Previous page | Table of Contents

CHAPTER XVII:

How the cantor-ritual slaughterer and his family survived

  Prior to the massacre, our experiences were the same as everyone else's. But 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 place. There 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 together with 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. Although we 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 walking 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 near the 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 about 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 Germans attacked 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.


CHAPTER XVIII:

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 from Slonim
Baruch GORBATSKI , son of HIRSH PERES, recently married, wife Mariashe and daughter
Benjamin ARKIN Child of Aaron DOYNEVE
Benjamin DUKSTKILSKI
Berl EISHISHKI, son of Shloyme JOSEPH
Berl HEIFETZ
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
Gottlieb LEVINE
Gutl EISHISHKI, son of Chatskl Shloyme JOSEPH
Itte HEIFETZ recently married, husband and son
Jacob OLKENITSKI
Joel HEIFETZ
Joseph GERSHONOWICZ , son of Moshe MENUCHAH
Leib TROTSKY, son of Alter., recently married
Liebe S'TNITSKI, daughter of slain Isaac BIENUNSKI
Meyer OLKENITSKI
Moshe BERKOWITCH, wife Rashe, son Eliezer
Moshe BIENUNSKI
Pesach ARKIN Child of Aaron DOYNEVE
Rachel PUPKO, daughter of Joseph PUPKO
Reuben ARKIN Child of Aaron DOYNEVE
Shmuel BIENUNSKI
Sholem LISAGURSKI, wife Kayle, son Jacob, son Melach. born in camp
Yekusiel BOYARSKI
Abraham Eliahu KAPLAN, son of Joseph OLEKUTSES, wife and two sons
Abraham KAPLAN
Asher KAPLAN, wife
Bashe PUPKO daughter of Rachmiel and her husband and three children
Chaye Leah WOLPIANSKI, son Antosh
David LIPNISKI, son of Chatskl
Hanan FINKELSTEIN
Henoch KAPELOWITCH
Hirsh FINKELSTEIN
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
Moshe KAPLAN
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
Shmuel KAPLOWITCH
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


CHAPTER XIX:

Gone

Simon Levine
Facking Valdstadt
(Dedicated to the Jews of Woronowa)


  Gone forever is my dearly beloved town of Woronowa, which extended all along 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 whirlpool to 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 Wilno. A 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 because 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 movements. 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 classical works 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 kinds, 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 400 years 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 surroundings. 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 are our 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.


CHAPTER XX:

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 us?

  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 with earth.

  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 with his 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 shoulders. Some 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 bath."

  All of Sunday night we stayed awake. The older Jews recited the Psalms and 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.


CHAPTER XXI:

With the Partisans in the forest

June 1943

  The Nazi Oberkommando threw into battle six divisions of military: tanks, 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, armed force. 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 from various 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, that for 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 to Germany 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 at the 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, not to 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 people: men, 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 was just 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 bring. After 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 with food 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 young man. 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 time came.

  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 the forest).

  VITKOVSKI--nineteen or twenty years old, from Lida. He was not particularly 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 lad, but 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 young man 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 the ghetto 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 more, checked 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 difficult one. 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 here!"

  From the left side of the woods there emerged four armed riders. We were 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. DEREVANIK, 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. We are 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 to an 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 comrades for others it was growing dark.

  Our departing companions left us their binoculars, so that we could keep watch 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 reflected in 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. "Under all 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. "Don't 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 replied. "Our hearts are filled with gloom and bitterness. Our future is black."

  "Brother, don't lose you faith in God," persisted the rabbi. "We 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 and continuous 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 a sour 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 to weep."

  "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 GUTELEVSKI. They 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 store potatoes from fall to spring.
  There were many incidents where wandering Jewish families, who had lost their 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 this writer would investigate this strange pit.

  We thought if this was a partisan burial place it is worth finding out, maybe 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 coast was clear, and then moved cautiously toward the sand pile that lay over the top of the pit.

  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 slowly into 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 additional page 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.]


1 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 children.
2 After the liberation, men, women, and children gathered from the underground.
3 The children of Voronova's survivors who remained after the liberation, standing by the common grave.
4 Partisan survivors near the common grave.
5 Survivors from Vilna and surround towns near the grave where these murdered relatives were buried.
6 Survivors from all the shtetloch surrounding Voronova gathered at the common grave site.
7 Voronova's surviving Jews pray at the common grave site.
8 Rabbi Isaac HARTZICK from Aishashok praying at the Voronova common grave site.
9 Other survivors at the Vornova common grave site.
10 Survivors standing near the memorial to Isaac OLKENITZKY, former Mayor of Voronova, murdered by the Polish soldiers after World War I.
11 Morris (Moshe) RAHSHA and Lazar (Leon) BERKOWITZ standing by the memorial at the common grave.
12 Partisan, wife and child standing by grave and memorial
13 Moshe BERKOWITZ
14 Eleazer (Leon BERKOWITZ, dressed as a partisan.
15 Two Voronova partisans, one of whom is Sholem LUBARSKI's son.
16 A little partisan.
17 The market place in Voronova where the Germans brought their victims to kill them, 1942.
18 After the Nazis killed their victims, the Polish goyim took their clothes and other possessions and bought food and whisky and had a party.
19 The Voronova Yahrzeit Committee. Moshe and Rahske are on the bottom row on the right.
20 All the Voronova and Davenishok Jewish survivors got together on the chosen Yahrzeit Day in May to say Yizkor for their dead relatives.
21 Postcard of the Chalutzim of Voronova from 1924
22 Bottom row, left to right: Esther OLKENITZKY, Israel SAGOVINSKY, unknown, Yankel TROTZKY, Chanah VINNER.
Second row: fifth from left is Leon BERKOWITZ

Previous page | Table of Contents


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.

  Voronovo, Belarus     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page


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

Copyright ©1999-2014 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 21 Sep 2001 by LA