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[Col. 629]

On the bloody road

Hanah Levitan-Ribald

The tragic fate of the remaining Jews in Suwalk began to be played out at the end of November 1939. The German murderers deported them to Biale-Podlask, Lukave, Mezritsh and Kotsk where they were tortured by the Nazis in 1941-1942.

On the 16th July, 1941, I was in the Bialystok ghetto. My frightful loneliness in this strange ghetto was lessened when I met other Jews from Suwalk; The Halenderski family, Branrat, Gibianski, Dr. Indurski, Director Efron (from the Hebrew Gymnasium) Zelik Tsviling, the Oystern sisters, Suralski, Dr. Halpern-Kaftsiavski, Shtsupatski and many others from Suwalk and the vicinity. We rejoiced to see each other, like children of the same family

Gas oven in Maidenek


[Col. 630]

because I worked in the Gestapo kitchen, I had a “lebenshaynen”[1] which was the greatest fortune in the ghetto, for a short time.

When men were needed to work in the building of the Gestapo, I persuaded the chief to take on my landsman, Zelik Tsviling.

Entrance to museum of Maidenek


We went through the first few years in the Bialystok ghetto in fear and trembling. February 6th, 1943, was the day, the dreadful day of the first “Aktion” when 12,000 Jews died, many among them from Suwalk.

Tsviling, Yrik Suralski and I were left in the ghetto until August 15th, 1943, when the Bialystok ghetto was liquidated. All the Jews who worked for the Gestapo were gathered in a separate place. All 140 of us were piled into a small truck. Two Jews died on this horrible journey and two poisoned themselves.

We finally arrived at Lomze jail. Three months later, we were taken to Stutthof where the men and women were separated. Who knew if I would ever see my husband again? He tried to comfort me before we parted as did Tsviling try to encourage me.

The camp at Stutthof was large but Jewish suffering and troubles were greater. I saw from afar how the murderers tortured the Jewish men, among who was my husband. My blood curdled but how could one help oneself? On a number of occasions,

[Col. 631]

I risked my life to throw my accumulated little pieces of bread over the electrified fence to Tsviling, hoping that

[Col. 632]

the bread would help them to bear the terrible beatings. But, our good-hearted dear brother from Suwalk, Zelig Tsviling, could not bear the beatings and died from blows given to him by a Polish Gestapo agent on January 10, 1944.

We did not stay long in Stutthof. We were transferred to Auschwitz – to the worst of all of the camps – where everything exuded horrible death. Only twelve of the best partisans remained – among which was my husband. In Auschwitz, we were led into a bathroom. There were men at the door who asked us in Yiddish: “where are you coming from?” I asked right away:” Is there anyone here from Suwalk?” I was answered by a voice from Suwalk, Yaakov Fraymark! He showed his good-heartedness immediately, by giving me a large loaf of bread which was worth more than gold or diamonds.

In succeeding days and weeks, I became very weak and I felt that I was losing my strength. But our brothers from Suwalk, with their good hearts, did not let me expire: Avigdor Vertshelinski risked his own life and brought to the women's camp, sugar, bread and butter for me. Gradovski's oldest son and Peysele Kramarski, let me know that here one must encourage oneself. They told me that I should not worry about food – they would provide for me. If I was fated to live, it was thanks to my landslayt from Suwalk.

[Col. 631]

On the steps of the destroyed tabernacle in the cemetery of Suwalk
Seated: Kopl Lubavski[2] (right) Shelomoh Gutman, (left) holds
a torn Scroll of Law, which they found at gentiles' homes


The place where the orphanage once stood on Vesole Street.
In the rear is the new building of the Talmud Torah

On the photo, from right to left: Shelomoh Gutman with his grandchild, daughter
Mrs. Kuperberg; Leyb Lifshits and his wife, Hanah Altshuler; Kopl Lyubovski
unknown woman; engineer Trotski; the others are unknown


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Work permit which allowed holder to live. Return
  2. Various spellings of name in text. Return


[Col. 633]

Suwalk Jews in the Slonim Ghetto

Dr. Katriel Aylender

Right at the beginning of the Second World War, many Jews from Suwalk were scattered all over Poland. One group was deported to western Poland (occupied by the Germans), and another group to Russian occupied territory. In this way, there were Jews from Suwalk in Warsaw, Lukov, Biale Podlask, and Mezritsh as well as in Bialystok, Grodne, Slonim, Baranovitsh, Maytshet and Deretshin.

A group of Suwalk view the bones of victims


By December 1939, Suwalk had become “Judenrein”. Our brothers and sisters left their homes, taking along only that which they could carry. It was not easy to adjust to new surroundings. Many families were separated. But, little by little, they began to adjust to the special conditions of the Soviet occupied province. They received dwellings.

[Col. 634]

The children went to school. They thought that this would just be a transitory phase and that they would eventually return to Suwalk.

Peace did not reign for long, however. Hitler's Germany attacked Russia. Within two days, the Germans had entered Slonim (June, 1941). Everything moved so fast that there was no time to escape. Jews of the older generation (who remembered the Germans from the First World War), consoled the young people that it would not be too bad – that they would just have to work for them. The immediate future showed our tragic mistake. Three weeks after occupying Slonim, the Germans assembled 1100 Jewish men – seemingly for labour. But, they were shot to death a few kilometres beyond Slonim. Among those killed were many people from Suwalk. I can mention only a few of them: Shapira (son-in-law of R'Binyamin Mints), with his oldest son, Gavriel Aylender and son, Avraham Blakharski (from the tannery).

All of us in Slonim wore yellow patches. Decrees were promulgated one after the other. One day, the Jews of Slonim were shook up by the news that 60 young men that had been recruited in the morning for work, did not return home. It was discovered later, that they all had been shot – not far from Slonim – after they had dug pits so that they would not return to Slonim and reveal what the Germans were planning to do. The Nazis did not want to create panic. Everything was planned and carried out with German efficiency.

On 14th November, 1941, the ghetto of Slonim was surrounded by Germans and Lithuanians. The Jews were told to prepare food for three days. The Germans went from house to house. Those Jews who could show their yellow Lebnshaynen {work permits} (which had been re-distributed for a certain time to artisans), were allowed to remain in their homes with their families. All other Jews were put in trucks and taken to a forest not far from Tsipelove – a village near Slonim – and were shot.

[Col. 635]

Among the 10,000 Jews that were murdered, there were 2,000 from Suwalk.

Many Jews were only wounded and a few of them succeeded in climbing out of the mass-graves at night. Among them was Kheynke Aylender (daughter of Yankl Aylender). She came back to the ghetto were she told us everything. Later, she too perished.

I remember the names of the following Jews from Suwalk who perished in Slonim: The Dobkin family, Sarah Magentse and her youngest son, Kagan (from Wizshan); Pushkantser; the wife of Dr. Grobsteyn and her two children; R'Binyamin Mints' daughter; Mrs. Etl Shapira and son; Blakharkis' wife (from the tannery) and her two sisters; the two sister-in-laws of Blakharski from the tannery; Koyfman; Berl Zeligson and family.

I know of the following families from Suwalk who perished in other cities: In Biten – the entire Markson family;

[Col. 636]

in Mayshet – the families of Zkhus; Visotsek; Abramski. In Zelve – Gotlib; Davidson. In Deretshin – Prenovitsh; Aharon Glatshteyn and his wife and two children; Meir Simenski and his family; Gremzshanski family. The Germans wanted to leave Dr. Rozntal in the city hospital, but without his wife and youngest son, Dr. Rozntal rejected the German offer with anger, and went with the rest of the Jews to the mass graves.

Few of the Jews of Deretshin were able to escape to the partisans. Among them were my parents, Yosef and Sarah, my brother Gershon and my sister Esther and the Jews from Suwalk, Branovski, the butcher and two sons, and Dr. Rozntal's middle son. Young Gitele Kagan from Suwalk was a well-known heroine of the Partisans in the Deretshin neighbourhood.

I was in various concentration camps, for example, in Mogilev near the Dnieper. There, I found Jews from Suwalk, from the Slonim Ghetto, who later perished: Leybl Gutkovski, Moshe Lozman and his son, Aharon Goldberg and Yisakhar Soloveytshik. I was liberated in Lower Silesia on May 8th.


[Col. 635]

In the Camps of Estonia

Dr. Aharon Kreshkovski (Ker)

After the outbreak of the German-Polish War in September 1939, a few families from Suwalk moved to Vilne. In 1941, shortly after the beginning of the Soviet-German War, my mother Rive, my brothers David, Mordekhayl and Yitshak Kershkavski[1] and I, (my father was in the Warsaw area at the time; my Uncle and Aunt Yitshak and Rive Ayznberg; Yaakov Ayznberg; Mrs. Sherman; Sheyne Salnitski; the brothers Shelomoh and Yaakov Kravtshinski and Refael Palnitski, lived there at that time.

In the first few months of the Nazi reign in Vilne, the brothers Kravtshinski and Refael Palnitski perished.

In the first few months, my brother David and I and Yitshak, David, Ehiel and Yeshayah Ayznberg were sent out of the Vilne Ghetto to the camps of Estonia. These camps were in wooded areas. In the Vivikanie Camp, my brother David and I worked as coal miners. The Ayznbergs laid railroad tracks. A few months later, Yitshak and David Ayznberg were sent to another camp, Ereda, with a group of Jews. After the Vivikanis Camp was liquidated, in the winter of 1943, all the Jews

[Col. 636]

were transferred to Ereda, in a forced march of two days in terrible frost.

Yitshak Ayznberg died of hunger and hard labour in Ereda. My brother David risked his life to try and save Yitshak's son, David. Notwithstanding all of his attempts, he did not succeed and young David died a few weeks later. Some months after this, Yehiel Ayznberg died. My older brother was killed in Estonia in the summer of 1944, a short time before the Jews were evacuated from the Estonian camps to Germany. Yeshayah Ayznberg died in Camp Riven – Pamern, a short time before liberation.

After the war, I heard that my mother and my two younger brothers were murdered in Auschwitz and my father was killed in Travniki, in the Warsaw area.


Translator's Footnote

  1. This is how it is spelled in text Return


[Col. 637]

With Jews from Suwalk in the Death Camps

Yaakov Fraymark

The Jews of Suwalk awaited the entrance of the Nazi military with indescribable fear. They knew what to expect from Hitler's army. But, a miracle happened. Immediately after the outbreak of the German-Polish war, Suwalk was occupied by the Red Army. I cannot describe the joy with which the Jews greeted their arrival.

But the joy did not last long, for the Soviet soldiers left Suwalk after only one week. When it became known that they were leaving, the confusion began anew. Many young people left together with the Red Army. I too chose this way.

After a difficult journey, we came to Augustow. Hundreds of refugees gathered in the big synagogue. The sanitary conditions were horrible. There was little food, and we were exhausted – so various diseases began to spread. Most of the Jews of Suwalk could not stand it and decided to return home to Suwalk, where the Germans were in charge.

Victim's clothing in Maidanek


I did not succeed in reaching Suwalk. The Germans caught me on my way back and sent me to East Prussia. From there, I was transported to Auschwitz.

There I met a Jew from Suwalk – Zalman Gradovski, son of Shemuel Gradovski.

[Col. 638]

He explained to me how to find more people from Suwalk in order to help them. By chance, I met

Oven of Maidanek


A girl from Suwalk, Pola Kramarski. A man risked death in Auschwitz if he met with a girl, but the will to help a compatriot was so great that I did not think of the danger. Zalman Gradovski got some food for me and I got it to Pola by various ways. She had been transferred from Maidenek and was dreadfully weakened.

In a short while, more transports of people from Maidenek arrived. Among them, I met Yisrael Lublinski, of blessed memory. We tried very hard to help him for he was swollen from hunger. But, unfortunately, nothing helped. Since he was too weak to work, he was sent to the crematorium.

Zalman Gradvoski, who had been in Auschwitz before me, kept a diary where he described the terrible suffering in this hell-hole. The diary perished along with him[1], when he participated in the explosion of crematorium number three in 1944, as part of the revolt there.[2]

It should be stressed that the few Jews from Suwalk who met each other in the terrible Auschwitz camp, did their best to help each other under the most difficult of times, without regard to the risks they were taking.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. It was found Return
  2. He is referring to the attempted revolt in Birkenau (Auschwitz II) on October 7, 1944. Return


[Col. 639]

Perished in Lithuania

In memory of my father, R'Tuvyah Vays, of blessed memory

Avraham Leyb Vays

This happened in the fall of 1939; a few weeks after the Nazis occupied Suwalk. The Germans ordered all of the Jews to depart from Suwalk within 14 days. It was said that they would be sent to Lublin.

At that time, I lived in Kovne. As is known, Lithuania was occupied by the German later, when they attacked the Soviet Union on 22nd June, 1941. Until then, Lithuania was neutral. When I learned of the decree in Suwalk, I left immediately for Kalverie, not far from the Polish border. There, I discovered that the Lithuanian border patrol was making it difficult for people who wished to cross the border, and that tens of Jews who had evaded the Germans, were in “no-man's land” – a stretch of open fields between the Polish and Lithuanian borders.

The weather was bad. It did not stop raining and they had to make their way through at night. Jews lay for days in wet trenches until they could make their way across the border.

in Kalverie, I found a Lithuanian peasant

[Col. 640]

And through him, I sent messages to my family. I wrote them that they should come to Lithuania with the assistance of this peasant.

A few days later, on a Friday night, the peasant brought my two brothers and their families and some small packages of belongings in his wagon. My father refused the ride on Friday because of his fear of desecrating the Sabbath. My brothers were unable to dissuade him from his decision. When they argued that: “life threatening danger pushes away the Sabbath”, he replied: “God will help”. He was brought to Kalverie some days later, and only after much difficulty. From there, I took him to Kovne.

My father was fated to live in Lithuania for over four years of which more than two years were in the Kovne ghetto, until the German murderers attacked the ghetto and took all of the elderly Jews out of a secret synagogue where they prayed and studied Talmud. The city preacher, Rabbi Most, of blessed memory, was taken along with them and they were all murdered on the third of Nisan, {5}704{1944}}


[Col. 639]

From Arkhangelsk and Back

Shelomoh Gutman, Bat Yam, Israel

Through our acquaintance with the Nazi commandant in Suwalk, we learned that a bitter end awaited the Jews. There were rumours of deportations from the surrounding towns. Our community decided to notify people to flee wherever they could.

[Col. 640]

Many ran through fields and forests – some to the Lithuanian border – others to the Russian border. Whomever the Germans caught, they beat half to death and brought back.

My group managed to get through the forests to Grodne, to the Russians. In a few months, Russian militia men came to collect us – put us into cattle cars, and shipped us out deep into Russia. We travelled day and night for five weeks until we came to the forests of Arkhangelsk. We were quartered in barracks and driven, naked and starving, into the forests to chop down trees. The frost was unbearable – 75 degrees {F or C?} and snow above our knees. Every day, there was another victim: someone's hand or foot or ears or nose was frostbitten – in this way, we suffered for fourteen months.

After the agreement was made with General Sikorski, we were freed and allowed to go to Kaskhstan – a region of half-wild people, whose language we did not understand, and they knew of no other language. They did not want to sell us any food and charged outrageous prices for the smallest items. A terrible epidemic broke out, and many people died, among them my wife, Tamara Meretski and my older, twenty-five year old son, Elazar.

Finally, we were allowed to go to Poland.

[Col. 642]

We reached Suwalk with great difficulty. About 22 of us got together – one or two left from a family. We did not recognize the city. Peasants from surrounding villages had taken over the Jewish houses and businesses. The city of Suwalk looked like a big village. We started doing a little business. I got back my mill and the houses which had remained standing.

When the pogrom in Kielce broke out, we were frightened. Christians started saying that they would do likewise in Suwalk. Engineer Trotski and I went to the chief priest and begged him to speak in church on Sunday, against attacks on Jews. He recognized me. When the Polish President Moshtsitski had come to Suwalk, I had been on the welcoming committee, together with him. He told us that nothing would happen to us because Christians did not strike anyone… Naturally, such reassurance did not make us feel secure and so, the few Jews that were there, decided to leave Suwalk.

Broken-hearted and tortured, we wandered on our way – to start a new life – we, the dry bones of great Jewish communities, would we ever have peace?


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