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
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,
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
by Pessya Mayevsky (Petach Tikva)
Translated by David Goldman
By the usual human standards of measurement the Zhetel 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 Zhetel 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 Zhetel 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. Zhetel 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 Zhetel 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
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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