|In order that the later generations should know,
The children who will be born;
They should tell it over to their children
|Cry out from every grain of sand, from under every stone,
From all of the houses, cry, from all the flames, from every chimney---
It is your blood and sweat, it is the marrow of your bones
It is your heart and life! Cry out! Cry loud!
Cry out from the furnaces, cry young and old, a cry, a lamentation—
Sarah Fell Yellin
|Somewhere in a far off, yet near land,
Is a field with graves covered in green.
In a cloudy rainy dawn
How could it be? I do not comprehend: why has it happened?
Alone, standing on foreign pasture
Alone in a deathly, green world?!
I delight in the living grass
And the dainty white flowers upon the nearby grave .
All my limbs cling to me for dear life:
What am I doing here?
How did I get here?
My thoughts are as quick
As a whirlwind groping, searching for that which is mine
How dare I come to the death field alone?!
A luminous eye shines through the cloudy grey
Hey, over there, tell me to where do the green paths lead?
From the field of graves
As if Garbaska Street and the Kavkaz
On Sunday, the twenty-second of June 1941, suddenly one heard the sound of the sirens from the tallest wall of the town. It sounded like interrupted sounds of crying, throwing fear into the hearts of the population of the town. The planes flew two times around the town and turned off to the direction of Grodno.
The streets were black with people; automobiles were going back and forth throughout the town. The Red Army was worried and upset. They had received orders from army headquarters: mobilize the population!
Everyone received a draft notice and was already required to stay by the staff headquarters. The crying and commotion was great: My husband! My child! It was just like a year-and-a-half earlier. Those that were mobilized went to the town of Gross-Brestovitz, fourteen kilometers from Krynki. The commander of our group also left.
There is no discipline or order anymore. What has happened to the strong Red Army? Where are all the airplanes?
Monday, the second day of the war, there is a stream of tanks, automobiles and pedestrians leaving the town. Soldiers ask about the way to Minsk. No one stands still, everyone is running around.
On Tuesday, the militia and the N.K.V.D. are all packed and ready to leave. No one knows exactly where the front is located. Soldiers are carrying their boots on their shoulders and flee barefooted. The youth of the town gather in the market place, create and attach themselves to the fleeing army units. I am also counted amongst them.
On Sunday the twenty-second day of June 1941 at ten o'clock in the morning a number of airplanes appeared in the skies over Krynki. A number of shots were heard and an unquiet spirit already pervaded in the town.
Many thought that it was only military maneuvers they were witnessing. Others had already grasped the reality of what was actually taking place. The speech Molotov delivered on the radio at twelve o'clock made clear to everyone the true situation at hand.
Early Monday, airplanes again appeared over Krynki and bombed the periphery of the town. Very early on Tuesday, a strong bombardment commenced on the town of Krynki itself, especially of the Jewish quarter. In that bombardment the Kavkaz quarter and Zhabya Street were totally decimated with Bialistoker and Mill streets meeting only partial destruction. Also other areas such as Garabska and Elekrovnia Streets were damaged in a number of places. A number of Jewish inhabitants had already been killed such as Leibel Zak, his wife and a few others.
The vast majority of the Jews abandoned Krynki heading for the mountains and town pastures, fleeing and resting when necessary. They believed that no one would shoot at an innocent civilian population hovering in an open field.
The town was burning on all sides. It took a number of days to extinguish the fire and for a few days the town was quiet. The Russian inhabitants were the first to evacuate the town. Together with them, many Jews also left. To this very day I have no knowledge of any of them surviving the war except for Reval Rotbard.
The terrified populace was still huddled in the mountains and in the town pastures. Shabbos, the twenty-eighth of June, at nine o'clock in the morning, heavy German artillery, positioned only a few kilometers away, fired at the town pastures, which were filled solely with Jews. Fifty people were killed, and many others were wounded. Amongst the victims were: Borovsky; Chana and Necha Kirzhner, together with their mother: Zhukavitzky, the druggist, with both daughters, Roza and Tanya: L. Golinsky, the engineer: Dinah Rachkin, the wife of Shmuel Yitschak Rachkin and her three children: Feige, Esther and Abele: her sister, Mrs. Melamed with her husband and two children: and her second sister, the wife of Motke Amdursky: Mashe Kaminsky, the wife of Yisroel Kaminsky with her little son: Sloer's entire family except for the father, the wife of Dr. Lichtenstein's brother and many others. Also many Jews from Sakalke, who had fled from the front lines to Krynki, met their death in the town pastures.
Around two in the afternoon, the Germans entered the town. Soon all inhabitants were ordered to assemble in the market place where a number of Poles (German spies) together with the Germans, gave speeches concerning martial order and future arrangements in the town.
Early Monday morning a number of S.S. troops suddenly surrounded a number of streets in the town and grabbed 16 Jews. They took them in the direction of Grodno, but around two miles from town they shot 14 of the captives in a small forest not very far from the way leading to the village of Shamianitza. The two remaining captives, Hershel Leib Shachnas and the elderly dentist Teichman were led to Klein Brestovitz and were shot there. Amongst the martyrs that day were: Daniel and Moshe Levin, from Grodner Street; Yaakov (Yankel) Novik, the accountant for the mayor; Ahron Wolf; Montshik the Smith's son together with his wife and brother; Berel Tavel; Zaydel Lash (Velvel's son); Shmuel Shachnas; Hershel Leibel; Noach Kayle's son; the son of Yosel Simcha Grosman from Mill Street and others.
Berel Tavel was only been wounded, and, not noticed to be still living, was left alone by the murderers. As the Germans moved further on with the two remaining Jews, Berel picked himself up from amongst the dead and, barely alive, reached the Shtetel, where he received medical help.
When he came back to himself, he related how on the way the group of Jews wanted to attack the two S.S. men who were leading them and thus saving themselves. However, Ahron Wolf, Arel Munthchkes begged them not to attack the S.S. claiming that: It is better that they should be a sacrifice on behalf of the entire community rather than the Shtetel be a sacrifice on their behalf.---for everyone was aware of the consequences to Jews for killing a German!
In the morning we were given permission to bury in the town cemetery those who had been shot.
A terrible mood of panic prevailed in the town. Those Jews who the Germans conscripted for labor took leave of their families not expecting to see them again. When they came back from work in one piece they would be mighty grateful for one more G-d-given day of life.
A city government was quickly established, made up of Polish anti-Semites who whole-heartedly supported the incitement of the German murderers. Additionally, Poles who had recently been released from Soviet detention organized themselves into vigilantes and would carry out sentences against Communists, of course only according to their own discretion. Understandably, ninety percent of those that they accused of being Communist were Jews! It was sufficient to be an outstanding worker, a watchman of a factory, or an employee of a Soviet establishment in order to be labeled a Communist. Any Christian could kill a number of innocent Jews by just pointing them out as once having been an alleged Communist. In such a way tens of innocent Jews perished.
Such was the fate of sixty-year-old Yerucham Lavendik. He was a simple worker whose only sin was that during the Soviet occupation, he was dubbed as an outstanding worker, a Stachanavitz as such workers were called. Other victims were Alter Pinia Weiner, Meir the tailor's son amongst many others whose place of burial remains unknown until this very day.
Within a short time, a number of edicts were issued against the Jewish population, the first being forced labor. Ladies from age fourteen until age fifty-five and men until the age of sixty were forced without exception to appear very early in so-called work columns at the market. The Polish bandits together with a number of Germans would send the groups to various work destinations.
The work consisted of public construction of roads, ripping out grass, gathering up the dead from the streets and burying them and cleaning up various public areas.
A short time later, an order was issued which obligated all Jews to wear on the right arm a white band 14 centimeters wide with a yellow Star of David in the middle. A few days later a new decree came out which ordered the wearing of a yellow band with a white Star of David. Not much later another decree demanded the wearing of a yellow Star of David attached on the front on the left side and a second Star of David sewn on the shoulders of one's coat. All this was done in order to be able to recognize Jews from kilometers away!
Jews were obligated to take off their hats when a German passed by them. And if one was not quick enough to do so, he was brought before the German police and was mercilessly hit with hard rubber police batons. Many Jewish ladies were not able to avoid this particular punishment. In some cases, Jews were actually shot to death for this crime. So was the fate of Chaim Kotlier, the son of Betsalel Kotlier. Chaim, as a result of his serving with the American forces fighting in France during the harsh campaigns of World War One, had lost his mind. He had been living under the care of his parents in Krynki. While standing with his father next to their home, the feeble-minded son was not able to take his hat off for the Germans to their liking. Therefore, he was immediately shot to death on the spot!
In September 1941, rumors began to circulate about the imminent construction of a ghetto for the Jews of Krynki. From day to day it became very evident that the rumor was not groundless. Terrible stories were related concerning towns and cities where ghettos were already in existence.
In the end of November 1941, the Jews were authorized to establish a committee which would handle all contact with the German authorities and be responsible for carrying out all the German orders. Soon an order was issued that stipulated that the area on the left side of Mill Street until the right side of Rinkava Street up to the power station; and Garbaska Street until the river should be fenced in all sides with a barbed wire fence in order to demarcate the boundaries of the ghetto. The Germans had calculated exactly, not allowing - heaven forbid - more than one to one-and-a-half square meters of living space for each individual Jew in the ghetto. Seventy percent of Krynki's population, meaning Krynki's entire Jewish population, was required to live in such a narrow and confined space,
Very soon the actual decree to build the ghetto walls was announced. Hundreds of Jews were actively engaged in building the high walls of their own prison. Two watchtowers were built. One was situated at the market at the entrance to Garbaska Street. The other tower was erected before the bridge over the river, also on Garbaska Street.
Guards were posted outside and inside both towers, and no one was allowed to enter or leave without a special permit.
A representative body for the Jewish community was selected, the so-called Judenrat. Its purpose was to deliver into the hands of the Germans the various valuables that were regularly confiscated by them. These items included: clothing, footwear, fur, gold and jewelry. The Judenrat was to pay special attention to insure the quick construction of the ghetto fences and also to provide the daily quota of laborers for various work projects.
Around the twentieth of December 1941, a decree was made that the Jews should move into the ghetto area in a matter of a few days. Not everything was permitted to be brought into the ghetto. Polish policemen would look over the Jewish houses and choose for themselves the best things, whether in order to confiscate them immediately or to command that they be left for them later. The Jews therefore had to transfer to the ghetto a number of necessary household items, in a timely fashion. However, often one would be caught and honored with serious beatings, ordered to pay huge fines or even be shot. Shimel Sheiman (of the Bubitsekes) was shot under such circumstances, as he was moving his shoemaking equipment into the ghetto.
I recall those days when we moved into the ghetto: The market place was filled with people, with many Christians walking about. Many of them were sad yet the majority was happy—finally they will be finished with the Zhids and even inherit their possessions!
Many S.S. men and Polish policemen stood by the entrance to the ghetto, and every package and parcel was checked. The best items, over fifty- percent, were confiscated. One heard the yelling, crying, fighting, and above all the cruel bandit like voices of the S.S. men, their orders, ironic laughter and most of all their terrible beatings!
Approximately a few days later, the ghetto was sealed. None of the Jews could leave the ghetto confines without a special permit (a piece of paper written in German with a stamp showing one's place of work). The previous Judenrat was reduced to seven members.
The Judenrat of Krynki Ghetto was now composed of: Yisroel Kalinovitch, Talya Goldshmidt, Yankel Grossman, Nota Mostovliansky, Yankel Levi (the clear one), Yossel Galtz and Meir Kaplan. Immediately an internal security service was organized, composed of twenty-five policemen with a commander—Yankel Kazaltchik (Yankel chazir from Kavkaz) and his deputy—Yossele Mostovliansky.
The activities of the Judenrat did not always correspond with the interests of the community as a whole. Stemming from a background of Jewish 'tsores' pain and suffering and unrelenting struggle for survival, very often the Judenrat would act on superficial instincts, egoistic and personal interests, sympathies and antagonisms etc.
The members of the Judenrat were taken from organizations and partially from men who submitted freely to the Germans and were certified by the German authorities in Krynki. Only the ghetto police commander, Yankel Kazaltchik, who with his strength, vulgarity, wild appearance and brutality impressed the Germans, was nominated via the S.S. men! However, the brutal, sadistic, bloodthirsty German commissar ruled over everyone!
The scenes of the Krynki Ghetto were appalling. Beginning at six o'clock in the morning the workers were assembled in lines. Amongst them were many elderly men, women and young children, who were actually supposed to still be attending school. They would now wait for their work leader and for two Polish policemen, who would lead them to their place of work. I remember the terrible scenes of the men in the winter:
They would go wrapped in rags full of holes (the Germans took the best clothing), everyone shivering from fear and cold! Imprinted on their faces was the great trouble and hurt caused by the horrible fight to survive and by the dread of now and the coming dawn.
Here is a woman who left her small child at home and went by herself to earn some money. She suddenly begins to have a fit when thinking of the possibility of not being able to pass through the ghetto at the gate with the small amount of milk for her child, promised her by the farmer.
There is a thirteen-year-old girl, in ripped shoes. She holds in her hand a kerchief in which she hopes to bring in a few beans received yesterday from a Christian friend who had brought them to her work place. The non-Jew, she relates, shared the same desk at school and now wants to help me a little.
There a Jew with sunken cheeks and an out-stretched nose looks constantly in one direction - - What kind of image does he see there and what is he wondering about?
In my brother's boots and with my mother's shawl wrapped over me, with a little rye bread spread with beet marmalade, I stand together with the factory workers. Suddenly I hear the scream of the work leaders: Arrange yourselves in lines of four!
The factory workers' column is already in order. I bid goodbye with my eyes to my little brother and my cousins who I can see, already standing in other work columns, also ready to march.
We go out from the second gate near the river on Garbarske Street. Five meters out of the gate, we are suddenly stopped. Two gendarmes drive toward us from a village and they amuse themselves checking the crowd—whether our badges are sewn on right, or whether someone has concealed his badge, G-d forbid, etc. Soon we hear screaming and crying, the crack of whips and rubber batons and the cynical laughter of the Germans. We march further. The Poles run after us, demanding clothing, shoes, and underwear. They claim they will pay—exchange a few eggs for a dress, a liter of milk for a pair of shoes. They don't want it for free. A woman throws a blouse at a Christian friend. She asks her Christian acquaintance to prepare a half liter bottle of milk for her child. It should be ready for her when she returns from her day of labor at five o'clock. The Christian promises her quietly that everything will be ready, so that the Polish police who firmly guard the workers should not notice anything.
I work very hard operating a cutting machine in a leather tannery with three other Jewish girls. The machine stands in the damp tannery next to the vat where the hides are placed in lime. The air is intolerable. The hides go directly from the vat into the machine without being rinsed of the lime, which eats away the skin of our hands. We wear no special work clothes. It is winter. Our clothes are soaked with water and lime; our hands are all cut-up and bloody.
We have an hour lunch break from twelve to one o'clock. At five o'clock in the afternoon we organize once again into rows of four, and we march with the police escort back to the ghetto. The Poles again run after us and ask for various items. A Christian carries a small bottle of milk, another piece of bread. Suddenly the police grab a Jewish woman for some infringement, accuse her of dealing with the Christians and take her immediately to the gendarmes. No one will be envious of the beating she will receive at the hands of the Germans. By the gate of the ghetto there is a very strict inspection. Polish police hooligans carefully inspect every worker. If anyone is found attempting to smuggle the minutest item into the ghetto, he is beaten immediately.
Besides this, the Judenrat was forced to provide Jewish workers to the courts of the Paritz (minor Polish nobles) located close to Krynki, where Germans had taken over from the Polish nobles. Jewish workers worked in Yeshmanta, Shtinef, Shalk and at other courts. They would come home only once a week or once in two weeks, on a Sunday, dirtied and completely worn out from very hard labor, hunger, beatings and the terrible troubles they had to endure.
Dreadful things happened to the workers outside the town. It so happened once with workers from Krynki who worked in the village of Gross-Yeshmante, where they were resting in their tent after an exhausting day of work. At six in the evening they suddenly heard their work leader shouting orders to gather in a nearby place.
A group of S.S. men who were passing by had appeared, and when they found out that there were Jews working in the vicinity, they desired to play a bit. They ordered the Jews to arrange themselves three in a row, run, bend down, run, bend down, scream, sing, sing Hatikva etc. They made the Jews wear themselves out in such a manner for two hours. Three Jews who fell to the ground exhausted were shot dead on the spot.
Another horrible incident occurred in the village of Shtineff, ten kilometers from Krynki. Around twenty-four Jewish women were on work detail there. During an evening party, while the Germans were enjoying themselves in the court, two drunken soldiers managed to amuse themselves with these Jewish women. They ordered them to strip themselves completely naked at four o'clock in the morning, forced them outside into the yard and chased them a few hundred meters. Then they ordered the women to go into a muddy river and pelt each other with mud and stones. For the next half-hour, the scene was accompanied by wild laughter, shouting and incessant beatings.
Beatings, fear and pain were also the lot of workers in Krynki itself, whether in the factories, outside while paving Krynki streets, or doing other work. Every Jew, whether old or young had to work in forced labor. The only Jews freed from this work were the family members of the Judenrat, of the police commander and of active policemen.
Every week, one would receive a portion of bread and potatoes. The sick would receive a half-liter of skim milk, which was brought in from outside the ghetto.
In the first half of January 1942, the Krynki gendarmes suddenly arrested twenty Jews, some of them members of the Judenrat. No one knew the reason for the arrests. Around six to seven hours later, one of the arrested men returned, pale, frightened and not able to answer anything in response to the questions of the families of the remaining detainees. A few hours later the rest returned, all of them silent.
I happened to know from my uncle who was also amongst the arrested that the gendarmes had interrogated them, accompanied with terrible beatings and tortures demanding that they should reveal what they know about a certain partisan group on the verge of formation in Krynki. This was, by the way, the first case in the entire area, in which arrested Jews were returned alive.
On the fourteenth of January 1942, twenty men were suddenly arrested in the ghetto.
The reason for the arrests was not known. According to one hypothesis, it was all a provocation by the Polish police. Amongst those arrested were: Zalman Lash, Laizer Kugel, Moshe Gabai with his only son Motele, Dovid Shushansky, Kapel Zalkin, Ever the butcher's two sons: Chana and Moshe with son-in-law, Abramovitch's two brothers (both shoe makers), Yankel Geller, Asher Shain, Avramel Labendik, Yudel Lopatta, Yossel Gabai, Itsche Slapak with my father Zalman-Nissel Wolf and another three Jews whose names I do not remember. For three days, they were held in the police station, tortured, tormented and bloodied. The Judenrat did not do enough to rescue them. After three days they were taken to prison in Bialistok. The families of those arrested spent much money and time trying to save their loved ones, but unfortunately without success. On the fifteenth of May 1942, they were shot to death, approximately six kilometers from Bialistok, only after each one was forced first to dig a grave for himself!
We then withstood a very terrible winter. Krynki survivors shudder just thinking about the sergeant, a sadist and merciless murderer, who cast fear and dread upon the ghetto. At five in the morning he and his German helpers would enter the ghetto, break down doors and windows and drag out half-naked Jews to the Bialistok highway to clear the snow. His wild cries of schneller, schneller ring in my ears to this very day! Without a break, without eating, the Krynki women, men and children would clear the highway of snow until late at night, also in the worst snowstorms. They would come back home with frostbitten hands, feet and cheeks, starving and completely exhausted from a grueling and cruel workday. And so it was the entire winter. Many came down with tuberculosis, pneumonia etc.
From day to day we felt the hunger more strongly. Deadly diseases began to spread, mainly the dangerous typhus, which killed many, including Rochel Turkel with her little daughter, Nechtse Slayer with her son Moshel, and many others.
In the building of the Main Cheder in the ghetto, a hospital was established with a clinic and pharmacy. Help was given free of charge. Perhaps this was the greatest accomplishment of the Judenrat in Krynki, and it was more hygienic and better supplied than the local Krynki hospital.
The Passover holiday was approaching. Our Jewish people had baked matzos and made their homes and dishes kosher for Passover. Quietly, and unnoticed by the Germans, we arranged as much as possible for a kosher Passover.
At nine in the morning on Friday, the day before Passover 5702 (1942), the doors of the ghetto were opened and two hundred Gestapo agents with black hats with their symbol of a skull and two bones underneath marched into the ghetto. They immediately spread out through the different streets of the ghetto and started to rob, hit, torture and shoot Jews. Tens of victims were annihilated in the most brutal fashion. On that horror-filled day the following members of the community were killed:
the judge of Krynki Reb Leib Segal, Moshe Lev, (the husband of Chana the bakeress), who physically stood up against the Germans, Okun's mother from Garbaska street, who was slain with a sword while she was in her bed, and many others. (See detailed list of martyrs on page 318.)
People were shot one by one when they entered burned-out destroyed areas of the ghetto, near the general garbage disposal area, where the waste material of the entire ghetto was deposited. There amongst the filth lay the dead and bloody corpses, completely covered with human excrement and other filth. One was not even allowed to bury the victims in the Jewish cemetery. They were buried inside the ghetto itself near the Linas Tsedek facility, in a communal grave. The pogrom lasted over five hours. It was a real Pesach!
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