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[Page 108]

Tuvia Fisher

Son of Beila-Zelda [Katz] and Baruch

Translated from the Hebrew by Laia Ben-Dov

Footnotes Added / Donated by Jeff Deitch

 

 

A.

Our survival after the destruction, which I, my wife [Chana, née Fisher], my brother Mottel [Mottel-Hirsh Fisher] and my brother-in-law Mottel [Fisher] experienced first-hand, is a miracle. Otherwise, it can't be understood: our flight from death at the time the ghettos in Braslav [Braslaw] were liquidated; the wandering from one Christian to another, begging for a place to sleep and a slice of bread; the running from place to place in the forest for weeks and months --- a place where we stayed during the day and moved at night. Entering, at great risk to our lives, the farmers' storehouses at night to warm up a bit and maybe get a piece of bread, because the hunger was great; and eating, more than once, food that was meant for cattle. We were pursued by the murderers day and night. Death lay in wait for us at each moment, and every careless movement endangered our lives.[1]

Yet despite everything, we survived. How? It shouldn't be assumed that our remaining alive was the result of bravery or wisdom granted to us or to others. In our family we were four brothers and three sisters. Until the war broke out, I was a yeshiva student. I lived modestly in the atmosphere of the yeshiva, cut off from everything else around me. I didn't strive for the good life. My existence was for my parents and for helping the community, “days” in the Ivia [Ivye] Yeshiva, the kitchen in the Slonim Yeshiva, and chaluka[2] money in the Mir Yeshiva. My brothers Zalman-Volf and Avraham differed from me completely. They were courageous activists fighting for a better life. Likewise, my sisters: Guta, Zlata and Rivka, young and full of life, striving for comfortable lives. All of them were lost in the storm of the Nazi destruction and I, the weak one, remained. How did it happen? I've thought about it for many years and have no answer except this: A higher power warned me at crucial moments and helped me through all my troubles. Religious feeling and faith assisted me during the fateful moments.

 

 

B.

When the Germans came to Braslav [in late June 1941], they took many Jews for labor on the railroad. We were about 200 Jews, who worked at stripping the bark from large logs. We did this in groups. Sometimes the Germans took out from among us groups of 10-12 men for so-called other work, and shot them. They also

[Page 109]

took Jews from my group, but passed over me. Once, after the railroad work, I was visiting the home of my father-in-law, Zalman-Yaacov Fisher. Because of the great heat, I left the house for a few minutes without my coat, on which was sewn the yellow Magen David [Shield of David]. As fate would have it, at that moment a Nazi supervisor passed by and asked me for my Jude-schein [labor permit]. As he did this, I saw his hand move to his pistol; it was clear to me that my life was in danger. The blood froze in my veins. Suddenly, I felt as if a hand pushed me backward and a voice called to me: “Flee!” I began running with all my strength, and the German ran after me. I ran a long way, until I came to an outhouse and rushed into it. For some reason, the German didn't see this and he lost me. My life was saved.

After four months of wandering from place to place [outside Braslav], in the cold and wet, thirsty and hungry, we who had survived the liquidation of the [Braslav] ghetto [on June 3-5, 1942] learned from a farmer that a second ghetto was being established in Braslav.[3] The Jews from Opsa were already in this ghetto. We decided to enter the ghetto despite the German prohibition. We were four people: me, my wife Chana [née Fisher], my brother Mottel [Mottel-Hirsh Fisher] and my brother-in-law Mottel [Fisher]. Torn and worn out, tired and hungry, the men among us with beards, we set out on the road to Braslav. The danger of being caught was great. Nevertheless, we entered the ghetto without being noticed by the murderers. For a time, we were invisible.

In the ghetto [the second ghetto in Braslav, also called the “Opsa” Ghetto], I got the idea of digging under the floor of the house. I disposed of the dug-out material by taking it up into the attic. A certain power pushed me to start the job immediately, even though by nature I wasn't a man of action. I devoted every minute to the work. Before the bunker was finished, my brother-in-law Mottel came, frightened and said the Germans were intending to liquidate the second ghetto. They surrounded the ghetto [around March 19, 1943]. The unfinished bunker saved our lives in these moments. When it became dark, we escaped from the place. We went into the house of Hertz Skopitz, which stood on the hill [of Braslav] next to the great cross. A Christian woman with her two daughters had already moved into the house, and my wife Chana knew them. We hid in this house, but after we'd been there two days the Germans turned it into a police station for locals who cooperated with them. Our situation grew very dangerous. At any moment, we could be discovered. To leave the house, we had to cross a high fence, hidden from the policemen who guarded it. They'd certainly start firing if they saw us, and it was unlikely that any of us would survive that. But here too, we escaped without injury. Many times, I felt guilty to have survived; I should have gone together with all my dear ones and loved ones. Only the faith that my life depended not on me, but on a higher power that watched over me, calmed me.

 

C.

[This paragraph jumps back in time, discussing the first Braslav Ghetto before it was massacred on June 3-5, 1942.] It's terrible to see the suffering of your daughter without being able to help her. I consider the binding of Yitzchak to be the cruelest test in the history of mankind, when Our Father, Abraham, took his only son to be bound at the command of the Creator. Many of us were tested by a similar fate, not through a command of G-d but by the German oppressor. With our own eyes we saw the suffering of our daughter [Chasia], who was just an infant in the ghetto [before June 3-5, 1942]. My father-in-law, Zalman-Yaacov [Fisher], would sometimes put his life in danger by going out in search of a drop of milk to keep her alive, but sometimes he couldn't find any. It was hard to see her suffering; we looked for different ways to help her. We knew the day would come when the Germans liquidated the ghetto, but we didn't know when it would happen. We wanted to take the child out of the ghetto. In discussion with Rabbi Avraham-Abba Zahorie,

[Page 110]

we said we'd put her in a Christian orphanage that was managed by a woman who was an acquaintance of Dr. Baretzki [Barecki]. We thought that when the war finally ended, we'd be able to remove her from there with the help of an identifying mark on her body. We made all the arrangements to transfer her to the orphanage. We also transferred there the few possessions she had, but parting from her was very hard and was put off from day to day. She was the only ray of light for us in those dark days. Things were put off one day and then another day . . . until it was too late. Zalman-Yaacov carried her in his arms when the Jews of Braslav were marched to the pits [on June 3-5, 1942], led by the German beasts in human disguise.[4] Our daughter was among the million innocent Jewish children who were killed by the Nazis.

 

D.

At the time the Dvinsk Ghetto in Latvia was liquidated [sic] in 1941, some Jews who'd succeeded in escaping arrived in Braslav.[5] With these Jews came Rabbi Israel-Alter Fuchs, a learned man, great in Torah and knowledge of the world. Rabbi Fuchs, who was from Vienna in Austria, had become the rabbi of Dvinsk after the passing of the [Hasidic] rabbi of Rogatchov, the Gaon Rabbi Yosef Rosen [1858-1936]. Together with Rabbi Fuchs, the daughter of the Gaon, Mrs. [Rachel] Citron, now arrived in Braslav. She'd come to Dvinsk from the Land of Israel, from Jerusalem, to her father's grave.[6] The war had trapped her in Dvinsk. Both of them stayed in our house, which was a religious home. Our father was connected to all matters of religion and the congregation in Braslav. He was active in the yeshiva, a gabbai [caretaker] in the Old Synagogue and active in all the charitable matters in the town. When they [Rabbi Fuchs and Mrs. Citron] were in our house, we shared our meager food and made sure they had everything. Food was scarce and barely enough to sustain the soul. My mother, in poor health, took care of everyone. She'd get up early to prepare food for Rav [Rabbi] Fuchs, which was mostly potatoes. The Rav ate only one meal toward morning and would fast all day. He was sunk in Torah until late at night. Both of them, Rav Fuchs and Mrs. Citron, were with us until the ghetto in Braslav was liquidated on June 3, 1942 (18 Sivan 5702). They met their death on that day, together with [most of] the Jews of Braslav.

Footnotes

  1. Tuvia Fisher and his wife, Chana Fisher (whose photo appears above his on this page), were second cousins. Tuvia was the son of Baruch Fisher and Beila-Zelda Katz, grandson of Zelik Fisher and Guta, and great-grandson of Morduch Fisher. Chana was the daughter of Zalman-Yaacov Fisher and Chasia, granddaughter of Naftal Fisher and Lana, and great-granddaughter of Morduch Fisher. Their Fisher families had lived in Braslav since at least the time of Morduch, born ca. 1800.
    Both of the men named Mottel Fisher who are mentioned in Tuvia Fisher's account survived the war: Tuvia's brother Mottel-Hirsh (whose account is on pages 90-95 of this memorial book) and Mottel the brother of Tuvia's wife, Chana Fisher. Return
  2. Before World War II, charity funds collected from Jews throughout the world for Jewish residents in Palestine. Ivia and Slonim were about 205 kilometers and 305 kilometers southwest of Braslav, respectively, and Mir was about 230 kilometers south of Braslav. Return
  3. In August or early September 1942, some 50 Jews in Opsa were transferred to the ghetto in Braslav, to repopulate this ghetto after its inmates had been slaughtered on June 3-5, 1942. Because the members of this second, new ghetto in Braslav were from Opsa, the ghetto was also called the “Opsa” Ghetto. It would be liquidated on March 19, 1943. At the beginning of this account, when Mr. Fisher refers to “the time the ghettos in Braslav were liquidated,” it's these two liquidations to which he's referring. Return
  4. Rabbi Zahorie was also killed in the massacre on June 3-5, 1942, thus it's clear that in this paragraph Mr. Fisher is discussing events before June 1942. Return
  5. Dvinsk, in Latvia, was 42 kilometers northwest of Braslav. Today it's called Daugavpils. Return
  6. Rachel Citron, a widow, had come to Dvinsk from Palestine around 1936 to help compile and safeguard her late father's writings. Working in Dvinsk with Rabbi Fuchs, a devoted student of her father and his successor, she was able to publish several volumes of her father's writings and send copies of his notes and correspondence to New York City before fleeing to Braslav with Rabbi Fuchs after the German invasion on June 22, 1941. In accounts in this memorial book she's described as being from Jerusalem, but other sources say that she was from Petah Tikva.

    According to the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos 1933-1945, Volume II-A (2012), the Dvinsk Ghetto was formed in July 1941 and the Jews of Dvinsk suffered large-scale massacres in July-August 1941 (with 5,400 to 7,600 killed) and November 1941 (with 3,000 to 6,000 killed). The ghetto wasn't liquidated in 1941 but continued to function, suffering a further massacre in May 1942. In October 1943 the ghetto was cleared, and the remaining ghetto inmates were transferred to concentration camps in Kaiserwald and Stutthof. Return


[Page 120]

Like Arrows in the Hands of a Warrior
Are the Children of One's Youth…
[1]

Translated from the Hebrew by Jerrold Landau

Footnotes Added / Donated by Jeff Deitch

The young people …

Like a pink crystal palace; dreams and hopes, hopes for the future, enchantment and magic. All of these were wiped out and trampled under the cruel, barbaric hooves of the Nazi beast.

In terrible conditions, in hunger, oppression, and degradation, in the shadow of torture and death, the Jewish young people in the ghetto found the force of will and a ray of bright light in meetings and incidental discussions. They didn't lose hope, the faintest hope, for a better tomorrow. We see testimony to this in the “memento” albums they wrote to each other, to their male or female friends, in the darkness of oppression.

Here are some of these mementos written in Hebrew, Polish, Russian and Lithuanian by young people from Braslav [Braslaw] and other places, in the album of Yenta [Yetta] Fisher.[2]

It's important to note that these mementos are from the end of 1941 until June 1944, just before liberation, through all the tribulations of hell --- slaughter, torture, hunger and utter want.

A free translation of the mementos has been made, although the content has been strictly preserved.

A Memento!!!

Oh! Do not tell of the depth of your suffering
Do not say that you are desperate and lost
That the cruel world has frozen your heart.
Oh! Think only: I will find calm.

As the pain in your heart grows
Even if your spirit often falls
The ground will support you even more strongly
And your soul will absorb more calmness and quiet.

So on with the journey!
In the battle for truth you will suffer for your relatives,
Raise up your desire for happiness for your fellow Jews
And pay no heed if you are met with revulsion.

--- Written to you by your friend: G. S. (Skopitz)

A Memento!!!

Hey, to you with a Jewish heart and the soul of an angel
Love your fate with suffering and storms
Do not lower year head in the face of disaster
Hey, comfort to broken hearts …

--- Written by your friend: H. S. in Braslav, October 20, 1941

[Page 121]

To the honorable Vladislav [Wladyslaw] on his birthday!
We, your friends, bring you flowers from our land
And wish you perpetual happiness
We will never forget you
For your good feelings and ties
We will thank you without bounds
We will love you and wish you happiness
Until the wedding and after
Enjoy good life with love, friendship and peace.
Be blessed by G-d
As you deserve,
In wealth, good luck, and praise
With diamonds in a golden frame.

--- Your friend, June 27, 1944

This refers to the nephew of Danat and Josefa Shcherbinski [Szczerbinski], who hid and saved several families. [The nephew was Wladyslaw, nicknamed Wladek; Danat and Josefa also hid and saved people.]

A Memento!!

There are many more drops in the cup of your fate
That you must suffer, and drink slowly to the end …

--- Written by H. S., October 20, 1941
The writer was Hirsh Skopitz.

A Memento!!!

We do not find our friends through conversation
It is possible to identify them only in hard times
When hardship overtakes them and they shed tears
This is your friend, the ones who weeps with you.

--- Writer: Ida, October 15, 1943
Written by Ida Gurevitz while she was hidden by the farmer Shcherbinski.

[Page 122]

A Memento!

Do not be sad, my friend, that is not for you,
All your life is still ahead of you
You shed many tears
And you do not know
When you will return home.
Everything is so sad and cruel,
Everything happened suddenly
However, the time will come
When we take revenge against the enemy
Therefore, gird yourself, my friend, with patience
The day of liberation will arrive
And we will go up on the shining path
And you will be able to rest from all the tribulations.
Then we will remember and exalt the friendly people
Who saved us.
We will spread throughout the world the names of the saviors
And to vex our enemies, the saviors will receive their due
As we wish them ---
Much happiness, health, praise
And diamonds in gold frames.

--- Written by Ida: September 25, 1943

The sun is shining, spring has arrived
The flowers are blooming, nature has risen to life
Why am I so sad and heavy of heart?
Why am I waiting, for whom do I have pity?

No! I am not waiting for anything from G-d, But I am sorry over the past,
I am searching for freedom and peace
I want to forget and fall asleep
So that I can wake up and take revenge on the enemy executioners
For the innocent blood that they spilled
May the murderous executioners not remain alive,
May the truth be perpetuated
In a place where hatred reigned,
May the blood of the murderers be spilled as rain from the sky
And their leader be destroyed along with them.

Written by Ida: May 10, 1943

[Page 123]

I am prepared to kill the enemy
And to destroy the executioner
May they receive their due
He murdered many people
And he must be wiped from the face of the earth
Guess, who killed him?

--- Written by A. N., October 10, 1943
Apparently the words refer to a collaborator who was taken out to be killed.

When these difficult times pass,
When the deep tragedies and tribulations pass
And you find yourself in a different world,
Before you a new era opens.
You will live and enjoy
Love and rejoice,
And then ---

Do not forget all that happened
Try to help
All the unfortunate and oppressed
All those alone, childless, and degraded
All who are lost and depressed …

--- The signature of the writer can't be deciphered. November 10, 1943

A Memento!!!

It was good that we knew each other
It was good to live together
But it is difficult for us to part
When we must
Say the word “Shalom.”

--- From your friend R. Tzirlin, October 19-21, 1941

Footnotes

  1. Psalm 127:4. Return
  2. Her account of her experiences during the war is on pages 117-119 of this memorial book. Return

 

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