by Shalom Sneidman
Translated by Eilat Levitan and Ona Kondrotas
Summer of 1941
When the war started I was serving in the Soviet army. Together with the rest of the soldiers in my brigade, I fell as a POW near the town of Orsha (Mogilev, Belarus). All the POWs were taken by the Germans to the camp. I was able to change my uniform to plainclothes and escape imprisonment, intending to somehow get to Smorgon, even if I would have to walk the entire way . In the first village I entered, I encountered a German solider.
Are you a Jew? he asked.Upon hearing this, the German intended to stop and return me to the camp I came from. All of a sudden, from afar, he saw another POW escapee, and so he started walking toward him to arrest him, too. I used this moment while he was busy with the other to escape. The first thing I did was to exchange my soldier boots for wooden clogs so that I might be mistaken for a villager. Thus I arrived in Minsk.
Are you a soldier?
So who are you?
I am a prisoner.
When I arrived, I saw a POW camp surrounded by barbed wire. When I looked at the inmates, I recognized some of them as people who had served in the same division as I. I went all around the camp to avoid it and reached Minsk. This occurred on the same days that all the Minsk Jews were put in a ghetto. I knew that I could not rely on my costume and wooden clogs to disguise me and so, quickly, I left the town. On the road between Minsk and Smorgon, I met a farmer returning from Smorgon. I asked him if the situation was still calm in Smorgon and its neighborhood. He answered me in a very angry voice, saying, Smorgon is burned to the ground. All of this happened to you because you Jews breached your union with God. This is the punishment from the Heavens.
I used only isolated trails and out-of-the-way roads in my travels, avoiding any main roads so that I would not encounter Germans. I entered the town of Horodok (near Volozhin), where I met other people from Smorgon. A Jew by the name Berl Greiss, from Smorgon, confirmed the reports of the farmer, saying the town had been burned to the ground. He, together with other locals, had found a temporary haven here. In Horodok, I also found my brother and sister. There, I worked as a carpenter for some farmers until May 1942. That month, we were caught by the Germans and sent to work in Krasne, where the Nazis ran a concentration camp. All the Jewish residents were locked in the ghetto, and the strong among them worked in the labor camp.
In 1942, some brave Jews started escaping from the camp and joining the partisans. Good contacts between the ghetto, the war camp prisoners, and the resistance were established. A resistance movement now started within the camp. Propaganda calling people to escape from the ghettos and go to the forest circulated. The main issue was obtaining weapons, because only with weapons could one survive outside of the ghetto. Anyone who had any money bought weapons from the farmers or from Germans who were not of Nazi beliefs but had come here to profit. They would sell to the Jews for a large amount of money the personal weapons that they had received as soldiers, or other weapons that they stole from the barracks, but some Jews among us did not have any money, and had to steal weapons instead of buying them.
My workplace, a warehouse, often housed weapons brought there for repair. One time, I broke in between midnight to 1AM, broke through the door, and was thus able to obtain guns for my sister and I, as well as some grenades and other ammunition. Since we also worked in the forest, cutting wood, we hid the weapons in a manger. The original Jews who had escaped prepared an escape for the rest of us. We learned that anyone who had a gun or grenade, or, better yet, a rifle, would be happily received by the partisans. When I escaped to the partisans in the forest, my sister stayed in the ghetto.
Before I left, I said to her, I'll go to the partisans and see if its an appropriate place for you, and if so, I'll come back secretly to the ghetto and take you out.
Pesach Binder, from Smorgon, escaped and joined the partisans before me, leaving his wife in the ghetto. When we decided that the partisan camp was sufficiently safe and women could be incorporated into our life there, we decided to return to the ghetto and bring the women. Just before we were ready to do so, Binder became sick. In the partisan camp, a Russian doctor diagnosed him with typhus. As no typhus medicine was available, the partisans decided to execute the sick so that an epidemic would not take root. There was another man from Volozhin who was also sick with typhus, and both were executed by the partisans.
There was a group of eleven Jews in the camp who came shortly before us. They were now isolated in a separate location, for the partisans feared they would get typhus. I was put with them, and although we lived separately, we received food from the brigade. The Jewish members of the brigade were fearful that all of us would be executed and were very downcast, fearing that they could not save us. We were very lucky, for a Jewish doctor who came to the camp and checked us found that we did not have typhus. We returned to the brigade and arranged a new unit made up of all the people who had recently arrived from the separate group.
Shortly after, we learned that the Russian doctor who checked us was really a spy serving the Germans and planned to kill us. The head of the brigade was a Soviet man by the name of Ivanov. In this brigade there were hundreds of Jews, but in spite of it, or perhaps because of it, the brigade was riddled with Anti-Semitism.
Two weeks later, before the Jewish holiday Purim, we sent a carriage to bring my sister from the ghetto, but were too late. Jewish Krasne had been annihilated, and all its residents had been killed the previous day. Everyone had been killed except for the wife and child of Binder, who were miraculously saved from the execution and arrived at the camp. [editor's note: contrary to this account, others who came from Horodok and Krasne hid and later escaped to the forest. There were close to a dozen, amongst them were members of the Gringaus family.
In May of 1943, Germans narrowed in on our camp, and many of our comrades were killed in the ensuing scuffle. During that year, the Red Army parachuted some forces near our camp, and among them were Jews who had been in my paratrooper unit. The Red Army met and liberated us in the early summer months of 1944. On October second of 1944 I returned to Smorgon. The entire town had been burned to the ground by bombs and shelling. From Smorgon, I traveled to Lodz in Poland, and then to Italy. From there, I finally immigrated to the land of Israel.
by Ida Levin (Canada)
Translated by Yocheved Klausner
The Nazis demanded from the Judenrat to supply 300 Jews. Since we were the last to arrive to the camp, we were counted among the three hundred. We were 180 women and 120 men, frightened to death, because we were certain that this was to be our last road. We were packed into box cars; the doors were shut and bolted. Late at night the train began to move. We traveled a certain time, which to us seemed an eternity; however, some of the travelers, who knew the way, informed us that the train was going in the direction of Vilna. Suddenly the train began to slow down we were approaching Ponar. Jews from Vilna and the neighborhood towns knew very well what Ponar meant: it meant certain death. Thousands of Jews from the Vilna ghetto perished there. The nearer we came to Ponar, the slower he train moved. As it stopped finally, we all froze in our places. In the deadly silence we heard how the car doors opened, and then the well-known shout of the SS: Raus! [out!]
We went out of the wagons, more dead than alive of fear. Apart from our guards, many SS men were around us. They ordered us to form lines outside the wagons, counted us again and again and left us standing there a long time. All that time they discussed our fate, trying to decide what to do with us. We had no doubt that this was to be our end. We were finished. What we have
experienced during those hours, waiting for certain death, was more frightening than death itself.
After a long discussion the SS ordered us to climb again into the cars. Again the doors were shut and bolted, and the train began maneuvering back and forth and finally began to move slowly forward. Where are they taking us? Our terror rose from minute to minute. Finally we felt that the train began to accelerate, and Ponar was behind us. A spark of hope rose in our hearts, and we slowly regained some measure of calm.
We were kept in the bolted, moving train for eight days. We didn't know where we were taken, or to what purpose. Finally we arrived to a total wasteland, a place called Makritza, near Paskow.
On the way we experienced another deadly fright. The partisans have planted mines on the railroad and one of the cars was destroyed entirely. Luckily it was the car occupied by the guards; all were killed.
Makritza was a primeval forest where no human being had ever set foot. Through this impassable forest we were given the task to build a railroad line. Seven months a year the forest swarmed with wild flies and gnats that bit us until blood ran from our hands and feet. Our guards had special covers that protected their faces; we had no protection against the blood-sucking insects and the blood-sucking Nazis.
Yet, despite the difficult circumstances, we did build the line, stretched over a great number of kilometers.
As the battle front became nearer, we were again transported, to another working place.
by Eliezer Karpel
Translated by Yocheved Klausner
I lived until 1925 in Rodno, a village, where five Jewish families lived, all of them connected through close family relationship.
From 1925 I lived in Smorgon, on Skapinka Street.
After Smorgon was destroyed the first time and we were driven out, we came back and settled there again. This time only a few thousand Jews lived in Smorgon.
1941. Heavy fighting between the Russian army and the Germans. The houses around the town square were all burned down.
On 23 May 1941, I joined the Red Army. The chief commander was Voroshilov. I was sent to the front in Viazme, where I remained four months. In October I was taken prisoner of war by the Germans.
The Germans drove us, a group of prisoners, to Smolensk. I managed to hide in the villages every day and every night in a different place and worked with the peasants, as one of them. In November, I was again captured by the Germans, who were looking for young men, and was sent again to a camp of war-prisoners. We worked in the forest cutting trees, we chopped wood, built side roads connecting to the main highways, cleaned the snowed-in roads.
Almost two years we endured the hardships of the prisoners-camp, until 20 September 1940.
Since we were young men without papers, the Germans treated us as war-prisoners. I called myself Alexander Karpov, and pretended I was a Christian, a white Russian [from Belarus]. The camp was located near Smolensk.
August 1943. The Red Army approached Smolensk, and the camp was transferred to another location, near Orsa.
We received information that there were partisans in the nearby villages. In the camp near Orsa we worked in the cavalry unit: we cleaned and brushed the horses, we fed them and gave them to drink and we cleaned the stables. This way we were a little less restricted in our movements and the guards were not too alert and strict. So we decided two prisoners and I to escape. It was on the 20th of September 1943. Two days and two nights we hid in the forest. We had nothing to eat during those two days, because we were afraid that we would be discovered and shot.
Finally we met a group of partisans and we joined them. The group was part of the 16th Smolensk Brigade. It numbered 1,500 White Russians and Russians, among them just one Jewish young woman from Minsk. Among the partisans, I became a Jew again and readopted my true name. The unit included men with high military education and fighting experience. Many of them had escaped from German prisoner camps. I became a lookout and a commander of a small military unit.
On 3 July 1944 we joined the Red Army, a unit located between the towns Swir and Michaelishek. After a short time the Red Army began to move, proceeding in the direction of Germany. Our partisan brigade remained, with the task of cleaning up the forests from hiding Germans and units of Polish partisans, who have fought against us. When we completed this task in the forest, we united again with the Red Army and were sent to the front near Riga. Later we fought at Memel, Koenigsberg and Danzig.
I was wounded twice, first in Memel on 20 September 1944 and the second time in Koenigsberg on 10 February 1945. However, the Germans payed for my wounds with tens and hundreds of lives. Our unit blew up bridges, railroad lines; four train cars were blown off the destroyed rails two loaded with tanks and two with German soldiers. We captured a military base from which soldiers were sent to the front. We participated in battle until the 12th May 1945. Then I was sent to Lignitz near Breslau to supervise the military economics, until 1947.
For bravery in the battle I received five medals of The Order of the Red War-Flag.
by Margola Hurwitch
Translated by Yocheved Klausner
We started to walk through the Zaljes forest in the direction of Maladetchne. We left the town on Friday, taking with us only candles and Challah: candles to light on Friday before the beginning of Sabbath and say the blessing, and Challah for the blessing over bread at the Sabbath meal. We spent the Sabbath in the woods. We stuck the candles in the sand candlesticks were too heavy to carry.
As Sabbath ended, we set out through the Zaskiewitz forest to Lebedove. We didn't find anybody in Lebedove all have run away. We spent the night in the synagogue, crowded like herring in a barrel. In the morning, after we had rested a little, we started to walk on the way to Maladetchne. From there we took the train to Minsk.
There was not enough food in Minsk for all the refugees who had arrived there. A cholera epidemic broke out among the refugees, and following this a rumor spread that the doctors were poisoning the sick. The people were afraid to consult with a doctor and when somebody contracted the disease it was kept a secret. Those who did call the doctor and took the medicine he prescribed died, and those who were not cured remained alive thus the rumor went on among the refugees.
We spent only one week in Minsk. Since the Red Cross committee gave us free train tickets to go wherever we chose, we reached the Rami Poltovne Gubernia [province] and stayed there until 1922. The most difficult times were under the rule of general Deniken and the White Guards, who adopted only one solution: Kill Jews and save Russia! They robbed all we had.
On Rosh Hodesh Elul [the first day of the month Elul] 1922 we came back to Smorgon. We found it in ruins. The leather factories were not reopened. The factory owners could be found in various Russian cities: Kharkov, Rostov on the Don, Nizhny-Novgorod, Samar; some even went as far as Siberia.
In Smorgon, the rebuilding began small houses, seldom a two-story house. People returned to the leather trade, in Smorgon itself and at the various fairs. We also received aid from America. Finally Smorgon was rebuilt, but it never recovered entirely not as it was before the destruction. Now Smorgon was under the power of the Polacks.
In 1939, Soviet soldiers entered Smorgon, and the Soviet regime was instituted. In 1941, they left and Nazi soldiers came in.
I left Smorgon on foot, walking in the direction of Zaljesie, and I managed to reach Orsa. On the way, German airplanes bombarded constantly. I was evacuated to Pozno, from there I was transferred to Samar, which was named at that time Kubishow. From there I was transferred again, this time I was sent to a Kolkhoz. I worked in the Kolkhoz for six months.
My daughter became a nurse and went to the Ural region. She worked there from 1943 to 1948, when she returned to Vilna. I came to Vilna as well, and since we were considered Polish citizens, the Soviets allowed us to leave. In 1947 we left Vilna and went to Warsaw, then we managed to go to Israel, by plane.
At that time, my sister Hene was looking for a husband. She met a Yeshiva student, but as soon as they began to talk she realized that he was not religious enough. She asked him is there in your Yeshiva a young man who is more observant than you?
Yes, he said, there is, and his name is R'Zelig, from Grodno.
So my sister married R'Zelig Shapira, who was famous in in the Musar [study of morals] circles of the Yeshivas. He is mentioned with great respect in the book Higher than the Sun by David Zaretzki, dedicated to the students of the Chafetz Chaim Yeshiva who perished in the Holocaust. Stories were told about miracles that he performed. He studied Chumash [The Five Books of Moses] and Talmud with the children in the Oshman ghetto, where he lived with his wife.
In 1938, my sister became very ill.
R'Zelig Shapira gave her a gift five years of his own life. Together with five dayanim [rabbinical judges] he went to the grave of the great scholar to pray for her recovery. After that, she lived another five years.
When my sister and her husband were taken from Oshman to Ponar, they jumped off the train. The Germans shot them on the spot. This happened in 1943, exactly five years after her recovery. Jews recognized their bodies and gave them a Jewish burial.
By Leah Bubis
Translated by Janie Respitz
It is the month of June in 1941. War broke out. I was an employee in a Soviet store. Sonia Alkin and I were standing by the store, with the keys in our hands. We were ready to open when we noticed the Soviet leader and supervisor are confused and are running from place to place (along the street). There was a lot of noise and confusion. We were in a dilemma and did not know what to do. Should we close or not. We approached one of the directors and asked him. He told us nothing happened and we should open as usual. Then he disappeared. We were still uneasy. We begin to ask other Jews in Smorgon what was going on. That was when we learned the war had begun.
Where do we run to? Many Jews from Smorgon left on foot toward Minsk. My mother, Sheyne Yente Budgar and I did not have the strength to walk. My brother Boruch was with us, but my brother Yakov went to a village near Svir. We decided to wait for him to return with a horse and wagon. He returned that night and we took as much as we could pack in the wagon and left to a village to farmer acquaintances.
On our way, we soon encountered German soldiers. I was frightened but I managed to smile at them so they would not think we were running away from them. We arrived in Khatchelyevitch. Yakov took us to his farmer friend. We were hoping to find temporary shelter. The farmer took us to his barn, and we went to sleep.
In the morning a peasant entered the barn with an ax and shouted, Jews, I'll kill all of you! When he saw my brother Yakov he became gentler and said, If not for Yankl, my friend, I'd chop all of your heads off! We sat and cried in the barn for a few days in total fear. It was particularly difficult on Friday night when we remembered how our mother would light candles and we all felt so safe at home.
Every day, the farmer whose barn we were hiding in, came in and asked us to leave because he feared the Germans would learn he was hiding Jews. I said to my mother, Mother, let's go to the Svir ghetto. Whatever will happen to all the Jews, will happen to us. Mother agreed to go to Svir ghetto. We took some of our belongings; the rest we left with the farmer in Khatchelyevitch.
There were only Jews from Smorgon in the Svir ghetto: Nechama Yakobson and her mother and her brother Moishe and also Esther and Hinde Katz with their mother and father Yisroel Katz were a few I remember. I would meet all of them at work. We had to work every day.
I lived with my family in the Shul court with relatives. The situation was intolerable: we worked hard and as payment, we saw death every day of the week. There was never a minute we were sure of our fate as we endured troubled, hard earned lives.
One day I went with my brother Yakov to the farmer in the village to get some of our belongings we had left behind. On our way, near the town of Lishnitze, two peasants spotted us as they were coming from Svir. It was late at night. They wanted to shoot us. With a bitter cry I asked them to let us return to the Svir ghetto and to our mother who was waiting for us. They let me go but not my brother. They pointed their pistols toward him and took him in their wagon to head into the forest. I kept my composure and grabbed the reins of the horse and did not allow them to go to the forest. I begged for pity: I lamented and wailed: what is my life worth without my beloved brother! Their murderous hearts softened and they let us both return to the ghetto. We were in the Svir ghetto until the end of 1941. At that time, they only allowed artisans, useful in their professions, to remain. They sent me and my mother to the Mikhalishko ghetto; my two brothers, Boruch and Yakov were sent to a labour camp near Vilna.
When we arrived at the Mikhalishko ghetto, they assigned us to a house with 30 other people. The sanitary conditions were horrific. One who has not experienced it, could not possibly imagine the dirt, hunger and cold. I often pushed through the barbed wire surrounding the ghetto to exchange clothing for a bit of food from the farmers. At night, I snuck back in. It was very dangerous but hunger drove me to risk my life. I observed that the same families from Smorgon in the Mikhalishko ghetto were also with me in the Svir ghetto.
At the end of 1942, an order came to leave the ghetto. If you had family in a labour camp, you can request to be transferred there. We were also given another privilege. Those who had left belongings with the peasants could return and take their things on the long journey ahead. The trip took seven days.
We were being sent to the Vilna ghetto. The enclosure there was very high and the guard, who was very strict, told us that we could not leave to trade our belongings for food. Instead, we would have to trade only from within the ghetto. If not, we would die of hunger. My mother walked to Batchilevitch, took some things and began her return. A peasant killed her on the road and took everything she had. I was left totally alone and helpless. I could not stop crying. I cried so much I nearly went blind.
Everyone in the ghetto was packing. I did not know what to do. I was completely lost. One day my brother Boruch came and took me to a labour camp near Vilna. The others from Smorgon unfortunately went to Kovno. They were all killed.
I lived in the Vilna ghetto with my two brothers, Boruch and Yakov.
It was 1943. They sent us to hard labour without food or drink. We suffered greatly and with constant fear. Every day, the guards grew stricter. The hangman Weis and Murer, the Gestapo man, arrived. A few times, while we were working, the officers surrounded us with a chain of Gestapo men. I looked around; perhaps there was an opening for escape to save my life.
My two brothers and I were sent to work in a vegetable garden in Kupernishek near Vilna. Rumours were spreading that the Germans were planning to liquidate the Vilna ghetto. We began planning to take refuge in the forest to join the partisans. We knew the partisans took in refugees who came with weapons. We sold some of our clothing and bought revolvers. We joined a group of 18 men who shared the same goal. We threw away our yellow badges and left. We passed a row of villages. We walked at night. By day we hid in the bushes. We had nothing to eat and finally decided to take the risk and enter a peasant's home and ask for a piece of bread. But the dogs attacked us, almost to the point of biting. We returned to the forest and continued walking every night until we arrived in Naratch forest.
The peasants in Naratch told us there were partisans in the forest. We were very happy to hear that news since reaching our goal now seemed closer. As we were deciding where to go, a group of partisans approached. They took our weapons and told us to go deeper into the forest. We listened and eventually came to the commander of the partisan division. He asked us, not sure whether seriously or jokingly, Where are your guns and grenades? We replied that we only have revolvers but the partisans took them from us. He asked, How did you get the revolvers? When we told them they were purchased in the Vilna ghetto, he laughed and said, What kind of partisans are you. You should have killed a few Germans and taken their weapons. That would make you true partisans! He then refused to allow us into his division. He suggested there was a group of Jewish partisans in the forest and we should join them.
So that is what we did. Thankfully, the Jewish partisans were pleased to have us. The commander of the partisans, Yosef Glazman, came from the Vilna ghetto. The Jewish group fell apart toward the end of 1944. Individual partisans joined the general partisan division. They assigned me into a workers division, with a group of tailors. Soon after, the forests where the partisans held their positions were attacked by the Germans. There were approximately one to three thousand German soldiers. They began an offensive against the partisans. I was assigned to help the Russian doctor and had to watch over the wounded partisans. They took me and the sick to the Neva swamps. I told the doctor that if the Germans ever come real close to us, I will run away and leave the wounded. He did not answer and walked away, leaving me alone. The shots were so deafening, I became confused. I believed by waving my arms I could keep the bullets away from me and the patients. I soon ran away. About 100 metres from the sick camp, I hid in the bushes. After a few minutes I heard the German soldiers trek through the mud in their rubber boots. I lay there motionless, holding my breath. The Germans left quickly and I managed to stay alive. It was nighttime and pitch black. I head back to the sick and wounded but not sure of the exact way. Luckily, I saw my kerchief on the ground which I lost while running. I returned to the patients to witness a horrible scene. One of the patients committed suicide by shooting himself in fear that the Germans would leave him half dead. I spent a few days with the sick men in the swamps. It was extremely cold, and we did not have any warm clothing. When things quietened down, they took the patients back to the forest. They promised to find me a new place to go. During the German attack, my brother Boruch and18 other men, were killed. Among them was Glazman, the commander. The Germans surrounded them. In order not to fall into Nazi hands, they exploded grenades.
I remained with my older brother Yakov. We heard, not far away in Neva Oyzle, that Jews were hiding in mud huts. We traveled to them. We received a bit of food from the peasants, who changed their attitude toward the Jews realizing that the Germans lost the war and will be chased away.
A few months later the war ended with the defeat of the Nazis.
I was free. But where should I go? Return home?
When I returned to Smorgon I found our house burned down. Only the Gentile's homes on Krev Street remained standing. All the Jewish homes were destroyed.
It was 1945. There was no future for me in our devastated city. I went to Lodz, and from Lodz to Germany. I spent one year in Germany, then left for Italy in 1946. I married in Italy in 1947 and in 1948 came to Israel.
By Tova Donski
Translated by Eilat Levitan and Ona Kondrotas
Daily, the Germans would come with some Belarussian collaborators who were residents of Smorgon. They would arrive at the ghetto and take people to work. Both men and women were forced to work. We worked from an early morning hour until the evening. In the Karka area, there were a few Jews that were millers. Having flour, they divided it among all the needy people. Some people had money and they were able to buy food from the villagers. People who by this point had lost all their money gave their clothes and other valuables to the villagers in exchange for bread, potatoes, and other food supplies.
In August 1942, during the third transport, I was taken together with many other young men and women. They told us we would be taken to work on a job that would last six weeks. They transferred us in trains normally used for livestock on a journey that lasted four days. On the road we were given only stale bread to eat. The train cars were locked and the windows were clouded so that we would not be able to see where we were and where we were being taken. It was very crowded. All of us were young men and women able to do any physical labor.
They brought us to Zasmir, a small town near Kovno. We were put in a labor camp: the women lived in the synagogue, and the men lived in the synagogue yard. The manager of this camp was a Jew from Podbrodze by the name of Ring. Every morning he woke us to drink breakfast coffee. The coffee was prepared by the residents of the camp. We worked from early morning until dusk fell, building a new road.
One time, when we were taken to roll call, the head of the work camp, whom we nicknamed the Hoarse One due to his raspy voice, asked us, "if there is any man or woman that does not like this work, or cannot perform, you should come out and tell me, and you will be returned to the place you were taken from." Twenty six people came forth, and said the work was too difficult for them. Immediately, they were put on a truck and a few more people were added to their count as helpers. They were taken outside of the camp where they were all shot and then the helpers buried them, at the order of the Nazis. When the helpers returned to the camp, they told us of what had occurred. It was a miracle I survived, because I had intended to inform the Nazi officers that this work was too hard for me, as well.
At our camp there were around a thousand workers. At one point, typhus spread in the camp. We had a doctor by the name of Anulik with his wife Miriam, who was a nurse. They were brought to the camp from Vilna. The doctor and the nurse did not let the Germans know that a typhus epidemic was spreading through the camp, because they I knew that most likely everyone would be killed if the Nazis found out. When people were too sick to work, they would say that the harsh weather prevented them from arriving to work. In reality, twelve people died of typhus. When people became delirious from the high fever, they often began to curse at Germans and Hitler. We were very fearful that the Germans would be notified of this by the guards of the camp and find the true nature of the disease.
Eventually, I received the information that my entire family was taken to Ponar and killed. Ponar was a suburb of Vilna. I spent eleven months in the work camp. When the camp closed, we were transferred to the Kovno ghetto. We stayed there for a month and were then taken to Koshadar, and here we worked digging peat bogs for fuel. Most workers became sick with rheumatism in this damp and dark environment. We also worked in the forest, cutting trees and making boards of wood from them. Men and women worked together. With us worked also gentiles, amongst them twenty-four Ukranians and Uzbeks, and six Communist Germans. They started a rebellion, killing the two Ukrainian policemen guarding them, as well as the Dutch engineer leading them. The German sergeant who was guarding them they hit on his head and his brains spilled out onto the barbed wire. They collected the weapons of the guards and escaped to join the resistance in the forest.
The next day, German soldiers surrounded the camp. They did a headcount and found that none of the Jews had escaped, and ordered us to return to our barracks. In Koshadar, there were Jewish families who were brought from the Kovno ghetto. With them they had about twenty-four children. One time, the Germans collected all the Jewish children and put them on a train, taking them all to be murdered.
This was the last straw. Finally, the Jews realized that their end would soon come, and forty-eight of them now escaped and were able to reach the resistance. This showed the Germans that there was not sufficient guarding in this camp, and they transferred us to Alikshut. In Alikshut, we worked at filling train tracks with sand, and whoever was not fast enough was beaten mercilessly. The people responsible for our job here were the SS. We worked at this camp for a month, and from there we were transferred to the war camp by the name of Kozlovaroda, where we once again worked in a peat bog for three months. From here, we returned to the Kovno ghetto.
When the ghetto was annihilated, we were put in a locked livestock train car and we traveled between five and six days. The Nazis brought us to Statthof near Danzig. This took place in the spring of 1944. Our camp was located in the forest, and we had to walk by foot from the train tracks all the way to the forest. When we reached the camp, we saw that in the yard lay a pile of shoes. We now saw that this was a death camp and was surrounded by electric barbed wire.
We were made to walk to the barracks for showering. The Nazis ordered us to undress and leave all our belongings and any jewelry we might have in a pile outside, and divided us into groups of twenty. The groups were taken away from each other. The Nazis checked us, and the weak among us were sent to be killed, either by shooting or burning. The ones who were still able to work were sent to live and work for the time being. When my turn arrived, they checked me and sentenced me to work and physical labor. Thus, I was to survive. They shaved my head and gave me a uniform - a prisoner's dress. Three hundred women were taken to the barracks and were all to sleep in one room. It was horribly crowded. You couldn't even find a place to stand and there was no air to breathe. Every day, the Nazis organized a headcount and would check us, and occasionally they would organize selections of those who would remain alive and those who would be killed. We were divided into two rows: one on the right and one on the left. The people who were given a 'life sentences' were sent back to the barracks. The women who were fast and entered the barracks first did not receive beatings, but the slower ones were hit mercilessly.
The commander of that camp was a Polish man by the name of Max. The women in charge of the barracks were Ukrainian. Once a day we received cabbage soup. Some would try to cheat and stand in line twice. If caught, they would be beaten for their greed. I was in Statthof for six weeks, and was then transferred with about a hundred other people to a war camp in Germany.
During the winter of 1944-45, we lived in very low tents where one had to crawl on one's knees to enter. It seems like the forced hard labor we did was busy work that did not really serve anyone. We shoveled snow from one place to the next, for instance. This was a very cold winter and we were all in summer clothes. This camp contained 800 women. The Jews in this camp were from Lithuania and Belarus. We slept on hay; there were no mattresses. We didn't receive any blankets; they let us cover ourselves with tablecloths. We wore clogs for shoes. When women got sick, they did not let anyone know they were sick, for they were fearful of being executed.
In this place there was one doctor - she was really only a medic. We found out that in the camp that was located next to us, they killed all the prisoners and we were very fearful that this would be our fate as well, soon. At one point, the Nazis transferred us to Lubic in Galizia, in the environ of Tran. Shortly after, they changed their minds, wanting to return us to Germany, but had no time.
For a week, we hid, together with our enemies, in the forest while planes would shell the area. Little children who lived in a nearby village came to us one day and announced that the Russians were nearing. Soon we found that they told the truth. The Russians came, but we could not believe our eyes. We were so fearful, depressed, and disillusioned that we thought they were only Germans who wore Russian uniforms as a disguise. It was impossible for us to accept the fact that liberation had come.
Finally, a Jewish soviet soldier arrived and began speaking to us in Yiddish. Only then did we comprehend that we had made it, we had survived! We had come from slavery to salvation, from death to a freedom and a future. The Soviets collected us and brought us to a camp that was free of Germans. There, we found a cauldron filled with cooked food. Some people jumped on this food and filled their stomachs with it. Since they were starved for months or even years, many died of the sudden shock of plentiful food in their bodies.
The Soviet soldiers took us to a market and told us to take what we wished. All of us chose bread. In our eyes, this was the most delicious delicacy possible.
by Sh. Greis
Translated by Jerrold Landau
In 1941, during the Second World War, with the advance of the Germans in the direction of our city, men were drafted to the Red Army, including my older brother who fell within three days. We left Smorgon in the direction of Russia. Some people, including my parents, abandoned the journey and returned to Smorgon.
At the beginning of the occupation, there were two ghettos in Smorgon, in the city and in the Karke. Within a few months, only one ghetto remained in the city. As a young child, I wandered around the Judenrat offices and saw the decrees that the Germans issued. At times, they demanded 100 furriers, etc., and at times, they demanded laborers. When there were not enough to meet the demand, I volunteered to be one of the workers. I worked in a woodcutting factory.
After a short time, they began to liquidate the ghetto. Only protected people remained, my family and I among them. The people were sent to Kovno, Zazmir [iemariai], and Vilna. My oldest sister, her husband Shimshon Asinowsky, and their children were among them. They perished on the way to Ponar along with the rest of the people. We traveled in the direction of Zazmir, where there was a very harsh labor camp. People, including my sister, became ill with typhus. After a few months, they selected people for work from there, and sent us to Plashkov. We worked on the railway tracks that led a distance of six kilometers to the front. We worked under very difficult conditions. We chose Mottel Mirsky as the leader, who concerned himself with the wellbeing of everybody. After some time, that group was transferred to Mokrava in Estonia. From there, we were transferred to the Kaizerwald camp in Riga. The most difficult period began in Riga. We were greeted with murderous blows when we arrived in the concentration camp. They took our clothing from us, and we received camp uniforms. Groups of men were sent to the old cemetery of Riga to remove the dead and burn them. After the work, the Germans would burn that group.
After some time, a large group was sent to Dundaga, which was called a death camp. The S.S. chief was Zorki. He was known as Iron Gustav [Eizner Gustav] by the camp inmates. He had two Jewish deputies, one named Werner, a well-known metrograph from Berlin; and the other Hubert. Both were murderers in the fashion of the Germans.
We, my father, my mother, my brother, my sister, and I, also ended up in that camp, along with many other people of Smorgon. This was a camp of death and torture. They would beat people until death. Many people from our group perished there.
With the advance of the Russians, we were transferred by foot on a long, difficult journey. We crossed rivers and forests. Several of our people attempted to escape to the partisans in the forest, but they did not reach their desired destination. The small portion of us who remained alive arrived on foot to Stutthof. There, the Germans conducted an action [action]. The people were divided into a work group, and a group destined for death. My brother Shalom and I were in the ranks of death. I succeeded in jumping to the work group through my father, and thereby survived. My mother and brother Shalom met their deaths in Stutthof. From there, we were sent by train to Buchenwald. Only approximately 60 men were left of our group of 450 people. From there, we were transferred to the Rimsdorf camp, where there was a factory of coal fuel. They worked us very hard, and people fell like flies my father of blessed memory among them. There were approximately 12,000 people in the camp in February 1945, including a few who remained from our death march. We walked for days and nights without food or drink, and people fell like flies. Only Zalman Pragmant and I remained from our group among those who arrived in Theresienstadt. The Red Army liberated our camp from the accursed Germans on May 9, 1945. I became ill with abdominal typhus after the liberation. After I recovered in a Russian military camp, I remained alone, the sole survivor of the entire family. I was a youth of about 16, and I looked like a child of no more than 12. I was sent to the direction of Smorgon. Along the way, I found out that there were many Jewish survivors in Łódź, and I arrived there with difficulty. As I rode the train, I had to hide from members of the AKA who wanted to kill Jews. I arrived in Łódź by miracle. We were first housed on a Jewish floor. The next days, the Krochmelnik sisters visited me and informed me that the center of Smorgon natives was at their home. There, I met Moshe Bernsztajn, my school friend.
We moved to Częstochowa with the group of 105 children from age 13 to 17. From there, they transferred us to Prague and Germany as Greek Jews. They caught us along the way and sent us back several times, until we finally succeeded in arriving in Munich as German Jews. From Munich, they transferred us to Feldenhing, where they prepared us for aliya in the Hebrew language. I made aliya in 1946 on a ship of Maapilim from Marseilles. We arrived at the shores of the Land after 14 days, but we were stopped by two British boats. After a battle lasting an entire day, they transferred us to Haifa, and from there to Cyprus.
I remained in Cyprus for eight months with a group of youth aliya. I arrived in the Land and enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces. My school friend Moshe Bernsztajn of blessed memory fell during that period in the first days of the War of Independence.
Translated by Jerrold Landau
May the nation of Israel remember its precious children, pure ones the children of pure ones, who were stolen from the bosom of their parents at the hands of the human beasts and brought like sheep to slaughter; whose backs were broken, and who were murdered in strange deaths, and piled up in piles outside. Infants and nursing children who were smashed against stone walls, tossed off walls and cast live in sacks into the depths of rivers. Their lives were cut off in their youth by cruel hands in sanctification of the Divine Name.
May Israel remember and preserve in your bundle.
Translated by Jerrold Landau
The first for annihilation the babies were, orphaned children, wanton on earth
Indeed, they were the best of the world, the finest of charm in a world of darkness!
Hah, many orphans! Among them, the forlorn of the world in orphanages.
Shine comfort on us,
From the gloomy faces, mute and darkened. We have said, the light of the day will yet
Break forth upon us!
Behold it was, at the end of the winter of forty-two, in the orphanage, there was such an indigent.
And I consider her, I consider this elderly two-year-old girl, like a grandmother a hundred years old
The seriousness will remain. It will be poured out to the bosom of the world, to the bosom of life
Don't weep. At this station I saw another girl, about five years old.
To see the mother, the five-year-old mother, feeding him, listening to the conversation
As she spoke to him. My mother, one on the face of the earth, was not as wise as that in reality.
She wiped his tears with laughter, feeding his heart with joy,
A girl of Israel! Shalom Aleichem did not make them better than her.
I saw this! I saw the orphan in the home, the older one;
To the hot flame, one stuck his foot. This one, a small hand, almost frozen.
The Jewish girl spoke, intermixed with the holy tongue. No, the holy tongue is in everything!
Indeed, more than this is the child in the orphanage, the child who spoke so movingly
I looked and I saw: they lowered a sack onto the thin back of a Jew
And he joins the two of them with the thousands sentenced to death such scorn he desired.
|They, the children of Israel [i.e. of the Jews], were the first to be sentenced to tragedy.
Most of them without a father or mother. The ice, hunger, and lice consumed them.
Holy anointed ones, sanctified through torment. Say please, about these, in what did the sheep sin?
Why in the times of destruction were they the first to be set forth to the evil ones, they were the first?
The first to be taken to death, the first on the wagons,
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