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Mira Lotz

Daughter of Rachel-Leah and David Shneider

Translated from the Hebrew by Laia Ben-Dov

Footnotes Added / Donated by Jeff Deitch

 

 

I'm a daughter of the village of Dubina [Dubene]. There I was born in 1926. I was 15 when the war between Germany and Russia began, in 1941. I passed through many concentration camps: from the Vidz [Widze] Ghetto to labor and concentration camps --- Miligan [Mielagenai] in Lithuania, Olia and Kaiserwald in Latvia --- and from there to Stutthof death camp and camps Sufenwald [Sophienwalde, a subcamp of Stutthof] and Lauenberg in Germany [sic]. I saw the massacre of thousands and thousands of Jews, among them those dearest and most unforgettable to me --- my family. Each day I met with the bitterness of death and envied the dead; and I was left alive. And so that we do not forget and those who come after us will know, it's my obligation to speak.

 

Childhood Memories

Amid a thick forest of pines and firs, 18 kilometers from the town of Braslav [Braslaw], and three kilometers from the border between Poland and Latvia, the Jewish village of Dubina was established in 1848.[1] Before the war began, the population in the village was 320 souls,[2] most of them farmers who owned plots of land and livestock --- horses, cows, sheep and chickens. A minority were artisans and small tradesmen.

The village houses were built of wood, with roofs of straw. Due to their age, the houses had settled into the earth, and sometimes in winter the snow would reach up to the chimneys. Almost all the houses were whitewashed. A flower garden, a vegetable garden and fruit trees surrounded each house.

Near the village was a lake, a place for bathing and rest. We children loved this place the most. In the summer all the residents of the village were busy with agriculture as well as cutting wood in the forest for heating in winter. At every opportunity, the women and children would enter the forest to collect berries and mushrooms.

Most of the Jews in Dubina were religious, and the two synagogues were filled to capacity on Sabbaths and holidays. As in every Jewish community, the rabbi was the head. Everybody also paid respect to the shochet [ritual slaughterer], Reb[3] Shmuel-Aba [Deitch]. In one of the synagogues was a cheder [Hebrew primary school], and the teacher was Rabbi Shmuel Feigen.

The most important characteristic of the Jews of Dubina was that they were united. The joy of one was the joy of all, and the sorrow of one was the sorrow of the entire community. Decisions

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about all problems in the village were taken at meetings after prayers in the synagogue, and of course after stormy arguments and discussion.

Through community effort, a cooperative dairy was built that produced butter and cheese to sell. There was also mutual aid, and all those in need received support. I remember Malka Gurevitz coming every Friday to all the houses with a big basket in her hand, gathering food for the Sabbath that she distributed among the needy. On Sabbath night, with the lighting of the candles, you could feel the peace and quiet of the Sabbath in the village. And the young people used to gather in groups and enjoy singing and dancing. This is how the Jews of Dubina lived, with their problems and their hopes, working hard as they looked to the future.

And then --- a heavy, black cloud darkened the lives of the Jews. On June 22, 1941, the Germans invaded Russia, and everything collapsed around us. All of us felt the approaching disaster. The roads emptied of people, and we were enveloped by panic and fear. Even during the first nights, farmers from neighboring villages burst into the village and began to plunder, and the nights passed without sleep.

Eight kilometers [northeast] from Dubina, in the village of Plusy, lived eight Jewish families. One morning, the Jews from Plusy came to our village and told us a terrifying story. Two men, Leib Vishkin and Israel Milonchik, had been murdered and the rest thrown out of their homes. Naturally they all found shelter with us. From that day we were in constant fear; we knew we could meet the same fate.

At night we were afraid to remain inside our homes, and we sat outside without sleeping, ready for anything. Most of the men were armed with bars, sticks, pitchforks and rifles or whatever came to hand. They guarded us and decided to defend themselves. Heading the group for self-defense was Yisrael-Yitzchak Feigen.

On July 19, early in the morning (it was the Sabbath), a large group of policemen arrived, all of them residents of the neighboring villages, under the command of two German officers. Some of the policemen stayed to guard the exits from our village, to keep anyone who would dare to survive from escaping (Heaven forbid!). Twenty-four policemen, among them the Germans, started banging on doors and breaking windows with their rifle butts. With horrific shouts, they drove us all from our houses and gathered us in the old synagogue.

To cast fear into us, they immediately murdered four men, the first martyrs of Dubina. These were Shlomo-Yitzchak Feigen, who'd come home from guard duty and fell with his weapon, a pitchfork, in hand; Yisrael-Yitzchak Feigen; Gershon Maron; and Mordechai Levin, who was killed while trying to escape to the forest.

After that, the policemen separated the men from the women and transferred the men to the new synagogue. The men were ordered to crawl the distance between the synagogues, which was about 500 meters [sic; the distance was closer to 50 meters]. In the synagogue, all the men were forced to lie on the floor, face down. The policemen trod on their backs, kicked them and beat them viciously. At the end of this torture, they chose 20 men, took them out to the field near the cemetery and killed them all.

After these “heroic” acts, the murderers left the village, and the survivors buried the dead in a collective grave near the cemetery.

Three policemen stayed on in Dubina: the officer Milanovski [Milanowski] and the two Kazhik brothers, who based themselves in

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the house of Meir Gurevitz [near the village entrance]. Later, we were ordered to give the policemen all the horses and cows that we had, and they took them to Braslav.

In March 1942, men from the Gestapo came into the village and announced that they were transferring us to the Vidz Ghetto [48 kilometers to the southwest]. From nearby villages, they recruited horses and sleighs. They put us in the sleighs and drove us toward Braslav. For most of the Jews in Dubina, this would be their last journey. For a few --- me among them, the one who is writing these lines --- this was the start of a long road of wandering that led through the ghettos, labor camps and death camps. Braslav was the first station on the way.

The Jews in Braslav took us into their homes. They fed us, got warm clothes for those who needed them, and cared for us the entire night. “They're taking you to the Vidz Ghetto, where are they planning to send us?” they asked. Early the next morning, we were taken to Opsa (20 kilometers from Braslav [to the southwest]), and from there to the Vidz Ghetto.

While we were in Braslav, the policemen had ordered all of us to report together in the morning. Everyone knew that if we didn't obey, we would die. Despite this, there were people who hid and stayed behind in the town [Braslav]. Among them were Zev-Wolf Blacher, his wife, Golda, and their daughter Tzipa-Chana [Gurevitz][4] and her children. All of them were murdered with the Jews of Braslav when the Braslav Ghetto was liquidated [June 3-5, 1942; at least 3,000 people were massacred]. Only the son of Tzipa-Chana, Koppel [Gurevitz], escaped and managed to get to the Vidz Ghetto to his grandmother, Mala.

I want to tell you about a family that remained in Dubina, the family of Shlomo Levin. His wife, Sara-Disel, was a dressmaker, and among her pupils was the daughter of the farmer Draygun [Dragun] from a nearby village, Rauhgishki [three kilometers to the north]. The night before the Jews of the village were expelled [from Dubina], Draygun came and promised to hide and save Sara-Disel and her two daughters, Shayna-Rivka and Chayala. He asked only this: that the husband, Shlomo, go with the rest of the Jews to the ghetto. Of course, Draygun's suggestion was accepted. Later the same day, this “compassionate” man took the mother and her daughters to the forest and murdered them, so that he could acquire their meager possessions. All this I was told by farmers from around Dubina who I met in Vidz.

 

The Vidz Ghetto

Here, part of the town was fenced in with barbed wire. We were ordered to attach a yellow patch to our clothes. In each apartment lived a few families. The crowding and constant hunger helped to spread typhoid fever, and many died each day. Among those from Dubina who died in Vidz were my grandfather Yosef; both my uncles, Yisrael and Avraham-Yaacov [Shneider]; a woman by the name of Yenta-Leah [Rabinovitz]; and others.

After a number of months, the Germans took 40 people out of the Vidz Ghetto to Miligan labor camp in Lithuania [Miligan, in Lithuania, was about 20 kilometers southwest of Vidz]. I was in this group; I'd just turned 15. Girls my age were Sima Feigen, Dvora Maron, Raizela Maron (who was older than us by maybe a year or two), Dina Deitch, Zlata Deitch, and Feiga Vishkin. Also with us were two girls from Yod [Jod], several people from Druysk [Drujsk], and Motke Rosenberg and his father, Leib, from Opsa.[5] All the rest were Jews from Vidz. The Germans had told us they were taking our group to a labor camp, but we couldn't believe it. “It's not possible,” some said, “that they'd take to a labor camp girls aged 15.” This and the strict way the Germans guarded us --- they didn't let anyone near us --- strengthened our suspicion that they were taking us to be killed. All night, we were locked in the building of the Judenrat [Jewish Council].

In the morning they arranged us and counted us and, on foot and accompanied by policemen, we were taken to Ignalina

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(a distance of 40 kilometers).[6] There they sat us on the ground in the mud, next to the train station, and many hours passed. At last they put us into cattlecars, and in these we came to Miligan camp. The time: August 1942. Before us, they'd brought to the camp hundreds of women from the town of Oshmiany [about 100 kilometers south-southwest of Miligan and in Belorussia], all of them young and brave.

Our representatives there were a wise and brave man by the name of Kretchmer and a woman, Ita Kolar. We lived in temporary shacks with three-tiered bunks. Ita warned us that we should all say we were above the age of 15 and able to work, otherwise they'd mark us for death.

The camp belonged to the military government and was supervised by two Germans. One was named Yoop; the other, Tseling. Germans who were experts at building supervised us and put us to work paving a 25-kilometer road between the small towns of Zhezmer [Ziezmariai] and Vievis.[7] Our work mainly involved making the road level; to do this, we reduced the elevations and filled the depressions with sand. We loaded the sand onto small freight cars, and a small locomotive took it to the required location. There we unloaded the sand and, with the help of stretchers and wheelbarrows, poured it on the outline of the road. Other groups brought stones and paved the road, and in the gaps between the stones we poured sand and gravel. The work was organized in a “wonderful” way, the well-known German system: shouts and beatings from the German experts. They didn't allow us to straighten our backs the entire day, from dawn to dusk.

After the brutal workday, we received “food”: 200 grams of bread and a half-liter of water with a few pieces of cabbage floating in it, as if it were soup. In the morning, we drank tea. Our work schedule was the same in the winter, when we had to take the sand and stones from beneath the snow and the frozen ground. In the evening we warmed ourselves next to the stove in the shack, but the heat caused our wounds to open. Our frozen limbs turned blue, and the pain was unbearable. This happened each night: Hungry, freezing and bleeding, we climbed into our beds.

On Sundays, we didn't work. They allowed us to wash ourselves and clean the bunks. There was no need to wash our clothes --- they'd been in tatters for a long time, and we couldn't get replacements. Sometimes when we were afflicted by hunger --- when were we not? --- we'd knock on the doors of the Lithuanians to get a piece of bread or a potato. Once, I went with another girl to a house to ask for bread. From the next room, a policeman entered. He drew his pistol and pointed it at us. The woman living there grabbed his hand and begged him not to kill us in her house, and in the meantime we managed to run away.

After I was 10 [sic] months in Miligan camp, the Oshmiany girls learned that the Germans were preparing to liquidate the Jews in the ghettos. So they asked that their families be transferred from the [Sventzion] ghetto to the camp. Apparently the Germans were interested in getting more labor power, so they accepted the request of our representative, Kretchmer. In this way, several of the families from Dubina were transferred [to us] from the Sventzion Ghetto (where they'd been transferred earlier from Vidz). Along with adults, some children also arrived in the camp.[8]

When we finished paving the road, the Germans shut down the camp and transferred the prisoners to other camps. I and members of my family, who'd arrived in the camp from the Sventzion Ghetto, were transferred to Olia camp in Latvia.[9] This was at the end of 1943.

Olia camp belonged to the SS. The entire area was fenced with barbed wire, and in every corner was a watchtower. Here we found Jews from the Lodz Ghetto in Poland, and among them a Jewish policeman (kapo)[10] by the name of Dantziger. In this camp too, we lived in shacks and three-tiered bunks. Each shack was fenced separately

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with barbed wire, and another fence separated the shacks of the women and the men. The policeman Dantziger was very strict about keeping us away from the fence. Anyone who went near the fence, to try to catch a glimpse of family members on the other side, felt the force of his arm and the power of his truncheon. To find favor in the eyes of his German overseers, this Dantziger would beat us viciously whenever we encountered him. We did everything we could to stay out of his way.

One day this cruel man attacked my mother, Rachel-Leah, and he beat her with his truncheon until she fell to the ground. Even then, he didn't leave her alone and continued to beat her. By the morning mother felt deathly ill, and she asked me and my sister not to go to work. But we didn't have the strength to stay with our dying mother. Germans with dogs and the Jewish policeman Dantziger inspected the shacks every day; the dogs would attack anyone who remained in them. Next to my mother stayed only my little sister, Sara-Zelda, and she was with her until the final moments.

That evening, Sara-Zelda told us about the last moments of mother, whose final request was to protect my little sister. Mother and another woman who died that day were buried in a field near the camp. Over there was also buried Abba Vishkin from Dubina.

Once I also saw Dantziger take away the clothes of a young man, tie him to a pole, and call over a German officer to show how dedicated he was to his work. When the German came over, Dantziger let the young man go, ordered him to run and then chased after him, beating him cruelly with his truncheon. This continued until the man fell down, lifeless.

At Olia camp, we built tracks for a railway. This meant the same crushing labor from dawn to evening. For this, we got the same 200 grams of bread and half-liter of soup as at the previous camp.

One evening, when we returned from work, we were all driven out of the shacks into the yard, and the SS men began selecting children under the age of 15. I and others tried to hide my little sister, Sara-Zelda. We put her between us, but the Germans noticed. Under a shower of beatings to the head, she collapsed. I tried to hold this little one in my arms, but she was pulled away from me. I ran after her, to the truck that was standing next to the gate. I was beaten and taken back to the camp.

And so I didn't fulfill the last request of my mother; I couldn't protect my sister. She was taken away from me to the death camp, Auschwitz.

Even now, 40 years later, when I recall that terrible day my world turns black. I don't have the words to describe all that happened. The cries of the children and their parents were heard even in the villages around the camp. We raised our eyes to heaven, but no miracle took place. The sky was mute, while the savages did their work with calm and skill.

Among the kidnapped were 11 children from Dubina, among them, as I said, my little sister, Sara-Zelda. Our father, David, couldn't bear to part from her, and so he followed her to Auschwitz and from there to the crematoriums.[11] This kind of selection was conducted at many concentration camps. I know that some children of Dubina were [also] murdered in Stutthof camp.

After a number of months, when we returned from work one day, they put us inside closed trucks and transferred us to Kaiserwald camp near Riga.[12] When we arrived, they arranged us next to a big shack. At the entrance to the shack, they took our clothes and cut off our hair. At the exit we received other clothes, with stripes, and the clothes we'd arrived in we didn't see again. I didn't cry for

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those old rags, but inside them, during all this time of wandering, I'd managed to hide a few family pictures that were dearer to me than anything. These were the only keepsakes I had from the past, the last link with my family. The pictures were taken away from me with the clothes, and the pain of this was unbearable.

Kaiserwald was a camp of transfer and selection. After each selection, most of the people were sent to destruction in Auschwitz, while those of us still able to work were used for heavy labor until the next selection. I learned that the children who'd been taken away from us at Olia camp were held here for a while until they were sent to Auschwitz.

Inside the camp was an isolated shack. In it were kept women who'd lost their minds, most of them mothers of children who'd been taken from them for destruction in Auschwitz. From this shack were heard constantly, day and night, yelling, singing and fighting. Sometimes the inmates would burst outside and we'd see women of all ages, whose appearance frightened us. All of them had no hair, it had been cut off. (We heard that hair on the head was cut before liquidation in the crematorium; it was said that it disturbed the electric current [sic] with which people were killed before being burned.)

We weren't surprised at all by these terrible sights: How could one endure what they'd suffered without losing their minds? But even in those very dark days at Kaiserwald, we also felt a few moments of joy. For example, when we saw German fighter planes getting shot down by Russian pilots.

In summer 1944, every day groups of people were being sent in trains to Auschwitz. But the Russian army and the front were advancing, and each night we heard bombings and saw fires in Riga and the surrounding area. Apparently the Germans decided that they wouldn't be able to remove all of us by train. After two months of living in the camp, we were transferred to the Baltic coast. They put us on a ship, and we sailed. We were taken to Stutthof death camp in Germany [sic].[13]

Like all the camps, this one was surrounded by several electrified, barbed-wire fences. Barbed-wire fences also separated the shacks. Here in Stutthof camp, we weren't forced to work. Instead we had selections nonstop, and after each selection people were sent, group after group, to the crematorium. The air was full of the sickening smell of burnt flesh. From one corner of the camp that we weren't allowed to enter, we saw a continual cloud of thick, black smoke rising into the sky and spreading over the area. We knew that this was the end of the road; this was the crematorium.

Each morning at dawn, we'd wake to the shout of “Appell!” [“Line up!”]. With shouts and beatings, we were driven out of the shack. At the exit stood two Russian women with whips in their hands who “honored” us with additional beatings. We'd line up in rows in the square, and two fat German men would sort us. Everyone sent to the left went straight to the crematorium.

In this camp too they gave us 200 grams of bread a day, but not even a drop of drinking water. Each day, we accompanied wagons loaded with the corpses of people who'd died from hunger, thirst and disease. Sometimes I envied these people in my heart, all those whose suffering had ended.

After a month, doctors came to the camp. They had us undress and examined us: They were looking for women who could still work. From a few thousand, they separated about 500 women, me among them. They put us in freight cars, and we started traveling out. We didn't know where to, and we didn't care. We knew only that for the moment we were saved from death, because to kill us they didn't need to take us out of

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Stutthof.

We arrived at a new camp, Sufenwald [Sophienwalde].[14] Within the fenced area, we found several shacks built of plywood. They put 40 women into each shack. We were auxiliary labor power for constructing houses, which were being built by prisoners of war from Holland and England. Our job was to prepare and deliver the bricks and other materials. The work was like that at all the previous camps --- from dawn until dark --- and for this the same 200 grams of bread, half-liter of water (“soup”) and vicious beatings all day. Two German policewomen and a Jewish female kapo from Hungary beat us.

By February 1945, the inside walls of the shack were covered by a layer of ice several centimeters thick. Because the front was approaching, we were driven out of the camp. On foot, in deep snow and heavy cold, wearing shoes made of wood, we were marched for a week toward Berlin. Many died on the way, and those who fell behind were killed on the spot. Hundreds and hundreds of corpses marked the road we passed through. At the end of the week, they put us in a camp near the city of Lauenberg, near Berlin [sic].[15]

In Lauenberg we stayed about a month. The hunger was terrible. The slice of bread we'd received up to then was withheld from us. We had no water for washing, and lice covered our bodies. Our bed was the frozen earth. Hundreds died each day. As the Russians approached, we were expelled from this camp and marched all night in disorder. At dawn, we were put in a barn and locked inside. We expected death at any moment. It was in the village of Chinhof [Chynowie]. The Russian army, which was rapidly approaching Berlin, passed the village without noticing us.

There were Russian prisoners of war with us in the barn, and they understood from the noise of the tanks that the Russian army had come. They broke through the door, and we got out.

How can I describe that moment? After years of a living nightmare, years when I hadn't known the border between life and death, when I'd lost the ability to feel, become so tough that I cared about nothing at all. And suddenly --- freedom.

At that moment, I plumbed the depth of the terrible disaster. The members of my family, who'd been taken one by one to death, passed before my eyes. I remained alive, with hundreds of others just like me: alone, hardly able to stand. All of us little more than skeletons, barely resembling human beings. Shorn of hair, in striped clothing, over my head a blanket, and wooden shoes on my feet. On my sleeve a Star of David, the symbol of my origin, and my number, 40630.

The Russian soldiers gathered nearby took care not to get too close to us; our appearance was frightening. It was March 10, 1945, two months before the end of the war.

I returned to Braslav. I visited Dubina. I found the place where four years ago my village had stood --- where I'd been born --- burned and destroyed. Only a few houses remained standing.[16] Among them was the house of Meir Gurevitz, the first house at the village entrance. I visited the cemetery. Remnants of memorial stones; everything was covered with grass and weeds.

I went back to Braslav and began to get used to life once more. The man who became my husband, Mendel Lotz, was born in Braslav. He escaped to Russia when the Germans arrived in June 1941. In 1943 he was called into the army, and until war ended in 1945 he fought at the front against the Germans. All of his family remained in the Braslav Ghetto, and all of them were killed.

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This is the story of my life, a true story. I'm sure that all the Holocaust survivors, all of those who remained alive after that terrible hell, remain broken-hearted like me. Even for one moment, we cannot forget what happened. And we'll never forget our dearest ones, who were taken from us.

Footnotes

  1. As the crow flies, Dubina was about 16 kilometers northwest of Braslav. The Jewish farming colony in Dubina was established in 1847-48, but a place named Dubina already existed by the late 1700s, if not earlier, and Jews were listed in Dubina at least six decades before the 1840s.

    The place name of Dubina can be found on detailed maps before 1800. In 1784 a government poll tax listed two Jewish heads of families in Dubina as innkeepers, not farmers. These Jews lacked hereditary surnames; such surnames wouldn't become widespread in the Braslav region until around 1816. (For more information on the Jewish adoption of surnames in the region, see page 16 of this memorial book.)

    In 1845 a government revision list listed in Dubina a Jew named Vishkin as a tavern-keeper, not farmer, and another Jew named Milner. It appears that Dubina was located along a road that ran between Braslav to the southeast and Kraslavka to the northeast, and either near or on a road that linked Braslav to the southeast and Dvinsk to the northwest.

    In 1847-48 the Russian government distributed land for Jewish farm settlements in the Braslav region, including in Dubina; some of the local Jews as well as Jews from elsewhere then applied for the land and the status of farmer. Surnames on petitions for land in Dubina in 1847-48 included Vishkin, Deitch, Shneider, Maron, Shtein and Zilber, among others. At the outbreak of World War II, families with these surnames were still living in the village. Return

  2. The population of Dubina in 1941 has been estimated at 320 (according to Mira Shneider Lotz in this account) or 500 (according to Rivka Maron in an account at Yad Vashem, an estimate that might be too high). The list of the dead from Dubina on pages 483-485 of this memorial book shows some 330 Dubina villagers. In addition to these victims were a very small number of Dubina villagers who survived the Holocaust as well as a small number of Gentiles who lived in the village.

    At the outset of the Jewish farming colony's establishment in 1847-48, there were said to have been 18 Jewish families. In 1884 and 1885, it's said the colony suffered heavy damage by fire. In 1898-99 there were 35 or more families, with the surnames Maron, Deitch, Vishkin, Feigen, Shneider, Vairon, Toder, Abramovitz, Shtein and Zilber. In 1923 the population (Jewish and Gentile) was given as 403. The list of dead from Dubina on pages 483-485 of this memorial book contains the surnames Azband, Eidelman, Blacher, Goldin (a.k.a. Godlin), Gurevitz, Gurun, Deitch, Vainer, Vairon, Vishkin, Zak, Zilber, Hatzianov, Levin, Lotz, Maron, Munitz, Mushkat, Skopitz, Feigen, Zukurya, Rabinovitz, Rukshin, Rapaport, Shtein, Shneider and Toder. Return

  3. Reb is an honorific term, something like an exalted “Mr.” Return
  4. Koppel Gurevitz was the son of Tzipa-Chana Gurevitz, who was the daughter of Zev (Volf/Velvel) Blacher. Koppel was mentioned also in the account of Alexander (Shmaryahu) Dagovitz, on page 359 of this memorial book. According to the testimony at Yad Vashem of David Blacher (a brother of Tzipa-Chana), Koppel didn't survive the war. Return
  5. This Dina Deitch was the daughter of Avraham Deitch of Dubina and/or Plusy. Zlata Deitch was the daughter of Volf/Velvel/Zev Deitch of Dubina and Toba/Teibel Vishkin. The account of Mordechai (Motke) Rosenberg from Opsa is on pages 339-351 of this memorial book.

    In relation to Vidz, Yod was about 38 kilometers east, Druysk was about 56 kilometers northeast, and Opsa was about 20 kilometers northeast. Return

  6. As the crow flies, Ignalina (in Lithuania) was about 32 kilometers west of Vidz. Return
  7. Zhezmer was in Lithuania, 140 kilometers southwest of Miligan. Given the long distance between these two places, it's possible that a mistake has been made somewhere. Vievis, also in Lithuania, was 25 kilometers east of Zhezmer. Zhezmer and Vievis were small towns along the road from Vilna to Kovno. During the war, labor camps were set up in them or nearby. Return
  8. The great majority of those in the Sventzion Ghetto who weren't transferred at this time died on April 5, 1943, when they were taken in freight cars to the killing site of Ponar outside the city of Vilna, unloaded and shot. These dead included many of the former inhabitants of Dubina and the surrounding region, numbering some 4,000-5,000 people. (For more information, see page 283 of this memorial book.) After this massacre, from the village of Dubina it appears that only a small number of people remained alive: the five survivors who left accounts in this memorial book and a few others. Olia (now Olaine, Latvia), was 21 kilometers southwest of Riga. Return
  9. Olia (now Olaine, Latvia), was 21 kilometers southwest of Riga. Return
  10. 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
  11. In testimony submitted to Yad Vashem in 1999, Mira Lotz said that her father died at Auschwitz in April 1944. Return
  12. 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 in occupied Poland. Return
  13. Stutthof (now Sztutowo, Poland) was established in September 1939 about 35 kilometers east of the city of Gdansk, not in Germany but 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 early 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 374-376, 378-380 and 392 of this memorial book, by three other survivors from Dubina. Return
  14. According to the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos 1933-1945, Volume I-B, Sophienwalde (now Dziemiany, Poland) was formed in August 1944 as one of the many subcamps of Stutthof; it was about 98 kilometers southwest of Stutthof, away from the Baltic coast. A transport of 500 women was sent to Sophienwalde and worked there under the most primitive conditions. Because of the high number of deaths, new prisoners were brought in to keep the prisoner population continually at about 500.

    On February 10, 1945, the camp was evacuated; it's believed that an order was received to march to the north, to Lauenburg (now Lebork, Poland), which was the destination for a number of groups of prisoners led out of Stutthof and subcamps at the time. On February 17, a group of 347 prisoners from Sophienwalde reached the town of Gotentof (called Gotendorf by Sima Feigen Moretsky; now Gotetowo, Poland), after a march of more than 80 kilometers, and they were merged with columns of prisoners evacuated from other subcamps of Stutthof. On March 9, these prisoners were put in columns and marched 15 kilometers overnight to Chynow (called Chinhof by Mira Shneider Lotz; now Chynowie, Poland), to the northeast.

    At Chynow, many other Jewish women who had arrived earlier were already in a huge barn and on the roadside. The next day, on March 10, Russian tanks entered the village and the prisoners were liberated. By this time, no more than 250 of the Jewish women from Sophienwalde were still alive. The Russians shot all of the guards escorting these women, including the commandant with them, SS-Oberscharführer (Senior Squad Leader) Willy Schulz. Return

  15. Lauenberg (now Lebork, Poland) was about 95 kilometers west of Stutthof. It wasn't near Berlin (which was about 250 kilometers to the southwest), and the prisoners on the death march were marched to the north of Sophienwalde, not the west. Return
  16. At the time of the German invasion, the village was said to contain 74 houses (some of which were “two-sided,” holding two households) and 79 families. The village was mostly Jewish, with a few Gentile inhabitants. The village was destroyed in the course of the war, either during German operations against partisans or around the time the Germans retreated from the region. Only a few houses were left standing, the best remembered of which was the one near the village entrance, said to have been the house of a Meir Gurevitz.

    After the war the area was resettled by Gentiles, who came from surrounding villages and further away, and houses were put up or rebuilt. When the donor visited in 1991 there were 35 houses, populated by Russian Orthodox and Catholic families. Return


[Page 389]

Zalman Levin

Son of Stirel [née Vishkin] and Mottel Levin

Translated from the Hebrew by Laia Ben-Dov

Footnotes Added / Donated by Jeff Deitch

 

 

After the war we met, me and my friend Zuska Deitch. Both of us were from Dubina [Dubene, 16 kilometers northwest of Braslav], and both of us were serving in the Novo-Sventzion police.[1] We remember very well what was done to us by the Gentiles in the area, as the collaborators of the Nazis. We'll always remember the villager Draygun [Dragun], who killed the seamstress Sara-Disel [Levin] and both of her daughters. We'll always remember the officers among them, and the leaders of the enemy who treated so cruelly the 20 people who were killed that black Saturday, among them our family members.[2] I'd been in the group of those made to dig pits and bury the dead. The bodies had been mistreated so badly that we could hardly recognize them. One of them, Mantzik [Deitch], about 20 years old, Zuska's brother --- we could see how his hair stood on end, probably from the pain and fear.

[After the war], we decided to go to Dubina and take revenge on some of them: on Yanka Vitzikhovitz, Malinovski [Malinowski], and the Kazhik brothers. The first two we couldn't find, and nobody knew where they were. The Kazhik brothers, we were told, had been tried for their crimes against the Jews in Dubina and were in prison. The last one was the killer Draygun. We went at night to his village a few kilometers from Dubina, Raugishki [Raugiszki, three kilometers to the north]. We knocked on his door. To his question, “Who's there?” we answered in Russian, “One of us.” He came out, and we asked him to show us the way to a certain place. He didn't recognize us and didn't suspect anything until we left the village. He started to give directions, and we forced him into the woods.

We began questioning him about the murders. He denied everything, from beginning to end. We took him [further] into the woods, tied him tightly to a tree, and when we shot over his head he understood we were serious and confessed that he'd murdered Sara-Disel and both her daughters, Shayna-Rivka and Chayala. He added that he'd been in the wrong.

As we were about to carry out our planned revenge on him, my friend Zuska stopped me and said in Yiddish, “The war's over, Soviet rule has been established. If we kill him, they'll catch us and we'll be judged criminal-murderers.” We left Draygun tied to the tree, and we quickly went away.

Footnotes

  1. Novo-Swieciany in Polish, a.k.a. Svencioneliai in Lithuanian, was some 90 kilometers southwest of Dubina, in Lithuania. Return
  2. This refers to the attack on Dubina in July 1941, during which 18-25 people were killed; mentioned also in the accounts by the other survivors from Dubina in this memorial book. Return


[Page 390]

Chana-Feiga Berkman

Daughter of Hirsh and Esther Skopitz

Translated from the Hebrew by Laia Ben-Dov

Footnotes Added / Donated by Jeff Deitch

 

 

I was born in 1915 in the Jewish village of Dubina [Dubene], near Braslav [Braslaw], the only daughter of my parents, Hirsh and Esther Skopitz.[1] I had two brothers, Velvel and Israel. Before World War II broke out in 1939, both of my brothers had already established families.

My elder brother, Israel, was drafted into the Polish army, but in the chaos of the Polish-German war [in 1939] he was taken prisoner. Our connection with him was lost, and we never heard more of him. My second brother, Velvel, would be killed with my father in Ponar.

Here I'd like to mention our extended family. Of all the family, which numbered several dozen souls, only I was left alive. May my sad story also serve as their memorial.

Fate was very cruel to us. Zlata, wife of my brother Israel, with their three children; her parents, Abba and Mira Zilber; her brother Lipa; her sisters Shayna, Chava and their families; her sister Eidel, who was married to my brother Velvel --- all were killed in the extermination camps. Neither were there any survivors from the families of my uncle Leiba and his three aunts who were Abba's sisters [or “my father's sisters,” the original is unclear]. My cousin Hirsh Skopitz, his wife Chaya and their seven children passed along a road full of troubles and wanderings in the Vidz and Sventzion [Widze and Swieciany] ghettos, and they were murdered at Ponar.

Dubina was a small Jewish village of several hundred souls. Almost every family had a little piece of land that had been handed down for generations. In summer they worked their fields, and in winter they looked for other income. These farmers were also shoemakers, tailors and glaziers to the farmers of the neighboring Christian villages. Among these Jewish farmers were business owners and prosperous [sic] merchants. As in every Jewish settlement, here too were a rabbi, a ritual slaughterer, teachers and two synagogues. All of the children studied at a Polish public school and also in the cheder [Hebrew primary school] of one of the teachers.

When I grew up, my parents sent me to Vilna to learn an occupation [Vilna was about 165 kilometers to the southwest]. I learned to knit, and when I returned to the village I earned my living honorably. I lived in contentment, with no worries, until the Nazis arrived [in June 1941].

At the beginning of the month of Av [July 25, 1941], there were rumors that the Gentiles of the neighboring villages were planning an attack on Dubina.[2] Our men began to organize a defense. They equipped themselves with weapons such as iron rods,

[Page 391]

pitchforks, axes and anything that came to hand, and at night they went out to stand guard, to call us if danger approached and stop the enemy from carrying out their plot.

That's how it was on Sabbath night. At dawn the guards returned to their homes, but they didn't notice that the village had been surrounded.

Trucks, wagons and people on foot came to Dubina from all around, as well as German gendarmes and armed villagers. As they entered the village, several Jews awoke and tried to warn those who were still asleep, but they were killed immediately. A few others who tried to flee in the direction of the forest were also killed by the murderers.

They drove all of us out of our homes and put us in the synagogues. The women were put in one synagogue, the men in the other. The men were laid on the floor, face down, and the rioters trod on their backs.

The Germans gave freedom of action to the local policemen, collaborators and local villagers. A few Gentiles who had grudges to settle with their Jewish neighbors took them out to the field [near the cemetery] and murdered them. On that bloody Sabbath day, about 20 Jews were killed, as well as one Gentile who served as chairman of the local council under the Soviet regime.[3]

While some of the Gentiles were abusing us in the synagogues, the others were busy robbing, taking away all they could from our homes --- clothes, household equipment, furniture and so on. They took every item of value, leaving nothing. When we returned home, beaten and bleeding, we found only the four walls.

Sometime later, an order arrived from the German regional headquarters in Braslav, saying that we had to hand over our horses and wagons, and they also commanded us to hand over half the number of cows that we had. After a few days, all of the cows were confiscated. Our children were left with no milk to drink.

Fortunately, our land yielded a good harvest that year and we had enough bread and potatoes, so we didn't go hungry. But then the next decree arrived: One day, at the end of 1941, we were expelled from the village.[4] We were driven through Braslaw to Vidz, about 40 kilometers away [as the crow flies, Vidz was 48 kilometers southwest of Dubina].

At Vidz, they put us in a ghetto.[5] This was a street fenced with barbed wire; all the Jews of Vidz were already living there. The Germans took no trouble with our living conditions at all, and we survived on the food that remained from home. Sometimes they sent us to work in the fields of the nearby villages, and that was a holiday for us, because the farmers let us eat.

One day, the Germans came to the Vidz Ghetto and demanded that the Judenrat [Jewish Council] supply them with young people for labor. They took us to Sventzion [about 45 kilometers southwest of Vidz and in Lithuania], and we were put behind a barbed-wire fence. We had to work building railroad tracks, we paved roads, and we worked in the fields of the farmers; in payment we received one serving of food a day, just enough to keep us from dying of hunger. But there were other things I'd like to mention: There were two good men with us in the camp, Ephraim Veinpress [or Veinfers] and Leib Doitch [or Deutsch]. Both of them were born in the place, and they recognized the local population and knew their Lithuanian language. They would wander about the villages, sometimes with permission, usually sneaking in, begging for donations, mainly food. They divided the food among those who needed it, and those in need were all of us.

I spent about half a year in that camp. Around Hanukkah [December] 1942, they transferred a group of people to the Vilna Ghetto [about 80 kilometers southwest of Sventzion], myself among them. We were put in a camp inside the ghetto. It's worth mentioning that inside the Vilna Ghetto

[Page 392]

there were labor camps, and in them were Jews who'd been brought from the rural towns. To carry out every decree and for all hard labor, they used people from these camps.

There the “food” was rotten cabbage and frozen potatoes, which we received in the kitchen managed by the Judenrat. The suffering in the summer was terrible, but in the winter it was really unbearable.

We were taken to work naked and barefoot. As a kind of “winter aid” from the [Jewish] community committee, we received wooden shoes, but the shoes became filled with snow and dropped off our feet.

Finally, the spring of 1943 arrived. The majority of the prisoners were taken from the camps, supposedly to work in Kovno [Kaunas, about 90 kilometers west of Vilna]. In fact they all were taken to Ponar, and there they were killed [on April 5, 1943].[6] A few who were only wounded succeeded in climbing out from under the bodies of the dead, fled from there and returned to the [Vilna] ghetto, and it was they who described what had happened in Ponar. My family was taken on a “transport” to Zhezmer camp [Ziezmariai, about 55 kilometers northwest of Vilna, on the road between Vilna and Kovno]. A short time later my mother was taken from there with the small children in an unknown direction. My father and brother Velvel were employed burning the dead, and they were murdered in Ponar.

I remained for some time in the Vilna Ghetto, then they transferred me to Viwikoni[7] camp in Estonia. Until the beginning of 1944, I passed through several camps. In all of them, there were the same conditions: labor, hunger, cold, illness and degradation; but I didn't break.

At the beginning of 1944, they transferred me to Stutthof extermination camp in Germany [sic].[8] Here too, my portion was hunger and degradation. Each morning, they took out of the block hundreds of people who'd died during the night from hunger and disease. From Stutthof I was transferred to a labor camp near Bidgoshch [Bydgoszcz, about 155 kilometers southwest of Stutthof], and I worked building railroad tracks. Again the same hard labor, from early morning until dark, and the hunger. Only one man in the camp did much to lighten our suffering: a Polish work manager named Josef Radka. Of course he couldn't help a lot, but he tried to make the work easier for us, he insisted that we get food on time, and more.

We were liberated on January 28, 1945.

The Polish population in Bidgoshch received us, and they gave us tea and hot milk.

Footnotes

  1. Dubina was 16 kilometers northwest of Braslav. Return
  2. In 1941 the month of Av began on July 25, but other sources suggest the attack on Dubina took place earlier, on July 19, 1941. Return
  3. This man, Grigory Khutzin, is said to have been killed because he was a Communist official. He was buried near the Jewish cemetery outside Dubina, together with the Dubina Jews who had been murdered that day, and later he was reburied in a Christian cemetery. Those who attacked Dubina included policemen from Plusy (7.5 kilometers northeast of Dubina), who were aided by one or more of the Gentile residents of Dubina. Return
  4. Survivor accounts differ on when the Jewish villagers were expelled from Dubina, ranging from October 1941 to March 1942. 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
  5. According to the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945, Volume II-B, 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 would be sent to the Vilna Ghetto or murdered in Ponar on April 5, 1943. Return

  6. Ponar (Ponary in Polish, Paneriai in Lithuanian) was about eight kilometers southwest of the train station in Vilna. It was the major execution site in the Vilna region during World War II and the largest execution site in Lithuania. Most of the inmates of the Sventzion Ghetto and other small ghettos in the region --- on the pretext of transfer to the large ghettos in Vilna and Kovno --- were taken to Ponar and shot on April 5, 1943. For more information, see page 283 of this memorial book. Return
  7. Presumably Viivikonna, one of the many satellite camps around Vaivara concentration camp in northeastern Estonia. (Vaivara, the largest concentration camp in Estonia, took many Jewish inmates from the Vilna and Kovno ghettos.) Viivikonna camp was established by around October 1943. It was about 540 kilometers north of Vilna. Return
  8. The concentration camp in Stutthof (now Sztutowo, Poland) had been established in September 1939. It was in German-occupied Poland, about 760 kilometers southwest of Viivikonna and 35 kilometers east of the city of Gdansk (Danzig). At the beginning of 1944, with the German Army in retreat from the Eastern Front, about 60,000 Jews were transferred to Stutthof, mainly from labor camps in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. More information on Stutthof and the aftermath is on pages 374-376, 378-380 and 386-388 of this memorial book, by three other survivors from Dubina. Return

 

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