The Death of Olkenik
(Told by his sister in America)
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
My brother, Layzer, who, with luck, survived, told me the following:
Sunday, the 21st of June 1941, the German barbarians captured Olkenik. Shlomo Fertse's house was ignited by an exploding auto and benzene that killed only three Germans and, as a result, the Nazis set fire to all of Olkenik. There remained only the houses of Chaim Khohen, Zubiski, Pakamunski up to the church. The unfortunate Jews had no other choice then to gather together in numbers of up to 15-20 families in one house. The murderers came to the houses and they sent a number of Jews to repair the roads and around 80 Jews were sent to work in the barracks.
In the morning all of the Jews were ordered to get undressed, half-naked. And they showed everyone what to do. Then they ordered the Jews to run to work and as they ran, they were beaten with rubber sticks. Thus the Nazi beasts herded the Jews to eat lunch; they placed the Jews in rows near their things and then they ordered them to get completely undressed.
As there is a muddy Galucze River in that area, the Nazis forced the Jews to enter the muddy river with their heads down and when they got up from the mud dirty, the murderers began to photograph the unfortunate ones. Then they began to spray the victims with water from firefighting machines to wash off the mud from their wounded bodies. The result was horrible. Eardrums burst in several of them and they became deaf. Others received broken ribs and became so crippled that they lay sick until their martyr's death. After the torturing, the blood-thirsty beasts called together the local young gentiles in Pilsudski's House and there taught them to shoot the Jews.
Sunday, erev [the eve of] Rosh Hashanah, around six o'clock in the morning, they drove all of the Jews together into Pilsudski's House. All men and women from Olkenik and its surroundings were forced on a death march to Eišiškės.
The first victim was Chaim Gorsz. He no longer had any strength to walk fast, so the Nazis shot him. The second victim was Shlomo Braz, who also was [too] weak to walk, so the murderers shot him not far from Eišiškės. They buried him there on the road to Nezdzile.
The Nazis imprisoned all of the men who had come to Eišiškės earlier than their wives in a barn. And they were held there until Monday when the wives also were brought.
Then they all were driven together into the synagogue and, on Tuesday, they drove everyone from the synagogue to the horse marketplace. Then the brutal police came and surrounded the Jews on all sides.
Then the bloody slaughter began. From early Thursday our dearest were slaughtered in groups throughout the day. And on Friday the blood-soaked murderers finished their horrible slaughter. They buried the small babies alive and the older children were shot together with their mothers. The women lie near Magilnik.
The yahrzeit [anniversary of a death] for the men is the 4th day of Tishri and the yahrzeit for the women the 5th day of Tishri.
by Miriam Ben-Shamas-Ribak
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
On the 22nd of June 1941, when the war between Russia and Germany broke out, I lived in Lithuania, in a small shtetl [town], Butrimonys. Twenty-four hours after the outbreak of the war, the German tanks arrived in the shtetl without any opposition. Jews who had left in the direction of Russia had to return because the Germans had already taken all of the roads. As the front had moved further to the east and the German military were no longer in the city, the Lithuanian administration took power. They began to issue various edicts against the Jewish population. They designated forced labor for women with husbands and children and everyone had to wear the yellow mark [Star of David].
It did not last long until the looting and murdering at night began. A little later, all of the young people began to be taken and they were sent in an unknown direction from which they did not return.
I saw that the soil was burning under my feet; I asked a Christian acquaintance, who had worked for us to take me to my parents in Olkenik where it was still quiet. Understand, that it was not an easy thing to go travel from one shtetl to another. It was forbidden for us. Everything threatened us with death. But what did I have to lose at the time in Butrimonys when they would take entire groups of people, young and old, every night, and send them in an unknown direction? I did not want to wait any longer. And my Polish acquaintance had agreed to take me to Olkenik. We knew that there still were Jews in Olkenik. I disguised myself as a Christian, dressed in Christian clothes. The Christian masked the wagon a little and took me as a friend of his, a sick one, to a doctor (a sheptun [whisperer] who warded off illnesses with magical formulas). If the police stopped the wagon, they would not recognize that he was taking a Jewish woman. On the road to Olkenik I went through the shtetl, Hanishak [Onuškis]. The shtetele was cleared of Jews. It is located approximately 21 kilometers from Butrimonys. It seems that the Lithuanian murderers from Hanishak hurried with the slaughter of the Jews living there, even before Butrimonys. Experiencing great fear on the road, I arrived in Salos-Desznike. Many residents of Olkenik were in Salos because Olkenik was completely burned. As my parents had lived in Olkenik, I left Salos on foot for Olkenik. This was 14 days before the cruel slaughter. Our Olkenik Jews were completely naïve and did not believe what I told them about Butrimonys and about the nearby Lithuanian shtetlekh. I already knew what awaited us and that our fate was a terrible one.
Thus two weeks passed by. I was, understand, hidden because there was a threat of death for traveling from one shtetl to another.
On the night of erev Rosh Hashanah, we felt that something was being prepared for our shtetl. There were individual Christians who warned that we should escape to wherever we could, where Jews were still allowed to sit calmly. And we should leave in time and not wait for the last moment. Many Jews did not want to believe. Several said: Where do we go, where should we run? Others began to prepare for Rosh Hashanah.
And on the night of erev Rosh Hashanah, we actually did escape from Olkenik in the direction of the River Soltse [Šalčia].
Running through the shtetl in the dark, we wanted to go to the houses, to knock on the doors and say: Jews, come, let us save ourselves and leave the shtetl! But we already heard shooting from various sides. This meant that the shtetl was surrounded, so that no one could escape.
There was great darkness that night; we reached the Solste River and arrived at
Yekutiel the salt seller's house. We wanted to knock on the window so that we could at least tell him and escape together. Suddenly, through the window, we saw the police who had come to look for him and tell him to go to the market immediately, where the Jews would be assembled and sent to work.
We avoided them and we left along the river. We already could not cross the Soltse Bridge because it was guarded by policemen. We continued about a half kilometer from the bridge and we noticed a wooden block floating in the river. This helped us a great deal. We could go the other side of the river more easily over the block of wood. Crossing the river, we heard rifle fire in the shtetl, which threw great fear on us. We were very tired and confused. Before morning, we entered a village where we sneaked into an open barn. When it began to dawn, a Christian entered the barn and saw us frightened and soaked-through. The Christian drove us from the barn and threatened to bring the police if we did not leave the barn.
When it became dark in the evening, we left the Christian and, in the darkness of night, we walked very far until we reached Radun. There we learned the bitter fate of our Olkenik and Eišiškės Jews. And we remained in Radun. Radun belonged to White Russia [Belarus] with a different area commissioner, with a provisional law different from the one in Lithuania.
We met several Olkenik Jews in the Radun ghetto who also had succeeded in escaping from the slaughter.
I lived in the Radun ghetto for about eight months until the 10th of May 1942. There I experienced many troubles, hunger and fear of death. We were threatened with death every day; life in the Radun ghetto was a separate page in our sad, bloody history.
I succeeded in escaping from the Radun slaughter, not knowing that my father, brothers and sister had also escaped. Not knowing the area and running through fields and forest, I got lost in the village named Lebednik. I then met a good Christian who took pity on me and permitted me to enter his house and gave me something to eat. I had to leave the house in the morning and I again began to wander through fields and bushes in an unfamiliar region.
Wandering in this way, I met a peasant with a wagon by the name of Franek Bachtasevitz. The Christian recognized me, that I was a Jew, and told me to get into the wagon; he covered me with straw so that no one would see whom he was driving.
Thus I came to the Christian's house. The family consisted of a husband and a wife and five children. It should be understood that it was a great risk to keep me in the house. The Christian and his wife were very good to me and kept me for six months. After half a year of being with the Christians, a nearby neighbor suddenly entered and recognized me. Understand that there no longer was a place for me there and, actually, the same night, I had to leave the good Christians and I left in the direction of Natszer Fuszce [possibly Natskovichi]. I met a group of Jews on the road who were also going in the same direction. Thus we arrived in the forest where various groups of partisans were concentrated. In the forest, our lives also were always in danger from two standpoints. First: the blockade that the Germans had planned to place soon on the forests of Natszer. Second, we were threatened with danger from the Russian partisan groups, which consisted of various hooligans; mainly we were threatened with danger from the peasants.
I searched for a way to leave the forest to arrive in Marcikańce, in which the Third Reich was located; there were still Jews there who lived in enclosed ghettos and my father, sister and brothers were there.
A peasant drove us and other Jews in the direction of Marcikańce [Marcinkonys]. This was in November 1942. We finished the distance of 50 kilometers [about 31 miles] in two nights because it was impossible to go during the day and so we reached Marcikańce at dawn.
Meanwhile, my father learned that I was alive and was in the Marcikańce ghetto. After three days in the ghetto, the ghetto suddenly was surrounded by the Germans and the Lithuanian police. They began to fire upon the Jewish houses with machine guns. In no time, the Marcikańce Jews provided themselves with bunkers in their houses and a number of Jews hid in the bunkers waiting for the shooting to end. At night, when the shooting became quieter, we escaped to the forest.
We ran in any direction, confused and frightened. We met a group of Jews from Poretsh [Porechye], a nearby shtetl, who had succeeded in escaping when the Poretsh ghetto was bombarded. My father also was in the group. When escaping he had lost my sister and brother who had been in the Poretsh ghetto the entire time.
We were a group of 40 men. We decided to remain together in the forest and make a fire to warm ourselves a little. It already was the break of day. Suddenly, we saw before us German S.S. members and Lithuanian police who arrived with a tsep (chain) in order to surround us. We all began to run; everyone in another direction. The bandits opened fire on us with their rifles. The Jews fell before me one after the other. I recognized Rywka Magadovski from Aran among the fallen and, suddenly, I felt blood pour from me. And when I ran, blood flowing over me, a Lithuanian policemen aimed his rifle and headed me off.
Luckily for me, the rifle did not function and not having more bullets, he hit me in the head with the butt of the rifle and I fell down. The Lithuanian thought that I was dead. I understood the words he said: I have finished off the snake. At that moment another victim arrived, a woman, who he led away alive. Meanwhile, coming somewhat to myself, I sensed that I was alive. I tried to stand up. I was entirely covered in blood. I began to walk in the direction in which I had heard the barking of a dog in the distance. Walking for a time, I stumbled across a train line. The night was very dark and I do not know from where I drew the strength to walk. I crossed the tracks and saw in the distance the shine of a window. I walked to the house and knocked on the door. An old peasant came out and seeing that I was Jewish, he warned me that I should go back because Lithuanian and German patrols were circling around him. I began to plead vigorously with the peasant that he should at least let me stay with him until daylight. I felt a strong thirst and the blood on me had dried up. Finally, the peasant let me into his house. His old wife warmed some water for me and washed my wounds. She allowed me to go to the oven to warm myself.
At dawn I was asked to leave the house. She gave me a pair of bast [woven bark] shoes for my feet and showed me in which direction I should go. It turned out that the Lithuanian, named Leipunas, who wounded me, was a neighbor of the old Christian.
I went 10 kilometers [a little over six miles] until I arrived at an estate [owned by] Adamowicz; there I met very friendly people who occupied themselves in healing wounds on my head and on my hand. I was with them for several days. Later I left for the Christian, Bartosewicz, whom I had already been with and there I found my father. Understand, we could not remain with the peasant for a long time; we began to wander from one place to another.
Meanwhile, Polish partisans began to appear, the so-called White Poles. As there was no threat of annihilation from the Germans because they were occupied with their defeats, the White Poles began to search for and annihilate Jews and threatened the peasants with death if they hid Jews. Our situation became even worse. Here a day and here a day, I began to wander with my father from one peasant to another.
This was three months before our liberation; we came across a good peasant in the area of Olkenik who took pity on us and permitted us to
remain in the attic of his stall. The peasant was very poor and himself had no bread. Every day, late at night, my father would go out to look for a piece of bread from other peasants of his acquaintance. Going to a peasant at that time threatened death because White Poles were quartered in each direction. However, the impulse to live was so strong that in hunger and in deadly fear we still lived to see the liberation.
On the 8th of July 1944 we left our hiding place and arrived in Olkenik. Then, a true tragedy began for us. Arriving in the shtetl, we did not find any people or any houses, only the eternal witnesses of our shtetele Olkenik, the cemetery, the forest, the river, empty places of the burnt houses. The fields were already overgrown with tall grass on which the cows belonging to the shtetl peasants grazed. The first one to greet us in the shtetl was the old priest. He began to console us. We were not enthusiastic about his good talk. Many Christians came to look at us and were astounded that we were still alive.
Several days later, Avraham Tajkan, Chaim Salc, Layzer Sztrof and Yekutiel Salc and his family arrived. Just these few broken Jews remained from such a beautiful Jewish community.
In my memoirs, I must discuss the heroism of Avraham Tajkan. Despite the fact that he could pay dearly, he recognized a bandit on a Sunday, who had taken part in the murder of the Eišiškės and Olkenik Jews. He shot him in the middle of the street in front of the Christians walking by. This was an act of revenge for our spilled blood. To our great sorrow, we could not take more revenge. Hundreds of Lithuanian murderers were walking around in front of our eyes because, alas, they were protected by the law.
We did not want to remain in our shtetl Olkenik for a long time because it was impossible to remain remembering what our Lithuanian neighbors had done, even to our dead who had died tens of years before; they defiled their graves and built cellars from their headstones and grazed cattle at the cemetery. We left Olkenik and went to Vilna where, in time, more surviving Jews from various cities and shtetlekh concentrated themselves. Everyone's goal was to enter Eretz-Yisroel more quickly.
by Khonan Berenshtein
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
Vilna, Sunday, the 22nd of June 1941, I was studying at a trade school for the railroad. The school was located at Deitcher Street 9. We did the practical work in the workshop of the Vilna train station. The day, Sunday, when the Germans bombarded Vilna, I was free from my studies. Vilna residents ran through the streets and searched for hiding places wherever they could. I was dressed in my school uniform. I had come to the school for lunch. The commandant gathered us together and led us to the Vilna train station, where we were employed with repairing the train lines disrupted by the bombing. At night, we were taken to Pohulanka, where the railroad executive managing committee was located. With luck, we found no one from the railroad managing committee; everyone had run away.
The entire night, from Sunday to Monday, we were held on the Bufalowe Mountains. Early Monday, when I returned to the school, the managing committee was no longer there and I remained alone and had to take my fate in my own hands. I went to see my brother, who was in the university hospital on Antokol [Street], to take him with me.
I did not reach my brother because a Red Army patrol did not let me go on Antokol-Pospeszki. I went back through Zawalne Street and encountered a commotion of
hundreds of people, confused, running to wherever their feet carried them. I met male and female friends from our town, Olkenik, who were studying in Vilna. I proposed to them that they go to school with me, to take and put on uniforms and go forward with the Russians. I had no desire to go to Olkenik. They answered that they were walking home to the shtetl among those from Olkenik; I only remember Yishokher'ke Gurewicz. When I returned to the school, I found around 500 students who did not have any homes. The commandant gathered us and proposed to us that whoever wanted to could go home to their parents. Many students left for home. We, a group of 150 boys, among them several Poles, remained with the commandant. We began to eat as much as we could and on Monday, at 3 in the afternoon, we left Vilna and went on foot to Nowa Wilejka [Naujoji Vilnia].
We were shot at going on Zarec'je [Street], over the small bridge. The commandant calmed us and said that we would arrive in Minsk and the war would end in a few days.
Going through Nowa Wilejka, hooligans attacked us. We chased and beat them. The last military train arrived at the train station in Nowa Wilejka. It stopped and gave us the opportunity to enter the train. The train traveled very fast, as if from a fire. In Maladechnie [Malyavshchina] I saw the fires of the burning city of Minsk. We were bombed the entire way. I traveled like this until Moscow.
From Moscow, we were sent to Syzran. In Syzran I worked at the oil wells. The work was very difficult. Again, I entered a trade school and learned to be a locksmith. I graduated from the school in the course of six months. In January 1942, I was sent to Kuibyshev [Samara], where I worked as a technician in a military airplane factory. With me worked about 30 young Jews from Vilna. The remaining Vilner [Jews] were sent to work in other places. We remained in close contact the entire time.
I received the category brown for the time of my work in the airplane factory; that is, I was freed from the army until 1945.
We learned that a Lithuanian division had been created. Many of my comrades escaped to the army. I and still others remained in the factory because we were too young and we were not mobilized. I was at the factory until July 1943. Then I voluntarily entered the Red Army. I found myself in Balakhna near the city of Gorki (the former Nizhny Novgorad). From there we were sent to the front near Vitebsk-Polotsk. Yehuda Grabazebski from Eišiškės was with me. He told me that there was someone from Olkenik in the division. After long searching and efforts, I met Yosef Malcman, the son of Chaim the kohan [member of the priestly class], and Heshl, the grandson of the tzadek [righteous man]. It is difficult to describe our meeting. It was very moving. I was assigned to the surveillance battalion, on skis (shnei-glitsers), then I was taken in the infantry (in the battalion on foot). The entire time I was at the front. I marched through many cities and shtetlekh [towns], taking part in battles near Kelme, Shavl, Klaipėda and so on.
In the Battle Near Libova
I was wounded in December 1944. For six months I lay in the military hospital in Serpukhov, 100 kilometers [62 miles] from Moscow.
I returned to Vilna in June 1944. I walked through the streets. Looked in the faces of those passing by; perhaps, I would recognize someone, but to my regret I did not meet anyone.
At the Vilna kehile [organized Jewish community] I was told that there were people from Olkenik here. I found Chaim Salc, Dovid Rybak and his daughter Miriam, Avraham Taikan and Leib Kapans and his son. I lived in Vilna until 1957. There I often met Leib Petluk, with the Kapans and Elihu Balan. I traveled to Olkenik many times, met Yekutiel Salc and his family and Ayshike Palucki.
Olkenik in 1956
Before leaving Vilna, I traveled to take leave of my shtetele Olkenik for the last time.
It was difficult to recognize the shtetl. Everything was abandoned, the market overgrown with tall grass. It was empty from the former house of prayer to the bridge.
I only saw pits where houses once were. I left for the cemetery with my young daughter. [I did not] find any sign of the cemetery. All of the headstones had been torn out; the trees chopped down.
Thus I stood and had a good cry. I returned to the shtetl with an imbittered heart. I told my young daughter that here there had been a shtetele with Jews and everyone had been annihilated. She asked me to show her the grave of her Grandmother Zisl, my mother. With tears in my eyes, I told her everything and showed her that there was no trace [of it].
I walked around with my child in the ruins of Olkenik, told her about every spot, what was once there and with broken spirit returned to Vilna.
I left Olkenik and Vilna, but I will never forget my birth shtetele, Olkenik, and her dear Jews. I have been in Israel with my wife and two children for a year.
Told by Berl Lipszic from Deksznie-Selo
Written by Khaver-Paver [pen-name of Gershon Einbinder] in an American newspaper
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
Without a Home
In the morning I and my friend, Yoshfe, decided to go in another direction. Perhaps we would meet an individual peasant somewhere in a field and we would ask him what was happening in our homes. We took the road to the Leipuner Mountains, crossed our fifth polose (border between one portion of land and another) and saw from a distance a Lithuanian from a village outside Olkenik. We ran to him and asked: what was happening in Olkenik?
It is not good, he answered.
What is not good in Olkenik?
All of the Jews have been driven out of their houses and they are imprisoned in the Olkenik barracks (military stalls).
What are they doing with them there?
He did not know, but he saw how they were crying when they were driven and he also met Jews with their wives and children who had been driven from the neighboring Jewish colony of Leipun. (Six kilometers from Deksznie.) We could not learn anything about our colony.
And we went further. As we were walking, I suddenly saw that a Lithuanian, Tateausz Bazis, was traveling in my wagon with my black horse Zuk.
Zuk recognized me immediately and began to whinny at me and to stretch out his neck to me. The Lithuanian sprang out of the wagon in fear and began running. We told him to stop. I went to Zuk and patted him on his back. I had reared him; he would follow my wife like a house dog.
Tadeausz Bazis also was from the burned-out village of Pushkarnya [Pūčkornės], who had found protection and hospitality among us in the colony. And this was how he paid us back for our hospitality and stole my horse and wagon.
Tadeausz, tell me one thing I said to him What is happening in our colony, but tell me the truth.
Derkuli, he started with a false, crying voice Negerai (It is not good).
Everyone in the colony was driven out. They were taken in the direction of Auschwitz.
The women and the children?
Yes, everyone, no one remained, no one.
Listen, Tateauszke, I grabbed him by his fur coat I have left all my hard-earned goods, but they know that I will return to take them, along with my wagon and my horse that you have also stolen.
And with these words we immediately withdrew and disappeared among the thick bushes and from there to the forest.
In the Forest
We lay in the forest until night. And when the night arrived, we asked each other: what do we do now? My friend Yashfe said:
If they have taken away our wives and children in the direction of Eišiškės (he also had a wife and two children) we must follow in the same direction.
In the dark, we followed the direction of the stars. We were afraid to walk. Arriving at the River Meretszanke, we undressed completely, bound our clothes together and held them over our heads and we crossed the water. It had already begun to dawn and we did not know where we were going. Finally, we reached a road that was the mid-point between Olkenik and Eišiškės. From the distance, we noticed wagons going. At first, we hid in the bushes and from there looked [to see] who was traveling [in the wagons]. We recognized two Lithuanians from the burned village of Pushkarnya who also lived with Jews in our colony. We also recognized the horses. One horse belonged to Moshe Gamburg, a second to Elikum the blacksmith. We sprang out of the bushes; stood in front of the horses. They became frightened and stopped.
He asked me: From where are you traveling?
They told us the entire story, that from the colony they took the small, Jewish children with the sick people to Eišiškės and there they were housed in the houses of prayer, in the Eišiškės community stalls and barns.
What are they doing with them? we asked Are they being tortured? Are they being beaten?
May I remain in the world.
And what is the general opinion of the surrounding Christian residents?
Several say that they will create a ghetto in Eišiškės; several say that you will be sent away to a courtyard to work and others say that you will be sent to Lublin; a Jewish state is being created there.
It immediately calmed our souls.
Where Do We Go?
We became calmer, at least, [thinking] they would not kill us. And this was a great deception, as we would later see.
From the beginning, from the first day, when the Germans entered, they came with their devilishly created plan of deception, delusion and they shared the plan with the Lithuanian fascists.
After the first evening, when the Germans entered the colony, my wife, who could speak German, asked a question of one of the Nazis, who was staying in our house with us:
Why do you hate the Jews so much? The Jews have not done anything bad to you.
Only the Jews who are busy with politics; we are making them (he pointed to his throat with his hand). With what are you employed?
Agriculture my wife answered.
We have nothing against you; we will not touch you.
And day after day, the deception continued. If a few Jews from the colony were shot, they were activists with the communists. And the Jews who had nothing to do with the communists thought that [the Germans] did not mean them.
However, how did it happen, you will ask, that such healthy, strong Jews like we in the colony would permit ourselves to be taken with our wives and children? Did they not know that they were being led to the slaughter?
I tell you - they did not know.
But, you will say, did they not see that this time they were not being taken to work? They
saw that this time the Lithuanian Siaulistes (shooters, half-military formations) were in larger groups than previously. But they saw that they were being led further from Olkenik.
I tell you that they did not know until the last minute. They thought that this time they were being taken to work, but further than Olkenik.
You will ask: Why did I know?
I answer you: I knew and did not know. So you see when the young Lithuanians told me that they had heard that a ghetto would be created in Eišiškės or [the Jews] would be sent to Lublin, I became calm… Perhaps, I wanted be calmer. I was already exhausted, hungry. I had not eaten in three days; the longing for my wife and child tore my heart and I also let death entice me.
…We walked further, I and my brother-in-law, Yoshke Yashfe. We had separated from Yankele Gamburg and Yoshke Futszkarni two days earlier; they walked in another direction.
Wagons traveled to Eišiškės from the surrounding Lithuanian villages, as if to a fair and this was not a good sign. However, we walked further. Arriving in Eišiškės, we met Olkenik wagons [loaded] with Polish bourgeois (city residents). The Polish bourgeois warned us and said:
Where are you going? They are making a slaughterhouse there for you!
We were deaf to the warning and went further. Arriving in Eišiškės, we saw the Siaulistes everywhere, but they did not stop us and we went to the community barns and stalls, where we were told the women and children were imprisoned. My brother-in-law, Yoshke Yashfe, and I also packed up. As soon as we appeared in the courtyard, the guard grabbed us, severely beat us and threw us in a stall.
In the Eišiškės Stalls
I saw my neighbors from Deksznie, from Olkenik in the stall; they sat miserable, dejected on the ground and cried.
My wife and my daughter, I quickly learned, were not among them. They were imprisoned in the Eišiškės house of prayer with other women and children.
And here, Fishke Aronovitz and Avraham Yitzhak Fuczkarnik ran to me and tore off the collar from my fur coat, telling me that if the Siaulistes recognized it as a good, new fur coat, they would take it from me. The fur coat would look old with its collar torn off. They also told me to cut off the boot legs of my boots so that they would look torn.
This was Tuesday, the 22nd of September 1941.
And what do I do? How do I make my way to my wife and child? And where is my father? Can no one answer me, where is my father?
I did not like the entire game. I said to the Jews in the stall, let us dig under the foundation and throw out the stones at night, escape and go to the forest.
Yehiel Kaganovitz, an Olkenik property owner, the gabbai [sexton] of the synagogue, came right to me and said to me:
You should listen to me and do not cause a panic. I have Christian acquaintances and they have told me that a ghetto is being created and we will be in the ghetto. And in addition to this, we do not have to separate from our families because who knows if we can get together again after this.
And after him, others called out:
Where do we run? The bandit is everywhere.
Night came. The Olkenik Rabbi began to recite prayers, cried at the Avinu Malkeinu [Our Father, our King prayer recited on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur]. Everyone felt it with their hearts. We all cried.
A drunk band of Siaulistes with flashlights arrived a night; they shined the light in everyone's eyes and looked at what they were wearing. They tore off whatever pleased them.
Leib Izerlianski and his heroic son, Moshe'ke Izerlianski a well-known, strong young man, a tall one with wide shoulders did not permit them to remove their boots, began to fight with the Siaulistes, but they shot them in the head with a machine gun.
They silenced them and tore off their boots. One group of Siaulistes left; another one came and also tore the furs, the short jackets, whatever they wished. And here were heard the heart-rending voices from the barns on the side in which the women and children were imprisoned. The Siaulistes raped them.
At the Eišiškės Marketplace
Barely survived the day. In the morning, we noticed through the cracks in the walls wagons arriving with victims of the Siaulistes and the Siaulistes had loaded sacks of looted items into the wagons. Many Lithuanian police arrived with Siaulistes during the day; they opened the doors of the stalls and asked everyone to stand four men to a row. They aimed their machine guns and led us through Eišiškės. The Polish residents ran out of their houses and watched us being led and who knows what they thought looking at us?
It was a very beautiful day; the sun shined. The sky was pure and clear. It was unbelievable that on such a beautiful day we were being brought to be killed.
We were brought to Raduner Street, [they] turned us toward the horse marketplace. This was a large square, fenced in with high wooden fences and everyone was told immediately to lie on the ground.
Special Lithuanian police arrived with their commandant, Ostrowski, may his name be erased (he was sent to Siberia for eight years), and gave us an order that we could not keep anything, we immediately had to turn over our money and valuable things from a watch to a knife. After this, if someone was found with even one groshn, he would be killed on the spot. They placed a large basket in the middle of the square and said to throw [our possessions] into the basket and here began such a sad spectacle that it cannot be described. Ignoring whether someone did throw something in the basket or not, the Lithuanian policemen swung their rubber clubs, swung over heads, over faces and violently shouted: Jews give your money!
This lasted two hours. It was just like wild animals howling, but more horrible than wild animals, as long as they wearily struck.
I saw Jews tear hundreds of money certificates into tiny pieces. Among them, I remember Chaim Berkowski, a cloth merchant from Olkenik, a Waranower son-in-law. He took his money out of his hiding place, tore it into small pieces and threw them everywhere.
I had 100 rubles and a gold watch; I reopened the lining [of my coat] and hid them there. I did not want to give them and did not give them.
And newer and newer groups of Jews were led from the stalls, barns and houses of prayer to this marketplace. I looked out at everything; perhaps I would see my wife and my child among them. I could not learn from anyone where my father was. No one had seen him and not heard from him.
It lasted this way until sunset, when a new group of women and children arrived and, from afar, I saw among them my wife and child. I did not pay attention to the fact that it was forbidden to stand up; I sprang up and ran next to them, grabbed my daughter in my arms. She shouted:
Papinke [diminutive of Papa], they said that you had already been killed…
Police ran to me and began to beat me; why had I gotten up from the ground. I sat back down and took my child in my lap. They looked for my wife and afterwards told her to sit on the ground. She sat down near me and I told her what had happened to me.
What do we do? How do we save ourselves from fire? Thoughts of various plans ran through my head. I urged Jews that we should do something. Perhaps everyone should go after the police. They would shoot, individuals would fall, but many would be saved. They shouted at me, why was I creating a panic, because they believed that we would be taken to work and that was all…
Here, two Germans drove into the square, German civilians. As I remember now, I saw that the two Germans had arrived to make themselves a little
cheerful, have pleasure from the spectacle. The Germans called two Jewish girls from out of the crowd. These girls had worked as their servants. The Germans asked the girls, ostensibly with astonishment, what they were doing there. The girls answered that they did not know, they, the Germans, knew better. And they burst into tears and asked the Germans why we had all been driven together and what would be done with us. I listened carefully to what the Germans said to the girls; I wanted to catch a word to understand our situation. The Germans smoked cigars and heartily laughed:
So, will you shoot? Definitely not. We are not shooting people. This is not happening with us…
The girls asked them why were all of the people from four shtetlekh [towns] Deksznie, Leipun, Olkenik and Eišiškės driven at night toward this place?
They answered that they, the Germans, were not responsible for this, it is the responsibility of the Lithuanian commandant.
But we will not shoot you. Do not talk foolishly, you are upset, what you are saying is foolish…
These two German looked at all of us, strolled a few times through the entire marketplace and left. Immediately after this, the guard was strengthened. Fresh Siaulistes were added with machine guns and the commandant, Ostrovski, rode on his motorcycle around and around the square and gave his shooters various orders.
They pushed us all even further from the fence, 30 meters [almost 33 yards] away. They created a circular manège [enclosed area for training horses and riders, usually open to the sky] and a heavy guard drove around and around with machine guns. They said that no one should stand up because whoever stood up would catch a bullet.
Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?
At around one or two o'clock in the middle of the night, when we lay so tortured, dead, thirsty and we did not know what awaited us, we suddenly heard the noise of motorcycles. The S.S. bandits, 10 in number, arrived at the square on their motorcycles, went round and round the manège, dressed in horrifying helmets with the insignia of the Totenkopf [death's head skull and crossbones] in the middle, in wide rubber raincoats, caped coats, shone their large flashlights on us, spit on us, kicked us with their feet. They said to Jews with beards: Das ist echt typischer Ostjude [This is a typical eastern Jew] and they broke into laughter.
Then they tied two large lamps to a corner of the fence, sat down there and spoke among themselves for about 20 minutes. They again went to the group of people and again beat, trampled them with their feet. Then they walked around and around and searched with their flashlights. Suddenly, they all threw the lights on an Eišiškės girl; I no longer remember her name. She was a real beauty. They removed her from among those lying down and told her to get naked for them.
They surrounded her, shone their flashlights on her and waited for her to fulfill their order. However, she stood and did not move. They aimed their machine guns at her and said if she did not get undressed naked, they would shoot her. She just stood and did not move. They attacked her and violently began to tear off her clothing. She wrestled, held her dress tightly, rolled on the ground. In no way did she permit them to uncover her body. They kicked her with their feet, but until her last minute she did not permit [them to undress her]. They began shooting at her with great fury. All 10 shot at her with their machine guns.
They left, sat on their motorcycles and withdrew. Afterward, it became so quiet among the 5,000 Jews who were laying at the horse market.
…My Riva Ruchl'e slept on my lap, tormented, hungry, with dried lips, without a drop of water. I covered her with my fur. It was a cold night with many stars in the sky. Here and there, Jews were heard reciting Psalms. I looked at the sky with the stars and I remembered what I had learned when I was a boy. I learned how God had said to Avraham that just as one cannot count the stars in the sky, thus one will not be able to count
the children who will come after him [Avraham]. And somewhat of a good hope came to me. I hoped for a miracle. All we 5,000 Jews hoped for a miracle that night…
We Recited Vide [Confession]
Thursday morning, the 24th of September 1941, around 6 o'clock, the day began. We saw that it would be a very beautiful day.
The pious Jews with the Olkenik Rabbi, Reb Avraham Ahron Valdszon, with the Eišiškės Rabbi (I no longer remember his name) and their sons-in-law began to recite the vide.
Immediately after arriving, two companies of Siaulistes and Lithuanian police and Lithuanian soldiers, armed from head to feet, with their commandant, Ostrovski at the head, gave a shout:
Men, everyone stand in lines. We need you for work, to fence in Meszczanska Street as a ghetto for you.
Many men stood up; I did not want to stand. I did not believe that we were being taken to work. They counted off 400 men from those who had stood up; they told the remaining ones to sit on the ground again. They led away the 400 Jews counted off. We lay on the ground and waited, knowing nothing about what was being done with the 400 Jews, but I heard deafening and distant shooting. I spoke to my neighbors who were lying with me on the ground, the brothers Layzer and Avraham'ke Khokhim the tailors from Olkenik, Hirshl Malcman, Itshke Dvarcon and Avraham'ke Tajc, the baker's son, all healthy comrades, veteran soldiers, I said to them:
Comrade, it is no good. They are shooting. Let us save ourselves; let us do something. In any case, not go straight. If they shoot, let them shoot us here because we have nothing to lose.
They ridiculed me: A person should enjoy creating a panic! I had only imagined the shooting that I had heard in the distance they said.
No one wanted to believe that they were annihilating us. My wife did believe it and she called to me:
We are now lying on the sand; we need to get accustomed to the sand because it will be our eternal rest.
Three hours later, they came to take new men and gave an order:
Men, everyone stand in rows. I stayed with my decision. I did not stand up and there were more men who did not want to stand up. They began beating us in the head with rifles; many had to stand up. They again counted 400 men and led them away. This time they did not take the group far away, only a half kilometer [three-tenths of a mile], to the cemetery. The shooting of the rifles and the salvos from the machine guns were clearly heard so that the earth shook. The remaining men, women and children began to sob. We looked at this and we could not remain sitting. Everyone stood up and shouted:
It is an emergency. They are shooting all of us!
The guards began to aim their rifles at us and ordered us to again lay down on the ground; if not, they would shoot. No one wanted to obey them. They shot, but no one obeyed them. (Three men fell when the guard began to shoot. Among them, I remember the son-in-law of Dobrushl Faliai, a shoemaker from Lida.) Now was the best opportunity to organize a resistance. We already saw that we were, in any case, doomed. I saw how men and even women and children ran straight to the guards and here the guards were frightened and no longer shot at us, only held their rifles ready. We all ran and shouted with great violence so that we could be heard for perhaps 10 kilometers around. And I thought that now is the time, and I ran to speak with a comrade about what we should do, when suddenly the Siaulistes and Lithuanian policemen ran into the square. They had heard our crying and shouting at the firing range near the cemetery and they began to restore calm with threats and then with nice words, [saying] we should stop the noise because they had something to tell us. We calmed ourselves, wanting to hear what they wanted to tell us. They said: Why are you shouting?
We are not doing anything bad to your men… And simultaneously they showed us a letter written in Yiddish from Leibl Milajkowski, the owner of the Eišiškės flour mill, to his wife and it was written in the letter that they are working and are alive, but they were being threatened, there were shots in the air. And here the Siaulistes indicated to us the highway in the distance and we saw how people were walking along the highway. Then I learned that these were the shepherds, who were driving the cows…
And you see showing the highway your men work there. A few were taken to the Olkenik highway, a number to the Radun highway and everyone is alive and working.
And in order to influence us even more, they took away half of the guards from the place and brought us water to drink. We were calmed. We drank the water, again lay on the ground and hoped this would lead to something better.
Thus passed three hours and, meanwhile, it was quiet. However, suddenly the Siaulistes appeared again with machine guns for a new match of the game. All of the men must stand up. Now, no one wanted to obey, but with heavy blows, they again forced a group of men to stand up and led them away. And now we heard clearly how our best, closest and dearest were being shot. Many of our Deksznie colonists were in the group taken away including many of my wife's family. I think Moisei Gamburg was also among the last group. Our faces were fallen, with our sunken cheeks, with dried, burned lips and our hair stood like nails. We saw mothers and sons saying goodbye, kissing and shouting: we are all going to our death, they are shooting all of us.
(And here Berl Lipszic grabbed his cheeks with both hands and his eyes became disturbed, just as if he had seen a ghost and he screamed the author)
Alas, they are standing before my eyes!
I saw that they were not driving away any women, only men and I felt that I had no way out. I said to my wife:
They are killing us, we are lost, we were waiting for a miracle and a miracle did not come.
My wife responded to me: Berl, do what you can and escape and take revenge for us. She sat on me, covered me with her skirt. My child also sat on me and covered me with her coat and said: Papinke, do not move because they will grab you.
However, it did not help; they looked and searched among the women and when they found a man, they drove him to stand in a row. They also found me, honored me with their rifle butts on my head and in my heart and placed me in the row.
Standing in the row like this, my thoughts ran so quickly, so quickly and here I suddenly remembered that Itshe Petliuk had relied on me. It was still in the morning, after the first group from the hundred men had been taken away. Itshe Petliuk said to his father, Avraham, both Deksznie colonists:
Father, you will see that Berka [nickname for Berl] will escape.
I answered him: How do you know?
He answered: You look so awful, your eyes are bulging and you are very swift (fast, sharp).
And here I remember what my wife had said:
Berl, do what you can and escape and take revenge for us…
…I will not let myself be shot. I will not let myself be shot… Escape Berl, escape and do this quickly; if not, it will be too late… And now they are already driving us and we are the last men, and I look around and see my wife and child in the distance and we are already leaving the marketplace and there are armed Siaulistes on every side. I will not let myself by shot, I will not let myself be shot drills in my brain. Escape Berl, escape…
And then we came to the zalom (bend in the road). I made a jump. I had nothing to lose. They shot after me, but I ran, I ran zig-zagging; I saw a fence in the distance. Oh, if I reach the fence. My heart carried me, I flew, I reached
the fence, jumping over the fence I saw a stall. I ran into the stall; from the stall I entered the attic. Several bales of hay lay in the attic; I buried myself in the hay…
At the Crossroads
The heart drummed; it almost broke. I burrowed deeper and deeper into the hay; I almost suffocated. My breathe left me. I listened. No steps. I did not myself believe that I had been saved. However, soon I heard the cries of women and children that reached the attics of the marketplace. I could not lie calmly; I thought that my wife was shouting: Berl, Berl, that my Ruchl'e was calling: Papa, Papinke…
And suddenly I remembered my father; where was my father? He was not at the marketplace, where was he? Where was he?
And now it became dark. I looked outside. I heard all of the dogs howling from all of the surrounding villages. I heard shooting from time to time., and after the shooting, the dogs' howling became even stronger. And lamps turned off and on at the marketplace. They thus were probably walking around with their flashlights.
I looked out all around to see if anyone was standing. On my tip-toes I dragged myself on the road and went in the direction to the shtetl Radun, 14 kilometers [8.6 miles] from Eišiškės. Walking, I suddenly heard a shout:
Sustok, kas ten eina? (Stop, who goes there?)
I did not stop; I immediately jumped into a garden and lay in a plowed part of the garden. I lay and I listened to nailed boots stomping over the bridge. There was movement and shooting. The shooting stopped; I stood up, took off my boots and barefooted, started in the direction of the nearest Eišiškės padumbliai [algae-filled] marshes. I avoided the bloody shtetl; I walked and I looked around. I walked and stopped. Without a hat, without a fur, my boots in my hands, I walked.
I arrived at the marshes. Sat down, caught my breath, drank the muddy water and smelled the air around me.
I got up; I waded in the marshes. I did not know where I was going. Suddenly I heard the humming of the telegraph lines. I understood that the highway was somewhere nearby. I slowly approached the highway, listened to what was around, heard shooting in the distance. I understood that the shooting was coming from Eišiškės; I went in the opposite direction, further away from the shooting.
I walked back 30 meters [about 98 feet] from the highway and walked alongside the highway. I reached the bridge. This was the Radun bridge. I was afraid to go to the bridge. I lay on the ground, waited; perhaps there was a patrol on the bridge. And the day had begun to dawn. After several minutes of lying on the ground and listening, I crossed the bridge and arrived in Radun when it already was daybreak.
I went to a window of a Jewish house; a wool brusher lived there. I began to knock on the window. They did not answer. But I did not leave and knocked even harder; a woman appeared at the window, deadly frightened. I began to speak to her in Yiddish:
Do not be afraid, do not be frightened, open up, it is a Jew.
She opened the door and I began to tell her from where I had come. She cried; I, myself, cried and spoke. She called her husband and said:
Look what is happening.
Why, perhaps you did something? Perhaps you were a communist party member.
I said that they did not ask us anything. They shot. They did not believe me, said that it could not be and they told me a story that they had not wanted to open the door for me because they were afraid. Last night, Germans were there and made a ruin of the shtetl. They were searching for Jews who were officials with the Soviet regime.
I told them the Germans were beginning
with communists and Endekes [members of the anti-Semitic Polish National Party] [were beginning] with all of the Jews. After everything, they did not want to believe me.
Did I Lose My Mind?
But I could not rest. I asked the wool brush-maker and his wife:
Suggest a person, some Christian, who will go there and see what is happening at the marketplace. Perhaps he could succeed in grabbing my wife and child?
They indicated a Pole who owned a bicycle. They said that perhaps he would accept. I went to the Pole. Not knowing who he was and what he was, I began to kiss his hands and to ask:
Have pity, I will give you my gold watch. I will give you my boots. I will give you my last 100 rubles; I will get more money from somewhere and I will give you more save my wife and child!
And I told him everything that had happened to me and he was moved and took it upon himself to help me. I wrote several words to my wife on a piece of paper, that I was alive, and the Christian would help her. The man immediately rushed away to Eišiškės on his bicycle and I waited and I could not sit still in one place. And now arrived a friend of mine, an Olkeniker, Monish Fajn, who lived in Radun. I told him everything that had happened; he broke into tears, took me to his house, gave me a shirt to change into and a bed. However, how could I lie still? How could I close my eyes?
And the Radun Jews remained here and they began to ask questions and they did not believe me, what I was telling them and they looked at me with suspicion. They thought that I had lost my mind. I could not sit still in one place. Leaving the house, I heard two women talking to each other outside:
The Dekszner bourgeois, alas, has lost his mind.
And everyone looked at me with pity and also with fear. How I was looked at did not bother me. I went to the house where the Pole lived. I waited outside. It already was night when he returned. I saw on his face from afar that he was not bringing me any happy news. He gave me back the letter that I had sent to my wife. He had not found any of the women at the Eišiškės marketplace. They had shot all of the women and children. I developed a great melancholy. I did not want to live. The Radun Jews surrounded me but I could not speak a word to them. I could not look at anyone. I extracted myself from them.
The Radun Rabbi, from the Khofetz-Chaim family I no longer remember his name sent a Jew to bring me to him at his house. The Radun Rabbi was dignified in appearance and he spoke to me with nice words. He told me that I should be his guest, to stay at his house for as long as I wished and that he had a good bed for me. His nice words moved me and I broke into tears in front of him and I told him everything from A to Z and he spoke nice words to me and calmed me a little…
From Radun Ghetto to Lida
And here my memories become a little vague. I cannot remember exactly the order of the events. I only remember that it was Yom Kippur; everyone went to the synagogue, so I also went. I also remember that a Deszinke young woman, Ryvka Yashfe, my cousin, came running to Radun, saving herself from the slaughter (she later perished in another slaughter). She told me that the guards had been drunk with blood and whiskey. A small number of guards had remained. Then, when the men had been taken away to their deaths, they also began to take away the women to their deaths. She and two other young women from the Leipun colony, the shoemaker Pesakh Beker's two daughters, quietly trudged as a group of three and arrived in Radun. They did no see my wife and my child. And then I remember how I ran somewhere to a village; I no longer remember the name of the village and I think that it was not
any village, but some kind of cluster [of houses]. There they told me that women were also hiding who had escaped from the Eišiškės slaughter and as they described one woman among those saved, it seemed to me that this was my Sura. However, arriving there, I did not find my Sura, but three women from Deszinke: Merke Petliuk, Leika Petliuk, Avraham Petliuk's daughters and their sister-in-law, Dwora'ke Petliuk, her childhood name was Rabinovitz. She has a brother in America, Layzer Rabinovitz is his name. They ran through the swamps two days and two nights until they reached the village.
And then I do not remember how I returned to Radun. I also do not remember who told me that my father was alive and that he had been back in Radun for a few days and he had left Radun in the direction of Lida. I decided to go with Ryvka Yashfe in the direction of Lida to look for my father…
There at the Neiman [River] we met a group of Jewish partisans from Natszer Fuszce [Natskovichi]. They were walking to make contact at our base with their commandant, Stankevitz, and with the commandant's aide, Leibke Kac, an Olkeniker, my acquaintance.
Olkeniker in the Lida Ghetto
And here I met Meir'ke Fajn from our shtetl Olkenik in the Lida ghetto. His niece, Surale Rybak, also was with him. Surale Rybak had escaped to Lida from Grodno. She escaped with her older brother, Abrashke, 20 years old, [and] with her younger brother of 12 and a sister. I no longer remember their names. The brothers and the sister were shot in the middle of the street in Shtutchin [Ščiutinas] but she, Sura'ke [another nickname for Surale] Rybak., ran into a house and survived. I persuaded Meir'ke Fajn and Sura'ke Rybak that we should escape to the forest. They were prepared [to do so]. But where do we get weapons, I asked them. Meir'ke said that he knew a locksmith in the Lida ghetto, from Sulwaki, who was called Rub'ke the locksmith, and he would be able to provide us with weapons. I said to Meir'ke: Take me immediately to Rub'ke the locksmith. Meir'ke took me right away. I found this Meir'ke in his workshop, a good lad and an excellent mechanic. There was a reason the scoundrels had let him live. He possessed golden hands and could make everything.
I told Rub'ke why I had come to him; he said to me that he had a German rifle with 40 bullets. I asked him to show it to me; I want to look at it. He answered: it is buried in a hiding place. The hiding place was created secretly in the workshop. It was impossible to recognize when one was in the workshop that there was a secret there. There was a place there in the very back part of the workshop, littered with various iron scraps. When one pushed the scraps, one needed to move away a board and an opening appeared that led to the cellar. However, he was afraid to show me the rifle during the day. I waited in the workshop with him until night. He went down to the hiding place, I after him. And he showed me the rifle. I looked at the rifle and saw that it was not a new one. Constructed from various pieces. He, Rub'ke, said to me that he had actually put it together in his workshop using various broken rifles. I tried the bolt; did it throw out a bullet and did the trigger (lavochke) work well? Everything worked well, but the barrel was dirty.
I wanted to put in a bullet and shoot it out into the ground, test it, but he did not let me.
The gun is good he said to me we only have to clean out the barrel. He began to work immediately and did so with great desire. He was somehow very cheerful; perhaps he knew why I needed the rifle.
Where are you going? Into which forest? he suddenly asked me. And do you know someone among the partisans?
Yes I answered him I have heard that Jankele Gamburg, the son of our soltis [village magistrate], Misha Gamburg of Deksznie, is among the partisans in the forest. Meir'ke had heard this from someone in the ghetto.
Do you have man who knows the way? he asked me.
There is such a man who knows the road I answered him and I have a company of 12 people with me.
I forgot to tell you that before I met Meir'ke Fajn, I had already agreed with eight comrades in the ghetto to join the partisans.
Take me with you, too Rub'ke requested of me. I have a nagant [automatic pistol] and 20 grenades.
We really need such [things] I responded and you are coming with us. I left him cleaning the rifle and I ran to my group. This was late at night; I arranged with my group that at exactly 12 o'clock at night we would leave the ghetto…
I arrived at the spot where I had arranged to meet the group and they were almost all ready. Yankl Gorfajn, one of the group whom we completely trusted to show us the way because he had returned from the partisans a few days ago let me know that everything was auspicious.
It was this way with Yankele Gorfajn:
He, himself, from Lida, had a bride in the ghetto, a young woman from Eišiškės. They had both gone through the horrors, tortures, exterminations and survived. It was a very beautiful love between them. Yankele, some time ago, had sneaked out of the ghetto alone and joined the partisans. There, he could not rest. He longed so strongly for his bride.
And it truly took great heroism by him to return to the ghetto for his bride. It was just like returning to the gallows and placing one's head in the noose. But there were many such heroic young men and even such heroic young women, who, after barely escaping from the ghetto with their lives, went to the partisans; one returned to the ghetto for their bride, another for a sister, for a father. As I will further relate to you.
In general, I told my friend that I was ready to immediately run back to Rub'ke for the rifle. He stood, blackened by smoke and could in no way remove the rag from the gun barrel. Not in this way and not in that way. He heated the ramrod (cleaning rod) to a glow to force through the rag, but nothing helped. And here the time was approaching. It was already 12 o'clock and Meir'ke Fajn came running and said: well, we have to leave…
See that a misfortune has occurred the rifle is not working!
The end was that the rifle could not be cleaned out and the group left without me.
Nine men left. You can yourself imagine in what kind of situation I found myself.
I found my father in the ghetto. Seeing me, he said: now they will kill us. They will look for you at work at the train station; you cannot remain here in the ghetto because you are not registered. However, I did not want to go without a rifle because I knew from the stories that were being told that the partisans strongly frowned upon new people who came to them without a rifle. In addition, a rifle was useful on the road before one made their way to the partisans. If I did extract myself from the ghetto, I would not surrender alive if I met the murderers on the way. And, therefore, I did not want to go without a rifle. That night, after my comrades had left without me, I thought that I would die from resentment. My father cried. I consoled him and said: Tata [Daddy], do not worry, we will, in any case, go to the forest. At the most, it will be in a day or two. We still have to find a place to hide for the few days. The ghetto in Lida was on Pastovski [Street] and Chladne alley. We found a pit somewhere in an anteroom and we hid there. We lay there until the second night; I rushed from there and went to Rub'ke. What is with the rifle? I asked him. Beaming, he answered that everything was working. The barrel had been cleaned out through and through a pleasure. The rag was taken out piece by piece.
However, now I had a new task; we had to
organize a new company. One did not go alone. And here the door of the workshop opened and Meir'ke Fajn ran in and began to kiss me:
What happened? I was frightened how did you come here?
Oy, he said, how fortunate you are, you have so much luck! What is it? He told me an entire history:
All nine men left the ghetto. It was quiet around us. We walked and felt the way until we reached the tracks of the Maladechnie [Malyavshchina] train line. Jumping over the tracks, arriving at the Vilna train line, also jumping over, everything was good. However, we came to the Deksznie bridge where suddenly there opened fire on us. The group ran in all directions. But Yankele's bride could not run. If she was wounded or what else, Yankele placed her on his shoulders and in that way ran. I do not know if they are still alive or not. Only I, of the group, returned to the ghetto.
A scant three years passed as Berl and his father, Levi, wandered, here a day, here a night, in the ghetto, in the forest, with Christians and among the partisans. In time, Berl married while with the partisans, and with his father and his wife, he was alive for the liberation.
After the Destruction
The next morning, we, I, my father and my wife, started on the road to Olkenik. The Red Army stormed on all the roads and paths, everywhere, everywhere, as if water was forcefully escaping from the oaks. Arriving in the village of Niezdiel (Novidvor), near the cross at the crossroads, I saw three Jews: Avraham'ke, Yudke, the son of Cerni the wagon driver from Olkenik, Kushke Solc and his son, Rafal'ke, also from Olkenik, shabby, ragged, pale, hollow-cheeked like skeletons. Only their eyes shone. They threw themselves on us, kissing [us]: so here is Berl, so here is Leiba, where were you?
My wife gave them pieces of chocolate that she had received from a Red Army [soldier]. They laughed when they saw the pieces of chocolate. They had just come out of the dark pit to the bright world and, here suddenly, they were being given chocolate! They could not understand this.
How did you survive the entire time? we asked them. They pointed across to the house of a Polish peasant, a poor peasant; he hid them the entire time since the Eišiškės slaughter. He had dug out a pit in the barn, made a bunker, camouflaged, and he carried them food every day. So, and where is your wife, your daughter? I was asked at Kushke Solc's.
He led me into the house to the peasant and showed me that his wife, Yokhke, lay on a bench and no longer recognized people. She had simply lost her mind in the dark bunker; we could not talk to her. Her daughter, Ryvka, looked well (a year earlier, Ryvka had married an Eišiškės young man).
We spent a considerable time in the house, spoke from the heart. Thanked the peasant; we gifted him with a fur, a short jacket, a blanket. The peasant's house, a farmhouse, a tiny one, separated from all of the other houses. A poor peasant, emaciated, in bast [woven bark] shoes, without ceremony. He wife was also a small one, thin, with half a dozen children. During the time he was hiding Jews in his farmhouse, the Germans, Lithuanian fascists, Polish fascists came to him; they searched, rummaged. They were suspicious of him. However, it passed peacefully. Several days later, we called this peasant to come to Olkenik and we loaded him with gifts. We filled an entire wagon with various furniture and clothing and also gave him a fat milk cow. Where did we get all of these things? We took it from Lithuanian fascists who had looted Jewish goods.
We all lived in Yosha Zubiske's house. It was almost empty, only Tamoshke the shoemaker lived in the kitchen.
When night arrived, it was so strange to be in a house, the only Jews in the
entire shtetl. Olkenik was almost like my birthplace. Deksznie colonists and Olkenik Jews were almost one. I had just as many friends in Olkenik as in Deksznie, and suddenly I had the thought that we were the only survivors from so many friends of our youth and I thought of Yankl, Moshe, Rub'ke and more and more. And I, myself, do not believe if I was really alive or if I was walking around in the oylem hatoye [world of chaos].
In the Deksznie Colony
Early in the morning, we three left for the colony: I, my father and my wife. My heart pounded; what would we find there and who would we find there?
I had walked on this road back and forth so many times. On this road we had led wagons of hay from the Olkenik meadows and we had sung songs. On these roads, before we married, I and my Sura strolled on the Shabbosim and during the holidays. The same road, the same small trees, the same bushes nothing had changed. Only we did not meet any Jewish colonists who would ride or walk on foot to the shtetl Olkenik and greet each other. My father and I were the last two Jews from Deksznie who still were walking on this road.
The dust that we raised with our boots creeped into our nostrils. It was familiar dust. It reminded me of my childhood when I ran barefoot in the dust.
We walked, all three of us heavily armed. I carried a submachine gun. In addition to that submachine gun, I had grenades taken from a German murdered during their general police raid. One could not know, perhaps those who looted our houses and tortured us so much saw us and wanted to hurt us.
We came closer and closer. Here we saw the roof of the synagogue from a distance. Here we saw my father's two-story house, painted a sky-blue color. Here we saw the tin roof of my house, which shone like silver.
And there was still hope that, perhaps, arriving in Deksznie we would meet some Jews.
On the road we met my Lithuanian peasants. They looked at us in fear and in wonder. They greeted us, but we turned away our heads from them.
We entered Selo Deksznie. Peasants arrived, but not the guilty ones, the others who particularly took revenge against the Jews who the others hid.
From where have you come? they asked affably.
We are alive and surprisingly - we answered and did not want to say more to them. My father rushed to see his house and my wife and I rushed to see our house. The currants pour over me. All of the small trees are brightly red. The bees fly here and back to their work and are very busy. I go through the grass and I cry: my Riva Ruchl danced here among the trees. Here my wife watered the flower beds.
The furniture in no longer in the house. Only flower pots remain. We had 50 flower pots in the house. My wife loved flower pots. All 50 pots remained. The Lithuanian peasant, Matska Sabeliunis, the same one I took into my house after the Pūčkornės fire and he then became my heir [he took my house]; he ran next to me, bowed to the waist, wanted to greet me. I turned my face from him. I did not want to speak to him. I went from room to room, up to the attic, afterward down to the cellar. Nothing remained. The beds, the cupboards, the tables. the lamps and the chandeliers everything had disappeared.
In the cellar I dug out the secret. No one had touched the secret. There in a small tea tin were hidden my wife's gold rings and earrings.
I had a second house, inherited from my grandfather. It stood across the street. A Lithuanian woman, Magre the deaf woman, had lived there for many years. She called me in to tell me many details.
She told me how when Matska Sabeliunis married off his daughter, he gave her a dowry of all of our pillows, featherbeds and blankets. The furniture was taken out and sold. They slaughtered one cow; they sold the second one to the Germans. The third one
they gave away to their daughter and so on. And so on.
I went to other Jewish houses that the Pūčkornės neighbors had inherited. The same in all the other Jewish houses.
The Hand of Revenge
I said to my father: Tata [Daddy], from now on and further, we will not rest until we eradicate all of those who have slaughtered our Jews. My father responded: you are saying the truth, my son. That is why we remained alive, to take revenge on the bandits.
In Deksznie I took the last cow that still remained of my cows, loaded other household goods in a wagon and took them to Olkenik to Zubiske's house. Then I left for the Soviet municipal regime and declared that I wanted to eradicate all fascist elements that remained in the surrounding area. I was immediately designated as auxiliary commandant of Olkenik. I first took a company of Red Army [soldiers] and left for Deksznie. I surrounded the entire colony and we went to search for active pogromists. They could no longer hide from me because I already knew all of the secrets and hiding places. We arrested around 25 fascists and took them to Olkenik. A separate investigation commission studied their crimes very thoroughly. We brought many Lithuanians as witnesses and all of the 25 arrestees confessed everything and we carried out justice according to the law.
Afterward, I left with a company of the Red Army to the village of Chizhuny [Čižiūnai], near Olkenik. There, we arrested 15 pogromists who had taken part in the Eišiškės slaughter. And they also received what they had earned.
And in the time between, groups of Germans still went around who wanted to force their way to the front because the front was not far from Alite, near Neiman. We ferreted them out day and night, and caught them in the woods and in the bushes and brought them to the military.
Told by Levi Lipszic (Berl's father)
Written by Khaver Paver [pen-name of Gershon Einbinder] in an American newspaper
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
I Escape from the Hospital
I quickly left the Eišiškės hospital where the murderers killed my wife and child before my eyes. I looked: the entire city was surrounded by Siaulistes. I entered Yitzhak Buzgan's house and spoke up:
Let us escape because it is bad.
He said: it is erev [eve of] Rosh Hashanah, I will not run. What happens to all of the Jews will also happen to me.
I grabbed a koshek (a basket) with fork with which one digs potatoes and I left for the field. The Lithuanian guard stopped me and asked: Where are you going? I said: I was going to dig potatoes; I would be right back. They let me through. I went to the field, acted as if I was digging potatoes and lay down the basket. The guard watched me for a time, but soon they no longer looked at me and I walked further and further into the field until I was out of their view. I threw away the basket and the potato fork and began to run. I ran the entire day between marshes and forests, without a road, and I heard shooting from Eišiškės.
I encountered a Lithuanian in the forest and asked him: Where is the road to Radun?
He stared at me and said to me: Do you not know that all of the Jews are being shot like dogs? I said: I did not know about this. He said to me: Take off your shoes. I sized him up and saw that he was much taller and stronger, but I did not want to take off my shoes. He ran to me and wanted to grab me by the throat. I had a stick in my hand which I had earlier broken off a tree. I poked him across his eyes with the stick and I began to run.
Where I was running, I did not know; it was almost night. I was very weary and afraid, hungry. Thus I came to a meadow, I saw a Christian with a hoop to catch horses walking in the meadow. I asked him: How far is it to Radun? He said: 16 kilometers [almost 10 miles]. And from Eišiškės to Radun is another 12 kilometers [almost seven and a half miles]. That is, I had gotten lost and was far away.
I said to him: Take me to Radun, I will give you my shoes. They were still new shoes. Yes, he said, I am going to get a horse, I will take you. Wait.
And he showed me his house in the distance, that I should wait there.
I asked him, on what road will you take me to Radun? Through Eišiškės he answered me. I said: No, not through Eišiškės. Perhaps you have another way. He thought for a long time and said that he had another way. I left for the Christian's house and he left for the horse. I met his wife inside the house. I told her what I had arranged with her husband. She said nothing, was quiet and looked at me. And now it was becoming night and the shooting from the direction of Eišiškės became louder and louder.
The Yeshuvnik [villager]
I waited and waited and he still had not come with the horse. I thought that I would no longer wait for him. However, now he was coming with the horse; he sat at the table and calmly ate his dinner. When he finished eating, I said to him: why are you not hitching up the horse? He said to me: you will not travel. I asked him, why? He said to me: How can you tell me I should go; it is already dark. I said to him: In addition to the shoes, I will give you my jacket, take me at least half the way. His wife said: Even if you give my husband 1,000 zlotes, I will not let him go. I began to leave the house; he stood near the door and did not let me and told me to spend the night with him. I thought: Why is this a matter of life and death for him that I should spend the night with him? Maybe he wanted to do something bad to me while I slept. I began to think very quickly about what to do until I had an idea and I said to him: Yes, I will spend the night with you. I am really very tired, but bring me some straw from the barn.
He left for the barn for straw; I sprang for the door and began to run and his wife also immediately ran out and began to shout:
Yanko, the Jew is escaping.
He grabbed something in his hand and started after me. I jumped over the bushes. It was very dark and I hid under a bush. I heard them searching around for me and he cursed his wife:
Let us hope you become swollen; why did you not lock the door!
Then I ran and ran. The day began to dawn. Where do I run? I did not know. I suddenly saw a Jew on the road, a yeshuvnik, who was carrying two jugs of milk. I said to him: Where are you taking the milk? He said:
They are killing Jews in Eišiškės, I am taking the milk to hide with a neighbor, a Christian. I said to him: The milk is worthless; throw it away and let us escape. No, he said, it is a waste of milk… Let us escape, we are unfortunate. They killed my wife and my child. He said: His wife had taken a pack of things to hide with an honest gentile. It was a kilometer [.6 miles] from here and he could not escape without her.
I waited with him for his wife. And he gave me milk to drink from a jug. Meanwhile, he told me that he was a blacksmith and lived here in the village Bartnik and that it was six kilometers [3.7 miles] from Radun. We waited and waited and we did not see his wife. I asked him to show me the road to Radun and I began running alone.
I ran a distance of two kilometers [1.2 miles]; from afar I saw that there was a wagon of Jews. And I could no longer run because one of my feet was chafed and it was bloody. I began to shout and the wagon stopped. The Christian wagon driver did not want to take me until I gave him my jacket. The Jews in the wagon all were
from Eišiškės and they told me what was happening there, how all of the Jews had been brought from Deksznie, Leipun [Leipalingis] and Olkenik and they were imprisoned in the stalls and houses of prayer with the Eišiškės Jews and multitudes of Lithuanian police had come to the city.
We arrived at the Radun bridge. Jews from the Judenrat [Jewish council] stood on the bridge and advised us that it would be better for us to go to Zermunia [Žirmūnai], which was near Lida because Radun was too close to Eišiškės and the Germans would search for the Jews who escaped from to Radun from Eišiškės.
I Find My Son
I went to Žirmūnai; this was 35 kilometers [almost 22 miles] from Radun. The remaining Jews in the wagon disappeared somewhere. They probably entered Radun through side roads. The Judenrat in Radun had given me a note to take to the Jews in Žirmūnai. I walked the entire day and night. I met Christians on the road, but they were quiet and did not say anything to me.
I arrived in Žirmūnai; I related what had happened to me and immediately, an emissary, a Christian, was sent to find out what was happening in Eišiškės.
The emissary, a good Christian, a miller, hitched his horse and wagon and left for Eišiškės. He returned in two days. I asked him what was happening there; he called me outside, pointed to his wagon, bloodied through and through and answered me:
So, what is happening in Eišiškės?
He told me how they were killing all of the Jews in Dekszenie, Leipun, Eišiškės and Olkenik, and that when he arrived there and looked at what was happening, he immediately wanted to turn around, but he was forced to take the murdered Jews in his wagon to a large grave and, therefore, the wagon was bloodied.
I already understood that there was no one left from my family and of all of my neighbors and I deeply regretted that I was now alone. I left for Lida. I no longer walked on the side roads, but on the main highway. It did not matter to me what would happen. I took off the yellow patch and walked straight. Many Germans were traveling on the road. They all looked at me, but it no long mattered to me that they were watching me. It is 15 kilometers [over 9 miles] from Žirmūnai to Lida. I arrived there; Jews surrounded me. I told them about the great misfortune, but the did not believe me. It does not make sense that they would begin killing for no reason.
I do not remember what else happened to me. I also do not remember the order of the events. I no longer remember where I stayed in Lida and where I was on Yom Kippur. I remember only something about meeting a woman who had escaped from Eišiškės and she told me that she had heard from others that the doctor from the Eišiškės hospital had sent my wife, Chaya, and my child to Radun.
I did not understand; I had seen with my own eyes how Ostrovski had shot her and the policeman had smashed the child against a wall.
However, I no longer trusted myself, thought, perhaps from fear, I had made this up, perhaps this was a dream, when sometimes a person dreams very frightening things.
And I began to run in the direction of Radun. I ran for a day and a night. I no longer know with what strength I had run. Even a horse would not have passed me. I already was not far from Radun, two or three kilometers [about 1 or 2 miles], when suddenly I noticed a man and a woman in a field. But they were far away. I stared: Oh, this is my son Berl! But how could this be? Everyone said that he had perished in the Eišiškės slaughter! I lost my mind that I would think up such foolishness. Earlier, I had thought that my wife, Chaya, and my daughter were alive and I was running here like a fool for a day and a night and now a new delusion.
However, I ran right on the other side and I came closer. I saw deadly pale eyes, the lips burned, dark. But it was my son, my Berl! I ran to him, fell on his chest and began to cry…
by Kalman Farber
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
The news that the regime of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic was organizing a protest demonstration in Ponar [Ponary, Paneriai], at the annihilation spot of Vilna and provincial Jews went through the Elektritas factory, where over 80 percent of the surviving Vilna Jews worked after the liberation, like an electrical storm.
We had been free for only a few days. We could not see our Ponar. Ponar is still today occupied and guarded by soldiers and ammunition camps.
Ponar: who in the Vilna area remembers your name without trembling?
Ponar Mountain! Where is the mourner who is able to express in words the great elegy over the mountain of graves and roads?
Ponar Mountain, mountain of Ponar! With dew and with tears! May your earth be locked from rain and dew. For the blood of tens of thousands of holy martyrs, holy victims that was absorbed by it.
All of the Jews went into the street from the workshops, factories, cooperatives, offices.
The demonstration grew spontaneously in the street in front of the train station from which we were going to travel.
Every group prepared its train cars. Polish leftist worker elements also traveled with it.
We were traveling: the mood, as always, was depressed. The wound was still fresh. Only a few days had passed since we had been freed. It was difficult to accustom oneself to this idea, that all of the last Vilner camp Jews, around 3,000, who remained and worked in the camps of H.K.P. [Heereskraftpark repaired German military vehicles], Kailis [made winter clothing for German military], Gestapo, war quarantine stations, after the liquidation of the ghetto, were the last victims who perished at the Ponar Mountain. Shh, quiet, do not say anything. We are joined together; we have a common fate and experienced the same sad history.
The train stopped in the middle of a field.
The locomotive made the same calculation and instinctively remained standing.
Here! Actually here! On this spot, here he would remain standing, but the difference is a great one and in other circumstances. Then he led martyrs to martyrdom and he himself, the cannibal, was led to the hangmen.
Today! He leads a liberated mass of people to the sacred memorial spot; they should take account of themselves and give an account to the world.
And when a shiver runs through your soul, you remember that here you are standing on the same ground, here among the same small trees and the same carts where they had led and driven, beaten and tortured our best and dearest fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters and our children. Not long ago, they had lured into a trap here the Ashmin [Ašmonai] and Sventzion [Švenčionys], Smorgon and Kreve [Karvys] Jews, over 4,000 martyrs, among them, prominent men, righteous men, the most saintly.
And at the spot, they actually staged a resistance with bare fists and unarmed bodies, with nails and teeth bit into the enemies' bodies and in a struggle with fire, with blood and flesh, they fell, hacked, cut, but several saved themselves, a few witnesses remain.
The wild legend of the annihilation place of Ponar is a reality!
Ponar! the terror word of the Vilna ghetto is a fact.
Only they do not speak; there is no language. You see only by one and by another an eye filled with tears that search for a place on which the tears can fall.
Three o'clock in the afternoon. We cross the highway, cross the railroad lines. We walk with the cart in the direction of the barbed wire fence.
And suddenly a stampede… We run even quicker and are quiet, through the sawn tree trunks and barbed wire and remain standing near an open gate. Until today I do not understand the secret of our stampede. Let it be an instinctive, internal one that chased and drove us, called and drew us to the holy place.
We enter to the right of the small gate in the barbed wire and unwillingly remain standing.
Yes! Here the victims knew for certain where they were going; where their fate led them and it was certain that here also they remained standing and asked where? And why?
Here began the last inquisitional tortures, humiliations, blows and ridiculing. Here, the victims were [forced to] undress until naked and were led to a pit in groups of ten and to go through a cordon of hooligans. Who can imagine such a scene in their fantasy? But, have you heard what several survivors have had to say?
Jews also went here with confidence and strength and bravely, boldly sang baTsar Yisroel [With the Tsar of Israel].
The gate, the square, every tree and blade of grass, if they could open their mouths and tell secrets, who knows if we would be able to listen to them.
The blood-thirsty German beasts, sadistic cannibals raged.
And not fewer than they, also our neighbors, the Lithuanian ypatinga special platoons, those actually carrying out the orders.
We immediately went to the mound of the first freshly opened mass grave! The smell of corpses, of death was felt.
Here on the hill, the true picture was revealed to us; a living witness of the murderous, barbaric gruesomeness.
Here lay before my eyes my brothers and sisters, my closest and dearest ones, in a round pit.
Displayed in a painfully wild order.
The top row all with faces down, close to one another.
Here one recognized on several faces the traces of their last thoughts; the course of their experiences that were found in the expression in the lines of their faces, standing at the margin of life.
Here I saw a face, exhausted, but calm and even a satisfied calmness as a person looks after a hard day of work, when he lay down to rest.
Who knew, perhaps he had barely waited to be shot in a row; and was lucky and satisfied to finally receive a bullet in the head; to be ransomed from the superhuman torturing and suffering, of watching how his best and closest were murdered and tortured.
Here was another cloudy face: as if he had exhaled his soul in a heavy struggle. A third a frightened face, also tense, [with] a little arrogant and haughty expression. Perhaps he had laughed and spit in the murderer's face.
Several lay in things, other half undressed, many only the skeletons. Here sit women in one slipper, barefoot. For them for the Nazis and Lithuanians, everything was goods Jewish things.
The second row under them lay with their faces down. As has been established, they were laid down first and waiting in the row to be shot. The majority had bullets to the head.
They would shoot others who provoked them in other parts of the body and call out wild inhuman, vulgar shouts, stand and be delighted at how the victim begged for a bullet, more quickly to be redeemed from the suffering. There was no lack of wild scenes that cannot even be described on paper.
Many of the victims spit in the faces of the murderers, calling them by their true names and even with bare hands and teeth bit the murderous throats and smelled the pleasure of the revenge of Amalek and Kiddish haShem [death as martyrs, in sanctification of God's name]. They no longer had to wait for death in the row; they were tortured on the spot.
A few dozen lie in a corner in disarray, thrown one on another, [in] military great coats. These are Soviet prisoners of war.
The smell of death hurts the nose and yet you stand petrified on the spot, without feelings. This place is somewhat dear to you.
In the city, in the street is a sadness, a darkness; you go through streets that were pure Jewish streets, which flowed with life, with Jews. Today a sadness, a Jew looking for a remedy is not here. Even the houses are ruins, broken, despondent.
And here, all of yours! Here they are; the last of the deportations; they had lived with you in suffering and joy
and we spoke so much about Ponar. Others trembling and others with even an obsession, and we said: Oh, when will we be liberated from the fear of death. Yes, from fear, but not from death!
How jealous we were of those who died a natural death!
Downhill, further to the left, opposite, two long rows of graves. About 20 meters long, four meters wide. Nearby, a smaller grave with the inscription Children's grave. Near it the grave of the last one who perished, Doctor Fajgusz.
You remember the scenes, the way children would struggle and run to their mothers.
The mothers would beg the hangmen to shoot them first so as not to see the death of their children. However, the murderers had their last pleasure not indulging them and doing the opposite.
Further, on the mounds, large pits, covered, all former mass graves, from which the corpses had been taken out and burned in order to erase the traces of murder.
Higher on the mountain, we remained standing near a large, round, cemented pit, 21 meters [almost 69 feet] in diameter, seven meters [almost 23 feet] deep (high). A pit that was prepared on a former benzene reservoir for the Soviet Army. Almost 70 Jews and non-Jews had lived and worked in the pit, dug to burn their own brothers.
They had no contact with the external world. They lived here in the pit, worked and fell. From seven early [in the morning] until four [o'clock], over the course of three months, they burned approximately 50,000 people.
They would lay out two levels in lines of 40 bodies; they covered them with wood and tar. And after burning them, spread the ash and sprinkled it with sand.
The corpses would be carried up to the second level on an iron ladder. The ladder still stands there today, as evidence of all of the horrors. The ladder is black and sticky from blood. Pieces of bone, gums, buttons torn from human bodies stick to its sides to this day, witnesses in memory of the unknown to the eternal shame. Here you cannot pass by indifferently, without making a fist against the enemy. And yet [you are] quiet!
Here the Jews worked under a German-Lithuanian guard. After the work they were lowered into the pit and the ladder was drawn up. Several strong mirrors had been installed on mounds on both sides of the pit. The S.S. members heavily guarded their victim-workers, who were shackled in chains on to another. Here in the pit they had plank beds, a place to sleep on boards and a wooden shack for a kitchen and they had a privy.
On the 29th of January 1944, a few men began to dig an underground tunnel. They carried out the sand in their pants pockets. Using only their hands and an eating spoon, they dug the tunnel. Over the course of two and a half months, a tunnel 40 meters [over 19 and half feet] in length and 60 centimeters in height [almost two feet] and 70 centimeters [over two feet] wide. Worked day in, day out. On the 15th of April, they finished the tunnel and they were supposed to go out.
The sick and weak among them who had no strength to go with them did not want to remain alone, afraid of the suffering that awaited them, because all Jews are responsible for each other one Jew is responsible for another. The exit of the tunnel was on the other side of the hill on which the guard stood. The woods were fenced in with barbed wire.
Because of a lack of security, one of the escapees fell. The guards heard the noise and in the middle of the night opened fire on the escaping men. The searchlights every kilometer [.6 miles] distance [provided] illumination.
Of the escaping total of 13 Jews and seven Soviet prisoners of war, barely four survived. Among the fallen was Moshe Strecanski of Olkenik, may his blood be avenged.
The entire woods were seeded with handkerchiefs, wallets, torn pieces of money of all [kinds of] foreign currency, combs and so on. All of many, very many trifles you remember and teach you a great deal.
The highest Lithuanian personalities spoke at the meeting. By the way, they also remembered the Jews who perished here as well as the professors from the Lithuanian University, Noakh Prilucki and Epsztajn, who, after very long hardships and
torturing in the cellars of the Gestapo, were brought here to Ponar.
How cold and lonely it becomes in the hearts of the surviving handful of Jews, the Holocaust survivors, for even one moan of Jewish hardship, for the lack of compassion for the Jews, how everything must have been!…
Even here in our Ponar we are superfluous. Everything belongs to them, to the gentiles; the world, the life and the enjoyment of life. For us death, too, begrudges us.
The only Jewish speaker, the respected Vilner Dr. Liba, said a few cordial words, also in their language. And the meeting had officially ended with stormy applause and outcries in honor of the liberators; we, a meager minyon [10 men required for group prayer] of surviving Vilna Jews, walked to the open mass grave, held a memorial service for our best and closest, brothers and sisters, children and parents. Our souls joined and united with the holy souls of our saintly martyrs in Ponar. And together [we] cried out and called out into the large, empty universe: Yitgadal v'yitkadash sh'mei raba [Mourner's Kaddish prayer: Glorified and sanctified be God's great name]!
by K. F__R
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
A memorial candle for the sacred souls of my father Ruwin and my mother Chana Fayge, may God avenge their blood.
I was a small child when my Grandfather Beynish died. I was not yet going to school. My grandfather loved me very much. He looked after me and gave me good things and kindness. I remember very well how he captured my heart and spirit with his beautiful stories, with the smart sayings, ingenious speech and witticisms.
When he was convinced that I was pleased and was satisfied with a gift, he would always repeat the same expression and say to me, his very small grandson:
Tell me, my child: if you, God willing, grow up and are big, and I, your grandfather, am no longer alive will you still remember me then and will you also sometimes light a candle for the elevation of my soul?
I grew up, left home and went to study far from friends and family, from where I had spent my childhood years.
And when I would come home to my parents for a holiday, my relatives would remind me every time of my grandfather's words in his will and asked if I had forgotten the last plea of my Grandfather Benish, of blessed memory.
I think about that today and every day; the request and testament of my grandfather ring in my memory.
This also was the last plea of my martyred parents, and the last plea of all fathers and mothers; we should remember their names and memorialize their memories, at least light a memorial candle in their memory.
I am convinced and certain that at the last moment of your life, when you stood on the threshold of life and death, near the cruel, frightening grave in Eišiškės, sickly and exhausted, dejected and alone and you made your last and terrible spiritual appraisal your prayer and wish was surely just like my plea, when I was in the same position in the ghetto and camp, that there would be someone to take revenge on the criminal, on the German-Nazi wild animal and that someone would remain on the earth that will remember to light a memorial candle for the elevation of your souls.
I think that with your complete and pure belief in God and with your full belief in the eternity of the Jewish people, you knew and were certain that the pure blood that was spilled
for His holy name was not spilled in vain. The Creator weighs and counts each drop of blood and there is certainly a judgement and a judge present for everything.
You knew that the young seedlings that you planted and then looked after and raised with the blood from you heart and with the nobility of your spirit that they will certainly honor your name and immortalize your memory and will remember to light the neshome likhtl [candle lit in memory of someone who has died] for the elevation of the souls of the holy fathers and mothers who fell oyf Kiddush haShem [as martyrs in the sanctity of God's name]. May God take revenge for their blood.
Dear sons of Olkenik, how you went to the slaughter in the presence of the enemy.
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Valkininkai, Lithuania Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2022 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 09 Mar 2022 by JH