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On the Ruins of the City

[Page 374]

A visit to Lida after the Shoah

Miriam Yungman-Slonimtshik

Translated by Phillip Frey

I was gone from Lida exactly 9 months. On June 17, 1944 I returned home, to the house of my grandfather at 45 Skolna Street which was as it had been and was filled with Russians who refused to return to their birth land. They emptied one wing of the house for us that consisted of two rooms and a kitchen. In this dwelling lived four families who numbered 6 persons. My sister Lizka and I began working immediately, Lizka in the post of the principal of a kindergarten and I as a secretary in an office.

It is necessary to remark that insofar as we knew what to ask of the gentiles in return, they gave it to us in return. The problem was that we too did not know what things and in what quantity to request. At any rate as a number of months passed we recovered somehow in respect to our economic needs. And then the reparation (return to birth land) to Poland began. Former Polish citizens were allowed to return to their birth land. At the beginning the Jewish Polish citizens disassociated themselves from it and did not believe the rumors however little by little they began to register.

I do not recall the precise reason for my first journey to Vilna. However there I encountered many related Jews, and amongst them many from Lita (White Russia-today Belarus) who expressed the opinion of going across to Poland. I made contact with the Zionist leaders in Vilna, met with Nisan Reznik, who then stood at the head of the Zionist youth in that place. He talked with me about the possibility of organizing transfer of Lita Jews to Poland (Polish citizens were permitted to openly cross over).

On one of my trips to Vilna I met Mola Kushtshinki, who wore the uniform of a captain, on the train and he proposed taking myself and Lizka over to Poland, since he had a special crossing permit. Lizka crossed over with him to Poland whereas I handed over my place to our neighbor, a young lad, a partisan who had been wounded in the past, who in that time had been transported by airplane to Moscow for medical treatment and he was the cousin of Hasiah Zederovitz who lived along with us in our dwelling. He was obligated to reenlist in the army. Understandably he rejoiced at the opportunity and crossed over the Polish border with Lizka and Mola.

I remained in the dwelling with Hasiah Zederovitz and Kuba Danziger. One evening there appeared in my house Nisan Reznik and his wife, Khaim Lazar and his wife and two other Jewish couples from Lita and they inquired about the possibility of crossing over the border to Poland. Kuba was then working as a draftsman town and was well acquainted with the official on behalf of the Polish government who was in charge of repatriation. I took care of lodging for 8 people and after several days the matter had been attended to, by means of a payoff of course. And thus I came to be the liaison-person between Vilna and Lida for transfer of Jews from Lita to Poland. In the city there remained another young woman from Lita named Miriam Domani and she was responsible for bringing the people over to Lida whereas I had to find them lodging places and obtain exit permits for them from White Russia to Poland.

This was responsible work difficult and dangerous at once. I continued working so as to not attract attention. I was not permitted to miss work and therefore I was left with little time to take care of those who were coming.

Several days after the departure of Nisan and his friend, there arrived at my house 5 girls with an envelope from Nisan Resnik and in it a request to arrange lodging for them and meals and to get them across to Poland as soon as possible. At the same time there also arrived a friend with whom I had studied in Vilna, he had received an exit permit and need to leave Russia as quickly as possible. Aside from this there were also arriving people from Vilna in groups of 4-6 daily. The girls which Nisan had sent had been in a German concentration camp and were freed by the Red army. From there the Russians wished to send them to a work camp in Russia arguing “that if they could work for the Germans they would certainly be able to switch over to working for them”. I need not indicate that they were filthy, starved and had nothing. I willingly took upon myself this additional burden. From this time on we lived together for a duration of about six weeks.

There were days in Lida when tens of persons were hanging around waiting their turn to cross the border. It is necessary to mention here the assistance of the Jews living in Lida in lodging this great multitude. I remember best the help by Zalman Berkovitz and Yerokham. Yerokham then was a Russian policeman, and I needed a great deal of courage, daring and self-confidence in order to able to turn to him. He didn't disappoint me. I spent weeks in terror and constant tension. Around us were the Russian police, I worked in a government office, the city was destroyed, many Jews did not remain in it, and each addition of new faces was likely to be discovered. Meanwhile the sending-off was delayed. The Russian government official in charge of the matter knew what was afoot and wished to profit too from the matter. He did not love Jews and had to make do on little pay from the Poles, and he made it hard for the Polish official to get permits. The liason turned its back on me and I tried to link up with the Russian official. I was on the verge of dying. The burden I had assumed was too great. I decided to leave Lida along with the girls and the remainder of the men who were waiting their turn and the next opportunity. My friend Yitskhak had succeeded in crossing over with fake papers that Kuba had provided him for free. He also got copies for the girls for nothing. I refused to receive any more people. Through tremendous effort Kuba succeeded in arranging Polish entry permits also for the remaining people. The girls and the many of the Lita-natives with us did not know a word of Polish. Kuba and I had to be their mouths. To our good fortune the permits were inspected at night. We learned by heart all the details about those who were crossing over and we answered to their names in the line. To the names of the men he-Kuba answered, to the names of the girls—I. And thus we arrived at long last in Bialystok. I applied to the Zionist organization there. I wanted them to help me to arrange for the girls. The rest of the people made arrangements on their own. The told me that the office was in Lublin. When I got to Lublin it became clear that Nisan had already left Lublin on his way to Israel. There was no one for me to turn to. By accident I encountered Gershon Katz who took me to the cellar that was the office of the Zionist youth underground. The people then at the head of the organization “did not know Joseph” (as the new Pharoh did not remember what Joseph had done for Egypt they didn't know my contacts). I somehow succeeded in getting them to help the girls the travel further, and I myself attached myself to a group of Hungarian girls returning home from the (concentration) camps and together with them, with Kuba and many more acquaintances from Lida we were able to bribe our way across the border to Rumania and from there on each of us went his own way.

[Pages 375-6]

My Return after the Destruction

By Eliahu Demshek

Translated by Roslyn Sherman Greenberg

I arrived in Lida, in the suburb of Zaretshe, which at one time was full of Jews. I got off the truck, shook the dust off myself, took a few steps and remained standing, considering the ruins and trying to orient myself to discover where I was. My heart was flooded with blood. I could no longer cry. I was numbed by everything that I had experienced in the last few years in the ghetto and the woods, as a partisan.

The whole city was burned down. From the corner you could see the whole vista of the city. I could see the pair of big buildings that were built a few years before the war during the Polish regime. All the burned houses had been cleaned down to the ground. There were no ruins.

I went further up the street. There was not a living soul. I didn't meet anyone, not a Jew and not a Christian.

A little bit further, still in the suburb of Zaretshe, standing on the side of the road, there was a little wooden house which survived the great fire. By chance a Jewish young man, YAAKOV Molchadsky, emerged from it. He was not from Lida, but for some years he had worked large areas of ground, rented from Polish magnates in the surroundings of Lida.

The young man was sent to me like an angel from heaven. We were delighted with each other, to see each other alive. We hugged and kissed from surprise. The first question I asked was if any Jews remained in Lida. When I had left the ghetto and fled to the woods, there were still 1,500 Lida Jews residing there along with 1,500 Jews brought in from the surrounding areas of Lida. I had already heard in the woods about those who were later sent to Meidanek, [Majdanek] but who and how many remained I didn't know, and I couldn't imagine.

Molchadsky answered me, “Yes, there are a small number of Lida Jews remaining. Go up to the Synagogue courtyard. There, a pair of houses are left where all the remaining Lida Jews are staying. There, from them, you can find out who and where the few tens of individual, broken souls can be found.”

I parted with him and started walking further, not on the sidewalk, but in the middle of the street, where we walked in the time of the Nazis. I walked in the middle of the street not because of fear of the Nazis. Then I no longer had fear of them, but from excitement, from bitterness, seeing with my own eyes the destruction of the Jewish city Lida. The places where there had stood big two-story buildings were completely destroyed, as if there had never been anything there and no one had ever lived there. Usually after a fire, the burnt ruins and the chimneys remain. Not usually is everything destroyed down to the ground. The ruins were cleaned up by the Jews themselves who were daily driven as forced labor. They received 125 grams of bread with a soup made of rotten potatoes with water.

I looked around, barely recognizing the streets, trying to orient myself by what was once there. I said to myself quietly, “Here was the building from the government, opposite the building of the City Hall. The small ruin was the city garden. Opposite the city garden was the wooden building that housed the city library.” The places were a little easier to recognize since this was in the neighborhood of the ruins of the remains of the Gedinim Castle.

I go farther. I see the church which didn't burn because the thick walls and big trees protected it from the fire and kept it from being made into a ruin.

I come to the central street, Vilner—later the same street was called Suvalske. The movie theater “Edison” opposite the city garden, the Kaminke Street, later Third of May Street. I go farther—Saltz's courtyard, opposite the place, where there was the outside wall of the Vinogradov brothers, big beautiful businesses; the narrow little streets Turetzke, opposite, Red, the more distant little streets, Glezer Street, Komertzeine, opposite the entrance to the Marketplace, Palitzeine – later named after Y. L. Peretz; Lida Street, which led to the Roslaki woods, the ruins of the big building where was located the movie theater “Nirvana” – a large courtyard with ruins. This the Hitlerite murderers had not taken apart, knowing that this belonged to a well-known Pole, Dluskin. There they had organized the kitchen for the Jews who they took for forced labor and for whom they boiled water with rotten potatoes.

Further I come to the small street that leads to the Synagogue courtyard. The streets are complete. Everything around is hollow, cleaned and emptied. I see the big area in the synagogue courtyard steet, where there used to be built the big, modern Lida city synagogue, the big house of prayer, painted white; from one side opposite the Kitzbishe synagogue, the Hassidic synagogue, another synagogue, the Stolarske small house of prayer, the big building housing the Talmud Torah and the home for the aged, the community building – all were destroyed. It was now a big empty place taking up almost the whole distance of the synagogue courtyard street.

Beyond the small bridge over the narrow, dirty stream, there remained some small wooden houses where were found the few tens of surviving Lida Jews. Single survivors remained from large families. I met the two sisters Leah and Miriam Slonimchik. They came back to their grandfather's house, took in other single survivors, and thus they lived together.

I was then in Lida just three days. I thought of all the ruins, thought of each one separately. It's hard to describe how broken was my morale, walking through the streets that were once inhabited only by Jews and many big Jewish businesses, where there was a steady noise and clatter. Today everything is dead, quiet, burned and taken down to the ground.

I couldn't remain in my birth city and live a normal life. I hurried back to Slonim, which was also hollow and burnt, but it was not as familiar to me and homey as my city Lida.


The Sum Total of Lida Population

Several of us from Lida figured out that there were almost a hundred surviving souls, very many sole survivors from large families, who remained alive by various means. I learned that a child of one of my good friends was still alive. She was the daughter of the well-known bookseller, Leizer Alstein. This is how she escaped death: On Sept. 17, 1943, when they liquidated all the Jews in Lida by driving them to the railroad to send them to Maidenek, several people were saved by leaving the queue and running to Christian acquaintances or into the woods to the partisans. The parents of the child, who was then 12 years old, decided that they would try to run away from certain death. The lot fell to their daughter to be the first to leave the queue and go to Christian acquaintances. Later, the parents, with a younger son, planned to do the same thing. The girl, Yehudis Alstein, left the line which was surrounded by Nazis, and went to a Christian acquaintance, a well-known engineer, a Czechoslovakian, named Wolny. There she waited impatiently and painfully for her parents and younger brother, who unfortunately were not able to get out of the queue and save themselves from certain death. Yehudis sat for 10 months in a hidden room, worked for the Christians in the house, waiting for redemption, hoping once again to be reunited with her parents.

Upon leaving the Christian house, not having a home to go to, she stayed for a while with a school friend, the Pitlock family. From that family, I took Yehudis with me to Slonim, sent her to a Soviet school, providing her with all the necessities according to my ability.

Thus we were together, depressed, bitter from all we experienced. We remained 7 months in Slonim. Our pain was great when in the Jewish city of Slonim we couldn't gather a minyan on Erev Yom Kippur for Kol Nidre. A couple of hours before Kol Nidre we sought out several Soviet Jewish citizens, who were prepared to go to Kol Nidre in the city. That's the way the Jewish city of Slonim was in 1944. The surviving single Jews in each city and shtetl of Poland wanted to run away from the dark atmosphere and bloody ground.

[Page 377]

Back in My Home Town

By Kayla Spotnitzka (Crier)

Translated by Roslyn Sherman Greenberg

In the middle of a still summer day when everything was still in bloom, full of joy, when Jewish life blossomed, suddenly my family and my home were broken up. This was June 20, 1941. My father, a Jew who never did anything illegal or ever uttered a bad word, was torn from us and thrown into prison. We were sent to Siberia for his “great sin.” We were torn out of our home. We couldn't believe or dream that anything worse could happen the next day.

Many of our acquaintances from the city, parted from us with tears in their eyes. When the long train began to move, they ran after it in order to throw a last look at us. We never saw them again. To this day we hear their heartrending cries and their parting words: “Who knows if we might some day be envious of you.”

The train moved slowly, and a fearful heaviness overcame each of us. It was our last look at our beloved city, our last look at the free world.

The journey was slow and hard. Through the barred railroad cars we saw a noticeable unrest. We came to Minsk, not knowing that the war had started. Through the small windows we noticed people running, wearing gas masks. We thought that these were exercises, and we traveled farther are farther into deepest Russia. By accident we learned that the war started more than a week before. With cold hearts we read a newspaper that we begged through the bars from passersby. From the newspaper we learned that the city of Lida was in flames. A large number of citizens and a whole division of German soldiers were fighting near Lida.

Sad news was coming from the Front. The enemy was coming closer to Moscow. Groups of wounded were arriving in the area where we were.

One cold night we were coming back from the night shift work. We saw wounded citizens being unloaded from trucks. It tore at my heart and my sister and I went up to an orderly who carried a wounded man on a cot. I asked if there was anyone from Lida among the wounded. My question sounded foolish to me, as if from the thousands of wounded, the orderly would know who was from Lida. But I was lucky, the orderly answered me that there was someone from Lida named Shulman. “Who else?” I asked him. He said, “Tomorrow, you'll know everything.”

Early the next morning we went into the hospital. Shulman was the best friend of my brother, of blessed memory. He recognized us. There were tears of joy and sadness in his eyes and ours. Who ever dreamed of meeting in far away Siberia. The surrounding citizens looked at him and envied him. “You met your sister?” they ask him. “She's like a sister. We are from the same city,” he says.

A short time passed, and Shulman was once again sent to the front. We received a few letters from him, from Karkov, and no more. His fate remained unknown to us.

The newspapers wrote every day about the cruel acts of the German beasts. We had the feeling that our people were overcome. Day and night we found no rest and relived in worry the fate of those who remained there.

The fate of the war turned around. The Germans began to take stronger and stronger beatings from the Red Army. They came closer and closer to our city. Day and night we sat by the radio to hear the result, when Lida would be freed. We waited. Our hearts felt a blow when we heard the words, “Lida is liberated.”

The same day we wrote several letters, although we didn't have much hope of receiving an answer. Still we wrote. Maybe someone remained alive from our large family. We waited a long time, but no answer arrived.

Suddenly, we received a letter from Leibish Ferdman, an old friend of ours. It was a letter full of sadness. From our family, no one remained alive. From the whole city, there remained a number of Jews, who rescued themselves through a miracle. Lida was destroyed, together with its dear Jews. Grief? It's needless to say. We were broken up. Although nothing remained of Lida and no one remained, our hearts were still drawn there, to see again in person our city of birth.

Shortly thereafter there was another hard blow for my mother, myself, and my sister. It was the end of 1944. Our only brother was sent to the front. We parted with him with the words, “Revenge for the innocent blood.” From afar he waved, and said, “Take care of mama.”

That was the last we saw of him. He arrived at the front. The only letters we received from him were full of pain. He went through the desolate cities, empty, without Jews, liberated camps, and saw tired remnants of Jews, whose only request was, “Take revenge.”

The war came to an end. There was dancing in the streets. Our hearts were full of sorrow. There was no one to meet and no one to wait for. There was no place to go and no place to stay. We decided to leave as quickly as possible and join the displaced Jews who were able to save their lives.

We sat in the railroad cars and we couldn't believe that the time had finally arrived, but to whom were we going and where? The trip took six weeks, but we felt no despair as we traveled with the thought that we were going to what we unfortunately called “Home.”

And soon we were coming nearer and nearer to Lida. We traveled through all the shtetls near Lida and didn't close our eyes for a minute, although we were so exhausted from our long journey.

Finally, before dawn we arrived in Lida. We didn't think, but ran quickly out into the city. It used to take about a half hour to get to the street where we had lived. But something was strange. It only took a minute to get there. The city? It was unrecognizable. Every house told the horrors it had seen. The houses looked like broken gravestones. Every house was an extinguished person's life.

We came closer to our house. It was no longer a house, just a small mound overgrown with grass. Not far away there was a crooked old post, the only sign that our house once stood there. I couldn't remain there long. My feet wouldn't hold me up. I cried as if I were at a grave, and I ran away from the terrible picture. I ran through the synagogue street. Empty and desolate, there was not one Jewish face. It was as if no Jew had ever been there. The small stream flowed still and quiet. I took a peek and thought, “You small worthless stream outlived everyone. You saw it all, and you flow on as if nothing ever happened.”

We ran farther as the earth burned beneath our feet. We ran in the direction of the neighborhood where our Aunt Golda used to live with her children.

From a distance we saw the house. With exceptional speed we approached the house. We looked through the windows and saw the same furniture. I even recognized the linens on the bed. But different people, complete strangers, slept in the beds. We knocked in order to find out what was going on. They opened the door and were not happy with such guests. In order to get rid of us, they told us a lie. They said we should look for the son of the woman who formerly owned the house, and they quickly shut the door.

We thought of the many times Aunt Golda had not eaten in order to own her own little place, and now it was inhabited by Christian strangers.

The pain and vexation were great and we wanted to run away quickly. We didn't have any time to run further. The train would be there for a few hours. We wanted to run to many more places, but time did not allow. We wanted to see every place where we had friends and acquaintances. But everything was the same. It was hard to recognize the places. Everywhere was the same sad picture. In the remaining houses for which people had toiled and sweated and saved for their whole lives, Christians were living. We wanted to run far away from the destruction.

We ran through the former marketplace. There were no sellers, no small merchants, no businesswomen with fruit, no Jewish women with baskets in their hands—everything was dead, as if there had never been anything there.

We ran back to the train, since time was limited. There we met warmhearted Christians who met us at first with joy. They wondered how we were living. Others said, “Jews, Jews, your brothers and sisters went like sheep to the slaughter.” Thus they threw salt into our wounds. At that time we didn't know what to say. A minute later I came to my senses and said, “And why were you silent? You were probably busy helping to transport them!”

The train started to move. We looked with bitterness at the guilty earth, and just as we had earlier been drawn to come and see, now we were eager to leave and see no more. We wanted to run far, far away from the earth which was saturated with our blood.

[Page 379]

After the Destruction

By Sarah Shiff (Rabinowitz)

Translated by Roslyn Sherman Greenberg

After the war I returned to Lida. In my fantasies I imagined how my city would be after the war. But what I saw with my own eyes was worse than I expected. The big Synagogue with the circular roof and the big silver dome had been seen from all sides behind the city. It had for about ten years looked over all the tall buildings in the city with its proud and holy presence. The synagogue, which was our symbol of beauty and holiness, had disappeared from the horizon.

I stood by the side of the big military truck, which brought me to Lida, and searched for this former picture from afar. This picture that was engraved in my memory, I never found again. Even the brick houses that surrounded the synagogue, had disappeared. Only the big white church, with the tall cross, looked at me from afar.

Lida, my old home. I had hoped after 5 years of suffering and pain, to find, after my return, some kind of closeness, a drop of hope, and perhaps even someone of my relatives.

The tears that filled my eyes at that moment were not only for the thousands of Jews who perished here, not only for my large and extended family of which only my parents, brother and sister remained in Siberia. I mourned for all the small streets, all the Jewish houses that disappeared together with Jewish life, and our big Lida synagogue.

The driver, a Soviet citizen, who had brought me to Lida, certainly understood that I was strongly hurt and broken. He was patient, and sat looking at my tears with sympathy. I became uncomfortable and started to console him, “I hope you find your relatives alive even if your residence is destroyed like here.”

“It could be” he answered as if ashamed. “Well, are you staying here? I have to go further,” he added.

“Yes, I am definitely remaining here. I have to go see if my house is still standing.” We shook hands and wished each other much luck. The truck moved away and I went with a throbbing heart to the center of the city.

Nothing was recognizable. I got lost. Seldom did I see a passerby. The long Suvalky Street was completely torn up. The brick houses on either side had been erased. There were only long heaps of grass. When it seemed to me that I had to turn left, to go through the market, I found nothing to indicate where the market was. Everything was overgrown with high and wild grass. I looked for a sign of the old marketplace that would show me which way to go. Suddenly, in the distance, I saw the old market pump. It remained standing in its place like a remembrance of the destruction. Where was my uncle's brick house, which used to stand several meters from the pump? Where were all the small and big businesses? Where were the Jews who had for many long years earned their living here?

Nothing was left any longer, as if they had never existed. Now I already knew the way, but I mustn't go as I used to along the stony pavement. I can not pass Boruch Kolkavsky's bakery, which always had the aroma of fresh bread. And I can't pass the “Lazuker's” Cheder in which I spent my best years. I can also avoid “Libetshke's” small sugar creams where all my groshen that I got were spent for a small sugar candy or a small poppy cake. I could now go straight through the former fenced courtyards. Now they no longer had fences. More by intuition than knowledge, I went with a throbbing heart, to “Synagogue-Street”, where our house stood. It was as if “Synagogue-street” became smaller. The ruins that remained of the Jewish houses almost completely covered the pavement. From afar I saw the small bridge over the small stream and near it a wooden house was still standing. In no way could I tell whose house it was. Nearby I saw a line of houses, the length of the street, that had not been touched by any bombs. Children were running back and forth. However, they were not the black and blonde heads of the children of our neighbors. They were lying already a long time in the mass grave, clasped tightly in their mothers' arms.

Other children were playing there, children who were happy with their new homes and playgrounds, which they inherited from the “Jews.” When I came closer, it seemed as if our house was the first one. Yes, there was the courtyard. Opposite was Reuben the Smith's dwelling. Deeper in the courtyard was the large stable. Everything looks older, seedy, dirty. Could 5 years make such a difference in a house? Yes! This was our house where I spent my childhood, the house where every Friday night, just 5 years ago, could be heard the songs of my father and of Berel with his high tenor voice. Yes, this is my former home, from which I was taken 5 years ago, on a Passover evening, and from which my loved ones were sent away to Siberia.

I was curious to see how it looked. With a shaking hand, I knocked at the door. The door opened with a hoarse and creaking noise. In the opening stood a young, heavy Christian with a pock-marked, large face. She looked at me curiously and asked whom I was seeking.

“I am not looking for anyone. I just want to see the house that was mine 5 years ago.”

“Do you want to throw me out of here?” she asked in fright.

“No. Be calm. I didn't come to claim my ownership. I just want to look around to see what changed here,” I declared.

She grudgingly invited me into the dwelling. Everything was changed. The big stove that warmed three rooms was uprooted and broken. The boards of the floor shook with every step. The big, white oven, by which my mother used to spend many long hours, was almost gone. The windows of the kitchen were covered with old, speckled cartons. I noticed here and there a reminder of our furniture.

“Why is everything so neglected and broken?” I asked the Christian woman. She looked at me with astonishment: “Don't you know there was a war? This house was shaken by the bombs which fell nearby.” She asks me, “You are a daughter of Rabinowitz? Do you know your parents were sent to Siberia?” I didn't answer her. My thoughts at that moment were with my city of Lida and its Jews who were completely destroyed.

[Page 381]

Liquidation of the Jewish cemetery

By I. Rubinovitch

Translated by Zeev Sharon

Right after the occupation of the city of Lida by the Germans, the liquidation of the Jewish Cemetery began. Farmers from the neighborhood began to pasture their cows and later began to the smash gravestones and take stones for their private use. It went on like that also after the war with no interference.

In the mid-1950s, the city council forbade the few Jewish families that resided in Lida to bury their dead there. With no other alternative, they had to carry them to the cemetery in the town Ivye. The fast liquidation of the cemetery in Lida started at the beginning of the 60s. First, they destroyed the section closest to the shore of Lidzhika River with digging machinery. They dug [foundations] and built warehouses and various constructions for boats, speedboats and services for the artificial lake that was made with the waters of the Lidzhika River at the end of Postovska Street. After that, they also destroyed the section of the cemetery bordered on Postovska Street and broke the gravestones that still remained. All of this was done despite the protest of the Jews who still lived in the city. Many human bones were scattered on the surface of the ground. The Jews picked them up into a sack and buried them in the cemetery section that still survived at that time. At the end of January 1966, only a few gravestones were left at the center of the cemetery and even those were destroyed later.

Thus, the last remaining sign that evidenced the existence of a large and flourishing Jewish community in the city Lida was destroyed and obliterated.

[Page 382]

The monument on the mass grave of Lida's martyrs

by Yitzchak Rubinovitch

Translated by Sara Mages

In the summer of 1961, I came to Lida and approached the mayor in regards to the establishment of a memorial monument on the mass grave of our city's martyrs who were slaughtered, on May 8 1942, by the Nazis. I emphasized, that as a native of Lida and a living witness to that tragedy, I ask the local government to erect a memorial monument on the graves of the Holocaust victims that will perpetuate their memory, so that future generations will not forget the horror of the Nazis. I explained, that at the present time it is very difficult to find the location of the graves, and in a few years they will be completely erased from the face of the earth and no trace of them will remain. He replied that the municipality would review and discuss my request, and that I would receive a detailed answer on the matter in the near future. A short time later I received an answer. They explained to me that in the budget of the current financial year they did not allocate funds for the construction of such a monument, but they will allocate for this purpose in the budget of the next financial year. Based on the answer I received, I turned again, in the spring of 1962, in a letter to the mayor of Lida asking if a budget had been allocated this year for the construction of the monument, and when the work would begin. To my great astonishment, I received an answer saying that no funds had been allocated for the construction of the monument. According to the government's decision, the local government is forbidden to erect memorial monuments, monuments, swimming pools, etc., until they build suitable apartments for all the citizens of the city. I took a day off from work, traveled to Lida, and came to the mayor again. I told him that it was really funny, that for the construction of a monument that would cost 1000-2000 rubles, it is necessary to wait until suitable apartments are built for all the city's residents - a decades-long plan that hundreds of millions of rubles will be invested in its implementation. I added that this is first and foremost a human and a humanitarian question, and in the entire advanced world, memorials have long been erected in such places of mass murder. Then, he shouted at me that all the people of his native village in Russia, including his family, had been murdered by the Germans for helping the partisans, and he did not demand that the government would erect a monument on their graves, and I demand from him what he cannot do now. We exchanged more harsh words, and I left his office.

I returned to the district city of Grodno, where I lived at the time, and the next day I turned with this question to the head of the district government. I appealed to him several times, in writing and orally, demanding the intervention of the district government, as the supreme local government. I demanded that they would order the mayor Lida to keep his promise. After a struggle of half a year I came to know, that the district government came to an agreement with the municipality of Lida, and simply do not want to erect the monument just because the victims are Jews. So I decided to turn to the central authorities in Moscow.

To clarify the truth of my words, I wrote a letter in three copies in which I explained, in great details, the question and the negative and unfair attitude of the local and district authorities to carry out the plan of erecting the monument on the mass grave of the Holocaust victims. In addition, I made three copies of all the letters I had received over time, from the mayor of Lida and from the head of the district government, and attached them to my letter. At the end of the letter I added that after all this I had come to a clear conclusion that they deliberately do not want to build the monument just because the victims are Jews, and if they were not Jews, the monument would have stood on their graves a long time ago. I also added that it is a disgrace that the Soviet reality is like this. I sent the letter by registered mail: one copy to the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party, a second to the Soviet Prime Minister, and a third to the editorial staff of Pravda newspaper. It was this step that brought the positive turning point in the question. At the end of 1962, I was invited to come to the office of the head of the district government. He informed me that mayor Lida had been instructed to erect a memorial on the graves of the Nazi victims in the spring and summer months of 1963, and that for this purpose the required amount of money had already been transferred.

At the beginning of the spring of 1963, I turned with a letter to the mayor of Lida and asked if they had already started to build the monument. I received an answer that when they started I would be informed. Spring passed and summer began, and again, I received no message. I wrote again, and after a while I got a reply that they would let me know when they start. I took a day off from work, traveled to Lida, and arrived at the mass grave site. To my great astonishment, I did not find any signs to indicate that work had begun. I immediately went to the mayor, but did not find him, because that day he was not in his office. I returned to Grodno and the next day I turned to the head of the district government. I showed him the letter informing me of the start of work, and I told him everything. I returned to Grodno and the next day I turned to the head of the district government. I showed him the letter informing me of the start of work and told him everything. In my presence he gave a stern instruction in writing to the mayor of Lida to start work immediately, and finish it by October 1, 1963. I asked for a copy of the instruction and received it. A short time later I traveled to Lida again, arrived to the place, and realized that this time the work had begun. At the end of 1963 I received a letter from the municipality of Lida informing me that the monument on the graves of the Nazi victims had been erected. They added that the inscription on the monument would be engraved in the spring of 1964, when the weather would be comfortable. Then, flowers will also be planted at the foot of the monument. I sent them a letter in which I suggested what to write on the monument. They did not want to accept my offer. However, after a struggle of several months they accepted it. They wanted to write “Soviet citizens,” but eventually agreed to the compromise wording,“Citizens of the city of Lida.

The monument's unveiling ceremony was held on July 8, 1964, the anniversary of the liberation of the city from the Germans by the Soviet army.

Now, every year, when wreaths are laid on the foot of the military monuments, wreaths are also laid at the foot of this monument. The monument is protected by law because it belongs to the government.

And so, after a three-year struggle, the monument was erected on the mass graves of our city's martyrs by the Soviet government.


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