[Page 5 - English] [Page 8 - Hebrew]
by Miriam Zakhary (Lomiansky-Wulf)
|Happy, happy unreturnable period of childhood how can one not love and not cherish reminiscences of it.|
Janova the schtetel where I was born to Abe and Lea Lomiansky, a schtetel like all other schtetlech in Lithuania. Geologically, climatically architecturally these schtetlech were all alike. Their social makeup was so similar, that if you were familiar with one, you knew them all. This is true if you look at them objectively. Should one, however, begin to reminisce subjectively, many an outstanding feature physical, as well as social begin to emerge, thus forming an unforgettable array of impressions, obviously everlasting…
Janova lay sprawled out on the banks of the river Vilya, the second largest in Lithuania. It was carefully etched by nature, and gracefully enveloped by green forests and gentlyrolling hills. It had a lengthy cobblestoned street with many shorter ones crossing it; its chausee or highway connected it with Kovno, with Vilkomere and many other small towns and villages. The railway, connecting Warsaw Kovno Vilno, ran through Janova all the way to Moscow. All these attributes, aided by the many industries in Janova, helped its development, supported nonetheless, by the hardworking, valiant people who populated it.
The river yielded the fish, which the fishermen caught prior to the Sabbath or any other holiday, so that he housewife could have it fresh and still breathing its last, when she brought home in order to make the famous Gefilte Fish. During the summers we bathed in the river's clear, fresh waters, often in the nude women separated from the men by quite a distance; this pleasure at times interrupted by mischievous boys peeking through the bank bushes, for curiosity's sake… The frozen waters in the winter served as a skating rink for many a youngster; when solidlyfrozen, the rockhard ice could carry the horsepulled transport sleighs all the way to Kovno (some thirty viorst); this practice was eventually abandoned after several unfortunate accidents, resulting in the drowning of several persons. Then there was the ferry, or ‘parom’, which ferried
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people and goods across from one bank the other. How we loved to ride it when we were small!
The forests supplied the lumber, enabling the foundation a brand of merchants called the ‘Wald Sochrim’. The more affluent among them built two famous lumber and flour mills. A wellknown Swedish financier by the name of Kruger opened a match factory there, eventually taken over by a group of Janover business men… What industries for a small town! The railroad carried steel product to various corners of the country, as well as to other lands. The textile business prospered, supplying its inhabitants, as well as those of adjacent villages. No less an occupation of importance was that of the coachman, the socalled ‘BaalHagole’, who taxied the passengers from Janova to Kovno and vice versa. Even the automobile could not supplant this much cheaper transportation horse and buggy. And what about the artisans? The shoemakers, bakers, cabinet makers and the like all had their place in this little society. All had a living to eke out and tradition to adhere to! And last, but not least, Janova became famous for its bevy of beautiful girls, particularly raised in this wholesome environment. Did not the family Segalovsky have eleven beauties, all one in one, each prettier than the other?
I recall the less fortunate the poor, the demented some begging, some roaming the streets. The demented were not put away either out of negligence or out of compassion. Such were the poor ‘Yoshke der Meshugener’ who, even though he was meek, galloped around in circles, gathering around him
|Yoshke der Meshugener|
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self youngsters, indulging them with obscenities. There was ‘Chasia with the Pack’, a gentle woman, who with all her might clung to her last vestiges of ownership her bundle of ‘schmates’, which she carried around incessantly; and should anyone have tried to take it from her she would yell at the top of her voice!… Each one of these unfortunates had a story in their past, which contributed to their mental and physical deterioration. The good people of Janova thought it best to have them around, perhaps, to remind themselves that the borderline between dementia and normalcy is often narrow. Quite a figure was cut by the ‘Chimney Sweeper’, tall and black from the soot he gathered when cleaning the chimneys. Proudly and seriously he paraded through the streets, like a peacock, his gear over his shoulder.
Irresistibly I look back upon this Janova, the schtetel of my childhood, recalling the touching expression of the great Tolstoy, who so aptly said: Happy, happy, unreturnable period of childhood how can one not love and not cherish reminiscences of it! And so I cherish these memories of my childhood, which were eventually interrupted by World War One. Gone were the happy, careless days; the summer retreats to ‘Datches’, to the green forests, which held a mysterious fascination; the hammock swinging, the berry picking. How wondrous it was to watch nature flourish in its full summer glory; to milk a cow by the gracious consent of the peasant woman; to listen to the birds and the bees, and watch the cattle return home from the pasture! Or watch the peasants work in the fields! Summers gone, fall and winter had its own diversions and beauty to admire. Finally, the school days arrived, and from its very inception I became a dedicated student.
The market day in the week was an occasion of great interest to all. The streets would be crowded with horsedrawn wagons, laden with the produce of the good earth, brought in by the villages; on winter days the wagons were substituted by sleighs; the outside stalls in the market had to be warmed by coalburning pots, often hidden under the women's skirts… The cackling of the hens, the crowing of the roosters, the neighing of the horses all these sounds intermingled with the various spoken tongues: Lithuanian, Russian, Polish, Yiddish and even German. While bargaining, each tried to outshout the other; the shopkeepers shrieked at the top of their voices, trying to entice the shoppers to come in and buy their ware. On that day the populace was suddenly shaken out of its routine, out of its peaceful pursuits. What fun it was to walk through the crowded streets, peek here and there, listen to the folk's arguments and bargaining all of this in spite of parental objections and cautioning: after all this was a possibility of being stampeded by a horse, or perhaps, even be carried away by a gypsy? The exodus of these weekly ‘invaders’ began toward sundown, leaving streets littered and dirty. This chaotic mess was rapidly cleared in order to return to normalcy. Many a drunk still lingered around the inns, unable to move, much to the chagrin of the innkeepers. Eventually, they too would leave, and another day, another week was to follow; on and on…
Our traditional holidays left an indelible impression. There was the Sabbath, ushered in by Friday night's candle lighting and Kiddush; the going to the synagogue by the elders on the
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following morning; the inevitable ‘Shabos Shikse’ present to light the fire on the Sabbath day; the ‘tcholent’ and the ‘Havdole’ stand out in my memory. The High Holidays, or ‘Yomim Neroim’ were awaited with awe and fear of judgement. Whereas, the Passover, ushered in by spring, was joyous and gay. The prePassover spring cleaning, the matzo baking (with us young girls pitching in for the poor) it all aided an aura of unusual activity. The traditional meals in accordance with each holiday we loved it all. Especially the afternoon teas with our relatives the Katz and Goldstein families. My younger sister Shifra (aleha hashalom) and I devised an act, imitating the organ grinder with his monkey, who occasionally came to town to entertain the youngsters. Much to mother's delight and pride, those present laughed at this childish indulgence either out of politeness or, perhaps, true amusement!
In the community relationship the responsibility of the rich, or the ones materially secure, was to care for the poor and afflicted. Many a good woman my own mother (aleha hashalom) included would carry a cooked meal to the less fortunate ones, and this in the wee hours of the morning, so that no one should notice this act of charity.
The first World War interrupted this secure existence, exiling us far into the Ukraine from 1915 to 1919. I began my study in the Gymnasia. Father and mother made ends meet by teaching Hebrew, until such time as they could again reestablish themselves in the Russian business world. Then came the Revolution, the pogroms, our miraculous escape, and subsequent return to our beloved Janova. How well I remember this fateful, lengthy trek home by freight train, the only then available transportation; finally, upon our arrival, we were met by none other than Leiba Vulfowitch, who was eventually to become my brotherinlaw. Our return was likened to an ascension from ‘Tchias Hameisim’, for in Janova there were rumors that we had perished in the pogroms. By the grace of Fate we were spared a miracle attributed by dear mother to the ‘Zchus’ of her forefathers, the learned Rabbis: Reb Kalmon Levin, the rabbi of the Dvinsker Pletzer, her father; and the great Goen, Reb Ryuvele, the Mstislaver, the chief Rabbi of Dvinsk, mother's grandfather. These personal reflections to illustrate the deep influence the Talmudists of those days had on their kin and society at large.
We were, finally, again in our own home, among our people, much to our delight after suffering as refugees. (Of course, this cannot be compared with the inhuman suffering and eventual extermination during the Second World War). We found our many friends and relatives upon our return. Many succeeded financially, others have not done so well during the then German occupation. Father and mother, involved in business again found it imperative that we children continue our education. We were sent to Kovno to Gymnasia, as Janova did not have one. Many of our friends followed suit, and many were already there. Learning was great and came easy, but rooming and boarding had its shortcomings. In compensation, our returns home for vacations were more than welcome. Here the group of boys and girls, dispersed among the various schools, were united again by their common interests. Our minds, enriched by studies, were open to interchange of ideas and discussion.
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We were also a fundloving group and held many ‘vecherinkes’ in the BursteinVulfowitch factory or in private homes. Much desired were the outings by boat down the Vilya. Down the stream we'd row on Saturday afternoons to a nearby village, and upon arrival there, would feast on black bread, cheese, milk and freshlychurned sour cream and butter. These milk products never tasted better. Thus, our young appetites, ravished by hunger, were satisfied; refreshed by rest and fresh air, we could continue back home, upstream. Guiltily making our way home, we were strongly reprimanded by our pious parents (may they rest in peace) for having committed ‘Chilul Hashabos’.
Memories of these wonderful, adolescent years full of hope, romance and love of life! The world was in trouble; the war and revolution had taken their toll of victims; the PolishLithuanian war was raging, unrest was brewing, but we were not aware of anything, that is we youngsters. Our touch with the outside world consisted of an occasional walk up the chausse's on Saturday afternoons to the railroad station to meet people from the outside world passing through. What a thrill! A whiff of adventure beckoning to us from somewhere mysterious and unknown; a desire to see how others live, to partake of the cultures of other countries! And so it was meted out to me. Vulfowitche's younger brother Charles, who was visiting his family (after having spent a few years in U.S.A.) and I met and were married shortly thereafter. For my traditional wedding my friends brought in flowers galore from the nearby villages; I walked down the flowered aisle with much hope and desire for a bright future. The muchcoveted big world and the U.S.A. were awaiting me, and so were wifely duties, motherhood etc…
The last time I saw Janova was upon my return there in 1928 with my little boy. Little did I know that this was to be the last time I were to see my loving devoted parents, my relatives and friends. What a warm reception from everyone, including the whole townspeople! Never to repeat itself, but never to be forgotten!
I have cherished these memories throughout my lifetime. They have given me strength and courage. I have carried the ethicotraditional values, by which my parents lived in my heart and mind, adopting them to the American way of life. I have formed a gallery of pictures to which I occasionally retreat. And there I see our schtetel Janova with its homes somewhat shrunk and withered, after having traveled in the big, big world. I trot its cobblestoned streets in my dreams, viewing our corner house, the shops, the market place; I see the Schwindel Barg, the Vilya, the luscious forests. But most and foremost, the people poor and rich; courageous and proud; some bent with sorrow and overwork, some enjoying and reaping the good things of life. It is all engraved in my memory!… Many have gone to Eternity naturally, by the grace of the All mighty; most of them (my dear parents included) have perished through the stark madness of a maniac, who threw the world into chaos, suffering and destruction. Our Janova is wiped off the map, its demise along with that of its people; the beloved schtetel is no longer…
But those who survived, and who loved her, gallantly carryon her ideals, the ideals of their fathers and fore
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fathers in the new home, the beloved land of Israel. This ancient, new homeland of ours is giving refuge to all who seek it. No longer do we have to live in ‘Galuth’ and be subjugated to foreign cultures and governments. Our own culture is flourishing, newly emerged, enriched by the wisdom of our Book and our sages. Indeed, it must be the ‘Zchus’ of the past and present generations which have created the living miracle of Israel. Its valiant, courageous people is fighting for its survival and peace, peace above all! If we have not perished by innumerable persecutions throughout history as a people, we will, no doubt, survive as a nation. This legacy for survival was passed on to us by Janova, her life and the entire Jewish people!
|Mende di Kop Hoor|
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by Itzchak Judelevitch (Jerusalem)
Janova was a small town, inhabited by some 4,000 people, located north east of Kovna. The town was situated on the main highway, on the crossroads of the railroad, the highway and the river which connected it with both Russia and Germany. Janova sat on the banks of the Vilia river (Nerys, in Lithuanian) a wide body of water which starts north east of Vilna and has its outlet in the Nieman river in Kovna. The railroad trains from Liboi on the Baltic Sea would pass through on a high steel bridge east of the city on their way to Romani in the south of Russia. A wooden ferry boat connected both sides of the St. PetersburgWarsaw highway. This ferry crossed the width of the river from bank to bank and transported people and vehicles. When a new bridge was built for the railroad, the countrywide traffic transferred to the old bridge and the ferry remained for the sole use of the internal traffic of the city.
Janova was surrounded by high hills and thick forests. These, together with the stretches of green fields, lawncovered squares ad gardens, nestled between the river banks, united to form a magnificent landscape where the townspeople and especially the youth found delightful excursion spots on weekends and holidays.
Janova, which was founded at the beginning of the 17th century, is named for kind JanSaveski. Several hundreds of years ago there was a small Jewish community in the Christian village Skarull, which lies on the left bank of the Vilia, and even to this day remnants of a Jewish cemetery are to be found there. At the end of the 18th century, the Jewish community began to concentrate on the right bank of the river, on the lands of the nobleman Kosakovski.
The whole little village, with its cobblestoned, crisscross streets and market place, was inhabited by Jews; on the outskirts of the village, on two unpaved streets, the Gentiles lived in wooden houses, surrounded by fruit trees and vegetable gardens. The wider street, which faced the Jewish cemetery and the watermill, led into the road to Kidani, and, indeed, it was called Kidani Street. It served as a promenade spot on Saturdays for the population.
The natural and geographical characteristics of the city gave it many sources of income. The rich forests provided plentiful lumber raw material for the manufacture of furniture and for the building trade and a major item of export to Germany. This provided a source of income for many lumber dealers, lumberjacks and handlers of wood. The sight of bonfires on the floats drifting through the dark and the sound of singing in the stillness of the night was typical of the dynamic character of Janova. On the convenient roads many people found employment as chauffeurs, transporting people to Kovna, Vilkomir and to the railway station outside the city. The vehicles of these chauffeurs and those of the farmers
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and landlords in the vicinity provided the foundation for many local trades; smithery, tannery, wagonmaking etc.
The city was the center for a large rural population in the neighborhood Poles Lithuanians who had become assimilated to the Poles, minor noblemen and farmers, Starobriadcy, oldfashioned Russians whom the Communities transferred from distant places etc. These people provided a source of income for shopkeepers and tradesmen as: tailors, shoemakers etc. Twice weekly there were market days at which time the streets would become impassibly filed with wagons of the farmers and their families. The shouts of the bargaining, the grunting of the pigs and the neighing of the horses could be heard from every corner of the town; and in the late hours of the night the singing of the drunkards from the beerhalls would bellow forth. The stores would become crowded with customers and the tradesmen would be swamped with work.
A Special Type of Jewish Personality
Unlike most of the Lithuanian towns, Janova was economically and demographically well established. A special type of personality developed in this atmosphere healthy specimens of masculine strength who lived by the sweat of their brow people who attended the synagogue on Saturday and did strenuous physical labor on week days, who knew how to deal with the neighborhood rowdies whether it was just innocent boisterousness of drunkards on market days of actual attempts at rioting bearing a deeper significance, there was also a wealthier sector of the population, people of education and culture; among them those who were educated in the modern sense successful in business and concerned with community affairs.
The older generation devoted their time to local, traditional community affairs as: poor relief (Maot Hittim), synagogue building, religious school, community property, public bath etc. The younger generation embarked upon greater ideological horizons: political parties, youth movements, culture clubs etc. When turbulence was felt in Russian politics and in Russian Jewry, Janova did not lag behind the other great centers of population. In the early years of the Revolution, at the
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beginning of the century, the town had representatives of all the revolutionary parties and the stock market (on Bulvar Street) hummed with excited discussions until the late hours of the evening. In the period between both World Wars, the community life was divided in to two extremes, Zionism and leftist Yiddishism which tended toward communism. However, they were both engaged in constructive activities, they put up schools, established evening courses and libraries and they collected moneys for more distant objectives for Zionist funds on the one hand and for communistic causes on the other.
The many possibilities to learn different vocations in Janova persuaded the Central Committee of Pioneers (Hechalutz) to channel groups of halutzing there and with the initiative of the local Zionist youth, a Pioneer Center (Beit Halutz) was founded which provided a home for the visitors and a center of EretzYisrael spirit and culture.
There were seven synagogues in various parts of the town which served as centers for the traditional, spiritual needs of the community. They also served as meetinghalls in times of emergency. The largest of these were the Beit Knesset Hagadol and the Beit Medrash Hagadol. These buildings were located in one large fencedoff area and nearby, outside the fence, was the small synagogue Shtiebel of the Habad Hasidim a simple modest building, so suited to an intimate circle of people who were primarily concerned with their own social relationships. There were also other little synagogues, the Kloiz of the peddlers, the Kloiz of the stone cutters (this proves that in years gone by stonecutting and peddling were important sources of income for the community). There were also Kloizlach of smiths, drivers etc.
In the history of the town there were several serious catastrophes which served to signify special dates, as: after the first fire (1894), after the second fire (1905). In these fires, especially the second, almost the whole town was consumed and the community was left homeless, practically naked and impoverished. During such crises the very positive character of the community was revealed. On the morrow they started to rebuild the town and on the mounds of ashes put up pretty stucco houses, some of which even boasted of an architectural style.
At the beginning of the first World War the town was shaken by an army order which decreed the evacuation of all Jews from the town. Part of the community wandered off to the far corners of Russia and many did not return. The rest concentrated in Vilna and the surrounding territory and returned after the German conquest. At the end of the War Janova embarked upon a program of social and economic development. The town's character changed from traditionally provincial to modern. The drivers exchanged their horsedrawn carts for automobiles and workshops became factories. The youth began to feel a need for the secondary schools and universities which were located in nearby Kovno. The development of the community and the improvement in the communication lines to Kovno made that city even more important to the town of Janova and, many inhabitants moved to Kovno and the little town lost its social and cultural independence.
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At the end of the 19th century emigration from Janova started with the majority heading for the U.S.A. and South Africa. The current of emigration varied in accordance with the pace of the general emigration of Jews from Russia. Between both World Wars the movement of emigrants to Israel started. Almost half of the first pioneering group Ahva which left Lithuania immediately after the first World War was made up of youths from Janova. This group formed the basis for several settlements in Israel.
The emigrants maintained their ties with Janova; they supported needy relatives and even gave generous assistance to public projects. Groups of Janovites can be found all over the world and in Israel too the remnants of the Janova community.
The Trees in Stormy Nights Whisper
The invasion of Lithuania by the Germans during the second World War at the end of 1941 wrought havoc on the town and its fate was the same as that of other Lithuanian towns: a small part of the Jewish population succeeded in escaping to Russia. Many were tortured to death by the Lithuanians in the very first weeks of the invasion, with the encouragement of the Germans. And on that day of horrors 13 August 1941 the rest died a death of martyrs in mass trench graves in the Gurelka woods. Some 150 Jews who escaped to a neighboring Jewish village Der Alter Gostinetz were later transferred to the barracks of Janova and from there to the ghetto in Kovno where they met the same fate as their brethren.
And so nothing was left of Jewish Janova; in place of the town just heap of ruins. The only memorial to the ageold community is the cemetery with its desecrated tombstones. And only the tall trees whisper in the stormy night and tell about the birth, growth and destruction of a Jewish community, about her toil and the fate of thousands of men, women and children who were so mercilessly tortured by their treacherous neighbors and their blood drenches the land which betrayed them.
|The water carrier|
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by Jesaiah Ivensky (U.S.A.)
The Three planes were flying high in formation. Silvery looking in the clear sky, they seemed majestic in their slow and unwavering course. Suddenly, delicate puffs of smoke materialized all around them antiaircraft shells bursting. These were German planes, and so we knew, the war had caught up with us. It had arrived here in Janova that summer morning on Sunday, June 22, 1941.
My family Father, Mother, my brother, sister and I, spent most of the first day of war digging trenches in the garden. We expected to be bombed, but the only act of war which we witnessed that day, was a dogfight, far off in the distance, between a German and a Russian plane.
The first refugees appeared on Monday morning. They came from Kovno in small groups, but eventually this flow of people developed into a mighty stream. Although we had no definite news, we never doubted that the Germans were advancing rapidly, and would soon be in Janova. I heard that the government cooperative had received orders to distribute foodstuffs to the population, and to destroy whatever they were unable to distribute.
Some of the refugees passing through Janova told very disturbing stories already parts of Kovno were burning, and a big battle around Kovno was expected.
By Monday afternoon, many were also leaving Janova, and the exodus increased by the minute. However, even then we did not realize the full extent of the Russian debacle. Our vague impression was that the Red Army had met with some reverses, and that the Germans were advancing. Since our town was strategically located by the Vilya and the Sventoji rivers, major battles would be fought around Janova. The general feeling lacked any permanence. We would have to leave town for a short time, but eventually the Red Army would recover from the shock of the German surprise attack, and would then throw the Germans back…
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An Avenue of Flaming Hell
My family, like most Jews in town, got ready to leave. Joscik, the Geguziner, a relative of ours, stopped at our house, and we loaded a few valuable articles and food on one of his horse drawn wagons. It would be necessary to travel by foot, so we decided to meet later, on the highway (soshei) to Vilkomir.
As the day wore on, more and more people took to the road. By five or six o'clock, when my family left, Janova was beginning to look like a ghost town. An ominous stillness was settling over the city. As I left the place where I had been born seventeen years before, the familiar houses and streets took on an unreal quality. The stillness seemed heavy, as if before a storm, pregnant with the approaching disaster. It was only when we reached the Soshei to Vilkomir, that we realized what the true situation was.
The highway was clogged up with refugees and the fleeing disorganized Red Army. In their haste to escape the Germans, the people did not stop in Janova. They bypassed the town, continued their journey directly from Kovno to Vilkomir, crossing the Vilya over the steel bridge, avoiding our town, so as to gain time.
The highway was in utter chaos. Because the road was an arterial link connecting Kovno with Dvinsk, and running northeast, it was constantly under the attack of German planes. Worst of all were the stukas, diving low, with their awesome scream, and machine guns blazing. A few of them were enough to throw the multitude into panic.
A routine repeated itself again and again. It always began with the rapidly approaching planes. Alarm spread over the highway, and everyone ran for cover. Explosions of death and terror rained from the sky. While vehicles burned, the screams of wounded and dying men and horses were heard. The highway an avenue of flaming hell. Suddenly it was quiet. The planes have left. People are returning to the road to continue their weary march, until once again, the planes will approach rapidly…
In one of the attacks my relative Jankl Abramowitz was wounded.
Sometime during the nighty linking Monday to Tuesday, we passed Vilkomir, about 38 km. from Janova. The town appeared to be empty. Glass was strewn all over from the looted store windows. I was barefoot, and had some trouble avoiding the glass. I had thrown away my shoes 10 km. from Janova, after developing a blister on my heel.
We rested for a few hours in a small forest behind the town and early before sunrise on Tuesday, (June 24) we proceeded along the highway towards Utena. In the beginning, we made considerable progress, but as soon as the sun rose, the German planes resumed their harassment. The terror repeated itself: the mad run to find a hiding place, the scream of the diving bombers. The hysterical chatter of machine guns the exploding bombs.
As the day progressed, the attacks seemed to become more and more ferocious and frequent. We often passed the bodies of civilians and soldiers. Sometimes a whole line of people, who had taken cover in the ditch the machine gun bullets had caught them as they hugged the wrong side of the ditch.
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The Russian soldiers were completely disorganized and many of them were already without weapons and shoes. Burned out vehicles were everywhere, surrounded by refugees tired and hungry, with the vast fear and panic enveloping everything like a dark cloud.
For my mother and my sister, Nechamah (13 yr,), it became harder and harder to walk, but they suffered silently and kept up with us. The distance from Vilkomir to Utena, is about 6065 km. and as we continued it became harder to make progress.
A few people were lucky enough to manage to get on a truck, but there were very few of them.
By midday on Tuesday, at one point there was hardly any interruption between one wave of planes leavings, and anther arriving. It was then, with all of us running with fear in indisputable command, that I was separated from my family. We were scattered behind some trees during a very intense bombardment of a bridge spanning a small river which we had to cross. I was with Ruvke, my brother, the rest of the family was a little farther, and all of a sudden I could not find them. Somebody said that they had gone ahead, looking for us. We hurried across the bridge, but meanwhile a rumor spread that the Germans were only 2 km. behind us, and everyone who had any strength left ran like mad. I never saw my parents and sister again. I found out after the war that my parents, like many other Janova Jews, turned back when the Germans caught up with them.
Oifn Altn Gostinec was a small Jewish village about 8 km. from Janova, and my father felt that the village was safer than the town. My family therefore together with another 150 Jews stayed in that village. On August 13th 1941 all the Jews of Janova were taken out to Geralka woods and killed. At the same time, Lithuanian police arrived at Altn Gostinec with a readymade list, and took away my father, three more men and one woman. They were also brought to Geralka, and shot together with the rest of the Janova Jews.
In the beginning of September, the Jews from Altn Gostinec, among whom my mother and sister were included, were brought to Janova and kept in the Kazarme. After about three weeks these last Jews from Janova were brought to the Kovno Ghetto. My mother and sister were killed in the big Kovno Akcija, on October 28, 1941.
My brother and I continued on our way to Utena. We were exhausted and our legs were swollen, numb with fatigue. There was only one thought pushing us on: escape the Germans. The German army seemed to be right behind us. We found food once in a while in halfburned army trucks, and so we kept pushing on. Often we would fall in with friends from Janova, lose them and meet other Janover, but we never lost sight of each other.
Somewhere on the road DVINSK that city in Latvia, on the river Dvina, and bordering on Lithuania and White Russia, transformed itself into a glowing beacon of hope. To reach Dvinsk became to all of us on the road synonymous with reaching safety. Every kilometer closer to the goal to Dvinsk, became a
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kilometer closer to the goal to deliverance, and one kept hearing constantly: How much farther to Dvinsk yet? 100 km. then 90 km. 80 60 …
Sometimes during the night between Tuesday and Wednesday we crossed Utena. After resting there a few hours we continued ahead.
It was now Wednesday, June 25. The next big town was Zarasai, about 50 km. from Utena. The only thing that still kept us moving, was the frightful terror which was like a terrible beast on our heels. The highway now was not so crowded and sometimes the road would become quite empty, almost deserted an indication that the Germans were right behind us, and the stillness then was more ominous than the explosion of bombs.
Meanwhile, many of the Russian soldiers were in no better position than we were. They were also treated in no way better by their luckier comrades who passed by in trucks.
I could often see Russian soldiers, barefooted and looking like scarecrows, trying to hitch a ride. They would stand in the road, in the path of an approaching truck, until the last possible moment. The truck never stopped. But, even more heartless, was when one of these soldiers would grasp onto the rear of a truck, trying to get in, but the soldiers inside would start hitting him on his knuckles with their rifle butts until he'd fall off on the highway, like a sack of potatoes.
Zarasai is very close to the Latvian border, and Dvinsk is about 20 kilometers away. We reached Zarasai late in the afternoon. The city seemed deserted. Glass was strewn all over the streets from the broken windows. The setting sun, mirrored in one of the lakes, looked all aglow, flaming and vast, beautiful and terrible at the same time.
We arrived at Dvinsk Wednesday night together with the Polans, Palec, Marevjanski and others, but we were not allowed to cross the bridge leading into the city, because it was being used by the Red Army.
When we at last reached the railroad station on Thursday morning, it was obvious that the Germans would be there shortly. The streets were deserted, but the station was filled with people, all trying to get onto a train, to get away.
Incredibly, we managed to get on a freight train. When at last, the train left the Dvinsk railway station we all felt a wave of relief, it seemed that we were saved.
The train stopped after 43 km., and there seemed to be a lot of shooting going on all around. We could hear explosions nearby and assumed that the train was being attacked by planes. None of us in the closed car stirred from our places to look for shelter outside. We had all reached the end of our endurance, and by this time my feet and legs were so swollen that any movement meant agony.
The shooting continued for quite some time (an hour or two), and at times I even drifted off to sleep. Suddenly it became quiet. The door was opened from the outside, and there in the doorway stood German soldiers pointing guns at us.
We were guarded until late afternoon, and then ordered to return to the city of Dvinsk. It was getting dark and the city was on fire. Our group was all from
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Janova. We had stuck together since the day before when we first arrived at Dvinsk, and now we found an abandoned basement and waited anxiously what was to follow.
We stayed in that basement until Sunday, June 29. On that morning notices appeared on the walls, fences, etc., informing the populace that all Jewish males were to appear at the market place. Any Jew who failed to report would be punished by death.
After all the Jews assembled, we were marched down to the prison year, where for the next several hours, we went through a frightening and humiliating experience which was later to become quite commonplace, but at that time was like a wild nightmare. The Germans made, what they called, some sport.
Eventually, my brother and some other boys who were very young were allowed to leave, but we were all herded into the prison, jammed 15 or 16 in a small cell.
The Gate of Death
Wednesday, July 9, we were not let out from our cell on the 3rd (top) floor, but we could hear people being moved from the lower floors early in the morning. We could also hear what sounded like shots, but assumed that it was the backfiring of truck engines. Eventually, our cell was opened, and we on the last half of the third floor were herded down to the basement, where we were made to stop, and told to empty our pockets of all our personal belongings. So it was that we were passing through two mounds of belongings, at least two feet high, running parallel to both walls of the hallway.
When we were taken out in the yard, we were towards the end of a long column of men, divided up into groups of 21, each group guarded separately. We were moving ahead very slowly. Every few minutes the iron gate at the other end of the yard would open and the group next in line would be led in the park adjoining the prison yard. There was now absolutely no doubt. We were being killed, all of us, systematically and orderly. Every time a group was led through the gate, the shooting was heard, loud and clear, the following group was given shovels, and so it went on. We knew then that each group, before being shot, had to cover with ground, the bodies of the previous group.
As the day progressed, it became very hot. The sky was clear and the sun was like a fiery ball. I was sweating profusely, and the line was moving ever so slowly, but inevitably, ever closer did we approach the gate. That iron gate represented to me the end, death.
Except for the continuous sound of shooting, there was no sound, we were all very quiet. I could see he steady stream of traffic on the highway, spectators watching. Since the road at this point was much higher than the prison walls, German officers with their girlfriends could watch the drama like in an amphitheater.
There were then quite a lot of Janover in Dvinsker prison all of us who tried to escape and were stuck here. Many had actually made it to the Russian border but were not allowed to cross into Russia, and returned to Dvinsk. That morning when we were herded down from our cells, many of us Janover instinctively
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gravitated together, so that in our group there were quite a few Janover, among them Shmulke Palec and Froike Millner. Now, as we were slowly approaching the end, I felt so very thankful to be with people I knew. I remember thinking at least Ruvke is in town, he might survive, and it would have been so much harder to die among strangers.
We said goodbye to each other, but could hardly talk because of the choking feeling, the lump in one's throat that each of us felt. One man suggested that we should try to kill a few Germans before dying. The idea was abandoned when another man called attention to the Jewish women and children who lived in town, Think of what the Germans will do to them then. Everything was too sudden, too fantastic to consider logically. Rather certain thoughts passed by. We were seeing this event, this thing that was happening to us as something singular. The Germans are enraged because they believe that the Jews have burned Dvinsk, and this was some sort of a pogrom.
It was close to noon by the time the group before us was marched through the gate. We were the next in line, and behind us there were only perhaps 300 still alive. Waiting there for the gate to open for us, with the last seconds of life ticking away, I was conscious of the profound and unique experience I was going through, and the thought recurred to me again and again, If only I could tell somebody about this.
At last the gate opened. The SS man who came out discussed something with our guards, and we were given an order to turn around! We were marched back to the prison together with the rest of the column that was waiting in line behind us. It seemed like a miracle, there was a glimmer of hope.
A few hours later we were all marched out again, passed through the gate of death, and found ourselves in the park. We were divided into two parts. The people of the one group had to run around over freshly filled up trenches and trample down the ground. We, the other group received shovels and were made to dig fresh trenches. It was very clear they had run out of ditches and we were digging our own graves.
It was a scene of horror. I could see several carts with dead people, a few hundred feet away. The guards, now mostly Latvian, were extremely cruel. They beat us with sticks and abused us with words. A young German dressed only in shorts and sandals was walking around us. While whistling a tune, roll out the barrels, he would put the pistol to the head of some Jew and kill him with one shot. In this playful manner, he killed quite a few people. He stopped next to Froike Millner, but Froike started to beg him to let him live yet a while, and he went to somebody else. Some people were trying to save themselves, but it was like a drowning man grasping for a straw. A middleaged man tried to explain to a guard that he was a German officer during the first war; Shmulke Palec said that he was actually a Russian soldier, but the answer to everything was just, but you are a Jew and an extra beating on the head. Townspeople were quietly watching from behind a wire fence.
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Under a Pile of Blankets
After we were through with our work, we were taken back to the basement of the prison. The cells were left open and we could mingle in the hallway. Many were saying Vidui (the prayer before death), but otherwise people seemed to be calm. Four of us, Shmulke Palec, Frolike Millner, myself and Chaim Kuritsky from Utena, decided to try to hide some place, although it seemed hopeless to find a hiding place in that small part of the prison to which we had access. But then we noticed a room, rather larger than the other cells, which was also unlocked. This seemed to have served as a supply room and it contained all kinds of odds and ends.
We knew that we could not lose anything, tomorrow at sunrise we would be shot anyway. We found a few blankets in a corner. We crawled in between some boxes, put the blankets on top of us, and made it look as if we were a pile of blankets.
The next morning, July 10th, as soon as it became light, it was just as we expected. We could hear very plainly how the people were being chased out from the cells, the shooting, the screaming, the drunken guards beating and abusing the helpless people.
When the shooting stopped, we could hear the guards searching the cells. A few people attempted to hide. They were found and beaten mercilessly before being shot. Then they came into our room and made a thorough search. At one point a guard actually stepped on us, however we hardly breathed, and were not discovered.
We stayed in the same place the whole day. We knew that we were the only four still alive of the thousands of Jews who had been here only a day before. We could hear the guards, and often one would come into our room, looking for something. In the evening, new Jews were brought into the cells.
It was on Friday morning that we were caught. One of us must have moved while a guard was rummaging through the room. We ran through the hallways of the vast prison in a frenzy of fear. Eventually we were cornered, beaten with heavy ropes, and then thrown into one of the cells. From the way the guards talked, I realized that they were taking it for granted that we were of the people that had been brought here the night before. I found out that these were all Jews, and were all kept in the basement cells. Most of them were people who had reached the Russian border, but were not allowed to cross the frontier, and so turned back. There were many Janover among them. Israel Namjot with his two sons, Elke and Shmerke, Hirsjankale Stein, Hirsale Lukman with his uncle Manishewitz. Hirsale Lukman told me that not far from the border his parents were both killed and his brother, Shmerke, was badly wounded in one of the airplane attacks.
Most of the people did not believe what we told them about the events of the last few days.
The Babies Were Aware of the Terror
For the next several weeks there was a different pattern to the killing of the Jews. Every few days the people of certain cells were taken out and shot. Other cells were left alone. Most of us Janover were in one cell, because we claimed that
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we were carpenters. At one time, some Germans came looking for ten young boys for work. Among them were Hirsjankale Stein both Namjot brothers and Froike Millner. As Smerke Namjot told me later: They were taken to a cemetery and told to dig ten graves for German soldiers who had died from wounds. After the job was finished they were told that they, the Jews, would also have to die. The Germans started to shoot them. They all started to run and Smerke, with another boy from Dvinsk, although both were badly wounded, managed to escape. They hid out, and weeks later we met them in the ghetto. Mr. Namjot himself was also taken out from our cell one morning and killed.
One cell had been designated for those of us wo had been wounded during the attacks on the highway. These people, many of whom were in excruciating pain, were spared for the first few weeks. However, they were given no medical attention, and so were left to bear the torment of their festering wounds, in the stench of rotting flesh, eventually to be killed anyway; thus, the Germans managed to use even that which we worshipped above all lifeto inflict greater suffering.
On July 23rd, the Jews who were still alive, about 80 of us, were transferred to what was to form the Dvinsker Ghetto. This so-called ghetto was actually the half burned out ruins of what was known as the Griver side of the Dvinsk Fortress (citadel). This was one long semi-circular structure, touching at one end the Dvina River, and after completing the half circle, reaching the river again.
Most of the building was burned out from the recent fighting. The ruins that were left standing became the home (albeit for a short time) for many thousands of people. For the next several weeks there was a steady influx of new people coming into the ghetto. They were all assembled here the Jews from Dvinsk, from the towns and villages in the area and the refugees from Lithuania. Here in the ghetto I found my brother Ruvke, who had been working all this time ion a German kitchen with another boy from Janova, Peiske. There were also quite a few other Janover, Peishe There were also quite a few other Janover. Smerke Lukman had recovered from his injuries and was here, as well as other Janover whose names I cannot recollect. Before the ghetto was established, many Janover women and children turned back towards home. They were either killed on the way, or when they reached Janova.
All in all, by early August approximately 12,000 to 14,000 Jews had assembled. The conditions were terrible. There was only one water faucet, and very few toilet facilities. The Germans, however, began to alleviate our overcrowded conditions all too quickly. Within several days they started the akcijas, and from then on the process of thinning out the ghetto population was a continuous one.
During the month of August, there were many akcijas, during which probably two thirds of the Jews were killed. There were variations in the way in which akcijas were conducted, but the following is very typical of most.
By about 6:00 in the afternoon, most people who worked would have returned. Suddenly, we would be ordered to assemble in the yard. Everyone ran. Families, friends, would keep together. The people formed one long line stretching hundreds of feet, surrounded by many guards. There, in the beginning of the line, a group of S.D. (Sicherheits Dienst) would already be at work, conducting the selection. As they passed by each person they divided up the people those to die to the left, those who were to live, -- to the right.
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The faces of the S,D, officers expressed an unlimited capacity for sadism. It was these men, bearing S.S death-skull insignias and other Nazi symbols, coming closer and closer ever closer it was as if death itself was approaching.
A certificate that one worked meant he right side and life, and in the beginning, even the families of workers were sent to the right. But with every akcja the test became harder, so that not only were the families of workers sent to the left, but workers themselves needed very special certificates to stay alive. But always, whatever the test, at a given akcja, when the S.D. officer was standing next to you, regardless what credentials you had, if he did not like you, or if he thought you had looked at him with insolence or disrespect you were sent to the left, to death.
The misery, the terror! One time, during a selection, it started to rain. There, on the left side, those destined to die had to wait for hours, standing quietly in the rain. I saw people in columns waiting for death many times, but I can never forget the children in the rain The babies held in their mothers' arms and the rain coming down. The babies, though too young to really understand, yet, aware of the extraordinary terror, whimpering softly, but not daring to cry aloud, and the mothers comforting them, patting the wet hair
In one of these akcijas, on August 19, my brother Ruvke was taken away. By the time I came back from work, he was already gone, and I never saw him again.
Liquidation of a Ghetto
There were no mass killings in September or October, and again many people started to hope that perhaps we would be allowed to live, but then came November, and with it the biggest akcja. It was not only the biggest, but also the most cruel. On November 5th, we all knew that an akcja was beginning. The guards around the ghetto were tripled and a fence was built to divide the ghetto. Only the people who had special red certificates were put in one part, and everyone else was put in the other. The next two days, the 6th and the 7th, nothing much happened, except that no one was allowed to leave the ghetto for work, and the lace was swarming with police. We knew exactly what was going to happen: We who had no red certificates would be killed in memory of the Bolshevik revolution.
The actual selection and removal of the victims from the ghetto occurred on November 7th, 8th and 9th. Approximately three thousand people, including many with red certificates, were then taken away.
Incredibly, I survived again by hiding myself with two other fellows. We were hidden from Nov. 5th, to Nov. 10th, under a roof. I left my hiding place several times, during the first two days, and was with the people who were later to die. When it was all over the guards made a very thorough search, and almost caught us, but we were fortunate.
During that time we found out, that the Jews in the town of Breslau, in White Russia, were comparatively free. Here in Dvinsk about 90% of us were already dead, and the rest of us expected the same fate sooner or later, and so some people who had the means, escaped to Breslau. Among them were also Smerke Namjot Smerke Lukman and Shmulke Palec. The only Janover left then in Dvinsk were myself,
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Mr. Manisehwitz and his nephew, Hirsale Lukman. The two of them lived together like father and son, and were probably closer than many parents were to their children. A few days after the big Akcja I got a job as a painter, and our whole group of about 20 workers were kazernirt. Our group was transferred to live in the Citadel, and we lived close to the Germans for whom we worked.
The Citadel, consisting of many buildings, hospitals and other facilities, surrounded by a thick wall was like a separate city, situated a couple of kilometers from Dvinsk. It was completely occupied by German soldiers.
Life was much easier here for our small group, and we had more freedom to move around. I would often visit Manisehwitz and Hirsale Lukman at the ghetto and heled them with what I could. I was always touched by the tender relationship the two of them had.
One day in December, the ghetto was completely sealed off. No one was allowed in or out, due to an epidemic, we were told.
For about three months we had no idea of what was going on in the ghetto, although we lived less than one kilometer away. The dark, foreboding structure, saturated with so much misery and death was always on my mind.
In early spring the ghetto was again opened and I had a chance to see my two Janover at the ghetto.
That winter, the Jews in the sealed off ghetto went through inhuman suffering. They had to subsist on so little food, that almost everyone I saw was either completely emaciated or swollen up.
For the next several weeks additional people from the ghetto were kazernirt and taken to live either in the city or the Citadel. On May 1st 1942 the ghetto was liquidated. As I found out later, the police came during the day and ordered the people out. The people knew very well that it would be their last trip, and so many of them refused to go. They were shot on the spot. The other people were taken a few kilometers away to a forest and killed there. Later that afternoon I was watching from across the rive the victims, killed in the ghetto, were being buried.
About 600 people were killed that time, among whom were Manisehewitz and Hirsale. There were now left in Dvinsk abut 400-450 Jews alive, of whom about 180 lived at the citadel (Krepest).
Even the Enemies of the Nazis were not Our Friends
I continued working as a painter, and life went on. We, the young ones decided that we would not sell our lives cheaply, and tried to look for a way out. We kept on making plans, changing them, and making other plans. We could escape easily enough at that time, but what then? With the front-line hundreds of kilometers away and the native population hostile, how long could we survive on the outside? Later on rumors were heard of Russian partisans in forests and swamps Southwest of Dvinsk, but we had no way of knowing if this was true.
Meanwhile, we made every effort to acquire arms at whatever cost or sacrifice. In spite of many difficulties, we were eventually successful. In fact, by the spring of 1043, virtually all of the young people in the citadel had in their possession some kind of weapon pistol or revolver and even some German grenades. The side
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arms we usually brought from civilians, whom we came in contact with during work, and for which we aid exorbitant prices. The grenades were usually discovered in the pockets of German uniforms. Some of my friends worked at sorting uniforms of the soldiers who were killed at the front. Various other German objects were organized at a tremendous risk. Money obtained for these objects (such as seal-skin jackets, destined for the Russian front) enabled us to buy both arms and food.
By the spring of 1943 my friends and I were constantly preoccupied with escape, but the difficulties still seemed unsurmountable. Getting out of Dunaburg was at that time quite simple, but we were all cognizant of the inevitability of getting caught after a few days. Some of the difficulties which we often discussed were quite obvious. The native population was very hostile to Jews, and the few who did not hate us knew that to help a Jew could mean death, while informing on a Jew meant a reward. The front line was hundreds of miles away and the war might last for years. We had absolutely no experience with firearms or with the art of survival in the country. At all times, we knew there would be no second chance. To be caught meant death. We were unable to visualize how it would be once we got away. How would we go about food and shelter, or how long would it take until a farmer would give us up for a reward?
There were a lot of Russian prisoners of war in the citadel as well as Ukrainians who were now part of the German army. We got to know some of the prisoners, and it seemed logical that our chances for survival would be enhanced if we escaped together. They were experienced soldiers, and more importantly the populace in this area (which was mostly Russian) was much more sympathetic to Russians than to us. It was, however, not so simple. A few events took place at about this time (early 1943) which left us not only disillusioned, but extremely cautious. We just had no friends, and even the enemies of the Nazis were not our friends. This was proven to us over and over again. We were at this time less strictly guarded than the prisoners of war.
The first incident was the escape of several prisoners with the help of Gutke Jachnin. Once they had used him to break out, and the prisoners had gotten the arms from Gutke, along with everything else he had they abandoned him. After two days, he came back to us. Luckily, due to our covering up, his absence was not discovered by the Germans.
The second incident ended in much more tragedy. Four girls between the ages of 17 and 20 escaped with four prisoners of war, whom they had helped break out by sawing through the steel bars of a window in the P.O.W. compound. The girls also returned after several days. The P.O.W.s had made use of them, and then discarded them like dirty rags. Left defenseless the girls could see no alternative, and came back to the citadel whereupon they were promptly taken by the Germans to the prison and shot.
These incidents left us feeling very bitter. As the summer of 1943 wore on, and opportunities for escape failed to materialize, I often tried to visualize the end. We now had guns and did not feel quite as helpless as we had in the beginning of the war. While I had no illusions concerning our chances against the Germans, if nothing else the dream of being able to make the hated Nazis pay dearly for
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our lives were comforting. The idea of dying while fighting it out to the very end surrounded by our close ones seemed not unattractive: Of course the hope was always there that in the final moment there might still be a remote chance to get away. So as not to be caught unprepared one of us always kept watch at night. He was to give the alarm in case the police were to come.
We Escaped to the Partisans
It was almost the end of the summer when an opportunity suddenly presented itself to us. Ton September 10, 1943 three of us, Motke K. from Anikst, Berke K. from Dunaburg and myself along with another even Russian prisoners of war and Ukrainians escaped from the Dunaburg citadel. Marching for two days with virtually no rest, we reached the partisan village of Babily. Although it was only about 100 km. it might well have been a different continent. The area stretching for miles and known as the White Forest was completely under the control of the partisans. Antonov's otrijad of the Shirokov brigade maintained its command post at Babily. Life at this time in the village was quite cheerful. The peasants paid taxes to the partisans, the Red Army was advancing on the Western front, and every Saturday night there were dances at the command post. It was something that I did not dare to expect even in my wildest dreams. Even so, the three of us were very unhappy. For one thing, the poison of anti-Semitism had spread here too. We were hated, distrusted and discriminated against; Thus, our guns were taken away. We kept thinking about our friends and the Jews of Dunaburg such a short distance from us, who were suffering helplessly waiting for death. Unhappy as we were with the general attitude toward us, the threat of imminent death was not hanging over our heads. It was because of our anxiety over the fate of the Dunaburg Jews, that we kept on pressuring Commander Antonov and Komisar Gusev, to give us the assignment of bringing Jews from Dvinsk to the partisans. Eventually we succeeded in convincing the Commander. I received the task to go, accompanied by five other partisans. We were supposed to reach a certain forest about 25 km. from Dunaburg, where my escort was to stay while I was to reach the citadel myself. I was to get all the Russians I could, but I had explicit orders to take only the Jews who had guns. I was then to bring all the people back to Babily.
As it happened, the head of our group terminated the operation after we had marched about halfway to our destination. The whole partisan area was being surrounded by Germans, so he decided that it would be much too dangerous to continue, and we returned to Babily. The so-called blockade of Bielaja had begun.
I was disappointed, but then there was not too much time to worry about our friends at Dvinsk. The Germans were tightening the noose around our area, and our situation became very serious. For reasons, which probably had to do with the retreat of their troops from the Eastern front, the Germans decided to clear out the partisans in Western White Russia at whatever cost. This they commenced doing in a very thorough manner indeed in the fall of 1943. The action was conducted in several stages; First, the whole areas was surrounded and quarantined, in a
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sense. Next, the villages and suspicious areas in the forests were bombed by the Luftwaffe. Finally combing the forests and swamps and destroying the partisans.
As it turned out by the first stage of the operation the magnitude of the German effort was apparent to the partisan commanders. A decision was then made that it should be up to the commander of each otrijad to choose how best to weather the storm. There were two choices to retreat to the East or to try to survive the German onslaught in the familiar forests and swamps. Most groups did sneak away to the East during the first and second stages; But our group, Antonov's, stayed, and we were in for it.
It was very bad. The night we left the camp was truly memorable. The commander made a speech about the night and the forest being the ally of the partisans, while the Germans were only a few kilometers away. There was last minute packing and frantic preparations for the abandonment of the camp.
From then on our otrijad was on the run. Never more than a step ahead of the Germans. The worst was always that we, the Jews, at all times were unsure of our own future the hatred and distrust towards us could always be felt. At times I met Jewish members of other otrijads and heard many details of the persecution of Jews in the partisan movement.
I met Smerke Namjot one misty dawn, while I was on guard duty. It was much like a dream. Here was Smerke, a dear friend of mine from the same class in Tarbut, suddenly to materialize between the trees with a group of partisans. With only enough time to exchange a few excited words and a quiet embrace he was gone again. Surely it was a dream. Smerke was a member of the Lithuanian Brigade. This brigade was the envy of us all. Since the Russians wanted to prove that there were Lithuanians fighting the Germans, the brigade was cared for in a very special way. They were equipped with the best arms and provided an abundance of food. Even so, most of the members of the Lithuanian brigade were either Jews or Communists who had escaped previously to Russia, and were now sent to fight with the brigade.
I later found out that Smerke was killed shortly afterward not by Germans, but by other Russian partisans. Smerke would not give up his sub-machine gun (a weapon which was much coveted) when demanded to, and so being only a Jew, he was killed.
Meanwhile, things were getting worse. The Germans, forming giant human chains, combed through every corner of the area. It was then that the most humiliating event took place. Under the excuse that the whole Otriad was being broken up into small groups, its seven Jews were cast away. The rest of the Otriad, however, remained intact. Luckily, I got my revolver and compass back.
We had no idea where we were, enveloped by total darkness in the unfamiliar forest. The stillness of then night was pierced only by the terrifying sound of German voices. Trudging on in an easterly direction, we reached a clearing and a concealed German out post. Motke, Chaim and I managed to escape the hail of machine gun bullets, however we lost the rest of our group.
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The following day, Wednesday October 13, was one long nightmare. Early dawn found us in a swamp amongst several hundreds of partisans from several Otriads, including Antonov's. We were caught in a crossfire. People were dying all around us. Chaim was hit in the head and died instantly. The din of exploding shells, the evil hiss of flame throwers, whistling of bullets, and the overall stench of burning dynamite powder made it all a large inferno. But the picture, which always comes to my mind when I think of this battle, is that of the partisan lying doubled up badly wounded and continually begging Brothers, please finish me off please.
After the survivors of the initial entrapment reached meager cover offered by the trees, they formed small groups and tried to survive as best they could. Again Motke and I found ourselves alone. We spent the whole day dodging bullets, struggling through the swamps, and at times actually seeing the Germans in our pursuit in straight lines with their dogs sniffing after us. Evening eventually brought some respite. We continued running for several days. We met with other partisans on several occasions, but met with hostility when they realized we were Jews. Our physical condition had deteriorated by then. Legs swollen, feet bleeding, and with little food to sustain us we determined to break through the encirclement and reach our friends in Dvinsk. There we planned to get arms and organize our own partisan group.
Roads were out of the question. The compass was our only guide. I expected that a Northwestern direction would bring us to the river Dvina, which then would lead into Dinaburg.
As miraculous as it seems, a week later, we actually reached Dvinsk. After we managed to get out of the cauldron in the forest, our journey progressed very satisfactorily. Concealing ourselves during the day, we marched only at night. As the days passed, and everything seemed to work like clockwork, our spirits rose considerably. We were overcome with a feeling of confidence, and near exhilaration. We learned a great deal about the art of survival the last couple of months, and suddenly it seemed quite simple. We found out how to get food, how to hide and rest during the day, and with only a compass to guide us, we seemed to find our way through forests, swamps, and fields. While marching, a lot of time was spent making excited plans for our future Jewish Partisan Otriad.
After some anxious moments, crossing the well-guarded bridge over the Dvina, we reached Dvinsk without any mishaps. Our October 22nd we managed to slip into the citadel unnoticed.
All of our plans, however, came to naught. After only a few days we heard very disquieting rumors, and took special precautions. On October 28th, 1943, the Jewish quarters were surrounded, and the people were taken away.
Actually, things did not run so smoothly. This last roundup of Jews was not unexpected, and when the police arrived, we were ready. There was much shooting, and often fighting. Motke and I were hidden at that time in an attic, and could follow the drama unfolding itself on the square below through a crack in the roof.
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It was a scene all too familiar, taking place with some variations all over Europe in hundreds of towns and villages. There they were, the columns of Jews with the few belongings, looking s pitiful and helpless. Surrounded on all sides by the gun toting Nazis. they had to wait so long, while the area was being searched for the ones who escaped. Every once in a while, a Jew was brought to the column after his hiding place was discovered. They were beated, and made to join the rest. I could see Dovidke Bleier, a friend of mine, being chased. He pulled out his gun, in which I knew he had only three bullets. Firing twice at his pursuers, he killed himself with the last bullet.
Although they were only a few hundred Jews in the citadel at this time, many of us escaped. By now we had no more illusions, and many Jews with guns in their hands forced their way through the police lines when our quarters were originally surrounded. There were others, who rather than be taken by the Germans killed their close ones and themselves.
A Silvery Beam in the Darkness
We were actually in a very dangerous situation, since the building we were hiding in was occupied by German soldiers, and sooner or later we would have been discovered. Therefore, as soon as it got dark, we sneaked out and made our way to another hiding place, in which the Guterman family was hiding out, This was also an attic however its only entrance was through the roof. There was no door to it, thus it was a fairly good hiding place.
We stayed together for a week before we found out through a German soldier that Jews were again officially working for the Germans. It seemed like a German trick. Many Jews had run away, but it was almost winter, and the people, some of whom were not young, did not know how to survive the winter on the run. Now the Germans allowed the Jews to work and gave them food. A total of twenty-six Jews gave themselves up. Among them was the Guterman family.
Motke and I stayed in our hiding place, but were in contact with the Jews, who provided us with food. We had to decide what to do, and it was not an easy decision. We could go back to the same area in the forest, but we were not sure if any partisans were left there. It was now winter. Where would we get food? We saw all the villages in the area being bombed to the ground. Meanwhile we heard that a ghetto exited in the city of Shauliai, in Lithuania, and the Jews there were treated in a most humane way. However, we were very reluctant to go back into another ghetto.
And so the time passed. In fact, the whole month of November passed without our taking any action. And then, on December 4, 1943, the last Jews of Dunaburg, the 26, were rounded u and taken away. A young boy, (Maxie) managed to escape, and came to tell us about it.
As far as we knew, we were the only Jews still alive in Dvinsk. Tortured as we were by hunger, cold and the terror of being discovered, the days passed very slowly. We spent a lot of time talking, and that helped us endure the endless hours. My life in Janova seemed so far away, like a half-forgotten dream. The events since we left home personified the fact that we were always just a jump ahead
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of the angel of death. Motke's escape from Anikst in all the minute details of how many of his formerly Lithuanian friends took part in the killing of the Anikter Jews, and how he, Motke, after being shot and covered with earth in a common grave, had managed to survive. Although seriously wounded, he dug his way out of his own grave, and after wandering a couple of months, which was an odyssey of superhuman effort and suffering, he eventually reached the ghetto of Dvinsk.
We often discussed our Jewish destiny. The suffering, the pain we have to endure, and everyone herding us down like wild beasts. It was not only the Germans the Lithuanians, Ukrainians Hungarians, Rumanians all were murdering us. Even the Russians and Poles, we were enemies of the Germans. They too were our enemies.
But like a far-away silvery beam, the thought of Israel would pass through my mind. Surely we will die in this war there seemed no hope for us. But the handful of chalutzim in Israel will survive. They will build a new life and a safe-haven. Surely after all this it will have to be our own Jewish Homeland, and there was much comfort in the thought.
We were now completely alone, without ties. There were no more Jews in Dvinsk. We had no food or water, and we could not get away, because the gates of the citadel were now guarded day and night.
In a Freight Train to Shauliai
We spent a whole week without tasting food or water, and we were desperate. I realized how true it is that thirst is so much harder to endure than hunger.
By Saturday, December 11, we knew that we could not continue in this condition much longer, and would have to take some action. We knew of a German soldier, who tended the horses in his unit, and therefore had his own room at the stable. We decided to take a chance and ask him for help. He was indeed a good German, and was ready to help us get out from the citadel. He also told us that Shmulke Palec had been hiding out in the stable for the last week, and had just left with the hope of catching a freight train for Shauliai. Little Maxl decided to stay with the German, who promised him that by intermingling him with Russian refugees, the German would be able to save him.
Shmulke Palec from Janova had run away from Dunaburg (Dvinsk) to Breslau (White Russia), in the fall of 2941. When the Jews in that town were killed in 1942, he escaped t another town, but it was at a time when the Jews were being systematically eliminated and he soon had to run again. He managed to escape from about half a dozen different such actions, and in early spring of 1943, Shmulke returned to Dunaburg.
By sheer luck Motke and I caught the freight train, that was going from the front line to Radvilisik, and from there to Germany. We were on our way.
The train ride, lasting more than a night, was not only very difficult, but truly dangerous. First we were worried that we jumped onto the wrong train, but after passing Rokiskis we knew that we were moving in the right direction. Early in the trip we became very much aware of the bitter cold in the open freight car.
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So while the train moved, we jumped almost constantly, to keep ourselves warm. The stops at the stations seemed to become longer and longer, as our train, moving empty from the front, stopped to let off heavily loaded trains to roar by to the fighting front.
The cars of our train were inspected several times, and at least once it was done quite thoroughly. Through the open doorway, the inside of each car was brightly illuminated by a lantern. Luckily, we were not caught; whenever the train stopped we flattened ourselves against the wall, right next to the door, and while the beam of the lantern searched through the car, it missed that little spot right next to the door. Towards morning, we stopped at a quite sizable station, which we thought might already be Radvilishkis. Not being sure, I jumped out to reconnoiter. I found out that we were a long way off yet. While trying to get back into the car, I was challenged by a Lithuanian security guard. Somehow, I convinced him, (in Lithuanian), that I was a Lithuanian worker trying to get back home for Sunday. After assuring him that I would never try to get on a freight train, he let me go. When the train started to move again, I managed to jump back into the car unobserved. It was at Panevezys, however, that we spent the most anguishing hour. After our train stopped at the station, we realized that there was another freight next to ours also waiting. Without even seeing much, we knew exactly what the cargo consisted of. We could hear very clearly the clamoring of little children for water. There was no doubt about it: it was a freight train loaded with Jews, packed like sardines on the way to a final destination, the nature of which we could well imagine. The wailing of children, anxious voices of mother and the coarse cursing of guards all added up to a picture that was only too clear.
By the time the train reached Radviliskis, it was about 10 o'clock Sunday morning. From here the train was turning South to Germany, and we knew that we would have to go the 20 km. from here by foot.
We jumped out unobserved, and found the way to Shauliai, although neither Motke nor I had ever been to this part of the country.
Walking was hard, as we hadn't used our legs for six weeks. But it was a bright sunny day, that Sunday December 12, and in the evening, as planned, we arrived at Shauliai. After very careful questioning we found the Ghetto. It was guarded by Rumanian S.S., and enclosed by a barbed wire fence. We therefore waited until we saw a Jewish police aid, who helped us slip inside.
An Unexpected Incident in the Forest
In Shauliai the people were still very much affected by recent events. In October, about one half of the ghetto (known as the Kavkaz part) had been taken away, and the people were all pressed together in the part called Traku. The really tragic event took place on November 5th. All the children, except for those few who managed to hide, as well as the old and sick people, were rounded up and sent away to their death, around 850 of them. The Ghetto was shocked and overcome with grief. And when we arrived five weeks later, the horror of the Children Action was still on everybody's mind.
Motke and I were assigned to a room where another six people already lived.
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Crowded though we were, living eight to a room, to us it seemed almost luxury.
The ghetto, which contained at that time about 56,000 people, was organized by the Germans in such a way that most of the internal operations were in Jewish hands (a number of books have been published about ghetto Shauliai). I was surprised to find that some people actually expected to survive the war, bleak as the mood of the people was at the time.
On December 25, Shmulke Palec arrived in Shauliai. He had started out the same day that we did, but he was forced to turn back a number of times by unfavorable conditions. We were very glad to see him and immediately started making plans for the future. Each of us now had a gun and I also had a compass. Come spring we would be ready to leave. We also got acquainted with quite a few of the young people who were planning their escape or some other forms of resistance, and hoped to coordinate our efforts.
Winter was passing. The news from the war fronts sounded very encouraging and we were eagerly awaiting warm weather when we could escape to the forest and freedom.
When spring at last arrived, our plans, however, ran into a snag. Shmulke and I went sent to work in the forest, while Motke had to stay in the Ghetto, in this way our small group was suddenly split up. Our party which consisted of seventeen men was sent to cut trees for shipment to Germany. The forest was some distance away from Shauliai and we lived right there in a house of a farmer, guarded by two S.S. guards (Rumanian). Quite suddenly I lost all contact with Motke and the Ghetto.
The work, though rather hard, was quite enjoyable. We received plentiful food from the farmers, and to be so close to nature was invigorating. While marching to and from work we often sang Hebrew songs, a favorite of ours a Zionist marching son introduced to our group by Yankale Feinberg. The guards, of course, understood nothing.
Weeks passed, and spring was slipping away. The Russians were advancing, and I was bursting with impatience to be back at the Ghetto, so as to complete our plans for escape.
As incident occurred which put an abrupt end to our sojourn at the forest. It was a late afternoon in the end of June. We were marching from work; as usual while passing through the small gorge in the forest, we were in single file with one guard in the front and the other in the back of the column. Suddenly there was a hail of bullets, machine guns were firing away at us from all sides. At the first sound of firing I threw myself to the ground. I could see the guard (I was very close to the front of the column) writhing in pain, crying for his mother he was badly wounded. Cries of pain could be heard from the other people who were hurt. The firing stopped after a short time and the cries of pain by the wounded only accentuated the strange stillness after the din of firing. Carefully I lifted my head and saw armed men approaching. Friends, what are you doing, we are Jews, I yelled. So what if you are Jews, you work for the Germans, one of them retorted. After finishing with a bullet the wounded guard, they realized that the other guard managed to escape.
Three Jews were wounded, and one (Lurie?) very seriously in the stomach.
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The partisans (they obviously were Red partisans) gave first aid to our wounded, and after a fruitless short search or the escaped guard, disappeared. We managed to bring our wounded back to the house where we stayed. The one who was hit in the stomach screamed for hours and then died during the night. When we were brought back to the ghetto, people wanted to know why we did not join the partisans. The fact was that the partisans did not act as if they would have welcomed us and though they did administer first aid as if they would have welcomed us and though they did administer first aid to our wounded, they were rather hostile to us. Of course, in our case (myself and Smulke) our friend Motke and our guns were at the ghetto. In general, I felt little affection for those so-called partisans. The conditions for the ambush were perfect: Ideal terrain, enough manpower, automatic weapons and unsuspecting victims (the S.S. were there to stop us from escaping, partisans were not expected in that area). Yet, they let an SS man escape, and in getting the other one they hit three of us Jews.
A Bitter Experiment to Escape
Now that the three of us were reunited, nothing seemed to stand in the way of our escape. We decided next night to get out through the loosely guarded fence. That evening, Motke informed L., who was the coordinator of whatever resistance there was to be in the ghetto. L. advised us to wait a few more days until Sunday, when we would be able to get out from the ghetto through the Frankel factory, and therefore almost without any risk at all. He also suggested that we enlarge our group by taking also some more fellows from the ghetto. We agreed to that plan. It seemed though, that there in Shauliai, our luck had run out; two days later the ghetto was surrounded, instead of the few guards, the ghetto was all of a sudden studded with heavily armed SS including machine guns. No one was allowed to go to work, but people who have for months or even years worked and lived in outlaying work camps were brought back to the ghetto.
For the next several days we ran around as if caught in a trap. The word was that we will all be shipped to Germany. We talked to a lot of guys trying to formulate some plan; we were determined not to go to Germany. During this period, there were still quite a few who escaped from the ghetto, but somehow all our plans seemed to misfire. At last we decided to scale the fence in a certain spot, regardless of the danger.
Motke and I were approaching the spot by separate streets. Suddenly the chief of the Jewish Judenrat, Pariser, was in front of me. Things the next few seconds happened very fast, and before I knew it, he pulled out the gun from my pocket. It was always assumed afterwards that my undoing was due to an informer. At any rate, at this point Pariser became quite hysterical, yelling and pointing the loaded gun at me. I started to run and he waving the gun ran after me. It developed into a wild chase through densely crowded streets with a dozen Jewish policemen trying to catch me. Eventually I was cornered and thrown in solitary confinement. Through the efforts of L. and others, Pariser did not turn me over to the Germans, but I was shipped out to Germany with the very first transport. Motke, meanwhile, was caught while trying to climb over the fence and was put in the same transport.
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The trip to Germany took several days, and I spent most of the time brooding over the fiasco with my gun, There was, though, this consolation we were at least together, Motke and I.
Hard Work, Starvation and Harassment
Camp Stutthoff was truly hell on earth, a mad man's nightmare. I stayed there a very short time. On the second day after our arrival, a kapo, who was a few men short, approached our column. He counted out 5 of us, and I was the fifth. We were taken away. Motke, who was next in line, stayed, and that was the last time I saw my friend until after the war.
We were loaded up in freight cars, right away, and shipped deep into Germany.
Again, the voyage lasted 45 days. At last we arrived, and were unloaded at the village of Kaufering, not far from the town of Landsberg, in Bavarija. Only a few kilometers away was our new home Dachau camp No. 2 (the main camp of Dachau was actually far away, but we belong administratively to it).
When we first arrived, construction of the camp was just being finished. The huts were constructed from a synthetic fiber which was like cardboard, and all other facilities were very primitive. There were about two thousand and I became one of the inmates. We were almost exclusively from Shauliai and Kaunas. One pleasant surprise was that among the people from Kaunas, I met a few Janover, the brothers Meir Leib and Abraham Goldsmidt and the brothers Reibstein.
The combination of hard work, starvation, and general harassment made our lives miserable. The worst was probably the 34 roll calls every day which sometimes lasted for hours. It was, however, with the arrival of fall that our misery became truly too much for a human being to endure. From the first brutal scream of aufstehen four o'clock in the morning, until late evening, we were tormented with no relief. Cold and hungry, shivering in our scant wet rags, every day was a journey through hell. During the rainy season, our clothes were very often still wet in the morning, not getting a chance to dry during our few hours of sleep. And so it was, that even though our camp could boast of no gas-chamber, nor crematorium, the death rate soared.
I tried different methods of making life a little more tolerable. I even made up a little game with myself. In my mind, I would on the same date live through the events of the previous year in an attempt to make myself forget the present. In this way on September 12, 1944, I relived the experiences of that day in '43'; how we had reached the village of Babily, the partisan headquarters; the relief of those first moments of arrival; the wild, joyous shooting in the air, the partisan officers galloping on horses in their colorful dress; the joy of meeting other Jews in the otrjad, and the smell of fresh hay where we slept. And even later dodging bullets, when in our abandonment, we were surrounded by Germans even these seemed comforting in comparison to the present.
Meanwhile, more people were brought to our camp: Polish Jews from Lodz, Jews from Czechoslovakia and Jews from Hungary.
Above all this, the Angel of Death seemed to reign supreme. Friends, I talked to, unpresuming, were dead a few days later. Hunger the yearning for food
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became the overriding passion, and I could think of little else. We talked and dreamed of food constantly.
Much has been written about German Concentration camps, the suffering and the desperate struggle for life. Particularly concerning the tendency of this environment to expose and nurture the very base and despicable element of human nature. Some were completely unscrupulous in their struggle for survival, and I have seen much of this.
But, I have also seen much of the good in human beings, which manifested itself even in the camps. People often endangered their own lives in their effort to help friends.
I often reflect that the very fact that I am alive today, is probably due, in no small part, to selfless acts of many individuals. Certainly, the Janover in camp were a great help to me, as well as some who were friends of shorter duration.
In spite of everything, most of us never lost our dignity as human beings. We would not allow ourselves to show any weakness to our tormenters. I can remember watching our guard smoking and what wouldn't have given for a few puffs of a cigarette! but when the guard threw the butt away, I would not pick it up. I would ache with desire for that butt, but I would not give the German the satisfaction of seeing me in this position.
Somehow I Survived
By December, I had been in the camp or 5 months. Despite the influx of additional arrivals, the population of the camp was cut by the ever-increasing death rate to a very low level. The authorities then decided to close our camp (No. 2) completely, and we who were still alive were divided up among the camps in the vicinity, camp No. 11 and camp No. 1.
I was transferred to camp No. 11 and lie, or what passed in camp for life was here the same as camp No. 2.
Somehow I survived that bleak winter. With the coming of spring, our hopes were raised by the news from the fronts. The Americans were getting ever closer.
I was by then so weak, that just to talk to my friends was an effort. My strength was giving out.
Towards the end of April, we were rounded up and evacuated from camp No. 11. We were marched for several days with very little food. I was getting constantly weaker; my feet and legs were swollen and it seemed that I had come to the end. When we arrived at camp Allach, the people who were sick were told that they could stay here. I fully realized that an admission of sickness in a situation like this meant death. At this point, I did not care anymore I stayed at Allach. But time had run out on the Germans. Within hours the SS guards of our camp disappeared. Shooting was going on between the retreating the retreating Germans and advancing Americans (an artillery shell hit the hospital). I was at this point so weak that I lost all concept of time. Hours passed or days, but at one point I looked at the gate and saw tall and fresh looking soldiers in olive drab uniforms. They seemed somewhat bewildered as the inmates of the camp moving quietly in single file and looking like scare-crows passed by them and one by one kissed their hands. They were Americans. It was April 30, 1945. I survived the war.
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