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[Page 527]

The Soviet Period
September 17, 1939 – June 26,1941

Translated by M. Porat z”l

From the translator

The following articles were written by Volozhyners who escaped from the town in June 1941 (Rogovin, Goldsmit, Shvarzberg); by Perlman, who was exiled with his family to Siberia in April 1940; and by Pnina Potashnik, who remained in Volozhyn and survived the Holocaust with the Partisans.
The Ribentrop-Molotov agreement, a secret deal that finally fixed the partition of Poland, was signed in Moscow on August 23, 1939.

The German armies invaded Poland 7 (seven) days later, on September 1, 1939.

The Red Army crossed the Polish borders on September 17th, and occupied (“freed”) without any resistance the East Poland Territory (called East Kresy by the Poles and Western Ukraine and Belarus by the Soviets). Volozhyn was part of Western Belarus.

Hitler attacked the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. The big offensive called Barbarossa had begun. The German Vermacht occupied Volozhyn four days later, on June 26, 1941.

The Soviet rule in Volozhyn lasted for 21 months. We call it the “Soviet (pre-war) Period.”

[Page 529]

Under the Soviet Regime

Written by Rachel and Reuven Rogovin

The Germans invaded Poland on Friday, September 1,1939. The Blitzkrieg lasted 17 days. On September 17, after Poland's swift defeat, and according to the Molotov-Ribentrop agreement, the Soviets occupied all of the western Ukraine and the western Belarus territories that had been part of Poland for over sixteen years. Volozhyn was part of these territories.

Conditions in the town turned out to be vastly different from those under the previous rulers. The new rulers forbade any private commerce. The governors established food cooperatives. Government-owned shops were opened. Self-employed craftsmen and artisans were forced to join professional cooperatives of tailors, shoemakers, and so forth. All Jewish institutions, like the kehilla, the commerce organization, and others were automatically liquidated. Two storehouses, such as Rosenberg's and Bunimovitsh- Rozenshtein's, were nationalized. Some other businesses, like Mr. Gluhovski's pharmacy, shared the same fate. The new “people's authorities” confiscated all factories and sawmills marked by high chimneys, such as Polak's, Perelman-Rapport's, and Shif's (in Yuzefpole, a village near Volozhyn). The owners of the nationalized mills were put in prison and later deported to the Soviet Gulag. Their families (wives and children) were expelled and “resettled” in Siberia. The Volozhyn Eytz Chaim Yeshiva became a restaurant. The synagogues remained open, but the prayers lost their Jewish essence and flavor.


Vilna road
(The first building on the right is Mr. Gluhovski's pharmacy)


In spite of the requisitions and edicts, there was no hunger in Volozhyn. The majority had found jobs with the new regime. Although they earned small salaries, everyone started a side business for extra income. One had some Polish zlotys. Itshe Muni's used to cross the border to change the Polish money in Bialystok into Soviet rubles. Others had accumulated food reserves. In addition, the peasants started to bring plenty of food to town and sell it for low prices. All the above and other “components” assisted most of the Jewish shtetl families to endure the new regime.

Changes that could be seen as both comic and tragic occurred in the Volozhyn Jews' style of dressing. The treasured fashion trend of the Soviets was high boots. It was distressing yet amusing for us to see distinguished balabatim such as Reb Isaak Shriro, Reb Hirsh Malkin, RebYakov Veissbord, Reb Avrom Shuker, Reb Mordehay Shishko, Reb Namiot der Sheliver (name of his natal shtetl), Sholom Leyb Rubinstein and others walking in high boots. Most people wanted to please the new rulers. They threw away the elegant tied shirts that symbolized the Polish bourgeoisies and “decorated” themselves with the Soviet khaki guimnastiorka.

The borders opened and many people visited Minsk, after many years when it had been impossible for the Polish population to do so. Relatives from Russia visited their families in Volozhyn. Among them was Sholom Leyb Rubinstein's brother-in-law. Jewish boys and girls attained new privileges and the potential to study in the schools and universities of the Soviet Union.

For most people, life appeared normal and safe. Nobody thought about war, and particularly not a war between Germany and Russia. Anyone who would raise such a suggestion at that point would be considered a fool. Even two days before the Messershmidts bombed Minsk, Kiev, Lida, and Molodetshno, not one person in Volozhyn believed that the war was at our door. The Friday evening of June 20, 1941 was different from the Saturday evening of June 21 only in the text of the prayers. On Friday, a Jew honored the Shabes holiness singing Havu neranna; on Saturday evening he said the Mavdil workday prayer: “In my salvation I trust.”

Bad news did not reach us except the distressing fact that the following morning, on Sunday, June 22nd, we should accompany the Volozhyn activist, Fayve Yoysef Simernicki, on his last journey. Late at night we heard a concert on radio Moscow dedicated to the writer, Louis Aragon, who visited the capital. After hearing the news that was read by Youri Levitan we all went to sleep. On Sunday morning we did not turn on the radio. We did not expect any dramatic news. I hurried to join Simernicki's funeral. On the way I met my friend Shpatsener, Bela Paretski's husband. We worked together for many years in Michael Wan-Polak's business. Shpatsener was an officer in the Polish army and fought against the Bolsheviks in the twenties. He detested the Soviet regime. “Comrade Rogovin,” he said with a malicious smile, “we are near a Soviet defeat.” “What is the meaning?” I wondered. Convinced I had heard nothing, he answered, “Molotov spoke on the radio. The Germans attacked Russia. Their planes bombed Minsk, Kiev, Harkov, and other Soviet towns.” He told me all he knew.

When I returned from the funeral, I saw many of the Volozhyn Jews crowded together. They argued in loud voices. They formed two camps: one was pro-Soviet and the other pro-German. Workers and artisans were sure that the Soviets would overcome the Germans swiftly. Merchants and dealers, to the contrary, were convinced that the Germans would win. They refused to listen to any of the refugees' tales about the German atrocities and their blood curdling deeds against Jews. They considered the accounts of horrors as Soviet propaganda. Many Volozhyn inhabitants witnessed the German 1918 invasion. They assumed that the 1941 Germans would not be in any great measure different from those in 1918. During the occupation of the First World War they did not hurt any Jews. So they said, “It is not reasonable that this cultivated and organized nation could change during one generation. Why would they hurt us now? The people working for the Bolsheviks, and in love with them, they should be afraid now, but not the common Jews.” Such were the conversations during those critical days. Few were the Volozhyn inhabitants who chose to escape with the Soviets.

As the war started, all men less than fifty years old were ordered to appear before the mobilization committee. More than 1000 men arrived. There were not enough facilities and personnel to mobilize so many people. In all, fifty were accepted. With the rest, I was sent to pass the night in the Volozhyn Gymnasia (high school). In the morning we went again to perform our duties. All of a sudden, German planes filled the sky. We were ordered to disperse. We did not return. Bewilderment and panic reigned in the town. The connection with Minsk broke off shortly after. The authorities were busy trying to evacuate the important persons to safe places deep inside Russia. The Soviets did not tell us what to do, whether we should stay in our town with the German enemy approaching rapidly or whether we should escape to Russia. Each person had to decide for himself. The great majority stayed in their homes, waiting for some inspiration. They had not collaborated with the Communists they said. Not having time to think over their decision or having a place where they could go, they committed a fatal error and made a tragic choice.

My family was among the very few who chose a different path. On Wednesday night, just hours before the June 26th entry of German forces into Bogdanovo on their way to Volozhyn (25 Km), we took our two children and family and fled Volozhyn with the Soviets.

[Page 532]

Volozhyn under the Soviet Regime

Mendl Goldshmid (Ramat Itskhak)

The Polish authorities announced a general mobilization as soon as the German armies crossed the borders. Among the mobilized young Jewish men of Volozhyn were Zelig and Shlomo Melzer, Isroel and Zalmen Perski, Itskhok Kaplan, Avrohom and Itskhok Danishevski, Yokhanan Guelman, the undersigned, and others. We were sent to the battlefront. After a short time we returned to Volozhyn, because the defeated Polish army fled and left the front lines in panic.

According to the Soviet-German agreement, Poland was divided. The Germans occupied the west of Poland and its center. The Soviets took the eastern part. Their troops entered Volozhyn from Minsk, through the Rakov way. The Soviet invasion surprised the shtetl's population. Exclamations of “The Russians are coming” were heard. They came in motorized vehicles, on tanks, and with horses.

An army unit encircled the starostvo (district authority) building and enclosed its functionaries and policemen inside.

The new administration began to function, confiscating wealthy people's property. Those confiscations brought the Volozhyn Jews to an economic calamity. The shopkeepers would conceal their goods to save them from ruin.

Nothing caused the shtetl Jews as much sorrow as the requisition of the yeshiva and its transformation into an eatery.

Laments and bitter cries were heard over the humiliated sanctity. The yeshiva students would sit on the ground with Talmud books in their hands and with tears in their eyes. How sorrowful was their Gemora melody! Most of them had left the town.

By some miracle the yeshiva was not damaged during all the war years. Many incendiary bombs fell around the building, but it was not damaged.

The Jews would exert themselves to ensure that the light of Israel not be extinguished. The yeshiva was closed, as was the Hebrew tarbut school. The melamdim (religious teachers) could, however, do the holy work privately. It was a poor substitute for true spiritual life.

The Soviets closed all ritual institutions, including the mikveh. Rabbi Mordkhay Shishko did not relax until another mikveh had been dug; it was concealed from the oppressor's eyes, near the synagogue entry.

Most of the Jewish population received the Soviets with sympathy. Knowledge of the horrors to which the Jews were exposed in the areas occupied by the Nazis infiltrated to Belarus. Under the Soviet regime we were safe. During one of the several meetings, the physician Avrom Tsart delivered a praising oration. He praised with excitement the Soviet leaders for saving our people from the German beast. His words impressed the audience deeply. In another meeting the participants were invited to tell about their life under the Polish regime. A poor miserable Jew burdened with many children ascended the stage and, turning his face to the wall, showed a hole in his torn pants, and then he said, “Our whole life under the Polaks was like my pants.” The oppressed and poor did truly believe that now the sun would shine for them.

Ketslikh (a Russian Jew), the head of the Soviet administration in Volozhyn, once invited me to his office. He gave me an assignment to remove the paving stones from the market square, to plant trees, and to turn the market into an ornamental park.

Then Ketslikh told me the secret: Stalin's statue would be raised on the square. The pieces arrived. We assembled the pieces and a tall statue grew up. Stalin wearing a military dress dominated the square, extending his hand westward.

But a grave problem yet arose. Close to the statue stood a huge Catholic cast iron cross. The communist secular authorities considered the presence of a cross beside the “Sun of the Nations” as an unbelievable sacrilege. They decided to demolish the cross. On a Saturday evening a unit of soldiers encircled the site. A demolition charge was set, and the cross was blown up. I was ordered to take away the broken fragments. I hired two peasants and with their help we accomplished the task.

The Gentiles accused me of being responsible for the destruction of the holy cross. They waited for the revenge time. With the Germans already entering the town, I fled.

[Page 533]

During the Soviet Rule in Volozhyn

Pnina Khayit (Potashnik)

The Soviets entered our town without encountering any resistance. The workmen and artisans received them joyously. The Polish district functionaries and some of the wealthy Jews fled into still-independent Lithuania.

The new district authorities were located inside the former Polish military buildings (the Graph's estate). The town's inhabitants were treated moderately. The new rulers established the regional and town institutions with the help of local communists and Soviet sympathizers – Jews and Gentiles.

Every grown person was obliged to work. People evading work would be accused and judged for speculation and sabotage. Working became the exclusive legal source of income. The shops were closed. In their place, a single government counter was established on the market square. Long lines appeared in front of it. People used to spend many hours there to get some food. Clothing was sold only for coupons. Coupons were distributed very sparingly and only among privileged people.

Refugees from the areas occupied by the Germans flooded the town. But after they saw and felt the Soviet order, in which commerce was forbidden and work was obligatory, many of them preferred to return home.

The Soviets registered all the refugees who wanted to go back to German-controlled Poland. One night, Soviet soldiers encircled the refugees' dwelling places, ordered all of them to pack and to take some belongings, led them to the railway station, loaded them on merchandise trains, and sent all of the “anti-Soviet” elements to Siberia.

This forced transfer saved the lives of most of them.

The Russians Are Coming

M. Perlman

(Written by a witness after the Yizkor book was published)

The war breaks out

In June 1939 I finished the first class of Volozhyn's brand new Polish gymnasia-high school. I was 15 years old. I tell about this half-year period of our family's history in Volozhyn under the Soviet regime, as seen through a young boy's eyes.

Our family spent the summer of 1939 in Kaldiki, a pleasant pine-forest hamlet on the Berezina shore, 10 km. from town. It was the last summer prior to the Second World War. Germany encircled Poland from East Prussia, Czechoslovakia and from the German mainland. Hitler held Poland in mortal forceps and his shadow was cast over Europe, particularly over the continent's Jewry.

That summer in all Polish cities a song was popular whose sentimental tango melody was adopted 50 years later by N. Mikhalkov, the Russian filmmaker, as background air to his famous movie about Stalin, “The Treacherous Sun.” The sorrowful words, which all Poland was singing during the summer of 1939, were: “Today is our last Sunday, today we shall separate forever…”

The 1939 school year did not begun as usual on the first day of September. On Friday September 1st we found the school doors locked. The Warsaw Radio station, destroyed by German air raids, was silent. The Nazi brutal invasion was announced through Radio Lvov, before it was silenced in its turn a day later. On the walls were stuck placards calling men aged 20 to 45 to report at mobilizing posts. Father took a bag with undergarments, socks, soap, and talcum powder. His post was in Lida. We accompanied him to the bus. Mother was in tears. The next day we were all relieved: father returned home. The chaos was enormous and the checkpoint overcrowded. Those called to report were sent home. The Polish army, proud of its cavalry bravura, collapsed under the Vermacht blows.

During these splendid, colorful autumn days, Volozhyn awaited its fate in a strange calmness. Father was conscious as to what we should expect from Hitler. He planned to bring us to the Soviet border. The Soviets, he said, would not refuse shelter for children.

A rumor spread on Sunday morning, September 17th: “The Germans are approaching.” The Polish functionaries destroyed documents, packed their luggage, and some of them left the town at night. I went to Smorgon Street to get from Mr. Faygenbaum, our flourmills' manager on duty, the redemption money of the previous days. It was needed to reach the Soviet border.

On my way back an airplane, contour flying, passed over the town. The Greysser Barg [large downhill slope], which I chose to go down, was parallel to a hillside. I clung to the ground, searching for a safe place. I was suddenly aware that hundreds of objects were flying from above, in my direction.

Fortunately there were neither bombs nor bullets. It was simply a rain of pieces of paper. I amassed some of them and running home I read the sky's message. It was written in Polish and Russian. “The peoples of the Soviet Union, at the demand of their brothers in the West Ukraine and Belarus, are stretching hands to free them from the capitalist burden.” We understood that our life would not be easy, but we would be saved from a death sentence.


The Soviets enter Volozhyn

We went into the mill. Father distributed sacks of flour to the neighbors. We also took some of it into our house. As we entered our home, we heard an intense noise. Through the windows we saw an armored vehicle running in the deserted street. The tank stopped near our house. Soldiers came down to check the bridge. It was the Red Army reconnaissance patrol.

In the afternoon, the flow of invasion (liberation) troops began. First, the armored forces, tanks, carriers, trucks, motorized artillery, etc. passed. The flow continued during the whole night and on the next day. We were overwhelmed by the quantity and quality. But more and more among the motorized transporters we could see horse-drawn carts. And the horses… We were used to seeing the proud, beautiful Polish Army horses. The horses that we saw now varied in size and color, but they were alike in their meagerness. These horses had probably been raised on Soviet agricultural collectives. We became doubtful as to the wealth and power of our new masters.

The soldiers' behavior was outstanding, polite and very friendly. No thievery, pillaging, robbery, beatings, or arrests occurred. The soldiers differed slightly from their commanders. The signs of rank were not pompously carried on the shoulders, as by the Polish officers, but modestly tied to the collar. When stopping to rest, they used to dance, sing, and tell stories about the wonderful achievements of the Soviet people and about the mastermind, about the prodigy and goodness of the great father and leader, Josef Stalin. Our liberators were not called soldiers (soldaty), but fighters (boytsy). At the sight of them, mother said that we should not worry about the Fonies (Yiddish nickname for Russians) coming in carts and trucks, but rather that we should take care of those coming in personal motorcars.

And indeed the commissars, the true rulers, arrived. They established the new order. Crowded meetings were held in the cinema and in the fire brigade halls. The Soviet state, its regime, wealth and achievements were praised. Jokes were transmitted from mouth to mouth about the communists' bragging. “We have in our wealthy state all the best, even matches.” There used to be, probably sometimes, a lack of matches. But these times did not pass. During this year a lack of many products emerged in the shops, among them sugar, white flour, and even matches. But abundant and big were the queue lines, a brand new phenomenon in our shtetl. It was swiftly imported from Mother Russia and adopted in our country. In each place where goods were sold and to which a group of customers was attracted, a line was formed. It grew bigger hour by hour and would reach unseen dimensions.

The school doors reopened. Our Hebrew tarbut school began teaching in Yiddish. The Polish gymnasium was converted into a Russian high school. It became filled with Jewish youth, thirsty for education, which they had been deprived of during the Polish anti-Semitic regime.

The gymnasium manager, Dr. Konopnitski, did not flee. He stayed on his job and continued his style of teaching. Once, he compared Hitler's regime to a pyramid, staying on its top and leaning on the soldier's bayonets. Our director's opinion was that during war, when the bayonets would turn to where there was a real need for them, the pyramid must collapse. The NKVD understood whom he had in mind. On the next day he was arrested and sent to the gulag land, from which he never returned.

Pani (Mrs.) Kopylova, our director's spouse, taught us natural sciences. She was exiled to Siberia after her husband's arrest.

New comrades joined our narrow circle of Jewish students. We used to meet on the long winter evenings, satisfied with what had happened around. We had a real sense of the historical events we witnessed. We organized mini-meetings in which satirical sayings about the new order and life style were expressed for fun: “Sugar like sugar, but emotions are many: assemblies, weddings, and parties inside, and lines without end extend on the streets…”

The new rulers attracted communist sympathizers to work in their institutions. Among the fortunate persons accepted were some Volozhyn Jews. One could see people rising and becoming instantly rich and powerful.

Some of our friends changed their attitude towards the new underdogs. Once returning from a Soviet mass meeting, my best friend Hayke di Kadelihe's sister told me, “Your capitalist's good time is over; from now on, everything that is yours belongs to us; we will enjoy life and you should perish.” I'm not sad. I recall the poor girl's hard words without any anger.

The new authorities did confiscate both of Volozhyn's ground-sawmills (Polak's and Rapoport-Perlman's). The mills were “returned to the people” and unified into a single wood plant. Father was dismissed and sent to work in the woods in the vicinity. Grandfather Hirsh Malkin was also employed at similar work.

Once, father returned from the forest completely outraged. At night policemen intruded into the peasant's home in which father used to sleep during his work in the woods. The “people's emissaries” ordered the peasant to assemble his family and to pack the most necessary belongings. The entire family, men and women, children and old people, were put into carts and carried out to the nearest railroad station. It was Stalin's first mass transfer action. Thousands of citizens of Polish nationality had been settled by the Polish government during the twenty years of its rule in the eastern territories on the Russian frontiers. Stalin's NKVD (The People's Interior Ministry Police) repaired the demographic problem. During one night, most of the Polish settlers (osadniki) were loaded on special trains and resettled far in Siberia.

The Graph's estate, after serving as the Polish military unit headquarters, became the headquarters of the Soviet NKVD (predecessor to the KGB). In the cellars of the elegant Belvedere-style Graph's palace were detained the arrested “people's enemies.” Among them was my father in 1940. The building now houses the Volozhyn Belarus police unit. The gentleman under the staircase is Sefi, our father's grandson. Photo taken in 1998.


The arrest and exile

Six months after the Russians took Volozhyn, they penetrated our home. What mother had feared finally occurred.

On a springtime evening in March 1940, our parents were listening to the radio; I was reading and Sonitshka was asleep in her bed. We heard knocking at the door. It was opened. An NKVD agent with two local citizens entered. The three searched all closets, wardrobes and chests. The policeman ordered my father to dress. Father took the prepared bundle of underwear. He separated from us. Prior to his leaving, father said that he surely would be home by Passover, because he never did any evil to anyone. He kissed the sleeping 10-year-old Sonitshka, his beloved daughter, and went out into the dark, escorted by the three of them. It was the last time we saw and heard our father. He was forty-two years old.

Mother went from door to door. She begged for help from the new elite to free our father. One of the suddenly powerful promised, a second claimed that he could not help, and the third answered mockingly.

Passover Tav-Sheen (1940) became a holiday of fear and hope. We hoped that father would soon be home; we were afraid and anxious for his future. Mother carried bundles with food and underwear to the prison door. Did he receive them? Did they pass the bundles to him? How long did he live after the arrest? When, where and how did he meet his death?

There were rumors that our father, Yosef Perlman, was driven to a gulag camp in the Siberian forests prior to the German invasion, and that he was killed in an accident involving a falling tree.

On Friday morning April 13, 1940, our grandfather's voice woke us up: “They take out the Polak and Rapoport families; it looks like they will come also for you.” On the ropes in the attic (boydem) many pieces of laundry were hanging to dry. We took them down still damp. At home were two large woven-wood suitcases. We prepared them for packing. In the meantime they appeared: the NKVD agent with his two local aides. In front of us, the agent read the official document: As individuals not reliable to the Soviet government, we should be expelled from the border country and transferred to resettle in the central regions of the Soviet Union. We were ordered to pack what we could manage in the suitcases in two hours time and to put them into the peasant horse-drawn cart that was waiting. We were driven in this cart to the Horod'k rail station.

We passed the Volozhynka wooden bridge, continued through the Greyser Barg, turned to the small downward slope where we passed by the Belokortser's house and our Malkin grandparents' domicile. The horse slowly continued its way over the marketplace in front of grandma Malka's rabbinical residence and then through the Vilna Street past our birth house to the end of town. There were many farewells on our way. Grandparents, relatives, family friends, neighbors, and schoolmates got out on our road to say goodbye. “The entire shtetl was in tears” were our mother's words when she would tell about our exodus from our birthplace.

We did not know that this departure saved us from complete destruction, which was the final fate of all the inhabitants who remained in Volozhyn. We were on our way to Siberia, to our new destiny.

Goodbye to our birthplace, to our Litvak-shtetl style of life, to our Litvak-Yiddish mameloshn (mother language), to our grandparents, to all our relatives and friends, to all my sister's schoolmates and mine, to all whose destiny would be to vanish, to be erased from the living world, forever.

[Page 534]

The Yeshiva under the Soviet Rule

(First segment of The Volozhyn Destruction)

Yosef Shvartsberg

The yeshiva's existence was abruptly terminated in September 1939 with the coming of the Soviets. The last yeshiva head, Rabbi Yakov Shapiro, passed away prior to the outbreak of the war. His son in law, Rabbi Hayim Volkin, who carried out the functions of yeshiva head, was secretly transferred with the entire rabbinic family to Vilna, now capital of the independent Lithuania.

The yeshiva building became a restaurant, a drunkards' meeting place. The town inhabitants who considered the yeshiva to be the nation's crown were in great sorrow and pain. But nothing could be done to prevent its fate.

The yeshiva-restaurant watchman, Gdalie Mordkhe Vidrovitsh, once asked Weyner, the restaurant manager, to be relieved of his guard duties. He explained that at midnight he was hearing the Talmud learning melody. Several ghosts used to study and to sing within the yeshiva walls, and he was terribly afraid of this. Weyner answered laughing. He did not believe. One night he came to guard the restaurant himself. At midnight when the Talmud melody reached his ears, Weyner fainted from fear. Afterwards he was afraid to enter the restaurant even in full daylight.

[Page 541]

“The German Thunder”

by The editor

Translated by Naomi Gal

We hereby bring you, as a forward to Volozhin's Holocaust, the prophesy of Heinrich Heine who in 1834 spoke about the German People. Heine warned that the German philosophy is a deceiving disguise, that because of the sublime philosophical systems of the German People “Revolutionary forces are developing and they are just waiting for the day when they can outburst and fill the world with horror and wonder”.

And this is what Heine predicted:

“and if one day you will hear a huge thunder blasting, the kind of explosion that was never heard before in the history of the world, you would know: the German People arrived at their destination. To this sound and fury eagles will fall dead to the ground, and the lions that are at the edge of the Africa–desert, will fold their tails and come to be buried in their royal lairs, and the hour would arrive.”

(Henrich Heine, “The History of Religion and Philosophy in Germany”, page 283 “Legevulam” Publishing House, with the cooperation of Mossad Bialik, editor Dr. S. Perlman, “Masada” company, Tel Aviv, 1952)

And the hour indeed arrived as Heine had forecasted, and even worse. Now, more than thirty years after the break of World War Two, which historians call “The Ovens Period” – we have to remember even better, Heine's predication. Because there is no certainty that this Holocaust would not happen again, God Forbid, one way or another. We have to understand Heine's wise words. We should never lose sight of these sage words. “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up”. (The book of Deuteronomy 6:7).

[Page 546]

Atrocities at the Volozhin Jews extermination

by Hessl Perski

Translated by M. Porat z”l

Edited by Judy Feinsilver Montel

The Germans performed many brutally murderous actions immediately after occupying Volozhin on June 25 1941 to show that Jewish life is worthless. They killed Alter Shimshilevitsh and ordered his body left on the street. They murdered Hayim Eli Perski and burnt his house. They caught Zalmen Kagan from Aroptsoo and tortured him, forcing him to cry “ Death to the Jews”, than he was shot before the gentiles.

They once noticed Freydke, Yudl Dubinski's daughter taking a bottle with milk from a Gentile woman. A soldier with his local assistants conducted her to the foot of the hill. They threw potatoes on its top and forced the girl to crawl on all fours uphill, to collect the potatoes and to bring them downhill.. Her entire body was covered with blood. The tortures lasted for hours until her powers ceased, then they killed her.

The murderers conducted Dvoyre (Ester Dvoshe's daughter) and the granddaughter of Shimon der Dzik to the “ Priest's Mountain”– “ Dem Galekhs Barg”. They were accompanied by two dogs. On the mountain they shot the girls and beheaded the dogs to mix Jewish with animal blood.

Those who passed away naturally were considered lucky. This “ privilege”was earned by Haya Paretski and her son Yosef; Yudit (the butcher's wife) and Haya Eliyashkevitsh (The Shohat's wife).

The smith-workshop of Yosef Zarin was inside the Ghetto. Once a policeman entered his shop and requested a payment. At this time I was there with Leybe Lavit my brother in law. I took advantage of the fact that nobody else was present, I picked up a heavy hammer, bashed his skull and hid his dead body in the soil.

The Germans looked for him. We told them that the policeman had run away to the partisans. They went to his home, killed his wife and children and then burnt them up.

As Mendl Volkovitsh recounted, all the Jews were enclosed in the Ghetto. The teacher Glicker was nominated as the Ghetto Komendant. The Ghetto was provided with two gates which were guarded by armed policemen. The gates opened only when people were guided to work or back from work.

The Judenrat was composed fro 12 men. Among them were Glicker, Getsl Perski, Ele Mlot, Shaye Kaganovitsh, Aron Kaminetski, Yakov Kovalski, Isrel Lunin and Yanie Garber.

At Passover 1942 the Gestapo requested 50 strong healthy men. The chosen refused to report. They were afraid. The Germans insisted and threatened to shoot a hundred Jews if the fifty did not come.

Having no choice the men reported. I was among the fifty. We were ordered to be equipped with axes and saws. Arranged in lines we were guided to barracks where we worked hard until night, than we received each one a big loaf of bread and arranged in lines again we returned to the Ghetto. The Ghetto Jews, seeing us safe and sound and carrying food became happy. They interpreted it as a change in the German's policy. Regrettably, the events did not confirm their hopes.

I survived the May 1942 mass slaughter miraculously. When the Jews began to enter Bulava's house group by group they were forced to lie face down. At the moment when the murderers approached the line in which I stood I heard Kushke's order to fill pockets with sand. Before entering the slaughter house we threw the sand in the bandits' eyes and crying “

Hurrah”our line dispersed and ran away. Running we saw the house burning up in a great fire. We understood that our dear ones were not alive.

I went to the Krasno Ghetto. After a short time I ran away and returned to Volozhin. I found a hiding place in Glebovitsh's house. His family was short of food. But despite the hunger he provided me every day with nutrition. Glebovitsh told me that my sister Ester concealed herself with her two children in the cellar, but they were found and killed by the murderers. Bashke, my brother's wife had two little twins. The Nazis entered her house and killed the children in their sleep.

Leyzer Goloventshits dwelled inside the Ghetto in Yanko Belabivitsh's house. Leyzer and Beyle succeeded in hiding inside a pit during the expulsion of the Jews from the Ghetto. Yanko brought the killers to the hiding place after the Aktion. Leyzer was able to run away. But he was shot near the bridge by a policeman. Beyle, Frumele and Nohimke were murdered inside the pit.

[Page 548]

The Big Slaughter

by Mendl Volkovitch

Translated by Janie Respitz

Donated by Anita Gabbay

It was 27 years ago.
More than a quarter century has passed.
However my wound is fresh and new,
Because I was there.

It is etched deep in my memory,
Because on this sad day
We lost our dear Volozhin Jews.

My heart is crying, tears are pouring from my eyes,
This will never be forgotten.

I remember the day, the hour.
It was Sunday morning, 5:00.
It was the 10th of May 1942,
The 33rd day of Iyar, 5 thousand years since creation.

I hear the steps of Nazi boots.
The murderers shout: Juden heraus!
The ghetto is encircled by barbed wire
They shoot, they kill.

The Jews are running here and there,
In the streets in the courtyards – there is nowhere to run,
The streets are sowed with the wounded and dead.
The Angel of death, in all his fervour: Your death will be soon.
Later we gathered,
Children, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers,
Bruised, and bitten,
Skin torn from our bones,
Sent into the Soviet smithy.

[Page 549]

Whisky and wine on the table of our murderers,
They gorge, drink and get drunk,
As they shoot into the smithy
From there and from everywhere.
Jewish blood spurts
As from a fountain.

There is turmoil in the smithy,
Two brothers are arguing,
The Olshan rabbi, Rabbi Ruven Khadash,
And the Volozhin rabbi, Reb Yisroel Lunin.

Rabbi Ruven Khadash with his wounded hand,
Stands leaning against the wall,
He is bleeding,
There isn't even anything to wrap the wound
To make a bandage.

Rabbi Ruven Khadash says: we must attack the murderers,
Take their weapons, kill them and run away.
But Reb Yisroel Lunin says: No!
We are bruised, tortured, we have no strength,
We are weak and small.
You will lead us to our extermination.

Rabbi Khadash replies: you can see for yourself,
They want to annihilate all of us.

They both had the same intention:
They wanted to save us.

The remnants of the smithy were collected,
The Jews from the hide outs and holes, chased away –
To the pyre!

[Page 550]

Grandfathers and fathers in prayer shawls and phylacteries,
Mothers held babies from their cradles in their arms.

The murderers grab children from their mother's arms
Smashing their little hands and feet into the walls.

The mother's are crying and screaming: give us back our children!
We cannot live without them!

The murderers mock them and laugh.

Those martyrs who were killed are taken away,
Beaten, bruised, some without feet, some without hands
And everyone burned in the fire.

Who can comfort us, who can calm us.
We must remember this for generations:
Remember what Amalek did to us, the German Nazis.


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