« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

[pp. 107-125]

Vishnevo during the Second World War

by Cheina Rabinovich
(sister of Yehoshua Rabinovitz, mayor of Tel Aviv in the 1970s)

Translated by Eilat Gordin Levitan

Vishnevo
Summer of 1939

During the summer months the situation became more and more ominous as political circumstances in Poland seemed very volatile. The papers were full of apocalyptic announcements anticipating the coming of the Second World War. Poland seemed to be the main territory to be concerned, but we still hoped that everything would pass peacefully and the town, as the rest of Poland, would continue with its survival. The youth movements Hashomer Hatzair, Poalei-Zion, the League for the Working Eretz Israel, Ha'chalutz Ao'ved, Beitar, and others, all were brimming with activities and abundant with the energy of youth. The Hebrew school Tarbut, with its 8 grades, had 200 students. When the kids graduated, some of them went to Vilna to continue their studies either in high school or schools for teachers, schools for accountants, or mercantile or technical schools. When they returned, they became the intelligentsia of the town and later on, naturally, Soviet officials would turn to them when recruiting local leaders for the Communist Party.

In contrast there was also the more traditional Agouda. At the head stood Rabbi Weinstein with a few well-to-do homeowners who were strongly opposed to Zionism. Amongst the people were Moshe Shimshelevicz, Leib son of Kopl, and others. They tirelessly (though with little success) worked against Zionist activities in town. At one point they decided to change the essence of the Tarbut school from one in which all subjects were instructed in Hebrew only into an old-fashioned religious school of the Agouda. The Rabbi viciously attacked Tarbut during synagogue meetings but his influence was not strong and the Zionist activities continued. I would like to point out that as soon as the Russians came, Rabbi Weinstein left the town, successfully crossed the border to Lithuania, and from there he succeeded in reaching Israel. Today (1960's) he lives in Jerusalem. (He wrote a chapter in the Yizkor book for Visnnevo)

Anyway, back to August 1939. In the midst of our routine disputes between the different ideologies, the war was announced and the Nazis marched towards the border of Poland. The atmosphere became full of anxiety, and the morning after the announcement, we saw the first refugees from Warsaw and Lodz. With them came rumors that the Germans were already very near us. From the refugees we promptly heard that the Nazis were terrorizing the Jews as soon as they arrived at Jewish towns and all the Jews in Vishnevo became very fearful.

Just at that point we found out about the agreement between the Soviet Union and Germany. We learned that under this pact, the Soviet Union would annex our area, which we knew would bring an immediate end to all our Zionist activities. While this change in regimes meant that we would most likely not be able to make “aliyah” to Eretz Israel, we also knew that at least our lives would not be taken from us. It is no wonder then that when the rumors came true and the first tanks of the Soviet Union arrived, the entire town came to greet them with flowers in their hands and everyone was very excited. At the center of the market, a stage was built and the representative of the Jews, Yakov Hirsch Alishkevitch, along with a few local Christians, made excited speeches. At the end of Yakov's speech, he said, “Long live the Soviet Union!” And all of a sudden we were part of the National Socialist Republic of White Russia.

Vishnevo during the Soviet Rule

A new sovereign, new rules and foremost; disciplines of labor

The financial and economic life was re-organized into cooperatives and governed by the principles of Sakhism. Instantaneously, all the members of miscellaneous professions gathered and organized cooperatives for each occupation. Shoemakers and barbers headed by Yosef Dudman, tailors, carpenters, wagon drivers, and so on. They all started receiving assignments from the authorities and also from private clients. Others worked as civil servants in SelSoviet. They worked in the forests and in the markets, and they received harvests from the farmers. Also the small shop owners organized and became part of cooperatives, and slowly everyone became accustomed to the new system.

Social/civil situation

Although the financial markets found an easy transition to Marxism, it was very difficult in the social/civic arena to embrace the new rules. All Zionist activity was strictly forbidden. The Jewish community center was closed and all the social activities that previously took place there now came under secular Soviet control. Also, the Tarbut school, which until had been the symbol of the eternal Hebrew culture that connected Eretz Israel and the Diaspora, was shut down and replaced by a school that was conducted in Yiddish. One could not even mention Hebrew at the new school. The same teachers who only yesterday had educated the children on the premise of Hebrew and Zionist culture now were forced to change not only the language they taught in, but the curriculum was drastically changed according to the wishes of the Soviet authorities. The firm ideological base on which the school had established itself was severed. The Jewish essence and soul of the educational institution was annihilated, and its essential quality was vacated of its national Zionist message. To top it all, the Soviets established a parallel school whose core language was Russian. It was meant to assimilate the Jewish and Christian population into the Soviet society and it quickly became a very high caliber [academically] school. Pedagogically it was also very advanced, and soon the Yiddish school was overshadowed by the Russian school's excellence.

Communist Propaganda

Through all that time, the authorities spread their propaganda amongst the population, concentrating especially on the youth. They sent two commissars from the KOMSOMOL, both young Jewish men. One was from Smolensk, the second from Gomel. The head of the SelSoviet appointed a Jewish commissar by the name of Gutin. He was about 40 years old, the son of a rabbi from the vicinity of Moscow. He was a very clever, educated man who spoke perfect Hebrew and became very involved amongst the Jews and the culture activities. He knew much about the essence of the Jewish town. The fact that he very hastily became part of the town made it very dangerous for us because he was such a devout, uncompromising Communist.

One day a special commission arrived from the capital of the district, Volozhin, to make a census report of the population and to cleanse it of counter-revolutionary elements. They explained to us what was now politically correct and called all the youths to join the Communist party. Some of the youths were invited to SelSoviet and they were offered jobs to go amongst the municipality population and promote the Soviet ideology.

From A Conversation With Gdaliyau Dudman, About Imprisonment

The same committee started a census of the residents, categorizing them according to Marxist classes. Some were registered as belonging to the Koltschtovo class. They were the heads of mercantile enterprises and large businesses. The second group was the middle class that included most of the Jewish population and then there was the Bidnota, or the Batraki, the poor, who now became the highest class with the best access to jobs and education.

So what did the Jews do? They used all their connections and resorted to cronyism to join the poor class, which was really the most privileged class under the Soviet rule. One day, a second committee came, sent by the NKVD to clean the population of all unwanted elements, meaning anti-Soviet elements. First they deported all the Asdoniks; they were the Polish settlers from the old veterans of Polish legionnaires who had received land from the Polish government as a reward for their service. After that came all the people who were suspected as anti-Communists; these were mostly from the village's Christian population. Their “crime” got them sent to prison and later to Siberia. A few of the Jews also suffered. Three Jews who were suspected anti-Communists (Zeev Davidson, Yishaiau Rubin, and Mordechai Zallak) were arrested and sent to Siberia--first them alone, and shortly after also their family members. The men were separated from the women and children and for many years did not know their fate. Miraculously most of them survived the war, except for Zeev Davidson's wife, Yente, who became sick with pneumonia and died in Siberia. Fate separated them through the entire wartime but they were all united afterwards and they are now all in Israel.

Underground Zionism, by Cheina Rabbinovitz

In spite of all the propaganda, most of the youths shunned Communism. They were too rooted in the Zionist movement and the commitment to Israel, but as was the case in most Soviet territory, the Zionists dreams of immigration to Israel were halted and the main activities of preparing for the Zionist goals had to stop. Slowly we realized that although physically we were safe, our spiritual lives were smashed and without our national [Jewish] goal of readying ourselves to go to Eretz Israel, we were walking around aimlessly.

We didn't want to accept it and we started underground activities. We were able to communicate with the Zionist headquarters in Vilna, and as a result we organized a group of youths who tried to reach Vilna (in 1939 it became part of Lithuania), from where it was still possible to reach Israel at that point of time. But fate was against us: one of the girls became sick so we decided to delay our departure for a week. A few days later we found out that Baruch Milikovski, who studied in Vilna, and was to help us cross the border, was caught by the authorities near the border. He was waiting for us there with a few Christians, and his arrest abruptly stopped our underground activities, leaving us no choice but to accept the situation in town.

To fill the void, we all started participating in the work activities. I became the head of the library, which once again was organized as a combination of the Jewish and Polish library. This job would have given me a lot of satisfaction, but on the second day of my job, an announcement came from the Communists' district headquarters in Volozhin. Two young men arrived and started “purifying” the library. First they took out all the books written in Hebrew and demanded that they be burned. From the Yiddish books they only let us keep a few of the classic books. The rest we were ordered to destroy.

Emotionally it was devastating for us. We knew how difficult it was to buy each and every one of those books. We knew that years of love and cultural energy were put into getting those books, and we couldn't accept the verdict, so we decided to secretly take a few of the very special Yiddish and Hebrew books and hide them in the junkyard. The ones we were not able to hide we had to burn with our own hands. Until today my heart aches when I think about it, but we had no choice. The rule came from the Soviet headquarters, and there was nothing we could do. This was the way the Soviets treated the Hebrew and national and spiritual culture of the Jewish nation then, and this is how they treat them now. All with one aim: to bring the Jewish nation in the Soviet Union to complete assimilation. Once more, as I emphasize, at least we kept our lives and we felt that as long as we were alive there was hope and that one day we would reach the land of Israel.

Vishnevo under Nazi Rule

However, our physical lives were not granted to us. On the 22nd of June 1941, the Germans announced a war with Russia, and after 2 days the roads became filled with refugees, some coming by foot and others by any other means of transportation. All of them had the instinctive feeling that they must save themselves from the hands of Hitler, but only very few were able to reach safety. Bombing on the roads killed some; others were forced to return, since all the roads at that point were already blocked. Also, in Vishnevo there was panic. Many ran away to Volozhin, hoping to join the Russians civil workers in their retreat deep in to Russia. Some went all the way to Minsk, but most of them were forced to return home. On Friday morning, the Germans came close to Vishnevo and we immediately heard shelling and explosions. I can't describe the panic and the mayhem that came to town. Everyone ran away from their houses and out to open fields. One bomb fell on the house of Voronker and as a result the daughter of Hanan Oshiskyn was killed. At nine in the morning, the Germans entered town and at once they ordered all of us to return home.

At 4 that afternoon there was an order that all the Jews must gather in the Provoslav Church. At that hour, the entire Jewish population, children, old, youths, etc. gathered. We were all ordered to lie on the ground, surrounded by armed Germans. At ten at night they started taking groups of twenty each inside the Gmina, the police station, and there they put them all together in a small space where they could hardly breathe1, and kept them there until the morning hours. At that point they let the women and children go home, and the men were taken to work. They were held for three weeks. In the daytime they were taken to work and at night they returned them to the Gmina, where they stayed. The women would bring them food from home, but except for that trip no one dared going out of the house. There was a deep sense of hopelessness with all of us and we were all very fearful. All the doors were shut and people were skulking about like shadows. Anyone who dared to go out did so through the backyards.

Immediately as the Germans came, they appointed a militia that was filled with Christian youths. They were headed by two FolkeDeutsche (ethnic Germans). One was Finger and the other was Tyrinski. Both of them came to the town from the Danzig area. They used to work in the forest for a Jew who came from Danzig by the name of Yavelovsky. After a while they put roots in the area and married women from the Polish schlachta (well-to-do, ruling class Poles, small town gentry). As soon as the Nazis appointed them, they started terrorizing the Jews and they took part in all the troubles that happened to the Jews (all the atrocities) until the day of annihilation. As we will tell you later, one of them we took revenge upon when we joined the Russian partisans. But I must emphasize again through all the days they were like bloodsucking leeches, taking all the blood of Jews of the town.

The first victims

After two weeks, the non-Jewish neighbors of Shimon Levin and Itzhak Lichterman wrote a complaint against them to the German authorities. They were taken out of their houses to Syneguri, and there they were shot and killed.

They didn't allow us to take them to a Jewish burial. (Gdaliyau Dudman tells us more details about this: after the wives of the victims begged the Jewish community to help, they decided to send someone to plead with the German officer to let them bury their husbands in the Jewish cemetery. Among those who went with the wives were Mordechai Dudman and Yosef Menachem Rabbinovitz. They traveled, endangering their lives, to the main headquarters. After many, many hours of waiting, they were allowed to enter. As soon as they made their request, the officer started screaming profanities at them, saying, “Thousands of soldiers from the best of the German youth are lying on the battlefields and are not taken to burial, and you are asking me to bury two corpses of filthy Jews?” With severe beatings he kicked them out of his office.)

Not many days passed, and the infamous officer Moko (Muki?) arrived in town. Rumors started about a list he had. They said that 80 Jewish people were about to be executed, and soon we found out their names. That evening, two Jews who headed the community, Yosef Berkman and Baruch Rabbinovitz, asked my father to talk to Finger and plead with him to save the people in return for a huge amount of money. Every Jew in the neighborhood was looking out the window that evening since we all knew that Finger would pass by our house on the way to his house from the Gmina as he did every day. When they saw him coming from afar, the committee asked him to enter our house. He entered and sat down and asked what they wanted. Everyone started begging him to cancel the list, promising him hills and mountains. Baruch Rabbinovitz fell to his knees and begged for his son Yosef, saying, “He's only a child!” He wailed and sobbed, but Finger merely answered, “Today nothing will happen and what tomorrow will bring, only God knows.” And then he left. You can hardly describe the panic that spread in town. People were running all over the place, not knowing what to do about saving their loved ones. Everyone saw death approaching. At night they took the group of men to the cemetery and demanded that they dig graves.

That night, no one slept. It was filled with terror. When it was still dark, my mother sent me to my uncle Shimon. She said that maybe there it would be safer. As soon as I stepped out of the house, I was met by a militiaman who yelled, “Where are you going? You cannot sleep, eh?” I knocked on the door of my uncle Shimon and there was no answer. I returned to the street and saw from afar that someone had opened the front door of Israel Elie Rabbinovitz, and entered. I ran and also entered the house.

We all stood there, looking from behind the shadows, we saw that the main market was surrounded by German soldiers, and soon the first Jews were marched by the soldiers. We saw Zelig the glazier (glassmaker) who wore his talit and fellim, and next was Yakov Hirsch Alishkevich. the beloved teacher, who was joined by his young son, like Abraham taking his son Isaac to be sacrificed. And here I saw them take people from the house of my uncle Shimon. I saw them taking his granddaughter Rivkaleh. who was still a baby still in her nightgown. (After a short time she was released and sent back home). And here they took my uncle, Leib Novoprotsky and his three sons. And here also was Misha, the son-in-law of Zelig the glazier; he was also taken to be slaughtered.

From the very edge of Volozhin Street, surrounded by soldiers, Shaika Kaplan with his two sons, and then Yakov Horowitz, the son in law of Moshe Shimshelovich was taken by soldiers. He was practically naked; leaving a one-and-a-half month old baby whose mother died during delivery on the day the Germans entered Vishnevo.

Altogether they killed 38 people that day. They all fell in one big grave, in the Jewish cemetery that was dug by the group of other Jews they kidnapped that night. They put them all there and shot them, and they fell, one by one, into this grave. This was the first bloodbath. Father buried his son, and son buried his father. Amongst the fallen were my uncle Leib Novoprotsky and his youngest son Lipa. First they took all four, the father and the three sons, but two of the sons survived by a miracle. One of them, Berl, was able to hide amongst the gravediggers (those who buried the dead) and with his own hands buried his father and young brother. The second one, Chaim, was able to escape from the grave pit after it was already covered with dirt. Both of them hid in the graveyard all day and when evening came they entered our house, in half-crazed condition. From what the Christians told, many of the victims were buried alive and days after this occasion, they could see movement in the dirt.

Not many days passed after that bloody day that was named by the Germans “Das Spiel”, and they demanded that we must give them a certain amount of silverware, gold, and other jewelry. As ordered, we sent it to the heads of the Jewish community, Yosef Menachem Rabbinovitz and Mordechai Dudman the shoemaker. They were told to come with the loot to the Gmina were Moko was waiting for them. There they started beating them up until they bled. One of the local Polish men, Dedzhi, from the village Salkoviczizna, hit Yosef Menachem Rabbinovitz with his fist in his face and knocked out two of his teeth. After such a welcome committee, Moko took from them all the gold and silver that they had brought, and kicked them out.

The next day, an order came that all the Jews must leave their homes and transfer to a ghetto that was located between the synagogue and the end of Karve Street. The entire area was fenced in by barbed wire, with one gate. Near the gate there was a guard station manned by the militia, and now no one could go from the ghetto to the outside without permission. The ghetto became isolated from all outside contact except for the people who would go to work. I will never forget the image that in its cruelty was a symbol of the torture and the tragedy of our people. My heart is crying inside when I write this. The reflection of my people emerge in front of my eyes, the tormented Jews surrounded by the SS and Polish militia who were holding clubs and pushing us out of our homes, toward the ghetto, while all the Christian neighbors stood around, impatiently waiting for the moment when they could enter the Jews' houses, repossess them and use all of our belongings.

More than a thousand souls were gathered in a very small and narrow area, in a very little part of the town. You can hardly describe how crowded it was in the homes where we lived in the last months before the annihilation. Seven to eight families dwelled in each house; each family would cook, bake, and wash according to a set schedule. Each evening another family. And while the women were busy with household chores, the men would pray to god to rescue them out of the horrific situation. But: the ears of God were sealed shut, and it was clear to us that he was not listening to those who called him out of their deep despair.

Every day produced disparate adversity upon us, and now it became much easier for the Germans to torment us since we were all sealed in a small area.

The Judenrat--the members of the community: Ordansky, Yosef Menachem Rabbinovitz, Yosef Berkman, Bar-Mikhail Rubin, and Mordechai Dudman. Added to them by the Germans were Mikhail Milikovsky, David Shlopsky, Baruch Rabbinovitz, Yehoshua Sorser, and Abba Gumnitz. The secretary was Gdaliyau Podversky. The Judenrat was appointed chiefly to be used as a tool of the Germans to keep the Jewish populace down. Their role was to fulfill all the orders the Germans gave, and in exchange they were promised that the Jews would be kept alive. The German collaborators also demanded things from the Jews; most orders were about paying financial penalties that were given to the entire Jewish community. One day the Germans ordered them to collect all the furniture that was found in the houses of the Jews and to take them to the German authorities in Vilejka.

No one volunteered for that mission because we all knew that the end of such a mission might be a death penalty on the Jew who performed it. Finally there was a sole volunteer: Mordechai Dudman the Shoemaker. He was nicknamed Mordechai the Hatzadik (the Righteous) in the ghetto. “Never mind”, he said, “I will just go.” He left and when he returned some days later he was like a walking shadow of himself. He was badly wounded and bleeding, but he still had his kind smile, as if he was saying, “I was blessed that I was a victim.” For many days he could hardly move and his bride Sera who lived with him had to feed him by hand.

The youths who resided in the ghetto, boys and girls starting at age 12 were taken out of the ghetto to work in Bogdonova, Vojgany, and other forests in the area every day. Some were also taken to the Krasne camp, among them about 80 men. Later on they all found their death together with the Jews of Krasne. (See http://eilatgordinlevitan.com/krasne/krasne.html.)

There was no school, and the children crawled in the streets with no purpose. There were no celebrations, no marriages. The crowded conditions that we lived in forced the mothers to keep very strict hygienic rules on their families so there were hardly any diseases spreading, but once there was a severe illness there were no medicines available. The person who was appointed as a medical director for the area, Doctor Fobol, was a known anti-Semite, and he proved his hatred of the Jews by refusing to give any medication to Jewish people.

Here I must emphasize the special character of the Jewish Doctor Gershon Podzelver (Padzelver?). He was an excellent doctor and well known amongst the Jewish and Christian population and he proved himself particularly in the days when no medicine was allowed. The only medicine he had was some alcohol he had hidden in the ground. He would give the patients some of it to calm them down and as a painkiller together with words of sympathy and some psychological counseling.

So how did we survive? Endangering our lives we would go and exchange possessions with the Christian neighbors for food. On one occasion, a Jewish woman went on top of the barbed wire, aiming to go to a Christian neighbor to exchange some possessions for bread, but as soon as she attempted to pass, the Polish policemen shot and killed her. In Vishnevo and nearby areas, especially Silviczi (where the Polish shclachta used to live), in the forest there were Polish youths who started underground activities against the Germans. They communicated with the Judenrat in the ghetto. They would come secretly and bring news from the radio, and sometimes even some pamphlets from the Polish underground. They even talked with us about weapons that they would bring to the ghetto. Everyone discussed the idea that on the day of annihilation (we all realized that such a day will soon arrive) we should have explosives and to use them so that some might be able to escape to the forest. After some long discussion, a decision was made to nix this plan, since everyone was too scared and maybe still had some hope that they would somehow survive. We still kept in touch with some of the towns nearby, such as Volozhin, Olshany, Trav, Ivie, and Kerve. Some Christian people secretly took letters from us to Jews in the other ghettoes and back. Most of the communication was about the different annihilations and who from the people we knew had perished.

Spring in the Ghetto

The days of Purim passed and Passover came. Spring was everywhere. We used to love this period since the forest around us would be awakened and brimming with singing birds and the farmers would plow their fields and the air would be awash with invigorating fragrances. In 1942 springtime was spring as usual, but for us there was no spring. We didn't know Sabbath, we didn't know holidays, and we didn't know spring. The Jews walked around starving and shadowy, somewhat hoping for a natural death sentence. Indeed there were a few lucky ones who died naturally. One was Tzira Dudman, another was Hirsch-Bar Podbersky who died at an age of older than 100, a third was Mendel Rodensky. There were others who I don't remember.

As I said, women were sent to work. They were busy with miscellaneous hard labor jobs. They built a bridge on the river Gishrena and they carried wood for the train station in Bogdonov. At the end they were transferred with other women from the area to Vojgany. And there they were told to bake bread. The raw material was given by the Judenrat in Vishnevo. They baked the bread for a group of 40 Jewish men who worked in the area.

In June 1942, a group of Partisans came to the camp in Zardel, where a few youths from Vishnevo worked. They put the big mill on fire. They called all the workers for a meeting and asked the workers to join the partisans. Some of the guys from Vishnevo joined them and didn't return home. As soon as the Germans found out, they came to the Judenrat and warned the Jews that if the men did not return they would annihilate the entire town. This caused great panic among all the ghetto residents, and they asked two farmers, at a great price, to find the boys. They found them and returned them to the ghetto.

The Judenrat In Vishnevo, From A Conversation With Bar-Mikhail Rubin (A Judenrat Member)

Each evening the Judenrat would meet and discuss certain subjects. On many occasions we would be discussing the list of the people who were going to work for the Germans in various places the next day. We had to supply workers for 28 locations around Vishnevo. The decisions of who would go where were always on our minds since people would get sick or we would find out that there were ways to get food for the starving people in the ghetto in certain locations, so we would send more people to those locations. Sometimes we would take into account that there were certain people who didn't have the appropriate clothes for wintertime work, so we would send them to work near their homes. Sometimes we would have an order to get additional people in one location, meaning we would have to transfer people from one location to the other. As a result, we had to be constantly aware of the changing conditions in and out of the ghetto. I was the primary person concerned with the list of workers. It was a very difficult job and I begged that they let someone else do it, but since there was a lack of people for such a job I had to do the job until almost the end. In the last days before the annihilation I could not take it anymore and I refused to take charge of the task. I insisted that I should go to work outside of the ghetto. And I was finally sent to work.

Two: The Judenrat was responsible for finding food supply for people who would otherwise starve. We didn't have any milk for a while but at one point we asked the German authorities if they would give us some skim milk. It was just sitting in the dairy pointlessly, and after a while they responded to our pleas positively. So we started getting milk that we distributed in the ghetto.

Three, the Judenrat safeguarded the hygienic conditions in the ghetto to prevent diseases, and we were very successful in this area.

Four, the number one job was to take care of the constant demands by the Germans and their collaborators. The Gmina would demand building materials; glass, wood, nails, and everything needed to be given to them immediately. The police demanded things like boots, new uniforms, watches, bedding, and underwear for their wives and children. So we supplied them with that. The Strosava also demanded building materials, furniture, bedding, rugs, fur coats, and leather coats. The Gavita's commissar demanded furniture, beds, leather goods, and money, money, money, and once again money. They were not satisfied with small amounts. Sometimes we would send a transport of fifteen wagons filled to the tops.

I must emphasize that once in a while we had to send someone amongst the Judenrat people to transfer the goods, and this job was filled with danger and it was very hard to find volunteers. Time and again, Mordechai Dudman, the simple Jew who was renamed Mordechai the Detzhadik (the righteous) would volunteer for the job, which ended every time with him being badly wounded and lying in bed for many days. But no matter how bad it got, it never stopped him from volunteering again.

We didn't write much about the SS, the Gestapo and the brigades of German soldiers. They had a very simple technique. They would surround the ghetto and approach the Judenrat and demand immediately to be supplied with nightgowns, soap, gold,… but they were not the only ones. Some of our Christian neighbors would also come and make demands. One day the people of the Strosava picked 40 random Jews in the Ghetto and took them to the Gmina and demanded that they lie on the ground for many hours, facing the floor. After many hours they announced to the Judenrat that they had to either give 500 gold rubles in twenty minutes or come to get their corpses. Clearly the money came in time.

So these were the activities of the Judenrat. With the blood in our hearts we would fulfill all the requirements they constantly spited at us. Once in a while we would meet and discuss how we would get the money from the residents of the ghetto. In some cases there were some in the ghetto that refused to give money, so then we would enter their house and forcibly gather the appropriate possessions since we knew that for the good of the community we must immediately obey.

There came a point in which we couldn't supply what they asked us for from what we had in the ghetto. So we started buying from the Christians whatever we could, but then came a time when we had no more supplies to give, so the Germans came and took us, all the members of the Judenrat, to the marketplace and demanded that we crawl on the floor. The Polish police walked behind us, hitting us with rubber bats. At the end they returned us to the ghetto and they said, “You must know that you are all outlaws. Your life is not even equal to that of a leashed dog and your sentence is one of humiliation and contempt as long as we give you the gift of survival.”

The day of Annihilation by Cheina Rabbinovitz

The atmosphere became more and more ominous. On a Friday, the 15th of Alul, we became suspicious when a group of workers headed by Eli Yakov Zusman came back for one day of rest and late on Saturday they were not allowed to return to their work and had to stay in the ghetto. We felt very strongly that there was danger in the air, and that there was a certain catastrophe advancing toward us. There were rumors (that must have been started by the Germans to confuse us) that they were getting ready to transfer us to another labor camp. At 2 AM on Sunday, the Jewish month of Alul 17, soldiers with machine guns surrounded the town, and as soon as dawn came, they started kicking the ghetto residents out of their homes and into the synagogue yard. There were some that were sick and couldn't get up, so they were shot on the spot. Amongst them was Chaim the Shoemaker who was shot in his bed and died on the spot. The same fate was experienced by Musia Levin, the daughter of Yakov Leib.

After everyone that the Germans found in the Ghetto was taken to the yard of the synagogue, they were told to lie facing the ground, and everyone who would lift his head would immediately be shot. Two, amongst them Berl Pirkovicz, who was insane, and Shaina Gitka, the daughter of Zelig the glazier, lifted their heads and were killed on the spot.

After a few hours of lying motionless on the ground, the head of the SS, who was leading the action, put a table in the area and called one of the Judenrat people to read aloud. From a list he had he called the names of the first 20 people. They were surrounded by SS troops. At first the Germans pretended as if they weren't going to annihilate them, only to send them to work. So they announced that anyone who wanted to change their clothes could do that and then return immediately to be taken to work. Many were confused and did it. They wore better clothes and returned.

The first twenty were taken to the edge of Karve Street, on the way to the village of Vistovicz. There stood a building that was unfinished. In the area of the building they put tables. They ordered the Jews to crawl on their knees between the tables, facing the wall, and there they shot them in the back with machine guns. With their blood splashing on the walls and the tables. A few died on the spot, but many were hanging between life and death. Some were just wounded and were fully conscious. But the Christians who were helping the SS threw all of them inside the house.

When the Jews heard the shots and the screaming of the first victims and it was clear what was happening, the next group that was approaching the area started screaming. Someone amongst the Jews yelled, “Hora hora”. Immediately they started running; some jumped off the trucks and started running towards the forests and fields. The policemen that ran after them caught most of them (except for two or three).

Some policemen were riding horses; they shot at the Jews who fell on the ground. Their bodies covered the entire area between the village and the forest. You cannot describe the sounds that came from the yard of the synagogue where the rest of the Jews were located when they heard the shots.

Only a few of the Jews who were at that point still in synagogue made an attempt to save themselves. Most of them walked to the killing field in total depression with no will to survive, like lambs to the slaughter, group after group, taken in both trucks and walking to the slaughter place. Each group was ordered to walk between the tables on their knees and was plowed by automatic weapons inside the house. And after the last body was thrown in there, they pushed in additional Jews who were still alive.

The house was set on fire with all the people in it. This was on a Sunday, the day of Ginusia). Since morning all the bells of the churches tolled, all the Christians in the villages, around the annihilation of the Jews. Thousands of them gathered in town, filling the streets near the place of the annihilation. After the war, many told the partisans that they saw the victims standing in the windows, screaming while the fire consumed the house. Finally their voices quieted, and the house with all its victims became dust.2

They said that the last two who were taken were Yosef Dudman and Doctor Podzelver. Yosef Dudman worked all day in his barbershop that was outside the ghetto area. He was almost sure that nothing bad would be done to him. He felt that the Germans needed him so they would keep him alive. On Sunday he was in his barbershop while the rest of the Jews were waiting for their fate. He worked hard that day, shaving and cutting hair for the Germans and other Christians. He put colognes on their faces and tried to smile, but his smile had the shape of a strange death. The soldiers patted him on the shoulder and said, “Vas zin zay troy arik, Herr Dudman?” They made jokes with him, and he continued to the end to work. His hands were working and his feet were like stone, until two SS soldiers came to take him.

As for Doctor Podzelver, the Christians say they begged to keep him alive since he was such a good doctor, but there was no use. When the SS brought him to the place where they annihilated the Jews, they didn't shoot him. They just threw him in the burning house. The Christians said they could see him standing in the window. He was covering his face from the flames that were already holding his clothes. He didn't beg, he didn't scream until his whole body was on fire, and he fell and became dust.

The group of Jews from Kerve

We must write that a group of Jews from Kerve who would daily be taken to work in Bogdonov was taken to their death with the Vishnevo Jews. But their German feldpebble took care of them. He insisted that they would be let go, since he needed them to work. They were not harmed but they were still ordered to stay in the place of the eradication through all the hours of horror, and they were witnesses to the annihilation of the Jews of Vishnevo.

A Few Who Survived

Noah Podbersky was amongst the people who were taken in the second group. He jumped off the car that was taking him to be killed and he escaped. He succeeded in hiding in the fields, where he lay until evening time came. The people who chased him came near him but they didn't see him. When it turned dark he entered the forest and ran the entire night until he came in the morning to Bogdonov. He joined the Jews who worked there and together they escaped to the forest. After many days and nights in the forest, they joined a Russian partisan group. He was fearless in his fight against the enemy. Even his Russian comrades and officers saw him as a paragon of a brave fighter. Today he lives in Baltimore (and since the 1970s in Florida) and he wrote for this book about his visit to Vishnevo after the liberation.

Kokin also survived. The Germans ordered him out of the line of those to be taken to be killed and sent him to a camp in Molodetshno. He succeeded in escaping from there and he arrived to the area of Vishnevo where he joined the partisans. Today (1970s) he lives in Canada.

Two brothers, Zalman and Berka Levin, hid on the day of the annihilation in a shed next to the synagogue that was full of hay. They hid in the hay and no one saw them. At night they escaped. The older one, who was 13, joined the partisans. The second one, who was 8, kept walking in the forests until he arrived at Vilna, where he entered the ghetto and suffered all the torments along with other children there. He survived by hiding in the underground sewers. After the war he was put in a trade school near Volozhin.

A third child by the name of Yosef Shlopsky, who was 8 at the time, escaped from the burning house and somehow survived. At night he returned to his house and found his father who was also able to escape. During that night they both escaped from town and joined the partisans. The father was killed in action. The son kept going from place to place with the partisan unit, and after the liberation was also sent to a technical school in Minsk.

There was also a refugee from Lodz who lived in Vishnevo. He escaped when he was taken to the killing field. He was shot and his guts spilled out, but still he was able to run to the forest while holding his guts, and bleeding profusely. In the forest he met with other people from Vishnevo and here they took care of him. He healed from his wounds but we don't know what happened with him after that.

Other than this there were additional people who were not in the ghetto at the time who survived, among them:

Rabbinovitz, Cheina
Dudman, Gdaliahu
Bar-Mikhail, Rubin, and his daughter who now lives in Vilna
Podberzesky, Ziska
Alishkevich, Zuska
Dudman, Leah
Glick, Yaheskel
Stoller
Noah Podberzesky and his wife Mina Podberzesky
Here is the description of Cheina Rabbinovitz who at the time of the slaughter worked at the Bogdonova Camp:

As I said before, most of the youths of Vishnevo worked either in Vojgany in Bogdanova or in the forests around Vishnevo. On Sunday the day of the Vishnevo holocaust, my friend and I entered the house in Bogdonova where we would bake bread. We started preparing for the baking and a Christian woman, an acquaintance came to us and said, “Listen to me, it's very hard to say what I am saying but you must know that Vishnevo is burning and all the Jews were annihilated.”

My hands went numb, my knees started shaking and my whole body twitched and I was momentarily in shock. But immediately I ran with all my might to the Jewish men in the area and told them what the woman said. We were at a loss for what to do. Finally we decided to send someone to town and the rest would meanwhile wait.

The messenger Sladinski came back on his bicycle and when he saw me he yelled from afar, “In the name of God, save your souls! In Vishnevo there is not one living person!” The men immediately left work and group-by-group they ran into the forest that was near the workplace. I returned to my friend who was staying in Vojgany since I wanted to take her with me. Together with me there were a few men, my cousins Berl, Leib Rabinovich Hirsch Davidson, and others. We all aimed to take the rest of the people who worked in Vojgany and together run to the forest.

It was an unlucky choice. As soon as we got to Vojgany we were surrounded by Nazi soldiers and they ordered us to join them. First they took us to Daviknevich, where there was a group of Vishnevan Jews working. As we were walking there the Germans said that they were going to combine our group with theirs and take us all to Vishnevo to kill us. As we arrived we found no one there. Some of them left on Saturday to visit their houses and were killed with the rest of the townspeople, and others escaped to the forest when they found out the fate of the ghetto. So we were taken now to Bogdonova where the Germans found a few more men. Now we were 12 young men and women surrounded by German soldiers, and at their head was the feldpebble.

We whispered to each other and the men said we must escape, no matter what. When we left Itzganzova, someone yelled, “Hurrah hurrah.” It was my cousin Berl. The men started running and a few succeeded but Berl was shot. He had a bullet in his intestines and he fell next to me, gravely wounded. He lay on the ground, begging, “Cheina, save me.” But I stood frozen next to him, my eyes saw it, but I could not come any closer to him. And soon a death rattle came over him. He shook with unbearable pain right next to me until his soul departed. When we returned to Bogdonova after an hour and a half, we saw him lying there at the place where he fell, but now he had no shoes and no coat, as the local people had taken them. From all the other men, all succeeded to escape except Hanan Ohishiskin, who was now with us. So now we were seven girls and one guy being taken to be killed. What did each one of us think while we were going to our deaths? To tell you the truth we were so confused and frozen with fear that we could not comprehend our situation. To say it simply, it's as if our ability to think was diminished and oblivion filled our skull. Our feet walked android-like.

When we passed near the Jewish cemetery, one of us, Riva (Rivka) Rodansky, started crying and begged the Feldpebble (rank of some kind?), “Please have pity on us and kill us right here in the cemetery.”

“No” answered the Feldpebble, “The game must take place on the same stage.”

We arrived at the central market in Vishnevo near the house of Sabertinivsky and there we stood, from afar we could smell the burned flesh and there was still smoke coming from the killing field, smoke that choked us. Every door on Vilna Street was ajar, and the new tenants, our Christian neighbors, sat on the porches and made love to one another. The market was crowded with thousands of people, partying and drunk. The gates of the ghetto were opened and the hundreds of Christians came in and out holding the last of the possessions of the ghetto's Jews. As soon as they saw us they gathered around us. A group of Christian girls, friends of Riva Esther's from the Polish elementary school, started bothering us from afar. They said, “Give us your clothes since you are going to be killed anyway.” A few minutes later Finger, who was completely drunk, came to me and put his hand on my shoulders and said, “Look at me and see. There in the central market, the entire family of Israel Elie Rabbinovitz was just killed after they were taken from the attic of their house, where they had hid the day before.”

The same fate was also dealt to Rosenberg and his family, Chaim Yudel Zusman, Bela Zusman, Batia Resnick, Avraham Itzhak Davidson, and others. They were able to hide for ten days, but then they were found by the Christian neighbors and with axes the neighbors smashed their heads and limbs.

“God of Revenge, avenge the spilled blood of our brothers.”

While Finger was talking to me, I could hear a conversation between the Polish police chief and the German officer. The Polish policeman asked if the German officer would give us to them since the SS people who were in charge of the annihilation of the Jews of Vishnevo left to go to Volozhin. So the officer said, “No, I will return them to Bogdonova, so all the rest of the Jews who fled or hid will return since they will think that we will let them keep their lives.”

We were taken back to Bogdanova, and the first job that we were ordered to do was to clean the tables stained with the blood of our martyrs.

At night they brought us to sleep in the house of a farmer by the name of Zirzitz. Meanwhile there were two trucks filled with Jewish laborers from Kerve, who worked in Zardel. As I found out, they were taken to be killed in Vishnevo, but their Feldpebble was very stubborn about saving them. He took them out of the burning house and protected them. But they were there through all the awful hours in the locality of the slaughter and witnessed the entire annihilation. Amongst them was a girl by the name of Raisel Milkovsky, who was born in Vishnevo but was married to someone from Kerve. She came to me and fell on my neck, hugging. We started crying. While crying she told me that she was there while they killed my parents. She told me that when their group was taken to be killed, my father left the line, came to her, and asked her to give me his last request, the request of all the martyred brothers, “Revenge our blood.”

At that moment I vowed inside that I must not wait for a minute, that I must escape to the forest and join the partisans so I could avenge their blood per my father's last testament to me. Eventually I accomplished my vows, but at that point there was a long, long way through all the rooms of Purgatory and Gehennam that I had to experience. At a late night hour I talked to the Christian man where I slept. He knew me from his friendship with my father and the rest of the family. He encouraged me. “ From now on you must be independent. Run to the forest. Here death will come to you. Behind my barns you will find farmer's clothes and a big kerchief and a whip. Take it and quickly wear it and run to the forest and may God be with you.”

Then he described the road. It was a very dangerous road. I had to go about 40 km until I reached the place where he thought I would meet the partisans. I had to go through German camps, lakes, and forests all by myself, but I decided to escape no matter what. At four in the morning I went behind the barns dressed in the farmer's clothes with the kerchief on my head and the whip in my hand as if I was a herd's woman and left for the long and dangerous road to search for my partisan brothers.

I went around German camps, I crossed rivers, and only because I looked Christian no one paid any attention to me. I crossed the railroad of Yochiski, where German guards were standing, until I reached the forest of Vojgany. I sat there to rest for a few minutes. All of a sudden I heard the sounds of moving leaves. I lifted my eyes and I saw Alte, one of the girls taken with us to be killed, standing next to me. As I found out she followed me all the way here. I was very happy not to be alone. We sat there amongst the trees for a few minutes when all of a sudden we heard the sounds of German soldiers coming near us.

At the last minute we jumped in the bushes and lucky for us they passed by without seeing us. We got up and started running. For hours we ran without looking back and with no rest. So miraculously we arrived in the puszcza in the area of the forest that was amongst the isolated Polish farmhouses. It was a very, very hot day and we were very thirsty. We could see farmers working in the fields, but we were scared. Finally we arrived in a lonely ranch. There was no one in the yard. We approached the well and took the pail of water. We had no time to drink. All of a sudden a farmer came, the owner of the house we thought. He was huge and clumsy looking, with a heavy mustache. As soon as he saw us he started screaming, “What are you doing on my land? Don't you know a death sentence is hanging on you?” I put down the pail and said in Russian, “Do as you wish.” He answered, “See this axe? Immediately I will smash your heads with it.” My friend started crying and begged, “You are the father of children. Have pity on us and let us go. “ He came near us and spit on us with his full mouth and cursed us in Russian and said, “Well, if my hands won't be responsible, someone else will kill you. Get out of here immediately.” We ran as fast as we could.

There were many other occasions that I will not tell you about, but anyway, at one point we met some of the Jewish guys from Vishnevo who were out in the field. We were very happy but after a while we were disappointed when they had to leave us alone in the forest. We also met a Polish Schletitz by the name of Yoshe (Joshe?), who was a putter in the puszcza. He was very fatherly towards us and helped us. Finally we met the partisan troop by the name of Pogdschov, and here we finally found our saviors. Amongst them were the same Vishnevoan guys who at that point let us join the partisans. Truly we always lived in danger but this was a troop that was always thirsty for action. Together with them, once we joined them our main occupation was revenge.

The Vishnevan Partisans, as told by Cheina R.

After two weeks in the forest, the Vishnevan partisans met with the Russian partisans by the name of Tzipiov, which was traveling by wagon from the Vishnevo forests to the puszcza 3 of Naliboki, which was 30 km away. They let us join them on their wagons and we were taken to their base, but someone made a fatal mistake. They got lost and we met with a patrol of German soldiers and Polish police. The first wagons succeeded in going through, but the last ones took heavy fire and immediately on the spot, Shaina Zelda Abramovich, Leib Rabbinovitz, and Hirschka Davidson were killed. The rest of us from Vishnevo, Noah Podbersky, Cheina R., Bar-Mikhail Rubin, Esther Rubin, Zalman Levin, Shlobsky and his son Yosef, Mindel Milkovksy, Hyaleah Gurevich, Rivke Kelman, Doska Podversesky, Hirshcel Berman, the refugee from Lodz, and Subotnik from Tarav. all arrived safely at the base of the Russian partisans.

It took about a month until our partisans were able to get the respect and trust of the Russians and they started using us for sabotage in the army camps. Our first mission was to sabotage the bridge where the train tracks near the Vojgany station. We had information that during the night there would be a train filled with German soldiers with heavy ammunition (?) going to the front in Moscow. The bridge was located near a small forest and the entire area was guarded by a full garrison of soldiers. It was a dark night and heavy mist covered the earth. Hidden by the darkness we crawled from the side of the train tracks waiting for the designated hour.

All of a sudden, two farmers from Helinotzya passed by. We stopped them. Some of us said we must kill them, but they fell on our feet and begged for their souls. After inspection and interrogation, the mission commander said we would release them on the condition that they must supply us with some weapons. Otherwise, not only would their lives be in danger, but also their families', since we could reach them whereever they could hide. They swore on all that was holy to them that they would return, and they did.

We had some difficulties at first with the mission, but finally at 4 in the morning there was the sound of huge explosions. The bridge was destroyed just as the train filled with soldiers and ammo came by. We succeeded in running away at the moment of the explosion and we returned to our base minutes after the sounds of the explosions. Later we found out that the train blew up and the sounds of destruction were heard everywhere in the entire area.

Our missions were not always successful. We suffered some losses in one mission, such as the one where Shlobosky and Subotnik were killed…


FOOTNOTES

1 There were 4-5 stalls next to each other with barred small windows where they kept the detainees, this was located on the gmina lot about 35-40 ft from the gmina. They beat them inside the gmina until the could no longer stand up and dragged them to the stalls many times when you would pass the gmina you could hear screams coming from the inside. Return

2 They did not become dust The bodies were in a pile cooked. On the very top of the pile was a mother holding her child to her heart. Return

3 A very swamp like area and heavily covered in moss and thickly wooded areas. Return

« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »


This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.


JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Vishnevo, Belarus     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page


Yizkor Book Project Manager, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Max Heffler

Copyright ©1999-2014 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 11 May 2003 by MGH