by Yitzhak Gordon, Chuna Dimentsztajn, Asher Krukoff, Yosef Blinder
Translated by Jerrold Landau
Words of introduction from Yitzchak Gordon
The final days of Polish rule in 1939 were accompanied by increasing antiSemitic incitement: pickets outside Jewish businesses, a semiofficial government boycott on Jewish business, attacks by hooligans upon Jews on the streets, and heavy taxes imposed on the Jewish population, including the special war tax. These afflicted the masses of the Jewish people and created a difficult, oppressive atmosphere already on the eve of the war of the Germans against Poland.
The population of Kobylnik was Byelorussian and Polish, and occupied themselves with agriculture. There were farmers who were of the Roman Catholic religion, and zealous in their faith. They regarded themselves as Poles
by nationality. They formed the majority of the population, and cooperated with the Polish authorities. On the other hand, there were farmers of the Greek Catholic religion. Some of them had a Communist outlook. These farmers, who were oppressed to now small degree by the Polish majority, conducted underground agitation against the government. They were not antiSemitic, and at times even formed mutual friendships with the Jewish population. In contrast to the outlook of that group, the Polish farmers had a strong antiSemitic outlook. Therefore, in those days, the Poles began to incite antiSemitic politics, and took on a clear Nazi outlook, with all its symbols.
In 1935, the Poles set up a large resort on the banks of Lake Narach (the largest lake in Poland). This resort, located in the village of Kupa, 3½ kilometers from Kobylnik, later became one of the most famous summer resorts of Poland. Among the many Poles who streamed to it from all parts of Poland for a vacation with cruises and bathing in its clear waters, there were extremist elements who took the opportunity to incite antiSemitism there. The local population was quickly poisoned with Jew hatred. The lake itself became outside the pale, and entry of Jews to that place was constantly fraught with danger of attacks by hooligans and a good chance of being beaten. Despite all this, the Jews did not forego bathing in the lake. They continued to enjoy its waters, albeit at farther point.
September 1, 1939
On Friday night, September 1, 1939, the Germans attacked Poland. Within two weeks, they put an end to the existence of the institutions of independent Poland. The eastern districts of Poland, including Kobylnik and its area, were annexed by the Soviets, in accordance with the prior agreement with the Germans. The first Soviet tanks that appeared in the town on September 14, 1939 heralded the end of the Polish government and the beginning of a new period in the region.
The Jewish community, which suffered difficulties under Polish rule, welcomed the new regime with appreciation, and almost with open joy. Many people became immediately accustomed to the new life conditions, received employment in various professions, and penetrated the administrative offices of the new government. The new government also served as a shield against Polish antiSemitism, and especially assuaged the fear of the Jews of a Nazi occupation, which had lately threatened them.
In contrast to the Jewish population, the Poles had difficulty in adjusting to the new regime. This regime was strange to their spirit and way of life. They were zealous for their religion, and were bound to the influence of the church in the previous regime. The collectivization of agricultural production also contributed to the dissatisfaction. In addition, they also had hard feelings when the Jews received equal rights of citizenship, benefited from the good relations with the authorities, and obtained honorable government positions. All these were like thorns in the eyes of the neighbors, who continued to deepen their hatred of the Jews. Indeed, Soviet law forbade antiSemitism, but it pulsated in their hearts, and waited only for the first window of opportunity, when they would be able to take revenge against Jewish brazenness…
And the window of opportunity was not long in coming…
The Holocaust Approaches…
On the night June 22, 1941, when the Germans attacked the Soviet Union, they bombarded cities and towns in Poland and cruelly murdered the peaceful population. Hundreds of thousands of refugees had already abandoned their homes, set out on their path of aimless wandering, and went from the fire to the knife. The Jews of Kobylnik were still sleeping peacefully, and the entire town was still immersed in the quiet of night. The sun rose, and heralded a bright summer day.
Chuna Dimentsztajn Tells (recorded by Y. G):
As I did every morning, I woke up and went to work. People met and greeted each other, without knowing what was awaiting them within the coming hours. I was only told the frightening news when I came home for lunch at noon. My wife was weeping bitterly as she said that the radio announced Molotov's speech. The speech announced that the Germans attacked the Soviet Union, and bombarded and destroyed cities and settlements. This news fell upon me like thunder on a clear day. I immediately felt that something very dangerous a serious was taking place, and that a great tragedy was coming upon us. Memories of the previous war immediately came to my imagination: the troubles,
hunger, and oppression that were our lot during the German occupation. That was during the day of Kaiser Wilhelm, who treated the Jews kindly what would be now during the regime of the wild beasts of prey?!
I went outside. I wanted to hear what people were saying, and to find out their reaction to the events. The news spread very quickly in the town. I heard the sounds of weeping. People were wringing their hands over the great tragedy.
People gathered in groups in the market square. They spoke, screamed, debated, and consulted together what to do?!… The light on people's faces disappeared and was replaced by deep sadness. Everyone felt like an animal caught in a trap, and everyone sought a means of salvation, how to escape from the situation but nobody knew how to do so exactly, and what means should be taken to that end.
The situation became increasingly tense. The question became clearer for everyone: should they escape to Russia or remain in Kobylnik under the German yoke? A few people felt that they should escape, and not remain under German rule, for that regime implies certain death. The majority claimed, Jews, where will you flee? Here at least everyone has a small house, a garden, a cow. Should we turn them over to the Germans! Can we give up our property for the gentiles to pillage, so we can wander around in strange places and die of hunger? And if we die it is better in our place than in Siberia or some other remote place in Russia.
The Soviet officials in the town did not hesitate very much they packed their suitcases and prepared for the journey.
At 4:00 p.m., army units, armed with light weapons, began to march toward Kobylnik from the direction of Vilna through Postavy. These were retreating units of the Red Army, who were retreating from the conquered areas to the interior of Russia. A stream of refugees accompanied them, some on foot, some with vehicles, and some riding on horses, with meager luggage on their backs… adults, elderly people, children… Many were Jews. A few youths joined them in Kobylnik especially those who were not bound down by families, and who had no wives and children.
Most of the Jews of Kobylnik remained in the place, without knowing what fate would bring despite the clear information on the fate of our Jewish brethren in the areas
that had been conquered by the Germans a year or two earlier. Indeed, nobody could have imagined that the cultured Germans would be able to perpetrate murder like wild beasts of prey.
We found out about the German attack from the mouths of refugees that had filled the town in the interim how they bombed Kovno, Vilna, etc. without respite, and that the Soviets had not yet mounted any meaningful resistance. The Germans were advancing incessantly, conquering city after city. Vast amounts of military equipment were falling into their hands. The German radio was inciting incessantly against the Jews in various languages. We indeed understood that this incitement would not be for naught we would pay with our blood…
The Poles were in good spirits. They received all this news with open joy, and proudly awaited the arrival of the German army.
A few days and nights passed in this manner, with tense anticipation of the unknown until the first Germans entered the town.
The First Germans in Kobylnik
Toward evening on Friday June 27, 1941, two Germans from the battlefield gendarmes arrived in speeding vehicles. They stopped near the former Soviet kitchen, and found massive quantities of beer, wine, and food that remained after the departure of the Soviets. Crowds of local gentiles immediately gathered around them some out of curiosity, and others to enjoy the new regime that had arrived in town.
The first cups were filled for the crowd. After they realized that the beer and wine were appropriate for drinking, they began to enjoy themselves. They drank to the point of drunkenness. The few Jews who worked in the kitchen were immediately chased away. The mood of the crowd became very high.
From afar, I heard the sounds of exuberant singing. I approached the place through a back route so that the gentiles would not notice me. I tried to see what was taking place. An amazing site appeared before me. Before my eyes I saw Krulak Abshiok standing and speaking Yiddish to the Germans. (He learned Yiddish from the Jews, with whom he had business relations.) After he greeted the Germans, he turned to them all, stating that they must bless the new situation, and asking everyone to offer assistance to the German Army, who had come here only to free and save the Christians from the yoke of the Jews. Everyone cheered in joy that the Jewish regime had passed from the world, and that a new life was now starting.
After the Germans interrogated the community regarding details of the Soviet Army, when they left the city, etc., they quickly left the place.
In the meantime, after the Soviets left and before the Germans arrived, the gentiles set up a provisional militia that ruled the city until the arrival of the German army. Their first act was to start to pillage Jewish property, to beat, and to oppress. The Jews immediately took note of the beginning, and of the gloomy prospects for the future. They closed themselves into their houses and did not appear on the street. When somebody wanted to meet their friend, they would slink through the gardens so that the gentiles would not notice.
This is how they lived for six days until the German army arrived.
Under the German Boot
The German army entered Kobylnik on the morning of Wednesday, July 2, 1941. The provisional civilian militia immediately placed itself at the service of the army. They wore red band with swastikas on their sleeves. There was a large pit in the yard of the town market that was dug when the Soviets dismantled the gas station that was located there, and removed the large benzene tank. Now they herded together all the Jews of the town to fill the pit with earth and cover it. The cruel people forbade them from working with spades and pails, and the Jews, young and old, were forced to dig the sand with their hands and nails and carry it to the pit. The gentiles came and saw how we were working and were filled with satisfaction… Some whistled and threw stones at us.
Anyone who was not working quickly enough was slapped on the face by the German soldiers. Their beards were also plucked. At times, the Germans also attacked the working Jews with beatings and slaps without reason threatening that the German government would liquidate all the filthy Jews who had declared war upon Germany…
At the end of the first day of work, ten Jews had been beaten and injured. This was the beginning.
The First Murder
We were all freed when we finished covering the pit. After some time, the police arrested four Jews in town, including one woman. The next day, they hauled them outside the city and shot them. At an early hour in the morning of July 3rd, they came to wake us up, so we
could take the bodies of the four Jewish victims. We found bodies of the victims on the route to Postavy. They were Yeshayahu Wexler of Dunilowicze, and Chaya Gordon, the wife of Avraham Gordon of Glubokie Ruchani, a village seven kilometers from Kobylnik. We found the other two Jews next to the Skobik on the road leading to Vilna. These were the teacher Solomon, a refugee from Congress Poland, and the writer Shimon Tzafnat, a Jew from Vilna, who had lived in the town for the previous several years. We buried our dead in the places where we found them. A few months later, after interceding with the police, we succeeded in bringing them to a Jewish burial, along with the victims of the aktion of Sukkot, 1941.
Without Respite Written by Asher Krukoff:
Our situation worsened from day to day to the point of being unbearable. All sense of security ended, and our lives were made wanton. Every gentile could pillage everything from you if he wanted to. All wellsprings of hatred opened wide with the gentiles, and they began to take revenge upon the Jews in a sadistic manner. Even those who had been known to this point as peaceful, proper gentiles now behaved as criminals and wild people…
The Jews sat in their houses in secret. They did not put on lights at night. Everything was done in darkness. They did not dare sleep next to the window for fear of stones that would be thrown into the houses of the Jews. We slept in our clothes, for we were prepared to flee for our lives at any moment.
The danger was especially high on Sundays, when the gentiles were free. They would wander about the streets of the city with smiling faces. At such times, a great fear would fall upon us, and we would hide in any hole so that they would not, Heaven forbid, notice us and commit murder.
We were ordered to wear the patch already on the third day after the arrival of the Germans, without being informed of its exact shape. The first patch was white with the letter J in the middle.
After a week, a new ordinance was issued that the patch must be yellow, and must be worn in the front as well as the back. A few days later yet another edict was issued: the patch should not be larger than 810 cm, and must be shaped like a Star of David. Even this form was not final… After some time, the patch was set at the size of 12 cm, also in the shape of a Star of David, with the letter J in the center in black. Therefore, we quickly suffered a lack of yellow cloth… We cut up various articles of clothing at home with the correct color, and we helped each other with the raw materials.
Aside from the yellow patches, other restrictions were proclaimed, with the aim of oppressing and degrading the Jews. Jews were forbidden from walking on the sidewalks they could only walk on the road. They were forbidden from travelling by bus or train. Jewish houses were marked with yellow Stars of David. A special edict forbade the Jews from leaving the town. Jews were completely forbidden from shopping in the stores and the market. Anyone transgressing these edicts was liable to a serious punishment. At the same time, Christians were forbidden from having any contact with Jews.
The source of all these edicts was the district commissar Bavilaika. They were posted on all streets of the town. Thus, Jews were forced to live in isolation from the outside world; oppressed and persecuted to the neck. It is no wonder that a deep despair quickly overcame us, and every person searched for ways to escape somehow and to ease their daily difficulties.
The Burning of Holy Books
On the Sabbath morning of July 12, 1941, the police began to chase the Jews out of their houses and concentrate them in the market square. From them, the police selected a group and commanded it to bring all the Torah scrolls from the synagogue and place them in the center of the market. They also brought two chests filled with books of Gemara, Mishnah, Chumashes, Siddurs, Kinot, and other holy books. Another group of Jews was commanded to bring wood and kerosene… When everything was carefully arranged first the wood, and then the Torah scrolls and other holy books on top, and the kerosene was poured on them Rabbi Makowsky, the soninlaw of the rabbi of the town, was ordered to set the pile on fire. When he refused to carry out the order, he was beaten before the eyes of all present. Then, with murderous blows, they forced a certain lad to light the fire and carry out the act of vandalism of the cultured Germans and their local assistants.
The fire quickly ignited the parchment. From all the books, only a heap of ashes remained. A fit of trembling overtook us all when we saw this. We remained frozen in our places as our eyes
shed tears, our hearts were torn with agony over the holy books that were desecrated before everybody as we stood their helpless…
After this deed, we gathered the holy ashes and buried them in the yard of Anyuta Klumel in the town.
Jews still came to worship in the synagogue even after the burning of the Torah scrolls until… one Sabbath night the police, with the assistance of the residents of the town and the nearby area, attacked the worshipping Jews and beat them cruelly. From that time, we could no longer worship in the synagogue. ChaimYaakov Janowski and Leibe Hadash of Myadel suffered the worst of the blows. We were forced to carry the latter home by hand, since he fainted.
There was a district jail in nearby Vileyka. Prisoners who had been imprisoned since the Soviet times were serving their sentences there. When the Soviets left, they brought with them the prisoners who had been sentenced to long sentences, whereas those who had shorter sentences were left in the jail. When the Germans conquered Vileyka, they murdered the prisoners and desecrated their bodies: they cut off their tongues, removed their eyes, cut off their genitals, and perpetrated other such fine deeds. At the same time, however, the Germans spread terrible rumors throughout the entire district that all these deeds had been carried out by the Jewish N.K.V.D. (the Soviet security police). Indeed, the aim of this Satanic game became clear to us very quickly…
When the matter became known, Mrs. Kristofowicz of Kobylnik went to Vileyka to identify her brother who had been imprisoned there. After she inspected the corpses, she found that one of them was definitely the body of her brother, and brought news of this to Kobylnik. Indeed, her brother later returned to Kobylnik quite alive. In the meantime, however, a pall of fear fell upon the Jews of the town. We found out from gentiles who still acted as friends that many of them were planning on carrying out a pogrom in the town on the upcoming Sunday. They advised us that it would be best to escape from the city, for mortal danger was awaiting us.
On Sunday morning, July 27, 1941, farmers from the area streamed into the town with their family members. The atmosphere immediately became electric. Danger of death hovered above
our heads. We approached the Catholic priest in the name of the entire Jewish community of the town and requested that he influence his flock to refrain from attacking the Jews but we were answered with a definitive refusal. He refused any possibility of offering assistance. We also made a similar request from Pope, (the Pravoslavic priest), who promised his help. However, the Germans shot this priest a brief time later in a prison in Vileyka, and killed him for his assistance to the Jews!
It was necessary to quickly examine the situation and decide on the most urgent means we could use.
Shalom Yavnovitch approached the German commander of Kobylnik directly and bribed him. The commander sent a group of soldiers to quiet the masses and ensure calm that entire day. The soldiers scattered the incited farmers. The certain destruction of the entire Jewish town already at the beginning of the occupation was averted due to Shalom's astuteness.
From then, Shalom Yavnovitch served as the emissary of the Jews of the town to the German government. All German commands to the Jewish population went through him. Therefore, things became a bit easier administratively from that time. With the help of other Jews, they organized the forced labor, and divided up the obligations in a manner that was fair and just to everyone. The weak and the sick remained at home. The wealthy also worked, and were not able to pay ransom to the police in exchange for their work.
Forced Labor told by Chuna Dimentsztajn (recorded by Y. G.):
A German communication point was established in the village of Shemtovo, 18 kilometers from Kobylnik. There, Jews were taken out to forced labor, to cut down and chop trees of the forest. They were forced to make the journey from the town to the workplace by foot. In the winter, early in the morning in the greatest cold, everyone had to be prepared to depart. We did not receive any food: everyone concerned themselves with their own morsel of bread. We returned from work late at night, tired and worn out.
They would also take us to other places of forced labor: to clean latrines, clear the snow, and perform other similar jobs. The commands were issued by the Germans, but the local police attempted to carry them out with full exactitude. The fist and butt of the gun were
in constant use. Jews with certain professions were transferred to various places and employed in their professions.
Once, when I was cleaning the latrines, the German taskmaster commanded me to grab the pail which I had filled with excrement, not with my hands, but rather with my teeth. (It was a full pail!) When I did not carry out the command quickly enough and I fell down faint, he approached me and beat me with the butt of his gun. I got up and continued with the work with my last strength.
With Constant Threats of Death Written by Asher Krukoff:
In the village of Globoky Ruchai near Kobylnik, the Germans murdered the entire family of Avraham Gordon (his wife was already murdered earlier, a day after the entry of the Germans) he, his three young children, and his parents. This was on the Sabbath, a day before the aktion of Sukkot 1941. When they came to take the family and haul them to the place of murder, the eldest child bid a heartfelt farewell to his gentile neighbors in the town, with whom he had lived together for many years. The child waved the handkerchief in his hand toward them as a sign of blessing and a wish to see them again. However, to our sorrow, the family never returned, and they never got together again.
Two Jewish families were murdered that same day in the village of Pasinka. We received tidings of Job from nearby towns regarding the murder of masses of Jews. The first refugees, who had succeeded in escaping from the knives of the murderers, reached us from the towns of Podbrodze, Swięciany, Hoduciszki, Ignalina, and other places, where the liquidation had already commenced. In Polygon, near Swięciany, 8,000 Jews were brought from those towns, and forced to dig pits with the help of the Lithuanians. When the Jews asked about this, they were told that these pits were military excavations… However, after the end of the digging, they were all murdered by shooting.
The Lithuanian population earned the complete trust of the Germans. Already with the outbreak of the war, the Lithuanians turned their guns against the Soviets, and greeted the German conquerors with open joy. Therefore, they received broad powers to do what they wanted to the Jews. Indeed, these Lithuanians helped the Germans to quickly liquidate the Jews of the Lithuanian towns. At that time, no more Jews remained in the small towns. Jews only remained in Kovno and Vilna. During those months, the German hangmen succeeded in murdering most of the Jews of Lithuania.
The following fact testifies to the nature of the strong cooperation between the Lithuanian population and the Germans:
Next to Lyntupy, about 20 kilometers from Swięciany, the partisans killed the German commissar. As a punishment for this deed, the Germans and Lithuanians gathered up 850 Poles and shot them. From that time, the Polish population began to realize that the danger of liquidation was hovering over them, and not just over the Jews.
In the meantime, rumors spread in Kobylnik that a substantial portion of White Russia would be given over by the Germans to the Lithuanian government. This rumor added further pain to the oppression of the soul. At that time, we were prepared to flee for our lives at any moment. Even a portion of the Christian population had packed their bags and were prepared to leave the area that the Lithuanians were to receive. Only after a half a year did it become clear to all of us that the plan was cancelled, and our town would not be included in the proposed autonomous region.
This fact was accepted with great satisfaction, and eased the minds of the local population. The Jews also began to breath a faint sigh of hope perhaps better days would come despite everything… There were Jews among us who proved almost definitively that the downfall of the Germans was approaching. Already in the first winter, they believed that the German army would be defeated, and would not be able to escape from the fate of Napoleon, who was defeated near Moscow. We therefore waited for a difficult winter with cold and ice that was to come to our aid. However, to our sorrow, the difficult winter tarried, and the hopes that we placed in it did not materialize… In the meantime, the population was fed news the opposite of what we had hoped for. We were informed of the victory of the Germans in Russia, on their constant advance and large conquests. Indeed, we were unable to confirm the situation, for we were cut off from the world, and lacked any means of communication to find out what was happening on the front. It is worthwhile to note that the Germans confiscated all radio receivers immediately upon entering the town. They also threatened the Christian population with death if they were to listen to any outside news. Despite all this, the natural sense directed us, from which we were able to surmise the situation on the front: for example, when we saw the movement of a battalion of the German army numbering tens of thousands of German soldiers passing through Kobylnik in the direction of Polocki, going to the front without stop, seemingly going toward death, and many returning along the same route severely wounded, we were of course encouraged and hopeful. We also had a bit of comfort when Soviet airplanes roared over the area dropping flyers that explained to the civilian population their great responsibility that they had taken upon themselves by cooperating with Germans in the occupation zone. There were also flyers that stated that all traitors who kill Soviet citizens will pay
with their heads and blood… In addition, they infused hope by stating that the day of victory was approaching, and the end of the German occupation would be that they would be expelled from Russian soil. There is no doubt that these flyers had a significant impact on the residents. Signs of fear of retribution for crimes could be seen on some people… It is only too bad that these types of flyers were only distributed rarely.
The Large Aktion
At the outbreak of the war, we immediately began to search for way to secure our property and possessions. We dug hidden pits in our yards at night, in which we hid everything that seemed valuable and useful, and should be stored for the future. However, when we realized that the war would last for a long time to come, and the objects in the ground were liable to rot and become unusable, we all looked for a good gentile acquaintance whom we could trust, so that we could give over our property to guard until after the war. Every Jew in town found a trustworthy gentile to whom he gave over his objects for safeguarding. Indeed, this was the thought of the Jews. This is not what the Christians thought… As soon as they took the objects from the Jews, they thought about how to free themselves from the bonds of trust of the Jews as quickly as possible. To this end, they made every effort that the Jews who gave over their property to them would be the first candidates for murder, with the pure intention that they would remain as the sole heirs to the Jewish property that had been given over to them…
In the wake of this pernicious intention, a list of 48 Jews who owned property was compiled and signed by the mayor Wanczkowicz, confirmed with Christian acquaintances in the town, and given over to the local German captain. The pretext was that only Communists appear on this list, and revenge must be taken upon them with the full force of the law. To take care of this request of the Christians, a group of German S.S. men arrived in Kobylnik on the eve of Sukkot, October 5, 1941, and began to arrest Jews the following day. We only found out about this list after the aktion. A general commotion arose among the Jews on the town with these arrests. Everyone left their homes and ran with all their energy at top speed to hide: through gardens, paths, and yards, as they tried to disappear until the wrath passed. However, the Germans and their assistants chased after the Jews and captured 48 people, who were imprisoned in the town jail on DomLudavy.
At that time, twelve other Jews were drafted for excavating pits near the town. Everyone received a spade. German taskmasters supervised them. They were brought to the area of the Catholic cemetery along the route leading to Vilna, where the Germans urged them with cruelty and deathly blows to dig the pits as quickly as possible. We immediately understood the purposes of the pits that we were preparing.
Told by Yosef Blinder an eyewitness (recorded by Y. G.):
When the digging ended, we began to recite the confessional, for we were certain that we too, the 12 excavators, would be liquidated along with the rest of them. At the end, we were commanded to stand at the side and wait. At 3:00 p.m., we noticed from afar a group of people who were being brought toward us. When we approached, we saw many people, including a woman with a young child in her arms. This was Chaya Botwinik. When she saw the open pits, she burst out in sobs, and approached the S.S. man with a plea to free her because the baby. As a response to her plea, the man immediately removed the baby from her arms by force and cracked its head on a tree. Streams of blood flowed in all directions, and the trembling body of the baby was tossed into the grave, with blood flowing from it. They shot the mother on the spot, before the eyes of all those gathered. Another girl, who had arrived in Kobylnik as a refugee from Baranovichi and was brought to the pit with everyone else, did not hold back. She removed her shoe and tossed it straight at the face of the German with all her might as a sign of anger and disgust. She too was shot on the spot. After this, the Jews were made to stand next to the pit. They were ordered to remove their shoes and coats, to tie them together, and organize them carefully in one row. They were all ordered to stand on their tiptoes, and bend over next to the pit. Then the Germans shot them in their backs. The unfortunate people fell straight into the pit, in accordance with the order that the Germans had set out from the outset.
Zelig Narochki, a native of the town, saw everything that took place and escaped from there at the last minute. He fled far in the direction of the forest, but the Germans who were guarding the event directed their guns at him. A bullet hit him from a distance of half a kilometer. He fell and sunk into the bog. We later removed his body and brought it to a Jewish burial.
Yaakov Beinish Greenberg, who was one of the 12 excavators of the pit, witnessed the atrocities and murders. He could not control himself out of great anger. He burst out in terrifying, hysterical weeping, and uttered curses. The Germans immediately brought him to the pit and shot him.
When Shlomo Yavnovitch was ordered to kneel down before being murdered, he turned to us, the pit diggers who were standing at the side, with pain and screaming, Jews, avenge the pure blood that is being spilled!
When the terrifying atrocity ended, and all the Jews who had been brought in groups had been shot before our eyes, an order was issued to cover the pits. Before that, we were commanded to straighten the corpses in the pit. I began to move the corpses with trembling hands. When I touched them, they were still fluttering with their final death throes. I will never forget this moment! I shuddered when I noticed the wife of Tzafnat (a barber in the town), who still displayed obvious signs of life in the pit. As I approached her body, a pair of large eyes gazed at me, as if she was begging mercy from me, asking whether I could help her or save her from the murderers. Thus, we became witnesses to the great atrocity that the Germans perpetrated upon 48 Jews of Kobylnik, whom they murdered in cold blood. When we finished covering the pits, we were surprised when we were given permission to return home. Tired, and broken from everything that we endured that day, we walked clumsily through the town, and returned to our homes with broke hearts. From then, no doubt remained in our hearts that the Germans were going to continue to murder us until there were no more Jews in the town. This was the feeling of all of us.
Asher Krukoff writes:
With the terrible blow of the murder of 48 Jews of Kobylnik in one aktion, we could no longer bear the suffering. Almost all of us were weakened by the tragedy that affected the depths of our souls. We hid in our holes like mice, as our lives were consumed with bitterness and despair. We could not even weep. Only anger and curses laid on our lips against the beasts of prey, the Germans and their helpers. We remained powerless, without any energy in our souls to stand up against the snares that we encountered daily. Therefore, let me first record the unusual strength of spirit displayed by two women in the town Beila Hadash (nee Yavnovitch), and Chava Gordon. On that same day, once the murder had finished, they approached the German police chief in the town to complain to him about the act of murder. Of course, his response was smooth and singular: it was not his fault at all, for the act was perpetrated through the word of the mayor Wanczkowicz and other gentiles, who demanded the murder of Jews, for they were all Communists. It was they who presented the list of people that must be liquidated…
Shalom Yavnovitch also stood up to the difficulties and was not subdued by them. Thanks to his wise involvement, we succeeded in receiving permission from the Germans to transfer the bodies of the victims to
a Jewish grave, three months after the murder. This was a large funeral, rending the heavens with the grief and agony that enveloped us all. All the Jews of the town participated, including the elderly, women, and children. Everyone came to honor their relatives after their deaths, and to fulfil the final act of mercy. We removed the disintegrating corpses from the pit. We were only able to identify them by their clothing. Indeed, children recognized their parents, husbands recognized their wives, and mothers recognized their sons and daughters. The screams of those attending the funeral penetrated the heights of heaven bitter weeping and wailing.
Since we were unable to obtain carts to transfer the bodies from the place of murder to the Jewish cemetery, we were forced to carry them the distance of two kilometers on our shoulders. In the cemetery, we buried them according to families in the large communal grave that we had prepared. Some of us sensed the great merit of the victims in that they were able to be brought to a Jewish burial. On the other hand, those still living who knew where our bones would end up?… Indeed, to our sorrow, this feeling turned to reality. At the time of the second aktion, when they slaughtered everyone in that same place, in Skabik on the road to Vilna, their bodies were not brought to a Jewish burial. At the end of the war, we were only able to identify their burial place with great difficulty.
Winter of 1941
About two months after the first slaughter, we felt that the sharp sword was still resting on the neck of everybody, even though we wanted to hope that there would not be such a slaughter again… For the pretext of Jewish Communists no longer existed, for the Communist suspects had all been taken out to be killed therefore, perhaps they would leave us alive?… Jews thought of vain consolations and wanted to ease their hearts with words of hope.
Meetings and conversations between one Jew and another were only possible in the darkness of night. To discuss the situation, people would crawl through the gardens, side paths, and bogs so that the gentiles would not notice them. They broke fences and removed partitions for this purpose. Debates between neighbors about land demarcations, which had at time lasted for decades, were decided themselves… These things became ownerless, just as our entire lives had become one big abandon.
The winter of 1941, that we had awaited so much, so that we could see the downfall of the enemy, was indeed very difficult. Our clothes were not appropriate at all for the strong cold. The Germans had pillaged
all the warm clothing of the Jews already when they first arrived. Any Jew who still had warm clothes was forbidden from wearing them. Anyone wearing furs was liable to death. It was also forbidden to wear boots if they were whole. If a Jew was caught wearing boots, they would be removed in the middle of the street, and the Jew would be forced to run home barefoot… However, we took comfort when we saw units of the German army passing through KobylnikPostavyVileyka, half frozen… Then we desired and hoped for even deeper cold…
The Burden of Contributions Told by Chuna Dimentstein (recorded by Y. G.):
There were very few Germans in Kobylnik itself. Their commander lived in Myadel, 21 kilometers from Kobylnik, and edicts were issued through him. The edicts included expropriations of property from the Jews of Kobylnik. The district commissary, in old Vileyka, 55 kilometers from Kobylnik, was where the edicts were hatched primarily expropriations and contributions.
In the winter of 1941 we received an urgent edict with a list of belongings that we had to provide the Germans. These included bedding (pillows, covers, blankets, and sheets), warm linens, cots, furs, closets, tables, sofas, beds, benches, chairs, sewing machines, hides, prepared shoes, woven goods, and other such objects. Aside from this, we were ordered to provide 1,000,000 Russian rubles in checks and 25,000 golden rubles.
We immediately began to gather and collect all the aforementioned objects, with the hope and faith that this would postpone our deaths and that we may perhaps remain alive. Therefore, we collected everything that was possible. We left everyone barefoot and naked during that harsh winter. Jews gave over their last covering and the clothes that they were wearing. We managed to collect everything except for the 25,000 gold rubles. We loaded everything up on the 25 sleds that were given to us. We had to present the objects at the command center in Vileyka along with the contribution that was also collected in the town of Myadel. Here an internal discussion began who would drive on the mission?… Everyone sensed the danger fraught with this journey. The task fell to me, the writer of these lines, and Shalom Yavnovitch. We set out on the journey.
We arrived in Myadel. The Judenrat there had not yet finished gathering the objects, and we were forced to wait an entire day until the task was finished. The Jews of Myadel also did not have gold rubles. Therefore, they removed their rings, bracelets and other jewelry to give over the ransom for their lives.
We found out from the Jews of Myadel that there was no longer even a single Jews in Vileyka. The Jews of Myadel did not want to travel to Vileyka to give over the objects, for they had a suspicion that they would never return… Therefore, what should be done? Shalom said to me, If fate fell upon us to be the sacrifice of the Jews of Kobylnik, we cannot refuse. If we refuse, they will murder all the Jews there! I stopped asking when I heard his words. We ascended our sled, took six loads of belongings from the Jews of Myadel along with the belongings from Kobylnik, including the jewelry and we set out for Vileyka.
It was a freezing night. The snow crunched under our feet, and the full moon lit up the way. Shalom traveled with the first sleds, and I went with the latter ones. The horses ran with difficulty. Nobody urged them on… Our thoughts afflicted us how would the district commander receive us?… Would he accept the objects and reward us with a bullet, or would he leave us alive, letting us reach home in peace?
The night dragged on, gloomy and sad. Dogs from the surrounding villages barked at us and accompanied us for some of the way. Here and there a light shone from a window of a house, as the farmers slowly got up for their work. Morning arrived. At exactly 9:00 a.m. we arrived in Kurenitz, a village 50 kilometers from Kobylnik and 8 kilometers from Vileyka. We went to the market square with our sleds, and we noticed a farmer hanging in the square. They did not notice the Jews, for everyone was hiding in their holes.
Two hours later, a Jew noticed us, approached us, and said, If you wish to survive, under no circumstances should you go to Vileyka. They have already shot everybody there. You will be no exception. Go back! However, the news no longer frightened us, for we had already heard this news in Myadel. We continued our journey with the full knowledge that we were responsible for the fate of the Jews of Kobylnik.
In Vileyka, we also found a man hanging in the market square. Since the Jews and the Judenrat, with whom we might have been able to consult, no longer existed, we set out directly for the district commander. We approached the high fence, and the wide gate immediately opened for us. We entered the yard with all the sleds laden with the objects. The commander was not present at that moment, and we were ordered to wait.
We stood silently, without uttering a word. Every moment felt like an hour… Until the door opened, and two tall, corpulent Germans came out. This was the district commander and his deputy. The commander turned to us and asked, You have come from Kobylnik did you bring everything according to our command!
Neither of us answered. I peeked at Shalom, and saw that he had lost his voice. His face was as pale as a corpse. We received a command to bring all the objects up to the second floor. Shalom and I began the work. With our last strength, we brought all the closets, tables, benches, chairs, bedding, and other things upstairs. The farmers who owned the sleds stood at the side and did not come to our assistance. We were also ordered to count the items and place them in their right places.
After we finished, we were ordered to bring the gold rubles… Then Shalom answered that to our sorrow, we were not able to collect the gold rubles, but we brought gold jewelry instead. Shalom took out the jewelry that we received in Myadel. When the commander heard these words and saw the jewelry, he slapped Shalom over the cheeks twice, and pushed him down all the stairs, accompanied by kicks from his boots. He turned to me and told me to take the jewelry back. If we do not provide the gold rubles within two weeks, they will slaughter all the Jews of Kobylnik. Then he kicked me out of the room. He tossed a travel permit to return to Kobylnik out the window to us. We quickly picked up the paper, and set out on the journey, distancing ourselves from Vileyka. Getting far away was our only desire at that moment.
Ransom Written by Asher Krukoff:
Aside from the contributions to the district command in Vileyka and the military division in Myadel, the Germans in Kobylnik with any rank also imposed contributions expropriations and ransom for the Jews of the town. The primary demand was for gold rubles. Every one of them acted on his own behalf and attempted to steal anything possible from the Jews. We already understood that they would not ever be satisfied with the giving over of items. The more we gave, the more they would demand… Their intention was to obtain all the Jewish property that had been buried in the ground, as well as all that had been given over to the neighbors for safekeeping. More than once a German approached a Jew demanding that he give over the name of the gentile with whom he had deposited his gold. He would get it, and they would divide it up piece by piece…
The S.S. men did this in a different manner. They demanded that the towns provide workers. The murdered them after a few days. They did this in Krivitz, Smorgon, Svir, and other places. We received the same command from the S.S. in Kobylnik and Myadel as well to provide 20 workers for them. A pall of fear fell upon everybody. We knew that they were going to a sure death. In the meantime, we began to intercede with the authorities
to lessen the quota. We traveled to the district commander in Vileyka for that purpose. The writer of these lines went from Kobylnik, and Tovia Hadash went from Myadel. When we arrived in Kurenitz, we found out that there was a group of S.S. men then who murdered 8 people. They broke into the house and shot anyone they wanted.
With the assistance of a girl from Kobylnik who worked for the Germans, Tzipka Hadash, the daughter of Moshe Mirem, we proposed a ransom to the German murderers in Vileyka and we succeeded. This is how we saved the 20 Jews. Jews from other towns did the same thing in the meantime, Jews were saved through ransom.
For Tomorrow We Will Die…
The winter cold let up a bit. The snow began to melt, along with the great hopes that we held for the winter that it might hasten the downfall of the enemy, may its name be blotted out… The atmosphere became oppressive, and despair hovered in every corner. Everyone was enveloped in darkness, and not one ray of light could be seen. The Germans again advanced along the fronts and conquered vast areas of Russia. The situation was unbearable. Many began to drink, overeat, and play cards out of despair, with the adage, eat and drink, for tomorrow we will die! We sold everything possible so that the least possible amount of goods would fall into gentile hands. Indeed, many families were already penniless, with nothing to live on.
Shalom Yavnovitch, who maintained connection with the Germans and divided up the work, would send the poor Jews to workplaces where they would be able to benefit from food provisions in a roundabout manner. The central wheat storage warehouse of the army was located on the estate of a landowner of Kobylnik. Jews worked there, and brought several kilograms of wheat in their clothes when they went home at night. Experts would bring home up to 20 kilograms at one time in the pockets that they sewed for this purpose. This helped them greatly.
Once we received a command that the all the Jews from ages 7 to 70 must come to the police. A death pall once again fell upon everybody. The commander informed us that the local farmers had complained to them that the Jews were buying all the cream brought to the town, causing inflation. According to the law, Jews were forbidden from eating cream, fats, and other nourishing foods. The edict now was that it was forbidden for Jews to appear in the market among the Christian population.
It once happened that Gershon Krivitsky, a Jew of the town, purchased a chicken from a Christian on his way home from his job of chopping trees in the forest. The commander of the gendarmes noticed the chicken even before he succeeded in arriving home… The commander arrested the Jew, and summoned Shalom Yavnovitch, who was responsible to ensure that Jews do not do such things. You Jews are still short of meat, shouted the commander to Shalom. As a punishment for the first offence, the Jew was given 30 lashes, and Shalom only 25. Krivitsky was bedridden for three weeks because of these lashes. Yavnovitch continued to fulfil his duties toward the Jews even that same day, even though he suffered pain. He was forced to stand on guard day and night, because danger was lurking from every direction.
The Refugees from Krivitz
Most of the ghettos in our area were already liquidated by the beginning of 1942. Ghettos only remained in a few towns: Postavy, Myadel, Kobylnik and Svir. After the slaughters and liquidations in the towns, various refugees would arrive in Kobylnik. Even though harboring refugees was forbidden under the threat of death, the Jews of Kobylnik took in tens of refugees, who later perished with the rest.
On evening, two refugees arrived in Kobylnik from Krivitz, who had spent a few days in Myadel. In Myadel, people explained to them how to find a Jewish house in Kobylnik, so they will not fall into the hands of the gentiles… They were given the address of Chuna Dimantsztajn who lived on Koszbaczyzna Street. But this is what happened: By mistake, they knocked on the door of a gentile who collaborated with the Germans. The next day, that gentile reported him to the police…
When Chuna found out, he and his wife left their home immediately. The police broke into their home claiming that these two Jews were partisans. Shalom Yavnovitch immediately began his intercession and wanted to pay ransom to the police, but he did not succeed. The police turned the matter over to the German gendarmerie: that they had captured two Jewish partisans in a Jewish home. The gendarmerie immediately ordered the arrest of Chuna and his family. If they could not be found, they would arrest five other Jews. That day, Chaim Reider, Yosef Jablonowicz, Reuven Steingart, Yitzchak Yavnovitch, and Yisrael Binyamin Berger were arrested as hostages that day. The Germans announced that the five Jewish prisoners would be shot if Chuna does not present himself.
At first, the Jews of the town did not think that the matter was so serious, especially since some people from the police promised them, on purpose, that the hostages would be released in the evening, of course in exchange for money.
In the meantime, the Jews spread out throughout the entire area to search for Chuna and his wife. Yosef Hadash found them in the village of Radki, informed them of the chain of event, and appealed to their conscience to appear at the police. Chuna agreed, and they set out for the police. Along the way, Yehoshua Gordon and I met Chuna. We also told him about everything that had taken place in town. His response was, To hell, of course will not live until the end of the war, and of course we will fall into the hands of the enemy. Therefore, I do not want anyone to suffer because of me, so I have decided to go to the police. I left them after these words, but, in the end, Chuna did not arrive at the police…
I met Shalom and Aida Akselrod next to the police station. Aida held a gold watch in her hand and said that the commander promised her that he would immediately free her husband Chaim in exchange for the watch. In the meantime, 6:00 p.m. came and Jews were forbidden from appearing on the streets after that time! Of course, the police preferred that Chuna Dimantsztajn would not be brought in at all…
At night, the police found Chuna's wife, and she was arrested. In exchange they freed Yitzchak Yavnovitch. However, toward morning, the police took out the five hostages to be killed, including Chuna's wife, as well as the two Jews from Krivitz. Two days later, a command was issued to arrest the wives and children of the murdered hostages. First, they arrested Ida Reider and her two children, and then MonaChana, the wife of Reuven Steingart.
MonaChana had two children. The oldest was nine years old. The child fled from her pursuers and hid with a certain gentile. The police immediately arrested five Jewish women in her stead including Chana's sister… We realized that the game was becoming increasingly dangerous, and that the noose was being pulled tighter around our necks, for the children of the new hostages also had children, and the German command was to arrest the family members of anyone who does not fulfil their commands…
In the meantime, heartbreaking scenes took place at the police station. The screams of these prisoners pierced the heavens. Through the windows, they pleaded for us to recite Psalms on their behalf perhaps Gd would have mercy. Children hugged their mothers, and their weeping could melt even a heart of stone. However, the police, as well as the gentile neighbors with whom we had lived together for many years, did not pay attention to us. On the contrary: they even mocked us and laughed heartily. They enjoyed our tears.
Gedalyahu, the father of the imprisoned MonaChana, was in a state of despair. They arrested his two other daughters in place of his nineyearold granddaughter who had disappeared. One of them was married
with two young children… In order to save them, he went and removed his granddaughter from her hiding place, and brought her to the police as a sacrifice… They released the hostages, and brought MonaChana and her children, as well as Ida Reider and her children, to slaughter. They did not harm the two families of YisraelBina Berger and Yosef Jablonowicz.
We saw how the women and children were hauled to the cemetery the place of slaughter. Ida's daughter Estherl asked her mother, Where are we going, Mother? To Father, was her answer… They shot the women and children in the cemetery. We gave them a Jewish burial there.
The Dream of Natural Death
This last event completely broke the final strength of spiritual opposition of the remaining Jews in the town. The hope of surviving was almost completely obliterated. The police began to pillage in an increasingly stringent manner. They would summon Jews to their station and accuse them of various crimes that they had apparently committed. They would beat them cruelly, stating that they were doing this because the Jews were apparently pleased that the Germans would be suffering a defeat in battle. They also said that the Jews would say, With their heads (i.e. of the Germans) we will pave the streets, etc. They would publish brochures stating that the Soviet airplanes were bombing, and they would blame the Jews for this, claiming that they were spies who enticed the Soviet airplanes to fly over Kobylnik. They would beat the Jews every day. In addition, they were ordered to be quiet, so that nobody would know about this. The beaten people were required to bring items of gold and jewelry as a token of gratitude for the beatings.
The police, who registered countless criminals, added crimes to these criminals. They decided to annihilate the entire Jewish population, without leaving any survivors who would be able to testify against the murderers at some point. Indeed, doubts began to arise in the hearts of the murderers when the Germans were defeated near Moscow and other fronts: what will be if the Germans are defeated… There is no way to justify such deeds therefore, we must murder the entire Jewish population, erasing all signs and covering their traces.
The rabbi of Kobylnik bore their mockery, torment, and beatings. They would often summon him to torture him. they would gather old men and women, and torture them badly. They would force them to undress and dance naked in front of everybody… They would force these women to urinate in front of everyone, and force the men to drink it… On one occasion during these public torments, a
crazy gentile entered., The gentile beat the Jews, and the Jews were forced to return the beatings… The policemen sat down and enjoyed the performance…
Yosef Hadash was imprisoned a few days later. They beat him with deathblows during his investigation, on the pretext that he was a Communist, and that he was required to disclose the things that he was hiding from them… We managed to save him with difficulty. We bandaged him with wet sheets all that night to cool his wounds. His consciousness slowly returned. He asked that nobody be told about this…
This entire provocation was perpetrated by the Pole Sarafin, who was in charge in of business for the money borrowers, in which the aforementioned Yosef Hadash was a partner. After Sarafin liquidated his first three partners, he concerned himself with freeing himself from the fourth partner, so he could take ownership of the entire treasury of the organization. He stated to the police that Yosef Hadash was a Communist, hoping that he would be liquidated…
The next day, even before Hadash had managed to recover from the beatings, he was again summoned to the police, this time with his wife Beila and their daughter. Their son succeeded in escaping. They also arrested David Glatt and the shochet [ritual slaughterer] Avraham Goldzeger along with them. At first, they beat them all with death blows, and then murdered them in the Catholic cemetery. This was on Friday, 3rd of Av, 5702, corresponding to July 17, 1942. David Glatt's wife escaped, leaving her two children behind. The police took the children, led them to the Jewish cemetery by hand, where they murdered them. We then gave the victims a Jewish burial.
Death came to our windows and became a daily occurrence. The desire of everybody was to die in bed in their house. It was considered a great merit. Indeed, we dreamed of death as a redeemer, which would save us from all tribulations… Those who merited such a death included Riva Gordon, Ezriel Jablonowicz, and Sima Hinda. They died natural deaths. Nobody wept for them, not even their closest relatives. Everyone knew that their own deaths would be fraught with greater spiritual and physical suffering.
Bringing the dead to burial in the Jewish cemetery forms a story unto itself.
The old path to the cemetery was sealed off when the Germans arrived in town. The Christian Adam perpetrated this. The new path, which was the only one through which one could reach the cemetery, passed through the bridge parallel to the river. You should know that during the autumn and the spring, when the water of the river overflowed the banks and cast mud all over, we required at least 20 people to transport the coffin of the deceased, so we would not slip and drop it, causing a desecration of the dead.
The cemetery itself was also destroyed and desecrated. The gate had been taken down and stolen. The gentiles had removed the bricks of the graves. They also made use of the gravestones. The grave of Leib Todres, which was built of bricks and protected with iron chains, was destroyed, and its materials were stolen. Goats, horses, and cows grazed in the cemetery. Nobody could complain about this. We were forced to be quiet.
Autumn of 1942 Partisans
The partisan movement in White Russia had already begun at the beginning of the summer of 1942. At first, this movement was small and weak, but it developed greatly during the years of 19431944. Here and there, we heard about fierce acts of revenge conducted against the Germans and their helpers. The partisans attacked German brigades, bombed bridges, derailed trains, and threatened any German movement, even when they were in small groups. Entire areas were conquered by the partisans. They also set up an administrative government, and collected taxes from the residents as in normal times. The farmers were forced to pay and give them everything that they demanded because of the strength of the partisans. They especially threatened those who collaborated with the Germans. The partisans would capture such people and take revenge upon them. They would liquidate the entire family of the traitor. Many gentiles fled to the areas which were still under German control. The mood of the town improved somewhat with the rise of the partisan movement in 1942. People had the idea to escape to the partisans in the forests. However, the fear that all the remaining Jews in the town would be murdered if individuals escaped to the partisans prevented such steps. The general thought that, after all, nothing would help, was also one of the factors leading to the certain destruction.
The partisans were in strong contact with the Jews in certain towns of the area. On the night of Yom Kippur, 80 people escaped from Myadel with the help of the partisans. The escapees included several Jews from Kobylnik who had moved to Myadel. The next day, the Germans gathered the rest of the Jews of Myadel, hauled them behind the city, and murdered them.
Several natives of Kobylnik who were among the escapees came to our town the next day and told us the details of the escape. These included Eliahu Moshe Gordon (the son of Avraham Gordon), and Yitzchak Yavnovitch. The farmers of the area later murdered Yavnovitch and tossed him into Lake Narach so that they would not suspect them. It would be better if it appeared as a suicide. However, the deep holes in the head, as were seen by certain gentiles who later informed Shalom and me, left no doubt that this was a cruel murder.
The Final Aktion Yom Kippur, September 21, 1942
The day after the murder of the Jews of Myadel, a command was issued by the gendarmes of Kobylnik that all the Jews must gather in the market square, for they were going to set up a ghetto… Some Jews who sensed the extreme danger and realized what was going to take place, escaped. The Jews who came to the market square were brought into the House of the People (Dom Ludavy) and imprisoned there. The windows of the building were sealed with boards, and the building was completely surrounded by German police. It became clear that the bitter end of all the Jews had arrived!
A few hours later, 48 people deemed useful by the Germans were freed. These were professionals, with their families. Yehoshua Janowski was among those freed, along with his sister and her two children. Janowski explained that they were his wife and children.
The agitation of impending death pervaded amongst the prisoners. People sought means of salvation but there were none. There were attempts to jump over the walls and escape. Others tried to escape through the windows. Tovia Fogelman broke a board, burst outside, and escaped. The police pursued him and shot him. Great and bitter outcries emanated from that building all day. The recital of Shema Yisrael penetrated the hearts. Women parted from their children forever.
They were imprisoned for an entire day. Toward morning, all of them, men, women and children, were taken out, arranged in rows, and marched to the Catholic cemetery. One Jew, Eliahu Moshe Gordon, who was identified as a useful Jew by one of the Germans, was taken out from the death row at the last minute. His parents, who were with him, remained and were hauled off to their bitter end.
Several Jews attempted to escape as they walked on their death march. The lad Leibel Solomon, a refugee from Warsaw (whose brother, the teacher Solomon was murdered by the Germans at the time of their arrival in Kobylnik) jumped under the bridge as they were crossing it. The Germans shot at him, and missed their mark. Yeshayahu Tzernockii and Chaim Leizerowicz also escaped but the Germans killed them both by shooting.
The pits were already prepared… They lined up the people next to the pits without undue delay, and shot them! One girl, BeilaDovka Kirmoliski, was only shot in the leg. When the shooting stopped, she pleaded to the policeman Kobilniaki, who stood near her, to have mercy
on her and let her live. His response was curses and invective and a bullet in the head… After the bloody job was over, the excavators filled the pits with earth and flattened out the ground, as if nothing had happened… More than 150 people perished in this manner. They did not merit a Jewish burial.
After the police and the Germans completed the murder, they immediately began to take possession of the belongings of the murdered people… They pillaged all the Jewish houses. Yehudit Frajdman's mother did not go to the gathering place, because she was ill. The police found her in her bed. They tossed her onto a horse drawn carriage, hauled her to the cemetery, and shot her there.
The Hand of Destruction was Outstretched
Many who survived this final aktion met their deaths in the forests at the hands of the antiSemitic Polish partisans from the A.K.A. (National Camp) movement, whose aim was to fight against the Germans and liquidate the Jews. They fulfilled their second objective faithfully… Indeed, their cruelty was no lesser than that of the Germans.
The blind Jew Moshe Janowski and his son Pinchas, were murdered in the forest near Chwałowice by the Polish A.K.A. murderers. These murderers also murdered Akiva Kribichki. Shmuel Janowski, who was also a blind lad, escaped with the help of the young boy Herzl Swirski. The latter led him by hand for a distance of many kilometers in the forest. The Germans captured them and murdered them along with a Jew from Vilna in Ponary.
Several Jews of Kobylnik fell in Postavy, including Yosef Yavnovitch and his wife. Chaina Krukoff, Chava Gordon, EstherLeah Swidzler and her children, Yisrael Chernocki, Sara Toronczyk, and others were murdered on April 4, 1943 in Ponary.
The surviving Jews of Kobylnik were brought to Myadel. From there, some were brought to Vileyka. Kobylnik Jews who remained in Myadel were freed one evening by the Russian and Jewish partisans, who surrounded the Germans in Myadel by force. The partisans then transferred all these survivors to the forest.
And Who by Fire…
Jews of Kobylnik who survived in Vileyka along with a group of Jews of Kurenitz, approximately 130 individuals, were imprisoned in a bathhouse that was later set on fire. They were all burnt alive on November 7, 1942.
Here are the details of this atrocity: The Jews of Kobylnik who were sent to work in Vileyka, were in two ghettoes. The writer of these lines, Eliahu Gordon, YisraelLeib Gordon, Kaganowicz, and Esther the daughter of YankelBeinish Grynberg were in the ghetto of Bebits Comissariat. This ghetto held only individuals without families. The remaining 48 people with families were in the ghetto of the S.D. These included Yosef Steingart, his wife and two children; Shaul Gordon, his wife and two children; my brother Yisrael Krukoff, his wife and son Leib Michael; David Yavnovitch and his wife; Yehoshua Janowski, his two sisters and their children; Shlomo Leizer Janowski, his wife, and two children; Avraham Keibaski, his wife and two children; etc. All of them, along with the Jews of Kurenitz who were in that ghetto, were imprisoned in the bathhouse near Vileyka and burnt alive. I saw with my own eyes the pillar of smoke rising from the bathhouse.
That day, Yisrael Leib Gordon, I, and 14 other people from Kronitz escaped to the partisans. It is interesting that the remaining Jews in the ghetto were not punished for our escape. The continued to exist there for another two months.
With the help of the head of the ghetto, Schatz, the remaining people succeeded in forging connections with the partisans, as well as in providing them with weapons that they purchased from the Germans. The weapons were transported to the partisans in wooden crates. The partisans would come to the carpentry shop in the ghetto dressed up as farmers, and load up their wagons with the boards, which contained dismantled weapons inside.
By coincidence, the situation ended in a tragic manner: One day, when such a wagon was loaded up and prepared to depart, a German appeared and ordered that the boards be unloaded so that they can use the empty wagon to transport a sick person. Schatz, the head of the ghetto, did not understand the intention of the German and was certain that he came to capture the weapons, so he issued the command Escape! The Jews began to escape. Most were caught and shot on the roads, but a few succeeded in hiding. Only Kaganowicz and Esther Grynberg remained in the ghetto, but they were also murdered one day before the liberation, when the Germans left Vileyka.
With the Partisans
Only a few Jews of Kobylnik escaped to the forest, where there were a few Jews from nearby towns who had escaped from the sword. Life was difficult to bear. People arrived
there during the harsh winter, naked and barefoot. The sun warmed things up a bit during the day, but a fierce cold pervaded at night. Everyone crowded around the fire and warmed their dry bones. There was no food. The Russian partisans assisted to some degree, but it was not sufficient. People sat entire nights in a half faint, immersed in themselves. Only the eyes sparkled… Lice took over the entire body, and it was impossible to rid oneself of them. There were also many cases of typhus. The situation was unbearable, and no solution was in sight.
However, the drive to exist did not disappear. We searched for ways to maintain life under the most difficult circumstances in the forest. We dug pits to protect ourselves from the cold. At night, we would break into villages to request bread and potatoes from farmers, so we could survive. Some people paid with their lives for such a journey. The Germans ambushed them and killed them by shooting. There were cases where the gentiles turned people over to the Germans.
The situation of the women and young children was even more difficult. There was a young woman from Myadel with a tenmonthold baby among a group of Jews in the forest. (There was also a similar baby from Kobylnik, Zundele [Swirski ed.].) The members of the group once asked the woman to leave their group because of the child for the baby's cries endangered them all. Having no choice, the woman went deep into the forest with the baby, closed its mouth, and left it to itself… The next day, Russian partisans found the child. They returned it to its mother with a stern warning: If you continue to do that with the baby, we will shoot it… The mother received the baby with joy and tears in her eyes, and guarded it carefully.
The Russian partisans transferred the Jews who were wandering around the forests of Kronitz to the other side of the Russian front, hundreds of kilometers away. The people, including several from Kobylnik, made the journey on foot. Many fell along the way. The Germans as well as farmers who were collaborators also followed after them. Nevertheless, many Jews succeeded in crossing the front and arriving in Russia.
The Siege of the Partisans
The siege of the partisans began on October 20, 1943. The Germans invested strong forces in the battle, and organized fierce attacks against the areas in which the partisans reigned. Their intention was to liquidate once and for all any elements that were inimical to them, who gathered in the forests and disturbed the orderly movements of the German army who were streaming to the front. The partisans were indeed thorns in the eyes of the Germans. The Germans attacked with a battalion of 22,000 soldiers, and conducted aerial bombardments wit firebombs. The bombs set many villages in the area on fire.
The partisans fled for their lives and did not organize any opposition. Everyone searched for a corner in which to save himself. The young farmers who were captured were sent to Germany to work.
This attack lasted ten days, and brought destruction upon the partisan ranks. Several tens of Jews hid in the bogs. The Germans did not reach that area for fear of sinking in the bogs. Nevertheless, many Jews fell in this attack, including several from Kobylnik: Shalom Yavnovitch, Matla Gilman, Nechemia Miznowicz, and the pharmacist Kowarski with his son. Matla Gilman had arrived from the Vilna Ghetto only one day before the attack.
The Partisans Reorganize
When the attack finished, the partisans regrouped and returned to their former places. They once again attacked and ambushed the German forces. They bombed trains that transported soldiers, set warehouses of merchandise and grain on fire, and bombed bridges. Small groups of Germans could not move at all without the assistance of tanks. The partisans quickly learned how to attack tanks. The partisans crushed a group of tanks next to the village of Pasinka, and the Germans did not reach their destination.
At that time, a Polish partisan group was organized. The was an element that had previously collaborated with the Germans, and had perpetrated many iniquities, especially against the Jews. After they realized that the Germans were losing the war, they began to direct their weapons against the Germans, but also against the Jews. They murdered many Jews that they found in the forests. At the end, the Russian partisans surrounded them and forced them to submit. The Russians killed most of them. Those who could prove their innocence were drafted into the Russian ranks as fighters.
Sparks of Hope
Sparks of hope began to appear at the end of 1943. The feeling got stronger that some might witness the day of liberation. News began to reach us about German defeats on the front. This inspired up with hope and strength that we might be able to swallow up the enemy. Jews bean to feel more secure. The Germans did not prepare new traps against the partisans. Their will and resolve weakened. The Christian population, which had so greatly collaborated with the Germans, began to shake themselves off from them… The Germans no longer succeeded in obtaining the assistance of the local gentiles during their various final actions in the area.
The partisan ranks grew. New brigades were added daily. Buildings of mortar were built in the forests, in which they were housed. Not all the Jews belonged to fighting brigades. The elderly, women, and children were separate from them. At a certain time, there was an elite group of Jewish fighters, called by the Hebrew name Hanokem [The Avengers]. Later, the Russians shut it down and distributed its men into other groups.
At the same time, groups of Jewish tradesmen were organized: tailors, shoemakers, bakers, tanners, and other tradesmen. The partisans provided them with food, and they worked for the partisans. This group, whose purpose was military, continued to exist until the liberation.
Many Kobylnik natives participated in the group of tradesmen, especially in the group of fighters who fought and took revenge against the Germans. It is a holy duty to mention the partisans in particular; Meir Hadash, who was injured twice in fighting against the Germans; Herzl Gordon (both are in Israel today); Chaim Sztajngart (today in the Soviet Union); Peretz Krupski (in Israel); AvrahamYitzchak Hadash (died in an accident); Heshel Krukoff (fell near Smolensk on April 17, 1943, when he crossed the front for the fourth time in transporting weapons); and ChaimAsher Gilman (later fell on the front).
At the beginning of 1944, we already knew clearly that the Germans were retreating. It was also clear to us that they would want to liquidate any Jew that they ran into, and that they would organize local traps so that no person who might later testify to their crimes against the Jews might survive. Therefore, we began to prepare bunkers in which to hide in the event of a German attack. We also found means against search dogs: we scattered tobacco along the routes and hid pieces of meat in the ground, causing the dogs to lose their way. We carried out all these actions without anyone seeing. We made sure that anyone who does not belong to the specific hiding place would not know about it. The reason was that sometimes a German would capture an isolated Jew, and torture him to the point that he would reveal the hiding place…
The Front Approaches
On the first days of the month of June 1944, we heard powerful cannon shots in the forests. We were all shaken up. Many of us thought that the Germans renewed the blockade against
the partisansand the final end of the survivors who had withstood so many dangers was approaching. However, to our great joy, we were mistaken. The Red Army arrived in the forest on June 5, 1944, and the Germans fled for their lives. The partisans destroyed roads, dug trenches along the roads, and hid mines so that the Germans would not be able to escape, but would rather find their graves in the same forests in which they pursued us like animals.
After the Liberation
Only now, after the Red Army liberated us, could we appreciate the tragic sum of our torments, of our destruction, of the great tragedy, and of the families that were slaughtered. Very few of the town natives survived. We went from the forests to the town with lowered heads. All of Jewish Kobylnik was one ruin. Only the weakened frames of the Jewish houses could still be seen here and there. Not one Jewish family remained whole. A fear and pall overtook us as we arrived there.
When the gentiles of the town saw us, they looked upon us as people who had returned from the world of truth [i.e. from the dead] … We were also afraid to approach them. Those who had collaborated with the Germans were afraid of revenge. Many were forced to return our pillaged property. It made sense that we would have to be very careful about our lives, lest they attack us and kill us. Indeed, many Jews were murdered after the liberation in many town.
After returning to the town, we first went to the place where most of the Jews of Kobylnik were murdered in the final aktion. We fenced off the area, and wept bitterly over our tragedy. In our imaginations, we saw the countenance of all our Jewish relatives who were burned at the stake in such a cruel fashion.
May their memory be blessed.
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