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[Page 408]

The Slonim Ghetto – The Final Phase of Its Destruction

Dr. Noach Kaplinsky, Tel Aviv

 

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Dr. Noach Kaplinsky

 

Because we did not succeed in obtaining the continuation of the documentation of our townswoman, Bluma Gedanken, of “Ostrolenkans in the Slonim Ghetto”, we decided to use the description of the final stages of the Slonim Ghetto destruction written by Dr. Kaplinsky here. This is important and vital to us, because most of Ostrolenka's Jews were murdered in the Slonim Ghetto, where they lived after receiving Soviet citizenship. According to a rough estimate, approximately 2,500 souls, comprising more than 50% of our townspeople, were scattered over the length and breadth of what was eastern Poland then. In Poland at that time, lived a large portion of the Jews from cities and towns around Ostrolenka, such as Ostrowa, Mazowiecki, Poltusk, Wyszkow, Goworowo, Rozan, Myszyniec and others. Until the Nazi occupation in June 1941, 30,000 Jews lived in the city of Slonim. Beginning in 1939, when Germany occupied areas of Poland, half of them were refugees.

Dr. Noach Kaplinsky was born in 1909 in the city of Slonim in eastern Poland – today, White Russia. He received a national-traditional education and was a graduate of the medical faculty of the University of Vilna. He was active in student circles and Zionist organizations. Until the German occupation, he had his own medical practice and operated a maternity hospital in Slonim. After the occupation, Dr. Kaplinsky worked as a doctor in the ghetto and in camps, maintaining a semblance of humanity and helping others to the best of his ability.

The war cruelly separated him from his wife and son (their little daughter and the rest of their family was killed in the Holocaust). The family reunited in Israel. Here, Dr. Kaplinsky integrated quickly. For twenty years, he was a member of the Holon municipal council, and was one of the heads of the progressive party. In addition, he worked in the Kupat Cholim [health fund] framework of the Histadrut and Maccabi, served as Chairman of the Israeli Medical Association, was among the founders of the medical faculty of Tel Aviv University and filled other public roles.

Our thanks to Zvi Shefet, Chairman of the Association of Slonim Jews in Israel, for his permission to use this valuable documentary material.

Jewish Community of Ostrolenka in Israel Committee

This description is quoted from two sources:

  1. Pinkas Slonim, Vol. 2, from page 45
  2. Keshet Be'anan, by Dr. Noach Kaplinsky, published in 1988, from page 163.

 

Dr. Kaplinsky

15 November 1941. On this day, the matter became known in all its details. The mysterious curtain was raised, not just on what happened only yesterday, but also on the events of the 17th of July. Gentiles came, among them Poles and Germans who were witnesses to the slaughter, and related that all the Jews were taken to the fields of Cieplova, where they were shot and buried in three pits.

We were thunderstruck and did not believe what we had heard, until messengers came from the graves themselves. Wounded and broken, but still alive, they succeeded in escaping from the killing fields and came back to Slonim. They told the terrible truth. Now things

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were completely clear as to the murderous intentions of the Germans toward the entire Jewish people.

The first was Fuksman, a nurse from the hospital. The doctors who were on duty on that day did not know anything about what had happened until the nurse came, collapsed and fell on the bed. More and more came after her, people whose eyes reflected death. They came from the graves, half-dead, and then the fearful picture was described to us in all its aspects.

When they were transported from the city, people still deluded themselves and thought that they being taken to some Jewish enclave, where all the Jews were being assembled. By the fourth and fifth kilometer, however, they knew where they were being taken. When the cars passed over the bridge of the Szczara River, the Germans grabbed children from their mothers' arms and threw them into the water. Among the passengers was Welwel Berman. When he saw that the cars were veering off the main road, he stood up and began shouting, “Jews, they are taking us to our deaths! Jump out of the cars, you have nothing to lose!” He was the first to jump, and a bullet hit him immediately.

When they reached the fields of Cieplowa, they saw three big pits, three huge excavations in the soil of Cieplowa, ready to receive the victims of the great slaughter. Who had prepared these common graves?

In September, Hick ordered sixty men to work. This did not arouse any particular suspicion, since orders like this were daily events. When they did not return in the evening, their families began to be concerned for their fate and pressured the members of the Judenrat to get information about them. From then on, they began to knock on Hick's door daily, to ask about those sixty people. Hick's answer was, “Don't worry. I am responsible for the people I take to work. They will return safely.” Only now, on the 14th of November, was the role and fate of the sixty clarified. They dug the common graves in Cieplowa and, when their work was finished, they were shot and thrown into the pits. They were “the pioneers who went before the camp”. They dug graves for themselves and for those who came after them, nine thousand people, men, women, old and young …

With murderous blows from rifle butts and bayonets, the people were taken out of the cars and their clothes removed. They were made to stand near the open pits, naked as the day they were born. Then the killing began. The Germans, Lithuanians and Belarusians sat around campfires, long tables before them, drinking to intoxication and gorging. Between each glass, they let loose a volley of shots in the direction of the victims standing by the pits, and dropped them into the graves. Piles of bodies accumulated in the pits, layer on layer. Many were not killed immediately. They twitched for long hours, until they choked. There were also those who remained alive and made efforts to move from one layer to the next.

The murderers could not get enough. They sang and played musical instruments in order to drown out the screams of those who were killed, which rose to the heavens. Even the Devil had not conceived of this revelry.

The Germans did not stop oppressing their victims the whole time. They demanded that they sing Jewish tunes. As they laughed, joked and mocked the Jews, the city's beadle, Reb Awraham Mosze Melamed, who was among the victims, stood up. He recited Kaddish [the mourner's prayer], which everyone repeated after him, word for word. Before he was killed, Reb Awraham Mosze said the El Malei Rachamim prayer [for the peace of a departed soul], the last memorial prayer for the congregation of the Jews of Slonim. This wellknown beadle of the city remained true to his congregation and to himself to the final moments of his life.

The killing continued all day. The shooting did not stop and the screams of the buried were heard by all the inhabitants of the area. Toward evening, their work finished, the murderers announced that anyone remaining alive could come out of the pit and go home. Many believed them and came out of the graves. They were stood up again near the graves and shot. At nightfall, the gang of murderers returned to the city. The next day, shipments of clothes from the killing field began to arrive in Slonim.

It turned out that the number of survivors reached the hundreds. Of them, many were not injured at all, and succeeded in escaping directly to their homes in the Jewish quarter. Many of them, who were wounded, fled to the municipal hospital to receive first aid. We arranged the required operations, but it was not possible to leave them there. We returned the wounded to the Jewish hospital, where they continued to care for them. The next day, the German gendarmerie came to the municipal hospital and began to investigate where the wounded were. When they learned that they were moved to the Jewish hospital, they went there and made up a list. That same night, they took the wounded out of

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their hospital beds, loaded them on trucks, took them to the Cieplowa Fields and shot them again – this time – finally. No one returned.

The man in the gendarmerie who informed on the escape of the massacre's survivors to the hospital was Wanya Nasyuk, the eldest son of the former secondary school caretaker.

Nine thousand people were killed in that massacre on that short winter day of 14 November. Among them were all the residents of the old age home, as well as all the children and workers at the orphanage. It was a cold, clear day. The sun shone and the slaughterer slaughtered …

These are the events of the first five months after the German invasion of Slonim. And yet, the Jews of Slonim did not conclude from everything that had happened to them that the Nazis had decided to annihilate all the Jews, according to a pre-planned and prepared method. Some said that Hick the murderer did this of his own accord, and that he was harshly reprimanded by the authorities in Berlin. Others said that this was a response to the United States' decision to enter – or that it had already entered – the war. Various outlandish explanations sprouted from stunned minds.

The Jews walked the streets, crushed, conducting selfexaminations.

Who was missing and who remained?, each asked and questioned the other. The loss of a reason for living and despair reached their heights.

While the Germans' cars continued to bring the spoils from the killing fields, the Gentile inhabitants raided homes that had been emptied of their Jewish tenants, enjoying their forfeiture. Convoy after convoy, the farmers came from nearby villages, as if they were going to market day, to a big fair. The rurals brought sacks to fill with plunder. First, they took furniture, then they took clothes and personal belongings. At a later stage, they began to dismantle the houses themselves. They removed windows, doorposts, doors and anything that could be moved.

 

A Judenrat of One Man and Constant “Panic”

A new quarter was established, fragmented and smaller. Hick again demanded the establishment of a new Judenrat. Of the former Judenrat, no one was left alive. Hick announced that there was no need for a broad Judenrat, or even for a panel of five people. He would make do with one.

This was a Jew named Jaliszewicz, formerly the owner of a hotel on Bridge Street, who volunteered to serve on the Judenrat. He had never been a community worker, but now he demonstrated self-sacrifice. He asked to be chosen, saying that he was a bachelor, alone, childless, without family, and that it was better that he should take a risk, rather than a family man. We especially appreciated this step, because we knew that by accepting this post, the man was forfeiting his life for the good of all.

Jaliszewicz, by himself, constituted the third Judenrat. Although he was helped by a staff of workers, he was the only one responsible vis a vis the Germans.

In Slonim, about half the Jewish population remained then, about twenty thousand people. The routine of a life full of sorrow and suffering continued. Now there were no longer delusions. The cruel truth had been revealed in all its nakedness. Meanwhile, every tailor was required to sew and mend the clothes and garments taken off by those killed at the Cieplowa Fields. The tailors sewed and wept for the dead. Sometimes, they knew the owners of the clothes: here was the coat of this one, and the dress of that one. From time to time, out of the pockets, they took pictures, mementos, etc…

A week after the 14th of November, an S.S. detachment left Slonim, and exterminated all the Jews of the nearby town of Kozlowczyna. Only a few were saved, and reached the Jewish quarter in Slonim. Among them was Dr. Atlas, who later joined the partisans and died a hero's death. At the same time, news was received from western Poland, where there was no slaughter. And then refugees from the cities of western Poland began returning to their cities. In Bialystok, quiet prevailed; there were no aktzias. Nor did anything in particular happen in cities near Wolkowysk and Baranowicz. In his diligence, the contemptible Hick exceeded all his colleagues in the district. The Jews began to flee from Slonim, some to Wolkowysk, some to Bialystok. There were also refugees who returned to Warsaw.

When the Jews tried to enquire after the details of the massacre on the 14th of November, they concluded that those who hid had saved their lives. It was then decided to build special hiding places, which they called “bunkers”. The tenants of each house built a bunker together. The entrance was hidden, so that in time of trouble it would be possible to hide there. A great deal of work began in the Jewish quarter, most of it done at night. Sand and bricks were brought in all kinds of

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ways. They dug in the ground and put up bunkers.

Wild rumors spread. We called them, for short, “panic”. Every day, when it was just getting dark and people prepared to go to bed, they asked and checked if there was any kind of “panic”.

In the beginning of December, a rumor went around that the Germans were planning another aktzia, this time, to kill children. The reaction was spontaneous. All the women who had children began all at once to flee the city, without knowing where they were going. They did not pay heed to the prohibitions and the patrols. The same cry was heard from all of them: “They are going to slaughter the children.” It was very cold and the women plodded in the snow, walking on without looking back, to escape, to flee wherever the wind blew them, just not to stay in the killing city. It was a terrible and shocking sight. In their arms, the women held their infants, bundled in all kinds of blankets and wrappings. Children who could walk were pulled after their mothers, while they held onto the hems of their dresses.

When the Germans heard of this, they immediately called on the Judenrat, that is, Jaliszewicz, and complained bitterly that they were being thus slandered. They would kill the man who spread this rumor. The Germans declared that what had happened on the 14th of November would not occur again, and demanded that he calm everyone down. And indeed, this time, in truth, nothing happened. After two days, the women returned to their homes. “Panics” like this came and went. There was never a day of peace and quiet. In the evening, we said if only it would be morning; and in the morning – if only it would be evening.

That same December, we had a bit of relief. Hick went to Berlin. He traveled at the head of a convoy of trucks full of the plunder of the murdered Jews of Slonim. He returned immediately after Christmas.

One winter day, all the Jews of Jeziernica came to Slonim. They had been ordered to leave the place, except for Dr. Walach, who was permitted to stay there temporarily, in his capacity as a doctor. Jews also came from other nearby towns to find work in the workshops in Slonim.

 

The Ghetto Under Lock and Key

One's most recent troubles cause one to forget previous ones. Again, they began distributing cards, this time in another color. This topic became all everyone talked about. Thinking that a card in this color conferred the right to exist, everyone made efforts to get the new card. The month of April 1942 came, but winter was still in force, the cold reigned and, lo, a new order: all those still outside the quarter must move. They allocated half an alley in the quarter for them. The number of those transferred was about two hundred people. These were all the doctors and their families, nurses and medical service personnel, expert tailors who worked for the Germans, watchmakers and gold and silver smiths.

Immediately thereafter, the establishment of the ghetto was declared, that is, they turned the Jewish quarter into a closed area, surrounded by barbed wire. The erection of the fence had begun in the winter. It was necessary to warm the soil, in order to insert the posts. The fence was made of double and triple iron wire, running vertically and horizontally. It surrounded the entire Jewish quarter and had two gates, for entry and exit.

The fence was built by the engineer Wolfsztajn, a refugee from Poland. They worked from morning to night, until they completed the job. These were the boundaries of the ghetto: a gate at Olenska Street between the secondary school and the Ajzensztat house; a secondary gate at the entrance to Operowa on the right; an additional secondary gate at the entrance to Operowa on the left; a gate near the maternity hospital on Operowa Street, and a barbed wire fence that stretched between these gates and included the hamlet of Zhabinka and nearby streets in Rzgowa. The end of the ghetto reached the community center (the theater) and the last bridges (in the direction of Zamosc).

Suddenly, we heard that Hick had been dismissed. The Jews were glad and drank a toast. Some saw this as a turning point and a good sign. It turned out later that this had no connection at all with the plan of annihilation hanging over our heads. The dismissal only caused a disruption of timing, as if Hick wanted to prove that without him, it was impossible to carry out the plan.

And a story within a story: a company came from Mogilyov and demanded that it be given eight hundred men for various kinds of work in that city. Kvint opposed this. He maintained that if it was certain that they were really required to work, he would agree, but that he had no faith in it. Kvint was imprisoned, but his stance was strong and brave, courageous: “I will not, by my hand, give you people. You will do to me what seems good in your eyes”. The Ukrainians began a manhunt and, after three days, gathered three hundred

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men from the ghetto. They were allowed to take clothing and food with them, and were taken to Mogilyov. It turned out that, this time, they really took them for forced labor, although in the end they were killed and destroyed, and only one or two of them remained alive.

The next afternoon, the ghetto was surrounded by the S.S. Hick announced that, while it was indeed necessary to punish the ghetto's inhabitants for their refusal to go to work, he was canceling the punishment this time. As proof, he was removing the patrols and demanding the return of the cards. It was an irony of fate, to see Hick as a “protector” of his Jews.

On May 1st, all the doctors were called in the middle of the night. They put them into cars without any explanation. I was also among them. We sat together without saying a word. We thought that this was our last journey. It turned out that we were called upon to treat those injured in a train accident. They did not give us details, but there were very many injured.

During the Shavuot holiday, the distribution of cards began again, this time in the color green. The cards were printed with a different text, indicating that the owner of the card was permitted to reside in the ghetto. A total of 2,500 cards was distributed. Terrible panic prevailed. The Jews immediately fortified the bunkers and camouflaged them even more. They also began to print forged cards.

Rumors spread about the partisans' activities. We learned of many vengeful acts of the partisans, and it seemed that they were harassing the Germans very tangibly. A German who left the city placed himself in danger. The partisans gained control of the entire area, and the Germans refrained from traveling at night. They traveled only during the day, in large convoys. The partisans sabotaged the railroad track and derailed trains. They killed garrison forces and members of the German regime in villages. They attacked food shipments intended for Germans, taking them for themselves. We saw that the Germans' pride was broken. Every evening, the Germans slept in the large shelter in the post office building, afraid of surprise attacks by the partisans at night.

Rumors also increased about a second front about to open in western Europe. The Germans wandered around despondently, and signs of indifference could be seen in them. The guards were removed, and the Jews left and entered the ghetto unsupervised.

All this instilled a spirit of hope. It seemed as if events were coming that would change our situation for the better.

 

Rittmaier

In the middle of January, a new S.S. commandant, named Rittmaier, appeared in Slonim. He walked around the city armed with an automatic pistol. He had the face of a sadist, and the Jews wondered about the nature of this beast. On the third day after he came, he entered one of the workshops and saw a bottle of milk sticking out of the pocket of one of the workers, Lejbel Cipin, the son of the shoemaker Cipin from Jurezyka, who worked in the carpentry shop on Rybacka Street. The villain's face darkened, “How is this, the Jews still have milk?” He raised his weapon and killed him on the spot. An encounter with this animal entailed mortal danger. Once, when he was walking in the street and saw a group of Jews, he shot them immediately. The Jews began to leave the ghetto less frequently. They tried to find a way of getting at this fellow, but in vain. In no way was it possible to get to him.

On the morning of 21 June, some Poles outside the ghetto were arrested. What did this mean? Had the Germans directed their activities toward the Poles? It was said that a Polish organization had been discovered in the city.

At the end of June, an order was given to the Judenrat to produce a few dozen gold rubles. A Polish clerk who worked in the work-office also told us that they were going to transfer six doctors to Minsk. Although the order had not been officially published yet, through her contacts with the German manager, she knew for certain that there was room for concern. We gathered immediately for a consultation, in which the head of the work-office, Gerszon Kvint, also participated. While we were talking, someone came in and told us that many cars were coming into the city. Kvint expressed his opinion that this was not worth our serious attention. The Polish clerk probably meant to extort money and, as to the cars, they were for the partisans. On that night, 28 June, we finished collecting the sum of gold imposed on us and brought it to the Judenrat. Commander Kvint was in a good mood and told a few jokes.

At nine that night, when we returned through the streets of the ghetto, we felt disquiet. Jews stood near the doors of the buildings, in a “panic”, without knowing why. That night, at 3 A.M., I woke to the noise of cars. It was possible to peer out of the ghetto from the

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windows of my room. I looked and saw that there was a great deal of traffic in the city; cars, cars without end. I hurried down to the ghetto and saw that all the inhabitants were awake and on their feet, feeling that something was about to happen.

 

29 June 1942 – The Massacre Begins in the Petrelowicz Fields

At four in the morning, the ghetto was surrounded by armed companies along the entire length of the fence. At five, a loud trumpet blast was heard. From the window, I saw whole convoys of tanks and trucks full of gendarmes approaching the main gate of the ghetto. We felt trapped. There was no hole or breach in the fence through which we could flee and escape. The iron wires were strong. One boy tried to get out through the wire network, took a bullet and died on the spot. Kvint, head of the work-office – as was his official title – stood as usual at his post near the gate, on the ghetto side. He gave the order to get into the bunkers and hide. In a minute, the ghetto emptied and no one was seen in the street. Only Kvint and his helpers continued to stand near the gate, among them Maks Rabinowicz (the son of Joel), Misza Luz, commander of the ghetto police, and the engineer Wolfsztajn.

Suddenly, in came the first car and after it, the second, in which sat Rittmaier, the murderer. He got out of the car, took a few steps in Kvint's direction and asked in a loud voice, “How are things, Kvint?” He [Kvint] walked toward him, his hand raised toward his hat, in order to remove it. But he never did. Two or three bullets, fired at him by Rittmaier from his pistol at a distance of a few centimeters, put an end to his life. He fell, wallowing in his own blood. With my own eyes, I saw him immediately after, lying at the gate of the ghetto, his arms extended, his hat knocked off his head, as if to say, “You will enter the ghetto over my dead body …” Eye witnesses said that Rittmaier bent over the dead Kvint and asked, “And what do you have to say now, Kvint?”, and fired another bullet at the lifeless body …

Hundreds of thugs streamed into the ghetto, among them Germans, Latvians, Lithuanians and Ukrainians, armed with axes, hatchets and other tools. There were also clerks from all the offices, called up for the last battle with the Jews of the Slonim Ghetto. When they burst into the narrow streets of the ghetto, they did not see anyone. They went into the houses and brought out a few who had not hidden. They did not find the rest. Where are the Jews?, the murderers asked each other. The Germans began running around in the streets, shouting at the tops of their lungs, “Jews, come out of hiding!”

I was an eyewitness, and also heard all these things, because I did not hide. They brought me out of the house and stood me in the street, together with about three or four other people, who had also not hidden. They turned us over to a company of Latvians, who brought us through an alley to the main gate of the ghetto. There, near the gate, we saw the body of Kvint and understood that the fate of the ghetto was sealed. They made us run up to the bridge. Here, we were arranged in two rows, near the former boat-station, known as Abramka Mosze's. There, on the bank of the river, our group, numbering a few dozen people, was turned over to the murderer, Rittmaier. With me then were Sonja, my wife Zahawa's sister, my little girl and her nanny.

Not twenty minutes had gone by since we were standing there, when suddenly I saw Hans Zajfeld (a young German soldier, a medical student, polite and obliging, responsible for medical matters of the German garrison in Slonim, who was on a friendly and professional footing with the Jewish doctors there) coming at a run. He came over to me and asked, “What are you doing here?” “What am I doing here? They took me!”, I said. He went over to Rittmaier and began to argue with him, “I cannot be without him,” he said, “They help me. I need doctors. I need them.” Finally, Rittmaier became reconciled; he stood us on the side and ordered that no one touch us. And so, most unexpectedly, we were saved from the heavy fire of that day, thanks to Hans Zajfeld, the German, who had passed by chance. All that day, he toiled to find additional doctors and take them from the fire.

Meanwhile, other Jews were brought to us. To this day, I can still see the noble figure of the Rebbetzin, the widow of Rabbi Fein, being rudely pushed toward the bridge. The shooting does not stop. We also hear explosions of grenades. The entire ghetto turned into a battlefield. From the other side of the River Szczara, Ukrainians and Lithuanians run like lunatics, looking for Jews, but not finding them.

 

The Ghetto Goes Up in Flames

And then began the burning of the ghetto in the section between the bridges, the well-known “island”. The wild beasts went from house to house, poured

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kerosene on the houses and set them on fire. The houses in the ghetto were, for the most part, built of wood. After a quarter of an hour, they had all caught fire, with heavy smoke bursting from them and billowing skyward. Blood and fire and pillars of smoke! Those who were hidden were forced to leave their hideouts under the burning houses. From the distance, I saw them coming out: tens, hundreds, men, women, old and young. The Germans grabbed the infants and threw them directly into the fire, and made the adults run on. Any description of an inferno pales in comparison to this fearful spectacle.

They kept our group at the bank of the river all day. We stood there, and before our eyes trod the death march of the community of Slonim by groups, according to the how they were taken out of their hideouts: all ages, all classes, the healthy, the sick – supported by their relatives, the elderly with verses of the Psalms on their lips. Here was the staff of the Jewish hospital, the last Jewish institution in the history of the Jews of Slonim. They walked together toward death: doctors, nurses and service personnel. Around them were many soldiers, armed from head to toe, soldiers of all colors of the rainbow of the enlightened European nations – Germans, Lithuanians, Latvians, Ukrainians, Poles, Belarusians – faithfully fulfilling the task of the destruction of the Jews. The hospital, with all the patients in it that day, was blown up and completely burned.

Here and there we see familiar faces, and they are all rigid, as if the spirit of their lives was taken from them even before they reached the place of the slaughter. All the time – gunfire, bombs, fire and smoke!

The ghetto went up in flames and the gunfire deafened our ears. The date: 29 June 1942, a clear and hot summer day, although from time to time, a lively, brief summer rain came down. It was a Catholic vacation day, and they stood in their holiday clothes on the other side of the barbed-wire fence and watched the “great event” of the destruction of the Jews, actually taking place right before their eyes. The companies led over the bridges, on both sides pillars of fire and smoke from the burning houses, and the direction – east to Petrelowicz, the village near Zamosc. The soil of Petrelowicz absorbed on that day – slaughtered the life's blood of thousands of the new victims.

In the afternoon, they made our group run over the bridge, too. We were forced to run continuously, while the Latvians rained blows down on us from all sides with the sticks in their hands. We ran over the bridges, the heat from the burning ghetto like molten iron on our flesh, until we reached the courtyard opposite the Catholic church in Zamosc. About fifty people were there, men only, who remained after a rigorous selection intended to keep only expert professionals and workmen alive. Many men waived the right to life, joined their wives and children and went toward Petrelowicz, never to return. Many, many chose death and did not desert their beloved families.

Another picture from this courtyard is etched in my memory. There was a young couple with a baby; one of the Germans said that they needed them. They added the man to our group, and told the woman to go out with her baby. The man refused to go without his wife and baby. When the Germans failed to persuade him to part from his wife, they pushed him roughly toward them, and they both fell on the ground. They sat there and, with rigid faces, waited for their transfer from there. They sat without exchanging a word between them. The baby nursed from its mother's breast, a sort of last supper. They had an otherworldly look. Soon enough, a convoy arrived at the place. The Germans pushed them out, and they were swallowed in the crowds taken out of the city, to a place no one knew about then.

Toward evening, we were taken to Goldenberg's factory. Sick and exhausted, we stretched out on the floor and stayed there all night, lying there mutely. No one spoke. Each was occupied with the deep burden in his heart. We did not feel hunger or thirst. We could not sleep. From the window, we saw the last survivors of the burning ghetto. Our hearts went out to all those still lying in the bunkers, not yet found, and to the thousands who were taken out in a few hours and had disappeared forever in the fields of Petrelowicz.

The next day, they arranged us in rows and distributed numbered cards, which meant that we had a permit to stay alive. They took us into the P.K.O. (the Polish Army recruitment office) building. We had to pass muster with those cards of life in hand many times, to prevent any infiltration. When they transferred us to the ghetto, we numbered 180 people.

The slaughter continued. One company of twenty people engaged in gathering corpses and transferring them, another company dealt with shipping possessions. There were still Jews in the bunkers. Poles and Belarusians walked around looking for them. They used all kinds of “tricks”. The sound of a crying child or a

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cough was an unmistakable sign. Around the ghetto, near the fence, stood many of the local Polish population, who came to see the spectacle. They looked on indifferently as Jews were taken from the bunkers, despoiled of their property and led to the slaughter.

Many came out of the bunkers on their own, for lack of water to slake their thirst. The police gathered those who remained and collected them in one place, the city jail.

I had a card. After many efforts, I was able to visit the prison where my family was, together with many hundreds of the inhabitants of Slonim. I had heard about my father-in-law's severe illness and succeeded in getting in, hoping that I might be able to give him medical assistance, as well as smuggle some sort of food in for the hungry and thirsty. I cannot describe what I saw. Sweating crowds of prisoners – Poles and Belarusians (not one German was among them) – ran about everywhere, in the cells and in the courtyard, shouting and screaming, abusing the Jews, pushing them and beating them for no reason. Jews – hungering for bread and thirsting for water – came out of their cells, thrusting watches, rings and other valuables at the guards, and pleading for a slice of bread or a little drinking water. The guards took their belongings and, in exchange, gave their victims murderous blows and chased them back into their cells.

In the cell I was led into were about a hundred people – shadows of people – with staring eyes and faces full of pain, sorrow and grief. This was the third day we had not eaten, and the two loaves of bread I managed to get were immediately divided among the children. I stood among them, broken and shattered, while they looked to me for a spark of final hope, and I – while tears spilled from my eyes at the sound of silent weeping that rose from every corner of the cell – I did not have even one word of encouragement!

The hunt continued for fifteen days. Every two or three days, they took the prisoners out to the prison courtyard; again, a selection of professions, and the rest they led to common graves. On the 15th of July, the aktzia ended.

This was the campaign of Rittmaier, who orchestrated the whole “action”. The ghetto's boundaries shrank again. Only twenty houses remained, into which those who remained alive crammed themselves. We were 800 legal people, cardholders, and about another 1,000 illegal people, those who had stayed in the bunkers and were saved. For the fifteen days of the hunt and the slaughter, they succeeded in protecting their hideouts and withstood hunger, thirst and inhuman suffering. They were human skeletons, and the tiny portions of bread the cardholders received were distributed between everyone.

But the Angel of Death in the shape of Rittmaier had still not said “Enough”. One night in the month of July 1942, at four in the morning, a roar from the courtyard where I lived reached my ears. This was an order from Rittmaier. All cardholders had to come out of the houses and present themselves in the courtyard.

We went out. Rittmaier announced that this was the last day and last chance to get cards. Whoever did not have a card was to come out and follow him. Not many took advantage of his offer, but a few dozen believed his promise and came out. Rittmaier led them into the first ghetto and in the middle of the street, shot and killed them all. This was his last action in Slonim. After this, he got into a car and left Slonim forever.

The aktzia that began on 29 June 1942 ended on 15 July. According to our calculations, ten thousand people were annihilated in this period.

No one thought of imposing order in the small ghetto that remained. All thoughts were given over to the possibility of escape. Attempts were made to contact the partisans. There was an alleyway on Podgorna Street through which we received news and letters. This was the way we received news from Dr. Blumowicz, who had left the ghetto earlier, including details and instructions. Everyone began planning to leave the valley of killing.

At that time, the following incident took place: a company of Jewish workers was sent to empty one of the houses in the ghetto. Somehow, two partisans managed to sneak into the company, equipped with work cards and yellow badges. They went into the houses, took a crate and prepared to take it out. There was a machine gun in the crate, and the partisans wanted to smuggle it out. At the last minute, the Germans found out about this. The partisans managed to escape, but the Jewish workers were taken to the jail and executed.

Besides escaping to the forests, to the partisans, some escaped to districts of the Reich. News was received that somehow the Jews survived there. Among the Christians were found those who could help one escape, who, in exchange for money, took people to different towns. When the refugees of Slonim got there and told about the extermination, no one believed them.

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In conversations with eyewitnesses, too, the Jews of the Bialystok district did not believe their ears and claimed that there were probably special reasons for killing the Jews of Slonim …

 

The Burial Stone Seals our Community on Yom Kippur 1943

At the end of the month of July, I, too, left Slonim. Since then, my fate was severed from the fate of the hundreds of survivors of the large Slonim community who remained in the seventeen-house ghetto. We went our separate ways; both were covered with blood. The chapter of my wanderings to Wolkowysk, my days in the concentration camp near Wolkowysk, my escape from there, and the eighteen months of life hiding[1] in villages and forests, in attics and cellars, until my wonderful rescue when the region was liberated by the Soviet Army – these were my lot. Those who remained of the Slonim Ghetto, satiated with acts of spite and abuse, were shot and murdered in two additional aktzias. One was on the 7th of Elul 5702 (1942), when about 400 were killed. The second was on Yom Kippur 1943. On this holy day, the Slonim Ghetto was destroyed to the last Jew. On that day, the burial stone sealed the holy community of Slonim.

Until my emigration to Israel, I had to contend with two difficult questions. One was the disturbing question heard from many: “Why did you go like lambs to the slaughter?” The second was the label of betrayal and treachery that stuck to the Judenrat. Then I told of the three Judenräte that operated in my native city.

The Jewish population in my native city was about 30,000 people. In that city, a total of three Judenräte operated. The first was comprised of elected people, and the second of volunteers, although we already knew the fate of their predecessors. They did not reap advantages from their positions, except, perhaps, for the addition of a portion of the regular food that was allocated. These people did not abuse their office. Are they worthy now of disgrace? On the contrary. They are worthy of praise and we will exalt the memory of their work! During my wanderings, I came across another three or four Judenräte, and I did not find traitors or collaborators among them. Indeed, there were such people, without a doubt. King Solomon said, “Or can one walk upon hot coals, and his feet not be scorched?” It is possible that here and there, there were people who abused their positions. But from this, to labeling one a traitor, the distance is great!

 

ost416.jpg
A group from the Committee of the Jewish Community of Ostrolenka in Israel, near the memorial in
memory of the martyrs of our city murdered in the Holocaust, erected in the Holon cemetery – August 1991

 

[Page 417]

Our Bunker in the Bialystok Ghetto

Chaya Sojka-Jablonka, Tel Aviv

Autumn 1943. For nearly two months, the city of Bialystok has been Judenrein (cleansed of Jews). The last thirty thousand Jews of the ghetto were sent to Treblinka and Auschwitz by the Germans. We, a group of forty-three men, women and children, are in an underground bunker at 28 Jurowicka Street. It is dark, crowded and stifling in this living grave. During the whole day, we sit in absolute silence, pressed against each other. Only our breathing is heard. Even the little children are frightened into silence, lest we be heard above … Only when darkness descends, and the heavy steps of the cruel patrols are no longer heard in the street above, do hunger and thirst stir in us. The brave and nimble (the first, my sister-in-law, Chaja, my brother Aron's wife, now named Kajman and living in America) jump out – and up – through the small opening. During the day, this small, secret door protects us from the enemy. At night, it opens the skies to us. How many hopes, dreams and prayers of thanks did forty-three souls hang upon that door that saved us …

With sharpened senses, we inspect the area. It is quiet outside, a starless night. The air is pure and refreshing. In twos and threes, we go out to search the empty apartments for food. We find a bag of barley, a few potatoes, some slices of dry bread, a little sugar. In the vegetable gardens, we look for the last tomatoes, onions, potatoes. There is less and less food every day. In the closets and drawers of the Jewish homes we find many things, but the most important is missing – food. We return sadly from our search, with empty bags. Disappointed, I meet the large blue-gray eyes of my daughter, Judyt, and the sparkling black eyes of my son, Luszek, which are half-dulled. The faces of my two children are gaunt and withered.

The late November frost has not left vegetation in the gardens. We are all gripped by fear, sadness and despair. Hunger knocks on our magic door. We dream of bread – fresh, real bread. My sister-in-law says that there is a sack full of flour somewhere in the attic of an empty apartment. This sack does not let us rest. We think about how much bread and strength it could give us. The quarrels in the bunker would stop, the quiet ones could speak up more, the children would smile, the strong would be satisfied, the weak kept alive. The anxious would be calmed and sleep a bit. It would bring patience and relief to forty-three souls.

My parents, of blessed memory, had a flour mill in Ostrolenka. From childhood, I have loved soft, delicate, fragrant white flour. It was always tied to happy fantasies for me. Now, the sack of flour in the deserted attic awoke completely different longings – that there would be bread to satisfy my daughter, Judyt, my son, Luszek, my sister, Lea (who lives in Australia today), and her husband, Miron Brejtbart, my brother, Mosze Aron, and his wife and children, Szlomit and Niuni, me and all those living in this dark, dirty, airless hole. And all those who were hungry and suffering.

There were five healthy men in the bunker with us: Jakow Lachowicz from Ostrolenka, 27 years old, broadshouldered, with a full, golden head of hair; Michael from Sokol, who we nicknamed The Wood Man because he had lived in the forest for ten months and had come to Bialystok to take his mother back there with him. He “got lucky”, and came in time for the last aktzia. The third was Mojerman, a big, tall young man from Grodno – a giant. We called him the The Tank, because of his size and because the ground shook under him as he walked, as always, barefoot. The fourth was Zalman Wajncymer from Szczuczyna – thin and quick. The fifth was my brother, Mosze Aron, considered one of the heroes of the forest before the war. (My husband, Motel, was already dead by then. He was one of the first victims, taken by the Germans on Sabbath, 12 July 1941, together with one thousand other Jewish men.)

My sister-in-law, Helen, tried to persuade them to bake bread in the little bakery near us, at 5 Ciepla Street. The house was low, so the tall buildings around it would hide the smoke. The German guards did not patrol at night. She was decisive, speaking with complete confidence and I tried to support her. Finally, everyone agreed to the adventure. We decided to go to the bakery at night, and check the conditions and the

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possibility of the daring and dangerous campaign.

We hung sacks and sheets on the bakery's windows for camouflage and switched on the electric light. There were three sacks of flour, as well as firewood. My sister-in-law put on a large apron. I rolled up my sleeves, and scrubbed and washed the crates. She poured out the flour, mixed it with water and we left it to ferment until the next night.

The next day, we had a consultation: who would bake the bread, who would stoke the oven, who would stand guard, etc. We decided that each family would send representatives in proportion to its size. That evening, in total darkness, we went out to the bakery at 5 Ciepla Street, an organized group of ten people.

The baking was done quickly and nimbly. Five pairs of hands kneaded the beautiful dough. The flames lit the room and the wood crackled merrily, like in the good old days. Faces were flushed, the mood lightened, we even joked. Forty-four round loaves were laid on long, narrow boards, waiting to be placed in the oven. My sister-in-law, Chaja, and I went outside to relieve Sonja, who stood guard. Outside, it was dark and completely quiet all around. Suddenly, we thought we could discern two black shadows. Were they two trees? They moved and came closer. Our hearts beat faster. I quickly entered the bakery to warn about the approaching danger. We switched off the light and everyone dispersed. We two remained behind. We didn't run. We stood behind the door, pressed against the wall. Through a crack, I saw two figures slowly coming closer. They crossed the threshold and whispered something in Yiddish. We breathed a sigh of relief. I went out and asked them who they were. When they heard my voice, one of them grabbed my hand and began kissing it. He said in a trembling voice, “Jews, we've found Jews!” My sister-in-law came out and using our signal – three clicks of the tongue – called those who had hidden. We were overjoyed.

The two young men had come from their hiding place at 20 Neuwelt Street. They thought that no Jews were left in the ghetto besides themselves. They smelled the aroma of fresh bread, which brought them to us. Each told us about his experiences. We did not notice when the door opened and two more young men and a young woman came in from another hiding place. They marveled at our idea of baking bread and our daring, enjoying the fragrance coming from the oven.

The loaves were ready – beautiful and shining, although they were black, instead of reddish, and moist and sticky inside. But who cared? The two young men went off contented, with two loaves in their hands. The others asked us for the leftover fermented dough and the key to the bakery, so they could bake bread the next night. The idea spread among the bunkers and, every night, another bunker baked bread. Judyt and Luszek also joined the adventure and helped carry the baked bread to the bunker. We were the heroes of all the children. They were happy, they ate and their eyes shone.

Could the taste of the finest cakes have been better than the taste of that sticky bread with the black crusts?

Suddenly – disaster. No more water and electricity. The Germans cut off everything in the empty ghetto. Our struggle was for nothing, we were lost!

The next morning, in the neighboring yard at 26 Jurowicka Street, twenty-five people came out and waved white sheets in surrender. These were the Rudy, Pleban, Finkelsztejn and Zalmanowicz families and others. As we were in no rush to turn ourselves over to the Germans, we searched for ideas. We hoped that in the big vat at the bakery there was still water. Groping in the dark, we tried to open the tap. Not a drop. Maybe lower down? We wrapped a long stick with a towel and lowered it into the vat. It came up dry. Our silence was bitter.

Thirty meters from us was the garden of the Judenrat, where vegetables were planted. At the time of the last expulsion of Jews from the ghetto, a struggle took place there between a Jewish self-defense group and the Germans. The barbed wire fences were destroyed. I suggested that we look for vegetables in the garden. Maybe we would be lucky enough to find something. We groped in the darkness, walking on unfamiliar ground. Suddenly, we stepped into some water. Checking, we discovered that it was a spring, covered by thick groundcover. Nearby, we found a bucket and a jug. We pushed aside the cover and drew clear, refreshing water. We tasted it – the water was cold and good, although mixed with vegetation. We stopped looking for tomatoes and onions, and ran to the bunker with the water, happy as Robinson Crusoe.

At the hideout, we were ecstatic. Some even wept with joy. Everyone surrounded the bucket, as if it was a great treasure. Saved again! That very night, we told those living in other bunkers of our great discovery. We clicked our tongues three times and told of the miracle.

Unfortunately, the struggle for our lives ended badly. On the 5th of November, Miron Brejtbart left the

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bunker to look for food at a nearby house. The German patrol saw him there, followed him and saw where he went. Thus, our hideout was discovered. After a few minutes, a group of Germans arrived. They led us to the Gestapo, and from there to the prison in Bialystok.

In prison, there were a few hundred Jews, who the Germans had found in bunkers, hideouts and the forest. My little boy, Luszek, was sick with typhus and pneumonia even before, in the bunker. He could barely drag himself along on his weak legs to the prison, where after three days (on the 8th of November), in the prison “hospital”, he gave up his pure soul. My daughter, Judyt, Peszka Lewin-Frydman, Jakow Lachowicz and two other young men left the bunker before we were discovered, to escape from the ghetto to the forest, to the partisans. To my sorrow, fate decreed that they should be caught by the murderous Germans.

We were sent from the prison to concentration camps: Stutthof, Ravensbrück and others. Only ten of the forty-three in our bunker remained alive.

The fates of those in other bunkers in the Bialystok Ghetto were much worse.


The Last Laugh of the Children of Ostrolenka

Helen Kajman, New York

The Jews of Ostrolenka were given a period of twenty-four hours to leave the city. A heavy cloud of sorrow and desolation lowered on Ostrolenka's Jews. The skies, too, were cloudy and threatening on that autumn day of 1939. Men, women and children, loaded with bundles, sacks and implements, left their homes and all their property forever. No one imagined that this was the beginning of the road of their suffering and torture, the end of which was destruction. From 1939 to 1941, the Jews of Ostrolenka lived in Slonim, Brisk, Bialystok, Lomza, Szczuczyna and other cities in Soviet-occupied Poland. Their lives were hard and bitter. But the real suffering began after the Germans occupied Poland. The systematic destruction of the Jewish population did not skip the Jews of Ostrolenka.

A small group of Jews from Ostrolenka was in Bialystok, among them the families of Motel Zutkiewicz, Mosze Aron Sojka, Ben Cyjon Pianko, Mosze Litwer, Jakow Lachowicz, Lewin and others. Some of the men were among those caught on that infamous Sabbath (2,000 men were caught on the first Sabbath after the entry of the Germans), some of them in the first expulsion aktzia, others in the Judenrein (cleansed of Jews) campaign.

Eleven Ostrolenkans were in the group of forty-four Jews imprisoned in one cell in the prison in Bialystok. Among them were ten children, four from Ostrolenka. Earlier hardships, living in the underground bunker at 28 Jurowicka Street for three months – erased any sign of happiness from the children's faces.

The first day that we came to the prison, the 16th of November 1943, the children became refreshed. Here, things were a little different from our dark hideout. There, it was crowded and stifling, and we had to keep absolutely silent. Here was a big, light room, although it was in a cellar. It was possible to move around undisturbed, to talk aloud and to read to Mother and Grandmother. There were four closed windows now, and their small eyes soon got used to the light.

The children spent all day near the narrow windows. They saw snow, and were happy and wondered at it. White snow, airy and glittering. Their small eyes glowed, a faint blush appeared on their cheeks. “I want to play in the snow”, said little Mirele. Szmuelik had an idea. With jumps like a squirrel's, he reached the corner of the cell, where an old broom stood. The children plucked the twigs one by one and using them, drew a bit of white snow through the bars. Whoever succeeded in holding a bit of snow in his thin hand, was a hero in the eyes of the others. They asked him, “Give me a lick, let me hold a drop of snow …

“ The creaking of the door and the appearance of the

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food pot made the children forget the snow. Each of them grabbed whatever came to hand as a vessel: a rusty bowl, a jar, a small pot. A tumult began. The food distributor, Antosiewicz, a blond, tall Gentile with a wide mustache, made sure that no one fooled him and that no one got two portions of soup. He distributed the food sparingly, skimming the thin soup off the top. The happy ones who gave him clothes, watches and money got the thick part, potatoes, cabbage and carrots, which Antosiewicz scraped from the bottom of the pot with the help of a can attached to a long stick.

My small son, Emanuel Sojka, four and a half years old, was a very smart child. He found a grosz in his pocket, and bravely gave it to Antosiewicz, asking for a bit more soup – but returned shamefaced to his place, with a sour face and an empty bowl …

In the prison cell, was a long row of beds, one right next to the other. Each bed was a hard metal frame, without a bit of straw or another covering. Every night, we thought that this might be our last night and that from here, we would be taken out to be executed. How was it possible to lie on bare boards? People lay close to each other, four in a bed, to preserve their body heat. The most miserable were the children. I had two: tenyear- old Szlomit and four-year-old Emanuel – “Niuni”. I placed my son on top of me, so that his body would not touch the hard boards, while placing my arms, instead of a pillow, under Szlomit's head. Her face was palely translucent, there were dark circles under her eyes, her arms and legs as thin as sticks. Only a short time ago, she had begun to develop so nicely … My heart was torn in me and my tears washed her pale face. Suddenly, she opened her eyes and looked at me with deep sadness. “Szlomit, my child, do you blame me? I won't be able to help you, I won't be able to save you.” She trembled like a fallen leaf, as she did in the bunker when danger hovered over our heads. My heart bursting with pain, helpless, I am afraid to move, so as not to disturb Niuni in his sleep. Yesterday, he asked me, “Will we never see Father again? Will I never sleep in my bed again?” He does not cry, he does not ask for anything. I talk to him, promise him, and tears choke my throat. My small son believes me and hopes. My unfortunate son, pure soul, innocent of any transgression. You have not tasted even one good day in your short life, my little Jew. For what reason do we deserve this? Answer me, God!

Niuni wakes up by himself. Young and old use a covered bucket that stands in a corner of the cell for a toilet. Although my two children can manage by themselves, I go with them each time they go to the pail. I do not want to leave them for a moment. I am afraid and know for certain that some day, some moment, death will separate us.

Two weeks pass this way. Luszek Zutkiewicz, a blond, twelve-year-old boy, a beautiful child, who dreamed of living through the war as a shepherd in a village, is taken to the prison hospital, suffering from high fever. In great pain, he gave up his young, pure soul in his last words to his mother, Chaja Zutkiewicz. All of us in prison received the sad news with great pain.

The cell opposite us is full of Jewish women and children from Bialystok, Grodno and Orodok and other towns. In cells opposite, there are Jewish men. For a gold coin, dollars or silver, the guard allows the women to meet with their husbands or their sons, and the daughters with fathers. These hurried meetings enable hugs, kisses and sometimes passing a portion of bread. For bread, the men sell everything; some of them were even left without trousers. The Polish prison guards do not a bad business with the 312 Jews rotting in the cellars. Sometimes, they chat with us and tell us that there are still many in the cellars who were sentenced to death.

One evening, the door opened and five people were thrown into our cell: three women and two children. These were Berta Fuks, Manja Tankus and the young doctor, Feta Fuks (presently in Israel – Mrs. Turek) – the daughters of the textile industrialist Fuks. The children were Salus Najman, five years old, and his cousin, Tankus, nine years old. In the ghetto, we lived next door to them, on Jurowicka Street. My children were happy to see little Salus. But these two children were unable to walk, they had to be carried. We learned that they were in an attic for three months. There was a bunker in that building which the Germans discovered during the first days after the aktzia. The Germans fired into the bunker and wounded a Jew from Grodno named Yosem. The others fled in panic and in their great haste, Awraham Najman forgot his little son, Salus. He remained in the bunker another day and night, clinging to the corpse.

The Jews in the attic heard their neighbors being chased. The next day, they decided to go down to the bunker and look for any food left there. Suddenly, they found the terrified child there and took him with them to the attic.

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Their condition was much harder than in our bunker. They did not have food or water. They did not dare go out at night to look for vegetables in the Judenrat's garden. They ate uncooked groats and, in an ingenious way, succeeded in baking thin, flat breads from dough made of cereal flour and rainwater. Berta Fuks, a young woman of rare beauty, told me that she had only one wish: to drink water to repletion before she died. Later, they were discovered and brought to our jail cell.

Over the three months, the boys lost strength in their legs. Salus looked on with envy at the other children running about the big cell. Only once did I see him with a smile on his face. This was during one of the children's games. They caught the biggest one among them and made believe that he was a German. They tied his hands, pushed him, hit him and ordered him to cry and kneel down. Salus burst out laughing and said, “Shoot him, the German!”

I participated in all the children's games, and in their conversations and quarrels. There was no time left to take care of my mother and my two sisters, who were with us in the cell. My mother prayed, and her pale lips whispered, “I am leading seven children to the wedding canopy…” (three daughters and four grandchildren). My sisters stroked and combed their children's hair, and talked to other women.

It was sad in the prison at dusk. People sat silent, each in his place. From time to time, the silence was ended by plaintive singing. Sara Numberg sang Eli, Eli, and this warm prayer touched all of us to the point of tears. In the cell, darkness prevailed. Here and there, a groan was heard. Someone asked, “Can someone else sing?” My daughter, who sat on my knees, in my arms, began to sing Pesach Kaplan's ghetto song, Rivkaleh Die Shabesdike. Everyone listened intently. From the depths of her little heart, her thin voice, expressing longing and love, shattered the darkness and the heavy atmosphere in our cell.

When she finished, she said to me, “I sang to my father. Every evening, we will hug each other like this and sing, just like I did today. Right, Mother?”

Sometimes we lay like this, my children's heads on my body and their hands in mine. I heard the beating of their hearts, and felt the warmth of their bodies. I breathed in their breaths. A mysterious voice whispered to me every day, every hour, “Enjoy them as long as they are yours, for death will separate you any day.” Terrible thoughts, accompanied by pain that is hard to describe.

For a moment, I fell asleep and dreamed a dream. I saw a stormy sea, with black and red waves. Then, the sea calmed and became blue again. And here I was, in my new home, in a beautiful room. Around me were works of art, flowers, luxury, but I was there alone … Suddenly, I woke up and hugged my children tightly to my heart. I was so happy to be lying with them on the hard boards of the prison.

That was the last evening with my children. All the children crammed into one corner. Two new children arrived – two brothers, eleven and five years old. Little Mojszele told us that his father sewed shoes. During the aktzia, when the Germans found his parents, who had hidden, he, Mojszele, hid under the bed. For two days, he lay there. Then a new gang of Germans came and found him. They asked him to come out, but he did not move from his place. One German gave him bread and real chocolate, and Mojszele came out. The Germans brought him to the prison.

Then, his older brother told us what had happened to him. He was on a train, with his mother and father. People pushed and it was very crowded. The boy was pushed and reached the narrow window of the railroad car. His father helped him and he jumped out. The train traveled on, and he remained lying in a ditch, because he could not run. The Germans found him there and brought him to the prison. Here, he met his little brother, Mojszele. The two brothers trembled with the cold; their hands were blue, frozen. The little one, beautiful and sweet as a girl, could not yet pronounce the letter “K”.

Later, our children told them their own experiences. My son, Niuni, spoke aloud, clearly and beautifully. Everyone listened to him. I lay not far from the gathering of the children. Niuni brought his new friend to me and introduced me to him proudly, “You see, this is my mother!”

It was already late and everyone waited impatiently for the evening soup. Because hunger pricked us, we wanted to taste hot food. For us, this black soup, made of coarse flour, had the taste of paradise. We thought that if we remained alive, we could never ask for anything better. But as if in spite, the door did not open and the food did not arrive. The children, who were already tired, gave up on the food and wanted to sleep. To encourage them, we began telling them stories. They listened, enchanted, to [tales of] the princess and the frog, the woodcutter and his seven children, and others.

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Niuniele stood close to me, beaming with joy, because his mother knew such beautiful stories.

The pot of food still did not come. The children were awake, and no longer wanted to sleep. We asked each of them tell a story. Mojszele told the tale of the wolf and the dwarves which he had heard from his mother; he told it, each time exchanging a “K” for a “T”. All the children laughed at him. The atmosphere in the room became lighthearted and merry. Each child told whatever he remembered. Finally, the boy, Szepsele, did magic and clown's tricks, screwed up his face – and all the children rolled with laughter. A real theater! This was our children's last laugh. They fell asleep hungry.

The next morning, a Thursday in December 1943, our children were cruelly taken away from us. Fortyfour children, of 312 Jews.

A tumult began in the prison – S.S. men, Polish clerks with lists, armed Ukrainians in uniform. The pursuit and the uproar so affected us, that while it was happening, we did not even cry; instead, we protested. Silent and terrified, the children stood in a row not far from us, along the long hallway of the prison.

Only in the dark railroad cars did knowledge and understanding come. Then, too, I could not cry. To this day, I envy those who have enough tears. To this day, the last laugh of our dear, sweet children echoes in my ears …

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ost423.jpg

 

[Page 424]

They Drove Us from the City

From the series of poems, Kaddish and My City, devoted to the expulsion of the Jews of Ostrolenka. The city was cleansed of Jews upon the entry of the Germans, before the ghettos, the crematoria and the selections.

They drove us from the city –
Even before the enemy burned with his rage
And Majdanek appeared in the world.
Even before the enemy expelled us to the end of the road –
This was before the Nazi Satan invented
Satanic plans with impure rules.

They drove us from the city –
From a city of sun, interwoven with a tinge of gold,
Before the enemy slaughtered …
To be a Jew his eye “pierced” like a lance –
The place of a Jew burned his feet.

They drove us from the city –
Without a reason, without any sin,
Father, mother and child walked together then.
They drove us from the city –
From the town, they drove us –
Before they were buried alive, they did not resist –
The dear ones, the loved ones, and the earth was silent.
They drove us from the city –
Even before Icchak Katzenelson sang his song in anger, song –
The lamentation “The Jewish People is Destroyed” …
Even before Rabbi Zeitlin was sanctified in a prayer shawl and phylacteries
In the fire of martyrdom. And Yisroel Shtern, the poet,
Close to God – understood the cruelty of the heavens, the
Mockery …
(My townsman suffocated in the gas chambers, his assertions that in the heavens
There are voices of his holy anger! …)
They drove us from the city –
Even before the enemy celebrated the end of the Jews by force
Quiver –
They sank in the bunker, in the ditch …
From the city they drove us – before the world grasped – Well, alright –
That the God of Abraham is also indifferent to Jewish blood …
Even before the millions who were cut down –
In shame, each forced his grave to dig …

They drove us from the city –
My city, my town, your Jewishness flourished there with learning,
With trade, work, with the warmth of the simple Jew …

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They persecuted and drove us, even before death appeared in the ghetto
In a shroud, masquerading as all sorts of deaths, and the silence of a world that was
Cruel!
They drove us from the city –
Even before they brought us to a despicable death and the end,
Then, when in the heart still shone faith and hope!
Even before they burned bearded grandfathers,
Even before God turned His face from the world.
Before they put to death holy grandmothers holding the book of supplications –
And “there”, where unnatural deaths raged.

***

From the city they drove us –
They also went with the city to “some” distance together the loved ones
Of the …
The religious homes, the streets pure with prayer,
With work,
With mourning and with heartwarming jests!
From the city they drove us –
Their hatred, raging from their happiness, accompanies us on our way:
The last Jew has already gone and disappeared! …
With malicious joy and looks like stabbing knives –
The Gentile orchestra plays the Jewish tragedy.
From the city they drove us –
Even before they arrived in the land of God, the Eternal of Israel –
The escaped remainder, that does not believe in any world …
With their deaths, hearts remained with the ardor of revenge –
Here are murdered the Diaspora's shame – the shame of two thousand years!

***

They drove us from the city.
They drove us from the city.

Yitzhak Ivri, Tel Aviv

[Page 426]

 

ost426.jpg
Loading a “Transport of the Old” from the Ghetto to Auschwitz (sketch)

 

Footnote
  1. Dr. Kaplinsky and his friend, Dr. Reznik, were saved thanks to the help of two Poles – Mrs. Czernik and Aczer Stanislaw Boslowicz – in the district of the village of Kremianica near the city of Wolkowysk. Return

 

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