by Kalmen Mnuskin (Kfar Saba)
Translated by Janie Respitz
The noise of a truck woke me from my sleep. It was August 6th 1942. I got down from my bunk on my tippy toes in order not to wake the household who were surely exhausted before they went to sleep. Now they are sleeping and almost certainly dreaming about a better world where everyone would have the right to live.
I look around. Outside the day is dawning. Soon everyone will get up and the daily rush to slave labour will begin.
And like everyday, no eating or drinking, lined up in rows, and with beatings, returned to work. This is how it was day after day.
I look outside. There is a dead silence, like before a storm.
What happened? Do my ears not hear the song of a bird? Did they leave us in the middle of summer and fly away to a warm country? What kind of cold has suddenly fallen upon us? And what's with the dog? Why is he running confused from one end of the house to another, as if he wants to protect his masters from harm?
Yes, the sun is rising and covers its face as if it is embarrassed to look at the surrounding world. I try not to look around and suddenly, I hear a shot.
I don't panic and go wake up my parents. There is a commotion and we don't know what to do: do we wake up the small children who are sleeping so sweetly, or run to our neighbour's to inquire what's going on. Time is running out. Outside we hear the wild screams of the Hitler youth.
Jews, get out! Jews get out!
We are all standing together, me and my three small brothers. I, at twelve years old, am the eldest. We try to figure out how to save ourselves from the hands of the murderers.
All the children are serious, with wrinkled foreheads, as if we were trying to plan a rescue. But our minds are too weak to grasp all that was going on.
In the Potato Cellar
After a short consultation, my parents decide, of course not light heartedly, that our family will divide up. One part, our parents and my three little brothers will hide in the cellar, in the garden, so there will be a remembrance of our family in the event our parents are captured.
Hearing this, we all began to cry. No one wanted to separate. Then we heard nearby shots from a machine gun. The windows rattled. I didn't even manage to say goodbye to my parents and brothers and I was already sitting with my uncle Shmuel in his cellar.
The cellar in the garden was nothing more than a toilet hole, covered on top so no one would fall in. This is where the people were. The hole was made for 34 people, but when 11 people entered the situation was unbearable. Every hour felt like a year. You could not sit or stand. We sat one on top of the other. The children wanted to drink every minute and from great destitution, we had to give them urine to drink because we had no water. This is how the hours passed until night fell.
In the middle of the night my uncle Shmuel went out of the cellar and quietly went to my parent's cellar. They shared their experiences from the previous night and they decided that the following night we will all leave the ghetto. We were now fated to sit and suffer one more day in this hole.
Friday night, my uncle went out to meet my parents, as they had agreed. It did not take long for him to return disconcerted. I immediately understood that something happened to my parents, but he did not want to tell me. When I started to cry he told me he did not find anyone in their cellar. When we heard this, we all lowered our heads and cried quietly as we were forbidden to cry out loud.
I was totally stunned. I tore out of the cellar wanting to run to my parents and be with them, but they did not let me.
I remained sitting petrified. We were no longer talking about leaving the ghetto.
We remained sitting like this another night, another day, without food, without air. Every minute it seemed someone was walking, that we would be discovered.
It was already the third day that I was sitting in this hole with my uncle Shmuel, his wife and two children, my aunt Shaynke and her two small children, my aunt Fridka, my grandmother Dvoyre and my uncle Shmuel's two nieces from Maytchet.
When night fell, we decided to get out of there, as it was impossible to remain in that crowdedness and there was no point to remain sitting. Sooner or later they would find us.
We Leave the Cellar
We began to crawl out. My uncle went first and then carried me out. Then one after the other. We did not waste time and divided into groups each remaining 200 metres apart from the other. The first to leave was my uncle and his household. Then my grandmother, Fraydke, me, and after us, the rest. We decided to meet at the old cemetery.
We started to walk slowly, one step after another, and after every step it seemed to me we were being chased.
Suddenly we stood still. Not far from the Talmud Torah we noticed something moving toward us. It was a dark night and we did not know what to do. My aunt Fraydke told me to run by myself and I will be saved. She had to remain with my grandmother, who experienced so much emotionally, she could no longer see.
I said goodbye to them and ran in the direction my uncle went. While running I banged into the thing that was moving and scared us. It was a German, but luckily for me, with four legs.
I ran to the cemetery where we had planned to meet. I looked around, no one was there. Not my uncle nor the others. Standing there alone I had the idea to run from the ghetto as fast as possible. I realized my fate depended on me. No one could help me now and I needed to be saved.
I began to crawl toward the slaughterhouse, not on the road, but through the gardens. I went garden by garden, fence by fence. There I was beside the slaughterhouse and suddenly, boom!...
After 20 minutes I came back to myself and noticed I had fallen into a brick hole. I cried believing this was my end.
What do I do? How do I crawl out of here? I scrambled up the wall tearing out my nails with my teeth.
After two hours of struggling I succeeded in tearing a brick from the wall and that helped me. I could crawl out. I was very tired. I dragged myself to the edge of town, not far from the new cemetery, crossed the road, ran to the rye fields and fell asleep.
When I awoke it was no longer light. I emerged from the rye, threw my shoes over my shoulder and continued to distance myself from town.
It was Sunday. The Gentiles were hurrying to church. When they saw me they were amazed. They could not understand how I dared to walk, in the middle of the day, slowly, as if nothing threatened me. They were actually right. But after what I just lived through over the past few days I was so confused, my childish mind could not foresee the danger. Suddenly, there was shooting and screaming.
Stop! Voices rang.
I awoke from my daydreaming and thought they were shouting at me. I ran quickly into the tall grass and lay down.
My heart pounded like a hammer. I could not calm down and could not understand what was going on. Later, when I looked around and did not see anyone, I crawled out of the grass.
The sun was shining brightly and I established the shooting was coming from the cemetery. I could not understand what was happening. Then a shepherd walked by and half seriously half laughing said to me:
Jew, do you still think it's worth it? Run to the forest, you'll find everyone there. Run, run!
I immediately understood what happened, and this non – Jew was not wishing me well.
Hearing the heart wrenching cries of children, women and men I discovered what was happening. Now I understood why they talked in the ghetto about graves being dug at the cemetery.
I could not help myself and began to cry out loud. As I cried I began to run as far as my eyes could see. As I ran I looked back from time to time at my town Zhetl, from which I was leaving behind my parents, friends and classmates: Arele and Yisrolik, and Moishele and the school and the Tapkashes hill where we would play in the sand. Here is the priest's park and Fantchik's lake, where we would slide in the winter on horse drawn trams. Here is the Tarbut School and the horse market where we would always play football (soccer). I leave this all behind and run.
Where to? I don't know.
I ran for about 2 kilometres until the village Khadzhelan. I arrived at the Slonim Zhetl highway. I was hopeful that one of my father's Christian acquaintances from Kominke would take me in as a shepherd. Every peasant felt sorry for me, but nothing more than that. Others gave me a piece of bread and told me to run because they were afraid of the Germans.
I spent a few days going from one gentile to another. I slept outdoors in the rye fields, or the best circumstance, in a barn on some hay. But there I had to hide from the owners and the Germans as both would not let me out alive.
A Group of Two
I wandered like this for two days. On the third day, walking through Kominke from one gentile to the next begging for bread, a peasant called out to me and told me he saw a Jewish boy around my age wandering in the forest. Hearing this, I wanted to meet this child so I would not be lonely. I was sure this child ran away from the slaughter and is wandering not far from town not knowing where to go.
I returned to the forest and met the young shepherds from my street. They recognized me and told me they will bring me food in the afternoon and warned me, for God's sake, not to go far. However I decided no good can come out of this meeting with the shepherds and I must leave as soon as possible.
I quickly began to look for that child. After wandering in the forest for an hour I found him sitting near a tree and crying. I was very surprised when I realized this child was none other than my friend from Slonim Street: Yenkele Gordon.
We were very happy to see one another but our joy did not last long. Soon our faces became serious and we told each other what we had lived through the last few days.
We were now two, but also as two we had no idea what to do or where to go. I told him about my meeting with the shepherds from our street and we decided to distance ourselves, heading toward Yatzevitch.
How happy we would have been to meet a Jew, older than us who could advise us where to go. However, unfortunately, we did not meet anyone.
A week passed since I escaped from the cellar. Three days alone and three days with Yenkele. The gentiles we meet tell us of the horrible atrocities that happened in town, no one had survived and it is not advisable for us to wander like this. They told us we should return to town and perhaps the Germans will take pity on us and let two Jewish children live as a remembrance.
Understandably, we did not take advice from these Christians. We were waiting for the moment to meet a Jew, because it could not be, we thought, that the murderers succeeded to kill everyone, surely, someone managed to escape, just like we did.
A Meeting Which Disappointed Us
Walking one night on a side road, trying to find a place to sleep, we heard footsteps. We were very frightened and started to run. But then we thought: Maybe it is a Jew? We stood there and waited. What could be worse? We went into the rye, near the path and waited.
Soon we saw a figure approaching us. The figure hid under the barn, afraid of us. Lying and waiting made no sense. We went out and began to walk slowly. We were almost sure he was one of ours, and soon we heard a woman's voice:
Yes we answered.
Come here children, don't be afraid, I'm also Jewish.
We went to her and told her who we were. She told us she was from Bieltze, she just came from Dvoretz, and not far from
Bieltze, she had a Christian acquaintance who she gave some gold to and he would certainly agree to hide us.
We were cheered up by this woman and agreed to go to her Christian.
After two more days of dragging ourselves without food or drink, because we did not know any gentiles in the area and we were too afraid to go to a gentile we did not know, we finally arrived at the gentile, our saviour.
She asked us to wait a while outside. She would go in by herself. We agreed because we believed her, as one believes their own mother. However, after ten minutes of waiting, the door opened and the man came out of his house, a gentile with a large mustache and a dog and shouted at us:
Jews, get out of here quickly. If not I'll call a few Germans.
Once again we were alone in a strange area. No one would even give us a piece of bread because no one knows us. We decided to head back toward Zhetl where we had Christian acquaintances. Maybe we will find one who will let us in as shepherds and give us food.
Two days later we returned. We were happy to find ourselves among familiar gentiles. We arrived during the day because we were afraid to walk at night in unfamiliar territory.
We had to hide quickly, until it got dark. Then we can go to the peasants and get a piece of bread. It had been four days since we tasted a crumb of bread.
We Bribe Our Way Out
We decided to hide in our first spot, in the forest near Kominke.
We had not yet managed to enter the forest, when a young gentile approached us, grabbed us by the shoulders and wanted to take us to the Germans. We began to cry and implore that he had nothing to gain from this. This did not help. He stood firm that Jews should be annihilated.
Suddenly, Yenkele spoke up and told him he'd give him 150 German marks. The young gentile did not think for long. When he saw the money, he grabbed it and told me to take off my shoes. I took them off right away and gave them to him. He was overjoyed with his package, kicked both of us with his foot and told us to run and that he did not want to see us again.
We were very happy we succeeded in bribing him and began to run toward the village Yatzevitch which is further from town than Kominke. We knew some gentiles there as well.
One gentile advised us to head toward Mayak. There was a quiet area called Pushtche and there we will surely find gentiles who will take us in as shepherds since the Germans do not go there often.
We headed in the direction of Mayak. After walking for two weeks without a goal, our present direction had a serious character. We now had a goal.
Despite the fact that walking during the day was dangerous we could not abandon it because we were afraid if we walked at night we would get lost and fall into German hands. We walked during the day but of course, not on the road, but through fields.
We Steal Water
Finally we arrived at the village Patsushtshine, a small village on the road to Pushtche. Being thirsty and afraid to go in somewhere and ask for a drink, we decided to steal a drink of water from a yard, even if the water would be dirty. I warned Yenkele we should abandon the water but he stuck to his guns.
He entered the yard with courage and quick steps and I followed him. He had not yet reached the tub of water which stood in the yard when a dog started to bark and there was movement in the house. The women of the house (luckily for us the men were in the field) shouted at us:
We quickly ran out of the yard and gentile kids ran after us yelling:
We became completely disoriented. We were sure no one in the village would recognize us and now they were calling us: Dirty Jews.
The gentile boys were not satisfied with shouting, they began to throw stones. It was difficult to run away because they would have chased after us and not stop until they killed us with stones. For them this was a game, but for us it was a matter of life and death.
And here our luck was favourable.
We noticed a large stone lying in the field at the edge of the village, probably an old tombstone. We ran to the stone, lay down behind it and began to throw stones back at them. Our enemies were our age, but there were six of them and two of us. They were well fed and rested, we were tired and hungry. We did not lose. I had a slingshot which I found in one of the barns where I had slept. Now it came to good use. Yenkele passed me stones and I continued to sling. And just like at home, when we did not know from worries, and the only worry was the fight with our neighbours, the gentiles, who were always shouting nicknames at us and we made them pay, we continued our battle in order to give these gentiles what they deserved.
This continued until I succeeded to hit one of the six in the head with a stone. He started to bleed. These little anti –Semites could not recount such a defeat. They ran home apparently to tell their parents to take us to the Germans which they promised as they ran away. We took advantage of the opportunity and escaped unnoticed.
At the Fire
We ran toward Pushtshe. We forgot our thirst and were happy with the outcome of our battle. Our enthusiasm drove us. Not noticing the passage of time, we arrived in a quiet forest region. Here and there stood a house in an open field. This was the socalled Pushtshe.
We decided to enter a house and pretend we were shepherds. Coming toward the house we were met by the man of the house (Matyevsky was his name), and he asked us what we wanted. We told him where we were from and what we wanted and seeing the pity on his face, something we were not used to and hadn't seen for a long time, we began to sob.
He calmed us down, invited us into his house and ordered them to give us food. We ate and drank and did not lift our heads until we were done. Then he told us there were saved Jews in the forest and he will explain to us how to find them.
We did not know how to celebrate or how to thank him. He told us to wait at the edge of the forest because every night Russian's on horseback go by that have not yielded to the army.
We obeyed him. Sitting at the edge of the forest we heard horses galloping. We cried from fear. Soon the riders approached us and asked who we were and why were we crying. We told them we escaped the slaughter, we were alone and have been wandering for three weeks through fields and villages being chased and no one would hide us. The older one comforted us and told us not to be scared. Here in the forest there are no Germans. Here the partisans rule. He told us to walk 200 metres deeper into the forest. There, we should go up to the fire and say commander Kolya sent us.
When we quietly approached the fire we did not have to say Kolya sent us, since they immediately began to hug and kiss us.
Among those kissing us were my parents and my brother Moishe. They managed to be saved, each in a different way after my younger brothers Shepsele and Berele were murdered.
We remained with this group of Zhetl Jews which amounted to 20 people in total and few guns. We all decided together not to rest by day or night and to take revenge for everything and everyone until there was total victory against the murderous nation.
August 6th 1942. Yom Hashoah in Zhetl.
by Shifra Medvedsky (Montreal)
Translated by Janie Respitz
Mayshke Levit was the only one to escape from the graves when they murdered 500 Zhetl Jews. For this reason I would like to recount in detail his tragic death.
When they surrounded the ghetto Mayshek tried to tear through the blockade. But when he saw people dropping from bullets that were flying over their heads, he ran back to the ghetto reaching the Talmud Torah.
There he noticed Tzirl Gershkovitch with her children, Yenkl Pinchuk's family and Noyekh the grain merchant, crawling through a cellar to a hiding place. They languished there for a week, weak and hungry. At night they would go out and get a bit of water from the Pomerayke in order to preserve their souls. They were noticed by the gentile Lazovsky who worked for the Soviets in the bathhouse. He betrayed them and the murderers discovered their cellar.
They brought them all to Sorke Haydukovsky's brick house (Yosef the barber's) where there were already many Zhetl Jews. A little later the mayor of Bielitze, Reguleh arrived with the German executioners and began their search for work certificates. Promising they would let the workers with their wives and children live, they left, leaving a strong guard composed of Latvians, Lithuanians and Germans.
In the evening the murderers arrived and began pushing the people into trucks. The cries of the children reached the sky, but this helped very little.
Mayshke was still trying to think about how to escape. Better to get a bullet in the back than to die in the grave.
During the first slaughter, Mayshke and I and our small child Kalmenke survived the fear of death. The second time, I gave Mayskhe a free hand to run and be saved. However, he did not succeed and they brought everyone to the graves.
They lined everyone up in rows of ten beside the graves and shot them. Anyone who ran away from the graves was chased and shot. Among those was Eltche Kogan, the cantor's daughter, who was severely wounded. She asked them to shoot her and they responded with beatings. She died from these beatings. They brought the Zhetl rabbi, Rabbi Yitzkhak Raytzer and his wife from Dvoretz. They tortured them and then shot them.
Mayshke could not escape from the grave. He was falling from his feet. Motte Turetzky's son, Hirshele, was holding his hand. He was already alone because his family was denounced by Shostok the shoemaker. He knew about their cellar and had their belongings. The child remained alone. He snuggled up to Mayshke and would not leave him until the last minute. When he was shot, still holding Mayshke's hand, he pulled him alive into the grave. Mayshke was covered with corpses. Blood poured on his head and he had no idea how to free himself.
After the slaughter, peasants came to the grave looking for valuables among the dead. Among the peasants was Pauluk, a lame shoemaker. When they threw aside a few corpses, Mayshke was freed and lifted his head. The peasant was frightened but at the same time recognized him and helped him throw off a few bodies until he was freed and climbed out of the grave on all fours. He remained lying in a thick shrub in the forest.
Meanwhile, they called upon the village gentiles to cover the graves and the murderers left after they got drunk on the blood of the Jews they tortured to death.
Later, the police were told people escaped from the grave. The murderers returned with hand grenades, threw them in the graves, and covered them with earth to ensure no one would return from the dead.
Mayshke lay in the forest for a long time and heard everything. He slowly returned to consciousness, stood up on his feet and began to run without a destination. Without realizing, he arrived at a farmhouse near the village Khviniyevitch. He knocked on the door. The door was opened by Prikashke, a gentile partisan for whom he worked before the war. He asked him what happened and why he was covered in blood. Mayshke told him he had escaped from the grave.
And where do you want to go? the peasant asked.
I want to go to America, he replied.
They realized Mayshke was confused. They fed him, washed off the blood, and took him by the hand to a forest where Peysakh Rozovsky and others already were. This is what the gentiles later told me.
Mayshke was still confused in the forest. A few days later, Artchik Alpert and his family arrived in the forest and told him I was alive. After that, Yehoshua Levoronchik told him he saw me and our child in Dvoretz. Suddenly, Mayshke let out a scream, fell to the ground and regained his awareness.
My mother, father, child and I were hiding in Yudl the ritual slaughterer's cellar. The cellar was not discovered for two days. But we had to leave because they wanted to suffocate my child worried that his crying would betray our hiding place.
We decided to go to Dvoretz. When we left, we split up. My father went on his own but we met up again in Dvoretz.
Mayshke could not remain in the forest any longer. He arrived in the Dvoretz ghetto barefoot and tattered. We could no longer remain in the ghetto and we left for the forest.
My mother could not go with us due to her sore feet and my father would not leave her alone. My father helped us leave through the wire fence of the Dvoretz ghetto and with a face filled with sorrow and tears in his eyes said goodbye to us, forever!
With great effort and fear we arrived in the forest barefoot, naked and hungry, carrying a child, and with cut up feet we left blood stains on the fields and roads.
Lying hidden in the winter mud, our feet froze. Later we found a Gypsy hut where we hid, but we couldn't lie there. We were suffering from hunger. I fainted. Our three year old child cried from hunger. We decided to go look for food.
Mayshke left. On his way he lost his shoes and had to walk barefoot. He brought some potatoes, there was no bread to be found. Meanwhile his feet froze. I was already lying with frozen feet.
It was cold in the hut. There was no one to heat it. Whoever could left to look for help. However, we remained without feet…Our voices and cries rang through the forest.
Feygl Sovitsky came and brought something for our child. She got it from Hertzke Kaminsky. After, they carried us to a hut to Shlyamke Zatzshteyn. Their eldest son Noyekh helped us. Luckily for me, Zelda Grinkovsky arrived and cooked for us. Her children died of hunger and she buried them herself.
When we asked them to save us they said some die from a gun, others from hunger. About twenty people died in this hut. Worms crawled on them alive and after they died there was no one to hide them. Mayshke also died here suffering greatly. Half his body had become paralyzed. Until the last minute he counted everyone from the orchestra in the forest and hoped to lead the orchestra one day in a liberated Zhetl.
With this thought he quietly passed away, nobody heard when.
Two weeks later our child died from hunger and filth.
I remained alone and crawled on all four, like a frog. They looked at me like a superfluous creature. But thanks to my cousin, Shifra Krayer, who sent Dr. Rokover to me, and later Dr. Miesnik, I remained alive.
I do not know how, or through what miracles I am alive and today and can impart Mayshke's experiences. It pains me that he cannot tell it himself. He lived long enough to hear that the murderers tortured my father as he worked on the ropes transporting stones in Dvoretz. His foot was broken in pieces and the murderers shot him in the Dvoretz hospital. Later they sent everyone to the village Katchke, three kilometres from Dvoretz. There you could find the mass grave of martyrs from Ivenitse, Karlitch, Lubtche, Zhetl and Dvoretz.
Mayshke's grave is in the Lipitshansk forest. Before I arrived in the forest dogs and animals of prey removed the bones. There is no remnant of their graves and we cannot even shed a tear on them.
The pain and sadness for my family will always remain in my broken heart. They were so cruelly tortured by the Nazi murderers.
by Tzile Zernitsky Yoselevsky (Tel Aviv)
Translated by Janie Respitz
After the first slaughter in Zhetl it became clear our sentence was inevitable. Different versions began to spread in the ghetto about partisans, but no one had seen them and no one believed it. People were saying that friends were organizing and Alter Dvoretzky and his group had been in the forest for a while already, but no one knew exactly. Besides all the nonsense tales like Znakher with the long beard from Novoredker Street, the table that rises and the scissors which jumps through a sieve, there was now a new fashionable belief: the partisans will show up one fine day, tear down the ghetto walls and free all the Jews.
These were merely dreams of naïve optimists.
After the news spread that Alter Dvoretsky was killed in the forest by an anti Semitic bullet, a thick black cloud covered our sky. Every drop of hope and belief was extinguished. Only one option remained. Not to go into the grave alive, save yourself as best you could.
Human minds began to work in fresh ways. Everyone, in his own way, became an engineer, building hiding places underground. At night, people dragged sand, made man made flower beds in the gardens, under which they dug intensely. Every house had its guard, whose task it was to wake up everyone in the event of danger.
The evening of Thursday, the 5th of August 1942 did not foretell anything especially bad. As usual, the workers returned from the free world through the wooden gates, back into the ghetto. As usual, after supper, Jews would gather in houses planning new patents and constructions, worried about world politics and sharing the latest news from the front. The women, as customary, occupied themselves with household duties, sharing one small oven with 10 families, but listened to the news from the Agency.
As usual, the silver moon was out walking through the starry bright sky and as usual, the night spread its authority over the world.
That night was my tour of duty in our block in Tanah Epshteyn's house. The quiet innocent night was shameless, sneaking slyly, masking the remnants of the murderers and their bloody surprises.
At dawn, while God was still sleeping calmly, Germans and police tore into the ghetto. The entire town, in a circle of a kilometre was surrounded by a tight military chain.
All Jews, without exception, go to the old cemetery for an inspection of work papers and passes. If you disobey you will be punished by death!!!!
The voices of these German animals echoed in the streets of the ghetto. There was no possibility to escape. It was already daylight plus so much military traffic. Everyone tried to save himself to the best of his ability.
There were two cellars at our house. We survived the first slaughter in one of them. It was situated under the floor of a room. The entrance was in the vestibule through a covered board which was lifted under a chicken coop.
It was too late to save ourselves. The German police were already at the entrance and in the yard beating everyone with butts of guns and whips. Panic ensued.
At the Old Cemetery
They brought us to the old cemetery and set up a large, quiet, desperate mass of people. Shooting and screams reach us from the ghetto. Every minute new victims arrived and were lined up. Across from us, in the middle, stood the master of the Zhetl gendarmerie, Grifinkerl, a tall, fat, middle aged German. I am sure he had a family, a wife and children at home. He smoked his cigar and with a coldblooded kind smile, as if he was in a gallery seeing an exhibition examining an original painting: the death throes of the town.
Police with machine guns are walking around, singing happy songs. Others go up to their acquaintances and neighbours and said: Now they will do this to you
showing with his hand how one slaughters a chicken. Bakay, the village policeman, ran around with a little mirror, perhaps wanting to examine someone.
Make yourself pretty he politely suggested.
Others were bothering young girls and dragging old men by their beards. The large mass of people stood quietly, frozen, as if this did not involve them. Neither the sound of shooting, nor the explosions in the ghetto which were accompanied by screams, laughter, cries and moans, nor the death which soared openly, shook them.
Who knows, maybe everyone was making an account of their own life.
Believers were quietly whispering the confessional prayer. Non believers were blaspheming God. Artchik Grin, the medic, was standing with his family with a bottle of alcohol sticking out of his pocket. He was totally drunk and apparently wanted to be unconscious when facing his verdict.
Two sisters, young pretty girls, pushed their way through us. They worked in the gendarmerie as cleaners. Perhaps they will find a familiar German who will save them? Are they all murderers? Is there not one good one among them?
Shoemakers, who made shoes for the Germans, tried to separate themselves from the rest. They were after all, useful Jews, nothing bad could happen to them. Everyone was holding his work card. Maybe they will be saved. Frightened and sleepy children were hugging their mothers. No one was crying.
More families arrived. They brought the patients from the ghetto hospital (the building of the Tarbut School), in their underwear. A woman who had just given birth dragged herself with her newborn, wrapped in swaddling clothes. Two sick men were holding each other up and a paralyzed man was crawling practically on all fours. And here among them like a phantom in white sheets, a thin pointed nose and two wild glaring eyes peeked out. This was crazy Mirke. She separated herself from the masses and stood facing the gendarme commander, waving her sheets like the wings of a bird of prey and pointing to all of us, with a non human voice in her half mute language screamed and spat on him.
Who at that moment could understand crazy Mirke, when she opened a stream of spit on the gendarme? Who was she spitting on? Who did she mean to spit on? Us or the gendarme? Maybe she was clear and we all were crazy?
A cold shiver, like an electric shock, went through me. Two opposing thoughts flashed in my mind: perhaps she is a messenger from God, calling for revenge?!
The noise of tanks, trucks and songs shattered the air. The helpless crowd shook. Through a small door of the cemetery we saw brown uniforms, among them Royter, (the administrative commissar of the Novogrudek district). Hundreds of Germans, Ukrainians, Estonians, Lithuanians and White Russian police, coming from all sides. Royter came out in the middle and ordered the pass control and demanded everyone be disciplined and obedient. Then he called out 5 names: Elye Novoliyensky, Basie Rabinovitch, Henie Gertzovsky, Hirsh Podliosky and Tzile Zernitzky.
Everyone was sure this was the beginning of a bloody game, and the executions would take place before everyone's eyes.
A municipal policeman grabbed me from my mother's arms, hitting me with the butt of his gun, brought me to Royter, where Elye Novoliyensky and Podliosky were already standing guarded. Basie and Henie were not there. Instead of them, Fanie Dunetz and Pesie Mayevsky stepped out of line. My only desire was that my mother would not have to watch this with her own eyes. (My father was taken with the first 120).
In a line surrounded by Latvians, Royter commanded we follow him to the new cemetery.
In the Barn
Near Magelnitsky's house, where Teper Street and Bathhouse Street flow into each other, there was a quiet, bent barn. They locked us in there.
Through the rotted, moldy boards overgrown with moss we heard shooting, drunken singing by the Germans, cries from women and children and quiet moans from the wounded. Under the stall there was apparently a cellar, because from underground we heard whispering and a choking cough of a child. This gripped our hearts, none of us moved, we did not speak or cry in these last moments of our lives.
Nearby screams and cries accompanied by shooting pushed us to the cracks between the old walls. They were taking a group of 80 men captured in the cellar. Near the stall, beside a small table, stood tall S.S. men, Royter and the head of the Zhetl gendarme, Globle. They were sorting!
The screams were horrific. Knowing this was their final road, Jews began to run in all directions and fell from chasing bullets. Pitilessly, Germans tore men from their wives and children, who did not want to part. The screams and cries, the pushing and shouting trembled in the air.
The quiet innocent barn which had become a boiler hole, was a silent witness to death.
Suddenly, someone from outside tore open the door and with inhumane beatings, threw in 30 more men, among whom were: Feyvl Kalbshteyn, Motl Kalbshteyn, Yoine Brestovitsky, Elye Kovensky, Zisl Kalbshteyn, Yosl Kravetz, his wife and small child.
Now we understood this was a selection for death.
When it became calmer outside, and the sentenced mass, under a hail of beatings and bullets approached the new cemetery, where the graves were already prepared, the head executioner pulled up with Traube (the commissar of the Novogrudek district). They got rid of the table with the selection points and decided to chase everyone straight to the graves so that people will be disoriented and unable to escape.
A heart wrenching scene played out during this last bloody march. Among the others I saw my mother with my little brother in her arms, and my aunt Khaya holding the hands of her two small children, Yoinele and Khanele. I saw my uncle Meir Lusky and his children, Adeh Lusky with her two year old son, bleeding with his head down. My whole family stayed together.
A bang, like thunder shook the walls. Germans tore inside. Happy with their great success they beat us until we bled, commanded us to go out in threes, undress and lie with our faces to the pavement, so they could shoot us. Fortuitously, Elye Novoliyensky recognized one of them who used to come to the Judenrat for boots. He told him something that distracted him and this saved our lives.
Twice they drove us out, and each time, thanks to another coincidence, we were saved.
How long the tension lasted in the barn, none of us can recall. Minutes transformed into hours.
At the Marketplace
In the afternoon the door opened again. S.S. men led by Royter ordered us to climb into a truck which was standing facing the cemetery.
No one doubted we were the last to cover the graves. Helpless, broken, without any hope, apathetic to everything and everyone we quietly obeyed the order. The only child with Yosl Kravetz's two year old daughter was ripped out of the arms of her parents by the murderers, then the truck turned around headed towards town.
In the light of the shining shameless sun we saw the true destruction. Through streets strewn with the dead and puddles of blood, they brought us to the marketplace which was besieged by the military. Traube stood in the middle of the boulevard (once the circle of stores), with two machine guns, opera glasses and a camera. From the cinema (Shmerke's building) until Berl Dvoretzky's pharmacy, people were laid out in fours, on their knees, facing the pavement. Beating us they led us to them and ordered us to assume the same position. We recognized those they took from the graves.
Lifting your heads is punishable by death shouted an officer.
Germans walked through the rows removing boots, good shoes, watches, and rings and rummaged through their pockets. When they took everything, the public was pleased. Our neighbours stood by excitedly with outstretched hands. When the spectacle was over there was an order:
They counted us. The last person called out 213. Two hundred and thirteen Jews were all that remained from 4000 Jews in Zhetl!
In the Cinema
The ceremony did not last long. Beating each one individually, they led us into the cinema. Royter gave a short lecture and promised that the next day we will all be taken to the work camp in Novogrudek, where all the useful Jews'' will not be harmed.
The door slammed, and now like a bomb, the room exploded. Parents searched for their children, husbands, searched for their wives. Children were shouting: Mama! Screams and cries shook the walls. Here I found my little brother who returned from the graves where all of our nearest and dearest remained.
The over crowdedness and heat were terrible. People, like animals, were choking, banging their heads against the walls, losing consciousness. Others were petrified and were unable to speak.
Podlishevsky had a grenade and wanted to explode the cinema. There were Jews who stopped him, believing in the promises of our life givers.
This all happened on Thursday, August 6th, 1942, a day in hell in God's beautiful world.
All night and also the next morning the door of the cinema did not close. New victims arrived. When the hall was filled they also filled the brick houses: Peshke Langburt's and Yosef the barber's.
Friday night into Saturday was the worst. The Jews sitting in the two buildings thought those in the cinema were to remain alive so they bribed the Latvian guards to let them into the better building. This began a business with live merchandise, which every minute would fall out the window on their heads. The business took place in the back because it was impossible to open the door due to over crowdedness and besides this I think the Latvians were also afraid. These acrobats were only the ones who had valuables items or gold with them. The others, sadly, had to be jealous and not deny them their extraordinary good luck. However, we, the cinema Jews, understood what this all meant.
Among other news we learned that Sholem Krashinsky shot a German the moment he entered his house. He was killed running away. Shloime Busel also died heroically, killing a Latvian while trying to escape. Shepls from the House of study called out to the German as he was dying:
You killed me, but my people will live and will take revenge!
Saturday morning the noise of tanks and military songs shook the small windows of the dark cinema.
A New Selection
The door was suddenly opened with force and Royter accompanied by Globke and S.S. men gave a new speech:
Nothing more will happen to anyone! There will once again be a ghetto in Zhetl, there will be workshops. In groups of 10 you will return to the ghetto, calmly, without panic!
No one trusted his words. However, there was no other option but to resign ourselves to our fate.
Holding my little brother, who at that moment was completely disoriented I attempted as always to be in the first ten. I knew that at the beginning of a selection you had a better chance to be sent to the right because toward the end everyone was sent to the left.
The desire to live brought out wild instincts in people. Tears and begging did not help. No one wanted children in their group of ten, who were not important to the murderers and had little chance to remain alive. We actually remained among the last. Included in our group of ten were: Berl Saker, Tzalie Mashkovsky, his daughter Yehudis, the idler's daughter in law Mariashke Senderovsky, me and my little brother and three old women from Bieltze.
The marketplace looked like a military front. Running back and forth in front of us, busy and sweaty were the petty bourgeois gentiles and gentiles from the surrounding villages, dragging bedding, furniture and bloodied things. Genitchke from Novogrudek Street, ran unbuttoned carrying a chair and a mirror. Apparently she came across someone stronger than her, or perhaps a better specialist, or maybe she had bad luck and went to a handled house. Everything was a saleable item, you must grab what you can because when will there be another opportunity to get rid of the Jews and make a profit?!
My school friend and good neighbour Zasiye Veygo stood on the sidewalk arm in arm with a German. Seeing me in line she laughed loudly and heartily. I have to admit these two facts broke me more than the beatings from the Germans.
The small alley that led to the Judenrat (Kagan's house) was transformed into a narrow lane of German's who received every group of ten with beatings. When the beaten and bloodied approached the steps of the Judenrat an officer shouted:
Men right, women left.
Right meant to the Judenrat and left, to the House of Study, to die.
There was great chaos, pushing and a stampede, screaming hysterical women. By chance, I took advantage of the storm and went right, into the Judenrat.
This all took place on Friday, August 8th, 1942. After this selection the same amount remained, but not the same people.
A truck took us to the Novogrudek camp, in the building of the old courthouse.
by Shaynke Mnuskin (New York)
Translated by Janie Respitz
On August 6th 1942 the Germans and their collaborators surrounded the ghetto. I hid with my children in an out house which we called an Otkhozhe in Zhetl. Our hiding place was under a bucket which stood on wooden boards. We sat there, as if hardened and did not say a word.
Wailing voices of women and children being brought to the slaughter were carried to us from the street.
In our hole we could not differentiate between day and night, but when the shooting stopped we understood it must be evening. From time to time we heard sounds of passing wagons and Christians walking by who had come to rob Jewish homes.
We sat there the whole night. Early the next morning we heard shooting again. They found Jews in hiding places and brought them to the graves.
This is how we spent a few torturous days and nights. The air in the hole was unbearable. My little boy who was 13 months old was half dead. Our clothes were rotting on us from the damp earth. My baby lived on a drop of sugar which I managed to bring into the hole. Thirst was torturing us and our lips were weak and cracked. With the water my mother in law provided from herself, I dampened their lips. We quietened our thirst but only for a few hours.
We were envious of the dead who did not have to experience this terrible suffering. Can one even imagine what it means to envy the dead?
Six days passed. We could no longer bear the suffering. My mother in law and sister in law said goodbye to us and left the hole. While in the hole my mother in law lost her eyesight and on her way out she fell, but her daughter helped her. When it became light the Germans captured them and shot them.
The second night, when the hole was flooded with human excrement, I decided it was better to be killed by a German bullet than to drown in this putrid filth. I took my little boy in my arms. It felt like I was carrying a wet rag. My other son who was two years and eight months old held on to my dress.
It is hard to describe how I felt going out of that smelly hole. I decided to go to my mother's house and stay there until they will shoot me. I thought then, if someone would ask me what my last wish would be, at that moment I would have asked for death.
My mother's house had been robbed and destroyed. A small broken oven still stood in the middle of the house from which the wind blew in. There were broken plates on the floor. It looked like a storm ripped through the four walls of my mother's house.
Where Should I Go?
I saw a Christian who had been my mother's neighbour for years.
When he saw me and my children he grabbed a shovel and waved it over my head warning me I better disappear, if not he would cut me to pieces. I asked if he would let me stay in my mother's house for a few hours, just to recover a bit. He became softer and advised me, since my mother's house is not far from the cemetery, I should go there because the grave is still open. He did not have the heart to kill us, but there, the peasants were ready to do away with us as they had done to the other Jews.
I obeyed him. As I walked I felt my legs collapsing under me as my heart beat weaker and weaker.
Barefoot, I walked over the glass which was strewn on the pavement. My blood dripped on the stones. I went to the graves. As I got closer I heard the rasping sounds of the dying. I avoided the graves…
Do not begrudge me my dear ones, for walking by and not stopping for a while. I was with you with my thoughts and my heart, but my feet carried me with an instinctive force forward… forward… without a destination…
It was daybreak. I saw a house from a distance. Before I could get closer an angry dog suddenly attacked me.
Not far from the house I fell down and fainted near flowing water. I put my hand in the water and brought some to my children's and my weak lips.
I stood up, took my children and continued to walk. I tried again to approach a peasant. This time I received a piece of bread. He asked me to leave because the Germans can arrive at any time. I noticed, when he looked at me and my children his conscience revived.
I trudged along all morning. My head was spinning and I was lightheaded. I walked on dangerous roads. I didn't even take this into account.
Finally I entered the forest. I sat down on the ground and gave my children small pieces of the hard bread. They had not eaten anything in four days. With trembling hands they held it and quietly chewed the dry, hard bread. It did not take long before they fell asleep.
I sat, looked at the sky and talked to myself.
God, why do I deserve to suffer for so long? Where will I go from here? Would it not be better for me to die with everyone else?
Suddenly I heard people approaching. They were two young shepherds. As soon as they saw me they asked if I had money.
Little boys I thought to myself, and they already know how to rob a lonely Jewish woman. They took a few ruble from me and a few other things which I had with me.
Over Fields and Forests
I left there right away. I thought of going to a woman peasant who was an acquaintance, who we had been very friendly with. I would leave one of my children with her, perhaps both. I remembered she was a kind hearted woman, a church goer and had a fine character…I decided as soon as it will be dark I will try to go to her house. Maybe I'll be able to eat something before I die as I felt my soul was leaving me.
When she saw me, the peasant woman crossed herself and with tears in her eyes told me what happened in Zhetl.
She had a good heart, she gave me a shirt for the children and a coat for me and led us to her attic where we quickly fell asleep.
It did not take long before I felt someone tugging at my feet. I opened my tired eyes and that same woman standing over me with a pitchfork in her hand and shouting that I should leave the attic immediately. She heard she would pay with her life for hiding Jews.
Out of desperation I began to tear out my hair, begging her to at least allow me to spend one night. I showed her the wounds on my feet, my weak children and begged her to have pity on us.
Finally a spark of empathy was ignited in her. She advised me, since it was midnight, she would help me carry the children to a place seven miles away where two nuns lived. When I get there I should lie under the window and when the nuns wake up in the morning to serve God they will certainly notice me and maybe even help me in some way.
Without thinking long, she began to drag me by my hair and her son dragged my older son. Until today I can still picture that horrible scene of how he dragged this barely alive little boy by the neck. I carried my little boy in my arms. I walked through the overgrown field dragging my feet like sticks. Suddenly, our companions stopped. Leaving us alone they returned to where they came from.
It started to rain. We lay in the deep grass with soaking wet clothes. I heard my little boy coughing. A fear engulfed me. Someone can hear us…
Day was breaking. From a distance I saw that the nuns noticed us. They took us into their house, gave us some food and let us sleep in the barn. They bandaged my wounded feet which were bleeding. However we did not stay there long. They also heard the police were searching houses and barns. They brought us to a rye field. We lay there for three days and nights. My little boy no longer had the strength to cry. His little voice now sounded like a small bird. His face was covered with abscesses. He did not look like a human being.
Once again we continued to walk over fields and through forests until we arrived at a small river.
God in heaven I asked,
Give me the strength to throw myself in the water together with my children.
Until today I cannot conceive how I was able to leave my little boy on the bare ground and continue. I walked for half a mile. I tried to hear if I heard any sounds.
No, he's not crying. I was sure the child understood. I had not even walked a mile. Childish eyes were pleading with me: Together Mama, together!
I returned and took him in my arms.
Passing houses I noticed how Christians were turning away and others pitied us. I later heard that I looked like a crazy woman. I ran carrying both children in my arms. From time to time I would drop to the ground and lie there as if I wanted to leave the children and go off on my own. But each time I would return and take them in my arms.
At one place a Christian grabbed me and was ready to hand me over to the Germans hoping to receive a reward for delivering Jewish souls. However he changed his mind because it was too far for him to walk to town. He let us go warning me that we must quickly disappear and that he never wants to see us again. Taking his scythe in his hand he demonstrated how he could slit Jewish throats…
Running into the forest I fell to the ground. I lay there the entire night. When day broke I was once again terrified. I looked at my two emaciated children who opened their little eyes and asked for food and drink. I picked them up and we continued to wander. I went deeper and further in the forest. My bare feet trampled on twigs and sharp stones. I felt I was leaving tracks of blood…
I decided to go to a certain peasant, Varabay. I knew him to be a friend to the Jews. I thought, since he lives deep in the forest, he may not be afraid to hide us. The idea filled me with fresh courage and after a few hours we finally arrived not far from the peasant's house. I quietly whispered to my children.
Soon, soon my darlings, we may find a corner, a place where we can hide from the death that has been chasing us.
It was evening. When he saw us he turned away as if he did not know us. I began to cry and plead with him, calling him by his name. I fell to the ground and punched my children with my fists wanting to kill them and myself. The Christian could not watch this. His wife and daughters began to beg him to allow us to stay at least one night. Finally his heart softened. He showed us to his potato cellar which was covered with straw.
The hole was far from the house, on a hill. To enter the hole you had to go down a ladder, but I fell in. He threw in my children after me. I was overcome with fear thinking at any minute he can return with a shovel and cover us up alive.
The children fell asleep quickly. I got up on my knees and listened to every rustle. I heard steps…apparently an animal… then all was quiet. My body was feverish from fear and cold. I lay down and fell asleep.
Bright rays came through slats of the cover. I realized the day was dawning…
Suddenly the hole opened and I saw my husband standing over us and crying. In his hand he was holding half a latke (potato pancake) which he brought for me and the children. By chance he succeeded to be saved from death and escaped to the forests. Christians told him they had seen me with both children.
He removed a pair of torn sandals from his feet and put them on my feet. He told me a small number of Jews from Zhetl miraculously managed to escape the slaughter and organized a partisan group to take revenge on the German murderers. Since they will not take me into the detachment with the children we will have to, for the meantime, hide somewhere else.
We painfully made it to a wooden stall, deep in the mud, where peasants stored their hay in the winter. There I found orphans and lonely women. They were really not happy with me and my two children. They were afraid my children would cry and divulge the hiding place.
My husband left us with this group and returned to the partisans.
by Yitzkhak Goldshteyn (Kfar Saba)
Translated by Janie Respitz
It is difficult for me to remember everything I experienced under the Germans. I am broken, my heart is weak and my memory doesn't serve me well. I will try to describe what I remember so that my description will serve as a tombstone for my entire murdered family.
There were three months between the first and second slaughter. We began to think about what we could do? People were not even thinking about running away. We began to build cellars. We believed this would save us from death.
I also built a cellar. Under my butcher shop I had an ice cellar. I worked hard with my two sons until our hiding place was made.
The second slaughter took place on the 25th of Av, it was Thursday at dawn. All those who survived will remember that Thursday until we are in our graves. A Christian who noticed that the little door to my cellar was open left and brought the Germans. I managed to escape to my attic, at the height of glory.
I forgot to mention that in my cellar there were a few families and it was very crowded. Therefore my two sons ran away in the middle of the night. I knew they would surely be killed.
When night fell I came down from the attic. My house was not far from the Pomeryake. It was quiet and I went down to the river. The river was very shallow. I crossed two bridges and walked along the water until I made my way to the veterinarian doctor. His wife was very decent.
At four o'clock in the morning I went into their stall where the cows and pigs were standing. I hid there in a pile of straw.
In the morning the shepherd came in to drive the cows to the field. Around eight the veterinarian's wife came in to let the chickens out. I began to talk to her. She was very frightened and wanted to run away. I told her it's me, Itche Goldshteyn. She calmed down and asked if anyone had seen me enter. I swore to her that no one saw me.
She asked me to make a place deep in the straw so no one would suspect a person was lying there. She kept me for two days bringing me food and drink three times a day.
On the third day her nephew came. I knew him. He came into the stall to get straw to lay out a bed for the pigs and saw me. He told me to leave at that minute because if they found me they would kill everyone. I began to plead with him but he went to tell his aunt that Itche Goldshteyn is here.
She came running and told me it was not good because her nephew could denounce me to the Germans. She did not trust him. She brought me bread and asked me to leave.
I left the stall that same night. The night was as dark as my heart. I walked and later sat down to rest beside a barn. It was two o'clock in the morning. Suddenly I heard footsteps. I thought it was the police. When the steps got closer I heard people speaking Yiddish. I asked:
Who is there?
We are Jews they replied.
I went to them. I saw a boy and a girl. The boy was Shmerl the wagon driver's son and the girl was Itzl Solomon's daughter, Rokhl. (Now in America).
I asked: Where are you going, children?
We are going to Dvoretz, they answered. There are still Jews in Dvoretz.
We began to walk together. Five kilometres from Dvoretz day was breaking. A peasant ran out from the wheat sheaves with a revolver in his hand and ordered us to return with him to Zhetl. However, if we had gold or other items, he would let us go. Rokhl gave him a watch and a ring. He took my boots and food from the boy and left.
The peasant's name was Matchay, I knew him well. He also caught the Zhetl rabbi who went to Dvoretz, and handed him over to the Germans. He met his end. The partisans shot him.
We arrived in Dvoretz in the morning and mixed among the workers. Our job in Dvoretz
consisted of carrying stones. The Germans needed the stones and people worked very hard. We were foolish and believed those who were working would not be bothered.
One night Leybl the hoi polloi (his family name was Grin) came from the forest with Berman the glazier. They came to get their wives and children. They also took me and a few others. We left late at night and at dawn we arrived at the forest.
I found my three sons in the forest. You cannot imagine my joy!
We got used to living in the forest and once again felt human. Sometimes we had food to eat, and sometimes not. In the summer we ate blackberries and mushrooms with worms, and it was good. We got used to everything.
I was together with my three sons. They wanted to join the partisans but they needed weapons. They would not accept you without a weapon.
I made my way to a group in the forest called Laptzinsky. Meanwhile my son Mikhl and I became sick with Typhus. My older son Yosef and the youngest Leyzer looked after us. We lay there for five weeks and recovered. Suddenly, my son Mikhl wanted to go look for bread. I warned him:
Mikhl, you are still weak from your illness, don't go. He did not listen to me and left. The Germans attacked him in the village Mizevetz. He did not want to be captured alive. He ran and they shot him. When I heard this I became confused and my two sons watched over me. Mikhl was the apple of my eye. Everyone from Zhetl knew him well. They thought I would lose my mind.
But man is stronger than iron. After five weeks I calmed down a bit.
Then, my older son joined the partisans and within a short time my younger son and I joined as well. My older son worked in the hospital. I worked in my profession. I slaughtered animals and did everything necessary to prepare them for the kitchen.
This is how things went until the Red Army arrived. Then both my sons went into the army. I wanted to join them but they would not take me. They took away my gun and sent me home. They said they don't take older people.
I came to Zhetl. My house had already been burned. I went to live with Menakhem the butcher's children.
I began to work a bit in my profession, but I did not hear anything from my two sons.
One day I was called to Vayenkom, and I went. A military man read from a paper that Yosl Goldshteyn fell near Bialystok for the Fatherland. You can imagine my immense loss!
I walked around in a daze and could not find a place for myself. From great heartache I began drinking. When I was drunk, I would throw myself into bed and cry so hard no one could quieten me. This lasted for a few weeks. I don't know where I found so many tears.
I became a big drinker. When I was sober I regretted it and felt ashamed. I felt I would die from drunkenness. I began to struggle with myself to overcome the drunkenness.
I succeeded. I stopped drinking and began to think about my third son. This was my last hope, my only comfort. I received a letter and a photograph from him and I was happy, but my joy did not last long. I never received another letter from him. I asked his regiment about him and they replied that Eliezer Goldshteyn disappeared and they themselves don't know where he is. Can you understand how I felt?
The only one who has remained with me is my brother's grandchild, Avreyml. He was with me in the forest and after liberation he stayed with me. He is the only one who remained from my large family.
The Soviet authorities gave an order that anyone who wants can go to Poland. I immediately left for Poland and I now live in Israel.
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