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How the cantor-ritual slaughterer and his family survived
Prior to the massacre, our experiences were the same as everyone
when word came that there would be mass murders, we began to look for a way to
save ourselves because older people and those who had no trades were in great
danger. We made a hiding place in our house; and as soon as the killers came,
we went in there. Our neighbor Rabbi YASALEWSKI knew that we had no intention
of going to the marketplace; and when the massacre began--in which he
perished--he tapped on our window. He had come to say goodbye. He kissed me and
went off. In the same way, a few days before, Rabbi TSIPKOWICZ, who was
expecting the massacre any day, said goodbye to us.
During the massacre in which they died, we remained in our hiding
twenty-eight of us: Our family; Zaydl BOYARSKY and family; Isaac WILANSKI and
family; and some families from Divenishak. While we were hidden, the Nazis went
looking for victims. They suspected that we were in hiding, but couldn't find
us. Some of us thought we had time to run out to the courtyard, which was not
far from the marketplace, where everybody was lying on the ground face down.
The others, who were in the majority, decided not to go; and so, nobody went.
We stayed where we were; those who had been outside, ready to join the other
Jews in the marketplace, came back inside. The bandits left. From our hiding
place we could hear the shouts and the shooting. We stayed hidden all day until
the slaughter was over.
Our next-door neighbor was Dr. GORDON, who had come to Woronowa
all the other Jews from Dzvenishke. At first, he had wanted to join us in the
hiding place (bunker) but then he decided to go to the marketplace. He
survived, came back and tapped on the wall of our bunker, telling us that all
the survivors had been registered; and he had been able to put our names on the
list. He urged us to go out quickly and join the other Jews. At first, we
didn't answer because we didn't believe he was really Dr. GORDON. We were
convinced it was a stool pigeon who wanted to kill us or get us killed. Then,
Dr. GORDON returned; and this time, we recognized his voice. He began to yell
at us--why were we sitting there?--so we all came out of the bunker and went to
the marketplace and sat down among the survivors. Then, we were all driven to
the "new place" in a ghetto, and several days later transported to
the Lida ghetto.
As soon as we got to Lida we were put to work at very hard jobs.
came home from work totally exhausted our neighbors and we set about digging a
new bunker underground. We used to dig all night, and then carry the earth
outside so that nobody should suspect anything. It took us two months to finish
the bunker. At the slightest hubbub in the ghetto we would rush to our hiding
place. We were in the Lida ghetto 16 months, and every single night someone
would take over the watch, in case the killers appeared. One morning, at about
5 A.M. we noticed that the SS surrounded the ghetto; and we knew that something
was up. Shortly, we found out that everyone must pack up his valuables because
we would be sent to Lublin to work. We didn't believe them; and fifteen of us
hid in the bunker. All the Jews were taken from the ghetto to Maidanek and the
crematorium. The fifteen of us lay in the underground bunker for six whole
days, without bread, without water; many of us passed out, lay unconscious; and
there was nothing we could do to help them.
Lying under the ground, we could hear the footsteps of the killers
around and looking for us, for many bunkers had been discovered; and everyone
was shot on the spot. After the sixth night, we decided to sneak out and try to
escape. No matter what happened, we must get away because we knew that either
we would be found and killed or we would starve to death or die of thirst in
the bunker. On a dark, rainy night, we left the bunker and started to walk,
feeling our way in the blackness. We reached the barbed wire fence that
surrounded the ghetto. Because of the rain, there were fewer sentries than
usual. We crawled through the barbed wire, cutting our hands and tearing our
clothing. Our family was separated by the darkness. I had two children with me;
and my wife had two children. We began to run, not knowing where we were
going. The sentries' searchlights began to criss-cross the area. When they saw
us walking they began to shoot, but the bullets misfired. We wandered about in
the marshes, hoping to find each other, and almost collided with the guards. We
lay quietly, hoping the guards would leave and we could proceed. Seeing that it
was almost daylight, and we might be spotted, we decided to make a getaway.
Crawling on our stomachs we came to the Jewish cemetery. Not far away was a
sentry. When he saw us he started to shoot, but the bullets did not hit us,
they fell near us.
Thus crawling, we came to the house of a peasant we knew, who lived
Regional Commissar. We went into the barn, and waited until someone came to
feed the animals, and we would beg them to let us spend the night in the barn.
Several hours later they came into the barn. We were shivering so with cold
that we couldn't talk. By means of sign language and using our hands, we asked
for warm food. They brought it, and told us to climb up the ladder to the top
of the barn. Then they took away the ladder, and warned us to be very careful.
We expected to stay the night but as soon as darkness fell they ran in and
ordered us to leave immediately, because they were afraid the place would be
searched and if Jews were found they would be in trouble. We had no place to
go, so we decided to remain near the barn, and what would be would be. We had
given them all the money we had, but it didn't help. They pointed in the
direction of the forest and told us to go there. We dragged ourselves over to a
tree; and there, huddled together, and shivering from cold, we waited for
daylight, when we would be able to see where we were going.
When daylight came, we went into the forest and started wandering
aimlessly. After a whole day, we thought we were far from the town by now, but
actually it was only three kilometers away. We decided to take the highway; and
so, I walked with my two children; all the passersby stared at us. We walked
for six days looking for the partisans. On the eve of Rosh Hashonah, my wife
and the two children and I with the two children found one another. The
BIELITSKI family had been with my wife all this time; and so we stayed
together. On the way we met up with other Jews. After walking for ten nights,
because we had to hide in the daytime, we arrived in Naliboki where there was a
partisan group of 1200 Jews with a Jewish commander BELSE. In the group, there
were several women and children from the neighborhood. We stayed with them for
ten months. We were naked and barefoot, often hungry and frequently frightened
because the German planes used to bomb the forest; and there were many raids in
search of partisans. We lived in hovels in the ground with forty men in each.
Each of us had three centimeters of place to sleep.
One morning the Russians liberated us. Eleven days before, the
us and 9 Jews were shot to death. Even after liberation, we were in great
danger and endured much suffering. The Germans were still everywhere; and the
White Poles had come to Woronowa. When we arrived at the marketplace in
Woronowa, we didn't see a single Jew and had no place to go. The Gentiles
occupied all the former Jewish homes; and none of them would let us in. Several
days later, some more Jews arrived; and we remained there for a year. Then we
all went to Poland, with the idea of going from there to Palestine. Today, we
are still in the Camps in Austria. I have put down my experiences in brief
because to go into detail, one could write many books.
Full list of Woronowa Landsleit who survived
Aaron KALMANOWICZ, now in Shanghai
Abraham BELITSKI, wife Bashe, son Hirsh Yidl
Abraham Isaac OLKENITSKI
Alte KALMANOWICZ, daughter Bat Sheva married last year and Husband Rabinowicz
Baruch GORBATSKI , son of HIRSH PERES, recently married, wife Mariashe and
Benjamin ARKIN Child of Aaron DOYNEVE
Berl EISHISHKI, son of Shloyme JOSEPH
Berl LEVINE , son of Layer Hirsh
Berl OLKENITSKI , son of Pesach
Eliahu BLACHER , son-in-law of Chaim OLKENITSKI, wife Bayle, daughter Rose
born in camp
Gutl EISHISHKI, son of Chatskl Shloyme JOSEPH
Itte HEIFETZ recently married, husband and son
Joseph GERSHONOWICZ , son of Moshe MENUCHAH
Leib TROTSKY, son of Alter., recently married
Liebe S'TNITSKI, daughter of slain Isaac BIENUNSKI
Moshe BERKOWITCH, wife Rashe, son Eliezer
Pesach ARKIN Child of Aaron DOYNEVE
Rachel PUPKO, daughter of Joseph PUPKO
Reuben ARKIN Child of Aaron DOYNEVE
Sholem LISAGURSKI, wife Kayle, son Jacob, son Melach. born in camp
Abraham Eliahu KAPLAN, son of Joseph OLEKUTSES, wife and two sons
Asher KAPLAN, wife
Bashe PUPKO daughter of Rachmiel and her husband and three children
Chaye Leah WOLPIANSKI, son Antosh
David LIPNISKI, son of Chatskl
Hirsh LEVITOVITSCH , son of Henoch
Isaac TSVILANSKI , son of Velvl, recently married, wife Elke, daughter
Jacob KANICHOWSKI, son of Gottlieb
Jacob TSVILANSKI , son of Abraham Eliahu
Layb FINKELSTEIN, Wife
Layzer DRUSKENITSKI, son of Motl
Liebe SHITNITSKI, daughter of slain Isaac BIENUNSKI
Liebe ROTMAN dtr. Of Merke MINNES, recently married and her husband
Meyer KAPLAN, wife Sara, daughter Rayzl, other daughter born in camp
Naftoli KAMENTSCHKI, Itse the Kavssnik's grand son
Nehama ABRAMOWITSCH, Zishle's Dtr., and daughter Chaye
Rabbi Moshe PLOTNIK, wife and daughter Ester Malke PLOTNIK
Saul KAPLAN, son of Note Eliahu
Shimcha SALTSCHANSKI , son of Pesse BREINE
Shloyme PUPKO, wife and two sons
Sholom BOLTERISKI from Kuzye
Simon LEVINE, son of Eliahu, recently married, and his wife and son
Velvke KAPLAN, son of Benj. ELEKUTSCH, wife and daughter
wife Sara, daughter Rayzl, another daughter born in Camp
Yehuda KANAPKAN, cantor and ritual slaughterer, and wife, daughter Rebecca,
daughter Minna, daughter Henye, daughter Shaindl
Esther Malke Plotnik, husband and son
Zalmen DUKSTKULSKI, recently married, and wife and son
A list of those who perished after the war:
1) Leybke KAPLAN (son of Joseph ELEKUTSCH)
2) Isaac BIENUNSKI (On the Polish border)
3) Isaac BIENUNSKI's wife
4) Daniel OLKENITSKI (Koenigsberg Front)
5) Isser PUPKO (by bandits in Woronowa)
6) Chayml BLIACHER (six years-old. Fell sick among the partisans)
The following are in Russia:
1) Baruch GORODETSKI
2) Bashe PUPKO
3) Sholom BALTERISKI
4) Simcha SOLTCHANSKI
(Dedicated to the Jews of Woronowa)
Gone forever is my dearly beloved town of Woronowa, which extended
the Lida highway, from Balechovsky's forest through the new Lida street with
its old marketplace; and downhill along the Wilno Street, with its two twisted
hills, which ran from the town to the Wilno highway. The hills stood on both
sides of the highway, separating it, where our children played at war and
soldiers. The highway in between was the place where the armies met, like David
and Goliath the Philistine, whom each of the warlike Shloyme'lach and Chaim'kes
wanted to emulate.
Surrounding the town was the old Balatsenke River, which had
recently begun to
run dry. The old mill was burned down by the Polish army in 1920 when they were
fleeing the Bolsheviks and running toward the town bath. When the bath was
being built, it created a lot of noise on Sabbath during prayers. The running
stream also watered and filled the side of Bayle BREINE's house on the right
and Shmuel HIRSH's on the left with mud. Adamanish the Gentile used to set his
big dogs on the Jewish children who often ran through his fields on their way
from Cheder. These were the fields that their fathers had leased to plant
potatoes for themselves and their livestock, which would feed them a whole
year. Cattle used to graze on the muddy lawns, day and night. The drivers
couldn't sleep, so they sat and told each other ancient tales of wonder and
fantasy, about devils which are still hiding out in the muddy fields and bushes
opposite the bath, from which willow twigs would be gathered for Sukkoth. Jews
believed God had planted the twigs only for them because they comprised 99% of
the town's population. It was believed that the devils also occupied the old
mill opposite Pinchas the shoemaker's house and who one night lured old Arieh
Leib PUPKO to the forest, and didn't send him home until after midnight....
Gone are the mischievous young children who would run to the old
swim on Saturday evening when their fathers the drivers were in shul. With wet
pants and shirts, they would unharness the horses and ride into town with a big
hubbub. [They] drove the Jews, dressed in their Sabbath apparel on their way
home from evening prayers off the old bridge (or on their way home to Havdalah,
close of Sabbath, over glasses brimful of warm fruit juice because they
couldn't afford wine on their meager earnings.
On winter Sabbath evenings the same youngsters would accompany
their fathers to
the Talmud Torah, whose western wall bordered on the town cemetery. Here rested
the world of the past, generation upon generation. The youngsters helped their
fathers shout and chant the second part of the Psalms. Their fathers sat at the
long table and poured out all their grief, about working hard and earning
little; about their hardships and their travels to Wilno and Lida. The fathers
grieved and dreamed of successful ventures, their heads resting on the long
tables, the same tables at which just yesterday, it seemed, they themselves
were studying the Bible with the old melamed Hirsh LEMELMAN. At the close, when
the old sexton Ephraim lit up the darkness with his big lamp, Sabbath was
officially over. Only the children remained, doing mischief, thinking up ways
to tease the old Ephraim: pushing the pulpit away when he wanted the light the
lamp, hiding the kindling when he went to light the fire, put his hand in the
fire to scorch it, or concealing the paper tube with which old Ephraim
extinguished the lamp in the synagogue. Ephraim would sometimes take advantage
of his rights as sexton and exercise the privilege of the synagogue trustee
Hirsh ITSE (Zvi Isaac HALEVI) who was a wise man and a sage, renowned as a
scribe, especially for his beautiful Rosh Hashonah greetings and Yom Kippur
blessings to every Jew in town. On every Rosh Hashonah card was a list of each
recipient's aliyahs (call to read a Torah lesson in synagogue) paid for and
unpaid. The total was couched in such a way that every Jew paid off his debts.
It is not surprising that thanks to Hirsh ITSE the town was able to erect a
handsome synagogue in 1923, where Ephraim was the head sexton and also enjoyed
the rights of trustee, or warden!
Ephraim's chief opponent was Lipe the Old who was a native of
pleasure-loving man, he resolved in his old age to be a penitent and observe
all the mitzvahs by leading the congregation in prayers. One can't say that
Lipe did not know the prayers. He used to imitate the cantor when he sang
Kaddish on Sabbath eve, but Ephraim was annoyed. No one knows exactly why.
Perhaps he was worried that Lipe said the prayers better than he; and he would
be second in line. There was no need for him to be concerned, because his
Havdalah was incomparable. The dispute between Ephraim and Lipe often led to
arguments and abuse; they went so far as to tear each other's beards. Ephraim
was short and Lipe was tall--they were natural opponents. Ephraim was often in
Rabbi Moshe Lief LUSKI's house. If a woman came with a problem to be solved,
i.e. she had found a needle in the gizzard of the chicken, and the rabbi was
not there, Ephraim would hand down the verdict.
The town's rabbi was also the president of the Jewish People's Bank
then his salary was guaranteed. Generations passed; and new bank managers were
appointed, young revolutionaries, who believed a city bank that gave small
loans to poor artisans or drivers and even sellers of tar, is not obligated to
support two rabbis and insisted that they both find other sources of income in
the town. The bank changed its policy; and the new managers did not take
salaries. The president was Berl LEVINE (Berl Eliahu, son of the tailor) and
Arieh GURWITZ. Berl was a young, energetic, progressive artisan; and Arieh
GURWITZ belonged to the so-called old proprietors. Thanks to the skill and
ability of the young artisans, the Peoples Bank and the Free Loan Society were
placed on a firm foundation, giving great support to the townspeople and their
needs. Berl LEVINE was the bank president and the Free Loan Society up until
the war; he was a devoted communal leader. He worked at his job in the daytime
and for the community at night. In 1943 Berl LEVINE perished, together with his
family, in the liquidation of the Lida ghetto. He is remembered as one of the
most progressive and wisest of the last Woronowa Mohicans.
Like other towns, Woronowa had its revolutionary and nationalist
From the 1905 underground groups to the post-war revolutionary year[s]
1922-1930, where young men and girls, influenced by the communists, carried on
fierce propaganda, urging the naive synagogue Jews to renounce their old ideas
and help the revolution. It did not work. In recent years in Woronowa, there
grew up a proud nationalistic youth movement, which sent many of their members
to Palestine--to a Woronowa community of its own. It is natural that because
there were many political parties there were many disputes. It began with
discussion and elections and ended, as usual, on a large scale. All Zionist
youth organizations demonstrated integrity and energy and developed
intellectually. Woronowa had a large library, a first class folk school--which
functioned until the last moment. The school developed and encouraged
intellectual achievements; even though she did not provide much education, she
stimulated learning, and the accumulation of knowledge.
The drama groups were always busy. Theatre-lovers produced many
of our greatest writers on the small, cramped stage. Although these productions
were not first rate they stimulated many of the participants to higher, more
artistic achievements. The initiators of the drama group and the actors
included Chaim BERKOVSKY; the brothers Berl and Saul LEVINE; Samuel
KATZENELENBOGEN; Berl and Henye OLKENITSKI, and others.
Woronowa Jews earned a living in various ways: artisans of all
storekeepers of various kinds of merchandise. There were many impoverished Jews
from good families who were proud of their heritage. In the later years, the
Jewish community of Woronowa collectively purchased 90 acres of pasture land
near Bulechowski's woods for the town's cattle. Many Jews bought land from the
lord of the manor--Schwanback, on a long-term mortgage. The lord sold out his
entire estate which bordered on the town. The land was bought with the aid of
the FICO, which unfortunately banked large sums of money in other countries
until war broke out because they wanted to stimulate agriculture among Jews. In
our town, there was an increased interest in farming and gardening. These
entrepreneurs made many plans for the future, unaware of the dark clouds that
began to gather over their heads.
We do not know exactly when the town was founded but it was about
ago. This writer's family has lived here for 200 years. The history of Woronowa
is closely linked with that of all towns and communities throughout Lithuania
and White Russia. The tragic end of our era in Europe is not the first and
perhaps not the last. This happened in Europe before. Perhaps not with the same
tragic dimensions, but it did occur. The reason we settled in this particular
town was probably because we were uprooted from another place. We should learn
this from the past!
Gone! Nothing is left! Gone is my beloved little town and its
Gone are the old, bearded synagogue Jews; gone are the energetic, vivacious
young people of all factions and ideologies. Gone is the town with its
uniqueness; gone are all those whom I have mentioned. Not a trace of them!
There has remained only a huge mass grave where rest almost all the Jews of
Woronowa. It is near Belachovski's woods, walking along the new highway near
Bicke's fields. It is almost certainly overgrown with tall grasses by now and
covered with snow in winter, over which the town peasants, one Spring day, will
go out to plow and sow. But Mother Earth will remain silent throughout
eternity, and keep the secret about the bones of our nearest and dearest, whose
lives ended so tragically.
A handful of us have remained, surviving by a miracle. Still living
landsleit in America; our best brothers and sisters who live in our country,
who will weave and forge and make a new life--the life of their families,
parents, brothers and sisters in our own land.
On that terrible night
Sunday afternoon May 10, 1942.
The sun is shining, but its violet rays do not caress us as they
always have in
the past. It looks as though there will be an eclipse, and it seems as though
the brightness, the radiant physiognomy of the sun, has on that day changed
completely. In the last three days the Nazi monsters have annihilated a large
number of Jewish communities in our region. Jews were massacred in Lida, Radun,
Stutchin, Rozhanke, Zhettel, Zhaludak. Woronowa and Iviye were next in line.
For the past three days our Woronowa has been surrounded. German SS and their
faithful volunteer helpers, the Polish and Lithuanian police have blockaded the
town; two circles hem it in--no entry and no exit. Into this large noose have
been driven the few surviving Jews from the towns of Diveneshok, Soletchnik,
Biniakan, Konvalishok, Bastun, Zeliana, Sokolei, as well as the refugees from
Eishishok, Wilno, Kulienik, who had made their escape from the mass graves. The
Jews from the communities in our region had long ago been eradicated.
Jewish men and women were forbidden to appear on the street, except
for a half
hour at noon to get water from the well. We sat in our homes and stared at one
another. Our faces were nightmare- dark. We conferred on ways of sending a
child or two children into the forest to be sheltered by a trustworthy Gentile
until the horror is over. How can one bribe so many fiends? Won't they betray
Four families reached an understanding with the Polish guards and
paid them a
large sum of money to let them get through the barrier. But the refugees were
all caught in the middle of the night and shot. In the morning hours,we find
corpses in the street. One woman had risked her life to bring food to her
daughter and two children. She had gone out in the early evening, wearing
slippers to muffle her footsteps. The keen eye of the murderer saw her and shot
her through the heart. Another woman went to get water from the well towards
evening and was killed on the spot. A Jew went into the garden to relieve
himself and was killed. A Jew from Lida hanged himself in the attic of a house.
He didn't leave a note. Who would be there to read it? The Nazis drove several
Jews to bury the corpses. They were put to rest in a garden, lightly covered
Life became senseless. Jews prayed for a quick death to release
them from their
suffering. Some families considered the possibility of setting fire to their
homes before going to the massacre, hoping that in the ensuing panic some of
them at least could save themselves by running away. Others resolved to resist
and fight to the last. Neither the first nor the second plan was carried out.
Every individual thought that he might survive, and in that case it did not pay
to fight back. Large groups sat together, counting the hours. None ate, drank,
or slept. We all waited for the catastrophe that tomorrow would bring. Evening.
We heard that Windisch, he Commissar of Lida, had driven into town
staff and gone immediately to the Judenrat. A short time later we heard that
Windisch had reassured the Judenrat, promising that only the old, sick and
cripples would be shot. "In the meantime," he commanded, "within
three hours you are to supply us with cloth for twenty-five men's suits;
leather for forty pairs of boots; two thousand gold rubles. Hitler had issued a
command that no more Jews were to be annihilated, because the Germans needed
laborers for the war industry, as well as for civilian jobs."
We felt as though a great weight had been lifted from our
families kissed each other for joy. If only the aged, the sick and the crippled
would be the victims, it meant only about thirty percent of the population of
three thousand; it could have been worse.
"They are deceiving us. As it is, not a fingernail of ours will
remain," stormed the fatalists, the wise ones. Despite these warnings,
the money and the articles the Nazis demanded were brought to them in two hours.
"Maybe God will take pity on us and there will be no blood
All of Sunday night we stayed awake. The older Jews recited the
confessed their sins (said Vidde--confession made on Yom Kippur or before
death.-A.F.) Older men and women adorned themselves in order to look younger,
dressed up in their best clothes. The fathers trimmed their beards, hoping to
be spared during the selection. Mothers put on face powder, combed their hair
carefully, and tried to behave like young people. Deathly stillness hovered
outside. Not a bird trilled; not a fly buzzed, not a frog croaked in the nearby
pond. All the animals in the fields and gardens were silent. Not a sound was
heard. A gentle breeze blew from the south. From time to time we heard shots,
first from one side, then from the other, then the spasmodic cry of a victim,
loud moaning, groans, and then again the eerie silence fell. The blood froze in
our veins, pounded in our temples. Our hearts beat faster, wildly. What will
happen to us? The sun set a long time ago.
With the Partisans in the forest
The Nazi Oberkommando threw into battle six divisions of military:
cannons, all kinds of ammunition a powerfully armed enemy. They were
dispersed over a large area around us and some were in the forest. The roads
were blocked in three directions, except to the west. They established bases
from which they assaulted us day and night, with endless shooting forcing the
partisans to move from one spot to another.
The partisans had no intention of confronting this formidable,
Mostly we found refuge in the dense forest, in the vast, abandoned age-old
swamps, where we stood day and night up to our knees in mud where man had not
set foot since the creation of the world.
The endless thunder of cannon, bomb explosions, bullets and shots
kinds of ammunition rent the skies and shook the earth. The Germans were
blowing up bridges and mills, burning barns filled with grain, wiping out
village after village.
Their purpose was to destroy the partisans' food supply and cut off
communication with the outside world, intending that the exhausted, hungry
partisans would surrender. German headquarters issued an order to annihilate
all the partisans in their hideout. (Incidentally, a partisan was never taken
prisoner. He was gunned down on the spot.)
From time to time, a rumor broke through from the outside world,
instance there were no more Jews left in Wilno except in "Kailis" and
Pa Ke Pe, where they could be counted on the fingers of one hand. The Jews
from Novogrudke had been slaughtered, leaving a handful in the court building.
There were no more Jews in Baranowicz and Bialystok, a remnant in Grodno, and
the few left in Lida were being slowly eradicated by the daily Nazi attacks.
The young Gentiles from the ruined villages were being transported
for slave labor; older ones, women and children were sent to the cities to tend
cattle and horses. All of this was being done in order that the partisans'
link with the outside world should be broken.
We also heard that the Nazi armies had suffered tremendous reverses
hands of the Allies on all fronts: a deathblow near Moscow, at the Ilumen (?)
River; disastrous defeat in Stalingrad; overpowered in Tobruk. On the Western
Front the British and French were slashing the Nazi beast to ribbons. The
forest was inundated with Allied leaflets calling upon the partisans to fight
the Nazis, for their end was imminent.
Our group had to keep a watchful eye on all four sides of our base,
protect us from a sudden raid by the enemy, but against spies, traitors, and
other blackguards, who for two kilos of salt, would willingly inform the
Germans where the Jews were hiding.
Naturally, there frequently wandered into our camp all kinds of
women, and entire families, on the pretext that they had gotten lost; or the
women said they had gone to pick berries and mushrooms. But their fate was
sealed. They could not get out. In cases like this the partisans could not
tell who was honest and who was not, and for security's sake we kept them there.
Our camp was heavily defended on all four sides. The first post
outside the camp, where several comrades were always on guard. A second post
further away was named "Secret" watching out for spies, enemies and
other perils. During the dangerous days of the raids there was a third
"Secret" at the edge of the camp, consisting of six or seven armed
comrades about twenty kilometers from the base.
Our food supplies of bread, flour, barley, beans and potatoes had
long ago been
depleted. We still had a ten to twelve day supply of wheat kernels, which our
courageous comrades had seized, at great peril, from under German hands, from
peasants' barns at the edge of the camp. We still have a dozen cattle, which
we slaughter and cook together with the corn kernels in our big kitchen.
The situation is catastrophic. Nobody knows what tomorrow will
our dinner, which consists of about half a pound of meat and a tablespoon of
wheat kernels per person, which our bellies find impossible to digest, we are
called to a "general assembly" on the vast, grass-covered, treeless
stretch in the middle of the forest. Only men are called--the women and
children stay behind. We stand in straight rows, the commanders check our
ammunition, we drill, and the sentries and guides are assigned their posts.
This writer, and six more men, was assigned to the third post on the edge of
camp. We were told the watchword (used by partisan groups for several days at
a time) of the moment and given strict orders to keep a sharp eye on the
village of Niessif, which lies parallel to the Nieman river (a river that flows
through White Russia and Lithuania).
The village was about three kilometers from the edge of the woods.
We heard a
rumor that German troops were about to occupy the Nieman and the village, and
will attack the area where the nearest partisan camp is situated from the west.
While we were being given instructions about weapons, and supplied
for two days, I had time to look around and observe my six companions.
The first member of our group was called KABAK--a clever, energetic
He talked slowly, chose his words, courageous, optimist, and about 26-27 years
old, this native of Iviye near Wilno was able to infect us with his bravery.
RACHMAN, a young rabbi who had fled the ghetto, God-fearing,
devout, a great
scholar, a native of Lithuania from a family of gaonim, full of faith. If I am
not mistaken he carried an automatic (a gun which could fire ten bullets in
succession). He had his own cooking pot for preparing milk, mushrooms and
other vegetables. Until the ritual slaughterer Yehuda of blessed memory came
to the ghetto, he ate no meat.
May the honored rabbi and the other comrades who are still alive
forgive me for
minor inaccuracies in my descriptions. The author of these writings after a
hiatus of fourteen years he may have confused one comrade with another, putting
him into an episode with which he had no connection.
RACHMAN, together with his gun and cooking pot, also carried with
him a prayer
book and phylacteries, and made full use of them whenever possible, when the
GUTELEVSKI from Lipnishok near Iviye, in his middle twenties. He
was not tall,
but very heroic: he always volunteered for the most dangerous missions and
brought great honor to our group. He was given the most responsible
assignments by the commandant, which he executed to the last detail.
(Unfortunately he fell in combat with the Germans several days before we left
VITKOVSKI--nineteen or twenty years old, from Lida. He was not
clever, but honest and sincere, and reliable. He was a mechanic by trade, was
a crackerjack shot, and could always repair weapons very quickly.
DEREVANIK--from Zhalitsuk [Zaludok], eighteen years old. A good
sometimes his impulsiveness got us into trouble, and some of us were injured.
LIZER--Lived in Lomzhe in Poland, but was born in Rumania. A brave
who was not afraid to die; laughed at danger. He had all the qualities a
partisan needed. He swore to take revenge and he did.
This writer is a Lithuanian Jew, a former Yeshiva student, who fled
with his wife and son and went to the forest. [I] was a good shot, ready to
face the enemy at any moment, to fight for my honor to the last.
Our seven men were lined up separately, given instructions once
our ammunition, asked if we knew the password of the current reconnaissance
groups of the various partisan camps in the forest. We were give a two-day's
supply of bread and we march off.
The road through the forest--about twenty kilometers--was not a
We walked along singing High Holiday songs such as Kol Nidre, Our King, Avoda,
Kaddish before Neilah and the Kaddish of the great saint and gaon Levi Isaac of
Berditchev, as well as classical folk songs. We were so absorbed in the
ecstasy of singing that we did not notice the kilometers pass.
About a quarter of the way we suddenly heard wild outcry in Russian:
"Stop! Who goes there! Give the password, or we shoot. One
of you come
From the left side of the woods there emerged four armed riders.
astounded and for a moment unable to move, but them we recovered. KABAK, our
group elder, said to us: "Stay where you are! I'll go and talk to
them and find out who they are!"
He adjusted the rifle on his shoulder and went towards the riders.
immediately got down on his right knee, and aimed at the approaching riders
with his rifle, saying: "Watch me shoot them down like dogs!"
The rabbi grabbed him: "They're all our fellow reconnaissance.
members of the command of General PLATON. We are all fighting together against
the Nazis. They are our friends. God forbid you'll cause a catastrophe. Are
you crazy, or are you tired of living?"
The other comrades joined in: "You damn fool! You son of a bitch! These
are our friends! Wait here--don't move!" There was silence.
n a loud gunshot broke the stillness. The Russians, having come
understanding with KABAK, were signaling to us that all was well and told us to
proceed on our march.
The Russian riders sent us away with five loaves of bread; and just
as they had
slipped out from the left side of the forest so suddenly, they vanished on
their swift horses to the right side.
When we arrived at our post on the edge of the forest to change our
for others it was growing dark.
Our departing companions left us their binoculars, so that we could
on the village on the other side of the Niemen River. [They] also showed us a
wide, old weeping willow, which would be our observatory. They said goodbye
quickly and went back to the base.
The sun had almost set behind the village. The western sky was
the shining, always placid, broad Nieman river. Several tardy cows splashed in
the water, swimming home to their barns. Looking at this panorama and thinking
of our own ruined lives, we felt sad and bitter.
"Look how well off those Gentiles are," I said.
regimes, and in all circumstances, they're [sic] remain in their own homes.
They have enough bread to eat, sleep in a bed, till their soil, plow their
fields, and nobody persecutes them, nobody murders them like they do us Jews.
Maybe it doesn't even pay to fight; there is no room for us any place. What
good is our life, without hope, without a future? Hitler and his gang have
decided to annihilate every last one of us. There is no way out for us, why
should we suffer?"
"Comrade, comrade," came the answer in an angry voice.
talk like that. You have been created and you must live and have faith in the
Almighty and not ask questions."
"But eventually one is bound to be disillusioned," I
"Our hearts are filled with gloom and bitterness. Our future is
"Brother, don't lose you faith in God," persisted the
will live to see Hitler's downfall. Don't lose courage."
Night fell. Darkness covered the earth like a thick blanket. We
made beds for
ourselves out of thin pine branches under the big trees, set up a watchman and
fell asleep exhausted.
We were awakened at dawn by nearby cannon fire, explosions, loud
outbursts from automatics, bombs being thrown...the Nazis were blowing up
bridges, mills, roads, destroying villages, and attacking our camps in the
length and breadth of the forest.
It was fiercely cold; our bones ached, our teeth rattled, there was
taste in our mouths; our hearts were heavy; we yawned apathetically; we were
frightened, thinking: "How unfortunate we are; we are in a terrible
position, our lives are worthless. We are being driven and persecuted
everywhere. They want to destroy us, wipe us off the face of the earth. Our
eyes are filled with tears but we dare not weep. It does not become a partisan
"You know, fellows," said a half-frozen HESHKE,
"here we don't
have to observe any mitzvahs. We don't have to wash our hands in the
morning--there is no water--we don't have to pray in the forest. I'll bet you
that here in the forest I can choose the prettiest girl in the group; they
their [sic] lives have no value, either, hungry, naked. Several weeks ago I
got some food from the peasants and brought it back to the forest for commander
KESSLER's 'tavo' (girl friend) Rachel...She took an apple from me
and gave me
such a sweet look that my heart stopped."
RACHMAN tossed HESHKE an angry look.
t was only a short distance to the big weeping willow at the edge
of the woods
with its low, widespread branches. From this vantage point we could see,
through the binoculars, the white houses of the village of Nissif [?]. We
could see the children, the school, and the sentry.
The first two to volunteer for sentry duty were KABAK and
checked their weapons and slunk silently to a spot where they could clearly
observe the village on the other side of the Nieman River. Each comrade stood
on guard under the big tree twice a day.
Not far from our observation point, in the middle of the field on
the edge of
the forest, was a mound of earth. Our comrades debated: some thought it was a
grave of unknown partisans whom the Nazis or the "Whites" (our
Polish, Lithuanian and Ukrainian neighbors who assisted the Nazis) had murdered
and buried here in the middle of the field.
Others thought this was an abandoned potato pit, where peasants
from fall to spring.
There were many incidents where wandering Jewish families, who had
way fleeing from the ghetto, were captured by peasants and given into the hands
of the Nazis or the Lithuanian, Ukrainian and Polish henchmen, who shot them on
the spot. The "catchers" [were] rewarded with a few kilograms of salt.
We finally decided that towards evening three comrades, including
would investigate this strange pit.
We thought if this was a partisan burial place it is worth finding
we could find a clue that would tell us who they were, because transporting
them elsewhere was impossible at a dangerous time like this.
After sunset we looked around us carefully, to make sure that the
clear, and then moved cautiously toward the sand pile that lay over the top of
When we came close, we realized immediately that this was a potato
pit and not
a partisan-grave. Our hearts leaped for joy. This meant that we would have food
for our families for a week at least. We moved aside the lopsided door. Inside
it was pitch dark. We did not dare use a lantern. The slightest glimmer of
light would be highly dangerous.
We got hold of two beams of wood and all three lowered ourselves
the dark. When we got to the bottom, we could feel that we were not stepping on
potatoes but on a slimy mass that moved under our feet. We reached down and
touched something wet and slippery, quivering. We listened and heard a terrible
hissing from all sides, and realized that we were in a snake pit. "Let's
get out of here," I shouted. "Save yourselves, comrades! This is a
snake pit!" By some mysterious power, a strength we didn't know we had, we
managed to climb up out of that horrible place.
[This is the end of this manuscript--page 135 but for the
follows, under the heading 'extra page no number']
we asked again:
"Little stool, tell us, if there will be peace next year? The stool did
not move. A sign that the answer was no. When we asked, in how many months
will Woronow Jews be redeemed, the stool tapped nine times. We considered this
a good sign and consoled ourselves with the thought that our salvation will
come very soon. The stool did not deceive us. Nine months later, our
"salvation" did come. Exactly nine months later, the horrendous
massacre of Woronow Jews took place. The stool became the hero of the day.
A group of Jews locked
themselves in, day and night, and asked the magic stool questions, which it
answered. The Jews comforted themselves with the little stool's predictions,
which revived their spirits like a restorative medicine during those bitter,
hopeless days and terror-filled nights of dread, isolation, pain, and suffering.
When a woman did not believe
her husband about these omens, he assured her that what the stool foretold had
come to pass in six houses so there is no doubt anymore; and we must have faith.
From all this, we can conclude
that our young people and intellectuals were very neurotic. They were grasping
at straws, looking for a ray of light that would pierce the gloom of their
existence. It must be noted that if the Nazi authorities had any inkling about
the magic powers and miracles demonstrated by the stool, they would accuse the
Jews of trying to destroy the Nazi State with its SS, Gestapo, and Reichwehr.
Our fate would be sealed.
When the Wilno and Lithuanian
Jews asked the stool when they would return home, it stood motionless on one of
its legs. This was a bad omen. But Jews are a people who don't give up hope
until the last moment and whose faith is eternal.
DEPEND UPON GOD TO RESCUE US:
[NOTE: The manuscript ends here.]
Page Entitled "Photos"
[NOTE: No photos accompany the text.]
The Common Grave were 1800 were buried from Davenishock, Saletchnik,
Konvelishok, Bastun, Binyukun, and many from Vilna and Lida. The survivors made
a single grave for all; and then they made a fence all around it. The grave is
300 meters. On the left side, they collected and buried the heads of the small
After the liberation, men, women, and children gathered from the underground.
The children of Voronova's survivors who remained after the liberation,
standing by the common grave.
Partisan survivors near the common grave.
Survivors from Vilna and surround towns near the grave where these murdered
relatives were buried.
Survivors from all the shtetloch surrounding Voronova gathered at the common
Voronova's surviving Jews pray at the common grave site.
Rabbi Isaac HARTZICK from Aishashok praying at the Voronova common grave site.
Other survivors at the Vornova common grave site.
Survivors standing near the memorial to Isaac OLKENITZKY, former Mayor of
Voronova, murdered by the Polish soldiers after World War I.
Morris (Moshe) RAHSHA and Lazar (Leon) BERKOWITZ standing by the memorial at
the common grave.
Partisan, wife and child standing by grave and memorial
Eleazer (Leon BERKOWITZ, dressed as a partisan.
Two Voronova partisans, one of whom is Sholem LUBARSKI's son.
A little partisan.
The market place in Voronova where the Germans brought their victims to kill
After the Nazis killed their victims, the Polish goyim took their clothes and
other possessions and bought food and whisky and had a party.
The Voronova Yahrzeit Committee. Moshe and Rahske are on the bottom row on the
All the Voronova and Davenishok Jewish survivors got together on the chosen
Yahrzeit Day in May to say Yizkor for their dead relatives.
Postcard of the Chalutzim of Voronova from 1924
Bottom row, left to right: Esther OLKENITZKY, Israel SAGOVINSKY, unknown,
Yankel TROTZKY, Chanah VINNER.
Second row: fifth from left is Leon BERKOWITZ
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