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[Page 50]

The Ghetto of Dvinsk

From the book: The Story of the Netzach Movement in Latvia
By: A. Eti and M. Nishtet

The ghetto for the Jews of Dvinsk and the surrounding area was established in July 1941 in the stable of the abandoned barracks next to the town of Grďva on the banks of the river opposite Dvinsk. During the months of August and September, the first aktia, in which thousands of Jews were killed, took place.

After a relatively quiet month of October, the biggest and cruelest massacre took place at the beginning of November. From the 6th to the 8th of November, thousands of Jews were taken to the forest of Pogolianka, where they met their deaths. After those aktia, there remained about 800 Jews. Those days in the ghetto have been described by Rachel Friedman (who made aliyah in 1971):

“I was trapped in the ghetto along with my family. My closest friends there were my friends from the movement. We would get together and talk about our uncertain future. One day my brother told me about a rumor he had heard regarding the presence of partisans in the forests near the town of Viški, not far from Dvinsk. It's doubtful whether there was any foundation to those rumors.”

“When the big Aktion began early in November, my brother and I were outside the ghetto. We wanted to run away together, but my brother returned to the ghetto to try and get our mother out as well so she could join us. But my brother was not able to get out of the ghetto again. I ran away to Belarus, and I was put into the ghetto in the town of Breslau. Later I joined a partisan unit, and remained with them until the end of the war.”

It would seem that Rachel Friedman was one of the only members of the movement who joined the partisans. A second incidence is that of Zevulon Krislav of blessed memory (Riga branch) who was part of a group that, at the behest of the Red Army, parachuted behind enemy lines on the island of Hazenholm in the Daugava estuary near Riga. The seven member group was active in the area around Riga for about two months. Zevulon K. was one of five members of the group who were killed after being betrayed. He was put to death after being brutally tortured. The reason for lack of members of the movement among the partisans is obvious: the Letts usually cooperated with the Germans in the slaughter of the Jews, and there was no reason to hope for help from the farmers at a time when so many of the Jews of Latvia were being exterminated. At the end of 1941 there were no partisan units operating on Latvian soil. Such units were founded or penetrated the Latvian border at a later date.

We will return to events in the ghetto. A few dozen Jews were used by the Germans in various jobs in the city; they were not locked up in the ghetto but rather were allowed to live in pre-arranged apartments in the city. As they left for work every morning and returned every evening to their apartments, they were not subject to strict inspections. Compared to the tragic situation of those in the ghetto, these workers were relatively well-off. They did not lack for food or clothing; they could have helped many of the Jews in the ghetto. But from December 1941 to February 1942 a strict curfew was imposed on the ghetto because of contagious illnesses that broke out amongst those imprisoned there.

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During that period many died from disease and starvation. At the end of February 1942 the quarantine was lifted from the ghetto. Then, all of the Jews who had been living in the city were expelled and forced into the ghetto, except for a few individuals who were allowed to continue living in the city. A few hundred of the last Jews still living in the ghetto worked in the fortress or the city. On the 1st of May 1942 the murders began again and the end came to the ghetto of Dvinsk. The handful of Jews still alive worked and lived in the city. That situation continued until the end of October 1943.

From time to time, attempts were made in the Dvinsk ghetto to organize and to obtain weapons for self-defense when the time came. The efforts came at the initiative of small groups of young people not necessarily based on participation in the movement, but rather based on long-standing personal acquaintance stemming from involvement in youth movements or from school ties. A number of members of the movement were involved in those actions. This is known through the testimony of members of the movement who had the facts.

Comprehensive and detailed testimony regarding events in the ghetto in general and including the accumulation of weapons was provided by Ita Rosenberg (now Ita Bell, a member of Kfar Blum):

“I joined the movement just a few months before the war started. I was about 14 years old when Dvinsk was occupied by the Germans. My mother and I asked to run away to the East with a large group of others, but in the end we weren't able to do so because my grandmother was old and weak. I estimate that about half of the Jews were able to escape. Until November of 1941 there remained in the ghetto a group of youths between the ages of 14 and 16; some of them were members of the movement. We worked in various jobs in the city. I worked cleaning houses and sweeping streets.”

“In that bereaved atmosphere where one expected to die at any time, our friend Issar Hyatt of blessed memory had the best attitude in the ghetto. He was not my direct counselor, but was the leader of the company of scouts to which I belonged. Since he was slightly older than the rest of the group of young people in the ghetto (among them several members of the movement) he was a leader and a figure of respect, who encouraged us and tried to instill hope in us. He was unable to come to terms with the bitterness of reality. Even during the brief Soviet regime, Issar continued to keep in touch with his protégés, in defiance of the instructions of older activists in the movement, who thought it best not to hold meetings at that time. In the ghetto he often told stories about the establishment of the kibbutz Ein Gev and about life in Eretz Yisrael. “If we stay alive – we'll immediately move to Eretz Yisrael.” We would repeat that sentiment after him. One day, it was at the beginning of 1942, Issar was caught trying to sneak a loaf of bread into the ghetto and was shot to death on the spot by the murderous Germans.”

Regarding the hoarding of weapons and practice with them, we have the account of Eliyahu Graber (now in the United States):

“Among the older members of the movement in Dvinsk, only a few were imprisoned in the ghetto. Most of them fled to the Soviet Union. I headed east but our group of refugees was not permitted to cross the border into Russia. We were forced to return to Dvinsk. That is how I came to be in the ghetto. I was one of those who lived in the city and not behind the walls of the ghetto. For awhile I worked in the fortress. At work I would see a friend my age from the movement – Gutman Yachnin.”

[Page 52]

“We were a group of young people who obtained weapons, especially hand grenades and pistols. The underground tunnels of the old fortress were a safe place for us to practice with the weapons. We didn't create a formal group, nor did we have plans for initiating resistance activities. We thought we would be able to use the weapons, either each one of us on his own, or as a group, according to the way events unfolded. As it turned out, we did not have a chance to use the weapons, which were smuggled into the ghetto.”

Regarding the accumulation of weapons and their concealment in the ghetto, Moshe-Menashe Vapna, who spent some time in the Dvinsk ghetto, said:

“We were a group of four boys, ages 10 – 14, which was part of a unit that served the German army. We worked driving wagons, transporting building materials. One of the four was Gutka Yachnin. We did not live in one of the buildings in the ghetto, but rather in the stable, near our horses. Gutka was disabled, and had walked with a limp since he was a baby, but he was as nimble as a ghost. His unusual agility, in spite of his limp, saved him from death more than once. Many times he was able to escape from a dangerous spot. Several of the Jews in the ghetto obtained weapons in various ways. The best place for hiding the weapons was in the stable. With the help of a young man named Bubka Fuks, Gutka installed an iron crate in the ground in which the weapons were hidden. The owners of the weapons promised Gutka that when the day came that they would remove the weapons in preparation for escaping to the forests, they would take him, and us, with them. But those who made that promise did not keep it.”

The last Jews of Dvinsk did not delude themselves. They knew that every day brought the danger that the Germans would suddenly come to take them away to some unknown destination. Many of them prepared for that day in their own ways.

As Ita related:

“Every day that passed and we remained alive was considered a victory. The months passed until it was the summer of 1943. One day we received word of an uprising in the Warsaw ghetto. We saw tanks full of wounded soldiers being transported from the front lines to the rear. It was the German soldiers themselves who revealed the failures at the front, the existence of partisans in Belarus, and about the uprising in the ghetto of Warsaw. The last event awakened in us a spirit of courage and hope. “If they can do it, why cannot we also?” we said to one another. We thought to defend ourselves with weapons, but we didn't think we had any hope of staying alive. In our wildest dreams, we didn't imagine that a single one of us would survive.”

“A few young men accumulated some weapons and made various plans. One of them was the member of the movement, David Bleier of blessed memory. In the beginning, he told me in utmost secrecy that a number of Jews had weapons. Later I saw them with my own eyes, and I held the pistols and hand grenades in my own hands. According to the plan of David Bleier and the small group he organized, we were supposed to escape to the forests at the last moment before the Germans came to take us away. We didn't want to run away earlier than that because of the warning the Germans had given, that for each Jew that ran away, ten Jews would be killed.”

[Page 53]

“David had established contact with several farmers, who promised us shelter when we reached them. As time passed, the plan began to seem more and more real. We waited for the right moment. In preparation for that opportunity, we sewed warm pants and prepared blankets and food. We thought to escape from the city in groups of two or three, or perhaps individually. But the way events unfolded, our plan could not be put into action. The bitter day at the end of August 1943 came unexpectedly. Policemen and the Gestapo surrounded the area where we were living. All of the Jews were ordered to come out. A few were able to escape. A few Jews committed suicide rather than fall into the hands of the murderers. My mother, David Bleier, a woman named Hava Zilberman, and I ran away over the roofs until we reached the house of a Christian woman, who hid us in a closet; later she went to the police and turned us in. We were taken to the procession of people walking to the train station. While we were walking, David tried to run away. The policemen ran after him and shot at him. David stopped, and shot and killed a German who approached him. He then took his own life on the spot.”

“That was the end of my friend David Bleier of blessed memory. As far as I know, David was the only Jew of Dvinsk to shoot and kill a German. He was 17 when he died.”

There ends the account of Ita.


Some of the last Jews of Dvinsk were moved that same day to the local prison, where they remained for a few weeks until they were taken to the Kaiserwald camp near Riga. A few dozen of the prisoners were released and returned to the city, where they remained for awhile. The vast majority were taken to the train that day and sent to Riga. Gutka Yachnin, who was one of those crammed into the train car, once again showed his agility. With the help of others, he removed the wire that secured the small window and then squeezed through the opening and managed to safely jump out of the train without the guards noticing. When he realized that he would not be able to find shelter, he returned to Dvinsk and turned himself in. He was taken to Kaiserwald; from there he was taken, together with the last Jews of Latvia, to a death camp in Germany. Gutman Yachnin of blessed memory most likely found his death in the Stutthof death camp. Among the others who successfully escaped that day was Eliyahu Graber.

He related the story of his experiences of that same day and through the end of the war:

“Armed with weapons we ran off, my friend and I, away from the Germans who had come to take us away. They chased us and shot at us. My friend was shot. We were both caught and taken in a wagon to the prison. On the way, I was able to escape, and I hid in the ruins of a burned-out building, of which only the foundation remained. I crawled inside the chimney. My pursuers did not discover my hiding place. After a day or so I escaped from the building and joined a group of Russian captives, who worked outdoors. I introduced myself as a Lett. I was a free man. I worked for the Germans as a mechanic. My work took me to army camps, and I acquired a lot of information about the deployment of various units. When the Germans began to withdraw I ran away from my workplace. After facing many life-threatening dangers, I reached the front lines and presented myself to a patrol of the Red Army.

[Page 54]

I gave them important intelligence information and convinced them to believe me. After I had obtained their trust, they enlisted me in the army. I served in the Red Army until the end of the war. In 1945 in one of the battles near Warsaw, I was injured.”

Those are the eyewitness accounts we have obtained up to now. They are few and fragmented. Obviously, they do not present the whole picture, but there is enough there to bear witness to the fact that the young people of the movement, who were faced with the most horrific test one can imagine, dealt with the situation to the best of their abilities.

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[Page 55]

The Camp Ganbin and Liberation

From the newspaper of the Jews of Melbourne, Australia

An employee of the newspaper, Mrs. Sonia Slobo experienced as a child the seven circles of hell in the Dvinsk ghetto, and the camps of Riga and Stutthof, in Germany. Shortly before liberation, she was moved along with about 1,000 other women to Ganbin, a village in Germany, where she worked extremely hard.

Only 60 remained alive after the liberation.

Mrs. Sonia Slobo wrote the lines below immediately after the liberation, on 11 March 1945:

(Loosely translated)


In the wilderness far from any settlement, we remember the women who suffered cold, hunger, and filth in the crowded granary, exposed to the cold winds. The women lay on filthy straw, burning with fever, their parched mouths murmuring, “Water… water… give me just a little snow and I'll give up my share of the bread.”

The women lie there, nearly unconscious and wishing for death to come and free them from their great suffering. Their teeth chatter from the cold. The body twitches with fever. Quiet! The cart with the potato soup is approaching.

The guards force the poor women out of the granary. They can barely stand to receive their meager portion of soup.

The tumult and confusion are great. The women are forced to stand in lines of five, with the ones who are ill supported by their friends.

The first course is a blow to the head from the guard's baton. The blood flows down the face and into the eyes, blurring the vision.

A shout is heard from the granary: “Who wants to trade a portion of soup for a bit of salt?” The guard sends the women back into the granary, as the sick ones stumble and the thin soup is spilled. There is no place to stretch out, and the shouts are heard: “Help! My leg! My leg!” The cries are accompanied by pinches and slaps.

In the middle of the night we hear a shout: “Is there a nurse here? Quickly, quickly!” “What happened?” “My daughter is about to give birth,” answers the mother in an anguished voice.

From the mother-to-be neither a moan nor a groan is heard, so that the guard, G-d forbid, won't hear anything and learn what is happening.

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The newborn was wrapped in a bloody scarf, with the Star of David showing in the folds. In the two granaries lay sick women, their bodies swollen with starvation, preparing themselves for death. Despair cuts short the last thread of life. The body is a skeleton walking on two legs. The lice eat the skeleton and the few scraps of flesh still on it. They drink the last drops of blood.

There is no one to show mercy. We must make due with the two potatoes and the cup of murky water that is called coffee. No one is capable of moving or standing up. The gaunt bodies, burning with fever, are covered with rags.

The straw is filthy and wet. The women lie with half of their bodies rotting. The legs are frozen. There is no spark of life in them. They wait and wait.

Silence in the granary. The poor women have fallen asleep, and those who still live step on the dead. There is no feeling, there is no hope – “all is lost.” No one has the bravery to shake off the despair.

One morning I go out, barely take a few steps and see – there is no guard. From afar the sound of rolling rocks. “What is that?” It is machine guns, attacking the Nazi enemy.

Three figures approach from the distance. Is that the German guard? It's hard to see from so far away. Slowly I take a few steps forward. From far off I hear a shout: don't be shocked – “People, you have been liberated.”

People? Up until now I had been a number. Am I still a human being? The voice from afar grows closer. It is warm and friendly.

The ill and the healthy slowly get to their feet and walk towards the word “people.” Those whose legs will take them walk to the village. Across from us travels a soldier of the Red Army. His face shows surprise and friendship. He was shocked by the cries that greeted him.

“Don't cry – you are free – you must get strong, the whole world is winking at you.” Those were his words, “the world winks.” What world? Does such a thing exist?

We slowly entered the village. We spread out into the houses which were empty of people. We took food, drink, and clothing. It all seemed like a dream.

Yes – we must give thanks to the Red Army, who liberated us from the camps and from four years of slavery.

Only the great sorrow gnawed at us. Only a few remained alive. Most are gone and will never come back. The mounds of ash are scattered by the wind. Our brothers, our sisters, our parents are hidden in those ashes. Only a few remain.

The tears close my throat. No matter where I go, I see the rows of five skeletons with their pale faces and their hopeless eyes.

[Page 57]

The Metamorphosis of a Young Man of Dvinsk from the Old Left

By: Mordechai Neishtet

The article appeared in Shadmot, #38 1970

The city of Dvinsk was home to the Jews until it was wiped out in the Holocaust. It sits on the banks of the Daugava River, on the way from Western Europe to Moscow, close to the border with Poland. The Jews did not make up the majority of the population, but they were a clear presence in the city. On the Sabbath and on special Jewish days the city came to a standstill. The shops on the commercial streets were shut and locked. The peace of the Jewish holiday spread throughout the entire city.

Two of the great Torah geniuses who shared the light of their brilliance with the large and respected Jewish community were Rabbi Meir Simcha HaCohen (called the Gaon of Dvinsk for he had lived there since his youth), and Rabbi Josef Rosen, who was known in the Jewish world as the Rogachover Gaon, who settled in the city in the 1920s. On the other side of the river opposite the city there stood a small settlement called Grďva, not really a town and not really a village, with a tiny Jewish community that obtained all of its necessities from the big city on the other side of the river, was born the Rav Kook. From now on, say that we are dealing with a place of Torah and the roots of Judaism. The Jewish community in Latvia was an entity unto itself but was also an important part of the impressive Russian Judaism.

Most of the Jewish children were educated in Torah and mitzvot in the various cheders in the city. Each cheder had its own minyan in the city, and there were perhaps more. The cheder in which I studied was next to the large synagogue, where the Gaon of Rogachov used to pray. Some mornings the Gaon would arrive accompanied by his servant for quick prayers. Why quick? The Gaon had a habit of being somewhat ill-mannered in prayer. He resented every moment that he did not spend immersed in the Gemara. We impressionable young men of the cheder would peer into his sacred room to observe the light shining out of the face of the Gaon.

Rabbi Peretz Gusman did not seem too old in the eyes of his pupils, but there were among us some students who were the sons of his pupils from the previous generation. My father of blessed memory would tell his sons that he, too, studied in the cheder of the same rebbe. He was a good Jew. He tried to restore Yiddishkeit to the hearts of his pupils, but in keeping with the times. There existed something known as an “improved” cheder, that is to say a cheder that also offered some of the subjects taught at the public schools such as mathematics, writing, and grammar. They introduced the practice of giving out printed diplomas, just like in the other schools.

I made a very good friend in Rabbi Peretz's cheder. We were faithful friends throughout the years. He was the son of a large, wealthy, and respected family in the community. Most of the sons of the family received, per their parents' wishes, a nationalist education. Some of them were the students of Rabbi Peretz; they studied in the Hebrew school and joined the Hashomer Hazair youth movement, Netzach (an abbreviation for Pioneer Zionist Youth), which drew the best of the youths. That family was among the first pioneers from our city to leave for life on a kibbutz in Eretz Yisrael. Today, after forty years, they and their descendants are among the senior and founding members of half a dozen kibbutzim.

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My friend did not have a happy childhood; he was orphaned from his mother at an early age and remained the only son of his father, who because of the demands of his business could not care for him as he should. Since we were such close friends of the heart and soul, he spent many hours and days in my family's modest home, and our friendship grew stronger and deeper despite the fact that an important connection was lacking – school. For some reason, he was sent to a Jewish school where the language of instruction was Russian. Understandably, we were not taught the same things. After we reached thirteen, the age of bar mitzvah, we no longer studied at the cheder. In spite of that, during that time a new base was added to our friendship. We both joined the youth movement and became part of the same educational group. The movement deepened our friendship still further, and added the background of common expectations and experiences.

Even before we reached the age of bar mitzvah, we wanted to be free of the cheder. At that time I already saw myself as a complete skeptic. I already knew there was no G-d. In his place was the pioneering ideal: and to live there as a farmer for the rest of my days. The Hebrew school also prepared us for pioneering.

Not all of the community's Jews, or even most of them, were supporters of Zionism. The Bund had deep roots in the city, which was the home of one of the first cells of that youth movement. Most of the poor and the workshop owners were members of the Bund party.

From the 1930s on, the strength of the communists increased in the Jewish community. More and more of the youth were caught up in the extreme left. The soil was fertile and the timing was right for such ideas; at school we eagerly studied the classics of Russian literature. Many people spoke Russian at home. We would devour the works of Sholokhov, Ehrenburg, Babel, Mayakovsky and others, and delighted in them.

The socialist background took over the communist idea and ideal, and of course was clear and undisputed. Thus communism in Latvia in the 1930s continued to spread. The young and naive, formed from the same material from which was forged the pioneering element, took the Marxist doctrine into their hearts and souls. They knew what they could expect – expulsion from the gymnasia, torture by the secret police and arrest – but they were unafraid.

The first mission of every young person who became involved in the comsommol (Russian youth group) was to try to bring all of his friends into the illegal movement, as well. They would deliberately start ideological arguments at every opportunity. They would single out their friends in the pioneering movement in particular. “What is there for you in far-off, hostile Palestina?” they would ask. The struggle for just government in the world was a common topic. The enemies of the Jewish people were Latvian fascism and German Nazism. There was only one force in the world that could stand up to them, and that was of course the Soviet Union, the country that had realized socialism as a way of life. Every one would have to prove personally exactly where he stood. What self-aware young person could fail to join the camp of the righteous fighters? No less irritating was the conceptual assault of communism – the despondency over the bitter reality: a difficult economic situation, the people of Israel held captive in poverty, immigration to Eretz Yisrael almost non-existent; for that they sat at the training kibbutz for two years, or three, or more.

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The shocking list of the events of 1929 was still fresh. Parents did not wish to see their sons getting gangrene in the prison of Dvinsk, and there were Zionists who were not happy to send their sons to far-off Palestina, which promised malaria, poverty, the hatred of the Arab majority, and an uncertain future. And so from time to time some of the boys would drop out from the movement and join the comsommol. Even among the Zionist families, black sheep were revealed. It brought on a deep depression and a temporary embarrassment within the local chapter of the movement. It was known that those who were ensnared in the comsommol were ordered not to leave immediately, but rather to continue their clandestine activities in order to draw in additional young people, sometimes from among their own protégés in the movement. Those who remained alive (who were not killed in the war or executed as “spies”) and those presently living in Latvia, feel a depression like a dark chasm, and are jealous of their friends who are living a free life in Eretz Yisrael. One day, my friend left the movement and joined the enemy camp. It was clear that he would become a fanatic; for some reason that step seemed obvious to me. Our friendship had already weakened, and its end came as a natural progression. But after a certain amount of time had passed, my friend once again began to come around to my house. But the cat was soon out of the bag. His intention was to draw me away from my beliefs and to quickly pull me into the comsommol. Then the arguments began. He would not leave me alone, and put pressure on my weakest points. For an hour he filled my ears with his claims, but I soon turned things around with my reasoning and opinions. “Even if you are right and the truth is on your side, it doesn't make a difference to me. It's not my truth; personally I decided long ago to move to Eretz Yisrael. That's my path, and I have no other. Enough of this pointless argument.” And with those words I sent him away. The pioneering consciousness of most people came from the presence of an emotional source which had been engraved on their hearts from an early age, namely the education they received: in their parents' homes, in the Hebrew school, and from the teachers from Eretz Yisrael and the lessons in Hebrew literature they provided. In my opinion, two works did the educational missionary work in those days: “Ahavat Zion” by A. Mapu, and “Masada” by Yitzhak Lamdan. Last but not least, the Chumash and the Talmud, which we studied in the cheder, influenced me. After the break with my friend, and up until today, we rarely saw one another. Our paths went in completely different directions. By rights, one of us would move to Eretz Yisrael and live on a kibbutz. And the other, after activity in the comsommol and a period of imprisonment, would become free in 1940, thanks to the Soviet army that “liberated” Latvia. After that, his fate would be bitter and awful. The facts of the matter were completely different. He moved to Eretz Yisrael before I did, and that mystery is inexplicable to me. What was the sequence of events that caused him to give up on the communist fight in Latvia? Why did he abandon the communist path he had chosen and travel to Palestine, of all places? I will never know, but I can guess; he received a permit to immigrate as the owner of a fortune; he certainly did not obtain a pioneer certificate. He certainly arrived here as a faithful communist. He probably continued his communist activities in secret, something that without a doubt carried with it the danger of arrest by the Mandate government.

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In 1937 my former friend, like other communists from Eretz Yisrael, volunteered for the International Brigade, which fought against Franco in Spain. There he fought for the victory of socialism in the world. Based on an article in the Israeli press, which was published a full thirty years after the Spanish war, it is known through trustworthy evidence that he was the one and only of hundreds of Jews who set sail from Eretz Yisrael to the Spanish front, who returned home in one piece. When he returned he resumed his political activities, and from then until now he can be counted among the top echelon of the Israeli Communist Party (Maki). For many years he filled an important role in the offices of the newspaper of that party.

If I am not mistaken, he published his writings under an assumed name that he most likely was given during his days in the underground.

Everyone remembers the gaping chasm that existed between the Jewish settlement and the government in the early 1950s, in the days of the plot against the doctors, and the Slánský trial, when great danger circled over the heads of our brothers in the Soviet Union. At that time, Maki was a communist-Stalinist party in every respect, so it would have been impossible to have a meeting between old friends.

The years passed, and much water passed down the Jordan River and the Daugava. What intelligence could not accomplish, time did. Maki is no longer a viable communist political party. Who would have believed that there could be any common ground between Maki and the Zionist labor movement?

As it is known, political facts have personal ramifications. Who could have believed that two paths that diverged back in Dvinsk would begin to come together again in the state of Israel in the 26th year of its existence?

It would be strange and unexpected if we were to meet suddenly one day, to perhaps sit together over a cup of Russian tea and summarize for ourselves what happened, and why. I am very curious to know how it happened that a communist made aliyah to Israel. It's possible to guess at the simple, rational explanations for the things that happened. I would be likely to reject any such type of explanation; it is easiest for a man to offer the simplest explanations for the twists and turns his life takes.

Nonsense! One always needs to look for another, more complete explanation. I would say that my former friend was able to come to Eretz Yisrael thanks to the fact that he studied in the cheder of Rabbi Peretz, may he rest in peace. The seeds which the rabbi sowed in us at the age of four or five bore fruit. And if the first harvest was destroyed, what remained grew up later. I am prepared to repeat my claim, even if I seem to be a deceiver in his eyes, and yours.

No matter what, these lines will serve as a memorial candle for the rabbi of my father of blessed memory, and mine, and for the community and those same simple Jews, praiseworthy, loyal and anguished, the believers and the skeptics, who perished.

(Ein Gev)

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Yizkor [Memorial Prayer]

Appeared in the Australian Yiddish language newspaper in 1967
to mark the passage of 25 years since the destruction of the Jews of Latvia

By: Sonia Slobo

             25 years have passed and gone
Since our loved ones were slaughtered.
I cannot forget you,
For I dream of you.

My dear father and mother,
My pleasant brother and sisters,
My children bear your names.
I continue to tell them
About the murderous Nazis,
Who cut short your lives.

It is engraved in my heart,
Like a stone.
And if I am smiling on the outside
Inside the tears flow and flow.

Our children have no grandfather or grandmother.
After all the many generations
Only a few remnants remain.

The gas chambers and the furnaces swallowed everyone;
They threw you in while you were still alive.

  And only once a year do we gather
To say Kaddish over the common grave.

25 years have passed and gone
And the wounds have not yet healed over.
We do not know where the graves are
We can only count the years of memorial prayers.

Before my eyes stand your living shadows.
And I see how they threw the children into the ditches.
For the Nazis it was a game of bullets for dolls
With the skeletons laid out in rows and piles.

I can see my little brother –
Taken from the arms of my screaming mother
She tries to hold fast to her children.
No cries or tears and lamentations can help.
The murderers' hearts are like stone.

A deep and eternal hatred burns in my heart
For those who slaughtered one third of my people.
From the heavens I hear my mother's whisper
Avenge us, my daughter: Revenge! Revenge!

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Yizkor [Memorial Prayer]

29 years after the destruction of the Jews of Latvia

Sonia Slobo from Dvinsk – from an Australian Yiddish-language newspaper

Your image, Mother, has been erased from my memory
29 years have passed.
I recall how with your gaunt frame, you shielded
Your children from the fear of terrible death.
So the young children would not see
The tears of their mother falling.
So they won't see the murderous Nazis
Brandishing their weapons.
You stood, Mother, and waited for the order:
“Left, right, left, right…”
Dear Mother! Now I understand
How your heart filled with fear and dread.
When you drew your children close
As if you wanted to absorb them into your very being.
Your image – I still see today. Alas!
Tormented with pain and anguish
I gaze through the hospital window
And follow you who are going with a last glance.
Like shadows before my eyes you pass time and again.
And thus millions of Jews were murdered!
And the world saw and was silent, silent,
From seven children in the family
I alone remain.
I hope they will say Kaddish and Yizkor after them.
Millions were murdered in Kiddush Hashem
Because of their wretched existence as Jews.
And the six burning candles
Are a symbol for the generations to come.
In my heart there will always be hatred for the murderers
Who turned millions of Jews – to piles of ash.

[Page 63]

To Them!

How could you look upon that plague, which destroyed the best of the life of man?
Why were you silent? Why did the heavens not blush red from shame?
Genocide was done before the eyes of the world – which turned its face from us.
To whom will we turn now?
The heart cries and howls – who can understand this Holocaust?
Who will take revenge on the murderers who cut down our families in cold blood?

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