« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

[Page 136]

Chapter 11

In the Ghetto of Dvinsk, 1941-1943

Jacob: Josh, you want me to continue? Maybe that's enough?

Josh: Let's go on as long as you feel like....

Jacob: I don't have something good to tell you. From Dvinsk-we stayed in the ghetto of Dvinsk for a long time-we were transferred to other ghettos, then to concentration camps, then to labor camps. We went through all the extermination processes of the Jews. We were driven out to, by the end of the war, to Germany. You certainly heard the names of the big camps, concentration camps.... Auschwitz-you heard of the name? You have certainly heard the name of Bergen-Belsen, Treblinka, Dachau, Theresienstadt, and a dozen others.

But you haven't heard the name of my concentration camp. I said my concentration camp, where I was. It was a small one. Only about twenty thousand people were there when I came. And it wasn't called Dvinsk anymore. It was called by the Russian name, Dinaburg-excuse me, by the German name, Dinaburg. Dvinsk is a Russian name, and the river of Dvina in German is called Duna, and there is where my days of concentration started. Maybe we'll interrupt here?

Josh: It's up to you. If you want to continue, I'm ready.

Jacob: [Sighs] Again, what interests you to listen to this?

So I finished saying we became residents of the ghetto of Dvinsk, or, in the German language, of Dinaburg. We came, as I said, our family and another family- I didn't know them, a Latvian Jewish family and pretty soon the head of the camp came: a Jew, dressed nicely, but also with the stars, two stars, in front and back. His pants were not with stripes, just plain. And we said that they caught us on the way.

[Page 137]

“Where are you from?”


“Oh, Lithuanian Jews. We have here in our ghetto a few Lithuanian families.”

Pretty soon we were introduced to them. “Where will you place us.

“Don't worry, we'll find place.”

So the ghetto, as I told you, was located in the old Russian fortress-better to say in the stables of the fortress. People were spread out on the ground, on the floors of the stables-they cleaned, probablystone floors. On the stables, somebody had some kind of bunk beds, so they slept higher a little bit, not on the ground.

So the head and his helper-Jewish police, so to say-they had special red and yellow signs on their sleeves. That was the police-the local police, the Jewish police. They kicked one; they kicked another one; they kicked one suitcase, another suitcase, another package, and they made place for us. So it didn't take long. It takes just a few minutes, and we have a space on the ground to put our belongings-I called it bebechas, means poor belongings-and ourselves. The children were exhausted, and the moment we came in, they lay down on the ground and on something, and they fell asleep. We were glad that they fell asleep.

And with us what to do? Nothing to do! Just forget about freedom; forget about everything, and accept as it is, and be a resident of the Dvinsk ghetto. What else? We got some cards to get food, poor food. And we were registered, everything what a resident of the ghetto should have done. At one end of the ghetto was the headquarters of the masters of the ghetto. It was managed by local Latvians, the same fascist group, and the head was a German commander. There was a few German commanders.

We slept on the ground. It came morning. We see groups are organizing, columns of groups, going to work, to many places in the city-special, separate groups of men, separate groups of women. We understand they are going to work. And everyone suddenly became so anxious to work. Why were they anxious? Going out of the ghetto, of the walls of the ghetto, and being around with the free populations-Latvians, Russians-the local Jews had a chance to exchange, to get some food.

[Page 138]

The main thing, the main worry, was food: how to get food enough. With the food what you get from the ghetto, you couldn't exist even a few days. Every family, head of family, devoted all his time and all his thoughts to the idea of getting food from outside of the ghetto. And when you go to work, you get more or less all that was forbidden. It was strictly forbidden. I'll tell you, maybe, later, how many people were killed for going out and exchanging and getting food from the population.

So in another two days, I also joined a group, was registered, and I was going out, inside, whatever we did-digging, working for the military or for the Germans, working for local firms, for local groupsalways on the watch for the Latvian fascists, brutal. If you couldn't do your work, you were beaten. If you fell on the way, you couldn't get up as quick, you were shot on the place, on the spot. “Ah, you can't work? So you are useless. Who needs you?”

And we learned all the ways how to live in the ghetto. The elite class were the doctors. There were about a dozen of them, maybe more, and their families. They established somehow of a clinic, if we can call it by this name, and they gave some medical help to people. But what kind of help could you give, scarce of medicine, and who cares about others? But for their own survival, as a group they were joined together, and the clinic was their place, so to say, what kept them. And who were they? Mostly, not simple doctors but the elite of Dvinsk, the local people. I know there were a few doctors from Lithuania-three of them, I remember-and they were not accepted in the group; they were strangers. But still, they had a better life; they had a better way of to get some food.

The head of the ghetto-in German, they call them the oberjude. jude means Jew; ober, above, super: super Jew. Oberjude, he was the head. I can tell you names, but that's not important for you. A couple of pharmacists and their families, as I said, and the rest of people-their friends, acquaintances-get better jobs, get better portions of food. But the majority of the people were starving. In the high point later on, the number of the people in the ghetto reached about twenty thousand population. There was no place already, and don't worry, they found a way how to settle this problem.

[Page 139]

Josh: How long were you there altogether?

Jacob: Oh, if you figure altogether, we came 1941 until 1943-about two years. You want to continue?

Josh: What happened after that?

Jacob: In the two years, a lot of things happened. The two years didn't pass like a day. The most terrible word in the ghetto during my stay and everywhere, in every concentration camp-was what you call the actions, the actions. Or another word in Yiddish, they called this the taking. I think the word itself tells you already: the taking, taking out people to their deaths, to be killed.

Nobody could imagine that the Germans could do things like this. Germans were in our eyes-and still, remember the First World War, when they occupied Lithuania-civilized people, cultured people, who understands. They gave so many great writers-Goethe and Heinrich Heine and Schiller-and philosophers and composers. It was the highest grade of civilization who should take innocent people-men, women, children-taking out brutally and to kill them because they were Jews.

In the beginning, we could not imagine. Maybe other people in other places knew already. Certainly, they knew already in Germany before, in Poland before. But here one day, a rumor: Tomorrow would be a day of taking, or a day of action. People were driven out to the middle of the ghetto place. One group goes here, one goes there; this group goes to work, and this group, mostly dominated by children and women, goes this way. I went to work. And when I came back, I was told-we heard already-that today five thousand people were taken away.

At the first, in the beginning, there was a lot of falsehood-saying something, promising-and cunning ways to bring you to your death. There was circulating rumors that because we are here already twenty thousand people, crowded, so they opened a new place a few kilometers from Dvinsk. There are new barracks, and some people say they saw it, yes, and that part of the people will be transferred to that new place.

[Page 140]

“Who wants to go voluntarily?” So many people want to go. Some people say, “Don't; you don't know what.”

Anyway, we didn't go. So it was formed a group, about half--five thousand people, as I told you-and they organized to go on the way to the new place. It had a name-I don't remember the name; it's a Latvian pronunciation. Midway, when they came near a forest, they were stopped, forced into nearby woods, and the whole group was killed and just thrown into the mass grave, prepared. Men, women, children, dead; some half dead, some still alive. That was the end of the group.

How did we know? One boy escaped, a young fellow; I knew him personally later on, seventeen-, eighteen-year-old boy. He was shot in the shoulder, and he was thrown, one of the last, on the surface. He tried a few times, and when night came, he somehow freed himself and hiding in the surrounding woods, then in the suburbs, in the gardens. And he came back to the ghetto, and he told the story.

Unbelievable-people couldn't believe that it was true. In the same time came a doctor-in my book, I mentioned his name; it's not important his name now-he was the leader of the group. He said, “I'll stick with my people, and if they choose to go to the new place, I'll go with them to the new place.” So-called the leader. He went with the group. He was a good man, and he escaped, too. And he came; he told the whole story what happened. So that is the first time I experienced what they call it the taking or the action.

After that was one action after another, one action after another. Nobody was surprised anymore. We heard in other places they are doing the same, so that was nothing new.

Well, I wouldn't describe and I wouldn't talk about everyday life in the ghetto. I was lucky in this case that I was skilled with my fingers, with my hands. You have to get somehow some food. I was from Lithuania-no relations with the local people and no knowledge of the language. So it came to my mind that I can do something with a hammer, with a hammer and nails. So I became, so to say, the unofficial carpenter of the ghetto. People needed a lot of furniture. We needed a table. We needed a bunk to sleep. We needed a chair or something. Material was around from the old buildings, and they brought some material. It was really local material; call it this way. So myself and another man,

[Page 141]

from a nearby town-the town of Griva, near Dvinsk-a handyman, so we were some kind of companions. We got a hammer, we got nails and other tools, and we started producing furniture for the local people. For the furniture, we got paid from the people. Not in money-money was nothing, had no value-but in food. There were people who could get food easily, very easily. They had plenty. So they paid bread and butter and meat and vegetables. So that was the way I made a living, and a good living, comparatively, so to say. So I was the carpenter of the ghetto.

Now, later on, I didn't have any work in the ghetto; we produced already so much of the furniture. I worked on occasional jobs in the city. So there was one place; they said that's the best place to work. Who worked there is the luckiest man and the happiest man. They call it in German language tankstelle. They were repairing used tires, automobile tires. They were retreading-that's the right word? In Europe, we call it vulcanizing. It's close?

Josh: Yes.

Jacob: Vulcanizing. And the place was called tankstelle. Before, it was a candy factory. So the whole candy factory was turned into a tankstelle, retreading. I was not with a lot of chutzpah; I was shy, mostly, but I decided why shouldn't I try to get in there somehow? So some lucky moment, I separated from the group-it was quite risky-and I came to that place. And I met a German, a soldier, an elderly person; he was probably in the upper fifties. I speak German, and I said, “I would like to work here.”

“Can you? What are you?”

I said, “I am a landwirt.” A landwirt means a farmer. “Oh, a farmer!”

He himself is a farmer, and when I mentioned the word farming, tears appear in his eyes. He's starting to talk to me. “I left at home such a beautiful farm in Lotharingia state. And now who knows how is the farm? My wife was sick. She was not a farmer.”

And with tears in his eyes, he's starting to tell me his name was Tederman. And farmer to farmer, he was sympathetic to me; and actually

[Page 142]

later on, we became friends. He was not of the police, of the SS, just a regular soldier, an elderly man who did work behind the front. So he asked somebody, and he came out, and he said, “Stay here with us.”

I said, “I belong to the group. I have to go.”

They gave me a schein. A schein means a card that I am required to work in this group. “Stay here, and whenever you come back into the ghetto to your work, show the schein.”

I still was afraid: Will work the schein or not? Anyway, I stayed there, and who were the workers there? Certainly, Jewish, a Jewish group, and the German supervisor was among them. And four others-five Germans. And the specialist, the expert on retreading, was a man by name Eric. Eric was some kind of a man we didn't know his background. Some people said he's Jewish; some people said he's Polish. Anyway, he was an expert. He was from Poland. In Poland, he worked in a factory like this. He knew his business, and he was with the Germans in close relationship. A matter of fact, he didn't live in the ghetto. He had his headquarters in the same building, his dwelling place in the same building, where the Germans lived. Later on, certainly, we knew he was a Jewish man, but he played the part as being Polish or German, and nobody challenged him. Nobody asked questions, and he was accepted that Eric is German, and he's the master. But the supervision was in the hands of the Germans. About twenty, maybe twenty-five, people worked there. And I met a few of them from Kovno.

So I was lucky, getting a job in the tankstelle. Can you imagine what
lucky is? To be lucky was happiness. We are taken every evening back to the ghetto. It was about two kilometers from the city. The tankstelle was in the center of the city, and we worked up to a certain hour, and home we went by ourselves, means a group. We didn't have any guard. So it was one part of success in the ghetto.

I came back. People are angry at me. “Look, Yakov, how did you get a job like this in the ghetto? Nobody gets it.” Only I got it, and being there, I met another man, also a landwirt; and when we had time, we were sitting all three, the two Germans and me, and talking about agriculture. They tell stories, and it softened their heart, and I was listening and telling, too, from time to time, and we had connections between us.

[Page 143]

And sometime we said, “When we finish up after the war, I'll come to visit you.” They'll come to visit me. What kind relationship? [Sighs]

I had a chance every time, going back home, without guards, to get some food. Sometime you pass by a garden, or you made your way out, and you grabbed a couple of cucumbers, a couple of tomatoes. Sometimes you exchange if you had something, and you get some bread, some butter. Anyway, I was coming back to the ghetto every day not empty handed, and family was happy, especially the children, getting some food. Now, what other events happened?

Josh: What did your wife and children do?

Jacob: Well, they didn't do anything. They were wife and children belonging to a working man. That was the yichas. I was the working man, and they belonged to my family, so I had a special card-I don't remember green or blue or some kind by the colors we went-that I am a first-class worker. So I was, so to say, guaranteed, more or less, I'll stay. And they, as family of the workers, had also same privilege: They won't be taken.

Josh: They stayed in the fortress all day?

Jacob: Stayed just home. They stayed in fortress, in the ghetto. Later on, I made a more convenient corner. I got a corner for us. I built a bunk to sleep and some kind of a table, some kind of a chair, local material. So we were, so to say, comparatively well off in the ghetto. So I was all the time since then in the tankstelle.

One day, rumors. We always lived by rumors. Always lived by rumors. Is going on this? Is going on this? Rumors spreading. Mommy sitting here, and she is listening, far away, but she knows every word what I say was repeated in her concentration camp, the words taking and action, and rumors start spreading. They are digging graves; they are digging the ground for mass graves. There was a place about five or six kilometers from the Dvinsker ghetto they call Pogulanka or Pohulanka,

[Page 144]

either way-digging graves. What means? Means they are preparing something. Can you imagine the feeling of the people, nervousness?

The main feeling what we had all the time was-I would say it in one word-helplessness, helplessness. You couldn't do anything to escape. How can you escape when you have a family, a wife and two children, depending on you? You'll escape, okay. You'll be lucky, and you'll be saved somehow. But what with them? How can you abandon? To escape, you cannot take a wife and two children. There were rumors some partisans, Russian or local partisans, are operating in the woods, but who could think about?

Now, and finally, in November 1943-I remember the date; this date I remember, November 7-rumors came closer that they are going to separate people, dividing them into groups. November 8, in the evening, they divided the whole ghetto space into two separate units: a larger one, a smaller one. And overnight we stayed. People in the smaller part taken away on November 8. Who were the people? Children, first place, and women and elderly people-nonworking. They are just eating food. How can they survive? And we realized these people are lost. They won't be alive. And November 9, in the morning, we heard that they were driven out to Pohulanka, and they were killed, probably a couple of thousand people. Helplessness, I repeat this word.

The remaining people, on November 9, all of us were forced to go out to the open square of the ghetto. All. Nobody should be left in the barracks or in the stables. And they are searching, searching under piles of all kinds of clothing, of all things, searching in the toilet-some people were hiding in the toilets, underneath-finding some people, killing on the spot. And when we were there, they started.... Can you imagine what agony was going on from early morning, from day before, from two days before, and today, November 9, from early morning, around seven o'clock, waiting? It is already eight, nine o'clock, and here came the commander, the commandant of the Germans, with his assistants-the Latvian assistants, the fascists, armed groups, maybe about a hundred people armed with machine guns and rifles-and we were waiting. The Germans with the Latvians sitting on a high platform, and we passed by each other, each separate. “You, go left, working man.”

[Page 145]

You show the papers; they look at you, how you look, what kind of a working man. “You, old woman, this way. Children, this way.”

And that lasted until maybe twelve o'clock-the agony of people waiting. Our family-my family and similar families were guaranteed life, because they had good cards. I was a worker, best. I looked strong. “Go this way.” The families, they showed their cards; the wife and children of the workers goes, too. Go the right way, guaranteed.

And finally, it was finished, the separation. As we say it in the prayer, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, “Mi lchaim, mi lmavet.” That, when they say the prayer, means “God decides who will live and who will die.” But here was a few stinky German men-who knows who they are, who they were, Nazis; they call it in the German pronunciation obermeister, the masters-with some underworld people of the Latvian fascists. They decided who will live, who will die.

So we went to work; I went to the tankstelle. Certainly, it was a nervousness, it was an anxiety; but we were assured our families will be alive. They won't be touched, because the families of the workers. It was a dreary day. It was snowing and melting, cold. That is on the Baltic Sea. It is not here. And the day passed. Around three o'clock, threethirty, maybe, one of the Germans, one of our supervisors, came from the ghetto. He was a good man by nature, and he said-he called us, and we surrounded him. He came from the ghetto.

“What is there going on?”

“I'm afraid I have bad news.” “What is?”

“They took families of the workers.”

According to the rules, the commandant of the ghetto has to deliver a certain amount of victims, a certain amount. So he separated in the beginning. “When he couldn't reach this amount, so-what's the matter?-so to fulfill the quota, he took the families of the....

Earlier or later on-they would have been destroyed anyway. And among them.... Okay, so you can imagine our feelings, hearing, not knowing what. It came around four, five o'clock. We were going home, not going but running, and coming back to the ghetto. And what we saw was terrible, the worst, the most terrible moment in my life. Family was taken together with other people to be destroyed.

[Page 146]

And here it comes one of the survivors, another of the survivors, telling us this and that. When the amount of victims was not reached, they took the families; and around two, three o'clock was it, they drove them up the hill and down, to Pohulanka, and they were killed together. I don't know exactly, but in this day, some people say, up to eight thousand or maybe ten thousand people were killed.

And...well, it looks to me the world is ended. No more to fight for, to strive, and what sense? And, on the other hand, came to my mind the idea now is the time to escape. Nobody...nothing is holding me. Well, that was end? Crying, and the whole ghetto area was thrown-pillows, clothing, whatever you want-and three hundred and fifty people were left out of all the twenty thousand population.

I forgot to tell you another episode, if you are interested to hear. Chronologically, I should have told you before. In the middle of the summer, in the month of August, there spread rumors, and it was true later on, that some farmers are looking for workers to help them with the harvesting in their fields. So they got permission from the commandant to take; certainly, we were first ones. So I myself and the family was taken by a farmer, a family by name Skrinda, in a village about ten kilometers from Dvinsk. He came; he signed that he got four people, four slaves, to work for him; and he took us in the wagon, and we talked. He talked Russian a little bit, so we could understand each other.

He brought us to his village, to his home. There was an old mother; there was a sister; there was another brother, a young one. So we were in the surroundings of a farming family. I worked hard, and my wife worked hard together, and we spent with them two weeks that was like two weeks in heaven. In paradise. Can you imagine? Food, plenty, whatever you want, and the children got a little color, and really, I worked. He saw I know the work, and he trusted me to do a lot of things what he won't trust another one. [Sighs]

But forever comes the time for everything. After two weeks, he had to deliver me, to deliver us. He said he got the idea from somewhere, from me or-I don't remember-to go along and to ask to prolong for another week, for another ten days, and he went, and he got a permission to keep us, I think, ten days. Ten days passed, certainly, and he

[Page 147]

delivered us back to the ghetto. We came, and they signed that they received us.

What happened for the two, three weeks? There was another taking. What kind of taking? After the two weeks what we had to come back, people were picked up at the gate of the entrance in the ghetto and driven right to the mass graves. “Ah...you wanted farming? You wanted good food? You wanted good air? You want air? Come on, we'll give you everything.” And they were taken to the graves and killed. This action was a small one. Only about a thousand people were taken. Who were they? The vacationers-they called them vacationers, who came back for work. Would they brought us in the two weeks, we would have been among these. But luckily, he kept us ten more days.

Skrinda. I saw them again after my liberation. When we were with them, with the family, I left with them my best, my best suit of clothes I had-trusted them-and some other things, I don't remember what. So in case when I'll come back, and I'll find it. When I came back, I got my suit back. It was worn a couple of times by somebody, but I got it. It was after liberation, my only suit of clothes I have. And let me tell you a secret. Later on, when you were born in Germany, and I had to get a baby carriage for you, I exchanged-!gave the suit, and I got an old-fashioned baby carriage. So the suit played a very important role in my life.

Josh: Where is a good place to stop in the story?

Jacob: I will finish with Dvinsker ghetto. Five minutes? I imagine it's boring, maybe, and boring me and boring you.

Josh: It's very interesting!

Jacob: But let's finish up to a certain point. As I said, after the big action, the taking the useless people-the useless, so to say, the old and the children and together with the families of the workers-the big action, the biggest action in the ghetto, was left only about three hundred and fifty, maybe four hundred people. It was a small action after

[Page 148]

that. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe it was left more than four hundred people, maybe five, six hundred people. The final account was three hundred and fifty, I was for sure. In the small action, they destroyed the elite group of the ghetto. I mentioned the elite group, who were the doctors, a couple of pharmacists.... The noble people, so to say, of Dvinsk, who could hide, included the oberjude-oberjude means the Jewish commander-and some Jewish policemen. It was a small action, and they destroyed them; they just took them out and killed them. They don't need them anymore, and they knew maybe too many secrets. So the final account was about three hundred and fifty people left over.

Who were they? Experts, specialists in some kind of work. First
place were who serves personally the Germans: barbers, shoemakers, a couple of tailors, cleaners. They need them. All the tankstelle group I worked with; they need us for work. And the ghetto, I would say, was liquidated at that time. That was already 1943. We got quartered somewhere in the same building where the tankstelle was. It was a top floor. They cleaned up-we cleaned up-and we stayed already there. We didn't go back to the ghetto. There was a big group who repaired old clothing, old military clothing, uniforms-repairing. It was a big group working with this one. A big group means a couple of hundred of the three hundred and fifty. So they also were placed somewhere outside the ghetto. And the ghetto was closed anymore. It was no use. The inhabitants were destroyed, were killed.

And now from the front-we couldn't read papers, but rumors that the Russians are now offensive, and the Germans pulling back. We heard from the German soldiers. We wished them faster, better. We heard from our supervisors, the Germans who worked with us. They were reading papers and worrying. “Maybe we'll go home.” They wanted also the war to go over.

I have many small episodes to tell you, but I wouldn't like to go into
the details too much. Maybe interesting episodes. Maybe we'll put in sometime separately if you'll ask me what happened.

One thing was-I don't know why, I was liked by my Jewish fellows. I tried to be honest. The ghetto life and the war life spoiled people-no morality. A man turns into a beast, into a beast; for a morsel

[Page 149]

of food or something, you are ready to do a lot of things. It's what the Latvians, the Lithuanians, the Ukrainians did. I never did it-the opposite. I had the diary, so to say, so to call it, pieces of paper, and I put it in writing some events, and I developed the habit to write down in form of poetry. That's easy, and I don't know myself how it came to me. In my head always-when I was alone or even at work, to make it easy not to think about things, what was going on every moment, every day-in my head formed thoughts of poetry, describing our life, protesting. So in form of poetry, I wrote down on a piece of paper. I had a small pencil, it was dear to me, and some kind of paper picked up. And I called this in Yiddish “Lebediker Messim,” “Living Corpse.” Corpse means a dead...living corpse. We are living corpse, we are doing this and that, and people said it was a very nice poem. And occasionally, I read it to.... Somebody discovered I am writing. “What are you writing?”

“This and that,” and he read it.

“It is wonderful! It is good!”

And when we came together, I read it for a group, and they approved it. “Yakov, why shouldn't you write more? Look, it is so true, and everything is right.”

So I came, so to say, the official poet of the ghetto. That was already
the last year. Later on, it's another place in the woods, being alone; but I started first in the ghetto, and people approved it and encouraged me, and I got a good name among the Jewish people. It was dangerous, could be. The Germans wouldn't like it. Anyway, later on, working in the tankstelle and having there among the supervisors, the watchmen, three farmers-we were in good relationship with them-they listened. They liked to listen from me-they had nothing to do-and I liked to listen from them. There was in the corner a dark room where old tires were kept. So we used to sit there, and they were discussing about agriculture.

[Looks down at an open copy of his book, Mir Veln Lebn] That is the
poem in the book what I said, “Lebediker Messim,” or they call this “The Ghetto March.” Sometime, translation; you will understand better. Now it is in Yiddish.

There was one man in the ghetto by name Chaim Kaplan. He was
famous in that time, a simple man. He was a butcher. A simple man, a

[Page 150]

butcher, good heart and friendly. He knew the surroundings like I know my five fingers. He was from Griva-Griva means the town the other side of Dvinsk-and he knew the population. And he was not afraid going out every day, officially, unofficially. Sometime the Germans sent him for trading, and he used to bring a lot of food back. I had nothing much to exchange. All the clothing were gone. The golden rings were gone. I had a watch, I had some others; everything was exchanged already. But this man, Chaim Kaplan, used to supply me with bread and with something else, “because you are Yakov Rassen, and I know you write poetry.” I write poetry? What kind of a poet am I? “And I know the people like it, so I have food for you.”

So almost every day, at least two to three times a week, he used to
supply the family with bread. I don't know, I was lucky in the eyes of people around, and that helped me and the family. I don't know what was the end of Chaim Kaplan. Maybe he escaped. He has all chances to escape. Just to go out, to walk away and....

I can describe you an episode what happened to a woman by name
Gittelsohn. She was a local person, a teacher. She knew a lot of Latvian people around. So a few times, she allowed herself to go out without the signs-without the star, the yellow Star of David-exchanging food, and even one night she stayed outside the ghetto with a friend of her. She had all chances to escape. Certainly, people were afraid to do it.

Anyway, one day they caught her on the street. We were not allowed to walk on the sidewalks, for your information. We had to walk on the pavement in the middle of the street, or at the side of the street, not on the sidewalk. So they caught her, and they brought her back to the ghetto, and they beat her up, certainly, by the gates, and the end was they hanged her. I saw this, and everyone saw it.

We were gathered, and they demonstrate for us. They hanged her, and who hanged her? He was forced to do it-the head of the Jewish police. They kept his two boys, two children beside, with guns at their heads, saying, “If you don't do it-you are head of the police-your children are gone. We will shoot them.”

And they would have done. So with tears in his eyes-I saw it-he hanged her, prepared in one of the doorways of the fortress.

There are many other episodes. I said I wouldn't start with this.

[Page 151]

After the three hundred people were left, and they were scatteredheadquarters, in the places where they worked-the ghetto was closed up, and the Russians were approaching. We heard it.

Oh, I cannot skip on:e thing. Another thing, and that will be final. There was one man in the ghetto; in my book, I wrote about him a whole chapter. We considered him like a saint, a saint. A man-he was originally from Riga; I don't know how he came to the ghetto of Dvinsk-highly educated. He was a lawyer. He didn't practice law, but he finished this school. He was a biologist, and he was deeply religious. Despite what happened, he had tefillin [phylacteries] in his pocket, and every day he tried to daven shacharit [say morning prayers] with tefillin on his head. He was caught, beaten up, and near the ghetto, there was.... Maybe-you know what I'll do it? I will skip about him. It will take too long. I will tell you later on, when I'll talk about other people. If you can remember, remember about the so-called the saint, what we called him. He was an extraordinary man.

Josh: What was the main point that you wanted to make about him, not to leave in the middle?

Jacob: About him? That there were people still who tries to keep their tselem elohim, image of God, not to turn into a beast. And we heard from him quite often political speeches, in the middle of the ghetto. Religious speeches, in the middle of the ghetto. He was devoted to others. He shared. The morsel of food he had, he shared with others, denying himself. Where have you heard such a man? Where can you meet such a man? Always sadness in his eyes. He was gathering us for a minyan. Can you imagine a minyan, in the ghetto, to have it? And he did it. A lot of other things. I'll still have to go back to him, to return to him.

Now, to make it final-the three hundred and fifty men left. The
Russians approached; we heard it, and rumors spreading now the Germans are pulling out of Dvinsk. What will be with the three hundred and fifty men? Some people were sure they'll destroy us, as their way was. “Why to let them...? They'll destroy us and then finish.”

One day, was a decree: all of us except maybe a dozen men who

[Page 152]

were personal servants to the Germans. I know a barber who survived. I know a shoemaker who survived. They need them, personally. So the workers were all gathered in one place, driven to the railroad station, and loaded into cattle wagons, closed, sealed up. We are going somewhere. Where? Nobody could answer; nobody could say. We were sure we were going to our death! The last trip, the last journey. Later on, rumors spread we are going to Riga. Nobody was sure where. Crowded, terribly crowded. There were about three hundred, over three hundred, men, some women. I would say no children, maybe occasionally-one, two.

We were put in two wagons. Some committed suicide in the wagons. What use going? There was one; he was also a butcher. He spent the ghetto days having a good time. He had money, a local man. He had friends among the Latvians, exchanged, so he ate and was drunk quite often. He said no use living, and he committed suicide. The remaining doctors committed suicide-the Lithuanian doctors what I told you before and another one. They took in some poison, and some of them died even in the wagon where I was. Two men committed suicide in the wagon. There was a doctor and a sister, from Lithuania, originally. So he killed his sister before he was put in the wagons, and he took his poison, and he died in the wagon. Many episodes; I can tell you about this in many details. So we were in the wagons for two days.

The distance was short, but stopping here, stopping there. And finally, we were brought to a stop, and we were commanded to go out. We were brought to Riga. And under guard, we were led to the ghetto of Riga. The ghetto of Riga survived a little longer, measuring in months but maybe a couple of weeks longer. And we were brought to the ghetto of Riga; we were placed there.

More unhappiness added to our lives. At least in Dvinsk, we were the inmates of the ghetto. Here we were inmates among inmates. There also were a cast of local people, who had some privileges, some benefits from something, and we were newcomers among them, so they exploited us-the first thing, taking our remnants of our belongings, what we took on ourselves to carry. They told us-they, or maybe the Latvian fascists-to leave it here. It will be delivered to us, to leave it near the station. It was never delivered, and the last what we had was

[Page 153]

lost, too, the last thing. The last thing what remained with me was a toothbrush. No toothpaste but a toothbrush. I had somewhere a hole made, and I pushed it in here. So we became inmates among the inmates of the Riga ghetto.


« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.

JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  The Jacob Rassen Story     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page

Yizkor Book Director, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Lance Ackerfeld

Copyright © 1999-2023 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 21 May 2019 by LA