By Moshe Lachovitzky
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
I was born in the small city of Lechovitz [Liachavičy] and I lived in the shtetl [town] until I married. My rebbe was Reb. Dovid Friedshtein, of blessed memory. His son was my close friend. We both got married to two friends in Nesvizh. We lived as brothers for the entire time. His son grew up in my house. At the end he was the manager of the Nesvizh Tarbut [secular Hebrew school system] school because he had graduated from the Vilna Hebrew Teachers Seminary. From childhood on, he was a devoted Zionist and did a great deal in this area. He perished at the age of 35 with his wife and his child.
The verse, [My words that I have placed in your mouth] will not be withdrawn from your mouth nor from the mouth of your offspring nor from the mouth of your offspring's offspring, was fulfilled for my rabbi, Reb Dovid, of blessed memory. In my memoirs of the city of Nesvizh it is worthwhile to remember his [my friend's] son's name, Shaul bar [son of] Chaim Elihu Friedshtein, of blessed memory, who perished with a frightening death at the hands of the murderers on the 9th of Cheshvan 5702 [30th of October 1941]. May his soul be bound in the bond of life!
I lived in Nesvizh for 35 years. My wife and I had five children, four daughters and one son. I sent three children to EretzYisroel before the dark war. The German bandits shot one daughter and my wife; one daughter survived with me. I praise God that I have come to the Holy Land of our holy forefathers.
On the 22nd of June 1941, around 4 in the morning, the war already was visible in our city. The wild Nazis began attacking the Soviet territory. There was a run of panic in every street.
There had been so many members of the Soviet militia in our city that there was no room in the barracks. The officers had to be in private residences, which they rented from the civilian population. There was such a lack of rooms that even our Mikhalishok Street (the poor quarter) had officers living in every third house. There were two lieutenants with me in my house.
That morning, soldiers were sent to quickly bring the officers together, so that they could be brought to the headquarters. The officers running brought fear. Every person went out into the streets. One person asked another what this could mean and no one knew. At six o'clock in the morning, one could see the officers carrying out of their residences their few possessions that they could take with them and they asked the house owner to send the remainder to their wives or parents.
The military began to leave the city at seven o'clock. We finally learned that the GermanRussian War had begun. All the residents quickly left their houses on Studentcka and Kizmirer Streets because the military had to withdraw through these two points.
At the storehouse where the firemen's command was located, the soldiers and the officers began to take leave of their wives, beloved ones and with the population. The shouts, crying and hysteria of the wives of the officers and soldiers left a frightful impression.
The military assured everyone that they would not permit the enemy to come here; they would destroy them. The thoughts of everyone were mixed. They no longer remembered what they had wanted to do several hours earlier. Now, everyone was sure that they smelled gunpowder.
The military was no longer in the city at 9 o'clock. Not even one soldier could be found. The panic did not end.
The wives of the Soviet military and [Soviet] citizens who were in the city began to run around to obtain wagons. Each wanted to leave the city. However, it was impossible to find a wagon because the military had taken all the carts and wagons to the baggage trains that followed the army.
Groups of women, with their packs on their backs, left on foot for the train, a distance of 14 kilometers [8.7 miles] from the city. The station was called Zamiria (Haradeija) by the Russians.
People ran around, wanting to buy newspapers or listen to the radio so they would know what was happening in the war. But it was impossible because the Soviets were not quick to divulge secrets.
Little by little, the wives of the soldiers left Nesvizh and the city became calm. But an altogether new movement began refugees from Kletzk [Klyetsk], Snuv [Snov], Lechovitz [Lyakhavichy] began to appear. Refugees even arrived at night from Slonim and Baranovitsh [Baranavichy]. Everyone was drawn to Nesvizh, closer to the border, which was 10 kilometers [6.2 miles] from the city.
I entered the house of prayer for Maariv [evening prayers] and saw newcomers Jews who had escaped from their homes because of the Nazi bandits. They told us things that we did not believe. Each of us thought, how can people do things that even animals do not do when they are sated? We thought that they were especially telling us such frightening stories so as to throw a fear in us and we would welcome them warmly. [People] thought: I have a large family myself and the refugee wants me to let him in when I do not know if he can pay rent? And, perhaps he does not have money for food. It would be worse.
The next morning, Monday the 23rd of June, autos began to appear with women and children who were traveling through Nesvizh on the way to Minsk. They were the wives of Soviet officers and officials who were close to the front. They were traveling to their homes.
There was more movement from hour to hour, although not everyone who wanted to could travel because the trains only carried the military. In addition to this, the Soviets did not permit Polish citizens to travel to Russia because we were considered stepchildren, although we already had been under the Soviet regime for a year and a half.
The Germans bombarded the road on the BaranovitshMinsk line on Monday so we no longer could escape.
On Wednesday a group of young people got together, Nesvizh refugees, and left for the border, which lay, as I have already mentioned, 10 kilometers from the city. The Soviets drove them back from there, saying that they should not create a panic because they [the Soviets] already were driving the Germans back. When the refugees said that they would not go back, the Russians asked if they wanted live ammunition used against them?
The young people returned to the city in more fear than previously because if the Germans entered and were told that they [the young people] had run to the border, that meant they were communists and they would be shot. My daughter and I were among the group and I was very afraid the entire time.
Two women, Soviet citizens, who had come from Leningrad as guests in Nesvizh (one a daughter of Reb Fajva London, of blessed memory, a doctor, came to a sister and the second, Berl Fabrikant's daughter, a pharmacist) succeeded in departing with the last refugees, Soviet officials, because they had papers as Soviet citizens who occupied important positions in Leningrad. However, they could not go to Minsk and left for Lutsk. When they reached Bobriusk, they could not travel any further because the area already had been occupied by the Nazi bandits. They came back to Nesvizh with great effort. The two Soviet citizens from Leningrad and their children lie in the mass graves of all the Jewish martyrs.
On Thursday, the 26th of June 1941, the Russian military began to appear in the city infantry, soldiers on motorcycles, light cannons, heavy artillery, tanks. The city and all the forests and fields around it were filled with the military. Orders were posted that everyone who had government [property] as well as things belonging to Soviet officers should bring it to headquarters immediately. From this we understood that the powerful Russian Army was retreating. I also had officers' things that had to be sent, but the post office was closed on Sunday and on Monday the post office did not want to take anything because it had received an order not to accept anything because it could not guarantee that it would be sent to the addressees.
I buried the things in the ground, afraid that the Germans would later find these things and would take me for an investigation of how I had official things. Now, when the order was to return everything to the headquarters, I got up very early and my wife, of blessed memory, said: Come, let us get rid of the body. We dug out the things from the ground. I took one valise and my wife took the other, our daughter took the rest of the things and we left for the headquarters, which was located near the church. As soon as we turned from our street to another, we heard shooting and Russian and German airplanes began an aerial battle. Our hearts were bitter. However, we could not get rid of the things because the headquarters was still far away. We decided to go farther and we began to run with all our strength. We finally reached the headquarters, but no one was there. The shooting became heavier and we barely returned to our house alive.
On the 27th of June, in the afternoon, we heard the sound of German artillery guns. The panic grew stronger. People ran here and there and there was nowhere to hide to protect ourselves from a German bullet. Suddenly it grew quiet. People said that the Germans had been repelled a few kilometers back; they would be driven further because reinforcements had arrived. Everyone was satisfied; there was hope in our hearts perhaps, in the merit of Shabbos [the Sabbath], the murderous artillery would stop. When Jews began to say Lekha Dodi [Come my beloved a prayer welcoming Shabbos], a new and thick din from the German artillery guns was heard. No one thought about sleep any longer.
On Shabbos the 28th of June 1941 the German artillery stood one kilometer from the city, on the road that was named Snaver. The shooting grew stronger from minute to minute so that the Soviets, who previously had been behind the nuns' building, had to leave their positions and go to a second location near Prince Radziwill's castle. Then
the Germans moved to the Sverzhner road that extended to Minsk and there they fired on the Soviets with new strength.
It happened as it states in the verse: From the North the evil will be released upon all the inhabitants of the land. [Jeremiah 1:14] because where the Germans went, the Russians could no longer go because Minsk had been occupied on Friday and there was no other road for the Soviet military except Slutsk and Bobruisk [Babruysk].
Only four houses were burned from all the shooting: two in one end of the city and two in another end. German tanks immediately appeared. Two Soviet tanks that the Soviets could not take with them were burned immediately by the Germans at the dam, which went from Neishtot and on the KazmirGorodeyer Road.
A mentally ill young man, Zysha, may he rest in peace, was shot when he ran into the street during the shooting and a German shouted to him: Stop! and he did not stop. This was near the firemen's depot and he was buried on the spot because that is what the Germans said to do. Nothing else bad occurred.
On Shabbos night the entire city was occupied by the German bandits who began to extend their power. Patrols were placed in all the streets and alleys; the motorcyclists rode across the city like devils. Little by little it became quiet. Everyone praised God that they had survived during such firing. No one thought that the firing would first come…
At night everyone ran to his bed, tired from not sleeping. Everyone tried to calm himself. The rich men thought: how could it be worse with the Germans than with the Russians? The Soviets had taken over the shops, houses, they had to stand in lines to get something how could it be worse?
However, there were those who could not sleep. These were those who had occupied various positions with the Bolsheviks; also those who had liked to shout, Long live the king, and sang praise to the Soviet regime they were afraid that they would now be denounced. However, I did not get involved with anything, nor my children. I thought: I am a loyal citizen, what could they have against me? We still remembered the Germans from 1918, from the First World War. So, was it so terrible then?
Such thoughts ruled the [people] during the first moments and no one could believe that there would be such a difference between those Germans and today's Nazis. No one wanted to believe. He [the one being beaten or shot] had probably committed an offense, no one bothers someone for no reason. No one is beaten and no one is shot without a reason. The majority of Jews walked around the city with such thoughts.
Early on Sunday, the 30th of June, we went out into the street to talk to a neighbor, to hear how they felt being under a new regime. No one said that it would be worse than before.
It was said what Itzkovsky had said: now the angels have come, because the previous ones the Bolsheviks had taken his shop and nationalized both his houses; he escaped to Nowogrodek [Navahrudak] out of fear that he would be exiled as a bourgeois. During the first days of the German regime in Nesvizh, he moved into his house and allowed neighbors to come in therefore, he was happier with the Germans than with the Bolsheviks.
With the German bandits it was as it is said: graze geese; soon we will slaughter you and gather the shmaltz [fat] that you have accumulated…
A German patrol went out at nine o'clock in the morning and forced open all the stores that belonged to the Soviet regime. Principally, these were the spirit stores because there had been a great deal of whiskey recently. The Germans began to distribute the whiskey without payment and immediately long lines were formed at the shops; pushing began, they even began to fight. Everyone wanted to grab even more bottles and more quickly. The Germans stood and drew pleasure from such a show. It is easy to imagine what happened when the Christians were permitted to grab whiskey without payment. If individual Jews also wanted to receive a little whiskey, they had their ribs or their teeth smashed. At this opportunity, they broke into other shops with goods and the crowd began to loot. The rumors about this spread in the surrounding villages and the peasants began storming into our city, some with wagons, some on foot and some riding on horses. The streets soon looked as if during a pogrom. The Soviet shops could not satisfy such a crowd, which began to force open private businesses that had not been requisitioned by the previous regime because they had a small amount of goods. They began to tear open workshops that the Soviets had permitted because [the artisan] had worked alone, but had paid taxes to the regime. They were called kustarnikes.
It should be understood that from such wantonness they immediately went to looting Jewish residences, removing everything they could Jewish possessions they even began to take furniture.
Being in the street I noticed a band of wild Christians going to the workshop of my nephew Yerakhmiel Malevsky, of blessed memory, breaking open the doors and beginning to carry out from there sewing machines, radios and various parts. I went there and tried to stop it, but they attacked me and I escaped with my life. When my nephew Malevsky arrived, he asked a German gendarme to prevent the looting because machines were there that were not his that he had taken to repair. As an answer the German hit him over the head several times with a rubber whip. In general, the Germans permitted all the looting in order to find favor with the Belarusians. When they saw that the situation was out of control
they began shooting in the air, even beating the Christians. But when this did not help, they shot a [female] peasant who was walking loaded with a pack of looted goods. A German ordered her to stop, but it appears that she did not want to give up the goods and she ran further. The German shot a few bullets at her. This had an effect on the others and they scattered.
No one was supposed to appear in the street after seven o'clock in the evening. Sitting thus in their homes, everyone considered the facts. Two years ago the Russian Army had arrived here. They took nothing from the civilian population, did not even touch one apple on a tree. The Red Army was polite, paid when it bought something, said thank you. The Jewish children would be friends with the Soviet soldiers and officers. The relationship of the military to the Jewish and Christian population was a good one. Now every German looked at the Jews as if at an animal. Those who remembered 1918 saw that these were not the same Germans as those in the First World War.
There was no kehile [organized Jewish community] during the Soviet regime, but a city hall. The leaders of the kehile were not in Nesvizh. The head of the kehile, Reb Yoal Rozofsky, of blessed memory, previously also had been the vice mayor, but now he had been arrested with Heneritze, the Christian burmistrz [mayor] from before the war. Reb Yoal was arrested because he would help yeshiva [religious secondary school] students escape to Poland from Russia. The escapees first came to us, as our shtetl was located closest to the Russian border. Reb Yoal wrote requests to the city hall and intervened for those [yeshiva students] who had arrived. He was a most devoted Zionist, a great philanthropist. First, the Nesvizh Jews provided help for these yeshiva students, but a Russian citizen was not supposed to be in Poland then. Reb Yoal arranged all the formalities so that the arriving young men could travel immediately to Mir or to Kletsk to study in a yeshiva.
Reb Yoal was later taken to Russia and nothing more was heard of him. A rumor spread that he was no longer among the living. His wife and a son also were sent to Russia half a year later, actually because of him Reb Yoal. Thank God, they remained alive.
The second member of the kehile, Reb Zelik Katz, was a merchant. On the eve of the war he prepared a bit of goods and hid them. The Soviet regime found the goods and he was arrested. He was released for a few thousand rubles bail. As soon as he learned that a trial was being prepared against him and that he was threatened with five years of prison, he escaped to the German part of Poland and perished there with all the martyrs.
The third Leibl Eizenbud, from the left faction, left for Russia and survived with two sons.
The Germans put together a Judenrat [Jewish council] with the Warsaw lawyer Magalif, who knew German well, at the head; a translator, also a lawyer from near Warsaw, named Markovsky and several other refugees. The Nesvizh middle class wanted to buy their way out and not enter the Judenrat because they understood that their words would not have any effect on such educated people who had arrived from the large cities such as Lodz, Warsaw, Poznan and others and they all knew the German language very well. However, the refugees required that as they did not know the city very well there also needed to be several Nesvizh Jews. Taken into the Judenrat were Reb Benyamin Eizenbud an earlier Zionist, Leibl Kaufman and Shlomo Greenwald, of whom it was anticipated that we could benefit because he was friendly with the Belarus officials who served the Germans. But the actual ringleaders were the refugees.
The chairman Magalif was a very smart man, but his knowledge did not help here. As soon as the paper with the names of the chosen Judenrat was submitted to the German commandant, he [the commandant] issued an order that Jews could not walk on the sidewalk, only in the middle of the street. Jews had to wear an insignia on their sleeve a white armband eight centimeters wide on the sleeve, with a sewn Mogen Dovid [Shield of David a Jewish star] in black. When a Jew was found who violated the order he would be shot. The Jews simply had to walk in the gutter because wagons, horses, autos drove in the middle of the street so there was no other place to go than the gutter.
Then a series of taxes began and theft from the Jews whenever it was possible, they drove out in an auto and gathered soap, not skipping any Jewish house. No matter how much was given, it was not enough. The Germans would search and when they found something that pleased them they immediately took it. Everything was good to them. Having finished emptying a house, they began to create a restaurant for the soldiers and officers who traveled through Nesvizh. They gathered everything that was needed there: pots, pans, plates, forks, spoons, knives, tablecloths, napkins and all kinds of other things. Everything was demanded from the Judenrat. Later, the Germans began to create an inn for Germans passing through. A series of collections began again beds, mattresses, pillows, quilts, sheets, small tables, tabourets [stools or small storage cabinets], cabinets and cupboards. Again, the Judenrat had to provide everything. The Judenrat would send the Jewish police through the city and they brought all the things that were needed by the Germans. The refugee police were specialists in this. They would enter a house and if something was not turned over fast enough they would take it themselves and would act indifferently toward all of this because they themselves were alone here, without acquaintances, without families; it was all the same to them.
Thus, one action followed another. Barely had one ended, another began fur coats. Everything the Jew had was taken from him: Persian lambs, pelts everything that was considered fur. The Judenrat carried out this action to win approval from the German murderers. In general, not one day passed without an action.
A few weeks later they thought of something
new. The white armbands with the black Mogen Dovid that the Jews had to wear no longer pleased the German bandits; they ordered that they be changed to round, yellow patches, eight centimeters [a little over three inches] in size, which had to be worn in the front and back on the outer clothing. They issued the order in the morning, but at two o'clock in the afternoon they regretted this and asked that such yellow patches be sewn on every garment that was worn. This was all thought of to bully us because in the morning when the Jews left for work, they were wearing the yellow patch on their outer garments, according to the order. But when they returned from work at four o'clock, German patrols were standing, checking the Jews and demanding that the yellow patch be on every garment. It should be understood that the Jews knew nothing of this however, this was an opportunity for the German sadists to bloodily beat the Jews.
The same thing happened to me. I left for work early in the morning and when I returned, the Germans stopped me and they gave me such fiery slaps after not finding the yellow patch on my underwear that I still do not hear in [one] ear. The policeman who beat me was actually a Belarusian acquaintance.
They would do this every day, often several times a day, thinking of new means with which to torture the Jewish population. When they stopped a Jew in the street, looked him over and he was clean, they beat him because he was clean…If he was dirty, they beat him because he did not maintain his cleanliness… If they met a thin man they beat him and ordered: You must be fat. If they caught a thick Jew, You must be a bourgeois, we must shoot you. However, despite all this torturing, Nesvizh was in a better situation than the surrounding shtetlekh [towns] Stowbtsy, Mir, Liachavičy, Baranavichy. There, instead of torturing the Jews, in most cases they shot them or took them away to work. With us, it was almost quiet for three months no murders took place in addition to the torture. This also was the reason that many Jews from the surrounding shtetlekh came to Nesvizh even though this involved fear and risk because one was not supposed to leave one city and go to another without special permission. And what Jew received such permission?
Pious people would say that it was better in Nesvizh in merit of our great tzadek [righteous man], Reb Meirka, of blessed memory. He was a great sage and at the time he blessed Nesvizh, that it should not have any great good as well as no great evil. The first part of the blessing did come true Nesvizh never had any great good; the second half of the blessing also came true. The Christians would say that this was because of the great Count Radziwill who was an inlaw of Kaiser Wilhelm…
The good times of the three months in 5701 , when everything had been looted and the worst insults were endured, ended quickly. The year 5702  arrived and the mass murders and everything bad began. On the 12th of October at midnight the Germans arrived at an inn on Slutsker Street; a young Jewish man came out and he was shot immediately, for no reason. They ordered the Judenrat to come and take the body. Every effort was made to learn the reason [the young man had been shot]. We could not believe that this was for no good reason because this was our first victim this was very frightening.
A few days later the Germans ordered the entire Jewish population to assemble at the marketplace. Then they were told to go home and to return in an hour, but to bring textiles, leather and various goods. Whoever did not come or did not bring any goods would be shot. Each one wanted to save his life. If he did not have something to bring, he asked a neighbor, a friend just to save his life. Thus, each person began to bring whatever he could to the marketplace. If someone brought too little, he was ordered to go and bring more. Thus, giant piles of various goods were assembled over the course of one hour. The German murderers were satisfied and the Jews thought this was over. However, no. They gave an order, Los, which means run [more accurately come on or start] and when the Jews started to run, they [the Germans] opened fire with machine guns and shot at those running.
The next day the chairman of the Judenrat was ordered to bring in two days half a million rubles in paper, in Soviet currency, as well as gold, if not the Jews would be shot. The Judenrat immediately called each Jew and asked him to give a certain sum in paper and gold. There was a real tumult. Everyone said that they did not have as much as the chairman had demanded, that they must gather the amount or everyone would be shot. The people began to bring paper rubles, gold rubles, rings, watches and various objects to the Judenrat. Those who did not want to give or did not have anything to give were imprisoned by the Judenrat for a day or more. Others were threatened that they would be turned over to the German commandant, but this did not happen.
The two days passed. They collected two and half kilos of gold and more than a half million rubles. The Germans were satisfied. We learned this from a German himself who told us. The same German contributed 50 marks when a payment was asked of the Jews. We could not understand him. There were several such Germans who would come to the ghetto and get drunk with the chairman. Then they would tell us that we in the ghetto were fine people; we did not have to be afraid because we were helping the Germans carry on the war. However, when they were asked why they were shooting the Jews they had a ready, smooth answer: they [the Jews] were superfluous, not useful people…
On the 20th of October, Reb Ahron Levin, the shoykhet [ritual slaughterer] of blessed memory, was called to a brismilah [ritual circumcision] from Nesvizh to Gorodeya, 14 kilometers away. He was asked to circumcise a child because there was no mohel [man who performs a circumcision] in the shtetl. He left
with the messenger who had come for him. He believed that no harm could come to a messenger fulfilling a mitzvah [commandment] because how can a Jewish child not be circumcised? However, the Germans arrived at the seventh kilometer and demanded that they show their identity cards. They immediately were brought back to the headquarters in Nesvizh. From there they were taken to Glinishche where the Red Army was located as well as other people who did not please the Germans. The Germans shot all of those located there.
When the ghetto already existed, a pidyonhaben [symbolic redemption of a first born son from a Kohen] took place in which I was the Kohen; there was no brismilah because there was no mohel.
A wedding also took place in the ghetto.
On the 25th of October the Germans shot three young Jews aged 25 to 30. Their sin consisted of being caught buying potatoes from a Christian.
Every Jew had to go to work. Even 10year old children cleaned the Christian streets and toilets. Digging big pits for the victims shot was also Jewish work. They also made the Jews gravediggers.
At the order of the Germans, the Jews would dig large pits. When they filled a pit with those shot and halfshot people, they would telephone the Judenrat that Jews should be sent to cover the pits. Jews also did other work, such as feeding cattle, driving the horses to the front. Women also worked washing the floors, gardening and other heavy work.
On the 29th of October at 5 o'clock at night the German commandant reported to the chairman of the Judenrat that he had received an order from the Baranavichy regional commission that the next day, the 30th of October 1941 (9th of Cheshvan 5702) at 8 o'clock in the morning, all Jews, from young to old must appear at the marketplace. The sick, who could not get out of their beds, must be registered at the exact address at which they were located and the list given to the commandant. All Jews must dress in clean and warm clothing because they might have to stand at the marketplace for a long time… Everyone's passport had to be inspected.
The Judenrat immediately mobilized the Jewish police and sent them through the Jewish houses to announce the news. Fear attacked everyone because their hearts told them that this did not smell of anything good, although no one had counted on such a terrible misfortune. They imagined that they would be tortured, beaten, extorted for money but that a population of over 4,000 people such a thing could not even come to mind. In the other shtetlekh they did the shooting in small groups. Therefore, many could save themselves. They already were prepared, but in Nesvizh and in Kletsk they gathered around 7,000 souls and shot everyone. As this was the first time, there was no uprising. It did not even occur to anyone to save themselves and the pain was still greater because there were many young, healthy people in Nesvizh; there also were many refugees.
If we had had a premonition about what was being prepared, all the young people would certainly have staged an uprising and shown their strength. But as we already were standing at the marketplace, we waited for what would be done to us. Until the last minute we thought about everything, that the Germans would send us to a camp or to another city. They told us to relocate. Knowing that, we prepared to leave. Everyone put on two suits and [two pairs of] underwear, as much as one could; sewed money in the children's things; concealed various objects. Perhaps someone in the family would return; let them at least have something.
At five in the morning, one already was running to another to ask what to put on, where should one hide something?
There was a frost at night with fine snow. But in the morning the sun came out with its pride and glory like a heroine, unafraid of Hitler.
At 7:30 in the morning the Jewish police ran through the streets and chased the Jews: Brider, s'iz shoyn zeit tsu geyn oyfn markplotz. [Brother, it is already time to go to the marketplace.]
Ten families left from our courtyard: my family (six souls), a neighbor, a refugee from Prussia and three others. At the gate my youngest one, my 15year old daughter, cried as if her heart had told her that she would never come here again. She was a very capable student. Before the war she studied in the Tarbut [secular Hebrew language school] school and during the Soviet regime she was in the 8th class of the gymnazie [secular secondary school].
On the street, mothers were carrying their small children in their arms, while the larger ones held onto [their mothers' dresses]. Older children led their parents by the arm; fathers walked with frightened children. All of Michalisher Street, from the synagogue courtyard, from the hospital alley people went to the marketplace. The daughter of Reb Aba Tenenbaum, of blessed memory, or Aba Hasid as we called him, led the old man, the darling of the city, Reb Avraham Yitzhak Maler, of blessed memory, and his wife (who already was his third [wife]). Perela Tchechanovitz, an old woman of 108 years, the rich woman of the city walked here. Her activity began 55 years before. She would gather challahs [Sabbath breads], meat and carry them to the needy. Not one poor bride got married without Perela's help. She helped many women travel to their husbands in America and in other countries. Now her grandson, her daughter's soninlaw Dr. Lebovitch, led her under the arm on her last road. She had all her senses until her last minute.
The chairman of the Jewish police set up the rows on the marketplace. We were placed with our faces to the east, toward the sidewalk that led from Anishitsky's apothecary to Reb Zalmen Goldberg's house where the Polish police station was located. We were placed like soldiers who were waiting for the arrival of the tsar. Everyone was dressed up, wearing their holiday clothing as if they were going to a simkha [celebration].
Trucks of murderers, who already had carried out a slaughter of a thousand people in Kletsk, immediately arrived from the Kletsk side. We were so foolish that we thought the vehicles had come to take us to work. The murderers came off the
vehicles. These were mostly Lithuanians and Ukrainians, White Russians, train workers, police and ordinary voluntary murderers. Every one of them was armed with rifles, grenades and so on. It was profitable to carry out such work; they could take what they wanted from the victims and drink well. Each of us felt a dread looking at them. We thought that they would chose several young people, say that they were communists and shoot them. Therefore, the young people did not move into the front rows.
The German city commandant and his White Russian civilian officials arrived a few minutes before eight. They began to straighten us out and photograph us. At exactly eight o'clock (German punctuality!) appeared the greatest murderer who had carried out the annihilation action a blond gendarme with two ribbons, an S.S. man, perhaps two meters tall [almost six and half feet tall] and several other Germans, apparently also S.S. members. They stood at the first row in the very middle and the blond shouted: Workers forward with your families! My family and I went to the front. Many workers did not come forward, deciding they would do without them. I had to step out because our workshop where I worked was the largest in the city and all the Polish workers knew me and knew that I worked for Prince Radziwill. My beloved wife and her mother began to beg me not to leave the row, but to stand behind them because nothing would happen to them, they would not be bothered. I could not refuse them and [stood behind them]. Immediately, the blond gendarme shouted: Laundry workers, in front. And the laundry worker, Klatchko and his wife and three children and a motherinlaw, moved out. Klatchko had a laundry in the city and the bandits needed to have this. The doctors immediately were called upon, but of the six, two were chosen and the other four were left on the spot. Those who were being chosen were led away to Vilenska Street and they waited there until more were brought. One doctor was a soninlaw from Nesvizh, Dr. Kesel; the second, Dr. Gurvitz, was a refugee. The most distinguished, Dr. Ginzburg, who was beloved both by the Jews and the Christians, was not chosen because he was the doctor in the clinic where 20 wounded soldiers from the Red Army lay. Once when Dr. Ginzburg had a tour of duty, the soldiers sang communist songs. Someone told this to the German commandant and the 20 soldiers were shot. They also wanted to shoot Dr. Reb Yakov bar [son of] Moshe Herc Ginzburg, but the Christians and the Judenrat succeeded in saving him with great effort. However, the Germans always kept an eye on him because of a second story, which was: Dr. Ginzburg lived on one of the main streets, Vilenska Street. When the German took Nesvizh, they ordered that a half of Vilenska Street and the Studentcka Street should become Judenrein [cleared of Jews] because the German bandits needed to live there. Dr. Ginzburg then moved to his father's house on Sirokomla Street. Before leaving his earlier residence, he bricked in 3,500 gold rubles in the cellar. He could not take the money from there and told the chairman of the Judenrat about it. Perhaps they would be able to help him get the money because the chairman often would have a drink with the German commandant. The chairman did tell the German commandant about the money, who immediately brought workers, dug out the spot and took out the pieces of gold. But the German was not satisfied and beat him mercilessly. He barely survived. Thus he [Dr. Ginzburg] would be invited from time to time and he would be beaten severely each time.
Then the Germans took the dentists from the rows the wife of dentist Pinkhas Bornstein, who ran the office after his death, with her son and daughter, two refugees, Rubinstein, and another one whose name I do not know and Reb Benyamin Eizenbud, of blessed memory, a dentist, a dear Zionist, who sent his three children to EretzYisroel and his aspiration all his life was to go to the land of the patriarchs, but his dream alas was not realized.
The four medical doctors whom the Nazis murdered were:
Reb Yakov bar Moshe Herc Ginzburg, of blessed memory, a fellow townsman, a yeshiva [religious secondary school] student, passed extra exams during the tsarist times at the Slutzker gymnazie [secular secondary school] and later attended Petrograd University and graduated with the best grades. He was beloved by everyone, Christians and Jews, and had a reputation as a good doctor. The murderers killed him during his 50th year of life.
The second doctor of medicine, Scharianovitch, from Bialystok, lived in Nesvizh for 11 years, excelled with his knowledge.
The third doctor, Leboshitz [spelled Lebovitch above], a grandson of Perele Tchechanovich, a very good person, was thirtysomething years old and came from Baranovitsh.
The fourth doctor, Kokotek, a refugee; I do not know from where he came to Nesvizh.
Then the Germans led out the formations: a young man from Warsaw who was an acquaintance of Dr. Ginzburg's daughter led Dr. Ginzburg's wife out as [if she were] his mother and a son and two daughters as [if they were] his sisters and brothers.
(This was significant as the Germans permitted the workers to take their families with them. At the previous shootings in other cities, they only took the workers and shot their families later the workers refused to work. Therefore, they [the Germans] now decided to take the workers and their families, thinking: in any case, you will not escape our bloody paws…)
Then came the ranks of the textileworkers. The young man from Lodz, Milstein, a textile worker, left the ranks with 30 of his men. They all had worked in the Sovietnationalized textile factory and when the Germans entered Nesvizh, they [the Germans] took over the factory. The majority of the workers were refugees, but good tradesmen.
The rows of engineers also came: the refugee
Pop, a former Polish officer, Shlomo Greenwald, a capable person. Then the technicians a brother of our Milstein, a brother of Shlomo Greenwald and Dovid Greenwald, a fellow townsman.
Later, metal workers, blacksmiths, carpenters, bricklayers, glaziers, harnessmakers were led out but all in a limited number. Mostly there were tailors and shoemakers 30. The German gendarme would look at everyone and if someone did not please him, he pushed him back. When [the worker was acceptable], he would tell him to go to Wilenska Street, where all the useful ones were assembled under a heavy guard.
The refugees went first. They understood that those who remained on the spot would probably perish. The Nesvizh residents again thought that all of those chosen probably would not remain alive. If the refugees were pushing themselves in front it is because they think they will be taken to another city, perhaps it would be better there because what difference did it make where they were? On the contrary, it would worthwhile for us Nesvizhers to remain here; here was still our home. However, these thoughts stopped when it was announced that 20 carpenters should come out. The refugees again began to push forward to the front. And even those who we knew were not carpenters. Thus, one said to a Nesvizher: Brother, if you do not step forward, you are a martyr… So everyone wanted to step out of the ranks. One began running in front of another. Mulik Neifeld stepped forward. He actually was a landlord of the Nesvizh power station and not a carpenter. His wife did not step forward because it was not suitable to be on the same level as the carpenters. Tzvi Ofitziner, a tailor, was the second one to run out. I was the 21st when I stepped out and went to the gendarme! The gendarme gave me a blow over the head with his murderous hand. Back! That meant we do not need you. I stood near the gendarme the entire time, but as my wife had wanted me to stand behind her and my motherinlaw, by the time I crept out, the number had been filled. Seeing the scene, my wife quickly blended in between the crowd and me. As I was confused, I stood like a golem [dummy]. My daughter was not lost; she took me by the arm and again led me to the gendarme and told him that I was the best carpenter in the city. He again raised his hand, ready to honor me [with another blow]. But she pulled me away. I did not understand anything… When I came to my senses, I was standing not far from the chosen workers on Wilenska Street, far from the murderous gendarme. I walked over to the workers and stood among them. Until today, the mystery is not clear to me how I arrived at the spot near the apothecary, not far from the group. My daughter, seeing that the gendarme wanted to hit me again, ran to see what was happening to her mother and immediately returned, but did not find me. I asked many people who had been with me on the spot, but they knew nothing.
A few minutes later, a Lithuanian brought to our group my neighbor the marmalade maker, his wife and two children and… my daughter. When the gendarme had called out the family, the wife had said to [my daughter], Daughter, come quickly with us. She immediately stepped out of the row and went with them.
Before the wife had called her, [my daughter] had searched for me and met a Jewish policeman acquaintance, a convert, who came from Warsaw. She asked him if he had seen me. He answered: Run quickly to where the chosen people are standing. Perhaps he is there. If not, remain there, you will not regret it. After these words she called the neighbor and now she was with me.
The commandant approached, told us to stand four to a row and under heavy guard took us to the gymnazie [secondary school] courtyard where the Russian seminary once was located.
We were placed between two brick buildings with our faces to the wall. Our fear was great because we were sure that we would be shot. Thus, we stood for perhaps 30 minutes. Then they opened the doors to the gymnazie and ordered us to go into the first [second] floor, but men and women were separated. We were told not to look through the windows, because if it were noticed from the street that someone was looking out, he would be shot. Two armed Belarusian policemen were placed at the exit.
Sitting in the gymnazie room, each of us thought of our family members who remained at the marketplace, although the families of the chosen workers had been allowed to come out. The commandant had made sure that a too large number of family members would not come along. If he noticed that a family was too large, he immediately told many of them to return to the marketplace. We thought: it already is winter, if we are deported, what will they wear? Who will feed them?
Suddenly the commandant came running with two Germans and he said to us that we had taken a lame child to the gymnazie building with us and we should present it immediately. If not, we would all be shot. There rose a terrible panic. Everyone searched, but the child was not there. Barely half an hour passed and the commandant again returned with an order: Whoever is 70 years old should step forward! Reb Ahron Tsinman reported, although he was only 68 years old. He thought that he would be taken back to the marketplace and he would remain alive. However, the 85year old Taibe Gavrielov did not say anything, but remained, and went with us to the ghetto and suffered for nine more months.
It became more cheerless from hour to hour. We kept thinking: what would the bandits do with us? We lay on the floor in great tiredness and hardship. The building was large, but it was crowded for us.
A German came in and ordered that 15 workers
come to him. They needed to bring wood from Prince Radziwill's castle to the commandant's headquarters. Young men, among them Neifeld, the power station owner who said he was a carpenter, came forward immediately. He wanted to leave [the gymnazie] to reach his wife, bring her here or remain with her at the marketplace if only to be together. He was successful when the 15 people went to the castle in a motor vehicle, although it only was a half a kilometer from the gymnazie they saw a group of Jews being led from the market to the castle and his wife was among them. He asked the German who was in the motor vehicle to take in his wife. The German did not want to hear about this. He [Neifeld] removed his watch from his wrist and gave it to the German. It turned out that the watch was too small a gift. Neifeld began looking and found a gold ring, which he also gave to the German. [The German] softened. When the auto drove by the wife, she was grabbed and drawn into the motor vehicle. The Germans and Lithuanians shouted, but our German laughed at them and traveled on.
After unloading the wood from the motor vehicle at the headquarters, the same German brought the 15 workers back to the gymnazie.
When Neifeld came with his wife, he told us how he had saved her. In response, the workers described what had happened to our dearest and closest: they were taken to a courtyard in Zajezierze, a half a kilometer from the castle. The bandits searched the victims and took everything that had any worth. Then they heard the shooting from rifles and machine guns.
Yet we did not believe, but had other interpretations: when a group of people was taken to the courtyard, one or two probably did not follow the German orders, so they were shot. True, we knew that the Germans were capable of just killing people because they also had shot the innocent in our city, just as in other cities. However, we could not permit ourselves the thought that they could annihilate all the Jews.
The chairman came with a translator. They set up a table and announced that everyone who was in the gymnazie building should register because whoever is not registered would not receive any food and, in general, would be thought of as in the ghetto illegally.
Immediately everyone felt something tear at their heart; what ghetto? When [was there] a ghetto? We knew that there had once been ghettos. We had read about them but when was that?
We appeared for the chairman to register us. Several asked if they could also register their wife, a child. The chairman answered this casually saying that not everyone needed to be registered because those who were at the marketplace had already been registered.
A moaning cry immediately broke out among us. The German shouted that we should be calm; we were not permitted to cry. Here, we understood that we had been separated from out dearest and most beloved forever.
Many of us fainted. Even those who were here with their entire family also bitterly lamented because who then had not left any victims at the marketplace? Only those who had left a wife, a child there, literally tore their hair from their heads [because] their pain was so great. We reproached ourselves; why had we left the marketplace alone and left them? Why could we not say of them: …beloved and pleasant in their lives, and in their death not parted?!
Christians later told us that the shooting took place in Prince Radziwill's park. The night before, the murderers ordered that two giant pits be dug one 70 meters long and four meters wide [about 230 feet long by 13 feet wide], the second 30 meters long and four meters wide [about 98 feet long by 13 feet wide]. As soon as the chosen workers were led away to the gymnazie building, they [the Germans] began to lead away the people at the marketplace in groups of 100 to the pits. They were stopped on the way and everything was taken from them. The Jews were tortured during the search for gold and things of value. When they were brought to the spot, they were told to undress to their underwear. Whoever had good underwear was told to take it off. Then they were ordered to lie down in the pits with their faces down and the machine guns began to bang… When they finished with the group, another one was brought. The murderers also were changed. Thus, they shot all the Jews.
This all took place not far from the old tree that had stood in Nesvizh for over 200 years and each child was aware and knew of its oldness and age.
The Christians said that heartbreaking scenes took place at the marketplace. Some tried to escape and were shot. Others were simply trampled in the great stampede.
When they had already laid down all the Jews in the pits and the shooting began, the crying and screams carried very far. It occurred that a mother or father held a child and lay on it in the pit to protect it from the bullets. The child actually was buried alive and many screams still carried from the [mass graves]. The next morning the ground still moved from halfalive people.
It happened that when one of the Belarusians or Ukrainians noticed a breathing Jew in a pit, he hit him over the head with a shovel, until he became quiet. The shouting and the ShemaYisroels [Hear, O Israel the central prayer of Jewish worship] were heard from far, far away. The next day a spring of blood flowed from the mass graves. The Germans ordered that a ditch be dug to draw the blood out of the grave.
Thus, the German animals annihilated 2,000 innocent Jews.
Finished in Prince Radziwill's park, they took the remaining Jews to the votchina [hereditary estate], which was located opposite the cemetery. There was a giant
pit from which the entire city would take clay. They enlarged the pit and transformed it into another grave for more than 2,000 innocent Nesvizh Jews in the same manner in which the Jews had previously been shot.
When visiting the graves, one murderer was very occupied with the job. This was made use of by two women and they escaped. One woman [was] Ester Bornstein, who had left four children in the rows [at the marketplace]; the other one [was] the 17year old daughter of Kopl Poliatschek. They were destined to suffer nine more months in the ghetto.
The murderers carried all the sick and the crippled who could not walk out of their houses and shot them.
At that time about 5,000 Jews were registered with the Judenrat. Nesvizh, itself, numbered 4,000; then many refugees arrived, so the number was almost 5,000 Jews. They Germans shot them all or buried them alive in the two pits.
A Christian related:
The 28year old Yehuda Charlap suddenly stood up at the covering of the grave. It seems that he had only been wounded. A Belarusian working at spreading the dirt over the grave saw this. He lifted the shovel and lowered it on Charlap's head, which was split. A German who stood nearby called to the murderer See, the sky is crying and cannot look at what you have done… (It was raining then.)
Christians said that a German had said the same words in Gorodeya when they had annihilated the Gorodeya Jews. Possibly, this was the same German.
Friday, the 31st of October 1941 (Parsha [Torah portion] LekhLekha [Go] 5702), at noon, the door was opened in the gymnazie and [we were] ordered: Lekh! Go from here to the ghetto. We were given four hours to carry a few things to the ghetto and we were warned that whoever was outside after four [hours] would be shot.
We began to run. Everyone wanted to reach home more quickly. Perhaps, someone was alive. In addition, we had to save some possessions. A living person still needed to have something.
I went with my daughter we had left as a family of six souls and two remained. She said, Tata [Father], you have cried enough. I said the same words to myself, but we both cried. Our feet faltered under us. Is it any wonder? We had not had anything in our mouths for 42 hours, except for tears that rolled into them…
Yet, I am a fortunate person. My house was located in the allocated ghetto; I would not need to drag a few things on my back. There was great confusion. They ran; they carried things. Everyone wanted to grab a better residence because they knew that the previous owners would not come back.
In total, 562 Jews entered the ghetto. One hundred and eighty were Nesvizh residents; the remaining 382 souls were refugees from all over.
Reaching the house, new crying began. Where was my beloved wife? Where was my beautiful child? Where was my motherinlaw? I did not want to go inside the house. But now, nothing helped. Go shout Shema Yisroel!
I went to the spot where I had hidden the key when I left with my family. The key was in the same spot. My neighbor with his entire family immediately came fortunate people. True, they cried looking at me; yet their hearts felt different from mine.
We did not have the time to properly cry; four Germans entered and asked what we were doing here. They were sure that we had not gone with all of the Jews to the marketplace, but had hid. We told them that we had been in the gymnazie, but we were told to come here into the ghetto. Naturally, at this opportunity, they took everything that appealed to them and left.
I remembered my dear inlaw, Reb Chaim Shabbes, of blessed memory, and I ran home to see how he was doing. He was a weak person, could not go to the marketplace on his own, so he was registered with the sick and weak. He lived in Neishtot, a half kilometer [threetenths of a mile] from me. I ran breathlessly. On the road near the bram ([city] gate) that divided the city from Neishtot I met Pop [the engineer] and his wife carrying heavy bundles. They also were hurrying. He asked me to help carry the bundles. I answered that I had to see what had happened to my inlaw. You have no reason to run; he is there with all of the Jews. He told me that when they took my inlaw from his house and threw him into a motor vehicle, several Christians came out and asked the murderers to leave him alone because he was a dear person to everyone. However, it did not help. They took him away with all the sick to be shot.
I helped Pop carry his things to the synagogue courtyard where the ghetto had been designated.
Returning home, I saw lying on a wagon a man of 35, whom a German vehicle had run over before the aktsia [action, often a deportation] and had broken both of his legs. The Germans had forgotten him when they drove the sick away. Now they had remembered him and took him to the pit.
I saw the young man cry. My eyes were bloodshot. We said goodbye with glances. He knew that he was being taken to be shot. I will never forget the image of the martyr Reb Zev bar [son of] Ahron Arons, of blessed memory.
Everyone grabbed a few things as if at a fire. They ran to the synagogue courtyard. I thought, now we have to take everything that we can because it was burning, although no smoke was seen.
Three to four families moved into each house. Two families in an apartment was a rarity.
The Germans immediately took all the cattle, geese [and] chickens. They chose 20 cows and left the six leanest in the ghetto.
The ghetto was fenced in with barbed wire over two meters in height. They asked that a large entry gate be made opposite the synagogue and a small door for the people.
A booth was placed near the door where a Jewish policeman sat to check who went in or out and what they were carrying out of or into the ghetto. Nothing was supposed to be taken out of the ghetto. Not even food was permitted to be brought into the ghetto except for the rations, which were designated for the workers. They could not live on 30 grams of bread and 10 grams of meat, so they sought ways to obtain something to eat; although the danger was great.
The murderers began to remove those who had been shot from the houses. They used the Jewish workers for this purpose. The goodhearted Germans permitted the removal of peat and wood for burning, as well as things that were not useful to them. They left only rags for the ghetto. All valuable things from the ghetto would be sent to Baranovitsh and from there to Germany. They sold the worst things that still had a value to the Christians. They opened two stores for that purpose.
They created a warehouse and distributed the rags for the ghetto in Reb Sender's, of blessed memory, synagogue, above, where the women's section had been. Previously, they had distributed the portions of bread and meat there. Now we would occasionally receive a bit of preserves, although the Germans took the best and the most for themselves.
Several people remained in the ghetto who were accompanied by good fortune. For example, the 80year old scholar and melamed [religious teacher], Reb Shmuel Damesec that morning [when they had to report to the marketplace] was praying when his daughter, the midwife, and his soninlaw, the locksmith, and their two children left for the marketplace. His daughter told the old one not to be late and come immediately. Meanwhile, it became 8 o'clock and at 7:50 they had to be on the spot. The old Damesec thought they would do without him and remained in the house. When the sick were taken out, the Germans entered a rich, neighboring house near him and were so happy and slightly tipsy that they did not come into the old man's house. Then, the daughter and the soninlaw returned; they were among the chosen workers. Thus, Reb Shmuel Damesec was destined to live nine more months until the second slaughter.
Workshops of shoemakers, tailors, carpenters, locksmiths, a laundry and a chemical dyer were created in the ghetto. Those who were not employed in the workshops were taken to other work, such as sawing wood, washing the floors at the commandant's headquarters, working in the gardens that the Germans had planted near their residences, cleaning the streets, cleaning the toilets. Everyone in the ghetto had to work, even 10year old children. They also would take the Jews from the ghetto to dig pits for Red Army partisans and ordinary Christians who had not pleased the Germans and would be shot.
The workers gathered at the gate of the ghetto and every day they would be taken and brought back because they were not permitted to leave the ghetto alone. Only those whose work was independent (a doctor, a midwife, an engineer) would have an identity card. They were permitted to go out, but these were individuals. I also had such an identity card because my work consisted of going around fixing a window, a door, a chair.
The workshops of the shoemakers, tailors, nail makers (there were no nails; they had to make them themselves), the laundry and chemical dyers were located outside the ghetto. The carpenter workshop, the locksmith and saddle makers were in the ghetto in the old house of prayer, which had stood for 300 years. There, where Jews would pray by day and by night, was located the carpenters' workshop. In the Kalte Synagogue, which was even older than the house of prayer, stood a room that was called the community room. There was the locksmith and in the TalmudTorah [free religious primary school], which was near the Kalte Synagogue, were the saddle makers and an upholstery workshop where they made mattresses and seats for German autos.
At eight thirty in the morning we had to be at the ghetto gate because at 8:45 the Christian came to take the workers. When someone was late; he was not allowed out. If a worker could not provide a satisfactory reason, he received a punishment.
The work outside the ghetto began at nine o'clock. Lunch was from 12 to one. They worked from one to four without interruption. They went to eat in groups.
It was bad when the workers would sometimes go home alone. Then each one had saved something to eat for his wife or for his child. The Germans did not search us when the Christian led the group. But if we returned without the Christian, they searched everyone. This led to a threat of death because a Jew explicitly was forbidden to meet with a Christian. If food was found [with the Jew] it meant that he had come in contact with a Christian. Both could be shot in such a case. Yet, we smuggled [in food] in order to support the soul.
Death chased after us everywhere. But, as a rule, we did not suffer from hunger in the ghetto because we smuggled things in through all ways and means, despite the dangers in such a way: while at work or at various other opportunities we would meet a Christian. The Christian who led us to work was from the city and sometimes had humane feelings.
We in the ghetto suffered greatly from a lack of water. Not one of the several wells there was good. We could not drink the water. We remained without water because leaving the ghetto was forbidden.
The chairman of the Judenrat negotiated with the German commandant and we were permitted to go to the marketplace, where there was a water pump, for one hour a day from 7:30 to 8:30 in the morning. Many times we stood for an hour and left with empty pails because up to 100 people had assembled, Christians, too
and the time was too short for all who had appeared to draw water. It often happened that the fortunate ones who were returning with water, slipped, the water poured out and they came home with nothing. This occurred because of the constant rushing not to be late for work. It would often occur that the pump was broken and the entire group returned without water. When it snowed, we cooked with snow.
A well with good water was located near the house, but on the other side of the barbed wire. My neighbor and I woke up at two or three at night. One pushed through the wire, took water, gave it to the other one who went into the house with the water, poured the water and returned with the pail. It should be understood that our lives were in danger.
After the winter, we dug two new wells in the ghetto, a good one and the second with bad water. However, it was much easier because half of the ghetto residents could take water from the well.
A kitchen was created for those who did not have anyone to prepare food for them, but the kitchen did not last for long because it was in the synagogue and the pious ones would not tolerate this. The kitchen was moved to the marketplace where there had been a tearoom (chaynaya). The kitchen did not exist for long because there was no shoykhet [ritual slaughterer] in the city and the pious ones would not eat there. However, the main reason was that the commandant had asked that the kitchen be moved from the spot because the restaurant for the Germans passing through was moved to the house near the ghetto.
Of the six houses of prayer that were located in the city, only one was used for prayer because the other five were taken over by the workshops. A storehouse for potatoes was located in the shuster's shul [shoemakers synagogue]; the Jewish police slept in the katsevisher shul [butcher's synagogue] near the right gate to the ghetto.
A few people came together in a private house those with broken hearts and prayed there. About Reb Yisroel bar Perec Bashinkevitz, of blessed memory, people said that before his father's death, his father had told him that Moshiekh [the redeemer] would come during the year that would be spelled with the letters shin, bet, tav [in Yiddish and Hebrew, each letter and letter combination has a numerical value]; as the year was shin, bet, tav [5702 1942], there was no doubt. Moshiekh was coming.
The Jew [Reb Yisroel's father] would fast entire days and he also tortured his two children with fasting. I mainly had pity for his daughter who was weak and had to fast every other day. The father sat and studied the entire day, recited Psalms, although he was not a very learned man. The chairman freed him from all work because of this. He was an artisan of iron chests and boxes, which the Christians would buy instead of wardrobes.
He perished with all the Jews in the ghetto. May his soul be bound in the bond of life.
In the month of Nisan [March or April, the month in which Passover takes place], the people began to think about matzos. Two or three men baked matzos. Each Jewish house had cups and there were enough tears to fill them.
Two cases happened after Shavous [spring holiday commemorating the receiving of the Torah]: Reb Yehoshua bar Shmuel Kravetz, of blessed memory, went to a Christian to demand payment of a debt. The Christian called a policeman who took the Jew to Glinishche where everyone would be annihilated and shot him.
The second case involved the lawyer, Reb Moshe Mesita, of blessed memory, a nationalist who lived in Nesvizh for 10 years. He was a Polish patriot and would appear with speeches against the Soviet government during the Soviet regime. He was arrested and [he], his wife and children were taken to Russia. The lawyer returned to Nesvizh. When the ghetto had just existed for an hour, he did not appear. The Germans stopped him when he left a Polish acquaintance and announced that Jews were forbidden to come in contact with Christians. Then he was taken to Glinishche. The Germans called the Judenrat that four Jews should be sent immediately with shovels to bury him. When the Jewish workers arrived in Glinishche, they found the lawyer standing naked. The German bandits had taken everything from him, threw him in the mass grave and shot him.
Thus, we lived in the ghetto. Every day other tortures. Life hung by a hair. When we went out to work in the morning, we did not know if we would return. When we returned iz geven goyml tsu bentshen [we recited the prayer said after escaping from great danger]. Every minute we were ready to be shot by the Germans. The verse of rebuke came true for us: In the morning you will say, ‘If only it were evening.’ And in the evening you will say, ‘If only it were morning!’  People walked around nervously. We trembled when we heard a rustle.
There were two women in the ghetto, Dr. Kesel's wife and the wife of Engineer Pop, who would make life miserable for us by telling us their ominous dreams, bad news and plain, terrifying stories. They were masters at creating a panic. In general, the mood worsened and the fear grew from day to day.
This led to many families building hiding places and bunkers to hide in case of a new slaughter.
My neighbor, who lived in the next house (came to us from Prussia with a family of four souls) and survived the first aktsia, said to me, Lachovitzky, we must make some sort of cave in which to hide because the Germans will eventually annihilate us. I did not think about surviving because I was dejected, broken, but because my daughter was with me, I still persevered. However, he did not leave me alone and said that I must live because of my surviving child. He gave me desire and courage.
We worked out a plan and decided that the best place for a bunker was under the foundation of his residence, which exited into a garden. I was an artisan and he also understood what I was doing. We took three boards from the floor and made it so that they would turn on an axle, that is, if one pulled on one corner of a board it could be lifted. Let go of the rope and the boards closed. No one knew about this.
We built the bunker during a very long time because the dirt was limey. We needed to hide the dirt we dug out so that no one would notice the fresh dirt. The house was a small one and the hiding place was supposed to be for 20 people because another family of six lived with me, with three young men who had young girls and Mrs. Litvakova, a gymnazie teacher with a higher education who had come to us from Warsaw. Her husband, the director of the Wszechnica Polska [a private university], perished during the first deportation and she survived. By chance, she once came to us when we had forgotten to close the boards to the bunker. It is understandable that when she learned what we were doing, she begged us to take her in, too. We were 20 people in total eight too many for such a small bunker.
Not all of the bunkers had good fortune. As, for example, 22 Jews entered one bunker. When leaving, 17 were shot and only five succeeded in escaping.
The rumors about the approaching misfortune spread lightning fast. We knew that it was now our turn. We heard about the murders in the surrounding shtetlekh. Panic increased; people even began to get drunk to drive away the dark thoughts about the misfortune.
The slaughter took place during the month of Av, 5702 [August 1942] in Gorodeya, 14 kilometers [about 8.6 miles] from Nesvizh, and in Mir, known for its yeshiva [religious secondary school].
My brother and his family and other relatives perished in Gorodeya. A brother of our chairman, a doctor, also perished. Until his death, the chairman had always encouraged us that the Germans did not mean Nesvizh, that they would not bother our Jews; we were useful workers. However, when the news reached him that his brother had fallen he became discouraged. If this happened, then it was the end of the world. If they could shoot a doctor who was more useful than him? What worth could a simple worker from Nesvizh have in comparison to a doctor?
Many began to think of ways to join the partisan groups. We consulted with the chairman. However, he announced that until he communicated with the liaison officer of the partisans no one should move from the spot because it could cause another slaughter.
Two days before the deportation, the Germans came to the workers and demanded that they finish the ordered goods, as they needed to have them. Those who could not finish the work until morning should give it back as it was.
The news spread lightning fast in the ghetto. Fear was without limit. Everywhere, Jews said that the work had been taken from them, which was a sign of a certain slaughter. Many wanted to escape. The chairman meanwhile assured everyone that the Judenrat was thinking about it. They were doing everything that was possible to save the Jews.
No one was able to calm himself. At night, sleep was taken away. They waited for the day.
Monday, a day before the slaughter, we stood praying. Many cried. After praying and preparing water we went to work like every day.
Every day, my work was in a Jewish house, from which the owner and his family had been shot. Now a Christian occupied the house. However, I could not work. My thoughts went here and there: my brother had been in America for 11 years and had returned to Nesvizh because he did not want his children to work on Shabbos. He also had five grandchildren and now he lay in a pit with all of the Jews and an antiSemitic Christian lives in his house. Where are you, my dear brother? Plead to God for me. Perhaps, the evil decree will be repealed in merit of our father the scholar who studied for so many years in the famous Woloszyner Yeshiva? Thus, I constantly thought. Meanwhile the clock showed the 12th hour.
I had the permission of the chairman to eat at home because I only ate kosher food. At lunchtime I returned to the ghetto. My daughter was the secretary at the Judenrat. Now she came to give me food and told me with great agitation, Tata, the chairman was summoned at 10 in the morning by the commandant who told him that today at six at night he could remove the Jewish police from their posts and everyone could sleep calmly. The Belarusian police would guard the ghetto alone.
I choked on every bite. What would we do now? I had to return to work and waited with great impatience for my engineer, to whom I was subjected, to go to eat lunch. I was permitted to go to him at certain opportunities with regard to the work. All was in order even if I was found with the Christian [engineer].
I found the engineer sitting with two women who became very pale when I entered. They apparently knew what was being prepared for the Jews. However, I was sure that he would sympathize with me. He himself was bitter because the Soviets had sent his wife and two children to Siberia as counterrevolutionaries.
I stood in the room without speaking a word for the first few minutes. I was sad at heart and choked with tears. When I calmed down and asked him to save my child and me from the slaughter, he answered that he could not help at all. Now, the Germans would
disregard what he said.  What to do? I asked. He answered, Escape to the forest. I asked him, Where should I escape and what would we eat there? His last words were, If you believe in God, do not ask any questions. He will not abandon you, escape! The women cried and I left his house.
The engineer's words awoke a new hope in me, gave me strength to fight, to want to live.
When I returned to the dark house at four o'clock I was stopped by a Jewish policeman and he said that a meeting was taking place in Reb Sender's synagogue. Instead of going home I went to the synagogue where I found many people. Fear poured out over everyone's face.
Someone said that one must not escape from the ghetto. That could lead to a general slaughter. Another argued that we must stage an uprising! Let my soul die with the Philistines! Not to behave like sheep to the slaughter, although we knew that we would be defeated. We talked and made a fuss and the meeting ended with nothing.
Another meeting took place an hour later. Several young, capable people were chosen, divided into groups that were called the Kompania fun Akhdes [the company of unity], so that a defense [organization] could be created to save us. It was decided that in case the Belarusian police circled the ghetto, all of the Jews would gather at the Kalte Synagogue, above in the women's section and shoot from the windows at the Germans and police who would appear at the ghetto gate.
There were a few weapons because the girls who worked at the German headquarters smuggled weapons into the ghetto from time to time.
Two piles of hay had remained in the ghetto from the time when there had been cows. They decided that when the trouble came they would ignite the hay and this would be a signal for the Jews to begin the uprising. Kerosene and benzene also were prepared for this purpose. If it became necessary, this could also set fire to the houses.
I returned home in the greatest despair. Finally, I took stock of my life. In short, everything was the same to me. I had lived out my 54 years, but my child, my daughter who had survived the first annihilation was barely 21 years old. She still needed to live and only because of her I also had to live. I must save her. However, how? In the bunker pit we had prepared? How long could we be in such a hole? Where would we get food?
I noticed how a neighbor had opened the vent of her window the only window in the ghetto that could be opened inside the barbed wire that covered the windows on the other side and I asked her to call through the window to the Christian Bernatska, a good acquaintance of mine. She immediately came. This was very generous on her part because, if this was seen from outside the wire, we would have both been shot. I had learned that she was a friend of ours because I had once done her a favor and they said that they would never forget it.
Pani [Madam] Bernatska, save me and my child. Let us stay with you for a few days.
To this she answered me that she knew very well that in Baranovitsh they had shot a Christian family and burned their house because they found a Jew there. However, she was prepared to give me her stall, which was located a little distance from her house and always was open. In case they caught me there, she could argue that the stall was open and she was not at all responsible. I saw that she wanted to help me but was afraid. She had jeopardized her life just by coming to me and just then a patrol on motorcycle passed, but no one noticed her.
If she had refused, there would have been no one else on whom I could rely, to whom I could turn, because I did not have another such Christian friend (Although, two weeks later the Christian was burned.)
I stood as if riveted to the window. The Christians walked in the street without restraint, I looked at my daughter and my heart burst. Why should she not be able to walk in the street? We are the same people! What kind of bitter fate had fallen upon us?
The window was curtained in such a way that it could not be seen from outside what we were doing in the house. I carefully followed what was happening in the street.
At eight o'clock at night I saw that they were erecting posts near the river, which went by my house. They were placed so close together that no Jew could get through. A German checked the guard every five minutes.
My daughter returned from the Judenrat and said that the slaughter was being prepared. There was panic in the ghetto. One ran to another; they did not know where to go. I asked my daughter, My child, you are young and must save yourself. There are other young people in the ghetto; perhaps they will find a way to escape. Go, join them. My daughter returned to the Judenrat; I remained sitting at the window. Suddenly, the police went to one guard who was standing near my house, whispered something to him and that one immediately shot toward me. The bullet went through my wardrobe and hit a picture on the wall. As soon as my neighbor heard the shot, he came to me and asked me to go down to the bunker quickly. Not having any other way out, I grabbed my overcoat to place under my feet, which suffered from terrible rheumatism.
It was damp in the bunker because a stream flowed near it. My daughter and I, my neighbor and his wife and two sons (16 years old and 9 years old), Mrs. Litvakova and the [female] gymnazie teacher entered the bunker. Other neighbors in my house ran somewhere else.
We closed [the bunker] and immediately heard shooting. We did not know if the policemen had entered [our house] to take things, or if our neighbors had returned.
We stood in the pit pressed together; our hearts beat. At around 12 o'clock there were footsteps again. We thought that they were coming toward us. Fear grew. However, suddenly we heard a quiet knock, very near to us and someone called: Reb Moshe, let me in. They are shooting in the ghetto.
I recognized the voice of my good friend, Yakov Livshitz and answered him. My neighbor Goldberg became very irritated because the crush was great. He also was annoyed that someone else also knew about our bunker, but Livshitz immediately understood the other's anger and told him that he knew about our hiding place because I had once come to him to ask for several boards (Livshitz sold boards) and therefore he understood that we were creating a hiding place. Now, in an emergency, he had come so we could save him. He said that the police had shot through the windows into the houses. Many people were wounded. His wife escaped somewhere with his child. He did not know if she is alive. The ghetto had been set on fire. The police were shooting and some in the ghetto were shooting back.
Tuesday, the 7th day of the month of Av [21st of July 1942] at three in the morning, Mrs. Litvakova felt sick, probably because of the lack of air. She asked that she be let out; perhaps, she could save herself. We were afraid that with her departure our hiding place would be discovered, but seeing that we had nothing with which to help and she could no longer talk, I went out of the hiding place to see if anyone was coming outside.
The entire ghetto was burning, but the fire was far from our house, around which there were empty places. There was no wind, so we were not threatened with being burned in the bunker. I returned to the hiding place and let the woman out. She perished.
A few hours later, a new misfortune began: Goldberg's son also began to choke like Litvakova had earlier. We had a piece of iron with us and chopped out a small hole in the top [of the bunker], so that a little air could come in. Goldberg and his wife held their nineyear old boy at the small opening, waving a handkerchief over his face until he was better.
This lasted a day and two nights.
As it was later learned, the police were working on their own not according to a German plan. The extermination was supposed to begin on the 7th day of the month of Av 5702 [21st of July 1942] at six o'clock in the morning. At the designated hour, the German commandant came to the ghetto with the police and ordered that the textile engineer, Milstein, and his 30 workers be called out of the Judenrat. They wanted to leave the workers and shoot their families. The workers refused to leave because they knew that they would be held for a time until they taught the Christians the trade and then they would be shot. Only when the Germans issued an ultimatum did they understand that it would be easier to shoot the 30 men than 600. Perhaps someone would survive of the 600, but it was difficult out of 30. They left for the gate, not just the 30 but many more Jews. The Germans opened fire at the gate and the Jewish fighting group opened fire. The young men were ready for this. They fortified themselves in the Kalte Synagogue because the windows in the women's section opened opposite the ghetto gate. A terrible clamor arose. Several fell dead; others escaped. The Engineer Milstein and his brother and nine other souls succeeded in sneaking into the Butchers Synagogue near the right tower. There was a cellar with a double wall where they found eight adults and three children.
This group left their hiding place after three days. The girls were age seven to nine. They took one girl to her grandfather, who lived three kilometers [1.8 miles] outside the city. On the road the children saw the police and were smart enough that they hid in the rye. The murderers still found them and shot them.
Milstein and his brother, and a daughter of Doctor Pinkhas Bamshtein, survived because a Christian hid them.
The other five still lay hidden in the cellar for five days and were barely alive when they came out. Four of them survived and Chaim Galshtein, of blessed memory, a young man from Lodz, perished as a partisan in the forest.
(I was told all of this by our Shlomo Milstein, who was at the gate until the last minute, when I returned from the forest.)
Christians then said nine policemen were killed and several Germans wounded by the shooting from the Jews.
We sat in the bunker with great heart pounding. We often heard someone entering our house and going out after a certain time. The Christians had previously emptied the houses. When the Germans came to loot the Jewish houses, the local Christians already had taken almost everything of value. In the bunker we even heard how one spoke to another about what to take.
At 12 o'clock the police entered our house, went up to the attic, then they went into the sukkah [[temporary structure in which one has meals and may sleep during the holiday of Sukkos Feast of Tabernacles], which served as a room for the rest of the year. There they found two bottles of whiskey that had been saved for a celebration…
They left the room through the window. The murderers ordered that the door be opened.
On the night of the 7th into the 8th in the month of Av,
we started on our way. Our plan was to go the city forest (Marcvinsky), which was located three and a half kilometers [two miles] away from us, then to go to a large forest 20 kilometers [over two miles] away. Livshitz had an acquaintance, a forest custodian, a good Christian, in whom he had complete trust.
Livshitz and I went out to see if the police were in the area. We saw that the ghetto was burning; it was empty around it.
At three o'clock we left through the garden, crawling so that no one would see or hear us. Goldberg and his son left in another direction than we did. Then Livshitz came out with my daughter, then Goldberg's wife and their two children. I was the last one out. But Goldberg and his son were not there. We felt bitterness in our hearts. What should we do? We could not call [to them]. His wife fainted. We encouraged her, but it did not help. We were desperate. It was a shame [to lose] the two people. We could seek advice from Goldberg. In such bitter conditions, two such people were of use. Our situation was desperate. However, we dared not wait. We went further.
From the orchard we entered the Christian courtyard. I heard the Pole say to his wife: Do you hear, someone is crawling around in our courtyard!?
I went to his window and said, Staś [diminutive of Stanislaw], there lies a valuable thing, take it. I wanted to detain the Christian for a while so that he would not scream. Who is there?
From the courtyard we went further to a small alley, then we crawled into a rye field and reached the cemetery. On the road we heard several shots. Our hearts failed us. Who knew, perhaps they had shot Goldberg and his son?
At the cemetery we heard people talking and we lay down among the headstones. Two policemen rode by on horses. At that moment I thought, How fortunate the corpses were now? They had the merit to die like people and we did not know how we would perish and where our bones would lie around. We lay like this for 15 minutes until the Germans had passed. We immediately began to go further.
Meanwhile, the sunrise began. Near Soshna, we saw someone with a rifle. We were afraid to go further. This was lucky because later, being in the forest, we learned that there were Germans in the other place.
We arrived at the forest. There previously had been a Toz [Towarzystwo Ochrony Zdrowia Ludności Żydowskiej Society to Protect the Health of the Jews] children's colony here. A cry began to choke [me]. Where were all the children from the colony? Where were they with their beautiful singing, which would resound in the forest?
The colony was renowned in our area. The founder of the colony was Leibl Eizenbud. He had given so much effort to it. Several hundred poor children from the Folksshuln [Jewish public schools] had spent time there over the course of the summer.
We did not find Goldberg anywhere. A week later we learned that he was alive. A Christian took him to the partisans in the forest after hiding him for half a year. Two children also were hidden by the same Christian. Later, when he could no longer keep them, he took them to the forest.
We went deeper into the forest. It was well lit. The herdsmen would soon come with their cows. Where would we go?
We met one of my neighbors, Alperovich, a young man of 24, a dental technician, a former soldier in the Polish Army [hiding] behind a bush. We kissed and told each other how we had saved ourselves.
We were very hungry. Livshitz left to gather food from a Christian acquaintance.
He met four saved children and two adults there. The children were from one family, whose parents had perished. The children had gone to the bunker and survived.
We saw that Livshitz was returning with food and with the children of Rafael Damesec. We kissed again, cried, described for each other how we had survived.
We ate some bread and cheese. It was joyful, a large group. However, this was a disadvantage for hiding. We began to think of a hiding place. For this purpose, Livshitz left for a nearby woods; Alperovich left for the other one. They would find a good place for a hiding place, then we would all go there.
Alperovich saw a new machine gun standing on the road. No one was there. He did not think very long. He placed it on his back and returned to us.
Meanwhile, Livshitz also began to return on the road and saw a man dressed in black (Alperovich was wearing a black jacket, black pants and boots) with a weapon on his back. He was sure that this was a German and began to run back into the forest.
We, the survivors, saw well from afar what was happening there and immediately left on Livshitz's other side to tell him that this was not a German, but one of our people. However, Livshitz thought that we were escaping, because of the German and he ran very far away from us for two entire years…
This hit us very hard. We were nine people. It was bitter without Livshitz. He knew the forest very well. He had contact with the guard from childhood on and here was such a misfortune! No Livshitz! What would we do; we were all city workers.
After a time, on the 7th day of the month of Av, the German murderers attacked us. A bitter struggle took place in which Alperovich fell at his machine gun. He could not shoot as there were no bullets in the machine gun. I could not even take out his body. I barely survived
when Berl Alperovich fell. The Germans took the machine gun.
The next day I met partisans 20 kilometers [12.4 miles] from Nesvizh who were going to blow up a bridge. The leader of the group was [someone I knew] and a close acquaintance of Alperovich. They were seven men all with weapons. They asked us to remain in the forest. When they returned, they would take us to the large virgin forests: Naliboki, Ivenicka, Valozhynskaia virgin forest, through one side of which flows the Nieman [Neman River].
We returned after two days. During that time five more souls came to our group (four men and one woman who had survived in the Butchers' house of prayer when the Germans had opened fire on the workers gathered at the gates of the ghetto). Altogether we were 14 men. The partisans took us to their forest because there had been a failure in the virgin forest. A commander had gathered a large number of partisans in one spot; assembled them and said they would soon be counted. Meanwhile, he left and reported to the Germans and everyone was shot. The commander was a spy.
|Yitzhak Alperovich at the mass grave of the Nesvizh martyrs on the Snower road, where 2,500 victims are buried. The wooden matseyvah [headstone] as well as the fence around the mass grave was created by the Nesvish survivors in 1945. Now not a trace remains.|
They led us to a forest not far from Steibtz [Stowbtsy], on the other side of Mir, where there was a famous yeshiva [religious secondary school].
The first year in the forest was miserable and bitter. I did not see bright sunshine for a period of four months. Then partisans found us bandits and they shot five of our people. Many times we were forced to change our spot, which made our lives even harder. We moved to the large virgin forest the next year.
I was at a partisan factory for the last nine months before the liberation where we repaired rifles, produced mines and parts for weapons. This was the main workshop in the entire virgin forest where 60,000 partisans were located.
After the liberation I received an award for my devoted work.
I found 12 surviving adult Jews and two children in Nesvizh. Two children! Where were the children from the Yavne [religious Zionist] School? Where were the children from the Yeshiva haKetana [small yeshiva where postBar Mitzvah boys study], of the Tarbut [secular Hebrew language] School, of the folksshul [public school], of the gymnazie [secondary school]? Where were all the children?
I was the elder of the city. [I] walked through the destroyed streets. A city without Jews.
When I left from the pits where the bones of all the Nesvizh martyrs were resting, I thought that my wife was shouting after me: Moshe, why are you leaving me?! And my little daughters called after me: Father! Where were you all this time?! All of my acquaintances, all of the Jews shouted together from the pits: Moshe! We know you are leaving! [Tell] our sisters and brothers, our relatives, our children's children, all the Jewish people so that they will not forget, but always remember what the German assassins did to us! And you should take revenge for our spilled blood!!!
Such was the testament of the martyrs…
I left on the road to my children to EretzYisroel where a new home for me and the Jewish people was being built.
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