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[Page 367]

Dubina

(Dubene a.k.a. Dubinovo, Belarus)

55°46' / 26°57'

Caption Translated from the Hebrew by Laia Ben-Dov

Donated by Jeff Deitch

 

HeChalutz HaMizrahi [The Eastern Pioneer] in Dubina

 

[The handwritten caption in the top part of the photo is hard to read but might give a date of December 1934. HeChalutz HaMizrahi was a Jewish youth movement affiliated with Mizrahi, the Religious Zionist Party, which had been founded in 1902 in Vilna to promote Zionism among Orthodox Jews.

In the 1990s, most of the people in this photo were identified as follows by Dubina survivor Mira Shneider Lotz, whose account is on pages 381-388 of this memorial book. In a few cases, other information was provided by another survivor from Dubina. Supplementary information in brackets has been added by the donor after the names:

  1. Moshe Toder {there are two males named Moshe Toder in the list of dead from Dubina on page 485 of this memorial book; it isn't known which of them is in this photo}
  2. Moshe-Nisan Skopitz {in the list of dead on page 484}
  3. Doba Toder {in the list of dead on page 485 as the daughter of Sara Toder}
  4. Yudit Toder
  5. Rachel-Dina Azband {in the list of dead on page 483 as the wife of Yosef Azband, who is No. 17 in this photo}
  6. Chaya-Rachel Deitch {in the list of dead on page 483; the mother of Hirsh Deitch, who is No. 28 in this photo. Chaya-Rachel was said to be the sister of Shlomo Zilber, the shochet (ritual slaughterer) in Braslav who was killed in June 1941}
  7. Mina Maron {presumably the Mina, daughter of Volf/Velvel/Zev Deitch and Tova Vishkin, who was married to Betzalel Maron; Mina doesn't appear in the list of dead on pages 483-485, but a page of testimony identifying her was placed at Yad Vashem in 1956 by a relative, Bunya Vishkin Maron, a sister of Tova}
  8. Avraham Maron {in the list of dead on page 484; presumably the husband of Bunya Vishkin Maron and the father of Matka, Chasia and Shmuel-Chatra}
  9. Yisrael-Yitzchak Feigen {in the list of dead on page 484; killed in the attack on Dubina in July 1941}
  10. Sheina-Pesia Skopitz {in the list of dead on page 484; daughter of Yisrael Skopitz and Zlata}
  11. Chana-Feiga Skopitz {survived the war; her account is on pages 390-392 of this memorial book; the daughter of Hirsh Skopitz and Esther}
  12. Liuba Toder {a Liba Toder, daughter of Nachum Toder and Sara, is in the list of dead on page 485}
  13. Feiga Zilber {presumably the Feiga in the list of dead on page 484 as the wife of Arye-Leib Vishkin, as his wife's maiden name was known to be Zilber}
  14. Zlata Goron {in the list of dead on page 483 as the daughter of Pesel Goron}
  15. Not certain; either Nechama Vishkin {according to Max Wischkin; Nechama is in the list of dead on page 484 and was the daughter of Sara and the late Avraham-Itzik Vishkin} or Dina Vishkin {according to Mira Lotz; Dina is in the list of dead on page 483 and was the wife of David Vishkin, who is No. 25 in this photo}
  16. Noach Shtein {in the list of dead on page 485}
  17. Yosef Azband {in the list of dead on page 483; the husband of Rachel-Dina, who is No. 5 in this photo}
  18. Yankel Blacher {in the list of dead on page 483 as the son of Velvel Blacher and Golda}
  19. Hirsh Deitch {in the list of dead on page 483; presumably the Hirsh who was the son of Avraham and Basia Deitch}
  20. Reuven Vishkin {in the list of dead on page 484; the husband of Rachel; Reuven was also the son of Gershon Vishkin and Gershon's second wife, Musha-Mera}
  21. Yisrael-Alka Deitch {in the list of dead on page 483; the husband of Rachel}
  22. Meir Deitch {in the list of dead on page 483 as the son of Avraham and Basia Deitch}
  23. Betzalel Maron {in the list of dead on page 484; the father of Shlomo Maron, who is No. 33 in this photo}
  24. Shlomo Levin {in the list of dead on page 484; the husband of Sara-Disel}
  25. David Vishkin {in the list of dead on page 483; the father of Efraim Vishkin, who is No. 35 in this photo; David was also the son of Mordechai-Zelig Vishkin}
  26. Son of Noach Shtein {the list of dead on page 485 notes “two children” of Noach Shtein and Chana but doesn't name them; the boy here might be Ilia, born ca. 1930, who is noted at Yad Vashem as the son of Noach Shtein and Chana}
  27. Not certain; possibly Moshe Vishkin {Moshe Vishkin survived the war and his account is on pages 145-154 of this memorial book; Moshe was the son of Tuvia Vishkin and Sara-Leah Reichel, and was also the grandson of Gershon Vishkin and his first wife, Slova}
  28. Hirsh Deitch {in the list of dead on page 483; the son of Chaya-Rachel Deitch, who is No. 6 in this photo}
  29. Sima Feigen {survived the war; her account is on pages 369-376 of this memorial book; the daughter of Yisrael-Yitzchak Feigen (No. 9 in this photo) and Esther}
  30. Zlata Deitch {survived the war; the sister of Chava Deitch and also the daughter of Volf/Velvel/Zev Deitch and Tova Vishkin}
  31. Not certain; either Miriam Vishkin {according to Max Wischkin; Miriam, the daughter of David Vishkin and Dina, survived the war and immigrated to Israel} or Mira-Zelda Vishkin {according to Mira Lotz; Mira-Zelda is in the list of dead on page 484 and was the daughter of Sara and the late Avraham-Yitzchak Vishkin}
  32. Not certain; either Rivka Eidelman {according to Max Wischkin; Rivka was a sister of Zamka Eidelman} or Chava Deitch {according to Mira Lotz; Chava, in the list of dead on page 483, was the sister of Zlata Deitch, who is No. 30 in this photo, and also the daughter of Volf/Velvel/Zev Deitch and Tova Vishkin}.
  33. Shlomo Maron {in the list of dead on page 484 as the son of Betzalel Meron, who is No. 23 in this photo}
  34. Not certain; either Zamka Eidelman {according to Max Wischkin; Zamka was a brother of Rivka Eidelman} or Max/Mottel Wischkin {according to Mira Lotz; Max/Mottel, who survived the war, was the brother of Efraim Vishkin, who is No. 35 in this photo, and was also the son of David Vishkin, who is No. 25 in this photo}
  35. Efraim Vishkin {in the list of dead on page 483 as the son of David Vishkin, who is No. 25 in this photo, and Dina}]

[Page 368 = blank in the original]

[Page 369]

Sima Moretsky

Daughter of Yisrael-Yitzchak and Esther Feigen

Translated from the Hebrew by Laia Ben-Dov

Footnotes Added / Donated by Jeff Deitch

 

 

Our family in Dubina [Dubene, 16 kilometers northwest of Braslav/Braslaw] numbered seven souls: my father Yisrael-Yitzchak, born in 1900; my mother Esther, born in 1902; my three brothers: Asher-Bar, age 14; Reuven, age 11; and Feivush, age 7; my sister Shayna-Chaya, age 5; and me --- Sima, age 15.

My father was a farmer. We had a piece of land, a garden of fruit trees, three cows and two horses. In the winter the difficult weather made it impossible to earn anything from agriculture, so my father had to look for another source of income.

Life in the village continued without any major disturbance up until the outbreak of World War II [on June 22, 1941].

A few days after war broke out, German units entered Dubina, and immediately their hand was heavy over the Jews. First, all the Jews' farm products were confiscated for the German army, which was advancing rapidly toward Moscow in force with tanks and cannons. Airplanes flying very low bombed anything in the area that moved. After a few days the German units left the area, and only a few Germans remained, together with a large number of local collaborators: Poles, Belorussians and others, all of them extreme anti-Semites. They received weapons from the Germans, and they began to oppress the Jews.

This was a very dark period. Each day, news and rumors reached us about murders of Jews here and there in the surrounding area.

The Jews of Dubina formed a system of self-defense to warn the village inhabitants of robbery or plunder by Gentiles, and to protect themselves from the oppressors who had raised their heads. The groups of bandits were joined by Latvians who came from over the border, which was just two kilometers from Dubina. They'd come at night and demand jewelry, money and food, and they threatened to kill us.

We tried to preserve a normal way of life as much as possible. We also kept the Sabbath. Before the Sabbath we baked bread, and those who could afford it also baked challah [white bread glazed with egg, a delicacy].

Toward Sabbath night, on July 18, 1941, I prepared

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Sabbath candles for my mother, cleaning the gas lamp and filling it with kerosene so that we could have light during the night. But the candles went out and the kerosene lamp, which was supposed to give light throughout the night, also went out. We couldn't understand why; it was a bad sign.

One Friday my father baked bread, gave me a loaf, and asked me to take it to a family that had succeeded in escaping from the massacre in a neighboring village [probably Plusy, which had been attacked a few weeks earlier; it was 7.5 kilometers northeast of Dubina]. This was the last time I saw my father [alive].

That Sabbath night, after the prayers, my father went on guard duty. Of course this was done without weapons, in his hand was only a staff. Toward morning on Saturday [July 19], he returned home and laid down to rest. A short time later, we heard loud knocks on the door and the voice of my aunt, who lived next door. She told us a group of robbers was surrounding the village.

Our house was at the village edge. We saw people coming toward the houses; on their arms were white armbands. Father jumped up immediately and ran toward the village center to warn people of the danger. After an hour, the robbers ordered the women and children to gather in the old synagogue and the men in the new synagogue. We were sure that our end was very near.

In the synagogue it was terribly crowded; there were crying children, thirsty and hungry, and the heart-rending screams of women. The synagogue was surrounded the whole time by the Germans and the local militia. We heard guns shooting nonstop. The policemen took young girls outside and molested them. Later we learned that the Germans' intention had been to burn all of us alive in the synagogue, but because they were afraid the fire would spread to the houses, which they intended to rob, they didn't do it. After a few hours, they allowed us to go home.

On the way, we met some men who'd been in the new synagogue, and they told us the Germans had forced a large number of men outside, assaulted and beaten them, taken them to the Jewish cemetery [just outside Dubina], and murdered them there. My aunt recognized one of the local policemen. She begged him to allow her to go and see what had happened to my father. On the way, I saw Shlomo-Yitzchak Feigen lying dead in a large pool of blood in the yard of the border police building. Later we learned that the first victims had been father, Shlomo-Yitzchak Feigen, Mordechai Levin and Shimon Rukshin. Shimon's mother, Chaya-Hinda, was running about. From her behavior, I could see that she had lost her reason.

Next to her house, we found signs of blood that led to her attic. My mother, I and my aunt Rayna climbed the ladder to the attic, and there we saw a terrible sight. My father was lying on his back in a large pool of blood, with a very deep wound in his stomach. He looked like he was still alive, and my aunt sent me quickly to bring medicine for a compress. With all my strength, I ran to my grandfather and brought the medicine, but it was in vain; my father was dead. Apparently he'd wanted to die peacefully after being shot, and with his last strength had gotten up the ladder to the attic.

They didn't let us take his body; an immediate curfew was declared. Those responsible organized a group of Jews with horses and wagons, and ordered them to collect all the bodies and bury them. My aunt and I managed to sneak into the wagon carrying father, and my aunt put the tallit [prayer shawl] over his body.

On Tisha B'Av [an annual day of mourning and fasting to commemorate disaster, falling in 1941 on August 3], we bribed the local policemen and they allowed us to visit the cemetery. We stood there in silence next to the collective grave of 18 of our dear ones who'd been murdered in cold blood.[1]

Some of the village residents had been hiding their valuables and even burying possessions in the ground, so that in time of hunger or other need they could be exchanged for food. Even my uncles from Braslav, Mottel

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Deitch and Beinish Feigen, had brought us some items and asked my father to hide them.

One day, our uncles from Braslav came to take back the valuables that had been hidden. But father was no longer alive, and we didn't know where he'd put them. We dug in different places, but couldn't find them. The uncles were desperate; the money and valuables were needed to pay a bribe. One night my father came to me in a dream and said, “My daughter, in the barn, where the red cow stands, there's a nest with many eggs. Take them.” Moved and excited, I explained the dream to my mother and asked her to tell the uncles to try to search in that place. The uncles came, I showed them the location. They dug, and they found everything.

Rumors reached us that Jews were being put into ghettos, but we didn't know what it meant at the time. At the beginning of winter 1942 [presumably in late 1941 or early 1942], we learned that we'd be sent to the ghettos in Braslav [16 kilometers to the southeast] or Vidz [Widze, 48 kilometers to the southwest]. Because we had relatives in Braslav, we hoped to go there. Before we were expelled [from Dubina], we gave the Poles some valuables for safekeeping. Each family was loaded, together with a few items, into a horse-drawn sleigh; accompanied by militia, we set out on the road. Before my eyes, I saw how the Christian inhabitants fell upon our deserted houses and began taking away anything they could carry. I can still hear the noise and the shouts of those savages.

We were taken to the Vidz Ghetto.[2] On the way, we passed Braslav. There the horses and drivers were changed, and we kept going. That night, we reached Opsa [18 kilometers southwest of Braslav], where we spent the night in the homes of Jewish families. We slept on the floor, a mass of people, in the dirt. In the morning, we continued to the Vidz Ghetto.

In the [Vidz] ghetto typhoid had broken out, and I fell sick with it. The only treatment I could get was a little boiled water from my mother. Through a miracle and because of my young age I recovered, but my hair fell out. After this I had a big appetite, but there was no food and I grew very weak; I couldn't stand on my feet. My mother used to cut a small amount from the food portions of each child, and she fed me so that I could recover. It was very hard for us to get food, and mother, like all the other women, put herself in danger. She used to sneak out of the ghetto and, in exchange for heavy labor for the farmers in the area, she succeeded in bringing us a little bit of food: beetroot leaves, a little flour and potatoes. After some time had passed, we were transferred to a big two-story building. Its windows looked out over the ghetto; we could see Jews being taken to work. Cleaning jobs were arranged for me and some small children.

One day the Germans asked the Judenrat [Jewish Council] for a few people, without saying for what purpose. I was among these. At night, they put us in the room of the Judenrat. The next morning they took us, accompanied by guards, to the forest. We were very frightened, but we were lucky because among our guards were people of conscience, and they reassured us. “They're taking you to work,” they said. We made our way there on foot, without food or drink.

We came to a train station. They put us in freight cars used for transporting cattle and took us to Miligani camp [Mielagenai, about 20 kilometers southwest of Vidz and in Lithuania]. It was surrounded by barbed wire and built of wooden shacks. Most of the camp was already populated. The camp officer was a German; his name was Tseling, and his assistant was named Yoop. Toward evening, a group of Jews returned from work. They told us that general conditions in the camp were terrible; they worked very hard and got little food. Most of the prisoners came from the small town of Oshmiany [about 100 kilometers southwest of Miligani and in Belorussia] and small towns near it.

We worked paving roads and laying railroad tracks. For a bribe, the Lagerältester[3] would drive to the ghettos in Sventzion [about 24 kilometers southwest of Miligani and in Lithuania] and Oshmiany, bringing back greetings and news of what was happening there, and he'd also

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pass on news from us. Somehow or other, we learned that all the Jews in the Vidz Ghetto had been transferred to the Sventzion Ghetto, among them my mother, my brothers and my sister.

Once, my mother sent me some rusks. I wept with emotion; I knew she'd collected them from the tiny portions of the other family members. I knew that her condition was worse than mine and every mouth there was starving.

One lady from Dubina, named Fayga, took devoted care of me, as if I were her daughter.

[Presumably around March 1943] We heard rumors that the Sventzion Ghetto would be shut down and all the Jews there would be taken to Ponar and murdered.[4] We bribed the Lagerältester (despite his very high position, he was a good man), and he agreed to bring the rest of our families [to Miligani camp] from the Sventzion Ghetto. In this way they were rescued from death for the time being. I was very happy to be reunited with my family. My little brothers, who were 8 and 10 [sic], were sent to hard labor.

At the end of 1943, Miligani camp was shut down. Some of the people were sent to Olia camp in Latvia, 50 [sic] kilometers from Riga.[5] Now we were sure this would be our last journey. At this camp there were only men from Lodz [in Poland] and the surrounding area. When they saw us they began weeping, because they'd thought that no Jewish women or children remained alive. They treated us as if we were family, and tried to help us and lighten our burdens.

We worked cutting trees and laying railroad tracks. Despite the hard labor and difficult living conditions, we had great satisfaction in seeing, after our work had been finished, trains full of dead and wounded German soldiers moving from the front lines back to Germany.

The Lagerältester [in Olia] was a Jew by the name of Dantziger. He treated us with a very hard hand. He had loyal assistants; they would enter the camp with dogs, which they set on anyone they disliked.

One day, a big truck covered with a thick canopy arrived at the camp. There was a selection. All the children were put in the truck; they also took [two of] my brothers. It's impossible to describe the screaming and crying that accompanied the children. We were forced to stand in formation for hours. Each minute I thought I'd die from desperation and fear. My mother must have felt my agony, and she held me so that I didn't fall. In this selection, two of my younger brothers and my sister, age 4 [sic], were taken. Of the whole family were left only my mother, me, and my brother, age 11.

We were transported to work by train. The guards were German soldiers and policemen from all nations who cooperated with the Nazis. Among the guards was a Polish man by the name of Yanek, who had a good heart. Despite his fear, he used to sneak over to us many times and sing songs to us in Yiddish. Once, when we were traveling to work, the train stopped and we didn't know the reason why. The good Yanek went to find out. He came back and told us that cars full of children were standing on the track, with tiny hands holding onto the bars [at the openings]. We saw them from a distance. We knew they were being taken to their deaths. We knew, and we were helpless . . .

Sometimes there were guards who still had a spark of humanity left in their hearts; they'd let us go out of the camp to get a little food from farmers in the surrounding area. Once I went with another girl, from Oshmiany, to search for food. The houses were far from the camp and from each other, isolated farmhouses called hutory [in Russian]. We knocked on the door of one of them. An old woman gave us a bit of food

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and told us to get away quickly because her son, who was serving in the police, was likely to return any minute. If he found us, he'd certainly kill us. As we fled for our lives we ran into him, and when he saw us he meant to shoot us. But the old mother fell at his feet and begged him to let us go. He ordered us to run, and we fled like deer. We were afraid that at any minute we'd be shot in the back.

In this area [around Olia camp] there were no longer any Jews. The Latvians were crueler than the Germans, they'd killed the Jews immediately after the Germans entered their country.

In July 1944, all of us were transferred to Kaiserwald camp next to Riga [Latvia]. There they gave us numbers; mine was 6757.

Kaiserwald was a huge camp; it looked like a city.[6] Divided into many smaller camps, it was surrounded by several rows of barbed-wire fences, with guard towers along its length. The living quarters were wooden shacks. The women lived separately from the men; there was special housing for the police and the officers.

We reached the camp at night. We were brought to a large shack and ordered to take off our clothes. Naked, we were taken to another shack nearby; there they shaved our hair. From there we were moved to another shack, and each of us got a gray shirt and a dress with blue and white stripes, wooden shoes, and a piece of cloth in the shape of a triangle to cover the head. This was our uniform. We didn't see our old clothes anymore; in our new clothes, we didn't recognize each other.

From there, we passed to a different camp. We were put in a big shack in which there was only one toilet; we had to wait in line for a long time. Many of us got stomachaches and constipation; the situation was unbearable. The next day, we were transferred to a camp with living quarters. In the shacks were wooden bunk-beds with many tiers. Each woman received a blanket. Every few minutes [sic] a formation (appell, in German) was ordered, and each time they counted us from the beginning. We were arranged in rows, five women to each row. Very often, Nazis would come to the formations and command us to turn right or left. We knew this was a selection: to life or to death. Nobody knew when her time would come.

The veterans were sent to labor outside the camp. They were considered happy. I and a few other women worked with anodes [a type of electrical conductor]. We sat at long tables; on them were placed metal parts whose use we didn't understand. With hammers we disassembled the pieces of metal, which were very dusty and dirty, and while we worked the black dust expelled from them would get into our lungs and cover our faces and clothes. We looked like black people. Washing didn't help to keep us clean. Soap wasn't given to us, and water alone didn't wash off the dust.

One day, when I was standing next to the fence, I saw from a distance my brother Bereleh [Asher-Bar]. He called to me not to worry, because he was among the few children who were still alive, and the adults were taking care of him and other kids like him and giving them a little food. He didn't stay hungry, and he shared his food with me. Once he even threw me a piece of bread, which got stuck on the fence between the barbed wire. A short time later, a large truck came to the camp and took all the remaining children. After that I didn't see my last brother, Bereleh, any more.

In August 1944, at a time when we were working the night shift, we heard the sound of airplanes over the camp. The airplanes bombed the camp, and the horizon turned red from the huge fires. We understood that they were [also] bombing

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Riga. We knew that the end of the war was coming and we were in great danger. Even in defeat, the Germans wouldn't leave us alive; there was no chance of that.

Now the Germans decided to shut down the entire camp. They put us in lines and took us to the port of Riga; we thought they were going to drown us all. They put us in a big warship, and we sailed off to an unknown destination. They told us they were taking us to a new workplace. Their treatment of us improved slightly: we received some bread, some tinned meat and drinking water. We weren't used to the better food, and so we got diarrhea and stomachaches. Because the toilet was far away and the people who needed it were so many, we used the empty tin cans instead, throwing them into the sea. In this way, we solved a painful problem.

After a few days, they transferred us to a ferryboat. We were very tired and thirsty. In the morning, we were put on the shore and they took us to a big camp, Stutthof.[7] They stood us in formation in a huge, fenced-in lot, where water taps had been installed. We fell upon the taps, and we drank and drank. Next to them, we found small pieces of soap that had apparently been left by the former “residents,” and with them we washed ourselves a bit. We were kept in this lot, in terrible heat, until the evening. From a distance, we saw men wearing pajamas.

In the evening, they arranged us again in lines of five people, and we went on foot to the camp. There were many shacks fenced with several rows of barbed wire; the camp looked very similar to Kaiserwald. The guards were Vlasovtsy-Ukrainians,[8] Poles and Latvians, commanded by Germans. Every half-hour, there were formations. We were ordered to report immediately, and because we couldn't all get through the door at once, we jumped out through the windows instead. For this, we were beaten by the kapo.[9]

After two days, we were transferred to a camp nearby. Here too there were frequent formations. We slept on bunk-beds and got one meal a day that included a bit of soup and a slice of bread. Our group had a reputation as a group that could work.

Once, when we were standing in the queue for food, we heard terrible screams. We were told the kapo had gotten angry at someone, and he'd thrown her into a vat of boiling water.

Anyone who complained or who the kapo disliked was sent to isolation, and from there to the gas chambers. There were days when the smell of the dead from the gas chambers reached us, together with terrible, thick, choking smoke. The fence around the camp was electrified. Many women found their death by touching it.

[Once] we were put in a separate room. Men from the SS told us to take off our clothes, and they examined us. The women whose body condition was bad they put in another room, and we never saw them again. At last, from the entire camp there remained only about 500 women. They ordered us to dress ourselves. The next day, we were moved to another labor camp.

At the new camp, we saw before us a mountain of children's and adults' shoes. Whoever wanted to do so was allowed to choose from it a comfortable pair of shoes. Like many women in the camp, my old [wooden] shoes were very uncomfortable, but it was a terrible feeling to approach this heap and take a pair of shoes, knowing where they'd come from. Despite this, I went to the heap and chose a pair that was very nice. But these shoes weren't suited to work, so I traded them for a loaf of bread. In those days it wasn't at all a bad trade, but I must admit the bread caused me some problems. If I left it in the shack, I was worried someone would steal it. I couldn't take it to work, there was no place for me to hide it. And I didn't have the heart to eat it all at once, because I wanted my mother to enjoy it too . . . so I took back

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the wooden shoes and started walking in them again.

One day, we were taken out of the camp, put in small freight cars, and moved to a train station. There we were put in passenger cars and taken to a new labor camp. Here the living quarters were made from plywood, shaped like a doghouse. Over the floor was straw for sleeping on; we also received blankets.

Each morning we heard the shout, “Kaffee holen!” [“Get coffee!”], meaning that we were supposed to go and get our morning drink. This camp also had a small shack that was used as a sick room, so to speak. But despite all our aches we were afraid to go there, because we knew that every time a bus came to take the sick on a “rest cure,” its path led to the crematoriums. We worked paving roads; the work was difficult and exhausting. Sometimes we had to load heavy stones onto freight cars. The food included a bit of soup and one slice of bread per day.

We worked with prisoners of war --- Polish, French and English. The Poles' behavior toward us was very bad. Sometimes we heard from them poisonous, anti-Semitic remarks such as “It's good the Germans are destroying you” and so on. Compared to them, our treatment by the English and French was good. Sometimes they even threw us a sandwich through the barbed wire or when we were going to work. Another relief was that our German guards allowed us to collect potatoes which had been left in the fields. On Sundays, they'd send us to work for the farmers in the area. The German guards would sometimes take us to a small pool of water, where we washed ourselves among the farmers' cows. The camp was relatively good, because the commander of the camp had a good nature. This gave us hope against a dim future.

One day, a shocking thing happened. Usually, when food was brought to the soldiers, the wagons passed near us, and we'd sneak in and steal a little bit of the food; sometimes a loaf of bread, sometimes a potato or carrot. We'd been warned this was very dangerous, but we were so hungry that we were willing to risk it. This went on for a while, until one day the guards shot and killed a girl. They left her body in the field for some days, and we had to pass her each day on the way to work. After that, the stealing from the wagons stopped.

On Yom Kippur, 1944 [September 27], we decided to fast, despite the hard work. After work and before we returned to the camp, there was a formation as usual, and we were counted. At the entrance of the camp, the camp commander himself welcomed us. He sent away the female guards, and he came to us and whispered that he knew what kind of day it was and what it meant to the Jews. He told us that he wanted both us and himself to see the end of the war. And he promised us that he himself would open the camp gate for us to a new life and freedom. His words warmed our hearts and encouraged us; we were excited to tears. But he wouldn't manage to do it --- when the Red Army liberated us he was among the first to be shot, together with the rest of the guards.

At the beginning of 1945 the camp was shut down, and what we called the “big march” began. For a week, we marched on unknown roads. Heading west, we came to the city of Lauenberg [now Lebork in Poland, about 85 kilometers west of Stutthof]. At night we rested in barns, on the hay. The people of the city looked at us in astonishment. We were forced to walk in the middle of the street, while our German guards went on the sidewalk. Despite our miserable appearance, not one resident offered us a piece of bread. Many

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of us couldn't continue this hard, exhausting journey.

We arrived at a military camp named Gotendorf [Gotetowo, about 8.5 kilometers northeast of Lauenberg], located inside the town. The camp was empty, and that's where they put us.

The situation was unbearable because of the terrible crowding, the cold and the hunger. In the camp there were also some men, and their appearance was miserable and frightening. They wore striped pajamas and looked like the dead. Their kapo was a Polish Jew, and he was crueler than the Germans; our kapo was a Hungarian woman. These two were the real authority in control of the camp. One of their tortures was a bath in the frozen lake. The Germans and their assistants had permission and freedom to do whatever they wanted with us. They didn't kill us only because they knew that if we perished they'd be sent to the Eastern Front.

On March 9, 1945, they ordered us into lines again, and we set out once more on the road. Many stayed at the camp because they had no strength left to walk; I don't know what became of them.

We reached a main road, full of German soldiers retreating from the Red Army and jammed with equipment and weapons. Airplanes were bombing the withdrawal, there was great disorder. Despite all this, though the end of the Germans was rapidly approaching, they were guarding us and were marching us somewhere. We didn't know if we could get out alive. On the way, we met Polish prisoners of war who called to us to hold on, the end of our troubles was very near. With our last bit of strength, we managed to go on. Those who couldn't were shot.

The next morning we came to a big village, called Chinhof [Chynowie, about 13 kilometers northeast of Gotetowo]. We were put inside a huge barn filled with machines, cows, chickens and animal feed. Starving, we fell upon some vetch [a type of plant] that was found there. The two kapos and our guards prepared resting places for themselves. They had food, even wine. All of a sudden, we heard shooting. We thought the guards were firing and wanted to kill us. But some of the prisoners, who were sitting inside the entrance, began shouting with joy, “It's the Russians! They've come to liberate us!” Mother and I crawled outside and saw Russian soldiers and tanks. The soldiers waved at us, shouting not to be afraid. They were astonished at our dreadful condition; we looked like the dead.

Every German there was shot by the Russian soldiers. When they liberated us, they warned us not to eat a lot of food at once; this could harm us and even endanger our lives. But we couldn't stand the temptation of so much food that was brought to us, and of course we got diarrhea and vomited.

Among the Russian soldiers there were also Jews, and among them some officers. They helped us, guarded us, and advised us to get away from the front and leave the area.

We took their advice, found a horse and wagon, and we headed east, toward home.

Footnotes

  1. Survivor accounts differ on when the attack on Dubina took place. The account of Sima Feigen Moretsky placed it sometime after Sabbath night on July 18, 1941. The account of Rivka Maron Rukshin on pages 377-380 of this memorial book said June 1941 (which seems too early, since the Germans didn't reach the region until June 26 and several of the accounts say the attack on Dubina didn't take place until several weeks afterward). A separate account written by Rivka Maron in 1947 and now at Yad Vashem said that the attack took place three weeks after June 29, 1941, a time frame that gives July 19 as the closest Sabbath. The account of Mira Shneider Lotz on pages 381-388 of this memorial book said July 19, 1941. The account of Chana-Feiga Berkman on pages 390-392 of this memorial book said there were rumors of an attack at the beginning of the month of Av (around July 25, 1941) and the attack took place later, which seems too late. Taking these accounts together and discounting what appears to be too early and too late, it seems most likely that the attack on Dubina took place on July 19, 1941.

    Accounts also differ on the number of people killed in the attack on Dubina, ranging from 18-25 dead. The variation in numbers might reflect any of the following: Some of the accounts omitted from the total the 3-4 men who were killed individually in the village at the outset of the attack (that is, not killed together near the cemetery), one or more of the victims wasn't from Dubina but from another village (Plusy), one of the victims was a Gentile, and at least one victim was wounded in the attack and died weeks or months later.

    Taken together, survivor accounts --- including information at Yad Vashem --- have identified a number of those killed in Dubina in the July attack. Cited as killed were (1) Mantzik Deitch (son of Beinish-Antzel), (2) Shlomo-Yitzchak Feigen, (3) Yisrael-Yitzchak Feigen, (4) Mordechai Levin, (5) Beinish Maron, (6) Gershon Maron, (7) Natan Maron, (8) Shimon Rukshin, (9) Gedalia Skopitz, (10) Chaim Vishkin (son of Mordechai-Zelig), (11) Velvel Vishkin (son of Shlomo-Layzer Vishkin and Rachel Deitch), (12) Leibel Vishkin (son of the murdered Velvel), (13) Henech Shlosberg from Plusy, and (14) the Gentile Grigory Khutzin, chairman of the local council, who was killed because he was a Communist official. The identities of the remaining victims haven't been established.

    Those killed were buried in a mass grave near Dubina's Jewish cemetery; later, the Gentile victim was reburied in a Christian cemetery. The victim who was wounded in the attack and died some time later was Yitzchak Deitch, son of Kalman-Yossel. Return

  2. According to the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945, Volume, II-B (2012), before the war Vidz had been a town of about 3,000 people. The majority were Jewish, but there were also Poles, Lithuanians, Belorussians, Tatars, Russian Orthodox, Old Believers and Roma (gypsies).

    The ghetto in Vidz was formed in early 1942. All of the town's Jews were forced to move to Tatarskaia Street, near the houses of study and the synagogues, and the ghetto was surrounded by a fence, which was guarded by local police. From early 1942, Jews from elsewhere were brought into Vidz: Drisviati (Dryswiaty), Druysk (Drujsk), Opsa, Dubina, Kozian (Koziany), as well as survivors from Ignalina (Ignalino) and Sventzion (Swieciany). Conditions in the ghetto were cramped. There was poor sanitation, people had to sleep on the floor, and the women had to cook in turns, sharing the same stove. Overcrowding in the houses, which held multiple families, led to arguments. A number of ghetto inmates, especially the elderly, died of weakness and disease.

    By August 1942 there were 1,505 Jews living in the Vidz Ghetto, of whom 721 could work and 520 were employed. Sometime around October 1942, most of these Jews were transferred to the Sventzion Ghetto. Horses and carts arrived to move the Jews, each with small bundles, to the railway station in Nei-Sventzion (Nowo-Swieciany a.k.a. Svencioneliai). Only about 80 Jews (craftsmen and their families) remained in Vidz at this time, but later these Jews were also sent to Sventzion.

    From the Sventzion Ghetto, most Jews were later sent on to the Vilna Ghetto or were murdered in Ponar on April 5, 1943. For more information, see page 283 of this memorial book. Return

  3. This term, which meant “camp senior” or “camp elder,” referred to the senior prisoner assisting the Nazis with administration of the camp, in return for extra food and other privileges. This enabled the Nazis to operate the camps with fewer of their own personnel. Return
  4. Ponar (Ponary in Polish, Paneriai in Lithuanian), about eight kilometers southwest of Vilna, was the major execution site in the Vilna region during World War II and the largest execution site in Lithuania. Between July 1941 and August 1944 an estimated 50,000-70,000 Jews, 2,000-20,000 ethnic Poles and 5,000-8,000 Soviet prisoners were killed there. Return
  5. Olia (now Olaine, Latvia), was 21 kilometers southwest of Riga. Return
  6. According to the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945, Volume I-B (2009), Kaiserwald had been established in March 1943 at the Mezaparks Forest resort a few kilometers to the north of Riga. At any one time it held 2,000-3,000 prisoners, and an estimated 15,000 Jewish prisoners passed through its 12-14 subcamps. Most of the records in Kaiserwald were destroyed in the war, but it's estimated that at least several hundred Jewish prisoners died there. With the Red Army advancing on Riga, the camp was evacuated between late July and October 1944; most of the inmates were sent to Stutthof. Return
  7. Stutthof (now Sztutowo, Poland) had been established in September 1939 about 35 kilometers east of the city of Gdansk, in occupied Poland. From the beginning of 1944, with the German Army in retreat from the Eastern Front, about 60,000 Jews were transferred there, mainly from labor camps in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. In 1945, evacuation of the camp was carried out, by sea and through death marches, during which many prisoners died. In addition to this account, information on Stutthof is on pages 378-380, 386-388 and 392 of this memorial book, by three other survivors from Dubina. Return
  8. The Vlasovtsy (in Russian), called the Vlasovics in English, were members of the Russian Liberation Army, formed by the Germans from among Russian prisoners of war and defectors from the Soviet army. Named after Lt. Gen. Andrei Vlasov, a Soviet general who'd gone over to the Nazis, they served the Germans during the war. Return
  9. A kapo was a Nazi concentration camp prisoner who received extra food and other privileges in return for supervising the labor of other prisoners. This enabled the Nazis to operate the camps with fewer of their own personnel. Return


[Page 377]

Rivka Rukshin

Daughter of Chaya and Meir Maron

Translated from the Hebrew by Laia Ben-Dov

Footnotes Added / Donated by Jeff Deitch

 

 

The village of Dubina [Dubene] near Braslav [Braslaw] is where I was born [Dubina was 16 kilometers northwest of Braslav]. In our Maron family, there were five souls: my father, Meir; my mother, Chaya; my brother, Yisrael; my sister, Reizel; and me, Rivka.

We lived in the village until the beginning of the war between Germany and Russia in June 1941. My parents worked very hard for their living. They managed the household and we, the children, studied. Life in the village was like still water, without disturbance --- the life of a small Jewish community with its worries and daily cares that had mainly to do with livelihood.

At the end of June 1941, the Germans reached even our remote village. With the active assistance of many of our Gentile neighbors, they began to carry out their cruel program, the destruction of the Jews.

From the time the Germans invaded until their defeat in 1945, I endured a long road of hardship and suffering, when death was always near. I was in the Vidz and Sventzion ghettos. I passed through 12 concentration and death camps, among them Miligan, Vievis, Zhezmer, Punivitz, Stutthof and Shteinart. On this long and terrible road I lost my parents, my brother and the majority of my relatives, whose names and memory are bound up in the bond of eternal life with the six million lost in the Holocaust. Only I and my sister Reizel survived.

I'm not able to describe what happened to me in the death camps. In all those camps, there was one goal: humiliation and extermination. The means were always the same: hard labor, hunger, sickness, beatings, murderous assaults and the crematorium. I want to describe only a few isolated episodes that are branded in my memory.

At the end of June 1941[1] a number of Germans and a mob of Gentiles came to the village, and they put us in the old synagogue. After maltreating us, they took 18 men out to a field and killed them --- in cold blood, without explanation. While we were held in the synagogue, the Gentiles took all our possessions from our homes; we returned to find the houses empty. The Germans and the mob left the village, and we buried our martyrs in a collective grave near the cemetery.

One day they took my brother Yisrael outside, and on the pretext that he had a pistol they treated him brutally. They laid him down on the road and forced him to eat horse droppings. Only the intervention of my uncle

[Page 378]

Betzalel [Maron], who was the [Dubina] Jews' representative to the Germans, saved him from death.

In October 1941,[2] we were expelled from Dubina and taken to the Vidz Ghetto [Widze Ghetto, about 48 kilometers southwest of Dubina].[3] Here the first selection was made. My mother and my sister, Reizel, were sent to Miligan camp [Mielagenai, about 20 kilometers southwest of Vidz and in Lithuania]. I, my father and my brother, Yisrael, were sent to the Sventzion Ghetto [Swieciany Ghetto, about 45 kilometers southwest of Vidz and in Lithuania]. After a while, we too were transferred to Miligan camp, and there our family was reunited.

From Miligan camp, we were transferred to Vievis camp [about 120 kilometers to the southwest and in Lithuania, along the road between Vilna and Kovno].[4] There we were forced to build railroad tracks. From there, sometimes we succeeded in going out secretly to the nearby village to trade some clothes and valuables still in our possession for food from the villagers. But on our way back, the policemen stole nearly everything. We remained without clothes or food.

Once, a peasant woman told me she was hiding a Jew in the attic of her home. I went up there and found a young man, but he looked like he was 60 years old. The only thing he asked of me was to bring him a tallit [prayer shawl], tefillin [phylacteries] and a siddur [prayer book]. Father got what the man wanted, and when I gave them to him he was so moved that he burst into tears.

At this camp, father succeeded in baking matzot [unleavened bread] for Passover. We gathered the little bit of flour we'd been able to hide from the policemen, and father secretly fixed an oven that had been found in the camp. In this way, we succeeded in preparing a bit of “poor bread” for the holiday of freedom.

But we weren't able to eat these matzot. About two weeks before the holiday, the Germans came to the camp, ordered us out for a formation, and began to separate us. A part of us was sent to the left, and a part to the right. I was sent to the left but without any forethought, by intuition only, I snuck into the group on the right. The entire group on the left was sent to destruction, to Ponar,[5] while the group on the right remained in the camp. My parents were in the group that was sent to destruction, but during the separation I hadn't seen them. If not for that, without a doubt I would have remained with them and like them would have been sent to Ponar.

It was a terrible day. To this day, I can hear the screams of the mothers whose children were being snatched from them, and the cries of the babies who were separated from their parents. To this day, I see the hands of the children reaching out, the fainting mothers and the sneering policemen, who were dispensing beatings right and left with rubber truncheons. Can it ever be forgotten?

After six weeks, my brother Yisrael was also sent to Ponar. Blind chance sent him to death. The Germans came to the camp with lists in their hands; the lists determined who was sent to be murdered. A man on the list hid in the camp [instead of coming forward], and in his place they took my brother, who I never saw again. From Ponar, nobody came back. It was the end of the road.

Near Vievis camp there was another concentration camp, Zhezmer [Ziezmariai, some 25 kilometers west of Vievis and in Lithuania]. We were sent there for work. In this camp, several men organized themselves; somehow they obtained a pistol and planned an escape to the partisans. But this became known to the Germans, and a young woman who knew the secret couldn't withstand the torture and revealed the man who had the pistol. He was taken outside, and after they tortured him he was killed.

From Zhezmer camp, we were transferred to Punivitz concentration camp [Panevezys, about 104 kilometers north of Zhezmer and in Lithuania], and to another [unnamed] camp 50 kilometers from Kovno [Kaunas, about 98 kilometers southwest of Punivitz and in Lithuania]. From there, we were taken to the terrible death camp, Stutthof [in northern Poland, on the Baltic coast].[6]

It was just by chance that my sister and I came to Stutthof, in a group of several hundred women. In a camp near Kovno (the name of which I can't remember), we were put on an open boat, and after three days of sailing we arrived at a railway station. There we were transferred to freight cars, and after several days' travel we reached Auschwitz [in southern Poland] at night, but the entire camp was lit up. Dozens of policemen were running around,

[Page 379]

guarding us. Before we arrived, another train full of people had come. From them, we could hear shouting and crying. We too began to shout. We were kept on the train, and after a while our train began to move out; I don't know why. Maybe they didn't take us out at Auschwitz because that camp was full, the crematoriums were packed, and there was no room for us. Instead, we were taken to Stutthof [some 480 kilometers north of Auschwitz].

[At Stutthof], a cloud of heavy smoke spread over the camp and the surrounding area. This was smoke from the crematoriums, where thousands were burned, most of them Jews. The smoke came out of giant chimneys 24 hours a day. The death factory worked without stopping.

They put us in a big shack. They took off our clothes, cut our hair, passed us under showers, and at the exit we received striped clothes. All of our meager possessions, including the clothes we'd arrived in, we never saw again.

By chance, I encountered a policeman of Polish origin called Max (whoever was at Stutthof certainly remembers this cruel man).[7] He “honored” me with a blow to my head. To this day I can feel it, and from that day to this my headaches still recur.

At Stutthof, we didn't work. Instead, three or four times a day we were put in formation, and each one meant long hours of standing in place, in all weather. I remember that once we were put in formation before our food was distributed. In front of us they placed a large container with porridge inside it. A woman standing next to the container looked into it. The female guard, noticing this, pushed her into the porridge, and after the woman succeeded in getting out we had to lick off the porridge that was stuck to her clothes. This was our food portion for the day. The woman got nothing.

One day, they made a list of all those who wanted to travel outside the camp for work. My name was on it. Passing through the camp gate, I managed to take with me my sister, Reizel, who was 13. I hid her behind me, and that's how we left the camp.

This time, our destination was Shteinart [Steinort] camp. Here we dug trenches and loaded sand onto freight cars. I had to do double quotas each day, for myself and my sister.

In the winter, in December 1944 or January 1945, we were taken out of the camp and, on foot, with snow up to our knees, we were pushed westward for two weeks. The weak ones and the slow ones were killed on the spot. Those days, I prayed for just one thing --- that my sister Reizel would hold out, that she wouldn't collapse, that Heaven forbid she wouldn't fall. I encouraged her and supported her, although my strength too was running out.

Finally, we reached a giant shack next to the road. They took us inside. We numbered a few thousand. Hundreds died each day from the hunger, cold and sickness; no one even troubled to remove them. So we lay down, the living with the dead, in a big mass together. I remember waking up one morning to find that I was lying on the corpse of Leah, the daughter of Volf [Velvel/Zev Deitch] from Dubina; she'd died in the night. At that time Volf's second daughter, Libka, also died. My aunts Chiena and Zlata were in this shack as well.

We were shut up in the shack for two months. We received 100 grams of bread and two potatoes a day. For drinking we melted snow, and in the spring-time we drank water from the drainage canal near the shack.

One day, they didn't bring us the bread. That afternoon our cook, a girl from Opsa [about 27 kilometers southwest of Dubina], appeared

[Page 380]

with the news that the Germans had fled and we'd been liberated by the American army [sic].[8] We greeted the news with apathy, we lacked the strength to show joy. Several women who were still able to stand, me among them, got up and went to the village of Kolka,[9] about a kilometer away, to look for something to eat. We returned with a little bit of food. From there, we moved to the village.

The food improved, we began to recover, our health started to return. After two weeks, we got on a train and went eastward, toward home. Of the people from Dubina, with us were my sister, Reizel, and two daughters of Volf [Velvel/Zev Deitch], Minka and Zlata. We arrived at Sventzianka [Nei-Sventzion, also known as Nowo-Swieciany and Svencioneliai, about 90 kilometers southwest of Dubina] in Lithuania, where we met Chana-Feiga Skopitz and Zusia and Zalman Levin, all of them from Dubina. We stayed with them for several weeks, recovered a little more from our wounds, and we went on to Braslav and to Dubina.

In Dubina we found complete destruction. Also in Braslav, we couldn't stay. We went back [sic] to Germany, and after a lot of hardship we immigrated to Israel.

Footnotes

  1. The majority of accounts by Dubina survivors in this memorial book (Sima Feigen Moretsky, Mira Shneider Lotz, Chana-Feiga Skopitz Berkman) say the attack on Dubina took place in July 1941, not June. In addition, a separate account by Rivka Maron (later Rivka Rukshin), written in 1947 and now at Yad Vashem, said that the Germans first paid a visit to Dubina on June 29, 1941 and then attacked the village three weeks later. Accounts also differ on the number of people killed in the attack on Dubina in July 1941, ranging from 18-25 dead. Return
  2. Survivor accounts differ on when the Jewish villagers were expelled from Dubina, ranging from October 1941 to March 1942. Mira Shneider Lotz said around March 1942. In her account written in 1947 and now at Yad Vashem, Rivka Maron said two weeks before Passover 1942 (that is, in March 1942), but in this memorial book --- compiled four decades later --- she recalled it as October 1941. Sima Feigen Moretsky said the beginning of winter 1942 (that is, late 1941 or early 1942). Chana-Feiga Skupitz Berkman said the end of 1941. The Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945, Volume II-B (2012), says that Jews from Dubina and elsewhere were brought into Vidz from early 1942. Return
  3. According to the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945, Volume II-B, the Vidz Ghetto was formed in early 1942. In subsequent months Jews were added to it from Drisviati (Dryswyaty), Druysk (Drujsk), Opsa, Dubina and Kozian (Koziany), Ignalina (Ignalino) and Sventzion. By August 1942, the official population was 1,505.

    Sometime around October 1942, most of the Jews in the Vidz Ghetto would be transferred to the Sventzion Ghetto, about 45 kilometers southwest of Vidz. Only about 80 Jews (craftsmen and their families) remained in Vidz at this time, but later they too were sent to Sventzion. The majority of the Jews in the Sventzion Ghetto would be taken to Ponar (Ponary) outside Vilna and murdered on April 5, 1943. For more information, see page 283 of this memorial book. Return

  4. Vievis and Zhezmer (mentioned later in this account) were small towns in Lithuania along the road from Vilna to Kovno. During the war, labor camps were set up in them or nearby. Return
  5. Ponar (Ponary in Polish, Paneriai in Lithuanian), about eight kilometers southwest of Vilna, was the major execution site in the Vilna region during World War II and the largest execution site in Lithuania. Between July 1941 and August 1944 an estimated 50,000-70,000 Jews, 2,000-20,000 ethnic Poles and 5,000-8,000 Soviet prisoners were killed there.

    According to Rivka Maron's account written in 1947 and now at Yad Vashem, this large selection in which she lost her parents took place not in Vievis but in Zhezmer --- early in 1944, two weeks before Passover (which began that year on April 8). Return

  6. The concentration camp in Stutthof (now Sztutowo, Poland) was about 310 kilometers west of Kovno and about 35 kilometers east of the city of Gdansk (Danzig). It was the first concentration camp set up outside German borders in World War II and the last camp to be liberated by the Allies. Established in September 1939 as an internment camp, it became a concentration camp in January 1942, operating through end-April/early May 1945, when it was liberated by the Soviet army. Originally a small camp, it was enlarged in 1943 and a gas chamber and crematorium were added. In early 1945, evacuation of the camp was carried out, by sea and through death marches, during which many prisoners died.

    During the war, an estimated 110,000 people were sent to Stutthof or its subcamps, of whom an estimated 63,000-65,000 died, at least 28,000 of whom were Jews. Shteinart (Steinort), mentioned later in this account, was one of approximately 40 subcamps around Stutthof; it was on the Baltic coast about 18 kilometers southeast of Stutthof and is now called Kamienica Elbląska.

    In addition to this account, information on Stutthof is on pages 374-376, 386-388 and 392 of this memorial book, by three other survivors from Dubina. Return

  7. This was perhaps Max Musolf (also known as Mosulf), a Polish inmate mentioned in several other books on Stutthof as a kapo in charge of the Jewish women's barracks ca. 1944. He was notorious for his cruelty toward the women. See, for example, We Survived, published in 1949 by Eric Boehm. Return
  8. According to Rivka Maron's account written in 1947 and now at Yad Vashem, the liberation was carried out by the Soviet army and took place in 1945, about two weeks before Passover (which began that year on March 29). The liberation couldn't have been carried out by the American army, as it didn't reach that area. Return
  9. This probably refers to Kolkau, a subcamp of Stutthof that was about eight kilometers north of Chinhof/Chynow (mentioned on pages 376 and 387 in this memorial book). Kolkau, in Poland, is now called Kolkowo. Return

 

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