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{Page XV}

Slutzk after World War II

(As seen by an eye witness)

By Maurice Hindus


The writer of this article is a world-renowned author and Journalist. In 1944 he was probably the first American Jew, who was privileged as a Journalist, to travel together with the Red Army and enter with them the city of Slutzk upon its re-occupation from the collapsed German armies. At that time, he related his observations in a series of articles in the New York Herald Tribune. The following article has recently been written by Mr. Hindus especially for this publication.


In mid-November, 1944, 1 made a journey in a dilapidated Ford from Minsk to Slutzk. Several Officials from Minsk who knew Slutzk accompanied me on the trip. We travelled over country that was laid waste by war. Again and again, now on one side of the chaussee, now on the other, I saw clusters of blackened and battered chimney stacks, all that was left of once thriving villages and towns. In their retreat the Germans had burned and blasted every- thing in their way.

We drove for hours and hours and still saw no Slutzk. My companions kept telling we would get there soon; we could not possibly miss it. Slutzk was a big town and, though road signs had not yet been restored, they were confident that we would see it sprawling along the chaussee. But we didn't see it. We drove past it without knowing we had done so. Only when we inquired of an old peasant woman bent under a load of firewood how far we were from Slutzk, did we learn that we had driven about ten kilometers beyond it.

I am mentioning this incident because driving along the chaussee we could not identify the town, and the reason we could not, was because Slutzk was one of the bleakest and flattest ruins I had seen in war-torn Russia, and I had seen Stalingrad.

We drove into Slutzk from the direction of the old Gutzeit flour-mill. All the way to the bazaar I saw few buildings. The bazaar itself which, as you remember, boomed with trade in autumn was practically deserted. It seemed strange not to hear cackling geese, squawking hens, grunting pigs in November in the Slutzk bazaar; and not to see a single peasant with sacks or baskets of the late autumn apples and pears for which Slutzk and the surrounding countryside were famous.

I shall always remember the shock I experienced when I walked along Broad Street. I could not recognize the loveliest street in the city. The boulevard was gone. Out of spite the Germans had cut down the trees and I saw nothing but stumps overgrown with weeds and grass. The houses, the finest in town, were nearly all demolished. The Lutheran Church with its Gothic tower and old clock, one of the architectural landmarks of Slutzk, was cracked and wobbly and about to collapse. So the once beautiful playground of Slutzk was now a wild and dreary waste.

Kapuler Street should be renamed Shekhita Street. Actually there was no street any more – nearly all the buildings were levelled to the ground. But it was on this street, behind barbed wires, that Jews were herded and slaughtered. Nobody could tell me how many Jews fell victim to German machine guns. All I learned was that out of a population of 23,000 about one-third were gentiles, and that not many had escaped the slaughter. The tangled and rusty barbed wires that had not yet been cleared away were the only silent witnesses of the Great Pogrom.

Slutzk was occupied three days after the war broke out. Some Jews fled the moment they heard German planes flying high over the city, which was in the morning of the first day of the war. Since trains, trucks, and all other forms of transportation were either paralyzed or mobilized by the army, walking was the only mode of escape. Three of my nephews, Refoel, Gershon, Shlomo Gendeliovitch just picked up their families and left on foot for the interior of Russia. Gershon finally reached a village on the Volga and settled there. Refoel and Shlomo, who were members of the Slutzk kolhoz, managed to get to a village in the province of Kostroma and joined a kolhoz there. By fleeing from Slutzk before the Germans had arrived, they saved themselves from death.

From the information I gathered from party and Soviet officials, no more than about one hundred Jewish families walked out of the city and succeeded in making their way deep into the interior. Who they were and where they finally settled, nobody could tell me.

The other Jews stayed in Slutzk. They didn't believe the Germans were as wicked as they had been depicted. They thought that they could somehow come to terms with them and work and live. They could not imagine Germans killing men and women, let alone children, in cold blood. This was the grimmest mistake our brethren made, not only in Slutzk but all over Europe.

Nor did the Germans show any particular hostility to Jews when they first occupied the city. They told the Jewish community to choose a representative who would speak for them in their dealings with the German commandant. Chipchin, the lawyer, was chosen for the position and for several weeks he seemed to get along well with the new masters of Slutzk. But when repressions began, he again and again raised his voice in protest. Then one day German authorities summoned an outdoor-mass-meeting of Jews, presumably to give them an opportunity to air their grievances in the open. Chipchin was the first speaker and he had no more than said a few words when the German officer whipped out his revolver and shot him. This was the first shooting of Jews in Slutzk.

The Jewish community was terrorized. For the first time they realized the devil was even blacker than he was painted. They felt hopelessly trapped. Yet a few of them, only a few, managed to escape. A women named Mishalova braved the terror of the Nazis and walked out of the city with her two children. She had procured a false passport and her light hair and blue eyes protected her from the close scrutiny of the Nazi guards. Three other men, the Neumark brothers, likewise made their way to the Russian rear. There were several others who were equally plucky and lucky, though nobody could give me their names.

Slutzk was surrounded by a powerful partisan army, and the Germans were so afraid of the partisans that they rarely dared to travel of the main highways. I was in villages outside of Slutzk where not even the geese were molested. These villages lay off the main highways and the Germans left them alone. They wouldn't even risk going after the geese, and goose as you surely know is a favorite German food. Several young Jews in Slutzk joined the partisans and saved themselves. At the time I was in Slutzk they had already been mobilized by the Red army and were at the front so I didn't see them.

But why didn't other Jews, especially the young people, run off to the partisans? Once with the partisans they would have been safe unless they perished in battle or fell victim to a partisan's anti-Semite bullet. That there were anti-Semites among the partisans, nobody in Slutzk denied. But the mayor of the city, who had been commander-in-chief of the partisan garrisons, assured me that Jews under his charge rarely suffered from anti-Semitism, and that he dealt harshly with partisans who offended their Jewish fellow-fighters. Besides, as partisans, Jews were as well armed as non-Jews and could protect themselves against attacks on their person. The fact is that not only in Slutzk but in all Byelorussia, comparatively few Jews joined the partisans. Meyer S. Handler, a fellow correspondent who was in Moscow for the New York United Press, made a journey to Pinsk about the same time that I went to Slutzk. On his return to Moscow he and I compared notes. He brought back from Pinsk the same sorrowful tale that I did from Slutzk, from Minsk, from Pohost and from a few other communities in Byelorussia – very few Jews threw in their lot with the partisans. Why didn't they?

In Slutzk I met a carpenter by the name of Popoff. He told me that one evening during the occupation, the wife of a Jewish barber, named Melnick, rushed into his house and begged him to save her children. Popoff went with her to her house, picked up her three children and brought them to his house. He kept them for a week. As it was dangerous for him to keep them any longer, the mother came and said she would take them back home. Popoff pleaded with her to run off with the children to the partisans. He was one of their secret agents in Slutzk and offered to help her make her way to partisan territory. The mother refused. "If I were alone", she said, I might try. But with the children I'll never make it, and I won't go without them." Despite Popoff's entreaties and expostulations, she refused to follow his advice. Soon afterwards she and her children were murdered.

There were many other instances when mothers, fathers, sons, daughters could have saved themselves by running away to the partisans. But they would not leave without one another. So fathers and mothers stayed with their children and sons and daughters stayed with their parents. The terror of the Germans had firmly solidified the Jewish families. If they couldn't live together, they would die together.
They ended up behind the barbed wire fences on Kapuler Street.

New York City,
January 1958




ADDENDA

In a personal conversation with Mr. Hindus, after receiving from him the preceding article, I asked him to recall whether he saw any relic of the many Slutzker Synagogues and particularly the Great Synagogue known as the "Kalte Shul" which stood in the center of the Synagogue Courtyard and known as an ancient landmark throughout White Russia, around which there has prevailed many legends, and also concerning the Jewish cemetery on Zaretzer Gasse, where some of internationally famous Jewish saints and scholars have found their resting place.

Mr. Hindus replied that he did see the cemetery and its fence in a state of extreme neglect and devastation but not completely destroyed. As to the Synagogues, he did not recollect of having seen or heard anything about them in the one day that he spent there, a matter which indeed provoked Mr. Hindus himself at the time of writing this article.

In a later conversation with Mrs. Rachel Pickoltz, a native o! Slutzk, who was there during the Nazi occupation of Slutzk in June 1941 till July 1942, when she succeeded in leaving the city and joining the Partisans, the Synagogue matter was fully clarified to me. Mrs. Pickoltz told me that all the Synagogues of Slutzk have long been occupied by the Soviet government for secular purposes and the "Kalte Shul" has been used for a bakery since the middle twenties, to the extent that the younger generation has completely forgotten to identify these buildings as Houses of Worship. Furthermore, in June 1941 when the Nazi planes bombarded the city of Slutzk, the Synagogues were among the first buildings to be destroyed. Hence, when Mr. Maurice Hindus visited Slutzk after the Russians re-occupied it, he really could not have seen a trace of any synagogue nor heard any thing about them.
Rabbi Nissan Waxman


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