Translated from Hebrew by Aviva Kamil
May 1942. Life in the Novogrudok Ghetto is as usual: every morning the Jews go to work outside the Ghetto under heavy guard. The ones who stay behind the Ghetto walls are waiting for their safe return, consumed by fear. Rumours started to circulate that there are partisans near Novogrudok and that their chief is someone by the name of Gromov. People are curious, but there is no concrete information. Somebody said that Gromov left a note in the barbershop, which read: Gromov was here. Everyone wants to see or contact him. People would do anything to leave the Ghetto. Those who are still alive begin to comprehend that gradually all of us will be killed. But the Germans promised that the ones who were left alive are needed and nothing untoward will happen to them. Despite that, the aspiration of most of us is to get out of the Ghetto. Is it the influence of spring or plain common sense that guides everyone? The main question is where can one hide? They look for contacts among the villagers.
One bright morning we found out that a few people had left the Ghetto overnight. Those were: the smolarnik [tar maker] (I forgot his name), Ben-Zion (Benche), Movshovich, David Golvicki and Ada Ziskind-Shapiro.
They went to an acquaintance of the smolarnik, near the village of Shchorsy. But after two days the smolarnik and Golvicki returned and said that the guard near the Shchorsy Bridge detected them and opened fire. The two managed to escape, but Movshovich and Ada Ziskind-Shapiro were killed on the spot. That incident shook everybody. If anyone held any hope of escape, it disappeared. We realised that all is lost, there is no safe refuge, we are all hermetically shut off. In the meantime rumours went around that the second slaughter was about to take place. The murderers prepared themselves with all the thoroughness (planmaessig) of the Germans. The rumours materialised. The terrible day of judgment arrived. It was the 7 August 42.
In the morning, as usual, people left under heavy guard to work. We, my husband and I, worked in the infirmary in the house of Mordechi Movshovich in the 3 rd of May Street. There was a lot of restlessness. Everyone was looking for a hiding place till the killings would end. From the experience of the first slaughter we knew that those who managed to hide during the slaughter, returned unharmed to the Ghetto. The Judenrat prepared a list of all the tradesmen who will have to move to the building of the district court. Till now the Ghetto was only in Pereseka. Many made an effort to be among the lucky ones who were transferred to the second Ghetto. We wanted to move too. But we met with the stubborn reluctance of the Judenrat and the police, though the medical personnel, to which we belonged (my husband was a dentist and I was a nurse) were promised previously that they would be left alive. This time we did not trust them and found a hiding place in the cellar of the dentist Shimon Kaminiecki ZL (of blessed memory). It was a house next to the German police station. We entered into the jaws of the cruel beast in the hope that they wouldn't look for us there. Who would think that someone would dare to hide there? we asked ourselves. Fifteen people were concealed the cellar. We put a kitchen cupboard in front of the entrance door from the kitchen; we brought water and bread to the cellar and waited for the terrible storm to pass. At night we heard sirens above our heads. From the house next door, the police station, we heard cries of people, the sounds of beating, cursing, sobbing, moaning and from time to time shots. We set huddled close to each other, did not move, and waitedÉ hoping to survive, to let all the troubles pass. That was the strong desire within each of us. We did not know the time; light did not penetrate the cellar. By listening to the traffic we estimated that it was dawn. We were desperate. How could we find out if the slaughter had ended? Who would tell us when to come out? No one knew where we were. While we were thinking and whispering too each other, we heard the sound of steps from the other side of the cellar. The cellar under the house of the family Kaminiecki extended under the vacant apartment of Kushi Plazenski (who lives today in Israel). The entrance to that apartment was from the main thoroughfare, the market square, and only a thin wall separated our cellar from the abandoned and dilapidated apartment. We did not know about it at the time. There was no time to contemplate. The wall was pulled down and, as the light penetrated, policemen appeared, their guns at the ready; the order was given for us to come out. They pulled us out one by one; it was still dark inside. I managed to hide under a washing basin in the cellar. I curled up under it and lay quietly. Suddenly I heard screams from the police station. I thought: they killed everyone. I wanted to go out, was there any value to my life alone? When facing death you don't know what to hold on to. One moment you have a strong will to overcome all and the next you are enveloped in such despair that you want to die without resistance.
Suddenly the basin was lifted, a policeman lit a match and recognised me. I knew him too, it was a Byelorussian policeman. I took off my gold watch, gave it to him and told him to go and save my husband, I promised him that if we will stay alive we will give him money. He agreed, covered me with the basin again and went out. From time to time policemen entered the cellar moved the basin and I moved with it. It was hard to say how long it tookÉ I thought that a very long time passed. Suddenly I heard a familiar voice calling out: Lyubinka, come out. I thought that it was a dream. It was my husband's voice - was it possible? Where was he? The call was repeated again and again. I came out and saw my husband without the yellow patch, with the police officer, they asked me to follow them. I was confused, where were they taking me, is it life or death? No, now I want to live, I must overcome all troubles in order to bear witness to all that happened to us. A sort of courage arose in me. I kept quiet. Erect I walked into the police station. An interrogation started; why did I hide, do I know what is going to happen to me? I don't remember my answers. But till today I can hear my cry: I want to live, this is the right of every human beingÉ The cry was not normalÉ it was a cry for life.
After I saw many acquaintances around me, one was sobbing the other was tearing his clothes in desperation, they wanted to know what I was askedÉ There were hundreds of people there. After a few hours nine people were taken out, among them, my husband and I. They led us under guard to the court house. We stayed alive thanks to the head of the Polish police. My husband treated his teeth and made a bridge for him. Later we found out that the policeman was in contact with the partisans. We don't know what happened to him.
In the Ghetto we met some members of our family: my brother in law Meir, who was saved by a miracle, my uncle Rafael Kaplinski with his wife. Their daughter Lea was killed in the slaughter. Some 800-900 Jews, broken and shattered, remained alive. We entered empty rooms. They smelt of mould. Still shaken, the survivors of Meztal (?) were brought in. They numbered approximately 250 people. From all sides stories were told about the slaughter. One said that he saw with his own eyes babies who were torn out of their mothers' hands by the brutal oppressors and had their heads smashed against the wall. Some told us about the way they were saved. Staying in the toilets in the yard saved many.
Soon came the order to divide the Ghetto. The courthouses were to house the tradesmen, and the professionals and those with no trade were to be moved to Peresika. Everyone tried to stay in a place they thought safe. People started to invent trades. Like everywhere else, friendship and family relations were useful, a talk with the Judenrat could help. I thought about one thing only: how to leave that safe place. That thought did not give me rest. We started to prepare an escape. Where could we escape to? And how? After the first slaughter, when I lost all my dear family, I was desperate and nothing interested me, but later after facing death a strong will to live overtook me.
At that stage we heard nothing about the partisans. I contacted a Christian woman by the name of Pargowicka. She lived 2 km. from the courthouse, in the village of Selco (Selec). She was an honest and God fearing woman. I trusted her. I told her everything and asked her for help. I was not mistaken; she did help me. She had relatives in the village of Khrapenevo near Iv'e. She heard that there were Russian soldiers in that area, who had not managed to escape and were hiding in the forests. Her readiness to help us was great. She believed that if she saved us, God would bring back her husband, who was taken prisoner by the Germans. She was left with 4 small children.
My husband, brother in law and I decided to break out of the Ghetto. One day Dr. Sasha Ziskind approached us. He was a good friend of ours, and asked if we would agree for him, his wife, Tamara Viner from Volkovisk and Dr. Mark Berkman [also spelled Bergman in another article], a surgeon from Warsaw, to join us. They did not know Mrs. Pargowicka. They learned about our plan from a friend of Mrs. Pargowicka. We agreed, of course, to let them join us, without doubt or hesitation. Leaving the Ghetto was a very risky undertaking. Getting out was, in itself, a very dangerous operation, and then there was the problem of surviving outside the Ghetto. But the idea of leaving the Ghetto was stronger then any doubts we had. We decided to do it. We decided to escape from the Ghetto on the 19 of August 42.
Our group consisted of 5 people: Dr. Berkman, who was then the head of the Judenrat, Dr. Tamara Viner, Sasha stayed in the Ghetto because of ill health and was to join us in the winter, Meir Rudnicki, my dear brother in law and a school master, my husband Yaakov and I. We were to meet at the water well in Karelicher street, where people from the Ghetto, under heavy police guard, were allowed to draw water every evening.
On the appointed day we returned from our work in town in time when people from the Ghetto had arrived to fetch water. We stayed till dark in the barn of Benzlavski, a postman. We had to pass by the Ghetto, there was no other way, except walking through the fields, which was more conspicuous and, therefore, dangerous. We took off our yellow patches and walked on the road, singing, so as not to awake any suspicion. Our hearts thumping, we passed by the barbed wire fence of the Ghetto. It was an unusual courage that grows from desperation and the strong will to live.
We arrived safely to Mrs. Pargowicka's house. A guide was waiting to take us to Khrapenevo.
We left at midnight and walked a meandering route, circumventing the police station in Gorodelovka. While crossing the river at a shallow place [next to Selec there is a small river called Volovka] we realised that the light projectors of the Ghetto lit the surroundings. Crawling, we crossed a wide field and entered the forest. We felt safer there, but as our bad luck would have it, it was harvest time and Russian planes appeared and bombed the granaries. The bombing started fires, which lit a large area. Slowly we advanced towards the town of Vselub [about 14 km from Novogrudok]. We stayed in the forest without knowing exactly where we were. We thought we were in the depth of the forest and to our surprise we saw villagers going to the church in Vselub. Our guide went to the church too and told us to wait till the darkness of the night. [Another day must have passed since they left Selec at midnight]. Crawling we entered the forest, hid among the bushes and waited for it to get dark. Quietly we exchanged opinions: Tamara wanted to return to the Ghetto, we: my husband, brother in law and I, stood by our decision not to move back from there but to go forward, even if we were to meet the most horrible fate, but not to return to the Ghetto. It was a frightful time, we were crowded behind a bush with no food or water. Now and then we heard voices of Germans who went to and from Novogrudok. Hour after hour passed. Finally it was dark. The guide did not return. Doubts arose again: He betrayed us, let's go back one of us said where are we going from here, who knows the road?, another said we are in these unknown surroundings for the first time in our life. At 10 o'clock the guide returned. We walked all night along narrow tracks among bushes. Eventually, at dawn, we reached our destined place. [Khrapenevo lays some 25 km north of Novogrudok and about 4 km south of the river Neman. It is desolate country, full of swamps and isolated villages. The nearest town of any size, Iv'e, is 15 km away, on the other side of the Neman.]
It was a swamp and we had to sit there all day. Only at night were we allowed to sleep at the granary, which was at a distance of 200 meters. A new life started there. The main thing that was demanded of us was to sit in absolute silence, lest the shepherds near the swamp would detect us. The guide's sister, and her kind mother, supplied us with food. We did not hear about partisans yet. We were told that once Russian soldiers had been in the district, but they had left. It was a quiet area. Just an isolated house far from the road. A month passed by, the winter was approaching. We decided to dig a bunker (zemlianka) in the forest. The men went out at night, they tied a stick or a hoe to their shoulder, which looked in the dark like a rifle, to deter villagers, if they were to meet them. The women stayed put. The aim was to dig a bunker 2 meters deep, because my brother in law was very tall. They dug even deeper, till they reached water, which was a necessity, if we were to dwell in the bunker.
Once, early in the morning, we were fortunate to meet two Jewish fellows: one from Vselub and the other from Swencany, who lived at present in Vselub. They put us in contact with a few partisans who operated in the area. It was a small unit, altogether seven people. Their leader was an escaped Russian prisoner of war by the name of Anton. Our life changed. Our men went out for reprisal operations, they returned to their bunker, but did not tell their friends about the women in the bunker. Later, only in one operation, the women were involved.
At the beginning the operations were small, there was a shortage of weapons. Not everyone had a rifle, they only dreamt about rifles. The first big and important operation was to destroy the bridge [across the Neman] to Zboisk. All of us went out one night to fetch barrels of tar, which we took from a tar factory, located about six km from our shelter. We also got some kerosene, which we appropriated from a village. We set fire to the bridge. It burned for a few days. No one dared to reach it for fear of partisans. It was a audacious operation.
Our big enemy - the bridge - was eliminated and was not repaired at the time we were there. We felt safer and we moved around more freely. We were looking for weapons. The men ambushed some Germans, killed them and took their weapons. That is how they got their rifles. With the passing of time the men started to worry about the safety of the women ie myself and my friend Tamara Viner-Ziskind. The women did not take part in night operations, but were waiting, fearful, for the return of their men. It was necessary to obtain food. They crossed the Neman, went into villages, which were hostile to the partisans and took some food. That was how a small unit of partisans in the district of Ivia-Novogrudok was formed. [At that time, Belski was gathering the largest body of partisans, which, on liberation, numbered over 1200 Jews. Twelve months prior to liberation the Belski detachment settled in the wilderness of Naliboki, across the Neman, not far from Khrapenevo.]
We passed the days by telling stories about our lives. That is how I know about the life of Dr. Mark Berkman. His home town was Warsaw. He worked before the war as a surgeon at the hospital on Czysta Street, Warsaw. He was clever and intelligent, but had a hard character. He said himself that he would walk over dead bodies to achieve his aim. But we liked him, he had a good sense of humour and liked to tell stories. He reached Novogrudok from Lvov, whence he had escaped, after the Germans conquered Warsaw in 1939. Dr. Limon, who was then the manager of the hospital in Novogrudok, accepted him as a surgeon in the district hospital (Sejmikowy). He left a wife and a daughter in Warsaw. He was a brave man. After the second slaughter in Novogrudok he was elected to be the head of the Judenrat.
My dear brother in law, Magister Meir Rudnicki, was born in Novogrudok. He finished high school in his town and then the faculty of history at the University of Vilno. When the Russians came he was the head master of a school near Slonim. He was an honest, quite and modest fellow, good hearted and unpretentious. He never liked people to talk about him or praise him. Always with a smile on his face, he used to say: If we will get over all this, I will show you that I am not that shy!. Poor man, he did not survive. When he took the rifle for the first time, his hands trembled. It was said about him that he would never hurt a fly, and yet he had to become a fighter. The first operation was hard on him; he could not shoot from an ambush. But when he reminded himself who the people that he was shooting at were, he found courage and used his bullets.
We lived together. It was like one family, and we became close to each other despite of our differences. Dr. Berkman and my husband Yaakov (who finished dentistry at the university of Bordeaux, France) many times helped the villagers. The partisans did not have a permanent location. Everyone was hiding separately, waiting for the spring. The aim was to unite and create one fighting body. It was hard to do that in the winter because of the climate. At that time we did not hear about other Jewish partisans. We thought we were the only ones. The Russian partisans were doing their rounds in the villages and if someone was sick they came straight to us and asked Dr. Berkman to help. My husband always accompanied him. Once, when one of the partisans was wounded, my husband pulled out his tooth and made him a primitive prosthesis from a piece of wire. Contacts between us, the locals and the Christian partisans were firm. That friendship and trust brought a disaster upon us in the end. We believed that we were all in the same situation and we all had the same aims. We forgot about the ever-present anti-Semitism.
From time to time we sent messengers from the village to find out about the
situation in the Ghetto. We received news that the conditions in the Ghetto had
become more severe. Guarding was stricter, the food situation worsened. Dr.
Sasha Ziskind was coming to join us. Sasha was born in 1915. He was a handsome
boy and very talented, quiet and modest, always ready to help anyone in
trouble. He finished his high school studies in Novogrudok and later finished
medicine at the university of Vilno. During the Russian rule he worked as a G.P
at the hospital in Novogrudok. His friends liked him. He and I went to school
together from early childhood. He was a good and a loyal friend.
On the 5 of January 1943 he walked disguised as a villager on the way to our hiding place. A policeman from Vselub, who was once his patient, recognised him and turned him over to the Germans. They jailed him in the Novogrudok prison, put him through horrific torture and pressured him to reveal our hiding place. He died a martyr without uttering a word. I honour his memory. We heard the details of his imprisonment from the jail wardens.
On the same fatal day the Belski unit was attacked by the Germans and some escaped to the district of Khrapenevo. We waited for the arrival of Sasha. Looking around we came face to face with the Belskis. We never heard of Tuvia Belski before, but we accepted willingly his offer to join his unit in the spring. We had just said good-bye to each other and left the house when it was attacked. Everyone in it was killed and the house was burnt. It was half a km. from our bunker. We found out about the killings the next morning, when we went to Khrapenevo and found burning coal and smoke. [This episode is mentioned briefly in the article on p.359 Novogrudok partisans who fell in action. According to that article, where no details were given, three Belski partisans: Hertzel Efroimski, Arie Volkin and Yitzchak Leibovich, as well as Tuvia Belski's wife and her brother Grisha were killed in that action. Khrapenevo was a tiny outpost, yet two Jewish tragedies occurred there.]
It was clear that we had to change our location. Too many partisans in the area were a threat to us. We just wanted the winter to pass, and waited for the spring to join a big and strong unit that would be able to stand up against the enemy that surrounded us.
The fatal day arrived, the day of the Red Army, the 23 rd of February. Early in the morning we heard knocking. Two Russian partisans asked my husband and Dr. Berkman to come to their dwelling, because a third partisan, Vania, had been injured during the night operation. Without any suspicion, they went with the partisans in their sledge. My brother in law Meir stayed with us. A few minutes later we heard machine gun shots. We knew it was bad news. Did the Germans attack them? We had no other thought.
Meir took his rifle and went to stand guard. Tamara and I followed him, though previously we, the women, did not show ourselves to the villagers in daytime.
My brother in law went further and suddenly we heard a horrific cry. They killed my brother, I thought. Tamara and I started to run away, but where to? Forest all around, the snow knee high and the legs did not move. We walked a few meters away from our bunker, when we heard the call of the two partisans, who only a short time ago took my husband and Dr. Berkman to the injured friend. I approached them first. With a pistol directed at my heart they ordered me to climb on the sledge, which stood, beside our bunker. I started to ask questions: what were the shots? Where were my husband and his friend? Dr. Tamara, who was usually brave and cool, lost her head, could not utter a word and pulled me to the sledge. An unusual strength came over me, strength out of desperation. I started to ask about the fate of my husband, Dr. Berkman and my brother in law. One of them blurted out: we killed everyone and we will kill you too, today is the Red Army day, we received an order to kill all Jews. I had a flicker of hope that one of the men was still alive, and it gave me the urge to go on questioning and talking. One thing was clear to me: if one of them is still alive, he will return early and if so, one must get rid of those murderers. Both were drunk, they smelt of spirits. Till today I cannot believe the coolness with which I manipulate them. Calm and relaxed I promised them that we would come to them, but only in the evening. I advised them to go home and sleep, rest for a while, and we would wait for them to come and pick us up. I explained to them that women cannot survive in the forest alone, and that we did not know the surroundings and wouldn't move without them. They accepted it, and told us to wait till the evening. I advised them that it was not good to see women among the partisans.
They left the bunker and we set out in the snow desperate, with no hope and not knowing what to do. We saw in the deep snow prints of man's boots. We got up and ran towards them. It was my husband, who was rushing to help us. He was stunned, tired and broken. His words were: they killed Dr. Berkman, his head fell on my shoulder, where is my brother Meir? A miracle saved me, I managed to knock Sasha's hand (that was the partisan's name) and his revolver dropped to the ground, the second man was the driver of the sledge and had no weapon, Sasha (the partisan) took the machine gun, but I managed to jump into the forest, hung my coat on one of the trees, they shot at it thinking that it was IÉ In the meantime I returned to you, Where is my brother? those were short, broken and terrible sentences. We told him the atrocious news that his brother was murdered. Hearing that made him deaf for a few days, only his lips movedÉ Our rifles stayed on the sledge with the murderers. Only one rifle with a broken barrel was left in the bunker. I picked it up and we started to walk away from the bunker. Where to go? It was a clear day. Broken, shattered and fatigued we walked, leaving behind brothers and friends, sacred corpses. We could not even bury them. We could not come close to them, lest we would also be killed. After a short time we heard deafening shots from the direction of the bunker. It seemed that the murderers regretted leaving us and came back to pick us up. Thanks to the dense forest we managed to escape. We remained very close to the bunker. We were afraid to walk during the day, for fear of being informed on. Enemies were all around us. Where could we go and what was going to happen? My husband was deaf and he did not talk! The persistent question hounded us: where should we go? With nightfall my husband recovered a little, he was our only hope. He decided to go in the direction of Kostus Kozlowski, who was a friendly villager and a contact man of the Belskis. He lived far from us, we walked for a few days, with great fear, along winding tracks. We did not know the area and feared every stranger. We made a great effort not to be seen. Those were torturous and troubled days. It was our bad luck to reach Kozlowski a few hours after the Germans left his yard. Swiftly he led us and hid us in a small wood. The Germans, again, were attacking the Belskis, who were back in their old base. We could see from a distance the Germans retreating towards Novogrudok. After a few days we finally met the Belskis. There, a new chapter opened in our life.
I would like to add a few things. During all our time with the Belskis our first aim was to take revenge on the family of the policeman who caught Sasha Ziskind. My husband could not rest, the thought depressed him. He found out from the villagers where the policeman lived and took a few men with him to the policeman's house. It was a very dangerous operation. First, his house was close to the police station. Second, in order to reach the house one had to pass an area where Germans and policemen hung around. But that did not deter my husband. Finding that the policeman was not home, my husband killed with his own hands his mother, sister and everyone else who was in the house. They left a note to explain the murder and burnt the house down.
Dr. Rosenbloom was a good friend of Dr. Berkman. Hearing about the horrific murder of Dr. Berkman and my brother in law, he sought and found the two partisans and the family they stayed with who assisted them. He killed them all.
To show our disbelief in the stories of the dreadful deeds, let me relate the following fact. In 1940, when a Nazi commission came to Brest to arrange the return of Polish citizens from western Poland, many Jewish refugees, who were living in Novogrudok, had registered their names to return to their homes, to the Nazi occupation. It was a miracle that the Soviets, instead of taking them to Brest, to the Germans, have conveyed them to the remote regions of Russia, and because of this most of them survived the war.
On the third day of the war the Germans bombed the town. Among the killed were Jews. A chaos ensued. No authority remained in town. The Soviets left in panic. A number of younger Jews had fled east. However, when they arrived in Stolbcy [on the 1939 Polish- Soviet border] they found that the 'westerners' [a common name for the inhabitants of the former eastern regions of Poland] were initially not allowed to proceed further. And when this restriction was removed it was too late, because the Germans occupied Minsk long before Novogrudok. Because of this, many who tried to escape returned home. Those who walked in the direction of Mogilev did manage to get through, but those who attempted to walk through Bobryusk could not get through, because the Germans had cut off the passage. They returned home.
The town was distraught, people were deserting their homes, and some went to the neighbouring villages. Some even camped in open fields. Lack of food had become an acute problem. Small groups of the defeated Red army were drifting through the town. Many soldiers had no arms, some were barefoot, hungry with their clothes in tatters. The Germans were expected at any time. On Saturday of the 28th of June the Germans bombed the town several times before noon. In the evening more planes arrived from all directions and began to incinerate the town. They were also shooting at the fleeing population, using machine guns. The town was burning all around. The casualties were light, because many people left their homes before the attack began. The German vandals proceeded in a pre-planned manner. They burned almost all of the Jewish quarters. The following streets: Yiddish, Synagogue square, Waliker, Rachelo, a section [half] of the Market place, Mickewicz, Sieniezyc, Korelicz, all Jewish houses but not the houses of the gentiles, who did not suffer any losses. After the fires all was still, there was nobody in sight, neither the Red army nor the Germans. The Jews started returning to the houses that had not burnt down. Five or six families moved into many houses. They sat in fear and hunger and waited for the dreadful 'guests'. On Thursday the 3rd of July the Germans arrived and immediately showed their intensions. They went into the Jewish homes and looted them. A dirty German soldier entered our house. I was sitting, because my leg was injured. He wanted to shoot me because I did not get up when he entered. On the third day after their arrival the Germans announced the first repression: all Jews aged 10 years or older had to wear a yellow patch 10 cm in diameter on both the front and back. Jews were not allowed to get out of their houses from 6 o'clock in the evening until the morning. All Jews without exception had to go to work. A city council was created headed by Smolski, a Pole, as well as a police force under the German command.
A Jewish group consisting of the lawyers Ciechanowski, Zeldowicz, Gumener, the pharmacist Meisze Lizerowski, the brothers Leizer and Meisze Izraelit, Shlojme Kabak, Momik Dobrin organised themselves into a Jewish committee. They did not know as yet the name Judenrat.
The Gestapo made their own arrangement. They demanded that on the 6th of July every member of the Judenrat should bring with him twenty Jews who would elect the new Judenrat, since the Judenrat had to be elected. As every member of the Judenrat wanted to be elected, they brought on the day their relatives and friends and more of them than was required. About two hundred Jews were assembled. A list was prepared by the murderers with all particulars, such as the occupation of each one. Later, all were locked up in a small house in the yard. The detained almost expired from heat, thirst and lack of space. Among the incarcerated was Vole Shapiro. Because he was tall and stout the Germans assumed that he was the leader of the Novogrudok Jews. They took him away and tortured him for the rest of the day. In the evening they brought out the rest of them and arranged them in a row. When they brought out Vole Shapiro he was unrecognisable and, clearly, he did not know where he was. Of the two hundred Jews they selected fifty. Most were professionals and merchants. The others were given a beating and sent home.
Those detained were taken next morning to a grove in Skrydlewo, near the barracks, and shot. The Germans told the Jews that the fifty were sent to work. And most believed the story.
Later some truck drivers, who were working for the Germans, told the Jews that they met Jews from Novogrudok at work in remote localities. They mentioned various names. Obviously, this was a deceit, planned to mislead the Jews. The relatives of the Jews that were taken away had begun sending food parcels with the drivers. The drivers made good use of the parcels. The Jews lived under the illusion that their relatives are still alive.
Continuously new restrictions were announced: Jews were not allowed to buy anything from the gentiles, there was be no communications between Jews and gentiles, Jews and gentiles must not greet each other, Jews were not allowed to walk on the footpath, they had to walk on the road, Jews were not allowed to travel by rail or bus, Jews were not allowed to change accommodation, all Jews 12 years of age or older had to present themselves for work, for all transgressions there was one punishment death.
About two weeks later the murderers started a list and assembled again about fifty Jews, mostly the members of the intelligentsia including teachers and sent them, allegedly, to work. There were still many who believed the Germans, though farmers who lived close to the barracks, were telling that they had seen the Germans leading groups of Jews into the groves, they heard shooting, and then the Germans would return by themselves. Jews did not want to believe them.
On Saturday the 26th of July 1941 the Germans required the Judenrat to deliver 50 Jews. Members of the Judenrat soon assembled from places of work more than 70 Jews. The Germans lined up the Jews in the middle of the market place, surrounded the square with soldiers, selected 52 persons, among them the pharmacist Moishe Lizerowski, who was a member of the Judenrat, as well as Jehoshua Iwieniecki, who was nominated that morning to the Judenrat. The Jews were shot, ten persons at a time. The teacher Salomon tried to escape and was killed on the spot. In all 52 Jews were killed. The murderers left the bodies in the market square for 3 hours. The gentiles walked around the market square and looked at the dead Jews. Later 5 horse drawn carts were brought in and Jews were told to take the bodies to the Jewish cemetery and bury them.
As the bodies were being loaded on the carts, it was noticed that one body was moving. A Belarusian policeman shot him. Jewish women were told to wash the blood off the cobblestones, at the same time a band arrived and played.
This episode had a shattering effect on the Jewish population, because everyone could see the beastly events and the victims. It was made abundantly clear what the intensions of the occupiers were. Nobody believed now that the Jews who were taken away previously, were still alive. All were most depressed.
About one month later, also on a Sabbath, an einsatz unit arrived and demanded that the Judenrat provide 50 Jews. This was arranged and 50 Jews were assembled in the yard of the Judenrat. As well as the 50 Jews, the gestapo took with them several others who were in the yard, among them some members of the Judenrat. They were taken to the local jail and next morning were shot behind the barracks.
The gentiles took advantage of the situation. They reported to the police any Jew they did not fancy. This was sufficient to have the Jew arrested. No Jew came out alive from jail. The police would come to a house looking for somebody whose name had been given to them by an informer. Regardless whether the sought person was found, they would take all men who were in the house. They took all of them to jail. The police would also often detain men in the street and arrest them. They had also other tactics. The army and police would surround several streets, they would round up all Jews for the alleged purpose of checking documents. At the same time they would search the Jewish homes, rob them of anything they fancied and if they found anyone in the house, whether the person was sick or healthy, they would be taken to jail. The Jews lived in perpetual fear of death.
When the above news became known in Novogrudok, it caused considerable panic. It was expected that any day the Jews of Novogrudok would be subjected to the same fate. The beasts had another lie in store: they told us that the Jews of Horodyszcze had guns and were shooting at the Germans, but in Novogrudok this will never happen. Some Jews believed the story and lived with that illusion. The majority did not believe them. The Jews in the Ghetto had realised that being in the hands of the assassins they would never get out alive. Means were sought how to escape from the Nazi's hands. It was attempted to seek contacts with the partisans. The Judenrat and the camp police were doing all they could to prevent escapes from the Ghetto. If the police suspected that somebody was planning an escape, the suspect would be put into the cellar of the Judenrat, would be given a beating and would be left there. The police would take away in the evening the boots of those who were going to work outside the Ghetto and return them in the morning. The inmates were gradually getting used to the dog's life. The killers would appear at times in the evening and demand that the Jews give up all warm bedcovers, furs, winter coats and felt boots. The police would search the houses and remove these items. One day, when returned from work, we were met by the Nazis and the Belarusian police. They were searching every Jew at the gates of the Ghetto and everyone who wore boots had to take them off and walk away barefoot.
The Jews were of no account, as the following event shows. In the house of the Gebitskommisar [district commissioner] Traub water froze in the pipes. The Jews were made to light and maintain fires under the pipes to prevent water in the pipes to freeze. Once two boys were lighting fires in the middle of the night. After drinking and carousing at the head slayers, the revellers ran into boys, who were tending the fire. The Germans started shooting. One of the boys, who stemmed from Baranowicze, fell into the fire. The second, the son of Zejdl Kushner, was injured and though he too fell into the fire, he managed to crawl out and hide in a barn. Next morning they brought him into the Ghetto. He recovered, but was killed in the last slaughter.
Arke Nachimovski was working in the military barracks. He was delivering water from Skrydlevo using a horse driven container. On one occasion a friendly farmer gave him a bottle of milk. On arriving at the barracks the guards found the bottle of milk. They took him away and he was never seen again.
The son-in-law of Tiles was working in the barracks unloading trousers. Once he took a pair of trousers. Some time later he was sent back to the Ghetto.
Some time passed. The beasts were getting ready for another 'action' [mass extermination]. The Germans understood that the Judenrat was wise to their 'tricks' and that it would not be possible to persuade them to rely on them. They decided to liquidate the Judenrat. One evening they invited the Judenrat for a meeting under the pretext of making new work arrangements. One member of the Judenrat, Monie Zdzienciolski, was sick with a high temperature, but they sent a military policeman for him, under the pretext that without him no decisions could be made. As soon as the members of the Judenrat came in to the murderers' room, their death sentence was read, quoting various invented accusations and dispatched them to jail. Next morning they were all taken behind the barracks and shot. They were: the lawyer Ciechanowski [other sources have related that Ciechanowski refused to produce a list of persons to be executed and committed suicide], the brothers Lejzer and Mejszke Israelit, Momik Dobrin, Motl Niankowski, Shloimke Kabak, Shlojme Gershonowski and Munie Zdienciolski.
On the same evening the chief of staff of the district commissioner came and read a list of imaginary 'sins' committed by the Judenrat, which was the 'reason' for sentencing them to death. They also gave an order that by the next morning a new Judenrat must be formed. A new Judenrat was quickly established with Chaim Azikovich in charge.
At that time the Judenrat created workshops: fur coat makers, tailors, locksmiths, watchmakers, cobblers, saddlers, [knitters]. Some of them worked in the buildings of the district court. This was done in preparation for the arrangement that after the slaughter the Ghetto would be liquidated. Every day the workers went to and from work. At the same time the court buildings, except for the new, big building, were fenced off with several strands of barbwire. They also prepared large containers. The Jews understood that those were the preparations for a new slaughter, but they had no escape. A few young people left the Ghetto to establish contact with the partisans. The attempt failed. Benzion Mowszowicz and Eddi Rifkin were killed in that attempt. In anthers attempt, Mome Charny, Josl Osataszinski and others did get through but were killed in the forest. In the Naliboki wilderness a Jewish group attached to a partisan brigade was formed. The plan was to attack the Naliboki garrison, the Jewish group would be heading the attack and the other partisans were to follow. The Jews attacked, but the others did not follow and the entire Jewish partisan group fell [the story of the fight in Naliboki, which was told by eye witnesses was entirely different].
The German murderers were preparing the second slaughter. They installed a big projector on the Peresieke synagogue, which illuminated the whole Ghetto. The Jews were also getting ready. In all buildings underground bunkers were built and camouflaged. The bunkers saved many Jewish lives.
At that stage the Germans started bringing into the Ghetto Jews from the surrounding settlements such as Iveniets, Rubiszewicze, Naliboki (from the last one only adults). They were made to walk. The children were taken from their parents, who were told that the children would follow in horse carts. But all children were killed. They also brought to Novogrudok all Jews from Korelicz. They came in horse carts and were allowed to take some of their possessions. Some even brought wood for heating. They also brought with them their old, sick and paralysed. The Germans did everything to mislead the Jews (for descriptions of the events in the townships see the articles by Y. Yaffe).
The Ghetto became very cramped. All barns and store rooms were filled with Jews. The day of the slaughter came nearer. The murderers were making preparations in the open. They were even bargaining with the Judenrat about the number of Jewish lives. They have shown the Judenrat the list of Jews that would be spared and of those that would be destroyed. At the bottom of the list were all those incapable of work, the old and the sick. All children were to be eliminated. On the other hand, those who worked in the workshops and their wives were to remain alive. The Judenrat with their police and their office employees and workers would be safe, but under the condition that they would make certain that no one would escape from the Ghetto i.e. that nobody would avoid the slaughter.
On the 6th of August 1942, at the time the workers from the workshops were to go out to work, there was a feeling that they will not return. They demanded that their wives should come with them, otherwise they were not prepared to leave. The Judenrat made certain that they had the certificates for all the wives of the workers. They said that afterwards [meaning, presumably, after the slaughter] they would send the wives to join their husbands in the workshops in the court buildings. The Judenrat kept all the certificates the whole day. The police was watching them keenly in the Ghetto to make sure that no one should escape i.e. that no one's life would be saved. In the evening the Ghetto was surrounded by the German, Latvian and Estonian military. Shooting in the Ghetto could be heard. To move in the Ghetto was dangerous. At that stage the Judenrat decided to issue the certificates to the wives of the workshop workers, when it was impossible to leave the Ghetto or even to move from one house to another. Because of this most of the wives of the workshop workers were killed.
That day the German troops with the Belarus police went to Zetl to conduct there a slaughter. With the troops absent, a number of workers, who were working outside the Ghetto managed to infiltrate in the court buildings. Some of the workers managed to bring in their children into the court houses. They made no provisions for their wives because the Judenrat had certificates for them and assured everyone that the wives will be taken to the court buildings.
After work the tradesman were kept in the workshops. The court buildings were surrounded by Germans, Latvians and Estonians. Outside, the brown shirted murderers where everywhere. The Gebitskommissar noticed that there were children in the yard, who, according to the orders, were supposed to be exterminated. When the evening came and the wives did not arrive it became clear that the workers were told a lie. Nothing could be done. We lived through a night of grief and fear of death.
Many children and illegals were hiding in the big cellar of the court house. The doors were closed with heavy locks, but the children came in through the small windows. Those windows were camouflaged with pieces of timber.
On the next morning the 7th of August, early on that black Friday, the brown shirts heavily armed headed by the Gebitskommissar arrived in the court buildings. All the workers were lined up in the yard surrounded by the murderers and the search started for the children, who were hidden in the workshops, in the ceilings and elsewhere. They were dragging the children by their legs, like chicken, and throwing them into lorries. The crying of the children was awful, and we were forced to see it. When the parents broke ranks trying to beg the murderers for mercy they were met with guns and a threat to be shot. The luckless parents had to step back. One of the brown shirts came over to me and told me, because I was a locksmith, to open the locks to the doors to the cellar, where about 200 Jews were hidden, mostly children, among them two children of mine. I was surprised that my heart did not break at that moment. I can only assume that our life in abnormal conditions and constant fear of death had hardened us. I answered that the cellar was locked by a special lock which was impossible to open without a special key. A miracle happened they actually believed me that the door could not be opened and therefore there was no one there. At the same time the slaughter in the Peresike Ghetto was conducted. Early in the morning the brown shirts together with the Judenrat and the Jewish police were conducting a hunt, going from house to house and searching in all places that could serve as a hiding place. They forced all Jews to go to the yard and lie with their faces down. Some Jews hid in places that were previously prepared. This helped a number to survive. The Judenrat, the office workers and the police were certain that they would survive the slaughter, because this was promised to them. For this reason they did not hide. The hangmen counted the victims and established that a number of people were missing, because they had escaped or were hidden in the Ghetto. The number of those available for the slaughter was not sufficient for them. They began to take everybody at hand, without exception, and put them in hermetically sealed buses, in which they induced a lethal gas. The victims were dead by the time they arrived at the previously prepared cavities in Litovka. The murderers spared the chairman of the Judenrat Chaim Azikovich and the medical personnel, who were at the time in the Ghetto, and transferred them to the court buildings. All others perished, about 2500 Jews from Novogrudok, Karelich, Iveniec, Rubishevich and Naliboki. On Saturday morning some of the people that were hiding since Thursday started coming out, because they could not survive longer without air and water. Luckily that morning all the wild beasts in brown shirts had left the town. The gendarmes and the Belarus police conducted all Jews from Peresike to the court buildings and were well paid for that. However, the Jews who left the hiding places in the afternoon were taken to jail. The murderers have also conducted a selection of the Jews who were working in the military barracks. The Jews who were on their list were locked up in a barn and were well guarded by the Estonians. The remaining Jews were taken back to the Ghetto, where they perished together with the rest.
Three days after the action they brought back to the court houses the survivors from the barracks and from Zetl. The build up in the court buildings was indescribable. All had to fit into the old, small buildings, because the new court building was outside the fence. It was becoming obvious that only a part of the prisoners, probably the tradesmen, would remain in the court buildings. Everyone was trying to become a tradesman. Some believed that the tradesmen would survive. A few days later they assembled all Jews who were in the court houses in the yard. All were made to sit on the floor. The tradesmen remained in the yard. Some people, who still had gold, paid the Belarus manager and became tradesmen with the hope of remaining in the court houses.
All the others were sent to Peresike to the reduced Ghetto. About 500 Jews remained in the court houses and about the same number were in the Ghetto. The workshops were in the old court buildings. The workers lived in the smaller houses. The quarters were very congested. Three tiered beds were built. There was no room to sit or stand. One had to go straight from the door to the bed. The food consisted of a quarter kilo bread and a little soup per day. The place was closed. There were several rows of barbwire and a guard of Belarus police. There was no water in the court houses. Every morning, before work, the Belarus police led a party to fetch water from a pump. People were using the opportunity, while fetching water, to get some food from the gentiles in exchange for clothing. The food was hidden in the water barrels.
The Jews of Peresike were divided by the savages in closed groups. A guard would lead them to work and bring them back. They were in a somewhat better situation in regard to food, because they worked the whole day in town outside the Ghetto and could exchange whatever they had for food. The doctors were accommodated in a house in town next to the ambulatoriums [?] for the non-Jewish patients [the doctors were accommodated in the lower ground floor of the city hospital in Slonimska street] and were under supervision. With the doctors were a few pharmacists and young Leizerowski.
After a while, when they realised that they would be treated like all other Jews, the doctors escaped one night. They made their way outside the town, but they were caught and shot on the spot. [This is not true. Most doctors survived in the partisan groups etc.]
Some Jews who worked in the timber mill did not return to the Ghetto at the time of the second slaughter. They hid among the boards. A farmer informed the Germans. They were caught and killed.
At that time contact was made with the Bielski brothers from Stankiewicz, who were hiding in the forests near their village since the beginning of the German occupation. Everyone was certain that no Jews would be spared, no one would survive. The young and healthy people started to escape from the Ghetto to the Bielskis.
It was easier to escape from the Ghetto in Peresike, because they worked every day outside the Ghetto. It was also easier to escape at night because the Ghetto had a timber fence around it. It was possible to tear off a board from the fence and escape. To be able to escape from the Ghetto in the court houses it was necessary to transfer firstly to the Peresike Ghetto. There were many unsuccessful attempts to escape and many victims.
The life was unbearable. On one occasion, on an evening, several Polish youths, who were working for the Germans, started shooting at the court buildings. On that occasion we could not wait for the night to end. Some were afraid that the end had come.
A few months later there was another selection of Jews from the court houses that the Germans were not satisfied with. As a punishment they were transferred to Peresike. This was a sign that the Germans were preparing for the liquidation of the Peresike Ghetto. This, indeed, did happen. On the 4th of February 1943 the bandits conducted a slaughter at the Peresike Ghetto. No one, except for 2 or 3 people who hid in a bunker, remained alive. They took the victims to the place of the second slaughter and shot them.
In the court house, the head of the workshops and the boss over the Jews and their property, Reuter had thought of a new trick to mislead his Jews. He produced an alleged list of his better workers, who would receive each day an additional portion of bread. This was, however a trap to kill all the ordinary workers ,which occurred on the 7th of May 1943. On that day they lined up all Jews in the yard who were listed to be given additional rations of bread and sent them to a workshop to fetch the bread. The others were taken to a large hollow not far from the court house and shot. In that action 250 Jews were killed.
Translated from Hebrew by Aviva Kamil It was Saturday the 26 of July 1941. In the morning there were frightening rumours circulating in town. We thought that it would be an opportune time to clean the streets. Jewish policemen went from house to house and urged us to assemble in the market square and told us that by doing so we would avoid a general slaughter. My father, David Slutzki Hey.yod.dalet (God will avenge his blood), prayed the Morning Prayer at the Breslin house of our neighbour. I hid in the garden of my friend Halperin, and my brother Mulik was at home. After we heard that we had to assemble in the market square we returned home and all three of us went their . When we reached the market we saw that it was full of people and was encircled by armed Germans. We understood immediately that we were facing a grave danger.
We were ordered to stand in lines along the market square. The Germans started the selection, sending people to either the right or to the left. Age was not the main consideration of the German selector when making his decision; it depended on his whim as to who would be sent to death and who would remain alive.
We were arranged in two groups. There was a rumour that we were to be taken to work somewhere, but soon enough we realised that this was a false rumour. The Germans ran around us like predatory animals and wildly screamed their orders. After the selection they separated 50 people, among them my father and brother, and stood them aside. I remained with those who stood on the other side of the market, close to those selected.
One of the Germans, apparently the commander, gave a 'speech', I did not understand him, I was stunned. His voice was that of a menacing animal.
At the end of the 'speech' the Germans took out ten people from the group of fifty, and positioned them opposite ten Germans and to the order of 'Feuer' they shot them. Then they took another ten. In that way they murdered all fifty. There were a few who tried to escape from the market place, among them I remember the teacher Solomon. The Germans, who stood in a chain around us shot him. The rest of us, who watched the atrocities, that terrible disaster, thought that our end was near, and that we also would go the same way as the others. But the Germans ordered us to go to the 'Judenrat' where we were given spades. Carts were brought to the market and we put our dead on them, brought them to the Jewish cemetery and buried them in a Brothers' grave.
I remember one detail: one of the fifty was still alive, he asked us to put him on top, he thought that he would be saved that way, but one of the Poles overheard him and attracted the attention of a German, who shot him again.
In the cemetery, we were terrified that the Germans would shoot us too following the burial. They 'only' beat us brutally, but did not kill us.
That black day came to a close at twilight. In the cemetery near the Brothers' grave I said good-bye forever to my father and brother without even saying 'Kadish' for fear of the Germans around us. Beaten, we returned from the cemetery. The martyrs' blood that was spilt on the ground was washed away by Jewish women, who were brought to the market place after the murders.
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
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.
Novogrudok, Belarus Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2019 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 7 July 2006 by LA