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[Page 128]

From bad to worse
(The Holocaust and the period preceded it)

Told by David Rybeck and written by S. P-Bar

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

Edited by Erica S. Goldman-Brodie

After the fire in the occupied Olkeniki that was caused by the Russian planes air bombs, the townspeople crowded into houses that were saved. The rabbi lived with Mark, the pharmacist Sternin stayed with Eliyahu Borman, Yosef Levin and his son-in-law with Zvi Polachek. Some of the residents moved to the nearby Jewish village of Dakashnia. The Lithuanian Konitzky was appointed as the commandant of the town. He also had a deputy. Later on, an officer appeared in the town who came with his wife from Lithuania, from the town of Zesmer. We received news by emissaries among the farmers about the situation in the towns of Lithuania, which was very bad and in a dead end.

On Saturday, Yechiel Kaganovich and Berel, his brother-in-law, came to my house and said: “David, we came to you as the emissaries of the town, please come to the rabbi's house, everyone is gathered there for a meeting and we are waiting for you to do something, because we don't know what else can be done”.

Ever since the Germans entered the town, I had not had a haircut or shaved. I was walking as if I were in mourning , and when I would walk into Rubinstein's liquor store, they would remark me that I did not shave. They implied that the situation was not so bad because the farmers were telling them that there would be relief, etc.

All the residents of the town sat in the rabbi's house. Since the commandant lived in my house, it was suggested that I buy it for money. They recommended that I be joined by Reb Chaim Cohen, one of the town's elders and its dignitaries, so both of us would represent the town.

The next day they collected 5000 rubles. We handed them over to the commandant Konitzky, but he refused to take the money, because in the meantime he lost his power and greatness, for he had not persecuted the Jews aggressively. We therefore returned the money to the owners.

In the fourth week I was expelled from my home, which turned into the residence of the new commandant. When the second commandant took possession of the town, I came to do some lobbying before him. He reassured me by saying: When I studied, my fellow students were Jewish. In the end he asked: How can I help you? I told him that rioters from a nearby village had come to rob Yechiel Kaganovich, who lived on the edge of town. He promised to help.

We decided to bribe him with cloth for a coat and gifts for his wife. We sent the farmer Zirnis, riding a bicycle, to the nearby town of Eishyshok to bring Monish Fain's suit for the commandant. We bought the cloth for the suit for 500 rubles, from Aharon Karpowitz.

The second time I turned to him for help, was when the farmer Gelebs went wild in town and made a real pogrom. In those days I lived in the house of the late Zvi Polachek with my wife and five children.

When the Nazis arrived in town, most of the people remained with no property and were hungry after the fire. They divided their bread among themselves.They would even send onions and meat to the poor, secretly. The families in town who were arguing before, reconciled. “Now there are no haters in the town”, said Sarah Berkowski, “and we know how to behave in times of need.”

The youth and adults were sent to work in peat fields near Orani. (Some of the townspeople worked in the peat fields near the town even in Russian times).On Sunday morning, they would leave for Orani and on Friday they would return home walking a distance of about 35 kilometers.

One Friday, Benny Abrashka, who was 20 years old, came and said that while working, a farmer approached him, put pressure on his foot and told him that the Jews of the nearby town of Orani were no longer there, and warned him not to come to work tomorrow. Benny Abrashka told Yossele Senzhnik about it and suggested that they will flee to the forest, before it will be too late. Yossele did not want to leave his father and mother and did not go with him.

During the Soviet era, Zvi Senzhnik, the old and kind Hebrew teacher, was a guard in the cardboard factory, and now he was in need and poor. The situation in town, which was cut off from the nearby towns and villages, was unbearable. Farmers came and talked about the hardships and disasters of Lithuanian towns, but the townspeople did not want to believe them. Pharmacist Sternin said, “I do not believe it, it is not possible that people would be killed for no reason”. His daughter-in-law, who was the wife of his only son Shaul, would dress up and walk the streets of the town, as if nothing had happened, because she did not believe in the impending disaster. It should be noted that except in a few cases, the Germans and farmers knew how to disguise their behavior. They behaved towards the town gently, so to speak.

The Nazis ordered the people of the town not to dare to take off their hats as a greeting, because the rank of the Jew is too low that they don't even deserve to bless them, the “upper race.”

On Saturday we sat on the fence of Y.Zubiski. An old German passed in front of us. I ordered the people not to take off their hats, only I got off the fence and walked on the side of the German. When he asked why we did not greet him by taking off our hats, I told him about the order that had been issued. To this he replied, that this is stupidity and should not be taken into account. Only then I told all the presents to greet him as usual.

Rumors chased rumors. Jews whispered secrets outside the city on the meadow, on the sides of roads and in the corners of houses. The youth was

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like in a trap. The boys grew a beard and were very confused. The farmers would come and spread rumors that drove people crazy.

Yosef Levin - the son-in-law of the rabbi, a man of morality, wise and solemn, was pessimistic - he believed in everything. His son-in-law, Moshe Uziransky, would say again and again: “If I didn't have a wife and children, I would have taken a backpack and run from border to border”. His son-in-law, Yosef, would reply: “If there was a quiet corner somewhere, I would run there, but the Nazi is tricky and he would find me anywhere.”

My father-in-law, the old Samuel Jacob Payne, would go from one pharmacy to another and asked them to sell him poison, so that he could die with dignity. It is said that the pharmacist Sternin and his family poisoned themselves in the market in Eishyshok before the roundup of the Jews (Aktz'ya).

 

The last night

The commandant, accompanied by policeman Razis, came at three o'clock at night to Zvi Polachek's house, which was also my place of residence. Razis stood outside the door. The commandant pointed to the number 5 of the large clock that hung on the wall: “You have time to save yourself until this hour, later on do not address me with complaints”. He had a large flashlight in his hand. He asked for a blanket, gave it to the policeman and sent him away, so that he would not be present during the conversation. He stopped the pendulum of the clock and pointed to 5 o'clock.

Nakel Polachek, the wise mother of the family, turned to my daughter Miriam and said: Merele, what happened? I said: “It's bad! We must leave this place until 5 and escape”.

The Polachek family consulted with Yosef Levin and with the son-in-law Moshe Uziransky, they decided to stay. According to Yosef Levin: “The angel of death is everywhere”.

Even before that, it was possible to escape to nearby towns, to Eishyshok and Radon, where for the time being it was much better than in the towns near Lithuania. But we did not have the strength and courage to leave the houses and wander abroad.

 

The escape

I left the Polachek house, crossed the street, all the way to the fence of the pastor's garden. The night was dark. My little one ran after me and cried. I heard shots. I returned to the house. Nakel stood stunned and murmured: “fintzer is mir” (“Darkness is everywhere!”).She held the handle of the lock, and said she would not go. We asked her that if my brother-in-law Meir Fain came, would she tell him that we had fled to the forest. I could not inform the people of the town, and therefore I turned to the Marchenka River.

We passed the pontoon bridge on the way to Sulza. We crossed the Sulza River on the beams and from there we headed to the village of Drazhnik. I spoke with Yekutiel Soltz, who lived about a kilometer and a half from the town. From my hiding place, I saw two policemen holding flags and chasing Yekutiel to the town market. But he evaded them and went to the forest too.

On the way to Drazhnik, my whole family was with me, except for Abrashka, who was among the peat diggers in Orani. Early in the morning, Meir Fain's wife came to the Polachek house to look for us. She said there was a mess in the Polachek house. The dough was in big bowls, ready for the holiday, the pillows were scattered on the beds and the belongings were out of place, just the same as at the time of a fire. She asked the members of the house about us. Their answer was that they do not know where we were.

Meir Fain fled in the morning to Franka in Asmashuk, a place where he had previously left a wagon with clothes in it for later use. In Drazhnik, we remained hidden in the granary for 7 days. Through the cracks we saw how the farmers from the area drove in wagons the property of the Jews that was looted after the slaughter in Eishyshok. The wagons were laden with clothes and bedding. The farmer brought us to the forest, to the swamp. We stayed there all night and could not find a way out. The farmer was religious and would ring the bells in the church during prayer. According to him, he told the pastor at Olkeniki that he was hiding Jews, but the pastor did not believe him. This farmer wanted to take my new boots from me, but I did not give them to him.

The “Shaulisim”, (the “shooters”, an organization of semi-military volunteers) the Lithuanians came to capture us but did not find us, because we had evaded before. There, in Drazhnik, I heard through the wall, a farmer telling his neighbor, that he wanted to save Yechiel Kaganovich, but it was already too late. From the swamps of Drazhnik, we moved to Chebutar Lautints, and then we stayed 10 days in Samashuk. Our shepherd showed us the way to another village near Samashuk as a hiding place, and we left to Samashuk.

 

The meeting with my son

In Samashuk we met our son Abrashka. He returned sick from the peat mines in Orani. His legs were swollen. There were rashes on his body. We did not know if our son, Abrashka, would get there. The farmer arranged the meeting between us. Abrashka could not stand on his feet and the farmer brought him on his hands. My son was speechless, he looked at us and did not know us. We stayed in Smarshuk until he recovered and then we went together to Radon - to the ghetto. We were in Radon 8 months, until May 10. In Radon we found some of Olkeniki's residents, Avraham Tiken, Yekutiel Soltz, Gedaliah, the son-in-law of Sarah Leah the potter. They migrated to Novograd, and after the slaughter there, returned to Radon. When they talked about what was happening in Novograd, nobody believed them. Then they joined the partisans. In Radon were Monish and Meir Fain. Monish was killed in Radon. Meir was also in the Lida ghetto,

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and he probably hid in the village of Chebutar, and the farmer who hid him killed him in the end.

It is said that Bashel Zubisky fled the market in Eishyshok. It was said that her son Itzke also gave money to the guards, and was freed, but later he returned to the market and went to the slaughter. Bashel lived with farmers for about a year and since then disappeared. .Her recent known place was with the farmer Keirsha in the village of Titiancha.

My wife was killed in Radon Ghetto. She came from the villages to the ghetto and sought refuge. They did not agree to let her enter the Ghetto with 4 children. The children cried, but no one related to them. Later on, they took her to “work” and she never returned. I escaped from Radon with my four children to the Marchikanchi Forest. My daughter Merele escaped alone from the ghetto to the villages. We spent a few days in Marchikanchi, our friend Kobrowski found out that we were in the area so he picked us up and we stayed with him for 6 weeks. We went from there to Purich, where I worked in the soap industry for the Germans. Grodno was then annexed to the Third “Reich” and Jews still traveled there by train and were not concentrated in the ghetto. We stayed in Purich until November, 1942.

 

They are killing my children

When the slaughter happened in Purich, I ran away with the children. I passed the fence and dodged and the children went alone to Grodno and were there until the establishment of the ghetto. From there, the children fled to a Shchuchin, which is near Lida, in a group of 14 people from Orani and Olekeniki. All of them were killed on the way. Abrashka, my son, was shot in the legs first and then they killed him. I fled from Purich to Marchikanchi. There I met my daughter Miriam. In November, the Jews of Purich and Marchikanchi were gathered in the ghetto. The Jews of Marchikanchi went underground. After the Germans bombed the bunkers, the Jews fled to the forests. Some of them I met in the forests. From this group survived only my daughter Miriam, myself, Yaakov Kobrovsky, Livka Levin and Rachel Magidovsky.

One day I went to the village of Yanzigara, about 9 kilometers from Marchikanchi to look for food. One farmer told me secretly that his neighbor had brought the Nazis. I escaped to the forest wearing farmers' sandals (“laptes”). I had some food with me. In the forest I found a Jew wounded by gunfire. I was looking for a place for us with a farmer, and here I see two policemen standing next to the farmer and ordering me to raise my hands. I did not raise my hands and started running. They shot after me. I felt my coat sleeve is burning, but I was still alive. I ran in the frost on the frozen river. In the middle of the frozen river there was a kind of stream of water and an abyss beneath it. I passed the running water and fled to the village of Dogridanchi. I found my daughter Miriam there. On New Year's Day, I went with all the farmers to church. I was met by a farmer I knew who asked us how I, Mr. Rybeck, was going to church? I fled from there to Klasnik and from there I returned to my daughter Miriam in Dogridanchi. During the escape in the forest, we decided that if we stayed alive, we would meet in this village. In this village the Jews prepared a cave-bunker. When a Lithuanian farmer named Jonas came to look for Jews, we entered the cave. The farmer begged us to leave her property because she feared for her life. The Lithuanian farmers told us to give the Lithuanian child sweets so that he would not reveal our hiding place to the police. When the Lithuanian policemen arrived, the boy fell asleep and did not wake up.

From the cave I fled to the open field and hid in a haystack. From there I walked on the way towards Olkeniki. I came to Yurkinza. My daughter Miriam escaped from the shooting attack in the vicinity of Marchikanchi to Pushche-Benache. We later met in Yurkinza and together with my daughter we came to Olkeniki.


[Page 152]

In the Forests Among the Partisans and in Siberia

Val152a.jpg
 
Val152b.jpg
Yosef Leuknitzkas, may God avenge him, from the Shlomo Nance family
 
The family of S. Ben Shemesh, and B. Lifshitz in Olkeniki after the Holocaust in the market square that grass grew in it
 
M. Sviadoshtz, may God avenge him
 
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Val152e.jpg
Eliyahu Katz, may God avenge him, partisan
 
A. Taiken with partisans

[Page 153]

The Survivors of the Atrocities
Recorded from Avraham Taiken

by S. P-R

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

Edited by Philip Shapiro

 

This is how it started

Eighteen years have already passed since these terrible and horrible days, but their memory left such strong impressions that the words that I write vibrate, and the actions and events are as if they are alive in me.

“I will tell you all the events in the right order and according to the exact chronological times,” says my interlocutor, even though his words are not in order, and he jumps from subject to subject while speaking.

From the time of the war, from 1939,[1] there was silence in the town. The only one who died in the war was Yoske Fiklani. The whole town mourned him. The Germans entered Olkeniki [Polish: Olkieniki; Lithuanian: Valkininkai] in 1941, at the end of Tamuz,[2] during the rye harvest. They entered from the direction of Lithuania on Monday. The first victim was Shlomo Yeshur's son-in-law. He was killed by farmers the day after the Germans arrived, not far from the Gmina,[3] on the way to the Catholic cemetery. The Jews buried him in a Jewish burial.

The second [victim] was Haim Gersh, may God avenge him. He was killed near the village of Salo by a farmer he knew. I found his photo after the liberation from among the documents and certificates in the Gmina. The talented young man Ehrlich, who came to live in the town when the Germans entered Lodz, his hometown,[4] was killed on the second day. They shot him in Eliyahu Farber's house, his place of residence, while he was sitting and drinking a cup of tea. He had time to get up and go into his room, but the killers went in after him and killed him. He was 23-24 years old when he died.

The fear was great, and the Jews no longer dared to bury the dead in a Jewish burial. We gave our gentile neighbors, Palka and Staska Kozolowski, a pair of reins made of a leather strap as a gift, and we asked them to respect our dead with the last kindness, and bury them in the Jewish cemetery.

On Wednesday, when the town was bombed, they didn't even try to save the burning houses. Most of the people passed the Marchenka [River (Polish: Mereczanka; Lithuanian: Merkys)] to the “Stavo” [the meadow just to the east of Olkiniki] and waited for the fire to end. After the fire, the population of the town declined dramatically. A “Judenrat”[5] was formed from the leaders of the community: Haim Cohen, Zvi Polachek, David Rybeck, [and] Eliyahu Burman. The commandant who seized Rybeck's house forced the owner of the house to serve him and made him do all the hard work. The townspeople moved to other houses. The Reuven Farber family lived with Leah Bernstein and her 7-year-old son Avremale. Zvi Sanznik and his wife lived with Fayva Tselal. Many moved to Salo. Anxiety reigned in the town. A Jew named Gershon, who now lives in Israel, in Nachalat Yitzchak [a suburb of Tel-Aviv], came to the town from Subalak and said that the Germans were killing the Jews. There were rumors that all the Jews of Alita [also, Alite; Polish: Olita; Lithuanian: Alytus] and Dvig[6] had already been killed. The intellectual people of the town were banned in the early days. Eliezer Warman, Ben-Zion Willin, Binyamin Farber, the engineer Ishahaya Levin, and Itzhak Teitz were taken by the Lithuanians in a wagon to Vilna, to Lukishki.[7] The members of their families handed over their money and gold, and ran after them on foot to Vilna to save them, but they failed. Eyewitnesses said that Binyamin was sitting in a dungeon in the prison. He asked Hashel Levin, who came to see him, for a piece of sugar to revive his soul. They killed Hashel Levin and his father, Yaakov Elazar, on the road to Vilna.

The townspeople would go out to work in the peat. Before that, they worked with the peat that was used in Shaskin Bonimowitz's factory, which was nationalized [confiscated] by the Russians. Then, the Germans renewed the peat work near Salo, 2 kilometers from the town, on the Vilna-Olkeniki road, in front of the village of Klapchi [Polish: Klapocze; Lithuanian: Klapočiai], near the railway and around Orani [Polish: Orany; Lithuanian: Varėna]. The young men worked until the day before Rosh Hashanah.[8]

 

The Massacre

In the evening I returned home from work. We didn't know anything. Later, we were told that the commandant informed David Rybeck that soon there would be an expulsion and extermination operation. David told Zvi Polachek about it, but they didn't have time to escape. In the city, the Lithuanians were guarding all the entrances, and David did not have time to inform his father-in-law's family, Shmuel Yaakov Fin. He himself fled to Draznik and from there to the forests.

On the Sunday morning before the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, all of the townspeople gathered at the house of the fire brigade named after J. Piłsudski[9] in front of David Rybeck's house. Not a single German was there. Only the people of the surrounding villages: from Posulcha [Polish: Posolcze; Lithuanian: Pašalčis], Draznik, Chizney [Polish: Czyżuny; Lithuanian: Čižiūnai] – which is located about half a kilometer from the town -- Mishtoni [Polish: Misztuny; Lithuanian: Mištūnai] and others. They surrounded the town at night. The farmers were dressed in civilian clothes and armed with weapons. The old and the sick were led in farmers' carts. The owners of the houses and the youth were made to stand in rows, in fours, and they also led them on foot, on the dirt road from Olkeniki to Eishyshok, a distance of 21 kilometers, through the forests.

I remember the marchers: Reb Haim Cohen, Reb Zvi Polachek, Reb Hashel Tzadok, Reb Aharon Kadesh, Reb Reuven Farber, Moshe'le Ozransky, and others. After Chebutar [Polish: Czabotary; Lithuanian: Čebatoriai (meaning – shoemakers)] I told those who marched with me: let's run away to the forest, but no one listened.

On the evening of Rosh Hashanah, we reached the bridge at the entrance to Eishyshok. The commandant came and took us back to the horse stables

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which were by the Gmina, in the village near the city. The Gabbai, Rabbi Avraham Ozransky, may God avenge him, prayed the Rosh Hashanah prayer. The women and the children were taken out of the town on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. They were brought with all of their belongings and household utensils to the granary in Juryzyka, near Eishyshok. The men were brought to the horse market on Radon Street. Then they brought the women and children there. In the market, the people of Olkeniki, Eishyshok, and the Jews of the villages Liepine [Polish: Lejpuny; Lithuanian: Lieponys], and Salo (Dakashnia[10]), which are near Olkeniki, were gathered. The farmers surrounded the market to guard that the victims will not escape. They harassed the unfortunate and demanded that they hand over to them the rest of their property that they had hidden. The men were ordered to take off their hats and were beaten on their heads with gunstocks and sticks. The unfortunates gave them the gold and silver that was found in their possession. Two Germans came and filmed the horror scenes in the market square.

On Wednesday, three groups of the oldest were taken to the pits to be slaughtered. There, on the same day, around evening, the murderers brought sticks and distributed them among the mentally ill who were brought from the village of Salo, to enjoy the spectacle of how the unfortunates beat each other. Horrific scenes took place in the market that are difficult to describe in words. The rich Berkowski tore up dollars and scattered them in the market. Some tried to escape during the commotion. Avreke and another one fled from Juryzdyka to Voronova. Many of Eishyshok's residents ran away from the market. The rest of the Jews remained in the market until Thursday. That day they started taking the people to the pits behind the synagogues and the cemetery in groups. Itzke Zubiski and I were in the fourth group. We were brought to the pit and were ordered to undress. It was around evening. They started shooting us. I ran away from the pit injured and wearing only my underwear.

 

My Wanderings

I ran in the direction of the Siklotsky mansion. I came to a farmer on Thursday night. Before that I hid in the bushes. When he saw me – he was amazed and made the sign of the cross. crossed. He pulled down the curtains on the windows and gave me noodles to revive me. He told me that a Lithuanian forest ranger lived nearby and that if he noticed me, he would kill me.

On Saturday evening I left the farmer's house and at night I got on the road in Estoni. I saw a village and entered it. It was Dogiali. I knocked on the door of a farmer's house. He let me eat and drink. The gentile took me into the abandoned bathhouse and brought me bread and cheese. This place was dangerous, that's why I moved from the farmer's house to the house of an acquaintance of mine, who had fields in a partnership with Berl Popco from Olkeniki. I stayed with him until Yom Kippur.[11]

On the eve of Yom Kippur, the farmer drove me to Voronova in his wagon that was loaded with potatoes, milk, and eggs. I gave the farmer a note to give to Berl Popko and he handed the note to him. They probably thought the writer was their son and they asked me to come to them. On Yom Kippur I left the village and came to Voronova. I turned to the local “Judenrat” for help. I found acquaintances there and they gave me food and a place to stay. In Voronova were “Leizerke der mistoner-straf” (now living in America), Itzchak Yosef Crook, his wife and children, Noah Carps, who came from Martsinkantz [Polish: Marcinkance; Lithuanian Marcinkonys] and his father-in-law, who lives here, Leibke Teper, [and] Hanke from Eishyshok.

An order was issued in the town that the refugees who arrived here should go to register. They sent us to get a haircut. On the way to the hairdresser, I saw Poles walking with guns in their hands. I left there and ran with Leibke Teper. We entered the gentile quarter, to the Pigs Street, and hid. The murderers did not trouble the locals. They looked for the refugees from Olkeniki, Vilna, Eishyshok, Salo, and other places. Of the Olkeniki residents who lived in Vilna, Shmuel Radovsky was there with his wife and his daughters, may God avenge them. They gathered us all in the cinema hall. Puchkarnik was killed. They killed him on the spot because he was smoking a cigarette. Noska (Nathan), the son of Tanhum Balon, took a pair of pliers and when the guard left, he cut the iron wires on the window. The prisoners were pushed to the window to escape from there. The guard noticed the escapees and started shooting. Two were killed on the spot and about twenty escaped. I was also among the escapees. I arrived at a farmer in Chumney Dol (the dark valley), my friend Leibke Tefer stayed in Voronova. On the second Friday he learned that I was in Chumney Dol. He wanted to run to me, but the murderers killed him. I stayed in Chumney Dol for six months. I had nothing to give the farmer who hid me. I promised him that after the liberation, my friend, who had been killed in the meantime, would teach him the craft of pottery.

I returned to the Voronova ghetto. The Commandant Abrasha ordered me to go to work. I resisted him and did not go to work. I left Voronova and moved to Baston [Polish: Bastuny; Belarusian: Бастуны], where I performed railway work. I stayed with the gentile Skirdilovitz and hid there. Among the workers at the train station were the townspeople of Baston. They were afraid of me, because I received food from the farmer. One morning I heard them whispering among themselves and later I learned that they had collected money and sent a messenger to check about what was happening in Voronova. The sad news that they killed all of the people of Voronova and the refugees among them shocked me. While I was performing railway work, with an armed Germans guarding us and not moving aside, I pretended to be ill with diarrhea. I crossed the train rails to defecate and escaped. I came to a farmer, and he agreed to take me with another guy from Voronova. The farmer had a dream that he had to save two Jews from death. And I was privileged to be one of them.

The farmer was afraid of his son, with whom he had a land dispute. In a cold winter morning, we woke up and went to Chumney Dol. The snow fell, and we walked by the side of the road, until we reached the village houses. We hid behind the buildings. When I put my head out, a dog started barking, and attacked me and my friend Yoske. The gentile, who was washing a barrel of fish at the time, stopped his work, let us into the house, and gave us food to eat. The owner of the house was not there because he had gone to the town of Orani to get medicine for his sick daughter. The young man

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who received us was his son-in-law. During that time, the Russians bombed Orani. The farmer let us stay in his granary. We cleaned the place and lay down to sleep on the haystack. When we woke up and it was 9-10 in the evening, and no one arrived. We were overwhelmed with fear. Late at night the door opened, and someone shone a flashlight. We held our breath and were alert for any trouble that might come. “I haven't forgotten you,” the farmer said as he entered the granary. He brought us to his house, let us eat and drink, and invited us to spend the night in the house, saying: If they kill you, they will kill all of us. We did not want to stay at the house. The farmer gave us a rug to cover the floor. We did not use it for fear of lice that ran over our bodies. The next morning, we ate at the house and again returned to the granary. We stayed at the farmer's house for 3 weeks. His neighbors knew that he was hiding Jews and he could be killed for this, but he insisted that we will stay at his house. One day he came in and said that we should leave within two or three days because bad neighbors have come. When we left, the members of the farmer's household cried. (Abraham, who is telling me the story after 18 years, is also moved and bursts into tears). They said that if we don't find another place or a better hiding place, we will return to them. We decided, I and my friend Yoske, to return to the village of [the farmer] Skirdilovitz. When we entered the house of the farmer, who was our acquaintance, he started to cry, saying: It's good that you came, I had a dream again that I had to save two Jews…

The farmer, the family members, and we built for us a hiding place and a tunnel from his house to the nearby forest. The entrance to the tunnel was in the corridor of the house and continued about 30 meters to a pit at the end of the forest. Among the trees was a hidden exit from the pit. The hiding place should have been for us and for his relative from Russia. The excavation was done mainly by four people and lasted for many nights. When the excavation ended, they installed a string with a bell that connected the house through the tunnel to the exit from the pit in the forest. When the Germans approached, the members of the house would pull the string and we, who were sitting in the forest, left the place. The depth of the tunnel was about a meter. Above the tunnel were trees, thatch, and earth. They plowed and sowed above the tunnel. We lived in the pit for about six months, from May 10, 1942, until after Sukkot.[12] At that time, the White Polish partisans were organized, and since the farmers joined the White partisans, we had to leave the place.[13]

There was another ghetto in Lida, so we turned toward Lida. We came to the ghetto on a Friday evening. Snow fell and cold penetrated our bones. We found in the ghetto people from Olkeniki. Itzchak Yosef Krok was the armorer of the ghetto and Meir Payne was a policeman. The “Judenrat,” whose members also included people from Eishyshok, did not want to register us. Tsirel, the tanner from Eishyshok, intervened on our behalf. She gave a donation of her own money, and thanks to her we registered and went to work. I lived in a dairy barn at number 24 on Postowska Street. There were Jews there, mainly refugees, from the nearby towns. I worked in the kitchen at the train station. I saw the Germans slaughtering animals and the Polish workers working at it. I told the supervisor that I was a butcher and that such work was well known to me. He fired the Poles and I started working in cleaning the meat. In exchange for my work, he gave me the intestines, but I tricked him. I started transferring meat to the ghetto. I made good money and bought clothes. Due to lack of suitable food, I fell ill. I wrote to Hane Pitlock in the ghetto, to send me yeast, as a cure for my illness. Around the time near the end of 1942 when the Germans were defeated at Stalingrad, they liquidated the Lida ghetto and killed everyone.[14] In those days I avoided going to work. The next day I met with the Grodna people who came from Orani and other places, whose feet were frozen by the great cold on their way to the forests. We decided to get weapons and go to the forest. The watchmaker Laizer, Ala Mavya, Lipa Skolsky, and I formed a group that would go into the forest together. I stole from the Germans a rifle and a parabellum pistol and we went into the forests.

In the winter, at the end of 1942, we came to a farmer whom we did not know in the village of Shablonza. We found there a Jew from Orani, Avraham Vidlianski. We were there for a short time, until we encountered Jewish partisans and went with them to the forest. We lived in the forest. In 1943, we received roles and missions from the headquarters and we operated in the environs of Radun [Belarusian and Russian: Радунь; Polish: Raduń]. Our job was to knock down power-line poles and to blow up bridges. On May 1, 1943, I was wounded in an operation. All my friends ran away. After I was injured, I lost a lot of blood. I got into the water and the mud and that stopped the bleeding. I arrived at the German mansion Fordon, from which the partisans had expelled its owner and took control of it for a while. I fell on the garbage heap. The workers shouted that I should be taken out of the mansion. They put me in a pit of potatoes, all wounded, dirty, and swollen. A farmer whom I knew from Mosti [Polish: Mosty; Lithuanian Tiltai], which is near Olkeniki, approached me and said: I know you Abrahamke, I would take care of you and put you on the stove to warm you and heal you, but now the times are different…

When the partisans heard that there was a wounded man in the mansion who had participated in the attack and could not walk, they came looking for me. Among those who came were Simcha Goldberg, Zaydke from Grodna, and Boris from Vasilishuk [Belarusian: Vasilishki (Васілішкі), Lithuanian: Vosyliškės]. They entered the mansion with their weapons in their hands and asked about the wounded man. The workers and farmers said that they did not know his hiding place. The partisans met a farmer plowing the land. He brought them to me. The partisans moved me to another hiding place, among bushes. On Sunday night they brought me to the camp in the forest. There they healed my wounds. My doctor was a guy from Eishyshok. We were in the forest for a while. The Nazis organized a hunt for the partisans. My company left the place, and I stayed. I hid in a water hole. The Germans passed by me and didn't notice me.

On Wednesday I came out of the forest injured, jumping on one leg. Again, I went to the farmers in the area.

[Page 156]

I hid in the village of Shablonza until I was liberated at the end of 1944. From there I went to Olkeniki, my hometown. I found a burnt and ruined town. Only a few of the townspeople were there: Yekutiel Soltz, Haim Soltz, David Rybeck, Miriam Rybeck, and Zlotsky.

I decided to take my revenge on the farmers in the area.

 

The Revenge

When I returned from the forest to my town of Olkeniki. I found it mostly burned, and there were no Jews. Sunday arrived, which was the market day. I went out to the market square, and here in front of me I saw the murderers pass by, walking without fear in the streets that were left. My heart shrank, a tremor passed through my body, and I was very confused and didn't know what to do. These were the murderers who led the people of my town and my family to the pits to be slaughtered, and now they were free and breathing the fresh air of my hometown.

I returned to my house, took the rifle in my hand, and followed some of the murderers I knew. I followed them into the Catholic Church. When they noticed me, they dodged and left the church, and I went after them. The head of the killers, Chasnik, from the nearby village of Posulcha, died from the shots. Soviet soldiers that heard from me about the killer's misdeeds, went to the village, burned his house, and killed his family.

My life was in danger because the local priest complained to the authority that I had killed the murderer without a trial. I was arrested and taken to the prison in Vilna. There was no one of the townspeople who could support me and testify in my favor until Reb David Rybeck came and confirmed that the farmer I killed had indeed participated in the murder of the town's Jews. I remained locked up in the prison until by chance a Jew named Tzemach Katz passed by, and saw me standing by the window bars. I told him about everything that happened to me, up to the point in which I was put in the prison. He turned to the officers of the Soviet army and explained to them what was done to me. They released me from prison.

My heart did not let me stay in the city of Vilna. I returned to my town to look for the murderers and to take revenge on them. I found one of the killers from the village next to the town - from Chizon - named Valuk. When he noticed that I was following him, he ran and hid among the crops. Fortunately, the army organized a hunt for the collaborators from the village of Mosti-Vilkishi. The soldiers noticed that a woman villager was coming out of the crops with a jug in her hand. They advanced into the crops, and when the murderer started to run away, they shot and killed him.

I learned that one of the murderers was in a remote village near Metosis [Polish: Matujzy; Lithuanian: Matuizos]. I couldn't get there myself, so I asked for the help of some of my farmer friends in the village of Gireiti [Polish: Gierajcie; Lithuanian: Giraitė], and they killed him.

When I came out of the pit wounded, I did not imagine that a day would come when I would be able to avenge the revenge of my brothers and sisters and my townspeople, and even less than that did I imagine that these things would be recorded in a memoirs book for an endless memory.

[Page 157]

Remnants of Holocaust survivors living in the Land of Israel

Val157a.jpg
 
Val157b.jpg
 
Val157c.jpg
The late Gadel Zandman in Siberia
 
Chaim Zobisky in Siberia
 
Rabbi Kalman Farber in the Vilnius ghetto

 

Val157d.jpg
 
Val157e.jpg
Avraham Taiken in the forests
 
David Rybeck in the forests

 

Val157f.jpg
 
Val157g.jpg
Hanan Bernstein in the Red Army
 
Yosef Meltzman in the Red Army

 

Editor's Footnotes:
  1. The Second World War began with Nazi Germany's invasion of western Poland on September 1, 1939. On September 17, 1939, the Soviet Union invaded eastern Poland (the “Kresy”). Return
  2. In 1939, the Jewish-calendar month of Tamuz ended in mid-July. Return
  3. During the inter-war period, the new Polish state controlled the town Olkeniki, which was situated just to the east of the ceasefire line between Lithuania and Poland. In the Polish form of government, a gmina is a local-level government, similar to a municipality. The term “Gmina” here may refer to the municipal office building. Return
  4. The city of Łódź fell a week after Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland. Many Jews fled eastward into the “Kresy,” which, as noted above, the Soviets seized on September 17, 1939. Return
  5. Jews who were not immediately killed by the Nazis and their helpers were herded into urban concentration camps euphemistically called “ghettoes.” The captors then appointed several of the captives to constitute a “Judenrat” – a “Jewish advisory council” – which had the role of conveying and implementing the captors' administrative directives. Return
  6. Possibly, Dovig (Yiddish), Daugai, Lithuanian; Daugi (Polish). Return
  7. In 1837, the czarist authorities converted a Roman Catholic monastery in the Łukiszki (Lithuanian: Lukiškė) section of Vilna (Wilno, Vilnius) into a small prison. Around 1900 the prison was torn down and replaced by a larger one at the same location. After the Nazis seized the city, in mid-1941, the Gestapo and Lithuanian security authorities used the prison to hold Jews and Poles, most of whom were executed. Return
  8. In 1941, Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year – began at sunset on Sunday, September 21. Return
  9. From 1918 to 1922, Józef Klemens Piłsudski (1867–1935) served as the Chief of State of the Second Polish Republic and from 1920 as the country's First Marshal. In his capacity as the country's minister of military affairs (1926-1935) he was the country's de facto leader. He is viewed as a father of the Second Polish Republic. Return
  10. In the original text, the town's name is spelled דקשניה. It is believed that this is the town referred to elsewhere by the Polish name Deksznie-Selo and in Lithuanian as Degsnės. Return
  11. In 1941, Yom Kippur began at sunset on Tuesday, September 30. Return
  12. In 1942, Sukkot, the Jewish holiday known as Tabernacles, began on Friday, September 25. Return
  13. Among other things, the August 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement established a firm alliance between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union to destroy the Republic of Poland and divide its territory between them. After the country's land was divided, Polish patriots formed underground partisan forces to fight the aggressors and to restore their country's independence. Soviet propaganda characterized the Polish partisan groups in the Kresy as “White Poles,” implying that these Poles were supporting the Nazis. Return
  14. There were two massacres of the Jews of the Lida ghetto. On May 8, 1942, nearly 6,000 Jews from the Lida ghetto were shot. The remaining 1,500 were murdered on September 18, 1943. It was between these two dates that the monumental struggle for Stalingrad occurred. The Nazi assault began in the summer of 1942 and by early November the Germans controlled 90 percent of the city. Later that month, however, a massive Soviet counter-attack reversed the tide of the battle. The Nazi forces at Stalingrad surrendered on February 2, 1943. Return

 

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