Translation by Naomi Gal
Fate led my Rovno family to Lvov in Galicia. Yaacov Shimon Valiss, my husband, was a printer connected to the printing press of the Russian institution. The director, Zinovi Michaelovitz Medizki, a noble and respected gentleman was considered a liberal and intelligent man. The conquerors invited him to occupy a high-ranking post in the bureau in charge of the properties of the missing Poles. He proved his devotion to Jews who were persecuted by the Germans and the Ukrainians alike. When my husband was hiding in Lvov he managed to inform Medizki about his whereabouts and asked him to come see him. Medizki obliged and arrived to the appointed place at the appointed hour. He heard from my husband about his, and his family's situation, and about his plan to return to Rovno. Medizki showed a great interest in my husband's fate and told him that although it was impossible to transfer him back to Rovno, he could at least help him in Lvov. And indeed he got us an apartment, took over our daughter and made sure all her needs were met. He made sure she healed when she was sick. Later he got me a work-permit and found me a job in the big office where he was working.
Once I was arrested with the permit I had. As soon as Medizki found out he made sure I was released and since then used to come and fetch me with my child to work. He had a great influence and according to his sister he took care of other Jews as well.
My husband was living in Lvov with Polish ID. One morning I went out on my way to work and was surprised to find the usually busy street completely empty. From afar, at the end of the street I could see they were stopping Jews. I hurried back home. Indeed a Jew hunt was taking place. When Medizki realized I did not come to work he and his sister went looking for me in the streets and amid the people that were arrested, until they came to my apartment and found me.
The state of affairs in Lvov was becoming worse. We got sad news from Rovno about the first slaughter and about the loss of all of our relatives. It was clear that in Lvov too we were predestined to destruction. Medizki saw what was going on and came to us, offering to hide us. He put my husband, my daughter and me in a tiny room close to his office and kept us there for about two months, provided us with food and a gun, so that we would be able to protect ourselves when needed. Every now and then he informed us about what was going on outside. We knew the man was endangering himself and that his financial situation was not too good and we were deeply grateful for his generosity. We will never forget it.
Finally Medizki helped my husband join the Soviet army and he managed to get me a Polish work-permit. My daughter was with me. When the war was over we looked for Medizki, our rescuer, we made inquiries, but unfortunately we did not find him.
After the ordeal we went through in Lvov and in Russia, in November 1945 I traveled with my family to Rovno. Rovno's railroad station was burned and deserted. It was difficult to find one's way. The city seemed destroyed and from afar you could see the skeletons of burned buildings. When we entered the city we found out that the right side Shossejna Street was less damaged and some buildings were still standing. A Jewish family, not from Rovno, hosted us for a few days in Zemkova Street. While we were in Rovno we searched among the survivors for local Jews to no avail, the few Jews we found were strangers. We addressed Helena Kodnichok, a Christian who used to work as a maid for my parents and lived on Third of May Street, next to the prison. She told us the well-known story about the first action when most of Rovno's Jews were slaughtered and that Toyve, my mother, and Mindel, my sister were saved when they gave the policemen who came for them several golden watches in exchange for their lives, and thus survived. In the second action, July 13, 1942 the remaining Jews, around 5,000 people, were taken out of the ghetto and never came back. My mother and sister were hiding in the house of a Christian woman and might have survived, but when they heard that the second action began they did not want to stay with the Christian and escaped from her house to their Jewish relatives. We had no news from them since then.
Our house was in ruins, with no memory of its previous owners. Tiktor, a Ukrainian who used to bring us information from Rovno, told me that Bubba (Lieb) Schwartz, his wife Yocheved and their son Mossik, who was nine years old, were hiding in his printing press. Sadly, the kid slipped away, was immediately caught by a Ukrainian policemen and shot on the spot. The parents saw it from their hiding-place, took their son's body and moved to their family place in Wolja. It seems as if they were among those exterminated in the second action. I asked about friends and acquaintances, but none of the Christians could answer me.
When we passed Barmazka Street we saw Jewish tombstones that were uprooted from their place and used to pave roads. In the big synagogue and around it were assembled a few broken and exhausted Jews who emerged from their different hiding-places. With a broken heart I hurried out of this vale of tears from Rovno my city.
Translation by Naomi Gal
By the order of the German authority and signed by Heydrich Reinhard on September 27, 1939, the Germans founded in every occupied Jewish settlement a Jewish Council called Judenrat. According to the first paragraph of the order there had to be an appointed council in every Jewish settlement, a council of elderly composed of prominent personalities and rabbis who would be in charge of obeying the rulers' orders. The conquerors knew how to utilize these councils to blackmail Jews and use them in diverse ways, even for sending them to hard labor and extermination. Most of the members appointed to the Judenrat did not do it from their free will but because they were appointed and were afraid to disobey the authorities. The narrow margin the council had, the situation under the German yoke, and the uncertainty about the next day negated any possible action in favor of the people they supposedly represented. The Judenrat members were dismissed, removed, or executed by the rulers' will; hence they acted perfunctorily solely. In lieu of the removed members new ones were appointed, and they too had no certainty about the next day. The barbarian Nazis did not distinguish between the Judenrat members and any other Jew, and they had no special privileges. No wonder, then, that honest men tried not to be among the Judenrat and evaded any nomination, except a few traitors and even those through a pure instinct of self-preservation, hoping to save themselves and their relatives, a hope that eventually proved futile. Indeed there were corrupted men amid the Judenrat, but still one could say that the Judenrat kept a certain standard and that its members saw their job as a mission, dictated by the harsh times.
The Rovno Judenrat had diverse elements: teachers, religious activists and the likes, as well as people with their own agenda, which led to corruption and treachery. There were also men who could under no circumstances accept the situation and the duty that was forced on them and refused to operate against their conscience. One of them was Leon Sucharczuk, a Rovno native lawyer who was a public activist. Sucharczuk was appointed to the first Judenrat and was active from the very beginning. He believed that the council would be able to interfere in favor of Rovno's Jews and that it could save whomever could be saved until the storm subsided, but Sucharczuk's stand was most of the time opposed to the stand of the majority of the Judenrat, and he defied the majority's decisions, and declared war on the suspicious members. The public, which was unhappy with most of the Judenrat's members sided with Sucharczuk and respected his attitude in the council.
Meanwhile the situation in Rovno kept worsening. One summer day in 1941 the Judenrat received an order to provide a large number of qualified Jews for work outside of the city. The Judenrat convened for a meeting to prepare a list that would be given to the Nazis per their request. Sucharczuk felt the trap spread under the Judenrat feet and spoke against making the list. He begged his friends, Let's not cause the loss of our brothers. Let's not send Jews to their death. We have to understand what stands behind the demand to provide qualified Jews. Can't we learn from the experiences of other communities and from the sending of Rovno's groups that never came back? At the end of his words he stated, I will not betray my conscience, and will not be part of a betrayal. I cannot see others doomed and save myself. His words made a deep impression but the majority won and they went on making the list.
Sucharczuk sat there pale and powerless for a few moments, and then got up and left the room. Agitated and shocked he went home and committed suicide by injecting a large dose of morphine he prepared for himself (some other Jewish doctors in Rovno did the same). He found no other way to express his protest and ease his conscience when he clearly saw what was about to occur. Regretting his friends' position and their lack of courage to disobey an order, ashamed by his weakness and hurting for his people he took his last step. He was only 32 years old when he bid the world farewell.
Translation by Naomi Gal
I left Rovno with the Red Army troops that were retreating from the city when it was bombarded by the Germans and under pressure of the enemy chasing us. I found myself in Siberia and spent over four years in a foreign land. During the Nazi occupation I had no contact with Rovno, my city, I just heard from faraway some vague rumors about the Nazi murders. Later I heard about partisan units that were operating in the forests around Rovno, and I knew for sure Jews were part of these units. I could not fathom that all the Jews were murdered and gone.
It is hard to describe the state of mind I, and others like myself had in remote Siberia. I was living a life of suffering and wandering, but the hardest thing was the terrible loneliness. When I met forlorn Rovno descendants like myself we lamented the fate of our brothers, and, imbibed with dreams of vengeance, went on living our gray daily lives in the middle of strangers. Indeed we imagined the enormity of the tragedy, but we could not really grasp it. We were immersed in our struggle for survival and had no contact with Rovno. We could not come to terms with the idea that our city was in ruins and that her Jewish sons were cruelly wiped off the earth. Thus the years passed in sorrow and grief and powerlessness to revenge.
Finally the war was over and the Germans defeated. Exhausted from wandering I hurried back to Rovno. Along the way there were many signs of destruction. I arrived alone to Rovno's station and the city looked as if she suffered an earthquake. Whole neighborhoods were wiped out and the only signs showing that people once lived here were remains of houses' foundations and mounds of rubble. I walked the streets searching people faces; there were no Jews. Strangers inherited the place of over three hundred thousand of our brothers. After a thorough search I found only a few Jews from other cities, unfamiliar, although close to the heart, like brothers.
Among the broken, depressed people, who aged prematurely, was Lybele Halperin, a young man, around eighteen years old, a Rovno native, who survived miraculously. Lybele looked death in its eyes and he informed me about the huge first slaughter, about the way Jews lived under the Nazi occupation and the way Ukrainians treated Jews, as well as about crimes, or maybe mistakes, of the Judenrat in Rovno.
And this is what Lybele related: In the bitter day, November 6, 1941 I arrived with my parents to the pine grove with eighteen thousand Jews who were lured to this place by deceit. Surrounded by armed guards we stood for a long time shaking in the cold and wind, till they began leading groups of people into the ditches under a shower of shootings. And then our turn arrived. I was trembling, I knew this was the end and I said to my father: Maybe I should escape, father, try my luck. Father said: The bullets would reach you, Lybele, there is no escape. I said: And if I stay here, Father, the bullets would not reach me? I was still talking when we were pushed into the ditch with bullets flying around and above us. I fell into the ditch on top of quivering bodies, and others fell on top of me. I did not see my father; I was shocked and did not know if the bullets hurt me. I moved to the side of the ditch and pressed myself to the earth. This is all I remember. The ditch was getting fuller and fuller and the shots subsided, the crying stopped as well, I felt earth being spilled on top of us. With a few other wounded I began inching to get out of the earth layer that covered us, but not all had the strength to ascend. After inhuman efforts we came out only a few of us from the death ditch. We did not know what to do and where to go. A dead silence prevailed around us; there was no living soul in sight. We lay on the ground afraid to raise our heads. The shootings and screaming of the day were still ringing in my ears. I began to crawl slowly away from the place. I decided to head toward Alexandria, hoping that I would not be stopped on the way. I was lucky and in the dark of night reached the village. I found a Jewish home that took me in, but my whole being was screaming for vengeance. After a few days I found a group of partisans in the forest and joined them. I fought and revenged but my heart was not yet quiet.
Translation by Naomi Gal
How could one explain the fact that tens of thousands of Rovno's Jews let themselves be led like sheep-to-slaughter and did not attempt to forcefully rebel and save their lives from Nazis' claws? For history's sake we need to establish the fact that there were several cases in which a Jew stood against his murderer and killed him, but the number of these cases is very low and a child can count them. Most of Rovno Jews were apathetic, helpless and lacked initiative to escape the trap that was set for them. The fire of rebellion against the oppressors was not kindled.
Those who knew Jewish Rovno from before the war would find it hard to believe. This Rovno was blessed with developed youth, both body and soul, whose sport clubs were famous amongst sports teams in all of Poland. And there was the porters' union, all brave and muscled, who scared the non-Jews in and outside the city. How come those forces did not stand up to defend their people from the Nazi monster? It does not make sense that they retreated out of cowardice before even trying to face their oppressors-murderers. It is not difficult to find an explanation: subconscious factors silenced and suffocated every attempt at rebellion, and hence they fell like sheaves behind the reaper.
It is clear that no one could imagine that it was possible to take out tens of thousands of people, innocent citizens, and exterminate them so brutally just because they were Jews. The calamity of the actions came like lightning upon Rovno's Jews seven months before reaching other cities in Volhynia. In west Ukraine extermination began in May 1942 while in Rovno around 17,500 Jews were slaughtered in the first action as early as November 1941! It took place only four months after the Germans entered the city, before the Jews had time to adjust to the new situation of slaves deprived of rights, before they could realize the schemes and malice of the conquerors.
And when the terrible tragedy was revealed and they saw that sooner or later they were all bound for ruin and destruction, the remaining Jews began looking, while they still could, for ways of escape.
The easiest way would have been to flee the city and join the partisans in the forests, but at that time (summer 1942) the partisan movement was just taking its first steps. The first groups were forming only in the forests of the eastern side of the Polish-Soviet border. The members were mainly people who escaped German concentration camps, Russian prisoners of war and dissatisfied civilians. The members did not have enough arms yet, and a central leadership was missing. Under these conditions it was difficult to give shelter and defend Jews escaping the ghetto. In many cases they probably just did not want to. What's more, the road from the city to the nearby forests: Kostopol, Lyubomirski and others, led through villages inhabited by anti-Semitic Ukrainians, and an escapee might have fallen into another trap. Still there were a few acts of bravery, when Jews summoned their courage and rebelled against their murderers, not in the hope of saving their lives, but for pure vengeance, as in let me die with the philistines.
I will detail some of the resistance stories as told by survivors:
A Gestapo man entered the apartment of a tailor who lived next to the water institute (his name was not given) and wanted to take the people out and lead them to the killing place. As soon as he entered, the tailor's daughter, a young woman, holding a kitchen knife pierced his stomach. The armed Nazi fell dead.
Sima Gimberg, the son-in-law of Dr. Meir Segal, resisted the Nazis who came to take him to be killed. He was a brave sportsman who attacked his murderers and took them by surprise. Two fell under his blows and others were wounded. Finally they shot him.
There were many rumors about Devoritz, a brave woman who owned a kiosk next to San-Remo hotel. After she lost her family in the first action she decided to avenge the Nazis. She was pretty and had sparking eyes, she let the Nazi officers approach her and even let them visit her apartment. She used to serve her guests drinks until they were drunk, then killed them quietly and buried them in a deserted cowshed close to her apartment. It was told that whenever a German officer disappeared without a trace, the bloodhounds led the police to the Devoritz house. Finally the woman was arrested and sentenced to death. While she was led to the gallows next to the big prison, she managed to draw a bayonet from a sheath on one of the Nazis accompanying her and shoved it into his heart. The Nazi fell bleeding; the other murderers furiously attacked her and tore her apart.
A special mention deserves the behavior of Jenia Horenstein (the daughter of Malka Horenstein from Rovno), who during the Holocaust years lived in Baranoviczi and was nominated to the Judenrat. She was very active, risking her life, and gave her money to save Jews and managed to retract some decrees. Her last act was when she resisted sending Jews to work outside Baranoviczi. Unlike the other council members, she bravely faced the Nazi commissar and said she cannot decrease the number of workers, in an effort to change the decree. This infuriated the commissar who gave an order to arrest her; the next day she was shot.
David Yankoviak, a merchant 40 years old who spoke fluent German, climbed onto his neighbors' shoulders before the first slaughter and called out loud to the Germans: Don't be intoxicated by your victory, Jew murderers, you will be punished eventually. And to the Jews he called to destroy the money and equities they had on them so that the murderers would not get them. The soldiers who were taken by surprise attacked him screaming wildly, tied him to a tree, punctured his eyes and then threw him alive into the ditch. * [* These details are different from what was told about David Yankovitz in a previous chapter]
Isaac Schneider from Rovno was lucky and was saved from the first action, but he did not have a work-permit. Babar, a Christian who used to work with him, helped him find a hiding-place in a basement on Biala Street. Schneider stayed there a few months. He had a gun and several grenades he got from an officer in the Polish army. After a while Babar told the Gestapo about Schneider and divulged his hiding-place. As soon as the S.S. opened the door to the basement, a grenade was thrown at them. The shooting went on for a few moments. Finally Schneider threw his last grenade and hurt five of the Nazis, but he himself perished in that desperate struggle.
There were stories about the brave Newnia Kopelnik who managed to pilfer from the Germans some light-arms and kept them for the right moment. When the Germans came to his apartment to take him out he welcomed them with bullets and grenades. The Germans retreated after three of them fell. Kopelnik quickly jumped out of the window and wanted to escape in the Germans' car that stood next to the house, but he could not start it. The murderers caught him, tied him to the car and dragged him, half dead, through the streets of the city.
After the Germans' defeat, Ukrainians in Rovno reported that during the second action there were several cases of Jewish resistance. From one of the houses Jews threw bombs out of the second floor windows onto Germans and Ukrainian policemen. As a result a German was killed and two Ukrainian policemen were gravely wounded. There were people who hid in bunkers that shot those who discovered them.
Deserving of mention with respect and admiration are the brave fighters that passed through Rovno, or arrived on a special mission in the crazy days of murder and extermination, amongst them Frumka Plotinczka and her friends, who were active in Rovno and other Volhynia cities and called the ghetto inhabitants to defend themselves and rebel, to fight for their lives and resist the Nazis. How brave were these women! Their stories are told in detail in the ghetto literature. Most of these fighters perished. Frumka Plottinczka perished as well, on August 3, 1943 fulfilling her mission till her last breath.
There were Jewish heroes and heroines even on foreign lands!
Translation by Naomi Gal
The essence of an announcement made by a special Soviet governmental committee investigating the German invaders deeds and assessing the destruction, pillage and murder in Rovno and its province
Erich Koch, the Reichskommissar resided in Rovno. He was appointed as Ukraine's commissioner, and the city served as center for the occupied territories in Ukraine. Documents and papers about the acts of the German occupiers in the city and its province were collected and testimonies were taken by a governmental Soviet committee, which determined that the fascist occupiers had several aims: create a slavery regime in the occupied territories, demolish the culture and intelligentsia in this region, bring desolation upon the blessed earth of Ukraine, destroy the governmental, public and private buildings and establishments, plunder everything possible and mercilessly exterminate the peaceful inhabitants.
Separating Ukraine and creating the basis of a slavery regime
For this purpose on August 1, 1941 by an order from Hitler, Ukraine was divided into three regions and every region had a different governing-general: one Polish, the second Romanian, and the third under Erich Koch in Rovno. On November 19, 1941 the minister Rosenberg issued an order that forbade the moving of inhabitants of one region to another one. The enslaved population was used beyond any proportion. The Soviet citizens were outside the law and were treated as inferiors. Every order Hitler gave, Rosenberg, Koch and other representatives in Ukraine had to follow under threats of death. Typical is an order by Rosenberg from February 17, 1942 about new penal laws that included punishment by death for insulting the German army, the local police, the Nazi party, and even for un-German behavior and supporting an anti-German atmosphere, if it might somehow harm the honor of the German people or the state. A similar punishment awaited a Soviet citizen if he did not inform about anti-German acts. Another order by Rosenberg, from August 17, 1942 made it mandatory for all the eastern regions inhabitants to engage in compulsory labor, no matter their age.
Elimination of the cultured intelligentsia
The occupying authorities used diverse means to uproot the culture and destroy the intelligentsia in Ukraine (which hurt mainly Jews). Schools and cultural institutions were sabotaged by the fascists, or destroyed completely in Rovno and its provinces. Many of the schools' buildings were turned into army barracks, among them the magnificent building of the city's pedagogical institute. Before their retreat the Germans destroyed public buildings and establishments (schools, libraries, museums, clubs, hospitals etc). An official report, published in Volhynia on November 11, 1941 details the count of the regions' schools. The theatre was left standing but mainly for the Germans, citizens were allowed to watch a play or listen to a concert once a week on a set day and only as a great favor. Still the actors had to give up their profession, because although they could act, any classical Ukrainian play was forbidden. Many of the actors were assassinated in 1943. Teachers were fired and other intellectuals dismissed. It seems as if the Germans poured their wrath on cultural establishments. The fascists in Rovno, as in other cities, took revenge on hotels, restaurants and factories. According to reliable sources 845 such buildings were destroyed: 24 restaurants, 83 stores, 5 bakeries, 5 brick factories, 1 factory of brushes, 1 making sausages, 6 churches, 4 hospitals and hundreds of hotels. 40 kilometers of phone and electricity network were destroyed, as well as 22 kilometers of water pipes and they did not spare private houses. Fifty percent of the houses in Berezne (Rovno's province) were completely demolished, 3 flourmills were bombed and three others were burned, 3 bakeries, 5 clinics and more. In Korets 90 farms were destroyed, and in Alexandria region: a power plant, an oil-press plant, 2203 farms and 1237 private homes. Six villages around Rovno were completely wiped out, and the same thing took place in many of the surrounding towns and villages.
This is the testimony of Franz Yarbut, a German prisoner of war, about the Nazi destruction In Rovno and its provinces:
On January 24, 1944 we retreated from the village Steny. The officer appointed a unit that was in charge of setting the village on fire. The order was executed and while the village was engulfed in flames the officer said: 'our job is not to leave behind us one standing house.'
Pillaging establishments and inhabitants
Throughout all their time in Rovno and its provinces the officers, soldiers and their bureaucrats robbed and pillaged the citizens. They robbed as well the public and cultural institutions, museums, libraries and others. They took furniture, appliances, books, art objects, pictures, music-notes etc. The robbers took for themselves most of the loot, and the rest they gave to the warehouses of the Nazi authorities. A similar robbery occurred in the Geography Museum by the district commissar. The head of the institute took with him to Germany more than 30 suitcases of stolen art objects. A citizen of Galinki reported that on the morning of September 27, 1943 a group of German officers and soldiers went through the village's farms and confiscated bread, cattle, poultry, horses, carriages etc. Inhabitants of other villages around Rovno gave similar testimonies. The sum of the investigation showed that in six of Rovno's provinces the Germans robbed 13,998 horses, 19,599 cattle, 23,026 sheep and goats as well as poultry etc. Any attempt to resist was bound to fail and resulted in insults and torture. Yaakov Oshakov informed the investigating committee that a civilian by the name of Monchik was imprisoned in Rovno because he hid 100 kilos of wheat. During his investigation the investigators tore out his hair and broke two of his ribs.
Mass extermination of citizens and prisoners of war
Consistently and according to a plan the Nazi hangmen performed the massive extermination, especially of Jews, in small groups and in masses. Rovno's prison was always crowded with people sentenced to death. Here are some of the testimonies:
Citizen W. Baydian testified: I was imprisoned in Rovno's prison for five months and experienced all the horrors of Hitler's prison. The prisoners were beaten daily, men, women, and children. Twice a month they executed large groups of prisoners. Often they brought into the prison's yard closed cars, people were thrown into them and terrible screams were heard as soon as the doors hermetically closed.
On March 18, 1943, in Volhynia, the occupiers' bulletin, was posted the following announcement:
On March 8, 1943 there was an escape attempt from Rovno's prison. A German jailor was killed. The prison's guards forestalled the attempt. All the prisoners were shot by the commander's order that same day.
In November 1943 a German district judge was killed, and as a punishment the Germans executed 350 prisoners who were back then in Rovno's prison.
Y. Karpiok, who worked in a German household near Belye Street, testified: More than once I witnessed the murders of individuals and groups Ukrainians, Russians, Poles and Jews. The Nazi murderers used to bring the victims to the slaughter place, force them to dig ditches for themselves, order them to undress and lie face down in the ditches, and shoot them with automatic weapons. On one layer of bodies they laid a second layer till the ditches were full. Then they poured on the bodies' quicklime and covered them with earth.
A villager by the name of A. Morzovaskia from the village Widoma reported: I saw the Germans shooting people in the quarries next to our village. In June 1943 four big cars were brought to the quarries, men and women came out dressed in their underwear and immediately shots were heard. After the cars left I went to check what was going on and saw a horrible sight: bodies of people hardly covered by earth and the whole place full with puddles of blood. It was clear what happened there.
In July 1943, 10 cars packed with Russian citizens arrived at the quarries. Shooting from automatic weapons was heard and then screams, cries and groaning. In the evening a fire was set and the air smelled of burned flesh. I saw horrid sights also in September and October 1943 and January 1944.
There were many similar testimonies. German prisoners of war witnessed the horrible sadistic acts. Here is the testimony of Franz Yarbut:
In mid November 1943 I arrived in Rovno with a unit of 30 soldiers from the 68th battalion. We were busy preparing defenses on the eastern side of the city. For this job we had around 300 people from the provinces of Rovno and Lvov. These people were beaten for the slightest of things; they were beaten brutally and were starved as punishment for not fulfilling their work-quota. In the morning of December 15, when we arrived to work, we did not find any of the laborers, when we inquired about their whereabouts we were told: They were all exterminated at night in a gas-car.'
A soldier from the 17th trooper regiment informed:
Our regiment participated in the murder of the inhabitants of the village Kolki. I shot 3 people. When we retreated and crossed the Steyr River we burned the first village across the river and our unit shot 25 civilians two of them with my own hands by the order of Untersturmführer Koren, among the dead were women as well. Those in our unit who excelled in murdering citizens were Wanek, Polin, and Shtikdel and among the troopers Shirman and Paut. The execution was performed by the order of the regiment's commander, Standartenführer Tzchender.
The Germans murdered and exterminated mercilessly Russian officers and soldiers they took as prisoners. These prisoners were kept in three camps in Rovno under unbearable conditions. The priest Savitzki who saw what went on in those camps and in Rovno related:
As a result of the horrible conditions at the camps and the on-going starvation the percentage of dead amid the prisoners was very high. Typhoid and other infectious diseases killed thousands. But more died from daggers, blows from guns' handles, and bullets. Everyday cars loaded with bodies left each of these camps. Dead and living people were buried together in the same ditch.
The mass-extermination of the prisoners was confirmed by several documents of the central committee.
The conclusions of the medical-judicial investigating committee:
A committee including some experts and some local citizens performed during 10 days (March 1-10, 1944) a medical-judicial examination of bodies of prisoners and inhabitants, all Nazi victims who were dug out of their graves. The committee determined that there were such graves in different areas of Rovno and that there were more then 102,000 murdered.
|On Beyela street, next to the wood warehouse||32,500|
|Next to the pine grove||17,500|
|In the quarries of Widoma village||3,000|
|Near the municipal prison in Rovno||500|
Judging by the bodies' state it is presumed that the mass murdering and the burial of the bodies in Susenki grove were performed in the second half of 1941.
The mass murdering on Beyela Street, next to the wood warehouse, is from the end of 1941.
The murdering in the vegetable gardens on Beyela Street is from 1942-1943.
The mass-extermination of the citizens by carbon dioxide in the gas-cars and the burying of the bodies are probably from the end of 1943.
The murdering and the burning of the bodies in the quarries of Widoma village are from the second half of 1943.
The murdering and burning of the bodies in the municipal prison was done in the beginning of 1944.
The extermination of citizens and prisoners of war in Rovno was done with automatic weapons, machineguns and strangulation by gas. In some cases people were buried alive.
Some of the bodies in the quarries in Widoma village were burned on grounds prepared especially for that purpose.
Many of the bodies carried signs of torture and beatings.
Testimonies of Rovno citizens about the Nazi crimes concerning civilians and prisoners of war between 1941 and 1944 were fully certified by the experts' committee. The fact that all those crimes were performed under Ukraine Reichskommissar Erich Koch proves once again that all the extermination acts were planned and implemented by the Nazi government.
The special governmental committee blamed Hitler's German government for the destruction and the horrors that were performed in Rovno and its provinces, specifically Reichminister Rosenberg, Reichskommissar Koch, the superior commissar for Volhynia and Podilskyy Shana, his adjutant Shwiger, the district commissar Dr. Bauer and all those who worked with them.
Translation by Naomi Gal
As a son of an agriculture family from Ozeryany, the Germans and the Ukrainian police employed me in 1941-1942 working with our farms' horses in transportation. There was a great shortage of food in Rovno and when I went there I used to bring clandestinely food for our relatives Yasha and Fania Bar on 214 Karl Marx Street, to Yoffe Bar who lived near the maternity clinic and to the Pearl family (the owner of the laundry) and others.
On November 6, 1941 I transported policemen to Rovno. As usual I took some food with me and went with it to my relatives. In those days most of the Jews were already assembled in the city, before the ghetto was formed. When I was about to enter the street inhabited by Jews, Gestapo guards stopped me, although I was wearing Ukrainian clothes, they cursed and beat me and chased me away. That day I was not able to deliver the precious load to my relatives.
It was a stormy day, snow and rain were pouring down and cold wind blew and chilled one's core. There was heavy traffic in the streets: Jews, their heads bent plodded along with packages and children. When I asked they responded that the Judenrat called upon them to leave for jobs outside of Rovno, and who knew what waited there. People wanted to believe that indeed they were needed for work and went to the assembling place. I saw with my own eyes cars speeding and running over children who lagged behind the people on their way. Terror, depression and fear prevailed in the city.
In the evening I had to go back to Ozeryany. Leaving Rovno I did not imagine that a day of bitter calamity came to the city's Jews. When I reported back home about the situation in Rovno many believed that this was good for the Jews: they would get jobs and bread. But two days later we found out about the horrible slaughter in Rovno: thousands of deceived Jews were slaughtered in the pine grove behind the city. The village was veiled in sorrow and the fear increased.
The unsettling news from Rovno and the signs predicting extermination of Jews in other places prompted many of Ozeryany's Jews to escape to the forests and join the partisans. Many of them died or were murdered during their wanderings. Some of Rovno youngsters were with me. One of them was Starz (from the candy branch) and Greenberg (produce). Together we raided and sabotaged the enemy. Both of them fell while on duty. I managed to reach Rovno with a group of partisans from the forests near Kiev after the Germans were expelled. I looked for my relatives and could not find a living soul. The city was in ruins and solitary Jews began gathering there. I wandered around lonely and broken. I moved to the house of my relatives, the Bar's. But I found no peace and shortly afterwards I left the city and made my way to Israel.
I was fourteen years old when the Germans occupied Rovno. The situation grew worse every day. Each one looked for a way to find work and survive. I tried and managed to be sent to the hospital and from there I found a way to join the big working camp in the airport building in the village Tina, near Rovno. Conditions for Jews were harsh there, they were treated horribly: we were slaves, but we received bread. Amid our guards was Weiss, an old German, who did not mistreat us and often helped (we suspected he was Jewish because we could not imagine a German who showed benevolence to Jews). Once he informed us that we were about to be expelled to an unknown destination and we hastily left the camp. We dispersed, the majority escaped to the forests, because there was no other way. The hardships, the forest life and the general situation marked most of us in a way that can be never wiped away.
Since June 1941 I was enlisted with the Red Army in Russia. In August 1944, after the German's defeat I used my furlough and traveled to Rovno and Zdolbuniv to search for my relatives. In the evening I reached Rovno by a bus from Koretz. The city was in ruins. The next day I arrived at Zdolbuniv and searched in vain for my family, none of them was alive. I asked about friends and acquaintances, but all of them faced the same fate. I engaged in conversations with non-Jews who responded reluctantly. I did find a few Jews since I stayed there over two weeks.
I returned to Rovno a second time. I went to the synagogue on Shkolna Street. The building was still standing unharmed. Dozens of Jews who came out of their hiding-places were wandering around. On the wall there was a list of close to thousand Jews who lived in town back then, only 70 out of these were from Rovno. The place was desolate; people were walking immersed in their thoughts and worries, mainly where to go and how to immigrate. The nightmare was not yet over and the terror went on. I found no one to tell me about what I was interested in.
I was recruited to the Red Army on June 24, 1941, when the war broke between the Russian and the Germans and left our house on Kaniejsky Street. After years of service I was released and accepted to the civil service. I had a deep yearning to see Rovno, my city, and find my family and friends, but I could not go there. Only after I managed to get through the Polish consulate in Moscow a permit to leave Russia, I was able to reach Rovno. The station was ruined. From there I went through an unpopulated wasteland till I reached the center of town. The Jewish quarters were in ruins and burned beyond recognition. I found no relative or friend, besides Shtif, the teacher, who was older and worked in a governmental school. He expressed his hope that they would let him leave and he could come to us in the Land of Israel. I went to see the elderly Dr. Tavzcnik who used to be one of the chief doctors in a municipal hospital. He was at Dr. Segal's house. He told me how he, his wife and young son hid with the Czechs and that he was the only one left. You could see that the city was about to be restored and the rubble was cleared from some parts. Life was in the style of the Soviets. I was told that there are seventy Rovno sons who work for the Soviets; around twenty of them survivors and the rest came back from Russia. Most of then wanted to leave Rovno, which reminded them of the great calamity, and go on with their lives, but they were waiting for departure permits. I stayed in the city for two days wandering depressed among the ruins. Is this Rovno? On the Wolja I found Ganzer, a fifty-year-old Jew. He used to be the head of the big synagogue, which was still standing, and people addressed him with subjects concerning public and religious matters. He could not provide much information. I was staying with Okoshki, a Rovno born man who came back from Russia and worked with the Red Cross. Other people I met were Darlechter, Lvietin, Sioma Pearl (who worked for the Russian police) and some others. Beit-Yosef, the synagogue where we used to pray was turned into a movie house.
The witness: Herman Frederic Grabe.
The testimony: about the extermination of the last 5,000 Jews in Rovno
The source: the center of documentation Schneerson, Paris
Among the testimonies heard in one of the Nazi trials in Nuremberg was the testimony of the German engineer Herman Frederic Grabe about the extermination of the last 5,000 Rovno Jews. He was in Rovno at the time of the extermination. Between September 1941 and January 1944 he was the director of the German company Joseph Jung Saling in Zdolbnow and had a construction firm in Rovno too. The extermination took place on July 14, 1942 and was kept secret. In his forward he stressed the lies and the baseness that characterized the German rulers and the lawlessness the Ukrainian police showed toward the Jews.
In engineer Grabe's construction plant in Rovno there were more than hundred professional Jews from Rovno, Ostrog and Mizocz. They were lodged outside the ghetto in two houses: the men in Wokzalna Street and the women at the edge of Niemezcke Street. They came to work everyday and went back to their place. On Sunday, July 12, 1942 Grabe heard from Fritz, his chief-clerk that the last Jews of Rovno were going to be exterminated the next day. Grabe was agitated and worried about the Jewish workers he needed. He went at once to sturmbannführer Dr. Pattz, to verify the information. Sturmbannführer Pattz denied the information and said this could hurt the construction plants of the Jung Company that employed professional Jews. Grabe believed Pattz' words and went back to Zdolbnow.
Two hours later Grabe was summoned by phone to the commissar and was received by his substitute Jonker Bek. He told Grabe secretly that the next day, at 10 pm would begin the extermination of the last Jews of Rovno. Knowing that the hundred Jews employed by Jung Company were useful to the government, Bek stated that he would allow them to transfer to Zbolbnow. The transfer had to be done after the action; his workers would not be guaranteed any protection and he, Grabe, had to protect them himself and be in charge of their transfer. Bek gave Grabe a document assuring him that his workers would not be exterminated.
Trusting the document, Grabe was positive that his Jewish workers would not be executed. He himself with some of his loyal clerks (Germans) stood on guard the night before July 14 next to the two houses of his workers. At 6 am a large squadron of Ukrainian policemen appeared and surrounded the houses. Grabe's protests and explanations were ignored. Some of the people in the houses were murdered on the spot and the rest were forcefully led to the assembling point to be sent to the train station. Grabe went to the assembling location and saw a horrible sight:
Around a hundred Jews stood crowded surrounded by guards; they were kneeling and getting up to sadistic orders. This was done by the order of the sturmbannführer Pattz himself, who was standing on the side with a whip in hand and watching the sight, gloating at the Jews' misery. Grabe addressed him and asked to free the Jung workers showing the document signed by Bek. Pattz sighed and responded: I am sorry for Dr. Bek, not for the Jews for whom he issued this document. I cannot fulfill your request, since whoever comes to this place will never go back alive. That was the end of the conversation between the two Germans witnessing the horrible scene.
On Monday July 13, 1942 at 10 pm a large squadron of SS and Ukrainian policemen surrounded the ghetto. Floodlights that were set ahead of time by the Germans lighted the ghetto. The murderers forced the people out of their houses and tried to enter in groups of three and four soldiers to the locked houses in which Jews barricaded themselves and refused to let the murderers in. They broke windows and doors with iron rods till they were able to enter and force all with beatings to go outside. They took out half-naked people and murdered small children they found in bed while their parents were watching.
Not too far from the ghetto were heard howling and horrible screams of mothers whose children were forcedly taken away from them. There, next to the railroad station the assembled Jews were pushed by blows from rubber clubs and guns' butts into freight trains.
There were barricaded houses the murders could not penetrate until after they threw in hand-grenades. There are no words to describe the great destruction and horror. All the way from the ghetto to the railroad station was strewn with bodies of men, women and children, clothes and luggage the Jews threw away. Grabe saw with his own eyes women carrying dead children in their arms, not wanting to leave them behind. Next to a house on Wokzelna Street he saw a child around one year old in his nightshirt, his head smashed: spots of blood and the clotted brain of the child could be seen on the wall.
By the end of his testimony Grabe stated that the Jews were sent from Rovno in closed wagons to Kostopol and were executed nearby the village.
This testimony is only slightly different from the one given by the survivor Abraham Kirchner about the fate of the 5,000 last Jews of Rovno's Ghetto and their bitter end.
(From writings and memories of eyewitnesses)
Translation by Naomi Gal
The exit of the Russians by the end of July 1941 was hasty under the pressure of the German forces and their airplanes. Chaos and confusion reigned in the city. Fear of the Germans took hold of the Jews after hearing recounts from refugees from Warsaw, Lodz, Lublin and other Polish cities that were invaded by the Germans and about the way they treated Jews; hence, many opted to be refugees rather than stay in the hands of the Nazi oppressors. It was not easy for Rovno Jews to forsake their homes and property and leave the city with the Red Army. Some hesitated, many did leave. Amid those who left were people employed by the Soviets and some youngsters. Later it was revealed that the Russians left behind some trustworthy and daring people to serve as resistance in the city and its provinces. Later they joined the partisan movement and operated in the city during the Nazi occupation.
A summer morning in July. German airplanes were flying over Rovno's sky and the German army approached the city. I went out to find out what happened after a night of heavy bombing. Smoke billowed from the struck houses and it looked disastrous. Here and there were strewn bodies, some whole and some smashed. The streets were empty; people stayed home fearing the bombings. At the street corner I encountered a small group of frightened Jews and they told me that the Russians left town and that the hospital I worked for was about to be sent away. Fearing for my family I turned to Litovski Street, and one of its inhabitants took my husband, my daughter and me to her basement, where a few Jews were staying since the previous night. We could not stay there long and we went back to our apartment on Frenzoska. That same day the Germans arrived and ordered us to leave our street. We moved in with Bluma Schwidky on Third of May Street. Through the window we saw the entrance of the German army to the city. Ukrainians stood on the side and cheered happily while our hearts were shaken by fear and pain.
From the very first days, the Germans and the Ukrainian militia they formed began hurting Jews: in Kressna synagogue they murdered several Jews, amid them Isaac Brick. My husband, Ben-Zion Schocman went twice to fetch belongings from our apartment and after the third time he never came back. That day they arrested in the streets around 400 people who were taken, with their hands up, to the prison. There they separated them into Aryan and non-Aryan. Half of them were released and around 150 Jews were shot. My husband was among those 150. The murdering of Jews, individually and in groups went on. Jewish lives became inconsequential and people were afraid to go out or even stand in line for bread, whose price went up exorbitantly.
By the order of the invaders a Jewish Council was formed, the Judenrat. People thought that those connected to the council would not be hurt. Hence many wanted to be among the members or work for them. By the end, this thought was proven wrong since the members of the council and their workers were not exempted. To the council's credit was the opening of stores selling rationed bread. The council's situation was difficult for a number of reasons. There were many complaints against it and suspicions of the members were increasing constantly, even when they were baseless. Still some of the members who lacked in morals will never be forgiven.
A second group was secretly executed. People were collected at night (maybe according to a list) from homes and streets and were sent to an unknown destination from which they never returned. This group included lawyer Cohen, Izzie Zaltsman, Wile Cass, Nahum Cass, David Wienstein and his son (Wienstein was a famous physicist who was invited by the Polish president to Krakow University) and many others of the city dignitaries. A few weeks later a third group was led to slaughter. People, among them some who worked for Germans, were abducted in the streets, loaded like cattle on big trucks and taken outside the city. Amongst them was old Greenfeld and beside him a twelve year old boy. Others were David Zaltsman, Yaakov Frishberg, Eliyaho Mordechi Lerner, Bnia Goralnik and more.
October 1941, a few weeks before the great slaughter known as the first action, the Judenrat received a demand for several hundred of professionals. Different rumors circulated around this demand. Some said that they would be sent to collect bombs and arms left scattered behind the Red Army; others believed that they would be treated as useful people and would not be sent out of town. As a dentist I was on the list of the demanded. Talking casually with a German officer I was treating, I gathered that it was worthwhile to be on the list of requested professionals, since we were about to receive work-permits from the Labor Office that was headed by Lodenlhof, a Nazi that terrorized all the Jews and was especially arbitrary and cruel. I went with Liucie, my daughter, and managed to get a work-permit number 106. Afterwards, with the influence of a Polish colleague my daughter was issued a work-permit number 106/A.
Rovno's Jews were living in terror and a nightmare, they were broken and depressed and did not know what awaited them. Yet many still felt that they would survive the Nazis. Even after the murders they could not imagine that they would be mass-slaughtered by the thousands. They presumed that the invaders would continue to rob their property, but that there was a limit to the robbing. Another prevailing concept was that the Germans would let Rovno's Jews remain alive for the Germans' own benefit. But while they were toying with this false notion, reality hit the optimists and the assured in the face. The Nazi beast did not change its sadistic plan. It was Rovno's turn to drink the poison until the last drop.
After issuing a few work-permits came an announcement demanding all Jews to report for work on the morning of November 7, 1941. Rain and snow were falling alternately, the wind was blowing hard and the cold and wetness penetrated the bones. People went to the assigned place, except for a few who did not, hesitating, not knowing what was the right thing to do. Some hid in basements, attics, with non-Jews, or escaped to villages (most of them were later caught and forcefully taken to the assembling place or led to unknown destinations and never came back). Mrs. Tekle (the wife of a Russian Bolshevik) should be well remembered because she hid Jews during the first action, helped and saved them.
We sat behind locked doors and did not know what to do on the action night. The next morning policemen entered my apartment through the kitchen, searched in every corner and in the beds, checked our documents and left. When we went down to the yard to fetch a bucket of water an acquaintance of mine, a Ukrainian lawyer came by and alarmingly told me that thousands of Jews were standing naked outside of town, trembling from the cold, and pressing into each other, and they were being pushed into ditches and killed in masses. As if sharing our sorrow he added: Hurry up, do something, save whatever can be saved!
There was a basis for believing the lawyer's words since we knew the murderers and their schemes. Without thinking I ran to our friend, the engineer Grisha Peres, who was back then an influential Jew. Fearing encounters with Germans or Ukrainians I sneaked through Litovski Alley. On my way I met two women, both of them wet and full of mud, they managed to escape the killing fields and were looking for a shelter. Not too far from them two Ukrainian policemen stopped me, asked for my papers and checked the work-permit I showed them while my teeth were chattering. By the time they let me go the two women disappeared and I entered the house of the Kokel brothers who saw me and invited me in. They had no documents, but did not leave by the order and were waiting to see what would transpire. I related to them the lawyer's account. When I reached Grisha Peres I was sobbing and could not stop. Peres told me that indeed these last days there were reasons to presume that the end is nearing. I begged him: go out, spread the word, shake the world, do and act, we have to save our brothers and sisters, as if it depended on him. His apartment was in the house of Fishel Guz who was infamous for betraying his brothers in dire times. (By the way, Guz was one of the first to be arrested by the Germans, and many believe that he promised to serve the Germans and hence was released. He fulfilled his treacherous role and had a hat carrying the name Nazi's Jew and he was the one who shamelessly delivered to the Judenrat the different demands of the rulers, as if he was one of the persecuted Jews; it is presumed that he gave the Nazi a lot of information that harmed Jews). The day after the slaughter the few of us who remained in town found out the details about the extermination of twenty thousand Jews. A Polish woman, a patient of mine told me: This is just the beginning of what awaits the city's Jews. I thought she was talking out of hatred for the Jews, but as we found out later the non-Jews knew that this slaughter was not the end of the bloody deeds the Nazis planned for Rovno's Jews.
My daughter and I went through a lot while we were hiding at the hospital and in different houses. Our lives were endangered, but the remaining Russians and the partisans in the city helped us. The partisans risked their lives time and again to help hiding Jews and save them.
We once found out that 400 doctors, nurses and other liberal professionals were hiding in the public-baths of Zefren. The local authorities sent a cable to Hitler asking if they should stay as useful Jews but the answer was: exterminate them all.
A few months passed and then an announcement was made about establishing a Jewish ghetto with precise limits. Still some families got permission to stay in their apartments in town. My daughter, Mrs. Boroshek and I went on living in our apartment for a while until it was confiscated. We heard about general Setsfio (an Italian descendent who served in the German army) who was considered as an important personality by the Germans, and showed sympathy for the Jews on several occasions. My daughter managed to get to him and asked for his mercy so that we could stay in our apartment. The general was courteous and explained that he could not cancel the order but would provide us with another apartment. The same day we got an apartment and he came with some officers to make sure we were settled. Many in town spoke well of Setsfio. It was said that he postponed several times the extermination of Rovno's Jews arguing that they were professionals and that the German army needed most of them. (The fact that he left town the day before the first slaughter was attributed to his reluctance to be present in the city. Another assumption was that he was sent to the front). It was known, for instance, that wishing to help his cook, Haya Zalstman, the sister of the Gilermans, and to save her and others Jews from extermination, he advised her to organize a laundry for him and other officers and to employ a number of people and even sent a German patrol to watch the laundry that was established in the house of Zippa Hochberg, so that German property would not be harmed. That way more than twenty people were saved from the slaughter. There were rumors that Jews found out from his hints what was about to occur and about the planned establishment of the ghetto.
Thousands of Jews moved into the ghetto that stayed open, but it was clear that this move was leading to an extermination that would occur sooner or later. I had to move into the ghetto as well. My daughter hesitated, but finally we moved. We were in the ghetto only for one night because the next day we left. We did not know where we were going but we felt that we could not stay there and we chose to hide with my ex-maid, the Christian Nadia Pawolyok, who took us into her room and kept us for a year and a half in exchange for our belongings and property that we gave her little by little. Once there was a search in Nadia's room while my daughter and I were hiding under her bed. We were miraculously saved.
Our benefactor used to bring us information and rumors about the slaughter of the ghetto Jews, about people who were hiding and were found and executed, about the German's movements, about the partisans and their sabotaging actions, about the Ukrainians deeds, about the suffering of the masses and the murders of Poles and others (as we found out later her information was reliable.)
When the Red Army entered from one side and the partisan's squadrons from the other, Rovno was freed from the Nazis and my daughter and I were freed as well from our hiding place and were among the first Jews to appear in the liberated city. Four or five more Jews were discovered in town with us. We bid Rovno farewell and went on our way, first to Lodz and from there to the Land of Israel.
Translation by Naomi Gal
February 4, 1944
We are a partisan's unit of Jews, entering together with the Red Army Rovno, a traditionally Jewish city, where twenty to thirty thousand Jews used to live, and now we do not meet a single Jew.
The houses, some destroyed, others just partially in ruins, are quiet, wrapped by deep sorrow, silent witnesses to the terrible tragedy that happened here. The Mezuzahs on the doors testify that not too long ago this was a Jewish abode.
We wander around the freed city, here and there one can still see a Jewish signpost: Talmud Torah, Jewish Charity. Here is the synagogues' street where there used to be five religious schools, bearded Jews with side-locks used to walk here and in the evenings school children used to brighten it up with their happy voices. The great synagogue is still standing, but the doors and windows have been uprooted, and the big dark empty spaces instill sorrow and horror, the four old walls stand bent as if prematurely aged.
The houses on Biala Street behind the railroad tracks are somber, the ovens torn, the flooring extracted, the walls perforated. The remains of the Jewish ghetto are conspicuous wherever you turn: here a worn shirt with a yellow Mogen-David, and there pieces of torn parchments of a Torah scroll and broken china. Destruction and desolation everywhere.
Stalin Street is filled with uproar by the army leaving town to chase the enemy. Ukrainians and Poles dressed elegantly with Jewish clothes are walking joyfully in the streets, from the Jewish houses that are now resettled one can hear cheerful laughter.
We pass the city streets like mute shadows, looking for a Jew and there are none.
Where, where are the graves of our Jews? We ask the Goyim.
There they answer and point toward the east there are the Jews, the Ukrainians respond and a small concealed smile crosses their lips.
There, behind the city's borders, next to the main road, in the valley, between two hills, in a sparse pine grove there is a mass-grave a hundred meters long, here are buried ten thousand Jews, and next to it another 7,500 Jews.
We were told:
November 7-8 1941 the Nazi murderers, with the help of locals, drove the Jews across snow-covered fields to the pine grove. SS guards and Ukrainian policemen surrounded the place. After forcing the victims to strip naked, they made them lie down next to the graves, and they kept them that way for the whole night, above the naked bodies they run four couples of horses back and forth. The screams reached the sky; those who tried to escape fell into the hands of the cruel guards.
Afterwards they threw a board across the ditch and on it the wild-beasts made the tortured victims run, while a rain of bullets fell on the wretched heads and they fell into the ditch. Horrible screams are still standing in the air, but the world's ears are deaf, no one hears nor pays attention to the blood of innocent children and babies that is being spilled like water.
The end of June 1944.
Early in the morning we go with a handful of surviving Jews that gathered in Rovno, under the direction of an experienced group of friends, to fence the graves and put up a sign for Rovno's sacred. In the morning's silence an old farmer stands on the mass grave in the pine grove and shepherds his horse.
Don't you know what this is? We ask the peasant.
Yes, a Jewish grave.
So why do you shepherd your horse here?
Everybody else does, he says calmly and slowly walks away with his horse.
We were four hundred Jews from diverse towns and villages in Poland, among us twenty-seven Rovno Jews who managed to survive in their hiding-places. In front of us the huge silent grave.
A moment and the whole surrounding echo with cries: Father! My dear sons! Mom!
No one speaks, only silent hand signs and eyes frozen by tears, each one of us found a place and began arranging the sunken graves, here a worn galosh, a torn child's shoe, and there some rags of men's and women's clothes.
While digging we came against soft children's bones, none of us uttered a word, only the tears were streaming like an open fountain. The bones were buried, covered with dirt and silently we bid the soft bones goodbye forever.
On the side of a large field sown with grain there is a big yellow patch where some thin stalks of grain stand burned out. It seems as if the stalks rising from the grave of 3,000 Jews are embarrassed in front of the other stalks. The Ukrainian peasant did not hesitate at all and planted his bread on our blood.
A tombstone in the form of the Tables-of-the Covenant was erected on a mound of earth and on it an inscription in Yiddish, Russian and Hebrew:
Here is buried Jewish Rovno, the number is 17,500 * [it is said that there is a third grave in the same place of 6,000 children, and that the number of victims in the three graves is 23,500.] Jews that were abused murdered buried alive and tortured to death by the Hitler's fascist Nazi murderers on November 7-8, 1941. Their pure blood will forever be a mark of disgrace to Hitler's Germany. Rest in peace, we the survivors, will revenge your blood our blood.
The inscription reads: A mass-grave of 17,5000 Rovno Jews who
were murdered by the German murderers on November 7-8, 1941
(Page 562 in the Hebrew text)
Some of our friends said eulogies. The only rabbi that survived from the whole area said a eulogy, as well, and then Kaddish and God abounding in mercy.
Somber and in mourning we left the precious graves.
Whoever would come one day to Poland, his forebears' grave, and will pass through Rovno, should walk four kilometers to the east till he will reach the pine grove known as Sosenki. He will see there an area surrounded by barbwire and in the middle is the tomb to the late Rovno Jews.
Translation by Naomi Gal
The partisans have a special chapter in the history of World War II. They were the resistance fighters against the Nazis and their supporters on the Russian-Polish front. Theirs was a magnificent laurelled act in which the Jewish units played a considerable role as well as individual Jews who were partisans in mixed units, and although the non-Jewish fighters often mistreated them, they performed their task with dedication and bravery. The appearance of the partisans surprised the Nazi invaders and more than once was crucial in conquering positions and settlements. Since around Rovno there were many partisans, and among them quite a few Jews, it is appropriate to dedicate them a chapter in our city's memoir.
Who were the Jews in the partisan movement, what role did they play and what were their strengths?
At first there were small groups of survivors, people who escaped the oppressors and hid in the forests and in remote places with one aim only: survive. They wandered without a plan or aim, not knowing what would become of them. Broken and exhausted, hungry and persecuted they wandered the forests, mainly at night, the fire of revenge burning in their hearts and all their senses dedicated to the wish of acting against the cruel enemy. They knew that their life was endangered no matter what and that they could not trust the following day. With time these people formed small groups that began operating with the little force they had to frighten the Germans.
The villagers, who used to sell provisions, and sometimes were forced to give them, began treating those Jews with respect because they feared them. Meanwhile the heads of the Red Army heard rumors about the groups harassing the Germans and causing them losses. The Russians began drawing the groups in, combined them with general partisans' army and supported them. Every now and then they assigned these groups special assignments, counting on their dedication and fighting capabilities.
The successful experiences of the partisans in the forests caused Moscow to send experts on sabotage and fighting in the enemy's hinterland. Planes to the forests of Volhynia and Polesie transported these organized units, who had arms and army transmitters, and their mission was to operate against the Nazis, disrupt their missions and provide information to the Red Army's heads in Moscow. There were Jews too in these units, although the Russian authorities refrained from mentioning their descent, since for them all were citizens. In the forests all the saboteurs met at the enemy's hinterland and became a fighting force, and although most of the time they operated individually they complemented each other. There were also special units of Jewish partisans, which were not always desirable to the Russian authorities and generals.
Exciting stories are being told by each one of the partisans who participated and survived the operations, but hundreds and thousands of them fell in battle and with them were lost the stories that could have served as historical testimony to the times and the horrors, to daring maneuvers of Jewish fighters seeking revenge for their people. There were commanders who appreciated the Jewish partisans and saw in them the resurrected great-grand-children of the ancient Maccabees, but there were many cases in which Jews were sent for different reasons to the most dangerous locations. The Germans, as well as their henchmen the Ukrainians felt well the partisans' might in general and of the Jews in particular, and it was known around Rovno that the Germans feared the ambushing bitter and fierce partisans in the forests and on the roadsides more than they feared encounters with the enemy at the front.
It might be that the world knows more about the extermination than about the supreme bravery, we ourselves know only a shred of these episodes, hence we need to collect and assemble fact by fact and expose for our generation and next generations the story of this heroic resistance. Every now and then there are still reports about the slaughter of the millions of our people, but very little is told about Jewish rebellions before they were annihilated and about the many fights in the ghettos before they were liquidated. Meanwhile time slowly blurs history, especially the isolated brilliant sparks in the darkness of the Holocaust.
Simple and heroic are the stories of the Jewish partisans from the forests of Dabrowich-Sarny-Kostopol-Rokitnoye till Rovno on one side and from the forests of Sumen-Lutsk-Sofievka on the other side. The sum is amazing: around 85% of the partisans who fought in these places survived, compared to 1% (one percent!!!) of surviving Jews who did not defend themselves and were led like sheep to slaughter.
The partisan Baroch Mankovsky tells:
The feeling in Dabrowich was that the same deeds that happened in Lutsk and Rovno are about to take place here. People were agitated and began thinking about escaping the village. But the massive guards thwarted the thought. Finally on a dark night nine people escaped. Four of them were caught when they left the village and only five arrived to a nearby village. Animosity toward the Jews prevailed in the Ukrainian villages. Every goy dreamt about Jewish property in Dabrowich and about the 5 kilo of salt they would get from the Germans for each Jew, and the peasants diligently performed the job of informing on and delivering Jews. At that time Jews from Dabrowich and from other villages were brought to Sarny and cruelly massacred. Those who managed to escape on the way to Sarny or from the killing-fields ran away to the forest. And so there were hundreds of people in the forests, wandering from one place to the other, suffering from cold, fear and hunger. Every now and then they fell victim until they managed to organize a group of partisans and get arms while ambushing policemen. A few Ukrainian youngsters joined the group and helped. The group operated around Dabrowich and Rovno and one of its first operations was penetrating the village and burning its big bridge. Since they were only few, the fighting conditions were at first tough and the danger of being exterminated prevailed every hour, but after they managed to connect with similar groups that were wandering in the forests and connect with the Red Amy headquarters, they frightened the surrounding villages and the Germans, who believed there were thousands of warriors. The members of the group saw their battle not only as a necessary defense for their survival, but also as a way to revenge their brothers' blood. Sometimes the group was sent for operations in farther places (as far as Stolyn and Pinsk) and paid a high price for these operations. But the bravery of its bereaved members and the wish for vengeance on the enemy accompanied them on their harsh way and no danger deterred them. Their wish was to reach Rovno and bring her liberty.
The partisan Baroch Feldman related:
When the Jews of Wlodzimierz Wolynski, who were confined to a ghetto, heard about the partisans in the forest they began escaping the village to join them. I was amongst them and found myself in a group that operated against the Germans and the Ukrainian police. Fate had it that I was the commander of the group and went on different sabotaging missions. We went through many hardships in Volhynia's forests. At first we did not have enough arms, till we connected with the partisans in Bereznica's forests, where the Red Army buried arms while retreating. The number of partisans who united reached ten thousands. We had the arms we found and the arms we took from the enemy during our attacks. The Ukrainians, who previously helped Ataman Bandera (who worked for the Germans since they promised him he would rule the Ukrainian region) -seeing that the power of the partisans is increasing and thinking about the help they would get from Russia, were frightened and began distancing themselves from him and many joined the partisans.
There were many Jews in our unit and everybody valued their strength, dedication and their military capacities. The Jews were often sent in the first line arguing that they have to avenge their slaughtered brothers' blood. No one dared to refuse and we scarified in battles our best men. Time and again our unit crossed rivers at night on an improvised bridge we mounted. We bombed airports, trains and diverse military property; we fought near Rovno and Ludmir and once even face to face. When the plan to free Rovno was set and the Red Army was nearing the city from one side, we advanced at the same time from the other side and were among the conquerors of Rovno. Indeed the heart shuddered at the sight of Rovno empty of Jews who were all uprooted.
The partisan Abraham Lydovski, who was active around Rovno with the unit that participated in the liberating of the city told a lot about the life of the partisans in the forests with brothers-in-arms-and-in-suffering and about the battles with the enemy while freeing Rovno. Their pain and sorrow was great when they saw the destroyed Jewish Rovno. In Jewish houses there were still mezuzahs, and torn parchments of Torah scrolls were strewn here and there. We were wandering in the city streets like shadows, looking for Jews to no avail, Jewish Rovno was lost.
In the book The Mighty of Spirit D. Medvedev describes the partisans' operations near Rovno for close to two years, until the city was freed from the Germans. He relates the atmosphere, the operations and acts of the partisans. The Jews who were part of the partisans demonstrated outstanding courage wishing to avenge the enemy and dispel him. For political reasons these heroes of the underground partisans were marked as warriors and not as Jews, but their names and other signs clearly indicate who they were. By the descriptions in this book Rovno and its surroundings was set as a landing place for a well trained paratroopers' elite unit that was sent from Moscow in the spring of 1942 in order to operate in Ukraine. It was not by mere chance that Rovno was chosen for the operations of the partisans against the Germans: this was the city the Germans set as the capital of the occupied Ukrainian territory. The commissar Erich Koch resided there, appointed by Hitler himself. Here were centered all the Nazis' connections to occupied Ukraine and here resided the headquarters of the Gestapo, the police etc.
Every now and then airplanes brought reinforcements of men, arms and food to the partisans' squadron that operated near Rovno, and a radio connection was established with Moscow. The contingents sent for reinforcement were the best of fighters and they arrived experienced and eager to beat the enemy. They encouraged the squadron's partisans and with their help the contacts with the villagers improved, they too suffered from the Germans and the Ukrainian police. Once the unit had to change its location for strategic reasons in the region of Rovno Kostopol, Sarney Klosov and while wandering clashed with enemy forces arriving with the purpose of clearing the partisans and getting rid of them.
The unit used its messengers in Rovno, where they operated underground and provided information to the headquarters that was sent to Moscow and helped plan operations of attacks and sabotage.
And the information was important. That way the partisans' high command found out about an order issued in the winter of 1943 by Koch to clear the area from partisans and for this purpose 2,000 SS men were sent with additional Ukrainians nationalists headed by Fitz. The high command managed to disperse its forces ahead of time, moved away from the danger and prepared a trap for the enemy. The situation necessitated the unit to operate separately in the forests of Rovno-Sarney-Rokitno. In a well-planned camouflage the unit envoys managed to establish connections, activate city's inhabitants, assassinate the heads of the enemy's forces and perform considerable acts of sabotage.
The partisan Joseph Golov, who was in Medvedev's regiment, helped a lot the Jewish organizations in Volhynia's forests and assisted them in joining the partisans.
In a book titled It Happened Near Rovno by D. Medvedev, page 52-53 there is a short account about the tragedy of Rovno's Jews in a chapter that deals with the German New Order:
When the Nazi murderers invaded the villages of western-Ukraine they declared a mandatory-registration of the Jewish inhabitants. They confiscated all the Jewish property and sent the Jews for hard labor in the quarries. By the end of August 1942 the Germans executed, by a premeditated plan, the 'liquidation' of the Jewish population in Rovno and its surroundings. They took out groups of Jews behind the cities, ordered them to dig ditches and then shot them to death paying no attention to those who were still alive, they pushed them all into the ditch and covered them.
The information is similar to these given by different Jewish partisans and other citizens who witnessed the extermination of Rovno's Jews.
Moshe Chanovitz, in his book The war of the Jewish partisans in eastern-Europe lists the names of Jews who operated in Jewish or mixed partisans' units, served as officers and excelled especially while operating against the invading enemy and its henchmen in different locations, among them Rovno. He details cases of Jews saved by partisans, and collecting Jewish children in Ukrainian villages and forests, transferring them to Moscow, and more. Especially important is the information about the devotion of Jewish partisans to their brothers, a handful of lost and errant people who were in danger of annihilation. Chanovitz outlines the significant role of the Jewish medical workers with the partisans and the way the partisans appreciated the importance of the Jewish doctors, pharmacists, and the nurses, men and women. Dozens of Jewish doctors and nurses received from the Soviet Union Excellence Awards for their dedicated service.
Chanovitz states that Jews did not betray, were not captivated, and if they fell into enemy's hands the Germans paid a heavy price: generally Jewish partisans did not fall alive in German's hands. The Jewish partisan who did not carry the yellow patch knew how to live like a hero and die like one. He made all the possible efforts to capture Germans and take revenge. The prisoners used to beg the Russians not to deliver them to Jews, because they feared Jewish Death fully aware of the account they had with the Jewish people for the rivers of blood they shed.
The partisan engineer Moshe Gildenman, related at-length about the activities of his unit in the forests of Volhynia, Polesie and around Rovno, about the successes, and failures up until the victory.
From testimonies of Rovno's survivors it turns out that many of Rovno's Jews were in partisan units and operated in the forests against the Nazi enemy. Quite a few were lost in courageous raids and because of Ukrainian betrayals. But some of them survived and lived to see the defeat of the aggressor. They entered the city in the partisans' parade that arrived at conquered Rovno.
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