After the holiday, the Jews of Brestovitz were transferred to the Krynki Ghetto. A concentration camp remained in Brestovitz with around two hundred young men and women. About 1,200 practically naked expellees with absolutely no provisions were brought into the Krynki Ghetto. The exhausted, starving and completely overcrowded Krynki Ghetto now had to provide these Brestivitzer brothers with food, clothing and a roof over their heads. They were put up in synagogues, houses of study and any place available.
The diseases and epidemics spread even more quickly from day to day, and people were falling like flies.
In 1942, a new decree was suddenly declared---to exclude Garabaska Street and divide the ghetto into two parts. The decree was quickly enforced. Garabaska Street was fenced in and two gates were built in the fence. One gate was near Moshe Garber's wall and the other gate was placed opposite that, near Kugel's house. A great effort was made to convince the Germans to construct a bridge (like a viaduct) that would connect the two parts of the ghetto. It was similar to the infamous bridge of tears in the Venetian ghetto: after tribunal in the Dozhen Palace the convicted were led to the dreadful prison, not seeing anything around them while going through the covered bridge.
Thus the first of November 1942 arrived. Sunday, at six o'clock in the afternoon, a tremendous panic suddenly overcame the ghetto. Rumor in the ghetto had it that the ghetto police commander, Yankel Kazaltchik was informed by a German that early next morning all the Jews of the ghetto would be shot. No longer was anyone allowed to enter or leave the ghetto. We knew from Jews who had just returned home that the market was full of Christian wagons, new soldiers and Gestapo men.
What happened Sunday night is difficult to describe with words. People endeavor to save themselves from death. We already knew about the actions and massacres that happened in Slonim, Vilna, and other towns and cities. Monday at six in the morning when we were lying hidden, another rumor was heard that people were leaving the ghetto somewhere, and were only allowed to take with them something to eat.
We got dressed, took with us a little bread, and went toward the gates. The streets were filled with soldiers, police, Gestapo and German civilians, all heavily armed. It was simply very hard to go through the streets. They were full of people; everywhere there was terrible congestion, people lost sight of their loved ones, a wife, her husband; a child, his mother; a sister, her brother. Everyone was screaming, crying, lamenting. It was a terrible scene! Going toward the gates, I lost my loved ones, my mother and my little brother, who were leading my blind uncle Avraham Shmuel.
Looking for them, I suddenly felt a strong lashing from a whip and heard a yell. At the same time, I heard someone hollering at me in Polish: You should go back home where the factory workers have been separated to continue working; you, they will let you have a few more days! cynically the Polish policeman shouted at me. No words could be of any help. I had to go back to the column of factory workers that had assembled on Garabaska Street at the synagogue yard. The street looked horrible, littered with leftover small packages, food and bloody corpses.
We are under very heavy guard. None of those passing by can have any contact with us and we can't have any contact with anyone. A mother calls to her child for perhaps the last time, and receives a hit on her head from a thick rubber baton. She falls down weakened and bloodied. Jews who go by her pick her up and take her further. Everyone is so quiet, I communicate only by means of eye contact. At the market, wagons have been prepared for the women and children. Men go by foot, surrounded by hundreds of soldiers, S.S. men, Gestapo men, and Polish policemen.
So were our dear ones led to the town of Amdur. In the morning they were brought from there to the collection camp Kalbasin, near Grodno. There, they met up with Jews from all the surrounding Shtetels. From there, the Jews were transported to Treblinka and the gas chambers.
On the twenty-fifth of November, our beloved Krynki Jews reached the Treblinka death camp. None of those who arrived there returned, except for the single Jew, who succeeded in running away and survived: Feivel Wolf from the village of Spodvill.
The Nazis did not expel approximately one percent of the total population of the ghetto! Some of those left were led back to work in the factories, and another part was left in the ghetto to clean it up.
The Germans quickly confiscated and sold the Jewish property, dismantled all the fences, settled Poles in the Jewish homes and uncovered secret hiding places of Jewish valuables.
The Jews who were ordered to clean up the ghetto lived in Grossman's factory on Geminia Street. Their camp was located there. For the factory workers, wooden barracks were erected on the factory grounds and in neighboring houses. Thus two separate camps were built, one for the men and the other for the women. Both camps were under strict surveillance by the soldiers and Polish police. If a Jew would appear in the shtetel, outside the boundaries of the camps, he faced a penalty of death lashes!
The living dead (as we were called) in the work camps were all broken by the terrible troubles we experienced. We were embittered, frightened and completely beaten down. We envied of the dead, who had already left behind all the suffering and torments.
We were aware that they would not keep us alive for much longer and there was no way out. Our Christian friends and acquaintances, our good friends, ceased to exist. All of them turned away from us and did not want to help.
Shabbos afternoon, the twenty-third of January 1943, we saw that our end was already approaching. Polish workers from Sokolka were brought in to replace us in the factory. The guard around the camp was suddenly increased.
The night between the twenty-third and twenty-fourth of January, around fifty people escaped from the camp. Only six of them survived: Freidka Zalkin and her husband, Eliyahu Kushner, Motke Shteinsaper (killed in 1945 by bandits in Italy), Perl Levy (Yankel Levy's daughter) Chaim Weiner and I.
Krynki was liberated by the Red Army on the twenty-third of November 1944. For ten months thereafter, no one knew the fate of the remaining Krynki Jews from the above- mentioned work camps. Only after the end of the war did I find out that they were taken to Auschwitz. The majority were immediately gassed and burned in the crematorium. The rest were killed in the general work camp of Auschwitz. Those who survived were: Motel Kugel, Isaac Brustin, Avram Soifer, Rochele Zakheim, Reuven Kaplan, Pinia Klass and Motel Kirshner.
Amongst Krynki Jews who escaped to Bialistok and from there to the partisans, survived: Herschel Roitbard, Molia Nisht and Reuven Kaplan.
Deterioration and Overcrowding
The situation in the ghetto had deteriorated very badly. Every day brought new decrees and troubles. The Jews walked around like ghosts, becoming sicker and weaker. The ghetto extended on one half side of town, on one side starting out from Mil street, Bath Street until the river where the ghetto fence stood, covered with barbed wire. Further in the ghetto was Garbarska Street, over which a bridge was constructed, uniting both parts of the ghetto near Yoshke Garber and Alter Kugel's brick homes.
Further on was the synagogue courtyard, which the Nazis used as a place to repair their tanks. Gemina Street until Grossman's factory was included in the ghetto. Fences enclosed the length of the ghetto, until the power station. The Greek Orthodox Church was left outside the ghetto. From Tserkovna Street inwards and also a half side of Amdurer Street were included in the ghetto. The other side of the town was in ruins.
The ghetto Commissioner and the Officer Commissioner would patrol the ghetto a number of times daily. During those patrols the few narrow alleyways would be empty of people; no living person would be there.
The houses were utterly overcrowded. Three to four families lived in every apartment. Three to four housewives would stand at the chimneys and fan the fires. Tears would be flowing down their cheeks from the bitter smoke and difficult life. The synagogues and study houses were overflowing with the homeless. The sanitary conditions in the ghetto were very poor. The busy ghetto hospital was also over-flowing with the sick.
The food rations consisted of a hundred grams of bread per person and a similar quantity of potatoes. The only people that were able to enjoy small amounts of fats were those that worked outside the ghetto. And that was only when, with great difficulty, they were able to smuggle a bit of butter into the ghetto hidden in a broom or placed in the hair of a female worker entering the ghetto. Woe was to the one who was caught doing such a thing. By the gates stood the corrupt Polish Police together with a soldier. Alongside stood a Jewish policeman with a stick in hand who would take a percentage of the goods successfully smuggled into the ghetto.
The Judenrat was a total governing body, with police and even its own prison, in which one would be placed for breaking with the strict discipline of the ghetto, or for not being willing to go out to work. The children and wives of the Judenrat officials did not regularly go out to work. The commissioner of the ghetto, who welded dictatorial power over the Judenrat, was in constant confrontation with them.
The day before Passover 1942, according to the orders of the ghetto commissioner, all the young people were sent out to work. No elderly Jew was let out of the ghetto, neither by the Town commissioner nor the ghetto Commissioner. At ten o'clock the ghetto gates were opened and one hundred and fifty German murderers armed from head to toe, were let into the ghetto singing the Horst Vessel song: When Jewish blood is splattered by the knife. They scattered amongst the houses, and shooting mixed with crying and shouting was heard throughout the ghetto.
Yaakov Kazulchic, his shirt in disarray, his eyes full of tears, ran about the ghetto yelling: Yidden, hide yourselves. They are going to shoot you! The shooting did not stop. In the Judenrat, negotiations were taking place with a murderous officer of the death squad: He demanded three hundred Jews to be shot. For a large amount of gold, leather and other valuables, the Judenrat was able to cheapen the price: only those with beards were to be shot, only a few dozen men.
The massacre lasted two hours. Many were killed. (an exact list of the victims can be found on page 318.) Moshe Lev, the baker stood up heroically against the murderers. They took the rabbi of the Hassidim (who was nicknamed 'the Yellow') burned off his beard and then pinned him to the walls of the Hassidic synagogue with stakes.
The ghetto Commissioner forbade public mourning for the victims. They were buried with their clothes on with the town and ghetto Commissioners present. It was already the night of the Seder, a Seder full of destruction and torment.
When the ghetto Commissioner fancied to have a pool built for himself and his cronies, thousands of women, men and children were taken for forced labor. The slave laborers would drop dead from carrying the heavy loads of earth. They would receive harsh blows especially at the hands of the cursed Polish police, using their leather-tipped bludgeons. The factory workers were also not exempt from this special project. After ending their most difficult workday, they were forced at the end of rifle butts to work once more on the pool. Exhausted from working under duress, they were barely able to carry themselves home, only to come home to an empty table with nothing to eat.
Simcha, the son of Nachum Bleicher, organized in his cellar a radio set hidden in an empty barrel. Every day Boma Friedman would be there and listen to the broadcasts from London, Moscow and Berlin. This could have endangered hundreds of lives so it was kept top secret.
Most of the time, the young people were sent to work digging peat in Podbianka or cutting wood in the forest. It once happened that partisans confiscated from the work crews in the forest all their saws and axes, sending the Jews back to the ghetto, not willing to take them back with them to their partisan groups.
When a partisan would meet up with a Jew in the forest, he would take everything from him and say to him that he should go back from where he came. This was because the Germans would send spies into the forest disguised as Jews with yellow patches sewn on their backs. Allegedly these Jews and others would later reveal the whereabouts of the partisan bunkers. Once when partisans met up with Jewish laborers digging peat in the forests, a few of the youth, among them my brother, wanted to go with them into the forest. But they were adamantly refused and even threatened with being shot to death.
Life in the ghetto deteriorated day by day. All reserves of food were used up. People became paler and weaker. The death toll increased greatly. The former field near the Linas Tsedek, where all the victims of the Passover massacre were buried was already filled with graves. The famine only got stronger. The number of successful food-smuggling operations into the ghetto diminished drastically. Most people lived with the hope that the situation would not last much longer and one would be freed soon. When such people as Yudel Kaplan, Yeshaya Glezer and my father would say that we must search for a way to liberate ourselves, escaping to the forest and with weapons in hand, fight the enemy, others like Zaidel Philipsky for example would preach that one must sit and wait it out in the ghetto until Amalek will fall like the demise of Haman!
Around the first of July 1941, the German S.S. troops started to quietly appease their thirst for blood. They entered the synagogue and gathered together all the holy scrolls and books and set them afire. When the smoke began already to spread through the roof, the Germans allowed the fire to be extinguished. A united effort was made by the Jews took in performing the holy work, to save the Torah scrolls and to put out the flames.
A few days later, the local Polish police force with a certain Polish spy on behalf of the Germans, named Aratzki, a person who ate up Jews, began to undertake a murder action against former Communists. They were all gathered and shot a kilometer from town. Amongst the victims were: H. Schwietzer, M. Winak and others.
A brave Communist, Barkan tried to hide but was betrayed by the outcasts of Polish society and was caught and brought to a German lorry. Going to certain death, he proclaimed through out the entire market place, Long live the Communist Party and down with Hitler!
In June of 1942, the Germans commenced building a pool outside of town. Jews were forced to work there after their regular working hours until late at night. One day the required number of laborers did not show up, so the Germans forced the entire Jundenrat out to the work place, where they were very badly beaten. First the Germans commanded them to produce a ridiculously large number of slave laborers. Looking for a solution, the Jewish Police force dragged out fasting Jews who were sitting in the synagogue, to fill the quota!
Before the liquidation of the ghetto, in the beginning of November 1942, the local German authorities sent out invitations to all the pro-German Polish collaborators in the region that they should come and participate in the upcoming festivities against the Jews. They promised an official prize to each and everyone who took part.
On the second of November, at five o'clock in the morning, the invited Poles were already waiting at the gates of the ghetto. Together with German soldiers they appeared in the ghetto, armed with bludgeons and spikes to greet the Jews of Krynki in honor of their expulsion from their hometown forever!
Fall was approaching. The situation in the ghetto became worse and more despairing. The first of November 1942 arrived. The ghetto was encircled by machine guns. To escape the ghetto was already impossible. The ghetto Commissioner and the other Germans took back from the Jews all the factory orders that were not yet finished. No one went out to his work-detail. Before nightfall, a rumor circulated that all the Jews would be sent to another town. The whole night, everyone made up knapsacks and prepared himself for the coming journey.
At six o'clock the next morning, the ghetto Commissioner announced that in approximately an hour, all the Jews have to leave the ghetto. The prepared peasant wagons were already in the market place. At six-thirty, armed Germans entered the ghetto together with Gestapo officers. Around ten minutes later hundreds of people, young and old, were already standing ready with knapsacks on their shoulders. When they left the ghetto gates, a whole mob of Germans and Polish hooligans chased after them and hit them over their heads and backs with their sticks.
People fell down on the cobblestone pavement all bloodied, children screamed. The pavement was covered with pillow feathers. All of Garbaska Street was littered with knapsacks and wounded people. Children lost their parents in the tumult and were running among the feet of the murderers who were incessantly beating and screaming, Quicker, quicker, get out!
The officers were standing with their photographic equipment and were taking pictures and laughing at the same time!
Suddenly, a wild command came forth from the murderous director of the leather factory: that all the workers there should come over to the synagogue courtyard. The rest of the Jews went toward the Market place to the waiting wagons. The noise of the wheels of the wagons deafened the Jews. The director together with a Jewish representative, Yankel Shneider, sorted the remaining Jews. Those who were taken out of line ran to the market place, searching for their families. One hundred and seventy leather workers, all craftsmen, were kept back and with them, the Judenrat and the best shoemakers, tailors, and seamstresses, a total of three hundred and fifty people.
Arranged five in a row, we were led back to the factory. A few bloodied older people were still lying on the pavement. A deathly stillness was felt coming from the ghetto. The heavy steps of the murderers were heard in the air. The gates of the ghetto were left open.
We march with heads downward to Tarlovsky's factory. The shoemakers and tailors were taken to Grossman's factory, which was located in the ghetto.
In October of 1942, the head German Reich security officer ordered the Gestapo Central Command of the Bialistok region to evacuate the Jews from their area. This meant the actual annihilation of all Jewish towns of the region. The annihilation of the Grodno district was put in the hands of the Gestapo Commander of Grodno, Criminal Commissioner and Deputy Sturmfuhrer, Heinz Ehrelis and his assistant, deputy Sturmfuhrer, Erich Schot.
Very early in the morning on the second of November 1942, in a sudden and simultaneous action by the Nazis, all the Jews of all the communities of the Bialistok region were mercilessly expelled from the homes they had inhabited for generations. However, due to the complicated logistics of transporting such large numbers at the same time, the evacuees were not sent directly to the death camps but first to collection camps. In reality these were also extermination camps albeit generally without crematorium and forced labor. However, thousands of the tens of thousands of Jews who had been transported were sentenced to death there by hunger, cold, filth, lice, epidemics, persecution, beatings, shootings and a large array of other brutal and sadistic methods of murder.
On the other hand, although the Jews interned in these collection points were not so quickly murdered, nor were they so quick to put an end to their own suffering, these transfer camps served as preparation for the non-ending hell which faced the internees. The Germans constantly dulled and broke the spirit of their victims, breaking their will and bringing them into states of surrender and detachment from reality in order to prevent them from gathering any inner forces to put up any resistance to the Nazis.
The camp in Kelbasin was the most horrific of these collection camps in which tens of thousands Soviet prisoners of war had previously been interned and starved and tortured to death. This camp was situated around six kilometers from Grodno by the highway to Bialistok.
The Jews of Krynki were expelled to the Kelbasin camp together with the Jews of Brestovitz, a part of the mass of twenty-eight thousand Jewish victims originating from the Jewish towns in the area: Adelsk, Azher, Amdur, Ostrin, Dubrava, Druzgenik, Holnika, Yanova, Luna-Volya, Novy-Dovar, Sapotzkin, Sakolka, Suchavalya, Sidra, Skidel, Paretzch, Kaminka, Koritzhin, Kuznitza, Rotnitza and a remnant of the Grodno Ghetto. Only a few hundred able-bodied persons were kept for a short time in their previous communities (including Krynki) interned in work camps, which were still necessary for the Nazi war machine.
The evidence about the chief murderer of the tens of thousands of Jews of the Bialistok region, Doctor Altenlau, (director of the transports of Jews to the death camps) first came out in public when he was caught and brought to trial in the beginning of 1967 in the town of Bilfeld, West Germany. He was sentenced to eight years in prison! Concerning the direct murderers, the main slaughterers, the above-mentioned Heinz Ehrelis and Erich Schot, only the former was caught. The other had committed suicide a few years earlier. Apparently he surmised that the danger that awaited him if he had been caught and put on trial was not a great one, and he did not even bother to disguise himself. Nothing is known concerning the fate of the daily butcher of the Kelbasin Camp, Karl Rintzler (or Rintzer according to German sources), whose sadism and bloodthirst excelled even that of his Gestapo collaborator murderers.
The Criminal Commissioner and deputy Sturmfuhrer Heinz Ehrelis held himself as an intellectual with aristocratic mannerisms. He was a lover of the arts and particularly music, and he preferred to conduct his extermination work behind the scenes. This however did not prevent him from boasting that one could grind up ten thousand persons in a wheat mill before his very eyes without him batting an eyelash!
However, this hero, like his major commander Doctor Altenlau and the other haughty murderers did not display any outward heroism during his trial by admitting to doing any of his good deeds, Nor did he at least justify the blood he personally shed, as he was judged guilty via eye-witnesses of his murderous behavior. Ehrelis lied outright declaring these things never happened. He was innocent like a dove .
And for all of his witness-established mass murders, the West German court sentenced him to six and a half years of prison with the right to appeal! And so the verdict handed down some two years later has never been imposed.
The bloodhound on location, the Kelbasin Camp Commander, Karl Rintzler, and his gruesome actions are described later on by the only living Krynki survivor Feivel Wolf. There is also added confirmation of these actions as told by a number of other survivors.
Rintzler used to go around like a wild animal with a big rubber stickówrites the Suchavaler survivor, Simcha Lazar2. He particularly would detain women and strike them on the head and face for long periods of time. The blood running on their faces rendered them unrecognizable. This brutality would repeat itself day after day.
One day a young man left the camp without permission. On the way to Sokolka, he was captured and brought back to the camp. Rintzler had his arms and legs tied up with a rope behind his back and put him under a table, suffering with unimaginable pain for twenty-four hours. The Jew was just choking with pain. In the morning the murderer untied him. The young man was not able to stand up because his blood had hardened all over him. Rintzler took four Jews and ordered them to dig a grave. He had the young man placed in the grave and shot him with a bullet. With a sinister smile on his murderous face he ordered that the grave be covered up.
One time a young, eighteen-year-old man came late to head count at the assembly square. Rintzler saw this, called the youth over and had him put in the middle of the square. In the presence of all the assembled he shot him with a bullet in the neck.
The murderer quietly put his hand in his pocket, took out a cigarette and started to smoke with a look of derision and contempt on his animalistic face.
Two times daily a head count was taken at the assembly point of each barrack. After counting and recounting the assembled to make sure the number counted fit the submitted pieces of paper, Rintzler would order that we should run in our places for an hour. While running we had to sing Jewish songs. If we would not sing well, he would beat us murderously. A victim would fall to the ground; he would find another one. He was never satiated with Jewish blood. He had special delight in torturing Jewish women. So he would force them under threat of death, to clean with their bare hands the assembly point of the camp. He forced them to place some of the garbage inside their chests and to carry the rest in garbage baskets.
This is also told by a survivor from the town of Ostrin in Sefer Zichronot L'kehilot Ostrin [The Ostrin Yizkor Book], Tel Aviv, 5727 .
In reality, there was plenty of water in the camp. Nevertheless, the inmates were strictly forbidden even to come close to the water faucets. The women of Ostrin who were caught attempting to bring a little water for their babies, were tied one to another with rope and chased around the camp. This was all to put fear into everyone's heart not to steal any water. Compare this with others who were bludgeoned to death with rubber sticks for such a sin!
There were no restrooms per say in the Kelbasin Camp. For this purpose a pick pit was dug in the middle of the camp, where men and women had to relieve themselves publicly without any divisions between them. The women would be ashamed and would suffer terribly, holding back from relieving themselves with all their might.
A young woman who therefore waited until nightfall to relieve herself, met up with a German, while going out in the darkness. Trembling greatly, she ran back to her barrack. The German however, took her out of the barracks and seeing her beauty demanded that she strip naked for his pleasure. She begged him that she would prefer to be shot rather than take her clothes off. He took out his revolver and threatened her that if she did not do as he said, he would shoot everyone in her barracks. Not wishing to be the cause of the death of her friends, she was forced to follow the command of the German beast.
I survived the Holocaust thanks to my birthplace, the village of Spodville, six kilometers from Krynki and nine kilometers from Gross-Brestovitz. There, I came into this bright world, born on the twentieth of June 1920 to my mother, Rivka and my father, Betsalel. Our parents had eight children: five sons and three daughters. Some of them are now living in Israel.
Our entire family lived in Krynki. My mother's two brothersAvraham Niyeparszhnitz and Daniel der Hoicher, Daniel the tall one, as people nicknamed him, and my father's brother Yankel and his sister Bashke de Spodviller (the one who comes from Spodville).
I served in the Polish army from the twelfth of April 1934 until the end of 1935.
On the twenty-forth of August 1939, I was mobilized to fight against the Germans. On the tenth of September 1939, I arrived in Lemberg with a group of other Krynki Jews and there engaged the Germans in heavy battle. Together with me in Lemberg, were: Yitzchak Stalarsky, Avraham Kleinbart, Leiba Lopate, Leima Shuster, Leizer Stotzky and others whose names I do not recall.
On the twenty-first of September, the Russians discharged us. With great effort, I then managed to get back to Krynki.
I worked for the Russians in the town of Amdur from the beginning of 1940 until the 22nd of June 1941.
On the Sabbath evening of the 22nd of June 1941, the Germans invaded the town.
Monday, the 23rd of June, I together with my brother, Itschke, Mates (Matisyahu) Paliyatchik and David Shalmuk, fled in the direction of Russia, eastward. However, on the road from Slonim to Baranovitch, I was badly wounded and it prevented me from continuing.
On Sabbath, the 28th after midday, the Germans captured my brother and me. This was about six kilometers from the town of Zelva, not far from Slonim.
A German doctor, who examined us, obviously recognized that we were Jews. He however quietly promised that he would not surrender us to the authorities, because the Germans would shoot Jews immediately on the spot without any pretenses.
At dusk, at six o'clock, together with seven Christians, we were taken to a village four kilometers from Zelva. There, orders were given that we should be taken behind a barn, where we saw death before our eyes!
Speaking or even exchanging looks with one another was strictly forbidden and moving from one's place was certainly not advisable.
Within a few short minutes, four Christians passed by us with shovels in their hands. In accordance with the commands of the Germans, they started digging a grave. One did not have to be overly bright in order to figure out what had happened. When one of the Christian prisoners still had the courage to ask for a drink of water, the head guard gave him the following answer:
We will soon make you drunk with blood!
It started to rain and night fell.
As we stood there on the edge of the grave, totally pre-occupied with thoughts of death, a higher ranking German officer appeared and in a loud voice commanded:
Do not shoot without an order!
And so they led us back to the same barn that we were in earlier.
Early the next morning, when they led us out to the sunlight, an elderly Christian approached the head guard, spoke with him a little and immediately afterwards bread, potatoes and sour milk were brought to us. Later we were transported by car to Azernitze and from there to Roszhani. There, we were interned in a camp located in the garden of a White Russian priest. Jews were separate from Christians and the captured soldiers were also kept in a separate section. Altogether, there were 5000 men in the camp. Once a day we received a dead horse, which we ourselves cooked for our sustenance.
After being in that camp for six days, we were freed. What I witnessed there is a horror to describe!
A few days later, together with my brother, I arrived in Spodville. We found there our dear elderly mother together with my father's sister and husband. There a new series of terrible troubles began. At every step, they would shoot Jews dead for no apparent reason. My brother Itschke fled to Grodno, and I to Krynki.
Sitting by Yankel Spodviller and hearing all that was happening in Krynki, I noticed through the window a group of Jews with yellow badges on their chests returning from factory work. Soon my Uncle Yankel and cousin Shmuel came in with a few other Jews and ordered me to put on a badge so that the Germans wouldn't kill me.
That very same day I fled back to Spodville. There the situation was even more serious, because a number of Christians had been shot. In the morning I fled with a shovel on my back to Amdur.
I arrived safely but as I entered the town, a Christian recognized me and as it was told to me, the Christian immediately went about investigating what I was doing there. Accordingly, I was advised to hide and as soon as possible run away. Just a day earlier, sixty Germans had come to town from Grodno and demanded that all the Jews, old and young, big and small evacuate their homes. They were expelled to the fields, and according to a Christian eyewitness, thirty-three men were taken away. These were the first victims of the town (Himelfarb, the father together with his older son, two Eshkevitz brothers, Shimon Las, Moorshtien, Feldman, David Shalmuk, Hirshel the shepherd, Shmuel Intelegent, Motel Nachbi, Gronik, Zhupitza and others).
Soon after my arrival in Amdur, I saw three Jews tied with barbed wire to the telegraph poles. This was their punishment for not arriving at work early enough.
Quite early the next morning I fled back to Spodville and in a few days, I was back as a steward on the estate at Klein-Brestovitz. The Germans considered him an important person. I had asked him to take me under his protection. I was left there with my uncle Shmuel working, but it did not last long and we soon fled for our lives back to Spodville.
In the morning, I was back again with my mother looking for protection by the Poles. We found a place for me by a certain Pole, and I was left working for him as a farm hand. One day as I was plowing the field a Christian came up to me and said:
You foolish Zhid (negative Polish word for a Jew) , you are looking for a place to save yourself in these bad times? Here the Germans pass by and any small child will point you out to them as a Zhid and they will shoot you. Better you flee to a place where there are a lot of Jews!
Seeing that the Christian was correct, I ran back to my mother in Spodville that day and the next morning, I fled to Krynki. There, they were in the middle of a shooting and I fled back to Spodville and from there, straight to Amdur. There, I was advised to go either to Grodno or to Bialistock. I chose to go back to my dear mother in the village of Spodville.
Time, meanwhile was not standing still. The Germans were advancing deep into Russia. For us in the village it became a bit calmer, so we stayed there. In the towns and cities around us, ghettos were being established.
On the 12th of February, at eight o'clock in the morning, in forty-degree frost, three Germans from Klein-Brestovitz entered our home and checked us for the yellow star. In just a few minutes, they stole our cow, twenty hens and all items of worth. They ordered us to abandon the village and to flee Spodville within an hour's time and go back to Gross-Brestovitz.
For the price of a liter of spirit they obtained from the Germans a permit for me to travel to Krynki.
That same day we arrived at the Krynki ghetto at the factory of Melech Zalkin.
Ten days passed and the Judenrat (a representative body of the Jewish community that the Nazis required Jews to form) took us for work cleaning the highway from Krynki to Sokola - twenty-two Kilometers. Our employers were a gruff German sergeant around fifty years old with long whiskers and his assistant Max the tall one.
One time, on a Sunday, a market day, he drove us as far as Skolka, without eating and drinking and kept us there until nine in the evening. It wasn't until one in the morning that we returned to the Krynki ghetto. When I got home, I found a note on the table that notified me that at five o'clock the next morning I was to be ready again to go out to work at our fixed gathering point opposite the Judenrat.
I did not go out to work, nor did many others. The dirty khazir (pig) with another ten Germans entered the ghetto to grab men. Meanwhile they came into the home of Moshke (the smith) Trahshtshman, took their beautiful girl out of her bed and took her practically naked (in a thirty degree frost) out into the street and whipped her. After that they took out the Akusherkes' daughter and whipped her and kept her for a long time in the cold. They also seized Rabbi Oviat for forced labor.
Meanwhile, in the small ghetto everyone heard what the murderer was doing.
Casually, as if no one was paying attention to me, I went to the gathering point and showed up for work. Looking at me, another seventeen men also came to the gathering point.
Right before our very eyes, the murderer tore out from the Rabbi's face, half a beard and mustache and burned them. Then his assistant grabbed me, hit me on the head, shook me up and down and gave me seven lashes with a rubber whip. At the actual time, it didn't hurt me too much, but later it bothered me. I was nicknamed the whipped one. Then he tormented and bullied the rest of the Jews and also beat them. He drove them by foot ten kilometers from Krynki near the village of Shodzhialava to clean the snow.
On the thirteenth of Nisan, we were three hundred men on the highway around three kilometers from town, cleaning the snow. At half past nine we heard shots coming from Krynki. About half an hour later, Christians came to us on sleds and whispered in our ears that they are shooting Jews in the ghetto.
At twelve-noon, the Germans took us for a mid-day break. We came into the ghetto and in front of us was utter bedlam. Scattered on the streets lay Jewish property, food and among all this lay the bodies of people who had been shot.
I ran to my house and on the street, I met the Zalkin family. When I asked them the whereabouts of my brother Itsche, I was told:
He is alive.
And where is my mother? I added.
They did not answer. My mother was killed together with four other women and over twenty-five men. Among them were: Rabbi Qviat, Daniel the tall one, my uncle Manes with his brothers, Moshe the baker, (who resisted against the murderers and fought with them until he slipped near the well and only then was overpowered and killed), Mantshe Haikel Chazir, the tailor, the hump-backed, Moni Yaakov Kaplan and others.
The next day, Shabbos, they were buried on Bathhouse Street near the Linas Tsedek in a garden - men separately and women separately. Among the scenes at the funeral, I will never forget the grieving of Ephrayim Manes for his dead father.
At eleven-thirty, the murderers left the ghetto singing the song, When Jewish blood spurts forth from our knives - the battle goes well.
After the great massacre, the Judenrat became more considerate of the mourning families and made an effort not to send them to dangerous work details. Thus they treated my brother and me. One day a young man from Bialistok by the name of Perlman who was a builder foreman for the Germans, came to my brother Sholke (he was a bricklayer) and took him to work for him. The next day he came and took me also as a worker. Sholke, Anshel Potshevutzky, Zeltchik, Chazkel Gandz, the son of the barber, and I all worked there on the Count's estate.
On a nice day, soldiers from Krynki came and started to beat us for no reason. They forced us all to go back to Krynki and into the ghetto. I no longer went to work. I only looked for an opportunity to escape to a place where I no longer had to see the Germans before my eyes.
After Passover, the sixth of May, I, together with twenty boys and two girls left Krynki and went to catch fish in the Refle Estate forty kilometers from Krynki - twelve from Resh and twelve from Volp. The remaining Krynki Jews worked in Yeshmenta at the highway to Luna and the station Brestovitz Zieliyana to Bialistock. At first the conditions in Refla were not especially good; only later did they improve.
Initially the Judenrat did not want to help us like the other workers. But Talya Goldshmidt championed my cause and once a month we were allowed to enter the ghetto.
On the first of November 1942, on a Sunday, at three o'clock in the afternoon, while I was on an errand for my overseer, catching carp for supper in the local fish ponds, they called me all of a sudden, saying I should come quickly because the Germans were asking for me. I was in a gloomy mood because I realized that something didn't smell quite right.
As I was running to my overseer's house, a Polish policeman in a German uniform took out his pistol from his hips and aimed to shoot at me. Only because of the employer's wife, a pretty and energetic Pole, who grabbed a hold of the policemen by the hands, started to curse him and told him that he was not worthy to carry the name of the Polish people nor come into their holy places if he dared do anything to me, was I saved. And she really did save my life. He told her that he had a duty to shoot me because I was not wearing the yellow badge.
I took the badge out of my pocket realizing that I had forgotten to attach it. Later, I heard how the lady asked him where he was planning to take me. He would have answered her: Here, not far from where the Jews are found on the road. She did not let him answer until he had given his word that he would not harm me.
A meager two hundred meters from us, stood five Germans with a car and with them were nineteen boys, among them Sholom Shveitzer and two girls - all from Krynki, and they were waiting for me. In around fifteen minutes five wagons drove up and we were placed four or five people to a wagon and we were taken away accompanied by Germans and Poles.
At eight in the evening we arrived at Grois-Yeshmonta, and from there we went to the Masalin Estate where there were already assembled approximately three hundred Jews - one hundred and fifty from Krynki; and fifty each from Amdur, Grois-Brestovitz and Luna. They were quartered in a big school and worked on the Masalin-Luna highway. We were brought to them. A very heavy guard of German and Polish policemen was standing around us and no one had any idea what was in store for us.
Yosef Dvorkin from Grois-Brestovitz and Villensky from Krynki, both energetic young men, offered the German in charge a pair of nice boots, to induce him to tell us what was in store for us. He indeed did take the boots but didn't know a thing.
The whole night we did not sleep. At five o'clock in the morning, a hundred wagons drove up to the school and we were all ordered to take a spot in a wagon. Guarded heavily by the Germans, we began our journey. Monday morning we were already in Amdur. The Germans halted the first wagon at the end of Grodner Street in front of the Amdur Synagogue. I was sitting in the first wagon. An Amdur mailman passed by us and told me that only a few hours earlier, the Amdur Jews were expelled en masse in the direction of Grodno.
Ten minutes later the convoy was on the move once again and at five kilometers outside of Amdur we caught up with a column of Jewish refugees from Odelsk and Amdur. The entire highway was filled with wagons of Jews from the district. Around ten kilometers from Grodno, we changed wagons and the new wagon driver told me that he knew me. He confided in me and told me that we were being taken to a starvation death at the Kelbasin camp. As we approached Grodno, the highway was even denser with deported Jewish.
It was already dusk and the Christian wagon driver advised me to jump off the wagon and to hide amongst the Christians for a certain death awaited me at Kelbasin. Accordingly, he told me how, around half a year earlier, thousands of Russian prisoners of war died of hunger and filth at the camp. I, however, did not follow his advice and at five in the morning we arrived at the camp.
We were commanded to go into block number five together with the Jews from Skidel. The night passed peacefully. In the early morning, I met a number of good friends from Skidel. Through a hole in the wall, we crawled into the third block where the Jews of Amdur were being held. There I met my sister who was married to a Jew from Amdur by the name of Shimon Ahkevitch. In Amdur, the rumor had spread that I had been shot. So everyone gathered around me, welcomed and wished me long life!
I already began to investigate what was going on. I asked, Who was the commander of the camp and for what purpose were we brought here? Gutman, a teacher from Amdur, a very capable former Judenrat official, with whom I began to talk, knew absolutely nothing.
Soon, a tall German, in his forties appeared before us and immediately it became clear that his name was Rinzler and that he was the commandant of the camp.
About an hour later, he came into the Amdur block, number three. Everyone started to run about. Yosef Karlinsky, the former head of the Amdur police, ran toward him. Rinzler commanded him to lie down on the ground and then whipped him!
The entire day was spent taking care of incoming Jews from the Grodno area.
At dusk, we were able to recognize Jews from Krynki near the barbed wire. I, Sholom Shweitzer and others from Krynki soon crossed over to them in block number two, bunk section number twelve. Some of the young men told me that my brother Velvel, Wolf and Avkas' son, a grandson of Zhidak, had fled the night before the expulsion and were with the Christians of the neighboring villages.
A highway crossed through the middle of the camp. When the wagons would come inside the camp, the Germans would begin to hound the Jews. The Jews were forced to jump down from the wagons and to leave behind all of their possessions. Some good Christians however would throw down from the wagons the bundles that the Jews had brought with them. The Jewish police would hurriedly take down the elderly from the wagons. The nightmare that I witnessed there is indescribable.
The Kelbasin camp was located sixteen kilometers from Grodno, three kilometers from the plywood factory, three hundred meters right off of the Bialistock highway when traveling from Grodno to Kuznitza.
The Krynki Jews were expelled on foot with the Jews of Goshtiniatz through Makaravtza, Patshuvet until they reached Amdur where they spent the night in the emptied ghetto. Tuesday, at dusk they arrived at Kelbasin. On the way, between Makaravtza and Potshevut, the Germans shot Yudel Yudzhikan.
Every day new transports of Jews from the surrounding areas would arrive.
For food, we received two hundred grams of bread with unpeeled potatoes, cooked with horsemeat.
The murderer, Rinzler, would be present in the camp daily from eight in the morning until twelve noon and from two until five in the afternoon. He had two Jewish assistants. One was a young man from Kuznitza and the other was from Dubrova. They would wait for him until he came and followed him around like two dogs. During the hours he was present in the camp, everyone would stay in their bunk sections. Every day he would murder people with his blackjack. It was made of rubber with a piece of iron at its tip. He would for example, stand around in the middle of the camp together with his two assistants and look out to see whether some one was passing by with a jug or a quart container looking for some water. He would also check to see who was going over to visit a brother or sister in a bunk section. But when everyone knew to keep inside, he would command his assistants to find someone and bring him to him.
If at first, they would not give over his victim, he would take out from that bunk section twenty people to be shot. Soon enough the guilty party would come out on his own accord. He would then honor his victim with seven hits with his iron tipped club over his head. No medical help from the doctor (Gordon from Ozher, who survived) was allowed to be given to the victim. So would the victim expire from his wounds and pain within two to three days. In such a fashion, Rinzler murdered the wife of Moshe Lapinitz from Dubrova, a teacher.
And so he would murder people every single day. He would suddenly appear in the kitchen and see who was not working and kill him. He would receive letters or telephone messages from an officer in a certain shtetel that in such and such a village an expulsion order must be carried out.
Just hearing that Rinzler was in the camp, everyone would disappear into the bunk sections.
But even death cannot stop hunger and when the wagons with bread would arrive in the camp from the Grodno ghetto, everyone would quickly run to it, and Rinzler would already have something to do. He wasn't constantly around. The security services would also hit people, but not kill them.
The inmates would give the Jewish wagon-drivers from Grodno dollars in order they should bring or send over a loaf of bread, deliver a message in the ghetto, or bring letters. There was a wagon driver, Yudel Altshuler who would smuggle people into the ghetto in a hiding place he had in his wagon. I knew him very well in Grodno. I gave him twenty dollars and he personally brought me bread many times.
There were a number of Jews from Krynki who brought with them their own foodstuffs: chickpeas, onions, lentils, and barley. They would cook these in empty living quarters. I and Sholom Shveitzer would obtain cooking wood by taking up boards from the bunk sections. We would separate it with a knife. We would make holes in a pail, make a fire, put in a pot and cook. Half would be given to the supplier of the food and the other half would be for us.
The Jewish police had an order to arrest anyone found cooking, confiscate the food and bring him before the Judenrat for a whipping in front of the chief of police. Also the guilty one was not given bread for a number of days. I was whipped a number of times and deprived of my bread ration.
Early every morning, quite early, the dead would be gathered and brought to the gates, wrapped up in sheets or in blankets - thirty or forty every day. Under a heavy guard, we would take them out to the nearby forest and bury them in a grave, men and women together.
Twice a day, we had to assemble in front of the block for an inspection by Rinzler who was accompanied by his two assistants and Frankel from Druzgenik. He would always make use of his blackjack with the iron tip. Even having one's hat positioned on his head not according to Rinzler's liking was enough to receive a sentence from him.
Frankel was the senior member of the Kelbasiner Judenrat and his assistant was Marek from Novy-dvar that was near Grodno. The overseer of the food supplies, (which were not received), was Arkin from Azher. Every town had its own representative on the Judenrat: Krynki - Meir Kaplan; Sokolka - Advocate Freidberg; Amdur - the teacher Gutman.
They were obligated to meet everyday with Rinzler in a barrack in the middle of the camp where he would whip people. The Judenrat officials had to bring to him the people who had to receive beatings or whippings.
On the sixth day, Friday he called the representatives of the Judenrat and demanded from them three hundred men to work on the station in town. For such a thing there were too many volunteers and one had to have substantial clout to be included in that group. Either a brother or a good uncle in the Judenrat or in the police would be sufficient to get you included. Near the gates of the camp they were commanded to get undressed and a thorough search was made of every worker. Gold and dollars were found during the search. Immediately, Rinzler had everyone brought back to the camp, called together the Judenrat and commanded them to confiscate all the gold and money.
Then he would proceed to fantasize with the representatives of the Judenrat, that he would send the Jews to Aushwitz, where they would benefit from good conditions. There, one received five hundred grams of bread per day, cooked food three times a daily, a decent bed - a real spa!
On the eighth day, Sunday, the first transport to good conditions was sent - the Jews from Skidel. A few days later, Rinzler had in his hands letters that the Jews of Skidel had written to their closest friends in other towns describing how good all aspects life were in their new place! It appeared that the Germans forced their victims, before their deaths, to write these glowing letters! The same day after receiving those letters, fifty grams of sausage was distributed to every person. This was done in order to create an impression among the camp inmates that better winds were beginning to blow.
I did not eat the sausage and carried it back to the Amdur block to my sister's girl. There I, merely sat down in bunk section number fourteen and Nina Zelmanovitch approached us and said half jokingly and half seriously:
Feivel, is the sausage from the Jews of Skidel?
A conversation developed and more people came along. I said the following in a non-joking tone:
If the Germans wanted us for work, they would not weaken and tire us out so much. They are bringing us somewhere only to annihilate us!
For the word annihilate I received a slap in the face from Avraham Noifach from Amdur. My sister started to shout at me for speaking in such a fashion.
Very often members of the Judenrat of Grodno would come to take men from Kelbasin and bring them into the Grodno ghetto. It was all for gold and money.
After the transport of the Jews from Skidel there were eight quiet days without any new moves from Kelbasin. At that time in Grodno itself, the Jews of the second ghetto, the Slobodker, were moved.
One day, Shebsel Purim, Nachum Yeruchams Yankel, the blonde bakers' son, stood near bunk section number twelve and asked me a question:
Why don't you escape? People are escaping.
I asked him: Who are the men that are escaping?
He answered: Yankel the hatter's son-in law from Bialistock.
At that time, Sender Chaim Nisels from Shank came up to us. We started to talk and he blurted out that we are sentenced to death without any hope of rescue or miracle. I did not let him continue speaking and suggested to him that we should look for a way to escape. I added afterwards that the Christians of Spodville hold him in high esteem. He answered me bluntly that he had a child and wife and he could leave them. We jointly did not see any possibility of escape. He suggested to me that he would talk with other young men and that we should escape together on the same day, if I did not want to escape on my own.
He brought me together with Feivel Talkevitzhener also from a village in a forest on the other side of Krynki. He reluctantly agreed to escape. He told other young men about the plan. I turned to my cousins, Shmuel Yankels, Mulya Zalmens and Pinia Kravetzky. By day, they almost all agreed. However, when night came, and something had to be done, there was no one to talk to. Feivel Talkavatchner's sister, Avraham Kagan's wife, kicked me out of the bunk section when I came to talk with him.
Meanwhile the Sokolker young men were aware that in the Krynki block there was a person who wanted to escape. They came to me with the two Shtashur brothers, Mulya and Velvel. But they were also the types with whom no serious business could be done. One of them couldn't leave his father and the other could not leave his mother. Finally, a young man from Novy-Dvar, with a wide circle of acquaintances among the Christians of the area, together with a doctor from Sochovola made their way to me. The doctor wanted to flee together with his wife, who was also a doctor. We prepared a ladder and person to remove the ladder after our escape. Everything was ready, when the mother of the young man from Novy-Dvar warned him that if he left, she would take her own life.
On sabbath, the fourteenth of November, the fifth of Kislev 1942, three o'clock in the afternoon, an order was given: All Krynki Jews must leave block number two and move over to block number five. From there we were to be transported to the station at Lososna. In just a few minutes one had to move over into block number five. There I set my final plans and did not sleep the entire night.
Every few minutes new orders arrived from Yosef Manstavliansky. The last order was that at four in the morning, just before dawn, we were to be standing three in a row because at five-thirty the train would depart from Lososna. So the hour was drawing near and my heart began to pound. I did not give up on my cousin Pinia Kravetzki.
At a quarter of four in the morning we began to organize ourselves standing in the rows with our packs on our shoulders. Pinia did not take his place. He saw his mother standing with his father. Here is Shmuel Yankels with Motel with their mother. Then, the voice of Yosef Mastavliansky was heard screaming:
Quicker, Rinzler is here in the camp.
Then Pinia said to me suddenly: You want to be wiser than the entire world?
And he was soon gone. I looked into the darkness and saw Pinia in his long coat go to his mother and father and took a place in the rows together with all of the Krynki Jews.
A quarter after four, Rinzler arrived, looked over everything, cut off the packs from the shoulders and gave the order to step forward. Immediately at the gates, the little children were separated from their mothers.
* Photograph kindly donated by Michel Jaskes who wrote: This the original still picture that belonged to my grandfather who emigrated from Poland to Uruguay before WWII (1921), and that according to him, the picture had been sent to him by a Polish priest from Krynki. It was the only picture he had of his sister who like the rest of his family, they all perished during the Second World War. return
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