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[Page 448]

My escape from Lutsk Ghetto

by S. Roiter, Haifa

Translated by Sara Mages

The time - the summer of 1941. The wheat is ripe - the harvest season is approaching. The school break is well felt, thousands of teenagers are seen in the streets bathed in pranks and mischief.

And in the midst of this serenity, suddenly, like a thunder on a clear day - the war broke out. We are all shocked by the incessant bombings. The atmosphere is electrified and there is no information about what is happening on the front. Everything is vague, until on Wednesday, that is three days after the outbreak of war, the Germans entered the city. The events happened with incredible speed. It was hard to come to terms with the facts, but this was the reality and slowly we began to adapt to it.

In the first weeks, when the combat units controlled the city, the Jewish problem did not arise, but, with the transfer of the city to the hands of those in charge of the civil government, the harassment began and got worse day by day.

It started with the snatching of Jews in the streets that were allegedly taken to work. The act was carried out twice, and the thousands of men that were snatched never returned to their homes. After that, forced labor was imposed, without any payment or compensation, on all men and even on young boys.

And the turn of the yellow patch also came, and with it the ban on walking on the sidewalks. Upon meeting any German, we had to take off our hat to him, and dozens of other such humiliations.

We felt that the ground was dropping from under our feet - but,

[Page 449]

In spite of it, hope was not lost even for a moment. We always believed in some imaginary savior, in some salvation that would come in an unknown way.

The lives of the Jews and their property became ownerless. Every Ukrainian policeman, or just gentiles, broke into their apartments, searched and took any object they liked. And what could be done? Who to complain to?

And, of course, also the economic situation worsened. But, even so, anything could still be obtained by exchanging things for foodstuffs with the peasants. In the meantime, the Jewish population in the city greatly increased, after all the Jews of the area were transferred to it - the residents of the small cities and the villages.

We have heard about the establishment of a ghetto in Rovno (Rivne).We also received the news about the massacre that was carried out there. But, for some reasons, the Jews did not want to believe that something like this could happen in our city as well. They could imagine anything, but mass extermination - no. And here came the turn of the ghetto - I think we were ready for it because we knew that its end was coming.

The execution method was quite simple: one morning they came and announced that all the Jews could only live in the area between the “Bazylianska Bridge” and the “Gnidawa Bridge,” and that by a certain time all the Jews must move there. Under such conditions it is clear that no one could take with him more than what he was able to carry on his back, because from the moment they entered the ghetto area, no one was able to leave again, because there was a strict guarding at all exit places. Only the children managed to sneak out, to return to their apartments and take another package, if the Christian neighbors did not loot everything left in the house. The incarceration in the ghetto was actually the beginning of the end.

Due to the severe overcrowding and the lack of food (it was impossible to engage in bartering, and there was also nothing left to barter), the death rate in the ghetto increased alarmingly. Dozens of bodies were taken out every day, and the typhus caused the deaths of many - mostly children and the elderly. The price of groceries on the black market increased, higher and higher and the only food was bread and potatoes.

Starving people, who were slowly fading away, already began to be seen in the streets and no one was able to save them.

The contact with the outside also became extremely difficult and was very dangerous. A decree was issued prohibiting individual Jews from walking outside the ghetto. The walk to work was done in threes on the road in the morning, and back together in the evening after work. Any Jew who was caught alone was shot on the spot.

The Germans distributed - only to the workers - a bread ration of 120 grams per day. The portion was given while the bread was hot - and this is to stimulate the appetite, in one meal we swallowed a portion for a week.

From time to time they impose “contributions” on the inhabitants of the ghetto. A decree is published prohibiting individual Jews from walking outside the ghetto. Searches are conducted to find the furs, and anyone caught in the “offense” is shot. And so time passes like an endless chain of prohibitions, and the number of ghetto residents decreases day by day.

A decree is issued prohibiting childbirth among the Jews.

There is no way to describe this period of horrors of the life in the ghetto. The purpose of all these decrees and abuses was, as we know, to destroy the Jews in an indirect way, to take away their will power, to bring them to degeneration, despair, and revulsion of life.

Until the time of the mass extermination came.

It lasted only seven days and, as far as I remember, it started on Thursday, 20 September 1942. They announced the gathering of all the Jews in the lot near the Judenrat, the place where the market used to be, after the bridge.

There was a feeling in the air that something terrible was about to happen.

The ghetto was surrounded by a ring of armed police. On the same day the district governor appeared. The names of craftsmen, who were still needed to serve the Germans, were read from a list and they were taken out with their families. The Germans also did this with malicious intent, since they knew that the heads of the families would not present themselves alone. When they left the ghetto they were separated from their families and the women and children were murdered.

After the roll-call the Jews dispersed, and each one was ready to hide somewhere until the fury passes.

The next morning German and Ukrainian policemen entered the ghetto and began to take the people out again to the same lot.

We hid in an attic - but the hiding place did not save us that day. The policemen climbed up to us and a German, with a drawn gun in his hand, took us down saying “you can work too.”

On the lot the children and women were immediately separated from the men and the boys. Everyone was ordered to sit down. It was forbidden to get up, and in this way one standing German could supervise a large area.

This “work” was carried out in two arms: on one side more people were brought to the lot, and on the other side people were driven in cars - to death.

I felt that I had to act without hesitation. I don't know how to explain it, but some inner urge drove me to escape. In the first step to reach the edge of the lot bordering with the houses and then, to move more slowly, crawling. While sitting, I began to move in the desired direction, every time the policeman turned his head to the side - I made one movement.

When I got near a house I found a few more people there. We decided to break down a warehouse door. We took advantage of the moment the policeman walked away and broke down the door together. Unfortunately this was noticed and the policemen started chasing us.

From here we all separated - each tried to save himself.

I climbed to an attic as a Ukrainian policeman continues to chase me and loses me from his field of vision.

In the attic I found a whole family with a baby. They haven't reached this house yet. At night, searches were conducted in the area. The hungry baby is crying. The mother, fearing that the baby's crying will reveal our hiding place, covers the toddler's mouth. He suffocates, but the sound reached the policemen's ears. In the blink of an eye they burst up and take us down. - Our number is over ten.

And, again, I manage to escape, as I hide behind a door as soon as we are taken out of the t house, and the darkness of the night helps me with that. And so the game of hide and seek between me and them continues for an entire week. The hunger bothers me. Risking my life I go out to look for food in the empty houses whose inhabitants were led to death.

[Page 450]

Only a week later I manage to get out of the ghetto in the vicinity of the Jewish hospital and the synagogue.

From here there are many ways - but which one to choose? Slowly I am getting used to the idea that I am not being chased at this moment. The main thing - not to get caught. For lack of any other option, I turn to the watchman of our house outside the ghetto.

When I walk in, his wife starts screaming: “Go away! You want them to kill us too?” She shoves a slice of bread into my hand - and I am outside. At the other neighbor's house, grandmother's house, I get a different reception - he is Polish and not a Ukrainian. They feed me, let me bathe and change my clothes.

To their question, what am I thinking of doing, I reply, that I want to cross the front line - a fantastic thing for a 12-year-old boy when the front is in Stalingrad. But what could I do? I knew I couldn't stay with them. I did not want to ask them for it as long as they did not offer it to me themselves.

From here begins the affair of wandering on foot to Tuchyn, a Jewish town in the vicinity of Rovno. The ghetto had not yet been established there, and the Jews were sure that nothing would happen to them. They bribed the chief of police handsomely. But I have no illusions. I know it will come. As a result, I continue on my way to the nearby village and offer myself to work for a farmer - to herd his cows at the time that his sons go to school. But, even here, it did not last long. - Three weeks later the town was liquidated and the farmer sent me out of his house.

I keep wandering until Novograd-Volynskiy (Zviahel). From here, from time to time I jump and get on a train - a very accepted thing - and travel in the direction of Zhytomyr-Fastiv-Kyiv-Nizhny-Chernihiv, as I mix with the refugees from the area and pretend to be one of them.

From here there is no possibility of moving forward - the Germans clear off the front area from civilians and I return the same way, adjacent to the evacuees as one of them, to Kyiv- Fastiv-Kazatin- Vinnytsia, and from here I learned that that the Romanians control the other side of the Bug River and Jews from Romania are there - I cross the river and reach them.

Their situation is different in that they are not destroyed by actual hands, although death reaps its harvest in other ways - with typhus and starvation. However, anyone who is able to take care of himself - remains alive.

Here I lived for about a year, as I play a game of hide-and-seek with death - sometimes getting closer to it, and sometimes walk away from it… I will not be able to write about this period, which was also a period of dying similar to the life in Lutsk Ghetto.

A year later I introduce myself as an orphan from Bessarabia, and travel to Romania with several hundred orphans that the Romanian government decided to return them.

Here, a completely different world, the situation of the Jews is almost the same as before the war. And I am afraid to look back. Everything that happened to me seems like a nightmare. - However, only here do I properly understand what the Amalekites[1] murderers have done to us.

Translator's footnote:

  1. Amalek was a nation described in the Hebrew Bible as a staunch enemy of the Israelites. The Amalekites were considered to be Amalek's descendants. Amalek is a name given to a nation that harasses Jews and wants to destroy them. Return


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