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[Pages 151-182]

Kobylnik, the Destruction

Yehoshua Swidler

Translated by Jack Smuckler and Janie Respitz

Edited by Toby Bird

 

kob151.jpg

 

June 22, 1941

We were fearful about the shocking news that Germany has attacked the Soviet Union. It's difficult to describe the moment without grasping that it is confusing and that we worry for the coming days. Even worse, it impacted us how much disorganization there was in the ranks of the Red Army, who were so sure of their strength and all at once they became so impotent and weak. They ran away in such a great hurry and disorder that they didn't take everything with them and left behind so much ammunition and machinery for the use of the enemy.

All of this caused great panic for the Jewish population. We were left helpless and didn't know where to run or what to do. The enemy appeared to advance quicker than the Russians retreated. For us, a life of pain and fear began.

Every one of us wished to survive if it were not too late- but where do you run with small children and the elderly?

Who knows what awaits us in Russia? In the meantime, we sat in our homes and the days dragged on like an eternity. Our neighbours, in the meantime, left us in peace. They were too busy looting whatever the Russians left behind. Each day that passed peacefully, we thanked G-D. Far worse, was when night approached. Every sound of the wheels over the stone bridge rang out so loudly in the silence of the night and this really affected our nerves.

June 27, 1941. The first German forces advanced to Kobylnik. A part of the Christian villagers greeted the Germans with great hospitality, and we, the Jews, hid ourselves in holes and whatever hiding places we could find. It was a very warm evening and the air was suffocating. It was Erev Shabbes.

There was not a visible candlelight from any Jewish home. Everyone was hiding and we were scared of our own shadows. Later in the evening, some of us were brave enough to step out and gather with some of our neighbours. We couldn't believe that such a tragic situation befell us.

Suddenly, in the distance, we saw a German soldier marching towards us, tall and skinny like a herring, loaded with all sorts of weaponry. He strolled along leisurely and inspected everything around him. We remained standing in our places and decided when he got closer, that we should engage in conversation with him and gather as much information from him as possible- How will they treat the Jews. Gitl, the butcher's wife was amongst us and she spoke a little German. As he approached, we greeted him very hospitably. He was eager and willing to engage in conversation with us.

His first words were: “We've come to free you from the Jewish Communists that oppress you so badly. Our Army will bring you provisions and work. You will be able to live in peace and enjoy the fruits of your labour. We are not like the Anglo Saxons that bomb your houses and take away lives of innocent people. Consider yourselves lucky that we have freed you.” With those words, he gave us an emotional wellbeing. “What about the Jews?” we asked. He answered like a poisonous snake: ”Jews, Jews,” he screamed wildly, “We destroy them!” And in order for us to understand his message clearly, he took out his bayonet and drew it across his throat. “This is how we deal with the Jews.”

I broke out in a cold sweat and silently, without another word, we all retreated to our homes and the German left on his own. When I arrived back home, I was restless and could not find any comfort. I lay down in my bed, but it took some time before I fell asleep. From that evening on, our days were filled with fear and tension.

 

Bloody Wednesday

Wednesday the 2nd of July 1941 the first German mechanised division appeared and continued for several days and nights. The army was streaming in from all directions. Wednesday the 9th of July we experienced the first step of the German might. They commanded all Jewish men to come and fill in a huge hole in the middle of the market place which previously served as a reservoir for petrol. A large crowd of Christians, mainly “vastachne” - former Russian jailed criminals who worked on the air field and were left behind after the retreat of the soviet military - greeted the Jews with a hail of stones, defamatory comments, mocking laughter and anti-Semitic remarks. They began to beat them up and forced them to move faster, and ridiculed and mocked the frightened group of Jews. They selected 4 men against whom the local Christian residents had a grudge, led them to a little forest near the town, and shot them. This brought out in us a terrible rage and bitterness. We were very depressed and couldn't stop talking about it. We called that day bloody Wednesday.

Name of the victims: Shimon Tsefanes, Rivka Gordon from Gluboki Rotshay.

From that day on our positions became even more horrific and sorrowful. The greatest source of our suffering came mainly from our neighbours who shed our blood and could do with us whatever they pleased. No one stood in their way and they carried on unrestrained in their bloodletting. I have to say that that we would have had a much longer period of quiet, almost several months, if not for our bloody neighbours who didn't miss an opportunity to betray and persecute us. Many a time they were worse than the Germans. They embittered our lives without let-up. They taunted, jeered and made our lives a living hell. Power was taken over by the nationalists who longingly awaited this opportune moment. They readily forgot the enemy of yesterday who decimated their nation and country. They chose to serve the Nazis.

 

Pogrom and the Burning at the Stake

Friday the 11th of July 1941 the local Christians organized a Pogrom against us. Friday evening they forced their way into the synagogue and fell upon us at prayer. It was a murderous assault sparing no one. They destroyed everything , damaged/defiled the holy ark, tore up the Sefer Torahs and trampled them underfoot in the middle of the street. The lectern, the wall clock, the chandeliers, even the windows and doors – they destroyed everything. The ferocity of the attack took us by surprise. We could not believe that past neighbours whom we had known all these years could do such a thing.

But that was only the beginning of our persecution. The following day they forced more Shtetl Jews to collect the remainder in a pile and set it alight. With wild laughter and hysterical joy they looked on at the flaming pyre. The glowing ash and blackened leaves flew off far into the sky and we, the observant Jews, had to witness this shameful act. Every day they thought of something else for us to endure. Outrage followed outrage till they broke our morale to such an extent that we accepted what they meted out and prayed to God that the situation shouldn't worsen.

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Shameful Badge

With each change of administration, which happened quite often, we had to carry out something else, without knowing what they wanted from us. Shortly after we were forced to wear the yellow patch/badge of shame which so terribly humiliated us. We were thus marked immediately as though we were the biggest criminals. Soon after we were forbidden to walk on the pavements but had to walk in the road like all four-legged animals. In addition, we had to work very hard and be at everyone's beck and call. We were like slaves: wherever anything had to be done we had to be ready. They worked us day and night without respite. We had no say in the matter. Furthermore, we were not allowed to leave town on pain of death – or be seen at the market making a purchase. We were forbidden to talk to Christians or have any business dealings with them. The Christians were also liable to be punished for any contact with us. Those were the circumstances in which we had to live, harassed and persecuted.

 

Every Day Brought New Outrages

Before we could regain our composure from all the forgoing worries/ tribulations we had to face our incorporation into a ghetto. This truly distressed us terribly. We walked around, broken and stressed out. We tried to revoke the decree but at this point a strange coincidence happened. It was necessary for us to occupy a certain side street and the Christian residents of that street refused to leave their houses. They objected most vigorously and thanks to that we were left in peace. But because of that all the richer Jews were driven out of their houses and they jammed 2 families into each house. Also we had to paint a Mogen-Dovid (Star of David) on each house to indicate that a Jew lived there.

We were very upset, because every time there was a change in military command we had to be ready to accept all sorts of mischief. Still, we were happy with the fact that we were not thrust into a Ghetto. Our wives could come to us and discuss things concerning our livelihood. Also, we were able to sneak out of our houses and organize our lives. At that time we were also able to help the various refugees who escaped from the Lithuanian murderers and were looking for a place of safety. Many of them hid out with us; others were sent to neighbouring Ghettos.

 

Hooligan Greb and His End

Even so, we were able to control some of the streets and we enjoyed some peace and quiet because the Gestapo hadn't established themselves and the military was still in charge. For the most part we had to endure our murderous neighbours. Outstanding in this respect was a certain hooligan called Greb. He spoke a good German and because of it he had connections everywhere. More than anyone else he embittered our lives. He was avoided by every one of us. He would extort from us as much as possible. He would approach one of us and say that we were, on the list to be killed, but he Greb, intervened on our behalf and would like something in return for his trouble. We tried not to give but, of course, he was given.

In particular he was a frequent visitor at the tailor Joseph Steingart. He had everything done for nothing. In addition, he was to provide information from the Judenrat. Greb also demanded certain amounts of money from the Judenrat and they had no option but to give. We just didn't know what to do about him. We tried various ways to get rid of him because of our dejection. It was difficult to confront him openly.

Nonetheless there was something we could do. I once suggested to Yavnovitch “may he rest in peace” that there wasn't any point in bribing the pig. I gave him various suggestions but he only laughed at me and said, “If you are such a hero go and do something.” Everyone can be a hero, literally “a hero behind the oven,” an armchair hero. Obviously, it wasn't easy but in the end they accepted what I said at that time. At that time the commandant was former Polish police officer. He could be bought. Furthermore, he had a personal grudge against Greb, because he and the Polish hooligans couldn't communicate with the German murderers. Greb ruled the roost. They even began to fear him and that sickened them. It was decided that when Greb came to the tailor to ask for things from the Judenrat he should bring a request in writing because the Judenrat did not believe the tailor. And that is how it really happened. Friday evening he came with a prepared list of clothing which included riding boots, a warm lumber jacket, laundry linen for the wife, felt boots and galoshes, and many other things. He was plied with drink and became quite inebriated and cheerful. He began to curse the police and the Germans in the strongest terms. As he came outside, loaded from head to toe with all the items, the police were waiting for him and grabbed him and sent him off to the ends of the earth. All our enemies end up this way.

 

Blood Libel About Vileyke

For a short period we were able to breathe more freely. But that didn't last very long. The bloodthirsty enemies were always on the lookout for ways to disturb and embitter our lives. At that time libellous and false rumours circulated. When the Soviets were in power there were many prisoners in the old Vileyka jail. When the Soviets retreated and left the town, they killed off all political prisoners in the most horrific way. So the rumour was that this was done by the Jews.

The locals said it was time to settle scores with the “Zhids”- the Jews. A huge worked-up crowd went to visit Vileyka, hoping to find friends or family. We awaited their return anxiously. We tried to appeal to the local priest, but he didn't promise anything. Sunday, the 27th of July 1941 we were expecting a bloody Pogrom. The local hooligans were roaming the streets, armed with knives and iron bars. Many gentiles from the surrounding villages joined the locals. The enraged mob was only waiting for a sign. So we hurried to the German military commandant who was stationed just outside the Shtetl. He sent off 2 soldiers armed with rifles, and they dispersed the wild enraged mob. We managed to get a short breathing space, and this time had to endure the only trauma of fear. In any case our fate was sealed.

 

Pain and Rage

Saturday evening the start of the 9th of Av “Tisha B' Av,” 2nd of August 1941, we once again experienced a scary moment. As usual we stood around our houses chatting and hoping to get things off our chests. There was a constant march of military towards the front. All of a sudden there was turmoil and chaos as the local police went chasing Jews and every man captured was taken to the first station building. Every one of us scattered looking for a hiding place. I was chased by a policeman on a bicycle but I was fortunate enough to avoid him by closing myself in a toilet. He searched for me everywhere but I, thank God, was lucky and only suffered a moment of fear. All those who were herded into the first station were beaten and tortured. In the morning they were forced to march to work and sing. Some prominent Gentiles intervened on their behalf, for which they were well paid. After a few days and more suffering they were freed.

A short time after, they arrested the ritual slaughterer Abraham Goldzeger. A hooligan from the Shtetl was especially harsh on the ritual slaughterer and bugged the life out of him. We tried every opening to have him released, showered money and jewellery on them. Eventually, he was freed.

There was great joy in the Shtetl for we knew that we had saved him from certain death. In this way we had to endure daily terror, daily libels, and anxiety for the coming day. In addition, we had a heavy work load. There was no end to what we had to give away as bribery. Everyone had to be paid off, everyone had to be bribed. Even so, we thanked God for each day that we found ourselves alive and well. The festival days were drawing closer, but who had time for festivals. They were marred and awash with our blood. We were forced to work on Yom Kippur. The evening we were holed up in our houses and didn't dare to poke our noses outside. Many of the houses had their windows broken by the hooligans, and the children were terrorized/ frightened out of their skins. We shed bitter tears over our sorrowful fate and begged God to have pity on us. This is how we passed our Yom Kippur. In spite of that we were thankful that we were still all together.

 

A Horrific Murder

As if we hadn't had enough, we had a horrible Sukkoth. That happened on 5th October 1941. It was a Saturday evening. A day earlier, that is Shabbat, we heard a rumor that a punishment detachment arrived from the nearby Shtetl of Svir – nobody knew why – but our instincts told us that it didn't auger well for our community. Regrettably the Jews of Svir did not tell us who we had to deal with. It later transpired that they had paid a large sum of money to buy themselves out.

The majority of the Jewish population stayed at home, because to walk the streets without being employed was extremely dangerous. At night the exhausted little town slept well enough. For us the night was a very short respite. The Shtetl gentiles, led by the mayor, gathered in the hall and decided our fate - who is to live and who is to die. Who could possibly imagine this diabolical plan they were about to carry out? Who could possibly believe that today, for many of us, it could be our last Shabbat? Early on Sunday I went outside to see what was happening in the Shtetl, for I didn't have a restful night. I am sure the same held true for others because whenever we met in the street the standard question was, “What did you hear today?” To my surprise I saw exactly what I had anticipated. A large band of armed German murderers made their way to the Jewish homes and dragged the Jews out onto the street. They weren't allowed to take anything but a small package. In answer to the question where were they being taken they were told that they were just waiting for special wagons to take them to work at Poligon around Podbrodz. In the meantime they led them to the fire station and shut them in. The rest of the terrorized crowd ran away wherever possible. I didn't even bother to return to the house. Dressed in a thin shirt I ran across gardens and fields straight into the forest. We were chased by the police and the soldiers. Many of us hid out in the little village of Kupe/Kufe, at a certain Mr. Galvatsky's, a Pole who helped us enormously. A former chairman of the “ocean league”, a Polish patriot, he harboured a passionate hatred against the Germans. For several weeks he hid 2 Jewish families who came from Warsaw. He was reprimanded, told not to stand up for the Jews, and was forced to withdraw his help. Personally, I had no intention of running with the others. I found a hollow amidst the tall grass and saplings in the forest and lay there till night fall. Broken and drained I lay in that hole. I had lost all feelings in my limb. Terrible and disturbing thoughts occupied my mind. Where was I to go? What was I to do? Not willingly the thought came to my mind that today is Sukkoth, that wonderful holiday.        

Evening fell. I came out of my hiding place. I crawled on fours so no one would notice me. I stood up and ran and didn't feel the soil beneath me. I go into the village looking for my Christian friend. When he saw me, he was more frightened than me and didn't let me in because he was afraid. He told me to go into the barn where he was not responsible. Go find his barn. It was pitch black. I tried to go back. Wandering through the gardens I found a hut on four poles. I went into the hut. It protected me from the wind, but even more important, from people.

I remained in the hut for 24 hours until the next evening. I didn't think I would make it. The cold, hunger and lack of sleep were torture.

I was very worried. I had no idea where to go. I struggled with my thoughts and heard barking from my hut. A dog was chasing a cat and ripping the world with his barking. Hearing the noise, the farmer came out to see what was going on. He searched until he found a man. He calmed me down, and told me not to be afraid; he told me to remain there. He brought me a piece of black bread and told me to eat it. Now I had no rest. He now knew my hiding place. No more secret.

Since it was still night, I left immediately. I went to my farmer and told him what happened to me. He let me in and told me to climb up on to the oven. I could warm up and he would bring me food. When it got really dark he took me to his barn and told me to climb up into the hay and bury myself deep so no one could see me. He gave me something to cover myself with and I tried to go to sleep; unfortunately I couldn't because big rats were running around. I covered myself so I couldn't hear them and fell asleep.

In the morning, when the Christians brought me a basket of food, I asked if the woman could do me a favour. I asked her to go to the Shtetl and see what was doing there and to find out what happened to my household. She promised she would go and I waited with great impatience to hear what news she would bring. At noon she came and told me what transpired in town. She calmed me and told me not to fear: everything was as it was; people were going to work as usual. She told me who was killed and told me now I could calmly go home. I went home through side paths and fields. When we met, it was as if I returned from the other side. The joy was great, but the pain in my heart was greater – How long will this tragedy last?

 

The Slaughter

The people who were led into the fire station were killed behind the town near the Christian cemetery. Everyone had to get down on their knees facing the graves. They opened fire and shot from behind. Those who were later forced to cover them recounted horrifying scenes. Many were still alive and suffered great pain before they died. Children ran around half shot in the grave and wailed bitterly. A mother wanted to save her 3 month old baby. She wrapped him up and placed him among the trees. Maybe someone would have pity on him. But he began to cry. A murderer heard and ended his life.

The horrible events broke us so badly, we could not recover. The despair, the destruction was so great. No words to describe, no comfort.

Here is a list of the martyrs who perished in the first massacre: Itskhaq Kravtzinki, his wife, mother-in-law, parents and children. His son Efroikin saved himself because he was part of the group who dug the mass grave and covered it up. He literally saw his whole family perish.

Kumel 3 persons

Shnayderowitch 4 persons

Todres Yehudit and child, 2persons - her husband ran away

Mosheh Botvinik, Chaya Leha Simes, and 2 children: 4 persons

Levitan Fride, 2 children and the brother - her husband managed to save himself that time but later on perished in the Glubok Ghetto.

Meyir Gantovnik, his wife and child: 3 persons

Kasovsky, the Rabbi's son-in-law, his wife and child: 3 persons

Shapiro Shrage the teacher and his family: 4 persons

Yavnovitsh Shlomo;

Grinberg Yankl Beynish wanted to take the place of his son at the graveside, so they shot him as well.

Khadesh Mine and her daughter, 2 persons

Freydke the Baker

I don't remember for certain the names of others. A few days later we were forced to collect the clothing of those who were killed. The better clothing the murderers took for themselves. Furniture and various other household items, wagons full were taken to the community hall and sold off to the gentile population for next to nothing. The gentiles were only too pleased to buy the items. They fell upon the clothing like greedy flies. Where could you get such bargains.

Monday the 13th of May 1941 several groups of Gestapo arrived and demanded from the Judenrat that in 20 minutes they should hand over gold watches, a bag of sugar, a few kilos of leather and various other things. They threatened to kill 3 men if we wouldn't comply. It goes without saying, we made the effort. What we didn't have, we bought from Christian speculators for jacked up prices. Besides that, we had to make special uniforms for the Shtetl police and for each of them a pair of boots. This is what every day cost; we were sold out. We sold all we had and bargained as much as possible.

 

Job's Announcement

Our sad life became worse when the White Russians took over. It was impossible to bear. Black clouds were descending on our heads. A new bloody wave spread through the region and one town after another was wiped out. Horrible news came our way. No pen can describe the horrible atrocities perpetrated by the White Russians murderers. If the first time the unfortunate people were running from murderous persecution that took place in Lithuania and sought protection from us, now people were running from slaughter that was happening here in White Russia and looked for protection from yesterday's murderers. Refugees arrived telling of terrible events that were taking place in Dokshitz, Dolinov,Krivitch and in many other towns. They told of the gruesome things that were done to the helpless Jews. This had a great effect on us. We knew our turn was coming; the bloody current that inundated the other region would not evade us and from that day on we trembled, how far are we from that hell? In what way are we better than those unfortunate Jews? We didn't sleep entire nights. We went around black like the earth. Everyone spied on our naked lives: Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, Lithuanians and Germans. And like this, in fear, the summer disappeared.

A very strong, difficult winter arrived. With the frost, snow and storms we hoped perhaps the winter would conquer the enemy. Things did become a bit easier. They left us alone for a short time. We heard they were falling like flies by the thousands from the cold on the front. We were comforted by this. We were hopeful that we would soon be redeemed.

Friday, January 2nd, 1942 we received an order that everyone had to go clean the road that goes from Minsk to Vilna. For us this was a sign that they were retreating. We had to fight hard against snow storms and frost until late at night! As diligently as we worked, we had no idea how to fight the wild storm winds – after a few minutes there was no sign left of our hard work, just mountains of snow! But we were happy that our suffering would soon be over! But the winter passed and our hopes faded.

 

A Case With a Priest

This case happened with the local priest. He took various things from Dovid Leyb Svirsky to hide. As much as they tormented and tortured him, the priest did not betray him and thankfully nothing happened to Svirsky. They sent the priest to old-Vilayka and tortured him until he died. Nothing helped. Not even the interceding of the entire parish.

 

Spring 1942

We were ordered to work for the Gestapo in Myadel. No one wanted to go voluntarily. It took a while until the right amount went. I also had to go.

It was just before Pesach when we made our move. Our families shed bitter tears and bemoaned our fate as though we were already dead, not knowing our fate. I worked as a painter which was my trade. The others had to do all sorts of menial work. After a week I was returned home, the others remained to carry on their work. Spring arrived and with it fresh worries and fears.

Power was handed over to the murderous White Russian authorities and our fate was in their hands. Neither money nor our tearful entries moved them. Our lives and fortunes belonged to them and we depended on their mercy.

The Story of Refugees and Horrific Murder

The 30th of May 1942 a week after Shvues ( Shavuot). At a time of glorious summer days, beautiful days of sunshine and warmth. For those unfortunates who were driven from their homes, the warm summer brought some short relief. It presented them with opportunities to escape their horrible fate. Anyone who possibly could, did so. Among those who were in search of a safe haven were a number of Jews from Krivitch, who arrived in the middle of the night from Myadel, over the lake of Narach, hoping to stay with Khone Dimentshtein. However not knowing where they lived they happened to knock on the door of Aaron-Leib Naratzki, asking where Khone lived. Instead of taking them there he gave them directions and they went to look for him themselves. Eventually they found a close neighbour of Khone, a gentile by the name of Mazur, who showed them where Khone lived. The same Mazur later betrayed them to the police and himself became a policeman and boasted about the atrocities he committed against us.

Saturday after lunch the Shtetl was shocked to learn the news that Khone's house was surrounded by a group of policemen. The house was locked but they broke the door down and

found 3 frightened Jews who they immediately, took under strict guard – their hands held high – to the police. We tried to do something. We poured out money, ran from one to another, to the mayor, to the commander, that he should have pity and should end this before the Gestapo arrived. But talking to them was like talking to the wall. They took advantage of the opportunity. The commander, Smolensky, may his name be erased, was a horrible tyrant – “You and your money belong to me,” – he would say. The Shtetl Jews did not sleep all night. Sunday afternoon the Gestapo arrived. They immediately ordered us to take five hostages until Khone was found. They gave a deadline until the next morning for him to appear.

This is where the tragedy began. We ran through the fields looking for Khone and couldn't find him anywhere, just his wife Esther. The entire night the Shtetl was wrapped in sorrow. Neighbours were running from one to the other in despair, tearing their hair out, crying and wailing. Not caring it was late at night, they knocked on all doors where they thought there would be an opportunity to help. One more hour and the executioner would begin his rule. We had already lost hope.

The five hostages were: my brother-in-law Reuven Shteyngard (he was sick and they pulled him out), Yitzchak Yavnovich (he was later freed in Esther's place), Yosef Yablonovich, Khaim Reider, Yakov, Yosef's son-in-law, and Berger – a young boy.

At dawn, when the shepherd let us know it was time to bring the cattle to the field, the murderers slaughtered 8 young Jews. When the Shtetl awoke, it was all over.

 

Infanticide

As it appears the murderers were not yet satiated with our blood. Three days later they demanded the wives and the children of those killed because the men were Communists and they too should be killed. There was great despair. Helpless, we had to watch in silence. Women and children also had to fall to the demands of our killers: Adke Reider with 2 children and Muneh Khane with 2 children. We tried to hide my brother-in-law's children and when the murderers couldn't find them they came up with a devilish plan. They took my wife and two children and if we didn't deliver my brother-in-law's children, they would kill my children and my wife.

Monday, June 8th 1942. My brother-in-law's 2 children were shot. Who had the strength to endure this?! We spoke about this tragedy for some time. There was a lot to say until the next tragedy. The sad times got worse. We didn't know what tomorrow would bring. Without a future, without hope, physically exhausted with swollen eyes from tears, with broken hearts, we walked around. A murderer named Arshe excelled in his cruelty. He was the substitute for commander Smolensky and wanted to stand out among his friends. Every evening he fell upon the Jewish homes and pronounced they were hiding partisans. He bloodily beat his victims. Everyone was afraid to stay home. He particularly put a tight squeeze on Yosef the butcher's old father. He lived in Shul and Arshe would come there every evening, drunk, to harass and extort with a variety of vexations. He would ask him for money and other things every day. He didn't give him any rest. If Yosef's father managed to hide and couldn't be found, the next day would be worse. “Where were you”? – was his question. “You were taking food to the Partisans.” Once he asked him to dance on the table. After, the scoundrel peed on the table and made the old man lick it. This is how, as a beast, he tortured his victims.

 

Summer 1942

The month of July brought in the glorious summer days, but how could we enjoy that when we were harassed and forced to do hard labour. Many worked for the Gestapo in Myadel. Some worked with the administration but most of them worked in the adjacent courtyard. Everyone who worked hoped that the work would save him. Everyone was looking for a more secure workplace. Those who worked for the admin commander were quite well off. But an infernal fire started and sparks were flying everywhere.

On a certain day the Germans sent one of their people, David Glat, to the former Polish commandant, Srafin. They entrusted him with a firm dealing in silver foxes that previously belonged to the Jews Joseph Khadesh and Leyb Gilman. They requested a fox hide but instead of handling the hide, the Polak chased the Jew out and came back empty handed. The Germans came themselves and took many more hides. From that moment the Polak harboured great anger especially against Khadash. He got together with the police and asked Khadash and Glat to come to the police station. They beat them up so badly, they were unrecognizable. Glat went to work the following day. When the Germans saw his condition they began to interrogate him. They wanted to know how it happened. He was reluctant to tell them fearing what the Poles might do to him. But they insisted and in the end he told them everything. Enraged the Germans hurried to the Pole and asked: “What's going on? You dare to beat up one of our workers.” The situation caused great concern. The mayor immediately called the Gestapo to come and stabilize the situation. As soon as they arrived the Poles pretended to be investigating the incident. The mayor twisted the facts, implied that it had to do with Communism, and they were allowed to do as they pleased.

They really showed what they could. Thursday afternoon they began to romp and run around the Shtetl, and anyone they caught they brought to the police. They brought Gliyat and Khadash again and this time they almost killed them. Yosl's wife and daughter were also arrested; Gliyat's wife ran away and her children remained with her brother-in-law Avrom Kievski, a professional tailor. With him were a little boy of 3 years and a little girl 6 months old. Every minute the panic grew.

I then lived near a Christian in a back house. I couldn't see anything that was going on in the Shtetl. One Christian woman called me in to her home to stay with her. From there I could see everything through the window. I remained glued to the window. This had a huge effect on me. I became ill from nerves and I had to lie down for a while. I don't know how long I lay for. The Christian woman woke me up. She stood beside me. She was very pale and asked me to leave as quickly as possible because they were going from house to house – and if they found me there, she would suffer.

This was fate. I could have easily gotten out of this situation but I became confused. I lost myself and fell into their hands. My wife and children were also with me but I didn't strike anyone. I was very scared. As I went I walked and thought that I won't let them kill me easily.

 

In the Chambers of the Inquisition

They brought me to a small, dark room. The windows were covered with bars, the door was locked tight. In the room lying on the floor and suffering were Yosl the butcher and Mendl's Dovid Hirsh. Also Yosl's wife Beylke and her daughter stood nearby and were consoling the unfortunate. The girl cried bitterly. This scene quickly sobered me up. I saw where I was in the world.

I tried to talk to the men about how to save ourselves, how to disarm the 2 guys that came in, and run away. But unfortunately they were more like skeletons than men. A few minutes later they brought in a certain Zelig Naratsky, a refugee from Podbrodz, who was saved from the last slaughter. When I saw him, I felt a little better. I presented my plan to murder the two. There was a brick oven beside us. I took two bricks and planned to honour them. Just then, a policeman named Hilman enter the room. He examined our pockets. Zelig gave him a pocket watch and was let go; I remained, but my plan failed.

Sitting worried and broken, a deathly pallor filled the room. We could only hear the heavy sighs of those beaten. A short while later they brought in Yosl's father and Yakov the tanner; they also brought in a few women and soon after the ritual slaughterer. The slaughterer appeared pale and depressed, but he tried to console us, to have hope in God. We all sat on the floor, waiting in fear, not knowing what would happen next.

A half hour later we heard heavy footsteps in the corridor, and the jingling of keys. We all gathered together. They entered and began to lead us one by one into a side room. Soon it was my turn. I was extremely depressed and hoped the end would come soon. After a short pause, the murderer Arshe came and told me to go with him. They took me to a room and asked me to stand by the wall. The other guy hit me from behind and I fell with my face to the wall. (That was the murderer Mitke.) They hit me from left to right, and I was confused. They let go of me and threw me with wild outrage into a cell. Broken, beaten and ground up like apples, we lay on the bare ground. Some recited confessions of Yom Kippur. Again, we heard wild drunken voices and again the two murderers were in front of us. Here began the frightful inquisition. They carried out the most vulgar, twisted acts. They commanded the old butcher Yosl's father to stand and we had to rip the hair from his beard. When it was my turn, I pretended to pull hard. This did not please the murderer. He beat me viciously and tore the beard himself.

The old man stood motionless, didn't even groan, and the murderer stood with a handful of silver hair. When this ended they ordered Dovid Glat to pull down his pants, and if you'll excuse me, we all had to kiss him. The bandit stood and watched to make sure we all really did it. After this, another scene. The old men were forced to dance with women. Who can even explain this horrible indignity?

Satisfying their wild instincts, they let us be. A dead silence filled the room. No one dared to break the silence. Suddenly we once again heard voices and keys jingling. The same Arshe came in and began to look among us. He pulled me out and told me to go with him. Petrified, nothing mattered to me, as long as the end to this suffering came quickly. He took me to the back door and told me to quickly disappear and never tell anyone what took place. I couldn't believe what was happening, if this was true. Without feeling my pain, I ran home. No one was home. The door was open. I closed it from outside. I went in through the window. I lay down on my bed and applied cold compresses on my body. I didn't sleep a wink due to pain and fear. I lay there and thought about the whole experience I just lived through.

The next morning Yosl, his wife, child and the ritual slaughterer were all shot. The murderers were not satisfied with this, so they demanded Dovid's wife. They ordered a search for her; they went to look throughout the villages. When they didn't find Glat's wife, they took her two children.

We experienced more difficult sad times. We didn't feel safe sleeping at home. My wife came a few days later; she was hiding in a cornfield with 2 small children, didn't eat and became faint from thirst. She had to give the children water. They drank from a shoe instead of a bowl.

Tuesday afternoon my uncle had to take his niece and nephew to the slaughter, a 3 year old boy and a 6 month old girl. He had to sit, witness it and bury them. It wasn't easy to shoot the boy. They had to throw toys and when he ran after them, they shot him in the back. It was easier with the baby. They lay her on the grass and put a bullet in her head. This was all carried out by the murderer Mazor.

 

Dark Clouds Over Head

A short time later they called Sholem Yavnovich, the eldest on the Judenrat to a regional council. We were all very frightened. Who knows what they will do with him? He brought us sad news. The picture he presented was that the last group of Jews in Vilayke were living in conditions impossible to describe. Suffering, hunger and poverty ruled. You don't see any Jews in the area. All the towns that once had such a vibrant Jewish life were devastated. The regional commissioner ordered we give money – a lot; this overtook all previous contributions. With the best intentions, we could not raise the money.

At that time a few Jews remained in towns in the area like: Myadel, Kobylnik, Fastov, Glubok. We understood well that our turn had come.

The situation in Myadel worsened. The Kobylnik Jews who worked there let us know in a variety of ways. One wrote to his wife that he's going to collect berries in the forest, an insinuation she should know what to do. A second person recounted that the local mayor confided to the Myadel Judenrat that soon the turn will come for the 2 towns and they should be saved. Thanks to this, many Myadel Jews were saved.

This was sad because we did not know what to do. Saturday, September 19th, a day before Yom Kippur, we were once again trembling. The Jews of Myadel ran to the forests, but the Kobylnik Jews came home. We were helpless and didn't know what to do. Some ran to Christian friends. They hid them at great cost. The rest awaited their fate.

We were awake all night, everyone sitting on his bags, sad and exhausted. We asked God to let the night last as long as possible. It was a cool night. The moon shone through the window. Somewhere a baby awoke and woke up the dreamers. The other side of the street was brightly lit, and from there we heard wild, drunken laughter.

In the morning the town looked like after a battle. You didn't see anyone. Some people were at work; some families ran away. My wife went out to see what happened but she had to quickly turn back. She heard from my good Christian friends that today would be the final slaughter in our town. My wife took the children and left town. We didn't know if we should believe them. Perhaps they just wanted to make us feel bad? I went to the yard. Those who saw me realized something was wrong. I told them what was in store for us that day. They were petrified, indifferent.

 

Extermination Day

Ten o'clock in the morning, a resolution was passed. White Russian police and Gestapo surrounded our town. They asked the Jewish elders to go from house to house and tell everyone to gather in the Shul, because they were going to make a Ghetto. They also came to the yard, told us to stop working and help people move to the Ghetto. Sadly, the people blindly followed the orders.

I immediately escaped to the forest with three other Kobylnik Jews: Golda's Feyge, Shloyme's Rashke and Moishe's Pinke. Soon after, we heard the shooting at the people who tried to run away.

Now the question before us: What's next? Where do we go? What do we do? We tried to find a place to spend the night. We wandered from village to village. No one let us in. Everyone feared us. We had to lie down in the middle of the field because all the barns were locked. The Christians were ordered to do this, so we could not enter and hide. It was cold. We barely closed our eyes, and we were awake again. One of us was missing. Moishe's Pinke left to find himself a place.

I remained with two girls. We wandered an entire day through the village Sirmezh. The village magistrate pointed out that we should hide because they will catch us and shoot us.

The next day my wife arrived with our 2 children and another girl, Yisroel the blacksmith's daughter. We decided to go to the Svir Ghetto. My wife told me what was going on in our town. They shot my brother-in-law Tuvye. He was working then in the bakery. He escaped through the window and they shot him. The whole town gathered in the marketplace. The professionals and their families were sent to Myadel and the rest to “Dam Ludavi”- to the slaughter. My dear sister Khaya-Soreh together with her daughter Rokhele, a ten year old girl, submitted. She was hiding, but when she heard her husband was shot she totally lost it and went to the murderers: What happens to everyone, will happen to me.

 

Where Does One Find Strength?

Where does one find the strength to describe everything? Where can one find the courage? I will share a few tragic episodes.

At the time of the selection, right and left, in other words, who lives and who dies – the despair was enormous. No one wanted to die. One man, a glazier by trade, Yohushua Yanovsky, remained as a worker and was able to bring a wife and children. He has three sisters and an old mother. Everyone wants to live. Everyone is dear to him. Menukha has three small children. A few days earlier her husband was shot. The second is pregnant. The third also want to live. He doesn't know what to do. Time is running short. No time for deliberation. Everyone's eyes are on the brother. What remains for him to do – you be the judge.

A second case: Eliyahu-Moyshe Gordon, a harness maker by trade, has parents. He could take with him a wife and children. Everyone stretched out their hands toward him for help; he must struggle with the desperate crowd. Everyone wants to live, begging him with tears to save them. Who knows who will be among the fated?

A brother took his sister as a wife. A brother-in-law took his sister-in-law, all to save a life. The lucky ones judged themselves on the way. The unfortunate, ended up in “Dam Ludavi.” People bid one another farewell and asked those who may manage to survive to take revenge for their blood. Remember that bloody Yom Kippur, Monday September 21, 1942.

 

In the Svir Ghetto

When night fell we set off for Svir. Twenty kilometres from Kobylnik, we slept over at a farmer's house. The next morning we arrived at a small courtyard in Lithuanian territory. It was quiet. Here the Jews worked in the yards and didn't know from hunger and fear. We rested for a few hours. They cried bitterly over our catastrophe and then we continued on our way. In the evening we arrived in Balkeve, 3 kilometres from Svir. Here we also came across many working Jews. They did not live too badly and they did not have to endure the fear of the Ghetto. The next morning a girl led us along side roads to the Svir Ghetto.

Arriving in the Svir Ghetto I became very sad. There beside the lake was the whole Jewish “Centre” with its poverty and suffering. There were small wooden houses with three families per house. There was also no lack of Jewish oppressors and guards who blindly fell into the hands of our executioners. The Jews of Svir were not very happy with our arrival. They were afraid and constantly reminded us to leave. It became worse when the amount of refugees from Kobylnik rose.

There were four of us from my family, Kagan, Mendl Leyb's son-in-law, Bene's Sorke with 2 chidren, Kipke, Libe Malkeh, Khiene Krukov, Shmulke Yanovsky with the ritual slaughterer's son, Herzl, Dovid Leb Svirsky's child, Yisroel the blacksmith with his daughter Shloime's Raitze, my 2 sisters-in-law Khane-Khave and Sheyne Basha.

Every day I went to work in Balkeve digging potatoes. Others did the same work. I settled in and perhaps could have lived, but it was not permitted.

 

Saturday September 10th

At work in Balkeve, to my surprise, I saw all the Jews from Kobylnik worried and desperate. I believe, this was a made up prank, how to get rid of the unwanted refugees. Someone who worked for the Lithuanian police told the Judenrat that the police know everything, and they are warning the Svir Jews to get rid of the refugees; if not, they will carry the responsibility for the consequences that might emerge. Understandably, this was a way to get rid of the Kobylniks. We had to leave Svir and everyone left looking for a place to go. The majority went to Mikhalishok. Me and Kipke stayed in Balkeve for a few days to work. But this became more difficult due to a denunciation and we faced grave consequences. In the evening, a young man took us with a boat to the Svir Ghetto.

 

Perpetual Wandering…

While in the Ghetto I never met anyone from Kobylnik. Everyone disappeared except my 2 children and Khiene, an older woman. When the Judenrat saw me, they would not leave me alone and told me to leave the Ghetto immediately, even though it was very late at night and leaving meant for us a sure death. How many times did I ask them to let me stay the night and I would leave first thing in the morning. Nothing helped. A policeman accompanied us. There was a boy from Warsaw with us. He had been in Kobylnik and now did everything with us. I don't know how I managed to get out. We went into a nearby house, went right up to the attic and spent the night. In the morning I received a saw and an axe, and we went to the mill. There were a few Svir families working there and we told them the Svir Judenrat sent us to work. We settled in but not for long. There was a woman, Shaya Yose's Khavke. She knew what kind of “criminals” we were and told everyone. That evening we were told to disappear. We went to a woman farmer, but we were asked to leave there as well. We had no idea what to do. I decided to go to Mikhalishok to look for “luck”.

 

In the Mikhalishok Ghetto

Taking side roads through fields, forests, and far off paths we set out searching for a new “home.” At nightfall we arrived in Olkhovke, a few kilometres from Mikhalishok. There were many Jews working there in a paper factory, and thanks to them, Wednesday, October 15th, I arrived in Mikhalishok Ghetto.

In the Ghetto I found Kagan and his family, Benie's Soreh and her 2 children. Later, when the Svir Ghetto was dissolved, Khiene arrived along with Herzl the ritual slaughterer's son, Svirsky's son and also Moishe's Shmulke.

I continued to have experiences suffering as a Jew and as a refugee. The crowdedness was catastrophic. It was good that it was winter, as a great plague would have surely broken out.

Jews from the area were forcibly rounded up and brought to Mikhalishok Ghetto. There were many refugees from Vilna and other places. I received a small room for me and my family. There were already 3 families living there. We slept on the table and under the table. I slept on the floor in the corner. It was filthy and cramped. We all had lice and scabies. It was unbearable. It was not a peaceful household. People fought for a small spot. They fought over a pot. Everyone was nervous and exhausted. Even in Mikhalishok we had no rest. They wanted us to leave the Ghetto. I went to work every day just so they would leave us in peace. After work I had to go earn our bread. I served everyone. I sawed wood, emptied toilets, heated baths. We had enough bread.

This is how we spent our time. Our situation worsened when the front got closer. They brought the Jews even closer together and the overcrowded conditions got worse.

Friday November 17, the Judenrat ordered us to leave Mikhalishok. “Is Mikhalishok the only Ghetto?” “Go,” they said. Nobody wants us anywhere. With tears we offered our apologies, but thanks to the powerful blows the murderers received from the Russians, the front moved even closer.

The horrible news we received really embittered life in Mikhalishok. We heard what had happened to the 12 thousand Jews in Gluboki Ghetto. We heard about Bialystok and about Warsaw. We were also frightened when we heard about the Oshmien Jews. Four hundred were killed by the Vilna Jewish police under the administration of Gens. Heads were demanded and they had to deliver. Gens was supposed to visit Mikhalishok Ghetto. I feared the day. I went to work just not to stay home; who knows why he came?

He came to calm the mood. He told us to go to work and do everything demanded of us, not to run to the forests, not to give our enemy the opportunity to kill us – also not to have children. We needed to have patience. Mikhalishok Ghetto is known by the regime, and we can be assured that nothing will happen. But it was clear to all that neither Gens nor all the other providers could help. They talked in order to mislead us, so we wouldn't have the will to save ourselves.

The Judenrat and the police meanwhile did their own thing. Sent people to work, kept order, took away the will of the executioners. But here they already prepared the gallows. A short time after Gens' visit they ordered the Mikhalishok Judenrat to come to Vilna. The Ghetto was worried and nervous about what could be planned. We counted the days and did not count on good news.

Saturday February 27th they told us that Vilna Ghetto needed from us 100 men to work. Again, a panic ensued. Who knew who would be among the 100. No one wanted to go. Thus began the protection, searches and bribes. People were prepared to pay, just not to have to go. The panic lasted an entire week. Meanwhile the police went from house to house deciding who would go. Me and Kagan were among the 100. We knew the refugees would be the scapegoats. Poor people and other unfortunate Mikhalishok Jews, took their hands off their hearts. Everyone received some flour or peas, felt boots and a short jacket. As it happened, it was good. For us it was luck, because the fate of Mikhalishok Ghetto had already been sealed when Gens was there. A short time later they were supposed to take 5 thousand Jews from Mikhalishok to the Kovno Ghetto. At the last minute, they took them to Ponar and killed them all.

Saturday March 6th a few trucks came for us from Vilna with members of TODT Organization[1] and a few Jewish police. The chaos was great. They dragged us from the houses and beat us. Zagar couldn't say good bye to his family; it was an angry rush.

On our way various thoughts came to me: Vilna! - I didn't share this with Zagar- another Ghetto, different worries. What lies ahead?

 

kob182.jpg
[Some] of the Nazi atrocities

 


Footnote

  1. TODT Organization was a German construction firm founded by Dr. Fritz Todt. As a loyal Nazi sympathizer, he used Jewish slave labour for his extensive construction projects in all the occupied territories, including miles of Russian railways. Return


[Pages 183-186]

Murderers – Murderers of Children

by Meir Swirsky, Engineer – Haifa

Translated by Janie Respitz

Edited by Toby Bird

 

kob183.jpg

 

It was a beautiful summer day in Kobylnik, July 1942. No Jew in town was in any condition to describe the beauty of this place once called home. People's heads were not there, nor their thoughts or hearts. All we see with our eyes are bitter feelings and broken hearts. Over our heads hover dreadful black clouds, which totally block the natural sunlight!

A week earlier the town experienced sad days; our town's non–Jewish police bandits showed us how capable they were in annihilating their neighbours with full independent initiative, without German help.

After days of great suffering the following were shot: Avrom Goldzeger, the ritual slaughterer; Yosef Hadash with his wife Bayle and daughter Khayke; and also, Dovid Glot. At the last moment, Dovid Glot's wife ran away from their house. Also, Yosef's son Itzik was successful in avoiding the slaughter as he was warned by Andreke, the one handed, who came specifically for this purpose to the village heap where Yitzchak was working with me. Dovid Glot left behind two small children who were taken by his brother in – law Kayevski.

Yesterday we buried our martyrs. The old cemetery now has an addition of two rows of graves – that is the new cemetery, the graves of our earlier martyrs. In continuation of the rows, we buried the most recent victims. The last one lying in the row is Dovid Glot.

This affair did not end here: Yosl the butcher and Mendl's Dovid Hirsh ( the ritual slaughterer) died “outside the row.” The local barbarians were not yet satisfied, and looked for more blood; this fate fell upon Dovid Glot's children.

In the above mentioned day, early in the evening, on Fastover Street – the street that leads to the cemetery and the street we live on – Avrom Kayevski appeared; in one hand he was holding his six–month old niece, with the other hand he was leading her three–year old brother. They are being led by the known murderer Mazor.

We see this through the window. People are dying, our breath is taken away, it's impossible to believe that our eyes are seeing this gruesome scene: the children are being led to martyrdom.

The little boy, who a year before didn't know about playing in the street, and for sure, in his short life was never there, walks his last path appearing overjoyed. The whole time he is jumping over the pavement and is happily talking to his uncle, nodding his head with his blond curls; he's not confined to his house or even his yard, but the heavy kicks from the murderer's boots silence his voice, and we see, with tears in our eyes, his movements and sweet smile.

We were witnesses to more events that took place near our house: shooting Jews in the cemetery. This was always at dawn; there would be many murderers with guns in their hands ready to shoot. Now for the first time they were bringing babies. The murderer Mazor was alone, his gun on his shoulder; he had no fear that the children would run away. He walked slowly so everyone would see his heroism; with great joy he was going to carry out his orders.

They passed our house and for a short time we saw Kayevski's face: it was totally black. The little boy is playing; but they are only 100 metres from the cemetery.

Meanwhile at home it is a very sad Yom Kippur; we are no longer hoping for miracles; none of us can help; none of us can stand it.

My mother and father who had six small children had to witness this. I am 14 years old, the eldest, my little brother Zundele just turned a year. Our fate was also sealed. This is now clearer than ever. Mother pulls Zundele to her heart. She hopes that the merits in heaven of my great grandfather Zundele will protect the small child. My father goes into another room, so we would not see his mood. Our neighbours come over. No one can look the other in the eye. A dead silence rules. Everyone is in a cold sweat. The adults are smoking potato skins; there is black smoke in the house.

The silence is broken by the first shot which hits us like thunder; our hearts are broken. Then come the second and third shots, and again a dead silence, together with deep sighs from the people who have lost hope and the will to live. All are sitting motionless.

Everyone is sure that the third shot killed Kayevski.

Night fell quickly. No one was out on the street. Life, even when it is so sad, goes on. People are returning to themselves. We even hear a word spoken. The first thought is to bury the victims so they would not lay prey for the dogs. But how does one dare go out of the house when the hooligans are drunk and celebrating their “victory” and are looking without doubt for more blood? Together with my cousin, Herzke Gordon, we go out quietly to the yard, we take shovels and we go through the gardens to the river. We go under the bridge and remain unnoticed by the murderer, the police who was standing above us on the bridge. We walked along the river to the cemetery.

The light of the moon lights up the horrific scene: the little boy is lying on his side, his hands stretched out, trying to catch the breath that was taken away from him. His smile remains on his face, his eyes are open. It seems to me as if he is resting after his playful walk. The yellow marrow spilled out beside his head of curls leaves no doubt – the little boy is dead.

His little sister is lying beside him, exactly like in her cradle. A bloody mark on her diaper shows the exact spot of the murderer's bullet. Our hearts shout out: Murderers – child murderers!!

We did not find Kayevski; he suddenly came to us while we were digging the grave; the third shot was a victory shot over the children.

Together with Dovid Glot, now lie two dear babies, the beloved and pleasant in their lives will not be separated in death.

Let all their wickedness come before Thee; and do unto them, as Thou hast done unto me… Lamentations 1:22

 

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