Translated by Janie Respitz
…One of a thousand, two of a hundred thousand, where those who were saved in order to tell the generations the pain suffered by our sisters and brothers, and also to show generations to come that our people was not destroyed. For the few who survived the horrors of Hitler's death camps, one day was like three years. They are now in a position to tell about their experiences in the ghettos and camps. The responsibility has fallen upon them to carry the burden that not even Jeremiah had to withstand, to bear witness to the pain and atrocities are people endured. With their own eyes they saw entire towns destroyed together with their parents who were hung and choked in gas chambers. They also bore witness to hidden graves in Poligon and Ponar. We listen to them talk about it and watch their lips break, as if they are kissing a corpse, and it sticks in their throat like an unsung song, with holy words, Father Mother; like a stone like pain in their hearts; like a cry which is more silent than mute…We read the lines written here by Etya Rudnitsky and Leah Holtzman, and are feeling everything they are not talking about, that they can't talk about, that they don't want to talk about because the wounds have not healed. The bleeding has not stopped, and a man who is still bleeding cannot relate everything clearly. Every torn word contains thousands of unsaid words, because no one is capable to recount the experiences of a day in the camps.
by Etya Rudnitsky Teitlman
Translated by Janie Respitz
A soon as the German army arrived on June 21st, 1941, they began to attack us. Even our Christian neighbours from surrounding villages did not spare us and began to rob Jewish homes. The Ghetto was ready before Rosh Hashana.
Mid summer, 1942 , around July, I, together with a group of young people which included refugees, was saved from slaughter and sent to a work camp, between Kiene Ostrovitz, near Vilna. Our job was to build a railway for the Todt company. It was difficult work. We were happy not be sitting in the Ghetto and hearing bad news every day about the killings. Their treatment of us at work was not too bad. Besides the food they gave us daily, from time to time we received food from home. Our good situation did not last long. By the end of 1942 the Jews of Kimelishak Ghetto, which included people who had escaped from Podbrodz, Niemencine Podbrodz, Mikhalishok, Bistritz, Svir and other places were exterminated. Two small girls brought us the news, Baylinke Epshtein and another one whose sister was with us.
Our situation worsened. We no longer received aid. We needed warm clothing for the winter and could not get any. Also the German's treatment toward us got worse. They brought Jews from Baranovitch, among them were doctors, engineers, teachers…We saw how our good Germans tortured them as they worked, and they dropped dead from hunger and suffering.
I knew my mother and my sister
Masha were miraculously saved from the slaughter, and were in Ashmene Ghetto. I ran away to meet them in Ashmene. My luck did not last long. March 1943, they began to liquidate all the Ghettos in the Vilna region.
The liquidation was carried out by the Vilna Jewish police, led by Gens. They were divided in two groups, one was sent to Vilna, the other to Kovno. We were brought to Vilna Ghetto. The Kovno transport was killed in Ponar. This is how we were once again, miraculously, saved from death.
Our situation in Vilna Ghetto was very difficult. We wandered around not having a regular place to sleep. We were hungry, dressed in rags and barefoot. In those days I learned from a couple of survivors, the Kiene camp where I had worked was liquidated and all the Jews were exterminated.
Suddenly, there were new orders. All the Jews from the provinces who were in Vilna were being sent to Estonia. In the middle of summer 1943, they confined us without food or drink. This work, once again, was carried out with cruelty by the Jewish police. A few days later, they brought us to the train, confined us to large dirty freight cars, threw in a few loaves of bread with jugs of water and locked the doors.
Through a small window we saw we were travelling past Podbrodz and NewSventzian. After a few days, the train came to a stop. When they opened the doors we heard an unfamiliar language. We were in Dorpat Estonia.
From the train station they made us walk to a camp which was called: Vaivara.
In the camp we found our neighbour, a wealthy man from Kimelishak Aharon Gimzansky. He looked like a skeleton and asked for a piece of bread. We were all hungry and could not help him. We later learned they threw him into the Baltic Sea because he could no longer work.
In the evening they took our group to another camp called Vivikane. The barracks stood deep in the forest. There was no light or water. Broken from our journey we went to sleep. In the morning we began to organize and see who was among us. I met Kovalsky from New Sventzian, and Nomkin and his wife from Sventzian. As our representative we chose Aronovitch, a Jew from Mikhalishok, a really nice guy. The camp was run by Estonians and an S.S officer.
The authorities did not like our choice of leader, Aronovitch, and replaced him with someone who did everything they asked. He was a former underworld guy who knew how to please them.
The Estonians did not treat us terribly. We worked in the forest and the mines. Our lives normalized. We had a doctor, the well known Dr. Fried from Vilna. We hoped: Perhaps we will be able to survive here?
One morning as we stood for rollcall, they took all the children away from their parents. The cries and screams from the children and their parents still ring in my ears until today. I will never forget that horrific scene.
The same day, as I was working in the forest, I saw them lead a line of small Jewish children on their final walk. A Jewish woman from Ashmene witnessed this scene and went mad. Together with a woman from Brodz, I tried to bring them potatoes I received from an Estonian woman. I was beaten up.
From dawn until late at night we were not permitted to rest from our work for a minute, besides the curses and beatings from our oppressors hungry, worn out, on our last strength. There were many who remained lying with glazed over eyes, where beating from the oppressors no longer helped. Sometimes I was envious that they had already died.
This went on day after day, without change, constant bloody horror, under unbearable edicts, one more horrifying than the next. Then they chose three hundred men, from the heathiest and
|In Vaivara Camp working in the forest|
strongest, and we believed the explanation they were being sent to work elsewhere. We soon learned they were burnt alive in Klooga Camp.
As hard as it may be to comprehend, we still had a glimmer of hope we would be rescued.
There were no grounds for this hope. Everything pointed to the fact that sooner or later we will be killed. Day in and day out, people dropped dead at work, at night rollcalls, but we hoped, in and unclear hopefulness, that we ourselves could not acknowledge, that we would courageously fight to survive.
Months passed. It was the end of 1943 and it seemed to us that our hope was useless. We began to notice signs that our murderers were uneasy and afraid. The Nazis became meaner, crueler, and unsure, as if they were frightened.
We did not know the reason, but we took it as a sign the Germans were experiencing defeats. We were cut off from the outside world and had no idea what was happening on the fronts. Our instincts did not fool us. From the east, a wave of aggressive Red Army units was nearing and the German heroes were running like poisoned mice. They lacked train cars to carry out important military objectives. They did not have enough ships to transport their own people. However, their hatred of the Jews was so great, even in the most difficult moments, they found wagons to chase out the Jewish slaves, while continuing to torture them, to Germany,
and did not evacuate them, but murdered them on the spot, like the Jews of Klooga Camp, where they shot the Jewish inmates on a prepared pyre. When the Red Army arrived a few days later, they were shocked to see thousands of half burnt bodies, still lying on the wooden boards. Our camp was luckier. We were evacuated.
Suddenly, the command came, unjust, during a snow storm. The snow was deep and covered the roads. We walked with our blankets and small bags on our backs all night and the whole next day without a rest, enduring curses and beatings.
We were only able to stop and catch our breath when we had to clear the road for German military. We would fall into the deep snow like cut down trees.
The guards began to beat us with clubs and forced us to march on. We barely made it on the second night to our new camp, Ereda.
In the camp there were half circle huts mad from asbestos. We had to bend down to enter the huts. We entered exhausted and on the dark, everyone sought out a board to sleep on. I lit a match, and was horrified with what I saw. The barrack was full of corpses. They were laid out like boards. I ran out.
In the camp there was a special group of workers whose job it was to burn the corpses. The smell of those burned entered our lungs. The sanitary conditions were terrible. We had no water. When we received a bit of tea we did not know if we should drink it or use it to rinse our faces and hands. We received 150 grams of bread. It was over crowded. It was so cold our hair would freeze to the wall. We were covered in lice and abscesses.
We suffered greatly under the Camp leader, Shnabel, and his Jewish helpers. Khayt, a Jew from Vilna was particularly bad. He would often surpass the German Camp commander. People were falling like flies. The German Dr. Botman dealt with the over crowdedness it by sending a large transport of
people into the field to freeze to death. Later, they brought them back to us to be burned.
In the spring, when the sun got a little warmer, a Typhus epidemic broke out. People were dying en masse. The living envied the dead. When the S.S. wanted to be entertained, they would choose a few people and torture them to death. This would calm them down.
Luckily, together with my mother and sister, I was sent to another camp, Kivioli. Compared to Ereda, the new camp was paradise. The barracks were made of wood, and there was light and water. The immediately shaved our heads. They packed our hair and sent it to Germany.
They took us often to bathe and the food was better. The work was hard, but the Jewish camp leader was Segal, a very nice Jew from Vilna. We met our friend Abraham Kuritzky. Here too there were many edicts: selections and torture.
After a few months they brought us to another camp, Sonda. This was a small camp with a few hundred Jews. The camp elder was a Jew from NewSventzian, Yonah Katz. He did not treat us too badly.
We are hearing a lot of bombing. We were very happy. But here too, there were selections. At one selection we had to hide our mother in a toilet. That's how she remained alive.
After a few months in Sonda, they evacuated the camp. On a hot summer day, they shoved us into freight trains and locked the doors. When two young boys tried to escape, they caught them and shot them on the spot.
I don't know how long we traveled. But after a few days the train suddenly stopped. They opened the doors and we saw the sea. A terrifying German with face of a murderer shouted: Everyone out! We were sure they were going to drown us in the sea.
They took us to the port and put us on ship. On the ship we found inscriptions in many languages: Russian, Polish, Yiddish, French and others. They all warned we were being taken to our death.
A few hours later, more transports arrived to the ship. They packed the people in like herring. It is impossible to describe what took place.
After sailing for 45 hours, we arrived at a port. From there they took us to a camp Stutthof.
The entrance to the camp was filled with flowers. Inside the camp was hell on earth. Before entering the camp they took us to a bath house. They took away our belongings and gave us camp uniforms. We were skin and bones with no hair. We could not recognize one another. We laughed and cried. This is how we entered the camp.
The huge area of the camp was lit with electric lights. Nighttime was as bright as day. The conditions were terrible. In the morning we had rollcall where we had to stand for hours. In the morning they gave us bitter coffee and bread. Lunch one bowl of soup for two people, and in the evening, a small piece of bread. We were not sent to work, but all day they would chase us like dogs and beat us. Our leaders were women German S.S women. They tortured us with the help of Russian and Jewish women. The Jewish Kapos were not embarrassed with their handling of us.
Besides the torture, there was a crematorium in Stutthof where thousands of people from various countries were killed.
There was a special place with mountains of glasses, shoes, children's shoes and clothing. I was in Stutthof for a short time. Unfortunately my sister and I were separated from our mother. After liberation, we learned she died of hunger.
In the Fall of 1944 they took 300 women from Stutthof to a labour camp near Danzig Rusashin. The conditions in this camp were better. Everyone had a place to sleep and a cover. Each day we received 250 grams of bread and one portion of soup.
We woke up every morning at 4 o'clock to go to work. We worked hard all day and had to endure the persecutions of the S.S women.
Winter, the beginning of 1945. An order came. We were to leave the camp.
On a cold morning we set out in the snow wearing rags and wooden shoes. We walked for a few days, hungry and frozen. From time to time they gave us a piece of bread sometimes, a few potatoes. At night we slept in cold barns with wet, frozen feet.
Each day our group became smaller. The road was covered with corpses of Jewish men and women.
After a few days we arrived in Strelentin and went to sleep on the ground. We remained there for a few weeks. They barely gave us any food, and we had no energy to move our legs. We lay there waiting to die.
The defeat of the Germans was nearing, but would we survive?
We were ordered to leave the camp. They gave us large portions of bread and we set out at night. A wet snow was falling. The snow stuck to our wooden shoes. I could not walk any further. The S.S female guard hit me and shouted: Walk faster, the Russians are approaching. I took off my wooden shoes, advised others to do the same, and we continued walking barefoot all night. At dawn they took us into a barn and blocked the doors.
Inside we found people lying in their own filth. There were many dead among them. In the morning Russian prisoners came and removed the dead.
A few of the healthier women went to the gate and tried to open it. No one stopped them. My sister and I also went out. Suddenly there was a cry: the Russian army is coming!.
The cries were mixed with joyful shouts: We are free!
March 10, 1945, we were few, sick, broken shards, freed, leaving the majority behind, dead in the barn, in the region of Loenberg.
by Leah Svirsky Holtzman
Translated by Janie Respitz
|My mother, Rochel Svirsky Khanukhovitch|
In 1944, me my mother and my eleven year old sister Chaneleh were in a prison camp near Kovno. My mother worked at her profession, a dentist. I worked as her assistant, so we were always in the camp and not sent put to work like all the other Jews.
On March 27th 1944, I was in the laundry barrack which stood about 10 metres from the main 3 story camp building. Suddenly I noticed through the window, how the German and Lithuanian guards were running around.
In such situations, our first reaction was that must be together. I wanted to run to my mother and little sister, but I found myself standing at the exit in front of a locked door. On the other side of the door stood an armed guard.
I looked out the window and saw them open the gate to the yard. Large black trucks were driving in. I watched as armed soldiers threw people into the trucks like bags of flour.
Meanwhile, a few wild murderers opened the door to the laundry, and began to throw dirty laundry around, poking at it with their guns thinking they may find children hiding. Finding nothing, shouting obscene curses, they left and locked the doors behind them.
Once again I stood by the window. The trucks drove away. Only one stood with open doors and I saw our Chaneleh being taken away with other children and a woman. Chaneleh was wearing a brown fur coat and a blue knit hat.
The last truck drove off and life in the camp returned to normal. The door to the laundry was opened and I ran, like from a Fury, across the yard, and fell upon my mother. She hugged me, kissed me and cried. She told me how she hid the child under a bed and warned her not to move until the danger passed. But the murderers came with dogs, and pulled the frightened child from her hiding place. Mother took Chaneleh by the hand and went together with her, but they did not allow this. You can still work, you are strong. The big dog jumped on my mother and pushed her to the ground. By the time she stood up a minute later, there was no sign of Chaneleh in the room.
June 1944, the front line was nearing Lithuania and the Germans were retreating, we again awaited our death. But no, they took us with them. After a few days and night of traveling in a closed train car, not knowing where or when, we arrived in Shtuthof, the well known concentration camp near Danzig. As we got off the train they led us to a big place, where we sat all day under the burning hot sun, each one holding his bag and awaiting his fate.
My mother did not leave my side and said: No one else from our family is alive, just the two of us. We must never leave each other. Not even for a minute.
Suddenly we heard a command:
Strip naked, leave everything behind, and go in a group to the baths.
We already knew what the Germans meant by a Bath. We had already heard about the gas chambers in Auschwitz and Treblinka. But there could be no talk about resisting. We stuck together and went in, when it was our turn, in to the long narrow room, filled with naked bodies. There were showers on t he ceiling and taps to turn on the water on the walls. We knew the showers were there to spread the gas that would soon kill us. People were panicking. Mother pulls me closer to her and we were saying our goodbyes without words, and waiting. Here and there we hear a woman shout: I'm choking! I can already smell the gas! Suddenly we hear a noise in the pipes. Our hearts stood still for a second, and then we felt a stream of hot water…
Again my mother pulls me close: my child, we are alive!…
After a few weeks in Shtuhof, there was a selection. They gave us some rags to cover our naked bodies, and they sent us to a labour camp
to dig trenches for the army. The camp was on Polish territory, in the region of Poznan. We lived in tents. As long as it was warm, it was bearable. But as autumn passed and winter arrived the suffering became unbearable: 10 hours a day of forced labour, hunger and the worst, frost on our half naked, partially barefoot bodies. My mother withstood it. She dug with the shovel all day, making an effort to feel this was the norm. If not, her back would be broken by bloody smacks, which happened more than once; we lived an entire day on a bowl of soup and a piece of bread, and slept on the frozen ground. In the morning we had to get up and tear our frozen hair from the ground.
She withstood and survived all of this. Today, this all belongs to the past, like our old home in far away Sventzian. How deep Sventzian was engraved and baked in her heart can be understood from the following: In her last days in Tel Aviv, when she had already lost consciousness, I asked her: Mother, how are you? She responded: Good my child. The Jews of Sventzian are taking care of me, watching over me, making sure I am okay.
Translated by Janie Respitz
The moon barely begins to pale
And fresh snow covers the earth
The wind is chasing the dawn
The first greeting of the day.
On all the roads, wherever
We walk straight, five in a row
We don't hear any ringing
All around us is dark, dull and pale,
Our bodies skin and bones
Our hearts are hardened like stone.
Your persecutor stands over you
My body has become accustomed,
The clock will soon strike three
From troubles, anguish, cries and suffering,
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