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[Page 640]

[This section (running from page 640 backward to page 569) contains the English-language translation of the Yiddish-language section (which runs from pages 497-568). The English translation, made by South African translator Rachelle Mann Rachman, appeared in the memorial book, published in 1986. The Yiddish and English sections essentially are abridged selections from the much-longer Hebrew-language section (which runs from pages 1-465).

This English section includes a subsection with a list of names of Gentiles who saved Jews in the area of Braslav/Braslaw. The subsection, which appears only here and not in the Hebrew or Yiddish sections of the book, runs from page 573 backward to page 571.

The English section from the memorial book is reproduced here almost exactly as it appeared in the memorial book, including minor inconsistencies in names, dates, numbers, italics and capitalization. Ms. Rachman's British English spellings, as well as Polish spellings of people's names and place names, have been retained. Corrections to grammar and punctuation are minimal, with factual corrections/other comments added in brackets.

At the time the memorial book was published in 1986, this English section was the only part available in English. With the completion in 2020 of translation into English of all 465 Hebrew pages (pages 1-465), full accounts by the survivors have become available in English.]

 

DARKNESS AND DESOLATION

In Memory of the Communities of Braslaw, Dubene, Jaisi, Jod, Kislowszczizna, Okmienic, Opsa, Plusy, Rimszan, Slobodka, Zamosz, Zaracz

Association of Braslaw and Surroundings in Israel and America, Ghetto Fighters' House, and Hakibbutz Hameuchad Publishing House

[Page 639]

Editorial Board: Aviel Ya'acov, Levin Ya'acov, Shmutser Aharon
Book Committee: Aviel Ya'acov, Band Chayim, Berkman Boris, Bogomolski Moshe, Cepelewicz Yehuda, Charmatz Zalman, Goldin Moshe, Levin Ya'acov, Munitz Arieh, Rabinowitz Issar, Shmutser Aharon, Wishkin Moshe
American Committee: Chanin Louis, Suran Frederick, Kopacz Michael, Bernamow Sam, Witkin Charles, Fisher Tuvia, Maron Mendel
Editor: Machnes Ariel
Compiled by Bogomolski Moshe
Translation into Hebrew from Yiddish, Polish and Russian, Initial Editing: Aviel Ya'acov, Band Chayim, Bogomolski Moshe, Korner Aharon, Levin Ya'acov, Shmutser Aharon
Yiddish Abridged Version: Levin Ya'acov
Edited by Eisenman Zvi
Translated into English by Mann Rachel
Map of Braslaw (drawn from memory) [on pages 20-21]: Band Chayim
Map of Opsa (drawn from memory) [on page 322]: Aviel Ya'acov
Photographs: From private sources
Typography: Aryeh Velleman

[Page 638]

Breslover Assistance Association[1]

From the charter [of the] Breslover Aid Society
Founded on January 7, 1913 [sic][2]

 

These are the founders of the Breslover Assistance Association, founded on March 2, 1913 in Brooklyn, [3]New York:

Shalom-Hirsh Heller, o.h.[4]
Meyer Kenenek
Chaim-Mendel Heller[5]
Moshe-Aaron Rukashin
Chaim-Shimon Rukashin
Yosef Fisher
Chaim-Leib Deimond
Yosef-Chaim Veinfild
Gershon-Eliezer Abramson, o.h.
Harry Kenenek
Yacov Levin
Avraham Kantorovitz
Zalman Per
Simcha Ginzburg
Reuven Rumak
Eliezer-Berel Deitz
Alter Ulman
Uri-Mordecai Fisher

[Page 637]

[The sign in the photo says, “A Happy New Year / Thirtieth Anniversary Banquet / Tendered by / Breslover Aid Society / Empire Manor / December 31, 1940.”]

[Page 636]

Preface

This book contains the testimonies, memoirs and experiences of many Jews of Braslaw, Opsa, Okmienic, Dubene, Zamosz, Zaracz, Jajsi, Plusy, Slobodka, Rimszan, Kislowszczyzna and Jod, the survivors of the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis during World War Two. Their survival is as varied as it was miraculous: some hid in the ghettoes in all manner of hiding places, some were deported to labour camps, better known as death camps, some escaped, joined the partisans and fought the Nazis and their collaborators, some enlisted in the Allied forces (the Polish, the Red and the British armies).

This book is only being published now [in 1986], forty years --- almost a generation --- after the grim epoch. Yet time has not wiped out the memories as they, the thousands --- nay millions --- of men, women and children, had been wiped out. The book too unveils acts of untold heroism and dedication, man's indomitable will to survive, the relentless struggle and resistance of both individuals and groups --- of the few against the many, the unarmed against the mighty Nazi war machine. It is their courage that helped hasten the victory over the dark forces of evil.

The book is enriched and enlivened by stories of Jewish life in the shtetlach prior to the Holocaust. Jews are shown through the eyes of the storyteller: Jews from every walk of life, rich and poor, Jews in their relations with the Goyim, with one another, their diversified community life with its political parties, groups and circles.

An entire generation has come and gone since the Holocaust. Yet time has not healed the wounds nor silenced the cry. And therefore, let the humble pages of this book be a lasting memorial to them and their suffering. It is a debt that we who survived owe them who perished, and our children --- to remember!

The idea of publishing a book in memory of the Holocaust victims from Braslaw and its surrounding shtetlach originated already in the transit camps to which the survivors flocked after the German surrender. The first memorial service, organised by Zusman Lubowicz, was held in 1947 in the Eshwega camp. The next Yizkor took place in July 1948 in the Hertzog camp and was organised by Zalman Charmatz, Tuvia Fisher and Eliahu Smidt, the late Ben-Zion Charmatz and David Sztrimling.

In 1949, after the survivors had settled in Israel, a Yizkor service was held in David Sztrimling's home in Haifa. A year later a committee of Braslaw survivors was elected and memorial gatherings were held annually. The idea of publishing a book was mentioned on a number of occasions, but the task seemed forbidding, and it was shelved.

However, a nucleus, a committee under the chairmanship of Yehuda Cepelewicz, and consisting of the following members: Moshe Goldin, Moshe Wishkin, Arie Munitz, was formed. The committee kept the memory of the martyrs alive by organising annual gatherings and were subsequently responsible for two vital tasks, namely:

[Page 635]

  1. Thanks to the strenuous efforts of Itschak Rajchel, a jar of blood-soaked earth taken from the Braslaw pits --- the mass grave --- was brought by Szlomo Rajchel to the cemetery at Holon, Israel, where an impressive tombstone was erected.
  2. It was through their initiative and untiring efforts that the longstanding wish to publish the Memorial Book as a lasting tribute to the memory of the victims came to fruition.
More people were needed, however, both to raise funds and to collect and compile the material for the book. The survivors in America came to the rescue. Mendel Maron, Charles Witkin, and Tuvia Fisher set about to raise funds. Our sincere thanks and appreciation to them for their valiant efforts.

An editorial board was elected consisting of Yaakov Levin, Yaakov Aviel, Moshe Bogomolski, and Aron Shmutser. The latter, though not a Braslavian himself, is married to one --- Monka. He has done a tremendous job collecting and translating the testimonies. The written material was mainly in Yiddish, but also in Polish and Russian. The editorial staff translated and formulated the Hebrew text of this book.

Our sincere thanks and appreciation to the survivors of Braslaw and environs who literally had to draw their breath in pain to tell their story. Each tale is an echo of the cry of the condemned to the pits, of children strangled in shelters.

We also remember the last cry and command of the first victim --- Chayim Milutin --- “Avenge our blood!”

We owe a debt of gratitude to the late Zvi Shner, director of Beit Lochamei Hagetaot (Ghetto Fighters' House) for his encouragement, advice, sharing his knowledge and experience with us, and for offering the patronage of the Ghetto Fighters' House.

Our thanks go to Sarah Shner, Zvika Dror and Itzhak Stemberg [should be Sternberg] of Kibbutz Lochamei Hagetaot for their interest, involvement and encouragement.

Benjamin Anolik, the administrative director, helped us to obtain bibliographic material on the historical background of Braslaw, and a microfilm on the Jasinski trial.

Our appreciation to Ariel Machnes who acted as editor of this book.

Yaakov Levin has done a fine job on abridging the Yiddish version. Zvi Eisenman edited it. Rachelle Mann, a Braslavian presently living in Johannesburg, translated it into English. To all --- our thanks and sincere gratitude.

The “Amos Foundation” of the office of the President of the State of Israel extended financial assistance.

So did the Fund for the Perpetuation of the Memory of Polish Jewry.

Help was also extended by the Breslover Aid Society, Inc. [in the United States].

We have availed ourselves of the following:

  1. The Archives of the Ministry of Defence
  2. The Congress Library [Library of Congress], Washington
  3. The library of Beit Lochamei Hagetaot
  4. The National Library of the Jerusalem University
  5. The Yad Vashem Archives
  6. The Yivo [YIVO] Archives, New York
[Page 634]

To the martyrs who perished in the Holocaust and to the fighters and heroes of Braslaw, its vicinity, and elsewhere --- this book is dedicated.

[Page 633]

Translator's Note

Though not a survivor in the strict sense of the term, I might --- or might not --- have been one had we not left Braslaw, Poland, two years prior to the outbreak of World War II.

An adolescent, lonely and mute, a stranger in a foreign land, I kept looking back with longing to all I had left behind --- the place of my birth, the friends of my childhood.

Then came the war --- the ominous silence --- and when the clouds lifted, the horrible vision of death and destruction. I felt bereft, desolate, the ground cut from under my feet. Slowly I rallied, tried to live in the present, to strike roots in my new home, and to forget …

Years passed. Then, when in Israel, I met up with some of my childhood friends --- survivors. They told me of this book. I felt stirrings of memories long past, the tug of a common bond, and promptly offered to translate it. It was only later that I was to fully grasp what I had but vaguely sensed then.

The manuscript arrived and I began with the poem “Deep, Deep Pits, and Red, Red Loam,” its leitmotif. When I came to the words “they who leave no one to speak,” I stopped. So this is what the enemy sought. To leave no trace. To sink all into --- silence! So that evil may live and people die! And then I knew that to keep silent is to betray the dead martyrs, the living victims, and to rob those yet unborn of their rightful legacy --- REMEMBRANCE.

Rachelle Mann-Rachman

[Page 632]

ONCE THERE WERE SHTETLACH …

[Page 631 = blank in the original]

[Page 630]

Introduction

Friends,

In these pages, we have endeavoured to give a brief résumé of the personal testimonies of our compatriots, the survivors who bore witness to the bloody events which, like a hurricane, swept over the Jews of Braslaw and environs, its neighbouring shtetlach and yishuvim (small rural Jewish settlements, with yishuv as the singular form; the typical features of the yishuv are described in the Geographic Dictionary published in Warsaw in 1886) --- Opsa, Jod, Jajsi, Kislowszczyzna, Dubene, Zamosz, Zaracz, Slobodka, Okmienic, Rymszan and Plusy.

The complete version of these eyewitness accounts appears in the Hebrew section of the book only. Unfortunately, for technical reasons, it was not possible to reproduce them in full in the English section as well. However, in these albeit compressed narratives, we have tried to adhere closely to the facts and to capture both the spirit and essence of their Hebrew counterparts.

It is therefore our sincere hope that the reader will be able to form a picture of that grim epic written in the blood of our dear ones, our never-to-be-forgotten martyrs of blessed memory.

[Page 629]

Samuel Halkin

Deep, Deep Pits and Red, Red Loam

Deep, deep pits, and red, red loam ---
Once I too had a home ---
Where the orchards bloomed in spring
And in autumn birds took wing
And in winter soft snow fell.
Now --- the wind his moan howls there.

A disaster struck my home!
Open wide flung doors and gates
The vile murderers, the butchers,
They who slaughter little children,
They who hang the old, the weak
They who leave no one to speak …

Deep, deep pits, and red, red loam ---
Once I too had a home.

The years come, the years go,
Brimful are the pits
And redder still the loam.
That loam is now my home.
There my brothers, sisters lie ---
Torn limb from limb
Cut down on the spot
Shot down beside the pit.

Deep, deep pits, and red, red loam ---
Once I too had a home.

Brighter days will dawn again
Fortune will yet smile again
And the pain will slowly wane.
Once again will children sprout
Once again will play and shout
Near the graves of the holy dead
Graves so deep, so full, so red ---
And with the wind will sigh your moan.

[Page 628]

Deep, deep pits, and red, red loam ---
Once I too had a home.

Deep, deep pits, and red, red loam ---
Once I too had a home …

Yes, once I too had a home …

Translated by the author

My home, Braslaw --- a precious jewel in the heart of thick green forests, deep-blue lakes, which mirror a heaven studded with stars that twinkle and beckon on white moonlit nights, and awaken painful memories and dreams …

They well up, bestir, the memories of my old home; ravaged and desolate, it now haunts the minds of a handful --- the Sh'erit Hapleita (survivors of the Holocaust) scattered to the four corners of the earth.

Not large was our shelter, a mere 4,000 Jewish souls, but their forebears had struck root there over many centuries. Their cottages, built mostly of wood, huddled as though for comfort and safety around the mountain, “der Schloss Berg” (“Castle Mountain”) as it was called.

True, not large was our shtetl, but it hummed and pulsated with burgeoning life --- varied and rich. Synagogues, schools, political parties, cultural and social circles, clubs and societies, lent dignity and meaning to a ceaseless struggle for a meagre existence.

Four decades have passed since Jewish Braslaw and its nearby shtetlach and yishuvim have been wiped off the map, their inhabitants put to death --- four decades since the gruesome destruction.

And so the time has come. It is therefore with awe and trepidation that we, the few, have taken upon us the sacred duty to gather what little testimony is left of the tragic events which befell the Jews of Braslaw and environs, to set it down for all who will come after us --- in eternal memory of our beloved, martyred dead.

[Page 627]

Braslaw --- Brief Historical Background

The history of Braslaw, its ethnic, geographic and communal development, lies hidden in the mists of the distant past.

From the few documents in our possession we learn that Braslaw is already mentioned as far back as the eleventh century --- almost 300 years prior to the founding of Vilna. It belonged to the Potocki duchy which was situated on the Russo-Polish-Lithuanian border and was called Braczislaw, after the reigning duke.

If one examines the geographic-topographic location of the town and its vicinity one cannot but conclude that Braslaw was originally built as a border town. Its checquered topography comprised of mud pans, swamps, forests and hills, lakes and streams, was ideally suited to defence, rendering it a veritable bulwark against attacks from hostile, semi-organised military bands.

The river Dwina, a major waterway which skirts Braslaw, indirectly helped to boost the economic growth of the town.

With the unification of Poland and Lithuania at the beginning of the fifteenth century --- the so-called Jagella [Jagiellonian] period --- Braslaw became part of the Vilna province, and was considered one of its five administrative districts. Incidentally, all official documents of that time refer to Braslaw as Braslaw of Lithuania as opposed to Braclaw near Uman, a city in the Ukraine.

Due to the incessant feuds between the Russian and Polish sovereigns, the town was frequently ravaged by wars, raids and fire. Particularly harsh, though fortunately short-lived, was the Tartar [Tatar] invasion. These rulers who hoisted their flag with its crescent moon on top of the mountain in the very heart of town exacted heavy tributes from the local inhabitants.

In the seventeenth century Braslaw was almost totally destroyed by floods. So vast was the damage that the Warsaw central government by special ordinance exempted the town from taxes for a period of four years.

The town shared the vicissitudes of its rulers, the noble Sapieha family, through whose feuds with rival nobles over several centuries it kept changing hands.

The mountain which, as mentioned earlier, was situated in the centre of town, served not only as a military fortress and prison but also as a Christian religious stronghold, complete with nunnery and church. It was protected by a regular military garrison stationed there.

Legends proliferated about the secrets which it jealously guarded in its

[Page 626]

bowels, about treasures and precious articles buried in it, though in places unknown.

A special order issued by King Stanislaw-August affirms the strategic importance of Braslaw and its contribution to the royal crown. This monarch too designated its emblem: a triangular sundial inset with an eye --- the “watchful eye” --- as a sign of God's vigilance over the town.

There are no documents on the later development of Braslaw as most of them, according to one historian, were burnt or destroyed during the Russo-Napoleonic war.

 

The Jews of Braslaw and Environs

From historic evidence in our possession we note that Jews are reputed to have lived in Braslaw and environs as far back as the sixteenth century. Thus a report on a population census held in 1559 [should be 1554] cites the names of several Jewish families --- among them Byk, Krawiec and Nemirowicz. [These names are now thought unlikely to have been Jewish; see page 16 of this memorial book.]

The Jews engaged mostly in commerce but were also tradesmen and artisans such as tailors, cobblers, innkeepers and so on. They were organised into communities, some of the larger independent ones like Braslaw, Druja and Vidz, managing the smaller semi-independent ones like Opsa, Slobodka, Drujsk and others.

We shall now briefly trace the history and development of some of the shtetlach and yishuvim of the Braslaw district.

 

Opsa

A shtetl boasting approximately 300 Jews who were linked with Braslaw by commercial and familial ties.

Opsa is first mentioned in the fifteenth century in a royal decree of the Polish king Alexander in which he ordered a special tax imposed on its pasture lands and on fishing rights in its nearby lakes.

In certain respects its history and development strongly parallel those of Braslaw and other vishuvim. It too kept changing hands as a result of the continual feuding of its rulers. Records show that in 1790 Opsa's population totalled 130 souls, made up of seventeen Christian and two Jewish families.

The year 1794 is a red-letter date in the history of Opsa. It is the year of the famous Kosciuszko revolt against Czarist might when a great battle in which close to 40,000 Polish rebels took part, was fought on its outskirts.

Another fateful date was 28 April 1928, that fine spring Sabbath morning when

[Page 625]

a fire broke out, almost razing the entire shtetl to the ground. Yaakov Aviel describes it as follows:

I remember it as if it were only yesterday. The fire started in Baruch-Itse's house. The tongues of flame fanned by the spring breeze spread like wildfire, enfolding roof after roof, house after house. The church bells pealed ominously, then suddenly fell silent as the fire began to engulf the sacred building and the burning crosses and massive bells came crashing to the ground.

Opsa was again rebuilt but the fire was not forgotten. Interwoven into the fabric of the lives of its inhabitants it frequently served as a landmark. Thus they would say: “This still happened before the fire.” Or: “Do you remember the house before the fire?”

Despite its small Jewish population of barely a few hundred souls the communal and spiritual life of Opsa was multifaceted and replete with cultural activities, clubs, social circles and political parties. It had two synagogues --- a Chassidic and a Mitnaggid synagogue-cum-house of study. The children attended “Cheder,” a religious afternoon school, or studied in the Braslaw yeshiva (Torah academy) or in the Hebrew school Yavneh. The Betar was the predominant Zionist movement and attracted a large following among the youth.

As in most Jewish shtetlach in the interwar period the people engaged in business or plied trades. They were tailors, cobblers, tinkers, bakers and so on. The Jews of Opsa, like those of Braslaw and environs, perished at the hands of the Nazis.

 

Jod

The name of the shtetl, originally Jod-Jody, after Judia or Jehudit, the wife of the then provincial administrator of Brisk (Brzesć), was abbreviated to Jod. An existing report states that the yishuv together with the adjoining land was purchased by this administrator in 1754 and his wife Jehudit (Judita) had a church erected there.

Since then there is utter silence so that even historians can merely hazard a guess at the date of origin of the yishuv or its development and communal life. The only chronicles available are of the interwar period, of the subsequent German occupation, and of the tragic events which overtook Jod and prefigured the liquidation of its Jews.

From the narratives of the survivors Zalke Fiszer, L[i]uba Janowski-Wilkicki and Slawa Pincow of Jod one can reconstruct the economic, cultural and

[Page 624]

communal life of the shtetl, so typical of contemporary Jewish life in general in the interwar period.

The Jews of Jod were mostly shopkeepers, innkeepers, tradesmen and artisans. They too had close familial ties with many Jews in Braslaw. Their children and youth studied in its schools and yeshiva, often graduating to institutions of higher learning in Vilna.

 

Slobodka

A small yishuv about ten kilometres northeast of Braslaw.

There is little documentary evidence on Slobodka except for a brief mention of the fact that in 1783 its Jewish population consisted of six families and that it belonged to a Polish landowner.

Historians record that the Slobodka inhabitants adopted a negative stance towards the Polish uprising against Russia. With the establishment of the Polish Independent Republic in 1918 a regular military border garrison came to be stationed in Slobodka.

In the interwar period Jewish Slobodka grew and prospered.

 

General: Social and Economic Position of the Jews

From the report of a certain inspector and envoy-extraordinary of King Stanislaw-August we learn that the Jews of Braslaw and its district enjoyed equal civil rights in Poland, on a par with the Jews of Great Britain and Holland. This report appears to be one-sided, however, as borne out by similar reports and documents which present the situation in a totally different light, if not to the contrary. According to the latter the position of the Jews under Russian and Polish rule was anything if not invidious and they were frequently denounced as spies and enemies of Christianity.

One historian goes so far as to state that he cannot bring himself to put on paper or even attempt to describe the indignities to which the Jews were subjected.

One could possibly try to explain the precariousness of their social position and justify the accusations against them by the fact that in the endless wars and feuds between the kings and the nobles, and the resultant upheavals and changes of power, the Jews found themselves between the hammer and the anvil, each new ruler in turn accusing them of treason or lack of loyalty.

A popular source of income at the time was the inn, so familiar to us from Yiddish folklore and literature. These inns, dotted along the roads and dirt

[Page 623]

tracks, were usually owned by a lord who leased them to a Jew for a fixed sum.

We have no exact numerical or other data about the Jewish inhabitants or their economic position. In existing official papers we read about Jewish colonisation in yishuvim established specifically for this purpose, and about land apportioned to them for cultivation. Some of these yishuvim and villages still exist to this day but, needless to say, they are empty of Jews.

In 1847 the Russian government distributed land for Jewish settlement, thus establishing the villages of Dubene, Jajsi, Drujsk, Plusy, Kislowszczyzna and Ukazne. Some of these later grew into small shtetlach.

To encourage the Jewish colonists the Czarist government, by a law promulgated in 1835, exempted them from military service for a period of fifty or twenty-five years respectively, depending on their numerical strength, and absolved them from head tax for a period of twenty-five to ten years.

However, by the mid-nineteenth century the Czarist regime did an about-face and began to obstruct Jewish settlement on the land until in 1864 it totally prohibited the acquisition of arable land by Jews, or their settlement in villages. In 1866 all existing decrees permitting Jews to work the land were revoked.

While on the subject of Jewish villages we wish to dwell briefly on an item which appeared in the Hebrew periodical Hamelitz, No. 91 of January 1885. In it the correspondent Szerman in a specific reference to the agricultural “colony Drujsk” sharply berates the Jews for neglecting agriculture, and for subleasing the land to strangers so that they could engage in trade and commerce. He thus underscores the fact that these Jews are skilled agricultural workers, and it is a great pity that they should abandon this vital means of livelihood.

As regards Braslaw, in the early years of this century, following the pogroms and the Russo-Japanese war, it grew and developed. After World War I many Jewish families who at the onset of war had fled deep into Russia began to return. Not only did they help swell the numbers of the local Jewish population, but [also they] contributed substantially to the social, economic and political ascendancy of Braslaw.

[Page 622]

Braslaw

Scattered on yellowish-brown sand, on the bank of the large lake Drywiata to the west [actually to the south] and the smaller lake Nowiata to the north-east, lie, ranged round the mountain the houses of the shtetl Braslaw.

The main street, once known as “die groisse gass” (“the big street”), after World War I as Pilsudski Street, and with the Soviet entry in 1939 as Lenin Street, spans the entire length of the shtetl.

The street is straight and long. To the east of it, on a hillock, stands dumb, petrified, an old windmill, whose giant wooden wings creak in the autumn nights and cold winds nestle in the crevices of its barred windows. From here the street runs on until it reaches a small wooden bridge beneath which the two lakes meet. It is a fairly wide street, cobblestoned and flanked by wooden sidewalks which shake at every step.

The houses are built mostly of heavy weather-beaten logs. Some, old and decrepit, are half-sunk into the ground, while others stand erect on stone foundations arrogantly flaunting their brightly painted doors and windows.

Squeezed in between the houses is a medley of shops of all shapes and sizes, with an odd assortment of wares: foodstuffs, saddles, whips and other paraphernalia which cater to the needs of the peasants in the outlying villages. On one side where the street intersects “Third of May” street, built on a hill, is a red brick building --- the Roman Catholic Church --- its crosses like pointing fingers pierce the sky.

Opposite, on the edge of the Drywiata, stands demurely the white-blue Greek Orthodox Church with its five onion-shaped domes.

Each day the bells of the two churches ring out, their sounds commingling, as they summon the faithful to prayer.

A short distance away, sloping as though into a valley, is the synagogue courtyard where stand as if abashed, three synagogues known as Minyanim or houses of prayer: the Old Minyan, the New Minyan, and the Mithnaggid synagogue-cum-house of study.

In the synagogue courtyard is also situated the fire brigade building. Spacious, built of wood, it housed the fire-fighting equipment: enormous bright red, wooden barrels on wheels, hand pumps, brass pipes, hatchets, firemen's poles, and all sorts of implements. The firemen, all volunteers, are almost all Jews, some middle-aged, broad shouldered, sturdy, most of them sporting beards.

[Page 621]

When a fire breaks out, to the sound of bell and bugle the firemen come pouring forth, and in their wake, from every street and alley, the townsfolk, old and young, armed with buckets, hatchets, picks, or whatever they can lay their hands on, and with much din and excitement help to span the horses hurriedly commissioned for this purpose, to the wagons on which the pumps and barrels full of water are loaded.

Often when the fire is fierce and the pumps cannot pump fast enough, the people form a live chain, filling buckets from the lake and passing them from hand to hand up to the burning house, and so help quench the flames.

The firemen add colour and excitement to the shtetl on a happier note too, for they constitute the practically all-Jewish brass band. On public holidays or on festive occasions the musicians, dressed in their uniforms, bedecked with silver decorations, march along the main street proudly displaying their shiny brass instruments. Here goes Yerachmiel Milutin with his huge booming tuba. Next to him, marching in step to the music, struts the bearded Ezer Eidelson, the teacher with his trombone. Then come Yankel Maron and Ishike Lewin with the horns, followed by a host of others, all led by the bandleader Telmaszewski. Over the entire show presides Beinesz Milutin, serious, dedicated, as though bent on the most grave rather than joyous event.

The theatre hall occupies part of the fire-brigade building. Here the shtetl is entertained by its local dramatic society which stages plays and a variety of performances. The hall also serves as a venue for meetings and gatherings.

The synagogue courtyard, of modest proportions, humped, sandy, comes to life on warm evenings in the month of Ab. The youth of the shtetl flock to it to enjoy the balmy air. Girls stroll past in pairs or clusters, to provoke the boys no doubt, who are quick to take up the challenge. They pelt the girls with burrs and revel in their piercing shrieks of feigned fear.

On Purim the synagogue courtyard is agog. Scores of boys of all ages bang away with keys stuffed with gunpowder against the synagogue walls. The deafening noise from their homemade ammunition aimed at the historical villain Hamman [Haman] --- the Hitler of ancient Persia --- resounds all around.

However, the gaiety and excitement reach fever pitch on the day of a wedding. The Chuppah (wedding canopy) is set up on a flat, clean-swept spot. The shtetl turns out to a man and all gather round the excited families of the young pair. All along the way where the bride and groom are to pass, the windows are lit up with candles which, as though rejoicing in the general festivity, flicker and dance through the misty panes. The street is strewn with fresh yellow sand. The groom, escorted by his close relatives is led to the canopy, accompanied by musicians playing the traditional “dobrydzien”

[Page 620]

(a joyous melody of welcome). Then the bride is brought and she, her mother or female relatives, walk round the groom seven times.

The ceremony over, the groom breaks the glass underfoot --- a reminder of the destruction of Jerusalem --- and joyful cries of Mazel Tov erupt from all mouths. The bride and groom walk hand in hand through the excited crowd, past the poor lined up on either side with buckets of water, into which the groom and guests drop coins. With lit candles in their hands, all escort the newly-weds to the wedding feast.

There is yet another synagogue, the so-called Sandy Minyan, but this is situated further along on the way to the mountain, and like the first two Minyanim, belongs to the Chassidic community. The Jewish community, not unlike their former overlords, was not without its disputes and bickerings. D. S. Szerman, the correspondent mentioned earlier, describes in Hamelitz of 1884-1885 the sharp differences between the Chassidim and Mitnagdim, the denunciations to the authorities which he regarded as tantamount to blasphemy in the eyes of God. At one time things went so far that the synagogue was closed down, many were arrested, and the town Rabbi and his family suffered want because some of the congregants sided against him.

Mr. Szerman makes an impassioned appeal to the Chassidim to stop persecuting the Mitnagdim and to rebuild their synagogue with had burnt down the year before.

Further along, the street continues until it reaches the mill owned by the Jewish miller Byk. Here too is the power station which supplies the shtetl with electricity.

The street winds like a narrow ribbon between the mountain and the lake, whose waters lap at the sandy banks, often reaching up to the houses.

The lake, Drywiata, is vast and deep and sports a variety of fish which are caught in it all the year round.

With the onset of frost in early December, when the lake is covered with a thin sheet of transparent blue ice, before the snow has had time to blanket it, one can glimpse far down into its dark depths breathtaking sights of magic worlds. On such nights fishermen by the score set out, followed by lovers and idlers whom boredom drives out of doors, to witness a most spectacular, extraordinary mode of fishing.

Armed with long, heavy mallets, iron picks and hooks, the fishermen, with lanterns in their hands, scatter along the tinkling ice and light it up, keeping the lanterns close to the ice.

[Page 619]

The fish, lured by the light, swim up towards it. The fishermen raise their mallets and bring them down with a heavy blow on the ice. A deafening roar reverberates all along its surface. The fish stand still, stunned as though hypnotised, and the fishermen then chop out apertures in the thin ice and with their hooks haul out the fish.

The two lakes which surround and converge on the shtetl have always been a wellspring of fun and pleasure for the youth. On moonlit summer nights the merry laughter and song of young boys and girls who frolicked on its enchanting waters, would ring out until dawn. And in the days, especially weekends, they'd bathe and splash in these magnificent natural swimming pools.

Each year the lakes would claim a victim. Then the entire shtetl would be plunged in deep mourning until the body was recovered and brought to burial …

To the west the main street joins the dirt road which leads to Vilna. The road runs along noblemen's estates and villages scattered between pine forests and fields.

To the north of the main street several streets and lanes terminate in the narrow-gauge railway station which adjoins the Christian suburb, the “Gumnes.” The train cuts through a sand road on its way to Dubene, a small Jewish yishuv about 18 kms from Braslaw. Its population, numbering less than one hundred families, engaged mainly in agriculture. Each family owned its own plot where it kept horses, cows, sheep, geese and chickens. A vegetable garden, fruit trees and flowers complete the picture. There was the usual sprinkling of shops, the ubiquitous artisans, here especially itinerant tailors who eked out a living from the nearby peasants. In 1927 a cooperative dairy was established in Dubene for the manufacture of butter and Dutch cheese.

Dubene, like most adjacent Jewish yishuvim, was closely linked with Braslaw through commerce, administrative affairs and ties of blood.

Not far from Dubene is Okmienic, a village with only one Jewish family. Villages of this kind were not uncommon in the Braslaw district. Another such village was Zaracz, but there were many more.

The narrow-gauge railway branches off to Druja on the one side, and to Dukszt on the other. There it links up with the wide-gauge railway which runs from Warsaw to Latvia.

Several side streets intersect the shtetl in its length and breadth until they reach the marketplace, the post office, past the printing works owned by the brothers Magat. This press, founded in the thirties, employs local Jewish youth, and publishes a weekly featuring local and regional news.

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One street proceeds beyond the [prewar] Jewish cemetery to the new lush and plush suburb where the Polish intelligentsia --- government officials and others --- live. Here too are situated the government institutions, the civil court and the like. This suburb borders on the Karpowicz forest, a recreational spot renowned for its scenic walks. In view of its proximity to the Polish suburb, however, it was shunned by the Jews. Their favourite haunt was the Dubkes forest at the opposite end of the shtetl. There Jews from all walks of life would flock, stroll and enjoy its beauty and bracing air. This forest, being dense and vast, was an excellent hideout. Little wonder that it served as a central partisan camp during the Nazi occupation.

Another road leads from Braslaw to Jajsi, a Jewish village. Its inhabitants, a few score families in all, engaged in agriculture and particularly in the processing of goat's milk cheese.

 

The Marketplace

The marketplace, situated on a large empty plain, was surrounded by stalls and houses though, strangely enough and unlike so many other shtetlach, not by shops, most of these, as already mentioned, being interspersed between the houses throughout the shtetl. The marketplace merely served as a centre for the disposal of agricultural produce brought in by the neighbouring peasants who would descend on the shtetl twice weekly, on Wednesdays and Fridays.

They would arrive in their heavily laden wagons, outspan their horses, hitch them to the wagons, and begin to display their produce: potatoes, fruit, vegetables, hay and oats, chicken, hides and hog's hair, and firewood. Jewish small dealers, middlemen or simply loiterers would mill among the wagons, often seen chewing on a straw.

The marketplace was especially lively in autumn when men and women in their hundreds would mingle with the merchants, buying up provisions for the long winter ahead.

The star attraction was the so-called “zadarmenikes” (“givers-away”). Their cries [of] “It's a give-away, give-away …” earned them this nickname which stuck. Amid the hubbub, the creaking of wheels, the shouts and curses of drunks, the hoarse cracked voice of the crier, usually an emaciated young man, would rise. Poised high on his wagon he'd proclaim and extol his cheap almost worthless merchandise: combs, scarves, penknives and other knicknacks. Crowds, mostly peasants, would flock, jostle and push --- all eager for bargains. Some peasants who lived on the Latvian border --- redrawn after the rise of Poland --- went in for smuggling, particularly of sugar, since the Polish

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government exported it at a far more competitive price than sold locally. The peasants used to hide a few sacks of sugar in a wagon loaded with hay and sell it to the local shopkeepers.

 

Trade and Commerce

A number of Braslaw Jews earned their livelihood by transporting goods. The nearest city, Vilna, was situated approximately 180 kms away, and the two-gauge railway system rendered transportation by train prohibitive. Hence it was more economical and convenient to dispatch the goods direct from seller to manufacturer by other means.

Winter was particularly conducive to the transportation of goods. Once the snow had set and the roads frozen hard, loaded sleighs would carry fish and meat, poultry, eggs, flax, hides and other produce to the big city. On their return trip they would bring back manufactured goods such as textiles, footwear, sugar, salt, soap, various kinds of oils and hardware. In summer the horsedrawn sleigh was replaced with trucks, owned by the Milutin and Bielak families.

An important means of livelihood was the fresh fruit trade. Many families would spend all summer and part of autumn watching over the fruit, guarding it, and picking the fruits of their labours --- a rich harvest of apples, pears and many others --- and see to their despatch and sale, both in the shtetl and outside business centres.

Many Jews were also tradesmen, some working as independent artisans and some as journeymen. All occupations were well represented: there were tailors, cobblers, tanners, milliners, watchmakers, carpenters, locksmiths, tinsmiths, ropemakers, bakers and so on.

But the mainstay of the town was the fishing industry, headed by the chief lessee, Szne'er Aron. Braslaw's lakes and rivers were a source of income to many. Entire families engaged in buying and reselling, transporting and packing the fish, which the fishermen caught in their nets. The main fishing season was winter when the lakes were coated with a thick layer of ice. The fishermen would then lower their nets in the apertures, the so-called “windows” which they would chop out in the ice, and a few days later haul out the nets full of sparkling silvery fish.

On the whole the economic position of the Jewish population was precarious. No Jew could hold a government post, the small dealers and shopkeepers, with few exceptions, barely eked out a living. The artisans and unskilled workers were no better off.

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To supplement their income some kept a cow, a goat, a few chickens or geese. Many cultivated small vegetable gardens next to their homes.

Z. Szmuszkowicz vividly depicts the abject poverty and privation of many Jewish families, who often had to seek aid from the community or appeal to the mercy of kindhearted charitable Jews.

Here we wish to mention the inestimable help and support to the poor of the Gmilut Hesed, a communal fund which granted interest-free loans to the needy, thereby often virtually saving entire families from starvation and want.

Here too we should mention the honorary communal workers and leaders like Baruch Fiszer, for instance, who did much more for the community as a whole and was among the first to help people in need.

Szne'er Aron, the fishing lessee, was another philanthropist. Every Friday he would freely distribute fish to the poor for the Sabbath, as well as other material aid. One of the founders of the “Yavneh” Hebrew school, he was its pillar. He personally supported the teachers, in addition to caring for the innumerable needs of the community.

Charity and mutual help seemed to be a way of life. Minor philanthropic institutions, often consisting of one or two people, would spring up in a time of crisis and rush to the aid of someone in distress, be it a poor bride who needed a trousseau or refreshments for the wedding feast; or at Passover Maot Hitim --- a fund for supplying the poor with Passover needs. And throughout they would do all in their power to observe the traditional and laudable injunction of Matan BaSether (secret almsgiving).

Earlier we mentioned fishing as one of the main occupations of the Jewish population. We now wish to add something about the fishermen themselves.

The majority of these fishermen belonged to the old offshoot of the Greek-Orthodox church, the “Starowiery” (i.e. members of the old faith) as they were called. They were tall, well-built, powerful men, with bushy beards, who once a year would come from far and wide, even from abroad, and flock to Braslaw to celebrate the festival “Gromnica” (Candlemas, celebrated on February 2, the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary, and the presentation of Christ in the Temple: the day on which the church candles are blessed). This festival, with its pageantry and carnival air, almost invariably coincided with Purim. These men would come sporting magnificent horses, beautifully decorated sleighs, with jingling bells and festooned with coloured ribbons. They would spill out and stroll about the

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streets, the women dressed in all their finery, bedecked with jewels.

While strolling thus, suddenly without warning, a young man would drive up furiously, grab a maiden and drive off with her to an unknown destination. A few days later he'd send matchmakers to her parents. Naturally this was merely a stunt, all agreed upon beforehand, and was not a crime. This folk custom may well derive from the biblical story of the young Benjaminites who too used to snatch maidens in the vineyards after their entire tribe had been practically wiped out.

In the afternoons they would hold horse races on the snow-blanketed lakes, to the delight of the entire shtetl.

On the whole relations between the Braslaw Jews and the peasants were normal, even friendly. More than once the peasants withstood the barrage of antisemitic propaganda of hostile groups which emerged especially after the rise of the “Endek” chauvinist party (N.D. = Narodowa Demokracja --- National Democracy) which raised its head soon after Hitler came to power. When the Germans subsequently entered Braslaw, it became clear that many members of the party were indeed Nazi agents.

During World War I as well there were outbreaks of Jew hatred and dangerous moods presageful of pogroms among the peasantry. The Jews --- proud and firm --- warded off pogroms, looting and pillage with great courage, which is still spoken of to this day.

During the final days of the war [World War I], when Braslaw was without an official government for a while, peasants and marauders from the neighbourhood assembled near the Gmina (local administration building), ready to attack the Jews, rob and kill them.

The Jews got wind of this and immediately organised a self-defence. Szmuel Josef Milutin, on horseback, charged among the incited peasants, and brandishing a revolver in one hand and a sword in the other, dispersed and routed the rabble.

Young Yerachmiel-Mendel Meirson fell in this skirmish and Abraham Lubowicz received a leg wound.

Here we might mention that the first victim of the Nazis on their entry into Braslaw during World War II was Chayim Milutin, son of Szmuel Josef.

However, there were also episodes which spoke of the deep friendship and loyalty of many peasants to their local Jews. One such episode concerns the Kagan family from the village Zahorie --- incidentally, the only Jewish family in the village --- who leased the lake Ukla from the local nobleman.

During World War I Polish marauders and virulent Jew-baiters attacked them and sought to burn down their homes and pillage their belongings. The village

[Page 614]

peasants quickly rallied and armed with axes and pitchforks, drove off the attackers.

 

Religious and Cultural Life

Of the four synagogues in the shtetl [Braslaw], one housed a Yeshiva numbering 60 students, some from the adjacent yishuvim. Since there were no Jewish schools in these yishuvim, the children attended Polish government schools in the morning and Cheder and Talmud Torah in the afternoon. The more affluent sent their children to Braslaw, to its Folkshul, Hebrew school Yavneh, or Yeshiva.

The Yeshiva students were fed from a communal kitchen specially erected for this purpose. Some of them were so-called “day boarders.” Each day of the week one family would take one student for a day's board. Naturally this was a makeshift measure, in view of the dire straits in which the teaching institution found themselves, since they received no government subsidy.

Many graduates of the Braslaw Yeshiva continued their studies in the Yeshivot of Volozyn, Myr, Vilna, and Nowogrudek, some even graduating as Rabbis.

Despite constant financial problems, the Yeshiva made a notable contribution to the cultural life of the shtetl.

The shtetl employed two Rabbis who served the people with selfless devotion. The Mitnaggid Rabbi, Reb Hirszl Valin --- tall, broad-shouldered, still in his prime, with a sparse black beard streaked with grey. An outstanding preacher, he also officiated as cantor during the Holy Days. In the thirties he and his family emigrated to Latvia where he took up the position of Rabbi in one of its towns.

The second Rabbi, Reb Abba Zahorie, old, frail, retiring, was the religious leader of the Chassidic community. His mild blue eyes expressed a childlike innocence, as though in wonder at God's world. It is told that when the Jews were led to the pits, he went before them, wrapped in his prayer shawl, and comforted them, saying that man must accept God's will with love, all the while murmuring the verse: Mima'amakim keraticha … (From the depths I have called thee …) [from Psalm 130].

Apart from the Yeshiva, the homeless Yiddish Folkshul too conducted classes in the synagogue --- albeit in the women's section. This naturally often evoked quarrels between the Folkshul and Yeshiva students on account of the permissive dress of the former.

In the thirties a beautiful, commodious Folkshul building, with an adjoining nursery school, was erected in the courtyard of the Jewish Bank. Funds were

[Page 613]

provided by the CYSO (Central Yiddish School Organisation) and the Bank Director, Levi Yitschak Wainsztein. Apart from his financial share in the venture, he also sponsored children from poor homes to enable them to further their studies in Vilna.

The Folkshul was the matrix of the local intelligentsia. Its graduates who took up studies at higher institutions of learning in Vilna, would return as teachers, professionals, technicians, thus enriching the cultural values and quality of life of the youth.

Around the Folkshul cultural circles sprang up, among them a dramatic society, which staged plays and vaudevilles. The moving spirits and gifted artists in this society were Widrewicz, chief bookkeeper of the Jewish Bank, and the tailor Szaie Dejcz. The latter, in addition to being a fine artist, introduced much life and creativity into a number of circles.

In her memoirs, the late Perl Fiszer-Charmac traces the important role played by the Yiddish Folkshul and the cultural circles. She speaks with love tinged with awe and admiration of the Folkshul, its dedicated teachers and of all who spared no effort to maintain this worthy institution. Likewise, Marjasza Rothenberg-Rajchel recalls with love and reverence the multi-faceted activities of the school and its circles.

Thanks to the initiative of a number of townspeople and communal workers, a Hebrew school “Yavneh” was established in the last few years before World War II. Among its renowned teachers was Rafael Jakov Munic, a fine scholar and “Lover of Zion.” Already in the twenties he organised the youth to study Hebrew, the Bible, and mobilised young boys to prepare them for Aliyah to Eretz Israel. Young boys went to work on the land, engaged in fishing and other pursuits.

Some of them later emigrated to Eretz Israel, among them Mosze Valin, the Rabbi's son, who joined the Kibbutz Ramat Hakovesh and later founded the Li-La-Lo theatre. He also served as impresario to several famous singers and dancers.

In the shtetl political parties and groupings began to mushroom. There was the Zionist movement made up of the Chalutz group, General Zionists, left and rightwing Poale Zion. Some of the youth, the Chalutzim, emigrated to Eretz Israel. There was also the Revisionist organisation, the Betar and Brit Hachayal, headed by Advocate Geliszkowski and Zusman Lubowicz.

The adherents of the Yiddish Folkshul were called “Folkisten” and their views were close to those of the “Bund,” a strong and influential force among local youth and Jewish worker circles. A staunch supporter of the Folkshul was Lieber Cepelewicz, a colourful personality. His home was a regular venue for

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discussions and a meeting place of the loyal youth.

Braslaw, though lacking in industrial enterprise and a concomitant proletariat, nevertheless featured a Communist party, but its influence on the youth appears to have been negligible.

Despite political differences, there were no signs of any animosity in these youth circles.

All that has been told so far is but a fragment of the history, way of life, and vicissitudes of Braslaw over hundreds of years up to the grim period, the Satanic German-Nazi rule, which ended in the total destruction of many Jewish communities, towns and shtetlach, villages and yishuvim, by Hitler's henchmen.

In 1939 Poland was cut in half. The Red Army advancing from the east and the Nazi hordes from the west split Poland and divided it amongst themselves, thus partitioning it for the fourth time. The two armies stood facing each other across the river Bug. The Jewish population of Poland numbering over three million was likewise split and cut off from one another. However, with the Soviet decision to free the western parts of White Russia and the Ukraine, the dread of falling under the iron heel of the Nazis was dispelled for a time.

The Jews welcomed the Red Army with great joy, with flowers, bread and salt. Chayim Band of Braslaw tells how the draper Aharon Zeif brought out and distributed rolls of red cloth among all who wanted to make flags.

The Jews under Soviet rule knew nothing about the condition of their fellow Jews under German occupation. Only here and there faint echoes would reach them from the other side of the Bug of the deplorable situation of the Jews under Nazi rule. Trickles of refugees would bring sad tidings of the happenings on the western side of the river.

The life of the Jews under Soviet rule was, from a material angle, fairly tolerable, but their cultural, communal and religious life had altered dramatically. One by one the various Yiddish institutions were closed down: schools --- both religious and secular --- and the study of Yiddish was forbidden. Not to speak of the Yeshiva and the Talmud Torah.

Some families were exiled deep into Siberia and the Urals. Ironically, even former avowed communists were not spared, since the Soviets did not trust them.

And so, for close on two years [from 1939 to 1941], Polish Jewry lived in the shadow of suspense and barely contained fear, until the advent of that fateful, bloody era, which plunged the world in blood and tears, suffering and death.

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[Page 610]

Silent perishes the friendless
Every voice is crushed.
Bitter days are now upon us ---
Man dons Satan's mask.

[Page 609]

The fearful tragedy that struck the Jewish people --- and Polish Jewry in particular --- the total obliteration of hundreds of Jewish communities, large and small, the physical extermination of millions --- something unprecedented not only in the annals of Jewish but also of world history --- the systematic genocide perpetrated by the Nazi beast, will never be blotted out nor forgotten.

The holocaust which engulfed the Jewish people must be set down and attested by those who miraculously escaped it, today's living witnesses of all that took place.

Sholem Asch, the great Yiddish writer, introduces as motto to his book Kiddush Hashem an extract from an older book:

We are ashamed to tell what the Cossacks have done with us so as not to dishonour the name [of] man who was created in God's image.

How can we keep silent, fail to speak, to describe what the Nazis did with and to us? The torture, the suffering, the murders, the humiliations, the gas ovens, the valleys of death where our dear ones were butchered --- fathers, mothers, children, brothers and sisters?

In the ghettoes the story went round about the famous Jewish historian Simon Dubnov, who, when led to his death, turned to the Jews next to him and commanded them: “Write down! Record!”

It is therefore with sacred awe that we carry out this last will and testament --- to write down, to record the suffering of our holy martyrs --- as an eternal memorial for the generations to come.

The Jews of Braslaw and environs lived under Russian rule for close on two years.

Then, at dawn on Sunday, 22nd June 1941, the Germans broke the Hitler-Stalin pact, and Nazi hordes began to pour into the Russian zone.

The coming pages describe the early days of the outbreak of this war, the entry of the Germans into Braslaw, the evil decrees and measures introduced by the Nazis, the gruesome events of that period: the ghettoes, the hunger, the torture --- until the dreadful end, the total liquidation of the Jews of Braslaw and its neighbouring shtetlach and yishuvim; and finally the resistance, at first sporadic but later by organised partisans among whom were many of our fellow countrymen.

[Page 608]

In his memoirs Chayim Band of Braslaw describes the first days of the war:

On the morning of 21nd [22nd] June we heard about the German invasion. The same day a mass meeting was held on the shore of the lake. The Soviet party and government officials gave us their solemn assurance that the enemy would be driven off and the people had therefore nothing to fear.

Next morning Soviet military units, tanks and artillery, were indeed seen passing through Braslaw in the direction of the front, but in the evening the picture had changed and the retreat towards Russia began. Military and government officials and their families made haste to leave the shtetl.

This had a terrible effect on the Jewish population. Plunged into despair and uncertainty, they waited to see what would happen next. Many of the youth left their homes, some on foot or by whatever means they could muster, and headed for the former Polish-Russian border [to the east].

Some Jews consoled themselves and others with the thought that they knew the Germans from World War I days, that they were a civilised and cultured people and one could learn to live with them, as the German axiom goes: “Leben and leben lassen” (Live and let live). Reality however, was to prove otherwise …

Meanwhile the German army continued its advance eastwards, destroying in its wake the demoralised and disintegrated Soviet army. Several days after the outbreak of the war, the Germans entered Braslaw and conquered a large portion of the surrounding district.

The non-Jewish inhabitants welcomed them with bread and salt, thereby manifesting their joy at having been liberated from the Russian yoke.

The Poles elected a special council to facilitate collaboration with the Germans. Among its members noted for their antisemitic activity were the Chief of Police, Jasinski, the mayor, Kowalski, the Prison superintendent, Szliachczik, a Volksdeutsch (local German) and notorious sadist, as also the teacher Pawlik and his wife, both local Germans, and others.

Moshe Milutin tells that the Germans entered Braslaw on Thursday, a few days after the outbreak of war between Russia and Germany. First came several intelligence men on motorcycles, [who] looked around, stayed a while and then rode away. During the night massive quantities of military equipment, tanks, artillery and other armaments began to stream into Braslaw. This procession merely passed through, leaving behind a small military contingent which, with the help of the non-Jewish inhabitants, especially the Poles, began to rule the shtetl with an iron hand, introducing draconian laws.

The relations of the Nazi rulers with the Jews were governed by previously determined laws. So, for instance, a document entitled “The brown map”

[Page 607]

contains the following instructions to the German authorities in the occupied eastern zones:

  1. All Jews were to be registered and forced to wear the yellow badge.
  2. Directions about the movement of Jews.
  3. Ghettoes were to be established.
  4. Transfer to all Jews from villages and shtetlach to ghettoes.
  5. Establishment of Judenraten and a Jewish police force.
  6. Confiscation of all Jewish property.
  7. Prohibiting Jews from practising their occupations.
  8. Introduction of forced labour.
The next day, Friday, the Germans rounded up all the Jews of the shtetl on the horse-market --- men separately and women and children separately --- and drove them at gunpoint to the swamp in the Dubkes forest on the bank of the lake Drywiata.

On the way the first victims fell --- Szlomo Zilber, the ritual slaughterer, and Chayim Milutin --- shot by the Germans on the pretext of trying to escape.

Heartrending is the description of Yerachmiel Milutin, Chayim's uncle:

On my hands I carried my nephew to the [prewar] cemetery and brought him to burial. When I undressed him I counted eighteen bullet holes on his body … I cleansed him, kissed him twice and took leave of him for ever …

It is told that when Chayim fell, pierced by bullets, he still managed to cry out, “Jews, avenge our blood! …”

The Jews were kept in the swamp all night without food or water. As Yerachmiel Milutin, Feige-Tsippe Toker-Bielak and others relate, they were distraught, being certain that this was the end. However, on the morrow, with daybreak, they were told to go home. The Germans, it seems, merely wanted to intimidate them.

Dejected, afflicted, with sobbing children in their arms, they finally dragged themselves to their homes only to find that these had been looted. Doors and windows stood wide open, and what the robbers could not take with them they threw about or smashed. Their non-Jewish neighbours, with the consent of the Germans, had carried out a pogrom on their deserted homes.

This round-up seemed to be a favourite German pastime, designed not only to frighten the Jews but also to humiliate them. Niuta Kantor describes a day which is indelibly printed on her mind. The Jews of the shtetl had again [sic] been driven to the shore of the lake, and the Poles, especially teachers, government officials and the youth --- the “cream of the youth” --- gathered dressed in their Sunday best and looked on with glee how the Germans humiliated the Jews. [It is clear from Niuta Kantor's account on page 125 of this memorial book that she was describing here the same forced march to the swamp as mentioned earlier, not a different one.]

[Page 606]

They were hoping, it seems, to witness their liquidation.

“One can just imagine,” writes Niuta, “what we looked like in their eyes, if our death --- the death of men, women and children --- was to them nothing but a bit of fun.”

Slawa Pincow in her testimony tells that the Polish intelligentsia of Jod petitioned the local German authorities for the right to liquidate “their” Jews …

And so began the cruel decrees and persecutions.

To facilitate their rule [in Braslaw] the Germans ordered that a Judenrat be elected. It consisted of ten men: Itzchak Mindel acted as chairman, Chayim Munic as secretary, and its members were Gerszon Klioner, [Eliezer] Mazeh, Rafael Fiszer, [Hirsz] Fridman, Szeinkman, Leib Valin and others.

The chairman of the Opsa Judenrat was David Lewin and in Jod there were two members, Peretz Skolnik and Elijahu Razin.

The first decrees introduced were:

--- All Jews had to wear the yellow badge on both front and back.
--- They were forbidden to use the sidewalk but had to walk in the middle of the street.
--- All relations with the non-Jewish population were to be severed.
--- Jews were forbidden to visit a cinema, theatre or similar places of entertainment.
--- In front of every Jewish house a signboard bearing the word “Jude” had to be hung.

At a specially appointed spot, bread was distributed to the Jews --- 175 grammes per head per day.

In terms of a subsequent order, the Jews had to hand over their household animals to the Germans and collect fur coats, felt boots and other warm clothing for the German army. In addition, the Germans from time to time imposed heavy collective fines on them and confiscated all their copper and other metalware.

One day Soviet planes bombed units of the German army. A non-Jew informed the police that he saw Jews signalling to the Soviet pilots directing them to the German positions. The Germans thereupon arrested Beilke Dejcz, Yankel Musin --- a young man from Druja --- as well as Chayim Burt, a young boy. After strenuous efforts by the Judenrat Burt was set free, but Beilke Dejcz and Yankel Musin were tortured and then hanged.

Denunciations were becoming the order of the day. A Polish overseer over some Jewish forced labourers employed at the railway station in stripping bark off logs and loading them onto train coaches, denounced them on the pretext of malingering. Thirteen Jews were shot.

[Page 605]

The Nazis did not lack Polish collaborators and partners-in-crime from every walk of life, from Jasinski, Chief of the Braslaw Police, to the local non-Jewish population. When Jasinski was finally brought to trial [in 1962-63] at the instigation of Niuta Kantor who accused him of murdering innocent people, the true face of these Polish collaborators came to light.

Anatoljusz Zawacki, a witness at Jasinski's trial, testified:

The people were brought to the station --- about eleven of them. They were locked in a coach. At nightfall they were let out, driven a short distance away, and shot. This, the children of my family saw. Next day I came across a German cleaning his rifle and he said to me: “I am cleaning the weapon not for a parade. I shot some Jews yesterday.”

Zelig Ulman, his wife and little daughter too met their death on the denunciation of a non-Jew. It is rumoured that Zelig had been tortured before he died. His son escaped by a miracle as he was not at home at the time.

The Germans seized Aharon-Zelig Singalowski, the old ritual slaughterer, [and] put him on a military motorcycle driven by a policeman who raced with him through the streets of the shtetl. When he was finally released he was as white as a sheet. A short while afterwards he suffered a heart attack and died the next day. Jewish life was cheap, and the Jews lived in the shadow of constant fear.

Baruch Fiszer, a prominent and respected Braslaw Jew, had been put to work in a German bakery. One day, faint with hunger, he took a piece of bread. The German overseer caught him red-handed, whipped out his revolver to shoot him, but finally relented, yielding to his pleas to spare his life.

In Jod the Germans gathered a group of eminent Jews, forced them to their knees and ordered them to pluck the grass from between the cobblestones. Others were made to dance in the middle of the street.

One night twenty Jews were dragged to the police station and brutally beaten for no rhyme or reason. Each received 25 lashes.

In August of the first year of the Nazi occupation, the peasants from the villages around Jod carried out a pogrom in the shtetl. The Jews fled for their lives and the peasants had a field day looting their homes.

The Jews of Braslaw groaned under the inhuman decrees --- the heavy levies imposed on them by the Nazis. Desperate, they assembled in the synagogue where Chaim Szolem Bor made an impassioned appeal, concluding with the traditional Hebrew words Tzedaka Tatzil Mimavet (Charity saves from death). The men and women thereupon took off their ornaments, jewellery, watchers and other valuables and handed them over to the Germans.

In Dubene all agricultural produce and household animals --- cows, goats,

[Page 604]

chickens, etc. --- were confiscated. Seventy-year-old Zechariah Maron, most distressed by all this, dared to resist. A tall strapping German caught him by his sparse grey beard and began to shake him from side to side. The proud old Jew, being short of stature, took a leap and spat full square into the German's face.

On July 19, 1942 [should be 1941] --- in order to intimidate the Jews --- the Germans, aided by local collaborators, surrounded the Jewish village of Dubene and murdered four Jews. They then assembled the rest in the synagogues --- men separately and women and children separately --- ordered the men to crawl on all fours, then drove a number of them to the cemetery, where they tortured and shot them. When the Jews were later brought to burial they were unrecognisable, so brutally had they been beaten. In all, twenty Jews were killed that day [in fact, estimates range from 18-25].

Motke Rosenberg of Opsa tells how as a child of ten he saw the Nazis force Jews to crawl and eat grass on the marketplace, all the while beating and kicking them.

Mosze-Aaron the butcher was tied to a horse and dragged through the shtetl. Herzl Sznaider the shoemaker was tortured to death on the pretext of hiding skins.

The Jews of Jod were the first of the Braslaw district to be murdered. It was winter, December 1941 --- the month of the festival of Chanukah, the festival of lights and miracles. [Before this time some Jews had already been murdered in Braslav, Plusy, Dubene and Jajsi, but Jod was the first place in which the entire population of Jews was targeted for destruction.] The Jews lit the third candle and as they uttered the blessing, the hope that a miracle would descend on the entire House of Israel --- as in days of old --- and on them too, flickered in each breast.

But no miracle came …

A few days earlier they had been ordered to get ready for transfer to the Szarkaiszcina ghetto. They packed, prepared food and other necessities, but … On December 19 they were taken to the ready-dug pits, ordered to undress and shot.

The same day and at the same time as the Jews of Jod, the Jews of Kislowszczyzna and its neighbouring small yishuvim were killed [in Jod, as they had been brought there] --- all in all over 500 Jews. Some managed to escape prior to the massacre and hid with peasants in nearby villages.

The Jews were “on the move” --- a mass exodus but not to life or freedom. The Jews of Jajsi were brought to the Braslaw ghetto, the Jews of Slobodka to the ghettoes of Vidz and Braslaw. The Opsa Jews were transported to the Vidz ghetto. Some managed to bribe the local police to allow them into the Braslaw ghetto where conditions were said to be more tolerable and because they wanted to be with their relatives. The Jews of Dubene were driven from pillar to post --- from Braslaw to Vidz, from there to Swiencian and to the labour

[Page 603]

camps of Miligan, Wewie, Zezmer, Vilna, Oleina and Kaiserwald --- till Auschwitz and Ponar.

All “actions” (in German, Aktion: round-ups of Jews in the ghettoes, mostly in order to send them to labour camps or death camps), expulsions, murders and denigrations were carried out with typical German punctiliousness and swiftness, after secret planning. Peasants with wagons or sledges, depending on the time of the year, would be mobilised from nearby villages to load the Jews and transport them to far-away places. The police and gendarmes were not mere onlookers but active and zealous participants in the expulsions carried out by the Gestapo. They would urge the Jews with blows and vituperations, forcibly drive them from their homes at a moment's notice so that they would have no time to take along food and clothing for the road. The Lithuanians in particular “excelled” with their bestiality. But the local population too was not found wanting. The non-Jews stood around, watching, waiting to pounce on the Jewish possessions left behind by their owners.

Mire [Mira] Lotz-Szneider in her memoirs of that time, writes:

Sarah-Disel, wife of Szlomo Lewin, was a dressmaker in Dubene who employed a young apprentice, the daughter of the peasant Dragun from the village Raugiszki. The night before the expulsion of the Jews, Dragun came to the Lewin family and offered to hide Sarah-Disel and her two little girls --- Chayele and Szeina Rivka --- so that only Szlomo would meanwhile enter the ghetto. Naturally this offer was accepted with great joy. Dragun's sleigh was loaded to capacity. With heavy hearts the mother and children bade farewell to the husband and father and rode away in the hope of finding a temporary haven until the evil days would pass.

On the way, as soon as they entered the forest, the peasant killed the mother and her two little girls, and rode off with their belongings.

On Passover eve, early in April 1942, the Gestapo summoned the Braslaw Judenrat and ordered that all Jews living in the side streets vacate their homes and move into the houses on Pilsudski Street (then called Lenin Street). The Germans could not possibly have chosen a more ideal site for a ghetto. On the one side the street bordered on the mountain and on the other, from the west [should be south], was cut off by the lake, the waters reaching up to the houses. All intersecting streets or side streets leading off the main street were cordoned off with barbed wire. And so the Braslaw ghetto came into being. It was divided into two parts: on the one side, up to the bridge, was the so-called “useful ghetto,” peopled by the able-bodied fit for work, and on the other, the “dead ghetto,”

[Page 602]

inhabited by the old, the sick and the weak who, unable to work, were earmarked as the first victims.

Abraham Bielak testifies:

Our house was situated in the “useless ghetto” which meant that we were the first candidates for death, and yet we wanted to stay there and live in our own home. My father went to seek advice from Rafael Fiszer (Folke Lanes), a member of the Judenrat, only to be told, “We are all sentenced to death!”

The ghetto was crowded to overflowing, several families living in each house. Medical services were not to be had and medicine was at a premium. People died of typhus, pneumonia, filth and hunger. This was indeed the beginning of the end --- the physical annihilation.

The non-Jews knew only too well how to exploit the situation. They acquired everything, whatever the Jews still kept --- clothing, furniture, etc. --- for a song, all the while saying: “In any case you'll be killed, so what do you need these things for?”

Death was a frequent visitor in the ghetto. Some lost heart and passively surrendered to cruel fate; others tried to fight despair and sought ways and means of saving their lives; some began to prepare shelters, hiding places, bunkers.

Rumours reached and soon spread through the ghetto about the liquidation of the Jews of Latvia and Lithuania --- two countries bordering on the Braslaw district and where many of their relatives and friends lived --- and of the killings of the Jews from the nearby shtetlach.

The Germans spared no wile to deceive the Jews. They repeatedly lulled the fears of the Judenrat with assurances that the Jews of Braslaw, being law-abiding and hard-working, had nothing to fear.

On Tuesday, the day before the massacre [which began on June 3-5, 1942], the Germans ordered the Judenrat to select one hundred young girls to be sent to Slobodka to clean military barracks. Next day, however, they were returned, led straight to the pits, and murdered with the rest.

Mothers tried to save their little children. They would dress them in their holiday best, steal out of the ghetto, and leave them at the doors of Christian homes. In a day or two the children would be sent back to the ghetto. Such was the fate of Beilke Bank-Gens' little girl.

The night before the massacre, massive police fortifications surrounded the ghetto --- soldiers and police, especially Latvians and Lithuanians. Also, trucks, so-called “gas vans” for suffocating the inmates with exhaust fumes, were brought in.

[Page 601]

On Wednesday, the 18th day of Sivan, the Year 5702, equal to 3 June, 1942, the ghetto awoke to the sounds of heavy shooting and frightful screams, drunken oaths, the wailing of the hunted, beaten and wounded, the smashing of doors and windows, brute orders to get out of the house --- quick --- curses and blows. The killers rummaged and sniffed into every nook and corner to try and ferret out a Jew hiding somewhere.

Liuba Byk testifies:

It was the eve of the massacre. Police were brought into the shtetl from all around and the entire ghetto was surrounded by guards.

Our house was the first in the ghetto. At about two o'clock past midnight we heard the sound of heavy footsteps, a door wrench open. Two policemen rushed in, started to beat us, and flung us down the stairs. They did not let me take my three-year-old daughter with me, but brutally murdered her in her sleep. I was driven out of the house at the end of a rifle butt. I saw them kill my sister Rosa and her two little girls right next to the barbed wire of the cordoned-off ghetto, near our house.

They drove us to the Folkshul. On the way they shot Mendel the locksmith. I spotted my uncle Rachmiel and followed him. Suddenly he drew me and a few other members of our family into a cellar beneath Rosin's flour store. It was pitch dark inside. I could only feel the huddled bodies crouched against the stone walls. Now and then we heard footsteps above us, followed by shots. Each time a child began to cry it was silenced for ever …

We had no food or water. We had to relieve ourselves on the spot. The stench alone was enough to suffocate one. We lay in this living grave for three or four days.

Again we heard footsteps. We'd been discovered. We heard shouts: “Verfluchte, stinkende Juden, Heraus!” [Cursed, stinking Jews, out!] Once in the fresh air, I lost consciousness. Someone gave me a drink of water.

Sarah Katz tells how, looking through the window, she saw a Nazi dragging a little girl --- the infant daughter of Liuba Weiss --- by the legs, her tiny head knocking against the cobblestones.

The ghetto was milling with people. Anyone who sought to flee, whether in the direction of the lake or into a side street, bumped against a policeman or gendarme and was at once shot.

Some went mad. Heartrending scenes took place in the shelters and bunkers. Mothers had to smother their infants so that their crying would not betray those hidden there.

Itzchak Mindel, the chairman of the Judenrat, frantic, ran to the Gestapo to plead for his people, but for his pains he and his family were the first to be

[Page 600]

shot. According to another version, Mindel, on hearing of the impending massacre, took his wife and children and went to the Gestapo. As chairman of the Judenrat, he told them, he ought to be shot first. They thereupon took him at his word and murdered him and his family on the spot.

The Jews of the shtetl were taken to the ready-dug pits, forced to undress, and were shot.

The massacre continued for three days. Then the Germans began mopping-up operations. They searched, hunted, and dragged the Jews out of their hiding places. To help them in their fiendish task they enlisted a non-Jew who was fluent in Yiddish, and also forced some of the victims who had been caught hiding to walk through the ghetto, escorted by police, and exhort the Jews to come out of the bunkers, solemnly promising them --- in the name of the Germans --- that there would be no more shootings. Some, naive enough to believe them, came out and when all had been assembled in the Folkshul building, they were led to the pits and shot.

Peasants from the neighbouring district later told that the earth above the pits was heaving for three days on end, and the blood kept oozing, so that the Germans had to despatch peasants with horsewagons to cart more soil to cover the pits.

Some, no longer able to stand idly by and watch the agony and suffering, bravely resisted the murderers, knowing full well the fate in store for them. Thus, Mosze-Boruch Bank, while wrestling with a gendarme, bit his finger clean off. For this he was meted out the age-old punishment: he was tied to the tail of a horse and driven through the streets until he gave up his soul.

Neftl Zalman-Jankel's (Fiszer) [Neftl Fiszer, who was the son of Zalman-Jankel] and Avremke Fiszer too grappled with the fiends, but what could people armed only with fists do against murderers with rifles and revolvers. Abraszke Ulman took on three policemen singlehanded, killed two, but was fatally shot by the third.

In a letter from the front Peretz Lewin describes his encounter with some young Jewish fugitives from Braslaw at the Minsk railway station:

I spoke with a young fellow of nineteen but his voice was like that of an old man …

“… Very few remained alive after the first massacre,” he said, “except for those who managed to hide, who escaped to the forest earlier on and joined the partisans, or who were kept hidden by peasants in cow sheds and all manner of hideouts, these peasants virtually risking their own lives and the lives of their families by harbouring Jews.”

On the eve of Rosh Hashana 1942 [September 1942] the Germans organised the so-called “second ghetto” in Braslaw, or the “Opsa ghetto” as it was called, because it consisted of Jews brought in from Opsa. This ghetto too was not long-lived. Two days before Purim, 12 days in Adar, 5702 (19 March 1942), the Germans once again surrounded it, drove the Jews to the pits, and murdered them. [The massacre of the “Opsa” ghetto in Braslav took place on March 19, 1943, not 1942, and on 12 Adar II 5703, not 5702.]

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The liquidation of the second ghetto, however, did not go off quite so smoothly for the Nazis. Many Jews put up a brave fight. Barricading themselves in one of the houses, with what little ammunition they had, they fought fiercely, answering fire with fire. Here the heroic feats of Leiser Bielak of Braslaw and Melech Munic of Opsa are worth mentioning.

In his book Destruction of Jewish Vilna: Khurbn Vilne (p. 160), Sh. Kaczerginski recounts the testimony of Sasze Tempelman, former teacher of the Braslaw Folkshul:

Two months after the first massacre of the Braslaw ghetto (on the 3rd, 4th and 5th June 1942), the Germans brought fifty Jews from Opsa (20 kms from Braslaw) and created what was known as the “second ghetto.” This ghetto lasted seven months. In March 1943 the Germans slaughtered the remaining Jews. Some put up a stand.

The resistance took place in a house occupied by ten Jews. They barricaded themselves and held off the German police with rifle fire. When their ammunition gave out the enemy charged the house, but as the first German entered, he was shot dead. One of the Jews donned his uniform, took his rifle, went outside and opened fire on the Germans.

The house was then blown up with hand grenades.

Moshe Kahanovich too in his book La Lucha de Los Guerrilleros Judios en La Europa Oriental (The War of the Jewish Partisans in Eastern Europe), published in Buenos Aires in 1956, vol. I p. 497, describes the [last] stand of the Jews of the second ghetto in Braslaw.

A third version is by those who survived the massacre.

Thus it is told that Melech Munic of Opsa, a tailor employed in a workshop along with several other artisans, mobilised some Jews and got ready to put up a stand. They prepared home-made ammunition, consisting of iron implements and buckets of unslaked lime.

When the first German entered the house they threw the lime over him. Melech Munic then shot him, dressed up in his uniform, and went outside and began shooting at the Germans.

In the end he was fatally shot. The Jews inside the house kept up the shooting until the last bullet, and were then pelted with hand grenades.

[Page 598]

Leiser Bielak, it is told, fought back during the liquidation of the second ghetto; he shot a German and two policemen, escaped and managed to hide for a while until, in the end, he was handed over to the Germans by a peasant for a few kilos of salt. After the war and the liberation of the Braslaw district, Mosze Milutin, a young partisan, and Abraham Bielak avenged his death and shot the vile traitor.

Motke (Max) Fiszer, Baruch's son from Braslaw, who relates his experiences under the German occupation, concludes his testimony with the question:

Why did the Jews not resist?

I have no answer to this question, neither for myself nor for anyone else, but I believe that it could perhaps be explained as follows: in the first place the Germans wore us down through suffering and torture, stripped us of all we had, threatening us daily with death.

And then there is the human will to live, with its eternal hope for a miracle, that things must needs take a turn for the better. Human ties too --- concern for children, parents, the sick, the weak --- more than once quelled the will to fight, as did the belief that this was a punishment from heaven. And how dare man pit himself against God's will …?

Max Fiszer's words are but partly true, for despite his aforementioned reasons there were incidents of resistance and heroism, and not all had lost the will to fight. True, mass uprisings were few, but everywhere, whether in the camps or the ghettoes, there were incidents of spontaneous and sporadic resistance, not to speak of the vast partisan movement which spread and grew and played so crucial a role in the victory over the Nazi beast.

It should, however, be mentioned that the most weighty reason of all for the Jews' passivity was the devilish cunning of the enemy designed to weaken their resistance. The oppressors kept telling them, via the Judenraten, that nothing would happen to them, that they were a much-needed work force, and so on. And here it is difficult to entirely absolve the leaders of the Jewish community, the Judenraten, who indiscriminately swallowed the Nazi lies.

This clearly emerges from the testimony of Yerachmiel Milutin. He tells that a resistance group comprising 95 able-bodied young men, most of them former Polish soldiers, was organised in Braslaw. Its initiators were Gerszon Klioner, a member of the Judenrat, and Alexi Wasilewski, son of the Greek-Orthodox priest, employed in the Braslaw town council and trusted by the Germans. Yerachmiel was the go-between and Wasilewski even showed him the cachet of arms and ammunition which lay waiting to be handed over to the fighters. However, immediately the chairman of the Judenrat got wind of this, he fought it tooth and nail and, in order to avoid civil strife, the plan was

[Page 597]

abandoned.

Wasilewski also exerted himself on behalf of Russian war prisoners. He supplied them with forged documents to enable them to obtain work as local residents. Finally he was denounced by a traitor, arrested by the Germans and shot in Glubok.

We wish to end the chapter on life in the ghetto under the Nazi heel, with its privations and hunger, denigrations and death, with the words of Mira Lotz whose fate as a child was the fate of so many children like herself, as also of adults, who shared with her the burden of those dark days. “I witnessed,” she writes, “the death of thousands of people, my family among them. I envied the dead, and yet I alone remained alive …”

A special chapter in the road of suffering may be found in the innumerable accounts and testimonies of many of our countrymen. For months on end they wandered, driven from pillar to post, here by day and there by night, seeking a haven for themselves and their children, where they would be safe from the claws of the Nazi beast.

Moving in its simplicity is the story of Sarah Katz-Mowszenson.

Hounded and driven, in rain, snow and frost, with an infant in her arms, often without food or water, she wandered --- together with her cousin Benjamin who later became her husband --- from place to place, at times with nowhere to lay down her ailing and aching body.

Days, weeks, months, years, amidst suffering and tribulation, hunger and loneliness, filthy and louse-ridden, uncertain of the morrow, they finally lived to see that happy day --- the defeat and demise of the Nazi beast --- and the day of reckoning when they could avenge themselves on the local hooligans and murderers who helped the Gestapo kill Jews and wipe out entire families and communities.

It was not always easy to track down these collaborators for after the war they assumed the mien of pure, innocent lambs. Such a one was the bloodthirsty butcher and murderer of Jews, Foikste. But, thanks to Sarah and her husband Benjamin, he was caught and received his just des[s]erts.

Such instances of whitewashing were legion, as may be seen from the trial of the war criminal and murderer Jasinski, mentioned earlier, and on which we wish to elaborate somewhat.

From the account of Niuta Kantor we learn of the ways and means whereby these former murderers tried to whitewash themselves. We have in our possession official documents and reports of court proceedings of Jasinski's trial which took place in [Poland in] Olsztin and Kiszalin at Niuta's insistence. Not only do

[Page 596]

these documents reveal Jasinski's brutal attitude towards the Jews of Braslaw and environs, but also the various stratagems, threats and bribery, to which some Poles resorted in an attempt to rehabilitate this murderer.

Another ugly feature of the trial was the patent bias of the Polish law courts which tried to shift the blame onto the innocent victims. The war seemed to have changed nothing --- Polish antisemitism was as alive as ever.

Apart from Jasinski's trial in which Niuta played so vital a part, we wish to dwell briefly on her experiences in Nazi-occupied Braslaw, followed by her life in hiding in a village with a peasant who, at the behest of the local Catholic priest, hid her and an entire Latvian Jewish family.

Niuta relates that after the war when she returned to Braslaw from the village where she lay hidden, the wife of the Polish watchmaker Krzyzanek, their neighbour, told her that she [had] watched through the window the liquidation of the ghetto. Jews in their hundreds were assembled in the courtyard of the Folkshul and in a large hall adjoining the church. They were kept there for three days without food or water. Then, faint and half-dead, they were driven to the pits --- Niuta's mother and sister among them.

She also saw Rabbi Zahorie and his family walking with the rest --- the Rabbi, calm and serene, at the head.

This dark picture was not, however, without its flashes of light. There were non-Jews who helped kill but also non-Jews who helped save the hapless Jews. And this is their story. Many a Jew, faint with hunger, hounded, wandering over fields, forests, dirt tracks and farms, in search of a place where he could find a potato or a piece of bread for himself or his children, was taken in and cared for by a kindhearted Christian. There were many such people whose self-s[a]crifice we now wish to record --- Poles, Russians and even Lithuanians --- who risked their lives and the lives of their families in order to save Jews.

True enough, they did so for various reasons, from humanitarian, to a sense of victory of the Christian faith over the Jewish one, to fear of the morrow which might bring back the Russians who would wreak vengeance on the Nazi collaborators. Often it was simply a matter of gain, of money or possessions. Whatever the case may be, we wish to stress time and again that many Christians, especially village folk, helped Jews in their hour of need. This is borne out by the testimonies of Slawa Pincow, Niuta Kantor, Chayim Dejcz, Hanka Gurewicz and many others.

We recall with deep gratitude all those who, placing their own lives in jeopardy, saved Jews from certain death. There was the Szczerbinski family

[Page 595]

that hid Yetta Fisher and several members of the Grawetz family from Dwinsk for quite a time; the family Kizlo, especially the peasant Michal, who saved Niuta Kantor and the Barkan family from Latvia.

With much warmth and affection we recall the Kandzilewski family which for many months hid Sarah Katz-Mowszenzon, her husband and their small child; Jozefa Siewickaja and the Catholic priest who, despite every danger, hid and cared for the Gurewicz family --- the mother Rachel and her two daughters, Hanka and Riwetka.

How can one ever forget the two sisters Amalia and Jadwiga Czesnowicka and their brother Alfons, who saved Mendel and Masza Maron and also Tewie and Motel Fiszer (Baruch's sons), Chana Fiszer and Motel, son of Zalman Yankel [Fiszer] --- all in all six people.

With reverence we recall Stanislaw Szakiel who hid and cared for seventeen Jews, among them Lubowicz, his wife Chanah and their two children, Leibel and Shaul.

With gratitude we mention Wasil Iwanow and his daughter Irina who kept Chiena Band hidden in their home, without the knowledge of the rest of the family, particularly their own son, a policeman.

With deep regard Slawa Pincow mentions Jaszka Arciszewski, better known as “the father of the Jews.”

Slawa, her husband, brother, father and stepmother hid for some time in a village, in the home of the pious, kindhearted Wasil Brezko, until …

Due to the growing activity of the partisans, the Germans began to burn down villages in reprisal. Wasil warned us of the impending danger before he and his family abandoned their home.

Father then turned to us and said: “Children, you are young and must escape. I cannot keep up, my strength has given out. Perhaps a miracle will happen!?” He then placed his hands on our heads and with tears in his eyes gave us his blessing, just as he used to do on the eve of Yom Kippur …

The night was bright from the flames and the dazzling snow. We ran for our lives … When we reached the edge of the forest, we cast a glance backwards towards the spot where our parents had remained, and saw that all was aflame.

No miracle had happened …

In those flames, on that night, the souls of our father, Reb Chayim Szalom, and our stepmother Gitel ascended to heaven.

The kindness of the non-Jewish benefactors did not go unrewarded. After the war, the liberation, many of the Jewish survivors saved by Christians went all

[Page 594]

out to try and compensate and materially assist their rescuers. To name but one instance, Masza and Mendel Maron came specially from America to meet with the sisters Czesnowicki and to hand over their house to them as a token of gratitude.

More than forty years have passed since that tragic epoch, but the memories, the pain and anguish, which the survivors carry in their hearts still well up in all their horror in their consciousness. They clamour for expression nor dare they be allowed to sink into oblivion.

How can one remain unmoved when reading about the Kowno woman who, while in hiding together with the Gurewicz family, was forced to strangle her three-year-old child lest its ceaseless crying give them away, or about the Jod couple, Chayim-Leiser and Chawa Cipin who, no longer able to bear the loss of their three little girls murdered by the Nazis, one day, desperate, took each other by the hand, came out of hiding and gave themselves up to the Germans.

Horrifying in the extreme are the accounts of those who passed through the labour and death camps. Still but children or adolescents, they walked every path of pain and suffering, hunger, loneliness and want.

Particularly shattering is the tale of Rivka Rukszin-Maron. In simple words she describes her experiences during that grim period:

From the day the Germans entered Dubene until their defeat, I walked an endless road of tribulation and suffering, more than once seeing death before my eyes. I lived in the ghettoes of Vidz and Swiencian, passed through twelve concentration and extermination camps. On that long and tortured road I lost my parents, brothers and all my relatives, and only my sister Reisel and I remained alive.

And in the camps --- humiliations, hunger and sickness, forced labour, blows, until finally --- murder or the gas ovens.

In Camp Miligan we struck a bit of “luck” as it were. We met up with our family. From there we were sent to Camp Wewie, where we worked laying railway lines and then to Zezmer, another camp.

Over many long months we managed to collect a little flour. Father baked matzoth for the Passover, but three weeks before this festival a selection was carried out and my mother, my father, and my brother were sent to Ponar.

That was a terrible day. I can still see the children wrenched from their mothers and their heartrending cries keep ringing in my ears.

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Rivka continues:

We were put into goods trains and taken to Auschwitz. A trainload of people arrived there before us and they were let out of the coaches. We heard their cries and weeping.

Auschwitz would not accept us. I am certain that the Germans were not frightened off by our cries and laments. It was quite simple: the camp was full, the gas ovens overloaded, and there was no room for us …

We moved on to Stutthof. Heavy, thick smoke belched from the chimneys of the gas chambers, which worked day and night. Three or four times a day there would be roll call, and each time we had to stand for hours on end in one spot in all kinds of weather.

One day when the Germans took down the names of people selected for work, mine was among them. I even managed to smuggle my thirteen-year-old sister Reisel through the gate. We were taken to a camp near Danzig where we stayed for ten months, digging trenches.

The fate of Sima Morecki-Fejgin was no better. She writes:

I was one of a group sent from the Vidz ghetto to work in Camp Miligan. Among us were a few Jewish girls from Dubene. We left the ghetto on foot but were later put into cattle trucks and brought to a camp fenced off with barbed wire. It consisted of barracks with three-tier bunks.

Ita Kulak, the woman in charge, noticed that there were many young girls among us. She warned us to say when being registered that we were over fifteen years old or we would be sent to an extermination camp.

In Camp Oleina my two little brothers and four-year-old sister were forcibly taken from us. I cannot describe our sorrow and pain, the cries and screams of the children at parting … And so only my mother, eleven-year-old brother, Berele, and I remained.

Every day goods trains would take us to work. Our guards were German soldiers assisted by a multi-national police force, among which was a young Pole, Janek --- a kindhearted fellow.

One day our train stopped midway and remained standing for a long time. Janek told us the reason for the hold-up: a train with many coaches packed with Jewish children.

We looked in the direction in which he pointed and saw hundreds of childish hands stretched out through the window bars. We knew the fate of these children --- the death camps --- but, alas, could do nothing …

In 1944 we were transported to Kaiserwald near Riga. Here our heads were shaved, our old rags replaced with striped uniforms and wooden clogs, we were each given a triangular piece of cloth to cover our heads, a louse-ridden blanket and --- of course --- a number. Mine was 6757.

[Page 592]

Every day there were roll calls. From time to time the Germans would come and sort us --- right, left --- to life or death.

From across the barbed wire we would often see little Berele. He told us that the grown-ups took pity on him and gave him a little food. Once he even tried to throw us a piece of bread, but it stuck in the barbed wire. He was upset and Mother cried …

Shortly afterwards a truck arrived at the camp and took away the remaining children and so we no longer saw Berele. Only Mother and I remained …

When the front began to draw nearer we were transferred to Stutthof, an extermination camp fenced in by several rows of barbed wire. Every half hour there was roll call.

One day, while standing in the queue for our food rations, we heard piercing screams coming from the front of the queue. It turned out that the kapo had plunged a young girl into the pot of boiling soup. Later we were dished out soup from the same pot.

On a certain day, when sent out to work at a different place, I saw a huge pile of shoes --- children's and adults'. I rummaged and found a pair of good, almost brand-new shoes, which I later exchanged for a loaf of bread …

The tale of Chana-Fejge Berkman-Skopiec makes painful reading. She describes how her father and brother met their death at Ponar:

We worked in a labour camp near Swiencian, laying a railway line and paving highways. The food barely sufficed to keep body and soul together. On the eve of Chanukah I, along with many others, was transferred to the Vilna ghetto. There were camps into which the Germans put many people who had been brought from the provinces. We were singled out for special hard labour. The conditions were intolerable.

In the spring of 1943 the labour camps were liquidated and all their inmates removed to Ponar. My father and brother were assigned the task of burning the bodies of the murdered, until they too were ultimately killed in Ponar. My mother was murdered in Zezmeri …

Tragic is the tale of Mira Lotz-Szneider who paints in vivid though sombre colours all that she herself and so many men, women, adolescents and children had lived through in the labour and extermination camps:

We were working at paving a highway between Zezmeri and Wewie, two shtetlach a distance of 25 kms away from each other. We dared not raise our heads for a second for fear of the shouts and blows of the overseers. We worked long hours.

[Page 591]

In winter, in particular, life was hard. We had to dig under the snow in the frozen earth, stones and sand. Our daily rations --- 200 grammes of bread and a little soup made from rotten cabbage.

We were not guarded, but counted mornings and evenings, with the warning that if anyone were found missing all would answer for it.

Towards the end of 1943 we were transferred to Oleine in Latvia, an SS camp fenced round by the inevitable barbed wire, and surrounded by watchtowers. Germans with bloodthirsty dogs trained to attack Jews only were constantly on the prowl.

And then there were the Jewish kapos, among whom Danziger “distinguished” himself with his brutality. Any Jew who happened to cross his path he beat up mercilessly. One day my mother Rachel-Leah was his luckless victim. He kept beating her until she fell down in a faint. She died the next day …

We returned from work one day, dropping from exhaustion, and were immediately driven out of the barracks for roll call. Our children were taken from us and loaded into trucks which stood waiting at the gate. The cries and wails rose to heaven. The peasants in the neighbourhood heard it. Did God hear it too?

The children, eleven of them from Dubene, were taken to Auschwitz. My father David could not bear to part with his little girl Sarah-Zelda, and went along with her …

A few months later we were transferred to Kaiserwald, another barbed-wire camp near Riga. At the large barracks, our new home, we were ordered to wash, our heads were shorn, and we were given camp clothes in exchange for our former rags. These rags meant nothing to me in themselves but I was terribly upset and wept bitter tears because of the few family photographs which I had carried with me in all my wanderings and guarded with my very life. They were all I had left of my home, my childhood and my dear unforgettable ones …

It was the end of 1944. The Soviet army advanced, frequent bombings were heard. The night sky was lit up with the fires raging in nearby Riga and all around.

The Germans decided to liquidate the camp and we were evacuated to the shore of the Baltic sea and from there to the death camp Stutthof. In one corner of the camp, where entry was strictly forbidden, thick black smoke coiled without a stop. That was the end of the road --- the crematorium.

Roll calls and selections were frequent. Those ordered to the left were sent to the gas chambers. Wagons went round the camp to collect the bodies of those who had died of hunger or disease. We envied the dead for their suffering had ended …

[Page 590]

A month after our arrival the Germans came to recruit the able-bodied for work. Of the several thousand inmates a mere few hundred were chosen, I among them. We were put into goods trains and driven to an unknown destination. We knew that once again we had been snatched from death, for why else had we been removed from Stutthof.

We were brought to Sofinwald and set to work helping Dutch and British war prisoners with their building operations. We lived in plywood huts. In winter the thin walls would be covered with thick layers of ice. We slept on the earthen floor …

The builders built houses of brick. We carried bricks and cement from the railway coaches to the building site on our shoulders. We also had to dig for loam to make bricks ourselves. The food rations were meagre but then we were not short of blows. In this two SS women, Erika and Walita, excelled, as did a Jewish kapo from Hungary …

No less heartrending are the experiences of Motke Rosenberg of Opsa in the ghettoes and camps through which he and his family passed.

We had uncanny “luck.” Our entire family was sent to the Vilna ghetto. I was very young and worked near the railway station.

Again the rounding up of people began --- that meant --- actions. People were shoved into coaches, my sisters among them. Pandemonium broke out and many escaped. I too. But we were caught just outside the ghetto gates. My parents were given the option of redeeming me for a bribe but as they did not have the money, I was put back in the coach with my sisters. We were certain that we were being taken to Ponar but were brought to Estonia instead, to the labour camp Wajwary.

Everything was strange and unfamiliar --- the language, the landscape, the surroundings, except for the same barbed-wire fence, the same guards, and in the barracks the all too familiar emaciated faces --- skeletons --- hunched, dejected, half-dead with faded glances …

The work --- to put down railway tracks; the working day --- long and hard, punctuated with merciless beatings at the slightest pretext; the food --- a piece of bread and a bit of soup …

The punishment for attempted escape was 25 lashes. Not too bad, I thought, one can't die from it. So I decided to run away. Again I was caught, and two months later transferred to Narwe, another camp. There to my great joy I met up with my father. Conditions here were even worse --- we had to dig trenches. Winter, cold, half-naked, starved, the overseers beating mercilessly … My father

[Page 589]

became ill and was put into a hospital from which he never returned. I came to visit him one day only to be told that he had died. I leaned against [t]he gate and wept and wept …

Once again I ran away …

A few days later I was caught. Paniker, the camp commandant, at his wits' end, shouted that he was sick and tired of my attempts at escape and was going to hang me …

I lay in the attic and watched Herr Paniker and his Jewish assistant Diler prepare the gallows for me. I saw them test the rope, the beam and the stool on which I was to stand before the hanging …

I was led out. I was shaking with fear and Paniker had to support me. I was placed on the stool, the rope round my neck, was given a push and … fell to the ground! Once again they tried, and once again I fell to the ground, this time in a faint … When I came to I saw Diler standing over me and heard him say: “You're alive, alive!”

At roll call that evening I received 25 lashes and once again fainted …

The aforegoing is but a fraction of the suffering endured by so many, told by the few who lived to tell it.

A chapter on its own is the harrowing tale of the so-called “death march” in which thousands of Jews --- young and old --- took part towards the end of the war.

The German extermination machine which worked all out did not slacken to the end, when the Germans knew that they had lost the war, were suffering defeat on every front. Even in the last few weeks before the final capitulation, when the Nazi beast was in its death throes, the demonic murderous plan was not halted. Jews in their thousands were dragged along with the retreating German army --- Jews and war prisoners --- whom they either did not manage to kill or, for some reason or other, could not.

And so they drove worn-out, sick and half-dying human beings, through forests and fields, towns and villages, over highways and byways, in boats and all manner of conveyance --- deep into Germany, and threw them into camps and prisons.

From the memoirs of those who survived the dreadful march unfolds the frenzied race against time by the Germans.

In rain and snow, by day and night, without rest, food or water, ragged and half-naked, dropping by the wayside, desperate, they dragged themselves along. Anyone too weak to go on was ruthlessly killed on the spot. Escorted by

[Page 588]

armed guards, with trained dogs at their sides, the march, the “death march” as it was later called, ended in Germany. Very few of those who set out, completed it.

Mira Lotz, one of the “lucky” survivors, writes:

In February 1945, when the front began to draw near, we were ordered out of the camp and driven on foot, in deep snow and frost, in the direction of Berlin. Many died on the way. Those who lagged behind were shot.

We were kept in a camp near Launberg for a whole month. We slept on the frozen earth, consumed with lice and hungry. Hundreds died every day …

When the Red army began to approach we were driven onwards until we came to a village, Chinhof. There we were locked in large barracks together with Russian prisoners-of-war. We were certain that this was the end of the road.

But a miracle happened! The Russian war prisoners recognised the approaching Russian tanks by the sound of their motors. They flung themselves at the gates, pushed with all their might, and forced them open. We were free!

I cannot find words to describe that moment. After so many nightmarish months, years, when the borders between life and death had become blurred in my mind, and suddenly --- free, freedom!!

At that moment I became aware of the abysmal, the horrible disaster. Before my eyes I saw my loved ones --- relatives and friends --- who had been taken from me one by one and only I remained alive.

Lonely and alone, amid hundreds such as I, hardly able to stand on my feet, barely human in my concentration camp clothes with the yellow badge --- the shield of David --- on my sleeve, with a number --- 40630 --- a shaven head, wooden clogs on my feet, and wrapped in a dirty blanket …

The Russian shoulders gaped at us in horror …

This was 10 March 1945 --- two months before the war ended.

And finally, I visited Dubene, the place where I was born. The village had been burnt down, destroyed, annihilated.

I went to the cemetery but found only smashed tombstones, fragments scattered among the tall wild grass …

This is the story of my life. Can I ever forget it?

I will always carry in my heart the memory of my dear ones, the innocent, who were murdered and burnt only because they were Jews …

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Similar are the trials and tribulations of Rivka Rukszin, who too took part in the “death march.” She relates:

January 1945. For three weeks on end we were driven westwards. Those who could not keep up were murdered on the way. I, though scarcely able to drag myself along, had to support my thirteen-year-old sister Reisel.

Not far from the German village Kulka we were locked in large barracks where we stayed for two months. Of the 3000 people who set out on the march only 500 survived.

At night the Germans used to open the gates, probably to let in the biting cold, which would pierce through us. In the morning we would get up covered with snow. Every day the dead, frozen bodies were removed from the barracks. Our daily rations consisted of 100 grammes of bread and two potatoes.

One day, at midday, the cook, an Opsa woman, came to tell us that we had been liberated by the American army [actually it was the Soviet army]. We greeted the news with apathy as we had no strength even to express our joy …

Vivid is the description of Motke Rosenberg of his share in the “death march”:

The Germans gathered about 2000 of us for roll call, kept us standing for two days, and then began to drive us. We went along byways, fields and forests. We spent the nights in barns, granaries or any other outbuildings. On the way we scavenged anything that could serve as food. Those who fell behind, the weak, the ill, were shot on the spot and their bodies thrown by the wayside. Our numbers dwindled daily …

Hungry, louse-ridden, barefoot, covered in rags and half-naked, half-dead, beaten, we prayed for death.

I recalled my childhood, the days of my youth, the place of my birth, and in my heart the thought kept gnawing: this is the end …

The march lasted one month and a half. Of the 2000 men who set out only 160 remained.

On the outskirts of Salzburg we met up with soldiers of uncertain origin --- some spoke Yiddish, some Polish. Then we learned: they were Americans, and we were free!

We wanted to fall at their feet and thank them, but they would not let us --- they were appalled at the sight of us.

Often when reading and listening to the testimonies of those who succeeded in cheating death one cannot but marvel at the part chance played in their destinies. They were tossed like puppets, shunted between death and life, despair and hope …

What else could one call the almost incredible, shattering experience of Leiser Fiszer who crawled out of the pit alive after he and so many Jews --- men, women and children --- had been shot and thrown into it [in Braslaw on June 3-5, 1942]. He was lying beneath

[Page 586]

a heap of bodies, covered in their innocent blood. This is his story:

We were driven to the ready-dug pits in batches. It was no use crying, shouting or pleading with God. Many infants were thrown into the pits alive. Some, not yet dead, grappled with death. The murderers did their work and left.

Evening came. Darkness fell. I tried to lift a hand, stretch out a leg, and feel that I am not hurt, but am lying in the blood of my dear friends and on a pile of dead children. With my last strength I crawl out of the pit and make for the nearby woods.

For three days I wandered, naked, bloodstained and famished, until I spotted a barn. I crept in, burrowed into the hay and waited. At dawn the peasant came to fetch some fodder. He was startled to see me but knew at once what I was doing there. He went out and after a while came back with an army coat and a pot of boiled potatoes. I felt alive again.

The peasant, Juzef Orlowski of the village Zwirble near Belmont, hid and kept me for two years until a neighbour told him that the villagers knew that he was harbouring a Jew. He advised him to send me away or hand me over to the police. Juzef told me of this and said, “I want you to live. I will dig you a hole in the pigsty.” I lay in that hole for eight months.

One morning the Germans came. They drove everyone out of the house, lined them up ready to be shot, and demanded that they hand over the Jew. Juzef's wife thereupon fell to their feet crying, and said: “Do you think that a swinish Jew is dearer to me than my husband and my eight children?”

The Germans left and I knew that I too must leave.

I set out to look for partisans.

Similar was the fate of the Jajsi Jew, Szneur Munitz who, with a cry of “Shema Israel,” leaped out of the pit which he and several Jews had been forced to dig. They were murdered but he remained alive and went home to his family.

The narratives of Fiszer and Munitz evoke pictures of poignant, inhuman suffering, which like furious waves broke over our lives. Hunted like animals, not certain of what tomorrow will bring, Jews from our parts along with all Polish Jews, were prey to affliction and fear, indignities and evil deeds of evil men --- the modern cannibals.

Tragic and bitter are the tales of Yerachmiel Bielak, his brother Chontsze and their little children. Their experiences alone can serve as ample material for a researcher into the happenings of that period --- the frightful Jewish catastrophe under German rule. We shall relate a few incidents.

[Page 585]

Abraham Bielak, a mere eighteen-year-old when the war broke out, soon began to feel the weight of the Nazi iron yoke: life in the ghetto, in underground hideouts (bunkers or shelters as they were called), the hunger and want, watching his sister smother her child to death with a pillow so that its crying should not give away all the inmates of the bunker.

One cannot gloss over or fail to be moved by the tale of Feige-Tsippe Toker-Bielak who, as a child of eight, had known the loneliness and want, the hunger and misery of those trying days.

Her testimony speaks of the anguish of a child who has to console her father in his lonely hideout where he suffers acute mental torture in his longing for his children. She writes:

When I saw Kalkowski's house from afar I went up and knocked on the door. It was opened to me at once by the housekeeper but when I asked to see my father, she told me that he was not staying with them.

I began to cry. She then took me in, drew away a curtain and told me that I would find him on top of the oven.

I saw him and knew that he was no longer in his right mind. He was tormented by the thought that he could not help us and had to send us, his two children, into the ghetto alone. He wanted to save us but had neither the strength nor the means. I clambered up to him. We embraced and wept silently. After a while I asked him: “Father, why did you call us?” “I want us to be together,” he said. I then told him that in the ghetto conditions were better than here, and if one has to die it is much better to die in the ghetto, among Jews. We both cried.

In the night he woke me and told me that he wanted to go and see Yerachmiel and his children, and my little sister. I loved my father and could not oppose his wishes. He cried without a stop. The peasant went outside to see if the coast was clear. We thanked him and took our leave.

We met up with Yerachmiel and two children, the third child had died …

She continues:

On Purim 1943 the last remaining Jews in the ghetto were liquidated. [This refers to the “Opsa” Ghetto in Braslaw, destroyed on March 19, 1943.] My sister, my father and I were with Yerachmiel in his hideout. My brother was in the ghetto in Bogomolski's house, together with some others. They put up a stand when the Nazis came to take them to the pits.

Among the brave Jews was my cousin Leiser Bielak, a Polish ex-solider. He shot a German and a local policeman and wounded another. The German[s] then hurled hand grenades into the house and it caught alight. Leiser, though wounded in the hand, managed to escape.

My brother and all the Jews inside the house were burnt to death …

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The Partisan Movement

Not only do we wish to tell of the evil perpetrated against the Jews under the Nazi jackboot, not only record the testimonies about those who, for various reasons, could not put up an armed stand and hence perished by various means --- privation, hunger, burning at the crematoria, brutal torture at the hands of the Gestapo or other Nazis and their local henchmen --- but we are equally duty bound to tell the heroic chapter written by the Jewish partisans and resistance groups in the fight against the common enemy --- the German aggressor.

True, we have told of instances of heroism and courage of Jews in the ghetto and elsewhere, but these were sporadic, spontaneous and isolated cases, which nevertheless manifested the spiritual strength fuelled by hatred and bitterness which swelled in the breasts of proud and undaunted Jews.

However, as an organised, strategic force which was able to make an impact on the war effort on the fronts, and play havoc with the German destruction machine --- such a force was the partisan movement only. Once again, it is difficult, if not impossible, to describe in detail or to give an exhaustive account of numbers, the extent of the damage, and the diversions carried out during that period.

We shall therefore endeavour to extract from the nebulous past what little we have managed to glean from the chronicles and testimonies of those who, with the barest of means, fought in the partisan units in the vicinity of Braslaw, Zamosz, Kazian, Jod and in certain regions of Lithuania and Latvia.

We recall with pride the brave young partisan Tewie Bielak, his self-sacrifice and iron will in wrestling with the enemy forces. Szleimke Ichilczik (in the book by Mosze Shutan) tells of him:

Tewie was a member of a partisan group in Vilna. He used to move about freely, as an Aryan, in the city and supply the partisans with arms. He was tortured to death by the Gestapo without betraying his comrades. We quote:

The last time Tewke had gone outside the ghetto two agents caught him. They caught him at the last moment, near the secret entrance, when his one foot was already inside the ghetto. He did not even manage to turn round, when they pounced on him, twisted his arms backwards, tied him, searched him, found his revolver and took him straight to the Gestapo.

[Page 583]

He was soon brought back to the ghetto, to the Jewish criminal police, to [Jacob] Gens. This is what the Germans often did --- implicated the Jewish police in the investigation.

[Martin] Weiss, the Gestapo chief of the Vilna ghetto, stands over Tewke and belabours him with a rubber truncheon. He wants to know who sent him and where he found the firearm.

Tewke lies bound on the table. He keeps silent. He does not utter a word. He does not utter a groan.

Gens, who stood aside, intervenes. He delicately takes the truncheon from the Gestapo chief's hand and begins to fleece [flay] Tewke alive. Purple and red stripes swell up on Tewke's writhing body, blood oozes from his every pore --- but he, Gens, beats and beats --- so long and so furiously that he breaks out in a sweat. Even Weiss, the Gestapo chief, can no longer stand it.

“Throw away the truncheon!” he shouts, bangs the door and stomps out.

Gens finally appears from the interrogation chamber --- spent, dishevelled, flustered. His eyes full of hatred, he stares at the Jewish police who jump to attention. With a pained, contemptuous look he meets their quizzical, frightened, cowardly glances.

“Rigged out like a bunch of morons --- idiots!” he hisses through his teeth.

At the door he pauses for a second, turns round and flings at them: “A son, a son like this, I should have!”

And the police, insulted, stare at him in amazement, puzzled at his words, they shake their heads and think that perhaps he, Gens, is not in his right mind at this very moment.

(Own translation)

Among the partisans Yerachmiel Milutin, a young man from Braslaw, distinguished himself for his courage and heroism. His exploits are described in The Book of Jewish Partisans, page 179.

Yerachmiel was second-in-command of an intelligence group in the partisan unit “Suworow.” He and eight others were dispatched on a certain diversion. On the way they hit upon enemy soldiers who opened heavy fire on them. The inexperienced young partisans took fright and fled. Milutin held his ground, and with concerted fire and hand grenades routed the enemy with great loss to them and saved his own men.

Yerachmiel returned to base safe and sound. The commander Strikow then summoned the fighting unit, and sharply reprimanded the intelligence group for their action, while warmly praising Yerachmiel for his courage in taking on such odds.

In his book Partisans on the March Sz. Kaczerginski depicts the struggle waged by the partisans in the Natsze forest, in which Gerszon Jankelewicz (known as Welwel-Gerszke) heroically fell. Originally from Braslaw, he married, lived and worked in Lida during the last few years before the war. In summer

[Page 582]

1942 he escaped from the ghetto into the Natsze forest and joined the partisan regiment “Katowski.” He was soon appointed company commander. At the beginning of 1943 he derailed two German military trains near Marzinkanz. He took part in liquidating traitors and in diversions. On 9 September he and three partisans set out on an important mission. On the way they chanced upon 25 German soldiers armed with automatic weapons and in the unequal fight two partisans fell. One of them was Gerszon Jankelewicz.

Diverse and fruitful were the operations carried out by Faiwel Trok of Jod in the fight against the Germans. In June 1942 Faiwel escaped from the Vidz ghetto and joined the partisan unit “Ponomarenko” which was active in the Glubok district. He took part in an attack on the garrison stationed in the shtetl Komaj near Haiduciszki (Haidutseszok), in blowing up the railway bridge Woropajewo-Glubok and destroying the Polish-Nazi bands in the Szamic forests, and in countless other partisan ambushes.

In March 1944 he was sent on a so-called “economic mission,” was attacked, surrounded by German soldiers, and fell in the skirmish.

Another brave partisan was Abraham Wilkicki, a young man from Jod, who escaped from the Kazian ghetto and finally lost his life fighting the Germans. A member of the unit “Spartak,” he participated in all its diversions and battles. In one of the battles he was wounded in the hand and foot and remained lying in the field. With his last strength he crawled into the bushes to hide. There his comrades found him and took him to a place of safety, but as no medical help was to be had, he soon contracted blood poisoning and died on 13 January 1943.

The tale of Pinchas Jaffe and his 15-year-old son from Bildziugi is one of courage and heroism in the fight against the German hooligans and especially their local henchman. Pinchas and his son fled into the Zachowszcsyny forest near Kazian prior to the liquidation of the Jod Jews. Both were armed. In the forest they met up with Jews who had escaped from the ghettoes of the nearby yeshuvim. They formed a partisan unit. In the village Zalesia they shot the peasant and German collaborator Oberjan and burnt down his house and all his property. They also avenged themselves on the family of the peasant Abramei, who handed over to the Germans several Jews from Jod who had survived the massacre. For a similar crime the partisans killed the Soltys (administrator) of the village Bujewszczyzna.

In June 1942 this unit was incorporated into the partisan regiment “Ponomarenko” led by Meirson, which in turn combined with the Russian division of the same name active in the Danilowicz district.

In July 1942 the Jewish regiment attacked the village Korsunki, near Jod, as it

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was a nest of Samachowcy (local youths who organised themselves into units in order to help the Germans fight partisans and Jews).

The Jewish partisans, in a combined operation with the Russian regiment of the “Spartak” division, attacked Jod by night and burnt down the houses together with their inhabitants and German accomplices, including two German officers who happened to be there. One of the buildings set on fire was the headquarters of the district command.

This act of revenge was the brainchild of Pinchas Jaffe and both he and his son Motel distinguished themselves during the attack, winning warm praise from the leaders of their unit.

When Meirson, the partisan leader, decided to leave the Kazian forest and cross over to the base of the “Ponomarenko” division active in the Danilowicz district, Pinchas Jaffe and his son and several other Jews decided to remain and continue their punitive acts against German collaborators. The group sowed fear among the Germans of the district, so much so that the latter fixed a price on the head of this brave partisan.

On December 15, 1942 Pinchas and his son Motel came to the village Bujewszczyzna to carry out an act of revenge against a German accomplice. Not finding him at home they decided to spend the night in one of the hamlets. The peasants got wind of this and in the night forcibly entered the house where Pinchas and his son were sheltering and caught them. Motel was burnt alive and Pinchas handed over to the Germans. He tried to escape but was shot.

Benjamin Dubinski too can serve as a symbol of Jewish courage. With gun in hand he fought against the Nazi military units and their accomplices. Benjamin was born in Vidz in the Braslaw district, and later moved to Jod. He and some friends fled to the forests of Milik between Jod and Pohost. After the massacre of the Jod Jews in December 1941 they joined a group of escaped Russian war prisoners and together began to comb the district for arms.

In May 1942 they returned --- armed --- to the neighbouring forests and formed the partisan unit named “Szirokow,” after their commander. It was headed by Dubinski, who excelled himself in the attack on a German garrison stationed in the village Achremowcy near Braslaw. The Germans retreated and the partisans took booty, arms and ammunition. Dubinski also distinguished himself in a battle near the yishuvim Perebrodz-Zagorie against the Germans and their accomplices.

In November 1942 Benjamin set out to avenge himself on a peasant who had

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killed Jews from Bildziugi. He took with him several local Jews who had been hiding and wandering the forest. They did not find the peasant and decided to stay the night at an inn. The local peasants tipped off the Germans, who attacked the inn by night and after a fight all the partisans perished.

One of the first, independent, armed fighters was Szolem Munic. He began to organise fighting units immediately after the Germans entered our district. Szolem, a coachman from Jod, his wife and child, and a group of youths, fled to the Kazian forest in 1941. At that time there were no partisans as yet, nor had the Jod ghetto been erected.

The youths, led by Muic, began to scout for arms among the peasants who were known to have collected and hidden large quantities of arms and ammunition left behind by the retreating Soviet army. This youthful group avenged the Jews handed over to the Germans. They shot the traitors, among them the peasant Stanislaw Kowalonek who denounced the family Halper and Szeine Rubaszin, and the peasant Fiodor Racznikow, who betrayed the Mindow family and Chawah Munic.

The group operated as an independent partisan unit. When escaped Russian prisoners of war began to gather in the forest (summer 1942), they joined the by now experienced Jewish fighters and together launched large-scale plans to obtain food and ammunition, and to form the regiment “Jaczminow” which in time grew into the brigade “Szirakow” mentioned earlier.

Szolem Munic was appointed commander of a division and his task was to provide the unit with arms. While on these missions he used to wreak vengeance on the peasants who had handed over Jews to the enemy. He was later accused of indiscriminately murdering peasants, and as a result was relieved of his post and placed in charge of obtaining provisions for the regiment and the families of the fighters in the partisan camps. His wife and children were among them. On one of his journeys in the villages he came upon a group of Germans. Szolem and his comrade Sztein perished. This took place in the Wirow forest in February 1942.

We cannot help recalling Szimon Zilberman, the young man from Jod who, on 17 December 1941, immediately after the first massacre, fled to the Kazian forest. He spent the entire winter of 1942 there, together with others like him, in search of ammunition as well as tracking down the peasants who had betrayed Jews to the Nazis (his family too perished in this way). In the summer of 1942 he was admitted to the “Spartak” brigade which arrived from the eastern regions. Zilberman partook in battles against the enemy garrison

[Page 579]

from Vidz, Opsa and others, and in attacks against the villages of Usiecza and Wasewicz.

Since the unit was in need of a cobbler (he was a cobbler journeyman in his youth) he was forced to ply his trade, and was se[n]t to repair the partisans' shoes in the house of the forrester (lesnik) Kowalionek. One fine morning in January 1943 the Germans attacked the forrester's house. Our partisans succeeded in breaking through the German lines, but Ziberman and Abraham Yair were trapped and burnt alive in the house together with the forrester.

Thrilling is the story of the partisan Alexander Dagowicz who fought valiantly side by side with scores of Jewish fighters. The battle in which the cold-blooded murderer and ringleader, [Willy] Dit[t]man, was caught deserves special mention. He was taken prisoner by Dagowicz and later handed over to the partisan punitive division.

A rich fighting history is that of Chayim Burt of Braslaw who began his “career” as fighter in partisan units in the Braslaw forests, then joined the ranks of the Red Army and finally, on his arrival in Israel, fought in the Palmach for the independence of Israel.

Brave and indefatigable was Benjamin Mowszenzon of Rymszan who joined the Soviet police for the specific purpose of catching the local gangsters and murderers who killed his family and many Rymszan Jews. He carried out his duty with the utmost diligence and together with Soviet punitive units discovered and destroyed the nests of scores of German collaborators who helped to massacre hundreds of Jews.

Abraham Bielak of Braslaw writes about himself, his brother Tewie, his relatives and friends with whom he fought:

In the Kazian forests we were joined by Jewish fighters as [and] also by Russian soldiers who had escaped from German captivity. Soon afterwards I was appointed leader of a group of partisans of the second division, and Yerachmiel Milutin deputy of an intelligence group. In practically every combat operation I used to go with Mosze Milutin.

Vidz, we were told, was teeming with gendarmes and local police who kept harassing the peasants in the vicinity, accusing them of helping the partisans. They would confiscate their possessions and even burn down their homes.

We decided to teach them a lesson. Hundreds of us, partisans, led by our commander Strikow, set out against the German uniformed men. We also had to occupy the pharmacy and take medicines. In a surprise attack we killed many but there were casualties on our side as well.

[Page 578]

One act of revenge, or rather justice, deserves a place of its own. It is the revenge wreaked on the traitors who handed the heroic Leiser Bielak and Chontsze Bielak to the Germans. Abraham Bielak and Mosze Milutin who carried out the sentence of the partisan court, write:

Three times we came to the village in order to settle scores with the traitor and his sons. There were three of us --- Yerachmiel Bielak, Mosze Milutin and I --- as well as the partisan Pietka Kaszrowski. Twice we returned empty-handed, as not all were at home. The third time we found them all together. We were prepared for we knew that they would put up a fight or try to make a run for it. Three of us took up strategic positions outside and I entered the house. They recognised me at once, knew the purpose of my coming and tried to escape. I shot the one son, [and] the second son, Alioch, who denounced and surrendered Jews to the Germans, was shot by my comrades. Poor consolations, but nevertheless, revenge! …

After the war my brother Mosze and Yehuda Garber transferred the bodies of Leiser and Chontsze Bielak to the pits and buried them there …

Finally, we must mention that apart from the partisans, many Jewish soldiers from our parts too fought the Nazi hordes, whether in the ranks of the regular Red Army, the Polish fighting units, or British formations in Africa and Europe. Many of these soldiers had been mobilised as far back as the beginning of the Polish-German war. Some were captured by the Russians or Germans, some perished in battle or in bombing raids.

After the liberation of the areas where they operated, numerous partisans joined the Red Army, fighting till the Nazi-Fascist beast was totally vanquished. Some of our fellow countrymen attained high officers' ranks and won medals and decorations. One was Isser Rabinowicz of Braslaw who reached the rank of Colonel and was decorated by the Poles.

In the newspaper Nasz Glos (“Our Voice”), Stefan Krukowski, the military correspondent, writes that thanks to the courage and determination of Isser Rabinowicz, his unit succeeded in capturing the German Commander of the 163rd division, together with 650 German soldiers.

As mentioned, many of our boys from Braslaw and environs fell on the battlefields of Europe and elsewhere. Obviously, it is not possible for us to give exact details of the time, place or circumstances in which they sacrificed their young lives. Let this chronicle of those dark times, lit up by their brave deeds

[Page 577]

which helped hasten the dawn --- the victory over the Nazis --- be an eternal memorial to their pure and saintly souls.

Some came back and are now scattered throughout the world. Many found a home in our own land --- Israel. Once again we cannot give with any accuracy the names of those who lived to see the great day --- the triumph over the dark forces of evil, horror and death. They too are here remembered with pride.

 

Epilogue

We have tried to relate, briefly and succinctly, all that has been written down, told and recorded in innumerable documents, testimonies and experiences of the Sh'erit Hapleita, the few who survived the almost total destruction of our community and its neighbouring shtetlach and yishuvim.

We feel that the letter by Chayim Munic (Chayim Levi-Itches) written from Russia to his sister in Israel after his visit to Braslaw --- his hometown and ours which is no more --- shortly after the war, can serve as a final note in the dreadful requiem march.

We are reproducing this letter in slightly abridged form which in no way alters its content nor detracts from its worth:

In Braslaw everything is outwardly as it was: the mountain did not split in half, the waters in the lakes flow calmly, exactly as though nothing had happened. And yet, terrible things happened here which are difficult to speak of and even more difficult to put on paper.

The first Friday after the Germans entered Braslaw they rounded up all the Jews, drove them to a marshy swamp in the Dubkes forest and kept them there for a whole day. While they stood thus in the swamp, whoever wanted looted their homes. When they returned the shtetl looked as if after a pogrom. Feathers were flying from the torn bedding exactly as described in Bialik's “City of Slaughter.”

On the way to the swamp Szlomo [Zilber], the ritual slaughterer, and Chayim Milutin tried to escape and were shot dead on the spot. Later another thirteen Jews were shot when their overseer, a Pole, wrote down that they had been idling when they should have been working. They had been loading logs at the railway station.

The remainder were shot in the wholesale massacre on 3rd June 1942. Till then life for the Jews had also been one hell [an eternal hell]. Once on a Friday night the Germans put the ritual slaughterer Singalowski on a motorcycle and raced with him through the streets of the shtetl. They finally let him go, but the following day he died of apoplexy.

[Page 576]

Next it was decreed that Jews may not walk on the sidewalk, are to wear the yellow badge on the lefthand side of the breast and the right shoulder, and eventually they were shut up in a ghetto. The ghetto was in Pilsudski Street, and was cordoned off with barbed wire. (Our family lived together with Chienke and Gerszon in Stawski's house.)

Jews were forbidden to speak or trade with peasants. The Jews of the ghetto were forced to do unskilled, menial labour, such as washing floors for the Germans, loading logs onto trains, knitting woollen socks and gloves. They received 15 deko (150 grammes) of bread each daily. They lived by bartering with the peasants; everything was bartered from clothing to furniture --- a bench, a wardrobe, a table. It was forbidden but everyone did it. To aggravate matters, the Germans imposed heavy collective fines in the form of gold, fur coats, ladies' coats. The Judenrat and Jewish police collected these on behalf of the Germans and carried out all the Germans' decrees concerning the Jews. The Judenrat consisted of 14-15 people, the most senior member being [Yitzchak] Mindel the hardware merchant. Some of the others were: Levi Itsche Wainsztein, [Eliezer] Mazeh the teacher, Szeinkman the advocate. The policemen were Alter Arliuk, Leib Valin and others.

The Jews in the ghetto sensed that their days were numbered. Some began to prepare hiding places. Since a faint hope glimmered in their breasts that perhaps some will outlive the dark times, like a drowning man clutching at a straw, they did nothing to defy the enemy so as not to precipitate the wholesale slaughter. All this, however, was to no avail. At dawn on 3rd June [1942], the Germans, assisted by the police and Braslaw peasants in the service of the Germans, began to drive the Jews out of their homes. The Jews were assembled in the building opposite the Greek Orthodox Church, stripped of their clothing up to their underwear, brutally beaten, and then led to the ready-dug pits in the forest on the way to Dubene, past the pasture land used by the Jews. Mothers carried their children. No one cried. Three days the blood oozed from the pit. Peasants in wagons carried sand and poured it on top but the blood kept flowing.

Many Jews took refuge in the hideouts they had prepared in advance. For three days the police looked for them. Anton Burak, a tall non-Jew, a policeman, who worked at the brewery and was fluent in Yiddish, would enter the homes, go into the yard and say: “Jews, come out of your hiding places. There will be no more shootings.” Some obeyed, came out and were at once led away to the pits to be shot. Germans and police would enter the empty homes and fire at random into the walls and floor, in the yard or even the

[Page 575]

ground. The little children hidden in the bunkers, taking fright, would start crying. In this way they caught the Jews. Some who started to run were shot while trying to scale the barbed wire.

A day before the massacre the Germans sent about 80 young people to Slobodka, ostensibly to work there. Later they were sent back to Braslaw and immediately taken to the pit. The Jews from Opsa were brought into the now empty Jewish ghetto. They too were shot a year later [on March 19, 1943]. During this operation a Jewish fellow killed a German who came to drive them out of the house, donned his uniform, took his automatic rifle and went outside. A policeman was coming towards him, he fired but missed, and was caught. Another fellow killed a German and two policemen with a pick.

The Jews who hid during the first day of the massacre fled to the forests. For hiding a Jew a peasant would be shot and his house set on fire. For catching a Jew the reward was three kilos of salt. There were many instances of peasants catching Jews and handing them over to the police. For spending the night some peasants demanded five rubles in gold.

There were also instances of peasants hiding Jews or giving them a piece of bread. Maszke Slawa Chayes and Mendke Chayim Itziks lay hidden in the home of two young peasant women until the arrival of the Red army. They had no money nor any belongings with them. Later these peasant women took in more Jews from Braslaw. True, these did pay something towards their keep. Thus they saved six people. The Braslaw deacon in the church died of apoplexy the day the Jews were being shot. Some Catholic priests urged the peasants who confessed to harbouring Jews to give them food and clothing. The local Catholic priest supplied David of Bizne and a young boy with crucifixes to wear round their necks. Had the partisan movement existed at the time many more Jews would have been saved, but this movement only emerged in our district in 1943. And so isolated Jews escaped by hiding in the forest, bush[es] or similar hiding places; of our close relatives --- no one.

Those who remained alive returned to Braslaw, claimed some of their possessions from the peasants, sold them, raised a little money and left Poland.

The graves of the martyrs, the “pits” as they are called in Braslaw, were fenced round with a few sticks and barbed wire …

This in brief is the story of Braslaw. It's no use crying --- on the contrary --- we must live to spite our enemies.

“Am Israel Chai!” (“Long live the people of Israel!”)

Yours, Chayim

[Page 574]

What more can one add to the gruesome tale? What more to the bitter truth? Only the glowing words of our poet [Avraham] Shlonsky [in “A Vow”]:

In the presence of eyes
Which witnessed the slaughter …
I have taken an oath: To remember it all.
To remember, not once to forget!
Forget not one thing to the last generation …

[Page 573]

[List of Gentiles Who Saved Jews in the Braslav/Braslaw Area]

We shall always remember our non-Jewish fellow countrymen from Braslav and country districts --- Poles, Russians and Belorussians --- the kind men and women who risked their lives, those of their families, and their possessions, by taking us in and harbouring us in secret, by sharing their bread with us, serving as eyes and ears for us, for ever on the alert against the Nazi murderers, and by so doing, saved our lives during the long years of terror.

They have earned a place of honour among the annals of our people.

[The text above is repeated on this page in Hebrew and then in Yiddish.]

[Page 572]

[The names are presented exactly as they appear in the original, including some not in alphabetical order.]

Aniszka, from the Zalesie village.
Arciszewski, Jaszka.
Awdakim, from Krulewska, near Jacielewszyna.
Barecki, Dr.
Bejnarowicz, Viktor, and his family, from the property Talje, in the vicinity of Jod, and the brother of Viktor, Paluk and brother-in-law Strenczewski.
Borin, war prisoner.
Bresko, Wasil, from the village Wiazowicz, and many others whose names have been forgotten.
Chatkewicz, from the Zalesie village.
Czesnowicki, Emila, Jadzia and Alfons from the village Kochaniszek.
Emilianowicz, Dr.
Gasul, Jaszka and his son Tonka, from Zamosz.
Gibowski, Alfons, from the village of Brodzienice.
Grajczonek, from the village of Pasielie.
Grodz, Anton and Mania, from the village of Mikowszczyzna.
Heskie, from the village Bordzienic.
Ivanow, Wasil and his daughter Irina from the village Zacierewia.
Josefa, from the village Podhajcy.
Kaminitzki, from the village Zorawowszczyzne.
Kajtan, from the village Suchobolcy.
Kapusta, Igor, from the village Badraki.
Kasan, from the village Dziaduszki.
Kizlo, Michal and his family, following the recommendation of the Kreslawa priest. The Kizlo family is from the village Szemelki.
Kole, from the village Wisialowe.
Kolkowski, Francis from the Zaborny-Gumny.
Kolkowski, Vincenty from the Belmont court.
Konachowicz, Zoska, Jurka, Anna, Jadwiga and Jadzia.
Korszak, from the village Puniszcze.
Kosciukewicz, Anton, from the village of Jod.
Kruczkowski, hospital worker.
Kujalowich, Martin, from the village of Jod.
Kurilowicz, from the village Winica.
Labun and Hanusia, from the village of Bisieniec.
Lagun, Albina, Agnieszka and Josef from the village Sizowszczyzna.
Lewsza, Dr.
Lipski, from the village Antonowa.
Markiewicz, Julian.

[Page 571]

Matul, Ignaz.
Mickewicz, from Zurawowszczyzne.
Milkewicz, from the village Berkowszczyzna.
Mindowski, director of the Forest Department.
Muraszka, Jan and his family from the village Glinowka.
Olszewska, Hanka.
Orlowski, Josef, from the village Zwirbli.
Pacewicz, Antony.
Petro, the priest from the Belmont church.
Perchorowicz, from the village Winica.
Pinkewicz, from the village of Jod.
Podoba, Boleslaw.
Podoba, Jan, from the village Jacielewszczyna.
Podoba, Kola, from the village Podoby.
Podoba, Saszka.
Popin, Nikolai.
Priest from the village Prysaroki.
Priest from the village Ikaznia.
Radziewicz, from Zalesie.
Rymkiewicz, Bronislaw, from the village Burzyna.
Sawicki, from the village Gawejkas.
Sewickaja, Josefa, with the help of the local priest from the village Urban.
Siedziukiewicz, Ignacy and Katia.
Siedziukiewicz, Michael, Helena, Maniek, Mietek and Wacia.
Sewelewicz, Mikita, from the village Dziaduszki.
Sklaniewicz, from the village Pupniszcze.
Skuriat, two brothers, from the village Dukiel.
Szakiel, Stanislaw, from the village Kumiesniki.
Szczerbinski, Danat, his wife Josefa and his cousin Wladek from the Kamionka village.
Tolstow, from the village near Ikazna.
Trumpel, from the village of Jod.
Trumpel, from the village of Polinowe.
Vanka, from the village Bujowszczyna.
Wasilewski, Aliosza, son of the Braslaw orthodox priest.
Woronow, of the village Zapolosie.
Zakrzewski, from the village Zalesie.
Zypruk, from Ferma.

[Page 570]

The sun sets in flames
'Tis almost gone from sight
So melts my dream
So comes the night …

[Page 569]

Silent, sunk in deep mourning, we, a handful --- the Sh'erit Hapleita of the extinct Braslaw community --- followed the wake of the bit of earth brought from the “pit,” the mass grave in which our murdered loved ones lay buried.

With bowed heads, choking back the tears and the cry which fought to burst out from the depths of our anguished souls, we drew near the spot on the cemetery at Holon, to bring to burial this handful of earth.

Oh, Heavenly Father …

Is this all … ?!

Yes! This is all that is left of a living, bustling community, of a town and shtetlach, villages and yishuvim, which flourished and throbbed with teeming life.

Yitgadal veyitkadash sh'mei raba … [Magnified and sanctified is the great name of G-d] (from the Kaddish, Hebrew prayer for the dead)

We stood amid the symbolic graves all around, graves of countless Jewish communities that had shared a similar fate, and visions of blood and suffering swam before our eyes …

Yitgadal veyitkadash sh'mei raba


Translator's footnotes:

  1. This page appeared in the memorial book's English section in Yiddish; the page was translated into English by Aaron Krishtalka and donated by Jeff Deitch. Return
  2. The Breslover Aid Society (for the Braslav in what's now northern Belarus, the subject of this memorial book) was founded in the United States in 1910, not 1913. So the “1913” here would appear to be a printer's error. Return
  3. In the Yiddish original, “Brooklyn” was misprinted as “Brooklny.” Return
  4. Olav Hasholem: “May he rest in peace,” used after the name of a deceased person is mentioned. Return
  5. In the Yiddish original, “Heller” was given as “Heller n,” which appears to be a printer's error. Return

 

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