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[Pages 66-79]

Shumsk at Her End
(A Reconstructed Diary)

by Yaakov Geler

Translated by Rachel Karni



We were under Russian rule until the month of August 1941.[1] Then, in 1941 the Germans, may their memory be blotted out, took our town. Prior to the German victory many people from our town had been drafted into the Red Army. There were also some who served in the Red Army on the outskirts of our town, in the Ronetz fields.

The war between Germany and Russia did not last long. We suddenly heard that the city of Dubno had been taken by the Germans, and Dubno is 30 kilometers from Shumsk. We heard the terrible sounds of shooting, the sounds of battle taking place not too far off. The people in our town were moving about, alert, awake all night in expectation. One night, at 3 a.m., our town was turned into a military camp. Russian families, men, women and children, gather, some on trucks and others on wagons, coming and going. The Russian families who had worked in our town are packing everything they can and heading towards Russia, farther away from the battlefields.

The young Jewish people of Shumsk gathered and decided that it would be best to leave as early as possible in this confusion together with the government officials and with the Red Army.

There were those who succeeded in escaping and got far, and there were those who later returned home, tired, hungry and depressed.

The battles grew fiercer from day to day and came closer to our town. Suddenly the battles ceased and the sounds of war were no more. We thought that the Russians had pushed the Germans back. But this was an error. The Germans had surrounded our town and the nearby towns and taken the area without any fighting. A number of soldiers from our town who were serving on the outskirts of Shumsk in the Ronetz fields, among them my brother Matityahu[2], David Spector[3], Moshe Kunyanski[4], Shlomo Nul[5], and others, left the town with their units, but they didn't manage to escape and were taken prisoners of war by the Germans. I didn't hear anything from my other brother, Yitzchak. He was in a kibbutz at Grochov[6] and we knew that his one aspiration and dream was to immigrate to the Land of Israel.

The Jews of Shumsk were panic-stricken. They began to prepare all kinds of hiding places in case the Germans took revenge on us.

There was no government in place for a few days. The Ukrainians from the entire area, who hated the Jews, gathered in their villages, in their hands sacks they planned to fill with the loot they would gather. It was quiet at night and people slept. But with dawn the sounds of shooting in the outskirts of the town the town became louder. We knew that the Germans were approaching and would enter the town.

* * *

The following happened in August[7] 1941. The date was the 15th of Tamuz[8] in the morning. The entire city was full of German military personnel. The Ukrainians had gotten organized and established a Ukrainian police force that very morning. Municipal matters were handed over to their jurisdiction, under the supervision of the Germans. The first thing they did was to go to the homes of the Jewish people and conscript them for work. The jobs were difficult and unpleasant. There were those who found some Jews wrapped in their prayer shawls and phylacteries in the middle of the morning prayer service. They forced them out of their homes and made them stand in the middle of the market place. They were forced to stand there all day , being jeered at by the Ukrainians. That day we were about fifty Jews working at removing paving stones from the market area. These stones were needed by the Germans for laying a road to the front. As we worked we prayed, “Look down from Heaven, and see how we have become a mockery and derision among the nations.”[9]

The Ukrainians looted the shops that the Russians had left. Germans entered the shops and threw everything outside, so that the masses could loot. For a week this continued and when the Ukrainians finished looting the stores they began to steal from Jewish homes. In the meantime the German control of the town tightened while at the same time the Ukrainians continued looting. Suddenly the Germans decided to forbid public gatherings, but the Ukrainians did not pay attention to the German warnings and came in large numbers to loot. That day they entered the home of Meir Szteinberg[10], who lived next door to Karl Westral, and they took whatever they could lay their hands on. Meir Szteinberg's son-in-law, who was from Germany, ran to the German police station, which was located in the home of David Cisin[11], and lodged a complaint against the Ukrainians. When the German policemen heard his story two of them rose and went with him. When they approached the house they saw what was happening, took out their pistols and shot the looters. Two fell on the spot, bleeding to death, and the others ran for their lives. From that time on there was a little quiet.

* * *

One of the mornings we woke up to find not even one German or any Ukrainian policemen at all. We thought that the Russians were coming closer to us and returning, because we heard cannon fire and the sound of battle. The truth was that a unit of Russian soldiers had remained in a forest in the area and the Germans had decided to capture them. The battle lasted for two days. In the end the Russians were brought as prisoners of war to our town.

The Germans continued to comb the area and in our town there was complete quiet, but with no ruling government. One morning a German car suddenly appeared and stopped near Wolf Berensztejn's store.[12] A German jumped from the car, took out his pistol , and ran toward a group of Jews who were standing near the home of Zeilik Duchowny.[13] The Jews scattered, but Dov Frimer[14] did not manage to run away and was shot. He continued running but the German managed to shoot him again and he fell, bleeding heavily. The German left Dov and starting running through the alleyways with his gun in hand. There were no Jews to be seen on the streets -- all were hiding in their homes. But when he reached the house of Chasya Roichman[15], the house in which Dov Krejmer and his family lived, there were a number of Jews standing near the house in conversation. They had heard what had happened a few minutes earlier. When they saw the German they scattered in all directions and just a very few remaining standing there. The rampaging German shot at Dov Krejmer and disappeared.

Dov Krejmer[16] was wounded but recovered. He remained alive until the bitter end when all the Jews of Shumsk were killed.

* * *

As the days passed, the German rule became more and more entrenched. Jews were conscripted and taken for all kinds of labor without pay. Rumors reached us that in the smaller towns near Shumsk the Ukrainians were attacking and killing the Jewish inhabitants and stealing their property. The Jews of Shumsk chose a committee to go to the head of the Ukrainian police, Mr. Krashutzki, and get him to promise to protect the city from sudden rampage. He did promise to do this and kept his promise. In our town , Shumsk, there were no sudden Ukrainian rampages, and he protected the Jews of the town so that the Germans did not deport us to another town for work.

Municipal matters were managed by about 10 Germans. The police and the government officials were Ukrainians. An order was given that each morning a few dozen Jews were to report for all kinds of work. I too -- a young lad -- was among these workers. We arrived early in the morning at the appointed place which was the large field next to the Polish church and close to the Akerman home.[17] There a number of Germans awaited us with a truck. At their command we arranged ourselves in rows of four with space between each other and they made us do all kinds of exercise. Finally we were given an order, “Forward march, singing!” We were youngsters and adults. We sang Hatikva and marched the length and breadth of the large market, around the Jewish homes, all the while singing loudly. Those who didn't succeed in raising their voices were beaten. We finished singing Hatikva but the four Germans who were commanding us would not allow us to march quietly, without singing. So we sang “Techezakna”[18] loudly and with exceptional enthusiasm. The Germans didn't understand the meaning of the words of our song and enjoyed the tune. We marched like real soldiers and when we had completed encircling the entire marketplace reached our departure site. There work awaited us. It was now 7 a.m. and an order was given to begin working. Most of the Jews worked removing stones from the road, cleaning offices , polishing boots, etc.

In return for our work we received half a loaf of bread at a low price. In the meantime a small committee was established, the members of which tried to care for the issues of those going out to work each day , especially that workers should receive a minimum wage for their labor. But this was a lost cause and we worked with no remuneration. The committee was only able to arrange that the elderly, the wealthy and the respected community leaders would not be conscripted and these paid a sum to be given to the Jews who were taken for work. But this arrangement did not always succeed. The Germans would snatch people in their homes and pull them out for work.

We were now in the midst of the very hot days of Tamuz[19] and the work of removing stones from the road was very difficult. The Germans did not allow us to rest at all and the sweat ran down our faces and bodies. Whoever rested a bit was beaten mercilessly. I too tasted harsh blows more than once. I was too young for such hard labor and returned in the evening dead tired.

It was then that once I reminded my grandma how they had cried when our Aunt Tzippora[20] had gone to live in Eretz Yisrael. I said, “Would that we were privileged to live in our own country. Who knows what will happen in the future under this cruel regime.” My grandma Rivka shed a tear to signify her agreement with me. I decided then to work to survive this evil, so that I would be able to emigrate to the Land of Israel and tell what we had gone through.

The German unit that guarded us changed, and the new guards were wilder, more murderous and beat all of us for no reason. Their guns were constantly aimed at us , as if they were about to shoot us, and they continually shouted, “Disgusting Jews, work faster, because if you do not do so you will be killed and buried today.” We made great efforts and worked very hard, but in vain. ach of us was beaten terribly numerous times, for no reason at all. Full of fear and anger we cried, “May we one day be able to fight against them.” In our hearts we prayed, “Look down from Heaven and see… What is being done to us? Why have You forsaken us? Why will You not come to our help?”

The work of removing the stones lasted about a month, but in the memories of those who did this work it lasted much longer.[21]

* * *

Finally, these Germans were changed too and new ones came in their place.[22] The new ones demanded that we choose a committee which would be recognized by both the Jews and the Germans, to which they would channel all of their demands and which would be responsible for carrying out all of their orders. The prominent members of the community gathered and chose the Judenrat, and also established a Jewish police force to assist the Judenrat. And so we achieved Jewish autonomy. The Judenrat numbered 23 members, as did the police force. At the head of the Judenrat stood a respected Jew, a refugee from Germany who had settled in our town. He was a good, trustworthy Jew and could speak with the German authorities in our town, and he often saved our town from disaster.[23] The situation improved a little bit. Lists were made of all the Jews and people went out to work in turn. Skilled workers sometimes worked at their craft, when such work was needed. The carpenters were ordered to go and repair bridges that had been damaged during the battles. My father and I were carpenters. We were all placed under the jurisdiction of Germans who were skilled carpenters and we worked together with them for some time. These Germans were generous and gave each of us loaves of bread and canned goods to take home. This was our salary. We were pleased because in town it was difficult to procure bread. The work on the bridges near Raych's mill did not last very long and most of the carpenters were transferred to work farther away in Malnave. There they made shutters, window frames, doors, etc. In the mean time there was a demand for foresters and I signed up to go out to work in the forest. There we worked at cutting down trees, and cleaning and arranging the logs. There were those who went to work on the railway line far from our town. People worked, got used to the terrible difficulties and to the hard labor, and traded possessions with the Ukrainians for food, which they then brought to their starving children.

* * *

It was the month of Tishre 1941, the eve of Yom Kippur.[24] An order was issued that each person must sew a yellow patch on the chest and back of his clothes and this must be worn day and night. At first this was strange and wearing the patch was accompanied by a feeling of shame, but having no choice, we got used to it. Two days later announcements notified us that it was forbidden for Jews to go to the nearby villages and we were only permitted to be in the town itself. The peasants would now bring their agricultural produce to the town and exchange it for all kinds of objects and for goods. There were Jews who, despite the prohibition, slipped out of town and went to the villages, on the back roads. There they would exchange objects for food and would return to the town. But, woe to such a person if he were caught by the Ukrainian police.

Hunger began to bother us. The Germans gave us 13 decagrams[25] of bread each day, but who could subsist on this? I too went out, not once, to a village, with other young people, to procure and store grain, food and vegetables for troubled days.

* * *

In the meantime, the Germans had demanded that a number of carpenters from our town go to work in the city of Kremenets, and my father was ordered to go there. Imagine our situation then. My older brother Matityahu was a German prisoner of war, my brother Yitzchak was also not here -- we didn't know where he was, and now they are sending our father to work in Kremenets. Who knows what will happen? Situations like this were not only the lot our family. There was no shortage of suffering. Fortunately for us, Father and his friends worked in Kremenets for a few weeks and they were returned home.

Winter was approaching and we had no stockpile of food. We started to purchase food, either in exchange for work or in exchange for items, from the peasants. We knew that eventually we Jews would be enclosed in a ghetto and would not be able to move about freely at all. Once I was returning from the village of Rachmanov on foot, on my shoulder a sack with a little grain, potatoes, onions, etc. As we were walking I was deathly afraid. If I were caught I would be killed and the peasant who sold me the food would not “lick honey” either. Another time it happened that I left a village with a little grain. Outside there was a snow storm , it was bitter cold and there was no one to be seen, I was certain that the sack was covering the yellow patch and walked out of the village. Suddenly, on the other side I saw two policemen, shouting at me to stop. But I pretended that I didn't hear them and continued on. When they saw that I didn't stop one of them got angry and started to run after me. But the other one stopped him and said, “Maybe he is one of us from the village and he is going to the mill to grind his wheat.” That day I was lucky but the fright I had remained. The next morning I told my father what had happened to me and he didn't allow me to go to the village any more. From that time on one of the peasants brought us produce to our house without any problems.

* * *

The month was now Mar Heshvan[26] and the rains began to fall. Darkness, rain, people getting up at 4 a.m. to walk to work in the sawmill. Sometimes it was so dark and the ground so wet and boggy that we had to hold each other's hands to walk. But we persevered and went to work every day. Each day new orders were issued by the Germans, such as orders for a collection of winter clothes for themselves and for their soldiers at the front who needed warm apparel. Their demands were met. A few days later the Germans demanded that we pay 20 marks for each Jew as ransom money. This was also paid in full. The Jews of our town continued their work -- each one according to his fate.

It wasn't easy to work without getting paid and without adequate food for such physically demanding and exhausting labor. There were those who were starving and those who suffered from the cold because they could not purchase wood to heat their homes so that their children would feel better. We lived, but it was not a human existence. The Nazi German noose tightened around us, all according to their plan. We supplied all of their demands and gave them everything we could, but the Nazi beasts were not content with that. One clear morning at the end of the month of Shevat 1942,[27] on a cold rainy winter day, an order was received in the Judenrat that the Jews of Shumsk were to erect a ghetto for themselves, with their own hands, and were to enclose it with a fence of wooden boards 3 to 4 meters high. The boards had to be placed next to each other with no space between them, so that we would not be able to see what was happening outside the ghetto. The order was given for the work to be completed by a certain date but the Judenrat was instructed to carry out the work immediately with no hitches.

We arranged for workers who had to dig holes for the poles. But the earth was frozen solid and there was no way for a shovel to break the frozen soil. So Jews lit small bonfires next to each hole so that the earth would warm and we could then dig the holes.

* * *

The fence around the ghetto began at the houses of Avramche Weiner the tailor[28] and the house of Matel Segal the baker[29] and continued until the house of Miril Katz.[30] It then went down the street leading to the post office. The post office itself was outside the ghetto. The houses on the right side of the street leading to the post office belonged inside the ghetto until the house of Chaim Wilskier. All of the houses and the land belonging to Chaim Wilskier, until the river, were inside the ghetto. The fence continues along the river from Wilskier's until the house of Shprecher. And from Shprecher's house the fence continued until the house of Fuks and Kutzik, Pomeranc, Duchovny, Nachum Katz, Zisi German, Yehuda Zak and then joined up with the fence that stood near the house of Avramche Weiner, the tailor. This area, of a few streets of our town, was allotted by the Nazis to the Jews of our town and to the Jews of the various villages around our town who were now all crowded into this small space and had to live here.

In front of the house of Yehudit Duchovny a large gate was erected through which one could enter and exit the ghetto. There was no other gate.

At the completion of the work on the fence an order was given that every single Jew was to live there. On the eve of Purim 1942[31] all of the Jews of our town and of the surrounding villages were concentrated in the ghetto.

* * *

It is impossible to describe the crowded conditions in words. Jews gave away their homes to the Ukrainians. Precious objects for which no place could be found in the ghetto were given away with no remuneration to the Ukrainians. Whoever could, received as a gift, some flour, potatoes, and the like. Of course well-to-do people prepared a large stockpile of food, but poor people also stockpiled what ever they were able to -- but what could they prepare? And who knew how long this siege would last? But each person prepared as much bread, potatoes, etc., for his family as he could.

The ghetto was closed. Outside the ghetto a Ukrainian police force was set up to guard that Jews would not slip out of the ghetto, and inside the ghetto a Jewish police force was set up to keep order.

It was now the first days of the ghetto and we go out to our work outside. Before we reach the gate we line up in rows and are checked. The gate opens and we leave the ghetto. The Ukrainian police force checks us now and counts how many we are who have left the ghetto, and we continue on our way. The Jewish police force which is responsible for us leads us to our place of work, and we walk in rows like prisoners who have been sentenced … for what? and why? The work was difficult and exhausting. We returned toward evening, tired and wiped out from the hard labor and the long walk. Before the gate Ukrainian police check us again. Perhaps we are sneaking in food, or who knows what? And so we suffered daily. Why? Because we were Jews.

Our lives in the ghetto were like the lives of prisoners. Order followed order and whatever property or possessions we Jews had was taken from us: money, gold, grain, clothing. It reached a stage where the Judenrat set up a jail in the ghetto. Any Jew who refused to bear his share of the burden that the Nazis placed on the Jews was jailed until he agreed to forfeit the object or sum of money that was demanded. Each Nazi order for money or for a specific item was given with a deadline and if the demand of the Nazis was not met by that deadline they threatened that they would take five or ten Jews and put them to death. The Judenrat , who didn't want any Jew to be killed, used all of the power at their disposal to satisfy the demands of the Germans. People in the ghetto got used to the situation. Not a week went by without a demand for all kinds of items from the Germans.

* * *

We continued to work in the sawmill, backbreaking labor. Each of us made an effort to work. I went on working even though I felt that my strength was not holding up. Troubles were not lacking and neither was suffering.

My mother Chana, may her memory be blessed, would cry bitterly at our fate. I comforted her, saying to her, “Look, Mom. We will live to see the defeat of the Germans. The Jewish people have existed for thousands of years and we will continue to exist. The Jewish people will not be obliterated. We have fellow Jews all over the world and they will take revenge on the Germans for all of the wrongs, the suffering and the torture they are wrecking on us.”

The situation in the ghetto became more precarious. The stockpiled supply of food of many families was gone and they were actually starving. In the morning they would come to the Judenrat and sit on the ground, weak from hunger. The Judenrat then set up a kind of a soup kitchen for those in need of food. Everyone who was in need could come twice a day and receive soup made of water, flour and some potatoes. The supply of this “water” often did not suffice for all who came. Imagine an adult eating this kind of food and having to do such difficult work.

The Judenrat saw that the supply of food in the ghetto was quickly being used up and each day more people were in need of assistance. What did they do? They went to the Ukrainian policemen guarding the gate of the ghetto and bribed them so that they would close their eyes and allow a little grain and some potatoes to be brought into the ghetto. And so in this way it was possible to bring some grain, some potatoes, etc. into the ghetto.

* * *

In response to a German order joint workshops were erected outside the ghetto: a shoe repair shop, a sewing shop and a barbershop, to serve the needs of the German and the Ukrainian soldiers. Motel (Mordechai) Chazen continued working in his pharmacy, which was outside the ghetto, and Yochanan Ingerleib and his wife worked in the dental clinic in their former home, but toward evening they had to return to the ghetto.

Life in the ghetto was full of suffering, fear, hunger and cold. It is interesting that we slowly became accustomed to all of these troubles and continued to live. Whoever still had money or gold was somehow able to procure food, but others had to manage with what they had.

One day when I returned from work in the sawmill I heard that a command had been received by the Judenrat to send 30 young men for work in Rovne. Among the 30 who left for work the following morning was Pinchas Geldie. The young men were not easily assembled for this, since in those days whoever left the town for work in response to a German order did not return home so quickly. Imagine the fear of parents for the fate of their dear sons who were conscripted. Tears flowed like water and the cries could be heard at the end of the earth. The Jewish police together with the Ukrainian police barely managed to take the young men out of the ghetto and it took great effort on their part to regain control.

In those days we began to hear rumors and information that revenge is being taken on Jews in the towns in our area and they are being killed, pogroms are being held to take their property and possessions and they are being killed in broad daylight. German units would come in and control a town, kill the Jews and leave. Fear gripped all of us with this news and each one began to prepare a hiding place, where he and his family could hide when the day would come. Once the Judenrat received an order with a demand that two carpenters be sent for work in another town, but the Judenrat did not succeed in filling the order because quarrels between the Judenrat and the community had begun. So the Ukrainian police carried out the order. They took two carpenters of their choice and sent them to work. Their wives implored that they not be taken but to no avail. The carpenters were Pinchos Shtok and Tzale. They never returned again …

* * *

Typhus spread in the ghetto. The Judenrat arranged for a hospital to be established in a house belonging to Chaim Wilskier. Patients were not scarce. The emotional state of people, their depression, the hunger and the cold all combined to bring about the spread of the disease. Life in the ghetto became worse from day to day. Information and rumors reached our town that Jews are being killed and entire towns are being massacred. And in our town order followed order and the demands of the Germans were continually increasing. Every day they demanded that we hand over specific items: sewing machines, gold, grain, more and more. We complied with some of their demands but just could not meet others. One evening the Germans surrounded the ghetto completely with Ukrainian police who were drafted especially for this purpose. They entered the Judenrat and said that Jews had shot at the Ukrainian police station behind the ghetto from one of the roofs. The Germans ordered the head of the Judenrat to come to them and handed him a number of orders and sent him back to the ghetto, which was now encircled by police and soldiers. Anyone who approached the fence was shot. In the morning the Jews who worked outside the ghetto were not allowed to leave for their work. We were imprisoned for three days and three nights. We knew that a terrible crisis was brewing and there was no avoiding it. In the meantime people placed food, water and a few possessions in their hiding places. Each family sat near its hiding place waiting for the fateful moment.

During these three days when we were closed in the ghetto, pits were being dug -- graves for Jews dug while they were still alive. The diggers were peasants from the nearby villages who had been drafted by the Germans. We in the ghetto knew nothing of what was being done outside.

* * *

I had managed on this terrible day to grind some grain into flour, and my mother, Chanche, may her memory be blessed, managed to bake some cakes and to put all of this into the hiding place which my father had prepared. We especially prepared a supply of water. I went up to the attic of the house and lifted a few rafters -- to see what was happening outside the fence. Our house stood near the gate of the ghetto and we could discern what was happening beyond the fence. I stood there for about an hour and observed that there was an increase in motor traffic. Cars came and went and drove around and around. Suddenly a few Germans on motorcycles came into view and broke through the gate. When I saw this I replaced the rafters, jumped down and started to shout that we should enter the hiding place immediately. We had barely managed to get into the hiding place and hadn't even closed the door securely behind us when we heard horrible screaming voices, “Cursed Jews” and all kinds of other curses. We sat, white with fear and in total silence. After a few moments we heard Jewish people being taken out of their homes, elderly people, women and small children, sick people who were found in their beds. On the empty lot in front of the gate they were all made to sit on the ground and whoever dared to get up was shot. A small group of soldiers did the job of taking out hundreds of Jews from the ghetto, in groups of one hundred. The Jews were afraid and left as told. Afterwards, the people were arranged in rows, and each row was guarded by a soldier or policeman who held a cocked gun in his hand, pointed at the row of people. They were being led to their death but didn't know where they were being taken. It was impossible to escape. Whoever even dared not to walk properly received a bullet on the spot and was thrown out of the line and lay bleeding until a car came and took him to the field where the pits had been dug. While the first group of 100 Jews was being shot by a German unit next to the pits, a second group of 100 people were undressing a little further from the pits and getting ready. The third group of 100 were marching, on their way to the pits, and the fourth was leaving the ghetto. Those who remained in the ghetto sat on the ground, not knowing what was happening to those who had been taken out. The Germans inside the ghetto said that everyone was being taken to another town for work. People believed this, or wanted to keep their attention from the worst that could befall them.

* * *

On that same Wednesday, which was the eve of the first day of the month of Elul 1942,[32] most of the holy Jews of our town --old people, men, women, children and babies -- were killed.

Among the first who were killed were the members of the Judenrat. The Jewish police force together with the Ukrainian police were given the task of convincing those who were hiding in bunkers to come out for a town meeting. Some people were convinced to leave their hiding places, but others stayed hidden in their bunkers and in the meantime remained alive.

The massacre continued until nightfall. Suddenly a strong wind began blowing and there was absolute quiet. Toward evening residents of the area sneaked into the ghetto and stole everything on which they were able to lay hands. The following morning Germans entered the ghetto with cars and loaded valuables, clothing, linens, etc., etc., and transferred these things to the house of Shtepanek and a few other houses behind the ghetto, which they had turned into storehouses.

We were concealed in our hiding place and did not know anything about what was happening outside, nor did we know where the Jews were being taken and what was being done to them.

All at once everything became quiet. The ghetto was like a cemetery, with no sound. One could only hear the noise of the motors of the cars, entering and leaving with their loot. Sometimes we heard a shot fired to frighten off a Ukrainian who had entered the ghetto to steal. And so our town died to the sound of car motors and gunshots.

* * *

The days were the first days of the month of Elul.[33] Our hiding place was one and a half meters long and one and a half meters wide. We were five people inside this space and the lack of air and the heat became increasingly worse. Slowly we were running out of water in our bunker. A person can survive without food more than he can without water. I opened the door of the bunker and went out with Yosele, my little brother, crawling on our bellies. In this fashion we went up into our house and brought water and something else that we found in the house.

That same night we heard people moving around in neighboring houses. It is possible that in those houses they were also preparing water and food for the days to come.

In the mornings Ukrainian policemen roamed around to search for Jews in the attics and hiding places. Every day tens of Jewish people were found and were taken to be killed at the pits where the common graves were. It was two Germans who did the shooting.

* * *

It is a few days that we have been sitting in our hiding place and neighboring our house, in the house of Zelig Duchovny, of blessed memory, there was also a hiding place where a number of families with small children were hiding. The children were certainly thirsty for water, with all of the day's heat, and there was no water, and so they cried. The Ukrainians heard the crying of the children and found all of the people in their hiding place. The same day they roamed around, carefully searching the area, and they also extracted us from our hiding place. First they fired into the house and then they hit our bunker with a few bullets. We saw that there was no point and so we opened the door of our hiding place. My father and I burst out in a run and jumped through a small window to the attic. In the meantime the policemen and Germans managed to enter the house from the other side, just when my mother, may her memory be blessed, and my sister Devorah with my brother Yosele, may their memories be blessed, were on their way out of the hiding place. When the children saw the policemen and the Germans they were were panic-stricken and began to shout, “Daddy!” Some of the policemen understood the significance of this and began to run about, looking in every corner until they reached the attic and found us.

When they brought us down we were hit mercilessly by the Ukrainians, and the Germans asked us if we had any gold or dollars. My father replied that he had been a worker and had earned just enough to support his family. They asked what his profession was and my father answered that he was a carpenter. The Germans ordered my father to take his best carpentry tools and to go with them.

Outside other Jewish neighbors who had been taken out of their hiding places were already waiting.

We stood in rows and at the order “walk” we began walking. We were twenty-three Jews. Outside the ghetto Ukrainians were standing and looked at us, some jeering and some with a tear in their eyes. We didn't understand what was happening here, and our hearts asked, Is it possible that we are being taken to be killed? No. We were brought to the police station in the house of Zunik Yankovski. There a hundred Jews were sitting on the ground. They were crying and reciting the confessional prayer.[34] We asked them why they were crying and they replied that at 4 o'clock in the afternoon we would be led to the pits. The wait was for two Germans whose task it was to kill Jews, who were supposed to come from Kremenets. We began to cry, we prayed, we kissed each other and sobbed on each other's shoulders. We were certain that in an hour or two we would be led to our death for the crime of being Jews. It was terrible. Imagine the situation: Around us stood policemen holding guns and we, shadows of our former selves, thirsty, hungry, tired and exhausted, broken to pieces, stand helpless waiting for our death with the clear knowledge of the hour it would take place and with no chance of doing anything about it.

* * *

It was now 4 o'clock. The order was given for us to stand and arrange ourselves in rows. The head German comes out to us, checks those who are standing and gives an order that we are to be put in the cellar of the prison. Two Germans who do the shooting still have not arrived from Kremenets. They are busy in the other towns killing Jews. We were thrown into the dark, damp cellar. Most of us cried or prayed. There were those who recited psalms, and those who were tired fell asleep on the cement floor. In this way the night passed.

Early in the morning the prison door was opened and we were taken out to the field in front of the prison. We were arranged in rows of four. The children were taken aside, and after that the elderly and the weak were returned to the cellar. We remained a hundred and fifteen people, standing in rows, and we were brought back to the ghetto, to work. The children, the elderly and the weak who had been returned to the cellar were led toward evening to the fields, were killed and thrown into a grave. In those moments I saw tragedies deeper than the void. I saw a mother who left her small children because she wanted to save herself from death. I saw a mother who chose to go to her death with her children even though she had been selected for work. There were husbands who went with their wives and children to be killed and buried together with them in one grave. There was one prayer in my mouth: G-d, let me live to tell about these moments to the world and to the Jewish people.

* * *

The Revolt in the Ghetto of Shumsk

We were brought to the large synagogue and were told that this would be the place where we would live from now on. Each of us found a place to sleep. We went to sleep and the next morning we went out to work in the ghetto. Our task was to remove all of the possessions and objects that were found in the homes of the ghetto and to bring them to the gate. Near the gate all of these things were concentrated and then were then loaded on buses and brought to storage places outside the ghetto and from there to another town.

The Ukrainian police force supervised us to ensure that we did not shirk and that we worked quickly. In the meantime those Jews who were still hiding in bunkers saw that we were walking about freely and they began to come out of their bunkers and to mingle among us. At night there were people who cried aloud from the enormity of their anguish and tragedy and the police who were guarding us threatened to fire if we made noise. The Germans were aware of the Jews who had joined us. They allowed them to work, but demanded that their names be written up on an additional list. And so we continued and worked for about three weeks. Early one morning, on one of the last days of Elul of 1942,[35] the Germans entered together with Ukrainian policemen and ordered us to line up before the gate. We left the synagogue and lined up. A German read out the first list of names of people who had been chosen for work when we were in the prison and took us aside. The others were surrounded by policemen holding their guns aloft. These people correctly understood where they were going to be led, and this time the order to march was given once again. But this time these Jews refused and they began to break out of the ring and to pounce on the policemen. When the Germans saw this scene they gave an order to shoot at the people. The police together with the Germans shot at them. A few fell on the spot, covered with blood, and there were others who ran, even though they were injured. But the Germans got control of the situation and led the rest of the people out of the ghetto and again the terrible scene repeated itself: People shot, a truck gathering the bodies, throwing the bodies into the mass grave, and those who are alive undressing, standing at the edge of the pit and being killed by a volley of shots, which makes them fall into the mass grave.

The people who remained in the ghetto began to think of the future and not one night passed that some did not go to the other side outside the ghetto and hide or escape to the forest or to the home of a good peasant. There were those who were caught immediately when they went to the other side. Those who caught them tortured them terribly, shot them front and back and abused them. One day Germans came to the ghetto, ordered us to line up and from those who were lined up took out 15 people who were carpenters, tailors, etc. The others were led to the mass graves and killed. We were a handful of people who were left, a very few who remained from many. We were humiliated, deeply in despair, lacking all hope. And then, just at this time, a desire was born within us to remain alive so as to rejoice in the defeat of the German beasts. We continued to work and thought about how to save ourselves and survive.

One day Chaim Cisin and Pinchos Geldi, who had successfully escaped earlier from the ghetto, returned to us to the ghetto. Now they returned of their own free will, to stay with us. Whatever would happen to us would happen to them. They told us that the conditions in the forest and in the village were most terrible. One suffered from hunger, bitter cold and fear. Who knows, maybe it is better to go with everyone else to the mass grave than to be killed alone in the forest. They were smitten by deep despair.

But we spoke to their hearts and together we decided to try our luck once more. We said: As long as there is some slight chance to escape and to evade death, we have to do so, in spite of this involving fear, hunger, suffering and cold. We have to battle against ourselves and against everyone as far as we possibly can. Even though we have no strength left we have to try to do what we can to stay alive.

One evening a few of us left and succeeded in escaping.[36] Valenik, who was a friend of my father, had once asked him to come to his house if he had a chance. In his home Valenik had asked my father to escape from the ghetto, and my father asked him, “Where do I have to escape to? There is no one I know.” Valenik promised my father that he would find a place for a few Jews. He wanted to be privileged to save Jews from death in his lifetime. Valenik was very religious and believed in G-d. (He was an Evangelican.) My father then told him that Haim Cisin was alive and that he was in the forest. Valenik traveled and arranged for a hiding place for Haim Cisin.[37] So now, one evening my father and I slipped out of the ghetto to the house of Valenik. There a farmer waited for us who led us by foot to his village. We stayed at this peasant's home a few months. Valenik visited us frequently.

* * *

The ghetto remained without any Jews. As soon as the Germans noticed this they began to suspect the Ukrainians and they were furious. That same day the Germans killed a few Ukrainian residents and began combing their villages. We were at that time in a hiding place somewhere in the forest and troubles were not lacking. More than once we had to leave our hiding place and wander in the forest because the Germans were going through the forest to look for Russian partisans. At that time the Ukrainians also became the enemies of the Germans and there were battles between them more than once. In addition, different partisan groups of many kinds were established. They fought against each other and their common enemy was the Germans. We wandered from one hiding place to another, suffering from fear and from hunger. The suffering was endless, but we counted each day, each week, each month. Here a year had passed and salvation was still far from us.

* * *

In the meantime the Germans had tightened their vise of searches in the villages and in the forests. The Evangelicans who believed in G-d and in Israel found it more and more difficult to help us. Their help to us was at the risk of their own families and their property. In spite of this, their belief was so strong that they believed that G-d would save them from all evil. They believed that He would save us, the remnant who had survived the massacre, too. If they, G-d forbid, had not had this overriding faith we would have been lost. At this time not a day or a week passed that search parties did not visit homes in which we were hiding to search for something suspicious.[38] Now it was not only the Germans who were making these searches. There were also all kinds of partisans. One partisan group searched for its rival and our fear increased daily. Having no choice, we learned to live in constant fear. My father told me, not once, that his strength was ebbing and he doesn't know if our end will differ from the end of the Jewish people of our town. They at least were in the grave together. In spite of everything, we held out. Instead of dwelling on our problems we would open the Book of Psalms. Once we reached the chapter that says,

A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.
LORD, how many are mine adversaries become! Many are they that rise up against me.
Many there are that say of my soul: “There is no salvation for him in God.” Selah
But thou, O LORD, art a shield about me; my glory, and the lifter up of my head.
With my voice I call unto the LORD, and He answereth me out of His holy mountain. Selah
I lay me down, and I sleep; I awake, for the LORD sustaineth me.
I am not afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about.
Arise, O LORD; save me, O my God; for Thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek,
Thou hast broken the teeth of the wicked.
Salvation belongeth unto the LORD; Thy blessing be upon Thy people. Selah[39]
And interestingly, these simple words encouraged us. It is impossible to describe to a person who is free what a person who is imprisoned for years and who is living in an underground hiding place summer and winter and doesn't know when it is day or night feels. It is only when he comes near the tiny narrow opening and slowly and quietly raises the closure that he is able to distinguish between day and night. At that time we envied every living thing that walked freely in the air of the world and we began to believe that only G-d would return this privilege to us.

* * *

The days, the weeks, the months full of suffering, fear and hunger lasted with no end. One March day in 1944 when the winter was still at its bitterest and the snows covered the ground, we were told that the Germans had suffered a massive defeat and they had left the entire front and were escaping in panic. The following day the first columns of the Red Army arrived. In their retreat; the Germans burned everything. They destroyed buildings and bridges, set fire to forests and drowned the area in “fire and blood and brimstone.” The Evangelican told us the news that the Red Army had gained control of the area of forests on the outskirts of Shumsk. We didn't know that Shumsk itself was still in the hands of the Germans. It was then that we decided that we had to leave our hiding place and turn ourselves over to the Russian authorities. On the way we met a few other survivors from Shumsk. At first the Russians thought that we were spies but very quickly they believed what we told them and received us very nicely. They gave us food, something to drink and a place to rest. A few hours later an officer came and asked us where we want to go. We told him that we were born in Shumsk and we would like to get there. He laughed and said that Shumsk was still in the hands of the Germans and he advised us not to go to Shumsk but rather to a larger town where there was a concentration of Jews, like Zdolbunov, Rovno or other such places.

* * *

We reached Zdolbonov. There were already a few Jewish families there. The Russian authorities gave us a large house and we set up a kind of kibbutz, a gathering of exiles.

At that time battles of the war were still being waged and they were drafting people for work inside of Russia. All of the Jews decided to go to work in the Soviet Union.

The next day we were put on a train that left Zdolbunov for Kiev. We were brought to a place of work. The citizens of the Soviet Union received us very nicely and first gave us a few days to rest and to arrange for a place to live. After we arranged things we went out to work.

We worked until May 1946 and then the Russian government decided that people born in Poland could return to their homes. It was then that I decided that the time was right for me to leave and to reach Israel through Poland.

And that is how I came to Eretz Yisrael.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. The month August is clearly an error, perhaps by the editor. The Germans attacked the Soviet Union, of which Shumsk had been a part since 1939, on June 22, 1941, and the retreat of Russian officials from Shumsk began a few days later. In this entire article except for this opening and the end, the author uses the Hebrew months and days consistently. It seems that an error was made in converting the Hebrew date to the Gregorian month. Return
  2. Matityahu Geler, the son of Chaim and Chana Geler, was born in Shumsk in 1917. He was not married. He was a carpenter. He died as a German prisoner of war. Return
  3. David Spector was the son of Froike Efraim Spector, who was a teacher, and Susi, an expert seamstress. His siblings were Freida, Mordechai, Michael Rayzel and Bela. They all perished in the Holocaust. Return
  4. Moshe Kunyanski was the son of Avraham Kunyanski and Freida (Waldman) Kunyanski. He was born in 1910 in Shumsk. He was taken prisoner of war when he was in the Red Army and later he died. Moshe's parents, his sister Chaya Sarah and her husband Michael, his sister-in-law Tziril and Tziril's little boy Emanuel all perished in Shumsk. Moshe's brother Zeev-Wolf Kunyanski survived the war and settled in Canada. Return
  5. Shlomo Nul, the son of Layzer and Chaya, was born in 1909 in Shumsk. He was married to Shayndel, had two children and was a hatmaker. Shlomo Nul's entire family perished, including his brother Feival and Feival's wife, and Shlomo's sister Shifra, who was not married. Return
  6. This Yizkor Book contains letters written by Yitzchak when he was at Grochov. Return
  7. This is again the wrong month. See Footnote 1. Return
  8. The 15th of Tamuz in 1941 was July 10. Return
  9. This is a sentence from the propitiatory prayers, the "tachanun" recited each Monday and Thursday. Return
  10. Meir Szteinberg, whose daughter Lusiya was married to a Jew from Germany, had a shop in the village of Surash. Lusiya's picture appears on page 442 of this Yizkor Book. Return
  11. David Cisin, who was born in 1892 in Shumsk and was married to Chana, was rather well-to-do and had a shop where he sold cloth. Return
  12. Wolf Berensztejn was a pharmacist. The chapter he wrote telling of his miraculous survival together with his daughter is on pages 21-28 of this Yizkor Book. Return
  13. Zeilik Duchowny, a son of Shaya and Feiga, was a shoemaker in Shumsk. He was killed, as was his wife, Raychel, his daughter, Chana, who was born in 1926 and was a member of Hechalutz Hatzair, and his son, Izaak, who was born in 1930. More about Raychel and Chana can be found in the chapter in this Yizkor Book written by Ruth Sztejnman Halperin, "The Last Days of Shumsk," on pages 29-48. Return
  14. Dov Berel Frimer, the brother of Yosef Frimer, sold water in Shumsk. Return
  15. Chasya Roichman's home was the center of Zionist activity. A much-used lending library had been located in her home. Return
  16. Dov David Krejmer was the son of Max Krejmer and the husband of Perel Fanya. His son Avraham survived the war and wrote two chapters for this Yizkor Book, appearing on pages 117 and 125. Return
  17. There were a number of Akerman families in Shumsk. Since the author says they were in the area of the large market, he was probably referring to the home of Grisha Akerman, in which Grisha's drugstore was located. Return
  18. A poem written by Chaim Nachman Bialik, the famous Hebrew poet, which had been set to stirring music and was the anthem of the Zionist socialist youth movements. Return
  19. A month in the Jewish lunar calendar which corresponded to late June and most of July in 1941. Return
  20. Tzippora Gurwic, the sister of the author's mother, immigrated to Palestine from Shumsk in 1933. She was a graduate of the Tarbut school in Shumsk and had been a leader in the Hechalutz Hatzair youth movement there and a teacher in the town. She lived in Haifa and was active in the organization of Shumskers in Israel. She died in May 1998. Return
  21. In the nearby large city of Kremenets the Germans used the tombstones of the very large Jewish cemetery of Kremenets as paving stones for roads and for parking lots for German vehicles. These tombstones were discovered in 2007 and it is planned to restore them to the cemetery area. Shumsk is one of the few towns in the area where the Germans did not remove tombstones from the Jewish cemetery; instead they took stones from the paving of the marketplace. Return
  22. This change in German personnel probably refers to the introduction of the German civil administration in place of German military personnel. Return
  23. The name of the head of the Judenrat was Viesler. Return
  24. Yom Kippur, which is the 10th day of the month of Tishre, fell on Wednesday, Oct. 1, in 1941. The eve of Yom Kippur was Sept. 30. Return
  25. A decagram is 10 grams; 130 grams is a little less than 5 ounces. Return
  26. Footnote: In 1941 this Jewish month was Oct. 22 to Nov. 20. Return
  27. Feb. 16 or 17, 1942. Return
  28. Avraham Weiner, the son of Shlomo and Tzipke, was born in Shumsk in 1878. He married Brocho Zaid. He was the maternal grandfather of Etta Kleinshtein. Return
  29. Matel Segal, son of Perel, was born in Shumsk in 1909 and married Nechama, daughter of Neta and Bracha Rosenbaum. Bracha was born in Kremenets in 1902. Matel and Nechama had two children, Yaakov and Perel. Yaakov was 10 years old and Perel was 9 when they died. Return
  30. Miril Katz died before World War II. Her husband, Reuven, and two of her children, Aharon and Ruchel, were killed, while her son Yeshaya Katz survived the war. Yeshaya's name appears erroneously in the necrology of the Shumsk Yizkor Book. Return
  31. March 3. Return
  32. The eve of the first of Elul was Aug. 12, 1942. Return
  33. Aug. 13 and 14, 1942. Return
  34. This is a prayer recited on Yom Kippur and on one's deathbed. Return
  35. The last day of the month of Elul in 1942 was Aug. 21. Return
  36. See the chapter in this Yizkor Book, “How My Son and I Survived,” written by Yaakov Geler's father, Chaim Geler, pages 365-368. Return
  37. See the chapter in this Yizkor Book written by Haim Cisin, “My Last Days in Shumsk,” pages 49-52. Return
  38. For a detailed description of this period in the life of the author, see the chapter written by his father, Chaim Geler, pages 365-368. Return
  39. Translated from Hebrew by the Mamre Institute. Return


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