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[Page 593]

Pages from a Diary

By Asher Zisman, Antwerp

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

The Ghetto in Brisk D'lita

The dotted line indicates the ghetto limits. The Mukhavets River is just to the south of the ghetto.

1. The Great Synagogue on Dabrowska St. (Just outside the large ghetto).

2. The Jewish ghetto police headquarters (formerly the house of Rabbi Zeev Soloveitchik and Rabbi Simcha –Zelig the dayan).

3 + 4. The office of the Judenrat - formerly the Tachkamoni School in Borochov's building.

5. The storehouse of the Judenrat - formerly the building of the Jewish Community Council and the Burial Society.

6. The main entrance to the large ghetto. The transport place from which forced labor was assembled and taken away.

7+8. The internal fences between the 2 ghettos, large and small. Transit between them was only allowed before 6 p.m. The thoroughfare of Jagiellonska St that divided the 2 ghettos was not part of the ghetto.

9+10. Sentry gates on Jagiellonska that controlled the passage of non – Jews.

11. The place on the corner of Dluga and Jagiellonska in which the Jews that remained in the ghetto were murdered.

12,13,+14. Synagogues in which thousands of homeless people from the district lived.

15. The ghetto hospital (formerly the Business School).

December 1st 1941.

We are greatly distressed at the tragedy of 5,000 fallen innocent martyrs. Everyday brings new plagues: forced labor, savage beatings on naked bodies. The Gestapo vents it's anger on the books in the Great Synagogue and burns everything. A Judenrat (Jewish Council) was established. The German commandant is a murderer and a blackmailer, who takes away anything of any value. We return from the hard physical labor broken and exhausted – beaten and thrashed with sticks. Every limb and part of the body begs for rest.

We are inconsolable at the news from the district - they have liquidated the Jews of Kobryn, Zhabinka, Drohycyn and Antopole. The head of the Jewish community, Hersh Rosenberg, was brutally beaten – the others members of the Judenrat walk around dazed and broken. Our enemies have robbed and looted everything from us. The chairman Rosenberg and his deputy Dr. Nachman Landau said that they would not sell our lives and souls. Hirsh Lamazhevski said in the name of the community:” 5,000 Jews have been taken away and are not here with us any more. They were taken for slave labor as porters, carriers and drivers. We can make a stand if the murderers attack the ghetto, and there will be also casualities inflicted on them.”

Already five months have passed. How dreadful our life is. The attacks and violent punishments, getting caught in the street. The chairman and his deputy were openly beaten in front of our eyes.

“Jews must hand in their gold and silver”, thus demands the German beast. It is compulsory to wear the yellow patches. In the ghetto people die of hunger and sickness. It is forbidden to arrange funerals; only three men are permitted to bring the bodies for burial. It is forbidden to transport the dead by carts.

The German Commandant announced that Jews would be severely punished for spreading rumors about the murder of 5,000 Jews. They caught the goldsmith Nitzky on Jagiellonska St. and put him on a truck and forced him to shout;” all Jews are alive and working”.

Shmuel Pomerantz met with one of the Brest community activists in Koval. There were dozens of Brest refugee families there, who were preparing to return illegally to Brest. In Koval life was even more terrible. The commandant there was a wild beats who declared that it was a waste of bullets to shoot Jews –one should beat them to death with iron bars.

I belonged to a group of tradesmen – tailors, bootmakers, carpenters, and locksmiths who were living in the yard of Rattner's building on Dabrowska St. The workers were treated like slaves from morning until night. I am working as a carpenter together with others who were previously merchants, lawyers and engineers. Yakov gefen and Ramo work closely with me – they had already learnt their trade and are able to make frames and windows. Feingold has become an expert in lochsmithing and repairs roofs and other things in the ghetto. The women work sewing underwear and knitting, most of them faint from hunger and deprivation.

Kiblitsky is a good hearted and benevolent man, a dentist. He lives on the 3rd May St. and divides everything he has between the widows and orphans on Dluga St.

On Listowska St. in an old house there sits an old man – the Dayan (judge) Rabbi Simcha Zelig and his son in law, Rabbi Moshe Reuven. The house of Rabbi Zeev Soloveitchik is on the Aryan border – in it lives the rebbetzin and her children – the rabbi has gone to Vilna. Jewish policemen occupy part of the building. Before Pesach Rabbi Simcha Zelig and his son in law organized the secret baking of matzo and the distribution of the matzo for free to the needy. People arrive for the minyanim, the prayers services. The question “who will help us?” tears at the heart.

Dr. Gotbeiter (Reb David Dabirowski's daughter) helps runaway Jews from the district. Her husband was one of the first 5,000 Jews to be murdered. As well as the 5,000 Jews, 100s of Poles were employed in digging the graves and collecting the clothes and belongings from the murdered Jews. They were then also murdered so that there would not be any witnesses.

2nd June 1942.

There is a terrified panic amongst the Jews of the ghetto. In Rattner's yard on Dluga St., the Germans are digging pits. The commandant said that they were bringing a machine in to dig. People are anxious and afraid and say that this is for a mass grave. There was an order issued that all people over 50 years of age should report to the Gestapo, if not the whole ghetto would be liquidated. My mother hid herself in the attic. They arrested me and sent me to Kobryn to be shot. The Gestapo announced that if I revealed my mother's hiding place I would be released.

A new demand arose in Kobryn. The entire ghetto population was to present themselves in one hours time at the exit gate to the ghetto where the Gestapo would decide who would remain alive. My fate was to be selected to go to the right and remain alive. In that black hour 3,000 Jews perished, among them the Brest families: Borka Shatz, Kleinberg, Melamed, Mottel Mullier with his wife and son, Hayat with his family, Sarva's two daughters, Ginsberg and his family, Feivel Gluzman the baker, Meyer Tennenbaum the printer, his son in law Pack with his wife, Leibl Sini, Sheike Matzkevitch, Simcha Zbar, Esther Machlis –Sorkin, Avraham Shvartzman, Tuvia Lamazhevski, all with their families.

Leib Sini his wife and younger daughter were together with me in the Kobryn ghetto selection. When the daughter saw that she and her parents had been sent to the left, she began a frightened wailing: ”I'm too young, I want to live”. The supervisor of the labor committee wanted to transfer her to the right, but a moment later a bullet ended her young life.

We were returned to Brest. The issue arose of providing hot cooked food for the starving. Rabbi Simcha Zelig together with his son in law and Rabbi Eliezer Klepfisz made it be known to all that they would found a committee including amongst others: Yakov Rosenbaum, Nachum Savaniuk, the son in law of Butche Schochet, and Avraham David Feder. It was decided that every independent household would contribute some of their food to provide communal meals for the hungry.

2nd September 1942.

The rumors are that there are no more Jews left in Koval.These were the Brest families in the Koval ghetto: Shmuel Pomerantz, Leibl liberman, Michael Rapoport, Meyer Lederman, Zipporah pomerantz and her children, and Malchiel Pinchuk and his family. It was said that my uncle Leib Liberman, together with all the others, was locked up in a Koval school before being taken out and murdered. The Jews had cut themselves and dipped their fingers in their blood to write on the schoolhouse walls their names and where they came from. My uncle wrote on the wall that they were being led to their death, and he requested that the Brisker Rabbi, Zeev Soloveitchik, say Kaddish for them.

Everyone is preparing bunkers, attics, hiding places in cellars and under stairs and digging tunnels to the Aryan side. I am digging a pit under Gordon's house in Dluga St. The entry is through an opening next to the stove and this opening will be covered over with the floorboards and thick firewood.

Rosh Hashana 1942.

Small secret prayer meeting are held in secret on Dluga St. There were some Torah books that were rescued. They have a Torah in the small ghetto on Jagiellonska St. and they prayed in a small room at Motetski's. Gershon Rosenberg the son of Michael Rashes, led the prayers – from his throat came soft moans and wails: ”God Almighty, vanquish our enemies.” In my workers group we silently prayed for help. The prayers strengthened us and lifted our spirits.

Succoth and Simchat Torah 1942.

In the lanes between Siroka and Petrowska streets there are camouflaged Succahs topped with grass and straw. The Jews have a tiny amount of bread to eat – there are no Lulavs or Etrogs (palm branches and citrons). More deportees from the surroundings towns and villages arrive in Brest. The ghetto is a living hell. People walk around like the living dead and go crazy. They are unable to work and walk around crying piteously. The large square pit that we are digging is almost finished.

15th October 1942.

The courtyard of the Mizrachi building on Dluga St is full of people. There is great panic. They even buy poison to prepare for every eventuality. Whoever can do so, crosses over to the Aryan side. From mouth to ear it was silently whispered that tonight it would begin… those who returned from the Aryan side report that the police were massing and preparing to surround the ghetto.

The senses are dulled, one waits for death. From our hiding place we can hear the Jews being taken away like cattle in carriages to Bronnaya Gora.

Nine people lie in our hiding place, half dead. Outside - death. We are filthy, unshaven and half blind. It is already 2 months that we are lying there hungry and thirsty – tightly squashed together. We ran out of water – the murderers filled the well in the courtyard with stones and wood. We feel close to death.

From outside terrible screams reach us – somewhere the polce have discovered a hiding place. I can see how they lead a woman and small child –it's Hannah Nussenbaum's daughter with her daughter and other Jews. Ther cries are deafening. We silently say the prayers “Shema Israel” and “Viduyim”. Several shots are heard, someone sings “Mi Yehiye (who will live)”, and cries hysterically.

Mrs Dolinski left our hiding place and surrendered to her executioners, asking to be shot. Some complained that it was all in vain - that we should have died together with all the other Brest Jews.

Bialkin's wife had an attack of hysteria – the same occurred with others – on the outside the animals are celebrating in a drunken orgy. One of them said: “ it's not true that there are no more Jews left in the ghetto. I received 5 kilos of sugar, sausage and lard for a caught Jew.” From the bunker at Dr Josem's house the director of ORT and others emerged – they surrendered to the Germans and said loudly: ” we are already 2 months without food and water, please give us some water and then shoot us. “ The police laughed and brought them a full bucket of water – they undressed and were shot.

We possess only 4 more matches – we only cook in the middle of the night – we are preparing for death.

17th December 1942.

We are still in our bunker-hiding place. Mrs Bialkin, Simcha Bialkin, Tevele Bialkin, Mrs Geidan, Moshe Geidan, myself, my wife Beile and her mother, Rebbetzen Klepfish. Mrs Dolinski is not alive anymore.

3rd January 1943.

The murderers discover our hiding place. We beg and beseech. They said, ”give us all your valuables”. We gave them everything we had. They leave with their stolen 'treasure'. We begin to flee, running and tearing through the barbed wire. We are now on the outside on Dabrowska St. We hide ourselves and speak only in hushed Polish.

Mrs Geidan went to her Christian acquaintance, with whom she had left her furs and jewellery. The woman immediately called the Gestapo and she was shot. We sneak from one attic to another searching for a safe hiding place.

January 1943.

It is snowing. The icy cold cuts through our bodies, which are infested with lice and worms.... we are in the woods amongst the animals…. perhaps it is better to live with them.

10th January 1943.

We find ourselves in the small bathhouse on Listowska St. Vizer the owner told us that we could stay there for several weeks and that nothing would happen to us. We very much want to live, and what a great privilege it would be for us to survive. The bathhouse owner told us that between the 15th –18th October all the Jews were taken out from the ghetto through the gates on the corner of Dluga and Kosciusko streets. They caught Dr Kiblitzki; he covered his face when he was about to be shot. They murdered the members of the Judenrat behind Wartchen, a village close to Wysokie Litovsk.

Rabbi Simcha Zelig and his son in law, Rabbi Moshe Reuven and their families were taken to Bronnaya Gora and proudly went to their deaths in the name of God. My father was murdered together with the head of the Kamenetz Yeshiva. My father in law, Rabbi Avraham Klepfish, died before the liquidation of the ghetto.

November 1943.

They say that the Red Army is advancing. The desire for revenge seethes in me. We are lying in the roof of the bathhouse. In the suburb of Grayever Slobotka they caught and raped 15 and 16 year old girls. We hear the sounds and noise of the water as the murderers are bathing. As the Germans begin their retreat, it is said that there are gangs that attack Aryans – the Christians go to the villages at night for safety and return to the city in the morning. The Russian bombs rain overhead and make our hearts joyful and give us hope.

10th July 1944.

The uproar of machine guns and tanks – Pinsk is already liberated. I deliberately cut my face with the razor blade – I covered the wounds with iodine as if I had been wounded. I had a moustache like a real Pole. Leaning on a cane I barely dragged my legs along. My wife and my mother in law, both dressed like Polish women, helped me along and like this we crossed the bridge out of the city together. This is how we arrived at the village of Krinki.

The Germans are in retreat, their people fall like flies. There is shouting out:” Comrades, comrades, we are free!” We are surrounded and everyone embraces each other. There are several Jewish officers in the Russian army.

I walk through the streets of my hometown Brest with a broken heart. I reach the great synagogue and the prayer houses. I pick up pages from the torn and destroyed holy books which are scattered on the ground. I kiss them and wet them with my tears.

There is not even a minyan to say Kaddish. The streets are deserted, without Jews. The Great Synagogue proudly overlooks the city. Wherever one looks there are graves and destruction as if there never was any Jewish life there. There are mass graves in the courtyard of Rattner's building. There are 5000 martyrs buried between Kotelne and Zegielnia (the brickworks).

From my choked throat the words “Yiskadal ve Yiskadash” arise. Everything around me is full with sacred fallen victims.

Brest Holocaust survivors at a memorial gathering in Wasserborg, Germany 1947

[Page 601]

The Last Children of Brest

by Yitzhak Perlov

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

The days of Heshvan (October) are cooler, but dry and sunny with the beautiful sadness that comes with the Polish autumn. Berish is the only one to curse those sunshine days that shone on Hitler's luck – enabling him to march into the depths of Russia.

The evenings are thick and foggy; the nights are cutting cold with frost that glitters on the grass and moss, the tree trunks and fallen leaves. The frost particles remain into the crystal clear mornings, when the rays of the rising sun melt it into pearly droplets.

The smells of the forest are now more acute as if the trees had stretched and flexed their branches. Birds are scarce in this forest –their chirping is seldom heard. The wind howls like a shepherd with his flute complaining of the autumn.

Berish lies like a bear in the forest. A large fur covers his body and head. He is wildly unkempt – even his father did not have such a long beard; a monk does not feel such cold. His nails are long like those of a preying animal. Yes, he is a bear lying in the dug out grave of his bear's den. Here he lies with his bad temper like a bear before his hibernation. Woe to him who disturbs the bear's sleep.

But his rest was disturbed in the silvery frosty surroundings. His alert ears pricked up as he heard rustling leaves and twigs. He aimed his amchine gun and focused his gaze. He discerned a couple of dark spots quickly moving between the trees about 50 meters away from him. Germans? No. They were too small and low. Animals perhaps? No. They were people. Children? Yes they were children. What were children doing in the forest on such a frosty morning?

Children, how long had it been since he had seen a child? Perhaps they were spying gentile children sent into the forest by the German to find traces of partisans. Stop! He called out as he went towards them. They began to flee like frightened rabbits. Panicking, they ran in different directions. Stop or I'll shoot, he cried. The children stooped and tightly clung to the trees. Their eyes glittered with fear and their teeth chattered so much that they could not speak. They clung to the trees and it was some time before their words could come out. “Mercy sir, have mercy on us,” and even lower “Shema Israel”. Berish's heart was as if stabbed with a sharp knife. Alas, Jewish children. Thin emaciated bare legs, red from the cold, bare feet on the frosty moss. A boy of about 12 and an even younger girl. They were scratched and torn, their pale faces with runny noses and blue shivering lips. Dark black Jewish eyes full of fear and tears. Silver frost in their hair. Berish's tears flooded his cheeks. Alas, alas, Jewish children his voice trembled. Oy, oy, oy, a Jewish child. The children embraced each other; their eyes wide open in disbelief. The sudden shock had left them speechless. The girl still stammered in Polish for mercy.

Berish embraced them as if they were his own. He kissed their heads and pressed them to him. Now the children really began to cry as if in their father's arms. “Come and sit down,” he threw his big fur at them and they sat on it. They clung together like lost sheep, he covered them with the fur and rubbed their feet for a long time with his hands and held them tight to warm their icy bodies. They shivered and their teeth chattered. “Hungry?” He asked. Certainly they were. He had some bread and sausage. He divided it between them with pleasurable heartache as he saw how they devoured the food like hungry wolf cubs. He also had brandy but how can one give alcohol to children to drink? Even to warm them up? No, he will not give them alcohol. Soon they will come to relieve him and he would take them to Vera's. Uncle Vanya would surely allow Vera to nurse them in her hospital until they recovered. They would bathe them and lay them on bedding, they would dress them and the children would become the children of the whole Otriad (partisan unit).

“What are your names?” he asked them. “I am Michael and she is Miriam“, the boy who was bolder replied. “Is she your sister?” “ No, she's a neighbour”. “ From where?” “From Brest “. As far away as Brest! “ How far are we from Brest?” the boy asked. “I don't know but it's very far, have you been in the forest the whole time?” “Yes, in many forests, but we are too afraid to go to the villages – the peasants are hostile – they sool their dogs onto us and beat us like the Germans.” “Did the Germans also beat you and how?” asked Berish.

“Myself, my little sister, my mother and father were all beaten before they were shot.” “Shot? What do you mean? When and where?” “My parents, my sister, Miriam's parents with their other children, together with many other families with their children.” “Where was this?” “Well, I told you it was in Brest in a large courtyard. They were all gathered together, beaten and shot. I was frightened and jumped into a rubbish bin to hide. I heard screaming, cries and constant shooting. My little sister cried louder than anyone else. Later on the shooting stooped and so did the crying. It got quiet. But I was too scared to leave the rubbish bin. I stayed there the whole night until I fell asleep. In the morning it was quiet – I peeped out and saw no Germans, so I crawled out of the bin and saw the entire yard was full of dead and bloodied Jews. I searched for my parents and sister but was too afraid to crawl over the mountains of dead bodies. Many had their eyes open and looked terrible. A dead person looks terrible so I ran home. The door was open – there was no one there. I wanted to leave but I heard a soft crying from the wardrobe.

I opened it but there was no one, but I still heard crying. I opened the drawer and there was Miriam. “ What are you doing there?” I asked. “I want my mother,” she said. I told her that her parents were dead, that I had seen them being shot in the courtyard together with her little brother, and that they shot all the Jews. I said let's run away because they are shooting all the Jews.She cried and said that dhe didn't want to go, that she would wait there for her mother. I pointed to the roof and said that her mother would not come and that she was lying dead in the courtyard. I took her by the arms and dragged her out of the house. We ran away to outside the city. On the road there were gentile children throwing stones at us. The adults encouraged their vicious dogs to attack us. The dogs bit us until our clothing was torn and bloody. “Enough, enough, I can't hear anymore!” The broad shouldered Berish cried like a child. A town with all it's Jews murdered? And here we are sitting in the forest? He got up and screamed like a wounded lion and began to run between the trees waving his machine gun as if randomly shooting out of frustration.

In the evening Uncle Maxim came to relieve Berish. He looked at the children and silently listened to their terrible ordeal with clenched teeth, he also had tears in his eyes. He gave the children his bread and sausage and whilst the children quickly devoured the food, Maxim advised Berish. He swore that he was a honest man and only had good intentions. “If the children can speak Polish, they should only speak Polish and have Polish names. Besides Uncle Vanya, and myself, no one should know what nationality they are.” Berish was silent. Tears streamed down his cheeks. Maxim clapped him on his shoulders: “I understand you Boris, but if you want to save these children, do as I advise.” “Alright Maxim, you are a dear friend, come on children.” Berish went on his way and the children followed him stepping over branches and pinecones, scrambling in their bare feet like 2 wounded rabbits. “ Do you speak Polish children?” “Yes we do, we went to a Polish primary school”. “That's good; you must speak Polish to everyone as if you were gentiles. Do not say that your name is Michael – you will be Mikhaelic and you Miriam will be Maria. It must be this way, for your sakes, do you understand?” “Yes we do”, the children answered like adults.”When they ask where you are from say from a village. What the name of a village near Brest? Kotelne? Good. You are Mikhaelic and Maria from Kotelne and the Germans arrested your parents and you are going to Kowal to find your relatives.” “We understand “, said the children. “All this is only if they ask ask you – speak as little as possible”. Alright, we will be silent,” Michael said. “But they will recognize us as Jews anyway”, Miriam said. These were the first words she had spoken and they were said as if she was an adult already exhausted from fighting for her existence and resigned to whatever may happen.

A shudder went through Berish's body and he was unable to reply. Silently he walked with the children into the milky fog – the twigs under his feet groaned and snapped. Berish thought that the leaves fall from the trees but the trunks remain steady. Spring will come again and the trees will have new green shoots. But the Jewish forest with it's uprooted trees in the Brest courtyard where mothers and fathers lie like cut up logs, had only 2 remaining leaves blown by the storm into the forest.

Cursed will be the spring that comes to the world if the Jewish forest does not remain.

[Page 607]

Synagogues and Prayer Houses
that were destroyed in Brisk D'Lita

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

Throughout the generations Brest was famous in the Jewish world as a city of Torah and learning. People would travel from distant lands to its yeshivas. The city was full of prayer houses, not only to pray in but as centres of Torah and learning. In the evenings merchants and tradesmen would come to listen to a page of Gemarra, or a chapter from the Mishnah, Midrash or Ayin Yakov (the commentaries). In every street one would hear studying and praying. In the Mishmar prayer house there was a yeshiva where 100s of youth sat and studied. Businessmen would come to hear a lesson in the Shas study group. 100s of pupils studied in the Talmud Torahs and yeshivas that produced generations of great scholars and sages that were famous in the Jewish orthodox world. Some of these synagogues produced rabbis and sages in the bygone days when the community was still in the Altshtadt (before it was moved in 1837). These synagogues were named after their founders:

Saul Wahl, Israel Wolfs, and others that belonged to professional groups such as the Tailors synagogue, Butchers Synagogue, etc. The most famous was the Great Synagogue with its cantors and prayer leaders.

This is a list of 40 synagogues in Brest before the Holocaust and destruction:

  1. The Great Synagogue on Listowska .
  2. The Kadosh Synagogue on Bialystotska.
  3. Rabbi Meir Padua.
  4. Talmud Torah on Ksziwa St.
  5. The Rabbi's (Soloveitchik) Synagogue on Dabrowska .
  6. The New Synagogue on Szpitalna St. no.6
  7. Mishmar Yeshiva Szpitalna no. 8
  8. Chai Adam on Dluga St.
  9. Chevra Levaya (The Funeral Society) on Dabrowska.
  10. The Ox Traders Synagogue on Sadowa.
  11. Tailors Synagogue on Dluga.
  12. Butchers Synagogue on Pietrovska.
  13. Chevra Chvekes on Pietrowska.
  14. Zohar Synagogue.
  15. Kobryner Synagogue on 3rd May St.
  16. Green's Synagogue on Ksziwa.
  17. Reb Feivel's Synagogue on Ksziwa.
  18. Zyskind Synagogue on Topolowa.
  19. Shamai Weint on Kosciusko.
  20. Lisker Synagogue on Pietrowska.
  21. Mordechai Itteles Synagogue on Bialystotska.
  22. Reb Fishel's on Listowska.
  23. Reb Yoel's on Dluga.
  24. Israel Wolfs.
  25. Reb Yitzchak Chavalisher on Jagiellonska.
  26. Grayever Slobotka Synagogue (suburb).
  27. Kiever (suburb).

Shteibls (prayer houses)

Slominer, Kobryner, Gerrer, Nieswiczer, Karlin – Stolin, Kotzker, Novo-Minsker, Domachever, Alexander, Harovechever and Chabad.

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