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[Page 99]

The Destruction of Zelva

 

The Destruction of My Family

by Sala Koyat

It was not given to me to place even a small flower on the graves of my family, because I do not know where they are located. I think of my loved ones, that were destroyed, day and night, and I will not forget them so long as there is life within me.

I had three sisters and a brother, and three uncles from both my father and mother's side, and I beg their forgiveness for having left them in Zelva, and making aliyah to the Holy Land to fulfill the dream of my life.

It was in 1939, three months before the outbreak of the war, when all my ties to you were severed, and I heard nothing from you. Where did you go? There were among you, tiny youngsters who hadn't had the chance to have a taste of life, and what a brutal and bitter fate to which you were condemned! I cannot forgive myself, and occasionally I think that if I were only with you, and I was the oldest one, perhaps I could have helped to save some of you. This matter constantly interferes with my peace of mind, even though I am the mother of three children and a grandmother.

Oh, mother, I am today much older than you were when I last saw you. What sort of evil and bitter fate befell our family, as befell the rest of the members of our town. Not one single member of our family was saved, and I was left alone, without a relative with whom to eat, or speak, to simply chat, and with whom to exchange memories about our wonderful little town that we had - Zelva.

I remember every doorstep, every street, every nook, the place where I grew up, the place where I obtained a Jewish and Zionist education.

My father was an educated man. In the wintertime, he used to bind books and sacred texts. I remember seeing him absorbed in a book, reading and learning instead of working, and afterwards, he would tell it all to the children. He used to say to us: “children, learn and read a lot, because there is a great deal to learn”

We had a home that was very warm and full of love, and our parents always used to talk to us and tell us things.

I belonged to the HaShomer HaTza'ir movement. We thirsted after knowledge and understanding of the Holy Land. Our town was far from the big cities, and we were always thirsty for new ideas, but we had teachers and leaders who satisfied this need and we learned a lot from them.

Even though we had a meager sustenance in our household, the children all got their education at the Tarbut School.

Others have already written a great deal about our Zelva, and I won't repeat this.

With the encouragement of my parents, I left to prepare myself in order to accelerate the hour of fulfillment of our dream. There were parents, though, who were opposed to this approach.

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It is now 45 years since I came to the Holy Land in June 1939 as part of Aliyah Bet. My life on the kibbutz was outstanding. I left the kibbutz, because I had the idea that I would leave the country after the end of the war to try and bring some of the children back to the land of Israel. To my great pain, all of this turned out to be in vain.

The first one to bring us any news of Zelva, was Moteleh Loshovitz, who visited the town after the war and found not a single person there. The wound is very great, and it will never heal. We take comfort in our land of Israel, that was established in our time, and we are commanded to guard her, and to persevere in building her up, and strengthen her for the sake of our children who will come after us!!!

We have to offer a Yashir Koach to our friend Yerachmiel Moorstein for his effort, his dedication, and his stubbornness to perpetuate the memory of our beloved town, and for putting down in writing its history, and a blessing too on all our other comrades, who lent a hand in this undertaking to produce this Memorial Book.

I pray that my children and grandchildren will read this sacred Memorial Book, and that they will learn about a chapter of the life of the Jewish Diaspora, and it its midst, the town of Zelva in which their mother, Sala Koyat was raised and educated.

 

Eliakim the Avenger

by Yerachmiel Moorstein

For their entire existence, the Jews suffered pogroms and persecutions, but could they conceive that in our lifetime in central Europe, that a cultured and advanced nation would rise up and come to Zelva, destroy its Jews, and erase the entire community without leaving so much as a trace?

Many of the young people in Israel, and elsewhere in the world ask this question, and return to this same question: how did such a thing happen, that complete communities of Jews were herded into gas chambers and crematoria and were destroyed without resistance? What were those Jews made of? Did they go like sheep to the slaughter?

From the pens of witnesses who survived this inhuman assault on life, these solitary survivors told and bore witness, and their stories are in this book, stories of heroism and sacrifice, especially in the camps of the partisans in the forest, there the Germans were unsuccessful in penetrating, despite their many divisions that were equipped with heavy artillery and ordnance.

In one of the [partisan] camps, which had about three hundred men, most of them from the town of Dereczin, the partisans carried out many sorties against the Germans, and inflicted many losses on them. They engaged mostly in railroad sabotage. The fighting with the Germans was bitter and fierce, and continued for 26 months, and from the entire camp, only about twenty men survived.

* * *

During the First World War, Eliakim was orphaned when his father did not return from the front. His mother fell ill, and she too passed away, leaving the young orphan boy to be raised by relatives. At that time there were no institutions such as orphanages. Like other boys his age, Eliakim received

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his primary instruction at the Heder of Shlomo the Melamed. During recesses, the other children would play all sorts of games, but Eliakim hardly participated. He was always serious and lost in thought, and his large dark eyes seemed focused far away...

While he was still a youngster, Eliakim sought out a means of earning a livelihood, and since there wasn't much choice, he joined up with a group of wagoners, who used to haul wood from the forest to the train station. In time, he grew up to become a big strong man, and a talented horseman, who engaged in haulage. A good-hearted man, he was ever ready to use his strong muscles to help the weak, he was tough and brave in dealing with unruly people, and he always came out on top... during the days of the draft army, the gentile draftees used to cheer themselves with a “little” vodka, and from time to time, they would come into town and fall upon the stalls of the Jewish merchants in the marketplace, and at times like these Eliakim would show them the brawn of his arm, and he would inspire the Jews with his display of courage, returning the fight to its perpetrators, and these unruly [drunken soldiers] would be scattered all over.

When news reached the town that Jews were being rounded up from the neighboring towns, being brought to the horse stables of the cavalry in Volkovysk, and from there - being sent in sealed trains to an unknown destination, that night thirteen young men left to rendezvous in the forest armed with rifles, but very few got there. In the ruins of the city, there were few hidden survivors left, and among them was Eliakim. According to the story of a gentile neighbor, a German reached his doorstep to take him prisoner, and Eliakim jumped him and beat him with a steel rod until he killed him. He stripped the soldier of his weaponry, jumped on a horse, and began to ride through the fields to get cover in the forest, but after he emptied his magazine of ammunition, he was shot and killed, sanctifying the name of Israel with his death.

May His Memory Be Blessed!

 

zel101a.jpg
A Group of BETAR Members
H. Borodetsky, A. Salutsky, Y. Salutsky, Y. Spector, Y. Shalev (Shulyak), M. Pintelevitz

 

zel101b.jpg
A Meeting of 'Freiheit' Members
Ze'ev & Yaakov Nosatsky, Aharon Merrill, Yitzhak David Lantzevitzky, Rivka Wasserman (Ravitz)

 

The Suicides

by Yerachmiel Moorstein

Not all the Jews of the town were expelled and taken to the stables in Volkovysk and from there to the gas chambers and crematoria in Treblinka. There were those, who chose with courage to ... commit suicide. They chose “to remain” in the city of their birth, the city of their fathers and forefathers for many generations before them.

The most venerable was Reb Abba Poupko, in his role as the head of the community. Even during the First World War, he played this role for about three years, carrying out the orders of the occupation regime honestly and with justice, for the benefit of all sides, and even the occupying Germans respected him and placed value on his abilities, and in addition, he carried out his duties using the German language. After the Germans captured Zelva following the heavy bombing, which destroyed nearly all the houses in the city in its wake, and killed about eighty people, it was natural that they would appoint Abba Poupko to serve as head of the community. In July 1941, about twenty SS men arrived, and they ordered all the Jewish men to assemble in order to be counted, and to form into lines, and in front of them, they put a young woman down on a bench and proceeded to give her 24 lashes with a whip. This terrifying scene left a painful impression. The head of the SS explained that he has to follow his orders, and including the heads of the community, no - he had them shot! And in a similar fashion, he ordered, that all the teachers, among them my sister Sarah, the

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accountants, rabbis and scholars, should step out of the line. To the question from these, for what purpose were they being selected, came the answer: knowledge work. They were taken to the Bereshko Forest, and after they dug pits, they were shot to death on the spot.

Jews were involved in all sorts of occupations, and because of their work, they were shot and killed. In front of all the citizenry, including the non-Jews, the Head Officer sentenced seven Jews to death by hanging. The Jews were ordered to erect gallows, and to sign an affidavit that they were all criminals and to carry out the hanging. Those hanged were: David Vishnivisky, Joshua Niznitsky, and five other Jewish refugees. The bodies were left hanging for three days.

According to what we have heard, Abba Poupko joined these seven martyrs and at the same time, and committed suicide.

The family of Reb Joseph and Shifra Shulman and their daughters were the owners of the biggest store in the center of town, and were counted among the most respected families of the community.

Reb Joseph had rabbinic ordination, and he occupied a prominent place in the Moiehr Synagogue where he used to pray. Between Mincha and Maariv, he would give a lesson in Talmud. Although he scrupulously observed the 613 commandments, his dress was that of a modern and contemporary man. He used to read a daily Hebrew newspaper, and he was a Zionist, who donated to various foundations in addition to the charities in town. The Jews respected him, and the Christian leadership, the Poritzim, the landed gentry of the area, sought association with him as an honest and straightforward individual, and patronized his magnificent store for all manner of things. He made a good living.

Reb Joseph, Shifra and his daughters were not driven out with a knapsack in hand. They committed suicide together in the cellar of their last abode, and remained somewhere in Zelva, the city of their birth.

May Their Memory Be A Blessing Forever And Ever
Among The Rest Of The Martyrs Of The Jewish People!

 

The Final Victim

by Yerachmiel Moorstein

In the typhus epidemic that spread through the town during the days of the German invasion [World War I], a mother of five children died, and the youngest of her children was named Malka. She was a tall, pretty girl, with blue eyes and long blond hair, which made her look Christian. She was gifted musically, and with her sweet, soft voice, she would perform lovely songs which enchanted all those who listened to her.

After three of the children grew up, they left the nest and got married, and Malka was left at home... She filled the place of her mother for the one sister who was younger than she was. Her father, a pious man who performed as a cantor during the High Holidays, used to work in the forest, and spent a great deal of his time away from home.

When Malka grew up and reached maturity, there were no suitors of her age and station in town,

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because around that time, six young men had made aliyah to the Holy Land, others went to Russia, the United States and Argentina. Malka did not have much time to spend with those of her own age. One fine day, the city was stunned, and the news went from mouth to ear: Malka had run away with the young Polish policeman to his hometown, a village in the environs of Warsaw.

Several young men volunteered immediately to go and secretly seize her and return her to her home. After quite an adventure, they managed to tie up Malka, and after a considerable and tiring travail, they got her back home, broken and depressed.

At about the same time, a family of refugees reached the town and they settled there. One of their sons knew how to play the violin, and thanks to him, after many years, the sweet sound of romantic music spilled all over as he played.

According to the stories of the gentiles, Malka was the final victim, after she was [mistakenly] taken for a Christian, but one of the neighbors informed on her. The brutal Nazis dragged her out of a bed in the clinic, and after they raped her, they killed her. With this final victim, the tie between Zelva and her Jews was sundered.

Mordechai Loshovitz, a native of our town, heard about Malka's bitter end and shocking death from the gentiles in the town, when he visited en route to the Holy Land.

 

The Destruction Of Zelva
(Jewish Daily Forward)

Shmuel Yarnivsky

[Note: The following text is taken from an article that first appeared in The Jewish Daily Forward, Saturday, December 25, 1948. The original Yiddish text was translated into Hebrew by Yerachmiel Moorstein. It is this Hebrew text that is translated into English below].

When the war broke out in September 1939, the population was about 1800. With the strong influx of refugees, this number reached approximately 7000. All of these unfortunates were accepted with sincerity, they were placed in homes, and the townsfolk shared with them whatever food they had. Because of the great cold in the winter of 1939-40, epidemics of disease broke out, that resulted in many deaths. The people of the town accepted this without complaint. They continued to help the refugees with all the means at their disposal.

With the entry of the Red Army, the order of life was changed. Most of the refugees left the city, a part returned to Poland, in the German sector, and the other part drifted into the center of Russia.

Those that stayed behind, integrated themselves into town life, and continued with their lives until June 1941. From across the Polish border, the terrifying news of the mass murder of Jews began to reach us.

Close to this time, the following families were exiled into the depths of Russia: Borodetzky, Spector, Rotni, Moshe Lantzevitzky, Rabbi Kosovsky and others. Others went to Vilna in the hope of being able to cross the sea, and some did succeed, while others were exiled to Siberia.

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On Sunday, June 22, 1941, the city was bombed without quarter, and burned continuously for three days, after which only a few lone houses remained standing. There were about 300 victims, among them my brother, Velvel. The dead were left unattended in the street without any opportunity to bury them because of the intense bombing. The Germans reached this terrible scene on June 26, immediately ordered all the survivors to gather in the city center, and ordered all the teachers and other people of intellectual pursuit, about 40 in number, to step forward, and according to the account of gentile witnesses, they were taken and shot in the forests in the Zelva vicinity. And in this fashion, the hell of hangings and shootings continued from day to day. Among those who were hanged were: David Vishnivisky, Joshua Niznitzky, and the remainder were refugees. Those that remained alive in the streets and in the few remaining houses, began to feel the awesomely terrifying doom begin to approach. They began to go out into the forests like the residents of neighboring Dereczin, but the Germans began to spread the word that nothing bad would befall the residents of Zelva, because the city now belonged to the Third Reich, and in the Reich, it is the responsibility of each person to work, and this representation mitigated against many of the young men from joining the partisans in the forest.

On November 20, 1942 an order was issued that all Jews were to leave Zelva and go to the armory in Volkovysk. There, a ghetto would be constructed for all the Jews of the area.

Very few escaped to the forests: Nathan Abalovitz, The brothers, Moshe and Katriel, their cousin, Nathan Slutsky, and Shayna Loshovitz. With the active participation of the Christian residents of the city, the expulsion of the Jews was accompanied by loud cries of “Hurrah.” About 40 of them were tortured to death. Chaya Bublecki, a young girl of age 18, was taken out from a place of hiding, Eizik Kovlevsky from his home, and others.

In Volkovysk, the Jews were imprisoned in the camps of the armory in the cold, in hunger, and in unsanitary conditions. The old and the weak were put to death by gassing. Mottel Maggid, who lost both of his legs in the First World War, dug a hole in the ground for his head with his bare hands, and managed to remain alive until a German beat him over the head with a club and killed him.

The tragic end of the Jews of Zelva had begun. Day by day, people were taken to the extermination camps, Treblinka in particular. In the days of December 5-7, they were killed and annihilated in a terrifying manner, by inhuman torture, inflicted upon them by their cultured German murderers.

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On the Return from the War...
My Town, Zelva - In the Year 1957

by Shmuel Kaninovitz

(Translated from Yiddish by Yerachmiel Moorstein)

  1. On the heels of the Hitlerian beast of prey, the bus continues to speed toward and get closer to places that are known to me, and are increasingly recognizable...

    From here it isn't far, the Medukhova Forest in its green valley, into which we would go to celebrate Lag B'Omer. The forest would take us in, the young student boys, and we would spend pleasant times in its bosom, occupied in play and other activities.

  2. And here is the Bereshko Forest, in which we spent many a Sabbath, young boy and girl together... but sixteen years have past since that time. The forest hears the terrified shrieks of the Jews being murdered, they are the eternal visitors, the Rabbis, Teachers, Scholars, Shochetim... the forest has disappeared, the trees have been uprooted. A few remain as witnesses, repositories of the secrets of the lives lived by the generations...
  3. Here is the calm Zelvianka River, in which we would bathe during the hot summer. We were caressed by its clear and pure waters, which made life more pleasant, on the shore, in the grass, where we would get tanned, and make love... the shore has disappeared, the grass had been uprooted, and is no longer there. And also you, the paddlers and regular swimmers [are gone]. The waters still flow, with tears and blood...
  4. A small distance away - the train station. I left it in 1941. In June, my brother, Yaacov Moshe, my dearly beloved sisters, Chaya and Yenta, and many good friends and acquaintances. And no one even conceived that the Holocaust was drawing near, like a thief, that with the fury of a storm, would wipe out and erase the city in a fundamental way, and leave not a single Jew behind...
  5. On my way to my home town, I meet two elderly Christians. They tell me about the tribulations and the tortures. In one of the mornings in 1942, the Murderers assembled all the Jews with strings of pails tied to their hands, and drove them to the train station. The sick and the weak were packed into cattle cars. They were brought to the cemetery, shot, and their screams were heard over great distances...
  6. I return to the city in which I was born. My house is not there. It no longer exists. There is a bomb crater there. A short distance away lives Shayna Loshovitz, the sole survivor of all the Jews. She was saved from the hands of the Murderers. She went to the Minsk Forest to the partisans, and with an amazed look in her eyes, she recognized me only with great difficulty. And when the unfamiliarity faded, she told me about Moshe Slutsky, who several years before, had lost a leg fighting with the partisans. An emotionally moving meeting with Mottel Loshovitz, and with Alta and Foyka [Gelman]. It is possible to lose one's mind. They told how they were saved and remained alive, they fell on the graves of their beloved ones, they left broken-hearted, and they left the city of ghosts forever...

May the German Murderers be remembered for all eternity in shame
and abomination, along with the Christian resident neighbors.

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The Liquidation of Zelva

by Ephraim (Foyka) Gelman

(original text in Yiddish)

Zelva! I, Ephraim Gelman, one who survived the destruction of our beloved town, will try to describe, though inadequately, what I recall of my youth up till that day about our town, Zelva, which was among the oldest towns in the area encompassing the broad plain of Poland, White Russia, and Palesia which was built on the banks of the Zelvianka River, from which lumber was floated from the Belevezer Palesian forests, and whose waters then cascade into the Neman river near Grodno, and from there to the Vistula Gulf, to Danzig, for export to foreign lands by ship, and Zelva was also the midpoint on the railway between Warsaw and Minsk!

Zelva, which was founded in the 1400's by the Polish aristocracy, also belonged to competing nationalities. Until the Russian Czar occupied Lithuania and Poland, and then the town belonged to Russia until 1914, and the First World War. Zelva, which was at a crossroads, derived its economic sustenance from wheat, which was sent out by train to port cities, where it was exported by ship to foreign lands. In Zelva, there were also large fairs, which were attended by merchants from Poland, Germany, and Russian Lithuania, who would come to buy horses and cattle which the peasants from the surrounding villages would come to sell. From this, half the town's storekeepers larger or smaller made a living, also quite a few merchants, and workers, such as shoemakers, tailors, milliners, carpenters, all could be found in our city, lived there and raised families, each according to his means.

Also, Zelva had manufacturing mills built on the river, driven by the waters of the Zelvianka. The Borodetzkys and Sedletzkys, who were the rich people in town [owned the mills]. The Borodetzkys owned the mill by the river, where hired help would come from the Belevezer forests, and in the factory, they worked the [raw material] over, making it suitable for building material, which was then sent by train to Poland and Germany. Also the millers would send wagons of flour to the larger cities. There were people, who had the means, and took up with wholesale trade, like the Bereshkovskys. Four brothers, Zalman, my brother-in-law, Jacob, Lieber and Yitzhak, Avremel, the Pashtiva's father, with two sons, Samuel Kaplan, the Spectors, father and sons. Larger storekeepers with more merchandise, and smaller storekeepers from whom they made a living! There were heads of households who were ordained rabbis, like Joseph Shulman, Dayanim, and also Jews who studied a page of the Gemara every day between Mincha and Maariv in the synagogues. There was a Talmud Torah that taught both poor students and those who paid tuition. There was a Tarbut School, a Yavneh School, a Tarbut Library from which the youth of the community benefitted. There were also organizations, such as HaShomer HaTza'ir, HeHalutz, Mizrachi, Agudah, and also the Bund and Communist circles. A city that breathed deeply with the knowledge of Zionism, from which our youth occupied no small place in the activities and kibbutzim of HeHalutz, HaShomer HaTza'ir, Betar, and also a portion of them worked in the central administrations of these organizations! In other cities, the youth urgently wanted to uproot themselves from their locales, but it was simply not possible for everyone to uproot themselves in this fashion and go to the Land of Israel to build and create, and it was truly a small portion that participated in the building up of our land, Israel.

I must also recall specific people from our town, who were the organizers of our culture and the foundation of our Jewish heritage, as manifested in our synagogues and Zionist organizations. Chaim Rosenbloom, the director of Tarbut, Shmuel Boruch Freidin, and Rabbi Joseph Shulman from Mizrachi, and others as well, and my classmates what we learned together in such organizations as

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Keren Kayemet, the Tarbut Library, which was a part of our library which a group of us young people established in 1921/22 which we named HaTechiya. The group consisted of the friends, Moshe Rafilovitz, Yerachmiel Moorstein, Mordechai Perlmutter, “Sholom Langer and Ezekiel Kaplan,” who are in Argentina, Zelig Nivick, and also, Ephraim Gelman, Shmuel Yarnivsky. This was the impetus to bind us to Tarbut, and from this, the Library was created from which the youth of the town drew the spirit of Zionism. Also from the Keren Kayemet Committee, I must recall those who worked together: Yerachmiel Moorstein, Mordechai Perlmutter, Moshe Rafilovitz, Moshe Futritzky, Eliezer Futritzky, and also Ephraim Gelman, and [Dr.] Nahum Gelman, director. And that's how life went on. We got older, and grew up to be a youth which set itself to work in facilitating its ability, and preparing itself to go to the Land of Israel, among which are those here in our Land. Not to mention all the others, like my brother Joseph, who was in preparation, my sister, Liza, who belonged to HaShomer HaTza'ir, also my brother Noah, and many others, about whom it is difficult to write about, from our beloved town Zelva, acquainted with its residents, friends who stayed behind, vanished in smoke and fire, young and old alike, children, who didn't even have a chance to see the world. I will not sufficiently impart to the world and my friends, the nature of the struggle that our brothers and sisters waged for their lives under the murderer Hitler, may his name be eradicated, and for our town, Zelva, which no longer exists for us.

28 Nov 1983

In 1933, when Hitler came to power, the entire foundation of Europe was shaken, and along with it, Poland. Anti-Semitism also increased sharply. Many Jewish businesses were confiscated, also in Zelva. Young people tried desperately to get out of our city, those who had good fortune were able to reach the Land of Israel, Canada, and Argentina, but these were the minority. In September 1939, Hitler's war machine marched into Poland, and because of his pact with Stalin, they divided Poland, so that up to Bialystok, the territory remained in German hands, and the territory up to Minsk, that is, White Russia, went to Russia, for which we Zelva Jews thanked God. The new regime began to promulgate its laws, which caused us Jews the greatest distress. The more likely ones, and opposition party people, like Zionists, lived in fear of being deported as political prisoners of the state. As life under the communist regime began to crystallize, both forms of the schools were changed to Russian and Byelorussian, and specific teachers took up specific subjects such as Metek [Mordechai] Basyuk. My brother-in-law, Liza's husband, became inspector of the schools in the район [district] that is Zelva and its environs. We acquiesced to the fate of living under the new regime, which we thought would be permanent. The regime arrested the richer, well-to-do families, like the Borodetskys, Spectors, Wallsteins, Moshe Lantzevitzky and his family, and sent them to Siberia. Also, it was very difficult to get work if you were previously a merchant, and as a result, I traveled to find work in Bialystok. [I worked there] after having obtained a passport from the Soviet regime as a worker, and up to six months before the outbreak of the war in 1941, after which I returned to Zelva, where I worked up to June 1941, when Hitler's army marched into Zelva after 14 days.

The fighting that took place between the German army and the Soviet army, which became surrounded, caused the town of Zelva to be eradicated, leaving behind only solitary wrecked buildings. During this fighting, there were 80 dead and wounded casualties among the Jewish citizenry of the town, but we had no idea of the terrible misfortune that was yet to come. Three days after the occupation, the Gestapo came to town, and ordered all the men to register themselves with the authorities, and I was among all of these. It has fallen to me to be the witness of what transpired in the next three hours. We lost 40 of our best intelligentsia from all of Zelva. And that is the way they

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[the Gestapo] conducted themselves on entry into every city and town, taking away the intelligentsia, so that there will be no one to organize the life of the Jewish community. They took them away by mechanized transport to the Bereshko Forest, and shot all of them. From that day on, under the direction of the Polish Jugend Polizei, they ordered with their active help, the liquidation of the Jewish population of Zelva.

Hunger and deprivation was great, because neither food nor other necessities were available any longer. Everything had been burned up. Only one thing: we did not have a Judenrat, with Jewish police, as was the case in other Polish cities. And in this fashion, we lived in cellars, in constant fear and fatigue, and to earn enough for a little bread, one had to risk one's life. A few butchers, who were caught selling meat, were hung in the middle of the street in the marketplace. The Jewish population was ordered to come and witness the execution. This is the way they lived in fear for one and a half years, until after Succoth of 1942.

They then gathered all the Jews of Zelva, and the Jews from around Volkovysk, and brought them to the stockade in Volkovysk, the stockade for the Russian prisoners of war that were all shot. To a man, they rounded up all the Jews from the surrounding towns, among them Zelva, and from there they were transported to Treblinka, where they were all gassed to death.

Those who saved themselves were Moshe Slutsky, and his brother, Katriel, Leizer Yankel Lantzevitzky's, Nathan Chana, the Butcher's, and those who escaped into Russia in 1941, and those who are today found in Israel, Canada, Argentina, Australia, about 20 to 25 people. And that is how our Zelva community was liquidated, that was six hundred years old. The story of my survival with my family belongs to a separate chapter. Among those taken out [and shot to death] in the Bereshko Forest, was Shmuel Boruch Freidin, and other teachers.

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My Family

by Ephraim Gelman

Now, about me and my family! After Hitler's army marched into Zelva on July 6, 1941, and the city lay in ruins, we lived up to four families in a cellar. As a result, I, my wife and two children went to nearby Dereczin, because there was more housing stock there, and the town had not suffered as greatly from the bombing. After living for seven months in Dereczin, we returned to Zelva, because they had begun to construct a ghetto, and in Zelva a ghetto was never constructed. While we were not burned and killed during the battle, we could not stay in Zelva for very long, because we were not on any of the lists of the Jewish residents in town. At any time, we were at risk of being discovered and shot, and the Jews with which we were staying arranged for us to go to Volkovysk, where we were taken in. There, I worked building wagons, fourteen and sixteen hours a day, living six families to a house, amidst great hunger and deprivation.

About four months later, after Succoth, when they had already started to round up the Jews from Volkovysk and surrounding towns, in order to exterminate them by gas in Treblinka, an opportunity presented itself to us to slip out of town by night, and through fields and forests, which took us ten days, we arrived at the forests between Dereczin and Zhitiel, to the camp of the Russian partisans whose ranks already contained both young and old men from Dereczin, who had run off from the slaughter in Dereczin. They had about 150 horses, in addition to women and children. There, I met up with Moshe Slutsky and his brother, Katriel, and Nathan Hannah Slutsky's, who saved themselves, escaping from Zelva on the day of the liquidation. That is how we entered the partisan camp, under Bulak's command, and we lived under military discipline for the 26 months until July 14, 1944. Our Jewish group excelled in the war against the Germans in railway sabotage, destroying railroad bridges, and attacking patrols that guarded the railways, in order to revenge the forgotten blood of our brothers and sisters, and that's how we lived through the 26 months of war against the Germans, during which time, the Jewish group sustained upwards of 80% casualties among those who fought against the Germans.

On July 14, 1944, we were liberated by the Russian Army. We came out of the forests and returned home to Zelva. Desolate, empty, rubble, no residents, no homeowners, no synagogues, no schools, there are no relatives, no friends, no one left from our municipal family. But life must go on. Slowly, we obtained a room where we could lie down and get some rest. The gentile population was not happy to see us, because we were the sole surviving witnesses to their murderous handiwork, and they could not use the things that they had robbed from the Jews out of fear that we would recognize the items! Coming back, we also met up with Mordechai Loshovitz, who saved himself, and returned to the wreckage in Zelva. We were extremely happy to find Mottel Loshovitz, and we did for him as best we could. In September 1945, we left Zelva, and through Lodz, we went to Austria, where by fleeing we reached Salzburg-Linz, where we began to lead a normal existence. The children started to go to school with other Jewish children.

We lived this way in Austria from 1945 to 1951. We immigrated to America, where we are today a family of children and grandchildren, for which we give thanks to God to this day. But we will never forget our destruction. There is a hurt in the heart for my brothers and sisters, friends, family, my town of Zelva and her martyrs, all who gave their lives to sanctify the Lord's name, with their battle and will to live, which all of us who remained alive will simply never, ever forget.

As a member of the partisans, I was also designated to assume responsibility for providing food from

[Page 109a]

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Hashomer HaTza 'ir during Lag B'Omer 5788

[Page 109b]

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In the Bereshko Forestů
The Freiheit Organization

 

zel109c.jpg
Youth group
Y. Rotni, S. Rabinowitz, Kh. Rabinowitz Sh. Rotner, Prof. S. Kaplan, A. Perlmutter, Kh. Greenberg-Zakai, Y. Moorstein, Sh. Loshowitz, M. Zackheim, B. Geenberg-Misky, P. Rafilowitz

 

[Page 110]

time to time for a small group of women and children who today live in Israel and America. There were four girls in this group, my wife's brother's children, who today are in Israel, and they have lovely families with children.

The Fate of My Immediate Family in Poland

by Joseph Kaplan

My father, Jekuthiel Kaplan, is believed to have lived in Zelva until the final end of the Jewish community in Zelva.

My grandmother, Chana, is believed to have died in Zelva about 1940.

My sister, Beileh Goldin, is believed to have lived in Zelva until the final end of the Jewish community of Zelva.

Beileh's husband, Ephraim, was mobilized into the Polish army, and was apparently killed in action.

Their son, Eliezer, was born about 1936 or 1937, and is believed to have lived in Zelva until the final end of the Jewish community of Zelva.

My brother, Theodore, married and lived in Skidel, near Grodno. He, his wife, and daughter, born during the early 1930's, have apparently perished with the Jewish community of Skidel.

 

[Page 111]

The Last Visit to Zelva in 1965

Chuma Zhchinsky

Abstracted from the Yiddish by Yerachmiel Moorstein

With the end of the First World War, and with the coming of the October Revolution of 1917, Czar Nicholas II was overthrown, and in his place, a Soviet Regime was established in which there were prominent leaders from our people. They called to the Jews to embrace the tenets of communism, on whose flag was etched the words: justice, equality, and even-handedness. Several of the youth of Zelva responded to this call, and they went to Moscow, among them, Akiva Z[hchinsky]. In a few years, his sister, Chumka, left home to follow in his footsteps, and she too crossed the border, first joining a hospital as a nurse, and in time - as a doctor. During the Second World War, she gave aid to the many countless wounded. After the war, several families from our town who lived close to her went to our Land, and maintained contact through letter correspondence. It was through these letters that she became aware that the members of her town that had settled in Tel Aviv were planning to commemorate the martyrs of our town by publishing a Memorial Book. This matter moved her very greatly, and stirred a very strong yearning in her that gave her no rest.

She turned to me with these words:

Greetings to my honored Yerachmiel!

It is over fifty years since I left home, but my recollections return to me as if these things happened just yesterday, and before my eyes, my parents stand, my friends and my companions. In 1941 I visited Zelva. Little was left of the houses as they were, and the same as regards the residents. Everyone came out to greet me. I saw my mother for the last time. My brother, Mottel, was a prisoner of war, and I used to send him food parcels. He was killed in Maidanek in a camp of 3000 soldiers. I am enclosing a copy of his picture, and I ask you to preserve it [in your Memorial Book].

In 1965, I visited a second time with my brother Akiva. I thought that I would be able to pay my respects at my mother's grave, but to our great sorrow, the cemetery no longer exists. In its place is a soccer stadium, and what used to be the center of town is now a public garden. All that is left are churches, and one Jewish woman and her child...

I wanted very much to participate in this sacred undertaking, in the publication of this book, in substance and in spirit, but sadly, it is not within my means to do so...

Perhaps the dream to be united with you and all the members of the town will yet come true, to talk to one another...

With best regards to all of you, and with hope to see each other.

 

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