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[Page 358]

From the House of Study to the Forest

by Bashe Mnuskin (Kfar Saba)

Translated by Janie Respitz

During the second slaughter I sat in the cellar with my three children. My smallest child would often cry and I was afraid this would betray us.

Without water and very little air we sat there for three days. On the fourth day we heard footsteps. Someone moved the cabinet which blocked the entrance to the cellar and we heard shouts: “Jews, get out!!” I went out with my frightened children. Two Germans and a policeman, a Zhetl Christian, began to hit us and push us toward the cinema.

In the cinema a horrific scene unfolded before my eyes: the hall was packed with Jews who were ripping their last bit of money in order not to leave it for the murderers.

Two o'clock in the afternoon they took us out, stopped those capable of working to send them to Novogrudek, and took the rest to the House of Study. When we were inside we looked outside and saw Germans throwing Jews into trucks, separating children from their parents in order to increase the pain. They also tore away my two children from me, Berele and Shepsele and did not allow them to go with me. I remained with my third child Moishele and waited for a second transport.

The people in the House of Study walked around like shadows and together shouted: “Hear O Israel!” Every 15 minutes the trucks would return and the Germans would fill them again with people and take them to the graves. Suddenly I noticed a few Jews placed a reading stand in the corner and climbed up into the women's section. Among them was my brother in law Shleymke. I only had my Moishele with me and I was petrified after the tragedy with my two other children. However seeing how people were trying to save themselves I took my only child in my arms and began to climb up on the lectern. The first of the climbers chopped a few boards from the attic and dragged us up. We were twelve altogether. In a matter of minutes we boarded up the opening.

In the attic we were afraid we would be discovered. But downstairs the commotion was so great the murderers did not notice we went up. We saw from the attic how they were taking our brothers to their death, and I tore out my hair thinking about my two murdered children. The people in the attic comforted me saying I still had one child with me and gave me hope that my fourth child, Kalmen was hidden in another cellar.

Night fell. All was quiet. They took everyone from the House of Study. At midnight we went down from the attic. Among us were bold men like Hirshl Kaplinsky, Yosl from Kazlaytch, Pinye Grin, Shleymke Mnuskin. They went down first. I followed with my Moishele. Two women went down with us: Libe, Gershon the tailor's wife and Dvoyre Tinkovitsky. A few families remained in the attic who had been hiding there for a few days, among them, Shmerl Feyvzhinsky.

We went down one at a time. There was a dead silence outside. We walked into the Pomerayke and walked slowly with the river until the edge of town. Then we started to run. I ran holding my child with my last bit of strength.

Finally we arrived in Pushtshe. I went with two men to look for bread in Hiritch, where I had gentile acquaintances. My acquaintance filled a sack with bread and gave me things for the child.

While meeting others who had escaped from the ghetto I found my husband Mayrim and my brothers: Zisl and Mikhl. My brother Mikhl who was saved from the slaughter was killed three months later in a battle with the murderers and my brother Zisl who succeeded in saving himself was fated to die a year later on the front.

My husband and I still were hopeful about our son Kalmen. One evening, when we were sitting around the fire we heard sounds from among the bushes. We were frightened. Two from our group who had weapons went with their weapons to search the bushes. It did not take long before they returned with two tattered crying children. They were my son Kalmen and his friend Yenkele Gordon. They were the last to be saved from the Zhetl ghetto.


[Page 359]

In the Workshops of the Novogrudek Ghetto

by Pesieh Mayevsky (Petach Tikva)

Translated by Janie Respitz

In August 1942, the remaining 35 thousand Jews that lived in the Novorgudek region until 1941 were rounded up. Among them were 154 Jews from Zhetl who were brought to Novogrudek and divided into two groups: one group was brought to the so called “old ghetto” where they were all murdered in February 1943, and the second group was brought to the “workshops”, near the sadly – renowned court house, where on December 6th 1941 they were rounded up with all the Jews from Novogrudek and taken to their death.

The Zhetl Jews were housed in an empty garage which was crowned with the name the “Zhetl Closet”. There were approximately 100 people there including people from Bielitz and “Bezhntze”. Each of them were the only surviving member of their family and they jealously looked at the “happy” people from Novogrudek who could still see their children's black eyes or an elderly person, a father, a mother.

The place was surrounded by 2 rows of barbed wire. Behind the wire was a wooden fence which was constantly guarded. On the roof of the court house, very close to the camp, stood a machine gun with a projector to ensure no one escaped.

There was no water in the ghetto. Every morning we lined up at the fence with rusty tin utensils in order to bring a bit of water from the other side of the ghetto, which had to last for 24 hours. This is where the harassment began.

A Christian guard stood behind the locked gate, a scoundrel named Subatch allowed whoever he wanted to go for water. If God forbid he did not like you, you could be sure he would hit you over the head with his stick.

In the winter we were spared from going to get water as we could manage with snow, but here we lost an essential source of existence. When we would go for water, we would often trade a shirt, a dress, a watch or anything we still had for some food, and smuggle it back in our bosom, even though it was often discovered and we would pay for it with terrifying beatings.

When we were stopped from going out for water, along with the winter days came hunger, destitution, lice and illness. It was particularly difficult for those in the “Zhetl closet”. Half naked, with wooden shoes, the carpenters, shoemakers, tailors, hat makers, watch makers and a few girls would go out to work in the workshops.

Hunger was rampant. At night, the carpenters would bring some stolen wood into the “”Closet” and over choking smoke we would cook a bit of rye flour or bake some barley. A few people ate potato peels baked on a sheet of metal.

There were a few lucky ones who brought money with them. Others earned a little at work. They had enough bread to eat and even bought flour from the “Ghetto merchants”. Those from Zhetl belonged to the “privileged” but most of them starved, walked around covered in lice with swollen faces.

A lonely child was attached to the “Zhetl “Closet”. His name was Grishke. Except for Moishele, Khaim the saddle maker's grandson, who was there with his father, was the only child in the “closet”. This 8 year old little boy was saved from a nearby town. He was always tattered, dirty and hungry and he latched on to the closet people and suffered together with them until his tragic death.

I remember one night in the “closet”. It was dark. The last kindling burned out, but the dense smoke choked our throats. The bedbugs and hunger prevented us from falling asleep. Then I heard Grishke's little voice and how he turned to Soreh Lusky's whose plank bed was beside mine.

“Soreh, did Peshke eat today”? This meant he wanted me to tell him a story but he did not have the audacity to ask me if he knew I was hungry. Then he sat up and asked:

“Tell me a story, tell me Peshke”.

And I told him a story about sunny fields, about my parents and familiar houses. I told him about the bad giant who chased the children from his garden causing his garden not to bloom. I told him about the “mother's tears” that ruined the palace of the evil duke who kidnapped the child from his mother. His garden withered, his palace

[Page 360]

collapsed, until he returned the child to his mother.

Little Grishke decided that the German's mother's tears did not destroy any palaces, the sun shone again and the flowers bloomed again.

It's dark. No one in the “closet” is sleeping. You can hear who cannot fall asleep due to hunger and who for the hundredth or thousandth time tore at their open wounds, so immersed that it drove them crazy.

Little Grishke decided the Germans would not lead him to the slaughter and when that dark day arrived he ran away and jumped into a toilet to hide. The Germans chased him and shot him in that filth. We later removed him and buried him in a small grave in the workshop yard.

The Jews of Zhetl had a reputation of being rebels. Every day, one of them escaped through the wire. They ran to the Nakrishk forest. They had received news from there that Alter Dvoretsky and Hirshl Kaplinsky had organized a Jewish partisan unit. The majority did not succeed in their escape.

After the slaughter of May 1943 where many Zhetl Jews were killed the idea of a collective escape ripened. The main organizers of this plan were Dr. Kagan from Baranovitch and the carpenter from Zhetl, Itchke Dvoretzky. Finally, their grandiose plan to dig a tunnel was realized, dug from the “Zhetl Closet”. The last Jews from Zhetl escaped through the tunnel together with the last Jews from the Novogrudek ghetto. A total of 235 people.

The tunnel was 2.5 metres deep, 90 centimetres wide, 70 centimetres high and 187 metres long. They had to work on their knees. The dug out earth was removed in special wheels onto wagons. Due to a lack of oxygen they could not burn candles or oil lamps so they installed electric lights. The lighting also served as security because twice a day there would be roll calls in the workshops where everyone had to line up in rows of five.

It would also happen, in the middle of the day a gang of “Browns” of “Blacks” would show up to inspect the camp. When this would occur, they would give a signal by flicking the electric switch which was in one of the residences, to warn those in the tunnel that the Germans were in the ghetto. The boys would immediately come out from underground, throw off their clay covered clothes which were sewn from rags, and run to the workshops.

At night, they removed the earth through the attics and used it to build double walls in the houses. When people returned from work they saw something unusual in the “Zhetl Closet”: from a hole under the plank bed they passed bags of earth from hand to hand until they were brought to the attics in the other houses. Sometimes they threw earth on the floor and into their hats just to get rid of it and to ensure the guards would not notice.

The tunnel had to be supported by wooden frames in the shape of crates to prevent the thick layers of earth from collapsing. The carpenters stole the wood from the carpentry shop. They were brutally beaten when they realized wood was stolen but luckily the purpose was not discovered.

In the fall, the tunnel was flooded with water. Those who removed the water had wounds covering their bodies.

On one occasion they came up against a giant rock which blocked the way when the tunnel was already 105 meters long. A second incident was when they noticed from the ghetto a grain cutting machine on the sowed field under which the tunnel was situated. If the cutting machine would have been placed on the tunnel it would have collapsed, not being able to withstand the weight.

Two carpenters worked 13 hours under ground, without a break, to reinforce the tunnel. The cutting machine cut the grain and the tunnel withstood the test. Air entered the tunnel through tin pipes which the tinsmiths stole and placed in the ground allowing them to continue the work.

The day when 235 Jews would leave through the tunnel arrived. It was the 26th of September 1943. If my memory serves me, I will try to list the Zhetl Jews who escaped. Please forgive me for any names omitted. Here they are in alphabetical order:

Belaus Khaim, Bielitsky Tzale, Gertzovsky Yosl, Gertzovsky Berl, Dvoretzky Yitzkhak, Dunetz Fania, Veynshteyn Shmuel Dovid, Leybovitch Yerakhmile from Bielitze, Lidsky Soreh, Mayevsky Pesieh, Novagrudsky Mikhal, Patzovsky Hirshl,

[Page 361]

Patzovsky Yenkl, Paretzky Moishe, Paretzky Shmuel, Dr. Kagan from Baranovitch, Rabinovitch Basieh, Shimshelevitch Shmuel, Shalkovitch Kalmen, Khaim Natkovitch's (the harness maker) son in law Avrom, his son Moishele, Noyekh Panikarter and Soreh Panikarter. A few Jews remained in hiding too afraid to go through the tunnel. Among them were Zalmen Gertzovsky, Leybl Berman and Khone Epshteyn. They were all killed.

We escaped through the tunnel according to a prepared list. The first and very last were young men who had weapons. We descended into the tunnel one at a time. We were ordered to not stop, even if we would be noticed by a guard.

Crawling on all fours we heard the deafening sounds of shooting. When we poked our heads out of the tunnel we found ourselves under a shower of bullets. The partisans later told us that such a dark night rarely occurred.

The Germans believed the partisans came to the ghetto so they began shooting. The surrounding police posts responded. The projector on the roof was not working because before the escape the Jewish electricians caused a defect. When the guards arrived they found the ghetto was emptied of people. This is when the real shooting began.

The Germans chased with trucks and lit up the area with rockets. Not being familiar with the region the Jews from Zhetl ran where their eyes led them, banged into Jews thinking they were Germans and the opposite. As a result of great confusion and excitement many returned to Novorudek and were killed by the Germans positions. We ran all night long without stopping. At dawn we snuggled into a small forest. We were saddened to learn we were only 4 kilometres from the ghetto.

Until today we do not know how long it took for the 235 Jews to escape through the tunnel. It is possible it did not take long, possibly a few hours.

The fate of those who escaped differed. The majority ran toward Zhetl. However, almost all were caught and shot, some by the Germans, some by the partisans.

Only a small number made it to Lipitchaner Pushtshe and a few to Nalibaker, however not all those saved lived to be freed.


The Zhetl Glaziers in Novoredok

by Zavl Mordkovsky (New York)

Translated by Janie Respitz

On a winter morning the government inspector from Novoredok, Roiter, came to Zhetl and ordered the Jewish population, within 12 hours to supply spoons, blankets, furniture clothing and other goods. Among the delivered items was 6 metres of glass and 5 diamonds to cut the glass.

Alter Dvoretsky asked me to bring boxes to pack the glass and dishes. I asked the glazier Dovid Berman to help me with this task. When everything was ready, the murderer Roiter commanded that we send glaziers to Novoredok.

We already knew what working in Novoredok meant. But because we were the youngest glaziers in Zhetl it was decided that we would go. They sent us in a special truck and brought us to “Boiteh Camp”, the collection place for all stolen Jewish items. After working there for a week they sent us home.

After a short time they forced us into the ghetto. Our family lived on Novoredker Street. The ghetto was far from us. Due to the time limitation, people did not manage to bring all necessary items.

The government inspector Roiter, accompanied the Zhetl Christian Petye Bielush and other town officials from house to house and sealed each one. Everything we did not manage to take from our homes was confiscated.

We brought our few possessions in a skiff, sliding it on the snow.

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The same day Roiter made another order. He commanded me to take my wife and child and return to “Boite Camp” in Novoredok. Knowing that the situation in Novoredok was worse than Zhetl I asked him if my wife and child could remain in the Zhetl ghetto.

I left with the other glaziers. We worked with the Novoredok glaziers to install windows, mirrors and other glass work.

By the beginning of August we felt the slaughter was nearing. We trembled with every passing hour. One group of Jews in Novoredok were living in barracks. The second group was in the buildings belonging to the court house which were transformed into workshops. Those in the labour camp felt they would be able to evade the oncoming danger. Since they were working and producing important articles they believed the Germans would allow them to live.

On the 16th of August 1942, we left to work as usual. The tailors, shoemakers and electricians worked in the workshops, the carpenters, builders and glaziers went to the barracks. The three glaziers from Zhetl, me, Dovid Berman and Mayshke Mankovitch stayed together as always.

While working, no one said a word. We were told on that day there would be a slaughter in Zhetl. Everyone, in his heart and thoughts was with the members of his family and the rest of the Jews in Zhetl. Only our hands were working as they trembled with our hearts for the fate of our dearest and beloved.

We could barely wait for the evening when we would return to the ghetto and hear some news. But they asked us to gather and line up in rows. We were 1000 men. The Estonian soldiers looked out the window and cynically laughed. They joked about our fate.

Suddenly the supervisor appeared. He was so drunk he could barely stand on his feet. Behind him stood his officer Lovoye. Moskialyov began to call out individuals from the rows. He took aside 300 men and 10 women including the three of us. The others immediately knew they were sentenced to death.

A horrifying scream suddenly emerged from the mass facing death.

People begged Moskialyov to save them, showing how they were such good workers.

I saw Motke Kravetsky, the shoemaker shout that he wanted them to let him live: how Dovidl Kaplan cried and was completely broken, however these cries fell on deaf ears. The division of Estonian soldiers quickly surrounded us and did not let anyone tear away from our row.

The screams of the women are impossible to describe. They tore their hair and wrestled with the German murderers. Among them I saw the following from Zhetl: Leyke Sovitsky and Khane Gertzovsky. They were pushed toward the ghetto. Those sentenced to death tore away and mixed together with the other women. The tremendous chaos ensued and the Germans shot a few women on the spot.

Passing us were trucks filled with drunk Estonian, Ukrainian and Latvian soldiers with rolled up sleeves singing their grating songs. According to the direction they were coming from we understood they were the executioners that carried out the slaughter in Zhetl. We all burst out crying for our parents, families and all the Jews of Zhetl.

We were confined in a horse stall where we remained for three days without bread or water. The Estonian soldiers who guarded us brought us their dirty water which they washed with and asked us for gold. If not, they would spill it in front of our eyes.

Saturday night. It was impossible to endure due to the lack of air and a terrible thirst. Suddenly, the door of the stall opened and there stood the regional commissar Traub, Roiter, and another drunk German. They “comforted” us saying we will remain alive because we were “useful Jews”.

Under strict watch they took us to the workshops. Here we found those who remained from the Zhetl ghetto: Moishe Mendl Leyzerovitch, Zalmen Gertzovsky, Motke Haydukovsky, my uncle Borukh and others who shared with me the horrible news about the death of mother, my wife and my only son.

It was here we decided that we must escape and take revenge on the murderers of our loved ones.


[Page 363]

I Escaped from the Novogrudek Camp

by Moishe Mendl Leyzerovitch (New York)

Translated by Janie Respitz

On Thursday August 6th 1942 all the Jews still alive were confined to the movie house. We were there until Saturday when they loaded us into trucks and took us to Novogrudek. On the way, in Novalyenie they sorted us once again. Some were sent to Smolensk and the rest to Novogrudek. We arrived at the camp at Novogrudek at night. We threw ourselves onto the wet grass and began to feel the great pain and sorrow.

The ground was covered with wet dew but we did not feel the cold. Under the open sky, hungry and thirsty, we huddled together and waited in silence for morning.

We looked at the buildings of the camp which were to be our new “home”. The camp was surrounded by barbed wire, but behind that, life continued as if nothing was going on.

Around 10:00 in the morning a few German officers arrived and told us to line up. They showed us our quarters in dark barracks. They placed the Zhetl Jews in a large stall which was called the “Zhetl Closet”.

They took us to a granary which was filled with clothing and bedding. We were supposed to take pillows and blankets and prepare our beds. Entering the granary, we were shocked by what we saw. There were blood stains on the children's clothes and men's suits. The bedding was torn and dirty, collected from Jewish houses in Novogrudek. The Jews from Novogrudek recognized their things and a terrifying cry took over. Our wounds bled even more seeing the silent witnesses of our destruction.

A day later we began to feel the beatings of the German supervisor and the strict discipline. We began working in the workshops from 7 in the morning until 8 at night. When the supervisor was not standing over us we had an opportunity to think deeply and look for a way out, how to get out of this hell.

My son and I began to think about escaping to the forest. My son connected with a group from Zhetl which already worked out a plan how to sneak out of the camp. The group was composed of 10 men. Areleh Gertzovsky, the brothers Elye and Zelik Kovensky, Yehoshua Haydukovsky, Yoine Medvedsky, Efraim Yoselevitch, Hirshl Greyzhevsky (Zhaludok), Niyanie Shelbusky (Novogrudek), Yisroel Busel and my son Areleh.

One morning my son told me the group decided what day they will escape and they decided not to take me with them. They believed because of my age I would not have the energy to keep up.

“We will face many dangers on the way” my son said to me, “and who knows if you will be able to dodge them. I give you my word” he said with tears and his eyes and assured me, “as soon as we arrive at our destination and we meet the other Zhetl Jews in the forest I will come and take you out of here”.

I did not pose any more questions and did not want to prevent him from escaping death. I had already resigned from life, let him at least be saved. He is still young and could take revenge on the murderers.

Leaving the camp is even difficult to dream about. We were strictly guarded by police and it was not easy to worm out of the wires. I had the idea that perhaps it would be possible for me to go to the second camp, the ghetto, where Jews would leave every morning to go to work in town. That is where the bakery was that baked bread for our camp.

Every day a Christian would go and bring back black bread which was heavy, not well baked and mixed with bran. He would always take four or five Jews with him to help load the bread. Thanks to the Zhetl Jew Elye Novoliensky (Feytche's) who was a member of the camp committee, the group got permission to go with the Christian to the ghetto for bread, taking them out of the camp.

I said goodbye to my son who left with the group for the ghetto. The guard there was weak. From time to time the police would guard the wooden fence.

With a trembling heart I waited for the Christian with the wagon of bread. I could not wait to hear how the group experienced the trip

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of two kilometres to the ghetto. According to their plan, they were to leave the ghetto that same night and head to the forest. Of course the suspense increased knowing they were in the ghetto and planning to leave in the evening. I waited impatiently for morning when the Christian would go for bread again with another group of Jews who would return with the news about their departure from the ghetto. I hung around the gate like a poisoned mouse, waiting for the horse and wagon.

Finally my wished for moment arrived. The gate opened and as they entered they showed me with a wink that all was fine. Now my uneasiness grew. Now I had to wait for the following day to hear news about the fate of those who escaped.

Meanwhile life in the camp became more difficult and unbearable. The regime let it be known that each day had its terrible experiences.

One day they told all the men to line up. A murderous Germans chose 100 men and forced them to march toward the marketplace on Karalitcher Street. There they told us to lift a structure and bring it to the camp. It is impossible to describe this work. Dozens fell from the beatings the German and White Russian supervisors gave all of us. When we finally brought the structure we were given 6 hours to set it up.

After hours of feverish work we saw the German murderer Roiter. He looked at the structure and did not like it. As a punishment he chose 25 men and ordered them to be publicly flogged.

They placed us in a semi circle and forced us to watch how they flogged our own brothers. Among those beaten were: Zalmen (Areh's) Gertzovsky and Tankhum Epshteyn.

I will never forget the moment when they ordered a Jew to carry out the dirty job of flogging another Jew. Sadly, he had to do this and his hands shook from fear. The bloodthirsty German was not happy, so he took the stick and flogged the victims who had already fainted himself.

The next day we were all broken and despondent.

“What is going to happen? How long will this torture last?”

The boldest looked for an opening in the wires, where at the right moment he can crawl to the other side of the camp. Some tried in the darkness of night, others, in the few moments when the guards changed. Although this step meant risking your life, some Zhetl Jews succeeded in breaking away from the camp.

It is worthwhile to stress that the desire to escape was only among the Zhetl Jews. This can be explained by the fact that there was a high percentage of young people that hoped that in the Lipitchansker Pushtche they will be able to organize a partisan detachment.

The Jews from Novoredok and vicinity did not have this desire. They thought about escaping, but where to? They did not know. Some of them, desperate and disappointed, hoped the Germans would not slaughter everyone and they could make peace with their fate. They often expressed the fear that escaping in a group can worsen the situation of those who remained.

However, the amount of people escaping increased. Every night three or four people would crawl under the wire.

Four weeks passed and I still had not heard a word from my son. One morning, a German supervisor informed us that a group of Zhetl Jews will be going to Zhetl to bring machines. I was among the ten men chosen. The same day we travelled by truck and with our hearts beating fast went to our destroyed home. I hoped to learn about my son from some Zhetl Christians. If his group was captured they would have brought them to Zhetl and a Christian would not pass up the opportunity to tell a Jew sad news.

It is difficult to describe how we felt entering our town. Every brick and stone, every small street and lonely Jewish house cried out with sorrow and pain. The cries for help and wails of our slaughtered brothers echoed in the air. Our fists were clenched and our eyes filled with bitter tears.

This was a Tuesday when the market place was filled with farmers from the entire region. We got down from the truck and the large patches on our clothing immediately attracted everyone's attention.

They surrounded us and stared as if we were exotic animals. I looked for an opportunity to hear something about my son.

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Suddenly, a Zhetl Chritsian whispered in my ear that he knew my son and the rest of his group were in the forest. I could not believe it but he assured me he knew this from good sources. From great excitement I became confused and did not know what was happening to me.

Now I knew it would not be long before I left, if the murderer did not get me with his slaughter knife. To take such a dangerous step was dangerous, especially at my age. Therefore I decided to form a group and make all the preparations. The chairman of the Judenrat, Ostashinsky asked us not to take this step.

“Too many Zhetl Jews have escaped. This could bring about a slaughter” he said to me.

I assured him I didn't want everyone in the camp killed because of me.

It was the first night of Sukkot. The sky was filled with stars and a cold breeze blew into the “Zhetl Closet” through the slats. I lay on my bed plank above Yenkl Dzhentchelsky's plank and could not fall asleep. It was already 2:00 a.m. My nights were filled with suffering and tears. I would cry for hours unable to stop. I had just dozed off when I felt someone pull at my feet. I heard how they woke me:

“Moishe Mendl, don't be afraid, it's me, don't make any noise, it's me, Areleh!*#148; I couldn't believe my ears, I thought I was dreaming. But I heard him talk to me. I sat up and saw Arele Haydukovsky who escaped from the camp just a few weeks ago.

“Moishe Mendl” he said to me quietly, “I have a gun with me. First hide it, then we can talk”.

Meanwhile, Yenkl Dzhentchelsky woke up and when he saw the gun tossed it into the chimney. I began to ask Areleh how he entered the camp and who he came with. He told me that he and another boy from Zhetl, Borukh Alpert walked for twenty four hours from the forest until they came close to the camp. They walked 80 kilometres avoiding main roads and villages. At dawn they lay down in a potato field and observed all movement in the camp. When night fell they crawled under the wire into the camp.

“Here is a letter from your son” he said.

In the light of the moon I held the long awaited letter from my son Areleh in my trembling hands. He asked for forgiveness for not writing for so long.

“I should have come myself to get you, but they would not allow me to leave the detachment. Together with others from Zhetl, I am taking revenge on the murderers. Come at the first opportunity”. These were his words.

It did not even take an hour before everyone in the camp knew of our “guests” that came to take us to the forest. Everyone looked at us with envy, that we had the opportunity to be saved.

We began immediately to prepare all that was necessary. The patrol would not be at the wire at 11 o'clock at night. Taking advantage of the moment no one would notice, Itche Sovitsky (Motche's) went to the wires behind the toilets, cut them and reattached them so the opening would not be visible. The next morning we began to plan our escape.

The guards around the camp were uniformed Christians from the surrounding villages. The young Christian boys enjoyed spending time with Jewish girls. They would often bring the girls into the patrol building.

We received two litres of whisky in the camp and gave it to the girls to bring to the guards to distract them from guarding the camp.

We gathered not far from the wires. Two hours earlier my daughter in law, her father and a few others went out. Areleh Haydukovsky shoved the gun in his bosom, Itche opened the wire and I ran out first. Until today I don't know where I found the strength to run. I ran for 200 metres before I heard shooting behind me. I felt the bullets fly over me but I did not stop running. The others from the group caught up with me and with my last bit of strength barely made it to a small forest. We rushed to the trees and fell onto the grass. After we caught our breath we began to walk toward Lipitchansker Pushtche.


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My Sad Childhood

by Avrom Leybovitch (Haifa)

Translated by Janie Respitz

When Hitler's Germany attacked Soviet Russia I was barely ten years old. Three weeks had not passed before the Germans arrived in Zhetl and I was orphaned. The Germans murdered my father with the first 125 Jews.

 

Dzy366.jpg
Avrom Leybovitch

 

I tried to help my mother. I would sneak out of the ghetto through the barbed wire, buy some food and bring it home. I was chased more than once but always managed to escape.

The first slaughter in Zhetl took place in April 1942. We disembarked a few hundred metres from the graves in Kurpish forest. The Germans led us to the graves in groups of twenty. We heard the shooting and saw how people were falling into the graves on top of which they laid wide boards. If the Jews climbed up on them, they were shot. My twin sister went to her death with the last group of twenty.

Suddenly the director of the general staff arrived to sort the people. I was among those sorted and they took us to the ghetto.

After the first slaughter the ghetto was made smaller and we lived in new housing. We were now a bit smarter and built a cellar in a bakery. Under the large oven where they would bake bread were two chicken coops. We broke the wall between the two coops and we got air through the chimney. During the second slaughter in August 1942, 60 people hid there.

After sitting for two days, almost everyone left and ran away, but no one wanted to go with children. Five children and three adults remained in the cellar. On the fifth day we left at night.

After two weeks hiding at a Christian acquaintance, we left for Dvoretz where there were still Jews. I had terrible stomach pains and my mother had to carry me in her arms. After two weeks we noticed they were digging graves in the Dvoretz cemetery. That night, 50 of us escaped to the partisans.

We arrived in Lipishanks forest. My brother Leyzer was already a partisan in the Jewish detachment led by Hirshl Kaplinsky. In the summer we lived in a tent not far from Nakrishok and in the winter we made a mud hut. During the large raid the partisans came to us. I made them pieces of kindling and they let me shine their weapons. The Germans fired upon us. We would run away and often our clothes would freeze. We were covered in lice and mangy.

At the beginning of 1943 my uncle Peysakh Feyvuzhinsky died of typhus. My brother also was infected with this disease. When the Germans would shoot at us everyone ran away but I would stay with my sick brother and another sick woman, Etke. I would pick sour bilberries in the forest and feed them.

In the summer everyone moved to summer tents. No one wanted to take us into their new place because my mother was alone with two small children. My brother had left for Bielske and Nalibok forests and there was no one to support us. I would go to the gentiles and scrounge.

The German blockade began. The front was across from us. We hid in a well disguised cellar underground. Finally we learned we were free. We stayed in the forest for two more days as we did not have the strength to walk to Zhetl.

When we arrived home we wanted immediately to return to the forest. Everything around us was ruined and broken. I saw our house from a distance, near the river still standing. Soon we were surrounded by our gentile neighbours. I grabbed a guy who was making fun of us when we were being taken to the slaughter and I beat him up. I was wild, as if I had been born in the forest.

I started going to school but I gave my teachers a lot of trouble. I would smoke in class, fight with the non – Jewish boys and drink whisky. Motl Dunetz, who was my teacher, wanted me kicked out of school , but the director said that I would become

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the best student. He made a big mistake.

Finally they kicked me out of school. I went to the “Children's House” but I did not like it there either and I returned home. I decided to learn a trade and went to the shoemaker worker's cooperative. Avrom Alpert was there. I fought with him and left that work. I went to another place to work as a shoemaker. There I fought with Veve Zaltzshteyn and left that place as well. I went to learn hat making. I did not like that either.

Then I decided to travel deep into Russia and learn a trade there in “F.Z.O”. I wrote that I was older than my true age, packed and waited for my departure. The term was postponed. At his time Jews began to leave Zhetl and go to Poland. I decided to go with them.

On May 22, 1946 I arrived in Lodz. My mother and little sister arrived one month later. My older brother who was serving in the Red Army was killed when they captured Warsaw.

I was in Poland for a short time. We went to Germany. There I studied in an “ORT” school. On April 29th 1948 I arrived in Israel.

I immediately joined the Jewish military, despite the fact that I was young. I was, however, able to hold a gun. The war with the Arabs seemed to me like a children's game compared to the war with the Germans that I had endured.

This is the end of my story about my sad childhood in Zhetl and in the forest. This was written by Avrom Leybovitch, born in Zhetl December 29, 1931, attended the Yiddish School, barely finished three grades, now a factory worker in Israel.


The Path of my Suffering

by Kalmen Shalkovitch (United States)

Translated by Janie Respitz

On June 22nd 1941 when the German – Soviet war began, I ran to Russia, but unfortunately I only ran as far as Novogrudek and had to return as the murderers were already in Minsk. This was the beginning of fearful days of edicts and great suffering. On April 30th 1942 the murderers killed my unforgettable parents, sister, brother in law and their small children. I was the only one left from our family. On August 6th 1942 the second slaughter took place in Zhetl. I was among the tradesmen sent to Novogrudek. There, there were two camps: for unskilled labour and tradesmen.

Some of us from Zhetl yearned to go to the forest and take revenge on our murderers. One evening, a large group of Jews from Zhetl tore through the barbed wire, and under heavy fire left for the forest. A short time later they destroyed the camp of the unskilled workers.

We, in the tradesmen's camp endured terrible suffering from hunger, cold and beatings. We were guarded by police day and night. We were fenced in by two wire fences and it was impossible to escape.

A while later the Germans killed half of our camp. Only 235 Jews remained.

We organized an uprising. We had a few grenades in the camp, a few pistols, and a few rifles and decided to attack the guards and leave for the forest. Unfortunately the uprising did not happen. Meanwhile a second plan was presented: the tunnel.

Thanks to the initiative of Jews from Zhetl, they began to build the tunnel from our living quarters. We worked on the tunnel day and night for 10 weeks. The work was incredibly risky. The tunnel was 200 metres long. The work was extraordinary. After our escape Hitler's generals and engineers were astonished how such exhausted hungry Jews could build such an amazing tunnel.

We all went out of the tunnel but unfortunately only a few dozen survived. The murderers immediately sent an army of police and soldiers after us. Whoever was caught, was shot on the spot. I arrived in the forest in the region of Stalptz and we were there until July 1944 when we were liberated by the Soviets.


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The Extermination of Zhetl's Gypsies

by Yitzkhak Epshteyn (Kfar Neter)

Translated by Janie Respitz

The Gypsy is by nature a quiet kind person. He even likes to work but persecution made them second class citizens.

The Gypsy deceives you because he has no choice, but he will never raise an ax against you, even when he is hungry. Thou shalt not murder is in his blood. But protect yourself from the gentiles, the Belarusians, Lithuanians, Germans, they and only they can lift the ax and kill you in cold blood, even when they are satiated.

This is how my father of blessed memory would talk to me in the garden, “the tanneries” during work, when I observed the life of the Gypsies who were neighbours.

Once, on a hot summer day my father sat on a bench in the garden. Our neighbour, the Gypsy Igne, came to my father and began to talk like other neighbours. However, this time, in his Gypsy words, one could feel the fear and worry, which was foreign to their psychology as they never worried about the future. Igne the Gypsy talked and sighed.

“Not good, the gentile raised his head, who knows what tomorrow will bring. They are pushing us out of our livelihoods. Only one way remains, to go elsewhere, maybe to Argentina. And if we the old folks do not achieve this, let us at least send our children, let them prepare the soil for us”. This is how the Gypsy Igne spoke and my father responded:

“Not good, not good, the anti –Semitism and the persecution are poisoning our lives”.

The discussion between the Jew and the Gypsy who were far apart both spiritually and economically, began long before Hitler's rise to power, however both instinctively felt a storm was approaching, and they will both be victims.

And the terrible day arrived.

The gentile raised his ax with the blessing of his teacher, Hitler, may his name be blotted out.

The Gypsies of Zhetl were confined for three days with other Gypsies from the region. The Gestapo with their Belorussian collaborators took them to the mass grave on the Kurpesh road. Each Gypsy was guarded by three policemen.

And here was the large grave. Igne was crying, Stefan raised his fists in the air, Kuntse looked into the grave and said:

“My house is big, but this house is much bigger…”

Kuntse's daughters, Luba and Mirzada fell to the ground, grabbed the feet of the Belorussian police and begging and crying pleaded with them to let them live.

…and then a bang from a shot, a second, a third, a fourth…horrifying screams shook the air. Bodies began to squirm and dance their last dance on the ground as their souls were departing. Eyes took their final glances of the faces of the Belorussian police and Gestapo. Lips moved and mumbled their last curses.

Damn you murderers, you and your children and your children's children, until the last generation! Damn the ground you walk on. And damn your God, even though we are Christians like you. But if you killed us and threw us into these death pits, and you the murderers have remained alive, you should be cursed together with your God. One hundred Gypsies from Zhetl and the surrounding region were thrown into the mass graves.

Two years later, after the war, the murderers, the same Zhetl gentiles, placed a large wooden cross on their brother's communal grave. This is the irony of fate. The murderers placed a cross on the grave of their Christian “Brothers”.

On both sides of the road that leads to Kurpish there are two hills. One hill is Zhetl's Jews and on the other side of the road, the communal grave of Zhetl's Gypsies.


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The Underground Movement in Ghetto

by Sh. Gerling

Translated by Janie Respitz

The news about the mass murder of the Jewish population in White Russia reached the Jews of Zhetl even though the Germans tried to cut us off from the outside world. Yet, through various ways, mainly through peasants, the sad news was smuggled in.

There were a few individuals who looked a little deeper and foresaw the extermination of Jewry. They thought about organizing an armed resistance, and not go like sheep to the slaughter, but defend themselves, and if they fall, they will die as heroes.

 

Dzy369.jpg
Alter Dvoretzky as a high school student

 

The initiator of this idea in Zhetl was the lawyer Alter Dvoretzky. He was the initiator and soul of the underground movement in Zhetl. We must add, you had to have enough courage and talent in order to do this clandestine work under these conditions. They did not only have to guard themselves against the Germans and the local Christian population but also the majority of the Jewish population who were not in agreement with this idea.

They were against any violent act and believed you did not have to call the bear from the forest because if God forbid this failed, they would annihilate the entire ghetto. Of course, with time we saw this way of thinking was not correct.

The Germans planned to exterminate all the Jews, the good and the bad, the quiet and the revolutionaries, the so–called “useful” and the “non–useful”. The intentions of this politic was evaluated by the capable, bold, intelligent Alter Dvoretzky. His goal was to awaken and organize the youth for an active resistance.

Alter Dvoretzky was a well known communal activist before the war, and an active member in the Labour Zionist movement in Zhetl and in Vilna. He was known in Zhetl for his lectures on political and societal themes and also as a devoted leader in the Labour Zionist movement. The population of Zhetl trusted him and he also served as a representative in the ghetto.

It was not an easy task to be the leader of the Jews, the liaison with the Germans and remain morally on a high level. The Germans would usually use the Jewish representative in order to carry out their vile deeds. They tried to get the Jews themselves to help carry out their extermination operations. Alter Dvoretzky utilized his community position to organize the youth and instill in them the feeling of honour, revenge and struggle against the German beast.

When we talk about the emergence of the Jewish underground movement in Zhetl we must remember the Jewish boys and girls not originally from Zhetl whose fate brought them at that time to Zhetl. Some had run away from the German occupied regions in 1939. Others came to Zhetl from the surrounding region.

Alter Dvoretzky got these refugees involved in the underground movement. A group of boys active in this service were the first to leave for the forest because they had already been driven from their homes and were not so attached to Zhetl, they did not have family responsibilities and nor material possessions which were often obstacles to going to the forest.

Among the first Alter Dvoretzky organized were: 1) Khaim Shuster from Ayshishik; 2) Yekhezkel Koren, from Lida; 3) Meylekh Saker, from Deretchin; 4) Yosef Bitensky from Kazlayshtchin; 5) Eltchik Boyarsky, form Lida; 6) Mordkhai Gantcharovsky from the village Ruda– Yovarska.

In order to leave for the forest you needed to have a weapon and this was not easy to obtain. It was very dangerous and could result in collective punishment and they did not have minimal freedom of movement.

Alter Dvoretzky conquered all these obstacles. First he organized a Jewish ghetto militia where he mobilized all those who had to teach the vanguard of the eventual resistance in the Zhetl ghetto, and if that would not happen, they would join the Zhetl partisans.

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He succeeded in carrying out various secret tasks, most importantly, smuggling weapons into the ghetto.

The peasants from the surrounding villages were the main source for weapons. They kept a lot of weapons when they returned from the Soviet army. But how do you reach these sources when you are isolated from the surrounding world?

To achieve this goal, Alter Dvoretzky looked for connections to Christians who could be trusted and who were willing to help get weapons either for ideological reasons or financial gain.

To achieve this goal we connected with former Soviet officers who remained in the area working for the farmers after the army retreated. They were Olenin Yurek in Beliki, Stifnaov Petye in Melniki and a Jewish first Lieutenant whose name was Bezalel who was living as a Christian in the village Yavar.

The main liaison and supplier of weapons was a Jew from Zhetl, Moishe Pazdunsky who as soon as the Germans arrived in Zhetl, went to a village and hid among Christians.

Alter Dvorestzk would personally take the weapons from the cemetery and later, with a couple of guys from the militia, take them to an uninhabited house within the ghetto.

Some of the guns and hand grenades were stored in Yoyne Medvedsky's stall.

Alter Dvoretzky worked out a plan for an armed resistance to take place the moment they would begin the slaughter of the Jewish population. The militia was divided into threes. Each group of three was its own unit and had to act independently at the time of a German operation. All the groups of three were under the command of Alter Dvoretzky. The resistance plan anticipated that Leyzer Vinarsky, Berl Yankelevitch and Sholem Pialun would set fire to Kapinksy's saw mill on Novogrudek Street. Tchernikevitch's mill on Slonim Street was to be set on fire by Peysakh Finkelshteyn's threesome. Motke Razvosky's threesome had to appropriate the machine gun which was in the work bureau (in Peshe Langbart's house). A Jewish boy, Podliasky from Warsaw worked there and was supposed to help with this task.

Aron Leyzerovitch's threesome had to take control of the home of the leader of the Sonderkommando. (Special Unit).

To carry out the above mentioned acts of sabotage and create a panic they had to paralyze the German operation and make it possible for as many young people as possible to escape to the forest.

The plan was not realized and was postponed until another opportunity because the creation of the ghetto was not accompanied by such an operation.

The underground activity in the ghetto was not paralyzed. They continued mainly to collect weapons and carry out secret money transactions.

Alter Dvoretzky with the mediation of Sholem Pialun connected with a former Soviet military man by the name of Vanye, who promised to provide weapons.

The meeting point with Vanye was at Berl Fishkes's house. Alter's most trusted people would go there and connect with Vanye. These meetings were so well organized that Vanye did not see the faces of those who came to do business.

Vanye turned out to be a shameful provocateur which resulted in a tragic failure with Sholem Pialun and other tragic events which followed.

 

Sholem Pialun's Failure

On April 26th 1942 Vanye sent a message to come to Berl Fishke's house because he had a plan to get more weapons. Alter Dvoretzky sent a few guys, including Avrom Alpert, the commander of the ghetto militia.

Vanye suggested they meet in the Miraytchin forest and promised to bring the weapons there.

According to what Avrom Alpert reported, this time Vanye wanted to see their faces. Avrom refused but of course reported this to Alter Dvoretsky and among other things he told Alter that he thought Vanye wanted to provoke them.

Alter Dvoretzky already had some doubts and he advised the meeting not take place. However a few of the guys, especially Sholem Pialun thought he could be trusted and that there was nothing to be afraid of. Sholem Pialun decided to volunteer to go to the designated place and bring the weapons. They informed Vanye they will meet him at the designated place.

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Dzy371.jpg
Sholem Pialu of blessed memory

 

In the evening, when it was dark, Sholem Pialun snuck out of the ghetto through the wires and when he arrived at the designated spot Vanye was already there. Vanye took out a revolver and allowed him to inspect the goods.

They were immediately surrounded by German gendarmes. The revolver was broken, Pialun could not shoot and Vanye handed him over to the murderers.

The joy of the Germans and this shameful traitor was great. They brought Pialun to the Zhetl gendarmerie and there began the martyrdom of this man who exhibited great courage and heroism at this tragic moment.

They tortured him severely wanting him to divulge the names of the leaders of the organization. They tore and burned his skin but he held this sacred secret locked up in him. He succeeded in sending a note through a mole which the Jewish workers brought to the ghetto. The note was written with his blood:

Friends, stay calm, I will not betray you. If you can save yourselves, continue with work and take revenge for my blood.

The news of Sholem Pialun's arrest spread throughout the ghetto. Alter Dvoretzky, who Vanye knew, as well as others from the group who were in direct contact with him, decided they must immediately leave for the forest.

On April 28th, 1942, two days after this event, and still unsure if Sholem Pialun survived his torture, Alter Dvoretzky, Yoyne Medvetsky, Leyzer Vinarsky and Peysakh Finkelshteyn left to the forest with some weapons.

Alter Dvoretzky left firmly convinced that the idea of resistance inside and outside the ghetto was planted in the youth and his work would be fruitful. By the way, he also hoped that while in the forest he could maintain contact with the youth in the ghetto, bring them to the forest to organize a Jewish partisan force in the Lipitchansk forests.

 

In the Forest

After two days in the forest he sent Yoyne Medvedsky and Peysakh Finkelshteyn back to the ghetto to be the links between Alter and the group that remained in the Zhetl.

The short time between Alter's arrival in the forest and his tragic death has not been totally investigated, but it was a period of feverish activity in an attempt to save Jewish youth.

To achieve this goal Alter was in contact with Christian partisan groups who were already in the forests and worked out plans to receive as many weapons as possible in order to arm the Jewish youth that would come to the forest.

There were rumours that Alter Dvoretzky was trying to convince all the Christian groups to suddenly attack the ghetto during the planned first slaughter. He hoped that such a daring step would have positive results. Shooting at the edges of town and a few fires would cause a turmoil among the Germans and the Jews could use the opportunity to escape from the ghetto. He also foresaw the possibility of breaking into the gendarmerie and other German offices, killing them and taking their weapons.

The Christian groups did not understand Alter's plan and were unwilling to accept it. They did not want to risk their lives for Jews, who they hated as much as the Germans. To that end, the Christian groups were not ideologically prepared for such an operation. They ran from the Germans because as Soviet citizens they were being murdered and tortured but they did not have any concrete goals. Their main goal was to make sure they had enough food and booze and avoid the Germans.

The leaders of the Christian groups reacted to these plans with suspicion and jealousy. Alter Dvoretzky also wanted radio – telegraphic communication with the Soviet hinterland where the central partisan command was situated at the time.

The Christian partisans decided to get rid of Alter at any price. They sent a traitorous invitation to him and Moishe Pazdunsky to negotiate in Sirataychin.

The negotiations did not result in anything and Alter and Pazdunsky returned to their base. On the way, near the village Padyaverke they came upon an ambush of Christian partisans. The Christian partisans ordered them to lay down their weapons. They of course did not obey and a battle ensued killing Alter Dvoretzky and Moishe Pazdunsky, who heroically defended themselves and Jewish honour.

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This is how two Zhetl Jews, pioneers in the resistance movement and the Zhetl ghetto died. They were victims of wild anti– Semitic hatred which penetrated some of the Christian partisans, who, by murdering Jews, helped the Germans in their extermination – politics.

According to all the hypotheses this occurred on May 11th 1942. In order to wipe away any vestiges they burned the heads of those murdered. However, the surrounding peasants later told about what happened to the Jewish partisans who were killed in the forest after the second slaughter in the Zhetl ghetto.

The graves of both these heroes are in the forest not far from the village Padyaverke.

 


The Underground in the Zhetl Ghetto

by S. Gerling

Translated by Judy Montel

The originator of the underground in Zhetl, it's organizer and inspiration, was the lawyer Alter Dvoretzki. It took a lot of spirit and courage to manage the activities of an underground in such conditions. Its organizers required triple caution: from the Germans, from the local Christians and from most of the Jewish population, which opposed acts of violence that were likely to endanger the well-being of the ghetto.

The development of events proved that this mode of thinking was incorrect. The Germans planned the complete destruction of the Jews, the moderates and the extremists, without discrimination. Alter Dvoretzki foresaw these intentions.

He was a well-known community activist, active in the Poelei Zion [Workers of Zion] party in Zhetl and in Vilna, a wonderful speaker and well liked by the youth. In the Zhetl ghetto he was elected to the Judenrat. It was not easy to serve in this role and to preserve a level of morality. It was known that the Germans would carry out their despicable actions using the people of the Judenrat, but Alter Dvoretzki took advantage of his status in the Judenrat to organize the youth to rebellion and struggle.

In this activity he was aided by youth from among the refugees in the Zhetl ghetto. These young men who had left their homes and lost their families and all of their possessions showed greater willingness to participate in the activities of an underground.

In organizing the Jewish Police in the Zhetl ghetto, Alter Dvoretzki enlisted his supporters into its ranks. This fact made it easier for him to smuggle munitions to the Zhetl Ghetto. With their help and the help of former Soviet officers who had found shelter in nearby villages, Alter Dvoretzki acquired arms. He would receive it in the cemetery and with the help of the Jewish police he would store it in one of the abandoned houses.

Alter Dvoretzki also arranged a plan of action in case of destruction. For this purpose, he divided the underground into thirds and gave them special jobs. One third was to set fire to Leib Kaplinski's sawmill, the second, the flour mill of Tchernikovitz. The rest were assigned to take over the house of the chief of the German police and the automatic gun in the Labor Office.

The purpose of these actions was to create alarm among the Germans and thus allow the youth to escape to the forest. This plan was not executed, because the transfer of the Jews of Zhetl to the ghetto was not accompanied by acts of destruction.

At the same time Alter Dvoretzki made contact with a former Soviet officer, Vania. In April of 1942 Vania met with the people of the underground in Zhetl and offered them arms. This offer raised fears. Avraham Alpert, the chief of police in the ghetto, recommended not holding the meeting. Alter Dvoretzki also supported his opinion. However, some of the youth, headed by Shalom Pialun, believed that no danger could be expected from meeting with Vania.

Towards evening Shalom Pialun snuck out through the wires of the fence around the Zhetl ghetto and arrived at the meeting place. Vania was already waiting for him and offered him a revolver. At that moment they were surrounded by policemen. Shalom Pialun tried to shoot but the revolver failed.

The police tortured Shalom Pialun severely, but he didn't reveal the secrets of the underground. In a note that was smuggled to the ghetto that was written in his blood he declared:

“My friends, don't fear, I will not betray you, save your lives, continue with the underground and avenge my spilt blood!”

The people of the underground in Zhetl were not certain whether Shalom Pialun would be able to withstand the torture and they decided to escape to the forest. On April 28, 1942, Alter Dvoretzki and his assistants: Yona Medvetzki, Eliezer Vinarski and Pesach Finkelstein left the ghetto and went to the forest.

In the forest, Alter Dvoretzki made contact with Christian partisans. He suggested to them to attack Zhetl, in order to save the ghetto, but the Christian partisans did not agree with his intentions. Their main goal at the time was to find food and brandy and to avoid clashes with the Germans. In addition, they had no great love of Jews.

In order to foil the daring plans of Alter Dvoretzki, the Christian partisans invited him to a meeting. On his way back from the meeting, Alter Dvoretzki and his guard, Moshe Pozdonski ran into an ambush of partisans. In the battle that took place they both fell at the hands of malicious and evil people as they defended the honor of Israel. Their grave was dug in the forest by Podivorka. Honor to their memory!

 

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This is How We Lived
in the Zhetl Ghetto

by Pessya Mayevsky (Petach Tikva)

Translated by David Goldman

By the usual human standards of measurement the Zhetl ghetto existed for only a short time.

However, who can measure the length of even a single night in the ghetto looking through dark windows with wide open eyes shaking whenever a single leaf falls?

If it's true that in the last moment before death a person reviews his entire life, then how many lives did we go through while we were confined to the ghetto?

Originally the Zhetl ghetto comprised the following streets: Myetchansky Street, from the house of Hershel Aharon Wolfovitch to that of Gershon Hydokovsky; Slonimer Street, from the house of Chaim the strap maker to that of Binyamin Levoranchik; the Shul Court, from the house of Yisrael Kagan's wall to Lisagora near Motta Turetsky's house and one side of the main road that bordered at the Shul Court.

After the first massacre the ghetto was made smaller, and all the Jews of Zhetl were squeezed into the oldest and narrowest houses. There weren't even any trees in the ghetto, and the branch covered pear tree at the old cemetery testimony to our decline. No one prays anymore in the study halls/synagogues across from the cemetery. Instead refugees and village Jews found refuge. - A mother with six children found quarters over on the bima/platform. Her husband was killed with the first 120, and he cuddled her six hatchlings in the cold unheated synagogue.

Old decaying posts still stand next to the bathhouse. Shlyapok, the well-known Poalei Zion activist was looking for a piece of wood and was attempting to limp with his crippled foot. He pulled out and struck the decaying post hoping his wife could use it to cook something. Zhetl housewives displayed skillfulness with their empty kitchens. They made latkes on wax and made “herring” from hard unsalted black bread.

People threw out furniture from the houses and replaced them with beds and cots. They kept their possession packed in the event that they would be sent away to a different ghetto and needed to take along all their property. Some people buried their prize possessions in the ground. These possessions wasted away for years – with young girls' dowries and equipment disintegrating.

Other people gave their things away to Christian acquaintances hoping they would still bring some potatoes and a couple of loaves of bread into the ghetto. Just as any conceivable source of livelihood was denied to them, any source of intellectual nourishment also disappeared. The ghetto had no cultural activity organization, no schools and no libraries. Every person sought some consolation and support in his time of despair. There were some people who turned their eyes heavenward and became religious, wore tefillin, prayed three times a day and poured their hearts out before the Almighty.

Many looked for good literature. The book by Franz Werfel, The 40 Days of Musa Dag, the story of the heroic uprising of a group of Armenians during the Turkish massacres was passed around from person to person. Young people had the courage to collect weapons in the ghetto and created the underground movement. They did not end up massacred and fled into the forest to fight as partisans.

Spiritual seances were organized in a few Zhetl homes. In a dark room young men and women would sit together around a small table and place their shaking hands on it to get “warm” as they used to say, while asking, “little table, little table, when will we find salvation? Little table, little table, when will the war end? When will Hitler break open his head?” Then the little table started to bang and offered its answer and consolation.

There were those who believed in dreams, which they felt were either good or, G-d forbid, bad signs. At night the window shades were drawn and it became dark. When the Sabbath arrived mothers blessed the candles in potato “candlestick,” or on wooden slabs. The Germans had long before removed the brass or silver chandeliers, and the pots and pans that were heirlooms disappeared along with them. Mothers made their blessings on embarrassing Sabbath candles and tearfully looked at their children.

Apparently children were never as lovely as in the ghetto. How clever and mature were they? Their mothers prepared luminaletten instead of candies for them to help the children fall asleep when

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they had to hide in the cellars. The little ones already knew about the horrors of ghetto life. They knew that they must not cry when the Germans searched for Jews in hiding, and that they should not run out of the ghetto.

After the first massacre the children played on the roof of the Talmud Torah school, pretending there was a massacre, with one acting as a German giving order: “right, left, right left…” and childishly asking him, “Mein Herr, let me stay alive. I am still so young.” But the “German” was merciless and would not listen. “He” ordered them to be killed.

At the ghetto fence Hershel Kaplinsky's little daughter was playing with a kitten. Suddenly the cat tore away from her little hands and ran away into the Aryan side. The little girl was terrified: “Kitty-cat, kitty-cat, do you have a permit?” as she shouted after the cat in child talk. The older children would wear the clothes of their older siblings to look older in the hope that the Germans would let them live as needed workers. Their mothers cut off their long hair to look younger because the Germans only let younger woman workers remain alive during the massacres.

No one went crazy in the ghetto. Some people who were very sick and crippled became well simply because of the awful experiences and trauma. Mosheke Mirsky had been blind for many years and wore dark glasses, and his niece, Zalman Mirsky's young daughter led him by the hand. At the time of the first massacre Mosheke Mirsky and his twelve-person family were in the mines. He was handsome and slim, and the dark glasses hid his open, beautiful but blind eyes. However, it was here in the inhuman horror and suffering that he got his sight back. He was now able to see the sun again and bid it farewell forever. The dark veil fell away from his eyes so he could see the mass grave before his very eyes.

Mottel Leibovitch's wife, Zlatka, had been paralyzed for many years and was bedridden. When all the Jews were herded into the ghetto she had to leave her home on the court street. She was brought into the homeo of her brother, Betzalel Patzovsky, who was lying on his deathbed. The unusual event occurred here, and she began walking, taking some first shaky steps to fall into the home of her dying brother.


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Remember!

by Pesie Mayevsky

Translated by Janie Respitz

I am writing these lines for you, children. When the last of the witnesses of Hitler's destruction will be gone for eternity open the pages of this Zhetl Chronicle and read about the superhuman suffering we experienced. Remember, in the deepest abyss of our suffering chasm, there were heroes who amassed weapons in the ghetto, created an underground movement and died fighting in the forests as partisans. There were also other heroes. Those who could have been saved but chose death in order to make things easier for those dearest and nearest. Many were quiet heroes, but there are no witnesses to perpetuate their memories. I will rescue from oblivion those who have remained in my memory.

Remember the 2 girls from Zhetl, the sisters Khane and Rayzl Orlinsky who the Germans wanted to let live during the first slaughter when the rest of their family was sent to die. Rayzl and Khane did not want to be separated from their parents, sister and little brother and went with them to the graves.

Remember Hadaske Leybovitch, who stood with her father Mordkhai at the graves when the Germans were allowing her to live. She took her father by the arm and faced death with him.

Remember Yetke Lusky (Orenshteyn), who during the liquidation of the ghetto was with her sister in law Feygele Orenshteyn (Goldman) and her small children. Yetke was permitted to live but she called out:

“No Feygele, I will not leave you alone, I'm going with you”. And they all went to the left, to their death.

Remember Simke Sokolovsky, who could have been saved with her husband Aron Gertzovsky at the cost of leaving their child. She did not separate herself from her child and was killed.

Remember Tzale Mashkovsky, who at the second slaughter was permitted to live, but his last surviving daughter, Yudis, was sent to the House of Study to die. Tzale stood up and asked:

“Where is life and where is death?” When he learned his daughter was sentenced to die he said:

“I am going with my daughter”.

I can still see today how he walked to the House of Study, tall, thin and straight. When I arrived in Bielsky's detachment, I met Yudis Mashkosky at the guard post. She did not know her father was with her in the House of Study. She was actually rescued from the graves and gave me the last news of my mother with the children. They were hugging at the graves.

Remember Areleh Barishansky, the barely 15 year old boy. When they took the first 125 Jews, his father Avrom -Moishe Barishansky was among them. Areleh went to the Germans and asked them to take him instead of his father, because his father was weak. The Germans shoved Areleh into the truck and did not free his father. One Gestapo actually suggested they free Areleh since he was young, but another decided “he was too insolent”. And so Areleh was killed with his father.

Remember Dr. Vinik who the Germans, during the second slaughter sent to the cinema with his sister Malke (the wife of Hilke Senderovsky).

Dr. Vinik was sent to the right, to live, and his sister, to the left, to die. The doctor however chose death. He went to the House of Study with his sister. The only road from there was to the open graves.

Honour their memory!


[Page 376]

Kaddish – The Mourner's Prayer

by Mordkhai Epshteyn (Santiago, Chile)

Translated by Janie Respitz

You had four names,
You, small Jewish town,
Diatlava, Zdzyentzial,
Zitl, Zhetl.

From thousands of Jews
Your Jewish community existed.
Like your Pomerayke River,
The people were all quiet.

For more than four hundred years,
Jews lived there.
They, the poor Jews,
Wove a culture.

Who can forget your synagogue,
Your Yeshiva?
The wealthy families
Feeding the Yeshiva boys?!

Is it possible to forget your schools,
And political parties without differences.
Your Sabbaths, holidays
Which brought joy to poor houses?!

You, a town of religious teachers, revolutionaries,
Enlighteners and many pioneers.
Your grandchildren, with Jewish feeling,
Will fight for continuity, until they reach their final goal.

You dear Zhetl!
You are no longer on the Jewish map,
Only your echo reaches us,
With the murmur of your blood.

You were martyred with other Jewish communities,
You were destroyed,
Tortured, shot and slaughtered,
Buried alive!

Witnesses tell us that your children
Fought with courage and bravery,
We confirm the 25th day of Av
Was the day of their burial.

Today, on the anniversary of their death
Swear! Townsfolk from Zhetl,
To immortalize, with deeds,
The place of your town holds!

Swear! To follow in the path
Of every pure and holy person,
Because only then will their memory
Remain for generations to come.

 

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