Transcribed by Ellen Sadove Renck
Tens of years have no gone by since the Jewish community of Lida was erased from the living, and thousands of its sons, our parents, brothers and sisters, were doomed at the hands of the atrocious Nazi beasts, by tortures, which no man with normal feelings could well imagine. Tens of years may have passed, but too deep is the pain to be blotted out by time.
Destructed has been the magnificent Jewish community of Lida. A few, ancient mossy tombstones at the outskirts of the city, the remains of an ancient Jewish cemetery, scarcely fenced by a broken wall, will bear witness, for some years to come, on generations of Jews who once lived in this place - until such time as those holy relics will be stolen by nearby neighbors and used for the foundations of their houses. A single tombstone only, surrounded by the forest, at one edge of the city, with an inscription chiseled on it in non-Jewish language, will tell a passing traveler who may happen to be there, of thousands of souls murdered at that place - without even the faintest mention that they were all Jews. And it is hard to tell the feeling of outrage at that.
It is with deep emotion that we started preparations for this book, to commemorate Jewish Lida, the cradle of our youth, the thousands of our parents, brothers and sisters, whose memory is cherished by us, is holy to us. We have tried to collect every minute detail from ancient writings, from articles and correspondences in old Hebrew periodicals, reminiscences and descriptions of happenings dispersed here and there, which, line by line, bit by bit, have enabled us to draw the picture of the Lida Jewish community, where, since the beginning of the 16th century, and perhaps even earlier, the sounds of Torah learning were to be heard. A community which grew grass routs, became a living cell of and made its own contribution to the spiritual and cultural life of the great Lithuanian Jewry.
Jewish Lida, a fostering mother wast thou to us! A city which possessed everything: industry and trade, Torah and enlightenment, friendship and neighborliness, charity and helpfulness, noble ambition and high-minded ideals. A proud and upright generation sprung up in thy midst, a generation with self-respect, full of national aspiration and humanity. There were various opposing factions in Lida, each one with ideas of its own with regard to the revival of the Jewish people and the redemption of man, each one weaving its own pattern of life. But one thing we do firmly know: they were all aspiring, each one in his own way, to the good and the noble. Even the Youdenrat, which, in those gruesome days, in some of the crumbling Jewish communities, deserved the most severe judgment - in Lida its members appear to us surrounded with the halo of devotion and self-sacrifice.
Filled with awe and inner tremor, we remember all of you. By your innocent blood which was shed, you have been sanctified to us.
(for my grandchildren)
This book is all about Lida - its location, history, culture, life and death. My message about this town is for my grandchildren and all children who love Freedom for themselves and for all mankind. Lida to me represents all places where the spirit of Freedom, justice, mercy, and hope for a better world has been destroyed, body and soul, by brutal dictatorships.
I am an American, born in Lida. I think and act as an American. Of my four score years on this mysteriously beautiful and tragic planet, I have lived 65 years in the United State, but the memory of Lida never faded. I had always been an American at heart, surely since I was old enough to be interested in stories about America and to read by myself. It was in Lida that I resolved to see some day real big ships, live Indians, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Statue of Liberty.
My father was Josef the Scribe (Yoshe der Sayfer) and my mother Rachel came from a family of scribes in Poland. My father made his own parchment from Kosher skins, his own ink and fibers with which to sew the written sheets into the scroll of the Torah. My mother, in addition to the usual toil and worries of raising a large family, also took care of our collection of religious books and general Yiddish literature, some for sale and some for paid circulation.
Often in the evenings people would come for a book, for Teffilin (philacteries,) for advice about city affairs, or general talk - schmues. Self-taught students who were preparing themselves hopefully to be admitted to a university somewhere, sometimes, would linger and draw my father in arguments about religion or world news in the then popular Hebrew newpaper Hatzfiro, which came to our house regularly. I suspect that my older sister, Miriam, and not my father was the main attraction for these students.
I did not understand the philosophical discussions about the beginnings of things-life on earth, and such, but I always picked my father as the winner of the argument. One encounter I never forgot. How does your theory of evolution explain the creation of plant and animal life, assuming that your ancestors were monkeys? asked my father. An uncontrolled synthesis of inorganic molecules, an occasional accident in nature answered one of the students, a half-baked Darwinist. My father had him. If by an accident, said my father, my inkwell should turn over and cause a blotch on the partchment, it might conceivably resemble a letter of the alphabet, but it could hardly resemble a love poem such as you might send to your sweet-heart. There is too much beauty, complexity, and harmony in the world to be an accident. Only God could have created it.
For me, my father had a more decisive and, at the time, a less appreciative answer. I was no more than seven when I asked who made God? My father turned in his chair, beckoned me to stand before him and slapped me hard on both cheeks. I cried. I want it to hurt, said my father. Such questions should never be asked. It took me many years before I understood the significance of the lesson. My father died in 1938, at the age of 85. Relatives at his bedside told me that with a smile on his face, he quietly uttered his dying words, I am leaving the antechamber to enter the parlor. Since then, I am careful not discuss religion with one who has faith in a hereafter. I consider it unmerciful possibly to cause doubt in such faith. [photograph of M. Feinstone, a leading collector of Washington manuscripts in U.S., discusses letter with Maj. Gen. James B. Lampert. -The New York Times]
As for myself, I am doomed to die an agnostic who years to know but cannot know; doomed to search forever but never find; and, as with Hamlet, the end will be silence'.
I left home at the age of 12 when, my mother died. I worked in a bookstore in Vilno for my uncle, a scribe, in Poland and back in Lida for several months in a soda establishment. Two years later, at the age of 14, I came to New York. I am one of the 30 million immigrants who came after the Revolution and helped build our country in Freedom. I loved America before I came and I have loved her since. With all its shortcomings, the United States remains the only great bulwark against the enslavement of the entire world by evil dictatorships.
I am proud to be an American and I am proud to acknowledge my debt to Lida, the city of my birth. It was there that I learned to think and to love my fellowmen. What would I not give to revisit the Lida of my youth and embrace its wonderful people, as now they come to mind: My dear, sweet mother, my brothers and sisters, and my wise, energetic and overstrict father.
My father's uncle Ziesel, teacher and scribe, a self-sacrificing, saintly man, grandfather of American grandsons, one prominent in the television industry, and two in the garment trade.
Our cousin, the kind and handsome Isroel der Katsez (butcher) and his beautiful family, some now in the U.S. He gave me a rubel (50 cents), supposedly as a loan for my father, but he guessed that I would use it without my father's knowledge for railroad fare to Vilno, the capital, to escape from my stepmother.
The great Rabbi Itzchok Yacob RAINESS at whose feet I sat when he delivered one of his inspiring calls to Zion. He honored me by using me as errand boy between himself and my father. He kidded me and predicted that I would either become a rabbi or its opposite, zein a goy.
The Polish priest who permitted everybody to swim in the creek behind the church and who gave me cookies several times. The DUSHMAN family in whose soda factory I worked for a stretch. Mrs. Dushman's brother Isaac GOLDBERG of New York was a wine dealer on the East Side. His store was a rendevouz of intelligent people. He offered me employment and a home. I wish I had accepted it a more congenial environment than the sweat shops in which I spent ten years.
Our neighbor Eizick the shuster, an excellent cobbler, poor as most of us were, yet found time to teach boys the trade and to pend many hours in the Synagogue with learning from the Book.
Avremel der gertner (gardner) with whom I picked fruit in his rented orchards. He insisted I was a great help, no doubt to give me pride. He was childless and took me to his heart. We had blissful hours together.
My first teacher (melamed) who started me with the a, b, c Alef-Bayz. I remember him well, but forget his name. He told my parents that I was an exemplary child --
er tshpet nit a ferd afin vaant, paraphrasing the saying that he is so quiet that he does not hurt a fly on the wall and substituting a horse (ferd) for a fly. Do not change ferd to fly. The man had a fine sense of humor.
In 1925, my wife Rose, Ezra, then seven, and I visited Lida - 23 years after I departed. My father was still active writing the Torah, busying himself in community affairs and caring for his second wife and their three children. At that time, I spent happy hours with new friends, all excellent people; the martyred Rabbi Aron RABINOWITZ and his fine family including his young daughter Elka, who later happily married Rabbi CYPERSTEIN and raised a beautiful family; also the young, bearded cobbler and active socialist, KONOPKA by name; also the charming young lady, secretary of the Loan Soceity, Gemilas Chesed which I established; also several of the voluntary workers for the old age home and orphanage.
These remembered relatives, neighbors and friends, dead or alive, represent good people everywhere, suffering human beings everywhere. Where, oh where are these poor souls now?
Well, dear children, my story ends. Remember you ancestors from Lida and from all Lidas where the spirit of Freedom was crushed; help revive the hope for an end of the Martyrdom of Man. Help build a Brotherhood of Free Nations of Free men. In calligraphy: Sol Feinstone/Native of Lida, Lithuania; son of Joseph the Scrive, endowed from childhood with repect for learning, love of freedom, and courage to venture. Atrived alone in New York, 1902, a penniless boy of fourteen; labored in sweatshops by day to study for college by night. One of first graudates 1915, New York State College of Forestry at Syracuse University, master's degree in chemistry, Syracuse 1916. Navy chemist during World War I. graduate student in economics University of Pennsylvania; resident of Buckstone Farms since 1945. Dedicated savings to help safeguard America's physical heritage and to promote the Spirit of the American Revolution as the struggle for Free men to remain free. Founder, the David Library of original manuscripts on the American Revolution at Washington Crossing; donor, land and library building for elementary school Upper Wakefield Township; donor, valuable collection of original manuscripts and books on the American Revolution to Trenton State College. Americans of this and future generations are indebted to this adopted son for his dedication to the cause of freedom.
On the 22nd June, 1941, the skies over our city seemed to be covered by Nazi bombers. They dropped incendiary bombs, and at the same time, sprayed a dark liquid, which caused horrible inflagrations from one end of the city to the other. During the early hours of the morning, a number of hits were scored by the bombers on transport, which was on its way from Lida to Vilno. By the railway lines, which crossed the town at the end of Suwalska Street, a number of carriages were also hit. Amongst the casualties were a large number of Russian officers.
The managers of the factories and large plants, where the workers had recently received call-up papers, received notices that the workers were immediately to report for recruitment with the Russian forces. At the time, I was working at the printing press, where I had received my call-up papers. received notices that the workers were immediately to report for recuritment with the Russian forces. At the time, I was workidng at the printing press, where I had received my call-up papers. The paymaster paid me my last salary and I went home in a hurry.
The fires, which had started in our neighbourhood, were still burning fiercely. On entering our house, I was greeted by my mother, who, panic stricken, rushed towards me. My sister, togehter with her three weeks old baby and her husband, who had come to spend the holiday with us, also rushed to greet me.
I read them my call-up notice for the Russian army and then proceeded to pack my things. Suddenly, a terrific explosion rocked the house, and darkness descended. Without any warning, a flame burst out of the ground and engulfed the area around the house.
Being mainly concerned about my mother and sister and her family, I hurried them out of the house. My brother-in-law, Yitzhak (one of the leaders of the Poalei Zion Movement in Slonim, who also worked a considerable period in Warsaw on the Jewish paper Dos Naye Wort) assisted me in gathering some of our belongings possible to save. The fire spread rapidly.
We extricated ourselves with great difficulty from our home, laden down with parcels, and hurried to the place where we had arranged to meet my mother and sister.
I bade a hasty farewell to my dear family, as I was obliged to report to the recruiting centre. Failure to report for recruitment was punishable by death. The moment of partying was difficult and bitter. I hurried to reach the recruiting camp which was on the outskirts of the town. The Rashliaky Forest was a horrifying sight of people running around aimlessly, not knowing what to do or where to go. I suddenly realized that the Germans were approaching the town and the Soviet authorities rushed to the other side of the former Soviet-Polish border to organize a stand against the Germans.
A considerable number of youths who were completely dejected and confused hurried eastward, over the said border. Other men who had taken leave of families took advantage of the confusion, and in the melee unobtrusively slipped off.
The Eve of the Occupation
I returned to the city in order to be with my aging mother, my sister and her family. I arrived at the point where I had left them, only to have to search through the crowds of women, old folks, youths, and children until at last I found them.
We were not able to remain there very long. After a time, a squadron of bombers dived very low and commenced strafing us with their cannons. Scores of peoples were mown down. The murderers did not cease firing.
People in the city were panic striken. Bundles of personal effects were cast aside. The wailing and cries seemed to have no end. The whole city was turned to ashes and ruins. The air was full of smoke from the persistent fires. In the streets there were still Russian tanks, trucks, and soldiers who did not know where to turn. From beyond the city, endless firing was to be heard. The Russian army sought ways to escape, in order to avoid falling into the hands of the Germans. The roads were jammed with retreating Russian soldiers. By the side of the road were strewn the dead, and the abandoned tanks and vehicles. The vehicles were packed with women and children, and they were taken to any destination they desired. Jews, Poles, and Russian started to flee from the city to nearby villages, to anyone
who was a friend or a relative; others took to their heels and started the long process of endless fleeing.
The members of my family and I went from the gathering place to the other part of the city which had not been burnt down and sought shelter from the persistent bombing in the cellar of my aunt's house.
On the afternoon of June 25th, 1941, the German attack was strengthened and their grip on the city was tightened. The bombardment and the shooting increased its crescendo, and our lives were in great danger. Breathlessly we awaited darkness and, as soon as it was dusk, we went on our way. Tired and fatigued we reached, by the road side, a lonely house of a Christian farmer, a friend of my uncle. Bangingon the door, we asked him to allow us to sleep in the barn. We needed rest, shelter, and food. The farmer was panic striken too, but it transpired that as long as the Russian army was in the vicinity, he did not mind helping Jews.
Until 27th June 1941, fierce battles took place around the city. Each day saw considerable casualties amongst the civilian population, with the numbers of wounded constantly increasing. On the afternoon of that day, the first squadrons of German tanks entered the city. On their heels followed large numbers of infantry into the centre of the town burnt and destroyed. Next day - it was Sabbath - contingents of SS and SD stormtroopers arrived whose task it was to liquidate the Jewish inhabitants, especially members of the free professions. Immediately upon their arrival Jews caught in the city were taken to the main square in Suwalska Street. There the murderers picked out lawyers, engineers, teachers, and other persons of free professions and doomed them to death. The remaining Jews, members of other professions, were sent to concentration camps for forced labour.
The doomed group, comprising 92 Jews, were accompanied by a guard to the destroyed ammunition stores buildt underground, some kilometers off and - shot.
The farmers in the nearby village were witnesses to the horrifying act of sadism. Many of them were driven from their homes to bury the dead.
Appointment of the Judenrat
In the first week after the arrival of the Germans, a number of Jews were ordered to appear before the army authorities and were instructed to elect a Jewish council - Judenrat that would be responsible for carrying out the orders of the army authories.
Those elected were LICHTMAN, teacher; KOTOK, Industrialist; KERZNER, Advocate; SOKOLOWSKY, Bank Manager, HABER, Schoolmaster; ZARTZIN, teacher; SHALATSKY, book-keeper; KONOPKO, shoe maker - a popular leader of the local working men, STOLITSKY, LEVIN, merchant; FEINSTEIN, carpenter; Dr. KANTOR, M.D.; GOLDBERG, merchat, and SHAINBOIM, merchant.
Their first task was to list all men between the ages of 15 and 60 for a special work camp. An order was issued that any slackers would be liable to the death sentence. All the people listed were put under a police guard, which was under the direction of the Nazis. Floggings were inflicted on the slightest pretext.
I was designated to work outside the camp, as a clerk of the Judenrat.
Every day groups were taken out for hard labour in various parts of the city accompanied by guards.
The terrible conditions in the work camp, the hunger and the physical work soon left their traces. Scores of people were excused from work for short periods by the doctor on account of sickness or fatigue. It was up to the doctor and the Judenrat to supervise the population and to see to it that there were no shirkers. Every day people awaited the medical committee to obtain their release from labour because of illness.
After a period of seven weeks, the work camp was disbanded and the enlistment of workers was vested in the Judenrat. At this time women between the ages of 16-40 were also to be directed to labour.
All the workers, male and female, were divided into labour battalions headed by a battalion leader. Day after day, all those able to work were taken out to clear away the rubble of the destroyed houses, to clear the streets, to saw wood, etc. It took many weeks to clear the ruins of the great synagogue, which had stood for scores of years.
Those who went out to labour received a hot soup of rotten potatoes once a day. From time to time, the German authorities permitted the use of animal heads and bones for the soup pots. The Jewish population received 125 grammes of bread daily per person. It was forbidden for Jews to eat fats. Anyone in whose possession was found meat, butter or eggs, etc. was condemned to death.
The Ghetto was established
After a short period, notices went up on the notice boards in the streets throughout the city in three languages, German, Polish, and Russian (in order that the Gentiles would know what was happening to the Jews):
1. Within 24 hours, Jews on the outskirts of the city, untouched by the fire, must leave the homes and move into the Christian houses, which were in a dilapidated and ruined condition.
2. Without any regard to age or sex, Jews were required to sew on their clothing, on the back and on the left breast, patches of yellow cloth, 10 cms. by 10 cms. Any Jew not wearing such signs, in the street or at home, would be condemned to death. After a period of about a month the yellow patches were changed to yellow Starts of David of the same size.
3. It was forbidden for Jews to walk on the side walks, only on the road way, along the gutters, where they would not interfere with the passing traffic.
4. It was forbidden for Jews to be seen on the streets without a special permit from the authorities. The Jews would be transported to and from their work in groups of not less than 50. During the day it was prohibited for Jews to be on the streets.
5. It was strictly prohibited for Jews to come in contact with non-Jews, to speak to them in the st4reet, to enter their homes, or to trade with them. Contravention of this order entailed the death penalty for the Jew; the Christian would be punished in different ways. Jews may not travel to other towns.
6. All heads of companies, Poles and White Russians, who were in charge of Jewish workers, must report in writing to the Labour Office all those who did not appear for work or were late by even a few minutes without sufficient reason and an official permit in writing from the Labour Office or the doctor.
Within a short period 16 Jews were taken out and executed for having been late for work.
The Problem of Jews from Vilno
At the height of the murder of the Jews of Vilno, several hundreds Jews escaped from there and reached Lida. Upon their arrival, they applied to the Judenrat to arrange for them to stay there. The Judenrat conceded to their request and by various means procured certificates enabling them to remain in Lida. For this purpose, two witnesses were needed who knew the person in question. Many Jews of Lida endangered themselves by giving false witness to this effect. An important part was played in this action by Menahem REZNIK who was acquainted with several of the Polish city clerks having to do with the issuing of these certificates. The clerks received heavy bribes for every certificate authorized. In this manner many hundreds of Jews from Vilno were saved, the majority of whom were to meet their death afterwards together with the Jews of Lida.
The Martyrdom of the Heads of the Judenrat
One day, a party of Jewish thieves made an attempt on the life of a Russian clergyman in the town and tried to rob him of the property which the Jews of Lida entrusted to him. The attempt did not succeed and some of the attackers were arrested. The wives of the thieves appealed to the Judenrat for assistance in obtaining the release of their husbands. The Judenrat could not taken upon themselves their request and turned them down. Upon the thieves being informed of this fact, they decided to revenge themselves upon the Judenrat.
They then approached the Nazi authorities offering them cooperation in finding out the Jews of Vilno who had infiltrated into Lida.
The Nazis chose a day in March 1942 for the betrayal of the Jews from Vilno. In the early hours of the morning, a large number of Jews were encircled by Polish and Belo-Russians who served their murderous overlords like faithful dogs. At 6 a.m., all the Jews were driven from their homes and at 8 a.m. were led to a square opposite the new post office. There they were lined up in the snow and cold and forced to enter a narrow passage so that the thieves could point them out. Fifty Jews were arrested and shot shortly thereafter in the courtyard of the prison.
A terrifying picture presented itself to the eyes of the Jews who returned that day to their homes that had become graves. All the children whose parents had left them at home due to the intense cold, and all the aged, the sick, and the dying who did not go out to the identification parade, were found lying in their own blood which had not yet congealed. In this manner, on that day, over 200 souls were murdered.
A week after the betrayal by the Jewish thieves, the heads of the Judenrat were arrested: The Chairman, Kalman LICHTMAN, for many years a teacher in the Jewish Elementary School; Simcha KOTOK, a blameless Jewish merchant, dedicated and responsible, a member of the Poalei Zion Movement in Lida, a businessman, a member of the League for the Working Eretz-Israel, one of the Directors of the chemical factory Korona; Adv. Yisrael KERZNER, Adv. Benyamin ZIDEROVITZ. These people were tortured and met a violent death. Their bodies were returned to the Judenrat for burial after they had been disfigured beyond recognition. The face of Chairman LICHTMAN resembled a piece of raw flesh, his eyes had been gouged out of their sockets. We recognized him only by his clothes.
The murder of the heads of the Judenrat shook the entire Jewish population, as they looked to them as their leaders, upright men, great idealists. It was the most difficult period in the history of the Jews of Lida, and for a number of weeks, they felt like sheep that have no shepherd.
After a short period, an order was received to present within 24 hours a list of leading persons from whom a chairman for the Judenrat would be selected. Not one of the members of the Judenrat was eager to accept the nomination for this office. In the end, Dr. TSHARNI, doctor for the Jews of Lida, was co-opted to the Judenrat, and it was his lot to be chosen to act as chairman.
Day by day new orders were posted: a) All Jews must take down the electrical fittings in their rooms. All Jewish residence are to be cut off from the electricity supply. b) All Jews must hand over all copper in their possession and all copper utensils. c) All Jews must hand over all furs in their possession. (However, only small quantities were handed over and the rest were buried in order that the murderers should not have them.)
Opening of Workshops
The engineer ALTMAN, former manager in the foundry of Benland, who was liaison between the Judenrat and the authorities, suggested to the Judenrat that they should obtain licenses for the opening of workshops, which would employ hundreds of tradesmen. The suggestion was accepted and it was decided that the engineer would apply in this matter to the Area Commander.
The technical school on Suwalska Street was chosen as suitable premises. A detailed plan was presented to the city authorities for consideration and permission. After some time, the reply was received approving the suggestion, thus enabling the opening of a light industry complex, in which tradesmen would produce various goods for local consumption as well as for export to Germany.
The Judenrat and ALTMAN took up the matter in March and, after a number of weeks, they were able to open the first workshops: tinsmith and carpentry shops and a shoe factory. Shortly afterward, other workshops were opened, for turnery and electrical goods, clothing, knitwear, dressmaking, painting, bookbinding, toy production, ropes, brushes, bags, etc. and an extensive garage was opened for the repair of all types of vehicles.
The son of the engineer FORMAN succeeded, after a number of moths, in constructing for the children of the District Commissar, in a special room in his house, an electric railway, with a locomotive, wagons, and stations, where the trains stopped automatically for a few moments.
Highly qualified craftsmen were employed in the workshops, and they in turn employed numerous assistants, who numbered, together with their families, almost a thousand persons. Many believed in their heart of hearts that the certificates that they were employed in the workshops would save them and their families from death. The Judenrat and ALTMANN planned without cease how to increase the numbers of workers in the workshops and light industries in order to save as much as possible of the Jewish population. The number of workers in each workshop was gradually growing and included also scores of people untrained at any trade.
Raw material was collected from the remaining factories in the area which had not been destroyed or burnt: the large rubber factory Ardal, the nail factory, the chemical plant Korona, the foundries, etc. There were even occasions when the Christians stole from the factories and the Nazi police returned this loot to the Jewish workshops, which were under the supervision of the authorities.
The control and management in the industries, surrounded by barbed wire, was in the hands of the Jews, with Nazi supervision outside the fenced off area. Day after day high ranking Nazi officers visited the small industries and a special committee in Berlin, which arrived to inspect them, published articles in the German press that there were some Jews who wanted to be productive and were very keen on their work...
The District Commissar, who acted the protective shield for the Jews of Lida, related that he had received a letter from the German authorities that, due to the light industries, they would allow the Jews of Lida to live. Everyone gave thanks and was [six] joyful for every day that passed without tragedy.
The workshops and light industries not only supplied the needs of the Germans in the town, but even executed respectable orders to Germany, and many letters of thanks were received which praised the high workmanship of the products. In the industrial complex, a permanent exhibition of all the products was arranged and the Nazis came to place their orders or receive goods to the extent that they were available in the warehouses. In this manner, the Jews fooled themselves that through their labours they would be saved.
The Atmosphere Changes
At the beginning of May, 1942, we began to sense a change around us. From day to day, the position worsened for the Hews both in the town and in the workshops. ALTMANN investigated and persuaded the tradesmen that everything was in order and requested them to carry on as usual. On the 7th May 1942, everyone felt, during their working hours, that something terrible was about to happen, as if the ground were burning under their feet. The thought of mass execution raised its ugly head in the minds of many, but no one dared to mouth their fears and doubts. After work, many surrounded the house of the Judenrat in order to verify the rumours which were going the rounds. ALTMANN sensed that something was about to happen. He could not, however, get any information from the murderers.
The Judenrat decided to pass around throughout the night in order to check the work permits, as there were some who had lost them, and others who had changed their place of work; and it was necessary therefore to renew the permits originally issued. Thus everyone came to accept that a work permit meant a life permit.
The Mass Massacre
On Friday, 8th May 1942, in the early hours, at the time when people are just opening their eyes, it is suddenly discovered that we are completely surrounded by a close ring of Polish and Belo-Russian armed police. They are bloodthirsty these watchdogs of the Nazis. From time to time we hear a hot. Sometimes here and sometimes there. German faces are seen peering at their innocent prey. Those who surround us look vicious, like wicked idiots who carry out their duties without thought and without question. They have received orders to shoot on sight any person who leaves his house without a permit or an order. These loyal servants of Hitler love and exploit every opportunity they have to kill Jews. From their evil faces we are able to discern the bloodlust and murder in their minds. Already, thus early in the morning, they have managed to kill a number of Jews whose only crime was inquisitiveness, who poked their heads out of their doors to see what was going on, only to receive a Good Morning from the Angel of Death.
It is 6 a.m. The Nazi murderers have begun driving the Jews from their homes into the streets. Those who do not instantly obey instructions, without hesitation, are beaten with utmost ferocity. We come out from our houses, and press close together like frightened sheep or naught children.
An order: Form up in lines, family by family! Drunken little Hitlerites, with the smell of death in their nostrils, run about hither and thither whipping and beating everyone in their path.
Special companies of soldiers of the Waffen SS and SD arrive to conduct the mass execution. The authority of the District Commissar is broken and our fate is handed over to the murdering companies of soldiers who have come to execute the death sentence.
The District Commissar and ALTMANN run around to find ways to save some of the tradesmen from death in order that the industries might not be put completely out of action.
At 9 a.m., the counting of heads started at the collecting stations. The District Commissar ran from centre to centre. In front of the lines crowded with pitiful people stood groups of murderers who were deciding who was to live and who was to die. At first they respected the work permits of certain tradesmen. But after a while, they tired of checking and drove complete groups to their death without taking into any consideration whether they had permits or not.
Even the attempts of the District Commissar were of no avail. He received a severe reprimand from those in charge of the SS and SD and was formally and politely requested not to interfere or hinder the Action. And the counting went on and on! All those that were pushed to the right, died. First they were severely beaten by special squads armed with various weapons and with iron bars. A terrible hideous and frightening panorama was to be seen when the Jews of Lida were beaten with iron bars. They all ran with blood until they dropped dead in their tracks in front of the families. The last Rabbi, rabbi RABINOWITZ, son-in-law of the Gaon, the Very Rev. Yitzhak Yaacov REINES, walked around persistently reading psalms and reciting the Shema Yisrael and screaming at the top of his voice Jews are being killed in Your Name.
My mother, who all the time had clung to my arm, was pushed to the left. I received a vicious kick by the Polish Police towards the group of Jews who were tradesmen. Before I could take in my surrounding, I heard the voice of a vicious Polish policeman ordering us to remain still. You will remain alive, but you must stand still without moving. Whoever turns around to look at what is going on will be shot on the spot.
Those condemned to death, 80% of the Jewish population of Lida, were driven two kilometres to the forest behind the town near the Army barracks. We learned later of what took place at that dread place of execution from Mordechai GEROVITS (who eventually arrived in Israel), the local baker and flour merchant, who was wounded in the neck but managed to escape from the scene of massacre.
When we arrived on the scene, I saw deep trenches already prepared. All the Jews were divided into groups of 100 people. They were ordered to take off their clothing and to remain naked. The first group was pushed into a trench, and they were mown down by machine guns. Then the next and the next and the next group were ordered into the pits and massacred. The children were torn out of the arms of the parents, and were thrown alive into the pits where they were bayoneted in front of their parents.
Mordechai and a number of other Jews had decided to escape from the scene. A fuselage of bullets followed them on their way. They were all hit. He, however, managed to bandage his wounded neck and escape. Amongst the escapers was also a youth name of KAMIONSKY who is today in the United States. His parents, however, perished.
After the massacre, the Judenrat were obliged to send parties of Jews to fill the trenches with clay and sand. The contents of the trenches will moved here and there, but we were forced to cover them. The Jews who had not been selected for massacre were collected together in an empty lot and forced to kneel down with their faces on the ground. The District Commissar and some of the Nazi offers passed by. After a while we were told to rise and bow our heads in thankfulness that we had been left alive...
After that, we were taken to a house which had been allotted to us near the gate of the ghetto. Our names were listed and we were instructed to inform the authorities of every Jew who thereafter arrived there. The clothing of the martyrs was collected and placed in a warehouse. One group of Jews was instructed to sort the clothing. Every item was carefully examined to find jewelry or gold hidden therein. Every piece of clothing which seemed in good condition was put aside. Worn clothing was sold to the farmers of the district but better pieces were sent as gifts to the families of the murder squad.
The remnants of the Jews which managed to remain alive after the terrible massacre, were put in the ghetto which was surrounded by barbed wire, into houses from which the Jewish owners had only been driven that morning.
The sight that met our eyes was like the terrible stories we had heard of Rome. Everything was in disarray, remnants of food, broken bottles littered the floors. All the clothing was torn to shreds, and even the gathers had been taken out of the pillows. A terrible screaming and wailing filled the air. People were running aimlessly around, tearing their hair and calling out the names of their relatives and friends who would never return.
From the houses the light of a candle or paraffin lamp shines through lighting the faces of those sitting sorrow and grief. From other houses the sound of prayers for the dead and the reciting of psalms is heard. We are gathered up in one of the houses for public prayer. We recite Kaddish for the dead. The Reader opens the prayers with El Malah Rachamim and a wailing bursts forth which must surely reach the ear of Heaven.
On the 12th May four days after the massacre, about 800 Jews arrive at the Lida ghetto, the remnant survivors of the Jews of the district and the village of VORONOVA, about 30 kilometers from Lida. 121 more houses were commandeered, and the Judenrat received orders to house the remnants of Voronova.
Cache of Arms
After the mass execution, the idea was born to attempt to make contact with the partisans who were active in the forest not far distant. The remaining youths began to organize themselves secretly without informing their elders and keeping the matter completely secret from the Judenrat. In the houses, shelters were dug clandestinely, in case the ghetto was attacked [sic]. The work was carried out in the dead of night, hidden from prying eyes. Despite their attempts at secrecy, slowly the news of what they were about began to seep into the knowledge of all the occupants of the ghetto.
Later it was decided to attempt to collect as many arms as possible and form a cache. The youngsters in the ghetto began smuggling in arms of all sorts, bullets, shells and various types of explosives.
The main source of weapons smuggled into the ghetto was the barracks which had once been occupied by the Polish army. Moreover, it was discovered that the Russians, in the haste of their retreat, had also left considerable quantities of arms in the armories. A number of Jews who had once worked in the armoury and ammunition stores sorted out the arms, most of which were in bad condition and some even broken. Soon a clandestine arms industry sprang up where all the weapons found were reconditioned. Great danger was involved in handling these weapons because of their state of disrepair.
Another source of arms was-those Christians who showed friendship towards the Jews and who were handsomely rewarded in case for their smuggling efforts and the great danger they incurred.
Once a fortnight, the authorities would graciously extend permission to clean out the latrines and to empty the garbage cans on the outskirts of the city at a dumping ground allocated for that purpose. On the way back to the ghetto, the men would fill the garbage cans with arms left for them in pre-arranged hiding places on their route. Everyone who had arms buried them within the environs of their house.
On one occasion, a Polish woman treacherously betrayed a Jew by the name of Gershon BARHAS, a tinsmith, after he accepted her offer of a rifle or revolver in exchange for a suit. The young man was arrested immediately and not even informed of the charges made against him. However, as soon as he was arrested and brought to the Police, he knew what to expect. As the policeman reached for the telephone in order to summon the SS who would convey him to the prison, Gershon jumped out of the open window and fled in the direction of the ghetto.
The Nazi policeman shouted after him and from all sides fire was opened on the fleeing man. The Polish and Lithuanian Nazi police took up the chase in an attempt to catch him. A shot by one of the Lithuanian guards hit the running man as he attempted to jump over the fence in his endeavour to escape them.
The murderers summoned the Judenrat to come and pick up the body and he was buried together with other Jews who had come to their last resting place after being butchered.
As soon as the news became known, the family of the dead man went into hiding, and when the Germans came to arrest them, they had already reached the work camp at Krasny near Moldetchno, only to meet their death when that camp was exterminated.
Other similar incidents occurred in the ghetto. One of the RETZKY family who lived at 10 Suwalska Street was accused of selling meat to Jews, following upon which all persons by the age of twelve in that family managed to escape and go into hiding; however, she was also unlucky as a Polish policeman recognized her and handed her over to her executioners. When the younger daughter of the tailor Baruch BERKOVITZ (of Sadova Street) was arrested, the remainder of her family were assembled and murdered.
The youth in the ghetto began to realize slowly that there was no point in continuing to just sit about in the ghetto awaiting the whim of the Nazis, and they sought a way to escape into the nearby forest to the partisans who number was growing constantly. The decision was not an easy one. Rumours began circulating that the Belo-Russian partisans who were in the forest, fighting against the Germans did not accept Jews in their ranks. One group of Jews who had fled the terror to join them had been robbed of their arms and clothing and chased back into the ghetto with the word You have worked for a long time for the Germans. There is no room for you amongst us.
Soon it was realized that the Belo-Russians were murdering Jews who attempted to join them. We investigated the source of these rumours and decided to send a volunteer group of ten youths to find out what would happen to them.
Towards the end of 1942, two Jewish youths entered the ghetto without the yellow signs indicating their Jewishness. They had pretended to be Christians to cover their search for a family by the name of ILUTOVITCH. The Jewish police who guarded the entrance to the ghetto, although suspicious of them, gave them the information they required and told them where the family lived.
It was rumored that the two new arrivals had managed to escape death in the village of DJETL and had come to reside in the ghetto of Lida. No one dreamt that these were two Jewish partisans who had come to the ghetto to save the FLEISHER and ILUTOVITCH families and the family of the surgeon Dr. MIASNIK. On the same night, these families disappeared from the ghetto.
After this incident, the party of ten volunteers left the Lida ghetto in order to make their way to the forest and attempt to contact the partisans.
After they had walked through the night for a distance of about 10 kilometers, they arrived near the village of DOKUDUVO, and met a group of armed people who spoke Russian. The youths were arrested, stripped of their arms and shoes. There was no one to turn to despite their pleas and heartrending stories of the fate of the Jews in the ghetto. Their attempts at contact fell on deaf ears.
Why did you remain so long in the ghetto? was the only response that they received before being forced to return to the ghetto.
This terrible disappointment, however, did not deter the youths, the storing of
arms went on, and the attempts to make contact with friendly partisans never
At the beginning of 1943, a leaflet printed by the Nazi authorities in Novogrudek fell into our hands, from which it was learnt that one of the leaders of a group of Jewish partisans, Tuvia BIELSK, was taking revenge on the Nazis for Jewish blood being spilled. The leaflet was intended for the Christian population residing around Novogrodek and it advised them that whoever gave the Nazis information that would lead to the capture of Bielsky would receive a reward of 50,000 German Marks. Later the figure was doubled.
We began to seek information about Bielsky and found out that his group were active since the beginning of the German invasion. A former soldier in the Polish army, he organized a small group of fighters, which grew from day to day, reaching a staggering figure of 1,200 within a very short time. He managed to extricate many people of the EVIA [IWJE] ghetto and members of the Lida ghetto itself, without anyone knowing where they had disappeared to. A group of youths of Lida decided at all costs to find a way of joining Bielsky's partisans.
Secretly, they took their weapons from their cache and after searching through the forest for a considerable time, they finally returned to the ghetto after a few days to guide a further group to the partisan hideout.
In April 1943 I was informed with the utmost secrecy by my friend, Mordechai KOREN (who later passed away in the United States) that the partisan Moshe MANSKI, who had joined the Bielsky group several months earlier, had arrived in town in order to extricate further groups of Jews. He asked me whether I was willing to join the group which was about to leave. For some time past, I had been looking for such an opportunity and was only too eager to achieve my great desire. With considerable heartache, I parted from my aged, widowed mother, and the rest of my family, and taking my haversack which contained a quantity of hand grenades I had managed to collect, I escaped in the middle of the night via the gardens and field and arrived at the appointed meeting place, by the wood store near the fence of the ghetto. At the moment of departure, the group was found to include five women. We tunneled under the barbed wire, and as soon as we were through, we covered up our tracks in order that no one should know how we had escaped.
We passed through fields, sinking up to our necks in mud, but did not feel fatigued. On the contrary, to us it was easy. Our sense of freedom was so great that the difficult path seemed to us a trifle as we hurried to reach our destination. After we had gone some distance from the town, we approached the village of DOKUKOVO. We were immediately challenged in Russian Halt, who goes there?
We answered the challenge to the effect that we were a group of armed Jews from the Lida ghetto who were making our way to the partisans commanded by Bielsky.
We were immediately surrounded by a party of armed and well-equipped uniformed Russian soldiers. The group of fighters known as Iskra.
It was difficult for us to comprehend that within so short a distance from the town, Russian soldiers were still fighting the Germans.
To our great surprise and relief, the Russian soldiers received us with open arms and treated us with great courtesy. They showed us the way to the fighting Jewish partisans and assisted us to cross the river. After we had progressed another 15 kilometers, dawn broke, and we immediately entered a nearby forest to take cover until darkness fell again and we could proceed on our way.
We lay down to rest and every two hours, another of our comrades would take turns to stand guard in order that the farmers of the area would not trouble us. As soon as it was dark enough, we proceeded on our way to the edge of a village called POODGIN near the water mill. The clean air and the noise of the water in the still of the night lifted our spirit and we were ready to overcome any obstacles in our path.
Some of our companions knocked up the farmers and asked for a few wagons in order that we might proceed more quickly to our next landmark, some 20 kilometers from the village.
The arms we were carrying were our passport and authority for whatever we wanted. The farmers met our demands without a murmur.
At day break we released the owners of the wagons and let them return to their village. AFter a while, we arrived at a house which was surrounded by a board fence. Immediately we were greeted by the partisans, at the head of whom was Asael BIELSKY, of blessed memory.
We were received with great warmth. The Christian landlord and his wife invited us into the house and offered us sour milk and potatoes. We ate our fill, and after resting from the fatigues of two nights on the march, we informed our host of our intended departure and were guided down a narrow lande, which led to the camp of the partisans of Tuvia BIELSKY. After proceeding for about an hour through the forest, we arrived at the camp, which to our surprise, contained over three hundred fighters, who were accompanied by their wives and children and even infirm people unable to take any place in the fighting. From a distance, I could see the commanding figure of TUVIA BIELSKY himself, broad of shoulder, a giant of a man. I had known him during the period of the Russian occupation, when he had been a senior clerk with them. I had actually met him only once, at the house of a friend, the late KINSKY, a book-keeper, and this was the first time I met him again since then.
We recognized each other and with great emotion he shook my hand and embraced me.
The commander received each and every one of my group with a warm handshake and enquired: Where were you all this time, why did you delay your coming. Why did you wait until members of your family were slaughtered?
Even after such a short time in the partisan camp, we began to realize our value.
Our transition period from the ghetto life to life in the partisan village was short. Here, in the depths of the forest, a number of improvised shelters were dug in the follow of the ground, inside of which were arranged sleeping-berths for the people. Scattered about the small area of the camp, various groups of partisans reclined in their improvised tents, and in other shelters, we saw tired and fatigued men resting after performance of their night time assignments. The shelters and make-shift tents were camouflaged by branches which also afforded some protection against wind and rain.
At the noon meal, the partisans would rouse each other, and with ravenous appetites would go to the cookhouse area to receive their meagre rations.
The cookhouse was nothing more than a long pole resting on two small ticks with buckets hung on it, in which was heated whatever food was available by primitive fires laid under the buckets. After the meal, preparations were made for the coming night's raids, actions which were planned considerable distances from the camp.
Details were appointed for battle, others were entrusted with such duties as guarding the camp and its environments [sic], cookhouse chores, care of the infirm and the wounded, etc.
As the meeting broke up, everyone prepared to execute the various orders which had been given to him.
By the early hours of the following morning, those who had remained in the camp anxiously awaited the return of those who had gone into action. Wives awaited their husbands, parents -their children, girls - their sweethearts. They were all very tense and concerned, their feelings and fears showing clearly on their faces.
There were occasions when groups were required to stay in action for several days, or even for weeks on end, in order to achieve their assigned objectives. These were specially trained sabotage units, which laid mines, blew up railway lines and derailed trains carrying German soldiers, arms and equipment to the front; those whose task was to cut telephone and telegraph lines, and specially equipped groups for cutting down telegraph poles. All manner of sabotage actions were under taken to hinder and harass the Germans.
Whenever the saboteurs went out on a mission, their return was most anxiously awaited. Their feats and achievements, the number of tanks they had destroyed, the number of carriages derailed and of Nazis they had managed to kill were the centre of conversation for days after the successful action, and the details were discussed until such time as the next action took place. A kind of competition was introduced into this terrible war. The success of each group was chalked up to its credit, and a friendly rivalry sprung up between the groups as to which of them would score the greatest number of points.
I remained in Bielsky's camp for six weeks, during which period scores of Jews from the ghetto in Lida joined the partisans. Some were fit for battle, and some unable to take an active part in the sabotage acts and attacks on Nazi installations but all gladly willing to undertake any task he was asked to perform.
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