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[Page 295]

When the Red Army Entered Szarkowszczyzna

Told by the partisans of Szarkowszczyzna:
Chana Chazan-Steinman, Tevka Milner, Shacha Steinman, and Beilka Chadash

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Donated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

In the autumn of 1939, Soviet Russia took Vilna and the entire region. The Soviet system was immediately implemented in Szarkowszczyzna. During the first few weeks, the shopkeepers were ordered to sell their merchandise at the price that was in place until the entry of the Red Army. At the beginning, both the Polish zloty and the Russian ruble were accepted. Later, the Russians exchanged the Polish zlotys for a pittance, and only the ruble remained. The end result was that the shopkeepers remained with paper currency of minimal value and the farmers “sold off” their merchandise to the Red Army. For the most part, the shopkeepers did not know what price to ask for. Often, the customers themselves set the price. Thus, all the Jewish possessions were liquidated within a matter of weeks.

The tradesmen (tailors, shoemakers, butchers, wagon drivers) were organized into Artels[1] (syndicates) controlled by the local authorities. The shopkeepers and businessmen sought work with the regime. Some found difficult work such as carrying lumber, sand, and the like. Others worked in the offices, educational institutions, or the police.

The two Beis Midrashes were left alone. Jews went to the synagogue as previously. The Jewish folk-school and cultural school were abandoned, because there was no financial means of upholding them. The prior income that the school activists used to give for its support fell through. The main factor was that it was not possible to conduct a program with Jewish-only quotas. Every undertaking had to be conducted with the participation of the entire population. Jews did not have the possibility of separate

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undertakings. There was a Jewish teacher, Gelman, in the Russian school who used to teach Jewish studies to the Jewish children one hour a day. The director of the school was Noach Kac (the son of Baruch-Shalom the baker).

The Jewish library functioned as previously, directed by the Komsomol youth[2]. Programs were conducted solely in Russian. Yiddish theater was rarely performed.

 

The Arrival of the Germans

Life in the town changed on June 22, 1941, when Germany attacked Russia. As one can imagine, the news caused a panic in town. The Red Army quickly retreated. There was no ruling authority for several days. The peasants prepared to rob. They took whatever they could from the Jews. One peasant tried to convince the Jews to gather in one place at the time the Germans were entering. As was later verified, the intention was that the Germans would have an opportunity to liquidate the Jews immediately at the time of their entry. The end result was that the Germans shot that farmer first, when they found him on the street late in the evening.

The peasants from the surrounding villages pillaged the town for two days. At the beginning, the Jews organized a resistance. When they saw, however, that the robber was supported by several Germans who were already in the town, the Jews left everything open and hid wherever they could. This was merely the beginning.

The German army entered the town without a battle. They did not set themselves up there, but rather left. Some soldiers even asked the Jews for food and cigarettes. A group of about 20 young people left along with the Russians. The local authority was set up about a week later by the local Christian population. It was headed by a German. All the Jews – men, women, and children – were called together in the market. There, a Christian spoke in the name of the Germans. He said that the Jews must give over all their belongings to the authorities, including, for example, cattle, fowl, cushions, mattresses, furniture, etc. The Jews brought all the things to the local commander. Only cats were allowed to remain with the Jews. It was strictly forbidden for a Jew to have a dog.

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An edict was issued that males and females from the age of ten must wear two yellow patches. Jews were also forbidden from walking on the sidewalk.

Everyone still lived in their houses, as previously. Everyone was forced to work for the Germans. The work consisted of cleaning the streets, washing vehicles and floors, cleaning stables and horses, etc. At times, a German could have a desire and order that grain or straw be cleared out, and then order that it be gathered together again – beating them in the process. The Germans could bully as much as they wanted. Once, they ordered them to carry a dead dog around the synagogue and sing, and then to bury it in the synagogue yard. The Jews were not permitted to conduct any business with Christians, or even to talk to them. When the Germans entered, many Jews gave away their belongings to the Christians to hide. The Christians then waited for the death of the Jew.

 

hly297.jpg
A group of Szarkowszczyzna youths

 

The Jews chose representatives to represent them to the authorities. Early on, the Germans captured men on the street and sent them to work. If they needed anything, they would enter a house and steal it. When the council was set up, the sporadic robberies stopped for a bit of time. If the Germans needed anything, they

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turned to the Judenrat. Thus, the Judenrat had to provide people for work every day. During the winter, most of the work involved clearing the snow from the roads. The woman and children were not permitted to cover their heads with kerchiefs. They also sent Jews to the forests to chop wood, float rafts on the stream that led to the Dvina, saw lumber and thereby freeze their fingers, carry sacks to the mills, etc.

That same year, the ghetto was set up. The ghetto consisted of two disparate sections. The market divided one ghetto from the other. At the beginning, Jews of Szarkowszczyzna were taken to a forest near Braslaw, and barracks were set up for them. Fate had it, however, that there was a Christian among the leadership, Mitzelitza, who was still friendly to the Jews. He made efforts for the Jews to be allowed to remain in their place, and that Jews from surrounding areas could be brought to Szarkowszczyzna. On the other hand, he sucked the blood of the Jews, extorting whatever he could.

Soon, Jews started to arrive from the surrounding towns and villages: Pohost, Germanovichi, Macolesce(Mishnevichi), Rymki, Holeve(Halubichy), Kosni(Konstantinovo), Bildzszewes(Buevshchina)[3], and others. The wagons stopped in the synagogue courtyard and let off the Jews with their meager baggage. The loneliness and agony were indescribable. The women and children began to weep so much that the town trembled. People saw death before their eyes. Slowly, they were set up in Jewish homes, whether with people they knew or people they did not know. Thus, four or five families often lived in one house.

There were two ghettos. One ghetto began from Itche Leib Chazan's (the hairdresser's) house and ended at Szprince's house by the bridge. There was a gate there through which the Germans would come to take Jews to work. The ghetto continued along the river until Hirshke Weksler's house. Both Beis Midrashes were located there. Services were only conducted there rarely, because the men had to go out to work at daybreak, including on the Sabbath and festivals. The gates and windows looking out toward the market were covered over with boards and surrounded with barbed wire. Entrance to the ghetto was through one gate that was located near the bridge. There were fewer Jews in that ghetto than in the other (approximately 700).

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The other ghetto began from Mote Ber Berchon's house (where the Judenrat was located), and continued until the field, from one side of Hershel Berchon's house, over the full length of Cerkowna Street, until Ephraim Eiten's house on the other side. The street was boarded up and surrounded with barbed wire. About 1,200 souls lived there.

 

hly299.jpg
Chana Chazan, the partisan woman with a group of friends

 

The cemetery was located outside the ghetto. One had to have a special permit to go there. Such a permit was given in the event of a death, however the funeral had to proceed through the ghetto and not through the free streets.

For the most part, people obtained their food through secretly bartering various items of merchandise, clothing, dishes, jewelry, and the like from the peasants. They always looked for a Christian neighbor, an intermediary, who would

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go in the darkness of night and throw the items over the fence or break through a board to transfer flour, potatoes, butter, milk, and other foodstuffs. Simultaneously, he would take the items that the Jews had prepared for him. Officially, the Germans rationed 100 grams of bread daily for each individual, big or small. They did not provide any other food, and this had to suffice for the entire day. Yet, they did not suffer from hunger, due to the aforementioned smuggling of food from the outside.

The local Jews did not allow the poor families, especially the refugees who were brought in from surrounding towns, to suffer from any hunger. They used to share the bit of food they had with them. This was usually done by the neighbors themselves, but there were also cases where the Judenrat became involved with helping the poor people.

It was also a frequent occurrence that people would sneak out of the ghetto, venture far from the town to a peasant acquaintance, and bring back sacks of potatoes, flour, and other products. People did this before dawn by going through the ghetto gate, where the Jewish police would permit it. If one felt that there was a danger that the Germans might come, they would throw the products over the fence. Jews of various ages were among those who used to sneak out of the ghetto. It was easier to risk one's life than to see the family suffer from hunger.

The Judenrat provided a doctor, and, to the extent possible, medicine for the sick. The doctor was Hershel Rabinowicz, the son of the rabbi. It was permitted to fetch water from the river for only one hour a day. The two wells that were in the ghetto did not provide enough water. This was an issue for the ghetto in Jarzszefka. The other ghetto, on the bank of the river, did not have this problem.

There was no depression in the ghetto, the shadow of death did not show from the faces, and there no quarrels took place.

After about six months, the Germans began to say that those who are not working will no longer receive the 100 grams of bread. They therefore divided both ghettos into two sections; one for the productive people and the other for the non-productive people. The non-productive section was along the riverbank. The relationship with the peasants became more strained. They were simply waiting for the inheritance of the Jews.

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The First Victims

Within a short time, after approximately one month, the Germans came to search for Eliahu (Elia) Mindel, Tzadok Rozof, and Aharon the shoemaker, seemingly as a result of a report. They ordered them to take spades and dig pits next to the non-Jewish cemetery. The Germans shot them there, and these pits became their graves. They were not allowed to be brought to Jewish burial. A few days later, Yankel Baszewkin, Zalman-Mendel Muskat, and others were also taken out. They commanded them as well to dig pits, but they shot into the air. That time, they let them live. The next day, however, they came to look for them again, and they took them. They were never heard from them again. Nobody even knew where their remains were.

 

hly301.jpg
Szarkowszczyzna youth

 

David Pen and Yehoshua, Mashe-Zelda's husband, who worked at transporting grain to the Rudzik mill and bringing back the flour, also escaped a few times to fetch a sack of flour. Once, they were caught. First, they were confined to the ghetto itself. Then, they were led to

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Miory and shot there. Those murders cast a pall upon the Jews. Later, such murders became a daily occurrence.

Thus did one live with a constant deathly fear regarding what the next day would bring. Almost nobody believed that they could evade death. There were families who escaped from the ghetto, went to peasant acquaintances, spent about a week there, and returned to the ghetto. In every house, one or two people stood guard, watching to see where they [the murderers] would suddenly break into the ghettos and shoot everybody.

 

The Liquidation of the Szarkowszczyzna Ghetto

On Wednesday, July 17, 1942, the eve of the slaughter, a German S.S. man arrived in town from Glubokie on a motorcycle, to which a Pulemyot[4] was affixed. He summoned the oldest person of the Judenrat, Hirshka Berchon, and ordered him to prepare leather and jewelry for him, saying that the Jews need not fear, for they are going to conduct maneuvers. Then he called him again and ordered him to immediately give over that which he had gathered. This was extremely suspicious. A shudder fell upon both ghettos.

The entire town stood on guard. People noticed that it was not calm with the police. Unusual movement was taking place there. They had always guarded the ghetto on their own. The Judenrat was suspicious that the Germans were preparing an attack on the ghettos, to destroy them. They strengthened their guard, and told everyone to be ready.

Zalman Cymer's daughter worked as a maid for the German police commandant. She hid in the attic of the commandant's house, and listened from there as to what was taking place throughout the night. In that manner, she found out that the police were preparing to murder all the Jews. She snuck out of there and brought the dark news to the ghetto. Everyone was already prepared. When they noticed at 3:00 a.m. that the police were setting out for the ghetto gate, the leaders ordered that whomever could, should save themselves in whatever fashion they could. Thus, about

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90% of the Jews of Szarkowszczyzna were saved. They escaped in the darkness of the night in whatever direction their eyes took them. Only the elderly, the sick, and children who had no energy to escape remained in the ghettos. A number of younger Jews also remained. They were near the river, which prevented them from escaping. The German police murdered all of them on the spot where they were found. Their communal grave is located at the edge of Disner Street, not far from the non-Jewish cemetery.

The slaughter took place on a rainy early morning, on Tuesday, July 18, 1942 (Tammuz 3, 5702, 1942).

 

hly303a.jpg
 

hly30ba.jpg
In the Randhofer Camp in Austria,
a memorial ceremony for all who were murdered
  Mendel Szoklin, Chana's husband,
and his brother Velvel

 

The Jews themselves set the town on fire in order to cause a panic. In that way, the Jews made sure that the peasants, who were already on the lookout for Jews and ready to turn them in, would have their own difficulties. This was perhaps the first mass resistance against the Germans. The Szarkowszczyzners did not allow themselves to be shot.

The men, women, and children who escaped from the Szarkowszczyzna Ghetto that night spread out through the forests and the fields – barefoot, naked, and hungry. The Germans ambushed them, and would shoot the escaping Jews every day along the paths in the fields. It was completely impossible for them to hide. They also had to seek that which was needed to sustain themselves. Thus did the escapees meet their deaths. The entire surrounding region is full of graves of the Jews of Szarkowszczyzna.

The survivors could not hold out for more than two months. Cold, and wandering about under the open sky, they were

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tired out. Many were sick and some were swollen. They had to seek a roof over their heads. Slowly, they gathered in the Glubokie Ghetto. Only a few young lads who decided that they would rather struggle with death than enter the ghetto remained in the fields. At that time, there were no organized partisans in the fields. The first Russian partisans were organized at the end of 1942.

The Rajak brothers tell about the Jews of Szarkowszczyzna who went to the Glubokie Ghetto. It is not superfluous to tell it over:

In Szarkowszczyzna, in the manner of that time, thanks to the Judenrat that stood on guard the entire time and carefully tracked the deeds and intention of the Germans and police, over 50 percent of the Jews were saved. The Judenrat of that time, to be mentioned in a positive fashion, was almost the only one in the region that accurately evaluated the situation, was not fooled, and considered its primary goal as saving as much of the population as possible. In contrast to other Judenrats, the Szarkowszczyzna Judenrat did not calm the Jews with “it will be well for you,” and did not simply give them empty promises. They did not assure them that they were “dear ones” to the Germans, exceptions, and that they would remain alive. On the contrary, they warned them that the situation was serious and dangerous, that the Germans will kill them, that a slaughter of the Jews of Szarkowszczyzna was inevitable, etc. Therefore, everyone must be on guard. The Germans will try to calm them with trickery, and one must not trust them. One must be prepared to run at any moment, which could come completely unexpectedly.

During those days, when the S.S. men were wandering through Glubokie and the region, the Szarkowszczyzna Judenrat was still performing its tracking activities regarding the German police and gendarmerie. Here, we must mention in a laudatory fashion the Judenrat member Hirsch Berchon, who, with an especially sharp glance, with special alertness, detected the preparations of the murderers. On the eve of the bloody day, from an “intimate friendly” conversation with the Uberwachtmeister Heit, he figured out the reason why he had come to Szarkowszczyzna from Glubokie. Heit told Berchon that he had come there to conduct “maneuvers,” which will take place in the morning of the second day. He told him to

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assure the Jews that they need not fear. Nothing will happen to them.

This was a sufficient sign for the Judenrat to quickly alert everyone that they must be prepared… Nobody slept that night. From the attics and other vantage points, they observed carefully what was taking place on the street, where they were going, and what they were doing.

When they noticed in the morning that the gendarmes and police were up earlier than usual, that their numbers were larger than usual, and that they were running armed back and forth from the gendarmerie, telling secrets to each other, etc., the Judenrat evaluated the situation as dangerous, and immediately ordered all the Jews to run…

The murderers were late. When they surrounded the ghetto, almost two thirds of the people were behind the town. When the S.D. drove in a half an hour later on vehicles, nobody was found in the ghetto other than the old, sick, and children. This time, the Jews tricked them…

Only a small bit of Jewish blood was left for the wild, German beast. They were upset with the Jewish “brazenness.” The hatred flickered even more within them. Their skin cracked. They were mocked in such a way! Can it be? The Jews were so cunning, they went away! Their Aktion in Szarkowszczyzna fell through. Only a small amount of Jewish blood was left for them to suck.

However, they were not completely outwitted. The had vehicles, they had weapons, they were strong enough and could still teach a lesson to the constantly dismal Jews.

After murdering the elderly men and women and the children on the spot, which did not take the healthy Germans very long, they went back to their vehicles and pursued the Children of Israel[5] – they could make the fleeing Jews run.

To our misfortune, they captured many Jews and punished the “transgressors” harshly. Death was too little for them. They tortured them and caused them so much pain, in ways that only the Germans were capable of – and the extent to which the German capabilities in killing and murdering is well known. They stuck hot rods in the eyes, simply cut off live flesh, broke the fingers, tore out the teeth (especially when there were gold fillings), cut the tongues, etc.

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They murdered about 700 Szarkowszczyzner Jews that day, from among those remaining in the town together with those captured along the routes.

We must state that the Germans had a great deal of help from the local peasants, who captured Jews on the ways and gave them over to the murderous hands. The local police were especially diligent. However, this did not end with the 700 victims. The police did not tire, day after day and week after week, to search for the hidden and escaped Jews. They lay in the bushes, in the groves, in the rye stalks along the routes, and listened from there for the Jewish refugees.

One of the large impetuses for the police and the peasants to capture Jews was the belongings and money that the Jews had taken along. A peasant could find a watch, a ring, earrings, or just plain money on a murdered Jew. The murderers had a special appetite for a Jew with golden teeth.

The Jews knew that they were searching for them. They listened for them and would lie in the rye stalks and under the bushes, without moving from the place. They were even afraid to breathe loudly. They did not eat or drink. They lay under the rain and in the cold (to the bad luck of the Jews, June 1942 was wet and cold).

The extent to which the local police did not let up can be seen from the following fact: five weeks after the slaughter, a Jew from Szarkowszczyzna, Leibe Chazan, unable to bear the suffering of his children who were languishing terribly from hunger, crawled out from the rye stalks in front of everyone to get a bucket of water. When he bent over a swamp to fill a broken bucket with water, a policeman jumped out from under a bush and demanded money, saying that if he refused, he would lose his life… When Chazan gave him some of his money, the policeman shot him, wounding him severely. With his last energy, Chazan took out the rest of the money and tore it up quickly, so that the murderer would not benefit from it. The policeman immediately shot Chazan with another bullet, and finished him off.

Chazan's wife and children witnessed this. They could not even express their pain with a shout or a groan. Unfortunately, they had to stifle their tears, for a cry, a sob, or a cautious rustle would have uncovered them. Even though they saved themselves

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at that moment, the cruel hands later found them.

As has been said, many of the local Christians were the best searchers for the hidden people. Every peasant was very familiar with the pathways, trails, groves, and bushes in their region. They would murder the captured Jews with various implements, such as hatchets, spades, and pickaxes, or by giving them over to the hands of the police or the Germans. In return, the peasants received recognition from the authorities, and were also given material benefits, such as several kilos of salt, matches, soap, etc.

Thus, for example, Mekar from the village of Pialikes captured Zerach Kropivnik and murdered him. He also killed Motke Modow. He chased the family of Leizer Rodoskowicz into the river and drowned them. One of the residents of Heifl Bedi found three Jewish refugees. He tricked them, promised them protection, and then turned them over to the Germans. Wasztai Dawid tricked the family of D. Pildas with a promise to hide them, and later turned them over the Germans. He also tricked a young child, Estrin, and murdered him with a hatchet.

In the midst of such cruel acts, let us mention here in a positive way the brothers Marian and Adolf Stankewicz from Borsuchina, who helped the Jews during their time of tribulation. They helped hide them from the German murderers, provided them with food, and showed them places where they could hide and to where they could escape.

We must also mention with great praise a Stankewicz from that region, who simply sacrificed himself to save Jews. Jews set out to Stankewicz from all sides, knowing that they could find a refuge with him. He hid them where he could – in the stores, in the barns, in the attics, as well as with his acquaintances whom he trusted. Not only did he give food to those who turned to him, but he also carried food to Jews in the forest and in the stalks, if he knew where they were laying in hiding. More than one Jew was saved thanks to him.

The great benefactor, the rescuer of Jews, Stankewicz, was very popular in the area as a defender of Jews, and this was not appropriate. As I mentioned, the greatest portion of the peasants in the area helped the Germans greatly with finding the Jews. On account of that, the local

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peasant acquaintances decided to clear Stankewicz out of the way… Those “good neighbors” found out at one point that seven Jews were being hidden in the bathhouse, and two in the attic of his dwelling. They went to Szarkowszczyzna, and told the local police about this secret. They immediately went covertly to the place of the “transgressor” and set the bathhouse on fire from all sides. The seven Jews in hiding immediately became a pile of ashes – one could barely recognize their bones. They also went to Stankewicz' house to search for Jews. Stankewicz, whose name must truly be inscribed with gold letters in the bloody pages of our annals, displayed exceptional self-sacrifice. Instead of himself fleeing from the murderers, he busied himself at that time with saving the remaining Jews. He quickly let them out of the windows, and he himself unfortunately fell into the hands of the bandits. The bandits took him to Glubokie, where they shot him.

These were the few exceptions in the great, bleak desert.

 

hly308.jpg
A group of Szarkowszczyzna youth

 

Let us also mention here the Christian Lublinski. He did a great deal for the Jews. He would bring food and money to the ghetto, and act as an emissary. He would go from one ghetto to the other to keep families in contact with each other. More than once, he would hide Jews at his place and provide them with everything that he could. He was turned in, and the German murderers shot him.

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hly309.jpg
The house of the Szarkowszczyzna hairdresser Itche-Leib Chazan. His son Arke is standing here.

 

[Page 310]

 

hly310a.jpg
Chana Chazan-Steinman
– a partisan woman

 

hly310b.jpg
Moshe Chazan,
the father of the partisan woman Chana Chazan-Steinman

 


Translator's Footnotes

  1. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artel. Return
  2. The Communist youth league. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Komsomol Return
  3. Some of these shtetls or hamlets are hard to place, either because their names are pronounced in Yiddish differently from the actual Lithuanian name Return
  4. A Russian machine gun: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PK_machine_gun Return
  5. Paraphrased from Exodus 14:8. Return

 

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