Shneer-Zalman's mother, ne Caplan, was of course very happy, but had other plans for her son. She was the daughter of a textile industrialist, Rabbi Nahman Caplan from Michalova, a nearby town. Rabbi Nahman was known in the area as "Grandpa Nahman" and the marriage of his daughter to Rabbi Shmuel-Hirsh was a matter of distinction and money - a well-known custom in those days. Once every few years there would be an assembly of the Jewish elite at the "Conference of Four Countries" which served as the leading body of Polish Jewry and of the Jews of the neighboring countries.
The conference was attended by the leading members of the various Jewish communities and marriages of honor were arranged, and connections made with people "in high places". In such a way the marriage of Rabbi Nahman Caplan's daughter and the newly ordained Rabbi Shmuel-Hirsh Cytron, who had become known as a gifted disciple of the Gaon Shneer-Zalman of Liadi, was arranged.
The Rebbetzen, Shmuel-Hirsh's wife, despite her admiration of her husband, had plans for her son to become an industrialist like her father, and not to follow a rabbinical career. She was, after all, "infected" by the education she received in her childhood in Michalova where she learned to play the piano, to read, studied poems by Heinrich Heine, as well learning French and German. At that time there were strong winds of progress blowing from the large city of Bialystok. When the women of Botshky wished for her that her son would follow in his father's footsteps, she of course thanked them and added that she was young and hoped to have other sons who would become rabbis. She planned to send her son, after completing his studies in heder and yeshiva, to her father in Michalova to learn the art of commerce.
At that time there was no motorized transport system in Russia and the only way to get around was in horse-drawn coaches escorted by an armed guard as protection against robbers and murderers. They usually left, after reciting the traveller's prayer, after Passover, returning before the Jewish New Year to the great joy of their families who anxiously awaited them. They visited fairs in Corsk, Oriol Varonish and the largest of all, Nizni-Navagrod. The Jewish travellers preferred the trip to Odessa as the route passed through Jewish villages with synagogues and kosher food. They also visited Kiev, Harcov, and Nicoliev where there were large trade fairs.
At the age of seventeen Shneer-Zalman embarked on an independent career for the first time in Michalova, opening up a weaving factory, which employed twenty-three workers. Shneer-Zalman married at an early age, to the daughter of the Haffner family and relation of the well-known Zaks family. The match also connected Shneer-Zalman with the famous Gaon Rabbi Akiva Eiger who was greatly admired by the communities of Prague, Poznan, and other communities throughout world Jewry. When his wife died, Shneer-Zalman married her sister Elca in order to preserve the unity and honor of the family. Another sister, Tanya, who was considered the most beautiful girl in Bialystok, married a rabbi of the Gordon family, a wealthy wool merchant family, and thus the distinguished bond between the Haffner and Gordon families, and between Michalova and Bialystok was strengthened.
In the 1890s Shmuel-Hirsh was already considered a man of means and his wealth continued to grow. When his father, Rabbi Shneer-Zalman reached old age Shmuel-Hirsh "pensioned him off", paid him a handsome monthly stipend and suggested that he devote his time to public services. Shmuel-Hirsh's brothers Leib, Moshe and Daniel, all managed on their own, while the youngest brother, Faivel Cytron, was appointed manager of the Cytron factory in Suprasl which Shmuel-Hirsh had acquired from the well-known German Bucholtz in 1903. Faivel successfully completed a course at a special school for textile studies in Bern, Switzerland. The factory in Suprasl was in a state of neglect when Shmuel-Hirsh bought it and "Mulke", as he was known by his friends, introduced new machines and added a third floor with storerooms for raw materials, a dyeing department for wool and fabrics.
When he sold the factory Bucholtz was an old man and had decided to leave the difficult profession of manufacturing. In addition, his daughter married Sheibler, one of the most important industrialists from Lodz and the owner of "Sheibler and Gromen" which, at its height, employed twelve thousand workers and was thought to be one of the largest concerns in Europe.
The Suprasl factory started a new production line of woolen blankets and blankets made from a mixed fabric which became known as Jakart, and besides producing for the home market, exported to Russia, China, South America and even Australia. The commercial secret of success of the Cytron product was the fastness of its whiteness while other manufacturers produced white blankets which, after a while, faded to yellow or gray. The author recalls how foreign companies, including the Japanese, tried unsuccessfully to buy the secret of the product's success from Faivel and from other sources.
Faivel Cytron left the Suprasl factory in 1917 and established his own business in Bialystok. The Suprasl factory continued to flourish after the end of the First World War and the reestablishment of the State of Poland. Despite Poland's poor economic state after the war, the Cytron factory, thanks to its international contacts, maintained and even increased its level of production. In the 1920s the Cytron Company acquired an old factory in Suprasl from a German called Onert, one of the first factories which were built in Suprasl, in 1838, also bought the fabrics factory which belonged to Wolf Frank, the father of Dr. Herman Frank who later became the editor of the "Zukunft" newspaper in New York. In addition, a number of plots near the factory were bought with a view to expanding the factory at a later date.
The next manager of the Suprasl factory was Haim Cytron, Shmuel-Hirsh's son. The other three sons, Benjamin, Alex, and Samion, worked at the company's head office at 35, Copyezka Street, Bialystok. In 1932 the company took over the Amiel Colycovsky sewing and weaving factory in Bialystok. The company then became "The S.H.Cytron-Suprasl Public Company" and employed more than two thousand workers in Suprasl and Bialystok. In the 1930s the company expanded its business interests to Mexico and India and opened a special agency in London. The offices and storerooms were modernized and English, French and Spanish were heard in the company's offices and agencies. The firm's export trade increased significantly in 1936-38 and a third shift was introduced to satisfy production requirements. Haim Cytron established a fully-equipped fire service with special fire fighting equipment as well as an independent orchestra. The fire service operated in Suprasl and in the nearby towns.
With the increase in the size of the workforce and the introduction of a shift system, the workers began to organize themselves in order to improve their working conditions. Indeed, the firm's management set up a worker's loan and social benefit foundation but the workers demanded a pay increase and improved working conditions.
Thus, in 1933 the workers went on strike, making threats and wielding banners. The strikers threatened to storm and burn the factory and, without intending to create such a situation, tempers flared and the police fired guns in an attempt to disperse the crowd. As a result, two strikers were killed and two more wounded. The unfortunate incident occurred in the presence of the town's mayor, Slosarizik, but on a day when none of the company's management were in Suprasl. Through the intervention of the mayor, a settlement was reached whereby the management agreed to compensate the victims' families with money and housing but the incident left its mark. As a result, Haim Cytron decided to resign and pass the reins of management over to his brother Benjamin, and Mayor Slosarzik also left town shortly afterwards.
It is worthy of mention that Slorsarzik was considered to be a talented mayor and a good friend of the Jews. During his term of office he promoted local tourism, as well as sport, in Suprasl and Bialystok. He was the first to realize the potential of Suprasl as a center of internal tourism thanks to its climate and topographical situation. Only now are the Polish authorities beginning to develop the town's tourist industry.
In 1939, the Cytron Company was at its peak. When the Second World War broke out, on September 1st 1939, the Germans entered the Bialystok region and during their ten day stay, emptied the local factories of most of their raw materials. Despite this, the Russians were able to later continue production for a full year.
After the war they reached New York. and Yaha and her husband moved to Canada. Viara, Benjamin Cytron's daughter, and her husband Cuba Shapira spent the war years in India and later reached Argentina. Alex's daughter Ina, together with her mother and aunt, were expelled to Inner Russia, where Ina managed to survive, and returned to Poland in 1946. Ina's mother and aunt died in Russia. Ina herself reached Israel in 1958 and works at the Kupat Holim as a bacteriologist. Leib and Daniel Cytron and their families perished in the Holocaust (Moshe died earlier). The author's father Faivel died in 1940 in Bialystok during the time of the Russian rule. Haim and Samion died in New York in 1971 and Arcadia passed away a few years later. None of them left children.
The factory in Suprasl was the first operated by the Russians who even appointed a manager of their own. Work at the factory progressed slowly and ceased entirely with the German occupation. The Germans only operated part of the factory and, before retreating in 1944, they burnt and destroyed the Suprasl factory. The Polish authorities of today have not restored the factory and only a small section of it operated as a furniture factory. The factories of Hirshorn, Krinsky, Eizenstadt, and Zimmerman no longer exist.
Avramsky, the bookkeeper, was a great comic and even sent jokes to the "Moment" newspaper in Warsaw. For every Joke printed he'd receive the sum of three rubles. Haike, the milk deliver, was a special character who took great pains to ensure that the milk was kosher - even for the "treyfnik" managers. Meiram (Segal), the tailor, used to make uniforms for the factory's firemen. As the uniforms were not made-to-measure Meiram would look at the poorly clad firemen with great glee. He'd say that they looked like scarecrows. On the other hand, he was of the opinion that the made-to-measure uniforms he sewed for the army officers looked like they'd been molded on. And there was Shmulke the black bearded weaver who, despite his long hours of work, never missed any of the three daily prayers (Shaharit, Minha, and Maariv).
They, and scores of others characters who comprised the town's Jewish folklore are no longer alive. They perished in the ghettos, the camps, forests, and gas chambers. All of Poland, especially Treblinka, is their graveyard.
Shmuel-Hirsh's brother Faivel was famous for his philanthropy and public deeds. He was also known as a brave fighter for equal rights for Jews, not only as citizens, but also as textile workers to whom some trades were closed. Once he was even wounded by a gentile employee who refused to allow a Jew to work in his department. Faivel Cytron served as leader of the Jewish community in Bialystok for ten years and during his term of office refurbished the old age home and "Hekdesh". He also donated to various charity organizations. Shmuel-Hirsh, and his sons Samion and Haim were also active in charity and public work.
It is sad that the Cytron family, along with its factories and agencies, disappeared. A dynasty which filled such an important role in the industrialization of Poland and in the Polish Jewish community was destroyed by evil. The apparent conclusion to be drawn is that Jewish property acquired in the Diaspora does not survive for more than three to four generations.
I recall my youth in Suprasl when my mother would take me and my sister for walks along the banks of the Suprasl River. When we returned we'd sit in the living room and my mother would play Russian, Polish, and even Hebrew tunes on the piano. One of the Hebrew songs was about the tall cedars of the Holyland which touched the clouds... about the blue skies and the Jordan River. After she'd finished playing the piano she'd turn to us and say: "Listen my children. Our true river is the Jordan River, not the Suprasl River". Today, after the Holocaust, the ghettos, and the gas chambers, we know how right she was.
In 1945 he was freed by the Russians and, despite being sick and suffering from malnutrition, he worked with the massive organization of medical personnel in eight hospitals set up to treat concentration and labor camp survivors. In 1946 he was put in charge of a medical center for the prevention of tuberculosis among Jewish children, supported by the "Taz" organization. During the three and a half years in which he was head of the center hundreds of children were healed and inoculated. His late wife Margalit, who was a nurse by profession, stood by his side and greatly contributed to saving Jewish children.
In 1949, Dr. Tuvia and Margalit Cytron and their two children emigrated to Israel. In Israel Dr. Cytron worked in the rehabilitation of wounded I.D.F. soldiers, especially those who were wounded in the War of Independence, the Sinai Campaign, and the Six-Day War. Dr. Cytron acted as the head surgeon at the Hadassa Hospital in Tel Aviv for twenty-five years and now, after his retirement, works privately. His wife Margalit, who stood by his side throughout, passed away in 1989. Dr. Cytron has a son, a well-known urologist at Beilinson Hospital, a daughter who works as an X-ray specialist, and a son-in-law who is also a surgeon at Tel Hashomer Hospital.
I shall begin with the outbreak of war between Poland and Germany, on 1st, September 1939, when all the men of the town below the age of 50, who had previously served in the Polish army were recruited. There was great confusion amongst the Jews of the village, especially among the families whose relatives had been mobilized, including Shlomo Sear and his brothers Meir and Moshe, Herzl Shturmak and his brother Myram, Zelig Travitsky, Alter Miletsky, and myself. I was sent to Bialystok and thence to Warsaw together with my battalion. However, en route, we were bombed by the Germans and the troops proceeded on foot in a disorganized fashion.
It soon became clear that there was no point in continuing to Warsaw and the battalion began to disperse. Myself and five other Jewish soldiers decided to return in the direction of the Russian-Polish border, not knowing that the Russian army had already crossed into Polish territory. Meanwhile, the Germans had taken Bialystok and large portions of eastern Poland were in Russian hands. Eventually Bialystok became Russian territory, as part of the Molotov-Ribentrop agreement.
At this time, September 1939, we were near the Russian-Polish border and we, of course, were happy to hear that Bialystok was under Soviet control. The Russians rounded up the majority of the Polish officers and sent them deep into Russia, while telling us, the Jews, to go home. I reached Baranowitz from where I planned to travel by train to Bialystok. There was a large crowd of people next to the train station and much commotion. After we succeeded in boarding the train, Russian soldiers appeared and closed all the train doors. In answer to questions about the train's destination the soldiers replied: "To Russia, as prisoners or war". I eventually found myself in a camp near Smolensk, near the Dnieper River. The camp was inhabited by some 15,000 Polish soldiers and officers, there was no food and the prisoners received only leaves to smoke and newspapers. In addition to the hunger, the cold was repressive and it was difficult to sleep.
One day, whilst marching, I met Fishel, the son of Abraham-Jacob Otenstein, from Suprasl we thereafter tried to stick together. One evening, four months later, we were called to a meeting. Fishel didn't want to attend the meeting so I went on my own. The names of about 2000 men, myself included, were read out, and we were taken to a spot 2 kilometers from the camp, and two days later were accompanied by a military orchestra to a small train station and thence by train to an unknown destination. At first we thought we were being taken to Siberia, however, after checking the sun's position, we realized that we were travelling westwards in the direction of the former Russian-Polish border.
After 12 hours' travel we arrived at a small town where we disembarked and were given food and papers and told that we could return to our homes. I reached Bialystok via Baranovitz. Fishel remained in the camp and after the war I discovered that he had immigrated to Australia.
On reaching Bialystok, I found large numbers of Jews from the German - held regions of Poland and the city was almost unrecognizable. Life in Suprasl resumed under Russian control and the Shturmak family was worried about Herzl and Myram who had not yet returned from the prisoner of war camps. Herzl later reached Israel together with the Polish Andrus soldiers and changed his name to Sa'aroni.
The Russians nationalized the factories and businesses; a Russian was appointed manager of the Cytron's wearing factory and the Cytrons fled. The Hirshorn family was sent to Russia, as was the family of Gedaliah Gottlieb and Moshe Danzing, the owner of the local sawmill, was arrested. Gedaliah Gottlieb eventually arrived in Israel together with his family. Following nationalization, the Russian closed all privately owned shops and opened a cooperative shop, which stocked few commodities. The cooperative was managed by an arrogant man called Toleh Kagan who was soon demoted to the lowly position of factory worker. The acquisition of products such as oil and sugar entailed standing in long queues both in Suprasl and Bialystok where the situation was slightly better.
However, overall people grabbed every available commodity in preparation for the hard times ahead. The "hungry Russians" bought anything they could lay their hand on, and even bought prayer shawls, thinking them to be scarves. In Suprasl, the Russians arrested many young Poles and sent them to Siberia. As a result, there were fears of further arrests. At this time I worked in the Cytron factory as a weaver amidst great confusion. There was a shortage of wood and once we were "mobilized" and accompanied by an orchestra to a forest where we felled trees. "White Head" Olshevsky was appointed manager of the Danzig sawmill and, like Toleh Kagan and other communists, was soon sacked.
There were many Germans in Suprasl, most of whom returned to Germany during the war, except for Zeidel and Geboyer. A special police force was established in Suprasl consisting of Poles and Jews including Olshevsky, Variblasky, Okorovsky, Boreh and a number of former P.P.S. workers. Some of the Jews including Toleh Kagan, Baruch Gamzu and even Arke Rabinowitz, the Rabbi's son received permission to carry arms. Later, Rabinowitz was arrested and sent to Russia. One day, Issar, the decorator's son Itzik, burst into the priest's house with a gun and stole a radio. When the Germans occupied the town Itzik was one of the first to be killed. At this time the "mayor" of Suprasl was a Russian who was officially appointed. The uncertainty, lack of commodities and feeling that the war hadn't ended, all contributed to the harsh conditions. Nonetheless, the local inhabitants were loath to move away from their homes and hoped for miracles.
On the night of 22.6.41 German planes attacked Bialystok and the explosions were clearly audible in Suprasl. We didn't get any sleep that night and the next day, a Sunday, there was great confusion, especially among the Jews, while the Poles were quite happy with the situation hoping that they would soon be rid of the Russians. The Russians, however, calmed the Poles and called everyone to turn up for work on Monday. Throughout Sunday we saw Russian soldiers retreating and many planes passed over Suprasl in the direction of Russia. When I arrived at work on Monday, we were called to a special meeting during which the Russian manager informed us that the Germans were suffering heavy losses and that Russian soldiers would soon be entering Berlin... However, the scene from the factory windows was different and depressing. Russian soldiers retreating, including the walking wounded, in the direction of Horodok, via the Suprasl forests and thence via the road which led to Bialystok, Baranovitz and Minsk.
As the situation worsened, we the Jews, began to think of fleeing towards Russia. However, unfortunately, we received military orders to make our way to Bialystok. A few hundred of us were rounded up in the yard of the Cytron factory and, without being allowed to take leave of our families, were transported to Bialystok. On the way we could see the devastation... Russian soldiers running to and from disorganized and undisciplined, with many wounded unattended by doctors. After being bombed twice, we demanded from the commanding officer to return us to Suprasl. The officer, however, insisted we continue to Bialystok. On our arrival we discovered that there was no one there to meet us and that the Russian authorities had left their mark, shops had been looted and people were trying to make their way eastward. We decided to return to Suprasl on foot, and on reaching the town we saw that the Russians had evacuated the area and the Germans were speeding on to Russian soil.
After being reunited with our families, I once again thought of moving eastward, but by then, it was too late. One Jewish girl, Hitka Shpitalsky, left with the Russians but her entire transport was wiped out. Those who left on the morning of Sunday 23.6.41 managed to escape; others either returned or died on the road. One who got out of Bialystok was Leibe Semiatitsky who, it is thought, is living in Grodno.
After the Russian evacuation of Suprasl, a Polish committee was set up to receive the Germans. The committee comprised: Zeidl and Geboyer, the Polish Germans who stayed on, Alditovsky the shopkeeper, the butcher Valkavsky, and a number of Poles whose names I cannot recall. The Germans entered Suprasl 6 days after the beginning of the war, on 28.6.41. The German leadership occupied the Buchholtz Palace and the Polish committee received them with flowers and gifts.
A large German military force camped in the town and Jews were forced to do hard labor and were beaten whilst carrying out their duties. Jewish girls were taken into domestic service and treated as housemaids. The Poles, on the other hand, didn't conceal their joy at being rid of the Russians. After they retreated, the Russians left behind clothes, shoes and other belongings. The German officer in charge was a lieutenant and ordered everyone down to the cellar, which was surrounded by soldiers with guns. The lieutenant announced that if the culprit didn't come forward, everyone would be shot. Joseph Goldshmid then confessed and the officer, who was a "humane German" sentenced us to a day and night's work without food. At any other time the incident would have ended with the death sentence.
One day two Germans came to the factory with a list of names including Toleh Kagan, Yankel Novosilker and another name which I can't recall. He was from Bialystok and was married to Hitka Shpitalslki's oldest daughter. The Russians had conducted business with him. The Germans took them to the "German monastery" which they turned into a prisoner of war camp (the Russians had used it as a cinema and theater), to where a 17-year-old girl from Vashilkova, who worked in the Cytron factory, was taken. She lived with her father whose name was "Leibeleh". She was seen walking with Germans. A Pole from the village of Studzianky was also interned at the camp.
Later, they were taken to a forest and were seen by the local inhabitants, being pushed and shoved by the Germans and carrying hoes. Yells were heard as they were forced to dig their own graves and then shot. Others shot by the Germans included my sister's friend, who worked in an important position at the factory, Gittle Shotlander, Itzik, the son of Issar the decorator, Baruch Gamzu who, at first, managed to flee to Bialystok but was turned in by the Poles, Moshe Travitsky's son Asher, was also shot. These were the first victims.
The same group of Nazis took out the Torah scrolls from the local synagogue, burned them and forced "Shochet" Meir Patt, Yaakov the cobbler, Zalman-Leib the wagon driver and other Jews found nearby, to dance round the burning scrolls. Later they took the town Rabbi, Shlomo Avigdor Rabinowitz to Krasna near the forest and shot him. On another occasion several scores of men were taken from their homes and led while beaten, through the streets. All were sure they'd be shot but they were transferred to Bialystok, and thanks to Zeidel's efforts were returned to Suprasl.
All this happened during the first three mounts of the German occupation, before the establishment of a civil authority. Meanwhile, Zeidel was appointed town head and Yanek Bogdanovitz, chief of police. The police force consisted of Poles and Germans. A German from Tshernoviesh was appointed to the position of regional commissar. He was the highest-ranking officer in the area and gave all the orders. Jews were forced to wear yellow Stars of David on their chests and backs, they were prohibited from using pavements and had to raise their hats on meeting a German. Poles were not allowed to have friendships with Jews and other decrees were made. A special tax of gold, silver and jewels was imposed on the Jews and collected within three days.
Later the Jews were ordered to appoint a "Juden-Rat" (Jewish leadership) and at a meeting held at the home of Leizer the baker, a resident of Lodz, who was an engineer at the Cytron factory, was elected chairman. The leadership included: Meir Patt, Shaul Goldschmid, Joseph Goldshmid and a doctor from Warsaw who resided in Suprasl. The leadership's "office" was in the house of Joseph Goldshmid. The "Juden Rat's" duty was to discuss or carry out decrees. There was a plan to establish a ghetto between Novi-Shwiat Street and the forest, however following Zeidel's intervention and the bribing of the German commander, the plan was dropped. There was no Jewish police force.
Life in Suprasl gradually took on some form of normal, daily routine. The fear that every new day brought haunted us all but everyday life became somewhat easier. All the Jews were forced to work for the war effort at the Citron factory, the sawmill, and perform other menial tasks. The pay was minimal and essential foodstuffs, such as bread, were rationed out in meager amounts. The Jews traded possessions for food with the Poles. In general though, it can be said, that at this time daily life in Suprasl was easier than in other towns and it was even possible to enter and leave the ghetto in Bialystok. The Poles' attitude to pick berries and swim in the river like in the good old days.
In Suprasl, there lived a family called Sobotnik from Vashilkova whose son converted to Christianity and married a Polish girl, the daughter of Valitzki. He refused to wear the yellow Star of David and was later caught and shot dead by the Nazis.
One day the order was given for all the Jews to gather in the market place with their belongings for transportation to Germany to work. Any family missing a member would be shot dead. All the Jews gathered in the market as ordered. Soldiers arrived and surrounded us with drawn guns. We began to cry and shout and were held like that for 2-3 hours, until the German officer arrived and told us that the Jews were the cause of the war and that they must be destroyed. The soldiers than lined us up and began to fire in the air. We thought our end had come but then the officer addressed us once more and announced that, as we had all obeyed the order to come to the marketplace, we were free to return to our homes. A sigh of relief spread among the Jews and we all felt as if we'd returned from the world to come... no one dreamed for one moment that the worst was yet to come. It was convenient to believe that we were saved. At this time we didn't know for certain about the killings taking place around us, in other places, and despite the rumours, no one believed that all the Jews would be exterminated.
Meanwhile life resumed and although men were periodically called up for special work, this vas for a limited time. Thus I found myself working on the repairing of the road which led from Bialystok to Wolkovisk and Baranovitz, near the old Russian border. The work was hard and there were beatings and killings, but the workforce was changed once a fortnight. There were rumors that the Germans in charge of the work had been bribed but the system worked until that fateful day of 1.11.42.
At first we managed in the forest on the food we had. Almost every family had previously hidden food and other essential commodities with a farmer they knew. The Germans heard about this through informers and threatened to burn down the entire village, if they caught a villager providing Jews with food. As a result the farmers stopped bringing us food. They told us that all the Jews from the towns in the region had been rounded up in the former 10th battalion camp in Bialystok. Meanwhile winter began and conditions in the forest worsened. Children began to get sick, there was no food, and we stole potatoes from the villagers and burned wood for heat. This situation continued for 2 weeks and people started to consider leaving the forest, despite the danger involved. And so, the first family left and returned home. We all wanted to know what had become of them and heard that no harm had come to them and they were given clothes and food.
This news, together with the deteriorating conditions as winter progressed, led to the Jews leaving the forest and registering with the German authorities. They were sent to the tenth battalion camp. Thus the Germans succeeded in "drawing the bear out of the forest" and destroying the Jewish community of Suprasl.
At this stage it became clear that only six of us remained: myself (Daidush Fine), Meir Sear, Hershel Gershuni, Haim Gamzu, Isaac Sikora (Joshua Sikora's son), and Shlomo Otenstein (the son of' Shepsil Otenstein). We took on the life of moles - burrowing underground during the day, as a means of hiding and escaping the cold, searching for food at night - stealing potatoes and anything we could lay our hands on from the nearby villages. How does one hide underground? We dug a large pit using timber as supports and cover for the entrance as we built a "subterranean villa". We were concerned by the fact that we were on our own, the partisans had not yet reached our area and we had no arms. One evening we met a farmer who told us that all the Jews of Suprasl had been sent away. We then decided to go to the Bialystok ghetto, armed with axes and saws, which could be used as work tools and weapons, to take stock of the situation.
We reached the ghetto before dawn and waited for the first group of workers so that we could join them with our work tools and march to the ghetto. At one spot, there was a factory next to the ghetto. With pounding hearts, the whole area full of soldiers and Gestapo guarding the entrances to the ghetto, we set off towards the factory. The factory was guarded by a Pole who was known to some of us and he let us in, where from we entered the ghetto. From discussions with the ghetto inhabitants we discovered that there was a resistance movement whose job it was, besides getting hold of arms and establishing resistance within the ghetto, to smuggle Jews out of the ghetto and set up partisan groups.
Myself and Hershel Gershuni immediately joined the partisans and were sure that we could train people from the ghetto with arms. Meir Sear married in the ghetto and decided not to return to the forest. Isaac Sikora preferred to fight from within the ghetto and Shlomo Otenstein found a relative in the ghetto, Moshe Otenstein, the son of Abraham Jacob the cobbler. Moshe Ottenstein's wife stayed in Suprasl with Shapsel, Shlomo's father, and was evacuated together with the other residents of the town. Moshe didn't allow Shlomo to return to the forest as he was certain, as were many other Jews in Bialystok, that the ghetto would not be destroyed and that the work that the Jews were performing for the Germans in the ghetto was of the utmost importance. Thus, instead of the original group of six, only myself and Hershel Gershuni, plus of course, other potential partisan members, planned to return to the forest..
I remained in the Bialystok ghetto one month, after which I returned to the forest, but this time I was armed and had built up new contacts. Hershel Gershuni was to follow me, with a group from the ghetto, but he never arrived and I don't know what happened to him. As for the Jews of Suprasl, whilst I was in the Bialystok ghetto and after checking the events in the Polish calendar of the 10th battalion camp - from eye witnesses and people in the ghetto - I built the following picture: on 21.11.42 they were loaded on trains, together with other Jews from the surrounding towns, who were interned in the tenth and forty-second battalion camps, and taken to Treblinka, where they were gassed to death. This is. Therefore the "Jhorzeit" day of the Suprasl community - according to the Hebrew calendar 11th Kislev. 5703.
In March 1943, the first armed group left the Bialystok ghetto for the forests of Suprasl. More groups joined later and a unit called "Kadimah" was established. The unit commander was Sasha Sohashevsky from Warsaw, and his second in command was Rivka Schinder-Viskovska from Krinki. Rivka was active in the Bialystok ghetto underground and was one of the organizers of the partisan movement in the forest. At first there were not enough arms to go round but later new sources were found. There were five Jewish girls in the Bialystok underground who lived as Christians with forged Polish papers. They were associated with the partisans in the Suprasl forests and supplied them and others in the region, with arms, and other essential equipment. As "Poles" they had contacts with Polish partisans and had access through them to essential goods.
From time to time the Germans attacked our bases and we organized reprisals on their bases, roads, and railway lines. We moved our bases every morning to confuse the Germans who operated spies from among the residents of the local villages to try and discover our whereabouts.
One such spy was a Pole by the name of Karbowitz who worked with the Germans and knew the forests well. He was often personally involved in organizing German attacks on us. During a German attack late in 1943 we managed to kill Karbowitz as well as a number of Germans. However, we also suffered losses in the exchange of fire. Our commander, Sasha Sohashevsky was killed and Rivka Schinder-Viskovska was wounded along with others.
During this period we mounted military operations such as the blowing up of the Bialystok-Sokoloka railway line, the laying of mines, and the destruction of electricity and telephone lines on the Bialystok-Wlokovisk road. Our greatest success was the demolishing of the electricity power station at Krinki.
In spring 1944 the first Russian partisans reached the forests of Suprasl and they reorganized the partisans into two mixed units - one unit moved to the Krinki forests while the second, my unit, stayed in the Suprasl forests. Reports from the front talked of Russian victories and the retreat of the German army. The first Russian soldiers reached us at the end of July 1944 and the partisans united with the Red Army to push the German army towards Berlin and the end of the Second World War.
The Germans were aware of our increasing strength and mounted periodic attacks on us, which produced casualties on both sides. As a result we were forced to move our base to different parts of the forest. We obtained our food and other essentials from the local villages and when we appeared, this time fully armed, the villagers were afraid and gave us everything we wanted. Later, in August 1943, after the Bialystok ghetto uprising, many Jews fled to us and we welcomed them with open arms. Others, who jumped off the transport trains and tried to hide in the ghetto ruins, were found by our girl couriers and brought to us in the forest.
It soon became clear that the entire Jewish population of Poland was being wiped out and the forest became the best place in which to hide and from which to mount attacks on the Germans. At the same time, the Germans in Suprasl reinforced themselves and used local informers to try and discover our whereabouts and to plan attacks on us. I knew a number of Poles in Suprasl and through them I kept in touch with developments and heard about a Polish policeman who dressed like a German and whose job it was to spy on us and bring the Germans to us. He came from a small village near Suprasl (Barko) and at night lived with the Germans in the Buchholtz Palace. Eventually we succeeded in catching and killing him. This was an important victory for us.
The Germans didn't venture into the forest on their own as it wasn't a good battleground for them. After the polish spy's death, things in the forest were a little quieter. Meanwhile, small groups of Russian soldiers, who had managed to escape from German prisoner of war camps, began to reach the forest. They organized themselves into groups in the forests, and, as there was no partisan unit as yet, they caused us a lot of headaches. After a while a partisan unit appeared from the Minsk forests and they organized all the partisans on behalf of the Russian army, into para-military units. The general atmosphere improved, as did our self-confidence.
At this time we controlled large areas of the forest and the Germans avoided coming into direct confrontation with us. In summer 1944 the big Russian offensive began. The German army started retreating and it was our job to chase them and cause them losses. When we joined forces with the Russian army we left the forest for the first time and entered Suprasl. The Poles who knew me looked at me as if I had returned from the next world and began to ingratiate themselves and invite me to their homes. I was interested in the fate of the Jews of Suprasl and their homes.
The answers followed immediately - no Jews from Suprasl remained alive. The Germans burned the Cytron factory down before their retreat from the town, the synagogue had been partially destroyed and the adjoining rabbi's house burned down. The "shochet's" house, next to the synagogue, still stood, however, it and other Jewish homes had been occupied by Poles. I felt terrible and decided not to discuss the situation with the Poles.
I left my birthplace with a heavy heart and went to Bialystok. Here too the situation was similar. Only a few Jews survived out of a community of 60.000 which had comprised the majority of the town's population in the 1930's. In my heart I knew that as long as the war was still in progress - and to my delight it had changed direction with the Germans in retreat - my place was with the Russian army. I enlisted in the Russian army and, after fighting as a partisan, I became a regular soldier. I was sent to a military school near Moscow where I underwent a four-mount course, after which I was sent to the frontline near Warsaw.
From there we continued to drive the cursed Nazis out of Poland. There were street skirmishes in Poznan and I was slightly wounded. From Poznan we continued westwards, crossed the old Polish border, and took part in the attack on Berlin. The battle was hard fought and the Germans put up tough resistance in their own capital. Eventually Berlin fell. The Allies met up and Second World War drew to a close.
I continued serving as a Russian soldier on German soil up to the end of 1945 when I was demobbed. I didn't know what to do as a civilian, after six years of continuous struggle, and when the Russians offered me a post as a Russian-German translator I accepted and remained in the Russian-held zone until the Yalta Agreement when the Allied Forces began to leave Germany. I stayed on in Germany until I immigrated to Israel when the War of Independence began in 1948 and joined the Israeli army.
When the War of Independence ended I began working as a civilian employee in the I.D.F. and occupied several positions over a long period of time. I married Leah who had come to Israel from Yugoslavia, and, after she gave birth to our daughter Tova, we moved to Holon where we remained till this very day.
I have attempted to describe, briefly and concisely, the events experienced by a young Jew through the Nazi atrocities and the violence of the war, who survived the extermination of the Jewish community of Suprasl and, what is more important, lived to fight and overcome the most vicious murderers of the Jewish nation and to be among the builders of the Jewish state.
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.
Suprasl, Poland Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2019 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 11 Dec 2002 by LA