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[Page 162]

In the Claws of the Nazi Beast

Kalmen Kartshmer

Translated by Meir Bulman

The Jews of Divenishok were expelled to Voronova on Shvat of 5702 (December 1942). The apartments in Voronova were terribly crowded; four or five families lived in one house. After the life we had lived in Divenishok, where everyone lived in their own home, we felt as if we were in hell.

Ten days after we arrived in Voronova (it was Shvat 10th), we learned our first lesson about the cruelty of the Nazis. They put 28 elderly persons in a cellar, tormented them, and killed them on site. Among those was my father, Rest in Peace. Three days they lay in the cellar because we could not dig a grave for them, because it was very cold out and the ground was frozen. The horrific act was done to mark Hitler's birthday.[1] I sat by my dear father's corpse for three days, weeping and mourning for our bitter fate.

Those physically capable were sent to compulsory labor, without pay of course. I worked in the Bastuni area. Then a week before dismantling I was sent to work in the forest near Baltic Village, near Bastuni. There we worked on tree–cleaning and preparing wood for delivery to Germany.

Eleven people from Divenishok worked there. Among them were the brothers Meir and Tsvi Dubinski, the Shatsitnitski brothers, and Khaye Sarah Levine's husband. When the rumor reached us that Voronova was surrounded, we did not return to town, as we regularly did on Sunday, but waited for news of what was happening in Voronova.

The gentiles told us that the Germans had cruelly executed most of the Jews and left a small number for work. Two days after the slaughter we returned to Voronova and witnessed the tragedy that had befallen the people of our town. All those who worked with me could no longer find their families alive. I too could not find my wife and children. We were shocked and broken and did not know what to do and where to turn. I fondly remember Shimke, Avke David Leyb's sister, and Atke Meir Zalman's, who gave me a loaf of bread and said, “Escape quickly from here and save your life! We are lost no matter what.”

I escaped to the Bastuni woods where I found a large group of Divenishok residents, among them those who worked with me at Baltic Village. I found again the brothers Meir and Tsvi Dubinski, the Shatsitnitski brothers, Chaim Gershowitz, Leybl Varshever, and Maishke Gordsvatser.[2] After staying for a few days in the Bastuni area, we decided to return to the Divenishok area, assuming the peasants who knew us would be of assistance in getting through the difficult days.

We walked all night until we reached Andrei from Starrobieres[3] who was a well–known Russian and did not like the Polish. But we soon discovered that we must leave the place hastily if we wished to live. In the dead of night, we circumvented the town and arrived at Soltsin Village and hid in an oat field. We stayed there until evening and continued walking to Yurglan[4] Village. There we parted ways. Meir and Tsvi Dubinski went to Baltobitze to the forest ranger's house, their good friend, and innocently thought they would find shelter there. But they were sorely mistaken: after all their money was extorted they were executed. Two months later word reached us that they were no longer alive.

The remaining Divenishok folks dispersed in various directions to find shelter. I went to Lodvik, our old friend who lived in Spravstsishuk Village. He kindly greeted me and I stayed with him for six weeks. His neighbor Duvl became aware of that and informed the Germans that a Jew was hiding in Lodvik's home. One day, Kasiuk Skyviss, appeared in the village. During Polish times, he had been a famed thief, and now served as the Divenishok police chief. He arrested me. When we both walked through the woods he took pity on me and told me, “Run into the forest and I will shoot a few rounds in the air, so I can justify myself to the Germans.” At first I hesitated since I feared he would stick a bullet in my neck, but I knew I had nothing to lose so I agreed. I wandered in the forest for a few days; the hunger gnawed at me and I wanted to die.

In the end I decided to walk to Hamutsi Village, to my father's friend. At night I knocked on Yozef Sobotsh's window. He opened the door and to my surprise, I found the Shatsitnitski brothers there. After staying with Sobotsh we wandered the area villages like gypsies and searched for shelter.

One day, the Shatsitnitski brothers disappeared. After Liberation I found out that they been hiding with a gentile in Sorktzi Village. The peasant lived in an isolated house and dug a bunker for them. They brought their sister Leah there too and stayed until two days before Liberation, when they were killed by the Poles.

I wandered amongst the gentiles all winter, and to each gentile I was forced to give one of the clothing items I had hidden with Lodvik. Occasionally I would send a messenger to Lodvik and he would give an item to the Gentiles. The young Poles tormented me often. Once, after a dance party, intoxicated by moonshine, they dragged me from the barn, brought me to the center of the village and began tormenting me, “Look at this bearded Jew!” said one.

“Good thing the Germans destroyed all the Jews!” said another.

“The Jews sucked our blood and their day has come!” a young woman spat.

“So why do we need this bearded Jew here?” Screaming erupted from all over and the drunken shouting mixed with the singing around me. The circle tightened more and grew more threatening, and blows rained on my head like a hail storm. My head began spinning, blood flowed from the wounds in a great tide. With my remaining strength I broke the chain and escaped to the woods.

That night I wished I was dead. Will God stay silent in the face of such a horrible act? I would rather be dead than live such a life. The debauchery and wild song reached me from a distance. I lay here and mourned my bitter fate. When a man is on the brink of destruction sometimes a spark of an idea guiding him towards his future shines in his mind. That was my case. Suddenly I got the idea to approach a paramedic who lived in a close–by village and request his help. With the rest of my strength I knocked on his door.

The paramedic was shocked and moved by my terrible appearance, and he immediately began caring for me. He pitied me and hid me with him for a few weeks until I healed a bit.

After that, the wandering from village to village and from peasant to peasant began again, and to each one I gave some of the belongings I had left with Lodvik. Once, a peasant demanded goose feathers. I sent a woman to the town priest and he informed the peasant that I had deposited with him 20 kilograms of feathers and that he would give the woman the feathers. Thanks to that I stayed with the peasant for a long while.

Whenever I felt the situation was worsening and I was in danger, I would escape to Lodvik and he would shelter me for a few weeks until the storm passed. I want to emphasize that I remained alive only thanks to Lodvik.

In the Spring I met partisans who were active in the area. I joined them and began operating. One of our important actions was burning the sawmill in Giluzh. As payback for that act, the Germans bombed the local forests for three days. I was wounded by shrapnel in one of those bombings, but healed.

Because of the bombings and the ambushes, the partisans dispersed in different directions, and once more I found shelter with my benefactor Lodvik. Afterwards, I met some people from my town and stayed with them in the Stoki Woods. There, I survived a most intense hunt by the White Poles. They destroyed most of the people from Divenishok, but with a few friends I managed to escape to the Rodnitski Woods, where we stayed until Liberation.

 

Editor's Footnotes
  1. Hitler's birthday is actually in April, not December. Return
  2. This surname is spelled in the original text as follows: gimmel–reysh–daled–zayin–tsvey vovn–tsadek–ayin–reysh. Return
  3. This as of yet unidentified place is spelled in the original text as follows: mem–hey–samech–tes–aleph–reysh–vov–beyz–yud–ayin–reysh–ayin–samech. Return
  4. In the original text the place name is spelled as follows: yud–vov–reysh–gimmel–lamed–aleph–nun. Return


[Page 165]

I Fought the Germans with the Partisans

by Lucia Rubin (of the Mendel Preski family)

Translated by Meir Bulman

When the Germans occupied, I was living with my parents at the Stashiles Station. It was a train station on the Baranovich–Lida–Vilne route, and all the Divenishok folks would travel to Vilne on that train, usually passing through Stashiles. A few Jewish families resided at the station: my parents' family who moved there from Vilne, and the family of Yonah and Alteh Tener, Binyamin Dubinski's uncle and our cousins.

We felt the horrors of war on our skin already by the second day when the Germans bombed the station. The atmosphere became very tense and the Gentiles began displaying signs of anti–Semitism. We felt bad days lay ahead and awaited the coming days in fear.

A week after the invasion, the Germans brought four Jews from Vilne to repair the bombed station. The Germans tormented them and paid them nothing nor gave them food.

My parents were, naturally, merciful; our home was open to anyone in need. They immediately went to task and provided soup to these suffering Jews. My husband the doctor and I peeled potatoes to feed the Jews.

After a few months, friends notified us that the Germans intended to jail us. We escaped to Soletchnik and from there to our cousin Shmuel Dubinski in Benakani. After a while we found ourselves in the Voronova Ghetto. We were miraculously saved from the fate of the rest of the Jews of Vilne who were concentrated at the city movie theater in Voronova and executed.

Those days are etched deep in my mind since an interesting event which must be mentioned took place. One of the prisoners in the theater sent my father a small bag containing valuable objects, money and diamonds, along with a message my father saying he [the sender] was lost anyway, and maybe my father could save our family with the money. That is evidence of the loving feelings that everyone had towards my father due to the many good deeds he had done for people during his life.

 

At the Voronova Ghetto

We lived in Voronova until the ghetto was disbanded. On that fateful, bitter day, we were led to the marketplace. I held my parents' hands, my husband walked beside me, while my sister Khayeh and her husband Avrashe Ashpon followed behind. The Germans asked my husband his profession. When they heard he was a doctor they sent us to the right. My sister Khayeh and her husband were sent to the left. I attempted to join my sister on the left side, but a German caught me, picked me up and tossed me to the right and shouted, “Jude, rechts zu lebendig!” (Jew, to the right means to stay alive!) Shots and the screams of the murdered echoed out from the distance, but I witnessed a horror which I will never forget: one of the rich men of Benakani, Avrashe the Miller, hid with his family and the Germans found him and brought them towards us. All the way they assaulted them, the blood trickled and Avrashe walked hunched. He did not scream, just placed his head in his hands and sighed bitterly. When they reached us, the Germans shot them before our eyes; they squirmed in pain and breathed their last.

After a few weeks, the remaining Jews from the Voronova Ghetto were led to the Bastuni train station, to be transferred to Lida. I was in the seventh month of my pregnancy and do not know from where I drew the energy and drive to help the Jews who had tripped on the road. I helped one carry his bag; another leaned on me so as not to fall. The whole way I encouraged the weak and depressed who wanted to die.

 

At the Lida Ghetto

At the Lida Ghetto, we were housed in homes from which the town Jews had been recently expelled and then executed. Overcrowding was awful. Eight people were stuffed into one room and the fear of death was instilled in the Jews. We had ample food. My father's farmer friends anonymously sent us various food items. Periodically, my sister [and I] would dress like a Gentile[s], leave the ghetto, and bring back necessary items. The Germans stopped other young women, recognizing them by the fear in their eyes. I attempted to remain calm. They never recognized fear in my eyes and I was never stopped.

In Lida we met our uncle Shmuel Dubinski and my cousins Yonah and Alteh Tener. They helped us to the best of their abilities, and we tried staying as close to one another as possible. After a few months rumors spread that the ghetto was to be dismantled. My husband and I decided to escape the ghetto and not go through that nightmare once more.

My parents decided to stay, but my husband and I joined a group, and on a dark night escaped the ghetto through the swamps. I was so afraid that I lost a shoe in the swamps. The next day the shoe as brought to my mother who was sure the Germans killed me. After a few days of troubles we reached the partisans in the “Nazi Forests” area. The commander accepted us willingly since he needed a doctor.

 

In the Woods with Partisans

Life in the woods was difficult: the Germans periodically tried to surround us. One night I felt the Germans were approaching. I remained calm, and before I left the spot I dumped sand on the fire so the Germans could not track us. That action saved the partisan otriad[1] from being surrounded. Had a Russian done that in my place, he would have received high praise, but thanking me at the general meeting was adequate in their eyes.

After a while, we were sent to Lipnishok Pustshe, accompanied by several Russians. On the road we observed that one of them was drunk and did not stop cursing Jews and spouting profane anti–Semitic expressions. We extricated ourselves from him with difficulty and reached our destination. I write this to demonstrate how much our lives were in danger–– even by the Russian partisans.

Once, by chance, I learned of the location of our cousins – the Dubinski family. I arrived and found their mother Feigeh, Michael who was a patrolman at headquarters, and their little brother Yisroel. After a while, I learned that their mother was killed in a German attack and little Yisroel remained alone after his brother was sent on a distant mission. I got a coach from a peasant, loaded it with food items and brought them to Yisroel. The commander found out about that, and when I returned I was bound to a pine tree, and was to be shot. I was released only thanks to my husband's efforts.

After the situation at the front began to deteriorate for the Germans, a few hundred Wolasovitz troops joined our side. The commander sent them on daring missions such as blowing up bridges and the like. I joined them as a combat paramedic and participated in all missions. I fulfilled my duties very successfully and did not trail the soldiers in physical strength and bravery. They regarded me very positively and shielded me from harm.

In our camp there was a Jewish cobbler, a remarkably quick young man. In contrast, his wife was a big schlemiel. To my surprise, during the siege her husband fell and she remained alive. She had not left me since. She would claim, “If I will be near Lucy I might stay alive.”

Once during a chase, we had to cross a deep stream. We began to swim and she held on to me and would not let go. Both of us were about to drown. A few soldiers came to our aid, but she did not let go of me. “Save the woman,” I yelled at them, “I will rescue myself somehow.” And thus we both survived. People always saw in me a saving light and would stick to me in times of trouble.

My fierce hatred for the Germans demanded revenge, and on one occasion my desire for vengeance was fulfilled. During a chase, we traveled through the woods, worn–out and tired. Suddenly we observed a bunker in the distance. We approached it silently and heard German speech. A quick partisan, Yitzhak Menski from Lida, snuck up to the bunker and threw grenades as we shot into the bunker. After we stormed the bunker we found seven bodies of S.S. men and found the clothes we so desperately needed.

On one of the missions a Russians general and paratrooper from Moscow was wounded. His life was in danger. My husband and I dragged him out of the line of fire and dressed his wounds, but since the Germans were attacking we had to retreat and we left him in place. After a while we learned the Germans had located him and he had blown himself up to not be taken alive by the Germans. A monument was erected in Slonim in his honor.

 

After Liberation

After liberation we returned to Stashiles to mourn our tragedy. There I learned that my brother Mulke (Shmuel) had snuck out of the Vilne ghetto to the Aryan side and was in contact with family members. A peasant named Rodzivits who lived in Stashiles and was a good friend of my father, accepted our belongings from my father for safekeeping until things were calmed. So as to steal our belongings, he informed the Gestapo of my brother, who was then captured and executed, and the peasant took all our belongings.

When I visited him [Rodzivits], I recognized our furniture and drapes. I was enraged and wanted to beat him and finish him off, but people stopped me. I sued the peasant, but did not want to wait for the verdict and decided to leave the defiled land which was soaked with ample Jewish blood. After a while I learned that the peasant was cleared of any wrongdoing and continued to enjoy the Jewish theft in broad daylight.

After many efforts we managed to leave Russia and reach Poland and then Germany. We did not want to stay in Germany for too long, and with the help of smugglers we reached Italy after many difficulties. In Rome my husband served as chair of the Vilne Jewish Organization and was busy with philanthropy for the refugees who were flooding in.

After a long stay in Rome we traveled to the United States. My husband worked as a doctor and I assisted him; our financial status was quite stable. There we had two sons: the eldest Alexander and the second Robert (Yerakhmiel).

Throughout our stay in the United States our hearts were lovingly bound to Israel and we would periodically visit the country to enjoy its beauty.

*

On the eve of Israel Independence Day in 1973 we arrived in Israel to celebrate, bask in the spirit of the holiday, and enjoy the impressive IDF parade. Unfortunately my husband Oscar suffered a heart attack and his heart stopped forever. He passed at the Sheraton Hotel in Tel Aviv.

My husband, Oscar, was a son of a respected Warsaw family. He completed medical school in Warsaw and at the time of Nazi occupation wound up in Vilne, where we met and our fates intertwined. He was a loyal husband and was devoted to his wife and children. In New York he helped many Jews and Gentiles who needed medical attention at his clinic.

He was not fortunate to witness the impressive IDF parade, but he was very fortunate to be buried in the soil of our land. He was honorably buried in Kirayt Shaul. May he rest eternally and the clouds of our land please him forever.

 

Editor's Footnote
  1. A partisan detachment Return


[Page 169]

In Battle Against the Nazi Enemy

by Zelig Rogol

Translated by Meir Bulman

After the Russians entered in 1939 the situation in town completely changed. The main sources of income were destroyed and disappeared. The shops were closed because the sources of supply disappeared. The Jews hid their remaining merchandise with the Gentiles and for a while sustained themselves from that. Cultural life in town completely ceased. The youth movements such as Beitar, HeKhalutz, and HaShomer HaTzair ceased operating.

The Hebrew school became a Yiddish school. Yekusiel Zhizhemsky was appointed principal and Yosef Levine became a teacher at the school. All Jewish institutions were destroyed and disappeared. Not a trace remained of the bank and the Gemilut Hessed.[1]

Before 1939 I had completed a bookkeeping course in Vilne, and during the time of Russian control I worked as an accountant in the hospital that opened in the priest's mansion. The church was active, but the priest was given more modest housing. The synagogues also still existed, but Rabbi Aharon Tayts had to escape to Vilne.

Eli Sutskever was appointed post office administrator, Zusman (Munye the tailor's son–in–law) was appointed a household manager at the hospital. Hirsh Krizovski was appointed mayor (Sel Soviet). When Vilne was transferred to Lithuania, some town residents escaped there. Some of them, among them Zalman Leyb Shchneider (Kalmen the Crippled's son), were captured at the border and exiled to Siberia. Zalman Leyb was saved and now resides in America. Our pharmacy was nationalized and my brother–in–law Herman Fuchs became an employee.

 

The Russians Leave and the Germans Enter

With the entrance of the Germans, Zusman pleaded with me that we escape eastward. I refused because my conscience would not let me abandon my ill father, who was bedridden for a few years then. The district government was in Oshmene, as it had been under the Poles. An anti–Semitic teacher was appointed the head of the local council. A directive was issued to choose Yudenrat[2] officers. It should be noted that the men of the Yudenrat tried to the best of their abilities to ease the peoples' suffering.

An order was issued that every Jew must wear a yellow patch with the Star of David. The council demanded the Yudenrat supply them with Jews for labor, unpaid of course. The Yudenrat would select people after considering age, family status, and profession. A Jewish police force was also established, whose role it was to maintain order.

I remember an incident which left a horrifying mark on the town. One day, a German officer appeared and gathered about 30 young Jews (I among them) in front of the church and commanded us to perform different tasks: get up, run, kiss the dirt, lay on our backs, and more. We thought he wanted to shoot us. It was the priest who probably came out and begged him for mercy and then the German left us.

After that, we were recruited to work at the sawmill in Giluzh. We worked there for a few months. Sometimes we would enter Tsvi Usishkin's house (Khanah from Giluzh's father) and we would receive some food. A large group of Divenishok folks worked in Giluzh: Yekusiel Zhizhmski, Khaykl Katzev, Meir and Tsvi Dubinski, and others. We tried to stay in one group.

In the fall of 1941 word reached us that several communities near Divenishok were destroyed: Radin, Eshishuk, Olkenik and other towns that were under Lithuanian jurisdiction. In January of 1942 we were commanded to leave behind our belongings and relocate to Voronova. We hired coaches, packed them with our bundles, and traveled to Voronova. There was much despair. The Germans were at the height of their success, close to Moscow and Leningrad, and no hope of rescue was on the horizon.

Conditions were very crowded. We were put in a house with Eliohu Blyakher's mother. The mother lived in that house with us, five people: my sister Mineh, my brother Eliohu, and I. Ra'aya, Eli Sutskever's sister, also joined us. She had escaped with the Russians and reached Smolensk. When the Germans reached there, she returned to Divenishok. Since she had no place to stay, and my sister Mineh was her close friend, she stayed with us.

The Germans operated in Voronova as they did in Divenishok. The physically able were sent to various compulsory labors. For the entire winter of 1942 I worked in Nibosha Village, approximately 9 kilometers from Divenishok. We uprooted trees, sawed and organized them in cubic meters – they were designated for heating. Four of us friends stayed in one peasant's house, with Meir Dubinski. When we finished work we would help the peasant and he would give us some food. Of course, we were always hungry.

 

Escape from Voronova

The situation continued like that until May. On May 9, heavy forces surrounded the Ghetto, no one could come or go. Rumors reached us about the elimination of all Jews in the Lida district. People were afraid and depressed because they felt something terrible was about to happen.

Eliohu Blyakher's brothers–in–law, who were merchants and were quite familiar with the area, organized a group to escape the ghetto. I gave a hand and joined the group. We bribed the guards and at night a group of 50 people left the ghetto. It was a dark night. We left at 11 and reached a forest approximately 10km from Voronova; we waited for news from the town.

After a few days we sent some people to find out what happened in Voronova. They returned and told us of the tragedy. My father was killed in bed, my sister Mineh, my brother Eliohu, and Sutszkever's sister Ra'aya were executed. My sister Shulamit and her husband Herman and their daughter Lilly, and my aunt Tsippeh Leah and her husband Yeshayahu Kaplan, and my friend Yitzhach Segal remained alive.

The few Jews who survived were concentrated on one street. After assessing, we reached the conclusion that given the situation there was no other option but to return to Voronova, and so we did. At night we snuck back in and joined the remaining Jews. One day, when we went out to work under police supervision, we passed by the house we lived in. I asked the policeman if I could enter the house, and I witnessed a horrifying scene: the floor was littered with ripped photographs and congealed marks of my father's blood on the walls and floor told of his persistent struggle for life in his final moments. I stood there and wept bitterly until the policeman's call woke me from my thoughts.

One day we were commanded to take our bundles and go to the Bastuni Station; from there we traveled to Lida.

 

In the Lida Ghetto

Life in the Lida ghetto followed the known pattern in ghettos; Yudenrat, Jewish police, compulsory labor. For a short while I worked at the sawmill and was then transferred to work at the German gendarmerie in Lida. I was put in charge of a few homes and my role was to heat the rooms. I would bring firewood and heat the rooms. SS men, who often went on missions, lived there. I saw them returning saddened from a mission: turned out one of their men had fallen in action.

My situation was relatively better than the rest of my family members in the Lida ghetto because I would eat the leftovers in the kitchen and did not have to work hard outdoors. I worked there for five months before a directive was given by the district commissioner forbidding Jews from working in such roles. All Jews were sent away from there, myself among them.

 

Under Partisan Control

I felt that the belt was tightening and a way must be found to escape the ghetto. Coincidentally, Yitzach Segal and I found $250 in an old mattress and, with the assistance of a man named Koppel from Ivia, we purchased a Belgian gun from a gentile, preparing our escape from the ghetto.

As luck would have it, Partisans from Bilitza came to the ghetto to pick up their relatives: I, Yitzchak Segal, and Shulamit joined them. We walked restlessly all night until we reached Neman, 35km from Lida. We crossed the Neman by boat and felt relieved because that territory was under Partisan control. A short distance away we found some families that had escaped Lida.

A young man from Warsaw named Max joined us, and together we put up a tent. Yitzach Segal, Max, and I would go out at night, knock on peasants' doors and ask for food. The peasants did not refuse. After staying there for three months, we decided for security reasons to join the Partisans. With the help of a young man from Zhtel we managed to exchange the Belgian handgun for a rifle. We assembled a second gun from parts we had purchased, and due to them, we were accepted into Orlanski Otriad.[3] We were accepted as fighters, and Shulamit as a pharmacist at the field hospital. The middleman presented us to the commander Pantzenko and he accepted us.

Our platoon was made up entirely of Jews. The platoon included experienced scouts who were well acquainted with the area so we were assigned household tasks, meaning we had to supply the Partisans with meat and other food items. We performed those tasks successfully and were greatly esteemed by the commander. When the situation at the front worsened for the Germans, the Ukrainians joined our battalion. A platoon was established composed entirely of Ukrainians. They were clear anti–Semites. Especially committed to anti–Semitism was the platoon commander Shekhne. He influenced headquarters to confiscate weapons from the Jews and hand them over to Gentiles. One day our weapons were confiscated and they wanted to expel us from the battalion. Coincidentally, a special Russian para–trooping unit was in the area, and their commander was a Jew named Davidov. We contacted him and told him about the anti–Semitic incident and he forced them to return our weapons.

A command was then issued to expand Partisan action in the Grodne forests and I was sent there and placed in one of the platoons. There, I participated in combat operations; blowing up bridges and rail tracks, disconnecting telephone lines, and doing food supply missions. One such food supply mission nearly cost me my life. It was when we were returning to base with a wagon filled with food items. We reached the bridge where an ambush of 80 police officers waited for us and began raining hellfire upon us. We abandoned the wagon and barely managed to escape to the woods through the marshlands.

 

Anti–Semitism Runs Wild

Anti–Semitism did not skip the Jews in the Grodne forests either. I remember a horrific incident when a Jew fell asleep while on guard duty. The next day he was brought in front of the formation where his death sentence was read to him. The man stood there pale as a ghost and tears streamed down his face. He pleaded to allow him a defense so he could explain the incident. His pleading was useless. The formation was ordered to not disperse until the verdict was carried out. Two Russians led the man about 50 meters from the spot and a shot rang through the air. I was deeply saddened as there were countless incidents of Russians sleeping on guard duty, yet they were not executed.

That horrific image stands before me as if happening now. The Jewish man led away, he looks at the Jews, his eyes pleading, “Save me! I am innocent! I fulfilled all my duties with devotion and sacrifice! Why do I deserve such punishment?”

Fate was very cruel to us Jews. We wanted to help him, but we could not. Our hearts secretly wept.

I left my dear and devoted friend Yitzach Segal with my sister Shulamit in the Lipiczanska woods and was not aware of their fate until after Liberation. My sister Shulamit survived and currently resides in Israel. I learned that Yitzchak Segal lost his weapon on a mission against the White Poles. He retreated through the Neman and lost his gun while doing so. As punishment he was expelled from the battalion and his whereabouts since are unknown.

 

Liberation

I remained in the Grodne Woods until Liberation. I actively participated in the attrition of German forces retreating from the frontlines and I did my best do unto them as they did to us.

After Liberation I was enlisted in the Red Army and was sent to the frontline where I was wounded and then taken to a hospital in Kovne. After I recovered I was placed in paramedic school. After the war ended I enlisted in the standing army for three years. I was discharged in 1959 and made Aliya.

In Israel, I was blessed to build a home with my wife Masha and we have two children. The eldest Aryeh and a daughter named Sarah, who are continuing their parents' heritage.

 

Visit in Divenishok

I visited my birth town of Divenishok twice. Once in 1948, with Pinyeh (Pinkhas) Lipkunski, and again in 1957 in a Red Army uniform. The town left a horrifying impression on me: most of the buildings were burned, only remnants of ruined walls remained, testifying to the great tragedy that had befallen our town. I sat among the remnants of our ruined pharmacy and sank into melancholy thoughts. “Where is my dear family? Where are the lively Jewish youths? Where are my friends from HaShomer HaTzair with whom I spent most of my beautiful years? Where are they?”

A deathly silence surrounded me. My hot tears covered the bricks, crying out from the wall. With deep pain and hateful rage I left my birthplace and homeland.

 

Editor's Footnotes
  1. Institution providing interest–free loans Return
  2. Yudenrats were Nazi–mandated town Councils composed of Jewish elders and responsible for carrying out Nazi orders upon the Jewish population. Return
  3. The Orlanski brigade of Partisans Return


[Page 175]

A Partisan's Story

by Eliahu Blyakher

Translated by Meir Bulman

The war between Germany and Russia began on June 22, 1941, and the next day the Germans were already in Divenishok. It was late afternoon, and my father was praying at the old synagogue whose windows faced the main road, Vilne St., where the German forces were making their way east.

The Germans, noticing the movement of bearded Jews in the synagogue, stormed the building, took out the Torah scrolls from the ark, and spread them along the street. Then the German tanks drove over them as riled up crowds cheered loudly.

My father, risking his life, begged the Germans to return the scrolls. A German pointed his pistol at him. Father was saved from certain death thanks to Vazek the lame peasant who happened to be at the synagogue. Father used his remaining strength to return home. Henceforth, fear increased in the town, and my father prayed at home. Secret group prayers took place in our home on holidays.

 

Mourning the Falling of My Eldest Brother Gershon

In addition to the sadness which befell the town, news reached us that my eldest brother Gershon, who had enlisted in the Polish military, fell while defending Warsaw along with Yeshayahu Moshe Katz and others. My father cried in private; at night a soft weeping emerged from his room. It was my father's sighing voice reciting Tikkun Chatzot[1] in memory of my brother who fell in battle fighting the Nazis. His voice echoed in the distance, merging with the loud wind blowing atop the oak trees across the church.

 

Fear and Depression

Because of its distance from the train station, the Germans postponed dealing with our town. Despite that, the Germans often appeared in town, demanding bribes. The Yudenrat[2] raised the funds necessary to compensate them. One day, a German group appeared in town seeking entertainment. They gathered the town's youth in the marketplace square, facing the church, and forced them to perform exercise tasks. They then forced them to run around the marketplace, followed by more tasks. After a few hours of torture, one German made a wild anti–Semitic speech, and the Germans got excited. Thanks to the priest who came out and pleaded for us, sacrifices were then avoided.

To make life unbearable, Jews were forbidden from the first days to draw water from the pump at the center of the market. Once, my sister Leah snuck out to the pump and filled a bucket. A few hooligans attacked her and took the bucket. I went to the police station across the street to complain and was jailed. My father managed to rescue me after much effort, and some bribes to a few officers.

 

The First Victims

A few days after the Germans entered, the police publicly executed two Russian NKVD officers who had remained trapped in town. The next night the Germans killed Dovid Shklar (Dovid der Zekl[3]), while he attempted to reach his brother–in–law Delatishki's house via a shortcut. Fear in town doubled when we learned that the infamous robber Kasiuk Skyviss was appointed as chief of police. Our fears were confirmed when he assembled a gang of young Poles to torture us. Every evening they raided the homes of rich Jews and stole whatever they could lay their hands on. They mainly targeted the homes of merchants who had food stock. I remember once, Sarah Leah, Binyamin Mikelson's daughter, ran outside and cried, “Help! We are being robbed!” but all feared to come to her aid.

On one market day Thursday, Itshe Binyamin's [Ed. Note: Yitzach Binyamin Rudnik] house was raided, a young woman from Vilne who lived with them was killed, and her baby's head was hurled at the wall until his brains were splattered. Gedalye [Ed. Note: Katz], Itshe Benyamin's son–in–law, tried to defend the woman but was killed in the same room. We were especially shocked at the sight of Russian prisoners who would pass near our house towards Dubizishok St. in route to the moggilnik (Christian cemetery) where they would be unloaded from the trucks and executed with a shot to the neck.

If the Germans do that to prisoners of war, to whom the Geneva Convention applies, what fate could we expect?

In January 1942 an order was given by the Gvits–Commissar to dismantle the Jewish settlement in Divenishok and to transfer Jews to nearby Voronova.

It was a rough snow–filled winter. We loaded families onto sleds. Each one packed a few belongings and we moved to Voronova. The Germans' intentions were clear: to concentrate the remaining Jews from the small towns into one place and then later finish them off at one fell swoop.

The ghetto horrified me. Overcrowding was unbearable. The Germans crammed 6–8 families in each house and there was barely enough space for each person to rest his head.

Life proceeded according to the well–known ghetto pattern: yellow patch, forced labor, intimidation, torment, and execution of Jews with great cruelty. All was done, of course, to inspire fear in Jews and humiliate them.

 

Dismantling of the Voronova Ghetto

On Saturday, May 8, 1942, we felt that something was about to happen, something irritating and suffocating. Concerned and afraid, people looked through cracks in the windows

We were jailed. Polish police officers and SS men surrounded the ghetto, no one was permitted to leave or enter. Fear gripped us. We felt like the end was near. Each person expressed his fear in a unique way: one bit his fingernails, another privately wiped tears from eyes expressing fear and horror. The hours dragged on endlessly.

After many hours of terror, the curfew was lifted, but the guarding around the ghetto continues. The general feeling was that ‘the end is near’. Many attempted to escape at night, others attempt to bribe policemen to allow them to escape the ghetto. Many succeeded, yet others were captured and killed.

On 1/5/42[4] the sun's rays shone on the golden grain fields, and the fields are filled with light. It was a very lively sight, but for the Jews of Voronova it was a fateful and bitter day.

The ghetto saw an increased presence of SS officers and Polish police. Guarding around the ghetto tightened. Gentiles from local villages swarmed into town, armed with rakes, hoes, pitchforks, and metal rods. They boisterously marched through town.

The Germans, and their Lithuanian and Polish collaborators, went door to door, taking Jews of every age and dealing them blows before bringing them to the market square. Those who tried to evade were killed by axes and steel rods.

The marketplace is crowded with fearful Jews, kneeling, as the fear of death reflects in their eyes. The wild mob goes to each house, helping the Germans assault every Jew who falls into their hands, breaking into houses, plundering, destroying, and shattering everything they could put their hands on.

A German officer, Windisch, appears and gives a venomous speech: “The Jewish Nation is the biggest enemy of the German People and of all humanity, so a death sentence is given to them”.

The Jews are chased from the marketplace to the intersections of Lida Street, Train Station Street, and Hermanishok Street. The German officers stand at the intersection, among them Windisch, Gvits–Comissar Warner and his deputy Hinds and begin dividing Jews into groups to life or death.

Those who will remain alive are directed to the right side to Train Station Street. A few important people were sent to the left as hostages. If something were to happen to the Germans, they would be immediately executed. Those who were directed straight to Lida Street were immediately abandoned; the mob of predators stood on both sides of the road and assaulted these Jews with whatever came to hand; axes, shovels, whips. The beards of the town's notables were plucked, and they were taunted before reaching the mass grave.

The Jews were brought in groups to the grave, ordered to disrobe, and to enter the graves. They were shot in the neck, placed in layers, and doused with chlorine and lime for disinfection. Among those buried were also people still alive who then suffocated. In that cruel manner, Jews of Voronova, Divenishok, Kalelishok, Soletchnik, Stashiles, Yashuny and Benakani were exterminated. At least 5000 Jews were executed that day.

My father's family hid in a bunker and was saved. My wife, mother in–law, and I were brought to the marketplace. My mother–in–law was sent forward to her death. Being a professional, I was sent to the right with my wife and two children.

The sounds of gunshots and the cries reaching the heavens still echoed when a German officer appeared before us and said: “Know that you remain alive as a privilege and not by right, so you must pay the price.” As he spoke he spread a blanket and commanded that all valuables be placed on it. “Whoever hides silver or gold will be executed.” The blanket was filled and taken by the Germans.

After the speech, all surviving Jews were registered. Horrific events took place during the registration. People wept like children, cried, and wailed. Many fainted. Some had been orphaned, others had lost children, some were now widowed.

The most horrific thing I witnessed was the sight of wagons filled with the clothes of the murder victims. People recognized their beloved's bloody clothes. Mental collapses were common; many people were terror stricken.

After the registration we were not allowed to return to our houses, which had been destroyed by the peasants. We were held on Lida Street, 8–10 families in one house. Mourning and bereaved we went back to forced labor until an order was received to transfer us to the Lida Ghetto. Those remaining took their few belongings with a heavy heart and deadly silent, and the caravan made its way to the Bastuni train station.

 

In the Lida Ghetto

After the dismantling of the Voronova ghetto we recived an order to walk to Bastuni and to take the train to Lida from there. We shouldered our belongings and accompanied by police walked to Bastuni. On the way we passed a mass grave. It was [approx.] 12 meters in length, 6 meters wide and 4 meters deep. The area was littered with papers, documents, and photos. Four pillars on which the Germans had smashed babies' skulls still stood next to the grave.

Schnapps and vodka bottles from which the executioners had drunk still rolled nearby. The grave seemed to be rising due to people still breathing. My heart wept at the enormity of the tragedy which had befallen our nation, but tears must not be shown to the Germans.

The Lida Ghetto has left a depressing impression. A constantly guarded 2–meter tall fence surrounded it. Every morning, the Yudenrat assembled a labor roster and I worked on various tasks. We suffered poverty and hunger, and my daughter died in the ghetto. I felt suffocated and decided to leave the ghetto come what may. Rumors of partisans reached us and I planned to join them. For that purpose I purchased a gun and waited for the first chance to leave the ghetto.

 

To the Bielski Otriad

After a few months of waiting, a partisan going by the name of Leybke Kadap arrived at the ghetto to take people to the Bielski Otriad. My brother–in–law Leybke and I joined him. We traveled on winding paths through the woods all night until we reached the partisans' area. We then continued to where Bielski was stationed. Bielski, who was a close acquaintance of ours, greeted me with open arms.

After remaining there for 7 days I received permission to return to the ghetto and bring my family. I received a gun, and with another friend, we made our way towards the Lida ghetto. 12km away from Lida I hired a trustworthy coachman, traveled to the ghetto, and told him to wait while I took out my wife and children. At 12 am I crawled under the wires and entered the ghetto. In the morning, with the help of the chief of Jewish police, Stolitski, I stood in line with my wife as if going to work and then left the ghetto. The coachman gave my wife peasants' clothes and handed her a sickle and they traveled to his house. At night I gathered 12 people and once more, aided by Stolitski, I left the Lida Ghetto at 1 AM and made my way to Bielski.

 

On a Mission to Rescue Jews

A week following my first mission, Bielski sent me again to rescue Jews from the Lida Ghetto, as well as restock on medication. I crawled under the barbed wire again and entered the ghetto. In the ghetto I had already become known as a partisan successfully transferring Jews to the Bielski Otriad. Within a short while I concentrated 46 people with weapons and some medication, and with the aid of commander Stolitski, I managed to sneak out of the ghetto and safely make it to the woods.

After a 10–day resting period, Bielski asked that I bring more Jews and medicine. I went alone this time and breached the ghetto at night. News of my arrival spread and over a few days I gathered a group of 76 people. On that visit I took with me commander Stolitski's only son as a reward for the great help in tricking the Germans into not noticing what was happening. I promised him that when the time came I would rescue him and his wife from the ghetto.

After the success of that mission I was again requested to return to the ghetto. Indeed, after a 2–week break, I returned and rescued 86 people, among them my sister Sarah Hinde, her husband David Movshovitsh, and their daughter Khenye, as well as my other brother–in–law Meir Olkenitski. That mission was a success too and two days later we were already in a safe place.

Due to my knowledge of the roads and considering my previous success, I was sent back to the ghetto. I must note that on all missions, especially the final ones, the aid of commander Stolitski was crucial. Without his help, I would not have been able to visit the ghetto that often and rescue that many people. In that particular mission, I transferred 33 people from the ghetto, among them Zeydke Lubetski.

My wife's sister was recovering from ear surgery and I left her in the ghetto, as well as my sister Leah, her husband, her three children, and my father who did not want to leave my sister. We agreed I would take them on the next visit. I had not managed to bring these people to Bielski when the big siege in Naliboki Pushcha[5] began, and we split up. Each person ran in a different direction. [I, along with] Zeydke Lubetski, Shmulik from Lida, someone from Soletchnik, and a Russian partisan made our way towards Divenishok. We did so for two reasons: first, we wanted to avoid the German chase which was larger than all the preceding manhunts. Second, we wanted to recover from the Gentiles property left with them by Jews.

 

The Divenishok Area

After we reached an area about 12km from Divenishok we entered a village and obtained a coach from a peasant, and traveled to Yokhenvitsh the Miller. We knew some town Jews had hidden clothes, silver, and gold with him. But most of all we searched for his son–in–law who had collaborated with the Germans and had much Jewish blood on his hands. His son–in–law probably sensed us coming and managed to sneak away from the house, but we found the miller. We intimidated him with our weapons and he placed some gold and silver in a small bag and gave us clothes and food for the road. From there we traveled to another village, where my brother–in–law Shayke [Weiner] had deposited clothes with a peasant, and Meir Rogol had left many fabrics with him. The peasant took the items out from a pit in the barn and returned them to us.

We patrolled the area until we reached a village about 8km from Divenishok, where we went to sleep. When I woke up in the morning I could find neither Zeydke nor the coach. He likely estimated that with the money he could live peacefully in the ghetto so why should he suffer in the woods? But he eventually perished with everyone at the Lida Ghetto. Fortunately, he left me the gun, otherwise my situation would have been very bad.

I returned to the woods to search for the Bielski Otriad. To my great disappointment I could no longer find them at the designated spot. Partisans there made me aware that they had left due to the siege.

Having no other choice I searched for a way to join a different otriad and was accepted to the Alexander Nevsky Otriad. I stayed there for ten days and was sent on a mission to place explosives under train tracks. My left eye area and fingers were injured on that mission. I remained at the camp for a short while I healed. There, I found out were my family was. I did not hesitate and began traveling. After much searching I found my family and the entire Bielski Otriad.

After the chase ended and things had calmed, I sent my brother–in–law to rescue my father, my sister Leah and family, and my sister–in–law and family. He entered the ghetto and decided to bring them all to Bielski the next day. Unfortunately, the ghetto was surrounded by a heavy guard at night no one entered nor left. His sister woke him at 4 am and said, “Yakov, the ghetto is surrounded. Get up and save yourself and your friends.” They managed to cross the fence and hid in the foundry until the evening and slipped into the woods.

 

How I Saved a Jewish Partisan's Life

In recognition of my devotion to the Otriad and the successful completion of all my missions, I was appointed to by Bielski to serve as his adjutant. After that I accompanied Zusye on his journeys and meetings with Russian commanders.

Once, we arrived at the Alexander Nievski Otriad for an important meeting with the commander. I was told that a Jewish man named Tuvye was caught sleeping while on guard duty and might be put to death the next day.

I searched for a way to rescue him. At first I thought to ask the Otriad commander to pardon him but abandoned that thought since I knew he was a Jew–hater. I asked the company where Tuvye was being held and they showed me the bunker. A guard stood outside. I found out the bunker was divided into a few cells, one where the man was being held, and the other in which a cobbler worked. I entered the bunker as if to fix my shoes and approached the man and told him, “Listen, Tuvye, your fate is sealed! If you do not escape you are lost.” He asked the guard permission to use the restroom, utilized the dark of night, and escaped to a designated spot where he hid until I came to take him.

I left the bunker and heard gunshots. When I asked, “What happened?” I was told, “Tuvye escaped.” A while later, after Bielski and I had returned from the meeting, I came to the designated place and took the young man to our otriad. That is how I saved his life and he is with us today in Israel.

After I arrived in Israel, rumors reached me that there were ungrateful partisans who owed their lives to the Bielski brothers but were spreading fictional stories about Tuvye Bielski's behavior, and were trying to diminish his immense contribution to rescuing Jews.

In those days, when entire Jewish families roamed the woods without weapons or resources, subjected to starvation, robbery and looting, and Russian partisans would steal whatever little food they had and then send them away, Tuvye Bielski and his brothers risked their lives and allowed poor Jews and their wives and children to join them, gave them food and shelter, and were in constant conflict with headquarters which vehemently opposed these family camps. The Russian claims were justified in many aspects; the families were a burden to the Otriad and made it difficult to maneuver and strike the Germans. The family camps were weak spots in the partisan concealment.

Despite everything, the Bielski Otriad was the only one which accepted Jews without differentiation; men, women, children, with or without weapons.

I served for a while as Tuvia Bielski's adjutant and witnessed everything that took place at the Otriad and can definitively state that Bielski saved many Jews from certain death and risked his own life and his friends' lives for the one and only purpose of rescuing Jews from the ghettos.

I personally was sent by Bielski 5 times to the Lida Ghetto to bring Jews to the woods. That operation was very successful and in a short time, I was able to rescue 250 people from the Lida Ghetto.

In the Voronova book, M. Shamir (Shmerkovitsh) tells us that people from Navaredok refused to accept him when he arrived in the woods from Lida and he was accepted thanks only to Bielski.

In his words (page 89): “Fortunately, the Bielski brothers got people under control. The eldest Tuvye surpassed himself and did not cease bringing people in from the ghetto, thinking to rescue as many Jews as possible from imminent destruction. At that point the rescue issue was truly his life's purpose. He paid no mind to anyone, not even his family members. It made a tremendous impression on us.”

After the partisan movement expanded and the Russians, with support from Moscow, took control of partisan headquarters, anti–Semitism began running wild in the woods; the Russians would steal weapons from weak Jews and expel them from battalions. Their situation was dire, and their only refuge was with Tuvye Bielski. I personally know of many cases in which Tuvye rescued partisans from the Russian claws.

Tuvye is accused of enacting a rigid discipline and conducting matters harshly. I would like to point out that at that time, when human life was [considered] worthless, Tuvye had to act and rule with an iron fist to take control of the rabble and to enact order and discipline, without which there could have been no sustainability even for the shortest time.

In some cases, Tuvye acted very harshly, but “a person is not held responsible when he is in distress”.[6] In such circumstances any undermining of discipline would have caused the entire otriad to crumble and the consequences would have been unfathomable. He faced a choice “to be or not to be,” and so he did not act otherwise.

 

On a Successful Mission

Towards the end of our stay in the woods we suffered greatly at the hands of the White Polish Army. They imposed a siege on us and we could not resupply the otriad. After the situation increased in severity I took on the mission of supplying food to the people.

I selected ten daring men, obtained 6 wagons, and traveled to the Navaredok area, which was distant from our base.

We surprised the peasants because the White Polish controlled the area; we encountered no resistance. We took meat from the peasants, entered a flour mill, and returned to base. Other equestrians and I rode ahead of the envoy.

We reached a village where we encountered a narrow bridge, difficult to cross. Those spots always posed obstacles to us. Our progress became slower and more cautious. I suddenly noticed cigarette smoke and heard them speaking Polish. We opened heavy fire on them and they were taken by surprise and left.

We changed course for security reasons, so we were late and did not return to base at the planned time. We were delayed for a whole day. The people thought we were killed on the road and so they were very happy [to see us]. They greeted us with kisses and dancing. We brought them wagons loaded with goods; bread, lamb, smoked beef, flour, and grains.

Towards the end, as the Germans began retreating, the Russians blocked their path and they had to retreat through the woods. We received an order to put to death any captured Nazi. I captured two Nazi officers and brought them to headquarters. One Nazi which we made stand by a tree understood what was about to take place and said, “I will not live but neither will the Jews.” The Jewish partisans attacked him and ripped him to shreds. The second officer met a similar fate.

 

The Stay in Voronova

After Liberation, I traveled to Voronova and was accepted to be employed at the NKVD, where I tried to locate German collaborators. For whole days I sat with an NKVD commander and provided details on the actions of those people. I could not do much because the Russians feared the local population, which was hostile towards them.

In Voronova we took into our care two small orphaned children, one Yekutiel Boyarski and the other Berl Tribitski. I found them work and so they were exempted from service in the Red Army. Asael Bielski, brother of Zusye, the praised commander who went through all tribulations with us in the woods, found his death in the Red Army while in the Prussian wilderness. Pinkhas Lipkunski, then a young child on his own, stayed with me for a long time.

Chaim Hershovitsh and his young children hid for a long time with a Gentile near Yorzishok. The Gentile relentlessly extorted him and when his money ran out the Gentile handed him and his sons to the White Poles which cruelly tortured and murdered them.

A similar thing happened to Gotke Levine (Itshe from Geranion's son) and his family. He hid in a pit near the village Geranion. A peasant who knew extorted him and when there was no longer money to extort handed them to the White Poles. The Poles came to the field, removed Gotke Levine and his family from the pit and murdered him on the spot.

Moshe Kaganovitsh writes in his book that a senator in the Polish Senate who lived in Geranion led the White Poles and initiated the killing of Jews who hid in Geranion and surrounding area.

 

Visit in Divenishok

During my stay in Voronova, I traveled with 4 police officers to Divenishok. I found our house intact. Five families lived in it, among them Baoshke the drunk, who was appointed by the Russians chairman of the local council. He treated me courteously and helped gather some belongings we had deposited with the Gentiles. I patrolled my destroyed town, mortified. Every pile of rubble and destroyed building cried to me of the tragedy with a silent sense of loss. My heart was ripped to shreds at the sight of destruction and abandonment. “Master of the Universe!” my heart cried in pain, “please avenge of the blood of thy servants which is shed.”[7]

The visit to my town depressed my spirit and I was determined to leave the bloody land, for my future and for my children. I was looking towards Eretz Israel.

I arrived in Israel in 1948 at the height of the battles. I soon enlisted in the IDF and participated in many battled across the country until I was injured in the back by shrapnel and was hospitalized at Tel HaShomer for about six months.

As I look back at the tumultuous events of my life, my heart is filled with thanks to God whose blessings have allowed me to reach this point and establish a family in Israel.

 

Translator's & Editor's Footnotes
  1. Tikkun chatzos is a midnight ritual which focuses on mourning over the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and beseeching God to rebuild it speedily”, Rabbi Avi Zakutinsky, “Tikkun Chatzos”, https://www.ou.org/torah/halacha/practical–halacha/tikkun–chatzos–assorted–halachos/. Return
  2. Jewish Councils mandated by German orders in the occupied communities of Eastern Europe during WWII. Return
  3. The word ‘zekl’ means ‘sack’ in Yiddish. The meaning of this nickname is not yet fully understood. Return
  4. The date written in the text does not follow logically from the prior date given of May 8, 1942. Return
  5. Naliboki Forest Return
  6. Tr Note: Bava Batra 16b Return
  7. Tr Note: Psalm 79:10 Return

 

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