by Pnina Hayat nee Potashnik
Translated by M. Porat zl
The first and second Actions
1941; The Soviets left Volozhyn in haste. The Germans entered the town without any resistance. The first sign of the Germans in the area was the unit of parachutists that descended near our home. Armed forces entered the town shortly after. The constant air bombing set the town on fire.
We were immediately forced to participate in various hard labor chores. The principal forced labor sites were the Polak's & Rapoport-Perelman's saw-mills. The women cleaned the Gestapo lodgments. We walked to work in groups. As soon as we would arrive they would start thrashing us with whips.
We were ordered to put yellow patches on our sleeves. With time it changed to a yellow Star of David with the word Jude in the middle. We were forbidden to use the sidewalk. We had to walk in the middle of the road like horses. They ordered us to move into a designated Ghetto area. Shortly after enclosing the Volozhyn Jews in the Ghetto the Germans pushed inside its fence also the Jews of Olshan with their town-Rabbi. The congestion became unbearable. We were very deficient in nourishments. Bringing food inside the Ghetto was difficult and dangerous. From time to time the bandits harassed the ghetto inhabitants. They encroached into our lodgment and beat us mercilessly demanding money and valuables.
On October 28ththe Gestapo ordered us to assemble on the Ghetto Street. All the inhabitants were forced to come. They chose some 200 people and enclosed them into the cinema local. Leading them on the walk to the cinema area was Yani Garber, the Judenrat Head. He was told that they are all taken to work. However they were all led by groups of ten to the adjacent sport square and shot to death. Zviya Lunin was among the conveyed to die, but she survived. The Nazis let her free. The quota, as they said, was completed. This time the German accuracy saved a Jewish life (not for long). After that First Action the ghetto area was reduced. Shneur Kivelevitsh was elected as the Judenrat Head.
Many months passed and then some tormenting news reached the ghetto. The Germans geared up for a new slaughter. Rivka Dratvitski's husband, a gentile, who was friendly with the Jews, brought the information. Thanks to him many people were saved. Sunday, May 10th, 1942, at five in the morning Shneur Kivelevitsh appeared in our home and told us that the ghetto is surrounded. He advised every one to hide. The Germans enclosed the ghetto and meticulously looked for the Jews. They killed on the spot those who were found and refused to expose friends or relatives hiding places. My brother Yehuda, Osher (Itshe Bers) Perski, his son Ruvke and I, decided to run away. We passed the Volozhynka stream near the bridge and concealed ourselves in a grove. Some local Christians chased us. We could hear them saying that they are looking for us.
When they left, I walked to Horodok; Osher Perski with his son to went to Zabrezhe. The Jews I met in the Horodok Ghetto were in a very agitated spirit. They just heard about the recent mass slaughter in Volozhyn.
The evasion from Vol' Ghetto to Kaldiki village
After the second Action the Volozhyn authorities reduced the ghetto area and enclosed inside the remaining little group of Jews. They assured them that the rest would work and be safe. I believed this false promise and returned home. I worked with some Jewish girls, among them Miriam Kagan and Rachel from Mejeyk, in a carpenter's team. Our manager was Yezierski.
Once, as we were ready to return to the ghetto, we realized that the Germans were surrounding the ghetto, and some Jews were running out of the gate. We threw away the yellow patches and looked for a place to hide. The Germans shot at us and killed ten girls. Miryam Kagan and I hid in a wheat field. At night we went in the Mejeyk direction. After a lot of wandering we arrived in the Kaldiki hamlet. We knocked at a peasant's door and implored him to give us some nourishment. We were swollen from hunger. Despite the fact that they were poor they shared their food with us.
We walked through the hamlet and deciding that we have nothing to lose. We knocked at a door of another remote house. A peasant opened the door, led us into the adjacent barn and locked the door. After a couple of frightful hours the landlord opened the barn and invited us to his house. It was a single room house with two big beds, a broken table and an oven. Here lived the Righteous Gentile Ivan Kovalski with his family: wife, three daughters and two sons. This poor family received us cheerfully and with unusual warmth. They cried with tears seeing our wretched appearance. After we warmed our frozen bodies and had a hot meal, they equipped us with blankets and led us back to the barn.
The noble paysan Kovalski saving the Jewish girls
It happened at Saturday evening, November 14th1942. On Sunday morning we were served with a breakfast. We left some food to take away, being sure that Kovalski will expel us. At noon he came in and seeing the food remnants he asked us Why?. We answered: We are sure that you would not hide Jewish girls much longer. You are endangering the life of your entire family. For that reason we decided to go our way. Kovalski, offended by our answer, said: Dear girls, my family and I, we decided to let you live with us. Your fate is our fate, our home is your home.
It was a very cold winter. We froze in the barn. Kovalski, the good soul, invited us in his house to conceal us upon the oven. It was a not aired, a very hot place. Kovalski used to lead us every day for a couple of hours into the potatoes cellar to breath some air. The children cooperated with their parents, and at danger, they warned us with agreed signs.
One day German soldiers encircled the Krazhina hamlet, some 500 meters from us. They assembled all the hamlet inhabitants, spilled kerosene, set fire and burned all of them. They did it as revenge. Some partisans killed Germans soldiers, and took their retreat through Krazhina. Kovalski was conscious of the danger that awaited him and us. But he did not abandon us, on the contrary, as a good softhearted father he calmed and encouraged us. However I had a premonition that we are in danger staying at this house. Partisans were very active in the near by area. Fights and shootings broke from time to time. The Kovalskis asked and begged us to stay. But we decided to go. Kovalski made some journeys in the surrounding communities looking for traces of the Partisans.
He found a troop of Partisans and brought us to them. They were hostile, suspecting us as agents of the German intelligence services. They arranged a quick trial and convicted us to death. Before the execution hour approached a Krazhina partisan asked us who we were and from where we came. When I told him my name, he informed me that my brother Yehuda Yosef Potashnik is serving as a partisan near by. The Krazhina partisan told his commander that I am a well-known partisan's sister and he tore the paper with the verdict.
I was transferred with Mariyasha Kagan to Baksht. There were many active partisan units in the area. My brother Yehuda Yosef took me to the Lidayev partisan unit, in the Nalibok forest.
After some days the Germans surrounded the entire area. We hid in pits and other hiding places. When they left we concentrated in an outlying corner of the Nalibok forests. We established there a winter camp in which we lived until the Volozhyn liberation.
After the liberation we returned to Volozhyn. I went to see Kovalski. The relations between us tightened. He visited us every day. His son and daughter worked in town and dwelled in my house. In 1945 I left Volozhyn to Poland. In 1947 I made Aliya. All that time I wrote letters to Kovalski but I had no answers. In 1966 I received his address. Kovalski with his family lived in Ural. Without delay I sent him a vestments package. He confirmed with joy its reception and sent his thanks. Since then we correspond and I send him and his family members presents, thanking this noble man for saving my life.
Kovalski Ivan, his wife and two children. Dear girls, my family and I, we decided to let you live with us. Your fate is our fate, our home is your home. Photo p. 553
|Pnina Hayat, Born in Volozhyn (as Peshka Potashnik), deceased in Israel 1974, VIB photo: p. 588, (seated, 1st, on right). Potashnik Menahem Mendl, Rabbi, Pnina's brother, born in Volozhyn, Volozhyn Izkor Book committee member in USA., VIB Picture: p. 661. Potashnik Yehuda Yosef, Pnina's brother, born in Volozhyn 1905, deceased in Israel 1965. - VIB Photo: p. 36 counted from left. I remember: Peshke and Mendl Potashnik were employed at our family business (Grind & saw mill) in Volozhyn before the war.|
Fruma Lifshits (Gapanovitsh)
Extracts translated by M. Porat zl
The Soviets occupied Volozhin on September 17, 1939. I returned into town from Ivianits to teach Yiddish in the Hebrew School, which was turned to by the Communists to function as a Yiddish Primary School. In 1940/41 the Tarbut School finally was turned a Russian School, the Polish School to a Belorussian and the Polish Gymnasia to a Russian High School.
In June 1941 before the German occupation our family lived in Leybe Berman's house. We sent our girls, Shoshanele and Hayele, both born in Volozhin, to my parents in Radoshkovitsh to pass the summer vacation there. When the Nazis invaded our country, most of the Soviet citizens who lived in Western Belarus ran away towards the old border (Poland/Soviet Union pre-1939). The border passed through the outskirts of Radoshkovitsh. We decided, Yakov and me to follow their path. We took the road to Radoshkovitsh by foot to join my parents and our daughters. We walked the entire night. Yakov became totally exhausted. He stopped near the shtetl. I entered Radoshkovitsh alone. I met there my father only. My mother, sisters Braha and Heina, brother Israel and both my daughters had run away into the Ordanka hamlet, which in normal days served as a summer resting place. The burning town of Radoshkovitsh was overcrowded by refugees from Poland and Lithuania. Meanwhile, my husband recovered and arrived in town. We went to Ordanka from where we took our daughters and continued with them our wandering, this time to Horodok, where Kheyne my elder sister lived.
I went twice to Volozhin. I took some of the clothing we left there to exchange for food for the girls. I had the opportunity to enter the well-guarded ghetto through Pinchas the smith's workshop, which stood near the Ghetto fence. There I met Sonia nee Dubinski the daughter in law of my aunt Keyle Berkovitsh. They were astonished to see me. They were told that our family had been killed.
I returned to Horodok, where survivors of the mass-slaughter from Volozhin and Molodetshno arrived. The Germans established a small concentration work camp in Krasne, a crossroad junction, midway between Molodetshno and Radoshkovitsh. Jews who were able to work from Volozhin, Mir, Lida, Novogrudok, Horodok and other places were brought here to maintain the railroad. My husband was among them. When we separated I told him "Our fate, mine and the girls is determined, but you will survive because you are regarded as an efficient Jew" such was our na´ve opinion.
Every week some workers were allowed to go and bring food from Horodok into the Krasne camp. My little six-year-old daughter caught a heavy scurvy gums illness. Mr. Ratskin the Judenrat head pitied me and arranged a permit for Yakov to visit us. The bitter end arrived at Shabbat that Yakov spent with us, on July 11th 1942. The Jews of Horodok and the vicinity did not sense the oncoming danger. Their last sleep had been a sleep of the just.
Gestapo and its local assistants invaded the Ghetto at daybreak to take out the Jews. At our home five persons were lodged. There were three hiding places. The hideout in which I concealed myself with my little girls was discovered by the local politsays (as the local policemen were called) after the "Aktion" had passed.
Mr. Ratskin, who was an elderly man, could no support the strangling atmosphere and went outside. His going out disclosed our hiding place. They shot at Yakov and killed him. The murderers gathered all the Jews into the square to be selected. Those they found able to work were transferred to the Krasne camp. The old ones, invalids and children were sent to death. Among the sentenced to die was also Fruma, Tsivya Tsart's mother. She had been beat bestially, until she was covered with blood. The Germans enclosed all of them inside a barn, shot them and burned it.
Translator's note: (as Fruma told me the evening I wrote it) In this barn together with the 900 (nine hundred) Jews of Horodok Fruma Lifshits's mother surrounded by her five grand children also found their tragic fate, among them Shoshanele and Hayele Lifshits.
Yakov had been shot by one of their gentile neighbors in Horodok. Fruma witnessed her husband's death and saw the bestial murderers throwing away his body.
|Lifshits children: Both were born in Volozhin, Shoshanele on July 7, 1933; Hayele on April 24, 1936. Both of them were shot and burnt in Horodok on July 9, 1942.|
|This memorial tombstone was erected in the nineteen nineties near the site where 900 Horodok Jews were slaughtered. The plate on the left side (written in Hebrew) is dedicated to Yakov Lifshits and to his daughters Shoshanele and Hayele.|
I was expelled to Krasne. Heyne my older sister was enclosed in the Krasne Concentration camp, my young sister with me in the Krasne Ghetto. There I met people from Volozhin, among them Yosef Tabakhovitsh and his wife Elke (born Shuker). Tsviya Tsart dwelled beside me and my sister on the same planks.
It was impossible to preserve hygienic conditions. A typhus epidemic broke out. As a result we were hospitalized in a house outside the Ghetto. We were privileged to be inspected by the Gestapo physician. He supervised the patients and determined by the movement of his cane who would be carried out into the "bath house" i.e. for execution.
After typhus I was very feeble. My father would endanger himself by infiltrating from the camp into the ghetto to bring me some grains to fortify my body. We were brought into the "bath house". The Germans examined our withered bodies, but for some reason our fate was not decided.
Thanks to my poor health status I was released from work for a few days. I used this time to seek food for my hungry friends in the Krasne Ghetto.
Once with my brother in law and with Ester Rogovin from Horodok we went into a hamlet to gather bread. On the way back we came up against guards of the German Police. When they passed near us we distinguished red bands on the "Germans" forearms. Actually they were Russian partisans who had fought a German unit the day before. They had won the battle, took the German uniforms and wore them.
We talked to them and they agreed to take Jews who would carry arms and escape from the Krasne camp.
We returned to Krasne and told everyone the exciting news. We found ways to secretly buy rifles. A group of us had succeeded one day to pass the rails and join the partisans. They accepted us thanks to efforts made by Eliezer Rogovin. A new unit was founded by the name of "Staritski" within the "Tshkalov" brigade. We met some Volozhiners in the forest, among them Feygele Perski, Hirshl Rogovin, Ishayahu Lieberman and Pashe Perski the wife of Simha Perski.
I was transferred into a partisan's arms repair workshop after a little time, where I worked until liberation on July 1944.
From time to time bitter fights occurred between German forces and partisan units. The hardest German attacks broke out in July 1943. During this period many partisan garrisons existed in the forests of Belarus. In order to fight them, the Germans organized the Vlassov army, named after the infamous Russian traitor General Vlassov. Those units were composed of Belarus, Kazaks, Lithuanians, Ukrainians and other anti-Semites, all of them hooligan-murderers. Their first mission was destruction of hamlets and farms near the forests. The fate of the peasants in those hamlets was not much better than of the Jews. Many Christians ran to the forest. The Germans opened an offensive on the forest, by heavy shooting, shelling and setting fires.
Translators note: We found in "PAMYAT' " "MEMORY" (published by the Volozhin Region Authorities, 1996), page 272, a German-SS officer reporting to his headquarters:
We were obliged to disperse. Kopl Kagan, Peshka Potashnik, her brothers Yehuda and Yosef, my brother in law Berman and I, we found a hideout from which we got out just to meet the liberating Red Army.
Together with Peshka Potashnik we went through Krasne and Horodok into Volozhin. I decided very soon to leave the shtetl where each stone was impregnated with blood of our dearest. The Soviet authorities suggested that I teach in a Belarussian school. I refused, as I was not ready to teach youngsters who willingly assisted the Nazis in murdering Jews. I crossed the border to Bialostock in Poland. But here too in the Land of the Jews' extermination camps, where the A.K.(Armiya Krayova) blood thirsty anti-Semites awaited us, I could not stay. I continued my wandering. From Bialostock I went to Lublin, and then with a Zionist refugee Organization, I went through Czechoslovakia to Hungary and Romania.
After the victory on May 1945 we did not want to remain in a communist-ruled country behind the Iron Curtain. With assistance of the Zionist Organization we passed the frontiers to Austria and then to Italy. We did a Hakhshara (training, usually for agricultural work) near Bari and than we waited to go to the Land of Israel. The British Government had refused to deliver the certificates permitting our entry into our Land, so we went to Israel with the Illegal Aliya. Along with 170 Jews, war refugees, we boarded a small boat. I arrived in Erets Israel in September 1945.
by Sonia Puter (Perski)
Translated by Jerrold Landau
The Germans entered Volozhin suddenly. Several German airplanes appeared in the sky. Their appearance aroused a tumult, and everyone dispersed to their homes. During the first weeks after their entry, the Germans took several Jews, including my aunt Chasia (Chasha) Leahke Gordon, imprisoned them in barracks, and killed them.
At first the murders were small. The Germans were not interested in taking the Jews out immediately to be killed, because they wished to use them for work. The Soviets had burnt the marketplace during their retreat, and heaps of debris were piled up. We had to seal the pits and cellars in these ruins. Similarly, we had to uproot the weeds that grew among the clumps of rock. We worked from morning until night under the supervision of cruel guards who whipped us with the whips in their hands. The Germans imposed a strict blackout. At nightfall, they imprisoned us in the houses, and we were forbidden to go out. It was terribly suffocating inside because we covered the windows with thick blankets so that the light would not be seen from the outside.
I lived in the ghetto with my aunt Chaya Gita and uncle Hertzl Dubinski, my aunt Liba and uncle Dolgov, my grandmother Etl Perski, and the family of Avraham Berkowitz. My uncle Shalom Gordon and his children lived in the adjacent house. A shoemaker lived with us, who sewed boots for the gendarmerie. He was busy with his work until late at night. He regarded his toil as an advantage to protect him from trouble, for he was a useful Jew.
After the first aktion, the Jews began to build bunkers. There was a cellar in our house. We built a double wall in it. We went down to the bunker whenever we heard shots, and sat there cramped and oppressed. The only one who remained in his place was the shoemaker, for he was useful.
When they attacked out house, my father and Avraham Berkowitz did not succeed in going down to the bunker, so they went up to the attic. They were found and taken to be killed. Even the shoemaker was liquidated in that attack despite his usefulness.
Since we realized that our life was in constant danger, my mother, two sisters and I fled to Horodock. We returned to Volozhin when news reached us that the Germans were announcing that they would not hurt those that survived. I worked in the bathhouse. Once when I returned from work, I saw that the Germans were surrounding the ghetto and shooting. My niece Rachel Gordon and I looked for a hiding place. Along the way, we saw Shlomo Shuster running like a madman. A woman and her young daughter were running after him. We also ran behind them. My niece suddenly fell. A bullet hit her. I could not save her, and I left her to her bitter fate. I met Shlomo Skliot along the way. We hid in the forest. Jews from Volozhin joined us a few days later.
We decided to divide into small groups for security reasons. A woman named Sara the
Volozhiner and I walked to Zabrezye, where my uncle Feivel Perski lived. We reached there towards morning. We entered the house of a gentile woman. She told us that the Germans had killed a Jewish woman yesterday (she was referring to my niece, who succeeded in reaching Zabrezye, where she died). We went to the workplace of my uncle. He was even afraid to talk to me. He gave me his breakfast and a fur coat, and advised us to immediately escape to Krevo for the police were liable to kill us.
We walked for an entire day over fields of stubble. My feet were bare and swollen. When I arrived in Krevo, I entered the first house in the ghetto, and immediately collapsed. My energy departed. I could not stand on my feet, for they were swollen.
I remained in Krevo for several weeks. From there, I wandered from camp to camp. I was in many camps, and my soul was sated with much difficulty, until the awaited liberation finally came.
by Mendl Volkovitch (Natanya)
Translated by Janie Respitz
Donated by Anita Gabbay
The 21st of June 1941
Hitler declared war on Russia.
They beat, kill and spill
Human blood for no reason.
The murderer's army marches into Volozhin
They shoot and slaughter.
People fall like flies,
They even drag babies from cradles.
There is a commotion and noise,
People are running and screaming,
But there is no one to shout at.
The Germans demand the creation of a Judnrat
|Even when they speak to him with their murderous melody.
Approximately two months later,
Within a short time
Shneur is stunned,
In between there are horrific moments.
I saw with my own eyes
|Into a house
And began to rob a beat the Jews.
They ran to the Judnrat
They began to laugh at him.
Shneur always walked with courage, pride and confidence
I would like to mention another terrifying moment,
They immediately took him to Volozhin
|So all the gentiles could watch and be pleased
To see what they do to the Jew.
Shmuel's sister ran to Shneur
This is how the chain
The ghetto is surrounded,
Jews run into holes
Unfortunately: nothing helped.
|Shneur began to beg and argue
For them to let everyone go.
He defended the misfortunate with his coattails
Like an eagle with its wings,
When you come to steal his children.
This did not help,
They are thrown in heat and cold,
Hitler's murderers shout: annihilate all the Jews!
The angel of death in the likeness of
Shneur lifts his eyes toward the sky
|You, who sits above
In the high heavens,
Do not want to see or hear
The Jewish tears and prayer?
For this you chose us as a nation?
You chose us from among all other nations?
So our blood will pour over all seas?
Are the gates of compassion closed?
The Hitlerites are bathing in our blood,
The Jews are happy,
However the murderers mock in their murderous hearts.
Shneur is with them, but he is not who he was.
|He can no longer fight, defend, comfort.
Shneur could have escaped
As he was free to move around in the ghetto, and out,
But his pure conscious does not allow him to and says: No!
I will not leave the Jews here alone!
And when their turn came like all the others,
But this is a lie,
He shudders and looks,
I go to you, with you,
|You have disappeared from us,
Far, far away.
Never t o return!
Gone and not here.
You left us when you were young
by Lyuba Volkovich (Girkus), Netanya
Translated by Jerrold Landau
The second slaughter, in which most of the Jews of Volozhin were murdered, took place on 23 Iyar 5702 (May 10, 1942). When I saw that the slaughter was approaching, I went up to the attic with my husband Shmuel Berman, my brother-in-law Yaakov, my sisters-in-law Feigel and Chana, my nephew Avraham Eliyahu Baran, Hertzl Gurvich, and a lad from Krewo. I lay down next to one of the windows and saw what was happening to our dear ones.
We descended from the attic when night fell. Human voices rose up from the sewers. These were the voices of my nephews Eliyahu and Yona Kleinbord. We lifted them out of the sewer and fled to the forest. The conditions in the forest were exceedingly difficult, so we decided to return to the Volozhin Ghetto. There were approximately four hundred Jews in the ghetto who had gathered from the forests and other secret places. The Germans promised the Jews that from that day on, they would live in quiet, and no harm would befall them. However, this was a false promise. Next to this festive proclamation, Germans came from the Krasne labor camp to draft workers for the camp. They took approximately eighty people with them,
including my brother-in-law Yaakov Berman (the son of Leibe Zecharia's). My husband Shmuel and I accompanied his brother, and we went out together to the Krasne camp. Our situation was unbearable.
During the month of Tammuz 5702 (June 1942), we escaped from there to Zabzhez [Zabyeraz]. Once, my husband and Asher Perski returned from work. On the way, the guards arrested them. They freed Perski because the recognized him from the Zabzhez ghetto. But they suspected that Shmuel was a partisan, so they led him to the Zabzhez police station. The guards informed the Volozhin police that they had a partisan in their hands. The police chief sentences Shmuel to death, and he was taken out to be killed at The Mountain of the Priest.
I toyed with the hope that Shmuel was alive, and that he was in prison. I disguised myself as a gentile woman and went to Volozhin to save him from death. When I arrived in the ghetto, they informed me that Shmuel had been taken out to be killed.
The third slaughter took place on one of the Sabbaths of the month of Elul 5702 (August 1942). The Jews went to the Mincha service. Suddenly, Gestapo men appeared from the road to Minsk, and started shooting at the ghetto. The prisoners broke through the barbed wire fence and began to run. I ran with Netanel (Saneh) Lavit to the village of Rudnik.
Suddenly, we heard a voice: Saneh, I'm wounded! This was the voice of Rachel Lavit, Shlomo's wife. A dum-dum bullet had had hit her hand, causing her a severe injury. She fell down in pain, and we did not have the means of calming her pain.
Only isolated people had mercy upon us. They threw pieces of bread from the window, as one throws to dogs, and ordered us to go away immediately. In the forests of Rudnik, we met several Jews of Volozhin, including Shmuel Berman, my sister-in-law Sara and her two children Rachel Tzart (sister-in-aw of Avraham Tzart) and her daughter, and the young daughter of Leibe Skliot. We went to the village of Manegurje near Volozhin, and approached the house of a gentile. He refused to let us enter his house unless we would give him gold and valuables. I gave him ten gold rubles and he opened the door of his house.
We requested that he go to Volozhin to find out if any Jews survived there. When he returned from the city, he told us that not one Jew could be found there. The rest of the Jews had been murdered, and their bodies had been incinerated in the lime pit of Avraham the Vafelnik. (The pit was on Poloczani Street on the way to Shapowel). The farmers had extracted the gold teeth of the corpses and stripped their clothes. He also visited Krewo and Vyshnieva. We learned from his reports that the most secure place was Krewo, for the commandant of the ghetto was lenient toward the Jews.
The situation with Rachel's hand became very serious. She pleaded with us to return to Volozhin. We did not accept her request, for we still believed that a miracle would occur, and we would survive. Rachel did not believe in miracles, so she got up and went herself.
We decided to go to the forests of Volozhin with the hope of connecting with partisans. We reached the village of Bielokorets. As soon as we sat down to rest, we heard human footsteps. These were
Jews who had escaped from the Volozhin ghetto. Among them were Gavriel Brudna (his father's name was Kushke), Leizer Meltzer, and Yaakov Shuster (son-in-law of Shlomo Raphael).
After we despaired of connecting with the partisans, we decided to go to Krewo. Saneh refused to join us because he was afraid of going in large groups. Rachel Tzart preferred to go to Zabzhez, and others agreed with her opinion. Having no choice, I joined them, even though my heart prophesied terrible things.
We arrived in Zabzhez. Skliot's daughter and I went to the Judenrat to request that they accept us into the ghetto. They responded to our request with a definitive refusal. The Judenrat claimed that if the police discovered that they were giving shelter to refugees, they would kill all the Jews of the ghetto. When I turned to leave, Yosef the Expeditor of Zabzhez approached me and brought me to the Beis Midrash. He bent down behind the oven. He moved several bricks and told me to go down. As soon as I lowered my leg, I ran into Shlomo Shuster.
I found out that the Judenrat related to me with mercy and understanding, for indeed the police had entered the ghetto to search for refugees. They had captured Merke Rudnitzki, the daughter of Chasha Lea Perski, several other girls, and Saneh Lavit, and brought them to the village of Dajnowka. There, they murdered them and covered their bodies with a thin layer of earth. (When we returned to Volozhin in the month of Av 5704, July 1944, my husband Mendel and Saneh's son Leibe carried them to a burial place. They found several bones there, and brought them to eternal life in the Volozhin cemetery.)
I decided to go to Krewo on my own. There, I found Lea Paretzki and Freidel, the daughter of Yosef Yekutiel. After some time, Mendel Wolkowitz, Yehuda Yosef Putshnik Tovia Slyovski, and Yaakov Kagan arrived.
From Krewo, they transferred me to a labor camp in Zazmaria [iemariai], Lithuania. There, I worked on paving the Vilna-Kovno Road. This work was even difficult for men, and especially so for women. My first workday in that camp was on Yom Kippur. I fasted and worked. Gestapo men guarded us. One of them (his name was Gyorgy), a veteran murderer, beat us with a belt made of thick, hard hide.
The autumn of that year was very difficult. Torrential rains fell incessantly. Later the harsh winter arrived. Snowstorms broke out in fury. The murderers did not pay attention to the weather, and chased us out to work daily. We were covered in worn-out rags, and we wore torn shoes. In truth, we were barefoot. Thus did we work for a certain time until all the people of the camp became ill with abdominal typhus. Approximately four hundred ill people lay in several small rooms, men and women separately. Most of the sick people died since there ere no doctors or medicines. Very few survived, and they did so in the merit of the camp director (who was a Volksdeutsche). He traveled to Vilna, incidentally at the risk of his life, and brought us medications, which set us back on our feet.
The epidemic lasted for about three weeks. Those who survived went about for about two weeks.
deaf and blind. However, we slowly recovered, and they chased us once again to work. They brought surviving Jews from the towns close to Vilna to us and the crowding in the camp continually increased. We felt that tribulations were approaching. The frequent visits of the Gestapo men testified to this. A command was received that a portion of us should be transferred to a different place. The people whispered amongst themselves, and a tall mound of theories were proposed. Some believed that they were taking us to be killed, and others believed that they were hauling us to work.
I refused to go. I was together with Mendel Wolkowitz, Shmuel Berman, and Shlomo Rozen. Gyorgy the murderer broke into the bunk, dragged me out, and placed me together with the rest. They hauled us to the railway station. Wagons were waiting there. It seems that they had brought three more Jews there than the number that had been requested by the Gestapo men. Shmuel Berman approached the camp director and asked them to leave me behind since I was sick and weak, and there was no benefit in me. They freed me and I returned to the camp.
One day, a German from the Koshedar [Kaiiadorys] camp (eight kilometers from Zazmaria) came and asked that eight tradesmen along with one woman for cleaning services be given to him. They chose me for this task. Christian workers, including a Soviet citizen, also worked in this camp. I started a conversation with him. I told him that the fear of slaughter Is upon the Jews, and therefore we have decided to escape to the forest. He was prepared to help us. However, the escape plan did not take place, because they returned us to Zazmaria.
One Sabbath during the spring of 5703 (1943) two Jewish Kapos from Vilna arrived in the camp. (They had assisted the Germans in liquidating the Ashmina camp). They informed us that they had come on a mission from the Gestapo to take three hundred Jews to an aktion. The matter immediately became known to Dr. Yitzchak Elchanan Rabinovitch (the grandson of Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan, the famous rabbi of Kovno), the representative of the ghetto to the Arbeitsamt (work office) in Kovno. He hastened to the Gestapo and informed them that the Zazmaria camp, there are young Jews who are effective workers. He requested that we be brought to work in Kovno, thereby thwarting the Satanic efforts of the Germans and their Jewish Kapo assistants.
The next day, many trucks with Jewish police officers and Gestapo men arrived from Kovno. They listed the tradesman. Each of them was permitted to take his family members along. Since most of the Jews of the camp were widows and widowers the men listed other women along with their names. Mendel Wolkowitz listed me with his name.
They brought us to Slobodka Street in Kovno. They gave us several slices of bread and coffee, and we lay down to rest. Later, they announced that in the Koshedar they required workers to dig peat. I went there with Mendel Wolkowitz. The Koshedar camp was comprised of several bunks surrounded by barbed wire. They gave us spades, and we did our work in the place of bogs. The chief work director was a Dutch Christian. The guards consisted of Germans and Ukrainians who had given themselves over to the Germans willingly. There were also Jewish supervisors who treated us well.
We received one hundred grams of bread and coffee for breakfast. In the afternoon, we were served horsemeat and soup.
Once, I watched how they prepared the food. They brought a leprous horse, killed it, skinned it, chopped it up, and placed the chunks into a large cauldron. They cooked the meat for a few minutes, and it was already ready to be eaten. Mendel and I did not sully ourselves with this disgusting meat, so the hunger afflicted us greatly.
Once, a great tragedy took place in the camp. Two young Jewish lads came to the camp and asked us to escape to the forest with them. The purpose of their arrival became known to the police. The police killed them, and left their bodies at the entrance gate of the camp. A general of the S.S. gathered us together and commanded us to make two circuits around the corpses. He delivered a hateful lecture in which he emphasized that if we would dare to escape from the camp, our end would be like theirs. We were commanded to bury the killed people at the entrance to the camp, so that their graves will remind us at all times of the bitter end that awaits us.
After some time, a reinforcement of Ukrainian police was brought to the camp. All of them were young and healthy, and they instilled fear and dread upon us. These police conducted an exacting search in our bunks to discover whether we have hidden weapons in them. At the end of the search, they commanded us to take our bundles of rags with us and go outside. We sat from morning to night. To our surprise, the police officer tossed pieces of bread at us with great caution.
When it got dark, we were commanded to return to the bunks. After a few hours, when we were fast asleep, a large number of shots woke us up. We crowded around the window, and saw people running around, raising a great tumult. A Jew approached us and calmed us. The time of revenge had begun: The young Ukrainian police who had been brought as reinforcements killed the Dutch camp director and all the guards. They took all the weapons and food, and opened the camp gate wide so that we too could escape. They all escaped to the forest.
In the morning, S.S. men arrived in the camp with transport trucks. They called the men and commanded them to place the bodies of those murdered on the trucks. The corpse of the camp director was cut into pieces. His head had been severed from his body. They piled up his body parts into a single heap and loaded them on the truck.
Our situation improved after this act of revenge. The Jewish workers whispered among themselves that they should escape to the forests. Working with us was a Soviet prisoner who also was preparing to escape to the forest. The Jews of the camp asked me to negotiate with him. He told me that the conditions for escape was receiving weapons. We obtained weapons in various manners. The prisoner hid and guarded them.
In the meantime, a frightful thing happened that thwarted our plan of escape. One day during the month of Nisan 5704 (March 1944), German troops and Gestapo men came from the direction of Kovno. They were armed with automatic guns and machine guns. The Gestapo chief entered the camp with several soldiers. They commanded us to go outside and line up in rows women and children separately and men separately. The children stood next to their mothers. The children, who understood what was taking place, sobbed quietly, and cleaved to their mothers. The Gestapo men attacked the children and separated them
forcefully from their mothers. The mothers fainted. The murderers dragged them to the bunks, but they jumped through the windows, ran to their children, held them close to their hearts, and shouted in a loud voice: Our dear children, we will not leave you alone. We will go to the grave together with you!
A woman from Olshan named Itka Rabinovitch was among these mothers. She had three lads. The oldest of them was aged twelve. She approached the chief and requested that he leave at least one of her children alive. As a response to her request, he beat her cruelly and pushed her to the side.
They imprisoned us in bunks and warned us to not dare to go outside. We placed ourselves next to the windows to find out what would happen to the children. A wagon hitched to two horses entered the camp. They placed the children on the wagon and took them to an unknown place.
The next day, they took us out to work as usual. The women whose children had been stolen from them were permitted to rest for several days. When we came to work at the railway station, the gentiles from the nearby villages told us that the children had been brought to the railway station. They were kept hungry and thirsty for the entire day. At night, they were placed on a railway wagon and transported to the German border.
After the Gestapo men had killed the children, we felt that we ourselves were in great danger. We decided to immediately escape from the camp. One group of Jews of the camp worked in the forest. Once they saw three men coming out from among the trees, dressed in Soviet army uniforms and armed with automatic weapons. The Gestapo men, who guarded the workers were certain that not one of their people would escape, turned aside, sat on the ground, and began to stuff themselves and smoke. At this unusual opportune time, two people from the groups of Jews rose up and walked along the surrounding paths to meet the partisans. They were asked to identify themselves. They responded, We are Jews. The partisans asked, What are you doing here? The two responded, We are at a work camp close to here in the city of Koshedar. How many are you? The Jews responded, About four hundred individuals.
After the questioning, the partisans identified themselves. They said that they were part of a group of four people: two Russian commanders and two Jews. They continued to inquire about the number of Jews working in the forests and the number of Germans guarding them. The Jews responded that their group consisted of fifteen people, guarded by four Germans.
Then the partisans replied, We will kill the German guards and you can go with us. But, they continued to ask with great worry, What will be with the rest of the Jews in the camp? When the Gestapo men find out that your group escaped to the partisans, they will take out all the Jews to be killed. Therefore, they advised us to wait until the proper time for this. They promised that they would come soon to free all the Jews. The sign of the action of liberation would be: A farmer will enter the camp riding on a white horse, and will throw a white note upon which will be written the time that we must all prepare for escape.
The partisans went on their way, and we continued with our work. This took place approximately two weeks before the Passover festival of 5704 (1944).
On the eve of Passover, a farmer riding on a white horse appeared in the camp. (He was really a disguised partisan.) He threw the note of redemption on the ground, upon which was written that the time of escape had arrived.
The next day, approximately forty partisans went to the forest in which our forestry group worked. They surrounded the workers and removed the weapons from the German guards. They sent two Jews to inform all the Jews in the camp that they must escape immediately.
I worked in the railway station loading lumber. I saw that two Jews among the heaps of lumber sticking out, and telling us from mouth to ear that we must escape. We stopped our work, and we all began to advance slowly and cautiously toward the route lading to the forests. However, as soon as we began to run, the guards noticed and began to shoot. I ran together with Leizer Dniszewdski from Krewo. We heard the shots, but we continued to run on a long route until we arrived in the forest. There, we found four men and one woman. We looked for contact with the partisans. Along the way we met several Jews who told us that many of the Jews of the camp had been killed, and the rest had returned to the camp.
To our dismay, we did not find the partisans. We found out that they had taken a group of Jewish workers with them, as well as the Germans who were guarding them. In the meantime, the number of escapees increased, and the group reached about twenty individuals. A few of them were almost naked, for when they escaped from the camp, they took off their clothes to make the running easier. Our situation was hopeless One of our group, Yitzchak Ziskind, said that he knew the guard of the forest. He intended to approach him, and perhaps we could be saved through him. He took one of us with him and set out on the journey. The guard told him that a group of forty partisans had visited him a few days earlier, with a group of Jews and four Germans. They left notice with the forest guard that they would return in a few days, and if there were any Jews with him, they would take them with them.
And thus it was: The partisans kept their promise, and took us into the forest. We hid there until the time of liberation.
Translated by Dr. Yosef Porat
|Number one murderer, who was the head of the extermination of the Volozhyn ghetto on May 1942. Summary of the stenographic protocol, which was published as a book by the title The trial of the natzy invaders who committed acts of horror in Belarus|
The trial started on January 15th 1946 and was finished on the 29th. In these days the martial court of the Minsk County was weighing the accusations against eighteen nazi officials who served in the German police and army; Among them four S.S. and S.D. commanders, two chiefs of battalions, a Major, two Captains, two Uberleutenats and the rest of inferior ranks. Frantz Karl Hess, second lieutenant of the thirty second Zondercommando stationed near the police and S.S. in Minsk was one of the eighteen convicts.
The following judges held the trial:
Chairman of court: General Kadrov.Lawyers nominated by the state represented all convicts, except Frantz Karl Hess who renounced the lawyer and preferred to represent himself. After some formalities, the hearings began.
Judge: Chief of Battalion Sacharov.
Judge: Chief of Battalion Vinogradov.
The prosecutors: Lieutenant Colonel Yatzanin and the Battalion Head Palachin.
The hearings on the 19th of January 1946 were dedicated to the investigation concerning the prosecution that was held against Frantz Karl Hess.
Given here is a briefing of the hearings and the verdict.
(addressing accused Hess):
|Are you confirming your testimony given in the early investigation?|
|Hess:||Yes I confirm it.|
to the prosecutor:
|Comrade prosecutor, do you have questions to the accused?|
|Prosecutor:||Yes. Addressing Hess asks: Tell me Hess; on what year did you enter the ranks of the fascist party?|
|Prosecutor:||What was your military rank and in any what regiment were you serving your duty?|
|Hess:||I was a simple private in the S.S. army.|
|Prosecutor:||What is your family origin?|
|Hess:||I come from a working family. My father worked in a factory.|
|Prosecutor:||What office did your father hold in the factory?|
|Hess:||He worked as a simple worker.|
|Prosecutor:||Your father was a Nazi?|
|Hess:||No. He was apolitical and died in 1916.|
|Prosecutor:||How come that you, as a son of a working family, finds yourself in the ranks of the Nazi party?|
|Hess:||Because I am German.|
|Prosecutor:||Just because you are German?|
|Prosecutor:||What did you do in the army?|
|Hess:||I worked in a factory producing weights.|
|Prosecutor:||When did you come to the Zondercommando in Minsk?|
|Hess:||I came in the beginning of December 1941.|
|Prosecutor:||What duties were put upon you?|
|Hess:||I had to guard the offices and establishments of the army and the SS.|
|Prosecutor:||This is not true! You were trained in courses for commanders of the border police, in managers courses and in handling trained dogs all these were done for house guarding only? Tell the court all of the truth!|
|Hess:||All right, I shall tell! Our work as house guards was only for deception.
Our main mission was the extinction of Jews. The orders were given from above and we were forced to commit them.
|Prosecutor:||To where did you go on the first half of May 1942 with a shooting squad?|
|Hess:||We drove to Volozhyn.|
|Prosecutor:||To which county does Volozhyn belong?|
|Hess:||To Molodechna County I think. I am not sure.|
|Prosecutor:||What did you do in Volozhyn?|
|Hess:||We exterminated the Jews there.|
|Prosecutor:||How many Jews did you kill there?|
|Hess:||Approximately two thousands.|
|Prosecutor:||Who was in charge of this 'actsia'?|
|Prosecutor:||How did you gather the Jewish community in order to commit the horror acts?|
|Hess:||We took the people from their houses, they were locked in the cowshed, and there we shot them to death.|
|Prosecutor:||What have you done with the property and valuable objects of the dead?|
|Hess:||We sent the valuables to Villieka.|
|Prosecutor:||From whom were the two thousand dead, in the town of Volozhyn of Molodechna County, composed?|
|Hess:||From men, women and children.|
|Prosecutor:||Why did you kill the people? Just because they were Jews?|
|Hess:||Yes. Just because they were Jews.|
|Prosecutor:||Were within the two thousand dead also other nationalities members?|
|Hess:||No. Jews only.|
|Prosecutor:||In what way did you execute them?|
|Hess:||We divided the Jews to groups of eighty hundred people. Every group was entered into the cow shed, and there they killed them one by one- till the last one of them.|
|Prosecutor:||Within the two thousand were also people from Volozhyn vicinity, or from Volozhyn only?|
|Hess:||I do not know.|
|Prosecutor:||You took out all of the Jews from the ghetto?|
|Hess:||Yes, we took out all of them.|
|Prosecutor:||Who were the shooters?|
|Hess:||All were ordered to shoot, including me.|
|Prosecutor:||How many Jews did you kill with your own hands in Volozhyn?|
|Hess:||I personally killed about one hundred and twenty Jews. (Noise in the courtroom).|
|Prosecutor:||In what part of the body did the bullet hit? Did you shoot the back of the neck?|
|Hess:||Yes, we shot the head. The Jews were kneeling on their knees and we shot the head, which means the back of the neck.|
|Prosecutor:||Did the children also were kneeling on their knees and shot in the back of their necks?|
|Hess:||Yes, all of them children, men, women, old and young.|
|Prosecutor:||From what weapon did you shoot?|
|Hess:||From a pistol.|
|Prosecutor:||What kind of gun was it?|
|Hess:||It was a 0.8-mm army gun.|
|Prosecutor:||What have you done with the bodies? Buried them?|
|Hess:||No. We soaked most of the bodies with gasoline and burned them.|
The last words of Hess were that he regrets his actions in Belarus, but that he is innocent because he was forced to do it by his superiors.
He declared before the judges and the people whose sons have judged him, that fascism was the greatest curse that the world has ever known.
These ended the hearings on the 29th of January. In the late hours of the night, the court published its verdict.
The court martial concluded, that Frantz Karl Hess, as an inferior rank officer of the eighth Zondercommando' by the security police of the SS and SD, took an active part.
In the December 1941 'action'. In this 'action' a hundred patients that were hospitalized in the Minsks' mental hospital were shot, as well as two hundred and fifty civilians that were temporarily arrested in Minsks' prison.
Many times Hess took part in the killings of soviet citizens from Jewish
origin, among them old, women and children.
In December 1941, he took part in the killings of two thousand people in Minsk.
In 1942 he took part in the killing of the peaceful Jewish community in the city of Vileycky. In the small town of Ivia, Molodechna County, Hess killed sixty people with his own hands. In the cities Dolginova and Vishnieva, Hess participated in murdering three thousand five hundred soviet citizens of Jewish origin.
In the town of Volozhyn, he took part in the execution of two thousand Jews, of which he himself killed one hundred and twenty. In the town of Trastenitz-Zutta he was a part of a company that executed in shooting and strangling eighteen thousand Soviet citizens of Jewish origin.
As a whole Hess participated in killing and strangling of thirty thousand people, most of them Jewish. He himself killed several hundreds of them.
According to a section of the order submitted by the superior court of the SSSR, on the day of 19.4.43, the German Frantz Karl Hess born in 1909 in the village of Kastill of Louatmaritz County in the Soudet region, was charged to death by hanging.
On the 30.1.1946, on 1430 in the afternoon by Moscow time, the verdict was executed. Hess was hanged on the hippodrome of Minsk.
Over one hundred thousand people attended the hanging of the convicts.
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