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[Page 514]

The Holocaust

 

From the Polish Rule to the Soviet Rule

Translation by Naomi Gal

The anti-Semitic winds were still blowing in Poland, spreading over the borderland; the Jews were under economic, social and national pressures that hurt their daily lives. And then the astonishing rumor spread: the German Forces invaded Poland. On September 1st 1939, when Rovno heard about the invasion, the train workers, the government officials and the army imposed at once a blackout. At the same time the regime officials held outdoor public meetings and tried to calm the citizens, denying the invasion of the German army of Poland's border cities, and even boasting, saying that the great Poland could push back the German army and destroy it.

Naïve people that heard it wanted to believe, at least in some of the words. But the influx of refugees that arrived in Rovno, and their stories about the destruction of towns and villages by Nazi bombardments and advances, conquering one region after another, with hardly any Polish resistance, dispersed all doubts. Rovno was at once filled with masses of refugees from Lodz, Warsaw, Lublin and other cities. The crowding became worse each day, not everyone managed to find a shelter, there was shortage of food, the stores were emptied at once and there were no fresh supplies. The big radio stations in the centers were ruined or occupied by the Germans; there were only a few small stations left that broadcasted fragmented information, and it was difficult to assess the situation. The panic was great and Rovno looked like a besieged city. No one knew what would happen in the next hour.

This chaos lasted for two weeks, till September 14th, when for the first time planes appeared in Rovno's skies and indiscriminately bombed parts of the city. In this deadly bombing many Jewish houses were destroyed, and buried under them dozens of people. The Jews were terror-stricken and began escaping the city. They all tried to save their lives and some of their property. Frightened adults walked away and the kids towed behind. Some managed to obtain for exorbitant prices wagons with horses or other means of transportation and turned toward Korets with no specific target, except to get as far away as possible from the German bombardments that were showering the city. There was no guarantee that the bombers would not reach the fleeing masses on the roads or at their new destinations.

Three days later, on September 17th, the Red Army began progressing from the Polish-Russian border near Korets, on their way to the Polish territory, claiming they were bringing help. It was not clear whom exactly they intended to help. When the Red Army entered Rovno, part of the population hastened to welcome them. The Red Army then changed the reason for its entrance: we came to free the enslaved workers from the capitalists, the landlords and other exploiters, they said, and soon began arresting all uniform-wearers: soldiers, policemen, officials, students and others who seemed suspicious, and transferred them to inner-Russia. The businesses that were closed by the authorities had to be reopened. The Jewish businessmen sold their supplies and sighed, knowing that they would not be able to buy new merchandise with the money they made. The money used was the Polish golden and the Russian ruble. The long lines in front of each store emptied them immediately. The buyers were mainly soldiers from the occupying army and some citizens eager for merchandise that would soon run out. And indeed, since no new merchandise arrived, Rovno lost at once all its supplies and all the stores were closed.

The Russians quickly freed all the prisoners, especially the political prisoners that were imprisoned by the Poles because they were members or sympathizers of communism. They were granted at once governmental and public jobs, but after a short while most of them were re-arrested and evicted with their families. Zionists, Bund members and other political activists were banished too. All the evicted were shoved like animals into freight wagons, with no food, and sent with armed guards to inner-Russia. Those arrests depressed the population since no one was immune to arrest or eviction. All the ex-merchants lost their right to live in Rovno and were sent away with a special stamp on their documents – a stigma. The remaining population had to search for work with the authorities; the private sector no longer existed. At the same time the Russians began building a road from Kiev to Lvov and thousands of workers were put to work paving the road. Many of the city Jews worked on this road and in any job they could find.

The working conditions on the road were harsh: the salary was determined by the employing establishment and was not according to the local cost of food and living. It was impossible to quit the job and when the work was done the workers were sent to a new location without being consulted and against their will. Being late was forbidden and one could get arrested for the slightest breach of the working code. There was a Jew, a Wolja inhabitant, copyist of the Scriptures (Leib's son, who was a yeast merchant turned into a guard by the Russian) who always performed his work properly. On Yom Kippur's Eve he went to Kol Nidrei prayer and was fifteen minutes late to his work. For this sin he was arrested and put on trial. Two guys, whom he never saw, testified against him, saying he was counter-revolutionary and was acting against the Russian regime. He was sentenced to ten years in prison. There were many similar trials in Rovno, and with testimonies of false witnesses they accused and sentenced people, mainly Jews, or exiled them.

One day an order was issued demanding that all the Russian territory inhabitants had to own a Russian ID and become Russian citizens. The Jews had a difficult time deciding whether to accept the Russian citizenship. Some thought that once the war ended and the Germans would be defeated, a new regime would be established in Ukraine and the Russian citizens would have to move permanently to Russia; hence, they chose to do nothing. The Russians began arresting the evaders and sending them in packed freight wagons to faraway Siberia.

The Russians found in Rovno some Polish families out in the streets. When they asked what happened the response was that the Jews evicted them from their apartments because they did not pay rent (the truth was that these families left their apartments to escape town, but came back and meanwhile their apartments were occupied). The authorities believed the Poles, and the Jews had to pay fines.

When the Soviet rule was established in town, all the Hebrew schools in Rovno were closed, among them “Tarbut” high school; around three thousand children were left with no Hebrew education, uttering a Hebrew word was dangerous, since it was considered counter-revolutionary. In some of the schools they started teaching in Yiddish. All the official buildings were nationalized for the authorities and the army needs, and their owners were thrown out or exiled from the city. Those who still possessed some property tried to hide it, even from relatives and friends. Everybody wore old clothes so as to look poor and stress their lack of material goods.

Jewish merchants, who miraculously were not arrested, tried to somehow manage and some became guards, not because they were destitute and had nothing left, but in fear of raising the question: what does he do for living? Rabbis who felt guilt they themselves could not understand, became chicken slaughterers so that they would be considered as working-class and make some living. Synagogues and Torah schools were almost empty even on Saturdays and Holidays, given that part of the congregation was exiled or sent to work, and the rest did not know what to do: to visit or not to visit the synagogue. The youngsters were afraid to show up in the synagogue so as not to lose face in the communist youth clubs. The spirit of some of the city's prominent Jews was broken and they stopped dealing with public matters; the same happened to the charity institutions.

The winter of 1939-40 was harsh. Lots of snow accumulated and since the streets were not cleared the snow piled up. The stores were locked and their windows covered with wooden-boards. Very few governmental shops with small amount of merchandise remained open. There was always a long line in front of them. The shortage was strongly felt by the population in general and the Jews particularly.

A shocking story was Wagmister's widow's story. She came back from exile after her husband's death. When she saw what happened to her home and city, she poured gasoline on her clothes and burned herself alive. Another tragedy happened to the Shatz family. Gittel Shatz and her two sons owned a flourmill; they were arrested and led to the train to leave for exile. When they were pushed into the freight wagon the mother suffered a shock and her sorrow made her lose her mind. There were dozens of similar tragedies to the point that the remaining population was no longer impressed, they were all sick and tired from the constant fear, the standing in line, looking for a job, and the other troubles they suffered. This went on till July 22nd 1941 when the war between Hitler armies and the Red Army erupted.

The day the war broke announcements were posted informing mandatory enlistment of all Rovno's youth. The next day all the draft centers were full with youngsters who came to enlist. They were all found eligible, received uniforms, guns and were sent to their units. The premonition was gloomy. The army could not hide the fact that it was about to leave town. And indeed it began evacuating Rovno. On July 25th at 10 o'clock a.m. German planes appeared and began bombing the city. The affected houses were burning and there was no one to extinguish the fire. Those who were killed, wounded or buried under the rubbles stayed there all day. Hundreds of casualties were brought until evening to the overcrowded hospitals. In the streets and on the roads lay bodies of dead and wounded and the city was engulfed in flames. This went on till the next day, when the Soviets left town and the German conquered her.

Yeshayahu Shindelkroyt


[Page 517]

Refugees and Wanderers 1939-1940

Translation by Naomi Gal

At the beginning of 1939 the German Armies entered Lublin that was already damaged by their bombings. They stayed a week and suddenly left. The Red Army then came but did not linger long and on the ninth day left under German pressure. Before retreating the Russians declared that whoever wants to leave Lublin could leave following the Red Army. The Jews did not know which was the lesser evil, but many felt that a catastrophe was about to happen (according to the rumors about the hardships Jews endured in places occupied by Germans) and they chose to leave their property and city before it fell again into German hands. My family was among those that opted to leave. We were ten and we left on big trucks till we reached Rovno. We became wanderers- displaced.

Confusion reigned in Rovno. Here and there you could see signs of destruction left by bombardments. The city was full of Red Army soldiers. The Jews were frightened; most of them had no livelihood or prospects. Many refugees, especially Jews from Lodz, Warsaw and other cities were in town and thousands of refugees were streaming into the city that was already packed. The representatives of the community and the refugees' committee came to meet us but since there were no available apartments they lodged us in public buildings. We were able to find shelter in a synagogue close to the railroad station. A few hundred refugees from Lublin were ushered to that building that was jammed and suffocating. People were lying on benches, on the floor and in the corridors. We had Polish money that had lost most of its value, when we exchanged it for Russian money we received very little in return. The food was scarce, and the provisions you could find were extremely expensive. Most of the refugees were in dire straits, suffered from lack of food and needed aid and charity, but there were no institutions to provide help. Depression and despair ate at us, we didn't know what to expect from a regime that was new to us. And if Rovno's Jewish situation was harsh, it was seven times tougher for the many refugees thrown amid them.

There was hardly any work when the Soviet authorities looking for people to work outside of town published an announcement. On that day my father was standing in line for bread when he overheard Ukrainians talk about taking revenge on Jews. The words deeply affected him and he decided to leave Rovno. The next day he registered for work in inner-Russia and received a ticket to travel to Donbass, other refugees did the same. The flux of refugees to Rovno kept growing and the difficulties of absorbing them increased. A rumor said that the Germans in Lublin were allowing the refugees to go back and get their property and belongings, some were convinced to go back, but the Germans did not allow them to leave again.

On November 1939 arrived the day for my father's departure to Donbass. It was difficult for him to say goodbye to his family, but there was no choice. Later we found out that willingly or unwillingly, everybody had to work. When we had to find prey after my father's departure, we began, like many others, passing light merchandise back and forth from Rovno to Lvov. The Red Army soldiers bought everything and we made some living in this small commerce of catch as catch can.

When the Red Army retreated from the city, Jews were forced to transfer to Russia. Many accepted this edict that eventually saved their lives.

Ziporra Kindler (Kalb)


[Page 518]

The attitude of the non-Jewish population toward the Jews

Translation by Naomi Gal

The non-Jewish population in Rovno and its surroundings was composed of mainly Ukrainians. In the decades before the Holocaust, Poles as well settled in Volhynia region. These inhabitants made their living from commerce, meat industry and crafts and quite a few worked for government and public establishments. They had Ukrainian-national awareness and dreamed about an independent Ukraine.

Before the German invasion of Ukraine, Hitler had allies among the Ukrainians: Stephan Bandera and Malnikov, both nationalist adventurers who conspired with some of the Ukrainian's ex-heads, promising them “a free Ukraine” by cutting Ukraine, Volhynia region and east Galicia. They gathered bands in forests and villages to fight the Poles, Jews and Soviets under the patronage of the Third Reich. No wonder, then, that the Ukrainians were anticipating the entrance of the “liberating” Germans to Ukraine. They were so confident that they began distributing the jobs and the offices in the future government. That explains the fact that the day after the Germans occupied Rovno a committee was elected to manage the city's affairs; the militiamen, too, were selected from among the Ukrainians only, everything was prepared ahead of time. But Bandera's promises were not fulfilled and the local rule was left in German hands. The payoff was that they could execute confiscations, or more clearly: they could rob and steal the population legally, and list youngsters in order to transfer them to working camps in Germany. The Ukrainians were satisfied since now they could take revenge on the Jews to their heart's content, they could rob and pillage with no fear of being punished, when the mere physical survival of the Jews was entrusted to them.

The Ukrainians used this “privilege” they got from the authorities as much as they could. Every invitation from the region commander – be it from the military or the local authorities, was given to the Jews through the Ukrainians militia, which executed the order with some additions as commission fees. The militiamen took whatever they found, after increasing and doubling the number of articles and things they had to deliver.

The extremists and middlemen were not the only ones to behave that way, simple citizens as well saw the low the Jews had reached living in constant terror and grabbed their property. They excelled especially during the first “action” and after the liquidation of Rovno's ghetto.

The first bloody “action” was on November 6, 1941, soon after the Jews were assembled in Mouchtzski Park and from there led to slaughter. The Ukrainians spread like locusts onto Jewish dwellings, where they robbed and pillaged all the valuables. Some did not settle for what they could carry in their arms, brought wagons drawn by horses, and loaded furniture, appliances and household utensilseverything they could take. The whole Ukrainian population, poor and rich, educated and simple folks, participated in this misappropriation. There were quite a few cases when Jews were able to hide in basements, attics, in nooks and crannies, but the Ukrainians divulged to the Germans their whereabouts, so that they could destroy and annihilate them. Especially since they got paid for the service.

The Russian population treatment of Rovno Jews was not much better. They belonged to white Russia, meaning they were part of the army officers and the officials from the Tsar days who fought the revolution and after the defeat escaped to Poland. They were not part of the current regime, but as part of the Aryan race used the opportunity and grabbed their part of the robbery and loot.

On the other hand, there were a few Poles left, they had a minimal influence on the city's life, but treated the Jews in more or less civilized manner; they, too, were persecuted. Well remembered is Sirkvitz, a priest who taught his congregation morale and humane teachings. In those harsh times, with the Nazi persecutions of the Jews, this priest found it in himself to give Jews Christians certificates, and many were able to live in other cities, where they were not recognized as Jews. Furthermore, these certificates, upon which Jewish lives depended, were given free-of-charge. When the Germans heard about it they expulsed the priest from Rovno alongside a group of Polish youngsters. Chomsky was another Pole who worked as notary for the Germans; in this capacity he helped Jews and provided them with German documents that saved the lives of their holders, at least for a while.

The way the Poles treated the Jews was partially influenced by the fact that the Ukrainians saw the Poles as conquerors not too long ago. After twenty years of ruling Volhynia as they saw right, now, when the Germans were here and the Ukrainians felt as rulers, to some degree, in their own home, they used this power to take revenge on their hated Poles. Their vengeance manifested in restricting the Poles' rights, imprisoning Polish youth, blaming them of plotting against the new regime. Thus, the Poles had their own troubles and worries and they had no time to devote themselves to their famous anti-Semitism.

The Czechs' attitude toward Jews was completely different. The Czechs who lived in the city and in nearby villages did not cooperate with the Germans or with other Jew haters. On the contrary, they generally shared the sorrow of their Jewish neighbors, with whom they maintained for many years commercial and friendly relationships. Moreover, despite the severe ban, the Czechs visited their Jewish acquaintances and even the ghetto inhabitants, and tried to provide for them. Many Czechs, who owned factories near Rovno, pleaded with the German authorities to send them Jewish workers and clerks, and when they succeeded paid their Jewish workers a decent salary, treated them well and helped them with food and other needs. Remarkable were the Czechs' endeavors to save Jewish children in different ways.

The writer of this column met in 1946 children that were saved by the Czechs during the Nazi occupation. Worth mentioning is the Danziger's family: in 1941 the head of the family was expulsed by the Soviets to Russia and the mother was left in Rovno all alone with a six months old baby. When she heard the rumor that the Germans were about to exterminate the city's Jews, she addressed a Czech, who was good and generous, and used to visit her in the ghetto. She asked him to feel mercy for her only child and take him. “If the edict is that I will be exterminated, at least my child will survive.” The Czech, who had nine children of his own did not flinch and took home the Jewish child – to have a full “minyan”. Mrs. Danziger was miraculously saved (by pretending to be Christian throughout the whole occupation years). After the liberation the Czech brought the child to his mother safe and sound, healthy and handsome. During the two years the child lived with him the Czech got so attached to the kid, that after he returned him to his mother he used to come visit him every Sunday, to play with the “grandkid” as he called him.

Similar story is the one about the two daughters of the Wisizer family, who were hiding with Czechs till the day of liberation.

Engineer Moshe Gildenman


[Page 520]

The way it happened

a. 22 June to 6 November 1941

Translation by Naomi Gal

The morning of June 22 saw the first victims of Rovno. A horrible week began: during the day incendiary bombs fell and caused huge fires, and at night, to the light of the fires, German bombers found their way to the city. The Red Army retreated and following them went part of the Jewish population. Unfortunately only a fraction left since many could not escape, and others did not comprehend the enormity of the danger. Elderly and confident people said that if this is what is decreed there is no point in escaping – you couldn't run away from your fate. Others said they didn't want to die in foreign lands, better die at home, and they stayed. They did not know that even this wish would not be granted.

When the Germans conquered the city on June 29 they already had a plan for the Jewish problem: establishing ghettos and working-settlements. If Jews would not be expulsed or murdered by the Ukrainians the inhabitants of smaller settlements will be transferred to larger camps, where they will be forced to work.

The Jews were placed beyond the law. No one was punished for killing a Jew and needless to say, for beating a Jew. There were many cases of abducting Jews in the streets and from working places, and the abducted never returned. That is how Varberg, the famous teacher, was caught while fighting a fight that was not his; he saw a Jew abducted by Germans and demanded to free him. The Germans liked to take hostages, without returning them of course; one of the hostages was the Hebrew activist, the teacher Eliezer Botlik, one of the first teachers of “Tarbut” high school.

Back then Rovno, in general, was paradise in comparison to other cities. For instance Ostroh, where four weeks after the German occupation the first “action” occurred, around 3000 Jews died. After four more weeks the second “action” took place, and included 2500 Jews. Rovno's Jews were supposedly safer. The city commander, an Austrian, treated “fairly” Dr. Bergman, the head of the Jewish council (“Judenrat”) and used to “advise” him how to be saved before each “action” the authorities executed. His advice was simple: silver and gold. Indeed lots of silver and gold flowed these days from Jewish houses to German pockets. Some of it passed to the “fair” Austrian, but it remained a well-kept secret.

By the end of July a ruling was made: all Rovno's Jews had to carry on their arm a white patch with a blue Mogen David. They were moved to the Gestapo's auspices. In October came the order to found the ghetto. The ghetto encompassed the area from both sides of the train-station: the right side of Poniatovski Street and the alleys on the left – Zlota, Midloverna and others. Jews had no right to enter Third of Mai Street or other main streets. The ghetto was extremely crowded. Whole families lived in one single room. The costs were exorbitant since the supplies depended on what the Ukrainians were willing to smuggle.

The seat of the Jewish Council was at first at the community house on Klashtorna Street; once the ghetto was founded their offices were moved to the primary school. The harassment multiplied and the sufferings increased. With time a new edict came: the shame patch, that now turned yellow, had to be carried on the front and the back not only on the overclothes, but on the shirt as well.

One of the main tasks the Jewish Council had to carry out was to provide the Germans with Jewish laborers, materials and different artifacts. Besides, an employment bureau was established that created workshops for the Germans, and it issued “working permits” for workers, which saved their owners from abduction and expulsion. And forever will be remembered the abomination of Haim Rozner, the head of the bureau who extorted money abundantly from the permits' receivers. Being abducted meant to be sent to Biale Street, from where no one came back.

On November 5 big announcements appeared in the ghetto's streets saying: Whoever does not have a working permit has to report tomorrow morning at a certain place with all the belongings he can carry. The meaning of the order was: banishment and doom.

Around eighteen thousand of Rovno's Jews, elderly and youth, men and women, whole families with their children and properties, reported as ordered at the city's park named after Mouchtzski, amid them working-permit holders who did not want to part with their families. They stood throughout the whole day shaking in the cold wind and the snow and finally they were lead to the pretty pine grove outside of town and exterminated.

Among the assembled were the city's rabbis, Rabbi Moshe-Laser Rotenberg, and Rabbi H. M. Ma-Yafit. There was a possibility to free the rabbis, but they refused, saying: where the herd goes, goes the shepherd. And the two rabbis went with their flock to the sacrifice. Rabbi Ma-Yafit spoke to the flock facing the pits and strengthened their hearts at the last hour.

It is impossible to describe the dire sights that were revealed there. The graves, the ditches about which people in town spoke a while ago – were ready. The numerous armed guardians made sure no one could escape from the surrounded area, the Nazi pulled out their arms. Group after group people were pushed into the ditches and fell, shot, into them, alive, wounded or dead.

It seems as if the Germans chose to exterminate Rovno's Jews on the Russian Revolution anniversary, empathizing the link between the revolution and the Jews. This is a symbolic date for us.

Noah Grees


[Page 522]

B. In the Talons of the Nazis

Translation by Naomi Gal

Rovno, Volhynia's capital in the Polish republic, became under the Nazi occupation a center and the State Seat of the German commissariat for Ukraine. Heinrich Koch was appointed as its head and all the atrocities the Germans and the Ukrainians performed on Volhynia's Jews affected Rovno Jews as well. Nevertheless, the Jews from the surrounding villages were attracted to Rovno, believing naively that the hardships would be lesser. The villages' Jewish Councils, the Judenrat, contacted Rovno Judenrat and inquired about routines, situations and moods.

In the first period of the Nazi's rule of Rovno – until the first “action” November 1941 - the prevailing opinion was that as many Jews as possible should be centered in one place and there should be one big ghetto, as was done in Poland. The idea was that in such a central ghetto the Jews would enjoy self-rule, which is why so many were drawn to Rovno. Another reason for the influx to Rovno was the wave of pogroms that washed over many settlements in German's occupied Ukraine. The occupiers did not prevent Jews from entering Rovno.

Looking back nowadays it is clear that the Germans deliberately intended to centralize Jewish masses in preparation for a big “action” of extermination. The concentration facilitated the annihilation.

The history of Rovno's Jews during the Nazi occupation is not different from the history of Jews in other Volhynia cities. Persecutions, confiscations, and plunder of property, abductions and murders by the Germans and their Ukrainian servants, which began on the first day of the occupation, were a daily sight. In the beginning the Germans punished the Jews severely after stripping them from whatever they could, they brutally and sadistically abused them, and afterwards moved from “small” acts to murdering individuals and groups, till they got to the first “action”. The first victims fell on July second, when the Ukrainian police pulled out five women standing in line for bread, took them to Biala Street and murdered them.

The first abduction took place in the second half of July. Trucks were stationed on the road Jews were taking on their way home from work. German soldiers and Ukrainian policemen stood by the trucks and stopped those who had a yellow star, loaded them on the trucks and took them somewhere, they immediately came back and went on abducting more innocent victims. Later it was found out that they, too, were taken to Biala Street and killed there. During July and August 1941 three such abductions took place and the number of murdered was estimated at over thousand. Ize Weber, a high school teacher, who was a Judenrat member, addressed the abducting Germans and asked for an explanation to the abduction of innocent people on their way home from hard labor for the German army. The answer was: please, Mister, join them. Thus he fell victim to the second abduction.

November 6 1941 is a bitter date, a bloody day that saw the loss of masses of Rovno Jews; this was the first “action” that uprooted the lives of more than 17,000 people. The murders left only a few thousands of professionals they needed for essential jobs, planning to exterminate them later. A ghetto was founded for them in part of Wolja. The broken remaining Jews were forced to move into the ghetto and continue slaving till their day of “redemption” came, since death was better than life under the Nazi boot. As the ghetto was not closed the Jews called it Douchielniza quarter.

The final “action” at Rovno ghetto began on July 12 1942. The previous day many armed Ukrainians surrounded the ghetto and floodlights were installed. With daylight they began assembling the Jews into freight wagons that waited on the railroad in Beleia quarter. The wagons were packed with men, women, children and elderly, and headed north, to Kostopol, to a place known as “Yenova Dolina”. When the train halted the people were taken out of the wagons, forced to stand in lines facing the open pits and a machinegun killed them straight into the pits.

Some Jews who were hiding in Beleia quarter were found and murdered on the spot. There was no escape. It seems that they were all found and exterminated. In few months the Jewish quarter – the ghetto – turned into talus. The ghetto inhabitants were hiding in bunkers; in order to reveal them the Nazi bombed whole buildings. Ukrainians and some Poles searched the ghetto for Jewish hidden treasures and meanwhile destroyed the houses. They became experts in this “vocation”.

Ukrainians who lately reported about the second “action” said that the Jews threw some bombs on the Germans and the Ukrainian militiamen, and that one German and two Ukrainian policemen were wounded.

Batya Keshev (Eisenstein)


[Page 523]

c. Rovno's End

Translation by Naomi Gal

I lived with my parents and sister in the Wolja neighborhood in Rovno since my childhood. I was sixteen when the Germans conquered the city, and I stayed there from June 29 1941 till September 12 1943. On June 28 1941 the Russians left town under heavy German bombardments and shelling. On June 29 the German forces entered Rovno, after hitting her hard by bombardments. The conquerors immediately took control of the city and its surroundings and destroyed a considerable portion of Barka Yossilvitche Street while causing ample damage and casualties. The Jews were locked in their homes and avoided venturing out. There were different opinions and speculations about what was about to happen.

On July 2 the Germans captured approximately a thousand Jews in the streets. By evening about seven hundred were released, the rest were led to an unknown destination. They did not come back and no one knew their fate. Amid the missing were: Joseph Frankenstein, Haim Gellman, Israel Marcus, S. Kaplan, Winshelboym, Siratech and others. This terrified the Jews who began hiding in their apartments and only went out when absolutely necessary. A Jew in the street risked being abducted to forced-labor, and there were cases when people were taken out of the bread line. Abusing and murdering Jews were daily events.

In August the Germans appointed a Jewish Council, Judenrat, headed by Haim Rattner alongside Dr. Flashner, Bergman the teacher (a high school principal), the lawyer Sucharczuk, Iza Weber and Liebel Shmotz (later there were changes). The council appointed a Jewish police whose offices were in the community's building. The council and the police performed tasks designed by the Nazis and tried to do their best. In the beginning people believed the Judenrat would serve some purpose but they were quickly disappointed because they lacked any authority, and also on account of the shameful behavior of some of its members. Every demand the German had: provide workers, merchandise, and artifacts etc. went to the Judenrat, which most of the time complied, squeezing it out from the city's Jewish population. The Jews were in distress and fear, and fear enhanced the hard feelings and the confusion, no one knew what the next day would bring.

In September hearsay spread that Russian war-prisoners had to dig ditches in the pine grove behind the city and no one knew what for. Shortly afterwards the conquerors issued a decree demanding that every Jew who had a job must get a special permit from the Judenrat. The Jews were wondering if this decree was good or not, and more disquiet prevailed in the hearts. Many began leaving the city, and at the same time many others arrived in town from the outside. The chaos continued and the situation kept getting worse.

On November 5 announcements by the Gestapo and the Judenrat were published demanding that all the city Jews, except those who had a working permit, appear the next day, November 6 at 7 o'clock in the morning, in Mouchtzski Park behind the prison, to be sent to work. They were asked to bring only valuables and pack lightly. There is no describing the depressing impression these announcements had, but an order is an order and naïve Rovno Jews obeyed this order as well. Very early in the morning they scurried in masses to the appointed place. Since I had a working-permit and I did not want to go to the appointed place I went to Vasniek, a Polish woman who once worked for us, and hid in her house close to the grove. That is how I saw with my own eyes the long procession of Rovno Jews on their last route; to my estimation there were more than twenty thousand.

It was a bitter cold morning; very windy, heavy snow was falling. I saw from afar the gathered Jews standing and freezing. Many Germans guards and Ukrainian policemen surrounded the place. Suddenly I perceived a wave of movement amid the crowd and my heart melted in my chest.

On that fateful day, November 6, 1941 Rovno Jews were led from the grove to a pine forest on the way to Koretz and were all murdered. Those who tried to evade or escape were chased and shot. The mass-extermination operation, known as “action” was executed according to a fixed plan and lasted all day. By evening the task was over and the ditches were covered with a thin layer of earth.

For two days I was under the nightmare's impact and stayed in my hiding place. On the third day I left my hiding-place, changed my clothes and went home, where I found my parents, who hid as well on the “action” day, and my sister who remained home since she had a working permit. I found out details about the horrible slaughter in which close to 18 thousand Jews died. Those who survived were hiding or walking around like ghosts with no guarantee for the next day. Only a few thousand were left in town, all of them had working permits, and the Nazis assembled them in a ghetto and prevented communication with the outside and with non-Jews. When the days passed with no further total-extermination, there were some optimists who hoped that the survivors would be left alone since they served the conquerors.

The ghetto's space was very limited and its borders were: from the railroad on Ponietovsky Street up to the maternity hospital on to the Stock factory. There were not sufficient houses in the ghetto and the congestion was great: five, six persons in one room. The bread ration was meager and was given only to working-permit holders. Jews who were hiding with Czechs and Poles before the “action”, appeared suddenly in the ghetto after being considered dead and buried. The survivors' attitude toward the Judenrat was bad, the trust we had in them was gone, everybody believed they knew about the “action” and took care only of themselves and their families. The Judenrat police was corrupt. Fishel Guz, who was at the Judenrat service, behaved cruelly and sadistically toward his brothers and everybody hated him. His name, like the name of others similar to him, will remain forever a disgrace in the history of Rovno whose people were led to slaughter.

B. Zeloska, a Rovno citizen, who worked before the first “action” for a German mayor in the city, related that his employer informed him about the oncoming fate of the Jews and he at once informed Rattner, the head of the Judenrat, but Rattner paid no heed (and maybe he already knew?). Zeloska himself, overcome by the shocking information left Rovno immediately with his children, wandered from place to place till he settled with a group of partisans in the neighboring forests.

News began arriving from nearby villages about “actions” in which whole communities were destroyed and about the part the Ukrainians played in these deeds. A heavy cloud descended again on Rovno's ghetto prisoners, at the same time the German issued an order against employing Jews, a bad omen. The general consensus was that the survivors were facing a bitter end. It was obvious that the local Ukrainians were waiting for the opportunity to get rid of the last Jews in the ghetto. Soon after, Russian war-prisoners began digging a ditch alongside the ghetto. They said it's for an electric cable. This caused wonder and there were interpretations and guessing galore. Then everybody had the idea of escaping (the ghetto was not closed). But many did not know where to go and where to hide. Some prepared themselves safe shelters, and it was said that the Judenrat members made sure they had bunkers for themselves and their families. My parents turned to a Christian acquaintance who hid them in his farm, while my sister and I left town. Others did the same; we all felt something terrible was about to happen.

And the heart indeed had a reason to tremble. On the morning of July 11, 1942 we escaped Rovno. On the next day massive Germans and Ukrainians guards blocked all traffic and surrounded the ghetto. Many floodlights lighted the ghetto suddenly and the Jews were ordered to go outside. Those who did not go were forced out of their homes or hiding-places. All of them were shoved into freight trains and sent to “Yenova Dolina” next to Kostopol. Nazi guards awaited them and murdered them all in the ditches that were prepared in advance. This is how the remains of my city Rovno were liquidated. Again my fate was to see my brothers and sisters the Jews led to slaughter in the second “action”.

Z. Ledichover


[Page 526]

d. What I saw with my own eyes

Translation by Naomi Gal

I was a witness to the bloody events in Rovno during the days of the horrid calamity of the Nazi occupation of the city and its surrounding.

In mid September 1939, when the Soviets entered and took control of the city, the very foundation of life was shaken, especially for Jews, but the disaster reached its peak by the end of June, when the Germans stormed through the city after bombing it. The Ukrainians approached the Germans from the first days and with some Poles organized a Ukrainian Militia that operated side by side with the German police. With the help of the militia, which was hostile to Jews, the Nazi collected hundreds of the best Jews, three or four hundred, and led them to an unknown place. There were different assumptions about their fate, but since none of them came back, it was clear that they fell by criminals' hands.

The Jews were ordered to wear a yellow patch and were showered by many different edicts that turned their lives into a nightmare and deprived them of any confidence in the future. People were caught daily in the streets and many were taken out of their houses for supposedly necessary jobs, but no one ever came back and their fate remained unknown. Quests and investigations about their fate bore no results. During the first four months 3,000-4,000 Jews died that way. At the same time the Nazi conquerors and their assistants embittered the lives of Rovno Jews with all kind of deviltry and blackmail. The local Judenrat was ordered to make a list of all the professionals and issue special working-permits for them.

The opinions about the Judenrat were varied, and if one cannot defend it, blaming would be problematical too. The institution was between a rock and a hard place, limited and powerless; their activists were narrow-minded since the best activists had been already destroyed. The Judenrat story is to this day a dark chapter.

On November 5 1941, by the order of the occupying authorities, the Judenrat issued an announcement that all the Jewish population, except the holders of working-permits, had to report on the morning of November 6 next to the prison – Lyubomirski Park – with the luggage necessary for relocating to a working place. Whoever evaded or arrived late – would be killed. The Judenrat policemen, a yellow ribbon on their hats, went from house to house and delivered the message. The people were under false impression and left with no idea about the trap spreading under their feet. According to a report my father received, the order was given to the Judenrat on November 1, but they tried to postpone it with bribes and it was delayed by 5 days. Later we found out that two days before the slaughter, guards surrounded the city to prevent escapes.

The night of November 7 was stormy and tempestuous. It seemed as nature itself was expressing its wrath for the terrible tragedy that begot Rovno Jews, but the tempest aided the murderers: it took away all the will to resist and people were hoping that the murderers would postpone their evil intent on account of the weather, but the miracle did not happen. Before the assigned hour – five in the morning – masses of thousands began streaming in the dark of night to the assigned location. My father, my mother and all our family, besides my sister Lea and I, accepted their fate and went with their neighbors.

That evening I found a hiding-place in the attic of Kovendo, my Czech acquaintance, who lived on Zlotievska Street. I spent a nightmarish night, I could not find peace and I did not look outside the window. I figured that indeed that was the end of Rovno's Jews. The next morning my sister arrived. An elderly German took pity on her and wanted to get her a working-permit at the last minute, but the Judenrat was closed; he took her to Malinov Road and from there she came to Kovendo's house. She told me about the happenings of the previous night. Traffic on Shossejna Street was stopped. The Jews with their families trudged, loaded with bundles and babies starting at midnight toward Lyubomirski Park, thinking they are going to be relocated. In town were left professionals only who had permits to protect them. My sister saw the sick being taken out of the Jewish hospital and loaded on the wagons.

A long, strange frightening procession.

Since morning we heard automatic weapons shooting incessantly from the prison direction. The heart trembled, was it possible? Can this be? At two p.m. Kovendo's wife brought us food, apologized and asked us to find a safer shelter, because she was afraid to keep us after she heard that all the assembled Jews were killed in the pine grove. We stayed there two more days and the evening of the third day we left our hiding-place dressed as Ukrainians and went through the alleys to our cousin Liebush Rosnboym, a professional baker, who had a permit, hence the order did not include him. His house (which in the past belonged to Kolker, the teacher) was in an alley next to Shpitelna Street. He gave us details about the abominable massacre. Later in the evening I went to our house. The furniture was still there. Tchernichov, the neighbor that lived in an apartment on the yard's side prevented me from taking my warm coat saying that it would be blamed on him, although he knew there was no one left to complain. He asked me where I was staying and I told him the truth. Later I found out he sent a Ukrainian policemen to the place where I was staying. At dawn, as I left my cousin's house a Ukrainian policemen stopped me and asked why wasn't I wearing my yellow patch and wanted to see my working-permit. He made me walk with him, me first and he behind me. At the corner of our house I turned to our yard. The policemen hit me. I pushed him and jumped through the stairs to Tchernichov's apartment, from there through the balcony into our garden and then to the street that was still empty. The policemen saw me but did not want to take the risk and jump. This is how I escaped him. I rushed to my cousin Yaakov Rosenboym, a baker too, who lived on Ponyettovski Street. I decided to leave Rovno. I called my sister and on the same day we walked from Romalna Street next to the railroad and headed to Zdolbuniv, where we had a brother.

My family in Zdolbuniv and I went through a long saga of wandering, dangers, hardships and suffering. Not a day went by without our lives being endangered. Finally, when Zdolbuniv Jews were facing liquidation I left for Mizocz ghetto to arrange documents for my sister and me, but when I came back I found that Zdolbuniv ghetto was liquidated. This was on October 12, 1942. My brother Liebish and I were the only ones left. We used to hide during the day and go out at night to look for food and contacts. We were still hoping to find our sister and her husband, but to no avail. Once, roaming the forest I encountered a Ukrainian acquaintance that wanted to drag me and hand me over to the murderers, I wrestled with him, and when he blocked my mouth with his hand I bit part of his finger until he had to let go. We went on hiding with a Czech acquaintance in a village. We had a hiding place under a large heap of hay where there was enough space to sit and lie down, and we spent there around a year and a half unbeknown to the farmer. Once, in the beginning of January 1944, I went out to the yard at midnight and climbed on a beam to enter through a sealed window into the cowshed, when I heard Jewish youngsters talking. Not wanting to frighten the youngsters I said in Yiddish: “I am a Jew, don't be afraid Jewish children.” The answer was: “We are not afraid any longer.” Both were around nineteen years old and were lying there with no warm clothes, warming themselves in the cowshed with the landlady's permission. One of them, Simch'le Maozirian said: “I can mend galoshes, they let me in the villages and I get food. I hope to survive the war.” The second one was the son of a wheat merchant who was a partner of Joseph Penimanski, behind Gem's flourmill on the way to Korets. From the youngsters' stories I learned more about the extermination of Rovno's Jews. Simch'le told me that his father was holding his hand at the time of the murder and he fell with his wounded father into the big ditch. He was not hurt and his father told him to go to the non-Jew woman who lived next to their storehouse on the way to Korets and ask her to take care of him. He obeyed his father and with the thunder and the shootings they did not see him leave the ditch.

My heart was heavy when I bid the kids farewell. Later I found out both of them were murdered two-three weeks afterwards by a Ukrainian policemen from Glinsk village (between Bondev and Rovno).

We found out very few details about the second “action” in Rovno and the murder of 5,000 more Jews in the middle of 1942 because we were confined to our hiding-place and we had no contact with Jews. I assumed that the remains of our people were hiding and kept changing their clothes and documents, like we did. Once, in the summer of 1943 I became ill, I had high-fever. I summoned what was left of my strength and went to Rovno to our family paramedic, Kondrat Olyenikov (a Russian whose wife was German) who worked at the Jewish hospital. It was hard to recognize me in my Ukrainian clothes, but I recognized several Ukrainians I met on my way. I was looking for a Jewish face - in vain. I found the paramedic in his apartment. He recognized me and was surprised that I was not afraid to venture back to Rovno. I told him that in any case I was not sure I was going to survive. He examined me, gave me medicine and said that if I develop typhus it would be almost impossible to heal outside of a hospital. I went back, I was lucky and felt better. His attitude was cordial and empathetic and he refused to take money for his help. I will never forget his friendly conduct (he was later persecuted by the Germans and reached a displaced Jewish camp in Italy). Our hardships went on till the Nazi's defeat.

Meir Rozenboym


[Page 529]

Notes of the Bloody Affair

Translation by Naomi Gal

The terrible day, June 22 is still engraved in my mind, the beginning of the war and the start of the tragic end of six million of our people, and our Rovno's sons amongst them. It was a Sunday. I was free of work and wanted to rest and sleep late when shots of antiaircraft were heard, and they woke up all the citizens. None of us knew what the shots were. Outside it seemed as if nothing happened, but people were standing confused, looking astonished and frightened. Finally it became clear: Hitler declared war on Russia in a radio broadcast. Although everybody felt that Russia would stand against the barbarian enemy, despair began nibbling the heart. And then the radio announced that at 11:45 Molotov would give a speech. We sat by the receiver waiting for the important words. Meanwhile mobilization orders began arriving. The city was filled with crying and apprehension, especially after Molotov's brief speech, which made clear that a catastrophe was fast approaching.

That same evening airplanes' bombing started, we saw the first killed and wounded. After two days the bombing intensified and the city was badly hurt, especially the center, around the communal bath on Shkolna Street. Koroves house was destroyed with all its inhabitants. A bomb fell as well on my uncle Fiznewrik's house. His family lived on the first floor and was saved, but the Golovs, the neighbors, were all killed. Many were killed on Hellir Street, where a few bombs hit the park and caused many deaths. The unrelenting bombing caused many Jews to pack their belongings and leave the city heading toward the old Russian-Polish border. But rumors began at once claiming that the Russians, in order to avoid panic, forbid crossing the border, and the wandering stopped. The first who escaped toward Korets managed to save their lives, but the ones who headed to Ostrog were unlucky: most of them perished in a lethal German bombardment. My friend, Iza Rosen, who happened to be in Ostrog on her way to Rovno, told me about it. I could not escape Rovno since there were no vehicles, and my sister, who was not yet ten years old, could not walk more than a few kilometers. And so, fearing to lose the family on the way, we remained stuck, fearing the bitter fate that was approaching.

On June 27 the first German columns arrived in town. The sight of the soldiers was more frightening than the bombardments; we felt these ones would not bypass any of us. The houses were all locked and people dared peek out only through the shutters' slits. As soon as they arrived the Germans began abusing the Jews. They found six Jews hiding in one of the synagogues and murdered them. One of them was Lissize, who lived on the Wolja, his daughter studied in France and she might have survived. Kagan was there as well (he might have been the father or uncle of Masha Kagan, who graduated from Tarbut high school.) We don't know the names of the others.

Afterwards a stream of different orders was given to us, they all had the same aim: abuse, robbery and madness of beasts in human form. The first order was to hand over all the radio receivers. When the first radios were brought it turned out that the Germans were beating to death the people and one Jew was murdered. When my mother heard about it she decided not to hand over our radio. She turned the stove on and put the radio into the flames. The bulbs blew up noisily and we felt very heroic. This rebellion against the Germans might have saved my life because since the first order and the radio destroying I decided to disobey their orders as much as possible. And then came the order to wear a white ribbon with a Mogen David, and whoever disobeyed would be killed, and we obliged.

In the Goyim abodes merriment and joy: the Ukrainians obtained the opportunity to take revenge on the Jews they hated so. When they got permission they began, as did the Germans, to pillage and abuse women and children. They robbed, raped and murdered as much as they could. Their main role was to inform on Jews and to serve as “tour guides” to Jewish hiding-places.

The German terror became worse every day. There was hardly any Jewish house that soldiers did not visit to rob and rape. I remember one midnight the third house from ours, Taketch house. The mother and her daughters managed to escape and only a neighbor was left, a young woman with a baby in her arms. The Germans raped her and ordered her to wait for them the next day, otherwise they would kill her. The next morning she ran away and when they came for her and did not find her they robbed her house and all the neighbors' houses. They came to our house as well in pairs and trios, supposedly looking for arms and robbing whatever they could find. We hid the valuables in the basement and camouflaged the entrance.

Robbery and rape became daily deeds. I remember once when two gendarmes approached our house and father and a neighbor (the brother-in-law of Kolker, the teacher) ran to hide in the basement, because they used to beat the men to death. We opened the door for them, they entered and began turning over the cupboards, throwing the bedding on the floor and tearing open the pillowcases with a knife, looking for gold or silver. When they found nothing but feathers they became furious: a nice house and nothing valuable? They went on searching every corner. I was afraid they would discover the basement, find the men and murder them. Suddenly they moved the big closet and found behind it a red flag we did not know about, left from the Soviet occupation. They started screaming: Communists! Communists! Tore the flag and stomped on it. Our hair raised in horror. Fortunately they did not find the entrance to the basement and spent their wrath on household utensils. With the flag's pole and their gun barrel they smashed all the glass and china they found. Then they left angrily to our great surprise.

Those incidents occurred in many houses. Men were more the targets back then. They used to catch them in the houses or in the streets and take them to hard and repulsive jobs: to clean toilets, needlessly carry woods to high floors and roofs and then back down, harness them to wagons instead of horses and beat them till they bled while they were carrying heavy loads. One day a black car appeared in the city's streets, followed by other cars with German and Ukrainian police and they began abducting men from houses and from the streets. The abducted were led to wherever they were led and never came back. It was said that they were taking men to work, but we had bad premonitions. Soon we found out that ditches were dug beside Byale Street and that the men were taken there and shot to death. Non-Jews who lived on Byale Street told their Jewish acquaintances. It was hard to believe and for a long time people spoke about “work” and a “certain” place where the abducted live. Amid those who were led to an unknown place was Eliezer Boslik, Babba, the teacher, the son of Isaac Barkovski, the “Tarbut” high school teacher. Gelman, the dental technician, Michael Guz and many others were gone, as well. Later they abducted women too, among them Ddubkirer from Wolja and her son.

Meanwhile the Judenrat was organized, headed by Dr. Bergman, a high school teacher, Axelrod, Haim Rattner and others. The Germans intended to use the council for their plans and issued through them their demands from the Jewish population that was diminishing daily. They demanded money, gold, objects, clothing, and such, as well as people for hard-labor work. The council members tried to bribe the inspectors and the authorities and lighten, if not abolish the decrees. But the Nazi occupiers' appetite became bigger every day and the council members were powerless. One day the Germans announced that by a general order the Jews have to give all the gold and silver they have and disobedience would result in death. The Jews began streaming in masses bringing every thing they had left, gold, silver and valuables.

The economy in town became worse every day. The Jews were allocated a 100-gram piece of bread per person, and the price of bread increased at a frightful rate and was usually sold not for money but for valuables. We began selling the objects we had left for a loaf of bread; it was done very secretly, fearing the evil eye of a German or Ukrainian policeman. The Ukrainian peasants were doing very well, they demanded and got a suit for 10 kilos of flour. We used to leave our home and go to faraway villages, mainly Krasilov, to exchange objects for flour, potatoes, oil etc. Once we were coming back, my mother, my sister and I from that village with some of the food we managed to get and hurrying to get to town before seven (afterwards no traffic was allowed). We encountered two German gendarmes who found the food on us. We explained that we worked for a Czech peasant that paid us with food. They did not believe us and led us back to the village to find out if we were speaking the truth, threatening to kill us if they found out we were lying. We were in great danger, but fortunately a miracle happened: the Czech we appointed was not home and his wife, who understood what was going on and wanted to save us, said she indeed employed us and gave us some food as salary. The Germans reprimanded her for letting us go so early and ordered her to employ us till dark, but under no circumstances let us sleep at her place. They left cursing, threatening us and advising the Czech not to take pity on bloody Jews. We stayed and worked for a short while and when we left we began running to get home on time. We arrived home breathless, without our Mogen David ribbon. Father and the others met us as if we were returning from “the other side”.

Two months passed, the Germans realized that the ribbon with the Mogen David was an honor to the Jews and decided to change it to a yellow patch. The order was that every Jew had to carry two yellow patches, each one of them eight centimeters diameter, one on the breast and one on the back, like in medieval times. The Goyim saw the patch and laughed: “Stalin's sun”. That was the general opinion: all Jews are communists.

Sometimes we got Ukrainian pamphlets from which we gleaned information, although we did not trust them. They were relating the German Armies successes and conquests, that they already occupied Kiev and were advancing to the heart of Russia. According to one report the Germans were about to transfer 100,000 Jews from Kiev. Back then we did not fathom that this meant killing hundreds of thousands of our people. The fact was that hundreds of thousands of Kiev's Jews were led to Babi Yar where they were murdered during two days in the Jewish cemetery. Later it was told that peasants who witnessed the slaughter said that the earth shook and breathed for three days, since many were buried alive.

In those days the exit from Rovno was still free, but only few left town. No one knew what to do and where to go. In our house they thought that the men should leave Rovno. My father found a Polish acquaintance that led him and my uncle Abraham Firestien to his place, around Zdolbuniv. It seems there were others who heard the rumors and left Rovno.

At the same time Jews from other places were coming to Rovno. The estimated number of Jews in town was thirty five thousand. Most of them lived crowded together and in poverty; various diseases spread among them. There were signs indicating that the Germans intended to turn Rovno into the main seat of the region and place here the Reichskommissar Koch. That is probably why they wanted to first get rid of the many Jews that were inundating the city. Abducting people and taking them in cars to be murdered became more frequent and the city's atmosphere was heavy with trepidation for the future.

November arrived and the hearsay was that the Germans were about to establish a ghetto for Rovno's Jews. They said that men younger than fifty would be sent to concentration camps. People questioned the Judenrat but got no response (they said that the Judenrat did know something but refused to reveal it). Everybody was walking as if on burning coals and the dread was great. I remember well one detail from those days: one of the Judenrat members entered hastily my aunt Taivele Eliskar's house, whispered something to her, received her engagement ring and left immediately. My aunt told me that there was a great danger and one has to bribe the harm-doers with gold, maybe the evil won't be too terrible. I ran to our house with all my might bearing the dreadful news. Indeed a few days later the great disaster took place – November 5, 1941 had arrived. That day, in the afternoon, a big announcement by the Judenrat was published ordering all Jews to report in front of Lyubomirski Park and the prison. Everybody was allowed 16 kilos of luggage. Professionals who had work-permits were ordered to stay home and not go out that day. Later we found out that the Judenrat received 1500 work-permits for professionals. It was said that a large number of them were distributed among relatives and friends and thus their extermination was delayed for a while.

On my way home I heard crying and laments from every house. Elderly and children, men and women, all were crying. They saw the end had arrived and that there was no way out. From one house I heard prayers. The rebellious spirit that came over me pushed me again not to obey the order and not to go to the appointed place. I informed my mother that whatever happened, I would not go from my free will. I would hide in the garbage and try to escape to a hiding place and would not surrender to the murderers. I tried to convince her not to go as well, we would escape together to Krasilov to the Czechs and will take my little sister with us, we will contact dad and see what happens. Mother was somewhat convinced but she could not come to terms with leaving her two sisters and their children and the rest of the family, who were not in favor of escaping Rovno even in this grave situation. She thought and pondered, examining the state of affairs. When she resigned and accepted my idea it was already tough to leave town. The situation became more serious every hour. There were rumors and panic aplenty that day.

Meanwhile people were getting ready to obey the last order: they packed warm and expensive clothes, organized valuables and sewed special bags to carry the limited luggage to the meeting place, or more accurately to the unknown road. An order is an order, they said, and it is amazing that they did not even consider disobeying the order, rising against the decree, running in masses and facing the enemy who schemes to exterminate us. There was not much time to think, later, when I tried to understand the psychology of the apathy that took hold of most of my people I found out that the great despair turned everybody to helplessness, deprived them of their power of thought and action. Maybe the feeling was that no matter what, trying to resist or escape would be to no avail and that is why they accepted their fate.

The day turned into a night, a dark and horrible night, and the heart was full of sorrow and pain. People were busy preparing as if leaving on a voyage. Before escaping from the city my mother wanted to visit her brother Israel on 3 Greenboym Street (next to Shkolna Street), tell him we were leaving and bid him goodbye. It was after midnight. Rain mixed with snow was falling and a cruel stormy wind was slapping our faces. The cold penetrated our bones; it was difficult advancing in the angry tempest, but we had no time and we trudged in the mud and the puddles, dragging my young sister. How disappointed we were when we found out that Uncle Israel, his wife and their son Moshe were not home – they left early to the appointed place. We hurried to leave town. Walking was even harder because of the stream of people coming toward us from Wolja. When we passed Third of May Street we met Orlovska, the dentist who told us she too tried to leave town but was brought back by the policemen and the guards that were in all the city's exits. We debated for a moment and then turned back, but I did not want to give-up and stay and said I would try and evade through a side path we discovered when we went to the village to get food. Mother agreed.

Taivele, my mother's sister who had a baby-girl, decided to remain in our house with the Ukrainian neighbor. Uncle Berl Boym, my mother's brother-in-law and his wife chose to move with his sister, Malka Rosen, a dentist, who lived with Newsik Vinoker. We encountered friends, relatives and neighbors whose faces were bloated from crying, and we bid goodbye to them with sorrow and tears. They all were carrying babies, parcels and bags, towing children behind them – a long terrible procession in the dark of night. Dawn was coming and we were hurrying as fast as we could alongside the river, in order to continue alongside the levee till Basovi-Kont. My ten-year-old sister complained she could not go on and we had to carry her in our arms. I cannot understand where we found the strength to walk this short but tough way in the storm and mud; it must have been a survival instinct that in moments of danger yields unbelievable strength. We threw away the yellow patches and tied on our heads Ukrainian colorful kerchiefs and thus we arrived to Basovi-Kont without meeting anyone on the way. From here we had to exit to a road facing Dr. Segal's villa, which was occupied by Germans. A German soldier stood on guard at the entrance to the villa, but we could not retreat and went on walking. He did not stop us and we went on trudging in the mud and snow till we reached Kvasilov. Dripping wet, shaking from the cold and fear we entered the house of the first acquaintance in the village who was surprised to see us in such weather, crossed herself several times and welcomed us warmly. We undressed and warmed ourselves in front of the fire.

The hostess gave us food and resuscitated us back to life. We did not talk much, each immersed in thoughts, when some Czech Jews entered, who had been living here since 1938. They asked to speak to us and wanted an update on Rovno. We told them what was going on.

It is important to emphasize the way Czechs treated Jews when they were in dire straits, when it was dangerous to help them. Their attitude was completely different than the Ukrainians' and toward every Jew who addressed them. There was no home in which we could not find food and more. That night I was – very secretly - sleeping at the house of Sterosta Nagatovski, the village leader. We spent in this village two nights and days. We tried our best to appear cordial and hold on so as not to frighten our hosts.

On the third day we found a way to learn about what was going on in Rovno and the fate of the Jews: one of the Czechs agreed to go to Rovno, and when he came back we found out that our fear was indeed real – Rovno Jews were no longer alive. Only few survived. I tried to hear more from the messenger but his words were few and brief, as if he was afraid to utter another syllable. Later we managed to hear from him about the murder of the tens of thousands in a few hours, about the Ukrainians pillaging Jewish houses that the Germans sealed, and about the fear that prevailed everywhere, the empty streets and the smell of death all over the city.

As for our house, he said that the Ukrainian neighbor evicted my aunt and her children and that they fell victims to the Nazis, like many others who were hiding and were caught. The other aunt who was hiding survived, and informed us by the messenger that the Germans announced that the “action” is over and that the surviving Jews have to assemble in certain streets which will become a ghetto. Based on that announcement the aunt advised us to come back to Rovno. Mother began considering the advice and wanted to contact father who was hiding in another village with my uncle, and consult with him. But she was afraid to go there after the slaughter of Rovno's Jews. So I was designated to go to dad. I changed my clothes, till I looked like a typical village-girl. A real Goya. When I looked at the mirror I saw many white hairs on my head, despite being eighteen years old.

The next day, at the crack of dawn, I followed a Czech who was my guide, walking through empty fields and paths till he brought me to dad. He did not know yet about the fate of Rovno's Jews and I had to break the terrible news to him and to my uncle. The uncle began inquiring about his family and all I could say was that they stayed in town and that we had to hope they were still alive, like the other aunt who sent us a message. My uncle sobbed and did not believe my assumption. I wanted to stir some hope in his heart, to encourage and strengthen him, but I could not find the right words. At that moment I felt guilty since I did not convince my aunt to come with us. And thus we all cried again for the Rovno slaughter, for the close and less close – the whole of Rovno. Father's advice was to wait a few more days in the village until it became clear that there was no danger in returning to Rovno. And indeed after a few days we all went back home.

We felt like strangers in the city. There are no words to describe the Rovno I saw. We found her empty of Jews and in mourning. The houses were all broken open or sealed by the Germans. Here and there you could see Ukrainians towing objects or furniture – Jewish property, and big German trucks taking out the goods still left in Jewish houses. It was heartbreaking to see this depressing sight, our knees felt weak. It turned out that our house was in the ghetto area. The area spread from Ponietovska Street from the railroad to the end of Wolja. To this zone were confined the 4000-5000 Jews who survived the slaughter. Thus we found ourselves in the ghetto, our lives jeopardized. People were broken and depressed, were mourning their loved ones and some regretted not having gone with the others to their death. What was the point of this life? They all looked like walking-dead, hopeless, desperate and awaiting their death.

Mother took in the remaining relatives, and left for us one small room. Amid the relatives was Bluma Olisker, the daughter of my uncle and her son and another boy from the Pudim family who escaped the killing fields during the chaos. From this young boy I heard some information about what happened on that bitter day. More information I gathered from my friend Lea Boudker, who by some miracle managed to escape as well from the place when the extermination took place. The crowds marched in masses, if you lagged behind you did not know what went on in the front. Everybody tried to advance. They counted five big ditches. The first to arrive were ordered to undress, while the storm was running wild and it was bitter cold. They were ordered to arrange their clothes and jump into the ditch under sputter of shooting. A bitter wailing rose, but there was no choice and no place for delays. And people went and got killed by bullets or were wounded and pushed alive all of them into the same ditch and then to the second one. The rest sat by order and waited their turn.

Many of the elderly and the babies froze from the cold, could not move a limb and rolled in half-dead and saved Germans' bullets. Around the area stood – not too far from one another – German and Ukrainian policemen, to make sure none of the victims would escape. My friend tried several times to pass the lines of guards and was sent back, but finally she succeeded and she returned to the city in the dark of night. Throughout the whole day people were thrown into the ditches and shot, and when the ditches were full, the murderers began exterminating people on the ground. The moans of the wounded filled the air – told Pudim, the kid who was with his parents among the last and stayed lying in the field. The next day the murderers came and began collecting the bodies that were left outside the ditches. They checked to see if they were still alive and pushed them with their boots, but the kid showed no signs of life, because he was unable to talk, and that way they did not notice him. When he came to and remembered what happened and that his parents were no longer alive, he decided to run away. He crawled slowly and asked: is there anyone here? He thought he would find some living souls, and indeed five more people responded groaning. He approached them and together they left crawling and regained the city.

The ghetto was not closed at first. People could enter and leave, it was not guarded and there was no fence around. The Judenrat sent a “Jewish Police” to keep the order, but these Jews were malicious and misused their status and in some cases abused their brothers. I will mention for eternal shame Fishel Guz, who served the Germans as a detective in the ghetto. He wore a dark-blue German hat with a Nazi emblem and the writing: A useful Jew. By the end he too was exterminated.

Upon my return to Rovno I looked for a way to get a work-permit, which kept professionals alive. Hence I went to the Judenrat, as I entered I saw a Jewish policeman beating a Jew. This policeman was Romer, a teacher in our Hebrew high school, a refugee who arrived at Rovno when the Germans occupied Poland. No one wanted to talk to me in the Judenrat, but I met there a girl who had a Polish face and her situation was similar to mine, we both went out to the street to look for a job. The streets were empty and no one asked us for documents. We passed the 13 Division Street next to “Tarbut” high school, where I studied for six years. A big Nazi flag was fluttering on top of the shack in the front of the building and a German guard stood there. My heart shrunk at the sight and tears filled my eyes. Just then some Germans arrived carrying articles – most likely Jewish belongings. I approached a soldier who seemed to me the head of the group and asked him if they needed workers to clean the house. He hired us. Later I found out that it was Sezifio, the famous commander. If I knew him I would not have dared approach him. The house to which we were assigned was a storage place for stolen Jewish property: pillows, furniture, household appliances, and even a piano. The murderers did not look down on babies' and women's underwear, and worthless things. Everything was piled on the floor in a mess. We were ordered to sort and organize everything and soldiers guarded the house. Our hands trembled when we touched the belongings of brothers and sisters, of parents and relatives. Images of people I knew well, whose clothes were stripped before they were put to death, stood before my eyes. The German who was in charge of the house had the face of a murderer. Maybe my speaking in German softened him a bit and after a week I was able to put my mother to work with us. Due to our work we managed to get work-permits. Most of those who survived were performing similar jobs for the Germans. The ghetto inhabitants used to put up for sale whatever they had left after the great pillage, and exchanged with the Ukrainians objects for bread and other foods. No one knew what tomorrow would bring.

Among the people I met in the ghetto were: Karolik, the teacher and his little girl, the teacher Panke Zaidman, the teacher Isaac Barkovski, with his wife and daughter, the teacher Axelbird, his wife and son (the son married Brunia Erlich and they lived in Zdolbuniv as Poles), the teachers Bergman and his family, my friend Iza Rosen (the daughter of 'Tarbut” school's principal) with her mother and grandmother, her aunt Dovkirer with her son (her husband moved to Russia), Rachel Shohat, Newna Gorinstien and his family (his uncle was Segal, a tanner from Mirelerna Street), his house was in the ghetto and they stayed there. In the ghetto were as well Cahana, the Russian teacher and his wife, the teacher Spivak, Orlicht the midwife with her husband and her little granddaughter, and the family of Michael Guz (he himself was not in the ghetto). I was told the story of the saving of this family: the Guz daughters worked for the Germans in the Wogmiester house, a day before the slaughter their boss told all the workers to come the next day with their families and he would make sure that they would not have to leave town. And indeed this German crowded them all (200-300 people) in the store and for three days provided them with food, until things calmed down. He then sent them home. It was hard to imagine that amid the Nazi beasts you could find such a decent man. Among the other survivors in the ghetto were: Taketch, the father and his daughter Hanna, Fiznewrik and his family, Kagan the tailor, Schneider the carpenter, Nossik Vinokor, the Boym family. In this general horrible tragedy occurred some family tragedies: Izkesson the pharmacist and his wife had a work-permit while Sonia, their daughter and my friend who was over sixteen could not be inscribed in their permit and had to leave for Sosenki, the same happened to the Vinokor family.

For two months I worked and bore my pain, until the man in charge informed me he would give me a better job, to clean the house of the “nurses”. Later I found out that they were cooks that entertained the Germans and hence became “nurses”. They were released from cooking and replaced by Polish and Ukrainian cooks. I had to clean their house that was on Posha Street; I sometimes stayed there alone to clean up. Later I took my mother to help me, and we both worked there for several months.

After work we used to go back to the ghetto, to the remains of Jewish Rovno. In the evenings people spoke about politics and about lots of wishful thinking. Listening to these conversations I realized the strong will-to-live everybody had, although they were broken and depressed and living with no certainty for the next day. They used to consol themselves that soon the Russians would come and free them, although the Russians back then were over the Rostov. Stalingrad, Moscow and Leningrad were under siege and all Russia was in danger. It was the spring of 1942 and the Germans were still advancing in Russia.

I once related that the “nurses” who left Rovno for Russia wrote on their suitcases “Rostov” and other names of faraway Russian cities, so what is the point of illusions and false-hopes? But the strong wish to live gave the imagination wings and self-delusion was better than realizing the bitter reality.

Meanwhile things became stormy and new decrees were issued. Beating and murdering did not stop since the first “action”. Jews were being massacred in nearby villages, as well. I was working for the Germans in the 13 Division Street in front of “Tarbut” high school, where they established a canteen. My employers were two priests, the major religious authorities for Volhynia's region, since Rovno was the capital. The two Germans who worked with the priests treated me well and to ease our burden engaged two more workers, Rachel Yesod (Finkelstien's daughter) and Shapira. These Germans were soldiers who worked with the priests. One of them was Franz Flishaker from Vienna, a medical student, who used to say that he is not a Nazi and he has no connection to the “Fuhrer's” politic. He said his brother died near Leningrad and that he was miserable because of the war. He added that he was not religious but preferred to work with the priests till the end of the war. The other one was downright anti-Semitic, but seeing that the priests and his Austrian friend treated us well he dared not show his true colors. The student advised me to convert to Christianity, escape to Kharkov and from there to the front. He said he was prepared to help me escape, but I was reluctant to believe his words and advice.

One day before Passover the other German told me that his friend the student left with a unit for an operation. A few hours later a military unit arrived and stopped in front of the canteen in the high school building. At the head of the unit was the commander Sezifio and amid the last ones was the Viennese student. The armed soldiers with their muddy boots looked as if they came back from an “action” and I saw the scene of the great massacre of the Jews in Sosenki. I almost fainted, but was held by two women that were working with me. So, I thought to myself, the student-soldier is among the murderers, and I began sobbing. The student entered, approached me and tried to calm me down. I could not contain myself and revealed my thoughts to him. At first he tried to evade but finally admitted that the unit shot Russian war prisoners. He added that he followed a military order, which was against his conscience and beliefs. From his words you could realize it was the first time he participated in such an operation, he was embarrassed, depressed and very pale. After a while I asked him how they murdered the wretched Russian and Jews. On that day? He told me that his unit found a ready-made ditch that was covered by wooden boards. The victims were ordered to undress and run on the boards in groups of five, and while they were running they were shot and fell into the deep ditch. Those designated German murderers pitied us and were secretly giving us bread, which could have involved heavy penalty for our benefactors if their supervisors found out.

By the end of April 1942 an order was issued forbidding Jews to work for Germans. I had to leave my job. Fearing that none-working Jews would be killed, I tried to manage and so on May 1st 1942 I began working in the tailoring workshop. There were still tailoring, locksmiths, and bookbinding workshops in the ghetto. These workshops were in the school in Zvi Heller's House on Podgurna Street. I got a job as a tailor mending uniforms. I worked with daughters of tailors who knew the trade; amid them was the daughter of Schneider, of Lifshitz, Haya Shtienman from “Tarbut” high school, Judith Bader (the baker's daughter) and others. There were around a hundred workers of different ages under the supervision of Mrs. Mirar, who was very meticulous in checking our work. Every now and then inspectors visited the workshop. Once Lorenz, the executioner himself came with his glass eye that frightened us. Lorenz was the head of workers and he was the one to send the Ukrainians to Germany. (According to a report he was later assassinated by a group of partisans in Volhynia.)

At the beginning of June the ghetto Jews saw that the Russians prisoners were digging – under German supervision – ditches alongside the ghetto and laying an electric cable. It was strange because ever since the Germans entered Rovno there was no electricity in the city, so what was the point of installing electricity in of all places the ghetto? Rumors began, everybody was panicky, and again the heart had a terrible premonition. Many began preparing shelters in case of emergency. A decision was made in our home: if there was any danger we would escape town, whatever happened. For four-five weeks the mood became more and more agitated until July 12, 1942. The previous day, which was a Sunday, the prisoners were working more intensively under more guards as if it were urgent; usually they did not work on Sundays. That day we did not pay attention but when the lights came on the next day, July 12, and were not turned off all day long, it seemed suspicious and we became more apprehensive, fearing a bitter surprise. The morning of that day I went to work broken-hearted seeing all the frightened people in the ghetto. Judith Bader, whose apartment was close to the workshop, slipped away from work several times and brought back horrible news: that they are about to annihilate the remaining Jews. All of a sudden my father appeared and asked me to come home, since we had to run away as was decided. We left hurriedly without taking anything. We were hoping to come back home one day, but father, mother and my little sister never came back. Hanna Taketch left with us, her father went that day to work in Kvasilov-Zcheski. We met Mrs. Yesod who was leading Mira, her 11-year-old daughter. They went to hide in Winokor's house (where Orlovska's clinic was). Boym-Rosen with her daughter and sister together with Bina Dovkirer and her mother went to hide in her clinic on Third of May Street. I was told they hid there for a while and when they found out that the remaining city Jews were exterminated, drunk a large portion of sleeping pills they prepared so that they could take their own lives. We, very cautiously, walked with a small distance between us; we passed Third of May street heading toward Bassoby-Kont. From afar we saw Germans guiding Ukrainian policemen. When we reached the end of the street we walked faster, the earth was burning under our feet, fearing that we would not be able to leave the city's borders. The little ones lagged behind and we had to carry them in our arms. The high corn was protecting us. A German on his horse passed mother but did not address her. We entered the village while father and uncle Firestien stayed in the cornfield. My mother and sister headed to one house and Taketch and me were about to enter another house in the village. Just then a German who was with a Czech woman and stood intoxicated by the window in a nearby house, called: “Jews”. He saw the yellow-patch on our clothes and was ready to run after us but the Czech woman stopped him. And again ferocious dogs attacked us when we entered the yard but luckily the landlady came out and ushered us in. She was the Czech whose son Lissak served in the police, a good-hearted woman and a friend to the Jews. She set a place for us in the shed in her yard saying, “The German who saw you might come looking for you, it is better for you not to be in the house.” We did not sleep all night, sitting alert behind the door, ready to make a dash to the fields if the German or some other uninvited guest would come. Hanna Taketch cried all night fearing for her father's fate, he was supposed to get back to Rovno the previous night. She said she could not stay all alone in the world and despite my imploring went back to Rovno at dawn. She never made it back to Rovno; the Czechs told me later that they saw her body next to Novi-Dvor.

It was a long dark night and in the morning I took down the yellow-patch, tied a colorful kerchief on my head and went looking for my aunt and her children and for my father. The inhabitants of the village knew me since I lived there the previous summer, but not knowing yet what was going on in town there was no cause for worry. At noon mother arrived, her eyes swollen from tears: she found out that a few minutes after she left the Jewish family that gave her shelter, Germans and Ukrainians murdered the whole family, the Polish landlady as well and burned the house down. She was also told that the Jews were driven out of Rovno's ghetto and that a terrible slaughter was taking place. Every Jew who was found hiding was killed. The Czechs heard about it and were afraid to help us. The next day an announcement was made declaring that Jews who were found in Czech houses or fields will be executed together with those who sheltered them. Despite it mother used to go at night to acquaintances' houses and secretly get bread and other foods. Her benefactors used to urge her to leave quickly before she brought a disaster on them. But wonder of wonders: despite the mortal danger there was a Czech woman, Naglovska was her name, the wife of the village's head, that by pity and humanity took to her home eight of us, hid us in her pigsty and gave us food and beverages three times a day. She did it unbeknown to her husband, who was busy with his political activities in the village. She took care of us loyally and compassionately for a week until we moved to nearby Zdolbuniv. We knew there was no going back to Rovno anymore.

And this is what we learned about the last “action”:

In the morning of July 13 soldiers and policemen surrounded the ghetto. Strong projectors lighted the ghetto's streets. Policemen went from one house to another and took all the inhabitants out. There were some cases of Jews barricading and trying to resist but the policemen had arms and they suppressed the objectors. They assembled them and loaded them on big tracks and led them to Biala Street where a cargo-train waited for them. They were driven to Yanova-Dolina, the granite mines. The ditches were ready, and all the arriving, old and young, were murdered at once and thrown into them. When the sun went down the “action” of exterminating the remains of Rovno's Jews was over. Jews who were found hiding in the ghetto or around it after the slaughter were at first taken to the “American” synagogue near our house from there they were transferred to Biala Street and murdered. With these activities the devilish work of the Nazis and their assistances was over and thus ended Rovno's community of around 30 thousand people.

A few Rovno citizens who escaped before the last slaughter found shelter in Zdolbuniv. Among them were: Zipka Klepper who was saved alone, Shapira from Dovenska Street with his son, Riva Guz (the sister of the infamous Fishel Guz). Motovilbeker and Masha, his sister, who lived at the end of Legyonov Street, the last house of the ghetto. The child Mira Yesod and a few others, all and all around 15-20 people. Mira the kid told how she was saved: her mother gave her before the “action” to a non-Jew who used to work for them, handing her in return all their belongings. After the Jews were taken by a train the woman expelled the child from her house. The child went to the ghetto looking for her parents, but German soldiers chased her away believing she was Polish. With no other choice Mira went to the priests who employed her mother and told them her story. The priests felt sorry for the child, took her in and gave her food and shelter. The next morning they hung a cross on her neck and sent the student Franz Flishaker to accompany her to her uncle in Zdolbuniv and that is how she was saved.

In Zdolbuniv as well Jews lived in a ghetto and did not imagine that what happened in Rovno might happen to them in a few days or weeks. In their fear they were reluctant to accept us and our situation was terrible, we suffered and were deeply hurt. Since we could not find a shelter with them we had to find a place in the ruins left by Russian war prisoners outside the town, at the end of the ghetto.

We bore the pain in our hearts. We were in deep mourning for the loss of our dearest and nearest and we were devastated by the alienation we encountered from our brothers and friends. Our situation was very bad and we did not know whom to turn to and what to do. We feared the Germans and the Ukrainians and even the local citizens who used to tell on Jews and give them away for some salt or money. My mother and sister were still in the village and we hardly had any contact, the road was dangerous. I was afraid to leave Zdolbuniv and they were afraid to leave their place in the village. And so the days went on, days of suffering, anticipation and fear, and they turned into months and years that can never be forgotten.

Some of the last survivors – the remains of Rovno, among them my family – fell one day in the murderers' hands and perished.

When we arrived at Rovno after the German defeat we found out more details about the second “action”, how families left their hiding-places and gave themselves to the murderers (amid them was the Segal family) after they became sick and tired of this life. And Rovno became what the Germans called “free of Jews.”

Bluma Doitch (Guz)

 

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