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[Page 209]

Chapter 4

Holocaust and Heroism

In the Dokshitz Ghetto

By Yosef Shapiro / Ra’anana

Translated by Daniella HarPaz

Until September 1939, Dokshitz numbered some 9,000 citizens, of which there were &emdash; approximately 4,000 Jews. The main businesses of our brethren sons of Israel were: merchants, retailers, a small number of manual laborers and farmers.

Jewish children in Dokshitz got their education in the Tarbut school and

Sand pit near the Jewish Cemetery ,where the Jews of Dokshitz and the surrounding towns were shot and buried

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in kheyders. The youth and younger generation could thank the big folk-library (5,000 books) for their additional education.

The shtetl also established an independent free-loan treasury in each of its six beys-midrashes, in addition to other benevolent institutions that helped in times of need. In terms of parties and society, our youth participated with great satisfaction in all of the then existing Zionist youth organizations, as well as in the illegal Communist party. Officially, there was no existing "Bund" in Dokshitz.

The Soviets Occupy the Shtetl

Just after Rosh Hashone, September 1939, on Sunday night just before Monday, when the Jews of Dokshitz lay in a deep sleep, a large number of Russian tanks, tore into the shtetl with tremendous noise and uproar. Not one shot was fired.

The Red Army's march through the shtetl lasted a whole week, day and night.

The Jews took the occupation by the Soviets indifferently. Only some people with certain fear. It wasn't with our will and agreement. However, it was better than the Germans. All of the Jews were in agreement about this. Although we were isolated from the rest of the world, news of what was happening to Jews in the Polish areas, what the Germans had undertaken, reached us. They suffered there from humiliation, hunger and deadly terror.

With the occupation of the Red Army, Dokshitz was sealed as a part of the Soviet White Russian Republic. All Zionist groups and parties had shut themselves down anyway. The philanthropic institutions also stopped their activities and the library closed. The beys-midrashes, in contrast, remained active.

The Russians sent ten Jewish families into deep Russia with the beginning of the repatriation of Gev. When Polish citizens from the Soviet Union returned in 1946, six Jewish families from Dokshitz returned. I do not know about the fate of the other four.

The German Bombardments

On the 22nd of June, 1941, on a nice sunny early morning, when the Dokshitz sky was a dazzling clear blue, the birds were singing happily and free,

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flying back and forth to their nests, singing praise to the creator of the world, the German silver "Meserschmidt"-bird suddenly appeared and began bombarding the shtetl in a barbaric way, sowing death and destruction. They especially destroyed Jewish streets and paths, Jewish houses with all their belongings.

There was great panic and confusion. The bombardment came unexpectedly. People started to run, but didn't know to where. Some ran with bags, some with children in their arms, some dragged the sick with them, blind, paralyzed. People ran from place to place, between burning houses, falling walls and ruins. Calls for help, screams, cries, moans and sighs of the wounded carried above the shtetl. The voices went up to the heart of the heavens and tore at one's heart.

A red flaming cover, full of smoke-clouds quickly consumed the first briefly blue sky. Our shtetl became tragic and unhappy all at once. Many were killed and many were left without a roof over their heads. Many families ran away to Russia.

In the beginning of July, in early morning hours, the German occupation of the city began. Well scrubbed and closely shaven, the Wermacht soldiers marched through Dolgenev and Gluboke streets.

Hopelessness and Fury

The German army entered Dokshitz on July 3, 1941. They immediately demolished the beys-misdrashes and burned the Torah scrolls and the holy books, destroyed the cemetery, chopped down the trees and broke the tombstones.

The first Jewish sacrifice during the German's occupation was Raphoel Markman (Otrubker). The murderers shot him. The second sacrifice was Dovid Mushin, from Keyder Street. There was a great fear of being shot or stabbed to death for nothing. People were afraid to go out into the streets. At night people didn't light any lights. Whoever had a little food at home for their family was happy. Most people just went hungry. There was nothing available.

During all of this, the Christian underworld grouped itself around the Germans. They immediately pointed out to the Germans which Jews had worked with the Russians. They were

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immediately shot, their homes destroyed in pogrom style and robbed. Itshe, the shoemaker from the synagogue courtyard was also shot in this way.

The Germans chose a Polish city-commander (Komulka), with very special broad proxy to torture Jews.

They instituted compulsory work only for Jews. People were murderously beaten at work. The most humiliating work was sought out for them, for example, cleaning the most horrible filth just with one's hands.

In the month of Elul [the 12th month in the Jewish calendar, usually in early autumn], on a Saturday morning, the German murderers gathered some 50 Jews from the shtetl and took them to a dug out pit, where a young boy, who had committed some small sin, was shot before their eyes in order to instill fear in everyone.

On a given Sunday they took some 30 men to work. I was also in that group. It was by the church on Borisov Street. We were forced to clean and scrape manure with our bare hands and we were beaten with rubber sticks until we bled. We returned home slaughtered and swollen.

While the men were away at work the German murderers plundered and robbed the homes. Destroying everything they could get their hands on. They took whatever they liked from the homes.

The Germans empowered the peasants with the right to point out to them whatever Jew had dealt with them dishonestly in trade, or issues of money. When a peasant pointed out such a Jew &emdash; he was immediately shot.

On Rosh Hashone evening, 1941, the Germans took 8 Jews, pointed out by the peasants, to the Jewish cemetery where they were forced to dig graves with their hands. After this difficult forced labor, the Germans shot them. I saw the entire thing from a distance with my own eyes from the other side of the field, from Eliyahu Ritman's barn.

The girl, Leahke Blokh ["ke" on name is a diminutive of name Leah] was among those shot. She handled herself heroically. Before being shot she shouted at the Germans:

"Do not think, you murderers-gangsters, that in spilling my innocent blood and that of my brothers, that you will win the war. No! Our spilled blood will take revenge upon you!"

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The Creation of the Judenrat

Daily Jewish life became more difficult and less bearable. A Jew's life was wantonly at the mercy of the Germans and Poles. They could do whatever they wanted with a Jew. There was no one to whom one could complain.

In time there was also a Judenrat established by the Germans, (Yakov Botvinik, Zelig Levitan, Dovid Varfman, Shloyme Pliskin, Moyshe-Yakov Feygin) to help them carry out their anti-Jewish policies. Thereafter a law was established that Jews must wear yellow patches. The punishment for not wearing this mark of shame was death.

On the first day of Rosh Hashone we, the young men, went to work, as on every day. The older Jews gathered in private homes to pray. The German and Polish police knew of this, came immediately, beat the worshipers, demolished the homes.

On the second day of Rosh Hashone the Germans did a search of the horses that were there. They took their handkerchief's and looked for dust on the horses. Bitterness and pain came to he whose horse had a bit of dust on it. Many lay ill for several days from those beatings.

On the morning after Rosh Hashone there was a decree that before two days are over everyone must bring all valuable items, such as: gold, silver, money, copper, brass, lead, jewelry, clothing, textiles and furs. Such decrees were not seldom. And all of this under the threat of the death penalty.

On a certain Friday gendarmes appeared in the shtetl. Not knowing the significance of this, people interpreted it differently. People waited fearfully for something to happen. Happily it was a false alarm.

Once, a German officer came through and gave some sort of an order. The work, however, did not turn out as he had wished and he called the head of the Judenrat and beat him hard until he bled.

In the Ghetto

In November, 1941, the order was given to create a ghetto. The plan for the ghetto was decided. All had to be done at a quick pace. It is a given that the ghetto was created quickly and diligently by Jewish workers.

The ghetto and its area encompassed the area from the bridge to Gluboke Street, to

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the side of the synagogue courtyard: Polotzk Street, from the side of the synagogue courtyard, until Gordon's beer-house and the Berezine River; the marketplace, from the side of the synagogue courtyard.

The ghetto area became enclosed by boards, fences and barbed wire. Only a small entrance was left through Bod Street [the bath street]. A border checkpoint was established across the width of the street, before the entrance. On one side of the street was a German guard post and on the other side &emdash; a Jewish guard post to monitor that nobody took anything out of the ghetto, nor brought in any products. In the exit tower there was only a German watchguard.

One Sabbath morning, if I am not mistaken it was November 30, 1941, it was decreed that everyone should pack their things and gather in the marketplace. Only one half hour was given to do this.

Exactly on time, all of the Jews gathered in the marketplace. All of the Jewish possessions were immediately taken. The inventory was taken to Lapute Court, a little bit also to Bloy Court.

After that there was another decree that within three hours the Jews must go through the entire ghetto and literally straighten it. Obviously, no real order could be made in such a short time period. The ghetto was full of pits and mounds, crooked streets, clumsy doorways, dirty and muddy. One would need several thousand people for such a situation. The narrowness &emdash; great and unbearable. This was on a cold winter day. The frost burned, snow poured down, terrible winds blew. Cold and hunger sat in one's bones.

All kinds of illnesses quickly began to spread through the ghetto, one just had to breathe &emdash; and one lay dead. There was a great shortage of medical supplies, no medical aid.

This caused the Judenrat to appeal to the German authorities for some intervention. They told the authorities that it could not go on like this any more. It is impossible to remain in such a small space. There is no food, no medical supplies. Filth everywhere which drives the spread of various illnesses. Furthermore, this is not ideal for the Germans because epidemics spread not only among Jews, but they can also spread to them.

The Germans agreed to enlarge the ghetto, adding Keydarum Street until the end of Dolganov Street.

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It actually got a little roomier, but we paid with many sacrifices.

The ghetto exit was only for the workers, nobody else was allowed to leave. Because of this life in the ghetto became more difficult, everyone felt the tremendous shortage of foodstuff. It grew more expensive. The food rations for a person was 200 grams of bread. One received nothing besides the bread. One was shot for bringing in the smallest little item into the ghetto. The control at the ghetto tower was very tight.

Even if someone where to succeed in bringing something into the ghetto, it was very difficult to get. Everything was very expensive. No one received any money, but rather traded in clothing or other things. Not everyone had something to trade.

In addition to all of this, the Germans demanded something new each day.

One Tuesday evening, before Purim, the Germans surrounded the ghetto. It was a very dark night. It was very difficult to hide or run away. The Germans were able to grab some 65 Jews and send them away. At around 5 o'clock in the morning we heard a loud shooting from Piask pit, where we used to take sand (Borisov Street).

In an announcement by the Germans it was decreed: shooting of anyone associated with the partisans. There were no partisans then, no contacts &emdash; certainly not. But the long announcement by the Germans reminded us youth, gave us the idea, that we must escape to the forests to fight the Germans from there, with all of our ability to take revenge for our killed brothers and sisters, close and related.

We Decide to Escape the Ghetto

The question of leaving the ghetto was not an easy one. First of all, where does one acquire weapons? Secondly, how does one get oneself out of the ghetto? We (Yoysef Kremer, Leybe Tiles, Libkin, Tsiklin and the writer of these lines) discussed these issues very seriously and decided to wait until there was some sort of upset, some happening, in the ghetto, in order to use the opportunity and to leave.

In the meanwhile, at night, our group got to work, we dug a deep and wide tunnel behind the beys midrash. We took

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axes, knives, iron bars, products and other things that one needs for the road.

With time we established contact with the surrounding peasants from whom we hoped we might get some help getting to the forests.

Life in the ghetto, in the meantime, went on as before: difficult work, hunger, cold and always the fear of death.

One Sunday, a day before Lag Ba'Omer 1942, it was announce that there would be a count and it is forbidden to leave the ghetto. According to the count there were 2516 Jews in the ghetto at that time. We understood that something would happen after the count.

At eight o'clock the following morning the ghetto was surrounded with a tight watch inside and outside. The Germans and their assistants entered the ghetto and started grabbing people &emdash; whoever they could grab.

Taking advantage of the tumult that was created a few friends gathered in the tunnel that we had dug. Two friends (Aron Kagan and Khayim Lipshitz) were sent to the peasants with whom we had established contact. Alas, they were killed in executing this mission.

Looking out of the bunker we could see the Germans grabbing mostly children, little and big and throwing them on wagons, like dead one on top of the other. Many children suffocated right there.

The Germans took about 650 Jews. They were immediately transported to the Folks-Hoyz [lit. folk-house, public/community house] on Borisov Street. They freed approximately 200 Jews there and told them to go home. They had German work cards. 450 Jews were shot.

In a couple of hours a group of Jews came to us and called us to go help bury the dead. The told us that after the aktsiye [action/campaign] the ghetto would be made smaller because the peasants intervened claiming that they want their areas, which were taken when the ghetto was enlarged, returned to them.

Our plan to leave the ghetto was met with several difficulties from the side of the Jews in the ghetto proper. They didn't believe us &emdash; and it ended up that we would wait for another opportunity.

Meanwhile, many Jews organized their own hiding places. In the course

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of the campaigns it became clear that whoever could hide himself has a chance of saving himself.

130 Were Saved

The first liquidation of a Jewish population in the ghettos in the Vilna area took place in Dokshitz.

From very accurate information from the Dokshitz Jewish community, 130 people remained living. 110 of them were able to evacuate when the Red Army left, when Germany attacked Russian on June 22, 1941. 20 people stayed alive in various partisan groups.

In the beginning of 1946 the refugees saw to it that the Jewish cemetery and the big mass grave near it, where some 10,000 sacrifices were buried, not only Jews but people from other communities as well, should be appropriately marked.

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The Holocaust in Town

by Mordechai Warfman

June 1941. The Germans have arrived in our town. The ghetto was created and the Nazi conquerers appointed a "Judenrat" (a Jewish council) and a Jewish police whose job it was to implement the Nazi orders and to be responsible for the Jewish acts. They had to supply man power from among the Jews, according to a quota set beforehand. The overcrowding in the ghetto was unbearable. We lived three or four families in a small apartment. The first "Action" in our town took place in "Hol Hamoed" of Passover in 1942. Despite the fact that part of the ghetto residents were executed, life went on as usual, as if nothing had happened. Two of the townsmen, Arie Lifshitz and Pesach Velble, were found dead in the synagogue, as the Germans did not have time to take them. A day after Lag Baomer (33 of the Omer), the second "Action" took place. A considerable part of the town's Jews were exterminated in this "Action". The Germans demanded a hundred young healthy men for work from the Jewish police. I was among the hundred chosen. The Germans led us to the Polish school and ordered us to run and sing. The soldiers beat us with sticks until we bled. At noon we were sent back to work. The third "Action" occurred immediately after "Shavuot". This was the last "Action" which was supposed to completely exterminate the whole Jewish population of Dokschitz. Many Jews tried to escape this bitter end by hiding in sewers or bunkers. My uncle and I hid in a bunker during ten days. At night we would leave to search for food. A day before I escaped, I heard screaming from the house next door. It was the house of Nahman Zalkind and his daughter Masha Kosowsky. Nahman Zalkind, his daughter Masha Kosovsky and her children - the elder daughter, Riva Zlate and the son Jacob were taken brutaly by the Nazies. The son Leibel was in German captivity from 1939 and nothing is known of him to this day. The youngest daughter, Libe Lea survived and lives in Israel. That night, my uncle and I escaped and crossed, on our way, the Berezina river. Under German fire, we managed to escape and began looking for partisan units. We finally found a partisan unit and joined it, fighting between the years 1942 and 1944. I remember the attack we effectuated before the arrival of the Red-Army in June of 1944. The Germans ran for their lives. We set up an ambush their path and succeeded in killing 200 of them and also imprisoned many. When we were near Polotsk, Malnikov headed the partisan unit of which I was part. Later, Alchziov was appointed in his place.

On June 28, 1944 we succeeded in contacting the Red-Army. They let us join their ranks after letting us rest for a month. I was sent to the Minsk area where I was given an artillery course which lasted two months. After successfully passing the course, I was sent to the Visla area, about 30 km from Warsaw. Toward the middle of January 1945 we opened an all out attack. We advanced all the way to the Oder river and made camp in it's vicinity for two weeks until the bridges were built. We crossed it under the cover of darkness and arrived all the way in Berlin where we fought bitter battles in the streets. After the war I remained in the regular army for another year and then returned to Russia, from which I moved to Poland, where I stayed a few months and came to Israel.

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