Taken from a letter by Gershon (Gershke) Slep
For many years, I did not know what had befallen Gershke, one of the active members of the Hashomer Hatzair ken (cell) in Dusiat, until he suddenly appeared at my home in Vilna in the 1960s. He stayed with us for a week. We slept in the same bed, and long into the night, he told us of what had happened to him, and together we reminisced about home I felt as though I had found my brother
I drove him to the forest, and there we went up to the Kever Achim (mass grave).
In Dusiat we encountered Gentile acquaintances, who also told him of the fate of our loved ones
From my home in Vilna, he sent a letter to Malka Gilinsky (nee Feldman), his relative, who was one of the first to leave Lithuania after the war and immigrate to Israel.
Several years went by, and Gershke again came to Vilna and stayed with us. I told him that I was planning to immigrate to Israel, and he spoke painfully of his dream that was not realized
He reads and speaks Hebrew, and has remained an ardent Zionist
On the eve of my departure for Israel, I called him to say goodbye, and he told me that he had attempted to convince his family to go to Israel with him, but in vain
|Shalom to you Malka, Shalom and family!
I received your letter today. I am happy that you and your family are well and that everything is fine with you. I am happy that your family is growing and that their situation is good. Time passes, the years pass, we are getting older and in our past we had no childhood. A beggarly childhood, a fragile youth full of mourning. And life began to flow in a river that we didn't create, but that pushed us and we were dragged through it.
And generation after generation will pass, and everything will be torn off and no one will remain to remember us and our forefathers. That is clear and obvious to me.
You are right in saying that the children don't want to know it, and don't know it. They know the present reality, and think it is eternal. May it be that way! I don't want
How excited I was when I received Gershke's letter (written in Hebrew). We all admired Gershke. He read a lot, and we nicknamed him The Philosopher. I longed to see him again, and did not pass up the opportunity to do so.
In the summer of 1988, I joined a tour to the Soviet Union. With the help of his relatives in Leningrad (Kaplan-Slep) I succeeded in locating him, and we met in Vilna. The meeting was painful. Gershke waited for me at the bus station, but I did not recognize him. For many hours, he could barely say a word, and I was afraid that he had lost his voice. After he recovered, he opened his heart and told me what had happened to him, more or less in the following words:
During the Soviet period, I worked as a cashier in the cooperative of the Lithuanian Valulis, in Dusiat. When the Germans occupied Lithuania, a Lithuanian friend, a Communist, suggested that I join him and flee with him. I remember that my mother (Rochel-Gitel Slep, nee Feldman) tried to convince me to remain, but I decided otherwise. I took my little brother Leibke and a bundle of personal belongings and money, and we got on the wagon. When we got to the forest, my friend grabbed the bundle from me, threw us out of the wagon, and left. The Lithuanian rioters lay in wait for victims, and they immediately killed my little brother. I managed to escape, and after a long and arduous journey, I reached Russia. There I worked in a kolkhoz, and with the advance of the German front, I fled further and further into the Russian interior. There I learned that a group of refugees was organizing to escape to Eretz Israel via Iran. I paid a large sum for the necessary papers, and joined them. An emissary from Eretz Israel was supposed to be waiting for us at the border. We knew that another group had crossed the border successfully before us. Someone apparently informed on us, our smuggler lost his way, and our group was caught by Russian guards. We were all arrested. I was sent to a labor camp.
I no longer had my identity papers. One day I purchased Polish identity papers, and when they began recruiting volunteers for the Polish Division, I asked to join up. However, when they saw that I did not speak Polish fluently, my request was rejected, and I remained in the labor camp.
From letters returned to me from Dusiat, I learned that no one there was still alive. I went to Dvinsk (Daugavpils) to search for relatives, but in vain. At that time, I didn't know that remnants from my shtetl had congregated in Vilna (Vilnius). I married a young Russian woman who had helped me in my misery and eased my loneliness. Two sons and a daughter were born to us, and we already have grandchildren.
Zamke Glazer, who lives in Vilna with his family, drove Gershke and me to the mass grave in the Deguciai Forest. We were greeted by a sign (in Lithuanian and Russian) engraved on the stone standing beside the entrance to the site: In the hope that this will never happen again!
I learned that Yankele Charit had sent a letter to the government, and also thanks to Zamke's unflagging efforts, the authorities now see to the preservation and tending of the site.
To our great sorrow, we learned that to this day, the Gentiles continue to burrow in the graves and scrabble among the bones of our loved ones who were slaughtered, in the hope of discovering gold.
Choking on our tears, we placed a wreath on the grave. Zamke and Gershke said Kaddish [the prayer for the dead], and we parted from our loved ones. From there, we drove to Dusiat.
The shtetl had changed. The entrances to the houses had been changed, and the wooden stoops had been removed. The houses are painted in a variety of colors, and it was hard for us to identify our houses. We drove back and forth on the main street, but were not able to stop and get out of the car. Our hearts ached from sorrow. There are no signs left of the Jewish shtetl.
My tour of the Soviet Union ended. I took my leave of Zamke and Gershke with tears in my eyes. It was hard for us to leave each other. Gershke cried for a long time. Zamke and Gershke remained there, and I returned home.
|Gershke Slep (right), Malke (Feldman) and Shalom Gilinsky, Vilnius 1988
|On the left: With the hope that it will never happen again
|On the right: On this spot in the forest of Krakines, on August 26, 1941 The cruel Nazi troops bestially murdered Innocent citizens of Jewish nationality
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