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[Page 175]

Section 4

The Holocaust and Conflict


[Page 249]

The Destruction of Jews from Rubezhevichi and Surrounding Areas

By Gishka Poliez
(A letter from a Holocaust survivor to her childhood friends in America)

Translated from Yiddish to Hebrew by Judith (Segalowitz) Montag

Translated from Hebrew to English by Iris (Montag) Grisaru

rub249.jpg - Gishka Poliez
Dear Friends,

This is Gishka Poliez from Rubezhevichi, the only daughter of Eliezer Ben-Samuel the Magid, writing to you. I am currently in a DP (Displaced Person) camp in cursed Germany, in the American occupied territory. From all of my extensive extended family, only my daughter and I survived. I write this letter not with ink but rather with warm tears and blood that is dripping from my broken heart. I recall what we went through and what is left of us…

When this cursed war broke out - world war two, our town, as you know bordered with Russia (at that time they had a treaty with Hitler that he will not invade Russia). Our town was conquered by the Russians, with the help of the Polish Bolsheviks. We went to sleep as Polish citizens and over night we discovered that…we now belong to Russia. Of course the first thing they did was forbid us to work in free trade and everything was under government supervision. We could not continue to run our businesses and our future was unclear. They controlled us for 20 months, until Hitler broke the treaty with Russia and the Germans invaded the area.

That is when our real problems began.

For several weeks, day and night, the Red Army - the Russians and their tanks retreated from the Polish territory, which was occupied by the Russians. And then the dark Amalek soldiers arrived, the cursed Germans. At first, we had to wear the yellow star. We were forced to hard labour work and we were abused. This way they humiliated and weakened us so it will be easier for them to slaughter us without resistance.

The local police officer, who worked jointly with the Germans, was ordered to put together the Judenr?te (Jewish council) which were chosen from the Jewish community. They chose Loiyta Iyzbud, Itzhac Gurion, Slovitzic Jacob, Lifshitz and Joshua Shapiro, who had to withstand the expectations of their community and represent them accordingly to the Germans, so as to ease the harsh restrictions of the enemy who is set out to destroy their community.

The Judenrate made great effort to assist the Jews. They asked the local police to stop abusing and to work the Jews in hard labour as before. As days went by we heard disturbing news about slaughters in nearby towns. We managed to prolong our lives a little bit by bribing and giving what ever we could to the local police officer. But what kind of a life was it, when all we heard around us, was of killing and slaughter that burned our heart? What kind of life was it, when you had to wait for your death to arrive? We turned into walking dead, looking at the open graves, where we will be buried alive.

We were closed in a Ghetto, where the market used to be. Jews from nearby town were also brought here; Naliboki, Derevna, and Wolma. In the town's little wooden homes, which barely held our family- they crammed 50 people in one home. We laid there squashed like sardines in a can. We shared the piece of bread with each other. The Ghetto looked horrid. They closed us and guarded us meticulously. We were left helpless; young children, elderly and infants.

In Ivenitz, the real face and ability of the stealing murderers was revealed. One day they collected all the people from age 10-60. They placed 4 people in each line and that way we were transferred from Rubezhevichi to Ivenitz. You could hear the screaming and crying of the elderly, mothers and their children miles away.

It was the eve of Shavuot (the executioners would always carry out their judgments on holidays) a very hot day. They persecuted and beat anyone that did not walk fast enough. We had to walk 20km till Ivenitz. 10 people died on the way. Anyone that wanted to sit down and rest, or sip a drop of water, was shot immediately.

Heina, the young daughter of Raphael Kalmanowitz, and a man that had a hard time walking, were machine gunned down. They were taken out of the line along with 10 more people and shot in the middle of the road. Frightened and horrified we continued walking without stopping until we reached a confinement where we were closed up. All night the children screamed and asked for some water - but no one responded to them.

In the morning the “sophisticated cultured” murdering Germans, took all the children from their mothers and fathers. The children were crying and screaming. The parents were begging to get their children back but the pleading did not help. Those that persisted were beaten to death.

You must know how hard it was for me to give birth to my single 10 year old daughter. What happiness we had in the family when she was born. My parents gave out a lot of Tzedakah [Charity] and my husband, Yaacov Poliez, donated a Torah book to the synagogue and now they want to take away my only daughter…I was screaming and my husband who tried to resist was badly beaten. His head was dripping blood. A big commotion began and I took advantage of that moment and somehow dragged my daughter out and found a place to hide her - until the “winds” calmed down.

Later we were sent to the town of Naliboki and from there to Novogrodok and later to the town of Dvoretz. There we were placed in a forced labour camp and sent to work immediately removing stones.

We were exhausted and hurt. Our feet were swollen and injured from walking tens of kilometres by foot from one town to the other. When the commander of the Dvoretz camp saw us he began to shout angrily: “How can you work in the hills removing stones, when you can't even stand on your feet? I will need to send you back to be slaughtered in Novogrodok”…

When we heard that, we all began to cry and beg him: “How can we stand on our feet after such a long walk? In addition, our children were taken away from us and many died on the way”. He claimed that he knew what was happening in Novogrodok, but since he needed workers, he had asked that they would send him our transport, along with equipment to Dvoretz; however, it would only be for a short time because eventually he will need to send us all back.

Again we all began to cry and beg him to give us a few days to rest and we will give him everything we have and we will do all the hard work he will ask of us - and so it was. After a short rest, we began the hard laborious work that went on for 8 months. During that time the Gestapo, the murderers, arrived with the goal to eliminate us. However, the commander of the camp temporarily postponed our sentence claiming that he still needs us. We bribed him with lots of money so he will keep working us.

After 8 months of suffering, torture and hard demanding work - the day of the slaughter arrived. I cannot describe in writing the screaming and shouting. My daughter and I and a few more families from Rubezhevichi, were together in one of the homes. The Germans started transporting the Jews from Rubezhevichi and surrounding areas to their death. During the great commotion, we took advantage of the moment. We ran and managed to reach the hideout of Lyote Segalowitz, who built one in his home between two walls. We stayed there for two nights gripped with fear and horror and we hardly made it out of there alive. When everything quieted down, we looked out; we were able to escape from the hideout to the fields and forest. During the day we lay low and hid and at night we would go to the villages, to peasants we knew, and asked for food. A few took pity on us and gave us food but were afraid to provide us with a place to stay for the night because they would be killed too. We returned to the forest and there we met again with the family of Lyote Segalowitz and together with them we escaped into the big tangled forest.

For 8 months we wandered from one forest to another, in endless twisted and remote forests, until the cursed Germans began to surround the forest and conduct searches and manhunts in the area. It was impossible to leave at night to search for food in the villages. The manhunt continued for several weeks. Luckily, during that time it rained a lot- and that saved us. The Germans and their tracking dogs did not discover us in the rainy, foggy, hazy forest.

Later we heard that there are a few Jewish families in the big tangled forest between Naliboki and Lovst, close to the swamps. We went there. We found organized digs in the ground with a place to sleep and even a kitchen. The younger people would bring potatoes and bread from the villages. We spent 9 months in that place - Postche [a thick twisted forest with crowded trees and deadly swamps].

Meanwhile, we heard some good rumours. The Red Army - the Russians, were not far from us and they were defeating the Germans. However, the Germans did not give up and continued to search for us until the last moment. We had no choice but to leave the digs and wander deeper into the forest where probably no man has ever set foot in. When the situation calmed down we returned to the digs. There we found the bodies of 8 Jews that could not find the strength to leave and hide with us.

The day we wished for has arrived. The Russian Red Army conquered our area and we were freed. However, my dear good husband did not have the satisfaction to see that day. After surviving the persecution and slaughter and living in hope that his wife and daughter will get through the worst of it, he passed away and did not have the pleasure of enjoying liberty and freedom.

Lonely, exhausted, bitter and broken I cry with my only daughter for our bitter fate. Where shall we go? We left the tangled forest and walked by foot back to our town Rubezhevichi. My eyes were blinded from what I found there: remains of broken homes with broken windows and doors. No streets or houses- a grave yard. I broke down crying: “Where are my mother and father, who spoiled me and could not do enough for me? Where is my dear husband, my relatives, friends and acquaintances that I grew up with? I am here - but where will I find you?!”

I leave the town and arrive at the village of Simcovitch, not far from the Christian church. There we found a mass grave of 600 Jews that were murdered, the best of them all and the dearest of all people our town has ever known. I thought to myself, as long as my eyes are open - we need to eat even though there is nothing we can do. I returned to Rubezhevichi looking for what is left of my possessions and I notice that some of our Christian neighbours have raided our possessions. Some people could not stand to see my sorrow and suffering, especially since they knew how prosperous and well off we were before the war. They took pity on me and gave me some grain for free - others looked at me in a hostile way, aware that I have recognized my possessions and fearful that I will take it back.

I take the grain to the market and trade it for salt - I take that to the villages and trade it with peasants for different groceries. Soon I was arrested by the Russian police. The new regime has prohibited free trade (no trade for us!). I was arrested and placed in jail with no food or drink, while my only daughter remains unaware of my whereabouts. I was taken to court and accused of trade. I claimed that I received the grain as a present from a peasant in return for a debt. With my last emotional strength I said “The Germans have attempted to kill me many times, I hardly survived the cursed war and from all my large extended family, my daughter and I are the only ones left. For months we wandered in the forest and now you want to kill me? I waited for you and hoped to be freed.” After all I said they released me. I returned to Rubezhevichi and told my daughter what happened. She cried from happiness to have found her mother. But what do we do now?

The town is destroyed, empty and deserted. The few homes that were left standing were ruined and raided by the “good neighbours”. What were left of our home were just bare walls. I sold it for very little to a peasant. I packed the little passions we had left and together with my daughter and a few other families, we left the town heading west, close to other refugee Jews. We want to have a home. We can't stand to live in towns that have so much spilled blood, pain and suffering. All the anguish and misery that we went through just stops the blood from flowing in our veins. This is not a place we can live in. Poland is one big cemetery for us.

After a long and exhausting trip, we arrived at the city of Lodz, in Poland, and settled in an apartment together with the Segalowitz family. Even here we could not relax as the anti-Semites did not leave us alone…

One night, two Polish men broke into our apartment, threatened us with rifles and commanded us to follow them. Eventually, those criminals agreed to take everything we had and release us. When we saw what awaits us in Poland, we thought no more and hit the road again.

From Lodz we arrived in Berlin. From there - we reached the American occupied area and were placed in a DP camp with other survivors of massacres and gas chambers. Most of us are now waiting to immigrate to Israel.

As your childhood friend, that survived and now lives in a camp, I ask you to do all you can to help us find a home.

We can not remain in this cursed land, on German soil. We can not look at German faces with Jewish blood staining their hands. Do us a favour….

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