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[Page 336]

From Those Terrible Days

Nechama Inzelbuch

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Dark clouds spread over the shtetl [town] right at the start of the war, on the 22nd of June 1941. The Germans marched and approached us at a rapid pace. The residents of the shtetl were confused, frightened – we did not know where to run. A number ran to the border to Negarele and the others – to the surrounding villages in order to hide and survive the frightening days.

My husband, Josl, worked as a Soviet employee at the train station and had to be at his work until the last minute. When the first German bombs fell on the train station, I ran there immediately to see how Josl was. There was a threat of death if one left work. He actually was mobilized on the same day, but as a family man with four children, he was immediately released. On Sunday the Germans surrounded Pilsudski – Szpitalna – Nacale Streets and threw grenades and firebombs in the houses, on the pretext that Bolsheviks were hiding there. Everything burned. Josl, carrying a child, ran out of the house into the garden. I found both of them dead a few hours later. On Sunday they shot around 200 souls on our street. We buried all of them in our garden. A few months later, we carried the bones to the Jewish cemetery.

I remained alone with three small children. No troubles were lacking. It was being said that we would soon be fenced into a ghetto. On the eve of the first slaughter, I got the idea: dress my Chana in a pair of shoes with high heels, through this, try to save one daughter. I lost my two small daughters, Tsipele and Tsernele in the first slaughter. Thus we lived in fear, in need and pain. Went through two

The Filshcik family
Nechama, Josef, Shulmit, Tserne, Tsipe

 

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slaughters and saw with my own eyes how my own dear ones were slaughtered and everything was being annihilated.

There were about 200 women and a small number of men in the ghetto on the eve of the third and last slaughter. Returning from work, we noticed that the ghetto was being surrounded on all sides by Belarusian and Lithuanian police. Then, my daughter Chana and I decided to escape from the ghetto. It was a cold December night and we saw that two boys had cut the fence wire in one place. We did not think about it for long and we quietly crawled out through the fence and the wire. We crawled on our knees to the Christian cemetery where we met several other Stolpce Jews: Etil [diminutive of Ester] and Zlatke Kaplan, Sevek Horenkrig, Silim Manaker's two girls and two boys. Together we began to crawl through the fields until we reached the train line.

Kalman Inzelbuch's family
Yehudis, Chana, Leah, Chaya, Nechama and Kalman

 

Shooting from the train guards, who heard our steps, opened up on us when we were crossing the train line. The night was very dark and yet the bullets fell near us. We ran until we reached the woods not far from the slaughterhouse. What would we do next? It was dark. Shivering from the cold and fear, we barely survived the day. In the morning we heard steps and saw a gentile boy in the distance. The Kaplan sisters immediately recognized him as Janek Starzich from Zadwarie, who had worked for Welwl Tunik in the slaughterhouse for many years. Asking him where it was easier to run, the gentile boy thought for a while and told us not entirely willingly that Ezriel Tunik and Dwoyra Kaplan, their sister, were hiding with his family. The gentile boy said that he had to go to work first. He advised us to go deeper into the woods and to stay there until night. Then he would come to take us. We had heavy hearts – could we believe him because most Christians ran to report to the Germans.

However, not having any choice or anything to lose, we went deeper into the woods where we sat hungry and waited an entire day in great fear.

Of those who escaped from the ghetto with us only my daughter and I and the two Kaplan sisters remained. The others had gone in different directions throughout the day.

The gentile boy came in the evening. He found us by the light of a pocket lamp. We went with him to his house in the corner of the village. There were a few houses neighboring his. The gentile boy's mother, seeing such a group, was not very enthusiastic. I immediately sensed where we stood. I took off my things. I gave her my boots, my coat, the little money I had

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with me and I even gave her the gold crowns from the teeth in my mouth. Taking everything, she became friendly and said: I will hide you. You will be with me and eat what I eat. She immediately led us into the house, gave us food. Each night we all dug out a hole in the shed near the house, covered with boards and straw and sand. We only left open a small hole to crawl in. The hole was hidden and masked a little so that it would not be obvious to a stranger, particularly the neighbors or Germans who very often would come to their daughter, Zashke. The Christian woman padded the hole with a little straw that would get wet and decay. At night I would crawl out of the hole and go into the house to help the Christian woman with her household work. Often I would be deathly afraid when someone would knock at the door at night.

We remained in the pit from the end of December 1942 until the beginning of July 1944 when the Red Army freed us.

The Christian was not rich and she gave us, six people, food and many times it was not enough. Therefore, the fear, suffering and pain satiated us. The Strzik family earns the full right and should be counted in the general Jewish history among the pious and good among the non-Jewish people.

Of the six saved: I, my daughter Chana (Lev), Ester Kaplan (Zinger), Zlatke Kaplan (Gutman), Ezriel Tunik, and their families found their home in Israel. Dwoyra Kaplan and her family are in America.


Fear and Pain

by Esther Bruchansky [Mednitzky]

Translated by Esther Libby Raichman

On Friday evening, the first victims fell, the houses were burning, people were running to the river. Leibl Machtei and Michael Naratzky spanned their horse and wagon, put their families into the wagons and travelled along the bank of the river in the direction of Ziamne. The first of the armed forces from Sinaver forest killed the horses and overturned the wagons and in this way the following met their deaths: Leibe Machtei, his wife Rivkah and the children Shayna, Ettl and Moshele, also Golde Rivve, Machtei's daughter, Michl Naratzky with his wife Bashe – Shlayme's daughter, and their daughter Hanye and Eliezer Vineshtein (son of Trotzke the shoemaker). The wounded that I met were Bashe and Chaye, Leibe's daughters. I took a shirt from the wagon, tore it and used it to bandage their wounds. In the same terrible way, the following met their deaths: Mandel Maltzodsky, his son Berl and son–in–law Michael Fish, as well as Maishl Tunik's wife Rivkah (daughter of the Odessa's).

The next day, a Sabbath, was a calm day. On Sunday the Germans murdered approximately 200 Jews on Shpitalne Street. They decreed that everyone had to go to work. There was no shortage of work.

Hungry and ragged women would leave their children in the ghetto and would have to work very hard at the railway, the sawmill and the Swerznie sand quarry.

A few days before the first slaughter, the murderers began to “play” a little with the Jews for no particular reason. Idel Kapilowicz's father–in–law was an elderly Jew with an imposing figure and a large beard. They placed him at the gate of the ghetto dressed in a policeman's hat with ribbons, with a spade on his shoulder, made fun of him and mocked him, and he had to salute which ever murderer passed through. And if God forbid, he did not salute promptly, they tugged and tore at his beard. This is how they tormented and tortured him for the whole day until he collapsed.

In the first slaughter that lasted 9 days, the murderers massacred three quarters of the Jews of the town. They continued until they had dragged out all those who were hiding in the cellars and the attics. When we re–entered the ghetto, we found a terrible devastation –– bloodied walls and bloodied people roaming the streets.

The second slaughter happened at 8 in the morning. Everyone was arranged at the gate to leave for work, but the gate was locked. Suddenly the murderer, Schultz appeared, and called out that all pregnant women, the elderly and the weak were to remain in the ghetto. He read from a list and in doing so he lowered the number of those employed at work places. He counted five to go out to the gate and five to remain at the wall of Shoshe Aginsky's building. As soon as the workers went out, the Latvians immediately approached and surrounded the ghetto. That was Sunday. We worked until 12 o'clock and were brought back to the ghetto from work. As we waited at the gate the command was given to allow us to enter the ghetto, but by then we found no one – only spots of blood all around. Now there was no need to wait any longer. We had to flee. My brother Elle

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A gathering to mourn our martyrs – 11th Tishrei in Tel–Aviv

 

escaped with a group and wandered for a while in the forest. One evening he returned, to take me with him –– bearded, with a gun hidden under his coat. I hid him for a few days in an attic, in the ghetto. He left again and made his way to a gentile in a farmhouse. With the aid of this same gentile, I joined him. We struggled in this way until we made our way to the Nalibok forest. There we joined Zorin's Partisan division that consisted of 600 souls: 200 men, the rest women and children.


A Terrible Day

by Dovid Slutzak

Translated by Esther Libby Raichman

There was a commotion in the ghetto, a panic. It was announced that everyone at all the work places, must leave work early and go to the ghetto. Groups of frightened people arrive from all directions; no one knows what is happening. Everyone runs to the Jewish Council to ask for information. The members of the Jewish Council were full of fear and despair. They said that they received an order from the command headquarters to send workers to Baranowicz and to Minsk.

Each one of us ran home to take something for the journey and to farewell those at home. The mood was terrible. Everyone was standing outside the ghetto gate, arranged in 3 rows. Of the men gathered there, 270 were going to Baranowicz and 230 to Minsk. My fate was to go to Minsk.

In the evening, we arrived in Minsk. We were taken to the town of Komarovka and isolated in a long barrack, without any possibility of finding anything to eat.

We were assigned to a variety of hard labor tasks and were expected to manage with 150 grams of bread a day; in addition, a little flour cooked with water, without salt. We began to feel that we are slowly losing our strength.

Winter came suddenly and brought the cold. Without being provided with warm clothing and the poor nourishment, we began to take ill.

This is how Berel Zaretzky, Yitzchak Naratzky and others became sick. They were taken to hospital, but they never returned. Later others died of hunger: Yosef Yuzelevsky, Leizer Malkus, Velvl Kumak, Berel, son of Shimon Bruchansky, Chaim Munne Daktarowicz and many more. The situation was terrible, unbearable. We envied the dead who were now rid of such terrible misery and suffering. In the meantime, we heard news of the Stoibtz massacre and that we had already lost everyone there. In addition to all the misery, we still had to see the suffering of the Minsk Jews – women and children, hungry, barefoot and almost naked. Generally, the Germans behaved in a worse manner towards the Minsk Jews than everywhere else. Minsk served as a central slaughter–house for the Germans. They brought whole transports with Jews from Germany, Holland and Czechoslovakia to this place. Here they shot them in mass slaughters.

Every day, returning to the ghetto after a hard day's work, we would tire of hearing the bad news that we were told by the Jews who remained working in the ghetto. Not one day passed without a few hundred Jews being murdered. The members of the Jewish Council were constantly seen running through the ghetto, angry and in fear, exactly like wild animals. Epshtein, the chairman of the Jewish Council, was a refugee from Lodz. He

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frequently had to carry out the orders of the German murderers. The Jews were merely a plaything for the Germans. Every one of us saw, with open eyes, what end awaits us in the ghetto.

The only way that remained was to escape to the forest, but where does one run when the routes were unfamiliar to us in the vicinity of Minsk. Tens of young men left the ghetto and we had authentic news, that there were Partisan groups in the Nalibok forest. Some returned to the ghetto to take friends and acquaintances out and they hid from those who remained there, lest they follow them. By chance we noticed that a boy from Minsk returned from the forest to take his mother and two little sisters away to the forest. Without thinking too much we discussed the situation – I, my brother Avremel, Mendl Izenberg, Hershl Chishin, Yakov Pekker and his son Yehoshua Pekker, Hirshl Tunik (Prodke's) and Hirshl Izenberg (Arre Yisroel Isser's), and we all left the ghetto. The boy took us in the direction of Staraye–Sela about 30 kilometers from Minsk. During the day we stayed in a small forest for a while and at night we went further until we reached Rubeziewicz. On the way we lost three men from our group – my brother Avremel, Hirshl Prodke's and Hirshl Arre's – they were murdered on the way.

A few days before our escape from the Minsk ghetto, another group escaped, amongst them three people from Stoibtz: Bebbe Baskin, Yedidyah Kaplan and Yitzchak Chatzkelewicz (Itke from Drazdi's son–in–law). While running in the forest, they encountered a group of Germans who sent them to Auschwitz.

After the war we learned that only two remained alive while in Auschwitz: Bebbe Baskin and Yitzchak Chatzkelewicz. Yedidyah Kaplan did not live to see to liberation. He became ill and the Germans shot him.

From Rubeziewicz we made our way to the Nalibok forest where we met up with Zorin's group. Then Zorin's division began to be organized. From the beginning the division numbered 270 people, only 60 men and the rest, women and children. My lot was to become a secret agent on horseback. My task was to protect our division from a

 

The Slutzak family
Velvl, Sarah, Yakov, Yitzchak, Zavil

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German attack and also from antisemitic Partisans, of whom there was no shortage, and to provide food and clothing for the unarmed women and children. From time to time we would go out and sabotage a hostile train carrying soldiers and ammunition that was travelling to the front lines.

We will forever carry in or hearts, the names of our armed brothers and friends who fought together for revenge against the dark, devilish power and did not live to see the lawful victory over the enemy, live to see the great reward for our sorrow – the emergence of the State of Israel.


How I Survived

by Shimon Epshtein

Translated by Esther Libby Raichman

June 27, 1941. The Jews in the town were frightened and preoccupied. The heart instinctively senses a bad morning, full of terror. People are running from the town into the villages. A shooting – the Soviet army is escaping. The Germans are already in the town. My father, my mother, my sister Frayde and I are running to hide with gentile acquaintances in the village of Shtetzky. The town is in flames – everything is burning. On the way, my mother said to me: my son, perhaps it is an idea, that you should cross the border into Russia, then at least one of our family can survive. I was only 18 years old then and with a heavy heart, I left my parents and sister in the village, and walked in the direction of Negarelye. The border was already open, and I went further in the direction of Koydanov. In Koydanov I hid in a goods train. Travelling through Minsk, I saw that the town was burning on all sides. I came to Mohilov – there I met Leah and Yeske Gershenowicz and together we left and ran further to Tambov.

 

School children skating in the winter on the Niemen River

 

Shimon Epshtein with Getzl Ryser on a visit to the President Mr. Shazar bringing greetings from Hirshl Shimkes

 

In September 1941, I was mobilized into the Red army and I was sent to a military school. In 1942 I received the rank of “Lieutenant of a Tank Division”. I went to fight at the Smolensk front, where I did not once see a dead person before my eyes. I was wounded twice at Stalingrad. Later when they lost trust in the Jewish Polish soldiers, I was sent to Koybishev to a sanitary division.

In 1946 when the Polish Jews were permitted to leave Poland, I came to Breslav. There I met Reizl Prusinovsky and Shimon Bruchansky. They helped me to go to Czechoslovakia. From there I went to Austria, Germany and France. In Paris I made contact with my uncles and an aunt in Africa and a brother in Rhodesia.

In July 1950 I received a document from my uncles: Hirshl, Leibtze, Maisl and from my aunt Reize, to come to them. They gave me a warm home and employment for which I am grateful to them.

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I have a home, a wife and 2 lovely little daughters. My only aspiration is to go and settle in our State of Israel.

The few lines that I have written here should be a gravestone to the deceased and slaughtered members of my family Nyfeld/Epshtein:

My Zeide and Bobbe Berre and Simke, my father and mother – Moshe and Feike, my sister Freide, my aunts Reizl and Zlatte and her little daughters Simke and Bashe.

My uncles: Fyvl and Frodl Nyfeld with their 3 children, Moshe, Berele, Shimke.

Azriel Ruditzky and his family, Maisl Nyfeld and Mordechai Pozniak.

In honour of their memory.


The Death of the Jews in the Villages

by Mendl Machtey

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

On the right side of the shore of the Nieman [River], four kilometers downstream, on the side of the village of Zhukovy Borek, near the village of Atalez, lived the family of Pina Garmize and his wife, Beilka (Szlajf). They had a tar-works, inherited from Nachman Szlajf and they drew their income from it.

Down the river on the left side of the Nieman, in the village of Berezna, lived the family of Shmerl Lis, Shima and their children. They had much to endure when the Minsk governor ordered that the Jews be driven out of the village. They would hide with their Jewish neighbors on the right side of the shore, which was Vilna gubernia [province], because Jews were not being driven from there. In general, there was nothing in their luck to envy. When someone traveled past, their windows were stuffed with pillows because when a village Christian got drunk he would break the windowpanes of the Jews. True, he would pay for his enjoyment, but where did one immediately get another windowpane? – But this also carried the name of life…

Ruwin and Hoda Krinicki and their children lived in the only house on the right side of the shore, two kilometers past Berezna. For many years, they leased the ferry and the field from the Mir Prince Mirski and earned their living from this. Before the First World War, merchants and forest officials would lodge there during the summertime, particularly those from Stolpce, such as Dantzig, Darski and still others, because the Sula River flowed into the Nieman there. The family also bankrupted a manager, an anti-Semite and [he] carried on a court case against them in order to drive out the Jews. It should be understood that the prince was just.

Once when Ruwin was not at home, the prince's forest rangers came and [they forced] the Jewish family to go on a small boat across the river. What could Ruwin do? Vayeishev [“Jakob settled…” – the name of the ninth chapter of the Book of Genesis], he settled not far away in a small settlement named Klin. He was greatly ruined and he was very tormented.

On the left side of the Nieman shore was a very small settlement – Krinicnia. There lived the old Feywa Krinicki and his son Berl and his wife Chaya-Gitl from the village Dudak (Shulier) and their small children. They all worked and were involved in agriculture and there was nothing with which to envy them in how they earned their living.

They also did not avoid the dark times. Their daughter, Ester, who married Peretz Garodajski in Mir, escaped with her children to her village of birth. Perhaps it would be better to survive there. However, she had no place to run from the murderer and she met misfortune there. Ester was disguised as a Christian and went to Mir to ask what was happening at the Judenrat [Jewish council created by the Germans in occupied areas]. It was known at the Judenrat that [the Germans] were preparing to come to murder the Jews in the villages. They knew this from Oswald Rupeyzn, who served as a translator with the Germans. He would give the Judenrat such happy news with great self-sacrifice. They learned of this, but it already was too late and where could they escape with small children, as there were traps throughout to catch Jews?

The murderers came quietly to Berezna. The Lis family was driven out with violence. Also the Krinicke family as well from the village of Klin, along with the old Feywa, Chaya-Gitl and Perec and the children. They were brought to Krinicnia. They were led behind the barn and everyone, 20 men, was shot. Berl had gone to search for food for the children; he was not there at that moment. He unfortunately even heard the last shouts of the wives and children. His sister Ester was supposed to arrive and she could have fallen right into the hands of the murderers. He met her and told her the dark news. They could not to go the ghetto in Mir. It did not occur to them that they could go and hide in the forests. They decided to go to the Stolpce ghetto. The Germans shot those passing by on the spot, but they were lucky and the murderers

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permitted them to enter the ghetto. Berl and Ester and a few other Jews then succeeded in escaping in the direction of Krinicnia, their birthplace. They labored for two years in the thick forest around their house and lived to see the defeat of the Germans.

Sonya, Josef, Heikl, Ester, Peretz Garodajski

 

In the village of Stary Sverzhen across the river from Stolpce lived a Jewish family: the tailor Borukh Yankelewicz and Rosha and their children. As the Christians explained, they lived for a long time after the liquidation of the ghettos in Stolpce, Sverzhen. When the Germans came to the village, they never [went to them]. They thought that a poor Christian lived there. Thus they lived in need and in deadly fear. However, it was good that at that time a Jewish family could live there.

Only one daughter, Ruchl, who was not at home (she escaped to Russia), survived. After she returned home to the village, she learned from her neighbors that the Orthodox priest (the Christian clergyman) had supported her family with food. It was her friends with whom she had grown up and with whom she had studied who had betrayed her family to the Germans. (Under the Polish regime, the village was sympathetic to the communists.) The Alter family with two unmarried sisters lived in the nearby village of Peretoki; but they had settled in Stolpce before the destruction.

Thus the Jews who lived in the villages around Stolpce paid with their lives.

 


Remembrance

by Basia Milcenzon (Johannesburg)

Translated by Esther Libby Raichman

The heart grieves from lament
I would gladly huddle together
To the cold sand and stone
To hear regards from my home.

Empty and grey is our life,
In the heart a fire burns.
Tragic, grey pictures hover,
Everything that is dear has disappeared.

I long for my village
Where I enjoyed a life.
Every tree and leaf is dear to me
Of death, ruin, who thought of it.

I see the market, every cart.
Of synagogues, houses and shops,
No trace has remained.
Our community's name has been erased.

The most holy, the enemy has trampled
And mocked at every prayer.
The streets are empty and silent
“The guardian of Israel will not flee”- where then is the guard?
At every step you can feel destruction and death
Where are you Jewish daughters?

The forests around grieve
The Niemen is turbulent with rage
It calls and storms: God above, come,
See what has become of your people.

We go to say “Yizkor”
All together, bent over in three.
We keep on crying
Days and nights with swollen eyes.

The day of revenge is still far off
But a time will come
Of Jewish domination and struggle once again.
The nation of Israel lives… (Am Yisroel Chai)

 

Seated from right: Unknown, Daniel Horenkreig, his wife Chienka, Chana Lieba Sagalowich;
Standing from right: Horenkreig, unknown, Cheinka Sagalowich, Meilach and Bashke Milcenzon, Esther from Swierzne, Esther Sagalowich, (Getzes), unknown
[1]

 


Footnote

  1. Clara Slimak (née Horenkrieg) has told us that this picture was taken on the occasion of the marriage of her parents, Daniel Horenkrieg and Cheinka Merin, who are seated in the middle. Clara was also able to identify some of the unknown people in the photograph and their relationships as follows:
    Seated from right Esther Horenkreig, [mother of Daniel Horenkreig], Daniel Horenkreig, his wife Chienka [née Merin], Chana Lieba Sagalowich;
    Standing from right: Jezek Horenkreig [Daniel Horenkrieg's brother], unknown, Cheinka Sagalowich, Meilach and Bashke Milcenzon, Esther from Swierzne, Esther Sagalowich (Getzes) [should be Getzel's daughter], Tola Horenkrieg [Daniel and Jezek Horenkrieg's sister]. Return


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I Remember

by Betzalel Ben Moshe Baskin, Buenos Aires

Translated by Esther Libby Raichman

In memory of generations of the world, for those whom I cry.
My eyes shed tears for those who were killed, slaughtered and burned
who fell in our town of Stoibtz at the hands of the murderers.

Stoibtz! My little town of Stoibtz! The little town in which I spent my youth! I lived under your skies for 23 spring times – these same skies that witnessed your destruction, and today, I mourn you. I will never forget you. I remember when I parted from you, 25.12. 1930. It was a holiday for the Christians, the new–year, for those who later murdered you. It was a cold wintry day, the house was full of women, aunts and neighbors, all of whom were crying; only one person did not cry – that was me – this wandering boy. The scene was the same at the station; many came to say farewell: my father, may he rest in peace, was crying, my sister, my brothers – everyone was crying. They were pleading with me to turn back and come home – so many generations have lived here, you will also live. Sadly, they did not foresee that not far from them lived a people that were raising murderers, who would annihilate them 10 years later. The youth did sense something. I remember the friends of my youth who came to farewell me, amongst them: Chaim Epshtein, Idl Dovid Kapelowicz, my cousins Fyve Aginsky and Pinye Tunik – all perished … I remember their words when they came to say goodbye: Tzolle (Betzalel), you are going away into the big, wide world but we cannot consider it. We are remaining here in Europe, and this is an island with lava, that can, at any moment, become active. In Europe, wars occur approximately every 20 years and if we should turn to you for help, do not forget the friends of your youth. My brothers, I have not forgotten you; I mourn you during the day and at night, I will remember you forever. I rise every morning early with a curse on my lips, cursing your murderers. May their names be erased! I cannot even approach your graves, in order to shed a tear. Our only hope is to live to take revenge on your murderers, on those who destroyed you.

It is hard to believe that Stoibtz, that existed for hundreds of years, is no longer alive. I remember that I once saw a gravestone from the beginning of the 18th century, and that the old cemetery is still there, that was also in existence for two hundred years, so Stoibtz has been in existence for approximately more than 400 years, surrounded by forests on the edge of the Niemen River, with a railroad line to Warsaw and to Moscow. The true number of its years is unknown. In this, my century, Stoibtz burned down twice and was rebuilt again but during the last World War (1939) the town was destroyed by fire and its inhabitants were massacred by the German followers of Hitler. Before the last World War, the Jewish population numbered about 700 families – consisting mostly of merchants and retailers, but the tradesmen also occupied an important place, and among them were many who were well–read. Among the leaders of the community in Stoibtz, there were those who were learned in Torah and who wanted to implant this discipline in their children by sending them to Cheder[1] and to the Yeshivot[2]. Stoibtz also possessed a good “Tarbut” School, a government high school, a Talmud Torah,[3] synagogues, a People's Bank, Bikkur Cholim[4], Hachnasat Orchim[5], Gemillut Chesed[6], Linat Hatzedek[7], and a substantial number of Zionist youth.

The Zionist movement made its presence felt in the town, after the First World War, led by the teacher and enlightened follower of the Haskalah movement, Reb Alter Yosselewicz, may he rest in peace. The first Zionist youth organization was established in 1921. The founders were: the writer of these lines, Noah, Motl and Chanah Borsuk, Dovid Kapelowicz, Rivkah and Shifrah Gruness, Yosef Pilshchik, Yosef Machtei, Chaim Rozovsky, Chatzel Flaksin, Bebbe Yerucham, and others who will forgive me for not mentioning them. Afterwards we separated into 2 parties: “Hitachdut”[8] and “Po–alei–Tzion”[9]. We also established “Hechalutz”[10]. Yehudit Machtei, may she rest in peace, and I, were the first two chalutzim[11] who went on Hachsharah[12] in the Michalinne Forests between Kossover and Ruzshanai. Then we began to think about the youth of the future, and we founded the “Gordonia”[13] which included “Ettele Borsuk, Mula Milcenzon, Merre Proshtzitzky, Chayele Srogowicz”. At that time, they were all young children and we treated them truly like our own children. In this way a youth grew up, some of whom are in the Land of Israel and many others perished at the hands of the murderers. I must emphasize that the Zionism in Stoibtz, did not begin with us, but even before the First World War, a Zionist youth organization existed in Stoibtz led by the leader of the generation, the enlightened Zalman Rubashov –– now Zalman Shazar. At the same time, a Bundist organization existed in Stoibtz with

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a fine group of youth led by Chaim Dworetzky, Mula Kaplan, may he rest in peace, and Noach Kushnir may he live a long life. Although there were two extreme camps – Zionism and Bundism, in our private lives, we were friendly and brotherly. The aliyah[14] to the Land of Israel began at the beginning of the 20th century. The first pioneers were Zalman Rubashov (Shazar), Yitzchak Bernshtein, Dov Epshtein and Reuven Levin, who have already lived in Israel for more than 50 years.

In 1922, emigration to Israel began again. The first pioneers were the friends of my youth: Yosef Machtei, Chaim Rozowsky, Feigl Bernshtein, Rivkah Gruness, Noach and Nechamah Borsuk, Bebbe Charchurim, Chatzkel Flaksin and Miriam Kumak. Many went to Israel on this aliyah, but most did not live to realise their ideals, and they took this beautiful dream with them to the mass grave.

They ended their lives in terrible suffering. The blood of men and women, parents and children, brothers and sisters were poured out together and blended, and it screams from the earth: vengeance, take revenge!

Let us always carry their holy memory in our thoughts, and the memory of the little town where we were born and raised and spent our childhood, that is deeply engraved in our hearts and in the depths of our souls.

Stoibtz was a little town of Torah, great Rabbis, Talmudists, scholars, Chasidism and Mitnagdim,[15] community leaders and tradesmen, merchants and retailers, workers and labourers who earned their piece of bread honestly and with difficulty. This little town is no longer here …. destroyed … all the Jews massacred – shot and buried in one mass grave. Let us remember and recall the pure martyrs who sacrificed their lives for the sanctification of the Holy Name.

“Yitgadal V'Yitkadash”– may their names be exalted and be holy.

 

Women from Stoibtz and Rubeziewicz in the synagogue at a memorial for the martyrs – 12th Tishrei, in Argentina

Sitting from right: Hinde Fabrikut, Sarah Puzyak, Mishke Burdo, Sarah Reiser, Miriam Germizze, Malkah Gersh, Tzile Tunik, Beile Puzyak, Esther Tunik, Chaye Tunik, Ritle Shulkin, Rachel Baskin, Sarah Bruchansky, Kmalinne Tunik, Senora

 


Translator's footnotes

  1. Cheder – (Hebrew and Yiddish) – Jewish religious school for boys. Return
  2. Yeshivot – (Hebrew and Yiddish) – Rabbinic academies. Return
  3. Talmud Torah (Hebrew) – free elementary school. Return
  4. Bikkur Cholin (Hebrew) – a society for visiting the sick. Return
  5. Hachnasat Orchim (Hebrew) – a society for hospitality which provided hostels for visitors. Return
  6. Gemillut Chesed (Hebrew) – a charity organization to provide for the poor. Return
  7. Linat Hatzedek (Hebrew) – a hostel for the poor. Return
  8. Hitachdut (Hebrew) – Union (movement). Return
  9. Po–lalei Zion (Hebrew) –Workers for Zion (movement). Return
  10. Hechalutz (Hebrew) – The Pioneer (movement). Return
  11. Chalutzim (Hebrew) pioneers. Return
  12. Hachsharah (Hebrew) – preparatory agricultural training for prospective emigrants to Palestine. Return
  13. Gordonia – Zionist youth movement. Return
  14. Aliyah (Hebrew) – emigration to the Land of Israel. Return
  15. Mitnagdim (Hebrew) – orthodox Jews opposed to Chasidism. Return


[Page 347]

How Can We Forget

by Nachman Flaksin, Argentina

Translated by Esther Libby Raichman

I cannot, oh Stoibtz, forget you
Not by day nor by night
Drinking, eating, at work, too
You are always in my thoughts.

I see you truly and in dreams
I see your young and your old
I see you in times serene
And in days cruel and cold.

I see your schools, your prayer houses your unions
Your parties and their frictions
I see your mirth, your weeping
Your jubilance, your turmoil, your screams.

I see you when learning, when praying
In heat, in cold and in snow
I see you with preachers and speakers
And parties of Zionist revolutionaries in tow.

Stoibtz, a colorful place you once were
Grew in number, delighted, and suffered
Until the great calamity occurred
And alas, you were destroyed.

The Nazi–dogs arrived
Exterminated the poor and the rich
Destroyed all, the old and the child
Relentlessly there at the river.

I see your dead, your martyrs
I see your holy ones before death
I see that your holy leader
The righteous Reb Yehoshuah walks with you.

To the sacrifice I see you going
Where the angel of death awaits you all
To their death the whole community is walking
The old and the young, the groom and the bride.

Now you are embracing each other
You are parting, grieving and embittered
You cling like little sheep, silently …
I shudder and tremble with fear.

 

The Flaksin family
Nachman, Yochanan, Leibl, Moshe, Chanah, Tzippe, Yechezkel, Mordechai, Yosef

[Page 348]

I hear the crack of the rifles,
Into the pit I see you fall,
I hear the wailing, the clamor and sighs,
I see how you are swallowed by the pit.

You are at once covered with earth
But what do I see from afar?
The earth is moving over you
A long, long, time ….

And for long, from the grave can be heard
A silent cry and a plea,
A limb shivers and wriggles
From a dying person that speaks:

Oh! why God almighty, do we deserve this?
Why God are you silent, looking on like this?
Why do you not hear our pain?
Why do you allow us to be mocked???

* * *

And a voice resounds from a distance,
In a void it can be heard:
Better times are approaching
And the morning star is rising.

Through your suffering, your graves and your dead,
A state is rising, a free one,
The sound of trumpets can be heard
In the State of Israel, the new.

Here the refugees will arrive,
To build a home for all,
No longer will wailing be heard,
But celebrations of grooms and of brides.

From all corners of the world they will come
Jews, by sea and by air,
The sun shines there brightly
And to build the land she calls.

And from ruins, the graves and suffering
The light will come out and shine,
The land will be filled with work and joy,
An eternal life it will be.

No longer will lament be heard,
And no longer the woe,
For God will be our guardian,
Long live Israel, long live Israel!


A. Back to Stoibtz in July 1944

by Getzel Reiser

Translated by Esther Libby Raichman

On the 12th July 1944 we received an order to go out on guard to the outskirts of the forest and not to allow access to the stunned remnants of the German military's 7th Division. They had been stationed behind Minsk, where the great Russian offensive had begun. In the meantime, we heard that Stoibtz was already occupied by the Russian army, but the attack was too small, so they had to retreat. Stoibtz was only finally liberated on 15th July. Only on our return we came upon and observed the great destruction of our town. The few Jews who had been in hiding, began to crawl out of their hiding places. Among them were sixJews who had been hidden by a Christian in the village of Zadvarye for two years during which time he gave them food and drink. The six were: Nechama Reiser (daughter of Kalman) with her daughter Chanah Leah, three sisters – the daughters of Chaim Leib Kaplan: Devorah, Esther and Zlatke, as well as Azriel Tunik. Another one, Nochum Kantorowicz (Azriel Ruditzky's son–in–law) was hidden by a Christian in Zayamne but shortly after liberation, he became ill and died. We buried him in the old cemetery. A tragic incident happened to Daniel Horenkrieg. He was already working for the Soviets at the Swerznie sawmill; on route to Minsk in a truck, he had an accident and met his death. He was brought to Stoibtz and we had to bury him in the town's cemetery. His wife Chayenke and two daughters Mushke

 

Daniel Horenkrieg, may his memory be blessed

[Page 349]

and Klara, later left to join friends in Venezuela.

The few Jews of the town gathered together and clung to each other from fear and pain. Some were mobilized into the Red Army. The three Akun brothers, Zalman, Hillel and Berele, (the sons of Boruch Ozer Simchah Zalman, the carpenter) fell at the front lines of battle, together with the rest of the Jewish fighters.

At the first Rosh Hashanah[1] after we left the Kolditzev hell, the mood was depressed, so we organized a minyan[2] on Shpitalne Street where we would be able to cry our hearts out for our terrible destruction. We bought a Torah scroll from a Christian man from Potshtovve Street, who told us that he bought it and hid it from the White–Russian police, during those tragic days when the police and the Christians were tearing the Torah scrolls and using the parchment to make bast shoes[3]. We really prayed passionately that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The next day, after Yom Kippur we all went to the communal grave, on the eve of the anniversary of the death of our holy ones. Since then we have sanctified that day, 12th Tishrei, as the Memorial Day for our best and most beloved.

The Soviet authorities appointed a commission to investigate the murderous deeds of the Germans. Once, on a Sunday, they dug up the mass grave in a few places and we were present and witnessed the great tragedy. We went to the grave almost every Sunday to have a good cry and turned back with an intense ache in our hearts; until one day, we decided to erect a grave stone on the mass grave and on the rest of the graves that were spread over the town.

In the middle of May 1945, the Second World War ended, for everyone a great joy; for us it was only small comfort, remaining alone, having lost everything and everyone. Life in our birth town, the place where we were born and raised, and enjoyed the years of our youth, became unbearable for us. It was difficult to live amongst graves – at every turn we saw graves and destruction. Registration began for travel to Poland – Russia allowed people to leave from all the districts that had belonged to Poland before 1939. Everyone was preparing to leave.

We arrived in Poland, in Lodz, where most of the surviving Jews were concentrated. In general, it was also a risk for Jews to remain in Poland, particularly after the pogrom in Keltz. The Jews of Stoibtz arranged to gather together on the day of the anniversary of the deaths, 12th Tishrei, and pray with a minyan at the home of Yakov Levin on Tzegelnagge Street. The wounds were still fresh. People wanted to say Kaddish[4] to cry together about the great calamity.

From Poland, we all travelled to Germany with the assistance of the so–called “Brichah”[5]. Here the Americans organized UNRA camps for the survivors, for those who escaped the great fire. In

 

In Augsberg (Germany) at a memorial for the martyrs

Sitting from right: Sonia Reznik, Sarah Tunik, Sonia Levin, Rosa Bogin, Nechama Reiser, Dovid Henkin, Sonia Maron, Yakov Chaim Maron, Itke Inzelbuch
Standing from right: Mendl Machtei, Dovid Levin, unknown, Yakov Levin, Isaac Berkowicz, Yulik Pinczewsky, Leibl Tunik, Reuven Machtey, Berel Fyvve Berkowicz, Chanah Reiser, Mordechai Gildshtein, Klara Horenkrieg, Getzl Reiser, Eli Mutznik, umknown, Chanah Sarnov, Moshe Sarnov, Yisroel Proshtzitzky

[Page 350]

horror and fear, we sat in Germany, the land of robbers and murderers who murdered a third of our people. Here too, we decided to gather all the people of Stoibtz in one place, close to the anniversary date, in Augsberg, half way between Munich and Ulm. Almost everyone came to pay respects to our holy souls.

Only in 1948, with the rise of the Jewish State, we reached our final goal: to return to the land of our forefathers, the land of Zion and Jerusalem.

 

B. Protocol of the Mourning Session

These are the minutes of the mourning session that took place on the 22nd June 1945, on the anniversary of the day that the Russian–German war broke out. The meeting was attended by the following participants: Berel–Fyvve Berkowicz, Getzl Reiser and Wolf Getler from Lodz. We took the decision not to leave here until we were able to organize the graves of the Jews who perished – the martyrs of Stoibtz.

We erected the first memorial on the site of the huge grave, opposite the old cemetery, where more than 2000 Jews are buried. The area of the grave measures 14 x 70 meters. A bronze plate has been set into the wall with an inscription in Russian:

‘To the eternal memory of the Jews who perished at the hand of the barbarians and Hitler 1942 – 1943’

At the memorial, we made a deep trench around the entire area of the grave. On both sides we arranged two Stars of David with white–washed stones, and at the corners we installed 4 concrete poles.

We erected the second memorial on the grave next to the “ghetto” on Yurzdik Street that occupies an area of 5 x 8 meters. About 70 women and children are buried there. We inserted concrete poles, arranged in the shape of a grave, surrounded by grass, and on the metal plate we hung an inscription.

The third memorial was not far from the second.

This grave occupies an area of 3 x 40 meters. Here lie approximately 200 Jews. We placed stones and grass around the grave.

We erected the fourth memorial in the “ghetto” at the courtyard of Yakov–Berel the carpenter where approximately 60 Jews are buried. They perished when grenades were thrown into a cellar where they were hiding. The grave occupies an area of 5 x 6 meters and is surrounded by stones and grass. A metal plate has been cemented into the middle of the grave, with the same inscription.

At the fifth memorial on Akintzitz Road, approximately one kilometer from the town, we found two graves, one alongside the other, of the 87 Jews with free–professions, killed by the “Gestapo” in Tammuz 5701 (corresponding to 1941). We formed the shape of a grave.

Around the old cemetery, that was entirely destroyed by the murderers, we made a deep trench that occupies an area of 150 x 200 meters.

We again erected the scattered old gravestones and made the two large graves of those who perished, more visible: the first grave was of the 20, the most beautiful young people who died on the last sad Friday before Rosh Hashanah 5702 (corresponding to 1942).

In the second of these two graves, lay the remains of those who perished on the first sad Sunday on Shpitolne Street and were transferred here.

Those involved in the task of perpetuating the memories were: Berel–Fyvve Berkowicz, Getzel Reiser, Eliyahu Inzelbuch, Chadirkin, Chayenke Horenkrieg, Yitzchak Stoklitzky.

The physical work was done by 80 captured Germans whom we paid with bread and 5 Ruble a day. The work took 10 days.

A copy of the minutes remained with the Historical Committee in Warsaw.

Berel Fyvve Berkowicz
Getzel Reiser
Wolf Getler

21st Tammuz 5705
Stoibtz 3rd July 1945


Translator's footnotes

  1. Rosh Hashanah (Hebrew) – the Jewish New Year. Return
  2. Minyan (Hebrew/Yiddish) – a minimum of ten Jewish males who are required for congregational prayer. Return
  3. Bast shoes – (Wikipaedia) – bast shoes are shoes made primarily from bast–fiber taken from the bark of trees such as linden or birch. They are a kind of basket, woven and fitted to the shape of a foot. Return
  4. Kaddish – the memorial prayer for the dead. Return
  5. Bricha (Hebrew) – escape. Return

 

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