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[Page 483]

Kovel in Its Destruction

 

Glorified and Sanctified

bt Yaacov Teitleker

Translated by Ala Gamulka

Glorified and Sanctified Be God's Great Name… Glorified and Sanctified, in martyrdom, may be the names of the multitude of our brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, the elderly and the babies, our relatives and friends who were murdered and slaughtered, strangled and burned, tortured and raped- no longer with us- by profane Nazi villains. They were innocents who had done no wrong… throughout the world which He has created according to his will.

This world was created by God and we do not understand it. Wild beasts of the forest and of the human race tore, with their teeth and sharp nails, our dear goslings. We lost them forever.

May he establish his kingdom, bring redemption and Messiah…

They did not merit to see, with their own eyes, the Return to Zion, the beginning of redemption and the establishment of our state. This is what they had hoped for, prayed morning and night for and were killed for today.

Speedily and soon… Their dream, our dream has been realised in full in our time as they were eliminated from earth.

In your lifetime and during your days and within the life of the entire house of Israel… the cruel and horrible fate of our exile caused us to pay such a steep price for our historic rights. In the peaceful lifetime of those who were taken from us – six million souls were exterminated from the mournful house of Israel.

May there be abundant peace from heaven…

Lie in peace wherever you are and may your souls be lifted by the divine presence with other pure and saintly ones. They were sacrificed on the altar of the nation and they will be included in the eternal life of Israel.

He who creates peace in his celestial heights… and includes peace in the heavens- he will give us strength and courage and he will envelop us with serenity. We have suffered immensely and our hearts are hurting. We must delve deeply into the story of the Holocaust and teach future generations. They must know and remember what the Amaleks had done to our generation. This must not be forgotten! It must be remembered forever!


[Page 484]

The Bells Rang

by Pinhas Drori

Translated by Ala Gamulka

The bells rang, my hope did not reply…
In a parade of dead people, she marches…
My nation is also part of this parade. Its flags are the injuries.
He always walks
And returns…

The bells rang and announced victory-
Shadows listened to the sighs of the bell.
The bells rang forgotten sounds
Blood poured on the flowers.

The bells rang and the canon stopped.
In the abyss and the deep mire, forgotten man
Arose and searched for the celebration
In the eyes of his brother who was killed yesterday.

The bells rang: for whom and why?
Will love come down to the valley of hate
Will it come at dawn to welcome the day with light?

The bells rang for me, too,
They thundered.
Waves and waves of despair came over me
I remember you, mother, at night
And I cried in the dark corner

As the bells rang.

 


[Page 485]

Writings on the Wall

by Shlomo Perlmutter

Translated by Ala Gamulka

Our beloved, 20 000 Jews of Kovel, men, women and children, left behind a mass grave in the village of Bakhava near our town. Also, there were thousands of writings on the walls of the Great synagogue which served as the last collection place before they were exterminated. There are also some stories…

I was able to copy some of the writings and they are listed here. Some additional facts: towards the end of summer in 1944, a few months before the area was liberated by the Red Army, I managed to come to the town which only had about six Jews. This was no longer Kovel, our hometown always full of life, as we had known it. The towers of the destroyed customs house were lying on the ground. I immediately understood the extent of damage and ruin. I came off the tracks on Kolyova Street- it was partially destroyed. I made my way among the broken-down houses and reached the center of town. My heart was full of strange feelings.

Seeing the upheaval and the emptiness caused me to feel revenge. I was pleased that not only our beloved had suffered, but the Polish and Ukrainian residents had lost their homes as well.

In the “Sands” I did not see one living person. There were abandoned houses, burned bricks, broken pieces of furniture. The grass growing on the side of the road dimmed its color.

 

kov485.jpg
The Orphaned Great Synagogue

[Page 486]

The storm here must have been horrible and the quiet that followed was awful.

Near the temporary wooden bridge that connected the “sands” with the “town”, I looked at the ruins of the ghetto, across from the Great Synagogue that was still standing and up to the cemetery…

Here I met the first survivors who took me to their homes. The only Jewish home in Kovel where about six mourners and orphans from the town and its surroundings were living.

Afterwards we went to the synagogue which our beloved had turned, before their death, into a holy of holies. Hundreds and thousands of writings were etched on its white walls. Scores of Hebrew and foreign letters were drawn on them. Letters written in pencil, ordinary and unsharpened, in colored pencils, with pen and ink and some even scratched with finger nails. These were written by merchants, high school students, housewives, scholars and Hassidim, pioneers and the assimilated. They all wrote and they all wished to have their memory preserved.

Among the many writings done by our beloved during their last moments of life, stood out an odd one that was done in an unintelligible language on the East wall near the Holy Ark. Its composer had obviously spent much effort to do it with his finger nails in the hard wall. It shouted out of terrible pain and was noticed immediately. The composer worked hard to write it as high as possible and I had difficulty copying it. It said:” Here live the dead ones. Their blood cries for help in their sentence to death”. I looked at this several times and when I finally understood, I was unable to take my eyes off it. There were dried blood stains near the writing. Even after several years the stains did not fade and this left in me an even deeper appreciation of the terrible events that had taken place here.

Scores of souls were felt and they filled the deserted room. They pressed for a trial. I became one with these souls and I listened to their whispers…

I sat in the synagogue for many hours. I walked from wall to wall, from one memorial to another. A great dread came upon me when I attempted to copy the writings.

I was able to copy only some of the writings. I believed that I would still return a few times and I would be able to complete the job. However, we soon were told that the walls of the synagogue had been painted over and this is how the writings disappeared forever. These writings had been left to us by our dearly beloved.


[Page 487]

Notes in Hebrew by Our Loved Ones

Translated by Amy Samin

To those who come after us!
Remember these young souls:
  Soroleh Y.
Kagan P.
Gibnet Y.
 
*
 
  Zamir Yehoshua ben Moshe 15.9.1942
 
*
 
Remind those who come after us!
In another hour the pure blood of our people's youth will be spilled,
Blood as clean as the waters of the Sea of Galilee.
We demand vengeance! Cruel vengeance!
  Yehuda Shechter
 
*
 
In eternal memory
The souls that fell in vain at the hands of the German murderers.
  Ziskind Simcha, 18
Ziskind Miriam, 50
 
*
  Frieda Stillerman daughter of Yitzhak Marder 15.9.1942
 
*
 
In blood and fire Judah fell, in blood and fire Judah will arise. The Eternal One of Israel will not lie. 19.9.1942
  Miriam Roizen
 
*
 
Earth, don't cover our blood,
Heavens, take our vengeance.

We are going to a cruel death together with all of Kovel at the hands of the cruel murderers.

  Thursday, 14 Elul
Bluma, Ya'acov, David and Yehuda


[Page 488]

  Sheindel Schwartz 27.8.1942.
David Eisenberg.
Leah Fish Pioneer Group.
Rahel Fogelman.
 
*
 
Toybitsh Hannah.
Toybitsh Baba 16.9.
Frishberg, Chaya, Berl.
 
*
 
Kasil Weiner
Chaya Frishberg, remnants of the Shomrim Group
 
*
 
I am twenty years old. Oy, the world around us is so beautiful. Why are they taking sending me down the drain; all that I am craves life. Have my final moments come? Vengeance! Avenge me, whoever reads my final wish.
 
  (unsigned)


Notes in Yiddish by Our Loved Ones

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Bloyweis Alter, 5.9.42 [September 5, 1942], died.
 
*
 
I was with Ratien; he asked me to come in a few days. Thus they caught me. Ymunache caught me.
  S. Melnicer
 
*
 
Revenge!
Kanan Fayga at the murderer's hand.
Came from outside the ghetto.

[Page 489]

Yankl Giwant is here. Berl, too. We all fell into the hands of the murderers on Wednesday. 3.9.1942 [September 3, 1942]
 
*
 
Berl fell Shabbos the 5th of September.
His death was easy.
 
*
 
Dear parents, brother and sister!
I greet you. I am with Fayga Kanan. She is alone. We go to a more beautiful world, bravely.
  Monday – 7.9.1942 [September 7, 1942]
Yankl – Fayga.
 
*
 
Alas, we wanted to live Henikh
 
*
 
Nota
Fayga
 
Leah
Families
Taub
Perished
6.10.1942 [October 10, 1942]
Moshe
Perhaps   Peysi
You live – take revenge
 
*
 
Alas, I waited for you with Yankl for two days… The entire time I was with your brother, as with you. So good together. Motele, my heart! We leave the beautiful world. The blood should not be silent. We go to a Jewish state.
I kiss you. The entire family.
  Fayga

[Page 490]

Chaya Rabiner Monday at night. Forgive me. I did not want to cause you pain. I could not do anything else.
 
*
Rusman Zakhariah Thursday the 2nd
 
*
 
Yehoshaya (Shaye) Frydman was director of the People's Kitchen. Perished Wednesday 24.8.1942 [August 24, 1942]. My son, Leibl, perished two months earlier. Also Uncle Yerukhem and Chana Finklsztajn and Malka perished.
Yehoshaya Frydman
May this be a matzevah [headstone]; perhaps my son will read this!
 
*
 
Kapczyk Mendl, Shimkha with his wife and children. 25.8.1942 [August 8, 1942]
 
*
 
Shlomo Granicz's son-in-law, Liberman was in the synagogue with his wife and child three o'clock at night. 25.8.1942 [August 25, 1942].
 
*
 
I, Yerukhem ben [son of] Reb Shlomo Ludmirer was here for five days in Tishrei [September or October], 1942. I ask you to say Kaddish [prayer for the dead], if no relatives remain.
 
*
 
Generation Druker!
I, Ahron Druker, of Krakow, found my death.
 
*
 
Forgive me!
Mama, you should know that I was caught when I went for water. If you are here remember your daughter, Yente Soyfer, who perished 14.9.1942 [September 14, 1942].

[Page 491]

I, Fayge Szwarc, was here in the synagogue for five days in Tishrei (September or October), 1942.
 
*
 
Yakov Lewertob perished 6.9.1942 (September 6, 1942).
 
*
 
Yakov Geler lost 9 Elul [22 August] 1942.
 
*
 
Cantor of the Beis haMedrash, Pruszanski, Shlomo bar [son of] Chaim-Moshe, son of Gitele, here in the synagogue. His wife, may her soul be bound up in the bond of everlasting life, 6 days in Elul 5702 [19 August 1942].
 
*
 
We wait here for death – Avraham ben [son of] Shmuel Rajcsztal, with his wife and child and Bila and her child 24.8.1942 [August 24, 1942].
 
*
 
So many dreadful scenes,
So many cruel pictures,
So much pain – without any word of protest!
Only tears - - -
No hand raised.
No clenched fist.
Only calls to God!

Leibl Sosne
22.8.1942 [August 22, 1942]

 
*
 
Josef and Gitl Rapaport 27.8.1942 [August 27, 1942].
 
*
 
We sit in the synagogue and wait for death.
Pesakh and Ester Tasgal
23 days in Elul

[Page 492]

In the course of 10 days, thousands of Jews were led out of the synagogue to slaughter – small and large, young and old; but the most terrible thing is this, that they went without a word of protest, like calves.

May the future generations remember this shameful death and - - disgrace.
 
*
 
Ben-Tzion Szer went to his death for nothing.
27.8.1942 [August 27, 1942]
 
*
 
B”H [Borukh Hashem – Blessed is God, meaning Thank God]
Chaim bar [son of] Shlomo Szwarc
 
*
 
Bar Chana
Bar Zelig
Ephraim Segal
Gitl Segal
 
*
 
Liebl Sasne!
They know that everyone was murdered. Now I go with my wife and children to death. Be healthy!
Your brother, Avraham
 
*
 
Dear Sister, who perhaps was saved and you will find yourself in the synagogue; read these, my last words. I find myself now in the synagogue before my death. Be lucky here and survive the bloody war; remember your sister.
Polye Fidlman
 
*
 
Sunday, I, Eidl Fiszbejn, was here.
 
*
 
Goldsztajn, Bet Sheva
Goldsztajn, Avraham
Goldsztajn, Borukh Leib (Butsye)
Goldsztajn, Mariam

Perished on 28.8.1942 (September 28, 1942)

Yehoshayke! Take revenge for the blood of those who perished.

Brayndl and Avraham-Yitzhak Kazak were here on the 27th of Elul, 1942 [9 September].


[Page 493]

Notes in Polish by Our Loved Ones

Translated by Amy Samin

Roza, daughter of Hinoch died in a tragic manner. I fought, I wanted to live – in spite of the futility. My heart, my heart, goes out to my Liniosinka, for her sake I wanted to live, if only to see her. My sorrow is great.
 
*

[Page 494]

Dearest Andziulu! In just a few more moments we will be departing, my brother and I, for our eternal death. Should someone from our family remain alive – may they avenge our spilled blood.
 
*
 
Liuba Rozenszveig has ended his years on 30.8.1942. Avenge our blood!
 
*
 
Farewell, my beautiful world, in the last hour of my life. Your friend, Chana Avrech.
 
*
 
Perl Kleiner and her brother Yosef take their leave from everyone. 12.9.1942
 
*
 
Ehrlich, Rahel died in a tragic manner on 6.10.1942. For twenty days I suffered because I wanted to see my brother Shalom. It is hard for me to leave this world, but that is our destiny.
  Ehrlich
 
*
 
I am going to the eternal silence. Sonia Melnicer.
 
*
 
The Sheva Goldstein family died a tragic death at the hands of the Hitlerists 12.9.1942.
 
*

[Page 495]

Yosef Apelboim! 12.9.1942 God, avenge us!
 
*
 
I will write one last time before my death. I don't know if any of the Jews will remain alive. Alas, I will not be the happy one.
 
*
 
Moszko and Tunik take their leave of everyone. 15.9.1942 The last Mohicans of the Barzilai and Tojbiczów families.
 
*
 
Bilah Grojser and her family were imprisoned and slaughtered 14.9.1942
 
*
 
I will rest in the common grave of the tortured with my best friends Sonia and Kuba Rojter, the easier for our common misfortune. 27.8 1942
 
*
 
The pure Jewish blood, may it drown all the Germans. Vengeance! Vengeance! May they be struck by lightning!
  Yisrael Wajnsztejn
 
*
 
The Lencz family was killed 23.8.1942 and I write this in the last moments before they take us out to be killed.
 
*
 
Niura Rajber-Landau will die today. I so badly wanted to live! 23.8.1942
 
*

[Page 496]

Silence,
The murderers are coming.
Silence prevails in the world.
Listen to the sound of the hearts dreaming with all their might.
Listen to the sound of the hearts ceasing to beat.
Lord, let us take You in Your eternity
The murderers will pay, pay with their blood!!
How can I rejoice – if I am already in the grave?
But I wanted to be alive.
Their children will cut down the last to remain…
Another hour…another moment. . . . . .
I bid farewell to my beautiful world
Before I was able to know you…
  Tania Arbeiter and all of her family. 23.8.1942
 
*
 
Pola Wydra. 23.8.1942
 
*
 
 
Innocent blood has been spilled. Golda Wajnsztejn 23.8.1942
 
*
 
Rahel, Belka, and Sonia Blucher died a tragic death. They met the fate of all the Jews: loss of life. 15.9.1942
 
*

[Page 497]

Ania Bokser and her mother Dusia,
Moshe Dunawiecki and his wife. 15.9.1942
 
*
 
Bora Rozenwald and his wife Lema were killed. 19.8.1942
 
*
 
Killed: Zelik, Fenia, Eliahu Rozenwald of Brisk, on the Bug River. 20.8.1942
 
*
 
Gedaliah! Avenge our innocent blood! Beba Milsztejn 23.8.1942
 
*
 
My dear Monik (Poliszuk)! Avenge the blood of your father, your brother, and your sister, who fell into the hands of the murderers. Remember! This must be your mission in life.
  Fania - Feibel
 
*
 
Berensztejn, Yankel
Berensztejn, Hania
Berensztejn, Tema
Fell at the hands of the Germans.
 
*
 
The Fishbein family died with Pollack on 29.8.1942 Riva, Bela, Yisrael and Rahel.
 
*

[Page 498]

Avigdor Balter was imprisoned on 13.9.1942
 
*
 
Moshe, 45; Bela, 46; Manya, 13; Sza leave this world and everyone in it.
 
*
 
My dear sisters! We are not dying as others do, for our death comes at the hands of barbarians. We saved ourselves until 6.9.1942, more we were not able to do, for we were betrayed. Avenge our blood. Pray for us. Gittel Segal, born 1922, Ethel Segal, born 1924. Farewell. The fate of our parents is unknown to us. 7.9.1942
 
*
 
Here live the dead, crying out from their graves for justice. Benjamin Piteta
 
*
 
Adolph Rozencwaig 30.8.1942
 
*
 
Dear Yosef! Avenge us! – Dora, Amik, and Ziva Segal 12.11.1942
 
*
 
Fania Tannenboim and her children, Sioma and Pepa 12.11.1942
 
*

[Page 499]

Remember What Amalek Did to Thee

by Pinhas Pantorin

Translated by Ala Gamulka

On July 7, 1944, I heard the announcement on the radio, long awaited by me, that Kovel had been liberated by the Red Army on that day.

On the day I received the news I was in central Asia, in a hospital where I was lying, seriously injured in battle.

It is difficult to say that the news stirred up my heart since I knew that all the Jews were buried in a common grave. However, I still was energized and I decided to travel to Kovel, the town of my birth.

I did not lose a minute and I immediately contacted the local authorities. As a medal-winning officer I was given a responsible position in Kovel.

I arrived, on a military train, the first Jew, to the burned town. It was on July 22, 1944.

For three years I dreamed and wished for this moment of returning home. However, the waiting and hope were in nought. My eyes saw something so horrible that it is difficult to describe it.

 

kov499.jpg
Reciting the Kaddish at the common grave

 

This was a town of the dead where killings had taken place. A town without any people still alive and without any houses, roads or sidewalks. Everywhere one looked one only saw fallen ruins, piles of stones and bricks.

The “town” had no remnant of street signs. There were ditches and defence positions. It was full of mines and there were signs “Danger! Mines!” everywhere.

I participated in many battles from Kiev to Stalingrad and back to Krakow. On the way I saw many ruined towns, but the destruction of Kovel was worse than that of Stalingrad.

Kovel was surrounded by the Red Army for three and a half months, but Hitler's henchmen had turned the town into an important defence location and they fought there to the end.

My first steps were directed to my home on Fabritchna Street, Number 4. Miraculously, the house still stood. From afar I saw that someone was living there. To my great sorrow, it was not my wife and son, but Polish peasants. I chased them out with a pistol in my hand.

From there I went to the cemetery on Ludomir Street to pay respects to my late father.

As I approached the cemetery, I met several peasants who warned me not to go inside since the entire area was mined.

During battles I was often in danger and I ignored the warnings. I went inside. I did not care if I remained alive or if I would die in an explosion.

The gate and the fence were dismantled. Inside the cemetery there was not even one tombstone standing. Everything was in ruins and the stones had disappeared.

I spent a long time in this holy place. It was as if I were speaking to the dead whose tombstones had been vandalized. I asked: why were you quiet? Why did you not take revenge on those who had done the destruction? Of course, these questions were quite rhetorical.

Some time later I found some of the tombstones in the yards of peasants. They were used as part of a sidewalk.

When I left the cemetery I found, on the right, near the gate, a common grave where the members of the “Jewish Police” and some of the Judenrat had been buried. It was estimated there were about 200 bodies there.

This is how my life began again in the ruined town. This was the town where I spent my childhood and where I grew up.

There were about 250 people in Kovel at the time. They were all Christians. Many of them, when they found out I was coming, left in the middle of the night. They were afraid of my revenge.

As much as possible, I tried to avenge the blood of our holy ones. Their cries of “Revenge!” echoed in my ears constantly. Their suffering was in front of my eyes.

I collected much evidence to accuse the Nazi helpers and I handed it in. They were mostly eliminated, according to my instructions.

I also participated in actions against nationalist Ukrainians- Benderovtzis. Even in 1944 they were a force to contend with in our area. The Benderovtzis were loyal assistants to the Germans. We had serious battles against them, with the help of Soviet units. We were in danger many times.

We found most of the common graves and we decided to put a fence around the two big cemeteries in Bakhava. The Soviet authorities helped us to obtain the necessary wood and wire. We collected some money among the Jews still in Kovel and we built the fence around the graves of our beloved.

In November 1944, while the fighting with the Germans was still on, we completed our task. The big cemetery was fenced in and a memorial stone was erected. The 40 Jews then living in Kovel, took part in the ceremony.

We very carefully collected the bones and heads strewn in the area.

 

kov501.jpg
In front of the common grave in Bakhava

 

We covered them with sand that was saturated with blood. It was red. Even the grass roots were red. In some places the sand was mixed with holy blood.

We recited Kaddish and after we prayed “El Maaleh Rachamim”, we stood near the graves where our dear parents, wives, brothers, sisters and children had been buried.

We stood for a long time and we thought about the cruel deeds of the murderers.

I call upon all Jews, wherever they are:

Remember what the Nazi Amalek did to us!


[Page 502]

What I Saw and Heard
During the City's Liberation

by Dr. Yakov Hasis

Translated by Amy Samin

The Terrifying Destruction

The fate of man is a strange thing. When I left Kovel for Moscow on the 16th of June 1941 to attend a conference for experts in the subject of lung diseases, I didn't give it much thought. My parting from my family and friends was that of someone who is going away for only ten days, with no special excitement. I would even say everything was completely normal. There was no perception of the impending Holocaust.

In 1943, when I was on the Kazakhstani prairie, it came to my attention that something dreadful was happening in the German-occupied areas. I read a great deal about the torture of the occupied population, about cold-blooded murder, about the flowing of rivers of blood, but I did not know, then, that the Jewish people had fallen into the hands of the beasts of Hitler, and were facing total annihilation.

With the advance of the Red Army, and with the liberation of the Volhynia region, my excitement grew. I believed that the authorities would remember me, and that one day I would receive a message to return to the liberated area, to the place to which I was tied with my broken, but hopeful, heartstrings.

The order was not long in coming. It arrived in April of 1944. I received a telegram from “Galbesnofer” (galbani sanitarni otadil) of the Ministry of Transportation's health services, telling me to set out for Rovno, which had been liberated from the Nazi occupation, and take part in establishing a health care institution in the field of tuberculosis.

In March of 1945 I set out once again, on a long and dangerous journey, but I knew that it was to my home I was going.

In Rovno I was overworked. I was the only professional doctor in the area, and I worked from 8 in the morning until 11 at night. There were many tuberculosis patients to be found there,

[Page 503]

mostly villagers, and in a neglected state. The question as to why they would neglect themselves instead of receiving appropriate medical treatment was answered with this horrifying reply: “Because the doctors were slaughtered.” (As we know, most of the doctors in that region were Jews.)

In Rovno I met with a group of Jews, made up of just a few people, survivors who had remained alive because they fled to the forests and joined the partisans. A few had found a hiding place with peasants in the area. But those were only isolated instances. Most of them were sent to their deaths by the Nazis.

In Rovno I learned that in Manievich there were a number of sons of Kovel who had survived the great slaughter. I traveled there and found Bella Flaumenbaum and her small daughter, Shalom Donitch, and others. They described the great tragedy – the destruction of the first and second ghettoes. We didn't sleep a wink. All night long I listened to the description of the destruction of our town, of how our precious people were tortured, shot, and massacred. Full of worry and grief, I returned the next day to my work.

On the 8th of August my supervisor at work came to me and asked if I was of a mind to accompany him on the first train to Kovel, which had just been liberated.

I accepted willingly. We traveled by train, which consisted of an engine and only one car, and we reached Vatoroy Kovel.

Up to Holova, the road had been paved, because it had been in the hands of the Russians for a number of months. But as we approached Kovel, the road was littered with trenches, the killed, and minefields.

We reached the railway workshops, which had been completely destroyed. We walked along the paths, and everywhere we went we were warned not to veer off to the sides, because the whole area was sown with mines.

The whole area was covered with tall weeds. It was obvious that no one had set foot here in a very long time. The paths of Kovel were in mourning. As we walked along, we did not meet a single living soul. We reached the train station, which had once been bustling with life and had become a pile of ruins. The entire surrounding area was also destroyed. Via Satara Vakzalna Road we entered the center of town, which was also completely covered in weeds. I reached our house on Starzchika Street. The house was undamaged, but all of the furniture had been stolen. The house was empty – not a stick of furniture and not a single person was there. Next to the house I saw a trench. The Rubenstein houses opposite ours had been destroyed. Only the Finkelstein house remained whole. The few houses that remained resembled graves, because all who had once dwelled there had been wiped out.

I glanced at a group of Russian soldiers, who with the help of Nazi prisoners cleared the area of the landmines. I found small comfort in the sight of exploding mines, which pulverized the murderers.

I felt suffocated. I was appalled at the destruction and the emptiness. The language of man is too meager

[Page 504]

to relate all that my eyes beheld. I could not endure the grief that was in my heart, and after a few hours I returned to Rovno.

 

The Horrors of Annihilation

After a few weeks, I returned to Kovel. I had been told that a few Jews had returned to the town – some from Russia and some from nearby hiding places. I met, among others, Pinchas Fantorine and Sima Reischtol. From them I learned of the annihilation, and of the places where the massacres took place. We traveled to the new cemetery, the place where they wiped out the last remaining remnants of the Jews of the city, who had survived the two big aktions [actions] .

We saw knolls of earth. When we asked, “What is the meaning of these mounds of dirt?” they explained to us: “The groups of unfortunates who were brought to this place of death dug ditches with their own hands. Each group stood at the edge of the ditch, while behind them stood Ukrainians, Poles, and Nazis armed with submachine guns, who cut down every last one. Immediately after the murder of the first group, a second group was brought whose task it was to cover up the dead from the first group and to dig a ditch for themselves. Peasants from the area told us that many hours after the ditches had been covered in earth, they could hear the moans of the wounded struggling with the angel of death.

From there we went to Bachba to the largest mass grave. The place was deserted, except for the shepherds who grazed their sheep. We informed the peasants of the area not to dare to graze their sheep on the mass grave, or we would take revenge on them.

 

The Heroic Stand of the Teacher Yosef Avrech, may his blood be avenged

While I was in the city, I heard that Dr. Zavitska, a Polish woman about 50 years of age and who had been a known anti-Semite, had survived. I was told that she wished to see me.

I discovered her address, and we met. She was gravely ill, and a short time afterwards she died from a malignant tumor. In a voice choked with tears, she told me – as an eyewitness – of the annihilation. She described the involvement of the Ukrainians in the mass murder, and told me of the disgraceful role Dr. Yaborovski played in the slaughter.

But she wanted, in particular, to mention the greatness and heroism of the unfortunates in their last moments of life. Engraved in her memory was the appearance, full of Jewish national pride and remarkable courage, of the teacher, Yosef Avrech, may his blood be avenged. That Jew, said Dr. Zavitska, revealed supreme, exalted, and heroic spiritual strength and raised the morals of the Jews to new heights that daunted the hangmen. This tormented Jew, an amputee, whose prosthetic arm the murders had removed, walked proudly upright to his death.

According to her testimony, the Jews of the city walked proudly, adorned with a halo of courage, towards

[Page 505]

death. In this majestic parade towards annihilation, the eternal values of Judaism and the ethics of the people of Israel were revealed.

 

The Horrific Actions of Dr. Yaborovski, may he rot in hell

Dr. Yaborovski was considered, so to speak, to be a friend of the Jews. He was the only non-Jewish doctor to work in the Jewish hospital. However, “friend” in his case had the meaning: “God protect me from my friends”…When permission was given to the destroyer, the monster lying dormant deep within his Jesuit soul awoke.

His “fine actions” were described to me by Dr. Zavitska as these: since he was considered a friend, many Jews entrusted him with their wealth, in gold, money, and jewelry - until the fury should pass.

When the fighting ended and the city was liberated from the hands of the impure, a few of the depositors approached Dr. Yaborovski and asked that he return the valuables they had left in his care. But he ignored their claims and did not return anything to them. More than that, he heaped derision and scorn upon the Jews, abused them with curses and insults, and told the Jewish doctors, his colleagues: “For generations you ate our flesh, and sucked our blood like leeches. Now your time has come. Now an end is put to your vile people.”

Dr. Yaborovski openly justified the Nazis' acts of annihilation.

 

Meetings with Kovel Doctors in Russia

At various times and occasions, I had the opportunity to meet with the Jewish doctors of our city, those who took their chances and were able to escape before the arrival of the Nazis, and thus were saved from the Holocaust.

Dr. Weitman: He was a senior physician, a specialist in dermatology. He worked in the Jewish hospital and was one of its managers. He lived in a private, two-story house, which stood next to the jail.

During the war, I met with him for the first time in Kiev, in 1941. It was in the morning, after the heavy bombing of the Darnytsia railway station in Kiev. Dr. Weitman had been drafted into the Russian Army and on his journey with the other draftees the convoy was bombed, claiming many victims.

When I met him, he was very upset. He had had a long night of wandering. Seizing the opportunity, I struck up a brief conversation with him. He didn't have much time, because he was hurrying to his unit, from which he had become separated.

In late 1944 I met him for a second time when I was in Rovno. On his way west,

[Page 506]

Dr. Weitman arrived in that city with his unit, and when he learned from the Jews he happened upon along his way that I was in Rovno, he asked to speak with me.

It was one of my saddest duties to tell him of the devastation of Kovel, of the complete destruction of his house, and of his family - not a single one of whom had survived. As he listened, the doctor cried bitter tears like a small child. This meeting was also brief, for he was forced to head out to the front with his unit.

At our parting, I revealed to him that I was of a mind to cross the border and immigrate to the Land of Israel. Dr. Weitman was thrilled and grateful for this revelation, and said that he also wished to do the same even though it wasn't exactly the simplest thing to manage since he was afraid to desert the Russian Army.

I have not seen him since then. I heard that he had gone with his unit to the front in the direction of Czechoslovakia.

Dr. Chachnovich: He was a senior doctor in Kovel, a cultured man who was involved with people and active in public life. He was a specialist in internal medicine and pediatrics.

In 1941 I learned that he and his wife had left the city with the Russian Army, before the Nazis had arrived. They decided to leave Kovel because their only daughter had gone to relatives in the city of Rostov, in Russia. As far as I know, Dr. Chachnovich is still alive, and spent the war years living in Siberia.

Dr. Yosef Melamed: He was a young doctor, who completed his studies in 1937. He was drafted into the Russian Army and left Kovel before the onset of hostilities, leaving behind a wife and son.

In the Russian Army, he specialized as a surgeon and was appointed chief surgeon in the military hospital. In 1944, while I was in Rovno, Dr. Melamed and his hospital arrived in that city. We met and were together for a few months, until he received orders to move west with the hospital, following the advance of the Russian Army. I know that he remained alive and is working as a doctor in the Soviet Union.

Dr. Pinchas (Patia) Retnovisky: He was a young doctor. He was also certified as a doctor in 1937. When war broke out between Russia and Germany, he left the city with the Russian Army. At the beginning of 1945, he arrived in Rovno on his way to Kovel. He came to see me. All night long we talked about the city and its residents, about the mutual friends we had, and about their horrific end. I told him of my plan to move west and immigrate to the Land of Israel. He decided to remain in Russia. After some time he traveled to Kovel, to see with his own eyes the horrible destruction. Later, he returned to his unit which was camped in Belorussia and I never heard anything more of him.

I also heard of other young doctors from Kovel who were drafted into the Russian Army and were saved, including Dr. Grisha Varba and Dr. Weisberg.


[Page 507]

From the Scene of Destruction

by Dr. Mordechai Leiberson

Translated by Amy Samin

I left the city on 25 June 1941, a few days before the Nazi thugs invaded. The war broke out on the morning of 22 June 1941. An air of soul-deep depression enveloped all of the residents of the city, especially the Jewish ones.

Job-like tidings had already reached us from the Polish-German side of the occupation, on the other side of the Bug River, and the news sowed feelings of fear and embarrassment. However, although the Jews of the city sensed what was in store for them, they still did not muster the strength to rise up and flee for their lives, but instead looked ahead with fatalistic belief to what would come.

Only a few, some two to three hundred Jews, youth and younger people up to about 40 years of age, many of them bachelors, left the city and headed toward Russia, to the heart of an unknown land, with the hope surging within them that with the cessation of the fighting, and the passing of the rage, they would return to the city and find their families alive and well.

But things evolved in a completely different manner, and that which we did not dare to think of, rose up and became a horrific fact. The Holocaust had come. In 1942 – the year of the total destruction of the children of Israel, Poland and all of Europe kneeled and moaned under the boot of the Hitlerite beast.

And in the summer of 1942 the axe fell upon the sacred community of Kovel. Not a single survivor or a single remnant of our brothers and sisters remains there.

On 1 May 1945 I returned to Kovel and found our town completely destroyed. In April of 1945 I had been on my way from Moscow to Poland as a conscript of the Polish army, which was organizing in the area of Poland which had been liberated. My role was medical officer with a rank of lieutenant in the Polish Air Force.

When I arrived in Brisk-Litovsk, I deviated from the army's marching orders, because I longed to see our town. After a long and tiring journey, due to disruptions in the railway lines, I arrived at the central station of Kovel at three o'clock in the morning on the first of May, 1945. The train station once famous for its architectural beauty had been completely destroyed, and in its place stood miserable wooden huts.

At six o'clock in the morning I went down, gingerly, into the city. It is difficult to express in words what my eyes beheld. The city gave the impression of a large cemetery, although here and there appeared the form of a man. Ninety percent of the houses had been destroyed. Fierce fighting had raged in the city, and it had changed hands several times. It is easy to imagine what had been done to her by the aerial bombing and the shelling from canons on both sides.

[Page 508]

It was natural that my guiding instinct led me to my former home, the house I had lived in for 20 years, where I was raised and grew up, and where I spent the years of my childhood and adolescence. With my heart pounding and trembling deep in my soul, I approached Listopadova Street and searched for number 94, the number of our house. I did not find a single remnant of it, nor of any other houses, nearby or farther away. Rows of tumbled rocks and mounds of bricks on both sides of the street – this was the dismal picture of a street that had always been teeming with Jewish life - happy and cheerful, busy and worried.

Across from our house once lived the head of the community, Reb Shlomo Mendel of blessed memory, he and his large extended family. There remained not a single trace of his house, either, the life which had resided there extinguished. I continued on my way, glancing around me. Here once stood the bakery and home of Aharon Zilberstein of blessed memory. Now nothing remains of the house. This gloomy picture returned again and again the entire length of the street, until coming to the intersection of Listopadova and Toshovski Streets. I noted the ruins of the homes of the families Pomerantz, Goldover, Guttman, Yehezkel “Biliner”, Freisant, Freed, and others.

I barely recognized Toshovski Street: mounds of rubble and ruin. Here once lived the Gasko, Pomerantz, Melamed, Gevirtz and many, many other families.

At the intersection of Jeromsky – Pilsudski – Poniatovsky Streets there was a public park square; within stood a stone monument with a Red Star at the top. In the center was a square of white marble engraved with the names of the officers and soldiers of the Red Army who fell in the city's liberation from the Nazis. On the first line was engraved the name of Colonel Margolit of Odessa, and next to that the names of several Jews who also fell in the liberation of the city.

I stood at attention and paid my last respects to those heroes of Israel, who fell in a foreign land defending the honor of the people of Israel, wherever they may be.

Across from that public park stood the ruins of the homes of the well-known, righteous families of the city: the Polishok brothers, Aharon Gitlis, the Projnesky family, Hershel Melamed, Ziskind (owner of the Sheert soap business), the Avraham Gonick family, Ashkenazi, and others.

I turned in the direction of Jeromsky Street – once called Folksall. At this street corner, which once was bordered by Nova-Kolioba Street, stood the ruins of the interior of the Trisk synagogue (der Trisker Shtiebel). Although the house was intact, on the inside all was plundered and destroyed. I had prayed in this synagogue with my parents, and all of the Jews in the area had prayed there, both on holy days and on weekdays. The habitual cantor was the head of the community, Reb Shlomo Mendel of blessed memory, here also prayed the judge of Kovel, Rabbi Moshe Asher; the man who blew the shofar during the High Holy Days was the ritual slaughterer, Reb Avraham Gevirtz of blessed memory. I entered the synagogue. The holy ark – looted and destroyed. The bookcases – ransacked and burnt. On the floor,

[Page 509]

there were rolled up pages from the holy books, though I did not find any pieces of parchment from the Torah scrolls. The yard was deserted and gloomy.

On Nova-Kolioba Street I saw a few intact houses. The famous seminary had been destroyed, unlike the bathhouse next to it. I turned at the intersection of Warszawska, Lotska, Pomnikova, and Nova-Kolioba Streets. Here was once the hub of the city, and now – a cemetery. A few of the stone buildings remained, but of those which had been made of wood, not a vestige remained. The office buildings were destroyed and derelict; those that had remained in one piece were closed and locked with seven bolts. There was nothing left of the business center. At the intersection of Nova-Kolioba and Lotska Streets once stood the bookshop and stationery shop belonging to the Plott brothers of blessed memory. Near that was the commodities trading house of Leib Fish of blessed memory. A little further on – the Sheintop restaurant. At the intersection of Nova-Kolioba and Warszawska there had once been a shop selling musical instruments that had belonged to the Polishuk brothers of blessed memory, the restaurant of Kagan of blessed memory, the paint shop belonging to the Goldstein brothers of blessed memory (one of their brothers, the engineer Goldstein, was a graduate of the Tarbut Gymnasia in the Holy Land). Opposite was the photography studio belonging to the Sosnie brothers, the laundry of Rupa of blessed memory, and more. Further on, the business belonging to Mottel Lander of blessed memory, and a row of textile houses such as the one belonging to Moshe Gandler of blessed memory and others, the shoe stores once owned by Opoliner and Erlich of blessed memory, and the haberdashery (notions) of Gabi, Heri, and Goldman of blessed memory.

The municipality building on Warszawska Street remains intact, as does Friedlander's pharmacy. On Michkabitz Street the Meisky cinema is still whole, and on the day I visited the city a film was showing. Opposite, the house of the community leader, Reb Moshe Perl of blessed memory, was in ruins, as were the houses of the rest of the Jewish families on that street.

The post office had been destroyed, and the Russians had opened a temporary post office in the home of the Roitenberg family of blessed memory. The home of Yisrael Reichstol was in ruins. Dr. Weitman's home remained whole, although not a single member of the family was left.

On Michkabitz Street I met the one and only remaining family in the entire city. It was a widow and her two children. Her husband had been murdered in the forest by the Ukrainians. This woman was of the Bernholtz family, and her origins were in Kopiezow. She was one of the survivors of the forests.

On Pomnikova Street, where once had stood the Herzliya School, were mounds of debris. I moved on to the other central section of the city, along Lotska Street and to the intersection of Paberichena-Westro- Kolioba Streets. The same day, I met there Pinchas (Peta) Pantorin. He had come from Lvov to see the city. Their house had remained intact, as had the home of the Gelmans. Once, the Gelman courtyard had been the base for a chapter of Hashomer Hazair. How much life there was in that courtyard! How many hopes were spun there! That courtyard had bustled with the lives of wonderful Jewish youth, and now there was only desolation, destruction, and the silence of death. Indeed it was difficult, extremely difficult, this meeting with this horrible reality.

[Page 510]

Along Lotska Street the homes of Amarnik, Dr. Neimark, Avish, Veiger, and Zuperpin of blessed memory stood in ruins. The flour mill was partially demolished, and the branch of Hehalutz was destroyed. That place also reminded me of days past. For many years I belonged to that branch of Hehalutz. Here the finest Jewish youth of the city wove their dreams. Some of them were able to immigrate to the Holy Land and saw the fulfillment of their dreams, but most of them were buried forever in the huge common grave of the Jews of the city, in the pits of the village near the city.

I turned towards “downtown” along what was once Warszawska Street. At the intersection of Warszawska and Karoloba Bonah Streets most of the houses were completely destroyed, with two or three exceptions. On the corner, the homes of Geller and Perlmutter of blessed memory. Soviets were living there. The home of the l ate Dr. Zeskind had remained intact. The state gymnasia was in ruins, as was the high school for surveyors.

For me and for others of our city, that school was etched in our memories as a nest of anti-Semitic hooligans. It was from there that all of the rioters came during the disturbances that struck the city in the summer of 1929. That school was notoriously shameful, and so I “grieved” very little for the building and its occupants.

I reached the bridge over the Turia River. The concrete bridge had been destroyed. Next to it downstream was a miserable little wooden bridge, and the river itself had run dry – its waters diluted and with almost no trace remaining. The Tarbut Gymnasia building, once housed in the home of Varba of blessed memory, was a mound of debris.

The new and magnificent home of the Tarbut Gymnasia on Yoridika Street, which had been built in 1935, the place where I studied for many years, where I received both my Hebrew and my general education, had collapsed and was covered with rubble.

On the other bank of the Turia River there was considerably less destruction. On both sides of Warszawska Street there stood empty shops and businesses.

Those businesses had once belonged to respectable families who were part of the legend of the city up until the last moment of their lives, which were cut short with terrible cruelty, the likes of which had never been seen in any period, at any time, in human history.

In the home of the former miller, Zuckerman of blessed memory, I found a few Jewish youths, survivors of the Holocaust. They had been partisans. They came from the surrounding towns: Trisk, Retno, Kopichov, Macheib, and Malnitza. I fell into conversation with one of them. He had fled from the murder pit. His neck and skull were scarred from the bullets that had been fired at him. Through some miracle he remained alive, and in the night he fled for his life into the forest. They lingered in the city temporarily, for they were preparing to move on to Poland, and from there to Eretz Yisrael, but a problem with the appropriate documents had delayed them.

[Page 511]

From there – I went on to the great synagogue which had stood at the hub of that part of the city. It had remained intact, but everything inside had been stolen. The beautiful ark of the Covenant, which had been the glory of the Jewish community, had been smashed – all that remained were a few scraps of wooden openwork which were at too great a height for the hands of the unclean murderers to reach. The pulpit at the center of the synagogue had been destroyed. The bookcases, the pews, and the other furniture had all been stolen. As an eternal memorial, the names of hundreds remained on the walls of that holy place. They were the surnames of the martyrs of our community, which had been wiped off the face of the earth in 1942 – the surnames of our brothers and sisters, the flesh of our flesh and the bone of our bone – written in pencil, and in ink, and in their righteous blood. There were hundreds upon hundreds of the names of our dear and beloved ones, who passed through the synagogue on their final journey to the cemetery, the place where they were murdered in cold blood by the German murderers and their various assistants.

That same day, in the evening, I left Kovel, which had become a great wasteland. I left, and never returned.


On the Rubble

by Moshe Goodis

Translated by Ala Gamulka

After four years of wandering through greater Russia and after I fought the Nazis, I was fortunate to visit our ruined town.

A long train, filled with Russian soldiers, I among them, neared our town. About twenty kilometers before we reached it, I was engulfed with love and longing for my place of birth.

Here is the town of Kibertza and there is the village of Fraspa. In the past I had many friends and acquaintances in these places. For a moment I amuse myself with the hope that perhaps someone is still alive. Maybe a witness has survived- one who saw the killings and the destruction and could tell us how it happened?

The train stops because the tracks are broken. I get out of the car. I want a rebirth. I recognize the station. I walk with other Russian soldiers on the sidewalk and I search the faces of the inquisitive locals. Suddenly- a Jewish face. A Jew is selling pencils. I think I know him, but it is difficult to identify him. He looks like a cadaver- skin and bones. He does not resemble a living person. I begin a conversation with him and ask him: “What miracle caused you to stay alive?” The living -dead replies in a gloomy voice: “I hid in a damp pile of straw for two years”.

The whistle of the locomotive is heard and the train continues on its way. We arrive in Holova.

[Page 512]

Here, too, I get out of the car. I look for Jewish faces so I can ask how they survived. While I walk among the locals and ask them, another military train arrives in the station. A few minutes later, one of my friends from the car reaches me. He tells me, with baited breath, that a soldier wearing a Polish army uniform is running among the cars and yelling in a desperate voice: “Goodis! Goodis!”. My heart is pounding. I hear a voice I recognize- my brother Yehuda! We fell on each other, crying and kissing.

After another hour of traveling, we meet again. This time in the ruins of Kovel. We took our rifles hoping we would run into the Ukrainian murderers so we could avenge the spilled blood.

We came into town through Stara-Kolyova Street. There was no other way. The extent of destruction of our town was evident from our first glance. It was far worse than other towns.

There was no trace left of the beautiful station. Kovel was a mountain of ruins. From Stara-Kolyova we reached the main street- Warshavska- and from there we continued towards the old town.

We stopped every few meters trying to guess whose house had stood here or there? Who once resided in this house that is left alone among the ruins?

In the old town, where the ghetto was located, there was not one house standing. Only the Great synagogue remained untouched- a witness to the great destruction. We went inside and here we saw a frightening scene. I will not forget it to my dying days. The four walls were covered with writing, in pencil, ink, nails and even blood. The notes were in Polish, Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian. These were the last words of our dear ones, a few hours before they were taken to the burial place. Parents wrote to their children, children wrote to their parents, brothers- to sisters, a husband to his wife and a wife to her husband, a groom to his bride and a bride to her groom. The notes were written to family they hoped would still be alive. I knew hundreds of them, some were really close to me. I remember well the note written by my friend Moshe Lerner, z” l.

We left the synagogue in great despair and continued to Matsiovska street where had stood our house. We found the scorched earth, but where was the house? In the piles we found some of our belongings- linens, our father's short coat and even a rusted fork. If these items could speak, they would tell a horrid story. However, perhaps it was better that these items could not speak. Who knows – our hearts would have broken upon listening to the terrible tale?

As we were standing there, on the ruins, the two brothers, crying about the terrible events- a person came closer. A man wearing rags- half army uniform and half civilian clothes.

We held our riles in the ready since the person coming could be one of the Ukrainian murderers. Our surprise came quickly- it was our third brother- Avraham.

And so, in one day, after the destruction, three bothers found each other in the ruined town.

To All Our Expatriated in Israel and Outside of it
General Memorial Day for Our Dear Ones Is:
6 Elul

[Page 519]

Deep Pits, Red Clay

by Sh. Halkin

Translated from Yiddish to Hebrew by I. Teitleker

Translated by Ala Gamulka

Deep pits, red clay-
I once had a home.
In the spring - beautiful flowers bloomed
In the fall – wandering birds screeched.
In the winter- bright snow shone.
Now- robbery,
Bereavement, loss, destruction are rampant.

My house has been destroyed
It is invaded on all sides
Its entrances are broken
By the murderers, the killers
The villains, the oppressors
Slayers of mothers and children
Without any mercy.

Deep trenches, full of blood-
I once had a home.

Empty fields- without anything growing,
The ditches are filling up.
The soil is becoming redder.
The dead are now its backbone.
These ditches- my house is in there.
There are lying my strangled brothers,
Their limbs are broken,
They are shot like rabbits
In the houses and in the pits.

The trenches are deep and full of blood-
I once had a home.

Good times will still come
On the wings of fate and recompense
The wounds will heal and there will be restoration
Our sons will grow up in peace
Our sons will grow up in happiness.
They will visit the graves of our dear ones
They will come to the bloody trenches.
Our pain will never disappear!

Deep trenches, filled with blood
I once had a home.

 

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