Kittev Under the Soviet Occupation
After the Polish army, the police and the border-guard left Kittev, the city was left abandoned without any protection or defense. But the Jewish inhabitants, especially the young people, did not remain helpless but found an answer to the threatening situation. Jewish young men created a Jewish self-defense, armed themselves with a little outdated weaponry which the Polish police did not manage to take along, and armed the young men who posted themselves on all the roads that connected Kittev with the surrounding villages. They prepared to defend the city in the event of an attack by the Ukrainians and the Hutsuls of the nearby villages.
Every morning, a Polish battalion would come from Vizshnits to guard the city and in the evening, it returned to Romania. Toward evening, the Jewish self-defense took over the defense of Kittev. This went on until the first Soviet patrols occupied the city.
The first Soviet patrol that came to Kittev consisted of four tanks with their crews. They rolled into Kittev in the early morning hours. There were then, in the city, an insignificant number of Polish soldiers. As soon as they saw the Soviet tanks, they hit the road to the Romanian border. Upon crossing the Romanian border, one Polish officer, a Major, drew his revolver and shot a bullet into his head.
Among the last group of Polish military that left Kittev
at the arrival of the Soviet tanks, was the Polish poet Dolega-Mastavitch. He was probably preparing to write a Polish poem of lamentations, an elegy upon the destruction of his country. He wanted to carry with him into exile the impressions that the Soviet tanks had made on his spirit. He was in the last row of soldiers and kept looking back to glimpse again, perhaps for the last time, his conquered homeland. A bullet from a Russian tank struck him and he gave up his poetic soul on Polish soil. On his grave in the Polish cemetery in Kittev, the Polish population of the city deposited, each day, great wreaths of fresh white-red roses, to colour of the Polish flag.
The next day, after the tanks, there entered the first units of the Soviet occupation army. The initial fear of the Kittever citizens passed over and they came out of their houses and gathered on the Ring-place to look over the liberators and at the same, learn something of life in the Soviet-land. A Red Army man got up on a table in the middle of the market square and gave the population of Kittev their first lecture in the style of the well-known Communist propaganda. He sang hymns to the Soviet Union, boasted that in Russia all the people were equal and that there was no difference between Jew, Ukrainian and Pole. All have the same rights and privileges. He stressed that we should rejoice at the privilege of being freed to begin enjoying the same freedoms which all Soviet citizens enjoyed. All of it is thanks to, he said, the great leader and friend of all the oppressed the great Comrade Josif Vissarinovich Stalin.
Our home-grown communists were overjoyed at having finally lived to the house of the great liberation and, after the first lecture of the Red Army man , they became so
enthusiastic, as though they were sure that the Messiah had come, but instead of a white donkey, he had ridden in on a Soviet tank. The local revolutionary committee immediately organized a provisional city-government and a city militia and made plans for reorganizing life according the law of Marx and Engels (this is an ironic take-off on the wedding ceremony when we say according to the law of Moses and Israel) as interpreted by Lenin and Stalin. The first step was supposed to improve the condition of the poor classes. For this purpose, they called a mass meeting to which 90% Jews and only 10% of the Armenians, Ukrainians and Poles came. In the name of the revolutionary committee, a speech was made by Meshulam Zeidman, a scion of the richest member of the Kittever bourgeoisie Reb Yekeleh Zeidman Meshulam himself was always a wastrel and a neer-do-well, incapable of earning a broken groschen or gaining a steady livelihood on his own. Only his envy and hatred of the friends of his youth who had worked themselves up, drove him into the ranks of the malcontent Communist fellow-travellers.
In his programme speech, Meshulam declared fervently: Gone is the time when a small segment of the population had all the good things and the other part, the greatest part, suffered hunger. With the help of the victorious People's Army, we will take the superfluous wealth away from the rich and turn it over to the poor classes of the population.
In soviet practice, however, Comrade Meshulam and his revolutionary committee comrades were unable to realize their programme. A few days later, there arrived in Kittev a Soviet city-commissar who only accepted the first part of the programme, that is, to take from the rich everything they owned. But not the second part, that is, to turn the wealth of the rich over to the poor, because that would contradict communist teaching which combats all philanthropic help and support. According to their teaching, this delays the maximal realization of the Communist idea and the world-wide social revolution.
With the arrival of Comrade Kushtsh and his assistants, the capitalist face of Kittev changed and everyone tried to appear more proletarian in order to find favour in the eyes of the foreign and home-grown Commissars. The men started to wear boots and short caps and overcoats, just like the Russians. The women hid away their expensive dresses and fur coats and started to dress plainly so as not to draw the attention of the Comrades.
Commissar Kushtsh, for his part and with the help of his adjutants and also the home-grown Jewish and Ukrainian communists, immediately started to reorganize the city economy in line with Soviet methods, forcing their life-style upon Kittev.
Every day, the Commissar would make public new decrees which had one aim, though various open and disguised means, to achieve the nationalization of every type of private property. In order to equalize the population, at the very first, they forced all storekeepers to open their stores and sell off all the goods at the old pre-war prices. They forced them to exchange the old Polish zlotys for the new Soviet rubbles a zloty for a rubble. The population had not much confidence, neither in the Polish zloty nor in the Soviet rubble, so they simply besieged the stores from morning to evening and bought up everything they could just to get rid of the saved-up zlotys and the rubbles that they had.
But the merchant could not buy any new goods with zlotys and rubbles which he had received for his goods. So, he began, in the nights when nobody would notice, to carry a little of his goods out of his store and hide it for later. For the zlotys and rubbles, he had earned, he tried to buy a few dollars which would be useful in time of trouble. The worth of the dollar, therefore,
rose on the black market. From five zlotys (the pre-war price of a dollar) the dollar rose to 80 and 90 zlotys and more.
In the larger businesses and industries, the workers, according to communist instructions, organized workers'-council and sent representatives to meetings where they were taught how to be on the watch for owners that would not remove finished goods from the factories. They were also taught to mislead the factory owners into thinking that everything would remain as is and that they would not be nationalized so the factory owners and merchants would invest more and more and buy raw materials.
By the end of October, 1939, Kittev had not only a military occupation management but also a civilian management. Soviet schools, courts, police, NKVD, a food supply headquarters, a bank, post office, etc. The chiefs of all these agencies were Soviet Ukrainians, communist party members. Over all the agencies, even of the secret police (NKVD) stood the local communist party committee led by a Party Secretary appointed from Kiev, who was the actual dictator over all the Commissars in the city. Before the Party Secretary, every trembled with the fear of death. His word was law and nothing went through without his approval.
In the beginning of November, the nationalization (Soviet term signifying plain robbery) began.
They nationalized all the Kittever factories, all the industry, the mills, the tanneries and all businesses. They forced the owners to turn everything over to the Soviet and they gave the keys to a worker who was appointed as director or manager of the particular nationalized enterprise. There were also nationalized, the larger houses and hotels, or dwellings having ten or more rooms. The owners of the factories and businesses were driven out of town as enemies of the working class. All these Jews who were branded
by the Soviet regime were warm-hearted Jews who were always ready to help out a Jew in time of trouble. Now, they had to wander from city-to-city, from village-to-village, until they could get a permit from the military, for a significant payment, to settle somewhere and remain under constant surveillance by the NKVD.
With the nationalizing of the Kittever industry, businesses and houses which were in large part Jewish property, came the end and the total liquidation of private enterprise and initiative which had been built up by the Kittever through years of great effort and hard work.
The new supervisors and directors of the businesses divided among themselves the remaining goods and sold or liquidated it all. The communist city-bosses left only two restaurants and two large stores which had to supply the population with bread, clothing and other necessities. The artisans were also organized according to the Soviet manner, in cooperatives. They worked eight hours a day and divided up the earnings.
The food supply looked puny especially in the first days of the new order in the city. The peasants stopped bringing their products to market. The poor masses who had not had a chance to store food, got up at 3a.m. and lined up outside the bakery to get a black, clay-like loaf for their families. They sold only one bread per person. The stores were mostly empty without goods and without customers. When a shipment of goods arrived (summer articles in winter and winter things in summer), the populace stood in line before dawn and in two hours, the goods were all sold out. They bought everything everything in sight, just to get rid of the few rubbles.
The restaurants, the eateries, however, were always full. From dawn until late into the night, things there were cheerful and happy. These were places where on could get drunk on cheap whiskey, drink up and forget one's troubles.
The Jewish communal and religious life in Kittev came to a standstill upon the entry of the Red Army. The various parties and organizations, all secular and religious institutions, liquidated themselves and their officers and activists, secretly hid and buried all record-books and party archives, the pictures of the Zionist leaders and other documents.
The communist culture committee took over the city and the Zionist libraries. The books were transferred to the Polish Sokol House which was now called Kittever people's house in the name of Joseph Stalin. There, the home grown literature experts studied the books and rejected those which were un-kosher and unsuitable from the Communist viewpoint. The treife (not kosher) books were used as heating fuel for the Josef Stalin House.
Overnight, all the Kittever Cheders, Hebrew schools and kindergartens were dissolved. They were replaced with a Jewish public school run by a Kittever young man, a communist who had not even completed six grades of public school. Overnight, he was transformed into a pedagogue, became the leader and director of the Soviet-Jewish public school. The teachers and women teachers were also, with two or three exceptions not pedagogues.
They were supposed to inculcate into the Kittever Jewish children, the communist teaching in the Yiddish language according to a method dictated from Moscow in line with the Soviet school books.
The Prayer-houses began to lie vacant, half empty at least not one younger person was seen at a Minyan. The only worshippers were elderly Jews who were not fit for any kind of work. The young and the middle-aged were afraid to show themselves in the
street and, even more afraid to go to daven. They didn't want to be noticed by the home-grown informers who might, God forbid, consider them as idlers and religious hypocrites.
According to the communist system, everyone man and woman had to work and do his part for the communist state and the new society. Those men who had not previously provided themselves with work in a factory or in an office were sent by the Soviet commissars for forced-labour.. They were sent out into the surrounding Kittever woods where, under Ukrainian youth supervision) they chopped trees to fill a certain quota. With the large wage they received for this labour, they barely had enough to pay the wagon-driver who carried them to-and-from work.
It was impossible to elude the eye of the new rulers. They surrounded every citizen with a thick net of informers and spies secret and visible and nobody could escape them.
Every house had to have a book in which were set down the names, ages and occupations of each inhabitant. A copy of the book with the recorded names was turned over to the NKVD. If anyone of a house's inhabitants went away or somebody came for a visit, it too had to be recorded in the book and turned over to the NKVD.
In order to keep tabs that the recordings were accurate and that nobody would be able to hide, they appointed, for every ten houses, a official who visited the appointed houses nearly every day and found out what was going on in each house. He knew who would come and go, what they talked about and how they lived. Most important, he knew who was working and where. In this way, the NKVD was informed about every person and had a say over everyone's fate.
Before long, the NKVD began to carry out house arrests in Kittev. One Friday afternoon, a row of trucks was seen in the main streets of Kittev. In these trucks, a lot of Ukrainian and Polish men, who were removed from their houses in the middle of the night, were loaded. These were forcibly exiled to Russia.
Munieh Socher and Yonah Sender were the first Kittever Jews who were arrested on that dreadful night and were never heard of again. Despite the most varied efforts to find out about their fate, no one could learn what became of them.
Fear and terror befell every Jew in Kittev. We feared relatives, perhaps they were informers; we didn't know whom to trust and whom not to trust. The former businessmen, Zionist activists and Jewishly-conscious people suffered the most. They were afraid to spend the night within their four walls and would hide out with relatives or friends where they could be more or less secure. Many risked their lives to smuggle themselves across the border into Romania. Not a few were caught by the Russian border-police and shot on the spot.
After the first few months of Communist rule in Kittev, came the disappointment in the new saviours, in the communist deliverance. The local Jewish communists, some of them intelligent idealists who truly believed that the realization of the communist idea would bring the solution of the Jewish question, now, seeing how and with what means the idea was being realized, became bitterly disillusioned. They saw with what disrespect the Soviet rulers treated the Jew; how they referred to Jews as speculators, which to them was as insulting a term as zshid to the anti-Semite. These Jewish communists now experienced one disappointment
after another. They saw how the rulers were making a reality of the ideas of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
The local communists experienced their first disappointment in December, 1939, when the new directors of the nationalized factories paid the workers and employees in Polish zlotys. The day after the first payment, a decree was issued that the Polish zlotys had lost its value. The workers could not even use their wages to buy a piece of bread for their hungry families.
This produced deep bitterness in the ranks of the workers and more so in the ranks of the communist idealists who could not forgive the communist functionaries for their anti-proletarian action against their own comrades the poor workers.
Before the War, the reports about Soviet Russia were contradictory. According to reports from the Soviet radio and press, life in Russia was paradise. The foreign radio and press reported that the Soviet citizen lived in great poverty and had not the slightest personal freedom. In other words: life under the Soviet dictatorship was a life of slavery.
From October, 1939, when the Soviet armies occupied Poland and Galicia, the iron curtain was slowly raised. One could really become convinced that the entire 20 years of propaganda about the communist paradise was one big lie. The Soviet reality appeared as one huge concentration camp where people worked and slaved for a starvation wage and possessed only one shirt and a pair of shoes.
Right after the entry of the Russian military into Kittev, the Jews, particularly the communist idealists, began to inquire about the life of Soviet citizens their working conditions, the prices of living quarters, food, clothing and so on. For all questions,
the soldiers had the one familiar communist answer: In Russia, we have plenty of everything. The living quarters are cheap and comfortable. Food products and clothing are plentiful and everything is as cheap as borscht. But soon, these lies began to burst like soap-bubbles when civilian Soviet functionaries and their families appeared in the city.
Aside from the servants of the NKVD and the leaders of the communist party-committee which constituted the Soviet aristocracy, the other Soviet citizens who came to Kittev looked hungry and were barefoot and naked. A large part of them wore galoshes instead of shoes. Husband and wife shared on coat which they passed back and forth
When the civilian officials came to town, they went from store-to-store and bought everything in sight. It was obvious that, for the hard-won rubbles that they earned in Russia, they had nothing there to buy. Goods were doled out over there for each person and could only be obtained with a (ration) card. A suit, a shirt, a pair of shoes or a coat were obtained only once every couple of years and at a high price. Not every worker could afford the luxury. Thus, the inhabitants of paradise were happy in Kittev where they had the chance to purchase things which they could not get in Russia. I remember how, at the New Year ball, the Russian women came attired in Polish night-shirts, attractively embroidered and adorned. The Russian women could not imagine that in poor capitalist Poland people slept in such shirts.
In Russia, they did not even dream of having a night gown. When the new Soviets came into a restaurant and found out that they could buy everything their heart desired, they were surprised. One Russian ordered forty boiled eggs at one time!
These hard and stubborn facts still could not convince the local communist idealists that all the propaganda was completely false. They believed in the propaganda like a religious Jew in the Torah of Moses. They could not imagine that they had deceived themselves all these years. Until there came a time when they finally opened their eyes. In the first weeks of 1940, notices appeared in the city saying that in Donbass, Ukraine, they had a need for workers. The young people who would volunteer and were ready to leave would receive travel expenses and the best working conditions. On the basis of these promises, a few young communists reported for the Ukrainian Donbass and were seen off with great fanfare.
It did not take long, perhaps a couple of weeks, and letters began to arrive from the meraglim (biblical word meaning spies) who had gone to inspect the communist paradise. These letters acted like a thunderbolt on a bright day on the spirits of the Kittever communist sympathisers. The letters confirmed that in Donbass the people did live like angels in paradise. They ate like angels and go about clothed like angels The meraglim were afraid to spell out their bitter experience and their disappointments openly because their letters might fall into the censor's hands. So, they wrote with hints and allusions, as for example: The people here eat like in our town on Yom Kippur, they dress like on Purim Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden after they opened their eyes and saw that they were naked. They also wrote that Rabbi Eliezer and his comrades, who opened their eyes and saw the whole truth, were not allowed to leave the Garden of Eden. By Rabbi Eliezer, they meant a certain L. Shmeterer. They wept through these letters and begged their parents and relatives to do everything possible to save them from Paradise and bring them back to Hell in Kittev.
The parents employed various means and tricks
to enable them to bring their deceived sons home and a few months passed before the meraglim slipped back into town, secretly, one dark night. They now looked more dead than alive: pale, wan, skin and bones. For a few weeks, they did not show themselves out of doors, for shame.
When the Soviet courts began to function in Kittev, there the whole nature of Soviet justice, Asiatic cruelty and brutal justice was revealed. The judges and prosecutors revealed themselves as savage brutes who did not concern themselves about the condition of the poor working people. The first victims of the proletarian justice were the proletarians themselves. The proletarians who waited daily for the new saviour now recognized the Messiah as a false saviour a devil masked in red.
A wave of trials crashed onto the heads of the procrastinators and saboteurs. But the real speculators got off with light sentences or were freed altogether because they had enough money to bribe, buy off the judges and the prosecutor.
As in all occupied areas, in Kittev there was a great shortage of retail goods and especially essential foodstuffs. The local production was minimal. The quality got worse day-by-day. The quantity didn't even reach 25% of pre-war production. This was all the result, firstly, of the shortage in necessary raw materials and secondly, the poor management and use of unqualified workmen. The Communist commissars who could not cope with the pitiful production, found a scape-goat the poor neglected worker whom they branded as a procrastinatorr , a saboteur, a speculator and on whom they threw all the blame for the
permanent crisis; for the hunger and poverty which the population suffered. The masses naturally knew that the hunger and poverty were inflicted by the robbery and plunder policy of the commissars but they were helpless against the might of these commissars and their evil assistants, the NKVD. They were even afraid to protest and, with clenched fists and gnashing teeth, often had to applaud after the speeches of the deceiving occupiers.
The first procrastinator who was convicted in Kittev was a poor Jewish shoemaker who went, one morning, to the bakery and got in line to buy a black bread. He was late getting to work and was sentenced for tardiness.
Among those convicted of sabotage were also Jewish youths and young Communist sympathisers who were previously appointed to responsible posts because of their Communist convictions. Since they lacked the appropriate schooling and technical training, and their work was not successful, they were accused of sabotage and sentenced to years in jail.
The way and means that the Communist commissars employed in establishing their rule in Kittev, revealed the truth about the slave-life of the Soviet citizen, and finally the corrupt anti-proletarian approach of the Soviet people's court in Kittev. All of this called for great resentment and bitterness in all classes of the Kittever population. Especially embittered against the Soviet occupiers were the poor classes of the population. The poor, who for so many years, awaited the social revolution, now became the first victims of its tyranny.
But the most to be pitied were the deceived Communist idealists boys and girls from both rich and poor Kittever Jewish homes who, for so many years in the times of Polish rule, suffered and
were persecuted for their convictions and now experienced bitter disillusionment. At first, they still didn't want to admit that the Communist idea, in the shape of Communist commissars, was a fiction. But in time, they had to acknowledge that their ideal was bankrupt. The Communist commissars began to suspect the Jewish Communists of Trotskyism and started to dismiss their Jewish comrades from responsible jobs and replace them with Ukrainian nationalists from Kittev.
Because of the great disappointment, many Jewish Communists became penitents (turned back to Judaism). As an example of their repentance, the following occurrence can serve as an example:
The Rosh Hashanah-Yom Kippur season was the time when the people's court would carry out mass convictions of Kittever Jews as punishment for tardiness. Their purpose in this was to frighten off the Jews who would go to daven and might thus be late for work. Nevertheless, not one Kittever Jew failed to go to the Synagogue services on Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur. The Jews of Kittev hoped for the day when they would be freed from the Communist yoke and, therefore, did not want to provoke the rulers to give them the least pretext for persecution and imprisonment. On Rosh Hashanah in 1940, therefore, all the young men and boys, with the exception of elderly Jews, gathered in the Synagogues at two o'clock at night and conducted the High Holiday prayers and in the morning, they ran to their work. When one looked around in the Prayer houses, one was astonished to see among the worshippers who had come to shul at two in the morning, many former Communists who had never before crossed the threshold of a prayer-house. Now they came to the Beis-Medrash (prayer-house) to demonstratively express their solidarity with the Kittever Jewish community and at the same time, to hold a sort of
protest-demonstration against the barbaric anti-religious actions of the Communist rulers.
In the spring of 1940, Kittev was a military camp. The Soviets concentrated military forces here and made preparations to invade neighbouring Romania. On the advice of Hitler, Romania gave in to the Soviet ultimatum to let them annex Bukovina and Bessarabia and voluntarily turn over these regions to them. As soon as the Soviet army occupied Bukovina, they started carrying out their liberation-work. During the nights, they raided the homes of the enemies of the people: Zionists, Socialists, Bundists, and drove thousands of Jews out of Chernovitz and surrounding towns. They confined them in cattle cars, 40 persons to a rail-car, and sent them to Siberia.
In the spring of 1941, the Soviets began to build, in Kittev and nearby areas, various strategic positions and fortifications such as bunkers. They also prepared underground depots of explosives and other sorts of war materials. They were already preparing for war with Nazi-Germany. But these preparations helped very little. Sunday, June 22, in that year, the Germans began their long-prepared blitzkrieg against the Soviet Union. The Soviet rulers abandoned the city within a few days fearing that their only retreat passage to Russia, the River Dniester, might be cut off and that they would thus fall into the hands of the Germans.
After the invasion of the Soviet Union by Hitler, all of Poland, the former Russian or Crown-Poland, Galicia and all of Ukraine with their large Jewish communities, fell into the hands of the German mass-murderers. The S.S. and the Gestapo immediately began to carry out their pre-planned bestial destruction of Polish and Ukrainian Jewry.
In no other European country were the German murderers able to carry out, so completely, their planned devilish program of murder and bring about the total destruction of the Jews as in Poland and the Ukraine. In the Poles and Ukrainians, they found many voluntary assistants who gladly participated in the mass extermination. This could only have happened in countries where large proportions of the populace were already deeply infected with anti-Semitism and were only waiting for the first opportunity to begin practicing and realizing this poisonous hatred.
The German cannibals carried out the total destruction and extirpation of Polish Jewry in a systematic and pre-planned way. At first, they degraded and enslaved the Jews. Jews were made to wear a symbol of shame the yellow patch or star a white armband with a sewn-on Star of David and the inscription: Jude. The Jews had to do a variety of forced labour for the German occupiers and their local Ukrainian under-lords or errand boys. After seven o'clock in the evening, a Jew was not allowed to show himself outside and, in general, he was not allowed to come into contact with non-Jews. For breaking these laws, the punishment was death.
Little-by-little, in stages, the Germans also ruined the Jewish
population economically. At first, the Jews were forced to turn over to the Germans all their foreign currency; their gold and silver articles; all woollen and fur clothing, etc. Afterward, they were forced, and all under the threat of the death penalty, to pay various taxes (more accurately, tribute) for the Gestapo, for the militia and for the Judenrat (Jewish committee) and other evil inflictions. After they had thoroughly robbed the Jews by law, there began a new series of robberies. The German criminal police robbed; the district gendarmerie robbed; the border guards went from house-to-house and robbed for themselves. The Ukrainian militia also robbed, robbed without end. No use talking about the Judenrat. The life and property of every individual Jew, according to German law, belonged to the Judenrat which was a tool in the hands of the Gestapo. The Judenrat robbed for the Gestapo and stole for the militia. Not seldom did the Judenrat members murderously beat Jews who did not want to furnish certain materials which the Judenrat believed had been hidden. When they had completely squeezed out and emptied the Jews, the hideous physical destruction began.
The German S.S. and the Gestapo, with the aid of their Polish and Ukrainian murderers, began to carry out the first Judenaktion (as they called their murder campaigns). They went from one Jewish house to another shouting: (Jew, come out!. They murdered many Jews on the spot; others they led out of town and shot. In every city, the campaign (action) was carried out in a different manner.
After these actions, the Jewish population in every city and town diminished. Then the Gestapo drove together the remaining Jews and pressed them into ghettos. The ghetto consisted of a few fenced-off streets which were guarded by the militia so that no Jew could steal out of the ghetto. After they concentrated the mass of Jews in the ghetto,
it was not hard to raid the ghetto suddenly and carry out the special actions. First, they liquidated the shmelt, a technical and degrading term for the older Jews. The next time, they carried out a separate children's day when they tore children away from their parents and killed them. A third time, it was the women's day. They would take the men away to their work in the morning and when they returned home in the evening, they no longer saw their wives.
Then would come the day when the Germans decided that the time had come to make the city or town completely Judenrein (free of Jews). They then, with the help of the Poles and Ukrainians, surrounded the ghetto set fire to it from all four sides, and murdered all the Jews.
In this way and with other methods, as in the death camps of Majdanek, Treblinka and Auschwitz, the bestial Germans at first plundered, then murdered and destroyed six million of our brothers and sisters in Europe.
Kittev After the Departure of the Soviet Army
Before dawn on Sunday, 22nd June, 1941, the entire Kittever population was awakened by the strong roar of motors and bomb-explosions. On running outside, fearful and astonished, we saw the German planes bombing the fortifications which the Soviets had built in the city and the whole of the surrounding area. They then began to attack Soviet-Russia.
On Monday, 23rd June, the Soviet military began withdrawing from Kittev.
together with the Soviet troops, all technical groups with their families, those who had built the fortifications for defense, left.
The commissars in charge of the civilian population began preparing to leave the city right after the troops. Thursday, 25th June, the Soviet militia and the NKVD went around nearby villages and requisitioned the houses and wagons from the peasants, brought them to Kittev as means of transport for the Soviet civilian officials as well as for the party-functionaries and the NKVD.
The Soviet officials withdrew all the money from the banks; from all cooperatives, warehouses and stores. They also emptied the food out of the store houses and loaded it to take along to Russia.
Tuesday, 1st July, the Soviet civilians, the Communist party activists, the NKVD and all officials, left the city. They left furniture, housekeeping goods and other conveniences. The rode off in the requisitioned peasants' wagons.
Before their departure, the Soviet commissars appealed to the Jewish population to flee to Russia with them. They foretold that as soon as the Germans would come, they would annihilate the Jewish population. The Kittever Jews did not want to listen to the Soviet commissars. No one could imagine that the Germans would murder people just because they were of Jewish descent. Not one Jewish family agreed to go along with the Russians except a couple of young people who were afraid to remain in Kittev.
The Kittever border-guard left the city on Tuesday afternoon and at night, the last of the Soviet border-guards ignited the stores of ammunition, the military materials and all that they could not take with them.
The following morning, the Ukrainians of the whole area flocked to Kittev
and began looting the remaining Soviet storehouses. Having finished with looting, they then gathered opposite the community house and with great noise and uproar, made a gala occasion of pulling down the Soviet flag with its large five-pointed start from the tower and hoisted the Ukrainian flag. Those who were the ring-leaders at this ceremony, were yesterday's ardent Communists who had held various offices in the Soviet administration.
The Kittever Jews stayed in their houses during this time of parade and the ceremony of raising the flag, being afraid to go out.
Friday, 4th July, a Hungarian cavalry detachment arrived in Kittev, ready to take over the city. Before they arrived, the Ukrainians on the road by which the Hungarians came, built a large tower, hung a Hitlerite swastika on it, and on both sides of the swastika, the Ukrainian and Hungarian flags. The whole tower was decorated with Ukrainian and Hungarian greetings and slogans.
When the Hungarians entered the city, they were met by a Ukrainian committee which treated the cavalry men to wine and cigarettes which they had looted from the Soviet stores. With the approval of the Mayor of the Hungarian occupation force, the Ukrainians immediately began to organize a civilian administration. They organized a Ukrainian militia, which enlisted the same men who, until a few days earlier, were in the Soviet militia and were such big Soviet patriots. The first action of the newly-formed Ukrainian national militia was to loot Jewish homes and drag Jews away to forced labour.
On 13th July, a Romanian infantry regiment came to Kittev and the Hungarian cavalry departed. The Jews immediately tasted how it was to be abandoned
and left to the mercy of every anti-Semite and enemy of Israel. Right after the Romanians took over Kittev, there came grievous reports about the murderous deeds of the Romanians in the neighbouring towns and villages against the helpless Jewish population.
The Pogrom in Yablonitse
The first report that struck the Jews of Kittev like a thunderclap was the horrible news of the killing off of the Jews of Yabloniste.
The village Yablonitse was situated on the Polish-Romanian border at the Chermosh River, half of which belonged to Poland and the other half to Romania.
In Yablonitse, between 80-100 Jews lived. These were honest and upright people in their private life and in business. Relations between the Jews and their neighbours, the Hutzuls, were very friendly. They grew up together, knew each other from childhood and always assisted each other.
Yablonitse was surrounded by large and deep forests. From the forest-wood the Jews and Hutzuls made their living. The lumber at which the Hutzuls and Jews worked together was used in the sawmills of the nearby cities and towns. Weeks at a time, the Yablonitser Jews and Hutzuls lived in shacks in the woods and peace and friendship existed between them. It never happened that a Hutzul would attack a Jew or take anything from him.
But as soon as the Soviets left, the Yablonitser priest gave an incendiary sermon and urged the Hutzuls to murder all the Yablonitser Jews and not to leave a single one! In this way, the priest assured them, they would do a holy work and God would
reward them for it. The Hutzuls carried out the mitzvah of the priest, thoroughly and in one day, they killed at the Jews in Yablonitser and in a savage manner.
The pogrom was led by the brothers Skotshuk who drew their whole living from Jews and by a Kittever Ukrainian, Berniuga, who worked in Yabloniste sending the lumber down the Chermosh. Under their leadership, the Hutzuls set out and went from one Jewish house to the next, dragged the Jews to the Chermesh, shot them and threw their bodies into the stormy waves of the river.
The river swelled from the rains and carried a few of the bodies of the Yablonitser martyrs down to Kittev. Kittever young men, who were then working on a bridge, pulled the bodies out of the river and brought them to Jewish burial in the Kittever cemetery.
In Yablonitse, there was a family, Steinbrecher, which numbered ten strong men, real mountain Jews. In normal times, they feared no one and were able to resist any attack. During the Yablonitser pogrom the Hutzuls led the whole family to the water; stood them against a rock; tied them up in barbed wire and thus, bound to each other, threw them into the river.
Of the entire Jewish community of Yablonitse, only one Jewish woman, the wife of Pinchas Surkes, was saved. The murderers threw her, together with all the Jews, into the stormy current but the bullet they shot, missed her. She was a good swimmer and she swam down below the village, got out of the river and went through the woods to Zshabie. Mrs. Surkes perished in December, 1941 along with all the Jews of Zshabie.
After the Yablonitser pogrom, the Jewish inhabitants of the surrounding hill villages such as Hrinove, Stebne, abandoned all their
possessions, houses and fields to the Hutzuls and fled to Kittev barefoot and naked.
In Bukovina on the Romanian side and in the nearby city of Vizshnitz as well as in the surrounding cities, towns and villages, the Romanians, straight after they had marched in, murdered the majority of the Jewish population. They loaded the rest on trucks and deported them to Transnistria , where most of them perished from hunger and hard labour. After the sad reports that reached Kittev, one can already imagine the feelings of the Jews in Kittev when the Romanians occupied the city.
Kittev Under the Romanian and Hungarian Occupation
As soon as the Romanian soldiers quartered themselves in the city, they started in on the Jews. They would beat them in the streets, cut off the beards of old Jews and constantly rob and take everything that came to hand. They were altogether not very picky; they took everything they came across.
The Romanian captain came up with a new idea for pressing money out of the Jewish population. He issued an order to arrest the richer Jews, as pointed out by the Ukrainians and accused them of communism, kept them locked up for a few days then treated them, each day, to beating in the Romanian style. After this, he called them, one-by-one, into his office and told them he would hold them until he received ransom money. The family of those arrested were forced to pay
the Romanian captain from 50 to 100 dollars or else gold watches and rings and other valuables.
After about ten days of beating and robbery, the Romanians left the city and a Hungarian regiment returned to Kittev.
The Hungarians acted more friendly toward the Jewish population. Their officers lodged themselves in Jewish homes and when they were told about the horrifying murder of the Jews of Yablonitse, the Hungarian mayor sent to that village a punitive-expedition which took along two Jews from the nearby village of Hriniave. They didn't punish the murderous Hutzuls but they did manage to take from them part of the looted Jewish possessions such as cows, horses and other things. Only a small portion of the loot was returned to the Jews, the largest part the Hungarians kept for their efforts.
The Hungarians were also, in general, not choosy on the subject of loot. They knew that they would not stay long in Kittev so during their short stay, they grabbed like mad from the Jews and also from the Ukrainians. The upshot was that the latter complained about the Hungarians to the German district commander. Before long, the Hungarians left the city and a German military troop, commanded by S.S. Sturmfuhrer Vachman, took control of the city.
Kittev Under the German Occupation
As soon as the Germans occupied Kittev they instituted a ghetto-type situation for the Kittever Jews. They immediately began carrying out their devilish plans to exterminate the Jews. At first, they robbed and starved the Jewish population. Every day, new anti-Jewish decrees and laws were issued and for not obeying a command or a law, one got the death penalty.
All Jews without exception, from the age of 10, had to wear a white band on their arm with a sewn-on Magen-David and the large inscription: JUDE (Jew). From 19hr to 07hr a Jew was not allowed to leave his dwelling. A Jew was also not allowed to come in contact with the Christian population. We were not allowed to go out to the market-place to buy provisions and, in general, not allowed to step outside of the marked area. If a Jew was caught outside his dwelling, he was shot on the spot. By a certain date, Jews had to deliver their gold and silver as well as foreign currency, their woollen and fur clothing. After the deadline, if a Jew was found to have gold, silver or a fur coat or a woollen garment, he was shot.
To make sure that all these laws and decrees were strictly enforced, the Germans organized the Ukrainian militia as an auxiliary to their police and gave them unlimited authority and power. As chief of the militia, they appointed the Ukrainian Vladimir Cholevchuk who had been the chief of the Soviet militia.
In order to organize the Jewish forced-labour and help carry out the despoiling of the Jewish population of Kittev, the Germans created a Judenrat (Jewish council). The job of the Judenrat was to carry out the commands of the local Ukrainian and German rulers. Mainly, the Judenrat had to serve the Gestapo. The local council stood under the supervision of the Kolomei District-Judenrat and was supposed to carry out all its orders. The stores were empty and when the Germans required furniture, leather goods and other products, or wine, whiskey and other alcoholic drinks to become drunk r, as well as women for their soldiers, the Judenrat had to buy all these products from the Ukrainians and Poles at high prices.
As soon as the Soviets left Kittev, the Kittever Jews began to suffer from a scarcity of essential foodstuffs. As long as one could still go to the villages and buy products from the peasants for dollars, or barter certain things for food, one could manage somehow. But when the Germans came in and issued the anti-Jewish decrees, the Jews were cut-off inside a narrow limit and no longer had any contact with the peasants. There then began, for the Jews of Kittev, a long period of starvation.
The Germans forbade any trade in grain. If they found a Jew or even a non-Jew dealing in grain, they would confiscate the grain from the non-Jew and sentence the Jew to be shot.
The peasants and landowners received an order to turn over the entire crop to the German authority and leave for themselves only enough for their own use. For the grain which the peasants brought to the appointed collection places, they received 18 zlotys per 100kg (pre-war price). On the black market, one could get 400 zlotes per 100 kilos and even more.
Also, other food products such as milk, butter, eggs, chickens, cows and similar things, the peasants had to bring to the authorities and
receive payment in zlotys on the basis of the pre-war price. For an egg, they received 5 groschen while on the black market, an egg would cost 1.5 zlotes.
The Germans instituted food rationing. The local Ukrainians were allotted one ration. The so-called folk-Germans received double rations. The folk-Germans were a mixed multitude, a mixture of Poles and Ukrainians who suddenly remembered that they stemmed from the master race, that they had a great-great-grandmother or grandfather who was German, or that they had a German name and thus called themselves Germans. By means of unchecked documents, they became pure Aryans overnight which gave them the privilege to receive double rations and the right to work and take Jewish property. But even the folk-Germans with these rations could die of starvation.
The Jews were condemned to a starvation death from the start. Not having ration cards, the Jew had to risk his life, steal out of the heavily guarded streets and somehow get to the peasant. The poverty levels which the Jews of Kittev and a large part of the middle class, had nothing left to trade for food to keep life going. A starvation epidemic started. In January, 1942, 140 Jews died of hunger out of a population which numbered 2500. Necessity breaks iron and hunger has no shame; therefore, tragic scenes were enacted near Jewish homes. Entire Jewish families, hungry father and mothers with their starving children, would stand in the streets and beg for bread, weep for a morsel to keep body and soul together. Poor people and middle-class people, former businessmen and artisans all would go house-to-house begging. When they obtained one potato, a little bran or even the peel of a potato, it was a celebration because they could cook up a little something to warm up their frozen insides. And thus, starving and barely able to stand on their feet,
the Kittever Jews had to do forced labour. Each day the Judenrat sent out between 150 to 200 Jewish men and women for forced labour. One group worked at the German border defense in Kittev Slabudke, Tudiav. The men chopped wood, carried water and cleaned the privies; the women and girls washed the floors and did various kinds of housework. There were also men who worked at paving the streets, building bridges, repairing and rebuilding the bridge over the Chermosh leading to Vizshnitz. This bridge had been blown up by the Soviets before they left the city. This was hard labour truly avodas porech (the term for hard labour used in the Bible in the story of Israel's slavery in Egypt). They had to drag the heavy lumber from the water and lift heavy beams. More than one Jew was killed at this work. The Ukrainians would also beat the Jewish labourers murderously. Many keeled over from hunger; the whole meal consisted of an onion and a radish. The luckier ones were those who got a dzer a kind of soup of boiled water sprinkled with a little flour, maize grains or barley.
The First Kittever Judenrat
The first president of the Kittever Judenrat was Dr. Menashe Mandel. As mentioned in a previous chapter, Dr. Mandel was a proud nationalist Jew, the recognized leader of the Kittever Jews of the last generation. Not only was he beloved by the Jews but even the Poles and Ukrainians treated him with great respect and paid attention to his opinion.
During the short time that he served as head of the Judenrat, he tried to comply with the demands of the German and Ukrainian
rulers and carried out his service diplomatically and with great tact. The materials and products that he was obliged to obtain from the Jews and the forced labour, he tried to get from the Jews voluntarily and without the drastic measures. To characterize the method of his work in the Kittever Judenrat, it is enough to cite the following fact:
When the Germans came into Kittev, they started straight away to restore the great municipal courthouse and furnish the building as quarters for the German border-guard. In the nearby villages, the Germans also refurbished the former Polish border-guard buildings. For this purpose, they needed various building materials such as paint, lime, cement, nails, locks for doors and windows, kettles and baking pans for the kitchens and other similar materials. They also had to pay the Ukrainian workers, masons and locksmiths, carpenters and house-painters. The artisans demanded their pay not in worthless zlotys but in produce. At that point, the officer of the German border-guard in Kittev came to the Judenrat and commanded the Judenrat to supply him with all the necessary raw materials and produce for the wages of the Ukrainians. He demanded this within a few days otherwise he threatened the well-known German consequences.
Dr. Mandel, the President of the Judenrat, immediately called a meeting of the more well-to-do Jews of Kittev. He held a lecture before them in which he pointed out the perilous situation of Polish Jewry in general and of Kittev in particular. He appealed to all present to take to heart the danger hovering the Jews and advised them to act according to the Biblical verse: Give me the people and take the goods to thyself (Genesis XIV, 21), and in this way, maybe we can save our lives, ransom our lives for a future hour. All those present immediately contributed whatever they had. They gave paint, nails, pipes and other building materials; others contributed money which was used
to buy from the Poles and Ukrainians the rest of the building supplies as well as the produce to pay the Christian workers for their work in building the quarters for the German border-guard.
The Jewish men and women who worked at the restoration and remodelling of the living quarters did the hardest forced labour and received their pay in beatings and degradation from the Germans and the local Ukrainians, who once made a living from the Jews and now, under the German regime, turned their former employers into maltreated slaves. The Ukrainians completely forgot about the long-enduring friendship and good relations with the Jews and began to show their enmity, becoming the Germans' most faithful helpers in destroying the Jewish population.
The Germans were not satisfied with all the materials which the Judenrat had supplied. If a part of the raw materials such as iron for nailing doors and windows, or kettles for cooking, were made of cheap material, the Ukrainians pointed out to the Germans those Jewish houses which had the best materials and arrangements. A German officer of the border guard and the Ukrainian locksmith Kovaliuk, would then go around to all the newer Jewish houses and rip the brass off all the doors and windows. They broke up the kitchens and tore out the heavy brass kettles and pipes and used these for the remodelled dwellings for the border guard.
When the remodelling ended, there started the business of furnishing the separate dwellings for the guard and their officers. When it came to providing furniture, the SS man, Vachner didn't depend on the Judenrat. He himself wanted to choose the furniture for the rooms. Accompanied by the German border guards and the Ukrainian militia, he went around to the Jewish homes and stole everything their hearts desired: furniture, utensils, bedding, clothing, shoes and furnished and decorated their dwellings. Certain items such as clothing and shoes
were sent back to their families in Germany. There were some Jews who tearfully begged the men of the master race not to take everything but to leave something for them. But the German border guards answered: You Jewish swine don't need it anymore because, first chance we get, we'll shoot you all like dogs and the crows will devour you.
The writer of these lines had a privilege. It was then a couple of years after my marriage and I had a beautiful and modernly furnished house. So, the German officer used my furniture to furnish the dwelling of the commandant of the border guard, Herr Schmidt. Mine and my wife's expensive clothing, underwear, shoes, tablecloths, curtains, rugs and other valuable things, Vachner packed into the empty valises he found in the house and sent them off to his family in Munich.
Thus happened the first looting of nearly all the Jewish houses in Kittev. If a Jew tried to protest against the blatant robbery, they gave him a good beating and as extra punishment, emptied out his entire house.
The German murderers hurled the most abusive words at the Jew and insulted him in the coarsest way. Nevertheless, the Jew's possessions were kosher for the man-beasts of the master race and they slept in Jewish beds, cooked in Jewish utensils and dressed up their wives and sweethearts in Jewish clothing and jewellery.
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