope that we would see the end of the cursed Germans. The end has come! No illusions. No hope. And how I envied them. They already finished their all so stupid and cruel lives. Avigdor suddenly got up and ran right to the place he prepared his rope, but we managed to stop him in time and with the remainder of our strength we sat on him so that he could not move. Wild singing reached our ears and marching was heard accompanied by arrogant whistling and barbaric cries. These were the locals who finished their work quenching their thirst for poor Jewish blood. I also heard boasting of a murder to the police commander, "Sir, I myself murdered twenty seven Jews" and the second bragged that he shot eight Jews. We stopped looking out of the cracks. The suspense drained away and we lay there helplessly trembling.

My thoughts charged ahead. It had been a long time since I could contemplate in the midst of such "tranquillity." The imagination set sail to far off worlds. Images of my nearest and dearest floated past. Everyone had a face, a look, a smile and they were so close that I could almost reach out and hug them. And I cling to each one of them in my imagination. It’s so good! And I turn towards the table with fragrant bread, so tempting and I’m so hungry and in a little while, I will wash my heads and my teeth will bite into tasty, delicate bread and I swallow my spit...a burst of shooting stops my ruminations. They split the morning air and invaded my thoughts and forced me back into the cramped air of the attic. The morning light began to pierce the cracks of the roof, and we lay down and were afraid to look up lest we be spotted. Only now I understand how ridiculous it was to be afraid of being spotted through a crack, but then I was genuinely afraid. As the saying goes, "Fear has big eyes." I sometimes thin that a deeper reason prevented me from looking outside. I was afraid to discover that we were the only ones remaining from all the Jews of the town and I was afraid of the terrible truth that the three of us make up what was once the town of Motol.

For about half an hour we lay there observing and hearing the voices speaking the vulgar language of the Gentiles, "Yah vesich tav vasich tarbah zabiti", i.e. We have to kill all of the! "Htg, michitisayeh, "it’s tiring." Leibel threw out a glance and uttered between his teeth, "That’s Tsagan, the cop and speaking with him is Tarsichah Makorjovkah. We continued to lay down quietly and I will relate to you what I saw. They are going to Danielichah’s yard. A voice rips into us, "Come over here and help us get at the Jewess." The two of us got up and we got close to the cracks of the roof in order to see who was being talked about. A heartbreaking sight was spread before our eyes. Several Gentiles were dragging an old Jewish woman. One held her by the hand and the other by her foot as she was dragged on the ground. We recognized her as Yishayahu Portnoy’s (Deanielichah) mother who was bedridden because of ill health and was somehow passed over by the Angel of Death during both slaughters. But now the Gentiles entered the houses with impunity to loot and pillage, knowing full well that the Jews would never return, found her struggling with bitter death. They stopped a policeman from the locals that who volunteered to help the Germans and requested him to finish her off and wipe out the memory of the Jews of Motol. He was receptive to their suggestion. He called for some more Gentiles and they dragged her to the backyard of her house, placed her on the ground and then the police said to her, "Now Jewess, death comes to you too" and shot her. He ordered those standing around to bury her, jumped on his bicycle and rode off.

The entire day we lay down as if were paralyzed. It was clear to us that we were the last observers of the sorrowful picture because all was over finished. Our world had sunk into oblivion and there was no purpose to our lives as individuals, lonely, depressed, an invitation for abuse to anyone who discovered us.
 
 

20. A War For Survival

Sunday arrived, the beginning of the month of Elul. 15 This day was designed, one time, to remind Jews that the "Days Of Awe" were approaching, the Days of Judgment now broke out over a city empty of Jews and reminded the Gentiles that they were rid of their hated enemies and they loudly expressed their joy. They will not have to return the stolen goods. Nobody will glare at them if they decorate themselves with the Jew’s jewelry.

During that Sunday, we heard of different plans by the "Black Gang" to divide up the windows and doors of the houses. This one would need some window panes which could certainly be obtained from some house and another said that he needed bricks to make an oven for his son-in-law and he needed to enter a house at night in order to pick up some bricks. Others came by and speculated that certainly none of the Jews remain and even if two or three are left none would dare show himself in town.

All that Sunday we lay and shook with fear that perhaps someone would come here and discover us, but the day passed with no one showing up. And so also passed Monday. Hunger began to bother us and more that than, thirst. Avigdor slowly and carefully went over the entire length of the attic, searching every nook and cranny and came up with some cucumbers that he had kept for planting. The cucumbers were yellow and rotten, but we choose a few of them and hid them for later use as a source of iron and we divided one of them into three parts and gave one to each to eat. I can still taste that cucumber, but the smell of mold and rotting also lingers in my nose. But we saw in these cucumbers a life saving feast and ate them with a hearty appetite. The trouble was that the third of a cucumber aroused our appetites for more and all day long we dreamt up plans for getting real food the next day. We went under the assumption that it would be impossible to poke our nose out for the first three days from the second hiding placer because there would certainly be guards in the streets and alleys in waiting for a surviving Jew. Meanwhile, Avigdor discovered another nine cucumbers that kept us for another three days and if we are not discovered and we should remain here as long as possible until the storm passes. We stayed put from lack of choice. Another night and day passed by for us and during the next evening the sound of knocking reached us from the house. Every part of our bodies froze and we lay there without moving a muscle. From snatches of conversations that came up to us, we understood that they intended to also go up to the attic to check what was there , but luckily for us they put it off until tomorrow because of the darkness and the lack of a ladder, but we clearly heard that they decided to at dawn in order to beat out the others.

We began to feel the ground crumble beneath our feet because we could not remain here. With all our efforts we concentrated on finding another place, but could not come up with anything. Until Leibel Rozenkrantz mentioned that he knew of a good place to hide in that could easily be reached. We directed our eyes at him checking if he was sane and what did he mean by a "very good" place, but he did not take notice of us at all and continued to say that a good place would be Denishtut Synagogue which could be reached in the darkness by some yards. We could enter through the back windows and stand on the Bimah 16 and from there it would not be difficult to reach the attic. Avigdor looked around and found a bag, wrapped the cucumbers with it. He also found a cup that we could use to draw water from the sink in the synagogue. In his search, he found an infant’s shirt which his brother had bought him as a present. He stood there in confusion and began to sob out loud. His entire body began to shake with choked crying and with difficulty calmed down a bit. To this day, I am amazed how it possible for a person to mourn and weep with such fervor. During the days of destruction, with the deaths of thousands, I did not see another person express his sorrow so dramatically. The heart hardens and the feeling dull, but the love for a child is overpowering, for a baby which was born in pain, raised despite the difficulties and whose future could be seen.

At midnight we lowered the ladder and climbed down. The doors were open after the locals burst through them. We left the house and lay down in the garden where potatoes are growing. The weeds hid us a bit as we lay in the garden and listened for people milling about. Meanwhile, we took some potatoes and stuck them in our pockets. After verifying that no one was around, we went on our way smelling of death. As we passed by the yards, we came to some of our martyrs’ graves. There were the graves of Basha Gotanski and her two daughters Nechamakah and Leebah, and the old lad Deanielichah’s grave with its smell of freshly turned earth, and also the grave of Yosef Yojok (Daront) and his wife Devorah who was the sexton of the synagogue. The minutes passed as slowly as our crawling. But finally we arrived at the synagogue. The windows were broken and the wind blew everywhere. We helped each other up to the window and entered. Avigdor immediately ran right to the sink and filled our cup with water. The water was stagnant and yellow and it smelled from afar. But we were so thirsty that we did not notice the odor and drank to our fill. Avigdor first fell on the sink and sipped from it for a long time. I followed him and I never tasted water like that. We also filled the cup and together climbed up into the attic. Meanwhile we lay down an old prayer books and worn talitim 17 and waited for the light of day so that we could camouflage the entrance. At the break of day, we made a bed and piled up high many copies of Exodus and worn prayer books and also books of Psalms and afterward recited Psalms. Chapter after chapter, the words left our mouths with a different flavor for each word and sentence, "Why did the nations rage...against the Lord and his anointed one." 18 I understand now that the Germans are fighting a war not only against the Jews but the Lord above himself. This is a war of the most despised creatures against the Torah of "You will not murder" and "live by the sword." Our murderers know that as long as a single solitary Jew still lives, their wild lust won’t be satisfied, because the Jew is more elevated, exalted and gentle and the heart breaks and pours forth, "Until God forgets me forever, until He hides his face...unless my enemies rejoice in my fall." 19

The children of our parent’s and children’s murderers ran around, enjoying from time to time a Jewish house and returning with full hands. The looting continued. It was still possible to take our doors, remove windows, demolish floors and destroy ovens. And I am wondering: how strange it is, why destroy a house that they can live in? According to our calculations, every Jew in town was already finished and they would never return and who would stay their hand from committing murder. Maybe this shows they are doubtful of a German victory and they have a creeping thought that after the Nazi’s fall, the Jews of the world will rise and demand retribution - at least monetary. Who knows, maybe?

Some young thugs also entered the synagogue and ripped the Torah scrolls before our eyes pressed to the cracks. We heard one say to his friend that this would serve as a covering to his dog house. Their hands did not freeze, their mouths were not struck dumb and our eyes burned from the insult and sorrow. I continued reciting Psalms with a pain in my heart, 20 "Your enemy gathered in anger...they confound your plans...They said go and wipe out their nation and the name of Israel will no longer be remembered...Oh, Lord of the Universe! Treat them as you did Midyan and Sisra... they were exterminated in Ain Dor, the blood ground into the earth...they rolled in the dusk, like a straw in the wind...pursue in storm and startle them in a tempest...they will dry up and cower, pale in shame and be lost..."

That is how our first day passed in the synagogue. The next day was a holiday for the Gentiles called "Seps." For the whole day, village Gentiles came and went in carts and bicycles stolen from us. They passed by, at time to view the destruction of the Jewish quarter. They stooped with folded arms and enjoyed the sight of the destruction. We heard two Gentiles from the village Ausovanitzah whom Leibel knew talking next to the synagogue, and one said to his companion that he supposed there remained some extra windows in the synagogue’s attic that were used during the Winter. He needed the panes of glass and it would be worthwhile to go up and get them. We were shaken to the core on hearing this, but we said to ourselves that they would not do this in the light of day, especially on their holiday when many people were milling about the streets. Truly the day passed and they did not come. The third night also passed by without anyone showing up at the synagogue. Friday arrived. We were laying and thinking of food and water and planning perhaps to make our way to the swamps or forest and hide for a few weeks until we found out what was going on in the towns such as Jonava, Drogichin, Pinsk etc.

Before we were able to come to a decision, the choice was made for us . We heard faint voices coming from the lower part of the synagogue. The raised area which we used to reach the attic was being dismantled. Voices reached us and one said to his companion, "Check up there with your bayonet and maybe you’ll find something." Leibel who was looking through a crack, announced that we were dealing with the police.

The policeman examined the ceiling with his bayonet until he reached the entrance to the attic. When we had come up, we fastened the entrance door with one of the four pillars used to hold up the Chuppah 21 and supported the pillar with a wooden beam so the door would not easily open. Leibel crawled over to the beam and held it so that it would not move, but the knocking of the policeman was too strong and Leibel was not able to hold on any long, and he fled to the corner of the roof facing the street and from there jumped to the roof of the synagogue’s entrance which was lower than that of the synagogue. After him, also jumped Avigdor and I managed to see them jumping from the entrance roof to the ground. I was alone. With lightning quickness, I went to the beam, tightened it so it would not move. I figured out for myself what to do, because it was possible that the police noticed the people jumping from the roof and if I now jumped, they would open fire on me, so I decided also to jump onto the roof of the low room and stay there. And if I saw the police burst into the attic, then I would manage to jump down to the street and hide in one of the gardens, and if they went to go up the ladder that stood outside, then I would jump back to the synagogue’s attic and from there lower myself into the synagogue. In other words, I would play with them a game of cat and mouse. Meanwhile the knocking ceased, I saw two of the policemen leave the synagogue, rifles with bayonets in their hands and they went to the well next to the synagogue. What did they want there? I do not know to this day.
 
 

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Footnotes

  1. This contradiction might be because of mistranslation from the original Yiddish. Return
  2. August 5, 1941 Return
  3. A minyan is the minimum of ten Jewish men needed to recite certain prayers such as the Mourner’s Kaddish. Return
  4. Psalms 137:8 Return
  5. Prayer recited at home on the Sabbath eve usually over wine Return
  6. Elul - Summer month of the Hebrew calendar Return
  7. Bimah - Raised platform in the center of the synagogue from which the Torah is read Return
  8. Prayer shawls Return
  9. Psalms 2:1-2 Return
  10. Psalms 13:2, 5 Return
  11. The following quotes are from chapter 83 of Psalms. Return
  12. Bridal canopy Return


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