« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

[Page 333]

The Final Struggle (Cont'd)

Seeing the wood I already told all, that had happened with me in the course of the several days. The calmed me and assured, that I could be in the ghetto legally exactly like everyone else.

When the manageress arrived, the workers told her that I had been sent by the Judenrat to the kitchen in order to help in sawing the wood. Actually she had indeed requested but the Jdenrat did not have sufficient people and therefore they send only the very minimum. Therefore the manageress was indeed satisfied, since she would have another unpaid slave for the future.

Impatiently I counted the hours till the day's end, when I might be able to go away to the ghetto to see, how many in the cottage where I lived, were still alive.

Coming at nightfall into the ghetto and looking into the cottage, I encountered very different people there. I had known none of them previously. Of the 23 persons who had lived in all three rooms of the house no one except me remained alive. Immediately I felt myself a stranger amongst those with whom I wasn't acquainted, who had lived in a second ghetto until the slaughter. From amongst my meager store of clothing I found very little.

I think, that it is important to briefly relate how the ghetto appeared after the murderers left remaining scarcely 20 percent of the number of souls, who were found in all three ghettos.

When I came into the ghetto it was already the fourth day since the old-new ghetto had again existed. According to what I soon realized, 1300 Jews returned after the selection. Several days later 20 additional persons came, who had saved themselves in one or another way. This is really important to assert, that of the nearly six thousand Jews, who the murderers drove to the graves, only 20 saved themselves by some miracle.

Life in the ghetto already continued “normal”, so to speak, as if nothing had happened four days previously. The sadness and the pain of the loss was borne deep within their hearts. The commands had to be precisely carried out. So, that there would be no time for mourning the deceased. There was a new Judenrat, and a new police-chief, over the newly-created ghetto police, and Jews exactly as before, went out to work outside the ghetto.

The most interesting was that, while the murderers had driven everyone away from the ghetto, they left police to guard the possessions and finery, that the unfortunates left behind, so that the gentiles shouldn't steal it. And when the 1300 Jews returned at nightfall they found clothing in the houses and even a bit of foodstuffs. Whoever was fortunate enough to happen into a house, where wealthy people had previously lived, became their inheritor. Afterward they lived off of this in the ghetto, selling the clothing to Christians or they bartered it for foodstuffs when they went to and from work.

Across the street from my cottage, there lived a Lida family of 7 persons, ho occupied a whole cottage for themselves,: parents, three grown daughter, and a daughter-in-law with a three-year-old little girl. They were called Tzigelnitski. They called the man “Henekh the yellow” in the ghetto. He was deaf and a wood turner by trade. This very family I had known previously. I frequently used to visit them in the evenings after work. The whole family saved itself from the slaughter, thanks to the two daughters whom worked in the Gendarmerie. By chance, one of the S.S. gendarmes, whose clothing they washed, spotted them, when everyone was being led out of the ghetto to the selection. This gendarme led them to a house in the ghetto where they hid themselves somewhere. They remained hidden there till nightfall and the heard, that Jews had come back to the houses.

But the gruesome death nonetheless did not miss them. During the liquidation of the Lida ghetto in September 1943, they were led away together. Only the daughter was saved, leaping out of a train and then coming to Belski's partisan otriad (Soviet partisan military detachment). She now lives in Israel.

These Tsigelnitskis were overjoyed by my being saved, just as if I were one of their family. Seeing, that I was lonesome among strange people in my house, they proposed that I live with them, and indeed they adopted me into their family. So it was we remained together until the day of leaving for the forest.

Since I had during the day, when I was discovered in the kitchen, that there was a good place for me to work, I decided immediately to request that the Judenrat send me there to work. So it actually was. On the morrow the Judenrat send me to work in the kitchen. That already was my last slave-labor in the ghetto.

I will go over certain episodes from my new work-place.

The manageress of the kitchen, as I had already previously mentioned, was a middle-aged Polish woman, her family name was Tomashevits. She was

[Page 334]

a very pious Catholic, but an anti-Semite of the first sort. Her husband had been a member of the Polish Reactionary Endekisher (German entdecken=to discover, Yiddish antdecken means then same) party. When the Soviets captured Lida in 1939 they took her husband, along with others, to Siberia. From then on she brewed enmity toward Jews, since she held Jews responsible for her man's exile.

This very anti-Semite was the total mistress over the Jewish product-rations, which she received from the city-administration for the ghetto kitchen. The rations of barley and potatoes, which the Nazis doled out for every person in the ghetto were much smaller than those for the Christian population. Out of this impoverished ration the heartless administrator stole an additional half, sold it and made a fortune at the expense of the hungry Jews in the ghetto.

I had previously thought, that only the Nazis were guilty, that we received watery soup. First when I arrived to work in the kitchen, I discovered, what the gentile-woman was doing with the provisions.

After working there several weeks, the chef became ill and no longer came to the kitchen and they needed another chef. The administrator came over to me early in the morning when I came to work, and called out to me:

---Layzer, Bendyesh kukhazshem (You will be the chef…)
I answered her immediately that I will not be able to carry it out, because I don't know with what they eat it (sic). She stamped her foot on the floor and cried out angrily:
---Miltsh, Psyakrev! (Silence you doggish blood).
Soon she told the women, who worked at peeling potatoes, to show me, what I had to do.

The women calmed me, seeing my frightened gaze and my helplessness. The promised to help me and assured, that I will accomplish the work, just like the previous chef, who also knew nothing at the start.

From then on I was the chef…it took a few days and I already knew this work, and soon everyone in the ghetto, where very few people knew me, already knew that I was called “Layzer the chef”---everybody at once began to call me by this nickname.

In the same week, when the murderers carried out the gruesome slaughter of the Lida Jews, they did the same in all the towns, that had fallen under the Lida area-commissar Hanweg. Selections also took place there. Out of the ten towns of the Lida circle, where 30,000 Jews had been found, the murderers selected 2 thousand of the most important craftsmen, such as, tailors, cobblers and mechanics, and allowed them to live.

Simultaneously there came a command to make these towns “Judenrein” (free of Jews) and to send the remaining Jews to the Lida ghetto.

Soon the several thousand Jews arrived in the Lida ghetto. The murderers drove them tens of kilometers on foot, because of this they only take along only that, which they could carry on their shoulders. So they came with only the most essential clothing and underwear. Thus the only Lida ghetto out of the entire circle again had more than three thousand persons.

New heart-rending scenes were played out with the coming of the newly-arrived. Their wounds were still fresh due to the newly -lost families and no one was able to comfort them, since among the Lida-natives the wounds
of after the slaughter were also fresh enough.

The crowding in the ghetto became more severe than before the destruction. Within the same number of houses, where previously 2500 souls had lived, it was necessary to make space for the additional arrivals. But they soon figured it out. Everyone compressed himself a bit more and space was made for everyone.

In the workshops, which had lost so many master-craftsmen during the slaughter, the administrator began to fill the ranks with the newly-arrived craftsmen. Also in the other facilities, the Judenrat needed to send Jewish workers. Bit by bit we became accustomed to the new situation in the ghetto.

Also in the kitchen, where I worked as chef there entered a change since we had received more eaters. Then I needed to cook two large kettles twice a day, 12 noon and at dusk. When the workers sent from their work they took along their portions of soup to the ghetto. I used to labor beyond my strength, but it didn't bother me.

But I was sickened that the anti-Semitic administrator was stealing half of the provisions and I had to hand out watery soup to the people. I was helpless against her. But suddenly there also came a change in the realm of good.

Amongst the newly-arrived Jews were also a number of Yeshivah-Bokherim (students in a Jewish-religious school) who came from Radun with the handful of the Jews remaining after the slaughter there. Radun and her Yeshivah were once renowned

[Page 335]

far past her borders, where hundreds of Yeshivah-Bokherim had studied. One of them came to work in the kitchen. This Yeshivah-Bokher, who they called Khayim, actually wrought marvels. He wrought a revolution in the behavior of the heartless Polish kitchen administrator.

I spare you a depiction of Khayim's piety. I shall only say, that we, workers in the kitchen, considered him to be a holy man, and he was in the fullest sense of the word. I used to be cheered-up by his faith.

I tell you, Layzer, that we will live until the salvation, indeed in the near future-he used to constantly console me.

The manageress, Tomashevitz, immediately noticed his piety, she being herself a believing Christian, beginning the first day, when khayim came to work in the kitchen, she had a completely different attitude toward him than to all of her other Jewish slaves.

Soon Khayim also became aware of the “good deeds” of the ugly Gentile, and all of his limbs shook, when we constantly would talk about her thefts.

One special day the manageress called out to Khayim to beseech God for her husband. She wishes to get some information, whether he is alive.

Khayim didn't answer her about this. It chanced to happen, that shortly after her turning to Khayim, she received a telegram from her husband, which had come from Turkey, that he was healthy….

The Gentile nearly lost her mind out of joy, I don't know, that she truly believed, that this had helped, the Khayim “ had pleaded with the Lord of the World on her husband's behalf”…but the result of the telegram was an good one indeed for the hungry people in the ghetto. Some sort of crisis of conscience had taken place. From then on she entrusted Khaki with the key to the warehouse for the provisions and the key to the cellar for the potatoes, and Khayim saw to it, that enough barley and potatoes were put into the kettle and I could now cook up a thick soup, with which the hungry Jews of the ghetto might at least for a short while quiet their hunger.

Then I began to feel just a liittle satisfaction from my hard work. It was now not difficult to stand by the big seething kettle in the heavy steam to mix with the large wooden paddle, in order that the soup should not burn.

At the same time Khayim prevailed with the manageress to have a separate small kettle of soup for his Yeshivah-Bokherim friends, in order that they should not have to eat from then on-Kosher kettle. Actually the soup was cooked without any trace of fat, only the most meager amounts of barley and potatoes. But when on rare occasion there came a holiday, when she would receive bones for the kettle, the Yeshivah-Bokherim would not eat the soup. Then it occurred to Khayim to ask permission from her to cook for themselves separately. Friday, for example, he used to cook soup for the Yeshivah-Bokherim also for Shabbat, and he would carry a whole bucket of soup to the ghetto a short while before sunset, who then could compare to him?

Partisans Let Themselves Be Heard

When Hitler began his blitzkrieg against the Soviet-Union in June of 1941 and the soviet army was forced to retreat hastily, hundreds of thousands of the Red-Army fell into German captivity. The Nazis, however, began the mass murder of the Russian captives. When the prisoners became aware of this, they began to flee into the forests. Starving, they began to drag themselves through the villages, where they would get food. Out of these prisoners, together with other Russian and White-Russian elements there originated the ramified partisan capability, which had already linked up a contact with general staff of the partisans across all White-Russia and other areas. At the beginning nearly nothing was heard from them, in any case, Jews in the ghetto knew nothing about any partisan movement. Until the great slaughter of May, 1942.

Hundreds of villages spread out over tens of kilometers around Lida. The peasants of those villages used to market at Jewish stores and because of this the Jews were acquainted with many peasants. The same peasants would also come from time to time to Lida to sell their village produce, when the Jews were going to and from work. In secret the Jews little by little would buy small quantities of foodstuffs and at the same time sell them their clothing, which made it possible for them to live through the critical time.

The central locus of this forbidden commerce between the peasants and the Jews was in the courtyard and around the destroyed buildings of the Judenrat kitchen, where I worked. The Jews were forbidden to go to the market, where the majority of the peasants had to sell their produce. There they had to sell their produce at minimal prices which the Nazi occupiers had determined. Therefore there were enough peasants willing, who took a risk and came to the kitchen yard knowing, there all of the Jews from the ghetto com and buy their produce, for which they took whatever they wanted to and at the same time they bought from the Jews their clothing. In this fashion

[Page 336]

They used to meet with these peasants often and from them they later indeed learned, that there were partisans moving about near Lida.

As I have already related, I lived with Lida family Tsigelnitski. In that cottage many people used to gather. Since there was no place to go, so this very cottage became, so to speak, a sort of “Kibitzarnie”.(A place for gossiping=kibitzing, as in watching a card-game). People were eager to hear a bit of news, so they knew already, that at Henekh the Yellow's one might get to know something…besides this there were a group of card-players, they used to sit there all evening long, until midnight, and they played.

Meanwhile different conversations, which were carried on there, buzzed like a beehive. Every evening many people from other cottages used to come by that cottage. Each one would bring a bit of news from his workplace, or that which he heard from a peasant, and from this place it went to other houses. In this wise this cottage became, so to say, a sort of “telegraph-agency”…I quite often couldn't go to bed until midnight, being exhausted after a difficult day, because my cot, just as all the other cots, was occupied by the seated kibitzers and card-players…but I was a pleased as could b, that I had fallen into such a house, since besides, that I felt there as if I were in my own home, but also because of the above-mentioned good qualities, that one could become aware of what was news.

On one specific evening one of the arrivals brought a message, that peasant acquaintance had told him, that armed partisans were moving about near Lida; they ride on horses and they come into the villages in broad daylight, and fear no one…

This first news about partisans made an uncanny impression on everyone. From that time on others in addition brought different news about partisans. With bated breath they listened to everything, which used to be told.

Rapidly indeed the partisans truly began to themselves heard. Nearly every day we would become aware, of what the partisans had accomplished. Here they blew-up a bridge, there they blew-up an ammunition train, that was headed for the front, or somewhere else, they tore up the telegraph wires over a whole area, or attacked Germans who were riding through on their way and killing them, taking their weapons away afterward. They swallowed all of these stories with bated breath.

A second night some came in and brought this news, that partisans had torn into the town and attacked the Germans there together with the police , killed them, took their weapons, at the same time taking Jews from the ghetto there with them into the forest…they actually swallowed every word, if they did or did not believe, but they were delighted with this news, that the murderers were being repaid in part for the spilled Jewish blood.

That the Germans were truly beginning to feel the partisan activity on their skin, was soon known in the ghetto because of what, Henekh the Yellow's two daughters, who used to work in the S.S. Gendarmerie washing clothing, reported.

It was their lot frequently to wash to bloodied clothing and underwear of the S. S. Gendarmes who were brought wounded after a battle with the partisans. No day passed, in which the Gendarmes were not sent to various places, where partisans had carried-out an act of sabotage. They used to shiver like rabbits, these very “heroes” when they had to right to a competition with the partisans.

On one specific night the partisans blew up the electric station in the middle of the city of Lida. Afterward it appeared, that the station engineer, a Russian, together with many other workers there, after carrying-out this bit of work, all went into the forest, where the partisans were waiting for them in the appointed place. This very daring made an extraordinary impression in the ghetto, that the partisans had no fear of going into Lida, where there was a garrison of German soldiers. The Jews in the ghetto did not suffer from the darkness, because the Nazis gave the Jews in the ghetto no electrical illumination. The houses were lit by little kerosene-lamps.

The result of all these true and fantasized news reports was, that bit by bit the thought was every deeply impressed on their minds to leave the ghetto and to go into the forest and to link up with the partisans.

From then on a hot polemic went on in Henekh the Yellow's cottage concerning this question.

Two sides were created---proponents and opponents.

The proponents tried to demonstrate by logical arguments, that we now have but one alternative and that is---to go away into the forests. The opponents thereto tried to prove, that the ghetto is now safer than before and therefore we must remain in the ghetto until God will help us and the Nazis will drop dead (Einnemen a Mise Meshune in Yiddish=literally conquer a strange death)

[Page 337]

It needs to be emphasized here, that both from the beginning and afterward, when things started to move and people began to leave the ghetto, there had not been in the ghetto a sort of similar organization, as there was in the Vilna ghetto, the U. P. O. (United Partisan Organization), which had provided weapons for itself for an uprising and thereafter went away into the forest. Here it was quite different. Each one, who decided to go away into the forest, had first to provide himself with weapons and link up by himself, which at the onset was not one of the easiest assignments. First later, when people began coming from the forest to remove the remaining members of their families, at the same time they took along more persons, and about later there were group-leaders, who led people from the ghetto into the forest. Also the Jewish commander, Tuvioh Belski, sent emissaries into the ghetto to take Jews out.

Winter came near and now not one day elapsed, that we should not near of new partisan accomplishments. They were no longer telling made-up stories, but they were now relating facts about blown-up bridges a derailed trains, and moreover not very far from Lida, where a whole garrison of Germans was located. And with every with every new bit of information we were carried away to join up with the partisans.

On one specific before-morning, when we awoke to go to work, we became aware, that during the night Doctor Miasnik and his family disappeared from the ghetto. This doctor, a surgeon, who was popular not just in Lida, but in the whole surrounding area, because he was a very big specialist. Even the Germans considered him the best doctor in the German military hospital, where he worked and it appeared, that he was certainly “secure” with his life. Miasnik's disappearance from the ghetto had then, I remember, made an uncommon impression in the ghetto. This very news was the chief conversation in the houses.

There began an intensive movement to acquire weapons for oneself. In the ghetto quickly were found intermediaries, who thereby earned, a pretty penny you understand. There also opened a source for the Poles to earn big money. They already had sources from which they could get the weapons and the middlemen in the ghetto took care of every individual, that had the ability to pay the fabulous amount, such, for example, a gun, that in ghetto language was called a “long-one”, cost about 35 thousand rubles, a revolver (“short-one”) cost about 20 thousand rubles. As stated, fabulous prices, that only a very small number of people could acquire.

There were however other ways that people contrived to provide themselves with a rifle or a revolver. I know about a couple of mechanics, who secretly assembled a gun from pieces, which they collected from somewhere, and which they finished in the workshops near the ghetto. Even in the S.S. Gendarmerie itself, on Lida mechanic, Ozshekhovski, who worked at repairing the weapons in the workshops there, had assembled a gun out of parts for himself, which were lying around there, and with that very gun he went away thereafter into the forest together with his mother and brother.

Bringing the weapons into the ghetto was still a separate problem, and still another problem was finding a place in which to hide it.

Notwithstanding all of these there was another problem. There were such people, who could not contrive how to provide themselves with weapons and were simply fainting (with the desire) to go away into the forest, so they lay in ambush to detect a hidden “long-one” or “short-one”. And when they detected such a one, they simply swiped it and vanished together with it. When the owner of the weapon discovered, that he had been “done justice”(ironic Yiddish) he had to appear that he didn't know…Such a case occurred on the same courtyard where Henkh the Yellow's cottage was found. In the cellar of the courtyard a “long-one” has hidden, Someone detected it and quickly vanished from the ghetto.

But notwithstanding all of this, in the ghetto quietly there went on a considerable movement to acquire weapons.

Little by little people began to disappear from the ghetto. The winter began quite early with very severe freezing-spells. And that was one of the most important reasons , why people delayed going away into the forest for later, even such, who had prepared weapons for themselves. None of them had a clue as to how one might be able to live in the forest in wintertime, From the individuals, who had already gone away to the forest, there were not yet any messages. In the ghetto itself at that time it was ostensibly peaceful at that time. The optimists in addition assisted to convince themselves and to convince others, that in the ghetto “safety' was greater than before, because the Germans need the Jewish workers, and the Jewish craftsmen fulfill many needs.

This same Henkh the Yellow, with whom I lived, belonged to the same category of optimists. He worked as a turner in the workshops near he ghetto and because of this he had a “good” shine. He used to argue more or less in this way, when

[Page 338]

Came back from work to the cottage, bringing a new demonstration of his optimism:

---Today---he used to say joyously---wagons again arrived with work for the cobblers, tailors and other, and other shoptalk, that hopefully they would end it all within a year's time. Well, isn't that a sign, that the ghetto is safe…
And other time he would barge in joyously, relating with pathos, that the area-commissar himself had made a visit to the workshops and had said, that “ we had no cause for fear, we need only to work diligently and all would go well, that there will be no more repetition that, which had previously happened”…

How many times I tried to convince him that he should not be rocked asleep into such optimism and to believe that, that a Hitlerist, whose hands were dipped in Jewish blood, promises. But he did not allow himself to be convinced. Thus because of this optimism he and his family went away to Maidanek during the time of the liquidation of the ghetto. In that time, when he had such good possibilities of together with his family going away into the forest. He did not lack the money to acquire weapons for himself, and linking-up was a given. All of those came into his cottage, who later led people into the forest.

I mention the case of Henkh the Yellow with pain in my heart, because he was not the only one, who had had the possibility of going out into the forest. There were many hundreds such Henekhs, who thanks to their boundless optimism who missed this very opportunity, which did not last very long.

First Living Greeting From The Forest

Among others two brothers used to frequent Henekh the Yellow's place---Ignatz (Isaac) and Abraham Feldon. They were refugees from Lodz (Poland). As soon as Hitler began the war with Poland they ran away to Lida, where they lived until the Germans captured Lida. They had even more fortunately spared from the slaughter, on the 8th of May. The worked for an important German entity and therefore had had a “good” shine.

But no loking at this, Ignatz, the elder, was amongst the first, who went away into the forest. It seems to me, that even before Dr. Miasnik. The younger, Abram, remained in the ghetto. They had decided between themselves, that after he, Isaac, would have united with the partisans and therefore would know what life in the forest was like, he would return to the ghetto and them would take him out, Abraham, together with Isaac's beloved girlfriend, Mashe Shevakhovitsh.

After Isaac's departure a couple of months of impatient waiting by Isaac and Mashe elapsed. Henekh's whole family and I knew about all of this, but no one else.

This was the beginning of February, 1943. That night there was a burning frost. In the middle of the night a light tapping was heard at the window. All of us were aroused and immediately ran to the window. We thought at that moment, probably there again was some sort of trouble. The windows were covered with ice and we could see nothing. But we soon heard crying-out in Yiddish: “Open the door, quicker!”

I went to open the door. I see---Ignatz is here! I let him in and immediately bolted the door.

When he came into the cottage and we got a look at this garb and the revolver, which was visible at his side, we were all frightened. Ignatz sensed about what the fear was, so he soon said, that there was no cause for alarm, because he had entered through the furthest wire-fences, and no one had seen him and further no one need know, that he is here. These words calmed everyone. No one any longer was going back to bed. Since we were standing there in our underclothes, we all sat down upon the beds and Ignatz began to tell us about the partisan-life in the forest. We were so caught up in the telling, that we did not realize that dawn was breaking and everyone began to hurry to go to work. Ignatz crawled up to the attic, taking a warm quilt with him and went to sleep. On the way to work, Henenkh's daughters told Abraham and the Shekhakovitshes about Ignatz”s arrival.

By the following evening all three were ready to go away. Mashe and Abraham had, naturally, also had “short-ones” (revolvers). We parted with them and just as no one had not seen or heard of his coming, no one saw when the three vanished into the blackness of the night.

On the morrow, after their departure, nearly the entire ghetto knew everything, and it became an open secret…

Ignatz become united with Russian partisans of the otriad (Russian official partisan detachment) “Iskra”, and indeed that where he brought Abraham and Mashe. He had no hint, that there he would first lose his Mashe, who he loved so much. One time Mashe, together with a group of partisans, was sent on an operation and did never return.

As soon as it became known in the Lida ghetto, that there was a Jewish partisan-otriad with a Jewish

[Page 339]

Commander, the largest portion of those, who went away into the forest, began to draw themselves to the brothers Belski. It didn't take only and people came from Belski's otriad to take out the other family members and at the same time to take out acquaintances or neighbors. In this way, from that time on, both smaller and larger groups became to desert the ghetto. Naturally, everything took place really in secret, but the ghetto already knew about it.

Since Ignatz had appeared in our cottage and after all three departed, uneasiness took hold of me concerning the thought of departing to the forest. I could find no place for my self either at work in the kitchen or at Henekh the Yellow's cottage. The thought with me constantly but I could see no way out for myself to make it happen. I had no money with which to acquire weapons and without weapons at that time the partisans wouldn't accept you. Only the Belski brother accepted everyone without weapons, but that took place a bit later.

I had a premonition, that the disappearance of persons from the ghetto, could not long remain a secret from the German might, because all who had disappeared, had worked in German entities and the Germans of those entities would surely inquire where they had to, since their Jewish workers hadn't come to work. This was clear to everyone in the ghetto and they indeed were very afraid of the consequences.

I remind myself also of how strong battles took place between the optimists and those, who were preparing to go away into the forest. The optimists cried out waving their hands:

---Remember---they argued---you will bring a tragedy on the ghetto with your going away into the forest. We remain here. And indeed, what does it matter to you, that which might happen to us?
The other side had an answer for them:
---Who is stopping you from going into the forest. Follow our example. We don't want the murders to drive us to the slaughter once again.
These are the authentic words exchanged, which it was my fate to hear and which were repeated every evening in Henekh the Yellow's cottage from those who came there. Here however I must add the fact, which many of the opponents knew in their hearts, that they were not correct in their argument. They argued this way simply because they could not move themselves to leave the ghetto. A portion because, because they did not want to part with their family and they could not all go together or because of other reasons.

Indeed it did not take long, that that, which they had feared indeed came to pass.

On one certain day the area-commissar, Hanweg, sent for representatives of the Judenrat, and presented them with the question, why are Jews disappearing from the ghetto and where are they going?

The Judenrat had an appropriate excuse. They explained, that “that all who have disappeared, are apparently, Vilna-natives, and since they think, that it will be better for them in the Vilna ghetto, they have possibly gone away to there.”

If the area commissar accepted this very excuse, it is difficult to say. It is more apparent, that the area-commissar along with his clique had already hit upon whence the Jews were disappearing and therefrom came the consequences for the Lida ghetto.

Several days later the Judenrat received a command from the S.S. Gendarmerie, that the Judenrat must provide the names of those who had disappeared from the ghetto.

One can imagine, who sort of commotion the command evoked and what sort of fear came over everyone. The immediate effect of the command was such, that still more people went away into the forest and the Judenrat had to report on those who had disappeared. He was not even able to conceal it for more than 24 hours, because also the entities were instructed, that they must promptly report, if their Jews had not come to work.

When the area-commissar saw, that the disappearances had not diminished they he instituted further measures, in order to stop the running-away from the ghetto. He then issued a command to the Judenrat, that the ghetto was to be fenced in with a three layered high barbed-wire fence. In the command it was stated that the work has to be completed most-rapidly. Soon the barbed-wire and wooden posts were delivered and the Judenrat designated a special brigade to work on erecting the fence. On Sunday even more people were put in place, who were free of their daily work. Those, who worked at this fencing-in felt, that they were digging their own graves. The earth was frozen, and every hole, which they had to excavate in order to put a post in place came about with great difficulty. But not looking at all this, with every day the number of posts put in place grew greater and the three-layered fence encompassed a greater area of the ghetto.

This however was not all that the area-commissar managed to contrive.

Up until this time there were no White Russian police posted in the ghetto or at the gate. At the gate only a ghetto policeman was stationed: The White-Russian policy appeared after that time, when the workers returned from work, in order to be able to catch someone, who had brought foodstuffs into the ghetto. Soon, however when

[Page 340]

The three-layered fence was finished, the area-commissar sent a watch into the ghetto, which was composed of the members of the White-Russian Facist youth organization, which the area-commissar had created, in which were enrolled the most thoroughly corrupted of the Polish and White-Russian population. They wore uniforms of white peasant linen and hats in the shape of a goose's beak. That is why they were called “white-geese” in the ghetto.

These very hooligans and blood-enemies of Jews soon were the ”masters” of the ghetto. Day and night they carried-out the watch not just at the gate, but they constantly went about in the ghetto armed with revolvers and guns. With this there was added a new trouble in addition to the troubles and fear, which they endured day after day. They heaped flaming abuse upon the ghetto and they had to be watchful at every turn.

First, it was understood, that they could no longer carry foodstuffs into the ghetto or to carry out an article of clothing to sell. Getting weapons was out of the question. They also feared because, in the future they would no longer be able to exit through the wires into the forest. Three fences is (also worse than) one.

From then on in the ghetto there was no peaceful minute. The “white” hooligans endeavored by any means to frighten the Jews. For no reason at all they spent entire nights firing, in order to frighten the sleeping. If is impossible to recount all of it, what sort of chicanery they carried out upon the ghetto inhabitants. There were instances, when someone left his house to attend to a need, and even if it were still before ten o'clock, that is, until which time it was permitted to move about in the ghetto, that person was shot on the threshold of the house. That was why they meant by, “he went out “after the permitted time”. Therefore they feared to set foot out of the house as soon as it grew dim.

But how does the expression go---One need sleep on a source of trouble one night, after that it is no longer a problem. They soon became accustomed to the new situation. They finally managed to handle the “white-geese” and exiting from the ghetto did not decrease, it grew greater.

It is profitable to mention here in several words the police chief of the Lida ghetto. The ghetto-police did not have such a hated reputation as, for example the Vilna ghetto-police.

The last commandant of the Lida ghetto-police was called Layzer Stolitski. One of his brothers was a teacher in Vilna Jewish Real-Gymnazie. Layzer was an intelligent and modest and often I wondered about him, how could such a man take it upon himself to accept a position in the ghetto-police. He was also one of the frequenters of Henkh the Yellow's.

This very Layzer Stolitski found a way for those people, who wanted to go away into the forest, would be able to go out of the ghetto. It was this way:

When a group made ready at night to leave the ghetto, the group-leader would at that time inform Layzer Stolitski, and he would then do what was necessary. He would have bottles of whiskey prepared in the Judenrat office. He would invite the “white geese” for a schnaps ( shot of whiskey). Nu, refusing themselves a drink was something these hooligans could not bring themselves to do… It is self-explanatory though, that Layzer Stolitski could hardly deny them another glass…at the same time, they were in the bureau and were pouring themselves whiskey, a ghetto-policeman had conveyed the signal to the waiting group and the lads exited through the hindmost wire-fencing, that they had at that time “done-justice-to” as was proper, so that they could crawl out without leaving a trace (Layzer Stolitski had in mind to later also come into the forest, and meanwhile the liquidation of the ghetto got in the way and he shared the fate of going to Maidanek together with all the others).

About a half kilometer from the ghetto an estate called “Piaroov” was located. This very estate was nationalized by the Soviets after their coming to Lida, and when the Nazis came thereafter, he area-commissar Hanweg considered it to be his property. In the ghetto it was called “The area-commissar's estate”…here ghetto Jews worked at different occupations. The partisans cast their eye at that farm and on one certain night they executed at “visit”…they selected the very best horses and wagons and filled them with, whatever they could carry, of the very best, and then retreated into the darkness of night…

When the ghetto Jews came to work at daybreak, , they encountered the steward, still shivering with fright from the fear he had experienced….

From that time on the area=commissar sent a watch of armed White-Russian policemen there.

The raid by the partisans turned out to be advantageous for both the partisans and the ghetto. The groups happened to be crossing the fields of that very farm, where later on the police were on guard.

[Page 341]

My Dream Suddenly Becomes Actualized

It happened in mid-March 1943. The severe winter was already ending. Outside you could smell spring in the air. On the other side of the ghetto wires the fields of winter grain were visible, which had just now been freed from the deep snow. Also upon the few trees in the ghetto buds were beginning to appear and you could feel the caress of a warm breeze. In one word: everything appeared spring-ish. But upon our souls and in our hearts it was autumn-like….

Suddenly salvation came for me.

It happened like this:

Just as soon as it became warm outside, people from the forest began to appear in the ghetto more often, who had come to take their near-ones out, thereby a contact was established between the ghetto and the forest.

Here I want to add in addition one moment.

In Lida, in the town center, there was a large garden of plants. It belonged to the area-comissariat. Here in this garden a lot of Jews worked, men and women, from the ghetto. The overseer over the workers was a Lida Jew, his name was Mones. This Mones had a cottage for himself, and he had permission from the area-commissar to live there, because he was responsible for everything that took place there. That every garden later began the place, where the majority of partisans hid out, who used to come from the forst and in the daytime could not slip into the ghetto because of the “white-geese”, who were on guard. There Mones' friends and acquaintances also had hidden weapons. This Mones and his wife later came to Belski's otriad and were there until the liberation.

One day Abram Feldon came from the forest to take his own people out of the ghetto. When I came at nightfall from my work in the kitchen, I found Abram in our cottage, at Henekh the Yellow's. I immediately put it to him that he should take me along into the forest. At the beginning he was hesitant, because I had no weapon, but since he knew me well from before, when he was a constant frequenter of Henekh the Yellow's, he soon agreed and told me to prepare to leave on the following night. I immediately set out to make a rucksack from a canvas sack, which Henekh's wife gave me, the house filled up with kibitzers who had come in, but now I didn't listen in to their conversations. I was absorbed in my sewing the rucksack and my thoughts already were in another world. When I went to bed late at night I couldn't fall asleep and all night long I though about tomorrow's going out of the ghetto.

At daybreak, the same as every day, I went off to work. But the work did not go well. Whatever I touched fell out of my hands. The women who peeled the potatoes, immediately observed, that something had happened to me. So I told them, that I felt not well. But to Khayim, the Yeshivah student I entrusted my secret. He gave me addied courage, that I should have faith in the Master of the Universe, and then everything would go well. I counted the minutes until the day should end.

Coming into our cottage, I encountered Abram and he related that, he already had a group of more than twenty and around twelve o'clock at night, when the signal would arrive from Layzer Stolitski, we would go out, and I should be ready.

I had already prepared a few under clothes and other necessary articles.

That evening Abram Feldson was sitting with us in our cottage. Past 12 o'clock, Layzer Stolitski's messenger ran in with the signal, that we should quickly take off….

In few seconda all were at the edge of the ghetto, at the (barbed)wire-fencings. On that night a another group went out, the leader of the second group, which consisted of more than 30 men, was a young man from Lida. He was called Laybke Ozshekovski. In the ghetto he was called “Laybke der Katsap”- “A Yatke mit Bayner”.(Russian=Laybke the Russian, A big strapping fellow) This was already the second group that he led out of the ghetto to the Belskis in the forest. Therefore together with Abram's group there were about 60 persons, that had until then departed in the course of one night.

As if for spite, that night was moonlit. It was quite bright and once could see fro a great distance. I remember how we all were angry then at the moon…

When I took a look at the assembled people with the rucksacks on their shoulders, and on those, who had guns in their hands, I felt a chill in my stomach from surprise. Just think of it-----One one side the “white-geese” are found in the ghetto, and on the other side, on the other side of the wire, in the area-commissar's farm, that is all of a few hundred meters from the ghetto, where the White-Russian police had maintained guard, and here are standing a number of fellows with weapons…..

I had not yet started to consider thoroughly this very extraordinary picture, when Abram and Laybke the Katsap soon drew their revolvers from their pockets and took over command, announcing to us, that from now on we must submit to all their instructions. Soon thereafter they told us to

[Page 342]

crawl through the hole in the wires. To which they pointed. Both stood with revolvers in their hands until everyone had crawled out, and then they made the wire “right”. On the other side a narrow flat brook ran. They crossed the brook and immediately found themselves in the fields of the farm. And indeed immediately there was heard a loud howling of dogs. Abram and Laybke gave the word: “Lads, move it.”

At this point is is worthwhile to turn back to the story of the raid on the farm, which I mentioned earlier. If not for that raid on the farm, the howling of the dogs would certainly have drawn attention to the ghetto. After the raid, the police, who already at that time were guarding the farm, shivered in their skins, and made themselves unaware, or indeed were asleep.

Over the course of 3-4 hours we went from field to field, over hills and valleys until we went up upon the dirt road.

Traversing nearly half a kilometer, we encountered two partisans riding on horses, they were a reconnaissance patrol of a Russian otriad. They stopped us, questioned us as to whom we are. Our leaders explained everything to them. They wished us success and we went further along the road, it was no longer novel to our leaders to encounter partisans, but for us, who had until now only heard about partisans, the first encounter with them made a strong impression. Many were so cheered, that they began to jest , that we really need to make a “SheHeKheYonNu” (Prayer In Hebrew to mark an accomplishment […for giving us life, sustaining us, and bringing to this very time])….I, for example, only wondered about that the partisans wandered about here free as a bird, just as if the Germans weren't the masters here…A bit further, when we constantly kept encountering partisans, I ceased wondering.

The leaders informed us, that we were now out of the greater danger, but they said, that we should not think, that the danger of losing our heads (getting killed) lurks here yet, at every step we take. The difference is only that, they assured us, that just as we wish to avoid encountering the Germans, similarly they are frightened of meeting the partisans…especially if turned out that a small group of Germans had to ride over the roads, they (I'm not being facetious) trembled (at the prospect of) a partisan attack. Therefore they always traveled heavily armed.

Until we arrived into the forest we had encountered no Germans and also no White-Russian police.

As day began to break, that we would soon enter a large village, where we could rest and get something to eat. They gave us instructions about how we should behave in the peasant houses. During the course of the entire night we, because of the detours across the fields, we had traveled in total 12 kilometers.

The leaders informed us, that we should spread out in more houses, so that all could eat their fill. When I along with several others from our group went into a house, the entire peasant family greeted us “good morning”. We didn't have to ask and a large loaf of ruddy bread was put on the table along with a large pitcher of milk. Hungry we were, and we lit into the loaf of bread and the milk and gorged ourselves. In very few minutes there remained no sign of the bread and the milk…the weapons in our hands, not for a second did the lads let go of them, even when they were eating. I must say, that regardless of how hungry I was, I did not get as much pleasure from the bread and milk, that gazing at the picture of how the entire peasant family was serving us, striving to display more and more helpfulness. We heard no other words from them than “milenki” and 'dzshenki” (beloved and touching).

We weren't in this village for long. Thanking them for the food we made our way further on the dirt road in the midst of the brightness of day.

Inasmuch as Laybke the “Katsap” was leading his whole group to Belski's otriad, I along with several others of Abram's group united ourselves with Laybke's group and before daybreak we set off on our way.

At the very edge of the forest we encountered two intelligence patrollers who were mounted on horses, armed with rifles and revolvers. One was called Ben-Tsion Gulkovitsh and the second Khayim. I don't remember his family name. The first now has his own milk-farm in the Catskill-mountains, in Woodbourne, New York.

The base was situated deep in the forest. At this point we first felt drained of our strength. Yet we begrudged ourselves even a moment's rest, because we wished to be at the base as soon as possible. The intelligence patrollers led us directly there.

Entering the base, we immediately saw the panorama of the encampment- many cabins were spread out over a considerable area of cut-down trees. I saw Jews, men, women and children, without yellow patches…
Cheerful, smiling, the like of which I did not see in the ghetto. My first impression was colossal. I am not ashamed to say, that at this moment a tear of joy rolled down my cheek…

[Page 343]

People streamed toward us from all sides, family members, acquaintances who threw their arms around one another. People were kissing one another, embracing, crying tears of joy, that several more tens of Jews had torn themselves out of the murderous hands.

Soon the Belski brothers came up to us-Tuvioh, Eshhal Zise and the youngest, Artshik, in addition to the other members of the staff.

The commander Tuvioh Belski stood out amongst the others with his tall, broad-shouldered figure, which truly befitted his title. He wore a leather coat and a revolver at his side. You could see on his face, that he was satisfied with the new group of partisans, which had now been added to the otriad, and specifically, with the added weaponry. Soon he began to look over the weapons, inspected the hammers, to see whether they would be useful, when they would be needed…you could also see on others' faces a certain disappointment, that a portion of us had come without weapons. The otriad by that time had numbered about 300 persons and weapons were in very short supply. They looked forward to every little piece of weaponry that might be added. And we suddenly heard outcries from the side: “another packet of clothing has come”. This critical remark was directed toward those who came without weapons. I soon sensed what it meant,--those, who have no weapons, are a burden for those, that do have them.

The weapons problem was very painful, especially at first, because many persons came without weapons. All of these persons were presented with the name “clothing”, such a one, who must be dragged along…It was however not correct, because the “clothing” contributed substantial help to the general battle against the Nazi enemy, especially in the last phase of the Belski otriad's operation, which took place in the Naliboker Pustshe. Then they could clearly see, that not only were the “clothing” no burden, but quite opposite, indeed quite a help for the whole otriad. But the fact remains, that the Belskis accepted Jews with and without weapons, both young, and old, whoever could tear himself out of the ghetto and find his way to the otriad, even in the very difficult moments, in which the otriad found itself.

« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.

JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Lida, Belarus     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page

Yizkor Book Director, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Max Heffler

Copyright © 1999-2023 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 6 Sep 2003 by LA